In early winter at Indian Lake Sam feels the sound of frost (the nervous grinding of teeth, the rough scrape of gloved hands held) and hears it, too, beneath his shoes, and beneath Kurt's, their steps off-beat and unhurried. Low sunlight embalms tree trunks in dead light, makes them up with pale faces like portents of snow. But the late afternoon still brims with life: Squirrels and waylaid birds perform panicked harvest dances, culling the ground of autumn's leftovers, long since stale. Locals armored against the cold breathe ghosts over ice-trimmed bike paths and stomp frozen puddles that break like blood vessels. At Blackhawk Park boat launches wander vacant into the water.
"It's nice," Kurt says, squinting into the southwest.
"Yeah," Sam says. He is not entirely sure what Kurt's talking about—not the weather, God help him; his bones felt bare even wrapped in three layers, bleached fragile by southern summers—but sure. It's nice.
They have driven here from school, "for no reason," Kurt had said. "Because you're back, and that's something worth celebrating, isn't it?"
Sam scratches at his neck where an old wool scarf shields it from a vacillating breeze, its color faded to milky yellow. One of Kurt's old things, possibly the plainest article in the collection—nothing like the scarf Kurt's wearing now, thin and fringed, a bold maroon with lines of cream. Sam stops by a picnic table scarred with initials, carved in tribute to love or as petition for change or in simple exclamation: I Was Here. "So," he says, and watches tired lake water lull the shore.
Sam shrugs. "What do you want to do?"
"Oh," Kurt says, and smiles slightly. "I guess I don't know."
Kurt always exudes confidence, but today... Sam supposes he is imagining things, but his sense of Kurt feels heightened, somehow, as though the angled light has distilled his friend, left him pure; or more like the wind has eroded a sharp-featured mask down to dauntless curves. He is strong, eternal, a timeworn lighthouse, sighing against the rap of ocean waves. Or the cold has laid its sword against his shoulder, and the soft glaze of pink on his cheeks are knightly brands, regal—and strangely tangible; merely by looking Sam can feel the cool purr of his flesh, the wax and wane of air beneath.
Sam blinks and smiles. He feels easily distracted, almost otherworldly. "Mind if I sit?"
Kurt shakes his head and they both sit on the same side of the table. The wood feels dense with winter. Sam's covered thumb touches gently Kurt's bare one.
"I'm sorry," Kurt says, shaking his head. "I don't know why I wanted to come here."
"No—don't be," Sam insists, nudging Kurt's shoulder with his own. "It's cool."
"You mean it's cold."
"Well that too." Sam puts his hands on the table, rubs them together. "I was kind of surprised you didn't invite Blaine along."
Kurt shrugs one shoulder. "I did."
"Ah." Sam lifts a hand as the sun slips between branches. "Busy?"
"Mm," Kurt says.
Sam thinks of small talk but his words grow heavy and sink in his throat. So he sits and watches clouds sing shade to the stiff grass, white lullabies for the dying year.
"I had sex," Kurt says, out of nowhere.
Sam's brain shorts for a moment, during which his eyes expand to see nothing and his mouth coughs on a startled "Woooow, uhhh."
"I mean we had sex. I mean Blaine and I had sex," Kurt clarifies needlessly, his face growing more aghast with every word. Sam suspects he can't believe what he's saying. Neither can Sam.
"—ok?" he says eventually.
"It's just you weren't saying anything," Kurt sputters, "and I thought 'well this is awkward,' and then I thought 'oh we should catch up, what's new with me' and then it just..."
"—got more awkward," Sam finishes, rubbing his forehead.
"...yeah," Kurt agrees. His pink has darkened to red.
"I thought we were just—you know sitting. Peaceful. Like."
"Oh," Kurt says. His head slumps forward in embarrassment.
There is a moment of silence. Then Sam bursts out laughing.
Kurt lifts his head in a jagged motion as though affronted. "What?"
"Oh, hi," Sam manages between laughs, "FYI, just had sex." Every gasp of air feels like a jab to the stomach. "Like the goddamn Lonely Island song."
Kurt lets out a sheepish chuckle. "Shut up. I'm embarrassed, ok?"
But Sam can't stop. "So how was it?" he laughs. He needs to laugh.
"Shut up!" Kurt reiterates, but his smile is invincible. "I don't—" His lip quivers. His self control rolls downhill. "I don't know!" he says loudly, and bursts out laughing, too.
Sam finds this hilarious. "You don't know. You don't know?"
"No!" Kurt confirms, eyes watering. "It was, it was kind of weird," he chokes out between laughs.
"Oh, hi," Sam repeats, "FYI, just had weird sex." He can't breathe. A tube clogs his throat and pulls his insides out, piece by piece.
"In fact," Kurt guffaws, "I don't think I want to do it with him again!"
Sam's laughter trails after a second. "You don't?"
"Mmmhmhmnnnno!" he howls. "But then again I don't know what the hell I do want," he gasps.
Like the last rush of a drying river Sam's laugh turns final, unsure. "Kurt?"
"I don't know anything at all," Kurt continues. He swears to himself and tries to breathe deep.
Sam's emotions are unintelligible, a quagmire. He picks a frown from his closet of expressions and wears it firmly as the cold air chips away at Kurt's cackle, until they sit again in murky silence. Kurt has donned a sad smile.
"...Kurt?" Sam asks again, concerned. He considers putting a hand on Kurt's shoulder but is afraid Kurt will flinch away.
"I'm sorry," Kurt says, and shakes his head. His eyes gloss empty; he is inside himself. "Can we—would it be ok if we did this some other time? I think I need to—" He takes a deep breath and shrugs.
Sam doesn't know what else to do, so he nods.
"I'm fine, Sam," Kurt says, no doubt sensing his worry, his discomfort. "Really."
The sound of frost follows them back to the car.
Things settle. A snowglobe shaken quiets.
The drive is mostly silent. Then at a red light back in Lima Kurt says, "You know..."
"I don't think—I don't think I really said that by accident," Kurt says slowly. Cautiously. Firmly.
Sam shifts. "What do you mean."
"About—you know. That I... that I'd... done that. I think... I thought that—maybe you'd want to know."
"I thought that maybe you'd want to know."
Sam doesn't reply. He is—this is all very uncomfortable.
Why would he have wanted to know? He didn't want to know.
The wind shifts. A light snow hugs the windows.