His chair is uneven.
Not by much, just enough for any shift in weight to give him an unsettling feeling of tipping backwards and to the right. He’s been debating whether it’s worth it to try to move to another chair for the last ten minutes, even as he watches the room gradually fill and his chances of securing one dwindle. It’s a fruitless endeavor from the beginning--he knows he isn’t going to move.
Blaine presses a hand down over his knee, trying to keep it from jiggling and giving away his nerves. There’s nothing to be worried about. It's just one meeting, and if he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t have to come back. Or at least he’d been assured so over and over again by his mother, her fingers twisting the end of her braid as she tried desperately to be nonchalant. To not upset him. He’s here to stop upsetting her . It’s a gossamer thin tightrope the two of them have been walking ever since he came home.
He used to be a lot better at pretending to be okay.
Blaine snaps out of his reverie at the sound of a closing door. The meeting must be about to begin. Exhaling, he tries to sit up a little straighter (stomach swooping as he tips back) and pay respectful attention to the woman taking her seat at the head of the circle.
“Hello everyone,” she greets, slight and ginger-haired, dressed neat as a pin. “My name is Emma. Welcome back, or for the first time, to Missing the Mark.” She folds her hands primly in her lap. “I see we have some new faces with us today.” Her gaze slides to Blaine and he can’t help but tense. “Why don’t we start off by going around and introducing ourselves. Names, and if you’re comfortable, your designation.”
She gestures to the woman sitting beside her, and though Blaine tries his best, he finds his attention slipping away. Until he feels a slight nudge from the older man beside him and realizes it’s his turn.
He does his best attempt at a smile, fiddling with the strap of his watch. “Sorry, hi. My name is Blaine and…” He takes a deep breath. “I’m Unmarked.”
And even in this room, Blaine can see the pity blooming on the faces around him. He hates this, has always hated it, even for those few short years when he thought things may be different, may be okay--
Another voice cuts into the beginning of his spiral, halting the burn of oncoming tears.
“Sebastian. I’m Stricken.”
And it isn’t the designation that snare Blaine’s attention, not really. The death of a Soulmate before a Bond can be consummated is undoubtedly a terrible thing. But is unfortunately not an uncommon one. It’s mostly likely the designation of half the people in this room. It’s the vaguely bored tone that accompanies the revelation.
The speaker, Sebastian, can’t be any older than Blaine. He’s sprawled, long-legged and loose-limbed, on the other side of the circle. He’s handsome, Blaine notes with a hint of discomfort, before finding his gaze snared by the most beautiful green eyes he’s ever seen.
Kurt’s eyes always been lovely to him, pale and clear, like chips of seaglass.
The other boy smirks, heat rushing to Blaine’s face as those eyes drag up and down his body with overt, languid intent. He squirms, unused to such blatant interest, in a support group meeting of all places. It makes him desperately uncomfortable.
Blaine forces his attention back to his group-mates, trying to ignore how he can still feel eyes on him. A older woman, Marguerite, talks about her loneliness after her soulmate died, the guilt she’s felt even thinking about trying to find someone. She’d been raised, she says, voice faltering, to believe that one was loyal to their soulmate to the end. Her thumb rubs over the blackened mark on her wrist, the gesture unconscious. Her soulmate was gone--how could she want anyone else?
“How can I want anyone else?” Kurt murmurs, fingers winding through Blaine’s loose curls. The brunet looks up at him from where his head rests on his lover’s stomach ,
“He’s your soulmate, Kurt.” Blaine reaches up to take hold of that slim wrist, pulling Kurt’s hand between them. He feels the slightly raised lettering under his touch, skin marked where his own is smooth and bare. “Your perfect match. You never wonder--”
“Never,” the other man tells him firmly, breaking his light hold only to twine their fingers together, tugging to rest their interlaced hands over his heart. “I don’t know him, Blaine. I don’t need to. I know you.”
He’s jolted from his memories by the sound of chairs scraping against the floor, the group members standing and making their way towards the fold-out table of coffee and assorted pastries. He follows suit, smoothing his hands down the front of his perfectly pressed shirt, touching briefly at his collar. He’s stalling, and he knows it.
“Here.” Blaine looks up from where he’s been contemplating his laces, started into making eye contact with familiar green eyes.
Sebastian holds out a cup of overly milky coffee, an easy smile on his face that doesn’t quite match the scrutiny of his gaze. “‘You look like the kind of guy to take cream and a couple sugars,” he drawls, clarifying when Blaine doesn’t reach for it. “Sweet.”
It’s so artless, Blaine has to stop from rolling his eyes, even as manners eventually make him take the cup. He hazards a sip and it’s every bit as disgusting as it looked. “Black, actually,” he gets out after he swallows, trying his best not to grimace.
Sebastian shrugs, smile never dropping. “I’ll know for next time, then.”
Despite his distaste, Blaine finds himself taking another sip of the coffee, if only to save himself from having to reply. But Sebastian doesn’t wander away, seemingly content to look down at Blaine from an extra six inches of height.
Casting about for something to say, Blaine ends up nodding towards Sebastian’s exposed wrist, where a jagged black line obscures a name. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Sebastian raises his eyebrows at the sentiment before shrugging dismissively. “I was Stricken when I was six. Didn’t really have time to get attached, if you know what I mean.”
Sympathy twists in Blaine’s stomach nonetheless. “Still. It can’t be easy, knowing you’ll have to...settle.” Because that’s the truth, isn’t it? Anyone who isn’t your soulmate in the end can’t be really anything but a consolation prize.
Green eyes narrow at him, piercing and uncanny, like he’s being measured. “That what happened to you? He refuse to settle?”
The words hit him like cold water to the face. Blaine makes a small noise of distress before stepping back, reaching blindly to set his cup down on a table. “I have to---I need to go,” he gets out, aware of the other man’s gaze still on him, like he’s a mildly interesting zoo animal.
Blaine turns sharply and heads for the door, pulse rushing in his ears. This was a mistake, he knew it was a mistake, he isn’t ready for this.
He’s not ten steps down the hall when he hears a voice calls out his name, the soft click of heels drawing closer as a pretty blonde girl (Quinn, he remembers) comes up beside him, touching at his shoulder. His throat works, fighting the urge to shrug her hand off even as he allows her to bring him to a stop.
“Are you okay?” she murmurs, her eyes liquid and sincere as she tries to meet his.
“I can’t do this right now,” Blaine gets out between clenched teeth, “I can’t---and he---”
“Sebastian,” Quinn sighs, like the name is worth a thousand words of explanation. She folds her arms across her chest, the two names that are etched across her wrist on brief display. Gifted, they call it. If she’s here, he doubts she feels the same.
“I saw him talking to you. Look, you have to ignore him. He just shows up at these meetings to pick up. All charm and “why don’t we keep each other company” crap.” Quinn scoffs. “I’ve tried to tell Emma not to let him back, but if you find a backbone on her, you’ll be the first.”
There’s an edge to the words that Blaine doesn’t comment on. “I just...I don’t think I can talk about it yet.”
“So don’t.” Quinn shrugs. “Just listen.”
He hesitates, looking back towards the room he’d all but run from, and just...can’t. He just can’t. He has to get out of here. “I’m sorry,” Blaine mumbles, casting about for something to say, anything else, reading the disappointment in Quinn’s expression, even if she’s careful not to show it. He’s no stranger to being a letdown, not anymore. “I...I’m sorry.”
He turns on his heel and walks as fast as he can towards the exit, to his car, not stopping for a second until he’s home, until he’s sitting on his living room couch with his head all but between his knees, dragging in deep breaths. The couch dips as his mother sits down beside him, stroking gently at his hair as she assures him he doesn’t have to go back.
Curled up under his sheets that night with his misery, Blaine tries not to think about much her permission felt like her admitting defeat.
“Wasn’t sure you were going to show.”
He draws in a sharp breath, looking up from where he’s been intermittently checking his phone and still managing to be disappointed at the lack of new messages. Six feet plus of smirking asshole is settling into the seat beside him, holding out a cup of coffee. It’s like a particularly awful episode of deja vu.
This time, he doesn’t reach to take it, trying his best to ignore Sebastian full stop.
“Oh come on, it’s black this time. And it’s from the coffee place up the road, not the sludge they have here.” The other man waggles the cup carefully. “Come on, call it a peace offering.”
Blaine makes the mistake of looking at him, and it’s like Sebastian knows he has him snared just from that, smirk flashing over his face.
“Fine.” He takes the coffee, mindful of both Quinn’s warning and what he is sure is her gaze pinning him from across the room. “Thank you.”
Blaine does his best to hide his reaction at just how wonderful it is, smooth and dark, biting hot and bitter at his tongue. Sebastian hadn’t been lying.
“I didn’t mean to make you run out of here like that, you know.” The words are abrupt, a hint of uncertainty bleeding through the drawl.
Fighting a flinch, Blaine says nothing, just worries his thumbnail against the plastic lid. Peace offering or not, Sebastian had poked a very sharp stick at a very sensitive spot, and he wasn’t just going to let him slide out of it on charm alone.
The silence between them expands and contracts as the room fills, until finally it snaps and Sebastian turns towards him, leaning into his personal space.
“Look, I’m sorry. I was an asshole. Start over?” He holds out a hand. “Sebastian Smythe. Twenty one years old. Stricken.” Sebastian’s gaze is beseeching, if undercut with a hint of exasperation, and so, so green.
Blaine folds with a sigh, grasping other man’s warm hand and obliging him with a brief shake. “Blaine Anderson. Twenty two. Unmarked.”
The smile that lights up Sebastian’s handsome features is the most genuine he’s seen from him so far and Blaine feels his ears get hot. Sebastian is still holding his hand. He pulls back at the realization, coughing lightly.
He is hyper aware of the other man’s presence as the meeting begins, Sebastian sitting close enough that he can almost feel the graze of his bare arm against his sleeve. He can’t say whether or not he’s happy for the distraction as the circle shares—he’s still dreading the moment where he’s going to have to say his own piece, but the minimal attention he’s paying the other members makes him feel more than a little churlish.
He manages to get out of sharing a second time--Emma’s gaze pauses on him for what feels like an eternity, but she must take pity on him and what he’s sure is his deer-in-headlights expression because she moves right along. Quinn puts her hand up in silent request, folding it back into her lap when Emma invites her to share. As soon as she starts to speak, Blaine feels her lose most of the room. Even Sebastian, who has maintained an expression of mostly vacant boredom throughout, rolls his eyes at Blaine’s side. He shoots him a disapproving look, even as he can’t help but understand. In a room full of people who will never meet their soulmate, being Gifted with two names comes across as a bit of an embarrassment of riches.
As they break for refreshments, he considers saying something encouraging to her, after she’d been so nice to him the day before. But he can’t for the life of him think what that would be, and so he finds himself almost grateful for the six-foot shadow at his side that seems to be keeping her at a distance.
“What did you do to Quinn?” he asks abruptly, turning to face Sebastian, curiosity tugging at him.
Pausing with a donut halfway to his mouth, the other man raises his eyebrows, seemingly amused. “Who says I did anything to her?”
Blaine shrugs, glancing over at the petite blonde and then away again before she catches him. “She just seems to really dislike you.”
Sebastian chews and swallows, licking a bit of powdered sugar off his thumb. Blaine’s eyes follow the gesture a little more closely than they should and it doesn’t go unnoticed, if Sebastian’s smirk is anything to go by.
“Beats me, killer. Maybe she misses being the prettiest in the room.”
He can’t help but shake his head at the other man’s brashness, reaching for a cronut when something catches him up. “Killer? Really?”
Green eyes glint with mischief. “You look like you’ve got a little killer in you, Anderson..”
The comment is off-hand and clearly a line, Blaine isn’t an idiot, but it nonetheless hits him hard enough to make his breath catch. He’s not sure what it is about Sebastian that gives his careless words such lethal accuracy, but it’s almost enough to send Blaine running again. Because over the last days and weeks, ever since that devastating conversation in a restaurant he’ll never go back to, he’s felt like a shell of himself. Like the fire that used to drive him, push him, had been snuffed out. He can’t so much as touch a piano, he’s missed enough classes that he’ll probably have to drop half of them...so for Sebastian, a practical stranger, to look at him and still see something of that there…
Blaine blinks himself out of his thoughts. “Hm? Yeah, sorry, I’m fine.”
Sebastian eyes him like he doesn’t believe a word of it and edges a little closer. “Thought I may’ve put my foot in it again.”
“No, you’re fine, I’m just...not at my best right now.” An understatement.
Shifting his weight brings Sebastian that much closer to Blaine, so much so that he’s once again feeling that phantom graze of the other boy’s skin against his. He has to tip his head back to look at him properly.
“The only thing I’ve seen get that look off your face so far is a good cup of coffee,” the taller boy muses, tilting his head in consideration. “It’s my treat if you’re in.”
There’s something slightly earnest underlying the smoothness of the invitation. It doesn’t quite jive with Quinn’s warning to him about just what Sebastian was after, but Blaine hesitates regardless.
“I’m not looking to date anyone right now, Sebastian. Or...anything else.”
Sebastian lifts an eyebrow. “It wasn’t a euphemism, Blaine. Not that you’re not gorgeous, but I promise, I’m just looking to put a smile on your face.”
Just the words, as frank as they are smooth, have the corners of his mouth tugging upwards, and before he knows it, he’s agreeing. It feels a little dangerous, like all interactions with Sebastian so far have seemed to, setting his nerves on edge. It isn’t a bad thing, not really. More like...he’s not sure he’s ever felt so aware of another person’s presence before. With Kurt...with Kurt, he’d always felt so at ease. Comfortable in his space, and settled. Like a familiar embrace. Sebastian...being around the other boy feels like someone trailed their fingertips down his spine.
Sebastian nudges him towards a table after they order, in front of the window. Blaine is charmed by the café in spite of himself, even as he very determinedly does not look at the small stage and microphone in the corner. Taking a seat, he feels silence stretch between them that Sebastian seems in no hurry to mitigate, his verdant gaze trained on Blaine over the rim of his coffee cup. Casting about for something to say, Blaine takes a deep breath and nods towards Sebastian’s wrist.
“Do you mind if I...what was their name?”
It feels like an intensely personal thing to ask, but the other man seems so blasé about the whole thing, he figures it can’t hurt.
“Hmm?” Sebastian makes a show of frowning and then apparently catching on, glancing down at his left wrist. “Oh. His name was Danny Tressler.”
Danny. Part of Blaine can’t help but think it’s sweet, to have a diminutive in your mark. Even more intimate, he imagines, then having their name carved into your skin.
“How about yours?”
Blaine blinks, drifting back from where he’d started to wander off into his thoughts. It’s a bad habit that’s become harder and harder to shake as of late. “Mine? I’m Unmarked.”
He can almost feel Sebastian suppressing an eyeroll. “The guy who messed you up so bad you’re in therapy. I’m assuming guy, anyway, my gaydar’s pretty spot on.”
“Oh. Yeah, no, you’re right,” he mumbles, that sick sinking/floating feeling starting to bleed in at the mention of Kurt. Like his feet are frozen to the ground as his chest expands and rises, stretching him out beyond capacity. But fair’s far, and he did ask first. “Kurt. His name was Kurt.”
There’s a moment where Sebastian’s gaze turns shrewd, as if he wants to ask more, and Blaine braces himself. He’s managed to keep tears at bay so far and he really doesn’t want to press his luck. If nothing else, he feels like crying in front of Sebastian would another humiliation he really doesn’t want to deal with right now.
Abruptly, Sebastian leans forward, folding his arms on the table and meeting Blaine’s eyes.
“So now that that’s out of the way, let me just say that I, unlike most people it seems, fully believe you can have whole conversations that have nothing to do with soulmates, so what do you say we try it?”
It’s such an off-center thing to say and Blaine laughs in surprise before he can catch himself. The sound is clearly rusty from disuse, but somehow manages to make Sebastian break into an absolutely blinding grin. Blaine feels a flush crawl up the back of his neck.
It’s surprisingly easy, talking to Sebastian. Even with the flirting, which seems so automatic for the other man, Blaine can’t even get mad about it after awhile. He doesn’t take over the conversation, doesn’t make it all about him or about the things he’s into. He also seems to genuinely be interested in Blaine’s own opinions and anecdotes. It’s a level of focused attention he isn’t used to, and after awhile, he can’t help but feel a bit lightheaded with it.
It’s possibly that which brings him to admit almost shyly, “I love to sing,” when Sebastian catches him looking at the café stage once again.
“Yeah? Are you any good?”
There’s no mockery in the question, just honest curiosity, and Blaine can feel himself puff up a little with pride. “Pretty damn good, actually.”
And maybe it feels a little braggadocios, but Blaine has enough self-awareness to know it to be true. He used to have dreams of singing to sold out crowds in stadiums, or maybe more intimate gatherings of devoted fans in bars, or even on theatre stages under bright lights. When he’d met Kurt...it had seemed perfect. Singing with him...the way their voices came together, blending and harmonizing...it had felt so incredibly special. Something Blaine had never felt like he’d be able to touch, that feeling of being a matched set. Perfectly complementary.
“You’re doing it again.”
Blinking, Blaine looks up from where he’d unconsciously been shredding the cardboard sleeve on his cup. “What?”
Sebastian leans back, gesturing towards him. “That thing where you’re suddenly a million miles away.”
“Sorry. I just...lots of things remind me of him, still.”
Tilting his head, Sebastian seems to consider him for a long moment before crossing his arms over his chest and nodding somewhat decisively. “Right, can I say something? Without you getting pissed or upset?”
“Great disclaimer,” he returns warily, hands stilling on the table. “What?”
“Okay, look. We don’t know each other, I get that. But I need to tell you, killer...you need to get over this guy before it just flat out shuts you down. You need to understand, he wasn’t your soulmate. ”
He feels like he’s been slapped, tears stinging at his eyes. “Jesus, you think I don’t know that? Why would you--”
“No,” Sebastian cuts in impatiently, reaching across the table and grabbing at Blaine’s hand. “You’re not getting me. You weren’t meant for each other, written in the stars and all that. But that’s a good thing. Do you get it? You didn’t lose a soulmate, you gained a chance to find someone who’s right for you. You get to have that choice.”
The words, and the unexpected passion of them, settle within him, a slight balm on still seething wounds. Blaine sniffles, dragging his hand quickly over his eyes and trying to regain his suddenly lost composure. The other is still warm in Sebastian’s grasp. “I don’t know.”
“Just think about it, okay?” Sebastian seems to realize their hands are still entwined, squeezing lightly before letting go. Blaine feels a pang at the loss he can’t explain. Instead he tucks both hands between his knees and nods his agreement until the other man looks satisfied.
He parts from him an hour later with a new number in his phone and new thoughts swirling in his head.