Disclaimer: I do not own Glee or any of its characters; Ryan Murphy and Co. hold that honor. I'm simply writing this for fun, not profit.
People keep asking me, "How are you feeling? What are you feeling?"
I have no answers.
Air thickens in his throat as the taxi streams through the city, liquid and untouchable. Dozens like it skitter around congested corners in a constant, unending flow of movement. Civilization pours into the streets en masse. Kurt can barely keep up with it all, and where once the city life fascinated him, now it seems only to drag the weary hours out more.
He wants to be home. He wants to curl up in his bed with a mug of warm milk and a new copy of the latest issue of Vogue. Hell, he wants to be three years prior, where Karofsky was his greatest concern, his greatest challenge, and everything else appeared secondary. He wants to be fantasizing about his Vogue internship rather than living it, so very far away from the epicenter.
It came to him as though from a distant dream. Burt's voice, heavy, diluted with pain, as he explained very, very carefully that "Kurt, bud. You might want to sit down for this."
Sitting down was an expectation that only made Kurt pace more, and as he trembled and clutched the phone to his ear, he silently denied the request by saying, "I'm fine, Dad. Just tell me what it is."
He wasn't fine. He didn't want to hear it.
The texts came in shortly after that, quick queries about him – Kurt? Please say something; I know you're hurting but I need to know you're okay – but he doesn't respond to any of them. He can't bring his numb fingers to dial nine-one-one, even though it feels like he's having a heart attack, or an aneurysm rupture, or something catastrophic and irreparable.
Santana comes home three hours before her shift ends, hair askew and tear tracks already clear on her face. Kurt doesn't move, barely breathes from his position on the floor, curled up around himself and whining brokenly into his hands.
Rachel doesn't come home that night at all. Kurt doesn't need to ask to know that she's with her dads.
Santana breaks out two bottles of liquor from God knows where and they get so drunk that it hurts. They sob and laugh and cry, and it's an evening of such debauchery and exclusion that Kurt almost forgets the pain grinding his heart into pieces.
As the next morning dawns, he's somehow human enough to arrange a flight back to Ohio. He calls Blaine to assure him in monosyllables that he's fine. He coaxes Santana off the sprawl of pillows and his own body on the floor to lie on the couch, deeply asleep again in seconds. He makes all the arrangements he needs, packing a bag with slow, cynical hands, ignoring half a dozen trinkets he might have coined necessities on a better day.
His head is throbbing despite the three Tylenols he's already taken, and he closes his eyes and rests his cheek against the grimy window of the cab to avoid the dull sunlight. It's raining, and he's grateful for the quiet mercy of muted gray clouds overhead, shielding him from the piercing veil of the sun. He's sliced through two coffees and a scalding shower, applying only the barest fractions of his usual moisturizing routine, those portions which are so habitual he stutters not to do them.
By nine thirty, he is out the door and summoning a taxi far below. By ten, he is halfway to the airport, no end in sight to the pain nestling deep in his chest, a pain inexplicable and untouchable.
Blaine calls him again and he ignores it. After that, the flood of texts is unquenchable: his dad wants a proof-of-life text that he doesn't feel obligated to send. He doesn't feel alive: he feels numb, broken, shattered to pieces. All he wants is to pretend that today – last night – none of this ever happened.
He wants to scream. Somehow, he contains himself, sends a mass Unless it's an emergency, please stop texting me, and wallows in the silence that ensues.
It's already hit the news back in Lima, and he knows that he'll have to face the questions someday, the curious, beseeching glances now regarding what happened, how it happened, why did it happen.
Honestly, what can you say about a nineteen-year-old who dies?
Kurt drags his carry-on bag out of the taxi half an hour later and pays his dues, clutching his jacket a little closer to his chest as a searing autumn wind kicks up. It is refreshingly, delightfully cruel, making every step a challenge that requires his utmost attention. He responds to a quick, low-voiced call from Santana in the airport terminal; she, too, has arrangements to meet up with Dani. There is little else said between them, no mention of the atrocity and glory of the night before, but Kurt wishes her well and even tells her he loves her, and is not surprised when she ends with a simple, "I love you, too, Kurt."
Four words he failed to tell Finn the last time he saw him. The very last time he heard from him, a quick phone conversation with promises for more, congratulations to Rachel (God Rachel, Rachel) on getting the role of Fanny and an assurance that he would take time off from coaching the Glee club during sectionals to come up and see her rehearsal.
Kurt sits in a hard-backed plastic chair, sets his bag beside him, drops his head into his hands, and quietly falls to pieces.
Everyone wants to talk about how he died, too, but who cares? One moment in his whole life. I care more about how he lived.
There is a delay in flights that lasts for hours. Kurt does not eat, even though noon comes and goes with no end in sight. He does not touch the complementary magazines spread across the low black table in front of him, and he keeps his eyes low to the ground, unable to meet the bright, unwavering stares of strangers around him.
When it's time to board, he's starving, thirsty, achy, and fully miserable, but none of it seems to matter.
He's going back to Ohio. It's the most welcome news he's had all morning.
As he clips into his chair and closes his eyes, he dozes off, only awakening ten minutes before arrival in time for the landing sequence. Gathering his belongings and exiting the plane takes forever and a day, but already he can feel the weight of it all – the immeasurable intensity of a life with and a life without so acute he can barely tolerate it – bearing down on him.
It is with great relief and dread that he steps off the plane and into another world.
The tragedy has already begun to sink in, here. Casual mention of a nineteen-year-old passing crops up when he passes a bookstore, a café. Women chattering inanely over mid-afternoon coffee mention the tragedy of such a young life lost; younger teens decry the foolishness of death when life alone seems so fulfilling. An older man casts him a sad look in passing, detached, unaware, and Kurt hastens his step until he can slip out of the steady gulf of humanity and into the dull, brisk air of northern Ohio.
It is cold, but his coat provides more protection, here, without the punishing wind to strip every layer of protection off his back.
He looks left, and his dad is there, pickup truck still steaming, already halfway out of the car before Kurt has registered his presence. They don't speak and, somehow, without touching at all, Burt relieves Kurt of his carry-on and ushers him to the truck. Once there, he settles into the driver's seat, gears the engine up once more, and they're off, venturing back into the familiar unknown once more.
Flashes of images pass across Kurt's vision as they drive, but they fade out of focus as he drifts, staring blankly at the streets ahead. Occasionally, a strangled sound escapes him as he suppresses a sob, and even though he knows that the roar of the pickup's engine is sufficient to muffle most sounds, the silence of the interior hides nothing.
Burt reaches over after the third or fourth one and rests a hand on his knee. He doesn't say anything, just gives it one good shake, and Kurt knows what it means without asking.
It's gonna be okay, Kurt.
He can see the shadow of tears already glistening in Burt's eyes, though, and it is with tremendous effort that he swallows back the simple, irrefutable, No it's not, Dad.
He feels very young and small, clutching the fabric of his bag while Burt drives, both hands steady on the wheel and gaze planted ahead. They reach home by four o'clock, and Kurt is grateful that the sky is already darkening around the edges, softening from an overcast afternoon into a peaceful twilight.
Kurt exits the truck at the same time that his dad does. There is a moment of silence before he slings his bag over his shoulder and shuts the door, Burt doing the same on the opposite side. When Kurt gently slides the key into the front door and tugs it open, no one greets him immediately. There is no surprised breath, no gleeful exclamation –
– No life at all.
He drops his bag carelessly by the door and steps deeper into the room, the silence profoundly altering his movements, making him a giant in his own home. As he pads around a corner and into the kitchen, he sees Carole, seated at the table with her head in her hands, cheeks red with grief.
Stepping forward, heart in his throat, he puts a hand on her shoulder and squeezes lightly, engulfed in a hug hard enough to crack bone seconds later as she squeezes him back, fiercely, clinging to his vitality as though it can sustain her own.
And in that moment, he feels her tears against her shoulder, and he buries his face against her hair and trembles, refusing to cry.
And anyone who has a problem with that should remember that he was my brother.
They're excited to see him. It lurks underneath the surface, trepidation and uncertainty and bitter, heavy anguish making everything seem darker and more subdued, but he can see the excitement in their eyes, the eagerness in their faces.
They look at him with great expectation, some teary-eyed already, others stoic-faced and determination. He knows that, without saying a word, he could command a standing ovation, here and now. He could evoke sympathy from his tormentors, recompense from those that stood idly by for years while he was harassed and abused.
He could do anything. Here, among them, he is king, the eldest, the leader, the natural successor.
His throat feels tight, and while the silence drags on, none of the Glee clubbers move. No one glances expectantly at the clock or distractedly at their own wrists. No one makes a light recommendation, a gentle comment about what he could say, what he should say.
They all want to know. He can see it in their eyes. Everyone wants to know, wants to hear firsthand what happened.
He swallows back the urge to snap at them to stop looking at him and instead draws in a deep breath.
"Thank you for coming," he begins in a soft, brittle voice, and turns without a word to depart, unable to summon further condolences.
And though the temptation is there, he is grateful that Blaine does not follow him, leaving him alone with his grief.
Quiet, measured, he can hear Blaine's voice already, fading as he strides briskly down the hallway, vision narrowing to exclude everything but the white tiles and his voice, fading, fading, fading.
"It's been . . . a very difficult time for all of us. I know you all are wondering what happened . . ."
The metal doors have such a satisfying resonance when they do that; Kurt can almost hear his flinch, and takes a simple, animalistic pleasure from inflicting that little bit of pain, a rage and frustration that cannot be expressed in words disseminated by action instead.
... This isn't real.
He's wandering aimlessly down the hallways, now, staring at the red lockers that caged him, that carved wounds into his back. He's staring at them and remembering the dozens of conversations that he had outside of them, talking with Mercedes and Rachel and slowly expanding that group to include others. The Glee club was always a part of his rebirth, his emergence from a terrified sophomore into a sophisticated junior and at last, a worldly, sobered senior. He did not immediately befriend them all, however, and the process took weeks in some cases and years for others.
Finn was no exception.
He pauses outside his old locker, inexplicably drawn through the labyrinth of hallways, and rests a gentle hand on its surface. If he closes his eyes, he can almost feel Karofsky's breath at his back, Finn's low, "Leave him alone," a rare but stark reminder in his head that he was there. He did care.
As Kurt's fingers curl against the locker, he pulls away, trudging down the hallway, fully expecting to see Finn emerge at the other end, smiling sheepishly and wearing his letterman jacket, just like old times.
When he reaches the end of the hallway and sees nothing but silence at either end, a small part of his soul gives up the tormented fight against reality and dies.
I'm not going home for this. He's going to be there.
Kurt forgets things for days.
He doesn't wear coats even as the temperature continues to steadily plummet. He leaves coffee unfinished and untouched, scarves abandoned on their shelves, outfits halfheartedly selected from an older, more familiar repertoire. As much as he can, he avoids his house, his school, every nuance of familiarity, visiting the coffee shop twenty minutes away and ordering a different coffee every time.
Six days in, Blaine catches up to him at his newest haunt, and he sits with him outside as the wind cuts into Kurt's thin layers, his shivers convulsive, his expression pale.
When Blaine returns with two mochas and drapes his own skin-warmed jacket over Kurt's shoulders, it is all Kurt can do to uncurl his fingers enough that he can wrap them around the cup, and shiver, and cry.
They relocate inside once it begins to rain. Kurt looks out at the white-gray sky over Blaine's shoulder and sees nothing, a missing presence where once life existed.
He didn't see Finn every day. He didn't even know about Finn's existence until almost fourteen years into his own.
It's been five years since they first met at McKinley. Three since they became brothers.
Yet Finn is a permanent fixture in his life, and without him, Kurt feels every moment of his absence acutely, every breath a question.
What would you have said?
What would you have done?
I'm going to spend my entire life missing him.
It takes almost a week before Kurt dares to venture into his room.
The house is quiet below. Carole and Burt are home, but they are distant entities, unreachable from the depths of his grief. He has seen and even spoken to them this past week, but none of the words seem to register, everything a haze of non-commitment, a stark contrast to the lush remembrance of previous visits.
This will remain branded in his mind forever, the sight of Finn's room, untouched, almost barren, with only a single cardboard box on top of the bed.
The first item Kurt retrieves from it is Finn's letterman jacket.
It still has his scent, a muted, comforting, inviting combination that makes Kurt want to curl into a ball and drown in it.
He tugs it over his own sleeves, across his own back, and he almost can. Pressing Finn's sleeve to his nose, he breathes deeply, shuddering breaths that make his entire frame tremble with it.
He doesn't want this to be real. Above all else, above all other considerations – he doesn't want this to be real.
But it is, and he can't deny it.
Still, as warm arms come around his waist from behind, he leans against it, against Blaine's solidarity, and knows, in that moment, that he does not have to grieve alone.
As his knees collapse beneath him and Blaine follows him, holding him, it is the single most comforting thought in the world.
Author's Notes: I am so very sorry for this.