Hey! This story sort of came out of nowhere. I don't usually write CrissColfer because I prefer to read it, but it was actually quite fun to write :)
I've finished writing it, but since it ended up being 23,000+ words, I'm uploading it in four parts.
The title is from Keane's song.
Chris listened to his heart as it beat unsteadily in his chest, the throbbing sensation against his ribs becoming almost too much for him to bear. The images in his mind of what happened just a few hours ago, of what happened every day of his miserable life, still fresh, the emotional wounds still open and untouched. There were scars on his heart as well as the physical reminders of each locker he had been shoved into.
He reached over to his nightstand and flipped on the lamp, illuminating the room with a hazy yellowish glow. It made things eerie and the unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach grew.
Chris had never had a problem sleeping through the night, at least not when he was younger. But as the years passed by and each Clovis student grew into the person they were to be, the teasing began. Teasing turned into hurtful taunting. Taunting turned into full-forced bullying, and bullying turned from emotional to physical. By the time he reached high school, he had become submissive to the words thrown at him and the shoves he got. It wasn't that he didn't stand up for himself; it was just that he didn't see a reason to care anymore.
Graduation had come and gone, and what Chris had once thought would be a ticket out of his hard life in Clovis was no more than a much-too-long ceremony and a piece of paper saying he had at least accomplished more than the numerous losers who dropped out before making it through their senior year.
Now, every time Chris closed his eyes, he was forced to see the past four years of his life. He never had nightmares per say, but in order to have a nightmare you had to actually fall asleep. Chris found it nearly impossible to do so, at least willingly. His eyes would fight his mind and exhaustion would eventually take over, sending him into a deep sleep. It was then that he was finally safe. Safe from his tormentors. Safe from rejection. Safe from depression. Safe from the feeling of absolute terror and failure that seemed to consume his every thought.
Chris was unhappy, to put it lightly. He didn't have a single person he could consider a friend, and the person he was closet to was his younger sister; someone who didn't see the world in quite the same light as he did. And he kept it that way. Hannah was innocent, joyful, naïve even. She was unaware of the hurt in Chris' life and while it was good for one to be aware of the cruelty in the world, Chris liked that Hannah wasn't able to judge others and match someone with a specific stereotype.
Perhaps if there were more people as kind and accepting as her, he wouldn't be laying in bed staring at his ceiling at 12:48 in the morning, wondering what his life had come to and what the point in going on was. He found himself wondering what it would be like if he just disappeared during the night. If he ended his life, would anyone even notice? No one would lose a friend. He wouldn't have to worry about his future anymore. He wouldn't have to live with regret and fear.
He turned his head to the side, and that's when he noticed the small, black frame on his nightstand. It was a picture of him and Hannah, one his mom had taken the previous summer. He was convinced that the joy on his sister's face could cure even the most insufferable of depressions. And it did for the brief moments he saw it.
It was then, staring at the picture and thinking about the family who raised him to be who he was that he realized he could never leave; at least not in a way that prevented him from ever coming back. However, there was one thing he could do, and no matter how scary it would be for him to go through with it and the panic that was sure to run through his parents' minds when they woke up the next morning, he knew he had to do it.
Which is why Chris found himself throwing clothes into the biggest suitcase he had, tossing his toiletries on top and gathering the stash of cash he had hidden in the back of his closet. His family is the reason he tip-toed into the kitchen and pulled out a small sheet of paper to write a note to his mom. Despite all of the bad things in his life telling him to just give up, Tim, Karyn, and Hannah were the reason he slipped out the front door, keys in hand and suitcase following close behind, and climbed into his car.
Not even a minute later he backed out of the driveway and began making his way down the street, alone, without a destination in mind, but finally feeling free.
Chris was on the road for a little over five minutes before making a decision about his destination. He was heading north because south was Los Angeles and he knew he wouldn't be able to go to LA. The city would be full of reminders of every audition he didn't get. He would have to walk down the streets knowing the people around him were living their dream. They had the life that he wanted. Putting himself in that type of environment would only send him into a deeper depression.
The minute he took exit 57A he slouched back in his seat and allowed his rigid shoulders to relax into a more comfortable position. There wasn't one specific aspect about the city he was headed towards that made him choose it. Perhaps deep down, he felt like it was the one place he would belong; somewhere he could be himself for a week or two without feeling the disapproving looks of those around him.
He kept the radio off as he drove, and the silence surrounding him felt peaceful for the first time in his life. He was alone, but not for long. In a matter of a few hours, he would be in San Francisco.
By the time he arrived in San Francisco the clock on his dash read "6:09," and the bright numbers were an instant reminder of the people sleeping all around him. He probably should have thought things through a little better; maybe he should have left around five in order to have some place to go once he arrived in the city. However, he was there, and nothing could be done about it.
He parked his car on the side of the road, making sure to take in his surroundings so he could actually find his way back, and slowly stepped out onto the sidewalk.
To be honest, Chris was terrified. He was in an unfamiliar city with nowhere to go, and the sun hadn't begun peaking over the horizon just yet. He couldn't help the fear that bubbled up inside of him when he passed an ally or turned a corner. The city would be covered in a pink and orange glow within the next hour, but at the time, the only source of light came from the lamp posts lining the streets.
He made his way down the sidewalk and walked past various shops and restaurants, all of which were still closed from the previous day. He was unsure what he was looking for in particular, but he knew once he saw it, he would just know. He had brought enough money with him to cover the fees at a crappy hotel, and the rest of his expenses he would take out of his savings. Chris knew he wouldn't be able to afford a comfortable hotel, but that wasn't the point. He was finally out of the town that had consumed his happiness for eighteen years, and he was determined not to let anything bring him down.
Or so he thought until he felt the first raindrop splash onto his face and run down his pale cheek. Inwardly cursing the dark grey clouds above him, he began running. He was blocks away from his car by now which sent him into an instant panic. He frantically looked around at his surroundings as the rain picked up and his t-shirt and jeans became saturated with the murky rain water.
That's when he saw a dim light through a window a couple shops down. He walked a little quicker, trying his best to stay under the poor excuse of a shelter that was the canvas awning hanging above his head.
When Chris arrived at the shop he saw a younger man behind the counter with a guitar stretched out before him. Chris could barely see his face for all of the curls on top of his head, and any other time, he might have taken a few minutes to admire just how beautiful the boy was. But he didn't have a few minutes.
He began to frantically knock on the window, trying his best to get the man's attention and hoped he would be kind enough to take pity on Chris. It didn't take long before a pair of hazel eyes met his, and a look of genuine confusion was painted on the man's face. Regardless, he set the guitar down and hustled to the door, unlocking it and swinging it open to let Chris inside.
"Thank you," Chris muttered, a little breathless.
"Dud, you're wet," the man pointed out.
Chris looked up at him, wondering if there was some kind of hidden joke behind what he was saying or if he was just plain idiotic. Chris estimated that he couldn't have been more than a few years older than himself.
"If you haven't noticed, water seems to be falling from the sky. It happens occasionally," Chris said, a little more sarcastically than he had intended and he immediately regretted it.
"I'm wounded. You should be a little nicer. I just saved you from Zeus' fury." Chris looked at him like he was the oddest man he'd ever met. "You know, the Greek go-"
"I know what you're talking about," Chris interrupted. "Most of the people I know aren't intelligent enough to come up with a reference like that. I'm sorry. I'm running on little to no sleep. It makes me a tad snappy." Chris shifted awkwardly where he was standing, not sure what he was supposed to do now that he was out of the rain.
He finally looked around the little shop—not that he could see very far due to the racks not-quite-so-strategically placed throughout the store—and noticed it was some kind of music shop. There were stacks and stacks of books spread throughout and finding sheet music stuck between two objects wasn't uncommon. Chris noticed a few musical instruments out of their cases and set randomly around the store. He almost liked how disorganized it all felt, and he couldn't help but to think the shopped reflected that of the personality of the man standing before him.
"I'm Darren," the man finally said with an outstretched hand.
Chris hesitantly took it. "Chris."
"So, Chris." Darren began making his way back to the counter and gestured for Chris to follow. "What brings you wandering through the streets of San Francisco at six in the morning? Boyfriend kick you out?"
Chris' jaw dropped at Darren's assumption, albeit a true one, but before he could speak Darren continued.
"You aren't from around here, are you?" Chris shook his head. "What brings you to the city then?"
I needed to escape the pain at home, he thought. "Just a visit. I got here a few minutes ago. I was trying to find a place to stay."
Darren eyed him curiously as he went back to work on the guitar. Chris kept his distance, but casually rummaged through the bowl of one-of-a-kind guitar picks on the counter.
"Any luck so far?"
"No. It started raining before I could get too far."
Darren finished tuning the guitar and set it into its case. "Great. Well, you're visibly shivering, so first of all we need to get you out of those clothes." He stepped out from behind the counter and placed his hands on Chris' shoulder to turn him around. He didn't miss the way Chris flinched or the wince coming from his lips.
"Sorry," he apologized.
"I-it's fine." Chris didn't know why he was so flustered by Darren. He'd grown up around attractive guys, but he couldn't look or touch. But here was Darren, defying both of those rules. Chris had noticed the way he studied him out of the corner of his eye as he finished up with the guitar and even the slight physical contact was something entirely new and unfamiliar to Chris. He wasn't used to anyone being so comfortable with him, especially someone he just met.
Darren dug around in his pocket for his keys and pulled them out. "Come on. Let me just lock the place up and we can head to my house."
"What?" Kurt croaked. He couldn't go to a stranger's house. What if it was a trap? Sure, Darren looked like a nice guy, but there was still something off about him. Chris couldn't put his finger on it, but the way he seemed so kind to Chris was unusual. Chris didn't understand why he was so willing to help out a boy he'd just met minutes earlier. Maybe people in San Francisco were just that way.
"You can't stay in these clothes all day, Chris. You'll catch a cold." He looked around Chris. "Did you being anything with you?"
"Um, I did, b-but it's all in my car about ten blocks south from here."
Darren considered this for a minute before shaking his head. "My house is about four blocks north of here. I'm sure I have something you can wear."
"Darren, I don't-"
But Darren didn't let him finish his sentence. Before Chris knew it, he was being pulled back out into the rain. Darren locked the door behind them and tugged on Chris' hand. The small gesture was familiar to Darren. What he didn't realize was just how foreign it was to Chris. Chris felt his hand catch fire as the warmth of Darren's palm met his own. He couldn't help but to stare down at their joined hands as he ran through the streets behind Darren.
A few minutes later they reached a row of the stereotypical San Francisco Painted Ladies. Darren slowed his pace and turned up a flight of stairs, pausing to make sure Chris made it up carefully. He unlocked the bright red front door and pulled Chris inside and out of the rain.
Darren tossed his keys on a table by the door and led Chris up the stairs to the left. "My parents are gone for the weekend, so I'll use their shower and you can take mine."
"I don't need a shower," Chris said quickly and came to a halt at the top of the stairs.
"Chris, you could use a warm shower." Chris tried to still his heart every time Darren said his name. "I mean, you don't have to if you don't want to. I don't want to make you uncomfortable, but I think it would help." Darren rubbed the back of his neck and Chris almost thought he looked a bit nervous.
"N-no. It's fine. I just don't want to intrude."
Darren's warm smile appeared on his face again. "Don't be silly. My room's just over here," he pointed to a room a couple doors down.
Darren's room was the complete opposite of what Chris had expected to see, but he supposed it fit the little bit of Darren's personality he'd already seen poke through. The walls were painted a dull blue, and posters of various musical groups and movies were hung along the wall. There was a queen-sized bed in the middle of the wall, flanked by two dark oak nightstands. What didn't surprise Chris was the amount of t-shirts strewn across the floor—clean he hoped, but not very likely.
"Sorry about that," Darren picked a pizza box up off of the floor near Chris' feet and set it on the desk. "My brother ordered a pizza last night and passed the leftovers on to me."
Chris just smiled and Darren disappeared into his closet. Chris was almost afraid it would swallow him whole and he would never make it out. However, Darren returned with a pair of jeans (more than likely too short) and a tight-fitted Beatles t-shirt and handed them off to Chris.
"Thank you," Chris said shyly.
Darren grabbed his own clothes and headed to his dresser. "Do you need, um…" he trailed off.
Chris picked up on what he was asking. "What?" Oh, no! I-I'll be fine." He fidgeted with the hem of the shirt. "You have good taste, by the way," Chris added. "I love the Beatles."
Darren pulled a pair of boxers out and shut the drawer. "Yeah?" Chris didn't miss the way his eyes sparkled from the little bit of sunlight finally making its way into the sky.
"Yeah," Chris smiled back.
"Thanks. My ex-girlfriend hated them. Maybe that's why things didn't work out. Anyone who can't appreciate their talent has to be fucking insane."
Chris tried to ignore the way his heart dropped through his chest when Darren said those words. It's not like he expected Darren to be gay anyway.
"Right. Well, you said the shower was…"
"Oh, right. The room across the hall. Towels are in the cabinet behind the door."
"Thank you." Chris made his way out of Darren's room wondering what the hell he'd gotten himself into.
Once Chris was done with his shower and changed into dry clothes, he followed Darren downstairs. Darren threw their clothes in the dryer and led Chris into the kitchen.
"Are you hungry?" Chris shrugged. "Come on, Chris. You can be honest." Darren pulled two bowls out of the cabinet and set them on the counter before grabbing two spoons and two boxes of cereal.
"To be honest, I'm still trying to figure out why you're doing all of this for me. You don't even know me." Darren pulled a bar stool out and motioned for Chris to sit down.
"I just care, okay?" Darren opened a box of cereal and began pouring the contents into his bowl.
"But why? Why do you care about a stranger?"
"I don't know," Darren sighed. And he didn't know. He didn't know why felt so impelled to help Chris out, but there was something gnawing at him, something deep inside his gut telling him that he had to help.
Sensing Darren wasn't going to continue, Chris changed the subject. "Did you just mix Fruity Pebbles with Fruit Loops?" Chris laughed, and he realized that it was the first time something had genuinely made him smile in weeks. Being with Darren seemed easy. It felt as if he'd known him for years rather than an hour.
"Yes, and it's fucking amazing. The strawberry milk makes it even better."
Sure enough, Chris watched as Darren pulled a carton of strawberry milk from the refrigerator and poured it into the rainbow cereal.
"Do you have something a little less… colorful?" Chris wasn't sure he was ready to literally puke rainbows just yet.
"My mom has some of that Kashi shit. Would you like that instead?"
"That would be nice."
Darren hopped down from his stool and pulled another box out of the cabinet, handing it to Chris with a disgusted look on his face. "You're one of those healthy eaters, aren't you?"
"I wouldn't say that, but I stopped eating kids' cereal once I stopped being a kid."
"There's no age limit on that damn box," Darren said sternly, and then added with a smile, "I've checked."
They continued eating for a few minutes in silence before Chris spoke up. "You asked me what I was doing out at six in the morning, but you never told me why you were alone in that shop so early."
Darren shoved a spoonful of cereal into his mouth before answering. Chris had to hold back from cringing at the sight. Darren really was that of a typical young, manner-less man, but Chris somehow found himself attracted to it.
"I have trouble sleeping sometimes. I've never got it diagnosed, but my mom thinks I have mild insomnia. She always tells me my mind never wants to shut up because I insist on doing a million different things at once. Maybe she's right, but I enjoy it."
"At least you're doing something with your life," Chris pointed out.
Darren pointed his spoon towards Chris. "Exactly. I mean, I go to school, and-"
"Where?" Chris interrupted.
"Michigan. If all goes well, I've got one more year left. During the summer I help out at the music shop. My friend's parents own the place, and I helped out a lot when it first opened a few years ago. I know my way around pretty well, so when I can't sleep, I go in and get a few things done. Sometimes I work, but a lot of the time I use the silence to write new songs or play a few tunes."
"You write music?" Chris had to admit that he was impressed. He could write any essay handed to him, an article on anything, a million different fictional stories, but the minute he tried to write a song his mind shut down.
"I'm not saying I write good music, but I've written quite a few songs."
Chris nodded. He found himself doing that quite a bit. He wasn't quite sure what to say around Darren. Darren was as much a mystery to him as the city itself.
"So, where do you plan on staying while you're here?" Darren poured a little bit more cereal in his bowl.
"I can't afford much, so a cheap little motel is probably where I'll end up. Do you have any suggestions?"
"There's always the Palace De Criss."
"The what?" Chris raised an eyebrow.
"Criss. It's my last name. I was saying you're welcome to stay here. We've got a guest room and my parents are always happy to meet new people."
Chris couldn't say he was surprised by the offer given Darren's helpfulness thus far, but he declined anyway. "I couldn't do that. I'll be fine at a hotel or something. Thank you, though."
There it was again. The disappointment on Darren's face. Chris convinced himself that he had imagined it this time as well.
"Well, the offer still stands if you need a place."
"Thank you." Chris finished off the last little bit of cereal in his bowl. "I should probably get going so I can find a place. I really want to thank you for all of this, though. You did far more than I expected of you."
"A-are you sure?"
"Yeah," Chris nodded. "I need to find a room before everything fills up."
"Can I give you my number so you can at least call me to let me know you made it okay? And if you have any questions or get lost, you can feel free to call me."
Chris teased his lip between his teeth, pondering Darren's request. He didn't want to get attached to someone in a city so far away from his home, but wasn't that also kind of the point of coming here? Didn't he want people to get to know him, see him for who he really was and find at least one person who would accept him for everything he was? He wanted to feel free and forget about the pain in his life for one week, and Darren did that for him. Darren made him forget he was a stranger in the city. Darren made him forget about the bruises on his back and the hurtful words engraved into his memory. Darren made him forget everything bad in the world and replaced it with everything that was good.
After taking a minute to think, Chris pulled out his phone and opened up a new contact. "You can just put it in here and I'll call you once I get settled in."
Darren took Chris' phone and began entering his contact information. "Do you promise you'll call me?"
"Yes, Darren, I promise," Chris rolled his eyes.
Darren led him to the door, and Chris almost turned around and told him he'd stay. He didn't want to leave, but he knew he had to. "I'll just… I'll talk to you later I guess."
"Yeah," Darren opened the front door. "I'll talk to you later."
Chris stepped outside and Darren shut the door behind him. The rain had let up and the sun had finally appeared. He was seeing the city for the first time, and the sight before him was beautiful. However, it wasn't nearly as beautiful as the boy on the other side of the door. The one who showed Chris more kindness in one hour than he'd been shown during all four years of high school. Chris took a deep breath and descended the stairs, heading out into the city, and looking for the one thing he came for, not knowing he'd already found him.
After nearly two hours of searching, wandering up and down the streets of San Francisco, Chris sat down on the uncomfortable, queen-sized bed in the cheapest hotel he could find. It ended up being less than a block from where he originally parked his car, so he kept his spot and hauled his single suitcase inside.
As promised, he reached for his phone to call Darren, but he knew there was another call he had to make first. It was almost 10:00, so he was sure his mom and dad had found out about his impromptu trip by now. He took a deep breath before hitting his house number on speed dial and raising the phone to his ear.
Chris was nervous about how they would react. Although he was eighteen and technically an adult, he knew his parents, especially his mom, would be upset and even a little angry that he'd left, and in some ways, they had every right to be.
The phone call ended up being a little better than he anticipated, but he'd had to promise to call at least once a day to check in and let them know he was okay. Tim and Karyn knew Chris needed a break from Clovis, and they were afraid of what would happen—by Chris' tormenters as well as himself—if they forced him to come home.
Once he hung up with his mom, he searched in his contacts for Darren's name and pressed send. He knew he shouldn't be nervous about making such a simple phone call, but the truth was, he was actually more nervous. He didn't know what it was about Darren that made him so anxious, but there was something about the man that captured his interest. There was something about the way Darren didn't feel like a stranger at all. To Chris, Darren was just Darren.
"Hello?" Chris heard Darren's voice on the other line. When he didn't reply, Darren spoke up again. "Chris, is that you?"
"Y-yeah. Sorry. Hi."
Darren laughed, "Hello, Flower,"
"Flower?" Chris was clearly confused.
"Yeah. From Bambi. You remind me of him."
"Because I'm gay?" Chris asked, and a wave of astonishment rushed over him when he realized that was the very first time he'd so bluntly expressed his sexuality.
"No, because you're so cute and bashful. Have you seen that damn skunk? He's got to be the most adorable animal in the fucking world."
Chris tried to control the butterflies in his stomach that fluttered about once he realized that Darren had indeed called him cute, whether he meant to or not. "O-oh."
Chris heard a loud crash through the phone and Darren yelled, "Shit! Sorry. Hang on a second." He heard the phone being set on what he assumed was a counter and waited for Darren to come back on. About a minute later he heard the voice he was quickly growing to love on the other line again.
"Sorry about that. I knocked the stand of cleaner over and had to pick everything up before Snicker Doodle got into it."
"Snicker Doodle?" Chris questioned.
"Yeah. My cat. She comes to the shop with me every day. She's not too enthusiastic about staying home alone, and now that she's older I have to keep an eye on her."
Chris leaned back against the headboard of his bed and giggled. "You named your cat Snicker Doodle?"
"I was eight," Darren stated as if that explained everything.
Chris didn't say anything, just hummed in acknowledgement. "Sorry I'm so awkward," he finally said.
"Awkward? Never!" Darren joked, but his voice held a bit of sincerity.
"I'm the most awkward person you'll ever meet, so the awkwardness of this conversation was inevitable."
"I beg to differ. I am the least awkward person you will ever meet, so your awkwardness and my lack of balances out to create a mutual easiness in which we can talk."
"Taking a boy you just met home so that you can bathe, clothe, and feed him has the potential to be one of the most awkward experiences one could ever hear of."
"And was it awkward?" Darren asked. Chris could tell he was nervous to hear the answer.
"Strangely, no. You… you're… calming, actually." More than Chris would ever let Darren know, if he was honest.
"Good. I would hate for your first interaction in the city be one to scar you and scare you from ever coming back." Chris heard Darren answer a quick question a customer had, something about a beginner's book for a violin. "So, you called me."
"Yes, I did." Chris still wasn't used to how easily he was able to talk to Darren, as if it was something he did every single day.
"Does this mean you found a place to stay?"
"Um, yeah. I did. It's not much, but it will get me by while I'm here." Chris looked at the time, noticing it was going on 11:00. He wanted to make the most of his time in the city, so he wanted to get out of the hotel and explore a bit. "Look, as much as I'd love to continue this apparently-not-so-awkward conversation, I need to get going, and you need to do your job."
"It's not a job. I don't get paid," Darren retorted.
"Then why the hell do you do it?" Chris wondered how many other ways he could be surprised by Darren.
"Because I like music." Chris could practically hear Darren shrugging on the other end of the line. "Listen, if you go out today and get lost, will you promise to call me? You may be able to save me from these people."
"You said you liked working there," Chris challenged.
"I said I liked music. I never said I liked the customers."
Chris rolled his eyes. Somehow he couldn't imagine Darren disliking anyone. "Goodbye, Darren."
Chris pressed end with a smile on his face and aimlessly threw his phone in the middle of the bed, wondering what it was about Darren that made him so giddy and uncharacteristically happy.