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Instinct

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It’s not common. Maybe only one in every hundred thousand people. It’s so uncommon, in fact, that scientists refuse to acknowledge it as a phenomenon. It’s the type of experience that, pre-Internet, no one really ever talked about because it sounded crazy. People who admit that it exists call it the soulmate instinct – all of a sudden, one day, you feel a compulsion to go to a particular place at a particular time; when you get there, you end up meeting the person that you are meant to be with for the rest of your life. At first, the compulsion was dismissed as anxiety, or a need for a change, but as story after story got shared online, the collective Internet realized that every story ended with a wedding and a happily ever after.

Most people brush the soulmate instinct off as a fantasy dreamed up by bored millennials or a bias to find a pattern in random coincidences. Critics point out that no two stories are the same: some people describe the feeling as a tug from within their chest; some say that the idea of not going caused a deep sense of unease or anxiety; and others just say that the thought was like an obsession, repeating over and over in their heads until they made plans to travel. Consequently, many critics attribute the entire phenomenon as manifestations of mental illness, particularly since many of the “so-called compulsions” are relatively indistinguishable from symptoms of General Anxiety Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Deniers point out that many people who claimed to have experienced the “soulmate instinct” did not feel any continuing compulsion after arriving at the right time or place, nor any particular pull towards a specific individual. They call attention to the fact that the instinct did not even impact both members of the couple – typically, the soulmate instinct was reported by only one partner, the other experienced nothing out of the ordinary.

With all of the criticism and judgment targeted at those who believe in the soulmate instinct, the discussion surrounding it is mostly limited to more curated spaces, like forums, fan fiction, and, of course, Tumblr. But, as the discussion is permitted to grow in these safe spaces, it is becoming more and more evident that, whether or not it is observable in a controlled environment, something is drawing compatible people together.

***

Blaine was no stranger to discussions of the soulmate instinct on Tumblr; in fact, most of the people he followed had posted about it at some point or another. And yet, in early 2017, when a passing mention of the Broadway on the High Seas cruise appeared on his computer through the ads Google had chosen based on his interests (probably hundreds of hours of YouTube viewing dedicated to Broadway performances would do it), the soulmate instinct did not even cross his mind as he immediately sped down the hall to Sebastian’s office.

“Let’s go on a cruise next month!” Blaine exclaimed, not waiting for Sebastian to wave him inside.

“Nice to see you too,” Sebastian quipped, looking at Blaine like he had suddenly sprouted two heads. “And…what?”

“Okay, hear me out,” Blaine said, raising his hands defensively before Sebastian could say a word. “There’s this cruise ship leaving out of Miami in a month that’s basically just a giant Broadway convention. There are tons of performers going, like Andrew Rannells, and Lindsey Mendez and even Brian Stokes Mitchell, and it’s just going to be full of panels and performances and other Broadway nerds.”

“And?” Sebastian prompted, not looking up, fingers still flying over his keyboard as he typed out an email.

“And it sounds like my perfect week!” Blaine exclaimed, dropping into the chair in front of Sebastian’s desk. “Seven days of nothing but incredible singers and dancers and master classes and other people who love the same things that I love. And it’s in the Caribbean, so it’ll be warm and sunny and beautiful the whole time.”

“Blaine,” Sebastian dragged his eyes away from the glare of his double screen to catch Blaine’s eye, “come on.”

“Come on what?”

Sebastian sighed. “How are you going to manage this? You’re underwater as it is with your case load, you’ve been staying until at least ten every night dealing with crisis after crisis, and you just took a few days off for your brother’s wedding in California.”

“Right, I know,” Blaine’s face fell. “It’s just, I think our briefs will be done by the end of January, and then it should be quiet for a few weeks until we get the response. Theoretically enough time to go on a week-long cruise?”

Sebastian smiled sympathetically. “I’d be more convinced if you were telling me, not asking me.” Sebastian dragged his gaze away from his computer screen and settled back into his chair to fully engage with Blaine. “Look, I am the first person to say go for it and take vacation, but,” Sebastian dropped his voice to just above a whisper, “if you want to get recommendations from the partners to get out of here sometime soon, you have to stay on their good side. And you know that Jonathan hates it when associates take vacation too often.”

“Yeah,” Blaine sighed, agreeing with what he knew to be good advice from his friend. “I just…it sounds so perfect, you know? And this case is killing me, I haven’t had real time for myself in months.” He pushed himself out of the chair and to his feet heavily, shoulders uncharacteristically slumped. “I guess I can book something different in a few months.”

“Didn’t we say we’d go to Spain some time this year?” Sebastian asked. “Let’s see if we can plan something for September.”

Blaine gave a small smile at his friend’s attempts to cheer him up. “Sure, let’s try for that. See ya.”

“Later,” Sebastian waved half-heartedly, his attention already refocused on the screens in front of him.

Pulling the door closed behind him, Blaine ducked out of Sebastian’s office and made his way back to his own. With a quick peek into the corner office to make sure the partner wasn’t paying him any attention, he began to sing quietly, letting his head dance back and forth during the instrumental breaks.

“Singing again,” Lisa, one of the administrative assistants who sat in the cluster of cubicles across from Blaine’s office, noted with a smile. “What is it this time?”

“A song from Moana, actually. That new Disney movie,” Blaine replied with a genuine smile, despite the anxious, fidgety feeling he could not quite shake. “Just popped into my head on the way back from Sebastian’s office.”

“Haven’t heard you singing much these days,” Lisa observed, fixing Blaine with a searching look.

“Well, I was out of the office last Thursday and Friday,” Blaine replied, forcing himself to ignore the small, red notification blinking ominously on his Blackberry and squirming slightly under her scrutiny.

“Now Mr. Anderson, you know I know your schedule better than you do.”

“I don’t doubt that, Lisa,” Blaine laughed, reflexively smoothing down his already gelled hair in an attempt to quiet his nerves.

Lisa opened her mouth to reply again, but the phone next to her began to ring. “Jonathan Holden’s office, please hold.” Once Lisa had properly set the caller on hold, she turned back to Blaine. “I’m just sayin’, I like it when you sing – livens the place a bit and reminds me of my grandson. He just discovered Disney and won’t stop singing the songs.” With a smile and a wink, Lisa lifted up the receiver to address the caller, “I apologize for the wait, Mr. Holden will be right with you.”

Blaine raised a hand in farewell before shutting the door to his office behind him. He settled back into his chair and winced when he saw the number of emails awaiting him after only a five-minute break. Lisa wasn’t wrong in her observations – he had been singing less recently. In the midst of the almost three hundred hours he had worked in December and the constant barrage of assignments being thrown at him from all sides, music had just had to take a back seat to the law. There wasn’t time in between all of the writing and researching and organizing to be distracted by his usual mix of show tunes, classic rock and modern pop music if he wanted to sleep more than four hours each night. Blaine tried for several minutes to focus on the contents of his inbox, but after reading the same email from Jonathan, the partner on his case team, at least four times, he realized that his efforts were futile. Instead, he clicked through the Broadway on the High Seas tab open on his computer with one hand, as the other tapped a nervous rhythm on his keyboard that matched the speed at which his leg bounced under his desk.

Blaine took a deep breath, clenching and unclenching his fists to try to harness his nervous energy before giving up and picking up the phone to punch in a familiar number from memory. “Hi sweetie,” his mom finally answered, the smile evident in her voice. “To what do I owe the pleasure of a call during the work day?”

“Hi Mom,” Blaine said, soothed by the comforting voice. “Am I crazy if I want to book another vacation in three weeks?”

“Three weeks?” his mom repeated, sounding incredulous. “But you just took off a few days last week for Cooper’s wedding.”

“I know,” Blaine sighed, lightly banging his head on his desk in frustration. “I just…”

“Just what?”

“There’s this cruise, and it sounds so perfect,” Blaine allowed himself to gush a little bit, knowing how insane he sounded. “It’s seven days in the Caribbean and it’s jam packed with Broadway stars and there’s going to be performances and master classes and an amazing chance to learn from the best and tons of other people who can nerd out about it with me.”

“Whoa, Blaine, deep breath,” Blaine’s mom teased lightly, laughing at the rush of words. “It sounds fantastic, but I worry that it’s a bit soon.”

“I know, but…it will be after we file our initial brief and so it should be better then,” Blaine explained desperately, clicking through the website to see the confirmed performers and the preliminary itinerary. When his mom remained silent, Blaine closed his eyes, feeling another rush of disappointment. “Yeah, okay. It’s too soon.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” his mom said, sounding profoundly sad. “I just…I remember how demanding my law firm was when I first started, and you know that’s part of the reason I ended up leaving. I don’t want you to regret it later on because of this trip. Is it the only one of its kind?”

“No,” Blaine conceded, “they have one every year. And I knew it existed, but…this one just has the most perfect people in it. And the schedule just seems spot on for me: there are songwriting and playwriting seminars with Pasek and Paul and so many chances to collaborate with other artists. There’s a 24 hour one act competition where you can work with one of the performers and a random group of people on the ship to make an amazing one act play or musical, which I loved to do in college. There are writing dates each morning with other composers where I could spend some time just thinking about writing songs again. It’s like it was made for me.”

Blaine’s mom paused for a long moment before speaking. “It’s something you have to decide, honey. If doing this cruise this year, so soon after the last trip, is something that you really think is worth doing, in spite of the fact that you may have some pushback at the firm.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Blaine sighed again, regretfully closing out of the tab on his computer. “So how are you doing, Mom?”

****

That should have been the end of it. Blaine knew, logically, that it was a bad idea; that the partners on his team might hate the idea. And yet, that knowledge merely increased his feelings of unease; it made his fingers and knees tap nervously as the incessant swirling in his chest felt like a black hole was sucking up all of the air as it tried to reach his lungs. As a result, throughout the afternoon, Blaine found himself picking up his phone to call or text at least a dozen friends to see what they thought about the cruise. He spoke almost obsessively about it, finding that talking through his options was the only thing to lessen the tightness in his chest. Of course, a dozen people all told him the same thing: it’s not the smartest choice, but as long as you won’t get fired, do what you think is right. By the end of the last of these conversations, Blaine’s sensible side confidently decided that the Broadway cruise was not worth whatever fall-out might result.

It wasn’t like this was the first time he had had to put his Broadway dreams on hold in favor of more pragmatic choices. After a disastrous first semester at NYADA had left him with severe anxiety and depression, Blaine had made the difficult choice to take a semester off to get his mental health back in order and re-evaluate what he wanted. It wasn’t the musical theater that had driven him out of NYADA, but the constant personal scrutiny from professors and the biting, backstabbing competition from his classmates. Realizing that his talent and knowledge of music and songwriting could be better nurtured elsewhere, Blaine transferred to NYU in order to study music alongside more mainstream subjects, like business and English. And then, during one of his classes about the music industry, he had suddenly found himself with a particular interest in the law, and how copyright and performing rights organizations impacted the music business. And then, and then, and then…until four practical choices later Blaine found himself suddenly working as a general corporate lawyer who only rarely got to work on cases involving the music industry.

Yet, in spite of his tendency to opt for the safe, rational choice, the cruise niggled at the back of Blaine’s mind on his subway ride home. The decision not to go stuck to him uncomfortably, a feeling that only grew stronger and stronger as he ignored his book on the train, left the station and ordered himself a salad from Chop’t, carried it the three blocks to his apartment, and tried to eat it while trying (and failing) to ignore his blinking Blackberry. His stomach twisted and turned as he pushed away the salad, half eaten, and reached into the freezer to grab a pint of ice cream instead.

This is how his roommate, Sam, found him thirty minutes later; bundled up on the couch under a blanket, half eaten pint of ice cream in hand, Moulin Rouge playing on the TV in front of him. “Dude, what’s up?” Sam asked, concerned.

Blaine looked up in surprise and fumbled for the remote to pause the movie. “Hey, didn’t hear you come home. What?”

Eyebrows furrowed in confusion, Sam threw his coat over the back of the couch and sat down next to Blaine. “This is what you do when you break up with someone, but you haven’t had a boyfriend since Dave. Wait, have you?”

Blaine rolled his eyes fondly. “No, Sam, I haven’t broken up with someone. You would know if I had been dating. We do share a wall.”

“That’s what I thought!” Sam said, his face contorting even further in confusion. “So, what’s with the…” he waved his hand vaguely at Blaine’s set up.

“Stomach’s a little off,” Blaine said honestly, even while scooping up another spoon of ice cream.

“I’m not a doctor or anything, but isn’t ice cream bad for you if you have a stomach thing? I love you, man, but I really don’t want to clean up any vomit.”

Blaine huffed out a laugh, and carefully set the pint and spoon onto a coaster on the coffee table. “Thanks, Sam. But it’s not that kind of stomach pain. This is the anxiety kind – you remember, harder to breathe, tight chest, slightly nauseous feeling.”

“Oh,” Sam sat up a little straighter, reaching out to place a gentle hand on Blaine’s shoulder. “Are you okay? I still remember all the breathing things we used to do.”

“I’m okay,” Blaine reassured him, touched at his friend’s concern. “I mean, work has been crazy, which has generally been making my anxiety worse recently, but I’ve had it pretty well under control, I thought. And now, none of my normal breathing exercises have been working. Which they should, especially ‘cause I know why I’m feeling anxious.”

“Tell me,” Sam offered, turning sideways on the couch to lean against the arm, crossing his legs in front of him.

“It’s nothing,” Blaine tried to deflect, but Sam fixed him with a surprisingly stern glare. “Okay, fine. It’s…there’s this cruise next month that has been rented out by this company that uses it for a giant Broadway convention. There will be tons of performers – Andrew Rannells, Pasek and Paul, Rachel Berry,” Blaine threw in a woman’s name, knowing that Sam would be more likely to recognize a pretty, up and coming actress rather than the performers he was most interested in. “It’s basically a week of performances, and chances to chat with famous actors and writers, and workshops and master classes where I could focus on my songwriting and playwriting and acting.”

“Dude, that’s amazing,” Sam reached out to lightly punch Blaine’s arm in enthusiasm. “You have to go!”

“It’s too soon,” Blaine explained sadly, face falling and chest tightening as he remembered that he couldn’t go. “It’s only a few weeks away, though it will be after my team has that big deadline, but I just took vacation recently. I mean, it was only a four-day weekend, but still, it’s not fair to them. Though honestly, no one would care except maybe the partner, who kind of hates me already.”

Sam opened his mouths to respond, but Blaine kept talking, oblivious to his friend for the moment. “And another thing,” he slapped his hands down on either side of his legs on the couch to emphasize his point. “I haven't had a spare night off in months! I'm going to completely burn out if I keep working like this. If the firm really wants me to be a valuable asset or even moderately useful I deserve to use at least some of the vacation days they give me, and…” Blaine trailed off, staring at Sam’s smiling face in confusion. “What?”

“Dude, you so want to go,” Sam exclaimed, clapping a friendly hand on Blaine’s shoulder. “You're like, talking yourself into it as you tell me about it. Has anyone actually told you not to go?”

“No,” Blaine admitted, clasping his hands together to stop them from fidgeting. “But I know they wouldn't want me to go. Well, Jonathan wouldn't want me to go. The other partners on my teams probably wouldn't even notice and the other associates won't care.”

“So, like, give me the worst case scenario. What happens if you go and this Jonathan guy is pissed?”

“Um,” Blaine hesitated, taking a moment to think it over. “I guess he wouldn't write me a recommendation if I asked.”

“Would you get fired?”

“No,” Blaine replied immediately, “it takes a lot to be fired from my firm.”

“Are you leaving anyone in a lurch? ‘Cause I know you won't want to be that guy who abandons his team when they need him.”

“No,” Blaine replied slowly, his anxiety abating slightly as the pieces began to fit together in his mind. “My stuff is all due the week before the cruise.”

“You decided to go,” Sam sat back against the sofa looking contented.

“I…yeah. But how did you know that?”

“You just like, totally relaxed. And you don't have the big, sad Blaine eyes that mean you're trying really hard not to cry. I'm proud of you, man!”

“Thanks, Sam,” Blaine leaned forward to draw Sam into a hug, half out of gratitude and half to hide the fact that a few tears had escaped at having made the decision. “I’m going to do it. Damn the consequences. Jonathan will just have to deal with it. I don't know what it is, but I just got so attached to the cruise the second I saw it – it just feels right.”

“You're gonna have the best time,” Sam smiled widely, reaching behind him to pull Blaine’s laptop off the side table. “Let’s make it official so you can't get cold feet later on.”

Blaine accepted the laptop from Sam, with a laugh. “Happy to. But as far as I'm concerned now, it's a done deal – and the cruise leaves in a month. No time for cold feet!”

Chapter Text

Ultimately, it wasn’t a problem for Blaine to take the week off. Except for one pointed comment from Jonathan at a team meeting, he got nothing but excitement and support when he let his teams know he would be gone for a week – to date, the longest vacation he had ever taken. And suddenly, the cruise became a part of Blaine’s life; a thing that he talked about and planned for and looked forward to. Most importantly, the cruise served as a shining light at the end of the tunnel: the thing that he thought and dreamed about on the late nights that he spent at the office drafting and revising the papers his teams would need to file just days before he left for Florida.

Before Blaine knew it, the seemingly interminable brief was finished, his bag was packed, and, passport, in hand, he was boarding the massive cruise ship that towered fifteen stories high. As he walked through the maze of small hallways to try to find his stateroom, Blaine could feel the incredible pressure that usually sat on his shoulders melting away. He waved at the friendly crew-members as they passed and only got lost twice on the way to his room. While many would consider the small stateroom, with hardly enough room to maneuver his suitcase and no window, a disappointment, Blaine smiled, collapsing onto his bed happily.

After sending a quick text message to his mother to let her know that he was safely aboard, Blaine contemplated what he should do first. As he considered the options – the 24-hour buffet, swimming pool, organizing his room – a horrible, familiar feeling of anxiety settled deep in his chest. “Oh come on,” Blaine groaned aloud, taking deep breaths to try to dispel the anxious feeling before it spiraled into something more serious. Rather than obsessing over his options, Blaine decided to take action. He grabbed his key card and a novel he had been meaning to read for months and headed out into the hallway, intending to wander until he found something that grabbed his attention. Blaine took the stairs down one flight, to the main reception area of the ship to explore and get the lay of the land. As he walked a slow circle around the floor, a map of the deck caught his eye and he realized what must have been causing his anxiety. Having been on cruises before with his family, he remembered that at some point on the first afternoon, the passengers were gathered together in the auditoriums and restaurants around the ship for a muster drill so the crew could explain the safety protocols for the ship.

With this in mind, Blaine noted that the Grand Auditorium was, in fact, one of the muster stations, and decided that the best way to alleviate his anxiety would be to get there early. He made his way down to the front row and took a seat next to the other early comers, opened his book and allowed himself to be lost in the fictional world. Over an hour later, the blaring muster alarm, as well as a voice repeatedly asking, “Muster station B?” pulled Blaine out of his book. He looked up in surprise to see that the auditorium had slowly filled up around him.

The repeated questions came from crew-members in giant orange vests, who were moving among the rows, checking in with each passenger to ensure that they were in the right room. In horror, Blaine scanned the other passengers who now filled the auditorium and realized that they, too, were carrying enormous orange vests. Eyes wide, he looked to the people next to him, and realized that they had stored their vests under the seats, out of view, and were now pulling them out to confirm that they were at the proper muster station. Blaine suddenly felt an overwhelming compulsion to get out of the room, to be anywhere else before someone noticed that he was wrong. With the anxiety again gnawing at his chest, seemingly sucking up all the air in his lungs, Blaine hurriedly tucked his bookmark back into his book and walked as quickly as possible out of the auditorium to get his life vest.

Blaine struggled against the current of people all making their way down the stairs to their respective muster stations and finally managed to make it to his stateroom. He fumbled with his key card, dashed into his room, nearly tripping over his suitcase, and reached into his closet for his life vest. He quickly made his way back out of the room, running back down the stairs before he realized that the dark letter drawn on his life vest read C, not B. The repeated announcements of “last call”, combined with his mounting anxiety made Blaine nearly frantic, and he had to physically and intentionally stop, close his eyes and lean against the wall for a moment to gather his wits about him. Moderately calmer, and now modulating his breathing, Blaine asked a nearby crew members where he could find Muster station C and made his way back up the stairs and to the back of the ship to one of the lounge areas.

The room was, unsurprisingly, packed when Blaine finally arrived at the proper station. After checking in, Blaine scanned the room for any leftover space to sit and, finding none, opted instead to lean against some empty space along the back wall. As Blaine caught his breath, the knot of anxiety finally began to abate, allowing him to breathe deeply again. He ran his hands over his face, shaking his head at his own inability to remember basic instructions that he knew he had been given at check-in.

Blaine listened attentively as the crew members demonstrated how to put on the life vest, and followed suit when instructed. From next to him, he heard a derisive snort and looked left to see the most attractive man he had ever seen shaking his head. Seeing Blaine staring, the man offered, “I don’t care how important these things are; no one can make that shade of orange work.”

Blaine spluttered, failing to suppress a laugh. “I’m pretty sure the ugly orange is the point, so they can see us in the water if the ship goes down.”

“Still,” the man rolled his eyes, adjusting a strand of light brown hair that had escaped his carefully styled hairdo. “There are other options. A neon yellow, or blue, or even pink could be accessorized, or have complementary pieces. This is just a sea of fashion don’ts.”

“Literally,” Blaine joked, pleased when the man smiled back. “Unfortunately, I think all cruise ships use this putrid orange color. The good news is, if you can handle it for a little while longer, this is the last time we’ll see the orange life vests.”

“We hope,” the man joked back, a twinkle in his piercing blue eyes.

“So you work in fashion?” Blaine asked quietly, now completely ignoring the demonstration in front of him.

“Fashion blogger extraordinaire,” the man replied, with jazz hands. “I work for Vogue.com.”

“Wow,” Blaine said, very impressed. “I read Vogue religiously. I should admit, though, that I haven't made it onto to Vogue.com. What kind of content do you have on there?”

The man gave an over dramatic gasp, shaking his head. “How could a devout Vogue reader, as you claim to be, not have experienced the wonder and awe and still being developed content on Vogue.com?”

Blaine laughed aloud this time, quickly covering his mouth with his hand to avoid drawing attention to himself. “My job monitors our Internet use pretty strictly, and I’m pretty sure that Vogue.com would not be approved content.”

The man paused, seemingly considering Blaine’s words for a moment. “Okay, I’ll accept that. Work restrictions are legitimate. I know how that goes.” The man’s lips twisted into a sardonic smile and he shook his head briefly before turning back to Blaine. “So do these things ever end?”

“First cruise?” Blaine asked instead of responding.

“Yes.”

“Luckily this is the only annoying thing cruise ships make us do. It’ll be over soon, and then it’s all eating and shows and trivia.”

“Good,” the man said, pushing himself off the wall with one foot and settling with his arms crossed over his chest. “There’s only so much of this orange I can take.”

“Maybe turn it into a column?” Blaine suggested, only half kidding, but wanting to make the man smile again. “How to avoid looking like a pumpkin while drowning?”

To Blaine’s delight, the man did smile. “Not bad,” he said contemplatively, “but I think you’re missing the click bait word. How about: How to avoid looking like a rotting pumpkin while drowning?”

Blaine chuckled quietly, nodding in agreement. “Much better. I’m Blaine, by the way. Blaine Anderson.”

“Kurt Hummel.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Kurt Hummel.” Blaine reached out a hand out of habit, and Kurt eyed it appraisingly.

“So formal,” he commented, sounding half impressed and half curious. “And here I thought this would be more of the smile and awkward wave crowd.”

“Side effect of my job,” Blaine explained with a hint of self-deprecation, eyes flicking from Kurt’s down to his hand.

Without further prompting, Kurt shook Blaine’s hand with a laugh. “So, either lawyer, banker, or politician.” Before Blaine could respond, the muster drill ended and people began filing out of the lounge. “You’ll have to leave me in suspense,” Kurt reached down to pick up his shoulder bag, “I have to run off to meet someone. Nice to meet you, Blaine.”

“You too,” Blaine barely got out before Kurt disappeared into the crowd with one final smile.

***

That evening, somewhere off the coast of Florida, Blaine found himself on the top deck of the cruise ship, far above the noise of the crowds still gathered around the pool despite the hour, desperately trying to find a signal for his cell-phone. The opening ceremonies to the cruise had been wonderful, showy and loud and full of his favorite Broadway music, dinner had been fun, surrounded by like-minded thespians actually interested in debating about the merits of Steven Schwartz versus Stephen Sondheim, and yet Blaine found himself pulling out his now useless Blackberry to check his work email at increasingly frequent intervals. His chest seemed to tighten with each failed attempt and by the time dessert was served Blaine could think of nothing but finding some way to check his work email. He managed to wait until most of his table had finished dessert before excusing himself, leaving his chocolate cake completely untouched. Realizing that he had little chance of finding a signal on the lower decks, Blaine headed upward, wandering from end to end of the ship, trying to find a signal. He was well aware that the ship offered slow, expensive Wi-Fi that he could use in order to communicate with work, but the one strict line in the sand he had drawn for himself was refusing to purchase an Internet connection. If he gave into the impulse to purchase the Wi-Fi package after only eight hours on the ship, Blaine knew he would regret it in the long term.

But maybe, just maybe, the ship hadn’t turned far enough away from land at this point that he could sneak a look at his emails to make sure none of his case teams needed him for something. At least, that is how Blaine justified to himself the fact that he spent at least a half hour wandering around the top three decks, waving his phone in the air as if the right point would get him access to his emails. As if the ship wasn’t moving further and further away from shore even as he searched. And yet, in spite of what he knew was sound logic, Blaine climbed until he was on a small deck that contained only a basketball court, a few shuffleboard sets, and a track around the outside.

Blaine sighed, moving around the track, one hand on the railing and the other waving his phone overhead in slow arcs, hoping for a connection. He jumped when a dry, amused voice spoke from the ground just in front of him. “If you’re signaling to a plane to land, I think you need two of those light up stick things. And probably a bigger landing pad.”

Blaine looked up from the backlit screen of his phone and blinked into the sudden darkness down at the man sitting on the ground below him. Once his eyes focused a little, he saw Kurt sitting with his back pressed up against the railing, legs stretched out in front of him. Another few steps and Blaine would have tripped over him. Anxiety forgotten in his moment of surprise, Blaine laughed and leaned down with a hand extended to offer his assistance in helping him stand up. But Kurt waved him off, laughing lightly. “Oh, I’m down here on purpose. But thanks. Care to join me, Blaine?”

Blaine pocketed his phone and sank down to sit on the floor next to him. “Hi, Kurt. Sorry about almost walking into you.”

Kurt waved off the apology in an easy motion, his eyes now closed as he leaned back against the railing. “No need to apologize, you did nothing wrong. That being said, what in the world were you doing?”

Blaine huffed out a laugh, glad that Kurt couldn’t see how quickly he flushed. He brought hand up to rub the back of his neck, cringing a bit even as he spoke. “Um, I was trying to find a signal so I could check my work email.”

At that, Kurt opened his eyes and turned to look at Blaine, cocking his head slightly in confusion. “You do realize we’re in the middle of the Caribbean, right? No cell towers around here.”

“It’s a side effect of the job, temporary insanity,” Blaine explained with a shrug. “I felt like I had to at least try.”

“I’m just glad I caught you before you started climbing the railing Titanic style,” Kurt teased, leaning over to nudge Blaine gently with his shoulder.

Rather than the usual spike of discomfort he felt when someone teased him for things he did as a result of his anxiety, Blaine felt inexplicably warm inside, as if Kurt were in on the joke rather than poking fun at him. “Give it a few days,” Blaine smiled easily, his shoulders relaxing back against the railing. “You never know what might happen.”

They sat in companionable silence for a few moments before Kurt said, “I’m guessing banker.”

Recalling their earlier conversation, Blaine turned to face Kurt, crossing his legs and sitting up straight. “What makes you say that?”

Kurt didn’t respond for a moment, his eyes holding Blaine’s gaze and narrowing slightly, seemingly trying to read something under the surface. He sat forward, mirroring Blaine’s position so their knees were pressed lightly together. “The inability to go six hours without checking email, the severely gelled hair, the expectation that waving your phone will somehow make a connection possible, and the dapper bow tie and sweater combo, even when we’re cruising in the Caribbean.”

“How does the waving my phone around mean I’m a banker?”

Kurt’s lips quirked up as he suppressed a smile, trying to maintain a more serious face while rising to Blaine’s challenge. “In my experience, bankers think that they are really good at understanding and using technology while in actuality they have no idea how anything works. Aren’t your computer systems from like the 1980s?”

My computer system?” Blaine raised his eyebrows. “Isn’t that a bit presumptuous?”

This time, Kurt couldn’t stop the smile from blooming across his face. He snapped his fingers, as if disappointed. “Shoot, hoping to trick you into a confession there.” Eyes still narrowed, he searched Blaine’s face intently. Despite his usual unease with close scrutiny, Blaine sat still, eyes steady on Kurt’s face until Kurt finally sighed and threw up his hands in defeat. “Okay, tell me. Was I right?”

“Nope,” Blaine revealed with a wide smile, popping the “p” in satisfaction. “Lawyer.”

“So close,” Kurt shook his head in mock disappointment, his sparkling eyes betraying his otherwise serious expression. “Aren’t most law firms ‘business casual’ these days?”

Blaine nodded. “Yes, but I wear bow ties nearly every day anyway. Have done so since my senior year of high school, actually. I just like them. Gives me a bit of personality in what is otherwise sort of a sea of uniform, boring suits.”

“Ahh, that’s what threw me off,” Kurt nodded knowingly. “Most bankers still have to wear ties, and I assumed you just got in the habit. How was I to know I had a bow tie connoisseur sitting in front of me?”

“Being a fashion blogger for Vogue.com, I’d think it would have been obvious,” Blaine teased back, pleased to finally have the opportunity.

“Perhaps it would have,” Kurt conceded, “if you hadn’t so quickly dismissed the merits of wearing a suit.”

“You underestimate me,” Blaine said, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “I merely said that suits were uniform when you wear them every day, which they are. Grey or blue pants with button down shirts don’t provide much chance for individuality, not like a good bow tie can. But,” he added, holding up a finger to stop Kurt from jumping in, “maybe hold off judging my taste in suits until formal night. I bet I can impress you.”

Kurt’s eyes sparkled at the challenge. “You’re on.”

Blaine smiled, his work email forgotten. “So, what brings you up here this time of night? I can’t imagine you were also trying to check email with a non-existent signal.”

“Not so much,” Kurt laughed, drawing his knees up and leaning back onto his arms. “I was mostly just looking for a few moments alone.”

Blaine blanched, eyes widening in sudden horror. “Oh, I’m so sorry, I just stumble over you and invite myself into your time alone, and I…” he trailed off as he saw Kurt shaking his head slowly with a fond smile.

“Blaine, I asked you to sit down with me,” Kurt reminded him, nudging Blaine’s thigh lightly with his foot. “Remember?”

Blaine let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding, relieved. “Right. Sorry.”

“You keep saying that,” Kurt commented.

Blaine blushed again, ducking his head embarrassedly. “It’s a reflex.”

“How so?”

“It’s sort of drilled into us at the firm to just apologize if something goes wrong and fix it; you don’t try to explain.”

“Even if you did nothing wrong?” Kurt’s face contorted in confusion and disbelief.

Blaine shrugged resignedly. “Even then. Partners aren’t interested in understanding what brought you to be wrong, they just want to know that it is being handled. So you apologize, say that you’ll fix it, and get it done as fast as possible.”

“Seems counterintuitive,” Kurt said thoughtfully, turning to stare through the clear plexi-glass railing into the never-ending expanse of water surrounding them. “I’d think they’d want to understand what happened to ensure that everything goes right in the future.” At yet another shrug from Blaine, Kurt’s lips twisted upwards in a half smile, half grimace. “But then, I’ve never been good at apologizing for doing what I think is right.”

Blaine started say something in response, but the look on Kurt’s face made him return to where the conversation had begun. “So, you were looking for somewhere alone on a ship carrying thousands of people and you chose the one place where you can still hear and see everything going on by the pool?”

Kurt smiled again. “I said alone, not silent. You’d have to be crazy to come up to this level of the ship this time of night. It’s dark, a little slippery, and the ship’s beginning to pick up speed, so it’s also really windy. No one in their right mind would come up here.” Kurt looked pointedly at Blaine.

“I thought we had already established I wasn’t in my right mind,” Blaine replied without missing a beat. At Kurt’s nod of acknowledgment, Blaine prompted, “Anything you want to talk about? I’ve been told I’m a good listener.”

Kurt took a minute to consider the question, and Blaine could almost see the options weighing in his mind. “You know, I don’t think I need to anymore. It’s the friend I came with – she’s my best friend, and I love her, but sometimes she’s absolutely infuriating and I need some time away from her. Not something easily accomplished when you’re sharing a cramped stateroom. But I’ve lived with her for years, it’s nothing I’m not used to by now.” Kurt rested his chin on his knees, his hands wrapping around his legs. “Thanks, though. I do appreciate the offer.”

“Any time,” Blaine said, trying to impress upon Kurt that he really meant it.

“Careful there,” Kurt warned, with a slight raise in one eyebrow, “I may actually take you up on that.”

“I look forward to it.”

Chapter Text

The first two days of the cruise passed by in a blur for Blaine. Despite traveling alone, Blaine never felt lonely on the ship; he was surrounded at all times by friendly, like-minded people who all wanted to talk theater with him. Compared to the grey-skied isolation of New York, where everyone followed their own path parallel to one another and never really intersected, the warmth, joy, and shared experience of the cruise was refreshing. Blaine was especially grateful that Kurt had interrupted his desperate search for a signal that first night – had he not done so, there was a good chance Blaine would have given in to his unfortunately well-ingrained work instincts and paid for Wi-Fi. As it was, he hadn’t even looked at his Blackberry in two days, preferring instead to make plans the old fashioned way, choosing a time and place and relying on someone else to be there.

Blaine walked down the corridor outside his stateroom, smiling and waving to the neighbors who were already more familiar than the people who lived next to him in New York, heading towards a lounge at the back of the ship. He checked his watch, and sped up slightly, not wanting to arrive late to morning yoga. “Sorry, sorry,” he apologized, not slowing down as he approached the lounge entrance and the woman who was waiting for him outside with her eyebrows raised. “I have no good excuse, I’m just late.”

With a pointed eye roll, Tina fell into step beside him, grabbed his hand and pulled him through the already gathering crowd towards the front of the room. “Lucky for you, I already scoped out spots in the front for us.”

Blaine smiled gratefully, pulling Tina’s hand to his lips and kissing it with a smack. “You are absolutely magical, Tina Cohen-Chang. I do not deserve you.”

“No,” Tina replied with a shake of her long ponytail, “you don’t.” They lapsed into comfortable silence as they each arranged their materials around their yoga mats. It was a bit shocking to Blaine how quickly they had fallen into a familiar pattern together, having only met a day and a half earlier, but he was already starting to consider Tina a good friend. Someone he actually expected to keep in touch with after the cruise ended. After being randomly paired together during a dance class on the first full day at sea, Blaine had discovered that Tina had graduated just a few years behind him at NYU with a double major in Biology and dance. Having similarly given up her dreams of performing for something more practical, she was now finishing up a graduate degree in physical therapy that would permit her to combine her two passions – medicine and dance. Though Blaine quickly realized he could never keep up with Tina in the dance classes, she had made the executive decision that he was one of the less hopeless men in the class and deemed him her partner for any and all cruise activities going forward. This apparently included non-partner classes as well, and Blaine found himself agreeing to meet at a nine am yoga class, despite having never done yoga before.

Tina must have read the look of mild panic on his face, and she laughed softly. “Oh Blainey, don’t worry, Brittany is the best yoga instructor on board. I’ve done her classes the past two mornings – you’ll love her.”

“Right, but you do yoga regularly,” Blaine pushed back, extending his legs in front of him to try and loosen up before he completely embarrassed himself. “This is maybe my fourth time doing yoga ever?”

“You’re new to yoga?” A bright voice chimed from just behind Blaine’s head, and he watched as a tall, thin, blonde woman with impossibly long legs made her way to the front of the room. “I love newbies! Hi Tina!”

“Hi Brittany,” Tina replied happily, leaning around Blaine to give Brittany a hug. “This is my friend Blaine. He’s a lawyer, but he’s also a pretty good dancer. I thought he would like your class.”

Brittany fixed Blaine with a soft, yet piercing stare, examining Blaine from head to toe. “He’s not a lawyer,” she finally proclaimed, nodding to confirm her words.

Blaine wrinkled his eyebrows in confusion. “No, Brittany, I really am a lawyer. I just also like musical theater.”

“No,” Brittany insisted, waving him off as if his words meant nothing. “I mean you’re not really a lawyer.” She turned away as if that explained everything and finished organizing her space. “Good morning everyone,” she said softly, yet authoritatively, and every head in the room turned towards the front, chatter immediately dying down. “Thank you for coming to yoga with Brittany. I’m Brittany. Today we’re going to focus on expelling all of the negativity and pressure that we brought onto the ship. Because we don’t want any of that here, we want to relax and make this a place of joy and of healing. So, with me, take a deep breath in.” Blaine closed his eyes and followed Brittany’s count, “two three four. And out, two three four. Again.”

Brittany walked around the room as she spoke, adjusting people’s posture and guiding them into the proper poses. Blaine breathed deeply in time with Brittany’s instructions, feeling calm and present in a way he had not for a long time. He jumped slightly when Brittany said quietly, “Left leg a little further out, Blaine,” and smiled encouragingly at him when he opened his eyes. “That’s it, good job.” Her praise rippled through him pleasantly.

With the additional encouragement, Blaine allowed himself to stop thinking about anything other than the yoga poses, for the first time completely separating himself from the Blackberry that finally sat abandoned in his stateroom. At Brittany’s final “Namaste,” Blaine sat for an extra moment with his eyes closed, reveling at the level of serenity he had achieved in just an hour. He eventually opened his eyes and turned lazily to look at Tina, who was watching him fondly. “We’re definitely coming to this again tomorrow.”

“I knew you’d like it,” Tina replied, a little smugly. “Brit, will you be here tomorrow?”

“Same time, same place,” Brittany promised, rolling up her yoga mat into a bright pink bag with rainbow straps. “And I’m teaching a salsa class with my girlfriend later this afternoon, if you’re interested.”

“Oooh that could be fun, right partner?” Tina turned towards Blaine excitedly, eyebrows raised in a silent question. Blaine shrugged agreeably.

“It starts at 4:30 in the club in the back of the sixth deck,” Brittany said, slinging her bag over her shoulder. “We do a half hour lesson, and then it transitions right into a salsa dance hour, which is super fun. I hope I see you guys later!” With a happy wave, Brittany skipped towards the door, kissed a dark haired woman who had been waiting, and headed off down the hall, hand in hand with her.

“Where are you headed now?” Tina asked, shouldering her tote bag and pulling out her daily schedule.

Blaine followed suit, pulling out his carefully highlighted and color coordinated schedule to compare. “There’s a panel in fifteen minutes on overcoming stereotypes in performance that I really want to attend, and then I was planning to go to the panel on songwriting at two o’clock. What about you?”

“I definitely want to do the stereotypes one, so let’s start heading up to the lounge to get seats,” Tina suggested, leading the way out the door and to the bank of elevators around the corner. “After that, I was thinking about doing the improv workshop, and…shoot!” Tina interrupted herself, crinkling her nose in annoyance.

“What’s wrong?”

“I just realized that I was scheduled for a vocal coaching session with Rachel Berry at 4:30. It was one of those lottery things and I completely forgot it was today – I’ve just lost all sense of what day it is, you know?”

“I know the feeling,” Blaine shook his head, amazed at the sense of timelessness that had pervaded his time on the ship.

“But that means I’m abandoning my dance partner!” Tina furrowed her eyebrows even further, seemingly considering the issue very seriously. “Maybe I should try to reschedule…”

“Tina,” Blaine took Tina’s hand and gently pulled her to the side of the hallway so he could look her in the eye. “You can’t miss your session with Rachel Berry in order to come to some dance thing with me. That’s insane.”

Tina gave him a small smile, inclining her head in agreement. “Yeah, okay, you’re right. Rachel Berry wasn’t my first choice, I really wanted to work with Lea Salonga, but I figure she will definitely be helpful in getting me to emote more while singing – I tend to drift a little bit into the background when I’m in big groups.”

Blaine laughed, and they continued down the narrow hallway to the already crowded lounge. “Rachel Berry definitely has no problem standing out, even in a crowd. Did you see her performance in Les Mis?”

“You couldn’t look away from her, even when Eponine was supposed to be in the background!”

“My point precisely,” Blaine said, sitting back in his seat with a satisfied smile. “Don’t worry about me, I may not even go to the salsa class; I’ll see how I’m feeling after the writing panel.”

In spite of his protestations to Tina, the idea of the salsa class had gotten into Blaine’s head, and he found himself walking purposefully towards the sixth floor dance club as soon as he finished speaking with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul after the songwriting panel. He typed quickly into his phone as he walked, trying to remember all of the very practical and useful answers they had given to his many questions. In his haste to reach the sixth floor and his lack of attention to the hallway in front of him, Blaine was amazed that he had the presence of mind to stop short just before completely mowing down someone who had paused in front of him. “Oh, excuse me,” Blaine apologized, raising his free hand to catch his balance before he tripped over his own feet.

A quiet chuckle and steadying hand on his upper arm very quickly and effectively focused Blaine’s attention. “You look very motivated,” Kurt observed, his eyes twinkling in amusement. “Both with your phone and with where you were headed. Finally find that signal?”

“No, actually,” Blaine answered, immediately stowing his phone in his pocket, “I gave up on that days ago. That was just some last minute note taking from the last panel.”

Without any hesitation, Kurt fell into step beside Blaine. “I feel like every time we run into each other, we actually run into each other.”

Blaine laughed. “Or, more specifically, you keep preventing me from literally falling over you.”

“Well, I do I have particularly good reflexes.”

“See, I think you see me in advance and just like waiting until the last minute to see if I make a complete fool of myself.”

“I must admit, the thought did cross my mind,” Kurt acknowledged with a hint of a wicked smile. “Where are we going, by the way?”

“Oh!” Blaine ducked his head to hide his sudden blush at hearing Kurt refer to them as a ‘we.’ “I was headed to a salsa class with Brittany – she was my yoga instructor earlier today and suggested that I come. I was supposed to go with my friend Tina, but she’s doing a private coaching session with Rachel Berry, so I’m going on my own.”

Had Blaine not been looking at Kurt in the exact right moment, he would have missed the way that Kurt’s expression tightened ever so slightly, his jaw setting for just a moment before smoothing back to neutral. But before he could dwell on it too long or get up the courage to ask Kurt what it meant, Kurt spoke. “Do you know how to salsa dance?”

“Not in the slightest.”

“Me either,” Kurt said with a smile, turning to face Blaine just outside the doors to the dance club.

With that smile, and the return of the open, happy expression on Kurt’s face, all thought of Kurt’s momentary displeasure was banished from Blaine’s mind. “I do seem to be in need of a partner,” he said, lifting onto his tiptoes to peer around the open vestibule, putting on a show of evaluating his options. His eyes finally landed on Kurt, whose veneer of put-on impatience failed to mask his smile. Blaine extended an arm, like the gentleman his many years at Dalton trained him to be. “May I have this dance?”

Kurt rolled his eyes, but delicately snaked his arm through Blaine’s, resting his hand in the crook of Blaine’s elbow. “Yes, yes you may.”  

It turned out that neither of them was particularly good at salsa. Despite years of dancing with the Warblers and then more years of formal training at NYU, Blaine found that he kept nearly stepping on Kurt’s feet with every forward movement. Just before he could apologize, Kurt huffed out a breath in frustration. “God, why I am so bad at this!? You’d think I’d never danced a day in my life.”

Blaine choked out a laugh in relief, the apology dying on his lips. “I know what you mean. I was just trying to figure out why my brain doesn't seem connected to my feet.”

“Let’s try counting together,” Kurt suggested, pulling them to a halt in the middle of the dance floor and nodding his head to the beat. “Okay, I think I got it. Six, seven, eight, forward two, middle four, back, six, seven, eight.” He repeated the refrain for a few counts of eight until they seemed to get the rhythm down, at least for the simplest steps.

With the mechanics of the steps now becoming more rote, Blaine allowed himself to look up from where he had been staring at his feet, and realized with a start how close together he and Kurt had gotten. They kept their hands clasped tightly together as Kurt led, their feet carrying them into each other’s space in turn as they danced. At this distance, Kurt’s cologne had completely drowned out the alcoholic scent of the hand sanitizer that seemed omnipresent and made the ship smell vaguely like a doctor’s office. The difference in their height had also become quite pronounced in the close quarters, and Blaine found himself looking up to see Kurt’s face, which was currently focused intensely on his feet, his lips moving slightly to keep counting out the beat.

All of a sudden, Kurt raised his head, caught Blaine’s eye, and smiled with an almost childlike excitement. “We’re doing it!” he exclaimed, shimmying his shoulders a little on their next count of eight. For just a moment, Blaine focus narrowed to nothing but that smile and he couldn’t help but return it, sharing in the giddy delight of finally mastering the basic steps of salsa.  

He was so caught up in the joy of the moment that he stepped forward on the wrong beat, crashing into Kurt and coming down hard on his foot. “Ow,” Kurt said very matter-of-factly, pausing in the dance and dropping Blaine’s hands as he bent down and rubbed his foot.

“Sorry, sorry,” Blaine rushed to apologize, “I’m so sorry, are you okay?”

Kurt rolled his eyes, a wry smile replacing the grimace of pain. “Guess I spoke too soon, huh?”

“That was totally my fault,” Blaine continued, his hand reaching out for Kurt and pulling back just before they touched in a flurry of sudden nerves. “I promise I really am a better dancer than that, you can ask Tina. We did so well yesterday in the ballroom class and here I go just stomping on your foot…”

Kurt watched as Blaine flailed and rambled for a moment, before reaching out and gently drawing Blaine’s hands into his, holding them still. With his hands no longer waving, Blaine’s mind stilled as well and he fell silent. “Blaine, I’m fine. Believe me, I went to NYADA, and my dance partner is usually Ra—” he paused, collecting his thoughts before saying, “well, not someone I’d recommend dancing with. Let’s put it this way – dancing is not my best friend’s strong suit.”

“I’m still so—” Blaine stopped short as Kurt raised his eyebrows warningly. “You’re okay?”

“I’m okay.” Kurt agreed, leaning his weight from side to side as if to demonstrate he could still hold himself up. He glanced towards the front of the room, and dropped one of Blaine’s hands to wave towards Brittany. “I think we need some help,” he explained, when Brittany and her girlfriend, who had introduced herself at the start of the class as Santana, walked over.

“Brit, you dance with Porcelain,” Santana directed, nodding towards Kurt. “Teach him how to lead. Hobbit, you’re with me.”

Blaine must have looked baffled, since Kurt leaned over and fake-whispered, “I think she means you.”

“C’mon Kurtsie,” Brittany chirped, taking Kurt’s hands and leading him a few steps away.

Blaine watched them for a minute before re-directing his attention to the thin, rather intimidating woman now towering over him in three-inch heels. “So, Hobbit, you’re okay if I lead?”

“It’s Blaine,” Blaine corrected her, in case Brittany hadn’t mentioned his name when they came over to help. “And that’s fine. I’m comfortable with either, and Kurt seems to like to lead.”

“I know your name,” Santana said as she grabbed his hands and positioned him properly on the floor, “I just think Hobbit suits you better. Now, I grew up salsa dancing so just let me lead and try to keep up. Claro?”

Blaine didn’t have time to do more than nod, because Santana began sweeping him around the dance floor in a combination of the simple moves he was accustomed to and more complicated twists and turns that he had him nearly dizzy trying to keep up. “So, how do you know Hummel?” Santana asked, somehow assuming that Blaine had the ability to speak while trying to keep count in his head. “Stop thinking,” Santana chided when he struggled to answer, “just let me lead.”

Blaine took a deep breath and tried to separate his mind from the dance steps. “We’ve run into each other a few times on the boat, but we don’t know each other that well.”

“He seemed pretty comfortable,” Santana observed, twisting their arms over their heads and orchestrating a series of turns that, to Blaine’s surprise, actually seemed to work.

“So, how do you two know each other?” Blaine asked, almost tripping over his feet as they transitioned back into the more traditional steps he knew.

“Loosen up,” Santana said instead of responding, dropping one hand and using it to shake his shoulders and then his hips. “Better. And we go back a long ways, me and Hummel.”

“Do you work for Vogue as well?” Blaine guessed, taking in Santana’s well-coordinated, tight-fitting ensemble.

Santana laughed. “No, definitely not. Brit and I are back-up dancers and singers for our friend Mercedes Jones.”

“Really?” Blaine asked, impressed. “I heard some of her new album a few weeks back, and it’s really good. I was planning to catch her on tour when she comes to New York in April. How did you get hooked up with her?”

Santana gave him a weird look. “We all went to high school together. Didn’t Kurt tell you?”

Blaine shook his head. “We haven’t gotten that far yet.”

“But then, why did you think he came on the cruise?” Santana asked, clearly confused. Before Blaine could respond to the odd question, Kurt had suddenly appeared next to them, shot Blaine a small smile, and dragged Santana away to where Brittany was still standing, leaving Blaine completely nonplussed.

“Oh, Kurt, you didn’t tell him?” Blaine heard Santana over the music, and furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. Kurt shook his head furiously, speaking quietly and turning away so Blaine couldn’t overhear. “But,” Santana started loudly, and then too dropped her voice when Kurt turned to glare at her. The three spoke quietly for another moment and, just as Blaine began to fidget uncomfortably with the knowledge that they were likely talking about him, Kurt walked back over to him.  

“Sorry about that,” Kurt said, his expression once again soft and open. “Santana sometimes has a big mouth.”

“It’s no problem.” Blaine replied, not wanting to cause any further upset. “How did it go with Brittany?”

“Really well,” Brittany answered for Kurt, bouncing over to them happily, no trace of the intense conversation present in her face. “Kurt just needed to learn to lead a little more.”

“And you, Hobbit, needed to be taught to follow a lead,” Santana added, still side-eyeing Kurt as she sauntered over, wrapping an arm around Brittany’s waist. “Just relax, you two will be great.”

Brittany waved briefly before turning to grasp Santana’s hands and pull her off to the front of the room. She hit a button to turn off the music, and raised her voice, “Great job, everyone! We’re going to open the floor now for our salsa hour, so have fun!”

As people began flooding onto the dance floor, Kurt turned fully towards Blaine and extended a hand. “Shall we try once more, just to see what we’ve learned?”

“We shall,” Blaine agreed, slipping his hand into Kurt’s and letting himself be led in the basic steps that he was more comfortable with. After a few successful eight counts, Blaine let out a sigh of relief and once again caught Kurt’s eye. “Looks like Santana and Brittany were right.”

“They usually are,” Kurt conceded with a sigh. When Blaine cocked an eyebrow in a silent question, Kurt took a deep breath as if steeling himself. “They’re just bugging me about the friend I came with – she also went to high school with us, and they know how much she drives me crazy sometimes. We’re in the midst of a whole thing right now and I really just didn’t want to get into it.”

Blaine nodded, understanding that feeling well. “I hear you. Then I say, let’s just dance and see if we can get through a whole song without me stepping on your foot again.”

“You better not,” Kurt warned, though his eyes sparkled with a smile. “I’ll have you know that it took me a year to save to buy these boots.”

“They are lovely,” Blaine agreed with a smile. He paused, enjoying their more fluid dancing for a few minutes until he worked up the courage to ask, “Do you want to grab dinner together after this?”

Kurt preened at the compliment, holding Blaine’s gaze for a moment before letting it drop to their joined hands. “I already have dinner plans,” he said, almost regretfully.

“The friend?”

“The one and only,” Kurt replied. He hesitated, eyes lifting to meet Blaine’s once again. “Would you want to get together tomorrow instead?”

“You mean on purpose this time, instead of just accidentally running into each other?” Blaine gasped in fake disbelief.

Kurt laughed. “Like that.”

“I’d love to.” Blaine smiled happily, pleased that Kurt seemed interested in spending more time with him. “What’s your schedule?”

“My morning’s actually free right now,” Kurt replied. “My first scheduled event isn’t until three.”

“My morning is booked,” Blaine frowned apologetically, mentally running through his timetable. I’m doing yoga with Tina again tomorrow, and then there’s a panel I’m dying to see at 10, but I should be free after? Maybe we could do lunch?”

“Sure,” Kurt said, with an easy smile. “Let’s meet by the buffet around noon?”

“Sounds perfect.”

Chapter Text

Blaine moved quickly down the spiral staircase, one hand fumbling around in his bag as he used the other to keep his balance by skimming down the bannister. “Ha!” he exclaimed triumphantly as his fingers closed around his very crumpled schedule and pulled it out of the bag, pausing briefly to confirm where he was going. “Come on, come on,” he mumbled to himself, skimming through rows and rows of details until he finally located the panel called Truth in Art. “10am in the Baha lounge, fifth deck. Got it.” Not bothering to put the schedule away, he continued his fast pace down the stairs, something compelling him to hurry.

While Blaine had not yet had trouble getting into any of the panels or workshops he wanted to attend, he had heard through the grapevine that a few of the more popular ones had filled up. He wasn’t sure that too many people would want to start their day discussing truth in art, but he had gotten a bit concerned when he had actually looked to see who would be sitting on the panel. Both Rachel Berry and Andrew Rannells were incredibly popular performers and he worried that their fame would draw a larger crowd than the topic would otherwise do. Finally reaching the fifth deck, Blaine used the railing to swing around to the proper corridor (he had finally figured out which rooms were on the port and starboard sides after four days), and sped down to the Baha Lounge.

Upon arriving at the Baha Lounge, a quick scan of the room revealed a number of available seats scattered around in the middle rows, and so Blaine made his way to an empty chair and sat down with a sigh of relief. He smiled and nodded at a few people he recognized before pulling out his book to distract him for the fifteen minutes until the panel began. All too quickly, he heard cheers erupt from the crowd around him, and he looked up to see five panelists filing into the room. Each took their seat, leaving one open towards the right side of the stage.

“Good morning everyone,” the moderator began, leaning into the microphone so he could be heard above the crowds. My name is Artie Abrams, I am a director, and I will be your moderator today. I mostly work in film, but recently I’ve been making the transition to working in some off-Broadway shows in New York as well. Let me introduce your panelists. To my left, we have Jesse St. James, Tony award winning actor who is best known for his portrayal of the Baker from the 2015 Into the Woods revival. Next to Jesse, we have Andrew Rannells, best known for playing Elder Price in Book of Mormon and King George III in Hamilton. After Andrew, we have Lindsey Mendez, who is currently performing as Elphaba in Wicked. On Lindsey’s left, we have Tamika Lawrence, who you may have seen in If/Then and Beautiful. And finally, you’ll notice an empty seat at the far side of the stage, which was supposed to be for Rachel Berry. Unfortunately, Rachel is unable to join us this morning, but her replacement will be along shortly. In the meantime, let’s begin with something simple: what does truth mean to you?”

“Oh yeah, that’s real simple,” Jesse joked, grabbing the microphone immediately and taking on the question. “I guess to me, truth is a matter of knowing yourself and being to portray it on stage. Take, for example, my run as the Baker.” As Jesse began a long, somewhat self-involved answer to Artie’s question, something at the side of the room caught Blaine’s eye. Distracted, he looked over and saw none other than Kurt, impeccably dressed though looking a bit harried, speaking rapidly with one of the event staff. He watched as the staff member effectively shooed Kurt towards the stage. Even as Kurt ascended the stairs on the side of the stage, Blaine watched, confused as to why Kurt would be taking Rachel Berry’s empty seat.

“And ultimately, it was that experience that made me realize that truth in art was everything to me,” Jesse finally finished his answer, setting the microphone down in front of him dramatically.

Just as Andrew Rannells reached for the microphone to answer the question himself, Artie interrupted. “Sorry Andrew, we’ll get back to you in a moment. I just wanted to take this time to introduce,” Artie looked down at a paper that was just deposited on the table in front of him by a different staff member, “Kurt Hummel.” Kurt gave a small wave and a tight smile, sitting stiffly in the chair and looking to Blaine like he was supremely uncomfortable. “Kurt is an editor and contributing author to Vogue.com. Prior to his work at Vogue.com, you may have seen Kurt performing in various community productions around Brooklyn with the Brooklyn Players. Thank you for joining us at such short notice, Kurt.”

“It was my pleasure,” Kurt said archly into the microphone he shared with Tamika in a way that suggested to Blaine it was anything but.

“Kurt, the question that we are discussing right now is what truth means to you. Do you have any thoughts?”

“Many,” Kurt replied with a lift of his eyebrows, drawing a laugh out of the audience. Kurt smiled more genuinely in response, and relaxed slightly. “But since this is a panel,” Blaine had to stifle his laugh as Kurt’s eyes shot quickly over to Jesse, “I’ll just say this. Truth is about being yourself, and bringing yourself to your performance. No matter what you’ve seen other actors do, or what the words in the script say, you won’t be able to give a truthful performance if you aren’t giving every atom of yourself over to the part. You must become the character and give that character your truth, your experiences, your past, and your emotions within their world.”

“I couldn’t have said it better,” Andrew Rannells said with an approving nod. “It’s why I’ve never felt that actors are really chameleons, like the old saying goes. It’s too surface level. It’s more that actors have to evolve and adapt into their character, full body, mind, and spirit.”

It was hard to concentrate at first: Blaine stared, completely distracted by the cognitive dissonance of having Kurt, his new almost-friend who worked at Vogue.com and danced with him, sit on a panel, calmly discussing truth with people he had, quite honestly, idolized for years. He spent the next ten minutes almost completely ignoring the panelists, wondering why Kurt had been chosen to participate in the panel. Finally, he gave up, and focused on the panel itself – no matter what was going on with Kurt, he wanted to make sure he didn’t miss the performance advice that some of his favorite actors and actresses (and Kurt) were providing.

And somehow, once Blaine was able to separate the Kurt he had gotten to know for the past few days with the articulate, well-dressed presenter speaking on the panel, he began to feel grateful that Kurt had replaced Rachel Berry at the last minute. Other than Tamika Lawrence, the panelists tended to speak exclusively in personal anecdotes without actually translating it into practical advice for other artists. Kurt, on the other hand, didn’t speak often, but when he did, he avoided speaking about his own experience specifically and instead focused on translating his knowledge into advice for the audience. He may have been sitting ramrod straight, with a severe expression on his face that would accept no nonsense, but the thoughtful and considerate way he presented information remained the same.

Blaine couldn’t help notice that Kurt gradually began to relax over the course of the panel. His severe expression didn’t lessen, but his eyebrows un-furrowed ever so slightly and, after the audience laughed at his joke at Jesse’s expense, Kurt even let out a small smile. He leaned back in the chair, crossing his long legs under the table, for the rest of the panel – straightening up only to reach the microphone and answer a question. When Artie called for questions, Blaine itched to get up and approach the microphone, but held himself back, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to keep his wits about him in the face of his favorite Broadway performers and Kurt.

Instead, Blaine took notes carefully when questioners provoked an interesting response, clapped at the close of each question, and when the moderator announced the end of the panel, allowed the rest of his row to file out around him. He remained seated, watching Kurt open up a bit more when he spoke to the line of people who had approached the stage to ask him questions. Kurt’s line was substantially shorter than Jesse St. James’s or Andrew Rannells’, and so, after posing for a few photos, Kurt soon stood up to gather his shoulder bag and leave the stage. Blaine watched Kurt check his watch, and then look up over the now mostly empty room, clearly trying to work out the fastest and most unobtrusive way to exit. And Blaine noticed the moment that Kurt spotted him sitting in the sea of empty seats; Kurt stopped in his tracks, hand frozen on the shoulder strap of his bag, eyes wide in shock, mouth very clearly forming the word, “Oh.”

Kurt appeared to steel himself, rolling his shoulder back in a facsimile of confidence, lifted his bag off the ground, and made his way over to Blaine’s seat. Blaine stood to meet him, replacing his journal and pen in his bag and lifting the bag over his head so it settled on his hip. “I thought we were meeting by the buffet area?” Kurt asked, obviously trying for nonchalance.

“We were,” Blaine said slowly, not moving from his spot, “after the panel that I was going to go to in the morning. I just…didn’t realize that you were one of the panelists.”

Kurt sighed heavily, his shoulders dropping. “I know, I…I just....” He took a deep breath, closed his eyes for a moment and gave a little, somewhat self-mocking smile. “Can we please keep our plans? And talk? I promise I’ll explain.”

Blaine nodded, gesturing to indicate that Kurt should lead the way. Kurt met his eyes for a long moment before turning abruptly and striding confidently out of the room. He slowed ever so slightly to allow Blaine to fall into step beside him before he led them through the maze of hallways and elevators back up to the top mini-deck of the ship. A number of lounge chairs had been set up on the deck, and Kurt navigated around them to one hidden in the furthest corner, half in the shade. Kurt hung his shoulder bag on the back of the chair, and sat stiffly on one end of it. Blaine dropped his bag to the floor, climbed around Kurt and sat, cross-legged against the backrest. He raised his eyebrows questioningly at Kurt.

Kurt sighed again, took a deep breath and stared out at the ocean. “My best friend is Rachel Berry. We went to high school with Santana and Brittany, and we live together now in New York.”

“So the friend you’ve mentioned a few times…?” Blaine trailed off, as Kurt nodded. “Oh. Wow.”

“Yeah.” Kurt shrugged, pursing his lips. “She was supposed to come on the cruise by herself, but then she and Jesse broke up and she felt like she couldn’t be here with him for a week on her own. So she…talked me into coming.” Kurt rolled his eyes as he spoke, his expression clearing as he met Blaine’s gaze.

“That…explains a lot,” Blaine reasoned, thinking back to all of the moments where Kurt had suddenly changed the subject or looked uncomfortable without any discernible reason. “But why didn’t you just tell me?”

Kurt stayed silent for a few moments, fingers twisting in his lap as he thought. “I’ve been Rachel Berry’s best friend since high school. And not just in that she is my best friend, but in that has been my label. I never really got to be me, you know? In all of our classes, all of the times she takes me out to meet her theater friends, god, even in some of the reviews of my work with the Brooklyn Players. Kurt Hummel, best known as Rachel Berry’s best friend, gave a spirited portrayal of Puck. Kurt Hummel’s emotional performance of Whizzer evoked the same depth as his best friend, Rachel Berry’s Fanny Brice.”

“Really?” Blaine asked sympathetically, a bit taken aback by the blatant comparisons.

Kurt tilted his head to the side, shrugging as if Blaine should have expected it. “Today is the first day I was actually introduced as myself, rather than as a side piece for Rachel. And don’t get me wrong. I love her, when she’s not being infuriating. I’m so happy for her success. But sometimes it gets to be too much – and I knew that this cruise was going to be too much, being brought along as her sidekick and having to interact with all of the performers as if I belonged. But Rachel is very compelling, and reminded me that I hadn’t been on vacation in over a year, other than visiting my dad in Ohio, and so…” Kurt gestured at himself and the ocean around him, “here I am.”

“And so this morning…” Blaine prompted, still processing what Kurt had just told him and sensing that his story was not quite complete.

Kurt shook his head, adding another eye roll to punctuate his feelings about the matter. “Rachel doesn’t always look ahead to the consequences of her decisions. There was a party last night for the performers and panelists and Rachel spent the whole night circling around Jesse. She drank a little too much in her attempts to make him jealous – men kept buying her drinks – and when I managed to get her up this morning, she looked at the schedule for the first time and realized that she would have to be on the same panel as Jesse. She didn’t say it out loud, but she had made at least some progress towards getting up before she read the panel description. Afterwards, she buried herself back under the blankets and declared that she was simply too sick to go on. After all, how could she be expected to sing at the main stage show later tonight if she was ‘forced to wake up without adequate time to rest and recuperate?’”

Kurt turned his head with what looked like great effort to meet and hold Blaine’s gaze. “I know I’ve been misleading you for the past few days, and I am sorry about that. I honestly didn’t think there was any reason you’d ever have to know about my relationship with Rachel, at least not while we were on the ship.” Kurt colored slightly, quickly averting his gaze back to the ocean, before bringing it back to Blaine. “Anyway, Rachel had sort of taken over so much of my time since we last saw each other that it never even occurred to me that you’d be seeing her panel this morning. I was just trying to get through it so I could relax again and meet you for lunch.”

Blaine reached forward and briefly rested his hand on top of Kurt’s. “I get it. I won’t say it wasn’t a shock to see you walk in this morning, it was, but actually I think you improved the panel. I’m glad you were there.”

“You don’t have to say that,” Kurt shook his head dismissively.

Blaine fixed Kurt with a firm stare. “Now I know you’ve only known me a few days, but I think you should know by now that I wouldn’t say something I didn’t mean.” At Kurt’s clear skepticism, Blaine held up his hands and backtracked just a bit. “Okay, I might. But I don’t lie to people I care about. I would have come up with something nice I could say honestly, like ‘you spoke very well on the panel.’”

“I always speak well,” Kurt retorted.

“My point exactly,” Blaine agreed easily. “Not so much a compliment as a fact. So believe me when I say that you improved the panel. Tamika Lawrence had some interesting answers, and Andrew Rannells was great, of course, but Jesse was basically just talking about himself the whole time. And Andrew’s answers were much more focused on his work on TV. You were the only one who spoke about your experience while giving directed, specific advice. You also talked to us like we were people, rather than assuming that everyone would become a successful actor on the level of Andrew Rannells.”

As Blaine spoke, he could see the corners of Kurt’s lips twist up in a genuine smile that lasted more than a few seconds. “Well, I can’t help but pull focus,” Kurt said archly, with a jaunty wiggle of his head.

“Now that that’s taken care of,” Blaine said, hoping to convey through his tone that he considered the matter settled, “I say we take a stab at this buffet. I hear today is international day, so there should be some interesting options.”

Kurt responded with a full smile, and looked relieved. “That sounds wonderful to me. And then I think we need to discuss your crush on Andrew Rannells.” As Blaine spluttered, Kurt merely laughed and strode away, looking back with raised eyebrows to make sure Blaine would follow.

Chapter Text

Blaine sat contentedly by the pool, enjoying the feeling of the warm sun and the now familiar hum and motion of the ship moving underneath him. He had been woken up early by the morning announcements, and managed to snag a lounge chair before most of the rest of the ship had made it up to the Lido deck. He basked in the warmth of the Caribbean sun, so different from the icy temperatures back home, wearing only swim trunks and sunglasses, book propped up on his chest. Blaine smiled at the music playing over the speaker system; rather than the usual elevator music or top 40 that often played on cruise ships, it was the soundtrack to Rent.

As Blaine hummed along under his breath, a chorus of voices drew his attention to a group sitting nearby. At least six people crowded around two lounge chairs, singing along in perfect harmony as they rocked out to La Vie Boheme. As they danced around, his eyes were drawn to the petite woman belting out Maureen’s lines and realized that it was none other than Rachel Berry. Upon finishing her lines and before she sank back down onto the lounge chair, her eyes swept around the pool, seemingly looking for some recognition, before landing squarely on Blaine. She cocked her head slightly, a pensive look coming over her face, and Blaine began to feel anxious at the close scrutiny. To ease his discomfort, Blaine raised his hands in applause.

As he expected, she smiled widely at his recognition, nodded deeply in thanks, and turned her attention back to the group, who were waiting for the appointed Roger and Mimi to finish singing so they could complete La Vie Boheme B, and the first act. Blaine checked his watch, noting that he still had some time before Kurt was due to come meet him, and tried to re-immerse himself in his novel for a little while longer. Not three minutes later, he realized that this hope was in vain as a shadow fell over his lounge chair.

Blaine looked over the top of his book and saw Rachel Berry standing over him, hands on her hips and a serious look on her face. “Hello?” He asked tentatively, replacing his bookmark in the page and slowly placing his book down next to him, as if sudden movements might startle Rachel.

“Hello.” Rachel spoke faster and louder than he had been expecting. “You’re Blaine. I saw you appreciating my talent and I was pleased to see that Kurt was spending time with someone who has such impeccable taste.”

“Hi Rachel,” was all Blaine could reply as his brain raced to process her words. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Yes, of course.” Rachel leaned down and stuck her hand out, shaking Blaine’s perfunctorily.

“So, Kurt’s mentioned me?” Blaine asked somewhat stupidly, brain stuck on the fact that Kurt had apparently discussed him with Rachel.

“Oh yes,” she said, still standing over him and looking more severe that he would have expected if Kurt had said anything nice about him. “He’s told me about your budding friendship and I when I saw you over here I thought I should come over and make sure you were good enough for him.”

“Good enough…” Blaine spluttered, as his brain worked to find an appropriate response to Rachel’s rapid-fire thoughts. “Well, would you like to join me?” Blaine gathered his book, moleskin journal, and headphones into a neat pile, tucking them back into his shoulder bag, and shifted over on his chair so Rachel could sit if she wanted.

“Yes, thank you.” Rachel sat down in the space Blaine had prepared and tucked her legs underneath her, letting her short skirt fan out over her knees.

“What do you want to know?” Blaine offered, becoming accustomed to Rachel’s big presence and relaxing slightly.

“First things first,” she answered seriously, fixing him with a piercing stare, “what are your thoughts about the upcoming Broadway season?”

Blaine considered the question, pausing for a few moments before he answered. “There’s a few things I’m really excited for. In particular, I’ve heard that Glenn Close is supposed to be incredible in Sunset Boulevard, and of course I bought tickets the moment I heard that Bette Midler was going to be starring in Hello Dolly.”

“Right?!” Rachel exclaimed, face lighting up. “Bette Midler is such a force of nature and she is going to be so wonderful in that part. Of course, I would have preferred Barbra in the role, but since she is currently on tour, I think Bette Midler is an excellent second choice. It is, of course, a role that I hope to play one day, when I am much older.”

“I think you’d be wonderful in the role of Dolly,” Blaine agreed with a smile. “Otherwise, I am a bit skeptical. I loved the 20th Century Fox animated Anastasia, but from what I’ve heard, they have removed all of the supernatural elements for the Broadway adaptation. As much as I love Athens and Flaherty, I don’t know that their songs can make the more ‘realistic’ story of Anastasia compelling.”

Before Rachel could respond, though Blaine saw that she had intended to, a disapproving, voice came from above both of them. “Rachel, are you trying to scare off the only friend I have made so far on this boat?”

“It’s a ship,” Rachel corrected him, turning on the spot to smile up at Kurt. “And of course not, I am merely getting to know Blaine. We were bonding over the inimitable Bette Midler.”

Kurt nodded in concession. “I cannot dispute Ms. Midler’s stature and influence. I can’t wait to see her in Dolly this year – you got us tickets, right?”

Rachel sighed, reaching out to pat Kurt on his knee, the only place she could reach from the lounge chair. “My agent is working on it. I suspect she’ll be able to get us tickets to the opening night, and of course you will be my date.”

“Great, thanks Rachel,” Kurt spared another moment to smile at Rachel before turning his full attention to Blaine. “It looks like the boat has docked at St. Thomas and they’re starting to let people off. You ready to go?”

Blaine glanced at Rachel, worried that he was being rude by not inviting her along with him and Kurt for their day on land. Catching his gaze, Rachel stood up and brushed imaginary lint off of her skirt. “I am otherwise occupied today. Lindsey, Brian, and I made plans to meet up a bit later.”

Blaine matched Kurt’s smile and stood up as well. “Then yes, I am ready to go. Rachel, it was an absolute pleasure to meet you.”

“You too, Blaine.” Rachel’s entire demeanor had softened around Kurt, her shoulders held not quite as high, her expression not quite as haughty. “I have no doubt we’ll see each other again soon.”

As Blaine gathered his belongings and pulled on his shirt, Kurt leaned down and gave Rachel a hug that betrayed years of familiarity and comfort. They exchanged a few quiet words before Rachel rejoined the group she had abandoned earlier. “Shall we?” Kurt turned his full attention towards Blaine, eyes bright and happy.

“We shall.” Blaine fell into step easily with Kurt, letting him lead as they weaved through the lower docks of the boat, across the gangplank and on to St. Thomas. “Anywhere in particular you were hoping to go?”

“Not especially.” Kurt paused in the shade underneath a shop awning and turned to face Blaine. “I had figured we could just wander for a bit, maybe check out some of the shops and maybe find somewhere to eat.”

“Sounds good to me.” Blaine smiled briefly and lightly rested his hand on Kurt’s arm to emphasize his answer.

“Great!” As Kurt resumed their walk around the town, he pulled out his phone, making a small noise of delight. “I’m connected to the outside world again! Thank goodness my Dad sprung for the fancy plan that gets service in St. Thomas.” He reached out and placed a tentative hand on Blaine’s arm, turning to look at him guiltily. “Do you mind if I call my Dad? I haven’t been able to get service so far this trip, and we usually talk every day.”

Blaine waved off his concerns without hesitation, and so Kurt smiled gratefully and walked a few steps away to make the call. “Dad? Hey! I went ashore with a friend and managed to get service.” So as not to eavesdrop, Blaine pulled out his own phone, which he had largely ignored as anything other than an iPod since the first night. Though he had come ashore with Tina at other ports to spend some time on the beach, Blaine had not even considered trying to get service – his Mom wouldn’t expect a call from him until he arrived back in Miami, Cooper wouldn’t expect a call from him at all, and Sam wasn’t really a phone person. The only reason he would take his phone off airplane mode, really, was to check his email.

As Blaine thought this through, all the while staring at his phone – the happy, contented feeling he had carefully cultivated over the past five days melted away, leaving him tense and anxious. All of a sudden, it became harder to swallow, the breath caught in his chest pressing painfully against his lungs and the entire universe of his thoughts spiraled dangerously around the little email icon on his home screen. He had been out of touch with work now for five days, an unheard amount of time for Blaine. While he knew that the firm would continue to function quite well in his absence, he could not help the compulsion to check his emails. The fact that Blaine had left his Blackberry on the ship did not in any way assuage his distress – his firm had his personal email address and could get in touch with him that way if they felt it was necessary.

Despite the beautiful day and the colorful, inviting buildings surrounding him, Blaine’s entire world narrowed to his phone which now felt as though it was a brick bearing him down, down, down, as if that small piece of metal in his hands held the weight of the world. He was so absorbed in his own thoughts that he jumped sharply at the gentle hand that rested on his shoulder and the quiet, concerned, “Blaine?” that accompanied it.

Blaine whipped his head up, nearly colliding with Kurt, who had bent over next to him. “Hi, sorry,” Blaine managed through the tightness in his throat. “How’s your dad?”

“He’s fine,” Kurt answered quickly, almost by rote. “But how are you?”

“I’m fine,” Blaine said brightly, trying to convince both Kurt and his own brain into believing it. At Kurt’s skeptical raise of his eyebrows, Blaine knew that he had overdone it, and he winced uncomfortably. “Really, I’m fine.”

Kurt let out a humorless laugh. “Sure you are. I bet you’re one of those people who would keep saying ‘I’m fine’ all the way off the side of a cliff. Come on.” Kurt reached out a hand that Blaine did not hesitate to take. In the midst of his swirling thoughts, Kurt leading the way was one of the only things that made sense. He paid no attention to his surroundings as they walked, focusing entirely on the strength and grounding presence of his hand in Kurt’s. They finally stopped and Blaine looked around, taking in the calming quiet of the courtyard Kurt had found, just off the crowded, noisy tourist street. Kurt sat down on a low stone wall, and patted the spot next to him.

Blaine joined him, tucking his legs underneath him and becoming fascinated with the pattern of stones beneath his fingers. “I feel like half our time these past two days has been spent in serious conversation,” Kurt joked. Blaine tried to smile to avoid insulting Kurt, but otherwise didn’t react or look up, unable to focus on anything other than intense anxiety and guilt consuming him. “Blaine,” Kurt reached out and rested his hand on Blaine’s where they traced over the seam of the stones, “I know that you don’t know me that well, but I hope you know you can talk to me. I may be a bit judgmental and harsh at times, but I really am a good listener. Let me help?”

Blaine swallowed thickly, pushing down the nausea and anxious pressure as best he could; he couldn’t let Kurt think that just because he couldn’t speak that Blaine didn’t trust him. “I’m sorry,” is what he came up with, the only phrase he could access easily amidst the rush of blood in his ears.

“Blaine.” Kurt gently lifted Blaine’s hands off of the stone and held them tightly between his own. “You know you don’t have to be sorry. You haven’t done anything wrong. I’m just worried.”

“I do though,” Blaine exploded, abruptly lifting his head to meet Kurt’s concerned gaze. Kurt’s attempt to make him feel better ran so contrary to the mantra repeating in his head that the need to make Kurt understand overrode the tightness in his chest and permitted him to speak. “We were going to have a wonderful day on land exploring St. Thomas and I just shut down because I freaked out over having cell service. And like you said, you barely know me, you don’t have to waste your day trying to make me feel better.”

Kurt shook his head and stroked his thumb over the back of Blaine’s hand. “It’s not a waste. Remember, I’d otherwise be stuck with Rachel and her famous friends. I’d much rather be with you, even if we have to take a few minutes to re-center.” He paused, perhaps hoping that Blaine would respond. When Blaine said nothing, Kurt tentatively asked, “So, it was about having cell service?”

“More like having a connection to the real world,” Blaine admitted, finding that the pressure had abated sufficiently that he could consistently meet Kurt’s eyes as he spoke. “You’ve only really ever known me in the limited reality of the ship. No Wi-Fi, no obligations, no Blackberry blinking red at me every three minutes and distracting me from actually living my life. Usually I’m just going, going, going and always working.”

“So, now that you have the chance to check your email, you’re feeling like you should be working,” Kurt reasoned. “Even though you’re on vacation.”

“Precisely.” Blaine ducked his head, embarrassed at the fast and simple way Kurt had managed to explain what had previously seemed like an impossible situation.

“Okay,” Kurt said, clearly thinking aloud, “so you are worried about missing work. I get that. But what happened before – you totally shut down.”

Blaine felt something warm and happy form and expand in his chest at Kurt’s easy acceptance of Blaine’s perspective. So often when he had tried to share the intense pressure that came with his profession, people’s answer was to simply care less, which wasn’t an option he could ever truly consider. There was something inexpressibly comforting to have someone simply acknowledge the parameters of Blaine’s worldview and try to work within it, rather than try to twist it to fit a different model. As his mental and physical blocks lessened, Blaine found himself more able to speak. “I suffer from anxiety, particularly as it relates to work. I also suspect I have a mild form of OCD, because when I have an anxiety attack, I get into these super destructive obsessive thought spirals that sort of create a positive feedback loop with the anxiety. Normally it takes a lot for me to snap out of that.”

“So that was one of those loops?” Kurt tilted his head, expression serious and pensive as he worked to understand.

“Basically,” Blaine replied, “though it was much shorter than usual. I think you helped to talk me down, so thank you.”

“No need to thank me for that,” Kurt said immediately, squeezing Blaine’s hands. “How are you feeling now?”

Blaine took a moment to consider the question, taking stock of each symptom that he usually suffered. “Better,” he said honestly. “My head is out of the spiral, though I’m still pretty focused on my phone and whether I should check my email. And my anxiety is back to manageable levels – the usual, rather than the kind where it makes it hard to breathe.”

“Good.” Kurt narrowed his eyes at Blaine’s phone next to their still entwined hands on the wall as if it were the enemy. “Do you want to check your email?”

Blaine opened his mouth to say no, the obvious answer, but closed it again as he started to think about what kinds of messages he might be missing by not re-engaging with the world. Kurt smiled sympathetically. “Let me rephrase. Without thinking about whether you should or not, do you want to check your email?”

“No,” Blaine answered quickly before he could talk himself out of it.

“That’s what I thought, but I needed to make sure before I did this.” Kurt released Blaine’s hand, reached forward to grab Blaine’s phone off of the wall, and pocketed it without another word. Blaine laughed in surprise, staring at the spot where the phone had been. Kurt shrugged. “I figured that was the easiest way to take the decision out of your hands. Maybe this will help remove the focus of your obsessive thoughts.”

Already the compulsion to switch his phone from airplane mode back to accepting normal service was fading. Having removed the option from his control, Blaine was able to slowly sink back into the pleasant, relaxed state he had managed to achieve over the past few days. He let out a long sigh of relief as the pressure in his head and in his chest faded to a manageable level. “How did you--?” Blaine looked at Kurt in awe at the magic he had performed with one simple action.

“I have a little bit of experience with this kind of thing,” Kurt explained, taking Blaine’s hand in his again and resting their hands on the wall between them. “Not anxiety as you experience it, but definitely something adjacent. When Rachel was getting all of her success a few years ago and I was struggling just to make my half of the rent, I began to struggle with my choices. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting parts that I was clearly right for. I couldn’t understand why I worked so much harder than Rachel for less than one tenth of the results. I got really depressed for a while, since it seemed to me like none of my efforts mattered – so why would I bother. My Dad snapped me out of it.”

“How?” Blaine leaned forward, eager to hear about Kurt’s experience of battling a feeling he was all too familiar with.

“He told me that I either needed to start writing parts for myself, or look somewhere else,” Kurt replied with a faraway smile. “And I do, I write all the time. Right now, I have at least four different plays in the works, one of which may actually become a musical if I find someone who can compose music. That’s never been one of my talents. But more than that, I found that once he presented the option of going outside of theater, I felt better. It had occurred to me before that I could look outside of theater, but I felt bad wasting all of the time and money my Dad had spent on getting me through NYADA and in helping to support me since then. I felt like I was failing him if I changed tracks.”

Blaine nodded encouragingly and Kurt smiled at him before he continued. “He took the guilt away. He took all of the pressure off of the choice. When I thought more broadly, I realized that I was a great writer and certainly knew fashion better than almost anyone I knew, and I took all of that and got myself a job at Vogue.com. I’ll admit, it’s not my dream job, but it makes me happier than I could have envisioned when I was still trudging from audition to audition just to get rejected again and again. I figured you just needed someone to take the pressure off your decision not to check your email by removing the option.”

“That is…brilliant,” Blaine marveled. “Your Dad sounds amazing.”

At this, Kurt’s face lit up with a beautiful, broad smile. “Oh he is. I’m incredibly lucky.” The smile faded slightly, and Kurt’s expression grew more serious. “I know there’s no quick fix for this, and you can’t just avoid your phone when you’re back in New York. But at the risk of sounding preachy, let me just say that to the extent you can organize your world to remove the reminders of guilt and failure and disappointment, the happier you’ll be. Maybe schedule something outside of work that you pay for in advance and feel like you can’t miss? Then, at least, you’ll have a thing that you can do without feeling guilty because you’re already committed to it?”

“Not a bad idea,” Blaine acknowledged, mind racing already with the possibilities available to him if he actually scheduled something regularly during the week. He met Kurt’s gaze with a sheepish smile. “Thanks, Kurt. That was…just, thank you. And I really am sorry I derailed our day with all of this.”

Kurt fixed Blaine with a stern stare and gently disentangled their hands to point a disapproving finger at Blaine. “You are quite welcome, of course. And no more of that sorry business. No need to feel guilty or anxious with me for the duration of this trip.”

“So I never have to feel bad about anything with you?” Blaine asked with a mischievous grin.

Kurt rolled his eyes, but couldn’t stop himself from matching Blaine’s smile. “Okay fine, I’m sure I can think of something I’d want an apology for. But believe me, you will know if I expect one. Otherwise, knock it off!”

“Yes, sir.” Blaine mock saluted Kurt, who accepted it with a solemn nod.

“I do believe it is time for us to resume our walk,” Kurt said, though he made clear through his tone that it was more of a question than an instruction. He unfolded his long legs and pushed himself gracefully off the wall, adjusting his clothing so it all sat perfectly again. “Ready?”

“Ready,” Blaine confirmed, pulling himself up off the wall and joining Kurt as they walked back into town. It wasn’t until hours later, when the pair had long left town, boarded the ship, and were about to separate back to their own staterooms after chatting for a while longer in one of the ship’s many lounges that Blaine even recalled that he had a phone. In fact, he would have happily left Kurt and returned to his own room to get ready for dinner without it, but for the fact that Kurt caught his arm, reached into his pocket, and held out Blaine’s phone with an amused smile.

Chapter Text

Whatever magic Kurt had performed to help Blaine manage his anxiety worked beautifully for the next 24 hours – probably assisted by the fact that a day at sea meant that there was no possibility of even attempting to get a signal on his cellphone. It wasn’t until the final evening, as Blaine puttered around his stateroom putting the final touches on his formal attire for the evening that he felt an anxious tug in his chest.

With the memory of the prior day’s anxiety attack still so prevalent in his mind, Blaine couldn’t help but notice that this one felt slightly different. Rather than the all-encompassing dread that he was used to, this felt more like irrepressible nervous energy. His heart beat faster and he felt the pressure in his chest, but it didn’t come with the usual emotional wallop that took him out of commission. “Well that’s annoying,” Blaine said to his reflection in the mirror, deciding to just ignore his traitorous brain as best he could and instead focus on enjoying his last evening aboard the ship.

With that decision firmly in mind, Blaine straightened his bow tie for the twentieth time, smoothed down the lapels of his slim cut, slate grey jacket, and gave himself a final once over before he nodded in satisfaction. He made his way to the fourth floor atrium, where the photographers were set up taking pictures, and scanned the room for Tina. He spotted her, and waved, making his way through the crowds. Tina lit up when she saw him approaching, spinning in place to show off her sparkly, full skirt. She caught herself on the handrail after making a full loop, laughing brightly as she checked that her hair hadn’t escaped from its complicated up-do.

“Don’t you look dashing!” Tina exclaimed, pulling Blaine into a big hug and then pushing him back so she could give him a once over.

Blaine blushed, but wiggled his shoulders, pleased that she had noticed the effort he had put in. “Tina, my darling, you look absolutely gorgeous this evening. It is my honor to escort you to dinner.” He offered her his arm and together they walked over to the photographer to pose for a photo that they almost certainly would not purchase later. They chatted easily on the way to dinner and opted to sit in a group of other formal diners, rather than take a table for themselves.

As the table ordered, Blaine couldn’t help but crane his neck to look around the dining room in what he realized was a completely non-surreptitious way, searching for Kurt. Although Kurt was easily the closest friend he had made on the ship so far, they had agreed to go their separate ways for the final dinner. Kurt opted to spend time with Rachel and her performer friends and Blaine chose to eat with Tina, who would be returning to Chicago to finish grad school after the cruise. He knew that she hoped to find a position doing physical therapy in New York after earning her degree, but in the meantime his new friend would be halfway across the country and Blaine wanted to make sure they spent as much time together before that happened. Oddly enough, Blaine actually expected that he and Tina would stay friends even if she never made it to New York – something about this cruise and this friendship seemed different to every other temporary friendship he had forged before.

And even though he was pretty positive that he and Kurt would see each other in New York after the cruise, he still searched through the room hoping to catch a glimpse of the back of his head. They had already exchanged contact information, just in case they didn’t manage to reconnect before the ship docked, but Blaine couldn’t help but be disappointed that he wouldn’t get another moment to spend with Kurt in this perfect environment before returning to the real world. He felt Tina touch his arm lightly to get his attention. “Blainey, you ready to order?”

Blaine shook his head to bring him back to present and absently rubbed his chest, where the new kind of anxiety had resumed putting pressure on his chest. “Yes, sorry, I’d like the Caesar salad to begin and the chicken curry as my main dish please.” He handed his menu back to the waiter and turned back to Tina with an apologetic grimace. “I promise, I’m not distracted, I’m here.”

Tina patted his shoulder comfortingly. “I get it, it’s the last night; you want to take it all in. Make sure you see everyone.” Her gaze fixed on a point over Blaine’s shoulder and she waved excitedly. “Speaking of....” Tina pushed her chair back to meet Santana and Brittany as they walked past the table and give them each a big hug. Blaine followed suit, standing back until the three women were finished hugging.

“I’m so glad we got to see you before we reached land,” Blaine said, still standing with his arm around Brittany, where she had trapped it.

“Don’t worry, Hobbit, we don’t turn into pumpkins when we touch land.” Over the past few days, Blaine had learned to read Santana’s choice of words, and he was touched to hear a note of fondness among the sarcasm.

“Sure, but you both travel around the country, the world if the rumors are true, with Mercedes Jones, and so it’d be so hard to keep up with each other if we hadn’t been able to exchange info.” Blaine pulled out his little moleskin notebook and the attached pen, and held it out to Santana. “Do me the honor of giving me your number or email or something? I’d love to keep in touch.”

“As if you couldn’t get our info from Porcelain,” Santana snarked, even as she reached for the notebook and jotted down her contact details.

Blaine shrugged, trying for nonchalance, though the nerves inside him swirled stronger. “I guess, if we ever find time to meet up ourselves.”

Brittany paused from writing down her own phone number to give Blaine a disbelieving look. “But he’s your lobster!”

“His…lobster?” Tina asked, completely baffled.

“We’ve been watching a lot of Friends re-runs on the ship’s internal cable,” Santana explained, nudging Blaine’s arm aside so she could wrap an arm around Brittany. “But her point still stands.”

“Unicorns are meant to be together.” Brittany spoke so matter-of-factly and with such conviction that Blaine couldn’t help but believe her.

“Either way, I’m glad that we don’t have to rely on Kurt for us to keep in touch.” Blaine took his notebook back, giving Santana and Brittany each another hug. “Let me know when you’re in New York, okay?”

“Promise.” Brittany stuck out her pinky and Blaine linked his with hers, sealing the promise. Santana and Brittany waved as they made their way to the still empty table being held for them in the back of the dining room.

“Not to bring up the real world,” Blaine started, laughing when Tina wrinkled her nose in distaste, “but I really would like to hear more about your physical therapy program. Is it focused specifically on working with dancers, or is it more of a general program that you can then apply to dancers?”

Tina sighed. “I guess we are running up against the real world, aren’t we?” Blaine nodded sympathetically. “So, the first year of my program, which I’m close to finishing now is more of a general curriculum.” From there, Tina and Blaine ended up almost entirely ignoring the rest of the people at their table, in favor of spending time with each other. They sat together at the final concert, which was a variety show of the performers singing whatever they wanted, with whomever they wanted. In a surprising move, at least based on Kurt’s stories and Blaine’s limited experience, Rachel teamed up with Tamika Lawrence and Lindsey Mendez to sing a song from If/Then that didn’t feature Rachel, but instead weaved all three voices in some incredible harmonies.

As the songs transitioned to something a little more nostalgic and final, Tina rested her head on Blaine’s shoulder, and in turn he wrapped his arm around her shoulders so she could more easily cuddle into his side. Saying good night at the end of the show was harder than he expected – Blaine hugged Tina for a little longer than was strictly polite, amazed at how attached he had gotten to her in less than a week. He made it down one flight of stairs back to his stateroom before pausing on the landing. The low level anxiety that had plagued him since he had left his room earlier that evening ramped up, making his fingers tap nervously and restricting his breathing to an uncomfortable level.

Blaine knew that the moment the ship docked back in Miami, the perfect bubble of theater and Broadway and joy that he had been a part of for the last week would melt into a memory, leaving him stuck in the real world of law and partners and expectations. The knowledge was almost paralyzing and Blaine realized that he wasn’t yet done living in the bubble; he wasn’t ready to leave behind the warmth of the Caribbean sun or the community of theater people to return to the winter awaiting him in New York. Mind made up, Blaine shrugged on his jacket and hit the button for the elevator, riding it to the top deck of the ship. He let his instincts drive him, walking around the outside of the ship until he reached the staircase that would take up to the very top deck, where he could lean against the railing and just watch the water pass by.

As he ascended the stairs, he was startled to hear a voice come out of the darkness. “Blaine. Wow. Hi.” Blaine smiled widely at the voice, eyes sweeping across the railing until they landed on Kurt, who was illuminated by one of the lights scattered around the deck. The light bounced off his light brown hair, giving him almost a ghostly aura and emphasizing the strong lines of his face and bright, wide eyes. As Blaine expected, Kurt was impeccably dressed in a well-tailored, black suit that seemed to have an interesting pattern that was indiscernible under just the one light.

Blaine’s breath caught in his throat at the same time the pressure in his chest noticeably lessened. Once he regained his ability to breathe, he finished ascending the staircase and walked over to meet Kurt, resting one hand on the railing to maintain his balance. “I didn’t expect to find you here, but I am so, so glad that I did.” Now that he was in the light, Blaine allowed himself one moment to really take in Kurt’s outfit and appreciate how it perfectly fit his long frame. “You look incredible.”

Blaine could just see Kurt flush in the low light. “You do as well.” Kurt reached out and ran one hand along Blaine’s lapel, nodding approvingly.

Blaine smiled triumphantly. “I told you I could impress you, if you ever saw me in a suit.”

Kurt started, face transforming from a look of mild awe to a resigned smirk. “I must say, on this one point, I am happy to have been proven wrong. Particularly if this is the result.” Kurt dropped his hand, resting it on the railing next to Blaine’s. He turned his body so he could gaze out on the ocean, still angled towards Blaine. Blaine mirrored his posture, looking out over the dark water.

“It’s so soothing watching the water like this,” Blaine said finally, after a few minutes of comfortable silence.

“Mhm.”

Even though he had avoided the subject all night with Tina, some part of Blaine compelled him to share with Kurt. “I’m not ready to go back.”

Blaine felt Kurt’s hand run soothingly down his arm. “I’m not either. But that’s part of what makes this so special – it’s fleeting.”

“I know, but –” Blaine paused, trying to consolidate his thoughts into something coherent. “With a few exceptions, this is the most relaxed and happy I’ve been in years. I’m just not ready to give that up.”

Blaine felt Kurt turn further towards him. “No one says you don’t get to be happy when you get back to New York. You just can’t live on this ship forever.”

“I don’t see how.” Blaine knew he sounded defeated, but the ease and openness of the environment and the people on the cruise couldn’t be replicated in New York. “I mean, I obviously don’t want to live on the ship forever, and I really am going to schedule some things into my life that are not work related, but it won’t be the same.”

“You have great friends in New York,” Kurt reminded him. “Sam sounds absolutely wonderful, both as distraction and support, and even Sebastian seems like he might have his merits. If he gets out of lawyer robot mentality, of course.”

“Of course,” Blaine echoed, nodding along with Kurt’s analysis.

“And now you have new friends in New York,” Kurt continued. “Santana and Brittany are there surprisingly often, and I should probably warn you that after karaoke last night, Rachel wants you as her new duet partner.”

Blaine laughed. “It will take me some time to believe that a Broadway star wants me as her duet partner.”

“Well,” Kurt qualified, “her secondary duet partner. I am, of course, her first choice duet partner. You would be around for tenor and baritone duties.”

“I can handle that.” Blaine finally drew his gaze away from the movement of the ship through the water and met Kurt’s gaze.

He saw Kurt swallow and noticed his fingers inching closer to Blaine’s on the railing. “And, I’m in New York. I’d be happy to steal your phone whenever you want.”

“Is that so?” Blaine asked, his heart speeding up again, but this time in a familiar, pleasant way.

“I would make that sacrifice,” Kurt nodded solemnly, his twinkling eyes and smile betraying his tone. Blaine held Kurt’s gaze, even though his heart felt as though it would pound out of his chest. He shivered as Kurt’s fingers brushed against his, feeling a thrill pass through him from his fingertips all the way down to his toes. Blaine gathered up his courage and lifted his hand off the railing, feeling the loss of Kurt’s fingers in the brief moment they were separated. Instead, he reached forward slowly and took Kurt’s hand in his, entwining their fingers together and letting their hands fall to their sides. Kurt blushed again, gaze focused on their hands as a slow, awed smile covered his face.

Blaine watched Kurt, unable to look away from his captivating blue eyes that sparkled as they caught the light from the overhead light. He merely stared, totally enraptured, until Kurt met his gaze, eyes widening even further as he realized how close they were standing. Somehow still nervous, Blaine took a deep breath, summoned all of his courage, and leaned forward, so, so slowly until suddenly Kurt took control, meeting Blaine halfway and capturing his lips. The first kiss didn’t last long, just a sweet press of their lips for a few seconds that ended when Blaine couldn’t suppress a huge smile. He pulled back, ducking his head in embarrassment even as every fiber of his being cried out in joy.

“Oh,” Blaine breathed out, resting his forehead against Kurt’s and letting his fingers play absently in the hair at the back of Kurt’s neck. For the first time in his life, Blaine’s mind was quiet. The background hum of obligation and responsibilities and lists and worries had been wiped away, replaced by an overwhelming feeling of contentment and rightness. Blaine couldn’t help but tilt his face up for a second kiss, but in his eagerness he ended up merely bumping noses with Kurt.

“Sor—mmph.” Blaine’s apology was cut off suddenly by Kurt pulling Blaine’s face towards him for another kiss, this one firmer and more certain.

Kurt released Blaine after a few moments, laughing quietly at the startled look on his face that the kiss hadn’t quite banished. “I thought we had decided that with me, you didn’t have to apologize.”

Blaine laughed easily. “Well, I must say, that is a quite effective way of stopping me. Though, I’m not sure it’s a good incentive to stop apologizing, if I get a kiss every time.”

Kurt rolled his eyes fondly, caressing Blaine’s cheek with his thumb before leaning in for another short, sweet kiss. “What if I promise that you’ll get kissed anyway, even without the apology?”

“Now that sounds like something I could get on board with.” Blaine reached up to smooth Kurt’s bangs out of his eyes, running his hands down Kurt’s smiling face to smooth across his shoulders and link behind Kurt’s neck. This time they met in the middle in a searing kiss, lips and tongues exploring and learning how best to make the other one gasp in surprise and pleasure. They stayed like that for a long while, kissing and laughing and talking and just enjoying each other high above the waves as the world passed by.

When Kurt pulled away for more than a quick breath, Blaine chased his lips, not ready to be finished kissing. Kurt laughed softly, catching Blaine’s hand instead and bringing it up to his lips for a light kiss. Kurt was trying to catch his breath, and Blaine found that he was feeling similarly lightheaded and a little giddy. He felt intoxicated by Kurt’s presence, and took a step forward to close what little space remained between them to press against Kurt’s warm body. Kurt brought an arm around his shoulders, and Blaine marveled in how well they fit together, Blaine tucked into Kurt’s side like he belonged there.

“What if I promise that I won’t just steal your phone, but I’ll make sure to thoroughly occupy you in ways that are vastly superior to work?” Kurt ran his fingers up and down Blaine’s arm as he spoke in a way that was more than a little bit distracting. “How would that work for you?”

Blaine sighed, not wanting to think outside of the moment. “I really am terrible when I’m back in the city. I work all the time and I’m basically shackled to my Blackberry and I have to cancel plans much more than I should. It’s a wonder that my friends put with me.”

“I can think of a few reasons why they would.” Kurt continued tracing patterns on Blaine’s upper arm as he fell silent for a few moments. “Look, I’m a writer who still auditions for shows all the times. There are times that I disappear too. I keep bizarre hours and I can just totally shut down or lash out when I’m jealous or overworked or needing just some time for myself. Everyone has their things, but I think the trick is finding people who can help you when they become too much.”

Blaine didn’t respond, too afraid that the perfect moment would be just that, a moment. Kurt withdrew his arm from around Blaine’s shoulders, and Blaine shivered as the night air took the place of Kurt’s warmth. Kurt gently gripped Blaine’s shoulders and turned him until they were once again face-to-face. “Whatever things each of us has, I would really like to take you out on a proper date when we get back to New York. A date without a boat rocking underneath us, or Rachel or Jesse or Santana or Brittany able to just pop in on us without notice, or an end date looming over us. Maybe in an actual restaurant where we’ll sit at a table by ourselves.”

“What crazy ideas you have,” Blaine said with a smile, enjoying the image it conjured.

“Mhm, crazy.” Kurt leaned down and lightly pressed their lips together, pulling away far too soon for Blaine’s taste. “But just crazy enough that it might work.” 

***

One of the problems with believing in the soulmate instinct while having generalized anxiety is that it is often impossible to tell when the anxiety you are feeling arises from the soulmate instinct, rather than your brain prompting you to worry and obsess about everyday occurrences. It wasn’t until years later, in the many retellings of how they met, that it even occurred to Blaine that it might have been a soulmate instinct that drove him to the cruise and then to Kurt. And it wasn’t until many years after that, long after marriage and the adoption of their first child, not until Blaine was 100% certain that the suggestion that they were soulmates would not in any way impact their relationship, that he got up the courage to mention his suspicion to Kurt. Kurt’s response was pretty much what Blaine expected, at that point: he looked pensive for a moment, like he was turning the idea over in his mind, leaned down for a short kiss, and shrugged. “Okay. That just means that either way, something in your brain told you that we should be together. No matter which one it was, I’m just grateful that I get to keep you. And your brain.” Blaine smiled up at his husband happily, grabbed Kurt’s tie to tug him back down for a longer, softer kiss, and echoed, “Okay.”