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Past, Present, and Future

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Rachel locked the deadbolt on the front door, Jesse’s goodbye kiss still warm on her lips and his footfalls fading away in the hallway. She turned back to look at the apartment with narrowed eyes, ready to formulate a plan for the evening. Her husband wouldn’t be back until late, and she had their home to herself, just her and her ever-expanding belly.

She liked her rare nights alone. They didn’t come often, what with her still having evening performances five nights a week and a busy calendar of dinner engagements and charity events the other two, so having time to relax by herself was a nice change. She liked being able to curl up in comfortable clothes on the couch, sing without well-meaning critiques from Jesse about her phrasing and breath control (which even with the baby compressing her lungs were all but flawless, thank you; she was a professional, even if she knew that he was one, too), and take as long of a bath as she liked surrounded by the calming aromatherapy candles Blaine had brought her that made Jesse sneeze.

Yes, she liked having some time alone, even if tonight she didn’t really feel in the mood. There was no question that she’d find a way to enjoy it.

She straightened the pillows on the couch, then wandered into the kitchen without much purpose. She emptied the dishwasher, patting her belly in apology when she misjudged how big she was getting as she leaned up to put away the glasses and bumped into the counter.

She hummed a little as she worked, but the apartment was too quiet around her. She was used to performing or being out at night. She was used to having Jesse around when she was in; she always liked being with him, but now that she was carrying Kurt and Blaine’s baby Jesse was even more caring toward her. She liked the attention.

Rachel walked back out into the living room, which was still and peaceful... and just not right. She frowned at the front door and patted her belly again.

She felt weirdly vulnerable in some way, like when she woke from those dreams about something going wrong with the baby and it being her fault, only she couldn’t quite shake it off as easily.

“This is ridiculous,” she said to herself. “I’m home alone, but it’s not like I don’t have friends.”

She lowered herself down onto the couch, plumped the cushion behind her until she could lean back without a new twinge radiating across her hips, and pushed Kurt’s name on her phone.

“Hello?” Kurt answered after two rings. There was the sound of overlapping conversations behind him, like he was out somewhere.

She had to appreciate how quickly he picked up her calls these days. He never let her go to voicemail anymore if he was by his phone. She didn’t need him to be so attentive to know that he loved her, but it was a nice benefit to being pregnant with their child.

“Hi, it’s me,” she said. “It’s nothing important if you’re busy. I was just calling to talk. I can call Kitty.”

“It’s fine. We’re at the store looking at strollers again,” Kurt said with an overtone of fond exasperation. “Well, Blaine is still debating the merits of a stroller versus babywearing, so he’s looking at all of the strollers and carriers, and I’m standing here waiting for him to realize that even with taxis and subway stairs to navigate we still don’t want to arrive everywhere with our clothes wrinkled and covered in spit-up and so we want the stroller I picked out a month ago. In the black and celadon.” He sighed, his voice going hollow. “He’s going to want the sunshine yellow, isn’t he.”

“Probably,” Rachel agreed. She thought Kurt would actually be lucky if Blaine didn’t want a rainbow one, but she didn’t mention it. Both of them were spinning in enough circles about becoming fathers, and she knew they needed reassurance and reminders to be calm.

“We’re going to have a yellow stroller,” Kurt said, sounding resigned. “Maybe I should re-think the diaper bag I selected.”

“You still have a couple of months.” She absently rubbed her hand over the swell of her belly, which was certainly noticeable but not as big as it was going to get. There were two more months to go. “You have time to figure it out.”

“I already had it figured out.” Kurt sighed again. “Anyway. How are you doing?”

“Fine,” she said, grateful that he always gave her the space to talk about herself and not her pregnancy if she didn’t want to; one of the strangest things about being pregnant was how so many people suddenly saw her as a walking womb and nothing else. “I had a great vocal lesson today. Sarah’s a marvel at helping me work around having less lung capacity. I’m learning all sorts of new techniques.”

“That’s great,” he replied.

“But I’m definitely over the second trimester honeymoon,” she said. “I feel like I always have to pee, and I’m pretty sure I’m starting to waddle, but Dr. Singh says this is nothing compared to how I will feel when I’m due, so I’m trying to believe Jesse when he tells me I’m not bloated but beautiful.”

Kurt’s voice went soft with emotion in that gentle way he sometimes got when he was talking about her pregnancy. “You are beautiful, Rachel. And we’re so grateful to you.”

“I know,” she said with a shake of her head, because she knew that they appreciated her. She knew that they were beyond grateful for her offer to make parenthood possible for them by carrying their child. She didn’t need any more thanks. They were her closest friends, her family. It was a gift she was more than happy to give them.

“Have Jesse draw you a bath after dinner and tell him to plug his nose so you can light the candles,” he said.

“Oh, he’s not home,” she said, trying not to let the odd vulnerability fluttering beneath her ribcage filter into her words. It was probably just heartburn. “He scheduled a last minute rehearsal tonight with the show dark to get the new dancers up to speed. I’m here alone.”

There was just the tiniest pause, like Kurt was weighing his response. “Do you want to be?” he asked. It sounded like an honest question, without judgment or expectation. “Blaine and I were going to get take-out for dinner. We can bring it over to your apartment as easily as our own.”

It was hard for her to admit that she wasn’t feeling quite herself, but it was Kurt. Only Jesse understood her better. Only Jesse and her dads loved her more. “I wouldn’t mind the company,” she admitted.

“Blaine?” Kurt called, his mouth a little further away from the phone. “We’re going to Rachel’s for dinner, okay?”

“Is everything all right?” Blaine asked in a rush. “Is she - “

“Everything is fine,” Kurt cut him off before Blaine could get too panicked. “Jesse is out, and we’re going to have dinner and a movie and keep her from getting lonely.”

“Oh, okay,” Blaine said much more calmly. “I’ll just be another minute.”

“What are you in the mood for?” Kurt asked directly into the phone.

“Greek,” Rachel said without even a moment’s hesitation. “Get me the biggest container of hummus they have.” Her mouth watered just thinking about it. She’d been desperate for chickpeas for the past week, no matter how many she’d eaten. “And lots of pita bread.”

Kurt chuckled at the ferocity of her answer, but he simply replied, “We’ll be there in half an hour, if I can pry Blaine away from the carriers. He’s back to cooing over one with about a dozen straps. It looks like bondage gear, and not in a good way.”

“You could always get both,” Rachel told him, avoiding the bondage topic entirely. She’d learned years ago from living with them that the best way to interact with their sex life was not to talk about it unless there was alcohol involved. “A stroller and a carrier.”

“I am aiming for minimalist parenthood,” Kurt reminded her. “The fewer items the better. I don’t want baby things to take over the apartment.”

“I’m going to remind you of those words when you’re so exhausted with a newborn that you buy every sleep aid in the store out of desperation.”

“It’s not going to happen,” Kurt said firmly.

“Mm hmm.” Rachel rolled her eyes at both his words and the sudden pressure against her bladder. She started to push herself up off the couch, nostalgically remembering the days when she hadn’t had to think about how to move before she did it. “I have to pee again. I’ll see you soon.”

It was about forty minutes later that there was a knock on the door, and Rachel carried in the tray of dishes and pitcher of ice water she’d assembled and put it on the coffee table before she went to let in Kurt and Blaine.

“Hi,” Kurt said, leaning in to kiss her cheek and giving her a quick hug with one arm. His other hand was holding a bulging bag of take-out containers, and he smelled like a delicious combination of his aftershave and garlic.

“Hi, Rachel.” Blaine set down his own paper bag and hugged her properly - gentle and warmly affectionate, his cheek against hers - before touching her belly the way he always did when he saw her. He smiled down at it and then back up at her. “How are you? Both of you.”

“Your child and I are both fantastic, like we always are,” she assured him. “Thanks for coming over.”

“Any time,” Blaine promised her, looking right into her eyes with his usual kind sincerity. “We love seeing you, and we’re always here if you need us.”

Unpacking the contents of his bag onto the coffee table, Kurt said, “Or even when you don’t need us. We’re sadly overdue for a movie night. If we’d had more time to plan it, I would have brought mud masks, too. It’s been forever since we caught up on all the gossip.”

“We can still gossip without the masks,” she said with a smile at the memory of her teenage self gossipping with Kurt about their glee club friends on home spa nights. Now they gossipped about their group of grown-up theater friends, which had a nice amount of overlap.

Blaine looked down and fiddled with the napkins, and she patted his shoulder in sympathy; she knew he hated gossip.

“If we must,” Kurt said. He shot her a grin before he peered into the bag. “Where did they put the grape leaves? Did they forget them?”

“Just tell me they had hummus.” She hurried over and started to help him to open up the containers of food, pulling off the lids one by one.

“We can do it, Rachel,” Blaine said, coming to stand beside her. “You sit.”

“I’m pregnant, not infirm,” she told him and pried off another lid. The tempting smell of garlic and chickpeas wafted up to her nose. “And I’m starving. You’re both too slow.”

Kurt handed her a plastic bag filled with soft pita wedges. “You know better than to get between her and food,” he told Blaine.

With a laugh, Blaine nodded as she retreated to one corner of the couch with her hummus. “Sorry.”

“It’s your fault that I’m eating for two,” she reminded him and closed her eyes with pleasure as the first bite swept across her tongue, all tangy and lemony and perfect. She could feel it all the way to her toes.

“Actually, that’s a myth. The book I read last week said a pregnant woman should eat - “ Blaine stopped when she fixed him with a fierce glare, because no matter how much he read she was the one who was pregnant. He extended a small foil tray toward her. “Spanakopita?”

Kurt didn’t quite smother a grin, but she could forgive him. He’d brought her dinner.

She took a piece of the spanakopita.

“Speaking of gossip, have you met Henry Wallason?” Kurt asked her as he scooped some sort of rice dish onto his plate.

“The producer?” She tried to remember, a vision of white hair and bushy eyebrows coming to mind. “I think at a party once. Why?”

“He’s coming out of retirement and wants to have dinner with us,” Blaine said, his eyes wide and lit up with the excitement of a new project.

“Your ‘Woolf’ reviews have been amazing,” Rachel said around her mouthful of pita. “You’re getting some serious attention. I knew you would. He’d be smart to snap you up.”

“We’ll see what the timing is.” Kurt shrugged, looking rather less enthusiastic than Blaine. “We have another important project that’s going to be taking over our life in a couple of months.”

Blaine’s bright smile turned toward Rachel’s belly and grew more intimate, and Kurt’s mouth curved upwards, softly happy, as he watched his husband from his chair.

Rachel pushed herself up a little. “You can’t put your careers on the back burner because you’re starting a family,” she insisted, setting her container of hummus on her leg. “I know this baby will change your lives, but you can’t just give up opportunities.”

“We’re taking the meeting,” Kurt reminded her. He poured out some water and offered her the glass. “We’ll hear him out. You know how these things go. It’s show business; talk is cheap until there’s a contract to sign. Nothing will come from it, probably. But if it does, we can’t just jump anymore. There’s more consider now.”

“You’re rising stars,” she said. “You have been getting a lot of excellent buzz. You can’t give up your momentum entirely.”

“We’ll find a balance,” Blaine said, patting her on her knee before accepting his own glass from Kurt. “I bet I could wear the baby during vocal workshops.”

Kurt turned on him, his eyebrow rising. “Seriously?”

“We can get a nanny for the dance rehearsals,” Blaine replied. “And we could easily take the baby with us for out-of-town previews.”

“Did you get moussaka?” Rachel asked and leaned forward as best she could with her belly in the way to see what other dishes were spread out on the coffee table. If they were going to get side-tracked into a debate over child care arrangements, at least she could make good use of the time and fill her stomach with dinner.

“We got some of pretty much everything on the menu,” Blaine admitted. “The moussaka is over here.”

“Perfect.” She grabbed a plate and scooped out some for herself. “So tell me about Henry Wallason’s project.” She was interested in their career opportunities, but them talking also meant that she could just eat.

“We don’t know a lot,” Kurt said, and Rachel made an encouraging noise and took a bite of moussaka.

A half hour later, Rachel pressed a hand to her chest, hoping the pressing feeling beneath her lungs was just a little gas and not a sign of incipient heartburn. She felt delightfully full, her mind still snapping with possibilities for Kurt and Blaine’s future projects but her body satisfied.

“There’s still so much food,” she said as she relaxed back against the cushions and let them clean up the abundant remains of their dinner. It made them happy to care for her in some ways, she knew, and anyway, she really didn’t feel like getting up. Even though she hadn’t been able to eat as much as she’d thought she wanted to before it started to get uncomfortable, she was definitely going to need to digest some before she moved.

“We wanted to leave you plenty for your midnight snacks,” Kurt said. He picked up the laden tray and headed toward the kitchen.

As Rachel took a sip of water, Blaine grabbed the paper bag he’d set aside and said, “We brought you a few other things.” He brought the items out one by one and put them on the table beside the couch. “Aromatherapy bath bombs, which I hope won’t bother Jesse as much as the candles. Just remember not to let the water get too hot, because it can raise your body temperature to a harmful level.”

Somehow she refrained from reminding him that she’d been living in this pregnant body for seven months and was well aware of what she wasn’t supposed to do. She knew he couldn’t help himself from worrying. She knew he was having anxiety dreams, too, even if Blaine didn’t know Kurt had told her about them.

“Vitamin E moisturizer for the stretch marks - “ He hurried on when Rachel shot him a warning look. “ - we’ve all agreed you aren’t developing. Some of that organic peppermint foot scrub you like. Antacids.”

Rachel reached out for the antacids, wiggling her fingers for him to hand over the bottle. “You know I can barely reach my feet,” she said. “But the scrub will be nice after the baby is born. Thank you.”

“Maybe Jesse can help you with it.” Blaine handed her the medicine and carefully folded the now-empty paper bag.

“He’s being wonderful,” she agreed. She smiled to herself as she pulled off the tamper resistant layer beneath the cap of the bottle.

“You both are,” Blaine said quietly, gratitude making his voice and expression soft. His eyes started to go liquid as he reached for her hand, and she shook her head at him as her throat started to close up.

“No, no, no, no crying, remember? We made a pact when we all decided to have this baby. Absolutely no crying. We’ll just set each other off, especially with all of these hormones.” She squeezed his hand and then took hers back to shake out a couple of antacid tablets onto her palm. “This is a happy thing.”

Blaine nodded, blinking quickly to clear his eyes. He looked about as ready to spill over as she was - and he didn’t even have the hormones as an excuse, but he did have impending fatherhood, which she guessed was nearly as overwhelming - but he had a determined set to his mouth to match her own. “It is. It’s incredibly happy, Rachel. Kurt and I are so happy.”

Crunching on the tablets, she nodded back at him in reply and breathed in through her nose to keep herself together.

“Have you decided on a movie?” Kurt asked as he rejoined them. He glanced between them in suspicion, his eyebrows lifting. “I thought we said no crying.”

Rachel took a sip of water to wash down the medicine. “We’re fine. We caught it just in time.”

Kurt’s eyebrows rose higher, like he didn’t quite believe them.

Blaine’s smile was still a bit wobbly, but he only said, “What movie do you want to watch?”

The Sound of Music?” Kurt suggested.

“Perfect,” Rachel said. “Let me just pee first.”

Kurt offered her a hand up in reply, and she left the room with them both smiling fondly after her. She shook her head once she was out of sight, because it was just peeing - necessary and annoyingly frequent - and nothing to be pleased about, but she was smiling, too. Peeing for two was a part of this experience, and she was glad they were so happy to share it all with her, not just the baby at the end.

Not that she was surprised by their interest and affection, but if she hadn’t thought there was any closer for the three of them to get when she offered to carry their baby, she’d been wrong. They were even dearer to each other now than they ever had been, everything between them precious and important and as solid as the ground beneath them.

At least it felt that way to her.

Maybe it was just the hormones.

They started out sitting up on the couch with Rachel in the middle, but by the time Maria was spinning on a mountaintop, Rachel was curled against Kurt’s side on the couch like she’d done so many times before over the years, his arm loose around her shoulders and his chest rising and falling in comfortable rhythm against her. The finely woven fabric of his shirt was soft against her skin, and she had to appreciate how much less prickly his wardrobe had become over the years.

When Blaine patted his legs as Maria was leaving the convent she tucked her feet up into his lap. She could have purred when he pressed his thumbs into the arch of one aching foot, but instead she melted against them and watched the movie with a contented smile on her face.

If she’d been feeling lonely before, she wasn’t anymore. She was with her very best friends. This was what she needed to fill her night.

“If we ever manage to do the cabaret show with Mercedes we’ve been talking about, we should do this one again,” Kurt mused as “My Favorite Things” began. “Think of how good we’d sound now.”

“Raindrops on roses - ooh!” Rachel broke off singing with a laugh and put a hand on her belly where a little foot had just kicked her. “Maybe we should hold off on the cabaret until after this one is born.”

“Did the baby kick?” Blaine asked her, sitting forward.

“Every time I sing,” she replied and picked up the song with the soundtrack. “These are a few of my favorite things.” There was another sharp jab beneath her rib. “She might be a future dancer.”

Blaine laid his palm on Rachel’s stomach right beside hers. “Here?” he asked.

She slid his hand into place and sang, “Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple - “ The baby kicked again. “Did you feel it?”

“Kurt, you have to feel this,” Blaine said with an awed smile. It was hardly the first time he’d felt the baby move, but to Rachel’s eyes he always seemed to have that same smile each time he experienced it, full of wonder and amazement. She knew it was probably one of the ways he could feel that the baby was really real, since it wasn’t constantly reminding him by all of the changes in his body like it was hers. It filled her heart to see it, to know she could give these moments to them as the baby grew. It was one of the reasons she wanted to be their surrogate, to let them share the pregnancy in such intimate ways, too.

Kurt wrapped his arm around Rachel from the other side and spread his hand next to Blaine’s, and together with Maria von Trapp the three of them sang, “Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings. These are a few of my favorite things.”

The baby kicked inside of her, and it was only Rachel’s training that kept her voice on key instead of missing a note or getting choked up at the way her two best friends were smiling down at her stomach and the new life inside she was nurturing for them.

She watched their hands all together on her body as they sang, her heart so full and happy at the joy in her friends’ faces.

They ended on a beautiful harmony, and Blaine beamed up at her with a suspicious hint of tears in his radiant eyes.

“This happens every time there’s music?” he asked, still bent toward her.

“More and more every week,” she said. “Barbra gets very excited whenever there is music. She especially likes my first solo in the show.”

“We’re not naming the baby Barbra,” Kurt said, taking his hand away. “We don’t even know if it’s a girl.”

“I can’t just think of this baby as ‘it’,” she said. “Not when she’s getting me up four times in the middle of the night and making me eat way too many chickpeas. I have to call her something.”

“Maybe Barbra as a middle name?” Blaine suggested to Kurt. “In honor of Rachel?”

Kurt huffed out a laugh and shook his head. “Don’t encourage her, Blaine.”

Blaine’s eyes were big and full of emotion as he sat back up again and went back to rubbing her feet and ankles. He looked overwhelmed and grateful, his lips pressed together like he was trying to hold back his feelings, and as much as Rachel knew she was doing something huge for them by carrying their child she didn’t want them to feel burdened by it. Bringing her take-out and treats, massaging her feet, and keeping her company were one thing; anything bigger was out of the question.

“You know I don’t expect anything from you but to be Aunt Rachel,” she reminded them quietly.

“We know,” Kurt said, drawing her close against his side again. “Aunt Rachel and a huge bouquet of flowers every year on her birthday.” He kissed her cheek, soft and full of love.

“Or his,” Blaine added with a grin.

“Or his,” Kurt echoed, and the two of them looked at each other with such wonder and elation - so sure, so connected, so happy - that Rachel had to swallow back the lump in her throat.

She was giving that to them. No, she wasn’t giving them anything; they were all doing it together. The baby wasn’t hers, but they were, her best friends, her family. They’d been family for years now, and with this child she was carrying they were even more tied together.

Life hadn’t worked out for the three of them to become in-laws - having joint Thanksgivings with all of their parents in Lima and New York Christmas sing-alongs with Blaine at his piano in the living room and Passover seders in her apartment with Finn - but being their surrogate was still exceptionally special and just as permanent a bond in its own way.

Rachel blinked hard against the stinging in her eyes.

As much as she would always mourn Finn’s loss and her parents’ divorce, her life had still turned out to be wonderful, and she couldn’t regret any of it. She was still part of holidays with Kurt and Blaine, no matter whom she had married. She still was at their apartment at least once a week, and they were still front and center at her every opening night with beautiful bouquets of flowers, standing ovations, and all the support she could ask for.

She didn’t need to be married to Finn to be Kurt and Blaine’s family, and if carrying their baby wasn’t proof of that connection then nothing would be.

They’d all been through so much together - high school, college, careers, loves, heartbreaks, showcases, bad reviews, deaths and divorces, successes and failures in so many parts of their lives - and here was one more amazing thing to connect them all as the best friends they were and always would be.

Smiling through the tears that threatened to burst forth, Rachel rested her hand on her belly and said, “Do you remember when we all came back to New York after that semester coaching the Glee Club?”

Kurt looked away from the television and over at her again. “Of course.”

“We were still newlyweds,” Blaine said with a starry-eyed smile at Kurt, and Rachel rolled her eyes, because he was so easily diverted toward his husband. He never changed. She was happy for Kurt that it was true, but she knew she had to keep pushing ahead or Blaine would never follow along with her train of thought.

She took a breath and asked, “Do you remember when I went back to NYADA there were all of these rumors swirling around about how I’d left and failed in Hollywood, and no one would talk to me on my first day, and I came to your new apartment that first night and cried on your shoulders and ate cake for dinner and the greasiest pizza we could find for dessert?”

Kurt nodded, not quite smiling. “I seem to remember that happening more than once.”

“It was a hard first semester,” she agreed. “But you and Blaine decided to start up our Monday night potlucks again at your apartment, and you invited Kitty and Elliott, too, and later on Jesse and some of our other friends.”

“I remember Jesse and Santana getting into it one night and angrily singing ‘West Side Story’ songs at each other,” Kurt said, his eyes going a little vague with the memory. “I couldn’t decide whether to be scared or just proud of Santana for singing her feelings instead of jumping on him. Marrying Brittany mellowed her.”

“I still hid the kitchen knives in the cabinet, just in case,” Blaine remembered. He shook his head in fond amusement.

“Did I ever thank you for that?” Rachel asked them. She looked between them, seeing her memories of their younger, less experienced, and still so caring versions of her friends superimposed over their present maturing selves. “Not for the knives, but for the potluck. For giving me a weekly home as I found my place at NYADA again.”

“I don’t think so,” Kurt said.

“You didn’t have to thank us,” Blaine told her, patting her leg. “We needed it, too. I was just starting NYU, and we had to get used to living together again and figuring out how to do it the right way.”

“Which we did.” Kurt smiled serenely, almost proudly over at Blaine.

“Of course we did,” Blaine replied with warming, doting eyes.

Rachel had seen those looks on their faces so many times over the past years, an anchor of love that was grounding to see in the tempestuous city they were making their lives in. Before she’d fully reconnected with Jesse, Kurt and Blaine had been her closest and most constant friends, their home her refuge as she fought to find her place time and again.

“Did I thank you for coming to my rescue that night when I had that terrible virus and locked myself out of the apartment, and you came across town in the rain with the spare key, and I got inside just in time to throw up in the bathroom?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” Kurt said with a wrinkle of his nose at the memory, clearly sharper in his mind than her own hazy memories of misery and cool hands holding her hair back.

“What about for talking me down from my panic attack in my dressing room on the opening night of ‘Jane Austen Sings’ because I was terrified of what the critics would say about me?” she asked. “Did I thank you for that?”

“Probably not,” Blaine said.

“No,” Kurt corrected firmly, though he seemed more amused than annoyed about it. “You were too busy breathing into a paper bag and then re-doing your makeup.”

“Well...” Rachel took a breath and looked from Kurt to Blaine and back again, smiling into their familiar faces. “Thank you,” she said. She reached her hands out to them. “Thank you for being my family.” She felt her throat start to close up. “Thank you for letting me be a part of yours.”

Kurt and Blaine each clasped one of her hands, but they moved in and engulfed her in a hug, their strong arms around her from either side. She shut her eyes and leaned into them, hugging them back as best she could.

“Of course you’re our family,” Blaine said against her hair, his voice sounding suspiciously thick. “We love you.”

“I love you, too,” she said, tears spilling out from beneath her eyelids and dripping onto Blaine’s shoulder. “Damn hormones. You can’t yell at me. You only have yourselves to blame for me crying right now. It’s your baby doing this to me.”

“We’ll give you a pass this once,” Blaine told her with a squeak of a laugh.

Kurt stroked down her back, his cheek against the top of her head. “I knew we should have written down the no-crying agreement as an official contract with penalties,” he said, but he sounded a little watery, too.

“It’s our baby she’s pregnant with, Kurt,” Blaine protested. “I think we can cut her a little slack.”

“You’re crying, too,” Kurt muttered, but he pulled Rachel closer and kissed her hair.

“They’re good tears,” Blaine said as he settled in against them and rubbed her arm.

Rachel nodded against Blaine’s shoulder and sniffled a little. “The best.”

“I know,” Kurt whispered, sounding a little choked up, too.

Rachel smiled in the cocoon of their arms. She could remember times in her life when everything had seemed hard, when reaching the highest pinnacle of success was the only thing she cared about, when she’d felt she had to hurt and walk over friends to get what she wanted. It had been lonely and hard to live that way, and while she wouldn’t change what she’d been through and what she’d done, because it had gotten her here, she was glad to be able to look back on that girl she had been and see her firmly in the past.

She was still as ambitious. She was still as determined. She was still dreaming of higher heights for herself in her career. But she’d learned that doing it with her friends made it all that much better.

She’d learned that giving them gifts of herself was as rewarding as getting them, and these two men had given her so much: love, understanding, shared goals, a home for her heart and her dreams.

“Thank you,” she said again to them, curling her hand around her stomach.

Blaine’s hand crept back to lie against her belly. “We’re the ones who should be thanking you.”

She started to shake her head when the sound of a key in the lock of the front door broke into the moment. They pulled away from each other a few inches, just enough apart that they could look up.

Jesse’s eyebrows lifted as he walked into the apartment and saw them all entwined on the couch.

“Do I want to know?” he asked, closing the door behind him.

Rachel straightened up and wiped her eyes, offering her husband the best smile she could. “Kurt and Blaine came over to keep me company.”

His eyebrows still raised, Jesse glanced among the three of them. “And apparently break the no-crying agreement,” he said.

“It was Rachel’s fault,” Kurt said, surreptitiously dapping at the corner of his eye with his cuff, which made her feel oddly better about getting emotional, herself. Being pregnant was taking over her life in ways she both expected and hadn’t expected at all. She’d known it was the right choice to offer to be their surrogate, and she’d known it would matter so much to all of them, but actually feeling this child of theirs growing in her was creating emotions in her she could not have planned for. She was glad that she wasn’t alone in getting swept up in it sometimes.

She cleared her throat and dusted off her lap as Kurt and Blaine retreated back to their seats at the edges of the couch. “How was rehearsal?” she asked Jesse.

“Fine,” he said, sounding less than enthusiastic. “I think we’re going to have to fire Kyle, but he picked up the routines quickly enough tonight that it’s still not a given.” He sighed and rubbed at his forehead. “And I’m starving.”

“There are plenty of leftovers,” Kurt told him.

“We brought Greek,” Blaine added.

Jesse shot Rachel a knowing grin. “Ah, for the crazy chickpea lady.”

She pointed to her stomach. “For the crazy chickpea baby, thank you.”

“Thanks for having us,” Blaine said to her after glancing at Kurt. “But we should let you enjoy some time with your husband.”

“And you yours,” she replied with a grin, giving him a quick hug. “Thank you for coming.”

Kurt leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Any time,” he said. “We’ll do that mud mask night soon.” He brushed back a long lock of her hair. “You definitely don’t need a conditioning treatment with it. Your hair looks amazing.”

“Pregnancy hormones,” she agreed.

“And I’ll see you in the morning at prenatal yoga,” Blaine said, standing up and slipping on his blazer. He tugged its hem straight and buttoned it neatly.

“You know I can do that alone,” she said to him, not for the first time. “You don’t have to come to every session. You aren’t the one who is pregnant.”

“I know,” Blaine told her with a soft smile. “But I like being there with you.”

Rachel leaned up on her toes to kiss his cheek and slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow as she walked him toward the door. “I like it, too,” she admitted, because she loved how involved he was with both her well-being and the baby’s, and his smile turned that much brighter.

“All right, before anyone descends into more tears, I’m taking him home,” Kurt said, and he gave her a careful hug before nodding to Jesse.

“Have a good night,” Jesse said.

Kurt reached out for Blaine’s hand and waved over his shoulder with his free one. “I’ll call you tomorrow, Rach.”

“Good night.” Rachel stepped back into the circle of Jesse’s arm as Kurt and Blaine let themselves out, and she smiled to herself. Though this wasn’t how she’d imagined her life would go years before, she didn’t know how she could feel any more loved and satisfied with her life than she did.

Jesse looked down at her with fond judgment. “Crying? Really? There are still a couple of months to go. What is there to cry about?”

“Just wait until it’s our baby,” she told him, poking him in the arm. “You’re going to be a disaster from day one, and you know it.”

Jesse laughed and guided her toward the kitchen with a hand at the small of her back. “I’m looking forward to it.” As they reached the counter, he opened one of the cabinets. “Should we have invited them to stay for a while longer? You know they’re always welcome here.”

“I know,” Rachel said with a shrug. “I think they needed some time alone, honestly. It was kind of an emotional night, and I think they’re torn between being freaked out and really excited that they’re going to be dads soon.”

“Yeah, I get that. It’s a big change.”

She smiled and rubbed her stomach again as the baby wiggled around. It was a big change, for sure, but they were going to be wonderful parents, and this baby was going to be so loved it was going to be ridiculous. She was glad she had the extra bonding time now before its birth to get a head start on showering it with love.

Besides, there was going to be stiff competition to be its favorite aunt. She was going to have to use every bit of leverage she could to rise to the top of the pack.

She’d eat all of the chickpeas she had to to make it happen.

Jesse reached up for a plate. “I’m going to have some dinner. Are you hungry?”

“Always,” she told him fervently, and he laughed again and brought down two plates from the cabinet.

“Eating for two,” he said.

She leaned up and gave him a kiss. She loved it when they were on the same page, as they so often were. It was why she married him, after all. “I’m glad you understand.”

Jesse cupped her cheek and smiled into her eyes. “I do,” he promised her.

“I know,” she said, knowing he meant he understood much more than just her cravings, and she gave him another quick, contented peck before going to find the leftovers in the refrigerator.