The table was set for two when Burt came in. "It's just us?" he asked, surprised.
Carole nodded. "Just us. Kurt called. He's staying late at Dalton. Apparently, he and Blaine are singing a duet at Regionals. They need to practice."
"I heard that one." Kurt had called him at the garage as well, breathless with excitement. "What about Finn?"
"Finn's staying late with New Directions," Carole explained. "We're not supposed to say anything about it to anyone – which I think probably means Kurt – but apparently the song they were going to sing fell through. Something about the band and the rights."
"They need to find a new song?"
Carole raised an eyebrow and took a pot off the stove. "Actually, they're writing one."
"Writing one?" Burt was dubious about that, but what did he know about glee club or show choir or whatever this was? "Why are you looking so worried?"
"Who do you think will have the solo?"
"The male solo, Burt."
He got it. "Finn. Which means…." He sighed. "Am I a bad parent if I'm not disappointed if that Oral-
"Whatever team wins?"
"No," Carole said. She dumped the pasta into a bowl. "I'm not hoping for it, but I'll breathe a sigh of relief if they do. Especially since the winning team gets to go to Nationals."
Burt sighed. "That's it. Go, Aural Whatever."
Regionals was held in the same place as it was the year before. This year it didn't seem so overwhelming, and both Burt and Carole knew exactly where to go, what the "green room" was, and found themselves explaining the rules of song selection to the couple sitting next to them.
"Oh God," Carole moaned as the crowd started quieting down. "We're stage parents."
The Aural Intensity (thank God for the programs) group was up first, and Burt just knew that they weren't going to win it. He didn't care if there was a nun in the judges- that was just wasn't even close to what the Warblers or New Directions could do. But then, maybe he was biased.
Then again, maybe not. "Did they just make a Star of David?" Carole hissed. Burt nodded, and they exchanged glances. Yeah. Unless Kurt forgot the words or New Direction's secret song was that headband thing Finn had been singing under his breath, they both knew this was going to be an issue tonight.
Then the Warblers came out, and Burt didn't care any more. The song wasn't one he'd heard before – Kurt wasn't singing at home when Finn was around, and vice versa – but it was soft and sincere, and then… then Kurt. And that was his boy up there, singing his heart out.
Carole's hand closed around his.
The applause at the end felt like the ending of a spell. Burt got to his feet to clap, Carole right beside him. "He was amazing," she said in his ear. Blaine pulled Kurt into the spotlight, and the applause grew louder, and Burt couldn't resist leaning around Carole to tell the couple next to them, "That's my son." He thought he saw Kurt look his way, but then the group jumped into their next number, some catchy pop thing he'd heard on the radio and usually tuned out or changed the station. The audience sure loved it, but Burt was just sort of left with that aftermath of intense pride, like he'd felt when Kurt had kicked that winning point, or when he saw the kid's report card most semesters. The applause at the end was incredible.
The Warblers had this, and Burt couldn't help but be glad.
But then New Directions took the stage, and as soon as that Rachel started singing, Burt lost all certainty of a Warblers victory. If Finn hadn't told them that high school kids had written the songs for Regionals, he'd never have known it, and Rachel's voice… well, even Burt could hear how good it was. And the second song… and that's when Burt knew that Finn was definitely his son as well, because he had that same feeling of pride watching his stepson. No, maybe not as intense, but it was strong and it was true.
The audience response was just as enthusiastic for New Directions as it had been for the Warblers. Damned if Burt knew which way this was going to turn out.
During the intermission while the judges were conferring, they ducked out into the lobby to get sodas.
"I feel like we should go undercover," Carole said. "Find out what everybody else is saying. Prepare ourselves."
"Spies," Burt agreed with a crooked smile. But he didn't want to know. Every time he heard someone make a prediction about New Directions or the Warblers (and those seemed to be the two main predictions), his stomach did this weird thing that made it feel like he'd just gone over a pothole.
"Dad!" Kurt was pushing through the crowd towards them. "Dad!"
"Kurt!" Burt left the line and met Kurt halfway. He was about to reach out and hug him when he spotted a couple of the Warblers over Kurt's shoulder, including that Blaine kid. So he settled for a clap on the shoulder. "You did great," he said. Kurt looked back over his shoulder at the others and Burt cleared his throat and dialed down the enthusiasm. "You were all good, guys," he said.
"Thanks," Kurt said, and the kid was absolutely glowing. "I was really-"
And from the other direction, here came Finn, flushed and sweaty and a wide grin on his face.
"Burt! What did you- oh. Hey Kurt."
"Finn." Kurt's face lit up. "So this was the secret project?" he asked coyly, and he genuinely sounded pleased and teasing.
"Yeah. What did you think?" Finn asked.
"The dresses were truly horrendous," Kurt said ruefully, but then smiled wider. "But the songs were amazing. You guys were fantastic."
"Thanks," Finn said. "So were you. That solo- or duet, whatever… dude, you made Puck cry."
"Wait," Burt asked, "Puckerman cried?"
"Like a baby," Finn said, nodding.
"Wow." Kurt looked flustered by the praised, and Burt couldn't blame him. Sure, he'd been moved to near tears, but he was Kurt's father.
"We were going to-" Finn began, but the lights began to flicker. Both boys looked at each other in near terror.
"Already?" Kurt whispered. "It must have been…."
"Hey." Finn leaned forward and extended his hand. "Good luck."
Kurt took the offered hand and did Finn one better, pulling him into a quick, one armed hug. "You too," he said. They smiled at each other, and then both went back the ways they had come.
"Well, that's a good sign."
Burt hadn't even realized Carole was standing at his shoulder. "It is," he agreed. "They're going to be men about it." Carole huffed, and Burt rolled his eyes. "Fine. They're going to be decent about it. Is that better?"
"Much," Carole said, taking his arm. "Come on. Let's go find out how badly this night's going to go."
New Directions won. Burt couldn't say he was surprised, and frankly, the kids deserved it. And the Dalton boys took it with grace, which was a hell of a lot more than he could say for that Coach Sylvester. He was proud of both his boys.
He just wished they both could have won.
To Burt and Carole's mild surprise, it was Finn who came home first.
"Thought you'd be out later," Burt said.
"Yeah, well, some of the others had to get home, and we were done with the pizza anyway." Finn was still flushed with his success, eyes shining and all smiles. But he did look around. "Where's Kurt?"
"Still at Dalton," Carole answered. "He wanted to bury Pavarotti. I imagine you still want dinner?"
"Yeah, I could eat," Finn answered. Carole rolled her eyes good-naturedly, but hugged her son around the waist.
They stood in the kitchen for a while talking about the show, and to be honest, Burt was relieved that that damn bird had died and Kurt was out taking care of it. It gave him a chance to just revel in Finn's success.
Kurt came in after they'd all sat down to dinner. "I'm sorry I'm so late," he said, unwinding the scarf from his neck. He kissed Carole on the cheek and nodded to Burt, and then smiled at Finn. Smiled. In fact, Kurt seemed like he was in a pretty good mood.
Carole got up and got Kurt a plate while he was washing his hands, and when he came out, he immediately picked up his own glass.
"If I may?" he asked. "I'd like to propose a toast. To New Directions." He smiled at Finn. "You guys really deserved it."
"To New Directions," Carole and Burt echoed, and Finn flushed. Kurt smiled again and then sat down, putting his napkin in his lap and starting to eat.
"If you ever tell her this, I will kill you," Kurt began, "but I really did love the song Rachel sang. Did she really write it herself?"
Burt had been so proud of his son singing on that stage. But here at the dinner table, he found that he was even prouder still.
The light over the small deck in the back was on. Burt paused, put his glass and plate in the sink, shrugged on his coat, and stepped outside. He was in no way surprised to see Kurt leaning against the railing, looking up at the stars.
"It's kind of late," he said. "And cold. You all right?"
Kurt's smile was the thin one that meant he was putting on a brave face. "Yeah. Yeah, Dad, I'm fine."
"I gotta tell you, I've been really proud of you today." Burt said. "First with the singing, and then with how good you've been about Dalton getting second place. I know it's not easy for you."
Kurt sighed heavily. "It's not," he admitted. "But at least I don't feel like it was… they deserved it. I just wish it had been closer."
"Who says it wasn't?"
Kurt treated him to one of his flat are-you-really-this-stupid glares. "Dad. They decided in ten minutes."
"Yeah, but you didn't hear all the parents talking out in the lobby," Burt said. "I did. And believe me, all anyone knew was that Aural Intensity group wasn't going to win."
"I know. I just thought we really had a chance."
"I think you did."
Kurt snuffled. The wind ruffled the dead leaves still clinging to the trees, and Burt wrapped his coat tighter around him. He had a feeling Kurt still had more he wanted to say.
He was right. "I keep thinking," Kurt finally said. "I keep telling myself that maybe I'm not going to Nationals, but at least I got to sing a solo at Regionals. I keep trying to tell myself that I wouldn't have gotten that if I'd stayed in New Directions. And I keep trying to forget that Mr. Schuester was talking about giving me a solo for Sectionals."
"He was?" Burt hadn't known that.
"He mentioned it when I went in to tell them I was going to Dalton," Kurt said. "I don't even know what song."
"Huh." The silence stretched between them again. Finally, Burt asked the question that had been on his mind for a while. "Kurt? Are you happy at Dalton?"
Kurt snorted. Delicately, but it was still a snort. "I'm safe at Dalton."
"I know. But are you happy?"
"I'm not unhappy," Kurt said carefully. "Blaine's there." A soft smile touched his lips at that one. Burt wanted to ask, but decided this was most definitely not the time or place on that one. "I do like my classes, and the Warblers are… they're really good guys. And I'm safe."
It was the second time he'd said it. "But if you were safe at McKinley?"
"I'd go back in a heartbeat." Kurt turned to face him fully. "I appreciate everything you've done for me, Dad. I really do. And I know I should just stay at Dalton. It's a better school than McKinley is, and no one treats me different because I'm gay. Even if you took Karofsky out of the equation, that's not the case at McKinley. But… I'm not me at Dalton."
"What do you mean?" Burt tapped Kurt's shoulder. "The uniform?"
"A mere symptom," Kurt sighed. Burt could tell he was struggling to express himself. "I mean, yes, I don't like wearing the uniform. I don't like being told how to dress or toning it down. But I am starting to accept that… certain jobs have certain cultures, and perception matters."
"That's true," Burt said.
"But someday, maybe I'll decide that's worth it. That it's what I want. Not to hide what I am, but to fit in to a world that I want. But I didn't choose Dalton. If it wasn't for Karofsky, I would still be at McKinley."
"And you'd be going to Nationals," Burt realized. His anger at the thug of a kid who had threatened Kurt only deepened. That asshole had taken that from Kurt, too.
"Well, I did think of that." Kurt was oblivious to Burt's simmering rage. "But that's not it. Not really. Pretty much everyone likes me at Dalton. They're friendly. But aside from Blaine, they don't love me. Pretty much everyone at McKinley hates me, except New Directions. But even on the worst days, even when we're tearing each other apart, they love me. If my safety wasn't an issue, I'd trade being liked by the whole school for being loved by a few people any day of the week."
"So you want to go back to McKinley."
Screw it. Burt reached out and pulled his son into his arms. Kurt buried his face in his shoulder, and for a long moment, they just stood there. Burt wished he could take all the disappointment and hurt Kurt was feeling and bring it on himself, so Kurt didn't have to bear it like this. But that wasn't how life worked, and all he could do was stand here, holding his kid.
Eventually Kurt pulled away, wiping at his cheeks with the cuff of his coat. "Thanks, Dad."
"Anytime, buddy. You know that."
"I do." Kurt let out a long, shaking breath, composing himself again. "I should go in. I think I just want to go to bed tonight."
"Good call. Things will look better in the morning." Burt clapped him on the shoulder again. Kurt gave him one more watery smile and then disappeared inside, leaving Burt standing in the cold.
He understood now, why this whole Dalton versus McKinley thing had been bothering him so much. It wasn't that Finn would beat Kurt or that Kurt would beat Finn. That was all part of growing up, of learning what life was all about. And it wasn't even that the boy who won would get to go to New York, because either way the whole family would go to cheer for the kid who went. Not to mention, Burt had to admit he didn't think either group stood much of a chance at a competition they'd never been to before. But the problem was Kurt having to watch the team that he should have been on win, and being denied that because of one fucking bully who didn't like who Kurt was.
They'd pulled him out of McKinley to keep Kurt safe. Burt didn't regret it, because that's what you did when you had a kid who was being threatened like that. But maybe he'd made a mistake. Dalton protected Kurt, but it didn't change anything. Maybe what he needed to do was something completely different.
Loser Like Me. Burt had asked Finn if the verse he sang was about Kurt. Finn had said no, it was about all of them. Kurt had gotten it worse, but they all got shoved into lockers. They all got Slushies thrown at them. Thirteen kids who were getting treated like shit might not be able to do anything, but twelve sets of parents might be able to. Burt and Carole couldn't make the school board listen alone, but if they got the other parents in on it, starting with the parents of the other glee kids….
Kurt had done what he needed to do. He'd gone to Dalton and had been living his life. But Burt and Carole… they were the ones that still should be fighting. They were the ones who should be making their voices heard, rallying the other adults, making it safer for their kids. The school board wouldn't listen, and Kurt had to abide by that. But Burt was the one that shouldn't have stopped fighting. Maybe he couldn't change the world, but he could sure as hell try.
He nodded to himself and went back into the house. It was late, so he couldn't make any phone calls, but he could at least talk to Carole and work out what they were going to say. Because first thing tomorrow, Burt Hummel was going to start waging war on William McKinley High School.
And this time, he wasn't going to stop.