Stop Loss: Chapter 31, Part 2

Aug 06, 2012 11:32

...keep going...

One week after school had officially closed for the summer, Kurt was back at the zoo, sketching a sleeping lion with the charcoal pencils and thick vellum paper he'd dug out of a box in his closet specifically for the occasion.

After his original plan for the day had been foiled by Burt, who had casually made clear at breakfast that Kurt would absolutely not be working more than four days a week at the garage that summer if he wanted to keep his coveralls, Kurt had done as much of his required summer reading as he could stand before giving up and driving out to the zoo to work on his drawing-his artistic skills had gotten slightly rusty since he'd started high school, but being able to send a homemade card along with Blaine's to-be-determined birthday gift was decent motivation to practice. And if doing so helped him feel closer to Blaine…

Well, that was just an unexpected perk.

In the hour and a half since Kurt had started sketching (minus fifteen minutes for a bathroom break/drink run), dozens of people had come through the exhibit, talking and laughing and pointing and taking pictures. Kurt ignored them, focusing on his work; nobody had stayed long enough to bother him, since the three lions that were within the enclosure were all sleeping anyway.

Kurt had had the room to himself for nearly five minutes when the doors swung open again. Concentrating on getting the shape of the lion's front paw perfectly proportional, Kurt didn't look up from his sketchpad, letting the sound of the conversation between the two speakers wash over him.

"…maybe San Francisco, but their lions…"

"…the phone with San Diego, and they said…"

"…in Miami won't; they have a lioness pregnant now…afraid he might kill the cubs if they introduce another male too soon."

Kurt's head snapped up at the mention of killing cubs, and only then did he notice that one of the two men deep in conversation a few yards away from him was wearing the khaki shirt and laminated security pass of one of the zoo's veterinarians.

"It would be a lot easier to place him next year, or even a year after that," he was saying to his companion, a well-dressed older man who also wore a security pass. "We may have to work with one of our bigger partners to arrange something with one of their partners."

The older man sighed. "An expensive logistical nightmare," he deduced unhappily. "Desra will love that. Which one is he?"

The veterinarian pointed to the lion that Kurt had been sketching.

The blood drained from Kurt's face. He hadn't been sure which little lion it was that he'd been drawing for Blaine, but the vet was obviously familiar enough with him-or else knew better than Kurt how to tell male cubs from the female ones-to instantly pick out Rafiki.

And yet, he'd been the one that had mentioned something about killing cubs. Kurt's mouth was open before he could stop himself. "You're not going to hurt Rafiki, are you?" he asked, his voice coming out in a much higher pitch than usual.

Both men turned swiftly to look at Kurt with surprised looks on their faces, as if they hadn't even realized that they weren't alone in the room.

"No, of course not," the veterinarian told Kurt, recovering first. "We've got a great team here; nobody who works for the zoo would ever do anything to hurt one of our animals."

Kurt chewed on his lip. "But you said…" he began, realizing that it was a ridiculous idea, but still not convinced that he shouldn't be worried about Rafiki.

The vet hesitated, glancing at the other man for approval before answering. "Nobody's going to hurt Rafiki," he promised, once the well-dressed man had nodded. "We're just trying to find a new home for him, and it's proving to be a little more difficult than we'd hoped."

Kurt gripped the fence with his free hand, his knuckles turning white. Of course Rafiki going to another zoo was so much better than him beingeuthanized, but it was still wrenching news, if only because Blaine was going to be heartbroken when he heard. "Why?" he managed to ask.

Once again, the zoo employees exchanged looks before the vet let out a sigh. "Placing male lions in other zoos or sanctuaries can be difficult, unless they're at a very specific age," he explained. "They're either too young to be on their own or to fight for space or acceptance into another pride, or they're old enough to be a threat to any pride with cubs or cubs on the way."

He frowned sadly, looking over at Rafiki, who had stretched one paw out in his sleep. "Ideally, we'd like to let him go in another year, year and a half-prides are centered around female lions, and he'd be in conflict with them if he stayed here much longer than that."

Kurt shook his head roughly. "I meant, why are you getting rid of him?" he clarified, frowning back. "If it's so hard to find a new home for him now, and you don't really want to?"

The other man put a hand on the veterinarian's shoulder, and Kurt squinted to see the name on his security pass: Alan Patrickson, Zoo Director.

"We don't really want to," Mr. Patrickson said, speaking up for the first time since the men had noticed Kurt. "But the cubs that we have are starting to grow up-they need more territory, more food. If we had the money to expand the exhibit next to this one this year, to give them more room to roam outdoors, and to feed and care for a fourth lion, then of course we'd keep him; we don't want to get rid of him while he's still so young. Not if we don't have to."

"We'd restructure the outdoor space at some point anyway," the vet added. "We were supposed to do it this year. But donations were down this season, and if we had three lions instead of four, it could be put off for another couple of years. And since Rafiki would have to go to another zoo in the near future anyway, he was the obvious choice to rehome."

Slowly, Kurt nodded, processing all of the information. It made an unfortunate amount of sense, and even if he didn't like the zoo's decision, he had to respect it-romantic as he was, money and logic were two things that Kurt understood very well. "So, it's just the expenses related to keeping him, and the expansion?" he wanted to know, looking back and forth between the two men. "You're not compensated for giving him to another zoo?"

Mr. Patrickson shook his head vehemently. "That's not how it works," he was quick to explain. "We might have the cost of transporting him covered by the receiving zoo, but we don't sell animals-they're given as gifts or loans to other institutions, or taken on by zoos with the resources and availability to care for them when their current homes no longer can."

Kurt looked back at the lions in the pen, thinking. It was heartbreaking that one of them would be forced out of his home when he was still so young, but the zoo had the situation under control. It wasn't his place to interfere, and doing so would likely be a massive-not to mention expensive-undertaking.

Unbidden, an image of Blaine flashed through Kurt's mind; how Blaine would look when he found out that one of his lions had disappeared forever while he was gone.

Kurt closed his eyes, resigned.

The things I do for you, he thought grimly.

Turning back to the two men, Kurt smiled fatalistically. "I don't suppose there's anyone I could talk to about what, specifically, the costs of keeping Rafiki here for another year would be?" he wondered out loud.

Mr. Patrickson blinked at him, nonplussed. The vet smiled back kindly. "Do you write for your school paper?" he guessed, scratching at his wrist.

Kurt stopped himself from rolling his eyes at the idea of him as a student reporter. "No," he answered evenly. "I just want to see if it would be possible to raise the money you need to take care of Rafiki for a little longer."

The vet and Mr. Patrickson stared at him.

When it became clear that Kurt wasn't kidding, Mr. Patrickson stepped forward. "Son, it's fantastic that you want to help," he told Kurt, spreading his hands out helplessly. "We always value community support. But we're talking about thousands of dollars, here."

Kurt's stomach clenched. Still, he stood his ground. "You were planning on expanding the exhibit this year," he reminded the director, his tone polite but businesslike. "You must have gotten a financial estimate for that at some point."

"About $2,000," the vet confirmed, still staring at Kurt with no small degree of incredulity. "We used to have elephants next door, six or seven years ago, so everything's reinforced; most of the expense is just the cost of moving the sections of fencing in between the two areas in order to connect the perimeters."

Kurt breathed an internal sigh of relief at the relatively low number-if the number of thousands had been in the double digits or even higher, he couldn't have possibly gone through with his rapidly-forming plan. "I go to Carmel High School," he told Mr. Patrickson. "We've got the most active Booster Clubs in the Midwest, and our Environmental Club is ranked among the top five in the country."

Never mind that they can't stand Vocal Adrenaline, ever since that report came out naming us as the largest energy drain within a 25-mile radius, he thought ruefully, shaking his head.

"We also have hundreds of students who need community service hours in order to graduate, but are too busy with rehearsals and sports practices and homework during the school year to complete them," he continued, "and I personally have been doing the finances for my family's business for nearly three years. I can't make any guarantees, but if I could talk to someone who can give me some solid figures and deadlines, I can promise to try and help you."

Mr. Patrickson looked genuinely stunned by Kurt's speech, and gazed at him with a guarded expression, clearly unsure what to make of him. "Look," he started, before pausing.

The vet stepped forward, tilting his head to look at Mr. Patrickson. "Desra should be here until 3:00," he said, glancing briefly at Kurt. "I've got an hour to waste, if you want me to take him to see her."

Kurt swallowed, waiting for Mr. Patrickson's answer.

He wasn't quite sure what he was hoping that answer would be.

A moment later, it came-exhaling quietly, Mr. Patrickson shook his head, bewildered. "No, Dylan, that's all right," he said faintly, before turning back to Kurt. "I think I'm going to want to be there for this meeting, too."

Kurt was standing in the kitchen, debating whether to make tacos or burgers with the ground turkey that he had defrosted for dinner, when his phone chimed with a text from Blaine, telling him to check his email. Abandoning the meat in the sink and heading downstairs, Kurt logged onto his computer and opened the latest message. Inside was a picture of Blaine, asleep on a strange couch, with a tiny gray kitten curled up at the base of his throat. The late afternoon sunlight streamed through a nearby window, leaving gleaming patches on Blaine's skin and lighting up glimmering strands of hair, and Kurt's heart melted as he scrolled down the page to read the note underneath:

Me and Mopsy taking a nap in the sunroom, it read. Grandma took the picture, but I had to wait for Mopsy to wake up before I could send it to you.

Dinner was a few minutes late that night.

Fifteen minutes after leaving the lion's den, Kurt was perched on a squeaky gray rolling chair in an extraordinarily messy office, absently listening as Dylan the veterinarian and Desra Mueller, the zoo's part-time Finanical Manager, read numbers off of a spreadsheet, trying to calculate precisely how much money feeding Rafiki would cost the zoo over the following year.

"We order meat in bulk," Desra had informed Kurt without preamble once Mr. Patrickson had introduced them and had explained the situation, "so this is going to take a while. How are good at you at math?"

"Excellent," Kurt had replied breathlessly, unsure whether or not the question-and his answer-meant that he'd be doing all of the calculations himself.

Desra had smiled back. "Good," she'd praised, flipping one of her blonde braids over her shoulder and sliding a clear jar full of loose change across the desk at him. "The lattes at the café are $3.47; Allen County sales tax is 6.5%. Impress me."

Kurt, strongly reminded of Shelby-and a little bit in love-hastened to obey.


Less than thirty minutes after Kurt had returned with the $3.70 coffee, Desra and Dylan had finished calculating not only the cost of Rafiki's meat, but his estimated care as well. "I'd say you're looking at a solid $10,500, once you factor in the fence as well," Desra told Kurt, clicking her pen and leaning back in her seat. "$11,000, to be safe. That's an awful lot of money for a student."

Kurt nodded, somewhat disheartened. "That's an awful lot of money for anyone," he agreed. "I don't suppose there's any chance of appealing to your regular donors, is there?"

Mr. Patrickson, who had left the office to make a phone call and had returned just in time to hear Desra's verdict, shook his head. "We can only make two official fundraising appeals to The Friends of the Zoo each year," he explained to Kurt. "There are rules in place to keep us from badgering or petitioning our donors for each new expense or project."

Seeing Kurt's frown, he twisted his mouth into a grim smile that made him look ten years younger. "However," he added, "our monthly newsletter has a fairly substantial circulation, and there aren't any restrictions on advertising outside groups that just so happen to be benefitting the zoo. If you can get a fundraising group together and email me all of the relevant information by the 11th, I can see to it that it's prominently featured both in our publication and on the zoo website."

Desra clicked her pen again, scribbling something down on her yellow legal pad. "It'll take the least amount of time to get the ball rolling if donations go straight to the zoo," she mused, not looking up from her writing. "If you come in tomorrow at 11:30, I'll give you a crash course on how to solicit and collect donations without doing anything illegal or embarrassing yourself or the zoo. Dylan, which of the vets was the one who took the publicity photos for the Holiday Gala?"

Dylan straightened in his chair. "Candace," he answered quickly, clearly thinking along the same lines as Desra. "I'm sure she has more recent shots of the lions that we can use; I'll ask her to email them to you tonight or tomorrow."

Kurt swallowed, his mouth dry. Everything was happening almost faster than he could keep up, and however good his intentions were, he wasn't convinced that he hadn't agreed to spearhead a project that was bigger than he could handle.

He bit down on his lip sharply, tasting iron. Although he wasn't proud of it, a large part of him wanted to take the previous hour back.

"If-when do we have to raise the money by?" he asked instead, relieved when his voice came out sounding as brisk and professional as he had been aiming for. "What's the last possible day that we can still be collecting?"

Mr. Patrickson looked almost sheepish. "In the interest of the zoo, I do have to keep searching for an alternative home for Rafiki," he admitted, looking briefly at Dylan, who nodded, before turning back to Kurt. "I don't want to undermine what you're doing-and it's not because of your age, either; I'd do the same thing if you were an adult-but I have to operate in a manner that covers all possible contingencies.

"You'll have at least until mid-August," he promised, "that's the very earliest we could possibly sign paperwork with another zoo. If I have a tentative offer, but it looks as though you're going to make it, I will see if I can stall the negotiations a little."

Kurt nodded evenly-weirdly, Mr. Patrickson's explanation made him feel as though he were back in Carmel's music office, being told by Shelby that his solo was excellent, but wouldn't be going to Regionals for reasons beyond his control. But semi-rejection was a sensation he knew how to handle. "I understand," he replied smoothly, nodding a second time. "I recognize that I'm asking a lot, with all of this. I appreciate you taking the time to help me, and you should absolutely pursue any other avenues that you need to."

Three sets of eyebrows went up as all three adults in the room stared at Kurt, yet again.

Desra was the first to recover. "So, are you some kind of budding animal activist, or do you need an extra credit project for school?" she wondered out loud, leaning forward in her chair and resting her elbows on the desk.

Kurt smiled weakly. "Neither," he admitted. "I'm just…"

He paused, thinking about Blaine. About his dad. "Let's just say I'm reshuffling my priorities," he concluded wryly, making eye contact with Desra, who looked amused by his assessment.

"Well," she offered, straightening a photograph next to her computer, the subjects of which were two young children with her straight blonde hair, "if you do pull this off, I'd be surprised. But I'm rooting for you."

She smiled at Kurt, blue eyes calculating. "Be here tomorrow with another latte and a notebook," she instructed. "We've got a lot of work to do."

"I've been trying to write you a letter," Blaine confessed, his voice quiet and warm, if somewhat troubled. "Or-I don't know if it's for you as much as it's for me, to gather my thoughts."

Kurt hummed in understanding. "What does it say?" he asked, shifting the phone to his left hand and stretching out on his bed with a glance at the clock-11:57pm.

Blaine sighed. "Not much," he admitted. "Every time I try to work on it, I just…" He trailed off, inhaling audibly.

Kurt waited silently.

Finally, Blaine sighed again. "When I think about your dad," he said tentatively, "the way I let Jesse chase me away so easily, and didn't even-I can't even think about it long enough to figure out how to apologize for something that big. I've never been more ashamed of myself about anything, Kurt."

Kurt closed his eyes, breathing slowly.

"I can't ever make something like that up to you," Blaine was saying. "Sometimes I'm amazed that you're even talking to me after that."

Kurt's throat began to tighten, and he swallowed harshly. "I didn't want to believe that you would do that," he admitted quietly, feeling the familiar sting of unshed tears forming behind his eyelids. "It was just so unlike you. And I know that you had your own issues going on at the time, and I understand that, but it hurt so much when you weren't there."

"I know," Blaine acknowledged sadly. "I know, and I'm so sorry, even if it doesn't make it right. Do you-"

He paused. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asked in a small voice. "Everything with your dad, and after? You don't have to, obviously, but if you want to…I'll listen."

Kurt thought about it, chest continuing to rise and fall with each deep, calming breath he took. When the answer came, it was a surprise to them both: "I do. Want to talk about it."

Blaine let out a harsh exhale, but whether it was a sigh of relief or trepidation, Kurt didn't know.

"Okay," Blaine said hoarsely. "Okay. Whenever you're ready."

Kurt took one final, deep breath. And began to speak.

The first person that Kurt told about his impulsive commitment to raising $11,000 for the zoo was Burt, who called him "insane" and suggested the need for a professional intervention, but nonetheless agreed to help Kurt in his endeavor in whatever way Kurt needed him to.

The second was someone whom Kurt wasn't entirely sure wouldn't slam the door in his face.

Still, a few hours after his second meeting with Desra-his notebook already filled with ten pages of hastily scribbled advice, leaving him with both a better idea of how to ask people for money and cramps in his hand-Kurt found himself standing on an unfamiliar porch in an unfamiliar but well-maintained neighborhood, ringing an ornate doorbell and waiting apprehensively, hand twining into the strap of his bag unconsciously. A minute passed, and then he heard the faint sound of light footsteps bounding down the stairs toward him. Kurt took a deep breath and braced himself.

The door opened, and Rachel Berry's beamingly inquisitive face melted into a frown when she saw who her visitor was.

Kurt tried his hardest not to take it personally.

Rachel crossed her arms over her chest. "If you're here because Jesse sent you, you can leave immediately," she said crossly, glowering at him. "And you can tell him that if he's sorry for the appalling manner in which he treated me, both overtly in the week leading up to Regionals and more subtly by manipulating me over the course of our relationship as part of a thoughtless ploy orchestrated by my mother, he can very well come here and say it himself. And that if he's looking for any personal items that he may have left in my possession at any point during our brief but torrid romance, that he's wasting his time; they were incinerated in a traditional Ex-Boyfriend Purging Bonfire in the backyard, a la every movie featuring Misguided Teenage Romance since 1985. And that-"

"Jesse didn't send me," Kurt interrupted quickly, before Rachel could add any more messages to pass along. "I came on my own."

Rachel deflated slightly. "Oh," she said, sounding a little disappointed, before straightening back up and scowling again. "Well then, in that case I should inform you that I'm not particularly happy to see you either, as Jesse's best friend and confidante, and that unless you have an excellent reason for being here-'excellent' to be determined by my standards and not yours-I'll be returning to my karaoke practice, and you may stay out here and reflect on your behavior on your own."

Kurt sighed. "Rachel, I want you to know how sorry I am about everything that happened between you and Jesse," he said truthfully. "For what it's worth, I always encouraged him to treat you better than he did, and if I had known about the…egg…thing,"-Rachel glared dangerously, and Kurt unconsciously took a step backward-"I would have stopped him, or warned you. As it is, we had a huge fight later on, about the way that he acts toward people, and I think he's starting to understand how wrong he was, with respect to you."

Rachel's stance relaxed slightly, but she didn't appear entirely convinced. "While I appreciate you coming here to throw yourself at my feet in contrition," she admitted, and Kurt fought the instinct that made him want to roll his eyes, "The Incident Of Which We Do Not Speak happened weeks ago. If you were truly sorry, why didn't you say anything at Regionals, in front of your teammates, instead of coming here now, and in secrecy?"

Kurt looked down at his shoes. "I wasn't at Regionals," he explained. "The week that the-that everything with Jesse happened," he corrected, avoiding a second specific mention of the egg incident, "I had a huge fight with my boyfriend, and then my dad had a heart attack that nearly killed him. I didn't come back to school until days after the competition, and I didn't hear about what Jesse did to you until way after that." He shrugged sadly, meeting her eyes. "By the time I did, I didn't think that you'd want to talk to me," he added honestly.

Rachel's intense gaze softened. "I'm sorry to hear about your dad," she offered. "As you know, I have Two Gay Dads, and I know how devastated I'd be if anything happened to them. What song did you pick to express your deep inner agony?"

Kurt was briefly confused, until he remembered Jesse mentioning how McKinley's show choir, the New Directions, had a strange tendency to sing their feelings whenever possible. "I didn't sing at all," he explained. "Everything was too overwhelming at the time."

Rachel stared at him. "I suppose, that under those circumstances, your delay in apologizing is understandable," she allowed solemnly, clearly shaken by his admission that he'd been too upset to sing. "I accept."

She stuck out her hand, and Kurt shook it.

Glancing behind her inside the house, Rachel smiled at Kurt. "I really do have to get back to practicing," she told him. "If you promise not to hold me back vocally, we have a second microphone."

Kurt smiled back. "I'd love to sing with you," he agreed, only exaggerating a little: he hadn't had the chance to sing with anyone else since Nationals, and from what he remembered, Rachel did have an excellent voice-and with his first voice lesson coming up with Kenneth McClaren, he could definitely use the practice. "Before we do, though, I was hoping that I could ask for your help with a special project."

Rachel eyed him sharply. "What kind of project?" she asked warily. "Because if it has anything to do with Vocal Adrenaline-"

"It doesn't," Kurt assured her quickly, before she could get going again. "Well, I mean, it might, but you wouldn't have to have anything to do with them. It's for Blaine-do you remember meeting him at the Winter Ball?"

Rachel nodded, immediately relaxing. "Your boyfriend," she confirmed, lighting up. "He was very polite and handsome. My Dads would love him."

Kurt smiled faintly. "Right," he said hollowly. "Well, I'm doing this project for him, and to save the home of a baby animal that might be torn away from his family if we don't raise enough money, and I thought that since you and Blaine got along, and since you must like animals, being a vegan, you might be willing to help."

Tilting her head to the side, Rachel tapped her foot for a few seconds, thinking, and then extended her hand. "Show me your book bag," she demanded suddenly.

Kurt's hand grabbed the strap of his bag instinctively. "Why?" he wanted to know, shifting slightly on his feet.

Rachel sighed impatiently. "I need assurance of your good intentions," she explained, using a tone of voice that implied how obvious she considered her actions to be. "If there are any foodstuffs in there that you intend to throw at me, I'd like to find out now, rather than inside, where I'd have to shampoo the carpets if my trust in you turns out to be misplaced."

Impressed by her paranoia, Kurt handed over his book bag.

Searching it and apparently satisfied with the lack of eggs or dairy products that it contained, Rachel nodded approvingly, and invited Kurt inside.

fanfiction, warbling on, writing, klaine, lungs + vocabulary, glee, rad bromance, "jesse st james jesse st sucks", not on kurt hummel's bucket list, oh blainers

Previous post Next post