Disclaimer: Glee belongs to Ryan Murphy and Fox, not me.
Special thanks to Ali (of-a-crescendo) for being such an amazing beta.
I hope you understand
When I say that something
I want to hold your hand.
The garage was a lifesaver.
The garage meant that from eight to five, Monday through Friday, he was surrounded by distractions. The whirr of the lifts, the roaring of engines, the clunk of metal to metal, the strong smell of motor oil- it all contributed to a pleasant blur of time passing.
The garage meant that from eight to five, Monday through Friday, he could forget about everything
He liked to forget about it while he was at work. When he was working it was easy to push the thoughts aside, leave any kind of memory in a daze. The world was made of spark plugs and new valves.
And then at three-thirty, on the dot, every day, the door would swing open and the bell above the door would chime and a high childish voice would call out a tired greeting.
Burt glanced up from the engine of the Suburban he was working on. His eight-year-old son, pale and small for his age, wandered in the front door of the garage, his bright blue sticker-bedecked backpack hanging off his shoulder. "Hey, kiddo," he said. "School go good today?"
"Fine," Kurt mumbled. He wandered into the office and closed the door behind him. Kurt usually didn't speak to him when he got off the bus. Usually he retreated to the garage office and settled himself at the big desk to work on his homework, his short legs too small for his feet to brush the floor. He would sit there until five o'clock, until the garage closed up for the day and the other mechanics went home. Burt never had to chide him into getting ready to leave. Kurt was like clockwork. It turned to five o'clock and there Kurt would be, backpack on his shoulders, staring straight at him, ready to go home.
Burt finished replacing the fuel lines in the Suburban and moved on to a Dodge Stratus in dire need of a new alternator. He didn't even notice it was time to leave until one of his mechanics cleared his throat. "Burt, you see the time?" Jake asked.
Burt glanced up at the big clock with the broken face above the door. "Oh," he said stupidly. "No, uh, didn't notice."
He looked to the office door. It was still closed. Kurt wasn't ready to go.
"You staying late?" Jake pressed.
Burt wiped his hands on a dirty rag and tossed it back on his workbench. "No, no, I'm leaving," he said. "Have a good night. See you in the morning." He tossed his workstation back in order, reluctantly closed the hood of the Stratus, and headed to the office.
"Hey, Kurt, it's time to go," he said to the empty desk. He blinked and glanced around.
Kurt wasn't sitting at the desk. He was curled up on the battered old couch, the one that used to be in their living room until Mollie talked him into replacing the furniture when Kurt was three. His backpack was still zipped, lying discarded on the ground beside him, but there was a book in Kurt's sleep-relaxed hand, one small finger still marking a page. Burt's heart tightened at the sight of his sleeping child.
He knelt beside Kurt and gave his shoulder a gentle shake. "Buddy, wake up," he said. "Time to go home."
Kurt roused slowly, rubbing his eyes with his fists. "Where'm I?" he mumbled.
"You fell asleep in my office," Burt said. "You finish your homework?"
Kurt frowned as he pushed himself into a sitting position. "I didn't…oh, I didn't start," he said. "I had to read for it…and then…I was just really tired. I'm sorry, Dad."
Burt patted his shoulder. "Don't worry about it," he said. "Let's grab dinner someplace and take it home so you can finish your homework, okay?"
Kurt nodded, sliding his book into his backpack and standing up slowly. Burt flicked off the lights and locked up the office. "So, how was school?" he asked, holding the front door of the garage open to usher Kurt out.
Kurt shrugged as Burt locked up, his hands tangled in the shoulder straps of his backpack. "It was school," he said.
They walked in silence to the pickup truck on the edge of the parking lot. The cool early evening air had a bit of a bite to it, reminding them that it was October and it would be winter soon. Kurt set his backpack down on the floor when Burt unlocked the truck and climbed inside slowly, still a little too small to reach comfortably. Burt got in the driver's seat and turned on the engine. "McDonald's drive-through okay with you?" he asked. Kurt raised and lowered one shoulder, curling into a little ball behind his seatbelt.
Burt took the detour on the way home, pausing long enough to order a Big Mac meal for himself and a chicken nuggets kids' meal for Kurt. Kurt took the bag with their dinners wordlessly, balancing it on his narrow knees like he was used to it. And to be honest, at this point, he was. Burt couldn't cook. He tried. He was hopeless. Burt switched on the radio as they drove down the road back to their house, the mumble of a country station alleviating the suffocating silence. The truck smelled powerfully like French fries. To be honest, Burt was a little tired of fast food and frozen dinners, but they really didn't have another option. And Kurt hadn't complained.
Kurt didn't say much of anything anymore.
Burt pulled into their driveway, the dark windows of their cold, empty house staring gloomily at them. He took the food sacks from Kurt and picked up their drinks- Coke for him, fruit punch for Kurt. Mollie never let him have anything besides fruit punch or Sprite when they took him out to eat. Said he would have enough soda when he was in high school. At least he could remember that much.
Kurt already had the house key in the front door by the time he got to the stoop. He'd had that key copied for Kurt before he had started fourth grade back in August. Originally he had planned to put Kurt on the bus in the morning, head to work, and be back by five. Kurt could let himself in and spend an hour and a half, two hours by himself in the afternoon. It made sense in theory. Just not in application.
Burt came home every night of the first week of school to find Kurt barricaded in the master bedroom closet, hiding with a juice box and his blanket, trying to do his homework by flashlight. He tried to reason with Kurt, that if he came straight home and locked the doors behind him he would be fine, but there was no reasoning. Kurt was too stubborn to listen to him, and too stubborn to explain his actions. So he had relented, agreeing to let Kurt get off the bus at the stop nearest the garage and staying with him. There hadn't been any problems like that since.
Burt turned on the lights and set their dinner on the kitchen table. "Come on, kiddo," he said, patting the chair beside him. "Come up here and eat."
Kurt set his backpack down by the couch and sat down to unlace his shoes. "Just a second," he said, taking his little low-top teal Converses off carefully before sitting down at the table.
Burt leaned back in his chair and flipped on the television. Mollie used to pitch a fit whenever he tried to watch the game while they were eating (they only watched TV during dinner when ABC had Disney movies on Sunday nights), but he was tired and it was too quiet and he really wanted to see the game.
Kurt didn't protest. He picked quietly at his dinner, tearing off bits of his chicken nuggets and nibbling on them aimlessly. His fries were piled beside him, untouched. "You gonna eat your fries?" Burt commented. Kurt shrugged. "I can get you something else for dinner if this isn't what you want."
"It's okay," Kurt said to his chicken nuggets. He popped a bite in his mouth and shrugged again.
Burt frowned. "You feeling all right, scooter?" he asked. "You're acting funny."
"My tummy hurts," Kurt confessed, his eyes still downcast.
"I bet your teachers are already giving you guys Halloween candy," Burt said with a grin. "And I know how you are with those York peppermint patty things."
Kurt sort of smiled back. Burt reached over and squeezed his thin little upper arm. "You don't have to eat if you're not hungry," he said. "Go on upstairs and get your homework done, okay?"
"Okay," Kurt said. He slid off his chair and picked up his backpack, his tiny socked feet making little pad-pad-pad noises on the stairs to his room. Burt sighed heavily, picked up Kurt's discarded fries, and headed into the living room to plunk down on the couch.
He knew things between him and his son weren't as good as they should be. And God only knew how many times he'd played things in his head, trying to figure out what the hell was going wrong.
The problem was that he came up with the same answer every time.
Mollie wasn't there any more.
She knew exactly how to manage him. She understood Kurt far better than he could. She was the one who held them together, with Friday night dinners and back-to-school shopping trips and rules about television and comforting bedtime rituals.
Burt sighed and turned the television up louder.
The game stretched on and sucked him in. He was so absorbed that he didn't realize how late it was until the final score was tallied and the television started blasting commercials about "coming up next on the late show…"
He switched off the television, shaking the fog from his head. "Kurt?" he called. "You done with your homework?"
There was a pause. "Uh-huh."
"Okay, kiddo, time for bed," Burt said. He tossed the remote back on the couch. "Get in your pajamas and brush your teeth. Your stomach still hurt?"
Longer pause. "Uh-huh."
Burt scratched the back of his neck. "Well, get into bed, I'll…I'll get something for you," he called.
Kurt didn't answer. Burt sighed and crumpled up the trash from their fast food dinner into one of the bags. He didn't know what the hell he was supposed to do with a sick kid. When Kurt had been sick before, he ran errands to Walgreens and the grocery store. He surprised him with new movies to watch or new books to read. He drove to the doctor's office. Mollie did all the real work- coaxing Kurt into taking his medicine, cleaning up after him, rocking him to sleep in her arms when he was exhausted but too worked up to sleep.
Burt climbed the stairs slowly, his sense of dread building. If only his family still lived in town; if he could just call someone up, have his mom or his sister or his sister-in-law take care of Kurt…but no, they were in Iowa, and he had to do something for Kurt now. Maybe it would be fine. Maybe it would just take a good night's sleep and some Pepto and the kid would be fine.
He looked into Kurt's room. The lights were on and Kurt's homework was in neat piles on his little desk, but his son was nowhere to be found. Kurt?" he called, heading down the hall to the bathroom. "You brushing your teeth?"
The bathroom door was partially open, but Kurt wasn't at the sink. He sat on the edge of the bathtub, dressed in rumpled, oversized pajamas. "In a little bit, Dad," he said, not looking up. He hunched over his knees, his arms wrapped tightly around his stomach.
Burt frowned. "Kurt, what's wrong?" he asked warily.
Kurt took a deep breath, then suddenly lurched forward, flipping up the lid of the toilet in just enough time to throw up.
Burt stared at him for a second, stunned. Kurt gasped and threw up again, and Burt sat down beside him, putting his big hand on his son's narrow back. "It's okay," he stammered. "It's okay."
He rubbed Kurt's back until the vomiting stopped. "Hey, there, buddy," he said. "That was pretty rough. Feel a little better now?"
Kurt shook his head and rubbed at his watering eyes. "My tummy hurts," he said.
Burt rubbed the heel of his palm against the small of Kurt's back. "Is that the first time you've puked today?" he asked.
Kurt bit his lip. "I threw up after P.E. class today," he said in a small voice. "And my tummy hurts worse when I move."
"Go get into bed, kiddo," Burt said, giving his little shoulder a squeeze. "I'm going to take your temperature and then I'll give you something for your stomach. All right?" Kurt nodded. "Want me to carry you?"
Kurt shook his head. "I can do it," he said quietly. He pushed himself off the edge of the tub and walked back towards his room, his steps slow and stiff. Burt watched him walk away, then got up and turned towards the medicine cabinet.
He was definitely not good with anyone who was sick, much less a sick eight-year-old. There was no way that this was going to go well. He could take it in little steps, right? Take his temperature. Give him something to help his stomach. Put him to bed. Couldn't be that hard.
He walked into Kurt's room to find his son curled up in the fetal position under his blankets so that only the top of his head was visible. "Come on," Burt said, patting his leg. "Sit up and open your mouth."
Kurt obeyed, taking the thermometer in his mouth and clasping his hands on his knees. Burt sat down beside him. The two Hummels sized each other up in silence until the thermometer beeped cheerfully and Burt took it from Kurt's mouth. "You've got a fever," he said. He stared at the digital display. Kurt was running a temperature of 102, and he knew that was bad. "Kurt, how long have been you been feeling sick?"
Kurt just shrugged. "A while. I just took the little pink pills that Mom used to give me," he said. "They helped a little, but then I ran out."
Burt sighed. "I'll get you some Tylenol and then you can go to sleep," he said. "I think we only have the grape kind, though. I know you don't like it."
Kurt shrugged. "I don't care," he said, pulling the blankets back up around his shoulders.
Burt frowned. Kurt always cared. "And you're staying home from school tomorrow," he said as he walked back towards the bathroom.
Wait. How was that going to work? He couldn't just not show up to the garage. They needed him over there. But Kurt was sick, and if he couldn't handle two hours in the afternoon by himself, he certainly wouldn't be able to handle an entire day home alone while he was running a fever and throwing up.
And he should probably take Kurt to the doctor at some point. Mollie always took Kurt to a doctor if he was sick for more than a few days. Or maybe the emergency room. But he probably wasn't sick enough for the emergency room. He was just over thinking things at this point.
He walked into Kurt's room and held out the two cherry-flavored pills. "Here, kiddo, sit back up and…"
His voice trailed off. Kurt was curled up under his covers, knees pulled up to his chest, his face buried in his pillow. Burt sat down beside him. "Buddy?" he asked. He rubbed Kurt's back. "Kurt, sit up and look at me."
Kurt obeyed slowly. Burt touched his hand to Kurt's forehead, rubbing at the soft skin over the bridge of his nose. "You've got to talk to me, kiddo," Burt said. "How sick are you feeling?"
"'m sick," Kurt whispered, wrapping his arms around his stomach. "My tummy hurts. I wanna throw up again."
"Where does your stomach hurt?" Burt asked, grasping at straws.
"It used to hurt here," Kurt said. He pointed at his bellybutton. "Now it hurts on the side and it's really bad."
Burt rubbed Kurt's forehead, trying to come up with some sort of plan and failing, utterly failing. "Okay," he finally said. "Okay, kiddo. Come on. Let's get your coat."
"Why?" Kurt whined, trying to pull away from his dad's grip and lie back down. "I wanna go to sleep."
"Not yet," Burt said, taking Kurt by the arm and tugging him out of his cozy little bed. "We're going to go to the emergency room."
Kurt's mouth opened. "No!" he said. "No, I don't want to go!"
Kurt struggled weakly in Burt's grip. "I know you hate the emergency room, but you're sick," he said bluntly. "I'm going to take you to the doctor, and you'll be fine."
"I don't want to go," Kurt said, attempting to wriggle away from his father and bolt back to his room. "No, Dad, I don't need to go. I don't. I'm fine. I'm fine, Daddy, I'm fine."
Burt ignored the rising hysteria in Kurt's voice and handed him his coat. "Put this on," he said. "I know you don't like it, but we've got to go. You don't want to get sicker, do you?"
"No, but I don't want to go!" Kurt protested.
Burt buttoned Kurt's coat to his chin and swooped him up, choosing not to listen to the child's arguments. He balanced Kurt on his hip as he picked up his keys. "What about my shoes?" Kurt wailed.
"You don't need shoes, I'll carry you," Burt said shortly.
He carried Kurt out to the car and lifted him into the front seat, buckling him in securely. "Just sit tight," he said. "We'll be at the hospital in just a little bit."
He walked around to the driver's seat and got in, revving the engine and turning on the heat. Kurt curled up against the door, his arms still wrapped around his stomach and his little socked feet tucked under him.
Burt didn't blame him for not wanting to go to the emergency room. He didn't much like it either.
He glanced over at Kurt, still curled up tightly in the passenger seat. "How're you feeling, bud?" he asked. "Still hurting?"
Kurt nodded, not looking up. Burt squeezed his little knee. "Hold my hand," he said softly. "Squeeze real tight every time it hurts."
Kurt latched onto his big fingers, his small hand hot and dry against his father's skin. His grip was surprisingly strong. He didn't think a child that small could hold so tight.
Burt navigated the truck easily through the parking lot, turning the steering wheel with one hand, and pulled into a spot. "Okay, we're here," he said, falsely cheerful. Kurt didn't answer. Burt got out of the driver's seat and unbuckled Kurt's seatbelt. "Come on, kiddo."
Kurt leaned towards him a little, raising his arms to be held. Burt picked him up and set him on his hip, letting Kurt rest his head against his shoulder as he carried him through the parking lot.
A thousand memories rushed past as the sliding doors whooshed open. The emergency room was the same as he remembered- that sickly sweet smell, the steady ringing of the phone, the heavy sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Unconsciously he hugged Kurt closer to his side as he approached the desk.
The nurse glanced up. "Mr. Hummel," she said, surprised. "You haven't been here in a while. What's wrong?"
Burt blinked. You know you've been in the ER too much when the nurses know you by name, he thought.
"Kurt's sick," he said, adjusting the little boy on his hip. "He's probably not sick enough for the emergency room, but I didn't know what I ought to do with him."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," the nurse said. "Are you feeling bad, honey?" Kurt just stared at her, his bright eyes owlishly round, his fingers creeping towards his mouth. "Well, go ahead and fill out his paperwork. I'll see what I can do to get him moved up the list."
Burt balanced Kurt with one arm and the clipboard on the other. He settled Kurt into an uncomfortable waiting room chair; he immediately curled up into a tight ball again. "They'll see you in a little bit, kiddo," he said, patting the top of Kurt's head. He filled out the paperwork, relieved that he could remember all the information off the top of his head. Middle name. Social security number. Birthday. Allergies. That relieved him a little. He at least could handle this. He'd filled out so many of these he could probably do them in his sleep.
He turned in the paperwork and sat back down beside Kurt, occasionally reaching over to pat his knee or his back. Kurt didn't move much. He just curled up beside him with his chin resting on the armrest.
"Kurt? We're ready, honey."
Burt stood up and lifted Kurt in his arms. He could feel the heat radiating from the child's skin. "Let's get the doctor to take a look at you," he murmured in Kurt's ear. "They'll fix you."
He set Kurt down on the examining table and took off his navy peacoat. Kurt shivered in his flannel pajamas as the nurse looked over his paperwork. "So what's wrong?" she asked.
"My tummy hurts really bad," Kurt said softly, his head down.
Burt rubbed the back of his slender neck. "He threw up a few times and he was running a fever of 102 before we left," he said. "And he's got some bad pains in his side."
The nurse picked up a thermometer and put it to Kurt's ear. "Hm, 103.1," she said. "You're definitely sick." Kurt's mouth drew down. "Let me take a look at your stomach. Lie down."
Kurt obeyed an stared blankly up at the ceiling. The nurse unbuttoned Kurt's pajama shirt and gently prodded his stomach, just above his navel. "Does that hurt?" she asked. He shook his head. "Well, tell me if any of this hurts, all right?"
He nodded. Burt watched his son's face carefully. It didn't seem right that a child that young should be so good at keeping their expression so blank. The nurse touched Kurt's belly lightly in several places until she touched his right side. Kurt suddenly lurched upright, sucking in his breath in an inhale so sharp his voice came out in a shuddering squeak. Burt half-rose out of his chair, putting his hand out towards his child. Kurt whimpered.
"All right, it's all right, lie back down," the nurse soothed, rubbing his shoulder, and he slumped back to the examining table. "Sweetheart, I'm going to send you down to a room in pediatrics, okay?"
"Why? What's wrong?" Burt demanded.
"The doctor needs to take a look at him," the nurse said, her tone still calm and even. She darted a glance towards Kurt out of the corner of her eye, then back at him, as if to say don't scare the little boy. "I'll call ahead to the nurse's station in pediatrics so they can get a room ready for him. Go on, it's the third floor."
She left, already shuffling through a new pile of paperwork. Burt bent over his son and scooped him up in his arms, cradling him like a baby. Kurt trembled like a leaf, his papery skin hot and feverish. "They're gonna fix you," Burt said into Kurt's hair. "They're gonna fix you."
He had never really noticed how light Kurt was. He really was small for his age. And most kids as sick as he was would complain and shift around restlessly. Kurt was just silent and still, his forehead pressed firmly into the crook of Burt's neck.
They said nothing on the walk to the elevator or the ride up. Kurt's little legs dangled over Burt's arm, one sock slipping down his ankle. The doors slid open to reveal the cheerful yellow walls of the pediatrics wing, decorated with a mural of brightly painted animals. He carried Kurt over to the nurse's desk; she looked up. "Are you Mr. Hummel?" she asked. "They said you were coming up." She stood up, offering them both a warm smile. "Here, follow me."
Burt followed her down the hall to a small private room. The bed was neatly made in a brightly printed set of sheets, but nothing could disguise that fact that he was back in a hospital, that his child was in the hospital. He put Kurt down carefully.
"All right, sweetheart, the doctor's going to be here in just a minute," the nurse smiled. Kurt started to curl back into his fetal position, but she patted his back lightly before turning back to one of the scary-looking machines. "No, no, no, lie flat on your back, honey."
The doctor, a middle-aged man with smile lines around his eyes, walked into the room. "Hi, there," he said. He held his hand out to Burt in a firm handshake. "I'm Dr. Meade. I understand someone's stomach is giving them problems." Kurt merely blinked at the doctor, slightly dazed. "Kurt, we're going to do an ultrasound to see what's wrong inside of you, all right?"
The nurse picked up a squeeze bottle full of blue gel. "This is going to be a little cold," she warned Kurt.
"What do you think is wrong with him?" Burt asked, narrowing his gaze.
The nurse squeezed some of the gel over Kurt's bare tummy, making him screw up his face. "From what the triage nurse said, we suspect appendicitis," Dr. Meade said in a quiet, conspiratorial tone. "Usually we do a CT scan, but he's so young that we're going to go with the ultrasound."
The nurse ran the ultrasound wand carefully over Kurt's flat little belly, avoiding pressure on his right side. The doctor studied the screen with a frown. Burt stared at it too, but it just looked like a swirl of black and gray to him.
"There," the doctor said suddenly, pointing at the screen. "There it is."
"There what is?" Burt demanded.
"It's appendicitis," the doctor said. "Let's go ahead and get him into surgery."
Everything seemed to move too quickly. The nurse slid the ultrasound machine away, the doctor started scribbling on Kurt's paperwork. "We'll have him in the OR in about half an hour," he said. "The surgery will probably last an hour and a half, two hours. You can wait in pediatrics, Mr. Hummel."
Burt backed out of the room in a haze. The little voice quavering "Daddy?" nearly caught his attention, but he couldn't hear it.
He sank into one of the uncomfortable waiting room chairs, his mind racing. This was not happening. Not again. He couldn't do this again.
He had sat in too many waiting rooms during Mollie's illness. In the beginning, at the family doctor's office, when they thought she had some sort of chronic stomach flu, or better yet, she was pregnant. Then the emergency room visits. Visits to the specialist. Visits here, in this same hospital, in the intensive care unit.
Every waiting room was the same. The same uncomfortable chairs. The same smells of sickness and bleach and sticky-sweet medicine. The rustle of old magazine pages. That awful rising anxiety as the wait stretched longer and longer and longer, hoping for news, any news.
He just never thought he would have to be back here again.
When Mollie was sick, it felt like they lived at Good Samaritan. He lost count of how many times they had gone to the ER- sometimes they left Kurt with a neighbor, sometimes they brought him with them, small and pale and silent in the backseat.
The worst was February. God, Burt would pay a fortune to forget about last February. It started with a normal emergency room visit, as normal as those could ever get, and she stayed…and stayed…and stayed.
It was torture. It took everything in him to get Kurt up for school, go through the day at the garage, pick Kurt up school, and then stay with Mollie until Kurt dozed off in her arms. Every night Kurt would beg Burt to let his mother come home, and every night Burt had to drag him away in tears.
Mollie hated being in the hospital. Every minute of it. She had nothing to do all day but stare at the television or reread books and magazines. At one point during her hospital stay she told Burt that if it hadn't been for him bringing Kurt every afternoon, she wouldn't survive.
It didn't matter. She didn't survive anyway.
They sent her home at the end of February with strict instructions to take care of herself. If she was strong enough by June, they said, they could operate. As long as there were no flare-ups.
Mollie spent most of her time lying on the couch in the living room or on the back porch swing, usually with Kurt cuddled in her lap while they watched movies or read books or acted out elaborate plays with his toys. They took naps a lot too, with Kurt's rosy cheek pressed against her pale one and her arm tucked around his waist.
He still didn't know if he willingly chose to ignore the signs or if she just hid them that well. They made their plans, talking about "after the surgery" and "during the summer" and "in June." They discussed getting Kurt a kitten for Christmas and trying for a second baby the next year.
But Mollie kept writing letters that she locked in a small box, away from his eyes. She spent hours upon hours making scrapbooks, of high school pictures and wedding pictures and every precious snapshot they had ever taken of Kurt. She talked him into a trip to Disney World for Kurt's eighth birthday in April, even though they had planned to put it off till later.
And then he had to drive to Columbus overnight, to deliver a car he'd repaired. Mollie promised she would be fine. She could take care of Kurt, she said. They could have a nice mother-son bonding night, just the two of them.
He should have known just by the way she kissed him goodbye, how she clung to him, arms locked around his neck and her face hidden in his shoulder.
It was early the next morning when he got home, the sun still rising. He was supposed to drive home in the morning, but he couldn't bear to be away any longer. It just didn't…feel right.
The house had been quiet and peaceful, but the silence was wrong. He looked into the master bedroom first to check on Mollie, only to find the bed empty and the sheets still drawn. So he walked down to Kurt's room.
They were both asleep in Kurt's narrow twin bed, side by side, Mollie's soft curls strewn across the pillow and Kurt's small fingers tucked in his mouth as he sucked them quietly. Burt had bent to kiss Kurt first, smiling at how sweet he was when he was sleeping, then kissed Mollie on the forehead.
She was gone.
Burt leaned forward in the waiting room chair, his head in his hands. Suddenly everything crashed down on him in awful clarity. The endless creak of wheelchairs, the soft inane nurses' chatter, someone's child screaming bloody murder…it all blended with the singular pain of one terrifying thought.
What if he lost Kurt too?
His mind pictured it without his permission.
No high-pitched little voice calling "hi, Daddy."
No plastic happy meal toys scattered in his pickup.
No tiny teal Converses placed side by side on the closet floor.
No little hand to hold when they crossed a parking lot.
No one to check on in the middle of the night, no one to tuck in snugly or kiss lightly on the forehead, no one to sneak into his bed and burrow sleepily into his side when the nightmares grew too strong.
Burt stared down at the floor, his mind racing. In the past six months since Mollie died, all he could think about was her. How to live without her. How he missed her. How he couldn't function without her.
Somehow he had forgotten that just simply not functioning wasn't an option for him. He had a little boy to take care of. A little boy who missed his mother and was so terrified of being alone that he didn't feel safe in his own house.
The problem wasn't that Mollie was gone.
The problem was that he couldn't let go of her.
It didn't matter if he wasn't as good as Mollie when it came to be a parent to Kurt. What mattered was that Kurt still had a parent, that there was someone who would do their damn best to love him and understand him and care for him.
Wasn't that all that mattered in the long run?
He jumped in shock, almost disoriented. The nurse from Kurt's room had her hand on his shoulder. "Mr. Hummel, you need to come down to your son's room," she said. "We need to get him into surgery, but he's…he's having a bit of a meltdown."
Burt stared at her for a second before it dawned on him. The child down the hall was still screaming and oh, god, that was Kurt.
He bolted out of the chair, nearly knocking it over, and ran down the hallway. The doctor was trying to calm Kurt down, but Kurt was too far gone. He hunched on the bed and pressed himself against the wall, his little shirt still unbuttoned and his arms wrapped tightly around his stomach. His face had gone beet red from the exertion of crying and tears made shiny wet tracks down his cheeks.
"Kurt, you need to-"
"No!" Kurt screamed, lashing out uselessly at the doctor. "No! I want my mommy! I want my mommy!"
Burt scooped him up, ignoring his wildly thrashing arms and legs. "Kurt, it's okay," he said, struggling to hold onto him. "Kurt, listen to me. It's me. It's Daddy. You're okay."
Kurt latched onto the front of his shirt, his short bitten-off fingernails digging through the fabric and into Burt's chest. "I want my mommy!" he howled, throwing his head back and kicking at Burt. "I want Mommy!"
Burt held him tighter, pulling him close and ignoring the stabs of pain from Kurt's hysterical scratching. "She's not here," he said. He kissed the top of Kurt's head. "She can't come and fix it, kiddo, but I'm here. I'm here, Kurt, and I'm not going to leave you."
"My mom left," Kurt sobbed into his chest. "My mom left, you're gonna leave me. You're gonna leave me too."
Burt rocked Kurt in his arms like he did when Kurt was just a baby and he was trying to coax him into sleep. "I won't leave you, Kurt, not if I can help it," he said. "Sh, don't cry, kiddo. I'm here. I'm going to fix this."
He knew Kurt didn't realize that he meant it about everything- about the bedtime rituals that had fallen by the wayside, about the fast food dinners, about the suffocating silence in their cold house. But he meant it. And Kurt's death grip slackened. He stopped kicking. The screams died down to hoarse sobs.
"I'm right here," Burt whispered into Kurt's little ear. "I'm your daddy, and I'm going to take care of you, understand? You don't have to be scared anymore."
Kurt choked on a sob, his soft little arms sliding around Burt's neck, and crawled closer into the safety of Burt's lap. Burt hugged him tightly, realizing with a start that not only did Kurt look small, short and slender for his age, but he felt small, with light bones and thin skin and a startling delicacy that didn't seem right.
The nurse cleared her throat. "Mr. Hummel, we need to take him into surgery soon," she said quietly.
Burt pressed Kurt's head to his shoulder, threading his fingers through his son's soft hair as the little boy let out a painful sounding hiccup of a sob. "What can I stay here for?" he asked.
"We need to start his IV and put him under," the doctor said, his arms folded across his chest.
"You can hold him while we put in the IV," the nurse suggested.
Burt nodded and cuddled Kurt closer as the nurse took the little boy's arm gently. "What's she doing?" Kurt hiccupped into his father's chest.
"They're gonna put something in your hand that'll make you feel better," Burt said.
The nurse swabbed Kurt's hand and he tried to pull away. "I don't like it," he said. "Daddy, I don't like it. Mommy didn't like it."
"I know, but you'll feel better," Burt promised. "You can't get dehydrated or you'll feel worse."
Kurt gritted his teeth as the nurse slid the needle into the back of his little hand. His entire body tensed in Burt's arms, no matter how he tried to calm the child down.
"You're okay," he repeated. "You're going to be okay."
"Mr. Hummel, we need him to lie down for the anesthesia," the nurse said gently.
"What's that?" Kurt demanded, his voice spiraling tight and high-pitched again. "Daddy?"
Burt kissed the top of Kurt's head, breathing in the scent of baby shampoo as he stalled for time, trying to put together an explanation that wouldn't scare his son. "There's something in your tummy that got infected and it's making you sick," he said finally. "The doctor's going to give you something to help you sleep so he can take it out."
Kurt seized Burt's shirt again, tiny fingers clutching in a death grip. "I'm sick like Mommy," he said, his voice so unexpectedly resolute that it made Burt's heart stop beating.
"No," Burt said. "No, Kurt, you're not. You are not sick like your mother was sick. You're not. You're going to be fine." He pressed his forehead to his son's. "You're not going to die. Understand me?"
Kurt gazed up at him, Mollie's bright ocean eyes shining in his pale face, and nodded slightly. He seemed to relax a little in Burt's grip, his fingers tangling in the collar of his shirt. Burt set him down on the hospital bed and cupped his little chin in his hand. "You wanna hold my hand while you go to sleep?" he asked.
Kurt nodded, slipping his hot tiny hand into Burt's big rough one. Burt nodded to the nurse, who approached cautiously and carefully placed the mask over Kurt's face. God, he was so small.
"All right, sweetie, I need you to count backwards from ten for me," the nurse said.
Burt squeezed Kurt's hand. "Ten," Kurt whispered, his little voice muffled through the mask. Burt smiled at him. "Nine. Eight. Se…seven. Six. Fi…"
Kurt's eyes closed. Burt tightened his grip on Kurt's tiny fingers. The nurse touched his shoulder lightly. "Mr. Hummel, if you'll go out to the waiting room, we'll take him into surgery," she said. "We'll let you know as soon as he's awake."
"Yeah," he said absently, still holding onto Kurt's hand. He paused and shook his head. "Yeah…just take…take care of him."
"He's in good hands, Mr. Hummel," the doctor said quietly.
Burt gave Kurt one last firm squeeze before letting go and leaving the room quickly. He'd seen Mollie wheeled out on a gurney to go down to surgery; he didn't want to see his little son like that too.
He felt sort of dizzy, to be honest. Disoriented. It didn't seem right to just leave like that when his son, his baby, was about to have surgery.
Kurt wasn't a baby. He was eight. A fourth grader. But god, sometimes all he could think about was that night in April when he sat beside his sleeping wife and held his hours-old baby son in his arms and just stared at how perfect and beautiful he was.
Kurt was always going to be that baby to him, he realized, that tiny vulnerable little thing wrapped in a blue blanket and staring at him with bright solemn eyes.
Without realizing what he was doing, Burt strode down the hall, keys to the pickup in his hand. There were still two hours or so until Kurt came out of surgery. He had time for this.
He drove back to the empty house, flicking on light switches until he got to Kurt's bedroom. It still looked very much like the nursery Mollie had designed when she was pregnant, with sky blue walls and white curtains and the little lamp in the shape of a rocket ship. Burt picked up a bag and started throwing Kurt's things into it- the teddy bear he bought the day Kurt was born, his blue baby blanket, some books, a couple of outfits (who knew what the picky kid would feel like wearing when he came out of surgery). Anything he could think of.
Within ten minutes he was back on the truck, the bag propped up beside him in the passenger seat as he drove back to the hospital. His running thoughts were blessedly, thankfully quiet, until the moment he stepped through the doors, Kurt's bag in his hand, and it all hit him at once.
Was Kurt okay? Was the surgery going fine, or were there complications? Was he going to wake up in the middle of it? Oh, god, he'd be so scared…
The same nurse was sitting at the central desk in pediatrics when he walked up; she looked up and smiled as he walked in. "Oh, Mr. Hummel, there you are," she said. "I was wondering where you went."
"How's Kurt?" he asked. "He's okay, right?"
"He's doing just fine," she reassured him. "He's been in surgery for a while now. We'll let you know the second they move him into a room. Have you notified his mother?"
"His…what?" Burt said. "Uh…no, actually, his, uh…his mother passed away six months ago. Ulcerative colitis."
"Oh," she said. "Oh, I'm so sorry. I assumed you were divorced. I didn't realize you were a widower."
Widower. He hated that word. Made him sound like some sort of old-fashioned relic.
"We're getting by, me and Kurt," he said. He clenched his hand around the straps of the bag. "You'll let me know when he's out of surgery?"
"As soon as I can," she promised.
Reluctantly he headed back to the waiting room and sat down in one of those uncomfortable seats, propping his feet up on an end table and rumpling the cover of a Parents magazine. He dozed off and on, the bag propped up beside him and his arms folded across his chest. Sometimes he just stared at the wall across from him, his eyes tracing over the outlines of a giraffe and a tree over and over again, the colors painfully bright and too cheerful.
He always hated the waiting the most.
It felt like a decade went by before the nurse came over and patted him on the arm. "Mr. Hummel? Kurt's out of surgery," she said. "They moved him back to his room and he should be waking up shortly."
Burt got out of the chair quickly and grabbed the bag. He walked down the hall to Kurt's room, his shoes sounding obscenely loud on the floor. The door stood open and he stepped inside.
Kurt slept on his back in his hospital bed, his soft hair ruffled and his closed eyes ringed with dark bruises. Someone had changed him out of his pajamas and into an ugly hospital gown that only served to make him look tinier than usual.
Burt sat down beside him slowly. "Hey, kiddo," he said quietly, smoothing Kurt's hair away from his still-warm forehead. He wished he could say something better, something eloquent and comforting. He wished he could call him KK like Mollie always did, but the pet name died on his lips. It didn't feel right.
"Hey, kiddo," he said again, unzipping the bag. "Brought something for you."
He pulled out the soft blue baby blanket. Mollie had given it to him the Christmas before Kurt was born, her way of announcing that he was going to be a daddy to a little boy. She had wrapped their baby in that blanket when they brought him home from the hospital and tucked it around him every night since. "I'm pretty sure you're gonna sleep with this thing till you're thirty-five," he told Kurt, his tone half-joking. He draped the blanket over his sleeping son and tucked him in snugly.
Kurt's long lashes parted, soft and dark against his warm pale skin. He blinked up at Burt, eyes foggy and very blue, and he smiled sleepily. "Hi, Daddy," he whispered.
Burt's heart ached in his chest. "Hi," he said. "How're you feeling, scooter?"
"Sleepy," Kurt mumbled. He tangled one little hand in his blue blanket. "Oh, my blankie's here."
"Does your stomach feel better?" Burt asked.
Kurt raised his hand sleepily towards his mouth, the middle and ring fingers resting against his bottom lip. "It hurts a little," he said, his eyes locked on his father's face, almost like a challenge.
"It'll get better," Burt said, and his throat tightened as he realized that he didn't just mean the pain or the fever, he meant the empty house and the silence and the bad dreams. "It'll…it'll get better, kiddo."
"Do I hafta go to school tomorrow?" Kurt asked, his little voice beginning to slur from sleepiness and the pain medication.
"No, you're going to stay in the hospital for a day or so," Burt said. He could see the panic already rising; he took Kurt's hand in his and held it tightly. "I'm gonna let Jake cover the garage. I'll stay with you."
Kurt relaxed into the flat hospital-issue pillows, his fingers sliding into his mouth. He looked so young that Burt's heart clenched. He didn't even have the heart to tug Kurt's hand from his mouth or scold him about you're a big boy, big boys don't suck their fingers. He just smoothed Kurt's hair back gently.
"Go to sleep, Kurt," he urged quietly. "I'm right here. I won't let anything bad happen to you. I swear."
Kurt's eyes were already at half-mast, his long lashes brushing his cheeks. He sucked sleepily on his fingers and snuggled deeper under his blanket. Burt cupped his little hand in both of his, remembering the nights that his wife walked up and down the dim-lit halls, cradling their baby to her chest and kissing him and murmuring all the dear little things that only she knew, only she could say.
He and Kurt had both lost something, something perfect and precious and pure that they would never get back, but at least, thank God, they had each other.
Burt raised Kurt's small hand to his chest and held it tight against his heart as he watched his child sleep, his breaths soft and low and even. "I'm not going anywhere," he said, and for him it was "I love you" and "I'm sorry" and "you are my world" all in one quiet sentence.
I have been in such a weird little!Kurt mood lately. This idea popped into my head when I was writing "Be My Best Friend," which is a drastically happier little!Kurt oneshot, but it takes place in July after Mollie's death, and it made me start to think about how Burt, practical and sensible and pragmatic Burt, transitioned from just being Kurt's dad to being the primary caregiver to a sensitive, temperamental, adorable little boy that he has never exactly understood.
So this happened.
I am greatly indebted to Ali, who gave me such beautiful advice and helped me shape this into something more cohesive than just a rambling character study. Her name on LJ is of-a-crescendo, and if you haven't read her stories, you should rectify this immediately. She is the master of lyrical angst, which is why I deferred to her and her advice when I wrote this, and she has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion.
I hope you...well, enjoyed is probably a poor choice of words, but I hope this was good.