Title: Where There's Smoke [2/12+]
Rating: PG-13 generally, but moving to NC-17 in places (will point out, accordingly, for those averse)
Pairing: Kurt/Blaine, Wes and David friendship, mentions of former Finn/Rachel
Word Count: 10,120/100,000
Warnings: None, really, aside from future mentions of homophobic treatment by a parent (I never use slurs. Never.)
Summary: Fireman AU, set 7 years after graduation. Kurt is Kurt, except that he never met Blaine Anderson. Blaine grew up in Brooklyn with his mother and firefighter father. Rachel and Kurt have graduated NYADA, Kurt gained a Masters from Tisch, and now they're in their first post-college apartment together ready to tackle their dreams. Unfortunately, Rachel never learned how to properly cook and almost sets their new house on fire. Enter Dreamy McFirepants.
A/N: This wouldn't exist without the most amazing editor a person could ask for, flaming_muse. Any remaining errors fall squarely on
Previous Chapters: [Masterlist + One]
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“How do I look?” Rachel twirled for Kurt to show off the lovely sundress that he'd helped pick out at a sample sale recently.
“Fabulous. That cut of dress is absolutely flattering and makes you look elegantly enticing. You have no idea how glad I am that you finally gave up your horrid collection of animal sweaters.”
“They might come back!”
“Sweetie, they never came in the first place.” They rounded the corner and heard loud rock music spilling out of a sub-level bar, a group of boisterous men laughing and jostling one another near the entrance. Kurt had a mild moment of sheer panic and tugged Rachel back to the safety of the previous block.
“Oh my god, what are we doing; what am I doing? No one asked me to come; I'm going to look like some creepy cruiser fireman fetishist.”
“Oh, would you calm down!” She smoothed the front of his fitted, short sleeve shirt and waggled her eyebrows at him after giving his toned biceps a squeeze. “Talk about enticing, Kurt. Now, relax. David said for me to bring a friend, so I am.”
Kurt dead-panned, “A friend. Rachel, in straight that means Santana, someone that plays on both sides and has a nice set of boobs. I'm fairly certain the handsome, straight, black fireman didn't intend for you to bring your Dandy.”
She licked her thumb and moved to wipe something off his cheek when he reared back and caught her hand before she could touch him. “That's disgusting, Rachel.”
She rolled her eyes and fumbled in her coordinating clutch. “I'm pretty sure David meant you as the friend to bring along, because he told me about tonight while standing behind Blaine and squeezing his shoulders. Pointedly.”
Kurt took the mirrored compact Rachel offered and checked his face for any smudges. Nothing. Hair in place, stylish yet effortless outfit that said, “I just fall out of bed looking this good, I don't actually have to work at it,” even though he spent two hours getting everything just right.
She put the compact back in her purse and smoothed her hair. “And if all else fails, we'll just say you're my chaperone.”
Before flashing ID to gain entrance, Kurt noticed the name of the bar: Smokey's. “Really, Rachel? This is where we are? In a bad pun?”
“I think it's cute!”
“Well, it's better than the time you took your visiting dads and me to Rod's Manhole when we turned twenty-one. I still will never forgive you for that.”
Rachel laughed and pulled him inside.
Kurt settled onto a bar stool in the back of the room watching the chummy crowd mingle and unwind. It was clearly a firefighters' bar: there were old plaques denoting heroic deeds, black and white photographs of former crews hanging on every wall, and a huge red banner across the back of the bar that read “9/11: NEVER FORGET” with a sobering list of the men and women who put others first on that tragic day. But for all the somber memories the place held, it was also a popular place to relax after a hard shift, by the look of the genial and friendly crowd.
Rachel was currently deep into a game of darts with David and a few crew mates from the station house. One of the firefighters was a woman named Sonja, and she and Rachel hit it off quickly. Captain Anderson was nowhere to be seen. Of course.
Kurt wryly looked into his high ball of tonic over ice with a twist of lime. It just figured that this wouldn't work out. Once again he tried to come up with a way of gracefully slipping out, now that he knew that he didn't have to worry about leaving Rachel with a pack of men in a bar. David had been genteel and attentive in a charming, old school way, and his crew mates had so far proven to be upstanding, considerate men as well. Kurt was glad for Rachel, as he knew intimately how many nights over the past few months that she'd cried herself to sleep.
He decided it was time to go and tossed back his drink when someone sat next to him. He looked over the rim of his glass and swallowed noisily. Another handsome man took the stool, but it wasn't the one Kurt had been looking for all evening. Instead, he was tall with short, thick, black hair that was spiked to one side, dark olive skin, and a bland expression on his face. Kurt briefly noticed that he was dressed in some chic trousers and a silk t-shirt. The man took a beer from the bartender and motioned towards Kurt's glass. “And another one for...?”
“Uh, Kurt. And no thanks, though I appreciate the offer. I was just heading out.”
“Wes,” he nodded. “And you can't leave yet; you'll miss karaoke. David told me your friend was a singer?”
“Rachel? Oh, yes, but be careful. She'll take over the mic all night if you let her.”
Wes laughed as he took a long pull from his beer. He gestured with his beer towards Kurt's outfit. “I don't mean to make this sound weird, but is that a Francisco VanBenthum?”
Startled, Kurt almost missed the bartender's hands as he took a fresh glass being offered. “Y-yes, it is! Wait. Are you a fireman, too? Or here with someone...” He drifted off leaving the opportunity for Wes to mention a significant other already in the room. Please, don't say Blaine. Please, don't say Blaine.
“I'm a firefighter, yes, but my fiance is the buyer for Behaviour, and she insists on dressing me when I'm not in uniform.”
Kurt's jaw dropped. He grabbed Wes' forearm, “She is not! I love that shop! And she did a fantastic job, I might add. I have that very same shirt in aubergine.”
They dove into a chummy conversation about the fiance's current buying trip in Amsterdam, Kurt becoming glassy eyed at all of the designer names that Wes rattled off with ease. Wes in turn asked Kurt about Rachel, how long they had known each other, how long Rachel had been in the city, and other quasi-personal questions, obviously digging for his friend David.
Kurt said earnestly, “But really, I don't think she's ready for anything serious. I know she wants to have fun with someone, but if he's looking for something long-term...”
Wes leaned back on his elbows against the bar, watching David and Rachel laughing and flirting on the other side of the pub. “I think he's just excited to find someone that isn't chasing the uniform. We get that a lot, you know,” he said, making a point of looking at Kurt before pulling out his cellphone, vibrating with a new text message.
Kurt took the break to fight back a blush; he affected what he hoped sounded airy and blase as he replied, “Oh, I'm sure the whole 'hero rescues the damsel in distress' thing brings out the crazies.” Kurt sipped at his drink, waiting for Wes to finish typing a response and continued, “But then, one has to consider the sobering reality of the danger in what you all do, not to mention the insane schedules you keep.”
Kurt drifted off into thought. Three straight 24-hour shifts? When would someone ever have time for a social life with that sort of schedule? And really, these guys put their lives on the line, that is, when not distracted by flaming tofu and jittery, unabashedly piqued me.
Wes watched him closely, “Oh, it's not always insane. Some people take on more than they need to, simply because the job has become their life.” Wes pulled his vibrating phone back out, giving Kurt a chance to lose himself in thought as Wes typed what seemed to be a thesis into his phone.
“What about you, Kurt? What do you do?”
“Hmm? Oh, I'm a costume designer for CSC and freelance for different theater companies between shows. When someone with my, ahem, unique vocal talents is sought after, I perform.”
Wes smiled hugely at him. “You sing, too, huh? Oh, you're definitely sticking around for karaoke, then.”
Kurt looked about the room, panic stricken. Older men with thick mustaches, youngish guys that looked like they listened to nothing but hard rock, and a few older men from his father's generation filled the room. Some of them had their girlfriends or wives, but they fit the same pattern as their men. They didn't seem the type that would enjoy a countertenor belting out the hits from Gypsy. He loved singing, he had a fantastic range, but still. He knew he had a unique voice; he got tired of people always pointing that out to him, as if he wasn't aware.
Wes followed his gaze and laughed, “Don't be so judgmental. I think you're in for a surprise.”
Kurt was finally convinced to add a splash of vodka to his club soda once the karaoke portion of the night had begun in earnest. Rachel had already sung no less than three duets, two of them with David, and Kurt had to admit that she had been right. Their voices harmonized beautifully. Two of the older firefighters were currently working their way through “Friends in Low Places,” confirming Kurt's fear that he was horribly out of his element.
A patron standing behind him got a little carried away on the line, “think I'll slip on down to OH-asis!” and bumped into Kurt, who spilled his drink on the counter. Kurt, eyebrow cocked, demurred to Wes as the bartender mopped up the mess, “I believe you said something about me being surprised?”
The energetic patron turned to Kurt, clapped him on the shoulder and hollered over the crowd, “Sorry, buddy, my bad!”
Kurt nodded a forced smile at him and took the fresh drink the bartender set in front of him on a new cocktail napkin. The song wrapped up to huge applause, and the much calmer piano intro to “Crazy” began. Rachel's new friend Sonja was a decent alto, it seemed. She sang the Patsy Cline song into the microphone passionately, her eyes closed and her body swaying with the microphone stand. O...kay, then. Someone's had a bad breakup, it seems.
The crowd settled back down as she sang, giving Kurt an opportunity to ask a few questions of his own. “So I noticed that your captain--” He attempted to look confused as if he was searching his memory. “What's his name?”
Wes sucked his teeth and clearly enunciated, “Blaine. Anderson.”
Kurt waved his hand flippantly, “Oh, right. Anyway, I noticed that he's pretty young, but he's the captain? That seems unusual--” He held one hand up to the side of his mouth to say in a fake conspiratorial manner. “ --or are there politics involved that I don't know about?” He smiled cheerily, the corners faltering as he realized that Wes was taking his time answering. “I'm...sorry. I don't mean to pry; just making conversation, that's all.”
“No,” Wes said, polishing off his beer, “it's a reasonable question. He is pretty young for the job at 26. Before 9/11, that would have been unheard of, but the department lost a lot of its seasoned leaders. It's still not too common, not with an established station like our house.” Wes scowled at his phone. Kurt worried that he was fighting with his girlfriend, the one that might be able to help Kurt get an employee's discount on a pair of Louis Python Crystal sneakers.
Wes rolled his eyes and snapped the mute slide on his phone. He glanced at the door and sighed, “It's too bad he doesn't usually come to these things; you could ask him yourself.”
Kurt's heart sank. It really was a lost cause, tonight. Well, he made a new friend, one with a fiance that bought clothes at his favorite Manhattan boutique, so he decided to look on the bright side of things. Kurt toyed with the napkin under his drink. “Oh, it's not a big deal, if it's a sensitive subject. Interesting that your leader doesn't come relax with his troops, though.”
He may as well see if he could get any information possible. It clearly wasn't going to happen, any...well, anything with Blaine, so Kurt figured he might as well flesh out the man for his romantic fantasies where they drove off into the sunset together to live in Paris to eat baguettes and drink wine and be fabulous for the rest of their lives.
Wes continued looking out on the crowd. “He's a serious guy these days. If he's not working, he's sleeping. If he's not sleeping, he's at the station working. Not the healthiest life, but it's what his has been for a while, now.” Wes pushed off from the bar to high-five a crew-mate walking past them to the bathroom. “He definitely could use some fun. He's not done anything social since his father-”
Wes was cut off by a loud cheer from the crowd. Wes smiled at Kurt, saying, “Excuse me,” and made his way through the crowd to the entrance.
Since his father, whaaaaat? Kurt was sure that he would never get to the bottom of – oh, he had the nicest bottom, too, firemen should wear those pants everywhere – the mystery that was Blaine Anderson. He saw Rachel back on stage typing her song choice into the machine. He groaned, but hey, he warned Wes, so he could wash his hands of any fallout from his roommate turning the evening into a one woman musical. He morosely stared into his glass, swirling it around and wondering if it would be rude to just leave without saying goodbye to Wes.
Where was Wes, anyway? The crowd was pushing together towards the door, still, whistling and cheering someone. Kurt decided to wait a few minutes until the melee died down and beg off for the rest of the night. He brought his glass to his mouth when he sensed someone taking Wes's seat.
“Hey, Wes, I'm going to head-”
It wasn't Wes; it was Blaine. He turned towards Kurt and smiled. “Hey! Kurt, right? Braved the crowd, huh? They can get kind of wild at these things. I'll have an Abita long-neck?” he asked the bartender.
Kurt's heart fluttered somewhere near his Adam's apple and he knew he had a huge grin on his face. He cleared his throat and did his best to control his features. Blaine was out of uniform, and if Kurt had thought the uniform was the right look for him, he had clearly not thought of other options. Tan, light-weight trousers that fit snugly and an olive tee that looked like Marc Jacobs, to Kurt's trained eye. He sent up a quiet prayer of thanks to Marc Jacobs for making thin, snug-fitting clothes for handsome gay men across the globe.
“Oh, hello! Wes was just mentioning that you don't normally come to these get-togethers.”
“Asking around about me, huh?” Blaine grinned, causing Kurt's heart to go into minor palpitations.
“No, um, it just came up. Naturally. In the conversation. A conversation about clothes. Er, we were talking about how his fiance buys clothes from my favorite designer and...” he trailed off lamely.
“Emily's a sweet girl.” He took the opened beer from the bartender. “Thanks. And this led to me, how exactly?”
Oh, he was having way too much fun with this, Kurt thought, which was quickly followed on its heels with the realization that it meant Blaine was flirting. With him. Oh was he now? Kurt sat back, getting himself back under control somewhat, and coolly said, “Wes just likes talking about you, I suppose.”
Blaine chuckled and took a sip from his beer. “Wait. Did I hear you say that you were heading out? But I just got here.”
Well, well, well. Kurt was just about to tell him that he was going to head over to Rachel, or some other excuse to make it seem like he wasn't just staying for Captain Tight Pants, when Rachel started belting out the chorus of her song.
“It's-uh raining men!”
Kurt wanted to die. She even tried to make the lightning strike sounds “pchoo!” pointing finger guns at different men in the crowd. Oh god, we've progressed to finger guns. I need to cut her off before she passionately sings 'What Are You Doing For The Rest Of My Life' directly to David and embarrasses herself, and more importantly me, even more.
Kurt's eyes were about to pop out of his head as he watched his friend bounce all over the stage with wild abandon. “I...should...stop her from...doing all of that.”
“Aw, relax, she's just having fun. The guys haven't even started on the 80s game yet, by the look of things.”
Kurt hummed and held his drink to his mouth, trying to catch a moment to wrap his head around how this evening was turning out. Rachel finished the song on a long note, one arm thrown up in the air, her eyes closed triumphantly. He couldn't help but laugh; it really was good to see her back in her element.
The music turned off, and a handful of guys behind Blaine shouted, “Toast! Toast!” and some of the men started grabbing at him, shoving him to the center of the room as Kurt melted back against the bar, dazed by the surge in energy and turn of events.
Blaine laughed and held his beer up in assent. Kurt heard someone whistle sharply to make the crowd come to attention. It was the older man that mentioned banana bread. He grabbed Blaine by the elbow and whispered something into his ear.
Kurt noticed that Blaine's face became serious, nodding at whatever the older man was saying. Blaine's shoulder got a squeeze, and the older man seemed to be nodding encouragingly to him so he would speak.
Blaine cleared his throat; he had complete command of the room, Kurt especially.
“Now, I know I've missed a few of these,” Blaine paused to let some of the guys rib him for the exaggeration, “but I haven't forgotten our traditions.”
Everyone that was sitting stood up, and everyone standing that was wearing a hat took them off. Kurt looked around at everyone and delicately slipped off his chair so as to not be out of place. Even the bartenders were still.
Blaine took his time before speaking. He looked around the room and finally said, “We're not all here tonight. We're missing brothers, sisters, friends...family. There are times it hurts.” Blaine paused to smile at one of the younger firemen next to him. “And then there are times where we can't stop laughing, like remembering Jerry Bukowski jumping into his boots filled with... what did you put in them, Bill, gumbo?'
A middle aged man laughed and said, “That leftover turkey chili garbage from Tony's night in the galley,” and everyone in the room laughed.
Blaine smiled softly and held his beer high. “We carry on, because the work is never done. We honor them by doing our best, by always trying to do better.” Blaine paused for a moment, looking down at his shoes. It looked like he was trying to keep his face under control. “And I honor you for being the best damn station in all of New York.”
The men cheered for that. Blaine's face became serious again, and he looked over at Kurt for a brief moment, sending a chill down his spine. His eyes swept the crowd again as he continued. “Never forget: all men are created equal.” Blaine broke into a smile. “And a lucky few become firefighters.”
All of the crew shouted in unison, “Hoo-rah!” and took a drink. Someone in the crowd shouted, “We find 'em hot and leave 'em wet!” earning him some hoots and whistles.
Kurt's head was spinning. It was like he had stepped into an action hero's comic. His job, hell, his whole life seemed so small and ridiculous in comparison. What on earth was he doing here, trying to chat up Clark freaking Kent? He felt a tug on his elbow, turning to find Rachel glowing from the moment and a few cocktails.
“Kurt, that was amazing. You have to date him, you just have to. If you don't, I will.”
Snorting, Kurt said, “I don't think you have the right equipment.” He slumped on the bar, resting his face on his hand and feeling utterly dejected. “Rach, what am I doing here? I make crazy stage costumes and sing to, well, no one currently because I haven't gotten any auditions this season. These men,” he said, waving his hand towards the crowd, “are actual grownups. Last week they probably saved an entire orphanage filled with terminally ill children and special needs kittens from certain death, while I was standing in line for the latest issue of Japanese Vogue.”
“Oh, but they have the best hair advice!”
“Not helping. Oh, and the most grown up of them all happens to be my age. Just...I feel foolish and about three feet tall.”
Rachel copied Kurt's pout and rubbed his arm briskly. “Oh, honey, we can't all be heroes, or how would they look so amazing in comparison? Speaking of amazing, how amazing did David and I sound...”
She was off and running her mouth, and Kurt was well-versed in letting her talk herself out. He nodded and “uh huh'd” in the right places, but he couldn't stop thinking about how serious Blaine seemed to be. And how silly he felt. It was obvious why Kurt was intrigued with Blaine: he was handsome, composed, heroic and his men clearly adored him. What on earth did Kurt have to offer a man like that? Well, he could get him half price tickets to sold-out Broadway shows, and that was no small fete in the city. But it certainly didn't compare in Kurt's eyes.
Karaoke was starting back up, and it was as Blaine had hinted: all 80s. Kurt leaned over and spoke directly in Rachel's ear so she would hear him over the din, “I'm going to go; are you going to be okay?”
She grabbed his arms. “You can't leave yet, we've only been here for a few hours! The night is young! The drinks are half-price! We haven't sung anything from Wicked!”
Kurt rolled his eyes. “Somehow I think this isn't the right audience for that.”
The raucous intro to “Feel Like A Woman” poured out of the loudspeakers, and one of the burlier men with what looked like an actual lemur growing on his upper lip took the mic and started shaking his hips left and right as the audience whooped and cheered.
Kurt stared open-mouthed.
“You were saying?” Rachel teased, taking a sip from her straw, her face the picture of innocence. David slipped in behind her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, giving her a squeeze and making her giggle.
“Hey, man!” David held his fist out for a bump, Kurt looked at it for a moment and cautiously stuck his hand out to knock knuckles, reminding himself that it was straight for “nice to see you.”
“Rachel tells me you've got a hell of a set of pipes, too. When are we going to see you up there?”
With a huge and sarcastic smile, Kurt retorted, “When hell freezes over! There is no way I'm singing tonight.”
David rolled his eyes and wedged himself between Rachel and Kurt. “Come on, it's fun. There's still time to put your name on the roster.”
Kurt was confused.
David laughed. “You have to put your name in the hat to sing, and the order can't be changed. And we have a rule: whoever is up to sing picks the next song to be sung.”
“Because that sounds better,” Kurt scoffed. “Knowing my luck I'd get ‘Margaritaville, ‘or something equally horrifying. What on earth is as horrifying as ‘Margaritaville?’”
Rachel and David spoke over each other in rapid fire, “‘Mandy.’” “‘Paradise City.’” They looked at each other and started laughing, and continued. “‘Macarena.’” “‘Jump!’”
Okay, you two,” Kurt laughed, “clearly you each have met your match. And yes, I'd say those... were...” Kurt trailed off because a great song was playing, and a great voice was singing it. Duran Duran's “Rio” pumped through the speakers, and Blaine was positively rocking out on stage, much to the crowd's and Kurt's delight.
Oh my god, he really can sing. Kurt had a brief flash of a future that featured a permanent duet partner. They could be like the gay Captain and Tenille. We’d have to fight over the captain’s hat...
“Did he change the pronouns?” Kurt whispered to Rachel.
Rachel beamed at Kurt, bouncing up and down a little bit. “Oh my gosh, he's totally singing this to you, I just know it!”
“Easy, tiger, I think we're putting the cart before the very handsome and talented horse, ohhh, ankles. Look at his lovely ankles.”
Kurt was transfixed, he couldn't help himself. Blaine was working the crowd, moving all over the stage, prowling all over the stage. Captain Serious stayed at the station, apparently, and Mister Flirtatious Funtime had come out to play. Kurt wasn't about to complain, but he would be lying if he didn't admit to himself that he was curious as to what brought about the change.
There were older guys with full beards and “Git 'er done!” t-shirts dancing and singing along, for crying out loud. Blaine bounced in place, fanned himself, cocked his head and acted out the words as he sang and Kurt couldn't get enough of it. His knees almost gave out at the line, “And I might find him if I'm looking like I can,” because Kurt would have sworn that Blaine winked at him.
Kurt was all the way across the bar; there's no way he could see him tucked away back here in the semi-dark. Kurt just wanted to think that. Because if the man on stage was actually flirting back with Kurt, then that meant that the flirting Kurt had done earlier wasn’t just harmless bon mots tossed at a handsome guy.
He almost fell over from the ferocious tug on his arm by Rachel. “He totally winked at you!”
He stood stock still, barely shaking his head, no. “We just want to think that, Rachel. Oh, we really want to think that.”
Rachel squeezed his hand, “You could finally have a vocal partner that could keep up with you, one that wasn’t me! And this one you could have kisses with.”
Kurt rolled his eyes. “Rachel, how do you manage to turn everything into further proof of your talent? Besides, we were talking about whether or not Captain Cute-stuff is flirting with me, because I’m pretty sure that’s just performance work up there, not actual flirting.”
Rachel ran the edge of her straw along her bottom lip, watching David approach them. She said, “You are as thick-headed as you are fabulous. You’ll see.”
David joined them with a fresh drink for Rachel and himself. “Now that's my old friend. He always comes alive when he sings. That's why we're always trying to get him to come out. He's not been to one of these in more than a year. Not since his dad died, at least.”
David had Kurt's full attention now. “His dad died?”
A flash of guilt crossed David's face. He leaned over to speak into Kurt's ear – the shouting for a new singer was almost deafening. “I shouldn't have said anything; it's not my story to tell. Besides, this is a night of fun! No sad stories allowed; that's our rule here.”
It was maddening, absolutely maddening. No one would tell Kurt anything. And it didn't seem like he'd get a chance any time soon to ask Blaine himself, seeing as everyone in the place kept trying to sling an arm over Blaine's shoulder or buy him a drink once his turn on stage was over.
Mr. Banana Bread was pushed onto the stage, and the electric piano intro to LL Cool J's “I Need Love” started playing amid whoops and crazed laughter.
“Where are we?” Kurt asked Rachel. “Have we entered some bizarro land? This is...”
Rachel, laughing, squeezed Kurt and said, “This is called fun.” She sounded out the word fun. “This is what people do when they want to enjoy life.”
Kurt watched the old man bouncing his whole torso up and down to keep the beat as he read the words on the screen behind him, completely off tempo and off key. Kurt had to admit it was pretty hilarious. He laughed into Rachel's ear, “Now he would have loved to sing Margaritaville.”
She giggled and nodded. She held her drink up the air and shouted, “Whoo!” when Banana Bread attempted a few dance moves, almost falling over from a spin. Kurt laughed as well and looked around the crowd. He spotted Blaine near the stage; one guy was holding Blaine in a one-armed hug as another friend talked animatedly to them both.
Banana Bread got to the sex part of the song and did his best to hold the tempo together.
“Our bodies explode in ecstasy unreal,
You're as soft as a pillow and I'm as hard as steel.
Clean and unsoiled and yet sweaty and wet,
I swear to you this is something I will never forget.
I need love.”
One man was literally laying on the floor, holding his belly and rolling back and forth from laughing so hard. David grinned at Kurt as if to say, “See?” Kurt closed his eyes, smiling, and nodded. Yeah, okay, this was fun. Something he never would have pictured himself doing, but still.
“We're all just happy he came out tonight. Give the guys a chance to try and buy him a beer; he'll come back over here eventually,” David said with a sly look.
“W-what? Who? I'm just having fun with my buddy here, I don't--” Kurt tried to chuck Rachel on the shoulder, but she rolled her eyes and slipped under David's arm.
She looked coquettishly up at her date and said, “He thinks he's not obvious. Worse, he thinks he--” She nodded in the general direction of Blaine. “--isn't interested.”
David looked at Kurt, who was currently trying to figure out how he could melt into the floor and die. Possibly explode into actual flames, as that might take out Rachel as well. His face was hot enough that he thought for a moment that spontaneous combustion might actually be possible and imminent.
“Did you not hear me say that he's not been to one of these things in over a year?”
Kurt stammered, looking at Rachel for help. She was nothing of the sort, giggling and rolling her eyes.
David swallowed a gulp of his drink and continued. “What, just out of the blue he finally shows up to one? Wes and I have been texting his sorry ass all night to hurry up and get down here when we saw that you showed up.”
They seemed to be waiting for some kind of reaction. Kurt was as confused and tied up in knots as he'd ever been. “I don't follow?”
“Damn, Rachel, your friend is really thick-headed.”
She sighed dramatically. “David, you have no idea. He honestly has no idea about how attractive he really is.”
Kurt slammed the rest of his drink; this was beyond uncomfortable. He needed to make new words to express the nervous excitement and panic that was coursing through his body. Of course he wanted to think that he had some mystical power to make a man go to the ends of the earth – or end of the street, whichever – for him, but the harsh reality of life never matched that hope. Kurt knew that as soon as he bought into that, Blaine would introduce him to the gorgeous and chic man that he had really shown up to see, a guy with a ridiculous name like Joshua – he would clearly enunciate all of the syllables – or worse, Jeremiah, ugh.
And he would be a model and had a trust fund and a closet full of one-of-a kind McQueen and a PhD in Fantastic, and he would automatically know that Kurt's pants were from eBay, his shoes were last season, and his shirt was from a damaged sale and Kurt was so gifted with his ability to mend and sew, Joshua/Jeremiah just never could work with his hands like that and isn't little Kurt just the cutest, Blaine? We should invite him to my quaint 12,000 square foot home in the Hamptons in August, he'll be so entertaining.
That was how Kurt's life played out.
Rachel scrutinized his face, chewing the inside of her cheek before she asked, “Castle in Bavaria?”
He leveled his gaze at her and replied, “No. Mansion in the Hamptons.”
They both burst into laughter. She rubbed his arm as she said, “Kurt. Stop sabotaging yourself. Just have fun. I am, and if I can, you can. No more pity parties; we agreed.”
“This is my In Memoriam honoring our former pity parties.”
David finished his conversation with a few of the guys, and Kurt noticed they were looking over at him. His skin prickled on the back of his neck. They weren't giving off any malice, though, just interest. Kurt tried to keep his cool; he shook a few pieces of ice into his mouth to chew and keep himself occupied as David came back over.
“Kurt, you'll be fine here, right? I promised this lovely lady a song, and I'm up next.”
Rachel bounced on her toes, smiling at Kurt, indicating with both of her index fingers in an arc mimicking her mouth that he should, too. Kurt looked daggers at her as she backed away. Something caught his peripheral vision and he exhaled, letting out a little of the tension. Wes had come back. At least he wasn't totally friendless here.
“I left you here almost an hour ago, and you haven't moved an inch. We don't bite, Kurt, it's safe to mingle.” Wes motioned for the bartender to serve him another, elbows resting on the counter. “I'm sorry if you're not having fun. We're not your usual crowd, huh?”
Kurt chuckled softly, “No, there are far less sequins and hissy fits here; I barely know what to do with myself.”
“It's good that you're here, though. I know Emily is going to be glad to meet you.”
“Is she here?”
“No, but I'm sure I'll be seeing you again.”
If Kurt thought his stomach had been in knots before, he evidently didn't understand that there were piddly granny-knots and then there were massive, complicated, twisting knots, because that was what his stomach was currently doing.
“Yeah, another Abita, thanks.” Blaine casually leaned against the bar near Kurt, flushed and grinning from all the talking he'd done. All of the not-to-Kurt talking. “Hey, guys, what did I miss?”
Affecting casual, or as close in approximation as he could, Kurt replied, “I was trying to convince Wes that this bar needs a dance floor.” He waved at the boisterous crowd, “Clearly these men need to unwind, they're all so high strung.”
“Funny, too,” Blaine laughed and shook his head.
Too? What was the one to precede the too?
Kurt wrapped his arms around one knee and leaned back on the bar stool and cocked one eyebrow. “You should see my high-wire act. I'm just full of hidden talents.”
Blaine hummed, grinning before take a sip. He gestured towards Kurt’s glass. “Need a refill?”
Wes said, “He’s been nursing the same drink all night.”
Blushing, Kurt replied, “I’m just not one of those big drinkers. One or two, and then I call it quits. Too many and I can’t be held accountable for my actions.”
Blaine laughed and said, “That can be a good thing or a bad thing.”
Affecting a pained sigh, Kurt said, ”Well, I’m just not ready for a Turkish prison. Not again. True, the steam baths were great for my pores, but the accommodations were found lacking.”
“Too crowded?” Blaine asked, propping his elbow on the bar and turning to give Kurt his full and amused attention.
Kurt shook his head. “Mm, no. Too barren. I had been led to believe there would have been opulence. Scarves, velvet-poufs, fig cakes...”
Kurt could happily spend the rest of the night doing whatever it was that made Blaine smile like he was currently; it was like he hadn't smiled in a long time and had saved them up and they were all happening at once. It was nice to know that he could have that affect on someone, for sure.
“I'll just leave you two alone for a minute,” Wes said, giving Blaine's shoulders a squeeze and winking at Kurt.
Blaine had his face resting in one hand, still smiling at Kurt as he asked, “So. What's a nice guy like you doing in a place like this?”
“Seeing how the other half lives?”
“Other half, huh? What's your half, then?”
Kurt leaned back, still holding one knee and thought for a minute. “The non-life-threatening job half? Then again, you have no idea how dangerous my line of work can be at times.”
Blaine's eyes were literally twinkling. Kurt was not going to acknowledge the string of fairy-lights that hung over their heads; Blaine's eyes were twinkling.
Kurt leaned in and dead-panned, “You've clearly never told a lead actress that she needs to lay off the craft services unless she wants every seam taken out by more than a few inches, or you’d know the answer to that.”
Blaine seemed interested in hearing all about the different shows Kurt had designed costumes for, the processes involved, and especially some of the more gossipy backstage stories. Kurt was a willing narrator, pleased that it wasn't boring Blaine to hear about his job. In fact, Blaine seemed almost hungry for it, wanting to hear all about different auditions Kurt had been on over the past four years and asking which songs Kurt most loved performing.
Every time Kurt asked Blaine about his job or the station, Blaine either deflected by asking Kurt about his job or wanting to know more about his auditions. One time he said, “Smokey's rule, we don't talk shop here. So tell me what it was like to do off-Broadway, I can't imagine how nerve wracking that must have been.”
Okay, then. Maybe he misses performing, or...maybe he doesn't like his job. There was something in Blaine's eyes that made him look lonely, unsatisfied. Kurt recognized that look from his own reflection. It hurt something in him to see that pain in a person as compassionate and friendly as Blaine seemed to be.
Hyper-aware of his hand resting just inches from Blaine's on the bar's edge, he had a wild thought of laying his over Blaine's, wanting to feel his skin, warm under Kurt's hand. He shoved that thought down to mingle with the butterflies in his belly and leave his brain alone. Instead, he asked Blaine, “Do you miss it?”
Knitting his brow, Blaine replied, “Miss what?”
“Singing. Performing. You're clearly talented. I'm amazed you aren't on Broadway yourself, instead of fighting fires and saving Metropolis.”
Blaine was blushing, but he also looked unhappy about something. The earlier thought fought its way back up to Kurt's brain. He lightly touched the back of Blaine's hand in apology. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. I meant it to be a compliment.”
“No,” Blaine said, eyes fixed on their hands. He covered Kurt's with his other and held them there for just a brief moment, a moment Kurt would replay in his mind for hours afterward, remembering the way his stomach looped and swirled at that simple touch. He was sure that if anyone had actually been paying attention, they would have seen the electric spark that must have flashed when Blaine touched him.
Shaking his head softly, Blaine leaned back and took his lovely strong hands with him, leaving Kurt's cold and lonely and really wishing that he was brave enough to snatch one of them back to where it belonged, entwined with his.
Blaine added, “No, no...and thank you, by the way. That was something I'd wanted to do since I was a little kid. Sing.”
“Why didn't you?”
Blaine smiled, but there was something painful in his eyes. “Sometimes things don't turn out like you want them to. But don't get me wrong, I love what I do.”
“Well, that's good. I know I wouldn't want a fireman showing up to my blazing house if he was just feeling 'meh' about the job that day.”
“Ha, no. There's not a lot of room for ennui in my line of work. Well, not in yours, either, I expect.”
“Oh, there's plenty of ennui,” Kurt said, “especially when I forget that I never want to work with experimental theater, because that never means amazing design. It almost always means black sets and black tubes on everyone. Once, though, I did get to make battleship grey tents for an entire company that was deconstructing Oklahoma for the post-modern hipster crowd. So that was pretty fantastic in the not-at-all way.”
Blaine opened his mouth, then closed it, shaking his head. “That is amazing. Please tell me you sat through opening night.”
“They didn't even get to opening night. The director and Ado Annie got into a screaming match about the nude scene the director insisted on--”
“No!” interrupted Blaine, completely horrified.
“--oh, yes. And he fought tooth and nail for it. You know, because she's just a girl who can't say no.”
“Who's your friend, Cap?”
Banana Bread had evidently sidled over at one point in their conversation. Kurt noticed that the relaxed, loose guy he'd spent the last few minutes with was immediately replaced with Captain Serious. Blaine was alert, tall in his seat, and his charming smile had been replaced with tight lips. Oh.
“This is Kurt; he's here with David's date keeping an eye on her.”
Banana Bread grunted, “You mean keeping an eye on us.” He stuck his hand out for a shake and said, “William Munny, call me Bill.”
Kurt plastered a smile on his face, his eyes darting between the two men. Banana Bread-- erm, Bill (it was going to take a bit for Kurt to get used to calling him a real name) was a lot more intimidating up close than when he was rapping out a love song earlier in the night. He looked like a lawman from the Wild West. Handlebar mustache, rough, leathery skin from years of working in extreme conditions, and he was completely stone-faced.
Blaine, on the other hand, looked like every negative emotion possible was dancing across his face. What is going on here? And why am I the poor second cousin all of a sudden?
Kurt slapped a smile on his face and stuck his hand out. “It's nice to meet you, Sir.”
“Call me Bill. Now, Kurt, was it? I hate to do this but I need to confirm a few things with the captain here.”
Son of a- “Be my guest! I don't mean to hog the conversation all night.” Kurt couldn't bring himself to look anyone in the eye; he told himself to keep up his cheerful exterior. Banana Bread Bill gave off a fairly strong disapproval vibe. Kurt wasn't often confronted with homophobia, not in a city where people kept to themselves or yelled at you to keep to yourself.
He chanced a look at Blaine, and his stomach fell. Blaine simply looked empty. The laughing, friendly man he'd teased and flirty with was gone, replaced with someone that was all business. Blaine had a stony expression on his face and was already gliding out of his bar stool to walk away. Blaine nodded briskly at Kurt, barely squeaking out a polite smile in the process. “Kurt. Uh, excuse us.”
As they walked away, the sounds of the bar came roaring back, almost like a wave knocking him over. He mentally raced through every conversation with David and Rachel; it seemed obvious to them that Blaine was gay, which would lead him to assume he was out. Maybe he was only out to close friends? Did the men at the fire station not know?
Kurt's heart sank. He came out of hiding when he was a child; he came out to his own fears of people's disapproval when he was a teenager. He wasn't going back to that. He had fought too hard for his rights and the freedom to be himself.
He searched the room for Blaine and saw him leaving with Bill up the dark, wooden stairs to street level. A few feet away he startled at seeing Rachel wrapped up in David's arms, swaying to the music, smiling up at him. No one thinks a thing about them and their PDA, but Blaine and I talk about fabric swatches and all hell breaks loose. It's not fair. This city is huge, how is it I can't find one out gay man that is interesting, not crazy, and is available?
If this was how things were, only letting Blaine out on a short leash, it was no wonder he never came to these parties. No wonder he threw himself into his work: he wasn't allowed to do anything else. As much as he was attracted to Blaine, and oh, was he attracted to Blaine, he didn't know if he had it in him to date another person that couldn't be themselves all the time. It was exhausting. And more importantly, it hurt.
Well, we'll always have Paris. And our charming apartment on the Champs-Élysées An elderly, unknown relative dies in this fantasy, leaving them a scandalous amount of money. They have old fashioned bicycles with wicker baskets in front for trips to the market; they take long walks at sunset where they hold hands; they sometimes argue over who loves the other the most, and of course, there would be passionate nights in front of a roaring fireplace. Kurt was still in the fade to the flickering fire portion of his fantasy when he snapped back to reality.
I didn't even get to the R-rated director's cut. He checked his watch, more than ten minutes since Blaine had left, and there was no sign of him coming back. Maybe he had to go back to the station.... Without saying goodbye to me? Kurt sighed, feeling any magic that may have sparked that night was most likely gone by now. Au revoir, mon amant de fantaisie.
It was time for Kurt to get out of there. He needed to find Wes and make sure his fiance knew to expect him at her shop soon, because he was going to have one good thing come out of this night, if he had any say in the matter. Oh, shoot. There still was Rachel to think about. Maybe she needed Kurt to walk her back home? He should find out.
Speak of the devil; Rachel scurried over to him. “Kurt, David and I are going to head out. He's going to walk me home.” She gave him a significant look, the one they established in their dormitory in college that meant Do not come home.
“Rachel Berry,” he whispered, “you are not expecting me to stay here by myself while you trip the light fantastic. Even if he is a fantastic light and you haven't tripped in a long time. Not to mention, you just met him.”
“Okay, Moral Police. I'm not going to fully trip the light, but I plan on a little stumbling at least.” She smoothed the front of her dress, not making eye contact. “Just give me a half-hour’s head start, okay? Then all public rooms should be cleared.”
Kurt raised an eyebrow, smirking. “Oh, I see. Well,” he sighed, “at least one of us can say we had a successful night.”
Rachel finally noticed that Kurt was all alone. “Where's Blaine?”
Kurt lay his head on Rachel's shoulder. “Who knows. Called away, and I think he was in trouble. You know, for being gay.”
Kurt waved his hand dismissively, saying, “I really don't want to go into it here. Besides, this isn't the time because you have David on the brain.” Kurt crossed his arms and leaned against the bar. “So I have to stay here for ten minutes while you make your way to second base?”
“First base, and thirty minutes.”
She huffed out her breath and gave him a dirty look. “Fine. Fifteen.” She stood on her tip toes and kissed his cheek. “We'll talk tomorrow morning, for sure. I'm pretty sure I'll be alone for breakfast.”
She threw her head back and laughed. He loved that she was finally having fun again; he had missed his excited, animated, happy friend. He just wished he could share in it with a little of his own having “fun” again, too. He decided to be generous and give her a twenty minute head start, and then that was it: he was going home. He didn't care what he walked in on in his living room; he had a door that locked and noise-canceling head phones. Not to mention how late it was, and his skin was going to be a disaster if he didn't get some sleep soon.
He played a round of Scrabble on his phone, keeping track of the time. He pushed off his stool and looked around one last time on the chance that Blaine had come back. No such luck, but the President of the Ruin Kurt's Life Club had returned. That was all the pushing Kurt needed. As he headed for the door, Banana Bread waved his hand at him and mouthed, “Good to see you.”
Kurt pushed around a few knots of people, smiling when making eye contact but trying not to, until he finally made it to the front entrance. A warm hand caught his elbow as he started climbing the stairs.
Blaine. Kurt was mad at this point. He didn't know what to think. Flirting here, disappearing there.... They had a conversation that ended in chilling nothingness, and yet everyone seemed to think there was something amazing happening between them. Well, if there was, Kurt couldn't see it at this point. He was tired, cranky and lonely. He just wanted to clean up and slip into cool, freshly washed sheets so he could call this night officially over.
Kurt sighed and picked at a bump in the stair rail's varnish. “Yeah, it's been a long day, and it seems like Rachel didn't need a chaperone after all, so,” he trailed off, not wanting to say, And I only date grown ups that acknowledge their sexuality. And also men that actually want to date me. Instead, he simply said, “I just need to get my beauty sleep.”
Blaine huffed out a sigh, running one hand through his hair. “Well, it was nice seeing you again.”
Nice. The kiss of death. Something that had flittered and twittered in Kurt's stomach most of the night finally fell, dead. “You, too.” He started back up the stairs, more quickly this time. He felt rejected, stupid and utterly dismal, and he just wanted to get out of there.
“Hey, um, do you know Bitter Sweet?”
Kurt stopped in his tracks. He started laughing as he turned to face Blaine. “Do I know bittersweet? That's practically my middle name. That's my life.”
Blaine looked utterly confused. He jammed his hands in his pockets and asked, “So... you've been there? I mean, I like it for a cafe and all, but--”
“Wait, what are you talking about?” Maybe that thing in his belly wasn't dead after all; something was making some feeble attempts at flight.
“Bitter Sweet? The cafe two blocks over?”
Yep, I'm an idiot. “No, I’ve not heard of it,” Kurt replied, wondering if this was going somewhere and unable to stop the hope flaring up inside.
“It's small, but it's family owned. They've been here a while. Really good cookies, too. Well,” Blaine grinned, looking bashful all of a sudden, “except for one kind. I've recently tasted a much superior oatmeal raisin cookie, come to think of it.”
Kurt leaned in the doorway, trying to remember to keep his face vaguely neutral. It wasn’t easy as everything in him was yearning for this man to quit being a dummy and ask him out, already.
“Oh,” Kurt exhaled, pleased and nervous at the same time. “You know, I need a good coffee house; making myself a nonfat mocha just doesn’t feel right. It should be hand-crafted by a professional.”
Blaine chuckled, “Well, I have no idea how good those are; I’m a basic coffee guy, myself. It’s only that you’d mentioned just moving into the neighborhood, so I didn't know if you were familiar with all the good places to go.”
Definitely not dead, and nearing a full remission. “Oh, so you live around here, too?”
“Biking distance to the station, but yeah. Grew up not too far from here.”
“I see that I’m going to have to pick your brains for all the best shops and detours, then.”
“Absolutely,” Blaine replied, leaning against the opposite side of the door frame.
Kurt bit his lip and looked down for a minute to give himself a break from staring into Blaine’s eyes so he could think clearly enough to make a decision on whether to ask an important question. Before he let himself get swept away by praised cookies, long eyelashes, and a brilliant smile, he needed to know something first.
“Blaine, can...I ask you something? Something that might be personal?”
“Well, now I’m intrigued.”
Kurt chanced a look back at Blaine’s face; there was no anger, no fear, just simple curiosity. He exhaled slowly. “Before, when Banana-- when Bill came over, did I pick up the slightest whiff of in the closet? Because I really don’t mean to cause anyone trouble, and that’s the impression I got.”
Kurt’s eyes followed Blaine’s hand as it ran through his hair, trying to avoid Blaine's eyes in case what Kurt suspected was true.
“Closet? Oh, no. They all know I’m gay, is that what you mean?”
Kurt’s shoulders dropped about five inches and he decided it was okay if he dropped his mask of detached cool that hadn’t really worked all night anyway, and just grin like a fool. “Yes. And good! I mean, that’s nice that you can be open where you work. I sometimes wonder about things like that.”
“Well, I can't speak for other firehouses, but here everyone's pretty accepting of me. It helps that I grew up with most of them. Bill’s known me since I was a little kid. He was my dad’s best friend, they went through Fire Academy together and he’s been a part of the family ever since.” Blaine shrugged. “He’s also my boss.”
It still didn’t make any sense to Kurt, the sudden chill that fell over Blaine when Bill had come over.
Blaine shifted, as if he was uncomfortable with the discussion. “He’s grooming me, I think, wants me to always give off the right vibe. Don’t worry about it, though, I’m sorry that we made you uncomfortable.”
“Oh, please! Don’t apologize!” Unless it’s to say how sorry you are that you haven’t spent all night with me. “So, about that coffee shop...” Just ask. Just ask him. What can it hurt now? “Maybe you could show it to me, sometime?”
The sweetest, most radiant smile broke out on Blaine's face. “Yeah, we should definitely do that.”
It was the smile that did it. It said Blaine had genuine excitement about seeing him again. Kurt had simply misread the tension between the two men earlier. Maybe it was just about work and Kurt needed a big ol' stepladder to get over himself? He clung to that hope. “So...give me a call when you’d like to play tour guide, then.”
“Okay. I’d like that.”
Kurt backed up a few steps, and waved a “See you later,” and not the “Goodbye,” he had been so sure the night would end with. He felt like he might start levitating; maybe he already was. He checked his shoes to make sure. Nope, still on the street and walking normally. Just before he turned the corner he saw Blaine, hands still jammed in his pockets, smiling at the ground and toeing at something on the pavement. Kurt was almost 100% sure he actually did levitate the entire way home.
If Rachel and David were naked and jousting in the living room, or playing a round of chess with puppies, Kurt had no idea. He drifted in the house and went straight to his room. He closed his bedroom door, backed into it and sighed. Which is when he realized that he hadn't actually given Blaine his number. Which meant that he had no way to contact Kurt.
[TBC - here]
~ thank you so much for the lovely response, guys! I'm so happy to not be on my own with my