The shop is closed on Monday for President's Day, so Kurt decides to join Blaine and Dave for one of their Monday-afternoon study sessions.
Except that school is also closed on Monday, which somehow translates into Dave having an all-day football thing that makes no sense to Kurt, so the study session is cancelled. Was cancelled ages ago, in fact, but no one bothered to mention it to Kurt until Sunday.
("Didn't football season end already?" Kurt said irritably when Blaine broke the news to him. He was ashamed for snapping at Blaine, but Blaine took it in stride, which was good, because if Blaine had asked him what he was irritable about, he wouldn't have had an answer.)
So they don't see Dave on Monday, but Kurt and Blaine sit at the kitchen bar and study anyway because they've been putting it off all weekend, and it's nice, the way their legs brush against each other as they work. Kurt tries not to think that it would be even nicer if Dave were there, sitting on the other side of Blaine, how it would be a little easier to concentrate because Kurt would know for sure that everything was normal between them, and not weird and awkward because of what happened Saturday night.
On Tuesday, when Kurt is out in the hallway, waiting for Blaine to finish up talking with Rachel in the choir room – (she's been going on about the wedding, and even though Kurt wants to be her friend in every way, he just can't when it comes to her relationship with Finn) – a text comes in from Dave.
Dave: Hey. Not going to S this weekend.
Kurt’s heart either stops or sinks – he's not sure which, because he also goes a little numb. Oh? Kurt texts back.
Dave: Maybe I should spend less time there.
Kurt: But there’s great company there.
Kurt: Oh. And maybe not-so-great company.
Kurt: A growing collection of not-so-great companions.
Dave: I should probably try something else?
Kurt: Like what?
Dave: I don't know. But maybe you and Blaine can come along.
Kurt isn't aware of how tense his body has been until this moment, when it loosens so fast that he knocks his spine against the latch of a locker as he slumps against it.
Kurt: I'm sure we can arrange that.
They settle on broadening their horizons to a state park more than an hour away, far enough from Lima that they probably won't run into anyone they know.
Despite the unseasonable warmth, there aren't that many people out on the trails. Kurt's not exactly an outdoorsy type, but contrary to what people might think by looking at his angelic face or his pristine clothes, he doesn't object to being out in nature once in a while. He does, after all – and unlike many people he knows – acknowledge that to be human means to have come from all this, to have been born out of the elements and to be related to the creatures that populate these woods.
He can feel his evolutionary history in the way his eyes are drawn to the flash of red when a cardinal flies out of the undergrowth, and his ears prick up at the sound of a tree creaking on the other side of the hillock, and his nose picks up everything: the moisture in the air; the sweet decay of rotting bark; the slightest hint of green preparing to poke through the soil; Blaine's raspberry hair gel and Dave's aftershave piercing through the natural scents and yet somehow seeming to belong.
He remembers what Mercedes said more than a year ago, when his father was in a coma and the only way she knew how to help was to invoke God. You've got to believe in something, something more than you can touch, taste or see. Mercedes was so wrong, in so many ways. He doesn't need anything more than reality and to be part of it. It doesn't always feel good, but it always feels true.
He takes Blaine's hand because it grounds him further in the world, and also because he can, because there's no one around to judge, and even if there were, they'd think twice about saying anything because Dave is there with them and he's a behemoth.
They talk about this and that as they hike the trails, Kurt on one side of Blaine and Dave on the other – small talk, mostly, and Blaine impressively steers away from asking Dave prying questions about exactly what happened in that bathroom last week at Scandals.
He doesn’t steer away from giving Dave a long lecture on safer sex, though. Dave turns pink and nods and gives short answers and asks short questions as Blaine espouses the need for condoms for anal and oral and asks, "Have you had the HPV vaccine yet? It's really important. Because even if you're just doing frottage – "
"What's frottage?" Dave says.
"Rubbing cocks." Blaine says it with the same polite matter-of-factness that he says Medium coffee, please, when ordering at the Lima Bean.
Dave half-laughs. "Where the hell did it get the name frottage from?"
"I don't know."
Kurt interrupts, his interest in Romance languages overriding his need to run and hide from this conversation. "It's French. For 'friction.'" He's pretty sure he’s blushing as red as his old Cheerios uniform.
Dave mulls this over. "'Friction' sounds sexier than 'frottage.'"
"Anyway," says Blaine, "even with frottage – friction – you can transmit HPV. And it can be passed with a condom on, because it lives in the skin so it can be in the bal –"
"I think he gets the idea, Blaine." Kurt pokes Blaine's arm. "I can give him my brochures later."
"Um, sure, I'll look at brochures," Dave says, eyes on the trail beneath them. "But I think I got that HPV vaccine. It's, like, three shots, right?"
"Yeah, my mom didn't think I should get it because I'm never supposed to have sex until I'm married to a virgin. But my dad won."
Blaine seems satisfied by that and the sex talk shifts into a friendly argument about whether the squirrels look different here than in Lima, and then into comfortable silence.
Well, it's not silence, exactly. They aren't talking, but their presence in the woods is surprisingly loud – the weight of their footsteps against the ground, their conspicuous but unlabored breathing. A couple times during these pauses, Dave starts to whistle unconsciously, and Kurt thinks he recognizes the tune but he's not sure where he's heard it before, until Blaine says, "Is that Beethoven's third piano concerto?"
"Oh," says Dave, looking down at Blaine. "Was I – I didn't realize I was doing that out loud. Sorry."
"For what?" Blaine says.
"Whistling?" Dave gives Blaine a look somewhere between Duh, obviously and complete incomprehension.
"Why would you apologize for whistling? You're good at it." Blaine slows his stride; Kurt and Dave automatically shrink their gaits to match the new pace.
"Because it's annoying?" Dave says.
Blaine screws up his eyebrows. "Who told you that?"
Dave looks overhead, his eyes skimming through the canopy of branches. "My parents, Coach Tanaka, Coach Beiste, Coach Alvarado, Azimio, Finn, Puck – "
"Okay, I get the idea," Blaine interrupts. "But I don't think it's annoying."
Dave glances across Blaine at Kurt. "Don't look to me for disapproval," Kurt says. "I was enjoying it. How does the rest go?"
Dave smiles. "It's like, half an hour long. I'd have to be thinking too hard to do the whole thing."
"Are all concertos that long?" Kurt says.
"Something like that," Dave says.
"I don't know anything about classical music," Kurt says. "Blaine gets insulted when I compliment his playing because I know not of what I speak."
Blaine smiles sheepishly. "I do not get insulted."
"Well, you don't take my praise to heart. You're always, 'No, if you knew how this was really supposed to be played, you'd hear all the things I do wrong.'" Under their footsteps, Kurt hears the unmistakable sound of water stirring over rocks, of half-thawed sheets of ice breaking against one another.
Kurt turns toward the sounds and sees the creek now to their left, visible maybe 10 yards away through the underbrush. The water is running high against the banks, and ice floes have piled up against a line of stepping stones crossing the creek. The water coursing around them makes its own music, one that hints of revival and the yet-distant spring.
Kurt looks at Dave again. "Do you play, Dave? Is that why you know – sorry, I forgot the number of the piano concerto already."
"I used to. Before I broke my fingers playing hockey."
Blaine interrupts. "You play hockey?"
"He used to be on McKinley's ice hockey team," Kurt says, and maybe he's gloating just a bit, because lately he's begun to feel that Blaine is getting to know Dave a lot better than Kurt ever has.
Dave looks at Blaine. "Yeah. So I broke my fingers and I couldn't play piano for a while, and then when my fingers got mostly better, I couldn't play as well as I had before, and it hurt, and I got frustrated, so I quit." A cloud falls over Dave's eyes, and he opens his mouth like he's about to say something more, but instead he just sighs.
Kurt resists the urge to prod.
"That sucks," Blaine says. "I mean, if you enjoyed it."
"I enjoyed it when it was easy and I was good at it. I didn't like it so much when it was painful and I was just so-so at it. I guess, you know, diminishing returns on the investment." It still sounds like there is something more under there, and Kurt wants to peel back the layers to find it. He squeezes Blaine's hand instead.
They come to a footbridge and stop, Kurt and Blaine on the downstream side and Dave on the upstream side, to gaze over its railings at the water churning forward. The ice and detritus from last fall ride its current toward the lake, which they can't see yet but know to be there, somewhere past the tangle of tree trunks and hillocks.
Dave leans down to pick up a fallen stick from the planks of the bridge and moves to stand next to Kurt. He drops the stick into the water below, watching it float for 20 feet before it hits a rock, bobbing stagnantly for a moment before the current subsumes it. "Sometimes I feel like a lost cause. I give up so easily."
“That,” Kurt says laconically, dropping a small stone into the creek below, “is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. You’re one of the most doggedly persistent people I know. And I mean that in the best possible way.”
Dave turns to look at him, eyes startled. “Really?”
Kurt can’t help but laugh. “You don’t see it?”
Dave shakes his head.
“Well, I’m not sure how to explain it,” says Kurt. “I guess what I see is that you haven’t given up on yourself, even though a lot of times it feels like it would be easier to. I think that takes a lot of courage.” He looks at Dave even though Dave's not looking at him, but is watching the water below.
“It’s hard,” Dave says.
“I know.” Through the layers of wool and cotton, Kurt feels Blaine's hand on the small of his back. He feels Blaine's equanimity enter him, curl around his spine and into his heart, cool and calming like the water-brisk air. If he were Blaine, he would take his gloved hand and wrap it around the back of Dave's and let the connection take care of it all. But he's not Blaine. He keeps his hands where they are, fisted into his pockets. “You’re one of the bravest people I know.”
Dave looks up, his eyes shifting color from bark to moss to earth in the shallow winter sun. "I don’t – I don’t feel brave.”
“You are, though.” Kurt keeps looking into Dave's eyes even after he’s spoken, though doing so makes him feel naked.
Dave doesn't say anything, just squints his eyes and nods his head and swallows hard. Kurt feels Blaine's hand on his and somehow it gives Kurt the courage to do what he needs to do – to rub the back of Dave's shoulder, just a momentary touch, as Dave slumps over the railing to watch the water below.
When they step out of the woods, Dave and Blaine bound toward the frozen water. They want to test the ice at the lake's edge. Kurt calls after them, telling them they're idiots and there's no way in hell or heaven or any other imaginary world that he's going to join them, but for reason’s sake, at least stay away from the mouth of the creek, where the ice is the thinnest.
Dave hollers back that it may be warm outside today, but the lake has been frozen solid for almost six weeks now and there should be a good four inches of it in most places, and anyway he learned how to ice fish in Scouts so he knows what he's doing.
"Fine," Kurt says petulantly when he catches up with them. "At least have the decency to lie down and spread your weight if it starts to crack beneath you, because I really don't want to have to drag the both of you out."
Kurt sits on a picnic bench and watches them, his idiot teenage boys, step out onto the lake. Except maybe they're not such idiots after all, because they walk slowly, looking at the ice beneath and in front of them, and Dave tilts his head like he's listening for clues. After they're out several yards, he draws something out from the inside of his coat, lowers himself to his stomach, and starts whacking at the ice, and Kurt has to admit that maybe Dave does know what he's doing because he brought a fucking ice hatchet.
Then Blaine lies down on his stomach and takes a turn, whack whack whack, and Kurt starts to laugh.
After a while, Blaine starts talking excitedly. Kurt can't hear what he's saying, but he's guessing it means they've hit water. Dave takes the hatchet and sticks the handle in the hole they've made and says something to Blaine, and Blaine stands up and hops a little and yells, "Six inches! Ha ha!" at Kurt.
Kurt thinks of a sexual innuendo, but holds his tongue as he rises from the bench and walks to the shore, gravitating toward a large flat rock that seems to have been put there just for the purpose of him sitting on it, bringing himself as close to his two idiot boys as he can without becoming an idiot himself and joining them on the ice.
"Come on! Join us!" Dave calls, but Kurt just shakes his head.
"Nah-uh. You two have your fun." Kurt reaches into his satchel and pulls out his notebook, holding it up to the sun. "I'll just sit here and sketch. If you fall through the ice, I'll have your last moments recorded to show your families."
The boys on the lake grumble their protest, but Kurt will not be moved. They eventually shrug at each other and turn away, though Blaine looks back over his shoulder at Kurt and gives a little wink and wave. It almost makes Kurt want to join them.
Kurt stuffs warming packs into each of his boots and holds one in his left hand. With the other gloved hand, he draws. It's not as difficult as it might be, since he wore his leather driving gloves today with the thought that he might want to scribble, and they are as close a thing as one can get to a second skin.
Blaine and Dave are moving too quickly to catch, so he sketches the background first. It's a new experience for him, because he hardly ever draws on a grand scale. He usually focuses on what's close at hand – the minute details of the way people carry themselves and the fabric shifts over their bodies; the way the opening of a collar or cuff highlights the sinews of wrist and neck; the way that clothing praises or insults the human form.
So he thinks about the lake as another body, the shore and the tree line the fabric that encircle it, and it's easier to see the shapes then, the exact way in which nature curves and bends.
He's not sure when he started, but at some point he realizes that he's singing to himself:
The long and winding road that leads to your door will never disappear.
I've seen that road before. It always leads me here.
It's a song he's known since childhood, from one of his mother's Beatles albums. He's had it memorized for years and he still hasn't decided exactly what it's about – sometimes it's about heartbreak, and sometimes it's about overcoming, and sometimes it's about reconciliation, or hope – but he knows that it reaches into his heart and twists it a different way each time.
His father played it on infinite repeat in the months after his mother's funeral. Kurt wasn't supposed to hear it – his father always saved the ritual for when Kurt was outside playing (sometimes with the neighbor's girl, sometimes with the neighbor's dog, as often as not by himself), and Burt usually closed the windows to muffle the music and the tears.
But Kurt heard it. He could hear that song through any wall or shut door, because it was like his mother's voice calling to him, and maybe he should have been sad, but he felt oddly warm. It still makes him feel that way.
He only hears his mother's voice sometimes when he sings it now. It has become more than a memory of her; it's grown into him like the vines that twist through the forest canopy here in summer, until it's become as much a part of him as it ever was of her.
He sketches and sings and watches the boys as they recede further onto the lake, their bodies becoming smaller, the colors of their clothes less distinct – mostly just a mass of darkness against the white of the ice – and his heart overflows.
* * *
Kurt's voice carries over the lake, clearer than the winter air or the crystalline thickness of ice that covers the center of the lake. There are patches of frost here and there that provide some traction, but mostly Blaine and Dave just propel themselves forward by skating on their shoes.
"You know, I fell in love with him while he was singing." Blaine's hands are folded behind his back like a speed skater's, but his chest is tilted only slightly forward as he moves.
Dave almost says, I know what you mean, but thinks better of it. Instead he just nods and says, "It doesn't surprise me."
Blaine does a one-eighty, gazing toward the barely discernible figure of Kurt on the shore. "Well, that's not quite right. It's more like, I finally stopped fighting being in love with him and just surrendered to it. I don't know why I fought it for so long. Well, I do. But in retrospect, it seems so stupid."
Dave starts to nod, but stops himself. "Well, at least you didn't fuck everything up beyond repair in the meantime."
Blaine sighs. "Honestly, I don't understand how the whole world isn't in love with him. I mean, just look at him."
Dave does look, even though they're far enough away that it's hard to distinguish Kurt's face from the rest of his figure. It's still clearly Kurt, though – not just because of his voice. Dave could recognize Kurt from a mile away just by how he holds himself.
I don't understand, either, are the words that come to Dave's mind. But instead he says, "The world is full of fools," because that's what a supportive friend would say.
Blaine puts his hand on Dave's back – a little too long to be called a slap, but too brief to be called anything else. He looks toward the shore, his face radiant with devotion. "At least we're not among them," he says.
* * *
When Blaine and Dave arrive safely back at shore, Kurt pretends to be disappointed that they didn't fall through the ice. "You'll never learn your lesson now," he says as they climb the beach toward him. He stays poised on his rock like it's his throne and he's about to hold court. "And it's too bad, really. I already recorded the image of your demise." He raises his notebook up to show his courtiers a quickly sketched cartoon of two stick figures falling through a break in the ice.
Dave snorts and Blaine beams, leaning down to kiss Kurt chastely but vigorously on the forehead and the cheek and the lips.
Kurt doesn't show them the other sketches he drew, the ones where they were distant and beautiful, like two sandhill cranes lazing about on a newly mown cornfield.
Kurt gives Blaine his hand and the three of them walk back, laughing and joking as the shadows lengthen across the forest floor. The sun is too low to be seen by the time they get back to their cars and say their goodbyes. Kurt wishes they’d driven together. He's not ready for this day to end.
He and Blaine watch Dave drive off before they climb into the Navigator. Blaine grabs Kurt's hand as he moves to put the key in the ignition and lifts it to his lips, gently kissing the gloved fingers, his eyes rapt on Kurt's face.
The last of the weight that Kurt’s been carrying lifts from his shoulders.
Blaine moves to Kurt's lips, pressing into them with slow patience. Blaine is delicious – warm and fleshy with a faded glow of cinnamon Altoids. When he finally pulls back, he doesn't go far – just enough so his eyes can focus on Kurt's face.
Kurt breaks into a shy smile. "What was that for?"
"This is the best day of my life," Blaine answers calmly.
Kurt blinks. "The best?"
"Okay. Maybe I have multiple bests. Like the first time I saw you, and the first time I heard you sing, and the day we first kissed, and when I told you I loved you, and the first time you fingered me – "
Kurt blushes. "And they all involve me?"
"Yeah. They do."
It's not often that Kurt is speechless; the feeling is so strange and unfamiliar that he tries to speak anyway. "I – " he starts. "You – " he tries again.
It's hopeless. So he pulls Blaine close, presses his nose against Blaine's hair, inhaling the woods and the vague scent of raspberries, feeling the solidity of his lover in his arms. "So much," Kurt says.
They drive home, alternating between talking and quiet. When Blaine starts humming "The Long and Winding Road, " Kurt decides to show him the other sketches he drew today, after all.