Thanksgiving isn't a big deal to Kurt and Rachel. Sure, it's better than last year, now that they actually have some things to be thankful for – they are alive, over eighteen, living in New York with a roof over their heads and actual jobs that put food on their table. They even have their best friend back in their lives. But Blaine is going home to his family and Kurt is working, so the day doesn't feel any different than usual. Gone are the days of crowded, loud Thanksgiving celebrations with the whole Harbor community over food-laden tables. It's just the two of them. Maybe they'll make something good for dinner. Maybe they will even buy some good meat and fresh vegetables if Kurt's tips are decent like they often are around the holidays. (Kurt's decision never to eat meat again, made after that hunting trip with Rachel's father, has long since been overridden by the necessity to eat whatever they could afford – or come by – on the run. Street life doesn’t really come with easy vegetarian options.)
Kurt is walking out of the coffee shop a few minutes after six, making a mental list for a grocery run on his way home, when he narrowly avoids a collision with someone standing in the middle of the sidewalk – someone who catches him when he stumbles and says in a very familiar voice, "Whoa, hey, careful."
Kurt's Thanksgiving has just become a whole lot more special.
"Blaine?" His jaw drops at the sight. “What are you doing here? Weren't you supposed to go to Lima last night? What happened?"
"I changed my mind," Blaine replies, looking equal parts proud and bashful. "I decided my parents could stand not seeing me until Christmas, and they agreed. They have Cooper there this year, and I'm more needed here. No one should be alone on Thanksgiving."
Kurt slowly shakes his head as the understanding dawns. "Wait, you stayed in the city just so that you could spend tonight with us?"
Blaine bites his lip, suddenly unsure. "I… might have? But if you have other plans or don’t want to spend it with me, just say the word and I'll have a little feast in my room instead."
It's only now that Kurt realizes Blaine is carrying a stuffed backpack, and there’s a large bag standing by his leg on the sidewalk. He raises an eyebrow.
"Please tell me you didn't do what I think you did."
"Um." Blaine tugs on a strap, looking a little flustered. "Do you want me to lie?"
Kurt sighs. "No. But Blaine, we talked about this."
"I know. But it's Thanksgiving!" Blaine's face is so earnest and eager, Kurt can't help but smile. "Besides, I didn't bring everything. We still need green beans and mashed potatoes. See? I'm just chipping in a little."
Kurt actually snorts. "Oh, I see. In that case, we'd better go. There's dinner to be made."
He almost reaches for Blaine's hand in his suddenly buoyant mood, but catches himself in time. Friends. They're friends.
It turns out there isn't really much of the dinner left to make. When they get home, Blaine's heavy bag reveals a container with a small turkey that he bought already roasted, stuffing and all, and there’s a jar of cranberries and a pumpkin pie from one of the classy New York bakeries there, too, everything carefully packaged and secured. They work on making the mashed potatoes and green beans together while Rachel sits on a counter and sings loudly with the radio, happy like Kurt rarely sees her anymore.
The dinner is delicious, the atmosphere truly special, but the best thing for Kurt is the feeling of not being alone. They truly matter to someone, for the first time in a long time.
They sit together on the couch after dinner, full and lazy. It's a tight fit for the three of them, but it feels good to be close, with Rachel tucked in between the two of them. The lights are off, only two tall pillar candles illuminating the space, and they are sipping spiced tea and talking leisurely about everything and nothing of importance. It's dark and cold outside, but in here, it's warm and safe and the most peaceful they've been in years. Kurt smiles so much his cheeks hurt, and it feels like he’s floating, everything soft and fuzzy around him.
Like a gentle, quiet tide, there comes a thought: he's happy. Right here, in this one short evening, he has everything he needs. There's no weight of secrets on his shoulders anymore, no past dramas left to talk about. They are just three people who care about one another; three friends who had been through the worst and survived, their friendship still strong – maybe stronger for what they've faced. They are young and free and alive, and they can look into the future, whatever it may bring, with hope and courage.
He could wish for no better thing to be thankful for.
When Blaine leaves after ten, Rachel helps Kurt clean up, dancing around the kitchen with a song on her lips and a dish rag on her shoulder. He has his hands in the hot soapy dishwater when she suddenly hugs him tightly from behind.
"I've been thinking," she starts, standing on tiptoes to hook her chin over his shoulder. "What would you say if I asked you to pass your bakery job to me permanently?"
"What?" The plate slides from Kurt's fingers and back into the sink, forgotten. "Why?"
"I'm good at it, Mr. Patterson said so himself. He said that I brighten up the store and that the customers like me. And this way you could have the mornings for sewing. It pays better than the bakery and you love it."
"Rach–" Kurt isn't sure what to say. He's gotten so used to the thought that it's all on him that the prospect of her voluntarily taking over some of the burden is unexpected and overwhelming. "Are you sure?"
She smiles. "I am. There's a demand for your creations, you said so yourself, it's an opportunity you can't miss."
She's right. The man who bought the last batch on Etsy has asked about the possibility of regular supplies – Kurt just hasn't found a way to make it work yet.
"Besides," Rachel adds, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek. "You work too hard, this schedule is insane. I just realized tonight how long it's been since I last saw you relaxed and smiling. I want to help."
"I–" Kurt turns, not caring about the water dripping from his hands as he pulls her into a hug. "Okay. If you're sure, and if Mr. Patterson agrees. Thank you, Rach."
"Oh, he will agree. We'll ask him tomorrow and if he’s okay with it, I can start on Monday."
The possibility of such a welcome shift in his schedule in just a few days is heady, and Kurt picks Rachel up and spins her around, his laugh slightly manic. "Oh my god, I love you."
"I love you too," she laughs. "But put me down, you silly boy, my shirt is soaked."
“Hi. Can I come in? It’s absolutely freezing outside.” Blaine’s warm chuckle brings Kurt back from his reverie.
“Oh! Of course.” He opens the door wider. “Sorry, I just haven’t expected you.”
Blaine has been so busy lately, studying for his semester finals, that they’ve only managed to meet twice in the two weeks since that wonderful Thanksgiving night. Talking on the phone every night is lovely, but it’s not quite the same, so seeing Blaine here, pink from the cold and grinning, is the best kind of surprise. Except–
“I thought it was the acting group day today?”
Blaine has been attending with Rachel since that first time, wanting to make sure there was no funny business or danger for her there. His concern and care would be enough to make Kurt fall in love with Blaine if he hadn’t already. Care, support, protection – after having to struggle by themselves for so long, these seem like the sexiest qualities. As if Blaine didn’t have enough sexy qualities already.
Even his confused face is sexy as he pauses taking off his coat.
“Rachel didn’t tell you? I stopped going last week. I couldn’t spare the time anymore, with exams approaching, and I don’t really need it, anyway. I hope you don’t mind?” Blaine looks at him, anxious. “They are really okay, the people there. They are all older than Rachel and some are a bit weird, but not dangerous weird. Just, actor weird. She’s safe. But I was sure she told you, I’m sorry, I should have–“
Kurt shakes his head. “No, it’s okay, come on – you’ve done more than I could ever ask from you. I guess she just forgot to tell me. She’s always so excited when she comes back, she can’t stop talking about the people and the exercises they do. I guess finding all these new friends must be amazing for her. She’s always been a people person.”
“Unlike you?” Blaine gives him a fond smile as he takes off his boots.
“Unlike me.” Kurt agrees. “Well, it’s not that I dislike people, I just prefer them in small doses. I guess I recharge my batteries at home, not in the crowd.”
“Should I take it as a hint to leave you alone when you’re tired? Are you tired now?” Blaine asks, only half-teasing, and Kurt has to smile.
“No. You’re actually one of the few people I recharge perfectly well with. I’d even hazard a theory you speed up the recharging process.”
Blaine snorts a short laugh. “Ooh, that sounds like an introvert’s compliment. Thanks! I’m guessing Rachel is another of those?”
Kurt grins and gestures for Blaine to come into the kitchen. “Sometimes, it depends. She can be really draining some days when she doesn’t know what to do with all of her energy. I’m glad she has the group now. It seems to make her happy.”
“Yeah, she really shines there. And she gives her all, every time. You know how she is.”
“I know how she is.”
They share a knowing smile, and it’s then that it hits Kurt.
If Rachel is at the acting group practice, she won’t be home for hours. Which means he and Blaine are going to be alone. In private. Apart from the night of their reunion, it’s the first time since that afternoon before the bridge. And the situation is very different now.
It’s not bad, at first. Kurt reheats yesterday’s soup for them and they eat in friendly silence, the warmth spreading through their bellies. Then he insists he doesn’t need help washing up and slowly cleans up the kitchen, unnecessarily scrubbing the clean sink and drying it thoroughly, wiping the counter, even going as far as sweeping the floor while Blaine tells him about his upcoming exams and preparations. But there’s only so long he can pretend he’s busy.
“Kurt?” Blaine has paused the story of his History of Theater professor and his weird teaching methods and is looking at him with amusement. “I’m pretty sure you already washed this pan. And it was clean then, too.”
“Oh.” Kurt rinses the offending dish, feeling like a kid caught with his hand in a cookie jar, his cheeks hot. “Yeah, I know, I noticed there was a spot left.” He makes a show of scrutinizing the scratched surface carefully before nodding, feigning satisfaction. “Okay, done. Sorry. I get obsessive about cleaning sometimes. Coffee?”
Blaine raises from the stool he’s been sitting on. “Let me.”
“No, really, it’s okay. I’ll just put it on, it won’t be a minute.” He needs distractions, needs his hands occupied because who knows what they will do otherwise. He still remembers the last time alone with Blaine, the warmth of his skin, the firmness of the flesh under Kurt’s clenching palms.
Which is not a thing he should be thinking about right now.
The coffee is ready all too soon and there’s no choice but to sit down at last. Kurt perches on the couch, leaving the much more comfortable armchair for Blaine, but no, of course, he has to join him for some reason, unaware of Kurt’s problem. The couch does its thing where the middle dips when there’s more than one person on it, and they end up tilted towards each other with no way to move further away that wouldn’t look impolite and awkward and–
Damn, Kurt is so not ready for this.
Blaine seems unaffected, though, completely oblivious to his discomfort. He curls his socked feet under himself and turns to face Kurt with that easy smile of his.
“So… I’ve been writing songs lately.”
This distracts Kurt enough for his brain to focus on something other than reminding him how long he hasn’t been touched and how amazing being in Blaine’s arms felt.
“Really?” he asks with genuine surprise.
Blaine smiles bashfully. “Yeah. I haven’t told anyone yet, you’re the first, but… I think it’s something I may become good at. If I practice enough, I mean. It’s just… you know I’ve been playing all those instruments, right? I’ve been surrounded by music for so long that sometimes it’s like I think in music, you know? When I feel enough, it translates to melodies somehow, and then it’s easy to find the words, too, and– It’s been happening a lot, lately. So I started to write them down. I’m not objective, obviously, but I think they’re not bad. For the first try, I mean.”
“Will you–“ it feels too intimate somehow, but Kurt pushes on. “Will you ever show me? Sing something for me?”
Blaine blushes for some reason, his cheeks just slightly pink, but it looks adorable. “Yeah. I hope so. One day when I’m… when they’re ready. To be shared.”
“Okay.” Kurt nods, still fascinated, only just realizing that while Blaine knows pretty much everything about them by now, Kurt doesn’t really know as much about him as he’d want to. Yes, Blaine had always been the one more open and honest about himself, sharing with no holding back, but this was back then. Since they reconnected, Kurt and Rachel’s story had overshadowed Blaine’s. Sure, they talk and he shares enough about the present, but the truth is, Kurt knows almost nothing of what happened to Blaine in the time between their escape and their return.
He’ll have to ask. Even if he’s kind of afraid to know.
But right now is not the moment.
“Speaking of songwriting,” Blaine looks unsure somehow, hesitant. “A few days ago I went and watched a recording of Glee Regionals from two years ago. You know, when you and Rachel sang your song,” he adds when Kurt doesn’t grasp the connection at first.
“Oh.” Right. He’s shocked to realize he’d forgotten all about it with everything that happened since then.
“Yeah. I knew there was a video but I’d never been able to watch it after you were gone. I just couldn’t. But now I did. And Kurt – I just want to say I’m sorry.”
“Why?” Kurt frowns, confused.
“Because that day, on that stage, it was the first time I really felt that something was wrong. And I did nothing to help you. I should have been able to do something. Maybe if I had, you wouldn’t have had to–“ Blaine’s face looks tortured, and Kurt can’t let him finish.
“Blaine, no.” He grabs Blaine’s hands and squeezes them firmly, not caring about what’s proper between them for once. “Don’t do this to yourself. You’ve done plenty. You were there for us, always. You cared. It made a huge difference. See? We’re here. That’s how big a difference you made.”
“But I should have been able to do more.” It hurts Kurt to see even the shadow of what it must have been for the boy he loves. Even all this time later, it’s still a wound that won’t heal completely.
“There was nothing you could have done, though.” He’s still holding Blaine’s hands, only now Blaine is squeezing back. “We were nowhere ready to tell you – or anyone – and nothing could have changed that. If you pushed, we would have had to distance ourselves. So really, Blaine, you did everything you could. And it turned out better than I had ever hoped.”
Blaine doesn’t say anything, just nods and takes a deep, shuddering breath, and there’s a long silence where Kurt pretends not to see the way he fights the tears with his face turned away, gives him the option of not showing emotions if that’s his choice. Sure, he would want nothing more than to pull Blaine into a hug, close enough for the sound of Kurt’s heartbeat, real and alive, to comfort him, the ultimate proof of what a difference he made. But what would have felt perfectly natural two years ago, isn’t anymore. Kurt feels too far out of his depth to reach out so strongly, and eventually Blaine’s stuttering breath evens out and he turns back towards Kurt, his hands sliding away.
“Sorry,” he sighs. “I might have listened to that song too many times in the last few days.”
“I don’t even remember it anymore,” Kurt frowns, trying to recall anything more than the haunting feeling of pouring their hearts out in front of a full audience, none of which could really understand what they were singing about.
“Do you want to hear it?” Blaine pulls an iPod out of his bag. “I ripped the audio from the competition recording. It’s not perfect, but the quality isn’t bad.”
It feels weird to hear him and Rachel sing, their voices carrying strongly in the vast auditorium. It’s weirder still to hear the words, the way they resonate within him, so perfectly familiar and yet so distant, as if coming from beyond the grave.
In a way, they are.
Will we ever have our happy ending
Or will we forever only be pretending?
Or will we forever only be pretending?
The words hang in the silence when the song ends and Kurt smiles through tears that he hasn’t noticed flowing down his cheeks.
No more pretending. And as to the happy ending… time will tell, but if you ask him, being alive and having a fighting chance of it is happy enough.
They listen to more songs after that – a few are from New Directions, but most are not. Blaine has a vast playlist of Broadway songs that Kurt finds with a little squeal – it’s been so long since he listened to any of those. They have the old CD player, but their pitifully small CD collection comes mostly from clearance bins, and the music played at the coffee shop is just background noise he doesn’t care too much about. So now, with Blaine’s iPod on the couch between them in a chipped ceramic bowl to amplify the sound in the absence of speakers, it feels like revisiting favorite places from a long time ago. It’s so easy to just sit and listen and chat, browsing through hundreds of songs and humming lines, even singing a little. He feels light and happy just sitting here with Blaine. Why did he fear it might be awkward?
Eventually, he makes a mistake though – he lets the conversation turn to his work and the orders from Paolo, the man from San Francisco who put Kurt’s mix of accessories in his little kids' fashion boutique and now wants them as a regular line. Showing some of the ones he has ready is the next natural step and it isn’t until they are standing in Kurt’s bedroom where the boxes with his creations reside that Kurt realizes how intimate this feels. The space is small, the curtains separating it from the rest of the loft are drawn like they always are. They are standing right by Kurt’s bed, so close together that he can feel Blaine’s warmth, his breath ghosting over Kurt’s skin every now and then, and whoa, he is not ready for this.
They are alone. No people around, no Rachel to act as a buffer. Just the two of them in the empty apartment, and there's no denying the tension it raises between them. Kurt can't tell if it's attraction, the latent chemistry that was always sparking when they were close, or just awkwardness because of their past and the undefined nature of their relationship now. They end up losing their train of thought eventually, unfinished sentences hanging in the air as they just stare at each other. Blaine's eyes flick to Kurt’s lips, and even though he doesn’t do anything, suddenly one thing is clear: whatever Blaine feels or doesn’t feel for him, he’s still attracted to Kurt.
Which is a relief and a vindictive kind of satisfaction: so Kurt’s not the only one.
Does Blaine think about him in those moments? Like Kurt does in the too rare, stolen minutes in the shower or before sleep hits him, when his long-suppressed libido supplies pictures of Blaine's lips and hands, the memories of their intimate moments, as few as they were?
Or does Blaine have other pictures to get off to now?
Kurt doesn't know, but this train of thought when Blaine is standing just a foot from him and they are still alone is not a good idea. It would be too easy to lean in, into Blaine's arms, down to his lips. Kurt steps away rapidly, leaving Blaine with the little bowtie collection he’d just discovered and fleeing to the kitchen.
Rachel saves them, arriving moments later, in time to distract Kurt and keep him from the humiliation of throwing himself at his long-ago lover, and very possibly getting rejected.
The next time Rachel has the group practice, Blaine doesn't come over. But it's okay – he has exams after all, and Kurt is busy anyway, no time for obsessing about where they stand and what it means for him. He’s spending every waking hour that isn’t occupied with work at his machine, completing the latest order. It’s paying well enough with Rachel's bakery money that they should have a decent Christmas this year, with a Christmas tree and a nice dinner, maybe even little presents.
Rachel seems happy, too. She likes the job, the acting group makes her more bouncy and hopeful than ever, and she's making friends. As December days fly by, ever nearer to Christmas, she even goes out with them twice after the practice. Kurt can't sleep until she's back safe and frowns when he smells liquor on her breath the second time, but overall he's glad that she has other people to talk to – people who probably understand her better in areas that Kurt has no patience for. He can't remember the last time when she had her own friends.
One snowy day, a week before Christmas, Blaine drops by the coffee shop for a few minutes, just to bring them a gift – an old laptop one of his friends intended to throw out after getting a new one. It’s slow and a little banged up, but it works and it’s the first computer they’ve had in years. Now if they can only get some cheap internet access, it will make life so much easier.
Blaine doesn't have time to stay, but he promises to come over for dinner before heading home for Christmas in a few days, and suddenly it's like two years ago: first Christmas with a new (though old, really) friend in their lives. No ideas for gifts. Warm fuzzy feelings in Kurt's heart whenever he thinks about Blaine.
Except this time, their Christmas won't include family, in the strictest sense nor as the community. There will be no formal, stiff family photos or forced smiles glued to their faces to cover the darkest thoughts.
It's the first Christmas to make truly theirs. To build something new. And Blaine is a part of it – part of their new family.
Chapter art: Friends. Just friends.
Chapter songs: You Give Me Something by James Morrison
The next chapter will be posted on Saturday 05 October.