In the morning, before they even leave Brooklyn, Kurt helps Blaine paint his face. Blaine tries to do one cheek himself, his hands overeager and a little sloppy, and he ends up smearing the paint, smudging the colors. Kurt rolls his eyes and paints the other cheek himself, holding Blaine's chin with one hand, the paintbrush in the other. He does each stripe of color with care, from the curve of Blaine's cheek bone to just underneath his ear.
"Sit still until it dries," Kurt says once he's done admiring his work. He washes the brush off in the bathroom sink, dries it with a paper towel. Blaine already did his hair and picked out his favorite purple polo, and Kurt likes the contrast of it, the brightness of the rainbow paint against the neatness of Blaine's usual style.
Blaine pouts from where he's sitting on the toilet lid. He's practically vibrating out of his skin right now, eager for the day to begin, and he'd spend the rest of the morning ricocheting off the walls if Kurt gave him half a chance. Blaine says, "I was going to Santana if she needed help with the--"
It sounds reasonable -- Blaine is quite good at sounding reasonable -- but Santana has told Blaine more than once that he needs to 'stop fucking hovering' and Kurt knows that Blaine can be bad with directions when he doesn't like what they are. "No," Kurt says. "Sit."
Blaine graduated a month ago, and now he's in New York for the summer, ostensibly to get settled in the new place he's sharing with Sam and Mike and to make new friends in the city and to learn some responsibility by doing odd jobs for friends of his father, but really he's been lingering around the Bushwick apartment, talking to Rachel about NYADA politics, getting into weird passive aggressive arguments with Santana about proper trash disposal, and somehow managing to attach himself to Kurt's hip without Kurt realizing it.
They're not-- who knows what they are after the Regionals not-proposal debacle, but Blaine is a part of Kurt's life and Kurt is a part of Blaine's, and they always seem to drift back together. Kurt doesn't know how to explain it, and he's not even sure he wants to.
Blaine fidgets a little with the excess energy, but he schools his expression into something calmer, more collected. Kurt squeezes his shoulder, watching the way Blaine brightens at the touch, and he feels something warm and familiar rise up in his chest.
It's their first New York Pride together, and it's going to be perfect.
They've been the Columbus Pride before with Kurt's dad tagging along. That was always great, that was amazing, but it was usually a tame affair even with all the rainbow flags, the brightly-colored shirts, the couples walking around hand-in-hand. There were some more outre groups and people showing up in costume, but those tended to be few and far between, and Kurt could see the way his dad got confused and uncomfortable around them.
The first time Kurt went, it hadn't been awe-inspiring or life-changing. It was just-- good. Good in a way that felt bone-deep and pleasant, of looking around and knowing, knowing that these were his people even if he didn't know any of them, and he knew that they saw him at Blaine's side, their bodies pressed right up against each other, that they could see that he was one of their people too.
This year they're going to be in Manhattan, and while Kurt isn't sure this will be any more life changing than Columbus, he wants to make sure he is putting his best foot forward while surrounded by (nearly) every other gay man in the city. He, of course, has been planning his outfit for weeks (with Blaine's help, because he doesn't trust Rachel's taste or Santana's intentions) -- a brightly colored tank top, neat linen pants, and a pageboy hat with to keep the sun out of his eyes. At first, Kurt was a little annoyed at only being allowed one layer, but Blaine did have a good point about being outside in the late June weather in the middle of a crowd.
Back in high school, they used to talk about how much they wanted to do this, how it would mean something that they made it here, that they made it out. They'd stare at pictures on the internet, sigh over the price of tickets to the Dance on the Pier, and plan their own elaborate parties for when they're rich and famous enough to invite their most fabulous friends over and get drunk on expensive chardonnay together.
Maybe it'll be years before that becomes true for them, but this year is a good first step, going to see the parade first-hand. Santana had even rolled her eyes before inviting herself along.
The morning is bright and hazy, one of those awful summer days where you know you're going to feel the humidity in the afternoon. Sweat is already beginning to form on Kurt's arms, lingering on the back of Kurt's neck. Kurt already slathered himself in SPF 100 sunscreen this morning, ready to do battle with the outdoors.
They take the subway -- thankfully air-conditioned -- into the heart of Manhattan. As they rattle along, Kurt glances around. There are other people going where they're going. He can see them with their rainbow pins and t-shirts, holding hands and laughing softly amongst themselves. Anticipation hums in his chest, a pleasant excitement that makes his feet twitch, makes his fingers restless.
Santana grumbles a little about 'that color vomit' and rolls her eyes. She's dressed in all black, wearing a scowl on her face, but Kurt suspects that she feels it a little bit too. They grew up in Lima together, after all. She understands what it means.
They get off at the 14th Street Station and head towards Fifth Avenue, a little bit further down the parade route. It's already begun to fill up, rows of people pushed right up against the metal barricades. The haze has brightened, and the sky above them is a pale, washed-out yellow. Blaine is right at his side, eyes bright, smiling already. The paint on his cheeks scrunches up, his eyes crinkling. They push through the crowd, and Kurt grabs Blaine's hand so they won't lose each other.
There's already group walking down the parade route wearing green t-shirts, middle aged and smiling, waving at the crowd as they walk past. One of the women with mousy brown hair and unfortunate shoes (okay, it's a parade, but that is really no excuse) peels off from the rest of the group and runs towards the barricade. Her girlfriend -- lover? wife? -- on the sidelines laughs with open arms, accepting a kiss with good grace as everyone around them cheers. Kurt even spots a bit of tongue. He breathes out, and it feels like something unwinds in him. He remembers the way Brittany and Santana would get weird looks for just for linking pinkies in the hallways, whispers that would follow them between classes, into homeroom.
There's music blasting from one of the floats coming down the road. Kurt smiles at the familiar notes of Born This Way, even though for most of the world, Lady Gaga was so two years ago. Blaine laughs besides him, giving Kurt's hand a friendly little squeeze, bopping along to the beat.
The float is brightly colored and filled half-naked men, cheerfully grinding up against each other. Some of the them blow kisses towards the crowd, delighting in the cheering and adoration. Some of them throw beads like it really is gay Mardi Gras. Santana catches one of them, a string of golden beads that she throws around her neck immediately. It looks trashy against the understated black of her shirt, but Kurt figures that today is good for a little trash.
"Don't be jealous, Hummel," she says with a wicked smile. "I'm sure short stuff here will get you your own bling."
Blaine rolls his eyes. She sticks out her tongue at him. Just last summer, Blaine probably would have smiled at her with a stiff politeness, careful not to antagonize her. It's amazing what a year at McKinley High will do to a person.
Another group starts to walk down the street, more half-naked men, carrying flags, holding hands. Sunglasses and khaki shorts and ridiculously defined abs, a sheen of sweat making them glow in the late-June humidity. Some drag queens strut by in feathers and speedos, pasties covering their nipples, their painted lips puckered, accepting kisses from the crowd.
After they started dating, Adam convinced him once to go with him to a gay club, just to see what it was like, experience the scene in the heart of the big city. It wasn't Kurt's thing, not really, too many people and too much alcohol and too much meaningless sex. But it had been kind of nice too. It had felt nice to be in a place where he didn't feel set apart from everyone else, the strange one with his high voice and impeccable fashion taste for all that NYADA had its own share of prissy queers. There had been plenty of flamboyance in that club, shrouded in the darkness and the eerie shimmer and glitter of the dance floor lights. Here, it's out in the open, glowing in the summer sunlight, walking the streets of Manhattan. Bright, flashy, colorful, gaudy, trashy, sexual. Kurt's not sure if he'll ever use the word 'fierce' again after watching season four of Project Runway (if there's anything he hates, it's being unoriginal), but it's not the worst way to describe the mood in the air.
Defiant. Unafraid. Kurt has never hidden himself away, especially not in New York, but this feels different. This feels like an invitation. An invitation to let it all hang out, to push it into everyone's faces. They're here, they're queer, they're fabulous, they're... proud.
And Kurt understands what it means to be proud. For years, his pride was his only self-defense mechanism, the only way he had to remind himself that it was them, they were the ones who were wrong. It was what kept his head held high in the halls of McKinley when every jock within a hundred foot radius was out for his blood. It was what let him grit his teeth through every single fight over whether or not he was allowed to sing girl songs. It was what led him to this moment, right here, in the heart of New York, watching a dark-skinned woman with gold streaks in her hair throw her arm around her pretty wife as the two of them show off their matching wedding rings to the cheering crowd.
He turns to look at Blaine. He's put on his ridiculous yellow-framed Wayfairers, and his smile is as disarmingly sweet as it was the first time Kurt saw it on the Dalton staircase. It still takes Kurt's breath away. For all that Kurt could have made his way through high school by himself, Blaine was the one who taught him how not to be alone, who taught him that he didn't have to be. As awful as their breakup was, Kurt is glad that he's the one who's here right now.
"Hey," Kurt says, ducking his head so he can say it right into Blaine's ear. "We're a long way from Ohio, aren't we?"
Kurt can't see Blaine's eyes, but he can see the way Blaine's expression shifts, softening. "Yes," he says, looking straight at Kurt, and it doesn't matter how long it's been; the way Kurt loves him feels as steady and sure as it's ever been.
They've never been all that demonstrative in public, preferring to keep it to a clasped hand, a tight hug, arms threaded in the hallways, but right now, Kurt wants to do more, wants to show everyone who they are and what they have. What they have is tender, and it's fragile, and it's slowly being rebuilt, but it's beautiful, too. It's always been beautiful, and Kurt has never been ashamed of it, not even a little bit.
Two shirtless men are making out in the middle of the street as a steady stream of people walk by them, their hands still clinging to their water bottles and their flags, and even from here, Kurt can see the way they're smiling as they kiss.
Not all of it is ridiculous. Most of the things people are wearing are dull, jeans and t-shirts and tank tops and khaki shorts. One memorable group of lesbian bikers wore a lot of denim and leather, rainbow bandannas and trashy beads. In many ways, it's not so different from Columbus Pride, right up until the point where one of the groups comes walking down the street mostly naked save for the bondage gear.
There's even a few politicians. It's easy to tell them and their entourage apart by the way they're dressed in business casual in the ninety degree weather even as they're waving rainbow flags themselves. It's also easy to tell them apart because said politician is usually standing in front of the group with his or her wife or husband, smiling and waving in a display of polite, respectable heterosexuality. Kurt finds it almost kind of quaint amongst the rest of it.
Santana wanders off, seduced away by a pack of lesbians wearing very short shorts and a lot of eyeliner. Kurt has to brush off a few appreciative comments himself from men who had a little bit too much fun pre-gaming this morning or who are under the impression that Pride is about window shopping for their next one-night-stand.
Blaine ends up accidentally flirting with a cute college guy with an NYU t-shirt and frat boy hair, because he still hasn't quite managed to figure out the line between 'politely enthusiastic' and 'leading people on'. He turns bright red and apologizes when he figures it out. The guy takes it in good stride, slipping Blaine his number, and Kurt reminds himself that they're not together anymore. If Blaine wants to call him later, that's none of Kurt's business.
"This is really amazing," Blaine says. The paint on his cheeks is beginning to crack, and his hair is breaking free of its gel in places, and there are sweat stains starting to form under his armpits.
It shouldn't be as attractive as it is. "Come here," Kurt says. They've pulled back from the crowd, lingering underneath the shade of a nearby awning, and Blaine's eyes are bright, the top buttons of his polo unbuttoned in a scandalous display of skin. He still waxes his chest, Kurt notices. His Wayfairers are dangling from his belt.
"Hey," Blaine says. His smile is warm and goofy.
"Hi," Kurt says. He takes a quiet breath and wraps his arms around Blaine's neck. "I love you."
Blaine doesn't even hesitate, wrapping his arms around Kurt's waist, pulling him close. "I love you, too." His voice is muffled by Kurt's shoulder, but Kurt can feel the way his lips move against his shirt.
He's not sure which one of them moves first, but Blaine tilts his head up, and Kurt tilts his head own. It's a sweet kiss, the kind they've shared so many times in the past, and no one around says anything. There are no strange stares, no awkward whispers, no wolf whistles from Santana. When Blaine pulls back, someone jostles him from behind. It's two men in their thirties holding hands, wearing beards and baseball caps. There's a little girl, about five or so, skipping beside them a pretty green dress, holding her father's hand from the other side. It makes Kurt's chest feel pulled tight, a window into a possible future, for all that the beards are a turnoff and one trucker hat phase is enough for one lifetime.
"What are you thinking?" Blaine asks.
Kurt looks up. Another float is coming by, a respectable one from a local gay-friendly church, where everyone is fully dressed and no one is trying to grind to Ke$ha. Blaine's forehead is furrowing, his eyebrows coming together, and Kurt wants to--
There's something in the air. Maybe it's the mid-summer heat, maybe it's the humidity, maybe it's all the rainbows everywhere (which yes, Kurt can admit is maybe a little bit much), maybe it's the guy standing near them, dancing to faint music with his hips thrust forward, cock pressed obscenely against the front of his tight pants. Kurt's never been great at being reckless. He doesn't have the natural inclination for it that Blaine does, willing to risk everything on just the slimmest of chances. "Have dinner with me tonight," Kurt says.
"Of course I will, silly," Blaine says. "You and Santana had that one falafel place in Greenwich that you wanted to go to, even though that whole neighborhood is probably--"
"No," Kurt says. "Have dinner with me tonight." He grabs hold of one of Blaine's hands, squeezing it. There was a time when they had their own language of touches and gestures and glances, the ability to read each other without saying a word. It's fallen into some disuse over the past eight months, but Kurt thinks they can revive it again. He's not sure it ever completely died off in the first place.
Blaine's eyes go wide. "Oh," he says. "Ohhhh." A grin breaks out across his face. "My answer hasn't changed, you know. Of course I will." They stand like that for a moment, just enjoying the closeness, their bodies sharing the same space, the same air, before Blaine turns around. He looks back at the parade. It's continuing on without them, heading towards Greenwich Village, to the place it all began. "I want to visit Stonewall," Blaine says, wistful. "Maybe not-- maybe not just right now, not even today. But, you know, someday."
Kurt thinks he understands that yearning to understand your roots, to reach back across the decades, when they had so little of that history in Lima. What was it like on that night in 1969? That moment that everything snapped? He thinks of the way he's perfected his insults, honing them razor sharp. He thinks of the way Blaine boxes when he's angry. He thinks of the scars they carry with them, physical or otherwise. He thinks of the fact that he and Blaine went to two proms together, that they danced underneath the tacky decorations and drank the gross (probably spiked) punch. It was never a secret that he and Blaine were dating. They never had to hide themselves away. Even with all they've been through, the Stonewall riots seem like they happened a million years ago. "I'd like that," Kurt says. "I haven't been there."
Blaine leans in close, pressing their cheeks together, his breath warm and familiar, hugging Kurt tight. "Let's go back to the parade," Blaine says. "Santana is going to make fun of me forever if I don't get you some of those beads."
"I do expect you to keep me in the lifestyle to which I've become accustomed," Kurt says with an exaggerated sigh.
"I'll have to remember that," Blaine says, "the next time I make you some gummy wrapper jewelry."
Kurt laughs, feeling giddy, lighter than he has in months. He and Blaine are wearing matching silly smiles as they push their way up to the barricade, arm in arm, shoulders bumping together.
A middle-aged drag queen walks by and coos at them. "Well, aren't the two of you adorable," she says, blowing them a kiss. Blaine blushes, ducking his head, and Kurt can feel a similar heat in his own cheeks. She throws them two sets of beads and gives them a wink afterwards.
"It's true," Blaine says, voice pitched just loud enough for Kurt to hear, "but you're like, dirty-adorable."
"You are never going to get any mileage out of that phrase," Kurt says, but maybe he's lying, because he ends up cupping Blaine's cheek, running his thumb against the colors of the paint, the reminder that this is where they're meant to be, that they're part of something bigger than just the two them.
He leans forward to kiss Blaine again, soaking it all in, the noise of the crowd, the metal barricade digging into his side, the heat of the summer sunshine, the outdated club music, the taste of Blaine's lips.
It's their first New York Pride together, and yes, it's perfect.