"For the last freaking time, Blaine: the doctor said I'm probably not contagious enough that you can reasonably keep me from going to work."
"And I really want to believe that, but…" Blaine sighs, folding his arms over his chest and slouching into the doorframe, arching an eyebrow at his boyfriend as though Jesse might do a trick. "Can you even sing Mary Had A Little Lamb right now? Because if not? Then I think Shelby can handle the kids just fine without you."
Jesse groans—which just has to go triggering a round of coughing. One that gets him doubled-over and hacking up into the crook of his elbow—exactly the way that Jesse probably wouldn't if these damn antibiotics were actually doing their job. His still-unbuttoned shirt hangs around him as he flops onto the dresser, uses it for support. He hasn't even managed to gel his hair yet, much less get himself properly dressed.
And it's all humiliating, on top of the pain wracking his chest every time Jesse coughs, for Blaine to just be there, watching Jesse prop himself up in front of their vanity mirror, watching Jesse completely fail to have a handle on himself.
It's humiliating—even when he and Blaine have been dating for four years, dating exclusively for three-and-a-half of those, and living together for almost four months—because dammit, he's not some helpless, needy little wreck who needs his boyfriend fretting over him. This isn't serious—definitely not enough to merit how he had to call in sick most of last week—it's just pneumonia, and Jesse's been good about drinking his tea, taking his meds and his vitamins—including the echinacea that Rachel swears will work wonders, for all it hasn't done anything for Jesse yet.
Jesse's followed his directions for getting healed to the last, smallest letters—but he still can't get himself to stop coughing. He can't get his lungs to just calm the Hell down, and he can't get the mucus to give in and come up already. Taking deep breaths only makes it worse—and Jesse doesn't have any success until Blaine rubs his hand down his back. Until he hacks a huge, slimy lump of coppery-looking, yellow-green and red-flecked phlegm up into his elbow.
Jesse sighs and rolls his eyes like a petulant teenager. He knows before Blaine says anything that he's going to make him stay home today—but about the last thing he expects is for Blaine to huff, tell him to change back into his pajamas and go to the kitchen table. He wants to question this move, on Blaine's part, but opts for furrowing his brow and wrinkling his nose until he feels like a frustrated cat. Which is fair enough, because he is frustrated—he's all but outright asking where the Hell Blaine gets off acting like Jesse can't take care of himself.
To which, Blaine shrugs, explains himself with a simple, "Well, I'm not just going to let you be sick by yourself, right? Like, duh, boyfriend. Now—come on. Slip into something more comfortable, I need to go call Dalton."
If he could exert enough effort without making himself double over, Jesse would punch Blaine in the mouth for how borderline-condescending he sounds, and for that simpering, too-sympathetic smile. Even with the consequences in mind, though? As Jesse huffs and strips down to his t-shirt, he's still sorely tempted to risk another round of pulmonary gymnastics. Blaine doesn't really deserve it—Jesse's upset and reading into things more than is entirely fair—but he's also sick, and tired, and too tangled up in his own feelings about this. In how he doesn't know what they are or what they're doing or any of it.
Which he doesn't really need on top of the sick part. He ought to be able to enjoy Blaine coming over to kiss his cheek—and Blaine standing on his toes to kiss his forehead—but something about the whole business leaves Jesse's stomach tying itself up in knots—and anxious ones, at that, instead of the nauseated ones that he's had going on since he caught this bug. Something cuts through how sweet Blaine's being and leaves Jesse cold.
…Maybe that's just the chills that come along with this infection, but Jesse rather doubts it.
It sounds so stupid that he could kick himself, but Jesse still isn't sure how he and Blaine wound up here. He has no idea how they seemingly went from casual sex to domesticity in what feels like no time at all. Which doesn't exactly make anything about today easier for Jesse to handle.
It's tempting to say that he and Blaine were friends first, but it's not entirely true. Like, at all. They had some history, but it wasn't much. They palled around at Interlochen one summer, when they were both there for vocal performance. Then, they never really kept in touch, or properly faced each other on the competition circuit, or really crossed paths during Jesse's myriad visits back to McKinley or during the two years he spent coaching Vocal Adrenaline alone.
And after Blaine left McKinley for NYU, Jesse doubted that he'd ever see the kid again. Blaine Anderson, he figured, was cut from the same cloth as Rachel Berry and (Jesse only admitted to himself begrudgingly) Kurt Hummel. Ergo, Blaine was probably bound for bigger and better things than Ohio could offer—which absolutely didn't make Jesse's chest twist up with regret and some thick, sinking something that inexplicably felt so much like heartache.
Besides that, even if it had Jesse had no right to any kind of sadness, when he came to the McKinley High Class of 2013's graduation. At least, he had no right to anything beyond the standard, life goes on and all things must pass and it's sad but also reassuring, sort of nostalgia that always went hand-in-hand with commencement ceremonies—especially not over Blaine. They were just old summer camp friends.
Besides that, it wasn't as though Jesse had Blaine on his mind while getting his life together—so he could hardly have thought Blaine would do the same. Jesse didn't have any spare time to think about too many other people. He stayed busy enough just in getting his double-major in music and education from Bowling Green. In doubling up with Shelby to coach Vocal Adrenaline because she missed it, and he couldn't go to school and give them the coaching they needed by himself. In getting a Master's in music education, eventually, and using a series of his kids' performances as his thesis.
Besides that, even if Jesse needed to be in Ohio instead of Manhattan or Los Angeles, he's had a good life—one he's proud of. And through everything, Jesse stayed wrapped up enough in the loneliness of it all that he barely even noticed. It only hurt when he paid attention to it—when he sat down on the sofa by himself, got thinking about how quiet and empty his place was without having the TV on, let himself wonder what he was doing so wrong that he always wound up lonely—and thank God, it was easy enough to avoid that. After all, he had enough distractions—some of them even had names, lasted longer than a week.
There was Heather, a real estate agent about ten years Jesse's senior, who had an open marriage and wanted some go-to arm candy. There was a reheated fling with Rachel, one summer when Jesse took a temporary position in Brooklyn and she needed someone to come home to after her off-off-Broadway rehearsals. There were David and Cara, a married couple who tried Jesse out as their third partner for a while. There was Sebastian, but it flared up while they were in a grad-level class together, then died off pretty quickly. There were James, and Amy, and Jeffrey, and Sarah, and Augusten, all in quick succession, each one seeming more likely to last than the one before it.
Ultimately, though, all of the attempted relationships ended up the same way: with Jesse flopped out on Shelby's couch, taking her up on the standing offer of tea and sympathy, occasionally playing some game or another with Beth. And it happened often enough that she's called him Uncle Jesse since right after Rachel's big break. She still does, even though she's grown up enough to understand that they really aren't related, even through the periodic moments of angst over certain classmates making assumptions about Beth and her happiness, just because she's adopted.
And then Blaine touched down from out of fucking nowhere, smacked into Jesse's life with the force of a tornado, and changed everything without even trying.
They found each other again in Seattle, some four years ago—nearly five, Jesse shudders to think. They found each other again when Vocal Adrenaline and the Warblers squared off at the 2020 Nationals. Jesse was twenty-nine, six months out of the tangled break-up with Gabriel—six months out of yet another relationship that couldn't keep up with his dedication to his job—six months into a string of disappointing one-night stands, because maybe they left him lonely but at least they didn't care if he cared more about the next competition than about their bullshit problems.
It was Jesse's own fault that stumbling into Blaine hit him so hard. That was the year he finished his Master's, so Shelby had kept tabs on all the other teams, and Jesse hadn't bothered to look at anything about who was coaching the Warblers. So he wound up looking at the posting board of competition brackets, nudging someone's shoulder a bit too hard, and apologizing to the last person he thought he'd ever see—Blaine Anderson, fresh out of graduate school himself and unnervingly earnest in asking if Jesse wanted to go get drinks. Jesse accepted, and while his kids left Washington with a first-place trophy, he left with Blaine's number.
He surprised himself when he called Blaine back, and that's about where his ability to recount their story stops. He has memories of disconnected incidents, but no idea how all of this has come together. The only thing he knows is that, somehow or other, it has come together—Jesse's accidentally found his way into a relationship that's stuck around, that's lasted long enough for their parents (and sometimes Shelby) to start hassling them about when they'll make honest men out of each other already.
Sometimes, Shelby talks about how quickly Beth's grown up—or how quickly she's seemed to grow up, anyway. How it seems like just yesterday that she adopted her baby girl, and now they're comparing prices on second-hand cars for whenever Beth eventually passes her driver's test. How raising her daughter's taken time, and effort, and so much energy—but how there's still such a blink-and-you'll-miss-it feeling like, where did all the time go.
Maybe he's never raised a child—maybe he's only been, at best, mildly helpful in raising Beth—but Jesse's felt the same thing with Blaine. And Blaine should go to work instead of staying home to look after him—Jesse needs the space to calm down and drag himself back to rationality.
But Blaine doesn't change his mind on this issue. He's impossible, sometimes—usually when he lets that stubbornness get the better of him—and today quickly shapes up to be one of Those Days. Blaine's intent on playing the Mother Hen role to the hilt, regardless of how unnecessary it is.
When Jesse wanders out to the kitchen, he's chatting with the Headmaster's administrative assistant, balancing the phone on his shoulder so his hands are free to crack the eggs he's decided to make. Jesse makes an attempt at being helpful—nothing even a little strenuous; just fetching the bacon from the fridge and trying to start up the coffee-maker—all of which gets him shunted off to the table and shoved into a chair.
"Hey, hey… come on, Jess," Blaine hisses, covering up the phone. "Have a little faith in me—I've been reading up and watching the Food Network. Maybe it won't be haute cuisine or anything, but it'll be safe to eat. You just rest."
"I don't have any doubts about whether or not you can cook something edible." Jesse sighs. Considers saying what's on his mind—It's just that I'm sick, not an invalid, and want you to stop smothering me—then rolls his eyes instead, and snarks, "I just don't want you doing anything that might burn down my kitchen."
"Oh my God, that happened one time, back in my old place—and it wasn't even my fault. The stove was faulty and, I just mean… cut me a little slack, right? Anybody could've started that grease fire—even Cooper and my super said so."
Jesse huffs. Shrugs. Supposes that Blaine might have a point. "You're just lucky that I kept you from throwing water on it, or your super would've had more to complain about than the smoke alarm going off."
Blaine shakes his head and groans as he turns back to laying bacon out in the frying pan. The subtext here is more glaringly obvious than Blaine's ass in the trousers he still hasn't changed out of: it's actually fine with me if you want to keep getting snippy with me—God, I love you so much—which just leaves Jesse swallowing a thick hunk of phlegm that might as well be a literal frog. A chill shudders up his spine and he just wishes it was from being sick instead of discernibly from guilt.
Which makes no sense because Jesse's done nothing to feel guilty about. Blaine's not even wearing some crestfallen expression like he wants to say, why must you hurt me in this way—he doesn't register that anything questionable is going on at all. Instead, he sings Disney songs all through making up the food and serving it, and spends most of breakfast nudging his foot up and down Jesse's leg. And since Jesse's still not sure what his feelings think they're doing, he sighs, tries to focus on eating without hacking up a lung.
The eggs aren't the best that Jesse's ever had, but they aren't toxic either, which is an easy A, grading based on some of Blaine's previous efforts. They argue over resolving the issue of lunch and dinner—the issue of how no, really, Blaine's not going to use taking care of Jesse as an excuse to work himself into catching Jesse's pneumonia plague. The solution ends up being that they order out for both. Not that it keeps Blaine from playing Molly Weasley. Each time Blaine runs out to pick up the food, he just has to pause and remind. Jesse not to over-exert himself.
As though he really needs to be told. As though he hasn't already heard that direction from a doctor and tried to follow it. As though he could seriously manage to work himself into the emergency room while grading a round of quizzes from his Intro to Music Theory class. The worst part here—really, the only stressful part at all—is how many of Jesse's students have skipped over doing the reading and/or the workbook problems. And while emotionally grueling, it only makes Jesse cry on the inside. Which doesn't count as disobeying his doctor-ordered rest and relaxation.
"You could go a little easier on your kids, y'know," Blaine points out, eventually, without looking up from the tests that he's marking up.
Jesse huffs and supposes that he could, but that this would require them to make more of a discernible effort. Dinner's mostly over with—neither of them's touched their Thai take-away for a good half-hour, for all the cartons of rice and noodles still litter the coffee table—and they're sitting together on the sofa. Working on their own respective stacks of paperwork (Jesse's since moved on to his Theatre History class's essays on A Doll's House, which are no more pleasant than the quizzes). Watching But I'm A Cheerleader because Blaine insists that it has magical curative powers. Resting their feet on the table and carefully maneuvering around the food.
Despite the threat of making a mess, Blaine sighs, snakes his leg around, leans it into Jesse's. He smirks as, nudging his toes into Jesse's foot. "Yeah, like I don't know that you're more of a hard-ass academically than you are with Vocal Adrenaline. Like I don't know that you're worse to your Vocal Adrenaline kids."
"What, because there's totally no reason for me to demand that my performers become well-rounded people?" Jesse snorts as he looks up to arch an eyebrow at Blaine—but he takes himself by surprise with his tone. It's nowhere near as acerbic as Jesse could be right now. "I mean, I absolutely didn't learn the hard way that skimping on everything but Vocal Adrenaline is an easy way to dig yourself into a huge hole. Yes, I'm harsh, but it's only because I want the best for these kids, alright?"
Blaine chuckles, smiles like a fat cat in a canary cage—and, rolling his eyes, Jesse drawls, "And what, exactly, is so funny?"
"Oh, nothing," Blaine says with a shrug. "Just… You sounded an awful lot like Mister Schue just now. It's all about these kids, I care about these kids, I just want what's best for them… Maybe I should take your birthday present back and get you some sweater-vests instead?"
"Please. I'm nothing like Schuester. And if I'm wrong about that? Then, at least I don't mollycoddle my kids with a bunch of sparkly, rainbow-crapping kittens versions of what the world is really like. I'm not too hard on them, either—I just refuse to enable them in… under… perf…" Trailing off, Jesse stares into Blaine's Mischievous FaceTM—it should be a smile, but he's pressing his lips together into a thin, tense line and looks like he's sucking on a lemon.
Jesse groans and swats at Blaine's shoulder with an essay. "You are such a nerd, Anderson."
Blaine grins as if to say, guilty as charged. "Well, I'm a nerd who's right about things more often than you might want to admit. Noticed how you haven't had any coughing fits for a few hours?"
Jesse blinks down at the table—at how he's started brushing his foot back into Blaine's without even realizing it. He hasn't noticed that he's been cough-free, but now that Blaine points it out… Jesse sighs, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. Finally, he knows what his feelings are doing, what they've been doing all day—and that's not exactly good for him. He slips his foot up on top of Blaine's, kneads his toes into Blaine's foot. Jesse's heart races like Seabiscuit; his stomach writhes, his skin crawls, his chapped lips taste salty and dry as he licks them.
"Blaine?" he says, not entirely sure if he's still in reality. Jesse hopes he is, because he has to drag his next words, kicking and screaming, out of his throat: "Do you—would you maybe… I haven't been planning this or anything, so it's going to be awkward, but… Do you ever think about getting married? Like, about us getting married?"
Blaine slides his foot back on top of Jesse's, reaches over to lace their fingers up together, and answers that question with a simple, quiet, "Yeah. Yeah, Jess, I do. And if you're, like, asking asking? Then I'm saying, Hell yes."