“Look at him, he’s got your eyes.”
“And your unruly hair.”
“So it seems.” Kurt gave a mighty yawn for someone so tiny and new, and looked up at his parents. “Hey there little fella, how are you?” He just stared in wonder at the deep voice, kicking a bit and reaching toward his father.
“Hon, do you think you could take him a bit? I’m wiped.”
“Of course. Come ‘ere.” He scooped the baby boy up, gently cradling him close.
“You’re a natural,” she teased, and he laughed softly, carrying the baby off to the nursery proper and taking a seat in one of the old, worn-soft rocking chairs. Kurt touched at the texture of his shirt curiously, brown eyes watching his own chubby, clumsy hand grasp at the fabric. “Like that, do you? This shirt is old.” He looked up at the voice, and reached to it again, fingers being met with sudden prickles. That caught his interest and he made a very strange face as he wiggles his fingers, feeling at the tiny pokes more. “Ah, pops needs a shave, huh?” Kurt gurgled a bit, then suddenly stopped, making another strange face. “Uh oh. What’s the matter?” A second passed, and quite a large sneeze was the result. “Goodness, bless you. Did that come from your toes?” Kurt just giggled and gave a happy little squeal.
“Well look at you, cool dude!”
“Cool?” Kurt echoed, craning his neck to look up at his dad.
“Yeah! Nice shades.” He kneeled next to his son, smiling.
“You coming to the car show with me and Grampa?”
“Yeah.” He nodded, reaching out to his dad, who obligingly scooped him up. “Alright, let’s go meet with him.” He held on to the heavy fabric of his dad’s shirt, looking around. Truth be told, he wasn’t sure what was going on exactly, but mom had been pretty happy, and dad seemed excited too. Whatever this was, it must be great.
“There he is, the little fighter. Heya, Kurt!” He turned, smiling at the sight of his grandfather and reaching to wave at him.
“He’s going to come with us to the show. Sound like a plan? I got the wagon and everything.”
“Sounds like a plan, yep. I bet he’ll like it.”
“He seems to like the others I’ve taken him to, and he’s got this little red car he loves.”
“Yup. He’s even got it with him. Hey buddy, you wanna show Grampa your favorite car?” Kurt realizes they’re talking to him, and turns a bit in his father’s arms, presenting the toy with a very pleased look all over his still-chubby face.
“Good pick,” Grampa says, laughter in his voice.
“Do I hafta go to school pictures?” Kurt whined, a pout clear all over his face as his mother straightened out the slick black shirt he was wearing.
“Yeah, I wanna put your cute little mug all over the place. Just look at you. What a cutie.” She kissed his head with a loud mmmwah! and he couldn’t help the giggle that left him.
“Okay,” he said, sighing dramatically. “I guess I’ll do it. What if I make faces at the guy?”
“Nooo, don’t do that. Just smile, okay?”
“Alriiiight.” He let himself be swayed, her kind smile making it hard to say no.
“Alright, I think you’re ready.” He looked down to his black shirt, stylized flames licking up from the hem, and his little jeans.
“But mom, what about my shoes?”
“Oh, right, can’t go anywhere without those.” She picks them up and helps him slide them on, tying them up. “There you go. Don’t you look good?” They hug, and he smiles, showing the little hole of his first missing tooth. “Alright, let’s go!”
“One... or two?”
“Okay. Now, three, or four?”
“They look almost the same,” he said softly.
“Okay, does one look a little better than the other?”
“Can I see them both again?”
“Sure. Three... or four?”
“Three looks a little better.”“Alright, good, good...” the thing was lifted up and away, Kurt looking up at the doctor, who typed a few things into his confusing looking computer. “Well, let’s head out. Your eyes are perfectly healthy, but you do need glasses.” They walk out together, and he watches his mom and Mark join them. “Everything looks fantastic, Missus Wylde, he just needs a pair of glasses and he’ll be fine.”
“Good, good...” she trailed off into adult speak with the doctor and lady behind the desk, Kurt almost immediately losing interest. He looked to Mark, who had this snake toy, beads painted with scales all strung together. He held it up at Kurt, grinning.
“Hsss! I’m gunna getcha! Hssss!!”
“Not yet, mister snake. I can’t see you, so you gotta be nice.” Mark blinked, but nodded.
“Oh, okay. Hsss. Maybe I’ll get you another time.”
“If you can catch me. I’m super fast!”
“Like the Flash?”
“Not that fast. But pretty fast!”
“Snakes are fast too! Remember? Some go sideways, like this.” He wiggled the snake toy, grinning toothily.
“Yeah, I remember. Those ones are sidewinders. ”
“That’s a lotta word.”
“It is.” He nodded in agreement, and looked up when their mom turned.
“Okay boys, let’s head home. Kurt, your glasses will be done in about a week or so.”
“Alright!” He didn’t know if he really had the patience to wait that long, but the excitement was good enough to cover that up for now.
He ate in silence, checking his homework over and listening to the chatter of the TV in the other room. Mom had gone to bed early, right after making dinner, and he felt antsy. Something instinctive told him that she wasn’t okay, that somehow, she was slipping away from them. It made him anxious and he could barely focus on eating. Not to mention his legs ached. Growing pain was no joke, he mused, wincing as he flexed his feet, trying to stop the persistent, dull pain that felt like his joints were coming apart.
“Hey Mark,” he finally called, watching his younger brother come in.
“Can you do me a favor?”
“Sure. Whatcha need?”
“Can you get me that smelly pain stuff and some socks? My feet really hurt.”
“Oh, sure! The one with the red and blue sticker, right?”
“Yup, that one. Thanks.” Mark hurried off, and Kurt leaned back, scowling a bit at the pasta and broccoli. He didn’t even want to stand to grab a drink. Mark came back, setting the socks and medicine down.
“Need some help?”
“Could you?” Kurt propped his feet up, face jerking the slightest in pain. Mark moved to kneel opposite, popping the cap on the broad tube and rubbing it carefully into his brother’s soles. He then slid the socks on over top, careful not to mess up the sticky paste of medication. “Thanks again.”
“It’s no problem. Happy to help!” Mark offered him a smile, receiving a slightly weak one in return.
Mark was passed out against him, head rested half on him, their hands tangled together. Kurt kept checking the time every so often, watching the minutes tick by. One last time, he’d begged, one last time to see her. Everything was dark; the wee hours of the morning crawled by, and he had yet to sleep.
“Alright, come in.” Kurt nudged his brother awake, standing and bringing him in. They stood together at her bedside, and Kurt felt hot, angry tears prick at his eyes. Mark just stared down mutely, and moved to hold her hand delicately, as if she were made of glass. She looked like it, frankly, with her sunken, dark eyes, and ashen, thin face, lips faded and small. She looked halfway to being a corpse already. He swallowed thickly and moved to gently rest his head on her, Mark joining him after.
“I’m sorry, mom,” Kurt mumbled, unable to meet her exhausted eyes.
“Sweetie... don’t be... you’re so wonderful. You both are.” She sounded so weak, her voice barely above a soft whisper. They both stood, kurt unable to bear seeing and hearing her heartbeat start to fade. “I love you both so much. Remember that.”
“I love you too.”
“M-mom, please don’t go. I love you too much,” Mark whimpers, and she smiles the tiniest bit.
“I’m not going, honey. I just need to rest.”
“Rest...” Kurt echoes, knowing full well she’s sugarcoating it. She just looks to him, reaching to touch his face gently.
“You... look like... your father...” he cradles her hand close, savoring the barely-there contact. Mark squeezed her hand, giving a hiccup. “I love you, my little men... take care of each other...”
“...We will.” They’re gently ushered out by the doctor, the door closed gently. They both hang in the bathroom, Mark crying on-and-off for a while. Kurt feels too cold to cry, and glares at the date on his phone.
“How old are you, son?”
“...Seventeen. Almost eighteen.” He doesn’t meet the man’s eyes, lying easily. He didn’t need to know.
“Alright. Well, your grandparents will keep an eye on you until you hit eighteen.”
“Thanks.” He doesn’t tell him that he already held a job and was keeping himself and Mark going with his meager wages. A place to stay would be nice, certainly, so he allows it.
“Who was that guy?” Mark asks, fiddling with the cuff of his black shirt.
“Some foster care guy. We aren’t going,” he reassures, at the flicker of concern on his brother’s face. “We’re staying with Gramma and Grampa.”
“Okay. That sounds good. Are you gunna take us there?”
“Yeah. Go get in the car, I’ll be there soon.”
Kurt stopped, staring down at the plot, narrowing his eyes at the date on the simple stone. Wylde was all that was engraved, otherwise, and he scoffed to himself before kneeling, moving to place the small, simple bunch of flowers on it.
“I’ll keep an eye on Mark,” he mumbles, tracing the letting with his thumb before standing, pulling himself away. He couldn’t break down, not now, not yet. He still had a baby brother to take care of. Mark was messing with the window when he finally came back, pulling the keys out of his jacket pocket and starting it up.
“You gave her the flowers, right?” Mark asks, rolling the window up and dropping his hands in his lap.
“Yeah. I did.” Kurt sets his jaw, heaving a long sigh and closing his eyes a moment before opening them again, pushing his glasses up his nose, and pulling out of the parking lot.
He pushes the soup around disinterestedly. The nightmares have been coming back, and he hasn’t slept much for the past week. He’s too exhausted to care, between the two jobs he’s juggling and taking care of Mark. As much as he loves his grandparents, they’re simply too busy to take care of him.
“Kurt... is there a reason you’re up at this time?” He looks up to his grandfather, hanging in the doorway.
“Can’t sleep,” he mumbles, and looks back down at the soup.
“You warm that up?” He asks, taking a seat next to him.
“Yeah. It’s leftovers. I thought eating something warm would help.” He shakes his head in disappointment at himself, and looks up again. There’s too many ghosts in those eyes, too many shadows. He looks fifty, like he’s been to hell and back a thousand times.
“Are you feeling alright?”
“No. Not really.”
“Is there any way I can help?”
“I’d say knock me out but that’s usually not a very positive answer.” Kurt sets the spoon down, leaning back and folding his arms up, hugging himself a bit. A hand sets on his shoulder, and his Grampa sighs deeply, messing with his mustache a bit.
“Your grandma used to make me something, back when I couldn’t sleep; your father had heart issues as a young boy, and it kept me up at night knowing we could lose him. You’re past that, I think, but the remedy might still work. It’ll take some time; you grab some blankets. I’ll get everything else.” Kurt nods, a little unsurely, and stands, blinking away the brief black that swallowed his vision. He collects a few blankets—some are knitted, some are just stitched, but none are store bought.
“What do I do with these?” He asks, watching Grampa pour steaming water into a heavy porcelain mug.
“Go bundle up on the couch, get as comfy as possible.” Kurt stares a moment, and opens his mouth to say something, but closes it and goes to do as told. He arranges them in a loose, awkward nest around himself, wrapping in a fleecy one with flower patterning all over it. He’s met with a mug of hot something, and he takes the pot holder, cradling it underneath. Grampa sits next to him, and smiles a bit.
“It’s an old trick. It’s going to be very sweet; drink it slowly.” He nods numbly and takes a tiny sip, almost-hot sweetness meeting his mouth. It feels good, makes his skin prickle a bit, flooding him with a sense of relaxation. It pushes away the exhaustion and pain and worry, and replaces it with a deep-seated sense of comfort.
“What is this?” He asks, looking down at this apparent miracle stuff.
“A very specific blend of herbal sweet tea. Soothes the nerves, and tastes extra sweet to make you remember the sweetest parts of life.” Grampa smiles crookedly at that, and gently nudges him.
“...Thank you,” he murmurs, lips halfway to the mug again.
“You’re welcome. Take the time and enjoy it, alright? I’ll be laying back down. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay.” He swishes the drink around slightly, watching his grandfather pad out of the room. He takes another slow, long sip, feeling his eyes droop at the feeling of softness surrounding him. He winds up only managing a few more sips before setting it aside, knocking right out a moment later.