Author's Note: Apparently, I'm writing one shots about Kurt based on birds. This will be my second. My first is Sparrow. Go read! :)
He was six years old when his dad took him to the zoo for the first time.
Kurt had been sprawled out on the living room floor, coloring in a Sesame Street activity book. He was sure to stay inside the lines, filling in Elmo's fur with care and consideration. He'd already peeled back the paper on the red crayon twice. Meanwhile his dad was sitting on the couch, staring at the floor, even though the television was on. His daddy did that a lot these days—sat down in front of the television, not actually watching it. Kurt never knew what to do when he got like that, but when daddy looked so sad he didn't want to leave him alone.
The Sesame Street book and a box of 64 crayons had been on the coffee table for three months now. Kurt had been so excited when his request for the large box of crayons had been met without argument, because that box had a pencil sharpener and Julie from class had one. Peeling the paper back on the Red one more time, he realized need new crayons soon.
Out of nowhere, Burt Hummel spoke up. Kurt dropped his crayon in surprise, not used to hearing real voices in the house these days. The pretty blonde on the news spoke with a funny accent, and the men the football games did a lot of yelling, and Barney's friends did a lot of singing, but if it wasn't a voice from the television, Kurt wasn't expecting it.
He shyly peeked up from his Elmo to meet his father's gaze. "Mmhmm, Dad?"
"You wanna go to the Zoo today?"
Leave the house? Go somewhere? Kurt was too surprised to do anything but nod.
"Kay. Go get your shoes on."
The rest of Elmo's fur would just have to wait.
Before then, zoo trips had been mother and child excursions. Kurt didn't remember any of them with her, though. He didn't remember that she gave him a dime's worth of feed to bring into the tiny petting zoo, telling him to be careful and to not be scared when the sheep ate right out of his hand. He didn't remember that she was just as excited to see the elephants as he was. He didn't remember that she cussed loudly when she spilled mustard on her favorite blouse, too busy trying to wrangle him away from the gift shop stuffed animals to notice she was holding the hot dog they were going to split upside down. He also didn't remember how embarrassed she was when the other mothers glared at her potty mouth.
Kurt didn't remember, because these trips were when he was much younger. They were before tumors, tests, and trial and error drug cocktails. Zoos weren't exactly the sanitary place for a woman with a compromised immune system. They wouldn't be a place for a sick woman like Mrs. Hummel for three years, even though she promised Kurt they'd go see the new pandas when she got better. A promise was a promise, after all.
Of course, dying is sort of a promise nullifier.
Burt Hummel seemed to come alive for the first time in months right before his son's eyes. Kurt didn't know how to act, to be honest. Later in life, Kurt would mark that day as the one where his father picked up all his shattered pieces and began adhering himself back together, even if he had to force it. There's only so long people can deal with being unhappy, of course, before they do something drastic. Some choose a quick exit, and others fake happiness until it's real. Kurt's dad had chosen the latter, it seemed, and was moving them through the Zoo exhibits with actual excitement. He wanted to show Kurt the Zebras, and of course the chimps, and they couldn't miss the elephants, because those were his mom's favorite, you know that, right son? And Kurt was tugged along, trying to keep up with his father's enthusiasm as best he could, extremely out of shape in the "it's okay to smile" department.
They stopped in front of the peacock exhibit, and Burt lifted him off the ground so he could see over the fencing. Kurt couldn't remember the last time his dad had let him be this close. Ever since his mother passed, Kurt had been handled at an arm's length with the care used for breakable objects. Don't get close, and don't break what's precious seemed to be his dad's coping mechanism for dealing with a son he'd have to raise alone.
Feeling so secure for the first time in months, Kurt almost forgot he was supposed to be looking at some sort of animal. He managed to find a position in his dad's arms where he could rest his head and look at the exhibit at the same time, which was nice because Kurt was actually a little worn out from all the abrupt activity.
And that's when he saw the peacock for the first time. A whirl of brown and blue and green and wow, so many colors at once. Kurt was speechless. Who would want to see boring giraffes and lions when they could spend hours looking at this bird. Burt ruffled his hair a little with a free hand.
"Mmmhmm. She's a pretty bird, daddy." Kurt looked up into his father's eyes, an expression of mild amusement waiting for him on his father's face. Burt shook his head.
"That's a he, Kurt."
"Huh?" He started bending like a pretzel to see the bird better, because that didn't make any sense and he needed to get better look. Burt adjusted him in his arms so he could see, laughing a little.
"Yeah buddy. In the bird world, the boy birds are always more colorful than the girl birds."
The peacock seemed to know they were talking about him, and it began cautiously approaching the fence. Kurt wanted to steal one of his feathers. He didn't think that would be allowed though. So, a boy bird was pretty?
Burt paused and looked like he was looking for the proper words.
"Because…well…" The ball cap was removed, the head was scratched, and the ball cap was replaced. "Uhh…they want the girl birds to be their bird girlfriends."
"Oh." Kurt's face fell. That was a stupid reason. The bird stopped in his tracks, staring Kurt down with beady black eyes. Still, that was such a pretty blue. The bird's tail feathers started fluffing out more and more, showing off more colors.
"Look, see him?" Burt pointed. "He's sticking up all his feathers. He's trying to show off."
"Because he's a proud peacock. You never heard that before? Proud peacocks?"
"See, his feathers make him look good for the girl birds, and also he looks kinda bigger than he is, you see? He's actually kind of small. But all those feathers…"
That made sense. Sort of. "Yeah."
"Maybe it's some sort of protection thing…" Burt trailed off in thought.
A shrug. "Maybe if he looks bigger than he is, other animals don't mess with him? I don't know. I haven't seen that episode on the Discovery Channel in a while. I forget. Maybe it's just a mating thing."
"Mating thing? What's mating?" Kurt had heard that word before. He still didn't know what it meant. Burt's eyes grew wide as saucers for a second and Kurt had to hold back a laugh.
They stood there in silence for a little while, watching the bird as it began prancing around it's little plot of land. The other birds made way for his bright tail feathers. Kurt thought he looked like a bird king or something. It didn't seem fair. His tongue felt thick, but Kurt stumbled through the question that had been in the back of his mind since he saw the blue and green.
"Daddy, why can't boys be pretty like that though?"
Now Kurt felt stupid. He didn't know what he meant. He just knew that he had a question, and it needed an answer, and he needed his father to explain it to him. There was no telling when his father would be in the mood to take his questions again. Kurt sighed, burying his face in his father's shoulder again.
"Like, Daddy...like…he's really pretty. Well…colors. He's got lots of colors..and...He's got neat feathers. And he's a boy."
"Right…" There was that strange edge in Burt's voice, the one Kurt never understood but would grow familiar with over time. The tone made him swallow back his question, preferring to not know an answer if it meant a shift in his father's attitude. Kurt never wanted to be the reason his daddy stared at the floor with the TV buzzing.
"Umm…I don't know. I like his feathers."
Burt stayed quiet for a moment, then kissed his temple before setting Kurt back on the ground.
"We haven't seen the pandas yet, have we?" Burt grabbed his hand and tugged him away from the proud peacock. Kurt glanced back over his shoulder a few times, trying to memorize the blue and green.
Kurt was too young to be able to properly channel his feelings into words. He knew he was a boy, and he knew what boys were supposed to like, and he liked some of those things too, but he didn't like others. How could he explain that to his dad, when he wasn't even really sure what it meant? Kurt already understood at some subconscious level that saying the words out loud might even get him in trouble, because none of the other boys seemed to be quite like him, and that might be bad. He liked his matchbook cars, but he also liked playing with his mother's shoes because they were like the peacock—they were pretty.
Years later, Kurt Hummel would prance into McKinley High in blues, greens, pinks, reds, and every color in between. He'd be like that peacock, proud of his designer feathers, daring anyone ruffle them. They would, of course, because this wasn't the bird world, and boys just weren't pretty.
It didn't matter though. That bird…that bird spoke to him. It was completely natural and acceptable for a peacock to show that much color, to stand out that much, and it still be male. He was smaller than the rest of the flock, but tough as nails underneath, with talons that could lash out in the form of words at any threatening presence.
When jocks treated him like less than a man or challenged his masculinity, he'd remember the peacock that could walk like a royal, colors and all. He'd do it his way, and he'd do it with style. The only problem was he was a proud peacock in a world not quite ready for him. The truth was, Kurt could shop all he wanted, but he would never, ever be able to find a scarf or sweater in the exact same shade of blue as those feathers.