When Kurt made it through the gate and back to the manor, the other three survivors were already waiting for him. Normally, seeing them was a welcoming sight—a congratulations for making it out safely, even if the others couldn’t—but this time, it felt like the opposite. There was a lump in Kurt’s chest, feeling like it was growing larger by the second.
William, Eli, and Patricia had always been stronger than him, but he still wasn’t supposed to be stupid. He should have been able to run fast enough to make it to Eli, shouldn’t have panicked and entered the password he dug up too early, and... he certainly shouldn’t have been the one to make it out in the end. He knew the others were all alive, safe besides some bruises—the hits from the guards’ umbrella rarely needed more than just being checked by Emily—but he also knew the others were disappointed. Even if they wouldn’t say anything, it had all been entirely Kurt’s fault.
Kurt quickly realized that there wasn’t anything he could say about it, either. He had caused enough problems for the team, after all. He had probably even caused problems for the guards, with them knowing that they had only won because of his mistakes. After all of that, he couldn’t bother the others with the way he felt about it.
“Good work, everyone!” Kurt smiled, and although he was faking it entirely, the others couldn’t tell the difference. He supposed that was one thing he had gotten good at.
Patricia just nodded. “Good job. You all played well.”
That should have made things better, but for some reason, it made it all feel worse.
William seemed to get more energized than ever by the defeat, adding on excitedly. “Yeah! Let’s give it our all next time, too!”
“Right. I’m sure we’ll do better next time,” Eli said, in a tone that sounded like it was meant to be encouraging. “We all have bad matches sometimes, right?”
Maybe that was true, but... Kurt was fully aware that he was the only one in the group who had been on a losing streak like that.
The common thread was him.
“Right, we do,” Kurt said, trying to sound optimistic. “I think I’m going back to my room now!”
That was the easiest way he could think of to get out of there—he couldn’t even come up with the words for a proper goodbye, just waving as he started heading back towards his room.
Although he wasn’t sure why, William felt compelled to follow him. Something just... felt a bit off about the way he was talking.
“Yeah, I think I’m gonna head back to my room, too!” William said. “Good job, you guys!”
Before the others even got a chance to pretend, he was already walking back in the directions of their rooms—thankfully, his was right next to Kurt’s, so he didn’t have to let anyone know he was worried.
It was just important that everyone was having fun, after all, right?
William went to open the door, but hesitated. He should probably knock, right?
He knocked a couple of times, but even after he waited for a moment, he didn’t get a response. Maybe that was his fault, though... he did have a tendency to get a little aggressive when he knocked, and the last thing Kurt probably needed was him thinking he was coming in to yell at him.
He tried again, softer this time.
Kurt wanted nothing more than for whoever was outside to go away. The second knock solidified that it wasn’t happening.
It took him a minute to decide if he should get up and open the door, and within that time, he heard a third knock—but this time, it came with a voice.
“Hey, mind if I come in? Just to, uh... hang out?”
Ah, the worst possible outcome. William was the person who had been getting chased when he had panicked and used his password, and... that ended about as poorly as it could have. He couldn’t even go back to save him.
He wanted nothing more than to hide in his pillow and never speak to anyone again, much less him—but not only was William probably angrier at him than he had seemed, he wasn’t the type to give up, either. He would probably open the door himself if Kurt didn’t, which meant that he couldn’t avoid it forever.
Kurt hesitantly walked up to the door, pulling it open slowly. He couldn’t even make eye contact with William—it was easier to be amicable around a crowd, but when it was just them, he couldn’t help but feel his nerves take over.
“...sorry,” he said quietly.
“Don’t worry about it. Uh, hey, I actually wanted to talk to you about something. Mind if I actually come in?”
Kurt was confused for a moment before he remembered that they were still standing in his doorway. “Right! Right, of course. You can... you can sit down on my bed, if you want.”
Kurt stepped back, letting William pass through and close the door behind him. He sat down on the bed first, with William sitting less than a foot away—a bit too close for comfort, especially in this situation.
The worst part about it was that Kurt liked him. He really did—he wanted to spend more time with him every time he talked to him, discussing books and sharing stories together... he had hardly ever had friends, but even though he had made plenty at the manor, none of them ever made him feel like he was in love.
Still, at times like this, he couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. He wanted to prove himself so badly, but all he had done was get someone he cared about hurt and make it clearer than ever that he was still useless.
“Hey, Kurt, are you... uh, you doing okay?” William looked away from him, laughing nervously. “Sorry. I’m not used to dealing with this sort of thing, you know? But it looked like you... y’know.”
It looked like he needed it. There wasn’t really a way to say that without sounding like he was being cheesy about it.
Kurt nodded, taking a breath and trying to talk his way out of it. “Don’t worry about it. I’m doing quite well, really, I just wanted to rest. All of that... all of the decoding gets tiring after a while.”
“Yeah, guess it does.” William smiled at him. “I wish I could watch you decode more often, you know? You’re always trying new stuff. It’s pretty cool.”
“It is, isn’t it? They’re always so interesting. I wish I just... took my time with them more often, really!”
Kurt was beating himself up for his mistake again. He hoped it wasn’t too obvious—it was much easier to wallow by himself.
William paused before he spoke. It looked like he was thinking, which Kurt hoped was a good sign.
“Hey, you know... it didn’t actually hurt that bad. Getting hit today, I mean.”
...it was not a good sign.
“No, no, it’s not... I didn’t—I didn’t mean it like that. I mean in general, you know? I always want to take time to discover everything!” Kurt was scrambling for excuses to avoid sounding like he was pitying himself—even though if he wasn’t so worried about wasting William’s time, he would have asked to just be comforted by now.
“Yeah, I know. I’m just saying, it was just a little bruise, and... it’s gonna heal, and stuff.”
Kurt’s expression immediately shifted to worry. “He gave you a bruise?”
“Well, yeah, he knocked me down. But it’s really not a big deal, you know?”
Kurt had no idea what to say. Realistically, it was only a small injury, not even something worth worrying about.
But the simplified version of events was that William was hurt because of him. Patricia was, too, and Eli was sent back to the manor early. They had every reason to be disappointed in him, and he had every reason to be disappointed in himself.
He didn’t want to cry, but he could feel it. His chest felt heavy, and he wanted nothing more than to collapse.
“No, it’s... sorry.”
William noticed Kurt’s voice shaking a bit, his breathing a bit heavy. For someone who he had always seen being so joyous and animated, it almost hurt to see.
And then he noticed his watery eyes, clenched tightly shut, and it definitely hurt.
“C’mon, I... is something wrong?”
He had never seen Kurt like this.
Nobody had, actually—after he had dropped out of college, he had gotten better at hiding it. The treatment from his classmates, his body, his debt, the asylum, the desire to be anyone who wasn’t himself.
“It’s okay. I’ve just—I’ve been losing a lot of matches, and... and this time, it was completely my fault, and—and...” He tried to breathe, like he was just telling another story. “I don’t know why this isn’t like the other adventures. I’m starting to think that... my classmates were right.”
“Wait, what did your classmates say?” William was trying to understand, but the pieces didn’t fit—he didn’t even know that Kurt was in university, and he didn’t want to assume the worst, but it was starting to sound like it.
“...they all thought I was worthless.“
William didn’t know what to say. “...man.”
If he had only known... damn it, he would’ve done everything. Being forgotten was bad enough—he couldn’t even imagine what it would be like having active disdain come into it all.
“And I thought... I wanted to prove myself!” His voice broke a bit. “So I came here, and I thought I could. And then I just...” He started to sound quiet again. “...I kept messing up. I’m not as strong as everyone else, and... and when everyone gets stronger, I’m trying, but...”
His crying turned to full-on sobbing, and William was simultaneously certain he was underqualified for the situation and determined to help him. He took Kurt into his arms and hugged him, something he was certain he would be far too nervous to do under normal circumstances, but this was different. Kurt’s arms wrapped around him, too, clinging to him like it was the end of the world.
“I just... I still can’t—can’t dig fast enough. I’ve been trying to go faster, and—I, I only... only a couple seconds... I can’t even decode right, not when... when the machine keeps calibrating, it’s because I messed it up, but I...”
He was barely managing to get words out, and William decided he had to interrupt. “You’re always helpful, though. You’re just... you’ve got a great sense for danger, you know? You can basically always tell me where the hunter is! And those pages make things a whole lot easier, you know? I mean, those things save matches all the time!” He tried to smile even though the feeling of Kurt crying into his shoulder made him want to do anything but. “And you’re really brave. I know I’m the guy who tackles the dudes trying to kill us and all, but you’re always willing to get in there when you need to! You never even ask to be healed or anything. It’s... it’s really impressive.”
William wasn’t sure why he was starting to feel embarrassed. Maybe he had gone a little bit over the top, or maybe he was just overthinking because he had a crush on the guy, but... either way, it felt like a lot.
“...you think so?” Kurt asked, after a few seconds of silence.
“Yeah, of course! And I’ll bet I could keep going, too.”
“That’s... no, that’s okay! You don’t need to, I...” Kurt lifted his head up from William’s shoulder, wiping his eyes with his own sleeve. “...just needed to hear that, I think.”
“Sounded like it. Luckily, I’ve been wanting to tell you all of that for a while anyway!” William lightly patted his back, although his definition of ‘lightly’ might have been different than others’. “I think you’ve been doing a lot better lately, and you were already pretty great! Outside of matches, too.”
It took a moment for Kurt to process what William had just said, and it took another moment for William to fully realize what he said. He wasn’t about to backtrack, though—now probably wasn’t the time to get into his feelings, but Kurt deserved to be appreciated.
“I do try. It’s... fun to talk to everyone, isn’t it? To tell stories.” Kurt looked up at him, his face still red from crying. “You know about that, don’t you? With rugby, and all of that. I don’t know much about sports, but I think it’s wonderful.”
Maybe Kurt just thrived off of changing subjects. If he could just keep moving onto new things, the old things would stop hurting.
...and maybe William was just a little bit excited to talk about himself.
“It’s the best, right? I’m pretty proud of it!”
Seeing William excited like that made Kurt feel a little better. He hadn’t disappointed him too badly, clearly—and the fact that he came back at all was something that was foreign to Kurt. It was odd, really. He always thought he was close to experiencing everything by now.
“You came here to advertise it, didn’t you?” Kurt asked. “To the manor, I mean.”
“Yeah, more or less! I think it’s going pretty well.” William decided it was safe to compliment him one more time, just for the sake of it. “And I got to meet you and all of that, you know? It’s pretty great.”
“You think so?” Kurt looked surprised at that, but far from bothered. “I’m worried that you’re being too nice.”
His reaction would be kind of cute if it hadn’t been born out of insecurity. “Course I’m not. I mean, seriously, you’re amazing.”
Kurt couldn’t help but smile. “You are, too. You came in here to help me and everything.”
“Well, I couldn’t... just leave you alone, you know? You looked pretty upset.”
“Right, right. It was just surprising, I think. I thought you would be more upset that I... well, I got you hurt.” Kurt averted his eyes, pushing himself back from his arms. He still didn’t understand why William was being so nice to him.
“Well, I mean... it happens, you know? I’ll get Emily to check it out later if you’re worried, but everything’s fine.” It was true that it still hurt a bit—those detention hits packed quite a punch, after all—but he was sure he could sleep it off. “I’m not gonna get mad over some match. You’re too important to me.”
He only realized that there were further implications to his words after they had already been put out there, but rather than wanting to take them back, he almost wanted to say more.
“Oh.” Kurt’s face flushed red, and he wasn’t sure how to react. “That’s... that’s wonderful to hear, really! You’re important to me, too.”
At a time like this, he should say something more, shouldn’t he? Being praised like that was a bit more embarrassing than he had imagined it would be.
“Uh... good to know. Yeah.” William felt sort of embarrassed too, even though that was barely a fraction of his feelings. He hesitated for another moment before talking again. “Can... uh, you know. Do you mind if I hug you again?”
Maybe he considered himself more suave than he was. Still, even if he sounded as dumb as he felt, Kurt didn’t acknowledge it.
“That would be nice. I... I still feel a bit guilty,” he admitted.
“Hey, it’s okay.” William pulled him back in, and Kurt leaned his head back on his shoulder. “Maybe it’ll be better if you stay here for a while, yeah? People have told me I give good hugs.”
“Hm... they were right,” Kurt declared. After a moment of thought, he spoke again. “We should talk about something nice. I like talking to you.”
“Tell me a story, then,” William suggested. “You’re good at that.”
“Actually, I’d much rather hear your stories, if that’s all right with you. So I can tell everyone else someday, too!” Kurt put his arms back around him, letting them fall to his waist. “And then we’ll prove everyone wrong. You’re an unrecognized genius, and I’m a brave explorer.”
Hearing that was music to William’s ears.
“...anyone ever told you that you’re the best?”
It took him a moment to answer.
William squeezed him a bit tighter for a moment. “It’s okay. I’ll just keep saying it myself!”
Kurt fully relaxed into his embrace at that, and while his thoughts didn’t disappear, it sure was easier to forget about them like this.
“I think I love you,” Kurt said, his voice slightly softer than usual—but William heard him loud and clear.
William felt like he was burning up, his face turning red. He had always thought he would be the bolder one of the two, but maybe that wasn’t the case.
“Love you, too. Really.”
Kurt just smiled, feeling the world light up around him. Maybe being in love was always this exhilarating.
“That’s... that’s wonderful!” He may have been feeling a million things at once, but more than anything, he was thrilled. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to be with you. Hear more of your voice... you’re so fascinating when you talk, William.”
William felt like this was a bit of an ego boost, but he couldn’t complain. He felt almost as amazing as Kurt made him sound.
“Well... if you were serious about wanting to hear everything about rugby, I’d love to tell you.”
“Of course I was serious! I wouldn’t have offered to tell the world if I wasn’t.”
William chuckled. “Fair enough. Then... uh, consider this our official first date, baby!”
Kurt stayed curled up against his shoulder, gazing up at him. William wasn’t an experienced storyteller, but passion was clear in every word he spoke—the kind of love for a craft that Kurt could do little more than admire, and the kind that was partially the reason that he had fallen for him in the first place. In the same way, William seemed just as glad that he was telling his story to him specifically, adding in little details and nuances to rules and bits and pieces that Kurt had never heard before—despite how he had heard William tell it without those pieces in the past.
It seemed like Kurt was making William happy. Maybe today had been awful before, but... making a man like that smile was something to be proud of.
He relaxed against him, feeling the gentle vibrations of his chest and the spirited sound of his voice, taking comfort in the sensation of being loved.