Title: The Muse
Fandom/Pairing: Glee, Kurt/Blaine
Word Count: 47,075 (jeez!)
Rating: NC-17 for m/m sex
Summary: An AU that shamelessly thieves giant pieces of plot from Anne Rice’s novel Belinda. Blaine is thirty-four. Kurt is sixteen. Stuff happens (not exactly the same stuff as is in the book, jsyk).
WARNING: See summary.
Author’s notes: Textually poaching characters and a plot? Mais oui.::rotating disco chicken of nonregret::
Gratitudes: To Andie, for the equivalent of spiritual midwifery in delivering this story. To Giulia, for art knowledge and visual language and helping me learn how to see. To Gleekto, for cheerleading and insight and generous support. And to AubreyLi and Alice, because.
“Look out—I think Pinocchio over there has a bit of a crush.”
It was just a whisper, Quinn’s cool hand on his shoulder when she bent over him, ostensibly to put down another stack of books. Blaine finished the copy he was signing and handed it back to the blushing, smiling mother who was waiting for it, and took the opportunity while she stowed her signed copy in her baby bag to glance over in the direction Quinn’s head had nodded.
There. On the other side of the long queue, only visible in short glimpses as the endless line of people shuffled forward. Blaine swallowed. Pinocchio—maybe, okay, with the dark hair and wide blue eyes and pink cheeks, not to mention the prep-school clothes—but Pinocchio had never been exactly an icon of male beauty, whereas the boy smiling gently in his general direction on the other side of the line, one eyebrow faintly raised as if he were deeply amused by all this but really too polite to say so—was… at least from a distance—extraordinary.
Blaine’s hands itched for his sketchpad, a pencil. His camera. A way to pause time—freeze it solid except for him, so that he could get closer.
Of course, he got none of that. What he got was another gently smiling mother, another copy of his book held out to him, another story about how much the book meant to little Jill or John, another question about when the next movie would be out, another and another and another.
The next time he took a drink of water—just to pause, just to have a single moment away from the hard work of being polite and engaged and carefully self-deferential—the boy was gone.
“I need alcohol,” he said by way of greeting Quinn when he finally, finally finished signing the bookstore staff’s copies and ducked out their back door. “I need to sit in a dark room with no pink or baby blue in it, and drink vast quantities of alcohol.”
“You did fine,” Quinn told him coolly, taking his arm with a smile. Of course he’d done fine—she would have let him know if he hadn’t. Immediately. “Another bunch of Berkeley mothers charmed into lifelong fans; you only think you’re terrible at public appearances. You’re a born performer.”
“Why is it always mothers?” He asked plaintively, digging through his pockets with his free hand for his keys. “I mean, I suppose it’s more orderly than if it was all their kids, but it just seems kind of—”
“It’s always mothers because you’re hunky, in that nebbishy-shy-nice-guy sort of way,” she told him, playful and teasing, squeezing his arm. “I’d swoon over you myself if I didn’t know better. Now stop blushing and take a lady out for a hard-earned drink, okay?”
The tiny parking lot behind the bookstore was dark, only one flickering streetlight overhead. Between that and the soft, musical lilt of the voice, it took him a while to realize that the boy walking up to him was the boy—the one he’d wanted a closer look at. And even in the terrible light, he could see his instincts hadn’t been wrong. Extraordinary, yes—pale and lovely with a snub nose and large, long-lashed eyes under dark brows, rosy cheeks and pink, delicious-looking lips—angelic. Innocence personified. Probably got a lot of crap at school for his prettiness—and probably hated it as a result. Which was a tragedy. “Hi. You were in the bookstore.”
“Yes.” Beautiful voice, high and soft, but with power to it, the suggestion of something held back. “I got one of the last copies of your book that they had, but you were already gone by then. Would you sign it?”
“Of course.” He took his time, didn’t look at the book or the pen the boy handed him, staring instead at—that face. He couldn’t be sure, but he suspected a light spray of freckles across the nose. Ridiculously adorable. “What’s your name?”
“It’s Kurt. With a ‘K’.” A faint smile, and—yes. That was not really an innocent smile. Not a charmed-fan smile. That smile was sardonic and knowing and… flirtatious? God. “But you don’t need to write anything if you don’t want to—just your name is fine.”
To Kurt, a modern Ganymede, he wrote, thank you for the inspiration.—and signed his name. He offered the book and pen back, not entirely surprised when Kurt raised an eyebrow at him after reading the inscription. “Really?”
“Nice to see that private school is giving you a thorough knowledge of the classics,” he said, and when Quinn coughed discreetly he almost jumped, because—well, he’d gotten a little lost there for a minute.
“Mr. Anderson is always happy to meet his fans,” she said in her smoothest, most professional manager’s voice—perhaps a degree or two cooler than usual, but that wasn’t exactly surprising given that he’d just been pretty much shamelessly flirting with this… baby. “But it’s been a very long day, I’m sure you understand—”
“We could go to a diner instead of a bar,” Blaine said, at the same time that Kurt said, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude—”
“You’re not intruding,” Blaine said emphatically. Quinn was staring at him; even his peripheral vision could pick up the intensity of her frown. “I’m pretty hungry, actually. Are you hungry, Kurt?”
“Famished,” Kurt said, and there was a moment, they were eye-to-eye and something just clicked, bone-deep and rapid-fire fast—and it didn’t make any sense, not with Kurt as young as he had to be—but it was there. Undeniable. And dangerous.
Quinn sniffed. “Greasy fries and fluorescent lighting and jukebox music? Count me out, Blaine—I think I got enough of that when I was a teenager.” Her emphasis on the last word drew him up, captured his attention completely.
“Quinn, I’m sorry,” he said, reaching for his keys again. “Here, I’ll take you home—”
“Oh, no—Blaine, just… never mind, I’ll catch a cab.” A fast, cool kiss on his cheek, one last sharp, fierce look—do not do anything stupid, Blaine—and she was gone.
“Manager,” Blaine said absently, turning from the corner where Quinn had disappeared back to Kurt, back to that innocent face, with its not-so-innocent expression. “And one of my oldest friends.”
“She doesn’t think much of me.”
“Not true. She doesn’t think much of me thinking much of you.”
“She’s protective of you. I think I approve.” Kurt blinked. “Do you? Think much of me?”
Blaine grinned, and put his hands in his pockets. “Let’s go get some greasy fries and we’ll talk about it.”
They wound up at Orphan Andy’s, in a corner booth. Blaine got fries. Kurt asked for a diet coke, and nothing else. Blaine gave him a look when the waiter walked away with their menus.
“Okay, so I wasn’t actually famished,” Kurt admitted with a wry, shy smile, blushing prettily.
“This web of lies and deceit is unbearable,” Blaine drawled melodramatically—he was smiling, of course he was smiling, but Kurt looked at him sharply for a moment, one brief moment where his face was careful and set before he shook his head and smiled again, looking away and sipping his water.
He was going to follow it up, but Kurt’s profile—and the line of his neck, what little of it Blaine could see given the shirt and tie—distracted him, brought him down to the level of bluntness. “How old are you?”
“Sixteen.” Another one of those looks, frank and straight at him. Blaine felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck.
He sighed. “Okay, so that’s not it.”
“What’s not what?”
“What you’re planning to lie about.”
The waiter arrived, and there were a few moments of silence while Blaine squirted ketchup and Kurt slowly unwrapped his straw—lovely, elegant fingers, beautiful hands, white and tapered. Blaine wondered if they were as soft as they looked.
“I don’t want to lie to you.”
“I believe you.”
“But there’s… there are a lot of things I can’t… that I’m not going to talk about.”
Blaine pushed his fries into the middle of the table, indicating that Kurt should help himself. “Okay.” He shrugged. “Why don’t you just tell me the things you can tell me?”
Kurt smiled faintly. “What, all of them?”
Blaine grinned, and sucked ketchup off the tip of his thumb. “Every single one. I’m captivated.”
Kurt shook his head, looking almost indulgent—ridiculous in a sixteen-year-old, but somehow it worked. “All right.” He took a fry but didn’t eat it, just held it while he spoke. “I’m Kurt. I’m sixteen. I’ve been in San Francisco for just over three months now, and I hope I never have to leave. I like books and clothes and music and art. I’m… oh, God—I’m so incredibly dull, honestly—”
“You’re a runaway.” The clothes were a costume, good thrift-store buys, carefully selected for camouflage. He didn’t know why he hadn’t realized it before.
Kurt sat up straight, very straight, and his face went absolutely pale, no color at all in his near-translucent cheeks. Then he was moving, sliding towards the edge of the booth. “I have to go—”
Blaine caught his wrist, and faintly registered that Kurt’s hands were even softer than they looked. His heart was beating too fast. “No, you don’t.” Kurt went still, looking at him with intent penetration, heartbreakingly careful and cautious in that beautiful face. “I’m not… whatever it is you’re afraid I’m going to do—I’m not. I won’t.”
Kurt slid slowly back to the center of the booth seat. He took his hand back, and Blaine let go. Kurt’s eyes were downcast, and his lashes cast shadows on his cheeks, criminally long. “You won’t ask?” he said, and it was barely more than a whisper.
“You won’t tell?”
“Who would I tell?” Those eyes, overbright now, liquid and wide and hauntingly pretty, right at him, pushing—it wasn’t enough. “No. I won’t tell anyone.”
“Okay.” Slow relaxation, one muscle at a time visibly easing, but still wary. “I’m… sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Blaine said, leaning back and nudging the plate forward. “Help me eat these, okay?”
Kurt smiled, finally—the softest, gentlest smile that Blaine had ever seen. It twisted his heart terribly. “Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
The fries were gone. Blaine ordered coffee for both of them. Kurt wrapped both hands around his cup as soon as it arrived.
“Are you cold?”
“No.” Kurt shrugged. “I just… still calming down, I guess.” He took a sip and put the mug down. “Let’s talk about you instead, shall we?” A smile—the saucy one, the one that was absurdly appealing. “So—did you always want to be a ruggedly handsome writer of children’s books?”
Blaine had to grab for a napkin—coffee out his nose, ow, God. “Jeez. Warn a guy, will you?” He mopped up, shaking his head. “Um, no, actually. That all just kind of… happened. I’m… I was a painter.”
Kurt raised an eyebrow. “Not an artist?”
Blaine shrugged, grinning. “Not if you go by the critics, no.” He sipped his coffee and put it down. “I was labeled ‘fanciful’, ‘baroque’, ‘fantastic’—but not in the good way—‘overblown’, ‘weird’, and ‘hopelessly jejune’.”
Kurt shook his head. “Oh, that’s when you know you’re in trouble—when they start flinging ‘jejune’ at you.”
Adolescent cynicism. Sweet-bitter. Fucking adorable. Blaine wanted to grab his face and kiss him. He squeezed his coffee cup instead. “Right. So, one day I was babysitting for a friend of mine, trying desperately to entertain a four-year-old and a six-year-old with no idea how to go about it—I’d tried everything I could think of, and finally, in desperation, I offered to paint whatever they wanted. And the girl said ‘dragons’ and the boy said ‘fairies’—Berkeley children, so, yeah—and they wanted a story to go along with the painting, and of course there wasn’t a story, so I had to make one up, and it was the most ridiculous, outlandish stuff I could think of…”
He broke off, catching his breath a little, reminding himself yet again that he did not have to defend what he did for a living. Or the level of success he’d achieved doing it, or what it meant to have children’s books on the adult bestseller list. “And eventually, that all turned into a book. And then a second book, and a third. And then Disney got interested in making the movie, and then… well, everything went kind of crazy at that point.”
“Do you like it?”
Blaine blinked. That wasn’t the question most people asked. Most people asked either when the next book or movie was coming out (if they were fans), or how much money he made (if they weren’t). “Do I… like it?”
Kurt tilted his head, a new angle on his face, and Blaine was enchanted all over again. “Yes. Like. As in, enjoy. Do you enjoy what you do?”
The terrible thing about not being prepared for that question was… not having an answer prepared for that question. “I like writing, a lot more than I thought I would. I like my independence. I’m glad that I found what my smartass lawyer likes to call ‘an appropriate outlet for my immature impulses’. I like creating.” He took a breath. “There’s a lot… a lot I can’t do. That I want to do. But I can’t, without, um, ‘damaging the brand’, I think they call it.” Blaine blinked. He never said that out loud. To anyone. Not even his friends. “When my current contract is fulfilled, I’m not doing any more.”
He was dizzy. He’d actually said it. To an overly-pretty sixteen-year-old runaway who was a complete stranger to him. Fuck. “Please don’t tell anyone that.”
The look was half-amused and half-sad, that sardonic, wry touch that just amazed him. “I guess… we get to keep each other’s secrets.”
“I guess we do.”
The diner got much more crowded and loud after the bars closed, so Blaine paid the tab along with a twenty-dollar tip for the lengthy booth stay, and the two of them headed out into the chilly, foggy night. Kurt had no coat other than his school blazer, so Blaine gave him his.
“No, really—I’m fine, I’m… you call this cold, here, but it isn’t, really, not like it gets—” Kurt cut off abruptly and looked away, biting his lip and shaking his head ruefully. Blaine took advantage of his momentary distraction to settle his coat more firmly around Kurt’s shoulders. He had both shoulders in his hands when Kurt looked back at him, and then there was visible breath mingling in the cold and they were… face-to-face, only inches apart and Kurt was… gorgeous. He was pearly-skinned, pink-lipped perfection, flawless in the icy air, innocent again and so, so tempting. Blaine almost groaned aloud.
“I want… I’d really like you to model for me. If… um—”
“I… okay. Right now?”
“Not… it’s—it must be too late for you, tonight—”
“I’m awake.” That voice. Sweet and pure, with an edge. “I’m up for it if you are.”
When Kurt slipped an arm through his on the way to the car, Blaine shivered.
He normally narrated the tour for any visitor to his house—apologized for it, he realized for the first time; offering up a wry, half-cynical, well-rehearsed narrative that encompassed all that was necessary to explain why a grown man with abundant financial resources would choose to live in a creaky old Victorian house stuffed with children’s toys and weird art pieces and antiques.
He said none of it to Kurt. He just watched. He watched Kurt move like a too-bright flame from one thing to the next—timeless and eerie, the perfect ghost to haunt these old rooms. Blaine moved silently ahead, turning on lights as he went, including the chandelier and all the lamps in his living room—and that, that was the perfect lighting for Kurt, the night too dark and the diner lighting too garish, but the old lamps, yes—the light was perfect, romantic and warm on Kurt’s pale, fine-grained skin, bringing yet another kind of loveliness out in him that was neither innocent nor sophisticated nor haunting, but—human. Earthy. Devastatingly sexy. Blaine swallowed.
Kurt smiled at him. “You have a ten-foot-tall dragon statue in your living room.”
“It’s… um. A friend of mine made it, a sculptor, and I saw it and I thought it was cool, so—”
“Oh, it’s extremely cool.”
Blaine tried not to grin, and failed. “Yeah?”
But all exploration of the house ended when Kurt discovered the piano. “This… this is beautiful,” he said, sitting down on the bench, touching the keys softly. When he looked up, his eyes were luminous, defying any effort to categorize their color. “And it’s in tune—do you play?”
“Not at all,” Blaine said, resisting the sudden urge to stuff his hands in his pockets. “I have a guy, who comes to tune it; he was here last week. It was just, uh… a thing I bought, I’m not even sure why, now—I just—” He shrugged. He’d never had to justify his piano before. “I just thought I should have one.”
Kurt gave him a stern, disapproving look. “Hopelessly jejune, Mr. Anderson.”
Blaine’s stomach did a weird little flip. “You caught me. Let me rephrase that—I bought it for you, of course. I take it you play?”
Kurt didn’t bother to answer—he just started playing. Softly, slowly, something unfamiliar. “I’ve missed it. The piano, I mean.”
The notes hung in the air, and Blaine tried to remember if he’d ever heard his piano actually being played, before—he didn’t think so.
The light had texture, the sound had weight—it pressed him, crept inside. His palms itched. “I… will it bother you if I sketch you while you do that?”
“No. Go right ahead.”
He didn’t have to go far, thanks to his terrible habit of leaving sketchbooks everywhere. He had just grabbed one, and—thankfully—found a pencil carelessly tucked between the pages, when Kurt started singing.
The pencil fell out of his hand, and the pad would have as well if he hadn’t clamped down on it. That voice—that was the power that had been hiding behind Kurt’s speaking voice this whole time. He snatched up the pencil and turned around. Some fanciful corner of his brain half-expected to find that Kurt had fledged wings while he wasn’t looking.
There were no wings. There was just Kurt, his voice pure and clear and so sweet-sad it was wrenching, singing… something, some song he’d never heard before. Blaine stood still for a moment, then walked quietly towards the piano and braced the pad against it at an angle, open to a clean sheet of paper.
It was a huge relief to sink, to let his hand and his eyes and his brain do what they wanted to, what they’d been wanting to do for hours now. It was like letting go after holding something too tightly for too long, and he sighed softly as his hand blurred over the paper. Kurt never even looked up.
Blaine drank him in, sketching fast—much faster than he usually went. Just that face, just a simple sketch, but he was trying to capture… so much; the warm light on pale, fine skin; the evocative, elusive quality of timelessness—as if Kurt were a ghost from a bygone age, impossible to touch; the perfect, charming beauty that threaded innocence and experience together, and—that voice. Of course he could never catch that, never translate that pleasure from his ears and nerves and heart to the paper. Never.
He tried anyway.
Blaine sank further, falling into the work, feeling each line and shade and curve like he was touching it with his fingers, memorizing shape and texture—but the next time he glanced up, his hand went abruptly still.
Kurt’s eyes were closed. He was still singing. He looked… lost, lost in what he was doing, surrendered and abandoned to it—and a streak like lightning ran down Blaine’s spine. It went way past flirtation, way past the charm of captivation cast by the lovely, strange boy in front of him. He wanted to put his hands in Kurt’s soft hair and pull his head back until his neck was stretched-white and vulnerable, wanted to cover Kurt’s sweet, pink-perfect lips with his own. Wanted to suck the silky skin of his throat until he moaned, strip him naked and touch all his secrets, push into his tight, teenage body one slow inch at a time and see that perfect face flushed and needing, wanted to take him and keep him and make him shiver, yield, come.
Blaine closed his eyes. He was dizzy. He was half-hard. And… and the song was over, the last notes hanging in the air, softly vibrating.
The song was over, and Kurt’s eyes were open. Wide open and aimed right at him, and Blaine felt his cheeks glow hot because God knows how much of what he’d been thinking was right there, written on his face. “Kurt, I—”
“Will you kiss me?”
Blaine stopped as abruptly as if he’d been caught in a chokehold, swaying a little on his feet. “Kurt.”
Kurt’s eyes were large, warm in the light, his cheeks pink. “You can—if you want to. You can—”
Blaine clenched both hands onto the edge of the piano to keep himself still. “Kurt, I… I can’t.”
Kurt’s eyes lowered, and his cheeks went from pink to red. “You can’t?” His voice was soft, softly broken, and Blaine’s vision blurred.
“You’re sixteen.” Sixteen, and a survivor of… of whatever it had been that caused him to run—a minefield, where the only casualty of any misstep would be Kurt. “I can’t.”
Kurt didn’t look at him. “But… you want to?”
“Oh my God, yes.” Blaine took a breath, because he owed Kurt more than that, he owed Kurt anything and everything that might help him understand. “I… want to. So much. But I… it would be…” there was a word, the right word. It eluded him. “It wouldn’t just be criminal, if I did, if I… I would hate myself. It would be a sin.”
He stood his ground when Kurt got to his feet, because he was sure, he was certain—it was killing him, but he was certain. He stood his ground when Kurt left the room. He stood his ground until he heard the click of the front door closing—until he realized with a sudden cold shock that Kurt wasn’t taking a different tack or shifting gears or going for a drink of water, but leaving, running—and then he moved, clumsy and panicked and way-too-fast, hooked his foot around the runner of a rocking chair piled with antique dolls and went down, then scrambled up, bolted through the house and out the door—but the street outside was cold and foggy and empty and silent, completely deserted.
“Kurt!” His voice echoed around him, muffled by the fog. He ran down the street, peering into the mist that shrouded everything, cursing the shadows that pooled between the grey-orange islands cast by the streetlights.
Nothing. He was alone.
Blaine walked the streets, the most likely routes that Kurt might have taken, until he was soaked to the skin and shivering. No Kurt. When he finally arrived back home he closed his front door, and stood with his palms against it until the shivers went away.
It took a long, long time.
In the morning, he was tempted to think of the night before as something finite—a bittersweet interlude, unexpectedly strange and wonderful, as well as unexpectedly (but perhaps predictably) sad, in the way it ended. A strange, sweet, melancholy story; a chapter closed and done.
Tempting to think of it that way—until he made his way back to the living room, the pushed-back piano bench, and the sketch.
He had to sit down when he picked up the sketch. The hand not holding the pad picked out a few singular notes on the piano—but there was no melody, no music to it, nothing that evoked the spell that had caught him last night.
But the sketch did that all on its own—Kurt: everything about him, all that Blaine could catch. Shadows and light and loveliness, a summation of a mystery, the end of the story. The end, there in graphite pressed into fine paper.
All he had, besides memory.
Blaine closed the sketchpad slowly, and sat there with rare San Francisco sunshine pooling warm around his bare feet, rubbing his thumb back and forth over the textured cover.
It wasn’t enough.
He decided (with the application of a brand of logic he thought it best not to scrutinize too closely,) that the bookstore was a good place to start. Kurt had seemed comfortable there when Blaine had first seen him—he’d just have to hope there was a reason for that.
There was a coffeehouse two doors down, one with tiny, iron tables outside on the street. Sitting there seemed ridiculous and quixotic and distinctly tinged with absurdity, but sit there he did—drinking cup after cup of coffee, and scanning the street semi-surreptitiously above his wide-spread newspaper, like some kind of bad B-movie spy. No Kurt.
He went back the next day, and the day after that—wondering when the scale of what he was doing would tip from farcical to pathetic, wondering which of his vital organs he was damaging most with the superabundance of coffee, wondering if maybe he was having some kind of quiet, early mid-life crisis with all this stupid mooning over a sixteen-year-old boy he’d met once and couldn’t even touch—when Kurt suddenly sat down in the chair opposite, as calmly as if they’d agreed to meet there at exactly that precise moment.
“You’re not very subtle, you know.”
Blaine swallowed his mouthful of coffee, folding his paper with leisurely, unhurried movements. “Believe it or not, I was just thinking the same thing.” He laid the folded paper on the table, and grinned. He kind of couldn’t help it.
Kurt’s face was careful, controlled, almost haughty. It was a disturbingly good look on him. “Is there something you wanted to say to me?”
Blaine licked his lips. “Want some coffee? I just love the coffee here.”
Blaine handed Kurt his coffee, then sat back down in the hellish iron chair that had become the bane of his existence, and tried not to stare. Kurt’s hair was spiked, streaked with blue. He was wearing silver-rimmed glasses with blue-tinted lenses, a blue-grey military-style fitted shirt, and wickedly tight black jeans tucked into twenty-hole lace-up boots. Not a trace of the private-school boy remained.
Kurt probably thought it made him look older. It didn’t. He’d gone from choirboy to ice-prince, but he was still the same beauty, a luminous stone repolished and placed in a different setting. Still desperately lovely; still dangerously young.
“So,” Blaine said, completely unable to stop smiling—in amazement, in gratitude, in rueful awe that this stupid, hopeless ploy of his had actually worked, and that he had Kurt again, right there in front of him. “How’ve you been?”
Kurt blinked at him. “Do you believe in God?”
Okay. That… finally made him quit smiling. “Um. What?”
“It’s a simple question. Do you. Believe. In God?”
“I… no. No, I don’t.”
Kurt closed his eyes for a moment, his lashes soot-black behind the blue lenses. When he opened them again, his voice was lower, softer. “Do you still want me to model for you?”
Blaine took a deep breath. “Yes. So much.”
Kurt looked away then, his lips faintly pursed, his legs high-crossed with both of his elegant hands wrapped around his knee. “And is that… is that all you want?”
It was just the smallest seam, an invisible crack in Kurt’s smooth façade, nothing obvious in his voice or face to show—but there, for eyes to see that could. Blaine leaned towards him, resting his crossed arms on the table, his voice low. “No.” He held Kurt’s eyes when they darted back to him. “I want your cellphone number, and I want you to have mine. I want to know how to find you, so that I don’t have to resort to this absurd stakeout routine because I can’t stop thinking about you. I want… I’d like to see if we can be friends, if you… if that’s something you want.”
Kurt smiled for the first time—just a little. His eyebrow arched. “Friends?”
“If you want, yes.”
Peering at him over the blue lenses, eyes indefinable, all of him completely adorable. “Does that come with piano-playing benefits?”
That smile. Saucy and sweet and ever-so-faintly sad. Blaine folded his hands so they wouldn’t reach out on their own. “Night or day. Knock yourself out. I told you: I bought it for you. I just didn’t know it at the time.”
Kurt looked away and shook his head, his cheeks flushing faintly pink. He sighed. “Okay. When do we start?”
“Sorry—I have to make one stop, at the bank. It’ll be quick.”
Kurt craned his head towards the street when Blaine parked, squinting up at the buildings. “At… the bank? Why, are your paintbrushes coin-operated?”
Blaine’s lips twisted. Bless the children. Especially the bratty, sarcastic ones. “No, but—correct me if I’m wrong, because I’m going on a theory, here. I just thought that, given your, um, current situation, I assumed it would be best if I paid you in cash.”
Kurt looked at him, wide-eyed. “You… oh. I guess… I didn’t think about that. About you paying me.”
Blaine undid his seat belt. “I’m an artist. You’re my model. I’m paying you.”
Kurt rolled his eyes. “Thirty seconds in as my boss, and already laying down the law. Hardass.”
The rich, dense smells of linseed oil and turpentine and wood and ink and paint that permanently haunted the third-floor loft welcomed him, as always—calming and comforting and exciting all at once. Kurt wandered around the wide space while Blaine prepped his camera, plus sketchpads, his box of pencils, and a large stretched and primed linen canvas. “So… this is where you work?”
Blaine looked around. He always forgot how different the loft was in comparison with the rest of the house, until someone remarked on it. Downstairs was a carnival of oddities all clamoring for attention at once. Up here it was bare to the point of being utilitarian: finished canvases stacked against the wall, two large cabinets for his supplies, a small desk with a computer and oversized monitor. Scattered around the room were tripods and lighting equipment, and whatever props and references he was working with at the moment—and that was it. “Yeah, I like a lot of room when I work, and not a lot of distractions. It’s easier to focus.”
“I like it,” Kurt said softly. “It’s kind of… romantic.”
Blaine put down the charcoal stick he was inspecting, and looked up. There was an old, nearly threadbare brown velvet armchair facing the windows, with some of his favorite antique dolls sitting on it—he’d been painting them last week, working them in as background on one of the canvases for his next book. Kurt was standing next to it, spare and elegant in his trim, tight-fitted clothes, his white fingers looped through the glossy, blond ringlets of the large, French doll with the elaborately frilled lace petticoat. The juxtaposition of it caught him. “That’s… hold it there, Kurt, okay?”
Kurt looked up, his eyes wide. “What, this? But don’t you need me to… I mean… my hair’s blue—”
“It’s a very nice color on you,” Blaine said conversationally, moving all the dolls except the bebe blonde platine to his desk. He hauled the armchair around until he had it where he wanted it, then made a kind of futile attempt to brush the dust off it. “Sit here, please?”
He put the doll in Kurt’s lap, and went back to his desk for his camera. When he turned around, he was pleased—nicely diminished gloom in the background, a sense of coolness and space, then the heavy, rich old velvet of the chair, and Kurt like a naked blade shining out of all that darkness—he was so new, so young, so boyish and exquisite, contrasted beautifully with the doll on his lap.
It wasn’t quite right—not yet. But it was close. “I’m going to use the camera, okay?”
There was some self-consciousness—naturally there was, it would have been strange if there hadn’t been—but not much, only a few minutes before Kurt relaxed visibly, leaning back against the chair while his hands smoothed over the doll’s hair and dress. His eyes were heavier, his face prettier, when he was relaxed.
“Yes?” Very relaxed now, very open, very sensual. Tempting. Spellbinding.
“Will you… do you plan to perform, when you… when you’re older?”
Kurt’s lips pressed together, but only for a moment. “I… yes. I want to. Why?”
“Because if you’d said no, I’d have to lecture you about what a waste that would be.”
Kurt smiled faintly, his cheeks flushing. “I’ve wanted to do that all my life—or at least as long as I can remember.”
“Singing, or piano? Both?”
“Musical theater, actually. But… not right now. I can’t.”
“There’s… people are looking for you?”
A shadow crossed his face, and Kurt shifted the doll in his lap. “I don’t want to talk about that.”
“It’s okay.” But Kurt’s hand went to his mouth, his small, white teeth nibbling his ring finger.
“Is there anything… I’d like to help you, if I could.”
Those gorgeous eyes, so level and frank behind the blue lenses. “Why? You don’t even know me.”
No. He just felt like he did. “No. But I’d like to.”
There was another one of those moments, intense and immediate, eye-to-eye and weirdly connected, as if there were some kind of conduit running between them. Raw, and dizzyingly powerful. All the hair on the back of Blaine’s neck stood up.
Kurt hissed, and jumped a little, and the spell was broken. “Ow.” He shook his hand, the one that had been in his mouth. “I have got to stop doing that, I keep—oh, no. Blaine—hell, I’m so sorry—”
Blaine had moved closer without knowing it, and both of them were looking down, down to where a drop of blood was spreading on the pristine white pettiskirts of the doll on Kurt’s lap. “Blaine, really—I can fix this, I can; I know fabric, trust me, I know how to—”
“Don’t move,” Blaine said, his voice husky and hoarse, his mouth perfectly dry. “Just… stay right there.”
The click of the digital camera resonated right down to his bones when he pressed the button.
It was… something, he didn’t know what. It was often like that, with his work—his subconscious brain picked up on things, went places he would never go, showed him things he’d never be able to see on his own, offered him clues that were tantalizing and subtle and occasionally outright maddening—until he saw it.
He didn’t see it until he got the computer booted up and the pictures transferred, flicking through one after the other on the giant, high-resolution monitor. Kurt from so many different angles, yes, good, color and composition and some good, some bad—he skipped impatiently through until he got to the last one.
The splash of blood was tiny, just a droplet: brilliant, crimson red on the white lace. Kurt was staring at it in the picture, his face almost guilty, hectic and flushed.
Kurt was peering over his shoulder. “That’s… a pretty unusual picture, Blaine.”
Blaine’s face was hot, and he could hear his heartbeat in his ears. He could not look away from that damn drop of blood. “Kurt.” He swallowed. “Are you a virgin?”
Silence. Then, “How did you know that?”
Blaine closed his eyes. “I… didn’t.” He took a breath. A slow, deep one. Then another. “I’m… I apologize for asking that. It’s… not any of my business.”
“It’s okay.” Blaine made himself open his eyes, and turned around. Kurt was blushing, arms crossed over his chest, looking down. “I mean… you said you wanted to know me. It’s okay.”
Blaine stared at him. At Kurt. Delicious. Shy. Innocent. Virgin. Boy. Oh, dear God—he hadn’t even known that was a… thing… for him; it never had been before—but this was apparently the time for all kinds of useless, terrible revelations about himself. “Okay.” He cleared his throat, and tried to make his next words more than a raspy croak. “Are you thirsty?”
“I’m about to fall in a hole,” Blaine said, handing over a glass of iced grapefruit juice, downstairs again with all the crowded bedlam, when all he wanted to be was up in the loft, alone with the light and a hundred beautiful pictures of Kurt. The blank canvas upstairs pulled craving through his blood like a drug. “You can go, or you can stay, if you like. Whichever you prefer. If you want to go, I’ll call you a cab, and cover it. Anywhere you want to go.”
“How long will you… how long does it take?”
“It depends.” How long had it been, since he felt this excited about that blank white space waiting for him? Far too long. Years. Maybe longer. “Sometimes it goes quickly, sometimes not. When I’m really into something, when I’m excited about it, I’ll go until I drop.”
Kurt’s lips were wet, glossy. His mouth would be cold and juicy and boy-sweet, right now—Blaine cut that thought off, right where it was, brought his eyes up to Kurt’s before Kurt spoke again. “And are you… excited about this?”
“Very much so.” He left it at that, because if he started babbling about cravings and blood and all his gorgeous pictures of Kurt, it might be a bit much.
“Okay. Would the… is the piano okay, would it disturb you?”
He could grin at that. “Piano, if you like—rummage through everything I own, blast the music, invite the neighbors over for a party, start a band—it won’t matter. I’ll be—”
“In a hole.”
Kurt smiled—devastating smile, with his dimples and baby-smooth cheeks. “You just invited a teenager to run amok in your house, have a party and start a band—has anyone ever told you that your self-preservation skills could use some work?”
“Only everyone I’ve ever met.”
That shake of the head, so adult, with the sardonic smile. “Okay. I’ll stay.”
The truth was, he really didn’t like people in the house when he was working—but that was work, and… other people, and it seemed that those same rules just didn’t apply—not to Kurt, and not to… this.
There were three different pictures he chose for reference, printed out and set up on an easel next to his canvas, then a full palette of the choicest oil paints he had—thick and dense and rich, the ones with the truest pigments that were best suited to a work that needed to last forever, best suited for the fine-linen canvas, best suited for Kurt—and all his best brushes laid out, ready to go. He went in with just the smallest bit of sketching first for scale and proportion, then went all-out on almost everything at once—the background, the chair, Kurt, the doll.
Like the sketch he’d done at the piano, his pace was ridiculously fast—his whole body moving along with his hand, moving while the work kept spooling out beautifully in front of him, stepping back to look, to assess, then in again and wet, loaded brushes right at the canvas.
He stopped to kick off his shoes, then stopped again, some unknown time later, and carefully set his palette down so he could strip out of his Henley, scrubbing the balled-up shirt over his sweating face and saturated hair before he tossed it carelessly aside. It was the connection that made him sweat, that terrifying, elating, blissful connection with the act of creation—but not with the piece itself; not yet—not while he was still chasing objectivity, still trying to get his eyes to tell him what came next, what needed work, what was true and right and done.
The piano had started up before he even finished his initial sketching—a classical piece, something bright and effervescent and fast-paced—but it couldn’t keep his attention from what he was doing for very long. The music wove in and out of his consciousness while he worked, from soft and sad to bright pop, from lilting and lyrical to something that sounded suspiciously like barrelhouse blues—and it was good, so good, just to know that Kurt was there, his presence in the house like a warm glow, so good to know that he was safe…
Kurt downstairs, and Kurt emerging in front of him up here, and there was a hum in his brain that went all the way through him, riding fast and giving it all of him, giving the work everything it asked for, giving it so gladly—the finest high ever, really, no drug could ever be so good, so intimate, so satisfying on a cellular level.
The mellow shine on Kurt’s leather boot was the last thing, and by then his hands were shaking a little and he had to really work at it, capturing the texture of it, the fit and snugness and shape. He could feel the warmth of it, the way leather warmed to the skin after a while, when it was tight.
He closed his eyes when it was done. He was panting a little, soaked with sweat, streaked with paint, and his hands were shaking badly. He desperately needed to pee. He turned towards the windows first, where the sun was sinking into an encroaching bank of fog—about eight hours, more or less, gone in what seemed like milliseconds. Sheer magic.
When he was ready, he turned around and looked.
Gloom and such a sense of age in the background—he’d put in an old tapestry, genteel-shabby wallpaper in a Victorian style. The chair itself a threadbare luxury of long ago, still rich and lush in spots, the velvet eating the light in the way that very old velvet did. In the chair Kurt was relaxed, his head tilted back a little, one leg stretched out; luminous like light made flesh, glowing out of the darkness like a beacon. Ice-cool in blue and grey but the warmth and intelligence and person-ness of him shone out, one of his hands curled next to his face, the other cupped around the lace-heavy bodice of the doll in his lap. Exquisite and deeply sensual, verging on sexual, the weight of him in the picture was enough that Blaine could almost feel him, what it would feel like with Kurt resting in his arms, head against his chest.
It was pornographic and protective at the same time, arresting, jarring—the contrasts: old and new, dark and light, Kurt’s human expression and the doll’s bland, mindless, baby-perfect face. The whole thing had a deep sense of mystery, of secrets—and the focal point of that, of course, was the drop of blood—that was the way in, the key that wasn’t an answer but only the opening to the unknown.
Blaine picked up a brush, then scratched his name and the year into the lower-right corner with the pointed back end of it, his heart pounding, his breath caught high in his throat.
It was everything he’d wanted it to be. And he hoped it didn’t send Kurt screaming into the night when he saw it.