Author's notes: Something I wrote up yesterday. I've been fairly ill the past two days and it's made me kind of productive. I should have a new chapter up for Games in the next day or so. This was, as always, a fill for a prompt on the glee_angst_meme on LiveJournal.
Burt leaned hard against the wall of the garage, frowning at the silence from the receiver shoved against his ear. The stupid phone in the shop always took forever to connect calls, and Burt's patience had reached its end hours ago.
Kurt knew better than this. He was supposed to call when he got home, no ifs, ands or buts. Yeah, he knew he was being a bit overprotective, but this was his boy, and Burt needed these stupid phone calls to reassure himself that Kurt had made it home safely, especially after the incident last year where those kids had broken Kurt's arm. He wasn't sure he could bear another call from the school telling him that his son had been taken to the hospital because of an 'incident.'
And really, these calls were the one thing he asked from his son, but apparently it wasn't important enough to remember on a regular basis.
He jammed the receiver between his ear and shoulder, freeing his arms to cross tightly over his chest. The twisted old cord swung ineffectually against his legs, tapping against the coarse denim of his jeans in a quick, even rhythm.
Tap, tap, tap. The phone was finally ringing.
He was going to kill Kurt when he got home.
Was it really that much to ask him to call? It wasn't as though he was asking the boy to move Mount Everest. Just one measly call once he got home form school.
Burt had had just about enough of this. He could feel his face heating with repressed rage. He was ready to march over to Matt and let him know that he was headed home early to beat some sense into his son. The chord kept up its steady beat against his legs.
Kurt was going to have a lot of explaining to do when he got home.
Fi—"Hello?" Burt's heart skipped a beat, and his anger melted away in an instant. No, it couldn't be…but that sounded just like…
"Emily?" he whispered dumbly, falling away from the wall. His shoulders sank with every passing second, causing the phone to slip from its precarious perch in the crook of his neck. The person on the other end hadn't heard him. They were still speaking, and Burt scrambled to keep his hold on the phone, desperate to hear them say something, anything at all.
"Hello? Hello, is anyone there?" No. No, it wasn't her. The pitch wasn't quite right.
"Oh my god, dad! I'm so sorry. I was just so stressed from school stuff that I completely forgot to call you when I got home. I didn't mean to worry you; I just forgot, I swear." His son continued to babble nervously into the phone, and Burt deflated as his son's rush of frantic apologies and excuses washed over him. Of course it wasn't his wife. She'd been dead for almost six years now.
"Kurt." His son kept talking. He hadn't heard him. "Kurt," he said with a bit more force this time, and Kurt stopped short, falling silent on the other end of the line. Burt lifted his hand to his forehead and rubbed the skin there with a heavy sigh. A headache was building behind his eyes. "Kurt, it's okay. Well, it's not okay that you didn't call me, but at least I know you're safe."
"Sorry, dad." Kurt's voice was soft and filled with shame, nothing at all like the woman Burt loved, and for a moment Burt wondered how he could have ever mixed the two up.
"Just—don't forget again, all right? I don't think my old heart can handle something happening to you again."
"I promise, dad."
"Good." He sighed and propped himself back up against the wall. These few minutes talking to Kurt had drained him more than a full day's work. "You want me to bring home something for dinner, then? Since you've got so much schoolwork and whatnot?"
"Uh, sure. If you want. I mean, I could make something—"
"No, don't worry about it. I'll call again before I head out. We can discuss what to do then, okay?"
"Okay." Kurt went quiet again. The phone's cord had gone back to its tapping. "Dad?"
"What is it, bud?"
"I really am sorry."
"I know, Kurt. I know."
Burt wasn't sure how he never noticed it before. Of course he'd known when Kurt's voice had broken—the boy had been mortified at the strange choking sounds and sudden changes in pitch whenever he opened his mouth for almost a month—and honestly, Burt had been secretly hoping that his son's voice dropped lower as he got older. He heard some of the taunts that got thrown Kurt's way, and some of those had definitely been about the feminine nature of his voice.
But there was little he could do about that except wait and let nature take its course. And now…now Burt wasn't really sure what he wanted anymore.
Because every time Kurt answered the phone nowadays, his tone changed just a tiny bit, and it was enough. Burt's heart skipped a beat and his breath stopped every single time Kurt picked up the phone because, for at least those first few words, that wasn't his son at the end of the line—it was his Emily.
It was like his wife had never passed away.
And damn if that didn't hurt.
"Hello?" Burt didn't answer. He simply cradled the phone to his ear and listened as hard as he could, trying to pick out the subtle differences between his son's voice and the fading memory of his wife's so he could stop doing this. But it really was so much easier to lose himself in the fantasy that she was still alive.
"Hello?" Kurt sighed into the phone, a sad sort of irritation seeping into his voice.
Oh god, this was pathetic. That was his son on the other end, no one else. But maybe…Burt cleared his throat and attempted to mask his voice, hoping that it was low enough that Kurt wouldn't recognize him.
"Hello? Is Emily Hummel here?"
He heard Kurt suck in a brief intake of air, and he froze. This was a terrible idea. What the hell was he doing? "N-no, she's dead. This is her son."
Burt's heart broke, and he quickly placed the phone back on the hook, not having the heart to respond. His heart was racing in his chest, his fingers tingling with adrenaline. What was doing? He had to stop doing this.
Hearing his wife's voice in his son's wasn't going to bring her back.
Emily was dead. And that was that.
But he found that telling himself he would stop was far different that actually following through. He found any excuse to call home when he knew Kurt was there: from the phone at work, his newly-acquired cell phone, from a pay phone on the street—anywhere would do, just as long as he could hear his not-wife's voice.
It was odd because Kurt sounded exactly like, well, Kurt when he wasn't on the phone. But something about his tone, perhaps the slight distortion of the voice traveling through the speakers, made him sound exactly like his mother whenever he answered the phone, and these calls let Burt pretend, if only for a moment or two, that his wife was really there. That she was waiting for him at home just as she'd always been before, and it was addicting.
Kurt kept insisting that they update the landline phone to at least have caller ID, but Burt refused, citing costs. He wasn't sure that he could handle Kurt knowing that it was him calling every other night before heading home from work. He really needed to stop doing this. It wasn't fair to himself. It wasn't fair to Kurt. But he couldn't make himself stop.
Oh god, he was so pathetic.
Burt couldn't move, couldn't speak. He scarcely dared to breathe.
"Hummel residence. Hello?"
Burt didn't say a word.
Kurt hung up.
"It's you again, isn't it? The one who's been calling for the past couple of weeks."
He said nothing. His words would be far more damning that his silence.
"Who are you? What do you want?"
"Leave us alone! Stop calling here!" The dial tone welcomed him again.
"Hey, Kurt, I'm home!" he called out into the empty house, shrugging off his jacket into his hands. He frowned at the lack of response. Kurt always yelled back. "Kurt?"
His footsteps seemed far too loud on the hardwood floor of the hall, and he quickly made his way toward the basement. Maybe Kurt was down there, blasting his music or something, and he hadn't heard him come in.
Burt rounded the corner, ready to barge down into his son's room, when he caught sight of a pair of socked feet huddled up against the arm of the sofa. Odd.
"Kurt?" He leaned over the back of the couch to get a better look at his son and was taken aback by what he saw. Kurt was normally so particular about his appearance, but he looked disheveled now, like someone had grabbed him by the shoulders and shaken him until he couldn't see straight. He was huddled up in an old sweater that normally hung in the back of Burt's closet, his small frame lost in the folds of fabric. Burt reached down to touch Kurt's shoulder but quickly pulled away when Kurt startled and scrambled to the other end of the couch.
"Dad?" he panted. His eyes darted quickly over Burt's face, like he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing.
Burt's frown deepened, and he made his way to the other side of the couch. "Hey, Kurt. What's goin' on?"
He saw Kurt's eyes jump over toward the kitchen—only for a moment—before latching back onto him. "I—"
"Are you okay, bud?"
Kurt began to shudder, and he curled into himself, hiding his blotchy face in too-big sleeves as his body wracked with sobs. Burt reached forward and pulled his son to his chest. His heart was pounding madly in his ears. Someone had hurt his son. Someone had hurt Kurt, and now he was crying in the living room like he hadn't in years, and someone was going to pay. Someone was going to pay dearly.
"What happened, Kurt?"
"I-I just…I don't know what—no one's there. I mean, they never say anything, but they just keep calling, and I don't know what to do anymore."
Burt froze. His son's fractured explanation made no sense and all too much sense. Kurt was upset about the calls. The phone calls that rolled in around four o' clock every day. The ones Burt himself had made.
They just keep calling, and I don't know what to do anymore.
He'd done this. He'd hurt his son trying to connect with a woman who'd been dead for years.
What the hell kind of father was he?
He clutched Kurt closer to his chest and rubbed soothing circles into his back. His mind was racing, trying to come up with a reasonable way to move forward. He couldn't tell Kurt it was him. He couldn't do that to his son. Not when he was so upset about this. Best to just play dumb. "Who's calling, Kurt?"
Kurt's breath hitched as he tried to control his tears long enough to form coherent sentences. "I-I don't kn-know," he managed to get out. He sucked in a deep breath and tried to calm himself down before continuing. "But they call the house almost every single day. They don't do anything, but they don't say anything either. I know someone's there because I can hear them breathing, but I just—I don't know what to do."
Burt nodded and drew Kurt back to his chest. The boy's face was warm and solid against his sternum, his hair soft under Burt's chin. "It's okay, Kurt. I'll get us a new phone. One with that caller ID thing you've been asking for. Then we can figure out who these guys are and track 'em down." Maybe then I can finally stop and put this behind me.
"Don't worry, Kurt. I'll make sure they won't bother us again."