For as long as he can remember, Kurt has always known he's not exactly like everyone else.
Some of the other children at school don't like that and are mean to him. But when he comes home, face red and blotchy from crying, Mama holds him until he calms down. She takes a moment to wipe his tears away before looking at him very seriously, promising him that -someday- he's going to find friends who will love him for who he is. No matter what.
Then in third grade, after Josie Fisher pours chocolate milk all over his lunch, Rachel Anderson-Berry becomes his first friend.
Rachel is loud and bossy. She also shrieks when she doesn't get her way, so he tries to avoid her if he can. She's shrieking now, pointing at the soggy mess that used to be Kurt's lunch and screaming at the teacher that Josie did it on purpose. Miss Horn just rolls her eyes and insists it's an accident, while Josie sticks her tongue at them from behind her back.
But even though Josie doesn't get punished like she should have been, Kurt is incredibly happy because he's never had anyone to stand up for him before. Besides, Rachel is actually kind of nice when she wants to be. She shares her lunch with him and they play games together. She even offers to walk him home (he's never had a friend to walk home with before), which is how he meets Blaine Anderson-Berry.
"My baby brother," Rachel explains, making a face at a boy who almost looks like her twin. "He's a second grader."
"I'm not a baby," the boy -Blaine- protests with a pout. Unlike his sister, his hair is wild and curly. His clothes are dirty from playing in mud and there's a bandaid covering his stubborn chin. And his front teeth are missing, so the air whistles when he speaks.
Kurt thinks he's absolutely adorable.
But when he says as much, Blaine stares at him for a long moment before hurrying ahead, leaving a great distance between them. Kurt feels a little hurt until Rachel giggles and leans in, whispering quietly, "Blaine gets really shy when people compliment him."
Blinking, he looks over at Blaine, who glances back at them over his shoulder. Kurt smiles and waves at him, amused when he jolts in surprise and turns away quickly, the tips of his ears bright pink. Kurt's smile widens when he thinks he's finally made friends and -impulsively- he grabs Rachel by the hand and runs to catch up with her brother.
A few days later, when Kurt goes over to the Anderson-Berry's home for the first time, he is momentarily confused by Rachel and Blaine's parents. For some reason, they have two daddies, but he only has one. As soon as the three of them are sitting in Rachel's bedroom, he asks her about it, and Rachel replies that there are girls who marry girls and girls who marry boys and boys who marry boys.
Smiling brightly, Kurt throws his arms around Blaine's neck, who howls like he's being tortured and attempts to squirm away. "I want to marry Blaine!" he announces.
Rachel considers this for a moment, ignoring her brother's desperate pleas for help, and says, "You have to promise that I can be the maid of honor."
"I promise," Kurt tightens his grip when Blaine almost succeeds in slipping out of his hold. "But who will be the flower girl?"
Blaine blushes. "I'm not going to marry you! You're going to make me wear a stuffy suit and tie and I'll hate it."
"Don't be silly," Kurt says, frowning. "You're going to wear a bow tie. They look much better."
A knock at the door drowns out Blaine's unhappy groan as one of their daddies enter the room. "Sorry to interrupt, kids," he says. "Kurt, your father came early to pick you up. He's waiting downstairs."
He immediately lets go of Blaine, looking at Rachel in confusion. They march down the stairs where Papa is talking quietly with Rachel and Blaine's other daddy. "Kurt," Papa says the moment he catches sight of him. He's speaking in that serious way grown ups do when something awful has happened. And, for a moment, Kurt is scared that it's because he wants to marry a boy, until he sees the look on Papa's face.
"What happened?" Kurt asks, his voice very small. He can tell something is wrong and that scares him. He feels a hand clasp his own and sees Blaine staring back at him as Rachel quickly takes his other hand. It makes him feel a little better, knowing that they're both there for him.
At least until Papa shakes his head. "I'm sorry, Kurt. I know you have one of those playdate things today, but Mama isn't feeling well. She had to go to the hospital and I need you to stay with Aunt Helena before it gets too late."
Kurt bites his lip, wanting to complain but knowing better than to. Not when Mama isn't feeling well. But Aunt Helena isn't even his real aunt. She's just the mean lady who lives next door with graying hair and a scowl on her face. (But the real reason he doesn't like her is because she spends the whole time pointing out things he does and says that other boys apparently don't do or say.)
"Kurt can stay here," Blaine speaks up. Everyone turns to look at him, but he just clasps Kurt's hand tighter, the determination clear on his little face.
"Yes!" Rachel pipes up, hugging Kurt's arm to her chest. "We'll have a sleepover. It'll be a lot of fun!"
The adults seem to mull over the idea and converse quietly amongst themselves as Kurt looks down at his socks. He doesn't look up until Papa kneels in front of him, placing one of his big hands on his shoulder. "Would you rather stay here for the night?"
"Yes," he whispers. Even though what he really wants is to see Mama. Wants to make sure she's all right. But he's only allowed to visit Mama at the hospital during the day. Papa is the only one who can stay with her at night. "Yes, I want to stay here."
Papa nods and stands, turning to the other adults. "Sorry about all this."
"Don't even worry about it," is the patient reply. "Kurt is more than welcome."
"Thank you. I'll come by in the morning to pick him up." Papa reaches out to ruffle his hair, telling him to be good, before he's out the front door and climbing into his car and driving back to the hospital. Kurt doesn't meet anyone's eyes after that. Not Rachel, or Blaine, or either of their daddies. He's quiet during dinner and is distracted during the movie they watch.
It's only when he's curled up between Rachel and Blaine on the living room floor, wrapped in a pile of soft blankets, does Kurt finally let the tears fall. Everyone else is already asleep, so he presses his hands over his face to keep quiet, even as his shoulders shake hard with sobs.
Suddenly, arms wrap around him and he gasps, uncovering his face to find large hazel eyes peering at him quietly in the dark. "Kurt. Kurt, it's okay," Blaine whispers. He rubs his back, the way Mama does, which makes Kurt cry harder.
"S-she's sick." Kurt hiccups, trying to keep his voice down so he doesn't wake up Rachel too. "She's been sick for a really long time. Papa says going to the hospital is supposed to make her better, but it's not. She's not getting better."
Blaine gazes at him for a long moment. "Me and Rachel had a mommy once," he admits softly, "We don't really remember her, but she was sick too. She was so sick that she couldn't take care of us anymore."
Kurt pulls away, suddenly scared. "Do you think that'll happen to me too?"
"No," Blaine says quickly. "Our mommy gave us up because she didn't want us. But the way you talk about your mommy, she must love you just as much as you love her. Don't give up on that."
Squeezing his eyes shut, Kurt burrows closer and wishes as hard as he can that Blaine is right.
When Kurt wakes up the next morning, he finds himself in a tangle of limbs and blankets. Blaine's face is so close to his own and he ends up staring longer than he means to. After a moment, he tries to wiggle out but Rachel -sleeping on his other side- grumbles something under her breath and throws her arm around him. It takes another moment to peel her off, but Kurt finally frees himself and stands, looking at the siblings with a smile.
But then he remembers the night before and his eyes immediately filling with tears. He rubs at his face, hoping Papa will pick him up soon.
"Kurt?" a voice speaks up quietly. He turns and finds Mr. Anderson and Mr. Berry standing in the doorway, looking at him with concern. "Your father just called. He said he'll be here soon. How about you get washed up and have some breakfast?"
Nodding, he hurries to do as he's told, brushing his teeth with a borrowed toothbrush and washing his face. He changes out of Blaine's extra pair of pajamas and leaves them carefully folded on his bed, before dressing into his own clothes from yesterday. When he sits down at the dining table across from Mr. Berry, the man looks up from his newspaper and smiles.
"Did you sleep well, Kurt?"
"Yes, thank you," he replies politely. It's an automatic response, but an honest one. He slept better with Rachel and Blaine than he has in a long time.
Mr. Anderson sets a plate down in front of him and smiles cheerfully. "Eat up now. I hope you enjoy it."
It's his favorite: waffles with fresh strawberries and homemade whipped cream. But delicious though it is, it doesn't taste the way Mama makes it. The very thought turns each bite into sand in his mouth, leaving him no choice but to leave the rest of his plate untouched.
As Mr. Berry clears the plates away and gets up to wash them, Rachel and Blaine finally wake up. They demand to go with Kurt too, but their fathers point out they have to go to school and -besides- visits to the hospital are usually only for family.
When Papa comes for him at last, Burt thanks them for taking care of Kurt and helps him into the car. Kurt stares out the window at his friends. Rachel fights back tears while Blaine looks on sadly. Kurt doesn't look away, even when they turn the corner and he doesn't see them anymore.
The hospital is an awful place. it smells weird and the walls are too white, but everyone looks either too serious or too sad. Kurt hates being here.
Clinging tightly to Papa's hand, he looks away as Burt stops to speak with the doctor. Doctors are useless. Mama's been sick for such a long time and nothing the doctors do make her feel better. A tug on his hand makes Kurt look up at Papa, who looks down with a question in his eyes. Kurt nods and follows him into Mama's room.
Mama is thin and sickly, her once beautiful auburn hair lying limp around her face. But her eyes brighten as she holds her arms out to Kurt. He pointedly doesn't look at the tube attached to her skin and hugs her, holding her as tight as he dares. She pulls back with a smile and brushes his hair out of his face. "I heard you had a sleepover last night," she says. "Did you have fun with your friends?"
"Yes." He thinks of Rachel and Blaine, which causes his heart to swell with happiness at having friends. "They're really nice."
"Good," she says, hugging him tighter.
Suddenly, it occurs to him that something is not right. He pulls away slightly to stare into Mama's ocean green eyes, just like his. "Mama, when are you coming home?" he asks, voice small.
Her expression turns stricken. "Oh, honey." Burt, sitting in the chair next to her bed, places a hand on his shoulder as Mama explains like she's done many times before. And, like always, he listens, but he doesn't understand the words. He won't understand. Any other option is too horrible to think about.
He refuses to believe that Mama will never set foot in their house again.
The rest of the visit passes in a blur. He dimly recalls kissing her frail cheek as they leave the hospital and Papa playing Mellencamp the whole drive home (which he would have complained about, had he been in a better mood). But then he's suddenly in his bedroom, burying his face into his pillow to muffle his sobs.
Kurt knows Mama has been sick for a very long time. And even though the doctors haven't been able to help her, he never thought about losing her. Because he knows, deep down, there won't be any way to get her back.