Rachel and Finn insisted on wearing their blaringly rainbow Straight, But Not Narrow shirts to Pride that summer, while Kurt stuck with the blue and black of the leather community. "It's not exactly the same," he'd told them, "but it's as close as I get to coming out in the soft world."
But in the heat of the June sun, he regretted his decision. Neither Rachel nor Finn seemed to care about the heat, standing happily amid a sea of LBGT parade-goers. Kurt mopped his forehead with his handkerchief, watching the floats roll by down Fifth toward the Village, and tucked it into his back pocket.
"Better switch that to the left," said an amused voice beside him. "Somebody's might think you're a bottom."
The voice showed up in his dreams often enough for him to not feel too surprised to hear it, but he had to close his eyes and take a deep breath before turning to face Puck with a smile. "Anybody who thinks that just doesn't know me very well," he said, "and I wouldn't sleep with them anyway."
Puck didn't hesitate to offer a hug, and Kurt accepted it, quick and firm, even though he was sweating like crazy. "Good to see you," Puck murmured into his ear.
"Likewise," Kurt replied. He tried not to look like he was staring, but Puck was wearing a complicated half-harness and very tight shorts, and... damn. When his eyes finally made it back to Puck's face, Kurt saw he was grinning.
"I saw Finn already," he said, nodding at the two waving rainbow flags at the drag queens. "He's living here now?"
That was a safe topic. "For the summer. Some kind of trial basis, I suppose, but they're managing remarkably well, considering Finn never puts his dishes in the sink."
"You need a new slave," Puck decided. "Hard to go back once you had somebody doing all your shit work for you, huh?"
It had been, but not for the reasons Puck was insinuating. Every time Kurt swept the floor or wiped down the sink in the bathroom, he'd end up feeling unreasonably sentimental about the whole thing. There really wasn't anything in the apartment that didn't remind him of Puck, actually.
"So you're not - I mean, you don't have a -" Kurt touched his neck delicately, and Puck's eyes flickered to it, then away.
"Not right now," he said. "Trying this living on my own in the city thing. I'm getting by. And, hey..." Puck squeezed a hand into his absurdly tight back pocket and pulled out a slightly damp business card. "I'm a bartender now. Come on in some night, and I'll make you a virgin cocktail that'll knock your socks off."
"Sounds great," Kurt said honestly. "Enjoy the rest of Pride."
He watched Puck disappear into the sea of bodies, staring after him until Rachel appeared next to him, smiling.
"How's he doing?" she asked.
"Fine," Kurt replied. "I mean, I think he's okay. I suppose he could just be covering really well."
"Kurt." Rachel put a consoling hand on his shoulder. "You're not covering really well."
He swallowed, blinking ferociously at the sidewalk. "Ah. No. I'm... I'm not."
But Kurt had figured out how to deal well enough with his feelings that he was able to enjoy the rest of the day, even though every time he turned around and saw a bald man in a leather harness, his heart leapt. Even though none of the fine asses in the crowd came anywhere close to the one in his memory.
He switched his grey handkerchief to his left side back pocket. He also kept checking to make sure the card was still in his possession. When he gathered for lunch with Rachel and Finn, he showed it to them. Finn was far more excited than he should have been.
"Dude!" he said, watching Kurt expectantly. "What are you going to do?"
"Nothing," said Kurt.
Finn waited for more, but when Kurt just sipped his water, his eyebrows dropped, perplexed. "What do you mean, nothing? Haven't you been totally missing him this whole time? He's here at Gay Pride. Doesn't that mean something?"
"Yeah." Kurt stirred his ice cubes around with his straw. "It means the same thing it meant two months ago, when he didn't come back. He doesn't feel it. He doesn't want it with me. And me, showing up at his bar, that's not going to change that."
Rachel glanced at Finn. "Kurt... we're worried about you. You don't do anything anymore except train, work and sleep."
To his credit, Kurt didn't say, Hey, I listen to Billy Joel on my iPod, too. "I understand, but you're expecting me to pick up and move on, just like that? I don't think it works that way."
"No, Kurt, I'm expecting you to go talk to him. You don't have to be his friend, but I think you need resolution here. Whatever you think is going on, you owe it to yourself to get his side of the story. He was glad to see you."
Kurt had to admit that Puck's smile had appeared genuine. He found himself smiling at the idea.
"Maybe," he conceded.
There was no maybe. Kurt knew he would go, stupid or not, pointless or not. It had been two months, and he still woke up every morning reaching for Puck. He missed him every day in so many ways, he'd stopped counting. Whatever had been eliminated for Puck when the contract had expired, it didn't seem to have happened for Kurt. The words he'd finally said on that last day were still true.
The bar was called Ulrey's, a step above a hole in the wall in Queens, with a small stage at the end and a few televisions mounted on the wall, more neighborhood dive than sports bar. It was a little more working-class and straight than Kurt usually frequented, but when he spotted Puck at the end of the bar, he stopped worrying about the setting and slid into a stool in front of him.
Puck gave him a slow smile. "Hey, there," he said, looking him up and down. "I haven't seen you here before, stranger. What're you having?"
"A hell of a summer," replied Kurt, smiling back. "And, apparently, a virgin cocktail. I hear they're good here, but I'm not sure I can trust my sources."
Puck appeared to think this over. "Depends on if you'd rather have an honest opinion, or one that makes you feel good."
"Honest, please. I don't need pretty lies."
"Then no, they're not all that great. But you can be sure I'll do my best with what I've got." Puck combined orange juice, lime and Sprite in an aluminum cup with crushed ice and shook it, straining it over cubes in a highball glass. "Here you go."
He held onto the glass for a moment, brushing Kurt's fingers with his. Kurt felt the tension in his stomach escalate, but he didn't look away from Puck's intense gaze.
"Thanks," he said, and raised the glass to his lips. It actually was very good, and he said so.
"Yeah, well." Puck shrugged, grinning sheepishly. "Most of my patrons don't get fresh-squeezed orange juice."
Kurt laughed in surprise. "You didn't even know I was coming."
"No, but I did invite you. So I took a chance." He hesitated, then added, "Thanks, Kurt. I know I didn't have any right to expect you would come."
He nodded, sipping his drink. "I wasn't going to, but Rachel said I should give you a chance to explain."
Puck rinsed out his shaker and put it back into the refrigerator. "I... think that conversation should wait until I'm done with my shift," he said. "Not really very professional of me to start freaking out and crying or some shit."
Kurt took a steadying breath. "Yeah," he agreed. "That sounds like a wise idea. Maybe we can stick with something simpler until then. Where are you living?"
"Gail found me a room, not too cheap, but it's safe and close to work, and the family is Marketplace. They're vegan, too, which is good, because apparently you guys have spoiled me for eating meat ever again. They have two slaves living with them now."
Puck wasn't showing Kurt much in the way of real emotion, but Kurt saw a glimmer of wistful longing on his face as he mentioned the slaves. "Are you thinking you'll stay... free, for a while?" Kurt asked, his voice coming out a little hoarse.
"I don't know." Puck wiped the counter. "It's kind of awful," he said, matter-of-fact.
"Oh," Kurt whispered. He clutched the edge of the bar. "God. I'm sorry."
"It's okay. I know you did what you thought was right, ending the contract like that. And I guess you got the answer you needed, huh?"
"I think so. I mean... Puck..."
"Don't," he interrupted, his eyes intense. "I'll be done in half an hour."
Kurt nodded, watching him. He felt suddenly miserable. "Do you want me to go?"
"No. Please." Puck sighed, and touched his hand. The overwhelming connection Kurt remembered feeling with him was absent, which just made Kurt feel even worse. "If you don't want to be here, then, fine, but... I don't want you to go. In fact, I have something for you, if you're willing to let me give it to you."
"I think so?" Kurt said, confused.
"All right. Let me finish up my shift, and then I'm - uh, we can talk."
Kurt moved from the bar to one of the tables in the dim, vaguely smoky room. He sent a text to Rachel, telling her where he was. It's just as hard as I'd guessed it would be, he said. I can't imagine the next conversation will be any easier.
Keep an open mind, she replied. And if you need anything, I'm here. Both of us are.
When Kurt looked up again, Puck was nowhere to be seen. He figured he was just in the back, but several minutes went by, and no Puck. He tried not to get concerned. You're not taking care of him anymore, he told himself severely. It was disturbingly easy to fall right back into that pattern.
Then he heard Puck's guitar. For a moment he couldn't tell where it was coming from, but then he saw a light on the stage at the end of the room. Puck was there, seated on a chair in the center of the stage, and he was looking right at Kurt as he began to sing:
Well, I'm shameless when it comes to loving you
I'd do anything you want me to
I'd do anything at all
And I'm standing here for all the world to see
There ain't that much left of me
That has very far to fall
You know I'm not a man who has ever been
Insecure about the world I've been living in
I don't break easy, I have my pride
But if you need to be satisfied
The other patrons glanced back at Kurt, startled. Thankfully, none of them looked upset to see their bartender singing to another man. Kurt felt frozen in shock, but hearing Puck singing again kind of overrode any fears he was having. And the words... he watched Puck smile at him, and he smiled back helplessly.
"He's your boyfriend?" asked a woman at the next table.
"He was," Kurt said. "Not anymore."
She looked back at the stage, then grinned at Kurt. "I kind of think he wants to be, again?"
Baby I don't have a prayer
Anytime I see you standing there
I go down upon my knees
And I'm changing, I swore I'd never compromise
But you convinced me otherwise
I'll do anything you please
Puck stood up as he sang these words, keeping his focus right on Kurt, who was starting to feel faint. He came down the stairs on the front of the stage and walked slowly toward him, still playing.
You see in all my life I've never found
What I couldn't resist, what I couldn't turn down
I could walk away from anyone I ever knew
But I can't walk away from you
By now he was standing beside Kurt's table, and the entire bar was watching Puck singing to him. Kurt sat there, gazing up at him, trembling and limp and useless and more turned on than he knew what to do with, but still the words came, pouring over him with every verse.
I have never let anything have this much control over me
Cause I worked too hard to call my life my own
Yes, I made myself a world and it worked so perfectly
But it's your world now, I can't refuse
I never had so much to lose
Puck smiled confidently through the guitar solo. All Kurt could think of was Puck, tied and spread-eagled on his bed, absolutely helpless in his submission, and wonder if anyone would believe that this beautiful, willful man could possibly want such a thing from somebody like Kurt. He was mine, he wanted to say. I had him, and now I've given him up, and I can't believe I was such an idiot.
Puck dropped his voice down to almost nothing for the next verse, building to a crescendo.
You know it should be easy for a man who's strong
To say he's sorry or admit when he's wrong
I've never lost anything I ever missed
But I've never been in love like this...
It's out of my hands
I'm shameless, I don't have the power now
But I don't want it anyhow
So I've got to let it go
I'm shameless, shameless as a man can be
You can make a total fool of me
I just wanted you to know
The other patrons in the bar reacted with spontaneous applause as Puck concluded, setting his guitar down on the table next to Kurt. He got down, first on one knee, then on both, and reached for Kurt's hands.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to propose," he murmured. "I'm not that insane. Well, not today."
"Puck," Kurt said, looking around a little wildly. "What's going on?"
"I'm apologizing," he said. "The only way I know how. Kurt... I couldn't come back that night and tell you how I felt. I couldn't deal with the idea that you didn't want to keep me, didn't want to extend the contract. I thought that meant you didn't trust me." He smiled. "Stupid. So I went to Gail... and she sent me to Imala Anderson."
"Oh." Kurt wanted to tell Puck to get off his knees, to sit across from him at the table, but he couldn't get the words out. "I thought she didn't talk to anybody," he managed instead.
"Yeah, that's what everybody told me too. But Gail had told her about me, and I guess she was curious? Anyway, we had a good talk."
"What did she say?"
"She told me about pleasure slaves, and the legends behind the contract. You know this legacy's gone back over five hundred years, documented and everything?"
"No kidding." He squeezed Puck's hands. "But you decided you didn't want... to do that this time. To contract yourself as a pleasure slave again?"
"Well. She said it wasn't uncommon for pleasure slaves and their owners to establish a romantic relationship, and most of those who do make it a fairly permanent arrangement." His face was turning redder. "But they don't generally have... this."
"Have what?" said Kurt softly.
Puck reached up and touched Kurt's face with one hand. "Baby... I love you. No tricks, no contracts. Nothing or nobody is telling me what to do anymore, except for me, and all I can do is think about you."
Puck only smiled a little at Kurt's eager squeak. "Really. Fuck, Kurt, I miss you. I miss all the stuff we did: training with you every day, cooking meals for you, hanging out, singing, going to the club, sleeping in your bed... okay, yeah, and the sex, I miss that too. You gave me things I didn't even know I wanted, until I lost them. I want all of that back."
He took Kurt's hands and gathered them in his, determined and solemn. "So here's what I'm saying. If you want me like this... I'll be your boyfriend. Kinky, fuck yeah, but just a boyfriend, no contract. I love you, with or without some mystical shit tying us together." He stroked a hand along Kurt's shoulder, down the outside of his arm, back to his hands. "But if you'll have me, I want another contract, with you. A long one, this time. Years. Longer, maybe, someday. I'm not ashamed to ask for it. I want... please, sir." He gazed up at Kurt, full of so much hope. "I beg you. Let me be your slave again."
"Oh, honey," Kurt said, and his voice broke. He gathered Puck close, kneeling there between his legs on the dirty floor of the dark bar. The other patrons might as well have been ghosts for all Kurt cared. All his attention was on the man before him, the man he loved with all his heart.
He kissed him gently on the forehead. "I don't need a contract," he whispered, "to tell me you belong to me. I already know that. But if you want it... I'm yours."
"Mine?" Puck said, with a startled intake of breath. "Kurt - god, really?" He laughed, and Kurt could hear relief, and joy, and the kind of profound gratitude that stems from having one's deepest wishes come true.
"Yours," said Kurt. He was smiling hard enough that his face hurt. "And you're mine."
Puck took him back to his room in Queens. He had a friendly nod for his landlords, who raised an eyebrow at Kurt's presence but didn't do more than smile at them as they went upstairs. It was small and spare, but Kurt wasn't looking at the decorating. He was looking only at Puck.
"What did you do with your collar?" he asked, unbuttoning Puck's shirt and finding only bare skin underneath. Puck chuckled, looking a little embarrassed.
"It's in my guitar case," he said. "I couldn't think of a safer place to keep it."
"I'm just glad you didn't throw it away." Kurt ran his hands over Puck's back, reveling in the feeling of his body. "It cost more than I make in a month at the store."
It was different, without the compelling force of the contract, but the freedom was almost sweeter, knowing they had it by choice. But it always was a choice, thought Kurt with satisfaction. And now we're choosing each other, all over again.
"Sounds a little like a wedding ring, huh?" Puck wound his hands around Kurt's own bare back, holding their bodies together. Kurt nodded slowly.
"A lot like that," he said. "I think... this would be a lot like that. Does that scare you?"
"No." Puck smiled. "I haven't felt quite right since I took it off, and I want you to put it back on me as soon as you're ready."
Kurt gripped Puck's triceps in his hands. "Yes. When I'm ready." He leaned in and kissed him, wet and indecent, until Puck was making delicious noises. "I don't think you'll have to wait too long, though."
"That's... that's good," Puck said, a little dazed.
Kurt pressed him down to sit on the edge of the bed, then opened Puck's guitar case. He took the guitar out, holding it to his chest. The collar was nestled against the soft velvet, inside the space under the neck. He took that out, too, and set it on Puck's pillow.
"I never knew if I'd get to sing this for you," said Kurt, putting the guitar on his lap and strumming an awkward F chord progression. Puck watched him with obvious surprise and dawning delight. "But I've been practicing it, and... well, I think this is the time."
You can make me free
You can make me smile
You can make me be like a little child
You can melt the ice that chills my body
You can dry my ev'ry tear
You can make the lonely hours disappear
You can make me free
You can make me rise
You can make me see
So open up my eyes
Don't you know my only real moments are the ones I spend with you?
How I long to drink some wine again with you?
I can take to the skies
I can soar like a bird
With his heart full of song, yeah, yeah
Won't you color my eyes?
I've been waiting so long
You can make me free
You can make me cry
You can make it so much better if you only try
And if I must wait a lonely lifetime
Until I am with you, my love
I will wait but you'll be what I'm dreaming of
Puck was crying halfway through the second verse, but he smiled through the entire thing. When Kurt was done, he took the guitar out of his hands and put it back into its case. Then he laid his head in Kurt's lap, reaching around his waist and hanging on tight.
"Kurt," he said, sighing, "if you hadn't already totally fucking won my heart, that song would have done it."
"I'm pretty sure that's what it was meant to do, honey," said Kurt, stroking his head. "And I think you'd better sit up before I think of something else for you to do with your head in my lap."
Puck snuggled closer, content. "That's exactly what I'd meant to do... sir."
"Kurt?" Blaine's head appeared around the door, smiling when he saw what Kurt was trying to do in the mirror. "You're doing that all wrong - here. Just stop."
"I can tie a goddamn bow tie, Blaine," Kurt moaned, his fingers fluttering in the air, but he let Blaine handle it, and in short order, he had a perfect bow over the tuxedo collar.
"You can thank me later, when you're not so grumpy," Blaine said, kissing his cheek. "Right now I think it's about five minutes to curtain. You have everything? All your props?"
"I'm pretty sure I've got it covered." Kurt checked his pockets one more time, putting his hands on each important piece: the contract, the ring, the collar. He took a deep breath. "Everybody's here, right? I don't have to worry about Cassie not showing at the last minute?"
"I think if you can be in control of it, you are, Kurt." Blaine took his shoulders in his hands and looked into Kurt's eyes with a wide smile. "You're doing it."
"Yeah. I am." There was no question in Blaine's eyes whether or not this was the right decision. Kurt hugged him fiercely, making him exclaim and laugh, but he hugged right back. "Thank you for always believing in me."
"I love you. I'm just so happy you got what you wanted, finally." Blaine took his hand. "You ready?"
Kurt closed his eyes and took one more deep breath, feeling the certainty inside himself. "Yes."
"Then let's get out there." They walked hand in hand through the doors of the training hall, past the slaves smiling at them, outside to the garden, where Puck was waiting with Imala and their guests.
Kurt knew exactly how good Puck would look in his tuxedo, of course, considering he'd designed it, but he still found himself speechless and smiling. Blaine placed Kurt's hand in Puck's before returning to stand beside Sam.
Imala had explained it to Kurt, but she had to explain it again to the assembled friends and Marketplace-friendly family members (Carole and Burt were there, and Puck's Ma, along with Sarah, Finn and Rachel, but Puck had decided his Nana would never quite be accepting enough to understand this, so they'd just sent her an engagement announcement and left it at that).
It wasn't a marriage, and it wasn't an exchange of property, though aspects of both had been worked into the ceremony. It was more an affirmation of what they'd discovered about each other years ago, when Cassie had drawn up their second contract. That one had been for two years. This one would be for life.
The words just slid over Kurt, although he'd participated in the writing of them, and he knew they were pretty and meaningful. All of his attention was on Puck's hazel eyes smiling at him as he knelt for Kurt to buckle the collar around his neck, and the tears that glistened when he slipped the ring on Kurt's fourth finger.
"... For as long as I may serve you," said Puck. Kurt swallowed back his own tears, and put a hand on Puck's head, saying his own oaths, the promises they'd agreed to make to one another.
But the only words that really mattered to Kurt came when Puck reached for his guitar, and they stood together and sang. They didn't have any other music at the ceremony. No one could have managed to convey the musical bond they had forged together - although Puck had suggested they write a personal letter to Billy Joel telling their story and inviting him to sing. Kurt had smiled, and declined.
"It's our music now," he'd said. "It should come from us."
When you look into my eyes
And you see the crazy gypsy in my soul
It always comes as a surprise
When I feel my withered roots begin to grow
Well, I never had a place that I could call my very own
But that's all right, my love,
'Cause you're my home
When you touch my weary head
And you tell me everything will be all right
You say use my body for your bed
And my love will keep you warm throughout the night
Well, I'll never be a stranger
And I'll never be alone
Wherever we're together, that's my home
Home can be the Pennsylvania Turnpike
Indiana's early morning dew
High up in the hills of California
Home is just another word for you
If I travel all my life
And I never get to stop and settle down
'Long as I have you by my side
There's a roof above and good walls all around
You're my castle, you're my cabin, you're my instant pleasure dome
I need you in my house 'cause you're my home