Word count: 8200/200,000Spoilers: none
Chapter summary: In which life at the Anderson-Hummel house is a roller coaster that neither Kurt nor Blaine can seem to get off of.
Prologue (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 1 (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 2 (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 3 (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 4 (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 5 (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 6 (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 7 (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 8 (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) Chapter 9 (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 10 (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 11 (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 12 (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 13 (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 14 (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 15 on (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 16 on (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 17 on (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C) - Chapter 18 on (LJ/AO3/Tumblr/S&C)
Read Chapter 19 on AO3/Tumblr/S&C
Sunday, August 20th, 2023
"Hey, kiddo." Burt's warm voice boomed into Kurt's ear through his cell phone, and Kurt set the pencil that had been clutched tightly in his hand down on the table.
"I haven't heard from you or Blaine in a while. How're my boys doing?"
We're barely hanging on by a thread. "We're fine."
"Now that's a cop-out answer if I ever heard one," Burt said. "You're fine, Kurt?"
"We're fine, Dad," he repeated, glancing over to the couch where Blaine was lying flat on his back. He actually did look fine for the moment, a book held open over his face, sipping on a mimosa he'd made himself. It was a beautiful day outside already, and the morning sun was streaming through their windows, lighting up his perfect profile. Kurt tipped his head to the side, wistfully gazing at his husband, wishing he could go back in time to when things were better.
"Huh," his dad grunted, bringing him back to the present. "I don’t need to take a couple vacation days, come see you? Make sure you're taking care of yourselves?"
Kurt was too quick to answer. "No!" he said sharply, then softer, "No. We're fine. Rachel's cooking for us, and Nick just moved up here – he was in the Warblers with Blaine and me, do you remember him? And I'm working. We're fine."
"You keep sayin' that, but I haven't believed it yet."
Kurt let out a silent sigh. It was just like his dad to be able to read his mind through a phone line. "Well what will make you believe it?"
"I'll believe it when it's true, Kurt. It's too soon to be true, yet. You should stop lying to yourself – believe it or not, it'll make things easier."
Kurt looked down at the desk where papers were spread, lists of models, of looks, of all the work he still had to do. "Dad – I need to go."
"Oh no you don't. You can't keep pulling away from me like this –"
"I've got a lot of work to do. I'll call you later, okay?" Kurt said, leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes.
"Kurt –" Burt paused. "Okay." Kurt could hear the resignation in his voice. "Okay, but I'll be expecting a call. And I want to talk to Blaine sometime, too."
"Okay. I love you."
"Yeah, love you too, kiddo."
Kurt sighed and looked at the ceiling, leaning farther back in his chair. "I know they mean well, but sometimes I just get so tired of people trying to help."
He waited a moment for Blaine's response and continued when there wasn't one. "Whatever happened to 'going at your own pace,' anyway? I mean, isn't that supposed to be healthy?" He paused, turning around to face his husband. "Blaine?"
"Huh?" Blaine said, his head jerking up. "Were you talking to me?"
Kurt raised his eyebrows and ignored the question. "What are you reading?"
Blaine smiled. "The Fellowship of the Ring," he answered. "It's a nice world to get lost in. And Frodo's problems make ours seem not quite as bad."
"Must be nice," Kurt muttered softly, turning back to his work.
"What was that?" Blaine asked, his voice sharp.
Kurt stared down at his sketchpad, his tone flat as he dismissed Blaine's question. "Nothing."
He turned back around. "All I'm saying," he said tiredly, fighting frustration as Blaine took a sip from his glass, "is that it must be nice to be able to just escape in a book with a mimosa. Or seven. I don't have that luxury."
Blaine frowned. "Kurt, it's Sunday morning, and I have not had seven mimosas. And who says you don't have that luxury?" Kurt considered this for a moment until he heard Blaine mutter under his breath, "God knows I'm not saying that …"
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
Blaine sighed heavily. "Nothing. It doesn't mean anything, Kurt, never mind. I just wish –"
"It clearly means something if you said it, right?" Kurt said, feeling the heat creep up his neck.
"You know, I'm not going to be baited into this today. This is the first day that I've felt halfway human in weeks, and I'm going to enjoy my book and not fight with you."
But Blaine didn't let him finish. He picked up his book and his glass and retreated to their bedroom without a word, shutting the door with a determined click.
Kurt stared down the hall at the closed door for a long time. He was beginning to feel like he had a roommate rather than a husband, that their beautiful, intimate marriage was morphing into something ugly and distant. He sighed and looked down at his left hand where his wedding band rested on his ring finger. He slid his thumb over the metal, warmed by his skin, then pulled it off.
His stomach soured instantly. He could see the indentation in his finger where the band had left a semi-permanent mark, and he felt naked, his hand too light without it on. Swallowing hard, he turned the ring on its side, the platinum glinting in the sunlight, and read the tiny inscription.
My missing puzzle piece, I'm complete
He looked back up at the closed bedroom door and wanted to cry. He didn't feel very complete, not with Blaine and him at each other's throats all the time. Closing his eyes, Kurt slowly slipped the ring back on his finger, trying to remember how it felt when Blaine had done it at their wedding. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life, they'd sworn to each other. Kurt was ashamed to think of how little loving and honoring either of them had been doing lately.
"I'll try to do better, I promise," he whispered, then turned back to his work, wanting to give Blaine time to cool off before he apologized.
* * *
Blaine had just reached the part in his book where Frodo and company meet Tom Bombadil in the forest when his phone rang. He was perturbed that his happy reverie was being interrupted until he saw who was calling.
Blaine smiled, put down his book and picked up his mimosa. "Hey Jeff. How's Chicago treating you?"
"Hey! Chicago's not great, to be honest," Jeff said. "Everything just feels sort of stupid without Nick here. It's stupidly hot and stupidly lonely and – I know he's only been gone for two days, and I'm being stupid. I've already started to call him and ask him if he wants to do lunch or coffee like three times before I realize he doesn't live here anymore. Just … ignore me."
"Huh," Blaine mused, "That's interesting, since he seems to be under the impression that you're mad at him."
Blaine could practically see the sheepish smile fall over Jeff's face as he answered. "Yeah – I kind of gave him the cold shoulder about moving. I feel pretty bad. Actually – that's kind of what I was calling about."
"I'm not apologizing for you, if that's what you're asking. You guys have been friends long enough that you can do that yourself."
"No, no, I'm planning to call him tonight – wish him good luck with the new job and everything, you know? No, I was actually calling to ask you a different favor."
"What's that?" Blaine asked, leaning back against the pillows.
"I know that you and Kurt are going through a lot of shit right now, and I'm really sorry for that," Jeff said. "But I was wondering – could you kind of keep an eye on Nick for me? This break-up thing is affecting him more than he'll let on, I think. I'm a little worried about him."
"I think we'll be keeping an eye on each other, then. Kurt's just about giddy with the fact that I'll have a friend in town who'll hang out with me without going out and getting me wasted."
"Just as long as you do the same for him. You don't want him wasted anyway – he's annoying and he wants to sing, Jeff! And then he either passes out, or pukes and then passes out."
"That sounds way too familiar," Blaine laughed. "Hey, when are you coming to visit? I'd love for the four of us to get together."
"I don't know, but it has been a while since we've all been in the same room, even. Not since –"
"Not since Violet's baby shower, I know," Blaine mumbled, finishing the last of his mimosa in one gulp. "Don't remind me."
Blaine could hear the cringe in Jeff's voice. "Sorry."
"It's okay, I just don't want to talk about it," he said. "Listen, I've got some stuff I've got to get done this morning –" like reading my book, he thought, so I can start on the next one, "– so I'm gonna let you go. But don't worry about Nick – we'll make sure he's settling in okay."
"Thanks, Blaine. I appreciate it."
Blaine reopened his book once he hung up the phone, singing Tom Bombadil's song softly to himself. It was the tune he'd made up when he first read the books as a young teenager to entertain himself, discontent to read lyrics when they could be sung instead.
As he finished the last lines, "Tom's going home again water-lilies bringing. Hey! Come derry-dol! Can you hear me singing?" he looked up to see Kurt watching him from the doorway. His cheeks flushed with embarrassment, and Kurt smiled at him.
"I'm sorry I snapped at you earlier," he said.
Blaine shrugged. "It's ok. Why the sudden change, though?"
"I heard you singing," Kurt said simply, then looked down, playing with his wedding band. "I'm glad it's a good day for you today." He paused. "I hope I didn't ruin it."
"Kurt –" Blaine started, then stopped himself. "No. No, you didn't ruin it." It wasn't a lie exactly – Kurt had come pretty close to ruining his good mood, but the apology was definitely turning things back in the right direction. "Look, if you want –"
"You can work in here, if you want. I promise not to distract you – I'll just sit here and read."
Kurt shrugged. "My desk is bigger out there," he said. "But – it's so sunny out. If you want to come read on the couch again …"
"Yeah, okay," Blaine said. It was admittedly nicer out there, where he could stretch out on the couch in the sunlight, bathe in it like a cat while he read. He grabbed his book and got up to follow Kurt, and it hit him when his feet landed with a dull thump on the floor that all the spring had left his step, had gone when Violet had. Lately he'd just slumped about or stomped around or floated like a spirit, depending on his level of melancholy, but he never bounced or danced anymore, never jumped up from the bed or the couch like he was bound for adventure.
All he was bound for now, he felt, was sorrow, even on a good day.
Kurt glanced behind him at Blaine's dragging feet, gave him a little half smile, and Blaine couldn't help feeling a little sad at how awkward he'd become with Kurt in recent months, how he felt like he was tripping and stumbling around a man he'd known and loved for half his life.
If this was what hope was going to feel like from now on, if this was going to be what good days were, strained smiles and faltering conversation and bare existence… Blaine was just so tired. It took so much energy, grieving and fighting with Kurt and not fighting with Kurt, and god was hope really supposed to feel like this?
He wondered, as he flopped onto the sunlight swathed couch, if he should stop hoping at all.
* * *
Thursday, August 24th, 2023
Kurt's promise to do better lasted for three mostly-peaceful days, until all hell broke loose at the studio. Then all bets were off.
A model was screeching at the top of her lungs, claiming that she'd smear the name of Marc Jacobs everywhere she went while the mild-mannered designer looked on. He'd told her not to bother showing up for the Fashion Week show after she was late for her fitting a second time, and then he'd replaced her with a girl a little younger and admittedly a little prettier than she was.
She hadn't taken it well.
"Tori," Kurt whispered as they watched side-by-side as the drama unfolded, "is your head splitting open? Because my head is splitting open."
"I bet you can go home for the day, if you want," Tori whispered back to him. "It's almost five, anyway. I don’t think Marc would mind."
"You don't think so?" Kurt asked.
She shook her head, and he sighed. "I might go, then," he said. "I wasn't exaggerating about my head."
She squeezed his hand quickly as the model started waving a 5-inch heel around wildly in the air. "Go before you're javelined with a stiletto. Feel better, okay?"
He nodded, and made a quiet exit from the studio to the busy street below.
Kurt's subway ride wasn't much better than his day at work. He missed the F train by just a few seconds, and would have waited for the next one, but quickly changed his mind when he heard gagging, and saw the guy standing a few feet away from him throw up forcefully onto the platform and the tracks below them. He wanted to be on whatever car that guy wasn't, and the next M train was his ticket away from the vile stench.
But as his luck would have it, he managed to pick a car packed full of people, and on an unreasonably hot day in August, it didn't smell particularly pleasant. It was certainly a step up from the subway platform covered in vomit, but the odor of sweaty bodies plus the girl singing along with her earbuds, off-key, right in his ear, was almost more than he could handle for even a mere three minute ride.
Once he'd reached his stop, he walked up the stairs into the blinding sunlight, half-carried along by the rest of the crowd. He wanted an ibuprofen and a bath five minutes ago, but he had an 8-block walk home before he could have either.
He finally arrived home, sans vest and scowling at the sweat stains under his armpits, ready to accept sympathy kisses from Blaine and soak in warm water for the rest of the day.
What he wasn't ready for was to find Blaine and Nick sitting side-by-side on the couch, large mixing bowls full of popcorn in their laps, watching Top Gun in the dark.
"Hey, Kurt!" Nick greeted him over the roar of fighter jets.
"You're home early," Blaine said, rushing to turn the T.V. down. "Nick had a half-day at work today because of a meeting, so he came over here to watch movies."
Kurt nodded. "I can see that."
Blaine considered him carefully, then turned to Nick. "Hang on a second. I'll be right back – you don’t have to pause it or anything. I've seen this about a hundred times."
Nick nodded, and Blaine tugged Kurt back to their bedroom, shutting the door. "Okay, what did I do this time?"
Kurt gaped at him, retracting his wish for sympathy kisses. "God, Blaine, not everything's about you, you know," he snapped.
"Well, lately, when you're mad, it's because of something I've done. I can tell you're in a piss-poor mood, so I just made the obvious connection. I thought you might actually be happy that I was doing something besides drinking with Alex for a change, but …"
"Once again, not about you," Kurt sighed heavily. "Did you ever think that I may have just had a bad day at work? All I wanted to come home to was a bath and some pain medicine and some quiet, and maybe a little sympathy from you. And now I'm going to have to settle for a five-minute shower and my earbuds –"
"Why can't you take a bath?"
"Because Nick is here, and we have one bathroom." You idiot, Kurt added silently.
"Well, why don't I tell Nick to go pee now," Blaine said condescendingly, as if he were speaking to a five year old, "and then you can have the bathroom."
"Yeah, that'll be really relaxing, with a guest in my house and explosions going off in the background …"
Blaine closed his eyes. "I'm not asking him to leave."
"Fine." Kurt crossed his arms over his chest.
"Kurt, I'm giving you a way to have exactly what you asked for – and you can hardly hear the T.V. when the bathroom door is shut! What's the problem?" Blaine asked, clearly frustrated.
"Can't I have a shitty day once in a while?" Kurt snapped. "I just don't want to be around people –"
"Well, I can assure you, people probably don't really want to be around you, either," Blaine said scathingly. "Let me go get Nick, and then the bathroom will be yours for as long as you want it."
* * *
Saturday, August 26th, 2023
"Blaine, where the hell are my Doc Martens?" Kurt's voice rang through the condo as Blaine was eating a bowl of Cheerios, perched on the kitchen counter. Kurt had been in a terrible mood since their blow-up on Thursday, and Blaine had made it a point to walk on eggshells when he was around, or avoid him altogether. He'd managed to avoid a fight, but it seemed that his luck might have just run out.
"My Doc Martens." Kurt strode into the kitchen, looking fantastic but furious sans a pair of tall boots. "What did you do with them?"
"Why would I touch your shoes, Kurt? I know better than that," Blaine mumbled through a mouthful of cereal.
Kurt put his hands on his hips. "Whatever. Do you want to help me find them, or what?"
"I'm kind of eating breakfast," Blaine grumbled. "Our place isn't that big – they couldn't have gone far."
"Well I'm kind of late, and something obviously happened to them. I don't think they walked off by themselves, do you?"
"Fine," Blaine groaned, setting his bowl down a little harder than necessary, sloshing milk onto the counter and the floor. "Where have you looked?"
"Over there, even?" Blaine asked, pointing to Kurt's tall, black, chunky boots, tucked into the corner beside the couch.
"Oh," Kurt said. "Well. Thank you. I guess you moved them from the shoe rack."
Blaine took a deep breath, prepared to back down, but as Kurt's words registered, some sort of switch inside him flipped. He was sick of submitting, sick of letting Kurt have the upper hand – he wanted to fight back for a change, especially after being accused of something that was entirely not his fault. "What the hell – I didn't touch your shoes!" he snapped. "And even if I did, it's not that big of a deal – you found them! It's not like they're not gone forever –"
"You know that my shoes stay in the shoe rack, Blaine!" Kurt shouted.
"You're right; I do. That's why I didn't touch them, I told you –" Blaine broke off, blinking at him. "God, I can't believe we're fighting about this. I've been trying my damndest not to rock the boat. I've left you alone, I've tried talking with you, I rubbed your back yesterday, and now you're yelling at me for something I didn't even do. I really can't do anything to make you happy, can I?"
"You know what would make me happy?" Kurt asked scathingly, slinging his bag over his shoulder. "If you cleaned up the mess you just made in the kitchen before we get ants or roaches or something. That would make me happy."
"Why don't you just get rid of me and get a maid, then?" Blaine retorted. "I'm sure they'd keep your shoes exactly where you want them and take the trash out and clean the kitchen and –"
"I am not doing this with you right now," Kurt said, cutting him off. "I'm already late. I'll see you tonight."
He spun on his heel and left, leaving Blaine alone to spit and sputter angrily at the closed door.
* * *
Monday, August 28th, 2023
Two days later, Blaine was sitting at the kitchen table with Kurt while he tried to eat dinner. Meals had fast become the hardest, most trying part of the day, and Blaine often felt like a cheerleader for a losing team as he tried over and over and over to encourage Kurt to just please finish one piece of chicken. And that was on good days.
On bad days, when they'd been fighting, or when Kurt was being particularly belligerent, Blaine felt like flinging Kurt's plate off the table and onto the floor, shattering it into a million shards.
It was a bad day. Blaine had heated up some mashed potatoes, which worked more often than not, but things weren't going so well so far. According to Kurt, he'd had a stressful workday, and on his way up to the condo, a well-meaning but completely dense neighbor had asked him why she hadn't gotten to see the baby and when she might get to babysit. The mashed potatoes were still sitting on his plate.
Blaine sighed in frustration – it was like torture, watching Kurt literally disappear in front of him a little bit at a time. He'd woken up in the middle of the night the night before, surprised to find that Kurt had pressed himself against Blaine's chest in his sleep. Any form of physical contact was few and far between lately, so Blaine had taken advantage and thrown his arm around Kurt's middle, tucking him closer.
If he'd tried, he could've counted Kurt's ribs. It had scared the hell out of him.
"Are you even trying to eat it, or are you just playing with it?" he asked, trying to be patient as Kurt mounded his potatoes in a neat little pile for the hundredth time that evening.
"I'm working on it. I have to eat slowly, or I feel sick. You know that."
"I know, I know," Blaine said with a sigh, dropping his head into his hands as he fought the urge not to pick up Kurt's fork and just shove a bite into his mouth.
"You know you don't have to sit here with me while I eat," Kurt said.
"I know," Blaine repeated.
Five more minutes passed, and as Kurt stared down at his plate, Blaine let his mind wander back to a conversation they'd had right after Violet had been taken away.
They'd been lying in bed for days, and Blaine had never felt more apathetic. He'd been well on his way to having every imperfection in their ceiling memorized when Kurt had suddenly, gracefully, lifted his arm above his head like a ballet dancer, and told Blaine that he thought starvation would be a beautiful way to die. He'd said he wanted to disappear. Blaine had nearly vomited in his own bed at the thought of losing Kurt as well, and it had spurred him into action. Thinking back, though, he'd fallen back into bed, apathetic once again, after he'd ordered them a pizza. He couldn't remember if Kurt had even eaten any of it.
Blaine shook his head, thoroughly unsettled, and looked over at Kurt's plate. He'd taken exactly one bite of his potatoes.
"Do you want me to heat it up again?" he suggested. "I'm sure it's cold by now. It might taste better …"
Kurt raised an eyebrow. "Don't kid yourself, Blaine – do you really think that will help? Let's face it – this is all I'm eating tonight," he said, pushing the plate away.
Blaine pushed the plate right back. "No. You aren't done yet."
"I'm also not five," Kurt snapped. "You think you're going to force-feed me or something? Because I'd love to see you try that …"
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry," Blaine said, holding his hands up. "I just – you're scaring me, Kurt."
"I know." Kurt's voice was small. "I'm doing the best I can."
"But you're still losing weight," Blaine said, as gently as he could. Inside, he was churning like an angry sea. "Have you – will you go to the doctor? Let them help figure out what's wrong? Maybe it's something you can take medicine for –"
"Yeah, crazy-pills." Kurt stood up from the table, taking his plate with him.
"They're not –"
"I'm not going to the doctor, Blaine. There's nothing wrong with me."
"Kurt, please –"
"We are not talking about this anymore," Kurt said with an air of finality.
"But Kurt –"
"We're done, Blaine."
Blaine let his head fall to the tabletop as Kurt clanged around in the kitchen, scraping the potatoes into the trashcan and washing his plate in the sink. Please don't disappear, he silently begged. Please, please, please stay with me.
* * *
Tuesday, August 29th, 2023
"So, it's almost September," Kurt said as he rifled through his closet, looking for something to wear to work. Half of his wardrobe was out – a lot of it hung too loosely, some of his pants wouldn't even stay put on his hips anymore.
"Mmm," Blaine agreed, only half awake.
Kurt plucked out a pair of jeans, a Marc by Marc Jacobs t-shirt and a black vest, tossing them on the bed. "You remember what we do in September, right?" Blaine didn't say anything. "Blaine."
"What?" he asked, snapping to attention.
"Were you even listening?"
"…No," Blaine said, a little sheepishly. "I'm sorry. I was in that halfway between place, where you're not really sleeping, but you're not really awake, you know?"
Kurt did know. He knew all too well, because if he got any rest at all anymore, it was done precisely in the place that Blaine just described.
"It's fine. But now that you're awake – it's almost September, so we need to sort through our summer stuff and start getting out some of our fall pieces. Will you start a pile of your things you want to donate sometime today?"
Blaine hesitated. "I'll try …"
"You'll try?" Kurt repeated.
"Yeah, I just – I don't have a lot of energy, lately. And there are lots of clothes."
"And you have lots of time. And you take lots of naps," Kurt said, trying to remain patient. He knew he'd been snapping at Blaine a lot – but, he reasoned, Blaine had been snapping at him a lot as well – and he didn't want another fight before work.
"Okay – please don't get mad at me when I say this," Blaine said, "but I'm just having a hard time seeing the point."
"Well, yeah –"
Kurt stared at him, incredulous. "Blaine, do you seriously have that little personal regard for yourself? I mean, I know you've got a small furry woodland creature that has quills like a porcupine growing on your face right now, and you wear pajamas most of the time, but – you could at least get out your fall pajamas, right?"
"Does it really matter that much?"
"Blaine, of course it matters," Kurt said, feeling like he was explaining something to a child. "It matters because it's what we do every year. It's a seasonal tradition. It brings order and organization to our lives –"
Blaine laughed out loud. "Order? You think switching some clothes around in our closet is going to bring order to our lives?"
"Well something needs to bring some order around here, because I feel like we're living in chaos right now. No thanks to you." That last phrase slipped out before he could catch himself, and he took a breath, shoring himself up for the inevitable fight.
"Here we go again," Blaine sighed. "I don't do anything around here. I'm lazy. You pull all the weight. I know, Kurt, you tell me all the time. But have you ever thought that I don't do anything anymore because I'm sad?"
"You're sad? Seriously, Blaine?"
"I am – I don't know what else you expect –"
"I'm sad, too!" Kurt cried, throwing his hands up in frustration. "You aren't the only one here whose heart was broken when they took her, you know. I wanted a child just as much as you did. In fact, it was my idea in the first place, to have a baby. So if you think for one second that –"
"Please stop," Blaine said. "Please don't talk about her."
Kurt laughed. "Do you actually think that not talking about her is going to make her go away?"
Blaine looked down, playing with a string on their duvet cover. "She nevergoes away," he said softly. "She never does. That's what you don't understand!" His voice grew louder, his eyes wilder. "She's here, constantly, breaking me in every possible way. I can't get away from her. Talking about her – Kurt, it makes me feel like I'm cracking open from the inside out. I – please. Please, the only time I feel like I'm even remotely whole is when I'm sleeping. I'm sorry, I just …" He trailed off and sank back onto his pillow, looking completely exhausted.
Kurt turned around to face the wall, his hands planted firmly on his hips as he tried not to cry. He never meant for the conversation to turn in this direction. He only wanted to talk about something normal for a change. But he should've learned by now – all roads eventually led back to Violet. He sighed, letting his robe slide down his arms and hanging it on a chair, and pulled on his jeans.
"Kurt –" Within seconds, Kurt could feel Blaine's presence behind him, his fingers ghosting over Kurt's shoulder blades. "You look like you have wings."
"I know," he said sadly, turning around and pulling his t-shirt over his head. "A fallen angel."
"Like in that Meg Ryan movie? City of Angels?" Blaine asked softly.
"Something like that."
Blaine smiled sadly. "If you're a fallen angel on earth, I must be drowning somewhere in the pits of hell …"
Kurt brushed his fingers over Blaine's scraggly beard. "I don't believe in hell."
"Well thank god for that," he whispered.
For a moment, Kurt thought Blaine was going to kiss him, and almost wished he would, but the moment passed and he pulled away.
"I've got to go to work now," Kurt said, reaching around Blaine to grab his vest.
"Okay. I'll try to get to those clothes today."
Kurt sighed. "You know – don't worry about it. I'll do it later."
"No, really, you're right. It's not fair that you're doing everything and I'm doing nothing."
"Blaine, it's fine," Kurt said, grabbing a pair of boots out of the closet. "Just read a book or something. I didn't mean to upset you."
Blaine frowned. "I guess I'm pretty easy to upset lately."
"Well, that makes two of us. Try and have a good day, okay?"
"I'll try," Blaine said.
Kurt turned to leave, feeling like he was walking uphill the way his heart was pulling him back toward his husband.
"Kurt? Will you stay?"
Kurt felt suddenly brittle, like he might crack in half at any moment. "No, honey, I can't – I've got so much work to do." He walked back into the bedroom and tugged on Blaine's hand, directing him to sit on the bed with him. "But I love you. Even when I'm prickly. Even when it's hard."
Blaine smiled, leaning his head on Kurt's shoulder. "I think I'm the one who's prickly around here, actually."
"So true. Are you ever gonna shave that monster off your face?"
"I've got brunch with Rachel on Friday. I'll shave before then," Blaine said. "If I didn't, she'd probably try to do it herself, and we all know how that would turn out."
"Disaster," Kurt said, shaking his head. "Okay, I really do have to go now." He kissed the top of Blaine's head. "I love you."
"I love you too, Kurt."
They embraced in a tight, lingering hug, and Kurt teared up as he tucked his chin into Blaine’s shoulder. It had been too long since they’d done this, just held each other, and he hadn’t realized how much he’d missed it until he was folded in Blaine’s arms again.
After a while he unfolded himself, his heart beating out a loud don't go, don't go, don't go, and kissed Blaine's hair.
"Kurt, please –"
"I'll leave early, honey," he said, his voice coming out rawer than he meant it to. He blinked quickly as he left the building and the world felt gray in spite of the sun as a soft voice in the back of his head kept asking him why he didn't just stay.
He grabbed his cell and tapped a message into it.
Thanks for going out with Blaine Friday morning – but be gentle with him. He's a little fragile right now.
* * *
Friday, September 1st, 2023
After a week of treading lightly, of plenty of niceties with no intimacy behind them, Friday dawned rainy and grim.
It took Blaine a full thirty minutes to shave his face clean again.
It took Kurt a full thirty minutes to eat a bowl of cereal.
After all the whiskers were vacuumed away and the cereal bowl was washed and dried, Kurt lounged on the couch, feigning the beginnings of a cold. Blaine fussed over him, asking if he wanted him to stay, and Kurt, of course, said no.
As soon as he'd ushered Blaine out the door with the promise that yes, he'd drink tea with lemon and honey, and yes, he'd eat lunch, Kurt vaulted into action. He had a plan, and only a few hours in which to accomplish it.
With only a moment's hesitation, and a deep breath along with it, Kurt opened the door to the nursery and got to work.
* * *
"You know, Rach, I'm really enjoying these breakfasts with you," Blaine said, smiling at her as they waited for the trains that would take them their separate ways. "You give me a reason to look human again." In more ways that you'll ever realize, he thought to himself.
"Well thank god for that," she said with a little laugh. "I do like your ensemble today – did Kurt pick it out?"
Blaine looked down at his outfit – cuffed jeans with red and brown Fluevogs on his feet, a brown gingham shirt with the sleeves rolled up his arms, a rusty red bow tie. "No, actually – I did."
"Well, good for you! But just know, my salon and my Barneys personal shopper are both still on standby if you ever get a little crazy …"
"I'll keep that in mind," Blaine said with a forced laugh, thinking of the amount of hair that filled their small bathroom trashcan that morning. "Oh, here's my train – gotta run." He gave her a quick hug, then boarded the subway train that would take him home to Kurt.
He was a little worried – this bout of sickness, in Kurt's fragile condition, could easily turn into something much worse, and Blaine wanted to avoid a hospitalization at all costs. But it hadn't taken much – if any, actually – convincing to get Kurt to stay at home, and he promised that he'd take the day to rest and recuperate.
And after a good breakfast with a good friend, feeling more like himself than ever, Blaine felt optimistic about his day for the first time in a very long while.
"Kurt? I'm home!" he called, opening the door. "How are you feeling?"
As he set his keys on the table, he heard a little creak, and felt his heart drop all the way down to his shoes as Violet's nursery door opened. He half-expected to see a little dark-headed baby crawl from the doorway. But it was Kurt's head, instead, that appeared there a split second later.
"What are you doing in there?" Blaine asked, trying to gather himself, reeling a little from the shock of her door being open. "I thought you were going to rest today."
"I felt better. I had a sudden burst of energy and productivity," Kurt explained. "I think – I hope this will help us. I know it will help me."
Blaine's eyes narrowed as a sense of unease washed over him. "Kurt. What did you do?"
"I – I need office space, Blaine. Fashion Week is coming up and my desk just isn't big enough – you've seen the papers everywhere. And it was getting toxic for us, walking past her room, knowing she wasn't in it, knowing her crib was empty. I knew you wouldn't – couldn't – do it. So I –"
The optimism that had sent a glimmer of hope into Blaine's morning was long gone. "Kurt – what did you do?" he repeated, pushing past him into Violet's room.
Once he'd entered, Blaine's arms dropped to his sides and held his breath for a moment.
Violet's crib was in pieces, neatly stacked beside the box it came in, and her bedding was crisply folded into a bag beside it. All the pictures had been taken off the walls. Her closet, once bursting with clothes and toys and her bouncy-seat, was empty, and her books and bookcase were nowhere to be found. In their place, lining the wall, sat boxes and bags, all labeled in Kurt's neat script. The only thing that remained was the lavender glider, now looking lonely and out-of-place in the corner.
"No," Blaine whispered. "You – no."
"It will be good for us. I really think it'll help us move on," Kurt said optimistically. "I feel better already."
"You feel – you feel better, Kurt? You think this will help us move on?" He sank to the floor, his knees bent awkwardly underneath him, and threaded his fingers in his hair. She's gone. She's gone, she's gone, she's gone –
"I don't want to move on!" he shouted.
Kurt jumped, and Blaine took a deep breath, trying to keep the room from spinning.
"I don't know how to move on – you – I can't believe this. I can't believe this, Kurt – they took her away, and you just packed up everything we have left of her and – what were you going to do with it? Put it on the fucking street for some psycho to just come and take?"
"Blaine – of course not," Kurt said softly, as if his feelings were hurt. As if his feelings were hurt, god, Blaine wanted to scoff at him – how dare he act hurt about this. "I was planning on putting most of it in storage, and selling the other stuff at consignment shops. And I didn't pack up everything. I left us this – like a memory box, see?" He carefully extended a large maple-wood box, stained dark and tied with a lavender ribbon, toward Blaine's hands.
Blaine opened it, swallowing hard. Inside were things he hadn't seen since June – the hat that Violet wore home from the hospital, the last book they'd read her before she was taken away. The baby booties that Carole had taken a month to learn to crochet. A framed 4x6 picture of Blaine sleeping with Violet on his chest, her head tucked under his chin. The CD of lullabies they'd recorded for her.
He carefully closed the lid and set the box on the ground.
Then he felt himself explode.
"How the hell could you do this without telling me, you asshole?" he thundered. "What the hell kind of fairy tale are you living in that you didn't realize that this is the worst thing you could have ever done to me? What is the one thing I've said during this whole time, Kurt? What's the one fucking thing?"
Kurt's eyes grew wider and more watery with each passing second. "I don't know, Blaine," he whispered.
"Do not touch her shit, Kurt!" he yelled. "One thing. I asked one thing, and you couldn't even do that. She's gone. You just made my baby disappear –" Suddenly he was crying hard, hot, fat tears streaming down his cheeks, loud, choking sobs wracking his body. "I can't believe you would do this to me."
"Blaine, she's been gone," Kurt said, his voice shaky. "She's never coming back. And – I saved what I thought was important – I was trying to help both of us –"
"How is this helping?" Blaine gestured angrily to himself. "Does it look like you're helping me right now?"
Kurt didn't answer, but Blaine thought he could see a hint of fear in his husband's eyes.
He threw his hands in the air in frustration. "Oh, great, and now I'm the bad guy because I'm upset. Stop looking at me like I'm a fucking monster, Kurt! This is your fault. Your fault!" he thundered, and he was shocked to see Kurt nearly cower under his accusing finger, pointing straight at him. "God, I wish you'd never wanted a fucking baby in the first place –"
Kurt's hand flew to cover his mouth as he let out a sob.
"This is your fault," Blaine repeated angrily. He looked once again around the room, feeling like Kurt had just disassembled his entire life right along with Violet's nursery. Pieces of his heart were scattered along with the pieces of her crib, packed into bags and boxes, ready to be sold to the highest bidder.
Suddenly, all his anger dissipated, and he felt hollow. Empty. Like his insides had all been carved out with a dull spoon.
"I can't stay here," he said in a flat voice, walking out of the room, back to the couch where it was safe.
"You don't have to – we can close the door, Blaine. I'm sorry, I didn't realize –"
"No, I mean I can't stay here," Blaine said, gesturing to their entire home. "With you."
"What?" Kurt gasped.
Blaine didn't reply. He stood and stared out their living room windows, wondering how on earth they'd gotten to this point.
"Blaine, you can't be serious –"
"As a heart attack," he said, and walked to their hall closet, where the suitcases were stored.
"No. Blaine, wait, that was the deal – no matter what happens, we do it together, we handle it together –"
"That was before you did this," Blaine said, pulling his suitcase from the top shelf and shutting Kurt out completely.
Kurt followed him to the bedroom where he packed in silence, ignoring Kurt's increasingly frantic pleas to stay. All he could see was the photo of himself and Violet, asleep on the couch together, and he felt like he was going out of his mind with grief all over again.
He walked around, wildly throwing clothes and toiletries in his bag, and suddenly he was staring down at the bottle of shampoo in his hand. It was the lavender-scented stuff that Kurt used to love to borrow, that smelled almost like the baby lotion they'd rubbed on Violet's soft skin after her nightly baths. The bottle they hadn't touched since the day after Violet was taken. He fell into a sort of trance, his mind flashing back to the day she left.
Blaine was still fuming about how his father-in-law wanted to send their baby away with nothing but the sleeper she was wearing when he met Kurt in the bathroom.
"Part of me wants to keep it," Kurt said, holding up the lavender baby wash and lotion, "so we can remember how she smells." He hung his head as a single sob escaped his throat, and Blaine rushed toward him. He took the bottles from Kurt's hands and held him, his fingers threaded through the short hair on the back of Kurt's head.
"Shh, shh," he crooned in his husband's ear. "What if we wash our hair with this every day? We'll never forget her that way."
Kurt nodded, his face buried in Blaine's shoulder.
He flashed forward a day.
Late in the afternoon, Blaine had finally gotten around to showering. He was standing under the stream of water, almost scalding he'd turned it up so high, when he remembered what he'd said to Kurt the day before. He carefully took the bottle of shampoo from their shower caddy, squeezed a dollop into his palm, and began lathering his hair.
It was the worst idea he'd ever had. Within seconds, his mind was flooded with pictures of the last five days, Violet screaming through her bath, then looking up at them with big eyes finally calming as they washed her hair. Their baby wrapped in a towel, all pink and warm and soft. Singing the rubber ducky song. Rubbing lotion on her arms and legs in the morning before they got her dressed.
He stuck his head under the hot water and washed the shampoo out, crying as it stung his eyes and his heart together, then washed his hair with Kurt's shampoo a second time. He sank against the shower wall, the cool tiles making him shiver against the heat of the water, and let himself cry. He never, ever wanted to smell lavender again.
Blaine was swaying, caught in his own personal hell, when he felt Kurt's hand firm on his wrist, and suddenly his senses all came back into focus at once.
"Please, Blaine," Kurt begged, looking into his eyes. "Please, let's talk about this – I'll put everything back, I'll put her crib back together. I just – I can't lose you, too. Please. Please. I'm sorry."
"I have to go." The words, bitter in his mouth, suddenly rang clear as day in Blaine's heart and mind. "I have to go," he repeated, his voice stronger. To go meant freedom – from the building tension with Kurt, from the nursery, which haunted him whether put together or taken apart, maybe even from himself.
It was the first thing that had made sense to him since Violet had gone away.
"Kurt, I'm going."
It was the finality of his words, the conviction of his tone that made Kurt break in front of him, and it was almost enough to convince him to stay. What little wholeness he had left was shattered as Kurt sat back on the floor and sobbed, loudly and openly, as he zipped his suitcase and rolled it toward the door.
"I still love you, just as much," he said, his voice wavering. "But I have to go."
He felt like he was walking against gravity as he dragged his suitcase behind him, Kurt's cries pulling against him with every step. Tears stung his eyes as he firmly shut the door, and he pulled out his cell to leave a message on Nick's voicemail.
"Hey, Nick? You know that spare key you left under the mat? I hope you don't mind, but I'm about to use it. I'll be at your place when you get home. I just – I've got to get out, and I don't have anywhere else to go."