Puck found Burt sitting at the kitchen table. The clock read 2:49.
"What was your dream about tonight?" he asked. His eyes looked tired.
Puck slid into the chair across from him, taking the mug of warm milk waiting for him. "You really want to know?"
That got him a grin. "Huh. Maybe not?"
"It was her, again," Puck relented. "Nothing embarrassing. She was playing in a tub of rice. You know, picking up the cup and pouring it out, filling it up and pouring it out, over and over, like that?"
"Kurt used to have that, at his preschool. A big table full of beans, or sand." Burt took a sip from his cup.
Puck glanced into his mug, brimming with milk. "Sometimes I feel like that. Like I'm the cup, and sometimes I'm full, and sometimes I'm empty." He took a long drink.
"Uh-huh," said Burt. "So what fills you up?"
Now his mug was nearly empty. "Maybe you don't want to know that, either."
Burt laughed. "This whole damn house. One big pile of TMI. All right, then, come on. It's two in the morning. I think I can handle it."
Puck nodded, watching the cinnamon make patterns in the milk. Trusted, just trusted. "Finn. Finn... fills me up."
"I got that." Burt was doing his damnest not to look away. "What else?"
"And Kurt. And the two of them, together. They give me what I need." He took another swallow. "And... Adam, and the people I visited in Santa Fe. Them, too."
"That's a lot of people. What else?"
"Uh. Sarah?" He watched Burt nod. "And... cooking. Playing music. Maybe football, a little. I guess that's it."
Burt pushed his mug across the table so it touched Puck's. They were both empty, now. "Can I add one more?"
Puck wasn't sure what to say, so he just waited. Burt let out an exasperated sigh. "You're not making this very easy, Puck."
"Making what easy?"
Burt played with his fingers. Then he said, "What do you do, when you're really scared about something?"
Puck was caught off-guard by the question, and found himself answering more honestly than he probably would have, if it hadn't been two in the morning. "I - mostly I run away. Sometimes I freak out and yell. Or - or hit someone, apparently." He chewed his lip. "I would never do that to Kurt, you know that? I never would."
"He wouldn't ever let you, anyway," Burt said, with a faint smile. "I believe you, though."
Puck stood up, feeling the need to move. He took the mugs to the sink and rinsed them out, and stared into the drain.
"A couple months ago, I was cleaning out my fridge," he said. "I found this glass container with a plastic lid. There was... something inside. It was kind of cloudy, I couldn't really tell what it was, or what it used to be. It looked kind of like meat. Scary. I had no idea how long it had been in there."
Burt stared at him. "You? In your fridge?"
"It wasn't a good month," Puck muttered. "Anyway... I put the container in the sink and looked at it for, like, three days. Every day I'd think about washing it out, and then I'd think, I bet it's going to smell really, really bad. It'll make the whole kitchen smell bad. I don't really want to open it. And then I'd leave it there for another day." He set the clean mugs upside down in the dish drainer.
"Okay," said Burt.
"Yeah. And then... well, one day, I just picked it up and said, fuck this. I opened it." He looked at Burt. "You know what was inside?"
"Is this another thing I really don't want to know?"
"Heh. No... it was oatmeal. Just regular oatmeal. Kind of old, and a little lumpy, but... not scary at all. Not even really smelly. I dumped it into the trash, and that was it."
Burt nodded slowly. He pushed his own chair out and came to stand beside Puck at the sink. "So, what?"
"So I think... I think maybe a lot of things in life are like that. I think they're going to be meat, scary meat, and that they're going to stink everything else up if I open them. But usually, they just turn out to be... oatmeal." He shrugged. "So maybe I shouldn't be so scared all the time."
Burt's eyes crinkled at the corners, they way they did when he was particularly moved. Puck wasn't sure why he would be, at a story about zombie oatmeal, but really, he wasn't going to complain. "Yeah. Maybe I shouldn't be, either." He took a deep breath.
"Puck... it's a new year now. We get to move on, start over. All the things that happened last year, they're still part of you, but you've got a chance here to make a difference for your sister, for all of us. For yourself. For me." He put his hands on Puck's shoulders, holding on. "I want you to make this your home. For good."
It almost made him cry, to be asked like this, but Puck shook his head. "I told you. This isn't my home."
"But it could be, Puck," Burt insisted. "If you want it to be. Yours, and your daughter's."
Puck blinked. His vision swam, and for a moment, he could see, in the crystal-clarity of dreams, the tub of rice, her cup coming down, scooping it up, dumping it out - and Burt, sitting right there beside her.
"It's already too crowded here," he said.
"So I'll give up my office," Burt countered. "I don't really need it anyway."
Puck cast his eyes desperately around the room. "This place is crap for cooking in."
"I know. You've managed so far. We'll deal." His hands on Puck's shoulders felt remarkably familiar. "Puck... this isn't scary meat. It's just oatmeal. Really."
Standing in Kurt's kitchen, Puck stared back at Burt's kind blue eyes. Inside, nine-year-old Noah, who'd been abandoned by his father, made a list of all the reasons why he shouldn't believe him - much quicker than he could actually have written or read it. But grown-up Puck, Papa Puck, shouldered him aside and drew a firm line through every one of the items on his list. At the bottom, he wrote one single line: This is your family.
"Promise?" he whispered.
Burt made a sound in his throat, and he gave Puck a wobbly smile. "Promise," he said.
He let Burt hug him, and even hugged back a little. "We'll talk more in the morning, all right?" He thought he felt the ghost of a kiss brush his cheek. "Right now, you need to get back to bed."
If it had been his Ma talking to him that way, he would have said yeah, or whatever, or possibly fuck you. But this was Burt. Burt, who'd raised Kurt to love him, all the time, no matter what. Who loved his sister that way. Who'd let him stay at his house, had treated him like an adult, and had never given him a reason not to trust him, for any reason - even though he'd given Burt plenty, himself. Who'd made him warm milk and sat up with him when he couldn't sleep, and held him when his Ma had died. Who'd accepted things about him he could barely even understand himself, just because that was what you did, when you loved somebody.
"Yes, sir," he said. "And thank you. For everything."
Author's note: you - yeah, you. I'm talking to you, the person reading this. You're awesome, you know that? Because you just waded your way through 300,000+ words of emotionally charged, complicated, confusing-as-fuck melodrama. With spanking. I loved writing every word of it, and there's so much more to come. I hope it meant half as much to you to read it as it did for me to write it. Many of the chapters have been completed in the middle of the night, my children sleeping upstairs, while tears ran down my face. Anyone who ever tries to tell you fanfiction doesn't matter, I'm here to say they're wrong. Writing this story has changed my life.
Those of you who have been having a hard time suspending disbelief about the Donutverse, rest assured, most of what happened in this story would fit just perfectly into my own life. I'm kind of an ordinary person, if you don't count the complicated bits. And those of you who are part of that ordinary life, and are reading now, I love you with all my heart.
I'm also a mother, and if you think Carole and Burt could never really actually be this cool in real life, you've never met my parents. Yeah, and if my parents are reading this (and they very well might be), I love you, too.
A few special thank-yous:
- Knittycat99, for inspiration unparalleled, for watching me write, for the scene with the three boys that inspired so much of this story, for Toby, for Blaine, for giving us your perfect Dave and Kurt to help us write our own, for the shawl you knitted me, for all of the pieces of the story you give me every day, knowing or otherwise. For loving me, all the time, no matter what.
- Flinchflower, for reminding me why I'm writing this and keeping my eye on what matters, for constant writerly support and unflinching honesty, for being the best zebra ever, for understanding and loving Adam as much as I do, for James, for Sam and Dean, for John, for all of Tessera, and god, THANK YOU for Tess. For loving me, all the time, no matter what.
- Songirl77, for focus and overwhelming, passionate inspiration of all kinds, for giving me all your words and for always reading mine, for believing in me and never forgetting to tell me, even when I was falling apart and certain it was all crap, for all the parts of this story that are really about us, for Will's song, for Puck's song. For loving me, all the time, no matter what, ma'am.
- Supergreak, for absolutely hilarious reviews, for lifting me up when I was down, for Brittany's garden (and Toby's, to come), for Sarah's karaoke, for caring about my little characters as though they were your own, all the time, no matter what.
- Penthea8, for sharing *your* perfect Dave with me, and because OMG OMG she really, really likes me. All the time, no matter what.
- All those of you who have commented, ever, positively or not, because I always respond to reviews. And all of you who have never commented, but have read through to the end. I love you, every one of you, all the time. No matter what.