Title: About trees and empty forests.
Pairing: Dave Karofsky/Kurt Hummel.
Rating: PG for now. Nc17 not so much later.
Warnings: Strip and lap dances. Misunderstood prostitution. Mentions of bulimia. Depression.
Spoilers: Season One and Two.
Beta: Ella Greggs.
Word Count: 5ooo this chapter.
Genre: Romance/Angst/Drama.
Disclaimer: Pfht, if I owned Glee, Blaine wouldn't be on it.
Summary: It's been five years since Kurt Hummel and Dave Karofsky left Lima, following different paths. Now their lives are far from being what they dreamed for themselves. But then one night they meet again, in an unexpected way and in an unexpected place and everything changes.
A/N: I started plotting this fic way before the Prom episode. So in this fic, Karofsky hasn't apologized yet.
Also, you'll notice that this is unbetaed, so I apologize in advance. English is not my first language. Any offers? I have to warn that the later chapters are quite long, since I can't never manage to write short chapters.


Prologue.

The weather is nice outside and for that, Kurt is glad. It's the middle of August, and it's relaxing because he has a bit more than a month to enjoy the good weather before start worrying about the temperature dropping.

New York used to be his dream city. Of course it was. The city was full of dreams to make come true, thousands of opportunities waiting for him, big things to achieve and to become. Everything was supposed to be perfect; a huge fairy tale that involved Broadway shows, fashion shows, success and a long line of cute boys ready to date him.

But it's over now, and Kurt doesn't even have time to sulk over his broken dreams. Actually, those stopped being his dreams long ago. Right now, he has more urgent things to worry about, things that involve being a responsible and self-sufficient adult. He stopped being a teen long ago; a teen who had a father to pay his credit card while he spent his time daydreaming about the life he was never going to have.

New York stopped being charming as well. In fact, it's not a very charming city at all. Of course it looks like it's filled with magic when you are visiting. You get to see the prettiest places: 5th Avenue with all the designer's stores, Rockefeller Center, Broadway and its bright blinding lights, the elegant museums… Now the South Bronx? That's not so pretty, let alone when you have to walk back home in the middle of the night.

But it's just 9pm, Friday. His shift in Met Food just ended, and Kurt hurries to the bus stop in order to get on time to his second job at the VIP Club. If you ask him, that club is far from being a VIP club; in fact, it's nothing but a dirty rat hole, hidden between 5th and 6th Avenues, where dirty and closet gay men go to leer and put their hands on other men.

Yet, there are so many male strip clubs for men instead of women, Kurt doesn't mind much. It stopped bothering him long ago.

Somehow, he performs. Kurt doesn't think much about musicals nowadays, but back when he had to take the job, he told to himself that he would be just like Gypsy's Louise. Not everyone can perform in big and wonderful plays or musicals. Rose and Louise ended up in burlesque; well, Louise did of course. So Kurt thought about that, in order to keep the last drops of dignity that he had left. Sure, he wasn't performing in Wicked, but he would be on stage, and after all the shit he had been through before finding the VIP Club, he thought back then that this club could be something.

It's not something though. A job is a job, whether it is on stage or behind a cash register. When you have debts that hold five zeros, you stop being picky.

So Kurt takes the bus, and then the subway to arrive at 'The VIP' as he calls it in his head. Just in his head, since Kurt has never said out loud that he strips his clothes and gives lap dances for a living. He only talks about his job with his fellow dancers.

When he walks in, the place is dark, as usual. There are only dim red and yellow lights here and there and a few costumers. It starts getting crowded around midnight, but that's fine since he's there to wait tables; that's how people pick you for lap dances. If he's even luckier, he'll get some privates. Not only does a "private" mean more money, but also that way he doesn't have to dance in some guy's lap in front of everyone.

Stupid, because it's a strip club after all and no one really cares if you do such a thing; in fact someone could want "what that guy's having," and also Kurt strips in front of everyone on stage, but still… he likes privacy. Mostly for himself, to preserve what little modesty and self-respect he has left. It's always better to do something you're not happy about in front of one person inside of a small booth than on front of a crowd out in the open.

"Hey, Princess," Kurt greets his boss when he walks by the bar.

His boss is also the bartender, and sometimes Kurt works behind the bar with her. Princess – and that's actually real her name – doesn't fit the image of of a princess very well. She's actually huge, bulky and tall, and covered with tattoos, with bleached hair and nose and eyebrow piercings. Kurt could never tell her age, probably around fifty-ish, but she reminds him a lot to Coach Beiste.

But she's nice in spite of her tough appearance. Her twin brother, Crank – and that's his nickname, Kurt never learned his real name - is the thug that keeps guys in their place when they want to get too friendly with the VIP staff.

Princess keeps an eye on the customers from her spot behind the bar, as well.

Kurt always believed that homosexual men were generally classier, and that they didn't go around getting drunk and groping strippers. This experience has proved him wrong; sure, it doesn't happen as often as it must happen in a regular strip club – or so Kurt believes, he's never been in those clubs - but it does happen in here from time to time. Gay or not, men are men and when they can't handle alcohol well, when they drunk too much, stuff happen.

"Kurt, early as usual," Princess greets him as she cleans some glasses.

He shrugs. "I don't really have enough time to go back home and then come here, so…"

She nods. "You have a show at 2 AM, is that okay with you?"

"Sure. Anytime is fine," he says truthfully.

The good thing – if there is any good thing about this job - is that at least his schedule is pretty flexible. He usually stays all night, so he doesn't want to be on the streets in his neighborhood when it's dark and the bus doesn't run that often. But if he wants to call off the day at 4 AM, it's cool and he stays hanging out in the backroom or catching some sleep. But that only happens when he's too tired; he feels bad watching everyone but him working, so on days when he's not exhausted or he's not feeling ill, he stays behind the bar with Princess preparing drinks; boys behind the bar are not available for lap dances.

He doesn't need to be there every day, either; considering it's a club of questionable repute – Kurt presumes some cops or agents, whatever, are getting bribes - Princess does treat her staff pretty decently. They don't get dental or medical plans, of course, but since it's night work, their mandatory shifts are six hours a night, four nights a week. Kurt there Thursday to Sunday; on Mondays, The VIP is closed. It's up to the employees whether they want to be there other days and earn some extra cash. They are always welcomed to put in extra hours, since the club always looks better with more boys in the menu and more frequent performances.

They get paid by the hour, with a bonus for performances – not all the employees dance on stage – they get to keep all their tips, and the lap dance fees are split 60/40, 60 percent for the dancers and 40 percent for Princess.

It's August and Kurt is trying to work as much as he can before winter comes, so he's there almost every day, doing as much as his body lets him. He needs to make as much money is possible, since once the cold hits the city he'll start getting sick and he'll have to skip days at work, performances and everything. No one wants a guy who's coughing his lungs out in their faces; it's really not sexy at all.

He goes to the Staff Room where he greets some of his co-workers – he doesn't consider them friends but they get along very well - takes a quick shower and puts his clothes on. They can dress in anything as long it's slutty enough, since they wear black waiter aprons and carry the trays, so people know they are employees.

Princess doesn't let him dress too slutty though. She claims that his baby face is worth a lot and going around like some innocent boy ready to be perverted attracts a certain type of man. That's another thing Kurt learned about gay stripping clubs - you have to have someone to suit everyone's tastes. Unlike normal stripping clubs, where all you need are girls with big boobs, in The VIP the staff includes broad muscular guys, small guys, blacks, whites Asians and Latinos, guys who look more badass, emos, twinks, emo twinks, etc.

So Kurt is supposed to be the innocent one, and they call him "Babyface." It's slightly annoying since yes, for a while during his teenage years he did look like he was an infant, but he did grow up. Still, he assumes that he must indeed have some kind of child-like vibe since he does attract older men… much older men. Yet, a job is a job, and as long as it pays his debts, Kurt it's okay with it. At least he doesn't have to sleep with them.

And Babyface is not even a terrible name. Marcus, one of the bears, is called 'Celine' by everyone in the club, since every time there's karaoke night, he sings only Celine Dion songs. He's always completely out of tune but it's funny, so Kurt doesn't mind much. But Marcus doesn't like having a woman's name as his nickname and Kurt agrees with him about that.

Kurt doesn't think much about his past. Yes, some odd days he finds himself remembering how un-sexy Blaine used to think he was. It doesn't happen very often though; Kurt hardly ever thinks about his days back in Lima.

It wasn't just Blaine; all his boyfriends, actually, thought of him as a huge prude… and he was. The worst part is that deep down inside, he's still is a huge prude, but who would have thought the un-sexy awkward boy could make a crowd cheer in excitement by taking his clothes off?

Probably no one, and Kurt would like to leave it that way, not telling anyone back home any different. It's something that doesn't make him proud in the slightest, but it's funny – in a tragic way - how life proved Blaine, Christian and Francis wrong.

His night goes by without major inconveniences. In fact, he makes some good money. It's Friday which, along with Saturday, is obviously the busiest night. Before his act, he does five lap dances, three of them private. He gets nice tips during his performance, more tips for waiting tables, and another six lap dances. He stays until 7 AM, helping Princess to close the club.

Exhausted, he leaves The VIP. It seems to be his lucky day because Bren – one of the emo twinks - offers him for a ride home and Kurt gladly accepts. Anything is better than taking the bus, and Bren is a nice guy, even if he's constantly talking about his boyfriend.

They say goodbye to each other when they reach Kurt's building, they'll be seeing each other tonight anyways, and Kurt walks inside.

His building is awful, but Kurt is used to it. Most of the windows are broken or have been replaced with wooden planks. It may have been white in the past, but now it looks grey, plaster is falling off and you can see several spots of exposed concrete and brick, not to mention the ugly graffiti.

The inside is not much better; it smells like pee and pot and some nice cooking sometimes. But every story has dirty floors and dirty walls; the cobwebs, the dust, and the paint peeling… It's a good thing that he stopped being a fashionista spoiled brat a long time ago; he would have gotten mugged and probably killed if he walked around here with his nose stuck up in the air and wearing designer clothes. Kurt doesn't own expensive clothes anymore; because of the cold, he's grown accustomed to walking with his hands inside his pocket, shoulders hunched forward and his chin almost touching his chest, so he mostly passes unnoticed.

He walks all the way up to the third floor, since the elevator doesn't work and probably never has.

He has nice neighbors though. A big black lady named Chantal lives across from him. She has five children. Sometimes, she offers him food that she cooks and it's amazing that she still has food to offer with all those kids to feed. At the end of the hall, there's a very old lady, Mrs. Forcible, who's always staring at everyone through the peephole of her door. She always brings Kurt his mail. She insists that some people steal other people's mail. She's a nosy old woman but Kurt doesn't mind.

Next to him live a couple of teens, Cody and Haley; the girl is pregnant and they are obviously trying to make it work. They look like they left their respective houses to prove to their parents they could be a family. Kurt doubts either of them is over 18. They moved to the building when Haley was four months pregnant; she's about to deliver the baby and it has everyone in the third floor excited.

Things like that makes Kurt excited; when life is shit, you find glimpses of joy in small things. His neighbor's baby who's about to arrive in this world, the moments when Jeff, the stoned musician of the across the hall, plays the guitar, filling Kurt's apartment with mellow music, the smell of a pie that Chantal is cooking…

Then there are some not so nice neighbors; Kurt doesn't know them but he's run into some of them. There are some drug dealers, and alcoholics and stuff, but it's like a tacit agreement that no one bothers them and they pretty much keep to themselves. Also, Kurt has been living there for the last two years, so everyone knows him and no one gives him much trouble.

Kurt gets inside the apartment and puts his money away. He'll go to the bank on Monday to pay his bills. Then he puts his daily two dollars in his Stove Fund jar and marks off the calendar; he's one day closer to his goal.

It's a small goal that he decided to achieve before winter. Kurt figured that there's nothing much he can do about himself; there are not a lot of solutions to his problems beyond just dealing with them, so he doesn't even waste time thinking about how he could change his life for the better.

He can't cancel his debts, his health is pretty much out of his hands, he won't be able to move to a better place when he owes so much money… he's fucked. He can't fix his life, but he might achieve something small: a stove.

Kurt stuck to the Stove Fund jar the picture of a pretty Fox Hill Electric Fireplace Stove that he found in a Sears magazine, along with a small calendar. It's $286, and it seems bizarre to him now that some years ago he could spend that just on a pair of pants. But back in those days, his dad paid his credit card. Now Kurt supports himself, and he has to pay debts, rent, his meds, the bus, the subway, electricity, water, etc. His perspective on money is very different than it was back then, and Kurt thinks about money most of the day.

Mostly because he doesn't have it.

But he doesn't want to go through another winter freezing, and above all he doesn't want to get sick. And maybe when he was a teenager $286 seemed like a normal price for a pair of designer boots, but now it's actually a freaking big deal. His economy is perfectly balanced; taking out $286$ would practically equal having a sudden black hole in his pocket. But Kurt figured that two dollars a day wouldn't make such a heavy impact on his income. Within five months, he'd be able to get his dreamed stove. He started saving money on July, so it means he'll have to go through October with cold, but he'll be warm –at least inside the apartment - for the rest of the winter.

Kurt takes one last hopeful look at the picture of the fireplace and gets himself ready for bed. It's Saturday morning and his father will probably call him around noon. They call each other every Saturday, and Kurt just lies about everything.

Kurt doesn't want to worry him; his dad had another heart attack three years ago, plus Kurt had worried him enough by ending up in the ICU for almost three months after catching terrible pneumonia.

Thankfully, his father doesn't visit him in New York. He did before Kurt fell ill, so his dad got to see his son's life when everything was perfect. His dad, Carole and Finn visited him one summer three years ago, right before the second heart attack, while Kurt was in college. He had his BFA in Fashion Design, and was beginning his MA in Fashion Studies, both at Parsons. He was also doing amazingly well in his internship at Prada, renting a beautiful apartment in a nice neighborhood in Manhattan, and his future was filled with nothing but great things.

Things are much different now, but Kurt doesn't let his father think otherwise. If his father wants to see him, Kurt travels to Ohio. Only in summer, and just for a week. Other times he claims being incredibly busy with the upcoming collections to get out of going back to Lima. There's also the money issue. Kurt is supposed to be successful so he can't ask his father to pay for the plane or bus tickets to Lima. In addition, Kurt has a mirror – sadly - and he no longer looks the part of the fashionalbe, confident and driven young man he once was. Kurt prefers not to see his family, basically because he doesn't want them to see him, so he hasn't been home for over a year and a half, always claiming he's too busy.

It's a bitch that he has to upset his father by refusing to visit; it probably makes him look like a heartless douche… but Kurt can't pretend he's successful, healthy and wealthy anymore. The last time he traveled to Ohio was before he sold his designer clothes, so at least he could dress and play the part. But now his father would only have to look at him to realize right away that his life is shit and Kurt would have no option but to tell him the truth, and then his father would have another heart attack.

So it hurts Kurt to upset his dad, but he prefers that over giving his dad another heart attack.

Kurt wants to see his family though. He does, badly, but every time he's there being warm and pampered by the people he loves, it pains him terrible to go back to New York and face his real life.

Kurt would like to stay under his father's care forever and forget that New York ever existed. He'd be so happy if he could work in the garage every day from nine to five, close to his dad and Carole. Familiar faces, familiar people.

But that's not his life. Kurt stopped being a teen long ago; he's 23 and he has to support and be responsible for himself. It's not fair to dump that responsibility on his ill dad.

On the other hand, he has to admit that being away from everyone has its benefits. His unexpected present circumstances aren't so hard to deal with now that he's used to them. At least no one has to see what his life has turned into. It's like he doesn't exist to anyone who really matters. He doesn't keep touch with any of his old Glee friends or the people he got to know in college. And that's good, Kurt believes. It would kill him to run into Rachel, see how great she might be doing on Broadway while he works in Met Food and strips for living, gets sick too often, buys his clothes at Walmart if he's lucky, and lives in a building that looks like a crack house.

Although before he wanted to be under the spotlight, anonymity is something that Kurt learned to love.

Yet, he has to admit that not often, but sometimes, he does have the urgent craving of seeing someone that used to know him back in his old good days, just to remind him that once upon a time he was beautiful, his skin was flawless, he dressed to kill, his future was incredible and his life was perfect.

But at the same time he doesn't want that, because it's not pleasant to remember the fabulous person he used to be when his life is so miserable now.

So Kurt goes to bed, setting the alarm clock to 1 PM. His shift at Met Food starts at 2 o'clock and then he has a long night at The VIP to look forward to.


It's Saturday and Dave doesn't have much to do, as usual. He hates weekends, not even having work to keep his mind occupied. It's been five months since he moved to New York and he's still trying to get used to it. He liked Boston much better. Sometimes he wonders why he accepted this new job in New York; it wasn't like he was doing badly in Boston.

Quite the opposite, he was going pretty well, at least professionally. And duh, he's obviously doing much better now; working for a bank was great for his resume, the money is also much more and he has good prospects for promotion. Being a financial manager is the most boring thing in the world, but Dave wasn't expecting it to be fun.

He did well in high school. In spite of his behavioral issues, he was a straight-A student. But he wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life, so until he figured out, Dave decided to look for a job where he could earn good money. His grades got him into Kaplan and Dave was good at math so financial management seemed like an okay choice.

And he's done amazing well; his parents are so proud of him. With high grades he landed well-paying internships that got him to his first job at Massachusetts General Hospital. One of his teachers worked at the hospital and asked Dave – back then, the top student in his class – to be his assistant. He learned a lot and ended up on the hospital's finance team.

On a whim, he uploaded his resume to jobfinder website. He never expected that one day he was going to be called by American Express. Dave has his Master degree, but he got it last year. American Express was looking for someone with five years minimum work experience, but they still hired him.

It was a pain leaving Boston, but his teacher advised him to take the new job. The money was loads more and it was good experience as well.

And his new job is cool. His co-workers are okay, but he's younger and doesn't really have a lot in common with men who have wives and children. Their lives are quite different. When his colleagues talk about their kids' school concerts, wedding anniversaries, family meetings and so forth, Dave can only sort-of relate. They are still cool guys though and Dave gets along with everyone; they all go for drinks every Friday after work.

But mainly it's about money. Dave always wanted to build some nice future with someone beside him with solid ground under their feet and then figure out what he wants to do with his life for real, not having to worry about whether or not he'll be able to afford to achieve his dreams.

So his life is very comfortable and going according to plan. He has a nice car owns his apartment. He doesn't spend much money on himself, since he's not into expensive clothing and he's not a big fan of the latest electronic stuff, so he has more savings for… whenever he decides to invest his money in something. He's sort of healthy, his parents are safe and sound… but he doesn't feel particularly happy, content, or fulfilled.

It's hard making friends in a new city where he knows no one; he spends too much time on his own and that's never a good thing. He takes way too many pills, all prescribed by his shrink. Dave hates them all, but he still dutifully takes them at 10 AM, 4 PM and 8 PM just like his shrink told him to. They are supposed to make him feel better but having so many bottles of pills there right in front of his eyes, it's physical proof that his life is a mess.

Sometimes he goes out and finds some cute boy to sleep with, because luckily the pills don't affect his libido, but those hooks up never last more than one night. Dave doubts someone would want to have anything serious with him, no matter how cool his car is or how successful he's at work.

He always thought his issues would be over once he came out, so he came out after he left Lima, but things didn't get much better. Well, in a way, they did; it wasn't the end of the world, and his parents still love him. In addition, he doesn't have to hide who he is – sexually speaking-, so he gets to make out with men, pick up guys, and he's even had a couple of boyfriends but they never stuck around for long. Not that he really minded. Dave liked them well enough, but he never pictured a future with any of them. Dave doesn't blame them for dumping his ass though. No one could want to stay around with a guy who's fat and sweaty and don't even take his shirt off to get laid. Sex is great but not that great since he has kinks, but the kind of kinks you don't share with someone you met just hours before.

At least he's not losing his hair.

Dave prowls around his apartment, not really knowing what to do. He strips down - leaving his tee on - and heads to the shower, trying to figure out plans for the weekend. He could go to some club; he still doesn't know a lot of places in New York's gay scene.

He'll check something in the Internet.

When he's done showing, Dave takes off his soaked tee, covering himself immediately with a towel. He puts on a clean black tee. Once he's covered, he dries himself and puts on underwear and sweat pants.

Dave returns to his bedroom, dropping down on the bed and turning on the TV. He doesn't pay much attention to what's being aired, he just like to have the TV on. He always considered the TV to be good company when you're alone. His stomach growls, and he instinctively puts his hand over his belly. He's not feeling hungry and he shouldn't be anyway. Last night after having some drinks with his pals, Dave had a huge craving of tacos. A craving he couldn't fight off, so on his way back home he ordered some Mexican food, and the huge binge of tacos and burritos began. He took care of that later, of course, in the solitude of his bathroom; his throat bothers him a bit now, but Dave knew at the time he had that coming.

He hates when that happens though, and it happens more often than Dave would like. He hates investing so much time, days and days following diets, to blow the whole thing in half an hour of swallowing food like he's a starved dog.

Dave sighs; he won't beat himself up again for that. He's weak, he knows that. He can only hope that he'll follow his diet properly from now on.

For now, he'll watch some show, sleep a little just to kill time, and figure out something for later tonight.