Chapter warnings: violence.
Nationals, the whole New York adventure, had been Kurt's dream for months – getting out of Ohio, even just for a few days, to a place so much bigger, more open, free. He wanted it all so badly, getting to see and taste how it could be, what his future could hold, experiencing it all, dreaming big. He couldn't sleep the night before, vibrating with excitement and repacking his suitcase for the third time to make sure he was prepared for every possible fashion opportunity (including, though he wouldn't admit it to anyone, being spotted by a talent hunter and swept right from the competition stage to a recording studio or a Broadway audition).
And those few days were everything he'd hoped for – a glimpse of the New York life with its rush, its lights, its possibilities, that left Kurt utterly enchanted. Window-shopping at the designer boutiques – never mind that it would be years before he could afford to actually buy anything at any of them – gave him happy chills. Broadway left him breathless. Merely being there sent his heart into an excited gallop, and when he sneaked into the Gershwin theatre with Rachel, standing on that stage felt so right. Like his heart recognized it, like this was where he belonged.
And he did belong here, not just on Broadway, but in the city. For the first time in years, he didn't stand out. There were people in the streets whose outfits made his own feel muted. There were men and women so clearly playing with the gender image that his own looks hardly seemed like a flaw here – not that Kurt considered them to be, but he'd heard enough girl comments over the years to have enough. And the freedom... His eyes stung when he first saw two men kissing hello right at the airport, before they went their way, hand in hand. By the end of the day it no longer took him by surprise every time he saw a same-sex couple, but it kept making him smile – and ache. God, if only Blaine could be here with him...
But Blaine couldn't be there.
In fact, this trip was in many ways a test for them, a challenge. It was the first time they were so far away from each other; first time since becoming boyfriends that they didn't get to meet for more than 48 hours. They had no idea how it would feel – how much the distance affected their connection, how bad the separation sickness would get. Even Tina couldn't help them – she and Mike had never experienced such distance yet.
It turned out to be both more and less bearable than Kurt had expected.
The separation symptoms were milder than ever before, and faded even more the next day. Kurt knew it had to be harder for Blaine, who was stuck in his everyday life back in Ohio instead of being wonderfully distracted by everything around him like Kurt was, but his texts and his voice seemed to confirm that it wasn't that bad. And late on the second night, when all of the girls were already asleep or well on their way, Kurt got the confirmation that their... sexual connection might be slightly weakened by the distance, but was still there.
He couldn't say the same about the emotional one.
In the weeks since they'd discovered that the marks made them channel their most intense emotions, they'd both learned to control it a little, to consciously gauge the emotional state of the other even in the less explosive moments. It was imprecise, only giving them the vague mood rather than specific feelings, but it was comforting nonetheless, like reaching out in the dark and finding the reassurance of the other's presence there.
Except now it didn't work. At all. Kurt kept trying to focus and feel Blaine's mind somewhere out there, his fingers reaching to the mark under his collarbone on instinct, but nothing happened. It was a weird feeling, being aware of all the distance between them diluting their bond. It made him feel untethered and vaguely anxious. Once, he got a faint glimmer of something like distress, but it was so weak and fleeting that he decided he must have imagined it, especially when Blaine answered his concerned text with a sleepy goodnight one.
And want it or not, being in New York made Kurt think about things he wasn't quite ready for. Like college and their inevitable separation.
It sounded completely crazy at their age, especially when they'd only been together for a little over two months so far, but they wanted a future together. And they both wanted to study in New York, so that was not a problem.
No, the problem was the damn age difference.
Of course, Kurt still had over a year until graduation, and anything could happen in that time. He could end up studying somewhere else, closer to home. Their marks could disappear as suddenly as they turned up, they could even break up for some unconceivable reason. But if everything went well...
...they would still end up apart. For the whole school year. States away, unable to meet for weeks, even months on end. With their connection limited by distance, and no way to touch.
That last thought made him freeze in the middle of packing the last of his toiletries. Not being able to touch Blaine for months? The prospect felt like torture. Not because of the intimate, sexual aspect, though obviously, he would miss that too. But more than that, Kurt couldn't imagine not having access to the ultimate comfort of skin-on-skin contact with Blaine. He didn't know if it was a mark thing or just their thing, but they both craved – needed – each other's touch like they needed air. Even just a bit of skin touching, like hands brushing under the table, did the trick – soothing, comforting, reassuring. It felt like his body took Blaine's presence as a promise that it was safe, that everything was alright, no matter how tilted the world might feel at any particular moment. It took the comfort of holding someone's hand, or a hug, to a whole new level. Losing this would be like... well, like going back to the time before he'd met Blaine, made even worse by the fact he now knew the difference.
"Kurt? What's wrong?" Tina took the forgotten toiletry bag out of his hand and put it in his suitcase, and Kurt jerked back to reality.
"Oh! No, nothing, I just thought about... college and the, you know–" He gestured to her wrist. There were too many people around to spell it out.
Tina frowned, but then her eyebrows shot up. "Wait, you said Blaine was on board with studying in New York?"
"He is, but he'll have to graduate first, won't he?" She still looked confused, so Kurt rolled his eyes. "Blaine is a sophomore, Tina."
"He is? I was sure he’s your age, he said something once... oh well, I must have misunderstood. Anyway, hey, welcome to our world. Mike is already looking into local programs and community classes to fill up the year before we can both apply to our dream schools."
Kurt stopped in the process of zipping up his suitcase. "Really? And his parents are okay with it?"
Tina shrugged. "Of course. We're soulmates, we're not supposed to be apart, especially for such a long time. Our parents decided it makes more sense than me changing schools and moving away with him for my senior year."
"Why, haven't you thought about it? What do you two plan to do?"
Kurt shook his head, unsure what to say. They've never even talked about the year apart yet. College still felt ages away. Or had, until now.
Loud knocking on the door saved him from answering, Mr. Schue's voice coming through. "I want to see everyone down in the lobby in five minutes. No stalling guys, we have a plane to catch."
Kurt checked his carry-on bag one last time and rolled his suitcase out of the room, taking a chance to escape his friends for a short moment and collect himself. He and Blaine needed to have a serious talk. Just... maybe not yet. It could wait until summer, when they'd have more time together and everything would be easier, more relaxed without school. They could talk then.
If nothing more, it gave Kurt time to think.
Blaine's mom didn't like Kurt. Not that he'd honestly expected anything else, but a boy can dream, right?
He'd decided it was time for his parents to meet Kurt a week before the school year ended – they had the whole summer to look forward to and other than Blaine's short stint at Six Flags and Kurt's part-time job at his father's garage, those two months looked like paradise, boyfriend-time-wise. It seemed reasonable to start getting his parents used to the sight of the two of them in the same location, especially considering that the Anderson house had a large backyard with a swimming pool and a hammock. It felt criminal not to use those on the inevitably hot summer days, no matter how much Kurt whined about UV and chlorine and mosquitoes. Blaine knew he would be able to sway him when the time came. He could be very persuasive when needed.
Except now he wasn't sure Kurt would even want to come over anymore if things continued to be the way they were.
They were never home alone. His father hadn't actually met Kurt yet, but his mom... Blaine honestly couldn't remember the last time she had spent so much time at home, especially in the summer when her country club and her friends usually kept her busy. But this year, whenever he announced he'd be inviting Kurt over, his mom just miraculously didn't have anything planned and spent her time puttering loudly around the house or doing things in the backyard. And it wouldn't even be that bad – annoying, yes, but oh well, all parents were like that when their teenage kids wanted time alone, right? But it was not just a question of privacy, or lack of it.
His mom never missed the opportunity to throw Kurt disapproving glances; she wasn't even trying to be subtle about it. And whenever she deigned to speak to Kurt – which wasn't often – her voice was so cold Blaine was pretty sure it made the temperature in the room drop a few degrees. Really, he barely recognized the lovely, gracious hostess she was known to be.
And Blaine could see how hard it was on Kurt. It wasn't killing him the way it would Blaine if he was the one clearly disapproved of – no, Kurt wasn't a people-pleaser, he didn't need acceptance to live. He'd had plenty of ostracism in his life, but it had usually been loud and direct, making it something he could deal with, one way or another: defend himself, snark back, pointedly ignore the hater. But this time, he didn't even get that luxury. Nothing was out in the open and Blaine could see that Kurt was trying so very hard to be polite and not let it affect him, trying for Blaine's sake, but it was frustrating him to no end.
It was only a matter of time before the situation would explode, Blaine knew. And it terrified him. Both Kurt and his mom had a temper, so it wouldn't be pretty.
He tried to talk to his mom, but she acted like there was nothing to talk about, like he exaggerated. And as much as he wanted to believe that the tension would dissolve eventually, it only seemed to grow, leeching away half the pleasure of being with Kurt. So two weeks into the summer vacation, Blaine gave up. They were always welcome at Kurt's house, and even though they had no privacy at all there either, it was better than here.
Kurt frowned when he told him, and it took Blaine all of two seconds to read his reaction.
"No, no, Kurt, it's not your fault, they are just... really stupidly stubborn sometimes, and I wish I could do something about it, but it just doesn't work, and I don't want you to have to endure it anymore."
Kurt nodded and kissed him. "I don't care where we are, as long as it's with you."
And that should have been the end of it – it would have been, if they hadn't run into Blaine's mom when they went to the kitchen to get some ice cream. Kurt was up front, greeted with another wordless glare, and Blaine could feel Kurt's restraint snap. It happened too fast, he didn't have time to stop Kurt before the words were out.
"Why do you hate me so much? All I've ever done is love your son, is that so wrong?"
Uh-oh. Blaine closed his eyes. Here it came.
When he opened them, his mom was standing in front of Kurt, scary despite her tiny form, her eyes flashing with anger.
"Oh yes, of course, you love him so much that you don't even care about his safety or comfort, do you?"
"Wha-" Kurt started, stunned, but she wouldn't let him speak.
"You don't care that he very nearly died last year at the hands of bullies – no, of course not, it doesn't matter as long as you have your prom, and your boyfriend at your school where you want him. And the way you look, the way you dress – it only pulls attention, doesn't it? And maybe you're fine with it, the way it puts you in danger, but when you're with Blaine, you're putting him in danger, too. On his own, he can easily pass as normal, but with you? Not a chance. So forgive me for not thinking that you are good for my son, Kurt. Because you're not. You will only get him hurt."
Blaine had never heard his mom use this tone, so cold and sneering, and god, she had it all wrong. But before he could say anything, Kurt whirled around, his face pale and eyes lowered, and with a whispered I'm sorry shot right past him and back up the stairs to Blaine's room.
Blaine's first instinct was to go after him, but he paused.
"Mom? First of all, I am normal, we both are, and I have no intention of passing and pretending I'm not who I am. And second, he doesn't know anything about it. Not that I want to transfer, nor how bad Sadie Hawkins was. I only told him I'd been attacked, and he gave up the idea of prom immediately. It was all me, mom, my own choices."
Her face fell for a moment, doubt creeping in, but then she frowned again. "So you don't even trust him enough to tell him?"
Blaine just shook his head, incredulous, and ran up to his bedroom.
He found Kurt pacing the room, his hands shaking and lower lip white where his teeth dug in. His eyes were wet when he faced Blaine, haunted.
"You nearly died? It was that bad? Why didn't you tell me?"
Blaine came up to him and took his hands.
"I'm sorry. I just... I didn't want you to pity me or... I don't know, see me differently, I guess?" He admitted honestly. "From the moment we met, you've always looked up to me, you know? And I knew that if you saw the whole picture, you'd realize there's nothing to admire, really. And... the past is past, why bother digging it up anyway?"
"Because I want to know everything about you, and that includes your past. Because apparently that past still affects you and I've had no idea, Blaine, do you know how that feels? And no matter what happened, I'm not going to admire or love you less because of it. You're you, and I love you." Kurt's face softened. "Please tell me."
Blaine sighed and closed the door, then led Kurt to the armchair by the bed. "Are you sure? It's not gonna be pretty, and with the connection between us–"
Blaine breathed out and climbed onto the bed to sit cross-legged, facing Kurt. "Okay then. You should know though... I have some anxiety issues, and talking about this may stir them up." Kurt looked like he'd never really seen him before, and Blaine forced himself to push through. "I have meds that I can take if it gets bad, but before they start to work... that's a scary feeling, Kurt, so you should maybe try and shield yourself from the empathy if possible."
Kurt just nodded, looking spooked, and Blaine put his chin on his fists and started.
"I told you that we were attacked after the Sadie Hawkins dance, me and Andy. The attackers... there were three of them, and they were drunk. At first it was just words, the usual, run-off-the-mill homophobic stuff, but soon it wasn't enough for them, so they started... pushing us, at first. Then one of them decided we needed to be taught – I still don't know what we were supposed to learn – but then they were... punching and kicking, more and more vicious, and... I don't really remember every blow and every minute of it, just that it felt like eternity, and it hurt everywhere, and the sounds, god, the sound of human flesh colliding with a boot, Kurt–"
His voice was unsteady now, but he was holding on. Kurt's face looked tortured, and they hadn't even gotten to the worst yet.
"The last look of Andy that I got, he was bloody and unmoving, and I really thought he might be dead because he no longer made any sounds, he was just lying there. I tried to say something, to beg them to let us go, but my voice didn't work – nothing worked properly anymore." Blaine took a deep breath. "And then they decided that, and I quote, trash belongs with trash, and–"
"They didn't." It was barely a whisper, and Kurt looked sick. Blaine very much wanted to comfort him, tell him that it wasn't that bad, but–
"Yeah, they did. They hauled me up and dropped me into a dumpster. They were trying to push Andy in, too, but then a car came into the parking lot, so they left him and ran."
This was the moment where he started shaking, his breathing turning shallow and erratic. The memory of that fear and helplessness was much worse than that of the pain alone. He'd take pain over those any day. Talking was getting more difficult, but he fought it, pushed through the ghosts of that night, even when words felt like sharp little shards in his throat.
He remembered how hard he'd hit the bottom of the almost empty dumpster, how his whole body had seized in pain of the graceless landing, and what it had felt like to discovered that he could barely move, or even make a sound, through the pounding in his head and back. How Andy's father screamed and then attempted to awaken his son; how Blaine was trying to call out, stand up, anything to get the man to notice he was there, too. He told Kurt about the blinding, choking terror of the realization that there was no way for him to get out of there when the car sped out of the parking lot, carrying his friend to safety. How he stayed there, trapped and alone in the dark, battered and completely, utterly helpless.
By this time Blaine's heart was pounding, too fast and stuttering, and he couldn't get enough air through his tightened throat. He knew he was just panicking, he'd been through this before; knew he had to get to his Xanax – it was so close, just in his desk drawer. But it felt impossible to get there when all he could focus on was breathing, moving the right muscles, in, out, in, because his body seemed to have forgotten how to do it on its own.
The bed dipped, Kurt, right, Kurt was here, he should – he must be freaking Kurt out, he should... do something, but–
Kurt settled against his back, hands hovering uncertainly around him, and Blaine slumped back with a harsh exhale, grabbing onto Kurt's arms, tugging at them, and Kurt got it immediately, pressing him close, snug against his chest.
"Baby? What can I do to help? Where do you keep your meds, how can I–?" Kurt sounded breathless himself, scared.
"No." Blaine breathed out. Then, when he managed to get enough air again – "Just hold me."
It felt safer like this, even with his brain still insisting he was dying; Kurt's hand sliding under his t-shirt, skin on skin, and Blaine was able to breathe a tiny bit easier. He focused on that, Kurt and safe and breathing for a long, long while, until the iron bar around his chest loosened and then dissolved into nothing, leaving him exhausted and still trembling, but mostly calm. It felt like a miracle. He stirred in Kurt's arms eventually and took a deep breath.
"You don't have to tell me anything more." Kurt sounded guilty, tortured. "I'm sorry, I had no idea... I shouldn't have put you through this."
"No. I want you to know all of it, now that I started. Just, don't let go." He was eager to finish the story, get it over with.
"Of course." Kurt squeezed his hand and Blaine commenced speaking, voice only a little rough and winded.
"What followed was the scariest night of my life. I was alone, curled up in pain at the bottom of a dumpster by the empty parking lot, and I knew that no one would really look for me until Monday. My parents were away in Columbus and had no idea that I'd gone to the dance, Andy was unconscious, and my phone was lying somewhere in the dark, probably smashed after being kicked out of my hand. It was February, freezing cold, and I wasn't even dressed for the weather, seeing how we were supposed to be driven both ways. I... I really thought I was going to die there, Kurt." Blaine's throat hurt, clenched tight around the confession, and Kurt's arms around him tightened too, both hands now on the bare skin of his stomach, soothing. "I don't know how long I lay there. It was quiet and I've never felt so alone in my life. I was getting dizzy, disoriented, and eventually I was shivering so hard it was the only thing I could think of, the cold. I just... I wanted it to stop. It's pathetic, but instead of some burst of strength, determination to survive, to pull myself out of there no matter what, I just prayed for it to end."
He heard a muffled sob and half-turned in Kurt's embrace, sliding his arms around Kurt's waist and nuzzling into the crook of his neck.
"Hey, I'm still here. I didn't die, I'm right here."
"Yeah, but you could have died and–" Fresh tears on Kurt's face, and Blaine slid out of his embrace and pulled him to lay on the bed together, their limbs tangling immediately. Kurt waited until he was safely pressed against Blaine before he spoke again. "So how did you get out?"
"Someone pulled me out, later that night. I don't know who it was, I was barely conscious by the time he jumped into the dumpster, and I passed out as soon as he hauled me up, the pain was just too much. But I've always thought it must have been one of those three guys who'd beaten us up. I came to when I hit the ground in the hospital parking lot, and the car sped away at once. I managed to... basically crawl, a little, until someone noticed me and took me inside." He shuddered, remembering the next few hours, and Kurt held him closer. "It still felt like hours before my parents came. I've never been at a hospital before, not as a patient, and no one wanted to tell me anything. They were just talking over me, about tests and a surgery, and then I freaked out during an MRI because I felt trapped again and they had to sedate me. And... it was the best feeling in the world, Kurt, finally getting to switch it all off. The rest I know from my parents – I went in for an emergency surgery because there was some bleeding in my brain, and between that and some hypothermia, I didn't wake up afterward like I was supposed to. I was... in a coma, I guess, for three days."
"Oh my god."
Blaine shrugged. That part had been actually easy for him, considering he'd been unconscious and unaware of the hell his parents had been enduring, not knowing if he'd wake up at all.
"There was some time at the hospital afterwards, and then weeks at home with broken ribs and a fractured wrist, followed by some physical therapy, and months of psychotherapy because I was getting panic attacks for no reason, and... I never went back to that school. Come September, I started at Dalton, but I was held back a year because of all the absences, so... now I'm here."
Kurt didn't say anything for a very long time, just held onto him as if afraid to let go. His face was still wet.
When his tears dried off, he kissed Blaine, deep and desperate and there, and even though they couldn't really do more than that, he kept kissing him right until the moment he had to go home, and even then he turned back from the door twice before he actually went. His eyes never lost that haunted look.
Blaine's mom was nowhere to be seen for a while, but she came out of the laundry room when Kurt was gone, looking almost contrite.
"Okay, so I may have judged him too harshly. I'm sorry, I... you can tell Kurt he's welcome here."
Well, that was a start.