S O U L
"You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body."
a Glee & His Dark Materials fusion fic.
Kurt turned off the ignition, his hand resting momentarily on the steering wheel. In his rear-view mirror, he could see a cluster of letterman jackets, grouped casually around the dumpster. The usual then. Kurt sighed, pocketing his keys. Beside him in the passenger seat, a sleek gray cat stretched lazily, her claws extending.
"'Lizabeth, mind the leather."
Elizabeth only yawned, revealing pointed teeth.
"You'd think they'd give up already," said the cat, large yellow eyes blinking once, twice, as Kurt pulled his bag onto his shoulder, "You've missed a strand by the way. No, other side."
"It's because they all lack imagination, sweetheart," said Kurt, quickly fixing his hair and opening the driver's door. Elizabeth leaped gracefully from the seat and onto the tarmac, curling herself sinuously once around Kurt's ankles. The routine of it was comforting, and Kurt could pretend that his heart wasn't thumping uncomfortably hard in his throat as they made their way towards McKinley's front doors. Just because they hadn't managed to throw him into the dumpster in a year didn't mean they wouldn't keep trying. Their daemons - mostly dogs- growled threateningly. Kurt held his head high.
"Hey, Faggot. We're talking to you!"
Kurt kept his eyes fixed on the school doors and kept walking. One of the jocks – Puck – made a step to intercept him and the next second, the little grey cat was gone and in its place was a lioness, teeth bared. She was taller than the dogs, shoulders tense. Kurt could feel the tension vibrating through her and he curled his knuckles against her shoulder-blade. Elizabeth's long tail swayed dangerously.
"Good kitty," said Puck, holding his hands up in submission but somehow managing to look all the more cocky for it. His own daemon was nowhere to be seen, and not for the first time, Kurt wondered what it was. He paused…then immediately wished he hadn't. Puck's friends were slowly converging, their daemons' eyes all fixed on Elizabeth.
"You know she'll rip you all apart," said Kurt disdainfully. He tried to focus on his hand, fingers still buried in fur. The warmth of her was overwhelmingly reassuring.
"Yeah, maybe" said Puck, shrugging, "Until she settles."
"If she settles," someone else interjected, "Who knows how the fag works?"
Elizabeth let out a rumbling growl, making one of the dogs retreat. Kurt rolled his eyes.
"I'd rather her never settle then manifest as a confirmation of my blind obedience to authority," he gave a pointed look at the bull-dog in front of him, "Like yours, Karofsky."
The boy screwed his face up in anger. The expression would have made Kurt laugh if there wasn't a fist that quickly followed it. The dog barked harshly, leaping forwards and Elizabeth took a swipe at her, mouth open and long fangs bared. They circled each other, while Kurt dodged another fist. Puck jerked Karofsky back by his jacket, hissing: "Dude!"
A shadow fell across Kurt's vision.
"Everything alright here?"
There was a pause.
"Yeah, Mr. Schue," said Puck, "Just makin' friends."
Mr. Schuester didn't look particularly convinced, but he only smiled, tucking his sunglasses into his breast pocket before walking way. Making most of the distraction, Kurt turned on his heels to follow, sidestepping a couple of seniors. Elizabeth gave the assembled bullies once last look at her long sharp teeth before trailing Kurt up the front steps. And even though they had barely been a few feet apart, Kurt let out a breath of relief when Elizabeth pressed herself against his leg. He smiled and pushed open the double doors.
Once inside the school, Elizabeth shifted back into the gray Siamese, ears twitching. Kurt obligingly held out one arm as she leapt up, settling herself neatly at the cradle of his neck, paws on his shoulder.
"Careful with the claws," said Kurt, smoothing one hand over her silky fur, "Burberry."
Elizabeth licked his ear in retaliation.
"When have I ever ruined your clothes?" she asked haughtily, wriggling out of his arms to ride on his shoulder. They continued down the corridor and Kurt smiled, despite himself.
"And that's why I'm a short haired Siamese today," Elizabeth continued, preening, "So I don't ruin this double breasted coat. I know things."
"And we complement each other," said Kurt, stopping by his locker. It popped open and Kurt proceeded to transfer the books from his bag onto the top shelf. "Your fur looks fabulous with this coat. I love you." Elizabeth gave him a feline grin and rubbed her face against his. However, her eyes narrowed as he reached for the familiar can of hairspray. Elizabeth wrinkled her nose, hopping down from his shoulder to sit on his shoes. Kurt gave his hair a quick once over, before recapping the spray and slamming his locker shut.
"Alright!" said Kurt with faux enthusiasm, turning around, "Ready to-"
- and got a face full of raspberry slushie. He spluttered as Karofsky and Azimio roared with laughter. The cold ice dripping down his collar and Elizabeth yowled in indignation.
The first time Kurt had been thrown in the dumpster; Elizabeth had turned into a sparrow and darted into one of the trees in order to avoid being crushed by some beast of a dog.
The second time the jocks had cornered Kurt before school, his daemon had shifted abruptly into a lion the size of a small car and nearly ripped one of the dogs in half. The boy had been sent home in shock. Kurt had been sent to the headmaster's office, his dad had been called in and all the while Elizabeth perched on his shoulder, a small black cat, her luminous eyes fixed unblinkingly on Figgins.
"You've got to control yourself!"
Burt had been unimpressed.
"A little hard to control yourself when you're being hackled by six hockey players."
Elizabeth and Kurt only exchange a long, satisfied look. Then she went back to staring at Figgins until his daemon (a mole rat, ugly thing) scampered out of sight, thoroughly unnerved. Kurt had been instructed to see Ms. Pillsbury about his "impulses", but other than that, Kurt could now walk into school relatively unmolested. The downside to all of this was that by the end of the day, the entire school knew that Kurt's daemon had yet to settle.
It wasn't that he was the only person with a daemon who still shifted from shape to shape. But he was the only one above the age of 14 who hadn't settled, and as much as he told himself it didn't matter, it did. There was a whole shelf of pamphlets proclaiming that it did matter, that the fact Elizabeth couldn't define herself was Kurt unable to "understand who he is". And Ms. Pillsbury looked so apologetic when she said things like that, it made Kurt cringe inside. It was one more difference that set him apart.
"I'm sure it will happen soon," said Elizabeth, peering at him over his laptop as he worked on his homework, "Stop sighing about it."
Kurt set down his pen.
"Well, I don't want to," he lied, "For you to settle I mean."
Elizabeth padded over. She was a Persian today, long white fur and big blue eyes. She licked his nose affectionately.
Kurt picked her up, cradling her close. He buried his nose between her ears, stroking his other hand slowly down her back. It wasn't as if she didn't know, because really, Elizabeth was Kurt when it came down to it. But it helped to pretend, sometimes.
"Of course. I dread the day when we can't be perfectly co-ordinated. It would seriously limit my wardrobe choices."
Elizabeth purred, and Kurt tried to master up a smile.
Glee club was reprieve because as long as he could sing, he could define himself. Of course, it hurt that Mr. Schuester was so eager to overlook his talent, easily dismissing Kurt was anything more than a backup, a chorus player. It was better than nothing, though. Music helped set the boundaries that was Kurt Hummel; like his impeccable fashion, singing spoke for him. Lyrics, keys, emotions set by modulations in key that were easily changed, defined defined defined. Sometimes, when he lay awake at night amidst all that silence, Kurt wondered if he knew who he was at all.
Elizabeth was living proof that he didn't.
Kurt knew, deep down, that his standards weren't all that high – after all, the primary reason he fell so hard for Finn was because he had been less of a bully. The reasoning, like most pieces of logic, didn't help in reality. In fact, Kurt found himself so pathetically infatuated that he was willing to forgo the "no dog daemon" rule. Because Finn's golden retriever was really adorable and would totally complement Kurt's Hermes's scarf. It was fate, clearly.
"It's a bad idea," said Elizabeth sternly, "He's so straight it hurts to look at him."
"There's no zero on the Kinsey scale," Kurt half snag, blu-taking a selection of sample prints onto his swatch board, "He will be overwhelmed by our mutual interests and my devotion to his well being that he can't help but fall in love. How's this?"
Elizabeth transformed into a robin, deliberately planting her feet on a sheet of paint samples.
"You're not listening. It's a bad idea. You don't honestly think it's going to work, do you? Plus- " she pecked at a sparkly piece of wall paper, picking it up in her beak and depositing it on the other side of the board, "- it's morally unsound."
Kurt folded his arms, annoyed.
"Morally unsound? Who are you, my conscience?"
"God, you're impossible," said Kurt, closing the board and forcing Elizabeth to fly off, feathers ruffled, "I thought you'd be at least a little supportive. Don't you support true love?"
"I can't support insanity," said Elizabeth primly, glaring at Kurt with her beady bird eyes, "You should just tell him if you like him so much."
"I sang I honestly Love You for our duet project, Beth! I wore McKinley colours for a week! A week – any more obviousness and I might as well jump him in the corridors!"
There was a moment of silence.
"Maybe you should," said Elizabeth, setting her wing feathers in place before shifting into a large tabby cat. Kurt only let out an exasperated noise and flung himself onto his bed.
The first time Kurt touched someone else's daemon, he was only eight years old.
Burt had a bear for his daemon; dark brown fur and huge heavy paws. Kurt was sure this was the reason why Figgins was so terrified of his father, because Burt and Rose made a very intimidating pair. It was probably also the reason that their garage never got robbed, the reason why no one dared bully Kurt too much when he was little. Rose was the very definition of fabulous.
Then Kurt's mother died.
At eight, Kurt had an acute dislike for two things; hospitals and churches. The former was too stark, too real, while the latter lacked in both qualities. He remembered the way shoes squeaked across hospital tiles, especially if you ran, especially if it's too late. He remembered hard plastic chairs, plastic tables and plastic tasting granola bars his father bought him while they waited outside a white hospital door that looked like every other door in the building. He remembered the flowers, left on his mother's bedside table.
They were real, and they wilted.
Churches were even worse – Kurt had been small for his age, Elizabeth shifting in and out of shapes every few minutes, a robin, a cat, a tiny lizard with red-forked tongue. When his mother's cat daemon abruptly vanished from the end of her hospital bed, Elizabeth had let out a keening nose so terrible it almost drowned out the sound of Burt sobbing in the chair by the window. Churches were people in drab black suits, coat collars turned up against the December wind. Churches were stained glass windows that filtered through coloured light (red, green, yellow, blue). They fell in patches of distorted shades, melting over his mother's coffin.
The sixth time Elizabeth changed, Burt lay a heavy hand on Kurt's shoulder.
"Stop it," he said, eyes on the speaker at the front, "Kurt."
The hand tightened on his shoulder. Kurt remembered the weight of it, the expression on his father's face – Rose silent and still as a statue next to them both. Elizabeth wavered, before turning into a cat and leaping into Kurt's skinny arms.
"I'm sorry," she said, her nose cold against Kurt's neck, "I can't help it. I hate this."
Kurt glanced up at his father, then hugged Elizabeth tightly, closing his eyes.
"I want mom," he admitted.
The service dragged on and on. Elizabeth didn't change once.
After the service, Burt had driven them both home in silence. Kurt watched his father's face out of the corner of his eye, wanting to say something but the words kept getting lodged in his throat. He suspected that he wouldn't be able to stop crying if he started talking, so he didn't, because his dad wasn't crying either. Elizabeth still had her head tucked firmly in Kurt's collar, eyes shut and ears flat on her head. Kurt stared at his shoes instead, until his dad turned off the engine of the car and then there was silence.
"You hungry, kiddo?"
Kurt shook his head.
"Alright. There's ham in the fridge – you know how to make a sandwich right?"
"Right," said Burt gruffly, opening the door then slamming it shut. A moment later, Kurt followed suit while Rose lumbered off the back of the truck to follow Burt inside. Wind whipped stray leaves around Kurt's ankles, and the walk up to the front door had never seemed so wrong before.
Stopping on the threshold, Kurt said, voice plaintive:
"Dad? I want mom."
His dad paused, one hand on the doorway to the living room. His black tie was already off, draped over one of the dining room chairs. He sighed, and Kurt remembered the sensation of breathlessness, the feeling that someone had taken hold of his chest and was squeezing until he ached deep inside. The kitchen was empty, but his mother's apron was still hung on its usual hook by the fridge. Her glossy cook books (photographs of cupcakes and fancy desserts which Kurt loved to look through, smearing the paper with flour) were still on the shelf, one open near the bread bin. The CD player still had her CD in it, Kurt was sure of it. And because there was such overwhelming evidence, Kurt said again;
"I want mom."
"Goddamit, Kurt," snapped his dad, voice suddenly too loud, making Kurt start, "we went through this – your mother's not here anymore!"
Elizabeth let out a pitiful noise, muffled against Kurt's shoulder. Kurt tried to blink away tears, but his vision blurred with them. He sniffed, rubbing his hand over his eyes.
Then quietly, Rose padded across the kitchen. The next thing Kurt knew, he was enveloped in thick, warm fur that smelt like the comfy chair in the living room, his dad's jacket and felt like homehomehome. The shock of it startled him into silence, tears frozen on his cheeks. He could feel the rumbling, deep and familiar, as Rose tucked him into her embrace. She was very warm, her fur soft against his cheek. Rose stared at Elizabeth – a pair of big brown eyes to a pair of small blue ones.
His dad was standing, frozen in the door way.
For a long moment, nothing stirred except the muffled sound of the clock in the living room.
Then Burt crossed the room with a heavy sigh, extracting Kurt from Rose's embrace and holding him tight in his own.
"Let's bake some cookies or something," said Burt, one hand running soothing patterns across Kurt's back as Kurt cried messily into his father's suit jacket, "The ones you made last time with mom. They were pretty fantastic. Hey now, stop the waterworks. Come on. You know, I think I spotted some chocolate chips in the pantry the other day. Should we try those?"
Kurt didn't remember making the cookies. But he remembered his dad settling down at the kitchen table with Kurt in his lap, all elbows and knees. He could feel Rose, a comforting presence in the room – he could always feel Rose from that day onwards. He remembered Elizabeth licking his father's hand, tentatively. He remembered his dad's voice, rumbling low and soothing; being slowly lulled to sleep.