Wordcount: 13,800 (this part)
Rating: PG-15 this part, R overall
Notes: This was written for Dawn's birthday. I was planning on getting it completed for today, but that attempt would be akin to doing NaNoWriMo in a week and I, sadly, fell short of that goal.
Summary: When the grandfather clock strikes thirteen, Kurt Hummel finds himself among ghosts. (AU of "Tom's Midnight Garden" by Philippa Pearce.)
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Kurt pressed his fingertips to the cool glass of the car window and sighed heavily, staring out at the empty fields they were driving past. His iPod playlist had long since stopped, but he kept one earphone in in the hopes that it might dissuade conversation.
No such luck. "So, Kurt," his aunt Anne said cheerily, glancing in the rear-view mirror at him, "what sort of things are you interested in, then?"
Kurt briefly debated ignoring her, pretending that he was listening to music and couldn't hear her, but two weeks was going to be a terribly long time if he made things awkward now. "Fashion," he replied, although he was sure to keep a reluctant tone in his voice. "Music. Singing."
"Oh?" She raised her eyebrows at him. "You'll get on well with Lily, then."
Because Kurt was so interested in getting on with his aunt's girlfriend. "Right." Kurt turned his eyes back to the window, watching in mild distaste as they drove past a herd of cows. His thumb brushed back and forth over the screen of his iPod, the rhythmic rasp soothing his frazzled emotions. Goddamn Finn and his habit of catching contagious diseases—namely whooping cough—right at the start of their summer break.
"I'm afraid there's not really much to do at the flat," Anne said, her tone apologetic. "We can get you an oyster card, though, so I guess you can entertain yourself around the city, if you like shopping."
Kurt smiled tightly at her, then returned his attention to the external scenery, where they were just merging onto the M1.
Anne didn't seem to have picked up on his apathy, because she continued to talk:
"I'm not saying that the flat isn't nice—it's lovely, don't get me wrong—but there's not exactly a lot of space. We're looking into moving somewhere with a garden, but the economic climate is hell at the moment, as I'm sure you know, so it's really just not working out."
Again, Kurt considered ignoring her, but this time manners won out. "I'm sure I'll be fine. It's only for two weeks, after all."
Anne gave him a nervous smile and then reached for the radio. "How about a little music, eh?"
Kurt bit his lip as the dulcet sounds of Katy Perry blasted through the car. He fumbled for his iPod and—not-so subtly—put his other earphone in as well.
This was going to be an interesting stay, he could tell.
The flat was situated in an old manor house, long converted into a block of flats. The stone walls were grey and lifeless, the pillars either side of the front door weather-worn. At the front were ten parking spaces—cramped and with little space for turning, Kurt noted, as Anne carefully and somewhat awkwardly manoeuvred the Ford Anglia into a spot close to the wall of the house. Kurt winced at an unidentifiable scraping sound, and shot Anne a nervous look, which she didn't seem to see.
"Here we go," she announced, still with that cheery tone in her voice. "Home, sweet home."
"Yeah." Kurt gave her a dubious look. "It looks...nice."
"It's better inside, just you wait and see." She opened the driver's door, pushing it until it rested against the side of the house, then squirmed out through the tiny gap. Pulling open Kurt's door, she smiled sunnily. "It's a good thing you're so skinny, or we might have a problem here."
We still might have, Kurt thought to himself, eyeing the bare six inches of space he had to fit through. He pulled out his headphones, wrapping them around his iPod and shoving it in his jacket pocket. Holding his breath and sucking in his stomach, he wriggled through the gap, the door mechanisms digging uncomfortably into his back.
Anne smiled again—and damn, that smile was really starting to unnerve Kurt—and hurried around to the back of the car to open up the boot and grab Kurt's bags, handing Kurt one before slamming the boot shut.
Kurt followed her through the front door, which squealed somewhat alarmingly, and into a gloomy entrance hall. There was a dusty chandelier hanging from the ceiling, a tangle of wires wrapping around it to the singular bare bulb emitting its feeble light into the long hall. Kurt took a step forward and his boots squeaked slightly on the checkerboard-style floor, the surface slippery with dust and a fine layer of grime. He wrinkled his nose in distaste.
"The landlord doesn't like to get people in to take care of the house," Anne explained, also looking slightly disgusted by the state of the entrance hall. "He's a grumpy old so-and-so—keeps to himself, away at the top of the house. I've only ever seen him twice. He's an odd fellow, but the rent's cheap and he had no problem with Lily and I."
Kurt was starting to re-evaluate how interesting this stay might be. He hadn't originally factored in filthy mansions and crazy landlords, to say the least.
A dull ticking was emanating down the hallway, a hollow echo that made something clench uncomfortably in Kurt's chest. He paused, looking around. "What's that?"
Anne waved a hand. "It's just the old grandfather clock. Ignore it; it's a bloody loud thing but it never strikes the right hour."
As if to prove her words, a loud chiming started up; six strikes that left Kurt's ears ringing. He checked his watch, the luminescent hands glowing in the half-light, to see that it was approaching noon. "Why doesn't the landlord get it fixed? Or get rid of it?" After all, it was the only item of furniture in the hallway; everything else had clearly been stripped away, leaving rough marks on the paintwork of the walls. He could see faint outlines of paintings lining the walls, now that he looked closer.
"He's rather particular about his clock," Anne said. "It's screwed into the wall, and the nails have rusted in, or I'm pretty sure he'd have it upstairs with him." She took Kurt's arm, steering him through a side-door. Kurt only got a glimpse of a shadowy clock down the end of the hall, next to a narrow door with a rusted handle and peeling paint, before Anne was ushering him up a narrow flight of stairs.
At the top of the stairs were two doors, small white cards with numbers and names stapled on. "We're in 1B," Anne said, knocking on the left-hand door with a sharp, precise knock. "Lily's in; she's just getting lunch sorted. Salad and sandwiches okay with you?"
Kurt nodded, but was interrupted from answering by the door swinging open and a small lady with a cloud of fluffy blonde hair grinning up at him. "You must be Kurt!" she said, sounding delighted. "Anne's told me so much about you!"
Barely restraining himself from raising an eyebrow and giving the small woman an incredulous look—already she reminded him of a yappy dog—and instead stitched a polite smile on his face. "It's lovely to meet you," he said, offering a hand, which she took and shook enthusiastically. Kurt winced involuntarily at the death grip she gave him, and was somewhat relieved when she let go in order to usher them in through the door.
Inside, the flat was small but cosy; the wooden floors were well-swept and all the rooms brightly lit, a welcome contrast to the front hall and stairwell. The kitchen doubled as the front hall, Kurt saw, with a large table dominating most of the space. Anne dumped Kurt's bag on it, next to a well-stocked bowl of fruit, and gave her girlfriend a hug and a peck on the cheek. "Lunch ready?"
"Just about," Lily chirped, scurrying back over to the worktop, where Kurt could see three plates piled high with Caesar salad and sandwiches. "I didn't know what you'd want in your sandwiches, Kurt, dear, so I thought you could put whatever you liked in them." She gave him a brilliant smile, showing all of her tiny, pearly-white teeth. Kurt blinked at her. "There's cheese and ham and other stuff in the fridge, so do help yourself. What would you like to drink?"
Kurt awkwardly placed the bag he was holding on the table. "Um, water's fine, thanks."
"Are you sure? That's terribly boring, dear—we have lemonade and coke and juice, if you prefer." Lily gave him a concerned look, as if Kurt's preference of water was something deeply disturbing to her.
Kurt frowned. "Water's fine, thanks," he repeated.
Lily didn't lose her worried expression, but she sighed and filled a glass all the same. "Just take a seat, dear," she said. "Anne, darling, could you set the table?"
Anne gave Kurt a small smile and moved to do as she was told, setting out cutlery with a precision Kurt found somewhat unsettling. Kurt sat down, painfully wishing for the warm familiarity and comfort of his own kitchen, with him and Carole in the kitchen together whilst Finn and Burt watched TV out in the living room. He looked around him, at the brightly lit surfaces and white walls, and felt a wave of homesickness wash over him.
Kurt's room was small, but with a large window taking up most of one wall. Kurt frowned upon seeing it. "Why are there bars across the window?"
Anne shrugged. "There were bars there when we moved in, and the landlord hasn't given us permission to remove them."
Kurt carefully placed his bags on the bed, which was narrow and pushed against the wall, a tartan rug covering the foot. "At least there won't be any burglary attempts, although the neighbours may think that you're housing a juvenile delinquent," he joked feebly.
Anne smiled slightly at the joke, but Kurt could see that his humour had fallen flat. "The bathroom's the door next to yours, and don't hesitate to ask us if you need anything, okay?"
"We usually have breakfast around seven, but if you want to sleep in then there's cereal in the cupboard over the sink." Anne gave Kurt a tight smile before leaving the room, closing the door behind her with a quiet 'snick'.
Kurt sighed and perched on the edge of the bed. The sunlight fell through the window, painting the floor with stripes. His pocket vibrated; he dug in it to retrieve his phone, where he saw a text lighting up the display.
sry abt this dude. hope londons ok.
Kurt sighed again, and looked around the bedroom—at the pot of patchouli on the side table, at the bars on the windows and the poky five-by-seven foot space.
yeah it's okay. get better soon. K xx
Second later, his phone lit up again—this time with a text from Mercedes.
finn says you're in london already. text me pics!! you'd better buy some nice new outfits, white boy.
Kurt didn't bother responding to the text. He tossed his phone down on the duvet and flopped back across the bed, his head pressed uncomfortably against the wall. He was probably messing up his hair, but he couldn't be bothered to care; it was hardly like he was going to be going out in public.
The distant chiming of the clock reverberated up through the house, confidently striking eleven times. Kurt rolled his eyes; his watch read seven pm. That clock was going to keep him up all night, he knew.
Sure enough, Kurt was still awake when his watch ticked over to one o'clock in the morning. He lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling, and counted the strikes of the grandfather clock: one, two, three, four...
He sighed to himself. What was wrong with striking once, like a normal clock would?
...five, six, seven, eight...
The clock continued to strike, as if to show its defiance against Kurt's derision.
...nine, ten, eleven, twelve--
He frowned. Surely clocks couldn't strike thirteen, even as madly wrong as this clock was? Had he miscounted? He must have done; the lack of sleep surely getting to him. He shook his head and turned over, burying his face in his pillow and trying to get rid of the ringing from his ears.
Yet the echo of the chimes stayed with him, an irritation bouncing around his skull. The silence now seemed expectant, the entire house holding its breath and the dark pressing in on Kurt, whispering the word 'thirteen'over and over again. 'Thirteen, Kurt. Thirteen.'
Kurt growled in frustration, sitting up. Before, the clock may have struck the wrong hour, but at least they had been real hours. There was no thirteenth hour—it was either twelve or one, with no in-between. There was no thirteenth hour on the clock face, either; the hands would be pointing to one, Kurt was sure of it.
He lay down and pulled the duvet up over his head, squeezing his eyes shut and trying to ignore the adrenaline suddenly coursing through his body. Thirteen.
"Fuck this," he said suddenly, sitting up again. "I'm going to go see what the clock says." He swung his legs over the side of the bed, his ankles poking out long and bony beyond his too-short pyjama bottoms. He reached for the red hoodie slung over the back of the chair at the end of the bed, pulling it over his head and running his fingers through his hair automatically. He stuffed his feet into his doc martens, internally mocking what a terrible outfit this must all look. Pyjama bottoms, a designer hoodie and doc marten boots; a winning combination, for sure.
Carefully, and as quietly as he could in his boots, he crept to the door of his room and out into the kitchen, tip-toeing past Lily and Anne's room and to the front door of the flat. He took a banana from the fruit-bowl to wedge the door open after himself, before slipping out of the door and down the stairs.
The hall was even darker by night, the light-bulb now switched off, thereby leaving the hall in almost utter blackness. Kurt could just about see the white tips of his boots as he slowly walked down to the end of the hall, following the noise of the ticking. He should have brought his phone for light, he realised now; there was no way he would be able to see the clock face in this oppressive darkness. Come to think of it, what was he doing trying to look at the clock face anyway? He knew the time; he knew that it was just past one am. Why did he need to see the clock face?
He shook his head, sudden irritation coursing through him—and slipped on the dusty floor, falling to the ground with an 'oof', the impact driving all the air from his lungs and jolting his very bones. He groaned, sitting still for a moment. His head was spinning slightly, his back aching painfully. "Fuck," he groaned. "I'm such an idiot, god."
Slowly, he got to his feet again, attempting to brush down his pyjama bottoms in the black. He sighed, looking around him hopelessly. "And now I have no clue where the door is. Great."
He started to inch his way towards where he assumed the nearest wall was, and, when his hands came into contact with it, started to work his way in what he hoped the direction of the door was, trying not to think about what spiders and mites might be hiding on the walls he was currently running his fingers along, or what state his clothes were most probably in right now.
"Aha!" he murmured, when he felt the ridge of a doorjamb under his fingertips. He patted around, looking for the door handle. He wrapped his fingers around it, twisting and tugging as once motion, and pulled it open to be faced with a beautiful, moon-lit garden. He gaped for a moment, bewildered, and took a step through it, his boots sinking into the soft, dewy grass. Hadn't Anne said that there wasn't a garden? Or did she just mean that the garden didn't belong to them?
Kurt took another step forward, glancing around in confused wonder. This garden was akin to those one would find attached to some great mansion, not at the back of a block of flats in Ely, in the middle of a rather crowded group of houses. Kurt frowned; hadn't he seen just a concrete yard through his window, facing onto a row of semi-detached houses? He turned around and looked up. Sure enough, there were the two barred windows; his bedroom and the bathroom. The house looked cleaner by night, as if the moonlight had cleansed it of its London grime and general dilapidation.
About ten metres away from Kurt, across the expanse of lush grass, crouched a greenhouse, the moonlight gleaming along the steel frame and off the glass roof. Above it was a tree, a twisted and gnarled thing spreading its arms up into the sky with its cloud of leaves and twigs poking out here, there and everywhere. From this angle, it looked as if the moon was nestling in the tree-top, a mother bird with her flock of stars.
Kurt smiled to himself at the imagery and shivered at the biting cold that suddenly crept under his hoodie in a gust of chilly wind. It was unseasonably cold for July; the night air was frigid and blustery, the stars staring down in all their frozen glory.
He hurried back into the house, making a mental note to explore the garden in the morning. He stopped when he closed the door behind him, frowning at the sudden light in the hall. Had somebody turned the light on? He looked to where he expected the bare light bulb to be shining away boldly, but instead saw a gleaming chandelier, light sparkling from the crystal. And since when had there been crystals on the chandelier?
Kurt looked around him, noting the sudden cleanliness of the floor, and the paintings lining the hallway. In the nearest one, a dark-headed family posed—a father, mother and son, their expressions solemn and their clothing vaguely 1930s-esque. Kurt raised his eyebrows. "Okay, I have got to be dreaming this. I just fell asleep upstairs and none of this is real. It's just my imagination going haywire again," he told himself firmly. He pinched his thigh, digging in his nails. "Ow ow ow fuck, my imagination is vivid."
The door to the staircase opened, a blonde-haired girl in her late teens entering the hall, carrying a wicker basket filled to the brim with laundry. Kurt frowned at her clothing; unless he was sorely mistaken, she seemed to be dressed as a maid in a white apron, cap and cuffs, the black skirt slightly too long for her. She didn't seem to notice Kurt, being so intent on her mission, so he cleared his throat to alert her of his presence. If it was a dream, she surely must be in it for a reason, so he might as well talk to her.
But instead of reacting with surprise, she completely ignored him. In fact, she looked over at the corner where Kurt was standing without seeming to notice him, and walked straight on, towards a door that Kurt was pretty sure hadn't been there before.
However, instead of walking through the door and closing it behind her, she started to fade the moment her fingers touched the doorknob. It wasn't as if she was passing through the door; she merely seemed to become transparent and fade from view. Kurt gaped. Within seconds, she was gone, without the slightest suggestion that she had been there at all.
Kurt looked around him again, and caught the family portrait in the middle of fading from view as well; his eyes snagged on the face of the little boy, his bright eyes and oddly-shaped eyebrows remaining even when the rest of the portrait was all-but gone—and then they, too, disappeared from sight.
Kurt swallowed. "Okay," he said to himself, slowly, "that was weird. My brain is really weird."
The light from the chandelier started to flicker and fade, too; Kurt cursed to himself and hurried towards the door to the stairwell, making the most of the light as it dimmed, sputtering before finally going on. His boots started to slip on the dusty floor again just as he reached the door and pulled it open, almost falling through into the stairwell.
He shook his head, blinking hard to try and clear his head. "Back to bed it is, then," he muttered, before starting back up the stairs to the flat.
In the morning, Kurt woke up feeling as if somebody had smacked him over the head with a cricket bat. He groaned, closing his eyes again.
His alarm beeped, a tinny, incessant sound that felt like it was driving nails into Kurt's skull. He flapped a hand out for it, but only succeeded in knocking it off the bedside table. He muttered a few choice words and rolled over, reached down an arm to search for it on the floor. His fingers brushed against his boots, instead, and he grimaced at the wet he felt on them.
Wait a minute.
Kurt sat up properly, wriggling off the bed to pick up his doc martens and examine them. The toes were covered in wet dirt, and, as he ran a finger over one, a couple of broken blades of grass. He frowned, holding up a blade to examine, as the night's events came flooding back. "What the...?" He shook his head, whimpering slightly as that caused the pounding in his head to increase—and what the fuck, had he been drinking last night without realising it?
There was a knock at his door. "Kurt?" Anne asked.
"I'm up," Kurt called back, his voice croaky. "Give me half an hour to get myself sorted."
"The bathroom's free if you need it," she said, followed by the sound of her footsteps moving away.
Kurt fell back against his pillows and frowned at his boots. He should probably go check out the garden after breakfast, get to the bottom of this mystery. In the meantime, however, he needed to go through his moisturising regime—strange occurrences and dreams were hardly going to get in the way of proper skincare—and get dressed. He collected his wash things and padded out of his room, heading into the bathroom to take a shower.
He was in the middle of getting undressed when a thought occurred to him. Shirtless and in just his pyjama bottoms, he wandered towards the window, pulling the blinds aside to peer out through the bars. Sure enough, there was just a small, concreted-over courtyard out the back, dustbins lining the high brick wall. In the corner, there was the tree Kurt remembered from last night—hunched and with gnarled fingers poking into the air through its crown of leaves. There wasn't a blade of grass in sight. "Huh," Kurt said to himself, letting the blinds fall back into place. "That's weird."
That evening, Kurt stayed awake on purpose and, when his watch ticked over to eleven pm and the grandfather clock struck five, crept out into the kitchen and made himself a cup of instant coffee, trying to keep the clink of the spoon against the mug as quiet as possible in the silence of the kitchen. He took it back to his bedroom to sip slowly, allowing the caffeine to infiltrate his blood and jolt his brain into wakefulness, wrapping his fingers around the cup and appreciating the warmth in the cool of the night.
Sure enough, the steady chimes of the grandfather clock echoed throughout the house at one am--thirteen strikes, Kurt noticed again, counting them one by one. He slipped his boots on again once more, this time with socks on underneath, and pulled his hoodie over his head. Grabbing his phone for light--he was prepared this time--he slipped from his room and out of the flat, again wedging the door open with a banana from the fruit-bowl. The hallway was as dark as the night before; this time, however, Kurt turned his phone on, the light almost blinding in the darkness.
He was almost at the door when the hallway began to flood with light once more, the light bulb flickering on and then disappearing, crystals fading into existence and the dust and grime on the marble floor vanishing with every step Kurt took. Sure enough, the portraits were back--although this time there was a new one, another family one in which all three family members looked distinctly older; the boy was closer to Kurt's own age than he had been before, Kurt noted.
The garden door opened like before, but this time it opened into daylight, the sky blue and with wisps of cloud dragged across it like strands of hair. Kurt took a cautious step outside, his boots sinking into the dewy grass again. There was still a crispness to the air; a chill that permeated through Kurt's hoodie and made goosebumps jump up on his skin. He could hear a dog barking in the distance; a flock of birds wheeled and soared in the air. All in all, it looked like any other garden might do.
"What are you doing here?" A voice from behind Kurt asked.
Kurt wheeled around, eyes wide, to take in the boy standing in the hallway. He was shorter than Kurt, with a tumble of dark curls and oddly-triangular eyebrows. He was the boy from the paintings, Kurt realised, and shit, he could see Kurt.
The boy frowned at him. "You're not one of the servants," he said suspiciously, narrowing his eyes. He looked quite threatening, with his heavy eyebrows drawn together. "Are you here to steal?"
"No." Kurt frowned. "How come you can see me?"
The boy gave him a strange look. He walked towards Kurt, hands in the pockets of his grey trousers. He was wearing a navy blazer with red piping, an embroidered crest with the letter D on it on the breast pocket. Around his neck was a loosely knotted red and blue striped tie, a crisp contrast to the white of his shirt. "Of course I can see you," he said, sounding confused. "Why wouldn't I able to?" A look crossed his face, like something horrific had occurred to him. "Wait, are you a ghost or something?"
Kurt crossed his arms defensively. "I think you're the ghost, rather."
The boy wrinkled his nose. "I'm not a ghost, unless ghosts have to go to boarding school."
So that was his uniform, then, Kurt guessed. "Well, then," Kurt said briskly. "I'm Kurt. Kurt Hummel." He stuck out his hand.
The boy took it, still looking suspicious and slightly confused. "Blaine Anderson," he said, shaking Kurt's hand. "Nice to meet you, I'm sure. What makes you think that I'm a ghost?"
"Um," Kurt said, "nothing? It doesn't really matter."
"Okay," the boy—Blaine—said doubtfully. "So if you're not here to steal, then what are you doing here?"
Kurt shifted uncomfortably. Shit, what should he say? "I...I got lost," he said after an awkwardly long pause.
"In my back garden?" Blaine raised his eyebrows. "Are you sure?"
Blaine rolled his eyes. "Well, you'd better scarper unless you want my dad to catch you and hand you over to the police."
"The police?" Kurt squeaked before he could stop himself.
Blaine gave him an almost amused look, tilting his head to one side slightly. "You're not very bright, are you?" he observed, without cruelty in his voice.
Kurt bristled. "I'm perfectly intelligent, thank you very much. I'm sorry for being surprised when somebody threatens me with arrest."
"You are trespassing," Blaine pointed out. "That's a crime, last time I checked."
Kurt blushed. "I didn't really mean to," he said, looking around him. "Like I said, I got lost. And, um, I don't really know how to get home."
Blaine sighed, expression definitely verging on amused now. He held out a hand, which Kurt stared at in surprise before taking somewhat hesitantly. "Come with me," Blaine said, leading him into the garden once more. "I know somewhere we can talk."
Blaine's hand was warm in Kurt's, and slightly sweaty. Kurt bit his lip, trying to beat down the fluttering in his stomach. Now was most certainly not the time to be getting excited over a boy holding his hand.
Blaine stopped at the base of the tree and gestured up to a branch about a foot above their heads. "Up you go, then."
Kurt stared at him in horror. "I am not climbing a tree," he said, disgust in his voice. "These boots were not made for tree climbing in the slightest."
Blaine rolled his eyes. "Look, do you want my father to catch you or not?"
"I'm not climbing a tree," Kurt said again. He tugged his hand away from Blaine's and folded his arms. "No way in hell am I climbing a tree."
"See, it's not so bad," Blaine said cheerfully, patting Kurt on the knee. He swung his legs, looking far too pleased with himself for Kurt's liking. "I won't let you fall."
Kurt glared at him. "I don't usually make habits of climbing trees with strange boys," he said with his haughtiest tone.
Blaine just laughed and brought one leg up to rest his chin on it, wrapping his arms around his knee as he looked at Kurt with large, bright eyes. "So, tell me what you're doing in my garden. The full story, please. None of this 'getting lost' business, because I think we both know that that's not true."
Kurt picked at the bark by his thigh and considered how to start talking. It all seemed so unreal and silly in the daylight, with Blaine sat warm and comfortable beside him. It sounded ridiculous even in his own head. "It's probably not the best idea to be telling you this whilst we're up a tree," he said finally, glancing up to meet Blaine's eyes. "Or be telling you it at all, really."
Blaine made a humming noise at the back of his throat, still watching Kurt with warm hazel eyes. "Go on."
"I...I think I might have, um, time-travelled," Kurt said awkwardly, looking down at his legs and then regretting it because shit they were a long way up. He swayed slightly, but then a hand on his knee steadied him and he looked up into Blaine's calm face again.
"Go on," Blaine said, sounding completely unruffled by this revelation.
Kurt frowned at him. "Shouldn't you be a little scared by the crazy boy talking about time travel?"
Blaine shrugged. "Probably. But I did watch you appear out of thin air, so it's most likely all one big delusion brought on by an awfully long train journey back from school."
Taken aback, Kurt blinked at him. "Okay," he said, "so, um, I think I've time-travelled, because there was this clock, you see, and it struck thirteen so I went to have a look and then there was this garden and a maid and I think I've probably travelled about sixty years in time."
Blaine's eyes widened at that, and he let out a long, low whistle. "Damn. So what's the future like? Actually, no, don't answer that." He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. "Um, so how long are you here for?"
Kurt shrugged. "It was only minutes, last time. It's already been about half an hour, so I could go at any minute, I guess." Blaine nodded, as if storing the information away for a later date. Kurt was starting to be able to see the branches of the tree through him, he realised; he was fading already. "I think I'm going," he said softly, reaching out to brush his fingers against Blaine's arm.
Blaine looked at him, a surprising depth of sadness in his eyes, for a boy he had met bare minutes ago. "I can see."
"I'll be back. I hope."
Blaine made to catch his hand, but their fingers passed through each other—whose passed through whose, Kurt couldn't tell. Blaine drew his hand back, clasping it with his other in his lap as he let his leg fall down, feet kicking listlessly. "I hope to see you again," he said, smiling sadly.
"Yeah," Kurt said, the sky darkening rapidly and the air cooling. "Me too."
And then he was left alone perching on a branch of a tree, in a small concrete courtyard enclosed by a high brick wall, surrounded by dustbins and weeds, in the middle of the night in his pyjamas.
It seemed like too much to hope for, that the garden would be there three times in a row—that Blaine would be there again—but Kurt still lay awake in bed that night, listening intently for the moment that the clock struck thirteen, tensing every hour, just in case it struck early—or not at all.
The thirteenth strike did come, however, and Kurt immediately slipped from his bed, already in his hoodie and socks, wrestled his feet into a pair of Converses, then hurried out of the flat and down the stairs into the hall, where the chandelier was already lit and the sounds of a gramophone could be heard through the other closed door—the door that no longer existed, in Kurt's time. He hesitated outside it, wondering if Blaine was behind it—if anything was behind it at all, even—before he heard a boy's voice singing out in the garden, singing along to the record on the gramophone. It's a song Kurt had never heard before, a jazzy tune with a fast beat, but the voice singing outside sounded familiar.
He wandered over to the garden door and pushed it open, looking out across the grass to where he could see Blaine up in the branches—and sure enough, he was singing out, his voice bright and warm. Kurt stood in the door for a moment, letting Blaine's voice wash over him, a soothing sound that made Kurt's stomach do weird flip-flops and attempt to escape up his windpipe.
Blaine didn't see him, his eyes closed as he belted out the chorus of the song—Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me, with anyone else but me; No! No! No! Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me, 'til I come marchin' home!
Kurt smiled, starting across the grass as Blaine continued with the song, his voice slightly rough but undeniably happy. He waited quietly until the song finished, enjoying watching Blaine rock out by himself, legs swinging freely and face expressive, even with his eyes closed.
"That was really good," he said loudly, grinning when Blaine startled and looked down at him in astonishment. He stopped grinning, however, when Blaine windmilled his arms and lost his balance, pitching over backwards to land with a hard thump on the grass. "Shit—Blaine—!" He almost fell over his own feet in his hurry to get to where Blaine was groaning and attempting to sit up, his leg twisted under him at an odd angle. "No, no, don't sit up—no, don't sit up, I said—"
"Ow," Blaine said plaintively, lying back down on the ground and looking up at Kurt with a pained yet wondrous expression on his face. "Hi, Kurt."
"You idiot," Kurt chastised, carefully touching Blaine's leg. "This is why you shouldn't go climbing trees."
Blaine bit his lip and started to struggle into a sitting position, his face contorted into a grimace. Kurt rocked back on his heels and helped him with gentle hands on his arms, worry and guilt coiling in his gut like vile snakes.
Blaine prodded at his ankle, wincing as he did so. "I think I've twisted it," he said, sounding mournful.
"Be grateful it wasn't your neck," Kurt snapped, his tone more worried and less acidic than he had intended. He squeezed Blaine's bicep before letting go. "Do you need help getting into the house?"
Blaine considered it for a moment, flexing his foot. "I think I'm okay," he said, already starting to try to get to his feet. Kurt made to help him all the same, but was interrupted by a panicked shout from the inside of the house.
"Blaine!" The girl that Kurt had seen before was rushing across the grass, her long blonde hair flying around her face and her skirts flapping around her heels.
Blaine sighed and flopped back against the grass. "I'm okay, Britt," he called. "Just a sprain."
The girl dropped to her knees beside Blaine and touched his ankle gingerly, paying Kurt no attention. "Lord Tubbington told you that you would probably fall out of that tree, but you ignored him," she said sternly, long fingers gentle as she unlaced his shoe and pulled it off, as well as the sock beneath. Kurt sucked in a breath when he saw how red Blaine's ankle was, and how it was swelling already.
Blaine made a face down at it. "I'm fine, Brittany." He shot Kurt a curious look, evidently wondering why Brittany hadn't seemed to notice him, but didn't call attention to it. "And tell Lord Tubbington that I'm sorry and I'll try to not fall out of the tree again."
"Lord Tubbington?" Kurt asked, but Blaine ignored him and just gave Brittany a sheepish smile.
"I think I'm going to need ice on this," he admitted. "Can you run and get some for me? I'll be in my room."
Brittany nodded, her face serious. "The fairy's going to help you up there, isn't he?"
Blaine blinked and Kurt sucked in a gasp, the sting of the slur all-too familiar. He was about to get up, but Blaine frowned slightly at him and he stayed in place, crouched awkwardly over Blaine. "What fairy, Britt?"
"The one who visits the garden," she said, as if it were obvious. "I can't see him, but I know you can because I saw you talking to him before. It's fairy magic, I think. He doesn't want me to see him because he's here for you, not anyone else." She turned to address the empty air to the other side of Blaine from where Kurt was crouching. "I left your fairy ring undamaged. Lord Tubbington wanted to eat the mushrooms, but I stopped him."
Kurt raised an eyebrow and looked down at Blaine. "She thinks I'm a fairy?"
Blaine shrugged, his expression becoming increasingly more pained. "Um, could you go get that ice for me, please, Brittany?"
She nodded, leaping to her feet as gracefully as a cat, and almost sprinted back into the house.
Blaine made a groaning noise and pressed his head against Kurt's arm. "I'm thinking I might need that help now, I'm afraid. And sorry about Brittany. She's a sweetheart, but she operates in her own little world that I don't quite understand."
"I admit, I am curious to know who Lord Tubbington is," Kurt said, helping Blaine up and wrapping a firm arm around his waist. "You can lean on me, if you want," he added needlessly.
Blaine hissed through his teeth as they took their first step towards the house. "Lord Tubbington's the kitchen cat," he said through gritted teeth. "She's rather taken with him."
"I can tell," Kurt said dryly, holding Blaine tighter when Blaine whimpered slightly. "Do you need me to go slower?"
"I'm fine," Blaine gasped, his face very pale.
"Because you sound absolutely perky and ready to run a marathon." Kurt eyed the distance between them and the door, relieved to see that it was only a few more feet. "Where's your room, by the way?"
Blaine nodded up at the windows above them. "First floor. It's the one with the bars on the windows." He laughed, although the sound was weak and tinged with pain. "It used to be my nursery. My parents never did seem to understand the difference between 'nursery' and 'prison'."
"My room has bars on the window, too," Kurt said thoughtfully. "The bathroom, too. Maybe they're the same room."
"You live here?" Blaine halted, looking at Kurt in surprise. "Like, here? In the future?"
"My aunt lives here," Kurt hesitated, thinking about the time period and the 40's and the homophobia back then, "with her...friend."
Blaine shot him a curious look at the hesitation, but then they were at the garden door and Kurt had to try and hold the door open whilst helping Blaine through and they were an embarrassing tangle of limbs as they both went to open the door at the same time. Kurt ended up with a mouthful of gelled hair and Blaine's face smushed against his collarbone.
"Um," Blaine said, pulling away from Kurt as if he'd been burned, his face bright red when previously it had been pale with pain.
Kurt flushed. "Sorry about that. I was trying to get the door for you." He reached out to steady Blaine when he teetered, off-balance. "Careful—you don't want to fall again."
"I'm fine," Blaine said yet again, his cheeks still stained red. "And thanks. I'm sorry for being so clumsy."
Kurt chuckled, standing back to let Blaine hop into the hall, although he left his hand on Blaine's arm—to steady him, he swore; it wasn't that he liked the feel of Blaine's bicep flexing under his palm, not in the slightest.
They were half-way up the stairs when things started to fade around Kurt once more: a blue-painted vase, the paintings on the walls, the sounds of the gramophone still playing downstairs. Blaine looked at him when Kurt made a noise of distress. "Kurt? What is it?"
"I think I'm going," Kurt said, trying to hurry Blaine up the stairs faster, hoping he could get Blaine into his bedroom before he was completely gone.
Blaine laid his hand over Kurt's and squeezed it, before picking up his pace and instantly almost stumbling. "It seems that I have no co-ordination today," he said ruefully, clinging onto Kurt like his life depended on it. He pulled himself upright again, Kurt's hoodie bunched in his fingers. Kurt felt it when Blaine's fingers fell through—it felt like a breeze had touched the skin at the small of his back, sending prickles up his spine.
He looked to Blaine in panic, but saw that Blaine was already fading, figure braced against the wall. "Sit down," he said, having to speak louder to make himself heard. "Wait for Brittany to help you."
Blaine nodded, the movement blurring his features into nothingness. Kurt stood alone on the stairs and watched as the light dimmed around him and the carpet vanished from beneath his feet, Blaine disappearing into thin air like smoke over water.
Then, with trembling hands, he walked the last few steps by himself and returned to bed, not bothering to take off his hoodie (although he toed off his Converses). He curled up under the blankets and breathed in the scent of Blaine, which was already vanishing fast from the fabric of his hoodie.
He fell asleep as the grandfather clock chimed once more.