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“...and so I said to Prince Feisal, what do you think this, a quarterhorse convention?” June looks so pleased with her quip, Blaine has to laugh in admiration.

“I want to be you when I grow up,” he says.

She looks at him consideringly. “Why? What do you find so attractive? Tell me. Is it the fame? Is the power? Is it the money? What is it?”

“No,” Blaine says, and he’s star-struck. “It's the life. I mean, how did you manage to find yourself in the center of all of it?”

“I believe that you get back from the world what you put out into it. Put out charisma and dominance, and the world will fall to its knees for you." She takes another sip of her coffee. "Obviously, you have more than enough charisma; that much was clear the first time I set eyes on you. Now we just have to work on the dominance."

Blaine frowns. "What?"

"Oh, I don't mean that you should wear a whip on your belt when you dress up, dear; I realize I'm old-fashioned that way." June smiles at the sub girl refilling their coffee cups, who blushes prettily at the attention. "And I suppose it's all the rage now to let your sub work outside the home, although why anyone would deprive themselves of a full-time submissive I'm sure I don't understand."

"Kurt doesn't stop being my sub when he leaves the apartment," Blaine says carefully. He's not really sure where this is going.

"Kurt is barely your sub at all." June's voice has gone hard and cold. "He may wear your collar, Blaine, but is it for anything more than show?"

*****

Kurt comes home from school a little early. Stage fighting class is canceled, and he figures he'll use the time to make something actually nutritious for dinner. They've been relying too much on takeout, and anyway, cooking relaxes him. He slips in the door, quiet in case Blaine is studying, and drops his bag by the entrance.

Back in the bedroom, he hears Blaine's voice: he's on the phone. Kurt doesn't mean to listen in, but then he hears his own name, and he creeps closer to the half-open bedroom door.

“I don’t know, Sam,” Blaine sighs. “I didn’t realize June felt that strongly about it.”

Kurt holds his breath. He knows how important this showcase is for Blaine. For them both. Kurt might not be happy that June didn’t appreciate his talents too, but he still wants Blaine to shine.

“She said — she said that a dom who can’t control his submissive can’t control an audience. That my relationship with Kurt will ruin my career before it ever starts, and I should end it now before —”

Kurt can’t listen to whatever comes next. The tears are already welling hot in his eyes, and he has to leave before Blaine knows he’s been listening. He grabs his bag and heads back out into the late spring afternoon.

It’s not like Kurt doesn’t know he’s not most people’s idea of an acceptable sub. He’s seen the looks, heard the whispers. A sub with a mind and ambitions of his own is still something of a rarity. A sub who’ll stand up for himself against a dom is even rarer. They used to say back in Lima that he’d never find a dom stupid enough to take him on, but when he met Blaine — Blaine with his soft firm voice and sparkling eyes, Blaine who admired Kurt’s fashion sense and his independent opinions — he thought he’d finally proven them all wrong. That the bad days were over. Kurt goes to his knees for Blaine not because society expects him to, but when he’s shaking with the need for it.

He thought that was how they both liked it. Blaine has always been clear that he doesn’t want a relationship like the one his parents have, with a submissive whose whole life revolves around service to his dom. But maybe Kurt has pushed things too far in the other direction. He can fix this, though. He can be what Blaine needs. If his other choices are ruining Blaine’s career, or losing him to someone softer and subbier? Well, it’s not a difficult decision. He buys copies of Cosmopolitan and Glamour at the newsstand, and sits determinedly in the coffee shop down the block, taking notes.

*****

Blaine’s in the courtyard at NYADA, soaking in the sun and picking out a Loretta Lynn song on his guitar, when his phone rings. It’s June.

“Hello, dear. What are you doing for dinner tonight?”

“Um...” Blaine frowns and tries to remember. There’s some chickpea stew thing in the fridge. “I don’t think we have plans.”

“Well, you do now. Carlton Jakes is in town for the week, and I want him to meet you. We have reservations at eight at Loquitur.”

Blaine has to stop himself from squealing. Carlton Jakes is a legend: he created two iconic musical theater roles on Broadway before he turned thirty, sang in a punk cabaret show that was the talk of New York for years, and now he’s writing and directing movies that get Oscar buzz. The idea of getting to have dinner with him, to talk with him and learn from him: it’s dizzying. “Thank you! Wow. Thank you so much.”

“You are very welcome. Don’t be late — and remember, there’s a dress code.”

She’s about to hang up when he works up the courage to ask, “And Kurt’s invited too, right?”

There’s a silence that’s far more eloquent than any answer would be. “Blaine...”

“He’s a really big fan,” Blaine says. It’s not a lie. Blaine doesn’t think he could bear to tell Kurt that he can’t have dinner at Loquitur or meet Carlton Jakes. Kurt has faced enough disappointment of late already.

“Don’t you want to put your best foot forward?” June asks.

“It would mean a lot to me if Kurt was included,” he says, and he puts every ounce of dominance he has into it. It’s nothing to a woman as powerful in herself as June Dolloway is, but at least she can tell that he means it.

“All right,” she finally sighs. “Maybe you’ll learn from the experience.”

He’s feeling pretty good about himself when Kurt shows up after his 2pm class lets out. Kurt kisses him sweetly before he drops his bookbag on the grass and settles down on top of it, sitting cross-legged by Blaine’s feet. It’s subbier than Kurt usually is, but then again Kurt has been quiet and a little bit needy all week. Blaine trusts that when he’s ready to talk about it, Kurt will come to him, like he always does.

Blaine can just picture how happy Kurt is going to be with this new surprise, and his heart lifts with joy. “Sweetheart,” he says, “you’re never going to believe what just happened.”

*****

“Kurt, have you seen my green Paul Smith bowtie?”

“If it’s not in the drawer,” Kurt calls back, “then I don’t know where it is.” He lifts his chin and returns his attention to shaving. He wants to make sure he looks his best tonight.

Blaine leans in through the doorway of their apartment's tiny bathroom. "It's not there, and it's not in the laundry."

Kurt sighs. "Well, when was the last time you wore it?"

"It was... hmm, it was Monday." Blaine lights up like he's remembering something, and he disappears. When he comes back, he's got the bow tie in one hand. It’s a wrinkled mess. "I took it off for dance class. It was still in my bag."

"A little fabric spray and a hot iron, it'll be good as new. I've got the ironing board set up in the bedroom already if you don't want to wait, or I'll do it with my shirt when I'm done shaving."

"Would you? You're the best, babe." Blaine comes up behind him to squeeze his shoulders in thanks. He nips at Kurt's ear, a sweet little moment of dominance, and he's gone again, off to do some other part of his nervous getting-ready routine.

Kurt examines himself critically in the mirror. He looks good, or he will when he's done with his shave. His hair is impeccable, his skin is clear, and his eyebrows are shaped and trimmed to perfection. He is determined: he will not be anything other than a credit to Blaine tonight, not in June Dolloway’s eyes or anyone else’s.

It’s going to be difficult, he knows. He’s never enjoyed learning all the rituals a traditional submissive would know by heart. It all feels awkward and artificial to him, so far from the bone-deep submission he gives when Blaine gets him worked up and makes him beg for sex, or when he ties Kurt to the bed and fucks him. So for the last week, Kurt’s been trying to ease himself into being more of the sort of sub people expect. He walks a step behind Blaine as they chat in the NYADA hallways. He cancels his own plans so he's home to make Blaine dinner, and sends him to school in the morning with a bagged nutritious lunch and a kiss. And he's risked the seams in some of his favorite tight pants by sitting at Blaine's feet rather than at his side, although he puts his bag down beneath him when there's a risk of grass stains. But tonight? Dinner with June Dolloway at Loquitur? It’s high stakes. He’s going to have to be perfect.

He can do this tonight for Blaine, he’s sure of it. But it’s not going to be easy. And what if...

Blaine has been so happy this week. As Kurt’s behavior has gotten more submissive, Blaine hasn’t mentioned it, hasn’t tried to change it, hasn’t even made a joke out of it the way he sometimes does when one of their friends has a particularly mannered new sub. He’s just been attentive and sweet and kind. Just last night, when Kurt had settled onto the floor by the couch to watch Real Housesubs of New Jersey with him, Blaine had gone into the bedroom for a length of the silken rope Kurt loves, carefully tied his arms behind his back, and hauled Kurt onto the sofa with him. They’d watched the whole episode like that, with Kurt’s head in Blaine’s lap, Blaine’s hand in his hair, as Kurt drifted happily under Blaine’s touch and they mocked Sheila’s terrible interior decoration choices together.

Blaine has always said that he doesn’t want all the traditional trappings of a collared sub. That they should make their own sort of pairing, one that works for the two of them. But maybe he hadn’t known what he really wants. Maybe he’s changed. Maybe if Kurt were to go back to just being himself, Blaine wouldn’t think that was enough anymore. Maybe Blaine wouldn’t want him.

Kurt’s hand goes by instinct to his collar, a perfect thin band of brown leather. It’s his most precious possession, and not because it’s custom-made to his demanding specifications. Because it’s Blaine’s, his and Blaine’s. The idea of ever taking it off is a dark sick pit in his stomach.

If it will make Blaine happy to have a more submissive boy, then Kurt’s going to be that boy, that’s all there is to it. He wants a career on the stage and interests of his own, yes, but none of that matters if he can’t fall asleep in Blaine’s arms.

*****

The restaurant is fifteen flights up inside a sleek glass skyscraper. There's a separate entrance with a formally-dressed dom checking their names on the reservation list before they're allowed on the special express elevator. Blaine's been around wealth and formality plenty of times before, but even he's a little intimidated. As the elevator goes up, he gives Kurt a little wink for reassurance. Kurt leans towards him and kisses him fiercely, almost urgently in a way Blaine doesn't understand. He wants to stop the elevator car and find out what's wrong then and there, but the doors open and there's a sub waiting for them, welcoming them to Loquitur. Behind the girl's shoulder, Blaine can see June chatting with a man in chef’s gear. It's show time.

“Blaine, good, you made it. Carlton’s already here, so we can go right in. Hello, Kurt, don’t you look nice. Blaine, you did get my email, didn’t you? I had some thoughts about the setlist for your showcase.”

Blaine shoots a look over at Kurt, expecting him to be rolling his eyes at June’s high-handed behavior, but Kurt’s face is blandly calm and his gaze is cast down just a little. He looks... modest and demure. It’s weird.

Carlton Jakes is almost as babyfaced as he was in his Broadway heyday, but the flop of hair across his forehead is has gone from brown to an almost slate grey. He’s about Blaine’s height, graceful and thin, and he’s wearing a linen-silk suit and canvas tennis shoes. Blaine already adores him. He can barely breathe from excitement when they shake hands.

“And who’s this with you?” Carlton Jakes says.

Blaine waits for Kurt to introduce himself and gush over what an honor it is to get to meet the great Carlton Jakes, but Kurt doesn’t. He’s just standing there, a little behind Blaine, being modest. The only sign that he’s paying attention to the conversation at all is the faint blush.

“Uh,” Blaine finally says, “this is Kurt. He’s a NYADA student too, also musical theater. He’s a countertenor. You should really hear him sing, he’s amazing.” Kurt still doesn’t say anything. “Kurt, say hello,” Blaine prompts. He feels a little sick.

Kurt looks up and offers his shyest smile. “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Jakes.”

“Please, it’s Carlton. There’s no reason for us to stand on formality tonight. It’s nice to meet you too, Kurt.” He turns to Blaine with almost parental approval. “You have a very pretty boy, Blaine.”

“Thank you,” Blaine says. If only he knew what was going on in that well-coiffed head.

They’re escorted to their table and Blaine’s heart sinks even further. There are only three chairs, and one of them has a kneeling cushion by its side. He and Kurt can’t afford a restaurant like this one, but when they do splurge on a nice meal, they always make a point of asking for two chairs, one for each of them, and they don’t go anywhere that would be scandalized by the request.

June is giving him a smug satisfied look and he knows she did this on purpose. Blaine can either make a fuss, which would be rude and ungrateful to his patron, or he can ask Kurt to do something he knows that Kurt finds uncomfortable and humiliating. It’s an awful choice.

But in the end, he doesn’t have to make it. While Blaine is still standing there, looking at the table and trying to figure out what to say, Kurt steps up from behind him. In a single graceful gesture, he kneels down on the cushion. His hands rest palms-up on his thighs, and his beautiful pale neck is bowed.

Blaine has had some wet dreams that start like this. They usually end with Kurt wrapped up in silk scarves and fur-lined cuffs, moaning in pleasure and pain while Blaine fucks him. But this is more like a nightmare. June is watching him carefully. In her considered stare, he can feel the weight of every older dom who’s ever told him that if he’d just try topping someone less independent, he’d change his mind about Kurt.

He’s still standing there, trying to figure out what comes next, when Kurt turns his head just a little and meets Blaine’s eyes. He looks placid, pliant, obedient, the perfect traditional sub. But then just for a moment, the mask slips, and Blaine can see how annoyed Kurt is that he isn’t playing along. There’s the boy Blaine put a collar on. That’s the sub he intends to spend the rest of his life taking apart and putting back together again. Blaine lets out a breath he hadn’t even realized he was holding and takes his place at the table.

*****

Kneeling at the table has never made a lot of sense to Kurt.  Well, if he’d already eaten, maybe, it could be nice, if his quads and his hamstrings weren’t complaining about it. Blaine’s hand on his neck or his shoulders or ruffling his hair is always nice. But even with the super-plush kneeling pillow, he’s way too out of practice for it to feel comfortable after more than half an hour.

And eating is just harder. He and Blaine tried hand-feeding once, goofing around and a little curious. The shirt he was wearing that day was ruined, and the pants only survived through quick application of laundry stain treaters. (Blaine’s aim is nowhere near as good as he thinks it is.) Loquitur has a chef’s tasting menu, with seven small courses that change daily, and Kurt is relieved that they do a separate finger-food interpretation of each dish for kneeling subs. He gives one of his foie gras tartlets to Blaine, and Blaine shares a seared scallop with him. It’s all delicious, and that helps. The waiter pours him wine and is careful not to knock over the glass from where it rests on the floor.

The worst part is feeling cut off from the conversation. That’s the point, of course, he knows that. As a traditional sub, he wouldn’t expect to be interested in whatever the doms are talking about. His whole world would be his own dom, serving and pleasing him. But music and theater were Kurt’s world long before Blaine claimed him. So to be here, in the presence of one of his theatrical idols, and not be part of the conversation? It’s torture, and not the fun kind.

Carlton Jakes can project his voice strongly enough to fill an entire Broadway theater, but in person he’s soft-spoken, in a way that draws people towards him to listen. From his spot beneath the table, Kurt can only catch about one word in three.

“...Shubert... but of course the lighting... unions... very different in LA.”

He tries to remind himself why he’s here. It’s not for the food or the wine or even the company. It’s to prove to June Dolloway and Blaine and anyone else who needs to know it that Kurt can be precisely the sort of good submissive boy that Blaine needs for his career. The sort he maybe wants, even if he won’t admit it.

Eventually, though, after the fifth course and the second glass of wine, Kurt’s resolve starts to crumble at the edges. This might be the only chance he’ll ever have to meet one of his favorite performers. He’s watched all the YouTube videos. He’s listened to The Gutter and the Stars more times than he can count. He has to ask.

He puts his hand on Blaine’s thigh. It’s an old-fashioned way of asking permission to speak. Blaine frowns a little as he lowers his head to listen. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, sir.” Blaine’s forehead furrows deeper, and Kurt squeezes his leg just a little, to let him know that he’s telling the truth. “I just wanted to know if Mr. Jakes said anything about another album?”

Blaine shakes his head no. “You should ask him.”

Kurt sets his jaw at that suggestion. This dinner is almost over, and there is no way he’s going to screw up now. “Please, sir.”

Blaine sighs. “Okay.” He sits back up. “Carlton, Kurt and I are both really big fans of The Gutter and the Stars. Kurt was wondering if you’ve got any plans to record another album?”

“Oh.” Carlton Jakes leans over in his chair so he can look directly at Kurt. It’s a little dazzling. “I’m sorry, Kurt, but no. I’m really focused on directing now, and the amount of effort it would take...” He makes a fluttery dismissive hand gesture, suggesting all the work he doesn’t want to do. “But we’re coming up on the tenth anniversary of that show, because I’m so terribly old. So there have been some conversations, some minor talk about some limited-run benefit something. Never say never.” He smiles. “I hope that’s not too disappointing.”

Kurt is enthralled. “No. No. Thank you so much.” Belatedly, he remembers to add, “...sir.”

Blaine looks down at him like he’s going to say something, but then the next course arrives. Blaine looks back up attentively at the waiter, who is describing where all of the ingredients came from and how the dish was prepared. Kurt takes his own plate with a grateful smile, and tries to focus again on the meal.

*****

Dinner is weird. Just weird. Kurt’s kneeling quietly at his side, June’s looking at him like the cat who ate the canary, and Carlton Jakes is — oh, Blaine is actually talking to Carlton Jakes, who is still a Broadway legend even if he never steps foot on a stage again, and he’s being so nice and he told Blaine to call him Carlton, and asked questions about Blaine’s showcase like he actually cares. Blaine should be over the moon, but he can’t focus: he’s distracted by whatever’s going on with Kurt.

Afterwards, they all take the private elevator back down to the street again. June’s car is waiting for her outside; her chauffeur opens the door and Blaine gets a glimpse of the half-dressed and clearly uncollared sub waiting in the back seat. June’s evening isn’t over yet. She waves goodnight and she’s gone.

Carlton Jakes shakes his head and smiles. “Well,” he says,“it was lovely meeting you, Blaine. Kurt.” He nods at them both and strolls off.

Blaine takes a deep breath. There’s a freshness to the air at night, when the city isn’t belching exhaust fumes and intensity into the sky. It’s a little bit grounding, and he lets it settle him down. He tries to think about what to do next.

“So,” Kurt says, “it’s pretty late, and we’ve been drinking. We should splurge on a cab, don’t you think?”

Blaine can’t help it; he explodes. “Oh, now you have an opinion!” Kurt’s eyes go wide and he steps back a little, but he isn’t flinching. “What the hell was going on up there?”

“Blaine...”

“Not ‘sir’? It’s not ‘sir’ all the time now?” Kurt never calls him ‘sir,’ not unless they’re alone in private, except when he whispers it in Blaine’s ear as a code that he wants to go home and play. “Was that some sort of freaky sex game you were playing up there? Is that it? Because I can’t think of any other reason you turned into some sort of... Stepford Sub pod-person.”

“Oh, you can’t? Well then, excuse me for being the one person in this relationship who cares about your career and our future.”

“Of all the —”

“Kids. This won't do.” It’s Carlton Jakes again. He’s walking a heavy blue Citibike, and the right leg of his pants is rolled and clipped up to protect it from the gears. “You should never get in the habit of fighting in public. Someday there might be photographers.”

“Mr. Jakes. Carlton.” Blaine’s taken aback by his reappearance, but it’s also a chance for him to get what he wanted to get out of tonight’s disaster, even a little. “Carlton. You have to know that you didn’t really meet my Kurt tonight. Kurt is — he’s a star in the making. I knew that the first time I ever sang with him. The whole world needs to hear his voice, and he has my support in his career, every step of the way. He knows it, too. Or I thought he did.”

“I do, Blaine.” Kurt steps forward and twines his fingers with Blaine’s. His eyes are bright with tears. “I really do.”

“Well, isn’t that sweet,” Carlton says placidly. “Young love.” He studies the two of them for a moment, his head cocked. “Blaine. May I offer some advice?”

Blaine is thrilled at the thought of it. “Of course.”

“You seem a little worked up tonight. That’s understandable. You’re very young, and all those hormones —” He spreads his hands as if to encompass all the crazy things that dominance hormones might lead a person to try. “You probably need to talk to your boy, and you shouldn’t try do it while you’re angry. So my advice is, don’t. Send Kurt home in a cab, and just —” His right hand skitters meaningfully forward. “Walk it off. Walk until you're calm and collected again, and then you can go home. Sound good?”

It does; it's actually really good advice, and Blaine is thankful for any sort of clear-headed guidance at this point. He glances over at Kurt, who nods in agreement.

“Now, Kurt.” Carlton’s attention shifts. “Your dom here wants me to find you interesting. Should I?”

Kurt lifts his chin. “Most people do.”

Carlton bites his lip. He’s keeping a game face, but his eyes are delighted. “All right, well, that’s good. What are you interesting about?”

Kurt frowns as he considers it. “Well, musical theater, obviously. Fashion. Heart-healthy cooking — but also cheesecake. I’m a witty conversationalist. Oh, and television shows with elderly people solving murders.” He nods decisively, as if that’s the entire list. Blaine, who thinks Kurt is fascinating under all circumstances, can’t help grinning.

“That’s a good list,” Carlton says. “I’m convinced. Why don’t you two come to lunch on Thursday?”

Blaine isn’t sure he heard that right.

“My Lorelai has been so bored on this trip,” Carlton continues. “She doesn’t really know people here, and she misses LA. She works for my production company, so she’s got things to do. But we’re so social at home.” He shakes his head sympathetically. “She certainly wasn’t going to come to dinner with June Dolloway if she could help it. You understand.” Kurt nods. “But I think she’d like you, Kurt. And I’d like to talk to you both again in a friendlier setting.”

Kurt nods. “That would be lovely. Thank you. We’re — I mean, I’m free, and I think Blaine —”

“Absolutely,” Blaine says.

“Wonderful. Thursday, Gotham Bar & Grill, one o’clock. Don’t be late. And have all of this —” Another elaborate hand wave. “— sorted out by then, all right? Good.” He gives them a little smile before he gets on his bicycle and heads off. His suit jacket puffs out behind him like a cape as he goes.

*****

When Kurt gets home to their quiet apartment, he trades his suit for yoga pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt. It’ll be a while before Blaine’s back, he knows, so he tries to stay distracted. He does all the dishes in the sink and wipes down the counters. He takes out the trash and the recycling. He sorts the mail into bills and ads and junk. He tries not to think of how angry and disappointed Blaine had been.

Blaine finally comes home an hour later. He looks sweaty and tired, but calm.

“Blaine...”

“Not yet, okay?” He sounds weary. “I need to change.” Blaine walks into their bedroom and shuts the door behind him.

Now Kurt lets himself be scared, and sad, and sorry. He doesn’t know what to do to make things right, or how to do it. He’s at a loss. There’s only one thing he can do: he waits.

Blaine has a favorite armchair: a dark grey wingback with soft velvety upholstery. They’d put it in one corner of their living room, a quiet reading spot, and Blaine likes to sit there at the end of a long day and read or think while Kurt’s puttering around in the apartment. Kurt isn’t even thinking when he sinks to his knees next to it; he’s just waiting, and sorry, and afraid.

When Blaine comes out of the bedroom, Kurt can hear the way his breath catches at the sight. “Again?” he says. He sounds more confused than upset.

Kurt looks up to meet his eyes. He knows he’s near tears, but he tries to keep his voice steady. “I’m so sorry, Blaine. I never meant to upset you.”

Blaine sighs. “I know, sweetheart. I do.”

The endearment catches Kurt by surprise, and he can’t help it: the tears start falling. Blaine squats down in front of him and takes his face in his hands. He wipes away the tears, and he kisses Kurt’s cheeks, his mouth, the tip of his nose until he’s done crying.

They sit together on the armchair, Kurt curled up on Blaine’s lap. He buries his face in the hollow of Blaine’s neck, breathes him in deeply. The smell of him, so familiar and so right, is calming. Blaine runs a soothing hand up and down Kurt’s back, and Kurt could stay right here for a long time.

“Do you think you can tell me about it yet?” Blaine asks.

Kurt doesn’t want to talk. But he’s going to have to eventually, he knows, and now while he’s safe, wrapped around Blaine, is as good a time as any. “I came home early last Wednesday,” he says. “I heard you on the phone with Sam.”

“Sam?” Blaine pulls back a little and looks curiously down at Kurt.

There are people who look askance at Blaine’s friendship with Sam, who think doms and subs can’t ever be just friends. And Sam is cute, it’s true. But he’s mostly attracted to sharp-witted female doms, and he’s really not Blaine’s type either. Kurt’s never worried about it.

“No, it’s not — you were talking about June.”

Blaine nuzzles against the top of Kurt’s head. “About June? What did we say? I don’t remember this.”

“You were telling him...” It’s still hard to say out loud. “She said I was bad for your career, and you should break up with me.”

Blaine’s arms tighten around him. “And you believed her?”

“You...” His throat closes around the words. “You sounded worried. Like maybe you thought she was right.”

“Kurt! No, never.” Blaine kisses the top of his top of his head, his forehead, until Kurt looks up and lets himself be kissed on the mouth.  “We are together. We are so together. And no one, not June or anyone, is going to change that.” He runs his thumb along Kurt’s jaw. “I remember now. I was worried because I didn’t want to offend June. She’s been so nice, and I've learned so much from her. This showcase is a great opportunity. But it’s not like I haven’t noticed that her attitude towards subs is stuck in like, the Kennedy administration. I don’t care what she thinks about us. I care that you’re happy.” Blaine puts his hand under Kurt’s chin, makes him look up. “Is this also why... this whole week, you’ve been so quiet and, I don’t know, submissive? Like, outside of bed.”

“You've liked it.” Kurt can hear himself pouting. “You’ve been so... I don’t know. Attentive.”

Blaine shakes his head. “Because usually when you’re like that, it means you’re sad, or you’re stressed, and you need a little extra bringing down.” Kurt’s surprise must show on his face, because Blaine smiles at him, and it’s Kurt’s favorite smile, the one where Blaine looks at him like he’s the best thing on earth. “You didn’t know that? Well. I bet there are things about me that you know better than I do, too.”

Kurt thinks about it as he winds his hand into the hem of Blaine’s t-shirt. The way Blaine’s hands flex and curl into fists as he paces the apartment when he’s stressed. The way the veins on his neck show when he’s feeling threatened. Kurt knows that when Blaine’s like that, he needs Kurt to be close and caring, to help him come back to himself. It never means he’s changed for good. It’s not a sign about a change in their relationship.

It’s like a weight off Kurt’s shoulders, and he almost crumples with the relief of it.

*****

Blaine can feel it the moment Kurt relents; his whole body goes soft and pliant in Blaine’s lap. It feels distractingly good.

It’s a relief to know that everything that’s happened has been based on not much more than a misunderstanding. Walking the city streets, Blaine has considered every reason he could think of for Kurt’s behavior: stress, an ugly infidelity, an undiagnosed brain tumor? The truth is better than he had let himself hope for. It’s the same old fears and wounds, nothing more. The past is tenacious, Blaine knows that. But he can overcome it. He’s looking forward to making all those bad times into nothing more than distant vague memories, ones that have no power over his Kurt anymore.

But that day isn’t here yet, which means there’s work to be done.

“I know you’re sorry, Kurt,” he says carefully. “I do. But I still have to punish you.”

Kurt tenses for a moment and then relaxes again. “I know,” he says against Blaine’s shirt. “Okay.”

Blaine runs his hand on top of Kurt’s hair. It’s so sweet, having Kurt here like this, so completely his. Blaine doesn’t know what he’d do without it. “Can you tell me why?”

This is one of their little rituals with each other, something they worked out early on. They have to agree on the why of a punishment, even if Blaine controls the how.

“Eavesdropping,” Kurt says. “And not telling you what I’d heard.”

Blaine keeps stroking Kurt’s hair. It’s reassurance and reward, and it feels pretty nice for Blaine, too. “Yes. Those two for sure. What else?”

“And, um, not telling you what I was doing in advance.”

Blaine doesn’t change the pace of his strokes or the tone of his voice. “No. That’s not quite it.”

“Not asking permission? It sounds stupid: I didn’t ask permission to be a better sub.”

“Whoa.” Blaine pulls back, puts his hands on Kurt’s shoulder and pushes him to sit up so he can really see his face. “Whose collar are you wearing?”

Kurt looks confused. “Yours.”

“Who told you to kneel at the table and ask permission to speak?”

Kurt shrugs. “I didn’t want you to be embarrassed.”

Blaine has to close his eyes and take a deep breath before he can continue. “Kurt. No one gets to tell me that you’re not a good enough sub for me. No one, not even you. I chose you, and I love you just the way you are. And as long as you’re wearing that collar, I don’t want you to be anything else. Okay?

Kurt smiles, a little shyly. “Okay,” he says, and he kisses Blaine for emphasis. “Okay.”

“That’s my sweet boy,” Blaine says, and if he lets himself get distracted by kissing Kurt, they’ll never get through this discussion. So he pulls away regretfully and takes Kurt’s hand. “So that’s listening in to my private conversation and not telling me about it, making decisions for me about how you should behave as my sub, and not believing in your own worth as you are. I’d call that four strokes with the cane, but we’ll make it three.”

“Not that I’m complaining,” says Kurt, “but... why?”

“Because I messed up too. It's my responsibility to protect you. I could have told June that I didn't want you kneeling. Even after you knelt, I could've told you to stand up.” It tastes sour in his mouth to admit it. “I was afraid of causing a scene, and so I failed as your dom.”

Now it's Kurt's turn to stroke his face tenderly. “Oh, no. No. You haven’t failed me, Blaine. I promise.” He looks so content and so sure. “Which is why, and I can’t believe I’m saying it, you shouldn’t go easy on me. You know what’s right.”

Blaine hopes that the trust Kurt places in him will never stop feeling so precious. “Thank you. But I still was in the wrong too. I want to make it better.”

“I hope you don’t want me to punish you.” Kurt’s nose wrinkles adorably. “I’m not that kinky.”

Blaine has to laugh. “No. But... something? Something I could do for you that would wipe the slate between us. I’ll have to think about it.”

“May I make a suggestion?” Kurt asks. Blaine nods, and he continues. “After I take my punishment. Instead of just after-care. You should fuck me.”

Blaine’s breath catches in his throat. “But --”

“I know, I know,” Kurt says. “You think it helps make punishment different than play if there’s no sex. But believe me, Blaine, I know the difference, and it’s not just that cane you use.” The slight shudder that runs through him as he thinks about it is gorgeous. “I know that I’ve disappointed you. But afterwards, I want you close. I like the reassurance. I’ve fantasized about it and -- I know it’s stupid.”

“No,” Blaine says, as emphatically as he can, “it’s not. Kurt. We’ll do that.” He kisses Kurt’s hand, because he’s not sure he can trust himself to stop if it gets more intimate. He hates the idea that he hasn’t been all the dom Kurt needs. “And maybe tomorrow morning we’ll skip class together, and you can tell me any other fantasies you’re keeping to yourself. Slowly. And in great detail.”

Things aren’t perfect, and there’s still so much for them to learn about themselves as a couple. But Blaine thinks that as long as Kurt smiles at him the way he’s smiling now, they’ll be all right in the end.

“That sounds perfect,” Kurt says, and he's gone a little breathless. “Sir.”