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The Side Effect

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“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not
even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become
unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
~C.S. Lewis

Before


Eight-year-old Kurt Hummel had it all. He had bow ties in every color, friends at school with no reason to judge his highpitched voice, a dad to teach him how to ride a bike and change the colors of his shoelaces (he prided himself on an early ability to tie them all by himself, thank you very much).

Yes, one of life’s cruelest tricks is how it lets you have everything before it takes it all away.

“Come on, sweet pea, it’s time to go,” his mother chided, her short honeybrown hair swishing this way and that as she loaded the car. Young Kurt watched helplessly as the blankets, cooler, candlesticks, and stuffed animals were placed carefully into the niches of the backseat. After a final careful sweep of her handiwork and a delicate nod of approval, Elizabeth pulled the trunk shut and slipped into the driver’s seat.

“Music, please,” Kurt commanded from behind as Elizabeth turned to back up the car, her right hand on the back of the passenger seat and her eyes darting to the street. She smiled warmly at her son’s request – perfect white teeth and a dazzling, youthful twinkle in her blue eyes – and turned on the CD player. They sped off down the street, singing together on the way to a picnic they would never have, with crustless sandwiches that would never be eaten, and stuffed animals that would be too charred and blackened to ever be cuddled again.

“When the dog barks, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad–”

The highway disappeared under their minivan.

“I simply remember my favorite things–”

A driver to the right blows a tire.

“And then I don’t feel–”

The red car swerves, rotating in fast circles like an arrow on a spinner. The front juts into the next lane.

“SO BA–”

The red car tailspins into the lawabiding, speedlimitconscious minivan with the tacky stickerfamily on the back windshield – a mother, a father, a son. The minivan crosses the median, flipping once before skidding across the pavement into oncoming traffic. Kurt screams at the top of his lungs and snaps his eyes shut.

A moment. Kurt will never forget that brief silence, the world stopping for the longest and shortest infinity he has ever known. They sat in the car, amazed to somehow be alive, sideways in the middle of the highway. There was the slightest pause of relief, amazement, incredulity. Everything felt too fast and too confusing and too strange. Kurt finally remembered that he didn’t need to hold his breath.


And then a white truck, speeding down the highway at 90 mph, oblivious to the minivan that had finally come to a screeching halt, slammed headlong into the car, and the sound of scraping metal mingled with a highpitched “KURT!” and the headlights flashed in his mother’s toowide, tooblue eyes and Kurt shrieked and the world went black.


*****


Panic. That was all Kurt remembered. Bright colors. The whirring of red and blue lights. And then...there was a different light. A white light. And the wings at his sides were carrying him towards it and he was floating and he was leaving behind everything and anything, and everything was pure and quiet and hanging in the air and the feeling slunk out of his fingertips and toward this...this light. This brightness, this goodness. It was the answer to everything and nothing, and he wanted it, and somewhere in the recesses of him, he reached toward the light, toward his mother’s angelic voice beckoning him on. Everything was so peaceful. Beautiful. Tranquil. The light.

His heart stopped beating.

“CLEAR!”

Pain. Everywhere there was pain. The light had promised him no pain; he had crossed. The bridge had fizzled out and been rebuilt and now there was pain? His limbs zinged. Why did he still have limbs? Where was the light? 

Thump. Thump. Thump.

“One more time boys! Three...two...one...CLEAR!”


Zap!

Another, clearer jolt of electricity shook him; his limbs seized, his eyes clenched. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. A minute passed.

“Heart beat’s 90. Vitals?”

The voices existed above him, but Kurt couldn’t make sense of the jumbled words, only catch them and fumble them around in his hands uselessly. Just meaningless garble.

“Three broken ribs. Serious internal bleeding. Breathing with the use of a ventilator. IV drip. Serious gash on the back of his neck. Possible damage to left kidney.”

“IS MY SON GOING TO LIVE?” This was a voice he recognized. Everything was so black. The voice...the voice...

He could feel the constant bumpiness of driving...was this an ambulance?

“Sir, please calm down–”

“Kurt, buddy, can you hear me? I’m right here. Daddy’s here. Stay with me, buddy. I’m so proud of you, bud, just stay with me, okay?” The voice cracked. “Sir, please, your son is in no state to–”

“Heart rate slowing!”

“Kurt!”

“CLEAR!”

* * * * * 

After

The sterile smell hit him hard, and he awoke, not in the confused, dreamlike state of so many on television, but abruptly, sitting upright in bed immediately, iceblue eyes popping open, instantly aware.

Or at least, he tried to sit up – there were enough casts and wires and wrappings and bracelets and needles and bandages to keep him from sitting all the way up.

“Woah, buddy,” a nurse smiled, moving to push Kurt back down onto the lumpy mattress. A machine beeped regularly nearby.

“Where’s Mommy?” Kurt mumbled, his voice – so pure and innocent and unhardened by the world – cracked from disuse.

The nurse opened her mouth to answer, but Kurt never heard what she had to say; in that moment, the palm of her hand made contact with the exposed skin just over Kurt’s small right clavicle. In Kurt’s minds eye, he sees and lets out a bloodcurdling scream that stretches across the entire hospital floor.

A woman – this woman, the nurse. An older version of herself. She’s in a shower, somewhere. She slips. She’s old. Her head smashes on the tiled floor. Blood spills out of the concussed area. Dead in fortytwo years, nine months, and ten days at 8:51 am.

The woman releases Kurt and he vomits on himself, tears streaming down his cheeks as a team of doctors rushes in. His father follows them.

“What? What is it, Mr. Hummel? Where does it hurt?” They chant, gathering around his bedside. Someone checks the heart monitor, another his painkillers.

“I-I saw, I saw–” Kurt starts, but he has no words.

“Shhhh, darling, it’s not real, it was just a dream,” the original nurse whispers, rubbing circles into his small back (though thankfully only touching the hospital gown and not his burning skin).

“I want my mom,” he bawls. Burt steps in further now, to where Kurt can see, and the lights finally return to the boy’s eyes. “Where’s Mom?” Kurt wails, and his father’s eyes fill with tears.

“It’s okay, kiddo. Shhh. Daddy’s got you,” Burt’s tender eyes take in his pale, broken son, with deep black bruising all over his face and white lips, trembling in a light blue hospital gown that Burt knows Kurt would think washes him out.

And Burt stretches his hand out across the blanket and grabs Kurt’s.

His father. Old and brittle. A heart attack. Burt’s head falls forward on his chest, he slumps out of his chair. A plump woman that Kurt doesn’t recognize rushes in; she screams, checking for a pulse. His father’s limbs lay at strange angles. Inhuman angles. Dead in thirty-eight years, one month, thirty days. 3:04 pm.

Kurt gasps and snatches his hand back, a look of pure and utter horror in his hollow, faraway eyes, before he bursts into deeper sobs. He covers his eyes with his hands, but the images are burned into his mind. He can never unsee his father’s broken body.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Hummel. It might just be a result of the shock – you should take a pamphlet on PostTraumatic Stress Disorder on your way out. It may just be a side effect...I think Kurt here should have his pain medications amped up a little bit until he’s more rested,” the nurse declared calmly in that desensitized way that nurses sometimes do.

“But I– he’s been sleeping for three days. I need my son. I can’t lose him, too.”

Kurt’s broken ribs and emergency kidney removal keep him in the hospital for two weeks. It’s on his second day that he meets little Quinn Fabray, the spicy, exuberant eightyearold from the third floor. She doesn’t have any hair. They color together one morning in one of the nurseled activities, and sometimes they make music together in the mornings when the guitarist with the beard volunteers.

And it is on one such day when both Kurt and Quinn reach for the same Aquamarine crayon that her little bony fingers brush the top of Kurt’s hand, and her skin tingles on his for just a second too long–

Quinn Fabray. A mess of decaying person, all skin and bones. She’s so tiny, so feeble. Only eightyearsold. Her cheek bones are hollow and there are gray rings around her eyes. She sits up in her hospital bed, staring blankly at the ceiling for just a moment before she lies back into her cot and the heart monitor patters to a stop. Her body has stopped fighting. Leukemia. Two weeks, three days. 2:56 am.

Kurt screams again. The nurses take him away. Quinn looks afraid.


Quinn does not come to play time again. Kurt sees her one other time, handinhand with one of the oncology nurses that wheels her (wheels her) into the ladies’ room. Quinn does not look very good to eightyearold Kurt, who was finally being released from the hospital that afternoon. She waved at him feebly. Kurt waved back.


Quinn Fabray succumbed to leukemia two weeks and three days after she and Kurt battled over the crayon.

Kurt is physically home, but emotionally he is lost. He’s always felt a little different, a little odd, not quite like the other boys. But this was different. Kurt was different. Kurt had a gift – no, a curse. Kurt had a curse that no one would believe. He had been to the grave and back, and now he had the evidence written all over his skin, sitting in his skin, waiting for contact.

It wasn’t until his great aunt had died of pneumonia at the precise time Kurt had anticipated at age ten that Kurt finally understood what his strange visions were – glimpses of the very real future. Every car accident, suicide, heart attack, fall. However, Kurt soon learned that only the first touch elicited the horrific images – the first handshake, the first pat on the back, the first high five. After that...it was hard for Kurt to explain...it was more of a knowledge. Kurt just knew; not that he ever forgot what he saw, but every following hug or kiss on the cheek only brought the dwindling numbers to his head. Every time his father handed him a tool in the shop and their thumbs brushed, Kurt had a reminder of his dad’s shortened number of days, but he didn’t have to bear witness to his father slumping to the floor again.

Still, once was enough.

And so Kurt became an island, eventually took down all of his S.O.S. signs, and hoped that the boats would go about their business, and God forbid, that they would never land on his beaches. Kurt did not like to be touched; from then on, he kept everyone at bay.

Of course, touching was sometimes unavoidable. There were teacher meet-and-greets (Mrs. Stafford. Twelve years, four months, two days. Boating accident) and husky guys who watched football with his lonely father (Jeff, nineteen years, eight months, twenty days, suicide) and eventually bullies (Nicholas, seventy-five years, two months, twelve days, Type II Diabetes). But Kurt, with blue eyes that seemed to dull with each passing day and skin that stretched a little too much over his thin figure, did a very good job of isolating himself.


He was not hugged for twelve years by anyone other than his father.

*****

Twelve Years Later

“Blaine Warbler, I need the apartment tonight. Scratch that – I’m kicking you out of the apartment tonight!” Santana shouted above the hot water as she took her morning shower. Nineteenyearold Blaine Anderson, groggy and halfthere, shuffled into the steamy bathroom, eyes squinting in the light.

“Huh?” he croaked, throat thick with sleep, his precoffee, slightly hungover brain making him wonderfully articulate. Plus, Santana had claimed first shower a long time ago (in fact, she’d claimed a lot of things now that he thought about it), so he was already a little bitter in the mornings.

“Apartment. Tonight. Mine. I’m having someone over,” Santana declared. “As in I’m having sex,” she tacked on as an afterthought. Blaine groaned.

“Just don’t break anything this ti– Santana, are these razor blades?” Blaine asked in horror, eyes popping open as he noticed the discarded blades all over the sink.

“Didn’t I tell you I keep them in my hair?” She asked nonchalantly, washing her long black hair as they spoke.

“Well, yeah, but I thought...”

Chicanas never lie.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s a lie,” Blaine retorted.

“Either way....I need you out of here, Blainey.”

“A – don’t call me that. And B – I’ll be gone anyway. I’ve got a gig tonight in the Village at
Callbacks...? Which I told you about a week ago....” Blaine hinted.

I’M A SURVIVOR, I’M NOT GON’ GIVE UP–” Santana belted out at the top of her lungs. Blaine took that as his cue to leave and get ready for class; two hours of Debate Practicum before Music Theory.

Blaine was doublemajoring (unbeknownst to his parents) at NYU, studying both prelaw (for them) and music (for him). It was a lot of work, but Blaine loved every minute of it with an enthusiasm that rivaled that of a puppy who has just discovered that if he brings the ball back, it can be thrown again. As Blaine slumped over his fresh coffee at their “kitchen table” – an unhinged door laying horizontally across two movingboxes – he wondered why he even bothered living with Ms. WrongSideoftheTracks.They met in high school; Santana had been sent by New Directions to spy on their competition for sectionals, where Blaine Warbler – a boy in his element – had serenaded her with a preppy pop song backed by gay Hogwarts’ most talented and attractive robots, the Warblers. She had proceeded to sit down for coffee with the sickeningly charming lead singer.

But her snarky insults crumbled beneath his sincere gaze, and when he grabbed her
hand and quirked one of those triangular eyebrows, her walls collapsed. She admitted more to this stranger than she’d revealed to anyone in New Directions...ever. And so she, the double agent of McKinley, was the straight, sexy cheerleader in Glee club who only peeked out of her closet at Blaine’s house. This greatly pleased the Andersons, who were probably the only parents in America who hoped that their son was fooling around with the attractive young lady that kept coming over.

Santana opened up whenever they grabbed coffee or on the rare occasions they went for a real dinner at Breadstix. And so the secret friendship of Blaine “Courage” Anderson and a closeted Santana was born. They graduated in the same year, decided it was about damn to time to get out of their godforsaken state, and stared breathlessly side by side the first time they emerged out of the hot, dark subway into the cool air of New York City, where cigarette smoke mingled with the loud urban chaos and where the buildings were tall but the people walked taller.

Now entering their sophomore years, they’d opted out of Residence Halls in lieu of the biggest shoebox they could afford. They’d now seen a lot of each other – Santana knew Blaine when the bow tie came off, and he knew how she got when Ricardo chose the wrong girl in her favorite Spanish novela (something he can safely say was the scariest moment of his young life). They fought like threeyearolds and made up like newlyweds. The apartment was always bursting with energy and noise – what does one expect from two music majors rooming together? Santana was hoping to eventually transfer to NYADA despite her revulsion at following in the preppy footsteps of one Ms. Rachel Berry, Type A vocal extraordinaire and Santana’s old high school rival.

Blaine mulled this all over as he slipped into a white button down with red skinny jeans before slinking on Cooper’s old watch and sealing the deal with a classy red and black bow tie.

In his head, he tried to formulate his set list for this evening; despite Santana’s feigned confusion, they both knew what Blaine was doing tonight – he wouldn’t shut up about it. One of his professors had hooked him up with the owner of one of the most popular bars in town, Callbacks, where Blaine’s (hopefully) dreamy renditions of pop songs (he was definitely feeling Britney Spears tonight) would woo the crowd. Blaine hadn’t performed for audiences outside of show choir auditoriums and NYU projects since he’d sang at theme parks. He thrummed with excitement as he grabbed his bike lock key, threw his messenger bag over his shoulder, called out a rushed goodbye to Santana, and threw himself out the door with his iPod headphones slipped in and a halfeaten bagel in his hand.

Blaine had changed a lot since his days at Dalton, where he’d carried out the last three years of high school. New York made him feel lighter, freer. He toned down the gel and sometimes let his face get a little scruffy; the bow ties made regular appearances but so did sweatshirts and thickrimmed glasses. Blaine made the most of New York – he made it his personal goal to explore every facet of the city. One day he’d hit up the Central Park Zoo, the next he’d make a point of getting takeout from Little Italy. Santana tagged along when it was convenient – they’d seen Wicked when Santana was dating Elphaba’s understudy and huddled sadly in on each other in the tangible emptiness at the World Trade Center Memorial. They’d browsed 5th Avenue while their hearts (and wallets) sighed and Blaine had even dragged her to the dull Ellis Island on a windy day (“Blaine, who cares where my ancestors were from? I’m 90% sure they all came illegally anyway. You have ruined a flawless hair day for no reason and for that I will never forgive you.”)

Blaine had paid for dinner that night.

But Blaine had learned early on not to depend on his roommate for entertainment. His social life bloomed. He boxed three times a week and the Anderson charm had created an army of Blaineadorers. His TAs asked him for coffee, his fellow prelaw classmates asked him to study while his music buddies were always up for a jam sesh. He drank moderately and cheered for the Buckeyes shamelessly. He’d had a serious relationship over the summer that had shattered apart and torn Blaine’s little heart to shreds – his tears had been as endless as the credits of every Pirates of the Caribbean movie. But it was a new year, with new opportunities and new people and a new apartment and a new job as the Fridaynight entertainment at Callbacks.

Nothing could take the bounce out of his step. Not today.

*****

Kurt Elizabeth Hummel did not walk. He strutted. His this-season Cole Haans clipped the sidewalk briskly as he marched from Vogue.com, where some moronic new intern had just spilled coffee on his new sunshine yellow leather design, Isabelle was out for the day, and GQ had just hired (stolen) one of their best managers. On top of that, Kurt’s dance solo at NYADA was next week, and he simply could not master the halfspinfishtailduckpunch he’d been working on all week. Not to mention Rachel was also working on a solo, adding stress and tension to their apartment as she perfected her moves in the room next door and had nightly mental breakdowns. And to make matters worse, Kurt had been careless while grabbing a paper towel in the bathroom today and had made a casual slip – rare for him now – where his wrist had glanced Joseph’s. House fire, 58 years, 4 months, 22 days. His had been a particularly painful death to witness, what with the way skin curls in flames, and flesh....

Well, Kurt didn’t like to think about it.

Kurt understood himself better now, at age twenty, than he ever had at eight years old. He’d tested the full extent of his curse, knew what it was capable of. How it worked. Kurt had not divulged to anyone his greatest secret, had not cried on a single shoulder. No, Kurt had bottled up his problem and kept it secret, like a pressed flower caught in the still pages of a forgotten book. He knew how to stop cringing, to resist the instinct to wince.

Kurt had also, the saint that he is, tried to prevent deaths once he realized what his visions were capable of. He’d told one of the truckers who came into his dad’s shop not to take the highway anymore, he’d suggested that the teenage girl at the grocery store be extra careful at the beach that spring break...but alas, Kurt soon realized that the future was set. The trucker had taken the highway, the girl’s obituary was featured days after spring break ended. There was no intervening, no meddling with fate. He could not change the alignment of the stars; only read them with an accuracy he wished he could wash off his tingling hands.

But Kurt was smart; he adapted. He learned to tell people he was germophobic – didn’t like to shake hands. People stopped feeling the need to hug him, to lay their hands over his. He
pretended that he was cold all the time to explain the layers he wore – all kinds of gloves and turtlenecks, long pants every day, even in the sweltering New York summers. Winter was far and away Kurt’s favorite season – a time where he felt almost normal as huge coats and ear muffs and beanies and socially acceptable gloves protected him from seeing.

But it wore on him; he never became completely desensitized to it. He had a deep appreciation for life that no one else on earth possessed. Every heartbeat was precious, every gasp of air invaluable.

The one catch was that Kurt was invincible to his own skin; no matter how many times he pinched his nose during a particularly bad headache (which he had started having ever since The Accident) or smoothed lotion over his hands or rubbed his face in exhaustion, he never saw his own death.

Despite his significant setbacks, Kurt had managed to not entirely spoil his childhood. His first year of high school was a blur of days spent looking at his shoes, reading fashion magazines through lunches (alone), and rushing out of school the second the bell rang, but he made small steps forward when his loud best friend and now roommate, Rachel Berry, convinced him to join Glee club (or rather, had taken his hat one day, ran into the choir room and locked the door, not allowing Kurt to leave without signing a contract).

Glee saved him. Though he was shy and refused to do most partner dancing (everyone just eventually accepted that Kurt Hummel would not be touched), Glee allowed him to shine. He discovered that there were other things that defined him besides his eerie visions – he could sing. He still kept himself emotionally detached from most of the kids in the club; it stung too much to know when he would lose those closest to him, to have to see the suffering in their last few moments. When he and Rachel, his only real friend, graduated with a plethora of opportunities on their horizon and Ohio in the rearview, they set out for New York City, partners in crime, and never looked back.

Kurt had grown strong – he didn’t need anyone or anything. His skin was thick, his fashion sense impeccable, and his future lonely but bright.

Rachel was back in Ohio this weekend, however, visiting her dads, so Kurt had no one to complain to back at the apartment. Needing to blow off steam from his crappy day at Vogue and feeling the incoming loneliness that creeped in whenever Rachel was out of town, Kurt sulked his way to the little grocery, hoping to pick up one of those shitty preboxed salads, surely wilted by dinnertime, that would go only too well with some terrible, needagoodcry movie on Netflix.
He was stuck between Marley & Me and Titanic.

*****

Blaine looked at his watch.

And then he looked at it again.

With so much anticipation coursing through his veins, he had sort of kind of accidentally maybe left for Callbacks fortyfive minutes earlier than necessary.

And that was already to get there twenty minutes before the actual required time for him to show up. Dear God. His stomach rolled in on itself, twisting in knots as imagined playing at NYADA’s famous bar. For actual people.

Be cool.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Blaine remembered the only family remedy his mother had ever taught him – drink ginger ale for an upset stomach. With literally nowhere else to be for fortyfive minutes, Blaine found himself angling toward a little grocery store in the Village, somewhat near the venue.

He swallowed back bile and shook out his hands as he entered the toobright, fluorescently lit grocery, the tinkling of a bell sounding above him as he came in.

*****

Shitty salad, shitty salad, oh! This one looks – nope, shitty salad. Is that even a tomato? Shitty salad...shitty salad...my God, didn’t one person in New York make a fresh salad today?!

“You’re not really going to buy one of those, are you?” A honeycoated voice asked behind him.

Kurt’s body straightened immediately, and he cocked his head back, eyes wide, as the apple he’d been holding thumped on the ground, rolling to a stranger’s foot.

Standing cooly behind him was probably the single most attractive man Kurt had crossed in New York City, one awkward twoliter Ginger Ale in his hand. The deep, honey voice was the actual color of his two dark eyes that glowed beneath the organized mess that was his gelled curls. He was dressed simply enough – jeans, dress shirt, leather jacket, skinny tie. A hint of stubble made him look older than he probably was, and he wore a fancy watch that no kid his age (college student perhaps?) should be able to afford. Classy. Kurt realized too late that he had just given the attractive stranger the updown.

“Please continue to mock the shitty food I’m about to eat,” Kurt said sarcastically, missing a beat. Before he could bend down to grab the fallen apple, the stranger was picking it up. He shined it theatrically against his shirt before handing it back to Kurt, who laced his practiced hands carefully away from the strangers’ as he took back the fruit.

“I–sorry. About your apple. Not about questioning your grocery choices.”

“No, um, it’s totally...it’s cool. Yeah,” Kurt said intelligently, turning back to the salads. “Besides, who are you to talk, Mr. Ginger Ale? What’s up with that?” He cracked a smile that the man behind him had no way of seeing.

“I’m nervous as fuck,” the stranger admitted in a voice that was too sincere for casual grocery-store-small-talk. The man laughed humorlessly. Despite his better instincts, Kurt spun back around, watching the man with careful eyes.

“Why are you talking to me?” Kurt asked, not accusingly but honestly.

“I...nerves are making me do dumb things, aaaaand I think I should just check this out and be on my merry way, yes, okay. Good.”

“What are you nervous about?” The words slipped out of Kurt’s mouth before he could stop them. He didn’t know why he kept wordvomiting around this absolute (and admittedly attractive) stranger in a grocery of all places.

“I...sort of have a performance tonight,” the stranger supplied, stopping in his tracks.

“A performance, huh? I’m pegging you for a magician,” Kurt smiled easily.

Too easily.

What the hell???

The man, whose face had been previously twisted with anxiety, a distracted, lostpuppy look in his eyes, lifted his gaze from the ground and gave Kurt a groundbreaking grin.

Woah.

“Bibbidi bobbidi boo,” the stranger joked.

“Knew it,” Kurt muttered, eyeing a particularly nasty bit of spinach art.

“Actually, I’m playing at a bar, and I’m basically losing my shit. You can tell because a) I’m
cussing to a stranger which is extremely ungentlemanlike of me, and b) I’m also babbling which is generally frowned upon by the average New Yorker who wants nothing to do with the people around them. I love this city, don’t get me wrong, but I hate that it can feel so...impersonal,” he rambled.

“Babble away, darling,” Kurt said airily, before even realizing what he’d said. Shit. What if the dude was straight...?

No way. Shoes are too nice.

“Oh, I don’t think you know what you’re getting yourself into, offering that kind of deal. I have plenty to babble about on a stressful Friday night.”

“Do you think any of these are edible?” Kurt asked, half to himself and half to the young man who was still lingering behind him.

“Nope,” the stranger laughed. “I recommend ordering a pizza and calling it a night.”

“Are you kidding?” Kurt said, snatching the least unappealing box off the refrigerated shelf and beginning toward the register. “I have to get drunk first.”

The stranger winked at him.

WINKED?!

The young man reached the register first; Kurt followed a step behind, confused and calculating, the beginnings of a headache creeping in on him.

“Hello, ma’am!” The young man greeted with more enthusiasm than most New Yorkers can muster for grocery shopping. “Yes, I’ll take this Ginger Ale, one apple, and one of those plastic box salads.”

It took Kurt a second.

“Wait, oh no, sir, thank you, but I can’t let you pay for this,” Kurt protested.

“Please? It’ll give me good karma before I play. You can be, like, my good luck charm,” the stranger smiled toothily, passing over a twenty to the unimpressed employee.

Kurt rolled his eyes, taking in the soft glow in the strangers’ eyes, the broad shoulders, the way his hands (his hands) seemed to be sexy somehow, the gentle curve of his...

Wow.

Kurt had let his guard down too easily. What was he thinking? He couldn’t flirt with this wildly attractive man. Not only was he a billion miles out of his league, but he knew he could never hold those beautiful hands, let alone his...other assets. Kurt was lonely. That’s all. Stupid and lonely and why did salad shopping have to be so damn complicated.

“Well, thanks!” Kurt barely chirped over his shoulder as he escaped the itty bitty grocery that seemed to only get smaller as Kurt ran out.

He left in such a hurry that he didn’t catch the hurt eyes of his acquaintance or the way he mashed his tight lips together sadly.

After a long and awkward runin with one of his lastyear professors on his way to NYADA’s coolest and most ‘happening’ bar, Kurt stepped inside with purpose. He was overthinking and breathing a little fast and his head was pounding he hadn't been lying about getting drunk tonight. But now that he’d reached his destination, he slowed his pace, waltzing gracefully to the bar and setting his briefcase of designs on the counter before heaving an enormous sigh. He pulled out his apple. The place was relatively dark, with cheesy neon signs and a colorful wall of every alcohol and fruity drink he could imagine.

“The usual?” Came the nasal voice of the older bartender.

Kurt nodded, internally kicking himself and shuddering at having a “the usual?” already. You win some, you lose some.

His striking blue eyes roamed the bar as the blender mixed away his drink; it was a Friday night, so the place was booming. He liked that – to isolate himself but simultaneously submerge himself in a crowd. Within and without.

His drink arrived. He downed it in two gulps.

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.”

Kurt sat straight up from his slumping position, eyes wide. Heart pounding, he glanced up from where he was poking at candy cherries with his straw, wondering where the music was coming from. Where that song was coming from. He forgot to remind himself to breathe. Someone was singing.

“Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens.”

The honey voice whispered into every corner of the bar, accompanied by the elegant riffs of practiced hands on a piano.

“Brown paper packages tied up with strings These are a few of my favorite things.”

Kurt laid eyes on the pianist, a small but sturdy young man around his age in the corner, under a slew of twinkling multicolored lights. Dashing dark curls were gelled carefully, and his olive skin held the warm yellow glow of the light. He smiled while he played, eyes crinkling in a contagious, goofy grin. His hands flew like spiders across the keys, jumping on their black and white playground. The piano bench was allbutforgotten behind him as he stood, getting into the song and singing at full volume.

No freaking way.

He never said he was playing at Callbacks.

As the song progressed, Kurt unconsciously drifted toward the piano, hidden somewhat behind a pillar, drink in hand, absolutely, totally mesmerized. It was the voice, the song, the white smile, all pulling him forward. Kurt’s legs found themselves a stool and he accidentally made slurping sounds with his straw as he sucked at an empty drink, one palm supporting his chin as his unfocused eyes blinked slowly. The song came to a warm close that washed over Kurt.

“When the dog barks
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things And then I don’t feel–
So bad–”

Kurt was startled by the round of applause that echoed through the bar, looked up from his empty drink and –

– right into the pianist’s eyes, which lit up in recognition. With literally no plan in mind and no idea what to say, Kurt marched up to the pianist; as always, he kept a literal and figurative arms’ length away from the stranger.

“Callbacks? The venue you were nervous about playing was Callbacks?” Kurt said, baffled.

“Fancy seeing you here,” he responded, a little careful, as he downed half a water bottle in one gulp. The man continued to finger the keys effortlessly, maintaining eye contact while a simple melody melted away.

“I told you I was getting drunk tonight.”

“I know; you disappeared before I got to properly invite you here tonight,” the man offered.

“Kurt.”

“Huh?”

“My name is Kurt.”

“Blaine.”

The man – Blaine – extended a muscled arm, offering his hand to shake. Kurt stared at it wideeyed as his face drained of color; Blaine let his hand drop awkwardly, slipping it back onto the ivories.

“I, um...I didn’t realize it was you. I just...the song...what made you play that song?” Kurt wondered incredulously.

“‘My Favorite Things?’ It’s a classic. I wish I could say I played it because The Sound of Music is an excellent childhood memory or something, but since I don’t have many of those, the honest answer is that Julia Andrews is my spirit animal,” Blaine admitted.

Blaine was just a confession machine tonight.

“Very nice,” Kurt commented. “It, um, it reminds me of my mom. A lot. So thank you for playing it and doing it justice.”

Blaine blushed.

Did Kurt do that?

“Wow, uh, thank you. So...I’m not just asking this as a cliché, one-night-stand kind of guy, I swear, but...do you come here often?” Blaine asked. Kurt laughed.

“Almost every Friday.”

“Alone?”

“Alone,” Kurt confirmed.

“I’m shocked,” Blaine gasped, pulling back and holding a hand to his ‘wounded’ heart, feigning offense. “A man as attractive as yourself alone on a Friday night! The horror!”

“Oh, you know, I just leave with a different guy every time,” Kurt remarked, and winked. Blaine balked.

“Kidding!” Kurt smiled. It was easy. Comfortable. Kurt couldn’t remember the last time
he’d really conversed with anyone besides Rachel; though he appeared calm and collected, he wondered if Blaine could see his heart thumping in his chest.

“How about you? Come here often?” Kurt almost drew back his arm to playfully elbow Blaine, but stopped himself.

“Actually, tonight’s my first night performing. My friends and I come on karaoke night from time to time though – get a little Katy Perry action going on. I just got hired since some of the seniors graduated, and the Friday night slot opened up!”

“Impressive,” Kurt commented, lidded eyes raking over Blaine once. Taking in the tie, the leather jacket, the matching shoes, the watch, the jaw, the long lashes, the stylishly dishevelled yet controlled curls that he could run his fingers through...

“Thank you,” Blaine smiled, looking up into Kurt’s eyes, his own wide and open.

Their faces were only inches apart now, moving slowly forward at glacial speeds, but creeping together nonetheless. The piano notes came slower now, and then stopped altogether.

“Well, you’re doing a damn good job for your first time,” Kurt flirted, easing the tension somewhat. “I didn’t realize you went to NYADA.”

“Oh, I don’t. It’s kind of a fluke, really – my friend knows a guy that my professor happened to play with years ago and it all kind of worked out in my favor...I’m a Bobcat,” Blaine affirmed, pulling his NYU lanyard out of his jacket pocket.

And it was in that moment, feeling lost in Blaine’s offputtingly interested eyes, that Kurt realized that he was overstepping. Falling hard. He had indulged himself far too long.

Blaine looked up with those goldflecked eyes from beneath beautiful long lashes that left low shadows on his face. There was enough alcohol in Kurt to make him fall in love. His breath hitched.

He was too close. Too close to this stranger, too close to kissing those pink lips, too close to wrapping Blaine in his embrace and hooking his chin over his shoulder. Too entranced in honeygold eyes and manly hands and that husky, beautiful voice. Too invested in a man that would die like the rest of them. Would it be lightning? A brain tumor? A stroke? Food poisoning? A shooting? Kurt couldn’t bear to watch those hazel eyes slide shut forever, that dapper grin go slack, those broad shoulders sitting at wrong angles. Kurt didn’t want to know for once.

“I should just, uh, the drink, I’ll be – um, I’ll see you. Yeah. I have to go,” Kurt stuttered, barely even nodding toward Blaine before the fightorflight (but mostly flight) instinct overcame him and he fled the piano, setting his empty glass on a random table and ignoring the protest of some hipster girl that he shuffled around on his way out the door. It was too hot in there, too stuffy, too everything.

Blaine was too everything.

“I have to go,” he repeated under his breath.

Kurt spun on his heel without a thought to the pair of disheartened puppy eyes and unasked question on pink lips he’d left behind as he loped out of Callbacks, cringing under the neon “OPEN” sign and escaping around the brick wall. He faced the alley, closing his eyes. A tear rolled down his cheek, and the darkness towered over him, like it always did when he was alone; vulnerability always invites the ghosts.

“Blaine, your break’s over,” called the skinny bartender with angry 80sstyle red hair and a voice that had indulged too many cigarettes.

“Just, like, two seconds!” Blaine fired back, streaking after Kurt. Kurt was...special. He couldn’t place it, but some cat purred within Blaine’s heart when he talked to Kurt; his limbs hummed with content. He had to know more about his elusive stranger. Kurt.

Blaine's stomping, too-loud feet echoed against the brick walls as he romped around the corner, coming to an immediate halt when he found Kurt’s figure in the shadows. Kurt listened to the footsteps clapping against the sidewalk, only to fall starkly silent.

The quiet seeped through the air. Neither spoke. Blaine felt like he was on the wrong end of an old Western movie.

“Sorry,” Kurt’s voice trembled after an eternity had passed. He didn’t turn around, just faced the wall with his hands folded on his head like a marathon runner might do to catch his breath. “I’m sorry, Blaine.” Blaine’s heart restarted at the sound of his name, and he released the breath he had been holding.

“Did I do something wrong?” Blaine murmured, leaning against a wall cooly, patiently, his thin black tie askew from running. He panted slightly.

“No, I...no. I just–” See people die when I touch them and can’t get close to people. “I just have trouble...with...stuff.” Really eloquent, Kurt, he thought sarcastically to himself. “Why did you follow me?”

Kurt turned around just as Blaine pushed himself off the wall.

“Why did you come up to the piano bench tonight?” Blaine retorted, eyes softening.

“I’m sorry, Blaine. You seem like the nicest of guys. You’re charming and funny and God you’re attractive, but I–”

“...have a boyfriend?” Blaine tried to finish, face falling slightly, hazel eyes flattening to a murkier brown.

“It’s not that–”

“Anderson, do you want the Friday shift or not?” came the raspy bartender, poking her head around the corner before diving back into the bar.

Blaine looked painfully between the two like an invisible tennis match, internal conflict crossing his young face, all cartoonlike as his head whipped back and forth.

“I’m really, really sorry, Blaine. It was a pleasure to meet you. Truly. You...well you actually made my night,” Kurt whispered, before zipping his own jacket and walking away.

“It was nice to meet you, too,” Blaine whispered to himself. Kurt was too far away to catch it.

 

Blaine had no choice but to trudge into the bar, hands deep in his pockets while his mind was equally deep in thought. He ached at the walls Kurt put up, the unseeing quality of Kurt’s pained eyes, the quick retraction of Kurt’s hand. Kurt had ghosts, that much Blaine could tell.

Blaine tore away at the piano, raw emotion strung into his voice as the drunk got drunker and the dancers got sloppier and the boys convinced the girls to go home with them.

Unbeknownst to Blaine, a silent, humble figure lurked in the shadows against the wall outside of an open window and listened closely to the careful notes of an acoustic version of “Teenage Dream” filtering out of the window and hanging in the dry air. Kurt smiled a little as the smooth voice spun the song like a spider’s web, all silk and gilded melodies that did funny things to Kurt’s heart.

I finally found you, my missing puzzle piece I’m comple-te

The ringing notes, coupled by the charm that emanated from Blaine and a bit of liquid courage, had Kurt scrawling away on a napkin and handing it off quietly before he could chicken out. He snuck off into the night toward a warm bed that could never die on a him and a movie
that would surely allow him to deal with someone else’s problems.

 

Inside, as the place was closing and Blaine gathered his sheet music, the sweeping bartender called out.

“You were on fire tonight, kid! What pretty girl’d ya have ya eyes on?”

Kurt. “Oh, no one in particular.”

It wasn’t until Blaine was taking the subway back to his shared apartment, tie untied and curls free from their gelled hostage, that he noticed the neat handwriting on a postit note that someone had hidden between the folds of his sheet music.

I don’t know if my silver white winter will melt into spring, but if it does: 4195556047

Beneath that, in his boss’ blocky scrawl, was:

He told me to put it in there. I approve, kid. He’s cute. xo

Blaine rubbed a thumb over the note, relinquishing in its realness. He really ought to go grocery shopping more often.

*****

“Santana, he was beautiful,” Blaine recalled, sitting with her on the fire escape early Saturday morning. They ate their bagels and spiked orange juices in the chill air, a slight wind blowing on their faces; they could feel a crisp winter on its way.

“Don’t you want to hear about the crazy sex I had last night?” She interjected.

“But he was weird, too,” Blaine continued, ignoring her. “Kind of distant. Goes to NYADA...he was funny – guy wouldn’t shake my hand. But ‘Tana, his eyes.” Blaine slumped back against the wall, looking up dreamily into space, not seeing.

“Woah, woah, woah. Calm it down. Where’s the dude, then?”

“I didn’t bring him home,” Blaine refuted, scandalized. “Unlike you, I have moral issues with having sex with complete strangers.”

“Suit yourself,” she shrugged. “Or...make him not a stranger anymore. Text him. Go on a date. Eat sushi or visit a museum or whatever it is you unicorns do.”

You are a genius!” Blaine chirped, hopping up, kissing the top of Santana’s head, and flying inside to grab his gym bag on his way to work out.

“Genius is my middle name,” Santana said aloud to herself, eyeing the antlike cars that marched along beneath her, and threw back the rest of her orange juice.

*****


November 3
From: Unknown Number (1:06 pm)
Hey, Kurt (:


November 5
From: Unknown Number (9:12 pm)
Um, hey Kurt. It’s Blaine.


November 12
From: Blaine
(12:56 am)
Hye Kurrrtyt (; Hiiiiiiiuiii hj


November 13
From: Blaine
(8:17 am)
Oh my God I’m so sorry....there was alcohol involved last night, my b. But...it’d be really cool if you talked to me?


November 13
From: Blaine
(8:28 am)
Or not. That’s cool too.


November 30
From: Blaine
(11:39 am)
Hello Kurt. This be Santana. Lopez. From McKinley. I know we haven’t talked in a while but I also know that this is still ur # and you haven’t been responding to it lately. I guess “It’s a small world” and shit, and you met my boy Blaine (cute, curly hair, plays piano at Callbacks. Don’t play dumb with me) Anyhow, according to him, you swooped down from the heavens and stole the kid’s heart or whatever. And now you’re ignoring all his texts and he’s hella sad and you need to stop being a selfabsorbed dick and ask him out.


November 30
From: Blaine
(11:42 am)
Literally I do not know where she gets these ideas I am so sorry. I’ve just sort of...been talking about you. A lot. And...well that’s Santana for you. Sorry to bother you, Kurt.


November 30 From: Blaine
(11:43 am)
NO WAY KURT THIS IS SANTANhishgjb;gidshgidh 28yohbi hligb82ib.


November 30
From: Blaine
(11:50 am)
Blaine tried to take the phone from me but I have locked myself in the bathroom where he is begging me from the outside not to text you but lesbihonest here, Lady Hummel. I’m rooming with the biggest heart in all of Manhattan. I – oh, fuck this.

Incoming Call: Blaine

“Hello?” chimed the highpitched tinkling of Kurt’s voice, which Santana hadn’t heard
since her junior year of high school.

“Don’t ‘hello’ me, Kurt. Blaine is on the other side of this door–”

“SANTANA HANG UP RIGHT NOW!” came Blaine’s muffled attempts at authority.

“–and I gotta tell you about this kid. He has huge triangular eyebrows that could turn into butterflies any day now, if this apartment catches on fire his hair will literally be the first to go, and he’s also my best friend. I know what you’re thinking – but being my best friend does not inherently make him a bitch. He’s the basic to my acidic.”

“Santana, I have to go to work–” Kurt started evasively.

“No, Kurt. You listen to me. I know you. I know how you do this – this thing. You don’t trust people. The only person you talked to for four years of high school was Little Miss Perfect–”

“Little Miss Perfect can hear you, Santana!” chimed in Rachel from Kurt’s end.

“–oh, great, you two live together now? Anyway, I don’t care how it was in high school. Blaine Anderson is a freaking catch, even I would bend over for him, and I’m speaking as a member of the lesbian community here. You would literally be the stupidest person in the world not to go on a date–”

“KURT YOU GOT ASKED ON A DATE?” Rachel yelled. She must have grabbed the phone in some kind of scuffle, because soon the protests of Kurt could be heard in the background as Rachel and Santana talked.“Kurt would love to meet up with Blaine sometime,” Rachel spoke sweetly into the phone, though no one was fooled. The determination in both their voices drowned out the feeble resistance of Kurt and Blaine.

“Perfect,” purred Santana, ending the call. She unlocked the bathroom door and stepped out cooly to find Blaine, eyebrows lowered and wide, hazel eyes asking unspoken questions.

“Does he want to go?” Blaine asked timidly, afraid of the answer but with the most heartbreaking glimpse of hope in his small voice. His adam’s apple bobbed.

“He’ll go alright,” Santana smirked, giving a crooked smile before she was bombarded by his small mass hugging her.

“I hate you and love you all at the same time,” Blaine said into her shirt. She patted his back.

“I know, sweetie. I know.”

*****

“Rachel, this is a bad idea, and you know it,” Kurt complained three days later as he was exfoliating the night before coffee with Blaine. Somehow, like a bad sitcom, the Evil Roommates From Hell had taken over to doom him and Blaine to what was sure to be a long, awkward, fruitless coffee date in which Blaine would talk about himself for the better part of the hour and then try to hold Kurt’s hand, at which point Kurt would try to stop his panic attack in its tracks with little success, make a quick excuse, and flee the scene feeling more used and pathetic than before.

Or at least that was what Kurt told himself. It was less terrifying than the alternative of falling in love...

Kurt had decided a long time ago that dating was so off his radar that it was in the Narnia of Narnias.

“Oh, Kurt,” she sighed, coming into his bathroom slowly with one of those apologetic
faces and that pitiful sincerity in her voice. Here we go, he thought. “I think this date will be good for you. Aren’t you...I mean don’t you...you’re lonely, Kurt. I can see it in your eyes. If I’m not here, all you do is watch old seasons of Project Runway or get hammered at Callbacks. And I know you. I know you think he’s something else. Every single time his name lit up your phone this month, your eyes just...changed. I don’t get you, Kurt. I love you, but I don’t get you. Don’t you want to meet this guy? You gave him your number, after all.”

Kurt struggled to answer her question – even Rachel had never been trusted with The Secret. How do you explain to your best friend that you can’t go on a date with Blaine because you know you’ll fall in love and you can’t bear to think about any more people you love dying? That you gave out your number in a brief lapse of rationality due to the totally unfair effects of honeygold eyes and delicious pianoplaying. Not to mention alcohol.

Because Kurt could tell – could tell the second Blaine called him out for buying one of those stupid salads – that Blaine was better. He was kinder, he was...Kurt didn’t believe in God but he could tell that Blaine belonged in Heaven. And if Kurt got to know those honeygold eyes, if he listened to that careless laughter or God forbid caused that laughter, if he knew Blaine’s life story and ran his fingers through those curls...he’d just dig himself deeper into the hole, become too invested in another ticking time bomb.

Everyone was a time bomb.

“Rachel...what if I fall in love?” Kurt asked quietly, small.

“Then he’ll catch you.”

 

*****

“Santana, what do I wear? What should I do with my hair? Do you know where my other Oxford is? OH MY GOD I DID NOT SHAVE! Is that hot? Should I leave it?” Blaine questioned, scrambling around his room and rubbing one hand down a prickly cheek while Santana perched on his bed, watching him humorously.

“Wear that cardigan,” Santana pointed to a sunny golden sweater sticking out of the pile of clothes Blaine had been dragging out of his closet all morning. “With these pants and...here,” she said, stretching to pick up his mahogany-colored shoes.

“You’re my savior,” Blaine mumbled offhand. He was wearing only a Tshirt, NYU boxers,
and white socks as he flitted nervously around his room, checking his appearance in the mirror every so often.

“Why are you obsessed with him? Seriously, if the hearts in your eyes get any bigger, I’d think that you had actually just come to life from one of those weird Asian comic things you read–”

Anime,” Blaine corrected for the thousandth time.

“Whatever. Not to hit any nerves, but you and Josh only broke up, like, three months ago. I’m just surprised that you’re so...” Santana left the sentence hanging.

“Not broken?” Blaine finished warmly. “I can’t help it. Kurt was...I don’t know. He’s gorgeous, ‘Tana, I mean really. He’s got these piercing blue eyes – well, you know – and his voice just tinkles, like a little bell, except for when he’s joking and it gets all husky, and it’s just...have you ever felt like something was...meant to be? I know I’m preaching this loveatfirstsight guru crap, but I just really felt like I connected with him. Yin and yang or whatever. What was he like, back in high school?”

“That’s...actually what I wanted to talk to you about, Blaine.” He quirked an eyebrow, halfway into his shirt. Santana slid off the bed and came up behind Blaine where he was looking at himself in the vanity mirror. Their reflections made meaningful eye contact as she towered a little over him.

“Take a seat, helmet head.”

Blaine absentmindedly smoothed a hand over his perfectly gelled hair, carefully maneuvered around the landmines of clothes all over the floor, and sat down on the stool, eyeing Santana warily. She sighed.

“Just tell me,” Blaine demanded, hating the suspense.

“Patience, Grasshopper.” Blaine rolled his eyes.

“Look, ‘Tana, I need to finish getting ready and–”

Santana thrust a hand out on his shoulder and pushed him back onto the stool while his eyebrows stitched together in confusion. “Blainey...” “Don’t call me that.”

She exhaled, her eyes darkening as she found the words to say – Blaine could tell she was choosing them with care, like picking up sand at the beach, one grain at a time. Santana swallowed, and looked at Blaine with the kind of serious, Iactuallycareaboutyoudeepdown look that always made him nervous.

“Kurt is...weird. You should know that. He never touches, like, anyone. I mean anyone. And he’s always so sad and odd and he...never fit in. And maybe people change, but I kind of think they don’t. I just don’t want you to get your heart broken again, Anderson,” she said tenderly, tilting her head to the side. He could see it in her mind’s eye, the mess he had been when Josh had dumped him. Could see the undone laundry, the piles of empty Ben and Jerry’s, the evergrowing mountain of used kleenex; he actually thought he saw her shiver, probably remembering the stench of haven’tshoweredinfivedaysmanburrito. He pursed his lips apologetically, eyebrows stitching together.

Her voice softened. “Kurt’s a guarded fort. You should know that.”

*****

A medium drip and nonfat mocha sweated next to each other on a small wooden table at the Black Kettle, the agreedupon coffee shop halfway between NYADA and NYU. Blaine bounced his knees and adjusted the cups over and over. Ran his hands over his raspberryscented hair. Prayed thanks to whoever invented hair gel. Straightened his bow tie. Decided about ten times that he should just go, that this was a stupid idea and he should have never even come and Kurt was obviously going to stand him up so he might as well–

“Hey,” a breathless voice breathed behind him. Kurt, in all his wintery glory, circled the table and plopped down, his usual elegance and poise all but forgotten in his hurry. Blaine took a moment, surprised that Kurt – all pink cheeks and pale skin and vibrant eyes – had materialized before him.

“I–uh, hey,” Blaine choked, blinking his way back to reality.

“Sorry I’m late; Rachel held me up. Who knew a person could sing in the shower for an hour straight?” he laughed. Blaine rolled his eyes in agreement, an understanding of “girls” passing between them.

“Santana told me some about Rachel – she sounds like a handful. I think ‘Tana’s exact words were ‘psychotic Queen Bee from hell with a voice that drips sunshine and I’mbetterthanyou,’” Blaine thought for a moment, “...but knowing Santana, that’s kind of a compliment.”

“Indeed,” Kurt agreed, and then glanced down, “Oh, is this for me?” He asked kindly, nodding in the direction of the coffee cup.

“Mhm,” Blaine hummed, a slice of a smile playing on his face. They both ignored the elephant in the room (I’m really, really sorry Blaine. It was a pleasure to meet you.). The ignored text messages. The awkward cell phone call.

Okay, it wasn’t an elephant. It was the whole circus.

“You know my coffee order?” Kurt said, surprised, like no one had ever gotten him coffee before. And maybe no one had.

“Rachel and Santana may have helped me out there,” Blaine responded.

“Weird how it all worked out – you knowing Santana after all this time! How’d that all happen?”

“Well, I went to school in Westerville. Actually, I was probably your show choir competition at some point,” Blaine winked. “We were the Warblers. Santana came to spy on us one day, and she and I ended up getting coffee, and I guess we just hit it off. There’s definitely claws on her but...I’ve learned that they’re retractable. She’s my best friend.”

“I see,” Kurt noted, stretching a hand forward to grab his own nonfat mocha. Blaine eyed Kurt’s traitorous hand but thankfully made no motion toward it. Good.

Not good.

The conversation continued to flow easily, as they shared hatred of Ohio (“Literally, I once asked someone in Lima where I could get Doc Martens and they said the hospital was down the street”) and reminisced about show choir (“There’s nothing like the stage, Kurt. Just...everyone looking at me and listening to me. I felt...heard”) and argued over who had the worst roommate (“Wait, Santana literally keeps razor blades in her hair?!? I knew it!”)

So easily, in fact, that neither noticed the hours slowly dripping away, until two empty coffee cups and a glance at their phones made them realize that five hours had passed.

Five.

And Blaine was ready to spend the next five, be it hours or decades, listening to Kurt. He knew New York City like the back of his hand, but he wanted to know it like the back of Kurt’s. Still, remembering Santana’s words, Blaine was careful not to give in to the temptation to reach across the table and slide his darker, olive hand over Kurt’s pale delicate ones. Instead, Blaine sat with his chin on his palm, eyes sincere and invested and intent, hanging onto every beautiful word that fell out of Kurt’s mouth.

“Oh my – oh my God, is it really one o’clock?” Kurt announced, voice rising an octave in sheer shock.

“Is it?” Blaine asked, unconcerned with the time and more concerned with the story Kurt had been telling about the Liz Taylor Jewelry Auction (where he had been outbidded on every item). “Do you...do you have to be somewhere?” Blaine asked, masking his disappointment.

“I’ve got a class at two – I will look like Alan Rickman at the end of Sweeney Todd if I’m late to studio dance one more time,” Kurt sighed, equally bummed.

“Doesn’t he get stabbed in the throat, like, ten times at the end of that movie?” “Precisely. Just change Johnny Depp to Ms. July...”

“Ms. July? As in, Cassandra July? The one who–” Blaine started excitedly, wearing his inner theater nerd on his sleeve with pride.

“The one and only,” Kurt nodded. Blaine was impressed, his mouth forming a little “o,” and Kurt felt his stomach churn at the idea of impressing Blaine.

“Well, don’t worry,” Blaine said when he collected himself. “You’re way more attractive
than Alan Rickman.”

“How dare you insult the sexgodliness that is Professor Snape?! Though I do suppose
he could use a makeover – the black cloaks were getting a wee bit repetitive,” Kurt teased, standing up and putting his coat back on. Blaine stood as well, Kurt noticed nervously.

He didn’t want to hug Blaine. Not now. Not after everything had gone so well. No no no. “And a haircut,” Blaine agreed.

“What?”

“A haircut? For Snape?” Blaine reminded.

“Oh, yes, right. Snape. Haircut. Ha,” Kurt said uneasily, shifting his weight. They lost their rhythm as Kurt’s heart quickened. Goodbyes were so difficult when you were afraid of seeing the cute boy in front of you lying mangled and broken in a pool of his own blood or alone and pale in the quiet emptiness of a hospital room.

“Well, I’ll see you later, Kurt,” Blaine said awkwardly, slipping his messenger bag over his shoulder and throwing a dollar on the table. Kurt liked that Blaine tipped; he nodded a personal approval when Blaine wasn’t looking.

“Yeah, I– yeah. Text me sometime.”

“Will you actually respond this time?” Blaine asked playfully, holding the door open for Kurt as they emerged into the crisp New York afternoon. The wind was blowing particularly strong today as they were swept into the sea of lunchbreakers returning to their respective office buildings.

“I might,” Kurt said mischievously.

“I know it’s kind of soon, after spending five hours over coffee, but if you’re not doing anything tonight...is it bad that I kind of already want to see you again?”

“Dance ends at five,” Kurt supplied. Understanding passed between them.

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Sounds like a date,” Kurt corrected. He wished he could kiss Blaine goodbye, like any normal person might do parting their first good date. No tongue. Nothing sensual. Just a quick peck on the lips. A thanksforagoodtime, itwasreallynicetomeetyou, I’llcallyoulater, we’reyoungandnervous kiss. Blaine seemed to get the message, that there would be no hugging, no handshaking, no kissing. Santana’s words echoed in his head. “He doesn’t touch, like, anyone.” Blaine gave a little wave instead.

“See you soon, Kurt.”

“See you.”

And they headed out in opposite directions. Kurt looked back, watching the helmet of
gelled hair bobbing through the crowd, until Blaine was out of sight.

*****

December 4
From: Kurt
(1:13 pm)
Rachel I hate you

December 4
From: Rachel
(1:14 pm)
HOW DID IT GO
(1:14 pm)
DID YOU FALL IN LOVE
(1:14 pm)
IS HE AS DREAMY AS YOU REMEMBER

December 4
From: Kurt
(1:15 pm)
Dreamier.
(1:15 pm)
Thank you.

December 4
From: Rachel
(1:17 pm)
I don’t mean to say I told you so but... (;


*****


“How much for these?” Blaine asked, a bouquet of yellow and red roses perched on the
counter. The Italian florist, dark and round, eyed the flowers suspiciously, frowning. A few wiry whiskers poked out of his chin, and his cardboard face was permanently creased. To be perfectly honest, Blaine thought he kind of smelled like soup; an interesting contrast to the candy pink walls and tickling scents of spring.

“Twenty-five dollas,” the man grumbled in a thick accent, hands on his belly. Blaine hardly noticed the man’s destitute attitude and certainly didn’t let it bother him; he was in an unusually good mood (even for him) that had onehundred percent to do with the fact that he’d be seeing Kurt again soon.

The man began to run Blaine’s debit card, snipping the flowers and tying them with fruity ribbons. He mumbled angrily partly to Blaine and partly to himself.

“Oh, you think she’ll like them alright? Think she’ll love ya foreva? Well it ain’t the case, kid. Love stinks. God created love, and then Satan created marriage. It all goes downhill from here. She’ll expect things–” Blaine took back his card and signed “–and she’ll yell at ya, divorce ya! She’ll scream at ya fer givin’ her all those damn kids, like it’s your damn fault. She’ll kick the booze right outta ya hands, kid. Women.” The man continued to grumble while Blaine took the bouquet, saluted the thickly-accented and apparently despondent Italian, and left the floral shop with a bounce in his step.

“Good thing he’s not a woman,” Blaine mumbled to himself as he strutted away, flowers in tow.

*****

“I cannot believe you!” Kurt giggled, mouth open and eyes popping as he followed Blaine’s telephonicallydelivered instructions. Their eyes met for a second while they stared at each other with amusement, phones still glued to their ears, before Blaine dropped his arm slowly and ended the call, striding over to wear Kurt stood in amazement. Blaine walked quickly and confidently, dawning a big navy overcoat and a devastatingly attractive beanie.

“Hi, Kurt,” Blaine greeted warmly, flowers concealed behind his back with one arm and the most genuinelyhappytoseeyou smile lighting up his whole face and bringing the shimmering gold out in his eyes. They both huffed a little, their breaths tangible in the frosty, wintry air.

“Bryant Park, Blaine? Really?” Kurt asked, the slightest hint of nerves quivering in his rising voice.

“It’ll be fun, I promise – I’ll show you the ropes. Oh, and I, er–” Blaine started, bringing the flowers out from behind his back.

Kurt literally gasped out loud.

“I, well I mean, they’re...wow. Thank you,” Kurt relished, taking the outstretched flowers and smelling them. “They’re beautiful, they smell amazing. You’re amazing. I mean, it’s just...sorry, I’ve never...” had anyone get me flowers before.

“Shhh, hey. It’s okay. I’ve got you,” Blaine soothed easily. A faint rouge tinged Kurt’s cheeks (obviously because of the cold and not because Blaine had said that he’s “got” him, because obviously Kurt does not get completely and irreversibly invested on only the second date...). Blaine grinned at his own handiwork, admiring the subtle cherry reds and chippy yellows and the way they obviously made Kurt’s stomach flip. To elicit that from a guy as handsome as Kurt....Blaine’s own stomach began to fizz excitedly. “They’re to celebrate you.”

Kurt literally had to clutch his heart at that one, his whole face softening in thanks, mouth agape.

“Okay, stop being perfect.”

“What? Can a guy not simply buy his very attractive male friend a beautiful bouquet of roses just because?” Blaine winked, teasing.

“Shut up,” Kurt grinned, proud to hang onto the flowers, right there in the middle of the park, with no worries about what the general public thought about any of this. Just another reason getting out of Ohio was the best thing he’d ever done.

“Let’s skate!”

 

Kurt soon learned that Blaine had not merely participated in show choir back in high school – he was the Goddamn reigning champion and totalitarian dictator of all things glee, if his performance on the ice was anything to show for it.

Blaine swivelled easily across the ice, hands folded neatly behind his back as he slid across the surface in elegant, crisscrossing sweeps, meanwhile humming, whistling, and eventually singing every Christmas song known to man.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops, glisten, and children listen
To hear, sleigh bells in the snow, the snow

Kurt couldn’t fathom how Blaine did it. He himself wobbled uneasily on his skates, knees shaking, clinging to the wall, a baby taking his first steps.

It was literally the most adorable thing Blaine had ever seen.

“This is so not fair,” Kurt argued as Blaine spun circles around him.

“Come on, Kurt. It’s not that bad. I’ll show you,” Blaine skidded evenly to a stop in front of
Kurt, silver skates digging up the soft ice into a white powder at his feet, gloved hands outstretched and eyes sparkling. The cold had livened both of them up the way little else can. Pulling from his wellversed knowledge of Disney movies (from extensive childhood years of being left with only animated characters for company) Blaine went for a traditional line from his favorite prince.

“Do you trust me?”

Kurt eyed the gloved hands suspiciously. He supposed there couldn’t be much harm in slipping his hands into Blaine’s, sitting open and patient. Kurt, too, was wearing gloves, meaning two layers between their skin. Two layers separating happiness from horror.

He didn’t like the chances, but he also was curious about the anatomy of the human hand. Kurt slipped his hands into Blaine’s, holding his breath. Blaine didn’t understand why the moment was so monumental, but it registered somewhere that Kurt was making some sort of sacrifice, taking some sort of risk. Making an exception. Blaine was his exception.

And Kurt’s hypothesis was proven true: their hands fit together perfectly.

The tension of the moment passed as they both laughed a little awkwardly. Blaine moved his legs backwards knowingly with practiced glides, dragging the shuffling dead weight of Kurt with him. As badly as Kurt wanted to look into Blaine’s eyes, his perfectly shaven face, at the beautiful contours of his jaw, cheekbones, his round nose, he was forced to look down at the godforsaken orange rental skates, moving at an embarrassingly slow pace.

 

“Ha! I’m doing it!” Kurt sang a few minutes later, moving with somewhat more ease. Blaine trailed behind proudly, a dopey grin on his face at Kurt’s delight, like a parent experiencing the joy of Christmas morning secondhand. Everything was white and bright and there. And Kurt had finally let loose a little, not so guarded, not so far away.

And then, out of nowhere, some tenyearold brat comes barrelling down the rink the wrong way, colliding into Kurt. Kurt squeals, a look of disgust and horror on his face as he spins, off balance.

Timothy. Eighty-eight years, six days, diabetic shock. Head falls straight into his plate at the nursing home. Dies with his face lost in a mush of green stew, glasses askew and eyes rolling back in his head.

Arms swinging wildly every which way and weight shifting to the precarious balls of his feet, Kurt swerves – directly into Blaine, who had been coming up fast behind him. Thankfully, unlike Timothy, Blaine’s gloved hands make no contact with the exposed skin of Kurt’s throat and face and the nape of his neck as they tumble together onto the ice. Kurt’s unfortunate back breaks their fall, and they collapse in a huffing, skidding tangle of limbs and skates and constricting winter wear, eyes wide and yelps on both of their lips.

Once they’ve stopped falling and are at a standstill, Blaine lies on top of Kurt’s chest, laughing easily at their situation. Kurt’s eyes, however, are wide and hollow, like he’s just received the worst news and hasn’t had the chance to comprehend it yet.

“I–sorry,” Blaine tries, feeling the weight of himself as he starts to hoist himself off of Kurt. Yet Kurt, simultaneously trying to get out from under Blaine, causes them both to fall back on the ice again. Blaine laughs a short, heartbreaking laugh, and his eyes crinkle sweetly, and Kurt sees the decision in his eyes before Blaine has even done anything.

And then Blaine’s eyes settle, and they keep flickering down to Kurt’s mouth, which is wide with his panting, and his lips are bright pink from the cold. And Kurt’s blue sapphires are asking all of the questions that Blaine wants to answer without words. And so he leans, gently and slowly, watching Kurt carefully for signs of distress; he’s asking for permission.

Blaine gets a hair away from Kurt’s lips, close and warm and there, and every nerveending in Kurt is begging Blaine to stop teasing already, to bring his mouth close and kiss him deeply. But the better part of Kurt’s brain is screaming: NO NO NO NO. And then Blaine, so close, his warm, short breaths tickling Kurt’s neck, whispers.

“I’m going to kiss you now, Kurt.”

The “no” seems to be trapped in Kurt’s throat as the hormones win, and the hairsbreadth of space between their mouths is closed as Blaine ducks his head and presses his soft, pink lips carefully to Kurt’s. Everything is perfect for a fraction of a second as their mouths fit together seamlessly.

And then Kurt screams.

Blaine Anderson, loose curls and jeans and a Tshirt from some sports team that Kurt can’t place. He walks down the crowded NYC sidewalk with purpose. Turns down a road. Begins to cross the street. A taxi runs a red light, plowing into Blaine’s small but sturdy body, which crumbles immediately. Horns blaring. Blaine is crumpled in the street, blood oozing out of his head, shoulder, and long gashes on his exposed arms. His eyes are wide and unseeing. His left hand, outstretched, clenches into a fist for a fraction of a second and then falls limp. The harsh sunlight catches a platinum and gold ring on his fourth finger. The body deflates. Blaine Devon Anderson. Two years, two months, nine days. 8:31 am.

“Kurt, Kurt are you okay? I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have kissed you, I thought you were gay, I don’t know where that came from I am so sorry,” Blaine gushed as he skated Kurt off the rink. Kurt didn’t even remember standing up, but realized that there was still fluffy, snowy powder in his hair, on his hands. He was so dizzy.

“Oh my God, you’re shaking. Are you alright? I can’t believe...I’m so sorry, Kurt, that was such a stupid thing–”

Kurt forced his eyes to focus on Blaine. They saw hurt there. Pain. Blaine looked...he looked downright devastated. His hazel eyes were tight, his jaw set, his hands carefully avoiding all things Kurt.

Kurt would have felt guilty about all of those things, if he wasn’t crying on top of everything. He hadn’t watched a death that disturbing in a long time. Fat, ugly tears welled up in his eyes that were quickly turning red and splotchy. He hiccuped for air, breaths coming out staccato and abrupt. He couldn’t make himself look at Blaine.

Two years, two months, nine days.

“I– I, um.” Hiccup. “B-Blaine...”

“What is it?” Blaine asked, clinging onto anything Kurt would say. Anything to put the
bloodcurdling scream out of Blaine’s mind. That was not the response he was hoping for the
first time he kissed Kurt. Maybe a sigh, or feeling Kurt’s teeth against his lips as Kurt smiled midkiss – definitely not a shriek of terror followed by a momentary blackout with an icerink full of curious people watching the event unfold.

Blaine wasn’t that bad of a kisser, right?

“I’m so sorry,” Kurt whispered, hanging his head. Tears oozed from the corners of his eyes. “You can go now, if you want. I know I’m crazy. I know people think I’m crazy. It’s okay.”

Blaine crouched down next to Kurt, who was now sitting on a bench outside the rink with his head in his hands. Carefully, so carefully, Blaine reached out and began unbuckling, clasp by clasp, one by one, with slow, methodic movements, Kurt’s skates. In turn, he slipped each of them off. There was great care in not touching Kurt, even his socked feet.

“Hey. I asked you if you trusted me,” Blaine said quietly, breaking the long, batedbreath kind of silence that had pooled around them. “It’s okay if you don’t. Sometimes, we have to earn people’s trust.”

“I trust you,” Kurt mumbled into his hands. “It’s me I don’t trust.”

“Kurt.”

Kurt lifted his sorry head out of his tearsoaked hands and looked painfully into Blaine’s eyes, internal conflict and selfhatred that had been so wellrepressed dancing cruelly behind Kurt’s eyes.

“Did I do something wrong?” Blaine wondered before his courage left him.

“God, no. No you’re...no. Ththat’s not it. I just...it’s...I really like you, Blaine, I do. You’re so...gah. But I can’t seem to, I don’t know how...I’ve never even–”

“Woah. Kurt, Kurt, Kurt. Listen. It’s okay. You’re a really funny, sassy, charming guy that I am inevitably falling in love with, and even though you might not want me around, I think I’m going to be that asshole and stick around anyway, trying to woo you and steal your attention from all
the other wildly more attractive men who are going to try to snatch you up. You’re not getting rid of me that easily. Now come on, Kurt, I’ll walk you home.”

Kurt stood slowly, boring his eyes into Blaine’s and laughing a little, appreciating how Blaine seemed to smooth the whole fiasco over with a few kind words. They walked in comfortable silence for a long time.

“That’s my first real kiss, you know that?” Kurt said eventually.

“Yes, I gathered as much when you screamed bloody murder after I kissed you,” Blaine grinned, hands in his pockets and very much not touching Kurt.

“Sorry again,” Kurt said sheepishly. “You, er, caught me by surprise is all.” The pain of watching you die, the life slowly draining out of your beautiful, beautiful eyes, was literally so much and hit me so physically hard that the fear and angst and horror could not be confined within my weak body and the scream broke its way out before I could contain myself.

“Think you can manage the elevator on your own tonight?” Blaine teased, now that they had reached Kurt’s apartment building in Bushwick.

“I might,” Kurt said elusively, rocking on his heels once, not knowing what to do. He didn’t want to kiss Blaine again – to get more involved. From this point forward, he would not contact Dreamy McFlirtypants, wouldn’t call him, no more dates, no more texting, no more coffee, no more flowers. He would seclude himself in his room, throw himself into his work, stop going to Callbacks where Blaine played and instead get drunk off a sixpack he could buy at any old grocer with his Brazilian fake ID, ignore the rest of humankind and never have to go outside or get dressed or –

“Oh, fuck it,” Kurt mumbled, and grabbed Blaine by the coat to pull him in for a kiss, mashing their lips together sloppily, before the learned mouth taught its apprentice for a full minute, warm and listening and receptive and wanting. Blaine was gentle, careful this time.

Kurt was not so gentle.

Two years, two months, nine days.

Blaine pulled away eventually to catch his breath, a look of both excitement and surprise shaping his innocent features.

“Santana’s going to think I’ve been killed by the mafia if I don’t head home now, but it was truly a pleasure, Kurt,” Blaine smiled.

“Why would she think that?” Kurt grinned, still flushed from kissing.

“Oh, she’s convinced that the amount of gel I use in my hair can only mean one thing, and that would be that I’m an Italian gangster who has timetravelled from the twenties to wreak havoc as the guntoting underground fashion police of New York City. Bow tie included,” he
paused. “It sounds cooler when she says it.”

“Oh my God,” Kurt rolled his eyes, feeling more comfortable around Blaine than he’d felt around anyone in a long time. Now that Kurt knew, he didn’t have as much to fear; only the dwindling numbers and the platinum and gold band that had seemed sickeningly similar to the one Kurt had designed in his head back in high school.

“Goodnight, Kurt.”

And Blaine strode off into the night, amidst a whirl of color and sound and city life, and Kurt thumped upstairs, sniffing his roses every few minutes to remind himself that they were real.

*****

Reality sucked. After the coffeeandiceskatingturnedhorrorandthenromance date, both had to step down from their respective clouds and return to work and school and life. Spring fashion lines and groundbreaking new florals swirled through Kurt’s head night and day as he slaved ridiculous hours; Rachel continuously got every song from Funny Girl stuck in his head and kindly made up for it in cheesecake runs. Blaine and Santana had assumed their usual rhythm: Blaine did the dishes and Santana made them dinner (which Blaine would eventually learn was just takeout put on nicer plates), they ran together in Central Park in the mornings and fought over the remote on Wednesdays when neither of them had class.

Life was pretty normal.

But then again, it kind of wasn’t.

Kurt saw the world through a filter now, as if he were watching television. He saw what
was going on around him – the people, the city, his professors – but a running caption like a television banner obscured his vision with Blaine Blaine Blaine and Blaine’s eyesight was similarly dysfunctional. It was cliché. It was overthetop. It was borderline obsessive. But fact was fact and truth is truth: those boys were falling in love.

It was a complicated romance, and for Kurt, a dance with death. It was realizing that Blaine was going to die, so soon, his life so prematurely cut short with so much ahead of him, and choosing to open his heart anyway. It was latenight skype dates and Christmas duets and baked goods and horrendous double dates and Blaine carrying Kurt’s shopping bags and Margaret Thatcher dog. They both had their ghosts; from the hard lips of Karofsky to the disapproving eyes of Mr. Anderson. But they chose to keep the ghosts at bay for a little while as they wooed each other with suitandtie dinners at the top of the Empire State Building and surprise gifts at work and justbecause text messages, and coffee dates. Always coffee dates. Life did the one thing it’s good at: going on.

*****

“I’m here,” Kurt announced, letting himself into Blaine and Santana’s apartment a month later. There was no sign of Blaine, so Kurt crept around the apartment.

He gasped out loud.

The kitchen “table” – still that old unhinged door propped up on some moving boxes, to Kurt’s displeasure – was flourished in a tasteful white tablecloth, candles were burning, fine china was set, and the napkins were folded up neatly into little peacocks (because Blaine would). Kurt giggled, traipsing around the kitchen and setting his bag down on the counter. He turned and–

“Don’t step on me!”

Kurt jumped three feet in the air, clutching his heart.

“Christ, Blaine, you scared the hell out of me. Why are you on the floor?” He looked down sympathetically at his exhausted, sweatpantsclad boyfriend.

(Heh. Boyfriend. Kurt liked the sound of it, even in his head. They’d only made it official last week, watching When Harry Met Sally – “I don’t want to be like them, Kurt. Realize after so long that we’re meant to be. I–I really like you Kurt. Be mine?”)

Blaine smiled sheepishly, glancing up at Kurt, giving him an updown.

“You look cute,” Blaine blurted, changing the subject.

Santana bursted through her bedroom door at that point, and Blaine shut his eyes and winced; God knew she could only make this worse.

“Hey, Kurt,” Santana said, overly sweet. She hugged him awkwardly – Kurt was
reminded of Santana’s impressively long life – maybe there was something to sex extending life spans...

“I see you’ve already got Blainey here on the floor, so maybe I should hit it–”

“YES,” Blaine pleaded as Kurt simultaneously said, “You don’t have to go yet.”

“Where’s dinner, Blaine Warbler? This table looks so...Lady and the Tramp. Well, like a poor college student version...” Santana smirked.

“Wow, look at the time, don’t you have that thing to go to?” Blaine tried.

“Nah, there’s a drug deal happening underneath our window. I think I’ll just wait this one out with you two. Is there any of this delicious homemade dinner for me?” She asked knowingly, a glint in her eyes.

“Yeah, I’m starving,” Kurt agreed.

“Well...” Blaine began, when a noodle of spaghetti dropped from the ceiling directly into Kurt’s coifed hair. All three pairs of eyes rotated upwards.

“What the–?”

A mass of gluey spaghetti loomed precariously on the ceiling, making a horrible squishing noise before the gooey mess dislodged and the yellow mass descended in an explosion, free, undercooked noodles splashing everywhere. Literally everywhere. They were in Kurt’s hair, all over Santana’s shoes, and the majority of the hunk was covering Blaine’s face. He peeked out wearily from the noodles over his eyes. Everything was wet and sticky and wow Blaine made a lot of spaghetti.

“Yeah, about dinner...” Blaine started, and all three began cracking up – Santana clutched at her sides and Kurt pulled spaghetti strands out of his hair.

“I thought,” Santana paused to laugh, “I thought gays were, like, super good at cooking.”

“Evidently not,” Kurt giggled, crouching down to clear Blaine’s face, kissing his nose in the process and trying not to flinch as Blaine’s numbers echoed in the recesses of his mind.

“Ew, stop. Can’t handle that – I’m out. Kurt, get him laid, please. He’s been a little stressed lately, and I accidentally walked in on him –”

“Santana!” Blaine scolded.

“–your name, and it was weird, like a human being should not be able –”

“Okay, ‘Tana,” Blaine assuaged, pushing her out the front door.

“Don’t have unprotected sex! The lube is–”

Bye,” he huffed, finally getting the door to shut. Kurt’s eyes crinkled to see the rouge on Blaine’s cheeks.

“How about Chinese?” Kurt suggested mediatively. Blaine visibly relaxed with relief. “Chinese sounds perfect.”

 

After Pad Thai and egg drop soup and failed attempts at using chopsticks (Blaine mercifully fetched forks from the kitchen two minutes in), Kurt looked across the table, eyes searching Blaine’s face.

“So, how exactly did the spaghetti...?” Kurt waved his fork airily at the ceiling.

“Santana told me you had to throw it at the ceiling to see if it was done...and it stuck...so I was waiting for it to come down...” Kurt clapped a hand over his mouth to suppress his laughter.

“It was an accident!” Blaine pleaded, hiding his face in his hands.

“Hey, it’s adorable,” Kurt soothed. “But next time...one noodle at a time.” Blaine laughed, rubbing his face tiredly with one hand.

“Santana had a lot to say tonight...” Kurt hinted. Blaine laughed a groan. “Do you really...?”

“So! Fortune cookies!” Blaine said excitedly, knowing that his avoidance of the question spoke volumes.

“It’s okay Blaine. I want to take your clothes off and get dirty sometimes, too. Just be patient with me?”

“Always.”

“Besides...I can’t ask you to rip my clothes off any time soon.”

“Yeah, it’s kind of a tall order,” Blaine agreed, grinning.

“Because of the layers?”

“Because of the layers.”

Blaine circled the table to kiss Kurt full on the mouth – two years, one month, nine days – enjoying the taste of soy sauce and Kurt. Blaine could almost, almost, feel Kurt’s guard coming down. He could feel it in his toes: Kurt relaxing into his hold, Kurt snorting with laughter, Kurt smiling even when no one was looking. But Kurt’s barriers were not white picket fences – no, they were Area 51esque barbedwirecovered concrete walls with ‘Keep Out’ signs on every corner; but Blaine would tunnel his way under if that’s what it took.

The fortune cookie remained on the table, unread.

Sadness is but a wall between two gardens.

*****

“Blaine, Pluto’s not a planet. Accept it already.”

“Planetary status is not determined by relative size. Pluto can be a planet if it wants to
be,” Blaine pouted, crossing his arms as they walked out of the romantic Space Show at the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. Kurt was pretty proud of picking that location – what better way to stargaze with your lover in a city that never settles in darkness than a planetarium?

“NASA determined–”

“Pluto’s a planet!”

“Ohhhhh,” Kurt realized, eyes shimmering. “Is this a short-person thing?”

“No!” Blaine huffed defensively. “I just think it’s cruel for some arbitrary aerospace nerd to invalidate Pluto. Pluto...is, like...my childhood. He was in Ms. Butler’s planet song!”

Kurt quirked an eyebrow at Blaine referring to Pluto as a “he” but otherwise kept his
thoughts to himself, particularly the fact that his heart was melting like a Dali clock to see Blaine so small and defensive. Adorable.

“C’mon, let’s get ice cream or something.” Kurt poked Blaine’s tense chest, feeling him soften beneath his touch.

“Mmm, okay,” Blaine agreed, a grumble still in his voice. Kurt resisted the urge to smooth over Blaine’s gelled hair as Blaine trudged ahead. A few quick steps and Kurt caught up, hooking his arm through Blaine’s. Blaine tried to hold back his smile but failed – damn, he couldn’t even stay fake mad at Kurt.

“You know what?” Blaine whispered in his ear, breath ghosting over Kurt’s neck as they traipsed arm in arm.

“What?” Kurt played along.

“Pluto’s still a planet.” Blaine smirked, obviously pleased with himself, before pressing his lips quickly and playfully to Kurt’s cheek – one year, eleven months, twentyeight days – making a loud kissy noise as he pulled away, and Kurt held his smile in place, working very hard not to wince and instead focusing on the tingle that only Blaine’s five o’ clock shadow could leave on his cheek. They ducked into the ice cream shop, leaving a trail of happiness in their wake.

*****

February 18
From: Kurt
(12:04 pm)
Dad.

February 18
From: Kurt
(12:04 pm)
DAD

February 18
From: Kurt
(12:04 pm)
Dad Dad Dad

February 18
From: Kurt
(12:04 pm)
Blaine told me he loved me today
!!!

February 18
From: Kurt
(12:05 pm)
I’m assuming you’re in the shop so I’ll call you tonight. Love you. Give Carol my best!
xo

*****

February 18
From: Burt Hummel
(8:56 pm)
Thank you, kid.
You should hear the way he talks about you.

February 18
From: Blaine Anderson (8:58 pm)
My pleasure, sir! :)

*****


They were in Kurt and Rachel’s apartment on a Saturday morning, with Rachel off somewhere or other and a very quickly chosen movie was playing, unwatched, on the television.

Kurt and Blaine were on the couch, nuzzling and sharing long, drawn out, lazy kisses. Kurt’s palms were splayed out across Blaine’s chest.

One year, eight months, eighteen days.

Kurt tried to block the numbers as the kiss deepened. Focused on Blaine’s fingers laced through his hair. Focused on the rise and fall of Blaine’s chest as he panted, on the slowly building roll of their hips. Focused on Blaine’s little moans. Focused on his mouth and...

One year, eight months, eighteen days.

It was hot and they were both hard in their jeans, and shirts were longforgotten, and Blaine was interjecting little “I love you”’s and “Kurt”’s and a lot of “mmmfs.”

Blaine was entirely oblivious to any of the hesitance in Kurt’s thoughts; he was fully absorbed in the soft touch of Kurt, featherlight on top of him. He’d been with a few guys before, but had never felt so...complete. He and Kurt were complementary. They were olive skin on pale,
they were yin and yang, they were tenor and soprano. But they were more than that, together. They were a gradient of tan and white, blended together. They were not just a tenor and a soprano but a harmony, a chorus, a song. Woven together seamlessly, intertwined like the twisting tangles of a vine. Blaine had never been more ready, more sure, more willing. He wanted to show Kurt he loved him, to prove it to him, to share himself. They’d been dating for a few months and Kurt was his missing puzzle piece; he knew it as fact, as simply as he knew that two and two made four.

“I think we should stop,” Kurt said suddenly, pulling out of the kiss and sitting up into a straddling position. Blaine’s pink lips were slightly swollen as the feeling of rejection visibly washed over him. He scooted himself upwards and propped himself against the arm of the couch, eyes searching for an answer from Kurt.

“Kurt is everything o–?”

“Okay? Sure. Yeah. We just...I can’t...” And Kurt’s eyes were swimming with tears.

Blaine pulled Kurt’s hands into his. “Honey, what...?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. I think...I think we should...”

“We should what?”

“We should break up.”

What?” Blaine whispered, amber eyes huge, a small crease between his brows.

I thought you were the one.

“I just...can’t. I love you, Blaine. I love you more than I’ve loved anyone ever. I love the way
your cologne smells and the way you get so into the music you play and your passion for marriage equality and your kindness and you have the biggest heart – I mean you work at an animal shelter and the Boys and Girls Club – and your beautiful, beautiful eyes looking at me like, like that...you’re just too good to be true. I can’t...I can’t....”

“You can’t what?” Blaine soothed, his thumb stroking the back of Kurt’s hand.

One year, eight months, eighteen days.

“Don’t...don’t touch me. Please.”

“Wha– Kurt? What are ...what’s wrong? What’s going on?”

Kurt had, by this point, moved to one side of the couch, knees drawn to his chest and the
most complicated expression tugging at his face, indecision behind his pained eyes. Blaine had sat up as well, still embarrassingly hard in his jeans and distress contorting his features.

“Kurt...were you...abused?”

“What? No. No, I...well, Karofsky might count, but no, I’m just...dumb.”

“You’re not.”

“I am.”

“Kurt,” and Blaine moved toward him now, shuffling across the couch on his knees and
settling down next to him. He lifted a hand to rub Kurt’s back, in question. “May I?” Kurt shook his head. Blaine tried not to let his disappointment cross his face and failed miserably. “Kurt, I don’t care that you’re touchy. I don’t care that this is new for you. It’s okay to be scared. But please, don’t...don’t do this to me. I just...I love you. Kurt, there is a moment, when you say to yourself, Oh, there you are. I’ve been looking for you forever.”

Kurt eyed him apologetically.

“Kurt...let me show you. Please. Let me show you how much I love you. I love every inch of you, every morsel of you, every thought in that beautiful mind of yours.” Kurt snorted. If only Blaine knew.

Blaine crawled closer, closing the gap between them finally.

“Kurt...can I kiss you?” The last thing Blaine wanted to do was overstep his boundaries, but he knew this was important. Knew that Kurt had to let go of this stigma. Knew Kurt loved him back. Blaine wanted to build Kurt up, to make Kurt feel good, to make Kurt feel whole and wanted and loved. He had to prove to Kurt that he was special, that he was perfect, that he wanted every beautiful part of him. To make Kurt feel worth. And there are just some things that can’t be expressed with words.

Blaine leaned forward and pressed his lips again to Kurt’s just once, and pulled away, checking the resolve in Kurt’s eyes. But Kurt made no resistance, and if Kurt’s now entangled hands in Blaine’s curls were anything to go by, Kurt had made up his mind.

He was back on Blaine’s chest in no time.

The slow, gentle kisses heightened to the moan-eliciting, pant-unzipping kind of kissing. And Kurt lost his focus, the numbers blurring out as he was lost in all that was Blaine. Warm skin. Rhythm. Blaine was peppering kisses on his neck and telling him how beautiful and perfect he was, and their eyes rolled back in their heads, and they were one.

Kurt was loved.

They collapsed at almost the same time, breath shivering and tickling their cool, sweaty skin. Blaine pulled a nearby sheet over them while they curled up together on the couch, limbs tangled, appreciating the lazy Saturday with no obligations and nowhere to go. The movie, by then, had returned to the menu screen, playing the short clip over and over again. The sun sank lower in the sky and the lighting in the room changed, but little else did. Kurt napped, but Blaine stayed awake, holding him tightly, tracing little patterns onto the contours of Kurt’s back. Traced the muscles, the shoulder blades.

But then Kurt woke up, startled and sudden. Tears pooled in his eyes.

“Shh, shh, Kurt, honey, it’s okay–it’s more than okay–” Blaine tried to soothe Kurt before he broke out in sobs. Little tear tracks curled down Kurt’s cheeks as the morning’s events came back to him.

“Skin,” Kurt wailed, his watery voice pained. He tried to sit up, to disentangle himself from Blaine. Blaine tried not to let it get to him, but of course it did. He could tangibly feel the fractures in his heart.

“What? Kurt, did I–did I hurt you?” The horror in Blaine’s voice was like nothing Kurt had ever heard. Blaine’s voice broke, like waves breaking on the shore. The self-disgust was so obvious in Blaine’s husky postsex voice, and Kurt tried to collect himself for his boyfriend’s sake.

“No, no Blaine, that was the most wonderful...I love you. It’s just ...so hard... to love people.”

“Kurt, I’m in the dark here. Please tell me what’s wrong. I thought– I thought that was good. I thought that was okay. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pressure you–”

“You didn’t pressure me into anything, Blaine. I know if I had wanted to stop we would have stopped. But I didn’t want to stop. It’s just really hhard.”

“What’s hard?”

“You’d think I was crazy.”

“I won’t. I promise,” Blaine’s thumb lightly ghosted over Kurt’s jaw.

“That’s what you say now.”

“Kurt, I can’t do this. You screamed when I first kissed you. You flinch when my hand
even inches toward yours. You’re so touchy...no pun intended. I just want to hold you and kiss you and mess around with you. I want to hold your hand when we walk down the street and give you back massages and pat you on the shoulder and sleep next to you at night, and I don’t understand– do you not want any of that? Do you not...love me?”

“Of course I want that! Of course I want all of that – you think I don’t, think I don’t wish every second that I could hold onto you forever? You’re my everything, Blaine. But I’m not your everything. I can never be that for you.”

“But you are,” Blaine argued.

“I’m not! Don’t you want someone who doesn’t see dead people?” Kurt blurted.

Silence.

“...What?” Blaine asked gently, watching Kurt’s eyes flood with tears again, pulling the
sheet up higher on his chest.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to tell you, I just...it slipped. Just forget I ever said anything–” “What’s this about...about dead people?”

Kurt sighed. He had never planned on telling anyone – especially Blaine – The Secret.

But it was too late now.

“I...um...I’ve never actually told anyone this...” Blaine waited patiently. Kurt took a steadying breath and looked down at his hands. Was this really happening?

“I was in a car accident with my mom when I was little. And, we um...we got hit in the
middle of the highway. I don’t really remember that much of it. But...God this is going to sound cheesy but I was sort of in this...limbo, you’d call it? There was just a bright light. The doctors told me later that my heart stopped beating. They resuscitated me, I guess. Anyway...after that...something changed. And I can...when I touch people...” Kurt shivered. Blaine grabbed his hand, urging him to go on. Kurt’s fingers flexed uncomfortably in his grip, but neither let go. “When I touch people...I see ...things. I see when and where and–and how they’re...going to die?”

Blaine’s eyes darted to their hands immediately, suddenly too aware of the feeling of Kurt’s knuckles beneath his palms. A look of horror twisted Blaine’s features against his will. Am I hurting him? He didn’t mean to be insensitive about it but...but...
Blaine did everything he could not to pull his hand away. For Kurt. For Kurt. For Kurt.

Kurt eyed their hands ruefully. Blaine stared blankly. Swallowed.

That was not a good sign.

“I told you it was crazy. I thought it was all in my head, but it...it comes true. It’s like a fucked up version of That’s So Raven or something. I don’t know. So it kind of sucks to, like...touch people.”

“So sex must be, like, the most painful ordeal ever,” Blaine concluded, eyes horrified and confused. At least he was rolling with it.

“Yes...and no. It’s just hard to be close to people, physically...emotionally...And sex is the closest you ever get to another person, both physically and emotionally. It was...scary. To think about. But you did a pretty good job of distracting me,” Kurt said, a ghost of a smile almost pulling his lips up at the corners. Almost.

“So...let me get this straight. Since you were in this accident, you know when everyone that touches you...is going to die?”

“I see it,” Kurt supplies.

“So...when we went ice skating...and you screamed...”

Kurt closes his eyes. He can’t look at Blaine while he explains this one. He can’t.

“Yes. I...saw. You.” His face scrunches like he’s going to cry again, but nothing comes. Blaine’s mouth forms a little “o”.

“You know when I’m going to die.” It’s a statement, not a question. Kurt winces on the word die.

“Yes.”

Blaine let his head drop back slowly, as if the air molecules were thick, like falling through molasses. His eyes closed, and the resounding thump bounced off the walls as Blaine let out a heavy breath through his nose. Kurt pressed his lips together, feeling the discomfort of his balled up fists and scrunched up knees, but too frozen to move. Every movement, every contraction of muscle and sinew was measured, careful, suspended between them as the darkness crept in. The silence was so loud.

Finally, Blaine rubs Kurt’s knee through the sheet gently. The very air is heavy with their conversation, the soft light of the tail end of a nearlyperfect afternoon slipping away. Blaine thinks, never taking his calculating eyes off of Kurt; polite and surprisingly calm. Kurt gives him a minute, letting Blaine process.

It’s Blaine who breaks the silence.

"Don't tell me, Kurt. I...I'm sure it's really hard to keep that all locked inside and you must be suffering and...and this is a lot to take in but just please..." Blaine's eyes met Kurt's and bored into them with impressive intensity. "I don't want to know when I'm going to go," he finished in a whisper.

“You believe me?” Kurt asked, incredulous. It was more than he could ever hope for.

“Of course I do.”

"Oh, Blaine."

"Lets just...live every day to the fullest, okay? I'll take you to the zoo and bake you cookies twice a year, and we'll just try to live our lives and make our minutes count, whether there’s a hundred or a hundred thousand..."

"They say it's not the years in your life–" Kurt began.

"But the life in your years," Blaine finished. He smiled carefully at Kurt.

"I am sorry, though. That you had to find out like this. I didn’t want my first time to be like this I just– well honestly I never thought I’d have a first time...”

Blaine tilted his head sadly.

“It's why I've always been so tentative, so unsure,” Kurt continued. “Rachel says I was always on my own. My own little island."

"Well, congratulations, Kurt. You are now officially aboard the USS Blaine."

Kurt rolled his eyes. "Ahoy, matey," he giggled.

*****

“Kurt...can I suggest something? Promise you won’t get mad?” Blaine asked tentatively, scanning the bookshelves of a little secondhand store right by the Black Kettle.

“...yes?” Kurt answered warily, interest piqued.

“Well, okay so you know the NYU Langone Medical Center? In Chelsea?” Blaine began.

“Yeah, I think I’ve heard you mention it...”

“Well, I ...okay, promise you won’t get mad?”

“Promise!” Kurt swore, getting nervous.

“They’re looking for volunteers,” Blaine said anticlimactically.

“O...kay? Why would that make me mad?”

“I think you – I mean, we – should volunteer there this summer.”

“I still don’t understand–”

“Come here,” Blaine said quietly, tugging on Kurt’s arm and dragging him to a wooden
bench in the back corner of the store. One year, seven months, two days. Confusion flickered on Kurt’s blank face.

“Kurt, don’t think I haven’t noticed. You’re getting bummed out. It’s okay. I understand – new quarter, new teachers. You’ve had to meet a lot of people, and New York’s warming up, which means no more gloves and...I get it. It sucks,” Blaine said cautiously. Kurt looked at his shoes.

“But I was thinking, I mean, this Side Effect,” Kurt gave a tight smile to the ground at Blaine’s pseudonym for his curse, “could really be put to good use. You don’t need any medical training to know what these people might, er...need.”

Now Kurt understood why Blaine had made him promise. He sucked in a tight breath and sat on his hands.

“I don’t know.”

“Think about it? I just thought maybe, it would be like...like Peter Parker, you know? Using his powers for good or whatever,” Blaine said sheepishly.

“How many superhero movies did you watch this week?” Kurt teased, failing to lighten the mood when his joke didn’t reach his eyes.

How can I...? To touch people. To ask for the nightmares to come? But it could be good, something good to come out of this shitty situation...Blaine would try to make lemonade out of this chaos. Of course he would. He’s too kind for his own good. But am I good enough? Truly, inherently good enough to help others? Is that just inviting depression and psychotic disorders I don’t have yet?

Blaine began counting theatrically on his fingers. Superhero movies. Right.

“Not the point!” He defended. Kurt looked at him seriously.

“It’s not that it’s a bad idea, Blaine. I just don’t know if it...if I can handle it. It would be, wow, to intentionally touch people, I mean...sometimes I scream, Blaine. You of all people should know that. I scream. It’s horrifying. It’s like living in a scary movie. A living hell.”

Blaine pondered for a moment, looking deeply into Kurt’s eyes, analyzing. He had his hands in his pockets. Staring straight into Kurt’s eyes with a dare laced in that molten hazel, Blaine said calmly:

“I think it would make you happy.”

“I think it would be terrifying.”

*****

“Hey, Doc,” Kurt greeted warmly, snapping on latex gloves. The sterility of the place had finally stopped bothering him and reminding him of The Accident. Really, the hospital felt a bit like a second home at this point, and the intense air conditioning was actually welcome in the sweltering summer heat.

“Morning, Mr. Hummel,” Doctor Robin replied. “Oh, thank you for the coffee. You’re a doll.”

“I just finished in 73B. They’re all ready for you,” Kurt announced, moving out of the office and back into the hallway. It was a quieter Sunday morning, and Kurt’s shift was almost up. He poked his head back around the door.

“Oh, Doctor Robin?”

“Yes, Kurt?”

“Just a feeling, but, ah, Mariah Gaites is going to be fine. I recommend reassuring her
parents that she’s going to survive the surgery. I...she’s going to be just fine. Long life ahead of her,” Kurt confided.

“You and your ‘feelings.’ I don’t know how you do it, but we’re lucky to have you around, kid,” Doctor Robin said incredulously, slinking her stethoscope around her neck.

“See you Tuesday,” Kurt waved, leaving.

“See you. Take Blaine, too. It’s been a slow morning, he can take the shift off – go take a paddle boat ride in Central Park or something. It’s a beautiful day.”

“Wow, thanks, Doc,” Kurt grinned.

He stepped into the hall, scanning the length of it for that helmet of gelled hair a foot or so below the surface of the crowd.

“Blaine!”

Blaine darted to his side, eyes glowing with excitement. Blaine loved helping people so much, it was like an actual adrenaline rush to him. Kurt’s heart sang.

“Hey,” Blaine greeted.

“Turn in your gloves, Doctor Robin’s letting us off early. Slow day.”

Sweet,” Blaine smiled, gloves coming off and waving to the receptionists as they stepped out of the hospital lobby.

“What are we doing today?” Blaine wondered.

“You know...I’ve heard good things about the paddle boats in Central Park,” Kurt suggested, flagging a taxi. Blaine snuggled up against his side excitedly, linking their arms.

One year, five months, sixteen days.

“Sounds perfect.”

*****

“Kuuuuuurt. We have to! We have to. I have to introduce you to him! We came all the way out here...” Blaine whined.

“Blaine, it closes in, like, twelve minutes,” Kurt replied.

“Kurt! Please, please, please!”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake...” Kurt began as Blaine grabbed his hand – one year, two months, twenty-six days – and tugged him in the opposite direction they had been going.

“Aaaaaaand, here we are. Mozambique, Kurt. Kurt, Mozambique,” Blaine introduced. Kurt stared into the lion’s face.

The zoo was open particularly late that night for some light show that Blaine had excitedly dragged Kurt to.

“How much time do you actually spend here?” Kurt asked, unable to take his eyes off of Mozambique’s, who was laying lethargically on the other side of the glass, paws crossed.

“I dunno. I come here a lot for song inspiration. Not, like, busy Saturday mornings but weird, unpopular times. I’ve spent a few more Friday nights with the lion than I care to admit,” Blaine blushed.

“Do you write songs about lions?”

“Wha–no!”

La la la, my name is Mozambique and my style is feline chic and my favorite book is Feminine Mystique,” Kurt sang. Blaine’s face broke out into a wide smile.

“Why do I get the impression that you’re making fun of me?” Blaine teased, nudging Kurt and resting his head on his shoulder.

“Me? Never!” Kurt said dramatically, slinking an arm around Blaine’s shoulder.

“Isn’t he pretty?” Blaine asked dreamily, blinking slowly. He was the single most optimistic person Kurt knew – he truly saw the beauty in everything.

“He’d be prettier if he wasn’t licking his chops,” Kurt admitted.

“He is not!”

“Is to.”

Blaine humphed in defeat, and then rotated his head on Kurt’s shoulder so that he could look up from the awkward angle at his boyfriend, Kurt’s jaw stark and pale and sharp in the moonlight.

“You have a wonderful jawline,” he commented.

“And you have too much coffee in your system,” Kurt dismissed.

“No, really. I would like to kiss it.”

“Blaine, we literally have to leave in a minute. And this is a public zoo.”

“Kuuuurt. No one’s here. And it’s dark. I bet Mozambique wants us to,” Blaine persuaded unsuccessfully.

“I think Mozambique would not appreciate such PDA.”

“Shield your eyes, Mozie,” Blaine said to the lion as he lifted himself onto his toes to touch his lips to Kurt’s jaw.

One year, two months, twenty-six days.

Blaine.”

“He didn’t mind!”

Blaine wiggled out of Kurt’s hold and moved toward the glass; Mozambique’s eyes followed his every move. Blaine crouched down, level with Mozambique’s intent gaze, and quirked his eyebrow.

“Should I kiss Kurt?” He asked, scrunching up his face and turning back to look at Kurt, who watched helplessly, arms crossed and a look of amusement on his face. Blaine cupped his ear.

“What did he say?” Kurt inquired.

“He said that you’re really cute, and I would be an idiot not to spend every second of my life kissing you.”

“Oh, did he now?”

“Mhm,” Blaine hummed. “Yep. Lions know best – just ask Mufasa.”

“Is that from The Lion King?”

“Psssht. No,” Blaine said, standing up and stretching out his back before returning home to Kurt’s side.

“As much as I would like to put on a good show for Mozambique here,” Kurt started, nodding in the direction of the lion, whose tail swished as if he were listening, “I think that we should leave before security eversokindly escorts our sorry asses out of here.”

Blaine rolled his eyes but offered his hand out. Kurt, wellpracticed in not wincing and creating some air of normalcy for Blaine, grabbed the offered hand and laced their fingers together. Their arms swung back and forth between them like a pendulum as they made their way out of the park.

“Mozie? Really?” Kurt teased as they exited the zoo, where staff appeared to be locking everything up.

“Oh, hush, you.”

They walked in comfortable silence a few blocks before they reached the unfortunate and always toosoon halfway point between their two apartments.

They turned to face each other, Kurt resting his arms around Blaine’s shoulders, eyes locked.

“You know, Mozambique’s not watching anymore...” Kurt hinted. It didn’t take Blaine very long at all to grasp his meaning. The kiss was long and deep, and it was Kurt who pulled away first to catch his breath.

“You taste like hot chocolate,” Blaine breathed.

“You taste like peppermint,” Kurt smiled.

“We taste like chocolate peppermint!” Blaine laughed, touching their foreheads together. “A whole new flavor,” Kurt grinned.

“We taste awesome.”

“We do.”

Kurt watched Blaine bounce happily down the street, smiling to himself as Blaine’s head
started bobbing to whatever song was surely stuck in his head. With a short laugh, Kurt turned and walked away in the other direction.

Somehow, in a city of eight million people, in a country of 300 million, in a world containing over seven billion people...Kurt had kissed his soulmate goodnight.

*****

“Santana, now is really not the time,” Kurt snapped as Santana began twirling around the apartment, practicing a dance number she’d been doing with her NYADA dance class.

“Listen, Kurt. Just because I put up with your sass back in high school and let you snap up your fingers in that Z formation does not mean that you and your aura of rainbow get to waltz into my apartment and tell me what to do, comprendo?”

“SANTANA THIS IS MY APARTMENT.”

“Whatever, the four of us have all been going back and forth for like SIX DAYS now because somehow you packed the Barbie Dreamhouse of furniture sets into your itty bitty shoebox in Bushwick and now that we’re– Blaine!” Santana’s resolve changed drastically as Blaine used his (cute) butt to prop open the door on his way into the room, as his hands were full. He set the moving boxes down and rolled his shoulders, flexing the tired muscles.

“Hey, guys,” he smiled. He was looking particularly adorable today in a plain white Tshirt and a pair of dark blue jeans, with his hair loose. Blaine was totally oblivious to any of the tension and previous catfighting between his best friend and his boyfriend as he grabbed a lemonade out of the minifridge (the only assembled item in the whole room).

He walked over and kissed Kurt on the forehead, laughing into his hair. Eleven months, four days. Kurt was on the ground, trying to assemble a thing from Ikea – Kurt despised all things department store and still hadn’t figured out if he was building a nightstand or a dresser. Santana made obnoxious retching sounds and faces of horror where Blaine couldn’t see while he greeted Kurt.

The rooms looked incredibly bare, and the boxes of cardboard were stacked higher than Kurt cared to admit – Santana was right on one thing, at least: Kurt had packed a lot into his and Rachel’s apartment. Somehow, through a combination of Blaine’s puppy eyes, Kurt’s sincere promise to Rachel to run lines with her any day of the week at any time (a promise he knew he would soon regret), and of course the threat that they would have sex on both Rachel and Santana’s beds, they had convinced Santana to move in with Rachel into the Bushwick apartment so that Kurt and Blaine could share the shoebox that Santana and Blaine had occupied together. Granted, Kurt was downsizing a lot (which was really saying something considering Bushwick was already the size of his bedroom back home), but he and Blaine would be together, which was all that mattered. They only had so long.

“Ugh, you two are the most boring creatures – seriously, it would be more fun to make out with Mr. Schue than hang out with you lovebirds. Can I actually get a toothache from how sappy you two are?”

“Santana, if you’re not having fun, just leave,” Kurt suggested. Blaine pouted.

“We should all go out tonight and celebrate!” Blaine chirped, trying to include all of his friends, as he did almost every time everyone was together.

“Hello, hello! Did I hear ‘celebrate?’” Rachel sang, kicking open the door and holding another box. Santana smirked.

“Let’s get schwasted.”

 

“Santana, I–I’m..I am...so...ssorry. We should, really, just...we should...I love you. I always envied your cconfidence at McKinley, and you’re so beautiful. If you didn’t have boobs, no wait, that’s wrong, if you...” Kurt stumbled into the apartment (which one, he wasn’t quite sure).

“No, it’s...it’s okay. We’re okay. We, I always loved your solos, Kurt, you were so much...so artistic. You were so going pplaces, you knew who you were–”

“Hey now, he’s mine,” Blaine growled, wrapping his arms around Kurt’s waist. “You guys, this was fun!” Rachel cheered, teetering.

“Ouch!”

“Kuurrrt, there’s a wall there,” Blaine laughed.

“Blainey, I’m going to miss you,” Santana mumbled.

“‘Tana...’Tana..’Tana you– you’re – you...a phone call away, okay baby girl?” Blaine slurred.

“I love New York,” Kurt giggled.

“My dress smells like alcohol,” Rachel whispered seriously.

“Anyone have a lighter?” Santana smirked, closing her eyes.

“Heeeeeeeeeeey!”

The room went silent, and they all arose the next morning after the kind of sleep that feels
like you didn’t sleep at all, with raging headaches, sandpaper tongues, and (some) memories that reminded them why they wanted to move to New York in the first place.

And for the first time, Kurt had been the one to laugh the loudest.

*****

It was going to be a normal evening. Kurt was going to quickly look up the paint color for their living room and email his finds to their interior designer (okay, their friend Trisha who happened to be majoring in interior design) before grabbing a wellloved Nicholas Sparks book and enjoying a candlelit bubble bath with Norah Jones to keep him company. It was going to be a normal evening. A relaxing evening. A good evening.

Blaine was on a trip, attending a concert in Boston that had some kind of academic significance. Kurt had denied Blaine’s invite to go along, knowing that Blaine would want to spend a little quality time with his NYU buddies and Santana. Kurt was trying not to be selfish. Trying not to hone in on the idea of five months left. Five.

Oh God.

That was it. Five months left. Just when they had their rhythm; Kurt could make Blaine’s afterrun smoothie with his eyes closed and Blaine knew every single one of Kurt’s ticklish spots. Blaine could recite the exact order that all of Kurt’s lotions and face creams belonged in and Kurt reserved a small selection of baby animal youtube videos for whenever Blaine seemed a little down. Kurt never added paprika to anything because Blaine didn’t like it. Kurt was in charge of bills and Blaine was in charge of vacuuming. It worked; they worked.

Five damn months.

Blaine, so healthy...so hardworking. Part of Kurt wanted to tell Blaine that he needn’t run, needn’t study so hard at school. Needn’t save his money. Blaine had five months; what was the point? He should be traveling to Hawaii and visiting his parents and working on his bucket list and buying ridiculously expensive things. But Kurt had promised Blaine that he wouldn’t tell him when it was coming, and he intended to make good on that promise. Blaine had done everything for him, after all. He’d changed his life; he’d dragged Kurt out of his dark, selfdug hole. He made
excuses to all his friends as to why his boyfriend wouldn’t shake their hands. Blaine had been too good to him for Kurt not to hold up his end of the deal. So Kurt let life continue, the routine unfolding similarly from day to day, while five months dwindled down in the back pockets of his overstrained mind.

Trying to keep his mind off of five months, Kurt moved to grab his iPad off the counter to deal with the paint samples.

Ugh. 1% battery? Blaine was constantly reminding Kurt to charge his things, and yet somehow they always ended up dying on him.

Everything ended up dying on him.

Oh God. No, no, no. We’re not spiraling tonight, Kurt Hummel. You are a Hummel. Hummels do not spiral. Get your act together.

He massaged his temples, trying to stop the panic attack in its tracks. Thus far, he only fell apart when Blaine was gone, thankfully, but he was too exhausted for a full-scale migraine-breathing-difficulty-blackout-panic-attack tonight. Deciding against the iPad (the charger was nowhere to be found) Kurt rummaged through Blaine’s desk in search of his laptop.

“Aha!” he shouted victoriously, rescuing the drowning computer from the sea of papers that was Blaine’s desk; Kurt would have never thought it – the bowtie-wearing, put together, every hair in place neat freak had a chink in his perfect armor: his desk was absolute chaos.

Moving into the kitchen to fetch his pizza, Kurt pulled up a barstool and brought the laptop to life. Being in fashion design, Kurt knew there was no such thing as “red” or “yellow” when it came to paint samples. There was coral and lemon zest and monaco blue and pistachio and warm olive and koi and lichen and linen...Kurt’s colors were a little beyond that of Skittles: Taste the Rainbow, to put it mildly.

Kurt flexed his fingers out over the keyboard. He knew he wanted to do warm colors for their living room. Maybe some kind of burnt orange? A gold?

Auburn.

As soon as he thought of it, he knew it would be perfect. It went with the furniture, and the pillows could be changed out...
He moved to type the word into that little search bar.

He put in the little “a.” The innocent, harmless, careless little letter. The Daisy of the alphabet – the beautiful little fool. It didn’t mean to hurt anyone. It didn’t mean to stab Kurt’s heart with daggers and send absolute shivers down his arms. It didn’t mean to cause anyone any trouble at all. It was just a little “a.”

But as soon as Kurt put that little “a” into the bar, Google supplied suggested searches based on previous searches, filling out the rest of the words.

Did you mean:  adoption centers in New York City

Kurt realized hollowly that if this was Blaine’s laptop, then he must have...at some point...googled...

A little part of Kurt died that day.

They had never discussed kids. Of course they hadn’t. They were young. So young.

Wow.

The time had flown by. And now...and Blaine had...wow. This hurt more than anything
Kurt had ever seen. More than little Quinn Fabray in the hospital room, more than his father slumping to the ground, more than being pretty much a loner for all four years of high school. To know that Blaine, his Blaine, had stayed up some night, dreaming of the children he would have.

They would have.

Looking through the faces. Reading the bios. Wondering if they would have a boy or a girl. Or both. Playing with names in his head. Would they be the HummelAndersons? The Anderson-Hummels?

Blaine had five months. Blaine would never be a father, would never have an argument with Kurt over who got to be Papa and who got to be Daddy. No Father’s Day. He would never throw a baseball with his son or threaten his daughter’s first boyfriend.

Blaine had five months.

Kurt folded his arms in the hopes of physically holding himself together while the very room around him fell apart. He had never looked so far to the future – never hoped for a boyfriend, never dreamed of marriage, and had never even allowed the corners of the most curious parts of his wandering mind to even consider the concept of children. The idea of holding a tiny child and knowing when they were going to die...

There was a good reason Kurt didn’t hold babies.

And now this. In his mind’s eye, he could see it. See him and Blaine walking into the adoption center hand in hand, making lame jokes about how they were filling Neil Patrick Harris’ shoes or something. Giddy with laughter. He could see them meeting the children. He could see Blaine playing peekaboo over a crib, could see Blaine, a rag over his shoulder and a cheeky grin slapped on, revealing how little he minded the spitup. Could see his own father, Burt, flying into New York to meet the little bugger. He could see Ralph Lauren tennis shoes and play dates and bubbles and crayons and Disney movies.

Blaine would have loved to watch all those Disney movies.

The rug had been pulled out from beneath Kurt’s feet; he felt robbed. Completely, utterly robbed. Something he hadn’t even known he’d wanted was now dangling cruelly before his eyes, life’s own personal punch in the gut. It was like Atticus Finch had said – he was licked before he’d even began. The image of him, Blaine, and a little girl strolling in Central Park or wandering through the zoo was burned into his mind – watching her graduate, walking her down the aisle...

Kurt wanted it more than he wanted air to breathe.

Five months. The sobs that Kurt had been suppressing for so long tore out of him, gaspy
and rough, as he hiccupped for air and let the tears pour down his face; his staccato breaths echoed in the apartment that suddenly felt too big. Empty. The pizza went untouched. The paint samples went unscrutinized. The bathtub overflowed. The computer eventually faded to black, but the image was seared forever into Kurt’s mind. The tears kept coming, falling loudly. Kurt folded his arms on the counter and laid down his head and cried shamelessly.

This was only the prologue. The preview. The trailer. What the hell was Kurt going to do in five months? What did this planet hold for him without Blaine in it?

The worst part of it all?

Blaine would have made the best father in the whole God damned world.

*****

“Blaine was a thrillseeker. A happy camper. He could find something in every single day to smile about. When we lived together, his voice filled that apartment day in and day out. God, it was so annoying. But today, damn, I would...I would just kill to hear him sing one more time. And when he met Kurt – when he met Kurt, his smile was like a threat to the radiance of the sun. Blaine had my back. Always. He was a total diva, which I can only call him out on as a fellow diva myself, and he...God, this is hard. He taught me the most important lesson I’ve ever learned in my entire life, and that is that ‘Please leave me alone’ almost invariably means ‘Please come back.’ Blaine Anderson was the only person I ever met who really understood that concept. He’ll, um...he’ll be missed,” Santana wrapped up beautifully. Everyone was crying.

“Kurt, will you say a few words, please?” Blaine’s father asked him, looming over Kurt. Kurt shook his head fiercely, too many tears in his eyes, clouding his vision. But Mr. Anderson just stood over him, leering at him with cold eyes.

“Kurt, say something about my son. Didn’t you love him? Prove it.”

Kurt glanced up toward the front of the room, which he was only just now noticing. Quinn Fabray – an eerie, twentyyearold version of herself – stood in front of the casket in a long white dress. The open casket. But all Kurt could see inside was the tip of a nose and a bow tie. A photograph of Blaine rested on the table next to it. Quinn picked it up.

“You got so lucky, Kurt,” she said, admiring the photograph. “So lucky. You have no right to be sad today, Kurt. You lived. Look at the rest of us. Look at me and Blaine.”

Kurt looked away.

“LOOK AT US!” She shrieked. The picture frame shattered on the floor. Kurt looked around, wondering why no one else was reacting to any of this.

But everyone in the room was gone. Mr. Anderson’s voice boomed again.

“You never even loved my son. ‘Love.’ What a lie! If you knew he was going to die like this, why did you let it happen, Kurt? You’re no hero.”

“I NEVER WANTED TO BE A HERO!” Kurt cried out, collapsing in the church. But it wasn’t a church – his knees sank into dirt, and as he looked up, as if out of the grave, he found that he was, in fact, in a grave.

Blaine’s grave. The casket was being lowered into the hole, the giant, gaping, unnatural slit in the ground. Quinn smiled, spinning and dancing all around, paying no mind to Kurt, in his allblack tux, in the middle of a huge hole of dirt, where the casket was slowly lowering over him...

“He wasn’t real, Kurt. It wasn’t real,” she taunted, skipping ominously around and around above him.

“Please. Please don’t put him in here! He doesn’t have to die! Blaine! Blaine, can you hear me? Blaine, we still have a coffee date on Tuesday! And you didn’t finish the recipe that Cooper sent you! And we only got halfway through The Bachelor and...and...BLAINE!” Kurt was practically ripping his hair out, crouching on his knees as the casket was lowered, blocking out the sun...lower...lower...it’s weight crushing him, he couldn’t breathe...

 

“BLAINE!”

“Kurt, Kurt, I’m right here. Kurt...Kurt, it’s okay. It was just a bad dream, love. Just a bad dream. Shhhhh,” Blaine’s voice whispered in the darkness. Kurt saw nothing, but could feel Blaine’s hands gripping his shoulders, the urgency radiating off of Blaine’s own tense body, the cocoon of sheets he had tangled himself into.

Four months, thirteen days.

“I just...I just...bad dream,” Kurt panted, the semiintelligent part of his brain realizing that Blaine was alive and warm and real and there and in his bed and it was okay and good and yes, okay, he could do this. “Like, the mother of all bad dreams. Holy shit.” Kurt wiped away a tear and willed himself into composure.

“Honey,” Blaine sighed, folding his arms around Kurt and bringing him to his chest. Blaine’s heart pounded away, healthy as a horse, and Kurt closed his eyes against it, treasuring every thump-thump, thump-thump. Blaine’s hand rubbed gentle circles into Kurt’s back as he tangled their legs together, slipping his ankle between Kurts’.

“Sorry, I’m overreacting,” Kurt mumbled between his pillow and Blaine’s Tshirt. Despite his words, Kurt’s arms encircled Blaine’s waist and he squeezed tighter. Blaine didn’t mind.

“Shhh, it’s okay, honey. It’s okay. I love you,” Blaine replied, planting a kiss into Kurt’s hair. “It’s all gonna be okay.”

If only you knew, Kurt thought, and then squeezed his eyes shut and promptly tried to
think about puppies and brooches and glee club and all the things that didn’t make him want to curl up in the fetal position and let the emotional tsunamis roll over him.

“I love you,” Kurt whispered.

 

When Kurt woke up, Blaine had already left for his morning run with Santana. But a plate of waffles and freshly cut strawberries and a steaming mug of coffee were all waiting for him on the side table of the bed, along with a pen and newspaper already open to the crossword puzzle. There was even a cut flower in a little ‘vase’ that Kurt was fairly sure was actually candle holder in a past life...

Good morning, sunshine! Sorry you had a rough night, but even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise! Right? At least that’s what they say in Les Mis...
Enjoy your coffee, Kurt! Text me when you’re up.
Take the day off! I already called Isabelle and she wholeheartedly agrees! :)
xoxo Blaine

Kurt folded up the note, stuffed it in the thesewillremindmeofBlainewhenhe’sgone drawer in his wardrobe, opened the drawer, reread it, and did his crossword puzzle in bed with delicious waffles and strawberries and coffee.

And then he got up and reread it again.

And again.

And the folds became creases and the corners became bent and the perfect handwriting became smudged and the words became memorized.

*****

Incoming Call: Blainey

Hola, stranger,” Santana greeted.

“Oh my God, I’m not a stranger, ‘Tana, we got lunch, like, two days ago.”

“What’s up, mijo?”

“Have you been watching Spanish soaps again?”

“Maybe.”

“Santana, I really need your help with something.”

“I’m listening.”

“He’s the one.”

“I’m pretty sure the movie’s called She’s The Man, but I mean–”

‘Tana!”

“Alright, alright. You really think so, huh? Kurt Hummel is the golden ticket?”

“I can’t even begin to explain. It’s like...like my whole life was an outoffocus polaroid, you
know? He’s my scope. I just...everything’s clear when I’m with him. Everything came into focus. He’s the world. It’s like that line from West Side Story, you know, the world was just an address...but now it’s...well it’s a star. I am orbiting around my own personal sunshine and it’s the greatest feeling in the world. I love him, ‘Tana. Kurt is a witty remark and a coffee date and a twinkle in his eye and fashion sense and wow. Santana, I am head over heels.”

Santana was grateful that Blaine couldn’t see her face right now. She swallowed with difficulty.

Blainey.”

“I need you to meet me somewhere. Are you busy?”


“Not until three. Where at? Black Kettle?” Santana suggested.

“No, actually. I was kind of thinking Greenwich Jewelers.”


*****

Three weeks later, a sweatsandtakeout date had dragged an old board game out of the closet as Kurt and Blaine relaxed on a pleasant Sunday evening – the kind that makes you open all your windows and play soft jazz music and watch Moulin Rouge and swallow your fears.

“Blaine...? What are you doing?”

“Playing scrabble.”

“Then why are you getting down on one– oh my God.”

The triple-word score read: Will-You going down, and across read Marry Me.

Kurt moved the pieces, tears flooding his eyes. With his own tiles, he spelled out: Yes

“Kurt. You are...fireworks, on the Fourth of July, and the Christmas mornings I always dreamed of, and that one flower that always survives the winter in Central Park no matter how many degrees below zero this godforsaken city gets. You are ice skating. You are coffee dates and the lion at the zoo. If...if I’m Pluto, you’re the sun, because I never want my life to stop revolving around you. You’re a reason to get a new kitchen table and a victim of my cooking disasters and an amazing dancer and a more incredible person, and I cannot fathom living a single day knowing I didn’t have you to come home to. Kurt Elizabeth Hummel...will you marry me?”

Shit.

“Kurt, this is the part where you answer,” Blaine added nervously, a rare tremble in his voice as his amber eyes watched Kurt, wide and innocent and waiting. The dim light of the apartment gave the room a warm glow that held in the gentle curves of the gold, elaborate ring perched menacingly in the red velvet box opened like a flower in Blaine’s shaking hands.

“I can’t believe I got engaged in sweatpants,” was all Kurt could muster before Blaine stood and hugged him tightly, hooking his chin over his shoulder and closing his eyes with utter happiness.

“I love you,” Blaine whispered against him.

“Holy shit we’re getting married,” Kurt laughed incredulously, a little loudly, thankful Blaine couldn’t see his face fall.

“May I?” Blaine asked, pulling away and grabbing Kurt’s left hand delicately.

Two months, twenty-two days.

Blaine slid the ring on. Kurt flexed his hand.

“Do you like it?”

“I do.”
Blaine laughed softly at the irony, eyes glazed with tears and a closelipped smile pulling the side of his mouth up.

“I...have something for you, too,” Kurt announced surprisingly.

“You...do?” Blaine wondered.

“It’s more of a promise,” Kurt supplied as he walked into their bedroom and busied himself in the dark, hand groping in the top shelf of his wardrobe. He pulled out a black box, cracked it open the way one opens a book for the first time, and pulled out the platinum and gold band.

The one he’d designed in high school.

The one he’d ordered just because.

The one he wanted to put on Blaine since the day he met him, to claim Blaine as his for
as long as he physically could. He wanted something tangible, something he could latch onto and hold in the palm of his hand.

“What are you promising? Did I beat you to the question...?” Blaine asked, confused, while Kurt slid Blaine’s ring on as well. When Kurt didn’t answer, Blaine pressed on. “One engagement, two rings. I feel like this is untraditional, and I always kind of pegged you for the traditional type.”

Tradition doesn’t matter anymore. We don’t have time for tradition, don’t you realize–

It did not escape Blaine’s notice that Kurt did not touch his hand once as the ring rode up Blaine’s finger.

“I pegged you for a magician. When we first met,” Kurt sighed, a slight laugh in his tired voice. “Remember that?”

“Bibbidi bobbidi boo,” Blaine smiled, leaning in to kiss Kurt.

What was Kurt supposed to do? No, I can’t marry you. You’re never going to make it that long, anyway.

“I love it,” Kurt complimented, admiring his ring. “This must be the part where we call all our friends with the big announcement, right?”

“I mean...we could,” Blaine agreed, eyes darting to the bedroom, “But I had other intentions for this evening.”

“Oh, right. We never finished playing Scrabble!” Kurt teased.

“Well, Scrabble’s always fun, but I was kind of hoping for something that involved less clothing and more champagne...”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

*****

Blaine woke up a week later to the sound of retching; the left side of the bed was cold.

“Kurt?” He called out, voice cracking in its first use of the day, a panic he didn’t understand rolling through him. “KURT!”

Kurt was hunched over the porcelain bowl, face completely drained of color and more miserable than Blaine had ever seen it. Kurt’s eyes rolled a little as another wave of nausea overwhelmed him, causing him to grab the sides of the toilet and hunch over again, body heaving unnaturally. Blaine was at his side instantly, rubbing circles into the small of his back and whispering soothing, sweet nothings into his ear.

Two months, fifteen days.

“No. Don’t have. To watch,” Kurt struggled to get out, breathing shallowly and closing his eyes. It was barely five in the morning.

“Honey, are you okay? Do you have a bug? You weren’t drinking last night..?”

“Migraine,” Kurt grunted, leaning over again. Blaine flinched but held steady, the trooper that he is.

“Oh, Kurt, sweetheart,” Blaine sympathized, unsure what to do. He wished he could call Rachel, but she surely had something important to rehearse for...and Santana probably had her girlfriend over...

Blaine’s parents would never know what to do; they never failed to buy the most elaborate and expensive medications or visit the best doctors, but they somehow never managed to make Blaine chicken noodle soup for a cold or steaming tea for an overworked throat. It had always been Cooper who took care of h–

Cooper.

Blaine kissed Kurt’s neck and then ran into the bedroom, snatching his phone quickly before returning like the loyal puppy he was to Kurt’s side. The phone rang several times before Cooper’s groggy voice came through the speaker.

“It is five o’ clock in the morning, Squirt. You bet your ass this is important.”

“Kurt’s got a migraine, and I don’t know what to do,” Blaine agonized, feeling helpless in a thousand ways.

“Is he throwing up?”

“Everywhere.”

“Okay. When he’s, er, done, take him into your room. Close all the windows and make it
really, really dark. Caffeine, in small doses, helps too. Make him coffee? If he’s up for it, a warm bath may be a good idea as well. If he can’t handle that, a thermo pad applied to his head might work. And a gentle temple or scalp massage can go a long way,” Cooper explained.

“Coop, you’re a lifesaver. How do you know all this?”

“I know everything.”

“Seriously!”

“I get migraines on set all the time. You would not believe the stress I am under or the audacity of some of these Hollywood types, Squirt. Truly remarkable. Dog eat dog world out here, man,” Cooper sighed dramatically.

“...Right. Well, I’m going to take care of Kurt now, I’ll call you sometime this week...”

“See ya, little bro. And congrats again on the engagement!”

“Thanks, Coop. Love you.”

“Love you more, Squirt!”

“It’s no big deal,” Kurt tried, wiping his mouth on the back of his arm.

“Ew,” Blaine laughed gently, pulling Kurt to his feet and readying a toothbrush for him. “You’re the actual best,” Kurt commented.

“I know.”

Kurt spent the day bundled up in his bedroom, listening to Debussy and having Blaine
massage his head and bring him small cups of coffee every two hours. He dozed off somewhere in there, and Blaine washed his hair in the bathroom sometime in the middle of the afternoon when the light was horizontal. Incense was burning, heat pads were applied, every window in the entire apartment was shut, and on the windows without blinds, Blaine actually ducttaped the throw blanket to the wall to block out the light.

If that wasn’t dedication, Kurt didn’t know what was.

“I’m sorry. I should have told you...when...when it’s someone’s day, I sometimes get headaches. Today is Jonathan Murphy. Age 103, can you believe it? He was in a museum with me when I was younger. His heart stops beating in thirtyfour minutes,” Kurt shared, opening up in a way that Blaine had never seen.

There were no words. Blaine could have explained the fact that making it to 103 was a pretty good deal or that Kurt hasn’t seen Jonathan Murphy in probably a decade, but the only message he cared to convey was more easily done than said; Blaine crawled into their bed behind Kurt, wrapping his arms around Kurt’s waist and pulling Kurt to his chest and slipping his ankle between Kurts’.

“Shhhh, I’ve got you, baby,” Blaine whispered, hugging Kurt’s warm body to him and wondering what else Kurt hadn’t told him.

*****

Driving home from a day trip to Washington D.C., Kurt noticed Blaine looking out the window rather dryly. A normal couple would probably be holding hands between the seats, but Blaine was probably just being courteous of Kurt’s Side Effect, hands folded in his lap in an old habit of politeness.

It wasn’t until Katy Perry came on the radio and Blaine didn’t sing that Kurt knew something was wrong. He didn’t say anything, though, just kept driving and glancing sideways at Blaine’s tight jaw every few minutes.

“Are you getting hungry...?” Kurt suggested conversationally.

“No.”

Another few minutes passed. Kurt licked his lips, readjusted himself in his seat. Tapped his left foot. Changed radio stations. Eyed his engagement ring.

Why was this so awkward?

“Can I ask you something?” Kurt tried again. Blaine shrugged and made an affirmative noise in the back of his throat. “What’s the scar on your back? The long, curvy one? On the left? I’ve felt it a few times and never–”

“I got beat up in high school,” Blaine said tartly, staring straight ahead.

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

Another few minutes of silence.

“Everything, uh, okay?” Kurt asked tentatively, genuinely afraid of the answer. “Not really.”

“Care to elaborate?”

“Not really.”

“Blaine.”

“Can you just...just drop it, Kurt? Accept the fact that I am not a bucket of rainbows and happiness all the damn time.”

“Woah, slow down there, cowboy.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Blaine crossed his arms.

“I’m...I’m sorry,” Kurt sighed. “But Blaine, we’re engaged. We should be able to talk about things with each other and–”

“I told my parents.”

“What?”

“I told my parents. They called while you were in the bathroom. They saw the engagement photos on Facebook. They asked if it was real.”

“Your...parents. Okay. You don’t talk about them much...”

“They’re awful.”

“Blaine, they’re your parents...” Kurt began.

“They think it’s wrong.”

“‘It?’”

“Us.”

Oh.”

And the epiphany hits Kurt like a seventies rockstar has just smashed a guitar in his skull. Repeatedly.

How could Kurt have been so selfish? Always worrying about his layers, about Karofsky, about his dad’s health, about touching people, about himself. Would he find love? How would he feel when Blaine was gone? What was he doing?

And here was his little warrior, a ball of anger and confusion and rejection...and Kurt had had no idea. He knew Blaine’s parents were anything but warm, but he’d never realized. And the scar? Beaten up? Kurt could only imagine Blaine in a pool of his own blood under some idiot kid with a baseball bat and a vengeance...

Blaine had ghosts, too. He was just better at hiding them than Kurt was.

“Don’t worry about meeting them,” Blaine laughed humorlessly. “They don’t even hug me, let alone shake my fianceé’s hand...”

“I don’t mind,” Kurt said, throwing Blaine an apologetic look. And Kurt realized it was his turn to sacrifice as they rolled up to a red light that glowed against the grey, overcast sky. Kurt stretched his hand and pulled Blaine’s balled fist from his lap, unclenching Blaine’s fingers and lacing them with his. “I don’t mind one bit.”

One month, twenty-eight days.

They both knew Kurt was talking about more than just meeting Blaine’s parents.

“Ugh, why do parents suck so much?” Blaine ranted, blinking back tears and breathing out one of those I-am-trying-not-to-cry, shaky breaths.

“One of those unfair laws of the universe,” Kurt whispered, thinking of a few more unfair moves the universe had planned.

“Excuse me, Universe?” Blaine called out, eyes locked on the ceiling. “If you could fix this sucky parent syndrome for future generations, that would be greatly appreciated.”

Kurt watches him carefully out of the corner of his eye, sees the humorless, plastic halfsmile that doesn’t reach Blaine’s eyes. The hurt in his tense muscles cut at Kurt like a knife.

“Amen,” Kurt utters, half joking but half serious.

There was a more comfortable pause as Blaine glanced over, his eyes full of what could only be called love as the amber smoldered and his bottom lip quivered. Kurt was perfect.

“You know...I actually am kind of hungry...” Blaine finally admitted.

“Thought so,” Kurt interjected, pulling in to a local diner. The rain began to come down, only a drizzle.

“Even the weather’s not on my side today,” Blaine lamented, attempting to shield his hair from the droplets and looking at the sky miserably.

“Hush, you, this is romantic,” Kurt decided.

“How is a dingy highway diner in the pouring rain roman–”

Blaine was interrupted by the sweet press of Kurt’s lips on his. And then they sort of
made out. In the rain. With Blaine’s back pressed against the car and their clothes dripping wet and their hair soaked and messy, the droplets hanging in Blaine’s curls like Christmas ornaments. They kissed until Blaine’s parents were just a bad memory that they couldn’t place and the numbers stopped echoing in Kurt’s head. They kissed to make all of their ghosts go away.

“I guess I can see how that’s romantic,” Blaine grinned easily as they walked into the diner, hand in hand, shoes squishing with every step. “Thank you,” he added meaningfully. Kurt squeezed his hand, which of course translated into You’re welcome.

*****

After taking a shower together one morning (to conserve water, of course) and nineteen days had given Kurt a shock, they were out shopping with Rachel and Santana. For normalcy. For Blaine’s sake. For Santana and Rachel.

Kurt was going to make these last few weeks count, dammit.

“Kurt, what do you think of this one?” Blaine asked, holding a small navy bow tie with white anchors to his neck. “For summer?”

“Awesome,” Kurt said distractedly, staring at a rack of women’s blouses.

“Kurt, you didn’t even look!” Blaine pouted.

“It just screams Brokeback Mountain, Blainey,” Santana put in.

“I think it’s nice,” Rachel disagreed.

“Wow. Fifty Washingtons,” Blaine noted the price, putting it back.

“Get it,” Kurt said suddenly, turning around. “We have money to spend.”

“But, Kurt, it’s–”

“Just get it, okay? Why not?”

“Because it’s fifty dollars,” Santana argued.

“Who cares! Be spontaneous! Smell the roses for once, God,” Kurt said scathingly.

“I don’t...think I really want it that much,” Blaine said carefully, laying the bow tie back on the shelf, eyes on Kurt’s back.

“Maybe we should try another store,” Rachel suggested, looking back and forth between Kurt and Blaine.

“Yeah, I think so, too,” Santana agreed slowly (which was rare for her and Rachel), a quizzical look in her eyes.

Blaine threw a shrug to both girls behind Kurt’s back and followed him out of the store.

*****

It was the night before.

How was it already the night before???

Kurt just wished he could slow down time.

Had he made Blaine feel loved? Had every minute of Blaine’s time been spent to the best
of Kurt’s ability? Had he made him breakfast in bed enough? Had they cuddled through enough movies?

They had watched Blaine’s favorite, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, two nights ago (Kurt tried not to choke on the famous line – “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”) And they went to Blaine’s favorite restaurant the night before that. And went on a triple date with Santana and Rachel. And Kurt had even managed to convince Blaine to call his parents. Kurt watched him play at Callbacks again; Blaine played My Favorite Things, like he always did when Kurt came to listen in.

They’d walked through Central Park. They’d visited Mozambique. Cooper had come down and had lunch with them.

They’d also planned the color scheme of the wedding. The weddingthatwouldneverbe was going to be hazel and seagreen. To match their eyes.

God, no crying. Not yet.

“Kurt! I didn’t know you were still up!” Blaine smiled, walking into the dimly lit bedroom casually. Kurt was perched in the bed, reading glasses on, a crossword puzzle in his lap, waiting for Blaine to come home from one of his evening classes.

It amazed Kurt how sincerely thrilled Blaine was to find Kurt awake.

How could I sleep anyway?

“Whatcha doin’?”

“C-crossword,” Kurt mumbled, staring at Blaine like he couldn’t get enough of him.

“Fun! Let me help,” Blaine insisted, kicking off his shoes and crawling under the covers next to Kurt and leaning on him slightly, feet still socked and jeans still on. He leaned his cheek on Kurt’s shoulder, his temple just brushing Kurt’s neck.

Nine hours, twelve minutes.

“Thatcher.”

“What?”

“Thirty-two across. British prime minister, female. Margaret Thatcher,” Blaine answered. “I’m good at these! We should start doing them together more.”

“We should,” Kurt said tightly, doing everything he could to keep his composure.

“Oh! Before I forget! Theo and I have been working on this new riff, and I just perfected it and...okay, I know it’s lame, but I sort of kind of wrote a song for you!”

Are you fucking kidding me?

Blaine disappeared into the kitchen area, fetching his guitar before his small figure came sliding back in as Blaine skated on his socks on the wood floors. He looked particularly sexy tonight with free curls and a white vneck with dark black skinny jeans. Damn.

Kurt had one hot boyfriend.

I have a hot boyfriend. Present tense. Present tense.

The song was perfect and beautiful and sweet and oldtime jazzy and wow that was not fair. Blaine had written Kurt a slew of songs, but wow.

Kurt was glad Blaine hadn’t noticed him recording a video on his phone.

“Are you going to bed now?” Blaine asked.

“No, no...I can’t sleep,” Kurt admitted. His hands started shaking, so he folded them under the covers.

“Maybe I can help you with that,” Blaine replied, eyes darkening. “You know I can’t resist when you wear your cute glasses.” He folded himself over, straddling Kurt, before planting a kiss on Kurt’s pink, tooaccepting mouth. They remained in their clothes entirely, just kissing and kissing until Kurt was dizzy and out of breath and his lips were swollen.

Neither of them noticed the constant stream of tears running down Kurt’s face.

 

“Blaine?” Kurt asked tentatively, knowing it was a stretch but deciding to try anyway.

“Mhm,” Blaine hummed, nearly asleep in the darkness.

“Let’s...not go out tomorrow? Can we just have a quiet day at home? Read, watch TV. Cook together. Just us, quaint and...Blaine?”

Blaine snored in response.

*****

Kurt,
You were moaning in your sleep like you always do before a bad headache, so I just ran out to grab you some aspirin!
We’re all out! If you wake up before I get back, I’ll be home soon!
xoxo
B


“Fuck,” Kurt muttered, feeling the heaviness in his head. He’d had worse migraines than anyone he’d ever known, but none of his headaches even compared to the head-splitting throbbing that he was waking up to. Without even a second to register what was going on, Kurt vomited on himself. He swayed where he sat.

“Woah.” He cracked his eyes open, seeing the small red numbers on their alarm clock blinking.

7:38 am.

And then Kurt’s consciousness somehow swam through the chaotic darkness, resurfacing for just an instant. He remembered. Blaine Anderson. 8:31 am.

“Blaine?”

A moment.

“Blaine?”

Kurt closed his eyes again.

Oh no. No no no no no no no no no. No. Not Blaine. No. Not today. Why today?

Today was never supposed to come.

Today was always tomorrow.

Kurt cursed his curse, damned this Side Effect, feeling around blindly in his bed and grimacing as his hand was submerged in puke he didn’t remember throwing up. Finally, his other hand found purchase on a piece of paper. He grabbed it eagerly, and opened his eyes to read it–

Darkness. The migraine was blinding him. He strained against it, fighting the pressure on his lids, his back, his lungs. He threw up again (this time over the side of the bed).

He couldn’t just wait here.

With the gracefulness of a caught fish, Kurt stumbled out of bed, the white sheet coming off with him. He could make out shapes and objects, but the world around him was a total blur. However, on the inside, Kurt was all focus; there was one word on his mind, one goal: Blaine. Smelling his reappeared dinner on himself, Kurt tugged his Tshirt and pajama pants off, standing in only an undershirt and his underwear. Shoes would be too much effort. With the unread note in his hand, Kurt moved forward; slow, deliberate steps were all he could manage, arms outstretched like a person feeling around for something in the dark.

Kurt practically fell out of the apartment after grappling with the door handle once. Twice. Three times.

Ouch, fuck.

Without bothering to close it behind him, Kurt stepped heavily forward and to the right, offbalance, hands groping the wall in search of his neighbor’s door. He banged his fist on it sloppily, knowing he was a mess.

The door swung open beneath his knocking hand and he stumbled slightly forward when his hand brushed only air.

“Sir, are you okay?” A concerned, younger female voice asked him. Jessica. Maybe fourteen years old. She asked them for olive oil once.

“J-Jessica. I need you...to read...” Kurt shoved the crumbled note in front of her.

“Sir, are you okay–”

“Please,” he begged. The sincerity and fear in his voice was all the convincing she needed. She read Blaine’s neat writing aloud.

He misses a beat as the words sink in...Blaine is going to...he’s downtown because...

“He’s going to die getting me aspirin?” Kurt spits, both disgusted and humbled. “Is he serious?”

Kurt’s heart throbs behind his ears, the world going silent save for the loud rush of his own pulsing blood. The walls tilt at a funny angle, the blackness melts into a flurry of sickeningly bright colors and shit.

Aspirin?

Fucking aspirin?!?

“Kurt, are you....sure you’re okay?” Jessica asked timidly.

Her words were lost on him – there were too many of them and he could only focus for
so long. Another wave of nausea passed through him, but Kurt stomached the sickness, gripping the wall for balance as the blackness consumed him for a moment. He wasn’t supposed to be awake. He wasn’t meant to get out of bed. Something had woken him. Something was...

It was like Kurt was battling fate herself.

“Touch me,” Kurt commanded.

What?” Jessica blanched, scandalized.

“Just...hand. My hand. Hold my hand,” Kurt strangled out, eyes closed and one hand pinching the bridge of his nose.
MOM?!” Jessica called out into the apartment behind her, obvious fear in her voice.

“No, just–” Kurt stretched out his hand and, just his luck, made contact with Jessica’s wrist.

Jessica Eldridge. Heart failure at a wedding – her head falls forward during what appears to be the vows. Women in pastel dresses and white gloves rush to her side. Seventy-nine years, eight months, fourteen days.

As horrible as the image was, it cleared Kurt’s head. It focused the tangential and spiraling parts of his brain and centered him. He blinked a few times and could see. Sort of. More than before, at least.

“Thunk y-you, Jessica,” Kurt gurgled, stepping back unsteadily and turning for the elevator; he heard her door slam.

The distance between Jessica’s door and the elevator stretched on like an ocean before him, the horizon too far to fathom. But Hummels did not merely give up; he conquered the endless stretch of hallway one small step at a time. Kurt hobbled in semidarkness onto the elevator, feeling a cool breeze where men do not desire to feel cool breezes as the air conditioning blew harshly. His practiced hands found the first floor button easily, and the elevator began moving again.

Motion sickness. Awesome. The small, wellraised, polite part of Kurt’s brain made him pity whoever would have to clean up the sick he had left on the elevator floor, but at this point he literally didn’t care. One woman in the lobby of the building screamed as he shattered a vase and knocked over a plant on his way out, but the morning was so quiet that he was able to move out
of the apartment building with more ease than he imagined. Luck.

The doors opened automatically for him, and Kurt ran straight into the doorman.

Michael Swenson. Plane crash on his way to some sort of Pacific island. The plane goes down in the water, ignites. Remains in his watery tomb forevermore. Twenty-one years, eleven months, six days.

“The time,” Kurt groaned at him, feeling like a zombie. And probably looking like one, too.

“Sir?”

“What’s the time?

“7:49, sir. Sir, are you alright? You look a little...”

“Fine,” Kurt grunted, waving him off and walking down the sidewalk.

Aspirin. Where’s the closest place Blaine would go to get aspirin. Kurt tried to bring the image of the accident from over two years ago back to his mind. What were the cross streets? The weight of the migraine threatened to pull him under, the dark waters lurking just below sanity, but Kurt squeezed his eyes in concentration. Focus.

Kurt had a guess. There was a CVS three blocks from here. It was his one guess, and he would have to chance it. He could do it. He could make it three blocks.

He had to try.

With the image of Blaine in his mind’s eye, beautiful and cheerful and inclusive and singing and swinging his hips and knowing every fashion line and musical verse, Kurt crept on. He imagined Blaine’s courage, his muscles, his piano playing, his absolute passion for all things marriage equality. His bow ties. The way he hummed when he vacuumed and stopped every time they found a stray animal in Central Park. Blaine, who volunteered at a thousand organizations and still brought home superb grades from NYU. Blaine, who somehow managed to love after being given none from his parents. Blaine, with amber eyes that could swallow Kurt whole and a laugh that could turn anyone’s frown upside down.

He had to try.

So there was Kurt, awkwardly working his way down the streets of New York in only an undershirt and a pair of (Blaine’s) boxers – Calvin Klein, of course, but still.

It was very unlike Kurt to not care about fashion.

But the only thing he had ever loved was on the line. It does things to a person.

8:08 am.

Kurt crossed a street. One foot in front of the other. Dizzy...so...dizzy. His knees buckled
halfway across. Going down...going down... Someone pulled him up under his armpits. He’s set straight, at least he thinks. Someone cursed at him. It sounded like the teacher in Charlie Brown. He walked on, breathing heavily and stopping every few steps, fighting the blackness that pressed on him insistently.

8:14 am.

“WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING, DUDE!” Someone yelled. Kurt heard the predictable sound of skateboard wheels grinding against the sidewalk and could practically feel the bird that was likely being flipped his way.

Blaine Blaine Blaine.

Please.

8:22 am.

Kurt knew he was running out of time. He worked to keep his eyes open for longer periods. The light burned, sending a searing bolt of pain down his forehead. Holy shit. He paused for just a second, hands on his knees, his mind fighting against the wave of blackness misting toward him.

Blaine.

He crossed another street. Several cars (taxis?) honked at him. He waved a hand in apology; even under stress, Kurt wasn’t tactless.

He did fall on his face. Twice.

The laughter of children could be heard in the distance. He caught the word “underwear.”

He pushed on. The blackness pushed in.

8:29 am.

Shit shit shit. Kurt stood on another corner, listening to someone passing out flyers on his right and smelling something that seemed like sewer to his left. It was time. It was here.

Kurt cracked his eyes open again, cupping them with a hand to shield them from the
ungodliness that was the sun. Blaine, where are you?

And then a hand brushed Kurt’s, and the clarity he needed all but slapped him in the face.
He blinked rapidly, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. The lamp posts swam in front of him, a row of cars. Two bikers. A homeless man with a sign across the way. Blaine.

BLAINE.

8:30 am.

He had one minute.

Blaine looked exactly as expected: loose curls, jeans, a Tshirt from a sports team that Kurt now recognized as the Buckeyes. Walking down the New York City street with purpose. He turned down the road. He began to cross the street.

Everything goes black. If only Kurt can–

No,” he grunts under his breath. He won’t have it anymore. He won’t let this Side Effect control him anymore. He won’t. It’s been eating him alive since he was eight years old. Since his mom’s eyes flashed at him for the last time. He didn’t have friends. He was alone. But he won’t stand for it any longer. It was a choice, he realized, to let the numbers rattle in his head. Whatever he was clinging to, whatever connection he had to the other side...it had to be closed. It’s been choking him off his entire life, but not today. Today, Blaine’s voice is the only one he cares to hear echoing in his head. And as if he has finally won some kind of internal tugowar with the blackness he’s been battling all morning – all his life – Kurt breaks from the darkness, feels it fall away like a tangible shadow. It rips from his skin, physically tearing away from his flesh; the invisible fingers he never realized were there finally lost their grip on his throat with a scream that he realizes late has come from his own open mouth. An atomsplitting, soulshredding cry of agony that is both terrifying and liberating.

A scream so blood-curdling that it causes Blaine to stop in his tracks across the street and look up, the scream seeming to break through the sound bubble Blaine’s headphones have created. His hazel eyes land on Kurt immediately, a pale ghost in boxers in the middle of Manhattan, crumpling to the ground, a few steps into the street.

Blaine is frozen on the sidewalk, watching his fianceé collapse. In total and utter shock, he doesn’t move.

The taxi runs the red light. Blaine hasn’t moved. Blaine is still standing.

8:32 am.

“B-Blaine!” Kurt cries, attempting to stand, failing, and finally getting up. Without thinking, without question, without hesitation, he darts across the busy street–

They both see it at the same time. The Clifford of street cars, the stupid, tourist-trappy red double decker honking like a giant goose in one long blaring wail as it skids forward, right into Kurt’s path.

And Kurt just stares at it, the wide eyes of its headlights boring into Kurt, bare and naked and helpless against the multiton monster. Blaine’s face twists in fear, a hand outstretched toward his fianceé. His gold and platinum band winks in the sun in the longest second in the history of seconds. Kurt closes his eyes and accepts his fate. A life for a life. Fair enough – he’d give Blaine his life any day.

He doesn’t see Blaine drop the CVS bag.

He doesn’t see Blaine step toward him into the street.

He just hears the loud, immediate honking and the highpitched, nails-on-a-chalkboard screeching of tires on asphalt.

A mass smacks into Kurt full force, his body flying backwards and skidding into the street, his arms burning against the pavement and his head pounding as it bounces against the black asphalt, thumping against it. He can taste blood in his mouth, and the world is fading in and out–

This is it, he thinks.

But it’s...it’s a warm mass on top of him. It’s a panting, crying, groping mass that smells like...

Blaine?

He blinks open his eyes.

It’s Blaine looking down at him, eyes wide with concern and panic. Flecks of gold in the hazel. Blaine’s mouth is open in shock and his eyebrows are stitched together. It takes Kurt a moment to realize that Blaine’s hands, big and strong and home, are clutching frantically at Kurt’s face, stroking his cheek, begging for a response.

And the pieces fall into place in Kurt’s head as he realizes that it was Blaine’s barrelling mass that collided with Kurt, throwing him into the street back toward the sidewalk as the double decker whipped behind them.

“B-Blaine?”

“Oh God,” Blaine sighs with relief, finally letting out the breath he’d been holding. “Oh, Kurt.” He absorbs him in a hug on the ground, kissing his neck, his chin, his nose, his face, his ear, peppering him as if the world was going to end.

Blaine’s alive.

A circle of people had surrounded them where they lay on the pavement, inches from the sidewalk. An ambulance for the halfthere, slightly concussed, roadburned Kurt had been called. But in the meantime, Kurt and Blaine just clutched to each other tightly.

Because Kurt had stopped Blaine. And Blaine had saved Kurt. And everything was going to be okay.

Kurt clung to Blaine’s waist, tears falling freely as Blaine tried to thumb them away. Eventually he just gave up on stopping the flow and settled for planting a gentle kiss to the top of Kurt’s head, holding his love close to his heart. Kurt’s clawlike hands groped painfully at Blaine’s sides, for closeness, but Blaine didn’t mind.

Not one number echoed in Kurt’s mind.

Not one.

“Shhhhh, I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. You hear me, love? I’m never saying goodbye
to you,” Blaine soothed.

Kurt cried harder.

Never had so many words been shared between two pairs of eyes.

Kurt thought about his Side Effect that seemed to be gone. About all kinds of Side Effects. A Side Effect of meeting Blaine? Falling in love. A Side Effect of falling in love? Believing anything was possible. And in that tearstained moment, Kurt believed. He believed in Blaine, he believed in himself, he believed in New York, he believed in humanity, he believed in love. He believed that any curse could be broken.

He believed that he could throw himself into wedding planning with actual vigor now.

Oh, God. What would they do for flower arrangements?

“Today was my day, wasn’t it?” Blaine whispered into Kurt’s ear as the stretcher was pushed into the ambulance.

“Today is the day. Tomorrow is the day. Every day is a new day. Tomorrow is never
guaranteed. It’s always today. You and me. Today. That’s all that matters,” Kurt mumbled, drifting. All he was aware of was the spectacular rise and fall of Blaine’s chest nearby and the warm hand that was cradling his.

“I could get used to today,” Blaine said through a watery smile, laughing incredulously. Kurt was going to be okay.

And by some miracle, the notes of My Favorite Things trickled out of a nearby store as the doors of the ambulance swung shut.

*****

The group was crammed quite tightly as the elevator climbed higher and higher while the sun sank lower and lower, buried in distant hills. Cécile was there with a client; she’d seen the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower a hundred times. The lawn, the rows of tourist traps, the gentle waters of the Seine. Old news.

She spun around, feigning interest in something outside of the left window, standing on tiptoe and extending her neck just slightly to peer out. Same old lawn. Same old venders. Same old Seine.

But something caught her eye; in one corner of the elevator were two young men. The shorter, with dark tendrils of wavy curls and tanned skin, stood in front, face close to the window. Behind him was the taller, leaner man – perhaps older – his hands around the other’s waist. He was pale and a little rigid, but seemed to almost bend around the shorter man, as if he’d shaped his life to curl around him. Like every gentle place their bodies touched softened him.

There was a glow about this (presumed) couple. Their eyes shimmered with genuine pleasure that Cécile hadn’t seen in a long time. Her taut lips curled up into a half­smile as the shorter one appeared to get excited about something, pointing at something down below as the elevator continued to hitch upwards. The taller one said something into his ear that Cécile couldn’t have understood even if she could hear them – they spoke English. She assumed American.

The taller man pointed at something now. A ring sparkled on his ring finger.

Huh. Married.

Cécile couldn’t place it. She’d seen couples going up and down this elevator more times than she cared to count, and her noticeably naked ring finger didn’t exactly appreciate all the PDA. She knew hers was the city of love and that it got more than its fair share of honeymooners exploring Versailles and the Tour de Eiffel and the Louvre...

But they were different; there was an aura of raw, unhesitating trust. Their bodies seemed unconsciously aware of each other; the taller one would adjust his weight to his other foot and the shorter one would mechanically do the same, as if there was no thought in it. Unified. She pegged them for people who appreciated the little things.

The shorter one’s eyes crinkled in a laugh. The taller one peeked around (Cécile averted her gaze momentarily) before planting a sweet, brief kiss to the shorter one’s cheek.

“My jacket looks good on you,” the taller one admitted into the shorter one’s hair. Cécile suddenly wished she hadn’t taken German in school.

“That smile looks pretty good on you,” the other replied.

More cheeky grins.

Beau n’est­ce pas?” Her client commented, reverting Cécile’s attention back to the view and her job and the whole reason she was riding up the elevator in the first place. Beautiful, is it not?

Oui,” Cécile answered, unsure if she was talking about Paris unfolding before her or the lovebirds standing softly in the corner.

Hundreds of times up and down this elevator, overlooking the City of Love and one of the most romantic rivers in the entire world...

...and it was these two strangers that made Cécile believe in love again.