Title: Fauna and Flora
Spoilers (if any): None.
Warnings (if any): None.
Word Count: ~4,300
Summary: Kurt spends a semester in Rome; everyone copes strangely.
This continues from:
Following Home | These Thousand Names for Gratitude | All the Honesty of Politics | Circles as the Dark Winds Down | The Distance Between Ohio and Boston | All the Pretty Little Horses | Languages You Don't Even Know
In Rome, everyone keeps asking Kurt about his wife, which is so many types of weird that he spends a ridiculous amount of time in his first week there just thinking about taking the ring off. But he can't make himself do it, and not just because Blaine gave it to him. Here, somehow, people don't assume he's gay before he even speaks.
Because of that, because he has a choice for the first time in his life, he has to think about lying. It's not just that the option is tantalizing (What would she look like, Kurt wonders? Is she Blaine as if he were a girl, short but not slight, five months older and with a cascade of waist-length raven curls?). It's that his shared flat is around the corner and up an alley from the street where priests buy their vestments, and he feels as if he is trespassing constantly in response to all that gorgeous embroidery and terrible symbolism.
He's honest with his flatmates, “I'm gay; my boyfriend gave me the ring; we're not married; we do live together; it's complicated,” and less so with others. When he buys flowers for his room, which is dreary and contains a bed so narrow it feels like a prison, the thick-fingered man who bundles the peonies for him asks Kurt if they are for his wife. He says yes, proudly and without hesitation. The next time he expands on this, shyly, “We're trying to have a baby.” Kurt wonders what's wrong with him, as he has absolutely no interest in having children at all ever.
Kurt makes such an absolute mess of everything packing that Blaine doesn't immediately feel his absence quite as keenly as he might. Certainly, returning the contents of their closets to their closets at least gives him something to do other then stare in stunned moodiness at the various things Kurt has cooked during the last week and shoved into their freezer – sauces mostly, and one of those sunken cheesecakes that Blaine can't imagine will benefit from cold storage. As Kurt's odd romantic gestures go, it's actually remarkably understated.
Other than a short email indicating safe arrival, sent, apparently, from a kiosk in Fiumicino, it takes Blaine three days to hear from Kurt properly, and then it's a long email about the toll the flight over took on his skin and the horror of living with people he's not having sex with (“Not that I want to have sex with them, it's just that I'm lacking any incentive not to kill them.”) before it wends it way to something quieter and more intimate, Kurt's impressions of a city wandered alone and filled with a noise he can almost understand and yet still feels is perpetually out of reach.
I wish I was there with you, Blaine writes back in an email that assiduously avoids mentioning how broken he still feels in the wake of Kurt's departure, but I think you'll stumble upon more magic this way.
Singing in a new environment makes Kurt's voice tight for the first week; this isn't a new problem, so much as one he's only recently decided is a critical one. He may be pretty good at working around it, but he can't have this happen every single time he takes a new class or has an audition. On the other hand, he can't really do anything about it once he's settled into Rome and comfortable again either.
If he were home, he'd fret at Blaine about it, late and into the dark, but Kurt can't manage to put a word of it into email, and their phone conversations are just weird.
Blaine insists on calling Kurt only when it's the middle of the night in Boston, meaning it's usually before noon in Rome. It's awkward, in terms of schedule, but it's not like Blaine's sleeping well without Kurt there anyway, and he absolutely, positively does not want to get into this thing where he expects his boyfriend in Rome to be home in the evenings. Blaine does not want to feel like he's keeping Kurt from something any more than he wants to become anxious when he's clearly out, at night, doing god knows what, in a place Blaine's never been.
It's not that Blaine's jealous; it's that Blaine's terrified, because he does, actually and secretly, believe that Kurt should do whatever Kurt needs to do to keep choosing him. If that includes choosing someone else for a few hours, well, Blaine's fine with that, as long as he never, ever has to hear about it. But it's not how their promises work, and even if it certainly isn't something that's actually likely to happen considering this insane situation where Kurt's now effectively wearing a wedding ring, Blaine still worries.
“Blaine, it's not that there's anything I wouldn't do for you, it's that it's 3am. And while I don't care, Pris is possibly a little displeased with both of us right about now,” Wes murmurs quietly into his phone as he steps into the bathroom, since there's nowhere else he can go for privacy and stay in the apartment.
“Sorry. I know I'm handling this really badly,” Blaine says. It's the fourth time he's called Wes in the middle of the night in as many weeks.
Wes shrugs. “I can't say I wouldn't be doing the same thing if it were me, but your situation is alien, Blaine. Extremely alien, and yes, I am judging you.”
“Yeah, I know,” Blaine says and chuckles, running a hand through his hair.
Wes sighs into the phone.
“You okay?” Blaine asks.
Wes snorts. Blaine never asks about his feelings.
“That's the noise you make when I'm kind of being an asshole,” Blaine says.
“You are kind of being an asshole,” Wes says fondly.
“You and Kurt are the only two people who ever bother to say so.”
“Which is why I approve.”
“Do you? I never asked.”
“Thank god, Blaine. Awkward enough. Look, I don't get Kurt, and I think your situation is fucked up and that the thing with your dad is probably more seriously screwed than you're willing to admit, but,” he pauses, “you seem complete. With Kurt, I mean. So yeah, I approve.”
“You and Pris --”
“Not there yet. Want us to be there. We'll see.”
“You give her the backstory?” Blaine asks.
“Nah,” Wes says.
“I've never told Kurt either. He asked once, if we had a thing, one of the times you guys were up here.”
“What did you say?”
“That anything I said would be a lie, and it was your story to tell anyway.”
Blaine shrugs. “Sorry?”
“Was he weird about it?”
“Well, that's good. Do you want me to tell him?”
“I'm starting to feel weird about him not knowing,” Blaine confesses.
“This is what you woke me up at 3am to tell me?”
“I don't know. I couldn't sleep, and I have to call him soon anyway; we talk in the mornings.”
“Why? That's got to be murder on you.”
“Because this way I don't have to freak out if I call him at night and he's not home yet.”
“Have you ever had even the slightest indication – ”
Wes sighs. “Blaine, I love you, brother, but I'm going back to bed. Stop being ridiculous; call Kurt; tell him whatever you want, if you think it's actually important. And the next time you call me at 3am, Pris is answering the phone, and I am not accountable, okay?”
“Yes, sir,” Blaine says with a weary laugh before clicking off.
When he gets off the phone with Blaine, Kurt spends a long time sitting on his narrow bed in his narrow room staring out at Rome in the rain and chewing on his fingers.
He doesn't like talking on the phone with Blaine. At this distance, it's awkward, not only because of the transatlantic lag, but because Blaine always sounds sleepy and is clearly wrapped in their sheets – their sheets Kurt thinks fiercely, wanting to be home with everything he deserves – while he's stuck making breakfast or running to class, and it leaves him feeling deprived of all the small moments he needs the most.
Then there's the stuff Blaine tells him. They keep having these conversations that they obviously can't have sitting in the same room, and Kurt thinks he's supposed to feel terrible about that, even though he's sort of relieved. It confirms, in a weird way, that coming here was the right thing to do, if it's making them do this. The Wes thing, despite the fact that he's suspected for ages now, feels like a bombshell, because it's so much more screwed up than he could have anticipated.
Unrequited love involving straight boys is something Kurt understands all too well. Unrequited love involving straight boys who really, really had once wanted to be gay for his boyfriend like five years ago? Kurt doesn't understand that at all, even if it explains a lot. But what he really doesn't get is Blaine's need to babble about it now, as if it somehow matters.
Kurt largely keeps the same hours in Rome that he keeps at home simply because he has the luxury of doing so, although in the Eternal City he rarely cooks, preferring to eat at cafes so he doesn't have to deal with the horrible shared kitchen that is the center of the detritus-based college life that is his flat. He can't believe he once worried about missing this.
One night, Alex, who's 23, divorced, and studying art history, and who lives in another of the foreign student flats across the way, says it makes her feel sophisticated eating so late, even now that she's been here nine months. The rest of their table nods their assent, while Kurt mumbles that he and Blaine always eat at nine or ten at home because it's all their schedules will allow.
“You miss him,” Alex says, her voice softer and kinder than Kurt's heard anyone's since he's arrived.
“So much,” he admits, nodding at his food. “And it's just pathetic and weird, because this is Rome, and he's working really hard to give me all this space so I can just be here, but it's actually making it harder.” Once he's said it, it seems like far too much.
“You have to fill up the space,” she says, and Kurt feels the rest of the table falling away as they become friends.
“I'm having a hard time with how.”
“What did you do before you met him?”
“Alex, I'm not even 20. We've been together over three years. We live together,” he says, waggling his fingers, the ring glinting at her. “There isn't really a before.”
“Okay, then tonight we're going to get very, very drunk and tomorrow I'm going to take you to my favorite place in this whole city.”
Kurt blanches slightly. Drinking, for him, despite (or perhaps because of) the binges of his legal-here flatmates, is still something he associates only with Blaine and sex.
“Don't tell me you don't drink,” she says, catching his expression.
“No. It's not that,” he says.
“Are you going to tell me or am I going to order a bottle of wine we're not even going to let the others touch?”
“Order the bottle.”
Alex shows up on his doorstep at 8am up holding a bag of almond pastries and wearing a pair of ridiculously dark sunglasses.
“Ready to go?” she asks.
“Hangover hasn't kicked in yet, huh?”
“We'll see,” Kurt says, and refrains from telling her how much of high school he'd spent crying, and how often he'd woken up with his face swollen from it, and, so, therefore, how much he doesn't really notice hangovers beyond the nausea. “Where are we going?”
She takes him to the Santa Maria della Concezione on the Via Venetto to look at the bones of long-dead Capuchin friars arranged into chandeliers and altars. He doesn't know how she expects him to react, and he finds himself less interested in the bones than in the small photos and glow-in-the-dark plastic rosaries left on one of the altars.
The color in some of the photos is off, the paper worn, the prints obviously from a lab and not someone's printer. There's one of a child, a blond girl with straight hair, who's eight or nine in a photo that must be older than him. He wonders who would have made a pilgrimage to this dreary place for her and whether she's even still alive.
He is most taken, however, with the Capuchins who work in the church's small and very tacky gift shop because they are vowed to silence.
That night he fixes himself a small salad in his terrible shared kitchen and picks at it with his fingers as he writes to Blaine.
I'm thinking of telling everyone not in classes that I'm on vocal rest. It was so loud in that chapel, Blaine, and I think I'm here to learn how to make my voice take up that type of space, he says.
You sound louder already, Blaine writes back, as if it never even occurs to him to question Kurt's melodrama and madness.
I love you.
In his silence, Kurt explores the city alone, and writes to Blaine frantically about its beauty each night, calling him sometimes just to sing, but never speak. On his empty afternoons, he crosses the street to lie on Alex's bedroom floor and stare at her ceiling as she talks about her early marriage and what she calls her boring divorce.
“I hope you don't think we're friends because you think I think this is what's going to happen to you,” she says convolutedly. Kurt has noticed his silence tends to make other people behave extraordinarily awkwardly. He sort of enjoys it.
He waves her off. He's not worried about it at all, and as his semi-silence stretches from one week towards two, Kurt goes without flowers. He worries that the shopman, when met with merely a weak smile when he asks about Kurt's wife, will think they are having problems.
“Hi,” Kurt says into his phone, breathless as he stands under a bit of scaffolding near a public fountain that's covered, it seems, in tourists lazily smoking cigarettes so that they might not seem like tourists.
“Kurt! Are you okay?”
“I'm fine,” he says, and with that exhalation he finally is.
“It's nice to hear your voice,” Blaine says, soft and cautious.
“Thanks. I... god, I'm sorry, Blaine, that must have seemed so weird.”
“It made perfect sense to me,” he says. “I wish I could get something out of something like that. But I wouldn't even know how. I kept wanting to tell people about it, but it seemed --”
Kurt makes a thoughtful noise.
“Where are you?” Blaine asks.
“On my way to dinner.”
“Why now?” he asks, meaning Kurt's return to technically unnecessary speech.
“I wanted you to hear me.”
“I could, I always could, the whole time. And you were so loud.”
“I love you,” Kurt blurts.
“And thank god for that,” Blaine says, abashed.
“You need to stop calling me in the mornings, though. I hate it. You always get to talk to me when you're in bed, and I never, ever get to talk to you when I'm in bed, and it's not fair. You're making me miss you in all these ways I don't have to because you're trying to give me space, and I have space, Blaine. I'm in fucking Italy. That's a lot of space. So next time call me when I can actually be alone with you.”
“Are you propositioning me for phone sex?”
“Quarter of eleven. I'm impressed.” Wes says when Blaine calls him that night.
“Yeah. Sorry about all of that. I just wanted to let you know I'm sort of a functional human being again.”
“Good. He call and yell at you?”
“Let's just say the message got through,” Blaine says, and it's clear he's embarrassed.
“I'm glad. I still don't get him, but I do think he's saner than you.”
Blaine laughs. “Hey, can you give me Pris's dorm info? I should send her some flowers or something.”
“So how do you feel about me coming down to New York to pick you up?”
Kurt hums; it's flattering. It might even be a good plan, because getting back to Boston napping in the passenger seat of their car really does sound a hundred times better than dragging himself onto another flight with way too much luggage, but he says no anyway.
“The ticket's already paid for, and to be frank, the thought of spending four hours in the car with you staring at me instead of the road is kinda unnerving.”
“Okay. You're right. That's totally rational. I just --”
“No. You don't need to do anything, Blaine. No singing. No dancing. No flowers. I'm going to have a ton of luggage and the only thing I'm going to want is you, a shower, and a nap; probably not in that order. You are allowed to pick me up at Logan, but that's it, okay?”
“I can't wait to see you,” Kurt adds, both because it's true and because it's what he's supposed to say.
Blaine grins. “Seventeen more days,” he says.
And that's when Kurt starts to realize, even as he's worrying about finals and a recital and going home, that he's going to miss Rome desperately, and is honestly quite scared that he'll never see her again. Lemon soda and peonies won't be the same in Boston, and his wife and the baby they never had will cease to exist.
The next afternoon he buys some cheap but fabulous sunglasses in a mall and when he puts them on feels as if he is in mourning.
Blaine takes to sending him a countdown email that each day merely lists the length of time until their reunion in the subject line.
It feels like a bomb.
Eight days before his departure Alex shows up at his doorstep unexpectedly waving another bag of almond pastries and declaring that she's going to take him to Florence.
“But... finals, recital... school. I leave in a week!”
“It's Florence. And it's only two hours away. Throw something in a bag. You're going to thank me for these 36 hours for the rest of your life.”
She's not wrong. There is something about the Arno and its bridges, the way the two halves of the city seem to clamber, moss-covered and unsteady, out of its dark water that fascinates Kurt. It reminds him of his weeks of silence and of Blaine at home in the night in their bed.
Alex insists they go to the Uffizi and a stationary shop a half-mile off.
“The best paper in the world comes from here,” she says, “even if no one really writes letters anymore.”
Kurt buys a box of fussy note cards for Carole and some ridiculously expensive linen stationary for Blaine and then loiters outside the shop, content to read the graffiti that seems to drench the city as Alex remains inside, touching everything.
That night they share a double at their hostel, each of them lying on their far too close single beds and passing a bottle of limoncello back and forth between them.
“Are you looking forward to going home?” she asks.
“Do you think you'll ever come back?”
“I'm terrified I won't.”
“I don't think I'm ever going to go back, if I can help it,” she says after a while.
“Well, then I guess I'll just have to take Blaine here if I ever want him to meet you then,” Kurt says, his voice awkward and somewhat tight as he realizes suddenly how desperately fond of her he is. It feels different than all the intense but extraordinarily transient friendships that have made up college for him so far.
“I'll bring almond pastries to your hotel every morning.”
“You're so completely on,” he says.
“Is there anywhere you feel like you belong?” she asks after another long silence.
“No,” Kurt says. “Not really.”
Just landed NYC; make sure you clean out the trunk; have all the luggage ever, Kurt types into his phone before they even get to the gate.
Can't wait to see you, Blaine texts back.
Same, but have to get stuff together & go through customs, Kurt replies, because he cannot have his phone going off every two seconds while he tries to juggle his luggage and perhaps excessive volume of purchases from duty-free.
When Blaine texts him back with courage, Kurt laughs so hard he can barely breathe.
After his no singing, no dancing, no flowers admonition, Kurt's not sure what to expect for their reunion, but it's not Blaine's quiet and shy hello or the way he uncurls Kurt's hand from his luggage finger by finger. It's lovely and slightly terrifying and leaves Kurt breathless.
“Hi,” he replies, and the world stops for a moment before Blaine finally, finally, pulls Kurt into his arms and buries his face in his neck.
It feels fantastic, and Kurt makes some sort of grateful noise that he's sure sounds slightly obscene, even as he knows that this moment is for Blaine.
“Hey, I'm back now,” he says softly, petting his hair. He's forgotten how much his boyfriend sometimes needs him. “Let's go home.”
“It's not that I'm not willing,” he says into the dark when they finally make it to bed and Blaine's hands are everywhere, although not insistent, not yet. “It's that I'm exhausted and reentry is weird.”
“Is there anything you need to tell me?” Blaine asks, removing his hands from Kurt warily, as if he won't be allowed to touch again.
Kurt shakes his head. “No. Not like that. You?”
Kurt lets out a sigh of relief, and clasps Blaine's hands. “I do need to tell you everything, just not tonight.”
“Okay. Good. That's good, right?”
“Yes, Blaine. That's good.”
“I'm going to want you so much tomorrow,” Kurt says, but even the thought of it makes him want Blaine now and they kiss hot and wet and desperate. Blaine moans brokenly.
“Oh god,” he says.
“Why don't you show me?” Kurt says softly, and it takes no small amount of courage.
Blaine makes an interrogative noise.
“What you did,” he says, somewhat miserable at having to clarify, but really wanting to see. “When I was away. Let me watch.”
“You went shopping,” Kurt murmurs, too tired to be as sort of freaked out as he is, when Blaine returns to the bed from twisting to reach into the nightstand drawer.
“Yeah, I guess so. Is this too –”
“No. God,” Kurt says, his voice breathy. “How did you not tell me about this?”
Blaine bites his lip, pulls his legs up, and presses the toy up inside himself. “This way I could touch myself and maybe half pretend it was you,” he says before he turns it on.
Even with their bedroom lit only by the street lamp outside, it's nearly too much for Kurt to watch – too intimate, too secret and far too much like the porn that used to terrify him – especially when Blaine swipes his fingers over the head of his own cock and shoves them into his mouth.
“This is the hottest thing I've ever seen,” Kurt says, and pulls that hand away so he can kiss Blaine through it.
“You're really home,” Blaine gasps, after he comes, reaching for Kurt's cock.
“Yeah, I really am,” Kurt says, full of slightly-bludgeoned wonder.
“Do you want....?”
“Yeah, yeah I do,” he says, grateful when Blaine's hands on him are fast and efficient.
Kurt spends the next morning on his cell phone from bed. Blaine lays there half spooned around him and engrossed in a book he has braced open against his back, while Kurt chats with Mercedes, and then calls his father and Carole just to let them know he got in safe, before dialing through his half of their local friends, and eventually calling back to Rome.
“Hi,” he says softly when Alex answers, “I just wanted to let you know I got in okay and that Rome wouldn't have been Rome without you.”
“Did you call to introduce me to your boy?” she asks.
Kurt chuckles. “Yeah. I did. Is that okay?”
“It's great,” she says.
Kurt nudges Blaine and holds the phone out to him. “This is Alex. One day we're going to visit her in Rome,” he says.
Blaine nods and kisses Kurt before taking the phone and saying, hello.
Next: Where Water Doesn't Speak