The first time Burt Hummel ever sees Kathryn Lorenson, she's sitting in the library, reading a book. He stumbles, staring at her as she turns a page.
He sees her again, two days later, leaving a store as he tows a car down the street.
The third time, she walks into his garage and asks him to fix her truck.
"Truck?" he repeats, eyes flicking from her curly black hair to her dainty boots. She's wearing a plain green shirt and a dark skirt, shoes that he thinks might be fashionable, but he isn't sure. Her eyes are bright blue, though as she steps closer, brow raised, they seem to shift into green.
"Is there some reason I shouldn't have a truck, Mr. Hummel?" she asks.
"Nah, of course not," he says. "I'll take a look."
Five months later, Burt asks her to marry him. He's honestly shocked she says yes. She's too smart for him, meant for so much bigger things, but she smiles at him, dances in his arms, whispers over and over what a good man he is.
He's twenty-nine, she's twenty-four, when Kurt is born. They've been married for seven months. Kathryn has no family, but Burt's mother is there. Ma doesn't like Kathryn, never has, but she adores little Kurt.
"He has your eyes," Kathryn whispers, smiling down at their boy. "He'll have your heart."
Burt is so happy, and the years pass, and then when Kurt is seven, he and Kathryn are in a car accident. Kurt sobs in Burt's arms, crying about Mama telling him to be brave and everything would be alright, and there was light, and Kurt doesn’t have a single scratch on him, but everyone promises Burt that Kathryn died on impact. She didn't suffer.
For three years, Kurt talks about his mother like she’s still there. He fills up notebooks with giant snakes, howling wolves, a half-skeleton woman, two boys always fighting each other, eight-legged horses, gigantic trees, snowstorms and rainbow bridges. He tells Burt that Mama will come back, and he knows things he shouldn’t know. That he has no way of knowing.
But eventually, the drawings stop. The stories taper off. Kurt moves on from his obsession with mythology to fashion and singing and plans on how to get out of Lima. Burt thinks they both might be able to start healing now, and if Kurt takes on more and more of the household chores, if he decides it’s his job to take care of Burt – well, Burt does his best, but Kurt is clever and stubborn and so much his mother’s son. He has her way with words, her determination, her occasionally very cruel wit.
The bullying really takes off when Kurt is twelve. Middle school is an exercise in not taking a flamethrower to adolescents, an uncaring administration, and the parents who should know better. Kurt is quieter at home, and Burt finds a sketchbook in the den, full of blizzards and blue giants and Kathryn. The last page, though, has a dark-haired man with green eyes, wearing odd clothes and curved antlers on his head.
Kurt slams the door behind him, stomping into the house, so Burt lets the sketchbook fall back onto the couch. “I hate this town!” Kurt shouts, storming past Burt to the basement, and he slams that door, too.
Burt rests his head on the door. “Kurt,” he calls. “Can I come down, kiddo?”
Kurt screams, “NO!” back up the stairs, so Burt just stays leaning against the door. Burt can’t really do anything he hasn’t already done, and if he kills anyone, he’ll be taken away from Kurt, and Kurt’s reached the age where he doesn’t turn to Burt for everything. He still does too much around the house, still fusses about food. He sings and designs, and joins glee, and introduces Burt to Carole, and he really believes things are so much better.
Kurt tells Burt he’s gay. Burt loves him, so things work out.
And then Burt collapses, falling into a dark void, and Kathryn says, “Oh, Burt.”
He looks at her, her curly dark hair, her brilliant, color-shifting eyes. “Kat,” he whispers.
She smiles, reaching up to touch his face. “I love you, Burt Hummel,” she says. “And our son – he’s such a good boy.” Kathryn steps closer, kissing his lips, his nose, arms wrapping around him as she buries her face in his neck.
“Am I dead?” Burt asks, holding her.
“No, my dear,” she says. “You will wake up. You’ll be whole and hale, and you’ll ask that lovely woman Carole to be your bride.”
When he wakes from his coma, he learns he’s been asleep for over a week. He remembers that he saw Kathryn, but he can’t recall what they said to each other.
He asks Carole to marry him three months later. Then he learns that some punk has been threatening his son.
When Kurt opens a package he ordered off the internet and pulls out two ninja knives – Sais, Kurt calls them, pronounced like sighs - Burt doesn’t tell him he can’t. Over the years, he’s enrolled Kurt in three self-defense classes, two jujitsu, one kickboxing, and Kurt always drops out, says fighting’s not for him, says he’ll defend himself with words and running. If he’s finally decided to learn, Burt is more than happy.
Burt finds some punk in Kurt’s bed, and Kurt’s drawing the man with the antlers and his mother, and he picks up those knives so quickly, and then he’s voted prom queen, and the glee club’s at Nationals, and somewhere along the way, the punk from his bed (who practically orders Burt to have the sex talk with his little boy) becomes Kurt’s boyfriend, and Kurt’s throwing the knives through the bull’s-eye every time, and then he asks Burt, on the first day his summer vacation, if he believes that gods are real.
Burt isn’t religious. He never has been. Carole goes to church on Christmas and that’s it. Finn was apparently praying to a grilled cheese sandwich while Burt was in a coma, and Kurt has never expressed interest in learning about Burt’s parents’ God.
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘gods,’” Burt says.
Kurt is twirling one of the knives in his left hand, so fast Burt can’t even follow it as it spins. “Mythology,” Kurt says. “Norse, to be specific.”
“No,” Burt says. “I think those are like fairy tales.”
“Okay,” Kurt says. The knife stills. Kurt lifts it to his eyes, tilting his head to stare at it. Burt feels worry start fluttering in his belly.
“Something wrong, Kurt?” he asks.
“No,” Kurt says, smiling at him.
Burt is not as smart as his son, but he’s not blind or stupid. He checks out a Norse mythology book from the library, and he finds a wolf, a giant snake, a half-dead girl, two boys who fight constantly, an eight-legged horse, a gigantic tree, and ice giants. Kurt had been obsessed with this stuff, just after the accident. He’d also talked about his mom like she was still there, and Kurt didn’t have a single mark from the crash.
“Kathryn,” he whispers, closing the book. “What the hell is going on?”
No answer, of course.
Kurt spends the summer with his boyfriend. He also orders other kinds of knives off the internet and picks up those even quicker than the Sais. He’s sketching Norse mythology more than ever, and he always bounces into the kitchen smiling, talking about his mother.
Carole asks Burt if something is wrong; Burt can only shrug.
Kurt is happy. He’s finally happy. Burt hasn’t seen him like this since before the accident, and he won’t do anything to take this from his son.
He’s not as surprised as he should be when Finn says at one of their engine lessons, “Burt? I thought Kurt’s mom was dead.”
“She is,” Burt says. “Why?”
Finn gives him a sidewise, nervous look. “I overheard him and Artie talking. Kurt used those ninja-knives at his audition for the play, and Artie wanted to know where he learned how.” He hesitates. “Kurt said his mother taught him.”
Burt sighs heavily. “Kurt taught himself,” he says. “His mom’s been dead for ten years.”
“Okay,” Finn says, turning back to the engine.
Burt doesn’t bring it up with Kurt. But he does ask to see Kurt’s newest sketches, and Kurt watches him page through them. He’s drawn the same man over and over, usually looking into a mirror, and Kathryn looking back.
Burt doesn’t believe in any god. But that night, before crawling into bed with Carole, Burt whispers, “Please be real. I don’t want our son to be crazy.”
That night, he dreams about Kathryn, holding Kurt, and she’s telling him about eternity and never-ending stars and how a sharp word can carve more easily than the sharpest blade.