Title: A Family By Any Other Name
Word count: 6,154
Summary: Kurt hadn't known what to expect from his first year at college. He thought it would be difficult with the workload and being apart from Blaine, but he tried not to have too many expectations. Even if he had, he couldn't have envisioned it like this..
Warnings/Spoilers: No spoilers because the story builds on the prequel, A Sibling By Any Other Name. If you haven't read that, you'll definitely want to because this probably won't make a heck of a lot of sense. As for warnings, ANGST ANGST ANGST.
Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Glee, FOX, Ryan Murphy or anything else related to the Glee universe.
By the time he touched down in New York, Kurt had deleted his Facebook, closed up all the email accounts he could, changed his Skype password to something impossible to know so he couldn't log in and finally, snapped his SIM card in half.
He stared at the tiny piece of broken plastic but it was too late now. It was already broken. He dropped it into the bin and clutched at his bags, falling into the nearest cab and giving it his address for the apartment he shared with Rachel.
As the taxi crawled through the early morning traffic (and seriously, why was New York busy even at five in the morning?), he turned over his available options. He could potentially stay in the apartment but it was dangerous, especially if Rachel or Blaine flew out to try and find him. He knew Josh and Olivia had the spare room but he wasn't sure if they'd returned to…wherever they originated from. Wow. He'd shared classes and drinks with these people and had no idea what state they were actually from. He knew Connor would probably try and force him to call Blaine or Carole or someone but it was still only the early, early hours of the morning and no one in Ohio would have stirred yet. No one would even know that he wasn't there.
His heart gave a twinge and a chill rattled down his spine because he was truly, truly alone.
He poked out the fresh SIM card and slipped it into his phone with a soft click. He didn't know what the number was. It was just one of those disposable, prepaid SIMs but it would serve its purpose of allowing him to remove himself from the lives of those in Ohio. It was better this way.
The streets of New York passed in a mutlicoloured blur. He didn't even really notice that they'd stopped until the cabbie rapped on the protective plastic around him to get Kurt's attention.
"Sorry," he mumbled, smiling weakly as he handed over enough cash to cover the charge and the tip, clambering out of the car and staring at the entrance to the apartment complex. He could do this. He could.
He barely made it through the front door.
The smell of Rachel's lingering perfume and hair products was stifling after the place had been closed up tight for not even a week. He clung to the frame of the doorway, fumbling his phone out of his pocket and swiping at the only number he had bothered keying in.
"Shit, I'm sorry. It's not even six, is it? I'm sorry-"
"Kurt?" Tyler's croaky voice gained strength as he woke. "Stop babbling. What's wrong?"
Kurt bit his lip as he stared at the apartment, struggling to even take a single step over the threshold. "I'm b-back. I'm at the apartment. In New York. I…the funeral was yesterday and I had to l-leave."
"Oh Kurt…" Tyler sighed and there was rustling in the background as he moved amongst the sheets of the bed. "Do you need me to come over? Does anyone know you're here?"
"Probably not yet," he whimpered.
"What does that mean?"
"I…I left. I left a note. No one….they weren't home. They didn't come home after the funeral. I…I don't know when they'll find it."
"I'm sorry?" he squeaked, rubbing at the tears on his face.
"Text me your address. I'll be over in, what, half an hour?"
"I'm sorry, Ty."
"Just let me try and help, would you?" The call ended and Kurt scrubbed at the wet screen, tapping out a brief text with the address of the apartment.
He managed to step inside the apartment and shut the door before the couch was practically beckoning for him to collapse against it. So he did. Except the cushions smelled of Rachel and he flung them away with a sob. It was such a familiar place to fall after an exhausting day, a familiar scent that he was becoming increasingly emotional over. He couldn't be sure exactly when he started crying, only that now he had, he couldn't seem to stop. He clamped a hand over his mouth, trying to stifle the cries, trying to just stop being such a baby.
He sniffled, wiping hastily at his cheeks. "It's open."
Tyler cracked the door and saw him slumped over the couch. "Oh Kurt…"
"I'm sorry. I know I should have stayed in Lima or made sure they knew I was going or-"
"Shhh." Tyler sank to his knees beside the couch. "It's not too late. You can still call them. You can still explain. You can go back."
Kurt blinked swollen eyes at Tyler. "What if I don't want to?"
Tyler frowned. "Why don't you want to?"
"Because I…I need to get away. It hurt too much being there."
"What happened that was so terrible? I mean, apart from your dad…"
Kurt shook his head, fresh tears welling in his eyes as he thought of the cruel things he'd said at the grave yesterday. His father would be so disappointed.
"Okay, okay, shh…" Tyler awkwardly patted his hand. "Let's come up with something to do. Do you have any ideas?"
"Not really," Kurt mumbled. "I'll apply for student housing but I don't think the admin reopens until after New Year. I don't want to stay here because what if they turn up and come looking for me? I don't really have enough cash on me for a hotel, especially at this time of year, and Josh and Liv are probably away and-"
"Then you can have my couch, as long as you're okay with that."
He felt a little horrible that he'd basically guilt-tripped Tyler into offering that.
"Are you sure?" Tyler was a friend, it was all he'd ever be. He might have run away from Blaine and not really know where their relationship stood, but his heart was still firmly in Ohio.
"Of course. I'm not going to abandon you when you need somewhere to crash til after New Years." Tyler sucked on his lower lip momentarily. "Can I ask you to promise me something though?"
"You can ask me something b-but I can't necessarily promise it…" Kurt shrugged, glancing down at his bitten nails.
Tyler touched his shoulder. "If you…if you feel, y'know, bad...like suicidal, I want you to tell me. If you're freaking out over something, just give me a few words. I don't need to know everything if you don't want to talk. I won't push you." Tyler squeezed at his shoulder. "I just need to know if you're not doing okay as you're acting so I can be there and keep an eye on you if you, um, aren't feeling safe."
"I…I wouldn't do that…" Kurt said, his eyes itching with new tears.
"You sure?" Tyler squeezed his shoulder again.
"I… There was a guy, last year. He um, he attempted to and…I might have run away from everyone and cut them off but…but I wouldn't do that. Not to them."
Tyler didn't look entirely satisfied but nodded. "Alright. So what do you want to do here then?"
Kurt sat up slowly and glanced around. "Basically clear everything out that's distinctly mine, which is mostly my clothes I guess. I don't care about the pictures and trinkets and-"
"You might want pictures."
"No." Kurt shook his head and stood to move towards the bedroom. His bedroom. "Everything hurts so much right now. I…I don't want reminders."
Tyler followed him, pausing in the doorway as he gazed around awkwardly. "What do you want me to do?"
Kurt looked lost as he pushed all the photo frames down so he didn't have to look at the pictures they contained. "I honestly don't know."
So Tyler sat hesitantly on the bed, collecting the photo frames into a pile and sifting through them so he could put some faces to the names Kurt used. He could tell Kurt's father and what he presumed were his stepmother and stepbrother, his thumb dragging slowly over the smile on Kurt's father's face. It didn't seem fair for Kurt to be so young and not have any parents left, and then to run from those who would have willingly extended the definition of family to include him.
"Is this…?" Tyler held up one of the frames and Kurt's gaze flickered over, his jaw tightening to hide the way his lower lip wobbled.
Tyler stared for probably an unhealthy amount of time at Kurt and who he now knew was Blaine. He was easily attractive and they made a wonderfully complimentary pair. Kurt in his sleek, stylised outfits that radiated a sort of cool detachment, and Blaine, whose grin made his eyes crinkle into nothing and looked so warm and happy as he gripped Kurt's hips.
"He looks nice," he said quietly, but he was looking at the image of Kurt again. Kurt, who looked so free and so happy and completely different from the anxious boy Tyler had always known. It was a surprising sort of contrast.
There was an audible sniff that Tyler ignored for the moment. "He was wonderful."
He paused, looking at where Kurt was folding clothes into a suitcase. "Was?"
"We…God, I don't even know," Kurt hiccupped, brushing the tears off his cheeks. "I was yelling at people, at who they were or weren't in my life and then Blaine was just there and…God, Tyler. He looked so heartbroken."
"Did you break it off?"
"I don't know?" Kurt shook his head and turned back to folding up a pair of pants Tyler wasn't sure he'd ever seen Kurt wear, though he didn't see Kurt every day. "Not officially I guess. But…but he c-called me a…" He stared down at his feet, his hands trembling. "A 'selfish, heartless bitch' I believe were his words. I…no, we both screamed some p-pretty horrible things at each other and I h-hit him before Finn pulled me away."
Tyler laid the photos on the bed and moved to stand behind Kurt, hugging him from behind as Kurt started sobbing again.
"I fucked up so bad," Kurt cried, his voice thin as he covered his face.
Feeling utterly lost and powerless, Tyler did his best to calm Kurt down until he was able to finish packing up. It was a slow morning, one riddled with bouts of tears and barely audible explanations that Tyler didn't understand or couldn't hear. He waited for Kurt to move through the rest of the apartment, picking up a few items to take with him but leaving most of the decorative items that were so Kurt behind.
"Are you…ready?" Tyler asked, wrinkling his nose. It was silly. Kurt was never going to be ready. Not really. He was still running, but he didn't want to challenge Kurt because at least he'd run and had somewhere to go and someone to call. The last thing he wanted, or that Kurt needed, was suddenly feeling isolated, helpless and hopeless, because it was a terrifying combination that he knew he couldn't handle on his own.
While they waited in silence for the cab to arrive and take Kurt's things to Tyler's small residential flat, roughly six hundred miles away, Carole was unlocking the door to her home. She called Kurt's name, searching through the house and began to feel increasingly uneasy when she discovered he wasn't there. She dropped her keys to the kitchen counter, struggling to remain in control when she saw the neatly folded letter. With hands shaking, she opened it, the tears falling before she'd even read her own name at the top of the paper.
Days passed in a haze. Tyler fussed over him constantly, bringing him coffee or tea or water, toast with butter or jam or dry. He forced him into the shower at least once a day and stood outside the door to make sure Kurt didn't need anything while he washed himself down. He wasn't as completely out of it as Thanksgiving. He could still register that his father was gone. That he'd left everyone he loved in Ohio for good. But he still felt mechanical, numb, robotic. Nothing quite felt real any more. He kept imagining one morning he'd wake up and be back in Lima and his father would be thundering down the stairs to declare breakfast was ready and could Blaine and he untangle themselves long enough to eat?
But whatever he imagined never happened. Instead he had Tyler hovering, touching his knee, putting the TV on just to create noise in the small apartment when Kurt struggled to give monosyllabic answers. He wasn't even quite sure his eyes were focused enough to pay attention to everything. It really was like a dream, that sort of blurred clarity that feels real at the time but actually feels more like you're underwater when you become more aware that it wasn't real at all.
Except it was real.
Tyler's presence kept reminding him of that much.
When Tyler's words managed to seep into his brain, he blinked blearily around him. New Years? Already? Had it been so long? It explained the hum of noise beyond Tyler's balcony window. It still felt so utterly alien though. He remembered back a year ago when he and Blaine-
No. He wasn't meant to think about it anymore. It hurt too much.
"I don't want to go out," he whispered, fingers curling into the fabric of the blanket as he stared at his socked feet.
"I didn't think you'd want to. Are you cool with pizza tonight?"
He shrugged. He couldn't remember anything beyond toast for days. Had he had other things? Chunks of his memory were missing but he couldn't even muster up the energy to be concerned about it.
Tyler sipped at a few bottles of beer over the course of the evening, encouraging Kurt to eat at least two slices of the pepperoni pizza. It tasted like the toast. Boring. Plain. Cardboard-like. But he ate because he needed to and because Tyler was watching him, and if nothing else he figured he'd made the right choice in going to Tyler because anyone else would have let him wallow and fought with him until he threw a tantrum and he stormed off. Kind of like he had after the fun- No.
The noise outside seemed to increase the closer midnight got, so different from the quiet Kurt had always experienced in Lima. Of course they'd had the broadcast of New York showing but it was always too cold and miserable to bother going out, so he'd always stayed in. It wasn't like that in New York. He wondered if it was possible to get any sleep tonight when there was such a cacophony of noise surrounding him.
He knew when the ball dropped more because of the explosion of cheers and screams beyond the window than actually paying attention to the TV. Noise seemed to penetrate the haze more than visuals. His ability to taste anything was gone. He barely noticed smells. He figured the apartment could be on fire and he wouldn't smell it burning. He probably wouldn't feel it either. He shied away from Tyler's touches more than he ordinarily did. It was like if the person he wanted to touch him wasn't alive anymore to do so, he didn't want anyone being tactile.
At some point, he must have drifted off to sleep, regardless of the world continuing on outside. His half-asleep mind registered that he was laying down on the couch, the blankets tucked around him tightly, a pillow plump beneath his head. He didn't remember closing his eyes. He wasn't sure if he'd fallen asleep laying down or if Tyler had adjusted him when he'd realised Kurt had dozed off. Maybe it didn't matter.
He closed his eyes and slept on.
"I called building admin this morning."
His gaze drifted to Tyler, noticing how fuzzy he seemed around the edges. Did he need glasses? Would that help his appalling ability to see?
"I'm happy to continue looking after you because it's pretty clear to me you can't take care of yourself right now, but at some point you need to sleep on a proper bed and gain back some of your independence."
A bed sounded good. The couch wasn't doing much for his spine. The independence part didn't. Tyler was right. He couldn't take care of himself right now and the idea of being alone meant he could quite possibly sleep the entire day and miss classes, miss meals, miss basic hygiene.
"They keep a few spare rooms for emergency situations, apparently. And of course there's those that graduate mid-year and don't come back," Tyler continued, his voice gentle but steady, firm. "So I asked them to put a hold on one of the rooms for you which is a couple of floors down. I can still come over and help you as much as you need, but do you think it might be something you want to do?"
He nodded. Then shrugged. It didn't really matter to him anyway. The only thing that sounded like it would be different was a bed and he wasn't going to turn that down.
"Fine. Whatever." Was that his voice? It sounded so raspy. He didn't remember crying enough that he would have worn out his vocal cords. Maybe it was just disuse.
"Okay. I can work with that," Tyler said, touching his knee briefly as he stood. "I'll arrange to get the keys and stuff and maybe we can set about moving you in during this week so by the weekend, you're pretty much settled."
He'd been in New York a week already and it didn't feel like he'd settled anywhere. He still felt swallowed up by grief and shock. But if it made Tyler happy and he scored a comfortable mattress, he'd take the deal. Maybe being forced into taking care of himself would enable him to get back on track.
It sounded like hollow reasoning even to him.
If there was one thing that Kurt could see during his emotional blindness, it was that Tyler was exceptionally helpful. He didn't push Kurt to the brink of an argument but he was able to coax Kurt into doing things that might have irritated him if it had been anyone else, like eating and drinking and showering.
He helped move the basics of Kurt's belongings into his new apartment, not complaining when Kurt sat on a stool and watched with disinterest as Tyler unpacked some of his bags. He'd noted the apartment was pretty empty. The mattress that remained smelled and the couch didn't seem sanitary either.
"Do they belong to Tisch?" Kurt asked when Tyler handed him a dozen coat hangers.
"The bed and couch? Not that I know of," Tyler said. "They kind of reek, don't they?"
Kurt nodded, slipping his clothes dutifully onto a hanger and then passing it to Tyler to put in the closet.
"Do you…" Tyler glanced at Kurt's empty hands and gave him another set of hangers. "Do you want to go out tomorrow and get stuff for this place? You can stay on my couch for one more night and we'll get everything sorted tomorrow."
Kurt wrinkled his nose at the idea of going out, being around people, but maybe it would be a good thing. He'd shop carefully, only buying the essentials. He didn't need a TV because he'd never really watched it when he roomed with Rachel. Crockery and cutlery, groceries, a bed, a decent couch or two arm chairs, a few decorative things to make it feel less cold and clinical. His eyes roved over the small space as he made mental lists of what he needed. For the first time in nearly two weeks, he felt a little spark of life at having something purposeful to do.
From Tyler's small smile, it seemed like he knew it too.
"Are we done yet?" Tyler complained, rolling his neck and shoulders before cracking his fingers. "I'm exhausted."
"What sort of gay guy are you if you don't like to shop?" Kurt said. It wasn't entirely true, of course. Blaine wasn't much for shopping except when he was promised bowties or cardigans in payment.
"It doesn't matter if I'm gay or not. I'm still a guy, and guys don't like shopping."
Kurt paused, raising an eyebrow as he stared at Tyler.
"Okay, most guys then," Tyler amended. "So. Are we done?"
Kurt pulled the small notepad out of his pocket, running his finger down the list of items. "I think so. The bed is arriving tomorrow so can I sleep on your couch another night?"
Tyler shrugged. "What's one more night after so long?"
Kurt knew Tyler meant it to be blasé but he felt a stab of guilt. It had been a while. Almost two weeks. Two weeks since his father had died. Two weeks since he'd fled. Two weeks since he'd really felt any strong emotion. Two weeks since anyone had heard from him. They'd all know by now of course, but did they care? Blaine would be back at McKinley and Rachel would probably be returning to New York sometime this week to prepare for the spring semester. He was going about setting up a new life without them. Were they doing the same?
For the first time since he'd started staying with Tyler, he cooked dinner. It was a pretty simple chicken stir-fry with noodles but his body was craving something other than take-out, something fresh and filled with vegetables. He was pretty sure he had a couple of ulcers in his mouth from the lack of green things in his diet. Tyler didn't seem to protest as Kurt took over his kitchen, and the methodical chopping of items almost felt like some sort of routine that was well-known and comfortable.
His emotions still felt blunted but for the first time when he laid down on Tyler's couch, he noticed that there was a lumpy spring that pressed into his thigh. He was more aware that his stomach was full and the taste of the sauce he'd added to the stir-fry still lingered on his tongue rather than the bland taste of nothing he had been enduring with the food Tyler had been feeding him. The fog that had blanketed his recognition of the world around him had lifted a little.
The delivery of the items he'd purchased the day began with the bed and ended with three lamps, one for the small living room and two for the bedroom. The two men who brought the bed in removed the old one at his request, much like the two who delivered the arm chairs later in the day and took the stinky couch with them. Tyler helped him with the nuts and bolts and screws for the bed frame, pointing at the diagram and passing him what he needed at the appropriate time. He could have told Tyler he didn't need the help, that he was perfectly capable of working with his hands and putting things together after the amount of times he'd stripped cars down and fixed them back up, but it gave Tyler a reason to hang around and keep him company. He couldn't begrudge Tyler that.
The apartment still felt too small and empty, but the smell was dissipating with the open windows and it felt distinctly more like a Kurt space rather than something that had been hastily abandoned with questionably used items left behind. It was another easy night of toasted sandwiches for dinner, but Tyler didn't complain (actually he asked for more but Kurt pointed at the empty turkey packet which Tyler pouted in disappointment over) before giving Kurt a reassuring squeeze to his arm and departing.
It felt strange to realise he was alone. Tyler had been around him almost non-stop but now he could focus on the silence within the apartment and spread his awareness out to hear the garble of a TV on one side of him and the horns and squeal of tires outside the window. For once, the loneliness didn't scare him. It felt comforting, like embracing an old friend. He no longer had expectations of how he should act or mustering up the effort to attempt to appease Tyler.
If nothing else, the feel of a proper mattress supporting his spine felt like heaven and he was asleep within minutes, the usual chatter in his mind silenced by the overwhelming peace.
"Olivia and Josh are back," Tyler announced a few days before class was set to resume. "So is Cody but um, I wasn't sure if you wanted to see him."
Kurt looked up from where he was buffing his nails. He hated how utterly brutal he'd been to them during the short amount of time his father had been in the hospital and he was paying the price now with the rough edges and calcium spots he'd developed from his poor diet while with Tyler. He didn't dare return to school with such broken nails.
"Are you going to see them?" he said when it became clear that Tyler wasn't going to add any more details.
"Of course. Liv wanted to know what was up with you because your number didn't connect when she tried calling."
"Oh." The only numbers he'd programmed in were Tyler and Connor, and he hadn't called Connor yet either. "Sure. Are there any particular plans?"
"Josh wanted us to go to their place tomorrow night if you were up for it."
Kurt filed his nail into a gentle curve. "Do they know?"
"I explained to Olivia that you'd had to change your number for personal reasons. The rest was up to whether you wanted to tell them."
He nodded as he put the file to one side and picked up the bottle of nail varnish. "Okay."
"Okay?" Tyler sounded stunned.
Tyler scrunched his nose at the smell that began to permeate the room. "That stuff is foul."
"It's good for your nails though."
"Brussels sprouts are good for you too but you don't find me eating those."
Kurt painted thin stripes of polish onto his nails. "Really? You're one of those people that doesn't like Brussels sprouts?"
"You like them?"
"I eat pretty much everything," Kurt shrugged, dropping the brush into the bottle to pick up the file and get rid of a bump he'd missed.
Picking out an outfit the following night almost felt like a normal experience. It had been nearly a month now and he knew he hadn't really dealt with his grief but he had found a routine that worked for him. He was aware Tyler still worried he wasn't taking care of himself, but he moved through the day by eating at regular, precise intervals. He showered after breakfast and went for a walk after lunch which involved buying ingredients for dinner. Tyler tended to stop by for dinner so then they chatted in the evening. He'd be in bed by eleven and asleep by twelve and wake promptly at eight the following morning. Going out tonight would be the first time he'd disrupted that routine since settling in the apartment more than a week ago.
He knew what to expect from the evening in terms of dressing, but he still felt underdressed in his jeans, buttoned shirt and plain vest with his warm winter coat to brave the wintery chill of New York. He huddled nearer to Tyler as they walked. It wasn't so much the slush beneath his feet but the wind that whistled along the streets, bouncing between buildings and rushing down alleyways to get under the collar of his coat and chill him down the length of his spine.
"I don't think I've ever been so happy to arrive at Liv and Josh's," Tyler exclaimed, shivering beneath his own jacket as he pushed the button for the elevator through his pockets. Kurt had to agree as he hugged his arms around his waist.
Josh answered the door but Olivia was right behind him, squealing and shoving him out of the way to hug Tyler and then hold Kurt at arm's length.
"Have you lost weight?"
Kurt shifted on his feet and frowned. "I don't think so."
"Hmm." She cupped his cheek, tracing over the faint lavender circles beneath his lines. "I'm not going to force you to talk but if you need someone, you know I'm here, right?"
"At least let him through the door first, Oli," Josh teased.
She scowled over her shoulder at him before turning her attention back to Kurt. "And I'd better get this new number of yours, okay?"
He nodded and she tugged him into the apartment. It was so warm that his face felt like it was hit with an open flame of fire but it was totally fantastic because he was so horribly cold. Cody was on the floor, propped up against a wall with a bottle of cider in his hand. He saw Kurt and then immediately lowered his eyes and Kurt wasn't quite sure what to say to him either, so he stayed quiet.
"What are you boys drinking?" Josh asked from the counter of the kitchen.
Tyler accepted a cider but Kurt waved his hand at the bottle of Coke. He still remembered the shocking hangover he'd had after the party just before he'd gone back to Lima. He had no intention of drinking for a while. And he feared that if he started drowning his problems in alcohol, he'd end up in a place that he wouldn't be able to come back from.
He didn't participate much in the conversation, even when Olivia tried to coax him in with direct, open-ended questions. His gaze flitted between them but he had no particular interest in adding to the conversation, so he nursed his Coke and stared out the window.
Tyler sidled over to him. "Do you want to go?"
He smiled weakly. "I'm sorry. I just…I don't know how to act at the moment."
"You came. I'm pretty sure that means something." Tyler's hand brushed over his arm. "But if you don't feel comfortable, we can go."
Kurt shrugged and swirled the dark Coke in his cup. It reminded him of when Sam had sung Red Solo Cup and Blaine had been so cheerful he'd wondered if Blaine was high. No. He had to stop thinking about Blaine. It hurt too much.
"Kurt?" Olivia cleared a spot on the coffee table in front of him and plonked herself down. "I know we're not like, best friends or anything. But I can tell something's wrong and I just…I want to press you again to talk to me."
"Shush, Tyler. I can tell you know what's going on because you knew how to contact Kurt," Olivia said, her eyes narrowed. "What happened? Did something happen in Lima? Did you break up with your boy?"
Kurt's fingers crumpled the cup he was holding, the small amount of liquid left in the bottom splattering his jeans. Ordinarily he might have flown into a rage, yelling and screaming at her that it was none of her business. Instead, he just felt fear. He wanted to tell her but it was still personal and he couldn't quite form the sentences to explain.
"Kurt? Hey…" Tyler gripped his knee. "Don't go there. Come on."
He felt his heart stuttering in his chest as Olivia eased the cup from his hands and replaced it with her own.
"I- I can't…I…"
"Okay, I'm sorry." Olivia squeezed his fingers as her thumbs brushed over his knuckles. "It's fine. You don't need to talk."
Tears pricked his eyes as Tyler's arm slid across the back of his shoulders. "My…my um, my dad…he…he died…"
It was the first time he'd really said it to someone since it had happened. It felt like he'd been thrown back a month and it was all happening again. The dam inside him was starting to crack but he still refused to cry.
"Oh God, Kurt. I never would have- Come here," Olivia whispered, pulling him into an awkward hug. It was different from hugging other people. Olivia was a little plump which made her cuddlier and she wasn't someone that pulled back after a few seconds. She held on and rubbed his back and even though he felt miserable, he still couldn't bring himself to completely break down and sob pathetically into her shoulder.
In fact, she seemed to be crying more than him.
Well. That was a little awkward.
"Olivia, I'm not a human tissue," he complained, pushing her away until he was sinking back into the sofa and she was dabbing at her eyes and apologising. Josh crouched beside her and linked his hand between hers. Kurt glanced around until he met Cody's steady gaze from his spot on the floor. He felt like a performer with an audience he didn't want, except it was Olivia that was in tears.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Josh said, slipping into a cross-legged position beside the coffee table.
Yes. No. Never. Always. "He had a stroke. There wasn't much they could do."
"Oh sweetie…" Olivia accepted the tissue Josh handed her and blew her nose. "I'm so sorry."
"It's fine." It wasn't. Of course it wasn't. But what else was he meant to say?
"And you still came back?" Josh said, tilting his head to one side. "I would have expected you to stay in Lima with your family."
"I don't have any family. My dad was all I had."
"I thought you had a stepmother?"
"She's not my family," Kurt snapped, feeling a stirring of the rage he'd had at the gravesite a month ago.
Olivia touched his knee. "What about Blaine?"
Kurt looked away.
"You changed your number for pers- Kurt, you didn't!"
He glowered at Olivia. "Don't judge me."
"How could you run? You need your friends and-"
"Shut up." Cody stumbled to his feet, the empty cider bottle clunking to the floor. "He said not to judge him. Don't start lecturing him on his ways of coping. They mightn't be the best but it's Kurt's life and if he abandoned Ohio, then we need to be here for him instead."
Kurt wanted to shoot Cody a grateful smile but there was still a lingering weirdness after he'd been kissed so he looked down at his hands.
Olivia sighed and apologised. "We're here if you need, got it?"
He nodded and reached for Tyler's hand. "Can we leave now?"
"Hold on, you two aren't-"
"No! God no," Tyler said, giving Olivia's knee a little shove. "He needed a place to crash so he stayed at lodgings with me. He's got his own place now but it's part of the same complex."
Olivia didn't look entirely convinced but accepted it. It wasn't a lie anyway. "I want your phone so I can put my number in it. Gimme."
Kurt handed it over as she tapped in her details. He heard a chime somewhere in the apartment.
"Just making sure I've got your new digits," she said, giving it back. "You call me anytime, okay?"
He nodded again and let her hug him, let Josh touch his arm and Cody give him a wave. Tyler kept a firm grip on his waist as they walked the blocks back to college housing, feeling increasingly tired as his body struggled to stay warm in the cold.
Tyler walked him to the door of his apartment and watched as he let himself in. "I'm glad you came out tonight."
Kurt had a flash of memory from last year's Regionals but stamped it down as he flicked on the light to his apartment. "I guess I'm glad I did too. I can't hide from everyone."
"Do you ever think about contacting them?" Tyler leaned against his bedroom's doorjamb. "I can't speak for everyone but I'm sure Blaine is worried sick."
Kurt shook his head, shrugging out of his coat and returning it to its place in the closet. "I just can't, Ty. I just…I can't."
"Okay." Tyler hugged him briefly. "I'm never going to force you into anything."
"Thank you," Kurt murmured, twisting his hands together as he walked Tyler to the front door. Tyler dipped his head and headed towards the elevator.
Kurt shut the door with a click and locked it, letting his head thump against the wood. He only had a handful of days before class resumed. He needed to focus. He probably should call Connor.
Try as he might, his thoughts kept drifting to what Blaine might be doing in Lima without him.
A/N: Usual apologies for Uni work crushing me and not getting more written so here, have my spare chapter while chapter nine continues to languish at half-complete. I'm on break for now but juggling prac teaching and lesson planning, so I'm not entirely free. Quick reminders that this is not a Kurt/OC story so Tyler is just a friend. I promise.
Also on the front of getting a room - I had a review some chapters back about NYU and how it's not overly supportive at times. Honestly I wouldn't have a clue and while I respect that and I've tried to be as realistic as possible, I obviously have to bend some stuff so Kurt has a place to sleep that is his own space to grieve and/or relax.
To those of you who are still reading, thank you as always x I'm indebted to you for your ability to handle the angst!