Dismiss Your Fears
The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief-
But the pain of grief
Is only a shadow
When compared with the pain
Of never risking love.
Hilary Stanton Zunin
Kurt woke to the sound of beeping. He'd gotten used to the sound of it in the past week. It was a comfort, almost. It let him know that nothing had happened while he slept. His father was still alive and there was still hope that he would wake up.
Kurt stretched, grimacing at the fuzzy taste in his mouth and the ache in his neck. He'd fallen asleep at the hospital again. The nurses had tried to stop him the first time, but after he'd promptly insulted their looks, intelligence, fashion choices, and family connections, they'd left him alone. Kurt preferred it that way. He didn't want their kindness and he didn't want their pity. He wanted them to do their job and help his father wake up.
His dad looked peaceful. Kurt took his hand and carefully squeezed it. He took a long, shuddery breath when there was no response. His eyes felt dry and itchy. He'd cried so much this week that he didn't know that he had any tears left to spare. Kurt bent over and kissed his dad's hand. He even managed to smile when he imagined his father's flustered and awkward expression if Kurt had kissed his hand while he was awake. He'd be pleased with the gesture – Kurt rarely showed physical affection beyond a few hugs when they were having an emotional conversation . . . . Kurt's smile disappeared. He regretted that distance between them now.
"Good morning, Dad," he murmured. He'd been talking to his dad as much as he could. He remembered reading somewhere that some doctors thought coma patients could hear things going around them. "I guess I slept here again," he told his dad. "I know you probably aren't happy about it, but I don't like to go home. It seems really empty without you there."
Kurt sighed. With his free hand, he adjusted his bangs. He hadn't been taking care of himself much for the past week, and his hair was a wreck. Kurt really couldn't bring himself to care. Not when his dad was lying in a hospital bed, comatose.
"I'll probably have to head home soon," Kurt said quietly. He glanced at the clock in the corner of the room. 12:01 am, it read. He grimaced. "Maybe I'll just stay here for the night," he said.
For a while he was quiet, staring at his dad's chest. It was still rising and falling. If he could have done it without upsetting the various wires and tubes inserted in him, Kurt would've been on the bed in an instant, his head pressed to his dad's chest, listening to the beating heart that told him Burt was still alive. Instead, he pressed his index finger into the pulse point on his dad's wrist. The sluggish beat there relieved him. Still alive, he thought, as he had every time he visited. He always checked.
Kurt sighed, looking down at his dad. Being in the hospital all the time, talking to his dad all the time brought up memories. For the most part, Kurt's childhood had been a blur: the only clear spot he could truly remember was his mother's death. But the mind was a funny thing. Spending all this time with his dad and talking to him as Kurt did . . . it brought back memories. Sometimes he would just be sitting quietly, not thinking about anything, and then a memory would hit him. It would be something that he'd completely forgotten about until then, a memory that had blurred and disappeared as he'd gotten older.
For instance, as he stared at his father, Kurt suddenly remembered his seventh birthday party. It had been a small affair, only him and his parents. His mother had been at work for most of the day, but his dad had stayed home to be with Kurt. Kurt smiled a little.
"Dad," he started quietly, "do you remember my seventh birthday party? Mom was at work and you made a picnic . . . . Well, Mom made a picnic," he amended with small smile. "You still couldn't cook without burning the kitchen down." He stared down at his father's hand for a moment.
"I'd seen Aladdin for the first time the day before, I think," he continued quietly. "And I remember telling you how much I loved it . . . . Or, more specifically, how pretty I thought Aladdin was." Kurt shook his head with a small laugh. "Honestly, looking back, I'm not really surprised that you knew I was gay. What kind of normal seven-year-old boy thinks Aladdin is prettier than Jasmine?"
Kurt bit his lip, laughter dying. "I remember saying that I wanted to find someone to sing songs with, since that would show we were in love. And even then, even knowing that I was probably thinking of a boy in the future instead of a girl, you told me that you wanted that for me too, that I'd find it someday."
"You're such an amazing person. I could never have asked for a better father." He bent his head and kissed his father's hand again. "I just wish you would wake up." He pressed his forehead to his dad's hand for a long time. "Please wake up," he whispered, closing his eyes.
A knock on the door. Kurt tensed, looking up. The doctors never knocked, nor did the nurses. Which meant it could only be his friends. Kurt bit his lip. He loved his friends, he did, but he hated that they couldn't respect his wishes about keeping their prayers to themselves. He understood that they were spiritual and they believed in God, but he didn't, and he wished that they could extend that understanding to him as well.
Kurt sighed and stood. Better to get it over with. Hopefully it was Mercedes and not Rachel. Mercedes, at least, attempted to understand.
"Come in," he said.
The door opened and Kurt's jaw dropped. It wasn't Mercedes or Rachel or any of his other friends. Instead, his Aunt Helen stood in the doorway, her clothes rumpled, a wild look on her face.
"Kurt!" she cried, striding across the room to catch him in a strong hug. She was shorter and smaller than he remembered, but her hug was a force of nature. "Oh honey, I just heard! I'm sorry it took me so long to get out here, I got the first flight I could—"
"Aunt Helen?" Kurt asked in disbelief. "You're—How did you—?"
"Carole called me," Helen told him, taking his hands in hers. Her hands were small but strong, and her grip was tight. "She told me she remembered Burt talking about having a sister and had to track me down when he—well. I was out of the door the moment I was off the phone with her." She looked Kurt over and her eyes softened. "Oh, honey. You look like shit. Have you been sleeping here?"
Kurt felt a little shaken. "Yes," he said. "I didn't—I couldn't—The house felt empty," he said.
Helen shook her head. "Aren't nurses supposed to keep you from doing things like that?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
Kurt shrugged. "I kind of told them that their efforts wouldn't be appreciated."
Helen laughed. "Gave 'em hell, huh?" she asked knowingly. "Good. Burt needs you with him." She dropped Kurt's hand and stepped around him to her brother's side. "How is he? Have the doctors said anything about how he's improving?"
Kurt bit his lip. "It's not looking good," he said. "The doctor—the doctor says that with every day he spends in the coma the likelihood of his waking up goes down. Or that if he does, then there's a likely possibility that he'll be a vegetable."
Helen's eyes looked bright. She took one of Burt's hands into her own. "Oh, Burt," she murmured.
Kurt looked away. Helen had never been a frequent visitor to their home. Kurt could count the amount of times she'd visited on one hand. In fact, he'd thought that and his dad had never gotten along, though his dad had never mentioned a feud between them to Kurt. That was why he hadn't called her when his dad had fallen into his coma. He'd thought she wouldn't care. Turning back and seeing how she clung to Burt's hand, staring down at his body, Kurt revised his opinion. Obviously she did care. Kurt wondered why she'd stayed away so much if she loved his dad so much.
"Kurt?" Helen asked, turning back to him, letting go of Burt's hand with a final pat. "Did you want to go home? I'd like to stay, but it's late and you look like you could do with a shower and night in a real bed." She smiled a little bit. "I'd kind of like one too, to be honest."
Kurt frowned. He didn't want to go home. He wanted to stay with his dad. But he knew that his aunt was probably tired and crusty from traveling, and the idea of a bed did sound very nice. And he wouldn't be alone in the house anymore. Helen would be there to drive away the silence and the loneliness, even if she wasn't Burt.
"Alright," he said.
The house was cold and dark. Kurt hadn't spent much time in it in the last few days. Whenever he opened the door, he half-expected his dad to be there, watching television or attempting to cook something or sitting on the couch, immersed in the Sports section of the newspaper.
"I'll set you up in the guest bedroom," Kurt told Helen quietly as they entered. She nodded, her eyes dark and understanding, and moved into the kitchen.
"I'll make us some food," she called over her shoulder.
Kurt had to turn away. There were too many memories in that kitchen. His dad, botching up every dinner he'd ever attempted. Learning how to cook, slowly and carefully, from his mother when he was six years old. His mother's bright laughter and her warm eyes as she made dinner every night, singing loudly and dancing with a bowl in her hand. Kurt shivered and hurried up the stairs.
The guest bedroom was cluttered with junk: they didn't usually have guests apart from occasional visits from Helen and Kurt's grandmother. Kurt slowly cleared it out or put it away, then laid down new sheets and pillow cases. Downstairs, he could hear his aunt singing. Kurt smiled a little. She sang better than his father had.
Does, Kurt reminded himself. She sings better than dad does. Using the past tense is the same as giving up. He eyed the newly made room then went downstairs. The smell of warm food was welcome and it brightened up the house more than turning on the lights had. Helen stood at the oven, flipping something in a pan.
"What are you making?" he asked, sitting down at the kitchen table.
"Stir-fry," she said. "I hope your greens are still good."
Kurt shrugged. "Probably," he said. He couldn't remember when he'd bought them.
"Well, it was either this or pancakes, and I wasn't in the mood for breakfast food," she said.
They were both silent for a long time. Helen finished the stir-fry easily, proving to be a better cook than Burt as well as a better singer, and she deftly set the table and poured out their portions. She settled into the seat across from Kurt's and they both ate. Kurt barely tasted it. He finished before Helen and took his plate to the sink to rinse off and put in the dishwasher. He made a mental note to clean it out as he did – it had been growing full in the last week despite how little time Kurt had spent at home.
"You know," Helen said from the table, "I always thought that out of the two of us, I'd be the first to go."
Kurt tensed. His hand tightened around the fork he was cleaning. Helen either didn't notice his reaction or ignored it.
"I mean, I was always the one getting into trouble when we were little, you know? I was always climbing trees and falling out of them, or getting into car accidents, or falling off of buildings or down stairs . . . Burt was always so dependable. He never got into fights, never broke a bone, not even in football. When he drove, it was always at the speed limit." Helen sighed. "I guess I always thought he'd live to be old and grey – or, well, bald – and I'd be the one dead at forty-eight."
"Stop it," Kurt said sharply. "Stop—stop talking like that."
"Kurt?" his aunt said. He heard her get up. "What are you—"
"Stop saying that he's going to die!" he said, not turning around. "He's not! You're talking like he's—like he's already dead and buried!"
"Oh Kurt," she said. Kurt hated her pity. "Kurt, you know I want Burt to live, but honey, he's already been out for a week—"
"The doctors say he needs time," Kurt said tightly.
"The doctors also don't know if he's ever going to wake up," Helen said. Bluntness ran in the Hummel genes. "Kurt, you have to be realistic about this. Burt might—"
"He's not going to leave me," Kurt said forcefully, throwing the fork into the sink. "He's not. Just shut up!"
"Kurt," Helen tried again, reaching out to him.
Kurt twisted away from his grip. Without looking at her, he hurried upstairs. He could feel the tears burning behind his eyes. He was surprised he had any left at all.
He woke up the next morning groggy and irritable. His eyes felt dried out and gritty and he tried to rub some moisture into them with little success. Grumbling under his breath, he got out of bed and made his way downstairs.
Helen was already awake and in the kitchen. Upon seeing her, Kurt paused, unsure of their standing after the argument last night. He hovered uncertainly outside of the kitchen door until his stomach grumbled loudly. Helen turned to look at him. She looked tired, but not angry. She even smiled at him.
"Come on in," she said. "I made those pancakes."
Kurt slid inside. He didn't feel ashamed for what he'd said, not really, but he did regret yelling at her.
"Here," she said, putting pancakes on his plate.
Kurt inhaled three before he put his fork down. In the back of his mind, a little voice was whispering that it'd all go down to his hips, but he ignored it. The pancakes were warm and they tasted good, and he could deal with a little fat for that.
"I was thinking we'd head over to the hospital after we're done eating," Helen said, eating her own pancakes at a slower pace.
"Alright," Kurt agreed. His voice sounded croaky. He wanted to add something. Maybe a sorry or maybe a demand to know why she was dooming his father already, but he couldn't get the words out.
He sat at the table while Helen ate her pancakes. When she was on her last one, the phone rang.
Kurt tensed. Helen froze, then slowly put down her fork. She got up and went to the phone. She stared at the caller ID for a long time. Kurt thought she was going to let the call ring out, that maybe it was a telemarketer or someone Helen didn't know calling for Burt, and he relaxed a little bit. Then Helen picked it up.
"This is Helen Hummel," she said. She listened for a moment, then said, "Kurt is here, yes, but I'm his aunt. I'd prefer it if you gave the information to me instead." Kurt was having difficulty breathing. Good news, he thought desperately. Let it be good news. Helen was listening intently. Her face gave nothing away. "I see," she said finally. "We'll come in as soon as we can. Yes, thank you. Have a good day."
Gently, she set the phone back down.
Kurt stared at her. His breath was coming in shallow gasps and his hands were tingling. It has to be good news, he thought desperately. It has to be, it has to be, it—
"Kurt," Helen said. The tenderness in her voice gave her away.
Kurt crumpled in on himself. He didn't cry, not really, but he couldn't breathe and he could feel the pancakes he'd just eaten coming back up. He felt Helen's hand on his head, then encircling him. He buried his head in her shirt.
"He's—" She couldn't get the words out. "He's gone, Kurt. He had another heart attack this morning and they lost him."
She made it sound like he'd simply wandered away, Kurt thought hysterically. As if they could wait a little while and he'd find his way back. Bile gathered in the back of his throat. Hastily, he shoved Helen away and hurried to the sink, where he threw up his pancakes and the remains of last night's dinner. He heaved for a long time, even when there was nothing left to throw up, and he stayed at the sink, trembling and dry-eyed, only the counter top keeping him from collapsing.
"Kurt," Helen said. Her voice sounded thick with tears. Kurt didn't turn around to see if she was crying. He didn't think he could move. She came up behind him and drew him into her arms. Kurt went without resistance. "Kurt, it's going to be okay—"
Rage, sudden and violent, swelled up and Kurt shoved her away. "No it's not," he spat. "How can it be okay when he's gone. He just—he left me. He promised that he never would, but he—"Kurt turned away from her, rage disappearing as quickly as it had arrived. "He promised," he whispered, more to himself than to Helen.
"I'm sorry," Helen said, drawing him back in. "Kiddo, I'm so, so sorry."
"It's not good enough," Kurt said. His throat was closing up. There weren't any tears – he'd used them all up already. His throat felt painfully tight, though, and he wondered why he was even talking. What was the use of words when his father would never speak again? What was the use of talking, of laughing, of singing? What could anyone possibly say to make this better? Nothing, Kurt thought. Nothing can ever make it better.
Helen was hugging him tight. "I'm sorry," she muttered, over and over again.
"He's dead," Kurt said, throat almost closing up as he said the words. "Sorry doesn't help much."
He drew away from Helen's arms. She tried to reel him back in, but he twisted around her and moved out of the kitchen and out of his house that contained so many memories of his father that it was hard to look at it without hurting. He didn't care where he was going, and he didn't care how he was going to get there. He just needed to get away.
The hospital was busy for the early morning, but Kurt ignored everyone else there. The receptionist at the front desk attempted to get him to stop from heading back without signing in, but Kurt ignored her and she couldn't keep up with his stride so she fell behind.
When he got to his father's room, he paused. The door was open a crack. Kurt took a deep breath and pushed it fully open. He stared at the empty, neatly made bed. Everything that had been on the table was gone – the flowers his friends and Mr. Schue had brought, the heart attack book from Brittany that Kurt had kept on the bedside table when he needed to laugh . . . everything.
"No," Kurt said, turning on his heel. He grabbed the first nurse he found. "My father, Burt Hummel, where did they put him?" he asked. The nurse stared at him, wide-eyed. Kurt glared at her. "He's not in his room, where did they move him?" He shook her. "Where did they move him?"
A hand touched his shoulder. Kurt whirled around to see his father's doctor behind him. Dr. Oliver was a young man with dark hair and eyes, and he'd been good to Kurt and Burt. Kurt stared up at him, hope rising.
"Kurt," Dr. Oliver said quietly, staring down at him with eyes that were filled with sympathy. Kurt relaxation turned into hatred. "Your father's body was taken to the morgue. I expect they'll be waiting for a visit from you to prepare the body."
"No," Kurt yelled, turning twisting out of Dr. Oliver's grip. "You're lying. He didn't—He's not—"
"Kurt, your father is dead," the doctor told him. His sympathetic look was fading to something sterner. "Trying to deny that isn't going to make it any less true."
"Doctor Oliver!" the nurse said sharply, giving Kurt a look. "He's just lost his father! Be a little kinder."
Kurt barely heard her. Everyone's saying he's dead, he thought, breathing shallowly. It isn't true. It can't be true. It's not, it's not, it's not- Kurt struck out. Dr. Oliver, the closest one to him, was the one he hit in the chest. He stumbled backwards, looking a little startled.
"He's not dead!" Kurt shouted shrilly. "He's not!" He struck out again, this time hitting the doctor in the shoulder.
"Kurt—" Dr. Oliver tried to say, grabbing at his hands, but Kurt twisted away from his grip with one of the dance moves Brittany had taught him.
"He's not dead, he can't be!" Kurt shouted. "You're lying, you have to be—" The nurse grabbed his arms to prevent him from lashing out again. "No, let me go, I want my father!"
"Get me some sort of sedative," Dr. Oliver said to one of the nurses standing nearby, watching with wide eyes.
The nurse gasped, although her grip on Kurt's arms tightened as he attempted to slide away. "Doctor, is that a good idea? I mean, he's just grieving—"
"He needs to calm down," Dr. Oliver told her, eyeing Kurt. Kurt bared his teeth at him and tried to swing again. He's a liar, he thought desperately. He deserves a punch in the face for trying to tell me dad's dead—
"Here," one of the nurses said, handing the doctor a needle. Kurt struggled more, trying to get out of the grip on him.
"No, no, I just want my dad—"
"I'm sorry, Kurt," Dr. Oliver said. He didn't look very sorry – he looked almost relieved. "Look, this will just calm you down a bit okay? When you wake up, you'll feel . . . ." He hesitated. "Well, you'll feel different. Better, hopefully."
"No, you can't, I don't—" Kurt trailed off as they stuck the needle in his arm, draining his contents in his bloodstream. As the world slowly blacked out, he heard one of the nurses yelling something. Dr. Oliver replied and then everything was dark.
Kurt woke up slowly. For a moment, he just stared at the white ceiling. Then he sat up so fast his head spun.
He was in the hospital, on one of the beds. His aunt was snoozing in one of the chairs, her bag at her feet. As he watched her, she slowly slid awake. She didn't seem to realize he was awake for a moment, but then she lunged at him and drew him into a hug.
"Oh sweetheart," she said. "God, you scared me to death. And that doctor!" She let Kurt go and took his head, fuming at the wall above his head. "Oh, I gave him a piece of my mind. Giving sedatives to a grieving teenager! I imagine he'll be fired soon after what I told the Head of the Board. Honestly, what was running through his mind? You don't give sedatives to the grieving relatives, you try and calm them down with your words. And now you've been out for a day, so clearly he not only gave you sedatives, he gave you an overdose of them, the idiot. And what if you'd been allergic? If that man isn't fired in the next week, I'm coming back and I'm suing the hospital."
Kurt stared at her. She was angry, that much was for certain, and her eyes were lit up with passion. But there were black circles underneath her bright eyes, and her hair looked unwashed and unkempt. Her skin was yellowing and her nails had been bitten down to the quick. Kurt wondered if it was because of him or Burt that she looked like she was about to keel over.
Kurt curled in on himself, sudden agony striking as he re-realized that Burt was dead. Not gone, not in the hospital, not in a coma: dead. He was never coming back. There would be no more awkward talks about boys, no more fixing cars side by side, no more cooking lessons to make sure someone other than Kurt knew how to make dinner, no more stories about his mother, no more—anything. It was all gone. Burt had been a person, he'd had memories and personality and laughter and tears and everything about him had just been erased, just like that.
Kurt put his head in his hands. Helen had finally stopped speaking.
"Kurt?" she asked tentatively, and Kurt wanted to scream at her, because if she'd been his dad she'd know what to do, but she wasn't his dad— "Kurt, are you . . . shit. I know you're not okay. Are you any better?"
Kurt didn't look up at her. His hands felt cool on his face, and it was nice not to see anything. He wished he could just never see anything again. What good were eyes when his father was dead? What good was fashion or singing or cooking when he'd never see Burt smile again, never hear him laugh or say "I'm proud of you" again? What good was there in a world where Burt Hummel wasn't alive?
"Kurt?" Helen asked again, putting her hand on Kurt's shoulder. Kurt pushed her away.
He stood, his legs still shaky, and tied his gown together with one hand so it wouldn't flap open in the back. Then, calmly as he could, he ran out. He heard his aunt calling after him, trying to chase him, he heard nurses yelling after him, but he didn't stop for anything, even when he felt like he could collapse.
"Kurt?" Mercedes said, eyes wide, standing on her doorstep. It was Saturday morning and she was dressed in her pajamas still. "Kurt? What is it? What happened? Why are you—Is that a hospital gown?"
Kurt didn't explain.
He couldn't say anything anymore.
Kurt woke to a dark room and Mercedes' voice in the background.
"I think he's alright," she was saying. Kurt sat up on the couch. "He just came here and crashed." She paused, then said, "His dad's really dead?" Her voice was free of pity. She sounded close to tears. Kurt stood and made his way to the kitchen. Mercedes was leaning against the counter. She was staring down at her hands, misery plain on her face. Tears were gathering in her eyes. Kurt wondered why she could cry and he couldn't. "I'm so sorry, Ms. Hummel." She wiped at an eye. "Kurt can stay here for as long as he wants, you know. Although . . . ." Mercedes bit her lip.
"He hasn't spoken a word since he got here, Ms. Hummel. I mean, he crashed pretty much right away, but I didn't even know his dad was dead until you called. He hasn't said anything." She listened for a long time, then said, "Alright. I'll tell him when he wakes up." She put the phone down and turned.
"Kurt!" she said, jumping. "Geez, boy, you scared me." Kurt shrugged. Mercedes eyed him, then sighed. "Come on," she said, taking him by the elbow. Kurt flinched away from her. "You look like you could with a few more hours of sleep."
Kurt stayed at Mercedes' house until the next morning, when Helen showed up on the doorstep. She looked haggard and the skin around her eyes was red and puffy.
"Kurt, honey," she said, "You need to come home."
Kurt shook his head. Helen took his hands into hers.
"What is it?" she asked. "Why aren't you talking?"
I can't, Kurt thought. Words were too much effort, too much work. All he wanted to do was sleep. Sleep for days and weeks and months, sleep until he was dead so that he could see his dad again. He was willing to believe the afterlife existed if it meant he could be with his mom and dad. He'd believe anything for a chance at that.
"Kurt, the funeral is tomorrow," Helen told him, trying to be gentle. She wasn't used to it, Kurt could tell, but he appreciated the effort. "I know this hurts, but I need you to focus buddy. Why aren't you talking? Did something happen to your voice?"
Kurt bit his lip and sighed. He found a scrap of an open envelope and a pen.
I can't, he wrote.
Helen read it and a confused crease appeared in between her eyebrows. "You can't talk? Why?"
Kurt just shook his head. Helen gave him a look of dawning comprehension that softened into something very close to pity. Kurt glared at her.
"You can talk, but you don't want to," she said. Her voice was free of condemnation. "Well, then I guess we're gonna be buying a lot more paper for the future. I'm too old to learn sign language, kid."
Kurt blinked at her. He felt the odd urge to smile, because that was something his dad would've said—
The urge to smile disappeared.
The funeral was a small affair, attended only by Kurt, Helen, Carole and Finn. Mercedes had wanted to come, but Kurt had asked her not to. He watched silently as they lowered his father's casket into the ground. Helen had been the one to arrange it, and he was glad that she had chosen something a little more expensive. Of course, expense didn't really matter when it was a casket – who was going to judge it if it was cheap, the dead bodies in the ground? The grave robbers? Still, it gave Kurt a sense of comfort to know his dad wasn't just dumped into the ground. That he was resting in comfort, as it was.
He looked over at the small party. They were all dressed in black. Helen was staring at the casket, white-faced and dry-eyed, and Carole was dabbing at her eyes, her face blotchy from the crying she'd already done. Finn, to Kurt's surprise, was openly crying as well.
Kurt had never seen Finn cry. It was on the list of things that Real Men didn't do, and Finn always tried so hard to be a Real Man. He wasn't sobbing or anything, but as the ceremony went on, silent tears rolled down his face. Always the better son, Kurt thought, with a surprising lack of bitterness. He wished he could cry. His father deserved tears, he deserved grief, and he deserved every iota of sadness Kurt possessed. He deserved to be remembered and loved and grieved over. But Kurt was just so tired of tears, so tired of crying, so tired of everything. He just wanted to sleep.
Carole was crying too. Kurt wondered sometimes if his father would've married Carole. Kurt thought Burt would've. They had been good together – they'd grounded each other. Kurt had rarely seen his dad as happy as he had been with Carole.
They started to lower the casket into the ground. Helen grabbed onto Kurt's hand, squeezing it tightly in her own. Kurt let her, his eyes fixed on the slowly disappearing coffin. My heart's going into that ground, he thought.
The tears still didn't come.
Kurt didn't go back to school for another week. He lived in his house with his aunt, who was on her way to becoming his legal guardian: his father had specified in his will that it should be her or Kurt's grandmother who should take care of him. Burt had left everything to him – the house, Hummel's Tires and Lube, all of his money and shares and holdings. Until he turned 18, it would be managed by Helen. Kurt was fine with that – he didn't know what to do with it all. He'd always had a head for managing money, partly due to the budgeting he'd had to do to get certain clothes he wanted, but everything seemed too complicated to handle.
He spent the week in his room, in bed mostly. His phone had died sometime on the second day, and Kurt never bothered to recharge it. Silence was a blessed relief – it had been buzzing nearly nonstop since his dad's funeral. He asked Helen to turn away any of his friends if they came to visit, so he spent the week alone. He preferred it that way. No one expected him to talk if he was alone.
Sometimes, when Helen was away on business, he snuck out of his room and into his father's. Helen had taken up one of the guest rooms and hadn't had time to clean things out, so Burt's bedroom was mostly untouched. His shirts – all plaid and collared, no matter how many times Kurt had tried to dress him in something else – still hung in the closet. His toothbrush was still in the cup by the sink, next to his mother's, which Burt had never thrown out despite the years. It was old now, but Burt cleaned it regularly, which kept it from being disgusting.
Kurt liked to lie down in Burt's closet. It was a big one – not as big as Kurt's, but close – and it had enough room for Kurt to almost lie down fully. His father's scent – car oil, something woodsy and bit of the cologne his mother had gotten him in the habit of wearing – covered the closet. When Kurt closed his eyes and breathed in, he could almost pretend his father was there.
But then he opened his eyes and there were just shirts staring back at him. It was his mother's dresser 2.0, except it hurt so much worse.
After a week, Helen gently asked him if he was ready to go back to school. Kurt shrugged. He didn't care. He didn't care about a whole lot these days.
His first day back was strange, in both bad and good ways.
His friends treated him like he was made of spun glass. Mercedes was the only one who didn't offer her sympathies, but she took Kurt's arm whenever they had class together and glared at whoever did as if she expected the "I'm sorry your dad died" to send Kurt into a crying fit. Finn, who had already been at school for a few days, kept sending Kurt understanding looks.
He didn't get locker-checked or slushied all day. Kurt supposed that even bullying jocks had their moments of empathy. He doubted it would last long, but he felt a little touched. He hadn't thought that his bullies would care enough that his dad died to stop tormenting him.
Glee, however, was the worst.
He was ploughed over by Brittany when he first walked in. She looked like she had been crying quite a bit when she pulled back.
"I'm so sorry Kurt," she said, sniffling. "Maybe if I'd written my report in pen like the teacher said, your dad would still be alive."
Kurt bit his lip and looked around for paper. Finding none, he took out his phone and quickly made a text message. He still had Brittany's number from their faux-dating phase.
Brittany looked confused when she heard her phone ringing (Tik-Tok, Kurt noted with some amusement, the first he'd felt in days), but she hurried to answer it. She stared down at the message with large eyes.
It's not your fault, Brit. The doctors said your report helped them a lot. That was a lie. Dr. Oliver and the multiple nurses attending his father had given him strange looks when they'd seen the report lying on Burt's bedside table. But Kurt wasn't about to tell Brittany that when she was crying over a man she'd met once. She was silly sometimes, half-witted others, but Kurt could never say that she wasn't one of the nicest people he'd met. Sometimes he wondered how she'd become a Cheerio.
"Kurt?" Kurt turned to see Puck watching him. Puck looked uncharacteristically withdrawn and uncertain. "Are you alright, dude? Did something happen to your voice?"
Kurt sighed, opening his phone again. He didn't have Puck's number, so he just gave the phone to Puck after making the message.
I don't feel like talking, it said. Puck stared down at it for a moment, then shrugged.
"Alright," he said. He turned to the rest of the members who were there, all of them hanging back and curious. "Kurt's not gonna be talking today," he announced. "He'll talk to you through text and paper, alright?"
"What happened, dude?" Finn asked, stepping forward and looking concerned. Kurt shrugged. Finn looked a little hurt. "Did you hurt your throat or something, like Rachel did last year?"
Kurt shook his head. He wondered why it was such a big deal that he wasn't talking. He just didn't want to. Wasn't that enough of a reason?
"Kurt, as the captain of a club that is primarily focused on voice, I find your denial to use yours quite worrisome," Rachel cut in, standing next to Finn. "However, as you have recently suffered a horrible loss, I think I can speak for the club in saying that there's no need for you to talk or sing for the next few days unless you want to."
"Well, obviously," Mercedes said. "If my boy doesn't want to talk, he doesn't have to talk. Got it?"
"How're you holding up?" Quinn, who Kurt hadn't even noticed approaching, stepped close to him, examining him. Behind her, Rachel and Mercedes got into an argument about who would sing Kurt's part for him while he wasn't talking. Kurt sighed and made a so-so gesture with his hands. "You're not going to talk anytime soon, are you?" Quinn asked.
Kurt blinked at her, then frowned. He shrugged, then shook his head. He didn't know how soon he'd feel like talking again, but for the foreseeable future . . . No. Words were too complicated.
Quinn nodded. "I thought so," she muttered. "Kurt you know we all care about you, right? Even Santana. Even me," she added, smiling a little. Kurt remembered the end of last year, when he'd connected hers and Mercedes' hands with his own, their own silent pact of friendship, and swallowed hard. "So if you want to say anything – talk it, write it, whatever – we're here for you. I know it can be hard to lose someone." Her hands, almost involuntarily, went to her stomach.
Kurt looked away. He wanted to tell her that it wasn't the same, losing a baby you'd barely know and losing the man that raised you. But maybe it was. Quinn had carried that baby in her for nine months, had looked after her, and sometimes Kurt thought that Quinn had even loved her, no matter how much she seemed not to. Quinn was a parent who had lost her child, and Kurt was a child who'd lost his parent. It didn't matter that one had been voluntary, one forced. Quinn was just as hurt by her loss as Kurt was by his.
Kurt looked back at Quinn, who was watching him steadily. She was always smarter than people thought she was, Kurt thought. He nodded and signed Thank you, to her, the only piece of sign language he knew. She smiled at him, touched his arm, and made her way back to Sam Evans, who had recently joined the club. Kurt wondered if they were dating now, and eyed Puck, who was protesting that he could totally hit all the notes Kurt hit, and probably better too. Kurt wondered if Puck was okay with Quinn dating someone else. No one really knew where Puck and Quinn stood after the pregnancy.
Mr. Schue strode in, sheet music in hand. He paused upon seeing Kurt and put a hand on his shoulder. "How're you holding up?" he asked.
Just peachy, Kurt wanted to tell him. My father, the only living parent I had left and the person who loved me without judgment, just died after I watched him waste away in a hospital. I'm absolutely divine, Mr. Schue. He could already picture Schue's look. He remembered the awkward half-pause he'd taken when Kurt had made the crack about answering his phone by saying he wasn't his dead mother. Schue had never really known what to do with him – there was too much Finn in him, Kurt suspected, and not really all of the good parts. Finn, at least, knew how to be friends with him. Schue didn't even really get how to teach him.
Kurt didn't pay attention as Schue started the club. He was going on about how they needed to be ready for Sectionals, and Kurt already knew where it would end. Rachel would get a solo, or a duet with Finn. There would be a group number. And probably, he thought bitterly, we won't win.
He started as he realized Schue was gesturing for them to partner up. He looked around, wondering what he'd missed. Mercedes plopped down beside him.
"Duets competition," she said softly. "Wanna be my partner?"
Kurt shrugged. Mercedes eyed him and sighed. "Alright. How about I pick the song and arrange it together? Sound like a plan, white boy?"
Kurt shrugged again. Mercedes started to look worried. "Kurt, are you sure you want to do this?" Kurt raised an eyebrow. "Come back to school, I mean. I know it's still hard for you . . . . I mean, I wouldn't blame you if you decided to stay home for another week or two. I have a cousin who lost her mom last year and she stayed out of school for six months. No one would blame you for not wanting to come back right away."
Kurt didn't tell her that he just couldn't bring himself to care either way. He wasn't sure if she realized that he wouldn't be singing in it - perhaps he should talk to Schue, ask for an exempt from the assignment. He didn't want Mercedes to lose simply because he didn't want to talk or sing. And Mercedes deserved a better partner than he would be. Kurt stared at his hands, his chest aching a little. It's not just Mercedes, Kurt thought slowly. It's all of them. They need members who are going to give everything they've got for this club. And I can't anymore. I don't know if I'll ever want to again. Every time he thought about singing, he kept remembering his dad's disappointment during their last conversation. He kept remembering that he'd put singing before his dad and that it had ended with his dad dead. The thought of attempting to sing again just hurt too much.
With Puck back, we should have enough members, Kurt thought. And I'm sure they could convince someone else to join if they had to.
His hands were tense in his lap, the knuckles turning white. Kurt stared at them for a moment longer, than stood up. His friends didn't notice at first, but as he strode over to Schue, they all fell silent, one by one. Kurt took out his phone, typed for a moment, then passed it to Schue, who was watching him curiously. Schue took it, then went pale. He looked at Kurt.
I'm quitting Glee, the message read.
"Kurt, you don't have to do this," he said softly, handing Kurt back his phone. "We're willing to wait however long it takes for you to speak again, you know that. And even if you don't, you can still be part of the club—" Gasps rose among the listening Glee members. Kurt shook his head.
It hurts too much, he typed. I can't. He gave the phone to Schue, who looked on the edge of tears. Kurt wished he'd stop—it was already hard enough to quit, and having Schuester look at him that way was making it worse.
"If you're absolutely sure," Schue said. Kurt nodded sharply. "Alright. Attention," Schue turned to address the group, although he hadn't needed to announce himself - they were all listening already anyways. "Kurt has decided that he's going to take a break from Glee for an indefinite amount of time." Finn stood up, looking outraged. Rachel, on the other hand, was staring at Kurt, her eyes glassy with shock. "Kurt, you know that your place will always be open to you," Schue added more softly.
"What the hell dude?" Finn said, stomping up to Kurt's side. He tried to put a hand on Kurt's shoulder, but Kurt flinched away. Finn looked hurt. "Why are you quitting?"
Kurt just shook his head. Finn wouldn't understand. None of them really could. Finn had lost a parent, but it had been a parent he'd barely know and couldn't even really remember - a parent he only knew through pictures and old relics like the stuff in his attic.
"Kurt, I understand this is a time of hardship for you, but singing is the perfect way to work your way through it and heal!" Rachel insisted almost desperately, coming up on Finn's side. Her eyes looked suspiciously wet. "You and I share a similiar connection to music, so I think I can say with perfect understanding that singing is what helps you work through your emotions, especially during a time of emotional trauma. Quitting Glee will cut you off from being able to express yourself properly!"
Kurt put a hand on her arm and shook his head. He looked over at the rest of the group. Puck had also risen to his feet, staring at Kurt with a strange look on his face. Quinn and Mercedes were sharing the same expression - a sort of resigned hopelessness that told Kurt they'd seen this coming. Tina and Mike were discussing something furiously, gesturing at Kurt every once in a while, and Artie was trying to explain to Brittany why Kurt was leaving. Santana was on her other side, holding her hand and glaring at Kurt, either for leaving or for making Brittany feel bad - Kurt couldn't tell which.
These people were his friends. They'd supported him as best they could during a dark period in his life - through several dark periods, actually. They'd given him acceptance when he'd thought he'd never experience any in his high school years. They'd protected him and even loved him. And quitting Glee wouldn't be the end of that - but it would cut all of their closest ties, and Kurt knew enough about friendships to know that they could disintegrate so easily without something to hold people together. A deep part of him didn't want that to happen, wanted to cling to the people who had given him so much. But a much bigger part was just so tired.
I'm sorry, Kurt typed out for Finn. I need to go. He left before Finn could give him his phone back, ignoring all of the calls to come back.
Kurt stood outside, gasping for breath. He listened for a moment for anyone coming after him - it seemed all of the Glee members were content to let him go. He sighed, relaxing against the wall and closing his eyes.
Kurt sighed again, more heavily. He opened his eyes, looking up into Sue Sylvester's face. She wasn't sneering at him, which was a start, but her eyebrows were drawn together, and her lips were twisted into a scowl. Kurt raised an eyebrow.
"Isn't your insipid band of pansies practicing right now?" Sue asked him, scowl deepening. Kurt shrugged. "Answer me when I talk to you, Ladyface!"
Kurt took out his phone. I don't want to talk, Coach, he said. Not to you, not to anyone. He handed the phone to Sue knowing that he'd probably just committed suicide. He couldn't really care. What on earth could Sue Sylvester do to him to make his life worse?
Sue stared down at the phone for a long time. Then, to Kurt's surprise, the scowl faded from her face. She sighed and handed the phone back to him.
"Can't blame you, I suppose," she said. Kurt stared at her and she glared at him. "This doesn't mean I like you," she reminded him waspishly. "It's just that your girly tear-filled face is giving me a feeling in my stomach that is the complete opposite of joy and I can't stand it."
Kurt smiled a little bit. He doubted anyone in Glee would believe him if he told them that Sue had actually had a moment of empathy. Not that he'd be telling them anytime soon.
"Listen, kid," Sue said abruptly. "I know you've had a hard time of it the last few weeks, and even before that. I knew about most of it and I didn't do anything about it because, to be honest, I didn't really care. But you were one of my Cheerios - one of the best damn Cheerios I've had, in fact. You're also one of the few people in this school that I can tolerate to talk to for more than a few moments. So I'd like to say, and mark this because Sue Sylvester doesn't say it too often, that I'm sorry. And that from now on, you're going to have a pair of eyes watching your back in the halls."
Kurt stared at her, taken aback by the swift and sudden outpouring of honesty and, well . . . Niceness. Who knew that Sue Sylvester could actually be a decent human being? Kurt had suspected every once in a while that Sue wasn't as mean as she led on - oh, he knew she had a bad side that could very, very bad, but she also had a few soft spots where her well-hidden niceness shone through. Her sister, for example. Or the few times that she'd helped Kurt or Quinn out. Or even her brief friendship with Schue, which had astounded all of them when they'd come back from break.
Thanks Coach, he typed out. That means a lot to me.
Sue eyed him for a moment, then sighed. "If you tell anyone that I momentarily lapsed from my normal abrasive self, I will see to it that no amount of make-up will fix your pretty face."
The threat, however, sounded half-hearted. Sue's scowl told him that she'd heard the lack of conviction as clearly as Kurt had, and she turned on her heel and disappeared with a huff. Kurt nearly smiled at her back.
Helen came in and out for the next week or so. Kurt never really saw much of her. He knew that she was getting ready to transfer her independent bookstore over to Lima - she'd decided it would be too much trouble to try and manage it while half a country away. She'd spoken to Kurt optimistically about it, but Kurt knew that she was carefully looking through what Burt had left them and storing it away in preparation that her store didn't prosper.
Kurt avoided his friends, for the most part. Finn and Mercedes were the most persistent, but all of them tried to track him down during the weeks after his decision to quit Glee. He'd been trapped by Mike in the men's room as he hurriedly assured Kurt that he had both Mike and Tina's support and love, and wouldn't he please come back to Glee, because Rachel was starting to terrify all of them and Kurt was really the only who could hold her in check. Or something.
Rachel tried to talk to him too, but Kurt managed to push her away after the first minute or so. His voice didn't work, but his legs did. He'd run as soon as the words it's so hard being in a club with someone who can't hope to match my talent or drive, although Mercedes does try her best—left her mouth.
It wasn't that he didn't love his friends. He did appreciate all of them, even Puck and Rachel. But just the sight of them hurt. When he looked at Mercedes, all he could think of was how his dad had liked her, had told him once that he better not let that friendship die, because there was a girl who'd stand by him. When he looked at Rachel, all he could remember was the old singing and dancing lessons that his dad had carted him around to—Rachel had been in every one, and had been just as loud and irritating as a child as she was as a teenager. When he looked at Finn—well. It was almost too painful to look at Finn and see everything that his dad had wanted in a son and know that he'd never gotten it, that instead he'd been given a son who preferred watching musicals to family dinners.
And a part of him realized that it was something more than that even. He'd lost too many people. Kurt hated how he loved people and they ended up leaving him, either from death or—Well, Finn was one example. He always loved so much and they all ended up going away, one way or another. He was tired of it. It was easier, so much easier, to just turn away from all the people he loved, to spare himself the heartache.
So he avoided his friends. Where before he used to eat lunch surrounded by friends, he now ate alone in an abandoned classroom. He ignored their attempts to coerce him into a conversation during study hall or class, stayed away from them after school and didn't answer their texts or calls. Kurt told Helen to turn them away if they came to the door, and with one look at his face, Helen had agreed.
Slowly but surely, they drifted apart. Mercedes sent him sad looks across classroom, Finn looked confused whenever they crossed paths, and Rachel was still trying to lure him back to Glee, but the rest of them, one by one, began texting and cajoling less. It made Kurt feel vindicated, in a way. If they really cared, they'd never give up, he reasoned, ignoring the stab of hurt. He'd never really been a part of the group anyways - he'd always been on the outside looking in, even when it came to Glee. So was it really a surprise that they'd dropped him so easily? That they could continue on without him without much of a change to their group dynamic?
Still, even estranged as he was, McKinley thrived on gossip, so Kurt managed to keep up with what was going on, no matter how hard he tried not to hear.
Glee recruited Lauren Zizes the second week after Kurt left. Kurt approved - he liked Lauren, even if her obsession with Twilight boggled his brain and she was almost too brusque for his tastes, but she had a sort of confidence around her that Kurt couldn't help but admire. He thought she'd be good for Glee. She'd keep Rachel in her place, at least, and Santana too.
He'd known the Sectionals date since the first day of school, and it felt odd attending class while the Glee club was performing. He heard when they came back that they'd beaten their opponents, which, thankfully, hadn't included Vocal Adrenaline. Kurt was a little relieved.
The months passed and Kurt watched as couples came and went. Lauren and Puck's relationship was a surprise and a pleasure for Kurt—who knew Puck could look underneath the surface of someone he wanted to date?—although Rachel and Finn's breakup wasn't. The same went for Finn and Quinn's new relationship. Kurt couldn't help but wonder what on earth Finn was doing, but then that went back up the alley of caring, so he made himself stop thinking about it.
They lost at Regionals.
Kurt watched as his old friends slunk through class, all of their eyes red-rimmed and miserable. Part of him wanted to go up to them and say how sorry he was, how he wished he'd stayed with them through it all, how much he wanted them to feel better. But another part, a bigger part, was glad that he'd gotten away.
To everyone's surprise, the Glee club was allowed another year. Figgins, however, was heard sternly telling Schue that Glee needed to place at Nationals next year or they really would be disbanded. Kurt was 60% sure he wasn't bluffing.
"Did you hear?" someone whispered in study hall. Kurt didn't look up, his head buried in his English book. The girl was whispering to one of her friends. He caught a flash of red in the corner of his eye - red skirt. Cheerio, he thought. "Coach Sylvester's sister died yesterday night."
Kurt froze. His hands tightened on his book until his knuckles looked about ready to slice through his skin. Her sister, Kurt thought. Sue had only mentioned her sister once or twice to Kurt. She was handicapped, Kurt knew, and older than Sue, but beyond that he knew little. But Sue loved her. Kurt had been able to see that. And to know that she'd died—
Kurt stood. His teacher, buried in his laptop, didn't even notice when Kurt walked out.
The hallways were deserted except for a few couples making out. Kurt ignored them. He had a hunch Sue would be in her office, and sure enough, as he approached he was able to see her shape through the window. She was facing away from the door, looking out the window.
Kurt hesitated before knocking on the door. He remembered, with sudden, vivid clarity, how little he'd wanted to be around people when his father had died. How little he'd wanted to hear the sorry's, the it'll get better's, the what a horrible loss's. Surely Sue wouldn't appreciate him barging in at such a vulnerable time.
Sue's face, dark and withdrawn as she talked about her sister being mistreated, flashed in Kurt's face. He pushed the door open.
Sue wasn't crying. She had purple bruises under her eyes, and there was an unopened bottle of alcohol on her desk. She looked up when Kurt came in and her eyes narrowed.
"Spare me," she snapped. "I know why you're here, Ladyface, and trust me there is nothing on this great Earth that I want less than to share sob stories with you."
Kurt huffed silently and slid into the chair opposite hers. He gave her a long look, barely daring to blink. Sue stared back at him, then turned away.
"Fine," she muttered under her breath. "Obviously you've lost your hearing as well as your voice."
Kurt raised an eyebrow, silently mocking her inability to truly insult him. Sue ignored him. Sighing, Kurt sat back in his chair and waited. He would wait as long as he needed to, although he didn't know what he was waiting for. The thought of Sue breaking down or crying was incomprehensible to him. Sue Sylvester didn't cry. She never broke.
"Jean was asking for me," Sue said suddenly. Kurt perked up. Sue didn't look at him though - she kept staring out the window. "That's what the nurses told me. She was saying my name in her sleep. Calling out to me as she died."
Kurt bit his lip. He opened his mouth, almost ready to speak, but the words got stuck in between. Instead, he pulled out a piece of paper. Slowly, almost reluctantly, he wrote, I got into a fight with my dad before he passed away. Passed away was such a pretty term for death, Kurt mused, passing the paper over to Sue. But writing the words died on that paper was still too raw, even now.
Sue looked down when she heard the paper scrape across the desk. She read it and her eyebrows lifted. Finally she looked over at Kurt.
"What about?" she asked listlessly. She didn't really care, Kurt knew. But it was a way to distract her.
We used to have family dinners, he wrote. Every Friday. I wanted to skip one to go see a musical and he didn't want me to. I put music before my father, Kurt almost added. I didn't ever get to say I was sorry, that I didn't mean it, that I loved him more than I could ever love singing, ever love anything else. That he was sacred to me, that he was everything to me. But he couldn't write the words any more than he could speak them. They were stuck in Kurt's chest permanently, beating to get out but caged inside forever.
"I love my sister," Sue said. There was a catch in her voice. "She was a . . . good person. She shouldn't died." Why did she have to die? Her expression said.
It doesn't matter if they're good or not, Kurt wrote, remembering his father's gentle hands, the way he'd said, if that's who you are there's nothing I can do to change it and I love you just as much-
Sue smiled humorlessly. "They all die in the end anyway, huh? And usually they die before the rest of us."
Kurt stared at her, then wrote across his page slowly, I'm sorry.
Sue snorted. "Silly thing to be unless you stopped my sister from breathing yourself. Did you give her pneumonia?"
Kurt just gave her a long, steady look. It's not about being guilty, he wrote. It's about empathy. I'm saying that I'm sorry you're in pain, and that even if that pain wasn't caused by me, I can still be sorry that it's there and that you have to experience it.
Sue stared down at his words for a long time. Finally, her lip quirked. "Suddenly the expert, huh Hummel?"
Kurt shrugged. He'd had a lot of time to think and a lot of I'm sorry's to deal with.
"Don't take this as kindness, but . . . Thank you, Ladyface." Sue held out a hand. For a moment, all Kurt could do was stare at it. Then, slowly, he took it in his own. Sue gave it a firm shake, then dropped it hastily. "Now get out of my office. Go decorate or color-coordinate your wardrobe, or whatever it is you do."
Kurt smiled what felt like his first real smile in months as he left.