ACITW AU CHAPTER 30

Jul 04, 2020 21:12


Kurt appreciates drama.

He appreciates it to a degree rivaled only by his dad’s love of NASCAR and Finn’s obsession with grilled cheese sandwiches.

It might even be said, by a select few, that he possesses a flair for the dramatic.

Kurt isn’t, however, a fan of the fact that drama seems to follow him wherever he goes, comes courtesy of big ticket items, and hangs over his head like a sword held aloft by a single thread of red rope licorice.

That he doesn’t appreciate.

The drama Kurt does enjoy happens to be genre-specific, goes hand-in-hand with sweeping, over-the-top, romantic gestures, and maybe a dance number or two.

Like the situation he’s currently in, preparing to perch atop a magnificent red roan mare. Kurt has never been up close and personal with a horse before. The first thing he notices is they’re so much taller - and wider - in real life than they seem on screen. He also didn’t know he’d have to be introduced to his horse before he could mount it (though when you use a word like mount, the need for an introduction makes sense).

Their groom teaches Kurt how to brush his mare’s mane (which he is determined to braid somewhere along the way, get it out of her eyes). Then he earns her favor by feeding her sugar cubes. She plucks them one by one from his outstretched palm, and Kurt falls instantly in love.

If his future as a Broadway phenom ever hits the skids, equestrian sports are beginning to look like an acceptable replacement.

But there is a problem.



Everything about potentially riding this horse terrifies him.

Sebastian rented the horses from a stable nearby, one the Smythe family frequents whenever they’re in town. The horses don’t belong to the Smythes, but according to the man who saddled them, they might as well, as Sebastian’s family reserves the exact same beasts every summer.

Sebastian mounts his own mare with the skill of an accomplished equestrian because of course he does. Kurt, on the other hand, requires the assistance of two bubbly blond stable hands (who remind him enough of Brittany and Sam that he has to do a double take) and a large wooden block. Sebastian watches the calamity go down from his own saddle with intense interest and a twinkle in his eye. Between trying to maintain balance and not roll his ankle, Kurt spots Sebastian sporting his signature smirk and braces for the taunts guaranteed to come, which he plans to volley with comebacks he’s already preparing in his head. But when Kurt finally finds his seat, Sebastian gives him a smile that appears to have nothing devious hiding behind it.

“All set?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Kurt manages, panting from the exertion of pulling himself up and throwing a leg over, doing both so enthusiastically he nearly propelled himself clear over the other side of his horse. “All set.”

“Everyone’s first time goes like that,” Sebastian reassures him with a dismissive wave and only a sliver of innuendo.

“Even Julian’s?” Kurt asks bitterly, his ego stinging. He imagines the older Smythe boy launching himself onto a stallion’s muscular back from the ground using only the saddle horn to boost him up, then galloping off into the sunset, leaving the rest of his family in the dust.

But Sebastian dashes that image with a nod. “Yup. Julian excels at a great many things. But for some reason, horseback riding isn’t one of them.”

“A-ha. Somehow I don’t believe you.”

“I’ve got no reason to lie, babe. And besides - I have videos.” Sebastian bounces his eyebrows, apparently relishing the fact. “Lots of them.”

Kurt’s left eyebrow bobs up. “So you gather blackmail material on your brother, too?”

“I don’t see why you’d assume he’d be immune.” Sebastian’s horse, itching to get on the trail, shifts her weight underneath him. He strokes her neck, shushing her to keep her still. It’s such an endearing gesture, so unlike the Sebastian Kurt once despised … but so much like the Sebastian he’s grown to love. “It’s tit for tat, really. Lord knows he’s got tons of stuff on me. I’ve got stuff on Liv, too, but I’m smarter than to use it.”

“Why’s that?”

Sebastian barks out a laugh that, underneath the surface, is laced with genuine fear. “Are you kidding? She’d murder me in my sleep!”

“Then why have it?”

“As leverage against Julian.”

“And that works how exactly?”

“If I let something I have on Livvie slip but I can convince her that Julian is responsible …” Sebastian sucks a breath in through his teeth, his eyes going distant, like he’s imagining the outcome of such an act, the gruesome devastation that would ensue. “But I’d only do that as a last resort. Julian would have to do something particularly heinous for me to go that far.”

Kurt shakes his head disapprovingly. Poor Olivia. Kurt wonders if she knows that she’s Sebastian’s nuclear option. Sebastian and Julian must be rubbing off on Kurt more than he knows because he also wonders how much that information might be worth. “Oh what a twisted life you lead. You are truly a criminal mastermind.”

“You know it,” Sebastian says, throwing Kurt a wink. He clicks his tongue and leads his horse away, Kurt’s mare following behind as if she knew that was the plan all along.

Sebastian takes them to a rise overlooking the beach, the trail to get there narrower than Kurt likes. He’s sure his horse knows what she’s doing. This isn’t her first time walking this trail, after all. But again, Kurt’s mare is a big animal, and she lists from side to side. This trail, flush up against the cliff side, is one Kurt would think twice about taking on foot before calling it quits, doing an about face, and going off in search of the nearest coffee shop. Since there are no seat belts, the only thing keeping him from sliding off and falling to his death is the strength of his thighs.

Kurt thought his thighs were strong. Only now does he see that cutting the 30 Minute Buns and Thighs video he used to do religiously from his cardio rotation was a huge mistake.

Fear for his life aside, the view from the overlook is spectacular, but the height vomit inducing. Kurt leans forward, barely budging in his saddle to peek over the edge, and his stomach lurches up into his throat.

He has to trust his horse. She wouldn’t go running off this cliff for no reason. She wouldn’t do anything to hurt herself. But what about him? Would she buck him off? What motivation would she have to do so? Horses, like dogs, can sense the good in people, can’t they? Not just the shallow good like, “I put a dollar in a Salvation Army bucket once,” but the deep down, selfless good. Kurt isn’t a bad person, but he can be a bit inconsiderate at times, especially with wait staff.

If this horse decides to judge him, his inability to stop snapping at waiters will be the hill he ends up dying on, he just knows it.

The path takes his mare nauseatingly close to the edge for a brief second, and Kurt bites his tongue to keep from screaming.

“Whoa, Nellie,” he says in a wobbly voice, pulling up beside Sebastian’s mare, stopped on a ledge wide enough to accommodate both animals … and the two of them should Kurt decide to crawl off his horse, lay flat on his stomach, and hug the ground.

Sebastian, watching Kurt’s silent crisis run its course, points out, “You do know your horse’s name is Desiree, right?”

“I do. And by the way, I have questions about that. But whoa, Desiree doesn’t have the same ring to it.”

Sebastian shrugs. “You’re not wrong.”

“So,” Kurt starts, swallowing half a dozen times to stop his voice from shaking, “does your exceptional riding proclivity qualify you as a ‘horse boy’ then?”

Sebastian chuckles. “No. No, Livvie is the horse person in our family. Always has been”

“That’s right,” Kurt says, wrapping the reins around his hand for security so tightly he’s afraid his fingers might turn purple. “She got the pony.”

“Mm-hmm. Pony, private riding lessons, the whole bit. The trails around the beach are perfect for horseback riding. So when we’d come out here, my dad and mom would take her, and Julian and I were forced to tag along. To teach us important life lessons, they said. I think they just didn’t want to leave us alone, afraid of the trouble we’d get into unsupervised. Needless to say, Molly here and I have a special relationship.”

Kurt eyes Sebastian coyly through lowered lashes. “Should I be jealous?”

Sebastian eyes him back, wearing a way-too-suggestive smile considering the subject matter. “Tremendously.”

“I’ve always wanted to learn to ride a horse,” Kurt admits. “I think a lot of kids do.”

“Did you picture yourself as Liz Taylor in National Velvet? Or Robert Redford in The Electric Horseman?”

“More like Viggo Mortensen in Hidalgo.”

Sebastian gives that some thought before commenting, green eyes aimed at the sky, peering at strings of clouds overhead. “I can see that. I think you’d look rather distinguished in a Stetson Diamante.”

“I’ve always thought so,” Kurt says, pulling himself up in his stirrups, a proud expression on his face.

Sebastian’s eyes, tracing the clouds, find the ocean, stare off into the sunset as the tide rolls up the sand. “Julian teased her endlessly for it.”

“Julian did?” Kurt asks with a dubious tilt of his head.

“Yup. Just Jules. I didn’t.”

“Why not?” It sounds like an odd question after Kurt asks it, grilling his boyfriend to find out why he didn’t cut down his older sister over one of her favorite hobbies.

“I envied her her love of riding,” Sebastian replies without turning to look Kurt’s way, the way Kurt had expected. “You know, when kids ask their parents for a pony, it’s usually because they think it’s going to be fun and exciting, make them look cool, turn them into a superhero or something. Not her. She loved riding for the sake of riding and for no other reason. She loved horses simply because she wanted to take care of a horse, even before she ever sat on one … or so my parents tell me.” He looks at the reins pooled in his hands, the horse’s mane beneath them chocolate brown, close to the shade of his own hair. Sebastian sniffs … or Kurt thinks he does. He only sees the subtle movement, doesn’t hear from where he and his horse are standing. “I don’t think I’ve ever loved anything that way.”

Kurt nudges his horse closer, feeling too far away with the few feet of space between them. “Not even your car?”

“Oh, well, cut me to the quick, I guess.” Sebastian throws his head back and laughs. This time Kurt definitely hears him sniffle, sees him wipe a tear from his cheek with the back of his hand. But there must only be the one because when he turns to look at Kurt, his cheeks are dry. “No, Olivia is special. When you take riding lessons, the first thing your instructor tells you is that riding is less about getting on a horse’s back and flying down the straightaway and more about taking care of something other than yourself. You put your horse first at all times. Its comfort is paramount.” Sebastian looks back at the ocean, clears a catch from his throat. “To ride a horse is to put your trust in someone else, and have someone else trust you back. Whatever you do, you do to bring out the best in the animal you choose to ride. If you hate horses, you’re going to be a lousy horse person. Olivia doesn’t see things the way they are,” he says after a pause. “She sees things the way they could be. People, too. Always finding the best in everyone. She’s not a cynic like me and my brother. She inherited the lion’s share of my parents’ optimism and goodwill. She didn’t leave any for the rest of us. And she knows what she wants, has since she was little. She launches into life with both feet. So does Julian, though, in his case, he doesn’t always land on them.”

“What about you?”

A hint of the cynicism Sebastian mentioned comes to rest in the corners of his mouth, pushing it into a half-grin. “I’m not quite as brave as they are.”

“I think you are.”

“Reckless isn’t the same as brave, babe.”

“I think it depends on how you look at it, on how you define reckless. But you have so many opportunities available to you. And a built in safety net. You can afford to be reckless.”

Sebastian chews his lower lip, seems to contemplate his next words carefully. “Because I have money, right?”

“Right,” Kurt answers quickly, then suddenly feels like he’s taken a wrong turn down a one-way street.

“Money doesn’t help when you don’t have a path.”

“Yes it does!” Kurt says, wondering why it is that Sebastian doesn’t see his wealth as a boon when it’s as clear as day to Kurt. Enjoy all the things his wealth can buy him. Sebastian had repeated that sentiment last night when they were talking about Kurt going to NYADA, and taking that $10,000 check so he could get there. Which proves that wealth can definitely buy a future. A good one, even if Sebastian might be on the fence about which way to go. “It can help you build your own path. It can build you a dozen paths!”

“But where would they lead?” It’s a rhetorical question, but one that sounds like he’s pleading with Kurt to give him an answer. Not in general terms, but a specific destination. “If I don’t know which direction I want to go, what good does a path do me?”

“It gets you started going somewhere! Anywhere!”

“And what’s wrong with staying where you are when you don’t know where to go?” Sebastian asks, his voice so thick under the weight of his emotions, it cracks. This isn’t just a friendly discussion they’re having anymore, Kurt realizes. This is something else. Something Kurt doesn’t fully understand. “Isn’t that what they teach you in wilderness survival? Stay where you are until someone finds you? Hug a tree and shit?”

That remark strikes Kurt as so absurd considering the context of their conversation, he almost bursts out laughing. “Do I look like I would know the answer to a wilderness survival question?” But then that context becomes clearer, and Sebastian’s remark even more absurd. Wait … is he thinking about … staying in Ohio!?!?

“Do you think money solves everything, Kurt? Do you think those rich people on the Titanic could buy their way off that sinking ship?”

“They kinda did,” Kurt says sheepishly, face scrunching apologetically knowing that’s not the answer Sebastian wants to hear. “They were the only ones allowed on the lifeboats, so …

“Yeah. Right. Okay,” Sebastian says, each word clipped within an inch of its life. He turns away in frustration, focusing on the sunset as if he has to watch every last minute of it or suffer dire consequences.

“But you’re not on a sinking ship,” Kurt continues, watching his step with every word. “You can literally choose any direction and go. You wouldn’t have to know what’s there or even have a reason why. Just pack a bag and start walking.”

“You make it sound so simple,” Sebastian mutters grimly, followed by something else Kurt doesn’t catch, although he does hear the words know what you want to do.

“It sounds to me like you’re making excuses,” Kurt counters but not unkindly, “and I don’t know what for. To tell you the truth, I feel like I’ve entered an argument already in progress.”

Sebastian bristles, his back going rigid. Kurt holds his breath, unsure what he’s about to do. Would he turn his horse around and leave without a word, abandon Kurt there on the top of this rise in the dark?

No. Kurt is confident he wouldn’t. Sebastian isn’t that person. Not anymore. He wouldn’t do that.

Besides, Kurt’s mare would simply follow his. He’s really in no danger unless Sebastian comes up to him and shoves him off his horse.

Kurt isn’t convinced his thighs would protect him.

Kurt’s words seem to take the steam out of Sebastian. When he turns around to face Kurt, he looks tired. Worn down. “I’m sorry. Kurt. I’m not trying to start a fight. And don’t think I don’t understand where you’re coming from. I do. I really do. Maybe not from first hand experience but I get it. And you’re absolutely right. When you don’t have money, when you have to worry about where your next meal is coming from or how you’re going to pay your rent, it sucks. Money greases so many wheels, can take you to so many places. I’m fortunate. So fucking fortunate. But there’s something to be said about having an identity that doesn’t revolve around money.”

“I don’t … I don’t think I understand.” Kurt says it, but then he realizes that’s not entirely true. On some level, he does. For a good portion of his high school career, he had to contend with being known as the one out-and-proud gay kid. To most people, it was his sole descriptor. But there’s so much more to him.

Just like there’s so much about Sebastian’s situation that Kurt doesn’t understand.

“No matter where I am, if I’ve been there longer than a week and you ask someone about me, ask them to describe who I am, they’ll tell you I’m some rich douche. That’s it. That’s what I am. That’s who I was at Dalton. It doesn’t matter that I was a straight A student, 5.0 GPA, on the lacrosse team, that I was a Warbler, or any of that. I’m an asshole and I have money. That’s it. That’s my identity. But not you,” Sebastian says, his voice becoming hard and soft at the same time. “You’re Kurt Hummel. You’re a trail blazer. You’re compassionate and brave and talented ...”

“Who told you that?” Kurt interjects, squashing uncomfortable laughter with disbelief.

“Blaine for one,” Sebastian admits, though from his expression, he would rather pry up his fingernails than say that name. “The Warblers, your friends at that public school you went to, your teacher Will Schuester, your father, your stepmother, Finn and Puck. You do your own thing no matter what other people say. And even if they knock you down, you stick up for them. You ran for student body president on a platform of stopping bullying. I would never do that!”

“You don’t want to stop bullying?” Kurt asks, appalled enough to overlook the fact that Sebastian knows any of that. But when Sebastian shoots him a You have got to be kidding me! look, Kurt is immediately confronted with the reality of who he’s talking to. Sebastian was a bully! He blackmailed and schemed. He photoshopped vulgar pictures of Kurt’s stepbrother, and tried to steal his boyfriend. He’s only recently redeemed himself for any of that. There are people who would still consider him a bully - Kurt’s friends, people he loves - who haven’t had the opportunity Kurt has to get to know him.

But it’s also an unfair question. From what Kurt has learned, Sebastian wasn’t always that way. The person he was while he was at Dalton - that person was created, and by someone other than himself.

“I would never run for student body president in the first place!” Sebastian yells. “I don’t care about other people’s problems! I can’t be bothered! If I went to your school God forbid and people bullied me, I wouldn’t want to help them! I’d want to watch the place burn to the ground!”

“That … that’s not true!”

Sebastian leans towards him threateningly. But not threatening to hurt him. Threatening to make him see the truth. “Isn’t it!?”

“I …” Kurt puts a hand to his head and closes his eyes. Sebastian’s words pound in his brain. They connect a bunch of dots, but they also leave other sections of the overall picture blank. “I’m sorry, I … I don’t know what’s going on. We’ve gone from horses to your sister to student body president to arson and I … I think … I may have missed the point somewhere.”

“The point I’ve been trying to make,” Sebastian says slowly, bringing his mare closer to Kurt’s, “and very badly is that money is a wonderful thing to have. But it shouldn’t be your identity. You need to be something more. Money will never make you a whole person if you can’t be one without it.”

Kurt nods, relieved to have it summed up so nicely before either one of them accidentally says something they’ll both regret. With his own deadline of NYADA looming, Kurt forgot that Sebastian said he hasn’t chosen a college yet. What if that’s not the entire story?

What if he doesn’t know what he wants to do with the rest of his life? And what if that scares him?

“Okay,” Kurt says, accepting Sebastian’s hand when it finds his. “I … I think I get it. That makes sense.”

“I’m glad. Because believe it or don’t, I didn’t bring you up here to start an argument. I just wanted to watch the sun set. Show you one of my favorite thinking spots. To be honest …” Sebastian shakes his head “… I don’t know where half of that came from.”

Kurt gives Sebastian’s hand a comforting squeeze. He hopes that Sebastian might be willing to bring this subject up again at the beach house when they’re both a little more level-headed, better equipped to handle it. “Where would you say you fall on that spectrum? Between being whole and being not?”

“I’d have to say I’m extensively ventilated …” Sebastian brings Kurt’s hand to his mouth for a kiss, disarming smile locked back in place. “But on the mend.”

Kurt watches Sebastian run his thumb over his knuckles, hesitant to give his hand back, even with the darkness settling in around them. “You know,” Kurt says, “this picture you’re painting of who you are … if I wasn’t here, seeing it for myself, I don’t think I would ever believe any of this about you.”

Sebastian frowns, looks like he’s about to rush to his own defense, but he stops. “I guess I didn’t really give you the chance to find out for yourself.”

“Why isn’t this the foot you put forward all the time?”

“Because … I don’t like being vulnerable with people.”

“You don’t have to be vulnerable. But nice would be …” Kurt searches his head for the perfect word, but only comes up with “… nice. You know what they say - more flies with honey and all that.”

Sebastian sputters. “There you go again with those archaic expressions! Who on earth wants to be surrounded by flies? Being this version of me is too much work for too little pay off most of the time. For what I usually want, my methods get me results quicker.”

“So … what does that say about me?” Kurt asks. “You and I have been at this for months. And it’s not as if I rolled over for you the first chance I got.”

Sebastian tugs Kurt’s hand, brings him close enough to give him the whisper of a kiss against his cheek. “That says you’re worth the effort.”

***

It’s been well over a week since the Smythes descended on the beach house, and as much fun as it is having them there, Kurt is steadily becoming paranoid. He wouldn’t have had Olivia not made that remark about keeping an eye out for her mother. Now he’s convinced that every look Charlotte tosses his way holds significance.

A silent warning.

That she knows about him and Sebastian, and that the two of them are royally screwed - Sebastian more so than he, of course. Only she’s too nice to shred him to pieces in front of the family, so she’s waiting to do it in private.

He won’t know for certain until she corners him and they talk.

So he does the mature thing.

He avoids being alone with her at all costs.

He doesn’t hide behind curtains or vault over furniture when he sees her approach. He simply makes certain he’s never by himself for longer than a few minutes. That amounts to trips to the bathroom and any time he needs to change clothes, which (and he’s not proud of this) he’s done twice as an excuse not to talk to her. With Sebastian’s new found need to be with Kurt every conceivable second, that takes care of every time else. Still, in the confines of the beach house, Kurt knows it’s impossible to dodge Charlotte forever. He just hopes he can figure out what he’s going to say when the time comes, how he’s going to defend his and Sebastian’s actions.

How he’s going to make being a boyfriend-for-hire in order to deceive her in specific sound not so bad.

Sitting on Sebastian’s lap on the porch swing, Kurt’s favorite place in the house to be hands down, he’s finding it difficult to relax. Even though she’s nowhere where she can see them, Kurt feels her eyes on him. Several times he pops his head up and scans the beach to see if she’s walking along the shore, but no. She’s not there.

This is all in his head. He knows it. He’s building it up to something bigger than it needs to be. But if he doesn’t deal with things soon, he’s going to give himself a nervous condition.

“Hey, babe. I have to run to the bathroom,” Sebastian says, sliding his hands underneath Kurt’s rear and relocating him to the far side of the swing.

“O-okay,” Kurt says, a knot starting in his stomach, like a stop watch zeroing out before a tie-breaker race. “Don’t take too long.”

“Yeah, alright. I … won’t,” Sebastian says, giving Kurt an odd look before heading towards the door to his room. Kurt watches him go, crossing every finger on both hands and his toes in his socks, praying Sebastian returns before Charlotte discovers he’s alone and swoops in. Kurt doesn’t see her, hasn’t seen her for most of the day actually. He’d be hard pressed to say whether or not she’s even there.

Kurt and Sebastian ate dinner on the porch, intend on sleeping out there, too, in the tent still set up in the far corner. Did he see her before dinner? Or did Greg take her out to eat? They’d been discussing an Italian place not too far from the beach. They could be there, enjoying a romantic evening alone, with not a single thought to the deceptive practices of her son and his boyfriend. Or did she go shopping with Olivia? Olivia mentioned wanting to hit Yankee Candle for apple pie scented wax melts after stumbling across one of Kurt and Sebastian’s vanilla scented votives. That’s a possibility.

Unfortunately, there’s only one way for him to inconspicuously check. He’d have to go inside and take a peek for himself. If he texts Olivia, he runs the risk of her coming out to ask him what’s up with her mother in tow.

Kurt gets so wrapped up in thinking about where Charlotte could be that he misses her sweeping through the door right as Sebastian leaves, stopping her son to give him a kiss on the cheek.

“Hey, Kurt!” she says brightly, striding across the porch toward him, wrapped in the coziest looking, camel-colored, cashmere duster. He’s been looking for one just like it - not super chunky the way knitted dusters tend to be. This one looks soft, and clingy in all the right places. And that color - super complementary. Once she’s done verbally disemboweling him, he’ll have to ask her where she got it. “I was hoping I’d get you alone! You and my son seem to be locked together at the hip lately! I’d need a crowbar to separate you two!”

“That seems to be the consensus,” Kurt says, banishing the image of sweet matriarch Charlotte Smythe wielding a crowbar. He shouldn’t be this nervous around her. She’s never given him reason to be. She treats him like he’s part of the family. Besides, Sebastian and Julian both agree that Olivia is the scary one. Not their mother.

Then again, where do they think Olivia gets it from?

“That’s not a bad thing. I remember being your age, locked at the hip with my boyfriend,” she reveals, a speck of wickedness coloring her smile. “But as much as I adore my son, I was hoping I could talk to you - one on one.”

Kurt’s stomach flip-flops the way it did during his NYADA audition. The only difference is, at his audition, he had a pair of gold pants to give him strength. He loves borrowing Sebastian’s Ralph Lauren lounge pants, but it’s not the same. “Absolutely. What’s on your mind?”

“Well, I feel like you may be avoiding me … just a little,” she says, bringing a hand up, putting her thumb and forefinger together for emphasis.

“Oh, uh … no. No I haven’t. Not … consciously,” he fibs, but she stares him down. Even if she doesn’t know about him and Sebastian pretending to be boyfriends, she knows that Kurt has been lying about something. Charlotte is an intelligent woman. Kurt is not about to disrespect her. “I’m sorry if it seems that way. That wasn’t my intention.”

She stays silent a moment longer, scrutinizing him the same way Carole does him and Finn when her motherly instincts tell her not to trust them. And Carole’s instincts are pretty much consistently on the nose. But Charlotte may not feel comfortable scolding her son’s boyfriend.

She may have decided to let the guilt eat Kurt away for her.

“Sebastian says you have quite a fondness for this old swing,” she says. “But before you came along, he’d never come out here. Ever. You would think he was afraid of heights or something the way he avoided it, and my son is definitely not afraid of heights. In fact, if someone were to ask me what Sebastian is afraid of, I’d have to say there isn’t a thing … except losing you. And your good opinion of him.”

Kurt goes temporarily speechless. He wants to say he knew that, but he can’t. Because he didn’t. “Really?”

“A-ha. So imagine my surprise when I found out that the two of you weren’t actually an item.”

Kurt’s eyes pop open. He hopes he looks stunned, hurt, maybe even a little too scandalized for words. But he knows he’s not that good an actor. Not yet. Give him a couple of semesters, maybe a year abroad …

But right now, he probably looks exactly the way he feels.

Busted.

“That’s … that’s not …” Kurt tries, but he can’t get the rest of the words out. They physically refuse to leave his tongue.

“It’s not what?” Charlotte asks in that stern way mothers do when weeding out the truth.

When they know for a fact that they’re being duped.

“You’re … you’re right.” Those words are a bit harder to say but at least they come out. “We weren’t a couple. B-but we are now,” he adds, praying that makes everything right, that he didn’t inadvertently toss Sebastian under the bus and lose him everything.

“As of …?” she presses.

Oh God, Kurt thinks, losing the feeling in his entire body. Even his tongue goes numb. Nope. He didn’t lose Sebastian everything before. But he may right now. God, he wishes he’d thought to talk to Sebastian about this! Gotten some sort of story straight. “A…after the gala?” More like after they got to North Carolina, but Kurt is not about to split hairs.

Charlotte, who had been sitting with her legs crossed, an elbow resting comfortably on one knee and her chin cradled in the palm of her hand, straightens in surprise.

Oh no! Kurt panics, knowing by the look in her eyes that she’s putting two and two together, time lines readjusting, figuring out just how long they haven’t been a couple.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry for lying to you! It’s … it’s all my fault!” he says, hoping that if he keeps her attention locked on himself, that if he can somehow spin it so he’s the perpetrator here and not Sebastian, she’ll forget that they were going to empty out his bank account and take back his tuition money. They can’t do that! Not after what Sebastian told him today! Not after everything he might be afraid of! “Are you angry? Disappointed? I’ll make it up to you somehow! I swear!”

“Calm down, dear.” She has an exquisite poker face. Kurt has to give her that. He doesn’t have a clue what she’s thinking. But the parts of her expression that aren’t blank are slightly sad. “I’m not disappointed. Or angry.”

“If you don’t mind my asking,” Kurt says, feeling like he’s walking on eggshells made of plate glass and battery acid, “how did you figure us out?”

Charlotte smirks. “Well, whether they like it or not, I know my children. And to be honest, because he’s my youngest, I probably know Sebastian best of all. Which is how I know this arrangement the two of you had …” She wiggles her forefinger between Kurt and an invisible placeholder that represents Sebastian “… whatever it entailed, wasn’t your idea. But I can appreciate you throwing yourself on that grenade, and don’t think I don’t know why.” Kurt is about to launch into a new line of disagreeing, but Charlotte sighs uncomfortably, and that makes him hold back. “Kurt, I’ve walked in on my son mid-coitus more times than any mother should, and what I saw when I walked in on the two of you … that wasn’t Sebastian. Not the one I’ve seen torturing himself with different sexual partners for years. The giggling, the smiling - that was different. It was honest. It’s what I’ve wanted for him for longer than I can tell you. And I was so happy to see it. But in a way, because of that, I knew it wasn’t real.”

“But … why didn’t you say something earlier?”

“Because of all the boys my son knows, he chose you. So he had to have a reason. And aside from that, I like you, Kurt. My husband husband likes you. We think that you’re good for our son. So I thought that, given enough time, what you two were pretending to be might become real.” Charlotte smiles. “As it turns out, it did.”

“Yes, it did,” Kurt agrees shyly.

“And I don’t want you to worry. Sebastian is safe. And that’s not contingent on you or on anything the two of you do. Gregory and I, we both bear some responsibility for Sebastian hatching this little scheme. Ultimatums don’t always work the way you intend them to.” That should sound like she’s admitting defeat, but the wink she gives Kurt admits anything but. “Just make sure you get what he promised you.”

“I did,” Kurt assures her. “It and a lot more.”

“Good,” she says. “Very good. You know, being a parent, you raise your kids the best way you know how, in the hopes that they grow into adults that can make good decisions on their own. I may not agree with all of the decisions my children have made, but they are their decisions to make. I can’t micromanage their lives. I have to trust them.”

“I think my dad would agree with you,” Kurt says, thinking back on all the times his father stressed that Kurt was an adult, that he’d be out of the house soon, and that his decisions were his own. And as much as Kurt appreciated the sentiment, the look in his father’s eye when he said it, one he probably thought he was covering so well, gutted him.

“Your father is a good man,” Charlotte says, giving Kurt’s hand a pat. “And from what I can see, he did a wonderful job raising you.”

“Thank you,” Kurt says, feeling way more at ease now than he did when this conversation started. “For what it’s worth, I think you guys did an amazing job as parents, too.”

Charlotte’s smile dips, wobbles at the corners, and Kurt wonders if he said something wrong. She sits back in the swing, turns her head slightly away. She gazes down the beach, the same way Sebastian does when he thinks about something sad, watching the water rush in to meet the shore, then out to join the waves. “Thank you, Kurt,” she says finally. “That does mean a lot.”

***

Julian’s demeanor has been changing in increments.

Kurt thinks he may be the only one who notices since he’s spent time alone with every member of the Smythe family and no one else has mentioned it. But Julian has become sullen.

Downright sulky.

He hasn’t gotten on Sebastian’s case recently half as much as when he got there, hasn’t flirted with Kurt in the past few days other than to tell him he looks good wearing his clothes (a black Henley Kurt thought was Sebastian’s, which had found itself in Sebastian’s room due to an unfortunate dry cleaning mishap).

The change started about the same time Kurt began to notice that the long phone conversations Julian had been having with Cooper - the ones that started in the family room or in the kitchen after dinner but eventually sent Julian outside searching for privacy - seemed to happen less and less, and with no estimated time of Cooper’s arrival in sight. Kurt reminds himself that Julian and Cooper’s relationship has always been a volatile one, so maybe this is just the way things go between them.

But it’s still heartbreaking.

Julian seemed so happy when he first arrived, first told them about Cooper spending the summer with him, and now ...

Kurt hopes that their flame hasn’t burned out so quickly, the way he feared his with Sebastian would, the thrill of the chase gone, the shine of the taboo beginning to take on a matte finish.

“Hey, gorgeous,” Julian says, catching Kurt off guard and staring as he makes his way up to their towels spread out on the beach. Kurt wasn’t staring at Julian, even though he’d been looking in the man’s direction. He was just staring, lost in his own thoughts. But he’ll never convince Julian of that. “Why don’t you take a picture? It lasts longer. In fact, I have a few I can text you, save you the trouble. They’re organized by various states of undress …”

“That’s a surefire way to end up with a broken screen,” Olivia says while Sebastian scoots his towel over, scoops up his boyfriend.

“Happen to have any of you in a Franciscan robe?” Kurt counters. “Maybe even a kaftan?”

Julian smirks, and even though it makes him look as handsome as ever, it doesn’t brighten his face, doesn’t reach his eyes. “You know, I might.”

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Olivia snickers, “so be careful what you ask for. Even if he does, nothing says it’ll be PG.”

“Speaking of, what are you two gentlemen doing tomorrow night?” he asks. “I mean, between the sex, sex, and more sex.”

“Have they been having a lot of sex?” Olivia asks offhandedly while she scrolls through her phone.

“As far as I can tell. I don’t know one hundred percent. They haven’t invited me to join in.”

“We don’t have any hard and fast plans,” Sebastian says, diverting the topic of conversation away from his and Kurt’s sex life. “Why do you ask? And before you say anything, threesomes are out.”

“Airiel Down is playing at Red Hat,” Julian says, reaching into the pocket of his shorts for his phone. “I got two tickets. I was going to take Cooper, but he hasn’t …” Julian’s voice waffles, goes minutely hoarse.

Olivia’s eyes dart his way.

No. That didn’t go unnoticed, Kurt thinks when her gaze shifts to Sebastian, and then Sebastian looks at Kurt. All three of them had heard the same thing.

“Anyway, anyway,” Julian says, pushing past it, “no reason for them to go to waste.”

“Are you sure? I mean, you could still go. Scalp the other ticket,” Sebastian suggests, but from the tone of his voice, it sounds like he’s asking another question entirely.

“I’m sure, little bro. No worries.” Julian chuckles, but it’s as dry as the sand they’re sitting on. They watch in silence as Julian types out a text and attaches the electronic tickets. A second later, Sebastian’s phone in his pocket beeps. “Your boyfriend here needs a night out, and exposure to some of our fine North Carolina culture.” Julian grins. For a moment, he’s closer to normal than he’s been in days. “Besides, you two need to give that beautiful ass of his a break.”

kurt hummel, juliper, acitw au, acitw, sebastian smythe, glee, kurtbastian

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