Blaine eats another couple of mouthfuls at Kurt’s insistence, mainly just to shut him up as he lists the endless benefits of granola, and then follows him into the living room. He sits as instructed on the couch as Kurt wonders over to the DVD cabinet to select a movie to watch. He pointedly doesn’t dwell on the fact that Kurt always asks him what he wants to do, or at the very least asks for Blaine’s opinion on his own suggestion (almost as if he’s desperate for Blaine’s approval—like Blaine will think him boring if he doesn’t agree with Kurt’s ideas), and yet this morning he gave Blaine absolutely no choice in the matter. It’s both a relief, because he very rarely has opinions on anything anymore, and slightly insulting because, hello, he’s not a helpless invalid.
Kurt selects You’ve Got Mail even though they’ve both seen it at least ten times, half of those together, and after sliding it into the DVD player, he sits down next to Blaine on the couch, somewhere between Blaine and the other end. In fact, his positioning is suspiciously equidistant, as if he didn’t want to make Blaine (or himself) uncomfortable by sitting too close, but equally didn’t want Blaine to think that was what he was doing so avoided sitting up against the arm. It annoys Blaine in a way he can’t comprehend; Kurt is only being nice, he’s only trying to make Blaine as comfortable as possible, but their stiff postures and the even stiffer silence is suffocating. The movie has started and Kurt hasn’t made a single sassy side-comment. Maybe with anyone else it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but since Blaine is kind of an expert at watching movies with Kurt Hummel, he knows the strangeness of this reserved behaviour. And ten minutes into the film it’s really starting to frustrate him.
Because it is frustrating. He wants to know what Kurt’s thinking, wants to push against the silence like a tongue against a mouth ulcer, because even if the result is pain, at least he’ll know something’s there. But maybe there’s nothing there. Maybe it’s just white light and static and Blaine is making it all up in his head. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Blaine sits there in silent agony for another ten minutes before Kurt seems to twig that Blaine’s practically vibrating with uncomfortableness and turns to look at him for the first time. At least one of them has been watching the film.
“Are you cold?” Kurt asks and, really, could he have asked a more stupid question?
“No.” Blaine replies, refusing to tear his eyes from the TV screen even though he can’t focus on the scenes flitting across it.
“Sure? ‘Cause I can get the blanket from off my bed—that big fluffy one that you like.”
“No.” Blaine repeats, and then adds a terse, “Thank you.” as an afterthought.
Kurt hums in acknowledgement and returns his attention to the film. Blaine exhales in relief and then internally curses when the noise only succeeds in attracting Kurt’s eyes again.
“Pretty exciting about Cooper, huh?” Kurt says, his face suddenly full of enthusiasm.
“What?” Blaine is genuinely confused by this; as far as he’s aware Kurt and Cooper haven’t spoken since he came to visit last year.
“Y’know, the part he got in that horror film, the one that’s coming out next year. It’s going to be a huge box office success apparently—I know he’s only got a supporting role, but still, he’ll get to go to an actual premiere and meet all these—”
“How do you know that?” Blaine is slightly freaked out by how much Kurt knows.
“Oh, he told me when I spoke to him the other day. You know Cooper, any excuse to big himself up.”
“You spoke to him?”
“Yeah, when you were—a few days ago. He wanted to know how you were doing and couldn’t get hold of your parents so he rang Mr Schue to get my number.”
“Great.” Blaine glares at the wall, no longer even bothering to pay attention to the film.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kurt sounds surprised at Blaine’s reaction which does nothing for his mounting annoyance.
“No, that’s fine, you guys carry on having nice little discussions about me behind my back…”
“Blaine, no, that’s not what we were doing. We just—we both care about you, that’s all, and like I said, he pretty much talked about himself the entire time anyway so it’s really no big deal.”
Blaine raises his eyebrows sarcastically and refuses to meet Kurt’s eyes even though Kurt keeps ducking his head slightly as if he wants to do just that.
“So, what do you reckon? Is Meg Ryan even more fabulous the tenth time round?” Kurt obviously feels that a change in topic is needed.
Blaine merely shrugs, wishing Kurt would just continue watching the stupid film.
“I think I love it just as much as the first time I saw it, in fact more so because I don’t have to put up with my dad falling asleep half way through. It’s just such a classic story, isn’t it? I’m the first to say there have been a lot of good romcoms over the years, but this has that extra sparkle, y’know?”
Blaine doesn’t know why he finds Kurt’s incessant babbling so irritating when literally five minutes ago he was wishing for something to break the awkward silence between them. He just knows he can’t listen to it for a second longer.
“Kurt, just stop, ok?” He gets out from between his clenched teeth, his tone more confrontational than he’d meant it. Kurt freezes.
“Sorry, I was only trying to take your mind off things a bit.” He wraps his arms around his knees where they’re tucked up on the couch, a universal gesture of protection. He’s protecting himself from me, Blaine thinks.
“Yeah, great, because a movie and small talk is just what the doctor ordered to make me normal again!” It’s like he has no control over his own mouth, like his subconscious wants him to push Kurt as far away as possible.
“You are normal.” It’s said with such fierce intensity, like Kurt really believes it, and that makes Blaine’s insides twist unpleasantly. He snorts and looks away, fiddling with a loose thread on the sleeve of his hoody.
“You’re just—you’re just going through some stuff and that’s fine,” Kurt continues and he really needs to stop. “You’re human and it’s perfectly normal to not be ok sometimes.”
“Kurt, I wanted to die—I’m pretty sure I still do—that’s not normal. About ninety-nine percent of my thoughts right now are nowhere near normal. ” The words spit out of him as his fingers twitch around the lengthening thread.
“Maybe the situation isn’t normal, but that doesn’t make you some aberrant monster!”
Kurt jumps as Blaine slams his fist down on the sofa, the action surprising him nearly as much as it does Kurt. Blaine closes his eyes, wishes he was back in his room. Alone.
“Look, Blaine, I realise I can’t understand what you’re going through at the moment and I know that everything that comes out of my mouth just makes things worse.” So why won’t you shut up? Blaine thinks as Kurt edges closer before continuing, “But I can see you, ok? I’ve always been able to see you and no matter what happens or how you feel, I always will. Not what you’re going through or what you want from me, or—or what you want from yourself, but I can see you. And I need you to always remember that.”
Blaine looks at Kurt’s face now, so open and honest and full of something that Blaine cannot bring himself to categorise. He watches the tear clinging to his eyelashes, struggling uselessly against gravity before zigzagging down after the others that have already slipped out, and realises for the first time that just because he’s the only balloon falling, it doesn’t mean that he’s the only one with air leaking out. Kurt closes his eyes briefly and exhales, resting his arm along the top of the couch. When he opens them again, he no longer looks like he’s about to burst into sobs, the iridescent vulnerability in his eyes replaced with all-consuming intensity. Blaine’s stomach flips at the flames suddenly erupting out of Kurt, just like the other day, and licking around the edge of the couch. They only grow brighter as Kurt starts to talk again.
“You know, a few years ago I used to lie in bed and wonder what was wrong with me. I used to wonder why I didn’t fit in anywhere, not even in my own home, why I was destined to remain alone when everyone around me got to have someone. I used to wonder when I could stop waking up early to do laundry and hide my daily slushy facials from my dad. I used to wonder whether I’d ever be able to walk around in public without being afraid, whether I’d ever be allowed to be different and proud—to be happy. I used to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling and wonder what the point was, y’know? Why I kept bothering to go through the motions when there was nothing in it for me. And sometimes, when it had been a really bad day, when my bedroom seemed especially dark, sometimes I’d wonder about ending it all then and there. About the best ways to go about that, about how it would affect my dad, about what it would mean. The idea of it seemed so extreme but at the same time so simple, so comforting. It was like being wrapped in a blanket but not knowing whether you’re too hot or too cold…”
Blaine looks up again as Kurt pauses, his beautiful voice steady but too breathy to be completely composed, as if there’s too much life tumbling out of him at once. Blaine’s own chest is constricting as the flames rise up, insatiable, because Kurt shouldn’t be saying these things, he shouldn’t know what they feel like. And yet he does.
A sudden memory flashes through Blaine’s head; a memory of another balloon floating past him two years earlier, covered in expensive fabric to hide the gashes in its slowly-shrivelling skin, contracting inwards just enough that the well-drawn on smile delicately falters.
“And do you know what happened, Blaine? Do you know what pulled that blanket off of me?”
The fire is rapidly spreading, each undulating flame tackling a piece of Blaine’s numbness. It’s glorious, but at the same time Blaine can feel wetness rising to the backs of his eyes and throat and he’s acutely aware that this moisture cannot come out; water destroys fire and Blaine needs this—he needs to feel. It’s the sweetest torture having his emotions suspended like this; the euphoria of everything unfreezing, roaring into life in one continuous picture show, concurrent with the agony of keeping it from overflowing, repressing it just enough so as not to shatter the illusion. He shakes his head, unsure whether he’s answering Kurt’s question or silently pleading with him not to go on.
“One Tuesday afternoon, I happened to wonder into some fancy private school where a certain handsome, dapper stranger in a blazer showed me that life has so much more to offer—so much more—if you just have the courage to let it.”
Blaine should know this story—and logically he does—but he’s only ever known it from his own perspective, he’s never seen it through Kurt’s eyes. As the dam inside of him breaks, water cascading throughout in one great tsunami, tears gashing their way down his cheeks, he realises that Kurt used to be a balloon too. Used to. Before Blaine and his stupid fake confidence freed him from it. And now Kurt is drifting among the skyscrapers, in control of his own direction without being tied down. He no longer needs a mangy bit of air-filled rubber to fly. He no longer needs a knight in shining armour to keep him afloat.
Kurt doesn’t say anything else, he just pulls Blaine against his chest, one arm settling securely around Blaine’s back, the way it has always done, the other stroking up and down his thigh reassuringly. Maybe, Blaine thinks in between sobs, maybe it isn’t hopeless, maybe he’s not a lost cause. Because as small and useless as his life seems right now, it doesn’t necessarily have to stay like that. Kurt escaped from underneath the dark folds of the blanket, so why can’t he?