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"There has to be some mistake," Kurt says to the woman sitting at the computer behind the counter.

She's wearing a blouse that's a size too big, and her flyaway hair makes him want to take a brush to her. Focusing on these details is the only thing that's keeping him from going completely psycho on her. She has the stone-face politeness that state and government workers learn to perfect, and he is angrier than he has been in a very long time. After what he's been through this year, being angry almost feels good. And then he remembers why he's here.

"You are Kurt Hummel? The address and email and phone number in the email that you received was correct?" she asks.

"Yes," he says, shaking the printout in his hand. He's had to go through three people just to get to her, and now he's sure that she isn't a manager of any kind. "Look, I've only been in town for two months. My deferment—"

Her eyes scan the computer screen in front of her. "Your extended grief deferment expired eighteen days ago, Mr. Hummel. You officially changed your address to Lima fifty five days ago. You are employed, financially stable, and have a permanent residence here. When your deferment ended, you were issued a spousal assignment in the system. There's nothing that we can do to change this, as you must be aware, since you have been married before. You've been assigned a marriage date. If you and your future spouse want to change the location from the courthouse to something more personalized, that is entirely up to you."

Kurt is so far gone into rage that he can't feel anything else. He's been here since the offices had opened at seven o'clock, had abandoned his ailing dad in favor of coming down here to fix this, and now he's being told that there is nothing to fix.

"He's a high school student," he says, grasping at straws. "There must be some rule against that."

"He's eighteen," she replies. "It doesn't matter whether he's a high school student, a college student, or neither. He's in the system, and your compatibility percentage is high. There are no surprises here that I can see, other than that you failed to read the fine print on your deferment paperwork."

Kurt swallows heavily, trying to banish the tears that are threatening to rise. There is nothing logical left to say, so when he opens his mouth next what comes out is weak.

"My husband has only been dead for three months." He shakes, and the room tilts in front of his eyes. "We were married for six years. Six years. Do you have any idea what it's like to be told that you just have to—move on, and with someone eight years your junior? How can we be that compatible? He's a kid."

She sighs, and her eyes soften. "Mr. Hummel, for what it's worth, I am sorry for your loss. I know that reassignment can be jarring. It happens to a lot of people, and I don't think it's ever easy."

His jaw trembles. He sets the wrinkled email printout down on the counter, pressing it flat with shaking fingers. The bland brown and yellow color scheme in the office is offensive to him. The way it feels as if the place hasn't had life breathed into it since the eighties is offensive to him.

"I loved my husband," he says.

Her mouth curves into a sad squiggle. "May I ask how he...?"

"Car accident," Kurt says, twitching with the pain.

"I am very sorry."

"Of course you are." He exhales. "Thank you."

There's nothing left to do but go home and tell his dad what's going on.

 

*

 

"You've got to be kidding," Mercedes squeals.

"I just got the email this morning. I thought 'there's no way it's that Kurt Hummel'. But then I logged onto the website and looked at his profile and oh my god, it is that Kurt Hummel. Fashion designer of the year Kurt Hummel. Paris, Milan, and London Kurt Hummel."

"What in the world is someone like him doing in East Bumble, Ohio?" she asks, gripping his arm as they walk to his locker. "And oh my god, don't you think he's kind of old?"

"Have you seen his picture? If that's 'old', then sign me up," Blaine gushes, and pulls up the website on his phone.

They don't have much time before class, but he feels that his routine can withstand a little bit of shifting today—he's been assigned to marry someone who sits well beyond his wildest fantasies, someone who he never even dreamed he would find in this small town. Terrible visions of being assigned to one of the Drag Queen Wednesday candidates from Scandals have danced through his head since his eighteenth birthday.

This is better than anything he could have imagined.

He and Mercedes squeak over Kurt's profile all the way to Trigonometry. They theorize about whether Kurt will be the one to call first. They talk about a wedding at the local park, or something more intimate, maybe in Blaine's parents' backyard—weddings are quick affairs by necessity, but that doesn't mean that they can't be fun and fashionable, and Blaine has wanted to be someone's husband all his life. He has plans, and ways to put them into motion.

At lunch, he ducks into the quad to call his mom, and she gets his dad on the line from work, and they are talking so fast and loudly that he barely gets a word in. They're excited and happy, and that makes his excitement even greater.

By the end of the day, all of his friends and half the school knows—students getting marriage assignments always causes talk, as not everyone turns eighteen before graduation. Even with that, Blaine had almost come to terms with having to wait until college to be assigned a spouse. The Lima pool is kind of small, and even in larger cities the compatibility requirements often delay the creation of matches for years after a person comes of legal age.

And now here he is, assigned to marry someone who he would have probably drooled over, assignment or no.

He is so lucky.

 

*

 

"You have to call him," Burt says, sitting down beside Kurt, who has been staring at his phone for hours.

"I'm this close to level ninety of this game, though. I bought extra lives. Don't judge me."

Burt smirks. "Kurt."

Kurt deflates. "I just—I'm frozen. I feel like I can't even put three words together, and this kid—"

"His name is Blaine."

"—and Blaine has no idea who I am and what I've been through. My profile only says that I've been married before. It doesn't say when or how."

Burt sighs, and sits back in his chair with difficulty.

He looks conflicted, and Kurt knows that he is. Burt had been reassigned after Kurt's mother had died, but he had been old enough to not go through it again when his second wife, Carole, had passed. Kurt knows that his dad understands what he's going through. But it is inevitable, and to deny Blaine the courtesy of a phone call, or to just show up at the courthouse for their marriage appointment, would be cruel and unfair. His dad would never want him to be that awful to another person. It isn't Blaine's fault that they've been paired up.

"You and Simon were real lucky," Burt says. "I know how much you two loved each other. And damn if it isn't painful, the way you lost him."

Kurt's eyes glaze over. He puts his phone down and sinks his fingers into the comforting softness of the blanket that's resting over his lap. "I miss him so much. He was—he was so excited about the new play. We were talking about having his family stay with us that week. About how fun it would be, especially with me finally settled in New York full time again. And then just—he was just gone, Dad. I still pick up my phone and expect to see his texts and voicemails. I can't tell you how many times I've texted his number only to remember hours later that he's never going to respond." Tears slide down Kurt's cheeks. "How can I do this? How can I even be around Blaine, much less marry him?"

"It isn't fair," Burt says, nodding, looking grave and sad. "But—he doesn't have a choice, either. So I guess it's only polite to meet him halfway. I think you should explain things to him before you do anything else. Make him understand that you're going to need time."

"I can't just say 'hello, Blaine, I hear we're getting married next week, let me tell you about how I can't be what you need me to be' over the phone the first time we talk."

"I think that's exactly what you need to say," Burt says. "Maybe not over the phone. Meet up with him. I'm pretty sure he'd be willing to clear his calendar for the man he's going to be marrying next week."

Kurt shudders. He doesn't want Blaine. He doesn't want anyone. He wants Simon back.

He wants to stop replaying the last conversation they'd had before the accident—thank god it had been a nice one, and that they'd kissed and exchanges I love you's. He wants to stop mentally living in that hospital room, where Simon had been more injuries and bandages than person. Where Simon had put all of his effort into clinging to Kurt's hand in those last few hours, where he'd slipped away quietly, almost offensively so. He hadn't had the strength to stay, and a part of Kurt is angry at him for that, even though he knows it's irrational to think that way.

He wants his husband's laughter, kisses, and strong arms around him. They had never wanted kids—they could barely agree on a dog or a cat—but even that's become a sore spot, now. Would they have eventually wanted them? Would they have been good parents? Kurt will never know.

He regrets the months he'd spent abroad, and he hates that feeling, because those had been some of the most professionally fulfilling times of his life. But he could have spent them at home. He could have had so many more hours' worth of memories of Simon, beautiful and tall Simon, with his dirty blonde hair and his bright blue eyes and his sweet smile.

There are so many things that they never got to do and see together.

It all just hurts, so badly that Kurt can't navigate the pain, so badly that he can't imagine a world that isn't defined by the boundaries of constant grief.

And in one week, he's going to be remarried to a young man who doesn't deserve to be dragged into the mire that his life has become. He's on professional leave—paid in advance by the good graces of the sponsors who believe in his work—but he might as well be exiled to the North Pole for all the good that being in Ohio does him as a fashion designer. He's dead in the water for the time being, cut off from an industry which is constantly moving and changing. Without networking and face time, he'll be obsolete within a year, maybe two, if he's lucky.

How long will it be before some new up and coming designer takes his place?

And then there's his dad, in and out of the cardiologist's office like it's his second home, living alone and in desperate need of his son's assistance...

It's all such a fucking mess, and Kurt just wants to switch off.

But he can't. He has a fiance to meet.

 

*

 

Blaine is on his third coffee and his hundredth re-read of Kurt's first and only text to him.

(Hello, Blaine. This is Kurt Hummel. I guess by now you have all the same information that I do. I know it's weird of me to text to ask, but I think we should meet up this weekend if that's alright with you. The Lima Bean—I'm sure you know it—at 2 PM on Sunday? If not, let me know when or where works better for you and I'll be there.)

Blaine had simply replied, Sounds great. Can't wait to meet you! :)

But ever since he's felt weird about the whole thing.

Why would Kurt text instead of call? Why hadn't Kurt replied to his reply? It had been nice to be contacted so quickly, but...the Lima Bean? Really? He'd imagined an invitation to dinner, at least. A date of greater importance than coffee would signify. He should probably stop second-guessing this before it even starts. They're going to be married next weekend, no matter what happens today. But for the first time, his happy bubble isn't quite so full.

He knows Kurt as soon as he sees him.

Kurt is tall and slender, with beautifully coiffed hair, pale skin, and blue-green eyes. He's wearing a pair of flawlessly tailored, designer dark wash jeans, boots, and a navy blue button up topped off by a silver neckerchief that makes the dark colors and his eyes pop. He looks like a runway model that got lost on his way between Los Angeles and New York.

He is even more gorgeous than his photos, and for one moment Blaine forgets that the world around them exists. His face flushes hot and his heart begins to pound and he seriously begins to regret that third mocha because his bladder is dancing in his stomach.

All at once, his carefully pressed slacks and neat cardigan and perfectly gelled hair feel small town chic and not nearly good enough for the man he's about to meet. But he determinately clears his throat, rises from his seat, and, by the time that Kurt has noticed him, has his hand out and a bright smile on. He can't help but stare, though. Kurt is beautiful, in a way that doesn't quite match their surroundings.

"Kurt," he says, on an exhale.

Kurt smiles politely and squeezes his hand. "Blaine. Hi." He clears his throat and looks at the table. "Can I get you a refill or something to eat before I sit?"

"Oh, no, thank you. Can I get you something?" he asks. He's nervous. His voice wavers on the question, and he blushes.

"Non-fat mocha?" Kurt asks, and Blaine, relieved by the request, rushes off to the counter.

His heart slams against his chest the entire time, and is running no slower when he returns with Kurt's drink. Kurt is sitting with his back perfectly straight and one leg folded neatly over the other. Blaine watches him take a sip of his coffee. They don't quite look at each other straight on, but they don't avert their gazes entirely, either.

"I'm sorry," Blaine says, smiling. He can do this. He can make a good impression. Kurt is probably just unsettled. They are eight years apart in age, and it isn't his first marriage. "This is super awkward."

Kurt's face twitches and then softens. He laughs under his breath and turns his coffee mug in a circle on the tabletop. "Uh, yeah. It is. Thank you for saying so." There are sad lines around his eyes. "Blaine, I should be upfront with you." He breathes out. "I lost my husband not long ago."

Blaine's heart stops in his chest.

Kurt's face goes from polite to blank. "I—I was very happy in my marriage. Even though I spent time overseas, when I was home, we were—that is, Simon and I, we were very in love."

Blaine's anticipation crumbles. He can see the pain written all over Kurt's face. The plans he'd had—the expectations he'd harbored of a sexy, older man sweeping him off of his feet—disappear in an instant.

Kurt isn't some urban heartthrob. This isn't a romance novel or a television show. Kurt is a real person. Kurt is grieving. Kurt has already found and lost love, and he isn't looking to replace it.

Oh, god, what are we going to do?

"I—I see," he says. When he looks up again, he finds Kurt watching him. Not unkindly, but not in any way that hints at an immediate affection on his end. "I, uh. How—how would you want to handle this? I mean, what would make you comfortable?"

Kurt's jaw hangs, just a little. "I'm kind of a mess. It's okay to feel disappointed. I really am—if I could just snap my fingers and be who you were no doubt expecting—"

Blaine feels completely in over his head. He's not ready to face needing to live in the shadow of another man's ghost. His biggest worries up until today had been college applications and SATs and competition line-ups.

"Kurt," he says, lifting a hand. "We're strangers. I don't know exactly what you've been through. A week isn't much time at all. So let's just agree that this isn't what either of us expected, and learn what we can about each other?" He sighs. "For now, I think we should just decide on the ceremony details. Take care of the logistics, at least."

Inside, his heart is breaking, just a little. This isn't what he'd wanted. The somber, fractured beauty of Kurt's face is digging into him like shards of glass. Pain presented in such pretty wrappings.

"I would like to do the standard courthouse thing," Kurt says, softly but immediately. "My dad isn't in good health, and anything more time consuming or complicated—I just don't want him getting worked up."

Blaine draws his bottom lip in. "Okay. I'll have my parents with me, possibly a few local family members and some close friends."

Kurt nods. "In terms of afterward... I'm renting a house across the street from my dad. I hope that's okay. Looking at where you live, I know that you're probably used to something grander."

As the party still living with parents, Blaine is expected to move in with Kurt.

"Not really," Blaine says, smiling. "I mean, I'm okay with that."

He isn't. This isn't. But he likes Kurt—he'd spent a good portion of his first two years of high school being totally obsessed with Kurt's career, and that fondness and interest are still there.

"I am so sorry," Kurt says, after a brief silence. "I truly am."

"Please don't apologize," Blaine replies. "But if we could—this is kind of public. Could we go somewhere private to continue this conversation?"

"We could go back to my house right now, if you're comfortable with that," Kurt says, perking up.

"Great. I can follow you."

Blaine spends roughly forty seconds after he gets in his car—which is parked in such a way that Kurt wouldn't be able to see into the cab—shaking and clutching the steering wheel. His eyes glaze over and the tears fall, but he simply ignores them and starts the car.

Kurt's house is more boxes than anything else. It's perfectly nice, besides that, and Blaine makes polite conversation about it with Kurt all the way through a brief tour that ends in the kitchen. The one plugged in appliance aside from the microwave and refrigerator is an industrial strength blender.

"We can order something if you're hungry, but in the meantime," he says, "I make a killer smoothie."

Blaine sits at the breakfast bar and smiles. "Blueberry is my favorite."

Kurt fixes them smoothies, and Blaine notices how soothed he is by the repetitive motions. Once two tall glasses are full, Kurt joins him, sitting on the opposite side of the bar. The overhead light is bright, and casts long shadows of their shapes across the faux-granite countertop.

Despite everything, Blaine can't help but think of how lovely Kurt is. Even sad, he's self-possessed and pretty.

"So I suppose we should talk about ourselves a little," he says, licking pink smoothie from his lip. Blaine's cheeks go hot.

"I probably know way more about you than you know about me," Blaine replies, smiling. "I—I kind of followed your career, after I found out that you were a McKinley alumni. Your style doesn't really work on me, but your work is incredible." He shrugs. "I'm a big fan."

Kurt preens, just a tiny bit. "Aw, thank you."

"It gave me hope, knowing that you made it. New York has always been my dream, too." He smiles when Kurt smiles. "But as for the personal stuff—you're really private. I didn't even know you were married." He tilts his head. "We don't need to talk about that yet, if you don't want."

Kurt takes a deep breath. "I may have taken you up on that, if we had more time, but...I at least want us to go into this on the same page." He leans forward on his elbows, wrapping his hands around them. "I guess it's not that remarkable of a story. Simon and I were assigned to be married in our junior year of college. It was kind of a surprise, because we'd both been waiting for years. I'm not sure why it took so long to find a compatible enough match in the city, but—anyway. We met up, and it was...it was love at first sight. We were both really career driven, so that took us by surprise, but, I mean, that's the gist of it. We had a week. I don't think we spent more than a few hours apart. By the time that we got married, we were head over heels. After we graduated, he spent most of his time auditioning and trying to get noticed in the theater circuit. I traveled a lot. We could barely keep a cactus in our apartment alive, and our families forgot what we looked like, but...we were happy. When I came home, it was like I'd never left."

Aching, Blaine can only nod and attempt to look as sympathetic as possible.

"I don't—I don't really want to go into details about the car accident, but he—it was fast. He was gone within a day. Too much trauma. He barely recovered consciousness."

"How long ago...?"

Kurt swallows heavily. "Three months."

"Oh my god," Blaine breathes, reaching across the countertop to touch Kurt's hands. Kurt doesn't pull away, but he doesn't move to complete the contact, either. "I am so sorry."

"The grief reprieve is only one month. I managed to defer it twice. Changing my address put me in this geography pool, and then the deferment expired, and—"

"They paired you up with me," Blaine finishes.

"They tell me that we have a lot in common," Kurt says, the corner of his mouth twitching up.

Blaine allows himself to smile. "I love eighties music, Broadway, bow ties, and football. I have a pretty good relationship with my parents, but it's a work in progress, and an older brother who has been trying to make it in Hollywood for a long time. I'm in a lot of clubs at school, but I spend most of my time in Glee."

"That bow tie is very cute," Kurt says, reaching out to tweak it. "Brooks Brothers?"

"Yes, indeed." They share a smile, and it feels good. "This smoothie is delicious."

"Thank you. God, is Glee still the train wreck that it was when I was there?"

Blaine laughs. "Only on days that end in 'y'."

"I'm only being like eighty percent serious. Glee kept me from completely losing it in high school, to be honest."

"You got into design when you moved to New York, though?"

"Yeah," Kurt says, collecting their empty glasses and rinsing them in the sink. "I got an internship at Vogue, and then a promotion. As time went on it just started to feel right. My designs struck the right chord with the right people. I struggled, but it was rewarding struggle, struggle that earned me positive, reaffirming attention. Broadway—and even the music industry—just never felt natural. I never found a foothold, you know? But designing...designing became a twenty-four-seven passion. I could never put down my pencil. It was a constant flow of expression."

Blaine smiles. "That sounds incredible."

"Seeing Simon struggle in theater only made me more sure of where I belonged. Don't get me wrong, I never hesitated to encourage him—he was good, and it was his dream. He landed a pretty promising role just before the accident." And there's that darkness again. He squares his shoulders and breathes out. "But yes. Design became my life."

"Do you intend to work from Ohio from now on?"

Kurt sits back down at the breakfast bar. "The company that I work for has my designs for the fall line-up. Beyond that, they're allowing me to consult until I can move back to New York. I'm off of the international circuit for at least a year, though, maybe two. I can't stay away and expect to be involved the way I was before." He sighs. "With any luck, I'll be able to relaunch myself."

"It's good that you still feel so passionately about it," Blaine says.

Kurt smiles, rubbing his index finger. Blaine can see the tan line where his ring had been. "Simon would have wanted me to go on creating things. He would probably haunt me if I did anything less. You know, if ghosts were a thing." His mouth twists. "Sorry, I'm a pretty staunch atheist. I hope that's not a problem."

"I'm somewhat agnostic, but not in any aggressive way," Blaine says, shrugging.

"I'm jumping into way too many heavy topics, aren't I?"

"Like you said, it's not as if we have all the time in the world to cover the basics."

For the first time, they have a pronounced silence. Kurt looks at him, really looks at him, cataloging his features and his clothes. He smiles, reaching across the countertop to put his fingers over Blaine's slender, hairy wrists.

"You are being really great about all of this," he says. "I just want you to know that I appreciate it. I don't recall having much patience at your age." He smiles, and leaves his hands where they are, while Blaine goes warm all over at the touch. He likes it, probably more than he should. "So tell me about your dreams. What does the next year of your life look like?"

"Extracurriculars until I drop. College applications. Social engagements, hopefully." He smiles. "I just recently made friends with some of the guys from our rivals, the Dalton Academy Warblers. Gay guys, I mean. We go out once a week, mingle, dance. It's nice. Most of my friends at McKinley are from clubs, but there aren't many gay kids there at all." His fingers are dancing beneath Kurt's palms, and he has to fight off the urge to turn his hands and fold them around Kurt's. "I want to get into NYADA more than anything. So I'm focusing on my application and audition planning."

"Ah, that's a great school."

"I think I have a good shot at it. Either way, I've got tons of New York back-up schools. Cooper—my brother—thinks theater is dead and LA is where it's at, but I'm determined. I belong there."

Kurt smiles. "I felt the same way. Simon had some connections among the faculty. I'll see if I can drum up something for you."

"Really? That would be amazing."

Kurt searches through a drawer for takeout menus, and they order pizza. While they're waiting for it, they relocate to the living room, which is fairly bare, but has comfortable furniture and a television. They sit politely apart on the long sofa.

"I know that I keep talking about him," Kurt says, folding his legs up. "Sometimes as if he's still alive."

"It hasn't been that long," Blaine says, even though he has noticed this and already feels uncomfortable. "It's understandable. And you—you lost him very quickly."

"I just—I need you to understand how—how not over it I am. I mean, in these boxes—" He motions around them. "His things. Pictures of him and us. It's going to keep coming up, and that's not fair, not when you'll be living here. Not when you'll be my—" Kurt sighs. "I can't even say it."

Blaine flinches. "Okay. I—okay. I understand."

"You shouldn't have to go through this with me, is what I mean. It's my life and my loss."

"Not to be insensitive, but...it's sort of our life, now. It kind of has to be?" He frowns. "Can we agree to try to be friends, at least? To start? I like you, Kurt. It's true that I've known of you much longer than you've known me, but I really, really like you, and I think we do have a lot in common."

Kurt looks wound up—and then he just sort of deflates. "You agreed to ham and pineapple. I think we're compatible enough to be friends, yes."

"Who doesn't love sweet and salty, come on." He manages a laugh and even a little wink.

Kurt giggles, for the first time since they met, and warmth bleeds through Blaine, soaking every inch of him with the desire to earn more of that, to see the crinkles at the corners of Kurt's mouth and eyes deepen again.

 

*

 

Kurt arranges his dad's tie with fussy fingers. "Hold still."

"I am holding still. You're shaking."

"Sorry. I'm running on pretty much nothing but caffeine right now. I was up all night altering my suit. I've lost weight since I wore it last."

They're in a waiting room in the courthouse, off to the side after introducing themselves to Blaine's parent's, who are maintaining a polite distance. Kurt seems to have made a decent impression—he knows that he looks good, and that Blaine's parents know he's a successful designer who will be able to take care of their son while he transitions into college.

"Nice people," Burt says.

"Where is he?" Kurt asks, not paying much attention to his dad. "He texted saying he needed to fill out a form, but it's been like—"

"Five minutes. Calm down."

Kurt huffs, moves to sit and then changes his mind. He doesn't want to wrinkle his pants.

"He's been so good about all of this."

"You've been talking nonstop since Sunday. That's a good thing, right?"

"Sort of. It's up and down. I can't stop—Simon is still so near to me. I talk about him way too much. But Blaine says that's good. He doesn't want me to censor myself. But I—god, I'm so screwed up. This should be—this should be such a huge day for Blaine, and instead it's just an afterthought. Something I need to get through."

"It wasn't all sunshine and daisies when I married Carole, either, kid. You get through it. There's a reason we had another ceremony a few years later. That was our real wedding day."

"I know," Kurt says, sighing. "I know. But here I am in my black suit. I couldn't stomach anything brighter, and now I feel like I'm at a funeral." He winces. "Oh, god, I need to stop using that word."

Simon's funeral had been private—a viewing, since he had wanted to be cremated—and Kurt has honestly not learned how to cope with the memory yet, or with the grief of his in-laws or the group of friends they had gathered over the years. He's lost more or less all of them over the last few months. The move to Ohio and his decision to seclude himself to take care of his dad had definitely put a strain on those relationships.

Blaine arrives on time, and Kurt feels even worse when he sees that Blaine is wearing a beautiful bright yellow ensemble. The color is perfect for his complexion, and the dark details make his hazel eyes glow almost gold-green. The cut of his jacket and pants are flawless, enhancing his compact, flat lines, and the smooth roundness of his shoulders and buttocks.

It's the first time that Kurt has looked at him and felt a blush crawl up the back of his neck. He shifts his gaze guiltily away, but is forced to look when Blaine approaches after hugging and kissing his parents. He has flowers for their lapels, and Kurt again feels guilty—he should have thought of that. Under normal circumstances, a detail like that would have never escaped his attention.

"Hey," Blaine says. "You look—wow."

Burt smiles. "I'm Kurt's dad."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir."

Kurt watches them shake hands, and feels a flutter in his chest. There's an instant openness between them that Kurt doesn't think had been there when his dad had met Simon for the first time. He's not sure how he feels about that.

"Remind me to buy the bigger photo package," Kurt says, smiling. "That outfit is glorious, Blaine."

Blaine looks gorgeous. His body is muscular, wide at the shoulders and tiny at the waist, and so very the opposite of Simon's lanky dancer's body that Kurt finds no comparison, which makes him feel better. He isn't dead below the waist—Simon would have probably checked out Blaine and given Kurt a wink had he still been alive and in a position to meet Blaine—and it's silly to deny himself a glance at the man who he's going to be sleeping next to tonight.

The ceremony is brief and scripted, though the attendants are there to provide kind smiles as the process chugs along. They sign the marriage papers and parrot back vows. Blaine's friends and some of his extended family are there in the courtroom. Kurt had invited a few McKinley alumni who are still locals and sort of friends, just to keep things even.

After they pose for photos—cheek kisses and hugs only for the sake of some kind of joy in the photos, and they feel like nothing, because Kurt simply can't process them—their friends and family take them out for a very expensive dinner. It's nice. There's very little heavy talk. The food is good. It's polite, as if they are all just making friends, and even though Kurt holds his breath waiting for someone to say Simon's name or bring up a related topic, no one does.

The weight of the state-issued ring on his hand is a lot, after only a few months of getting used to having nothing there. Kurt wants to rip it off, but other than that reminder he's coping. Blaine is neat and dapper and an excellent conversationalist, so mature for his age that Kurt hardly feels the gap between them. If he were more clearheaded, he'd be boggling at how not like a teenager Blaine actually is.

Blaine's personal belongings had been moved into the house earlier in the day, so after bidding drawn out farewells to their family and friends, Blaine follows Kurt home.

Burt walks across the street to say goodnight to them both. He and Kurt are alone in the driveway for a moment just before he leaves.

"Hey," Burt says, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You okay?"

Kurt jostles the ring around his finger. It's too loose. He'll have to get it adjusted. Or...something.

"Not really," he says, and before he can stop it he's crying, and his dad is hugging him.

"God, Kurt," Burt breathes, rubbing his back. "I love you. I'm sorry you don't have more time..."

There are only so many times that he can say "I miss him" or "I want him back" or "I don't know if I can do this" before it begins to feel pointless. The truth is, no one has a choice, here, and there's no one to blame.

"I'll tread lightly," he says, pulling away from his dad and dabbing his face with a tissue.

"Respect him. Respect yourself. Promise me, okay?"

Kurt promises.

 

*

 

Blaine changes in the bathroom. He zips his outfit into the garment bag that's hanging on the back of the door, and then takes a shower. He lingers, making sure that every inch of him is clean, and then gels his hair again. He's not comfortable with the thought of introducing Kurt to his natural hair just yet. He changes into a neatly pressed set of pajamas and slippers, and then walks back to the bedroom, lacking an excuse to hide any longer.

Kurt is sitting on the bed, his jacket and shoes removed and his tie and collar loosened. When he looks up, the light from the lamp behind him glows through his high hair and shines around the sharp lines of his face and impossibly long, slender neck, tapering down into a collarbone that's visible through the open flaps of his dress shirt.

Blaine's heart slams against his chest.

He feels suddenly stupid standing there in his fancy pajamas, but Kurt gives him a wobbly smile.

"We should talk," he says.

Dread wells.

The marriage ceremony had been nice. The dinner had been nice. It hadn't been the excited oh-god-I'm-married feeling that he'd once dreamed about but, considering the circumstances, it had been pleasant enough. Kurt's dad and friends had made him feel comfortable and welcome.

And now there's this.

The little box on the nightstand blinking red, that will require a deposit of a blood sample by morning to prove that they have consummated the marriage. There's no escaping it, unless they want a federal agent at their door tomorrow, asking questions and making their lives difficult.

He sits beside Kurt, with a good two feet of space between them. When he sees that Kurt has obviously been crying, his gut twists even further. The shine of the rings on their hands feels like a mockery of intimacy. The bed looks cold and too carefully made up.

Blaine can't imagine feeling anything even remotely like lust at this moment.

"I—I really like your pajamas."

He laughs, but it hurts. "Thanks."

Kurt turns toward him and looks him in the eye. "I can't—I don't want to have sex right now."

"I don't either," Blaine replies, his mouth curling into an unhappy squiggle.

"That's probably for the best." Kurt inhales. "I'm going to shower and change. We can maybe lie down together. I think I'm okay with cuddling. I could—I could actually probably use some cuddling." Blaine smiles, his eyes shining with tears. "And we'll see where the night, or the morning, takes us, okay?"

He isn't sure how he feels, sitting there on the bed listening to the hushed drone of the shower down the hall. He turns the television on, just for something to do, and settles on a generic cooking show. When Kurt comes back wearing a set of pajamas not so different from his own, he smiles and shifts over to make room.

"Which side is yours?" he asks.

"I sleep on the right, usually."

He does, too, but he doesn't mind taking the left side. After they're settled under the covers, their eyes trained on the television, Kurt asks, "Do you fall asleep with the television on?"

"Sometimes. I just—thought the distraction wouldn't hurt?"

They lie there in silence, the flickering light from the screen playing across the bedspread.

"I have to ask you something personal," Kurt says.

"Okay." Blaine's pulse spikes.

"Have you had sex?"

"No. I—I've been kissed a few times, I mean, jokingly, casually, but. No."

Kurt exhales. "Okay. What are you—god, I—sorry. If I do something you aren't comfortable with, will you tell me?"

"Yeah. Yes. Kurt, I—I'm—I've looked at porn and all, I'm not sheltered. And I have a very active fantasy life and sex toys and everything."

The silence is so awkward that Blaine could cry.

"Good, okay. That's good," Kurt breathes.

The space between them feels like miles. Blaine is nauseous. He feels the touch of Kurt's hand on his chest, and he shudders. Kurt pulls away instantly, and he reaches for the retreating hand.

"No, don't stop. I want to cuddle. Can we do that now?"

"Of course."

Kurt curls up against his side, wrapping an arm around his torso. It feels good. He puts his arm over Kurt's and presses their temples together.

Kurt's fingertips trace shapes on his forearm. "Okay?"

"Yeah. 'S'nice."

He can feel how tense Kurt is, and is fairly sure that the feeling isn't mutual.

 

*

 

Kurt wakes up, feels the warmth of Blaine's body tucked against his, and the ring on his finger, and for just a moment, he forgets that it isn't Simon. He doesn't say or do anything, but the feeling lodges in his throat and chokes him, and he almost panics and stumbles out of bed.

The television is sleep-cycled off and the curtains are closed, so the room is almost dark. It's too early for sunlight to have crept in. Blaine is sleeping soundly with Kurt's arm around his waist.

Kurt breathes. He counts to ten.

And then he sees the blinking light on the box on the bedside table.

He turns to the young man in his bed, and feels pain flare in his chest. Blaine is beautiful. Untouched and honest and smart and lovely, and god, he deserves to be taken care of sexually, romantically, properly, as anyone should on their wedding night.

Morning.

It should be joyful. It should come with laughter and nervous hands and clothes whipped off in delicious haste.

Blaine makes a noise in his sleep and arches his back, rubbing his ass against Kurt's leg. Kurt bites his lip. He can see that Blaine has a morning erection.

Taking a breath, he kisses the back of Blaine's neck. "Are you awake?" he asks, doing it again.

"Mmph," Blaine says. "Yeah."

Kurt's hand shakes all the way down Blaine's chest. "Blaine. Let me take care of this for you."

He doesn't know what else to say. He doesn't know what else to do. They're out of time.

"Oh," Blaine says, shivering awake. Kurt feels him go still.

"Is that okay?" His hand slides over Blaine's hip.

"Yeah," Blaine replies, breathy and low.

Kurt goes hot all over at the feel of Blaine's cock pushing up into the curve of his palm. It feels like forever since the last time, and Kurt is relieved when his heart begins to race and he begins to stiffen in response. The noises that Blaine is making excite him, and when he slides his hand between the waistband of Blaine's underwear and his belly, arousal spills through his own body.

Blaine spreads his legs and arches his back, and Kurt begins carefully, firmly jerking him off. It only takes maybe four minutes. Blaine gasps and comes over Kurt's hand, inside his pajamas, and Kurt bites his lip. Blaine's soft, flat belly and sharp hips feel lovely under his hand. But that's all it is. Just stimuli. Not wanting to over think it, he wipes his hand clean on Blaine's pajamas, and reaches for Blaine's hand beneath the covers.

"Touch me," he whispers, pressing his erection against Blaine's ass. "Please."

Without turning to look at him, Blaine searches between his legs, then finds the waistband of his pajamas. It's awkward from this angle but Kurt just shifts the material down around his thighs, helps Blaine make a fist, and then lets him go for it. It feels as good as jerking off, but little more. Kurt comes with a hiss what feels like ages later, and lets Blaine work him through the aftershocks without shifting away from him too quickly.

When it's over, they fill the sample box. The light on its side changes from red to green when the digital information is transmitted.

Kurt intends to say something, or to touch Blaine to reassure him in some way, but before he can do either of those things, Blaine walks into the hallway and shuts the door behind him. Kurt can't hear anything over the noise of the faucet in the bathroom running, and he doesn't want to, because he's fairly sure that Blaine is crying.

He curls up in a ball on the bed, and lets himself wallow for a while. Just before Blaine finishes in the bathroom, he puts on a robe and goes downstairs and begins fixing breakfast. He cooks a full meal without a single thought in his head, and when Blaine shuffles into the room wearing jeans and a polo shirt, Kurt serves him. They eat quietly. Blaine compliments him on the food.

Kurt keeps staring at the metal band on Blaine's finger, and finally he can't take it anymore.

"How are you holding up?" he asks.

"About as well as you, I guess."

He exhales. "Understood."

"Well," Blaine says. "We got it done." He wipes his mouth and hands on a napkin. "I should—I should sleep in the second bedroom, I guess."

Kurt doesn't know what to say. He had thought that it might end up like this, at least for the time being, but that it's happened so quickly and coldly leaves him shaken.

"If that makes you comfortable," he says.

Blaine takes his empty plate to the sink, rinses it, puts it in the dishwasher, and walks out of the room without saying another word.

 

*

 

Blaine spends the rest of the week in a daze. After moving into the second bedroom, he'd expected to at least feel no different than he had living with his parents. But the silent house and awkward meals and passing Kurt in the hallways like they are two strangers residing in an otherwise abandoned hotel has begun to wear on him.

His friends flounce around him, excited for him, wanting to know how it is with Kurt. He lies—says that it's great and they're settling in nicely. He doesn't have the strength to be honest.

He throws himself into his extracurriculars. He joins enough clubs so that he only has to share the house with Kurt for a few hours at night, right before school, and some of the weekend. He can usually make plans that keep him out of the house the rest of the time. Between that and staying at the school library until it closes—and sometimes the public one when it does—he has more or less managed to create a life that has nothing to do with his new husband at all.

He doesn't want to live this way. He wants to help. He wants to make Kurt smile. But Kurt is so distant from him that it doesn't even seem possible.

And then his Dalton friends start badgering him about going out again, saying that he's had his newlywed fun and now needs to get back to paying attention to their weekly outing. Since he's never done anything particularly scandalous, even at the club with the very name, he doesn't see a conflict in going out with them.

He puts on a nice pair of jeans and a fitted button up and lets his hair sit a little looser.

When Kurt asks him where he's off to he smiles and says politely, "Scandals, with the guys. I'll call if I need a ride, if that's okay?"

"Sure," Kurt says, to all appearances feeling casually friendly.

Blaine can't get out of the house fast enough. He'd figured that they would be friends until they could be something more, but what they'd done the morning after their marriage had left him undone and uncomfortable, and his friendly intentions are falling by the wayside.

It's so much easier to be with his friends, to be himself in familiar places where he had been very happy to let go before Kurt had come into his life.

He drinks a little more than he usually would, and lets Timothy, the one boy in the group who has always had a crush on him, get too close on the dance floor. He doesn't know why it feels okay now, when he's spent so much time telling Timothy that he just wants to be friends. Somehow, the ring on his finger feels like a stop sign, and grinding with Timothy isn't leading him on if it's clear that Blaine is taken, right?

He knows that plenty of people cheat on their assigned spouses. But that's just not him. He doesn't want to be that guy. He wants to be the kind of guy who waits until Kurt is recovered enough from his loss to consider him a friend and maybe more, if the chemistry were right. There is some weirdly accurate logic to the system that picks spouses and so, in Blaine's mind, there is every chance that they might be able to actually be something to each other eventually.

But on the dance floor with a sexy guy holding, touching, and wanting him, it's so hard to care about that potential future. The attention goes to his head, and so does the beer. By the time that they leave he's rumpled and turned on and Timothy won't allow any space between them. Their designated driver had actually remained sober tonight, so he doesn't need to call for a ride, and is relieved—he'll get home faster, and away from Timothy before he does something stupid.

He tries to be quiet as he stumbles through the house, but it's a lost cause. Kurt checks on him after he falls into his bed, takes off his shoes and brings him aspirin and water.

"Someone had a good time," Kurt says.

He means to thank Kurt for being kind, but passes out before he can manage it.

 

*

 

As Blaine spends his time on extracurriculars and friends, Kurt spends his with his dad. His latest test results had been good and he doesn't, strictly speaking, need Kurt to do anything much more than occasionally pick up groceries and his medication, but Kurt finds himself across the street more often than he's home. The company is nice, considering that Blaine is rarely home.

Frankly, Kurt is not doing well, and it only takes a few visits for his dad to see it.

"I don't know what to do," he admits, when asked, cradling a mug of warm milk between his hands. "We had to do what we had to do. But after, he pulled away from me so quickly that I didn't even have the opportunity to make things right. And now, he's gone ninety percent of the time. The other ten percent he spends avoiding me. It's awful."

"I'm kinda thinking that you might have to make the opportunity, Kurt. This kid hadn't even had a boyfriend or—or done anything before you, and suddenly you're—doing what you had to do because you had no other choice. That probably messed with his head. And yours. But you have the previous experience to understand the way those things make you feel. He doesn't. You two have a lot in common. You know. Aside from football. Do something fun together. And don't make him think that you're gonna jump across the room if he comes near you."

His dad is right. He needs to do something. The truth is, he would normally be all over this kind of thing. He aggressively goes after the things that he want to achieve until they are achieved. But he's been living in a fog since Simon died, and nothing substantial has penetrated thus far. Desire and the activities associated with acting on it have become a memory.

It's time to change things up, though.

That day, he buys tickets for a performance of Gypsy at the revival theater. He cooks dinner, and has it ready for when Blaine comes home from Glee club practice.

Blaine stops in the kitchen, obviously surprised by Kurt's presence. Kurt is usually done with the kitchen by now, and settled either in the living room or his office or sewing room.

"How was Glee?" he asks, and motions for Blaine to sit at the table.

Blaine smiles hesitantly. "Crazy, as always. But I think we're getting there."

This is safe conversation. They talk as they eat, easier than they have in a while. Over dessert, Kurt asks Blaine about his plans for Friday night.

"I was going to go to Scandals, but that's kind of a standing activity. Nothing special."

"Any interest in stepping out with me? I have tickets to Gypsy at the revival theater."

Blaine's eyes light up. It's a good look on him. "God, yeah. That sounds great."

Kurt is actually nervous, getting ready for their night out. It's nice to be reminded that he can still feel giddy before a date with a cute guy. He takes care to dress well—skinny jeans, short sleeves that will reveal themselves when he takes his jacket off indoors, and those knee-high boots that he has noticed never fail to catch Blaine's eye. He looks hot, and knows that he is. It's a start.

They eat dinner and then take in the show. Watching Blaine enjoy the performance is like a breath of fresh air. He's animated and happy from the moment that they take their seats to the moment that they leave, bouncing in his seat and singing along to the songs.

They stop at a bar after and have drinks and appetizers—Kurt sneaks Blaine a glass of wine—and talk for hours about their favorite musicals and performers. Kurt has a lot of amusing stories to tell, what with Simon having been in the industry, and they don't lack for topics.

The wine relaxes Blaine and makes him affectionate, and Kurt feels daring enough to loop his hand through Blaine's elbow during the walk back to the car.

It's almost one in the morning.

"Why don't we stay out overnight?" Kurt asks, on a whim. "We're both kind of tipsy, and it's late."

They book a motel room with twin beds, but end up sitting on one of the two, anyway.

Blaine's blazer is slung over the back of a chair and the top two buttons on his shirt are undone. He's not drunk, but there's a lazy sparkle in his hazel eyes, and when he starts chattering on about school and Glee and colleges and friends, Kurt is content to listen. He's over-the-top sweet when he's had a few drinks, and Kurt enjoys seeing him like this.

Kurt will be the first to admit that it still feels strange, like he is living someone else's life. But Blaine is a good person, fun to be around, and Kurt is trying to change the vibe between them.

When it's dark and quiet and the wine haze is lifting, Blaine lies down beside him and they don't talk for a while. Kurt reaches for his hand, and is relieved when Blaine's fingers close around his, strong and warm.

"We got off to a terrible start. I really—I really want us to be friends. Can we start over?" he asks.

"I'd like that." Blaine smiles, and rolls over into his side. "You know what was nice? Cuddling."

Kurt wraps his arm around Blaine's waist. "No argument there."

 

*

 

Day by day, Kurt watches Blaine become more openly like himself in their house.

At first it's breakfast—Blaine stopping to make an extra smoothie, or pancakes, or coffee, or squeeze fresh juice for them both. And then it's DVDs or Netflix suggestions, drawing Kurt out of his office or the bedroom to the living room to watch. Warm popcorn in glass bowls and endless commentary on classic romantic comedies and musicals and questionable but satisfying reality television. And then it's fresh batches of cookies or a cheese platter when he least expects it, or Blaine ironing his clothes, or stumbling in on Blaine shaking his butt to music in the kitchen while he scrubs the countertops.

Much of this stings as much as it soothes. These are things that Kurt had shared with Simon not so long ago. But Blaine is making an effort, and Kurt tries to see that for what it is.

He's happy when Blaine drops a few clubs and starts coming home earlier. He's happy when Blaine pops home for lunch during the day. He's happy when Blaine would rather hang out with him than go to Scandals. He's happy when Blaine confides in him about his parents and brother, about his friendships and past crushes.

Still, he knows that he's not always the best company.

Since Blaine is living with him, he feels that it's necessary to begin truly unpacking. The process is painful. He sorts out his things from Simon's, trying not to overreact to every picture and knick knack. Simon's things get stored in plastic trays, box by box, until it's only little things that are left mixed in with Kurt's.

But Kurt keeps hitting hurdles. One evening Simon's mom calls, and he's a mess for days after the fact. She had just wanted to talk, but doing so had left Kurt breathless with grief.

Another time, he finds his wedding ring in a Ziploc bag at the bottom of one of his many fireproof lock boxes, and he has to knock back a tumbler of whiskey just to calm down. Blaine tries to cheer him up but he snaps at Blaine to leave him alone. He's too brittle to be patient. He apologizes later, but the whiskey bottle stays in the kitchen instead of the liquor cabinet from then on, and he visits it too often, he knows.

Cleaning out his wallet to find pictures of them together and receipts with Simon's name and handwriting on them is like a punch to the gut. Catching whiffs of Simon's cologne as he opens boxes and donates Simon's clothes takes him to a very dark and lonely place.

 

*

 

As it gets colder and opportunities for outdoor activities grow fewer, Blaine spends even more time at home. He loves this kind of weather. He loves breaking out his outerwear and the looming holidays and baking on the weekends. He loves heavier blankets and fuzzy slippers and hot cocoa with flavors like peppermint and pumpkin.

School is going well, and stuff at home...well, it's going. It doesn't feel like a hotel anymore, at least. He and Kurt have slowly become friends, despite Kurt's mercurial moods and struggles with grief, and Blaine looks forward to coming home after school now instead of trying to think of ways to avoid it. They've developed routines, take turns cooking and doing chores and coming up with things to do on the weekend. Kurt is working from home, and Blaine now knows when he needs to be left alone and when he likes to be distracted.

Blaine has also taken to visiting Burt when Kurt is deep in his work jogs, and that changes things, too. Talking to Burt leaves Blaine with a better understanding of Kurt, even when they don't talk about him directly. And it's certainly nice to have someone to talk about football with.

The problem is that feeling closer to Kurt has forced him to notice Kurt, which is a new thing. Kurt has taken his breath away since day one—he'd have to be blind not to notice him—but it's one thing to find a relative stranger attractive and quite another to find the man you live with who is technically but not actually your husband the same.

They mostly run on opposite schedules, but sometimes in the morning they eat breakfast together, and Kurt starts out wearing robes and slippers, but some mornings he just shuffles around in bottoms or boxer briefs and Blaine has to force himself to look away. He's flawless, long and slender and muscular and wide in all the right places.

Every now and again, despite his better judgment, Blaine thinks back to that one awful morning when they'd touched each other. The memory is too negative to make him happy, but it's enough to make his neck hot. Kurt had touched him in a way that no one else ever has, and there are times when all he can think about is putting his mouth on Kurt's skin, or getting Kurt's hands on his body in new and interesting ways.

More than anything, he just craves the intimacy. He loves being close to people, and sometimes he'll look down at Kurt's ringed hand beside his ringed hand and ache, so badly that it hurts.

And he keeps slipping up. He'll shift across the couch and put his head on Kurt's shoulder while they watch movies without thinking about it. Or place his hand on Kurt's arm or back when they pass each other in the house. Sometimes when they do chores together—cleaning or folding laundry or putting away dishes—they touch, little fleeting grazes of fingertips on skin that make Blaine's body tingle.

The worst part is, he doesn't know if Kurt is growing comfortable because of him, or because Kurt used to do these same things with Simon. He can never just accept their interactions at face value because everything is caught up in that question, pretty much all the time.

To complicate matters, Timothy has been earnestly flirting with him ever since he'd let it drop one drunken evening that he and Kurt have never actually had normal sex. There have been times when Blaine has been desperate enough to consider letting Timothy push the limits between them, especially on the dance floor, where Blaine's inhibitions are the lowest.

Kurt has noticed, he knows. Several times now Timothy has walked him to his door and tried to get in his space, and he's had to verbally reject him in range of Kurt's hearing. And then there had been that one time when Kurt had visited the Lima Bean at the same time that Blaine had been having coffee with his Dalton friends, and Timothy had made a point of scooting his chair close and putting his arm and leg against Blaine's in full view of the counter.

Blaine isn't quite sure if Kurt is bothered by this behavior—and if he is, Blaine isn't quite sure exactly how it bothers him. Kurt has never shown the slightest sexual interest in him beyond that first night, and yet...

There's something there. There's a draw between them, and Blaine can't escape the pull.

 

*

 

Sectionals gives Kurt serious nostalgia. Even though McKinley has a new music teacher and, of course, a new set of show choir kids, it still feels awfully familiar. The event is taking place at one of the other high schools, but even with that, it's like stepping back in time. The smell of the auditorium, the lights, the noise, the ceremony—it's all the same.

Kurt fiddles with his program. He's excited. Blaine has the lead solo, and has been practicing at home for weeks. He sounds incredible, and Kurt knows that he's going to kill the performance.

He's stupidly proud of Blaine. Even though they've only just begun their friendship, it now feels as natural as any that Kurt has had in his life. They do get along. They do have a lot in common.

And the first time that Kurt had heard Blaine sing...

Suffice it to say that he no longer has to worry about feeling close to Blaine.

In point of fact, he's finding it difficult now to escape Blaine's orbit. Every time that they brush at home, whether it's hands or knees on the couch, or fingers over the dishes, Kurt finds himself having to back off on purpose. It's been a long time since he's felt something like that, and he finds it as scary as it is compelling.

He's not really ready for the tentative attraction that he's beginning to feel, he has to admit.

It turns out that he's not really ready for Blaine on stage in front of an audience, either. The tight black slacks and dress shirt finished off with a gold bow tie and his flawless 1950s hair on top of the sparkling performance—a mash-up of Roxy Music songs—play to his every strength. He's the perfect front man: in touch with his back-up, playful, on time, and fully engaged with his audience. He not only glows, he shines, flying around the stage as if he's never existed anywhere else. He's so alive, so in his element.

Kurt aches.

And for the first time, it has nothing to do with the memory of Simon. It's all about this beautiful young man on stage in front of him, blazing with energy and bursting with talent.

It's no surprise when the New Directions moves on to the next competition round, but Kurt finds that he can't really focus on the win. He's distracted and jittery and simply eager to get back to Blaine. He knows how important the backstage celebration is, though, so he waits in the lobby.

Blaine and his friends come spilling out a little while later. Blaine's gold bow tie is undone around his neck, and the top button on his shirt popped. He's sweaty and his hair is coming unglued, and he's laughing and grinning with his friends. When he sees Kurt he lights up, and rushes over to throw his arms around Kurt's neck.

Kurt feels a sizzle of connection at the touch. He slides his hands up and down Blaine's back as Blaine's friends and the choir director toss out greetings. He congratulates them, and when the chatter dies down as they walk through the parking lot to the bus, Kurt slides his hand down Blaine's forearm and into Blaine's own.

Blaine stares at Kurt out of the corner of his eye. "We don't have to pretend for them."

"Who said it was pretending?" Kurt asks, lacing their fingers together.

The wide-eyed, happy look that he earns in response to that makes his body light up.

 

*

 

Blaine stands in the hallway in his pajamas. He makes three trips to the bathroom, because every time that he passes Kurt's bedroom door he chickens out. On the first pass, he brushes his teeth. On the second, he washes his face. On the third, he touches up his hair gel.

Finally, he stops in front of Kurt's door and stands there, his hand halfway to knocking. He can do this. He thinks about Kurt's hand sliding into his, and knocks.

Kurt, in just his underwear, opens the door. Blaine opens his mouth and nothing comes out.

"You okay?" Kurt asks, smiling.

He means to explain, but instead blurts, "I can't sleep. Could we maybe snuggle?" He tries not to let his eyes fall but he can't help a quick peak, and oh, god, there is so much bare, pale skin over lean muscle that he almost has to close his eyes.

Kurt takes his hand and walks them over to the bed. He looks at Blaine over his shoulder. "It's okay, you know. I think it's—good. It's been a long time since we tried." The gently teasing look on his face makes Blaine's pulse race.

In bed, Blaine curls himself around Kurt's back, and breathes warm over the back of Kurt's head. "Is it okay, really?" he asks. "For you?"

Kurt laces their hands and draws Blaine's arm around his waist. "I think it's starting to be. Sometimes—sometimes it's complicated. But I'm trying."

Blaine lets their bodies settle together, thrilling at the warm hardness of Kurt spooned up against him. Kurt's ribs and flat belly are warm and alive beneath his arm, and he can't stop thinking about what it would feel like to flatten his hand there and touch.

He tucks his face into Kurt's bare shoulder and tries to sleep, instead.

 

*

 

Early in the morning is the worst and best time. Kurt hasn't been comfortable with his personal space being invaded or intimacy in general since Simon, and he can't help but feel disoriented each time he wakes up and the person beside him is someone new. But the panic grows more and more brief, until it's just a twinge with that first breath, and then...

Then he rolls over and Blaine's dark, shiny head is on the pillow beside his, his neatly pressed pajamas coming undone at this throat, and his ringed hand flung over Kurt's chest. Sometimes Kurt just lies there watching him sleep, letting himself feel tenderness, letting himself trace the shape of Blaine's face with his eyes.

Blaine is stunningly beautiful.

And Kurt has to admit that having someone beside him at night again is comforting. He's a sleep-cuddler, and having someone to budge up to in the middle of the night when he's not precisely conscious has given him back something that he hadn't even realized he'd been missing.

This is probably information that he should share with Blaine. But there's also still a wall there that they haven't climbed, and then there's—

Well. Timothy. Giggling outside of the front door on Friday nights when they get back in from Scandals late. Kurt and Blaine are both chronic coffee drinkers, and the number of times that Kurt has walked in on them practically sitting in each other's laps at the Lima Bean...

Does he even have the right to be bothered? He knows that Blaine and Timothy are just friends. He knows how hungry Blaine is for affection and attention, and that Blaine isn't getting what he needs at home. Could he fault Blaine for flirting? Could he judge Blaine if it went beyond that?

The thought of someone else being close to Blaine, kissing him and touching him and earning those smiles and giggles and breathy sighs and wide, wet puppy dog eyes...

It makes Kurt want to slap someone.

He doesn't think of Blaine as his, not really, not even when it's true in the legal sense.

Why then is he so fucking jealous?

 

*

 

Kurt makes a series of mistakes in November leading up to the anniversary of his and Simon's wedding.

The first of these is that he simply doesn't take care of himself. He runs out of work to do from home, doesn't keep up with his friends, and even, to a certain degree, shuts out his dad. He lets the cold weather get to him, drive him indoors away from sunlight and fresh air. He reacquaints himself with his wine collection a little too often (the whiskey is gone).

The day of, he reaches for a photo album that he shouldn't. And then another. And then the collection of pictures and videos that he still has saved to his laptop. Simon's blog and Facebook and Twitter are still online, and he clicks on those links and loses himself in them, too.

What scares him more than the grief is that the grief has changed. It hurts, but it's distant. It's lost its sharpness, though it hasn't shrunk in size. The truth is, the unexpected is happening—Kurt is moving on, in some small way.

This makes him panic. Makes him want to dig his claws in and hold on.

It hasn't been that long. He should still be—he should still feel

What? He doesn't know anymore. He feels lost and alone and completely fucking pointless.

Blaine is at a Thanksgiving-themed party with his friends, so he has no one at hand to turn to.

And suddenly everything about the house makes him furious. There's a basket of fresh bread and a tin of homemade cookies on the counter that Blaine had left him. There are leftovers in the refrigerator from the dinner that Blaine had fixed for them last night. There are Blaine's clothes in the washer, Blaine's hair products in the powder room, Blaine's hand writing on paper on the refrigerator, Blaine's favorite snacks in the cupboards, and Blaine's car in the driveway.

Every inch of the house has become theirs. Every moment of Kurt's life is either centered around their plans or where they are in relation to each other or what is coming up in their schedules. Even though they aren't actually husbands, they have become something very close to it, all without much conscious effort or discussion.

What does that mean? What does it say about Kurt's love for Simon, about what they'd had, if Kurt has already begun to move on with someone else after six months?

His wires cross.

He drinks almost an entire bottle of wine, and ends up falling down the rabbit hole of home videos, even the few that they'd made just for each other—nothing blatantly sexual, but bedroom and bathroom antics, flashes of nudity, Simon's gorgeous body in dim lighting and his own as well, hands and arms, torsos and thighs, the bend of bare throats and wide chests tangling.

He jerks off in bed, the laptop beside him, feeling seamless and blank. When that does nothing but leave him sweaty, he retrieves the slimline vibrator that he keeps in his bedside drawer and fucks himself through a second, dry orgasm, the slippery stretch of his asshole both familiar and utterly alien to him at the same time.

Do his parts have meaning at all when there isn't anyone enjoying them, not even himself?

He slips into an oversized t-shirt after the fire beneath his skin is banked, sits on a towel in bed and doesn't stop even though it's done. He presses his fingers into himself until his dick hardens again. His eyes leak the whole time. He just wants to feel something—but his own touch isn't what he needs. He feels dangerous and untethered, and when he hears a car in the driveway he does the very worst thing that he could possibly do.

He walks downstairs and finishes off the wine while Blaine and Timothy do their usual post-Scandals flirtation dance on the porch. Anger flares, hot and ugly. Jealousy. Possessiveness.

Before he can stop himself, he yanks the front door open. Timothy has Blaine backed up against the door, and is as close as he'd need to be to kiss him.

Kurt grabs the front of Timothy's shirt and shoves him back. "Get off of my property," he hisses.

"Kurt?" Blaine asks, frowning.

"Inside the house. Now."

"Whoa. Calm down, geez," Timothy says, holding up his hands.

"Do you not see the fucking ring on his finger?" Kurt growls, stepping forward into Timothy's personal space again.

Blaine touches his shoulder. "Kurt, please, calm down."

Kurt shudders.

His courage—liquid as it is—crumbles at that, and he's beginning to feel the freezing air on his naked legs. He can see how awful he's acting, but it's impossible to sort out, as drunk as he is.

"It's okay," Blaine says to Timothy. "I'll text you."

"You sure?" Timothy asks, staring at Kurt.

This kid actually thinks that Kurt is a threat to Blaine.

Maybe he is.

Kurt turns and walks back into the house, and the worst part is that nothing changes. He still feels the same.

Blaine is standing against the inside of the foyer, his back to the door. Kurt hears Timothy's car exit the driveway.

Blaine looks—delectable. His tight jeans and crisp shirt are disheveled from hours of dancing. There are sweat spots beneath his arms and at his collar. His bow tie is hanging undone around his throat. His hair is springing free from its gel in clumps, and he's wearing a pretty pink blush over his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. Kurt normally would not observe this, but he even notices the fat bulge in Blaine's jeans, making his fly strain and stretch.

He licks his lips, and backs Blaine up into the door. "Did he touch you? Has he ever touched you?" he rasps, putting his hands on the wood beside Blaine's head on either side.

The blush on Blaine's cheeks darkens. "No. God, no. Never. He—he's handsy, but not like that."

"Not your type?"

"Oh my god, stop. Just stop. I don't want Timothy. It's just nice to be—"

Kurt bends close, and lets their noses brush. He's rapidly tipping over the edge of common sense and decency. He can feel Blaine go still and then begin to tremble, can feel Blaine's skin heating up, can see Blaine's eyes drift down from his eyes to his mouth.

What does it matter anymore? Why fight it? They're married, aren't they?

"—wanted?" Kurt finishes for him, pressing him into the door, rutting his chest and belly against his. The t-shirt that he's wearing bunches up around his thighs with the motion, exposing his naked hips and ass and cock, and when he takes Blaine's hands and pins them to the door above Blaine's head, he relishes the broken noise that Blaine makes. "Do you know what I want?"

"Kurt," Blaine whimpers, moving against him while obviously trying very hard not to.

"I want you to fuck me," Kurt whispers, dragging their cheekbones, their noses, their bellies and pelvises together. "You're my husband. So fuck me, Blaine. Make me feel it. Make me take it." He licks out over Blaine's jaw, all the way to his ear. "Know you want to. See you watching me. Feel you hard against me in bed in the morning, in the middle of the night. Know you want to bury your cock in my ass. Know you want to come." He breathes hot over Blaine's quivering mouth, rubbing their cocks together, his scraping the cotton of his t-shirt, Blaine's grinding against the front of his jeans. "I'm ready for you. All you have to do is bend me over."

There is one heartbreaking second of hesitation, one moment where Blaine looks as conflicted as he does aroused, and then—he grabs Kurt's biceps, spins them, pushes Kurt against the door and slams their mouths together with a frustrated, high-pitched snarl.

Kurt almost shrieks, but before he can get the noise out Blaine swallows it, and pushes his tongue into Kurt's mouth, silencing him. Panting, Kurt twists Blaine's gel-sticky hair between his fingers, pulling it roughly, and kisses back, jab for jab, until their chins are slick with spit and they're breathing heavily against each other.

Kurt's t-shirt is rucked up around his waist, exposing his long legs and twitching cock to the air. He reaches between them and cups Blaine through his jeans, growls out a noise when he feels Blaine as hard as stone behind his zipper. He jerks Blaine's fly open, kisses Blaine quick and dirty, and walks them into the living room. The bedroom is too far. The stairs might as well be a mountain range for the effort it would require to scale them.

Blaine grabs him around his waist, spanning almost the entire circle of it with his wide hands, and Kurt turns, just in time to be pushed belly-first over the back of the couch, to have his t-shirt shoved up his spine, to feel Blaine's fingers cup his ass. He reaches back and spreads himself open, exposing his wet hole to the air, dizzy and too far gone to care.

He's so fucking desperate that he can't see straight.

"Fuck me," he says. "I'm stretched. Just spit on your dick and fuck me."

He arches his back, feels Blaine's cock press into him, and then push into him, too much friction just enough right now. He wails, sets his heels against the floor and holds onto the couch as Blaine mindlessly plows into him, over and over and over again.

It hurts, a little. It's too much, too fast. Blaine has no idea how he likes it and no idea what he is doing, but that doesn't matter. Kurt needs this. He needs to be split open and torn into and filled up by the only person who he can call his. Every stroke sends him higher. It's like flying, this letting go, allowing Blaine to have him, and even the base sensation of a hard cock plunging deep into his ass is enough to satisfy when normally intimacy would be more important to him.

He squeaks out moans and gasps, and feels the couch inch across the rug as Blaine fucks him. When Blaine reaches down and starts jerking him off he surrenders happily, fucking himself between Blaine's cock and hand, Blaine's jeans rough against the curve of his ass. It feels so good, to be open and spread with a man hammering into him. He'd never even had this kind of sex with Simon, who had always been so sweet and gentle.

When he comes it's like unraveling from the inside out, his heart soaring and his body melting over the back of the couch. He ruts his sticky-damp cock through Blaine's fist. His legs wobble. With his hands braced on the couch, he sinks to his knees on the rug. Blaine grabs for him, and he grabs for Blaine's jeans, tugging the open flaps and his underwear down farther.

He stares up at Blaine staring down at him, licks his lips, and breathes, "Going to suck you."

He can taste himself on Blaine's cock, and it's both gross and hot at the same time. Blaine is thick and of average size—the perfect mouthful. Kurt sucks the tip until Blaine is whining, then swallows the shaft with easy muscle memory. He's always been very good at this, especially at the letting go part, when Blaine begins to fuck his mouth and his throat protests. He relaxes it, breathes through his nose, and holds onto Blaine's sharp, gorgeous hips, drooling out of the corners of his mouth and down his chin as Blaine uses him.

Again, that sensation of freedom courses through his veins like cleansing fire. It's okay. It's simple. Blaine and he belong to each other, now. He can have this. He can let himself feel this.

He feels as if he could come again when Blaine does, flooding his mouth and throat with semen. He shudders through it, gasping and swallowing, spit on his face and snot on his upper lip. He's dizzy from breath restriction and his sinuses are oddly clogged.

He presses his sweaty forehead to Blaine's thigh, stays there on his knees and just breathes.

And then he begins to feel a little sick.

"Oh, god," he moans, wavering on his knees.

"Bathroom," Blaine pants, tugging his underwear up and zipping his jeans closed. "Come on."

"I'm fine."

"That empty bottle of Sauvignon says otherwise," Blaine replies.

Kurt is too wrecked to argue. He spends the next hour in the bathroom, throwing up and then sitting in the tub with the shower running when that stops. Blaine brings him water every now and again, and hands him his toothbrush and toothpaste when he asks for it.

As he sobers up he realizes what had just happened and is mortified. What has he done?

Thankfully, he falls asleep sprawled across his bed before that thought process runs its course.

 

*

 

Blaine doesn't sleep that night. Around sunrise, he showers and changes his clothes, which smell like Scandals, sweat, and sex, in that order. He's toasting bread when Kurt comes downstairs dressed in a pair of sweats and looking like twice-baked hell.

"Hung over?" he asks, buttering the toast.

"Yeah," Kurt says, sitting at the breakfast bar. They eat in silence.

"Finished?"

"Thank you. Yeah."

"Good." He puts the dishes in the sink, turns, and hooks his hands over his hips. "So you can tell me why you thought I wanted our first time together to be you drunk off your ass, thinking about Simon."

Kurt clutches the countertop, shaking. "Don't you dare."

"Oh, I dare," Blaine breathes, pointing at him. "Because we both know that it's true. Like you weren't thinking of him last night. Like you didn't get drunk because of your anniversary. I know, Kurt. I've seen the stuff you left lying around."

The worst part is, he had physically enjoyed it. It had been all the sexual relief he'd craved with none of the complicated emotional dealing. But after, it had felt like a crime they'd committed, and now in the light of day it also feels beneath them both.

"I was upset because of that, yes," Kurt says, squinting blearily at him.

He inhales through the pain, and looks away. "How could you do that to me?" His mouth twists. "How could you use me like that?"

"You didn't say no. You didn't push me away."

Blaine leans over the counter, putting their faces closer together. "Because I wanted you. I've wanted you for so long." He bites his lip to stop the whimper that rises against them, and reaches out to cup Kurt's face. "How can you not see how much I care about you? I'm—I love you, Kurt. And you were off in la la land last night, thinking of your dead husband while we—" He makes a noise, and straightens his back. "I feel so damned cheap right now."

"Is that what you think? Is that all you think of me?" Kurt asks, trembling, his eyes glazed over.

"I don't know what to think anymore. I don't know what to do." He folds his arms over his chest, working his bottom lip against his top one. "Kurt, you need help. You need to talk to someone."

"You've been helping," Kurt says, sounding somewhat defeated.

"I'm part of the complication. And frankly, I'm—hurt. I don't know how to feel right now."

Kurt starts to say something, but then stops. His chin is trembling, but the pain in his eyes carries a frustrated glint, as well. "What do you want?"

"I think we need some time apart. I can go stay with my parents for a while."

"No," Kurt says. "I'll stay with my dad. I don't want to upset your parents, and my dad is closer."

"Okay," Blaine replies. There's a pause, and he frowns. "Leave your phone on?"

"Okay."

Leaving the room without touching Kurt or saying something to reassure him is like walking over hot coals, but Blaine forces himself to do it.

 

*

 

Three long weeks later, Kurt invites Blaine to dinner at his dad's house.

It's been a quiet month. They've texted on and off, but haven't seen each other aside from glances across the street when they had both been coming or leaving home.

After confessing everything to his dad, Kurt had started seeing a therapist. Between that and simple distance, he's beginning to realize just how broken everything had been, both within himself and between he and Blaine. It's not a blame game, though, and he's learning to embrace new coping methods, and that what he's going through is something he can get through and not be forever stymied by.

The funny thing is, he thinks that living apart from Blaine has helped even more than the therapy has. It's made him realize just how much he had enjoyed living with Blaine, how much good there had been between them despite all of the issues.

When he sees Blaine at the door in a blazer and a jaunty bow tie, carrying a cheesecake and a bouquet of flowers, he almost reaches for him then and there. But it's too soon.

"Hey," he says, taking Blaine's burdens.

Blaine follows him into the kitchen. "You look good."

He smiles. "You too."

They stand several feet apart. Blaine is the one to reach out first, taking Kurt's hands and then tugging him into a hug. "Missed you." He holds Kurt closer. "Is your dad home?"

"Yeah, but I asked him to give us some space, if that's okay." Kurt grabs two warm pots off of the stove, and motions to Blaine to take the stack of plates and cutlery that are sitting beside the range. They set the table together. "I—I missed you, too." Once everything is laid out and uncovered, Kurt fills their plates. "I've been seeing a therapist."

"I know. Your dad has been over for lunch a few times. He mentioned it." Blaine cuts his food up neatly, chews with his mouth closed, and then wipes his fingers on a napkin. "He's been great."

"The one thing that the therapist said I should do as soon as we were talking to each other again was to clear up the misunderstandings we had when this all blew up," Kurt says, looking down at his plate. "She says that sometimes the things we think are obvious—feelings, motivations, thoughts—are sometimes only clear to ourselves, and that we can't assume the people around us understand what we're going through."

Blaine looks tense at this, but he stops eating to nod and listen, his hands in his lap.

"We never should have been intimate that night," Kurt says. "And I am sorry for the way that I treated you. But what happened the morning after—that's where things went completely off of the rails. And I didn't say a word to stop it."

"I'm not following."

Kurt stops eating entirely so that he can reach over and take Blaine's hands. "Blaine, I wasn't thinking about Simon when I was with you that night. In fact, that's why it was so difficult for me. That's why I got drunk and made all the wrong choices. I saw that anniversary coming and I dealt with it badly. That day, I—I went through all of his things. Our memories. Photos, videos, belongings. And I realized that even though I was far from over grieving for him, I had begun to move on. Thinking of him, being immersed in our past, it made me sad, but it didn't—it didn't ruin me, the way that it had before. I realized that you—you were becoming special to me. Becoming a part of my life. Not filling the spaces that he had left behind, but making new ones. And the way that that happened, without me even realizing it—somehow that made it worse. Harder to accept. I felt like my recovery was out of my control, like he was just disappearing from my memory. And when I saw you with Timothy, I snapped. I'd wanted more with you for a while, but I didn't know how to deal with it or act on it. So I—I fucked up. I manipulated you into something that I knew you would never refuse me, and it was wrong."

Blaine gently pulls away. His hands are shaking. "Oh. Oh, Kurt. I was wrong, too. I did something that I knew I'd regret, and I didn't say the things I should have said after the fact. I wasn't thinking clearly, and the fact that you were drunk should have stopped me. I'm sorry, too."

They finish eating. Kurt isn't sure what Blaine is thinking. He seems okay, relaxed even, but quiet. After the dishes are in the dishwasher, they go to sit on the couch in the living room.

Blaine fidgets, and then pulls a white envelope from his pocket. He smiles, tapping it against his leg before unfolding it.

"This came a week ago," he says, his smile widening. "I—you know, I opened it, and the first thing I thought was that I wished you were there." He holds it out, and Kurt opens it with excited fingers.

"Oh my god, you got into NYADA." He squeaks and grabs Blaine around the shoulders.

"Which means that next year, I'll be moving to New York," Blaine says. "Which means—"

"We'll be making the move together?"

Blaine bites his lip, nodding. "If you want. I think we could be happy in New York."

It's something that Kurt has worried about since the beginning. Blaine has always had intentions of going to college out of state, but if he'd decided on somewhere other than New York they would have faced a difficult choice. Kurt can only stay away from that city for so long as a designer.

And besides, it is home.

Blaine laces their hands together. "You do want that, right?"

"Of course," Kurt says, daring to smile. "But I think we should take us one day at a time first."

"Speaking of that... Are you ready to come home?"

"I think so." He laughs. "Uh, mostly because my dad's nostalgia for having his son home has proven to have a much shorter shelf life than he'd originally anticipated."

"Well," Blaine says, laughing with him, "in that case, you have a husband who would very much like to have you back."

 

*

 

They take it slow.

They sleep side by side but don't touch much. They go on dates but restrict post-date behavior to hand holding and cheek kisses. Everything feels sore, like a new bruise that's too tender to touch without flinching. In many ways it's a good hurt—in others, it requires caution. But they are both tired of hurting each other, and so they make every effort to tread lightly.

Blaine is able to share the news about NYADA at school with total abandon, now that he knows Kurt will be moving with him. To celebrate, they plan a weekend in Columbus. Kurt has arranged everything, down to coming to pick Blaine up at school on Friday so that they can drive to the hotel that night.

Blaine fusses happily in the parking lot, enjoying the wide eyes and whistles he gets from his friends when Kurt pulls up in his Tesla, wearing skin-tight pants, thick boots, a thigh-length sweater under a plush winter coat, and a pair of wrap-around sunglasses that make him look like someone right out of a movie.

He cups Blaine's waist and kisses his cheek, takes off his sunglasses and gives him a wink as Blaine's female friends fake fanning themselves.

"Hello, gorgeous," Kurt says.

"Oh my god, you are insane," Blaine says. He adds in a whisper, "Keep going."

Kurt laughs. "We should probably get going." He does gently tuck his fingers over the small of Blaine's back, right above the curve of his ass, just to make Blaine's friends squeal.

"All set?" Blaine asks, and ducks around the car to put his backpack in the trunk.

"Yep."

Blaine tilts his head. "This is a lot of luggage. Also not what I packed. Kurt?"

Kurt's head pops into view. "Okay. Confession time. I sort of—changed our destination?"

"Like, how drastically?"

"Like New York drastically?"

"Oh my god!"

Kurt grins as Blaine starts turning little excited circles. "It's not entirely selfless. I have a couple of meetings to take. But once that's done, I'm yours. I thought we could see a show or two, the tree, go ice skating, and maybe hit a few of my favorite restaurants."

"Oh my god, oh my god, you are amazing," Blaine breathes, throwing himself into Kurt's arms. "Are you sure you'll be okay? I know New York has a lot of memories for you."

Kurt smiles, softer, smaller. "Mostly good ones. I'm okay. It's home. That hasn't changed."

Blaine has visited New York before, but never like this, and never as an adult.

It's magic from the moment they land. He clings to Kurt's hand all the way from the airport to the hotel, dragging him left and right every few seconds. It's snowy and cold and the city is decorated for the holidays—what's not to love?

"Oh, there's plenty not to love," Kurt says, smirking. "But you'll have all the time in the world to collect those frustrations on your own."

"Spoilsport," Blaine hisses, and drags Kurt down Fifth Avenue.

They don't have much time for anything but a bit of wandering and a very nice dinner at a French restaurant where Kurt is greeted by name by the staff. Blaine feels special just being in Kurt's company. The decadently expensive hotel room isn't bad, either.

He's too excited to sleep much later than seven in the morning the next day, but by then Kurt is decked out in a suit and halfway out the door.

"I should be back no later than three," he says, kissing Blaine's cheek. "You have the credit card, right? Do whatever you want. Try not to get lost. We have a date at the rink, remember."

"How could I forget?" Blaine asks, smiling.

The door shuts with a click, and he stands there with his heart pounding against his shirt and giddy love pangs wracking his body. He is falling so fast that he doesn't know how to stop—not that he particularly wants to.

However—New York City awaits.

He enjoys his morning and brief afternoon alone, mostly shopping and aimlessly riding the subway. He has no less than a dozen new bow ties to show Kurt—and okay, there's maybe a new blazer. And who could resist a sweater sale in the dead of winter? And those thick dress socks. And those scarves. And then there was the toy store, and the comic book store...

Maybe he should hide a few of these bags.

He texts Kurt when he arrives at Rockefeller Center that afternoon, and even though they are both there it takes them a while to find each other in the crowd. He's beginning to see what Kurt means about frustrations—or about tourist spots, at the very least. Still, it's beautiful. The tree and bright white rink, and everyone decked out in skates and coats and scarves under the lights. The music and the coffee trucks and—

Kurt sliding across the rink on wobbly blades, catching the wall of the rink and calling his name.

He's dressed warmly, with gorgeous leather gloves and colorful earmuffs and a scarf. He has a pair of skates for Blaine. Blaine takes them and changes, excited to get on the ice. He's actually pretty good—as it turns out, much more graceful than Kurt. Which he does not let pass without comment, of course, making them both laugh.

"Simon refused to go skating with me after a while because I spent more time on my butt than my feet," Kurt says. He's smiling, and Blaine can't help but return it.

"He was probably a whiz, huh?"

"Oh god, it was painful how good he was. He actually wanted to be a skater when he was younger, but he got started too late. They like 'em young, those trainers." As if on cue, Kurt stumbles, and Blaine catches his arm. He laughs. "And I see my humiliation is destined to continue."

Blaine smiles. "It's nice to hear you talk about him and laugh at the same time."

"Are you sure that it doesn't bother you, how often I still...?"

"God, not at all. He was a huge part of your life up until recently. You still love him."

Kurt swings them into a curve, their arms still linked. "That used to feel like a curse. Now it feels—I dunno. It still hurts. But it's like it's a part of me, rather than just a problem that I have to solve, you know?"

"For me, it feels like—he and I don't occupy the same space anymore," Blaine says, threading his fingers through Kurt's elbow. "I used to feel like he was my competition. Now he's just—here, with us, but not in a 'three's a crowd' way."

They whip around in slightly faster, more confident circles, pushing against the ice to the rhythm of the music playing in the background. Blaine forgets to watch the people around them. They spin, and he guides Kurt through some fancier moves. They laugh, their cheeks rosy with cold.

They hit a rough patch and Blaine sort of topples into Kurt's arms, but they recover before they hit the ice, sliding sideways while shrieking in surprise. Blaine flings his arms around Kurt's neck and holds on, turning his face up against the bright lights and letting the flash clear the vision behind his eyelids. Kurt's arms slide around his waist to keep him upright and he lets his weight rest against them, comfortable with the safety and strength that they provide.

He feels like he's tumbling into illumination, pure and white as driven snow. When he opens his eyes next, Kurt is looking down at him with pink cheeks and wide, wet blue-green eyes.

They're doing lazy, small spins when Kurt's hands cup his face, and as Kurt lowers his mouth to Blaine's, the circles turn into spirals. Blaine can feel the ice scraping beneath the blades of his skates, can feel the world rotating around them, the flecks of ice dancing in the air, the bite of cold wind on his skin as Kurt's lips move, as hot as a brand, against his. Tumbling becomes free-falling. He drifts, his fingers moving in Kurt's hair as Kurt's search his back.

When his lips part and Kurt's tongue traces the seam of his mouth he moans, tilts his head and surges up on the tips of his skates to kiss Kurt harder. The motion brings them to a tottering halt, and Kurt laughs against his mouth, holding him tighter. They pull apart, and oh—the look on Kurt's face. Lovestruck and soft and flushed. Blaine swallows heavily.

"For me?" Kurt says. "Right now? All I can see is you."

 

*

 

Kurt doesn't feel the cold until they're back at the hotel and he takes off his coat. He suspects that this has more to do with the fact that Blaine stops kissing him at the door than anything else.

His heart is beating so fast that he can't hear himself breathe. His whole body is tingling. His mouth is sensitive to the warm air pumping through the hotel room. His fingers keep curling, as if they want nothing more than to be wrapped around Blaine's little waist again.

He hasn't felt this gone, this turned on, this in love, in a very long time. He's blindsided by the intensity of the feeling, not just because it's a lot, but because it is absolutely nothing like anything that he has ever felt before. There is no need to force himself to back away from drawing a comparison to previous relationships, because there is no comparison to be drawn.

As Blaine shrugs out of his scarf, gloves, and coat, Kurt watches each article of clothing unravel. When Blaine reaches up to undo his bow tie and tug the fabric from around his throat, Kurt's body flashes with enough heat to take the edge off of the chill on his skin.

Blaine looks at him, his fingers busily and neatly undoing the buttons of his sweater, and there is simply nothing else in the world but the two of them.

Kurt steps out of his shoes and outerwear, not looking away. When they're down to undershirts and pants, Blaine wets his lips and takes a step toward the bathroom.

"This is kind of presumptuous," he says, his usually chipper voice rough with desire, "but I don't suppose there's any chance that you'd like to get into that jacuzzi bathtub with me right now?"

"Oh, god, yes," Kurt breathes, taking Blaine by the hand.

They undress on opposite sides of the tub as it fills, casting eager glances at each other. Kurt keeps biting his lip against the joy that's swelling in his throat. He's seen Blaine almost naked before, usually related to bathroom incidents, but when Blaine moves to push his underwear down Kurt can't help but look, his head tilted, at those lovely muscled thighs, at the neat thatch of curls framing Blaine's cock, which is just beginning to fatten up. Blaine returns his stare, his face flaming lobster red behind the wisps of steam rising from the frothing bath water.

Kurt steps in, and Blaine follows. They sink into the water together, Blaine sitting on the middle step near the edge and Kurt kneeling on the lower one between his knees. They kiss before they speak again, meeting each other in the humid air, their fingers on each other's necks and shoulders. Kurt is starving for more of these kisses that make his head spin and his dick throb.

"You feel so good," Blaine moans, tilting his head back. "So good."

Kurt kisses down Blaine's thick throat, along his collarbone and straight on to his nipples, which he teases with nips of his teeth and soothes with passes of his tongue. His mouth floods with saliva. The salty-bright taste of Blaine's skin drives him insane.

"Sit up on the edge?" he asks, his mouth open over Blaine's sternum. "Want to taste you."

"Oh, god," Blaine whimpers, hurrying to shift up without slipping.

"So hard already," Kurt whines, burying his face in Blaine's pubic hair. His thick cock is jutting to the right, heavy with blood. "Sweet, gorgeous cock, fuck." By the time that Kurt gets his mouth around it, his saliva has dripped halfway down the shaft. He swallows it back, dragging the flat of his tongue in circles as he slurps up and down Blaine's cock.

"Oh. Oh, god, oh god, oh god," Blaine chants, clutching the tub's edge. His ass is pooled in fat little deposits on the tile, and Kurt watches it rise as he cants his hips and thrusts up.

Blaine doesn't have to do much. Kurt sucks him so eagerly, so wetly, so quickly, that there's no need. The blind gluttonous desire for Blaine's cock in his mouth, for Blaine's pleasure, is overwhelming. Before he even settles he's edging it into his throat, rubbing the tip of his nose into Blaine's belly and gagging on his mouthful, only to pull back and push back down again on a single breath. He slides his fingers around Blaine's ass and pulls Blaine's dick deeper into his mouth, over and over again, until there is nothing but hollow wet sloshes when it clips the back of his throat and the noise of Kurt's periodic, subtle choking.

He pulls off when Blaine starts to paw at his hair and squirm.

"Kurt," Blaine gasps, his cock flopping against his hip, shining with Kurt's spit.

"Can you wait?" Kurt asks, panting.

"W-wait?"

"To come."

"Uh. Yes. Yeah, uh. Sure."

"I want us to get clean," Kurt says, kissing a warm path from Blaine's chest to his neck and then on to the spot beneath his ear. "I want to spread you out on that bed and take care of you."

He doesn't think that he's ever performed a faster version of his thorough pre-sex cleaning ritual. It turns out that they both sort of have the same routine, which Kurt considers very promising.

They towel off but not for long, choosing to spread the towels out on the bed instead. Kurt stands beside the bed with Blaine in his arms, damp and warm and, when he wraps his hands around Blaine's apple-round ass and hauls him closer, squirming like a landed fish.

"You have such a gorgeous ass," he breathes, working it in his hands. "Want me to play with it?"

Blaine whines. "Yes."

Of course, that plan is somewhat delayed when Blaine lies down on the center of the bed, spreading his arms and legs and presenting his entire body for Kurt's consumption. They'd skipped the shaving step of grooming, and Blaine's chest and belly become maps of stubble burn in no time at all. Kurt stops after each pass to kneel up and kiss Blaine's mouth raw. He doesn't want Blaine to come yet, so he bypasses his cock, instead lavishing his thighs and calves with kisses, losing himself in all of that olive-toned, smooth skin.

When Blaine lifts his ass up off of the bed with a begging whine, Kurt pushes the backs of his knees up without hesitation. Like that, with his thighs apart, his cheeks spread, and his furred little asshole exposed and clenching, he is completely irresistible.

"Fuck, look at you," Kurt breathes, nuzzling against his balls. "I want to open you up, sweetheart. I want to be inside of you. Is that okay?"

"P-please."

"Bend your legs back for me. There we go." While Blaine does this, Kurt fishes a travel-sized bottle of lubricant out of the open toiletry bag at the foot of the bed. He places it discreetly aside, and then makes himself comfortable on his stomach between Blaine's thighs. He works a pillow under Blaine's ass, more to make it easier on his own neck than anything else.

He drags scratchy kisses up and down Blaine's crack, taking his time. Blaine tastes clean and salty with the vaguest hint of bitterness, just the way that Kurt likes, but it's his reaction that sends Kurt's body into overdrive—from the first kiss over his pucker he's openly ecstatic, whimpering and gasping and arching his back, driving his ass against Kurt's clever mouth.

Kurt makes him work for every kiss, and only when he's begun to sweat and thrash does Kurt lick a broad stripe up and over his fluttering hole. Blaine cries out. Kurt grins and begins licking, humming his pleasure. With every pass, Blaine's hole softens and spasms hungrily, and Kurt has to hold him open and steady to get anything done from then on.

"That's it," he whispers, tracing Blaine's rim with the tip of his tongue. "Mm, that's it."

Blaine's fingers card through his hair. He sets his chin and digs in with his tongue, lapping into Blaine's ass with slow stabs. The first time that he gets in correctly and feels Blaine's hole close up around his tongue he groans and thrusts his aching cock into the mattress.

"Please," Blaine rasps. His knees are against his ears, his legs completely folded up on either side of his torso. "Oh, god, please, f-fuck me. Touch me. Just—want to be closer."

Kurt slinks up Blaine's body on all fours, kissing as he goes. When he reaches Blaine's mouth Blaine latches on desperately, whimpering on an exhale. Kurt settles on his knees between Blaine's splayed cheeks, adjusting himself for comfort's sake before pressing their bodies together and spreading their arms side by side and above Blaine's head on the mattress.

"Shh, hey," Kurt murmurs, kissing down his jaw. "No rush." He rubs their nose tips together, opening his eyes to look into Blaine's. "I want you to feel just how with you I am right now." He kisses along Blaine's arm, from the sensitive crook of his elbow to the spray of hair under his arm, which he buries his nose in and licks over once before kissing across the width of Blaine's chest.

"Gngh," Blaine moans, twisting beneath him.

Kurt nudges Blaine's pelvis up. Blaine's legs bracket but barely touch Kurt, framing his body as Kurt rubs the head of his cock in circles against Blaine's rim. Heat and sweat pops all over his body at the tease, but kissing Blaine feels more important and he puts his focus on that, working Blaine's mouth open and desperate again. Blaine turns his arms beneath Kurt's so that their forearms and hands are inside to inside, and he stretches up to match them palm to palm as well, lacing their fingers together. Kurt whimpers and presses Blaine's hands down into the bed.

He stops to breathe, blinking hazily. "Blaine—" Blaine groans. "Do you usually use fingers first?"

"Not often," Blaine says, breathing faster. "I don't—I just want you inside."

Kurt untangles their hands to sink his fingers into Blaine's puffy curls with one hand and steady his cock against Blaine's hole with the other. He squeezes out a handful of lubricant, and drizzles it down along his cock and Blaine's crack. He buries his face in Blaine's throat, hitches Blaine's pelvis up and then presses in, letting the tip of his cock settle before easing himself inside smoothly, inch by inch, until he's bottomed out. He can feel Blaine's belly jump beneath his with every shift, and when he stops moving Blaine exhales loudly, digging his fingernails into Kurt's shoulders.

"Shit," Blaine hisses, his ass a quivering clamp pulsing around Kurt's dick. "B-big."

"Relax," Kurt whispers, kissing his earlobe. "Got you."

Blaine's blazing hot cheek presses against his temple. He can feel Blaine's rapid breathing and racing pulse and he turns into the intimacy, letting it sink into his skin.

There's nothing holding him back from enjoying this. Nothing to make him feel guilty.

He had loved Simon. He loves Blaine.

He has no idea how long he's felt this way, but there's no other adequate emotion that can define the urgency and fondness and flayed open sensitivity currently rampaging through him. He's not only present for it, he's glorying in it, and the only thing that he's caught up on is making it as good as possible for Blaine. He cares. He wants. He feels. It's incredible. It's like the world springing into three dimensions again, colorful and loud and fully defined.

Kurt gasps when Blaine rolls them over and straddles his hips. Blaine reaches back and guides Kurt's throbbing cock back into his ass. He grunts and sits down, sliding his hands up Kurt's chest as he settles. Kurt cups Blaine's jiggling ass in his hands and holds on as Blaine rides him, noisy breathing and cut-off whimpers and his gorgeous, flushed face taken over by pleasure, his tight body all flinching, visible muscle and bulging veins.

They roll around several more times, laughing into each other's necks and shoulders and jaws, until Kurt can't handle the teasing anymore and rolls Blaine onto his side, spooning up behind him and sliding back into his ass. Blaine groans, wraps an arm around Kurt's neck from behind and turns to kiss him as he ruts eagerly in and out of Blaine's body. Sweat makes things unsure, but Blaine touches him with confidence, smiling against his mouth as his own body shakes with Kurt's thrusts. Kurt lifts Blaine's leg higher and fucks into him faster, savoring his surprised whines.

Through the panting and slap of their bodies, Blaine takes Kurt's hand and guides it to his cock.

"Touch me," he breathes, his belly heaving under Kurt's palm.

"Want to come?"

"Please." He presses his cheek to Kurt's jaw as Kurt strokes his cock. "God, that feels amazing. Deep in me while I'm—so close, gnh."

"Mm, come for me," Kurt purrs, speeding up the pace of his hand. Blaine is pulsing against his fingers and around his cock in the same rhythm, and it feels incredible.

"Oh, god, right there, right there," Blaine gasps, shaking in his arms.

Kurt grins, sly and satisfied, through Blaine's orgasm, through every slick dribble of come spilling over his fingers, until Blaine is shuddering against him, limp, his skin bright with a sheen of sweat.

"Oh my god," he breathes, "oh my god, Kurt."

Kurt thrusts, slow and deep, grinding his pelvis against Blaine's plump cheeks. "Too sensitive?"

"Never," Blaine gasps, swiveling his pelvis. "Keep fucking me."

They shift slowly forward, until Blaine gets the hint and rolls onto his belly, hitching one leg up to hold himself against Kurt's thrusts as Kurt straddles his other leg and does as he's told. He's been close for a while, and it doesn't take much more than the sight of that sweaty, naked, gorgeous back, shoulders, and ass beneath him to bring him to the edge.

He buries his face in Blaine's damp curls, wraps his arms around Blaine's chest from above and holds him close, rutting faster and faster, until backing down becomes impossible.

"Fuck," he hisses, lifting Blaine's hips into his thrusts. "Fuck. Oh, fuck, yes. Blaine. Can I—"

"Yeah, come in me."

He closes his eyes when the snap of tension lashes through his groin, not even aware of the noises that he makes as he pistons roughly back and forth and spills deep in Blaine's ass. The pleasure tickles as it dissipates, fluttering in waves up the shaft of his cock, in his balls, between his legs, and up the base of his spine. There isn't an inch of him that isn't vibrating.

Blaine reaches for one of the towels that they'd abandoned and not quite made it on top of, using it to clean himself first and then, when Kurt gently eases out of his ass, passing it back to Kurt to catch the mess before it gets on the bedspread. When they're as dry as they can be, Kurt tugs Blaine's back against his chest and pieces their bodies together.

Blaine twists around to look at Kurt, touching the side of his face. "Hey."

Kurt's heart pounds in response to the adoration so clearly written across Blaine's features. "Hey." Blaine nuzzles their noses together and then kisses him, pushing fingers into Kurt's thick, sweaty hair. "Is there something you wanted to tell me?"

"Like I even need to say it," Blaine says, smiling coyly. "You know how in love with you I am."

Kurt grins. "Actually, I was referring to the sea of shopping bags, but I'll take that, too."

Blaine faceplants into his pillow with a groan.

 

*

Five months later

Blaine knows that prom is going to be special when Kurt steps out of the limo wearing Vivienne Westwood and half of Blaine's graduating class stops to stare. When Kurt cups Blaine's cheek and kisses the corner of his mouth, Blaine thinks that he can hear perhaps half of that half offer up sighs of longing and jealousy.

Of course, things being beyond his wildest dreams has been the norm rather than the exception to the rule these past five months. And his feelings about prom have as much to do with sharing the night with his gorgeous husband as with the fact that he's on the prom committee and had planned almost the entire event himself. He'd declined the prom king bid because of the time sink that the committee had become, and he doesn't regret it at all. It's more than enough to dance in Kurt's arms and be the envy of his peers.

Kurt's dad is stable health-wise. They're moving to New York in August. Kurt has a new design contract, and Blaine is going to be a freshman at NYADA. What more could he possibly want?

After prom is over, Blaine sticks around to help for a while, and then he has a party to attend.

"You don't have to come," he'd said to Kurt weeks ago. "They're just going to get drunk and probably dance suggestively against the Nationals trophy."

Kurt had insisted on attending. The party turns out to be pretty tame, all things considered, and Blaine ends up spending a very satisfactory fifteen minutes of it in the bathroom on his knees with Kurt's expensive slacks unzipped and framing his jaw. After, wiping his mouth off on a tissue while Kurt buckles his belt, he drags Kurt right back out into the party

"We need to dance at least one song for every extended trip to the bathroom," he says, stifling a noise when Kurt turns him, drags him back into his body and wraps his arms around his waist.

"Not disagreeing," Kurt says, splaying his hands open across Blaine's chest. He presses his mouth to Blaine's ear. "Move that ass for me, gorgeous."

Blaine barely leaves the party with his clothes fastened, and by the time that they get home his pants are open and they only make it as far as the kitchen. (A cookie jar is the only casualty.) The next morning he wakes up in their bed wearing his dress shirt and nothing else, and follows a trail of abandoned formal wear to the living room, where Kurt is sleeping sideways on the couch.

"How did we fall asleep apart?" he asks, and ow—that's a headache of epic proportions.

"Uh," Kurt says, rolling onto the rug and then standing very, very carefully. "We didn't. I think I meant to pick up after us? At like, four in the morning? For some reason? Be careful. There are ceramic shards all over the kitchen floor."

"Did you hurt yourself on them?" Blaine asks, tip-toeing into the kitchen behind Kurt, who is limping.

"No, I hurt myself on your cock, honey."

Blaine laughs, but Kurt isn't joking. He stops, and then frowns. "Oh."

Getting a broom out of the hall closet, Kurt laughs. "It's okay. I'm pretty sure it was just because we used the hand lotion that was on the table next to the coat rack. Not the wisest decision."

"I vaguely recall that." He takes the dust pan and helps Kurt clean the floor. Some large pieces of the jar had gotten under the kitchen table, so he kneels on the floor and shifts the chairs aside to get at them. Behind a chair leg he also finds a large, black velvet jewelry box.

Kurt sees it a second after he does. "Oh. Could you hand me...?"

"Sure. Did you forget an accessory last night or something?"

Kurt smiles. He looks so cute standing there with his cheeks flushed pink, his hair a mess, and his rumpled boxer briefs riding low on his slender waist.

"It's your graduation present," he says, finally. "I thought I'd give it to you early."

"Aw, Kurt," he croons, his fingers twitching for the box. "That's so sweet." He wonders if it's a watch—he would love that.

Kurt sits on one of the kitchen chairs, takes Blaine's right hand, and tugs him closer. It feels like a weird thing to do (maybe it's a really expensive watch?)—that is, until Kurt opens the box and Blaine sees that it's actually a double-ring box. At the sight of the two beautiful, white gold and diamond-bordered wedding bands Blaine lets out a soft, broken noise.

Kurt wiggles the right one free and turns it between two fingertips, smiling up at Blaine. He touches the plain band that's on Blaine's ring finger without breaking eye contact. "I couldn't look at this anymore. You deserve better. You deserve—the real thing."

"I don't need diamonds, Kurt," Blaine breathes, staring at it. "We are the real thing."

The corner of Kurt's mouth twitches up. "You don't need them, but you'll accept them?"

Blaine laughs, ducking his head sheepishly. "Of course I will. They're gorgeous. Gimme."

Shaking with laughter, Kurt removes the old band and replaces it with the new one. They watch the diamonds and brightly polished metal gleam.

"May I do yours?" Blaine asks. Kurt nods. He repeats the motions, and after a brief pause of staring at the beautiful ring on Kurt's finger, he laces their hands together.

Blaine knows how much it means that Kurt had felt confident and happy making this gesture so close to the anniversary of Simon's passing. They've already talked about it, about maybe even making a trip to visit the spot where his ashes had been scattered before they move to the city.

He touches the barely-there lines at the corners of Kurt's eyes and bends to kiss him. "I love you."

"I love you, too," Kurt whispers. "Thank you for being patient with me."

Blaine's lips twitch. "What do you think about a fabulous New York City autumn wedding?"

Kurt laughs. "I think I know a really great designer that I could recommend."

"Not a bad start."

"The very best start," Kurt says, drawing Blaine down onto his lap.