The Anderson Boys

Family though; that's something you're sort of stuck with forever.

Blaine Anderson's childhood was painfully unremarkable, very normal, very average. His family was upper middle class, which meant they got video game systems for Christmas, got to go on family vacations every summer. They'd get a shopping spree right before the start of the school year for new supplies and the newest trendiest clothes, and they were rewarded with allowance every week provided they did their chores or helped around the house. It meant they never knew what it was like to go without Christmas and birthday presents, that they got a pocket full of change for the arcade.

They weren't rich, no, they were comfortable. His parents – his father a pediatrician and his mother a teacher – were the saving kind. They instilled in their boys to earn things, that not everything will be handed to them.

Blaine Anderson – he has an older brother and a younger brother, which puts him right in the middle of a 7 year age difference. Cord, tall and lithe and unabashedly rebellious was out of Ohio like a shot at eighteen and never looked back, not really. Mayer, the youngest of the Andersons, was the star athlete, the golden boy. He played football, got straight A's. He was popular and handsome and tall.

Blaine will be the first to admit he's the textbook middle child. As a kid, his parents fought constantly over and with Cord, who was four years older than Blaine and was hitting his stride as a teenager when Blaine was just getting out of grade school. For those tumultuous years Blaine came second fiddle to Cord's antics and Mayer's just plain existence (he was the baby, after all).

The Andersons were well-known boys and all for different reasons. Cord was known for being artistic and rebellious, Mayer for being the one that everyone's kid knew and was friends with. Blaine was the poster-child of the well adjusted, the one that was always found tucked at his mother's side with a smile and good manners.

Together they painted a picture of the typical American family, really, and they are – they're not anything special. Even on the worst days of his childhood Blaine never felt really neglected or unloved – even when his parents couldn't make his concerts because they had to go to one of Mayer's games, or when they refused to let him try out for the local theater production of "Annie" because his mother didn't have time to drive him to and from rehearsals. It was simply something he'd always accepted, always took in stride.

Cord was the older one who pushed and prodded and screamed for attention; Mayer was the baby and the golden boy. Blaine was the easy child; the one that gained praise but wasn't fawned over, that could be easily forgotten sometimes. He didn't hate it, really – while Cord was stomping around his room and slamming doors and Mayer had to answer a million questions about homework and his classmates and his games, Blaine got to retreat to his room with no questions asked.

Blaine's relationship to his brothers has always been bizarrely back and forth; as young kids they were tied to one another tightly. They got along fairly well and they all had common interests. Their mother was very adamant about making sure they understood that they were to come first in each other's lives, always – because they were family, and family is important.

It'd always felt good to have brothers, because they were built in friends. While only child friends whined about summer days alone, Blaine had Cord and Mayer and it was always always a good time. Even being tugged along on weekend shopping trips with their mother would end up being an adventure because they would never be bored. One of them would invent a game or tell a joke or sing a song and it'd work itself out. It was rare that they weren't in one another's pockets, and even after an argument they'd come back to one another without a second thought. Mayer and he were closer when Blaine was in elementary school, and it was Mayer that instilled that love of football in him – while Blaine had always been small and awkward, Mayer had been lithe and a quick runner and built broad in the shoulders. Football was Mayer's thing but Blaine got to experience with and through him.

Cord, though, was the brother Blaine could relate to more as he got older; as Cord entered high school and Blaine approached middle school. It was partly because of Cord's artistic view on the world and his ability to turn the world completely on its' head, but it's mainly because Cord was a high schooler and that was – that was just cool.

Cord got his driver's license at sixteen and he'd take Blaine out for ice cream and long drives and they'd play loud music and sing along forever. Even in Cord's battered old Mazda listening to The Smiths on repeat Blaine was inspired. Occasionally Cord would take both he and Mayer to the homemade ice cream shop two towns over in Lima on hot summer nights and those had been Blaine's favorite nights. Their parents weren't there; their friends weren't there. Cord wasn't distracted by his girlfriend of the moment or the latest art sculpture he was making. Mayer, still young and fresh-faced at 10 was unconcerned about the cool kids at school seeing him with his dorky older brothers.

They'd order sundaes with whatever toppings they wanted, not worrying about scrutiny from their mother, and they'd talk. They'd talk and they'd tease and they'd complain about their parents and school and whatever societal pressures three middle class teenagers really felt by their parents and school and their peers.

To this day Blaine will say he never felt slighted or unloved by his brothers. Even when their parents missed everything, Cord and Mayer saw Blaine. They appreciated Blaine. It's the kinship and camaraderie that only came with having siblings. The ability to know, inherently to relate to your brother because only you three know what it's like to be an Anderson. Even if they were three very different people (and they very much were), there was always a respect for one another, because their past tied them together.

It wasn't until Blaine started getting bullied that he felt the impact of being overlooked by his parents, of being the one in the background. The bruises started, the slurs scribbled against his lockers began. He once walked into the house with dirt all over his jeans and his cheek bruised and because his mother was distracted by Mayer traipsing through the living room with dirt caked cleats and Cord's volume on his stereo that he went virtually unnoticed beyond a cursory hello. Even later, at the dinner table there weren't even questions about why he'd changed his clothes after school, about why his cheek was red and his eyes puffy from crying.

What they didn't see because they weren't there to notice him – really notice him – was that this was the start of the downhill spiral. At thirteen, Blaine Anderson already knew what it felt like to be hated for something he didn't even understand yet. At thirteen, he'd been pushed down, mocked and spit at. At thirteen, Blaine Anderson started to not recognize the people sitting around him at dinner because they didn't seem to really recognize him.

And so began the disconnect, then. Blaine stopped being okay with being forgotten, but didn't have the will to fight to be heard, either, so he did the only thing a kid being neglected, battered, bruised and forgotten could – he retreated further. He retreated until he was lost, really.

While Mom and Dad didn't seem to see, to notice as Blaine started to retreat – Cord and Mayer certainly did. At ten and seventeen respectfully neither brother were equipped to deal with a volatile Blaine. They'd watched as Blaine got angrier, more withdrawn. They watched as he'd go to bed earlier and earlier. They watched as their fun-loving, singing, happy go lucky brother retreated into a solemn slip of a boy who didn't have much to say.

Later, much later, Mayer will admit that those days were dark and difficult for both he and Cord. They didn't really know what to do, not really, and they were bound by non-spoken brotherly code not to run back to their mother with concerns over something they didn't even understand. So they tried to draw him out – tried to make him laugh. The drives in Cord's Mazda got longer and Mayer begged his mother to go with them more often. They'd sit silently in the car, music cranked, left alone to their thoughts.

In retrospect, it was a very very difficult place for three young boys to be in.

It was one of these rides that Cord pulled the car over and looked at Blaine, whose were eyes perfectly narrowed and icy. It's the coldest either of them had ever seen Blaine, the most distant. Mayer feared this Blaine, felt like he was looking at a stranger.

Mayer will remember this moment forever.

"You need to stop being so quiet lately, man," Cord spoke up as he pushed the gearshift into park and yanked the key to 'off'. The radio cut off and the car was plunged into silence. From his seat in the back Mayer can see Blaine's profile – the curly hair he'd always battled with, the frown that seemed to adorn his face as a default expression these days. He unbuckles his seat and slides to the middle to see Cord's face, too, his older brother's stubbly face and tired eyes and paint-spattered tee shirt. None of them are good with feelings, it wasn't the Anderson way, not really, but they knew this was safe space. Nothing has ever not gone unspoken between them. Cord and Mayer weren't oblivious to the way in which they were treated compared to Blaine – it had almost always been an inside joke between the three, and Blaine had always seemed fine with it. It's only lately, when Blaine had been coming in roughed up and sad looking and lost and not saying anything that they're starting to realize that something is just very very wrong.

Blaine doesn't answer for a moment, and he doesn't look at his brothers, either, because he doesn't know what to say. At thirteen, Blaine Anderson was in 8th grade and he was just understanding that being gay wasn't okay – at least not in his middle school, most likely (from what's been reading on the internet) not even in the country, perhaps not even in the world. He was trying to grapple with what it means, how it can change people's perceptions of you, how it can make people hate you just for existing. He hadn't even come out, not really – just rumors, just slander – and suddenly he's disliked.

He's now sitting in the car with his older brother and his younger brother and he has no answers for them. He doesn't even know where to start, really, because he loves his brothers. He trusts his brothers, he respects his brothers. He's afraid though; he's so terrified because they still looked at him the same. Cord was in high school and Mayer was still in elementary and somehow the rumors haven't jumped schools yet and he's so so scared that once he tells them his only strength, his only will, will be pulled from under his feet.

He can't lose them, too.

So he sits there for a while, silent, and he knows he must look bad and it must be bad if neither of his brothers are saying anything. Outside it starts raining and Blaine knows in about fifteen minutes they're going to get a phone call from their mother prompting them to return home because she fears for her kids on the slippery highway.

Right now, though, Blaine's still sitting there and Cord's fingers are tight on the steering wheel and Mayer's green eyes are wide and confused.

"I'm gay," He says finally, and it's not until he says the words that he realizes he had been crying for who knows how long and that's probably why Mayer's been looking so lost. The air seems sucked from the car for a moment and Cord even takes a deep breath and Blaine's so hysterical now that his breath is hitching in gross sobs and even ten-year-old Mayer knows what 'gay' is. Even on the elementary school playground it's thrown around like a slur.

"Okay. Okay," Cord finally says, and he's reaching across the car touch Blaine's shoulder, "Are you sure?"

Blaine's not sure what to say to that because he's spent the past year hoping that he wasn't sure – but no, he's definitely, definitely sure. Unfortunately so. He feels like he should be upset by the inquiry but he knows this is how Cord learns, how he comes to terms with things. He questions them, prods them.

"Yes, yes I'm sure." He forces himself to stop crying because he's an Anderson. They don't cry, not even when pushed in the dirt for being a faggot. Not even when telling your brothers you're gay.

"Okay, dude. Seriously. You know me – live and let live, right? Is that what all this is? Are you scared of telling us? Of Mom and Dad? What's going on?"

Blaine looks out at the stretch of highway that's out in front of them from where they're parked on the shoulder. Mayer's still silent in the backseat but suddenly there's a small fist clutching at the shoulder of his tee-shirt and Mayer's pressed himself into the small space between the driver's side and passenger's side seats, getting closer to Cord and Blaine.

"I've been getting made fun of at school," Blaine finally admits, and if you asked him today Blaine will admit that it was more the bullying thing than the gay thing that was scariest to admit to. Sounds backwards, yes, but he knows his family. He knows his father. He knows.

"Pushed around. Bobby McMain wrote horrible things all over my locker, people call me a faggot all the time. I didn't even come out, not really, I don't – I think it was Kelly Leads that told someone because I'd said some actor in a magazine was cute at lunch. I thought she was my friend, I thought she already sort of knew – I don't know, but she seemed fine and then soon after I started getting pushed around."

Blaine hears Cord take a deep breath and for the first time he looks over and Cord's – yep – he definitely has his mad face on. Blaine feels cold all over for a moment until he speaks up.

"Bobby McMain? Anyone else? Give me names, Blaine."

Blaine's eyes widen in the realization that Cord's asking because he wants to go after these guys.

"It doesn't matter," He replies, because although the thought of his brother hunting down his tormentors and going after them seems like the best idea ever, he knows it's really the worst, "I just – I just don't know what to do. I feel like no one's on my side."

"We're on your side," Mayer says, and that's simply that.

Not much else is said that day as the rain pelts down on Cord's Mazda. Their mother calls five minutes later and they have to get home. As they pull into the driveway, though, Cord and Mayer promise not to say anything to their parents – and they don't.

It's not all perfect, of course, because they are boys. They are confused. They're a bit ignorant. Cord, being the oldest, is the easiest to adjust to this new knowledge about Blaine. He doesn't look at him any differently, doesn't treat him any differently. He's always been a little new age, though, a little more progressive. It'd had started as a rebellious attitude against their father's more conservative views, but as he'd grown up, he'd started to truly adopt those beliefs. He had friends of all shapes, colors, and sexualities. He listened to weird folk music and went to concerts wherein the band members of said bands dressed up in dinosaur costumes. He smoked pot and painted his first girlfriend head to toe in gold paint (it had been a weekend when their parents were away, but Blaine never thought he'd walk into their backyard to find a five foot eleven dreadlocked blonde girl painted all over in gold, not ever).

Mayer had a little bit more trouble adjusting because he didn't understand, not really. He was still plagued by the definition of it, of how the title and the slurs were thrown around in such a casual and derogatory manner. Half the time he didn't understand why Blaine got so upset when someone called him a faggot ("It's just a word, Blaine!") the other half he couldn't grasp what it meant to be gay and why Blaine was ("So you like guys then? Why?"). It wasn't hate, it was ignorance, and Blaine was patient with Mayer because he knew his brother loved him, but it was a difficult road at times because there were days he came home bruised and depressed and the last thing he wanted was a barrage of questions from Mayer that unintentionally were offensive and derogatory.

The one thing they all agreed upon, though, was that Blaine was in charge of whether or not he'd tell their parents and if he was, how he'd do it. Meanwhile, Cord worked behind the scenes the best he could – squashing rumors if they appeared, talking to the older siblings of the boys who were harassing Blaine. The next year Blaine would be in high school with him – and even if it's just a year, Cord was prepared to keep an eye on his brother.

So the summer before Blaine's freshman year at their high school the three of them re-grouped. Their family vacation that summer was to the Jersey Shore and between playing volleyball on the beach and riding the rides on the pier until they were sick, they strategized on how to make freshman year the best for Blaine. Cord taught him how to stand tall, to deflect the insults, how to look ahead.

So Blaine had gone into his freshman year confident and yet humble. It was a chance to start fresh, to leave the hate behind. It wasn't easy – there were still people who glared at him, called him names, but it didn't feel as bad.

Whether that was Cord's doing or Blaine's own toughening skin, he's not sure – but by the time the Sadie's Hawkins' dance came around he had no problem asking Stephen to the dance. His friendship had been so so important to him; they'd found kinship in the one thing that the two of them shared. While Blaine would still consider Cord and even young Mayer his best friends, it was Stephen who understood what it meant to be a gay teenager in Ohio.

It didn't really help that Blaine was pretty besotted with Stephen and his goofy grin.

Still unwilling to come out to his parents, Cord helped him cover for the Sadie's Hawkins, saying the Jill O'Connor, a sophomore, had asked Blaine to go. Their parents, always vacant when it comes to Blaine (Cord had started a new campaign to get a tattoo and Mayer made the dean's list that week so it was hard for them to see past either of those things), didn't even question that they never met Blaine's date, that she didn't come over for photos.

In the end, Cord was at the dance with his girlfriend, dancing to really really bad techno music in his suit made of newspapers when Blaine and Stephen were beaten up outside waiting for Stephen's dad.

He wasn't there to stop it; he wasn't there to step in or even throw a punch back.

In the end he found out the way that all of this pain for Blaine had started – through a rumor. By the time he'd pieced as much information together as he could, he was getting a hysterical phone call from their mother.

Everything was different then.

Blaine transfers to Dalton Academy in Westerville the next week because he's so so afraid. Despite Cord's insistence that he wouldn't ever let anything happen to him again Blaine goes because he's smart.

In the end, Cord doesn't blame him.

Westerville is six hours away and that means Blaine's dorming there – in this fancy school with murals on it's walls where he'll wear a blue blazer with red piping and slick his hair back until he doesn't look anything like the boy they grew up with.

Mayer, 11 and in his first year in middle school, cries after they drop Blaine off at that place, that cold, stark place. To Blaine it looks like freedom. To Cord and Mayer it looks like a prison.

Their parents, still and silent as ever, now are left with the two sons they seemed to only have noticed in the first place. Cord's never hated his mom and dad but now he does, so so much.

Blaine gets a solo in the Dalton Academy Warblers the first week he's there. He's deleted his facebook (he says temporarily but Cord's not so sure) so Cord and Mayer find out in an email wherein Blaine uses a lot of exclamation points and smiley faces.

Cord is still a little angry with Blaine. He doesn't answer the email.

Mayer is still confused; hurt. He responds with : "Well isn't that good for you."

When Blaine comes back for Christmas break he's so much brighter looking Cord has to look away a bit. The heavy darkness that seemed to overshadow his brother was gone and in its place was this stranger – this stranger with slicked back hair and perfect lapels and Windsor knots. Blaine looked like he'd stepped out of a magazine, even out of uniform – sitting straight in his chairs, manners impeccable and soft but well spoken like the perfect gentleman.

The first dinner together is awkward for everyone but Blaine, who talks to their parents like a grown-up, like an adult. He inquires about work and life and talks about the weather and local politics and Mayer literally gags in annoyance, which earns him a stern look from their father and a scolding from their mother.

Later, both Mayer and Cord approach Blaine in his bedroom where he's unpacking and they stare him at a while – well, at least until he actually cracks a little under their scrutiny and has the decency to look a little sheepish.

"Can I help you?" Blaine finally speaks up, standing straight from where he was bent over his suitcase. He's still wearing his uniform, blazer and all, and Cord can't help but look him up and down with his eyebrows raised.

"Oh hey, I don't think we've met – I'm Cord Anderson and this is Mayer Anderson and oh wait – yeah, you're Blaine, right? The brother we grew up with? Because I don't seem to recognize you."

Blaine deflates a little at that, looking a tad hurt, a tad dejected. It's fleeting though, because his shield is suddenly up again and he sits on the edge of his bed, looking at Mayer and Cord idling in the doorway.

"I'm sorry you feel that way," Blaine says, looking at them with a stern gaze, "But this is who I am now. I need this."

There's something in the way he says it that breaks Cord's resolve, dissolves his anger. Blaine is still vulnerable, still guarded, even in the safe haven of Dalton. He's just unsure if this sort of protective measure is really any better than the way Blaine had closed off prior to moving to Dalton. It's up in the air, really – and it will be for a long time. Cord does know, though, that Blaine's safe there, even if he's becoming an automaton.

Mayer's quiet next to him, breathing in deep breaths and looking a little lost. Cord's going to have to do some damage control on him, he knows. It's hard for an 11 year old to realize that his big brother isn't abandoning them; that he needs to do this to save himself.

"At least change out of that ugly uniform," Cord says, placing a hand on Mayer's shoulder to guide him away from Blaine's room.

They leave him there, Blaine, because it hurts a little to see him that way, no matter how necessary they know it is.

The first time they see Blaine perform in a venue that's not church choir or Cord's car it's the King's Island Christmas Spectacular. The rehearsals have severely shortened his time at home and despite the fact that when he's not at rehearsals he's there there's still a disconnect. Blaine spends his time online or reading or practicing and stays out of the way.

Their parents are a little more interested in him these days, and Cord chalks it up to the fact that Blaine's now an enigma. A grown up in a teenager's body, the boy they'd once put on the back burner now looking different and bright and adult.

Cord and Mayer, by default, hate what this has done to their family, to their brother. It feels like a farce, sometimes, the conversations, the tiptoeing. He wishes Blaine would dance in the car with him, read comic books or let him spray paint him colors or sketch him like he used to.

For someone who's only been gone for a few months Blaine is pretty much a stranger.

They both fear what it'll be like when the time away gets longer.

So they go to the Christmas Spectacular and it's the first time the Blaine they knew sort of really shined through since he'd come home, because no matter how much of a front he tries to put on, Blaine's personality cannot hide when he's singing and dancing. It's great to watch him, to see the boy they'd grown up with.

On the way home their parents praise Blaine – because yes, this is the very first time they'd seen him perform like that, even though it's definitely not the first time he has performed at all. Cord's never hated his parents so much until that moment, listening to them gush about Blaine's stage presence and singing voice as if he hadn't put on impromptu performances in their den a dozen times, as if he hadn't played at open mic nights. From where he's sitting next to Blaine squished into the backseat of their father's SUV, he can see the fake gratitude on his brother's eyes, the false happiness in the praise.

Even at his most guarded Blaine's never been able to hide his emotions in his eyes. It's something they all had inherited from their mother. Regardless of her cold stature and front she'd always been so vocal through her eyes. It was kryptonite, mostly because her specialty was "disappointment".

In the end, Cord gets Blaine to take a drive with he and Mayer before he has to return to school for the second semester. They don't say much of anything, not really, just listen to music and sit in silence and it's cathartic just as much as it's frustrating.

Blaine doesn't come home for the summer, opting instead for staying at Dalton and being a counselor for their academic camp program for incoming freshman.

He comes home for exactly a week and is gone before either of his brothers can really register the differences.

That August, Cord leaves for the School of Visual Arts in New York City and Mayer's left alone in the Anderson house, his last year in middle school ahead of him and two brothers trying to run away as fast as they can. One can't help but feel a little abandoned, even if Cord skypes with him every week and his email correspondence with Blaine is brief and polite.

As an adult Mayer will look back on these moments alone with his parents in anger, in annoyance, because neither of them seemed frazzled or bothered by the fact that they never talked about the two sons that now lived out of their house. It was like Cord and Blaine never existed, sometimes, like they'd just been a figment of their imagination. He'd sat and stared at his parents, at their thick-shells and wondered if they knew that they were driving their sons away.

Turns out they don't, but that's something even Mayer won't realize until much, much later.

Blaine meets Kurt Hummel the fall of his junior year when he comes to spy (badly) on the Warblers. He's so obvious about it it's really cute and Blaine attaches himself to Kurt like glue as soon as possible. He sees something in the other boy that reminds him of himself a little more than a year ago, and he just wants to help – so he tries. He gives bad advice and kind of pushes Kurt away while he's pulling him in and he makes a lot (a LOT) of mistakes but suddenly there Kurt Hummel is, singing a song inspired by a dead canary and he looks just so perfect that Blaine can't help the feelings that rush through him.

He realizes at that moment that he hasn't helped Kurt – Kurt, in fact, has helped him. He had distanced himself from the boy he was before Dalton but a brush of Kurt's shoulder and a small smile had instilled the need for him to capture some of who he used to be again. Kurt saw through the façade and reached something in him. Blaine hasn't laughed so hard since before the bullying had started, hadn't smiled so much since he'd moved out of his house. He finds a tether in Kurt, a lifeline, and he hangs on tight.

"How come you don't talk about your brothers that much?" Kurt asks one day – and this is after their first kiss but before Kurt goes back to McKinley so they're curled up together in Blaine's room, pressed head to toe, arms around one another's waists. Blaine's never been so comfortable so close to another person before and he's so grateful for it, grateful for Kurt and his beautiful presence in his life because he's never felt so whole again.

He's starting to genuinely feel like the boy he was and the boy he's become is melding to be who he really is, who he really wants to be.

The question takes him off guard, sort of, because they hadn't ever spoken at length about Blaine's brothers or his family, not really. Kurt knows they exist and he'd seen a photo but it's easy to forget Blaine had a life before Dalton, sometimes.

"I don't know," He replies as he curls his fingers in Kurt's sweater and nuzzles his face into his neck. He feels Kurt's leg as he drapes it over his own and curls his ankles over Blaine's, "I really don't."

Kurt's fingers tangle into his escaping curls and his heart feels heavy. The other boy doesn't say anything, nothing at all, because he knows Blaine. He knows that's not it – that that's not the end all be all of it and that Blaine's still processing the question. That's how well he knows this boy.

"I think I'm ashamed," He finally admits, because that's definitely it. He feels Kurt tug a little at his curls so he looks up and he's suddenly drowning in glasz – Kurt's eyes piercing his in a wonderful, touching manner. The concern there is palpable and Blaine has to tighten his grasp on Kurt's sweater to ground himself to the moment.

"I feel like I've abandoned them," He admits, moving forward a bit until his nose is brushing Kurt's from where it's on the pillow, "I feel so bad. I don't know where to start."

Kurt's hand cups his cheek and Blaine's expecting the kiss only because he can tell these days when Kurt's going to kiss him. It's sweet and chaste but Blaine clings to the moment for as long as he can.

"You didn't abandon them," Kurt insists, "You had to do this for yourself. It's not too late, you know."

Blaine looks at Kurt, really looks at him – appreciates him - feels himself falling in love with him.

"How do I start?"

Cord and Mayer Anderson never thought they'd see Blaine like this ever again when he comes home for summer vacation after his junior year not in uniform with a bright grin on his face. He looks different – again – and Cord, who'd been away at school for the year and Mayer – who's now going into high school and has gained four inches since Blaine had last saw him, look just as strange and unfamiliar to him as he does to them. He opts to go without the gel and he dismisses his parents upon entering, throwing his stuff in his room and appearing at the doorway of Cord's where the two other Anderson brothers were playing X-Box.

"Anyone up for some ice cream?"

He drives, because he can and he needs to be in control of this moment, of this experience. They feel off in the car, a little awkward because it's been nothing but quick emails and texts between them for a long time now. Their chemistry is off and they're not the boys they once were. It's filled with the standard catching up conversations – talks about school, classes, extra curriculars.

They settle in with their desserts in a particularly awkward silence and Blaine knows his brothers are testing him, waiting for him to talk because he'd arranged this outing. He'd prompted it. Cord had been the one to do so nearly two years ago and now it's Blaine's turn.

"I don't know what's happened," Blaine finally says, abandoning his coffee flavored ice cream, looking at them, "I feel like I've been lost for a long time."

Cord watches Mayer out of the corner of his eye because he's most worried about him, really, in the grand scheme of things. They used to be glued together, the three of them, they'd hold a united front against their distant and somewhat cold parents and they'd propped Blaine up during his downward spiral. When Blaine had distanced himself, it'd sort of caved. Their support system had collapsed and they'd been left to fend for themselves, really.

"I wasn't fair to you – either of you." Blaine admits, "You both had done nothing but support me but I ran away."

Mayer's crumbling and they both can see it – he's always been argumentatively the most sensitive of them, even if he projected being the most well-adjusted. He was fragile in a way that a lot of young popular kids are – in a way that it's all a shield to what they're really feeling. It's remarkable sometimes how those kids are so much alike the ones on the bottom tier sometimes.

Cord's guilty too, he knows, running to New York City and leaving Mayer alone to fend for himself, but at what point do you run to save your own sanity and stop being 100% concerned with other people – even siblings?

The force at which Mayer drops his fist to the table causes the surface to rattle ominously and both Cord and Blaine flinch, looking at Mayer with concerned gazes.

"You both left me there, alone. Do you know how stupid that is? I feel so alone. It sucks so hard."

"I'm sorry, okay?" Blaine continues, "It might not be worth much but I am."

Mayer looks away, fingertips white with how tightly he's clutching the tabletop. He looks so young at that moment, despite his new height – his dark hair comically stuffed under a backwards baseball hat and polo stained with chocolate syrup from his sundae.

What a picture they must make, three obviously related boys with such different styles and looks. Mayer looks like he'd stepped out of Abercrombie, polo shirt and baggy khakis, backward baseball cap, dirty tennis shoes. Cord's hair is longer now, much longer than when he'd lived at home – he and Blaine had been cursed with the curls – and it was bedraggled and messy and he looked at ease and comfortable in a paint-splattered tee-shirt and dickies and boots. Blaine's there with his short curls and a plaid shirt and cardigan, fitted jeans and clean Converses, looking like he'd stepped out of a fifties film. They are so mis-matched and yet fit so neatly together, the three Anderson boys looking so alike and so different – perfect contrasts of one another.

"You look good, little brother," Cord finally says, looking at Blaine's soft expression, "A little more like the kid we knew, though. Any particular reason?"

And Cord knows what that reason is, really – he's been in love before and he knows how it looks on his own face so it's easily recognizable on Blaine who looks creepily like him but shorter. Mayer's still silent but he seems more intrigued now; more interested.

"Um," Blaine blushes – fucking blushes – and Cord has to laugh, he can't help it.

At Cord's laugh Mayer's serious expression breaks and suddenly all three of them are grinning dopily at one another.

"Spill it, Blainers," Mayer jumps in, and it feels okay then, easy. It feels like the old days and both Mayer and Cord lean in instinctually.

"Uh…I have a boyfriend?" Blaine admits, smiling sheepishly.

"Why do you have a question mark at the end of that statement?" Cord laughs and Blaine shakes his head a bit, leaning back in his chair and fiddling with the forgotten spoon, "Does he not know he's your boyfriend?"

Blaine laughs, and it's the first time in a long time they've seen Blaine smile so genuinely and honestly. The smiles and laughs he'd presented at family dinners in the past when visiting home had always seemed like an act. This was the Blaine they remembered.

"He knows. We've been together for five months, I guess? But he was my best friend first." Blaine continues, still pink around the cheeks and the tips of his ears, "I really want you guys to meet him."

He's sincere about that, too – because while he's still not ready to present his parents with Kurt in fear of their reactions (it's a shame that the 'gay' thing is still an unspoken thing in their household – never mentioned, never discussed. They know, of course they do, but it seems like their parents treat it like something that would go away if not talked about), he wants Kurt to meet Mayer and Cord because they're important to him and Kurt's important to him and it's just, well, important that all of these people meet one another.

"I'd like to meet him," Mayer says, and Cord nods. The look of relief on Blaine's face is tangible and Cord's heart breaks for his brother, for this kid sitting across from him clearly in love and clearly still afraid of what people think.

After that the conversation turns familiar, and by the time they head home the three of them feel renewed; rejuvenated. They have a long road to go, but it's definitely a start.

Blaine introduces Cord and Mayer to Kurt at the barbecue at the end of that summer that Finn had decided to throw. It'd started out as a good idea but it seems Finn's forgotten he's not any sort of cook and Kurt ends up being the barbecuer less than fifteen minutes into the thing. The rest of New Directions is there and some of the Warblers, too, all crazed and excited for their senior year and Mr. and Mrs. Hummel are lurking both indoors and out to make sure nothing gets out of hand.

It's a tumultuous time to introduce his brothers to his boyfriend and his new friends but it seems fitting to throw them into this world just as randomly as he'd been thrown into it, really. When they show up Kurt's wearing a flowery apron and a frown, clearly berating a frazzled Finn who's absolutely the reason why the backyard smells like charred meat. As they cross the yard, Blaine watches as Puck chucks a fully-clothed Santana in the Hummel-Hudson pool and sees Rachel arguing with Mercedes over the music choices. It's absolutely hectic and yet absolutely perfect, truly. He can't help but smile, especially when Puck leans over to help Santana out and she just pulls him in after her with a devilish cackle.

"Blaine!" Kurt's voice is there, suddenly, and Blaine's suddenly rewarded with an armful of smiling boyfriend. Blaine hugs him tight, kissing him on the cheek as he pulls away to turn to his brothers.

Cord looks delighted by the madness; Mayer a little overwhelmed, but they both look excited, and Kurt's smile is bright and charming and perfect as he reaches out his hand to shake theirs.

"I'm Kurt – Kurt Hummel."

Later, Cord will admit that this was the moment he knew that what he was seeing between Kurt and Blaine was forever. He can tell by the look in his eyes, by the soft smile on Blaine's face. Even later than that, Mayer will agree he knew it then, too, but had been pretty distracted by a soaked-through Santana climbing out of the pool in her skimpy skirt.

One day they'll present a united front, the five of them (that's including Finn), when Mr. and Mrs. Anderson make it very clear they don't approve of Blaine's choice to marry Kurt. They'll support Blaine and Kurt and become just as important to the Hummel-Hudsons as Blaine himself is. Both Burt and Carole Hudson have a lot of love to give and they welcome the Anderson boys into the fold as easily as they'd accepted Blaine.

In the end, there will be a day when Mr. and Mrs. Anderson will want their sons back, and they'll find that it's quite possible that they've lost them, at least temporarily. Looking at the three boys they'd raised support one another through thick and thin is bittersweet, because they'd caused that strength through their emotional neglect, really.

It'll be bittersweet and it'll be painful but the Anderson boys were not raised to be cruel or selfish so they'll open their hearts to their parents again, if they really want them to.

The Anderson boys were the kind of boys that had unremarkable childhoods – skinned knees, propelling themselves through sprinklers and wrestling one another to the ground. They were the kind of boys that were unremarkable until you truly saw them – saw who they were, who they are, and most of all – what they had to overcome to get where they are now.

The Anderson boys are unremarkable, yes – at least until you learn how remarkable they really, truly are.