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mankind are more disposed to suffer

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It happened on the last Tuesday of November, six months after their wedding.

Blaine was in the bathroom, shaving and trying to remember what Laura had told him about today's session schedule last night. It was the last one before the winter break and there had been some issue Blaine was supposed to be paying attention to. He was still musing about what the hell it was, when he heard the landline ring. He cursed under his breath, knowing that Kurt was still asleep and wouldn't need to get up for another half hour, but before he could wipe off the shaving cream and get the phone, he heard footfalls in the bedroom hurrying out to the living room. Blaine sighed in resignation and concentrated back on his mirror image to finish his task.

He heard Kurt's low voice from the living room, then a lot of silence. Blaine was just finishing off the last upstroke under his chin when Kurt appeared behind him in the mirror, white as a sheet. Blaine didn't even hear his razor clatter into the sink, he had turned so fast.

“What's wrong?” he asked, touching Kurt's cheek and looking into his wide eyes. He was clammy, his skin almost ashen. He looked like he was in shock, and the phone was still in a tight grip by his side. “Kurt, honey? What's wrong? Talk to me, please!”

“It's my dad,” he croaked out, not sounding like himself at all. Blaine's heart thumped hard in his chest at the words, having flashbacks to the time when Burt had suffered the second heart attack and Kurt almost lost it in Blaine's office. Burt had been in and out of the hospital for the past year, with the doctors growing more worried every time. Blaine ran a hand through Kurt's hair, stroking it back soothingly and hoping against hope that it was just another episode in the hospital. But Kurt shattered that hope when he whispered, “He's dead.”

Blaine didn't hesitate, didn't even think. He pulled Kurt into his arms, pressed Kurt's face against his shoulder and put his cheek against the top of Kurt's head. He didn't say anything, couldn't say anything. His throat felt like it was ripped raw, tingling and closing up with tears he couldn't allow to fall just yet. Kurt needed him now, and if the tremors in his body were anything to go by, he was this close to collapsing.

Then Kurt's arms wound around Blaine's waist, the phone clattering to the tiled bathroom floor so he could grip Blaine's side tightly. There was a shuddery intake of breath, then another, and the tremors got worse. Blaine felt the first tears trickle down his chest, Kurt's hot breath hitting his pebbling flesh. Kurt's hand spasmed against Blaine's hip, and then the first sob broke out of him. It sounded like he was mortally wounded, coming deep from within his chest and sounding so broken that Blaine lost the battle with his own tears. He pressed his cheek harder against Kurt's bent head, closed his eyes tightly and rocked Kurt back and forth, making soothing little sounds while Kurt broke down in his arms.

Half an hour later, he called Laura and canceled all his commitments for the next two weeks.

Kurt was a mess. He tried to keep going, but he lost his train of thought halfway through whatever he'd been trying to do, then stood helplessly in the middle of the room and started crying all over again. Blaine's heart broke into so many tiny pieces at the sight that he wasn't sure it would ever mend again. He made an executive decision to pack a bag for each of them and fly out to Ohio that same afternoon. He booked the flights and made sure there was a rental car waiting for them, then directed Kurt through his morning ablutions and gave him comfortable clothes to wear.

Kurt let him do it without protest.

The journey to the airport and through security was somber, and Blaine cut more than one worried glance at Kurt. He was more or less composed, but he looked like hell and constantly on the verge of tears. Blaine held his hand the whole time, only releasing it when he had no other choice, but as soon as they'd cleared security, Kurt latched back on to him like his life depended on it.

Maybe it was, right now. Kurt had lost so much in the span of a phone call and Blaine could only guess how deep the grief was. His own father was still alive, and he'd never had the same heartfelt relationship with him that Kurt and his own dad had shared. He'd probably never understand what Kurt had lost, even though he and Burt had forged quite a deep connection of their own over the years, rooted in their mutual love for Kurt.

While they sat in the waiting area for their flight to board, Kurt's head sank down on Blaine's shoulder and remained there. He looked down at Kurt, studied his profile and his closed eyes. He looked tired and worn and empty in a way that scared Blaine. So he gently disentangled their hands and raised his arm to put it around Kurt's shoulder, pulling him closer and resting his cheek on Kurt's head. He saw some people giving them curious looks and Blaine was pretty sure there was at least one camera phone, but he didn't care. Instead he closed his eyes and ran his fingertips soothingly up and down Kurt's arm, waiting for their flight to get called.

The whole journey seemed to take ages, and with Kurt quiet and preoccupied next to him, Blaine didn't even have anyone to talk to. He talked at Kurt, sure, but he didn't expect any answers.

He didn't get any.

After they'd landed and Blaine had steered them to their waiting rental, after he'd pushed Kurt gently into the passenger seat and stowed their bags, they were finally on their way to Lima. Blaine had no idea why he thought it would be good for Kurt to be here, but in his heart he just knew. He threw a few worried glances in Kurt's direction while he drove, but Kurt's head was resting against the window, his eyes closed and his face drawn. His breathing was even though, so maybe he was asleep. Blaine decided to let him be for now and concentrated on driving.

He'd booked them into a hotel, but Blaine didn't even think about steering the car that way before they'd been at Kurt's old home. As soon as he stopped on the curb in front of it, Kurt's head lifted. He stiffened when he saw where they were, but then he undid his seatbelt and opened the car door. Carole seemed to have heard them coming, because she opened the door before Kurt was even halfway up the driveway. He hurried the rest of the way and pulled Carole into a tight, crushing hug the moment he was close enough.

Blaine got out of the car, slowly making his way over to them. He could see both their shoulders shake and knew they were crying. He could almost taste their grief it was so thick around them, and Blaine had to swallow hard so he would be able to talk at all.

But when he stopped next to them, they just disentangled themselves enough to pull Blaine into the hug with them. Blaine didn't hesitate: he slung his arms around Carole and Kurt's waist each, buried his face against Kurt's neck and finally, finally allowed himself to grieve with them.

Finn arrived in the early evening, hugging his mother close and letting her cry on his shoulder. Kurt had taken up permanent residence against Blaine's side, his head resting on Blaine's shoulder while one hand was always clutching Blaine's waist. As soon as Finn had a chance to hug Kurt as well, Blaine decided it was time to go.

“We'll come back first thing tomorrow morning,” he promised Carole and Kurt, who looked at him for the first time since the fatal phone call. “But Kurt needs to sleep and I don't think he can do that here.”

Kurt's face fell a little, but he nodded and tried to smile at Blaine in gratitude. It looked so forced and painful and not Kurt that Blaine pulled him into a hug immediately and whispered against his ear, “It's okay. You don't have to be strong right now.”

A sob caught in Kurt's throat and he tried to stifle it against Blaine's shoulder, but he heard it anyway. Squeezing his eyes shut for a painful moment, he rubbed the back of Kurt's neck and pressed a kiss behind his ear.

The drive to the hotel was quiet, almost painfully so. Kurt was exhausted, but so was Blaine. He pushed back his own fatigue because he had to be strong for Kurt right now. He didn't mind; he'd pledged his life to this man, in good times and in bad. They would weather this storm together, just like they'd weathered many other storms before.

Checking in was mercifully quick, probably because the receptionist recognized them and sped up the process. He smiled gratefully at her, then pushed Kurt gently in the direction of the elevators. Five minutes later, Blaine could finally close the door between them and the world and guided Kurt over to the bed.

“I should shower...” Kurt said, gesturing vaguely at the bathroom, but Blaine shook his head.

“You need to rest, Kurt,” he said gently, divesting Kurt of his jacket before turning him around and unbuttoning his shirt. Kurt was passive again, just like he'd been that morning when Blaine had started to dress him. Blaine swallowed down the panic and worry that Kurt might be irreparably broken by his grief, and instead concentrated on folding the shirt carefully over a chair.

“Sit down,” he mumbled, pushing gently on Kurt's shoulders until he sat down on the bed. Blaine made quick work of Kurt's shoes, then unbuttoned and unzipped his pants. “Lift up,” he commanded quietly and Kurt's hips lifted immediately. The pants found their way to the shirt, along with Kurt's socks.

“Come on,” Blaine murmured, still trying to soothe Kurt with his voice while steering him to the side of the bed. He had no idea if he was successful. He hoped so. If he could soothe Kurt's hurt even a little right now, it was all he could ask for.

He pulled back the covers, then tucked Kurt in. “I'll be right back,” he promised and hurried over to the bathroom. He closed the door carefully, then headed over to the sink and braced himself on the edge. One look into the mirror above was enough to make him crumble.

He looked awful. Not quite as awful as Kurt, but he wasn't that far behind either. He was pale and his face was drawn, his eyes looked sadly back at him and his mouth was pulled down in a worried frown. He tried to take a deep breath, but it hitched somewhere in his chest and made it hard to breathe for a moment. He opened his mouth, trying to get air into his lungs, and had to swallow down a sob instead. He lifted his hand and pressed his fist against his open mouth to stifle the noise. He watched his eyes fill up with tears, spilling over and down his cheeks. He had no idea what he was crying over: Burt's death, the loss Kurt was experiencing, or how much Kurt was hurting right now. It didn't matter.

He allowed himself a few minutes of breaking down by himself and letting out all the emotions he couldn't let out before now lest he burden Kurt with them. After a while, he forced himself to take deep, careful breaths to compose himself. He opened to tab, splashed cold water over his face and ignored his shaking hands when he reached for a towel to dry off.

When he opened the bathroom door, he was calm again. He was going to be Kurt's rock for as long as he needed him, and he couldn't be that rock if he was falling apart himself. So he switched off the lights, removed his own clothes and carefully made his way to the bed to slide in behind Kurt. He pulled him close immediately, settling Kurt's back against his chest, with his arm slung tightly over Kurt's waist to anchor him against Blaine's body; his warmth; his strength. Kurt pressed back without hesitation, grabbing Blaine's hand on his stomach and squeezing it tightly. Blaine heard Kurt's breath hitch, knew he was probably crying again, and just buried his face in Kurt's hair.

“I'm sorry,” Kurt pressed out between hitching breaths.

“No,” Blaine said immediately, squeezing him harder. “No need to apologize, Kurt. No need at all.”

He heard Kurt sniffle, but he didn't say anything else for a while. Blaine was hoping he'd fallen asleep, but that hope was shattered when Kurt whispered, “I'm going to be okay again, I promise.”

Something tight started to loosen up in Blaine's chest at the words. Kurt still sounded like hell, but the conviction was there nonetheless. Blaine closed his eyes, silently thanking whoever was watching over them, and pressed a kiss against the back of Kurt's head. “Of course you will be, honey. You're strong.”

“Just not right now,” Kurt said, sounding small and vulnerable in a way he rarely ever had before. There was a brief silence before Kurt added, “Thank you for being here, Blaine.”

“There's nowhere else I wanted to be right now,” Blaine answered, not even thinking about it. “You're the most important person in my life, and as long as you can't be strong, I can be strong for you.”

There was another sob, mostly stifled by the pillow, but Kurt pressed back against Blaine's body and rasped, “I love you so much.”

“I love you, too,” Blaine whispered against Kurt's throat and didn't even care when another silent tear rolled down his cheek and soaked into the pillow.

The next few days were a blur of calling people and making arrangements for the funeral. Rachel called a day after they'd arrived, and Kurt barricaded himself in his old room. She was on the other side of the globe at the moment, but she'd wanted to express her deepest condolences as soon as she'd heard of Burt's death. Kurt didn't come out of his room for almost two hours, and Blaine had to sit on his hands to stop himself from going in there and making sure that he was still alive.

When he finally reappeared, Kurt looked even more wrecked than he had before, but as soon as he'd put his phone away, he came over to Blaine where he was sitting on the couch and pressed close to his side. Blaine put an arm over Kurt's shoulder and pulled him in until he could press a kiss to his temple.

“Rachel can't come to the funeral,” Kurt rasped out, sounding devastated by the news. “She's in the middle of her preparations for the play.”

“I'm sorry,” Blaine whispered and pressed another kiss against Kurt's temple. He knew how much Rachel meant to him, and to learn that he wouldn't have her with him to help him shoulder his grief must've been hard. He vowed to not leave Kurt's side at all unless he wanted him to, and squeezed him closer. Kurt didn't say anything, just put his head down on Blaine's shoulder and let himself be comforted.

They put an obituary in the papers the next day, which started a flood of condolence cards that didn't stop for almost four days. Kurt looked like his heart got ripped out of his chest every time a new batch arrived at the door. But he opened each and every one of them, read them together with Carole and Finn, and penned a personal reply of thanks to each sender. Blaine knew that it kept him busy, that Kurt needed it right now. But knowing didn't stop Blaine from feeling like his own heart was ripped out alongside Kurt's every time he opened another envelope.

Blaine knew that after the funeral, there would be legal stuff to sort out, the reading of Burt's will and what to do with the house and the garage. But right now the family was concentrating on grieving for the loss of their loved one. Every day that passed, Blaine waited for that light in Kurt's eyes to come back, and every night he had to bury that hope and instead held his husband in his arms, letting him fall apart in the darkness of their hotel room.

He knew Kurt thought himself to be weak, but Blaine could never think of it as a weakness to love someone so much that you fell apart for a while when they were gone forever.

The day of the funeral dawned grey and cold. It was almost winter, the wind biting and icy. Kurt looked tragically beautiful in his black suit and white shirt, covered by an equally black coat. He was still pale, but much more composed than he'd been a week ago. Blaine, clad just as somber as Kurt himself, slung a dark grey wool scarf around Kurt's neck to make sure he wouldn't catch a cold, and received a grateful kiss on the cheek for that. It was progress; two days ago Kurt probably wouldn't even have noticed.

The drive to the cemetery was quiet, with Kurt looking out the window and not acknowledging anyone else in the car. Finn was driving, with Carole in the passenger's seat. Blaine looked over at Kurt every so often, but mostly looked out of his own window. Nobody was in the mood to talk, and with the radio shut off, the silence was almost deafening.

Blaine helped Kurt out of the car when they arrived, gripping his hand tightly. Kurt squeezed back and didn't let go, not for the walk to the grave or the funeral eulogy. This was the official part; the family had said goodbye that morning in a quiet, private ceremony in the cemetery's chapel.

There were more rows of filled seats than Blaine would've expected. Burt had still had quite a lot of friends back in Washington and Blaine glimpsed a few familiar faces. They nodded at him when they caught his eye, but nobody spoke. Blaine's grip on Kurt's hand tightened, then he pulled him to the front row where there were a few seats reserved for Burt's immediate family.

Throughout the speeches, Blaine never let go of Kurt's hand, rubbed his thumb over Kurt's wedding band and tried to find peace in that small gesture. It seemed to help Kurt whose fingers curled and uncurled sporadically every time he thought Blaine might pull away. He looked at Kurt's face every time that happened, but Kurt's face was impassive, almost as if it was carved out of marble. He was beautiful and so sad that Blaine hadn't been able to breathe properly for days now. But Kurt didn't cry.

There were probably no more tears left for him to cry.

The ceremony was long, with too many people wanting to say some nice things about Burt Hummel, thanking him for his tireless work and his compassion. Halfway through, Blaine started to worry that Kurt might break under his touch if this went on for much longer. A quick look at Carole told him that she wasn't faring much better. He had no idea how she must feel; this was the second husband she had lost, after all.

Finally, the ceremony came to an end, and everyone stood up to pay their respects. The casket was lowered slowly into the ground while the priest talked and Kurt's grip on Blaine's hand tightened so much it almost hurt. But he didn't let go, would never let go so long as Kurt needed him. When they got the signal, Carole stepped forward, took a handful of dirt and threw it down into the grave. Her shoulders were squared and she looked so regal that Blaine felt a pang of pride that almost made him smile.

But then it was Kurt's turn, and Blaine stepped forward with him, and they threw their handfuls together before making room for Finn.

He'd come in his dress blues, paying his own form of respect to Burt and how much the man had influenced his way into adulthood. After he'd thrown his handful of dirt into the grave, he snapped to attention and executed the most perfect, elegant salute that Blaine had ever seen. He stood frozen like that for maybe ten seconds with his eyes looking straight ahead, even though he looked like he wanted to cry. But he didn't, every inch the soldier he'd been for over 20 years.

At last he went back to parade rest before he executed a beautifully sharp turn and walked over to his mother, who smiled through her tears and mouthed a thank you at him before she was enveloped in his arms. Blaine averted his eyes and instead looked over at Kurt whose jaw was clenched. He still looked like he might break at any moment if Blaine wasn't careful.

They stood next to the grave while people walked past them, expressing their sorrow and exchanging a few kind words before throwing a handful of dirt into the grave and making their way back to their cars. A few of Kurt and Finn's old friends lingered, hugged them and cried with them. Those were the only times when Blaine let go of Kurt, always coming back the moment Kurt was on his own again. By the swiftness of Kurt reaching for him, it was painfully obvious that he needed the reassurance of Blaine's constant touch.

It seemed to take ages before the last person vacated the cemetery, leaving the family alone at the grave. Finn exchanged a look with Blaine, nodding at Kurt who was still staring at the open grave. Blaine shook his head and motioned for Finn to go on without them. He doubted that Kurt would be able to endure the wake. He'd rather take him back to the hotel where he could finally fall apart without prying eyes surrounding them.

Finn nodded, put a hand on his mother's shoulder and gently steered her to the car. Blaine watched them for a moment before his attention snapped back to Kurt.

Their hands were painfully cold by now, but Blaine didn't want to let go long enough to grab their gloves. Instead he raised their entwined hands and cupped them with his other hand to blow into them carefully. Kurt's fingers twitched, but otherwise he didn't give any indication that he'd even noticed. His vacant stare was still directed at the casket, deep down in the earth and soon to be covered completely. Blaine could only guess at how hard this must be for Kurt to comprehend.

As if reading his mind, Kurt chose that moment to whisper, “I can't believe I'm never going to see him again.”

Blaine pressed a kiss against Kurt's wedding ring, unable to come up with the appropriate words. Kurt didn't seem to mind, just held on tighter and added, “I'm going to miss him so much.”

“I know,” Blaine pressed out of his painfully tight throat. “Me too.”

That made Kurt's head turn. His gaze roamed over Blaine's face, taking him in for maybe the first time in days. And something in him changed, Blaine could almost see it. He was still far from okay, but something that had been absent had just sparked back to life. Blaine's chest loosened a little, knowing that, no matter how long it would take, Kurt would be okay again. And as long as Kurt was okay, so was Blaine.

“I'm so glad I still have you,” Kurt said. Whispered it, really. His eyes shone with unshed tears, but he didn't look quite as sad anymore as he'd done at the beginning of this day.

Without thinking about it, he pulled Kurt into a tight hug and kissed the side of his head. “You'll always have me, Kurt,” he whispered against his ear, squeezing his eyes closed when he felt Kurt's arms slip around his waist and tighten the hug. “For as long as we live, you'll always have me. I promise.”

A strange sound ripped out of Kurt's chest, a mix of a sob and a laugh. Then Kurt's arms tightened even more around Blaine and he pressed his face against Blaine's shoulder. They breathed together, through the pain and the sorrow and the heartbreak. They were far from okay, but they'd just taken the first step in the right direction.