A/N: thank you to my beta, Ming, and to everyone who commented on the last chapter :) thankfully this update didn't take nearly as long as the last one! Also, I have a tumblr at smooshysushi (dot) tumblr (dot) com, and a livejournal at smooshysushi (dot) livejournal (dot) com, where updates will probably come a little faster. Feel free to come and make friends!
"Okay, are you sure you want to do this? Feel free to back out at any time, I won't blame you. The outside world is a scary, scary place."
Kurt turned, eyed Brynn critically. "Are you trying to freak me out? Quit it. It's not working."
He sighed and shrugged. "Alright then. So...are we going? Anytime soon? Have you packed enough food? Water? Changes of scarves?"
Kurt glared at him. "If I'm leaving my tower for the very first time, I want to look good. Stop rushing me."
"Alright, alright," Brynn sat down heavily in the chair and rested his head on his open hand, "Seriously, though, when are you going to quit clucking? We can stay at inns. It's, like, a day and a half journey. You seriously do not need-are you taking that frying pan? Please don't take the frying pan."
Kurt hefted the frying pan defensively. "It's sturdy. I could attack ruffians with it."
Brynn covered his face with both hands. "Jesus, you speak like you're from a-never mind. Look, are you done?"
"Nearly!" Kurt trilled, whistling and stretching out a hand as Pavarotti finally emerged from his hiding place behind the clock, tweeting and fluttering across the room to land neatly on Kurt's finger.
Brynn straightened, looked at him incredulously. "Are you serious? You're friends with a bird?"
"He's not just a bird," Kurt stroked his pinky lightly over Pav's head, "He's my friend. I've known him for years."
"You've known a-okay. Okay, that's fine." Brynn nodded, "Okay, no, that's fine. But are we-are we going soon?"
Kurt sighed. "Yes, alright, I'm ready now. We can...we can go." Pav hopped up his arm and perched on his shoulder, digging his feet in to stay anchored.
Brynn shot up from his seat. "Awesome. Is there an easier way to get out? Because I couldn't see any stairs when I was..."
"I prefer to use the term acquiring entrance."
Kurt side-eyed him, then spun on his heel and started towards the window. "Not that I know of. Dave always comes in and out of the window, so-"
"Hold up a sec," Brynn followed him, "Who's Dave?"
"Oh, nobody," Kurt felt his heart pang a little at the lie and smiled brightly, "He brings me food and stuff sometimes, uses my hair to get in, so-" he hefted most of it through the hook and pushed the rest through the window, grunting a little with the effort, "Feel free to do the same."
He turned when there was no response, only to find Brynn standing there with his mouth half-open and his eyes fixed somewhere around Kurt's stomach area. "Brynn? Are you alright?"
He blinked, shook his head a little and nodded sharply. "Yes! Yes, fine, just-is that safe? The whole-using your hair as a rope sort of thing. Wouldn't it hurt your neck?"
Kurt side-eyed him again. "No, it's fine. I have strong neck muscles. Look, do you want to climb down with your arroows or do you want to use my hair?"
"Arroows?" Brynn arched an eyebrow, "Do you mean arrows?"
Kurt felt his cheeks go red. "Yes, that's what I said. Arrows." Damn. Just when everything was going well.
"No, you definitely said arroows, I heard you," he grins, "Are you one of those people who pronounces everything really weirdly? I knew one of those when I was a kid."
"No!" Kurt could feel his face heating up, "I just-I don't read aloud, okay? Sometimes I say things wrong. I'm sorry if it offends you." He turned his back and started fussily tucking a few flyaway strands of hair through the hook hanging from the windowframe, willing the blood to leave his cheeks. Brynn shifted awkwardly behind him, said "Look-sorry I upset you. I didn't mean to. It was cute, alright? I thought it was cute. So I pointed it out. I won't do it again."
Kurt relaxed a little, untangled his fists from where they were tangled in his head and smiled as Pav chirped in his ear. "Well, are you using my hair to get out or not?"
Brynn stared at him. "I...okay. Yes. Sure. Are you going to drop and kill me or anything?"
"No! Of course not. Now hurry up, I thought you wanted to leave?"
Brynn inched towards him, stepped up onto the windowsill. "Okay. So do I just hold on and step off, or-"
Brynn's foot slipped and he toppled backwards, grabbing two handfuls of Kurt's hair as he disappeared. Kurt stumbled forwards as his head was jerked towards the window, grabbing onto the frame and sticking his head out to scan the ground desperately.
"Brynn?" he shouted, "Are you-are you alive?"
"Just barely," he heard Brynn call faintly, "I think I might have broken something."
Kurt bit his lip, glanced around, and tucked his frying pan securely under his arm. "I'm coming down, roll out of the way!" he yelled, twining his arm around his hair and-take a deep breath-leaping, oh dear god I just leaped out of my tower for the very first time in my entire life oh my god wait how do I stop-
"Oh, god," Brynn wheezed, "Oh god, I think you just broke m' ribs. Oh geez, 'm dying."
Kurt rolled off him, ignored his pained groan as the rest of his hair fell out of the window and half of it landed on him, spread-eagled his limbs out on the grass-grass, this is grass, wow, it's scratchier than I thought it would be-and dropped his face to the ground. He inhaled deeply, closed his eyes and fisted his hands, pulling up a clump of grass and crushing it between his fingers.
"Are you done? You're just lying there like a dead person. Quit pulling up grass," Brynn grumbled, poking his ribs with his toe. Kurt sighed, pushed himself up from the ground and picked up his frying pan from where it had fallen, promptly dropping it again to scramble over to the stream running by and coming to a stop knee-deep in water.
"Is this what a stream feels like?" he asked, "Is-it's cold. It's really cold. Is all water this cold?"
"Not everything comes heated, you know," Brynn said dryly, "Are you coming?"
"One second," Kurt closed his eyes and scrunched his toes in the gravel lining the bottom of the stream, then turned and leaped out, grinning. "So we're going?"
"Sure," Brynn nodded slowly, "Out there, through the ivy, I guess-"
Kurt was already running, Pavarotti gliding along beside him, and he crashed through the ivy at top speed-it felt nothing like the fabric he'd cut up and hung from the door frame, sort of rough and then smooth too-and paused to run his hand over a large boulder, stared up at the light filtering green through the trees and the flock of birds wheeling overhead. Pav chirped from his shoulder, launched himself up and away to join them, and Kurt let out a long breath of air.
"I'm finally out," he mumbled breathlessly, "Oh my god, I made it. I'm out."
"Yes, you are," Brynn clapped a hand on his shoulder and squeezed, "Scary, isn't it? Horrible?"
"It's wonderful!" Kurt clasped his hands to his chest, "It's wonderful. It's better than I ever dreamed it could be! This is going to be amazing!"
Twenty minutes later.
"Oh my god, I can't do this," Kurt groaned, flopping down on the ground, "I can't, I feel-this is horrible, look, I have thorns in my feet!" He plucked helplessly at them and sighed.
Brynn knelt down, began to pick the thorns out of the pale sole of Kurt's foot. "Wanna go home?"
Brynn nodded. "Alright then."
Twenty minutes after that.
"This is the best idea ever!" Kurt yelled, dragging Brynn in a circle and kicking up clumps of grass as he went "Oh my god, I never want to go back! This is-it's so pretty, oh my god, can I live here? Look at the flowers! Do they all smell this good?"
Ten minutes after that.
"This is the worst idea in the world," Kurt whined, dragging his feet after Brynn, "I have grass in my hair. Grass in my hair, Brynn, do you know how long it will take me to get all of that out? It will take me ages! Oh my god, Dave is going to be heartbroken if I'm not there when he gets back..."
"I thought Dave was your vegetable guy or whatever?"
Kurt stumbled and stared at him. "Uh, yeah, no, he is. We-we have a special bond sort of thing. He-he brings me especially nice cucumbers."
Brynn side-eyed him. "Okay. Wanna go back home?"
Some time after that.
"This is beautiful," Kurt breathed, "I love it here. Can we stay?"
Brynn examined his nails, "I thought you wanted to go to the lights?"
Kurt's eyes blew wide. "Oh my god, I nearly forgot. Lets go, lets go, hurry up-!"
He froze in his tracks as a nearby bush rustled menacingly, as if someone was about to jump through it. Squeaking in fear, he scrambled to leap behind Blaine, his foot catching on Blaine's knee and pulling them both over.
"What is it?" he shrieked, "What is it? A thug? Ruffians? What-"
A small, fluffy rabbit hops out of the bush, twitches its nose at them, and continues across the path and into the undergrowth on the other side.
"Wow," Brynn said eventually, "Have you ever actually left your tower or do you just put that stuff on for laughs?"
"It gave me a fright," Kurt grumbled, "Just-can we hurry up? This place is creeping me out."
"Okay, then," Brynn slung an arm around Kurt's shoulder, "Well, I've got the perfect place. It's The Inn, just down the track from here, maybe three hours walk? Quaint place. Filled with...the quaint. They wear blazers and everything."
Kurt perked up. "Blazers?"
"Millions of 'em."
"What's it called?"
"...just the inn?"
"People here are very original."
Brynn squeezed his shoulder again. "Ready to go?"
Kurt nodded. "Okay then. Lead the way."
Roughly one hour earlier.
Dave groaned, swatted another freaking fly away from his face and took another step through the putrid marshland that lay between the border to Dalton and him. He pulled his foot from it with a wet shluck noise and sighed, glanced up at the sky.
God, the things I do for Kurt.
There was a rustling from beside him and he paused, hand falling to the knife he always kept on his belt. Eyeing the bush, he inched towards it, drawing the knife from the sheath a little and-
A horse emerged from the undergrowth, sticks and leaves stuck in its mane and a disgruntled expression on its face. It stuck its neck out, snuffled at him and then shook it's head. He looked down at it's chest, saw with a growing feeling of dread the seal on the harness. A palace horse.
Palace horses never, never come this far out. I've never known it, not once in my life.
Oh, Jesus. Kurt.
Scrambling around, Dave pulled his foot out of the muck hastily and threw himself back towards the land, ignoring the confused look the horse sent his way as he set off at a sprint through the woods.
Panting, Dave drew up to the tower with shaky legs and a dry, aching throat. Doubling over for a moment to catch his breath, he looked up to the darkened window and shouted "Kurt! Kurt? Let down your hair!"
"Oh, for-Kurt! Kurt, let down your hair, please--"
Dave dropped his bag, sprinted around to the side of the tower and tore at the ivy desperately, exposing a blocked-up doorway which had once been a passage up to the tower, frequented by Kurt and that old woman before Dave came to look after him and blocked it up for his own safety. Dragging a loose-looking stone out of its place, he crushed his hand through and tore a few smaller ones out of the wall, slowly but surely demolishing it. Gasping, he ripped the last brick out of the way and shoved himself through the gap, almost tripping over his own feet as he sprinted up the old stone stairs, brushing cobwebs from his face and dragging sharp breaths through his teeth until he reached the top, slamming his fists against the hatch until it burst open.
Hauling himself through, he looked around wildly. The candles were blown out, there was no singing coming from the bedroom, and Kurt's weird dress-holder things hadn't been moved into the middle of the floor like they usually were. It looked mostly the same as it had that morning.
"Kurt?" he called, "Kurt, are you there? Kurt?"
No reply. Dave moved through the tower like a whirlwind, throwing things aside and overturning tables in his desperation to find Kurt. He ripped the curtains away from their bed, threw open the trunk filled with fabrics and nearly took the doors off Kurt's wardrobe ripping them open. And there he found a note in Kurt's neat cursive and a shirt folded neatly on the floor.
Standing, Dave left the room and trudged across the floor, glancing from side to side in an effort to work out where the hell Kurt could have gone apart from out of the tower, he would never go out of the tower-
Blinking, Dave raised a hand against the light shining suddenly against his eyes. Twisting away, he squinted at the crack in the stairs where something bright was reflecting the light from outside. Inching towards it, he shoved up the step that was blocking it and swore as a delicate, intricate crown was revealed.
"Christ," Dave hissed, lifting it up and angling it in the light, "How much would you get for this? A million? Christ."
He reached into the stairs again, withdrew a battered leather satchel. Frowning, he opened it and pulled out a crumpled poster, with a picture of a man with a pair of frankly terrifying eyebrows drawn crudely on the front. Brynn Rider, it read, wanted for thievery, dead or alive. Reward: $100 thousand.
One-hundred-thousand dollars is a lot of money, Dave thought absently, turning the poster over in his hands, before-
What is this doing in our tower? Under the stairs? In a place that I don't know about?
His stomach dropped to somewhere around his toes and he swallowed hard, stood up to look around the trashed room. He could see where things had been removed from their usual spaces, where Kurt's favourite clothes were missing from his wardrobe and the fruit bowl was empty.
No. He wouldn't. He wouldn't leave, not with...he wouldn't. What if he's been captured? That would make sense. But his clothes...and food. And why would a thief leave something like this here? It's safe but...something that would cause a one-hundred-thousand bounty to be put on your head...I wouldn't leave it in a tower in the middle of nowhere. Only an idiot would. An idiot or someone who was planning to return soon after.
And suddenly it all made sense.
Kurt wanted to go to see the lights, Dave said no, but in the space between Dave leaving and returning he found something that he thought would change his mind. But he didn't say it, and then he sent Dave away to Deerfoot or whatever it was called and disappeared, leaving behind a crown and a wanted poster and taking food and clothes with him.
Oh, god, Kurt. You didn't.
Dave dropped his head into his hands, groaned and shook his head. He wouldn't. His Kurt was smart, not about to go running off with some idiot with stupid eyebrows.
He leaped up, grabbed his bag, and stuffed the poster into his pocket.
Just because Kurt wanted to go with him doesn't mean he should have, he thought firmly, I have to do this.
He lowered himself back through the hatch in the floor, trotted down the stairs as fast as he could without falling and climbed back through the hole in the wall, flicking through possible routes through the forest to the city.
Probably best to head to The Inn, take it from there. They'll probably pass through at some point, knowing Kurt he'll be complaining about his feet a half-hour in.
Now, there's something you have to know because I actually sort of forgot to tell you at the beginning. I know in most fairytales the parents are fine, y'know, they mourn their lost child and they hope and they mourn some more and they buy presents every birthday and stack them up in the child's room, and then they build a statue of the child and one day the child comes home safe and sound with frolicking lambs following them and it turns out that a well-meaning wolf stole them and raised them in a hut covered in moss with and ivy chimney and then they wake the wolf in and she dies heroically leaping in front of an arrow to save the child she raised.
This is not most fairytales.
Now when Kurt went missing, you see, it broke his family's heart. His father joined the search parties, rode day and night searching for his child. His mother spent hours hunched over maps, putting pins in the places he could have been, and every birthday they released a lantern in the sky. It became a sort of tradition for the townspeople, and by the time Kurt's fifth birthday came around hundreds of lanterns were being released into the sky every year.
Of course, they never found him. Kurt's kingdom and the kingdom of Dalton were having a-disagreement at the time, and the tower was close enough to the border that the search parties were uncomfortable going near that area, no matter the number of orders from higher-ups. And after a while, the search parties got less frequent, becoming monthly and then six-monthly and then yearly and then, when the queen got sick, they were abandoned all together.
Kurt's mother died when he was eight. He didn't know of course, he wasn't going to know, but she did. The same thing that got her when she was pregnant, except this time there wasn't a cure and there wasn't Kurt and by the time they thought they could fix her she was cold in her bed. It broke his father a lot, more than he'd care to admit, and for a long time the kingdom fell into disrepair.
Things changed around Kurt's tenth birthday. A few of the higher-up military advisers got together and tried to overthrow the king-it didn't work, of course, he might have been mourning but that didn't mean he was stupid. After that he got things back together again, fixed up what was wrong and built a huge mosaic on the side of the castle-his wife and Kurt. He didn't stop looking-they never did, but the searches weren't often and they never went more than a few miles away from the city. To be honest I think they were looking for a body more than they were looking for a child.
When Kurt would have turned sixteen, the king suffered from some kind of illness-to this day I don't know what it was. They brought in the best nurses for round-the-clock care, and that is where he met Carole Hudson. Her husband was dead, as well-died in an ambush carrying goods from the neighbouring kingdom of Carmel. They hit it off immediately-or, as well as two people can when one's sick in a bed. They announced their plans to marry six months later, and with the marriage the king not only gained a new wife but a son as well.
Finn Hudson was-nice, yes, and he was genuine and hopeful but he wasn't the brightest crayon in the pencilcase. Literally. All he ever wore were these hideous puffy brown vests which he swore were a fashion statement in some faraway land, but he got on well enough with the king and though he never quite replaced Kurt-or rather, the idea of him, it's hard to replace something you only knew for a short while-the ache in the king's heart where he missed his wife and his son got a little easier to bear each day.
And so life went on. The lanterns were released without fail, but each year the memory of Kurt got a little fainter, and each year the king went a little longer without wondering where he was.