Title: (Def)inition (part 10/?; WiP)
Pairings: Eventual Kurt/Blaine, very mild Kurt/Quinn, past Quinn/Puck, past Blaine/other
Spoilers: General spoilers through season two, but this is a fairly radical AU.
Warnings: For the story as a whole: non-con, consent issues, explicit discussion of suicide, slavery, disordered eating.
Betas: idoltina, penguinutopia, and hiasobi_writes. I greatly appreciate the time and dedication with which you guys beta for me. Thanks so much also to narie for her time talking through this with me.
Word Count: 7440
Summary: Blaine settles in for winter, for all that it's still the beginning of October.
Blaine settles in for winter, for all that it's still the beginning of October. The first bite of cold wind sends him shivering and searching for a coat and scarf in the trunk full of clothes Kurt bought him back in April. He starts baking bread every other morning just to warm up the apartment-- he's finally found a new place that Kurt approves of (finally a success and not another failure; after months and months of inadequacy, he can point at this one thing he has done right), but the lease doesn't start until January, so it's going to be half a winter of bare feet on cold wooden floors and shivering in the shower before the sun comes up.
The bread is the center of a routine: it starts the day off in a way that he controls, chases away the remnants of whatever he wakes up with. This morning he's lucky that there are no half-remembered nightmares to battle his way through, no creeping edges of grey to push back.
It's still an hour and a half before Kurt wakes up, and Blaine has the apartment to himself. He flips the dough out of its oil-slick bowl and drops it on the floured counter-top; he punches the dough down with his closed fist, flour and water and yeast compressing and collapsing. The dough needs ten minutes of kneading before its second rise, and he folds and pulls and presses it down, feeling the muscles in his arms and shoulders start to complain.
Once the dough is in the pans for its second rise, he retreats to the living room and wraps one of the throws around his shoulders. He sets his alarm for forty-five minutes, when the bread will be puffed up to the top of the pans, and he lets himself drift, his back to the window as the sun rises slowly. When his alarm goes off for the second time, he slides the loaf pans into the oven and showers before anyone else thinks about waking up.
He is almost too careful, too gentle when he touches each part of his body and reminds himself that he is made up of all these pieces: arms and shins, the backs of his knees and the knobby bone at the base of his neck. (Each time he slides his hands across his abdomen he comes half an inch closer to what he hasn't touched yet aside from basic cleanliness, too afraid of what it might do to him to deal with that.) He hasn't hurt himself again and he tries so hard to be okay.
It's been almost two weeks since he last saw the grey and he hopes (and he knows that hope is foolish; he is sure he can't be better this quickly) that it's gone. He hasn't had another dream since the first, either, and he's not sure if that's a good thing or not.
Blaine pulls on his clothing in the steam of the bathroom (boxers, socks, and pants; undershirt and a henley (today's is blue); he rolls the sleeves up over his elbows because he's going back to work on breakfast), and slips out back into the hallway, smiling at Quinn as he passes her.
The kitchen smells so strongly of fresh bread when he walks in that he pauses, breathes deep. He pulls the pans out of the oven and flips the loaves onto the cooling rack. The air in the kitchen is warmer than the hallway but still not comfortable; he curls his toes ineffectually in his thin socks as he pulls butter and jam from the fridge.
There is something intrinsically safe about bread; he shares it with Beth and Quinn and Kurt as they wake and stumble (Beth), waltz (Quinn), or stride (Kurt) into the common areas of the apartment. It is something he can always eat, it's something he doesn't have to force down or distract himself in order to eat. This morning, he spreads a thin layer of butter on his bread, waits just a few seconds for it to melt, and takes a neat bite.
It's a good day.
* * *
Sometimes when Kurt looks at Blaine all he can see is that photograph of Blaine's ribs and wrists and collarbones laying over him like a ghost. It doesn't help that Blaine struggles so hard with food sometimes, flees the table when he can't make himself eat. Kurt knows that the image won't leave him alone until he does something, and he's got the feeling that bringing it into his styles isn't going to work-- as beautiful as the interlocked silver circles are, they're somehow not enough.
It's not enough to make gorgeous clothes. It's not enough to sit in his apartment, comfortable and secure, just to keep Quinn and Blaine safe-- not when he could do more. He's sure that he's not the only Holder who feels this way, and if there are more Fosters like Emma, then maybe he could actually start something-- join some movement, actually try to change things. He researches the current abolition movements, and they all seem to be too radical or too ineffectual, nothing that seems to really be making a difference.
He really only pays attention to national politics when it affects his work these days (he'd burnt out on activism when he'd pushed and tried in college, striving for something more-- one more inch, one more right, but gotten nowhere). He knows that every few years there's something that goes through the House or the Senate that is supposed to be the bill, the law that will do everything, make the system obsolete or free all of the Defs. But he also knows how unrealistic it is that one of them will ever pass, because having had this system in place for over a hundred years makes it so hard to change entirely.
Right now there is something-- a bill that's somehow miraculously made it through the House and is now fighting its way through the Senate. It's not anything close to perfect, but it's something, and he thinks it's a small enough bill that he, as one person, might actually be able to do something to make a real difference.
And the thing is-- no one's talking about it. Maybe it's because it's not about the "right kind" of Defs (only those marked as children), maybe because it puts the financial burden of a Def's freedom on their theoretical former Holder, maybe even because it doesn't go far enough. It's probably at least in part because they're in the middle of a presidential election and no one really knows if Huntsman is going to hang onto his seat or not, so that's the issue that all of the talking heads spend hours discussing. But that tiny bill is enough for Kurt, because it's something he can do for Blaine and Quinn; it's something that, were he in their place, he'd want his Holder to push for. Kurt doesn't even try to kid himself that he can singlehandedly storm congress and force the senators to change their minds, but he thinks he has an idea for how to at least start.
Kurt goes to Quinn first, once he's got an actual plan. He orders sandwiches and calls it a business lunch; they sit in his office with the door closed.
"Why do I get the feeling we're not talking about the spring line?" she asks, raising an eyebrow at the closed door. Kurt sighs and pushes a folder across the table to her. She takes it and flips through it, silent, while he eats his sandwich (tomato and spinach with goat cheese on whole wheat) in small, careful bites. Finally she sighs and drops it back on the table, then picks up her own sandwich (ham and swiss and mustard on a french roll).
"I won't do it without you," he says. "It's your face, it's your story-- it's your choice, and I wouldn't take that away from you."
She squeezes her eyes closed and breathes out hard. "I want this. I want this bill to pass more than anything. I know we haven't talked about it, I know I haven't even ever lived on my own, but I want to be my own person, not some extension of you." She doesn't say I hate this; she doesn't say if it wasn't for what you did, I would have fought so hard they would have had to kill me-- she's already said those things to him a hundred times. He doesn't spend hours apologizing to her any more, either.
"I know," Kurt says. "And if it passes, then yes, yes, of course. I would give it to you in an instant, if it passes. But that's the problem--"
"--it won't pass." Quinn trails her fingertips over the file. "It won't pass, because no one cares enough about us to make it so that some of us can actually live."
"I just thought that maybe if we put a human face to this--" He shrugs. "Last time I made campaign posters I didn't win, but I like to think that my design capabilities have improved since then. And a national ad campaign is a little different from a student council election."
Her lips quirk up in a smile and he hopes that it means she's okay with this, so he sits and waits for a response from her.
"They're very direct," she says. "Startling."
"That's the point," he explains. "I don't want people to be able to turn the page without reading them, without considering-- well, you."
She opens the folder again, taps her fingers against the copy of the ad that features her. "I'll do it," she says. "But I have one condition-- any time I get a chance to talk because of this, I get to talk. My own words, not yours, not some speechwriter's-- I'm doing this for me and for Beth and for Blaine."
He only restrains himself from giving a little triumphant hum because he's 26, damnit, and old enough not to. "Thank you," he says instead, looking straight at her. "Thank you so much."
"How are you going to bring this up with Blaine?" she asks. Her hands find Blaine's photograph in the file again, his hazel eyes arresting in black and white.
"I don't know," he admits. "I haven't figured out a way to ask that doesn't sound like let me use you. I mean, I can ask you that because you know what I mean, and you wouldn't have any problems saying no if it wasn't really something you wanted. But I worry about Blaine."
She smiles. "You always worry about Blaine."
* * *
The problem is that every time Kurt opens his mouth to ask, he chokes on the words and can't speak.
Blaine, I have an idea.
Blaine, I need you to--
Blaine, there's this bill in the senate that's--
No matter what he tries to come up with, it comes down to let me use you. It doesn't matter that it's not for Kurt's benefit; it doesn't matter that doing this would only be useful to Blaine and Quinn-- it's not something that Blaine has brought up. It's not something that Blaine has asked for for himself.
There's a difference between hiring Blaine to do a job and asking him to show his face, print his story in a hundred newspapers, all across the internet. Using Blaine is the one thing he has tried to avoid since the first day, since that first moment when Blaine had gone to his knees. Blaine is-- he's used to being used, but Kurt has never wanted to do that to him. Kurt has hired him for a specific purpose, for one thing and just for that. Blaine is still great with Beth-- she trusts him more than anyone but Quinn, of course, and Kurt himself.
He can't use Blaine, even for something like this.
It's almost annoying, because he's fairly sure that Blaine would think that it's a good idea, but his stupid liberal guilt (and he can hear Quinn laughing at him in his head) won't let him do this. He knows that most Holders wouldn't think twice about asking. There had been a year where all of the models for one of Kurt's largest competitors had been Defs, and there had been a mild uproar (not about the ribs and cheekbones that were almost pushing through their skin, but about the fact that they hadn't hired free models), but everyone shrugged and moved on, eventually.
It's not unheard of to have Defs in the public eye; it is unusual to point out their backgrounds, what has or hasn't happened to them. And asking Blaine to be okay with that, when talking about it in private, just with Kurt or Emma, had been so hard for him...
Maybe it would be better if he didn't ask-- the ad that Quinn has approved for herself is still good, it still makes a firm statement. But he knows that it's not as shocking as Blaine's (and that's what he wants to do; he finds that he's distinctly more uncomfortable doing it with a newspaper advertisement than he is with fashion), and therefore not as effective. But if the choice is what he thinks it might be-- passing the bill or keeping Blaine sane-- maybe it's best that he doesn't ask.
* * *
In the last three days, Kurt has tried half a dozen times to bring something up with Blaine. Blaine has no idea what it is, but Kurt's been stilted and uncomfortable around him. It makes him worried, because the last time Kurt had been this nervous, it had been because of Blaine's file, and Blaine's fairly sure that he doesn't have it in him right now to go through that again.
Blaine tries, he really does-- he looks attentive, he doesn't interrupt Kurt, he doesn't do anything to try to shut Kurt down, because whatever it is, Kurt clearly finds it both important and unnerving.
On the fourth day, though, Kurt seems to give up on whatever it was he was going to ask Blaine, and Blaine finds himself incredibly frustrated by that. He'd thought they'd come to a place where Kurt could ask him things, even if they were uncomfortable, even if they were things that Kurt didn't really want to ask. It's a fragile sort of trust, but it's present and it's real.
Blaine tries to ask about whatever it is Kurt isn't asking about, because Kurt looks so defeated by whatever it is he isn't saying.
"Are you okay?" he asks Kurt.
Kurt half-smiles at him, distracted by the morning paper. "Never better," he says.
"It's just," Blaine says, greatly daring, "it seems like there's something you've wanted to-- and I don't want you to think I can't handle it, whatever it is. If there's something you've wanted to ask me, please do."
"Don't worry about it, Blaine," Kurt says, and Blaine is seriously tired of being treated like something fragile, like he could break if Kurt breathed wrong.
"Okay," Blaine says. "If you're sure-- and it's nothing I can help with? Or if it's something I should change-- something you want me to do, or--"
"Blaine," Kurt says firmly, looking him straight in the eyes. "It's fine. Don't worry about it."
And that still shuts Blaine down faster than anything-- a direct order, something Kurt tells him to do with no loopholes or ways to keep pressing. He swallows up his words and takes another bite of that morning's bread (rye, today-- he keeps thinking about starting sourdough but there's nowhere in the apartment warm enough to keep it going), and does his best to smile at Kurt.
* * *
"He's not going to tell you what he wants," Quinn says, sliding onto one of the bar stools. Blaine is cleaning up from dinner, rinsing out the glasses and slotting them into the dish drainer, but he looks up at her when she speaks.
"What is it?" he asks. "He's started to ask me something six or seven times, and it's like he can't force it out. Is it really that terrible?"
She shrugs. "It's a lot, what he's asking-- and he asked me too, don't think I don't know what I'm talking about." Quinn pauses, clearly considering. "It's about the bill."
Blaine almost drops the last glass back in the sink, because there's really only one bill she could be talking about. Almost every Def he knows pays attention to politics when it affects them, and the law that's in the Senate right now is too small for really anything, but if there's even a chance-- "What does he want us to do?" he asks, because he thinks he can get around whatever letter-writing or phone campaign that Kurt has planned, and he wonders why Kurt was so nervous, if this was all he wanted. If the bill passed, it would mean that there would be a chance that he could be free again-- not that he'd expect if from Kurt (who would certainly free Quinn, if he could, after her years of loyal service, but has no reason to do the same for Blaine). It would mean so much to the kids out there that are like he was.
Quinn slides a plain manila folder across the bar to him; he dries his hands on a dish cloth and picks it up.
By now he should really know not to open folders or files without feeling prepared or knowing what's in them, because it's always a shock to see images of himself. Blaine bites his lip harder than he should and carefully sets the folder back on the counter. Call your senator! wars with eleven years and beaten, raped, and starved in his mind, and it isn't at all what he expected-- it's far more personal, far more intrusive and sensationalist. "He wants to tell everyone," he states flatly.
"There's good reason," Quinn says. Her face is intense, and he can see that this-- whatever it is beyond his face and his story-- this is important to her. "It's for a good cause-- right now the senate votes aren't looking good, and if either of us wants to take a free breath within our lifetime, this is our best bet. The bill needs to pass, Blaine-- we need to help it pass."
He doesn't have a good reason to say no but he wants to, he wants to hide his face and his story (and his shame, because that's what makes this so hard, all the time). It's just his eyes and three words that all at once tell his story and don't say anything about him.
"I don't-- I can't-- Quinn, please, it's my face." He's not sure why it's bothering him so much-- it is a good cause, it is a law he wants to pass, but he doesn't know if he can put himself out there like that. He'd write, he'd call, he'd put his voice and his words out there (not that they're any good, but he would), but he can't put his face.
She shrugs dismissively. "It's just your eyes-- it's not like he's going to be printing your name. It's not like you have a name, either. Let him use us for this."
Blaine sometimes wonders if Kurt's kindness, his caring is going to erase every last inch of him, if he'll try to rebuild and find that he has no bricks, no mortar, nothing but a smooth and solid foundation, and this is one of those times. This is easy, this doesn't require him to actually do anything but give consent; he still wants to say no. And what will Kurt think, if he gives and gives and gives but the first time he wants to take from Blaine, Blaine refuses? He can feel his shoulders curling in without his control, and consciously deepens and evens his breathing because he will not dissociate, not right now.
"Think about what you were like when you were fifteen," she continues. "Think about it. Wouldn't it have made a difference, knowing that you could get out? Knowing that you wouldn't be nothing for the rest of your life? What about all of those kids who are just like you were, just like I was-- we can help them, Blaine, if we let him do this."
"Quinn-- I'm just not sure," he tries, but she keeps pressing.
"You could have a voice in this, Blaine-- you could make a huge difference." He thinks about saying I have a voice, because here, in this space, he can say no and be heard, he can think and breathe and feel. And so does Quinn-- she has a voice outside of this apartment, out in the real world where she can and does move like she's free. Quinn walks with the kind of confidence and self-knowledge that Blaine barely touches.
"You have a voice," he says. "You have a voice and a name, Quinn, just like I do." Maybe there is something besides a foundation building inside him, rising throughout all of these months of safety and space, because six months ago he wouldn't have acknowledged that he owned either of those things.
She shakes her head, insistent. "Not like this, Blaine-- this is a national ad campaign, this would be everywhere--"
"I can't talk about this right now," he says; he wants to but he can't, and he wishes that she could really understand that. He starts taking the half-dry dishes out of the drying rack, running the dishcloth over them until they're fully dry. He stretches to put the plates on the top shelf and ignores Quinn's gaze as best he can.
"Ask Kurt about it," she says as she hops off the stool. "I'm going to go and read to Beth."
* * *
That night after Beth goes to bed, Kurt is sitting and reading in the living room while Blaine unfolds his bed and smooths over the blankets.
"Quinn told me," Blaine says, and it takes a minute for Kurt to realize what he's talking about.
"She-- okay," Kurt says. "What do you think?" He's more nervous than he thinks he should be-- he'd already decided not to ask Blaine and just run Quinn's ad, but if Blaine thinks it's a good idea, Kurt's fairly sure that the message behind the ad he's put together (look at what this does to our children) is more powerful, more thought-provoking and startling than Quinn's.
"I'll do it," Blaine says quietly. "You have my permission to use my face, use my story, my--" He cuts himself off, and Kurt wonders what he was about to say. Blaine isn't looking at Kurt, and that worries him, because sometimes he can read Blaine's face more easily than his voice and his words. "It's okay. You could have asked me."
"I didn't want to pressure you," Kurt explains. "I was worried that it might make you uncomfortable, and I didn't want you to feel that way, because you shouldn't feel uncomfortable in your own home."
Blaine's smile is just a little bit twisted when he finally does look over at Kurt. "Too late," he says, briefly and carelessly.
"I-- Blaine," he says, scrambling for something more to say to make up for this, because making Blaine uncomfortable was never what he wanted.
"I would like to go to sleep," Blaine says, asking but not saying please leave.
Kurt notes his page and shuts his book (he can't even remember what he's been reading any more). "I guess I'll see you in the morning," he says helplessly, standing up to leave.
"Good night, Kurt," Blaine says distantly, already seeming to tune Kurt out. Kurt watches for just a moment, wishing that there was something he could do to take it back, to have talked with Blaine before he'd made his decision or, hell, to not have come up with it at all.
He's unsettled as he brushes his teeth and applies his various creams and lotions. The ritual isn't as calming as it usually is, and he still feels unbalanced as he tucks himself into bed. Either Blaine really is getting to functional or he's getting better at hiding, and from the way that he'd been acting (unwilling or unable to look Kurt in the eyes, jealous of his own space when he's usually so giving with it), Blaine is becoming a better liar. Or maybe not a better liar, just-- better at pretending things are okay, even now that Blaine has acknowledged that he isn't.
Kurt thinks about Blaine, out there sleeping in the living room (he hopes Blaine is sleeping, because otherwise the morning bread, while delicious, is starting to look like an excuse for Blaine not to sleep, and that's not really good). Blaine is the only one of them who doesn't really have his own space aside from twelve square feet inside a trunk, and that's not nearly enough to live in. They're moving in January and Kurt hopes that Blaine can handle one more stress on top of the ad campaign, which might just blow up in all of their faces.
He has too many things to worry about, but at least the company is doing well and Beth is happy in middle school, which is something of a minor miracle (this month they're studying Egypt and Blaine has been reading her Red Pyramid). But there's still his dad's health (forever and always, even though his dad is fine and has been for years), Blaine's too-quiet acquiescence and all of Kurt's fretting about the future, because what would happen if suddenly he is out of fashion? if the government suddenly decides that long-term contracts are no longer an option? if the oceans keep rising and suddenly all high fashion has to be waterproof?
They're stupid worries, he knows they are, but sometimes he gets into these spirals of obsessing about every little thing. It was worse in college, when it seemed like he had more to worry about (what if he can't make enough money to keep Quinn? what if he doesn't pass that class or that test or what if, god forbid, something happens to his designs?), but now the things he worries about are bigger, less about him. He quirks a smile at his apparent growth as a person, but it doesn't really do anything to help. Kurt counts his breaths and tries to calm down, to not think about Blaine or Quinn or his dad.
Eventually things do settle, and if he's still worried about things that he can't fix or change right now, well, maybe things will look better in the morning.
* * *
Blaine smacks his hands against the surface of the dough, digs the heels of his palms into it and presses hard, kneading firmly, folding and flipping it over and over. He presses too hard, and the dough tears, sticking and smearing on the countertop.
He rests his forearms on the edge of the counter, takes a step back, and drops his head. His hands are covered with flour and dough, or else he knows that he'd be running his fingers through his hair, which is finally getting long again. He breathes, in and out, until his hands stop shaking and clenching involuntarily.
This wasn't-- he's supposed to just be happy with Kurt. But he wants this so, so much. He wants to be able to move with his hands free, without that fucking bracelet; he wants to be able to be his own person, finally and fully. He wants the bill to pass so much. And it's not just for him: it's for all of the other kids who are like what he was, who are getting that first shock of separation and not knowing why or what or even if they could do this-- be a Def, be good, be perfect.
He's supposed to do what Kurt wants him to do. This time, what Kurt wants and what Blaine wants are actually the same thing, but Blaine doesn't know if he can put his face out there. Because it's a national ad campaign-- or that's what Kurt wants it to be, and that's the only way it'd really be effective, but there are people out there who he just-- he doesn't want to show the Kyles his face again. He doesn't want Julius to look at his eyes and remember how good Blaine had felt for him. (He's always wanted to be good for someone.) His parents are-- he doesn't know what he feels about his parents seeing him, knowing what's happened (what they've done) to him. He wonders if they'll still recognize him.
He likes his life here in New York; he's finally finding his feet on solid ground again. He has a full year here to look forward to, before he even thinks about moving on.
Deep down, under everything, under that solid foundation and all of the hope he might have for a future he can actually influence, he is furious.
He seethes with it and it burns, sometimes, too hot and ready beneath his surface, popping up bright when he least expects. Right now it's what is making him scrape just too hard at the smeared dough, punch it down with enough force that when he cuts it, eats it, it will sit solid and heavy in his stomach. Right now it's the ache in his shoulders and his bare feet cold on the floor.
And of course, that's when Kurt walks in.
He tries to hold the words in behind his teeth, but he can't; they're spitting mad and hot, terrible and confrontational-- the ink's barely dry on his new contract but he pushes himself away from the counter and turns to face Kurt.
Blaine's hands are still covered in flour and he thinks that he must look ridiculous; there's a piece of dough stuck between the thumb and finger on his right hand and he'd forgotten to put an apron on, so the front of his shirt is dusted with flour and yeast and he has the sinking suspicion that there are white handprints all over his pajama pants.
He starts to say is there something I can help you with, but what comes out, in a quite conversational tone, is "I hate you."
Kurt just sort of blinks at him; he's usually not all that functional before his first cup of coffee. "Blaine-- are you--"
"I hate you," he repeats, just a little louder. "I hate that your fucking ad campaign is a choice that isn't a choice because if I don't do it I will feel guilty for the rest of my life. I hate this freezing apartment and I hate my life and that you made me think about all of this. I hate the way I still want to go to my knees when I see you and I hate that I can't even fucking come without feeling guilty about it and I hate you." By the end of it's he's nearly shouting and his fists are balled at his sides; his face feels flushed with all the anger and disappointment he doesn't let himself feel and his breath is coming too fast.
Kurt is just standing there shocked, hands half-raised in a placating gesture.
But Blaine doesn't want to be placated, he doesn't want to be quieted and calmed with Kurt's no-doubt reassuring words. He doesn't want to hear them; he doesn't want to hear Kurt's patronising attitude and he doesn't want to be coddled.
"I thought we were better than this. I thought you'd actually started to treat me like a person, I thought you realized that I'm not made of fucking glass, Kurt-- I can do things, I can make my own decisions about what I want and don't want without you deciding them for me. I'm not a child, I'm not your problem, I'm not anything, why do you care?" He is shouting now, and his breath is burning in his throat. He's run out of words all at once, like a faucet that's been turned off, and he can't even remember half of what he's just said. But he knows it was bad, he knows it wasn't anything that Kurt wanted to hear and he knows parts of it weren't true; he knows that this, this is wrong, that he is wrong and he has just lied, flat out, to his Holder (and it's not yes I will and it's not please, more; it was I hate you and he's never said anything he's meant less).
He's about to go to his knees and beg and apologize and plead with Kurt if it means that he can stay-- if it means that Kurt won't break the contract-- when he realizes they're not alone in the kitchen.
* * *
Kurt is still kind of in shock when Blaine finally stops. Blaine's jittery, now, hands shaking and eyes going opaque and far-away, and Kurt wants to reach out a hand to calm him, but he has no idea how Blaine might react right now, so he keeps his hands at his side and he waits for Blaine to say something else-- to do something else.
Blaine does something that he doesn't expect, though-- he draws himself up and shakes his hands out, then smiles at something behind Kurt. "Good morning," he says. It's like looking at an entirely different Blaine, one who hasn't just started to freak out about confronting Kurt (who is still his Holder, even though Kurt would like to think that they're getting closer to even ground).
"You're very loud," Beth says from the doorway. Her hair is a mess, and it looks like she's just woken up. Kurt hopes that she hasn't actually heard any of what Blaine's just said-- yelled, really-- and that it's just the volume that's woken her up.
"It's okay, Beth," he says, still looking at Blaine. "You can go back to bed-- it's still early."
"We were just talking," Blaine says encouragingly. "You can get in another hour so that Ms. Hendricks doesn't bust you for sleeping in homeroom."
"You were talking loudly," Beth grumbles. "I don't want to fall asleep at school and get sent to the office. It sucks."
"Sleep, Beth," Blaine says, and it's the closest to a command that Kurt's ever heard him give.
"You guys be quiet, okay?" she says, and she yawns, turns around, and half-stomps back to bed.
If Kurt hadn't been here for longer than the last minute he wouldn't have known that Blaine could do that-- that he could appear so terrifyingly normal after feeling something as strong as what he'd yelled at Kurt. It makes Kurt wonder what else Blaine is hiding behind his smiles, because Blaine's smile for Beth had looked so genuine, and if he didn't know--
--but he does, now.
Kurt doesn't know what to think about what Blaine had said, because some of it is true (he does treat Blaine like fine china-- like porcelain), and he hopes like hell that some of it isn't (if Blaine actually hates him it's going to be awful). He needs time to turn it over in his head and figure things out; in high school he may have always been ready with a cutting remark, but he's fairly sure that striking back at Blaine for this will do so much more harm than good.
When it comes right down to it, he's actually kind of proud of Blaine, for sticking up to him and actually letting his feelings show for once, even if those feelings are anger. Maybe especially if those feelings are anger, because he remembers the man he'd interviewed, back in April, who had seemed bitter. Who had seemed angry.
But he needs Blaine to be able to be honest with him, and with that smile and those steady hands, Kurt's sure that whatever he gets out of Blaine right now won't be what Blaine wants to say to him. He doesn't know if anything he says to Blaine right now will make it through the mask. He waits for Blaine to drop the act. He has all the patience he needs to wait Blaine out, so he hops up on one of the stools behind the bar and watches Blaine as he goes back to his bread.
Kurt has no idea why Blaine has started this morning routine; the bread is delicious and it warms the house up in the mornings. It seems to settle Blaine, too-- he hasn't had nearly as many episodes or breakdowns since he started.
Scratch that. He hasn't had as many episodes or breakdowns that Kurt has seen since he started. If nothing else, this morning has proved that Blaine is a far better actor than Kurt ever was.
He waits, while Blaine kneads the bread. He watches the trembling re-appear, travel up Blaine's hands to his elbows, to his shoulders and finally to his chest, until Blaine's whole body is shaking.
Blaine presses his hands against his stomach, presses them in and makes one high noise that he cuts off abruptly. "I'm sorry," he says. "I'm so sorry, Kurt, I didn't mean any of it, I swear, I don't--"
"Yes, you did," Kurt says. "I don't-- I don't know you, not yet, but I feel like I'm getting to know you, finally, and some of that was true."
Blaine looks so guilty and ashamed that Kurt almost wants to take it back, let Blaine reassure him that every word was a lie, tell Kurt that Blaine doesn't think that he's nothing.
"And you're right," he continues, "I have been treating you like you're made of porcelain." His lips twist up in a wry smile, even though Blaine will have no idea why Kurt thinks that's funny. "I haven't been treating you very fairly, and I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Blaine mumbles. "It's fine, Kurt, I don't mind."
"I mind," Kurt says. "And I know that you do too. Can we stop-- can we stop telling each other what we think the other person wants to hear? I'm terrible at it, and I don't want you sparing my feelings when something bothers you, okay?"
He's fairly sure that he's asked for honesty from Blaine half a dozen times by now, and he hates that he has to keep asking, over and over again, because Blaine's training means that he says what he thinks Kurt wants to hear-- unless Blaine's pushed too far, like he had been that morning.
"I try so hard," Blaine says. "I try, and I try, and I want to be okay, but Kurt-- I can't, I want to but I can't, and I'm never going to be okay. I don't know why you'd tie yourself to me, not for another year, not when you could have someone who is so much better than I ever could be." He looks up at Kurt, and the dissociative haze is gone from his eyes now, but they're bleak and almost empty. "You wanted honesty." His hands have been moving the entire time he's been speaking with Kurt, kneading and shaping the dough into two solid loaves, patting them into the waiting pans.
"You don't have to, you know," Kurt says. "You don't have to be okay."
"I don't hate you," Blaine says, quiet and subdued. "That part was a lie."
It's such a relief that Kurt has to laugh. "Oh thank god," he says. "It would be so awkward if you did-- I mean, I'd call Paige and Emma and see if they had any ideas, but-- I'm so glad that you don't." He remembers something else Blaine had said during his tirade (I can't even come), and flushes because it is something he hasn't even thought about. Most of the time, Kurt tries to ignore the fact that Blaine is a 27-year-old man, just like he is, because he seems so much younger (and, paradoxically, older, because he's experienced so much)-- so Blaine and sex don't really go together in his mind, regardless of what he's said to Rachel and what other people might think. "And you can do whatever you need to to feel, um, comfortable," he says delicately, exceedingly aware of the fact that he is blushing furiously.
Blaine's face is just as red as Kurt's is as he apparently realizes what he must have said during his rant. "I apologize," he says. "And you don't have to give me permission-- it was, um-- I was trying to handle it myself."
And oh god, handle it-- Kurt feels entirely inappropriate laughter bubbling up out of somewhere, and he'd keep it in but it's before six o'clock in the morning, he hasn't had his coffee yet, and he's used up most of his filter talking to Blaine. He can't help the giggles that are escaping, but thankfully Blaine starts to crack up, too, dropping to the ground and snorting. His hands are still covered in flour and he's wearing his pajamas, and Kurt thinks that here's another Blaine that he hasn't met yet-- one who laughs at inappropriate humor and actually has the occasional hair out of place.
When Blaine is finished laughing, Kurt offers him a hand up. He pulls Blaine to his feet, and when he lets go his hands are sticky with dough and flour; he makes a face and washes them off in the sink.
He finishes drying his hands and turns back to Blaine, who has temporarily abandoned the bread and is looking at Kurt with steady, open eyes.
"Yes," he says. "Yes, I want be part of this."
"Are you sure that this is what you want?" Kurt asks, because he can't help but want to make absolutely sure, given how Blaine had acted the day before.
But now Blaine is calm and even. "I'll say it again: this is what I want. I give my consent freely."
"But are you--"
"Kurt, I'm sure."
"Okay-- the deal's done, I was just--"
"--you were just obsessing. It's fine."
* * *