Fic: Ad Libitum (chapter 1)
Rating: all audiences for now, but it will definitely go up later
Summary: What if Kurt and Blaine had never met in Ohio? What if Blaine, just starting his first year at NYADA, instead happens to run into him in a hallway of a performance school in New York? This is a story about how they meet, and everything that brought them there, and everything that happens from that point on.
Author's Note: I wanted to write, and ca_te suggested The Boys meeting at NYADA. Which made me think. What if they'd never had each other? How would they be different and how would they be the same? Thoughts turned into scenes which turned into a story, and here's the beginning. This story is about two boys meeting, but it is also about more than that. It is about insecurity and acceptance and expectations. It is also still a work in progress, but I'll have some more free time to write very soon and I'll do my best to update this regularly.
So many thanks to mixed_berryjam for being the best beta in the world, you are amazing! And a big thank you to ca_te for the never-ending support and for listening to my endless worrying about getting all the words in the right order. <3
Also, I haven't posted a WIP in ages and I'm entirely too nervous, so I'll go and have a glass of wine now. Happy reading.
It's been two days and he should not be this exhausted already. Two days. The very beginning of his very first week at NYADA and he still has trouble finding his classes. And okay, he's started making friends (his roommate's a nice guy, he's met some nice students; he's also met some students who are too ambitious and better-than-everyone-else to even consider befriending). But still. He's tired. Happy, but tired. Excited, but tired.
Pushing the door to his dorm room closed behind himself, he walks over to his desk to sort through the insane amount of sheet music he already has accumulated after only two days. He'll have to find an empty practice room later. His vocal coach hadn't sounded too impressed with him and he'd been right about it, too, Blaine knows he can do so much better. It's just. He's really tired. He's been on an adrenaline high for what feels like days and, well, it has been days (but New York!) and his body is starting to protest the lack of sleep and the overload of emotions. He can let himself have half an hour for just listening to some music and going through his Facebook, just a little time to unwind, let his body relax a little. Recover from the hangover of too much pure giddiness that's been flooding his system. He's tense from the constant state of alertness, making sure he doesn't miss a single thing, and he has dance first thing in the morning. He doesn't need to trip over his feet and make a fool of himself his very first lesson. As much as The Warblers have paved the road into NYADA for him, dance is the one thing he doesn't feel entirely prepared for.
That's okay too, he knows his strengths and he's very much aware of what he'll have to work on. This is college, not high school anymore. It's harder, and it's supposed to be. He's here to learn, after all. He wants to.
Opening his laptop, he waits for it to wake up before scrolling through his iTunes library absentmindedly, head spinning from all the newness of the past two days.
Two days and he already loves New York, loves NYADA, just like he knew he would. He's waited long enough for this; the fact that it has all worked out so beautifully now does make all the stress completely worth it. He got in. The rest, he can handle. He'll just have to settle in, learn the fastest ways to his classes, work on his voice and his dance steps. He's not too worried about getting it all right eventually, he has already earned his place here, he's here because they thought he was good enough. And, sure, he's going to give it his all to prove them right, but still. He's not really worried. He feels too high on new and exciting and oh-god-I'm-here to worry right now. And he's more than willing to work for this, it's his dream.
If he's learned one thing in his life so far, it is that usually it is worth it to try everything at least once. And if it's something you know you're going to like … well, that just makes it even more worth it, he supposes.
So he smiles through the headache between his eyes – too much running around and not enough water. He'll have to pick up a few bottles when he gets back from the practice room later, he can't live entirely off caffeine-based drinks – and opens a new tab on his browser while the soft sounds of Vienna Teng fill the small dorm room. He only uses the headphones when Jonas, his roommate, is in, and he's still in class now.
So far, dorm life is easier than he'd expected. He hadn't boarded at Dalton and the thought of sharing so small a space with a stranger had worried him a little. But it's okay. It's fine. And even though the communal showers are still something to get used to, everything is clean and well-maintained. It's not the majestic architecture of Dalton; it's less pillars and dark oak furniture, more sleek lines and folding chairs. It's a whole new world and he's just starting to find his way around.
He accepts the friend request from Jessica, the perky blue-haired soprano he's met in class. He has a message from Nick (my grandmother introduced herself to my roommate and told him if he wants to study late he should go to the library because I get “cranky” if I don't get 8h of sleep a night KILL ME NOW) and quickly answers it, grinning (He probably has a grandmother too, I'm sure he'll understand. If he makes fun of you, tie all of his shoelaces together while he's in class. How is Boston so far?) before leaning back in his chair to let the music wash over him for a while.
And I don't know where I'm driving to, but I know I'm getting old, he sings under his breath and closes his eyes for just a minute.
He finds an empty practice room with an upright piano and spends an hour in there singing, mostly show tunes because he really needs to work on his range. It's decent enough and he's confident enough in his vocal abilities as such, but he knows there's always room for improvement. Show tunes are not his forte. He’s always been Top 40; the silly peppiness and enthusiastic energy he knows he can bring to a performance have won him all those solos with The Warblers. The raw emotion behind something deeper, that he has always felt a little uncomfortable with. He doesn’t like being on display like that, like baring the very secrets of his soul to an anonymous audience. So the musical numbers had been reserved for long car rides and the shower, mostly, something he’d kept for himself. Because he does love musicals. And if, in the past, he's never really found an opportunity big enough to make him want to step outside his comfort zone – well. That's what college is for too.
The acoustics in the practice rooms are amazing and he presses the piano keys softly, keeping the accompaniment to a quiet backdrop for his voice, concentrates on the notes coming from his throat. Goes over difficult lines again and again, his pitch is a little off on the larger intervals... (Night time sharpens, heightens each sensation... the “shar” is always just a little flat...) But he'll get there. He knows how to do this, one piece at a time, take until the end of the week to get it down perfectly. And he will get it down perfectly.
By the time he's done for the day it's almost time to meet up with his first few friends for their first scheduled dinner together, just three of them in the dining hall, nothing special. It's the nothing special part that has him excited, really, only his second day of classes and he has people to share a table with for dinner. Just a regular thing, just oh, I have to go, I told Jess and Damian I'd meet them by the dining hall. He has always made friends easily enough, it's not like he was worried he'd eat alone every night. It still feels great, like he's already making this place his home, like he really belongs.
He arrives first, standing outside the door for just about half a minute, clutching the strap of his bag while he waits and feels just slightly awkward, like … well, like a freshman waiting for the few people he can call friends yet to show up. But then Jess bounds around the corner of the hallway, swiping a strand of blue hair from her face, waving at him as soon as she sees him, and he forgets about feeling a little lost. Damian is walking beside her, and Blaine waves back at both of them, happily falling into step beside them as they enter the dining hall.
“God, I'm hungry,” Jess informs them, pressing a hand to her stomach. “I haven't even had time for lunch, why is the first week here already so insane...”
“I kind of like it,” Blaine admits.
“You like skipping lunch?” Damian sounds so scandalized, Blaine has to laugh. Damian is twice his size and moves three times as much, which is saying something because Blaine dances on furniture for fun.
“I like being busy,” Blaine corrects. “I like my classes.”
“Oh, no, I love my classes,” Jess agrees. “I just wish my classes would love me enough to let me fucking eat something!”
They get empty trays and line up as Damian begins telling them about his roommate who apparently hasn't even unpacked his suitcases yet, and Blaine feels … at home. Comfortable. And he knows he's so lucky to have had Dalton and now this. This is what he has to think about, what he's thought about since he's arrived, the many ways in which he's been lucky in his life. And it's easy when he's here and everything is coming together like this.
He lets the other two go first and by the time he's picked out his dinner, they have gone to find a table and he looks around for a minute. It's packed this time of night. So many hungry students eating, chatting, so many faces he doesn't know yet … It's like the sound of bees, the constant chatter, a cacophony of voices blending, rising, falling together.
Clutching his tray, he lifts himself to his toes, craning his head to scan the room for his friends, spotting them at a small table on the far side, waving him over. His face breaks into a wide grin as he starts weaving his way through the tables towards them, muttering apologies to the students who have to move their chairs to let him through. It really is crowded in here. It was always crowded in the Dalton dining hall as well, a sea of blue and red, all the boys in blazers. Here, it's not just boys and everything is so much more … colorful.
Blaine loved the blazer. The blazer that became his new skin when his old one was still too raw from fists and boots connecting with it, a thicker hide for his bruised ribs, the security blanket he so desperately needed.
But, he thinks he's grown out of it now. His wounds have healed long ago, and he doesn't need that blanket anymore. Maybe the blue and red of the Dalton uniform gave him a sense of safety back then, but the colors now seem like an opportunity, one he finally feels ready for after all this time. More than that, this new freedom of dressing in his own things is yet another way he can re-learn to express himself. As do many of the students at this school, he has noticed. Not all of them, there is still the jeans and t-shirt crowd. But they are all performers here, and wanting the spotlight on them kind of comes with that. And many of them find more than one way to stick out of the crowd. Jess's blue hair is just one example. He looks at his fellow students as he walks past them, excited about this too, about the diversity in a room full of people who have more or less the same goal in life. It's about more than how they present themselves. It's just … that it's amazing how many ways there are to dream of exactly the same thing.
There's a boy at a table he walks past, and he lifts his head as if he can feel Blaine's eyes on him. His clothes fit him like they were made for him, but what draws Blaine's gaze is his face. Because even without the clothes on the rest of his body it would stick out to him. It's his eyes, or the curve of his mouth, or … just something about the way he holds himself that sets him apart from everyone else – and Blaine gives a small smile because it's rude to stare, a smile like a reflex, like saying sorry when you bump into someone, and walks on. Still he wonders how this boy dreams, what the world looks like through those eyes. And god, he really has to get some sleep tonight and cut back on the coffee, because his thoughts are getting weird. It's the excitement. It's the swirl of new impressions in his head after the bleakness of Ohio that he's so used to.
He takes the seat next to Jess, opposite Damian, and god, he really is hungry now.
Back in his room that night he listens to music with his headphones on until he's too sleepy to stay awake, the sounds of his roommate's breathing a foreign noise as he falls asleep. He's never had to share a room before. He'll get used to this too.
The next morning starts... not so well.
Dance 101 is supposed to start at 8am sharp and it's 7:58 and he's late. He has been all over this stupid fucking school, he's sweaty and out of breath already, and he can't find the right room. And he has two minutes until he has to be there and he's going to be late and what kind of a first impression does that make. He knows dance is not his greatest strength anyway, and he can't be late on top of being not as good at it as he should be already, he may not be the world's greatest dancer, but at least he's reliable, dammit...
First impressions are important. He simply cannot be the late boy for the rest of the school year.
He spins on his heels, frantically scanning the room numbers, pulse racing. He has two minutes, no, one minute and twenty-two seconds... Without thinking, he reaches out for the first student who walks by, touching an arm, stopping the owner of it in his tracks.
“Um, excuse me,” Blaine says, a little more breathless than he wants to. “I'm sorry, I'm new here, and I have no idea if you can help me, but...” he looks up and oh. Yeah. Beautiful eyes, looking at him in a slightly amused way. A gorgeous face. And the hair … Hasn't he seen this boy in the dining hall the other night? No, but it's a big school, what are the odds of that. It's just that Blaine remembers faces, he likes faces, he likes this one...
“Breathe,” the face says, in a voice that is no less beautiful than the rest of the boy whose arm Blaine is still touching.
“I -” he drops his hand, clears his throat, breathes. “Uh. Sorry. I'm just...” he shrugs, shakes his head tries not to blush. This is New York and being flustered in front of a cute boy who is probably a senior or something is not cool, so don't start, act like you belong here because you do... “I was hoping you could … help me? I can't find my room and I can't be late...”
The boy smiles, reassuringly, warmly, and Blaine wants to touch his arm again like that will make him be less lost than he currently is. He doesn't, though. “Where do you need to be?”
“Oh, uh,” Blaine sighs. “Dance 101 with Ms July?”
The boy nods, grins, points to the door behind Blaine. “Right there.”
Blaine doesn't know whether he wants to hide his face in his palms or sag with relief. “Oh god. Sorry. It's my first week, I'm a little … Sorry. I could have figured that out myself.”
His laugh is open and honest and his voice is only slightly amused as he says: “It's not a problem. We all had a first week here, and believe me, it took me a while too! You really should go in there, though, because seriously, you do not wanna be late for that class.”
Blaine straightens his shoulders, smiles. “Okay. Thank you. And sorry again. That was embarrassing.”
“No, it wasn't.”
He's not sure whether it's the right thing to say or not, but if this were Dalton, he would have, and he did fine there. So he says, “I'm Blaine, by the way.”
The boy looks surprised, but smiles back. “Kurt. It's nice to meet you, Blaine.”
“I'm … I'd better go in there, then,” Blaine says, relieved, reluctant to leave. Kurt is stunning and really, and if he had known that boys in New York looked like this he would have packed his bags and come here when he was fourteen. Well, no, probably not. But he still would have wanted to. But now he's staring again, so he lowers his eyes, unable to keep the grin from his face entirely. “Thanks again.”
“See you around,” Kurt says, and gives him another small smile before he walks away.
And Blaine … makes himself not watch Kurt's back as he retreats, as much as he would like to. He's not that kid anymore. Instead, he hurries into the small studio. 8:02, he thinks this hardly counts as being late, even though the look he gets from the tall blond woman he assumes is Ms July is less than welcoming. Oh well. He'll make it up to her by working really, really hard on improving his dance steps. At least all that running around looking for his room has warmed him up some, and one should never underestimate the powers of excessive blushing as a warm-up ritual. On the bright side, he's completely awake now and ready to face this. He loves to dance, after all, and he's eager to learn how to actually be good at it too.
Kurt smiles to himself as he makes his way to his improv class, and not just because of the excited and undeniably cute freshman who just interrupted his morning sulk. Which had been brought on by the fact that Rachel used up all the hot water again and he couldn't find the book he needs for his second class and he almost missed the train and being late to improv isn't an option, because dammit, he is really looking forward to that class.
He's still running late, though, and helping out a freshman with big brown puppy eyes hasn't made him any earlier. But he doesn't mind all that much.
No, the freshman, Blaine, he recalls (as a piece of completely useless information, he will probably never even see him again. It's just … he kind of likes the name. It's pretty), is not the only reason he's in a better mood now. It's the start of a new semester, and he has made up his mind that this year will be so much better than the last one. And the last one wasn't really all that bad, despite some minor hiccups. But he's dealing with those. They were minor setbacks, and setbacks are just a part of life, a part of life that seriously isn't new to Kurt. He'd always had to work for what he wanted and if he'd let it knock him down every time he didn't get what he wanted, he'd have given up on all of it a long time ago. New York hasn't turned out to be the magical solution to all of his problems, but it has made his life easier, being here, being himself without the limitations that Lima, Ohio had inevitably imposed on him. No matter how much he'd always tried to make them not matter.
He greets the people he knows on his way to class, rolls his shoulders to work out some of the tension that has settled between them from running to catch the train with a heavy book bag slung across his back. He has a lot to look forward to this year, and he hasn't even picked out his extracurriculars yet. And that's the real fun. His classes, he makes a point of choosing things that are a little outside his usual comfort zone, mostly acting, dance, because he needs to push himself to be better at what he doesn't have down already. Which does not mean that he slacks off in the singing department, not at all. No. He works hard, he knows where he wants to go and he has done this long enough to know that the competition is fierce. And especially here, they take no prisoners. He's fine with that, he understands. His best friend is Rachel Berry. He has always had to fight for his place in the spotlight, so this isn't new to him. It's just that here, he's up against so much talent, it makes him push himself that much harder.
Living with Rachel makes that easy, she's just as driven as he is and they push each other, and, as annoyed as he sometimes is with her, they make each other better, he thinks. They've had their ups and downs, but he can't imagine going through this with anyone else by his side. She can go from diva to best friend in the world in seconds if he needs her to, and that's worth a lot. He's been lucky with his friends.
He's been lucky in a lot of ways lately, getting to this point in his life where there's enough good to balance out all the bad, and he knows it, is grateful for it. He'll never forget Lima and how it felt to be Kurt-in-Lima. Everything is better after that.
Like Janet and Michael waiting for him in the improv classroom, waving him over as soon as they see him enter to share the stories of their summer holidays with him, since the teacher is apparently running late anyway. Kurt is relieved to find that helping out a freshman hasn't actually made him miss the first minutes of class himself.
He grabs an insanely early lunch with Michael after class, since it's the only time today he can squeeze it in. The rest of the day his classes run back to back and once he's off for the day he has to meet Rachel to go grocery shopping; their fridge is almost empty and they go together whenever they can manage so that none of them has to carry the heavy shopping bags alone.
The dining hall is mostly empty this time of day and Kurt listens to Michael as he tells him about the cute history major he's met at a party the previous week.
“I just don't know if I should call him, he said he'd call me but then he never did...”
“Do you want to call him?” Kurt asks, a bit impatient with Michael's never ending stream-of-consciousness ramblings, taking a bite of his pasta.
“Duh. Insanely soulful brown eyes, great ass, nice arms, remember?” Michael sighs dramatically, drops his head in his hands and whines, “I don't know what I'm doing, Kurt, why are the cute ones always like this, what am I supposed to do...”
And Kurt pats his shoulder comfortingly and thinks he really is glad he never dated Michael. Michael's a good guy and so talented and the sweetest person, and Kurt really likes him. He just likes him even better when he doesn't have to deal with him all on his own. He's even more of a drama queen than Rachel, and Rachel once started crying in the grocery store because they were out of her favorite brand of honey.
“Anyway.” Michael lifts his head, making a show of changing the subject. “What about you? You ready yet to get back out there? Oh hey, are you coming to Celia's party on Friday, because there's this guy...”
“No,” Kurt interrupts. Because. No. Michael tried to set him up once before and it was a disaster. Besides, he really doesn't know if he's ready yet. He's over the break up, it was months ago and never that serious to begin with now that he thinks back on it, now that he doesn't see it as he did at the beginning of it, with Kurt-from-Lima's eyes. But still. He really doesn't know if he's ready to actually date again, to actually think so far as to plan a date with another person. Somehow, the idea of making a conscious effort to find someone when he's not really done coming to terms with this thing he can have in his life now seems like too much at the moment. (Lima-boy Kurt is still in there, though, in his head. Holding onto the dream of it could be the cute guy next to me in the library/we might bump into each other turning a corner without looking and he'll offer to buy me a cup of coffee as an apology, as silly as that might be. He can't help it. But actually trying … no, thanks, just not right now.)
“You can't keep this up forever, it's like falling off your bike, better to just get right back on it...”
“Are you seriously comparing my ex-boyfriend to a bicycle?” Kurt asks, really not all that much surprised.
“Well, you can ride both...”
“Stop it right there.” Kurt holds up a hand, his voice firm, and Michael closes his mouth, grins apologetically. “Not another word,” Kurt adds for good measure anyway.
“I'm just saying...”
“Fine.” Michael throws up his hands in defeat, rolling his eyes. “Be that way, then. Are you still coming to the party?”
“I don't know yet,” Kurt answers. He knows he should, (still gets a small thrill sometimes just from being invited in the first place,) but he also knows this week is going to be exhausting. And he really does not want to meet this guy that Michael has picked out for him.
It's really not that he doesn't trust his friend, it's more that he doesn't quite trust his friend's taste in men. And there's the whole not-quite-ready-to-date-again issue.
Sometimes it still surprises him, though, the sudden realization that he could if he wanted to, that he actually already did, even just briefly. It wasn't some other Kurt, it was actually him. It's been a year in New York and sometimes he doesn't know himself anymore, is he still that boy from Lima or is Kurt-in-New-York a different person, really? He still wants the same things (romance, someone to care about, someone who will care about him in that way), and he still has the same dreams (Broadway). But none of it is so out of reach anymore, even if it still feels like it a lot of the time. He's had a taste of some things, not quite enough of others, and he remembers his first weeks, months here, feeling his way into this life, never quite believing that he could have it. Never quite knowing if it was possible to outgrow your old life so much you'd eventually outgrow yourself. (He won't, he likes who he is, most of the time. And he's never quite sure when that turned from a platitude, a defense into an actual truth, but it did, and he's glad it did.)
Before, he's been shoved into lockers, he's had people whispering behind his back and saying things to his face and he has known fear and hurt and the constant feeling of not-good-enough, no-one-wants-you. And he's had friends in Lima too, not all of it was bad. But coming here and just being one of them, not something out of the ordinary to stare at and make fun of anymore... He's still unique enough at this school. He's well aware of it. His voice is still unusual and even here, there are people who don't agree with the way he dresses and the songs he sings. And at first, after having such high hopes for this, it had stung. Until... until the good had started balancing, slightly outweighing the bad. He's okay now. He's always okay.
Michael continues to try to convince him to come to the party until Kurt puts an end to the conversation by getting up to head to his next class. The more Michael talks the more he's positive that he actually doesn't want to go. He likes Celia, but she'll understand. Michael has tried to set her up on more than one occasion as well, and maybe they need to stage an intervention for his matchmaking eventually. Or find him a support group. Matchmakers anonymous.
Kurt smiles to himself as he dumps his tray on the way out and waves back at Michael from the door, almost running into someone as he turns to exit. It's the freshman from earlier. Blaine. Not a name that's easy to forget.
“Oh,” Blaine says, grinning in that same slightly shy way he had been that morning. “Sorry.”
“Hi,” Kurt says, taking a step back to let Blaine pass. “Survived Ms July?” It's meant to be a light comment in passing, but Blaine stops, smiles, taking it as an opening for further small talk. It's … not what Kurt is used to, and there's a seriousness to his eyes behind the smile that is refreshing, in a way.
“I ... well, barely.” He sighs, laughs a little nervously. “Thanks again for your help this morning.”
“It's really not a problem,” Kurt assures him – because it isn't, all he'd done was point at a door – noticing how Blaine blushes a little as if he's still embarrassed about it. He understands. His first weeks here, if he hadn't had Rachel who already knew her way around, he wouldn't have found half of his classes, and he felt so inadequate, sure that everyone could see the wide-eyed wonder hidden behind his cool façade, see the small town boy who so desperately wanted to belong.
“Yeah, well, I'm...” Blaine gestures toward the dining hall, and Kurt nods, motions for him to walk past.
“Oh, yes, of course.”
Blaine nods back at him, hiking his bag higher up on his shoulder as he makes his way to the salad bar. Kurt looks after him thoughtfully, the way his shoulders seem to slump a little as he walks, the way he doesn't hold his head quite as high as he did this morning even when he was so fluttery and nervous and he remembers himself taking Dance 101. And Blaine was late this morning to Ms July's class, and Kurt knows how these things go. He remembers that class quite well, actually. He remembers being nervous about just being here. And he remembers how much a little kindness had meant to him when the enormity of a whole new life had threatened to swallow him whole.
“Hey, Blaine?” he calls after him, just loud enough for him to hear.
Blaine turns, raises his eyebrows in question.
“Don't let her get to you! You'll do fine, I'm sure!”
Blaine looks... surprised, but not unpleasantly so. “Thank you, Kurt,” he says, and the smile on his face makes the corners of his eyes crinkle in the most adorable way.
Kurt smiles back and turns to go, because he has to meet his vocal coach and that is something that he simply cannot be late for. But he likes that he made Blaine smile. Being new here can be … a lot. He's been the new kid himself not so long ago. He's just glad if he could help in any way.