"You said that you'd be back."

Kurt started to reach for Blaine, only to drop his hand to his side when Blaine stepped back from him, his eyes wet and angry. "I didn't know," Kurt said softly, his voice feeble in the still of the night air. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"Three months, Kurt." Blaine swallowed, looking away as if he couldn't stand to look at Kurt. His hair was wet, damp curls sticking to his forehead and only just starting to spring up again, and his tartan pyjamas were worn at the cuffs and hems. "Three months, you left me here waiting—every night, I would wait for you, and you never came."

Kurt's eyes stung, his throat burning. There was a lump in his throat, stopping the words he wanted to say from getting out. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I can't control it."

"Well maybe you should try," Blaine spat back, spots of pink high in his cheeks. "How long has it even been for you? Days? Hours?"

Kurt closed his eyes, turning away. This hadn't been what he had anticipated for tonight; he had anticipated sweet kisses and talking, up in the tree or in Blaine's room—not standing apart in the cold night air, the grass crunchy with frost beneath their feet and angry hurt lashing back and forth between them.

Blaine's next words were quiet, choked. "Did you even have time to miss me?"

Kurt opened his eyes and met Blaine's gaze. "Of course I missed you," he whispered, hands reaching out for Blaine automatically. He felt a tight knot in his stomach loosen when Blaine stepped forward slightly, taking Kurt's fingers in a loose grip. "I missed you so much," he continued, "you have no idea. I swear I would have come back to you sooner, if I could have done."

Blaine's grasp on his hands tightened, pulling Kurt closer towards him. Neither of them said anything, their heads bowed close enough for them to be breathing the same air. Kurt carefully reached up ran a hand through Blaine's hair, scraping his fingernails against Blaine's scalp until he felt Blaine relax against him, his weight warm and somehow familiar. "Sshh," he soothed, feeling something wet against his neck—tears or drips from Blaine's hair, he couldn't tell. "I'm here now. I promised as much."

Blaine made a soft sound against his neck, and then surged up to meet Kurt's mouth in an even softer kiss, a brief brush of their mouths. Kurt wound his fingers in Blaine's hair, tilting his head to re-capture Blaine's mouth, kissing him deeper and firmer, trying to express all of his emotions through his tongue and lips.

Pulling back, he studied Blaine's face carefully. Blaine had more stubble now, he noted, letting go of Blaine's hair to stroke along the line of Blaine's jaw. "Every night?" he asked.

Blaine closed his eyes and leaned into Kurt's touch, the expression on his face intense. He looked as if he were trying to memorise the sensation of Kurt's fingers on his skin, as if he were terrified it would be the last time he might feel it. "Every night," he murmured. His eyelashes were long and dark, fanning out like dusky feathers against his cheeks.

Kurt swallowed hard, pulling Blaine closer against him, until he could feel Blaine's heart beating in his own chest. "I'm sorry," he said again, hands returning to Blaine's hair. Blaine made a broken sound and slipped his arms around Kurt's waist, his hold almost bruising in its desperation. Kurt pressed a kiss to Blaine's cheek, letting the touch linger. He swallowed again, allowing the surge of possessive, protective emotion to fill him, alien as it was. "I'm never saying goodbye to you," he promised. "Never."

He doesn't get the chance to say goodbye that night, anyway. They fall asleep wrapped around each other, and when Kurt wakes up, he's alone.

Blaine's bedroom was quiet in the still of the dark, the only sound that of their breathing—regular and soothing. When Kurt closed his eyes, the dark behind his eyelids no different to the dark in Blaine's room, he could feel himself being lulled into a dozing slumber by the hypnotic in-and-out, in-and-out, in-and-out.

"Kurt?" Blaine's voice broke the stillness.

He made a murmur of affirmation.

"Do you ever want to know what happens in the future?"

Kurt was wide awake again. "Not particularly," he said slowly, not entirely sure what Blaine was getting at but having a sneaking suspicion that he might. "I don't usually think about things that are impossible, to be quite honest."

"No but, if you were given the opportunity to know, would you?"

Inexplicably, Kurt could somehow tell that Blaine was looking at him with that intense look in his eyes. He reached out and rested a hand on Blaine's chest, hand rising and falling with every inhalation and exhalation. After a long pause, one weighted with expectance, he answered: "I don't think so."

"But wouldn't it be nice to know that, whatever you did, you would always be doing the right thing? Because it was already laid out by fate?" Blaine asked. Kurt could feel the vibrations of his voice rumbling through his chest, tingles shooting down Kurt's arm up to his heart, which started to beat quicker in response.

Kurt closed his eyes again. Somehow, it seemed better that way: like he was the one with control of the light, as if, upon opening his eyes, it would be light again even though he knew better. But then the word SOLDIER flashed across his mind's eye again and he opened his eyes once more. "I think that would be terrible," he said, his voice rough. "You'd be like a lamb led to the slaughter."

"I'm not talking about me personally," Blaine objected, although it fell flat.

Kurt smiled softly. "Liar."

"You've looked, though, haven't you." It wasn't a question.

Kurt swallowed around the tightness in his throat, painful heat welling in his gut; an invisible stab wound nobody but he knew was there. "Yeah," he admitted. There was no point lying to Blaine.

"I don't want to know, do I?"

His eyes burned, and Kurt was surprised when a hand touched his cheek and he could feel the slick of tears. Blaine thumbed at his mouth, a gentle caress; Kurt could feel the rasp of the whorls of his fingerprint against his lips.

"I was aiming for your cheek, but I got your mouth instead," Blaine said after a beat. "Sorry."

Kurt chuckled. It was a wet sound, but it rang true. "If it's any comfort, the file was incomplete. I can't really tell you much."

"I guess it won't really tell you if I was happy, would it?"

Kurt didn't respond to that. Instead, he squeezed his eyes shut and wished for the tears to come to ease the ache in his heart; but just when he wanted them to come, they didn't.

Contrary buggers.

"Have you seen the apple orchard?" Blaine asked conversationally as they lay on their backs on the warm summer grass, stems shorn short and bristling with dry heat. Kurt turned his head to look at him, feeling the prickle of the grass against his head. Blaine was looking back at him with a small smile steady on his face, his eyes glowing honeyed gold in the afternoon sun.

"No, I don't think so," he said, breath hitching in his throat when Blaine's smile widened.

Blaine sat up, brushing grass from his trousers. "Come on, I'll show you," he said, getting to his feet and offering Kurt a hand up. "The apples won't be ready for another month or so, but there are some good climbing trees further back."

"I had hoped that you'd learned your lesson about tree climbing." Kurt raised an eyebrow dryly. "Don't tell me you're angling for a broken neck this time."

"Ah, but that would be counterproductive," Blaine said with a cheeky grin. "I wouldn't be able to kiss you if I did that."

"Cheeseball," Kurt said fondly, reaching out to take his hand and squeeze it tight.

"That's why you love me." Blaine led him past the greenhouse and around the corner to the high wall enclosing the right side of the garden. There was a narrow iron gate fixed into a gap in the grey stone, rust discolouring the joinings and corners. Blaine lifted the latch with his free hand, Kurt wincing at the screeching noise the eroded latch made, and tugged Kurt through. "The good trees are further back-they were planted too closely together, so they sort of grew into each other." He grinned. "It makes a jolly good castle, though."

Kurt rolled his eyes. "What are you, four?"

Blaine planted a wet and noisy kiss on Kurt's cheek, before leaning in close and saying, "Ah, but a four-year-old wouldn't be doing this." He kissed him, hot and open-mouthed and messy, their bodies pressed flush against each other. Kurt could feel the thrumming of Blaine's pulse, matching the beat of his own in perfect time. Blaine slid a hand up the back of Kurt's hoodie, hand hot through Kurt's flimsy t-shirt, and pressed in even closer, so that Kurt could feel the contours of Blaine's chest against his own, lightly muscled from what Kurt could only assume was years of sports at school. Blaine's tongue licked deeper into his mouth, demanding and impatient; and when Blaine flicked his tongue against Kurt's teeth, Kurt felt his knees shake and his stomach wobble and he moaned into the kiss in an embarrassingly wanton manner, his own hands sliding up under Blaine's shirt to dig his fingertips into the jut of Blaine's hips. Blaine hissed and kissed harder, breathing noisy and erratic, before pulling back and pressing their foreheads together, free hand coming up to cradle Kurt's face. "You," he said, between ragged gasps, "are amazing." He closed his eyes, overwhelmed. "You have no idea what youdo to me, Kurt. No idea."

Kurt could feel the hot line of Blaine against his hip, he only now realised, with an answering ache in his own crotch. He blushed scarlet and shifted back, moving their pelvises apart so that they were no longer indecently rubbing up on each other. He bit his lip and ducked his head. That was a bad move, he realised, because then he was staring at the tent in Blaine's grey wool trousers and shit, he had done that. Him, not anyone else. He had done that to Blaine just by kissing him. He knew instinctively, then, that were he to reach out and slip his hand into Blaine's underwear, Blaine would let him—would jerk up into his grip and gasp his pleasure into Kurt's ear in fact, hard and heavy and so hot in Kurt's palm. Kurt would be able to watch Blaine come undone against him and know that it was because of him, that nobody else had ever seen Blaine like that, just him.

Kurt very nearly reached out to follow up on his thoughts, in fact, before it occurred to him that Blaine might want to do the same to him and what if Blaine didn't like what he saw? Blaine was muscular and well-proportioned and gorgeous and Kurt was tall and gangly and baby-faced and pale and had soft curves to his hips that didn't go no matter how much running he did. Blaine would probably take one look at him and laugh awkwardly before pulling away and suggesting they go listen to some music instead. And then Kurt might not come back again and the last thing they would have would be awkward attempts at hand-jobs in Blaine's orchard in the middle of the afternoon and that wasn't what Kurt wanted. If he was going to do it, then he was going to do itproperly, damn it.

Kurt licked his lips and met Blaine's eyes, which were still dark with lust but regarding Kurt with a worried expression. "You were going to show me your tree-castle?" he said, aiming to keep his voice light but it came out roughened and deep instead. He winced in embarrassment; Blaine probably thought he was some pervert who sounded like a porn star from just a kiss,Jesus.

"Yeah," Blaine said, sounding slightly dazed, his gaze fixed on Kurt's mouth once more. His cheeks had a high flush on them, his lips full and bruised red. He licked his lower lip, just once, teeth dragging painfully slowly over the soft, plump flesh, and Kurt felt himself twitch in his pants. He tore his gaze away, feeling embarrassment creep over him. He shifted uncomfortably, wishing he could adjust himself in his pants—thank god his pyjamas were loose-fit—and licked his own lips, relishing the tingle.

Blaine didn't take Kurt's hand again, for which Kurt was grateful—he didn't know if he would be able to stop himself from making a fool of himself if he so much as touched Blaine again—and instead led him through the lines of apple trees to the far end, where two trees had grown together into a tightly-knit knot of branches and leaves. Only a handful of apples grew on these trees, and they were small and brown and dried-up, wrinkled skins torn and blackened in places.

Blaine stopped at the foot of them. He rested a hand on the trunk of the centre one, his touch gentle and almost reverent. "These trees are my favourite, I think, because they won't give any fruit and they appear all mangled up and useless to the outside world, but they're the strongest trees out there. They've been through all sorts of weather and storms and never dropped a branch." He smiled at Kurt, a soft look in his eyes. "They're a bit like us," he said, looking back up into the tangled branches. "They hold each other up."

Kurt followed his gaze up into the cloud of branches and leaves, a bright-eyed blue-tit fluttering away and a responding chatter come from a nest high up. "That's rather deep," he said after a moment. The tension was thick in the air—both sexual and emotional—and he felt raw and sensitive all over, like his nerve endings were flaring up at the slightest thing and his brain was translating everything into a hugely over-emotional event.

When Blaine looked over at him, Kurt was surprised to see a flash of horror on his face. "What's wrong?" Blaine asked, wide-eyed with panic. "Was it too much? It was too much, wasn't it? I'm sorry, I'm sorry—we can just go and laze on the lawn again if you want, I don't mind, I'm sorry—"

Kurt shut him up with a gentle kiss, close-mouthed and chaste. He could feel the wetness on his cheeks from the tears he hadn't even realised he had been shedding. "I'm not sad, dumbass."

Blaine blinked at him, eyelashes long and dark around his hazel eyes. He looked confused. "Then why are you crying?"

Kurt shook his head. He reached out to curl a hand around the back of Blaine's neck, but didn't lean in to kiss him. "Because I'm happy. Despite everything, I'm happy."

Blaine kissed his cheek, kissing away the tear-tracks. Kurt could see Blaine's own eyes starting to shine wetly, tears clumping on his lashes like dewdrops on a downy feather. "I know what you mean," he said quietly, words brushing across Kurt's mouth in warm puffs of air. "I'm happy, too."

Kurt bit back a gasp as he stepped outside that night. All around him, snow covered every surface, twinkling in the moonlight. He took a step forward, the crystals crunching underfoot, and glanced up at the clear midnight sky.

"Kurt," Blaine's voice whispered from behind him, back in the hall. Kurt turned and smiled at him, feeling the familiar curl of happiness at seeing him. Blaine padded over in his slippers, a dark blue dressing gown wrapped around his lean frame.

"What are you doing awake?" Kurt took his hand, pulling him in close for a hug.

Blaine pressed a quick kiss to his cheek then broke away, jerking a thumb towards the kitchen door. "I was going to get a drink," he said, "it's a good thing it took me so long to find my slippers, then, or I might've missed you."

"I was going to go wake you up," Kurt admitted. "Probably with handful of snow, though."

Blaine laughed, the sound loud and bright in the silent house. Kurt 'ssshhh'ed him, pressing a finger to his lips. "You'll wake everybody up."

Blaine shrugged. "My mother is most likely dead to the world, and Father's away on a business trip to Cambridge." A wicked grin stole across his face, a glint appearing in his eyes that Kurt could see even in the half-light from the moon. "So you were going to wake me up with a handful of snow, huh?"

"Seemed too good an opportunity to miss," Kurt said casually, trying not to smirk. "I bet you scream higher than even I do."

Blaine chuckled. He reached out to curl a hand around Kurt's elbow, propelling him out the door into the snowy garden again. "Willing to make a bet?"

Kurt sniffed, lifting his chin. "A Hummel never backs down from a bet," he said, mustering his snootiest tone.

Blaine's grip tightened, fingertips digging into the soft crook of his elbow. He pulled Kurt in closer, looking up into his face with a mischievous smile. "So what do I get if I win?"

Kurt could feel the familiar tingle of heat low in his stomach, coupled with the blush already prickling up his neck. He licked his lips, heart rate picking up when Blaine's eyes tracked the motion. "Who says you win anything? Or that you're even going to win, for that matter?"

Blaine tilted his head slightly, their faces now close enough for their noses to brush, mouths scant centimetres apart. "I think I should win something."

Kurt would barely have to move to kiss him, but he held still. "That's assuming that you have the slightest chance at winning."

"Ooh," Blaine mocked, warm breath brushing over Kurt's face. "Confident, are we?"

"With good reason." Kurt's pulse was fluttering away at the base of his throat. Tingles were shooting up his arm, fanning out from where Blaine was touching him and sending shivers down his spine. He held his breath, waiting.

Blaine's eyes flickered up to meet his. They were hot and dark, practically smouldering in the half-light. His grip tightened almost imperceptibly on Kurt's arm, and he swayed in even closer to Kurt, pressing their torsos together and wrapping his other arm around Kurt, hand flattened to the small of Kurt's back. "Can I kiss you?" he asked, breath brushing across Kurt's mouth in a gentle caress, suggestive of what was still to come.

"No complaints here," Kurt said, hearing the breathless crack in his own voice but somehow unable to care. He let his eyes close, all of his senses tingling and hyper-aware of Blaine's close proximity. He could feel Blaine's heartbeat through his shirt, fast and regular and oh-so comforting.

Blaine chuckled softly, and breached the gap to touch their lips together; just a quick, chaste meeting of mouths, dry and warm. "I missed kissing you," he said, pulling back to look into Kurt's eyes, quiet and close and serious and Kurt's. "I missed you."

Kurt wrapped a hand around the back of Blaine's neck, leaning their foreheads together and closing his eyes to absorb the feel of Blaine. "I know," he said, and he didn't say me too or I know how you feel because the former would pale in comparison and the latter would be a barefaced lie. It had been one day for him. One day. Twenty-four hours. One thousand, four hundred and forty minutes. Eighty-six thousand and four hundred seconds.

Blaine's nose was cold when he nuzzled it against Kurt's cheek. "I love you," he murmured, tucking his face in the crook of Kurt's neck, breath hot against Kurt's chilled skin.

This, at least, Kurt could answer. "I love you too," he said, feeling the weight of the words on his tongue, rolling around his mouth, smooth and round like cherry pips. He could taste Blaine on his tongue still; an indescribable taste like peppermint and coffee with faint, undertones of cinnamon.

He could feel Blaine's smile against his neck. "Do you love me enough to forgive me for something?"

Kurt felt his stomach clench, then shiver and fall apart. "What?" he asked, dread wrapping cold fingers around his heart and leaving a hot-cold, sickened sensation in the pit of his stomach.

Blaine pulled away, and Kurt was confused by the playful twinkle in his eyes. "For this." He leaned down and grabbed a handful of snow, tossing it into Kurt's face.

Kurt gasped and shrieked and blinked the frozen crystals out of his eyes, clumps sticking to his eyelashes. "You're going to pay for that, Blaine Anderson," he said, wiping his face with his sleeve. His skin stung from the cold, but it was a pleasant sting that made his cheeks tingle.

"You'd have to catch me first," Blaine retorted, already springing away from Kurt and ducking behind the tree, a smirk on his face.

Kurt bent and picked up a handful of snow, hissing as it chilled his fingers. "Oh, you're on."

"I didn't know if I would get to see you again before Christmas," Blaine murmured, skating his thumb over the back of Kurt's hand.

Kurt exhaled heavily, shifting closer to drop his head onto Blaine's shoulder. He breathed in the warm scent of Blaine. "I think the clock's getting a little temperamental."

"Sodding thing." Blaine turned his head to press a gentle kiss to Kurt's hair, his lips lingering, as if he was trying to memorise the sensation. "I don't know if I love it or hate it, to be quite honest."

Kurt hummed in agreement and let his eyes droop shut, feeling Blaine's warmth radiate through him and leave his skin tingling—but not from the chill of the snow, which lay in a fine layer on the grass, slightly crunchy to the touch. There was a crispness to the air that nipped at Kurt's fingers and nose, but the liquid head pooling in his stomach kept the cold at bay.

"My trousers are getting wet," Blaine said after a moment of comfortable silence, sounding slightly annoyed.

"Want me to move?" Kurt offered, not bothering to lift his head or even open his eyes. He felt Blaine's lips on his hair again.

"No." Kurt felt the answer rather than heard it: Blaine's mouth moving hotly against his scalp, the word breathed into his hair and sending vibrations through his body. A squirmy feeling started in his belly, his pulse suddenly loud in his ears.

A light flicked on inside the house, the light pouring out into the garden in strips across the snow.

"Shit," Blaine said softly. His entire body vibrated with tension, an electric thrum. "We must have woken Mother." He sprang to his feet, his dressing gown covered in wet patches of melted snow, his cheeks flushed and his hair mussed from sleep and playfighting. He looked at Kurt in consternation, eyes wide. "She's going to wonder why I'm not in bed."

Kurt bit his lip, his side cold now that Blaine had left. "You should probably go back inside, then."

Blaine hesitated still. "You could...come with me. Upstairs, I mean."

Kurt stared at him, a knot of panic in his chest. Was Blaine suggesting what he thought he was thinking? "What?"

Blushing, he toed at the ground with a sodden slipper, carefully not meeting Kurt's eyes. "I don't mean to do anything, just...I don't want to leave you outside in the cold."

"I'll be gone in a bit," Kurt pointed out, feeling a pang of guilt when Blaine's face fell at his words, eyes closing off and back stiffening. He picked at the snow, unable to look at Blaine's face; he focussed on how soft the snow looked but how it bit at his fingertips, sticking wetly to his skin. "Go, Blaine."

Blaine took a cautious step closer. "Can I kiss you goodbye?" he asked, sounding as if he expected Kurt to say no or yell at him and reject him. When Kurt looked up, his eyes were wet, lashes long and dark. "I...this might be it, Kurt." He shook his head, swallowing hard and closing his eyes as if in pain. "Can I kiss you, one last time? Please?"

This might be our last chance.

Kurt nodded, a broken and abrupt movement, then lurched to his feet, Blaine reaching out to steady him and draw him close. Kurt's stomach flipped at the warm brush of his skin. "It's not you, I swear," he said, leaning their heads together and breathing in the scent of Blaine. "It's me. I just...I can't, okay? Not yet."

Blaine pulled back, a frown creasing his forehead. "What?" He looked utterly perplexed.

Kurt felt his cheeks heat up. He ducked his head. "I'm not ready for...that."

Blaine still looked non-plussed.

Kurt's cheeks were on fire, he was sure of it. "You know."

"I'm pretty sure I don't, actually," Blaine said, wrapping his fingers around Kurt's wrist and holding it against his chest. Kurt could feel the beat of Blaine's heart, could imagine the life flowing through Blaine's body.

Kurt groaned. "Sex."

Blaine's mouth dropped open in a manner that Kurt would most likely have found comical had he not been willing the ground to open up and swallow him whole. "Kurt, what? You thought I was suggesting—you know, that?"

"You weren't?"

"No!" Blaine shook his head furiously. He looked the picture of embarrassment. "I just meant to hold each other."

Kurt scrubbed a hand over his face and laughed awkwardly. "Oh."

Blaine touched Kurt's cheek, looking deep into Kurt's eyes with a bashful expression. "I'm not exactly ready, either, don't worry."

Kurt chuckled, albeit nervously. "That's good, then. Good to know we're on the same page."

"Yeah." Blaine rubbed at the back of his neck, still red-faced. "So, uh, are you coming up?"

"Of course." Kurt smiled and dropped a kiss on Blaine's cheek. "Need you ask?"