When Kurt was still little, shortly after his mother passed away, a boy one or two couple grades ahead of him pushed him down in front of the school. Kurt hadn't been doing anything, but the boy ran up anyway, shoving him. Kurt fell to the ground, the word "queer" ringing in his ears as the boy repeated it over and over, taunting him. Without a word, Kurt climbed back to his feet. He turned away, carefully picking blades of grass from his sleeves, his chin tucked into his chest.
He felt a hand on his back again, and he went rigid. Turning, Kurt saw his father looking down at him. "Who was that boy, Kurt? What was it he was calling you?"
Kurt shrugged. "Queer," he answered, in the same tone he answered questions about his day or what he wanted to drink with dinner. Burt set his jaw, and Kurt thought he was going to yell at him.
But instead, his father sighed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Come on." He turned and headed toward the truck, Kurt following after him.
At the table that night, Burt didn't say much. He was still mad; Kurt could tell. Kurt didn't eat much, shoving his food from one side of the plate to another. Burt stopped eating and looked over at his son. "What's the matter? I thought you liked mac and cheese."
To appease his father, Kurt swallowed a spoonful of noodles, his eyes still downcast.
Kurt tapped his spoon against the edge of his plate. "You're mad at me," he said quietly.
Burt got up from his chair and knelt next to Kurt, turning the boy in his seat so he was facing him. "What makes me think I'm mad at you?" Kurt shrugged, still looking down into his lap. Burt took Kurt's chin in his hand, lifting his head until they looked each other in the eye. "Kurt. Why would I be mad at you?"
Lips beginning to quiver, Kurt shook his head. "You looked mad when you picked me up at school. When I told you what that boy said to me."
"Oh, no, Kurt. I'm not mad at you. I'm upset that the other boy was pushing you around, and I'm upset for you because of they way he treated you, but I am not mad at you, okay? I love you."
Kurt nodded, his face crumpling. He shot out of his chair and into Burt's arms. He buried his face in his father's shoulder and sobbed. "Why don't kids at school like me, Dad?" he choked out.
Burt tightened his hold around Kurt. "Because they don't know you, honey. They're just dumb kids." He pressed his cheek into the top of Kurt's head, stroking his hair. "Don't even let them get to you."
Eventually, Kurt's cries quieted down. His breathing stopped hitching in his chest and became more even. Burt rubbed his back. "You okay, buddy?"
Kurt stepped away from his father and nodded. He sniffled, and Burt reached up and wiped under Kurt's nose with the cuff of his shirt. "Ew, that's gross." Kurt pushed his fathers arm away, smiling softly.
Burt smiled back at him and stood. "Come on. Let's finish dinner so you ready for bed. It's getting late."
Later that night, Kurt awoke with a whimper. A nightmare that seemed so vivid moments ago in his sleep vanished in an instant. He sat up in his bed sucking in ragged breaths. He thought about calling out for his father, to hear those reassuring footsteps as the rushed to his room. Instead he threw back his covers and slipped softly to the floor. A glass of apple juice would calm him down. And being bathed in the protection of the hall light wouldn't hurt either.
The light in his father's room was on. Not surprising; most nights his father fell asleep with his television on, and occasionally he was out before he remember to turn of his lamp. Kurt would turn it off, get a drink, and then get back in bed before his father even knew he was awake.
He tiptoed passed his father's room, glancing inside. What he saw stopped him.
On the far side of the room, Burt's father stood in front of the open wardrobe. His mother's wardrobe. Dimly, Kurt remembered taking his books inside with a flashlight and reading in the dark until one of his parents found him, laughing. He saw that all of his mother's nightgowns still hung on the rung. Most of them were silk, and she refused to fold them into drawers in case they creased.
Burt pulled one out. It was pink and so old that Kurt saw the pilling from the hallway. A strip of lace flowed across the neck and up the straps. Kurt could still feel how it scratched against his cheek when his mother hugged him goodnight.
He took it in his hands and brought it to his face, inhaling deeply. Suddenly Kurt felt awkward, like he had just walked in on his parents when they kissed long and deep. Burt turned towards the bed, and Kurt darted back away from the doorway. He listened as the bed creaked, his father laying out across the mattress. He chanced it, and peeked back inside.
His father lay across the bed the short way, his feet hanging over the far side, and his head resting on his hand, propped on his elbow. His mother's nightgown spread out next to him. It was the same position they would have been in if Kurt had walked in on his parents watching TV.
Burt slid his hand down the material. "I can't do this," he whispered. "I don't know how to do this without you, Lizzy." Absently he pulled on the seems, spreading and smoothing the gown out. "You would have known how to deal with this; I don't. I don't know how to make the world love him the way we do. I don't know what to say to make it okay." He laid down flat, his arm reaching out, as if to Kurt. "He needs you, Elizabeth. I need you. I need you so badly."
Burt rolled onto hos back and pressed both hands over his face. A sob bubbled up from his chest.
Kurt stood there, frozen, his father weeping right in front of him. This was the first time in a long time that he was seeing his father cry. Since his mother's funeral, and even before that. And at that moment, Kurt decided that he wouldn't let his father see him get pushed around anymore. Not if it hurt him this much.