(Author's note: The first two snippets are excerpts from Gold Mine, just to get you caught back up. As Kurt often does, he surprised me in the course of this story. I had no idea that he and Dave were going to end up lovers for a while, but best friends do that, sometimes. So this is their story, between the end of senior year and the summer after their first year of college. I see Dave and Puck as ultimately monogamous, though, so you already know how this chapter will end up. I would not be offended at all if you chose not to read it. But, if you do... enjoy. -amy)
... Puck watched Dave with serious eyes. "You know… I won't freak out. If you guys want to… to hook up."
Dave kept his eyes on the sky. "Dude. He's my friend."
"I know," Puck said softly. "He's my friend, too. I'm trying to tell you, I won't get angry. You don't have to… turn him into a bear, or anything." He nudged Dave with his knee. "I mean, you don't have to try to hide him, or pretend. For me."
"Jesus," Dave muttered. "We are not having this conversation. Puck, I love you."
"Yeah, and I won't be around this summer," Puck said patiently. "And we don't know what's going to happen after that. I think he would be into it."
Dave closed his eyes, shaking his head. "Why do I feel like you're my dead spouse coming back to haunt me, trying to marry me off?"
"Hey, I would totally do that," Puck said, brightening.
... "I think," his dad said, standing up, "it's time for you to move on, David. This kind of behavior doesn't become you. And Puck wouldn't want you to waste your time. Not like this."
Dave watched his dad walk out of the room. He sat on the couch for a long time.
Then he dug his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed a familiar number.
"Hey," he said softly. "It's me. Um. You want to see a movie?"
Dave paid for the movie, but he let Kurt pick up the refreshments. Even so, Kurt gave him a funny look.
"Orientation next week." Kurt took a neat handful of popcorn before settling himself into the second to last seat in the row. "Is your dad driving you out?"
"We're flying," Dave said. He propped his feet up on the seat in front of him. "He can't take that much time off work."
"David, you could have come with us," Kurt chided. "I can't believe he has a spare couple hundred dollars sitting around."
"It's okay." The popcorn was stale and tasteless, but he ate another bite anyway. Nobody left to be skinny for, he thought morosely, but he gave it up quickly. It just wasn't him. He wasn't the broody type. "I think he kind of likes the idea of taking the trip with me, and this was the only way it was going to happen. In and out, like an assassination strike."
"That wins the award for most depressing simile of the afternoon, David." He almost flinched away from Kurt's hand on his wrist, but Kurt's gentle voice cut deeper than any touch could. "You're missing him so much."
"Yeah," he whispered. He fiddled with the hem of his shorts until Kurt turned his hand over and interlaced their fingers.
"Me, too." He wiped away useless tears with the back of his other hand. "I just don't know what to do."
"Well..." Kurt squeezed his fingers. "We watch this movie. Then... there's always dinner."
Dave laughed despite himself. "Dinner and a movie, huh? It's really starting to sound like a date now."
Kurt let Dave's hand go as the house lights came down, and he didn't speak again for several minutes. Their fingers nudged occasionally as they ate the popcorn. Kurt reached across him once to steal his cup of water, and his arm rested on Dave's thigh for a moment.
"It... could be," Kurt said.
Dave turned his head toward Kurt in the dark. "What?"
"What it sounds like. Dinner and a movie." He sighed sharply. "A date, David."
"Ah." Dave shook the popcorn, getting the good bits off the bottom.
"If you want it to be," Kurt added.
Dave nodded. "I don't know," he said honestly. "But my dad said it should be."
"Your dad?" Kurt was loud enough to draw annoyed shhh's from nearby movie viewers. He brought it down to a moderate whisper. "Did he eat some bad melon for breakfast or something? Since when is he rooting for you and me to get together?"
"I think since he saw what a piece of useless crap I've turned into since the end of the school year." Since Puck took off on tour. Dave looked into the empty box of popcorn with a gloomy sigh. "He thinks it's pointless for me to wait around for Puck all summer."
"Summer, hmmm?" Kurt looked away for a moment, then back at Dave. His blue eyes were luminous in the light of the screen. "We could try summer."
Dave considered it. "I guess we could."
This time he reached for Kurt's hand, turned it over, and interlaced their fingers together, now considerably more buttery.
Kurt's voice was a little shaky under the wry veneer. "Assuming your boyfriend won't come after me with a ritualistic killing knife."
"He won't," Dave said. "He already said it would be okay with him."
"He - what?" Kurt sounded genuinely shocked.
"Yeah, he's the one who brought it up. Though I think he figured we'd wait until fall."
"We could do that."
Dave shrugged. "Yeah, we could."
The movie kind of sucked, but it filled the space until Kurt could say, "I don't really want to wait."
Dave took an experimental breath. He felt the weight of Kurt's hand in his. It felt different now, somehow. It wasn't Puck's hand. It was Kurt's: his best friend's. Maybe more.
"I don't, either," he said softly, and raised the hand to his lips.
The squeaking of the back door heralded an arrival. Dave didn't look up to see who it was, but he knew it was Kurt even before he spoke because of his shoes. Nobody else wore shoes with that many buckles. Or in that shade of magenta.
"It's nice back here." Kurt settled against a neighboring tree trunk on top of the soft bed of pine needles.
"You won't say that in a few minutes when the mosquitoes find you. And watch out for the sap. It's sticky."
"It'll wash out," Kurt said, but he shuffled a few inches away from the trunk. "Your dad said I could come out here. I hope it's okay."
Dave shrugged. "Sure." He picked up a twig and used it to dig a furrow in the ground between the needles, resting his cheek on his knees. "This was where I played, most days, after school and on weekends."
"When I wasn't hanging with friends. I did a lot of reading out here. Or on my garage roof."
Kurt nodded. "It's easier to be alone, sometimes, than to feel like nobody understands."
Of all the people in Lima, Dave figured Kurt probably understood better than anyone. He fought back his reaction to a wave of emotion. When he was calm again, he said, "Better to be alone than to have to explain what I was feeling, I think."
"What are you feeling, David?"
The soft question effectively put a stop to his pity party. He tossed the twig back into the woods with a grunt. "Like an idiot."
"You're not an idiot. Valedictorian, remember? Columbia?" Kurt searched for his eyes, but Dave wasn't quite ready to look at him. "And what heinous crime have you committed recently?"
"I'm in love."
Kurt paused. When he spoke again, he sounded a little breathless. "Do tell."
"You remember him. Shaved head, guitar. Handsome fella. Might have been on Rolling Stone's front cover this month."
"I think I've met him once or twice. And, hey, I heard a rumor that he might be in love as well."
Dave nodded. "I heard that too."
"So far the idiotic part of this equation escapes me. But I was never good at math."
"Whatever, Mr. 5-on-the-AP-Calc test." Dave poked Kurt's stylish shoe with his own sneaker. "The idiotic part is that he's in fucking Atlanta, and I'm here. Not likely to see him for months. And I'm still missing him."
"It's not a flaw, David. People miss people they love when they're apart. It's just going to have to be a fact in your life. Unless you want to stop loving him."
"How do you turn something like that off?" he snapped. "I don't think I've got a toggle switch."
"I have... a possible solution." He moved to sit beside Dave, their legs touching on one side. "But this might cross over into the idiotic, so feel free to stop me any time."
Dave felt the pressure of Kurt's leg all along his, and the residual tingling. When he put a hand on Kurt's leg, Kurt picked it up. "I'm listening," he said.
"There's an old joke my dad tells, in which a man visits his doctor and says, 'I have a headache.' The doctor takes his cane and stabs him in the foot. While the man is hopping up and down in pain, and yells, 'What did you do that for?' the doctor points out that his head isn't bothering him anymore."
"That's a joke?"
"Sorry, I know. Maybe my dad tells it better. My point is, a new sensation can sometimes distract you from an old one. Like white noise, perhaps, drowning it out."
Dave stared at their joined hands. "So... what, you want to stab me in the foot?"
"Sorry." He looked at Kurt now, his earnest, stubborn expression so familiar. So dear to him. "I don't think that's going to make the original sensation go away, though. It's still going to be there, in the background."
Kurt nodded. "I anticipate that."
"But don't you think that's going to piss you off? Me, thinking about him all the time?"
"David," Kurt said with good humor. "You're doing that now. You've been doing it all summer. Has it chased me away yet?"
Dave had to concede it had not. He tried again. "You deserve better than this."
Kurt waved one hand in the air. "We're not getting married, David. I'm proposing a summer alliance. Mission: to drown out the persistent, irritating longing for something you can't have, with something you can." He waited expectantly. "What do you say?"
"You're saying I can have... something." The tingling sensation had spread, now, down his leg to his foot, and into his stomach. He reached up and touched Kurt's jaw, lightly, and watched him close his eyes and catch his breath.
"I'm saying you already have it," Kurt whispered. "If you want it."
The answer to that was obvious, at least, but Dave hung back. "I can't promise you I can love you like I love him."
"I wouldn't expect that. What you and Puck have, it's not something that comes along every day." Kurt touched Dave's hand, on his face, and held it gently to his cheek. "But neither is this."
"No," Dave admitted. "I know it isn't. I just feel guilty."
Kurt smiled bravely, and leaned in. "Well, maybe I can drown out that, too."
Kurt's lips were as soft as he'd imagined they would be, soft as he remembered girls' lips being, though it had been over a year since he'd kissed one of those. And Kurt definitely, definitely wasn't a girl. Dave deepened the kiss, savored the sound of Kurt's quiet, encouraging moan, and let his hand card through the silky fringe of hair on his neck.
"Okay?" he asked, leaning their foreheads together.
"So okay," Kurt sighed. "But I'm thinking your backyard might not be the best place for us right now."
Dave glanced around them, at the silent woods, the dark house behind them. "It's not like either of us are in the closet, Kurt. And seriously, who's going to be surprised about this?"
"That's not really my concern." His eyes glinted topaz humor. "I was just guessing your dad might not appreciate us putting on a show for the neighbors."
"Mmmm," Dave agreed. "And exactly what kind of show were you thinking of putting on, Mr. Hummel? I hear you're pretty good on the stage."
"A show for two," he breathed. "One involving fewer pieces of clothing. And definitely not an act."
"I know," Dave said seriously. "I know. Not an act, for me, either." He stood, brushing pine needles off his lap, and held out a hand to help Kurt to his feet. He could feel exactly how much it was not an act when Kurt slipped his arms around Dave's waist and held him close.
"I love you," Kurt said. "And I don't expect you to love me back. But let me, okay? Just... just for the summer."
Dave's heart clenched. "Kind of dangerous, don't you think? You could really get hurt here."
"I know. But... better to have loved and lost, right?"
"Yeah." He shifted his hands on Kurt's back, clutching him tighter. "And Tennyson knew what he was talking about. He was in love with his best friend, who married his sister. They all lived together for two years before he died suddenly. Tennyson named his son after him twenty years later."
"Tragic," Kurt murmured. "But I'm okay with a little drama. I could stand to live without the sudden death, though."
"I'll see what I can do," Dave said, and kissed him again.
Kurt was thoughtful about not planning activities for them that Dave had already done with Puck. He knew the act of obliterating the sound of Puck in his head was hard enough, without having to introduce competing memories of the same location. But they both figured that camping was a generic enough experience that it would be okay, assuming they didn't go back to the same location as they had visited for Fourth of July.
But Dave found himself making all kinds of unexpected comparisons in his head, unfair ones, including, Puck could have carried that bundle of firewood, and why don't you want to go swimming; so what if we don't have our suits?
Things reached epically stupid heights when Kurt said, "I'm just going to go back to the car for the spare tarp," and Dave snapped, "It's not going to rain, Kurt."
"David, the forecast says -"
"Fuck your cell phone. It's not going to rain. Who was the Eagle Scout?"
And, of course, it poured down buckets, and they had to prop up the side of their tent in the middle of the night against the deluge, and both pairs of Kurt's shoes got soaking wet, and they ended up going back to sleep in the car at 4am, and Dave cried for a half-hour straight while he packed up the dripping tent because Kurt never once said "I told you so."
"This isn't working," Kurt said, on their way back to Lima.
"I know," Dave replied miserably. "You're not happy."
"Because you're acting so guilty all the time." Kurt huffed an exasperated breath behind crossed arms. "Can't you just give up the idea of making me happy? I'm a big boy, David. I can make my own choices here. I'm the one who chose you."
Dave just shook his head. "I don't get it."
"That's abundantly clear." He brushed a hand through his rain-spoiled hairdo for the thousandth time. "Goddamn water-soluble gel."
"You look fine."
"Allow me my vanity, please." Kurt stared ahead at the road before them. "All right. Let's give ourselves... a week. No phone calls, no emails, no texts. We avoid each other as best as we can. Then let's see where we are."
Dave nodded, because he knew it was a good idea, not because he wanted to do it. All he could think was, Now I'll have two people to miss.
He didn't even last four days before he hunted Kurt down on Facebook.
I'm weak and I admit it, Dave said in his PM. Really sexy, huh?
The reply came immediately. Maybe I'd have a leg to stand on if I weren't mooning over pictures of the two of us dancing at Prom as we speak.
We're pretty pathetic for a couple of smart guys, aren't we?
Tell me about it, Kurt affirmed. I think we ought to celebrate with a cone from DQ.
You know what they put in that shit, don't you? It's not even real ice cream.
No, but I get to watch you lick the drips off your fingers. Oh, did I say that?
Color me flirted with, Hummel. I'll pick you up in five minutes.
He got out of the car and went to the porch to apologize in person, but the first words out of Kurt's mouth when he opened the door were, "I'm sorry, David. That wasn't fair of me."
"You're stealing my thunder here, Kurt," Dave said, reaching for him. "Aren't I the one who's supposed to apologize?"
Kurt stood, shaking, in Dave's arms for a good twenty seconds before collecting himself enough to say, "I really hated myself for suggesting a week. Maybe next time you shouldn't listen to me when I make sense like that."
"Yeah." Kurt didn't even object when he stroked his hair. "Shhh, it's okay... come on, don't worry. We're okay."
"Right now." Kurt wiped his eyes on Dave's t-shirt. "But all I can think of is, this is exactly what's going to happen at the end of the summer. And I'm the one who fucking said it. Summer. That was the deal, right?"
"That was," Dave said. "Now it's my turn to make sense, Kurt. You should head into college with a clean slate. No strings, no guys. You never know who you might meet. Maybe your roommate will turn out to be the hunk of your dreams."
"And you don't owe it to yourself to start with a clean slate, too?"
Dave shook his head. "You know I'm still in love with him."
"And I'm in love with you, David," Kurt replied fiercely, driving Dave back a step. He grabbed for the railing to keep from falling into Carole's hydrangea.
"Jesus," Dave muttered. Apparently ninja feelings aren't solely reserved for me and Puck.
"What, are you surprised to hear it?"
"No, I'm surprised to find myself having trouble breathing."
Kurt put one hand to his mouth and stared at Dave with desperate, accusing eyes. Dave shook his head.
"I don't have any new answers, Kurt. I'm just as fucking confused as I was a month ago. Maybe more, now, because... because I love you, too, and that makes it really, really hard to say no to you."
"Then don't," Kurt said. "Don't say no."
He stared helplessly back at him. "It's really worth it to you? All this... this mess?"
"Love's messy, David." Kurt held his breath. "Say it again. Please?"
"I love you?"
A derisive snort escaped his lips. "What, you're asking me? This is your big moment, David. Be definitive."
"Leave it to you to want to direct. Okay, Kurt. I love you. Got that?" He cupped both hands over his mouth. "I love you. You need it a little bit louder? I don't think your dad heard me."
"My dad's at the garage, but we can drive by on our way to Dairy Queen if you're feeling the need to do another take." Kurt's face was alight with mirth, two spots of color high on his cheeks, and he was smiling as he took Dave's arm. "That last one was a little over the top."
"I'm going to take up these two suitcases," Kurt said, lifting them onto the curb. "Are you sure you can't find something with wheels to carry the rest?"
"Not unless you stowed a wagon in your manpurse," Dave grinned. "I think we're hoofing it. At least there are elevators. Let's see how many things you can load onto my arms before I collapse under the weight."
They unpacked the rest of their stuff onto the curb; Carole said she'd wait with it while Burt took care of parking the car. The two boys made their way into Carman Hall, trying not to look too much like tourists. The smiling girl who met them at the desk gave them both cards with seventh floor rooms listed on them. "Welcome to Columbia," she said.
"That smile was definitely for you," Kurt murmured as they waited for the elevator. "She might as well have added What's your sign."
Dave still didn't quite believe it when Kurt said things like that, but he guessed he recognized that she'd been flirting with him. "Yeah, well... even if she were the right gender, I'm pretty sure my dance card's already full."
Kurt rolled his eyes. "Scribbled into the margins, even."
They were six doors down the hall from each other. Kurt's roommate, Alain, was a native New Yorker. He seemed like a nice guy, quiet and friendly, and not at all fazed by Kurt's enormous wardrobe or his specific requirements about the morning bathroom routine. He did turn to Dave at one point and whisper, "Is he always so... particular?"
"Pretty much always," Dave said, and Alain just nodded thoughtfully and took it in stride. Dave appreciated that about him, so when Alain noticed the two of them standing a little close together, he came out to him right away. It was more or less impossible to be closeted around Kurt, anyway.
"So the two of you...?" Alain said, and Dave nodded at the same time Kurt shook his head.
"It's complicated," Dave hastened to add, when Alain looked confused. "I have a boyfriend, but he's kind of..."
"Famous," Kurt trilled, placing Puck's CD into Alain's hands. Alain stared at the CD, then his eyes bugged out and they grinned while Alain gibbered at Dave for a good thirty seconds.
Dave's roommate, Rick, on the other hand, was from a small town in Pennsylvania, and he didn't take very kindly to Kurt's presence in their room. Over the course of the afternoon, Dave watched the expression on Kurt's face go from amused, to irritated, to conniving.
"You're going to have to back off, Kurt," he murmured, watching Kurt eyeing Rick like a weasel with an egg. "I'm the one who has to live with him."
Kurt stayed silent, but he had immaculate timing. As soon as Burt and Carole bid them goodbye and drove away, Dave found himself cornered in his empty dorm room. Kurt regarded Dave with a predatory expression as he locked the door.
"What if he comes back?" Dave said, but his question wasn't stopping him from letting Kurt dip hands under his polo shirt and pull it over his head.
"It's a good opportunity to go over the meaning of the sock on the doorknob, then." Kurt's hands reversed course and went to work on Dave's shorts, letting Dave begin the long process of removing Kurt's clothes. It wasn't a hardship, but he wondered sometimes if Kurt would mind if he just started by taking Kurt's clothes off, before they even began thinking about what to do with their bodies.
Eventually, there was enough skin showing that Dave could feel the heat of Kurt, the soft texture of his skin, and he let his minor anxieties slip away in the face of their connection. It was as electric as it had always between them, even when they'd been enemies: always the spark of conflict, spurring them on to greater intensity.
It wasn't their first time, or even their tenth or twentieth, but Dave knew he would always remember this, the two of them together on their first day of college. "Kurt," he breathed against his neck, hearing him respond, feeling him open beneath him.
"David," came Kurt's gasp, the name only Kurt used for him, something just between the two of them. He liked it that way. When they were together like this, Dave buried deep inside him, it wasn't Puck he had on his mind, and it never felt like a substitute or something second best or a replacement. It was just Kurt and Dave, and he was just so goddamn happy. In those moments, it worked.
Whatever Rick had thought about Kurt before, by that afternoon he was an equal-opportunity glarer.
"Do you think he heard us?" Dave wondered, sotto voce, as he filled his lunch tray in the cafeteria.
"Maybe we're just glistening with the dewy sheen of the recently-fucked," Kurt said blithely, making Dave choke on his apple.
It was irrelevant, because after that day, Rick never spoke to Kurt unless he had to, and then only in terse sentences, including Get your bag off my bed and Can't you guys find someplace else to do that? It was clear that Kurt was baiting him, but they managed to stretch it out almost a whole month before Rick went to the RA and asked to switch rooms. To his dubious credit, he accomplished this without using the words faggot or homo.
Alain wasn't happy to be asked to change roommates, because he didn't like Rick any better than Kurt or Dave did, but he acknowledged that it would be easier. "I can tolerate him as long as he's sober," Alain confided to Dave. "But - really, I still don't get this thing you and Kurt have. I mean, you don't call him your boyfriend?"
Dave didn't really get it either. Friends with benefits was too casual a term for what they were to each other, but when the question came up, do you have a boyfriend? the answer was always yeah, and his name's Puck.
"He's my best friend," Dave said. "And I love him a lot. That's all."
Dave sat with his headphones on, sunk deep into the couch in the lobby. He felt Kurt's hands on his shoulders, felt his cheek pressed against his, but he didn't move out of that position, or even turn around. Eventually Kurt left him alone.
He turned a while later to find Alain sitting beside him, reading and watching him with patient regret. "Gone?"
"This morning," Dave said steadily. "He's playing in Jersey tonight."
Alain nodded. "I think... I see how it is for you and him. He's your boyfriend."
Dave clenched his jaw and pulled the headphones down off his ears. He'd heard all the songs a million times anyway. "Yeah."
"But... Dave." Alain touched his arm. "How can you do this to Kurt?"
He flinched away. "I ask myself that a lot."
"And I love him. And he keeps telling me it's okay, that I... that I love Puck, anyway. Too."
"If it were really okay, Dave, you wouldn't be hurting like this."
Dave's head shook of its own volition. "No... that's just because he's fucking gone. Again."
"And who's here?"
Dave didn't quite get the question at first. He turned his head toward Alain, trying to focus through the stupid tears. "Huh?"
"He's gone. But Kurt's not." He jerked his head at the hallway, toward Dave's and Kurt's room. "You owe him more than what's left over when Puck's not around."
"Fuck, man," Dave whispered. "It's all I've got."
"You've got this. Go give it to him."
He stared at him in horror. "He doesn't need to see me like this."
"Yeah, he does. And you need Kurt." Alain glared at him. "Most people don't get to love even one person like that. You get two. Don't shortchange him."
He got up and left Dave there on the couch, until the self-recrimination and loneliness in his head was eclipsed by the Kurt-sized hole in his heart. Dave took off his headphones and went to their room to find Kurt pretending to study on his bed. The expression on his face was almost more than Dave could bear, but he fought back his guilt and went to him, setting his book aside.
"That kind of sucked for you, didn't it?" he asked softly.
Kurt wouldn't look at him. "I knew the deal, David. He's your priority. I didn't expect anything else."
"You think that's what you deserve?"
"It's enough," Kurt said, but Dave shook his head.
"No, baby, it's not. You're worth more than that. To me."
Kurt heaved a sigh, not too dramatic, just honest. "David, you're my best friend. And... I won't lie; the sex is great. But we're still walking parallel paths. We're not taking a single journey together. I don't think we're meant to."
Dave took both of Kurt's slender, strong hands in his own. "I don't have answers any more than you do. This isn't what I expected, either. But I love you. And you... you're here. And he's not." He paused, fighting unexpected tears, and Kurt sighed again, pulling him into his arms.
"I know. I know. You miss him so much."
"You don't need to fucking hear about that," Dave choked, but he leaned into Kurt's warm embrace, and his kisses were comforting despite everything.
"I love you all the time, David, Even when you're hurting. Even when it's not about me. Just let me, remember?"
"God." Dave wiped his eyes. "Kurt."
"Yes," Kurt murmured into his ear. "It's me. I'm right here."
"All right," Dave said the second time he saw Kurt sneak his phone back into his pocket. "You're a terrible liar. Come on. What's going on?"
"Nothing," Kurt said, completely unconvincingly, and he looked desperate when Dave grabbed his arm.
"You're going to tell me, or I'm sacrificing the McQueen shirt to the dryer. The extra-hot one."
"Don't David me," he snapped. "I don't like being lied to."
Kurt's guilty face was scarlet. "Even if it's for a good cause?"
"Even if - what?"
"I told him I couldn't pull it off," he moaned. "Shit. You're going to have to call him and tell him yourself." Kurt pressed redial and handed his phone to Dave, who put it to his ear automatically, startled. He was even more startled to hear the voice on the other end.
"Go for Puckerman."
"Uh - hi?"
"Dave? What the fuck are you doing calling me on Kurt's phone?"
Kurt rolled his eyes. "Tell him," he said.
"Kurt says... he's lying to me for a good cause?"
"Dude. I can't even get Hummel to keep a secret for a week?" He didn't sound upset, though. "What's coming up next Monday?"
"I don't... oh." Now Dave felt his own cheeks flush. "My birthday."
"Bingo. And who's gonna celebrate with you?"
"My boyfriend," Dave whispered. Kurt's lips twitched.
"One of them, anyway. I'll be in fucking London." He sounded rueful, but not angry. "You'll have to wait until next month to celebrate with your other one."
"Sorry to ruin the surprise." Dave was aghast, but Kurt just slipped an arm around his waist and settled his head on Dave's chest.
"Your loss, man. Tell Hummel not to worry about it, okay? He was sure he was going to blow it. But it'll still be all right. I told him how important birthdays are for you, in your family. He'll take good care of you."
"Always does," Dave murmured, and kissed Kurt's head. "Thanks, Noah."
"Love you, baby," Puck replied, rich and full. "Now hang up, put this phone back in Kurt's hands and tell him to explain everything. I'll talk to you tonight."
Alain caught up with Dave as he rounded the corner, jogging in place while he waited for the light to change. "Mind if I join you?"
"Be my guest," Dave panted. Running in the city wasn't ideal, but the weather was way too nice for him to justify going to the gym. They were close enough friends by now that they didn't need small talk, and they paced each other down the block and south on Riverside Drive.
"You guys going to the Swing Spring Semi-Formal?" Alain asked.
Dave smirked. "I can't believe you said that with a straight face."
"Not exactly," said Alain.
"Nothing. I know Kurt likes to dance. You going to take him?"
"I don't really dance," Dave said, checking his pulse.
"So he's probably free, then?"
They started across Riverside to 112th, dodging two kids with a basketball as they headed toward the park. "What's all this about Kurt and dancing?"
Alain shrugged. "I took that swing dance class this semester. I thought... well, it'd be fun, and if you don't want to dance, he might -"
"Al." Dave grabbed him by the shoulder. "What the fuck, man?"
"I didn't - I didn't think you'd be jealous," he insisted. "Not with the way things are between the two of you."
"I'm not... jealous?" He shook his head. "Surprised, maybe. Uh, since when are you interested in guys?"
Alain gave Dave a peculiar look. "Since I never cared about somebody's gender. It's the thing inside that matters."
Dave shook his head. "Puck always said the same thing."
"See, I knew I liked him." Alain's grin was wide enough to encompass his whole face. "So... you don't mind?
"You and Kurt?"
"Hey. Watch the car. That's it." Alain led them around a fire hydrant. "No, you and Kurt. I'd just be taking him to the dance. If..." He paused, chewing his lip. "If you don't think he'd mind."
They ran another long avenue block before Dave spoke again. "I don't think he would at all."
... Kurt had cleared out his things the day before, but he was still working at the desk when Dave came down with his last load of stuff. "When are you taking off for Lima?" he asked him. Kurt regarded him steadily.
"I'm not," he said. "I'm staying in New York for the summer."
Dave stared at him. "What-? Kurt, you didn't –"
"I know." Kurt took keys from two other students and checked them out, handing them their deposits. "I didn't want to go through this with you any sooner than I had to. You're a worrier, Dave. It's going to give you an ulcer someday."
Dave took a step back, still stunned. "Kurt," he protested. "What about – summer? I mean…" He chewed on his lip. "We had plans."
"Plans change." He looked tense, and Dave realized he was excited. It had been a long time since he'd seen that kind of energy in Kurt. "Rachel got me a place in summer stock with some of her NYADA compatriots. I get to do six shows a week, every week, for eight weeks."
"That – that's great," he said. He meant it, but it didn't come out sounding like it. He tried again: "I'm really happy for you, baby."
"Don't," Kurt said quietly. His eyes flickered to Dave's hands, on the desk, but when Dave reached for him, he drew away. "We can't do this anymore."
Dave slowly let his hands drop to his side. "Okay," he said, slowly. "What's going on here, Kurt?"
"Have you talked to Puck?" Kurt said, watching him. Dave nodded.
"He's in LA this month, recording, but he'll be home for a few weeks in July. Is that what this is about?"
Kurt shook his head. "This is about me, standing up for myself, Dave." He took another round of keys from waiting students while Dave waited, feeling suddenly lost. Then Kurt turned to him, jerking his chin up. "I thought things would be different by now… but they're not. You still drop everything every time he comes around." He wasn't angry, Dave could see; he was just sad. "Nobody wants to be second best."
Dave realized there was nothing he could say to that that would be honest, so he just nodded. This time when he reached for Kurt's hand, Kurt let him take it.
"Give me the summer to get over it," Kurt said. "I'll be okay by fall. I still want to be your friend, Dave."
"It's just me again," said Dave into the phone. "No hurry. I know you're in rehearsal. Call me when you get home."
He got halfway through making a banana-mango smoothie in his dad's blender before Kurt called back. "That was quick. You're not done already?"
"No, I'm on break..." He sounded excited. "I won't be around tonight. I have a date."
"You - really?"
"Don't sound so shocked, for Gaga's sake."
"I'm not," Dave lied. The smoothie was too thick. He added a splash of orange juice, and a few strawberries for good measure. "You're completely justified in dating anyone you want to. Somebody in summer stock with you?"
"No. It's Alain."
He nearly knocked over the orange juice. "What?"
"David, we've been seeing each other for over a month."
Dave slowly added three more strawberries. "Wow. I had no idea you were even interested in him."
"Really. Because I'm pretty sure he said something about asking you, way back in the spring?"
Dave didn't respond. He heard Kurt's voice, softer now. "It doesn't bother you, does it?"
Yes. I miss you. Why don't you want me that way anymore? "No," he said. "It's fine. And... that's going well?"
"It really is." Kurt sounded so happy. Dave didn't actually remember him sounding like that, maybe ever. He set the glass blender down and gripped the edge of the counter, more full of anguish than he had any right to be.
"I'm happy for you."
"I know you are, David. And I know how you're feeling, maybe. I... regret that, but I also know you understand." His voice dropped. "You need to call him. He's who you really need."
If the sensation of wanting had been strong a minute ago, it was nothing to what these words inspired in him. Dave felt his knees buckling, and he was crying, right there in his kitchen. "He's not here, Kurt. He's in fucking California."
"I know, baby. I'm sorry."
He couldn't respond, but he knew it was okay. Kurt could hear him anyway. It was like the words he was thinking were in both their heads, at the same time: It was good, what we had, and I love you, but it wasn't enough.
"I'm sorry, too, Kurt. I never wanted to hurt you."
"No - David, no. It was just what I wanted. Remember? My choice. And I'm okay, I really am."
"I can tell," he said honestly. "You sound - more like yourself than I've ever heard you."
"Good luck, David. I love you."
"Love you, too, Kurt. Congratulations."
After he hung up, he looked at the phone for a little while. One year again, he'd made a phone call to Kurt, asking him out to the movies. Now they were back to friends again, but he couldn't bring himself to feel regret.
Puck had been okay with all of it, he thought, dialing his number. But maybe he'd felt a little of this, being so far away from me. From us - knowing we were together, happy for us, but... sad, too? Somehow, thinking that Puck might understand made him feel a little better.
He was surprised when Puck picked up. "You're awake?" he blurted.
"Good morning to you, too," Puck said, amused. "Early morning sound check before we do the benefit for the children's hospital. What's up?"
"I..." He couldn't get the words out for a minute, but then he took a swallow of his smoothie, and it was just right, tart and thick and perfectly creamy.
"It's Kurt," he said. "He's in love."
"Hey, good for him." Dave could hear his smile. "Are you okay?"
"I miss you, baby," he whispered. "So much. And... I'm sorry, if what we did, me and Kurt, if that was hard. I think I understand how you might have felt now."
"Maybe? I don't know. It was good, though, knowing you were with him. I mean, if I couldn't be, at least you had each other? And now... he's got something, right? Something he needed."
"I hope so," Dave said fervently. "I hope it's like this. Because - because -"
"Yeah," Puck said. "I know."
They sat in their own comfortable silence for a few minutes. Dave took another sip of his drink. It was still perfect.
"I've got to go, Dave. You hanging in there?"
"Yeah," he said. "I'll call you later?"
He let himself cry a little more when they hung up. It felt a little like goodbye, and a little like I'm sorry, and a little bit of regret for not being able to have it all.