STEP ONE: EMPTY NEST SYNDROME
The first week feels like vacation. The house is quiet, a nice break after the last month’s whirlwind of preparations and farewell dinners with friends and family and too little sleep and too many tears; many for Kurt, but most for Finn, whose decision is the giant elephant in the room. It’s acknowledged, but never discussed, the immensity and gut-wrenching terror of it something best left unthought. Finn is away like Kurt is away; their boys will come home in their own time and for the moment all there’s left to do is enjoy a house that’s peaceful and clean.
The first weekend is the hardest. During the week, they could always pretend their boys were too busy with the beginning of the school year and glee club and football to spend time with their boring old parents, but by the weekend, by Saturday morning, it hits Burt right in the heart. Kurt isn’t up at an ungodly hour for a weekend day cooking for everyone while having a conversation with Blaine on speakerphone. Finn won’t come down the stairs groaning like he’s half-human, half-cavern-troll until he’s had something to eat. There won’t be a string of friends coming in and out, being obnoxiously young and happy and singing. God, there used to be a lot of singing in that house and now Burt is sitting in his quiet kitchen, a burned slice of toast in his plate and coffee that’s too weak cooling in his mug.
Burt spends the rest of the day melancholy, slumped in his armchair and flicking through the channels listlessly, the remote dangling from his hand. Carole finds him in the exact same place she left him before her shift at the hospital and she joins him with a sigh that speaks volumes. They discuss going out for dinner, but Burt doesn’t feel like putting on pants so they settle for take-out and a movie which is way too easy to choose. They don’t comment on how it used to be a nightmare with the kids around. They don’t say anything about how great it is to watch a movie that’s not foreign and subtitled or one that has Megan Fox’s breasts as the main plot.
The ridiculousness of the situation becomes obvious when they go groceries shopping the next day. They come home with enough food to feed a small army (or six glee boys), realizing too late that it’s only the two of them now, and it’ll only be Carole as soon as Burt has to go back to D.C.
STEP 2: ADOPTING SAM
By the second week, the decision is made. Burt tracks down Sam - Schuester lets slip while Burt is fixing his muffler for the nth time that Sam is rooming at the Abrams’, the poor kid living on the pull-out couch in their basement - and they offer him to come back.
Sam, it turns out, is mildly creeped out by Burt and Carole’s efforts to make him feel at home in their house. They’re borderline smothering him with their attention, catering to his every need and offering to help whenever he opens his mouth. They’re like two over-eager house-elves trying too hard to welcome him in their home.
Sam is used to being the eldest child, the one in charge, the substitute parental figure when his parents are out to try and find jobs. Sam can take care of himself on his own, thank you very much, and too much attention from adults is making him nervous. Don’t they have other things to do? Hobbies or whatever the hell parents do when they’re not busy cleaning after their kids?
And then there’s the food. So much food. Carole is constantly cooking for him and they’re all Finn’s favourite meals, and Sam isn’t Finn, his intake of red meat is considerably more reasonable so most nights he goes to bed feeling sick. She does his laundry and cleans after him while Burt calls him ‘kiddo’ and acts like he’s trying to become his father despite the fact that Sam has parents. He’s not an orphan or anything, all he needs is a place to sleep and he’s too young to rent an apartment.
Being alone kind of sucks, too. It’s not his house, so he can’t exactly barge into the living room and take control of the television. He’s only now daring to go and grab a snack on the very rare nights when Carole hasn’t fed him like he’s the entire football team. He doesn’t know the level of ease he’s allowed in the house, so he stays locked up in the guest room with his laptop and homework, Skyping with Mercedes from time to time or deciphering Puck’s horrible grammar when he mass-emails all the glee boys what he’s doing in LA—or who. Mostly who, actually.
When October begins and Carole offers to knit him a sweater, Sam calls Blaine for help.
STEP 3: RESCUING BLAINE
Blaine is a mess, despite what he tells everyone. He may look like he’s keeping it together, but even when he’s smiling widely to recruit new members for glee club or singing a heartfelt rendition of a Britney Spears song (and how is that appropriate for a high school glee club, seriously, Mr. Schuester has poor decision-making skills) for the week’s assignment, the Kurt-shaped hole in his life is always there in the background, making him ache with a dull pain that refuses to go away.
They text constantly, talk on the phone during lunch on Tuesday and Thursday - the only days when Kurt’s pauses match up with Blaine’s lunch hour - and Skype every night, but it’s still not enough. Of course it’s not enough. Blaine shifted his entire life around so that it revolved around Kurt and now he’s gone and Blaine is alone in Lima without a purpose or close friends - because his best friend is away in Chicago impressing everyone with his sweet moves - and it hurts.
No one seems to notice and he’s not sure whether it’s because he’s a good actor or because they just don’t pay attention, but he’s bitterly wishing someone would say something until Sam, of all people, does.
He invites him to a Friday night dinner at Kurt’s house because apparently he lives there, now, and then he goes on to say something about house-elves and overwhelming attention, so Blaine agrees only because he doesn’t want to follow Sam’s logic to try and counter it. It’s easier to just agree. It’s so much easier to just agree with everyone, lately.
Burt greets him with a frown reminiscent of Kurt’s when he’s pretending to be angry and a gruff “where the hell have you been?” to which Blaine answers with a mumbled apology. He explains more in depth much later in the evening, when they’ve eaten too much and drank wine - Carole offered with a wink - and he’s feeling loose enough to speak his mind.
“I didn’t know I could come back—no, no, I knew I could, but I didn’t want to? Because it’s—it’s obvious Kurt isn’t there when I’m here and he’s not. And I miss him, and I’ve missed you guys, but him mostly. It’s hard and I didn’t want to make it harder. I’m sorry. I just miss him so much.” Blaine’s voice breaks at that point and he presses his napkin to his mouth to try to keep it together. “I’m just—I’m alone, now. I need to get used to it.”
Burt grabs Blaine’s hand roughly and squeezes it. “You’re not alone, Blaine. You’re welcome here whenever you want. Just because Kurt isn’t there, it doesn’t mean you’re not part of this family anymore.”
Blaine looks up from his plate with watery eyes in what Kurt has dubbed his ‘kicked puppy look’ and nods, pressing his lips together. “Thank you.”
They exchange a look that lasts too long and which threatens to turn Blaine into a sobbing mess. He sees his feeling of being lost without Kurt reflected on Burt’s face; they’ve both put Kurt at the centre of their lives and now that he’s gone they don’t know what to do.
Blaine ends up sleeping on the couch, Kurt’s pillow hugged close to his chest and an itchy wool blanket - the kind every family keeps in a linen closet or under the stairs, with the satin border which does not in any way lessen the itch from the scratchy wool - pulled up to his chin. He gets up early and watches cartoons with Sam and he almost forgets for a moment that Kurt isn’t there.
STEP 4: THE HUDMELS’ SICK BAY
Burt wakes up the instant the phone rings, adrenaline coursing through his veins at the shrill sound. Something happened to Kurt. It’s something terrible and now the NYPD is calling to ask him to come and identify the body. It’s the only solution his sleep-fogged brain can come up with to explain why the phone is ringing at two in the morning.
He picks up the phone and answers roughly, trying to keep his anxiety at bay while his reason tries to take over his panic. A small voice answers him, one he can barely recognize at first.
Next to him, Carole is stirring awake, looking up from her pillow with dishevelled hair and sleep-heavy eyes. She mouths a question that Burt answers by holding up his finger, listening as Blaine explains in a scratchy voice that he’s not feeling well. His sentences don’t always make sense, his words mumbled in a way the boy, in all of his over the top dapper ways, would normally berate himself over. Everything about him screams “fever” and when he reaches the part of his confused story where he mentions that his parents are abroad, Burt grabs the first pair of pants he can find and begins putting them on.
They find Blaine curled up on his living room couch, the front door left unlocked for them. He’s hidden under a thick duvet, his hair the only thing peaking out of the shivering bundle. It takes a lot of coaxing from Carole to get him to let go of the blanket and follow them to the car, which he does unsteadily, his eyes half-closed and violent shivers shaking his small body. Carole orders for the windows to be rolled down as they drive back home, a crease of worry set on her face from the moment she touched Blaine’s forehead.
Blaine keeps them awake all night, his fever running higher than anything Kurt has ever had, and Kurt was a sickly child. Burt is used to feverish children, but Blaine’s temperature makes him wonder if they wouldn’t be better driving him to the hospital. Carole insists that he’s fine for now, but the window in Kurt’s room stays open all night.
The shivers are worrisome, but it’s nothing compared to the hallucinations Blaine seems to be having, making him toss and turn, Kurt’s name the only clear word amongst his whines and muttered words. The sun is peeking over the horizon when Carole decides it’s time for a cold bath, his temperature refusing to go down. Burt follows her as she guides Blaine to the bathroom, but when he begins stripping, all modesty gone, he quickly steps out of the room and shuts the door. This is where a dishevelled Sam finds him and they both wince in sync when Blaine gasps sharply and asks to be let out in a pleading voice, no doubt having stepping into the bath.
Blaine sleeps for the entire day, only rousing when Carole brings him a bowl of chicken noodle soup, which he barely touches. He apologizes profusely for calling them like he did, which is a good hint that he’s getting better, and Burt decides it’s better if he forgets to tell him about the phone call he exchanged with his parents earlier that day. The kid doesn’t need to know Burt got in a fight with his folks until he’s feeling better. For now, he’ll make sure Blaine feels welcome enough to stay for as long as he needs to.
STEP 5: BLAINE MOVES IN
At first, he thinks he’s only there until he gets better. He has a house of his own, his parents may be away - they promised they’d try to get home sooner and he promised he believed them - but he still has his own home, so there really is no reason for Carole to ask him if he wants her to buy anything special at the groceries store. Sam seems nonplussed by the request so Blaine writes down a few things he feels like eating and shoves the issue to the back of his mind.
The stack of clean laundry he finds on Kurt’s bed is the first hint that something is going on and he should maybe pay attention. He starts asking questions, but the answers are wholly unsatisfying and amount to telling him to just shut up and accept things as they are. It’s Sam who finally answers him with a tone that points out the obvious: he has been adopted.
So, Blaine plays along. He takes on chores and settles in Kurt’s room almost as if it’s his own. It feels weird to sleep in Kurt’s bed without him - and it’s very important that Burt never finds out he’s used to sleeping in it with Kurt; whatever happens when he’s in DC should never come to his attention. He gets used to it, slowly, until Kurt’s scent is all but gone from the linen. Blaine chases it with his face pressed in the pillows one night when Kurt misses yet another Skype date for a study group with too many boys, finally crying for the first time since Kurt left when he’s unable to find his smell.
One Saturday, they go pumpkin picking without even giving it a second thought. Everyone assumes they’re a family, with Sam Burt’s son and Blaine Carole’s or the opposite, and they don’t bother correcting them. The next day, they make pumpkin pies and Blaine takes on Kurt’s role, making sure Burt doesn’t eat too much sugar. Burt teases him in return about the products he put in his hair and their potential to melt his brain, the give and take easy and comfortable in a way it shouldn’t.
STEP 6: KURT IS BACK
When Kurt comes home for Thanksgiving, he jokes that his ribs are bruised from the hugs he’s given. Blaine refuses to let go of him even when he starts making his way towards the kitchen, the boy hanging off him “like a parasite, Blaine, seriously.” He listens with a smile when his family tells him all about what he’s missed, and he pretends it doesn’t feel like he’s been replaced.
Then it’s his turn to talk about New York and he speaks himself breathless, a blush high on his cheeks caused by excitement and enthusiasm. He lies a bit—no, he disguises the truth to cover up the parts where he cries himself to sleep or wishes he was back home and he pretends he doesn’t see how Blaine’s mood darkens at the mention of boys he met in cafés. Kurt takes his hand and squeezes it, hoping that he can communicate how much it isn’t what Blaine think it is with his touch only.
Later that night, they cry then laugh because they’re crying, huddled in Kurt’s room with the covers like a fort between them and the outside world. Nothing is left unsaid, the things they kept quiet in August now unearthed. The past months made them too painful to bear, and in many regards it feels something like a breaking point or a fork in the road. All they can do is hope they’ve chosen the right path as they promise to be more careful and honest when distance is involved.
Kurt falls asleep before he means to and wakes up in a panic in the middle of the night, thinking for an instant that he’s back in his bed in New York. His stomach sinks at the thought until his senses come back to him, the weight of Blaine’s arms holding him close to the warmth of his body soothing him back to sleep before he can consider what his momentary panic could possibly mean.
It’s completely forgotten in the morning when Kurt spots the breakfast his father is about to eat, a fight that feels centuries old picking up right where they left it in August, the skillet sizzling before Burt can swear this is just an exception in honour of Thanksgiving. The morning routine is back, but Kurt makes too much food, calculating for Finn instead of Blaine. The leftovers are thrown out without a word, their silence louder than Finn’s absence.
Too soon, Kurt has to go back to New York. He quips that he might as well stay since they miss him so much they stole Blaine and Sam from their parents, but it falls flat. Leaving now that Blaine lives with the Hudmels feels silly and it hurts more than it should, the idea that he’s leaving a perfect life behind to go feel miserable alone in New York nearly making him cry. He pushes his shoulders back and holds his head up instead, smiling and kissing Blaine before stepping out of the car and heading for his bus, his heart left somewhere between the sheets of his bed where he slept full nights for the first time since August.
And despite Sam and Blaine’s presence, the house feels empty once more after Kurt is gone. Emergency glee club rehearsals begin happening in the basement, the loud music and louder laughter still not enough to fill the empty spaces. The soul of the house is gone, a few pieces missing - Sam makes a horcrux joke one night that defuses a tension they didn’t notice was there until it's gone - and now it’s time to learn to function around the holes instead of trying to fill them. Things won’t go back to what they used to be and it’s okay. It has to be.