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Inconsolation Prize

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They called it the medals game when Blaine was small; it was supposed to teach him and Cooper how to be winners, or so their father said. “Those Anderson boys, they’re all the same,” their parents’ friends joked. They had trophies and diplomas everywhere, even before they had the big house and the big accounts and room to display their achievements.

Their father got the gold. Cooper got silver and a pat on the back. Blaine got copper, and no slack for being so much younger than them.

Those Anderson boys.

They play to win.

 

*

 

After Cooper left for New York, the family moved again. Blaine’s mom packed up everything Cooper had left behind and put it in storage. Blaine was thirteen when he stole the key, and he’s kept it ever since.

He goes to the warehouse sometimes and sits on the concrete floor, surrounded by neatly-labeled boxes. When he was being self-punishing, when he was second-best or missed the goal or he did something that made him feel small and stupid, he opened the boxes of silver and copper medals. They put things in perspective: he knows how to cope. But when Cooper hasn’t called in months, Blaine takes out Cooper’s old blanket and wraps it around himself.

It doesn’t help. It just reminds him that Cooper is real, that he’s out there somewhere. Cooper, who bites, and sings, and breaks things. His big brother who isn’t watching.

If their mother ever figured out what happened to the key, she never talked to Blaine about it.

Every once in a while the boxes are rearranged. The medals get pushed back, little by little, but the blanket is always in the box by the door, right where Blaine’s strength gives out when the smell hits him.

Those Anderson boys, always so dramatic.

 

*

 

Blaine knows how lucky he is when it comes to his family and his orientation.

His coming out was textbook-perfect: after dinner, he put his napkin next to his plate, looked his mother in the eye, and told her he was gay. Then he turned to his father and said, “I got an A in algebra. The report card should arrive in the mail tomorrow.”

His mother cleared the table. His father narrowed his eyes at Blaine for a moment, then sighed. “I trust you to do your best, Blaine.”

His orientation was never a problem, even when it was an issue and he had to switch schools. It couldn’t be a problem, because Cooper had come out as bi when he was a freshman, and if the golden son wasn’t straight, well.

There are advantages to being the youngest, once he stops thinking about the hierarchy at home.

 

*

 

It was never easy, making room in Cooper’s life.

When they were kids, Cooper resented Blaine for his sense of entitlement. He’d never lived through the tough times; even the worst of their houses was miles ahead of the place Cooper remembered from his early childhood. He’d been the mistake, the kid of two college students who couldn’t make ends meet. He worked so, so hard to prove himself. Blaine was a reward, a sign that they could afford to be a family. The six years between them were more than an age difference. They grew up in different worlds.

In Cooper’s world, fake-it-till-you-make-it makes perfect sense. His mom dropped out of college and they moved out of state when his dad got his degree. He was a secret until their parents got married. His mom’s family refused to meet him or to speak to her at all after she had him.

No one talked to Blaine about that stuff except for Cooper. Cooper didn’t have anyone to talk to about it until Blaine came along.

Blaine wasn’t an asset to Cooper, so when he left, Cooper edited Blaine from his life. The big brother role never fit him. Kissing Blaine, that was different. It was the only real connection they ever had: sex and music, hard kisses and watching movies silently, making a space for themselves where they couldn’t compete.

Blaine never had to come out to Cooper. A few weeks after Blaine came out to their parents, Cooper came home for Christmas. He went straight to Blaine’s room.

Blaine could finally breathe again.

 

*

 

Blaine doesn’t tell Kurt about Cooper – what would he say, anyway? That he used to have a brother who was never really a brother? That he used to have a boyfriend who was gorgeous and mean and nothing, nothing at all like Kurt? That it was never his dad who he was trying to impress? It’s too complicated.

One of the things that Blaine doesn’t tell Kurt is that he ran away once. He got on a bus and made it to New York, even though he was scared. He found Cooper’s apartment.

Those were the best two weeks of his life. Cooper’s roommate was out of town; they barely left the bed. Cooper looked happy all the way through, like he wasn’t even acting. It felt like a fresh start.

One of the things that Blaine doesn’t tell Kurt is that one night, Cooper was smoking an ill-advised cigarette out the window, naked and tense, and he turned around and said he couldn’t do this. Not because Blaine was too young, or because he was too busy, or because they had the same last name and a laundry list of issues. It just wasn’t working for him.

He said he wanted Blaine in his life, but not like this. Blaine packed up and held on to that through the screaming match back home, held on for months, until he couldn’t lie to himself anymore.

He gets better eventually. He likes his school. He loves singing. He meets Kurt and falls in love again. But he never tells Kurt who the competition is. There’s no point.

 

*

 

And then Cooper shows up out of the blue at McKinley, broken and older than Blaine remembers, all manic smiles and bravado.

They make promises again. Another fresh start, and this time Blaine has other people in his life who care about him. When Cooper makes a joke about Kurt and threesomes, Blaine says “No.” He means it. It’s a terrifying scenario, not least because Cooper would do it and fuck with Kurt’s head so he wouldn’t tell.

One day Blaine will get out of Lima, and what he has here – a normal life – it’s something to enjoy. Cooper can wait. Blaine did. He loves Cooper and hates him and needs him and a hundred other things, but he was always patient about it. He knows how to cope, no thanks to his brother.

 

*

 

One day Blaine will leave Lima. He’ll still have Kurt in his life, but Kurt will grow up. He’ll see the cracks in Blaine, how he turns everything into a competition or a secret even when he means well. Especially when he means well.

Blaine won’t pick a college based on where Cooper lives. He’ll end up at his door anyway. Cooper Anderson doesn’t have brothers and he’s not out, so Blaine will be the roommate. They’ll fight, and they’ll have trouble keeping their hands off each other. They won’t try very hard; that was always the part that worked. Cooper will blow back into Blaine’s life like a storm front advancing on a clear, empty sky.

And maybe it’ll be Blaine who’ll leave. Maybe it’ll be Cooper who’ll run away from the only person who ever had a chance at seeing right through him. It won’t matter, because the Anderson boys play to win. Given enough time and distance, they’ll always see each other as the big prize. They don’t have to stand each other to understand each other, and no one else will ever come close.

Maybe they’ll be happy again, for a while. Maybe it’ll be different. But no matter how good it is, it won’t be forever. Who are they to ask for the impossible? Their dreams are big enough even when they don’t involve each other.