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Blaine is fifteen years old and he hasn’t seen anyone in three days except for Thomas, his mother's Def.

He’s been shut up in his room; Thomas has been bringing him food. His parents have cut off his phone, his internet connection, and made sure he can’t get out through his windows. Blaine is fairly sure that his parents are downstairs meeting with lawyers and government officials, withdrawing him from school and changing his (and their) official status. Soon, his parents will be able to try for another child (or adopt one, if necessary), and he'll be... gone.

He's thought about the razor in the bathroom, about the sleeping pills in his dresser and the Vicodin left over from getting his wisdom teeth out. But killing himself would just honestly make his parents' lives easier, and what he is more than anything is angry.

It's late at night on the third day-- really, it's almost the fourth day. The rest of the house is asleep, but Blaine is still awake, counting out Ambien in long straight lines on his desk (the nightmares he'd had last year hadn’t really been all that bad, but they were easier to medicate away than deal with). Thomas slips in through his door without knocking, without a tray of food.

"Do you want help?" he asks, gesturing at the pills.

"No," Blaine says, softly but decisively, then sweeps the pills back into their bottle with the side of his hand. "I just--"

Thomas interrupts him. "Do you know why there’s a three-day wait?" he asks. Blaine shakes his head, because he's never had to think about any of this before. "It's for this," he says, waving his hand at the bottle of Ambien. "It’s to give you a chance to get out, while you're still free to do so."

Blaine sighs heavily. "I don't think I can. My parents-- it'd make it easier on them. To not have to deal with me, I mean-- to not have to deal with the paperwork and the hassle." He laughs, harsh and bitter. "God, that's all I am right now-- a hassle."

"It was pretty stupid, getting caught kissing that boy with parents like yours."

"Don't remind me," Blaine says, shaking his head. He doesn't want to think about Marco-- he doesn't know if Marco's parents are doing the same things his are, or if he's gotten away free and clear.

"There are some things to remember, if you want to live through this," Thomas says. He strides over to Blaine's solid oak desk and perches on top of it, then grabs Blaine's hands. It's the first time he can remember Thomas touching him in the ten years he's been with the household, and Blaine feels how warm his hands are. That's when he knows for certain, because Thomas is allowed to touch him now.

Thomas looks him straight in the eyes the entire time he's talking. It’s a little disconcerting, but Blaine knows how important this is, so he doesn’t look away. "Don't fight until you're placed somewhere. Fighting earlier just gets you labeled uncooperative and belligerent-- two designations that you do not want. Once you're placed, you’ll be assigned a Foster, and that is something to fight for. Fosters are legally required to check in on you every three months for the first two years, and every six thereafter. You are legally able to request that they come even if they're not scheduled, but don't expect their time to be open. They can't do much more than make sure you’re being fed and not permanently damaged, but they'll pull you out of a bad situation if they can. For the most part, they're good people."

Thomas tips up Blaine's chin, smoothing a thumb across his jaw. "You're young and you're pretty, and that's not good for you. Try to get lab work, if you can, because you’re also educated. Don't tell them that you’re comfortable serving one-on-one, even if you think you are-- you're not. Maybe once you're older, but not now."

"Your hair makes you look younger," Thomas says, carding his fingers through Blaine's mass of curls. "I can help you cut it."

Blaine nods. It's finally hitting him, that he’s not going to be part of this family any more. He hands Thomas the pair of scissors from the cup on his desk.

Gently, Thomas cuts his hair.

* * *

Kurt Hummel is the best new designer in New York City. He's worked his ass off to get there, but his line is in all the best stores (Barney's, Saks, everywhere else that's important). It’s been weeks and months of 16-hour days, of not stopping to breathe between meetings with suppliers and buyers, with his crack team of producers. He’s finally made it: he has arrived. People want to be seen wearing his clothes.

It's an amazing, heady feeling. He’s come so far from small-town Ohio, from a school where he was never appreciated by anyone, really, except for his few friends.

He's sitting in his office, looking over the financial statements from the last quarter, when Quinn knocks on his open door. He smiles at her, easy, and waves her in. She shuts the door behind her, and that's when he knows something’s up.

"There's not an easy way to say this," she begins, "but you need a Def."

He blinks at her, surprised. "Don't I have one?" he asks, nodding at her silver bracelet.

"Someone who isn't me. I do a lot for you-- for the company, especially, but you need someone more... personal. I’m more involved with the business side of things. You need someone to manage the day-to-day: make sure you get places on time, deal with your endless string of boyfriends-- that sort of thing."

He laughs, and Quinn smiles at him-- there hasn’t been a man in his life since Greg-three-years-ago, when Kurt was fresh out of college and just starting his own company. It had been a disaster from start to finish-- Greg didn’t understand Kurt’s devotion to his work and expected him to act like any other kid who had just finished college. When he threw his third fit in as many days at Kurt’s late hours, Kurt probably could have dealt with it-- but since he threw a plate along with the fit, Kurt kicked him out of the apartment that night.

("My mother’s plate," he remembers raging at Quinn, who had listened to the whole fight from the safety of her room, hands firmly over Beth's ears. He doesn’t blame her for not stepping in; Greg had been nearly a foot taller than her. "I wouldn’t have cared if they’d been the ones from Ikea, but there’s something sacred about fine china.")

"It’s not something I want," he says, looking at her. She’s leaning against the door jamb, pretty and perfect in a cotton sundress and flats; neither of them are from his line, but they look great on her. As much as he loves Quinn, though, he hates the fact that, for all intents and purposes, he owns her.

"I don't really think you have a choice," she says. "You're being taken seriously right now because your designs are amazing and you’re young-- people will say that you don’t have the resources to take on another Def. But in two years? Three? They're going to start to wonder, and it might be easier on you if you just did this now."

He sighs. Quinn doesn’t like giving him advice on this, so it must be something that she's seriously thought about. He doesn't want someone from New York; all of the Defs he's seen here are slick and polished-- more brittle than any person he’d want managing his private life. "Are you still on good terms with your Foster from back home?" he asks.

"We e-mail," she says.

"Can you get her to make up a list? No Seconds or Thirds, but other than that, I'll trust your judgment on parameters, just-- get me a file. We’ll talk more about it then."

He tries not to think about it, and so he doesn't really until a few weeks later, when Quinn brings him a red file with a government stamp on the front. He frowns at her. "Are you sure I have to?" he asks, resigned.

"Think of it this way," she says. "You're not buying something to use. You're buying someone, who will probably have a better life with you than they would almost anywhere else."

"I know," he sighs. "I hate doing this deliberately-- choosing someone based on random information in a file. With you-- it was something concrete I could do to help. I wasn't picking some stranger." He holds his hand out and she hands him the file.

Later, when they’re back at his apartment and Beth's gone to sleep, they spread the file out over the dining room table. It's full of names and faces, backgrounds reaching back years. His eyes are caught a few times-- soft-looking blond hair, bright and piercing blue eyes. They set aside people who they think won't work out (Quinn pulls out a 16-year-old boy marked as deaf; Kurt removes an older man with problematic knees). It feels mercenary, going through other people's lives this way, and it is.

By the end of it, they have five Defs-- five people-- who might work.

D.S., 28, MD: rebellious @ 12, no problems since acquiring, avail. FaC, basic ed.

A.L., 23, MD: medical: blind in right eye @ 4, no problems, avail. w/cond., basic ed.

Y.D., 30, MD: debt @ 20, mild astigmatism (corr. w/glasses), no other problems; avail. FaC, adv. ed

M. N., 25, MD: petty theft @ 18, no problems since acquiring, avail. w/cond, adv. ed.

B.A., 26, MD: nonconforming @ 15, hosp. once since acquiring, no other problems, avail. FaC, adv. ed.

Kurt finds that he can't really think of them as people, though, not while he's doing this. It's easier to think of them as sets of variables (M. N. had spent a year traveling; A. L. speaks Korean; B. A. can play piano and guitar well) and try to figure out who will work best in his home. He sorts their photographs out from the file and matches each to their histories.

D.S. (maybe Daniel?) ran away from home twice at age 12. The file doesn't give a history beyond that, but there are only so many reasons that a kid that age will run and risk being marked. In the photograph, D. S. looks hard. There’s nothing inside his eyes, as far as Kurt can tell. He shivers slightly, and moves the file (and photograph) into the discard pile.

A. L. (Alfred? Andrew? Alonzo?) is cute; his right eye is clouded and misty but his left is clear and sharp. He looks intelligent, and Kurt toys with the idea of using him as a model-- he's got perfect sandy-blond hair, good teeth, and nice bone structure. It’s the avail. w/cond that has him worried, thought, and he sets the file aside momentarily. It's the same thing with M. N., and maybe he's more anxious about the petty theft than he thought he was when he first looked at the stack.

That leaves Y. D. and B. A. Just looking at their files, there's not much of a difference between the two of them. Y. D. is older, possibly more educated. B. A. is exactly his age, and made it through at least a year of high school before being marked.

He slides the files over to Quinn. "These two," he says. "I don't know how to choose."

She picks Y. D.'s up first. He thinks about what she’s reading-- Y. D. is from Columbus, grew up normal, average. Good grades in school, a few girlfriends, nothing really special. He'd been studying at Ohio University until his father died unexpectedly, leaving the bulk of his education debt squarely on his shoulders. He feels sorry for Y. D., who, as far as he knows, only wanted to get an education. Y. D. is handsome, smiling in the photo that came with his file. He looks 30, not younger or older. His work experience has been mostly menial; some lab work, some one-on-one.

Then there's B. A. It's his eyes that drew Kurt in first, faster than the lines in his history about one-on-one work, his hospitalization at age 18 for appendicitis. B. A. looks more tired than he should at age 26-- not older, just tired. Exhausted. Kurt feels unexpectedly tender towards this man he’s never met; he wants to wrap him up in a blanket and make him sleep for a few weeks.

Quinn's eyes still on one line of the file. "He was marked for nonconforming," she says.

"Which means...?" Kurt asks, trailing off. He'd noticed it, but hadn't understood that it was something to be questioned.

"It's-- well, it’s not code, exactly. It's an easy way for parents to get rid of kids who don't measure up to some standard. I'm rebellious, not nonconforming, because it was my choice to sleep with Puck, and it was my choice to keep Beth. It’s..." She looks profoundly uncomfortable. "Nonconforming means it's something he can't-- couldn't-- change. Nine times out of ten, with no medical note, it means he's gay."

"Oh," Kurt says. He’d always been sort of aware that things like this happened, but he can't quite face this reality. It's not shocking, and that's the worst part about it. Kurt may have been harassed and assaulted and thrown in dumpsters, laughed at and yelled at and stolen from, but he's never doubted that his father loves him. His father will always love him. He'd never had to risk being marked deficient, because his father had made it clear that it would never come from him (he'd been ten, sitting at the dinner table over half-frozen pizza and bagged carrots, and his father had said "I'll never mark you" out of the blue and Kurt had cried into his napkin because the boys at school had called him a fag again and he was starting to wonder if he really actually was).

B. A.'s dark hair is cut short-- very short. In the photograph, he's not smiling, but he is looking up, at the camera and the cloudy sky. Tired is still the best word to describe him, because there are bags under B. A.'s eyes and Kurt thinks that if he saw B. A.'s hands they'd be shaky with exhaustion.

"Him," Kurt says, deciding there. "I want him."

Quinn looks up at him, face skeptical. "You can't save him, Kurt-- he might already be lost, be worthless--"

"He might not, thought," he argues. "You don't know that-- he's good good reviews, if you look at his file. It says he's good with children," Kurt says, and that’s what had tipped B.A. into the yes pile, even more than his eyes or expression. They both try to be there for Beth as much as they can, but she's spending more time in after-school care than either of them want her to.

Quinn brushes her fingers over B.A.'s cheek in the photograph. "Let me set up an interview," she says. "We can do it over Skype, because I don't think that you want to spend the money on the plane if he doesn't work out."

"Great," Kurt says, sweeping up the rest of the files. "Just let me know when."

* * *

Blaine is sitting alone at lunch (chicken and rice again) when Emma comes to find him. Blaine likes his Foster. She’s sweet, kinder than she should be. "You have an interview," she says, smiling at him, red hair swinging forward just a little.

He smiles back, because he's supposed to and because she's nice, and asks "For what?"

"It's some one-on-one work, out in New York. Isn't that where you always wanted to go?" She is smiling, happy for him, and Blaine lets the smile freeze on his face so that she can't tell how terrified he is. He hasn't done any one-on-one in years, and the last time had ended rather poorly. It was before Emma was his Foster, though, so he smiles and thanks her.

Back in his room that night (he's lucky to have one to himself; he knows that it's because Emma thinks he's sweet, like she is), after an afternoon filing at the Department of Labor, he looks at himself hard in the polished metal mirror. He looks just like he has for years: short hair and barely-there hollows under his cheekbones, hazel eyes that he avoids meeting. He contemplates shaving his head or just not sleeping for the next few days, so that he's not as appealing to his potential owner. Oh, sure, the DoL might call it one-on-one work or whatever the euphemism is this year, but it is what it is-- institutionalized slavery, a status symbol for the rich.

He wonders if trying to turn down the assignment will work this time (unlike the last three times, before he'd been with Emma, when he'd still been young and pretty). He wonders if his new owner will be a man or a woman, old or young. If he'll have enough to eat; if he'll have somewhere to himself to sleep. If he'll be beaten or raped-- and, if it happens again, if he'll actually have the courage to kill himself, finally. He hadn't when he'd had the opportunity (long lines of Ambien, Thomas's hands on his scalp), and he's not sure if he can do it now.

Eventually, though, Blaine sighs, watching his shoulders rise and fall in the mirror. He slides into bed, pulls the thin blankets over himself, and does his best to get some sleep.

In the morning, he runs his fingers through his hair but doesn't bother to comb it. Not that there's much there to comb, but it's a gesture left over from when he'd had a great messy mass of hair that he'd let fall into his eyes, that he'd loved playing with-- that Mark, all those years ago, had finger-combed until it was frizzy. He splashes water on his face but doesn't shower; he considers shaving but lets his stubble be.

Emma comes to find him; she leads him to the computer labs instead of an interview room, like he'd expected. "You're doing the interview over Skype," she explains. "Your prospective couldn't make it here in person, so he’s set up the meeting this way."

Blaine relaxes just a little at this; today, at least, he won't be poked and prodded, made to show his paces like a horse on display. Instead, he sits in front of the computer and the webcam, waiting for his prospective Holder to show up. After a few minutes, the call comes through and Blaine answers, but it's a pretty blonde woman on the other side of the screen, not the man he’d been told to expect. She looks a little hassled and a lot busy, and the first words to come out of her mouth are an apology. "I'm sorry, he's running late-- designs to finalize, he swore he'd only be ten minutes, but it's been fifteen."

He thinks he remembers how to do this, so he slips on his best fake smile. "No worries," he says. "I am ready at your pleasure."

"Mm, anyway. I have his list of questions, so we can get started without him," she says. She raises her voice on the last few words and tilts her head toward the door he can barely see through the grainy connection of the webcam.

"Of course," he says. "What questions do you have?"

"The first thing he wants to know is your name," she says. "First name only, for now."

"Blaine, ma'am," he says. It's a weird first question-- usually they're about his background or about his skills. Once the first question had been do you scream when you’re fucked, and thank god, Emma had cut off the interview then.

"Have you lived in Ohio your entire life?" is the next question.

"I was out in Idaho on the relocation project for about nine months; I served one-on-one to a family in Detroit for two years. Other than those times, yes." This is a question he’s more familiar with.

The blonde woman is looking down, writing down his answers. "On a scale of one through ten, with ten being the highest, rate your organizational abilities."

"Eight," he says, because while he is incredibly organized, he doesn't think she'd believe him with how sloppy he looks at the moment-- something he's beginning to regret, as the questions so far have been completely professional.

"How knowledgeable are you about the fashion world?" she asks.

"My previous Holders haven't had much of an interest," Blaine says, "so it's not something I’m trained in. But I do have a personal interest in fashion-- I used to read Vogue." It's another strange question, but he assumes that it ties into her earlier complaint about designs.

"Good," she says, and she smiles for the first time. It looks like a real smile, and as she brings her hand up to tuck hair behind her ear he notices her silver bracelet for the first time. It doesn't match his, but it says the same thing: she's a Def, just like him, and she's... she looks happy. Healthy. She's being trusted to interview him, without her Holder being present, and that says something about the kind of man he is.

"You're--" he says, and curses the fact that he’s out of practice in keeping silent.

"Yes," she says, simply. "I've been with him for ten years."

"Oh," he says. He hadn't really expected her to respond. "I apologize for the interruption."

"Don't worry about it," she says. She's quiet for a minute, looking at the next question on the list. He doesn't know what that means; if she's worried that it's on the list at all, if it's an uncomfortable question.

"Why were you marked?" she asks.

He returns her silence. "I'm nonconforming," he says, finally, because it's what his file says.

"I know," she says. "He wants to know in what manner."

"I--" Blaine says, and he can either choose to lie or tell the truth and risk the consequences. "I'm gay," he says, and it's the truth. "My parents found out when I was 15, and they marked me."

Her lips press together in a thin white line. He can't tell if her expression is pitying or not. "Please excuse me for a moment," she says, and she stands up and walks away from the camera.

Blaine sits there and obsesses over every word of the interview that's been spoken thus far while she's gone. Clearly, saying that he's gay was the wrong move to make, because if it didn't matter, she wouldn't have left-- so it either means that her Holder doesn't like gay people or he likes them too much. Either way, the interview’s probably over, and Blaine's about to go back to filing or be shipped off to New York.

Eventually, the blonde woman comes back. "He'll be here in a minute," she says. "For right now, let me tell you about what your position in the household would be."

He nods, looking as patient as he can.

"There are three of us-- Kurt, who's my Holder, me, and my daughter. Kurt's a fashion designer, and he needs someone to keep track of his day-to-day calendar and take care of Beth while we're at work. I don't have time to do that and be his assistant at the company, so it would be your job to keep him on his schedule and provide companionship for Beth. That's it," she says firmly. "No other tasks. No other... duties." She looks down at her hands. "I don't know all of your history, but Kurt's a good man. He works hard, he won’t mistreat you or beat you. And he wants this to be a choice for you. He really, honestly does-- so think about it, okay? Don't take it because it's better than where you are-- take it if you want it. We’ll listen if you say no."

"Okay," he says, because he doesn't know what she wants him to say. Being able to say no and actually being listened to is a foreign concept to him, and he wonders how long it took the blonde woman to believe her Holder was following any of her instructions. He's saved from having to say anything else to her, though, because the door opens behind her and his prospective Holder walks through.

"Q! Is this him?" he asks. Kurt's a tall man, slim and eminently fashionable. Blaine hasn’t followed fashion since he'd lost access to his mother's issues of Vogue, but he can tell that the suit that Kurt's wearing is impeccably tailored. His brown hair is perfectly coiffed, and his eyes are kind, for all that his expression clearly says that he's got other things he needs to be doing.

The blonde woman-- Q-- says "Kurt, this is Blaine. I've just explained the position to him; here are his answers to the interview questions so far. I am going to go and make sure that Beth’s on time to her piano lesson." She puts her hand on Kurt's shoulder for a moment, then leaves the room, closing the door behind her.

"So," Kurt says, and Blaine looks back at him, patient. "I'm sorry, I've never done this before-- I have no idea what the protocol is."

"It's fine, sir," Blaine says. "Just-- ask me the questions that you have. Let me know your expectations."

"Right, okay," Kurt says. He looks down at the list that Q left behind for him. "So, um, how are you with kids? I mean, Beth's 10, she’s almost not a kid any more, but--" he shrugs.

"I took care of two children, beginning at ages 8 and 11, for two years. I was well-reviewed," he offers.

"No, but-- do you like kids? Do you like spending time with them? Helping with homework, driving to lessons, picking them up from school?"

"I-- yeah. Yes, I do-- I like kids," he says, and he hates how he stutters and stumbles over his words. The whole conversation is throwing him off-balance. Kurt and Q aren't like anyone he's worked with-- worked for-- before, and it’s strange. They're clearly comfortable with each other, and it's part of what makes Blaine fairly certain that he's going to take the job. There are a lot of people who say that they're comfortable with Defs, that they think they're just as good as other people, but those are the same people who looked at him greedily when his Holder wasn't around. Kurt seems different, and Blaine thinks it has a lot to do with how easy he and Q are with each other, how much Kurt seems to trust her.

Blaine wonders if being hit by someone kind hurts any less; he thinks it must hurt more.

"Okay, great. Do you have any questions for me? I think Quinn got through everything else I was going to ask-- sorry that I couldn't be there for longer, but trousers wait for no man," Kurt says, smiling.

"No, sir," Blaine says.

"Great!" Kurt says. "I'll have Q send a copy of the contract over-- please do let her know if you have any questions or concerns. Read the whole contract before you sign, and know that I am amenable to making changes. And-- I'm sure Q already told you this, but you can say no. I won't take it badly, I won't take you if don't want to be here, and it won't go in your file."

Blaine doesn’t quite know what to say aside from "Yes, sir." He pauses for a moment. "I don’t have any questions, but I'll be sure to be in contact if any arise. Thank you for the opportunity, sir." He hopes that his phrasing is polite enough for Kurt.

Kurt smiles at him, one last time, and cuts the connection without saying goodbye. Blaine sits at the computer for a moment, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes until he’s seeing spots. His whole conversation with Kurt has been the most confusing pre-contract negotiation he's ever had, and he doesn't know what to make of Kurt's kindness or Q's (had Kurt said Quinn at some point?) straightforward explanations.

Emma speaks up from where she’s been sitting silently the entire time. "Please tell me you're going to take that contract, Blaine," she says, quietly. "It's the best offer I've heard in a very long time."

He turns to look at her, blinking the spots from his eyes. "I-- yeah," he says. "I do want to read it first, but I can't imagine not taking it, if it's anything like what Q described."

"I'll contact you when the contract comes in," Emma says. "For now, head on in to work for the rest of the day. I'll take care of cleaning up now-- you go on."

* * *

Kurt goes back to work as soon as he's done interviewing B. A.-- Blaine, apparently, which is a pleasantly uncommon name. He'd looked less tired over Skype than he had in his photograph, which Kurt finds encouraging.

He knows that what he's really doing is avoiding Quinn, because she'll want to talk about his reasons for choosing Blaine-- he knows perfectly well what they are. And what they aren't.

He's chosen Blaine because Blaine seems like he needs help, and because Blaine is allegedly good with children. Not because he'd fallen in love with a photograph and a three-minute conversation over a fairly distorted webcam connection-- he doesn't know Blaine, not yet. Kurt knows himself well enough to recognize his romantic tendencies, and Blaine isn't pinging him at all that way: he wants to feed Blaine three square meals a day and make sure he gets enough sleep.

Besides, there's not even the possibility of anything romantic or sexual between him and Blaine. It was incredibly clear to Kurt that Blaine hadn't really believed a word of what Kurt (or Quinn) had said about Blaine's right to choose-- his right to say no. And if Blaine didn't understand that-- even if Kurt did develop feelings for Blaine, somewhere down the line, it's not something he'd ever do. Because technically, Blaine can't consent, not as Kurt's Def. He doesn't have the legal right to say no, and that makes everything-- every possibility, every tiny thread of the future-- impossible.

* * *

The person waiting for him at baggage claim when he and Emma arrive isn't Kurt-- it's the blonde woman he still knows only as Q.

Blaine doesn't have any bags to pick up, and Q (Quinn, he learns, as she introduces herself to Emma) has the notarized ID card that allows her to sign for his transfer. Emma wants to hug him before he leaves, even though it makes her obviously uncomfortable, so he holds himself away from her as much as possible, patting her awkwardly on the shoulder blades.

He doesn't know how Quinn’s relationship with Kurt works, still-- it had seemed better than imaginable from what he'd seen during his interview, but he just can't quite bring himself to believe that it is that good. None of his other Holders have been-- pleasant. It's a word that he keeps using, and he knows that it isn't the word he wants to use.

Quinn is friendly. Someone obviously takes care of her-- the clothes she's wearing are fashionable, and she holds herself confidently. He thinks that they're about the same age, but to him, she seems so much younger than he is. She laughs when she sees his face as they step out of the airport-- he's not here the way he'd imagined he'd be (he's not a freshman at Columbia or NYU), but he's here. In New York City, just like he'd always planned.

But it's bittersweet, because as much as he is pleased to be here (and there's a feeling of unexpected joy unfolding in his chest), he is not here at his own direction. He can't even make the choice between a cab and the subway for getting to his new home-- Quinn hails a cab.

As she raises her hand at the passing cars, Blaine notices that the sleeves on her cardigan are illegally long, hiding the silver bracelet that shows her to be a Def. He doesn't say anything-- it's not his place, not now-- but he keeps it in mind. Not to use against her, because he can't believe that a man as interested in fashion as his Holder appears to be wouldn't notice something like too-long sleeves, but as something that's all at once safer and more dangerous. It's safer, because the cab driver calls her Ma'am and is actually polite. It's dangerous because if her sleeves slip, she could be repossessed, sold to someone else. Someone who won't let her laugh-- someone who won't let her wear her sleeves too long.

"You're awfully quiet," she says to him, in the back of the cab.

"I don't have a lot to say, ma'am," he says, taking the cue from her sleeves and the cab driver.

She nods at him approvingly, and she spends the rest of the cab ride into the city watching him watch the skyline grow.

He is suddenly furious at her and Kurt, for taking his first sight of New York. It’s not his the way it should be. He’s had eleven years to get used to not being able to own anything, but it seems that there are still some things that he wants for himself. And it’s not fair-- it’s not fair that he’s in a cab with a pretty blonde woman instead of the man of his dreams; it’s not fair that she’s got a silver bracelet just like his that she has to hide if she wants to be taken seriously.

But New York really is amazing. Maybe, if he can keep himself in check, keep from getting too messy or too imperfect-- maybe he can make this work.

* * *