Title: The Numbers Held by Ghosts
Word Count: ~4,100
Summary: Getting to Christmas
Author's notes: The next two pieces of this series will likely be posted very soon (figure next Monday and the Monday after), because I've been writing them all together, and they are deeply interwoven with each other in a way that will make sense when we get there.
The series so far:
Boston: Following Home | These Thousand Names for Gratitude | All the Honesty of Politics | Circles as the Dark Winds Down | The Distance Between Ohio and Boston | All the Pretty Little Horses | Languages You Don't Even Know | Fauna and Flora | Where Water Doesn't Speak | Under Glass We Are Expected to Blossom | You Were Someone Else Before We Came Here
D.C.: Strategies and Tactics | The Many Shades of Sugar | When Sea Levels Rise | The History of Sand | Tales of Minor Gods | A Little Bit Ruined
“I totally get why you guys want to have Christmas there. I got it when you first said you were gonna do it,” Burt says as his son passes him another dish to dry. “But it's just complicated.”
“Were you hoping we'd change our minds?” Kurt asks, both boggled and annoyed.
Burt shrugs. “Just figured you would. Putting on Christmas is a lot of work.”
“What, exactly,” Kurt asks, “hasn't been hard about all this?”
“Why now?” Carole asks Blaine, picking up from the conversation in the kitchen they can't help hear.
She spins a stack of paper napkins just as Kurt taught her to make the display prettier. Soon, the random parade of old friends, feeling restless and wanting pie, will begin tromping through the Hummel residence in something that started as an accident and has now become Thanksgiving tradition.
He shrugs. “He suggested it when we were driving out here last time. Offered, really. To placate me, I think. It was a hard drive.”
“I guess you haven't had a holiday at home in a long time, huh?” she asks.
“They're coming for dessert at least,” he says about his parents too optimistically. It's still so weird for all of them. “And, yeah, something like that.” He fidgets with a fork, trying to remember at just what angle Kurt thinks they should be laid out.
“What? You guys are always here,” Finn interjects as he pops his head in. Whether he's looking to be helpful or for something to eat, Blaine's not sure.
He takes a deep breath and smiles up at him; it's the easiest option.
“Why don't you go see if Kurt will let you bring out any of the desserts, sweetie,” Carole suggests, interceding.
“Thanks,” Blaine says with relief when it's just the two of them again.
Blaine glances into the kitchen again. He's lost the thread of the conversation, but based on the way Kurt is gesticulating with the dish sponge, things remain unresolved.
“Dad,” Kurt says, the edge of a child's whine in his voice, “if we wait until we have a big enough place or it's convenient it's not going to happen for a long time. And I promised.”
“And I think there are plenty of other ways for you to insist that you two are adults, not that we weren't already aware.”
Kurt sighs. “Look, we were pushed into a lot of things before we were ready and I know we talked about it as little as possible, but you don't need to --”
“Oh, you seemed pretty excited to be pushed,” Burt interrupts, his voice judgmental and defensive and full of love.
“We're not living together because we have to be,” Kurt snaps. “And we're not just counting the hours down there --”
“I bet you try,” Burt shoots back, because he knows.
Kurt's posture softens as he concedes the point, but he's clearly exasperated. “Too often. Look, I think this will help, and if it doesn't seem necessary to you and like a big pain in the ass, I get that, but I promised him. And me. Frankly, I'd like to be able to welcome you into my home and serve you a meal at my table when you and Blaine aren't conspiring against me while I'm covered in the herpes of craft supplies because of some terrible play.”
“There were words I never needed to hear you say in that sentence, Kurt.”
“He was talking about glitter,” Finn says with disinterest as he filches a cookie off one of the platters Kurt has put together. Kurt slaps at his hand more out of reflex than actual caring.
“What?” Burt asks.
“'Glitter. Herpes of craft supplies,'” Finn explains with his mouth full. “Steph totally calls it that too. 'Cause it never goes away, just spreads.”
Kurt high fives Finn and puts another mark in the plus column for the current girlfriend.
“Can we just stop talking about herpes now?” Burt asks, and while he's not shouting, he's clearly thinking about it.
In the dining room, Blaine stifles a laugh as he glances at Carole, who frantically clamps a hand over her own mouth.
“I'm sorry this is turning into a thing,” Blaine murmurs to Kurt as they stand by the dessert table welcoming people and smiling for a selection of Carole's friends they don't really know.
“It's fine,” Kurt says, not looking at Blaine because he's too busy watching with horror the way people cut pie these days. “Was my idea anyway.”
“I know, but --”
“Don't. My idea,” Kurt repeats, smug and possessive.
Kurt twists his fingers under Blaine's sweater to rub over the small of his back and wonders why the holidays always have to be so hard.
Mr. and Mrs. Anderson show up somewhere between Puck and Brittany, and Kurt digs his nails into his palms.
Even as the whole mess has improved, – Blaine and his parents do talk; do see each other a few times a year now – they are never invited for the holidays. Blaine is still, quite conspicuously, a guest in his childhood home, and Kurt, arguably, has a better relationship with Mr. Anderson than he does.
None of it, however, stops Kurt from pushing Blaine towards his mother while he greets Mr. Anderson. He exchanges pleasantries and watches as Blaine finds a way to sag into his mother's arms. She immediately goes to scratch her nails through his hair.
Over Blaine's shoulder she says to Kurt, “He seems so much older.”
He still needs you so much, Kurt thinks, especially as Mr. Anderson moves his mouth as if to speak and then doesn't, pausing for a moment.
“They've always been close,” Mr. Anderson eventually offers.
“I'm glad,” Kurt says, with a tight smile.
“We're not coming back to Ohio for Christmas this year,” Blaine says to her softly, almost making it sound like a question, while Kurt stands guard from all their friends who want to say hello, because no one, no one, interrupts Blaine's time with his mother.
Santana is the only one who doesn't even try, although she follows Mr. Anderson over to Burt and that makes Kurt more nervous than he'd like to admit, because really, he does not expect to get out of this life without his father punching Blaine's at some point.
Blaine's mother looks so proud. “I guess you are all grown up then,” she says.
Blaine takes a deep breath, shaky on the exhale and Kurt knows what's coming, amused at Blaine's instinct, even in a mess like this, to work one set of parents off the other.
“Kurt and I would very much like it if you and dad would join us. I know it's complicated and you may have other plans and you just… may not want to come; we don't really do holidays together anymore. But we'd like it. I'd like it.”
Blaine's mother bites her lip and hugs him and Kurt darts into their space just long enough to rescue Blaine's pecan pie before it winds up on someone's outfit; he doesn't want to have to clean that much Karo syrup out of anything.
“I think they'll say yes,” Blaine says when they go to bed that night, his head resting on Kurt's chest as Kurt absently plays with his hair.
He can tell by Blaine's voice that he actually thinks nothing of the sort; he's just hoping.
“I did tell him we would be expecting them,” Kurt says.
“How did that go over?”
Kurt shrugs. “We'll find out, won't we?”
Burt and Carole officially acquiesce over breakfast the next morning; Kurt squeals with delight.
Blaine hopes Kurt never outgrows that particular noise. It's something he loves now, even if it was something he'd been embarrassed by when they'd first met.
“Word of warning,” Burt says over the buckwheat pancakes Kurt has insisted on. “Your mom and me, the first time we did our own instead of just going over to your grandparents' – it was real lonely. I just want you to know that. Eventually everyone goes home.”
“I think we should invite everyone we know,” Kurt says breathlessly when they're in the car and headed for the mall. It's unlikely that they'll do any actual shopping, but it's a tradition. Blaine wonders if Kurt just needs a reminder of how much he hates Lima.
“We know a lot of people.”
“And most of them won't be able to come because of their own stuff or the expense or whatever. But picture it,” Kurt says, his voice a little bit dreamy.
“Everyone?” Blaine asks, because he's going to start naming names.
“Everyone,” Kurt says, absolutely certain.
“Even Santana?” Blaine asks.
“Yes, even Santana.”
“And Wes,” he adds. “It would mean the world to me if Wes were there.”
“Of course,” Kurt says softly, reaching out to brush a hand over Blaine's arm as he drives.
Saturday night comes without an answer from Blaine's parents and Kurt half wonders if they'll just show up in a month without any announcement whatsoever.
“Can I ask you for something,” Kurt says, stroking his hand up and down Blaine's arm. They're in bed and the glow from the bedside lamp is warm and yellow, the color of suburban intimacy.
Blaine's curled on his side doing a crossword, and Kurt's been listening to his iPod, flipping through songs he may want to use as audition pieces or at the bar.
“Yeah, what's up?” Blaine asks, twisting to face Kurt and plucking the ear buds out of his ears, because only Kurt would start a serious conversation while insisting on a personal, and private, soundtrack for it.
“At some point can we stop trying with your parents? Because I know it's better. I'm so grateful it's better, but it makes me nervous, you hoping there's more. We've both tried everything and maybe at some point the best we can do is to stop thinking it has anything to do with us?”
“I wish I could explain to you what it's like.”
“I think it will make you angry.”
“You'll survive,” Kurt says archly.
“Imagine if your mother was just out of reach, wouldn't you keep trying?”
“Atheism, Blaine,” Kurt says fondly, tangling their legs together.
“Just, go with the hypothetical for a second,” Blaine says, amused and frustrated.
“I am,” he says, equally amused. Then, softly, touching Blaine's face, “This is my faith Blaine, and it's called shelter, from unreasonable hope.”
Kurt does a ridiculous amount of the Christmas planning on speaker phone from the car.
“I didn't realize this was going to be a Kurt Hummel Production,” Blaine says at the point he no longer has anything to say that isn't an appalling double entendre about Kurt's feelings regarding wet versus dry stuffing.
“I'm practicing for the wedding,” Kurt says without missing a beat.
Blaine grins, but keeps his eyes on the road.
“What?” Kurt asks.
“Normally the only thing you say about the wedding is 'We're not engaged.'”
“Yes, well, there's no reason our patchwork of marriage laws and graduate school should interfere with my rich fantasy life, is there?”
“Nope,” Blaine says, still giddy. “None at all.”
“Court took the case, you know,” Kurt says after a pause.
“I know,” Blaine says, quietly. Of course he knows. Honestly, he didn't know if Kurt knew. He follows these things closely for school and career and personal interest and Kurt just can't sometimes, so he hadn't mentioned it.
“You're worried about it,” Kurt says.
“You don't think we're --”
“I think... I think I'm too close to it to know,” Blaine says. "I think, how can they not say this is ridiculous? But it seems too easy to me, and so obviously isn't, so yeah, I have a bad feeling.”
Kurt knows they may never get married.
On Monday morning, when Blaine's already left for school, Kurt calls Wes to invite him to Christmas.
“So is this an occasion or an occasion?” Wes asks.
“What do you mean?”
“I'd expect to hear from Blaine about something like this, so if you're calling and no one's been kissing anyone inappropriately --”
“Oh, there's plenty of inappropriate here,” Kurt teases.
Wes laughs. “I'm sure there is, but you know what I mean.”
“So what's going on?”
“Our first Christmas,” Kurt says with a heavy, nervous exhale. “My family's coming; we don't know what Blaine's is doing yet, but... family. You came up. And I wanted to ask, because I don't think Blaine will actually tell you how important this is to him.”
Wes hums into the phone and Kurt doesn't think for a second that that's about logistical complexity.
“It's going to be tricky,” he says.
“I figured, but....”
“Let me mess with the Internet, see what I can do. It's only going to be Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. You have a preference?”
Kurt cackles. “Oh, Christmas Day; we can put you under the tree.”
“Okay,” Wes says chuckling, “I know you're vastly amused by tales of my adolescent fumbling, but you have got to let up on this sometime.”
“Never, ever, ever,” Kurt says. “It's such a gift that Blaine has a past. You should have never let him tell me.”
Blaine's parents don't say yes until December 12th, when Kurt, trapped on a set of a student film, has to call Blaine's father about whether he got the check related to the Boston apartment that still hasn't cleared and winds up pressing him about the holidays, in the name of knowing how many birds to order and pies to bake.
“You sound like his mother,” Mr. Anderson says. Kurt thinks it an odd phrasing for two people who are still married to each other.
“I just like to be a good host, sir, and really, if you don't tell me soon and do show up, I may just wind up seating you at the children's table.” It comes off flirtier than Kurt would like it to.
Mr. Anderson laughs, the sound as rich and round as ever. It's not the sort of laugh Kurt thinks a man like him really deserves. “I bet Blaine would love that.”
“No,” Kurt says, annoyed now, “I bet Blaine would make me sleep on the couch for a week. Look, I know he loves awkwardly, believe me, I know, and he has to get it from somewhere, but I just nee --”
Mr. Anderson cuts him off. “We'll come. Is that what you want?”
“Yes,” Kurt breathes out, his body sagging with relief, although in truth he's not sure.
“Then I'll let you know our arrangements when we've made them.”
“Thank you,” Kurt says, desperately heartfelt.
Blaine's frankly gobsmacked when Kurt tells him his parents have said yes. Kurt spends the evening watching his emotions cycle and tries to distract him with his concerns about being typecast as a supernatural creature.
“First Persephone, then a Weimar-era vampire nightclub impresario – and really, who thought that was necessary – and now a singing ghost-boy in a tree,” he says, eyes darting around at the absurdity of it.
“And everyone in Lima just thought you were too gay,” Blaine drawls.
“And here I was just too otherworldly instead,” Kurt says, still faintly horrified, glad the distraction is working. He looks up at Blaine. “Do you have nightmares about me?” he asks abruptly.
“What?” Blaine splutters.
“Like, being undead, stealing your life-force, summoning you to hell? You know, stuff like that.”
“Should I?” Blaine asks.
“I'm starting to wonder!”
“Okay, final count,” Kurt says on December 20th.
“Shoot,” Blaine says.
“You, me, my family --”
“Yes, thank you, dear,” Kurt says. Clearly, he has a written list and has already counted, but if Blaine needs to feel useful, who is he to stop him. “Your parents.”
Kurt rolls his eyes. “Meanwhile, Puck said he was bringing Jews but didn't specify how many Jews.”
“Yeah. External sources confirm that means Rachel, Tina and Artie. What's unclear is if there are additional Jews.”
“I can't really believe we're having this conversation,” Blaine says.
“Not my fault,” Kurt says holding his hands up.
“Eleven,” Blaine says, resuming the count.
“Right. Wes is showing up Christmas day, right from the airport, so you better be showing him all the love for that.”
Blaine arches an eyebrow.
“Oh my god, not all the love,” Kurt squeals.
“You planned this so she would be thirteen, didn't you?” Blaine asks.
“And meanwhile all our local friends suck and aren't coming.”
Kurt doesn't know if he should ignore the fact that Blaine sounds truly wounded. “Kate and Henry said they would drive back for the post-Christmas revelry,” Kurt says, pleased that they've managed as much as all this.
“How do you think that's going to go?”
“I think that no matter what happens, it will all have been worth it for your father's reaction to one of our greatest hits.”
“I have a terrible feeling about that,” Blaine says.
“Don't. I have a plan.”
“What I'm afraid of,” he mumbles.
“We can talk about wet versus dry stuffing again. Or the tofurky situation,” Kurt teases.
“Oh my god, I hate you,” Blaine says, grabbing Kurt around the waist and pulling him, squealing, down onto his lap.
“I hate you too,” Kurt says sweetly, his voice wavering when Blaine drags his bottom lip up the side of his neck.
“Why are you seating Rachel next to my dad?” Blaine asks, looking at the chart Kurt's drawn up on the morning of the 22nd.
“She's the ghost of heterosexual Christmas past.”
“Oh god, you have a plan,” Blaine says miserably, raking his fingers through his hair.
“Does Rachel know you have a plan?”
“Rachel is not an idiot, and will realize what I'm up to immediately. She will then be incredibly unsubtle, so unsubtle, in fact, that your father will not consider for even a moment that I had any sort of agenda at all.”
“I really think you're underestimating the potential for disaster here,” Blaine says, cautiously.
“Oh no,” Kurt says, “I'm counting on it.”
When Kurt gets home from his afternoon shift on the 23rd, his last before Christmas, the house is dark and Blaine is laying on their couch.
“Are you napping or in despair?” Kurt asks.
Kurt smiles, despite of the fact that he worries, and flicks on the light. “I am going to get changed; you are going to go sit in front of your sun lamp; and then we are going to buy groceries.”
“Is this the part where you just tell me what to do for the next twenty-four hours?”
“Yup,” Kurt says with a grin.
In the kitchen, later, they wrap around each other like singing, and work into the night, mostly quiet. Kurt chats occasionally, and as Blaine hums to himself, as they do everything that can be done early.
When they fall into bed, not even bothering to turn on the bedroom light as they get ready, Kurt wants to ask Blaine if he's sad or scared. But there is very little to talk about, Blaine's parents have already been here for three days – his father called when they got in. They are staying at an expensive hotel down in the city; this is their winter holiday, and Blaine is an obligation, complicated and heavy.
On Christmas Eve, dinner is a buffet and without any formal seating. Kurt says it is more than he can manage and then no one will have to panic when flights or traffic make everything go awry. Still, there is a set time for the meal, and if Kurt's family arrives two hours early and Puck's group is scheduled to arrive four hours late, no one is particularly surprised.
Blaine's parents are precisely on time, and Kurt actually has to shoo Blaine away from the door when he answers.
“Let me do this,” Kurt mouths at him, and then turns, plasters on an enormous grin and acts like he's utterly thrilled to see his not quite in-laws.
Burt watches from the couch as Kurt shakes Mr. Anderson's hand and then leans in to kiss him on both cheeks, before doing the same to Blaine's mother and then offering to give them a tour. He shoots a glance at Blaine.
“Kid,” Burt says.
“What's he up to?”
“Not sure,” Blaine says shaking his head.
“Because that's a little ....” Burt pauses unsure of how to continue.
“Queeny?” Blaine helpfully supplies.
“Blaine!” Carole says, amused but slightly shocked.
“Yeah,” Burt says, not sure how he feels about it. It's not what Kurt's doing though, it's that he's playing at something. “It's gonna piss your dad off,” he says, nodding his head with amusement.
“Actually,” Blaine says, standing, having possibly just figured this all out. “I don't think so.”
Blaine joins them in the doorway of their bedroom. Kurt's talking about paint colors. Blaine's father is looking resolutely at the wall, eyes never drifting lower than Kurt's so that the paint is the only thing he sees. It's Blaine's mother, smiling at end tables and knickknacks who comments on their duvet cover, which Kurt proudly notes he made.
“Honey,” Blaine says, slipping an arm tight around Kurt's waist. “Let them sit down and be social. Also I'm sure you have something in the kitchen that's about to burn.”
Kurt kisses him on the cheek and flounces off to the kitchen.
Blaine scrubs a hand through his hair and tries not to laugh. “Sorry about that,” he says and shuts the bedroom door, directing them back to the living room. “He's just enthusiastic.”
“I think it's sweet,” Blaine's mother says, and there's a glint in her eye that has nothing to do with sincerity and everything to do with amusement.
Blaine knows she's caught on to whatever Kurt's plans are; they really are the same sort of machiavellian, and he doesn't know why he's never realized it before.
“You've made a nice home for yourselves here,” his father says.
“What are you doing?” Blaine hisses in Kurt's ear the second he can get away to the kitchen.
“What do you think I'm doing?” Kurt asks, hoisting himself up to sit on the counter and kick his legs.
“Come on. You have a theory. Tell me.”
“Trying to put my father at ease by acting like June Cleaver?” Blaine supplies nervously.
Kurt shakes his head and looks proud. “Yes, but no,” he says.
“Explain. Because this is freaky enough without having to be in the dark.”
“Your father,” Kurt says, poking a finger into the center of Blaine's chest, “does not care that you're gay. He cares that you are not the manliest man in the room. I, am altering the basis of comparison. You are going to play along, my slight and gentle man. And this is going to be fixed once and for all.”
Blaine looks at him with fond incredulity. “With a lot of bullshit that has nothing to do with who either of us are,” he says.
Kurt shrugs. “Sure.”
“Kurt,” Blaine says, turning serious.
“I appreciate this, but my father's single definition of masculinity is the problem, not the solution.”
“Trust me,” Kurt says. “Please.”
Blaine sighs. “My mother totally knows you're up to something.”
Kurt grins. “Good. I was counting on that too.”
There is a moment, just before midnight, when Blaine is sitting at the piano playing a carroll that Rachel has insisted on singing in French, and Finn, Puck, Artie, Kurt's father and Mr. Anderson are talking sports and around some long-ago finished beers, and Santana is talking quietly to Blaine's mother while Tina tries to convince Carole she should dye her hair a more unnatural red, that Kurt stands in the doorway of the kitchen and just watches.
He is happy.
He wishes Brittany had been able to make it out. Once, she told him he was a moon.
“You glow and circle and watch,” she'd said.
“Well, that or a ghost,” he'd mumbled in response, bothered then in a way he isn't now.