|Morning Shows the Day
Author: Kivrin PM
Spoilers through 2x10. Recently transferred to Dalton, Kurt wants nothing more than to adjust to his new life. Unfortunately, someone else has different plans for him that will bring Dalton and McKinley together. Sequel to Course Corrections.Rated: Fiction T - English - Family/Drama - Kurt H. - Chapters: 7 - Words: 102,203 - Reviews: 182 - Favs: 198 - Follows: 85 - Updated: 02-28-11 - Published: 01-01-11 - Status: Complete - id: 6613706
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: This is it. The end of the road. (On this story - see my profile for details on the upcoming sequel!)
There are so many people I want to thank - my marvelous beta Greytune, for her untiring help with this universe; Keitorin Asthore and BigDestiny, for asking amazing questions and talking to me about plot points which ended up really helping my thinking in this final chapter; and everyone who reviewed. Seriously, I'd hug you all if I could.
I hope you enjoy the ending of this story. It's been such a weird, fun trip, writing this, and I don't think I'll ever get over how wonderfully kind people have been about it. I'd love to hear your thoughts and responses here at the end! Thank you all again for making this possible! ~ Kivrin.
Kurt wondered whether it was possible to mentally light someone on fire. After all, if he could see other worlds and glimpse possible futures, surely something so mundane as human combustion shouldn't be impossible. He was doing his best to make it happen, glaring with all the ferocity he could muster, but so far, the Controllers were frustratingly smoke free. In fact, he hadn't managed to do any sort of permanent damage at all yet; his efforts to kick their shins had been disrupted far too easily, and now he was perched on a high, cold table out of reach of either of the men, one ankle shackled to the surface. He spared a moment to be shocked that they'd been able to find a cuff small enough to hold his little foot.
Kurt's hands were shaking, and he hid them under his crossed legs to disguise the tremors. He wasn't entirely sure why he was trembling. It might have been the lasting shock from being kidnapped (again), or the chill in the air of the old warehouse, or possibly just his body's reaction to being cold and stressed. The way his head was pounding didn't inspire Kurt with much confidence about his overall physical health at the moment, either. Sick and kidnapped and isolated. He knew there was a reason he hated the Controllers.
Theo had been there for a few hours, which had made things better. They'd had to pretend that Kurt hadn't known about his interactions with Clio-Nav, but Theo was warm and comforting in this unpleasant place, and Kurt had been sorry to see him leave. He told himself stubbornly that he wasn't going to cry just because his friend was leaving him alone; Theo would go and get help, and his dad and Lisbet and Blaine and everyone would be there soon. He tried not to think to hard about what, exactly, they might be able to do against the men who could literally snatch him from his father's arms effortlessly. Rachel could always sing them to death, after all. The thought made him smile a little.
Berman and Anderson were huddled together by a bank of complex machinery that Kurt really didn't want to think about. He was fairly certain that nothing they had planned was going to be something he wanted to do, and the calculating glances they were shooting his way made his skin crawl. They hadn't touched him yet, but they'd been using their devices to measure and calculate and observe him since he'd first been dragged through the door. Kurt had tried to make a break for it early, but they hadn't even bothered trying to stop him, watching with a cold, detached amusement as he fought with the heavy steel door to the warehouse, unable to budge it. The only recourse he had now was to stall until the cavalry arrived, and hope that he had heard correctly when they were talking to Theo about the dangers of taking him out of this reality.
Kurt glanced upward automatically, seeking out the familiar bright colors of the world boundary. The rainbow shimmer was in place, undulating gently at a distance that looked at once to be both mere feet above and miles away. The Controllers had been asking him about the boundary since he'd arrived, but he'd clamped his mouth firmly shut and refused to talk. Over in their corner, Berman and Anderson straightened up and started over toward him, and Kurt sighed, not looking forward to another confrontation with them. He crossed his arms firmly across his chest, grateful for the slight warmth the motion brought, and stuck his chin up stubbornly.
"Mr. Hummel," Anderson said, sounding long-suffering. "I really don't understand your reluctance to assist us with a few very simple queries. The information you possess might be invaluable to our efforts to understand the nature of the universe and our place within it. I'm surprised that you would stand in the way of the progress of knowledge!"
"You can take your progress of knowledge," Kurt said coldly, "and stick it where the sun doesn't shine. I'm not telling you anything."
"But you must!" Berman protested, eyes widening. "All of our studies up until now have suggested that what you are able to do should be impossible. We haven't been able to replicate what you've done, either, though the best scientific minds at Clio-Nav have been working on the problem."
"We've studied you, too," Anderson cut in. "We theorized for a while that perhaps you had some genetic mutation that would explain your abilities, but none of our scans indicate anything outside the ordinary. Physically, mentally, you are no different from any of our other observers, which means that whatever you are able to do must have a more internal cause." He leaned forward, putting his face on a level with Kurt's. "We can offer you substantial incentives to assist us. A return to your normal physical state, for example?" He drew the words out temptingly, and Kurt looked away, unwilling to let the man see how badly he wanted exactly that.
Kurt was well aware that the Controllers were his only hope of being restored to his normal body and mind. Their technology was so far beyond twenty-first century standards that he didn't think anyone would be able to come up with a way to reverse the de-aging effect. If he refused to co-operate, they'd leave him in this vulnerable, helpless state, and he knew he was barely holding on to mental stability by his fingertips. Another week in this body and Kurt was sure he'd be back to struggling to learn his alphabet – and he really did not need Finn and Brittany as study-buddies.
"Of course," Berman continued the thought meaningfully, "there could also be negative incentives, if you continue to resist. I don't suppose you like the idea of remaining in this state forever, but you should know you won't have to." Kurt blinked at that, looking at him with deep suspicion. "We haven't perfected youthening technologies yet, even in the twenty-sixth century. The effects you've experienced are temporary. After the first week or so, flaws in the process have proven fatal to those experimental subjects whose normal bodies were not restored."
"You're saying that if you don't fix this, I'll die?" Kurt asked skeptically. He had no reason to believe a word of that – except that the memory of a future divergence he had seen while in his childish state was still clear in his mind, family and friends clustered around what was obviously his deathbed. It wasn't a pleasant thought.
"Precisely," Berman said smugly. "In fact, I suspect you're starting to feel the symptoms already. Fever and head pains presented first, followed by worsening symptoms much like the common influenza of your century, until the body simply shuts down." Kurt carefully did not put a hand to his head, despite the pounding in his temples. Berman could be lying – there was no way to be sure – but what if he wasn't?
"What would you do with the information?" Kurt asked, telling himself firmly that he was not showing weakness, he was gathering intelligence about their aims.
Anderson smiled, clearly taking this as a sign of cooperation. "We're interested in training agents who can operate more freely, without the restrictions of the technology. If we're able to walk through the worlds and manipulate the boundaries, as we gather you have done, there's very little limit on how many worlds we can observe and alter."
"Right," Kurt drawled sarcastically. "Because, after all, your intentions toward other realities are always so good. Tell me, was there ever any truth in the stories we were fed about wanting to make the worlds better places?"
"We're not opposed to the concept," Berman shrugged, "when it doesn't conflict with higher aims. And you yourself were able to improve the lives of many of your alternates while working as an observer, were you not? Are you saying you regret those actions because you were associated with us?"
"No," Kurt said slowly, shivering a little. "No, I think I regret those actions on their own merits. At the time, I was just trying to help." He thought of some of the worlds he had seen and done his best to help, and it was hard to say what might have been the right answer. "But we didn't have the right to meddle, even with the best of intentions. Yours are far from pure."
"Your moral hang-ups notwithstanding, Mr. Hummel, we have a job to do. The stakes are far higher than you imagine." Anderson peered down at him coldly.
"Oh, well, that doesn't sound ominous at all," Kurt snapped. "I really don't think I want to help make it even easier for you to screw with other people's lives – especially not since you abducted me and are threatening me. I have major problems with these working conditions."
"If you won't listen to reason, we'll have to try something else." Berman was businesslike now, and he strode over to the table quickly with a small metallic device in hand. Before Kurt could even ask what it was, Berman had grabbed his head and pressed the device against his temple. A quick stab of searing pain left Kurt gasping for a moment before fading to an annoying discomfort, and he raised his hand quickly to scrabble at the device, desperate to get it off. It wouldn't budge. Berman smiled unpleasantly at him and went back to the bank of machines, where his hands started moving across the controls.
"What are you doing?" Kurt's voice rose higher than usual, almost to a shriek, as he felt the device begin humming gently. They didn't answer, merely looking at him curiously, and Kurt pulled futilely at the little machine again. After a minute, he felt the telltale haziness that had become so familiar in the past week creeping up on him. Kurt had gotten very good at recognizing and managing his shifting mental states, and he could tell that his mind was preparing to shift again, leaving him with his four-year-old personality dominant in the middle of a hostile situation. That was possibly the worst idea he'd ever had, and a sharp bust of fear welled up inside him.
"We recognize that you will likely be unable to explain your actions clearly in your altered state," Anderson said reasonably, "but we think it likely that we will be able to monitor your brain function and actions in a heightened emotional state to determine exactly how you are able to manipulate the boundaries." He smiled savagely. "What a shame, that small children are so vulnerable to emotional manipulation! I do wonder what it will take to get you to help us."
Stall, Kurt thought desperately. Hold on and stall until they get here. He fought against the enticing pull of the foggy mindset that allowed him to relax and just exist. He'd felt a little guilty for deciding not to fight it once his dad came home, but he was just so tired. Kurt pulled his knees up to his chest and tucked his face against them, breathing evenly. He could hold on, no matter how hard they pulled at him.
"Careful," Berman said, "we wouldn't want you to do permanent damage to yourself. I'm not certain whether fighting the invocation of the altered mental state is entirely good for your mind." Kurt breathed, thinking hard of his family and friends, who he was certain would come for him soon. He was frightened, though, the childish heightened emotions starting to overwhelm him. Fear and anger blended together, sweeping through him in a wave, and Kurt gasped as he felt a nearly electric charge in the air. He lifted his head and looked up.
The boundary was lighting up, flaring colors darting through the rainbow like the Aurora Borealis on a clear night, and it was nearly dancing, moving faster and more vigorously than Kurt was used to seeing it. It might almost have been a living thing, furious and frightened, and Kurt stared in awe. He jumped a second later as the Controllers started whispering furiously, staring at their machinery, and he realized they were probably collecting data at the moment.
"Stop," he said fiercely, drawing his eyes away from the terrifying beauty overhead. "You don't know what you're doing! It's not supposed to be this way."
"We're not the ones doing anything," Berman retorted. "Whatever's happening is because of you. What do you see?"
Kurt shuddered a little, cold and fear and shock pushing him to his limits, and the boundary shuddered with him. As if something was being shaken apart, bright lines appeared across the rainbow web, and Kurt gasped. "You have to stop!" he screamed, throwing up his hands as if he could hold things together by force of will. "It's going to fall apart!"
At that, the Controllers looked unnerved, and Berman swiped at his computer quickly. The humming died away, and Kurt felt the haziness recede as his emotions came down again, once more under some semblance of control. The riotous movement overhead slowed as well, and the cracks and lines began to fade. Kurt let out a sigh of relief and let his hands fall to his sides.
"You saw the boundary?" Anderson pressed, face stony. "What did you mean, it would fall apart?"
Stall, Kurt reminded himself, and don't let them do that again. "I always see it now," he said sharply. "A parting gift from your fine organization. And I meant that it looked wrong – like it might crack or shatter at any moment."
"So it is responding to your emotional state," Berman said excitedly. "We theorized as much, but we didn't understand how or why. We're also not certain why you seem to be the only one who can see and influence it."
"Maybe because most people in this reality haven't existed outside of it?" Kurt said sharply, releasing some of his pent-up anger. "I nearly died to obtain the knowledge I have! I understand how it works, and how to see and feel it. You can't just theorize about it, because it's more than just the science and philosophy." He flung up a hand toward the boundary, now twisting gently in the patterns he was used to seeing, and pulled with his mind, gratified to see a response as the boundary moved toward him. "I could walk through it now, or tear it apart, because I know what it is. I earned that knowledge, and it is too dangerous to share with a pack of self-important morally bankrupt time travelers with god complexes."
"But it doesn't make sense," Anderson shot back. "We've analyzed every scan of your brain our instruments have ever captured. We've looked at your bloodwork and your body chemistry, and there is absolutely nothing out of the ordinary that should give you this kind of power."
"You don't get it," Kurt said, giving a harsh little laugh. He thought of the moment the worlds had shifted for him, right after he'd given himself up to possibly be lost in order to avoid a bloodbath. He'd been afraid at that moment, but there was so much more than that. It was desperation that had driven him out, and joy of discovery that had propelled him through the universe, and love that had brought him home again. "There are things you will never be able to see with your microscopes and your instruments. You'll never be able to walk the worlds and see the boundaries, because it requires a kind of humanity you don't seem to possess."
"Turn it on again," Anderson snapped at Berman, hands clenching into fists. "Damn the risks. We need to know." Kurt's hand went to the device again, and he struggled to stay calm. If they forced this, eventually he wouldn't be able to hold together. He didn't know what the consequences would be if the boundary broke – but he wasn't keen to learn.
"Why?" Kurt whipped around, trying to stifle a grin as he saw Theo had returned, and was lounging carelessly by the now-open door. He smiled sweetly when the Controllers glared at him, the picture of innocence. "If it's dangerous, why do you need to know so badly?"
"Why have you returned?" Berman asked, looking put out. "We said there would be no further need of you until tomorrow."
"Just curious, I guess," Theo said nonchalantly, tossing something small and bright from one hand to the other as if it didn't matter why he had returned. "After all, I did try for a very long time to do what he could do. I'd like to see it, myself. But why is it so important?"
"We have no reason to tell you that." Anderson was impatient now, but Theo only smiled again, and straightened up, walking into the center of the room. He bore himself like an actor playing a king, and the Controllers turned to watch him, eyes drawn away from the open door.
"I think that you do. Let's be honest – you expect to use me to test whatever theories you develop from all of this, correct?" The Controllers looked at one another, but didn't contradict him. He nodded philosophically. "Then I need to know as much as possible."
"Very well," Berman snapped, and withdrew his hands from the console. Kurt sighed in relief and let his hand drop from the device on his temple, grateful for a reprieve. "The short version, then. Clio-Nav was built on the work of theoretical physicists who developed methods to traverse the boundaries before we fully understood them. We learned later that the boundaries seem to have been meant to keep the various realities carefully separated, so that nothing like what we have done in our observations could happen. The earliest missions we conducted led to major changes in the way the realities interacted."
"The act of observation-" Anderson intoned, and Theo and Kurt exchanged a glance, finishing the sentence together.
"Changes the nature of the thing observed." It was one of the first concepts Lisbet had beaten into their heads when explaining the way observations worked, but it had never seemed terribly important before.
"Precisely. Realities were changed due to outside observation, and we found that the boundaries between worlds became more porous. Crossing the boundaries repeatedly weakened them, until we found we were able to do more than observe and intervene. We learned how to take things out of the worlds."
"Take things out? Like what?" Kurt couldn't contain his curiosity.
"Natural resources," Berman said with a shrug. "Rare elements, items that had been lost to our own history – we obtained the contents of the Library of Alexandria from a reality where it never burned. Anything we wanted."
"So our observations weren't just to learn about divergences," Theo said angrily, voice a dangerous growl. "We were helping you to stripmine the multiverse?"
"That's a terribly politically incorrect way to phrase it," Berman replied haughtily. "We prefer to think of it as redistributing the resources more effectively, and concentrating them in the hands of the people best prepared to utilize them."
"It's a delicate business," Anderson explained. "We monitor the stability of the boundaries carefully. Too much traffic across the boundary at any point risks destroying the walls between our reality and the subordinate worlds."
"Which is why you're frightened of taking Kurt out of the world," Theo reasoned. "With his abilities, he could tear a hole through the boundary and risk everything." The Controllers nodded soberly, and Theo grinned suddenly, wide and bright as sunlight, and darted over to Kurt's side, laying firm hands on his shoulders. The sudden warmth flowed through him, and Kurt smiled up at Theo, suddenly feeling less frightened.
"Mr. MacGregor?" Berman sounded startled, and Theo and Kurt smiled in unison. Their earlier act of feigned anger and resentment had clearly fooled the Controllers into believing they were enemies, and it was nice to be able to reverse that idea. Theo squeezed his shoulder meaningfully; Kurt glanced around unobtrusively, and nearly burst out laughing as he caught sight of heads ducking quickly for cover all around the room. His family and friends had clearly used the distraction of their conversation to slip in unnoticed, and now had the Controllers surrounded.
"What would you say, Theo?" he asked casually. "They're hoisted with their own petard?"
"Aye," Theo growled, a hard light gleaming in his eyes. "And I'll go you one better. 'I'll delve one yard below their mines, and blow them at the moon.'" He stepped in front of Kurt and gave a shout, and suddenly there was a ring of loud and dangerous-looking high school singers, all shouting and waving baseball bats threateningly. Kurt jumped at the suddenness of it - and he had been expecting it. The Controllers were more started, and collided with their machinery in their surprise. Burt was there in an instant, grabbing Berman by the collar, and Puck and Finn cornered Anderson a second later. Kurt watched with glee as the three laid a few good punches on the Controllers, and for a moment, he honestly thought it might be that easy.
They had the room clearly surrounded, and looking through the windows, he could see his friends waiting outside as well, cutting off any avenue of escape. Artie wheeled forward until his wheelchair was effectively blocking the door, and locked down his brakes, crossing his arms firmly across his chest. Around the room everyone moved forward, closing the circle more tightly, and Kurt nearly laughed for relief as he suddenly felt like he was being gathered into the largest group hug he'd ever experienced.
Of course, nothing in his life could ever go that smoothly, and he was horrified a moment later when his dad and Puck and Finn were flung backward forcefully. Berman had slipped one of the hand-held devices on, and the Controllers retreated back toward the table. Theo swore softly and tried to grab Kurt and run, but the jingle of the cuff around his ankle stopped him in his tracks. Kurt was trapped, and he knew his friends weren't going to leave without him. The Controllers were there a second later, shoving Theo back against the table until his back collided with it hard, and the two took up positions on either side of the boys, pointing their immobilizing devices outward to form a shield that none of the attackers could breach.
"You're surrounded," Lisbet said calmly, walking forward until she obviously encountered the very edge of their shield, and then maintaining her position. "You're not getting out of here with him, and the only reason you're not already dead is that we need you to return Kurt to normal before we dispose of you." The iciness in her voice was a startling contrast to her normal tone, and Kurt was impressed. The Controllers looked nervous, but Berman gave a cold laugh.
"Ms. Hamilton, really, I would have expected more from you. You're well aware of the fact that we can simply remove him back to an observation station with us, and complete our work there."
"Like hell you can," Burt roared, furious and terrifying. "You're not taking him anywhere, and we all know why." He nodded to Theo, and the Controllers transferred their glares to him. Theo shrugged.
"I feel no obligation to keep the confidences of kidnappers," he said easily.
"You're wrong," Anderson said quickly, sounding nervous. "I believe balance can be maintained, even if we remove him from this reality."
"And when you get him there?" Lisbet asked shrewdly. "See, we've noticed that you don't seem to be operating with the full force I would have expected from Clio-Nav for a project this critical. You don't have authorization, do you?"
"This project has, from its earliest days, enjoyed cooperation from the highest levels of the bureaucracy," Berman started, and Lisbet laughed dismissively.
"I worked for you too long to buy that bullshit. You're saying that you had support for the project as long as it was under control – probably up until the point that you started killing kids." She shot them a look of such hatred that Kurt revised his earlier analysis of the potential for spontaneous human combustion. "There is no way Clio-Nav signed on for the risks that this venture posed – not when you're clearly endangering the stability of this entire reality for a chance at Kurt's abilities."
"The benefits outweigh the risks!" Anderson snapped. "We can't maintain the balance of the boundary in twenty-sixth century any longer. We need his abilities, or we might lose all control over our ability to import from other realities entirely."
"I weep for you," Lisbet said, poker faced. "But let's stop with the nonsense. Kurt, do you have any intention of telling these fine, upstanding scumbags anything about the boundaries?"
"Nope!" he chirped, cheered immensely by how certain she seemed that they were through. "There's no way I'm telling them anything that might be even slightly helpful!"
"Good kid," she said absently, smiling at him warmly. "Knew I liked you. So, gentlemen, here's the big picture. You can't afford to risk the stability of this reality by dragging him off to an observation station where you'll be caught by Authority and held accountable for your rash actions. You can't force him to give you the information now, and if you wait much longer, his ability to tell you anything useful will deteriorate to the point of uselessness. And you're not stepping one foot outside of this warehouse ever again, unless you like the idea of being beaten to death by overenthusiastic glee clubs with nothing to sing about and an excess of family-like holiday spirit." She folded her arms and stared at them implacably.
"Ho ho ho," Santana agreed darkly, waving her bat menacingly.
"But you forget," Berman snapped. "We have a hostage." He swung around, pointing his immobilization device directly at Kurt, who was caught in its field immediately. He couldn't move a muscle, not even to blink, and his respiration was suddenly shallow and fluttery. "I doubt any of you would like to watch young Mr. Hummel suffocate in front of you. You can't prevent it, though. Back down. We're taking him with us, and if all of you are crushed in the backlash from the removal – well, it's not a particular concern of ours."
Kurt thought quickly, wishing he could see his dad – but he wasn't in Kurt's line of sight, and he couldn't turn his head to look. He did the only thing he could, reaching out mentally for the boundary, and calling up the depth of emotion that he'd been trying to stifle for the past week. With an almost-audible crackle, he felt the boundary spring to life again above them, dancing and humming a song that he could almost make out. He heard Theo and Lisbet gasp as they clearly saw it, and the Controllers were feeling the effects even if they couldn't see it.
"Theo, help us," Lisbet said quickly, and Kurt watched gratefully as they lifted their hands, helping him to tug on the boundary until it was hanging above them, dancing wildly, and showing the signs of strain. Lisbet fixed the Controllers with an icy glare.
"You may not be able to see the boundary, but we can. It's about ten seconds from flying to pieces – and then what happens to your precious timeline and stability of this reality? If this reality is destroyed now, Clio-Nav will never exist. I have a feeling we'd be getting into paradox territory fairly quickly – but we'll bring this tumbling down before we allow you to do it for us, or to lay another finger on Kurt." They hesitated a moment longer, and Kurt felt his breathing grow even shallower, until he felt like he was drowning on dry ground. Then, with a sigh, Berman put his hand down, and Kurt could move and breathe again. He let go of the boundary and pushed down his wild emotions, and watched it return to normal.
"You expect us to return without results?" Anderson asked disconsolately, looking like the wind had just been knocked from his sails.
"You'd be lucky," Burt growled, looking around until he saw Carole, who hoisted his rifle in the air meaningfully. "It's my thinking that you deserve a lot more than that."
Berman sputtered ineffectively. "You – you can't! We're elected officials of the most powerful organization in our society!" The surrounding forces merely glared at him, unimpressed, and he turned to Anderson. "We're about to die in this primitive backwater of a century, the victims of barbaric physical violence. Do something!"
Anderson glanced at him coldly, and then looked directly at Lisbet, ignoring the rest of them. "Surely we can reach some arrangement," he said officiously. "We will return Mr. Hummel to his original state, and you can call off your dogs."
"Not sure I'm seeing the appeal in that," she retorted furiously. "After what you've done to these kids, not to mention the others Theo told us about, I don't think letting you walk free is anyone's idea of a good time."
"Ah," Anderson replied quickly, raising a stilling hand. "But what happens if you kill us here? If we never return, Clio-Nav will have to take an interest in the case. They might not have entirely supported the lengths to which we have gone, but the data we have collected will be enough to spark their interest. I guarantee you that if we do not return, Clio-Nav will never leave him in peace."
"What will happen to you if you go back?" Kurt asked, and they looked at him in surprise, as if they'd forgotten he was there at all. That was more than a little annoying, but seemed to be happening a lot since he'd been turned into a child.
Berman looked down, unhappy lines appearing in his face. "To have attempted this and failed – we will be held up before the public as examples of unwise abuses of technology."
Kurt smiled sweetly, and looked around. "I think I'm OK with them going back to be publically humiliated. Now can you please make them return me to normal?"
"We will need to use our equipment," Anderson said dully, clearly dismayed with this turn of events. Lisbet nodded and put out her hand.
"Immobilization devices?" They handed them over, and she jerked her head sharply toward the bank of machines. "Get working. If I see one hint of anything other than a sincere effort to return Kurt to normal, Santa's Little Helpers here will crack your skulls." The smile she wore at the moment was completely terrifying, and Kurt took a second to thank the universe that she was on his side.
Carole stepped forward to stand next to Puck and Finn, and raised Burt's rifle to point directly at the Controllers. "Mess with my son one more time, and the kids won't have anything left to crack." Berman and Anderson exchanged quick glances and bent over the machines in silence.
Theo patted Kurt lightly on the shoulder, and Kurt looked up at him with a tired grin, trying to ignore the splitting headache that refused to fade. "Who'd have thought we'd have to threaten to bring the whole world to an end in order to get you to grow up?" Theo teased, and Kurt slapped at his hand half-heartedly.
"I always thought they were more talk than action," he said loftily, trying to forget the terror he had felt when left alone with them.
"Sound and fury, signifying nothing," Theo agreed, and then poked at his bright t-shirt with amusement. "This isn't going to fit you for long. I brought along a change of your clothes from Dalton for just this moment. Be right back!" He darted toward the door, but had to wait while Artie carefully removed himself from the entrance, still glaring forebodingly at the Controllers.
Apparently satisfied that they weren't going to try anything, Kurt's dad finally turned away from the two men, and headed over to Kurt. He hesitated for a moment at the edge of the table, looking Kurt over soberly as if inspecting him for damage, and Kurt couldn't take it anymore. He stood up and flung himself forward, falling into his dad's arms with a sigh of relief so deep it almost hurt.
"I'm sorry," his dad whispered, voice thick and strange. "I couldn't stop them, Kurt. I'm so sorry."
Kurt shook his head, burying his face against his father's chest. "It's not your fault. I knew you'd come." His dad kissed his head firmly and squeezed him tighter, almost painful in his strength, and Kurt relaxed against him, finally feeling safe. They stayed that way for a long minute, until an awkward throat-clearing noise caught their attention, and Kurt pulled away. Anderson was standing a few feet away, looking dour, and Lisbet was at his elbow with her arms crossed threateningly.
"I need to remove the device," he said apologetically, and Kurt saw his dad made a fist as he looked at the little metal piece on Kurt's temple.
"I am watching you," he growled, and stepped aside just enough to let Anderson move forward. It only took a moment for him to remove the device, and then another to unlock the cuff around his ankle. As soon as he was done, Lisbet shoved Anderson back over toward Berman, and Kurt's dad swept him up into his arms and pressed his handkerchief to Kurt's temple, where the removal of the device had left a little blood tricking down.
Everyone was inside the warehouse, now, and those who weren't keeping a menacing watch over the Controllers clustered around Kurt, fussing over him and asking questions all at once. He laughed as he watched his dad try to keep up with the pace of the conversation, eyes darting back and forth as he tried to follow their lines of thought. Theo pushed his way through, and held a neatly-folded pile of clothes out to Kurt, who took them gratefully until he saw what they were.
"Seriously?" he asked incredulously. "A Dalton uniform?" Theo shrugged uncertainly.
"I'm not actually very good with clothes," he admitted. "I think the uniform's nice?" It came out as a question rather than a statement, and Mercedes shook her head sadly, putting a comforting hand on Theo's arm.
"Oh, baby. Kurt and I have so much to teach you." Theo looked at her hesitantly, and she grinned warmly back until his face lit up in an answering smile. Kurt hid his amusement with a hand over his mouth.
Lisbet made her way over, gently pushing her way through the crowd. "They're almost ready," she reported, and looked approvingly at the clothes he was still clutching. "Nice. You might want to put those on beforehand if you don't want these guys to have even more photos to embarrass you with for the rest of your life."
"They're not nice!" Kurt said indignantly, thinking with desperate longing of his entire closet full of actually nice things at home. "And it's cruel to mock me about this, because it's not my fault."
"Pretty sure the thing where you covered your whole face with fingerpaint the other day really was your fault," David said happily, flicking through photos on his phone. "That was awesome, by the way."
"I hate you all," Kurt said unconvincingly, and wriggled a bit until his dad set him down on the floor. "Now go away while I change." He used the high table as a shield and struggled into the far-too-big clothes as best he could, hiking up the sleeves and pant legs until his hands and feet emerged. Kurt didn't care what Wes or Theo thought about appropriate uniforms – he was not wearing the tie.
He emerged from behind the table, and saw that they had pretty much all formed up around the Controllers and were giving a group glare that Kurt could only truly appreciate from a distance. He looked around, finally seeing that everyone was there – Santana who made fun of him, and Rachel who fought with him, and Mr. Schue who really had no reason to be there at all. Just looking at the whole group, at all of the people who had been willing to put themselves in danger for him, Kurt felt his eyes prickling with tears, and he reached up to wipe them away with a dangling sleeve.
"Not a bad turnout," Lisbet said thoughtfully, and he looked up to see her leaning against the front of the table, watching them quietly. "You have an amazing family here, kid." Kurt made his way over next to her and leaned against her leg, resting his weary head.
"I know," he agreed quietly. "I don't know how I'll ever thank them for everything they did."
"That's the thing about family," Lisbet said quietly. "They don't expect thanks." She sighed, and looked down at him, her own eyes suspiciously bright. "Can I-?" she began, somewhat shyly, and Kurt was uncertain what she meant until she put out her arms. He nodded quickly and reached up to her, and Lisbet picked him up, cuddling him close.
"Are you ok?" he asked after a minute, because she was holding him very close, and Kurt thought she might be crying. Lisbet nodded against his head, and sniffled quietly.
"Don't get the wrong idea," she said gently, "because I love you no matter what, and I'm so glad you're going to be safe and whole again. And I missed you – the normal, big you – this whole time. I just – I'm going to miss you like this, too." Kurt drew his arms more tightly around her neck and clung tightly, not wanting to let her go, but feeling like she was drawing back emotionally.
"For what it's worth," he said quietly, hoping this wasn't a mistake, "I bet you were a great mom." Lisbet froze for a minute, not breathing, and then exhaled in a quiet sob. "I'm sorry," he said quickly. "It's not my place to say – but you've been so good to me, and to Theo, and I wouldn't have gotten through this without you."
She held him tightly for a moment more and then pulled back, smiling brightly at him amidst her tears. "Got it right this time," she said huskily, and kissed his cheek, and sighed. "Alright, brat, what do you say we make things right?"
"Yes, please!" he said fervently. She laughed, and set him on the table, ruffling his hair one last time before heading toward the Controllers, wiping away her tears as she went. Everyone looked up as she approached, and then the swarm descended on Kurt, hugging him and kissing him and shouting promises to embarrass him with a whole slideshow of photos. He expected to be overwhelmed by the emotion and the feeling of so many people invading his personal space, but instead, he just felt warm. He looked around at the group, a mixture of emotions displayed on their faces, and thought he really understood what it meant to be loved.
"If you're ready, Mr. Hummel?" Anderson called, and Kurt took a deep breath and nodded. The last thing he saw before he closed his eyes was his dad looking right at him, fear and pride and hope written across his face. It only took a second, a sudden sensation of movement and discomfort, and everyone gasped. Kurt opened his eyes again and looked down at his hands, and nearly screamed for joy when he saw they were the right size again.
He was himself again, as tall as he'd ever managed to grow, and his clothes fit once more. He had to fix the sleeves and legs before he stood, grinning widely as he enjoyed the feeling of being able to slip off the table by himself and stand on his own two feet again. Kurt put his hands to his face, just to be sure everything felt normal, and then ran them through his hair, wincing as he imagined just how unkempt he must look.
"I think I liked him better the other way," Puck said dismissively. "Can't we keep him like that?" They erupted with shouts of laughter, and Quinn smacked Puck's arm fiercely, and the ice was broken. They swarmed him again, pulling him forward into their midst, and Kurt laughed for the joy of being able to move and keep up with his friends in a flurry of activity that almost felt like a dance.
"Whoah, whoah!" Lisbet shouted after a moment, laughter in her voice. "Not to interrupt this little party, but we're not quite done yet." They calmed down immediately, following her gaze over to the Controllers, who were standing at their machines, frowning unhappily.
"So, all of this stuff has the information you got about my kid?" Burt asked, gesturing toward their computers. Berman nodded gloomily, and Anderson answered.
"Yes. It's nothing like what we hoped to achieve, but at least there's enough to help us start to-". He was interrupted by the sudden crash of wood on metal, as Mercedes smashed her bat down into the display of one of the machines. With furious shouts, the other kids joined in, raining down heavy blows on the machines. The Controllers backed away from the rain of broken pieces, stopped by the line of adults who were still blocking the door. Artie wheeled by a moment later, carefully rolling over both of their feet on his way to attack a defenseless corner of the bank of machinery.
"I think we're done with them," Kurt said, waving an absent hand at the Controllers.
"Very well," Anderson said stiffly. Berman just glared. "We do not intend to trouble you further, but it is possible that Clio-Nav Authority will see a further use for your talents." Lisbet and Burt fixed them with a steely glare, and Anderson shrank back. "I'm sure I don't know," he offered hastily, and then called out, "Mr. MacGregor!"
Theo turned around from where he'd been helping Mercedes demolish the central computer, and dropped his bat, coming over to the group quickly. Kurt reminded himself to have a talk with his roommate about not just doing what people told him like an obedient puppy. "Mr. Anderson?" he replied carefully.
"Time to go," Berman said grumpily, pulling out a silver cylinder with a blinking red light and playing with it. Kurt and Lisbet turned to Theo, who was looking as surprised as they felt.
"Go?" he asked blankly. "Go where?"
Anderson rolled his eyes. "Back to Clio-Nav, stupid boy."
"He's not going with you," Lisbet cut in, voice icy. "You're not touching any of these kids ever again."
Berman smiled fatuously. "Mr. MacGregor is still in our employ. He must finish his obligations to us, at which time he will be permitted to make an intervention and live the life he chooses."
Theo looked down at his hand and unclenched a fist to reveal the small silver icon he carried, and Kurt felt sick. He knew Theo was lonely, and that he'd been orphaned and alone for a long time. He wanted to tell him not to believe them, and argue about the nature of created realities. He wanted to remind Theo that they lied and manipulated, and that they would use his hope to anchor him to them until they were finished playing their games – but it wasn't his decision to make. Theo looked up, blue eyes bright with unshed tears, and shook his head slowly. He held out the icon to Anderson.
"No," he said quietly. "I'm not going to help you. Not even for this."
"Really?" Anderson sneered coldly. "You would rather go back to being an unwanted foster child in an overcrowded system? We rescued you from that. We are offering you the life you've dreamed of, the family you wanted, and you would turn it down for a life of isolation and abuse?"
"That's not going to happen," Lisbet said firmly, stepping around to wrap an arm around Theo's shoulders, and he blinked at her in surprise. "He has a family now." Theo didn't say anything, but he moved enough to press the icon into Anderson's hand and then step back, standing between Kurt and Lisbet as the three faced down the Controllers. They looked ready to object, and Kurt thought for a minute that he might not be the only one they wanted. They had to have seen that Theo and Lisbet had the ability to see the boundary and at least help him manipulate it, and that could be a very dangerous thing. Kurt stepped forward.
"Let me make something clear to you," he said quietly, as dangerously as he could manage. "If you touch me or Theo or Lisbet or anyone I love, I will come after you. I will tear holes in the universe. I will destroy your timeline. I will walk every world from here to the end of the universe to find you, and you will not like the consequences. Clear?" Berman swallowed hard, and Anderson nodded, face drawn. Kurt smiled coldly and stepped back, waving a hand at them dismissively. "Then you'd better get going. I know it's time travel and everything, but you wouldn't want to be late to your own public humiliation."
Berman twisted the cylinder sharply, and they vanished silently, leaving no trace of their presence other than the twisted wreck of machinery that his friends were currently smashing into ever-smaller pieces. Kurt let out a sigh and leaned against his dad. He felt far better than he had, now – the headache was gone, and he was warmer and less shaky – but he was tired. His dad wrapped an arm around him and drew him close.
"Nice job, buddy," he said quietly. "Just, uh – give me some notice if you're going to start tearing up the universe, OK? A man likes to have a bit of warning about things like that." Kurt laughed at that, and once he had started, he couldn't stop. He howled with laughter, finding a release of all the fear and tension of the past week, and he didn't stop until tears were running down his cheeks.
They made their way back to Kurt's house in a drawn-out string of cars crowded with an interesting mixture of adults, New Directions kids, and Dalton boys, all squeezed together comfortably. Kurt took great joy in throwing the carseat out of Carole's car in a hurry, and was all set to beg his dad to shoot it when Carole picked it up off the ground and eyed it strangely.
"No sense wasting a perfectly good seat," she said innocently, dropping it into the trunk of her car carefully. "You never know when something like that might come in handy." She exchanged a significant glance with his dad, and Kurt vowed to go home and scrub his brain until no trace of that conversation remained. He rethought that sentiment a little when he saw the tender smile his dad gave her in return, and the way Carole laid a hand against her stomach, and Kurt realized they were probably going to be having a family discussion before long. It might not be all bad, Kurt thought absently as they climbed in the car, not being the baby of the family any longer.
It was almost 10 pm when they reached the house, but no-one seemed anything like tired. It only took a few minutes of work to set out food and drinks for everyone, and Kurt took advantage of the chaos to slip downstairs and get dressed in something more fashionable. Mercedes grinned and winked when she saw him, and Tina offered a proud thumbs up. They all grabbed food and collapsed around the corners of the living room, everyone retelling their own parts of the last few hours.
"They can mess with time and space and all that crap," Puck said proudly as he showed off his arms, "but they can't mess with the Puckasaurus."
Kurt looked at Brittany, who was eating a truly massive sandwich. "Feeling hungry?" he asked teasingly. She nodded fervently.
"I didn't eat lunch today because I thought there was going to be toast," she told him confidentially. "But I don't think those guys even had bread." Kurt blinked for a moment, and then decided to just smile and nod.
"What do we do now?" Rachel asked as the noise levels began to drop. Everyone looked around, not quite sure what the proper protocol was for celebrating after you'd defeated time-travelling kidnappers.
"Tomorrow's Christmas Eve," Carole said. "Your parents would probably like to see you home for that, don't you think?" There were startled exclamations all around the room, and Kurt was surprised as well. At least he had the excuse of having been somewhat out of the loop, but it looked like most people hadn't realized just how close it was to the holiday.
"We'll have to leave tomorrow," Wes said sadly. "David's invited me to his place for Christmas, and we promised to be there."
"But we have so much to discuss!" Rachel protested. "There's motivational techniques and music software, and you never did explain how you were able to force your minions – I mean fellow performers – to wear matching uniforms, because I've never been able to accomplish that."
Wes nodded quickly. "I know! I feel I could learn a lot from you as well, particularly about handling recalcitrant members." He eyed Kurt sternly, but Kurt looked away with his most innocent expression firmly in place.
"Oh no," Mercedes groaned. "Two of you? This is so not going to end well."
"It's no good trying to escape," David said with a sigh. "You don't want to hear the lectures I'll get if I'm not there tomorrow." He looked around the room hopefully. "Maybe we can come back for a visit before school starts again, though?" Choruses of agreement rang through the room.
"I'll have to go too," Blaine said quietly. Kurt looked over at him, feeling a pang. They hadn't had a chance to talk yet, and now Blaine was going to leave. "But my parents are only in town for a few days, so if there's any way I could come back…"
"Don't worry!" Rachel said cheerfully. "My dads love having houseguests! You're more than welcome to stay." Blaine looked so hopeful at the idea that Kurt couldn't help but be encouraged, because there was no way Blaine was that happy just about staying with Rachel.
"Party at Kurt's house on the 26th!" Mercedes shouted, and the kids cheered. Kurt watched his dad drop his head into his hands, and Carole laughed while she rubbed the back of his neck comfortingly.
"I was thinking," Mr. Schue said suddenly. "It's the night before Christmas Eve, and we have about a show choir and a half here." He grinned evilly. "What do you say we go Christmas caroling at Sue Sylvester's house?" The words were barely out of his mouth before people were on their feet, stampeding toward the door.
"Are we sure she won't eviscerate us?" Artie asked nervously. "Because I sort of got the impression that Coach Sylvester was pretty much the Grinch, Scrooge, and the Devil all wrapped up in one."
"Ah, but the Grinch and Scrooge were brought to see the error of their ways!" Mr. Schue said smugly. "A little Christmas spirit might be just what she needs!"
Mr. Schue was the only one who knew where Coach Sylvester lived, so he led their procession along the merrily-lit streets of Lima. It had gotten colder in the past few days, and Kurt wondered absently if it was going to snow. They piled out of their cars a few streets away from her house, just in case she had rocket launchers that she could use to destroy them, and debated which sounds they ought to sing as they walked.
"Count me outta the singing," Burt said with a sigh. "I'll leave that to you youngsters."
"Nope," Kurt said firmly, grabbing his arm and pulling him along. "You're going to sing just as loud as the rest of us, or I'll tell Carole exactly what you wanted to buy her for Christmas before I talked you out of it."
They started singing a few doors away to give themselves time to warm up, and Kurt was gratified by the happy receptions they got. When they stood outside of Coach Sylvester's door, he stood in the middle of the group, listening to the voices he most loved, and for a minute he didn't even sing, just drinking in the music. He could pick out every voice from New Directions – voices nearly as familiar to him as his own. Mike was singing in the background, apparently ignoring his customary shyness about his voice, and the sincerity in Santana's song was unusual enough to be moving. Rachel and Mercedes were eyeing one another suspiciously, and he hoped it wouldn't turn into a diva-off in the middle of the sidewalk. Brittany and Finn had settled for singing non-vocal parts, both uncomfortable with too many songs with unfamiliar lyrics at a time, and their voices added a lovely depth.
They were singing a mixture of songs, both religious and secular to keep all factions happy, and Kurt set aside his normal distaste for overtly religious lyrics in the spirit of the moment. He watched Quinn as she took the lead on "Silent Night" and was deeply moved by the emotion she showed. He wondered for a moment whether she was going to cry, and then Puck and Mercedes stepped up on either side of her, wrapping arms around her and supporting her in song, and Kurt thought a little wound in the group had been healed. Sam eyed Puck suspiciously, but Mercedes quelled him with a glance, and he shook his head and kept singing.
His friends from McKinley weren't alone, though, and Kurt listened for the less familiar voices as well. Mr. Schue was leading them, directing as best he could, and Kurt smiled at the familiarity of the over-enthusiastic faces he made. He caught a glimpse of Wes staring at him strangely, clearly confused by his leadership style, but Blaine and Wes and David were keeping up with the group well, adding their close harmonies until it sounded like the group had been singing together for years. Carole sang strongly, her voice untrained but sweet, and she poked Burt in the side until he opened his mouth and joined in, rough but true. His dad caught him looking, and Kurt gave a sarcastic roll of his eyes, but only because he was expected to do so. They were adorable, and Kurt felt so lucky to have them both.
Theo and Lisbet stood at the edge of the group, as if they weren't quite sure where they fit, and Kurt wanted to go over and drag them in. He knew the sensation of loneliness and isolation that they felt, and he wished he could make them see how much they belonged to the group. Theo had his eyes down, though, and Lisbet stared out without seeing, and Kurt ached for them. On the last verse of the song, though, Lisbet blinked hard and cleared her eyes, and reached out blindly to grab Theo's hand. He looked up at that, meeting her gaze, and she pulled him closer to the group. They held onto one another like a lifeline, and Kurt looked up and pretended he saw a falling star, just for the chance to wish they would be alright.
The door opened, and everyone flinched back, but they finished the song strongly, and jumped straight into another, not giving her time to interrupt or murder them. "Deck the Rooftops" was fast and fun, and Kurt threw himself into the music, lifted high by the solemnity and the joy. He wondered for a moment why on earth Coach Sylvester hadn't sprayed them with pepper spray yet, until a small figure stepped to her side, and Coach Sylvester wrapped an arm around her. The smaller woman was smiling brightly, nodding her head as they sang, and fearsome Sue Sylvester was smiling warmly down at her, looking more human than Kurt had ever seen her.
They finished the song and then stood in silence, waiting to see if they were going to die. Coach Sylvester bent down to hear something the other lady said, and then straightened up and cleared her throat. "If you're all going to continue to pollute the air with your unholy screeching, my sister would like to know if you could sing Jingle Bells." It was the kindest tone he had ever heard her address the Glee club with, and Kurt was stunned.
Mr. Schue smiled gently. "We'd be glad to," he said, and sketched the time in the air. Kurt kept his eyes on Coach Sylvester and her sister as they sang, and watched with amazement as Sue Sylvester joined in, singing to and with her sister. Coach Sylvester, singing Christmas songs with the Glee club? That was a miracle.
They finished, and Coach Sylvester's sister clapped enthusiastically. Sue gave a perfunctory flap of her hands, and then glared out at all of them as if daring them to say a word about what had just happened. "Merry Christmas!" they shouted gleefully, and she frowned at them sternly, shooing them with a dismissive hand, and guiding her sister inside before slamming the door.
"That went better than we could reasonably have hoped," Kurt breathed, happiness and relief flowing together.
"Hot chocolate!" Carole declared giddily. "We'll stop by the Lima Bean and get hot chocolate for everyone before you go home."
"Coffee," Kurt said instantly, mouth watering at the idea. "I haven't had any in a week." He glared at Blaine and Finn, the principal actors responsible for depriving him of caffeine, and they shared a sheepish grin. They started walking, since the Lima Bean was only a few blocks away.
Brittany and Tina came up on either side of Kurt and grabbed his arms. Santana hooked her arm through Brittany's, and Mike grabbed onto Tina until the five of them were blocking the whole sidewalk as they walked.
"We're awesome," Tina declared firmly as they walked. "We just faced down Coach Sylvester in her own house and lived to tell the tale."
"Hell yeah!" Mike said brightly. "Even if we didn't sing any Asian Christmas songs." Tina glared at him until he grinned, showing that it had been a joke, and she shook her head.
"Forget that," Santana said dismissively. "We saved the whole universe today. That's awesome."
Brittany smiled, and leaned in to kiss Kurt on the cheek. "Um, thanks, boo," he said gently, fighting the urge to wipe off the smear of lipgloss he could feel on his cheek. "Was that for any particular reason?"
"Nope," she shrugged, smiling at him. "But you didn't care if we picked you up and kissed you all week, so I thought you must like it now."
Tina leaned in to kiss his other cheek, and grinned cheekily at him. "She's right, you know. You can't just take away our cuddles now because you got big again."
Mike looked over Tina's head at him. "I'm not going to kiss you," he reassured Kurt. "Unless you want me to, that is."
"I don't think you're the one he wants to be kissing," Santana said meaningfully, nodding at Blaine who was walking near the front with Wes and Rachel, all talking at a thousand miles an hour.
"Shhh!" Kurt hissed, unwilling to start that discussion in such a public place. "That's not any of your business."
"Course it is, dumbass," she said carelessly. "We took care of you, and you kept those guys from breaking the world. That means we're responsible for each other, and we get to look out for you." She sent a confident glare in Blaine's direction. "I could take him," she said thoughtfully, "if you need me to."
"No! No, that's fine!" Kurt said hastily. "I appreciate the thought, but I'm sure that won't be necessary."
"Whatever," she sighed, laying her head on Brittany's shoulder. "I'm bored talking about it now anyway." Kurt walked with them that way for a while, but finally got tired of being pulled in both directions at once, and sent both couples ahead to walk on their own. He sighed with relief to have his arms back, only to be grabbed again a moment later by Quinn, who was at least gentler.
"Hi, sweetie," she said gently, lifting her free hand to gently touch the mark left on his temple. "Are you doing OK?"
"I'm fine," Kurt said – and he meant it. He smiled back at her, and was surprised by the amount of sadness in her eyes. "Are you?"
Quinn sighed quietly. "It's been an interesting week," she said, understating the situation by a lot, Kurt thought. "You were adorable, by the way," she said quickly, and smiled at the memory. "It was just hard to see you that way and not think about – about Beth," she finished in a rush, and Kurt saw her eyes growing watery. He squeezed her hand firmly, wishing he was any good at offering comfort or advice.
"Is there anything I can do?" he asked helplessly, and she smiled, shaking her head.
"No. Well, actually, you can keep this a secret." He nodded at the proposal, and she leaned in to whisper quietly in his ear. "Puck and I talked about it a few days ago, and he misses her too. We've been working things out, and I think we actually have the chance to be friends for real. It's something we've been avoiding for a long time, because it hurts to think about her, but we figured out that not talking about it was just making it harder and lonelier. We called Shelby, and she's agreed to let us come visit and see her." Quinn smiled, fear and joy mingled together. "We're never going to say anything to Beth about who we are, but Shelby thinks it wouldn't be a bad thing if we were friends of the family. Maybe babysitters once in a while." Kurt smiled back, hoping hard that it would help.
"That sounds lovely," he said quietly. "No mom's going to object to more people loving her baby."
"I do love her," Quinn said, sounding almost surprised at the idea. "And I'm glad we gave her to Shelby. I just don't want to forget."
"Never," Kurt said firmly, and Quinn rested her head on his shoulder for the rest of their short walk.
They took up more than half of the tables in the Lima Bean, and Kurt was glad that the coffeeshop had both late hours and few customers at night. They shoved the tables together while Burt and Carole got drinks for everyone, and Mr. Schue carried trays of hot chocolate back and forth across the room. Quinn perched on Sam's lap, and Kurt was thrilled to see that she looked happier than she had in a long time.
Kurt sat near one end of the long table, and Mercedes grabbed the spot next to him, while Lisbet sat across the table from them. Mercedes started asking Kurt a question, but they both stopped in mute horror when they saw Mr. Schue sit down next to Lisbet with that dopey expression he usually only wore around Ms. Pillsbury-Howell.
"So, I was wondering," he said awkwardly. "Would you maybe like to grab dinner sometime? With me, I mean. You know." He gave an eager little laugh, and Kurt winced with secondhand embarrassment. To her credit, Lisbet didn't flinch, but smiled at him politely.
"Look, Will," she said gently. "You don't know me from Adam, and I've seen more of you in alternate realities than I have in this one. I don't think it's really the right time for me to be dating, anyway." She looked away, smile falling from her face, and Kurt felt his heart clench a little at the sadness in her eyes. She pulled the smile back into place a moment later, though, and patted Mr. Schue's hand firmly. "But I'd be happy to be penpals. I'm going to need people to keep me updated about everything that goes on around here, and apparently the brat here can't be counted on to do that." She turned a teasing grin on Kurt, who responded by sticking out his tongue.
"Very mature," Mercedes said drily. "Are you sure your brain didn't get stuck as a four year old?"
"I was the most mature four year old the world has ever seen," Kurt said haughtily, sipping his coffee with his nose high in the air.
"I can see that my job's not going to get any easier," Mr. Schue sighed, looking down the table at all of his students, half of whom were busy poking the other half and trying to get them to spill their drinks.
"Nope!" Lisbet said cheerfully, nudging him with an elbow. "But they're good kids. I do want to hear about them all."
"Don't worry, I'll tell you everything! But - you're not going to stay?" Mercedes asked, sounding upset. Kurt hadn't been sure that she even liked Lisbet, but apparently that worry had been unfounded. Lisbet looked across the table calmly.
"Much as I'd love to stay and watch you all fight and kiss and make up and fight again on a daily basis, I don't think Lima's the place for me."
"Where will you go?" Kurt asked quietly, trying to restrain the emotion he felt. Lisbet had just arrived, and now she was leaving again. He stomped quickly on the rising feelings of abandonment and loneliness, reminding himself that she wasn't gone yet.
"I'm not sure," she said wistfully, gazing at an old-fashioned map of the world that was displayed on the wall of the Lima Bean. "Maybe Scotland? I hear they have lots of empty space there. And sheep." She rolled her eyes expressively, looking at the chattering crowd. "Sheep are quiet."
"You're moving to Scotland because it has sheep?" Mr. Schue asked, seemingly dumbfounded, and Lisbet laughed.
"Not moving there, just going to visit. I travel a lot these days, and I've been around most of North America at this point. Maybe it's time to go a little further."
"As long as you come back," Kurt said, and Lisbet looked at him seriously, reaching across the table to grab his hand.
"Always," she said solemnly. "Don't ever doubt it. And besides," she said with a laugh, "you don't have to act like I'm already gone! I'll stay for a few weeks and help make sure everything is solid."
She was distracted then by Carole, who came over and dragged Lisbet away to the far end of the table, where the adults were seemingly congregating. Mr. Schue shrugged and followed along, leaving Kurt and Mercedes together in a moment that suddenly seemed nostalgic.
"Wow," Mercedes breathed after a minute. "Some week."
"You said it," Kurt agreed. "I cannot wait to actually get to moisturize properly tonight, and then I think I'm sleeping for a week."
"Not likely," Mercedes corrected with a laugh. "Now that you're living with Finn you'll probably be dragged out of bed at five to start sprinkling Christmas glitter or something."
"He would," Kurt groaned. He sipped his coffee for a minute, and then leaned over to hug Mercedes suddenly. "Thank you," he said quietly. "You were so amazing all week. I don't know what I'd have done without you."
"Boy, you'd have been lost," she said confidently, hugging him back. "You're taking me shopping the day after Christmas to make it up to me."
"Oh, harsh!" Kurt laughed, thrilled by the idea of simple retail therapy. Mercedes darted another glance down the table, and Kurt watched with delight as she and Theo locked glances for a minute, then both looked away quickly. Mercedes grabbed her hot chocolate quickly to hide her face, but Kurt laughed.
"You're blushing!" he said happily. "Mercedes Jones, are you harboring a crush on my roommate?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said quickly, but grinned stupidly down at the table. Kurt tried not to squeal, because that was just undignified, but he grabbed her hand in excitement.
"That's adorable," he said when he was confident he was in control of his voice again. "You'll have very cute, very literary babies."
"Shut up," Mercedes grumbled, but she met his eyes with a grin a second later. "He is cute, isn't he?" Kurt laughed and kissed her cheek, and made a mental note to give Theo the serious talk about not hurting his best friend before they met again.
It was nearly midnight by the time the party broke up, and Burt left a generous tip with the harried-looking staff who were trying to shoo them out the door. They started breaking into little groups and figuring out who needed rides home, and goodbyes were shouted all around. Kurt lost track of how many people rushed up to hug him (or slap his back in a manly fashion), and the group dispersed quickly to their nearby cars. The Dalton boys were still staying with Rachel and Artie, and promised to be by in the morning to say their goodbyes properly. Theo was spending the night at Kurt's house again, and Lisbet kissed him and Kurt quickly before taking off for her hotel, also swearing she'd be back in the morning. The Hudson-Hummel family and Theo walked quietly back to their car together, and Kurt finally felt the exhaustion of the day creeping up on him.
He barely made it home awake, and was nearly sleepwalking by the time he struggled into his pajamas – his own lovely silk pajamas, not the cartooned monstrosities Theo and Blaine had picked up for him. He nearly fell into the sink while brushing his teeth, and as his head hit the pillow, Kurt yawned so hard he felt his jaw pop. He barely noticed the fact that his dad was tucking him in; after the past week, it seemed like an act of love rather than an indignity. He sighed sleepily as his dad kissed his forehead, and for the first time in a week, Kurt fell asleep without the lingering fear that things would be even worse when he woke up.
Finn did wake Kurt up the next morning, but not to spread Christmas glitter. He was actually doing his best to be quiet, sneaking around the room as he got ready for the day, but Finn was kind of a klutz. He bumped into so many things that Kurt couldn't even pretend to still be sleeping, and he sat up with a groan, barely suppressing a shout of excitement as he realized that he was still normal-sized. Finn winced apologetically.
"Sorry, dude. I was trying to keep it down."
"No, that's fine," Kurt said, waving sleepily. "That's not to say that I won't be happy when we move and each have our own bedrooms for the nights that I'm here, but I don't mind this once."
Finn sat down on his own bed and looked at Kurt somewhat anxiously. "So," he asked uncertainly, "are we good?"
"What do you mean?" Kurt asked, running quickly through everything he could remember doing in the past week, and wondering how on earth he'd offended Finn this time.
"You know," Finn said uselessly, and Kurt waved at him to continue. "As brothers. I mean, it was pretty cool looking after you, but I didn't know if you'd be mad at me now that you're back to normal."
Kurt sighed and got out of bed, gathering his towel and bathrobe as he headed for the shower. "Don't be ridiculous. You were amazing, and if I really were a four year old, I wouldn't ever want anyone else for a big brother." He pointed meaningfully at Finn. "Don't forget that I am still older than you, though. Call me your baby brother and I'll be forced to sic Mercedes on you – and you saw what she did to those computers yesterday!"
Finn laughed and held up a fist, and Kurt felt strangely not-awkward as he knocked his fist against Finn's. He thought about the strangeness of the past week as he showered and got dressed. His friends had always been important to him, but especially since he'd transferred to Dalton, he'd worried about whether he mattered to them. After the last week, that was clearly a stupid question, and Kurt shook his head at his past stupidity for even considering the idea.
It should have been surprising to walk up to the living room and find the entire crowd back again, but somehow it just wasn't anymore. Kurt hugged the girls and shouted greetings to the guys, and pushed his way into the kitchen to find Carole already at work on breakfast. "I'll help," he said quickly, grabbing an apron from the drawer and heading for the pancake batter that was ready to be poured.
"Thanks, sweetheart," she said warmly. "Feeling OK today?"
"Great!" Kurt said honestly, throwing his arms out to indicate his complete wholeness. "Of course, how long that will last probably depends on whether I can convince them all to delete all the pictures they took of me."
Carole laughed sympathetically. "That's not fair – your father and I want to see them!" She sighed, flipping over pieces of bacon in the frying pan. "I do wish you'd have told us what was going on from the beginning."
"I know," Kurt said soberly, poking a pancake with the spatula. "I should have, but I was frightened, and I didn't really want anyone to know. I-".
"You what?" she prodded gently when he didn't go on.
"I sort of expected everyone to leave when they found out," he said quietly. "I have a hard enough time holding onto friendships when I'm not little and needy, and I didn't think they'd want to take care of me."
"And now?" Carole asked, and Kurt was immensely grateful to her for not trying to hug him or tell him how stupid he had been.
"I figured out that they weren't going to leave," he said, smiling stupidly with the happiness of that knowledge. "It's OK if I have to lean on them a bit, because they're not going to let me fall."
"That's right," Carole said firmly. "And I'm glad you know that now. I hope you know that goes for me, too?" She looked at him anxiously, and Kurt put down the spatula and folded his hands together in the shape of a heart, smiling at her. She grinned back.
"And you know that means it's OK to tell us stuff, right?" His dad had snuck into the kitchen at some point, and Kurt turned to him, unable to hide his happiness at seeing him again. "I mean it," he continued, pointing sternly at Kurt. "No more hiding stuff, even if you think we don't need to know."
"Got it," Kurt said, and grabbed them both in a hug that lasted until he smelled his pancakes burning. He gave a little cry of horror and swept them into the sink, staring at them sadly while they smoldered wetly.
"OK, this is getting ridiculous." Lisbet's voice rang firmly above the noise of the crowd, and Kurt peeked out of the kitchen to see that she'd just walked in the front door and was staring around with her hands on her hips. "Do none of you have parents?" Theo, just closing the door behind her, snickered a little, and Lisbet swatted the back of his head lightly.
"Our enemies are leaving today!" Rachel said sadly, gesturing to the Warblers. "We couldn't leave without saying goodbye."
"Plus, breakfast here is awesome," Puck said honestly. "I think we're gonna come every day."
"Nonono," Burt said quickly. "Your own parents would miss you too much, I'm sure." They all ignored him, swirling around the dining room table as they set it, and somehow presents were appearing everywhere – Kurt had no idea from where. He went back to his pancakes, and Finn eventually came out to help cut up fruit while Burt made toast. It was cozy, the four of them working together, and Kurt couldn't help humming as he worked.
As they sat down to eat, Kurt made a point of sitting with his friends from Dalton. He was sure he'd see his Lima friends consistently, but he wasn't sure when the others would be back.
"So," David said meaningfully as they sat down to eat, "you've been keeping secrets from us." He pointed his fork at Theo, who looked startled.
"Didn't we go over that a few days ago?" he asked cautiously, and Blaine shook his head.
"That's not what he means. We heard you sing last night, and your voice is good. Why didn't you try out for the Warblers?"
"It was a little hard to balance extracurricular activities when I was trying to spy for an evil organization," Theo said indignantly.
"A valid point," Wes said considerately. "But now that that isn't an issue, we could use another member. Can we count on you when school starts again?"
Theo looked down at his plate. "I don't know," he said, and put up a hand to forestall their protests. "I mean, I don't know if I'll still be at Dalton. The Controllers didn't exactly mean for me to stay there indefinitely, and I don't know what financial arrangements were made." He swallowed hard. "And they were my legal guardians as well, so now I don't even have those. It could be a problem when I go back to foster care if my family doesn't want me at Dalton."
"It won't be," David said firmly, and they looked at him in surprise. "I talked to my uncle who's on the board of directors about the situation when we found out what was going on with you, and he helped me look into it. You're paid up through the year, and he's pretty sure that you can win scholarships to keep you at Dalton for the rest of high school."
"And as for legal guardians," Wes said, "that shouldn't be a problem either. Ohio law doesn't allow for emancipation before you're eighteen, but it's fairly easy to get legal guardianship of a teenager if all parties are agreed. My parents have done it before in some specific family circumstances, and I can assure you they'd be happy to do it for you." Theo's mouth fell open, and he gaped at Wes and David. "They're not always the most present parents," Wes said carefully, "but they'll do their best for you."
"Is that what you want to do?" Lisbet asked, coming up behind Theo and laying a hand on his shoulder. "I mean, I'll fight for you in any way you want, but if staying at Dalton is what you want, it sounds feasible."
Theo nodded, looking stunned. "I – I do. Dalton is wonderful." He looked up at Lisbet, and Kurt thought he might cry. "You'd fight for me?"
"Of course, stupid," she said fondly, and winked at Kurt. "The two of you are such a pair of idiots sometimes." She ruffled Theo's hair, and he didn't even bother to fix it, still staring at her in amazement. "They won't keep you at school over the summer, right? I thought maybe you'd like to come with me, wherever I'm going then. Kurt, that means you, too, if you can pry open the locks I'm sure your father is already installing on all the doors of the house to keep you inside forever."
"We'd stay in this reality, right?" Kurt asked cautiously.
"Seems prudent," she said solemnly, and Kurt cracked up at the serious answer to such an insane-sounding question.
"So we can count on you, then?" Blaine asked, drawing Theo's attention back to their earlier discussion, and he nodded.
"I'll try out, at least, and we can see where things go." He sounded cautiously optimistic, but Kurt saw how his eyes were shining at the idea, and was ready to bet Theo would be a Warbler by the time their next competition rolled around.
Breakfast concluded slowly, and they sang while cleaning up, enjoying their last opportunity to sing together before the Dalton boys left. Soon, though, they were all gathered in the living room, and Kurt watched with slightly detached amazement as his two groups of friends said goodbye. They embraced like old friends, and Rachel clung to Wes like she was losing her best friend, babbling about strategy meetings. Wes promised to explain the power of the gavel to her on his next visit, and Kurt, Blaine, and David shook their heads and groaned.
"You're coming back, right?" Brittany asked anxiously, petting David's hair gently as she said goodbye. "Because I think I might have been wrong about you being robots, but I'm not sure yet. I need to see if you fall over when your batteries run out."
"We'll be back," David assured her with a grin. "After Christmas."
"Oh, damn it!" Sam said loudly, and everyone looked at him. "I forgot to buy presents for my family," he said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "Now I won't have time to get the special edition Blu-Ray of the original Star Trek series delivered, and that was the only thing I could think of for my mom."
"Your mom doesn't want that, Sam," Quinn said firmly, grabbing his hand. "Come on, we're going to the mall. I still need to shop, too."
The panicked faces that had appeared at Sam's announcement cleared, and the room moved forward in a wave. "Wait, you all forgot?" Kurt asked skeptically, grateful for his own foresight in shopping and wrapping gifts weeks ago.
"Not entirely?" Tina said nervously. "I got something for Mike already." Mike grinned, and blew her a kiss from across the room.
"Go, shop!" Carole encouraged them. "We'll see you all in a few days, I promise." They hugged and kissed each other, and Kurt looked disapprovingly at Mercedes as she came to give him a peck on the cheek.
"I'm disappointed, Mercedes," he said sternly. "My one near-equal in the shopping realm, and you let me down."
"Not really," she said quietly in his ear. "I was all done before I met your roommate, but now I sort of want to get him something."
"You never get to call me boy-crazy again," Kurt said, hugging her hard. "Text me if you need ideas."
"Got it!" she said with a grin, and Kurt stifled a laugh as he saw Theo smiling distractedly at her as she left.
"We'll be back sooner than you want us," David said as he came to shake Kurt's hand. Kurt took it, but decided it was a fairly ridiculous convention to stand on after the first week, and reached out to hug David. He was still grateful to him for being the first person to believe him and treat him normally after his transformation had happened, and he felt like he'd gotten to know both David and Wes much better in the past week. David hugged him back firmly, and so did Wes a second later. They left, calling back Christmas wishes, and Kurt shut the door after them, letting out a breath. It was nearly quiet now, and got even quieter when Kurt's dad beckoned Blaine into another room for a private chat that Kurt really, really hoped wasn't going to end up with anyone in tears or holding a shotgun.
"Got a minute?" Theo asked quietly, and Kurt nodded, leading the way to the privacy of his room downstairs. He collapsed on his bed, and Theo sank to the floor. For a minute, it was so much like the old comfortable days in their dorm room that Kurt had to look around to remind himself he was still at home.
"Are you OK with your choice?" Kurt asked after a minute of silence. "I mean, I know how hard it is to give up on a dream of making things right again, and the Controllers offered it to you so directly-"
"I'll be fine," Theo shrugged, with a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "I wanted to ask you about Lisbet. You know her better than I do, and I'm just – a little worried," he said uncertainly. Kurt nodded, and debated whether to tell Theo what he knew about Lisbet's past. She might not be thrilled with the idea, but he and Theo were the closest thing to family she had, and he agreed with Theo. He was worried about her too, and if the knowledge was shared, it might be a bit easier to know how to help. Kurt sighed, and shared the story he knew in broad brushstrokes, watching Theo absorb the information and nod with understanding.
"That makes sense," he said sadly when Kurt was finished. "It's terrible, but it makes sense. And you said she doesn't stay anywhere these days?"
"No," Kurt said, shaking his head. "She's always moving, like she's looking for something."
"You do," Theo said absently, playing with the fibers of the carpet absently. "I've been looking since I was eight, and I'm just now starting to think I've found what I need." Kurt nodded, thinking sadly of his own mother. He still missed her, but it was a little easier to handle these days.
"Do you think there's anything we can do to help?" Kurt asked, hoping Theo's ideas might be better than his own. Of course, since his own ideas about creating connections between people often ended up with tears, drama, and people being thrown out of homes, it was likely that anyone's ideas would be better than his.
Theo shrugged sadly. "I don't know. I think she might need us as much as we need her, though." They stared sadly at the floor for a minute before Kurt remembered that he had something else to discuss with his roommate.
"So," he said meaningfully, and Theo looked up. "Mercedes Jones?" Kurt tried to stifle his laughter as he watched Theo go bright red, stuttering incoherently. "She's way too good for anyone I know, but I might be persuaded to give you some advice if you swore you wouldn't do anything to hurt her."
"I wouldn't!" Theo protested indignantly, still blushing. "She's kind of amazing," he confided in a hushed voice, and Kurt nodded seriously. "I don't know if I'm the right person, though."
"For pity's sake!" Kurt said impatiently. "You like her, she likes you, and I'll destroy everything you love if you hurt her. Clear enough?" Theo nodded, hand going to his pocket like he was going to call her right away, and Lisbet laughed loudly. She'd apparently been coming down the stairs soon enough to catch the end of that conversation, and she shook her head at them.
"Gossiping and conniving, children? I've clearly raised you wrong."
"He's a bad influence," Kurt said loftily, pointing an accusing finger at Theo.
"I'm so not," Theo grumbled, tossing one of Finn's shoes at Kurt, who ducked it easily.
"Now, now," Lisbet said vaguely, and collapsed onto the floor next to Theo. "Kurt, I think your dad's almost done grilling your boyfriend."
"He's not my boyfriend," Kurt said, just a trifle bitterly.
"Oh yeah?" She smiled at him knowingly. "Tell me that again in half an hour and maybe I'll believe you." Kurt wanted to snap something back, but the idea was too close to his heart to let him joke about it easily, and he just shook his head, trying not to let his hopes get too high.
"Lisbet?" Theo asked after a quiet moment, looking at her anxiously. "Did you have to make the same choice Kurt and I did about making an intervention?"
"Yes," she said quietly. The bleak expression she wore was too much for Kurt to just watch, and he slid off his bed and went to join them, sitting at Lisbet's other side. "I told them right before you came that it didn't matter how long they kept me there, I wasn't going to do anything else I had moral objections to, no matter what kind of intervention they promised. That's why I was working on sabotaging the computers when they sent me home, because I was fairly certain they were going to try to make me put you in situations like Kurt had faced, and I wasn't going to do it again."
"And if they'd offered you a chance to do it without compromising your morals?" Kurt asked, although he thought it was a stupid question since the Controllers didn't operate that way.
"I'm not sure," she said honestly. "I know you're right to say it wouldn't be the real world, but sometimes it's too hard to imagine that would have made a difference if I could have saved my son, somewhere out there in all the worlds." Kurt leaned in to rest his head on her shoulder, and Lisbet reached up to tangle a hand in his hair, and the other in Theo's. "But it's different now, because we are back in the world, and I have you two to worry about, not to mention all of your lunatic friends. We have things to fight for in this world, even if it's not perfect."
"How do you do it?" Theo asked, voice muffled as he buried his face against her arm. "Get up and walk and fight, I mean. All this time, I've been working for what they promised – getting my family back – and now I don't have that anymore."
"You do it because you have to," Lisbet said gently. "Because you don't have a choice. Look around you, sweetie. Everyone is broken and screwed up, and everyone has to find their own way to live with the pain and keep going. You get up and walk because the other options are untenable, and if you keep walking long enough, it gets easier."
Theo gave what sounded like a muted sigh of acceptance, and Lisbet dropped her arms down to squeeze both boys' shoulders. After a long moment, she sighed and shook them gently. "OK, kids, moping time is over. Kurt, I'm pretty sure you have Serious Conversations to have with your dad and Blaine if you want anything to happen there. Theo, you're coming with me, because if you're going to be asking Mercedes out, I'm going to guarantee you'll want to be wearing something other than your school uniform." They stood up together, and Lisbet pulled Kurt in for a hug. "I'm happy for you," she said quietly. "You deserve good things for a change, and I hope you realize how amazing your family is."
"I do," Kurt said meaningfully, and hugged her tightly.
Theo grinned mischievously at him when he pulled away, and looked up at the ceiling significantly. "'In delay there lies no plenty – youth's a stuff will not endure.' Quit stalling and go get him."
"Like you're one to talk," Kurt said huffily. He grinned back after a second though. "First one to get a date is exempt from taking out the trash for the rest of the year!"
Theo winked at him and pulled out his phone as he followed Lisbet up the stairs, and Kurt perched on the edge of his couch thoughtfully for a minute, then looked up as someone else started descending the stairs. Heart in his mouth, Kurt watched the feet descend until he could see that it was Blaine, and he jumped up quickly, straightening his shirt. He wished for a moment that he'd checked his hair in the mirror, and then laughed at himself. Blaine had seen him four years old and swimming in his Dalton blazer, and covered in cookie dough, and sleeping in front of Toy Story. A wrinkle in his shirt or unkempt hair probably wasn't going to make any difference at this point. The thought gave him a sudden sense of calm that he'd never experienced before in a potentially romantic relationship. His interactions with Blaine at school had always been fun, but stressful, because Kurt was always on edge, needing to be perfect. Now he had seen Blaine utterly thrown by a situation, and had to come to grips with the fact that he wasn't some kind of gay superhero, but another confused teenager.
Blaine wasn't his only social connection at Dalton anymore, either, which was a relief. He'd worried at first that starting a relationship with Blaine would endanger his ability to make other friends there by tying him to just one person, but that wasn't a concern anymore. He honestly liked the rest of the Warblers, and he would count David, Wes, and Theo as some of his best friends. Kurt mused silently on the irony of becoming a four year old and enhancing his dating potential, and smiled at the absurdity.
"Looks like you're in a good mood," Blaine said hopefully, standing on the last stair until Kurt waved at him to actually come into the room. "Got a minute?"
"For you, I may even have two," Kurt said, trying for breezy, but very much afraid he was coming off cheesy.
"I can't stay much longer than that," Blaine said quickly, waving his phone. "My mother just called to find out why I'm not home yet, and it's a four hour drive from here, but I couldn't leave without talking to you." He took a deep breath, and looked like he was about to explode, and Kurt took pity on him.
"My dad wasn't too bad, was he?"
"No!" Blaine said, surprise overcoming his clear case of nerves. "He was really supportive, and there was no mention of violence at all." Blaine wrinkled his nose up, looking slightly confused. "He asked me about my intentions toward you, like we're in some sort of nineteenth-century courtship." Kurt laughed at that, destroying any hope of coming out of this conversation looking like a romantic icon, but Blaine's face at that moment, and the way his eyes crinkled at the corners, were too much for him to bear. Blaine joined him after a minute, and they giggled so hard they ended up collapsing on the couch next to each other, comfortable and close, and Kurt had never been less intimidated by a conversation in his life.
"So you've asked my father for my hand and gotten his blessing," Kurt said between giggles. "What comes next? Long walks in the garden? Am I supposed to crochet something?" Blaine howled, bending over his knees as he drew in deep breaths. It took him a long minute to get himself under control, and he was still snickering quietly as he tried to talk again.
"I was – ha – I was thinking something more like dinner and a movie, but if that's too modern for you, we can definitely do the garden thing. Except that it's winter, so that could be a bit dull." He looked like he was actually considering the idea, and Kurt felt his heart give a little skip, like it hadn't quite realized how much he liked Blaine until that very moment.
"No, no, dinner and a movie would be delightful," Kurt said quickly. Blaine smiled at him sweetly, and Kurt grinned back, not quite believing how easy it was. After everything, all the worrying and obsessing over every detail of their interactions, and then the fear that he was losing Blaine entirely – it was so natural that Kurt couldn't quite believe it had ever been anything but.
They might have sat there forever, grinning like fools, but Blaine's phone rang suddenly, and he looked down in shock as it buzzed in his hand. "That's my mom again," he said quickly. "I – Kurt, I really do have to go."
"I know," Kurt said, still smiling. "But you'll be back. You still owe me a game of chess, after all, and I know you're a man of your word." He gestured to the stairs, and followed Blaine up them. Blaine grabbed his hand as they reached the top, and held on tightly as they made their way to the front door. Carole stopped them to coo over them and wish Blaine a merry Christmas, and Finn gave Kurt what he clearly thought was a covert thumbs-up. Burt was sitting on the couch, not far from the front door, and he nodded and waved as Blaine went by, going back to his newspaper as if Kurt walked through the house holding hands with his boyfriend every day. It was nearly enough to make him laugh again, but he stifled it until they were out on the porch.
"I'll be back," Blaine said quickly, as though there was any doubt. "As soon as possible, I swear."
"Got it," Kurt said drily, and squeezed Blaine's hand tightly. "And since this isn't actually the nineteenth century, we also have phones and text messaging and email." He grinned at Blaine, knowing he was being stupidly in love with little things like his enthusiasm and eagerness, but unable to help himself. Blaine smiled back and leaned in until his forehead met Kurt's, and then backed away, still smiling. "Bye," Kurt whispered, and tried not to sigh like a lovelorn idiot until Blaine was out of earshot. He stayed on the porch and watched until his car was out of sight, thanking his lucky stars that he was born in a century that wouldn't make him wait a week to talk to Blaine again.
He went back inside and made his way into the living room, sitting down on the couch next to his dad. He might not be four anymore, but he still had the same desire to be close to his father.
"He's a nice kid," his dad said after a minute, dropping his newspaper unceremoniously. "You just promise me you aren't going to let him break your heart."
"I'll do my best, Dad," Kurt said, knowing it was the best he could do. His dad grunted, unhappy with that answer, but he didn't say anything about it. "Thanks," Kurt said after a minute, "for being so cool about this."
"Kiddo, I just found out that you've been kidnapped, learned how to mess up the whole world, got turned into a little kid, got kidnapped again, and then almost got snatched back up into outer space. The fact that a nice boy wants to date you is the absolute least of my worries right now." Kurt huffed a laugh. When he put it that way, it really did sound easy to handle, and he tried not to think about how stressed his dad's heart must have been by all of the chaos of the last few days. He was clearly healthy now, and it didn't do any good to worry over the past.
"I also got Karofsky expelled," he said proudly, and his dad raised an eyebrow. "For good this time, Coach Sylvester said." He explained the circumstances carefully, and his dad looked thrilled at the end.
"You know, this means you could transfer back to McKinley if you'd like," he said carefully. Kurt blinked at him. "I'm not saying you have to – you're a big boy, and you deserve to have a say in your own education – but if you want to come back, well, it looks like that option's open now." Kurt didn't know what to say, mind trying to weigh the pros and cons of both of his schools in a split second.
"Let me think about it for a while?" Kurt requested, although he wasn't sure how he was supposed to make such a decision even with time to consider. Burt nodded easily, and let the topic drop. They sat in silence for a while, and Kurt just enjoyed the quiet. The Christmas tree filled the house with a gentle pine scent, and Carole had left music playing quietly in the background. Peace on earth, it said, and mercy mild, and Kurt sighed quietly.
He wasn't sure peace was going to last, because even if the Controllers really were gone, he could still see the boundary as plain as day, and he knew the dangers in a way that hadn't been clear to him before. The things he had glimpsed on the other side of a seemingly paper-thin barrier had shaken him, and Kurt didn't know what he'd do if he kept seeing slivers of other worlds that he could reach out and touch if he wanted to.
He was worried about his friends as well, because even though he had firmly meant every word he said to the Controllers, there was no guarantee that Clio-Nav Authority wouldn't come after them to get to him. He had no way of protecting them, and as long as they had the power to reach through worlds and take what they wanted, everything he loved was in danger.
Kurt sighed, laying his head back against the couch and looking out the window and up, watching the boundary twist lazily in the cloudy December sky, brightening the cloud cover. Somewhere past the boundary, he knew the worlds were waiting, an infinite array of might-have-beens that were universes unto themselves, every bit as real as his own. Somewhere, he remembered with an unpleasant twist in his gut, Clio-Nav was risking the stability of the boundaries of the worlds to steal the treasures of the universe. Somewhere, they were almost certainly still kidnapping other people and forcing them to undergo the same things he and Lisbet and Theo had lived through, and maybe worse. As happy as he was in his own life at the moment, Kurt knew the knowledge of what was going on just out of eyesight would bother him, and the world beyond the worlds would continue to call to him. He balled his fingers tightly together, stopping himself from reaching out. It wasn't his job – but maybe it wasn't anyone else's, either.
His phone buzzed with an incoming text message, and he picked it up, glad for the distraction. Mercedes said yes. So not taking out the trash ever again. Kurt smiled as he typed a reply. Beat you to it. Get used to garbage duty. He dropped the phone back in his lap, and smiled sadly, thinking of Lisbet and Theo. He loved his family and friends, but they would never be able to fully understand what he had been through. Theo and Lisbet knew, and they were scarred, just like Kurt.
The Controllers had taught them all that the act of observation changed the nature of the thing observed. Kurt had been more than an observer – he had also been a thing observed, and he had been changed. He wasn't the same person he had been before being abducted, and he wasn't the same person he had been a week before. Lisbet couldn't bear to stand still, unable to breathe if she wasn't running. Theo was still pining for a dream that could never have been reality, but might have been real enough to save him. Kurt was poised on the brink, observer and observed, and didn't know where to step.
"You get up and walk," Lisbet had said, and if anyone knew how to do exactly that, it was Lisbet. Kurt thought he knew how, especially now that he had friends and family behind him who knew what he had done. Maybe it wasn't enough, though, just to walk – not when he knew what he could do if he could fly. The boundary danced, bright and promising, just beyond his reach, and Kurt clenched his hand tightly. If he was going to bring Clio-Nav down, he would have to be a lot better. He would have to remember how to walk through the worlds, and navigate time, and control his ability to see the divergences. Clio-Nav had made him a weapon, and put him in a position where he could destroy them, if he was willing to do it.
"The other options are untenable," Kurt muttered, and his dad looked up from the paper with a start.
"Nothing," Kurt said gently, giving a bittersweet smile. The boundary twisted, as if in response, and Kurt put his hand out until it almost looked like he was touching the rainbow.
His dad narrowed his eyes at him curiously. "What are you doing?" he asked lightly, amusement in his voice at his son's antics.
"Changing the world," Kurt said, and observed.