Chapter 1: For This Precious Day
August to November
Of all the things Blaine has worried might break them, he's never envisioned this one.
"Kurt, c'mon, it's not that big a deal," he says.
Kurt levels a truly epic bitchface at him. "Not that big a deal? You know, I put up with this kind of thing from Mercedes because she grew up with it. But you— You aren't doing this out of habit. You're doing this on purpose."
Blaine snorts. "You're talking like it's something I'm doing to upset you."
"It is!" Kurt spits. "What happened to teaching?"
"Find me a school that still has the funding for a music program and wants to hire someone who's not certified yet, and we'll talk. Until then, it's a job." Folding his arms, and turning away, Blaine adds, "It's not like you think."
The only answer he gets is the slam of their door as Kurt vanishes into the sticky late summer evening. Blaine thinks about going after him, thinks about sitting down at their piano. But in the end he chooses neither and goes into the kitchen to wash the supper dishes. He runs the water too hot; it hurts his hands, and he makes himself concentrate on that. It's easier when his hands are under the soap suds and he can't see the ring on his finger and wonder how much longer it will be there.
Kurt comes home late, after Blaine's turned out all but the front porch light and gotten into bed. The air conditioner is off. Blaine can't bear the thought of its hum covering the noise of Kurt's return.
Blaine hears the front door lock, followed by the soft sound of Kurt entering their bedroom. Kurt makes a stifled noise when he realizes the air conditioner's not running and picks his way around the bed to turn it on. Blaine stays quiet and still, eyes open in the darkness to catch Kurt's silhouette at the window. He must give away that he's awake, because after the fan purrs to life Kurt crawls on to the bed, still clothed, and reaches for Blaine's hand.
"Hey," Kurt whispers. His voice is gentle.
Blaine feels the tension in his body ease somewhat. "Hey yourself," he chokes out.
Kurt, who knows Blaine so well, pulls him on to his side and curls around him, face tucked into Blaine's hair. "I'm sorry," Kurt says. "I didn't— I was mad, but I didn't mean to scare you. I wasn't leaving, okay? I just needed air."
"I— Okay," Blaine manages. He can feel Kurt's hand pressing into his belly, the weight of Kurt's arm draped over Blaine's waist. Blaine can't quite keep himself from lifting a hand to touch Kurt's finger, to feel the ring sitting warmly there.
"Oh, Blaine," Kurt breathes. His arm tightens around Blaine and he presses a kiss to the back of Blaine's head. "I love you. I'm sorry."
It takes a few breaths for Blaine to be certain of his voice. "I love you, too," he says.
Kurt squeezes him again. "Can we talk about this in the morning?"
Blaine nods and waits for Kurt to get up to undress, or at least to wash his face. He doesn't. He stays right there, the buttons of his shirt making indentations in Blaine's back and his exhalations hot on Blaine's ear. It's not comfortable, but it is comforting. It's enough, and Blaine drops off to sleep.
Kurt is making faces when Blaine wakes up. He's sweaty and his clothes are rumpled, and his exaggerated distaste for the state of his skin makes him look younger, seventeen and not almost twenty-three. Not, Blaine reflects, that even twenty-three is all that old. Everyone he'd met yesterday had been obviously refraining from telling him how young he was. And possibly how precious.
"I'm lucky no one squeezed my cheeks," he mutters.
Kurt's startled, "What?!" informs Blaine that he said at least part of that out loud.
"Just thinking about yesterday." He sits up, watching Kurt disassemble yesterday's outfit, and asks, "Can I try telling you about it again?"
"Sure," Kurt says. "But first, showers?"
Blaine nods. "Showers. And breakfast." He wants to offer to go first, wash quickly and cook for them, but Kurt beats him to it.
"I'll cook, so I better shower now. I'll be fast, I promise," he says, looking contrite.
"Uh, okay," Blaine manages. He has never been so thoroughly wrong footed as he is this morning. He stays in their bed and listens to Kurt's noises. In a better mood he'd be amused to have proof that Kurt can be in and out of the bathroom in thirty minutes. His moisturizing routine must have happened at light speed. Instead, Blaine dawdles in the bedroom and wishes for more time to gather his thoughts.
He gets so preoccupied in the shower that he washes his hair twice – Kurt will have something to say about stripping too much oil, he's sure – but by the time he's toweling off, Blaine thinks he has a coherent presentation to make.
He's glad he's prepared, because when he's dressed and sitting down at the table Kurt gives him a level look, pushes the plate of crêpes toward him, and says, "Okay. Pitch it to me again."
"First off, it's a job. I didn't get a graduate associate position, and I need some kind of work. That's not nothing, all by itself. Second, it's a relevant job. This will look a lot better on my resume than working in a coffee shop or at the library. This pays pretty well, is in my field, and will help me get another job later," he says, ticking his points off on his fingers. Blaine pauses to take a bite of the crêpe he's been assembling; it's delicious, thin and perfect and drizzled with the strawberry syrup he and Kurt made last month. He wishes it didn't stick in his throat.
Kurt's face is carefully neutral. "Well, that sounds promising. What kind of job is it?"
Blaine stares at him. "What—"
"We're starting over, right?" Kurt interrupts. "Tell it all to me again."
"Um. Sure," Blaine says. He sets his fork down and settles his hands in his lap. Sitting up straight and squaring his shoulders, he faces Kurt as directly as he can. "It's a music direction job. I'd be in charge of a choir, and sometimes providing piano or other accompaniment, or coordinating other musicians, for, um. For a church." He cringes. "Not what you're thinking of, though. I mean, probably not what you're thinking of. It's a Unitarian Universalist church: they're very liberal, and non-dogmatic, and this one is a 'welcoming' congregation, which means they have a policy of being welcoming to gay and lesbian people. And bisexual and transgendered people," he adds, for good measure.
Kurt raises one eyebrow. "And you would be joining this church?"
"No, I wouldn't have to, but I guess I basically would be since I'll have to attend all the services," Blaine says. "You don't have to go, though. I told them, at the interview, that my partner might not choose to be involved and they said that was fine."
"I'm relieved to hear I won't be expected to provide a casserole for the potluck," Kurt says dryly.
Blaine, personally, is relieved to hear some humor in Kurt's voice. "You won't," he promises. "You'll have to put up with me being gone on Thursdays for choir practice, and at odd hours, and I won't have any more lazy Sundays with you, but that's it. This doesn't have to affect your life any more than any other job would."
"And this is what you want?" Kurt asks softly.
Nodding, Blaine says, "It is. It works around my class schedule amazingly well and it's valuable experience. Besides, with all the funding cuts there's no guarantee I'll get a job in a public school even after I have my degree and my teaching certificate. A master's degree with no employment in sight isn't really the best plan. This is something else I can do, a fallback option." Recognizing that he's come to the end of his organized thoughts, Blaine falls silent and lets Kurt consider this.
Kurt eats his crêpe thoughtfully. Long minutes pass before he asks, "What about student teaching?"
"I don't do that until my second year, and it won't conflict. That'll be done by three, four at the latest, and I can move things around if I have an evening event with the school. I might be able to get volunteers to take on some of the work, too, if I get too busy. Photocopying, maybe. And it's not like I'm going to stop playing the piano, or the guitar, or singing. I might as well get paid for it." Blaine is not holding his breath. He's not.
"It does sound like a good opportunity for the next year or two," Kurt says, finally. "I find it ... uncomfortable, to think of you working for a church." He holds up a hand, forestalling Blaine. "It's better than it could be, I know."
Now Kurt sets down his fork and squares his shoulders. "Well. Congratulations on the job, Blaine. And—" he pauses for a sip of coffee. When he speaks again, it's in the same tone he'd used when he'd found Blaine the night before. "I am sorry about last night. I'm sorry for not listening. Thank you for telling me about it again."
Under the table, Blaine works his left thumb against his ring. His right hand he reaches across the table to grasp Kurt's. "Thank you. For listening now," he says.
Blaine really wishes he could have talked with Kurt about this. Kurt would have helped him prepare, or at least made fun of him for being afraid of the crowd of middle-aged soccer moms and retirees who are probably waiting for him. Kurt would definitely make fun of him now for standing scared in his office – his office! – unable to open the connecting door into the choir room.
The tap on the door makes him jump. "Dr. Anderson? We're all here," says a woman's voice.
"Uh, I'll be right out," Blaine calls. He looks down to check his tie one more time, promising himself he'll get a mirror, and takes a bracing breath. Then he opens the door.
There are thirty people sitting in a loose circle of chairs, looking expectantly at him. He hopes they're arranged by vocal part, because he's already thinking of them that way. Also, if they don't know enough to group themselves he'll have to come up with a new plan for everything.
"Dr. Anderson? I'm Cheryl," says one of the sopranos. She's the one who knocked on his door. "We're so pleased to have you here."
"Thank you," Blaine says, manners kicking in. "It's not doctor, though. I'm just starting grad school, and I'm working on my master's."
Cheryl smiles. "Mr. Anderson, then?" she asks.
Blaine takes them all in: the basses with flyaway white hair or bald heads; the baritones, half of whom look strangely like Burt Hummel; the tiny wedge of tenors; and the mass of women making up the altos and sopranos and spanning every age from 30 to 90, by the looks of them. One of the altos has clearly seen his shaking hands, and she winks at him. It helps. "You can call me Blaine," he says. "But don't think that means I'll let you get away with anything."
They laugh. Thank goodness.
"I thought we'd start off easy," Blaine tells them, taking a seat at the grand piano. He's seriously wondering if the promise of this beautiful grand would be enough to get Kurt to set foot in a church. "David— I mean, Reverend Mitchell—"
"Don't worry, we all call him David," says the bass with the wildest hair. He continues, in a tone of reminiscence, "In fact, there was one time—"
"Yes, Bill, we know," three of the sopranos chorus, and Blaine makes a mental note to practice his redirection strategies.
"Thanks," Blaine says. "So, David told me which hymns he'd like us to have ready for our first September service. I was thinking we'd go through those, so I can get to know you vocally, and then do some more conventional introductions after that." He pulls his notes out of his pocket, then looks up. "Before that, maybe someone can tell me where the hymnals live?"
All three of the tenors stand up. "They're in the closet off the sanctuary; Paul has keys," one says. Another, evidently Paul, jingles a key ring. They're back in minutes with armfuls of grey books, including two spiral-bound volumes for Blaine.
"Do we need the teal books too?" Paul asks, and Blaine can only look at him blankly.
Cheryl's appeared at his elbow while Blaine wasn't paying attention. She looks over the list of hymn numbers and shakes her head at Paul. "No four-digit numbers," she murmurs to Blaine. "The teal hymnal is all 1000 and higher. It's a supplement."
He nods at her with a grateful half-smile and wishes he'd known that before rehearsal started. It's getting to be a familiar feeling already. She smiles back and slips off to her seat, straight grey hair flying as she turns. "Okay," Blaine says to the room, "so the theme is—"
"Oh no, don't tell us!" cries the winking alto. "Let us guess."
There's some snickering from the sopranos and the woman next to Cheryl says, "Hmm, first fall service, early September ... must be a water communion." Everyone groans and grins; Blaine thinks the camaraderie in the room is nice, but he'll have to watch out for loose cannon behavior. Maybe this is better practice for teaching than he'd thought.
"Uh, yeah. Got it in one," Blaine tells them. He looks at his list. "Turn to number 100, please. 'I've Got Peace Like a River.'" He slides down the piano bench. "I'll give you your pitches, and a verse of introduction." Rolling the opening chord slowly, he hears a few people humming. He'll have to train them out of that. Blaine falls into the music, swinging the eighth notes just the tiniest bit. He plays the first verse through with them, to settle them in. After that he calls, "Keep singing! I want to listen," and stops his playing, standing and pacing the perimeter of the room. All the baritones are singing bass – no surprise there – so Blaine spends a verse tucked up behind the tenors, bolstering the three of them. He spends another verse standing in front of the altos, enjoying the depth they bring and thinking that for middle-aged soccer moms, they aren't bad. He does have to stop thinking of them all as soccer moms, though.
When they hit the fifth verse, Blaine's with the sopranos, who are clearly enjoying carrying the melody and are rushing, almost imperceptibly. He gets behind them and starts clapping the half notes; Cheryl jumps, and the woman next to her grins at Blaine and picks up his rhythm. By the time he's back at the piano and playing through the final measures, the whole choir is clapping.
Blaine cuts off their final chord with a gesture. "Okay! Not bad," he tells them, smiling. "Let's do two more. Number 210, please." They sing "Wade in the Water" in unison, as written, following Blaine's directions pretty closely even when he's paying more attention to the piano than to the choir, and he's pleased.
"Good, thank you," Blaine says when they finish. "Last one: 343. A firemist and a planet, a crystal and a cell–" It's another unison piece and the piano line isn't hard, so he gets to take in the lyrics. Given the theme, it's obvious that this hymn's been chosen for the third verse. It's the fourth verse that he can feel sitting with him, though, as the choir winds down. "And millions, who, though nameless, the straight hard pathway trod — some call it consecration, and others call it God." He wants Kurt to be here so badly, wants them to sing this together and talk it over afterwards.
Blaine shakes it off and stands up, goes to perch on the tall stool sitting in the crook of the piano, and smiles at his choir. "All right. I think we can do good work together." When they cheer, he laughs and adds, "I may not learn your names for a month, but I'll know your voices, so practice your parts!"
The choir chuckles appreciatively at his words, making mock threats to each other about consequences.
"So, introductions." Blaine gestures to himself. "Blaine Anderson, graduate student at OSU, doing a master's in music education. I'm new to Unitarian Universalism, and to church choirs, actually, so please forgive me my dumb mistakes."
"What about your smart mistakes?" the winking alto asks.
Blaine looks levelly at her, and then at the rest of them. "Call me on 'em. I'll try not to make too many. Now, let's do names and how long you've been singing here, and that'll be enough to overwhelm me for tonight."
Blaine spends the drive home thinking about names and faces. Cheryl, Bill and Paul he has firmly in his head, and Di, who's the winking alto, and the woman who sits next to Cheryl is Lynn. He's got a few others: after tall, skinny Paul it's easy to remember that the other tenors are John and Luke. John's balding, middle-aged like Paul, and Luke's the opposite with his full head of white hair and wrinkled face. The baritones and basses are still mostly a blur of elderly features that have Blaine more worried about recruiting younger voices than learning names, but he knows that's not fair. He'll learn more of them next time.
Of the women, he picked up a few names based on particular interactions. Marie and Nan invited him to dinner, so he has to remember them. He'd stammered his way through a thank you, pointing out that he'd have to consult Kurt first even though he might not come. Nan had squeezed his arm and Marie had nodded, understandingly. Blaine hadn't been sure at first whether they were inviting him to dinner together or separately. They soon made it clear that they were together, giving a single address and a shared phone number. When they turned to leave and he saw Marie's hand reach out to tug Nan's long silver braid affectionately, and Nan's kiss to Marie's weathered cheek, Blaine knew that even if he could never share a phone number with Kurt, he wanted that.
To get to that, they'll have to get through this evening, and so many more like it. Blaine parks the car and reaches for his satchel, weighted down with piano editions of the hymnals and a pad of notepaper. It's late now, since he'd lingered in his office making notes and listening to his choir stack their chairs in the storage closet. He has ideas for the coming service, scrawled down hurriedly as he'd thought about a cappella arrangements and the voices he has to work with. As he walks up to their door, he thinks about how he'd emerged from his office and found Cheryl sitting on the floor outside his door.
"Can I walk you out?" she'd asked.
"Sure," he'd answered, shouldering his bag and offering her his arm.
Cheryl'd smiled at him. "Such a gentleman. So tell me, do you have someone waiting at home?"
Blaine knows his face softens when he thinks about Kurt. He's seen it happen and been teased about it many, many times. "I do," he'd said. "His name's Kurt. We've been together since we were seventeen." Cheryl reminds him of his aunt; he wants to tell her things. "I mean, we're only twenty-two now, but."
"Five years is a long time," Cheryl had said. "Especially when you're young. And he makes you happy. I can see that."
"He does." Blaine had opened the door for both of them and seen Cheryl to her car, telling her the stories of how he met Kurt and how they got together.
She'd leaned on her car door, arms folded, and even in the deepening twilight he'd been able to see the corners of her eyes crinkling. "Any chance we'll get to meet him?" she'd asked. "Or is he not interested?"
Blaine had tensed. "He's an atheist," he'd admitted.
"So am I," Cheryl'd replied. "At least, I think I am. The older you get, Blaine, the harder it is to be certain about these things. You let me know if you think I could help him feel welcome, okay?"
"It's not a matter of welcome, I don't think." He'd stepped sideways, leaning on the hood of Cheryl's car. "He's had some hard things happen to him. And people have tried to comfort him with religion, and he just ... isn't helped by that. I'm not sure I can explain it."
Digging out her keys, Cheryl had shrugged. "You don't have to. But I'd like to know him. I'd like to know you both."
Blaine had stood there, awkward, and finally blurted, "Is it weird if I want a hug?"
"No, dear," Cheryl had said. "It's not weird at all." And she'd hugged him, quick but firm, and said good night.
Kurt's not there when Blaine opens the door. There's a note that reads Out. With theatre people. Back late, hopefully not too late. <3, K taped to the facing wall. It's fair, Blaine thinks, that Kurt should be out making new friends tonight, but it stings to be reminded that Kurt doesn't want to know how things went at Blaine's rehearsal.
Blaine makes his way through the kitchen to drop his satchel on the table. He doubles back to read the second note, on the fridge: Baked a pie. Blueberry, your favorite. Had to buy from Michigan grower to get organic berries - don't tell! <3, K At that, Blaine can't help but smile. He cuts a slice, heats it in the microwave and tops it with Kurt's vanilla bean ice cream, and sits at the table to think about all the names for kindness.
Technically, Blaine doesn't need to attend services until September starts, but sitting in on the last service of August feels like the right thing to do. He's remembering his confusion about silver books and teal books; reconnaissance is sensible. It's not David who's the celebrant today but Elizabeth, the assistant minister. She's young, and her husband stands with her and their daughter until she moves up to the altar. Her family moves to a pair of chairs in the front row.
They sing an opening hymn, 1008 out of the teal book, and when they sing "When we tell our story from deep inside, And we listen with a loving mind," he wishes for Kurt. Then the third verse makes mention of God, and Blaine almost retracts his wish. He redirects his focus, taking in the acoustics of the sanctuary and the voices of the congregation. They are woefully out of tune, even with a volunteer playing the piano.
The next hymn is 1009, a meditation, and the congregation settles into pitch with each other after three rounds. Intent on the music, Blaine startles when someone takes the empty seat next to him. It's Di, auburn hair in a short braid. "Sorry, boss," she whispers. "Didn't mean to scare you."
He smiles and whispers back, "It's okay," sliding back into the music.
"That's my husband at the piano," she tells him, pointing unnecessarily at the man playing. He's bronze-faced and dark haired. Latino, maybe? "He's your back-up, if you need him," Di adds.
Blaine nods to her as the congregation finishes singing, Elizabeth cutting them off.
"Thank you, and welcome. Wherever you come from, wherever you are on your life's journey, you are welcome here. Whoever you are, whomever you love, you are welcome here. If this is your first time among us or your thousandth, you are welcome here."
Elizabeth lights the candle in the chalice, then the second, smaller chalice for their partner church in Transylvania. Blaine boggles a little, but quietly. He stills his face when Elizabeth asks them to turn and greet their neighbors, attaining solemnity just in time to meet Kate, Mark, and Sue, who looks familiar and turns out to be in the choir. Blaine looks beyond them, wondering if this congregation will surprise him with racial diversity; it doesn't. Almost everyone in this church seems to be white. He'll have to ask Cheryl, later, if there are a few others who are Latino like Di's husband, or hapa like Blaine himself. For now he shakes his head, turns to his right and offers Di a handshake, for completeness.
Blaine doesn't really listen as Di's husband plays something, or as Elizabeth reads a quotation about community. He's thinking about that welcome and how Kurt would react. He comes back to himself for another hymn, one that the congregation flounders on. Blaine despairs until they hit the chorus, and suddenly they're all together thundering, "We are standing on the side of love." They fall apart on the next phrase; Blaine fishes a piece of paper out of his pocket and writes "1014 needs rehearsal. And leadership." That moment stays with him, though, that brief achievement of unity.
"Standing on the side of love," Elizabeth says when they've finished singing and taken their seats again. "We do like to say that we are, don't we. We have a national movement named, 'Standing on the Side of Love,' founded on the ideal that love requires action, and dedicated work toward righting wrongs. We've worked toward justice and equality for the LGBT community, for immigrant rights, for more civil discourse in this country. We've had UUA presidents arrested for acts of civil disobedience, and we've done a great job with our catchy slogan and bright t-shirts. Even when people look at us and see bleeding-heart liberal do-gooders, they know what we stand for.
"Do we stand for love?" Elizabeth pauses, and the congregation sits silent. "Do we? Whom do we love? Our side?
"I would argue that the side of love is opposed to the side of hate. We stand in support of actions that exemplify love. We stand in opposition to actions that promote hate. When we worked against Proposition 8 in California in 2008, we were supporting the right of individuals to love and to marry. We opposed the hateful actions of Prop 8's promoters. But did we oppose the promoters themselves?
"Some of us did. Some of us vilified them. And that's human, to be angry and hurt and to lash out. But where was love in that? Is it loving to respond to fear with anger?
"I'm not asking you not to stand up for yourselves, or for our community. I'm not asking you to give up your anger. I'm asking you to consider this: Jesus, a person thought to be wise by an awful lot of people, advises us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He doesn't say 'only the neighbors that you like,' or 'only the neighbors who share your politics.' He says 'neighbors.'
"The Reverend Kate Braestrup tells us that there's a trick to this that we're missing in our English language translation. In Greek, which Jesus would have spoken, there are three words for love: philos, eros and agape. Philos is what we now think of as brotherly or sisterly love. Familial. Friendly. Steady. Eros is sensual or sexual love, what we feel for our partners, or certain movie actors, or very good chocolate. Fresh fruit, a cool breeze on a summer's day. What Jesus probably meant when he asked us to love our neighbors is the third kind, agape. Agape has been translated to mean many things, including divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love. Reverend Braestrup suggests this definition: 'earnestly desiring the wholeness and happiness of the beloved.' It is the love that a parent may have for a child, and it's this love that Jesus would like us to bear for each other.
"Some of you are rolling your eyes now at the invocation of Jesus. To that I can only ask, would you roll your eyes if I were quoting the Dalai Lama? I can quote him too. The Dalai Lama tells us that all human beings seek to achieve happiness and avoid suffering. Everything people do, whether or not it helps you, whether or not it hurts you, is something they believe will make them happy. He suggests that we respond in ways that nurture others' happiness, that they may then nurture ours. Listen with interest when someone speaks; act with compassion when others are hurting; move beyond anger and hate, and their concomitant desire for revenge, and toward thoughtful action that strikes at the root of the problem and not at other sufferers.
"In short, the Dalai Lama asks us to 'Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.' So yes, fellow bleeding-heart liberal do-gooders, let us stand on the side of love. Let us take action to prevent hurt and promote love. But let us not hurt others in so doing. Let us remember that our opponents are just as human as our allies, and that all of us only want to be happy. Let us earnestly desire the happiness of others, and the wholeness of others. It is only happiness and wholeness that can bring others out of fear and misunderstanding and let us all stand together on the side of love."
Blaine drifts through the rest of the service, watching others light candles and absently digging out his wallet for a $5 to drop in the collection basket. He's thinking about Elizabeth's sermon, yes, but also about the advice one scared seventeen-year-old gave another, years ago. He feels strengthened and shaken all at once. This idea of love and compassion being the best, the only courses that lead forward is one that he'd thought he understood, and then one he'd found naïve. But Blaine's never truly given up on it, and now maybe he's found a place to talk about how to live those values.
Elizabeth gets up to give the closing reading, and Blaine wrenches his attention back to her. "From Reverend Braestrup's book, Marriage and Other Acts of Charity, a scene in which she explains the three kinds of love to eighth grade students."
Blaine wishes briefly, futilely, that someone had delivered this lesson to him in the eighth grade. How different his life could have been. It's different where Reverend Braestrup is, or maybe just in that one school. Blaine's middle school experience had been harsh and, as far as he could tell, typical. And still not as bad as his first high school, not as bad as lying on the cold pavement outside the Sadie Hawkins dance, wishing to have received love rather than hate and fear.
He looks up, focused again, as Elizabeth reads,
"'When Jesus says to love your enemies, agape is the word he uses.'
"'I don't love my enemies,' said Sophia firmly. 'I don't even like them.'
"'If he uses this word, though, maybe he's saying we don't have to like our enemies,' said Olive thoughtfully. 'If we were supposed to like them, he would have used philos.'
"'Or eros, if we were supposed to feel, you know, sexy about our enemies,' Gordon put in.
"'That would be sick, dude,' said Fred.
"'But we have to want them to be happy,' said Olive."
Elizabeth sets down her papers and leans forward. "Here endeth the reading," she says. "Let's close with 1031, 'Filled with Loving Kindness,' first two verses. Then pause!" She grins and the congregation rises.
They pause as directed after two verses, and Elizabeth switches her mic on again and holds up a hand in benediction. "May you go forth to do justice, to love kindness, and to earnestly desire the wholeness and happiness of all whom you meet. Thank you for a wonderful morning," she says.
The congregation launches into the third and final verse of the hymn. Part of Blaine makes a dispassionate note to work on graceful re-entry into song for future services. The rest of him sings, and loves.
"How was church?" Kurt asks.
Special, Blaine thinks. Moving. Intimidating. Inspiring. And then terrifying, when Di had dragged him into the social hall and what felt like millions of people had come to shake his hand. "Fine," he says. "How was your morning?"
Shrugging, Kurt says, "Routine. Went for a run, did some yoga." He looks up from his magazine and waggles his eyebrows. "So I'm very bendy right now, if you're interested."
"Uh, yes," Blaine manages. He drops his keys and notes on the counter and leans over Kurt, kissing him deeply.
Kurt tugs at Blaine's necktie. "You know, as much as I love it when you wear these things, I bet you didn't need one today. My research suggested you wouldn't."
"I didn't," Blaine admits. "I was way overdressed."
"You should know better than to question my fashion judgment," Kurt scolds, grinning. "You'd better get out of these clothes right away."
Blaine starts for their bedroom, calling, "Sir, yes sir!" over his shoulder.
Kurt follows, laughing. When the door's closed behind them, he undresses and drapes his clothes carefully over the chair in the corner. He takes a moment to fix the pile Blaine's suit makes, stooping to pick it up and hang it neatly over everything else on the chair.
"Whoo!" Blaine yells. "Nice view!"
Kurt huffs. "You did that on purpose? To watch me bend over?!" His outrage is feigned, and adorable.
"I did," Blaine says, taking Kurt's hands and drawing him in. He peppers Kurt with kisses: face, neck, ears, shoulders. He's thinking about eros and the pure, sensual pleasure he gets from this man. "God, you're beautiful." He mouths Kurt's ear until he moans.
"So are you," Kurt answers. "I never thought I'd be as lucky as I have been," he murmurs into Blaine's hand, kissing the palm. He sucks two of Blaine's fingers into his mouth and tongues around the tips.
"Unf," Blaine groans. He stumbles back and falls on to the bed, bringing Kurt and his perfect weight with him. Their cocks align as they settle into each other, years of practice and knowledge at work, and Blaine wraps a hand around them both. "Like this?"
"Mmm," Kurt hums. He sucks at Blaine's neck.
It's distracting in the best way. Blaine loses his rhythm, arching his shoulders and pushing himself at Kurt's mouth.
Kurt pulls back and licks along Blaine's collarbone. "I've been thinking about you all morning. About this." He breaks off, panting.
Blaine has no words to answer that. He tightens his hand on their cocks, reveling in the building tension in his body.
"This way is a waste of my bendiness," Kurt adds as he presses himself down harder against Blaine.
Stroking them faster, Blaine manages, "Don't care. You'll be – oh – bendy again, right?"
Kurt rolls his hips into the motion of Blaine's hand. "Regularly."
"I'll – uh, ah – hold you to that. Oh, Kurt!" Blaine comes and Kurt follows after, collapsing on top of Blaine and mashing the mess of their come to his chest. Blaine doesn't mind. He wraps his arms around Kurt's waist, keeping him there for the moment. Eros and philos, he thinks, because Kurt is family more than anyone else in the world.
Eventually, Kurt squirms against him. "Blaine, I love you but we're disgusting right now. Shower?"
Blaine lets him up. "Sure," he says, standing and heading for the bathroom. Eros and philos and agape, sex and family and the most earnest desire for Kurt's happiness and wholeness. Maybe, if he can find the words, he'll try answering Kurt's question about his morning again.
Blaine's sitting at their battered upright piano, picking out the melody to "Our Lady of the Highways" and wondering if someone, somewhere has already arranged it for four-part choir and might be able to save him the trouble. The piano is one Kurt found and rescued from a thrift store, probably dumped with someone's estate and in miraculously good condition. When they'd first moved here two months ago, and Kurt had grumbled about leaving New York, Blaine had developed the habit of simply sitting down at the piano and playing him out of his bad mood. It's not that they couldn't have had a piano in New York City; it's just that it's easier in Columbus, Ohio.
Kurt joins him on the piano bench, head cocked. "What are you working on?"
"Folk song," Blaine says absently. "Well, not like an old folk song. Folk singer-songwriter kind of folk song. It's for, um, work."
"That's okay." Kurt hums a pitch that harmonizes with the key Blaine's still holding down. "What?" he says to Blaine's surprised face. "I can't be interested in the music?"
"You can. I just didn't know you would be, that's all." Blaine feels cautiously hopeful. "Since you're interested, can you grab that staff paper? I'm trying to figure out if I can do this with the choir. I was thinking four parts, for simplicity, but five would work too. Or six – I definitely have enough sopranos."
Kurt stands and grabs paper and pencil, and Blaine's iPod. He holds up an ear bud. "Can I hear it first?"
Taking the iPod and thumbing the wheel, Blaine says, "Yeah, of course. Here." They take an ear bud each and listen.
When the final chorus finishes, Kurt looks consideringly at Blaine. "That's interesting," he says. "Not church music."
"They're not very church-y," Blaine answers, laughing. "I played it for David – he's the one in charge of the service this is for – and he liked it, and the program is light on music so ..."
"It's for this Sunday?" Kurt furrows his brow. "I guess you could Skype Wes and get an arrangement done in time, but is your choir good enough to learn this in one rehearsal?"
Blaine slumps. "I wish I could say yes, but they're not. Dang it."
Kurt hits play again and considers the piano. "How about a simplified piano line, and a soprano for harmony? I can help you work it out, if you've got someone who can sing with you."
"Yeah, that could work. I could get Lynn and Cheryl; Lynn's got a pretty good ear, and Cheryl—" Blaine pauses. He hasn't considered Cheryl critically, really. He's mostly been relieved to have someone he feels so comfortable with. What if their voices don't mesh? What if she's a terrible singer, and he's been distracted by the beginnings of their friendship?
"And Cheryl?" Kurt nudges him.
Stop panicking, Blaine tells himself. "I don't actually know if Cheryl's up to it. I can't remember," he says sheepishly. "She was really nice to me, last week, and now I can't remember what I thought of her voice. I just remember liking her company."
Arching an eyebrow, Kurt teases, "Should I be jealous?"
"Ha, no. She's like my aunt." Blaine picks up the pencil and toys with it.
Kurt nudges Blaine again. "Aunt Judy?"
"Yeah." The staff paper is sliding off the piano's music rack, so Blaine fixes it. "I miss Aunt Judy. Anyway."
"You would have noticed if her voice was bad," Kurt says. "Maybe it's not great – probably it's not great – but it's fine for this."
Sitting up straighter, Kurt says, "So, let's write some harmonies. Tenor and soprano descant on the chorus. We'll just write one line and the ladies can lean on each other, hmm?"
"Sure. Thanks, Kurt." Blaine kisses his cheek before turning back to the keys, looking for his opening notes.
David takes his place at the front of the sanctuary and nods at Blaine, who's lurking behind the sanctuary's piano. He can't get over two grand pianos in the same building, but it's nice to have them in both rooms without having to move one back and forth. He's certainly not complaining. Blaine stands and looks over the choir, making eye contact with as many people as possible. Then he gestures them to their feet.
They're dressed just as he'd asked, black slacks and skirts with shirts spanning every shade of blue. Blaine's in his navy blue suit, wearing a Kurt-approved tie in vivid cerulean. They're clearly dressed for a water service. Blaine smiles, makes a fist for strength at the tenors and mouths, "Don't rush," at the sopranos. Then he moves to the piano keyboard and plays their pitches.
Amazingly, they don't hum. In only two rehearsals he's taught them that. Now if only they're holding their pitches in mind as well as refraining from humming, this will be fine. And if they're not, well, Blaine will have learned his lesson for next time. He launches into the piano part and they come in solidly, not in perfect tune but not nearly as ragged as they could be. At the end of the first verse he nods at David, and David brings the congregation in. The combination of piano and choir is enough to keep them in key. Blaine lets out a small sigh of relief.
There's no second hymn this morning, since David had felt 100's six verses were enough to center the congregation. Everyone finishes together and Blaine leaves the piano to take his seat at the edge of the sopranos. The body of the piano blocks most of the congregation's view of him, so Blaine leans in a bit and gives the choir a surreptitious thumbs up.
David welcomes everyone and lights the chalices, just as Elizabeth had last week. When he asks the congregation to greet their neighbors, Blaine wonders what the choir will do. To his amusement, they solemnly turn to each other and introduce themselves, joking, "Hello, stranger, come here often?" and "Funny we've never met before. I think we have a lot in common!" Cheryl shakes Blaine's hand and grins at him; Lynn leans across Cheryl to do the same.
When the cacophony of introductions dies down, Blaine stands and takes the piano again. He plays Benjamin Britten's Dawn, from the Four Sea Interludes, and when he's finished the sanctuary is utterly still.
"Blaine Anderson, everyone," David says into the silence. "Our new Music Director." The congregation rubs their hands together, producing a susurration of applause.
Blaine doesn't think he should bow, so he settles for inclining his head and smiling. He listens as David gives a reading, relaxing into the knowledge that the next piece is a straightforward hymn.
"From Kathleen Dean Moore's Riverwalking," David says, putting on his reading glasses. "The essay is 'Winter Creek,' and the subject is that of 'poking around in the natural world." He clears his throat.
"'... poking around is recreation, re-creation, in the most literal sense. John Locke says that what gives each person his or her personal identity is that person's private store of recollections. If so, then people should be careful curators of the assortment of memories that they collect over the years. Every time you notice something, every time something strikes you as important enough to store away in your mind, you create another piece of who you are. If someone asks, "Who are you?" it is not enough to say I am Kathy, or I am a professor, or I am Dora's daughter or Frank's wife. The complete answer will acknowledge that a person is partly her memories: I am a person who remembers a flock of white pelicans over Thompson Reservoir, pelicans banking in unison into the sunlight, banking into the shadow, flashing on and off like a scoreboard.'
"And now please rise as you are willing and able for our next hymn, 210. 'Wade in the Water.'"
Blaine runs through the whole thing on the piano before nodding to the choir. They start, and the congregation follows. It's still ragged. Blaine knows they'll have to come up with a better mechanism for starting everyone at the same time. At least the congregation seems comfortable with the chorus.
David smiles beneficently at the choir as they take their seats again. "Today, as you may have guessed from our choices of music and reading – or perhaps from the title printed on your order of service," he says, pausing to let the congregation titter at his joke, "is our Water Communion. It is our Ingathering, as we return from summers spent traveling and recreating, as we bring back our memories, whether they be Kathy Moore's flock of pelicans or my own rather more mundane stories of home maintenance. Like the agricultural society we are built upon, we observe summer as a time for independent action and work on individual projects. And like that agricultural society, we see fall as a time to come back into community so that we may bolster each other through the winter and into the spring, until we may come into next summer and our time of plenty again. Our lives are no longer jeopardized by solitary winters, but there is still something in the human animal that craves company and communion in the dark and the cold. We are each other's promise of returning light and each other's safety nets.
"Unfortunately, we cannot share our individual memories of our seasons apart without committing to sitting here until Thanksgiving. So instead, I'll ask you to bring forward your flasks of water and pour them into our communal bowl; we'll use it to water the new tree planted on the grounds out back, which I invite you all to visit. Your water is hopefully drawn from a place you visited this summer that holds meaning for you. Whether it be a river, an ocean, or a kitchen tap is entirely your determining. For those of you who may have forgotten your water, or perhaps who are new here and were not aware of today's service, we have a pitcher of, yes, tap water from our church kitchen. Please use it as a symbol of your interest in this place and your desire to form memories here.
"Before I ask you to come forward, however, I'm going to enjoy the ministerial privilege of doing just what I told you that you could not: I'm going to tell you about my summer."
Blaine can't keep his focus on David's sermon as it drifts into a doubtless symbolic meditation on home repair and group dynamics. He's getting performance jitters thinking of the song he's about to try to pull off, backed by two enthusiastic singers who have more joy than talent. What David's said about bolstering each other through the winter settles him, somehow, and makes him concentrate on trust and hope and how they go hand in hand.
David draws his sermon to a close. "Now I ask that you come forward, one at a time, to add your water to our communal memory. Please form a line down this aisle; choir, I'll ask you to go last if you don't mind." The choir nods and waves their agreement. "Our music will be provided by Mr. Anderson again, this time with Cheryl McLeod and Lynn Miller."
The piano introduction rolls smoothly out under Blaine's fingers and he sings, "Thank God for the radio and convenience-store coffee, Three hours you've been on the road, and it should have been dawn." The bowl, which had seemed impossibly large, now looks to be filling alarmingly fast from what Blaine can see over the piano. He thinks about that instead of his worries about the chorus and he's glad he has when Cheryl and Lynn hit their descant perfectly. "Blessed be," he sings, and hears their ornamental echo as he continues, "the children and the strangers." They join his tempo, floating above his voice, on the rest of the chorus and lifting away as they finish, "Bless all the wanderers far away from home." After that, it's easy to relax into the second verse and watch the mystery of a bowl that somehow holds a splash of water from every vessel in the sanctuary.
The last notes linger sweetly in the air before they start again, Blaine hitting the melody line harder on the piano as Cheryl and Lynn encourage the congregation to sing along. By their fourth repetition, they sound wonderful, arrayed in octaves over and under Blaine's tenor. The rest of the choral sopranos have picked up the harmony quickly, and he can hear some of the altos – Marie and Nan, maybe – building a harmony that's mostly tonic notes. It takes eight rounds altogether to get all the water gathered, and it's something else to hear the choir and their harmonies moving through the sanctuary. Blaine contemplates processional music for future services while he smiles, knowing that it's not show face he has on now but genuine joy. It's magic.
He rides the high through David's second reading and only starts paying close attention again as David calls for the final hymn. The choir leads the congregation through 343, two weeks of practice not quite keeping them from scooping the notes of the last line. Blaine is so grateful for the work there is to do. He's already not sure what he would do without this place and the moments it brings him. The third verse ends "come from the mystic ocean, whose rim no foot has trod — some people call it longing, and others call it God."
David holds up his hands, speaking into the podium mic. "May you go forth to do justice, to love kindness, and always to find your ways home. Blessed be and amen."
Blaine brings the fourth verse in solidly, and it's so, so satisfying to hear all the voices around him singing with ease. The congregation's not fumbling like they had last week, and it's because of something Blaine's brought about.
As everyone files out and into the social hall for coffee, David makes his way over to Blaine. "Good work," he says, shaking Blaine's hand. Then he reaches his free hand around to clasp Blaine's shoulder and leans in. "Ready to do it all again in an hour?"
With a grin lighting his face, Blaine answers, "Oh yeah."
It's mid-September, the day after classes begin, when Blaine caves under the heat of Indian summer and shows up to choir rehearsal in shorts and a t-shirt. He'd feel self-conscious, but it's so hot that when he looks at the soprano section he sees mostly tank tops and Betty's left her knitting at home. Sue's wearing something that looks like a jumpsuit, which Blaine just cannot explain. He reaches for his phone, thinking of subtle ways to take a picture so Kurt can puzzle over that outfit with him, but then decides it wouldn't be appropriate. If Kurt were here, if he knew these people like Blaine is coming to, if he felt affectionate toward them, it would be different.
Blaine hops up on his stool and tries to call them to order. He's interrupted immediately by Di's shout of, "Ooo, look at those legs! And those guns! Nice, boss!" She's backed up by catcalls from the baritones, led by Roberto. Blaine's unnerved, but he covers it by flexing and smiling. When they settle down, he says, "Yeah, thanks," in his best deadpan. Everyone laughs. "It's hot, you know? And besides, you guys know me well enough by now. It's been a whole month!" He winks. "Before we start, let's open some doors."
The choir props open every door, even the one to Blaine's office, hoping for air circulation that comes only half-heartedly. They can't prop the front doors of the church, but there's a fire exit from the choir room and Roberto knows how to disable the alarm. Blaine takes them through next week's hymns quickly and starts them on the featured music for the children's service, thinking about soloists and warning them that three weeks will pass before they know it.
When they've covered most of the ground he'd hoped for, Blaine tells them to take an early night. He retreats into his office, as has become his wont, and pushes the door half closed before sitting at his desk. Some minutes pass before there's a tap on the doorframe. "Yes?" he calls.
Cheryl's face appears. "Hey," she says.
"Come in," Blaine tells her, and watches as she steps around the door and takes a chair. Her shorts and sleeveless top expose the cellulite on her thighs and arms, present despite her slender build, and she reminds Blaine even more strongly of his favorite aunt when she sits with her legs pulled up, knees tucked under her chin.
"Did they rattle you?" Cheryl asks. "Di and Roberto? They don't mean anything by it. They're just playful, and flirty, and sometimes they take things too far."
Blaine sighs. "I know. I'm not— It's just weird. Kurt and I aren't married yet, but we might as well be in the eyes of basically everyone we know. It's been a long, long time since anyone but him commented on my appearance."
Cheryl lays a hand on his arm. "And the heat doesn't help, I bet. I know I'm starting to feel a little desperate about it. Ninety degrees with high humidity is supposed to stop with August!"
He chuckles in agreement. "It is."
"So c'mon, hot stuff. Let's go get pie." Cheryl grins at him.
"Pie, huh?" Blaine gathers his things and checks that he has his keys. They're the last ones out tonight, so he'll have to check that everything's locked.
She nods decisively. "Pie. It's been a horribly hot day, and I'm sure you haven't felt like eating much. I know I haven't."
"I spent the day holed up in the library reading about pedagogical theory," Blaine admits sheepishly. "It was cooler than anywhere else, but there's no food allowed."
Cheryl gives him an understanding look. "I thought so. Therefore: pie. Cold and with high caloric value. I'm thinking chocolate cream."
Blaine bumps his shoulder into hers. "I like the way you think." She takes his bag while he sets the alarm and locks the church, then passes it back as they walk out to the parking lot.
"I'll drive," she offers. Blaine flops dramatically into the passenger seat, only to perk up again when her music comes on.
"Indigo Girls? Cheryl, is there something you'd like to tell me?" he asks, winking.
Giggling, Cheryl answers, "I went to the first Lilith Fair, not that you're old enough to know what that is."
"I am too!" Blaine cries indignantly. "And I'll defend my musical knowledge in a moment, including areas of ancient history, as soon as I finish texting Kurt."
Cheryl waits, and then asks, "How is Kurt?"
"He's ... he's fine. I think he's getting more comfortable with the idea of me working at a church, even if he's not all the way there. His play's going well, so that's good." Blaine checks his phone; no answer yet.
"And he's acting? Or something else? I forgot, I'm sorry," Cheryl says.
Blaine shrugs. "It's okay. He'd like to be acting – well, he'd like to be singing and he's willing to act to get to do that. But I don't think he'd get a job in a repertory theatre without more professional experience. He's actually working production on this one. It turns out a degree in fashion design will get you a job creating costumes for the university theatre department. He's as happy with it as he's going to be with any arrangement in Columbus."
"He still wants New York, doesn't he." Cheryl turns into the parking lot of a diner and Blaine makes a mental note of it. He can imagine a thousand circumstances under which he might need an all-night diner near the church.
"He does. We're doing this here because neither of us ever stopped being Ohio residents, since we were both technically still dependents, so it's a lot cheaper for me to do grad school in our old state. And our families are here." They step out of the car and Blaine's phone buzzes. He checks it. "Kurt says hi, by the way," he relays.
Cheryl waves at Blaine's phone. "Tell him hi back from me," she says and pulls open the door of the diner.
Blaine texts Kurt back, promising not to be out too late, while he slides into their booth. "Sorry," he tells Cheryl. "I'll put it away now, I promise."
"Don't worry about it," she says. "So if I can keep prying?"
He makes a "go ahead" gesture at her.
"Is the deal two years in Ohio and then back to New York City? Coffee and pie, please," she adds as the waiter arrives. "Decaf and chocolate cream."
"Same," Blaine says. He turns back to Cheryl. "That's the idea, with room for adjustments to suit reality. He might— his dad's had some health trouble, in the past. That might keep us in Ohio, if something comes up."
Cheryl hums. "And his mom?"
"Deceased. He lost her when he was eight." Blaine adds cream to his just-arrived coffee, then offers it to Cheryl.
She shakes her head. "Oh, kiddo. That's hard." She passes him the sugar.
Blaine contemplates it, but decides against. It's late, and the pie will be sweet enough. "It is. I never knew her, but I wish I had. And I wish I'd been there, you know? I don't know what comfort I would have been as an eight-year-old, but I would have liked to try." He stirs his coffee, deciding what to tell. "When he was seventeen, before we met, his dad had a heart attack. He was in a coma for a few days. That's when Kurt made up his mind about God, and about religion, I think. His friends offered to pray for his dad, and Kurt told them not to. His life's been too hard for him to accept anything about how things are 'meant to be,' or in any kind of plan."
Cheryl chews her lip, considering. Their pie arrives while she's thinking, and after a first bite she says, "Oh, that's good pie." She swallows another bite before speaking again. "Blaine, you remember the woman Elizabeth quoted, at the first service you attended?"
"Yeah, Kate something?" he says.
"Kate Braestrup. You might want to read her book. Not the one Elizabeth read from, but the one before it. It's called Here If You Need Me. It's about how she became a minister after her husband died in a car crash. There's a part—" Cheryl pauses, starts again. "They had four children. There's a part in the book where she talks about her children asking where God was in their father's death. I can lend it to you, if you want."
The pie is just as cool and sweet as promised, melting on Blaine's tongue. When he's swallowed, he says, "But Kurt doesn't believe in God."
Cheryl shrugs. "Neither do I. But enough people do that it's worth considering. If everyone tells you that horrible things are in God's plan, how can they live with that worldview? How can you live with them?"
They eat in comfortable silence for a while. When Blaine's pie is half gone, he looks up to see Cheryl considering him.
"Can I ask, kiddo, what you believe?" She cocks her head.
Blaine cocks his head too, mirroring her. "I don't know. I've had horrible things happen to me, and even if they weren't as bad as what's happened to Kurt ... it's hard to imagine where God might be in them. I—" he hesitates, then decides to take the plunge. "I got beaten up, in high school, after I attended a dance with another boy as my date. It was bad, like hospital bad. If there's a loving God, like people say, I don't think much of him letting that happen. And if it he let it happen as a punishment for being gay, that's not something I can accept. So I think it might be easier not to believe in God." He takes another bite of pie.
"I'm sensing a 'but' in there," Cheryl says.
"But there's something that happens when I'm singing. Or looking at the night sky, or the ocean. It's not every time, but sometimes I just feel like there's something so much bigger out there, and if it's bigger than everything else, maybe it is God, you know? Like that hymn we sang at the water service." Blaine drops his gaze, chasing crumbs with his fork.
Cheryl nods. "Some people call it longing, and others call it God."
"Yeah, and all the other things it says: evolution and autumn and consecration. If we know there's something, and it's a matter of what to call it ..." Blaine trails off.
"Yeah," Cheryl echoes. She raises her mug to him. "No easy answers, but at least we're asking the questions." She finishes her coffee. "Shall we get you home?"
Blaine checks the time on his phone. "I'd better get home, yes." He steals the check from Cheryl and pays for both of them. "We're asking the hard questions, right? And we're not done, so you can buy next time."
"I like how you think," Cheryl says, and hugs him tightly.
Kurt turns twenty-three that Saturday, and Blaine commits to staying out as late as Kurt wants, despite needing to perform in the morning. He thinks Kurt knows what he's trying to say. They hit the bars with Kurt's theatre friends, grad students and a few undergrads who are over 21, or possibly have convincing fakes. Blaine doesn't ask.
It's eleven o'clock when Kurt cries, "Karaoke!" They change bars again, seeking out this new requirement, and Blaine thinks frantically of reasons not to sing that don't involve explaining his job. He wants to fit in with Kurt's friends, wants to be just another grad student out on a Saturday. He compromises by taking the first song and plans to beg off after that, telling everyone he needs to save his voice without saying why.
Singing "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" to Kurt gets him a roomful of cheering fans, much to his satisfaction. Blaine dances around the tiny stage, all show face and gestures. His hand describes the shape of Kurt's hair as he sings "this fragrant skin, this hair like lace," he sways and spins to cover the instrumental interlude, and there's a fierce promise in his eyes for "Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight." He jumps off the stage on the last chorus and hits his knees in front of Kurt on the final "Ohhhhhhhhhh, lovers in a dangerous time."
Kurt's blushing, but looks pleased as he pulls Blaine to his feet and kisses him. "Thank you, you ridiculous show-off," he says.
"I'm glad you liked it," Blaine says, beaming. He hands off the microphone to Josh and turns politely to watch him sing.
"Is that how you see us?" Kurt says into Blaine's ear. "Lovers in a dangerous time?"
Blaine shrugs. "It's better than it was when we were younger, but the world's never going to stop being dangerous. There's a million things that could happen to us or that we could do to each other. I don't ever intend to lose you, Kurt, or my sense of wonder. I'll be yours for as long as you'll have me, and I'll never give up the beauty of the world, no matter how many ugly things I might see."
Kurt puts an arm around Blaine's waist and squeezes. "I do love you. And your sense of wonder." He kisses Blaine's cheek, then his lips, and adds, "And I never plan to give you up, so you'll be mine for a long time."
"Good," Blaine says, lifting his left hand to Kurt's and lacing their fingers together. Their rings catch the garish stage lights. "We're being horribly rude," Blaine murmurs, starting to face them toward the stage. Josh is finishing, and Kelly's already bouncing on the balls of her feet at the edge of the platform.
"Don't care," Kurt singsongs. "Birthday boy, remember?" His impish grin fades back to sincerity as he says, "I miss this. You've been so busy lately, with your job and orientation and school starting. I know we see each other at home, but I miss being out with you."
Blaine's shoes stick to the floor as he moves, tugging Kurt back from the karaoke crowd. "I miss it too," he says. "Somehow I didn't realize how much work grad school was going to be. And I'm glad that you have your theatre friends – I'd never ask you to give them up – but I do wish we had more evenings together."
"And I'm glad you have your choir friends," Kurt responds. "It's nice to think of you out having pie with Cheryl when I'm holed up in the costume shop with Charlotte and Reece, sewing for our lives." He ponders for a moment, then offers, "Maybe we need a date night?"
"A date night," Blaine repeats. "I like that. And hey, it was only pie that once."
Kurt smirks. "Once can be a beginning," he teases. "And you like Cheryl. You ought to spend time with her."
"Yeah, I do. She wants to meet you, you know," Blaine says.
Kurt nods. "I'd like to meet her sometime," he says. "Also, don't we have a dinner invitation to answer?"
"We do," Blaine groans. "I gave Marie and Nan a firm 'maybe' and forgot all about it. So you want to go? Next week, maybe?"
"I— Yeah. Let's go. But not next week. Can we do it in two weeks?" He laughs. "What am I saying? We'll check our calendars and figure this out later. Right now, I should be picking the perfect song to end this evening."
Blaine gives him a puzzled look. "But the night is young!"
Waving his watch in Blaine's face, Kurt says, "Not that young. Besides, I need to get you home by midnight or you'll turn into a pumpkin and oversleep tomorrow."
"Fair point," Blaine says, grateful. "All right, your public awaits. Let's find you a song."
Dinner with Marie and Nan happens on a Monday in early October, and Kurt's as charmed by them as Blaine thought he would be. They serve stew in Fiestaware bowls and their Golden Retriever puts his head adoringly on Blaine's shoe, and afterwards all four of them take him out for a walk, the crisp fall air made more pleasant by the memory of September's heat.
Somehow Marie and Kurt get half a block ahead, deep in some conspiratorial conversation. Nan offers Galen's leash to Blaine, which makes him grin. Maybe he and Kurt can have a dog, someday. She fixes her braid while they walk, mesmerizing Blaine, and Galen's tags jingle happily. Blaine sighs.
"That was a big one," Nan says. "What's on your mind?"
"This," Blaine answers, gesturing around them. "You two have a really good life. I just want that for Kurt and me."
Nan pats his shoulder. "One day at a time is all you can do, you know?"
"Yeah." Blaine stops to let Galen sniff something. "And we're doing it. It's been five and a half years, so our track record's pretty good. Sometimes I get impatient, that's all. I want a house and a dog and a settled life."
Snorting, Nan points at Galen. "Want this one? He lulled us into a false sense of security and then destroyed a sheet yesterday."
"No!" Blaine laughs. "He seems like such a good dog." Galen's ears twitch, and Blaine stoops to pet him. "You're a good dog, aren't you Galen?"
"He is," Nan admits. "And if I'd done a better job pinning the laundry to the line, maybe the sheet wouldn't have looked so much like tug-o-war waiting to happen. Still, he's got a lot of energy that he needs to burn somehow." She looks Blaine up and down. "Do you run?"
Rueful, Blaine says, "No, I don't do much of anything, these days. I used to swim. Now I read, and rehearse, and—"
Nan cuts him off. "I get it. Well, even if you just want to take him for walks, you'd be welcome."
"Sure, that'd be great." Blaine brightens. "And hey, Kurt runs. Maybe he could take Galen out sometimes. Kurt!" he calls.
Kurt and Marie stop and turn. "Yes?" Kurt calls back.
Blaine jogs up to him, Galen whuffing beside him. "Would you ever want to take Galen for a run? Nan says he needs more exercise. I mean, if that sounds good to you, Marie."
Marie waves a hand. "Nan's the dog expert. If she thinks having him run with you young things is a good idea, I say go for it."
"Hmm," Kurt murmurs. He kneels and scratches Galen's ears. "How do nine minute miles sound to you, buddy? Nothing too fast, just steady."
Galen shoves his head at Kurt's hands. Nan, walking up in time to see, says, "Looks like a yes to me. We'll make you boys a key."
Kurt's eyes light up. "And can I use your kitchen? If you're not in it, that is."
"Absolutely. But I get a cut of whatever you make," Marie says.
"What have you been plotting?" Blaine eyes Kurt.
Kurt smirks at him. "Wouldn't you like to know."
Fall settles into a routine: Blaine spends his days in class or at the library, and at least one evening a week arranging parts and photocopying music. He's enjoying the opportunity to find lesser-known songs that fit the services. He's brushing up on his classical piano, for the instrumental interludes, and if his violin skills haven't atrophied too much maybe he'll mix some of that in as well. On Wednesday afternoons, he's carved out some time to walk Galen. It helps, getting off campus and moving through the autumn air.
Kurt's busy in his costume shop nearly every day, and his evenings are filled with invitations to dinners and parties. He turns down half of them, and Tuesday becomes sacred date night. Sunday mornings Kurt and Galen go for long runs. His Saturdays, Kurt fills with phone banking at the Franklin County Democrats' headquarters. He starts after his conversation with Marie, having been recruited to bake for the volunteers.
The first Saturday after their dinner with Marie and Nan, Kurt coaxes Blaine into spending the day going door-to-door with voter registration pamphlets rather than getting ahead on his instrumental techniques reading. They're working mostly democratic precincts, but they're careful to be as neutral as possible. "It's important that you register, and important that you vote," Kurt implores.
Blaine adds, "This is part of your voice. Don't lose it." They smile and shake hands and offer to drop the forms off themselves. They register fifty people, and leave information on the doorknobs of many more.
"I like doing this," Kurt says as they drive back to headquarters for their next assignment. "I feel useful, you know?"
"Yeah," Blaine nods. "It's nice." He thinks about telling Kurt that the service at the church the Sunday before Election Day is planned to be a Get Out the Vote effort. He hesitates, not knowing just how Kurt will react. Maybe he'll tell Kurt later. Right now, he has to prepare for the children's service tomorrow.
For two weekends after that, as Kurt disappears after lunch to spend hours talking with strangers, Blaine wants to tell him. So finally he does.
He's idly playing through one of the hymns for the voting service, number 170, singing quietly. "We are a gentle, angry people," Blaine sings, "and we are singing, singing for our– Kurt!"
"Don't stop on my account," Kurt says, a laugh in his voice. "If you're singing, singing for your Kurt, you should definitely continue." He leans over Blaine's shoulder. "Is this church music?"
"It's for the first Sunday in November. They're going to encourage people to go vote." Blaine shifts on the piano bench, making room for Kurt.
Kurt slides on. "But is this church music? A hymn?"
Blaine blinks at him, puzzled. "Of course. I know this doesn't look like a hymnal, but it's the piano edition."
"So your church has a hymn that includes, along with 'young and old' and 'of many colors,' 'gay and straight together' as types of members?" Kurt tilts his head. "That's surprisingly progressive of them."
"I told you they were welcoming," Blaine says.
"Yes," Kurt drawls, "but there's a difference between 'welcoming' and 'printed in the hymnal,' Blaine."
Blaine flips back a page in the hymnal. "They also have 'We Shall Overcome,' and," he flips the pages forward, "'N'kosi Sikelel' i Afrika,' which is a little weird when the congregation is overwhelmingly white," he says. "But I think they figured they should print a hymnal with everyone in mind, in the hope that everyone would feel included."
Kurt turns the page back again and hums the melody to 170. "It's a nice goal," he says at last.
"Do you want to come hear it?" Blaine asks, suddenly nervous all over.
"No," Kurt says, "but thanks for asking me. Honestly, I think I'll start skipping my Sunday morning runs with Galen. I'm just so tired, lately."
Blaine tries not to let his disappointment show. "Maybe you should cut back on phone banking."
"I can't." Kurt shakes his head. "The closer we get to the election, the more they need people. And of course, now is when the theatre department has to decide to mount a second production before the break. What can you do?" he asks dramatically.
"Just try not to get sick," Blaine says. "Remember, we're hosting your family for Thanksgiving."
Kurt quirks an eyebrow. "Do you really think I could forget? I've already gone through three drafts of the menu." He leans against Blaine. "If you're that worried about my health, why don't you come take a nap with me?"
Blaine leans into Kurt. "Okay." It takes them a while to stand, enjoying each other's presence, and when they do Blaine follows Kurt happily down the hall and reaches for him once they're under the covers. Everything they have to do will keep for an hour or two.
On Blaine's birthday, Kurt insists on driving him to choir rehearsal. Blaine assumes he needs the car for some costume-related errand – that's probably what the box in the backseat is for. To his surprise, the box turns out to be for him.
"Take it inside," Kurt orders as he parks in the front of the church parking lot. "And don't tip it."
"What is it?" Blaine starts to lift the lid.
Kurt slaps his hand lightly. "No peeking. You can't open it until you get inside."
"This better not be something kinky," Blaine mutters darkly. "I've opened those gifts in public before." He's betting it's art for his office, really, but it's fun to needle Kurt.
"I only did that once, and we were twenty!" Kurt insists, mock-indignant.
Blaine tries to keep a straight face and a threatening tone when he says, "And you'll never do it again," but his mouth twitches and gives him away.
Kurt laughs and leans over to kiss him. "Dessert when you get home," he says. "Have a good rehearsal."
"Okay," Blaine agrees. "Love you."
"Love you too!" Kurt pulls out once the door's closed, and Blaine and his mystery box make their way into the church.
Di spots him before he makes it into the choir room. She's in the foyer, hanging up her coat. "What's in the box, boss?"
Blaine shrugs. "A surprise from Kurt. He told me not to open it until I got inside."
"You're inside now," Di says helpfully. She takes the box from him and holds it level while he sheds his coat. "Open it?"
"Why not?" Blaine says. He lifts the lid, careful not to hit Di in the face, and grins disbelievingly. "Huh. Wow."
Di, muffled by the box, asks, "What is it?"
"It's a cake. A huge sheet cake. No wonder he asked me how many people show up to choir rehearsal. That sneak." Blaine closes the lid and takes the box back. "Come on."
Marching into the choir room and setting the box across two chairs, Blaine draws some attention. He clears his throat to draw the rest. "Due to circumstances beyond my control, rehearsal will be delayed tonight," he says solemnly.
The choir makes noises of concern. Marie hides a smile behind her hand.
"Also, I think we have a spy in our midst, Marie." Blaine mock-glares at her. "Confess what you've done!"
"I have aided and abetted the delay of rehearsal," she says. "But only through providing food allergy information, I swear." Next to her, Nan makes a face of exaggerated innocence.
Blaine heaves a dramatic sigh. "I suppose we can't go on until we take care of this, then." He flips the lid of the box back up to reveal the cake, decorated with music notes and the words Happy 23rd Birthday Blaine in flowing script.
"Happy birthday!" his choir cries, voices overlapping.
"Ooo," Cheryl says appreciatively. "Kurt's doing?"
"Yes." Blaine considers the cake, then looks up at Marie. "Do you have plates and forks and a knife? He didn't give me any, and if we're going to eat this with our hands we'll have to wait until after rehearsal."
Marie holds up a tote bag. "Okay, I provided more than food allergy information. I am also ground support," she admits. "But we'd better take this in the social hall to cut and serve. There's a cake cutter in the kitchen."
Mike the baritone grabs the cake and follows Marie out, and the rest of the choir trails behind them. Blaine watches them leave and wonders if he should post a note on the door for any stragglers. He decides against it. They'll hear the noise and follow.
He winds up with Cheryl on one arm and Di on the other as they walk out. "Happy birthday, kiddo," Cheryl says as she squeezes his arm.
"Yeah, boss, happy birthday." Di tilts her head into his.
Blaine gets his arms free and wraps one around each woman. "Thanks," he says, and lets them carry him along to the hall.
Kurt's waiting at the curb when Blaine walks out. He'd wanted to stay after rehearsal and help wash the dishes, but Nan had made fearsome shoo-ing motions and Mike had threatened to carry him out. The left over cake is back in its box; Blaine sets it on the backseat before climbing in to the car.
"How was rehearsal?" Kurt asks. His voice is neutral, but his face is smug.
"Good," Blaine answers, turning to face the window in an effort to hide his pleased smile. "But somehow I'm not hungry for dessert anymore. Also, someone's turning my altos against me."
Kurt makes a noise of dismay. "Who would do such a thing?" His façade breaks at the same time as Blaine's, and they sputter and giggle their way home. Kurt makes a very undignified snort when Blaine tells him about Cheryl's suggestion that they make Blaine eat his piece of cake with no utensils.
When they get home, they wind up on the couch, Blaine's head in Kurt's lap. Kurt runs his fingers through Blaine's hair, pulling his short curls out carefully and watching them spring back.
"Hey," Blaine says, tilting his face up. "We should get married."
Kurt huffs a laugh. "We are getting married," he says, waving his left hand over Blaine's face.
Blaine grabs Kurt's hand, pulls it down and kisses his ring finger. "No, I mean we should get married this year. I don't want to wait until I'm done with grad school."
"When you say 'this year,' do you mean 2016?" Kurt asks, wide-eyed.
"Oh, no." Blaine grimaces. "That's way too fast. I know you planned your parents' wedding in a week, but I was thinking of the end of this school year. Like June?"
"I like June," Kurt says. He puts his hands back in Blaine's hair and rubs at his scalp.
Blaine moans. "Never stop doing that, okay? Actually, can I put that in our vows?"
"No." Kurt doesn't stop massaging Blaine's head. "June. Hmm."
Cheryl offers Kate Braestrup's book to Blaine again, and since she's holding a copy in her hand he takes it. He ought to be polishing his presentation on repertoire choice for middle school choirs, or pulling out his violin, but instead he reads it that Saturday while Kurt's off calling people. The book is always open in his hand as he shifts from their bed to the table for his solitary lunch, then to the couch. He cries, more than he might if Kurt were watching him, so maybe it's for the best that he's home alone.
He cries when Kate's husband, Drew, dies in a car crash, and again when Kate hears Drew's voice on a home movie, months after his death. He cries for their children, cries when their seven-year-old son says fiercely, "Maybe Dad has been reincarnated already. Maybe Dad is a tiger." Blaine can't help but picture Kurt, eight and grieving for his mother. He wonders why Cheryl wanted him to read this book. It's painful, and it's impossible to read it without imagining himself losing Kurt.
Blaine knows, though, why Cheryl lent him Here If You Need Me. He reads about Kate's neighbor, appearing at her door forty minutes after Kate hears of her husband's death with potholders on her hands and brownies still hot in their pan, tears on her cheeks. The other friends and neighbors and family who come with food, who do chores, who listen. He reads about her ministry with Maine's game wardens and about her answer to the question, asked in divinity school, "Why are you here?" "I'm here because Drew isn't," she answers. Blaine thinks about what it would feel like to take up the mantle of Kurt's dreams. He closes the book and breathes.
He regains his equanimity and reads on, fascinated and moved. When he hits chapter seventeen, he finds the part Cheryl described.
My children asked me, "Why did Dad die?"
I told them, "It was an accident. There are small accidents, like knocking over your milk at the dinner table. And there are large accidents, like the one your dad was in. No one meant it to happen. It just happened. And his body was too badly damaged in the accident for his soul to stay in it anymore, and so he died.
"God does not spill milk. God did not bash the truck into your father's car. Nowhere in scripture does it say, 'God is car accident' or 'God is death.' God is justice and kindness, mercy, and always—always—love. So if you want to know where God is in this or in anything, look for love."
Blaine thinks about this, wonders where God is in cancer, or a heart attack, or the fists of fearful teenagers or his father's careful disinterest in Blaine's life with Kurt. Nowhere, he thinks. Those are only things that happen.
He gets near the end of the book and is struck again by an email from Kate to her brother.
"It doesn't matter how educated, moneyed, or smart you are: when your child's footprints end at the river's edge, when the one you love has gone into the woods with a bleak outlook and a loaded gun, when the chaplain is walking toward you with bad news in her mouth, then only the clichés are true, and you will repeat them, unashamed. Your life, too, will swing suddenly and cruelly in a new direction with breathtaking speed, and if you are really wise—and it's surprising and wondrous, Brother, how many people have this wisdom in them—you will know enough to look around for love. It will be there, standing right on the hinge, holding out its arms to you. If you are wise, whoever you are, you will let go, fall against that love, and be held."
Blaine can picture holding Kurt, can see himself falling into Kurt's arms, can feel certain that the two of them can get each other through anything. He knows that if something happened to him, Burt would be there for Kurt in an instant. If something happened to Kurt, Blaine thinks, his mother might come for him. She'd want to. But his father wouldn't understand what Kurt meant, and that would be worse than being alone.
He hadn't understood when Blaine had called to tell them about moving up the wedding, just as he hadn't understood when Blaine and Kurt had gotten engaged. Blaine had heard a phone click down and known his father had hung up the second line. His mother's vague, "That's nice, Blaine," was only better by comparison. If they can't muster happiness for him, or even acceptance, when he has good news, Blaine doesn't know what he could expect from them if the worst happened.
They go out for date night this week, Ethiopian food near campus. Kurt's jittery about the upcoming election, and tired. Blaine watches him down cup after cup of hot, strong tea – a compromise, since it's too late for coffee.
It only takes a little work to steer Kurt from politics to costuming, and Blaine loves the stories of impromptu sing-a-longs in the shop. Kurt has taught his undergraduate helpers to sing Wicked from start to finish; they can now perform the show without a recording playing in the background. It was, of course, in the midst of this that their director walked in to check their progress. "So I flung out my arms, naturally, because it was the climax of the song, and I hit him in the nose, Blaine, it was awful. But also hilarious, once we knew he was okay."
"Oh Kurt." Blaine shakes his head. "At least you didn't hit him hard?"
"I did not," Kurt confirms. "And he has excellent reflexes for an aging professor. He was also very gracious about the whole thing. He kept telling me that he was young too, once, and he understood the impulse." Leaning forward conspiratorially, he adds, "I think this might help me get cast in a spring show, actually."
Blaine grins. "That's great! I know you miss it." He tears off another piece of injera and ponders the stews in front of them.
"I do." Kurt grabs a piece of potato and chews it thoughtfully. "I bet I could learn how to make this," he says.
Raising his eyebrows, Blaine asks, "The potato dish?" He loves the potato dish.
"All of it," Kurt says grandly. "With enough practice."
Blaine thinks about asking for some on their Thanksgiving menu, but then reconsiders. Kurt's head may explode if the holiday plan gets any more complicated. They eat in silence, and as the mood quiets Blaine surprises himself by asking, "Hey, Kurt, what would you do if I died?"
Kurt looks up, startled. "You're not dying, are you?"
"No, no," Blaine says, holding up a placating hand.
"Good," Kurt breaks in. "Because that would be a terrible way to tell me bad news."
Blaine makes an apologetic face. "No news, I promise. I've just been reading this book – well, I finished it this weekend – about this woman who lost her husband in a car accident, and it got me thinking. She went on, you know? She kept raising her kids, and looking for the good in the world, and making a career and a life for herself ... and then she fell in love again."
"That's good," Kurt says. "That's what I'd want you to do."
Blaine looks down. "I don't know if I could. I can't imagine losing you, Kurt."
Kurt grabs Blaine's hand, heedless of the stew on his fingers. "But you will someday. Or I'll lose you. That's what happens to people, eventually. And, you know, my dad and I kept going, and after a while he found Carole, and I found you. Not that losing a parent is the same as losing a spouse, but there was a big hole in my life, too."
"Is it— I've never thought about that happening to us. And now it's like I can't stop." Blaine keeps his hold on Kurt's hand as he looks up. "But I guess you're right. Neither one of us is going to live forever."
"No, we won't. But if we're happy, and loving, and loved, isn't that what matters?" Kurt picks his tea up awkwardly, wrong-handed, and drinks. When he puts the cup back down he says, "Do you want to talk about this more?"
Blaine shakes his head. "Maybe later. But Kurt? If I died, I'd want you to find love again, too."
Face soft, Kurt closes his eyes and exhales. "Yeah," he says, and his eyes are full when he opens them again. "And maybe I'll read that book, if you've still got it."
Blaine comes home from his church choir rehearsal that week to find Kurt on the couch, Here If You Need Me open on his chest. There are tear tracks on his face, and dark rings around his eyes. Blaine lifts the book away slowly, marks his place, and grabs the blanket off the back of the couch. Kurt coughs in his sleep, but doesn't wake when Blaine covers him.
Sitting down on the carpet, Blaine watches Kurt sleep. He gives himself five minutes before he stands again and goes into the kitchen to tidy up. The evening's choir rehearsal is on his mind; he thinks they're ready for their service on Sunday, and the hymns they're using will work, but he's frustrated that he couldn't find the perfect music for it.
David has been encouraging Blaine to make more of the decisions about the music for services, asking him to choose hymns as well as instrumental pieces. They're singing 170, of course, the hymn that had surprised Kurt with all its kinds of "gentle, angry people," and 131 for openers. The combined length of those two hits nine verses, but David thinks that'll be okay. Everything else is out of the hymnal as well, even the pieces the choir will sing without the congregation.
It would be nice if every set of music came as easily as Blaine's additions to the water service had. He knows that's not realistic, especially now with the term over half gone. OSU's quarters are shorter than NYU's, and he's looking at his list of presentations and papers with dread. There's a particular term paper, on historical arguments for music programs in public schools, that's already a monster. It needs to double in length in the next two weeks for Blaine to feel good about it.
Sometimes he thinks about handing the responsibility for music choice back to David and Elizabeth. He doesn't want to, though, any more than Kurt wants to give up the second production he's costuming. They're both worn out, all the time, and they won't get a break until ... Blaine's not sure, actually. He's used to looking at winter break as a glorious two weeks off from everything. But despite finding himself with nearly a month off by OSU's calendar, he knows he'll be working hard to get a Christmas service put together. He can't even think about the chaos of people leaving town or hosting guests. Maybe they can schedule extra rehearsals, catch-as-catch-can?
The kitchen is as clean as it's going to get, Blaine decides, and he can't solve December's schedule problems tonight. He walks back into the living room and frowns down at Kurt. He's curled into a ball, face pale and breath raspy. Blaine thinks about letting him spend the night there, but he'll be more comfortable in bed.
Kneeling to shake his shoulder gently, Blaine says, "Kurt, wake up a little. Kurt."
Kurt's eyes blink open. "Blaine?"
"Come on, honey. It's time for bed." Blaine gets Kurt up and moving, then hits the lights and checks the locks before following him. He gets to their bedroom in time to guide Kurt into bed. Kurt's out the moment he's horizontal, and Blaine's happy to follow him into sleep.
Sunday morning, Kurt stays in bed and falls back asleep soon after Blaine kisses him goodbye. There's no need to worry about him, Blaine tells himself. What he needs to worry about is keeping his energy, and the choir's, up through the service. They get the congregation on their feet singing "We Are a Gentle Angry People," and keep them there with "Love Will Guide Us," just as Blaine hoped. David looks pleased as he welcomes them.
The choir's introductions to each other have stopped being cute fake meetings and progressed into short reports about everyone's weekend. Cheryl turns expectantly to Blaine, and he shrugs. "Term paper," he says. "And Kurt's got a cold. There was a lot of tea, and a lot of tissues, and a stack of books taller than my leg is long." Cheryl laughs. "I'm not kidding!" he insists. "That's the literal truth."
"You need pie," she answers.
Blaine inclines his head. "I do. But I'm not going to get it for another week or so."
"Okay," Cheryl sighs. "Next week."
They sing "Finlandia," using the hymnal edition for convenience, as the service's next musical interlude. Blaine loves the harmony they pull off, leaning into the dissonant chords and making the resolutions into almost tangible relief. "O hear my song, thou God of all the nations, a song of peace for their land and for mine," they conclude. He'd worried that it was a reach, too much about international affairs and not enough about domestic, but now on this Sunday morning he can see the congregation responding thoughtfully, taking it to heart about the divisions in this country as well as the world. The first sermon he heard here, Elizabeth's words about standing on the side of love, come back to Blaine.
David steps back up to the microphone. "Our first reading is by Walt Whitman. 'Election Day, November 1884.'
"If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
'Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyserloops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon's white cones—nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes—nor Mississippi's stream:
—This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name—the still small voice vibrating—America's choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadrennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous'd-sea-board and inland-Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling— (a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's:) the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails."
David takes off his reading glasses. "Please rise as you are willing and able for hymn 34. 'Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire.'"
Blaine and the choir stand along with the congregation, and he nods to Roberto at the piano. This one is easy for the congregation to sing – the melody is "The Water is Wide," which most of them know. He focuses his attention on the choir, bringing out the harmonies. "And have not love, my words are vain," they sing, the altos descending perfectly. The tenors hit their harmony on the next phrase, stronger now that Paul's brought his teenaged son along and Luke recruited his fishing buddy. It's good.
He can see the congregation responding as they had to Finlandia, maybe more so since they're singing this one, too. The choir is confident enough that Blaine can half-turn and direct the sanctuary at large. He likes it. "Let inward love guide every deed, by this we worship and are freed," the hymn concludes. Blaine acknowledges congregation and choir with a twist of his hands and goes back to his chair by Cheryl, smiling.
"Thank you," David says to the choir. He turns to the congregation and begins his sermon. "This is the marvel of modern democracy: a bloodless revolution, every few years. It is not perfect, but that lack of perfection gives us something to strive for. We strive also for true representation at the polls. We've been hampered by spurious distinctions based on race, and sex, and class, by partisan ploys and, most insidiously, by apathy. We are a country in need of enthusiasm, and of reform.
"On Tuesday, there won't be much we can do about election reform. I applaud those of you who turned out last month to register voters. Now what I ask of you – what your country asks of you – is that you carefully consider the issues and the candidates before you, and that you discuss them with all who will listen. Talk to your neighbors, your coworkers, your families. Develop informed opinions. Seek out opposing arguments and consider them fairly. The internet is wonderful for providing the arguments, if not the fairness.
"And offer help. Ask your neighbors if they need a ride to their polling place. Check in with the College Democrats and the Young Republicans to see if there are students who need a lift. Pick up some of the maps we have in the social hall that clearly detail precincts and their assigned polls, and pass them out tomorrow. We can't make the development of opinions easy for others, but we can provide support with the practical logistics."
David delves into the history of suffrage, and Blaine's too tired to follow it well, thoughts drifting. He's so proud of Kurt and all his work for this election, so glad to say that they spent a Saturday registering voters. He wishes he could go out tomorrow with maps and take Tuesday off to drive people to vote. It's not practical for him to do it. Maybe he can at least take the car to campus in case some people from his program need a ride.
He and Kurt will go vote together, first thing in the morning, and he knows they'll be up late watching the returns come in. When David reaches the end of his sermon and asks for the hands of all those who promise to vote, Blaine raises his hand high.
He lapses back into inattentiveness, promising himself he'll wake up for the second service of the morning after a cup of coffee. Cheryl nudges him when David motions the ushers to pass the collection baskets, and Blaine jumps up and beckons the choir to their feet.
"Circle 'round for freedom, circle 'round for peace." The altos have the melody, for once, and Di is beaming in the front row. Behind her, Nan and Marie look equally pleased, if not as exuberant, and they're good indicators of the section's mood as a whole. Blaine reminds himself to look for other pieces that pass the lead. He winds them gracefully down into the final lines. "For the children of our children, keep the circle whole," and lets his choir hold the final chord a moment longer than they should. Then he checks that the baskets are still circulating and brings them back in again, half for the pleasure of hearing their voices raised in that song a second time.
David shuffles his papers. "Our second reading is short, but relevant. Matt Taibbi, of Rolling Stone, said this of voter apathy: 'When one hundred million people don't vote, the nation is not bitterly divided. The nation mostly doesn't give a shit.'
"I am asking you, on Tuesday, to give a shit. And with that indelicate request, I would now like to ask you to join me for hymn 142, 'Let There Be Light.'" He turns to Blaine, who nods to Roberto.
It's a short hymn, but one in four-part, unfamiliar harmony. Blaine lets Roberto play through it completely before the choir begins, and he encourages the sopranos to go to town on the melody. It pays off when the congregation responds with confidence. Blaine's learned that they learn better from hearing other voices than they do from the piano, so for every hymn that David or Elizabeth flag as new he gives the sopranos permission to sing out as loudly as they'd like.
Even tired as he is, it's impossible to miss that what he's doing is working. And that more than makes up for all the long hours and the worries.
The choir is dispirited when they come together that week. Blaine gives them a few minutes to discuss their unhappiness with Tiberi's re-election, and let them shrug fatalistically at their new republican president. Then he cuts them off.
"I know it's hard to feel grateful for much right now. But we have a Thanksgiving service to prepare for, so let's let the music drag us up, okay?" Blaine asks from his perch on his stool. "I have the hymns, and we'll be doing a contemporary piece as well. Does anyone here know the Decemberists?"
Paul's son, Kevin, puts his hand up.
Blaine looks around the room. "Anyone else? No?" He hops off the stool and walks over to Kevin. "High five, man. You and I are the only cool ones here."
Kevin smiles and slaps Blaine's hand. The rest of the choir boos good-naturedly.
"Fortunately," Blaine says as he returns to the front of the room, "I brought a recording. I don't have the arrangement finished – we'll do that next week – but I do want to familiarize you with the original version. So let's run these hymns, and then we can rock out a little." He grins out at his choir.
He kicks off with "For the Beauty of the Earth," which has the virtue of no complicated rhythms and lets them move quickly on to "Give Thanks." The choir's mood has lifted under the influence of the songs of gratitude, and they seem sincere when they sing, "Give thanks for the homes that with kindness are blessed."
"Good," Blaine praises. "Two more! Turn to 349."
The basses stumble over "We Gather Together," singing the mainstream Christian lyrics and not the UU ones until the third time through. Blaine does not pull at his hair, or give much sign of his frustration, but Bill is casting wary looks in his direction so perhaps he's not hiding it perfectly. Eventually they get it, and Blaine calls for a break while Paul and the tenors take the silver books back and fetch the teal hymnals.
Cheryl taps him on the shoulder. "Pie tonight?" she suggests.
"If it can be short, you're on," he says with an apologetic look. "I don't have a lot of extra time, but I could use the break."
"Deal." She takes her seat again and accepts the teal book Lynn holds out. "Oh, are we singing 1010?"
Blaine nods. "We are. 1010, everyone!" He takes the piano bench from Roberto and runs through the hymn once alone, enjoying the ornamentation on the part. "Ready?"
They are, and they're obviously comfortable with this one. "Oh, we give thanks," the choir sings, faces beaming, "for this precious day, For all gather'd here, and those far away; For this time we share with love and care— Oh, we give thanks, for this precious day."
Yes, we do, Blaine thinks.
Kurt rubs absently at his neck, then works a hand down his shoulder. "Ugh, too many hours of sewing."
"We don't have to do this today," Blaine says.
"Yes we do." Kurt frowns down at his list. "We can't leave this to the last minute. Have you ever been in a grocery store the day before Thanksgiving? It's not pretty, Blaine."
Holding up his hands in surrender, Blaine lets Kurt and the shopping cart pass by. "Okay, if you're up for it. Just— If you wanted to take some time to relax, it would be okay. We still have twelve days until Thanksgiving."
"But only two Saturdays," Kurt shoots back. "Just one, really, since today's half over." He stalks through the produce section, picking over organic delicata squash. "Honestly, we should have gone to Whole Foods. I know it's a drive, but their squash is better. I can't get something that's already nearly inedible and expect it to keep for a week."
"I can go shopping closer to the time," Blaine offers.
Kurt stops and turns to him, a squash in each hand. "You really can't." Then he softens. "I appreciate the offer, I do, but I want everything to be perfect and that means picking the produce myself. You can get the canned and frozen things, if you want."
Blaine shrugs. "Only if it's helpful. I don't get why you're so stressed about this. You've cooked lots for your dad and Carole and Finn."
"But this is the first time I'll be doing it in our home. It's fine to go home and cook in Dad and Carole's kitchen, but we're hosting. I want it to be perfect." Kurt settles on a few squash and puts the rejects carefully back.
"You said that," Blaine says cautiously. "But I don't think it's going to be perfect no matter what you do."
"I know," Kurt sighs. "But I can try. Look, will it make you feel better if I promise to take a nap after this?"
Blaine steps close to Kurt. "And will you let me push the cart?"
Kurt smiles. "You're like a five-year-old, I swear," he says affectionately. "Yes, let's go."
"So I said—" Kurt pauses to cough. "I said, 'I can't believe you're wearing that in public. Are you color blind?' And he was!" He laughs, but his laughter descends quickly into a coughing fit.
Blaine frowns. "Are you okay, Kurt? That sounds like a chest cough."
Kurt waves a hand. "It's fine. I'm just a little run down. I'll sleep in this weekend." He coughs again, presses a hand to his chest. "Actually, can I take the car this evening? I'll drop you off at your rehearsal and pick you up after. I just don't think I should take the bus if I'm contagious."
"Sure, that's fine," Blaine says.
"Great." Kurt stands and starts to clear the table.
Blaine stops him. "Hey, I'll do that. You cooked. Maybe you can lay down for a bit now?"
When Kurt doesn't argue, just goes to the couch and makes himself a nest of the throw pillows and blanket, Blaine worries more. The sound of his cough is clear even in the kitchen, and when Blaine looks in on him his body is racked with it. But his eyes are closed. Blaine tiptoes away, hoping Kurt will get some rest.
He washes their dinner dishes, scrubs the saucepans smooth and clean, stacks everything as quietly as he can in the drying rack. A half hour passes too fast. Blaine gathers his choir things slowly, dawdling until he can't wait any longer. He wakes Kurt with a gentle hand to his shoulder.
Kurt sits up and rubs his eyes blearily, slouching. He coughs again, shoulders rounded inward, and presses a hand to his chest. "Ugh," he says. "I wish I could shake this bug." He makes a fist and strikes his breastbone, like he thinks he can jar his congestion free. It doesn't work, and he cringes.
Blaine wants to fret over him, but he's left their departure until the last minute. He says, "Kurt, I need to go. Do you want to stay home?"
"No, no, I need to go into the shop," Kurt says, eyes unfocused. "Sorry, just give me a second." Not long after, he's up and moving, albeit slowly. He lowers himself gingerly into the driver's seat of the car. "Maybe I do have the flu or something. I've been achy for a while."
"Are you sure you need to work this evening?" Blaine asks, pleading.
Kurt considers this while they drive, but finally throws Blaine an apologetic glance and says, "I do. With two productions coming up, I need to put in the time. If I can just make it through this push, I can rest afterwards. Well, after I put on Thanksgiving." He pulls up to the church, idling on the curb.
Sighing, Blaine unbuckles his seat belt. "Okay," he says, and he leans over to kiss Kurt goodbye. "I'll see you in two hours."
Blaine tries to be present for the choir, only letting his mind wander to Kurt occasionally. It's hard to forget the wince on Kurt's face when he'd thumped his chest. "Oh, ow, I won't do that again," he'd wheezed. He catches himself frowning into space twice. The second time, he looks down and finds Di watching him. He's sure that if he looked to the left, Cheryl would be frowning too.
Shaking his head, Blaine makes a show of waking himself up and smiles apologetically to the choir. "I don't know where my head's at this evening," he says. But he does know, and he can't wait to be done so he can get home to make Kurt drink tea and go to bed early for once.
Rehearsal is almost over when Kurt appears in the doorway, looking flushed and coughing weakly. Blaine drops his music; it crashes on to the piano keys as he stands. "Kurt?"
The choir murmurs and turns in their seats, curious about the infamous Kurt. Blaine's shifting his weight awkwardly, wanting to get to Kurt but unwilling to abandon his post. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Cheryl elbowing Lynn.
"Hey!" Lynn shouts. "Eyes on your music, people. You're going to look dumb next Sunday if we don't get this down."
Di's gesturing Roberto to the piano. Blaine yields gratefully to him, and to Lynn as she rises and comes to stand next to him. A hand grabs Blaine's wrist; it's Di. "Go on, boss. We can finish up here."
Blaine gives her a weak smile and makes his way through the chairs to Kurt. He puts an arm around Kurt's shoulders and draws him back into the foyer of the church. The sound of Lynn starting rehearsal again drifts out the door to them. "You look awful," Blaine says.
"I feel awful," Kurt answers. "I think— I think I need to go to the hospital, Blaine. It's hard for me to breathe."
"Okay, let's go." Blaine pats his pocket for his car keys and feels the ring of building keys there beside them. "No, wait, I have to—" He turns back and sees Cheryl in the doorway of the choir room, walking toward them.
"I'll lock up, don't worry," she says. Her gaze lifts past his face and settles on Kurt. "Hi, Kurt," she says softly as she reaches over to rest a hand on his forehead. "Blaine said you were hot, but I don't think this is what he meant." She turns back to Blaine. "Hospital?"
He nods. "Yeah." Blaine drops his building keys into her waiting hand. "Thanks, Cheryl."
"Sure, sweetheart. Call me when you get home, okay?" She obviously wants to hug him, but isn't sure if she should with Kurt standing there, leaning into Blaine's side.
"I will," Blaine promises. "Now, let's go," he says to Kurt, and they step out into the night.
It's past one am when Blaine gets home, alone and dragging his feet. He can't imagine going to sleep here when Kurt's lying scared in a hospital bed with an oxygen line under his nose. He's only coming home because Kurt made him; he'd woken up after sleeping for a few hours and scowled at Blaine. "You look awful," Kurt had said. "You're not going to get any rest in that chair, and then you're going to get sick too." He hadn't let Blaine argue, just asked him to go sleep properly and come back in the morning.
Now Blaine's back home, and there's a piece of paper taped to his front door. He welcomes the distraction of whatever it might be.
The paper is a list of names, phone numbers, and types of food. Blaine squints at it, wondering how tired he is, and then notices Di's handwriting along the top. Pick whatever, whenever, and we'll deliver. Can't have you going hungry, boss. Oh. He lets himself tear up a bit, feeling too much, before remembering his promise to call Cheryl. He sits down at the table and holds his breath as he dials.
She answers on the second ring. "Blaine?"
Blaine exhales. "Hi. I'm sorry to call so late, but—"
"No, I made you promise. What's the news?" she asks. Blaine can hear rustling on her end.
"Pneumonia," he says, and his voice shakes. "They said the prognosis is good – he's young, and strong, and it's bacterial so they have him on IV antibiotics and oxygen now. But Cheryl, he made me leave him there, and I'm worried they won't let me back in tomorrow. Without a marriage license, they don't have to. And I have to call Burt, oh god." Blaine puts his head in his free hand.
"Breathe, honey," Cheryl says firmly. "They're not actually going to keep you from Kurt unless there's a major problem." She pauses. "Do you want me to come over and be there while you call?"
"No," Blaine says into the table. "He's basically my father-in-law, he's not allowed to kill me. I better do that now, before it gets later."
The noises on Cheryl's end stop. "Okay, I'll let you go. I'm thinking of you both."
"Thanks. Good night," Blaine says, and her voice comes back, "Good night, dear."
Sitting up and dialing the Hummel household number is even harder than calling Cheryl. Burt picks up with a gruff, "Hello," his tone of voice making it clear that Blaine woke him up.
"Hi, Burt, it's Blaine. Kurt's in the hospital with pneumonia," Blaine says in a rush.
"What?!" Burt yells. "How— I thought you were gonna take care of him!"
Blaine slumps. "I tried, I did, but—"
"I trusted you with him," Burt says. "And now he's in the hospital?" His voice drops off; he must be explaining the situation to Carole, who says something unintelligible back to him. "I'm leaving now. I'll be there in two hours."
There's a sound from Burt's end. "Oh, you will not," Carole says, and Blaine startles at hearing her voice so loudly. He pictures them with their heads pressed together, sharing the handset. "I won't have you getting in a car accident because you're too tired to drive. Blaine, honey, what are they doing for him?"
Rubbing his eyes, Blaine stammers, "Uh, IV antibiotics and one of those, um, oxygen lines."
"A cannula," Carole says, sounding satisfied. "And they're keeping him overnight?"
"Well, it was nine when we got there. They said they want to keep him until tomorrow evening, to make sure the antibiotics are working." Blaine gives in and rests his head on the table again.
Carole hums. "Good. He's going to be fine, I'm sure of it. Burt will be there tomorrow afternoon—"
"—or earlier," Burt breaks in.
"—and you can both bring Kurt home. Call me when you do, okay? I want to know what they've got him on." Carole pauses, probably giving Burt a look. "Try to get some rest, Blaine. Kurt will need you to be healthy tomorrow."
Blaine promises to try and tells them good night. Carole says, "Good night. We love you," and Burt rumbles it after her.
It's pointless to try and sleep in their bed, so Blaine lies down on the couch and doesn't sleep. And doesn't sleep. And then, finally, he does.
Cheryl rings the doorbell at nine the next morning, and Blaine drags his rumpled self off the couch to answer. "Cheryl?"
"Hi, sweetie," she says, inviting herself in and wrapping him in a hug. A bag hangs off her shoulder. "I brought breakfast. Or rather, I brought what will be breakfast, if that's okay."
Blaine gestures her wordlessly to the kitchen, following her through and sitting down at the table. "Don't you have to work today? Not that I'm not grateful," he adds quickly.
"Oddly, there's not much doing at the Columbus Public Library on the Friday before Thanksgiving," Cheryl says, wry. She's dicing an onion, and her eyes are watering. "Phew, these things always get me. Anyway, the library will be quiet until after the holiday, with the exception of the cookbooks. Those get a workout the night before Thanksgiving. Olive oil?"
Blaine gets her the bottle and falls back into his chair, watching her sauté the onions and add a can of tomatoes. He thinks he should ask what she's making, or something. "They didn't mind you calling in?"
Cheryl adjusts the heat on the stove, then comes to join him at the table. "I told them I had a family emergency," she says.
"Oh," Blaine says dumbly, and then he crumples forward, crying. "Thank you," he manages.
"Of course, my darling," Cheryl says as she catches him. She settles his forehead on her shoulder and lets his tears soak into her shirt, lets her body absorb his gasping, heaving sobs. Her hands move slowly over his back until he quiets. When he sits up, sniffling, Cheryl asks, "Shall we pretend it's the onions?"
Blaine laughs, wetly. "No, I think you know it's not the onions. It's Kurt. I'm just so scared for him."
"I know you are. He's in good hands, though, and pneumonia isn't something young people die of. He needs antibiotics and rest, which he's getting right now, and this afternoon you'll bring him home and wait on him hand and foot." She stands and fetches a paper towel for him to blow his nose on. "Hang on, let me check on breakfast."
Cheryl breaks eggs into the tomatoes and scrambles them, then turns the resulting dish out onto two plates. "Eat," she says, "even if you don't think you're hungry."
So Blaine eats, and finds that he is.
Cheryl won't let him drive to the hospital. She orders him into her car and takes him there herself, helping him give directions to Burt when he calls to say he's near. They meet up in the parking lot, where Burt hugs Blaine immediately. "You okay, kid?"
Blaine nods. "Yeah. Um, Burt, this is Cheryl. She's a friend from, uh—"
"I sing in a choir Blaine directs," Cheryl breaks in. "Nice to meet you, Burt."
"Likewise," Burt says.
Cheryl bows out discreetly. "I'll be at the coffee shop for a while," she tells Blaine. "Let me know if you need a ride home."
Blaine leads Burt up to Kurt's room and they settle into the chairs there, watching Kurt sleep. It's comforting to see him despite the air of fragility the hospital bed gives him. They talk in low tones, not wanting to disturb Kurt. One of the nurses tells them that he's not likely to wake for some time.
"It's normal, with pneumonia," he says. "Poor guy's worn out. That's why he got sick."
"Thanks," Burt says. He turns to Blaine. "I'm planning to stay here all afternoon, if you've got stuff you need to do. Not that you're not welcome—"
"No, I get it," Blaine answers. "I should probably go home and eat some lunch, take a shower. Do you want to go eat first, and we can trade off?"
Burt nods. "Sure." He puts a hand on Blaine's shoulder and squeezes it before he goes.
Blaine tries to use the time to consider his term paper, or the music for the Thanksgiving service. He starts thinking through the piece he'll need to have ready for his voice recital in a week and a half. It's no use: he can't focus on anything but Kurt. When Burt comes back Blaine stands and softly tells Kurt goodbye, promising to be back in a few hours. He kisses Kurt's hair.
"I'll call if he can leave early," Burt says.
"Okay," Blaine agrees. "I'll be back around five if I don't hear from you."
Cheryl's ready to drive him home, as promised. The traffic's light in the middle of the day; Blaine doesn't have enough time to organize his to-do list. He keeps thinking of things that need doing only to discard them as excessive. Does he really have time to vacuum? Will Burt care if he doesn't?
"I don't know what to do first," he admits to Cheryl, and is interrupted by the doorbell.
Cheryl answers it. "Di! Come in."
"Thanks," Di says. She leans around Cheryl to make eye contact with Blaine before moving into the kitchen. "Hi, boss. I brought you a casserole."
Blaine blinks at her. "Oh. Um, thank you."
Casserole safely on the counter, Di comes over to hug him. "I actually made six," she says sheepishly. "I went kind of wild after rehearsal. Roberto talked me out of bringing all of them."
"We might need six, actually," Blaine says. "My father-in-law is here, at the hospital right now, and neither he nor I can cook. Kurt—" He breaks off, gathers himself. "Kurt is the cook in the family. And the baker."
"You got it," Di promises. "And where's that list?" She peers around the kitchen and spots the food list on the table. Snatching it up, she says, "Don't forget about this. We mean it, boss. Call in the evening, let us know what you want to eat the next day."
Blaine looks down. "I don't want to be any trouble. Everyone's already been so great, about me running out of rehearsal, and I don't know if I'll make it to services on Sunday—"
"Blaine," Di says.
He looks at her, startled.
"Call. Or I'll assign a rotation, and you'll end up eating nothing but lasagna for a week." She lets that sink in before continuing, "It's not trouble. We want to do this for you."
Blaine is reduced, once more, to saying, "Oh," and closing his eyes against the upwelling of emotion.
When he's regained his composure, he sees Cheryl and Di pondering the back of an envelope. They're making a schedule for him. "It's okay," Blaine says. "I'll call, I promise. It's just a lot to take in."
"You'll get used to it," Cheryl says. "We're Midwestern. We feed the ones we love."
One of these days, Blaine is going to stop getting teary. He hugs Cheryl, hiding his face in her shoulder briefly. "Thanks," he tells them both when he pulls back.
"Now," Di says, "You need Sunday off? Would you like one of us to call David for you?"
Blaine shakes his head. "No, I can do it. Do you think it's going to be a problem?"
They laugh. "Not a bit," Di says. "You see, boss, David has this thing for singing rounds in Latin."
"It's his standing back-up plan." Cheryl rubs her hands together. "Oh, we're going to sing 'Gaudeamus Hodie' twenty times this weekend!"
"At least," Di confirms. "If he makes us sing until it sounds good, that might be the whole service."
Blaine snorts. "Singing rounds. In Latin. I guess I should be glad there is a back-up plan."
"People get sick, or have crises," Di says philosophically. "And it's fun. We'll do it some time when you're there, you'll see." She checks her watch. "Oops, I have to get back to work. Call. Or it'll be lasagna." She points at Blaine and makes a stern face.
He raises his hands in surrender. "I will, I will!" He hugs Di and walks her to the door. "Thank you."
Her hand on the doorknob, Di looks back at him. "You're welcome. Believe it." And then she goes.
Blaine walks to the table and grabs his phone. "I'm going to call David, and I should shower and clean before Burt comes here," he tells Cheryl. "Would you like to borrow a book or something?"
"Sure," she says. "And if I can be a help with the cleaning, I'm happy to pitch in."
"Okay. Can you vacuum? The vacuum cleaner's in the hall closet," he says.
Cheryl nods. "I can do that."
Blaine starts down the hall to the bedroom, but turns back. "Cheryl?"
She tilts her head. "Yeah, kiddo?"
He clears his throat. "I— You probably have other plans, but would you like to come have Thanksgiving here?" Can you stay here this weekend, this week, and catch me when I need it, Blaine doesn't ask.
"Sure," she says easily. "I'd love to."
Blaine keeps standing there, and Cheryl touches his shoulder as she walks past him. He thinks she knows what he couldn't say.
They drive to the hospital in the late afternoon, Blaine secure in the knowledge that he's now clean and ready to offer his father-in-law a guest bed with fresh sheets. Cheryl drops him off with a reminder about the soup she left in the fridge for Kurt. "It's in the big Pyrex bowl, which is kind of ridiculous, but that's what I could find in your cabinets."
"Got it," Blaine says. "Thank you so much for everything."
"Of course," she answers.
Inside, he meets up with Burt and waits while Burt deals with checking Kurt out and picking up his prescriptions. Blaine passes a set of Kurt's pajamas to a nurse, heavy flannel ones, and watches the elevator impatiently with Kurt's coat over his arm. He hates seeing Kurt brought out in a wheelchair, hates how frail he looks. But when Kurt stands on wobbly legs and presses himself to Blaine's side, Blaine forgets everything but his relief.
"Your dad's doing the paperwork," he says softly. "How do you feel?"
"Mmm, better," Kurt murmurs. "I can breathe again, more easily than yesterday, at least. I am desperate to get home, though. The food here is terrible, and the color scheme in my room did nothing for my skin tone. Please tell me we're leaving soon."
Burt joins them as Kurt's finishing. "We are. C'mere, Kurt," he says, and Kurt falls into his embrace.
"Thanks for being here, Dad." Kurt pulls back to look at them both. "I'm sorry for scaring you."
"No, no, don't be sorry," Blaine says. "But maybe sleep more and push yourself less next time, okay?"
Kurt shifts his weight, leaning back into Blaine. "Okay."
They bundle Kurt into his coat and out to the car, Burt taking the wheel and saying nothing when Blaine slides in back with Kurt. He listens as Burt outlines the new holiday plan: Burt staying with them for the week, Carole and Finn arriving for Thanksgiving and the weekend after. By the time they get home, Kurt's blinking tiredly and slumped against Blaine.
Blaine gets Kurt into bed, the feather duvet tucked tightly around him. Kurt falls asleep immediately, just as the doctor's notes said he might. There's plenty of time before he needs to take any pills, and Burt wants to sit with him so Blaine doesn't fuss too much over getting him water or extra pillows. If Kurt needs anything, he knows one of them will be close by. They'll wake him in an hour and offer Cheryl's soup, if Kurt's not up by then.
He stands and watches Kurt breathe, the pale evening light that slips around the blinds making his face visible. The hectic flush is out of his cheeks. Blaine bends and kisses his forehead. His eyes never leaving Kurt's face, he straightens and says, fervently, to the empty air around them and whatever force or chance brought them here, "Thank you." Thank you for Kurt, for giving him back to me, he thinks. Who he's thanking, he couldn't say, but he feels it too strongly not to say it aloud.
Kurt insists on getting his own breakfast the next morning, stubbornly making oatmeal and banishing Blaine and Burt to the living room. Blaine smiles into his hand when Kurt comes out to join them with his bowl and finds them both on the ground, the couch wide open for him.
"I don't need the entire couch. I'm just eating oatmeal, not doing a gymnastics routine," he says.
"Uh huh," Burt replies. "Did you make enough oatmeal for everyone?"
His spoon in his mouth, Kurt nods.
"Then I'm going to have a bowl myself, and maybe explore your neighborhood a little," Burt says, standing with a groan. "Oh, my knees."
Blaine sits while Kurt eats, asking questions about Kurt's preferences from the list of choral foodstuffs. When Burt sticks his head in to say goodbye, Blaine gathers himself to take advantage of the privacy Burt's giving them.
"So, uh, I kind of fell apart while you were in the hospital," he says. "I was a wreck. If it weren't for Cheryl, I probably would have spent the whole day curled up in a little ball. Or breaking things, or something."
Kurt pats the couch beside him. "Come here, Blaine."
Only too happy to join him, Blaine gets up and arranges himself beside Kurt, their thighs pressed together. "And then I called your dad at one in the morning, and he yelled at me for not taking care of you, and I was just so miserable." Blaine takes in Kurt's face. "Don't apologize, it's not your fault. I just wanted you to know what it was like for me, I guess."
"I don't have the stamina to have this conversation and sit up," Kurt says. "Scootch."
Blaine moves to one end of the couch, and Kurt puts his head in Blaine's lap.
"There," he says. "Okay, I'm not apologizing, but. I am sorry you were scared, and sorry that my dad yelled at you. You guys seem okay now, yes?"
"Yeah," Blaine says. "He hugged me when he got here. I think Carole had some words for him."
Kurt smiles, satisfied. "They're good for each other." He settles bonelessly into the cushions. "Did you eat?" he murmurs.
Blaine looks down at him, puzzled. "Yes?"
"Good," Kurt says. "Then you can be my pillow for a while, and we'll both feel better."
There's a book on the coffee table from Cheryl's vigil yesterday; Blaine picks it up and reads until Burt comes back. He greets Burt with a finger to his lips and a tilt of his head toward the sleeping Kurt.
Burt nods. "I'm glad he's resting," he says quietly. "So, I noticed you boys don't have much furniture. I, ah, found a recliner while I was out. Would you mind having one?"
"No, sure, that'd be fine," Blaine says, startled. "It could go right there, where that lamp is."
Burt nods again. "All right. I'll get it for you this afternoon. Might need your help bringing it in, once Kurt's shifted off your lap." He pauses and rubs his head. "Blaine, I owe you an apology for yelling at you yesterday. Thursday. Whenever it was that you called."
"Burt, it's fine—" Blaine begins.
"It's not fine." Burt fixes Blaine with his gaze. "I worry about Kurt. It's something I've done since he was born: I can't help it. I thought I'd worry less about him when you came along, but I was wrong. Instead I started expecting you to be some kind of miracle worker and shield him from everything.
"Look, I've been married twice, and I know how that goes. I know, as much as anyone can know, what it feels like to love someone the way you love Kurt. And if someone blamed me when Carole was hurting, or Kurt's mom, I wouldn't know what to do." Burt leans forward. "So I'm sorry, Blaine. You're doing your best to be there for him, and we both know he won't let anyone wrap him up in bubble wrap, as much as we might like to."
They both startle when Kurt speaks. "That's right, I won't," he says to his dad, eyes opening. "I pushed myself too hard, and I got sick. Those were my choices, and my responsibility. You shouldn't feel guilty, Blaine, and you shouldn't blame him, Dad." He closes his eyes again. "That's all I have to say."
Blaine touches his shoulder. "There's one more thing. I don't know if you heard, but your dad wants to buy us furniture. It's okay with me if it's okay with you."
"Man needs a recliner," Kurt agrees with no hint of irony in his voice. "Now can I go back to sleep?"
After calling at regular intervals throughout the weekend, Cheryl drops by on Monday afternoon.
"Sunday went fine, just so you know. David lit a candle for Kurt, and another one for you," she tells Blaine.
"That was nice of him. How was the music?" he asks. "Latin?"
"We did, in fact, sing 'Gaudeamus Hodie.' Thirty-four times. I counted for you," Cheryl teases.
Blaine raises his eyebrows, skeptical.
"Well, David has an ambitious sense of tempo, and Roberto went along with it. It didn't take as long as you're thinking." She grins. "So, what's the holiday schedule look like? Anything I can get for you?"
"Carole and Finn are coming Wednesday night or Thursday morning, depending on the weather. We could use an air mattress, since Finn's too tall for our couch – do you have one we could borrow?" He surveys the kitchen. "I don't think we need any food. Di was right about the choir feeding us."
"Good food, too," Burt adds, joining them. He nods and says, "Cheryl."
"Burt." She nods back. "I'm glad to hear it. We take feeding these boys seriously."
Burt grins. "My wife's like that," he says. "Carole will appreciate that there's someone local on the job. A lot of someones, it seems like."
"They have that effect on people," Cheryl says, fond.
"They do." Burt claps Blaine on the shoulder. "Hey, Kurt's awake. You want to see him?"
Blaine doesn't know why Burt would be asking him that. Then he realizes that Burt's asking Cheryl, who had gone home after dropping Blaine off on Friday. He wonders if he should say something, explain to Burt that Cheryl and Kurt have only really interacted through him.
It's too late. "I would," Cheryl answers. She follows Burt down the hall to the bedroom.
When Burt comes back out to settle in the new recliner in the living room, Blaine tiptoes to the bedroom door. It's ajar, and he can hear Cheryl and Kurt's voices coming softly from the inside. He can't make out what they're saying, but he doesn't need to. He smiles and goes back to the kitchen to make mashed potatoes for Kurt's dinner.
The choir brings them a parade of food. Blaine had found Kurt's final draft of their Thanksgiving menu and approximated it as closely as he could off the choir list. The squash is still organic, and if the green beans may have come entirely from cans, Kurt doesn't say anything against them. Cheryl shows up Thursday morning and nods approvingly at the dishes stacked carefully in the fridge.
"And I have the turkey," she says.
Blaine eyes the giant bird she's brought and nods. "You do. I'll get the roasting pan." He kneels to search for it in the cabinet.
"Marie and Nan are bringing pie," Cheryl adds.
Startled, Blaine narrowly avoids cracking his head on the edge of the counter. "Marie and Nan are coming?" He sets down the roasting pan and starts counting chairs. "Where are we going to put them? We don't even have enough chairs for the people who are currently here."
"Yes we do," Kurt corrects. He's leaning on the doorframe. "We have those folding chairs in the laundry room. Some people will have to hold their plates in their laps, but that's okay. Hi, Cheryl," he adds.
She smiles at him. "Hi, Kurt. Good to see you up and about."
Kurt makes a rueful face. "You say 'up and about' like I'm not going to nap three times today," he says.
"Do you want to sit?" Blaine asks. "Or lie down on the couch? Or—"
"I'm okay." Kurt steps over to Blaine and wraps an arm around his waist. "Stop worrying."
Blaine snorts. "Unlikely," he says.
"All right, you two, why don't you go sit at the table and tell me where things are. I need to start this turkey," Cheryl says. "Then we can rotate the hot dishes through the oven and everything'll be ready."
They cede control of the kitchen to Cheryl and, inevitably, the singing begins. Kurt listens as Blaine and Cheryl sing hymns, dancing a little in his chair and sometimes clapping time. It isn't long before Carole and Finn show up and steal Kurt away. Blaine gets up and starts counting out place settings, half-listening to Carole checking up on Kurt and half occupied with keeping up with Cheryl's tempo. Thank goodness they have enough silverware.
Nan and Marie arrive just before noon and take advantage of the space that's opened in the refrigerator. They bring the promised pies: apple, pumpkin, pecan and chocolate cream. Cheryl winks at Blaine when the chocolate cream goes past them. Blaine looks in on the Hudson-Hummel reunion in the living room, checks if anyone needs anything, and returns to the kitchen. There he gets swept up in a round of "Gaudeamus Hodie," Nan doubling with him until he knows the melody.
He's surprised when another male voice joins in – Kurt's lungs aren't up to singing, yet – and it turns out to be Finn, standing in the doorway. When they break, Blaine looks inquiringly at him.
"Kurt's taking a nap," he says, "and I thought Burt and Mom might like some time alone, you know? Anyway, you guys sound good."
Cheryl gives him a little wave. "Hi, you must be Finn. I'm Cheryl," she says. "We only met in passing. This is Nan, and Marie." She pauses to consider Finn. "So you sing, huh?"
Finn shrugs. "Yeah, I was in glee club in high school. I haven't done much singing since, but I still like it and everything."
Cheryl has a certain gleam in her eye. "How's your Latin?"
Marie huffs. "He doesn't need to know Latin to sing rounds with us. Finn," she says turning to him. "Repeat after me: Dona. Nobis. Pacem."
"Dona nobis pacem," Finn repeats dutifully.
"There, he's ready! And he can pick up the melody line by singing. Blaine, you want to partner up with your brother-in-law, there?" Marie asks.
Blaine nods. "Sure. It goes like this, Finn—" he says, and they all sing it together. The women drop out on the next round, Finn showing off while he and Blaine sing the first piece of the song. Marie and Nan come in as the second line, and Cheryl takes the third part. They're starting to sound pretty good when Blaine sees Carole in the doorway, filming them on her iPhone.
"Very nice," she says. "I promise I won't put it on YouTube, or wherever."
"I think it's public domain," Cheryl says. "Hi, Carole, I'm Cheryl, and this is Nan, and Marie."
Carole waves. "Are you part of the food brigade?"
Marie laughs. "Four pies," she says, pointing to herself.
"Good," Carole says. "You seemed like my people."
They have the table set up buffet style and the chairs in a loose circle in the living room when Kurt wakes up. Blaine's at the piano, playing the accompaniment for 1010 and singing at the top of his lungs as Cheryl dances with Finn and Marie dances with Nan in the center of the room.
Kurt walks in, rubbing his eyes, and sits next to Blaine on the piano bench. After studying the music for a minute, he elbows Blaine into letting him take over. Blaine gives him the bench, standing up and continuing to sing. Kurt's improvising off the chords, not worrying about hitting all the flourishes as written. Blaine loves listening to him. When he looks up, he sees Burt watching them with a smile on his face. Carole's pulled out her iPhone again; Blaine is really looking forward to the video files of all this.
For now, he looks around the room at the people gathered here, pleased and loved, and his eyes rest on Kurt as they finish singing, "Oh we give thanks for this precious day."
Cheryl shepherds them into the kitchen to get their food, and Blaine watches Burt hover near – but not too near – to Kurt. Marie pops the apple pie into the oven to warm before taking a plate, while Nan fusses over whether the pumpkin pie should be out of the fridge. Blaine waits until everyone's seated to dish up his food. Everything is delicious.
"Now, how many kitchens did this come from?" Carole asks.
Blaine counts. "Six. It's really seven, since Cheryl made the turkey, but she cooked it here and that makes it look like six."
Carole smiles. "Impressive. I'll volunteer right now to help wash things when we're done. Can you count my kitchen too?"
"Sure," Blaine laughs. "Okay, eight then."
Sunday comes too soon, but Blaine feels okay about leaving Kurt home with his family on hand. He excuses himself from the breakfast table he's been sharing with Carole and Burt and goes to dress for church.
When he comes out in his suit, he sees Burt emerging from the guest room in a button-down shirt. "Are jeans okay?" he asks.
Blaine takes in his outfit and blinks, confused. "Okay for what?"
"For church," Burt says. "I thought I'd go with you, if that's all right."
"Sure," Blaine answers. "Jeans are fine, and you're welcome to come."
There's a thin layer of snow on the ground, but the roads are clear. Blaine parks closer to the church than he usually does. He gets Burt a visitor's name tag and describes where the choir sits before he hurries off to the sanctuary for warm-ups and last minute rehearsal details.
Cheryl comes in behind him, and as she tucks her purse under her chair she says, "Your father-in-law is telling our greeter all about how excited he is to see you direct the choir. It's about the sweetest thing I've seen all day."
"It's only eight-thirty," Blaine says dryly. But he smiles.
Elizabeth comes over while the congregation is getting settled. "How are you doing? How's Kurt?" she asks.
"He's still sleeping a lot, but he's doing well," Blaine answers. "Which means I'm doing well too."
"Good," she says. "I'm so glad." She gives him a warm smile before walking back to the altar.
They open with 1010, Blaine playing the piano and wishing it would never end. The congregation is confident and happy, and the choir is strong. Then they move to "For the Beauty of the Earth," pausing while the congregation switches hymnals and finds number 21. "For the beauty of the earth, for the splendor of the skies," they sing. Blaine leans on the melody and listens to his choir filling in the chords below.
When they finish, Elizabeth steps up. "Wherever you come from, wherever you are on your life's journey, you are welcome here. Whoever you are, whomever you love, you are welcome here. If this is your first time among us or your thousandth, you are welcome here." She lights both chalices and invites the congregation to greet their neighbors.
Burt must be sitting close by, because Blaine can hear him introducing himself to someone. A little searching reveals him in the first row, directly in front of the choir but half hidden by the piano. He can't quite make out what Burt's saying over the rest of the people speaking, but it's nice to know he's found a spot near by.
Elizabeth draws everyone's attention back to the front of the sanctuary, and Blaine steps up to lead the choir through the Decemberists' "Sons and Daughters." Wes had worked his magic over several long Skype sessions, and he and Blaine had hammered out a version that suited the choir's abilities. Roberto sits at the piano, playing the all-purpose backing instrumental that grounds the choir. "When we arrive, sons and daughters, we'll make our homes on the water," the tenors open. Kevin grins at Blaine, and Blaine grins back.
He brings the altos in on the second verse, letting them linger ever so slightly on "making this cold harbor now home." Then he gives the tenors back the third verse, lets them all rock out on their parts for the bridge, and flings his arms out to let them lay into the chorus. They sound glorious.
Elizabeth lets the congregation sit in silence for a moment after they finish, then rubs her hands together in the UU gesture of quiet applause. The congregation joins in, smiling. After a moment, she inclines her head to the choir and turns forward again. "Our reading today is a responsive one. Please turn to 512 in your silver hymnal." She waits until the books are open, then begins,
"For the expanding grandeur of Creation, worlds known and unknown, galaxies beyond galaxies, filling us with awe and challenging our imaginations:"
"We give thanks this day," the congregation reads.
"For this fragile planet earth, its times and tides, its sunsets and seasons:"
"We give thanks this day," they respond again.
"For the joy of human life, its wonders and surprises, its hopes and achievements:"
"We give thanks this day."
"For our human community, our common past and future hope, our oneness transcending all separation, our capacity to work for peace and justice in the midst of hostility and oppression:"
And the congregation concludes, "We give thanks this day."
"We do, this day and every day," Elizabeth says. "Whether we are paying attention or not, we engage in casual acts of gratitude. We say 'thank God,' or 'thank goodness' for all kinds of small blessings and reliefs. Those of you who are mathematically minded may calculate the odds of success and, from time to time, find yourselves impressed and pleased to have defied those odds. Some of you are doubtless grateful right now that our service is slightly altered, omitting the usual hymn we would normally sing before launching into my meditation of the week, and others of you are remembering to be grateful that you are ordinarily afforded one more opportunity to sing.
"We have just celebrated a national day of thanks-giving, one built upon a pretty story that is almost certainly not true. Still, we may take from it the idea of gratitude for things both large and small: for friendship and food and successful harvests.
"We may feel gratitude in many situations. Our response to beauty – a sunrise, the first flower of spring, a spider web spangled with dew drops – or wonder – a newborn child, a meteor shower, a foal standing on gangly legs – is easy to turn to thankfulness. The moment we open our mouths to say, 'Oh' or 'Ah,' we can add a 'thank you.' It doesn't matter who the 'you' might be in those two words. Some of you may thank God, or Goddess, or a pantheon of gods, or your ancestors. You may thank the thousand little chances that led you to see the spider web, the collision of rock with atmosphere that burns trails of light into the sky, the genetic lottery that causes you and your nephew to share a nose.
"And we might find ourselves grateful for the mundanities of our lives. I am not speaking of a slavish, 'we're not worthy' gratitude. We are worthy, by virtue of the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, of receiving all that the universe may offer us. I am speaking instead of mindfulness, of Jane Kenyon's poem, 'Otherwise.' She says to us,
"I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
"When we bear this in mind, we bring ourselves to a state of appreciation that helps us to focus on what we have, rather than what we have not. We live in one of the most fortunate, privileged societies imaginable, and many of us who are told by the relentless advertising machine only of what we need lose sight of what is ours already. We forget those who have no roof over their heads and grumble instead that our house is too small. We forget those who have no food in their bellies and complain about the offerings of our tables when they fail to meet our every desire.
"Action is important when we consider those who lack what we have. We strive to work in our communities and through our organizations to share resources, and that is good. But thought is also important in shaping who we are, and I suggest that who we are can be people who are grateful, who are aware of their blessings.
"I offer you a final thought to ponder, a meditation from Denise Levertov: 'An awe so quiet I don't know when it began. A gratitude had begun to sing in me. Was there some moment dividing song from no song? When does dewfall begin? When does night fold its arms over our hearts to cherish them? When is daybreak?'"
Elizabeth lets the moment hang in the stillness of the sanctuary. Then she concludes, "May you strive to hear the song of gratitude, to look for dew and daybreak, to count your small blessings and daily beauties, and to thank those who touch your lives with love.
"In lieu of our candle lighting for today, I invite you now to speak what you are thankful for into the silence and the space of our congregation, that we may all be grateful," Elizabeth says.
Voices murmur from all over the sanctuary, words overlapping. Blaine whispers, "Kurt," up to the rafters and pauses, self-conscious, before adding, "family, my choir."
Cheryl hears him, if the small smile on her face is anything to go by. He can't quite make out what she's saying until she raises her voice and concludes, "and Blaine and Kurt."
"Cheryl," he says, and meets her eyes. Then he leans out around her, half-turned, and says slightly louder, "the most amazing array of casseroles, and Di's work to keep us fed." He watches heads turn among his choir, gazes finding him as people nod in acknowledgement of his words. Di touches her hand to her heart.
From the first row, Blaine hears Burt speak. "My wife, Carole," he says, "and my boys: Kurt, Finn, and Blaine."
Blaine cups his hands over his face and breathes. He can feel Cheryl's hand rub his back, and when he looks out over his fingers he sees Burt with his eyes closed and his face relaxed. This, Blaine thinks, is what it is to be held.
Chapter 2: With All of Our Voices
December to April
"And you'll come here for Christmas." Kurt looks determined, then pleased as his dad nods and says, "Sure, Kurt."
Carole looks skeptical. "If you're up for it, sweetie."
Kurt crosses his arms. "I will be." When she isn't convinced, he softens his stance. "It might be a potluck kind of holiday, like this one. But I want to make half of what's on the table instead of none of it. Finn? You'll come too?"
"Yeah, man, of course," Finn says.
Blaine privately thinks Kurt may be overestimating his recovery rate even with his revised position – Kurt can come up with enough dishes that even half is a lot – but doesn't say anything. They'll deal with that later, after Kurt's antibiotics are finished and he can make it through a full day without multiple naps. When Kurt looks his way, Blaine shrugs amenably.
"Thanks for coming," he says to Burt. "And for the chair."
"I'll be back down to sit in that chair," Burt answers, grinning.
Blaine grins back. "You're welcome anytime." Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Finn patting Kurt's shoulder as they talk.
Carole kisses their cheeks, and Finn gives them backslapping hugs, and then Blaine stands by as Burt wraps Kurt in a long, sincere embrace. When Burt lets go of Kurt, he gives Blaine the same hug. Blaine promises himself that if they do have kids, he'll always hug them the way Burt does.
When everyone's gone, Blaine and Kurt collapse on to the couch and consider the state of their home. While the dishes from their group-effort Thanksgiving are clean, they still need to be returned to their owners, and there's the guest bed to be stripped and Cheryl's air mattress to deflate and pack. Blaine is worn out just thinking about it. "Nap?" he asks.
Kurt nods tiredly against Blaine's shoulder, already slumped against his side. "Not too long, but yes." Off Blaine's look he adds, "You have papers to write. If I need to keep sleeping, I will."
They curl together in their bed, Kurt under an extra blanket. Blaine can't quite get his mind to stop considering everything he has to accomplish in the next month.
After Thanksgiving comes, inevitably, all the chaos of rehearsals for the Christmas service. They'll have another December performance at a typical service, for which they ought to stick to easy, minimal hymns. Blaine can take up the slack with his own instrumental pieces. He wants to maximize their time with the music for the Christmas services.
He needs to find a way of determining whom he'll have present, too. Maybe a survey of travel plans? Or just blocks of time to be marked as "available" and "unavailable" as relevant? And does he need different music for Christmas Eve, or can he use the same songs as Christmas Day?
"Stop," Kurt says, stroking a hand over Blaine's arm. "I can hear your brain working from here."
"Sorry." Blaine rolls over to face him. "Just worrying about logistics."
Sliding his arm around Blaine's waist, Kurt pulls Blaine down and in closer. His head fits under Kurt's chin when they're situated. "Try to let it go," Kurt murmurs.
Blaine hums, focusing on the beat of Kurt's heart until he falls asleep.
Blaine's tempted to cancel choir practice when December opens with a forecast of heavy evening snow, worried about the road conditions trapping everyone at the church. He compromises by keeping the weather app open on his phone, checking it obsessively. When the blue band of serious snowfall starts sweeping over the city, he dismisses the choir early.
"How are you doing?" Cheryl asks as they walk out.
"Pretty well, all things considered." Blaine shifts his satchel higher on his shoulder. "My last day of classes is tomorrow, which means more time in my schedule for finishing my papers. I already gave my presentation and sang a recital."
Cheryl eyes him. "And you're still standing!"
"I am," he says, chuckling. "I'm worried about putting together music for the Christmas services, but David said we should talk about that after classes finished. Which means tomorrow afternoon, I guess."
Just before they part to go to their cars, Cheryl stops him with a hand on his arm. "How's Kurt?"
"Ambitious. He's terrible at being sick." Blaine looks down at his feet for a moment before elaborating. "I'm afraid he's going to want to do too much, too fast, and relapse."
She gives him a sympathetic look. "Oh, kiddo."
Blaine sighs. "Yeah. At least the theater department doesn't need him much. The costumes were mostly done when he got sick, and they hired another undergrad to finish them and do alterations. Kurt's on strict sick leave until winter quarter starts."
"Should I be planning my Christmas dinner contribution, then? And scheming with Nan and Marie so he doesn't have so much meal planning to do?" Cheryl offers.
"You don't have your own plans?" Blaine asks, surprised, and immediately regrets it.
"I don't," she says. "But that doesn't mean I need to invite myself – and Marie and Nan – to be part of yours."
Blaine shakes his head. "No, I'm sorry, that was rude. If you'd like to spend Christmas with us, we're happy to have you. You're— You're like family."
"You're family to me too, kiddo," she says, and hugs him.
After a moment, he pulls back and considers her. There's snow stuck to her hat, and caught in the ends of her hair where it flips out over her shoulders, and her nose and cheeks are bright with the cold. She looks marvelous. "I'm so glad I met you," he says softly.
Cheryl kisses his cheek. "Me too." She checks her watch. "Oh, it's getting late. That snow is coming. Good night, dear. Drive safely."
"You too," he calls as she walks away.
In his cold car, Blaine considers Cheryl's words. He loves how easy it is to slot her into his life, has enjoyed her stories of adventures with the choir in the years before he came and the wacky tales of the reference desk at the library. She has a rich life of her own, as far as Blaine can tell. But in the time he's known her, she hasn't said much about her family. Then again, neither has he.
By a week later, Blaine's done with fall quarter. He's turned in his papers, met with David and discovered that the choir's not needed for the Christmas Day service, and written up his fall conducting experience for internship credit. He's ready to sleep for a week. Instead he makes sure to haul his library books back to campus before going home to get ready for rehearsal. To his surprise, Kurt asks to drive him.
"Do you need the car?" Blaine asks, instantly on alert.
Kurt frowns at him. "Stop fussing, I promise I'm not going to work. I need to find gifts for my family, since I obviously missed all the Black Friday sales, and I thought this way I'd have a time limit built in." He sighs dramatically. "I don't have the stamina yet for proper shopping, but a guerrilla raid..."
"Is about right, got it." Blaine goes back to checking his satchel for notebook and pens. "Sure, that works for me."
Tonight the roads are clear and so is the sky. It'll be cold, but there's no risk of new snow to make the driving difficult, so Blaine scraps his mental triage of their rehearsal agenda and plans for the full two hours. He kisses Kurt good-bye and wishes him luck on his hunt, then speedwalks into the church and the warm air of the foyer.
Nan is there, fingercombing her hair and making disgusted faces when it sticks to her neck. "Static electricity: I could do without it," she declares.
"Is that the reason behind the braid?" Blaine raises his eyebrows, intrigued.
"That and high humidity in the summer. My hair is—" She pauses to consider her words. "Hmm, exciting, if not contained."
Blaine shakes his curls at her. He needs a haircut, now that the term's over, and winter's constant routine of hats on and off doesn't help. "I feel your pain," he says.
Nan pats his head. "Ooo, sproingy!" she laughs.
"Yeah," he laughs back. "It has character."
They walk into the choir room together and find half the choir waiting patiently. The silver hymnals are already laid out, one on each chair. Blaine smiles approvingly at Paul and Kevin.
Once everyone's there, Blaine takes them through this weekend's hymns at a brisk pace. He saves the bulk of rehearsal for their Christmas Eve songs and Vienna Teng's "The Atheist Christmas Carol." He plays it through for them once, setting his CD player on the piano, and lets the notes hang in the air.
"That's lovely," Lynn says. "And very UU."
"Good – I'm glad you think so," Blaine says. He claps his hands. "So what I'm thinking is that we can do an a cappella version. Altos, you'll take the words. The tenors will be the cello, the baritones and basses the piano."
Betty sits up straighter, knitting dangling. "What about us?"
Blaine turns to the sopranos. "Ladies, you're going to be the drums and the cymbals. Trust me, I have a vision," he assures them. "But tonight, we're just going to learn the song itself. Next week we'll put all the parts in place."
They sing with the recording and then with Blaine on piano, and when they're done he's comfortable with the knowledge that his a cappella arrangement can crash and burn and they could still perform, thirty-something voices lifted in unison over his accompaniment. He helps them stack the chairs before ducking into his office to put the CD player away.
When he comes out, Cheryl isn't waiting for him. Blaine frowns. He hears voices from the foyer, so he walks out there.
He finds Cheryl, talking with Kurt. "Hey," Blaine greets him, kissing his cheek. "Successful trip?"
Kurt shrugs. "Somewhat. I stopped early, actually, so I sat out here and listened in. You guys sound good."
Cheryl bobs a fake curtsy. "Thank you, kind sir," she says, and Kurt gives her a look of amusement mingled with annoyance.
"I'm not sure that's cute on you," he says.
"It might be," she laughs. "Give it a chance."
Blaine slings an arm around each of them. "Okay, you two. I think we need pie." He wants Kurt and Cheryl to get to know each other, and he's wanted to bring Kurt along for a pie conversation for a while now.
"Sure," Kurt says. "Take me to your infamous diner."
Cheryl laughs. "Infamous, huh? I'll have to tell the owners that they're getting a reputation."
They take their time over pie, analyzing Kurt's gift plans and plotting likely stores to raid. Kurt has suggestions for Blaine's gifts, things that will complement Kurt's presents to the Hudson-Hummel contingent. Cheryl mostly sits by, amused, but has some ideas for Carole that might pan out.
"We should go shopping together," she says to Kurt. "What's your schedule like?"
Kurt considers this, fork still in his mouth. He sets it down as he says, "Pretty free early in the week, actually. How's Monday for you?"
"That's my afternoon off," Cheryl says. "It's perfect."
Blaine smiles, pleased to see them bonding. He takes another bite of pie.
"So what about you?" Kurt asks Cheryl. "What's on your wish list?"
Cheryl looks surprised. "Me? I'm not sure I have a wish list anymore. If I need it, or if I want it enough, I get it for myself." She ponders. "I like things that are homemade," she says finally. "I have plenty of store-bought things. Something made for me, though..."
"It's different," Kurt agrees. "More meaningful." He tilts his head. Blaine can almost see him planning something for Cheryl. It's sure to be elegant.
After a moment, Blaine asks Cheryl, "Do you need gift ideas for your family?"
"No," she says, shrugging. "We draw names out of a hat for adult gift-exchanging, so I only have to buy one, and I get a list of suggestions to choose from. The kids in the family are easy, too: I get them all iTunes gift cards."
Kurt smiles. "I would have loved to have known you when I was a teenager."
Blaine elbows him. "You're just angling for an iTunes gift card now." He turns to Cheryl. "You should see how fast he can spend money when he's discovering a new artist."
"Somehow, that's not a surprise to me," she says dryly.
"Do you draw out of a hat for extended family, or for immediate family too?" Kurt asks.
Cheryl takes a sip of coffee. "For everyone," she says. "It's nice that way – it's a hassle to mail a bunch of presents. And it makes my shopping easier, because I'm mostly buying for local people."
"No mailing deadline!" Kurt toasts Cheryl with his coffee cup. She raises her mug and they clink rims. Blaine gets his mug up just behind theirs and joins in.
"How about you, Blaine? Do you need ideas for your relatives?" Cheryl asks. "We've mostly been talking about Kurt's side of your family, so far."
He shakes his head. "I only shop for my parents and my Aunt Judy. I didn't grow up with the rest of my extended family, really. There were family reunions, and when I was little sometimes we'd get together with some people, but there were never big holiday gatherings. My relatives live all over the place."
"Mmm," Cheryl says. "Mine almost all live in the same state. Well, almost all in the same county, actually." She laughs. "When I go back there, all they do is tell me that I'd be happier if only I'd meet someone nice, settle down, and have kids. Never mind that I'm pushing fifty and don't have any interest in raising kids. It makes them happy, living in the town we grew up in, and my nieces and nephews don't seem to chafe too much about small town life."
"Do want to meet someone nice?" Kurt asks. "Or someone not nice, I suppose."
Cheryl shrugs. "Not really. I'm too used to living alone to want to share a house now. And I like my life the way it is. I'm not missing anything. Sometimes I wish I could get my family to understand that I'm just not interested, but I know their hearts are in the right places." She smiles wryly. "I do appreciate that my siblings now try to set me up with women as well as men. They are trying to be progressive. It gives me hope for their kids, in case any of them ever want to bring home a same-sex partner."
"That's something," Kurt says. "More than some families could say."
"It is," Cheryl agrees. "So how about you guys? Anything special on your lists I should know about?"
Blaine shakes his head. "Not unless you can get me a Time Turner. I could have used more time for finals week, and I'm sure that'll be true next quarter, too."
Cheryl chuckles. "Not likely. Kurt?"
"We're going shopping together," Kurt reminds her. "I'm sure I'll be able to find something to hint about."
"I'm sure you will," Cheryl says, and Blaine can't help but laugh.
Date night this week they spend at home, drinking hot chocolate together on the couch. After a while, Kurt grabs a pad of paper and starts sketching something; Blaine can't see it over the tilt of his knees.
He stops and considers his work, then holds it up for Blaine to examine. "For Cheryl," he says.
It's a dress, flowing and long and easy to envision on Cheryl's frame. Blaine smiles.
"I thought she could wear it to the wedding this spring. At this point, I can't imagine her not being there, so I might as well dress her, right?" Kurt pauses. "Unless she doesn't like dresses. Does she wear dresses? Should I be sketching a tasteful suit instead?" He reaches for his pencil again. "I do have an idea for a blazer—"
"Kurt," Blaine breaks in, touching his wrist. "Slow down. I've seen her wear long skirts to church, so I'd guess that a dress is okay. You could drop some hints and see how she reacts?"
Kurt nods. "Yeah, while we're shopping. I think I will." He looks Blaine up and down before flipping to a clean page in his sketchpad.
Blaine watches Kurt's pencil move rapidly, knowing he won't get to see this one. It's okay. He can wait for Christmas. He gets up to take their cups into the kitchen instead, and while he's there he finds Kurt's Christmas menu. It's labeled "version 3.2" and has assignments for everyone, even Finn. Blaine picks it up.
He sits on the couch beside Kurt, considering their list of holiday attendees. He's already told his parents he can't travel for the holiday, and now he's having a wild idea. "Hey Kurt?" Blaine waits until Kurt's gaze is on him, inquiring. "Do you think we should try inviting my parents to Christmas?"
Kurt presses the back of his hand to his mouth, thinking. "Sure," he says. "It doesn't hurt to try. But, Blaine, just remember that they might not—"
"Want to have Christmas with their only son and his partner?" Blaine says.
"—be comfortable, I was going to say," Kurt says softly. "And they might have plans they can't change. This is kind of last-minute."
Blaine covers his face with his hands. "You're too nice," he mutters.
Kurt lifts an eyebrow. "They're your parents, and you're still trying to build bridges to them. I'm erring on the side of gracious."
"Thanks," Blaine answers, tipping sideways to lean on Kurt. "It's just hard, you know? I thought things would get better, or a lot worse, or something. But it's just the same." He sighs.
"I know," Kurt says, putting an arm around Blaine. "I know."
They're running out of time before Christmas, so Blaine can't afford to take long deciding what to do. He wakes up the next morning determined and sends an email to his parents inviting them to Columbus. Kurt reads over his shoulder while he's writing.
"Maybe you could invite Aunt Judy too?" he suggests.
Blaine shrugs. "I don't know that there are any cheap flights out of San Francisco anymore, but it's a nice gesture. Sure." He agonizes less over the wording on Aunt Judy's invitation, simply explaining that he can't travel for the holiday and he'd love to see her.
Then he has to wait for replies. He knows it's a long shot that they'll be able to fit a multi-day trip to Columbus into their plans, but he's spent the past four years driving from Lima to Cleveland for a day each Christmas. It doesn't seem like too much to ask that his parents do the driving for once.
"They don't usually have family coming into town or anything, so they should be able to come down here for dinner, right? It wouldn't be too hard for them to change their plans. Oh, I should have called to invite them," Blaine moans over lunch. "I can't believe I emailed. Now they won't come. Why didn't I call?"
Kurt breaks in, "Because it was early, and they would have been at work anyway?" He takes Blaine's hand. "I don't think the manner of your invitation is going to be what makes up their minds. If they have plans they can't change, or if they don't—" he breaks off. "Or whatever. Stop trying to make this your fault. You tried: you invited them. What they do now is out of your hands."
Blaine slumps. "I know that. It's just—"
"No," Kurt breaks in. "There's no 'just.' That's what it is. You did what you could do, and now you have to wait. And it's nerve wracking, but it is what it is. Eat your soup."
Smiling despite himself, Blaine does. He's halfway through the bowl when his phone buzzes. "Oh, hey, it's Aunt Judy!"
Kurt waves him away from the table.
"Hi, Aunt Judy," Blaine says.
The sound is slightly tinny over the cell speaker, but Blaine can hear the smile in her voice as she says, "Hi, darlin'. I can't talk long, but I wanted to say that I got your email and I'd love to have Christmas with you and Kurt."
"You would?" He turns to Kurt and mouths, 'She wants to come.'
"Sure," she says. "I have a plane ticket to Ohio anyway – I'm coming out to see your mom."
Hope leaps in Blaine's chest. "Do— Do you think Mom and Dad would want to come here too?"
Aunt Judy blows out a breath. "Darlin', I don't know. I'll exert whatever influence I have, but..."
"Yeah," Blaine sighs. "Well, who knows?"
"Who knows," she echoes. "Okay, I have to run. I'll send you my flight details. Love you!"
Blaine says quickly, "Love you too," and Aunt Judy hangs up. He lowers his phone and beams at Kurt. "She's coming!"
Kurt grins back. "That's great." His face takes on a considering look as he says, "Oh, she's going to meet Cheryl. Do you think they'll get along?"
"I hope so." Blaine thinks about it. "They'll either get along perfectly or be totally weirded out. I can't picture them hating each other or anything, but I don't know whether they'll like each other."
"Yeah, that's what I think too." Kurt lifts a shoulder and lets it fall, a half-shrug. "At least it'll be interesting."
"At least it will," Blaine repeats, and tries not to think of how much more interesting his parents could make it. If they come, if they consent to be part of the life he shares with Kurt, then the rest of their dynamic could change too, he tells himself. It could.
Kurt drives Blaine to choir rehearsal again. Blaine's starting to get nervous about finding a present for Kurt – usually inspiration has struck by this time – and the amount of time Kurt's spending shopping for everyone else isn't helping. He decides to ask his choir for suggestions before they start rehearsing: it can't hurt, and someone might have a brilliant idea.
"Aluminum bake ware," Marie says immediately.
"Or silicone bake ware," Di adds.
John rubs his bald head. "I got my wife a new cell phone last year."
"A Nerf gun!" Kevin says.
Paul smiles at him. "That's what you want."
"Dinner someplace nice?" Roberto offers.
Bill solemnly says, "Something he doesn't even know he wants, yet."
Blaine groans. "That's exactly the problem, Bill. I don't know what that would be." He sees Nan making a note on the pad of paper she keeps in her bag, probably writing down Marie's suggestion. At least this exercise might have helped someone. "Thanks for trying," Blaine says. "I'll think about those ideas. Anyone else have desperate business?"
His singers laugh and shake their heads.
"Okay, on to rehearsal, then. The Atheist Christmas Carol." Blaine sends the altos into the social hall to practice their part separately. He divides the sopranos and gets half of them hitting drumbeats with rhythmic "dume" sounds and the other half making the percussive hiss of cymbal and hi-hat noises.
The basses and the baritones pick up the "bum" sound easily and learn to linger on the terminal "m" to give it a softer ending. Blaine's relieved. So are the tenors, when he tells them that all they have to do be cellos is sing "ah" for each note. "The human voice is very similar to the cello," he tells them. "Or the other way around, depending on how you look at it. Just remember that you're trying to sing the way a string vibrates."
The instrumental parts are not quite solid, the sopranos still a bit loud and the tenors not strong enough, when Di sticks her head in the doorway. "Are you ready for us, boss?"
Blaine decides to go for it. "Yeah, come on back."
He plays the recording for them all, one more time, and starts in on all the parts together. They sound better together than separately, but not so good that Blaine thinks they're ready. "You're getting there," he says. "And we have one more week to get this right, so practice. Now, tenors, give me more! Sopranos, less drum and a touch more cymbal, okay?"
Putting this song together with this choir is nothing like Warblers practice, or the groups he'd sung with in college. These people aren't able to devote hours upon hours to learning vocal techniques or mimicking sounds with precision. But they are willing to work as much as their lives allow, and Blaine thinks they can pull this off.
Twenty minutes before rehearsal ends, Blaine sees Kurt through the doorway. He's standing in the foyer, waiting like he said he did last week. Blaine watches him, attention split, until Kurt catches him and ducks out of his field of vision.
Afterwards, Blaine skips over his normal office stop and goes straight out to the foyer. "I saw you watching," he says to Kurt.
"Sorry," Kurt replies. "I didn't mean to be a distraction."
"You're not." Blaine gives him a small smile. "You can come in and listen, if you want. The choir might be surprised, and they're definitely curious about you, but you don't have to lurk out there."
Kurt smiles back. "I'll consider it," he says.
Blaine sneaks off to Williams-Sonoma on Saturday and ponders the bake ware, the best-quality whisks, and the state of his checking account. He can only afford to get Kurt a few things, so they need to be the right few. "No pressure," he mutters.
One of the sales staff gives him the hard sell on a hand mixer, which comes in white, red, or pink, "for breast cancer research. It's useful and meaningful," she concludes.
"Uh, thanks for your time," he says. "I need to look around some more."
Blaine wanders the mall, hoping inspiration will strike. He's successful in other ways, finding earrings that match the blouse Kurt's giving to Carole and a new video game Finn will love. Shopping for Kurt's family is easy after all these years, and Blaine's grateful for that.
There's a Starbucks in the mall that draws him in, the coffee providing a chance to sit and review his shopping list. Kurt has Nan and Marie covered for both of them, and they've already gone in together on new Carhartts for Burt. He needs something for Aunt Judy, and although he knows generally what he wants to get for Cheryl he still has to find it.
His parents' gifts are straightforward. He stops at a department store and picks out a tie for his father, a necklace for his mother, knowing it's only practical to choose gifts that will be easy to mail or to ask Aunt Judy to take back for him. Blaine does not want to be petty about this; he's trying to take his mom's carefully worded email at face value and to believe that his parents' commitments to hosting Christmas Eve cocktails and attending church on Christmas Day with his dad's new business partner are truly inflexible. Blaine knows how his parents abhor rudeness and broken social obligations, and it's not totally unexpected that they'd say no. He'd thought Aunt Judy might persuade them to come briefly, for the afternoon maybe, but he's not truly surprised that it didn't work out. Still, Blaine wants to believe that this interaction leaves the door open for them to come next year, or for the wedding in the summer.
The tie will be just another in his father's collection, silk and refined and paired impeccably with a tailored suit. But the necklace might remind his mother of her son: the stone in the pendant is a pale fire opal, Blaine's birthstone. Maybe she'll wear it someday and decide to make the drive to Columbus.
As he's passing the movie theatre, inspiration for Kurt's gift finally comes. He pulls out a receipt and scribbles ideas on the back, places he'll have to visit later. Not long after he comes upon a cart where a woman's selling sweaters made of handspun yarn. The third one he picks up is perfect for Cheryl. Things are coming together.
Blaine's surprised by how late it is when he walks outside. In the timelessness of the mall he missed nightfall. Now he hurries out, eager to get home for dinner with Kurt. Tomorrow he'll try box offices until he has Kurt's gift, which should be easy to hide for the last, long week until Christmas.
Kurt prints up three copies of the Christmas menu, one for each of them and one to hang in the kitchen. Blaine's intimidated just looking at it. "Are you sure we need this much food?" he asks.
"Do you realize how many people are coming? We'll have you, me, Dad, Carole, Finn, Aunt Judy, Cheryl, and Marie and Nan," Kurt says, ticking names off on his fingers and throwing a smile to Marie and Nan where they sit at the table. "That's nine people. This is not too much food for nine people."
"It's not," Nan agrees. She leans in to peer over Blaine's shoulder.
Blaine considers the list of assignments again. "Maybe Marie should bring another pie, then?"
Marie smiles, and Kurt laughs. "You and pie," he says. "No, Carole wanted to bring one. I think she wants to prove herself."
"Also, Nan might mutiny if I take up even more space in our freezer chilling pie crusts," Marie adds.
"We can't have that! It's okay, I like Carole's pie," Blaine says to her. He turns back to Kurt. "I'm surprised you're trusting Finn with the wine."
"Some of the wine," Kurt corrects. "Aunt Judy's going to pick up two bottles on her way in. Your aunt," he adds in an aside, "is still dreadfully sweet. You know that, don't you?"
"I do," Blaine says, grinning. "Why do you think she's my favorite aunt?" There's a pause in which he does not say all the other reasons Aunt Judy is his favorite, the phone calls when he was fourteen and the way she's the only family member to address cards to both Blaine and Kurt. Blaine clears his throat, looking for the lighter mood of a moment ago. "Your dad's not going to object to having fish for Christmas?"
Kurt waves a hand. "He's used to heart-healthy menus by now. And salmon is very elegant."
Marie nods firmly. The candy thermometer chirps in the kitchen, and Marie hurries over to the stove. "This thing is great, Kurt," she says. "I want a thermometer with an alarm!"
"Isn't it?" Kurt answers as he joins her. "All right, so the sugar mixture is at 240°. What next?"
"Add it to the gelatin," Marie tells him. "And be careful – sugar burns are a bitch."
Blaine watches as Kurt carefully pours and stirs. It feels unreal, almost old-worldly, for Kurt to be learning how to make candy in their kitchen. Then Marie passes him the hand mixer and tells him to whip the mixture into fluff, and the scene feels modern again.
"Can you believe they're making marshmallows?" Blaine asks Nan.
Nan lifts an eyebrow. "Do you know how many years of marshmallows I have witnessed and consumed?"
"Got it," Blaine says, chuckling.
Kurt throws Blaine a look over his shoulder. "If this works out, you'll have some years of marshmallows in front of you." He turns the bowl, working the hand mixer through the contents. "My kingdom for a stand mixer!"
"Put it on the wedding registry," Blaine tells him. Looking over the assignments again, he asks Kurt, "Wait, what I am contributing?"
"You're my sous chef, of course," Kurt says as he folds the egg whites into the fluff. "And also my dishwasher."
"Oh, well, of course." From his chair, Blaine half-bows to Kurt. "Your wish is my command."
Kurt smirks. "Isn't it always?"
Nan makes an exaggerated cooing sound. "Look how precious you two are."
"Are you feeling left out? Want me to boss you around a little?" Marie asks.
"No," Nan says, and sticks her tongue out. "You just keep bossing Kurt."
Under Marie's watch, Kurt flavors the marshmallow fluff and pours it into the waiting baking pan. He dusts it with powdered sugar, puts it in the fridge, and turns to Marie with a little flourish. "Well?" he asks.
"I can't believe you're not covered with sugar," she says. "I always am."
"Kurt's kind of magic," Blaine tells her. "Or he's sold his soul for a special force field. Definitely one of those things."
"Someone's not getting any marshmallows," Kurt singsongs.
Nan leans close to Blaine and whispers, "Don't worry, a batch makes 90. He'll give you some."
Blaine grins. "I'm not worried."
Kurt has already gone to bed by the time Aunt Judy arrives. It's late on December 23rd and she's been calling every hour from the road, giving Blaine updates on her progress down the traffic-bound interstate. His phone vibrates on the coffee table again at 11:30; Blaine grabs it. "Hi," he says, putting down his book.
"Hey darlin', which door is yours?" Aunt Judy says.
"Wait, are you here?" Blaine jumps up. He opens the door and steps out, immediately regretting it when the December air hits him. He waves at the figure standing beside a car, and when it starts moving toward him he says, "You see me? I'm going back in now, it's freezing out here."
"Did you forget shoes?" Aunt Judy's close enough now that he can hear her voice both on the phone and in person before he shuts the door. She knocks a minute later, and Blaine wastes no time bringing her inside.
"Hi," she says, putting her purse down. "I know I said I'd be staying at a hotel, but I wanted to see you tonight." She pulls him into a hug.
Blaine turns his face into her neck, breathing in the scent of her hair. "I'm glad you came here," he says. "I didn't want to wait until morning to see you."
"Kurt's asleep?" Aunt Judy asks as she lets go.
"Yeah," Blaine answers. "He was tired, and he was so sick at Thanksgiving." He yawns.
Aunt Judy raises an eyebrow. "He's not the only tired one, I see," she says.
Blaine shrugs and smiles. "This is part of what holidays are for: waiting up for family. I don't mind being tired when it means I get to see you."
"And that awful drive was worth it, because I get to see you." She gives him a wistful look. "Darlin', I'm sorry I couldn't convince your mom to come with me."
Blaine turns and walks into the kitchen. "I know she said she couldn't make it," he says. "Do you want tea? Or food?"
"Tea, please." She watches him heat water and pull down tea bags. "You must be upset, or at least disappointed. Talk to me, Blaine. I feel like it's ten years ago all over again."
"There's nothing to say," Blaine answers. "Mom and Dad couldn't come down here. I asked too late and they had other things to do."
Aunt Judy shakes her head. "I—"
He hands her a mug. "Here, it's ginger. It's just from a tea bag, not salabat, but it's still good."
She breathes in the steam. "Smells good." They stand in silence, holding their tea. When she speaks again, Aunt Judy says, "It's late, and we're tired, so I'll be blunt: there's more going on here with your parents than a Christmas invitation. What is it?"
"You know Kurt and I are getting married this summer. I thought— I was hoping that they'd start taking us seriously now. I don't mean that we're getting married because of that. I'd marry Kurt no matter what, even if they disowned me for it. But all these years they've been calling Kurt my 'friend,' and not my partner. Like they refuse to understand." Blaine leans back on the counter. "Did I tell you Dad hung up on me when I called about moving the wedding?"
"No," Aunt Judy says quietly. "Then what happened?"
Blaine sighs, frustrated. "Nothing. No mention of it, and Mom said, 'That's nice,' like nothing had happened. What is it going to take for them to figure out that this is my life?"
"Something's got to give one way or the other, darlin'. This is no way for you to live, stuck in limbo." She changes hands with her mug, reaches out for him with her free hand.
Blaine reaches back and clasps her hand. "It was easier when I was busy with school," he says. "I didn't have so much time to think about this."
"Don't let it get like before," Aunt Judy tells him. "I know it feels simpler to avoid it, but you can't just leave it. It's no good for you to be stuck in this stalemate."
"Yeah," Blaine says quietly. "You're right."
"I think your mom wants to do better, you know." She squeezes his hand. "I'll work on her when I go back up there."
Blaine huffs. "You think she'll respond to that?"
Aunt Judy smiles. "She's my sister; I think I know something about how to talk her around."
They finish their tea, and Blaine tries to persuade Aunt Judy to stay in the guest room. She won't.
"I don't want to make more work for you. You have to put your in-laws in there tomorrow," she says. "My hotel has late check-in, don't worry." She kisses his cheek. "I love you. I'll see you in the morning."
"Love you too," Blaine replies. He finally feels like it's a holiday: love and hope in the dark and cold.
Kurt's family arrives bright and early, or early enough for a holiday: it's nine am when Burt knocks on the door, Carole beaming behind him and Finn yawning sleepily. Blaine answers the door so he gets the first hugs before they walk through to Kurt, sitting at the table. After they're settled, Blaine excuses himself to call Aunt Judy.
When she doesn't pick up, he leaves a message asking her to come over. She's probably in the shower. He heads back into the kitchen, where Finn is already finishing a bowl of cereal. Blaine continues to be amazed by the amount of food Finn can put away. He's used to family gatherings meaning a small group of people eating decorously. He watches as Carole fusses over Kurt, and he tells Burt about finals and the end of the term.
Finn gives them all a recap of McKinley's football season; he's been volunteering there as an assistant coach this year, and the team won half their games. Kurt shares a smile with Finn. "How's the kicker?"
"Good," Finn answers. "He's got the range you had, and he can do it without dancing first. Which brings less flair to our games, but Coach Beiste doesn't like to let the clock run, so it's better if he's faster."
Blaine's starting to get anxious about Aunt Judy. He excuses himself to call her again. This time she picks up.
"Hello?" she says, sounding groggy.
"Hi, it's Blaine. I'm sorry to wake you." He hopes she's not sick. Then he remembers a visit, years ago, at which she'd slept until late morning each day.
Aunt Judy clears her throat. "What time is it? I'm sorry, darlin', I meant to be up sooner. I'm not an early riser when I'm on vacation."
"It's fine, it's just that Kurt's family's here, now. When do you want to come over?" Blaine asks. He can hear the rumble of Burt's voice in the other room.
"I'll be there soon. I'm looking forward to meeting them," Aunt Judy says.
Blaine lets her go and starts making tea for himself, wanting something in his hands but unwilling to have more coffee. He's nervous, he realizes. Kurt's parents met his years ago, when Blaine's family still lived near Lima, and it had been fine, but only that. Everyone was polite, no real connections were made. Blaine wants to feel that someone, some adult who's known him since an early age, can connect with Burt and Carole. He thinks Aunt Judy will.
He does the breakfast dishes once his tea is gone. Kurt comes over and hip checks him, gently, away from the sink. "Hey, what's going on?"
"Just nervous about Aunt Judy meeting your family," Blaine says quietly.
Kurt steps up to him and wraps his arms around Blaine's waist. "It'll be okay," he says. "When you're ready, come in the living room. Dad's telling stories about this new guy at the shop."
Everyone finally comes together by late morning, Aunt Judy following her introductions with a monologue about the perils of navigating an unfamiliar hotel room while only half awake. "I actually took two showers," she says. "I swear I'm usually able to function in the morning, but there's some kind of vacation effect in place that gets compounded by strange settings." She turns to Blaine. "Darlin', I don't know if you remember this, but when you were little I came and stayed with your family and almost burned your house down."
"What?" Blaine sputters. "No, I don't remember that."
"I was going to make everyone pancakes and I set the bag of flour on a hot burner," Aunt Judy says. She looks at Burt and Carole. "If I ever try to make breakfast in your home, please feel free to stop me by any means necessary and redirect me to lunch instead."
Carole laughs. "I know what you mean. Finn is not a morning person, and neither was his father. Once Christopher fell asleep at the breakfast table, face down in his waffles. I don't have a picture – I wish I did! – but even just the mental image is pretty funny."
Finn smiles at Carole. "Yeah, you used to tell me that story when I complained about getting up early for school."
"And I only served you waffles on the weekends," Carole says.
"But you did make me oatmeal that one time, and I put hot sauce in it," Finn points out.
Carole laughs. "Oh, I'd forgotten about that! That taught me to put the dinner condiments away in the evening."
"Did you eat it anyway?" Burt asks. When Finn nods, Burt continues, "You've got taste buds of iron, Finn."
Grinning, Kurt says, "I'll make breakfast tomorrow, and I promise no hot sauce and wake-up calls all around. Now, who needs more coffee?"
The day unfolds slowly, Kurt showing Aunt Judy photos from the plays he costumed in the fall and Burt and Finn bringing in presents to place under the tree. Aunt Judy forgot her gifts in the hotel; Kurt pledges to remind her tomorrow. They talk about touring the OSU campus and decide against it, the cold outside contrasting sharply with the warmth of their gathering.
Burt, ensconced in the armchair, beckons Kurt and Blaine over just before dinner. "I like your aunt, Blaine," he says softly. "Just wanted you to know. This is nice."
"Yeah," Kurt says, squeezing Blaine's hand. "It is."
Blaine has two Christmas Eve services to work; he's not expecting anyone to come with him, and certainly not to sit through both. Aunt Judy and Carole insist they want to, though, and he takes them at their word.
The sanctuary is candlelit tonight, great iron candelabras hooked along the walls. Blaine only has two-thirds of his usual choir for the first service. He'll lose a few participants and gain more for the second. He warms up the choir, reminding them that they're not supposed to have travel mugs of tea inside the sanctuary and promising not to tell as long as they keep the spill-proof lids on. At David's nod, they start the congregation off with two undemanding, familiar carols.
"The first Noel the angel did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay," they open, singing the story of ordinary and extraordinary people drawn to the first Christmas. Their next song is "Angels We Have Heard on High," and Blaine spends it reining in the sopranos as they glory in their descending runs. It's easy, happy music, and the energy in the room is good.
While David welcomes everyone, Blaine looks around for Aunt Judy and Carole. He finds them on the far side of the sanctuary, near the front. They're sitting close to each other, obviously comfortable. Blaine loves that they get along so well.
The first musical interlude this evening is Elizabeth, singing with her husband, Tom, and their daughter, Sarah. Blaine wonders if Tom might want to join the choir. "Three wise men ridin' hard through the cold, lost on some big city street with no place warm to go," Tom croons. Elizabeth strums along on her guitar and joins in as the song unfolds in a modern-day version of Magi and shepherds, drawn to a newborn whose family huddles in the shed outside the full motel.
Sarah's high soprano rises up on the chorus, lilting, "And there comes a savior, and a preacher in the park, and he camps with the homeless where they shiver in the dark." Her serious little face reminds Blaine of the focus Kurt puts into his singing, the way he never loses himself to an undignified full grin the way Blaine does. Elizabeth leans into her guitar as they wind up the song, concluding "He brings joy, joy, joy to the wanderin' soul."
"Thank you," David says when they finish. "Our reading tonight is from the Christian gospel of Luke. 'And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.'"
Blaine listens to the familiar words, remembering the occasional religious interludes of his childhood and his mother's voice telling the Christmas story. He looks over and sees Carole smiling softly as David reads, "And she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manager because there was no room for them in the inn." Aunt Judy says something to Carole that has her covering her mouth; it looks like she's resisting the urge to laugh.
"Please rise as you are willing and able and join in hymn number 1051, 'We Are,'" David says. Blaine nods to Di and she steps up to the microphone.
Her hands shake ever so slightly as she turns the mic on and lifts her hymnal. Blaine remembers his first choir rehearsal and winks at her; it works. "For each child that's born, a morning star rises and sings to the universe who we are," she sings. Then Blaine turns and brings the congregation and the choir in, Roberto at the piano.
The song is a complicated one, filled with dotted eighth notes that would throw the congregation off without a voice to follow. "We're sisters of mercy and brothers of love," Di sings, "We are lovers of life and the builders of nations." Blaine looks past her and sees David swaying gently.
"We are the breath of our ancestors, we are the spirit of God." Blaine brings the congregation and the choir to a stop, relieved when enough of the congregants recognize his hand gesture, and Di sings the last phrase by herself. She bows when the susurration of applause crests. Blaine gives her a smile as she takes her seat with the choir.
"Merry Christmas," David begins. "Thank you for joining us on Christmas Eve, and a special thank you to the choir for committing to two services. Don't worry, I gave them tomorrow off." He grins while the congregation chuckles. "Our music this evening highlights the reason we are here: the wonder of birth and newborn children.
"You may interpret my words literally if you wish – I mean them in both senses. We are here to celebrate the birth of a specific person, venerated in some faith traditions and respected in ours, and we are also here because each of us was born. Until medical science advances to a Star Trek-like level, there is only one way for humans to be created and to arrive into our communities.
"I do not think we are in danger of becoming blasé about newborns. Some of us may privately feel that a given individual is not as perfect as his or her parents may think, and some of us may prefer to wait until the baby is older before offering praise, but generally we acknowledge the marvel that is a new life, filled with potential. Christian legend tells us that Mary knew her child was someone extraordinary. I suspect that many mothers feel the same despite the lack of divine messengers." David pushes his glasses up his nose.
Blaine lets his eyes wander to Elizabeth's family, seated in the front row. He's never heard Sarah sing before. Listening to her, watching her focus like Kurt does, makes him ache for children of their own to sing with. It'll take a long time and a lot of effort before he and Kurt have kids, if they ever do. He thinks they will; their conversations have included a lot of "probably" and "someday."
Right now he can't picture them without kids. Kurt will be amazing, Blaine's sure, the kind of dad who gives his kids unstinting honesty and solid love, just like Burt. And Blaine will love them desperately, helplessly, the way he loves Kurt, and never stop, whoever they turn out to be. He turns his attention back to David, just in time to catch the end of the sermon.
"By our traditions, we celebrate the spirit of life in each of us, whether we call it God or not. Let us take a moment now to celebrate children everywhere. We cannot know at their births who they will become when their potential is realized. We can recognize the miracle of each of them, the miracle of each of us." David picks up a tea light from the stand and lights it on the chalice flame. "I light our first candle this evening for the newborn children of the past year. Welcome. May you be blessed, and bless us in turn someday."
It's hard for Blaine to pay attention to the candle lighting when he's reviewing "The Atheist Christmas Carol" in his head and fretting that the sopranos will be too loud or the tenors too soft. His attention is drawn abruptly back to the altar when he hears Aunt Judy's voice. "For my nephew, Blaine. He is a blessing," she says quietly. She gives him a small smile before she rejoins Carole.
The choir's performance of "The Atheist Christmas Carol" goes just as Blaine expects, although the tenors surprise him with their volume after all. The altos are smooth when they enter, singing, "It's the season of grace coming out of the void, where man is saved by a voice in the distance." "Ba bum bum-bum, bum," the basses intone.
Blaine thinks this song was made for flickering candlelight. The sanctuary is hushed and even though the performance isn't polished it's still moving. "Don't forget, don't forget I love, I love, I love you," the altos promise. It's not the performance he would have pictured for himself, five years ago; it's not one he'd ever give up.
David follows their song with a reading from Emerson. "'We have a great deal more kindness than is ever spoken,'" he reads.
"In spite of 'all the selfishness that chills like eastwinds the world the whole human family is bathed with an element of love like a fine ether. How many persons we meet in houses whom we scarcely speak to who yet honor us and we honor them! How many we see in the street or sit with in Church whom though silently we warmly rejoice to be with! Read the language of these wandering eye beams. The heart knoweth.'
"And now please join me in concluding our service with hymn 253, 'O Come, All Ye Faithful.'" David opens his hymnal and the congregation rises.
When they conclude, Blaine troops into the social hall with his choir for tea. Carole and Aunt Judy are nowhere to be found, but as long as they remember to bring the car back by the end of the night, Blaine's not worried. To his surprise, they appear twenty minutes into the break with donuts for the choir. The sugar energizes them well for the second service.
Blaine makes plans with Cheryl, Marie and Nan, letting them know that Kurt wants to make breakfast for everyone. "And then presents – you're welcome to bring as many or as few as you want, but be aware that we'll be doing all our exchanging tomorrow morning – and a late lunch."
Cheryl nods and Nan makes a note in her planner while Marie sets her cell phone alarm. "We'll be there," they promise. Carole says something to Marie in an undertone, possibly about whipped cream, but Blaine's distracted.
"Aunt Judy, this is Cheryl," he says. "I didn't get to introduce you properly earlier, with all the chaos and the donuts." He turns. "Cheryl, my aunt, Judy."
"I'm impressed with your ability to find donuts late on a holiday in a strange city," Cheryl says, grinning.
Aunt Judy waves a hand dismissively. "That was all Carole and her iPhone. You'd think I'd have one, but I'm kind of a Luddite. My phone makes calls and sends text messages, and that's all I want it to do, until I'm lost and looking for donuts!"
Cheryl laughs. "I know just what you mean."
Blaine feels his shoulders drop ever so slightly. They like each other.
They leave the church late, after eleven. Blaine drops Aunt Judy off at her hotel, and he and Carole sneak quietly into the apartment. Finn gives them a wave from the couch, barely looking up from his texting; Carole kisses Blaine's cheek, tells him "Good night," and goes to join her son. Blaine smiles at them as he walks down the hall.
He finds Kurt already asleep in their bed. It looks warm, and Blaine's still chilled from the outdoors. When he's undressed and climbing in, Kurt mumbles sleepily, "Good services?"
"Mmm," Blaine hums. He wraps himself around Kurt, being the big spoon tonight, and presses his nose to the back of Kurt's neck.
"Blaine, your nose is cold," Kurt whines into his pillow. "You're lucky I love you."
Kissing Kurt's shoulder, Blaine answers, "I am."
Kurt wakes Blaine up early on Christmas morning, insisting that they tiptoe out to the kitchen to make cinnamon rolls for everyone. They have an hour until Aunt Judy, Cheryl, Nan and Marie arrive, and Kurt's determined to have homemade breakfast. Finn sleeps like the dead, as he always has, but they're still quiet.
"I'm calling Aunt Judy now," Kurt says. "I'm going to remind her to bring presents and wine and everything now. I don't think she'll want to be driving back for them later, and we know she's not exactly a morning person."
"Okay," Blaine agrees absently, stirring the melting butter. He's picturing what Finn's face, and Burt's, will look like when Kurt inevitably mentions that these are low-fat rolls made with cottage cheese. Burt will appreciate the effort and assure Kurt that they're still good, Blaine's sure, and Finn will shrug and eat extra rolls as though this will somehow cancel out the changes to the recipe. He has no idea what face his dad would make, confronted with Kurt's cinnamon rolls.
The food processor cutting the dough together is too loud in the quiet kitchen. Blaine fights the urge to hide it in a cabinet or muffle the noise with dishtowels. He's turning the dough out to knead by hand as Kurt hangs up his phone.
"She'll be here," Kurt reports. "And I need to catch up to you. Where's the filling recipe?"
They work well together, exchanging looks more often than words, and soon the pan of rolls is in the oven. Finn stumbles into the kitchen as Kurt's finishing the glaze. "What's baking?" he asks blearily.
"Cinnamon rolls," Kurt says. "And there'll be coffee in about five minutes."
"Morning, boys," Burt says from the doorway. "Merry Christmas."
Blaine pulls out mugs for everyone while they chorus their hellos. The doorbell rings as he sets down the last one; Kurt opens it to find Marie and Nan and their pile of pies. "Good morning," Nan tells the room.
"Open the fridge, Kurt," Marie says. Blaine hurries to pour her coffee, and once the pies are safely away and she has a mug in her hands, she looks happier.
By the time Carole's ready for the day, the cinnamon rolls are out of the oven and everyone has had some coffee. Kurt hides two rolls right off the bat. "For Aunt Judy and Cheryl. I'm afraid Finn will devour everything before they get here," he explains.
Aunt Judy arrives not long after, Cheryl following her, and together they all wake up gradually with their caffeine and sugar. "This is nice," Aunt Judy says, squeezing Blaine's arm. "Thanks for baking."
"You're welcome," Blaine says. "Hey, what were you two laughing about last night?"
Carole looks guilty. "We weren't too obvious, were we? Judy had some things to say about the idealization of giving birth alone, in a stable."
"I did," Aunt Judy confirms. "I may not have any kids of my own, but I've seen other women do it. I think the real Christmas miracle is Mary not taking her situation out on anyone who was present: Joseph, angels, the barn animals."
Everyone laughs, and when Finn stops laughing to ask, "Wait, what?" they laugh harder. Blaine feels warm with it. This is the Christmas morning he always wants to have.
In the late morning they open presents, Kurt darting into the kitchen to check his bread dough and dispatching Blaine to make sure the oven's pre-heating properly. Marie and Kurt get aluminum bake ware from each other, a Bundt pan and a pie tin, respectively. Nan and Blaine exchange smiles. There's a small package for Cheryl from Marie and Nan that turns out to be a book of Barbara Kingsolver's essays. Cheryl dives into it immediately.
While she's reading, Kurt grabs up the mysterious large box addressed to them from Burt and Carole and drags it back to his chair. "I want to open this one," he says. "Okay?"
"Sure." Blaine shrugs from his spot on the floor. "Go for it."
Kurt rips gleefully at the paper and reveals a table with two leaves. "Oh, wow." He frowns as he reads the box. "Some assembly required?"
"You didn't think it was a complete table in a box of that size, did you?" Blaine teases.
Burt laughs. "I'll put it together for you before dinner."
"I could assemble a table," Kurt protests, scowling.
"Not while cooking. Besides, the assembly's part of the gift." Burt leans in. "I brought my tools. Just thought after Thanksgiving you ought to have a table that can hold more people."
Kurt hums. "Mmm, the IKEA one we have now is small. Thanks, Dad."
Blaine chimes in, "Yeah, thanks, Burt. And you too, Carole."
Next to Carole, Cheryl straightens out of her slouch. "Hey, listen to this," she says. "This is from the title essay, 'Small Wonder.' It's about a couple in rural Iran whose toddler goes missing. The whole village turns out to look for him."
Blaine shifts, leaning against Kurt's legs. He feels Kurt's hand come to rest on his shoulder.
"When they find him, he's in a bear's cave, with the bear curled around him. They think she must have nursed him, because he survived three days of being lost. Isn't that amazing? She was protecting him from the search party, too." Cheryl says. "But his mother went into the cave to get him out and the bear didn't hurt her. And the ending— Can I read this bit?"
Everyone nods, Marie and Nan looking amused but not surprised at Cheryl's enthusiasm for their gift.
"'You could read this story and declare "impossible," even though many witnesses have sworn it's true. Or you could read this story and think of how warm lives are drawn to one another in cold places, think of the unconquerable force of a mother's love, the fact of the DNA code that we share in its great majority with other mammals—you could think of all that and say, Of course the bear nursed the baby. He was crying from hunger, she had milk. Small wonder.'"
Cheryl closes the book. Blaine leans his cheek on Kurt's hand and blinks slowly, thinking. His mother's sister is here for Christmas, but not his mother. Aunt Judy's watching him when he opens his eyes, and Cheryl's looking between them.
"Oh darlin'," Aunt Judy says.
Kurt stands suddenly and stalks into the kitchen.
"What—" Cheryl begins. "What just happened?"
"I'm thinking it's something to do with the distance from Cleveland to Columbus," Aunt Judy says in oblique answer to Cheryl's question.
Cheryl frowns. Blaine can see her watching him as he rises and goes after Kurt.
She follows him, and they all wind up in the kitchen together. "I'm sorry, kiddo," Cheryl says. "I don't understand what happened, but I'm sorry."
"It's— My parents live in Cleveland," Blaine explains. "That's what Aunt Judy meant. I asked them to come here for Christmas, and they had other plans – which is not unreasonable, and I did ask them really late – but, you know, they're not here."
"And that's not unusual, I take it," Cheryl says cautiously. Kurt huffs.
Blaine sighs. "I don't want to talk about this now. Can you give us a minute?"
"Sure, kiddo," Cheryl says. She gives Blaine, and then Kurt a sympathetic smile as she leaves the kitchen.
Blaine turns to Kurt. "Hey," he starts.
"After all the time you've spent driving up there and trying so hard, I can't believe they wouldn't come down here for a meal," Kurt growls. "Your mother at least should be here. I don't know why she's not." He pauses, examining Blaine's face. "I'm sorry," he says, reaching for Blaine's hand and pulling him in close.
"Don't," Blaine replies, barely audible. "I don't want this to ruin Christmas."
"Okay," Kurt whispers, looking concerned. "We'll talk about it later?"
Blaine lets himself lean into Kurt for a long moment before he straightens. "Yeah. Let's go back and be social now."
Cheryl's on the couch with Aunt Judy again, and as Blaine picks up her gifts and approaches them he can hear them talking. "They wanted Kurt to stay in the guest room," Aunt Judy's telling Cheryl. "Rather than with Blaine, even though they'd been together four years. Blaine turned right around and drove back to Lima."
Cheryl makes a sound of dismay. Blaine clears his throat. He's wondering if Cheryl's thinking now of her off-hand comment about her siblings and their work to become more open-minded. Blaine's suddenly envious of her nephews.
He and Kurt take seats on the couch while Aunt Judy goes to get more tea for herself. They watch Cheryl open Blaine's gift, a new sweater that she puts on immediately, and Kurt's envelope containing the sketched idea for her dress. The purple of the sweater suits her well and Kurt compliments Blaine on his choice; the dress sketch has her asking when she can have her first fitting. "Soon!" Kurt promises.
There's an awkward pause when Cheryl's done thanking them. Aunt Judy swoops in with her gift, pressing it into Blaine's hands. "My turn," she says.
Aunt Judy's gift to Kurt and Blaine is wrapped in a red box with a white ribbon. "Sorry about the lack of creative wrapping," she says. "I had to have it shipped directly."
"It's fine," Kurt says. He pulls the lid off and reveals a dozen candles in a rainbow of colors. Each one has a tiny metal plaque on the front.
Blaine picks one up. "Joy," he reads.
Kurt has a candle in each hand. "Adventure. Comfort."
"Love," Finn says, looming over them. He'd come up next to the couch when they started pulling candles out of the box. He grins at Kurt and Blaine. "Guess you already have that."
"There's no such thing as too much love," Kurt tells him. He turns and says, "Aunt Judy, these are wonderful."
She picks up a candle as well. "I'm glad you think so. They're wishes. And they have little charms inside them, so you can keep the wishes after the candle's used up."
"Hey, there's one for each month. Kurt, what should we wish for in January?" Blaine asks.
"We'll have to think about it," Kurt says. "Thank you," he adds to Aunt Judy.
Blaine nods. "Yes, thank you. Here, open ours."
She pulls out the fleur-de-lis pendant on its silver chain and gasps. "Blaine, Kurt, I love it. Thank you."
"It means wisdom and chivalry," Kurt tells her. "And other things, but those are the important ones."
Aunt Judy puts the necklace on and hugs them before crossing the room to show it off to Carole. Finn follows her, stopping to pick up a gift for Marie. "Carole and Finn picked that out together," Kurt murmurs. "Did I tell you about that? It's the cutest set of pie crimpers. Three different textures! I'm jealous."
Cheryl rejoins them with two small boxes in her hands, and they're on to the next set of presents. She brushes her fingers against Blaine's as she passes him his box. "I won't push, kiddo," she says. "I hope you know that if you ever want to talk, I'll listen." Blaine nods, then turns his attention to their gifts. She's given them both bracelets, heavy-looking silver bands.
"It's the perfect balance between masculine and feminine," Kurt says. "You have excellent taste in accessories, Cheryl."
Blaine puts his on, liking the weight of it on his wrist. "Thank you," he says quietly. He touches the inscription. Be braver than you thought (you are braver than you think). "For the bracelet, and the words."
"Kurt helped with the words for yours," Cheryl says. "And he inadvertently inspired the words on his, as well."
Kurt holds his arm out so Blaine can read his bracelet; it says Follow your dreams (trust in your heart). Blaine smiles at him, and at Cheryl.
"I didn't know we were both getting them," Kurt points out. "It's nice to have one of my own, as well as Blaine's to borrow."
Cheryl laughs and Blaine grins, glad to be back on solid ground.
Blaine waits until most of the presents have been opened to place his envelope on Kurt's lap. The others aren't watching like they did earlier, and he wants it that way. "Go on, open it," he says. "I know it's kind of only half-done, but—"
"Don't disparage your gift," Kurt scolds. He rips the envelope and pulls out the paper within. "Oh, Blaine, CAPA gift certificates! Aren't these good at basically any theater in town?" He's beaming.
"They are," Blaine answers, beaming himself. "I wanted to get you tickets to a specific show, but I didn't know which one you'd want to see most. There are six Broadway shows touring in the next year. If we get seats that aren't great, we can see more than one." He takes Kurt's hand. "I'm glad you don't mind that I didn't pick one."
Kurt squeezes Blaine's hand. "I don't mind. This is a lovely gift. Thank you." He turns and pulls a long flat box from under the tree and passes it to Blaine. "Now, your turn."
It's a black suit jacket with tails, the material exquisitely fine. Blaine holds it up and feels his mouth fall open. "Kurt, wow."
"It's not perfectly tailored yet – I'll need to do at least two fittings with you for that – but I love the idea of you having tails to flip out over a piano bench when you sit down." He blushes. "It's silly, when I don't know when you'll ever need to be this formal."
Blaine shakes his head. "It's not silly. It's amazing, thank you so much." He laughs. "I want to put it on right now, but we still have cooking to do."
"We do," Kurt agrees. "Come on, I need to see if the salmon's thawed yet, and the bread's probably ready to go in."
Blaine follows him, only too happy to help feed their family. He's so grateful they're hosting Christmas this year; it might be the best one he's ever had. The silver cuff on his wrist has warmed to body temperature and he runs a finger over it. Blaine is already wondering if they can trade, depending on which of them needs which inspiration at a given moment.
He catches Kurt watching him. "Hey, you're okay with the idea of switching these for a day?"
"Bracelets?" Kurt nods. "I've been thinking of that. And that sometimes one of us might need both." He steps closer and drops his voice. "I'm also thinking of cutting one of those candles from Aunt Judy in half to find a charm right away. It's funny how much I find myself liking the idea of carrying one in my pocket."
Blaine smiles. "That doesn't surprise me at all. Didn't you keep the first text I sent you on your phone for years?"
Kurt swats him. "Don't make fun of me. High school takes a lot of courage."
"I thought it was sweet!" Blaine protests. "I'm not making fun, I swear. But Kurt?"
Kurt raises his eyebrows inquiringly.
"Don't you dare cheat on those candles. I'm counting on plenty of romantic evenings to burn them down," Blaine says.
"It's going to be a good year," Kurt replies, and opens the fridge to check the salmon.
Burt has their new table assembled in time for dinner, and it serves admirably as a buffet table. They eat in the living room, the lights on the tiny tree in the corner twinkling on and off next to the piano. After a while, everyone but Finn is full and they're all reduced to watching him single-handedly empty the remaining dishes. Carole's pie, cherry and perfectly tart, made its way on to everyone's plate and Kurt's vegan green bean casserole was gone early, as Blaine knew it would be: it has never tasted low-fat to him.
"Someone sing something," Carole says. "I know you're all capable of it."
"Can we sing that Latin thing again?" Finn asks.
Nan nods enthusiastically and launches into Dona Nobis Pacem. From his spot next to her, Blaine can hear Aunt Judy joining quietly in. He leans to the side and bumps her shoulder, affectionate, and she turns a warm smile on him.
"Different, huh?" he says. He's picturing his parents' house with its white carpets, the tree looming over the dining table where it can be best showcased and its needles will fall on hardwood floors. They stopped putting presents under their tree when they'd moved to the new house in Cleveland. Blaine's first winter break from college he'd spent mostly in Lima; he'd driven up for Christmas Eve and back the next day.
Aunt Judy looks concerned. "Yeah," she says softly. "Hey, come in the kitchen with me."
Blaine follows her. "Do you want tea?"
"Not now." She stands there, considering him. "You know your mom loves you, don't you, Blaine?"
"Does she? She's not here," Blaine says flatly. "Maybe when I was little she'd have gone into a bear's cave for me, but now she won't even come to Columbus for Christmas dinner."
Aunt Judy steps closer. "Then tell her that's what you need. I'm worried about you," she says, quiet but intense. "I know you're disappointed in her. I don't blame you for that. But can you tell her what's at stake, here?"
"I don't know," Blaine says. "I'm so tired of things being like this. I— Maybe I could. I think I'd need to write a letter."
She pulls him forward into a hug. "I can talk to your mom, too, but it's not the same as you speaking up for yourself." Aunt Judy lets him go.
There's a sound from the doorway. It's Kurt, clearing his throat. He and Aunt Judy look at each other for a moment. Then she gives him a small smile. "I'll give you boys some privacy," she says as she leaves.
Kurt gives Blaine a worried look. "What was that about?"
"She wants me to be take a stand with my parents, I guess," Blaine says tiredly. "She thinks it'll make me feel better, even if it doesn't change anything."
"She might be right," Kurt says.
Blaine pinches the bridge of his nose. "It feels weird. They're my parents."
"Come here." Kurt tucks himself along Blaine's side, pulling him back to lean on the edge of the counter. He keeps his arm around Blaine's waist. "I don't know what you're supposed to do. But I want to be here for you, whatever it is. Okay?"
"Okay," Blaine agrees. He puts his hand on Kurt's where it rests on his hip. It's reassuring.
Kurt blows out a breath. "Now, we need a reason to have been in here. Want to help me plate some marshmallows?"
"Yes," Blaine says. "I want to have a good evening. Let's pass the sugar."
Aunt Judy comes by on Monday before she leaves to drive up to Cleveland. "Thank you so much for having me," she says as she hugs Blaine. "I loved meeting this part of your family, and getting to see your home and your church."
"Thanks for coming," he says. He passes her two small boxes, his gifts for his parents. "You'll give these to Mom and Dad for me?"
"I will." She tucks them carefully into her bag. "I think your mother mailed you something on Friday, so it'll probably be here Tuesday. I didn't ask – I didn't want to nag."
Blaine shrugs. "It's okay."
"It's really not okay, darlin', and you know it." Aunt Judy gives him a look. "I'll talk to your mom, okay?"
"Yeah," Blaine says. "Thanks."
Whatever else Aunt Judy might be about to say is interrupted by Finn, headed for the door with a bag over each shoulder and a suitcase in his hand. "Sorry, 'scuse me," he says.
"Honestly, Finn, you don't have to carry everything at once," Kurt calls after him. Burt and Carole follow Kurt down the hall, and they say their goodbyes in every possible combination. Carole and Aunt Judy exchange email addresses, which gives Blaine a satisfied feeling. After Kurt's family is out the door, Carole explaining regretfully that she's working the night shift and has to get home in time to nap, Blaine and Kurt stand with Aunt Judy and say the last round of goodbyes.
"This was wonderful," Aunt Judy says to Blaine. She turns to kiss Kurt's cheek and makes him promise to send pictures of Cheryl's dress when it's finished.
Kurt grins. "Don't forget you'll get to see it in person. She's going to be wearing it to the wedding."
"Oh, the wedding! Quick, tell me the date again while I'm standing here with my planner." She digs in her bag for a pen.
"June 24," Blaine says, thinking of the new wall calendar they'll be hanging up in a week and the giant red circle he'll put around the date.
"Got it. I will move heaven and earth to be there, I promise. Okay, bye guys. Love you both." And with two last hugs, Aunt Judy's gone.
Blaine brings in the mail on Tuesday and steels himself when he sees the envelope with his mother's handwriting. It is, predictably, only addressed to him. He opens it and examines the contents. Kurt watches over his shoulder.
"Okay," Blaine says, and takes a deep breath. "You can be mad about this."
Kurt looks grim. "Good," he says. "Who does that? A generic card, no note, and a check. That's a Christmas present?"
"To be fair, they've given me checks before," Blaine points out. "We are starving students. Money's practical."
"Yes, money's practical. I don't object to that. But no note?" Kurt frowns at the card. "Carole writes a note in the holiday tip card for our mailman, Blaine."
Blaine puts his head in his hands. "Ugh, Kurt, what do you want me to say? At least they sent something. My dad signed it, my mom sent it, they're not ignoring me. They could have given me something useless, or even offensive."
"I'm having trouble picturing a Christmas gift you'd actually be offended by," Kurt says.
Blaine looks up. "A dating book," he suggests.
Kurt nods slowly. "Fair. That would be much worse." He considers Blaine. "You seem more upset about me being angry than about the card."
"I don't like fighting with you about this," Blaine says. "I— I don't want to start our married life together with this hanging over us, but when I was a kid I never thought I'd be getting married without my parents in attendance."
"You'd rather have what, then? Your parents there, pretending they're watching the most involved friendship ritual they've ever seen?" Kurt asks incredulously. "Blaine, if they can't understand that we're partners, maybe it's better if they don't come."
Miserably, Blaine puts his head in his hands. "Maybe it's better if they don't," he murmurs. He's getting an idea of what to do; he doesn't want to, but he can't let his parents keep hurting him and Kurt like this.
Kurt sits down and puts a hand on Blaine's back, rubbing soothingly. "Hey. I love you."
Blaine leans into Kurt's touch. "I love you too."
They sit, Kurt's warm hand occasionally brushing Blaine's neck as it moves over Blaine's back, until it's time for lunch.
Blaine doesn't like the idea of them being out late at a party, or of counting down to midnight in the cold, dry winter air. He suggests that they stay in for New Year's, and although Kurt is no longer sleeping his days away he agrees. After hosting two holidays, it's nice to celebrate this one alone.
They open champagne and snuggle on the couch, half-heartedly watching the coverage of Times Square. "I don't miss that part," Kurt says.
"What, the crowds?" Blaine asks, surprised.
Kurt shrugs. "Yeah. They're not the magic part."
"Huh." Blaine considers this. "What is the magic part?"
"The possibilities. A place where anything could happen, at any time: you could meet a celebrity, or see a peacock perched on a building, or stumble on a Nepalese café." He grins. "A place that let two high school kids sing on a Broadway stage, and a place that might someday let me make my living doing that. It's a city of dreams, Blaine," Kurt says.
Blaine tightens his arm around Kurt. "Yeah, I get that."
A different band takes the stage on TV. They're young, and Blaine thinks he remembers seeing them open for someone two years ago.
"We'll go back there, I promise," he says. "I know it'll be another year and a half in Ohio, and then however long it takes for one of us to get a job. I've been reading about the certification steps, the LAST and the CST exams, and I think that as soon as I'm licensed here I can apply to be licensed there. It's really not that much longer."
Kurt turns and kisses Blaine's cheek. "It's fine. It's not that much longer, and being twenty-somethings in Columbus is much better than growing up in Lima."
Blaine sighs. "I just don't want you to feel like we gave up your dreams for mine."
"What, because you're happy here? I'm glad you like your program and your job." Kurt frowns. "I'm happy here too, you know. And I think you're forgetting something."
"What's that?" Blaine looks away, checking the time to midnight.
"You're one of my dreams." Kurt leans forward and picks up their glasses. "Now have some champagne with me."
They toast, and pour second glasses for themselves, and after a time Kurt leans in again and says, "And Blaine? We're not your parents. Our marriage will not be like theirs. We won't treat our kids like they treat you." His voice is fierce and loving and Blaine is so, so happy Kurt's on his side. If it were ever the two of them against the world, he'd tell the world to watch out.
"We won't," he says. He lets himself fall sideways and rest against Kurt's chest, his head in the curve of Kurt's neck. "We'll be different." The moment stretches until Blaine finds himself wearing the smallest of smiles. "So, one boy and one girl?"
"I don't know, I like having a brother," Kurt says. "But I still want at least one girl. I want to spoil her rotten." He taps his chin. "Two of each?"
Blaine sits up. "I don't know where you think we're going to get the money to raise four kids in New York on a teacher's salary and whatever work you can get acting. You better land an impressive role early in your career."
Kurt waves a hand. "Details. Anyway, if acting falls through I have plans to start a magazine."
"Kurt. Everyone says print media is over." Blaine tilts his head. "Why not a blog, though? People get book deals and movie options out of those."
"Everyone has been saying that print is dead for years now, and it's still not true," Kurt answers. "And a blog does not have glossy paper and high-saturation photos. A blog is subject to the vagaries of other people's computer monitors when it comes to color and resolution. If I'm going to talk fashion, I have to know that everyone's looking at the same thing I am. Then the only difference is that their opinions are wrong."
Blaine laughs. The ball starts to drop on TV; the only thing for Blaine to do is to kiss Kurt into next year.
By the end of winter break, Kurt's recovered and ready to jump back into his work with the theatre department. Blaine's just glad he's worrying less about Kurt's health – he needs that brain space for his winter classes. He's added violin lessons to his schedule, while keeping voice and piano, and thankfully that's it for this year. If Blaine has to add one more major rehearsal and performance schedule to his life, his head might explode.
Kurt's also back to wishing he was performing, something that frustrates them both as he reads about, then dismisses, community theatre, university productions, and acting classes.
"I can't find anything worthwhile," he huffs.
Blaine raises his eyebrows. "What is it that you're looking for? I get that the classes aren't enough, since there's no audience, but what's wrong with community theatre?"
"It's hard enough to find a place to sing that really uses my voice without having to fight small-minded casting directors," Kurt whines. "I want someone to put on a show that's perfect for me, or let me play a non-traditional role. Is that so much to ask?"
Blaine doesn't say anything, eyebrows still up.
Kurt deflates. "Yes, okay, it probably is. You know, my mom used to tell me that I could do anything I wanted. I wonder if she'd still say that now."
"She would," Blaine replies, reaching over to take Kurt's hand. "I'm sure she would. You can do anything you want, Kurt. It just might be hard."
"Thanks," Kurt says with a small smile. "What would I do without you?"
The ring of Blaine's phone interrupts them. "Sorry, hang on," he says. He fumbles the phone and answers it while he's checking the caller id. "Hello?"
It's Aunt Judy. "Hi Blaine," she says. "Just calling to let you know I got home okay."
"Good. How is San Francisco? Just like you left it?" He jerks his head at the kitchen and waits for Kurt's nod before walking off.
"Yeah, grey and foggy and wonderful. You and Kurt should come visit in the summer. Maybe I can convince you to move west if you see it on one of our rare sunny days." There's street noise behind her; Blaine pictures the hustle of the city.
"I think you defeated yourself when you called them 'rare,'" he says, stepping into the bedroom.
Aunt Judy sighs dramatically. "Yeah, but you should still come."
Blaine chuckles. "We'll think about it." He wonders if Kurt could find a place to shine in San Francisco, if he would ever consider it as an alternative to New York.
They catch up, Aunt Judy reporting on her travel and Blaine reciting his new classes. The conversation is winding down when Blaine, heart in his throat, asks, "Aunt Judy? Did you talk to Mom?"
"I did, darlin'," she says, voice serious. "She— It's complicated."
"It's always complicated," Blaine says bitterly. "I don't know why it can't be simple. I love Kurt. I'm marrying him. Why can't they understand that?" He pinches the bridge of his nose. "It's not even really Mom that's the problem. And you know, if Dad's never going to come around, I can— I can find a way to live with that. But Mom...."
Aunt Judy hums in wordless sympathy. "I know it's hard," she says. "It's hard for her too. Think about what it's like when you and Kurt disagree."
"We would never disagree about something like this," Blaine bites out.
"Yeah, well, I'm not saying it's right. If you want my opinion, your dad's a closed-minded fool. But your mom loves him, and I don't envy her position, stuck in the middle like she is." There's a jingling noise from her end of the phone. Keys, maybe. "I don't know what to tell you. Don't give up just yet, okay?"
Blaine closes his eyes. "Okay," he says.
Aunt Judy's end of the line gets quieter. "I'm home now, and I need to go make dinner. Do you want to keep talking while I do?"
"No," Blaine says. "I'll let you go. Thanks." He can hear her heels click on the hardwood floor, and he pictures her walking into her kitchen.
"Of course," she says. "Bye, darlin'. I love you."
"I love you too. Bye," he says. He thumbs his phone off and lets himself fall backwards on the bed, breathing hard for a moment. He'll get up and rejoin Kurt soon.
It's a bitter cold January night outside, but that has not stopped Cheryl from ordering the chocolate cream pie she always chooses. The three of them are in the diner, Blaine with hot apple pie and Kurt with just a cup of coffee and a fork. He keeps stealing bites off Blaine's plate.
"How about this one?" Cheryl says. "What is the nature of love?"
Kurt makes an appreciative noise. "Good one. Who's going to start?"
"Me. Self-sacrifice," Blaine says. "Love is greater than self-interest – it's the thing that makes us choose what will make someone else happy even when it isn't what we want."
"But it can't be only that." Kurt snatches another forkful of pie. "Self-sacrifice all the time looks like martyrdom. You could let me eat all of your pie, because it would make me happy, but then you'd have no pie and you'd be unhappy."
"But it would make me happy to give you pie," Blaine objects.
Kurt shakes his head. "If you did nothing but give me pie, or whatever, you'd be a doormat and I'd be a parasite. I'm not saying there can't be giving in love. It just can't be all there is."
"Yeah, okay. What else?" Blaine says. He takes a bite of pie.
"Compassion. Or empathy, I guess. Other people do things you don't get, and love means trying to understand or at least be happy for them. Like, my dad didn't get it when Rachel and I had our first diva off." Kurt turns to Cheryl. "We both wanted to sing 'Defying Gravity,' and our teacher didn't want to let me try. My dad went and argued for me, and even though he didn't have the slightest idea what a high F was or why I'd want to sing a 'girl's song,' he made it happen."
"And you threw the competition," Blaine says.
Kurt nods. "I did. I wanted to protect my dad. He was getting anonymous phone calls about me, and he just—" He looks down into his coffee. "I told him that I loved him more than I loved being a star."
Blaine leans into Kurt. "You made a sacrifice for his happiness."
"I did. And he fought for something he didn't understand for me. I think you need both." Kurt smiles. "That seems right."
Finishing the last of the pie, Blaine watches Kurt. He's thanking their server for his refill, sugaring and creaming his coffee, and Blaine gets a flash of him making Burt's coffee in the shop. This story of them always reminds him of "The Gift of the Magi," with its air of loving sacrifice and appreciation. Sometimes he pictures what his dad would have done, in the same situation. Blaine thinks his dad would have taken Blaine's sacrifice as his due, saving the family from embarrassment, and never stood up for him or appreciated what he'd done. This is the man, after all, who missed most of Blaine's concerts and whose interest in Blaine's life seems limited to explaining that education is a foolish career choice and steadfastly ignoring Kurt. In Burt's place, Blaine's father would have been appalled that his son even wanted to try such a thing.
Cheryl breaks the silence at the table. "I'd add faith," she says.
Blaine raises his eyebrows. "Faith?"
"You can't know how someone else feels about you, not with perfect certainty," she argues. "There's no way to get into their head. You have to take it on faith that they love you and won't hurt you. And then," she adds, "after someone's hurt you, you have to have enough faith to love the next person."
"Or to love the person who hurt you again," Blaine says quietly. He's starting to wonder where the outer bounds of faith are, where his parents are concerned. They haven't spoken lately, aside from a perfunctory phone call of thanks for their Christmas presents. Maybe this is how things end, not with a bang but with a whimper.
Kurt touches Blaine's wrist lightly, just above where his bracelet sits. "I'm not sure that's faith so much as bravery," he says.
"Is this one of those things where you don't understand, but support me anyway?" Blaine asks.
"Yeah," Kurt tells him. "It's one of those things where I love you."
Across the table, Blaine can see Cheryl smiling down into her pie. It's easier to be brave when every day he feels the ground more solidly beneath his feet. He knows what he needs to do, and he thinks he'll be able to do it.
Kurt's been picking Blaine up from choir almost every week since early December. He's always early – Blaine sees him appear briefly in the doorway when he arrives, checking in – and he seems to be enjoying loitering and listening. This week, he trails Blaine into his office at the end of rehearsal.
"How do people join this choir?" he asks.
Blaine shrugs. "They show up. Most of them already know which part they're comfortable singing, and so far everyone who shows up has had a decent voice so I take them all. It's like New Directions, that way."
Kurt hums consideringly. "Interesting. And they all come to rehearsal and perform?"
"Some of them are more consistent than others," Blaine says. "Why the sudden curiosity?"
Whatever Kurt is about to say is cut off by Paul's appearance in the doorway, asking if Blaine knows why the storage closet for the chairs is locked.
Blaine doesn't. "I'll come open it for you," he says. He looks back at Kurt. "I have no idea how it's possible that the chairs were taken out and set up while the closet was locked."
Kurt shrugs eloquently. "Elves," he says.
"Elves," Blaine repeats, laughing. "Sure. Let's go with elves." He almost can't believe Kurt is sitting in his office at a church, calmly having a silly discussion about elves.
When the chairs are dealt with, Blaine finds Cheryl and suggests pie.
"I can't, kiddo," she says. "Not tonight. Early morning for me tomorrow – we have maintenance people coming in at the library, and I drew the short straw."
"I understand. I should probably get some more reading in tonight, anyway," he tells her.
Kurt comes out of Blaine's office, Blaine's bag over his shoulder. "What's the plan?"
"Home," Blaine says. "Everyone is going to be responsible and do work, or go to bed early."
"Except me." Kurt grins impishly. "I think I'll stay up and bake something."
Blaine rolls his eyes dramatically. "You see what I have to put up with," he says to Cheryl.
"I do." She lays a hand on his arm. "How you suffer."
"It's terrible," Blaine agrees. When Kurt snorts, Blaine takes him by the hand. "All right, you, let's go home."
Blaine makes himself sit down and write as plainly as he can; he's pretty sure he's only going to have the courage to do this once, so it needs to work. He wavers over addressing the letter to both his parents or just his mom and finally decides on both, so there's no ambiguity.
I'm marrying Kurt in June, he writes. He's my partner, and he's going to be my husband. I need to know if you'll be attending so we can plan the ceremony and the reception. If you aren't there – he has to stop and breathe, feeling himself shake. He's jittery, anxious and full of dread. "If they aren't there, that's it," he says aloud.
Blaine shakes his hands out and starts writing again. If you aren't there, that's it. I'm not going to change. You can love me and accept me and Kurt, or you can stop being part of my life.
It looks abrupt and confrontational without pleasantries, but Blaine can't think of what would fit with this. He fights the urge to throw away the letter, write another that smoothes things over. This is what he needs to say.
He signs the letter and puts it in its envelope, then sets it on the table and stares at it. He can't quite bring himself to seal it yet. Blaine's still sitting there when Kurt comes home from the costume shop.
"To your parents?" Kurt asks, looking at the envelope.
"Yeah," Blaine says.
Kurt puts his hands on Blaine's shoulders. "I'm proud of you," he says. "Whether or not you send it."
Blaine looks up at him. "It's so harsh. But I can't let them keep being this way. I'm marrying you. They have to accept both of us, all that we are." He can feel tears prickling at his eyes. "I'm scared. And I have to send it."
"I love you," Kurt says, so fiercely that Blaine's reminded vividly of their conversation, New Year's Eve. This is how, he thinks. This is how they make their marriage different, how they'll make their parenting different: by doing the hard things to stand up for themselves and the family they're making.
"I love you too," Blaine says and picks up the envelope. He licks it closed, lets it fall back on the table, and leans back into Kurt's hands.
That Thursday, choir rehearsal is going smoothly, the handful of new voices who've joined up integrating well with the group's sound. Blaine's proud of them: the whole choir is quicker on the uptake, better at sight-singing, and more solid than they were in August. They've learned as least as much from him as he's learned from them. He's letting the good energy of rehearsal carry him past the anxiety of the letter he mailed to his parents on Monday. They've only just received it, really, he reminds himself. It's too soon to say what they'll do. All he can do now is focus on his choir.
Then he passes out the sheet music for their latest piece.
"I won't sing that," Iris, one of the sopranos who looks to be near 90, declares.
Blaine blinks at her. "W— What?"
She waves her music. "I won't sing that."
"Why not?" Blaine has never exchanged this many words with Iris before, and he's hampered by still being dumbfounded.
"These lyrics. 'God, our father,' 'Man, his child and care,' 'heathen, Turk or Jew,'" she says. "I think that's it."
Blaine looks around the room. "Do others object to those lyrics?" He sees a few nods. "Okay, I'll talk with Elizabeth about making some changes. Let's learn the parts for now—"
From the alto section, June breaks in, "I won't sing it if you change it." She looks more mulish than a woman in her 80s might be expected to.
Iris glares at her. "Of course you won't," she mutters.
"If it was good enough for William Blake, it's good enough for me." June folds her arms.
"You know, Elizabeth hasn't told me if she's got something specific in mind for this one. She thought we'd want to start working on the harmonies. I think we can save questions of lyric for later—" Blaine says.
Iris and June aren't listening to him. "I can't believe you'd disrespect Blake like that," June spits.
"I can't believe you'd disrespect yourself like that, singing antiquated, sexist, racist lyrics." Iris half-rises from her chair.
"Ladies!" Blaine yells, getting off his stool and going to stand between them. "You'll sing what Elizabeth and I decide you'll sing." He faces the choir as a whole. "Take five, everybody. Let's cool off, and when we come back we'll learn the harmonies on 'Do.'"
June takes off toward the restrooms, and Iris stomps to the social hall. Blaine falls into a now-empty chair.
"Well, you know the joke, right?" Cheryl says as she joins him.
Blaine looks at her blankly.
She grins. "Why are UUs so bad at singing?"
"Because they're reading ahead to see if they agree with the lyrics," Nan answers.
Blaine manages a small laugh. "I guess it's true," he says.
Nan puts a hand on his shoulder. "You handled it well."
"You did," Cheryl confirms. "Don't worry. It's surprising it hasn't happened before."
"What, a nonagenarian trying to punch an octogenarian?" Blaine groans. "Aren't people supposed to grow out of those impulses?"
"Everyone matures at their own pace," Nan says with mock-solemnity.
Marie retakes her chair, lifting her filled water bottle in mute explanation for her absence. "Refreshments. Boy, I wish I'd had popcorn," she says gleefully.
Nan gives her a look as she says, "Some are slower than others."
Blaine can't help it: he snorts and covers his face, giggling into his hands with only a small note of hysteria. When he looks up again, he sees all three women smiling at him. "Thanks for cheering me up," he says.
He calls the rehearsal back to order when most of the choir members have returned. Roberto takes the piano so Blaine can stand in front of the women's sections until he's sure no fistfights will break out. True to his word, he refuses to touch the lyrics. Once their harmonies are sounding secure, he hustles them on to their next set of hymns. It's a relief.
An hour and a half into rehearsal, Blaine breaks to allow Lynn to recruit for the hand bell choir she's starting. He steps off to the side, listening absently and planning services with hand bell interludes. The tenors catch his eye, though, and he wonders what has them whispering and glancing behind them at the doorway.
Blaine works his way to the edge of the room, where he has a clear line of sight to the door. Kurt's sitting there, knees drawn up and back against the doorframe. He's focused on Lynn until Blaine waves, catching his eye. Kurt gives Blaine a tiny wave back and smiles uncertainly.
Lynn finishes her pitch and Blaine steps back up to the front of the room. "We have twenty-five minutes left," he says. "And I want to end on a good note. Let's sing some of our favorite hymns."
"What's the nomination process?" Di asks.
"Undemocratic," Blaine answers. "We're starting with a favorite of mine, and whoever is the first to find the hymn number for a favorite of theirs gets to go next. Paul, I think we need the teal books out for this to be fair."
Paul nods, and the tenors troop out of the room together. Sometimes Blaine wonders why they all go to fetch the hymnals, but this evening he's glad of normal oddities. He can see Kurt tucking his feet in further, staying out of the way of the returning tenors.
The choir sings 1010, and 149, 108 and 155. They end with 188 as a round and segue into a unison ending without any direction from Blaine. "Come, come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. Ours is no caravan of despair. Come, yet again come," they conclude, and Blaine feels his mood lighten.
Kurt follows him into his office while the choir puts away chairs. "Hey," he says. "I hope I wasn't a disruption. I got sick of trying to hear from the foyer, and sitting in the doorway seemed less intrusive than marching in and taking a chair."
"Kurt," Blaine says with a laugh, "you were so far from disruptive, I can't even tell you. Wait until I tell you what happened tonight."
By Saturday, it's been a week since Blaine sat down to write the letter and almost as long since he mailed it. He's spent Friday – and parts of Wednesday and Thursday, if he's honest – feeling sick over it, agonizing over whether to call and tell his parents that he didn't mean it. That he can't cut them out completely, he doesn't know what he was thinking, he wants them in his life in whatever way they'll agree to.
Each time he's stopped himself with the memory of Christmas, and the years before that: the way they've been in his life has excluded Kurt, and Kurt is inextricably part of Blaine's world. He can't let them cut Kurt out, and he's done hiding the parts of himself that they've never accepted. There's nothing else for him to do but stand his ground and see what they'll do.
Now it's gone on long enough that Blaine thinks he has to accept this as the new relationship he has with his parents: none. No connection, no interaction. They didn't call, or email, or rush down from Cleveland to meet him in his doorway. It's just over.
Blaine's curled up in bed on Saturday afternoon, still feeling a little ill with the knowledge that he's ended things with his parents. Mostly, though, he feels sad, a heavy, weighted feeling that makes it hard to focus on anything else. It's not that different from the way things were before, he thinks. Silence and distance has become the norm for his parents, over the years. The thought makes him sadder. He'd thought his mother, at least, would reach out after the letter, but she hasn't called regularly or visited for a long time now.
The front door opens and Kurt's voice drifts in. "You cannot stop the rhythm of two hearts in love to stay," he's singing to himself. His volume shifts as he moves, Blaine's guessing, from kitchen to living room. When the piano joins in, Blaine lets out one last, long sigh and rolls himself out of bed.
He walks slowly into the living room and leans on the wall, watching Kurt play another song from their high school choir days. Kurt looks over his shoulder at Blaine and frowns, hands faltering on the piano keys. "Blaine?"
Blaine shakes his head and goes to join Kurt on the piano bench. "No word from my parents. I guess that's it," he says. He lays his head on Kurt's shoulder. "Play me something. Please?"
Kurt tilts his head against Blaine's for a moment. "Okay," he says. When Blaine's sitting upright again Kurt starts in on a slow, almost wistful version of "Teenage Dream." He joins in as Kurt sings, "Before you met me, I was all right, but things were kind of heavy. You brought me to life."
"You did, you know," Kurt says, fingers still playing the melody. "I— my life wasn't even really what I'd call all right, before you."
Blaine half-smiles. "I'd say you brought me to life. This song is exactly— I think that's just where I was, before you. All right, but not good."
"And now?" Kurt asks. "I mean, I know you're happy. But today, how do you feel about losing the old way of being all right?"
"Sad," Blaine says, "but I think I'll be okay. After all, I got you." He bumps Kurt's shoulder. "I can think of an awful lot I'd give up to have you in my life." It's true, he realizes after he says it. He can feel it: he'll be okay. He's got Kurt.
Thank goodness Valentine's Day is on a Tuesday this year, Blaine thinks. He'd almost missed it, but Kurt had asked over breakfast if they were exchanging gifts for the holiday or pretending it was just another date night. Blaine has time to stop in at the campus Starbucks and pick up a new travel mug for Kurt, to replace the one that had taken on an odd color and an odder odor. He sticks in a gift bag and writes "I love you more than caffeine" on a card.
Kurt cooks for them, making Julia Child's famous boeuf à la bourguignonne, and after dinner Blaine plays his violin. He's been working on Mendelssohn's Sonata in F. Tonight he plays the second movement for Kurt, closing his eyes so Kurt's fond smile can't distract him.
"That was lovely," Kurt says when he finishes. "Thank you."
Blaine puts his violin away and joins Kurt on the couch. "You're welcome," he says. He kisses Kurt, then snuggles into his side. "Almost six years," Blaine says wonderingly. "How did it get so long?"
Kurt stifles what sounds like a snicker.
"Okay, I can hear the dirty joke you're repressing from here." Blaine sits up. "You're ruining my moment."
"I'm sorry," Kurt sputters, still trying not to laugh. "Sorry, sorry." He calms himself down.
Blaine sniffs. "I don't know if you deserve the exquisite, carefully chosen gift I have here."
Reaching for a gift bag of his own, Kurt gives him an apologetic look. "I'll behave. Shall we swap? Mine is not exquisite, and I'll admit it was hurriedly chosen, but I think you'll like it."
They reach into their bags at the same time, and when they both pull out travel mugs Blaine can't help but giggle.
Kurt's giggling too, and they wind up slumped together laughing until their sides hurt. "You know what they say about couples becoming more alike over time," Kurt says when they can speak again.
"Oh yeah?" Blaine says. "Can you guess what I'm thinking now?"
"Mmm," Kurt hums. "I bet it has something to do with this—" And he turns to face Blaine, kissing him and pressing him down on the couch until they're laid out together.
They make out like the teenagers they used to be, all tongue and roving hands. One of the candles Aunt Judy gave them for Christmas is burning on the end table. This one reads "Bliss."
"Make love to me," Blaine whispers.
Kurt gives him a look of pure affection, with none of the mockery Blaine's expecting. He unbuttons Blaine's shirt, sitting back on Blaine's thighs to do so, and then he sheds his own. Kurt pulls Blaine up and pushes his shirt off, unzips his pants and peels off Blaine's socks. Blaine undresses Kurt and stands there, taking him in.
"Come on," Kurt says, reaching for Blaine's hand. "We're not doing this on the couch, and the lube is in the bedroom anyway."
Blaine lets himself be pliant under Kurt's hands, lies back on the bed and watches through heavy-lidded eyes while Kurt blows him. He's boneless and almost overwrought with pleasure; they don't get to do this often enough, anymore.
Kurt slicks a finger and slides it into Blaine, follows it up with two and then three. Blaine is barely able to hitch his legs up so Kurt can push into him. "Are you that tired?" Kurt asks.
"'M not tired," Blaine mumbles. "Just feel good." And he does, flooded with endorphins and oxytocin and whatever else his body is producing with the sheer joy of Kurt.
Kurt quirks an eyebrow. "So I shouldn't bother aiming for your prostate," he says dryly.
Blaine waves a hand. "Aim wherever. Can't feel better than this."
"Oh really," Kurt says, and apparently takes it as a personal challenge. He adjusts his angle, brushing Blaine's prostate with each thrust. Blaine finds himself in a state of suspended bliss, and although he does not come again he moans, too, when Kurt orgasms into him.
They lie together, sweaty and warm and pleased. Blaine summons the strength to lift his head and kiss Kurt. "Happy Valentine's Day," he says. "You're amazing."
Kurt preens ever so slightly. "I am. But I'm only what you deserve."
"Can I come with you tonight?" Kurt asks.
Blaine looks up from the note he's making, a reminder to take a firm stance on singing Blake's original words. "Come with me to rehearsal?"
"Yeah." Kurt fidgets with a button on his cuff.
"You want to come with me to church choir rehearsal," Blaine says again, dumbfounded.
Kurt pulls in a breath before speaking. "I want to come with you to church choir rehearsal. I— Your choir's not bad—"
"Thanks," Blaine interjects dryly.
"You know what I mean," Kurt huffs. "They're good, for amateurs, and I miss singing so much. I could probably find somewhere else to sing, but this would be easy. You're going there anyway, and you could use another tenor, and if I'm singing for you I can switch parts and sing with the women if I want to, right? I'd have to argue with another director to get to do that."
Blaine nods cautiously. "That's all true. I just— I'm kind of weirded out by the idea of you in my choir. And also by your sudden change of heart about church."
Kurt looks indignant. "It's not sudden. I've been thinking about this for months, since I started listening in on the end of your rehearsals."
"You could have talked to me about it," Blaine grumbles.
Kurt sighs. "I almost did, but I wasn't ready. This is weird for me, too."
"I guess we can try it and see how it goes," Blaine says. He turns to his satchel, letting the motions of checking through his music steady him. When he turns back, Kurt is still watching him.
"Is this okay?" he asks, uncertain.
Blaine kisses his cheek. "Yeah, I think it will be. Come on."
They don't talk on the drive to the church. Blaine puts the radio on NPR and lets the drone of the evening news fill the silence. He can see Kurt rubbing the ends of his scarf and brushing non-existent lint off his coat sleeves.
Blaine feels like he should show Kurt around, but Kurt's right: he's been lurking in the foyer, and then the doorway, for weeks. He knows where to hang his coat and what the choir room looks like. And he's probably not interested in the rest of the church tonight. Actually, for all Blaine knows he's been secretly exploring the whole building. He might be able to see it as just a building when it's mostly empty.
The choir room is half full, chatting amongst themselves when Blaine steps in. Their conversations drop off when Kurt follows him. Blaine clears his throat. "Most of you know my partner, Kurt. He'll be joining us tonight." He turns to Kurt. "Do you want to introduce yourself once everyone's here?"
Kurt shakes his head. "You can do it." He hesitates. "If that's okay?"
"Sure," Blaine says. He starts to ask if there's something special Kurt wants him to say, but they're interrupted by Cheryl's arrival.
"Kurt!" she cries, rushing over to hug him. "Are you gracing us with your presence this evening? Properly, I mean, and not just loitering on the threshold?"
"I am." Kurt smiles. "It's a trial rehearsal for me. We'll see how it goes."
Cheryl squeezes his arm. "Welcome," she says. "I think you'll like it."
Marie and Nan step up behind Kurt while Cheryl's talking, and when Marie speaks Kurt jumps. "Are you singing with us, or with the tenors?" she asks.
"Both, I hope," Kurt answers. "Blaine says he'll let me switch off."
"I said we could try it," Blaine corrects. He's uneasy, watching two of his worlds collide in a new way.
Nan slings an arm around Kurt. "We'll keep him in line, don't worry."
After rehearsal ends, Kurt follows Blaine into his office. He picks up one of Blaine's pens and twirls it. "So? How do you think it went?"
Blaine considers this. "It was good. I guess we've always known we work well together."
"So I could sing here every week if I wanted?" Kurt asks.
"More than once, some weeks," Blaine says, smiling. "We do perform, you know, in addition to rehearsing." He's starting to like the idea of Kurt coming with him to choir, fussing over his tie before services and messing around on the grand piano before rehearsal starts.
"Hey, we could work something out if rehearsal every week sounds like too much. I can break things up so you'd have a few weeks and a service off when you need it," Blaine offers.
"No, it's not that. It's just—" Kurt breaks off. "I feel weird about singing at church services. I find them so awkward, you know? Can't I just come to rehearsals and stay home on Sundays?"
Now Blaine frowns. "Kurt, come on, you know that's not how this works. If you're going to rehearse, you have to perform. Otherwise you throw off the ensemble because they're used to having you in the balance."
"I can't be instantly excited about church like you can." Kurt folds his arms. "I thought you'd understand, Blaine. Can't you let me do this gradually?"
Blaine takes a deep breath, then finds he needs to take another. When he can speak calmly, he says, "No, I can't. If you need time, that's fine, but you can't use my choir rehearsals as your therapy, or adjustment process, or whatever it is that you need. This is my job, and I have to put the choir first, here."
Kurt turns on his heel and storms out of Blaine's office. Blaine watches him go, wondering how this went from weird to awful.
There's a tap on his doorframe. It's Cheryl. "I take it something did not go well," she says.
Blaine falls into his desk chair. "He wants to sing in rehearsals, but not at services. I had to tell him he couldn't, and I don't think I said it as nicely as I could have. But this is my job!"
Cheryl perches on the edge of his desk and pats his shoulder. "You'll work it out," she says.
"I hope so." Blaine covers his face with his hands. "Right now I just hope he doesn't leave me here."
"I'd drive you home," Cheryl says. "You know that. And so does he. Remember that if you walk out there and the car's gone."
Blaine can't quite say anything.
"I'll wait in the foyer," Cheryl says quietly.
When Blaine walks out of his office, Cheryl accompanies him to the parking lot. Kurt's there in their car, engine running in the cold. Blaine gets in the passenger side and doesn't say anything; neither does Kurt. They drive home in silence.
Later, when they're in bed with the lights out, Kurt says, "I need you to understand that this is hard for me."
"Okay," Blaine says cautiously. "Can you understand that it's hard for me too?"
Kurt sighs. "Yeah. Maybe this was a mistake, me trying to join your choir."
"I don't know if it was, but we can figure it out." Blaine rolls toward Kurt. "I love you."
"I love you too," Kurt says, and wraps a hand around Blaine's wrist. "And I'm sorry. I do know better than to think I could rehearse and not perform with an ensemble."
Blaine pulls Kurt closer. "Thanks," he whispers. "I didn't like having to tell you 'no.' I hope you know I always want to sing with you."
"I know. I shouldn't have put you in that position." Kurt brings his left hand to Blaine's between them. His ring is warm against Blaine's skin. "I'm supposed to have your back," Kurt says.
"You do," Blaine tells him. "Usually. I— Look. If you can, I think you should take the time you need and think about if you could be able to rehearse and perform with the church choir. I'd really like to be able to share this with you, Kurt. I've wanted that since August."
Kurt's quiet. Finally he says, "I'll try. I think I'd like that, too."
Blaine drags himself home from campus after his last class of the quarter to find Kurt and Cheryl in the living room. "Hi. What's going on?"
Cheryl waves. "We're discussing Kurt's issues with church choir."
"Cheryl!" Kurt cries indignantly. "You don't have to put it so baldly."
"How would you put it? Philosophical differences between Kurt Hummel and the local Unitarian Universalist congregation?" She turns to Blaine. "I'm trying to be sympathetic, but it's hard to do that and encourage him to come back and sing with us."
"I can't do the God stuff," Kurt says, in an exaggeratedly patient tone that suggests he's tired of saying it. "And yes, Cheryl, I know, you don't do that either. But it's more complicated than that." He looks out the window. "When my dad was in a coma, after his heart attack, Mercedes told me I had to believe in something because life was too hard to go through without something to cling to. And the next day I was at the hospital, and I told my dad that I believed in him, and in us. I don't need to go to church to know that what I believe in is the people I love, and I'm not interested in listening to someone try to supplant that with their ideas of what I 'should' believe in."
Blaine sits down on the floor. "I don't know if you've ever told me that," he says.
Kurt gives him an embarrassed smile. "It's not easy to talk about."
"Yeah," Blaine sighs. "I know. And I get so jealous sometimes when you talk about growing up with your dad. That can't make it easier."
Kurt puts a hand on Blaine's head and runs his fingers through Blaine's hair. "It doesn't, but that's not your fault."
Cheryl's watching them quietly.
"My dad doesn't— He thinks Kurt's a phase. He thinks who I am is a phase," Blaine says to her. "He didn't disown me or anything when I came out, but he's still waiting for the day I grow up and meet a nice girl like I'm supposed to." He didn't call, after my letter, Blaine thinks. He's not ready to say that out loud, yet, to anyone who's not Kurt.
"Mmm, I wondered," Cheryl says. "There was something Judy said at Christmas that gave me that impression."
Blaine looks down. "We worked on a car together, one summer when I was a teenager, and not even that gave us something to talk about. It's just got awkward when I stopped being a kid. And then when I came out...."
"It's hard," Cheryl agrees. "Sometimes you don't have anything in common with family. I have a sister like that. All she can think to discuss with me is gossip about people I haven't seen for thirty years."
"Wow," Blaine says. "At least my parents' gossip has a regular rotating cast of business people."
Cheryl smiles. "That's something! Anyway, I know what you mean – with some people, family or not, it's impossible to connect. But that's not true of all of them."
Blaine puts his hand out for whatever part of Cheryl is within reach and winds up holding her ankle. "And you can find other family," he says, grateful.
Cheryl takes hold of his wrist. "You can. Here we are."
"I almost feel left out," Kurt says, looking conflicted.
Blaine laughs. "Don't. You're the center of my family, and I love the people you brought with you. And hey, I brought Aunt Judy!"
"And a whole choir of crazy people," Kurt adds.
"Yes, and you're stuck with us now. Anyway," Cheryl says. "Returning to the original topic: Kurt, I think you'll find people in a UU congregation who respect your belief in whatever you choose, and your non-belief too." She leans toward him conspiratorially. "I, for one, would love to hear you give a sermon about what you believe."
"You would?" Kurt asks, startled.
Cheryl nods. "I would. And I bet I'm not the only one."
Coming off the stress of finals week on top of everything else, it's a relief when Blaine finds himself suddenly in the free, relaxed days of spring break. He hands in two papers on Wednesday, his last assignments of the quarter, and he's whistling as he leaves campus and stops at a florist to get two dozen red roses. It's ridiculous, buying flowers in March, but Kurt has that effect on him.
He comes home to an empty apartment, Kurt still in the costume shop for two more hours. Blaine's been thinking about this since Kurt declared his intent to cook for their anniversary; he's going to make dessert as a surprise. He thinks he can do chocolate lava cake, and he has a box of brownie mix in case he's wrong.
Kurt comes home thirty minutes before he's supposed to, while Blaine's hovering near the oven. "Honey, I'm home!" he calls.
Blaine jumps. "Uh, hi. You're early," he says.
"Yes." Kurt raises an eyebrow. "Why do I smell chocolate?"
"Because I'm making dessert?" Blaine offers. "I didn't think you had plans besides actual dinner, so..."
Kurt grins at him. "That's wonderful. Thank you." He turns to the oven. "Can I peek?"
"I don't know if you're supposed to. They're chocolate lava cakes. Does peeking ruin them?" Blaine answers.
Frowning, Kurt says, "I don't know. And those won't keep, will they? I mean, we should eat them warm."
Blaine groans. "I didn't think about that. Yes, they're supposed to be served right away."
"Then I guess we'll start with dessert and work backwards." Kurt looks pleased. "My man who makes chocolate cake for me," he says. "How excellent is that."
"Don't say I'm excellent until the cakes have turned out," Blaine laughs. "Hey, come here." He leads Kurt into the living room and presents him with the roses, already sitting in one of their vases.
Kurt beams. "You romantic. Chocolate or roses would have been enough."
Blaine steps behind Kurt and wraps his arms around Kurt's waist, watching over his shoulder as Kurt fusses with the flowers. "This is exactly what we needed," he says.
"Flowers? If that's a hint, I can certainly start bringing you flowers," Kurt replies.
"No, I mean— Everything's been so crazy, with the end of the quarter, and trying to figure out if you should be part of the choir. I like having some time to remind us that we're still us, no matter what's going on." Blaine tilts his head into the side of Kurt's neck. "Six years. And here we are."
Kurt turns in Blaine's arms and faces him. "Here we are," he repeats. "Having our last unmarried anniversary. Are we still going to celebrate this when we have a wedding anniversary to remember?"
Shrugging, Blaine says, "I think we can play that by ear. But if you wanted to bring me flowers next year, that would be okay."
Kurt leans in and kisses him. "I might not wait a year to get you flowers," he says. "I'd bring you some everyday if it'd make you happy. But we might run out of vases. Now, I think it's time for cake."
The timer sounds in the kitchen, and Blaine laughs. "It is!" They retrieve the lava cakes from the oven, which have turned out well enough, if not perfectly. Blaine knows, though, that even if they were terrible messes he'd still be pleased with this evening.
Kurt walks quietly behind Blaine into the choir room. It's unlike him not to make a splashy entrance, and Blaine feels selfishly relieved to have this confirmation that they're both nervous about trying this again. He watches Kurt take a seat in the tenor section, pausing to look at Kate who sits at the back of the altos. She'd asked Blaine last week if she could switch off, taking her contralto to the men's parts sometimes. Blaine, thinking of Kurt, had said yes. Now he sees them exchanging glances and knows they'd recognized each other's ranges in Kurt's earlier rehearsal.
This should be good for the choir, and for Blaine, he hopes. Having Kurt here will shake things up in small ways, keep them fresh. In that same vein, he teaches them a new warm-up and does not laugh at the sight of his choir, seriously and intently, singing, "Many mumbling mice are making midnight music in the moonlight. Mighty nice!" on ascending pitches.
They blow through their hymns for this week, many of which are well-trod pieces by now, but Blaine has them sing 34 over and over, knowing it will be the closer for the service and wanting it to be as polished as possible. He catches Kurt's eye when they sing, "Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control, our spirits long to be made whole." Blaine's expecting to need to chide Kurt with a lifted eyebrow or a look; he's not expecting the tentative expression on Kurt's face as he bends his head over the hymnal he's sharing with Kate.
Blaine retreats into his office after rehearsal and waits to see if Kurt will come after him, or if Cheryl will smooth everything over by insisting they go out for pie. Instead, he hears them talking softly in the choir room beyond his door. Blaine gets up and stands at the threshold, trying to decide if he should join them.
"And you think I'll be comfortable with it?" Kurt asks, trailing his fingers along the piano keys. Blaine knew he would love the grand from the moment he saw it.
Cheryl shakes her head. "I don't know, sweetie. It's the pledge service, so it's much more about soliciting donations than religion. And you've already donated a spouse; they can't ask more than that," she teases gently.
Kurt's mouth twists uncertainly. "I just don't want to screw this up."
"You won't," Blaine says.
Kurt looks up over the piano, obviously surprised. "Hi," he says.
"Hi," Blaine answers. "You do know that's my office, right?" He gestures behind him.
"Yeah." Kurt rolls a C major chord. "I think— I think it'll be okay. I can do this."
Blaine joins Kurt and Cheryl on the piano bench, Kurt sandwiched in the middle. "You can. You did much weirder things with your high school choir."
Kurt shakes his head. "It's not that it's weird. It's that it's— Well, okay, it is weird. And uncomfortable."
"Try and relax," Cheryl says, warm. "No one's going to interrogate you at the door."
"Think of it like a gig," Blaine says. "In a new venue."
Kurt straightens. "Okay. I can do that."
The sanctuary is packed to overflowing, people filling every seat and standing along the walls. Blaine hopes the fire marshal doesn't show up – he thinks they're very near capacity, if not slightly over. David and Elizabeth want one large service for the annual pledge collection, and they've got it. It's good that they're singing mostly familiar hymns today; Blaine doesn't want to consider the vocal mess that this many people could make if half of them didn't know the words.
They kick off with "We Are a Gentle, Angry People," which always gets the congregation energized. Kurt winks at Blaine when they hit the fifth verse, hundreds of voices declaring, "We are gay and straight together, And we are singing, singing for our lives." Blaine grins back at him. They follow it up with 131, promising, "Love will guide us through the hard night."
Elizabeth welcomes them, and David invites the congregation to greet their neighbors. Kurt sneaks down from the back of the tenor section and stands in front of Blaine. "Excuse me, I'm new here," he says.
Blaine laughs. "Six years, and that line still works."
Kurt huffs. "You're supposed to shake my hand and say your name."
"And you're supposed to be in your seat. We have to sing again in a minute." He grabs Kurt's hand and kisses the back of it. "There. Now go!" It's a relief that Kurt's enjoying his first service singing with the choir. It helps that the hymns this time around are more spiritual than religious.
Their choral piece is a Quaker round in a minor key. It's short, so Blaine builds the harmonies slowly. He has the choir sing all the words together first, and then staggers them in two groups, and finally four. "Building bridges, between our divisions, I reach out to you, will you reach out to me?" Even amongst thirty other voices, Blaine can always find Kurt. He loves that. "With all of our voices and all of our visions, friends we could make such sweet harmony," they finish.
Elizabeth steps up to the altar and says, "Our first reading is from Barbara Kingsolver's commencement address to the Duke University class of 2008.
"This is an ancient human social construct that once was common in this land. We called it a community. We lived among our villagers, depending on them for what we needed. If we had a problem, we did not discuss it over the phone with someone in Bubaneshwar. We went to a neighbor. We acquired food from farmers. We listened to music in groups, in churches or on front porches. We danced. We participated. Even when there was no money in it. Community is our native state. You play hardest for a hometown crowd. You become your best self. You know joy. This is not a guess, there is evidence. The scholars who study social well-being can put it on charts and graphs. In the last 30 years our material wealth has increased in this country, but our self-described happiness has steadily declined. Elsewhere, the people who consider themselves very happy are not in the very poorest nations, as you might guess, nor in the very richest. The winners are Mexico, Ireland, Puerto Rico, the kinds of places we identify with extended family, noisy villages, a lot of dancing. The happiest people are the ones with the most community.
"Here endeth the reading," she says. "Now please rise as you are willing and able for hymn 1028, 'The Fire of Commitment.'"
Blaine has worried that this hymn will be a disaster, since it combines a quick tempo and 5/4 time. The choir is solid on it after several rehearsals, though. He takes the piano and emphasizes the melody line, trusting the choir to follow him and bring the congregation along. The first verse is loose, congregants fumbling; the second verse is better, especially once they hit the chorus. "When the fire of commitment sets our mind and soul ablaze," they sing, and it's not crisp or even rhythmically correct but Blaine thinks about the power in the words and tells himself not to worry. "When we live with deep assurance of the flame that burns within," the song concludes, "Then our promise finds fulfillment and our future can begin."
"Communities are important to us, and commitments are important to us: they tell us who we are," David says. "What we support with our time, our money, our energy and our thoughts becomes the realization of our beliefs. We are all familiar with this, I'm sure. Who among us hasn't been influenced by roommates, or family members, or coworkers into seeing a particular version of the world? We often align ourselves with our companions, growing cynical or being inspired depending on the company. And later we find that in other company, a different version of the world prevails.
"We are social creatures, and our path of least resistance is shared interpretation of situations and the world. This is why it is crucial that we choose, and work to support, communities who foster our best understandings and our noblest impulses."
David keeps speaking, exhorting the congregation to value their community here and pledge generously toward the church. Blaine only half-hears him, thinking of what a shock it had been to spend weekends at Kurt's house when they were teenagers, to realize that not all fathers were disappointed in their gay sons. It had been hard to imagine a family unlike his, until suddenly he'd had Kurt's. Then it became equally unfathomable that he'd ever been unaware of other families, other relationships. Blaine shifts minutely in his seat, glancing back at Kurt. Kurt doesn't see him; he's listening carefully to David. Blaine turns his attention back to the sermon just in time to hear it end.
"I ask you now to fill out the pledge cards found in your orders of service and bring them forward to the baskets on either side of the altar. Our choir, I understand, is going to surprise us with some musical selections." David turns to Blaine.
"We're going to sing some of our favorite hymns, as nominated on the spot," he announces. "Please enjoy the variety." He looks at his choir. The altos, led by Di, immediately hold up signs reading "155."
Blaine grins. "Our first hymn will be 'Circle 'Round for Freedom.'"
When they finish, the altos riding the melody over the close harmonies of the hymn, Blaine simply raises his eyebrows and waits. Cheryl gets her paper up first.
"108," Blaine reads. He doesn't know this one. Roberto half-stands, gesturing toward the piano, and Blaine nods. "My life flows on in endless song above earth's lamentation," the choir opens. Blaine takes in the words and the simple harmonies, enjoying himself. As they finish, "How can I keep from singing!" he thinks he knows what Cheryl likes about this one.
Sue is next, asking for 1009. The choir switches hymnals and the sopranos sing, "When I breathe in." The altos follow them like an echo, adding a second, "when I breathe in," and joining the sopranos to finish the phrase, "I'll breathe in peace." Below them the men drone, "Breathe in, breath out," in half notes. "When I breathe out, I'll breathe out love," the sopranos sing. Kurt's switched to the alto line, Blaine notes with a smile.
He gestures to them to continue for a few cycles and steps away to check the pledge baskets. David holds up two fingers – two more hymns.
Blaine steps back in front of the choir. Taking advantage of their switch to the teal hymnals, he winds down 1009 and immediately asks them to sing 1010. He sees Kurt smiling in recognition when he turns the page. They hadn't gotten to sing this together at Thanksgiving, but they'll sing it now. "Oh, we give thanks," the choir sings as soon as Blaine's got his fingers on the piano keys, "for this precious day."
When they finish, Blaine glances at David and holds up one finger. David nods. "Last one," Blaine says quietly. Roberto's written "188" on the paper of his order of service and Blaine, remembering the way the round had resolved itself when they'd done this in rehearsal, agrees immediately. "Come, Come, Whoever You Are," he says.
The last of the pledge cards come in while they're singing, so Blaine turns and gestures to the congregation to join them. David and Elizabeth split the room, each standing in front of half the congregants, and get them singing a two-part round that the choir happily joins.
"Come, yet again come," David's half concludes. Blaine cuts them off with a gesture and lets the choir bring Elizabeth's half along to the ending. Once they're done, he lets the stillness hang in the air.
Elizabeth breaks it with a reading, concluding, "And we thank you, for being part of this community and for your pledges toward the operating budget that allows us to be here. Please rise as you are willing and able for our concluding hymn, number 34, 'Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire,'" Elizabeth says.
It's another familiar hymn for the congregation, and for Blaine and his choir. They're able to lean into the harmonies to their hearts' content. They sing, "Though I may speak with bravest fire, and have the gift to all inspire, and have not love, my words are vain, as sounding brass, and hopeless gain," the sound of their words filling the sanctuary.
After the second verse they pause, and David and Elizabeth speak the benediction together. "May you go forth to do justice, to love kindness, and to build your community here and elsewhere." They pause to look at each other. "Blessed be and amen," David says. Elizabeth follows him with, "And thank you for a wonderful morning."
Blaine swings the choir and the congregation back into motion for the third verse, reveling in the power of so many voices. "Let inward love guide every deed, by this we worship, and are freed," they conclude, finding the last chord with rare ease.
March's candle, mostly burned down now, reads, "Balance." Blaine looks despairingly at his Adolescent Psychology textbook, his new violin piece, the thick choir hymnals, and the list of video clips he's supposed to review for his conducting class. Whatever balance there is in his life seems to come from weighing all sides down too heavily, lately.
It's the last quarter before summer, the last before the wedding, and the last of the fiscal year at the church. They have a meeting with the caterer tomorrow; he can't forget.
Kurt comes in and stops behind Blaine, hands landing on Blaine's shoulders and kneading at the tension. "Hey," he says. "How are you doing?"
"I'm wishing for balance," Blaine mutters, letting his head fall forward. "Oh, keep doing that."
"Okay." Kurt works his hands up Blaine's neck and down his arms. He ends by rubbing Blaine's scalp, index fingers sliding along his hairline to rub at his temples. "Better?" he asks.
Blaine tips his head back. "Yeah, thanks."
Kurt bends and kisses him. "Can't have you all tense when I'm tailoring your suit. If your shoulders are hunched, it'll make the lines of the jacket weird."
"Oh, I see," Blaine laughs. "Priorities, priorities."
"Want to take a break now and do that?" Kurt says hopefully.
Standing, Blaine says, "Sure." He follows Kurt into the guest room and obediently changes into his wedding suit.
Kurt stands him on a step stool and fusses with the hem of his pants. He has pins between his teeth and a frown of concentration on his face when he stands and tugs Blaine's jacket sleeves.
His hands on the shoulder seams of Blaine's jacket feel like a caress, and even though he's making small adjustments to the collar he spares a warm glance for Blaine.
"Hey," Blaine says. "I can't wait to call you my husband."
Kurt beams around his pins. He drops the last two into his free hand and answers, "Me too."
Carefully, Blaine slides his jacket back off and passes it to Kurt, then steps out of his pants. "Ugh, I've been so sedentary," he says, feeling stiff and out of shape. "I don't think I'll ever be able to keep up with you, but maybe I should start running."
"You could do yoga with me," Kurt suggests. "You're so tense all the time. I bet it would help."
Blaine considers this. "Maybe it would."
Blaine is, sadly, not as bendy as Kurt. Where Kurt can fold his body into acute angles, Blaine finds himself straining to find the position at all. They're on the floor of the living room, following a DVD on Kurt's laptop.
"Blaine," Kurt says, peering under his arm. His downward dog is perfect, as far as Blaine can tell; Blaine's form feels more like a lumpy dog. "Don't push. Or pull. Just— Just let yourself be."
"Least helpful advice ever," Blaine mutters.
Kurt sighs. "My yoga teacher in New York said that yoga was about trust. She was always telling us that. It's not about doing everything perfectly right away – you can't, if your body's not ready to. So you start, and you trust that eventually you'll get closer, and maybe you'll never do it just like the instructor does, but that's okay."
The DVD's moved on without them. Kurt gets up and pauses it. He sits on his mat and considers Blaine. "Running is the same way, you know," Kurt says. "At least for me it is. I know that was your first idea for exercise."
"By 'the same way,' do you mean hard?" Blaine asks, sitting cross-legged.
"Everything's hard when you start it," Kurt says, shrugging. "I mean it takes some trust in the process. Like learning an instrument does. You start small, and you're patient with yourself, and eventually you can do more than you could. You can do better, and faster."
"But you don't know you'll be able to do more. Sometimes you can't do something," Blaine objects.
Kurt huffs. "Well yes, obviously, there are limits. I'm not talking about the grand questions of whether anyone is capable of doing everything. I'm saying that you, Blaine Anderson, are giving up too fast on yoga. It takes slow, gradual progress to build flexibility and even if you don't think you're getting anywhere, you have to trust that you are."
Blaine tilts his head. "Is this like Cheryl's idea about love? You can't have absolute proof that someone else loves you, but you can trust that they do. So I can't know now that I'll be good at yoga later. I should just do it anyway."
"Yeah," Kurt says, smiling. "I like that. Yoga is like love."
"But maybe today I could just watch you do those bends," Blaine suggests. "To get an idea of what I should be doing."
Kurt swats him on the shoulder. "You only agreed to this so you could ogle me in my yoga pants," he laughs.
Blaine laughs back. "Maybe."
"Come on," Kurt says, getting up. "Finish the routine and you can see me out of my yoga pants."
Blaine is just home from class on a Tuesday when his phone rings. It's probably Kurt running late, but he checks the caller ID anyway. It's his mother.
"Mom. Hi." Blaine's a little panicked. After two months of silence from his parents, he's afraid someone must have died to prompt this phone call.
"Hi, Blaine," she answers. "Is now a good time to talk?"
Blaine half-falls on to the couch. "Um, yeah. What did you want to talk about?" His bracelet slides down his arm and he touches it, reassuring himself. Be braver than you thought (you are braver than you think).
"You," she says. "How's your ... friend?"
He holds his breath, just for a moment. Then Blaine says, "His name is Kurt, and he's not just my friend, he's my fiancé. He's fine; he was pretty sick around Thanksgiving, but he's doing well now."
"I'm sorry to hear that he was ill," his mother says. She takes a loud breath. "Your aunt and I have been talking. Judy really liked having Christmas with you. She likes Kurt a lot. I think she had a better time in Columbus than she would have had here with us."
"Oh." He sits up straighter, squaring his shoulders. Blaine has no idea how to steer this conversation.
His mother says shakily, "Blaine, I want to stay in your life. Yours and Kurt's."
Blaine closes his eyes. "Okay. I want that too." He's shaking now, half with relief. He wants Kurt to come home so they can figure out how this will work. "Maybe we can start with phone calls?" he offers.
"And I could come visit some time," his mom adds. "When it's a good time for you both."
"Sure," Blaine tells her, and he lets himself believe that this will work. They talk about his work with the UU church and she suggests Easter as a time for her to visit. Blaine tentatively agrees, pleased that when he says he'll need to talk with Kurt his mother immediately answers, "Of course." He may never know what's gone on with her for the past two months, but she's reaching out to him, and accepting him, now.
That evening, Kurt's setting their dinner on the table, salad and chicken. He's still wearing an apron – he mostly wears them when he's cooking meat, always worried about grease stains – and their cloth napkins are draped over his shoulder. Blaine can see them in ten years, in twenty, in forty, looking just like this in all the essential ways. Kurt's hair may fall out, although Blaine hopes Kurt's dodged his father's baldness and will just turn grey, and Blaine's hair will go silver-white and get somehow even curlier, and they'll each put on some weight, but this is them.
It gives him the strength to say, "My mom wants to come visit."
Kurt blinks at him, shocked. He sheds his apron and takes his seat next to Blaine, silent and expectant.
"For Easter." Blaine clears his throat. "She called today, before you got home and she— She wants to be in my life, Kurt. In our lives."
"She took her sweet time deciding that," Kurt grumbles. "And now she wants to come here?"
Blaine nods. "Yeah. She doesn't want to stay with us. She wants to stay at a hotel. But she wants to come down on Saturday and have dinner, and then go to church on Sunday. What— What do you think?"
"Do you want her to visit?" Kurt asks.
Blaine picks up his fork and fidgets with it. "I do. I gave up, you know? I thought it was over. But it's not."
Kurt grins. "That's amazing, sweetheart."
"It is," Blaine says. "And Easter – it'll be better if she visits when there's something else going on. Taking her to church gives us something to do, and something to talk about afterwards. In case we need it, you know?"
"Sure," Kurt says. "Just your mom would be coming?"
Blaine grimaces. "She didn't say anything about Dad – she usually doesn't. I haven't heard from him, and I can read between the lines."
Kurt's face tightens at that. "Well." He softens again as he says, "I'm glad she wants to come. Your mother's always so polite, which is a lot better than the opposite, and she's obviously decided she wants to have a relationship with us. Maybe she'll even relax around me."
"Maybe," Blaine says doubtfully. "I'm still hoping she'll stop being so formal with me."
"I think she will. It's like Aunt Judy says – it's been hard on her to balance you and your dad. I'm glad she's made a clear decision now." He takes Blaine's hand. "Will she want to go out to dinner? Or should we cook?"
"She'll probably want to go out," Blaine says. "But if you want to cook for her, I'd like for us to do that. I want her to see us at home, living our lives."
Kurt squeezes Blaine's hand. "Okay. I'll start thinking about what to make."
He should be finishing his paper for Adolescent Psychology, or practicing for his next violin lesson, but instead Blaine's staring at the page of his church choir notebook that has only five musical pieces listed on it when it should have six. Sometimes planning these services feels impossible. And with a major holiday coming up, Blaine needs something perfect to fill that last spot.
"How's it going?" Kurt walks over to the table and sits down. "Is your paper giving you trouble?"
Blaine rubs his forehead. "No, the paper's fine. I need one more piece for the Easter service, but it's supposed to be non-traditional and I'm out of ideas."
"Non-traditional like 'not Christian,' or like 'not usually thought of with Easter?'" Kurt asks.
Blaine smiles ruefully. "Aren't they the same in this case?"
Kurt smirks. "The Easter bonnet song is kind of secular," he points out.
"I guess," Blaine says. "And it might prompt some fabulous hats." He grins at Kurt. "But I don't think David's going to go for that one. He wants something about new beginnings."
"I have an idea, actually, that fits both requirements." Kurt taps his chin. "Can I do a solo?"
"Sure," Blaine says, taken aback. "I've already got someone playing the other interlude, but I am supposed to coordinate volunteers and not just provide music myself. I can schedule you. What's the piece?"
Kurt hums. "I don't want to say yet," he says, coy. "Can you find me an accompanist? Roberto, maybe?"
"Wait." Blaine's confused. "You want to sing a solo, but you don't want me to accompany you?" After the month it took for Kurt to agree to sing at services at all, Blaine can't understand why he now wants to sing alone.
Kurt nods determinedly. "I'd rather have Roberto play the piano. You, I'd like to have listening." He watches Blaine's face closely. "I have something to say that works with the service."
Blaine's not entirely comfortable with the idea, but he's willing to take a chance on Kurt. "Yeah, okay." They agree on one rehearsal with Blaine present, so he knows generally what Kurt will sing and for how long. After that, Blaine will have to wait and hear the polished version with everyone else.
Kurt beckons Roberto out of the room just before choir rehearsal begins. Blaine has promised that he'll only listen in a little bit; he gives the choir an early break and wanders over for his few minutes of observation. He finds David standing outside the sanctuary, watching Kurt and Roberto across the room, near the piano.
"For Easter?" David asks Blaine.
Blaine nods. "That's the idea. Kurt came up with it. He's doing most of the work, and I'm just signing off on it."
"Well, tell him I appreciate his work. He has an amazing voice," David says.
"He does," Blaine agrees. "I don't know if you remember, but when I interviewed in August I said he probably wouldn't be involved at all with the church, and now here he is after all. He's— He's amazing in a lot of ways."
David puts a hand on Blaine's arm. "I'm glad he's finding a place here. Like you have."
Blaine smiles. "I don't think either of us were expecting this, but it's been really good for us to be here and have this community."
"And you've been good for us, Blaine. I don't tell you often enough that you're doing great work with the choir and the music for services. Elizabeth and I appreciate it." David checks his watch. "Now, I have to go finish revising my sermon before it gets too much later. I'll see you Sunday."
"Have a good night," Blaine says. As David leaves, Blaine walks into the sanctuary. "Ready to come back to rehearsal?" he asks Kurt and Roberto.
They exchange looks. "Sure," Kurt says. "We'll meet tomorrow to polish this?"
"Yeah," Roberto says. He turns to Blaine. "You didn't do the medieval hymn yet, did you?"
"No, I saved that for you," Blaine teases. "I mean, I kind of did. Everyone needs to get more comfortable with that one."
"The medieval one?" Kurt asks.
Blaine hums a line, and Roberto joins him. "266," Blaine says. "With all the dissonances and the strange intervals."
"Oh, I like that one. Let's sing it a bunch," Kurt says brightly.
"Don't worry," Blaine answers. "We will."
Blaine's mother arrives early Saturday afternoon. He ushers her into the living room, stiff with nerves. "Mom, you remember Kurt?"
"Of course," she says, reaching out to shake his hand.
Kurt gives her a polite smile. "Mrs. Anderson."
"Please, call me Isabel." Her smile back is equally polite. Blaine cannot stand here and watch them be cordial and formal like this.
"Would anyone like some tea?" he breaks in. "I'm going to make some tea." He retreats to the kitchen and puts the kettle on, wondering why he thought this was a good idea. As incredible as it is for his mom to be here, in the home he shares with Kurt, there are a million ways for this to go badly.
He can hear his mother making small talk. "What a nice piano you boys have," she says. Kurt agrees with her.
After a silence, in which Blaine pictures their eyes wandering around the room for a conversation point, his mother asks Kurt about the music on the piano.
"It's Blaine's copy of the hymnal," Kurt tells her. "Well, one of the hymnals. They have two, at his church."
"'Tis the Gift to Be Simple,'" she reads. Blaine remembers leaving the music open to that hymn. "You know," his mother continues, "I think Blaine's loved this song since the first time he heard Appalachian Spring. We took him to the symphony performance when he was ten."
Kurt laughs lightly. "I guess he wasn't ready for the ballet."
"No," she says. "We never did go to the ballet with him. His father and I saw it when we were young, though."
"Copland did a good job composing for Graham's choreography, didn't he? It's a beautiful pairing of music and movement." Kurt must be guiding them to the couch, the wall muffling their voices. Blaine pictures them sitting together, postures perfect and manners impeccable. It's not quite what he'd hoped they'd have at this point, but it's a beginning that they're finding common ground. He lets himself relax into the possibility that this will be okay.
Blaine sets three mugs on the counter and pulls down their boxes of tea. When the kettle whistles, he puts an ease in his voice as he calls, "Come pick your tea!"
His mom comes into the kitchen alone. "Kurt asked me to pick for him," she says. She considers the choices carefully before turning to Blaine. "He's a nice boy. A nice young man," she corrects herself.
"Yeah, Mom, he is." Blaine agrees. "I thought you'd like him." He swallows down the words that rise in his throat and does not ask her why she's never considered Kurt a nice young man before. She's here, and they're all trying.
Blaine's mom offers to take them out to dinner, but Kurt insists on cooking for her, as they'd planned. She excuses herself to her hotel, wanting a shower and a nap, with promises to be back by six. Blaine sees her out the door. Then he returns to the kitchen to fret while Kurt settles on his dinner choice, slumping in a chair at the table.
"Building bridges, between our divisions, I reach out to you, will you reach out to me?" Kurt sings under his breath. He pulls out their stockpot and passes it to Blaine, turning to pick up the immersion blender. "Leek and potato soup still sound good?"
Blaine nods as he passes the stockpot back. The soup will be delicious, and the salad will be crisp, and it will all be so close to right but, Blaine's afraid, it won't quite make it.
Kurt sets everything down on the counter and crosses the floor to Blaine. He stands too close, and he pulls Blaine forward until his head rests on Kurt's ribcage. "Hey. It's going fine. Your mother's putting in the effort."
"Yeah," Blaine says into Kurt's shirt.
"You're putting in the effort. I'm putting in the effort." He pulls back and looks at Blaine expectantly.
"But what if it's not enough?" Blaine whispers.
Kurt sighs. "Then we'll try again later, and keep trying as long as you want to. That's all we can do. Remember, she's choosing to be here. That's huge." He kisses Blaine's forehead, then walks back to the kitchen and starts peeling potatoes. "Go take a nap or something. Try not to worry."
Blaine gets up and goes to the couch, lying down and curling on his side. He listens to Kurt finish the hymn, "With all of our voices, and all of our visions, friends we could make such sweet harmony," as he falls into fitful sleep.
He dreams of racing through the campus library, never finding the book he needs, and then suddenly it's not a book he has to find but Kurt, Kurt who is somewhere in danger. Blaine dreams himself bursting out on to the roof of the building just as Kurt steps off the edge and into flight. His heart is pounding. He can't tell if Kurt's truly flying or just not falling yet, but either way Blaine knows he has to follow. His foot hangs over open air and then he's falling while Kurt rises—
Blaine jolts awake, disoriented and breathing hard. He gets up and goes back into the kitchen where he makes a mug of ginger tea and settles at the table again to watch Kurt cook. By the time his tea is gone, Blaine's calm again. He kisses Kurt, twice for good measure, and heads to their bedroom for a second try at rest.
Blaine sleeps better in bed, thankfully. He wakes in time for his mother's return and even has time to change his rumpled shirt. His mom is neatly pressed as always; Blaine remembers a teenaged Kurt admiring her style.
They take their seats at the table. Kurt's soup is delicious and creamy, and Blaine's mother compliments it, and the paired wine, politely. Blaine can feel himself getting stilted and awkward, until Kurt starts telling funny stories that draw him out.
"—she filled the tailpipe of Coach Sylvester's car with tater tots," Kurt concludes nostalgically. "There's no messing with Mercedes when she's determined."
Blaine chuckles. "Remember that time at Breadstix, when she didn't even have to say she wanted tots because the waitress knew everyone was ordering them?"
"She started an uprising," Kurt says. "Girl knows how to rally people. Oh, which reminds me: she wants to be in charge of my bachelor party."
"That's great." Blaine does not dare look at his mother. He has no idea what she'll be making of this conversation. "Did I tell you Wes and David want to do mine?"
Kurt rubs his hands together. "This is going to be a weekend to remember, isn't it?"
"A weekend?" Blaine laughs. "I thought it was a one-night party."
"Are you having a shower?" Blaine's mother asks, and instantly looks uncomfortable. "I suppose I don't know which one of you would – it's usually for the bride—"
"We know heterosexual couples who've had co-ed wedding showers," Kurt breaks in. "It's not so unusual for men to have showers, now. But I don't know if we'll have one."
Blaine half-smiles. "We do have a lot of kitchen stuff already."
"I'd be happy to put you in touch with my step-mother, if you'd like, Isabel," Kurt offers. "I'm sure you could plan something for us – maybe a barbeque the weekend before? – if you wanted."
Blaine's mother considers Kurt for a moment and then smiles impishly. "Or a hangover brunch, for the weekend of your bachelor parties," she suggests.
Kurt lets out a bark of laughter. "I think I'll let you be the one to propose that idea to Carole," he says. He stands and starts to clear the table.
"Oh, let me," she says, standing as well. "You cooked, and it was wonderful. Please let me do the dishes for you."
Blaine gapes. He's never seen his mother volunteer to wash dishes at anyone's house but family's. And while he knows he's family to her, she's looking at Kurt.
"That would be very nice, thank you." Kurt smiles. "I can go provide a little clean-up music." He gives Blaine an inquiring look.
Closing his mouth, Blaine gives Kurt a tiny nod. He gathers bowls and spoons and joins his mother at the sink. Her rings and watch are already off, piled on the counter near the fruit bowl where they're safe from the water and the drain. They work in silence, Blaine's mom washing and rinsing while he dries and puts away the clean dishes. She looks at home, somehow, in this kitchen they've never shared before.
Kurt's playing something slow on the piano that might be an old Adele song. He stops, and when he starts again it's "Beauty and the Beast" from the Disney movie. "Ever just the same, ever a surprise," Kurt sings softly.
Blaine can barely make it out. He hums along and eventually joins in, "Tale as old as time, tune as old as song."
His mother's elbow bumps his gently as she rinses a bowl. "Sorry," she says.
Blaine stops singing and looks at her, trying to read her face. She looks thoughtful. "It's okay," he answers. He turns to face her fully. "Would you really plan a hangover brunch for us?"
"I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing, Blaine," she says carefully. "But I want to do right by you. I love you, sweetheart, and I never want to lose my place in your life."
"Oh," Blaine says. He can't quite breathe. "I love you too, Mom." He steps closer and hugs her, realizing belatedly that he's pressing a damp dishtowel into her back and that her hands are wet, but not able to make himself worry too much about it.
When they pull back, she's smiling. "So if you'd like a brunch, I'm willing to do that. I do remember some of what it's like to be young."
"Mom, did you have a bachelorette party?" He puts down the towel he's holding and leans on the counter.
She laughs. "Did I! My bridesmaids dressed me in a sort of bellbottomed jumpsuit with a neckline cut down to here—"
"I don't need to picture that!" Blaine cries.
"—and we went disco dancing. It was not as wild as it could have been, but your grandmothers were still appalled when I was less than perky at the wedding tea they had for me the next day," she finishes.
Blaine feels his mouth twitch. "Is that where the hangover brunch idea came from? That memory?"
His mother shrugs as she reaches for the dishtowel, drying her hands. "I liked my bridal shower, but sometimes I wonder if brunch mightn't have been better." She looks away. "It's not traditional."
"We don't mind," Blaine answers.
"I want to do what you want," his mom says, turning back to him. He glances down and sees her twisting the dishtowel in her hands. "Whatever that is."
It dawns on him, then, that she truly wants to come back and be here for them, not just for the wedding, but the weekend before as well. "Mom," he says. "I— Brunch would be great. We'd love it if you did that for us."
"Okay," she says, letting the dishtowel go limp. "Then that's what I'll do."
Blaine points his mother to the visitor's sign-in table and kisses her cheek awkwardly before he and Kurt hurry off to the sanctuary. He takes the choir through warm ups and runs hymn 266 quickly, knowing that's the hardest one for them. When the ushers open the doors of the sanctuary and the congregation comes in, the choir is ready.
David stands between the piano and the altar, watching. Once most of the seats are filled, he nods to Blaine. It only takes one look from Blaine for the choir to rise, hymnals open, and when he's finished playing 266 through they come in confidently. "Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain," they sing, "wheat that in dark earth many days has lain." Blaine turns his head briefly and sees his mother in the front row, very near to him. She's focused on her hymnal, eyebrows drawn in a small frown as she works to follow the notes.
The rest of the congregation is struggling as well, finding their feet in the medieval melody. They are finally secure by the third verse, all their voices rising together. "When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain, Love's touch can call us back to life again" rings up to the rafters.
"Morning Has Broken" is an easy follow-up with a familiar tune. Blaine enjoys himself, relaxing with the piano part and looking up in time to catch Kurt's subtle wry expression every time the lyrics mention God. He knows Kurt is too polite, too serious a performer to make faces while singing, but his eyes say clearly that he's humoring everyone here by following the lyrics as written.
"Good morning," David says as the congregation retakes their seats and Blaine steps away from the piano, sitting with the choir now. "Wherever you come from, wherever you are on your life's journey, you are welcome here. Whoever you are, whomever you love, you are welcome here. If this is your first time among us or your thousandth, you are welcome here."
He lights the chalices and invites the congregation to greet their neighbors, as always. Blaine feels hyper-aware of the voices near him, his mother's voice carrying and mixing with the familiar sounds of the choir. He doesn't look at her. He wants to project professionalism, or at least a sense that this service is the same as any other, as much as he can.
David quiets the congregation and turns to gesture Kurt and Roberto up. "Our musical interlude will be performed by Kurt Hummel."
Blaine watches Kurt step primly up to the microphone and Roberto seat himself at the piano. He knows they're singing the Beatles, but true to their deal he hasn't been permitted to listen to any rehearsals after the first. Kurt loves to surprise him, and Blaine trusts him; he's eager to hear what flourishes Kurt's put on the piece.
Roberto plays the opening to "Here Comes the Sun," Kurt swaying ever so slightly in time. "Here comes the sun," he sings out near the top of his range. A sound runs through the congregation, a reaction to Kurt's pure, high tone. Blaine can see people in the front rows leaning forward, rapt. He tears his eyes away from Kurt to look in the other direction, around Roberto's back and to the place where his mother is sitting.
She's watching Kurt just as intently as the rest of the congregation. When Kurt sings, "Little darling, it's been a long, cold lonely winter," her eyes grow luminous with tears. She's moved by Kurt, as Blaine always thought she could be. Then she turns, finding him and holding his eyes while Kurt adds, "Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here." Maybe it's not only Kurt she's moved by, Blaine thinks. He can feel his own eyes filling, his mouth dropping softly open.
Cheryl touches his knee lightly, and Blaine turns to her with a watery smile. She smiles back before turning to watch Kurt again, letting Blaine gather himself. Kurt's warming his tone as he gets further into the song, getting almost sultry on "Sun, sun, sun, here it comes," and imbuing "Little darling, I see the ice is slowly melting. Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear," with a sense of confidence. He tilts his head and sings, "And I say, it's all right," like a promise.
Blaine's the first to rub his hands together, starting the choir into their susurration of applause and bringing the congregation close behind them. Kurt bows, pleased, and gestures to Roberto. He steps up to his place between the altos and the tenors, while Roberto rejoins the baritones, and the choir turns attentively to David.
"Thank you, Kurt. Our reading today is a poem by Anne Sexton, titled 'Welcome Morning.'
There is joy
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
in the spoon and the chair
that cry "hello there, Anne"
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.
So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard,
"And now please rise as you are willing and able for hymn number 6, 'Just as Long as I Have Breath.'" David lifts his hands and the congregation stands. They sing the three verses, ending the first with "If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, 'Yes,' to life," the second and third verses with "'Yes,' to truth," and "'Yes,' to love." The choir hits their harmonies perfectly. Blaine's pleased.
They sit and David switches his microphone on again. "New grass. Mornings. The sun in springtime, and the courage to say yes to what life offers us. This is our Easter service, our time to contemplate what this piece of Christian tradition means to us. What Easter means, I suggest, is all these things, from new grass to the word 'yes.'
"In years past we have observed Easter with a flower communion, each person contributing a flower and taking a different one. This reminds us of the joys of our diversity, no flower alike and no congregant alike, and of the promise that our flowers represent in nature. At the end of each winter, spring comes and wakes the world anew, a great morning for plants, for insects and animals, particularly those who hibernate or who bear young in the spring.
"We with our Midwestern winters know what it is to long for spring. Indeed, even when it is almost here—" David pauses to look out the windows of the sanctuary. "—we long for it all the more. We crave the promise of new beginnings and hope when we find ourselves faced with the dark night of the soul, or a winter of the heart when love does not come easily. We must not give up, in the nights or the winters or when all seems lost."
Blaine is acutely aware that he's visible in his place near the front of the sanctuary. He keeps his gaze on David and his face relaxed, but his thoughts are turned toward his mother and the promise her presence here represents.
"Like the flowers that bloom, we are all different," David continues. "I cannot know what seeds of hope are sheltered within each of you, preparing to grow if only they are provided with warmth and light. And I shall not chide you and tell you to be thankful for the seeds that have already borne fruit for you. They are blessings, but they do not cancel out the struggle of waiting. What I will tell you is this: I believe that all your seeds will rise and grow and bring forth blossoms and plenty. They may not take the shapes you are expecting, but they will grow.
"I do not think the followers of Jesus, long ago, truly believed that he would rise up from the dead to walk among them once more, but surely they carried the seed of that wish in their hearts. What a bittersweet surprise it must have been to find the tomb empty. He lived again, but not in a way that could be held or touched. Sometimes our dreams are fulfilled similarly, not as we envisioned but in ways that open new paths of understanding for us. If we have the courage to say 'yes' to what we find, to step into our mornings with thanks for the opportunity of a new day, we will be party to miracles." David folds his notes and tucks them in his pocket.
"I would now like to invite those of you who wish to light a candle to come forward and do so," he says. A small stream of congregants walk to the altar and lift their candles to the chalice flame, speaking softly as they do. Blaine keeps his eyes on them, focused on their dancing candle flames and the way some of their hands shake.
After, Zara steps up with her harp and plays Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." Blaine remembers her sounding wonderful when she'd previewed it for him. He can't pay much attention to her today. He watches the collection baskets circulate. His mother drops money in as a basket passes along her row. Then she folds her hands and closes her eyes, her face sad and thoughtful.
"Our final reading is titled 'A Blessing,' by James Wright." David reads about the beauty of two ponies, their heads bent to greet the poem's narrator, and as he nears the end Blaine finally lets himself turn and look at the sun playing off his mother's long, dark hair.
"'... if I stepped out of my body I would break into blossom,'" David concludes. He shuffles his papers. "Please join me in our final hymn, 'Tis a Gift to Be Simple,' number 16."
Blaine gestures the congregation to their feet and takes his place on the piano bench. "'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free," the congregation sings. Blaine loves the steady chords of this hymn and the promise of its message. He plays it through twice and reminds himself to pause for David's benediction.
"May you go forth to do justice, to love kindness, and to say 'yes' to all your mornings. Blessed be and amen," he says.
Blaine swings into the third round of the hymn, intent on playing and singing with the fierce joy it deserves. He feels fragile underneath the music, and he can't let it out yet. "To turn, turn will be our delight, 'till by turning, turning we come 'round right," the congregation finishes. Blaine lifts his hands off the keys and turns not to the choir but out to the sanctuary. His mother is standing there, so close he'd seen her shape in his peripheral vision, and when he steps out from the piano bench she enfolds him in a hug. He can feel that her cheek is wet where their faces press together. Blaine pulls back to consider her, tears of his own slipping out of his eyes. "Mom," he says.
"Blaine, I'm so sorry it's taken me this long to get it." She pulls him in tightly again. "I love you so much."
"I love you, too," Blaine chokes out. He clings to her for a moment longer.
They break apart, wiping their eyes, and Kurt joins them. He says, gently, "Good morning."
Chapter 3: I Have All I Need
"That was lovely," Blaine's mother says as they walk out of the church after the second service. She has one arm hooked through Blaine's.
"Wasn't it?" Kurt agrees. "Blaine does a marvelous job with the music."
"The music was very well put together," she agrees, smiling at Blaine. "But I was thinking of something broader than that."
Blaine and his mother had spent most of the break between services in his office, composing themselves. He hadn't known what to say to her, worried about disturbing the sense of acceptance between them, until she'd said, "Oh, sweetheart. You have the life I always wanted for you, don't you? I didn't know it could be like this, but it's wonderful."
"Yeah, Mom," Blaine had answered. "It is wonderful." They'd hugged again, like they had when Blaine was little, and it had felt strangely, exquisitely like hugging Burt. Blaine had been nervous about going back to the choir for their brief rehearsal before the second service, but his mother had promised him she'd be fine in the social hall on her own for ten minutes.
Sure enough, when Marie walked into the sanctuary with Nan and Kurt behind her, she'd come straight to Blaine and told him that his mother was ensconced with Elizabeth behind the donut table. "They can't have a real conversation, of course, because people keep interrupting to say how much they love having you here as music director," Marie had said. "Your mother looks very happy."
Now they're halfway across the parking lot, and Blaine turns his face up into the sunny sky and thinks about how miraculous this weekend has been. It's still too early for leaves to be budding on the trees, but Blaine can picture spring already. "Let's go out for brunch," he says. "Mom, do you have time before you need to leave?"
"Of course," she says. "Where shall we go?"
Blaine catches Kurt's eye. "The diner?"
"Sure," Kurt agrees, laughing. "But you have to order more than pie for lunch."
"You will not believe the pie at this place," Blaine says, turning to his mother. "We go there all the time for dessert. You have to try it."
She smiles wider. "Okay. Sounds good."
Blaine barely waits for Aunt Judy to say hello when he calls her that evening. "It's Blaine. Did you know she was going to do that? Did you know Mom was going to visit?" He takes a breath. "She said she's been talking with you—"
"She told me she'd called you and made arrangements," Aunt Judy says. "So it went well, then?"
"It did," Blaine answers. "It was amazing. She had dinner here with us yesterday, and she made jokes, and she's throwing us a brunch in June before the wedding. It was so awkward, when she first got here, and then it wasn't anymore. And Kurt sang to me, at church this morning." He stops, gathering himself.
Aunt Judy sighs into the phone. "Oh, darlin', I'm so happy for you."
Blaine sits down on the bed and orders his thoughts. "Do you have time to hear about it all now?"
"Of course," Aunt Judy says. "Tell me everything."
So he does, detailing his mother's visit and Kurt's performance and all the small amazements of his weekend. Aunt Judy hums and laughs and cheers. Blaine thinks that if he could see himself, he'd be glowing with pleasure.
"I'm actually excited now about having Mom at the wedding, you know? I mean, I was always excited to be marrying Kurt. But it's nice to know that one of my parents is going to be there. Even if she says something infuriating, like 'which one of you is more like the bride?' at least she'll be there voluntarily. She's going to come watch her son marry the person he loves, and I think she finally gets that that is the important part." Blaine stands up and opens the bedroom door.
"I think she does," Aunt Judy confirms. "And thank goodness for that."
Blaine walks into the living room, where Kurt's reading on the couch. "Want to talk to Kurt?" he asks Aunt Judy.
"Oh yes," she says. "Give me my favorite almost nephew-in-law."
Laughing, Blaine hands the phone to Kurt. "Aunt Judy for you."
Kurt beams. "Judy! How's everything in San Francisco?"
Blaine settles on the piano bench to watch Kurt talk, grinning. Right now, life is good.
The music for the upcoming service would be better with another voice, but Blaine's out of time. It's Wednesday night already. He works out the guitar part, then the violin. He can probably swing his guitar behind him to pick up the violin, although maybe it would be better to leave his guitar hanging in front. He experiments for a while before deciding to practice the vocals and guitar for now.
He's in the midst of the second verse, singing "And on some virgin beach head one lonesome critter crawled," when the door clicks open. Kurt walks down the hall to their bedroom, waving as he passes. Blaine keeps singing, launching into the chorus and concentrating hard on the chords.
Blaine manages not to drop his guitar when he hears Kurt's voice join him. It's mostly because he's wearing the shoulder strap, but still.
Kurt quirks an eyebrow and keeps singing Tracy Grammer's part, harmonizing with the chorus Blaine is no longer producing.
Fumbling to find the chords again, Blaine rejoins him and they finish the song. "How did you know that?" he asks.
"I borrowed your iPod," Kurt says. "I like it. Are you performing it this Sunday?"
"Yeah," Blaine says. "Earth Day service. It seemed fitting."
Kurt takes a breath. "Can I join you?"
"Sure," Blaine says, watching Kurt closely, "but it's not a choir service. I know you said—"
"I did." Kurt shrugs. "But it's my prerogative to change my mind, right?"
Blaine grins at him. "It absolutely is," he answers. He feels greedy, sometimes, thinking about it: Blaine always wants to sing with Kurt. They'll never do it enough times for him to be satisfied, never do it so many times he doesn't want more.
Kurt nods. "Okay. Let's practice." The tension leaves his shoulders as he looks at Blaine, a smile overtaking his face.
"I have something very important to do first," Blaine says, setting his guitar on the couch.
"Oh?" Kurt says lightly.
Blaine steps up into his personal space. "Yeah," he answers, and kisses Kurt, hands sliding over Kurt's shoulders. When he pulls back from Kurt's mouth, Blaine shifts to hook his chin over Kurt's shoulder.
Kurt sighs. "Very important," he murmurs. "I'm glad you didn't forget to do that."
"I never will." Blaine stands there, enjoying the slide of Kurt's hands on his back and the smell of Kurt's hair product. After a few more moments, he steps away. "Now we can practice."
That Sunday morning, Blaine can't concentrate on anything. He leads the opening hymns on autopilot, grateful that Roberto's at the piano, and drifts through Elizabeth's opening. Kurt greets their neighbors and Blaine absently says hello, but his mind is occupied with nerves about their performance and a certain disbelief that Kurt is here, next to him, on a Sunday morning without the choir assembled to perform.
Elizabeth announces them for the first musical interlude. They get up together, Blaine slinging his guitar on and picking up his violin, Kurt empty-handed. David brings them the second mic stand, and Kurt mouths, "Thank you," to him. The sanctuary is not quite still, murmurs running through the congregation as Paul and Lynn and others recognize Kurt.
Blaine lays his violin across the empty choir chairs behind him, strums the opening chords and feels himself start to fall into the music. "On a sleepy endless ocean, when the world lay in a dream," he sings. He can feel himself moving with the beat he's keeping, and he gives in to the urge to close his eyes for a moment. He opens them again just before the chorus and turns to Kurt.
Kurt's beating time with one hand, lightly tapping his thigh. He's already looking at Blaine, a half-smile playing on his face. "This is my home, this is my only home, this is the only sacred ground that I have ever known," he sings, perfect harmony dancing over and under and around Blaine's voice. "And should I stray in the dark night alone, rock me goddess in the gentle arms of Eden."
"Then the day shone bright and rounder, and the one turned into two," Blaine continues, feeling his face open into the bright grin that singing with Kurt brings out of him. Kurt's making his usual face back, one less open than Blaine's but no less joyful, if you know how to read him. He always looks like he has a secret when he's singing, a particularly good one that buoys him up. By the second chorus, Blaine is watching Kurt more often than the congregation, and Kurt's eyes dart often to Blaine's face until he turns and picks up Blaine's violin, holding it ready.
Blaine's had to drop the violin part from most of the song, but he contrives to flip his guitar onto his back and grab his violin from Kurt's waiting hands in time for the bridge. Kurt claps the beat, getting the congregation going. They have to start the third verse without guitar, as Blaine knew they would, but Kurt's quick and smooth with the hand-off and it's only a line before Blaine's strumming again. Kurt sings with him the whole time and doesn't drop out for the rest of the song, switching from melody to harmony.
They wind down into the last verse, plaintive as they sing, "Now there's smoke across the harbor, and there's factories on the shore, and the world is ill with greed and will and enterprise of war." Blaine pauses just longer than he should before swinging them into the conclusion. "But I will lay my burden in the cradle of your grace, and the shining beaches of your love and the sea of your embrace." And then they're off into the chorus one last time, voices rising together.
The sanctuary is quiet when they finish, the congregation almost suspended with the strength of their focus. Blaine's expecting them to rub their hands together in appreciation when the moment breaks, but instead they applaud. Kurt starts to bow, a startled little laugh breaking out of him, then grabs Blaine's hand as they nod to the congregation in sync. Kurt takes the violin and they slip back to their seats, tucking the instruments away until the second service. Kurt leans over and rests his head on Blaine's shoulder.
Elizabeth takes the podium and smiles at them. "Thank you, gentlemen," she says. She lifts a piece of paper from her stack and reads a passage about a child's wonder at the world. Kurt takes Blaine's hand as he sits up, his palm warm and dry, and Blaine turns his head in time to catch the smile appearing on Kurt's face.
"Here endeth the reading," Elizabeth says as she steps back and nods at Blaine.
Blaine stands and turns to the congregation. "1064 in the teal book, please," he says. He always tries to choose familiar hymns, or at least hymns with familiar melodies, when he's doing a service without the choir. This one the congregation knows well.
As they start the second verse, Blaine takes a moment to watch Kurt sing. He's harmonizing, creating a descant that floats lightly over the congregation and Roberto's piano line. "Sun my sail and moon my rudder as I ply the starry sea," he lilts, the imagery of the song turning even more ethereal in his voice. "Leaning over the edge in wonder, casting questions into the deep."
Kurt looks up from his hymnal and makes eye contact with Blaine. He lifts an eyebrow.
Blaine indulges himself and grins at Kurt before he turns his attention back to the congregation as a whole. They finish the hymn, winding down into the declaration, "The wide universe is the ocean I travel, and the earth is my blue boat home."
The congregation takes their seats again as Elizabeth switches her mic back on. "Yesterday was Earth Day," she begins. "As many of you probably know. And so today my sermon is based on our seventh principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
"We talk a great deal about respect for the Earth and the environment, about conscientiously recycling and consuming less. That's good. We should talk about and enact those things. But I call on us all to do something more. I call on us to feel wonder, and awe. To marvel at the interdependent web of existence and the natural world, planet, stars and all.
"The essay I quoted talks about experiences with small children. They feel awe, he says, in a way that adults must actively strive for. Small children are not only more open to wonder than many adults are but also more open to awe. It's easy, isn't it, to picture a four-year-old gaping open-mouthed at a butterfly, or to see a five-year-old gazing up at bamboo shoots and whispering, 'Look how little we are.'
"There is a paradox in our relationship with the natural world. We are small in the face of so much of it – mountains and oceans, great trees and endless sheets of ice. And yet because there are so many of us, and because we have become so very good at bending the world to our wills, we can destroy it all. We have blown mountains open for mining, have littered the ocean with plastic garbage, have felled trees and melted ice. Size is not enough to inspire awe in us.
"And size is not reason enough to protect the Earth, as our actions show." Elizabeth moves on to a sermon about respect and wonder and environmental protection. Blaine's suddenly happier than ever that Kurt makes them buy organic produce, and that with spring finally here it will be easier to bike to campus, if he's able to muster the self-discipline. It's not everything that they could do, but at least they do some things.
Kurt elbows him and holds out a piece of paper. He's written a number of items on it, from "Does our wedding caterer use locally sourced foods?" to "We should make sure our dry cleaner is green."
Blaine can only nod. He's helpless before the combined prospects of helping the planet and making Kurt happy. He pushes the paper back into Kurt's lap with an apologetic look and makes himself attend to Elizabeth. They'll talk about making their wedding environmentally sound between services.
"The planet is not only ours," Elizabeth says. "We need to be reminded, by size and scope and awe-inspiring sights, that we must not only stand in wonder but also think in wonder. Our actions have long-term consequences, for more species than only ours. And although our species may be uniquely powerful in its capacity to destroy ecosystems, we must not allow that power to corrupt us and make us insensible to the consequences of our actions."
Kurt watches attentively as congregants come up to light their candles, something he hasn't been able to see well from the choir's chairs off to the side of the sanctuary. When Elizabeth's husband Tom and daughter Sarah step up to provide the second musical interlude, Kurt elbows Blaine gently.
He's never seen Elizabeth's family perform, Blaine realizes. The last time Tom and Sarah got up to sing was at the Christmas service. "Yeah?" Blaine whispers to Kurt under cover of the noise of microphone stand adjustments.
"She's adorable," Kurt breathes. "And she sings, doesn't she? She must. Is she good?"
Blaine nods. "Yes. And she has the same facial expression you do: serious. Intent."
Kurt leans into Blaine's side. "Let's have a daughter."
Although he knows he makes it through the rest of the service and leads the closing hymn, Blaine has no recollection of it. His mind is full of Kurt's face, watching Sarah sing, and images of Kurt and himself, years from now, teaching a little girl to play the piano.
They're sitting at their table, addressing envelopes after the fourth pass on their guest list, when Kurt looks up from his piles of paper and asks, "Is it crazy that I'm inviting all of New Directions?"
Blaine shakes his head. "No, of course not. They're our friends."
"But I haven't talked to some of them in years." Kurt holds up his lists. "These are the people I'm still in some kind of touch with. And the people you're still in touch with are over here. This last set is our B list, the people we haven't had any communication with since, I don't know, graduation?"
Blaine skims the lists again. "I think we should invite whoever we want, Kurt. I don't think it matters when we saw them last. If they're someone we'd want to have there, we should invite them. The worst they can do is not show up."
"The worst they can do is not RSVP and leave us with an uncertain headcount, actually, but okay," Kurt sighs. "All of them. And you're happy with the Dalton people? The Warblers?"
Blaine nods. "I don't need all of the Warblers," he adds, frowning. "But Wes and David, and Thad, and Nick and Jeff. And ... anyone else?"
"Trent? He's the other one we thought of," Kurt says.
"Yeah, that sounds right. How are you feeling about family invitations?" Blaine fiddles with his pen. "I mean, cousins and stuff."
Kurt frowns thoughtfully. "I still think that's fine," he says. "If you want to. They probably won't come, I'm guessing, but that's no reason not to send them something. At least an announcement."
"It's not like I know them very well," Blaine says. "But I like the idea of sending something. I want to try and include them."
"And I don't, where my side's concerned. I don't know how many of my extended family would even want to come. Some of them are homophobes, remember?" Kurt gets up to pour himself more coffee.
When he sits back down, Blaine leans forward and takes his free hand. "Hey. I agree that we should only invite people who will be happy for us; I'm not trying to change what we discussed. I didn't mean your awful aunt – I meant your grandma, and maybe that one uncle on your dad's side. And whoever else, I don't know. Just the people you want to have there."
Kurt slumps in his chair. He sets his coffee down and rubs at his temples. "Yeah. Part of me wants to invite everyone, just like I would if I were marrying a woman, you know? Because it's normal, dammit. And part of me wants to invite everyone as a giant 'screw you' to the bigots in my extended family."
Blaine waits, running his thumb over the back of Kurt's hand.
"But we had it right before. It's a waste of postage," Kurt concludes.
"Yes," Blaine says, thinking about his dad. "So we'll invite some of my cousins, the ones who will probably send us nice cards even if they can't come, and some of our other relatives, but not the jerks. Or the people who don't get it." He can't quite bring himself to lump his dad in with Kurt's aunt; his dad's never made a point of sending them Bible verses and prayers that Kurt would mend his sinful ways like Kurt's aunt did until Kurt blocked her email.
Kurt turns his hand palm up and squeezes Blaine's hand. He's watching Blaine as he takes another sip of coffee.
"I'm fine," Blaine says. "Let's keep going with the addressing."
"Did you and Marie have a wedding? Or a commitment ceremony?" Blaine asks Nan. They're out walking Galen in the late-April evening. It's still not warm, but the days are longer and lighter than they have been and the promise of spring is visible in the flowers starting to bloom.
Nan shakes her head, smiling. "No, we skipped that. We made our promises to each other, and for us the big production didn't feel necessary," she says with a shrug. "But we love attending other people's weddings, and we're looking forward to yours and Kurt's. How's the planning coming?"
"Some of it's fun, and some of it's hard. My family – well, my dad—" Blaine gathers himself. "I wish things were different with some people, that's all. And some of Kurt's extended family wouldn't exactly be happy for us, either, if we were even inviting them." He looks sideways at Nan. "I feel kind of rebellious about it, actually, when it's not sad. Like, how daring of us to pick and choose from among our relatives, instead of inviting them all, lock stock and unpleasant aunt, you know?"
"And are you hoping, just a little bit, that word will get back to the uninvited ones?" Nan grins. "And maybe it'll sting a little, even though they would only have sniffed and refused to come anyway?"
Blaine hangs his head in mock-chagrin. "Yeah, a little."
Nan pats his shoulder. "Makes sense. You're only human, and if they can't be happy for you they don't deserve your consideration."
"Sometimes I remember that first sermon of Elizabeth's that I heard, last August – the one about standing on the side of love? – and then I wonder if I should feel more sad about the people we're leaving out. Like maybe this would reach them, if we'd just try it." Blaine sighs. "I don't want to try so hard all the time, though. I want to marry Kurt without it being a big opportunity for outreach."
"Don't let anyone make you feel like it has to be," Nan tells him. "I know there's a lot of fuss about how weddings are for other people, but don't take that to mean that you need to sacrifice your wedding to educate bigots. If you ask me—"
"And I kind of did," Blaine breaks in, grinning.
"—you and Kurt should have the most incredible celebration you can dream up, within your budget, and not waste a second feeling guilty about any 'should have' ideas." She stops to let Galen sniff a tree.
Blaine nods. "Yeah. That's what we came to." He leans in. "Just between you and me, our budget is pretty good for a grad student and a costume maker. Kurt's dad apparently started a wedding fund for him right alongside his college fund, once he realized Kurt was a ten-year-old with a folder of clippings from bridal magazines. The bonds matured a few years ago."
Nan's lips quirk into a grin. "I always knew I adored Burt."
"I know just what you mean," Blaine answers, and they start walking again.
Blaine has April's candle burning on the table; this one says "Luck." Kurt had laughed when Blaine picked it. The costume shop is putting together the endless ruffled dresses and intricate suits that a period production requires, and Blaine had midterms earlier this month – they needed it. The charm that came out of the candle was a tiny four-leafed clover, which Kurt had pocketed and taken to work.
It's almost ten at night when Kurt comes in and sits down across from him, waiting while Blaine finishes typing.
"Okay, got it," Blaine says, completing his last sentence. He stands and leans over the table to kiss Kurt. "Hi."
"Hi," Kurt answers, smiling. "You know it's late, right?"
Blaine shrugs. "I don't like going to bed without you, and this paper's due next week. I might as well get more work done."
"Sounds fair," Kurt agrees. "I'm going to make tea. Do you want some?"
"Yeah." Blaine trails him into the kitchen and leans on the counter while Kurt puts the kettle on. "Hey, can I ask you something?"
Kurt quirks an eyebrow. "You just did."
Rolling his eyes, Blaine says, "You know what I mean. I was just wondering— Do you want to start coming to church with me? Every week, not just when the choir's performing?"
Kurt looks down into the mug he's holding. "No," he says, lifting his gaze back to Blaine's face. "It's not really my thing. I mean, I don't feel so weird anymore about you going, or having it as your job." He turns and pours water into the mugs.
"But?" Blaine prompts.
"I'm glad it didn't change you into someone I didn't recognize," Kurt says. "I think it's given you different things to think about, but you're still you. That's what I was so afraid of, when you took the job in August. That you wouldn't be my Blaine anymore."
Blaine pushes off the counter and comes to stand next to Kurt, taking his mug of tea and setting it aside. "Come here," he says, taking Kurt's hands in his.
Kurt faces him squarely, expression open and patient. "I'm here."
"You know we're going to change over the course of our lives together. We're probably going to change a lot between now and eighty, or however old we get. And there's a chance that we'll change in different directions and this won't work anymore. But Kurt, I don't think that's going to happen. I think we can grow together." Blaine squeezes Kurt's hands. "And if you never want to go to church, that's okay with me. I don't know if I'd be going, if it weren't my job."
"You wouldn't have started without the job," Kurt says. "But you like it. You like the music and the big ideas and the feeling it gives you. I see your face when you come home, and when we're there together."
Blaine exhales slowly. "I— Yeah. I do. What I'm saying is that I don't need you to like it. And I don't need you to dislike it. I don't know if I'll go when we move back to New York. If I do, and you want to come along – or if you don't – I'll be comfortable either way."
Kurt leans in and presses a kiss to Blaine's lips. "I do love you, Blaine Anderson. Let's get old and interesting together."
"Hey," Blaine says, "I think we're interesting now."
"I think your face is interesting," Kurt mutters, and he laughs when Blaine snorts. "Now come to bed."
Blaine braces himself for an argument when he passes out the sheet music. "This is for the Mother's Day service, in two weeks," he says. "The lyrics are going to be sung as written. Does anyone want to discuss that before we begin learning the harmonies?"
People all over the room shake their heads.
"Okay," Blaine says. "Then let's start." They're singing a modified version of the 23rd Psalm, one that Bobby McFerrin arranged for his mother. The pronouns are all female. Blaine rolls the opening chord, watching the back of the alto section. June hasn't objected to the change from the traditional male pronouns, yet, so perhaps this is going to go smoothly.
"The Lord is my shepherd, I have all I need. She makes me lie down in green meadows. Beside the still waters, She will lead," the choir sings, holding the same chords for whole bars before finally moving near the end of the phrases. "She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs, She leads me in the path of good things, She fills my heart with songs."
Kurt has adopted the face Blaine's come to associate with the more traditionally religious music they sing, his expression tentative. "Even though I walk through a dark and dreary land, There is nothing that can shake me. She has said She won't forsake me, I'm in her hand," he sings, taking the soprano part today. More and more, Kurt's willing to wait, cautiously hopeful, to see what unfolds. It's an evolution Blaine can trace back to high school, back to their first meeting when Kurt assumed that Blaine, Wes and David would beat him up for spying even though they were sitting down to coffee together. With every passing year, Kurt is a little slower to bristle in unfamiliar situations. "She sets a table before me in the presence of my foes, She anoints my head with oil, and my cup overflows."
Blaine plays the closing chord, checking pitches, and smiles at the choir. They launch into the third verse. "Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will live in Her house forever, forever and ever." The soprano and alto sections are filled with happy faces, including a tiny grin on Kurt's, as they finish the psalm. "Glory be to our Mother and Daughter and to the Holy of Holies. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."
He can't help but ask, even though it might jinx things. "No objections to the pronoun change? Everyone's comfortable with that, even though it's not traditional?"
June speaks up, and Blaine braces himself. "How do you know it's not traditional?" she asks.
Blaine blinks at her. "Uh—"
"I object to changing texts carelessly from their original forms. Anything that comes out of the Bible is already changed. If we were singing a setting of this psalm in Hebrew, taken out of the Torah, I'd give you the trouble you're expecting about the changes. But we're not." June tilts her head at him. "And anyway, I like Bobby McFerrin."
Iris sits forward on her chair, catching Blaine's eye, and then turns to catch June's as well. "Kate Braestrup says that given all the different ways God is described or named, there's nothing wrong with changing pronouns. She's led the Pater Noster as the Mater Nostra, saying 'Our mother who art in heaven,' and you know what her husband said? He said it was the first time in a lifetime of saying that prayer that he had a clear vision of someone holding out bread to him, and he said 'thank you.'"
"I don't remember that part," Cheryl says.
"Oh, it's not in her autobiographical books," Iris answers. "It's in Beginner's Grace, her book about prayer. I'll bring it for you."
Blaine clears his throat. "All right, let's do it again. Pay careful attention to the harmonies in measure six, please." He takes a moment to gather himself and to make eye contact with Kurt, who's looking thoughtful after Iris's speech. Blaine wants to know what he's made of this; they'd talked about the upcoming Mother's Day service, and Kurt had assured Blaine that he'd be fine. Now it seems like he might be even more than just okay.
Kurt is surrounded by lists, somehow, despite having created a million Google spreadsheets and documents that Blaine has patiently reviewed and commented on.
"Aren't we running out of wedding things to do?" Blaine asks plaintively.
"No," Kurt says, fixing him with a look. "Not that anyone is ever really out of wedding things to take care of. But at a certain point you let some of it go."
Blaine sighs. "And we're not at that point."
"We're not," Kurt confirms.
"What else do we need?" Blaine reaches for one of the lists.
Kurt slaps his hand away. "Those are in order," he says. "Don't touch them."
Blaine raises both hands placatingly. "Okay, okay. So? What's the next thing that needs doing?"
"Cake," Kurt answers. "Somehow we have made it to seven weeks until the wedding and we don't have a cake. This is urgent."
"I can get behind that," Blaine says. "Cake."
"Good," Kurt says, and pulls a list out of the pile on his left. "Call these bakeries and see if they can schedule us for tastings this week."
Grabbing a pen and scratch paper, Blaine takes the list into the living room and pulls out his cell phone. He pauses. "When are you free this week?"
Kurt laughs. "For our wedding cake? I'll make myself free whenever the bakeries are; there's nothing crucial happening in the costume shop, and I do have three undergrads who will keep working in my absence."
"And what kind of cake do we want?" Blaine asks. "I mean, if it were just up to me I'd say chocolate. But I know you like white cake, and it does seem more wedding-y."
"'Wedding-y,'" Kurt repeats, chuckling. "It does, but there's no reason we can't have both. If they ask what kind we want, tell them we want a tiered cake with different flavors. All right?"
Blaine nods. "Yes, sir. I choose to accept my mission, Commander Hummel."
Kurt rolls his eyes, smiling just a bit. "You're so lucky I love you." He looks down at another list. "Also, we need to register for gifts. There's not much that we need, but people will expect it."
"Online, or should we go to a store?" Blaine's already thinking of possibilities. They could use a bigger set of nice plates if they're going to keep hosting holidays, for one thing.
"Online would be more efficient," Kurt starts, "but in the store they let you use those scanners to zap things."
"And you think those are awfully fun," Blaine teases.
Kurt sticks his tongue out. "You do too, admit it."
"I do," Blaine says. They smile at each other. "I like the sound of those words already. I really can't wait to marry you."
"I can't wait either." Kurt looks off into their kitchen. "Not to change the subject away from our tender feelings, but do you think we could register for a stand mixer?"
Blaine closes his eyes, suddenly remembering a family wedding he'd been taken to when he was twelve. His cousins had drawn him into guessing what was in the huge box on the gift table, their ideas increasingly improbable, until one of his aunts had come over and explained that it was a stand mixer. "One of those things you get when you're really grown up, and starting your adult life with someone," she'd said. "Like when I married Uncle Emilio, and my parents gave us a beautiful tea set."
The other cousins had rolled their eyes, insisting that a velociraptor would make a much cooler wedding present. But Blaine had remembered the feeling in her description, the idea that a gift could mean benediction and acceptance and respect.
"Yeah," he says. "I think we should." He gathers himself and mentally inventories their kitchen. "And maybe some nice knives?"
"Sure." Kurt smiles. "But let's go to the store and use the zapper."
The choir opens the Mother's Day service with "Bright Morning Stars," and the congregation joins in happily. It's a lilting Appalachian hymn that promises missing mothers are sowing seeds of gladness, and fathers are in the fields a-plowing, but Elizabeth has them singing a variation that describes the fathers as "gone on before us," absent in a way that could mean passed away or forging new trails. Blaine likes the ambiguity. Every verse ends with a graceful fall of notes declaring, "Day is a-breaking in my soul."
After the stillness hangs in the sanctuary for a moment, Blaine asks the congregation to turn to hymn 191. They sing steadily, easily finding their ways in the unfamiliar music with Roberto's piano grounding them. "Then looking on the world with simple joy, on insects, birds, and beasts, and common weeds, the grass and clouds had fullest wealth of awe; my mother's voice gave meaning to the stars," the choir intones. Blaine looks to the back of the tenors and sees Kurt looking wistful, as he sometimes does on Mother's Day.
When they've finished, Elizabeth greets the assembled congregants. "Wherever you come from, wherever you are on your life's journey, you are welcome here. Whoever you are, whomever you love, you are welcome here. If this is your first time among us or your thousandth, you are welcome here," she says.
He watches her light the chalices and turns to Cheryl as Elizabeth invites everyone to greet their neighbors.
"How're you doing?" Cheryl asks. "How's Kurt?"
"Fine," Blaine says. "Buried in wedding plans and work. At least things have lightened up in the costume shop."
Cheryl squeezes his shoulder. "Good. We should do pie. Next week?"
Blaine considers this. "Yeah. I think that'll work; I'll check with Kurt." He catches Elizabeth's eye to confirm it's time, then rises and gestures the choir to their feet for the first musical interlude.
They sing the 23rd Psalm as they'd rehearsed it, female pronouns and solemn harmonies. The choir sounds glorious, remembering to move enough on the repeated notes that they don't fall into droning. Blaine catches Kurt's eye and can't help grinning in response to the small smile on Kurt's face: with each rehearsal Kurt's gotten more comfortable singing it, and Blaine knows he loves the quietly subversive feel of this hymn. Blaine loves seeing him enjoy himself.
The choir opens the third verse, "Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life," and Blaine looks back to Kurt again. His expression slides toward contemplative. Blaine wonders if Kurt's thinking about his mother, as Blaine's thinking of Aunt Judy, when they sing, "And I will live in Her house forever, forever and ever."
Blaine takes his seat at the end of the soprano section again and reminds himself that he cannot turn around and check on Kurt while Elizabeth's reading. He'll get to see Kurt's face soon enough when they stand again and sing the next hymn. And then it's time; Blaine's on his feet, the congregation and the choir paging to hymn 128, and he can see that Kurt's clear-eyed and still thoughtful as they sing, "For all that is our life, we sing our thanks and praise." Blaine turns outward to the congregation as the verse concludes, "For all life is a gift which we are called to use to build the common good and make our own days glad." They continue, singing gratitude for service and sorrow and joys, and Blaine wonders if this is a hymn he and Kurt will talk about, this message that even the hard parts of life are something to be thankful for because they mean growth.
Elizabeth waits for everyone to retake their seats before she begins her sermon. She seems to be gathering herself. "I lost my mother this year." She pauses and smiles sadly. "When I say it that way, it sounds like maybe we just got separated in the mall. Like all I need to do is find her again. And oh, how I wish I could. But that's about as far from the truth as I can get. She's gone on before me, in many ways.
"I do know where my mother still is, though: she's in the lessons I learned from her. On this Mother's Day, I've been thinking about what I learned from her and what I'm hoping to teach to my daughter. Summed up in three pieces of advice, the lessons my mother taught me are these: Be present. Be grateful. Be loving.
"My mom and I shared some favorite authors; Dr. Dan Gottlieb is one of them. In his book Learning from the Heart, he writes about living with the awareness that our lives may change, drastically at any moment. We or our loved ones may die, or be paralyzed, or experience any number of catastrophes with no warning. My mom loved to read Dr. Gottlieb, and she read a passage to me that describes a family weekend, relatives gathered and playing baseball with the kids, and Gottlieb's awareness of all the precious mundanity around him. He says,
'And I knew how fragile it was. ... And because I realized the fragility of life, that moment felt perfect. And I was so grateful. I felt love.
'It seems as if the more we let go, the more we experience love. Love is beyond everything else—anxiety, desire, hope, resentment. Love is openhanded, demands nothing, and needs nothing. It is more likely to visit when our desires are quiet, when we don't need or want much, and when we accept that everything we love is not permanent but is with us at this very moment.'
"All three of my mother's lessons appear in that passage. When we're present in the moment, we aren't thinking about our worries or our to-do lists. We're making ourselves available to the people we're with, and making ourselves attentive to what's happening around us. It's easy to walk to the store and never notice that the trees are wearing their fall colors, or that the crocuses are coming up, because we're preoccupied with list-making and concerns about whether the kids will eat what we make for dinner. And perhaps the trees are not that important to us, after all. There will be other days and other autumns.
"What about when we're with our families? We certainly hope we'll have other days with them, yes. But none of those days will be this day, and that is important. Even when it is difficult not to be distracted, it's valuable to be present. Set aside time specifically for making contingency plans or checking the finances. Acknowledge if you're in distress over the noise the car is making, write a note to call the mechanic, and stop allowing the car to take up your attention. Realize that addressing your worries directly allows you to address them effectively and frees you up to enjoy the rest of your life. The moments that will never come again, whether through the simple passing of time or perhaps the passing of a life.
"Being present also helps us to be grateful. Living in the moment awakens us to the gifts of the moment. Having noticed the trees, or listened to the laughter of our family, we can take that moment to feel gratitude. I've talked about this before, that our gratitude has nothing to do with whether we're worthy or deserving of the blessings of our lives. We are all worthy, all deserving, and so those words cease to be relevant. We are here, and beauty and love are given to us, open-handed. All we need to do to receive them is be open to gratitude.
"Some days this will be more difficult than others. Some days we won't see much to be grateful for, or our gratitude will be buried under hardship. Those are times to be gentle with ourselves. On the days when we can, when we're present and able, we can be grateful.
"And finally, we can be loving. Here's an interesting fact: oxytocin, the love chemical our brains produce when we're bonding with a partner, or a pet, or a child, also has the effect of making us more patient. That's right. Love makes us better at delayed gratification. We can practice love actively, wishing happiness and wholeness for others, expressing our honest affection despite the self-consciousness we may feel. We can, in our moments of presence and gratitude, tell our families that we love them or whisper to the trees that we love autumn. We can embrace the joy in those moments.
"Wendy Cope has a poem, titled 'The Orange,' that speaks to these lessons. I do not think it was intended to urge the reader to be present, grateful and loving; I think it was intended to convey the experience of having stumbled upon those things. Still, it speaks to the lessons I gained from my mother.
"At lunchtime I bought a huge orange
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.
And that orange it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park
This is peace and contentment. It's new.
The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all my jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I'm glad I exist."
Elizabeth sets her notes down. "In lieu of our candle-lighting today, I would like to ask each of you to name one of the teachers from your life. Whether that is your mother, another relative, a friend, a schoolteacher, a coworker, or someone else entirely, please use this moment to be grateful and loving toward them. I thank you for your presence today."
Blaine can't hear what Kurt says, and he doesn't know the names he can hear other choir members saying. He doesn't need to know them, though. He says, "Aunt Judy," without thinking too much about it, and then flushes because it feels childish to have said that and not her full name. Still, she's always 'Aunt Judy' to him more than any other name, and maybe that's part of it. She's the one member of his family he's never doubted. He wonders if he should say his mother's name, too, now that they've had Easter to connect to each other again. But the moment has passed, and although he returns to the question throughout the rest of the service, he can't quite settle where they stand now.
After their second service, Blaine follows Kurt to the car and climbs wordlessly into the driver's seat. They drive north and west in silence, Blaine darting little glances at Kurt. "Was that weird for you?" he asks, leaving the question open-ended.
"No," Kurt says absently. "It was fine. I mean, I know it was overtly biblical, singing the 23rd psalm, but it didn't bother me." He looks out the window, then turns back to Blaine. "I was doing what everyone was, what Elizabeth intended, actually, with the pronoun change and the day, and then the sermon: I was thinking about my mom."
"Yeah?" Blaine can't quite get a read on Kurt.
Kurt nods. "Fifteen years is a long time. I can't really remember what she looked like, anymore. I can still pick her out in pictures, but it's not like I've been aging her up in my head all these years. I don't know what she'd look like today. But she loved me, Blaine, and I still know that the way I knew it when I was little."
Blaine takes one hand off the wheel and rests it on Kurt's knee. "I'm glad," he says.
"Me too." Kurt's quiet for a few minutes. "I think I'd like to talk with Elizabeth. It seems like we'd understand each other."
Blaine squeezes Kurt's knee. "I bet she'd like that."
"I hope so," Kurt says, laying his hand over Blaine's. He's quiet again while Blaine drives.
They park at the cemetery, just outside of Lima, and Blaine gets the flowers from the backseat and offers them to Kurt.
Kurt shakes his head. "You carry them." He leads the way to his mother's grave. The ground is wet; Kurt frowns indecisively, half-kneeling before standing again.
Blaine pulls off his jacket and lays it over the grass. "Here." They sink down onto it, side by side.
"Hi, Mom," Kurt says softly. "Happy Mother's Day. I never know if I should feel stupid, doing this, but mostly I feel good about it afterwards, so that makes it okay, right?" He leans forward and traces the words on the headstone. "Anyway, this is the last time I'll come here as a single man. Blaine and I are getting married in a month and a half. Obviously I'll be imagining you there, in some way, because I wouldn't be who I am now if it weren't for you and Dad. And if I weren't who I am, I might not be marrying Blaine."
When Kurt looks at him, Blaine reaches out and sets the tulips at the base of the headstone. "I wish I could have known you," he whispers. "But I think I know the best parts of you through your son. Thank you for him."
Kurt presses himself against Blaine's side. "I love you, Mom." He closes his eyes for a minute, then stands and holds out his hand to Blaine.
They walk back to the car in silence, hands clasped, and twenty minutes into their drive home Kurt turns on the radio and starts to sing.
Blaine refuses to skip out on rehearsal. He can't do that to the choir and his headache isn't that bad. He can get through it.
Kurt, of course, marches up to him at the break. "You need to let Lynn take over," he says. "You have a terrible headache. Your face is all tight around the eyes."
"It's not fair that you can do that," Blaine mutters. "Anyway, I can finish rehearsal."
"You really can't," Kurt retorts. "We're not doing anything new today, Lynn's a perfectly good director, and you can sit in your office with the door open if you can't bear to be less than a total control freak, but please be just a little easier on yourself. Please go try to relax a little."
Blaine knows when he's beaten. He nods at Kurt and goes along as Kurt asks Lynn to take over, Blaine meekly handing over his score. Cheryl gives him an assessing look as he passes her.
A minute later, Blaine's wondering if he should lie down on the floor. He should get a couch, or at least a pillow and a yoga mat, just in case.
There's a soft tap on the door.
"Yes?" Blaine says.
Di sticks her head in. "Hi, boss," she says quietly. "Headache?"
Apparently everyone in Blaine's life can read him like a book. "Yeah."
She walks in and comes over to him, silhouetted in the half-light of the doorway. "Have I ever told you what my day job is?" she asks, conversationally.
"No?" Blaine squints at her.
"I'm a physical therapist," Di says. "If this is a tension headache – and I bet it is – I might be able to help."
Blaine blinks at her. "Please. Anything."
"Come over here," she says, pulling off her cardigan. She folds the sweater and puts it on the floor. "Lie down."
When Blaine's settled with his head on the sweater, Di pushes the door closed. In the dark, she says, "Try to feel every place on your body that's tense. Don't just think about your head. Take inventory."
Blaine does, although he has no idea how this will help. "Okay."
"Now, you're going to deliberately flex a group of muscles, hold them for ten seconds, and then relax. Take two deep breaths first." Di waits. When she continues, she takes him through the muscle groups from his head to his feet. At each group she guides him into letting go, easing muscles that he didn't know were tight.
Di asks him to keep breathing deeply; Blaine stops counting breaths or seconds and focuses instead on the feel of the small muscles around his eyes, the way they seem to stretch outward once they're loose. He wonders idly if Kurt will be able to see the difference.
"How do you feel?" Di asks quietly.
"Better," Blaine answers. "Not completely fine, but a lot better than I felt before." He opens his eyes slowly, looking up into the dark. "I wish I didn't get tense like that."
Di laughs. "Don't we all. But— This is maybe a little weird, but I've been thinking about it a lot. Do you remember the reading Elizabeth used in her Mother's Day sermon? The one from Dan Gottlieb?"
Blaine thinks back. "Yeah."
"He wrote an essay about compassion, not just for other people, but for ourselves – which can be the hardest – and for our bodies, which can seem ridiculous. He's partially paralyzed, and years ago he had an accident that increased that paralysis so he'd lost not only the ability to feel below the chest but also his left arm. And when he wrote about it, he said that the thought that helped him was the idea of feeling compassion for his arm." Di pauses. Her outline is visible in the light from under the door. "He stopped thinking of his arm as something that caused him pain and instead thought of it as its own entity, suffering in its own way." She shrugs. "The muscles of your neck and head don't mean to hurt you. It's just that their discomfort can't help but affect you."
"But my muscles aren't separate from me," Blaine says. "Of course they affect me. They are me."
Di sighs softly. "That's true. But I bet you, like most people, have muttered under your breath about something your body's done that's outside of your conscious control. Something that feels like it's from outside you."
"I have," Blaine says. "Huh. Blaming my muscles for giving me a headache doesn't help anything. And forgiving them might help me relax and reduce the headache?"
"It might." Di huffs a laugh. "I told you it was strange. If it helps you to think of things that way, do it. If not, forget it. But remember the progressive muscle relaxation, okay?"
Blaine smiles into the dark. "I will. Thanks."
"I'm going back to rehearsal," Di tells him. "I'll come back for my sweater at the end."
"Sure." Blaine closes his eyes again and lets the sound of his choir wash over him. Di leaves the door open a few inches, not enough to overwhelm him with light but enough to let him hear that they're there.
May is sliding into Memorial Day, which Blaine plans to observe by working frantically on his final paper and practicing for his juries, when Kurt raises the topic of wedding music.
"We have to choose a first dance song," Kurt says.
Blaine looks up from his computer, rubbing his eyes. "We do?"
Kurt frowns. "Yes, Blaine, we do. We are going to dance, aren't we?"
"Sure," Blaine sighs. "How about 'Teenage Dream?' That's kind of our song."
"I am not dancing to 'Teenage Dream' at our wedding," Kurt snaps. He pauses and then concedes, "Although it is kind of our song. But it's not danceable. I want something we can swing dance to."
"Then pick something we can swing dance to," Blaine says impatiently. "I need to finish this email. I don't care what you pick."
The silence that follows this sentence fills Blaine with foreboding. He turns back to Kurt. "I didn't really mean that I don't care," Blaine says. "I'm sorry."
"I don't believe you," Kurt says. He crosses his arms over his chest.
Blaine considers him. "You don't believe I'm sorry, or you don't believe that I'd say I don't care what we dance to?"
"Pick one," Kurt spits. "I have done most of the work for this wedding, whereas you have barely mustered enough interest to answer simple, yes-or-no questions. Do you even want to get married?" He turns away, but not before Blaine sees him press his lips together.
"Kurt." Blaine's up from the couch and moving to the armchair, kneeling in front of Kurt. Kurt keeps his gaze averted, face tight. "Hey. I do want to marry you. And I want it to be everything we want it to be. I just don't have as many opinions as you do about how it should be. And—" Blaine stops.
Kurt turns to face him. "And?" he asks quietly.
"I'm not a good dancer like you are," Blaine says. "I can step-touch like nobody's business, but I can't swing like you can."
"You'll do fine," Kurt tells him, expression softening. "I'll lead. And we can have two dances, you know, so we can each lead one. You should pick something you're comfortable with for yours."
Blaine relaxes. "Something slow and shuffly?"
"Something slow," Kurt confirms. "And we can choreograph them a bit ahead of time, after your classes finish. Just please make yours at least a box-step and not a shuffle."
"Okay." Blaine lets his hands come to rest on Kurt's knees as he thinks for a moment, then adds, "Do you want to talk about readings now? I found some poems I like."
Kurt squeezes Blaine's hands and smiles at him. "Yeah, let's do that. You go first."
Standing, Blaine grabs his computer and pulls up the tab with the Taylor Mali poem on it. "This one is called 'How Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog,'" he says.
"Blaine," Kurt sighs.
"No, come on, just read it." He waits while Kurt reads. When Kurt looks up, Blaine says, "I know it's probably too long, but it has a certain New York feel to it, you know? And that's a promise I'm making to you, even if we're the only ones who know it."
"Hmm." Kurt raises an eyebrow and reads the poem again. "It's a little too precious, though. You said 'poems;' what's the next one?"
"Pablo Neruda." Blaine switches tabs. "One of the sonnets—"
Kurt's already reading and nodding. "Yes. I like this one. Do we want two? Can we have the Yeats I love, even though it's overused?"
Blaine grins. "Sounds perfect."
"I did it!" Blaine yells as he opens the door to their apartment. "I have half a Master's degree!" He waits, listening. "Kurt?"
There's only silence. Kurt must still be at work.
Blaine drops his satchel on the floor and flops onto their couch, curling on his side. He considers getting up to unpack his bag and find the library books that need to go back to campus, but the couch is too comfortable. He'll just rest for a moment.
Kurt wakes him up with a gentle shake of the shoulder. "Blaine? I got dinner."
"Mmph," Blaine answers muzzily. "Where?"
"After I had coffee with Reece I stopped at the Ethiopian place for take out," Kurt says, smiling. "I thought you'd want to celebrate being done with the quarter."
Blaine rubs his eyes as he sits up. He blinks at Kurt, coming fully awake. "Yeah, I do. I'm half done, Kurt, can you believe it?"
Kurt snorts. "I can. You've certainly worked hard to get to this point." He holds out a hand to Blaine. "Come sit at the table and eat, and tell me how everything went."
The food is delicious, as always, and Blaine has to work not to eat too fast. He's almost as ravenous as he is tired; he's been giving up lunches to eke out a few more precious hours of work on his Adolescent Psych paper. He now knows more about what motivates teenagers than he did when he was a teenager.
"I turned my paper in this morning," Blaine says, "and even if I get a C on it I'll still get a B+ in the class, but it's not a C paper. It's good."
"It had better be," Kurt says. "I've been an academic widower for days because of that paper."
"I promise, all those hours in the library were worth it. And all the hours practicing the violin – my professor said I sounded great at my juries. She loved my tone. I screwed up that one passage, with the sixteenth note runs, but only a tiny bit. I don't think it'll hurt my grade too much." Blaine pauses. "How was your day?"
Kurt shrugs. "Quiet. We're just doing repairs on things that are likely to be needed for summer shows. Charlotte was out, frantically finishing a paper of her own, but Reece, Hailey and I had a good day."
Blaine yawns. "That's good," he manages.
"Okay, you're not just half done with your program, you're also all done with this week," Kurt declares. "Finish eating and go to bed. You're exhausted."
Blaine feels like he should argue, but Kurt's suggestion sounds too appealing. "I— Sure."
"We'll have tomorrow together," Kurt promises. "I don't have to work, even though it's Thursday. We'll have a whole lazy day." He's humming when they've finished eating and Blaine's brushing his teeth, a sound that suggests that Blaine's likely to wake up to pastry of some kind tomorrow.
The thought comes back to him when their bedroom door opens and Kurt slips in. "You made something?" Blaine murmurs.
"No," Kurt says, kissing Blaine's forehead. "I prepped doughnut mix for tomorrow. We'll fry them in the morning. Go back to sleep."
Blaine's almost out again before Kurt lifts the blankets, but he wakes up enough to hear Kurt say, "I love you," and to answer, "Love you too."
Blaine's enjoying his first Monday of the summer when Kurt yells something wordless in the kitchen, something that sounds distressed, and Blaine sits bolt upright.
"Kurt?" he calls, standing and heading for the kitchen.
"Yes?" Kurt answers, looking calm. He's holding eggshell in both hands.
Blaine leans on the wall, steadying himself. Now he feels silly for imagining the worst. "You're okay. What was that scream?"
"Oh," Kurt says, laughing a little. "I broke the egg wrong and some of the shell almost fell in the cake. But look! I caught it."
"I thought you cut a finger off or something," Blaine scolds. He does look at Kurt's finger and the fragment of shell perched there. "I'm glad it's just egg shell."
Kurt flushes. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. I don't want to mess up Cheryl's birthday cake, but that's no excuse for overreacting."
Blaine takes a seat at their table, reading a novel and keeping an eye on Kurt until the cake is in the oven. He knows from experience that there will be an interval while the cake is baking, and another when it's done and cooling, in which he can distract Kurt in any number of ways.
Sure enough, he gets Kurt to the couch and spends the half hour until the timer buzzes engaged in some quality making out. Kurt can't be distracted after the cake's done, though: he's making frosting and sends Blaine off to the piano to provide musical background instead. Blaine doesn't mind too much. He does love playing for Kurt.
In the evening they take Kurt's beautiful cake over to Cheryl's house, where they find an almost-equal mix of choir people and librarians. Kurt gets into a deep discussion of the history of musical theatre with someone Cheryl knows from the OSU library, and Blaine finds himself in a corner with Di and Roberto.
Eventually the crowd shrinks, everyone who has to work tomorrow saying their goodbyes, and they're left with Nan, Marie, Cheryl, and a master's student who's doing her internship with Cheryl at the public library. Kurt takes Cheryl into the kitchen for a whispered conference.
"Any idea what they're planning?" Nan asks.
"Something exciting. Or maybe tea." Blaine shrugs. "I think all the cake got eaten, so it's probably not a food fight."
Marie laughs. "Never say never." Shilpa the intern looks concerned, and Marie pats her on the knee and promises that they're only joking.
Kurt and Cheryl emerge from the kitchen with wine glasses and two bottles of red. "We," Kurt announces loftily, "are going to play 'Never Have I Ever.'"
The juxtaposition with Marie's comment, or maybe the expression on Shilpa's face, sets Blaine off. Once he's giggling it's only moments before everyone else has joined in. Kurt sets the glasses down and tucks himself next to Blaine on the couch, chuckling. "I'm glad you're amused," he says.
"It's just ... this," Blaine tells him, gesturing around the room. "We're not undergrads anymore, and we're sitting with friends who are three times our age, but we're about to play a college drinking game. With red wine. Isn't it funny?"
Kurt smiles. "It's perfect. First, red wine is better than cheap beer," he says, holding up a finger. "Second, these people have stories to tell that we've never heard. And third—" He leans close to Blaine's ear. "I need dirt on them. You know Cheryl, Marie and Nan have some shenanigans in their pasts. And Shilpa seems like she has potential. Didn't she say she was in a sorority in college?"
"Stop conspiring," Marie says, poking Blaine's arm. "Pick up your glasses. It's time to play."
The game starts out tame, Shilpa declaring that she's never eaten haggis and Blaine stating that he's never failed a class. Kurt mutters, "Academic goody-two-shoes," as he sips his wine.
"Kurt! What did you fail?" Cheryl asks.
"Calligraphy." Kurt sighs. "It shouldn't even be considered a class."
Nan wrinkles her nose. "How do you fail calligraphy?"
"You forget to turn in half your assignments," Blaine says.
"Well," Kurt sniffs. "Never have I ever stolen something."
Blaine shamefacedly drinks, noting that Shilpa and Marie are drinking as well. At Nan's demand, Blaine admits to having taken a candy bar and Marie confesses that she once shoplifted a scarf.
Shilpa smiles sheepishly. "It was a life-size metal goat," she says. When the laughter dies down, she adds, "I was a sorority girl! I was just glad it wasn't a real goat!"
Marie uses the fact that she's never lived abroad to get Nan and Cheryl to drink, and Nan retaliates by targeting Marie and Kurt for their marshmallow making. Cheryl gets everyone when she says she's never learned to ride a bike.
"How is that possible?" Kurt asks incredulously.
Cheryl shrugs. "I walked everywhere, and then I was more interested in learning to drive. At this point I'll never learn." She grins. "Specifically for this reason."
"Never have I ever made clothing out of duct tape," Shilpa says. When no one drinks, she shrugs. "It was worth a shot."
Blaine's had enough wine that it seems like a good idea to pull out one of his favorite Kurt stories. "Never have I ever walked into a stranger's apartment, unexpected and uninvited."
Kurt's the only one to drink, and when he's finished he glares at Blaine. "It was one time and if Rachel didn't move so often it never would have happened."
"It wouldn't have been so bad if you hadn't spent three minutes loudly critiquing the décor and wondering where Rachel's usual stuff had gone before the actual residents caught up to you," Blaine points out.
"Yes, well." Kurt blushes. "If it had been Rachel's place, it would have been perfectly reasonable for me to inspect the bedroom."
Marie elbows Nan as she jokes, "Never have I ever heard a more characteristic story."
Even though it's Kurt's turn, he takes Marie's statement seriously and pokes Blaine's side. "Drink," he commands.
Blaine does. He swallows and explains, "I have many more stories."
"And who's to say which is most characteristic?" Kurt adds. "Therefore, he drinks. Now, never have I ever made out with a girl for the fun of it."
"But you have for serious reasons?" Cheryl raises her eyebrows. Beside her, Nan and Marie clink their glasses together before drinking.
Kurt nods. "I was on a mission to bond with my father. It was a whole complicated teenage thing." He turns to Blaine. "Speaking of which—"
"It wasn't fun! I was drunk!" Blaine protests.
"Half a drink and I won't make you tell the story," Kurt says.
Blaine takes the deal.
And so it goes.
"Hey, I don't know if you invited Puck, but is it okay if I bring him?" Finn says.
Kurt blinks slowly at Blaine before turning a boggling look back toward the phone.
"Kurt?" Finn sounds confused. Blaine spares a moment to be glad they're not having this conversation over Skype, so Finn can't see Kurt's expression.
"You want to bring Puck as your plus-one," Kurt says, incredulous.
Finn sighs. "Yeah. I mean, I'm guessing Rachel will be there—"
"She will," Kurt confirms.
"—so I can't bring a girl without upsetting her. And there's no one I'm really into, and definitely not anyone I'm serious enough about to have to put up with Rachel's reaction to her." He pauses. "So that means I should bring a guy friend and avoid the drama, right?"
Kurt covers his mouth and snickers quietly.
"You might have some different drama if you bring Puck as your date," Blaine points out.
"What, like people would think we were together?" Finn asks.
Kurt visibly gathers himself. "Yes, Finn. People would think you and Puck were gay, or maybe bi. Probably bi, actually, given your history with women."
"Huh," Finn says. "Well, whatever. I'm going to ask if he's taking anyone, and if he's not, we'll go together. And people can think what they want to think."
"Whatever," Kurt echoes. He lets out a tiny laugh.
Blaine raises his eyebrows, waiting to see what Kurt will do. He doesn't want to jump in before Kurt reacts.
Kurt smiles at the phone. "I love you, Finn. You know that, right?"
"Yeah man. I love you too," Finn answers.
Leaning close, Blaine puts an arm around Kurt. He wants to say something to Finn, something approving and brother-in-law-like, but he doesn't know what. He settles on, "I'm glad you'll be there, Finn."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Finn promises. "Hey, I'm going to get you guys something good, too. Mom's going to help me."
"Anything on the registry is fine," Kurt says, warm. "I'm sure we'll love it."
Blaine nods, then remembers Finn can't see him. "We will," he adds. "We definitely will."
Over dinner, Kurt says, "So, our bachelor parties are tomorrow."
"Yes?" Blaine doesn't know where Kurt's going with this. Their friends have demanded complete control over the party plans, which is going to yield either fantastic or awful results.
Kurt lifts his wine glass, half-hiding behind it. "And I've been thinking about certain other pre-wedding traditions we could observe. Like abstaining from sex until we're married."
Blaine does not actually choke, but he does sputter a bit. "That is not where I expected you to be going with this."
"You love that I surprise you," Kurt declares. "But seriously, what do you think of the idea? I know it's not like we haven't gone nine days without sex before, especially during midterms and finals. It could be nice to build some anticipation, though."
"Yeah," Blaine says. "I like the idea. This would start tomorrow?"
Kurt nods. They both look down at their mostly finished dinner, and then their eyes meet.
"We should go and have sex right now." Blaine stands up. Kurt clears the table while Blaine puts their leftovers away, and then they're dashing to their bedroom, laughing and grabbing at each other's clothes.
Just inside the door, Kurt pauses to undress. "To keep this shirt from getting too wrinkled, Mr. Grabby Hands."
Blaine shrugs out of his own clothes before he tackles Kurt onto the bed and pins him down, taking Kurt's earlobe in his mouth and working it gently with teeth and tongue until Kurt moans. When Blaine pulls back to shift his attention to Kurt's neck, he finds himself flipped over and under Kurt. He's not complaining.
"Really, Mr. Anderson," Kurt says dryly, "attacking my weak spot?"
"It's not your only weak spot," Blaine points out. "And if you'd let me get back to what I was doing—"
Kurt grins. "Nope." He bends over Blaine's chest and sucks on first one nipple, then the other, teasing Blaine into a state of squirming arousal.
"Kurt, uh," Blaine groans. He manages to say, "Please," without knowing what he's asking for.
He doesn't have to ask for anything, though. Kurt's already trailing a hand down his body, skipping over his cock and instead cupping Blaine's balls, playing with them. "How do you want to do this?" Kurt murmurs.
"You inside is fine." Blaine lifts his hips, reinforcing his words.
"'Fine,' hmm?" Kurt's arching an eyebrow. "I don't know that I'm willing to settle for 'fine' when it's our last unmarried sex."
Blaine huffs. "I am mostly interested in having our last unmarried sex," he says.
Kurt sighs, "All right, you've been teased enough." He pulls the lube from the nightstand and sets to fingering Blaine's hole, pressing kisses along Blaine's cock as he does so.
Once Blaine's ready, Kurt pushes in. He slides a hand over the length of Blaine's cock, still teasing just a bit before he finally takes Blaine in hand and strokes him in earnest. The remnants of lube on Kurt's fingers keep them moving smoothly, and the twist Kurt adds when he's near the head is all it takes to undo Blaine in less than a minute.
"Hey," Blaine says when he's come down a bit from his orgasm, "can we roll over?"
Kurt agrees, and they shift until Blaine's over Kurt and riding him. "Oh, I always forget how good this is," Kurt says.
"Mm-hmm," Blaine hums. The pull and stretch of Kurt inside him is just right, and tonight the power in this position is just what he wants. Blaine settles into a slow rhythm, one that has Kurt thrusting up to meet him. He keeps his eyes on Kurt's face, watching for the moment when Kurt tips over the edge into orgasm. It's beautiful.
They lie side-by-side afterwards, breathing settling back into normal rhythms. Kurt presses a kiss to Blaine's shoulder. "That ought to hold us for nine days."
"I suppose," Blaine says in a tone of resignation. It's not really a surprise when Kurt grabs a pillow and hits him in the face. "Love you," he adds after he pushes the pillow off of him.
Kurt smiles softly. "I love you too."
It's just over a week until the wedding when Mercedes, Finn, a terrifying posse of other McKinley High glee kids, and three of Kurt's bemused-looking friends from the costume shop come to whisk Kurt away into the night. Josh, who's been single and on the look-out since before Kurt's birthday karaoke, is already checking Quinn out, and Rachel's conversation with Finn is so carefully casual that Blaine's glad he'll be at a different bar when things come to a head.
"Get your butt in this car," Mercedes demands, and Kurt gives Blaine one last grin as he disappears into the front seat.
Wes's hand lands heavily on Blaine's shoulder. "Ready?" he asks.
"Yeah," Blaine says. "I think I'm glad we're not going with them. Quinn's going to spend the whole night keeping Josh at arm's length."
"You are going to be thinking about something other than Quinn and whoever's hitting on her before I'm done with you," Wes promises.
David's rented a party bus; it pulls up and Blaine follows Wes aboard and finds an assortment of Warblers, a handful of people from his program, and even two friends from NYU. "How—" he starts.
"Kurt hooked us up with intel," David says. "He's better at spying now."
Nick pulls Blaine down into a seat as the bus starts moving. "Dude. I almost cannot believe you're getting married."
"And to Kurt!" Jeff adds.
"That's the part that makes it believable," Nick says.
Blaine tilts his head back and declares to the ceiling of the bus, "I really missed you guys."
Their first stop is a bar that specializes, David tells Blaine, in an essential bachelor party drink. "It's called an 'Adios, Motherfucker.' It's got tequila, vodka, rum and a lot of other stuff in it. It's the perfect start!"
Blaine blinks at him. "I don't know about th—"
"Nonsense," David says. "Warbler Thad! Guard Blaine while I get the drinks."
Thad slides into the booth across from Blaine. "You'd think the Warbler title would get old, but it doesn't," he says thoughtfully. "Anyway." Thad considers Blaine. "Are you scared?"
"Of the drink?" Blaine turns to watch the bartender mix something that's both alarmingly large and alarmingly blue. "Don't tell David, but yeah. I kind of am. Couldn't we start with beer?"
"Beer before liquor, never been sicker," Thad quotes. "That's not what I meant. I was talking about getting married."
Blaine frowns. "Why would I be scared of getting married? Is this one of those 'how can you have sex with only one person for the rest of your life' conversations?"
Thad coughs. "No, man, although I am sure that talking about sex is part of any good bachelor party. It's just— It's a big deal, getting married."
"And what if it doesn't work out, that's what you're asking." Blaine runs a finger through a little puddle of water on the table. "I think it will, of course. We love each other, and Kurt and I have made it through a lot already, going from high school to college to ... to our adult lives, I guess, and I still think he's wonderful." Blaine laughs. "And luckily he thinks the same of me. But no matter what happens – if we split up, or if something happens to one of us – I'll still be glad we did this. For the rest of my life, I'll have been married to Kurt Hummel. I'll have loved Kurt, and been loved by him. And nothing can ever take that away from me."
Blaine looks up. "What?"
"It's— I hope I find a girl someday that I can talk about the way you talk about Kurt." Thad grins. "That's how I'll know she's the one I'm supposed to marry."
Grinning back, Blaine says, "Yeah. I hope you find her, too."
David descends on them with alcohol for everyone, and the moment's over. "Drink!" he yells.
As his friends lift their terrifying blue drinks all around him, Blaine raises his glass to Thad. "No fear," he says.
Thad clinks rims with him. "No fear."
At the fourth bar of the night, David starts muttering something about strippers. Blaine gives him an alarmed look. "I don't really—" he begins.
"It's okay," Wes breaks in. "I vetoed the strippers. For the record, we discussed whether there existed a venue that would provide both male and female strippers ... but then Thad raised the issue of cost, and I said that although strippers are a bachelor party tradition they are also part of a troubling cultural predilection toward the sexual objectification of persons."
Blaine raises an eyebrow. "All right, then." He takes a drink of his water.
Wes pulls the glass out of his hand. "This is water!"
"Nothing gets past you," Blaine sighs.
"You should not have water at this time," David scolds him.
"You know what?" Blaine says. "I'm going to go sit with Todd for a bit."
Wes nods. "That is acceptable, Warbler Blaine. But no water."
Blaine slides onto a barstool next to Todd. They haven't seen each other since graduation. "Hey, can you get a glass of water and let me steal it? Wes took mine."
Todd grins at him. "You know, I used to wonder how you understood the dynamics of my frat house without being in a frat yourself." He signals the bartender for water and then looks around him. Blaine follows his gaze. Nick and Jeff are playing a cutthroat and uncoordinated game of pool, and David, Wes and Thad are huddled over the karaoke book. "You got your brotherly-organization fix in high school, though," Todd concludes.
"Yeah," Blaine says, laughing. "I guess I did." Kurt's never understood Blaine's friendship with Todd, but this is part of it: Todd is a good guy who has, in the past, done some stupid things under the influence of a group of young men who are both dear to him and possessed of occasionally questionable judgment. Blaine can relate.
"So you're in grad school, and you're getting hitched," Todd says, leaning back. "You're old, Blaine Anderson."
Blaine lifts an eyebrow. "Not so old. Still in school, anyway. And no kids yet, or for a while. How about you?"
Todd coughs. "No kids."
"That's not quite what I was asking." Blaine sips his water. "I haven't seen you in a year. What are you doing with your time?"
Todd looks down. "Working with teenagers, actually. Inner city kids."
Punching Todd's arm affectionately, Blaine asks, "In New York?"
"In Boston," Todd says. "Magnet schools for gifted and impoverished youth. It's amazing – everyone wants to tell me what a grind it is, working with inner city students, and I imagine it is in a lot of places. But these kids want to be there. And they want to make something of themselves. It's not what I expected."
"That's great, Todd," Blaine says. He pictures it for a moment, whether he could teach in a school like that when he and Kurt move back to New York. Maybe. He likes the idea of researching it, at least.
The door to the bar opens, and in come Cheryl, Marie and Nan. Kurt must have given Wes their numbers.
"Blaine!" Cheryl calls. "We're here to add local representation to your debauchery."
Blaine borrows Todd's beer to raise to Cheryl. "Thank you for your service," he says, beckoning them over. As he passes the beer back to Todd, he murmurs, "And thank you for your subterfuge."
He looks over his shoulder and sees Wes nodding at a piece of paper, which is almost certainly a karaoke list. Blaine chugs his water. "Okay, show time." He stands to greet the new additions, already wondering how their voices will mix with the Warblers and smiling to himself over the combination.
It's Quinn who brings Kurt home to pour him into bed, about an hour after Blaine gets home. "Blaine, are you decent?" she calls from their bedroom door.
"Mmph, yeah," he manages.
Kurt is singing "Dancing Queen" softly to himself and leaning heavily on Quinn. She's got an arm around his waist; in the half-light spilling through the door it looks like she's hauling him along. "Come on, Happiest Boy in the World," she says softly. Blaine can see her roll her eyes as she sits Kurt on the edge of the bed.
"Happiest Boy?" he asks.
"After the fifth tequila shot, he wanted a title," she answers. "There, I've got his shoes off. Can I leave the rest to you?"
Blaine sits up. "Sure." He's still fuzzy, but he can certainly manage to get Kurt out of his skinny jeans. Or maybe it won't matter if Kurt sleeps in them. "How come you're stuck being the responsible one?"
"I promised my boyfriend I wouldn't drink tonight. He was uneasy about Finn and Puck, with our histories, so I told him I'd stay sober and stick with Kurt," Quinn says. "Do you have water and painkillers over there?"
"Yeah, Wes set me up with some. I don't know if he put anything on Kurt's side of the bed." Blaine grabs at Kurt's shoulders as he lists forward, pulling him back onto the bed. "Whoa there, cowboy."
Kurt giggles. "Cowboy? You've never called me that before." He considers this. "Well, there was that one time—"
"TMI," Quinn declares. "I'm going to go get you some water, Kurt, and you're going to drink a bunch of it right now."
Blaine gets Kurt horizontal and reaches for the button of his jeans. Kurt giggles. "Hey, you want to sleep in these?" Blaine asks.
"No," Kurt says. "But do not try anything." He cranes his neck up toward Blaine's ear and stage whispers, "We're saving that for the wedding night, remember?"
Quinn's back. She rolls her eyes gently at Blaine when he looks up. "Don't worry, we all heard about his plans for your wedding night." She puts a hand on Kurt's shoulder and says, "Hey Kurt, sit up for a minute."
Kurt struggles to sit up until Blaine realizes that he should take his hand off Kurt's torso and possibly help lift him from behind. Once he's up, Kurt obediently drinks the glass of water Quinn hands him. She refills it from the pitcher in her other hand, getting two more glasses into him, and leaves a last glass on the nightstand. "Ibuprofen," she says, holding up a pill bottle. "I'm putting it next to the water. Now, I'm going to go sleep on the couch."
"The couch?" Blaine says, confused.
"Sharing a motel room with two of my exes didn't seem like the best idea," she says, shrugging. "And this way someone is on hand in case you two need someone sober in the night. Although you seem pretty with it, actually."
Blaine blinks at her. "Yeah, but the couch? We have a guest bed, you know."
Quinn smiles. "I do. I put Rachel in it before I brought Kurt in here. She's basically got two exes in that motel room too, you know."
"Really, who doesn't have exes in that motel room," Kurt asks.
"You," Quinn answers, raising an eyebrow. "And Blaine. You disgustingly cute high school sweethearts. I didn't think people married their first loves anymore."
Kurt waves a hand eloquently.
"Um, thank you," Blaine says. "For taking care of him, even though we're disgusting. And cute."
"You're welcome." Quinn's lips twitch. "Try not to get into any trouble." She pulls the door closed behind her with a quiet click.
It takes no small amount of uncoordinated wriggling on Kurt's part, but Blaine eventually gets Kurt's jeans off and that, he decides, is sufficient. He pulls Kurt against him and falls hard into sleep.
Quinn, who is apparently the best person Blaine's ever met, wakes them up an hour before their brunch is supposed to begin. "Showers! You guys go first. I'll make coffee," she calls through the door. "Do not forget to put on pants, or something. Rachel and I are still here."
Kurt grumbles something unintelligible.
"I heard that, Kurt Hummel!" Her footsteps recede.
Blaine, half sitting up, grins down at Kurt. "What did you say?"
"I'm not sure," Kurt says. "It was more of a mood than a sentence."
"Well, get your mood clean and dressed before my mother and your stepmother get here," Blaine says. "Do you need ibuprofen?"
Kurt presses the heel of his hand to his forehead. "Ugh, yes."
Blaine frowns. "Kurt, is that a hickey on your neck?"
"Brittany showed up an hour after we started," Kurt groans. "She told me I had to get a hickey from someone or it wasn't a real bachelor party."
"So Brittany gave you a hickey?" Blaine asks. He's oddly comfortable with the idea, probably because of Kurt and Brittany's past.
Kurt shakes his head. "No, she just had the idea." He gazes off into their closet for a moment. "It might have been Santana who did it? Or Puck? I'm really not sure."
Blaine can't help grinning. Kurt's personal boundaries must have relaxed under the joint influences of nostalgia and alcohol, and of course Puck and Santana would have seized the moment. "Oh," he groans in sudden realization. "Unless you're going to wear a turtleneck to brunch, everyone's going to see that."
"Please," Kurt scoffs. "It's like you don't even know me. Look at my extensive collection of scarves!"
Blaine gets up. "Still." He holds his hand out to Kurt. "One of us had better get in the shower now, before Quinn comes back."
Kurt wraps himself in his bathrobe while Blaine tugs pajama pants on over his boxers. They step out into the hall together. "Coffee first," Kurt says.
Quinn greets them in the kitchen and presses a spoon to Kurt's hickey.
"Augh, that's cold!" Kurt glares at her. "What are you—"
"The most useful things I learned in college are the ones I learned from my sorority sisters," Quinn says. "A chilled spoon helps take the redness out of a hickey. Keep the back of it pressed to your neck for a few minutes, okay?"
"I have scarves," Kurt mutters darkly.
Quinn sighs. "Whatever. Sit down and drink some coffee. And don't move that spoon! Blaine, get in the shower."
Blaine sees Rachel wave blearily at Kurt from their table and smiles to himself as he goes to do as he's told.
Through some miracle, all four of them are clean, dressed, and caffeinated by the time Blaine's mom and Carole show up at 10. Terrifyingly, they arrive together.
"I drove to Lima yesterday and spent the day with Carole," Blaine's mom tells him. "I forgot what a nice little town it is."
Blaine bites his lip. He doesn't want to bring it up, but his mother catches it.
"Oh," she says awkwardly. "I didn't mean— I know it wasn't the easiest place for Kurt to grow up."
"No," Blaine says. "But. I know you didn't mean it that way." And he does know what she means. Lima looks nice enough when it's insulated by privilege or distance.
Thankfully it's a warm day, which fits with Carole's plans for a picnic brunch. She's brought disposable plates and utensils, and blankets for the lawn outside their apartment. "We'll assembly-line everyone through the kitchen to get food and eat outdoors, assuming everyone can navigate the stairs successfully, rather than cramming them into your living room," she says, winking. "How many people are we feeding today?"
"Uh," Blaine manages, "hang on." He counts in his head. "Twenty people? Twenty-two with me and Kurt, twenty-four with you and my mom."
Carole nods decisively. "Eggs," she says. "And I brought lots of pastries."
"Sounds good," Kurt says, appearing at Blaine's shoulder. "And as long as you keep the coffee coming and have some toast on hand, we should be covered even with the people who have truly epic hangovers this morning."
Blaine's mom pats his shoulder. "Don't worry, we came prepared." From out of her tote bag comes an electric skillet.
Carole's already unpacking several cartons of eggs from her bag. "And yes, Kurt, I have two kinds of bread for toast. And Tylenol, for those who can't face food."
Kurt grins. "Perfect." He takes Blaine's hand and pulls him into the living room, where Quinn and Rachel are slumped together on the couch. "Now we stay out of the way until the ravening hoards descend on us in about an hour."
To Blaine's amazement, everything goes as planned. Their friends show up in waves, mostly showered if unshaven and wearing yesterday's clothes in some cases, and mingle amicably. Wes and Rachel share the couch, Puck falls asleep behind the recliner but wakes up when Finn suddenly flips out the footrest, and Santana, who's mellowed somewhat, smiles as she tells them all that they're a waste of space. Todd and Quinn are talking about something Blaine can't make out, and Cheryl's brought a fruit salad that looks big enough to feed them all singlehandedly, despite Blaine's insistence that she didn't need to bring anything. She, Marie and Nan are not hung over. "The benefit of much experience," Marie tells Kurt.
Carole gets them in order before she goes outside to spread out blankets, and Blaine finds himself loitering on the threshold of the kitchen watching his mother supervise the distribution of food. It could almost be the end of a sleepover from his childhood, were it not for the coffee and the muttered stories about bar exploits from last night.
"I bet this isn't what you pictured when you thought about your only son getting married," Blaine says to his mom. "Not just that I'd have a groom rather than a bride, but that you'd be feeding breakfast to a strange assortment of people after my bachelor party."
"It's true that I didn't dream of hungover twenty-somethings when you were a little baby," his mother says wryly, "but Blaine, all I ever wanted was for you to be happy. It doesn't matter what I pictured. What matters is that it's what you want."
Blaine smiles at her. "I— Thanks." He turns away, collecting himself, and then yells, "Santana! Don't spit in the coffee!"
Santana rolls her eyes. "I wouldn't really. I was just checking to see if you were awake." She crosses the kitchen to them and gives Blaine a smacking kiss on the cheek. "'Cause if I catch you snoozing, I'll give you a hickey to match Kurt's, got it?"
"Got it," Blaine says.
"Mrs. Anderson, the food is wonderful. Thank you," Santana adds. She turns on her heel and sashays through the kitchen and outdoors.
"Not what I pictured," Blaine's mom murmurs. "But if you're happy, I'm happy."
"I am, Mom," Blaine says softly.
"Good," she answers. "Now, before I leave today make sure I write you and Kurt a check. I refuse to have scrambled eggs be my only contribution to your wedding."
Blaine does not ask what his father thinks of this idea. Instead he nods and lets himself enjoy each of the steps he and his mom are making back towards each other.
Blaine's tempted to skip services the next morning – he hasn't missed a Sunday since Kurt was sick in November, so he feels okay about it – but Kurt vetoes the idea.
"Unless you're still hungover," he teases. "But I'm not, so I don't see how you could be."
"I'm not hungover," Blaine protests. "I thought you'd want to go to Lima and have Father's Day with your dad."
Kurt eyes him. "We're doing that after services," Kurt reminds him. "Come on, get up. I'll make pancakes."
Blaine rolls out of bed. "And you'll put the coffee on?"
"Please," Kurt snorts. "I'm getting up early on a Sunday to cook for you. Do you somehow imagine that I won't make coffee?"
"Thanks," Blaine says, grinning. He kisses Kurt's cheek. "I'll be out in a little bit."
He's showered and shaved just as the first pancakes are ready. Blaine's dragging his feet through breakfast, feeling somehow lonely when he thinks about the coming morning. Maybe it's just that the choir won't be performing. Still, even when the choir doesn't sing, its members are there and they find him in the sanctuary, or in the social hall, more often than not.
The feeling of being alone dogs him until David starts speaking about paternity and fathers and Blaine has to face what he's been pushing away all morning: it's Father's Day, and he has no idea what to do, or if he even should do anything. He can't imagine calling his dad, but it feels weird not to.
Phone calls in years past have been more about duty than real connection, he knows, but passing the whole day today without acknowledging his dad feels like another kind of ending, as final as sending his letter in February had felt. It took months for his mom to reach out to him; maybe his dad will still come around, given time and the right circumstances. Blaine resolves to send an email, which seems like the lowest stakes, safest gesture he can make.
It's a short message, when he's done revising and deliberating. He doesn't mention the wedding, doesn't let his frustration or the longing he can't stop feeling for his dad's acceptance show. Instead he sticks to something motivated by agape, wishing his dad happiness and hoping that things are going smoothly for him.
He doesn't have time to talk with Kurt about it that day. They drive to Lima in the afternoon for dinner with Burt and Carole and stay all evening, which fills the time without giving Blaine an obvious opportunity to mention the awkward email he sent that afternoon. Watching Kurt with Burt is bittersweet, but Blaine finds himself thinking that keeping quiet about the email was the right thing to do. He doesn't want to spoil an enjoyable visit.
If Carole offers him extra dessert and Kurt is carefully quiet on their drive home, Blaine doesn't examine too closely what that might mean. He'll talk about it when he's ready.
Two days later, Blaine asks despairingly, "Is it too late to elope?"
Kurt fixes him with a look. "Yes. We are past the cancelation-and-refund points for the reservations on all the chairs and on the caterer, for one thing."
"Is that all that's standing in our way?" Blaine flops onto the couch.
"Honey," Kurt says, crouching in front of him. "Aside from the money, there is the part of this that involves standing up in front of our friends and family and promising our lives to each other. And making them eat the food we picked and dance to the songs we like, without complaining. You know, the parts we've been looking forward to?"
Blaine sighs. "Yeah."
Kurt takes his hands. "What's this really about?"
"I don't know," Blaine says, shrugging. "It's a lot of stuff to worry about. I just want to be married to you."
"You will be," Kurt says softly. "It's only a few more days." His thumbs slide back and forth over Blaine's hands. "If something's making you miserable, we can still change things. Not big things, probably, but little stuff. Come on, something's been eating you since Sunday."
"That's the problem," Blaine admits. "Sunday."
Kurt exhales. "Oh. It was—"
"Father's Day, yeah," Blaine says. "I sent an email to my dad – just generic stuff, really, but I didn't want to skip sending him anything. I've been thinking about what I could have done differently that might have worked better with him."
Kurt doesn't say anything, still rubbing Blaine's hands.
"I didn't expect him to answer, and he didn't, but I hoped a little bit, you know?" Blaine closes his eyes. "And now we're getting married on Saturday, and he's not going to be there or acknowledge it, and I knew that, but. It would have been nice if he'd remembered he had a son on Father's Day." His voice sounds bitter in his own ears. "And I don't— If he can't love me, maybe he doesn't deserve to be there. Maybe I should stop trying. But then I think about that sermon Elizabeth gave, about all the kinds of love, and how we should wish the best for everyone even if we don't like them, and—"
"Blaine," Kurt breaks in. "You know the thing about trying to love everyone? You have to love yourself, too." He frowns. "I can't make your dad understand you, or accept you. I wish I could. I wish I could make him want to be there for us on Saturday. But I can't."
"I know," Blaine whispers. He's heartsick, not sure if he wants to cry or break something or curl into Kurt's arms forever. There's nothing either of them can do to change his father. He gets a flash of Di, asking him to forgive his muscles for a headache, and wonders if he can forgive his heart, for continuing to yearn for his father's acceptance and for wanting to close that door.
"I love you," Kurt says quietly. "And I want you to know that I love you and that I'm proud of you. I know this is hard. You have made a tremendous effort – more than I would have done – and now I think you should be gentle with yourself. You did everything reasonable. You did." He has tears in his eyes now.
"Oh, Kurt." Blaine pulls him into a hug. "Thanks," he says. "I love you too. It'll— I'll be okay, somehow. I think sometimes I might forget how much I have and get lost wanting what's not possible. But when I forget how good my life is – you have to know that looking at you makes me remember. You're the best thing that ever happened to me."
Kurt's arms tighten around Blaine. "Sweetheart, I know just what you mean. I don't know how I got lucky enough to stop you on that staircase, but I'm glad every day that I did." He pulls back just enough to see Blaine's face. "And I'm marrying you," he adds. "I'm sorry it won't be perfect, but—"
"But it'll be us," Blaine finishes. "That's enough for me."
On Thursday, Blaine's mom calls to say that she and Aunt Judy are leaving Cleveland and should be in Columbus that afternoon. She sounds congested and tired; Blaine worries she has a cold.
"No, I'm fine," she says. "Don't worry about me."
"Okay," Blaine answers, but he's already thinking about whether they have enough tissues on hand and the kind of tea she likes. Burt and Carole are already on their way from Lima. There's just time to run to the store before they all go out for lunch together.
Kurt smirks when Blaine asks about tissues. "Did you forget that we're getting married this weekend? I have laid in tissues for the apocalypse. And waterproof mascara, for those of our nearest and dearest who will probably be wearing make-up and crying."
"Maybe that's all it is," Blaine says. "Maybe she's just getting teary over the wedding already." He doesn't think that's it, but it was hard to tell over the phone.
He worries his way through lunch and lets Carole distract him with questions about possible student teaching positions for next year while Burt's out in the parking lot with Kurt. Burt always inspects their car when he visits, and Kurt stands behind him muttering about his maintenance ability and preening under his father's praise when the car meets with Burt's standards.
Finally Aunt Judy pulls into the parking lot; Kurt texts Blaine to let him know that she's found an open space near their assigned spot. When Blaine comes around the corner, he finds Aunt Judy standing outside the car. His mother's inside, on her cell phone.
"What's going on?" Blaine asks, concerned. "Is something wrong?"
"Darlin'," Aunt Judy sighs, "I don't think you want to ask that right now. She's on the phone with your dad and— It's none of my business, really, which is why I'm outside the car. I don't think it's any of your business, either."
Blaine frowns. "It's about me, though, isn't it? They're fighting about me, about Mom coming here for the wedding. I bet they fought last weekend, too, and that's why she spent the day with Carole before coming here to make brunch." He feels sick.
"Do not make this your fault," Aunt Judy says. "Your father is making things difficult, yes, and it's not your problem to solve. You took a stand, Blaine, and that's all you can do."
"But—" he starts.
Aunt Judy takes his hands. "No. Now come on, I want to see Burt and Carole. Let's give your mother privacy to finish her conversation."
When Blaine's mother joins them, ten minutes later, she has a determined expression on her face and what looks like fresh mascara. She kisses Kurt's cheek, hugs Carole and Burt, and when she gets to Blaine she whispers fiercely in his ear, "I'm so glad to be here, Blaine. There's nowhere else I'd rather be."
The knot in Blaine's chest eases a bit. "Thanks, Mom," he answers. "I'm glad you're here."
Saturday afternoon, Blaine's in an upstairs room of the park's little rental "house" by himself, fussing with his tie, when there's a tap at the door. "Come in," he calls.
Rachel slips in. "Hi. Mercedes is checking on Kurt, and I thought I'd come see how you're doing."
"Fine," Blaine says, shrugging. "Nervous, but fine."
"It's a big deal." Rachel nods. "Can I tell you something?"
Blaine takes a seat on the couch. She comes to sit next to him and waits for his answer; he can't resist hearing what she'll have to say. Even when Rachel's misread a situation, there's an earnestness to her that Blaine can connect to. "Yeah, Rachel, sure."
"I was at a wedding with my dads, a few years ago. When I was still dating Finn, you know? And after, at the reception, we talked about marriage and what it takes. I don't know a lot about successful, healthy relationships, Blaine, but my dads do, so I thought I'd give you their advice." Rachel folds her hands in her lap, then lifts them again to gesture while she talks. "Part of being Jewish is the idea that what you do is more important than what you believe. I mean, ideally you believe in God and follow God's rules because you believe ... but if you don't, you can still follow the rules and be a good person. Saying you believe but not behaving the way you're supposed to isn't enough."
"Okay," Blaine says slowly.
Rachel laughs. "I bet you're wondering where I'm going with this. My dads say that's what marriage is like: it matters what you do, how you treat your spouse and whether you do your share of the chores and how well you listen. You can walk around saying you love someone, but if you don't act out that love it doesn't matter what you say." She looks away sadly, addressing the chair in the corner. "That's where Finn and I were never going to work out. We couldn't get past ourselves to actually love each other, and we thought saying it was enough."
Blaine lays a hand on Rachel's shoulder.
She turns back to him. "You and Kurt already know how to love each other, I think. How to really do it. You don't need me to tell you that. But I wanted to remind you, and to tell you the rest of what my dads said. They said that the rest of your life is a long time, and people fall in and out of love, but that you can make it work through the hard parts. The general 'you,' that is. They weren't talking about you and Kurt specifically."
"I know," Blaine tells her. He smiles. "I think I get it. They mean that there are times when you wonder if you're still in love with someone, and when that happens you can keep doing all the things you did when you knew you were in love with them, and that'll carry you through."
"Yes!" Rachel beams. "You understand. I know not everyone stays together forever, and a lot of people probably aren't meant to be together all their lives, but you and Kurt aren't those people. You've been through so much already. You give hope to the rest of us, you know."
Blaine laughs. "No pressure, though, right?"
Swatting him on the shoulder, Rachel says, "That's not what I mean. I just want you to have every chance."
"Thanks. I appreciate it." Blaine does. He's touched by Rachel's offering, the wisdom of her dads' long marriage that she wants to give to them. "How come you're telling me this and not Kurt?"
"Oh, Kurt already knows." She sighs. "I called him when Finn and I broke up for the last time, remember? And I poured the whole thing out to him over the phone, and then again when he took me to that wine bar to drown my sorrows. I, um, kind of tried to make him promise to be with you forever."
Blaine raises an eyebrow. "You tried to make him promise?"
"Yeah. He told me that there was only one person he was going to make that kind of promise to, and it wasn't me." Rachel leans over and puts her head on Blaine's shoulder. "I'm glad he's making you that promise now."
"Rachel," Blaine says. "He makes me that promise every day." He tilts his head until his temple's resting on her hair. "Not always in words, but he does. And I promise it back, every day."
"Good," Rachel says. "That's what you deserve."
Blaine checks his watch. "And now you have to go, so I can get through the photographer's exhaustive list of pictures before the ceremony. If I'm late to my own wedding, I'm blaming you."
"Okay, I'm going," she says. Rachel stands and pulls Blaine to his feet, then kisses his cheek. "Break a leg."
"I don't think it works like that for a wedding," Blaine tells her. "But yes. Thank you."
Blaine's mom comes to find him after the pictures are done. "Is it time to go already?" he asks.
"Not yet," she says. "But I wanted to talk to you before we go out there."
"Sure." Blaine sits down on the couch.
His mother joins him and takes his hand. "Sweetheart, I don't know what's going to happen with your father. I wanted you to know, though, that I think he ought to be here and I told him so in no uncertain terms."
"Mom, I—" He doesn't know what to say to that, though.
"I don't want you to worry about this, Blaine, I really don't. I just need you to know that your father's behavior is not okay with me," she finishes fiercely.
Blaine blinks at her, torn between wishing she'd come to this point sooner and gratitude that she's here now. "Thank you," he finally says. "I know you can't make him understand my life, or see how happy I am. It means a lot to me that you're here, now, and sometimes I think that maybe someday he'll come around. Maybe when Kurt and I have kids, you know?" He swallows hard. "It's—"
"It's not right. But this is how it is today, and I am so proud of you," Blaine's mom says. "You have a wonderful community waiting to see you get married. You did that; you made this life for yourself, and it's lovely."
"Yeah, it is," Blaine answers. He leans in toward his mother, and she puts her arms around him.
"Que sera sera," she whispers. "One way or another, I know you'll have a good future."
Blaine smiles. He gives himself a moment to feel sad about his dad's absence before putting it aside and wrapping himself in the love his mother is offering. It's his wedding day, and he chooses to be grateful for all he has.
They marry in the afternoon, outdoors in a city park, the phalanxes of white folding chairs covering the gentle slope of the hill that leads to the gazebo where they've set up their microphone and flowers. The weather is perfect, warm without being sticky-hot, and Rachel only gets her heels stuck in the grass once. Kurt had worried for a week over that, watching the weather report anxiously and predicting mud as though it would ruin everything.
Blaine goes first up the aisle, his mother on his arm. Peter Mayer's "Now Touch the Air Softly" plays over their sound system, the lyrics grounding Blaine with the instruction, "Now touch the air softly, step gently. One two..." When they reach the front his mother kisses his cheek and whispers, "I love you, Blaine," in his ear before she steps away to sit next to Aunt Judy. Finn and Rachel are already standing on Kurt's side of the gazebo; Rachel gives Blaine a carefully obvious wink. Finn flashes a thumbs up without even trying to be subtle.
Looking over his shoulder, Blaine sees David and Thad in their places. It had felt right to have a small wedding party of the people who knew them when they met. Thad looks like he might explode, he's so excited, and David puts a steadying hand on Blaine's shoulder.
Just to Blaine's right is Wes, glasses perched on the end of his nose. He has a leather folder held solemnly in front of him, the text of their wedding ceremony and the marriage license papers tucked inside along with his online certificate of ordination. For all that David and Elizabeth are ministers they know, it had seemed like too much to ask of Kurt for one of them to perform the ceremony. They'd already asked Wes to take on a reception duty, but he'd been the perfect compromise as an officiant and he'd agreed readily.
Blaine looks down at his feet for a moment, almost unable to believe he's here, now, getting married. "I'll love you till windows are all of a room," the song promises, "And the table is laid, and the table is bare, and the ceiling reposes on bottomless air." Building a roof that floats over open air is the least of the impossible things Blaine would do for Kurt.
He shifts his gaze back to the seats in front of him. In the second row are their friends who'd ushered, Mercedes, Tina, Todd and Mike. Somewhere behind them, Blaine knows, are almost all of New Directions, a fair number of Warblers, Kurt's costume shop team and a handful of people from Blaine's program, a scattering of their New York friends, and, somehow, the entirety of the church choir. They'd never imagined that all thirty-eight of the choir's current members would show up, some with spouses and children in tow, but they had.
Peter Mayer sings, "I'll love you till Heaven rips the stars from his coat, And the Moon rows away in a glass-bottomed boat," as Blaine looks out over the people gathered. It reminds him of singing with Kurt at the Earth Day service. And then he sees Kurt, arm-in-arm with Burt, making his way up the aisle. In a dreadful cliché that Kurt will tease him about later, Blaine finds himself holding out his hands to Kurt when they're within ten feet. Kurt laughs, smiling so widely that Blaine's cheeks ache in sympathy. Burt whispers something in his ear that makes him shake his head, still laughing. Kurt and Burt hug, and Burt offers Blaine a nod and a proud smile, then takes his seat with Carole.
Kurt's hands are warm in Blaine's, his gaze steady on Blaine's face. "Ready?" he whispers.
"Yes," Blaine murmurs back. They turn together to face Wes, who adjusts his glasses and reaches for the microphone attached to their small sound system.
"Friends and family of Kurt Hummel and Blaine Anderson," he begins. "Welcome. You are here today to witness the union of Kurt and Blaine, and to pledge your support as their community. Although a marriage is a private commitment between partners, they and their relationship do not exist in a vacuum. You are some of the ones they will call on in years to come, to ask advice and to share their joys. For this reason, they have invited you here to be a part of the foundation of their marriage. Before we continue, I would like to ask this of you: Do you promise to support Kurt and Blaine with your love and your wisdom, helping them to nurture their relationship? Please respond, 'We do.'"
Their guests chorus back, "We do," in such a wave that Blaine feels himself tear up. Kurt looks similarly touched. Wes lets them have a brief moment before he continues. "Tina Cohen-Chang will now share our first reading, Pablo Neruda's Sonnet XVII. Tina?"
Tina steps up to the microphone. She clears her throat.
"I don't love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don't know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams."
She folds the paper in her hands and retakes her seat, smiling at them.
Wes moves back to the microphone and says, "Kurt, Blaine, I have known you both for years, and what's more I have sung with you both. I know you to be dedicated workers, talented musicians, caring friends, and passionate champions of the people and causes you care about. I think I speak for all of us who were there at the beginning when I say how happy I am to be here now and see you marrying each other." Wes pauses while a wave of chuckles runs through the crowd. He pulls a note card from his stack and passes it to Kurt, then hands a second to Blaine. "You have prepared vows for each other; I invite you to read them now. Kurt?"
Kurt clears his throat. "Blaine, from the moment we met, I knew you were something special." He locks eyes with Blaine for what feels like forever; Blaine knows Kurt's enjoying the intense focus of their friends and family and of Blaine himself. "In a time when I was very alone you took my hand and dragged me, quite literally, into the possibility of a different, happier life." He grins at Blaine, eyes shining. "From that foundation we've seen each other through trials: high school, and college, and a move back to Ohio that I swore I'd never make. I wouldn't have done it with anyone else. For everything that is to come, wherever life takes us, there's no one else I want by my side.
"I promise to listen, eventually if not immediately, to share my baking and keep our kitchen stocked with the tea you like, to trust you with all the parts of myself and to honor your trust. I plan to be your husband for the rest of our lives." Kurt blinks hard. "I love you," he finishes.
Blaine has to wipe at his eyes before he can read his vows. He takes a deep breath. "Kurt, having you in my life has given me the courage to do so many things that I wouldn't have dreamed were possible before. I can only hope I've managed to give you even a fraction of that strength. You are my heart, my home, and my guiding star. We've done some big things together already, and I'm looking forward to all the rest.
"I'll do my best to be there for you, even when we're stressed and sleep-deprived and way too busy. I'll try new things with you, raise kids with you, chase dreams with you, and grow old with you. Above all, I promise to love you and to cherish you for the rest of our lives." Blaine passes the note card back to Wes without looking at him, unable to take his eyes off Kurt. "I love you so much," he adds. "I didn't need to write that part down to remember it."
Kurt lets out a chuckle. He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly as he raises his eyebrows at Blaine, asking silently if they're ready to go on. Blaine gives him a tiny nod, smiling broadly, and turns to Wes.
"For our second reading, Michael Chang will read William Butler Yeats' 'He Wishes for the Clothes of Heaven.'" Wes gestures to the microphone as Mike stands.
"Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."
Mike pauses to make eye contact with Kurt and then with Blaine before taking his seat again, giving each of them a smile and a tiny nod.
Wes says, "We have witnessed the vows Kurt and Blaine have made. As they have exchanged promises, so they have exchanged dreams and hopes and plans. Now they will exchange rings, which we acknowledge as tangible symbols of all they have pledged." He turns to Rachel. "Do you have the ring?"
For a moment, Finn seems to think Wes is talking to him. His eyes widen in panic and Blaine finds himself stifling a giggle. Rachel elbows Finn discreetly before she pulls a long ribbon, a ring dangling from it, over her head and off. She passes it to Wes, who unties the knot.
He gives the ring to Kurt. "Repeat after me," Wes says, pausing after each segment he reads as Kurt repeats. "I, Kurt, take you, Blaine, to be my husband. To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish as long as we both shall live."
Kurt takes Blaine's left hand and holds it, shaking ever so slightly. He looks to Wes, who reads, "I give you this ring as a symbol of my love."
"I give you this ring as a symbol of my love," Kurt says, and slides the ring onto Blaine's finger. It's warm from having been clenched in Kurt's fist while he spoke his vows. They'd wanted a set of shared vows, to complement the ones they'd written, and the traditional ones Wes chose are perfect.
Wes turns to David. "Do you have the ring?"
David passes it to Wes, who presents it to Blaine, and Blaine recites his own vows. His hands shake in turn when he slides Kurt's ring onto his finger.
"By the power vested in me by the internet, I now pronounce you husband and husband," Wes declares. "You may kiss!"
The laugh that started when Wes mentioned his internet ordination crests into cheers and catcalls as Kurt steps forward and wraps himself around Blaine, nudging him slightly until Blaine takes the hint and lets himself fall backward into a dip. This isn't what they practiced, but he knows better than to fight Kurt's sense of theatricality. When they come up and face their guests, Blaine sees Carole blotting her mascara. Just before he and Kurt start down the aisle, hand-in-hand, Blaine looks to the side and catches his mother with a tissue under her eye, crying happy tears as well.
Wes starts the recording they'd picked for exit music – Blaine playing the Méditation from Thaïs – and the floating violin accompanies them on their walk out. They'd had no lack of volunteer musicians from among their friends and family, and rather than be forced to choose only one or two to sing Kurt had suggested that they bypass the issue by doing it themselves. Blaine's glad that they did; listening to the recording brings back the feeling of playing for Kurt in their living room, and there's something intimate in mixing that memory with the end of their wedding ceremony.
They're almost past all the chairs when Kurt says, "I'll race you to the car. I'm starving and I want to get to the reception site fast."
"We don't have any pictures to do before we go?" Blaine asks.
Kurt quirks an eyebrow. "What do you think the millions and millions of pictures we took before the ceremony were for?"
Blaine grins. "I married a smart, smart man."
"You did," Kurt says. "Smart enough to marry you." He takes off running toward their car, Blaine's hand still tight in his, and Blaine dashes happily along with him.
Through Kurt's determination and some luck with left turns, they beat everyone to the reception site and Blaine watches, amused, while Kurt coaxes the catering staff into giving them an early meal.
"This is why I vetoed the receiving line, remember? No one ever eats a proper meal on their wedding day," Kurt explains, lifting a forkful of rice pilaf. "And I was not willing to miss out on this excellent food we chose."
"Plus you were too nervous to eat lunch," Blaine teases.
Kurt scoffs. "I wasn't nervous! I had a large breakfast, that's all."
"Uh huh." Blaine looks up at the sound of voices from the main room. "We better get out there," he says.
"Two more bites," Kurt answers. He shovels a tremendous pile of food onto the fork and eats it. Blaine marvels at him before doing the same.
True to Kurt's prediction, they're kept busy circulating among their guests to the point that they nearly miss their wedding dinner. Blaine thinks they might get a chance to eat more during the toasts, but when the time comes he's too riveted by what Burt's saying.
Burt stands and shifts awkwardly, searching for the right words. He has a scrap of paper in his hand with what look like bullet points on it, but not a written-out speech. "You know, I expected to stand up at my son's wedding some day and feel some relief that he'd found a partner to go through life with, and maybe a little sadness that I was gonna be the second phone call for the rest of his life. But if I'm honest, I have to say that both those things – the relief and my place in the phone list – have been true for a while now." Burt clears his throat.
"Almost from the day they met, Blaine's been Kurt's first call, his port in a storm, and although I didn't always like how they did it, I have seen them look out for each other in every way possible. So do I feel relieved today? Yeah, I do. And sad?" He looks at Kurt, then at Blaine for long moments. "No. Maybe it's because I had so long to get used to the idea. Mostly I think it's because this morning when I got up and walked into the kitchen, I found my son whipping eggs for omelets and singing, 'I'm getting married today!'" Burt waits while a ripple of laughter runs through the room. Kurt makes a show of scowling, but it's clear he's not mad.
Burt continues, "I have seen Kurt happy, sad, angry and everything in between, but I don't think I've ever seen him lit up with joy like he was this morning. Like he is right now." He lifts his glass. "To Kurt and Blaine. May you always be so happy."
Kurt wipes at his eyes as he clinks glasses with Blaine. After they drink, he stands and embraces Burt, who's just come back to the head table. "I love you, Dad," Kurt says.
Blaine blinks rapidly and stands too, hugging Burt. "Thank you," he says softly.
"I never thought I'd get lucky enough for Kurt to find someone like you," Burt tells him. "I love you, kid."
David takes the microphone next, joined by Wes and Thad. "As the Warbler Council under which Blaine and Kurt met, and the council who permitted Kurt to sing 'Blackbird' and thus cause Blaine's revelation, we'd like to take a little credit for this marriage," David begins. Blaine rolls his eyes at this. Beside him, Kurt huffs and folds his arms, playing to the crowd again.
"But only a little credit," Thad adds. "Because the real credit for a relationship goes to the people in it, and Blaine and Kurt are an example to us all. I think everyone here has seen how they take care of each other, how they push each other to be better people, how they compromise and how they love each other."
"We were disappointed to realize that there wouldn't be time to put together a serenade for you two." Wes sighs dramatically. "But some conspirators came forward and asked that we introduce their serenade instead. So Blaine, Kurt, from a part of your musical past and a part of your musical present, we'd like to give you this song. And thank you," he adds, "to Lynn for letting a bunch of new voices jump in with just this morning's rehearsal."
Blaine takes Kurt's hand under the table, holding it tightly until Kurt whispers, "Okay, ow, can you hold my hand just a little more gently?" In front of them on the dance floor, the church choir forms up and makes spaces for Warblers, New Directions alumni, and a few people from Blaine's program. Roberto sits down at the baby grand piano in the corner and looks to Lynn.
Lynn clears her throat and gestures at the choir to bring their music up. They're holding single sheets of paper, probably photocopies, rather than folders or hymnals, and dressed in a wide assortment of colors, but the way they form up around Lynn makes them look like a unified group. "This one's from the silver book, Blaine, in case you want to look it up later," Lynn says. "It's called 'Surprised by Joy.'"
She starts the group into a song Blaine doesn't know. "Surprised by joy no song can tell, no thought can compass, here we stand to celebrate eternal love, to reach for one another's hand," they sing. The melody is simple and lilting, and the addition of their friends' voices brings a balance to the choir that Blaine hasn't been able to attain on a regular basis. It makes him think briefly about strategies for recruiting more deep voices before he remembers that he's at his wedding reception and puts the thought aside.
"Beyond all other gifts is this, best gift, alone to mortals giv'n; the love of parent, lover, friend attunes our hearts to bliss of heav'n." Blaine looks sideways to Kurt, who smiles at him and shrugs minutely. When Blaine raises an eyebrow, Kurt shakes his head and looks back to the choir, who are singing the last verse. "Faith, hope, and love here come alive; life's deepest treasure is made known when in forgiving, giving all, insep'rably, two are as one," the song concludes.
Blaine sniffles, overwhelmed, and squeezes Kurt's hand again. "Thank you," he manages to say to the singers. He can see some of the choir wiping surreptitiously at their eyes, and he hopes they know he's thanking them for that, too.
"Yes," Kurt echoes. "Thank you. That was beautiful." He claps, which starts the rest of their wedding guests applauding, and they send the choir and their glee club friends back to their seats with appreciation ringing in the room.
Finn takes the microphone when everyone's settled again. "I don't have too much to say that we didn't just sing," he says. "Mostly I wanted to say that I've learned a lot from you guys about what makes a good relationship. Not just how you are with each other – which is great – but how to be family. Kurt, you're my brother in every way that counts, man. And Blaine, I know we had some rough times in high school, but I hope you know that over the past few years you've become a brother to me, too. This makes it official, though, so I just wanna say: welcome to the family." He puts the microphone back and circles around to the head table to hug Blaine, and then Kurt.
"I'm glad you're my brother," Blaine says to Finn.
"Me too." Finn grins at him. "Now, is it time for cake?"
Blaine laughs. "Yes, I think it is."
Blaine almost gets a fit of the giggles when Santana takes her place at the DJ's table. He hopes she's taken the job of planning their reception music seriously. It's hard to tell, with her.
Santana gives them a look, somehow warm even without smiling, and Kurt pulls Blaine out from behind their table onto the dance floor. "People, listen up!" she calls.
Kurt rolls his eyes discreetly.
"I know," Blaine soothes. "But almost everyone here knows her."
Santana's giving them a dirty look. "If they're done whispering and being disgustingly happy together, it's time for these guys to dance for us." She looks down at a note card and reads, "I'd like to present to you, for their first and second dances as a married couple, Kurt Hummel and Blaine Anderson." Behind Santana, Brittany beams at them and flashes a thumbs up. The music starts, playing the song Blaine's chosen for their first dance, The Weepies singing "Somebody Loved."
They each have a hand on the other's shoulder, free arms raised in the loosest kind of slow dance frame. Blaine steps closer and lifts his chin a tiny bit over Kurt's shoulder, so they're dancing literally cheek to cheek. It's no kind of proper dance, just a relaxed sway that has them describing slow arcs on the dance floor.
Blaine steers them around, trying to put on a dance worth watching. He thinks about spinning Kurt, or maybe dipping him, but there's never a right moment. Instead he presses his mouth closer to Kurt's ear and sings the last lines of the song. "You turn me into somebody loved," he whispers as they come to a halt in the center of the dance floor.
Kurt smiles, soft and private, and lifts a hand to Blaine's face. "You do that to me, too," he answers. Someone out in the room clinks their wine glass, and soon the whole room's doing it. "We'd better kiss before we start getting charged for broken stemware."
They kiss, Kurt starting to pull back after a peck on the lips, and Blaine lifts a hand to press Kurt's cheek and keep him close. "More," he murmurs. Kurt leans back in and lets his lips fall open, his tongue teasing at Blaine's mouth. When they step apart, there are whistles from their friends.
Santana clears her throat. "Break it up, break it up! It's time for your second dance," she says. Kurt's chosen song begins, Ingrid Michaelson singing "The Way I Am."
Kurt starts his hips swinging, a slow West Coast tempo taking over. Blaine's generally okay but not great when swing dancing. Thankfully, something different happens when Kurt leads and Blaine turns off his brain, managing to follow moves he can't do deliberately. He'd tried to explain it once, the way his body goes where Kurt wants it once he stops trying to anticipate, but the conversation had turned quickly into dirty jokes from their friends. They'd been out in a coffee shop in New York, unwilling to disperse yet after dance class, and he'd dropped the subject. Later as they'd walked up their stairs, Kurt had said, "I'm glad you follow where I lead."
As Blaine spins under Kurt's guidance, twirling out and back in, he thinks he'd still follow Kurt anywhere. He always will.
They step off the floor to applause from their guests. Kurt's flushed and looking pleased. Blaine can hear Santana declaring the dance floor open, and he knows they'll dance more later, but for now they're going to hold court from their seats and maybe get themselves another piece of cake.
"Hey guys," Mike says as he walks up to them at the head table. "You looked good out there."
Blaine laughs. "That's Kurt's doing. Six quarters of ballroom dance and we can't help but look good."
"Classes don't dance for you," Mike points out. "Anyway, I wanted to come say congratulations and catch up a little. I'm sorry I couldn't make it out for your bachelor parties. But at least I didn't have to choose which to attend!"
"We had a surprisingly even split, although it did break down along show choir lines," Kurt says. "Blaine got mostly Warblers, and I got mostly New Directions."
Mike grins. "I just wish I could have been there. Don't get me wrong, I love my job, but it's hard doing two matinees and an evening show most weekends. I almost didn't get this weekend off. I had to put my foot down."
Rachel slips up behind him. "Don't worry, Kurt's bachelor party is safely recorded and ready for upload to my YouTube channel."
"Rachel!" Kurt looks shocked. "You didn't tell me you were recording! Or planning to make it available to the world."
"Yes I did," Rachel says smugly. "I just waited strategically until after your third drink. You agreed to everything, Kurt, don't you remember? I have witnesses."
Kurt splutters. Blaine hides a smile behind his hand. He's pretty sure he knows how this is going to end.
Rachel pulls out the chair beside Kurt. "But," she sighs dramatically, "despite your amenability to the prospect, I have decided against putting the videos on my public channel after all. I can't have your screen presence taking away from my star power. If I don't hold on to every edge I've got, you'll eclipse me when you come back to New York."
Blaine throws his head back and laughs. "Rachel, never change," he manages.
"Oh, don't worry," she says. "I'll only improve with time."
"I am surrounded by crazy people," Kurt declares. "I'm going to find Tina and dance with her."
Blaine watches him go, then turns to find Rachel and Mike grinning at him. "What?"
Mike lifts an eyebrow. "Sometimes I forget just how bad you've got it for him," he says.
"But don't worry, that's how it should be." Rachel nods. "It's just right, especially on your wedding day."
"Now," Mike says, "which one of us do you want to dance with first?"
Standing up, Blaine starts walking toward the dance floor. "Whichever one of you can catch me," he calls over his shoulder. Behind him he hears Rachel say, "Oh, it's on."
It's getting dark outside the windows of the reception hall when Blaine drops into a chair next to Aunt Judy.
"Good party, darlin'," she says.
"Thanks." He smiles at her. Out on the dance floor Kurt is doing some kind of shimmying dance with his Uncle Andy, who's laughing and gamely trying to mirror Kurt, and across from them Carole is taking what's probably her eight hundredth picture of the evening. More than half their guests are still here, although most are clustered in conversational knots around the edges of the room.
Aunt Judy touches Blaine's shoulder, drawing his attention. "You two should take off whenever you're ready, you know. Your mom and I will help Burt and Carole close things down."
Blaine nods, tired but happy. "And you've got a key—"
"Yes, and I will organize whoever is handy to ferry your wedding booty back to your apartment for later," Aunt Judy confirms.
"Please never say 'wedding booty' again," Blaine says plaintively.
Aunt Judy shakes her head. "I make no promises."
Blaine sighs. "I guess there's a cost to everything, including present transport."
"What's the cost?" Kurt asks, joining them. Past him Blaine can see that Rachel's commandeered Uncle Andy for dancing; it might be worth staying later to watch what results.
"Don't ask," Blaine says. "Just be grateful you missed it and that Aunt Judy is going to coordinate a present brigade for us."
"I take it you're ready to go, then?" Kurt holds out a hand to Blaine and pulls him to his feet.
Leaning into Kurt's side, Blaine yawns. "Yeah. It's been a great day, mostly, but now I'm tired. And there's a nice hotel bed waiting for us."
"And that is all I need to hear about your plans for the night," Aunt Judy breaks in. "I am officially sending you off to enjoy being married."
Kurt beckons her over so he can kiss her cheek. "Okay. We'll make our final rounds and be off. I leave this party in your capable hands."
"Good," Aunt Judy says. "You can count on me."
"Oh my God, Blaine," Kurt says, falling backward onto the bed. "I feel like such a disappointment, especially to my 18-year-old self, but: I'm too tired to have sex. Wedding night sex!"
Blaine sits down heavily next to him. "You have no idea how relieved I am to hear you say that." He lies down next to Kurt, their arms overlapping.
"I can't even bring myself to care about wrinkling our suits," Kurt continues in a tone of wonder. "I don't think I've ever been this exhausted."
"Oh yes, you have," Blaine says. He turns his head to look at Kurt. "Finals week, end of junior year."
Kurt considers this. "Okay, yes. Point to you."
Blaine tugs at his sleeve. "Come on, we just need to get up long enough to undress. You'll regret it if we don't."
Sighing, Kurt stands reluctantly. He sheds his suit and passes each piece to Blaine.
It's completely normal to be hanging their jackets over the back of a chair, but also strange: it's a chair in a nice hotel room, these are their wedding jackets, and they're married now. Blaine holds up his left hand and looks at the new ring there, the shiny white gold different from the slightly tarnished silver of his engagement ring. He's glad they got new rings for the ceremony, glad to have this piece of hard evidence that something is different.
"Did you look at the inside?" Kurt asks. He's standing there in pajama pants, watching Blaine.
"The inside?" Blaine frowns. "You had them engraved?"
Kurt smiles. "I did." He pulls off his ring and holds out it out. Blaine squints, peering at the inside. Blaine and Kurt, June 24, 2017
Blaine's ring, when he looks, says Kurt and Blaine, June 24, 2017 "No message?"
"I thought we should choose a message together," Kurt says. "I have some ideas, but there wasn't time to discuss them and get the engraving done before the ceremony."
"Maybe we can add a message for our anniversary." Blaine slides his ring back on, enjoying how comfortable it feels. He watches Kurt put his back on as well. "Or maybe for our tenth anniversary, actually."
Kurt yawns widely. "Maybe. For now, how about we get some sleep?"
Nodding, Blaine turns out the light. He crawls into bed behind Kurt and spoons up against him, one hand on Kurt's shoulder. The mattress feels incredible, the pillows are amazing, and cuddling with Kurt is still Blaine's favorite part of going to bed. "Good night, husband."
He doesn't need to see Kurt's face to know that there's a warm, satisfied smile there as Kurt repeats his words. "Good night, husband."
Blaine presses a kiss into Kurt's hair, and Kurt turns his head to kiss Blaine's hand in return. They're married.
They check out of the hotel and go home to their apartment – Kurt had insisted on twenty-four hours between getting married and getting on a plane, which gives them the afternoon to unwind and make sure they have what they need for their honeymoon. They're greeted by their wedding gifts, dropped off by Aunt Judy's team of helpers.
The stack of presents in their living room is pretty much what they expected: small-to-medium stuff, what their friends can afford on their recent-grad incomes, mixed with bigger ticket items from a few family members. Someone coordinated the choir to buy up all the baking-related items on their registries. Kurt suspects Marie because she and Nan gave them a cake decorating set. He's giving the frosting bags a bemused look.
Blaine interrupts him. "Kurt c'mere. I want to open this big one."
"Then open it," Kurt says, waving a hand.
"But it's addressed to both of us in what I'm pretty sure is my mom's handwriting," Blaine says, oddly reluctant to just tear off the paper.
Kurt stands and comes over to the large box. "That's not unexpected, since she did throw us a brunch, but it's awfully big—" He breaks off.
"What? What do you think it is?" Blaine looks from Kurt to the box. "You don't think—"
"I think your mother bought us a stand mixer," Kurt says. "Without even knowing why we registered for one. Maybe someone told her about my kitchen exploits, or maybe she wanted to get us something expensive. Either way, that's—"
"—a long way from where we were at Christmas," Blaine finishes. "Yeah."
They sit there together, staring at the present, until Kurt finally says, "I'm opening it."
It is the stand mixer. Blaine can't say anything. He blinks rapidly, not sure if he wants to cry or not.
"Blaine," Kurt says softly. "Look at this card." He's holding out a standard wedding card, one printed with general wishes for happiness, the kind they've opened dozens of today. But underneath the text, in his mother's graceful handwriting, it says, "To my son and son-in-law, A gift to make your lives sweeter and easier, more ambitious and more savory. I'll have the book of family recipes ready by the time you're home from your honeymoon. Love, Mom (Isabel)"
Blaine takes a hitching breath and leans hard against Kurt. He's relieved to see that Kurt's crying, too, both of them bowled over by this.
Their flight's not until evening, thank goodness. Blaine turns his face into Kurt's shoulder, taking a few more moments to feel too much before they get up and finish organizing their gifts, before they need to finish packing.
It's a cliché, honeymooning in Hawai'i, but not one Blaine regrets. When Burt had insisted that he and Carole would cover most of the wedding costs, he'd included a caveat that Blaine and Kurt spend their saved money on a real honeymoon. "Hawai'i," he'd said. "I like the idea of you two relaxing on a beach somewhere." Kurt had agreed readily.
They fly overnight to LA, blearily wander to their gate for their flight to Honolulu, and pass out once they're on board. Kurt eats the in-flight breakfast without complaining because he's not fully awake, and Blaine smiles and snaps a surreptitious picture on his phone to mock Kurt with later.
They have four hours in the Honolulu airport, so finding a Starbucks becomes a priority before they settle in to wait for their inter-island flight to Kauai. Kurt finishes his coffee quickly and starts stealing pieces of Blaine's muffin. The caffeine has them both properly alert and appreciative of the views of the archipelago, although their iPhones fail miserably at capturing the ocean through the thick, smudged windows of the plane.
It's busy at the car rental agency, but not nearly as busy as Blaine had worried it would be. They're on their way up the coastal highway to their bed and breakfast soon enough, Blaine driving and Kurt making disbelieving noises at the sheer number of chickens roaming the shoulders of the road. After a while, Blaine looks at the position of the sun, starting to go down behind the mountain to their left, and says, "Hey, Kurt, do you think we're pointed the wrong way? Weren't we supposed to go south from the airport?"
"Huh?" Kurt says, distracted. "Blaine, pull over."
Blaine sees the turnout ahead just in time to slow down and ease the car off the road and into a parking space.
He's expecting Kurt to pull up directions on his phone, or maybe to produce a map from somewhere, but instead Kurt jumps out of the car altogether and dashes to the low wall separating the pavement from the cliff that drops off to the sea. "Look," Kurt says.
Squinting, Blaine follows his gaze down into the ocean. He can see something bobbing in the waves. "I can't— What is that?"
Kurt keeps his eyes focused on the whatever-it-is. "Can you get the binoculars?"
"Sure." Blaine pops the trunk and digs them out of the suitcase, passing them to Kurt's outstretched hand as quickly as he can.
"Oh," Kurt sighs. "It is. It's a sea turtle. Quick, look through these, you can see her head."
Blaine takes the binoculars and focuses them until he sees the turtle floating at the surface of the water. He has no idea how Kurt managed to spot her from a moving car, but he's glad Kurt did. She stays there for another minute before diving. "That was cool," he says when she's gone.
"It was magic," Kurt agrees. Blaine grins. It feels like an auspicious start to their honeymoon.
The couple running their B&B greets them warmly and immediately starts telling them how important sunscreen is, particularly for people from their latitude. Kurt holds up their bottle of SPF 50.
The next few days pass in a haze of macadamia nut pancakes, really good coffee, and every cheap-but-interesting thing they can find to do on Kauai. They go out to Kilauea Lighthouse and watch the albatrosses in the colony run awkwardly down their grassy slope and then, at the last moment, take gracefully to the air. Kurt buys a pair of cheap sneakers specifically to ruin on the red dirt trails of Waimea Canyon, and they devote an afternoon to watching the surfers in Hanalei Bay while singing "Puff the Magic Dragon" quietly to each other. The rock formation does look like a dragon's head. It's only a little disappointing when Kurt finds an article online claiming that the song wasn't written about that dragon. Blaine insists that they splurge on a luau, so the trip will feel complete, and Kurt eats the poi with a fascinated expression.
On Thursday, they devote the better part of the day to snorkeling off Poipu Beach. The waters, protected by natural rock walls, are clear and full of fish. After two hours, they let themselves be washed ashore. Blaine flops onto the beach and closes his eyes, still picturing the schools of fish. He's smiling now, the way he couldn't around the mouthpiece of the snorkel.
"I have sand in places that sand should never be," Kurt mutters. "We're going to have to go back to the B&B for showers before we do anything else today." He picks up their laminated identification guide. "Okay, I saw, um, Yellow Tang, and some Parrot Fish, and about a hundred of these – Moorish Idols – and urchins seriously everywhere, did you see those?"
"Yeah," Blaine confirms absently.
Kurt sits up on his bamboo mat and cocks his head at Blaine. "Where are you right now? Your head's a million miles away."
Blaine rolls on his side to face Kurt. "Thinking about the fish, and this place, and— Cheryl asked me, back in September, if I believed in God. And I told her I didn't know; I said it was too hard to reconcile the kind of omnipotent God that people talk about with all the bad things that happen in the world, you know? And it's not like I personally find the idea of an old, bearded white guy in the sky all that compelling."
"But. I also said that sometimes I had a sense of something bigger than me, bigger than any of us, something bigger than we can understand. It's in music, and the ocean...." Blaine trails off. "You know that Benjamin Franklin quote about beer?"
"'Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy?'" Kurt quotes, smiling. "I think that's apocryphal."
Blaine shrugs. "That's okay. I just was thinking about Elizabeth's sermons about gratitude and— I don't know about God, but isn't this—" he gestures around them, "—proof that something loves us and wants us to be happy?"
Kurt laughs. "Hawai'i? Tropical sun? Sea urchins?"
"Everything," Blaine says. "Everything in this amazing world. Maybe not all of it is for us, personally, but don't you think everything makes something happy?"
"I think sea urchins are only interested in making sea urchins happy," Kurt says teasingly. "But seriously, hang on." He slides his flip-flops on and runs to the parking lot, getting something out of their rental car. It's a book, Blaine can see as he comes back. "Cheryl lent this to me," Kurt says, "because there's an essay about Hawai'i in it. It's about a different island, but I took it anyway."
Blaine reads the title. "High Tide in Tucson. Cheryl does like Barbara Kingsolver."
Flipping through the book, Kurt frowns until he evidently finds what he's looking for. "You should really read this whole thing, maybe on the flight home. But here's the part I wanted to read you. It comes after all these descriptions of strange, beautiful, interesting things she sees in her backyard in Tucson. 'Be still, and the world is bound to turn itself inside out to entertain you. Everywhere you look, joyful noise is clanging to drown out quiet desperation. The choice is to draw the blinds and shut it all out, or believe. What to believe in, exactly, may never turn out to be half as important as the daring act of belief.'" He snaps the book shut.
"Yes." Blaine closes his eyes and lies back on his mat, the sun warm on his face. He feels Kurt take his hand. "That's it exactly."
On their last night, Blaine wants to leave the door to their lanai open, to let the tropical evening air blow in the rich scents of the flowers outside.
"No, Blaine," Kurt says again. "It's peak season here, have you forgotten? The bed and breakfast is full of other guests. Who, you know, have rooms next to ours and probably don't want to hear our honeymoon sex, however much they've been smiling indulgently at us over breakfast. We've been considerate all week; I'm not ruining that now."
"Okay," Blaine grumbles, sliding the glass door closed and drawing the blinds.
Kurt falls dramatically into the center of their bed. "Now that propriety is satisfied, come make love to me."
They make out for a while, Kurt's warm hands sliding up under Blaine's t-shirt to smooth over his back. Blaine unbuttons Kurt's shirt, refraining from commenting on the garish print, and kisses each inch of skin as it's revealed. When he pulls Kurt up against him to push the shirt off his arms, Kurt laughs and says, "This one you don't have to be careful about. But I think you knew that already."
"Yeah," Blaine answers. "Thank you for indulging me and wearing it."
Kurt taps a finger against Blaine's chest. "I needed to match you," he says, eyeing Blaine's faded thrift store print. It reads "I Cayman Went," and between the island reference and the terrible pun Blaine hadn't been able to resist buying it for their trip.
Blaine grins. "This shirt is one of those things I'm never going to live down, huh." While Kurt's thinking, probably about how long he's going to bring this up and try to embarrass Blaine, Blaine gets his board shorts unbuttoned.
"Oh, I see how it is," Kurt says. He lies back on the mattress again and lifts his hips so Blaine can pull his shorts off; Blaine takes advantage of the moment and tugs his underwear down and off as well. "Not fair," Kurt whines. "You have to get naked, too."
Only too happy to comply, Blaine shucks his clothes and crawls back up to press himself against Kurt's side. "How do you want to do this?"
"Mmm," Kurt hums. "I'd like you inside me. Does that sound good to you?"
Blaine nods. "I— Yes. That sounds good." He goes back to kissing Kurt's chest, paying special attention to Kurt's nipples until Kurt is groaning under him.
Kurt tightens his hands on Blaine's arms. "Honey. Far be it from me to critique what is an excellent effort, but is this all you have planned?"
"That sounds like critique to me," Blaine teases, kissing his way down Kurt's torso. He skips Kurt's cock altogether, instead nipping softly at Kurt's inner thighs. "How's this striking you?"
"Mmm," Kurt hums. "Pretty well."
Smiling, Blaine pops open the lube and slicks a finger, sliding it over and around Kurt's hole while his other hand fondles Kurt's balls. He presses in slowly, barely moving until he hears Kurt whimper.
"Seriously, forget the pretense of not critiquing. Do you have a plan, or are you just trying to kill me via the world's longest foreplay? Because you know exactly what you stand to inherit from me now that we're married, and it's not much." Kurt sighs suddenly as Blaine bends his finger to rub Kurt's prostate. "Oh, yes, there we go."
"I could do this all day," Blaine says conversationally, "but don't worry. I won't." He sets to stretching Kurt, adding a second finger and then a third, thumb rubbing the sensitive outside of Kurt's hole. Finally, he wipes his hand off and unrolls the condom over his cock. "Ready?"
Kurt laughs. "More than ready. Come on, it's the last night of our honeymoon. Let's have sex we'll never forget."
Blaine takes a breath and pushes in, a little amazed that even after all these years, sex with Kurt is still so good. He wonders if he could ever get bored with this, but he can't even imagine that he would. Blaine will always love the way he feels connected to Kurt, the intimacy of the sounds they can't help making when they're doing this. The way Kurt's breath hitches when he's close to coming, the way Blaine sometimes can't get a sentence out when Kurt's naked under him, or over him, or beside him.
Kurt's cock is hard and hot in Blaine's hand, and he focuses on bringing Kurt to orgasm first before reaching his own. It's a matter of pressure and speed that Blaine knows intimately, and he's careful to see that his thumb hits the spot near the head of Kurt's cock that sets him off. Kurt arches his back, head tilted up and long neck exposed, as he comes. He's beautiful.
Kurt's barely come down from his orgasm when Blaine thrusts twice more, deeply, and groans as he tenses and empties himself into Kurt. They don't often have sex like this, and Blaine almost forgets how overwhelming it can be to feel himself pulsing inside Kurt, to have that heat and pressure around his cock. He pulls out, two fingers around the base of the condom, and flops on his back beside Kurt.
"Passable end-of-honeymoon sex, don't you think?" Kurt smirks.
"Yeah," Blaine says, breathless. "I'd go so far as to say adequate." Kurt shoves at him half-heartedly, and Blaine laughs. It's been a good week.
It takes them four planes to get home, and Blaine is itchy with healing sunburn and so very tired. But also happy to have had the week he and Kurt spent on Kauai, and happiest to be done traveling.
"Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home," Kurt sings as he unlocks their front door.
Blaine laughs. "I misheard that as 'be it ever so Hummel,' for a moment there."
Kurt sighs dramatically. "If only you had taken my name, that would be true."
"If only," Blaine agrees, grinning. "But you know what? I'm glad we kept our names. I love your family—"
"—and they love you," Kurt breaks in.
"But this year I finally feel like I can love my own family, too. By which I mean my mom, I guess, since my dad's not willing to— Anyway. I just— For so long, I felt like I only had Aunt Judy," Blaine says.
Kurt smiles and holds up the pile of mail he collected from their mailbox on the way in. "I think we got more wedding cards from your cousins than from my extended family put together. You've got more family than we thought."
Tugging Kurt over to sit at the piano with him, Blaine smiles back. "And we have our choir family, and our glee club family, and our college friends. It's amazing, Kurt, isn't it? All these people we found, and they make our great big family. And someday we'll have kids—"
"And we'll revisit our last names then, I'm sure," Kurt laughs. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves, sweetheart. I'd like to be married a few years first, have our careers started."
"Yeah, of course." Blaine reaches for his teal hymnal, flipping through it. He feels like anything is possible, right now and for the rest of their lives. He and Kurt could take on anything, Blaine knows, but he doesn't imagine them standing alone any more. Now he pictures them surrounded by love, Kurt's family and their choir and Aunt Judy and his mom. There's even a space for his dad because someday, maybe, who knows what might be possible? And in front of them children, two or four or three, kids who will grow up in love and never doubt it.
Kurt looks up and when he sees the hymnal open to 1010 Blaine sees him grin. He watches Kurt watching him play, his smile growing brighter.
A year ago, Blaine could not have predicted this. He can't wait to see where they go, what comes their way that he never could have foreseen. Now, in this moment, he loops the hymn back to the beginning. Beside him, his husband joins in as he sings, "Oh, we give thanks for this precious day."