The worst of the flu passes within the next few days, but Kurt still can’t stop coughing, so his supervisor at Starbucks won’t let him come back to work yet. Apparently a barista who sounds like he’s about to die of consumption might be bad for business. With an unusual amount of time on his hands, Kurt decides to go through his stash of odd fabric bits he’s collected over the months of hunting at charity shops.
His usual creations – ties and headbands and little purses, mostly, because all he has to work with is scraps – sell relatively well, even though he lost his whole Etsy following when he had to abandon his old account for secrecy. This time, though, between his restlessness and the lingering low-grade fever, he can't stand the repetitive feel of the same boring designs again. So he lets his imagination take over, his hands flying over the fabrics, cutting, pinning, sewing, without planning or a conscious thought. The result is the strangest, most colorful collection of accessories he’s ever created – and it’s made entirely for kids: dozens of tiny bowties and little girl’s handbags, hats and hair ties and flower pins, even a few child-sized silk scarves.
On Friday morning, he drags himself to the library and uploads the whole lot to his Etsy store, hoping to aid their budget somehow.
And he hits the jackpot: despite the crappy phone photos, one buyer purchases everything he has before Kurt even leaves the library. Stunned, Kurt wonders if it’s some kind of prank – these kinds of miracles don’t happen, not really – but the payment goes through immediately and suddenly, he can breathe easier. It's more money than he's lost not working this week. He can even pay Blaine back for everything he bought for them when Kurt was sick.
Or he could, if Blaine actually let him.
"Nope, there's no way I'm taking your money." Blaine has just returned with Rachel from the acting group, cautiously optimistic about them being exactly what they claim to be and not a threat. He's now sitting on the couch opposite Kurt, warming his hands on a cup of tea. "I brought some stuff because I wanted to help my friends. I'm sure you would do the same if I found myself in need and you had money to spare. I can afford it, Kurt. Why can't you just accept that?"
Kurt frowns and crosses his arms over his chest. "I don't want charity," he mumbles.
"But it's not charity," Blaine insists. "It's sharing with people I care about."
"But it makes me feel like we’re taking advantage of you."
"You're not, though. You're going through some temporary hardships. You will find your footing eventually, I'm sure of it – you will find a way to finish school and pursue the careers you dream of, and things will get easier. But for now, let me take some weight off your shoulders, okay? Keep the money, buy yourself something nice, or even just save it for future expenses. I don't need it back because it wasn't a loan. It was a gift of not having to worry for a few days. Please don't refuse that."
He looks so intent and earnest that Kurt sighs and gives up. "Okay. Thank you. But please don't spend any more money on us. No more bringing us things, okay?"
Blaine pouts. "Not even little things? Cookies when I come to visit? Coffee sometimes?"
Kurt rolls his eyes. "Fine, little things are an exception. I just.” He bites his lip, an annoying nervous habit he picked up somewhere along the way. “I can manage, Blaine. I really can."
"I know you can. But you don't have to always manage on your own. Not anymore." Blaine reaches for his hand and squeezes it, and Kurt's heart flutters helplessly.
But then Blaine lets go.
Over the next week, Blaine develops a new routine. Since his classes and tutoring end earlier than Kurt’s shifts, he comes to the coffee shop every night to walk Kurt to the subway. He doesn't always buy coffee for them, mindful of his promise, but his time and presence feel like a gift anyway. It's not that close from his dorm, after all, and they don't even have much time to talk before Kurt gets on the train. It's hard for Kurt to believe anyone would find it worth their time to trek through the cold and rain on a November evening just to spend half an hour with him. And yet, it seems like Blaine is happy to do it every day.
It's a week until Thanksgiving and it feels surreal that barely a month ago, Kurt was still too scared to try and reconnect with Blaine. Now he can’t imagine a day without Blaine’s good-night phone call. So much has happened in the last four weeks, so many secrets are out in the open now – and Blaine is still here, sticking by them stronger than ever. There's only one part of their past he still hasn't asked about.
Until he does, on a particularly cold night, a promise of the season’s first snow in the air as they walk out of the warmth of the coffee shop.
"Kurt, what happened between your escape and the day you came to my dorm? How did you two survive all those months out there alone?"
Kurt winces and stops by the door to fix his scarf, stalling a little. It's not that he doesn't want to talk about it – it's just hard. The entire first year before they moved to New York was the hardest time in Kurt's life and he doesn't like to think about it. There was too much fear, too little safety, nothing certain in their little world as they ran and hid and just tried to survive. It's hard to talk about it, to contain all that in simple words. But he will try. He promised he would.
With a deep breath, he grabs Blaine's hand and pulls him back into the Starbucks. This is going to be a long talk, so there’s no use freezing their noses off outside. He points to a corner table, the most secluded spot in the entire shop, and then ignores Blaine's protests and goes to get the coffee himself. It's a nice feeling to be the one buying for once.
When their drinks are ready, he takes them to the table, slides off his coat and settles in the overstuffed armchair. And then he starts talking.
He talks about the woman who agreed to take them as far as they needed when they approached her at a gas station that first night, cold and terrified, with a Romeo-and-Juliet-esque story that moved her to tears. She wasn't much older than them, and not too bright, but she was kind and compassionate, and that was exactly what they needed, both shaken to the core with what they'd just done. She spent hours of the drive comforting Rachel, who had gone into a belated shock after the events on the bridge and was trembling uncontrollably. The woman – Angie – was driving to Canada with her whole life packed into her little car, and they stayed with her for two days, taking turns driving, and sleeping in the car when none of them could drive anymore. They said goodbye to her at dawn on the third day, standing on the outskirts of the first city of many – the first step of the long, scary road that would eventually lead them to New York.
He talks about starting with some money that melted away faster than they ever thought it would. About sleeping in cheap motels at first and eating decent, though basic food, but soon being forced to do things neither of them had ever thought of doing – seeking shelter in abandoned buildings or sleeping on park benches, eating whatever was cheapest and never enough. He tells Blaine about the days when there was nothing to eat at all and no money left, and looking through dumpsters behind restaurants no longer felt like something unimaginable. About the nights they held each other in some squats or ruins, listening to the rough night life just outside and praying to the gods they didn't believe in for the miracle of staying unnoticed. About that one night the miracle didn’t happen and they barely escaped a bunch of drunk bikers looking for free entertainment.
He talks about starting with low expectations, but high standards – about earning money singing in bars and coffee shops, and then, as their appearance turned wilder and more disheveled, on the sidewalks in front of them, until people started taking them for beggars and shooing them away. He talks about tucking away their pride and doing anything that could earn them some money without revealing their identities – cleaning, helping out on construction sites, digging up gardens, holding signs, distributing leaflets. Anything but selling themselves, though they were both propositioned repeatedly. Sometimes they earned enough for cheap rooms where they spent a few weeks at a time before moving on. Sometimes they weren’t so lucky and spent weeks living on the street. Always on the run, always afraid, more than once leaving within hours after seeing something or someone that made their paranoia flare up.
He talks about the doubt that crept in as time passed, about barely remembering what had been so bad in their golden prison where they'd had plenty to eat and safe, warm beds, and people who cared about them. About the long conversations when the cold kept them awake – wondering what would be their punishment if they returned, or if any punishment could be worse than this life.
He tells Blaine about the worst, bleakest days when there were no jobs for weeks, no money or shelter, when everything seemed lost and they didn't even care anymore, and about the miracle of finding an old, but working sewing machine by a dumpster one day. He recalls how sewing wasn't even the pleasure it had always been then – just a way to earn a few dollars and live another day, keep the spark of hope alive for a little longer. How that machine saved their lives – he bought used clothes in charity stores, the bigger the better, and used the fabrics to sew day and night while Rachel set up little street stalls and sold his creations. How for the first time in weeks they could afford enough food and a cheap, moldy room that felt like a palace.
He tells Blaine about the last city before New York, the one where they stayed for over three months and almost learned to love it. About the little old lady who saw them selling their mismatched collection of bags and headbands and bowties, and stopped to talk to them, and then came back the next day and offered them a room above her garage for next to nothing just because she felt they were good people in desperate need.
He talks about the time they lived there, longer than seemed prudent because they had no more fight in them to run again. How they managed to save enough money to find something cheap in New York, but by the time Kurt's birthday came, Rachel didn't want to go anymore, afraid to lose the little safety they finally had. How he barely managed to convince her, promising her security and time for herself and freedom to try for Broadway auditions, because his heart wouldn't stop calling for him to get here.
The rest of the tale is simple – arriving in the city, finding the loft through some really dumb luck, looking for legit jobs and going through dumpsters to furnish the apartment, and then working, working, working, hoping for something to change, to get better, for normal life to come at last.
By the time Kurt is done with the story, their cups are long empty and it's late – really late. Blaine's eyes are sad and soft when he asks Kurt if he wants to spend the night in his dorm room instead of going home, and Kurt is ready to just take his hand and say yes. God, please, yes.
Except then Blaine starts explaining that his roommate is away again and Kurt can have Blaine's bed, and it's suddenly very clear they're not on the same page at all. Kurt thanks him and tells him not to worry, and then he gets on the train and swallows his tears the entire way home until finally letting them out in the shower where no one can see him cry. Because Kurt doesn't cry.
It's just so hard, even when it seems silly to feel this way.
He knows how incredibly lucky he is to have Blaine in his life again at all. He knows, and he's deeply grateful. Having him as a friend helped so much that miserable week and made the whole month different for Kurt – more focused, filled with things other than just work and sleep. All the time spent with Blaine, talking to him, sharing the secrets has awakened parts of Kurt's heart that had been dormant for a long time – the parts responsible for connections, hope and caring for other people besides Rachel and himself. For experiencing and feeling more than the bare minimum his emotional life had been reduced to, out of necessity.
Blaine woke Kurt up to life, made him feel and dream again. Gave him hope that maybe he could have his happy ending one day, however distant and improbable.
But Kurt's not delusional. He's far from forcing his feelings on anyone, and if he knew for sure friendship is all Blaine wants from him, he would understand and accept it, however painful it may be.
The problem is, Blaine doesn't seem to know what he wants himself.
In the last week, he has been increasingly confusing in his behavior around Kurt: Getting close only to move away. Touching Kurt's hand, knee, even face with the ease born from past intimacy, before jerking away as if burned a second later. Looking at him with warm, tender eyes and catching himself, deliberately getting his face under control.
It's frustrating and upsetting because Kurt doesn't have a way to know what it means, this hot and cold game that doesn't seem to be a game at all.
Are these just impulses left over from the time they were so much closer – muscle memory, unwelcome now that Blaine doesn't see Kurt romantically anymore? Is Blaine struggling with what he's feeling, unsure of it himself? It would be easiest to just ask, to talk about it openly and get to know where they stand and what to expect. But Kurt won't ask. He can't, not when he's only just gotten Blaine back at all. Their situation is still too fragile to shake the ground it's built on.
No, he'll manage. It's just hard when he could really use those arms to hide in sometimes.
Chapter art: Runaways
Chapter song: Safe and Sound by Taylor Swift, cover by Megan Nicole and Tiffany Alvord
The next chapter will be posted on Wednesday 02 October.