Pairing: Kurt/Blaine past relationship, Kurt/OCs, Kurt/Adam (main)
Warning: HIV plot. Hints of depression in later chapters.
Summary: As Kurt slowly tries to piece himself back together after the break-up, he and Adam circle around one another in New York without truly meeting. When Kurt comes home for Christmas, a prank and poor bookkeeping result in Kurt getting the shock of his life. Reeling from the news and still trying to be strong for those around him, Kurt returns to New York with baggage of a diagnosis he never expected weighing heavily on his shoulders that will complicate his life more than he thought possible. Then, he runs into Adam at NYADA.
AN: Shit doesn’t hit the fan until the next part.
“Isn’t this the beginning of a bad horror movie?” Kitty kept her hands on her hips as the kids walked into the cold warehouse.
Finn looked around, trying to hide his doubt. The building was old, and dark. There was a makeshift stage in the middle, but otherwise the place was empty and looked like it hadn’t seen human occupants in a couple of years.
“I’m not sure… we’re in the right place… Are we?” Marley held her hands in front of her, curling the ends of her sleeves around her fingers.
“No, apparently this place is, um…” Finn frowned. But he wasn’t going to complain about the space. Any space to perform without harassment. He appreciated all the help from the former Gleeks, especially since Mr. Schue was gone again, and the club would more than likely to fall apart and disband without a real advisor. “It’s really…
“Familiar,” Blaine said, hopping onto the stage. He did a spin and grinned at Sam.
“Looks busted,” Mercedes said. She turned in a circle, then sang the first line of “Baby, Please Come Home” while the kids stared in awe or feigned disinterest. “But great acoustics.”
Kurt nodded to her. “It’s been used for some parties, and sometimes for people to shoot commercials. It’s cheap to rent because the owner hasn’t been able to sell it. Cheap enough that I’m fairly sure that some of your parents-” He moved his finger around to Sugar, Brittany, Tina, Artie, Blaine, and Kitty. “-could altogether probably rent the place for the rest of the year without putting a dent in the social activities section of their budget.”
“My dad could buy it,” Sugar said with a shrug.
“But why would anyone want this filthy hole?” Kitty said.
“I can’t get on that stage. The ramps are too narrow for someone to carry the chair,” Artie pointed out quietly.
“Ahh!” Joe screamed, grabbing the back of his dreads. “Stop pretending to be a spider, Kitty! That is the least tight thing you could do!!”
“Whatever.” She stepped away from him and crossed her arms. “We don’t even have a reason to sing anymore. This is a lot of effort for no point.”
“No! C’mon, guys. Didn’t we decide to keep the club going?” Marley begged. “At least this place has a roof. Last week we were singing in the snow.”
Kurt snapped his fingers. “Enough chatter. And you won’t need to get up there, Artie. This is just practice and there’s not enough room on that stage for everyone, anyway. We can bring in the roller stage and our chairs in storage.”
“Wait, are we going to do another wheelchair dancing number?” Artie wheeled closer to the group.
“Wheelchair dancing?” Kitty narrowed her eyes at them all.
“Buzz buzz, Quinn Lite.” Kurt waved his hand in a circle and snapped his fingers shut in her general direction.
Her mouth dropped open, and Finn laughed softly. Kurt’s impatience with her nonsense was exactly what she really needed.
“I’ve scheduled you self-pitying pubescents on a string of gigs— pro-bono!— over the Christmas break. The teen shelter in Lima Heights Adjacent, the homeless shelter, the children’s ward, the soup kitchen downtown, and the community center where people are getting free therapy for drug addictions, PTSD, and depression, sometimes attempts on their own lives.” Kurt raised his chin slightly, daring further complaint.
“We’re singing at the homeless shelter,” Sam said with a tiny fist pump then held his hand up for Blaine to slap, which he did, awkwardly.
“Are you serious?” Kitty said. “Tell me you’re not serious. Look, I’m down with this we are the world crap, but the last thing we need is more people encouraging the losers of society to stay on their asses and not get jobs because we’re all ‘okay.’ I’m not going to spend my Christmas break encouraging other people’s laziness.”
“We get it, Kurt. Other people have it harder than us. Wah wah wah,” Tina rolled her eyes. “We’ve done charity work this year already.”
“Tina!Why would you say that?” Mercedes put her hand on her hip. “Helping others ain’t a once a year deal. You can do charity more than once. My church has tons of groups doing charity work year round.”
“Yeah, mine too,” Jake said. “Like, why is this even a question? I’m doing the music for the youth group’s, um, puppet shooow at the senior citizen’s center on Oak Avenue.”
Marley turned to look at him with a slight crease in her brow. He shrugged and made a puppet out of his hand at her and started to mime what other people were saying.
“I just don’t want him to think we’re not doing anything! We did things! We painted over graffiti on the school. At Thanksgiving we helped hungry poor people,” Tina argued as Jake’s hand babbled along beside her.
“People who should get jobs and buy food. I’m not sorry for them,” Kitty said.
“Who asked for your ‘sorrys’?” Mercedes snapped.
Jake started poking Marley in the shoulder with his puppet ‘mouth,’ and she swatted at him. Ryder raised his own hand and started to puppet-duel with Jake.
“It’s not about you pitying people who aren’t asking for your pity,” Finn boomed. He was getting a little angry at all this kickback, though he got that most of them were probably just feeling very vulnerable and frustrated. They all looked at him, silliness in the background forgotten. “Or about looking down on other people who don’t have as much as you do.”
“I liked hanging with the little kids last year,” Brittany said. “That was really fun. They were so happy.”
“Losers spend their break cheering up the hard-luck cases and doling out soup,” Kitty argued.
And that was it, Finn figured. They felt like the losers. He could relate. He was about to speak to that, when Kurt spoke first, his voice ringing into the empty space.
“What I see here is a group of performers scared to do anything just because one opportunity has been taken away. Why give into that fear?” Kurt pursed his lips. “You’re afraid of what? Losing popularity? Losing each other? It’s not like the school can take anything else away from you. You should be afraid of losing yourself. Because popularity is fleeting, and it will not follow you after high school, but you can control whether or not you get to still be together as friends.”
Kurt walked over to the stage and set down the large duffle bag he brought with him. “We don’t have instruments in here yet, but if we end up renting the place for practices, maybe we can do some fundraising and get some equipment. For now, we use what we’ve got.”
Finn took that cue to reach into his own bag. “We’ve also got some flyers… There are community theatre parts available for last minute replacements in some plays, for whoever’s interested. What I wanna do is um, first get a set list for our performances over the break, and then those of you who want help with auditions, for now or for schools or other plays later… Well, we have a bonafide NYADA student here.”
“That’s the New York Arts and Drama Academy,” Kurt said. “And, as someone who failed the first time through… and at various New York auditions, I can at least give you some perspective on deciding how to audition. You guys have so much talent it’s comin’ out of your pores. Figuring out how to brand yourself part of deciding to be a professional artist who has to deal with the public, versus a regular artist who creates for him or herself. It’s a question of audience.”
“Speaking of audience.” Unique raised her hand halfway. “How are we dressing for these performances? What’s allowed?”
“You can be yourself,” Mercedes said. “We’ll talk exact wardrobe later, but I’ll make sure that part is taken care of.”
Finn looked around at the Glee club. Some of them hadn’t spoken much. Some still looked annoyed, or anxious about the setting.
“If you don’t want to be a part of this, you can leave,” Finn said suddenly. “I sat down with Kurt and Mercedes, and we had a long talk. You need audiences to perform for, and you need to be thinking of that audience above everything else. These people have been through a lot. Singing a great song isn’t going to cure that. It doesn’t cure anything. But we’re not going to add to their bad day by giving them some half-assed performance where the performers don’t even care.”
“Well, I’m in,” Jake said immediately. “It’s better than sitting around all break being depressed.”
“Me too,” Marley said quickly. She looked at Finn and pressed her lips together.
Unique came over and locked arms with her. “If my girl’s in, I’m in.”
Marley smiled at her warmly and tapped Unique’s nose.
“I’d love to have another chance to perform,” Blaine said. “And for those of you not that into it, this is great to put on a resume. The Warblers used to do that during the off season all the time. Do a benefit concert in the grand auditorium to raise money for a local charity… I don’t think they’ve done that in a few years.”
“And we can’t do for profit, because that means you won’t be able to perform next year,” Finn added. “Believe me, we learned that quick.”
“But now that you mention it, they can do other types of performances,” Kurt pointed out. “I can talk to dad about that. Maybe there are other local places that wouldn’t mind somefree actors in their commercials. You get the line on your CV either way.”
“Okay, I’m asking,” Artie said. “Is anyone against doing stuff versus singing in the snow for no reason while the Cheerios pelt us with things?”
All eyes went to Kitty. She rolled her eyes. “I guess. Could we get a maid service in here first?”
“Nope!” Kurt chirruped. “We’re gonna clean. The email asked you guys to wear comfortable clothes.” He unzipped his duffle and tossed her a rag.
Finn would treasure the look on her face to his grave. Kurt turned on the music, and soon bubbles were flying and everyone was singing.
This was Glee. Finn had missed this.
Adam stretched back on the sofa, letting his feet hang over the armrest, and looked up at the soft, glowing Christmas lights around him. The apartment smelled like sugar cookies. Not that he’d baked, even though he would love to (he was scraping by until the next check); they had just lit up a candle that Jinx had brought home from her second job. It made the apartment very nice and Christmasy, and Adam was just tired enough to put on a playlist of winter songs, lay back, and take in their meager decorations affixed to the walls.
He liked their place together. It was small. It was cramped. Sometimes Jinx’s cat seemed like it had multiple personalities and tried to sit on his head in the mornings to be fed. But Adam felt lucky to have met Jinx during his sophomore year at NYADA. He might not have continued his studies, otherwise. He’d been missing his mum so dearly (still did, actually), and what with the blow up with his ex, and the wreckage from that mess, and then he’d gotten sick… Adam had barely managed to pass some of his midterms that semester. NYADA professors weren’t big on second chances, and certainly not from a performer that most of them didn’t quite believe in. Adam had Dr. Kohl and the dramatic arts department behind him, and Cassandra July seemed to like him (even if she critiqued his dancing brutally). Madam Tibideaux had always been lukewarm on him, however. A fact that tended to make itself clearer with every attempt to approach the administration lately, what with her promotion.
“Ugh. God, this stuff, Adam.” Jinx pushed the door open and set down a big bag. “Can’t you turn on some better music? I’m getting diabetes.”
“No. It’s Christmas, so I shan’t.”
She rolled her eyes and leaned over to give Pooka the cat a scratch on the head. “Have you eaten?”
“No, I was taking a break. Long shift. More people at the diner around Christmas.”
“Well, good. Don’t want them to close.” She pulled a box out of the bag and started picking at the edge of it.
“Do you want me to call the landlord again?”
“No. I don’t want to piss the madfuck off.”
“He won’t be pissed off.” Adam sat up and curled the ends of his sweater around his fingers. “He has to give us heating.”
“He’s just so weird about shit that doesn’t matter. I asked once already. You remember how crazy he got when Darla asked to leave some stuff in the hallway when she was moving.” Jinx pried the box open and pulled out the space heater. She tossed the box by the door, which Pooka immediately investigated.
“I can talk to him. He seems to get along with me better.”
“I defy anyone not to get along with you.” Jinx set the heater on a stool and plugged it in. “Okay, I have money. Where are we getting dinner?”
Adam got up a little bit after Jinx made the call, and set plates and napkins out on the floor. She got up to change the music to her own playlist, and Adam smiled as he heard a ska-esque song about spiking the eggnog start playing.
“Yours is certainly more cheerful,” Adam said, pouring pink sparkling Hana Awaka for each of them into a zombie and owl mug respectively.
“I don’t know why you want to sit around and mope anyway.” Jinx leaned back against the sofa and sighed.
“I’m not moping. I’m basking.” Adam waved his hand in the air. “Glowy lights!”
“They are nice. Even nicer right now.” She closed one eye and tilted her head to the side. “I need new glasses.”
“I’m getting halos. Not metaphorically.” She flipped her glasses onto the top of her head and accepted the offered zombie mug of sake.
Adam sat with her and sipped his own sake. He didn’t drink often, so he savored the sweet, pink rice wine. The two of them chatted companionably for a few minute before Jinx decided that she had to share her day with him— drama around her second job in Bushwick. Jinx had such a keen mind for details that Adam enjoyed hearing her stories, even if he’d never met the people involved.
“Anyway, she quit, but not before turning our lives upside down for three weeks. Hard shift. What’s going on with you lately, Mr. Cheerful?” Jinx started to poke him, but there was a buzz from downstairs, so Adam patted her knee and inched the pink bottle back toward her and rose to get the takeout himself.
“Coming down!” he said into the intercom. Then he slipped on some flat shoes and headed out to jog down the stairs. It was even colder out in the hallway, and the staircases just went around and around. No elevator. He’d definitely had days when he’d considered moving and paying more to have one available. Walk-ups had been a bitch, the last time he’d gotten an upper respiratory infection.
It had been a little scary, as well. He was no germophobe, but the anxiety that came with the first serious illness after diagnosis was no joke. It was the only time he’d gone to group without prodding. He’d needed the release of stress that dearly.
Adam opened the door and smiled at the delivery man, who held a large, clearly heavy paper bag with “MAI NOODLES” emblazoned across the front. His arms were covered, but his sweater clearly clung to broad, well-developed shoulders.
“Hey! Order for Jameela Pinkett? Veggie spring roles, vegan pho, tofu satay, and Singapore Noodles?”
“Picking up for.” Adam held out the money, with tip, and took the bag from him.
“Have I seen you somewhere?” The young man had honey brown eyes that folded into warm crescents as he smiled.
“Oh, I dunno. Have you ever been in The Crab Apple Café? In the Flatiron district? I work there, most days.”
“Huh. Maybe.” He leaned against the door. “So you like Vietnamese, huh? Are you vegetarian only, or do you occasionally like a good piece of meat?”
Adam raised his brows and looked over the delivery boy. Yes, boy. He had to be eighteen or so. A bit young, even if there weren’t other factors.
“That wasn’t exactly subtle,” Adam replied with a smile.
“I don’t usually deliver to someone worth making a fool of myself for.”
“That’s sweet, darling, but I’m not exactly looking for a date right now.”
“Aw. Well.” He shrugged his shoulders, still grinning. “Worth a try. Enjoy your dinner. Hope I didn’t make it awkward for you and your guy.”
“My roommate, actually, and I’m sure she’ll laugh.”
The delivery boy gave him a sharp salute, turned, and jogged down the steps. Adam smelled the fragrant dinner in the heavy bag and headed back up the staircase.
He might not mention the proposition to Jinx. She’d start giving him the side-eye for once again shutting down even the slim possibility of a date. But he still wasn’t ready. It was possible that he wouldn’t ever be.
“You okay?” Kurt sat down next to Blaine.
Today’s practice had been pretty grueling. Their first performance would be before the end of the week, and the club members hadn’t shied away from difficult songs. In the end, they’d all decided that they wanted to put on the best show possible for their viewers, and even Kitty was snapping her fingers and forcing people to work their hardest. Kurt was kind of proud of them. He remembered what a struggle it had been to get into practice after losing Regionals sophomore year.
“Just tired, I guess.” Blaine sighed.
Kurt drew his legs up, with his knees splayed apart slightly, and wrapped his arms around them. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m just not sleeping very well. I’m nervous.”
“Not so much about singing for a bunch of sick kids, hm?” Kurt hesitated for a moment, then rubbed Blaine’s back.
“I kind of deserve this. Thanks for going with me.” Blaine sighed again and scrubbed his hands over his face.
“We’ll get the test results soon. And you’ll be fine,” Kurt said firmly.
“You don’t know that.”
“You said Cooper and your parents were around more. That you were all spending more time together?” Kurt shrugged his head to the side. “I think the only reason I survived high school at all sometimes is because I had my family. Whatever happens, you’re stronger than you think, Blaine. I’m not saying that you don’t make mistakes, even selfish, careless ones. But you don’t deserve this. No one does.”
He paused and shrugged both shoulders. “Not even Sebastian.”
Blaine laughed and rubbed his lips. “I don’t think Sebastian worries about this kind of stuff.”
“I bet he does. He doesn’t think about it the same way that we do, but I don’t mistake his cavalier attitude about sex for complete ignorance of it.”
Blaine rested his chin on his knees and looked up at Kurt. “Are you getting even taller?”
“No. Believe me, I would know. I’d have to redo the hems on all my pants.”
“You just look so different. That’s a good thing. I just… I dunno.”
Kurt stretched one leg out in front of him and folded his hands over one knee. “I’m not sure I’ll be recognizable by the end of the year. I’m changing so quickly. I spent the latter half of 2012 feeling worthless, and now I have this amazing job, and I’m in the school of my dreams. It’s hard to even fathom something this good happening to me.”
“You deserve it. You worked really hard on your auditions.” Blaine licked his lips and shook his head. “She should’ve let you in. If not the first time, for your second audition tape.”
“Maybe. I don’t know. She might have been a little right. Tibideaux is looking for something specific. That’s actually what I talk about when we discuss auditions after practice. I was anticipating not being good enough, so I just showed her everything I had… and my audition tape, while technically very strong… I know it was hollow. I felt hollow when I was making it.” Kurt smiled suddenly, trying to push the gloom of what he was saying away. “I guess it is kind of difficult to put much depth into ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.’ I… I wasn’t even supposed to send that one in. I was just sodistracted when I was putting my materials together that I put the wrong file on the disc.”
Blaine was quiet for a moment more. Funny, because he usually had something to say. “I know you don’t want to hear it, but I am sorry.”
“The funny thing is that I know putting on a happy face and shellacking on a veneer of positivity only works when people aren’t looking too closely.” Kurt leaned on his palm and turned to face Blaine. “Sometimes when you’re smiling, the whole world doesn’tsmile with you.”
“I don’t want to be the jerk ex, but you’re actually really good at putting on a happy face. Even when you’re miserable.” Blaine creased his eyes and jerked his furry brows upward. “I’m not the most astute guy in the world. I think I missed stuff all the time-”
“I obviously missed signs, too.”
“Yeah, but… My point is that sometimes it’s hard to get past that veneer of yours. Even if you see it.”
Kurt narrowed his eyes into slits. “I like to think of it as a leathery hide.”
Blaine dipped his head forward and laughed.
“That’s enough, lovebirds!” Tina yelled.
“Oh, stick a legwarmer in it!” Kurt shouted. He pushed himself up on his knees and offered Blaine a hand up.
Blaine took it and quickly looked over at his friends. Kurt let go of his hand and headed over to Finn. He hoped one day, this would stop being so terribly awkward.
He also hoped one day that he could trust Blaine again.
That evening after rehearsal, while Finn stayed to clean up and work some of their upcoming lesson plans out with Mercedes, Kurt took Finn’s truck to run some of the kids back to their houses. The car started off full, with shivering show choir kids in the flatbed cheerfully singing carols, but eventually they all dwindled away, one by one, until only Marley remained, huddled on the bench behind the seats.
“You can come sit up here,” Kurt offered, patting the leather seat cover. “The heat doesn’t work too well, but it’s somewhat better shotgun.”
He slowed to a stop and waited for Marley to crawl up to the front seat. She took a moment, seeming to decide whether she really wanted to be up there, then twisted her angular body in between the seats and fell onto the leather, her legs tangling in front of her.
Kurt smiled gently as she sorted herself out. There were moments when he didn’t recognize her as a sixteen year old. She was so solemn sometimes. There was a weight on her shoulders. Then sometimes she would dance around the practice space, flailing her arms in the air and beaming in a pure, free happiness.
Today had not borne happiness for her. Today, he’d noticed Kitty saying something to her that had caused the spirit to just draw completely out of her. Then Kitty had stormed away and snapped at three other people before bowing over to work on their costumes and pretend she wasn’t crying. Marley had simply shut down. She could barely be heard during vocal practice, and she couldn’t seem to stop fidgeting. Even now she kept pulling at the fabric of her loose shirt. Her hands reminded him of the spindly legs of a bird in winter.
And it was too, too familiar. The genders were different. Dave may not have worn a cheerleading uniform, but Kurt could see the similarity nevertheless. He needed to talk to Finn about this before things got even worse.
Kurt turned on the radio and hummed along to the music, idly joining in with the lyrics every once and a while. As he tuned into what he recognized as his old neighborhood, Kurt realized that Marley was humming with him. He looked to her, and he knew the words, so he began to sing along.
“I can’t stay on your life support. There’s a shortage in the switch. I can’t stay on your morphine ‘cause it’s makin’ me itch.” He waved a hand around in air and gave Marley a saucy look. “See I tried to call the nurse again, but she’s being a little bitch.”
“I think I’ll get outta here,” Marley joined in.
And then they were singing together. Marley had seemed so small in rehearsals, and Kurt had barely noticed her (or anyone) during Grease. He hadn’t realized how rich and powerful her voice actually was.
“Where I can run, just as fast as I can! To the middle of nowhere! To the middle of my frustrated fears, and I swear! You’re just like a pill! Instead of making me better, you’re making me ill! You’re making me ill!”
Marley danced in the seat beside him, bouncing and swiveling her head around. Kurt laughed, and enjoyed the blend of her full, warm voice with his own bright tone. They continued to rock out to P!nk, even after Kurt had pulled the car up to the address Finn had written down for him (with the note that Marley should be dropped off last). When the song had finished, they looked at one another, laughing, and Marley threw her head back and pressed her fingertips to her mouth.
“I should’ve failed senior year so we could duet together at Sectionals, huh?” Kurt nudged her when her expression tried to grow serious.
“Can you sing in Korean?” she asked. “Because I dunno if you’d cut it with Finn’s avant guard show choir plans.”
“Ah ha. Not that I know of, but I learned ‘Music of the Night’ in German, so I think I could probably figure it out.” Kurt unlocked the doors and unbuckled so he could get out with her.
She shifted her bag onto her shoulder and pulled her jeans up at the waist with one hand, and then followed him to the sagging porch attached to an equally saggy yellow house, fumbling for her keys.
“Is anyone home?” Kurt peered into the darkened house.
“Mom’s at her other job, so, um…” Marley looked back at him and turned the key in the door. She jiggled it twice, then pressed her foot against the door, turned the handle, and gave a hard push.
“Ah, the wonky lock dance, I remember you well,” Kurt mused to himself as he came in with her. She didn’t seem to question his continued presence, which he was glad for, because he wanted a moment or two with her.
The house was cold. Very cold. The floors were hard wood but worn, and there was a battered olive green dumpster-dive of a couch with duct tape patches by an uneven coffee table. On top of that were a mess of papers, bills, and various hairbands, combs, coins, and makeup supplies. And there was an odd odor in the air, like the mold Kurt remembered from his basement bedroom. Even after they’d scrubbed it out, the smell had remained, only to be banished with Kurt’s efficient use of Febreeze candles.
Marley grabbed a sweater flung over a lawn chair sitting opposite of the couch and pulled it on over her head. “Sorry it’s so cold in here. The heat’s been out.”
Kurt blinked. “This is Ohio. We’ve got weather.”
Marley shrugged. “We’ve just been piling on extra blankets and stuff.”
“Won’t your landlord fix it?” Kurt pocketed his keys and frowned at the space. A narrow staircase, a living room, and a cramped kitchen. From the size of the building, there was probably one bedroom and maybe a bathroom upstairs. It looked like someone might be sleeping on that couch full time.
“We’re not really supposed to be here,” she said, walking around the living room and nervously trying to straighten things. “We’re kind of renting from a renter. So she has to get the landlord to do it, but she moved to Westerville for work, and he doesn’t know we’re in here yet.”
Kurt’s brow furrowed. That wasn’t exactly an anxiety-free living situation. Then it dawned on him what else was missing here: Christmas decorations of any kind.
He put the thought aside. “Could I see the tank? For the heat?”
“Oh, um. I’m not sure where it is?” Marley started looking around.
Kurt smiled. “I bet I can find it. Where are your bathrooms?”
He let Marley guide the way and found the system pretty quickly in the downstairs laundry.
“I thought that was a closet,” she muttered.
“Your friend should’ve shown you where this is.”
Kurt rolled up his sleeves and pulled up the plunger-like lever. His eyes scanned over the system, while Marley shifted from foot to foot behind him. She was probably freezing. He touched the large pipe running into the bottom of the boiler, and then took a look at the valves.
“It’s the fuel. I mean, first we need to clean these valves, but you’re out of fuel.”
Marley’s eyes widened. “How do you get more?”
“I’m gonna call my dad and have him get some.”
“Oh, no, he can’t-”
“Hon, he’d be mad if I didn’t call him with this. And anyway, he knows friggin’ everyone in town worth knowing. That’s how he got to be a senator for a year.” Kurt rubbed the dirt between his fingers and reached for his phone. “Hold on a sec.”
One phone call later, interspersed with Kurt having Marley bring him things to clean out the valves, and Kurt was sure they would get heat in this place before the temperature dropped again later in the week. He hoped it was soon enough.
“This is really nice of you,” Marley said as Kurt washed his hands in the kitchen sink.
“I’m not sure I consider this nice. I think it might be the basic level of humanity, not to let people die of exposure.” Kurt wiped his hands on a red kitchen towel and turned around to lean back against the counter. “I’ll bring some space heaters to the next practice, and you should take a couple home until we get the heat working.”
“Do you think anyone-” She cut herself off and nodded. “Thanks.”
Kurt reached over and touched her shoulder. Marley’s eyes were grateful, but cautious. Like she didn’t know how to owe him this much.
“How much longer before your mom is here?” Kurt returned to the busted couch and sat on one of the arms.
“I don’t know. Um. Probably soon. You can go, if you need to.”
Kurt narrowed his eyes. “I could. But I’m on break, so it doesn’t really matter. Come hang with me. I wanted to ask you something.”
Marley sank into the couch and looked up at him. “I’m so glad Glee is still going. It’s even better like this. All that pressure…”
“Yeah, it can get pretty tense. Is that what you and Kitty were talking about earlier?”
Marley looked at her hands and a little line appeared in her brows. “That’s not… I’m fine now. We were just talking.”
Kurt swallowed, then took a deep breath. “Y’know, high school was pretty rough for me, too.”
He didn’t tell all of it. That would take too long, and it was too graphic for a sixteen year old (never mind that he’d been that age living some of it). But the bullying, the groping, the sexual assault, the death threats. All there, if in brief. He didn’t look her in the eye as he recounted all of this stuff. He just sort of fixed his eyes on a stain on the far wall.
When he finally slowed, he could see Marley’s wide eyes on him. She reached for his hand, and he let her squeeze for a moment.
“Really, the trick about high school is to keep breathing and just survive it… You still cold, sweetie? I’ll get a blanket.” He rose and grabbed one of the blankets piled in the open closets.
“She doesn’t mean it,” Marley said quietly as Kurt wrapped the blanket around her and curled in next to her. “I mean, I don’t think she does, anymore. She said, like a week ago, that she didn’t mean for me to get hurt, but…”
“What did she do?” Kurt asked gently.
Marley shook her head. “Just… stuff she said. Just words. Kitty never did anything to me.”
“Words can do a lot, though. ‘I’m gonna kill you’ are just words. ‘Faggot’ and ‘lady’ are just words. But they changed the entire environment at school. Just words. They made McKinley a war zone for me.”
Marley blinked a few times and her nose wrinkled. “I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
Kurt combed his fingers through her hair.
“I don’t think it was the words, though. I think it’s just me. I’ve always worried,” she admitted. “I don’t want to. I love my mom more than anything. But she was always dieting when I was growing up. Always. And my aunt, too. I love them, but it really scares me that I could end up just like them. And Mom gets sick, sometimes, and the cold makes it impossible for her to get up the stairs. Her joints aren’t good. I know the weight came before, y’know? But her health makes it even harder for her to ever get rid of it and it just feels like if I start to gain weight, I’ll just get bigger and bigger and bigger-”
“Honey.” Kurt met her eye, and she let out a sigh. “Marley, you can’t think about your life like that. Metabolism changes happen with age, hormones, and screwing up your body from dieting. You can’t change the first two, except with medication sometimes, but youcan live your life while trying to be healthy. I guess I’m not telling you anything you couldn’t find out from the counselors. But I tell my dad all the friggin’ time that he can’t skip meals, and he does, the dope.”
Marley laughed softly.
“He’s not single anymore. Y’know. He’s not on his own without me like he used to be, but I get the worry. Trying to take care of your parent. Worrying about inheriting their health problems. It really colors your relationship with them, but it’s not everything you have together.” Kurt laid his head back and looked at her. “You know you’re absolutely beautiful, right? You do know that?”
“No, I’m not. I’m plain, and chubby, and boring-looking, and my eyes are too close together.”
Kurt narrowed his eyes. “I think you have some kind of poltergeist messing with your mirror.”
Marley’s lips formed a half smile, and she looked own at her fingers.
“Seriously. You are lovely. And I say that as a gay man who could either dress you up as a Glamazon diva superstar or imagine you as an adorable little twink if you buzzed off all your hair.”
Marley chuckled softly, then tilted her head back and smiled at him. “I’m not sure I believe you, but that sweet of you to say.”
“Will you do me a favor? Don’t listen to anything Kitty says. Not a single word. If she tells you that Santa Claus isn’t real, don’t believe her.”
Marley let out a spirited laugh and swatted his arm.
“She clearly has her own problems. If I learned anything surviving McKinley is that some of your bullies are struggling as much as you are. But you aren’t responsible for her damage. You have enough on you just to handle your own. Just don’t talk to her.”
Marley nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I get it.”
“And take care of you, too. I know your mom is top on your list of priorities, but make youa priority, too.”
“She has me going to therapy sessions. And we really can’t afford them. They are crazyexpensive. It’s like $200 a session. That’s groceries for three months.” Marley crossed her arms. “I feel like I have to get better, fast, or we’ll be in even bigger trouble, financially.”
“But you get that this extra stress isn’t helping you do that?” Kurt squeezed her shoulders. “Do you trust your mom to handle your finances?”
She shrugged. “Sometimes. She can’t handle everything. She won’t even let me get a job. She says school is my job.”
“My dad used to say that, too. And, of course, I never listened.”
“How am I supposed to not care? We’re all each other has.”
“Because you can’t control your mother’s behavior, and you can’t change your family’s situation by yourself, but getting better? That’s what you can do. It’s something you can focus on. Making you better is making things for your family better, because Marley, youmatter. And if you can only afford so many sessions with this person, there are options for continued treatment. Have you ever talked to Ms. Pillsbury?”
“She’s not that helpful. She gave me a pamphlet that says, ‘So You Like to Throw Up.’”
Kurt held back a laugh at the deadpan look of judgment for their quirky ‘guidance’ counselor. “She can be a little… I should show you some of the pamphlets I got from her. Her and Mr. Schue. Teachers of the year.”
Marley rolled her eyes. “I don’t like to throw up. And I really hate the laxatives. That’s not what it’s about. When I was thirteen, it was just… drinking a lot of water to fill up. Or I’d just take like, an apple for lunch and maybe a piece of cheese so I wouldn’t get dizzy. Whatever it takes to keep you going, and then, you learn to like the feeling of being empty. Because that’s what ‘being thin’ feels like, you know? And then… without that feeling, anything else feels like you’re going to bust out of your clothes.”
Kurt nodded slowly. “When I was on the Cheerios I survived mostly on celery and Diet Coke.”
“That’s awful. Diet Coke is terrible for you, dude.”
Kurt covered his mouth and shook with laughter.
“The bulima… It’s what Kitty suggested I do. And I’m so dumb. She acted like she wanted to help me, and I believed her. And sometimes, it really felt like we were friends. She sang a duet with me, and we were good at it… She promised to let me know if I looked fat in something…” She sighed. “What is wrong with me?”
“You’re honest. You believe in people. After I came back from Dalton, I was the same way. I had been tortured by these people for years… but when I came back, and they weren’t actively attacking me, I thought they were better.” Kurt sucked in one cheek and shook his head. “And they wrote me in for Prom Queen.”
Marley’s brows shot up.
“That was… humiliating.” Kurt patted her knee. “You’re not the only dumb bunny here. You go through high school, and you get your scars, and you hope to come out on the other end able to still relate to people. Kitty’s one girl. That doesn’t mean you can’t trust people ever.”
Marley nodded, seeming to think about that for a moment. Then, “Did you win?”
“Ha!” Kurt bobbed his head. “I won. And I took my pictures in my crown, and I went up in front of everyone to accept it, and I said, ‘Eat your heart out, Kate Middleton!’”
“See?” Marley gestured with one hand emphatically. “I wanna be fierce like that.”
“We’re gonna make you fierce, babe. I’m gonna leave Unique in charge, and she’ll report back to me.”
“Can we do our reports with music videos? Because she and I sing really well together.” Her eyes looked up and to the side as she spoke. “And I want to use glitter, and Julie Andrews.”
“I think those kinds of reports would make my day.” Kurt tightened his lips and looked up to the ceiling. “Maybe I could send back lessons on shade throwing.”
“I’m pretty good at that, actually. Y’know. In my head.” She twisted her arms around as she grinned. “But… I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
“Hmm, yeaaah. It needs to come out of your mouth.”
Marley scrunched her lips together and rested her head on Kurt’s shoulder. “Yeah, yeah. It’s just easier, when you’re defending someone else, to say what you think of people.” She sighed. “Do you have to go?”
“Not for a little while. I can stick around.” In fact, he had no intention of leaving her there alone. He remembered what it was like to wait for his father to come home from work in an empty house.
“Can you tell me about New York? I’ve always wanted to go. My audition song for Glee was about New York.”
Kurt petted her hair. “Oh, dahling, I would love to tell you about New York.”
Finn came down the stairs rubbing his eyes. He hadn’t changed out of his clothes yet. He’d just come straight in after Mercedes had dropped him off, and fallen onto his bed, dead to the world for a few hours, at least. But he heard the truck pull up and then managed to drag himself out of bed and into the bathroom. After peeing and washing his hands and face, he’d poked his head in Kurt’s bedroom to see if he was in there before heading down the stairs.
A light was on in the kitchen, and Kurt was singing softly, his high voice perfectly articulating every word:
“Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes, silver-white winters that melt into spring…”
“Hey,” Finn said, announcing himself.
Kurt looked up from the table, where he’d arranged paints and various crafty things. There were some other bags beside him, and Finn tilted his head, trying to figure out exactly what his brother was doing.
“Hey. How was whatever you were doing with Mercedes?” Kurt picked up a little box and opened it. There was a small glass rose inside. He then opened up several paints and bit his lip as he looked at the rose critically.
“Oh, uh, fine.” Finn shrugged his head to the side and sat next to Kurt. “We figured out the harmonies on ‘Happy Xmas’ and ‘I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.’ So, uh… what kept you? You were out a long time.”
“Mama Rose wasn’t home, so I stayed with Little Rose for a while…” Kurt’s brow furrowed as he painted something very, very carefully onto the rose. Then he continued, “Their heat is out, too. So after I dropped by Walmart, I brought them a couple of space heaters. I just decided that it couldn’t wait until I saw them again.”
“Oh. Wow. That sucks. I mean the heat being out. Is she okay?”
Kurt bobbed his head from side to side noncommittally.
“What is that?” Finn asked finally. “What are you making?”
“Raindrops on roses.” Kurt set the rose aside and opened up another. “And whiskers on kittens. Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens.”
Finn laughed. “Are we going to redo the Christmas decorations?”
“No. We’re going to give Marley and her mom something beautiful to look at in that dismal house of theirs. Marley likes Julie Andrews, apparently, and so do I.” He began painting raindrops on the second rose.
Finn’s brows shot up and reached for the package with the hooks. “Oh. So these need to be ornaments. You’ll need something attached to them. Lemme do that part.”
Kurt smiled up at him warmly. “Thank you.”
Finn got up to grab the glue, then returned and began fixing hooks onto all the little kittens, and then when the roses dried, them too. The two of them worked together with companionable humming.
“So, how’ve you been, Finn? I kinda feel like I’ve busied us up so much with projects that we haven’t really had time to talk.”
Finn set down a little present ornament in the drying row. “Things are fine. Better, with you here motivating everyone.”
“They really respond to you.” Kurt shook his head. “Just like people did when we were in high school. You don’t always have the ideas, but that’s not really your job, if you’re going to teach them. I mean, really teach, and not lecture. Most people don’t work that way, actually. You just… need to learn how to facilitate learning a little better. And it’s not exactly your fault that Mr. Schue disappeared and didn’t teach you how. Not that he was always the best.”
“It’s really hard. Everyone has their own ideas, and the kids have all this personal stuff.” Finn sighed. “Nothing’s gone right. I mean, I guess we’re lucky we kept Blaine, but I think any day that the new guys are gonna try to whack him in the head with a chair and take his solos.”
“Ah, Glee. Pack of diva monsters. Nothing changes. ” Kurt was quiet for a moment. “You should keep Kitty and Marley apart.”
Finn lifted his head. “Uh. They get along okay now. Did Marley say something?”
“No, Kitty said something, to her. And of course Marley won’t say exactly what, but there’s a lot of pressure for her to be ‘okay’.” Kurt set down a bell and looked straight at him. “I can say something if you want. I’ve just been trying to piece this timeline together, between the problems Marley already had, to the things Kitty, and some of the others, have said about her and her mother, and what Tina said about Marley not fitting into her costume during the play. Marley was painfully thin then.”
Finn’s hands froze on a little kettle. “I could imagiDo you think Tina…?”
“I don’t know what Tina planned or didn’t plan. But I do know that if the costume keeps getting smaller, and Marley keeps on getting smaller, at some point someone had to notice that the measurements were being screwed with, and the person making those measurements should have noticed and said something. Do you read me? I think something more was going on, and I know that Kitty was putting words in her ear at the same time.” Kurt rubbed his fingers over his mouth. “I’m not saying to kick Kitty out. But I’m just barely saying that.”
He rose and walked over to the counter. “Do you want some coffee?”
“Dude, I hate coffee.”
Kurt’s laugh rang out and shattered the tension in the air. “Tea?”
“I’ll bring you a soda.”
“I’ll keep on eye out,” Finn promised. He paused. “Santana said… it was right before sectionals, but she said that Kitty gave Marley the laxatives.”
“I believe it,” Kurt half-sang. He put the kettle on and bent over the fridge to grab Finn’s Mr. Pibb.
“Kids are so hard.”
“We weren’t any easier. Bullying, homelessness, teen pregnancies…”
“I am so glad none of the girls are pregnant. I’d be half a second away from punching the kid who did it in the face.”
Kurt laughed again as he poured Finn his soda. “You wouldn’t side with the guy?”
“Depends on the guy. I don’t think any of our girls would lie about something like that… except Kitty, and she wouldn’t not use protection.”
“Ah, teaching. The one job that never stays the same.”
“They’re all weird little bundles of issues.” Finn took his soda from Kurt, who had poured it into a Christmas mug. “I can’t believe how much I miss you.”
Kurt’s brows rose.
“I know, hard left into a new topic. But I do. I miss talking about stuff with you.” Finn shrugged and looked down at their handy-work. “I miss doing projects like this. Planning funerals, and weddings. Working through things over a glass of warm milk. I didn’t even know warm milk had magical properties that make you feel better.”
Kurt smiled and crossed his arms.
“But only when you heat it up. It doesn’t work unless you do it,” Finn said in his most deadpan, oblivious tone.
Kurt sucked in his lower lip, and his face lit up in a big smile. “I miss you, too. You know, you can come see me, even if you don’t want to see Rachel. I can’t always get off work, but maybe if we both save, we could get you a weekend ticket sometime…?”
“That sounds pretty awesome. Or maybe spring break. I bet Rachel goes on another cruise.”
“If she’s not working The. Broad. Way. by then,” Kurt replied, with jazz hands for effect.
“Nah. Not yet. I mean, I believe in her. I think she can do it, but she’s got stuff to learn, before she makes it.” Finn drank his soda and watched as Kurt went to get the kettle off the stove. “If she got a part now, she’d probably start back-talking the director and get fired off her first big break.”
Kurt made a noise as he poured his tea.
“Huh? What was that? Trouble in the Hummelberry loft?”
“I don’t want to get into it. She’s had mega attitude since she won the Winter Showcase. It’s like, yes, yes, they really like you, Sally Fields. Now stop giving people random acceptance speeches.”
Finn bowed over and outright cackled. “God, I love her.”
“Good, because someone will have to identify the body if she doesn’t stop warbling in the wee hours of the morning and stealing all my hot water.”
Finn rose and came up behind Kurt to rub his shoulders. “I’ve never lived with anyone before, but that one night our parents tried to shove me and Rachel together was really… Maybe you just need to talk to her.”
“It’s fine. Once I’m at NYADA, we’ll be spending more time together as friends instead of just roomies. We’ll re-bond. Like welding a bumper back onto a very, very annoying rear end.”
Finn snorted and gave Kurt’s shoulders another squeeze as Kurt looked back at him.
“Let’s finish this up? Tomorrow’s another big day.”
“Thank you for helping me with this, Finn.” Kurt bobbed his teabag for a moment as he walked back to the table. “It could’ve taken all night.”
Finn grinned lopsidedly. “We should totally sneak off in the middle of practice tomorrow and set it all up in Marley’s house.”
“This is why I love you, big brother.” Kurt took his seat and held a paintbrush aloft. “You’re really just as much a fan of sentiment and big gestures as I am.”“Shh.” Finn picked up another box of hooks. “Don’t tell."