A/N: Massive thanks to t-vo0810 — not only for being a beta, but also a sounding board for plot pacing. She's amazing.

As for the chapter... this was always the plan. Hold on tight.

Things feel different, somehow.

I get it now. The big deal everyone makes about sex; I get it. It's not about the pleasure, not really. It's about being so close to someone, opening yourself up to him, trusting him completely to catch you when you fall.

The connection doesn't just wash down the drain in the shower, either. It's just as strong when Kurt emerges from the bathroom, his face glowing with some sort of facial tonic. I look at him, and all I can think is forever.

We settle into bed together, blushing and smiling. Before he can turn and wait for me to spoon him, I clear my throat. "Um... Kurt?"

"Mm?" He grins at me drowsily. "Not ready for round two already, are you? Because I'm pretty tired."

"Round... no, no," I laugh, my voice sounding too high. "I wanted to ask you something. Well... I wanted to ask if something would be okay with you. Something I wanted to do."

He props his head up on his hand, looking curious. "I'm listening..."

"Tomorrow evening, when Sebastian drops off my promise ring..." I steel myself. "I want to put it on."

"Well of course you can, honey," he says. "It's not like we'll put it in the safe, right? I'm sure he'll drop off the chain you used, too, and you can wear it under your clothes just like I do—"

"I don't want to wear it under my clothes. I want to put it on my finger. Actually... I want you to put it on my finger."

He stares at me. "What?"

"I know you're it for me. I know that we're going to be together forever."

"So why would you need to wear the ring?"

"Because I want everyone else to know, too. Wearing it will show them how proud I am to be with you."

He sits up, looking away. "I'd rather you not."

I'd prepared myself for this possibility, but it still stings. "Why?"

"Because that was something I did with... with Old Blaine. We should do our own things together."

"You want to get different promise rings? But you designed these... They were special to us."

"No, I don't—" he breaks off, looking frustrated. "Never mind."


"It's just that those rings don't hold the same meaning for me anymore. They stopped holding their promise right around the time when I found out you'd forgotten me."

"And yet you kept wearing yours. So what did it come to mean to you, then? That you hadn't forgotten me? Or did you wear it in the hopes that you'd get Old Blaine back?"

"Can we just drop it?"

"That's what it is, isn't it?" I can hear the hurt in my own voice, and it makes me cringe. "You were waiting for him to come back. You're still waiting. That's your secret hope."

"That's my secret fear," he snaps. "Do you think it's easy for me, waking up every morning, and waiting to see who ends up waking up beside me? Every time we go to sleep, I wonder if this will be my last night with you. I wonder if you'll wake up as Old Blaine and you won't want me anymore."

"What are you talking about?"

"I keep telling you, I wouldn't be compatible with him. I've changed too much. And if you suddenly woke up and remembered all the time that you lost... and forgot what's happened during these last few weeks..."

"Memory doesn't work like that."

"Your doctors said it themselves — no one can predict what the brain will or won't do. I don't have any way of knowing how long I'll have you, Blaine, and that terrifies me." He lets out a shaky breath, staring up at the ceiling. "You're right that I'm waiting for him to come back. But don't think for a second that I'm hoping for it."

I pull the covers up to my chin, feeling miserable. "So I'm just a ticking time bomb, then. You'll never feel settled with me, because you'll always be waiting for me to forget you again."

"No, you're... no."

"You say you want me more than you want Old Blaine—"

"I do—"

"—and yet he was the one who got to wear the promise ring. He got to put your ring on your finger. He was the one who got to make plans for the future with you. How do you think that makes me feel?"

Kurt turns to face me. His gaze lingers on me for what seems like hours, before he breathes out, "You're right."

"... I am?"

"Of course you are. I'm not being fair to you. But baby... you have to understand. It's been, what, two weeks since we found each other again?"

"Sixteen days," I supply, and he smiles.

"Sixteen of the most amazing days of my life," he says softly. "But they came after the eleven worst months of my life."

"I know," I whisper back. "I know how hard it must be for you to change gears like that."

"And harder still, this time of the year." He reaches a hand up to trace the scar on my head gently. "We're nearing the anniversary of the attack. Makes everything seem a little unreal, you know?"

I capture his hand and hold it close to my heart. "This is real. What we have is real, and no one can touch that."

"I know. Just give me a little time for my head to catch up to my heart, okay?"

"I will." Kurt leans down, and we kiss each other lightly. He settles back down beside me, still looking pensive. "You know, Kurt," I venture, "you shouldn't ever worry about whether Old Blaine will come back."

"Why not?"

"Because even if he did... I think you could make any version of me fall in love with you."

I expect him to smile at that, but he just turns away, letting me hold him from behind.

The sharp smell of coffee wakes me in the morning. It's strong and rich-scented, and when I open my eyes I see a Starbucks cup sitting on my nightstand. I sit up in bed, blinking blearily. "Kurt?"

"In here."

It sounds like his voice came from the living room, so I grab my coffee cup and pad out of the bedroom. He's fully dressed, standing with his hands on his hips in the middle of the room.

"Kurt? What are you doing?"

He looks unsettled. "Is something off about this room? Did the pillows on the couch used to be arranged differently?"

I look over at them, sipping my coffee. "Uh... I have no idea."

"Something's... off." He rubs at the side of his neck. "Something feels..."

"Kurt. What's going on?"

He looks over at me finally, his eyes wide. "I don't know what's going on. Everything was fine this morning. We were out of coffee so I drove over to Starbucks to buy some, and... I kept getting this weird feeling like someone was watching me."

"Sounds creepy."

"It was creepy. And it got worse once I got back to the apartment. I can't figure out what's... different..."

"Sebastian's coming today," I remind him. "It probably makes you feel anxious. That's all."

"Maybe you're right." He takes a swig of his own coffee, then seems to come back to himself. "Oh, sorry. Good morning." He comes over to kiss me. I latch onto his elbow, kissing him thoroughly and hoping the coffee helps mask my morning breath.

"Morning," I echo. "Sorry your day had such a tense start."

"It's okay. Although I was thinking on the way back, when we use the door we should have some sort of secret knock."

"And a secret handshake," I nod, my eyes wide.

"I'm serious. Imagine if Sebastian came over early tonight and a helpful neighbor let him into the building. Imagine you heard a knock on the door and opened it without thinking, and it was him."

"Yeah, that'd be awful. I mean, I think I could resist his advances for a good ten minutes or so, but after that—"

"Mock me all you want, but I want a secret knock." He sets his cup on the coffee table decisively, then goes out into the hall, shutting the door behind him. "Okay," he calls through the door. "Ready?" Then I hear: knock knock knock-knock knock-knock knock knock knock.

"Who is it?" I say in a sing-song voice.

He opens the door, scowling. "It's the first line of Blackbird. Blackbird sing-ing in-the dead of night. Here, now you try it." He pulls me out into the hallway, then goes inside, shutting the door.

It's strange. Once I'm out here in the hallway alone, I get the same sort of sensation Kurt described. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and I glance around the empty hallway quickly. For a moment, I'm sure I can see someone lurking around the corner down the hall. I try the doorknob, but it's locked. "Kurt, let me in," I call out anxiously.

"Not until you do the secret knock." I rap on the door at once: knock knock knock-knock knock-knock knock knock knock. It swings open right away, and he pulls me inside. I heave a sigh of relief as he shuts the door behind us. "Thank you," he says. "I know it sounds stupid, but it'll make me feel better in case I'm delayed getting back tonight."

"I don't see why you'd have to knock, though," I point out. "You've got a key."

"You should really pull all the locks when you're home alone. The chain and the slide-lock, too. I don't mind having to wait while you unlock them." He glances at his phone, then makes a low noise of displeasure. "Ugh, I'm late. I told Dad I'd be at work by now. I'll see you by five o'clock, okay?" He kisses me again, then heads for the door. "Don't forget to set the locks."

"Yeah, yeah." After he leaves, I secure the three locks, then turn to forage for breakfast. Suddenly three sharp knocks sound from the door, and I laugh. "Nice try, Hummel."

"Love you," he calls, before running back toward the elevator.

I spend much of the morning on the computer, researching apartments in New York City. I fall madly in love twice — once with a walk-up in Chelsea and once with a studio in the West Village — but both come with a steep price tag. Judging by what Kurt told me about his family's financial struggles, my guess is he'll be on a very limited budget. I have a sizable trust fund set up, so money isn't an issue for me. Now I just have to figure out how to convince Kurt to let me pay more than half of the rent. I click through the online tours of apartments dreamily, deciding how we'll arrange our furniture.

Then I realize I'm being ridiculous; we don't even own furniture. So I spend a couple of hours researching the best places to buy high-quality, gently used furniture in New York.

Mike texts me around noon, asking if I want to go see the new James Bond movie with him tonight. Much as I'd like to, I suspect Kurt will be feeling a little raw and possessive once Sebastian leaves, and I know I won't want to leave him alone.

Another time? I text back.

Almost immediately, he responds. Sure. I'm home for break until January 2nd. You staying at Rob's place the whole time?

Not sure yet. Maybe.

What about your parents? Aren't you going to spend Christmas with them?

I scowl a little, typing back: Is this the part of the conversation where you lay the Asian guilt trip on me?

Not sure yet. Maybe.

I toss my phone on the couch, heading to the kitchen to fix myself some lunch. Mike's not wrong, but I'm still not ready to talk to my parents face-to-face. It is weird, though, to have gone twelve whole days without seeing them. I can't remember a time in my life when we were apart for so long.

I take my time constructing a truly magnificent salad out of spinach, fruits, seeds and nuts, then pick at it as I sneak glances at the cell phone. Finally I give up on the salad, marching over and picking up the phone.

Doing fine, I type out. Hope you are as well. I send it to my father before I can change my mind. Then I add a drizzle of olive oil to my salad before trying again to eat it. Nearly fifteen minutes go by before my dad responds.

Sorry for the delay, I was in a meeting. Thank you for your text. We've been worried about you. Will we see you on Christmas?

I bite down on a walnut a little harder than necessary, mulling over a response. Finally I write: I've been with Kurt. We've been getting to know each other again. It's a slow process. I don't know about Christmas yet.

I finish eating my salad, before rinsing my plate and fork and stacking them in the dishwasher. There's still no response from him.

I'm curled up on the couch watching old reruns of Ellen when I finally hear from him: I understand. It's good to know that either way you'll be spending the holiday with someone who loves you.

I burrow down further into the couch, and resolve that at the very least, I'll stop by their house on Christmas.

It's just past four fifteen when the intercom by the door buzzes. Curious, I make my way over to it, pressing the button. "Um... Hello?"

"I've got a package here for Blaine Anderson. A very long, thick package, in fact."

"You're early, Sebastian."

"I left home early to account for traffic, but there were hardly any cars on the road."

"Kurt should be back by five. He'll let you into the building then."

"So you're going to make me wait out here in the freezing cold for forty-five minutes?"

"You agreed you wouldn't come before five."

"Can't help it if traffic was light."

"I'm not going to buzz you in."

"Fine, fine. I'll just stand out here until I freeze to death and get all stiff. And not in the fun way."

At four thirty, the intercom buzzes again.

"What?" I ask.

"Just wanted to point out that people have been coming and going through the main entrance, and I'm still out here. Haven't even set foot in the foyer."

"So you're following our agreement. Terrific."

"It's freezing, man. Can't I just stand inside? Kurt's not supposed to be back for another half hour." He waits while I think it over, then adds: "I'm being a good guy by asking you. I could've been inside already if I'd entered the pass code."

I blink. "You know our code?"

"Sure, you said it that night at Scandals, when you were on the phone with the cab company. 23069."

"How did you—"

"Mr. Peterson gives a seminar on memorization techniques every semester before exams. Say any number ten digits or less around a Dalton boy, and he'll remember it forever. Plus, your code was easy. It reminded me of my favorite kind of date."

"What kind..."

"One that ends with a 69." He laughs too loudly. "Come on. Just let me stand inside."

"Fine," I groan, buzzing him in. Then I flop down on the couch, flipping through a fashion magazine and ignoring the nervous knot in my stomach.

At four forty-five, Kurt calls, sounding harried

"There was an accident," he tells me, and I gasp.

"You were in an accident?"

"No, not me. A tractor trailer took a sharp turn too fast and flipped over onto its side. Looks like the driver made it out okay, but now the truck is taking up all the lanes in both directions. We've been sitting here for ages. I don't know when I'll be able to get to you. Let's hope Sebastian will run late."

I wince a little. "Actually... Sebastian's already been here for half an hour."

"Wait, you let him into the apartment?" Kurt squeaks.

"No, no, he's downstairs in the foyer. I didn't even tell him which apartment we're in." Although, now that I think about it, he probably remembers from when I called the cab company. "Should I go down and get the promise ring from him now? Or ask him to slide it under our door?"

"No, just... just stay put. The tow truck just showed up, so I think traffic should start moving again soon. I'll be there ASAP... talk to you later."

"I love you," I tell him, but he's already hung up.

By five, Kurt's still not back. I've taken to pacing back and forth across the living room, chewing on my thumbnail.

A few minutes past five, I hear the elevator ding down the hall. Slow, careful footsteps approach the apartment before stopping. There are three short raps on the door, but I stand perfectly still.

"Come on, Blaine," Sebastian calls out, sounding irritated. "This is dumb. We can be civil to each other long enough for me to hand you a stupid ring."

He's right, of course, but I still can't seem to shake the uneasy feeling from this morning. I don't move, and eventually he lets out an exasperated huff and walks back to the elevator.

I don't start to breathe normally again until I hear the telltale pings, as the elevator starts to descend.

It's five twenty-five when I hear the elevator ding again. The footsteps coming down the hall are faster this time, mixed with heavy breathing. Then I hear: knock knock knock-knock knock-knock knock knock knock.

I let out a sigh of relief, making my way over to the door and flipping the slide-lock, pulling the chain and yanking the door open. "I was starting to—"

There's a flash of movement.

Then there's blinding pain.

Then there's nothing at all.