OF A SOUL
"And the great difference is that innocence can't be wise, but wisdom can't be innocent."
The summer stretched long. Afternoons were spent walking through the pages of glossy magazines, lounging with the music playing and chess pieces between his fingers. But like malt candy, golden and liquid on warm afternoons, the days thinned until all that was left was a dab of sugar and stickiness on the pad of one's thumb. New Directions had not won regionals. Burt had not decided to take a vacation. Lima had not changed (except for the colour of the grass and the smell of rain in the morning).
Elizabeth had not settled.
But the thing that was irritating Kurt most right now was Jacob Israel's stupid afro bobbing at his shoulder, brandishing a tacky microphone. His daemon, a scruffy looking raven with two beady eyes, cawed and flapped about their heads while Elizabeth bared her feline teeth.
"When will you glee clubbers accept that people hate you-"
"- because you are nothing more than a glorified karaoke club-"
"Go away. Go away." said Kurt, lengthening his stride. The raven swooped down low, but then swerved back up towards the ceiling when Elizabeth lashed out with one paw. Kurt smiled. It was a good thing he was wearing a jacket that made him look utterly badass when he powerwalked. Not every jacket had a cut this fine. Jacob, however, was not deterred.
"- designed to squander people out of millions of dollars?"
Bathroom! Kurt shoved open the door. Unfortunately in his haste, it was the Men's bathroom and Jacob simply followed him right in, shoving the microphone in Kurt's face.
"Oh for god's sake-!"
Elizabeth had evidently had enough. She shifted dramatically into a sabre tooth tiger, teeth glinting. Kurt was sure that sabre tooth tigers were not supposed to be as big as a small pony. She snarled, showing Jacob every one of her teeth and he leapt back. To Kurt's disappointment, he didn't drop the microphone, instead changing tack:
"So I see your daemon has once again failed to settle," said Jacob, voice wobbling only slightly when Elizabeth growled. The kid with the camera standing behind Jacob's shoulder took a step back, looking ready to run. Jacob ploughed on.
"Did you know that there is a betting poll on my blog? 34% of the school say never."
Kurt blinked, trying to school his expression into something condescending, something blank. But there was a unpleasant, burning sensation just below his heart. It made him hesitate and Jacob seemed to take encouragement from the silence.
"How do you feel about the consequences of your chosen lifestyle?" asked Jacob, eyebrows waggling obscenely and that was when Kurt snapped.
Elizabeth leapt forwards with an almighty roar, making Jacob squeal and leap backwards into a line of lockers. A girl behind him tripped over the mic and the kid dropped his camera with fright. It hit the floor with a resounding crack.
"You know what?" said Kurt, pulling himself up to his full height so he could stare down at Jacob, "It doesn't take much courage for people to post anonymous comments online, does it? Tell your readers: Next time, say it to my face."
With all the viciousness given to an extinct ice-age predator, Elizabeth tore the camera into pieces. The crack and shattering of plastic and glass was loud in the corridor, punctuated by Jacob whimpering. A few moments passed.
"Are you quite done?" Kurt asked. The tiger paused – there was something shiny between her teeth. Then she spat it out, and swept the debris aside with her tail. Kurt straightened his cuffs, stepped over what remained of Jacob's camera and continued to his English class, Elizabeth by his side. He passed Azimio and Karofsky, who were each holding a tall cup of red slushie. Out of the corner of his eye, Kurt saw them glance hesitantly at Elizabeth, then at the cowering Jacob by the lockers.
The slushies remained in their cups.
The first live musical Kurt ever saw was "The Sound Of Music", when he was six. It was also the only live musical that Burt had gone to. Kurt's mother had took them all to the local community theatre, where the Sound of Music sing-along was to be performed. Kurt had worn a suit (jacket and all) plus a black bowtie – and not the clip on kind, the proper ones that took him ages to learn how to tie up. He had listened to the CD on loop so he would be properly prepared to sing. His mom had even handed him an old, but still glossy, programme from one of the past performances to look at.
Their seats weren't great; the three of them had to sit next to the aisle because Rose was too big to sit on Burt's lap like Elizabeth. And there was a lady with a lot of hair who obscured part of the stage. And Kurt couldn't really hear himself sing since a family of six (all girls with corn-silk plaits) were singing very enthusiastically in the row behind them.
But Kurt could hear his mom singing, her words prompting him when he forgot the lyrics. And that's probably why he bought the tickets without a second thought, as soon as he saw the advertisement online.
"Yes!" he exclaimed, grabbing Elizabeth off his pillow and giving her and tight hug. She yowled in protest, though knew better than to scratch his blazer.
"I'm guessing you got a good seat," she said, jumping onto the table beside Kurt's laptop. "Hurry up though, we'll be late for school."
"Perfect seats," said Kurt, beaming, "It's going to be awesome. I told Mercedes about it and she's going to come along."
"Oh good," said Elizabeth. She walked around to the back of the laptop, then used both her paws to push the lid down. "I get embarrassed when you sing over the top of the performers."
Kurt rolled his eyes, slipping the laptop into his bag and pulling on his boots.
"I hardly sing over them."
"You sing all the wrong parts!"
"Now that's just being narrow minded," said Kurt, without any real heat. He swung the bag over his shoulder, holding out his arms so Elizabeth could jump into them and avoid having to climb the stairs. He flicked off the basement lights, still unable to keep the grin off his face.
As they passed through the kitchen on the way to the door, however, Kurt paused at the sight of the covered plate by the sink. He sighed, fingering the keys in his pocket.
"Dad forgot his breakfast," he said, frowning, "Again."
Elizabeth peered over the top of his arms.
"And I made that first thing in the morning too."
"What about your own breakfast?" asked Elizabeth, pointedly.
Kurt pointed to his bag.
"Coach Sylvester has us all on strict diets. I'm going to eat the celery before class. But first, we have to make a detour to the garage."
Elizabeth wrinkled her nose, ears flicking back in disgust.
"I hate celery."
"It's good for you!" said Kurt, shutting the door behind them.
"It's not good for cats."
"You're not actually a cat."
"I like fresh bagels."
"Are bagels good for cats?"
Elizabeth sulked all the way to the garage.
As expected, his dad was already in his overalls, working on a car when Kurt arrived. Rose padded over to greet him, a familiar gentle growl rumbling in her chest. Kurt gave her a smile, then turned to Burt who had his back to the garage door.
"Hey, there's my boy," said Burt, spinning one of the wheels. Then turned around when Kurt thrust a brown paper bag at him.
"You forgot your breakfast," he admonished, "Susanne Summers says that skipping breakfast is suicide."
Burt took the proffered bag and looked inside. Kurt steeled himself.
"Where's my usual breakfast?" asked Burt, looking a little crestfallen at the healthy, organic and quality breakfast Kurt had prepared. Kurt was going to be unimpressed because someone had to be responsible and look after his dad's health. He was going to be responsible and not give into feeding his father junk food.
"A coke and two slim jims?" he said, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, the breakfast of champions," said Burt, frowning.
"Dad. You're not a kid anymore. You have to start taking care of yourself."
"I guess with enough hot sauce, this would be alright," said Burt at last, dropping the bag onto the workbench.
"Enough hot sauce," muttered Kurt, eyeing the tools and stray pieces of paper around the bench. He wondered if he could locate the bottle of said hot sauce and confiscate it in time for first period. Picking up a dismantled rear-view mirror, Kurt inspected his teeth for any breakfast. Then he checked his coif. Perhaps he needed to visit his locker and his emergency hair-spray later.
"…remember that Friday night dinner is six instead of seven this week."
On the floor by Rose's feet, Elizabeth stilled.
He put down the mirror.
"…I can't do this Friday," said Kurt, apologetic, "Sing along Sound of Music at the theatre. It's a once a year event."
"Friday night dinners aren't just important. They're sacred." Kurt swallowed hard, his stomach knotting itself together slowly at the disappointed expression on his father's face. "The whole point of having something scared is that it takes precedence over everything else."
"Well the Sound of Music is sacred to me!" said Kurt, feeling a flush creep up his cheeks, the way it always did when he felt guilty.
"I know it is! Wasn't I the one who bought you that Maria bonnet when you were six?"
The bonnet which was sitting on its own partitioned shelf in Kurt's walk-in wardrobe. The Maria bonnet. Kurt almost smiled just at the thought of it. His mom had said he looked precious. His thoughts were brought sharply back to earth.
"The point is, if you start giving up stuff like Friday night dinners, then you've got nothing to hold on to. Let's face it Kurt, if we don't schedule it, we don't out. If we don't hang out, then our lives – they just go right by each other. And we don't share very much."
Not like you and Finn, said a little voice at the back of Kurt's mind. And it hurt, not because his dad thought so, but because it was probably true. He glanced away, trying to stamp down on the jealousy and hurt welling up inside his chest. Maybe he should have gotten his dad something he liked for breakfast instead. He wondered if his dad would have had the same reaction if Kurt had declared he wanted to go to a Friday night football game instead of a musical sing-along.
"I'm sorry," he said at last, "But I'm not giving up something I've looked forward to all year just for another dinner." Pushing himself off the edge of the workbench, he made his way to open door of the garage where his car was currently parked. "Maybe we could do it dinner on Thursday or something."
There was a moment of silence. It made Kurt's steps falter to a stop.
"I gotta tell you Kurt," said Burt at last, turning around, "I'm real disappointed in you."
Kurt inhaled sharply: the words felt like a slap to the face. His dad's disappointment was a wash of emotion which tugged at Kurt in a sick, heavy sensation. In the end, he couldn't think of anything to say. So he exhaled slowly, then turned on his heels and continued walking towards his car. He hands had just touched the door handle when he felt a painful tug inside his chest.
"Elizabeth!" he snapped, "Come."
And it was another moment before his daemon left Rose's side, reluctantly trailing Kurt into the car. The uncomfortable tugging sensation faded as Elizabeth drew closer. They were going to be late.
At this point in time, Kurt had no way of knowing how he would be almost too late.
"Who can tell me the difference between first and second degree Anima Tactus. Mr. Anderson?"
Like most teachers at Dalton, Ms. Aston was demanding of her pupils. Talking, slacking and general inattention was not tolerated. However she was known to be particularly strict, and Blaine had been following the lesson with his textbook and notebook spread across the width of the desk in front of him. Even so, getting his name called always gave him an uncomfortable lurching feeling somewhere in his chest. Audrey helpfully planted a paw next to the relevant paragraph on the page in front them and Blaine managed to glance down quickly and scan the sentence. He cleared his throat.
"Typically first degree Anima Tactus is defined to be below five seconds of contact time… whereas second degree is much longer…?"
"Correct," she said, "Though of course only partially. Time can only measure a very small fraction of the true extent of Anima Tactus, because other psychological influences are often much more important. And that, gentlemen, is why there is an entire office of the Magisterium that deals with the definition of Anima Tactus and its offences. Medical professionals are required, under the law, to file any known cases of Anima Tactus. Who can tell me under which circumstances is Anima Tactus classified as an offence? Mr. Cooper?"
Beside Blaine, Wes was sitting in a way that was a strange combination of a straight-backed sprawl. He tilted his head to the side, spinning a monogrammed silver pen between his fingers.
"When the question of consent comes into play," he answered promptly, "Under the 1982 Act for the Protection of Souls, Anima Tactus can only be prosecuted when it is non-consensual. Non-consensual Third degree is a capital offense in most of the Magisterium States in Europe, except Switzerland and Norway. There is a call for amendment for second degree cases of Anima Tactus: a necessary step seeing as duration is hardly an accurate measurement for consent, no matter how scientific."
The teacher paused, and Blaine could tell she was impressed – though not really surprised. No one in the class was surprised, not when it came to Wes and legislation. Audrey nosed at the open textbook until the page flipped over.
"He sounds like a robot when he starts talking about stuff like that," whispered Audrey conspiratorially. Then he ducked his head behind Blaine's hand when Messina, Wes' hawk daemon, turned her head sharply to the right. Blaine snorted, glancing at Wes and then put his hand up. Ms. Aston nodded towards him, and he took it was permission to speak.
"Necessary?" Blaine echoed, "If consent has been given, Anima Tactus is hardly a capital offence, is it?"
"It's your soul, Blaine," said Wes, shifting in his seat so they were face to face, "to contact another's soul is neither normal nor psychologically healthy. The fact that only Third Degree cases can be formally trialled is absolute bullshi-"
Blaine was starting to feel a familiar irritation beneath his skin.
"Studies have shown that the act of Anima Tactus are not negative, contrary to popular belief – it strengthens emotional relationships for example. Are you saying that all cases should go to trial? Really?"
"What I'm saying," said Wes, slowly, drawing the words out, "Is that non-consensual cases of Anima Tactus: regardless of S.S defined degree, should be treated with the same severity. It's rape."
And really, that dig at his parents was just too much.
"Alright, gentlemen," interrupted Ms. Aston, before things could spiral out of control, "This will be a debate for another day. In the meanwhile, we are going to study the consequences of first and second degree Anima Tactus for the next few lessons, firstly from a scientific perspective then the sociological and ethical implications. I want you all to turn to page seventy two and read the relevant chapter before Wednesday-" the bell rang outside in the corridor, "-dismissed!"
There was a flurry of blazers and the scraping of chairs across wooden floor as Blaine's classmates made a barely-dignified dash for lunch.
"I love how Dalton allows us to research and debate social taboo in class," said David, snapping his textbook shut. At the tense silence between his two friends, he glanced from Wes to Blaine then back again before saying, "Well. When I say us, I mean you two."
"If Blaine refrains from bringing in his obvious bias, I will attempt not to verbally slam him to the ground," said Wes, in a tone that suggested he was only half joking. He tucked his own, unopened, books into his bag and slung it over his shoulder.
"Excuse me if the Spiritus Sancti are employed by the Magisterium to, oh I don't know," said Blaine, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice, "provide expert advice and study in this very area. There needs to be a clear, scientific way of measuring-"
"-soul rape?" interjected Wes, before Blaine could finish.
"I wish you'd stop saying that word," David complained.
"Biology is not the place for your father's legislative reforms," said Blaine, bluntly. On his knee, Audrey stiffened, the swaying of his tail freezing mid-swing.
"Blaine, give it a rest-" he said, paws tucked primly beneath his chin.
"Legislative- seriously guys. Let's not start this again," said David.
"Oh don't take everything so personally," said Wes. He smiled, the expression tugging at the corner of his mouth as he held out his hand for Messina. The hawk leapt gracefully onto his wrist, talons digging into the leather cuff there.
Blaine opened his mouth, but Audrey sunk his small claws into the leg of Blaine's uniform pants and he almost kicked the leg of the table. Neither Wes nor David seemed to notice his hiss of pain, however, and Audrey only stared back defiantly when Blaine gave him an accusing glare.
"Wes just doesn't want you to cramp his style," said David in a mock whisper, "Bloody know-it-all."
The know-it-all in question punched David on the shoulder with his free hand, and just like that, the bubble of tension broke. David laughed, too loud like he always did, and slung an arm around Wes' shoulder. Blaine rolled his eyes, stuffing his books into his bag and following his friends out of the classroom.
"Come on," said Wes, "I think it's pasta for lunch. We can debate the ethics of daemons after that."
"Orrrrrrrr we can play guitar hero in my room," said David.
Blaine shook his head.
"Sheet music for the Warblers – that new arrangement Matt came up with?"
Wes made an aborted gestured with one hand, but didn't pause as they rounded the corner and through the double doors of the dining hall.
"Oh- yeah. Let's sort that out first then, I've actually got a copy with me. Blaine, I need you to look over the tenor part because I'm not all that sure about distribution."
Politics bled through Dalton like water soaking the skin. At first glance, it wasn't so obvious. But sometimes, Blaine felt like it was slowly suffocating him, a wall that invariably divided the student body. He looked across the hall at the sea of blue and red, animals (mostly domestic ones, the odd exotic snake in their midst) trailing their human counterparts. Souls.
He reached up to his shoulder and Audrey nuzzled the palm of his hand.
It had become so bad that even the glimpse of a letterman jacket would make him tense up in anticipation of a cold slushie or a bone-jarring locker slam. Sometimes both. He would catch himself stepping sideways, adverting his eyes…and immediately feel the hot flush of shame on his cheeks.
It didn't stop Kurt from walking the corridors with his head held high. But the strap of his bag was becoming permanently scrunched from how hard he gripped it, ripples dark as if engraved in the leather. He dreaded every ring of the bell, every slam of the locker doors and most of all he resented his dad for making him feel so guilty about going to the Sound of Music. That guilt was probably the reason why, instead of morphing into a giant predatory animal like she usually did, Elizabeth only leapt out of the way as Karofsky shoulder slammed Kurt into the nearest row of lockers as he was walking to French.
"Out of my way, homo!" Azimio called over his shoulder, and he exchanged a high-five with Karofsky. Their laughter was exaggerated, too loud for his ringing head as Kurt propped himself up into a more dignified sitting position. His back hurt, and there was the coppery taste of blood in his mouth. He touched his jaw gingerly – there was going to be a bruise.
Elizabeth darted back towards him, feline eyes large and yellow.
"Thanks for that," Kurt snapped, not in the mood to be understanding, "Love the support."
"Are you okay?"
Kurt stood up slowly, keeping one hand on the cool metal lockers as a means of support. He had been locker-slammed almost on a daily basis this year, but the ringing in his head was particularly obnoxious today. Maybe he had hit the lockers harder than he thought.
The floor tilted slowly beneath his feet. Kurt blinked hard, fumbling for his bag and pulling it back onto his shoulder.
"We're going to be late for French," Kurt said, tilting his own head to the right. Perhaps that would make the floor a little straighter, instead of slanting like one of those puzzle-house museums. Visual illusions. He forced himself to start walking. The corridor was still full of students scrambling to get to their next class, and someone bumped into Kurt, making him stumble.
And then the pain hit him.
It was a crushing fist that tightened around his heart and somehow squeezed all the air out of his lungs at the same time. For a moment, he thought it was Elizabeth, sulking, guilty, unhappy Elizabeth punishing him by refusing to stay close. But this wasn't the uncomfortable feeling of distance – it was a wave of panic and confusion that made Kurt's vision darken to grey.
When had the floor become so close to his face?
Vaguely, Kurt registered hands on his shoulders, blond hair and a letterman jacket. He tried to flinch backwards but he wasn't sure if he had even moved.
"Hey. Hey, are you okay? Dude someone get a teacher!"
"What's going o- the fuck? Hummel?"
With great effort, Kurt managed to move his hand, trying to feel for Elizabeth's familiar warmth beside him. It was hard without any light. Who turned off all the lights in the middle of the school day?
"I'm going to beat the shit out of Karofsky-!"
Was that Puck? It sounded like Puck. Kurt tried to hold on to consciousness, but it was hard without any air: couldn't they tell he was suffocating?
"Okay what is-"
"Mr. Schue – I just found him like-"
"Where is that fucker? This is so out of line-"
Kurt gave up, and the grey faded to black.
Waking was easy. Breathing was not.
Kurt blinked at the light reflecting off the cream curtains. He took in the sterile, white walls and the pale blue hospital sheets covering him. The metal bars at the end of his bed looked cold to touch. He experienced a moment of panic, heartbeat racheting up until he noticed Elizabeth curled up on the bed next to him. There was a blue towel beneath her – presumably someone had carried her in.
He was in a hospital, that much was obvious.
It hurt to move. It was a strange sensation; the pain was like a phantom pain, lodged behind his throat and somewhere in his chest. He tried to move his fingers – and after a few long moments, Kurt managed to bring his hand up so he could place his palm over Elizabeth. She was still a cat, small and skinny, flank rising and falling slightly in tandem to the flutter of a heartbeat.
It took another moment for Kurt to realise what was wrong –
"Beth?" he said, voice hoarse from disuse. He shook his daemon gently, but Elizabeth didn't open her eyes. "Elizabeth, wake up."
She lay still, barely breathing.
Something was beeping faster and faster. It was one of the machines. Kurt wished it would stop, the sound was making his head hurt and why was Elizabeth unconscious?
Suddenly the door to the room opened and several people entered in a flurry of activity. A doctor in a white lab-coat stopped by Kurt's side.
"What happened? Why is my daemon not – What's wrong with her?"
"Mr. Hummel, you must calm down," a hand on his chest pushed Kurt gently but firmly back onto the bed, "Your daemon should be fine for the moment."
"Then why is she-"
"I will explain everything in a moment – please just calm down, it's very important. Take slow breaths – in, out."
Kurt tried to obey, pushing the confusion to the back of his mind and concentrated on breathing through his nose. He held his breath for a couple seconds, before letting it out slowly, forcing his own heart to slow down. He rubbed his eyes with his free hand, the other still clutching Elizabeth. He tried to match his breathing to her heartbeat, counting them out in his head like a mantra.
"That's good," said the doctor. A nurse handed Kurt a plastic cup of water, and he took it with unsteady hands. He could feel the cold water travel all the way down his throat when he swallowed. Elizabeth didn't stir.
"What happened?" Kurt asked again, propping himself up on his elbows, glaring at the nurse who made to push him back down onto the bed.
There was a long pause.
"Your father had a heart attack," he said at last.
The words made Kurt's own heart stop. His hand froze where it had been stroking Elizabeth's fur.
The man looked down at the clipboard in his hands. It was probably just to avoid looking at Kurt.
"It was brought on by arrhythmia."
It was like someone had pulled the earth out from under his feet all over again; the room swaying dangerously out of focus for one brief minute. Then, in a voice he didn't recognise as his own;
"Is he dead?"
Oh god. Not again. Not againnotagainnotaga-
"No," said the doctor, "he isn't. But-"
Kurt pushed himself upright, ignoring the dizzying sensation of the blood rushing away from his head.
"I want to see him."
"He isn't conscious right now… the lack of oxygen to his brain was what made him lose consciousness. Mr. Hummel, are you aware that neither you nor your father has been listed as Anima Tactii?"
"Please," said Kurt, through the roaring in his ears. The words hurt coming out of his throat, "I want to see him please."
He tried to slide his legs over the edge of the bed, but this time the doctor actually took hold of his shoulders and pushed him back down onto the bed.
"Mr. Hummel – you collapsed at school minutes after someone rang the hospital for your father. That reaction alone is indicative of Second Degree-"
Kurt shook his head.
"I don't understand what you're saying. Can I just see him? I just want to see-"
But the doctor pressed on, glancing worriedly at the heart monitor that was beeping faster with each moment that separated Kurt and his father – he just wanted to see his with his own eyes that his dad was alive.
"- which means that any heightened stress on your part could very well have a negative effect on your father's condition!"
That made Kurt freeze. For a long, long moment, he could only stare up blankly. Dad. Kurt counted Elizabeth's heartbeat beneath his fingers, willing it to slow, to steady. He gathered her limp body from the towel on the bed and clutched her close to his chest, trying not to panic. If he panicked-
"When is he going to wake up?" Kurt asked, finally, voice barely above a whisper.
The doctor, seemingly satisfied that Kurt wasn't about to attempt to get up anytime soon, stepped back a little from the bed. His expression was still so sombre, the kind that adults wore when they told you that your mother wasn't coming home with you because she was dead.
"I don't know," said the doctor. "His condition is critical, but stable for the moment. It is too risky to conduct any Contact tests between the two of you, but I think it is safe to say that the bond is sufficiently high to illicit such an Echo. You went into shock soon after your father's heart attack – it was a delayed reaction, but considering the distance between the two of you at the time...It's rem- worrying. You've been unconscious for over a day."
The doctor consulted his notes.
"Definitely second degree. What do you know of Anima Tactus, Mr. Hummel?"
It was strange to have Elizabeth so still. It was wrong and jarring like a phantom pain just below the heart. It was like part of Kurt had been ripped away; leaving a raw, numb emptiness behind. Kurt wondered if he would feel it if his dad died. He wondered if he would die too.
"Mr. Hummel? When did the act of contact happen?"
Kurt stroked Elizabeth's head, where it lay against his shoulder. Her ears were velvet soft.
"It's none of your business," he said without looking up.
"On the contrary, I am legally bound to investigate any instances of Anima Tactus," said the doctor, sounding apologetic, "It's rare Mr. Hummel, you must know, especially one to this degree. Who initiated contact?"
Kurt wondered if any of the Glee Club knew he was in hospital. Perhaps they were sitting outside right now, Mercedes demanding to come in, demanding to know what happened. Puck had been there, hadn't he? Had he gone after Azimio and Karofsky? Kurt could see him now, slouched in a plastic chair, knuckles bruised, a smug grin on his face. Mr. Schue pacing the waiting room. Maybe Carol was here.
Elizabeth felt small and fragile in his arms, and for the first time, Kurt wished she would shift into a bird, a lioness – anything. Anything at all, just to show him she was alright. But asides from the thread pulse at her throat and the rise and fall of her ribs, his daemon was limp and still in his hands.
"I was eight," said Kurt finally, "after my mother's funeral. Rose hugged me."
The sound of pen on paper. Someone poured water into a cup, and a door slammed in the distance. Kurt stared at Elizabeth.
"Why won't she wake up?"
The doctor paused in his writing. Then he pulled the bedside chair closer to Kurt and sat down. Kurt moved backwards instinctively, the pity in the doctor's expression making him cringe. He clutched Elizabeth tighter, her fur pressed to his skin.
"Eight is a pretty young age," said the doctor, "Though we have never seen a case like this before, I think the time has allowed the bond to strengthen exponentially since the Contact. Your daemon is…linked, and so are you, by extension. I don't know why exactly – but I can only conclude that as Anima Tactii, the physiological effects of the bond has manifested itself in your daemon. That is to say, until your father recovers, your daemon may also remain unconscious."
And if he died-
"I want to see him," said Kurt quietly.
It was a moment before the doctor nodded. He got up from the chair, clipboard tucked beneath one elbow.
It was another moment before Kurt realised that his face was damp with tears, and that he had been crying.
"Dad? Squeeze my hand if you can hear me."
Beside the white hospital bed, Rose lay on the floor. She was very still, apart from her breathing. Rose looked like she was just sleeping, the rise and fall of her back matching that of the little cat who lay curled at the foot of the bed. The only way Kurt knew his father was breathing was because he could hear each laboured breath through the plastic tubes.
"Just squeeze my hand."
A clock ticked out an unsteady rhythm on the wall opposite the door, like a metronome left to run in a deserted choir room after the music had long since gone. Keeping his fingers tucked in his father's hand, Kurt knelt down beside his father's daemon, heart lodged in his throat. Tentatively, he placed his hand in the bear's thick fur. He pushed against her shoulder.
But Rose remained sleeping, even when Kurt pushed a little harder.
Kurt remained in the hospital that night. He stayed all day, curled up beside Rose and refusing to leave, ignoring Mr. Schuester and Miss Pillsbury when they arrived. He thought he heard Mercedes voice, amongst others outside the hospital room, but he couldn't be sure. Kurt was too afraid to sleep, afraid to leave the room, too afraid to witness something he couldn't live through, yet terrified of not being there when it happened. If it happened. If.
Rose flickered into nothingness at three o'clock in the morning.
Kurt didn't stop screaming until she had reappeared in a static rush of beeping from the heart-monitor. Dimly he was aware of someone gripping his shoulders, please, calm, sedation. Suddenly, there were too many people in the room, the fluorescent lights hurting his eyes. But the beeping went on, drumming a mantra into Kurt's skull.
Exhausted, he passed out from where he was curled up next to Rose.
When Kurt woke again, it was to a completely unfamiliar living room.
For a moment, he panicked, hands flying out. He sat bolt upright when he couldn't find Elizabeth anywhere, and the movement dislodged a thick blanket that had been tucked around his shoulders. In the light reflecting off the tall glass cases all around the walls, he finally made out the lump beside him: it was Elizabeth, still unconscious, curled up in a nest of blankets. Instinctively, Kurt lifted her up until she was cradled close to his chest. Only then did he take a good look at his surroundings.
He was in a small living room, sitting on a pull-out couch that had been serving as his makeshift bed. There was a brass clock hanging on the wall. Every other inch was obscured by tall wood-and-glass cabinets that held glittering gold and silver trophies of every shape a size. The room light was off, but a sliver of light painted a bright stripe across the carpet from a door left ajar. Faintly, Kurt could smell something cooking.
"…hello?" he tried, then cleared his throat. It was dry as sandpaper. "Hello?"
The sound of a lid being placed on a pot, then footsteps.
"Lady, you're awake," said Sue Sylvester.
Kurt blinked in confusion.
It was completely disorienting to see Sue Sylvester out of her coach uniform of red and white. Her clothing was completely nondescript; a shirt and comfortable looking sweatpants. Kurt blinked some more. The eagle perched on Sue's shoulder stared at him with an unwavering gaze.
"Is this…? What am I doing here?"
"You're here because, under my extensive rights as the greatest cheerleading coach ever to have lived, I am now your temporary guardian. That is to say, I get to tell you what to do and you must do it. Drink this glass of water."
Kurt took the proffered glass in one hand, the other still clutching Elizabeth. After a pause, he took a sip.
"Officially you are a crippled child. It would be a crime to leave you to fend for yourself: you'll probably burn the house down. You're staying with me. When your father gets better, you can move back into whatever box you live in."
Kurt took another sip of water, trying to hide the tears prickling behind his eyes. He swallowed hard and managed the first smile in what felt like months.
"Thank you," he said, voice wavering only a little, "For saying when. Not If."
There was a long pause.
Then Sue said, in a tone of voice Kurt had never heard her use before;
"Alright. I'm going to feed you now, so you don't die of malnutrition. No- stay right where you are."
And with that, she swept out of the room. Kurt could hear the clatter of cutlery and a few minutes later Sue reappeared, holding a tray laden with something that smelled like chicken soup. Sue Sylvester making chicken soup. Under any other circumstances, Kurt probably would have been more surprised.
Sue pulled out a sturdy looking coffee table, setting it close to the arm of the sofa. She slid the tray onto the polished wooden table-top, then brandished a large silver spoon in Kurt's face.
"Right. Do I need to feed you?"
Kurt shook his head quickly. Then regretted it when the room spun, floor tilting a little before balancing back into a straight line.
"No," he said, then: "Thank you."
"It's organic, gourmet cuisine," said Sue. And because she was watching him so intently, Kurt took a large spoonful of soup. The taste was overwhelming; at once delicious and nauseating. He realised he was starving. He took another spoonful.
"..two Michelin stars, you know," Sue was saying, "Not that I get to exercise my culinary talents very often anymore, what with my blooming political career."
Her daemon had migrated from Sue's shoulder to a conveniently placed perch near the back of the sofa. Kurt was very aware of the eagle behind him as he worked his way through the bowl of soup. To be fair, it did taste fabulous.
"I didn't know you liked cooking," he said, in between mouthfuls.
Sue regarded him with an indescribable expression.
"Well, it's not so much a passion as a necessary skill. My parents were highly skilled Nazi hunters, you know – hardly ever home. I cooked for my sister."
Kurt nodded along, taking another spoonful of soup until the spoon scraped the bottom of the bowl. It was slow, eating one handed, but he didn't want to let go of Elizabeth. She hadn't woken, hadn't stirred, and Kurt couldn't shake the fear that was a constant presence in his mind. The silence was deafening.
"We can make a trip tomorrow to get your things," said Sue, "Though not your entire girly wardrobe, thank you."
Kurt nodded again. He place the spoon carefully by the bowl, the adjusted Elizabeth so that her head rested at the crook of his neck. This way, he could feel her little puffs of breath, her heartbeat resting above his own. He wondered if she would ever wake; and if she did, would she have settled? She had been in this form for more than two days now, a small cat with white socks. Kurt couldn't tell if he felt any different; he was still numb, mind tired with worry.
"Can we go to the hospital in the morning?" he asked quietly.
There was a pause.
"Yes," said Sue – and the tenderness in her voice made Kurt look up – "Of course we can." Her daemon made a strange, crooning sound from its perch.
"Okay," said Kurt.
"But you're not going back to school," said Sue. Kurt frowned, eyebrows furrowing in confusion.
"What? But I have to go-"
"Nonsense. It's far too dangerous with your daemon out of commission like that. No, you're staying here, nursing your health-"
"- so that both you and your father can make a speedy recovery. Do you hear?"
Kurt buried his nose between Elizabeth's ears.
"Yes Coach," he said. Sue smiled, the expression curling the side of her mouth.
"Too right," she said, gathering up the tray with its bowl and used up napkin. "Now take another nap. It's only six – I'll wake you in a few hours for more food. You look like a starving poster child."
Kurt sat up a little straighter.
"If the hospital-"
"I'll wake you straight away," said Sue, "Now nap."
Kurt watched her leave the room, closing the kitchen door with a soft click. The only light came from the gap from under the door; the shadows were velvet soft, lengthening across the living room to brush against Kurt's toes. Slowly, he let himself sink back into the sofa-bed. The pillow smelled new and unfamiliar, the blanket a little heavy on his chest. He clutched Elizabeth close, trying to find comfort in the contact of skin on fur.
"It's so strange without you," he said into the semi-darkness, "It's like I'm suddenly alone in my head."
Elizabeth didn't react. Kurt stroked her ears, blinking back tears.
"Just say something?"
He wished for Elizabeth wake up. He wished it so hard it made his chest ache with it. He wished for her to purr and stretch with a lazy flick of her tail because that would mean his dad was alright, it would mean his dad would stir awake and the doctors would rush into that rectangle-white hospital room, exclamations of relief, Rose would be alright, she wouldn't vanish when Kurt blinked, not like his mother, not like his mum and Sue would wake him up with a small smile to say-
Slowly, Kurt fell asleep, the world going fuzzy around the edges.
There was a quiet rustle of feathers. An eagle blinked his golden eyes, standing watch over the sleeping boy on the sofa.
Author's Notes: Click here for those wondering about Sue's Daemon (yes, your suspicions are correct!). Phew! This chapter was written in bits and pieces all over the place, so I apologise for the choppiness. Coming up next – Kurt+Blaine meet at last! :D I hope you guys are enjoying this not-canon, the plot is just getting started. 3