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Stunning and Cadaverous

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Blaine’s sense of the space he takes up has never been great. He's short and narrow enough at the waist that it makes his shoulders look better than they are, and he just assumes, always, that he can’t possibly be in the way. Except, of course, he usually is, to the point that he’s not even surprised when he accidentally swats a coffee out of someone’s hands at the Lima Bean while laughing too loudly with the barista. It’s been a hard week, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t get harder in such an incredibly dumb way.

The former owner of the coffee – well, Blaine supposes he still owns it, so the owner of the former coffee – freezes with one hand outstretched, the now empty and lidless cup in his hand, and hisses quietly to himself as he watches the mocha drip down the sleeve of a jacket he looks very, very good in.

“I am so sorry,” Blaine exclaims, gesturing awkwardly and grabbing and napkins even as he realizes the futility and intrusion of attempting to blot at the mess. On top of everything else, he can’t believe the guy has to be hot.

“Nothing dry cleaning won’t fix,” the other man squeaks out, clearly trying to contain a more dramatic reaction.

“Let me at least pay for that and buy you another –"

“Grande no-fat mocha. And don’t worry about it, I kinda have a bulk discount deal with the local dry cleaners anyway.”

“How’d you wrangle that?” Blaine asks, because he is apparently predisposed to make small talk about anything with anyone no matter how awkward the moment.

The man shakes the coffee from the tips of his fingers and Blaine finally, awkwardly, shoves the napkins at him.

“I run a funeral home,” he says, taking the napkins. “So if anyone ever kills you for dumping coffee all over them, have a next of kin look me up and we’ll consider it even.”

“Seriously?” Blaine asks, because he’s almost sure that’s not how the banter was supposed to go.

He tips his head to the side. “Kurt Hummel,” he says but only extends his hand to retrieve his replacement beverage from the barista. “It was lovely to meet you,” Kurt says, smiling tightly, “even if my jacket doesn’t feel the same. But, alas, I have body to retrieve and so must be going.”

“Um, okay, great. My name’s Blaine, by the way… Bye!” Blaine calls after his back, wondering just what in the hell is wrong with him. Because cute, but funeral director; also, probably hates him.

“Don’t scald anyone else,” Kurt hollers back.

“Well, that was weird,” he says to the barista, who is clearly done with his chatter and its repercussions.

“You started it,” she says, “and now I have to mop it.”

*

Three days later, Blaine runs into Kurt by a coffee and hot chocolate vending machine in the Lima Memorial cafeteria.

“Are you stalking me?” Kurt asks lightly, barely looking at him as he studies the truly terrible choices. Vanilla cappuccino his hardly advisable in general, from a machine in a building essentially designed to breed staph infections it’s almost too much to contemplate.

“No, actually my dad’s busy having cancer,” Blaine says, also horrified by the vending machine and biting his lip in the face of it.

“Oh,” Kurt says, straightening up. “I’m sorry.”

Blaine shrugs. “Don’t be. Filial duty. And he’s not dead yet.”

“Sounds like you don’t like your dad very much,” Kurt says, because awkward.

“We were doing good with fifteen minute phone call every other week mostly focused on the Buckeyes.”

“Indeed,” Kurt says because has to say something. “I’m actually terrified of this machine.”

“Yeah,” Blaine says. “What are you doing here?”

“Mostly being pissed off and waiting on a corpse.”

Blaine’s mouth opens and nothing comes out.

“Nobody’s organized, Blaine. No one. Not even Death. Although Death is fashionable because he never goes out of style. But half the time hospitals take out the wrong kidney, and I’m not even joking.”

Kurt may not be joking about the kidneys, but Blaine smiles anyway. Because Kurt clearly both lives in his own world and yet somehow also remembered his name.

*

On the long list of Blaine’s bad choices – and the list is really long and includes losing his virginity in a way most generously and erroneously described as really drunk and totally unplanned – crushing on a weird guy that he spilled coffee all over, doesn’t actually rank that high. The fact that the weird guy runs a funeral home and Blaine’s dad is dying definitely moves it higher up the list, however. He probably gets bonus points for the part where he loiters around the terrible hospital coffee vending machine way more than he should hoping to see him again in what turns out to be the final days of his dad’s illness.

Eventually, he just gives in and looks in the phone book. It’s not creepy. Kurt runs a business, has given him his name. And, well, circumstances….

*

Kurt’s receptionist is terrifying.

“Let me get this straight, as straight as I can,” she says. “You want me to leave a message for my boss asking him to coffee because you have a thing for boy sopranos and avoiding prison?”

“Um… just the part about the coffee please?” Blaine says, horrified and confused.

“Are you cute?”

Blaine splutters.

“Oh my god, what is it with him and the incompetent gays?”

“Uh…?”

“Don’t worry about it, sweet cheeks, I’ll be sure to give him your message during our 2pm dance break.”

She hangs up on him before Blaine can respond.

*

Kurt doesn’t call back. And Blaine doesn’t try again.

There’s too much drama as his mother cries and they wait for his father to get stable enough to be moved home to die. It’s exhausting, and Blaine mostly feels guilty for still not knowing how to connect with or offer absolution to a man who doesn’t seem to want either, at least not from him. His mother’s predictably a wreck, his brother’s apparently shooting a movie in Phuket and can’t come home, and mostly Blaine’s just lonely.

He tries to sigh and accept his way through it. Maybe these things should be lonely.

*

“Oh my god,” they both say simultaneously when they come face to face with each other at the services planning meeting after his father passes.

Blaine has never seen his mother looked so confused or wanted to laugh so hard. Death, he has decided, is very, very stupid.

“Your son spilled coffee on me a couple of weeks ago, so we’ve met briefly. I promise not to hold it against you in this difficult time,” Kurt says, bending slightly to make sure he makes eye contact with Blaine’s mother. Somehow, she smiles at him.

*

“This doesn’t have to be awkward,” Kurt hisses at him later as they leave her alone with the receptionist Blaine had spoken to on the phone and the coffin selections.

“Yeah, for this level of awkward it’s usually nice to have at least gotten laid,” Blaine blurts before slapping a hand over his own mouth.

Kurt laughs, high peals of perfection. “People say more terrible things about the sex they are or aren’t getting during the funeral planning process than I really know ho to describe to you. Don’t worry about it.”

“Thank you,” Blaine exhales. “Did you get my message?”

“I got a message. I’m going to assume it was accurate to your intent and not your phrasing thanks to the wonders of my lovely Satan –"

“Satan?”

“Santana. Sorry. Funeral director humor. Also, she’s evil. And I would have been happy to run into you again –“

“But I shouldn’t have called?”

“Bury your father. Help your mother. We’ll talk about it when it’s time to talk about it,” Kurt says.

“Okay,” Blaine says, grateful not only for some resolution, but the simple instruction

*

Kurt is very, very good at what he does, Blaine thinks as he kneels down in front of his father’s casket as the viewing. His face has not lost the wrinkles it had in life and his tie is dimpled perfectly, better than the man has been able to do himself.

When he finds a moment to escape from the weight of his mother on his arm – he loves her, but has no wish to be the man who defines her now – he tells Kurt as much.

“I have a great team,” Kurt says, “I’ll be sure to let them know.”

“It must be like planning a wedding,” Blaine says, “but no one likes you.”

“People hate wedding planners. I at least can never make anything worse or encourage what shouldn’t be.”

Blaine laughs, trying to keep it breathy and near silent.

“Go do the hard work of dealing with this and stop flirting with me,” Kurt says.

“Not appropriate, huh?”

Kurt just shakes his head and walks away.

*

Blaine finally feels the loss of his father that night, locked in his childhood bedroom, desperately trying to write a eulogy without either speaking ill of the dead or making it too much about himself. Eventually he just starts writing about the challenge of doing that until he can find a way into it, although at the funeral the next day, he doesn’t even take the paper from his pocket, and instead speaks from memory, smiling to himself as he recounts all the men he wanted his father to be, and in turn, all the men he wanted to be for his father.

“My father and I never spoke much. Not about the big things,” he says. “We talked about sports. He asked after my life in New York, and if he didn’t ask follow-up questions, I certainly didn’t offer enough information for him to formulate them. We weren’t talkers, he and I, and I think he distrusted the idea of our confessional culture as contrary to his masculinity. He would laugh at me and blame my educational choices for a sentence like that. But if our relationship was largely silent, it was also largely about our aspirations. I believe, I have to believe he always wanted to be a better father, and I know that I always wanted, and still want, to be a better son. And because we knew that, the rest of it pales. That we didn’t need words in all their fickle beauty to love each other makes me proud. And it makes me miss him the more, because of how this exercise offers so little of the power and sometimes magic he brought to my life.”

At the back of the church, by the doors meant for little in Blaine’s mind but the march of brides, he sees Kurt duck his head and smile softly.

*

Three weeks after the services, Blaine hums to himself as he pulls into a space in the funeral home’s small parking lot. It’s a gorgeous day, the excessive heat of early August tempered by a nearly excessive breeze and a bright blue sky. He feels light and desperate to take what he knows is a temporary moment of joy to pursue his stupid infatuation with his dad’s funeral director. At least his bad choices have gotten funnier as he’s gotten older.

He walks in jauntily and drums his fingers on Santana’s reception desk.

“Are you here for a date?” She asks

Noooo,” Blaine says, elongating the word as he thinks of what to say next. She terrifies him. “I’m here to ask him out.”

“Okay then,” she says.

“So what,” Blaine says, knowing he’s pushing his luck, “blunt honesty makes you retract the claws?”

“Actually, it’s recklessness and fools,” Kurt says clomping down the staircase behind him and stopping on the bottom stair.

“Ah,” Blaine stammers.

“Come upstairs, we’ll talk,” he says to him. “Do I have anything before three?” he asks Santana.

“Just the ever present business-ending specter of the Rapture.”

*

“This is where you live,” Blaine says when they get to the top of the stairs and it’s just a normal house.

“This is my living room, yes,” Kurt says, as he ushers him into a large sitting room, lined with books and featuring a truly excellent TV and stereo system.

“You live here,” he repeats.

“Yes. They’re called funeral homes for a reason, Blaine.”

“I thought that was just HBO.”

“Ah yes,” Kurt says dryly. “Six Feet Under. Normally that one doesn’t come up until the second or third date.”

Blaine holds his hands up. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to –“

“Sit,” Kurt says, gesturing to a couch. He takes the end opposite from Blaine and leans back against its arm.

“I feel like I’m about to get schooled,” Blaine says with a bit of dismay.

“You are. I’ve never handled a funeral or a viewing or a service where someone hasn’t propositioned me. Do you know why? Because that’s what grieving people do. They fuck. Irresponsibly. Because it reminds them they’re alive. I am perfectly happy to host and prepare the ceremonies of death no matter how much crazy they enable between drunken second cousins, but I do not, ever, want to be a part of that narrative.”

“I met you before –“

“Before what? Your father got cancer? Before you had to come home in anticipation of his death? Grief doesn’t wait until people die, Blaine.”

Blaine takes a deep breath. “Okay,” he says, because that’s fair, and as long as Kurt keeps talking, he still has hope.

“Next. I live in a funeral home. I work weird hours with dead bodies and sad people. I have to be here all the time, because that’s the promise of what I do. I can’t go to coffee with someone without thinking about whether they could stand to spend the night after they sucked my dick three floors above where we do the embalming. I’m sorry if that’s graphic, but you’re trying to meet cute with me because you’re a hot grieving mess who spilled coffee on one of my favorite pieces from Zara – and I know it’s just high end mall, but their fit model clearly has my measurements down to the millimeter and their jackets make me look like a movie star – and it’s just not that simple. I can’t play this game with you -- or anyone -- if I don’t know whether you’re afraid of ghosts or if you’re ever going to stop running from your dead father.”

“I’m not afraid of ghosts, and I think it’s a little forward to assume I want to suck your cock.”

“You totally do. Your eye-lines are not subtle.”

Blaine laughs, “I don’t want to play games with you. Or lead you on. I just want to take you to dinner. And your home, your house, is beautiful.”

Kurt smiles, and Blaine is fascinated to see that it is shy.

When he asks if that’s a yes, all he gets is a nod, and he struggles not to whoop with delight.

*

They go to dinner, once, twice, a third time. Italian and then French, and the third time, they totally wind up sitting in the hearse eating burgers in wax paper on their way to a home pickup because Death’s timing sucks, which is how that date also winds up being the first time Blaine touches a dead body other than his father’s.

“Was that weird?” Kurt asks on the drive back.

Blaine shakes his head. “I feel a little bad for reeking of Big Mac though.”

Kurt laughs. They still haven’t even kissed.

*

Blaine spends more and more time around the funeral home. It’s not like he’s working beyond dealing with his mother’s grief and father’s affairs which is far more paperwork and hurry up and wait than he could have possibly imagined.

Kurt doesn’t seem to mind, but only because of the large and strange cast of characters that come and go as it is.

His step-brother Finn works on the hearse when Kurt has neither the time nor inclination; Sugar is the emissary from the local florist. Loud and crass about money, she likes to pop her gum in Blaine’s general direction, and she’s so strange that he thinks that if he were he straight, he’d probably ask her out.

Meanwhile, Lauren and Mike are the two morticians who work under Kurt, and Unique, who helps out with makeup for the really challenging viewings, mostly speaks of herself in the third person. There is also Mercedes, who Kurt books to sing at some of the memorial services; Artie, who’s the home’s contact at the largest non-denominational cemetery within 200 miles; Brittany, who’s dating Santana and likes to bring by really weird muffin baskets for holidays Blaine has never heard of and is relatively sure don’t exist; and Puck, who cleans the pool.

*

The pool thing freaks Blaine out more than a little.

“You have a pool.”

“I live in central Ohio and can never go on vacation. Of course I have a pool. Santana takes calls while floating in it sometimes, although not when we have clients in.”

“Isn’t that like a health code violation or something?”

“Says the man who suggested we eat Big Macs in my hearse.”

*

Not only is the pool not a joke; the 2pm dance breaks aren’t either. Santana cranks up the stereo loudly whenever only “family” is in, whipping her hair about to everything from Daft Punk to Guns ‘n’ Roses.

The first time it happens when he’s there, Blaine stares, not at her, but at Kurt, framed with light streaming through the front door and smiling at her.

“You’re happy here,” Blaine says softly, his voice carrying under the music somehow.

“Of course I am,” Kurt says, pleased, like Blaine has passed another test.

*

They kiss, for the first time that night, standing in Kurt’s living room. Every time they try to break apart, one of them dives back in for more, until Kurt walks Blaine down the stairs, pushing at his chest and making him go backwards until they’re at the front door, where they kiss again.

“You have to go,” Kurt says, “or I’m going to ask you to stay.”

“Would that be so bad?” Blaine asks.

“No, yes, not yet, and go," Kurt says, nuzzling against his face before finally pushing him out the door.

*

“I think I’m dating dad’s funeral director,” Blaine tells his mother the next morning over breakfast. It’s so absurd when he says it aloud that they both start laughing and don’t stop until they cry. For lunch, they have scotch and pancakes, and drunkenly go through old family photos.

That night, before going to bed way too early because of way too much scotch, he texts Kurt. Has anyone ever told you you’re right about everything?

Not often enough, comes the reply.

When Blaine wakes in the morning, he’s shocked to find himself alone. Whatever the hell he dreamed, he feels loved like he never has before.

*

There are cars in the parking lot and then some when Blaine gets to the home. There’s a viewing or a service or something, and he should have thought to check the Google calendar thing that Santana had given him access to on the sly before he drove over.

But he’s here now, and figures he can go in and hover somewhere out of the way. No one really minds an extra body at a memorial service anyway. Kurt has told him often you can catch people counting over and over, as if it’s a matter of Facebook friends.

Whoever is singing at this service, it sure as hell isn’t Mercedes. The voice is extraordinary, and when Blaine thinks he has a handle on it, it goes places he doesn’t quite think it should be able to. When he finally pushes the edge of the curtain aside to sneak into the room, he nearly gasps when he sees that it is Kurt, eyes closed and mouth opened to the heavens he has told Blaine he doesn’t believe in.

Later, when it’s over but the mourners are still mingling, Kurt slides by him and squeezes his waist. Blaine just manages to whisper in his ear, “I love all your secrets.”

*

Kurt, Blaine discovers in the weeks that follow, has a lot of strange hobbies.

Yes, there’s the singing and the sewing, which are arguably perfectly ordinary pursuits, even if he uses both in the service of his unsettling-to-most business.

But he also keeps rats. Blaine knows this, because Kurt has finally allowed him into his bedroom, another floor up in a great turret-like structure at the top of the funeral home.

“They’re like me,” Kurt explains softly one afternoon letting one run back and forth through his hands, as they sit in a pair of wingback chairs; Blaine's still barred from Kurt’s bed and anything more than kisses. “People think they bring death. But that’s actually fleas. Rats are fine. It’s not their fault they keep changing the world.” He looks up at Blaine and blinks. “They’re also really smart.”

He holds the rat out to Blaine, who thinks, absently, that he’d be less disturbed if Kurt had thrust a baby at him instead, and he doesn’t even really like kids. “What do I — how do I hold it?”

Kurt cocks his head at him as if he doesn’t understand the question. “Like a rat. It’ll tell you where it wants to go.”

Blaine wonders if the rats are the last test.

*

One of the rats dies.

When Kurt tells him, Blaine asks its name.

“I don’t name them.”

“Why?”

“Because they are rats. What would they want with a name from me?”

“But –“

“They surely have rat names. They’re very social. It’s not for me to know, Blaine. They’re named Rat.”

“Okay.”

“You think I’m strange.”

Blaine laughs. “No. I think maybe you’re the only person who isn’t.”

*

Rat is buried in the back yard, not far from the pool, next to a line of other little Rat graves under a tree. Kurt asks Blaine to come for the interment, and Blaine is surprised to see a group of children there with a red-headed woman with wide Bambi-like eyes clearly chaperoning them. Kurt introduces her as Emma and explains that he always tells her when a Rat has died, so she can bring her students to learn about death.

“The funeral home is too scary for their parents to contemplate,” Kurt confides, “but they prefer them visiting my weird little Rat burials than having to explain the nature of mortality over goldfish and toilet bowls.”

After, the children run around screeching in the yard, playing tag, as Emma chats amiably with Blaine and Kurt watches carefully to make sure not a one of them goes anywhere near the fenced off pool.

*

“Stay,” Kurt breathes against his mouth that night as Santana packs up for the day. Blaine can only nod, happy and tired, eager and strange.

He watches Kurt turn out the lights in the business part of the house and then follows him up the main staircase, each of them taking the steps two at a time.

“Once I close up the downstairs for the night, I usually only use the back stairs,” he says, “but I don’t imagine we’ll be going anywhere until morning."

Blaine hadn’t even known about the back stairs, and appreciates the mention of another intimacy.

They eat in Kurt’s kitchen, which he apologizes for.

“It’s very 1970s, I know,” he says, toeing at the orange octagonal linoleum tiles. “But I never have time, and there’s a warmth to it. So I’m never quite moved.”

“I don’t mind,” he says softly.

Kurt makes them a surprisingly rustic puttanesca, which they eat out of one big bowl, sitting side by side.

“This feels like Lady and the Tramp,” Blaine says.

“No noodle kissing. Also, I’m Lady.”

Blaine throws his head back and cackles.

Kurt sighs happily. “That’s a nice sound.”

“You’re just smug.”

“Only a little,” Kurt says, and then sets his fork down. “When are you going home?”

“What?”

“When are you leaving? I know New York awaits.”

“And she can keep waiting,” Blaine says.

*

They kiss, sloppy and strange, on the way to Kurt’s bedroom, stairs precarious in the dark.

“Wait here,” Kurt says, with a finger to Blaine’s lips when they get to his bedroom. He walks in, in the dark, and Blaine hears the whump of fabric before Kurt flicks on a low warm light on a bedside table. “I cover the rats,” he explains, “for your sanity and mine. Also, they need their sleep.”

Blaine giggles and waits for permission to cross the room.

Kurt yanks off his waistcoat and pulls open the top buttons of his shirt, before holding his hands out to Blaine. “Come here,” he says softly.

They kiss, hands locked together at their sides, until Blaine just has to grab at Kurt’s face, pressing his fingers into his jaw and tilting his head just so.

“Careful,” Kurt breathes. “A boy might think you’re in love.”

“A boy is,” Blaine says, and it feels damming, because Kurt wasn’t wrong about the problem of distance, and Blaine knows he is wedded to this place, his business, this building, and the rats.

*

Kurt’s skin is devastatingly soft and Blaine drags his face over Kurt’s belly repeatedly, mouthing at random and unable to decide what he wants to do with and to him besides keeping old promises and sucking his cock.

Every choice Blaine makes is somehow met with breathy wonder or joyous laughter, and his amazement doubles when, after Kurt’s been pliable and open beneath him, the man flips him over and holds him down with his body, one arm across his chest and the other slipped down between them to finger at his asshole.

“You were so sweet before,” Blaine gasps, then moans.

“And you proved gallantly worthy of my attentions,” Kurt teases, before nipping at his throat.

“Why are you perfect?” Blaine asks, knowing that he’s going to lose the ability to speak, very, very soon.

“Because, I’m weird,” Kurt says, sly, like Blaine should have always known.

*

In the morning, Blaine is woken by sunlight and the sound of the rats in their habitat. Kurt is sitting on the edge of the bed, naked, eating chunks of cantaloupe out of a bowl with his fingers.

“Will you go back?” Kurt asks, voice small, as he sucks on a piece of melon.

It’s a lot. Blaine’s never woken up in a funeral home with a bunch of rats the morning after having his brains fucked out by a creature as elegantly feral as Kurt, and he’d kind of wanted to bask before confronting the promises they sort of made last night.

“I hated growing up here,” he says, because that’s honest and also not an answer.

“I did too.”

“Why did you stay?”

“My mother died, when I was eight. I was sitting in the bed with her. They thought the reason I didn’t call them when she passed was because I didn’t know.”

“You knew.”

Kurt nods. “After that, when things happened, I handled them. I planned the funeral for a teacher’s sister when I was fifteen. It had a chocolate fountain, which, trust me, made sense but isn’t the point right now. A classmate died, in a car accident, our senior year, and… we weren’t that close. I mean we were in glee club together, we knew each other, but they asked me to tell the school, over the PA. Because that’s what I did. That’s what I do. I do death. My dad died my first year in mortuary school, which completely fucked me up, and when I was done, Finn bought out my half of the garage, and I bought this place along with a lifetime of debt, and it’s been everything ever since.”

“And you don’t hate it here anymore.”

“I have my staff and my rats, the pool, Emma’s kids. You. And just between you and I, if you think seeing your classmates fat and balding at high school reunions is awesome, running a funeral home in your home town is amazing.”

Blaine nearly chokes, he starts laughing so hard, and Kurt shoves a piece of melon into his mouth as he falls back on the bed. He chews and sucks the juice down his throat as Kurt straddles him.

“Have you ever been happier?” Kurt asks.

“What?”

“Right now, have you ever been happier? I can tell your cheeks hurt you’re smiling so hard.”

“That’s not the only thing that hurts.”

“Answer the question,” Kurt says, threatening him with another piece of melon.

“Never,” Blaine says, surer than he’s ever felt about anything.

“Then stay.”

“I’d have to find a job and deal with my life in New York and –“

“There’s not a secret wife is there? Tell me there’s not a secret wife.”

“No! I just -- I don’t even know what I would do here!”

“Other than me?” Kurt pouts.

“For employment,” Blaine clarifies.

Kurt raises an eyebrow, and Blaine starts cackling again.

“Yes,” Blaine says when he calms.

“Yes what?” Kurt teases.

“Yes, please; yes, master; yes, my exquisite prince of rats and highest fashion funeral director in the Eastern Standard Time zone, I will stay in this loathsome town, that I never even imagined was hiding so much fucking life,” Blaine babbles, uncontrollably amused with himself and utterly delighted with Kurt and their nakedness and the sickly-sweet horror of cantaloupe.

“Excellent,” Kurt says, popping another piece of melon into his mouth.

“Excellent?” Blaine asks. “All I get is excellent?”

“No,” Kurt says, pressing his sticky fingers to Blaine’s lips. “No, that’s just the start.”