A/N: So here it is: THE LAST CHAPTER :)/:( Can you even believe it? So, as of right now, Naming Constellations, however much I am attached to this version of Blaine and Kurt, I think is not going to happen... I have loved writing Counting Stars, but I think I need to leave things as they end here. For those of you that were hoping for a sequel, I'm sorry, but I promise i'll keep putting out kurt/blaine stories and hopefully you can continue to enjoy them! Thank you so much to everyone who has stuck with this story through all these chapters and thank you for the many reviews and kind words of praise and encouragement- you all made writing this such a pleasure. For anyone interested, since it might take a while for me to get a second chaptered story ready to go for being online, i do have a one-shot that is almost done so ill post that on here as soon as it's ready to go so keep an eye out :) again, to all of you: thank you x29489579834759723987; you're all completely amazing :). Without further ado, here is the conclusion of Counting Stars; I hope you enjoy it :)
A breeze drifted through the open windows. John turned his face toward it, enjoying the cool air. Somehow, amidst the eighty- and ninety-degree dog days of August, they had been blessed with an unseasonably cool three days—a front of freak weather that was more than welcomed by everyone. Shannon had turned off the air conditioning and thrown open every window in the house. Sixty-five had never been such a well-loved number. But Blaine was restless. Despite the release from the oppressive humidity, he was irritable; frustrated. John remembered the tigers from Blaine's younger days when they would take trips to the zoo—pacing back and forth, back and forth in their cells. No matter how lovely the enclosure, they paced. A cage is not the same as the real thing no matter how close the approximation.
John knew his son was tired of the house, tired of the eyes that were always on him—even Kurt's presence could put him on edge. He did not complain, did not even mention his frustration, but John could see it. He knew the feeling—trapped in some spot of life he couldn't escape.
Today, John could hear him on the front porch, plucking at the strings of his guitar. He may have screwed up a lot of things as a parent, but he prided himself on the early decision to enroll Blaine in music courses—singing, piano, guitar, cello, a short lived session with percussion—Blaine had taken to them all, and even after the baseball teams and soccer leagues had died out, the music had remained. John listened from the confines of the kitchen for a long moment before moving outside. But as soon as he stepped onto the porch, Blaine stopped playing, "Too loud?"
"Not at all." John glanced at the space on the bench swing beside Blaine. He leaned on the railing instead. Blaine plucked at a few of the strings, but, a little to John's disappointment, didn't delve back into the song he was playing before.
"What were you playing earlier?" John finally broke the silence awkwardly.
Blaine shrugged, "Nothing really; just playing."
And there it was again, that air of restlessness, of thoughts that John couldn't even begin to guess at, "You keep yourself busy yesterday?"
Blaine shrugged, "Yeah."
This was the language they'd adopted; a code that allowed them to discuss some of the more awkward parts of their lives.
Translation: Did you go to therapy yesterday?
Response: I went.
"Everything go all right?" John cleared his throat a little.
"Mhm." Blaine played a little series of chords.
Translation: Did you talk? Is it helping?
Response: I guess so.
John straightened up and walked toward the garage. He glanced at the shelves as he passed them. A pair of old baseball gloves was sitting just above eye level. He considered pulling them down; asking Blaine to play catch… he pulled the toolbox down instead and moved to the car. He could hear Blaine wander in a moment later. He leaned against the side of the car and watched his father work.
"You need something?" John didn't like the feeling of Blaine watching him so closely.
"No; just wanted to watch." Blaine shrugged, but then he was at the shelves, studying their contents. He pulled down one of the gloves and a ball and seated himself on the step below the door leading inside. He tossed the ball up in the air, caught it, and repeated the process.
John listened to the rhythmic sound of the ball hitting his mitt, and again he considered pulling down the other glove…
"Hello!" The neighbor—the one who scared them half to death in the middle of the night to announce her trees attack on their shed—suddenly appeared at the entrance of the garage.
Blaine missed the ball; it rolled toward John's feet, "Morning, Kelly."
"Isn't it just lovely out?" She gushed, "I'm having workers out to finally clean up that tree since it cooled down; I'll have them deal with your shed, too. It's the least I can do."
"Appreciate it." John threw the ball back to Blaine when he caught his eye.
"Blaine, how's Dalton? You'll be a senior in a few weeks, won't you?" She smiled at him.
"It's great Ms. Ryan. Yeah, I'm very excited; I'm looking at Princeton for after graduation." John watched his son's easy charm; the cheerful smile. He was always such a good actor; John felt a twinge of guilt for never showing up to any of his performances during his younger years.
"Any idea what you'll major in?" She glanced over her shoulder at the truck that had just pulled up at the curb between their houses.
Blaine watched the truck, too, rolling the baseball in his mitt, "Um, I—"
"He's got a lot of options." John supplied quickly when Blaine trailed off, "He hasn't made up his mind."
Kelly Ryan gave Blaine a funny look and then nodded to John, "He's always been so involved with everything; I'm sure he'll do well at anything he chooses."
"Thank you, Ms. Ryan," Blaine managed to mumble, but he continued watching the truck.
"Oh, that'll be the clean up crew. I should go tell them where they need to be. It was nice seeing you two." Ms. Ryan left them to go speak with the man climbing out of the driver's seat.
"Blaine." John called when Blaine's attention remained on the neighbor's driveway.
Blaine didn't respond.
John tried to follow Blaine's attention and he realized Blaine was not looking at something; he was focused on someone. A tall, thickly built red head in a dirty t-shirt and torn jeans was staring back at Blaine.
"Blaine." John said his name again; now unsure. Blaine looked tense; guarded, but he didn't move when the other boy made his way toward him.
"Gimme a minute." Blaine's voice was faint, but he was on his feet, moving toward the driveway.
John had been careful to respect the little space Blaine requested in the past couple weeks, but there was something about his posture… his tone… He gave it a minute, but then he approached the two boys and caught the end of what the red head was saying.
"—the police only asked about where he got his stuff."
Blaine was nodding slowly, still rolling the baseball around in his glove.
John cleared his throat, "Who's this Blaine?"
The two exchanged a look before Blaine answered, "Nobody."
"Blaine, listen, I…um…—" the other boy shifted his weight from foot to foot, looking uncomfortably between John and Blaine.
"Could you give us a minute, Dad?" Blaine's voice was soft, but he still looked tense enough to bolt.
John couldn't decide what to do. He appraised the other boy again. Easily twice Blaine's size, but… he looked wishy-washy; sickly even—like he didn't eat enough or sleep enough or something. He didn't seem like a threat. "Sure; I'm going to check some messages from work."
When John re-entered the house, Tucker brushed past his knees and to Blaine's side, pressing his nose against the back of Blaine's hand and whining. Blaine tossed the ball a few yards away before turning his attention back to the larger boy, "What else could you possibly have to say, Max?"
"I…I—" Max watched Tucker as he dropped the ball back down at Blaine's feet, crying and wagging his tail to have it thrown again. When Max looked back up at Blaine, his bottom lip was trembling, "Jesus, Blaine, I can't sleep or eat or anything. I just keep fucking thinking about what we did to you when we were younger, and how it all started up again and…and…"
"And what?" Blaine snapped. Genuine-seeming emotions from any of the New Albany pack made him uneasy—little displays of seeming compassion had never ended well for him.
"I'm fucking sorry, okay?" Max's voice was a strangled sob, "I really—I don't know why we ever fucking did it. Eric, he just—and we—and you—Oh God, and then that other kid; I swear I didn't know it was that bad, I swear I would have—"
"Would have what, hit him less? Kicked him a little more gently?" Blaine glared at him, "I don't want your fucking apology, Max. It doesn't change anything."
"I know, I know, but, please Blaine, please just believe me. I wish I could take it back. All of it. Every fucking second, I don't know—I don't know why—" He dropped to his knees in front of Blaine.
Blaine backed away quickly; reflexively, but then hissed through his teeth, "Get up, you're causing a scene."
"I can't stop thinking about it, I can't even—I'm having fucking nightmares about it." Max remained on the ground, looking up at Blaine pathetically.
"Well, when you figure out how to get rid of them, let me know." Blaine sighed, "Seriously, get up, I'm not explaining this to the neighbor when she comes up here and sees you."
Max wiped his nose with the back of an arm, "What we did to you, Blaine… we, we shouldn't have; it was sick. Really, really sick and I don't know… Fuck, I don't know what else to say."
Blaine didn't say anything for a long moment, "What are you hoping for here, Max? Redemption? Resolve? You're not here by choice, so why the big display?"
"I was gonna come over earlier… but I, well I didn't know where you lived, and then I guess I just wanted to try and not think about all this shit. But then, well here you are, and fuck… you've got a house and parents and a dog… and I just… I wanted to pretend you weren't real."
Blaine stared at him silently.
"I mean, I guess—before… you didn't seem—fuck, I just never thought about you having a fucking dog." Max looked at Tucker still sitting at Blaine's heels. "I thought I could pretend it never happened."
"It did happen." Blaine closed his eyes for a moment.
Max didn't say anything; he stared down at his grass-stained shoes.
Blaine let out a long breath, "I… I forgive you, for whatever that's worth. It doesn't do me any good to hate you for it. It just keeps all this shit that much closer."
"Thanks." Max sniffled, wiped his eyes furiously with one hand.
Blaine stood silently; lost in thought.
"I should, um," Max cleared his throat, rolled a shoulder, "I should probably go before they start asking where I am."
Blaine didn't respond; his eyes were distant.
"Right, well, see ya around, I guess." Max glanced at Tucker one last time and turned away.
"Max," Blaine finally called after him.
Max turned and waited.
"Could you…" Blaine looked conflicted, "Never mind. I've got it under control."
John decided he had waited long enough; been respectful of the desired space, and now his feeling of unease was too much. He checked one last e-mail before opening the double doors of his office.
"Hello, dear; work on a Saturday?" Shannon appeared from the laundry room, a plastic bag draped over one arm.
"Just checking a few messages." John shrugged.
She nodded and glanced around the entry, "Where's Blaine?"
"Out front talking to one of Kelly Ryan's clean up boys. I'm surprised you didn't see him."
Shannon frowned, adjusting the bag on her arm, "No he's not. Tucker's out there, but there's no one up front."
John frowned, the feeling of unease only spreading, "Maybe he's out back with them by the shed."
They both tried to appear calm; no reason to cause a scene over their seventeen year-old being out of their supervision for a few minutes. When they looked out from the deck, they spied the crew of dirty-looking workers, but their son was not with them.
Still trying to play at casual, John let out a little hmmph of confusion, "I'll check out front again, maybe he just came back around the house; I saw him less than ten or fifteen minutes ago."
When John checked the front yard, he couldn't deny the feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach. He noted that the baseball mitt and the ball were lying on the shelf and then a second detail his wife had missed. Blaine's car wasn't in the driveway.
Before he knew what he was doing, John was in the backyard, grabbing the red headed boy by the shirt, "Where the hell is my son?"
Max was a solid inch or two taller than John, and had a good fifty pounds on him, but he cowered beneath the hold, "What do you mean?"
"Where the fuck did he go?" John snapped.
"I don't know what you're talking about! We talked for a while and then I came back here! Honest!" Max looked terrified.
John let go of his shirt and stepped back. He noticed the other workers looking on with a mix of interest and horror. "Did he say where he was going?"
Max, despite John's more reasonable tone, looked just as uneasy as he had beneath the hold on his shirt, he shook his head quickly, "He was just standing up there with your dog when I came around back. We… we just talked about New Albany for a bit and then I left."
John eyed the boy again, "You know Blaine from New Albany?"
Max glanced back at his co-workers, "Um, sort of, we didn't talk much or anything…. I… I'm Max Huxley."
John recognized that name… but which one was he? Max…. Max had taken care of Eric… He resisted the urge to grab the kid by the shirt again, "What, exactly, did you say to him?"
"I…" Max looked at the other men again, and didn't meet John's eyes, "I guess I just... Um, I wasn't very… nice to him when we went to school together. I wanted to apologize."
John scrutinized him in silence.
"If I knew where he might have gone, I'd tell you, I swear." Max swallowed, "Honest, he… I guess I saw him put down his baseball glove and take something out of his pocket, but otherwise he was just standing there."
John felt like the blood had frozen in his veins. He turned back toward the house without explanation and rushed to the house. As soon as he was through the door, he half-ran to his office, ignoring his wife's panicked inquiries into what he looked so upset about, and pulled open the side drawer. He felt a wave of relief strike him so hard that he had to sit down. The pocketknife was still there; gleaming red and innocent right where he'd left it.
"John, what, what is it?" Shannon was half-shouting at him in the doorway.
"Nothing; it's nothing." John let out a long breath to steady himself. He wasn't sure what Blaine might have wanted with the thing or what he actually kept in his pockets now that the knife wasn't there, but he didn't care. He was still trying to steady his heart.
"His car is gone, John, " Shannon spoke softly, her voice wavering, "He's been doing so well, but… where would he go? Kurt's coming over here soon, he knows that, where would he go?"
"Maybe he went to the store… he can go places on his own, Shannon, we never told him he couldn't." They exchanged a look. It may never have been said, but much like the other rules of the house, it had been understood. Blaine had remained under their watchful gaze for nearly two weeks with the exceptions of his time with Kurt or his therapist.
"What do we do?" Shannon sat down slowly in a chair.
John rubbed a thumb over the smooth plastic of the knife; he put it in his pocket, "We wait."
Blaine did not need to linger in the car. He did not need to pause outside the automatic doors to try and re-assess the decision he had made. He went straight to the front desk and smiled pleasantly; a little charm always went a long way.
When the receptionist pointed him toward the elevators, he asked her politely where he could find the stairs. He didn't want to stand still.
He jogged up all five flights; took the three lefts and a right as instructed. He found the desired door and stepped through without pause. He closed it behind him quietly and sat down in the only chair in the room beside the only occupant in the room.
"Well, well, what a pleasant surprise." Eric was pale; gaunt, but his smile was as alluring as ever, "what brings you here?"
"Visiting hours." Blaine replied coolly, he glanced at the silver cuff holding Eric's right wrist to the hospital bed.
"Always such a sweetheart," Eric looked him over with a lascivious smirk.
Blaine stood and moved to the end of the bed, he pulled the chart off its hanger and scrutinized it.
"Want to play doctor, B?" Eric sing-songed.
"Maybe later," Blaine flipped through the pages, put it back, and settled himself back in the chair.
The two watched one another in silence.
"You didn't tattle on me." Eric quirked an eyebrow.
"I could say the same to you." Blaine folded his arms across his chest.
"I still could." Eric ran a finger over the metal links, "Why go down alone, hmm?"
"Go ahead," Blaine shrugged.
Eric looked him over for a second time, "Your parents would find out everything; Kurt would find out everything."
Blaine stared at him in silence.
"You don't seem too concerned, Blaine…" Understanding dawned on his features; he let out a laugh, but then he was sucking in a sharp breath; his eyes closed tightly.
"Hurts, doesn't it?" Blaine watched him try and catch his breath. He felt a small sense of satisfaction seeing the other boy's features contorted with pain; there was comfort in witnessing such vulnerability.
"Stings a little." Eric agreed; still sucking in ragged breaths, "Lets chat man to man here, Blainey Boy, why are you really here?"
"I want to know why." Blaine said flatly.
"Why what?" Eric raised both eyebrows.
Blaine didn't know how he hadn't seen it the second he walked into the room, but now he could not take his eyes off of a long, ugly line running from Eric's temple to his jaw. It looked like it might have been infected at one point...or maybe it just wasn't healing well...
Eric caught his gaze and his smile only widened, "Isn't that pretty? You did that, Blaine. You were amazing! One second you're down for the count and then: BAM! You're at me. What a show."
Blaine tried to ignore the familiar chill as he studied Eric's eyes, "I want to know why you did what you did. Was this just a game for you, what?"
"Oh, Blaine," Eric closed his eyes, smiling contentedly, "Though this be madness, there is method in it… you like Shakespeare, don't you?"
"I'm not in the mood for games, Eric," Blaine sat back in his seat; frustrated.
"Pity." Eric opened his eyes and regarded Blaine for a long moment; he used his free hand to trace the line on his face. He chuckled to himself, "you really want to know?"
Blaine didn't answer; he waited quietly.
"Here's the deal, buddy boy, the people around here seem to think I'm what some might call a sociopath. I resent the term, I really do…" Eric smiled confidingly, "They say sociopath; I say master of human manipulation."
Blaine didn't move; didn't speak.
"You were such a perfect project. God, Blaine, you should have written 'victim' on your forehead with red paint. I knew, from that very first day, I was going to break you into tiny little pieces. I made you my pretty little marionette and then I tied up the strings so tight you had no way out, so you were bound to end up on one of two roads. You either off yourself—I picture slit wrists in the bathtub, personally… no guns for you; not your style."
"And the other option?" Blaine closed his eyes for just a moment.
"You'll end up in the psych ward—maybe mommy catches you before you can do yourself in or maybe you're just such a fucking mess no one knows what to do with you anymore…maybe you'll have a bed right next to mine..." Eric tilted his head, his eyes dreamy, but then he motioned a hand down at his torso, "But this! I never imagined this—you've grown up so much, Blaine! Who would have thought you'd fight back!"
Blaine shook his head slowly; he changed the subject, "How's your dad reacting to all this?"
Eric waved a hand dismissively, "He's a fucking mess—can you imagine what he'd be like if he knew the real story? Spineless prick; you'd think daddies would know their sons better, wouldn't you?"
"Do Chris and Mikey know you're here?"
"Of course; if the real question here is do they know why I'm here, no, they don't." Eric smirked, "You and Max are thick as thieves now, though, aren't you? Are you going to let him slip it in on the side or are you just going to dump Kurt's sorry ass?"
Blaine opened and then closed his mouth. He turned his gaze to the IV stand nearby.
"Oh, now look, I've gone and upset you. Was it something I said?" Eric clicked his tongue as though scolding himself.
"I'm not upset." Blaine said softly.
"You don't need to hide your feelings from me, Blaine, really you don't. Was it the two paths thing? You know, I've always said that even though people always think they want to know how their lives turn out, they really don't. You're a shining example right here. Knowing your fate doesn't make the grapes any less bitter, does it?"
Blaine shook his head, "It's not going to end that way."
"You can't fight fate, B." Eric shrugged a shoulder.
"I'm not fighting it. I'm making my own."
"I decide, Blaine, not you." Eric smiled; he lifted a hand and flitted his fingers gracefully like he held the strings of a puppet.
"You're not God," Blaine turned his attention back to Eric's face, he met his eyes, "You're not human either."
"Perhaps not." Eric tilted his head, amused, "What do you suppose I am, then?"
Blaine sat back in his chair, traced a finger over the scar on his forehead, "A monster, maybe."
"If I'm a monster, you're a monster, B. You're as fucked as I am."
"Maybe," Blaine looked thoughtful, then shook his head, "... but not a monster like you. I'm done; with all of this; with you."
"That easy, huh? Shed me like old skin?" Eric quirked an eyebrow. "Blaine Anderson, captain of his soul and master of his fate, thinks all he has to do is say the magic words and make this all go away?"
Blaine reached into his pocket, "The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief."
Eric beamed; delighted, "So you do want to play; excellent."
"No, I think I'm done playing." Blaine reached out and took Eric's hand in his own. He opened his fingers carefully and pressed something into his palm.
Eric opened his hand and looked at the thing there closely, he frowned, "What's this?"
"A present from one monster to another." Blaine rose from his chair, "One. One star."
"That's not Shakespeare," Eric turned the thing around in his hand, still frowning, "Are you trying to be cryptic, Blaine?"
Blaine didn't answer; he offered no explanation, no final words. He turned and left.
"Where the hell have you been?" Shannon was shouting in her son's face the moment he was through the door. She pulled him in for a bone-crushing hug before holding him out in front of her by the arms.
"Nowhere; went for a drive to clear my head." Blaine shrugged.
"You had us worried sick! You can't just disappear without a word, Blaine! Kurt is on his way over right now, you had better call him so he doesn't die of a heart attack; no one knew where you were and—"
"Shannon, he gets it." John said flatly.
"I'm really sorry, Mom. Never again." Blaine crossed his heart quickly.
Shannon sighed and pulled him in for a less violent hug, "I know you hate the contact thing, but you scared me, Blaine… I just… I need to hold onto you for a minute."
"Hold on as much as you need to." Blaine slipped an arm around her and squeezed back briefly.
When she finally let go, she studied his face, "Is everything all right? You seem… I don't know... did something happen?"
Blaine considered lying; supplying a quick 'everything's fine', but he was tired of that; he decided to risk it. "I went to the hospital. I visited Eric."
He should have just lied. His mother set into a screaming, crying fit that was nearly as mortifying as the display she'd given the night he had come home from the hospital with his father. He stood quietly and let her berate him. He couldn't understand most of what she was saying… something about sadism and post-traumatic stress and self-abuse… He listened quietly; let her get it out of her system.
John stared intently at Blaine, but he said nothing.
"—why would you put yourself through that, Blaine?" His mother had finally wound up her emotional tirade, but she was searching his face with pained eyes.
"I had to." Blaine said, his voice soft, "He's real whether I want him to be or not. He's not just going to go away because I want him to."
"Your therapist didn't put you up to this, did she? We'll find a new one, we'll—"
"No, mom, she didn't put me up to anything. I decided this." Blaine glanced at his father again and then back at his mother, "I did it for me."
Shannon smoothed his hair with one hand, hugged him again, "I think I understand you and then you go off and do something like this, I- God, what's the use; I guess what's done is done… You're sure you're all right?"
"Never been better." Blaine smiled for her, "Really."
Shannon sighed and kissed him on the cheek once, "Foolish boy."
"Sorry." Blaine mumbled, "…Does this mean I can't go to Nadia's going away thing tonight?"
She laughed a little and rubbed the lipstick off his cheek with a thumb, "Of course you can still go. Just… please talk to us when you get ideas like that in your head from now on, Blaine."
"Yes, ma'am." Blaine smiled ruefully.
After a little more coddling, she finally released him to go back outside. He glanced at his father once before moving toward the door—John was still scrutinizing him silently. Not sure what else to do, Blaine escaped to the porch and took up his guitar from where he'd left it on the bench outside. He plucked at its strings until he spotted a familiar car pulling up in the driveway. He put the guitar back down and started walking toward the Lincoln as its driver slammed the door shut. Without the cast, Kurt could move with his normal speed and he was using it to his full advantage to storm toward Blaine.
"Blaine, what the hell were you thinking? Were you even thinking at all? Your mom called me freaking out that you had just up and left, and I think I broke about seventeen traffic laws getting over here—I almost hit an old lady with her walker—and you couldn't even both to call to let me know you got home or—"
Blaine caught him by the shoulders and kissed him. He reached a hand up to the nape of Kurt's neck, turned his fingers into the soft hair and pressed him in even closer.
When they parted, Kurt stared at Blaine; cheeks flushed, lips swollen, and anger replaced by shock. He opened and closed his mouth; unsure of what to say.
Blaine stared back for a moment, but then a light blush touched his cheeks and he looked down; a bashful smile played at his mouth, and a hand went up to rub the back of his neck.
Kurt's vision blurred for a moment, he felt a wave of goose bumps tickle his arms. He knew he shouldn't push it; but then, before he could stop himself, his arms were wrapped around Blaine, his face pressed into his shoulder, his voice a trembling whisper, "There you are."
Blaine wrapped his arms around Kurt just as tightly. He didn't know how long they stood like that. He didn't care.
The slamming of the garage door finally made him look up. He met his father's eyes.
Slowly he pulled out of Kurt's embrace, but left one hand around his waist as they moved inside, trying to avoid eye contact with his father. Things may have changed, but there were still lines they did not cross, and Blaine was fairly sure intimate moments with his boyfriend in plain sight made up one such line.
John turned his attention to the car; ignoring Blaine and Kurt as they passed.
"Sorry." Kurt murmured as they entered the kitchen.
"Don't be." Blaine shrugged.
Kurt turned to study him as they entered the kitchen, "You seem…different."
He smiled, "I feel different."
Kurt didn't ask him to elaborate; he squeezed his hand once and moved to help Shannon unload the groceries she had abandoned when Blaine had disappeared.
"You don't have to do that, dear, really." Shannon touched Kurt's arm as he pulled things from the paper bags.
"I don't mind; I'm fully mobile; I like taking advantage of it." Kurt bent his knee a few times in display.
"Well, when we're done, I can make you two dinner." Shannon conceded, glancing at Blaine.
"We're going to need food in our stomachs if we're going to a Nadia Fisher party." Kurt murmured as he passed Blaine.
Blaine laughed, but turned his attention to his mother who had suddenly startled, "You okay, Mom?"
She stared at him in momentary shock, and then looked away almost bashfully, "I… I'm fine; I just… I don't remember the last time I heard you laugh like that."
Before Blaine could respond, the garage door slammed shut and John Anderson was suddenly standing in the middle of the kitchen, scrutinizing the other three occupants silently.
Shannon wiped her eyes quickly, "I was just telling the boys I'm going to make dinner; are you hungry?"
John stared at her in silence for a long moment, "They're not eating dinner with us."
"John." Shannon's eyes widened. Weren't they past this?
John turned his attention to his son, he held out his hand, "Here."
"What… what's this?" Blaine stared down at the fifty-dollar bill wrapped around a set of keys.
"Take Kurt out to dinner before you go to Nadia's." John cleared his throat once and turned toward the groceries. He began unloading what was left in the bags in silence.
"Dad… these are the keys to the Chevy." Blaine said quietly.
John stopped in his movements, he glanced at Blaine, "I… I installed a new radio today."
"Dad, I can't take that car, it's—" Blaine swallowed hard; his throat tight.
"Kurt, I left a few bags in the car, do you want to help me grab them?" Shannon spoke softly and exchanged a quick look with Kurt.
"Sure." Kurt followed after her, touching a hand to Blaine's arm gently as he passed.
Blaine and John were left alone on opposite sides of the kitchen. They stood in silence.
John finally put down the box of cereal he'd been fumbling with and turned to face his son full on; his voice hesitant, "I told you life would reward you if you worked hard, Blaine. You worked hard on that car… you… you deserve it. Go on and go."
"Dad…" Blaine swallowed hard, trying to keep the tears that suddenly stung his eyes at bay; he did not want to cry in front of his father. Not in that moment where things hung so precariously.
John closed the space between them slowly. He put a tentative hand on Blaine's shoulder, "You're a good man, Blaine… a better man than I could ever hope to be. I'm proud of you."
Blaine pressed a hand over his father's hand. He didn't say anything.
They stood that way for a minute, staring at one another.
John squeezed his shoulder once, "Go ahead and get going. Have fun."
Blaine nodded slowly. He walked toward the door, but then turned, his hand on the knob, "Dad?"
John stared back at him; waiting.
"I…" Blaine swallowed; smiled, "thank you."
John nodded his head once; but he quickly turned his attention back to the groceries. He had said what he needed to say; he didn't need his son to see him near tears.
Blaine stepped outside; he felt a strange lightness in his limbs... a quiet in his head.
"Hey," Kurt said softly, straightening up quickly from where he was leaned on the car.
"Dad's unloading groceries, Mom." Blaine glanced at his mother.
"I'll go help him, is everything…" She trailed off; studying her son's face.
"Everything's good…great. Everything is great." Blaine smiled reassuringly.
He watched her go inside and then turned his attention to the car. He pulled open the passenger door and smiled at Kurt, "Well?"
Kurt studied his face for a moment and then tentatively slipped into the seat.
When Blaine came around the car to climb into the driver's side, Kurt watched him quietly, but did not press him for information.
Blaine adjusted the rearview mirror; ran a hand over the edge of the steering wheel. He put the keys in the ignition, but did not immediately turn the engine over.
"Blaine?" Kurt spoke softly; not sure what was going through the dark haired boy's head as he sat silently in the driver's seat.
Blaine shook his head; smiled. He turned the keys in the ignition and pulled out of the garage, "Turn on the radio?"
Kurt nodded and played with the station dial until he found something that was not all static. As they pulled onto the main road, he reached over and squeezed Blaine's knee; he offered no explanation.
Blaine let go of the wheel with one hand and caught Kurt's hand in his own. He raised it to his mouth and kissed it once, "Love you."
"And I love you," Kurt smiled, leaning back in his seat contentedly, "So where do you want to go?"
Blaine was quiet for a moment. He rolled down the windows and held an arm out into the breeze, he didn't look at Kurt, but he smiled, "We can go anywhere."