Kurt doesn't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but if he could plan the perfect way to spend his birthday, this wouldn't be it.
It wouldn't be waking up alone in his depressingly clean bed (and if you had told him on his last birthday that he would grow to find a clean bed depressing, he would have flared his nostrils at you condescendingly).
He wouldn't feel this aching emptiness in his palms where Blaine's and Dave's hands should be.
He'd be able to look forward to seeing both of them later at dinner, tossing stupid jokes over hazelnut ice cream while Finn tried to keep up and his dad rolled his eyes fondly.
In reality, of course, the look in his dad's eyes would be anything but fond if he knew what was going on with the three of them. He's softened more on the idea of Dave recently, which Kurt gathers has something to do with a visit Dave made to Hummel Tires & Lube last month. But if Burt Hummel knew that Kurt’s current life goal (other than getting into NYADA) is to fuck both of the boys’ brains out at once – well, he has a hard time imagining his dad being cool with that, even if the fucking is sweet and loving and full of “you matter”s.
Kurt wishes the security camera in the garage had audio, because neither Dave nor his dad has been forthcoming with details of what happened that day in April. All Kurt knows is that when Burt mentioned it that evening, he pushed back his baseball cap to scratch his scalp and said, "You're right. He's a different kid than the one I slammed up against a wall a year and a half ago. I guess if you guys want to do your study thing over here sometime, it's okay."
Kurt just nodded, stunned.
So it's safer to mention Dave now, and sometimes Burt asks if Kurt knows how "things are going for Dave at school," which Kurt takes as "is Dave getting beaten up on a regular basis?" It's not exactly fondness, but at least it's concern.
Still, Kurt tries to make sure Dave doesn't come up too often. He may pride himself on being a performer, but he can't perform for very long around his dad. He's as transparent as air when it comes to his emotions. He sneaks texts to Dave in the living room and whispers phone calls to him in his bedroom, and if Kurt forgets himself sometimes and lets his voice carry, everyone in the house just assumes he's talking to Blaine.
Kurt does not have Dave and Blaine in his bed with him. But he does have their text messages.
Dave: Happy Birthday! You're officially older than me for the next five months.
Blaine: Happy Birthday! I get to spank you 19 times, right?
Kurt smiles in spite of himself and texts back.
To Dave : I'll always be older than you. Older and wiser. Keep that under advisement.
To Blaine: Only 19 times?
Kurt turns in his bed to look at the two wrapped presents from Blaine and Dave on the shelf next to his phone. They're both small: Dave's wrapped in plain blue paper; and Blaine's decked in a sheet of purple-and-white origami paper with gold ribbons and a red origami rose.
Dave gave Kurt his in the Anderson's front hallway the afternoon before. Kurt moved to open it right then before Dave interrupted, blushing. "I was hoping – Could you wait to open it tomorrow?"
Kurt blushed, too. "Sorry. I just assumed you wanted me to open it in front of you."
"Um … " Dave looked down at his hands. "This present, I wanted you to open tomorrow. Since I won't be there. So that you know I –" He swallowed. "I wish I could be. With you."
Kurt stared at Dave, which made Dave duck his head further, shoving his hands into his pocket and shuffling his feet. "Sorry, that's cheesy, isn’t it? You can go ahead and open it now, or throw it away, or whatever –" but Kurt interrupted him by tackling him to the wall and covering his face with a dozen kisses.
"No, no, it's not," Kurt murmured when he came up for breath. "It's – It's wonderful. Thank you." Another kiss, long and drawn out, because speech alone couldn't tell the whole story. Kurt wasn't even sure what that story was, but he'd try to write it out on Dave's lips as long as he was allowed.
Blaine, ever the fair-minded, gave Kurt his own present a few hours later, as they walked out to the Navigator to say goodbye.
"But I'm going to see you tomorrow night," Kurt said, confused. "You can give it to me then."
"I have another present for in front of your family. This one's just between us."
Kurt lifted an eyebrow. "A vibrating cock ring? I was wondering when you'd come around."
"No." Blaine ducked his head and smiled. "Just – you'll see why. And I know I could just give it to you tomorrow in your room, but I want you to have the chance to open it alone."
"Because," Blaine bit his lip, "it doesn't seem fair that I would get to watch you open my present on your birthday, but Dave doesn't. I mean it’s up to you, but if you want you can open them at the same time, or –"
"Blaine," Kurt said.
"I love you. You make it so hard to go –" Kurt was about to say home, but suddenly the word didn't sound right. It was the place where his father was, and wherever his father was had always been home, except maybe that wasn't enough anymore. Maybe Kurt was split between two homes: the place he'd grown up in, and the place he was growing toward.
So Kurt didn't finish the sentence, just repeated it with no dangling question at the end. "You make it so hard to go."
"It's your birthday," Carole says, tears streaming down her face from the onions she's chopping. "It's not your job to make the dinner."
Kurt waves a whisk at her and peers into the mixing bowl. "It's difficult to keep all traces of egg yolk out of the whites. I just thought you might need an expert on hand."
"Hey." Burt removes the whisk from Kurt's hand. "I learned how to make soufflé from an expert. Trust me to do it right."
Kurt is considering whether to surrender when his pocket starts playing Rondo Alla Turca. "Fine," he says, backing out of the kitchen. "But don't think this means you've won."
When Kurt picks up he's halfway up the stairs, his "hey" breathy from the speed with which he's bounding toward his room.
"Hey," Dave answers back, equally breathy. "Happy birthday."
"Thanks." Kurt sighs. "It could be happier."
"Did something happen?"
Kurt shakes his head, even though Dave’s not there to see it. "No. I just – I guess I'm coming down from yesterday. It was really nice, being with you." Kurt closes his door behind him. "I mean, spending time with you, not being with you. " He bites his bottom lip. "Well, being with you was nice, too."
"Okay," Dave says, but Kurt can't really read what Dave means by that over hundreds of miles and crackly reception.
"More than nice," Kurt stammers, settling on the bed. "A lot more than nice. You're – I like kissing you. A lot."
He hears Dave laugh. "I like kissing you, too. A lot. And –"
"And –?" Kurt says, only then realizing that he's half-hoping that this conversation will quickly unravel into phone sex. He bites the inside of his cheek.
"And touching you, and looking at you, and going to IHOP with you, and learning bird songs with you, and waking Blaine up with you, and – I just really like being near you, Kurt."
"I do, too," Kurt says. "I mean, being near you. Not being near me. I'm always near myself. It gets kind of annoying sometimes, actually." He bites the inside of his cheek again, this time to shut himself up. He is not being cool or wise or in control or any of the things that Dave seems to admire. "Where are you, anyway?"
"In my uncle's living room. All the adults are out back arguing about the best way to grill an eggplant."
"Yeah, an eggplant."
"But that's so easy. You just soak it in a little salt water and then brush it with olive oil and –"
"I knew you'd know. If you were here, you could just show them."
An unbidden image comes to Kurt of himself at Dave's house – it's Dave's, because he has no idea what the uncle's house looks like – carrying out a pan of brined eggplant to the backyard and setting it next to a grill that Dave's tending. Paul Karofsky and some other adults who look vaguely like him are sitting at a large fold-out table on the back deck, watching with approval as Kurt stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Dave, brushing the olive oil over each slice, laying it on the grate, and telling Dave when it's time to flip them over. Small children dart around, and Blaine keeps them away from the grill by swooping them up in his arms and swinging them in dizzy circles until they shriek out high peals of laughter.
Kurt's heart swoops so fast that he starts to feel lightheaded, despite the fact that he's sitting down.
"Kurt? Are you still there? The reception here kind of sucks."
"Yeah. Yeah. Sorry. I was just thinking. About grilling eggplant."
"I just … I'm kind of jealous of the eggplant. For being so close to you."
Dave guffaws and Kurt can see his face so clearly, the way his smile shows the perfect straight line of his front teeth and the jaunty points of his cuspids. He lets Dave's laughter wind into his belly until he's laughing, too – laughing so hard that his eyes tear and his breath becomes as ragged as it does from sex.
"That's the sweetest thing anyone's ever said to me," Dave says he gains control of his breath.
"I'm nothing if not suave. Watching all those rom coms has clearly paid off."
They're silent for a moment. Kurt turns his head and looks at the shelf next to his bed, curls his free hand around the small blue box because he can't curl it around Dave's fingers right now. "Dave?"
"I haven't opened your present yet."
Dave pauses. "That's okay. No hurry."
"I wanted to wait until we were on the phone, so I could open it in front of you."
"Is that okay?" Kurt says.
Silence again. Then, from Dave: "I'm kind of nervous."
"Don't be. It's from you." Kurt pauses. "Can I open it now, or do you need to go back outside?"
"Sure," Dave says. "I don't think anyone's noticed I'm gone yet."
Kurt starts with the soft separation of tape and paper. He’s a compulsively neat opener of gifts. "I really like the wrapping, by the way."
"It's a piece of blue paper."
Dave doesn't say anything to that, so neither does Kurt. He just takes a deep breath before removing the lid.
And gasping. "Dave – Oh, Dave. It's –" Kurt starts, and then stops. It's a cerulean warbler brooch, with blue cloisonné feathers almost as vibrant as the real thing.
"It's – is it okay? I have the receipt if you want to return it. I just thought, you and warblers, and the cerulean warbler always make me think of you, because it’s the same color that your eyes get sometimes. Except your eyes are better. ... And you can never seem to get enough of brooches, so –"
"I can never get enough of you."
"It's perfect. Thank you."
Dinner is flawless as far as the food goes, and almost flawless as far as the company. There's easily room for seven of them around the dining table, but only six of them are there. Kurt has to keep reminding himself not to focus on Dave’s absence. It may be his last birthday in Lima, so he focuses instead on trying to memorize his father's voice and his gestures and the excited way he slaps the table when Kurt approves of the soufflé.
He drapes the thin silk scarf from Blaine around his neck as soon as he opens it, and squeals with delight as he switches out his consignment store cufflinks for Alexander McQueen skull cufflinks from his dad. Carole squeezes Burt's hand and gets misty-eyed. "Don't expect anything that fancy for graduation, kid," Burt says with an air of gruffness, but all Kurt can hear is the underlying affection.
"I wasn't expecting anything this fancy ever. You didn't have to."
Burt just shakes his head. "Actually, I kind of did." His voice is a little choked, and Kurt rolls his eyes to try to deflect the grip it has on his heart. It doesn't work at all.
"Dad," he says, and reaches across the table to squeeze his hand.
Blaine helps carry the rest of Kurt's presents up afterward. It’s a symbolic act of genlemanlieness; they're all small and easily could fit in Kurt's arms: a box of Utrecht drawing pencils from Finn (Finn bounced up and down in his chair as Kurt slowly unpeeled the wrapping paper, and beamed when Kurt saw what it was), a French copy of Les Miserables sent by Aunt Mildred, a Judy Garland – Duets DVD from the whole family, and a Marc Jacobs dopp kit from Carole. There’s also a cartoon drawing that Sam did of Kurt as Han Solo.
(“Why Han Solo and not Queen Amadala?” Kurt had asked. Sam just shook his head like it was obvious: “You have way more in common with Han Solo. He’s a dude, and you both wear vests.” Kurt hugged him harder than he ever had in his life.)
Blaine spreads them out in a display on top of Kurt's vanity. "Your family knows you well." The pride in Blaine's voice is tinged with sadness.
Kurt sidles up behind Blaine and wraps his arms around his waist. "I'm lucky," he says, leaning his chin on Blaine's shoulder and looking at their reflection in the mirror. "I'm glad you're a part of it."
Blaine looks back at him through the glass. "I want to be."
"You are." Kurt almost leans in to kiss Blaine's cheek, but it's more important to hold his eyes right now, to make Blaine see that he will never back away from this one truth.
A smile that looks like acceptance spreads slowly across Blaine’s face. "Did you open my present yet?" he says, nudging the scarf around Kurt's neck with a finger. "I mean, the other one?"
"Of course not. I wanted to wait for you."
Blaine looks down at the table, then back up, catching Kurt's eyes in the mirror. "But Dave didn't get to see you open his present. I want to be … fair."
"It's okay." Kurt pulls Blaine toward the bed. "I opened Dave's present when we were on the phone this afternoon. It was almost like he was here."
"Except for the making out?" Blaine grins as he sits on the mattress next to Kurt.
"Except for the making out."
Blaine rubs Kurt’s knee."So what did he get you? I mean, if you want to share."
"Of course I do." Kurt leans over to his bedside shelf, taking the brooch and handing it to Blaine.
"I love him. He's perfect," Blaine says.
"The bird or Dave?"
Kurt smirks. "Sometimes I wonder who has a bigger crush on Dave."
Blaine's face twists into a laugh. "Mine's strictly bromantic. Anything beyond that is just contagion from the way he makes you feel."
"Yup. Love is like a virus."
"Except that it doesn't stuff up your nose or make it hard to breathe or make you feel like throwing up all the time," Kurt says. "Oh, wait. It does do those last two things, doesn't it?"
Blaine puts the brooch back on the shelf, taking his own gift from it and handing it to Kurt. "Well, you might as well open it now."
"I'd be honored," Kurt says, removing the origami rose from the wrapping and tucking it behind his ear. Blaine beams.
Kurt pulls back the paper to reveal a wallet-sized photo of the mostly male New Directions after sectionals, Kurt and Tina at the center, everyone wearing the perfectly centered bow ties that Kurt and Blaine taught them to tie.
It’s the cover of a flip book. Kurt turns it open to the first page, the words So you always remember how much we love you on a grey-white textured background that looks like winter ice.
"That’s from when Dave and I walked out on the lake and you stayed on shore,” Blaine says. “The ice was so pretty. I took a lot of pictures with my phone."
Kurt flips the pages. At first, it's mostly Kurt and various people from the New Directions at their best moments – the ones when they're actually listening to each other, the ones when they drop the masks they use in front of the rest of the world – and a couple of Kurt’s family at Friday dinners.
But after a few pages, Kurt starts to see why Blaine didn't want Kurt to open this in front of his family. There's Blaine and Kurt in the corner of Puck's living room at the final cast party for West Side Story in what would have been a compromising position if they'd had fewer clothes on and their hands had slipped any further below their waists. Kurt blushes. The photo is delightful. "Who took that?"
"Puck, of course. He said if we'd been lesbians, he would have spent days getting off to it, but since we're not, it was only good for the one drunken ogle."
Next is the two of them in their Swiss chalet after the dress rehearsals for the Christmas special, Blaine wrapped in Kurt's arms on the couch, basking in the glow of the fake fireplace.
And then there's himself, Blaine and Dave at the kitchen bar, laughing over splayed textbooks.
Kurt looks up at Blaine questioningly. "Wait, when did you –?"
"I put my laptop camera on a timer one afternoon. There's hundreds of them. That one's the best."
Kurt's mouth curls into a smile. "Blaine Anderson, covert operations."
"You think that's sneaky? I get sneakier."
"You haven't been doing this in the bedroom, have you?"
"No." Blaine's eyelashes blink lushly, a sweet velvet seduction. "But I could if you wanted me to."
Kurt smiles but doesn't answer. He turns back to the book – to pictures from Scandals, some of which Kurt vaguely remembers being taken, but others that come as a complete surprise: Blaine wrapped around Kurt at the pool table to guide the cue as Dave leans in, whispering strategy. The three of them laughing over beer and Diet Pepsi at their table. Chandler, Kurt and Dave in the glasses shop, trying on different frames. Blaine and Dave swing dancing, Kurt flipping over Dave's back – all a blur of energy and lights and smiles so wide they're contagious, even through paper.
Blaine and Dave side by side at the piano bench, their hands on the keys, Blaine's left arm crossed over Dave's right, their faces screwed up in concentration.
Next come the gray outlines of Kurt and Dave against the picture window, Kurt with his hand latched to Dave's wrist, not wanting to let go but afraid to do more.
The final photo is of Kurt leaning on Dave's shoulder in the gazebo, their eyes closed and faces dreamy, eyelashes fanning out like dark smiles against their skin. The sun glints off their hair, liquid sparks of fire and amber. But their bodies look so solid together, permanent and sure.
This is how they look through Blaine's eyes.
Tears spill down Kurt’s cheeks before he can stop them.
Blaine lifts his hand to Kurt's face and starts catching the tears with his thumb. "That's good, right?"
Kurt nods, but can't speak. He wraps his hand around Blaine's and squeezes it firmly.
"I know it's hard, being in love in a way that people don’t understand." Blaine nods toward the book. "So I just wanted to create this one place for you where it wasn't hidden. Where your love for him isn’t separate from your love for anyone else."
Kurt untangles their hands and wraps his arms around Blaine's waist, pressing his face into his shoulder, letting Blaine's shirt soak up his tears. "I don't have to keep it separate from you. I'm so grateful for that."
"Me, too," Blaine whispers into his hair. "You'll never know how much."
“I might have a vague idea." Kurt smiles, touching his fingertips to the book in his lap. "I needed this. I didn't even know I needed it. You know what I need better than I do."
"No," Blaine says, kissing Kurt's forehead. "I just take wild guesses and sometimes I turn out to be right." He sinks back onto the pillows, Kurt following into his arms.
"Thank you," Kurt says. He lets himself be held like the child he no longer is but sometimes he wishes he could still be. "For the present. For loving me so well."
"You make it easy. That's why you have two people in love with you.” Blaine sighs into Kurt's scalp. “God, I bet there'd be at least a dozen if you let them."
Kurt chuckles. "Thanks for your vote of confidence, but I think two is enough for now."
--- Chapter notes: I wish I had a graphic of the actual book herein, but this will give you an idea.