A/N: A one-shot AU. Kurt went to McKinley, was in glee & all that, but never met Blaine/went to Dalton. Reviews make me smile. Any errors/typos are due to the fact that I started writing this at 5 AM and couldn't wait to put it up.
Disclaimer: I don't own Glee, or Kurt/Blaine. But I do own a camera.
There is something calming about film. Something about standing under dim orange-brown lights, surrounded by chemicals – watching your observations, your creations, come into focus. There's the hope that, after perfectly focusing the grain and countless test strips, something beyond a well-exposed print shows up. Something life-changing, surprising, wonderful.
There are days where Kurt spends hours on end in the darkroom at OSU. Sometimes he'll have to fight for an enlarger, hope the freshmen in Beginning Photography don't mix the developer and the stop tongs like they always do. Other days he'll be alone, the wash sink filled near capacity solely with his prints. He likes those days the best, when he can take up room on the counters outside the darkroom, spread his prints out and mull them over, not worry about anything ruining his freshly-spotted photos. Those days, where he can sit by himself and fuss over details, those days are perfect.
Four years ago, Kurt wouldn't have dreamed of going to OSU for college, wouldn't have given photography a second thought. He was dead set on going to New York, to study fashion or perform on Broadway, spending his days in chic little cafés with Rachel between classes. But his father had had another episode with his heart, not as serious as before, but he wasn't going to take any chances. If something went wrong, Kurt had to be closer than New York. So, he sat at his computer and started planning a college career in Ohio.
Photography wasn't part of the plan. The plan was to take design classes, or music classes, but when he registered there was hardly a selection. Sure, there were classes in his plan available, but when they started at 7 in the morning or ran until 9:30 at night – well, Kurt Hummel might be devoted, but he wasn't going to drive himself insane with crazy hours. The classes could wait until next semester. So he registered for a few general education requirements, and at the behest of his advisor took a class he hadn't thought about before – 35mm Beginning Photography.
Kurt fell in love on the third assignment. It was portraiture, and he shot through eight rolls of film before he realized his budget for the semester didn't really allow for that much film on one assignment. The first four rolls he developed were faces – contact sheets with lines of his friends, his family. He had a few rolls of strangers, some posed and some unaware, and one roll of abstract portraits – the lapels of a jacket, hands warming around a steaming cup of coffee, a set of legs running to catch a bus. He shot another handful of rolls of portraits for his final, and signed up for more advanced photography classes in place of his original plan the next semester.
Kurt had moved out of the dorms the minute he could afford to. His job at a local coffee shop and his on-campus job allowed him enough freedom to rent a tiny apartment near campus with a few other art students, and he relished in the fact that he didn't have to deal with his roommates coming in drunk the night before he had an exam, or someone on the floor blasting the most unmelodious music ever heard on the planet at all hours of the night. Sometimes he and his roommates at the apartment would go out together, but most of the time they all kept to their own lives. Kurt liked it that way.
It was a Wednesday the first time he saw Him.
Kurt was fiddling with the aperture on his new camera, a gift from his father when Kurt had told him about how his film rewind knob was only working some of the time on his old SLR. He was sitting outside at a small coffee shop, taking pictures as strangers walked past or took a sip of their coffee, shooting a test roll to develop before he had another big project in class. A shorter man sat at the table in front of him, blocking his view of an older woman dressed to the nines, storming her way down the street. He frowned at the obstruction, looking up from the viewfinder to find another subject. His eyes locked on the man who sat down in front of him – all dark curls and a long scarf and hazel eyes, absently swirling his coffee with a biscotti and highlighting a passage in a textbook. Kurt stared for a moment before snapping a picture, packing his things, and walking toward his bus stop.
The next day, curls-and-biscotti was at the coffee shop again, sitting in the same spot, this time gazing out at the street as he sipped his coffee. Kurt, camera always out, snapped a few pictures before draining his mocha and hurrying off for the bus.
It became a regular thing – the man would show up at the coffee shop, Kurt would take a picture or two, and then one of them would leave. The first few rolls with Blaine – Kurt had heard his name on the fifth day when his coffee order was ready – were nothing special, maybe a few good prints could come out of them. But by the third or fourth roll, Kurt had been caught. In most of the pictures, he could see that Blaine was looking out of the corner of his eye at the camera.
It was a Monday when Kurt decided to introduce himself.
"Hello, I'm Kurt Hummel and I would like to take some photos of you," he said, gently sliding into the chair next to Blaine.
"What do you call what you've been doing for the past week?" Blaine asked, glancing up from his newspaper with his eyebrow raised.
"Test shots, of course. And it's been two weeks, actually." Kurt said off-handedly while fiddling with the paper sleeve around his coffee.
"Were they any good?"
"I wouldn't be here if they weren't."
They met up outside the coffee shop a week later, Kurt handing Blaine a cup of coffee as he shouldered his old leather camera bag and pointed toward the bus stop. "I've got a grad student friend who's letting me borrow his studio in the photo building. I'm shooting for my final portfolio so I had to jump on the lighting opportunity in there."
Blaine just followed as Kurt led him down the aisle to the middle of the bus, where two long rows of seats faced each other. They sat on opposite sides of the aisle and Kurt started snapping – sometimes Blaine, sometimes other people. He sat his camera in his lap and quieted Blaine when he went to point out Kurt was still hitting the shutter – Kurt liked to see the expressions people let out when they didn't know they were being photographed.
They got off the bus a few miles later and Kurt lead Blaine toward the photo building.
"Why were you taking pictures on the bus like that? Without looking through the camera?" Blaine asked, quiet and still walking behind Kurt.
"It's called shooting from the hip. People like to pose when they feel a camera on them – when they just think I'm holding my camera at my side or in my lap, they act normally, and sometimes I can catch some really interesting shots I wouldn't have ever gotten if I had set them up." Kurt answered, pulling open the door as Blaine walked in the building.
"But how do you focus if you're not looking?"
"I just kind of guess. I checked the light when I took your picture and then sort of fiddled around with some of the settings that should work in that light. Most of them probably won't turn out, but I've seen some really amazing shots come out of things like that. One photographer has an entire photo book about it…"
Blaine didn't ask any more questions as they walked into the borrowed studio lit by the soft morning light through two large windows, and Kurt started shooting.
"Kurt, these are amazing." Blaine said, sitting at their now regularly-shared table at the coffee shop and sorting through a small stack of prints Kurt had handed him. "How much do you want for them?"
"Like I'd make you pay for pictures of yourself, Blaine." Kurt punctuated his statement with a quirk of his eyebrow. "It's the least I can do for making you put up with me for the entire day."
"Hey, I didn't have to 'put up with you.' I'll have you know that was a very enjoyable day. I'd like to do it again sometime, if you need me to."
"Oh, I'm always looking for people to shoot with. Want to meet up again this weekend? I won't have a studio and my roommate will be home sleeping all day so we'd have to find somewhere to go, but I hear it's supposed to be really nice outside… and you were probably just trying to be nice to me, you never want to do that ever again, do you?"
Blaine laughed at Kurt's out-of-nowhere paranoia. "This weekend sounds perfect, Kurt." He said, smiling over his coffee.
"Perfect." Kurt smiled, snapped a picture.
"Can I try taking a few?"
The two were standing in a park, the weather just chilly enough to make their breath puff up into the air. Blaine was looking up at Kurt with almost puppy-dog eyes, a small pout on his face. Kurt looked uneasy, holding his camera to his chest.
"I don't know…" Kurt said back, clutching his camera just a tiny bit tighter.
"I won't break it, Kurt. And I won't even take that many. You could teach me about the aperture and stuff – you keep talking about it and all I know is that it's controlled on the lens." Blaine inched closer as Kurt's expression softened. "You could show me how to develop it, too. We could make a day of it, get out of the cold for a little while and see how the shots today turned out. Please Kurt? I'd really like it."
Kurt relented, and handed over the camera. "Alright. So first things first, light. There are two things that control how much light get onto the film…"
"I thought darkrooms were supposed to be dark?"
"Well, it can't be completely dark. They've got bulbs that don't expose the paper in the lights overhead, but if any other light comes in it really defeats the purpose." Kurt explained to Blaine, setting up a negative in an enlarger. "Do you want to focus this in or should I do it? You can just run it through the chemicals if you want."
"I'll watch you do it first, then maybe I'll try my hand at it." Blaine stood a few inches away as Kurt leaned over to focus the grain.
"This is what keeps the picture sharp. If it's not in focus here, it doesn't matter if you focused your camera perfectly – you won't get a clean image at all." Kurt explained, standing up all the way and gesturing for Blaine to look through the lens.
Blaine stood up, about to start talking, when a ringtone went off.
"Oh hey, sorry, that's my brother's ringtone. I've got to take this, his wife's supposed to be going into labor any time now and he wants everyone to know right when it happens." Blaine gave Kurt an apologetic face as he dashed around the corner, outside the darkroom to answer his phone.
Kurt made a few test strips, found the right exposure for the photo, and had the paper set up by the time Blaine came back. "Sorry, false alarm. He called me freaking out and I had to talk him down from just driving to the hospital and staying there non-stop until Sam's ready to have the baby." Kurt gave a little laugh as Blaine stepped up next to the enlarger. "So what did I miss?"
"None of the fun stuff, just a lot of messing around to find the right exposure for the paper. I set it all up already so we just have to expose it, and then it's on to the chemicals." Kurt explained, setting the enlarger's timer and flipping the switch to flood the paper with light.
"It's crazy how this is just light. Like, some art there's just so much stuff, you know? There are countless different types of paint, or pencils, or clay, but with photography it's just light and time, and the right people." Kurt said, grabbing the paper from its place and moving to the chemical trays in the middle of the room. Blaine just nodded as Kurt slid the paper into the first tray. "So this tray has the developer in it. It's what reacts with the exposed silver in the paper to make the image show up." Kurt said, tipping the tray back and forth, sliding the solution over the top of the paper.
A minute later, he picked the paper up, letting it drip down for a few seconds, before sliding it into a second tray. "This one's the stop. It, well… it stops the developer from reacting with the paper any more than we want it to." As he said this, he picked up the paper and let it drip again, immersing it in a third tray. "And this is the fix. It's what locks the image in place on the paper."
They chatted about the chemicals and the process some more as Kurt plopped the fixed photo in a running water bath and told Blaine to try his hand at one.
"Shoot, I think I left it in too long." Blaine said, scrambling with the slippery tongs to pick his photo up out of the fix. "It's not going to like… melt or anything, is it?" He asked, dropping it into the water bath next to Kurt's photo.
Kurt laughed. "No, it's not going to melt. It might eventually turn purple, but I don't think a few extra seconds will kill it." He said, moving his own print from before around a bit in the water.
"Good. I wouldn't want to ruin it."
"But that's the good thing about this. If you screw up, you just grab a new piece of paper and start again. There are endless possibilities to make everything perfect. But," Kurt picked up Blaine's print from the water, squeegeeing it off and squinting at it in the dark, "I think you did a pretty good job with this one. It's very nice, Blaine."
"Well it was easy, with such a perfect subject." Blaine said, from right next to Kurt, gazing from the photo to its subject right next to him.
Kurt didn't have the time to register what Blaine said before he set his hand on Kurt's arm, turning Kurt to face him, and before he knew it, Blaine's lips were pressed against his in a small, hesitant kiss. Blaine pulled back quickly, turning back to the water rinse, squeaking out a "sorry, oh my gosh I'm sorry" before Kurt put his hand to Blaine's cheek, turning his head just enough to catch another kiss.
A few months later, and Kurt was assembling his final portfolio. In it were photos from that first day at the coffee shop, some from the bus and a borrowed studio, a park on a chilly fall day. And, near the end, some from Kurt's tiny apartment, the hint of a curly head of hair peeking out from the blankets in the early morning sun. Some, hands clasped together at their sides. His professor would call it an interesting take on portraiture, focusing on so many aspects of one person.
Kurt would just call it "perfect."