Just a quick note: this is the final chapter!
New York City living was far from what Jesse had imagined.
For one thing, the transfer dorms at NYU were kind of terrible. It was him living on a floor full of other misplaced teens-and-early-twenty-somethings, most of whom had never set foot in the big city before. Jesse's roommate was a boy from South Dakota who had come out in the hopes of becoming a physician while partaking in the big city lifestyle before going back to his small town.
So instead if being surrounded by theatre-savvy hopefuls who knew how to dress themselves, Jesse was stuck with a ragtag bunch of kids who walked around like chickens with their heads cut off.
It wasn't so bad once classes started. Jesse made sure to introduce himself to all of his professors and found that he much preferred the classroom full of third-year students to his hallway full of transfers. He joined the drama league the second he found out that such a thing existed and made friends with as many seniors as possible. If he wanted to turn himself into the big man on campus after only one year, he had to get in with the right people.
And he found that once he did have friends that weren't scared of the subway and weren't afraid to go out after dark, New York City living was kind of awesome.
He requested a room transfer when one of his friends from that year's musical told him they had a free bed in their apartment. He got in with the group that snagged cheap Broadway tickets once a month. He rubbed shoulders with famous Broadway actors and somehow managed to become a familiar face around the TKTS booth, so familiar that they offered him a job. And balancing a job and an education proved to be one of he easiest things in the world, because he actually cared about both and therefore made sure to make time for both.
The one thing missing from this almost perfect situation? A steady romantic relationship.
To be fair, he wasn't exactly looking for one. He wasn't interested in any of his classmates and he just didn't have time to work dating into his busy schedule. He'd accidentally slept with his old RA that one night he came back drunk (and her continued insistence that it was the best lay of her life may have been another deciding factor for the room change) and he'd somehow managed to get propositioned by some incredibly handsome swing from a random Broadway show he'd seen, but nothing more lasting than either of those. It just wasn't a priority. He didn't need a girlfriend or a boyfriend. He was perfectly happy with where he was right now.
Okay, no, that was a lie.
Because he was not perfectly happy. Far from it, in fact. Because while he'd spent his whole life dreaming of the day when he would move to New York City, he hadn't come here of his own free will. He'd run away from California, and even though he'd been planning on transferring to Tisch anyway, that didn't mean he couldn't feel guilty about it.
But he was Jesse St. James. He had never been the type to dwell on guilt, but this time was different. This time he had not one, but two fatal mistakes to look back on and regret. Because while his reputation as a heart breaker certainly was no bad thing, Jesse had let his reputation and his own fear of confrontation own him and cause him to break hearts of the two people he'd ever truly loved.
Running away was easy. It was easy to pretend that nothing was wrong and to keep your past hidden from your new friends. But with that came paranoia. And in Jesse's case, that paranoia caused him to dream about two small, beautiful young people finding him in New York, confronting him about what he had done, and finally letting him see firsthand the kind of hurt he had caused.
New York was a big city, but the theatre community was all connected. Everyone knew somebody who knew somebody else, so it really was only a matter of time before one or both of them found their way here.
But God dammit if he wasn't going to enjoy every moment of this city life until that happened.
Sometimes when he was in a brooding mood, he thought about the two of them. He tried to imagine where they were now, what they were doing, who they were with. Rachel would be in her first year of college, but her name hadn't shown up anywhere in Tisch's register. Maybe she'd gone to Marymount or even Julliard. But she was always successful in his little daydreams, always making something of her life. She was always pursuing her Broadway dreams. He couldn't bear the thought of her staying stuck in Ohio, maybe going back to teach music. No, he had decided that Rachel Berry was going to be a Broadway star, and he would continue to believe that until proven otherwise.
Blaine was harder. Even though they'd been best friends, Jesse still could never really peg Blaine with one specific future. He knew that Blaine had gone out to California for music in the end, but was he still there now? Had he gone back to Ohio? Had he switched majors? And most importantly: was he okay?
Because yes, ladies and gentlemen, Jesse St. James has a heart. He still cared for the two individuals he betrayed and still wondered if leaving them to despise him from a distance was a good idea. But every time those musings passed unbidden into his mind, he quickly distracted himself. He couldn't bear the thought of his decisions not working in their favor.
The hardest was imagining either of them with someone else. Even though he had no right to do so, Jesse sometimes imagined his future with one of them. The thought of someone else swooping in, being intimate with either one of them, made Jesse's blood boil.
But that was his penance for causing such harm to come to two such perfect individuals. He was destined to be alone while both of them - he hoped - were destined to find their fairy tale romance.
Two and a half years of wondering, and college was over. He was suddenly in New York City for something other than his education. He was finally here for his career, able to audition without worrying about having to take a semester off if he got the role. His dream of having his name up on a marquee was suddenly tangible.
Except things weren't that easy. Things were never easy, he learned, going from audition to audition, being told for one part he was too confident while for the other he needed to be more confident in himself. He was told to bulk up, then to slim down. There was no shortage of hopefuls, so directors could easily find someone who looked and sounded the part.
It was unbelievably frustrating. His job working as a promoter wasn't paying his rent, so he made an investment in his future and went to bartending school. Desperate to keep his work as closely related to his intended future as possible, Jesse got a job at Joe's Pub, serving drinks and food to all the patrons during gigs. It was nice, watching those who made it into the business singing with their friends in such a relaxed atmosphere.
It was a little painful too, because he still hadn't landed an audition and was constantly watching others being what he wanted to become. But he knew he would make it eventually, and if he could hang with famous people at work, then so much the better. At least this way he would be a familiar name when he made his big break.
He had this same attitude when the Broadway actress Grace Kumon was booked for a gig. She was an up-and-coming young star, only a year older than Jesse. He was working the night of her show, and was completely enamored with her after just one song. He gave her a free drink when her set was over, mixing it himself and presenting it to her like one would present a Tony Award.
"A cocktail, for the lady of the night," he said, handing her the fruity concoction with a smile. "And may I say that it was a treat to be working during your show."
"Thank you," she said warmly, looking at his name tag and adding, "Jesse. Are you an actor too?" She began sipping the drink, teeth clenching around the straw in a smile.
"Yes," he answered without hesitation. "Though my last audition wouldn't have told you that." He shrugged and laughed, trying to be nonchalant about the fact that his life had been put on hold thanks to the fact that he was actually quite the failure when it came to a theatre career outside of college.
"You'll get there," Grace assured him, giving him a gentle pat on the arm. Her hand stilled, settling there for a moment, before she squeezed it slightly and looked away.
She was still hanging around when Jesse clocked out for the night, mumbling to one of the other bartenders about some show or another, but she looked up when he started heading for the door, excusing herself from that conversation and asking him, "So what's your train?"
"The N," Jesse answered, knowing what she meant immediately.
"Uptown?" she guessed, for that was where quite a few aspiring actors took up residence.
"Astoria," he grinned, matching her laugh when she said that she, too, lived in Astoria. They took the same train home, sitting closer together than necessary, Jesse telling her all about his failed auditions. It was almost therapeutic, getting it all out there, how he was frightened that he'd never make it, how he was beginning to doubt himself for the first time. She listened attentively, telling him not to give up, that he would one day make it, that she believed in him.
She kissed him on the cheek when they went their separate ways after getting off the train. Jesse was all set to write it all off has a fun story to tell his roommates, which was when he realized that she'd slipped her phone number into the outside compartment of his bag.
He hadn't planned on calling her, but when he actually got a call back the next day, he found that the pull to tell not just someone, but herwas irresistible. So he did, calling her and leaving a message when he got her voicemail.
Ten minutes and one phone call later, and he found himself sitting outside the Marriott Starbucks, grinning when she came out of the stagedoor and made a beeline for him.
Jesse wasn't entirely sure what he was doing or what he wanted with Grace. It was nice, having someone he could start fresh with, nice to hold hands with someone when he walked down the crowded streets of Manhattan. And unlike most of the girls Jesse had found himself drawn to during college, Grace was perfectly fine not having sex. In fact, after they'd been officially dating for a week, she confessed that she was saving herself for marriage, showing him the purity ring she wore around a chain on her neck.
They never talked about sex, and not just because Grace had nothing to tell, unlike Jesse. It was because sex had landed him in the mess he still hadn't quite figured out, lost him a boy he might have even loved, so Jesse was perfectly happy to not fuck up another relationship because he wanted just that: to fuck. They settled into a comfortable, chaste relationship, Jesse careful to keep his hands – which had a tendency to wander – in check, and to always kiss her on the cheek.
Two months later found Grace confronting him about just that.
"Why haven't you kissed me?" she demanded, her tone light but a frown on her face.
"What?" Jesse was taken aback. They were supposed to be critiquing each other's monologues and getting a pizza, not examining the intricacies of their (nonexistent) physical relationship.
"You haven't kissed me," Grace explained, sitting down next to him on his rather small sofa, her hand covering his. "We've been together for two months and you've never kissed me. A proper kiss, I mean."
"I didn't realize you wanted one," Jesse admitted, leaning in. "I'd be happy to oblige if that's the case."
"No," Grace shook her head. "I mean, yes, I would very much like to kiss you, but I'm not going to." She looked down at her lap, then back up at him. "I'm going to break up with you."
"What did I do?" Jesse asked automatically, so used to being the problem that it came as a reflex at this point.
"Exactly," Grace looked at him almost wistfully. "Jesse, I love what we have. I love that I feel safe with you, that I trust you, that you've never tried to push me into anything, but that's not you."
"Well excuse me for being a gentleman," Jesse backtracked, instantly on the defense.
"I don't mean it like that," Grace assured him. "Jesse, you're not youwhen you're around me. You're just… what you think I want. And it's lovely, having someone who cares about you that much, but I don't want my perfect version of you. I want you, and that's someone you've been hiding from me ever since we met."
Jesse didn't deny it.
"Please explain," Grace pleaded with him. Her wide, blue eyes were so innocent, so wondering, so different from the eyes that stared at him while he slept, accused him when he was careless enough to let his thoughts wander.
So he figured, screw it, it wasn't like she hadn't been a listening ear for all his audition failures, so Jesse suddenly found himself telling her all about Rachel, about how he'd never explained why he had transferred to her school, about how he'd never made sure she knew that he truly was sorry for what had happened. His throat seemed to close up when he started talking about Blaine, his voice raspy and soft. He couldn't look at Grace while he talked about Blaine, couldn't admit to her face that he had let things get so out of control.
Silence hung over them when he finished speaking, until Grace leaned over and kissed Jesse's forehead.
"You needed that," she decided for him. "Promise me something, Jesse." He looked up at her, wondering if her eyes had been shining this whole time or if that was new. "Promise me you'll find both of them and tell them what happened."
He stared at her, completely rigid and mute, until she sighed and headed for the door.
"You need it," she told him, before taking her leave.
And that was what she'd left him to ponder, apparently. Jesse sat there, wondering what it would be like, how it would feel, to see Rachel or Blaine again, after all this time. Would they still hold onto their hurt like it had happened yesterday? Or would they have put it behind them, written him off as not worth their time, and not even know why he was talking to them if he did?
He somehow managed to work himself into a panic. First he'd started pacing around the room, but when that didn't seem like enough his breathing had picked up, wheezing sounds coming out of his mouth even if his breath wasn't coming short. The room was spinning he was pacing so fast, until it got to the point where his pacing circle grew smaller and smaller and he was actually spinning on the spot, spinning and spinning until he collapsed onto the floor.
Jesse didn't remember falling asleep on the floor, but apparently he had, for the next thing he knew, one of his roommates was kicking his foot and telling him to move. He obliged, hurrying off to his room and locking the door, sitting cross-legged on his bed and opening up his laptop.
He googled Rachel first, knowing he was much more likely to find something of value. Sure enough, a fanpage was result number one, and clicking the link led him to a welcome screen, reading, "This is the fanpage of the theatre actress Rachel Berry, who is currently starring in the off-Broadway musical production of Yentl." Jesse smiled; he'd always known that Rachel would find her way, and now from the looks of it, she was living up to the legacy left by Barbra Streisand. He wasted no time in buying a ticket to her show, careful to buy a seat that was close enough to have a spectacular view but far enough away to not be illuminated by the stage lights. After all, he didn't even know if he wanted to see her.
The ticket would be waiting for him at the box office, so Jesse turned to Blaine instead. He debated for a full five minutes before clicking "search," then closed his eyes, not wanting to see what google had to tell him about Blaine Anderson.
He needn't have worried. There was nothing horrible to be found, but there wasn't anything spectacular either. Most of the links led to UCLA's school site, talking about some show Blaine was in or some concert he'd played in. He'd made quite a name for himself there, it seemed, and Jesse was smiling before he knew it. Blaine had done everything he'd wanted to do, finally graduating almost top of his class the year before.
There was another link there, for what seemed to be an indie group. Clicking on it, Jesse realized that it was a group of four singer/songwriters, who, rather than braving the industry alone, had decided to form a band. Blaine was listed under "vocals, guitar, and piano," and from the looks of things, he and the other three switched off playing or singing lead on certain songs. It was collaboration at its purest, all four of them putting in the same amount of work and getting the same amount of recognition for said work.
And they were playing a gig at Joe's Pub the following week.
Jesse made a grab for his calendar, flipping to the following week and looking at the dates he'd marked down. He had his entire calendar color-coordinated, auditions marked in red so they would stand out, work marked in purple. And sure enough, right there on Wednesday, his calendar read, "5 – midnight, Snapdragon." He hadn't paid much attention to the name, not recognizing it, but apparently that was Blaine's band, and he would be working their show.
He had half a mind to call off work, to call in a favor if he had to. Dan still owed him from the time he'd covered his shift last month, and it would be so, so easy to just–
He found himself remembering that night in the car with Blaine. How he'd had no idea what he was doing, how the fact that they'd actually managed to get anywhere with each other wasn't thanks to Blaine's fumbling or his grabbing, but the fact that Blaine had wanted him and he had wanted Blaine. It had been a terrible, sticky, and messy way for Blaine to lose his virginity, and it had probably hurt like hell when he'd finally woken up, so really, Jesse should probably at least apologize for that, shouldn't he?
That would be quite the story. He'd send a free drink to Blaine, with a note attached saying, "Sorry I gave you the worst lay of your life. Hope you can forgive me. From, Jesse. PS. Your band is awesome."
A rather hysterical-sounding laugh forced its way out of Jesse's mouth, so he clapped a hand over it, stifling himself. No, he had until next week to figure out how he was going to do this. Because he would be doing this. It scared him more than anything else, but he knew he had to do this.
Good thing Rachel came first, then.
Her play was surprisingly… not like the movie. At all. It was set in a completely different time period, for one thing, and Rachel's character wasn't just a woman pretending to be a man, she was a woman who actually wanted to be a man. Everyone was wearing modern-day clothing, the story focusing more on Rachel's character's journey to find herself and become an actual, physical man than her attempts to get by without her father to guide her.
While it was no Barbra Streisand movie, it was a very compelling piece of theatre.
Of course he debated again whether or not to wait for her at the stage door. There wasn't a large group of fans, but a group large enough to make things awkward if she were to react negatively. So Jesse slipped behind the barrier and asked the guard if he could deliver a message, saying he was an old friend here to surprise her. The man grudgingly agreed, looking less than happy about his new job playing messenger, probably because he got at least ten requests of the same thing every single day.
But when he came back out and beckoned for Jesse to come inside, the gruff and impatient look on his face was suddenly worth it.
"Up the stairs, the first door on your left," he instructed, pointing. "And no silly business." He tapped the door to the right of the stage door, where Jesse knew they had security cameras monitoring the goings-on.
Jesse all but ran up the stairs, knocking gently on Rachel's door and calling her name softly. The door opened and a hand seized his shirt, dragging him inside before slamming the door shut.
He caught a glimpse of her dressing room, of the bright-colored decorations she had up and the funny star-shaped lamp in the corner, before someone punched him in the face. Head spinning and seeing more stars than just that lamp, Jesse put a hand on his forehead, saying dizzily, "Rachel?"
"What do you want, Jesse?" she asked, voice huffy. He blinked a few times, locating her and seeing her sitting cross-legged on a small armchair. There was a man standing beside her, and from the looks of his hands, he had been the one to throw the punch.
"I came to… to say hello," Jesse explained lamely.
"Well I hope you have a good deal more than hello to say to me," Rachel crossed her arms, looking at him expectantly.
"I think you can figure out why else I came," Jesse admitted, holding eye contact with her even though he wanted to look down at his shoes and shuffle out of the room, preferably before he got punched again.
"It better be to explain why you broke my heart and broke an egg on my face," Rachel shot right back without missing a beat.
"Of course," Jesse began, but Rachel cut him off with, "And if it has anything to do with me making my big break and you wanting to steal that away from me too, well, then I'll just be making sure that you never work in this business again!"
"Rachel," he held his hands up. "Calm down. I'm not here to take anything from you. I just want to talk. Um," he looked over at the man still standing beside her, "do you mind?"
"This is my fiancé," Rachel explained. "Anything you have to say to me, you can say in front of him."
"Fiancé," Jesse nodded, holding out a hand to the man. "Congratulations, then." The man shook it, but squeezed a bit too hard, presumably hoping that Jesse would back off if he squeezed hard enough.
"May I sit down?" Jesse indicated a stool near the mirror. Rachel nodded.
They sat in silence for a few seconds, the tension heightened by the fact that there was another man in the room, one who had presumably heard about the egging incident and was firmly on Rachel's side. This suddenly felt like a terrible idea. Who was he to come back into Rachel's life almost ten years later and remind her of what a crappy boyfriend he had been?
"I love you," he finally blurted out. Her fiancé took a step towards him, so he quickly added, "I'm not trying to get you back or anything. I just thought, well, I'm not really sure what I think anymore. But I love you, Rachel. I have since I was seventeen and stupid enough to think that the world revolved around me and that I could have both you and Vocal Adrenaline."
"Why did you pick them?" Rachel asked, the words tumbling out seemingly on their own, if her shocked expression was anything to go by.
"They were my family," Jesse said simply. "I belonged with them. I never belonged with you at McKinley, even if it did feel like home sometimes. And believe me when I say that I've thought of you so many times since, wondered what would happen if I came back to apologize, and I talked myself out of it every single time. It's so much easier just to hate someone and forget about something than to realize that they might not be a complete monster and maybe you should give them that second chance.
"I'm not asking for one," Jesse shook his head. "I just… I needed you to know. I'm sorry."
"And I wish you would have told me sooner," Rachel's eyes were wide, her mouth set in a line. "I've wasted so much time wishing you ill when I should have let you fade away into nothingness. That would have been a bigger punishment for you, after all, wouldn't it? The girl Jesse St. James loves, not even remembering his name."
But she laughed, and it wasn't a cackle. It was genuine, soft, almost remorseful.
"I loved you, Jesse," she told him. Then she stood up, walked over to him, and curled up in his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck and burying her face into his chest. "I loved you so, so much."
They sat there, him holding her while her fiancé watched, for minutes. Maybe the time stretched out and maybe it was cut short, but he would never be able to hold her long enough, never be able to make up for all those years of quiet resentment.
"I think you should go now," Rachel told him, standing up and walking over to her fiancé, who took her into his arms as if to prove that she could fit into his just as easily as she could fit into Jesse's. "I'm sorry I asked him to punch you in the face."
"I'm… sorry," Jesse finished lamely.
"And Jesse?" Rachel's voice went up in pitch slightly. "I think it would be best if we didn't see each other anymore. If our paths happen to cross down the line for work, that's fine, but please don't come looking for me again."
"I won't," Jesse promised, wondering if this had made any difference at all, or if he'd just ended up fucking up a relationship between two people that weren't him this time. But he left without waiting for indication either way, walked down the stairs and out of the stage door, ignoring the fans who asked him if Rachel Berry was on her way out.
It hadn't gone terribly, if he was being honest. But at the same time, that had been the worst experience of his entire life. He hadn't wanted Rachel to just be sad and then tell him that she loved him. He had wanted her to flip out on him, to hit him herself, to swear and curse him until she was pink in the face. Because that was something he could work with. He could always work with hatred. It was easy to write people out of your life, knowing that they hate you. But knowing that there had been potential for something else, for love…
Well, he could put to rest his fantasies about being the father of Rachel Berry's starlets, that was for sure.
But now that meant he had to worry about what Blaine would do. He hadn't had the same close, tell-each-other-everything relationship with Rachel. They didn't have the history he had with Blaine, and all he'd done with Rachel was kiss her, with his hands occasionally wandering over he body, but never anywhere that would make her uncomfortable. But Blaine…
If he thought hard enough, he could remember exactly what Blaine had looked like, completely naked, at eighteen. He could remember the taste of Blaine's blood as it had crusted around his nose. The smell of Blaine's sweat, the feel of his body, the sound of him moaning Jesse's name and crying out for more.
He swallowed thickly.
This one was definitely going to be more difficult.
He almost called off work three times on Tuesday. He'd dialed Dan's number, listening to the phone ring and clutching it with sweaty hands, lips bright red from the number of times he'd gnawed on them. But he'd hung up after five rings, turned his phone off, and asked one of his roommates to hide it from him.
He needed to do this. This was so much different than Rachel; she'd written him out of her life whereas Blaine had tried to talk to him, tried to set things right between them. And even though he was five years too late, it was still the right thing to do.
Jesse stubbornly stayed in the kitchen while the others helped Blaine and his band set up. He pretended to wash dishes while peeking through the window, watching the four men talk and laugh and go over their set list. Blaine carried himself differently now; he had grown a bit too, but somehow the way he held himself made him seem more imposing, more intimidating.
At least that's how it felt for the man who would probably be getting punched in the face, and have another bruise to add to the one that was fading under his left eye.
Blaine was confident, too. He was joking and laughing with everyone, introducing himself to the employees with firm handshakes and genuine smiles. He had dressed simply, in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, so unlike the Blaine he had left back in Ohio. It seemed those four years in California had paid off, helped Blaine find who he really was, and who he really was fit right in with the New York crowd.
Jesse kept his distance all night, serving the tables furthest away from the stage and hiding behind the bar when he wasn't needed. It kept him occupied, making drinks for those who came over to him, giving him nice little breaks from the constant staring that would no doubt be going on had he let himself linger somewhere else. Blaine had always been a charismatic performer, had always known how to man a stage, but now he knew how to own one. He wasn't trying to do justice to someone else's music, but introduce people to his own, and that seemed to make all the difference in the world.
Blaine had found his calling, that much was certain.
And as the night went on, it became harder and harder to take his eyes off him. Jesse found himself spilling drinks and mixing the wrong things together, eventually slopping water all down his front when he'd pointed the hose the wrong way. He looked and felt a mess, a wet, sweaty, nervous mess, and he was beginning to think that maybe not calling out of work was the worst idea he'd ever had.
"This next song is one of Blaine's," another band member was saying, but Jesse wasn't watching; he was too busy trying to wring out the front of his shirt. "And he'd like to tell you a little story about it first."
"You always want me to tell the story," Blaine said, amused, voice soft since he hadn't come up to the mic yet. "But okay," his voice suddenly boomed through the speakers. "Oh, too close. How's this?" The audience cheered. "Okay. Well, once upon a time, I lived in Ohio. Any Ohioans in the house?"
Jesse almost raised his hand, stopping himself just in time. He looked up at Blaine, seeing the other grinning around and giving the thumbs-up to a woman who had cheered and waved her arms in the air.
"All right," he nodded. "Okay, well, I lived in Ohio, and I had this friend. His name was Jesse."
Jesse felt like he'd been slapped in the face. He quickly cowered behind one of the pillars at the side of the bar, peeking out from behind it, heart trying to fly out of his chest. He began chewing the inside of his mouth, unable to move and unable to take his eyes off Blaine.
"We were best friends, and like every other cheesy rom-com, I fell in love with him." The audience made 'awww' noises, as if on cue. "But unlike every other cheesy rom-com, it didn't work out." This time the noises were sympathetic. "I– well, he…" Blaine turned to look at the band member who had introduced this song, saying, "You know I hate telling the story," before turning back, cheeks pink, and saying, "We ended up sleeping together, and as men having sexual identity crises are apt to, he pretended nothing ever happened. I got cut out of his life and I haven't said a word to him for four years."
Jesse felt like all the air had been let out of the room. He knew he shouldn't begrudge Blaine for turning his own life experience into art, because that's what artists do, and he knew he shouldn't resent him for turning this faceless Jesse into a villain, but the way he put it was just so final, so cold. Because he hadn't had a sexual identity crisis at all. It was just the fact that it had been Blaine, his best friend, a boy who trusted him and loved him and needed a shoulder to cry on, and he'd ended up having sex with him instead.
"So I wrote a song about it," Blaine finished lamely. "And tonight is actually pretty special, because this time I get to sing it to him."
And now Blaine was looking directly at him, at the tiny bit of his face and body that was peeking around the pillar, and Jesse's entire body went rigid. He'd been so careful, so cautious not to let Blaine see him until things were over, until he wouldn't get in the way of his show, but Blaine had spotted him anyway. And now heads were turning, looking at him, glaring at him, so Jesse figured he might as well just step out from behind that damn pillar and take what was coming to him.
Blaine didn't look upset. In fact, he seemed almost relieved to have found Jesse here. He just stared at him, clearly trying to say so much but unable to because it had been five whole years since they'd been able to do the whole nonverbal communication thing, and Blaine was an entirely different person who wore tight-fitting T-shirts and let his hair grow out and was practically begging every single person in the pub to either love him or lust over him with just the way he was breathing.
Jesse wanted to get up on that stage right that very second, but he had no idea what he would do once he got there. Would he apologize or just stare at him or maybe he would grab him and kiss him silly, because that seemed to shut Blaine up quite nicely. Except he didn't want to shut Blaine up, because this wasn't about him, it was about his best friend and what he'd done to the pair of them and if he was ever going to understand what he needed to do to fix it, Blaine would have to actually say something.
"Ask me not to sing it," Blaine challenged him, which made Jesse wonder what exactly he was about to hear.
"Sing it." His voice was hoarse, but it carried enough so Blaine could hear him. Whatever terrible things Blaine may have put into that song, they were still his feelings, still the best shot Jesse had at figuring out what had been going on in Blaine's head for the past five years.
Another one of the band members handed Blaine a guitar, and he started playing as soon as the strap was looped over his shoulder. Eyes locked on Jesse and lips practically glued to his mic, Blaine started to sing.
One thing became clear from the moment he began singing. He really had taken to heart what Jesse had said that night. Maybe that was a good thing and maybe that would just make patching things up that much harder, but right now Blaine was singing and he was singing to him. No matter how much it hurt to hear Blaine sing about being denied what he wanted and how much he'd clearly wanted to talk, it hurt so much more to hear that he really had believed everything Jesse had said.
He wasn't sure when he'd started crying, but there were tears on his face and it was becoming harder and harder to keep standing there listening, not when he was sure that every single person in here hated him, including Blaine. He'd wanted to talk, not get bombarded with this, but Blaine had given him the chance to stop him. He'd wanted to hear the song, and here it was.
There was no applause when Blaine finished. Half of the audience was staring at Jesse while the other half was staring at Blaine, as if looking for some indication of what they were supposed to do. And then Blaine took the guitar off his shoulder, handing it to one of his band members, and jumped off the stage, weaving between tables to get to Jesse, who quickly wiped his face, though Blaine had surely already seen the tears.
Blaine had only grown maybe two inches since Jesse had last seen him, but he seemed so much taller in those seconds while he came marching over, determination written all over his face and emphasized with a frown. He came to a halt in front of Jesse, staring him down and making him shrink back slightly, slumping against the pillar he'd been hiding behind.
"Say it," he demanded.
He was supposed to apologize. That was what Blaine was expecting. He wanted an apology for taking him to that bar, for fucking him in the car, for driving him back to Dalton and cutting him off, for running away once they'd finally crossed paths at UCLA. He wanted, deserved, and probably needed that apology, but those weren't the words that come out of Jesse's mouth.
"I love you."
Blaine punched him in the face, much harder than Rachel's fiancé had, and Jesse's hands went to his nose, feeling the blood streaming between his fingers. He grabbed the towel hanging out of his back pocket, pressing it to his face, staring down at Blaine with a mix of disbelief and relief. It wasn't that he liked having people hate him, but sometimes it was just so much easier to deal with hatred. Rachel's reaction had told him as much.
But then Blaine reached up and covered one of his hands with his own, gently taking the towel from him and holding it there for a few seconds. Then he took the towel away, folding it to cover the blood and wiping Jesse's nose, his free hand going to the back of Jesse's neck and pulling him into a very painful kiss.
His nose hurt, making him want to flinch every time their noses bumped together, probably feeling exactly how Blaine had felt with his broken nose. But now Jesse understood why Blaine hadn't pulled away, why he'd let Jesse kiss him even if it had hurt. It was a battle of instinct, and the one that needed to have the other person, needed to keep the contact that made his eyes roll and his toes curl, would always win out.
As soon as he'd gotten used to kissing Blaine, the other pulled back, mouth already set in a determined line, brow furrowed. He had a smear of blood above his lips, and Jesse reached out to wipe it away with his thumb. Blaine caught his hand before he could, lacing their fingers and dragging him out of the pub, seemingly not caring (or maybe not remembering) that he was in the middle of a show and Jesse was still working. He pulled him outside, letting the door slam behind them, then pushed him against the wall, kissing him again.
"There's," Jesse tried to speak, but Blaine was having none of it, pressing his lips to Jesse's with such determination and force that they would have toppled over were it not for the wall digging into Jesse's back. "Blaine… there's… Blaine!" He couldn't get more than one word out at once, and the longer he tried the more he wanted to just give up. What was the point in talking, anyway? He'd always relied on his instincts, and right now Blaine was apparently following his as well, so why not just call it a day and see what happened if he told the rational side of his brain to shove it?
So he did. He stopped trying to talk to Blaine and instead focused on kissing him, remembering the way their lips fit together and how Blaine had changed since then. He was much more confident now, able to kiss without hesitating first, without needing alcohol to get him to do it in the first place. Or maybe he had been drinking, but wasn't going to bother trying to find that out, of all things he could be focusing on when he had Blaine's tongue in his mouth. No, he'd just focus on how simply mind-blowing it all felt, thank you very much.
It might have been a few seconds or ten minutes, but the frantic and rather sloppy kissing soon turned gentler. Blaine stopped pushing as hard, waiting for Jesse to meet him halfway, and Jesse's hands had fallen to rest on Blaine's lower back, holding him there. What had been rushed was now slow, hard now soft, feeling sweet and almost caring. Was this what it felt like to kiss someone lovingly?
And then the kissing stopped, and they were just standing there, foreheads pressed together with Jesse inhaling on Blaine's exhales, both their faces smeared with Jesse's blood and Blaine's sweat. Then Blaine let out a soft giggle, raising the towel he was still holding and saying, "You look like shit."
"I could say the same about you," Jesse admitted, but he let Blaine wipe off his face before taking the towel and returning the favor. "How did you know I was in there?"
"I saw you coming in," Blaine explained. "I was taking a call across the street, and you were just arriving. I thought it wasn't you at first, but then I caught a couple glimpses through the kitchen window and the way you were always hovering right where I couldn't see you… It was easy enough to realize that I wasn't imagining things."
"That song," Jesse started, but Blaine cut him off.
"I know. It's horrible and I never should have written it and–"
"No," Jesse interrupted this time, catching Blaine's face in his hands. "It was perfect. It hurt, but it was perfect."
Blaine reached up and kissed the tip of Jesse's nose.
"Ow!" he exclaimed, flinching.
"Oh, right, sorry," Blaine backtracked. "I didn't mean to punch you. I just… I just did." He reached up and rubbed the bridge of his own nose, where Jesse could see a small bump. "Maybe we'll match now."
Jesse leaned down and kissed the bump on Blaine's nose.
"I think we will," he decided, tucking the now bloody and smelly towel into his back pocket, then wiping his hand on his jeans before reaching over to take one of Blaine's hands. "Walk with me?"
"Anywhere," Blaine nodded, squeezing Jesse's hand.
They walked for hours. Blaine told him all about UCLA, how he'd found the three men he was now in a band with, how they had clicked instantly and decided to collaborate rather than struggle on their own. He told Jesse about a guy he'd met the same day they had run into each other, how he and that guy had gotten into a relationship that Blaine admitted he would never be proud of, but would never deny. He didn't sugarcoat anything, nor was Jesse asking him to. Jesse knew that it was his fault, and when he said as much Blaine didn't deny it.
"I made the choice," Blaine said, "but that choice never would have existed if it weren't for you."
In turn, Jesse told him about New York, about how he failed as an actor and how he'd had a string of meaningless relationships until he met Grace. He'd never stopped thinking about them, Blaine and Rachel, about what he'd done, but he'd been too stupid to think that maybe patching things up would be better for everyone than running away.
"I thought if I let you both hate me while I wasted away alone, it would even out in the end," he admitted. "I'm no good at talking about my feelings. I never have been. And you know this better than anyone; you've got a mark on your face to prove it."
And then they were done playing catch up and Jesse had apologized a grand total of seventeen times, and neither of them had any idea what to do.
"I wasn't planning on punching you or kissing you," Blaine told him as they sat on a bench in the middle of Times Square, the noise somehow comforting. "But I'm glad I did."
"I am too," Jesse nodded, looking down at their still joined hands. "They fit together nicely, don't they?" His thumb was brushing against Blaine's almost absently, arms pressed together between them.
"We fit together nicely," Blaine tried, looking to Jesse for confirmation.
"With our matching noses and your uncanny ability to get me to be honest with you, I must agree." Jesse leaned closer, his forehead resting against Blaine's temple, and he said, "But we can't. Not yet."
"What do you mean?" Blaine's grip on Jesse's hand slackened, and he pulled away.
"I mean it's been five years since we talked and I'm not fucking this up again," Jesse said firmly. "I care about you too much – no, I loveyou too much to let that happen."
"You're talking like you're going to run away again," Blaine's tone was accusatory.
"I'll never do that again," Jesse promised, "but if I've learned anything in those five years, it's to never act on your impulses."
"Funny," Blaine chuckled. "I learned they're the only things I can rely on when it comes to you."
They stared at each other, hands still laced together, having reached the end of one conversation and the start of a new one. And it was important, so important that neither of them said anything, choosing to just look at the other, soak in his presence and marvel at where they'd been and where they were now.
"I'm in New York for five more days," Blaine finally said. "Then the four of us are going back to California. We're recording an album." His tone switched, finally sounding like the desperate and scared boy he still was. "Ask me to come back when we're done. Please."
"I can't ask you to do that," Jesse shook his head, chewing on his lip before adding, "but you can ask me."
"No I can't," Blaine shook his head this time. "You may not be working, Jesse, but you belong here. We always knew you were going to end up here. I can't ask you to give that up."
Silence hung over them again, penetrated by taxis rushing and honking, pedestrians chattering excitedly together. The world moved on outside the two men, unseen and unheard by either, just as it always had and always will.
Until finally, one of them said, "I can live with five days."
And the other, "Five days is perfect."