“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world...would do this, it would change the earth.”
Kurt runs down the narrow path, kicking up stones and dirt from the unpaved street as he dodges the shabbily dressed pedestrians on their way to the market. They shout at him as he tears by without consideration, but he keeps his pace steady, thin soles of his shoes barely cushioning the rocks underfoot. The stuffed burlap sack thrown over his shoulder bounces painfully against his back with each step, and the weight threatens to topple him if he loses his balance in the slightest.
He ignores the pain and takes a sharp right down an alley, skidding on a loose patch of dirt. A pile of wooden crates, stacked haphazardly and taller than himself, blocks his path. He stalls for a moment, trying to quiet his pounding heart and listen. The sounds from the market don't carry on this windless day. Yelling children, clucking chicken, bleating goats, and the usual murmur of haggling seem to catch and drag in the heavy air, and it's easier for him to pick up on the out-of-place noises.
The stilted pattern of heavy footfalls catch his ears. That fat old vendor is quicker than he seems, Kurt thinks before heaving himself and the bag onto the first box of the precarious barricade. It carries his weight with a little give, so he hoists himself onto the next. It tips as he climbs and he stills himself, readjusting his stance before trying agin. It would be difficult with both arms, but burdened with the sack it's even more challenging.
Kurt's just about at the top when the merchant runs after him, breathing heavily. When he reaches the barrier he swipes for Kurt's ankle, but Kurt manages to pull it up and over the apex of the pile. He tightens his grip on the bag and turns his feet carefully on the small landing he found. It's too high to jump from here, but climbing down looks just as dangerous. He works out a short path he can take, hoping the boxes are more stable than they look.
He turns his head back. "Sorry, I need these more!" Going down the boxes is trickier than climbing, and the bag is starting to slip between his sweating palms. He steps down a few boxes, testing the strength of each one before resting his weight on them, then takes in a deep breath and jumps, the humid air rushing past his face before landing heavily on the ground. The weight of the bag throws him off-balance and he lands on his backside with a loud 'oof!'
Behind the boxes, there's a loud, frustrated cry and a bang. The vendor must've kicked the pile, that idiot, because they start to teeter dangerously.
He grabs the bag hastily and bolts down the alley, side stepping errant chickens, and just barely turns to the next street before the pile crashes and a small cloud of dust floats above the buildings. In all the confusion, Kurt blends into the gathering crowd, checking over his shoulder only once to be sure the man isn't still after him. He walks calmly and swipes a newspaper from an abandoned kiosk. He's never understood why the King even bothers putting the news kiosk here, anyways; barely anyone in Taberna, the slum of Regontem, can even read, but it's a nice treat when he get one. He rolls it into a cylinder and tucks it into the waist of his pants, then whistles all the way home.
"Hey, Dad!" Kurt calls out as he enters the old hangar on the outskirts of town. A rusting iron cat with squeaking gears meows expectantly at Kurt and follows him to the curtained off area that serves as their home.
Hummel's Hangar used to be a thriving business, repairing commercial zeppelins and air ships from across the country. Kurt doesn't remember much from that time, it was so many years ago. But then the war broke out and the country lurched into a recession. King Anderson forbade trade with their neighbouring enemy, Bellam, causing a sharp decline in air vessels that needed to be repaired. The once busy repair hangar now only serviced a few personal crafts, though in the crumbling economy, only the richest- those who lived near the top of the hill- could afford repairs, and even fewer would step foot in Taberna to have them done.
Then, three years ago, Burt was no longer able to pay two rents, so they sold their house for only a quarter of its value and moved into the hangar.
"You can play with the paper later, Grim," Kurt says to the cat, reaching down to scratch his metal ears, then pulls open the moth-eaten curtains.
His father lays on the musty couch, still resting after his latest heart attack. The sudden onset meant closing the shop for a few days as he healed, something Burt resented loudly. But in the end, having a healthy, alive father was more important than the money they would be losing, and Kurt bickered until his dad acquiesced in taking down the 'open' sign. They always found ways to get by.
"What's that?" Burt asks distrustfully, eyeing the burlap sac.
"Your ticket to recovery." He digs his fingers into the fabric and rips the bag open. A handful of red apples fall through the tear and land on the concrete floor.
"Apples?" He catches the fruit Kurt tosses to him and surveys the skin. No wormholes or bruises like he's used to eating. "You know how I feel about you stealing. What if the King's Legion caught you? You'd be locked up in jail right now."
"I know." Kurt doesn't sound remorseful though. The King's Legion is brutal and unforgiving, sure, but they don't care about petty crimes. He grabs his own apple before dragging the bag out of the way. "But you can't keep eating those meal supplement pills. They're nothing but sugar and a few vitamins, and they're just as bad for you as all the stress you've been under."
"They're cheap, is what they are." Burt counters.
Kurt sighs helplessly and settles onto the concrete floor. The heatwave has been so persistent, going on two weeks now, that even the usually cool floor doesn't offer any relief. "I got a newspaper, too."
Burt grumbles as he bites into the apple, and Kurt pulls the rolled up paper from where he tucked it into the back of his pants.
In bold letters, taking up a huge portion of the page, the headline reads PRINCE ABSCONDS, and the sub title: Prince Blaine Anderson Leaves Fiancée Duchess Rachel Berry at the Altar. Search Proves Futile.
A large photo of Blaine in his ceremonial uniform covers the rest of the page. Like most pictures of the prince he's seen, Blaine smiles happily into the camera. His military stance, stiff and uncomfortable, doesn't match the easy warmth that comes through his sepia-hued face. In the few photos and interviews Kurt's seen, Blaine's always come off as charming.
Burt chuckles haughtily from the couch, a small clump of apple falling from his mouth. "He's a freakin' prince! What's he got to run away from?"
Kurt nods, but his eyes remained locked on the picture. If this prince thinks his life is so bad, he should live a few days in the squalor Kurt calls home. No running water, the threat of muggings around every corner, each meal a question mark; he'd go running back up the hill to his palace, tail between his legs.
A loud, hollow knock on the aluminum door rings throughout hangar. Kurt shuffles the paper and mutters under his breath. "What part of 'closed' don't people understand?"
The knocking dies down soon enough and Kurt turns back to the story.
"…the anticipated union between Prince Blaine Anderson and Duchess Rachel Berry came to a dramatic finale when the prince stalled midway down the aisle then bolted out the palace doors. Security was sent after him, but both he and his airship have yet to be located…"
Kurt laughs as he reads. It's one of the biggest scandals in the monarch's history, and no one was talking about it at the market. The gossipy women stood in their usual tattered dresses at their usual fish stalls, and either didn't know or care. Kurt guessed the latter.
The city of Regontem was built hundreds of years ago on a giant, sharply sloping hill. At the summit sits the Palace, so high that it's said whoever stands on the tallest turret can reach up and grab a handful of cloud. In the shadow of the palace, down at the very bottom of the hill is Taberna. On a clear day, Kurt can stand out in the streets, crane his neck and look up at its glimmering marble walls. It's a constant reminder of the wealth afforded to the monarch while citizens starve on the street and because of this, the King and his reign mean very little to the poor.
"For someone who's supposedly a God, that King sure has a hard time controlling his own kids." Burt shakes his head to himself. "Remember, few years back, when that Prince Cooper ran off to marry What's-Her-Name, the common girl?"
Kurt does remember. It was back when his parents could still afford to keep him in school and his classmates were alight with gossip. The entire League had been dispatched, searching across the country for the heir apparent. Only one day later, an announcement from the king sprawled across the front page of every paper: the prince had been found, but was too fragile to reclaim his place in line for the throne. He would live a secluded life while the youngest brother, Blaine, took his spot. Kurt was dubious that they had found him at all, but when he voiced his doubts out loud, his teacher yelled and gave him a week of detention.
But he wasn't the only one. After that, people began to whisper questions about the legitimacy of the King's divinity, and those who asked found themselves swiftly and systematically silenced. For good.
"Ain't no God, that's for sure." Burt continues. "He's barely a man. Ought'a be locked away for for the things he's done, show him-"
The knocking picks up again, this time faster and louder. Burt cuts off immediately and sits up, glancing at the door.
Kurt's heart beats in his chest and his body goes warm with anxiety. He glances at the bag of apples, dreading that the Legion finally decided to act in the community's best interest, and knowing his father's thinking the same. The punishment for stealing isn't severe, but with his family's history, they might make a special case out of him.
There's no other way out of the hangar apart from the aerial door above, and nowhere to hide, though he hadn't considered it an option. The best thing to do is open the door and do whatever he's required without struggle. He holds his hand up to his father, silently telling him to stay still, then pushes himself off the floor and takes quick, uneven steps to the door.
Instead of the sapphire and silver uniform of the Legion, he's face to face with an impatient looking woman surveying her nails. Relief washes his fear away, but it's quickly replaced with frustration. Judging by her clothes, he's willing to bet she was provided with a stunning education in one of Regontem's finest schools. A school that obviously did not teach the significance of a Closed sign.
"This a mechanic shop?" She peers around Kurt's body into the hangar, looking a little disgusted at the thought of taking a step inside.
"That is what the sign says. It also says we're closed." He knows his dad is going to give him a talking to later for being short with a potential customer, but his heart is still racing and he doesn't care about anything other than getting back inside. Flies buzz through the open door and the sticky humidity seeps in but the woman doesn't turn away.
"I need my zeppelin fixed and I need it fixed now." She roots through a pouch strapped around her thigh and pulls out a wad cash. "Will 300 Notas change your mind?"
Kurt's eyes widen at the off-white bills in her hand, each inscribed with a blue Fifty in ornate writing. It's been so long since he's seen a paper bill, they only come in high denominations to keep demand down, and if anyone walking past on the street saw….
"Get in here." He steps aside and urges her in, then looks both ways to be sure no one noticed anything before closing the door behind her. "Are you trying to get yourself mugged?"
She shrugs, unfazed, and steps further into the hangar, surveying the place.
"Christ. This place looks decrepit. You sure that roof isn't going to cave in?"
Kurt blanches at her word and looks around as though some stranger may be holed up inside, eavesdropping. "Don't say that word in here." He warns through gritted teeth.
The woman barks out a short burst of laughter. "What, Christ? You worried the King's Legion'll snatch me up for heresy? Please."
Her apathy doesn't reassure Kurt at all; instead he worries that he let a loose canon with a lit fuse inside their shop. It isn't uncommon to come across dissenters, especially in Taberna where the outrage is growing and the Legion's presence is slim. They're vigilant, though. If they trace this woman back to the shop, he and his father are in serious trouble.
"Don't worry, little elf," she continues. "They're too busy looking for that whiny prince."
"So am I fixing you ship or not?" Kurt huffs, getting annoyed with her attitude. Even if the Legion's dropped their guard for a day, he'd still rather she leave as soon as possible; if it weren't for the bills still clamped between her long fingers she'd be out already.
"That's the spirit!"
He grudgingly marches behind the desk and pulls out the journal of transactions, flipping through the pages to find today's date. The inkwell is running dry, but Kurt gets enough to start writing. He scribbles through the basics then looks back up at the woman.
"I need your name Miss…?"
"It's Captain." She answers curtly, then slides her fingers under the book to flip it shut. The journal closes on his hand, blotting the ink and pushing the nib of the pen through the sheet. He glares at her.
"What was that for?"
"No documents." She inspects her fingernails for chips as she speaks, like they're more important that the butchered book Kurt's trying to salvage. "No names. No questions. This is how it's gonna happen: you're gonna inspect the zeppelin's acceleration and steering. An extra 50 Notas if you finish within the hour. Then I'm going to fly far, far away from this stinking slum and if anyone asks, I was never here. Clear?"
"Got it." He mutters, still bemoaning the transaction journal. Did she really have to ruin it?
"Good." She steps back from the desk and struts towards the door, snapping over her shoulder. "Now hurry up and open that aerial door. Time's a wasting."
Kurt rolls his eyes and hits the lever. Above him, there's a hiss and a puff of steam as the overhead doors part and retract, letting the light shine down to the concrete floor. He makes his way back to the curtained area to grab his work clothes to find his father already stepping into his coveralls.
"Don't you dare." Kurt threatens, stopping Burt in his tracks. "I can take care of this. You rest."
HIs father huffs to himself and hangs the garment back onto the hanger while Kurt rustles through a drawer, looking for an acceptable pair of goggles. He attempts to wipe the lenses clean by wiping them over his pant legs, but he only manages to spread the dirt around. It's the best he can do, so he slides them over his eyes, trying to ignore the splotches in his peripheral. He neglects his coveralls, useless with all the tears at the seams and burn holes; any stains that appear on his shirt will easy camouflage into all the others.
The captain lowers the zeppelin slowly to the garage floor and honestly, Kurt's underwhelmed. Clearly this girl is rich. Very rich, judging not only by the pile of cash, but the supple leather of her fingerless gloves, aviator cap, and bustier, the fine wool of her trousers (rare enough since he only ever sees women in dresses and petticoats when they could afford the extra fabric), and the shine of the many buckles on her boots, glimmering when the dust mutes everything else around it.
Her aircraft is a piece of shit. A generic model, at least ten years old, and patched on the body with an off-colour sealant. Something in the engine car ticks every time she hits the accelerator, a sign of old age. Kurt can't imagine what someone like her is doing with that pile of junk. Even by his own standards (which are quite low due to being dirt broke) he'd tell her to scrap the thing.
The woman sets the zeppelin to hover just above Kurt's head and ignores the rolling stairs Kurt had moved to the pilot window, opting instead to jump down. She lands gracefully and tugs the cap off her head, curtaining her face with long black hair, sleek from daily care and expensive salves. She'd be quite pretty, Kurt notices, if she'd wipe that smirk off her face.
While the captain wanders around the garage, Kurt busies himself with the engine car. A few cogs are rusting over, lowering its efficiency and causing the steering problems, so Kurt quickly swaps them out for a new pair. Finding the source of the ticking is more challenging, but he eventually locates it inside the propellor. One of the gears has shifted off its holster, compromising the syndicated movement of all the pieces. With steady hands, he fastens the gear back in place and latches the propeller shut.
Kurt ducks his head beneath the undercarriage to check the time on the adjacent wall clock. The captain had promised him a bonus if he finished within the hour, and he still has plenty of time.
"Do you want me to give it a quick once over?" He yells. The woman is near the back of the hangar, poking around in a toolbox.
"No." She barely raises her voice but the words are perfectly intelligible over the rush of the propellers. "I want you to do what I asked and only that."
"Well, I'm done that."
"What?" She spins on her heel and walks over, eyes narrowed warily. "You're not. What did you do?"
Kurt walks her through his process, feeling a bit proud as the captain nods along.
"Looks like you're not totally incompetent," she says. Coming from her, he'll take it as a compliment. She pulls another fifty out of her pouch and tucks it into the pocket of Kurt's shirt. "There."
Her boots click across the cement as she walks to the stairs, and Kurt can't say he's sad to see her go. She pauses at the door to pull her cap back over her head and pokes stray hairs underneath before throwing the cabin door open and taking her position at the helm.
The woman starts speaking and Kurt turns his head, thinking he's talking to her. He sees her behind the large wheel, hand pressed to her ear and he realizes she's using a communicator. Technology like that is foreign in Taberna, too expensive for anyone to own. The woman raises her voice to argue with the other person, whoever they are. Finally, the woman pokes her head out the window.
"'Ey, you. How does 500 Notas a day sound?"
"Five hun-dred." She enunciates. "We need an onboard mechanic. You're decent enough, and you don't ask questions. I like that."
Kurt thinks it's a joke at first, but the way she's looking at him with impatience means she really expect an answer. His mind reels. It's an astronomical sum, more than he'd know what to do with, but he still has his misgivings about the woman, let alone leaving his dad, his home. "I don't think-"
"Ok, seven hundred and I'll throw in a live-in caretaker for Pops. Can we go now? We're on a tight schedule here."
"What's all this?" Burt steps out from behind the curtain, looking between the two of them. The captain grumbles to herself and jumps back down to the floor so she can face him.
"Well, sir," she starts, her voice a saccharine tone. Kurt rolls his eyes. "I'm going on a bit of a journey and need someone as skilled as your son on board. We'll be no longer than a week, weather permitting." Burt looks dubious but doesn't stop her. He must've heard the numbers. "Food, hygiene- everything will be provided for him, and if he wants to back out at any point I can assure his safe return home."
"And you won't be leaving Collow?" He presses. "I don't want him going into Bellam."
"No, sir," she replies smoothly. "I'm just seeing an old friend, and need to get there as soon as possible. I can't afford to waste time hauling this old thing to a mechanic every time it acts up."
Kurt's still wary. Why would she conceal her name if she's just going to visit a friend? On the other hand, this woman is offering him a chance to do something he's always wanted to: explore. He's never been outside Regontem, never seen Collow's towering mountain range or vast craters. Even just getting a glimpse of them from a zeppelin window would be an amazing experience for him.
"Can I, dad?" He's taking a risk trusting this woman, but at nineteen he's feeling stifled in this city. A week isn't too long, but it will give him time to enjoy his trip. "We can't say no to that money."
Burt knows it. "You're an adult now, as much I hate it. You gotta make your own path in life."
"Really touching," the woman says (though now that he has a good look, Kurt thinks she can't be much older than him). "But we're on a deadline here." She jerks her thumb to the clock on the wall.
"I'm not going anywhere until I see who's looking after my dad," he says sternly, even though he's in no position to give orders. "And I want to know your name."
"You're killing me, kid." She slips her hand under the ear flap of her cap and presses something on an ear cuff Kurt hadn't noticed earlier. A green light shines from the communicator and the woman starts speaking to somebody. "Yeah, I need your best nurse at Hummel's Hangar right now." She nods along to the other end of the conversation. "Uh… let me check. Yo pops."
Burt's eyebrows raise. "Yeah?"
"She's got a son. Apparently he knows his way around an aircraft. He won't be living here, but is it cool if he hangs around?"
"'Course," Burt replies gruffly. "Not a lot of room here, though."
"Dad, with the money I'm making, you can afford rent on another place. Maybe that place down the street?"
Burt claps a hand on Kurt's shoulder. This windfall is providing them with so many new options they never had before, though knowing that his father will be able to afford proper food makes Kurt the happiest."
"She's on her way now." The woman says. "And my name is Captain Santana Lopez. Now please go pack so we don't have to draw this out any longer."
Kurt follows Burt back into the living area and begins tossing his few possessions in a fraying canvas rucksack. Two pairs of grey pants, made with scratchy wool and patched at the knees, identical to the pair he's wearing now. Four white button up shirts and his only other pair of suspenders. His undergarments are shoved in alongside socks, both riddled with holes. Most of his material assets were sold after the move for extra money, but he still keeps a few books, and most importantly, his mother's locket with a fading photo of her and her father. The filigree locket is inlayed with a small ruby, but neither he nor his father had ever considered pawning it off.
He only has one pair of shoes, his steel toe work boots, saving room in his bag for his toolbox. Old zeppelins don't require many tools but he packs for ever conceivable mishap and hopes he has his bases covered.
He feels his father's eyes on him the whole time and a lump rises in his throat. He's never been away from his father for longer than a day, and now he's heading out to some unknown location with a complete stranger.
He pushes the doubting thoughts out of his mind and meets the woman- Santana- in the shop. She raises an eyebrow at Kurt and his rucksack. "That's it?"
Kurt's saved from answering by a knock on the door. He throws the bag on the ground with a loud clatter from the tools inside and pulls the door open.
A friendly looking woman in the traditional white dress and petticoat stands smiling on the doorstep. Her incredibly tall son is off the the side, looking around the street.
"Hi, sweetie." She says, grabbing Kurt's hand between the two of hers. "I'm Carole Hudson, and this is Finn."
"Uh… hey!" Finn snaps his head forward and smiles.
Kurt leads them inside and Carole instantly orders Burt back to bed. He's impressed with Carole already.
"Great, can we go?" Santana's already halfway up the stairs, huffing with impatience.
Kurt hugs his father briefly, knowing that if he lingers he'll change his mind, and says his goodbye before running over to the zeppelin. He's about to climb in when he hears a faint meow at his feet. Grim sits on the top step, his tail flicking angrily. Kurt picks him up, struggling with the weight of his rucksack to bend down without tumbling forward. He looks to the pilot's window where Santana is watching him. He holds Grim out, the metal of his body cool on his hands.
"Can I bring him?"
"Yes, fine, whatever. Just get inside."
As soon as Kurt steps into the cabin the door closes with a hiss of steam. Kurt's eyes adjust from the sunlit hangar to the dim interior, and he sets Grim on the floor to stalk off down the hallway.
The zeppelin rises with a quick jolt and Kurt races to the first window, heart pounding with excitement and trepidation. He watches the shop shrink below him, pressing his face against the glass for a better look. Eventually the overhead doors close and the shop is nothing more than a dot on the map of the city. As they rise, Kurt gets a good look of the Palace on the horizon, sparkling in the sunlight. Santana steers the ship west and eventually the hill and the Palace are nothing more than a jut in the fields below.
Summary: Written for the Kurt/Blaine Reversebang! Kurt is the son of a used book salesman with dreams bigger than his small town; Blaine a transfer student and photographer with shining talent. Together they navigate the path of falling in love while preparing for their looming futures.
A/N: This fic is written to accompany this beautiful piece of artwork by naderegen. (Thumbnail links to art)
Thank you so much to Mary for beta'ing, and Maribel for being my cheerleader and looking over the fic when I was close going crazy. Anyways, without further ado:
Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Epilogue