Kurt heard whispering just outside his office. He blitzed to the end of the scene he was writing, ready to be interrupted. He could do it better later; he always re-wrote obsessively anyway. He tried not to laugh as the scuffle outside got louder and he could hear giggles through the door.
"Just knock, of course he won't mind."
"But he's working, he'll be mad."
"Who could be mad at this little face?" Kurt snorted as Alex squealed the way only Blaine could make him. He could practically see them both grinning, Blaine nuzzling his nose into Alex's neck and picking him up as he rolled himself into a ball. It was an ingenious defence mechanism, but it was never quite enough, and he didn't really want it to be. "Well, why don't I knock, hmm? I'll tell him it was you, and you'll get in all kinds of trouble…"
"No! That's not fair!" There were three quick bangs on the door and a 'Noooo!' from Alex.
"Who on Earth could that be?"
He heard Alex whispering to Blaine, except he wasn't very good at it, and it ended up being louder than his talking voice.
"See? He's mad!" Blaine opened the door despite the little boy squirming under his arm. Kurt beamed at them, but when Alex looked up he switched to a frown.
"Alexander Oliver Anderson-Hummel! Are you trying to distract me from my important work?"
"No, it wasn't me, Daddy knocked!"
Blaine gasped theatrically.
"I would never! How could you say such a thing?" Alex shook his head at Kurt, his brow wrinkling with worry, and wriggled free from Blaine's grasp. Kurt left his chair and swept him up, resting him on one hip and putting his forehead up against the tiny anxious one in front of him.
"Well that was very nice of Daddy, because I needed a break. In fact, I was just thinking that whoever knocked on my door would get a medal, or maybe even a hot chocolate in the park. Shame it wasn't you."
Alex's eyes narrowed. He looked from Kurt to Blaine and back. He knew lying was bad, but did it count when it was just covering for someone else? Surely anything that meant he got a hot chocolate couldn't be bad? He took a deep breath before letting his face fall slightly.
"It was Daddy." He looked up at Kurt again, his eyes and mouth widening into a smile and the gap where his tooth had fallen out a few days earlier exposing itself. Kurt was mystified as to how he had Blaine's goofy grin even though biologically he was his father, but he remembered Biology had never been that important to them. Blaine's smile had always been contagious. "But maybe, maybe I could go and knock too? Then we could all have one?"
"Good plan! Quick, let's go outside again, and this time you can knock!" Before Kurt could say anything, they'd both dashed out again and closed the door. He heard three more knocks, this time much quieter but just as excited.
"Who could possibly be knocking at my door? What's the password?"
"Dad! It's me!"
"I don't know anyone called 'Me'. I'm gonna need the password or I'll think you're a traitor come to steal all my work."
"But I don't know the… What?" Kurt heard more whispering. "Marshmallows!"
He opened the door.
"That's cheating, Blaine." Blaine grinned and kissed Kurt on the nose before picking Alex up.
"I know. Come on, let's go."
"Alex, keep your scarf on!"
"But it's itchy!"
"It's January, it stays on. I don't want your neck to freeze." Alex breathed out an exaggerated sigh, swinging his arms and pulling on his fathers' hands so he was lifted off the ground for a second. They heard him gasp suddenly, and he pulled on each hand in turn.
"Daddy, Daddy, look! That lady's got a baby! Look how small it is!"
"Not like you, huh?"
"Duh. I'm big."
"Of course. Silly me…" he stopped in his tracks, looking up to see where Alex was pointing. He looked at Kurt, who'd frozen too. Alex looked up at both of them in confusion. He wriggled free and started running towards the woman. Blaine snapped out of his daze and into Dad mode.
"Alex, come back!" She looked up from the boy running towards her to the man yelling at him, and she stopped pushing the stroller as Alex peered in.
"Is that your baby? She's really small. I'm Alex." Blaine caught up with him, taking his hand, followed quickly by Kurt. The woman looked at them both for a second, then back to the little boy.
"Hi, Alex. Nice to meet you. My name's Becca. And this is Matilda."
"Hi, Matilda. Can she talk?"
"Not yet; she mostly just sleeps. Nothing very exciting. But usually if she's around strangers she starts crying – I guess she must like you."
Alex looked up at Becca excitedly, his mouth wide open.
Becca nodded, unable to speak. She gripped firmly to the handles of the stroller, blinking hard so he wouldn't see she was upset. She tore her glance away from him, and looked up and Kurt and Blaine, who had frozen as well. Blaine already had tears in his eyes, and he didn't blink fast enough to stop them.
"Daddy, did you hear that? She likes me! Daddy, can I- Daddy?" He looked up at Blaine, who had a tear rolling down his cheek. He felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. Just when he'd been able to forget everything, when he was happy focusing on what they had and not how they'd got there, one look at Becca and it was five years ago all over again. Alex walked over to him and tugged on his hand. He'd never seen his father cry before. This was alien territory; Dads were supposed to be strong and brave and happy, not sad. "Daddy?" He tugged gently on Blaine's hand. He may have only been four, but he knew that if Blaine was crying, something must have been really wrong, and he knew that if he had his little hand to wrap his own around, maybe he'd feel better. It seemed to work, as Blaine let out a strained laugh and gave Alex's hand a tight squeeze. "Daddy, are you OK?"
"Sure," he said through a smile that was forced until he looked straight into the blue eyes staring worriedly at him. He remembered that no matter what, this was his son, his little boy who didn't want him to be upset. "I'm fine, baby, I just… I haven't seen Becca in a long time."
Alex wrinkled his nose in confusion.
"What? Is she your friend?"
Kurt stepped in, seeing Blaine was in no fit state to explain anything. He knelt beside Alex, putting a comforting hand on his back so he would know nothing was wrong.
"Yeah, we used to see each other all the time, before we had you. Hey, you know what? Why don't we go and get those hot chocolates?"
Alex kept frowning. He looked at his shell-shocked father, the woman he was staring at and the baby in front of her.
"But Daddy, what about the baby? And…" he leaned in to whisper in Kurt's ear, in a shouty kind of way, "What about Dad? Is he OK?" The three adults couldn't help smiling softly at him, but they managed not to laugh. Kurt took his hand and gave it a squeeze.
"I promise Daddy is gonna be fine. You know what I think will definitely make him feel better?"
Alex gave an exaggerated, serious nod.
Kurt grinned at him, and he grinned back.
"Come on; let's give these two a minute." He lifted the little boy up and placed him on his shoulders. "Woah! This is difficult now that you're so big!"
"No, I'm not that big, I swear! I'll stop growing, I promise!"
Alex automatically linked his hands on top of Kurt's head, and Kurt patted the tiny knee next to his ear before stroking Blaine's arm. He looked over to Becca and nodded toward the stroller.
"She's beautiful. It's really good to see you again, Becca." She smiled and nodded. He didn't call her Rebecca.
"You too, Kurt." Kurt kissed Blaine on the cheek, bobbing down so Alex could do the same. Blaine brushed the floppy hair out of his son's eyes and grinned at him.
"I'll see you in a second, baby. Make sure I get extra cream, OK?" Alex nodded solemnly, accepting his mission and they made their way to the stall, leaving Blaine alone with Becca.
"She's gorgeous. She looks just like you."
"Thanks. She's got her dad's nose, though."
"Right. Are you marr- obviously, it doesn't matter, I just-"
"No. Not everyone is as conventional as you guys. We're engaged, but we postponed it when I got pregnant. I refuse to have a shotgun wedding. His name's Daniel. You'd like him."
"I'm sure I would. Your taste in men can't have gotten any worse." She snorted. "How old is she?"
"Ten weeks." They started making their way towards a table. She wanted to link arms with him, he wanted to put a hand on her waist, but it was still so strange.
"Wow. How long have you been back in the city?"
"About six months? It has a habit of dragging you back." Blaine nodded. He knew exactly what she meant. "I tried to make it work in Boston, but Mom obviously drove me insane, and I tried Chicago and Seattle – I don't know, must've been some kind of hospital drama fantasy – but then I met Daniel. It wasn't dramatic or anything; I just felt totally comfortable. Being with him feels like home. I hadn't felt at home since I left the first time. Since I'd been here with you two. Then we found out about Maddie, and I honestly couldn't imagine bringing her up anywhere else. I could never really call another place home."
Blaine just nodded again. He didn't have to say anything. They'd both had too much fun in this city to live anywhere else.
"You seem happy."
"I am. I'm really happy. What about you? I didn't see the name coming, I have to admit."
"It was actually Kurt's idea. I like it, though."
"It fits. It suits him. He's the spitting image of Kurt. The eyes and the smile… I always thought he'd look a little like me, but there's nothing. I guess that's for the best."
"You can't see it until he laughs. Sometimes I pull a weird face at him just so I can see you again for a second. Is that weird?"
"Yes. You're weird."
He laughed again, getting less inhibited each time.
"OK, OK," he gazed at the baby, who'd woken up at the sound of unfamiliar voices, but wasn't crying. She was just staring up at the stranger in front of her. "May I?"
"Sure. I carried yours for eight months; it's the least you can do." Blaine grinned at her. Anyone else in the same situation would've been on eggshells, but they couldn't help being comfortable around each other, even though they probably weren't supposed to be. He scooped the baby up expertly, having missed the feeling of holding something so tiny and soft. He'd been dropping hints to Kurt for months about having another one, but so far he'd been reluctant. After everything they'd gone through before, Blaine could understand his hesitation.
"Hi, sweetheart," he cooed at her. Without him knowing, his eyes and mouth had widened and he was just making one strange face after another. All at once, he felt like that mischievous twenty-year-old laughing at his friend's inappropriate jokes and a father, so at ease holding something so delicate and already getting nostalgic for when Alex was this small. He let her hand clamp onto his little finger. He smiled at the soft gurgling noises she made.
"Matilda, huh? I bet I know where that came from."
"Fine, make fun. I know I'm not exactly Miss Honey, but I like it."
"It's adorable. You're adorable, aren't you, Maddie?" He tickled her and she giggled, bubbles forming on her lips. "What about work? Are you back at Beth Israel?"
"No… they knew too much. It would've been weird. I'm at Presbyterian – transplants, mostly. ER stuff started freaking me out. Too many people didn't make it. This isn't as exciting, but I actually prefer it. It doesn't hurt that there's more money, and my maternity leave is insane. I get to hang out with her all day, it's cool." She smiled at Blaine, looking like a seasoned professional with the baby. "I hate that I missed this."
He looked up at her.
"When he was little. I wish I'd gotten to see you two with a baby, all fluffy and perfect and smiling."
"I don't know about perfect. We were exhausted and covered in puke."
"But I bet you were smiling."
Blaine was smiling now. He nodded, blushing slightly.
"You know it was your decision – not seeing us anymore. I missed you too. I didn't get to see you falling in love, and I'd been wondering what that would look like for years. I always hoped maybe we could… I'm sure we could've found a way…"
"Blaine, do you really think you could have looked at me the same way? I know I can't. I think that's why I kept moving – I wanted to get away from the person I saw in the mirror. I wanted to get her out of my head and forget what she'd done, but it's still following me around. I had enough judgement from myself without seeing you as well. I know you would have tried, Blaine, but I think a part of you would have had a panic attack every time I looked at Alex. What I always loved about being with you two was feeling like a student again. I could be that obnoxious teenager I used to be, but I would have just felt guilty. Daniel didn't know that side of me, but he didn't know the worse side either. I told him; I had to explain how I knew I was pregnant, how I knew the feeling. I told him the whole ridiculous story and how badly I wanted to leave that behind and he was surprised, but he was fine. He actually jokes about it; I think that's how I know it's gonna work between us. He's almost as inappropriate as I am."
"Wow," Blaine turned to see Kurt standing behind him holding four enormous cups on a tray in one hand and an impatient little boy squirming in the other, "I find that hard to believe."
"OK, we're here, now can I have it?"
"Sit down first; I don't want you to spill it trying to climb up."
"But if you do, it'll be hot and sticky and gross…"
"Fine," Alex conceded, rolling his eyes as if Everest was standing in between him and the mound of whipped cream, clambering up next to Blaine, pulling on his arm so he could get up faster, and Blaine instinctively lifted him up. Safely tucked in beside one father's warm, steady arm, he turned to the other with wide, pleading eyes, "See? I'm up. Daddy won't let me spill it."
"Good point. He'll probably just drink it himself."
Alex edged away from Blaine, strategically placing him arm between him and the cup Kurt put in front of him.
"Well, that depends. Does mine have extra cream? And marshmallows?"
"Blaine, I'm surprised they managed to fit any water in there."
"Then it looks like you're safe."
Alex continued to eye him suspiciously but nestled back next to him.
"Dad," he shout-whispered, "Are you OK now? You're not crying anymore?"
Blaine stroked his hair and kissed him on the top of his head.
"I'm fine, baby. Everything's fine because I've got you, you fidgety little munchkin."
Alex laughed and tried to pick up his drink, but Kurt pushed it back onto the table without even looking.
"Too hot, honey."
He took a deep breath and chewed his lip, remembering the countless times he'd scalded his tongue and knowing his dad was right, but that didn't make it any easier to have to stare at it. He sat on his hands and kicked his feet together. Blaine distracted him with the baby.
Kurt took a seat next to Becca. He'd imagined running into her again, but it had always terrified him. He thought it would be awkward and quiet and that they'd all want to run away, but it almost felt like they'd planned to meet up. Maybe she wasn't the woman sitting in their kitchen, shouting and swearing and drinking, but at least she wasn't the one ripping them apart. She was someone new. He realised they must have changed too. He looked at Blaine. Yes, he still had that huge grin and the laugh and the voice and the eyebrows that could show more emotion than some people could with their whole bodies, but he looked different. It was the kind of change that nobody else would notice, and he only realised it now that he was looking for it. There were lines in the corners of his eyes and mouth; his stubble was a little rougher, his hands a little harder. They were signs, remnants from years of smiling and laughing and trying to teach Alex new words and miming chewing at him to persuade him to eat broccoli until he just ate it himself. That was when the two-year-old Alex started trying to treat his father like a dog under the table, feeding him everything he didn't want and skipping straight to the ice cream. Kurt caught on and put a stop to it, but let Blaine think he was the one doing the disciplining.
The callouses on his fingers reminded Kurt of the time when Alex was about six months old, and he got home late and found Blaine asleep in the baby's room, slumped in the armchair with his guitar on his chest and an arm draped over it, as if he was still trying to play. The light was still on, and Alex was still awake. He sat quietly in his crib and looked up at Kurt as if to say 'Poor thing couldn't keep his eyes open. Didn't have the heart to wake him.' He laid the guitar on the floor then hauled him, still half asleep, into their bedroom and lowered him onto the bed, kissing his temple, then went back to the baby, who seemed to be waiting for him.
He picked him up, holding his tiny body against his chest and feeling soft hair on his cheek and a small head resting on his shoulder. He started humming and it immediately made Alex soften; it was so comforting, so gentle. He rocked him slowly, swaying from left to right and closing his eyes to feel the tiny, steady heartbeat on his skin. Kurt rubbed his hand across the baby's back, feeling the bones that were barely solid, growing so quickly, and as Alex stretched and yawned in his ear his hums grew into words.
He heard the door creak behind him and turned to see Blaine, raking a hand through his hair. Somehow it was a tangled heap after two minutes in bed.
"Blaine," he whispered, "go back to bed. You're exhausted."
"But you're singing." He smiled and kissed Kurt in that slow, lingering way he always did when he sang, because his voice hit a sensitive spot in his brain that made it difficult to function normally and he couldn't help himself. He laid his hand on top of Kurt's, entwining their fingers so that their palms both rose and fell with Alex's breathing, and wrapped his other arm around his waist. He kissed the baby's hair gently before resting his forehead against Kurt's. They both closed their eyes and kept swaying slightly, perfectly in sync, and Kurt started singing again. After a few lines, Blaine joined in.
They both kept their eyes closed, their voices melting into each other's mouths, and Kurt found a perfect harmony without even trying. They didn't know if they were getting the words right, but they kept singing so quietly that it was almost a whisper. Even long after Alex fell asleep, they held him between them, his muffled sighs tickling Kurt's neck. He put him to bed, but they stayed in his room. They could have screamed and he wouldn't have woken up. Their voices were familiar to him, and they made him feel safe. They kept holding each other, dancing to music that wasn't there, taking turns humming and whispering and stifling laughs, until it started to get light. Their bodies didn't part for hours, pressed tightly together, Kurt's arms around Blaine's neck, Blaine's chin resting on Kurt's shoulder so he could nuzzle into his hair and smell him, and his arms wrapped firmly around his waist, grounding him, reminding him that it wasn't just some perfect fantasy.
Kurt snapped out of his daze. For a long time he'd thought of that memory as his favourite. He'd never felt so content – no, i blissful/i. Looking at Blaine and Alex, both grinning and laughing and looking at Maddie in sheer amazement, he started to think that maybe another one wouldn't be such a bad idea, ('i on one condition, Blaine: this time we adopt/i'), but he also realised that every single memory was his favourite. Even the early mornings when Alex wouldn't stop crying, even when he and Blaine had argued about whose turn it was to get up and feed him, even when they had to rush him into hospital because they thought he had appendicitis but it turned out he'd just eaten too much too quickly and he threw up on the face of the patronizing doctor who was checking him out – in fact, that was a highlight – he wouldn't change a second of it. And that included how they got there. It included Becca.
He felt a hand on his wrist. She was smiling at him as he was smiling at them, and she leaned on his shoulder.
"She really is cute, Becca. You're so lucky."
"So are you, Kurt."
She was right. He was.
"We've missed you."
"I've missed you too."
"Do you think maybe… maybe you'd want to come to dinner?"
Thanks to everyone who's stuck with this story for so long. The response has been overwhelming. Sorry the updates have been so erratic; I've had to squeeze it in around uni work, but I appreciate your patience and all your reviews.