Stop Loss: Chapter 23, Part 2
Blaine's parents had ordered his favorite pizza and rented a movie he liked that evening, his mother blusteringly saying that they'd noticed how hard he'd been working lately and wanted to do something nice together as a family, so Blaine didn't see Kurt until the next morning in school. Despite having gone straight home and passed out for twelve full hours when his milkshake-induced sugar high came crashing down, Kurt was still looking thoroughly exhausted.
But happy. "I know I should be worrying about whether I'll be accepted or not," he sighed lightly, eyes shining even as his head and arms were slumped over Blaine's desk. "But it's just such a relief to be finished that I haven't even bothered yet."
Blaine shook his head, smiling. "I'm sure you'll get in," he offered for the ten-thousandth time. "And even if you don't, no worrying you do now is going to change it."
Kurt shrugged. "Your premise sounds logical now, but I'm sure I'll tear that argument into little, tiny pieces next week when the panic starts to set in," he informed Blaine. "Enjoy my peace of mind and lack of success-driven insanity while you still can."
Blaine had every intention of doing so. "Can I take you out to dinner tonight to celebrate your fabulous audition and glowing mental health?" he asked, smiling fondly at Kurt.
Kurt's face lit up momentarily, before deflating a little. "I promised my dad that we could have our celebration dinner tonight," he said sadly. "He even promised not to complain if I made him eat eggplant."
He paused. "You could come over and have dinner with us," he suggested hopefully. "I might need to run to the store after rehearsal if I'm cooking for three, but—"
"No, no it's fine," Blaine assured him before he could finish. "You have your time with your dad, we'll go out later this week—we're out before five every day; we'll have plenty of chances."
Blaine had originally thought that the week's rehearsal schedule had been a fake, since each day's practice ended around 4:30, 4:45 at the latest. It wasn't until Kurt had explained that Shelby had consulted several former Olympic athletes (and their coaches) on how to best harness their explosive energy, and had used their advice to design a tapering schedule to follow before Regionals and Nationals, that the sudden influx of time made sense.
Kurt nodded his approval. "Or," he added, "we can wait until we win Regionals this weekend, pool our money, and have a double celebration someplace nicer."
Blaine smiled wryly. "If we win," he reminded Kurt.
Kurt smiled back, poisonously sweet. "When we win," he repeated, not a trace of uncertainty in his voice.
Blaine thought about dinner the night before, about the almost desperately pleased look on his mother's face when he agreed to her Family Night idea. "Maybe...our parents can come," he said slowly.
Kurt perked up, looking up at him with hopeful eyes. "Really?" he asked, slightly breathless.
Blaine bit his lip. "Really," he confirmed. "I mean…I don't think—I'm not ready to tell them, about us. Not yet." Kurt's face fell, and Blaine could have kicked himself for being the cause of his crestfallen expression. "I'm getting there, though, okay? I promise, I'll be ready soon. And…I don't know. I want them to know you. I think they're really starting to try, for real this time."
Kurt's disappointed look didn't fade, but he did his best to smile. "That's great, Blaine," he said firmly, reaching out and tracing his fingers lightly over Blaine's hand, the way he loved. "I'm so glad."
The bell was going to ring any second, but Blaine leaned forward and kissed him anyway. Kissing Kurt, or really, any public display of affection beyond hand holding, still didn't come easily to Blaine in front of so many people, and he knew how much it meant to Kurt when he pushed past all of his issues and did it anyway.
And right then was no different—when Blaine pulled away, Kurt was beaming, eyes bright and smile radiating happiness. "You know, Dad's not going to be home until around 7:00, which means we have a few hours to kill after rehearsal," he mentioned, the sly look in his eye belying his offhanded tone. "Want to go for coffee?"
Blaine couldn't help but grin back. "Always," he agreed. "And can we go to the Farmers Mart, too? They've let the animals into the outdoor pens for the spring."
Kurt's forehead wrinkled in thought. "Isn't that the place with the dyed, multicolored chickens?" he wanted to know.
Blaine nodded wordlessly.
Kurt sighed heavily. "I was trying to trick you into my empty house, but who am I to deny you your fashion-forward poultry?" he asked rhetorically as the bell rang, quickly winking at Blaine before turning around to face the front of the classroom.
A few minutes later, when Mrs. Jennings was passing back their latest round of papers, a post it note made its way back to Blaine's desk: I'm sneaking into the music office during 6th period to get a copy of my Evaluation report. Want to come?
Eyes on the front of the room, just in case, Blaine quickly wrote back. Can't, sorry, I have class (in more than one way, too!). But I know a great song about chicken thieves, if you're still feeling your kleptomaniacal tendencies this afternoon.
Kurt's response was short, to the point, and nearly got them caught when Blaine read it and had to fight hard to suppress his laughter:
A few of Blaine's classes had felt slightly emptier than usual that day, but it wasn't until he walked into the cafeteria and realized that his lunch table, which usually consisted of some of his teammates and their friends, was mostly vacant, that he began to worry. Quickly going through the line and buying a slice of pizza (what he wanted to eat) and a salad (what he'd tell Kurt he ate), he dropped his tray onto the table and slid into his usual seat next to Ryleigh, who was tapping away on her phone.
"Where is everyone today?" he wondered, glancing around the room in case he had missed something (like a brand new table with a dozen familiar bodies).
Ryleigh shrugged, not missing a beat as she continued to text. "Don't know. Nobody said anything to me," she replied casually. "Part of The Fleet is gone though, and Giselle was talking about McKinley when a bunch of the girls were at the mall yesterday. Maybe they went to go 'talk' to our competition; dish out a little payback for all the spies they keep sending over."
Blaine, a little wary of the emphasis Ryleigh put on the word 'talk', wasn't sure if he wanted to know. After a minute, though, his curiosity won out. "What does that mean?" he asked, picking at his salad with the cafeteria-issue cheap plastic fork.
Ryleigh barely glanced up at him. "You know, the usual stuff," she explained. "Toilet-papering their parking lot; spray-able chalk on their stage. Nothing permanent, just a message that they don't want to pick a fight with us."
Blaine couldn't help but stare. "Isn't that a little extreme?" he wanted to know, raising an eyebrow. "It's only show choir."
Ryleigh finally looked up from her cell phone. "And only 80% of the graduating seniors have their insane college scholarships because of it," she shot back, in a tone of voice that suggested that he should have known that already. "Nobody made us do anything, and I don't even know if that's where everyone is today. If you care so much, ask at rehearsal."
Blaine didn't ask at rehearsal.
Partly because he didn't want to ruin the giddy, upbeat mood that steadily grew, along with everyone's show smiles, as VA hit cue after cue with a perfection that felt almost unreal. And partly because if what Ryleigh suggested was true, he wasn't sure what he should do about it. The idea of deliberately hassling another team, even if they had sent over spies first, felt shameful and unsportsmanlike, and the whole thing made Blaine uneasy. At the same time, though, it didn't sound like anyone else was concerned, or even talking about it, and standing up to older students who bullied people for stupid reasons hadn't gone particularly well for him in the past.
In the end, Blaine chose not to bring it up, deciding to ask Kurt what he knew about it on their coffee date.
As it turned out, he didn't get the opportunity—even though Blaine pulled out of the parking lot at Carmel only a minute or so after Kurt, an unlucky string of red lights meant that by the time he made it to the Lima Bean, Kurt was already sitting at a table, with two cooling soy mocha lattes and a sheet of paper in front of him.
"I'm 'beginning to truly develop my artistic autonomy'," Kurt bragged with a smile, "and have 'surpassed expectations in both style choice and embodiment'."
Blaine took a sip of his drink. "That's a good thing?" he double-checked facetiously, nudging Kurt's foot under the table.
Kurt nudged back. "That's a very good thing," he confirmed, eyelashes fluttering as he looked down at his report with a dreamy smile. "The only ambiguous thing on here is that she wanted to push me into trying a more emotionally-laden piece in the future, but without 'letting the performance of emotion take precedence over the actual emotion'. But that's nothing that I did wrong this time, and it's a step up from her critique last year, which basically implied that I couldn't do it."
Blaine smiled warmly, happy that Kurt wasn't upset over the less-than-strictly-perfect review. "And now you'll know what to do in June," he reminded Kurt, who nodded in return.
"I'll bet yours is even better," he commented, folding the sheet neatly and sliding it back into his bag.
Blaine shrugged. With the weird practice hours, his parents' redoubled efforts at family life, and Kurt's recent bouts of pressure-based subpar mental health, he hadn't really given much thought to his own Evaluation since the day it happened. "Probably not," he said mildly, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'm sure I did fine, but I don't think anyone could have possibly worked harder than you. Even Giselle took time off when she had her crown replaced, and she told me that she normally practices three times a day. Out of the two of us, you're the star."
Someone dropped a mug on the other side of the room, and the noise of the shattering ceramic startled Blaine enough that he looked over instinctively, gripping the table with white-knuckled fingers.
When he looked back a moment later, Kurt was staring at him. "Want to find out?" he asked softly, reaching back into his bag.
"Do I…" Blaine started, a little confused—the crash had only distracted him for a few seconds, but it was enough that he wasn't quite picking up the context of Kurt's question.
That is, until he saw the paper in Kurt's hand, almost identical to the one Kurt had just been reading from moments before. "You stole my Evaluations report?" he asked, incredulous.
Kurt nodded triumphantly. "It's just a copy, like mine," he promised; "the original is back in the office. But I figured that as long as I was sneaking in anyway…"
Blaine honestly wasn't sure how to react. He wasn't crazy about the idea of anyone stealing the reports—even if Kurt was right in his declaration that 'everyone did it', it still felt like an invasion of privacy to him, a misuse of Shelby's trust—but it wasn't his job to tell Kurt what he could and couldn't do. If he wanted to sneak into the office and read his own report, that was his business, not Blaine's. To steal Blaine's as well, though…
He knew Kurt had meant well, and he couldn't really get angry at him because of that. And it wasn't like he was hurting anyone, the way that his teammates potentially picking on choirs from other schools did. Still, something about the whole situation rubbed him the wrong way.
Some of Blaine's feelings must have shown on his face, because Kurt's expression glazed over a bit, and he bit his lip nervously. "Did you not—I didn't read it. Not without you. I just…thought that maybe you would have wanted to see it if you had it, but didn't want to sneak into the office or skip class."
Blaine felt something inside of him soften. He was still a little bothered by Kurt's presumptuous thievery, but he could understand how Kurt might have assumed what he had—his reply to Kurt's inquiry that morning was a little ambiguous, and even though the idea of stealing from his teachers made Blaine recoil, the thought of knowing what was on that paper, what Shelby (and by extension, the rest of Vocal Adrenaline) really thought about him…
It was weirdly tempting.
Kurt was looking down at the table, no longer meeting Blaine's eyes. "I should have asked you first," he admitted, putting the paper face down on the table and tracing his finger over a few granules of sugar left over from his chair's last occupant. "I'll throw it out, okay?"
Kurt's saddened face broke Blaine's heart a little. "No, hey," he offered gently, reaching forward and clasping Kurt's hand with his own. "I'm not mad, all right? Yeah, you should have asked, but you thought you were doing something nice; you didn't know."
Kurt looked up then, blue eyes slightly nervous. "I should have known that, though," he pointed out, mouth twisting. "You're so good. I'll bet you never even stole a pack of gum from the store when you were little, did you?"
Blaine had to laugh at the appropriateness of the question. "Once," he admitted. "When I was six. But the next day in Sunday school, the teacher was talking about how lying and stealing were wrong and sinful, and I got so upset that my mom had to come and pick me up early."
He closed his eyes, feeling a slight blush forming on his cheeks. "The next day, we brought back the gum, a nickel to replace the piece I'd already chewed, and a picture I drew of a sad face saying 'I'm sorry I stealed your candy, it was bad and I am sorry'," he added. "I was too embarrassed to go back there for at least two years."
Kurt's smile was infectious. "That sounds exactly like you," he told Blaine, "only without your excellent grasp of the written word." Blaine kicked him lightly under the table again, and Kurt yelped and kicked him back.
"I used to steal makeup for my mom all the time," Kurt shared, taking a sip of his nearly-empty drink. "I had memorized all of her brands and shades, and whenever she was running low on something, I'd slip it into my pocket or boots at the store when nobody was looking, and replace it for her when we got home. She knew I was the one doing it, because I was unreasonably fascinated with her vanity table, but it took her about six months to realize that Dad didn't have a secret list of her cosmetics tucked into his wallet."
Kurt rarely talked about his mother in front of Blaine. Whenever he did, Blaine was riveted. "What did she do?" he wanted to know.
Kurt shook his head. "Laughed," he answered simply. "She was mortified for a few seconds, I'm sure of that, but then she laughed, sat me on her lap, and explained that if we didn't pay the makeup companies, they wouldn't have any money to buy ingredients or pay the people who made her lipstick. And that buying things instead of stealing them was our way of saying 'Thank you' to those people."
Blaine stifled his laughter. "Your mom sounds like she would have been fun to play Monopoly with," he commented, making Kurt smile sadly.
"It took me until I was fourteen to figure out that she let me win most of the time when I was little," he confirmed.
Not wanting to upset Kurt by making him dwell on his childhood, Blaine carefully slipped the Evaluations report out from underneath his hand. "Why don't I throw this out, and buy some more coffee to take with us?" he suggested. "I think they only sell hot cider at the Farmers Mart in the fall."
Kurt blinked up at him hopefully. "Can we stop at my house on the way?" he wanted to know. "It's getting cold out again, and if we're going outside, we should stop and get something heavier to wear."
All previous unease forgotten, Blaine held out his hand to Kurt, helping him to his feet. "Of course," he agreed. "Check your phone, okay? I thought I heard it go off in your bag."
While Kurt did just that, Blaine squeezed his hand before letting go, walking over to the counter and getting in line behind the two other people waiting to order.
The report was still clutched in his left hand.
Tapping his foot gently, Blaine stared at the back of the paper in trepidation. All of his previous concerns about reading it were still true, even if he did want to read it, just a little. On the other hand, though, even if Kurt was telling the truth (which he probably was) and hadn't read it out of respect for Blaine, it sounded as if accessing any and every report was a lot easier than Blaine had thought. And Blaine was starting to get a bigger picture of his teammates' competitive traits—what if the others, like Kurt, hadn't stopped at merely copying their own personal reports? What if half of the team knew what his strengths and weaknesses were, and he didn't? Did that matter?
The thoughts in his head were getting louder and more uncomfortable, and Blaine left his place in line, striding over to the trash can before he could change his mind.
He barely caught a glimpse of Shelby's photocopied handwriting—"incredible leading man potential—before the paper disappeared.
Sipping his coffee while he drove (unbeknownst to Kurt, he'd ordered a super-fattening white mocha latte when at the counter the second time), Blaine followed Kurt's Navigator through the increasingly familiar neighborhoods, parking behind Kurt in the driveway once they reached the house—he didn't want to take Burt's vacant spot, in case he arrived before they left, and they were taking Blaine's car to the Farmers Mart since Kurt didn't know how to get there. The breeze had picked up since they'd left the Lima Bean, and Blaine hurried to catch up with Kurt, who was wisely already hurrying to the front porch.
"It was so nice out this weekend," Kurt lamented, as he turned his key in the door. "I was hoping for spring—not that I don't love layers, but there's so much more laundry involved."
Blaine squeezed his hand, slipping into the house behind him and swiftly closing the door, shutting out the chill. "Just a few more weeks," he promised. "And then only a few more months until summer. I want to see you in a bathing suit at least once before you leave for the Academy."
"If I get in," Kurt reminded him, but he looked pleased by the compliment, as he did every time. "And only if you know of any indoor pools. You've seen how much sunscreen I go through at rehearsal; imagine how much I have to use when the actual sun is involved."
Blaine winced slightly. Kurt's complexion, while gorgeously smooth and unfairly blemish-free, was incredibly pale, and Blaine could see how that might be a problem. "We'll go on a cloudy day and find the world's biggest beach umbrella," he compromised, following Kurt into the kitchen and stepping forward to open the basement door for him. "And maybe you'll get to keep the rest of Carmel's SPF 500 sunscreen, since nobody else'll use it before it expires."
Kurt rolled his eyes as they reached the bottom of the stairs. "Ha ha," he responded darkly, grabbing a neatly folded hooded sweatshirt off of the stack of clothes on his dresser and tossing it at Blaine, who caught it easily. He quickly pulled the hoodie over his head, reveling in the scent of Kurt and the sudden warmth of the close-fitting fabric.
"Not all of us were born perfect, you know. Some of us have to work at it," Kurt continued from inside his closet. "No damaging my self-esteem; we're supposed to be celebrating."
Blaine grinned, even though Kurt couldn't see it. "Sorry," he apologized, not meaning it. "How about, 'wear whatever sunscreen you want, and I promise not to make fun of you, no matter how ridiculous it is, because I'll be too busy being thankful for your shirtless presence?'"
Kurt peered around the doorframe at him, smiling. "Much better," he agreed. "Is there a navy cashmere sweater over there?"
Blaine, who was standing near the dresser, quickly leafed through the small pile of clothing. "I don't see it," he told Kurt, who frowned slightly.
"It must be upstairs," he surmised. "Don't move; I'll be right back."
Blaine briefly considered staying frozen in his spot until Kurt returned, but decided not to bother, flopping down into Kurt's desk chair and spinning in lazy circles as the sound of Kurt's footsteps overhead slowly faded instead.
On his fifth or sixth counterclockwise turn, Blaine noticed the fresh stack of post it notes next to the mugful of pens on the desk, brighter and with more color options than the last time Blaine had left him a note to find. Eagerly peeling off a hot pink post it, Blaine grabbed a pen, drawing a large, sloppy heart and the initials KH & BA in the middle with a decisive flourish.
Dropping the pen back into the mug, Blaine frowned, trying to think of a place to stick the heart that Kurt wouldn't immediately spot—the desk was obviously out, and he'd likely duck back into the closet or the bathroom if his sweater was still missing in action when he came downstairs. Leaving it in a drawer somewhere seemed like the smartest option, and Blaine swiveled his chair to face the desk again, pulling open the third drawer with the intention of putting his note on the very top of all the notes from him that Kurt had saved.
A quick glance at the contents of the drawer told Blaine that he had opened the wrong one, and he was in the act of sliding it shut when he noticed something that made him pause: in the drawer was a manila envelope. A manila envelope with his name written across the front.
Curiously, he reached into the drawer and picked it up.