Title: Close Your Eyes
Summary: AU. Finn, Kurt, and Blaine try to survive on the streets of Cleveland. By some definitions, Blaine dies. Kurt knows this because, by some definitions he'd died once too.
Warnings: Heavy discussions of death and loss. Brief (off-screen) character death. Brief homophobia.
Once upon a time, Kurt had many things.
Then, he had absolutely nothing, not even a heartbeat.
Tonight, he has only a backpack full of his belongings, an ex-step brother, and the best street corner there is in Cleveland to busk.
Finn has an empty, five-gallon bucket turned upside down and two scratched and pitted drumsticks. He has a voice like a zoo lion.
Kurt pulls his newsboy cap off his head and lays it bottom up on the sidewalk by their feet.
Finn starts out, wordlessly, in a dead sprint, banging on the bucket in a crazy rhythm that might be "Wipe Out." The bucket makes the song too flat to recognize, but also harsher, deeper, almost tribal. Kurt feels his heart begin to beat faster. On the sidewalk, people slow down and some stand for a second, listening. They start to smile at Finn's super-focused, serious face.
They toss their dollars and change into Kurt's upturned hat. Kurt glances over and Finn looks up just in time to catch his grin.
Finn launches right into "Sympathy for the Devil" after that and Kurt chases after him, picking up the vocals. It's incredibly stripped down and Kurt doesn't know how Finn learns music the way he does, or how he picks out notes on a plain, white bucket, but it happens. Many people have called Finn dumb, but Kurt knows it's only because they haven't see him like this, in his brief, incredible moments of genius.
The hat is filling up and the street is growing dark. Kurt is smiling as he sings and rocking a little to the beat and totally in the groove.
A tall man in a red hat shuffles past and spits on the cement by Finn's foot. "Fucking fags."
Kurt stops singing like he's been choked. Finn's drumsticks clatter to the sidewalk and he's up and after the guy in a flat second.
Kurt doesn't even have his feet yet when Finn grabs the man's shoulder and spins him around. "You got a problem?"
The man shoves Finn away. "Watch yourself." His voice is low, in-control.
"Finn, don't," Kurt says. They don't need trouble. They already have plenty of it.
Finn glances back at Kurt. He's angry, but he's trying to listen to reason. In that moment, Kurt sees the man move, but there's no time for a warning. It's not even a fight. The stranger grabs the front of Finn's jacket and swings him around into the nearest light post. The metal post vibrates dully and Finn slumps to the ground. Kurt feels his breath hiccup way down in his stomach.
Even the man looks a little stunned, his eyes wide under the red brim of his cap. But, he doesn't hesitate to turn around and take off. Kurt doesn't waste his attention on that, immediately dropping to his knees next to Finn. "Hey. Finn? Look at me."
Finn is patting at his head drunkenly. There's blood running from somewhere behind his ear. "Shit."
"Finn, hey." Kurt grabs at his shoulders and ducks to try and meet his gaze.
"Kurt? Shit. My head." Finn leans forward and grabs at Kurt's wrist.
"I know. I know." Kurt glances around for something, someone, but the street is suddenly very dark and very empty. He tugs at Finn's arm. "Can you walk?"
Finn snorts. "Of course."
Kurt stands up and packs their things in a rush. He slings his backpack over his shoulders and pulls his hat down tight. The bucket holds Finn's drumsticks and bag perfectly. Kurt pulls Finn up with his free hand, trying to steady him with an arm around his waist. Finn stumbles at first, but then they're loping down the sidewalk, disappearing into the shadows.
Kurt Hummel has only ever wanted two things in his life; Love, and a glorious, beautiful house on the lake.
He's wanted other things, of course. An ice cream sundae on occasion, those red, skinny pants in the Gap ad last week, to have his parents still alive, to be able to afford a weekly manicure.
But, those things are fleeting and unreasonable. Kurt's smart enough to focus on what he has and work with that.
The problem is that he doesn't have anything. No job. No home. Nothing but the dirty sidewalks of Cleveland to roam.
At the end of the day, Kurt knows he's trapped. There's no getting out of this black hole alive.
The hotel they're staying in is magnificent. It's six stories high, each one trimmed in gold. The lobby is grand and full of burgundy velvet couches and marble floors.
It's also halfway burnt-down, scorched black along the ceilings, and crumbling apart past the third floor.
Kurt and Finn have been squatting here for almost two months. Their room is on the second floor, just on the edge of the blackened crust of the building. There are other people staying in the hollowed, empty rooms, but they're sparse and Kurt does his best to avoid them.
He pulls Finn up the stairs and at the top, Finn slumps against the banister. "One minute."
"Come on." Kurt tugs at him. "We're almost there."
"Hold on," Finn says, but at the same time, he takes one giant, loping step forward. They stumble down the hall, past closed doors and into their room. Through the paper thin walls, Kurt hears a neighbor coughing, painful, hacking sounds.
"Sit," Kurt says, pushing Finn onto the bare mattress. Finn does and closes his eyes, slouching low. Kurt leans over him, tipping his head forward, to see the wound. It's only a small cut, thankfully, but it sits on top of a raised, egg-sized lump that is hard to the touch.
"Are you dizzy?"
Finn sighs. "Yes."
Finn squints one eye open. "Concussion."
Kurt frowns at him. "You need ice. I'll be back. Don't go to sleep." Their neighbor coughs harshly again and Kurt winces. "Though I doubt you'll be able to with that noise."
He hurries down to the corner store where he spends the entirety of the night's earnings on a few sandwiches, some drinks, and a bag of ice.
He's only been gone a half an hour at the most, but when he gets back to the hotel room, things have changed. The curtains are thrown all the way open to let in the light from street lamps outside. Finn is flat on his back in the middle of the floor. There's a man leaning over him.
For the second time in one night, the air is squeezed out of Kurt's lungs. He freezes for one millisecond, shaking his head in shock. Then, he swings the bag of ice over his head and brings it back down over the intruder's back.
The guy falls over with a groan and a wheeze.
Kurt's hands are shaking. "Finn?" His voice sounds shrill and panicked, even to his own ears.
The stranger is rolling over onto his feet, holding one hand out in supplication.
Kurt raises the bag of ice again.
"W-wait!" The guy takes a step back. Kurt sizes him up, instantly. He's shorter, but more muscled than Kurt. Dark hair and fair skin. He looks like he knows how to fight.
"Get away from my brother," Kurt says, as slowly and calmly as he can.
The guy raises both hands and steps further back, bumping into the wall. "I can explain."
"I don't care. Back up." Kurt flicks his eyes to the far corner of the room. The guy shuffles that far and slumps against the wall. He slides to the floor as Kurt kneels next to Finn.
"Finn?" He taps his cheek gently, then squeezes his shoulder firmly. Finn squints and blinks and shoves his hand away.
"Hey." Kurt shakes his shoulder again. "C'mon, Finn."
Kurt looks up at the guy, still slouched in the corner of their room. "I didn't ask you."
"I'm staying next door and I heard him fall. I just came over to check." The guy frowns and Kurt has to admit that the concern on his face looks genuine. For the first time, Kurt notices the raw, raspy tone of his voice. He's the one that has been coughing up a lung next door. He really did mean well.
Kurt sits down on the floor next to Finn.
"I'm Blaine," the guy offers.
"Kurt. This is my brother, Finn. He hit his head." The stress of the situation washes over Kurt all at once and his chin starts to tremble. He reaches out to run his hand over Finn's hair. "Thank you for checking on him, but I think we need to go to the hospital now."
Blaine lowers his face into his arm and lets out a string of harsh, deep coughs. "I can help," he says when the fit passes.
Kurt looks up and takes in the stranger again. Where he'd seen a threat before, he now sees a sickly young man, just as lost as he and Finn. He nods. "Okay. Let's go."
In a cubicle at the county hospital, Finn stares blearily at the wall. He's thrown up three times in the last thirty minutes and keeps looking just to the left of Kurt instead of right at him.
"I've never had a concussion," Blaine says curiously.
"'S'awesome," Finn slurs.
Kurt paces at the foot of the bed. "That was stupid, Finn. You should've just let it go." Now that he knows Finn is only concussed and not actually dying, Kurt is just mad. "I don't understand why you have to go after people like you're some kind of pitbull. You're not a pitbull, Finn. You're not even a dog. You're a...a soft-skulled puppy."
Finn is looking at Blaine. "He's mostly right. My brother, he got all the smart genes."
"We don't even share genes, Finn."
"He's my little brother," Finn stage whispers to Blaine.
"I'm older than you!"
"Only in age."
Kurt stops pacing, fists clenched tight at his sides. Blaine is laughing in his chair beside the bed. One of the nurses had slapped a germ mask on him as soon as she'd heard his rasping coughs. Above the mask, his dark eyes crinkle in amusement.
"What?" Kurt snaps.
"Nothing." Blaine holds his hands up. "Don't let me keep you from trying to reason with the concussed guy."
Even Finn laughs at this, one hand over his stomach to hold in the nausea. Kurt sighs and flops down into another chair. He glares at Finn. "Great. He's on your side."
"I never picked a side," Blaine defends quickly.
"Be on Kurt's side." Finn sighs, turning over and closing his eyes. "I'm going to sleep."
"For one hour," Kurt reminds him. "I'm waking you up in sixty minutes exactly."
Finn doesn't react.
Blaine stands up, coughing into his elbow through the mask. "I'll be right back. Bathroom."
Kurt nods. As soon as the door closes behind him, Finn's eyes pop open. "He thinks you're cute."
Kurt shakes his head. "What?"
"Blaine thinks you're cute," Finn says slowly.
Kurt scoffs. "You're concussed."
"Sorry, dude, my intuition is still awesome. You should get his number."
"I don't have a phone. I don't need a number if I don't have a phone."
"Take him out," Finn mumbles, eyes falling closed again.
"I don't have any money. I can't take anyone anywhere. I'm not dateable." Kurt sighs and looks down at Finn, who is already breathing slow and deep. Kurt reaches out to smooth the blanket over him. Kurt would never admit it, but Finn actually is much better at seeing through to the core of people and what they're about. Still, even if he's right about Blaine, it doesn't change anything about Kurt. He is not dateable. Kurt hadn't really given it thought until right then. He'd never had any need to, but it's true. He and Finn live outside of normal society and even though Blaine seems to be in the same situation, it doesn't change things. They can't date. Kurt has enough issues and enough to worry about without pulling someone else into the mess that is his life.
The entire evening is leaving a sour taste in his mouth. Kurt slouches down in his chair and watches Finn sleep. When twenty minutes have passed and Blaine hasn't returned, Kurt figures he's taken off, not that he blames him. This is the life they lead.
So, when the door swings open after a half an hour, revealing an unmasked Blaine, Kurt is truly surprised. "Hey."
"Hey." Blaine drops into the chair on the other side of the bed. "Sorry. Some nurse just like, kidnapped me and forced a breathing treatment down my throat."
Kurt laughs in surprise. "What?" He'd thought the guy had a cold or something, not some kind of illness that passing nurses would catch on to and treat under the table. "Are you okay?"
Blaine clears his throat and nods. "Yeah. It's just...asthma and winter in Cleveland. They don't mix well and I can't afford the inhalers or medication anymore so..." He shrugs and ducks his head in embarrassment.
"It sounds bad."
"No, no. Not really."
Kurt nods, but he's not convinced.
"Anyway, what happened to you guys? I never got the whole story."
Kurt snorts. "That's because it's a terrible story. Finn decided to defend my honor against some childish homophobe on the street. The homophobe won, with an assist from a light post."
Blaine winces. "Ouch."
"Yeah. Stupid. Stupid and brave."
"You're the older one?"
"Technically, yeah, but we're actually the same age. He's my step-brother. Ex-step-brother, I guess. His mom and my dad were married before."
"They died." The words don't hurt as much as they did once, but they do hurt.
Blaine is shaking his head. "I'm so sorry."
Kurt shrugs, trying to smile. Talking about his family has always made him squeamish. "It is what it is, right?"
"I guess so."
Kurt thinks hard about his next words, trying to change the subject and put some distance between himself and Blaine. "This city is a hard place to be."
"You're right." Blaine nods, undeterred. He leans forward, elbows on his knees, chin on his fists. "Can I ask you something?"
Kurt looks up from Finn. "Sure."
"We're sort of in the same place, you and I. Staying in the hotel, no job, no family, stuck in this place. What do you think would really make you happy?"
"Oh." Kurt smiles, surprised. It's a sweet question and it's been a long time since he's given in to a daydream. "Love, of course. Everyone wants love in their life."
Blaine makes a face like he's really thinking about this, then frowns. "That's a given. Dig a little deeper."
Kurt laughs. "Love isn't deep enough for you?"
"Love isn't you enough for me."
Kurt searches Blaine's face for some clue of an ulterior motive for his questions, but all he finds is genuine interest. If this boy honestly thinks he's cute, Kurt really has given in to a daydream then. "Okay, this is silly," he says. "Please don't laugh."
Blaine grins. "I'm not going to laugh."
"Okay. You know those big houses down on the lake?"
"Well, when I was a kid, I always though that royalty lived there. Not real royalty, but like, Disney royalty. Snow White and Cinderella, Prince Charming. I thought those homes were so grand and perfect and beautiful on the outside, if I could just live there for one day, then my life would be a fairy tale, too." Kurt presses his fingertips to his lips and bows his head. Part of him had forgotten about all of that. He hadn't realized how much emotion he still had stored up about his childhood fantasy. He glances up at Blaine. "That's dumb, right?"
Blaine looks dead serious. "No. No way, Kurt. That's not dumb at all."
"I'd forgotten about it until just now." Kurt shrugs, trying to keep his emotions in check. He can't pinpoint why his eyes are suddenly watering and he takes a deep breath to try and control it.
Kurt looks up, hand over his mouth.
"Can I give you a hug?" Blaine doesn't really wait for Kurt to nod. He's already up and around the bed, easing his arms around Kurt's shoulders. "I'm sorry."
"No. It's okay. I'm fine. That's a good memory, actually. It's silly. I just hadn't thought about it since I was a kid." Since before I died. Since before everything was lost. Kurt gives himself a moment to lean into Blaine's hug. "Thank you."
Blaine pulls his chair around to sit next to Kurt. "It's been an hour."
"Hmm? Oh." Kurt leans forward and shakes Finn's shoulder. "Finn?"
Finn inhales deeply and cracks open one eye. "What?"
"What's my name?"
"Kurt Hummel. November. Barack Obama." Finn closes his eyes again.
Blaine coughs hard over what sounds a lot like laughter. Kurt rolls his eyes. "You're fine."
When Blaine keeps coughing, Kurt reaches over to rub his back. "I bet that bag of ice didn't help you at all, did it?"
Blaine laughs through his coughs again. "No, not really. That was pretty impressive on your part, though. Very resourceful."
Kurt smiles. "Resourceful is my middle name."
"Do you think you could resourcefully find us a ride home? I don't think my lungs will take that walk again."
"Home?" Kurt loses track of the conversation for a second. He's never thought of the hotel as home. It's just a place to stay. He's also tried hard to avoid anyone else staying there. Until he couldn't, he thinks, eyeing Blaine. The whole day is starting to make him dizzy. He stands up. "I'll see what I can do. Just for you."
The cab ride is a dream for all three of them, slumped together in exhaustion. Blaine nearly carries Finn into their room and drops him on the mattress. He sits down on the other mattress like his knees won't hold him anymore and coughs dryly for a while. Kurt offers him some water. "You can stay in here if you want."
It's like all the energy drains out of Blaine at once. He slumps over onto his side, pulls his legs up and closes his eyes. "Thanks."
Kurt turns to look at the other bed. Finn has sprawled out, long limbs all over the place. He's breathing deeply, slowly.
Blaine, already asleep, is curled up tight on the edge of the mattress. Kurt likes those odds better. He lays down gingerly on the other side of the bed. Stretching out on his back, he still doesn't come close to touching Blaine. Through the window, Kurt can see the first shades of dawn, lighting up the sky. He's asleep within seconds.
Kurt wakes with his face pressed up against a shoulder. It's wouldn't be the first or last time he and Finn had to share a bed. Then, he hears the room door open and close. Panicked he sits up, or tries to. His left arm is caught underneath his bed mate. Kurt leans over to see Blaine's face. Almost instantly, his face burns red with embarrassment. As carefully as he can, Kurt tugs his arm out from under Blaine's back. Even so, Blaine stirs, his eyes creeping open and squinting in the late day sun coming through the window.
Kurt smiles awkwardly, his hand still twisted under Blaine's ribs. "Hi."
Blaine rubs a hand over his face and groans. "I'm sorry I fell asleep here. I was just really tired."
"It's okay, really. I just...can I have my hand back?" Kurt wiggles his fingers as best he can. Blaine jumps, rolling right off the bed and to his feet.
"Oh my gosh. I'm sorry. Wow. Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Kurt shakes his hand. "Just pins and needles."
Instead of responding, Blaine raises a hand to his head and sits back down quietly. Kurt frowns. "Are you okay?"
It takes him a second, but then Blaine nods and smiles. "Yeah, I just stood up too fast."
Kurt doesn't quite believe it. Everyone around him seems to be falling apart. He glances around the room for Finn, suddenly remembering the sound of the door that woke him. He crawls off the bed and finds a note stuck to their bags.
Temp. office and Rachel's. See you around seven. -F.
Finn sometimes could get work from the temping agency on Euclid Avenue, but more and more lately they didn't have anything for him. Kurt really doubts they'll give him any work if he walks in still half-concussed, but you never know.
"Where's your brother?"
Kurt turns around. Blaine is still sitting on the bed, coughing quietly into his fist. "Trying to find work and visiting his girlfriend."
Blaine sits up straighter almost immediately. "So, you're free?"
Kurt shrugs. "I guess so, for awhile."
"Then, I can buy you breakfast."
"It's like, three or four in the afternoon."
"So? You like breakfast, right?" Kurt nods and Blaine stands up. "Me, too. Let's go."
Kurt hesitates still. He doesn't spend time with anyone that isn't Finn. Ever. Blaine seems nice, but Kurt is pretty sure that's just because he doesn't really know him yet.
He's still thinking when Blaine grabs his hand and drags him out the door.
To breakfast then, Kurt thinks. I can do this.
To be concluded (in three parts!)