Disclaimer: I do not own Glee or any of its characters; Ryan Murphy and Co. hold that honor. I'm simply writing this for fun, not profit.
When Blaine was young, he liked to carry a red blanket everywhere.
Cooper remembered it because he would often find him sitting alone in the backyard with it draped over his shoulders like a cape or, on those occasions when he'd been forced to stay in and babysit rather than going out with his friends, tucked around Blaine as he slept on Cooper's bed. It didn't matter how many times Cooper warned him not to jump off the back of the couch or go in his room unsupervised. Blaine always seemed to end up in situations that forced Cooper's interference, whether it was shooing his kid-brother out of his room or simply doing his best to avoid his three-year-old antics.
It wasn't until Cooper was stuck at home looking after Blaine on a particularly stormy night that he actually encountered the red blanket personally. He'd been so absorbed in his work that he hadn't noticed the small figure idling into his room until a weight settled at his side, only a mat of disheveled curls visible above the blanket's edge as Blaine tucked himself against his side.
"Blainey," he warned, because he needed to get this project done or Mrs. Leigh wouldn't hesitate to fail him for the course, and he was not about to waste precious auditioning time taking summer courses because his kid-brother couldn't mind his own business.
Instead of being deterred by Cooper's foreboding tone, however, Blaine simply tucked the blanket more securely around his shoulders and huddled against Cooper's side, shivering a little at another crackle of thunder outside. Cooper sighed as he directed his attention back on Romeo and Juliet, hoping to get through the third act uninterrupted.
Thankfully, Blaine didn't seem bent on interrupting him for a change, quiet and immovable at his side. Cooper tried - giving him a light nudge every five minutes or so until, after thirty minutes, realizing it was useless - before allowing him to stay. He didn't even notice when he dozed off in the middle of the fifth act, one arm wrapped around Blaine protectively and mouth slightly agape as he rested against the headboard.
For four years, Cooper tolerated Blaine's elusive habits, ranging from imitation (which was most definitely not the highest form of flattery, and Cooper was willing to stake a lot of irked moments on it) to honing his own craft to pretending he was a dozen different things, almost all of which incorporated his red blanket in some way, shape, or form.
And then he left for college and Blaine and his red blanket were forgotten. College had been hard, but it was also amazing, and it was so much easier to forget about the life that he had left behind and build a completely new one than it was to try and marry the two.
Blaine hadn't crossed his mind very much while he was in college. To his credit, neither had his parents. Cooper hadn't had the best relationship with any of them - Blaine was too young, and their parents too busy - but he still tried to keep in touch to let them know about all of his successes.
And then one day he got the call late at night that changed his life.
"Blaine's in the hospital."
Something in his father's voice had stopped him cold in his tracks, made it impossible to focus on the lines that he had been running over in preparation for an audition the next morning. His dingy apartment, always a safe haven and a pleasant retreat after a long day, seemed to cage him, closed in walls and slightly worn appearance rendering him powerless as he listened to his father rely what had happened.
All Cooper gathered was that there had been a dance at Blaine's school and three guys had beaten the living shit out of him in the parking lot. Cooper didn't know where the urgency in his voice came from, but the knot in his gut was tightening as he said, "I'm on my way" and hung up before he had to listen to his father say anything else potentially disparaging. He knew that Blaine and their father didn't have the best relationship; Cooper and his father didn't have the best relationship, and ever since Blaine had come out, things had taken a turn for the worst.
Cooper didn't know how he was supposed to fix it, but suddenly it seemed very, very important to be in Lima, Ohio, because his kid-brother was in the hospital and fuck.
He called Enrique without thinking and cancelled his audition. Had he taken it, he would have been on a fast-track to a regular role on NCIS, but he couldn't have cared less at the time as he booked the first flight that he could find and headed home for the first time in two years.
Little had changed in Ohio. The people were the same, the places the same, but Cooper felt dizzied and overwhelmed in the airport, surrounded by pedestrians with the same dull faces and the same useless information leading to nowhere. It took forever to find a cab and even longer to get to the hospital, his palms sweaty and his head aching with fatigue as he finally pulled in and leaped out of the car, barely remembering to pay the driver at all.
Their faces should have warned him, but they didn't. He knew his father's disapproving frown too well to recognize the worried creases of it, and his mother's paleness didn't alarm him any more than usual. It wasn't until he gruffly asked if he could see him that he began to absorb what had happened.
Looking at his face then, one eye swollen shut and the other halfway there, Cooper couldn't speak. He collapsed in the chair beside his kid-brother and reached out to grip his hand tightly, eliciting a soft whine from the figure on the bed that had to be Blaine.
"I - I'm sorry," he said, and he felt very, very useless, but he didn't let go of Blaine's hand, and he didn't say anything else, and it seemed like that was enough.
. o .
Cooper had been at the hospital for nearly twelve hours when he finally drove home to freshen up. He knew that he needed a long, hot shower and a good nap and a dozen other things, but he sufficed for a speedy rinse off and a quick change of clothes before freezing outside Blaine's door, looking inward.
His room had changed. Not much, but the subtle changes were stark compared to Cooper's memory. A new air of austerity seemed to exist where once whimsicality had dwelled: there were polo trophies that Cooper had never seen before decorating his dresser, a new iPod dock on his nightstand and half a dozen pictures that he had never seen before scattered around the room. The color scheme had changed, shifting from a light to a much darker green, muting the room. All of Blaine's clothes were tucked neatly away, as per usual, but Cooper could see that he had filled out his closet more.
Blaine had grown up in two years. Cooper's throat felt tighter the longer he stared, but he couldn't bring himself to move from the doorway. Stepping deeper into the room, he drew in a deep breath, processing the changes, and stilled when he noticed a cardboard box on the top shelf in the closet. It might have escaped his attention entirely had the corner of a red blanket not been visible.
He hesitated, weighing the pros and cons of taking it with him before decisively pulling the box off the shelf and departing without another word.
He swung by the Lima Bean to pick up a coffee for himself and, after a moment's hesitation, a medium drip for Blaine. He'd always been a stickler for drips; surely that wouldn't change in two years. Right?
It seemed silly to Cooper as he drove to the hospital, conscious of his unorthodox cargo, that he would know so little about Blaine because of two short years. The time had flown by for him in LA; he couldn't have been happier, landing roles every other month and steadily working his way toward a more notable position. The fact that anything had changed in Lima at all startled him, and not in a good way; he'd always expected Lima to remain the same, stagnant, yet homey, always, always the same.
Childhood wasn't supposed to change, yet it had, and Blaine had changed, too.
Pulling into a parking space and tucking the box with the blanket under one arm, Cooper grabbed the coffees and hurried to the doors before anyone could question his decision to bring the blanket along.
Hesitating only a moment outside Blaine's hospital room, he drew in a deep breath and knocked on the door, easing it open when he heard no protest from within.
"Morning, squirt," he greeted, forcefully cheerful, as he stepped inside the room. "Brought you a pick-me-up." He set the coffees on the table next to Blaine, keeping his eyes pointedly averted from his hunched form. "You still like drips, right?" he asked, sliding his coffee toward him, hoping to break the spell of grief that seemed to hover over Blaine like a dark cloud.
Blaine was still for a moment, silent, before clearing his throat and blinking, turning to look at Cooper with a false smile. At least the swelling in his face had gone down, making him easier to look at; it still looked sore and tender, but he could open both eyes and he seemed to be able to move better, his left wrist in a cast.
"Hey," he said, very quietly. "I - yeah. I still like drips." His words were halting, stilted, almost as if he was afraid to speak at all. Cooper nudged his coffee toward him as Blaine hesitantly curled his fingers around it, sipping from it slowly before lowering it to stare at the box in Cooper's arms. "What's that?"
"Another pick-me-up," Cooper said, hoping that it would work at he set the box aside and pulled the small, slightly battered blanket out of it.
Blaine froze and Cooper almost chickened out. It had been a silly idea, really, to think that after so many years apart anything would remain the same. His visit two years ago hadn't been long, but Blaine had been older then, too, and he'd known that he was out (and proud, if the jut to his chin and the defiant look in his eyes was anything to go by; Cooper had never seen him look so determined before). Surely he wouldn't want something so stupid, and Cooper was about to apologize for bringing it when instinct made him hand it over instead.
Blaine stared down at the blanket in his lap for a long moment, gingerly setting his coffee aside and reaching down to bury his undamaged hand in the fabric. Watching him, waiting for any sign that he was free to disappear from Blaine's tentative sphere of influence (preferably forever, because he didn't know how to do any of this anymore), he felt his stomach drop as a tear worked its way down Blaine's cheek.
"Hey, Blainey ..." Cooper said, inching closer as the tears began to fall more steadily, Blaine's hand curling in the blanket as he pulled it to his face and sobbed.
Cooper didn't react because he knew what to do; he reacted because he couldn't do anything but make room on the bed beside him and pull him into a too-tight hug, letting him fist a handful of his shirt and sob and sob and sob.
"I've got you," he said, rubbing Blaine's back. "It's okay. It's okay."
He held him until Blaine had cried himself out, until Cooper's back began to ache from the strain, until he knew his parents would wonder where he was. He let Blaine huddle against him as he chose the least offensive soap opera available and criticized everyone's acting, earning the occasional sniff of mutual contempt from Blaine.
He didn't say anything about the blanket, clutched to Blaine's chin, unrelinquished even in sleep as Blaine drifted off into another fitful sleep.
A lot had changed in a few years, but some things never would.
Cooper might not have been the best brother, but when it counted, he was there.