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Inertial (II) by Zero

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Hey guys! Here we are again. This takes place directly after the previous part, so any new readers (welcome aboard!) might want to check out the first part to get what’s going on. And if they feel like going further back, this starts in Unstoppable and Unmovable, yet work more or less independently. Thanks for reading as always and feel free to comment!].

Kurt doesn’t wait a day more and the first thing he does after getting back from the orthopedist is tear off the splint from his arm. His hand breathes again. He does too. There’s the scar, of course. But he doesn’t mind. He flexes his fingers. He still has pain. The doctor said it was normal, so did his physiotherapist.

He rushes to pick up his guitar in his bedroom. His mind has shut down and he’s a force of nature, and an instinct akin to starvation takes over him. He doesn’t even message Patrick or his uncle to tell them he’s out of the medical consultation.

He starts working through his favorite riffs from their playlist for the presentation. He’s missed the strings against his fingertips, the weight of the instrument comes back to his hand like they’ve stitched back a part of him that’s been amputated. He goes through the solos.

He can’t wait to be back onstage.

He wants it all. He’s always wanted more than all. He hungers for infinity.

That’s how far he’s going. Then beyond that.

He swears to that.

He loses track of time until his uncle knocks on his ajar door and comes in. Kurt finishes playing the track and looks at him. His uncle doesn’t say a word. He only beams at him with a pride that’s overflowing in his eyes.

Kurt puts his guitar aside. He grins triumphantly at him "Hey...".

Before he can finish the sentence, his uncle lunges forward and catches him in his arms tightly. He staggers back with the force and quickly regains his balance. His heartbeat starts racing. His uncle is so kinetic and moving, he still doesn’t know how to react at first whenever he does physical displays with him.

After a second, Kurt also wraps his arms around the man, first gingerly, then with full strength as well.

His uncle runs a single hand up and down across his short, red hair while he embraces him. After a month he has a fuzz that must be an inch-long or so. He’s so relieved.

He hears Torres call him when he’s walking out of the school building. Kurt turns around to reciprocate, exhibiting both his hands in the air. The bassist greets him and grips his fretting hand without a cast or a splint rather forcefully "OW!".
"WHOA! SORRY! Are you okay?" Torres brings both his hands up his hair in alarm.
"Yeah, it just still hurts" Kurt flexes his wrist slowly, there are movement that still make him experience discomfort. He’s still figuring out which ones are "But I’m okay. And the most important thing is that I can play".
"You will be playing lead guitar then this weekend?".
"Of course, I am" he answers.
With two or three grams of painkillers on him, half an hour before, he can.
"So, I’ll finally get you off my back?" the Cuban-American teenager asks him jokingly.
Kurt sneers "Of course not. I’m still giving you s**t when we practice" he looks at him "And don’t forget the pins to keep your hair off your face".
"Ha, I have one right here" the bassist takes one out of his pocket. He secures his bangs on one hand and pulls them back "But maybe I should just buzz it off and be done with it".
"Don’t" the other teenager says flatly, wiping out his phone.
"Why not?" Torres shrugs as he finishes with his hair.

Kurt doesn’t listen to the question when he sees the notification on his screen. He forgets all of his surroundings when he reads it.

‘I’m on my way to David’s place. I already talked to him. Get there ASAP. It concerns you’.

"My dad" Kurt’s mind starts to whirl.

He reads the sender again. Dad. He’s not making a mistake. It’s been four weeks. A full-month. Not a single message or a phone call since then. He hasn’t heard from him. He thought he never would hear back from him again. He hasn’t tried to approach him even

Why now?

Then, before he can say any further, before he can hear Torres, his screen flares up a second time. That’s when he knows it’s not his imagination "My uncle is calling. I have to go".
"Go" Torres’ reassures him "I’ll tell Patrick what’s up, okay?".
Kurt thanks him and goes his way.
"HEY! Kurt!" the bassist yells at him as he walks away "Please, let us know everything is alright. Please, don’t forget to do it. Just send us an ‘okay’ or a thumbs up to know you’re fine".
He nods and picks up his uncle’s call. He moves farther away from the noise and starts moving to the bus stop at a hectic pace "Uncle".

His uncle refuses to let him get there on his own and asks him to get to the sports complex where he trains the state swimming team. From there, they both move towards his uncle’s apartment. Kurt is in the copilot seat, hearing his uncle’s voice asking him a hundred times the same questions while they get there with a lump on his throat.

Are you okay with this? With meeting your dad? Are you sure you’re comfortable? Do you feel safe? Would you rather wait somewhere else while I talk to my brother? Are you sure you’re fine?

No. He isn’t. He’s not.

But he doesn’t say any of that. Instead, Kurt puts on a display of stoicism and nonchalance. He knows he’s good at that. It’s a skill he’s perfectioned and mastered like scales and accords.

His dad is already there. He’s standing outside of his car, smoking a cigarette. Kurt hasn’t seen him smoke since he was a kid and his mom was still around. He makes nothing of it. His dad’s storm-blue eyes (like his) get to them when his uncle parks on the opposite sidewalk and they get down.

"David" his father puts the cigarette away "Kurt".
"What are you doing here?" Kurt doesn’t greet him. He’s past civility with him.
"I don’t have a restraining order, do I?".
"Yet" the teenager bites back.

When did things with his dad get like this anyway? He tries to look back and pinpoint the exact moment everything started being so... so... he gives up trying to find the words. He knows there was a change in both of them after it became just the two of them. But that can’t be it. It just can’t. Because it makes no sense. Perhaps it was a catalyst of... everything that happened after they started having one more chair than they needed at the table and boxes of clothing and jewelry neither of them could ever use and...

Maybe his mother had been a brake. Maybe she was a dam that held all this and they didn’t know what to do when all the current came flooding at them.

But that isn’t it. Kurt refuses to think about it in those terms. Because he knows it can’t just be that. It just can’t.

"You know, I kind of wore my hair similar to that back when I was starting college now that I think about it" his father tells him, resting his elbow on the arm of the chair "I started growing it out back then".
The comparison stirs him far more than it should "Yeah, I’m getting it cut again this weekend".
"I thought you preferred it long".

Kurt already feels that he doesn’t want to keep talking to him in that second.

In the living room, his father sits in the armchair across the sofa. He crosses his leg and just stares at him while his uncle locks the door. Kurt can feel him taking note of everything. As he’s sitting with his elbows resting over his knees, he can hear his dad demanding him to sit straight in his mind. He knows he’s seeing the faded bruise on the cheekbone that isn’t his and wondering about it.

His dad has a way of looking at him like he’s a piece of tissue or a drop of blood under a microscope, of reading the signals he isn’t even aware he’s making and drawing conclusions that’s cold, scientific, methodical and he’s never known how to guard himself from that.

He hates it.

"Any of you want something to eat or drink?" his uncle asks both of them as he takes off his coat "Ezra, if you want coffee, I only have almond milk and brown sugar, not sure if it’s to your liking. I’m making some, anyway. I’ll be here in a minute".
David Rosenfeld says the last part looking at his nephew, reminding him that he’s just a few steps away from them. Kurt still feels a heaviness on his chest when he sees him go through the corridor.
"Are you eating protein?" his dad asks him.
"Animal-protein?" his father’s questioning is accusatory "I’m asking because I know my brother is into veganism and I’m fully aware that he has zero parenting skills when it comes to stuff like this".
"Like you excel at that" Kurt huffs.
Ezra Rosenfeld looks at his son in the eye "You’ve turned out okay, haven’t you?".
"Well, all things considered!" he raises his voice back at the man.
"You’re being unfair".
"I’ve learned that from you".
Kurt perceives his father taking that remark poorly. But he doesn’t show it. His father doesn’t lose control of himself.
"Well, I don’t consider I did such an awful job as your parent".
"I guess you were okay when you weren’t beating the s**t out of me" the teenager adds in a tone that’s as descriptive and detached as a medical diagnosis. He’s learned that from him as well.
"I only resorted to physical violence with you when it was called for" his dad argues unemotional.
Only. When. It. Was. Called. For.
Kurt can’t hold it when he hears him and quickly, he’s on his feet, jumping out of the couch and yelling at him at top of his lungs, with everything coming down crashing on him "How was it called for when...?"
Wait. Nevermind.
"How in the world was THIS called for!?" in a hasty movement, Kurt rolls up his sleeve to put the scar of the surgery on display for him.

His dad flinches at the sight. It lasts for the blink of an eye, but Kurt sees it.

He can only think of the horrid pain forcing the tears out of his eyes and his flayed palm where he could see flesh and bones when they examined him and his bloodied hand on that night a month ago. F***. He felt so powerless, so frightened and so enraged and so hurt.

Then he sees his father fill his chest with a long, deep breath.

"I shouldn’t have done that to you".
Kurt listens closely to the words "You’re not apologizing".
"You’re not forgiving me".
There is a pause. Neither of them say anything else.
Kurt thinks his father is right. He thinks he isn’t.
Why is lump on his throat throbbing again?
"I didn’t intend to inflict anything permanent on your hand" his father continues.
"Wow, that was hard to tell" he rubs his eyelids, hard "Why are you even here, anyway?".
"Because of you. Why else, Kurt?" Ezra Rosenfeld says it matter-of-factly.
"Everything okay?" his uncle reappears with three steaming cups "I made you an infusion, Kurt" he hands him over a mug.
"Thanks" Kurt holds in his uninjured hand.
"I was explaining David about it on the phone, but I wanted to come and examine you myself before jumping into conclusions" his father tries the coffee his brother made.
"What are you talking about?".
The pathologist puts his coffee down "I want to check your hand. I saw something in the X-Ray and I need to be sure".
"You’re not putting a finger on me" Kurt glares at him.
"Alright then" Ezra Rosenfeld clasps his hands "How long have you had the cast and the splint off and what painkillers exactly are you taking?".
"I want to see the package of the medicines you’re taking. And I mean, all of them" his dad demands him.
His mouth runs dry.
Kurt feels his uncle’s startled eyes on him when he doesn’t answer.
"I know you took blank receipts with you from my desk when you left. And I also know you have some basic working knowledge of drugs, because I taught you" his father makes an enumeration of his certainties calmly "And I know you’re not only taking aspirins, because you need something stronger for the pain you have, because it probably wakes you up at night otherwise".
"KURT! What are you...? You’ve been self-medicating!?" his uncle takes a step towards him "That’s dangerous!".
"You don’t know anything. I’m not in pain. I mean, not that badly anymore" Kurt hears himself stammer.
"Make a fist" Ezra Rosenfeld orders his son.
"What do I do next? Hit you on the face?".
"That’s optional" his dad starts to get exasperated "Make. A. Fist".

Kurt clenches his other hand.

His fretting hand doesn’t follow.

He has not been able to fully close it since the surgery.

"You can’t" his dad lets out a heavy sigh "Will you let me examine you now?".

His dad is gentle. He actually studies his hand with care in the pantry. He’s deep in focus and Kurt is still fighting the instinct to draw back his arm when his father touches his palm. He presses his finger into the scar. Kurt winces and feels a pain that shoots up his arm to his elbow.

Then, his dad stretches his wrist straight. He recoils slightly as he moves it. His uncle stands by close and watches with his brow furrowed in concern. With a deep breath, his dad warns him to brace himself, he tells him that the next is going to hurt more. His father guides Kurt’s thumb down to his palm. Then, he pushes the rest of his fingers inwards to make the whole hand into a fist.

This time Kurt curses out loud and feels the tears stinging at the back of his eyes.

"Just as I imagined. Fox is an incompetent idiot and has no right to call himself an orthopaedical surgeon" his dad lets go of his hand.
"Dr. Fox is not an..." Kurt defends his surgeon.
"Kurt" Ezra Rosenfeld cuts his son short "The metal they put in your hand to hold your bones in place is pressing down nerve and tissue. It’s really hurting your hand. You need to get that removed and repositioned correctly and you need to get it done soon".
"They told me in rehabilitation that some pain was normal" the teenager massages his own neck.
"They lied to you. You shouldn’t be in this amount of pain at this point" his father runs a hand through his hair in frustration. Kurt has a sudden revelation of where he got that gesture from when he watches him "Fox’s an unethical bastard and so is the physiotherapist he works with! I should sue his ass and get him kicked out of the hospital".
"So, what do we do now?" his uncle Dave asks.
"You need a reintervention" his dad rubs his face with one hand "Listen. You don’t have believe me. I know my own professional limitations. I am not be an orthopedist but I was assistant in the Anatomy department. Which is why Dr. Toda is seeing you tomorrow in the Tannenbaum Clinic. She’s the best hand surgeon I know".
"I’ll take him, Ezra" his uncle volunteers right away.
"You know, if you were still living with me, I would have realized what was going on way sooner" his father finishes his coffee and gets up the table.
"F*** you" Kurt says it to his face.
"Kurt" his uncle calls him in a warning tone.
"I applaud you for sticking through the consequences of your actions, though" his dad’s belligerent, condescending tone cuts through him.

His uncle Dave doesn’t know how to get to him. He tiptoes and stumbles in hesitation. His dad sees through him like he’s made of glass. He always knows what to say to pin him down.

"Well, Thank God it can be treated! Right?" Ezra Rosenfeld’s brother tries to dissipate the tension.
"F*** God" Kurt doesn’t join in.
"KURT" his uncle calls his name, again.
He gets up the table, his thoughts are in disarray "What do you mean I have to get surgery again? This is still all your fault!" Kurt looks at his dad in the eye.
"I know. I’m still waiting for the police to show up at my door" his father pulls his coat closer to his body "I’ve been wondering what’s taking them so long".
"You know I also have photos, and not just from a month ago" Kurt threatens him.

He’s not lying. He has months of documentation, photographic evidence of bruises and tears on his skin. He forced himself to stand in front of a mirror and save images for a year or so now. At the same time, he’s also felt the pressing urge to delete them all more than once.

He’s fought it.

It keeps coming back at times and he doesn’t know where from.

"Why don’t you quit it?" his father turns around to face him "We both know you’re not actually doing it".
"How do you know I won’t?".
"Because you’re my son, Kurt. I know you. I raised you" Ezra Rosenfeld makes a pause and then adds "Having said that, you know... if I was in your place, I’d have already filed a report".
Maybe that’s why he doesn’t do it.
"You know, at this point... I just want to know what in the world is wrong with you? What is wrong with me?" Kurt hears his own voice almost crack.
"I already told you what’s wrong with you. You got operated on by a jackass" the man places his hands inside his pocket "Don’t get off the splint for the time being. I’ll have you made a custom one tomorrow under Dr. Toda’s guidance" his dad looks at his watch "I should be going".

He knows his dad will never say he’s sorry. For this. Or for anything. He doesn’t expect him to. Not anymore. He doesn’t know if he will forgive him. Or if he can.

Kurt watches him leave. He goes to his bedroom and puts on his headphones and listens to music. It’s the only thing he does for the rest of the afternoon. It’s the only thing he wants to do. Even if he feels he would explode if he could.

His uncle knocks on his door a couple minutes later "Are you okay?".
This time, he tells him the truth "No".
His uncle sits in bed next to him and rubs his back, he half-hugs him "You’re going to make it through this. I know you will" he ruffles the fuzz on his head lovingly.
Kurt covers his mouth and his eyes with his hand. He breaks down then.

He lets himself do it.

His uncle doesn’t leave his side until he’s pulled himself back together.

"Guys. He screwed up. The surgeon who operated in my hand. I need to get a second surgery" he sends a voice message to his bandmates "I’m turning off my phone. I’ll get back at you tomorrow. I won’t be going to school. I have an appointment with an orthopedist in the morning. A second one".

He takes medicine for the pain. The regular dose. His uncle administers it to him before he goes to sleep. He overhears him asking his dad on the phone what the pills he’s been taking are. He sets them aside as he takes note of what he’s saying.

He stares at the ceiling, lying in bed. He puts the splint back. He doesn’t know if it really helps or if it’s contributed to delaying his recovery. But he needs to feel something holding his hand in place. He puts his arms behind his head and caresses the soft ends of his overgrown, buzzed, hair.

And he’s not okay. But he will be.

Kurt doesn’t lie awake that night.

They have the presentation in three days.

They schedule his surgery for next Monday. The day right after the event, he’s having his fretting hand cut open again in an operating room.

"I’m against you playing this Sunday" he meets with Patrick and the others in the former’s house the next afternoon.
"Torres can cover you and he should" their lead vocalist stands with crossed arms in front of him.
"I know that he can" he says it truthfully "I trust he’s able to do it".
Unseen, the bassist shoots him a look with a mixture of surprise and gratitude at his words. It is the first time he acknowledges him that way and the way he’s doing it (calmly, heartfully) is so unlike him.
"Then that’s settled" Patrick gets impatient.
"Patrick, I need to do it. I don’t know how much longer will it take for me to fully recover or if anything else goes wrong this time... so I want to play while I still can" Kurt digs his fingers inside his hair.
"The question isn’t if you can, it’s if you should".
"Bro, cut him some slack, will you?" Hedrick touches their lead singer’s shoulders "We’ve been practicing with Kurt again since last week and he’s been doing fine!".
"You’re both missing the point!" the singer uncrosses his arm to gesture in indignation.
"Pat, we get what you’re saying, and we also get what Kurt is saying as well" Torres intervenes "You said Millenium Records is one of the sponsors, they might be a chance they have an agent there or something. I’m not that good in the guitar and you’re not particularly outstanding playing bass. No offense. It makes sense for all of us to be in our best positions, dude".
"This is not worth risking and I will say that for the wellbeing of any of you as much I say it in this case" Patrick opens a bottle of water.
"Patrick, I am aware of the risks. I’m taking them" Kurt tells him.
His best friend doesn’t reply right away, he takes a long chug of his bottle "Fine, it’s your decision" Patrick throws his hand up the air "But after the show, you promise me you’ll actually rest as long as you have to".
"Sure" Kurt nods.
Patrick leaves to get his laptop’s charger and Hedrick sneaks into the kitchen for a snack while he’s away. Kurt and Torres stay behind waiting for the two of them.
"Hey, Rosenfeld" the Hispanic teen puts his hair up, Kurt can see he’s trimmed his undercut and the stubble around his hairline looks clean, streamlined "Tomorrow after we rehearse in the morning, can we practice the solos at your place or mine?".
He agrees.

That night, Kurt tries to play with the splint on. It restricts the movement of his wrist and his fingers are free, but it presses down on his knuckles at places. He weights the option of taking it off just when he’s onstage and keeping it on while they rehearse. He thinks he can figure a way around it, but he needs more practice.

It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t have much time. As long as he can move his hand, as long as he’s still able to stay in motion he’ll do it.

On Saturday, he goes to Torres’ house after they rehearse together while their drummer and lead singer head for A to Z Rock to check out the attendance and the bands playing that afternoon. It will be their turn the next day. They tell Patrick and Hedrick they’ll catch up with them later.

They don’t. They stay until nightfall in the Cuban-American’s garage, going over the whole playlist. Kurt demonstrates the bassist a couple songs he’s still polishing. They do some of the tracks playing their own instruments of choosing. He realizes that he’s tried to make Torres follow his lead whenever they made music and he had misunderstood it. His bass is not supposed to just accompany his guitar. Its sound is meant to play counterpoint, to challenge him. They have to push and pull as equal forces, that’s how they keep the energy alive.

He listens to Torres play the tracks of a couple of the Muse songs. He has the sound of the counterpoint the bass provides at the back of his head, at the top of his fingertips and that gives him a different understanding, a distinct dominion of the piece that Kurt admires.

"You have it" Kurt tells him after he finishes playing the last notes of one of his favorite songs.
"Really!?" the Hispanic teenager has a gigantic grin on his face.
"Yeah, really" he laughs.
"Guille!" the bassist’s little sister knocks on the door "Mamá, papá y yo nos vamos al cine. You guys stay?".
"Eh, sí, sí, nos quedamos" Torres answers her back and tells her they’re staying.
Kurt listens to the siblings quietly. He loves how Torres’ voice seems to have a whole different tonality in Spanish, it makes him slightly envious in all honesty.
"Adiós, buenmozo!" Torres’ baby sister blows him a kiss.
"Adriana!" the bassist flusters at her gesture.
"Sí, sí, sé que es tu aminovio. Geez, Guille. I’ll give you privacy".
Kurt chuckles and gives her his best pronunciation of goodbye in Spanish "Adiós!".
"I’m so sorry, my sister is a pest" the Hispanic teenager shuts the door and goes back "I’ve told her to stop bothering you".
"I think it’s cute how she always calls me a ‘good guy’ whenever she sees me" the guitar player smiles at him.
"She’s..." Torres makes a pause to figure how to put it "She’s not calling you a good guy".
"I thought that ‘buenmozo’ was a good guy?" Kurt puts his chin on his hand, then he recalls the other things he’s heard heard say "She sometimes says that ‘estoy bueno’ or ‘buenísimo’ when she opens the door. Well, there was one time when she called me something different... something that sounded like ‘watch out’... ‘cuidado’?".
His Spanish is rusty to say the least. Scratch that. He doubts he’s even at beginner level but still he knows that: ‘Bueno’ means ‘good’ and ‘malo’ is ‘bad’, so...
"Sounds like ‘cuidado?’... don’t tell me she called you ‘cuñado’. Please".
"Yes! That’s the word she used!" Kurt snaps his fingers.
Torres mutters a Spanish that seems beyond his level and sounds obscene when he hears him and he buries his face "My sister’s been calling you ‘handsome’ and ‘hot’ to my back. Hasn’t she?".
What follows is a brief explanation of Torres on the nuances of the verb ‘to be’ in Spanish and how it can have two different meanings.
"So ‘cuñado’ means handsome or hot too?".
"Yeah, that’s a way of putting it" Torres answers, with a vague gesture of his hand.
A couple seconds go by without any of them saying anything else when the bassist asks him.
"So, how did it go with your dad? You sounded... upset that day when you told us you needed to have surgery again".
"It... it was..." Kurt leans against the wall "I don’t know, it had been a month since I last saw him... I just didn’t expect to meet him".
"Well, I wouldn’t blame you if you hated him".
"I don’t think I hate him" he replies "I know it doesn’t make sense".

He can’t hate his dad (or who he was) when he was the one who introduced him to music. He can’t bring himself to hate him when he signed him up for guitar lessons when he was still learning to read. Or when he would be his accomplice and they would make a show for his mom on her birthday with him playing a melody and his dad singing a love song for her.

What happened to that? Why can’t he stop missing that?

"No. I understand" the bassist gives him a gentle nod.

Maybe that was he always went back to music. It made sense to him. It always had when everything else didn’t. Torres doesn’t say more. He doesn’t either. He touches the back of his fuzz-covered head, massages it and feels the length between his fingers.

"Does your offer for a haircut still stands?" he asks the bassist.
"Sure!" he feels Torres mess his hair with his hand when he walks past him "Feel like doing an encore of the zero buzz?"
"F*** no!" he jumps defensive and laughs.

Quickly, Torres is back with his very own hair clippers, edger, scissors, comb and razor. Kurt is surprised he actually seems to have level of skill beyond what he imagined first when he sits on a stool and waits.

"You might want to take your shirt off" the Hispanic teenager suggests him.
"I’m not stripping down for you" Kurt answers back without thinking.
"Whoa, I didn’t say you had to!" Torres puts his hands up like he’s been accused.
The redhead feels himself flushing and he hides his face on his healthy hand.
"So, do you want to keep the length or top and just clean up around the sides and the back, I guess?".
"Actually, just buzz it" Kurt decides.
He expects Torres to freak out, but he doesn’t "Okay, number?".

Buzz cut. Number. Right. He has not thought it this far. He knows the highest numbers leave it the longest. He recalls it’s very similar to the numerical measures of speed in music but... What number is his hair right now? Is it at any number at all at this point?

He’s at the verge of saying something stupid and he’s been so long without a clipper cut at all that at he’d choose a number like it was a guessing game at best.

Torres notices he’s clueless and takes the initiative and places a guard on the machine "Okay, I’m giving you a two and tapering it with a one".

In a blink of an eye, Torres turns on the clippers and is kneeling to make the first pass on his side. Kurt immediately has second thoughts when he sees him this close.

"Wait!" he physically gets away from him.
"Afraid of a haircut?" the bassist turns off the machine "Really, Rosenfeld?".
"Afraid of you with that on your hand" Kurt feels his hear racing.
"Hair clippers, Kurt. Kurt, hair clippers" Torres does a mock-introduction "Now that we all know each other, do you want me to cut your hair or not?".
"Please, come on" Kurt rolls his eyes.
"In all seriousness, though. Just to be sure, do you think you’d still want to buzz your hair if you had it long right now?".
He has not thought of that.
He had not thought of getting it cut short either, much less shaving it all off himself.
"I think so, I mean, I still have this splint...".
"And if you didn’t have the splint?" Torres stares into his eyes, putting his hands over his shoulders "Would you still get it buzzed?".
"Yes" he hears in his voice that he isn’t lying.
"Really sure?".
"Torres. Just buzz it before I change my mind" Kurt laughs "I’m trusting you in this one".

Torres flicks the switch with the remnants of laughter clinging to his features. The clippers hum to life for the second time, they resurrect in his hand. He carefully angles them parallel to his cheekbone, drives the machine through fuzz on his sideburn, up to the edge of his temples.

Most of the hair he owns departs from his head. With his heart in his throat and his heartbeat racing, Kurt feels the right side of his head becoming a lot lighter and cooler, noticeably so and sees the copper locks amounting on the garage floor. Did his hair really grow that much in a month?

He admits he has second thoughts again as he watches those tufts coming off. He may have not had them the night he buzzed off his full shoulder length mane. He grabs one of those clumps in his hand. He feels the weightlessness, the softness of it. It’s strange to think it’s his. He lets it fall freely.

This is still so strange. The buzz of the clippers is like the harsh consonants of Spanish language and sounds foreign and unfamiliar, but not unpleasant. It has its own tonalities.

He still dreams he has long hair every odd night or so.

"So, are you sure you don’t want to shave your head again?" Torres jokes.
"No. I think... I shaved my head because I was just so done with everything" Kurt hears the sound of his own breathing.

The clippers vibrate and buzz fiercely. Guillermo Torres is so close to him. Kurt gets tones of his cologne grazing his skin. He can listen to his breathing. He’s only had him this close when they shared earbuds while studying a song and breaking it down together. Even then, that physical contact had been instrumental, a temporary approach between them for a common end. Invasive even.

Being alone with him in his garage and having him cut his hair seems different. Is different.

The bassist asks him to lean forward. He buzzes around his nape and the back of his head. Kurt feels him brushing the hair that comes off with his hand once in a while. He doesn’t remember long hair being this... tactile. The bristles are sharp and translucent. They stand erect, rigid in a soft velvet. Torres fingertips go through them and his touch is warm, invites him to lean into his hand.

He flinches despite himself when he feels the clippers going through the top of his head. He recalls his father’s fingers combing his bangs back. Not just that night. On the days after his mother’s funeral. When he had fever. After he picked him up from music class. His mother did it the same way at times. Only at times. Because she would usually kiss his forehead or his crown or his cheek instead... he realizes at that moment.

He was wrong. It wasn’t an imitation of his mother’s gestures of affection because she wasn’t the one to do that. It was him. It had always been his father’s thing to do.

Looking back, he knows he could have just snuck out of the house anyway and try to get back as soon as they were done or just have the police find him or whatever and deal with that in a different way. But he didn’t. So, this is the way he’s going to have to deal with it now.

Torres turns off the clippers and changes the guard when he’s done on top. Kurt runs his hand across the bristles. His hair is definitely a fraction of an inch right now. It was like this two or three weeks ago. He liked this length, he decided. It isn’t rough and sandpaper.

"Don’t move" Torres changes the guard and goes all over his hairline. His part-time job at the barbershop shows through in his agile, certain movements. He secures his head in position gently as he goes across the angles of his neck.

His neck and nape feel so sensitive when he touches them, it’s insane.

After he’s finished blending, Kurt sees the bassist get the edger "Remain as still as you can right now. Because this is very dangerous and you can actually end up shaved if I slip".
"I’ve already done it once, it’s not that bad" he shrugs.
"I disagree" Torres turns on the edger, overly serious.

He smiles in amusement. He doesn’t move and lets the Hispanic teenager work. He presses the cool, whirring blades of the edger against his sideburns first in a perpendicular angle to his skin. Their pitch is higher and louder than the clippers. They peel away all the stray hairs as Torres slides them in downward movements.

"It tickles" Kurt remarks when he’s going around the arches of his ears, polishing them.
"DON’T MOVE!" comes the panicked, stern, dramatic warning of the bassist.
"Okay, okay".

He feels Torres doing a slight V shape on the back of his neck when he shaves around his hairline. He can’t remember the last time he had any kind of barbering work around his neckline and he’s slightly thrilled and curious about how it looks.

Then, finally, Torres gets shaving gel directly on his skin underneath his sideburns and over his neck and picks up a straight razor. Kurt learns to predict the pattern of his movement and angles his head to let his right side open for him to finish cleaning him.

"You’re not telling me not to move with the razor? The one thing that’s actually dangerous of all the things you’re using?" he questions him when he feels the steel on his skin.
"Nah, if I slit your neck and you bleed to death it will be your fault" Torres says innocently "I’m okay with that"
Kurt flips him off and hears him laughing.

The Hispanic teenager rubs a towel against his neck and behind his ears. It’s warm and soft and Kurt can feel the fabric almost through the fine taper on the lower half of his head.

He raises his hand and explores the texture of his sides, he feels the slight, progressive difference in length of his hair. He likes it. He likes the sharpness underneath his fingertips, the slight prickle as he moves down.

Kurt thinks Torres is done when he sees him applying talc powder inside the palm of his hands "I’m giving you the full barbershop experience" the Cuban-American explains to him and when he makes eye contact, a handful comes out with a white cloud and starts coughing "S**t".

The redhead rolls his eyes. Torres makes nothing of the incident and rubs his hands together and gets back behind him. Kurt feels his powdered hands come to the back of his neck in a massage. He makes circles and oscillations up and down his hairline. Torres’ fingers slide and dance around his neck, sliding into the creek of his jaw, tracing the arches of his ears. He closes his eyes and enjoys the sensation.

Torres sneezes and shakes the powder out of his hand. He goes back to the table where he’s set down all his tools and gets him a mirror while he keeps one "Here, take a look".

Kurt holds in in front of him. At first it strikes him how much shorter his hair is. He studies the slight taper on the sides of his head. His sideburn is mid-ear, outlined and sharpened. In synchrony, Torres shows him the back. Then, he sees the white prints of his talc powder covered hands contrasting against his navy-blue t-shirt. He also catches the strands of copper trapped between the fabric.

"Well?" his impromptu barber asks him, eager.

Guillermo Torres puts the mirror down and comes back in front of him. He beams at him. Upfront. Kurt feels the pull of his eyes like an undertow. Beyond himself, without saying a word, Kurt places the mirror on the floor as well and frees his hand to slide his fingertips across the other teenager’s cheekbones and over the arch of his ear.

Torres mirrors his movement and he sees the millimetric sprinkles of copper showering his hand. He can feel them all over his neck, forehead, like raindrops on his skin. He reaches the back of his head with his hand, cups his nape inside of it.

Their lips touch. It’s just a peck, a nibble.

Yet, it’s everything.

Later that night, Kurt goes back to his uncle’s apartment in a daze. He runs into him in the kitchen as he grabs a glass of water to take the medicine for the pain before sleeping.
"You went to the barber today, huh?" he hears his uncle’s voice.
"No, Torres cut it" Kurt slides his hair up and down the bristles with a soft smile he doesn’t notice he has on his face.
He quietly thinks he wouldn’t mind having the bassist cut his hair again another time.
"Oh" his uncle wasn’t expecting that answer, the man stays quiet for a second, taking it in. Kurt pops the aspirins inside his mouth and brings the glass up to his lips "Well. You two look like you make a good couple".
Kurt chokes. He spills half the water on his mouth, down on the kitchen floor and enters a coughing fit when he hears the words.
"Kurt! Are you okay!? Are you breathing!? Should I call an ambulance!? Did you swallow the aspirins or are they trapped in your..." his uncle seems to sprint down on him and slaps his back as he hold him "Oh, and I’m so sorry to meddle! I shouldn’t have said anything! I know you’re not asking for my opinion... but I just thought you two...".
He turns a shade of red that makes even the bristles of his own hair seem pale "Uncle, please, stop".

Their name comes up next. Kurt feels like he’s doing a presentation for the very first time as he sets loose the splint around his fretting hand.

There are syndromes and injuries related to playing instruments like guitar and violin that appear with age. After the trauma, there’s a high chance that he’ll develop them earlier. Dr. Toda told him so after he voiced him all his concerns related to the surgery. He secures the guitar around his torso.

But while he can still play, he’s going to make the most out of it.

"You promise you tag me in and I’ll take over for you. It doesn’t matter if we’re in the middle of the performance, please do it" Torres begs him.
"Sure, whatever it takes to keep you from nagging me" he massages the other’s shoulder and they walk together onstage.

The crowd receives them with thunder. Kurt can feel the weight of all the eyes. He loves the adrenaline it gives him. As Patrick introduces them and cheers the crowd up, he scans around the medium sized complex they’re playing in. He knows an agent of Millenium Records is a girl with sapphire blue hair, he saw her earlier... he wonders if he can find her again.

He sees his uncle waving at him from the fifth line or so, smiling at him and pointing at him with his finger to the group of friends beside him with over enthusiasm, jumping up and down. Kurt feels a grin come across his features at the sight.

Then his eyes fall on the first row of seats.

He recognizes his father’s colleagues and beside them...

His dad.

His dad is here.

Ezra Rosenfeld recognizes his son at the same time. Even despite the distance between them, Kurt knows he’s looking straight into his eyes, piercing him with them.

He holds his guitar closer. Well, so be it.

He’s giving him a show tonight.

He plays like he’s possessed. He doesn’t drink water. He has two aspirins on him and all the fire that had kept him alive when nothing else has. He doesn’t let the discomfort stop him. His fretting hand gets tired from all the weeks of intermittent playing. He doesn’t let the weight pull it down and he keeps performing. He lets the sound travel through his very veins. He feels at home when it does.

He notices Torres’ gaze on him at the end of every song. He’s on guard. He’s asking him to tag him in at times. He ignores it. He goes through the whole repertoire almost without catching his breath except for when Patrick interacts with the crowd. He throws occasional glances his father’s way. He always finds him looking at him. Directly at him. Not at the stage in general, but his way as well.

They choose a Muse song to finish. One that lets his hand rest and breathe. It’s one of his favorites so he doesn’t mind. It has a solo that only puts some demand on his wrist but not an unbearable amount.

"They’re telling us we’re almost getting to the time of the break, so... be sure to grab something to eat and drink and get back here because we still have some rock for tonight!" Patrick speaks to the crowd, covered in sweat.
"ONE MORE! ONE MORE! ONE MORE!" they roar.
Their lead singer hesitates, seems to be going through his mind for a song to close that won’t put a strain in his hand by any of the bands they’re playing. They need something that also sounds powerful.
"Let’s do Blackened" Kurt tells him.
"Kurt, are you sure?" Patrick whispers to him "That song is too demanding for your hand right now".
"More than sure. My dad is watching".

Kurt and Torres make eye contact. He starts playing the first notes. A few seconds in, Torres joins in with his bass. It’s all quiet except for their instruments. Like they’re having a conversation that no one can hear beside the two of them, when the world fading around them. Then, Hedrick attacks with his drums.

Kurt gets into the main riff in synchrony with Torres. Hedrick enters again. It’s a beat that comes down like a heavy rain or a frantic heartbeat through the first minute. His hand stings at some points, when he moves his wrist. If he can keep up all the variations and changes at the speed the song asks for, he’s going to make it through it.

Patrick sings the first lines. He listens to Hedrick’s drums holding the tempo. He can do this. He knows he can. He changes again.

They hit the two minute and a half mark and his guitar comes forward to lead while Patrick rests for half a minute or so. The accords are repetitions and don’t put much strain in his hand. But they’re in the middle of the song and he needs stamina to stay on top of them. He needs to stay focused.

"See our mother / Put to death / See our mother die" his best friend finishes the third verse and that’s his cue.

He enters the guitar solo feeling the sweat down his neck and back.

The crowd gives a roar that seems to make the stage beneath him shake when he does.

His hands are cold. Everything disappears in the world except for the sounds. Every other part of his body that isn’t his hand and his ears seem irrelevant as the information that’s coming from them. He flinches when he slides his hand up and down the bridge of his guitar.

Come on. He can do this.

He won’t miss any note. He won’t lose his momentum. He’s a force that can’t be contained by a broken hand or a botched surgery. He knows he isn’t letting that stop him. He listens to Torres bass giving him something to hold on to. Strength to draw from.

He falls back onto the main riff and Patrick returns for the final lines. He’s gone through the most demanding part and he can catch his breath and his aching hand.

He understands why Torres was surprised that this was one of his favorite songs. It’s rhythmically complex more and the riffs are bass ones. It’s not the ambitious, melodical pieces he tends to favor. This track challenges him to be someone different.

He’s always craved and loved challenges. He liked his former guitar coach, Cy, because he knew how to challenge him. He thinks that maybe he had learnt to challenge himself after all this time. It’s how he gets reminded that he’s alive after all.

They finish the song. They leave the stage underneath a rainfall of applause and cheers. Kurt sees his father on his feet and looking at him disappear. He knows he won’t stay. And he’s okay with that.

Besides there’s a more pressing matter: "My hand’s on fire".
"BRO! YOU ARE ON FIRE!" Hedrick slaps his back roughly "THAT WAS INCREDIBLE!".
"No, I mean, my hand burns" Kurt clarifies.
"Oh" the drummer realizes the gravity of the situation "Oh s**t! S**t, s**t, s**t, s**t! I’m getting ice!" Hedrick runs off.
"HEDRICK! WAIT!" Patrick screams at him "Kurt Rosenfeld, we better not hold a funeral for your hand tomorrow because of this!".
"I’m going to be fine, my muscles are sore, that’s it" Kurt finally opens his bottle of water and drinks from it.
"I’ll ask where the medicine’s cabinet is" the lead singer insists.
Kurt sighs "I have some stuff for this in my backpack... just get a lotion there to cool it off and my splint".
He sees Torres nod in understanding and go to get his backpack.
"I’m. Getting. A. Doctor" Patrick stabs him in the chest with his finger and goes off.

He waits sitting on a stool. Torres is the first back. He gets the lotion out and kneels. Kurt asks him to pass it to him. The bassist gets occupied doing it and squeezes the gel on top of his hand. He winces when he makes circular motions and presses slightly over his wrist. The other teen goes slowly around the scar that divides his hand in two, like he’s afraid of hurting him.

Kurt insists that he can get the splint fit on his fretting hand by himself. Torres again, doesn’t listen to him and takes his extended arm into his hand. At this point he’s given up and he just watches him place the straps in place.

"Thanks" he tells Torres, staring into his dark eyes.
The bassist smiles at him and touches the ends of his fingers of his injured hand with his "Anytime".
"Hey, good show, boys".
They let go of each other’s hand right away at the sound of the next band coming.
Then, Kurt recognizes the voice of his former guitar coach. He looks over his shoulder and sees him standing there. He catches the sight of his blond, thick ponytail down to the middle of his back "Cy?".
It’s been almost two years since he last saw him.
"Kurt?" he looks up and down at him, Kurt stands on his feet to let him get a better look, then his former guitar instructor runs to catch him in his arms "You cut your hair!".
The teenager feels him rush his fingertips across the bristlers on top of his head in disbelief multiple times "Yeah".
"It’s so short!" Cyrus has his eyes and mouth wide open "How could you abandon our long-hair brotherhood like that? This betrayal is unjustified!" he crosses his arms dramatically and fakes a deep frown of disapproval before breaking into laughter.
Kurt chuckles "I needed a haircut".
"Hey! I gotta get onstage right now! How would you feel about joining me tonight in my flat to catch up?" he finds his voice no longer tempts him.
"No, thanks" he smiles at him.

Two years ago, he would have said yes. He would have given up everything to do so. Two years ago, when Cy was making him play Wonderwall, he would have done anything for him.

Back then, he had thought that his guitar teacher was going to be the one that saved him. He understood it now. But he doesn’t want him to now. He’s outgrown him and his need for being saved by him. He’s stopped waiting for that.

He’s always been far too impatient anyway. He’s moved on.

"Coming!" Cyrus rolls his eyes and stands there smiling at him a second longer "You know, you look...".
"I know, like a recruit or like I was sent to reform school or something like that, I’ve heard it already" he brings a hand up to his nape.
"Happy" his former coach finishes his sentence and puts his hand over his shoulder "Besides, long-haired musicians are kind of overdone, too cliché, aren’t them?" he adds pulling his ponytail up his shoulder cheekily and then gives him a heartfelt smile "I’m proud of you" then he moves into the lights.
"Thanks" he holds his gaze.
"Hey!" Cyrus walks backwards, keeping his eyes on him, he points at him with both hands "That was the best performances of Blackened I’ve ever heard! And I’ve seen Metallica live! Including those! I’m bragging the hell out of you, just so you know!".
Kurt laughs in response "I wouldn’t have it any other way!".
"So, that’s Cy? The one you were head over heels for?" Torres crosses his arms and looks his way, standing next to him.
"He’s not even that attractive, come on. Total cliché of student-falls-for-teacher, most disappointing from someone like you" he sentences him.
"Well, look who’s talking" Kurt tells him a hint of cockiness "And I am older than you as well. A full five months".
"Hedrick says the hundredth time is when you stop being an asshole" the bassist snorts "I’ve lost count, but I’m still waiting for that to happen".
"Feel privileged I stopped being an asshole to you sooner than that!" he lets out a laughter "And also, f*** Hedrick! Did he really say that!?" Kurt dives into Torres eyes.

Guillermo Torres holds the Caribbean sun in his smile. The entire Universe in his laughter. He starts and ignites and ends it when their mouths graze each other, unseen in the dark of the night.

He feels like music.

He wakes up from the surgery on Monday with his hand wrapped. Half-asleep from the anesthesia, he checks that he can still move his fingers. He closes his hand slowly.

The discomfort and the pain are there, but it’s faded and he can actually close it on his own.

Kurt breathes in relieved and falls back asleep.

He knows that everything is okay this time, he actually believes it for once.

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