Kurt stormed down the hallway, ripping off his headphones, iPod still clutched in his hand. Finn was sick. Again. Was he pregnant? Was he regurgitating food for a clutch of baby birds like Lima's answer to Snow White? Kurt had cut short his after-school coffee date with Blaine and Rachel to finish studying for his French test, and for what? His brother to shake the walls to their foundations? Shaking his head, he placed his iPod in his pocket then knocked on his brother's door.
"Finn?" No answer. God he missed living in a basement. "Finn? Open the door!" Kurt coughed, clearing his throat. "Just because there were a dozen donuts in the box, it didn't mean you had to eat all of them." He knocked again, swearing he could actually feel his blood pressure rise. "You do realise they don't have golden tickets in the centre of donuts, right?"
Sighing, Kurt pressed his ear against the door. The retching appeared to have stopped. Good. Kurt turned on his heel briefly, smiling to himself. He made it halfway down the hallway before the music started. Cat's in the Cradle. It was a song Kurt had heard Finn singing in the shower, just before he and Kurt went to get their suits fitted for Burt and Carole's wedding. When Kurt had gently explained it wasn't a touching ode to one's new family, Finn had shrugged and replied that, duh, he knew the meaning. It was just a cool song to sing, because it went up and down, like doing scales but less boring.
So if Finn knew what the song meant, and wasn't singing, there might be something amiss which wasn't fallout from Finn's amateur reenactment of Man vs. Food.
"Okay, Finn," Kurt said, well aware that there was a difference between Finn insisting he be left alone and actually wanting to be left alone. "Please confirm you're alive because I'm not messing up my manicure by tearing your door from its hinges."
"S' open," Finn replied, voice gravel rough.
Peeking his head around the door, Kurt blinked. Finn was never renowned for his healthy tan, but his face was whiter than a picket fence.
"Rough day at the office?" Kurt asked. "Can I get you anything?"
"No thanks," Finn said. He was perched on the end of his bed, turning a bottle of water between his hands. "It's, uh... just dry heaves now. I'm okay."
Finn clearly wasn't okay. There was no kind way to put it: he looked like crap. Kurt walked over to turn off the stereo then took in the expression on his brother's face. Finn's eyes were red, like someone had rubbed them clean with a really rough towel, and his hair was such a wayward mess that Kurt just knew he'd been scrunching it between his fingertips.
"How could she, Kurt?"
Oh. The Finchel soap opera. Kurt resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Rachel had been her usual melodramatic self after school, bubbling over like a hot spring, talking about how she'd already found a perfect apartment for them in New York, and could they get a cat like Holly Golightly's?Finn's name hadn't been mentioned once; any infraction must have been something very minor. Finn had probably made an off-handed comment about the size of her boobs, or Rachel had shot down Finn's suggestion to duet on How Deep is Your Love because she felt it too gauche.
"Why did she tell me," Finn continued, his voice raw and choked. "It's always gonna hang around my neck, this big loser weight, just dragging me down, pushing me under, and..."
"Finn? I don't understand. Did something happen?"
Sitting down on the bed, Kurt looked away because Finn's voice and face were so broken it seemed too intimate to meet his red-rimmed eyes. Kurt's eyes shifted, to the tarnished football trophy on Finn's desk, to the photograph of him engulfing Rachel in a hug during their trip to New York. Then, his eyes scanned Finn's disgusting, unwashed-in-forever sheets and took in the faded, passport-sized photograph.
Kurt knew that photograph like the back of his hand.
Christopher Hudson's photograph wasn't an uncommon sight. The first night in their new house, Finn had snapped, physically and emotionally exhausted. Kurt had sat with him for hours, listening, talking about what family meant as Finn extracted the photograph from his wallet. They'd never be best friends, and they had little in common, but they both found warm milk delicious, and that was a start, wasn't it?
A few days later, Kurt had walked into the kitchen. He stopped dead in his tracks. Finn was sat on the kitchen island, wearing nothing but his Hanes tighty whities, swinging his legs and swigging milk from the carton.
"Want a glass, bro?" he'd said casually.
"When hell freezes over," Kurt had replied, reaching into the fridge for a can of diet coke. "And please wear a robe next time. Rachel might be impressed, but I'm your brother, and I was planning on having breakfast. Not that I will, now. Your legs look like Slim Jims coated in Liquid Paper."
"Brother!" Finn had said, milk-moustached mouth curved up in a smile. "I like that!"
They'd become brothers in more than name. Finn had opened up to him that afternoon, telling him how if he could be half the man his father was, he would have no problem making his mom proud of him. Over the following months, Kurt had watched Finn thumb the edges of the photograph, telling the ghost of his father about how he yearned for Rachel but didn't think Rachel yearned for him in the same way. Kurt had watched Finn stare silently, his face wilting, explaining how he'd been turned down by the recruiter from Ohio State.
Now, Finn was silent. All Kurt could do was watch him nod, then place his palm over Finn's hand.
"It's not about me," Finn continued. "Well, it kinda is, but mostly... mostly it's about him." Finn paused. "Um, there's something big, really big. I, I don't know where to start. This is so messed up, Kurt."
"What's so messed up?" Kurt asked, thumbing Finn's worn comforter with his right hand. He remembered the times he'd wrapped the comforter across Finn's shoulders when he'd been sick, when he'd confided in Kurt that he'd have to let Rachel go after the year was through. From the look on Finn's face, the sadness spreading down to his clenching fingertips, it seemed nothing could comfort him now, least of all a blanket.
"So," Finn exhaled audibly. "I met with this Army recruiter last week, right, and..."
"What were you thinking!" Kurt blanched. How could Finn even think about putting Carole through that? "No, Finn. You weren't thinking. Why didn't you tell me? What, you were just going to wander off to Fort Knox with a knapsack tied to your drum stick hoping your family wouldn't notice?"
Finn laughed, but it sounded dark, and nervous to Kurt's ears. "Um, I didn't tell you because I knew you'd react like that."
Kurt was angry. Not just at Finn, for being so, so irresponsible, but at himself. How did he fail to realise this was the inevitable conclusion of Finn's indecision about the future? Finn always wanted to protect and help people. He wanted to be a hero. (The first-person shooters were a smoking gun, too, although if those were concrete evidence, two thirds of McKinley's student body would be enlisting.)
"Okay," Kurt said, then took a deep breath. "Talk."
"Yeah." Finn took a long slug of water before continuing. "So back when -" he paused again, the blush in his voice tangible, "um, it's not important when. After the recruiter told me I wasn't good enough, Rachel said she'd help me figure it out. Cool of her, right? But since then it's all been NYADA this, and NYADA that, and... she didn't really have time to help me. So I figured, what was the harm? The recruiter was, wow. I mean, he told me there were all these awesome things I could do, 'cause I thought it would all be front-line stuff like what... he did, you know, but..."
"Awesome things?" Kurt raised his eyebrow. "This isn't Modern Warfare. But, it is very noble of you to want to follow in your father's footsteps."
"Yeah, join the Army, be some hero." Finn's voice hitched in that way Kurt rarely heard. It made him want to bundle Finn up and protect him, all six and whatever feet of clumsy, foot-in-mouth inches of him. "Turns out my dad wasn't exactly what you'd call a hero."
Kurt squeezed Finn's hand tightly and turned his head. "You told me he died in the Middle East, didn't you?" Finn nodded sadly at him. "So why isn't he a hero, Finn?"
"He... my dad was..."
Kurt bit his tongue. The moment he'd learned about Finn's father, he'd quickly realised the first Gulf War had happened before Finn had been born. He quickly shrugged it off, assuming Finn had confused the Gulf War for the Afghan Civil War, or something similar. Carole would never have shielded him from the truth. Finn was awful at remembering dates and names, case in point forgetting their parents' anniversary dinner, but...
"Kurt," Finn said. "Um, sucks enough to think this, and to say it is just... oh man. He didn't die in Iraq. He, he didn't die a hero. He was just some loser druggie who left Mom all alone, not knowing where the hell he was, not knowing how the hell she'd pay the rent." He paused, Kurt watching him stare down at the floor before he laughed again, bitter and awkward-sounding. "He was discharged. Dishonorably. Kinda explains why Mom never got any Veteran's Aid, huh?"
Kurt nodded, numb and ran his thumb over the back of Finn's hand.
"And you know how I found out?" His voice was louder now, imbued with anger, making the hairs on the back of Kurt's neck prickle. "Mr. Schue. If Mr. Schue hadn't told Mom and Burt I met with that recruiter, I guess I'd never know." Finn paused. "I'd rather I'd not known. You know?"
Kurt couldn't begin to pin down the feelings running through him. Utterly out at sea covered it rather well. All he could do was nod, and listen.
"I found out when Mr. Schue gathered Mom and Burt and they cornered me. It was like some plot from, man, I dunno, Unthinkable or something." He paused, scrunching his hand in his hair. "I'd had all these scenarios in my head. He pulled his men from the tank, or he walked over a landmine on his way to help someone and... now what? He collapsed in an alleyway? Froze in some park? Crashed out on a pee-stained mattress and never woke up, and... I ran, Kurt. I ran to my car, and got home, and, like, puked on the floor of the garage. That look on Mom's face, I just..." He paused. "I cleaned it up, and puked some more, and..."
"Finn, thinking about the details like that isn't going to help -" Kurt responded, feeling more than a little queasy himself.
"You think Mr. Schue knew all along? Huh? You think he knew how much it would have really hurt Mom if she found out I had - I had drugs in my locker? What if he put them there, huh? Is that why he did it?"
Kurt knew what had happened with the Chronic Lady; it had come out during a chat at a family party where, okay, he might have had a rather large glass of sparkling wine. Kurt had jokingly accused Finn of only joining glee to get into Rachel's hideously ruffled pink panties. After learning some information about Rachel's choices in lingerie that the largest glass of wine in the world couldn't have erased, Finn had confessed he was blackmailed, too.
"No, Finn. You're like a son to him. Frankly it's a little inappropriate at times, but he knew glee club would have sunk without you and Rachel." Kurt paused. "And yes, before you ask, it does cause me physical pain to admit it."
Finn snorted, then took another sip of water. "I can't trust him. I... I can't trust anyone, Kurt. Adults suck. They suck so bad. Why did she have to tell me, huh? Why did she have to tell me now?"
"Would you really have wanted to go the rest of your life not knowing it was a lie?"
"Shut up," Finn replied, his voice dripping with venom. "You don't understand. You got to know your mom. You got to watch Burt holding her hand each day, and when Burt tells you that you're strong, and kind like her, you know it's not a lie, because you knew her."
Kurt shivered. He remembered petting his mother's hair when she slept on the couch after her chemotherapy, his eight year-old self not realising she wasn't Sleeping Beauty, and life wasn't a fairytale. He'd clung to the memories, re-read his old birthday cards with a slow smile on his face, but did occasionally envy Finn. Knowing what a wonderful woman his mother had been really was a double-edged sword. He shook his head. He didn't know how to help Finn, but sharing that wouldn't do any good.
"Finn, your parents must have loved -"
"No," Finn responded, shaking his head. "If he loved Mom, he wouldn't have left. He wouldn't have... wait, maybe it was me? What if it was all 'cause of me? He didn't want to stick around and have to watch me grow up into a loser just like him."
"You don't know that," Kurt responded. "You never will. Only he knew his reasons, Finn."
Finn reached for the photograph on the bed, holding it close to his face. "I used to be so proud of my middle name, you know?" Kurt nodded, urging Finn to continue. "When I was a kid, I hated being called Finn. Everyone would call me fish-face, you know, just regular kid stuff, but I wanted to change it so bad. Mom wouldn't let me. Said she wanted me to be my own man when I was older." He turned to Kurt, pointing at the photograph. "When I was younger, I kinda didn't see it, didn't think I looked like him that much, but see Kurt? See that look in his eyes? That's the look I get when I'm all mad and I just wanna smash stuff up. Isn't that fantastic?"
"That's not what I see when I look at you, Finn." Kurt took the photo from Finn's fingertips and placed it face-down on the bed. "Has anyone ever told you that you have your mother's smile?"
Finn was silent for what seemed like an age, the room static except for the tap of his shoe against the carpet. "Yeah, a few times." Then, he sighed. "You know, if he'd been less selfish, less... I dunno what, man. I just... I could have grown up with a family."
"Yes," Kurt said, softly. "You could have, but then we wouldn't have this one."
They lapsed into silence again, Kurt allowing Finn to lean against him for once, letting his arms clutch him tightly and draw any strength he could.
"Do you... do you think I'll turn out like him?"
Kurt chewed his lip. Finn sounded so resigned to his fate. If Christopher Hudson had shown any sort of psychological distress before joining the Army, they wouldn't have allowed him to enlist. They had assessments, didn't they? Kurt wasn't entirely sure. He'd never managed to sit through Full Metal Jacket or Apocalypse Now when it was Finn's turn to select a DVD for family night.
Then again, Kurt didn't know much about the military, but he knew people. And he knew Carole very well indeed. Carole did speak of her first husband fondly; unlike Finn, she didn't just see situations in terms of black or white. Like Kurt, she realised there was so much grey in everything.
"Your father was a brave, caring man with a great sense of humour," Kurt said. "Don't let the memories you've been told about be erased by something that irrevocably changed him from the man he was before. Would Carole have kept his chair, and kept his ashes if he'd been irredeemable, Finn?"
"I guess not. But, Mom's pretty... what's that word that means you like to hold on to the past?"
"Nostalgic?" Kurt offered.
Finn nodded. "Yeah, that. And just cause I play my Xbox until, like, 3am sometimes, that doesn't mean I have one of those addict personalities." Then, he paused, staring at Kurt with widening eyes. "Wait, does it? Oh God, what if it does?"
"No more than Blaine and me reading Globe together when we should be studying," Kurt responded. Finn afforded him a snort to that, which felt like music to Kurt's ears. "Who you are, the people who shape you, they don't have to be blood-related. Addiction isn't an inevitability, Finn."
The gap between Finn's eyebrows creased so quickly it was almost comical. "It's not? 'Cause I'm not too hot at school, but I do know about DNA and stuff."
"Look at Ms. Corcoran," Kurt said, gently. "Do you think she had any bearing on who Rachel is, and what Rachel wants to be?"
"Um, kinda? They both sing really good and go crazy for gold stars?"
Kurt slapped his hand against his forehead. "No," he said. "What I mean is that Rachel spent most of her life thinking her mom was, I don't know, Bernadette Peters or Christine Ebersole," he paused, Finn's face looking even more confused. "She thought her mom was a famous Broadway singer. Too busy strolling down the Great White Way to nurture someone as talented as herself. Remember how upset Rachel was when she found out her mom wasn't what she thought she was? Then, we sat down with Rachel and told her what really shaped her were her fathers, and her friends. And, most of all, herself. Did finding out who her mom really was stop Rachel following her dreams?"
Finn laughed, shaking his head. "Dude, nothing would stop Rach following her dreams. She'd claw her way out of, like, a zombie apocalypse to get a part on Broadway."
"Exactly," Kurt replied. "Your mom taught you what it meant to be a man, Finn. Not him."
"Not just my mom," Finn said, his voice almost imperceptible, Kurt having to lean closer so he could hear it. "You did, too. I just can't shake that this is just hanging around my neck like, like some sort of loser weight, always set on dragging me back down into loserville. And I kinda feel like people are always looking at me to lead the way, you know?"
"Oh, like a bellwether?"
"A bell what?"
Kurt couldn't help but sigh. They lived in Ohio, bellwether state of the freaking nation. Had his brother not paid any attention during Burt's campaign? They'd discussed the concept on election night. They'd discussed it extensively. Then again, Finn had been more interested in holding rosettes in front of his eyes and running around pretending to be Captain America. Kurt smiled at the memory; giving Finn Hudson three medium drips and telling him they were decaf had been amusing, if not entirely moral.
"It's the term they use during elections to describe a trend in one area which forecasts trends in the other, like a barometer." Finn looked painfully confused, as though he were about to pass a kidney stone, and Kurt searched for simpler way to phrase things. "You thought you'd lead the pack. You thought, and don't be indignant because it's true, that Rachel would follow you. And, this metaphor has progressed beyond clumsy, but sometimes it's okay not to know what you're doing, okay? You don't always have to lead."
"Oh, um, okay?"
"Do you really want to join the Army?" Kurt asked.
Finn's face looked lost in thought before he nodded, slowly and uncertainly. "How else am I gonna get out of here? We all know I'm not good enough for New York." Finn paused. "What you just said, though... what if I did decide to follow you and Rachel? You'd let me, right?"
Kurt smiled. "Of course," he said, without a moment's pause. Their first year in New York would be difficult for a plethora of reasons. Rachel wanted to live with her favourite gay, and Kurt wanted to live with his brother. (His boyfriend, too, but brilliant though Blaine was, bending space and time was not one of his many talents.)
"You don't think I'll be some big jerk tugging on your coattails?"
Kurt shrugged. "So what if you are? Full length coats will be the trend for fall/winter 2012. I'll make it happen."
"Um, can I?" Finn extended his arm awkwardly.
"Just this once," Kurt replied, shifting on the bed until he could lean forwards and loop his arms around his brother's waist.
Finn murmured happily, a soft rumble against his ear, content to stay there. Kurt closed his eyes, allowing Finn's ever-present warmth to wash over him for a moment. It was something Kurt didn't like to make a habit of, because Finn might have been clumsy with his words, and clumsy on his feet, but when he was like this, he was anything but. It always felt like Finn was comforting him. And that wasn't Kurt's intention, not now, so he broke away regretfully after sweeping down a few errant strands of Finn's hair with his fingertips.
"Vamos, Lurch," Kurt said, patting Finn on the back. "Change out of that hideous Mellencamp-era double denim and dry your eyes. The two of us and Rachel are off to Breadstix."
"Blaine has a prior engagement."
"Cool," Finn replied. "Um, not that I mean it's cool cool. Blaine's awesome. He just... he doesn't get how much growing up sucks."
Kurt nodded. Blaine was mature, but Kurt knew his boyfriend well enough to know that Blaine would end up saying 'I know just how you feel' because Blaine always had an innate need to empathise with everyone else. Kurt envisaged Rachel on one side of Finn and himself on the other, attempting to restrain Finn as he lunged at Blaine with a breadstick and loudly said, "you want a fencing trophy in this, Anderson, huh?" Kurt loved how much of an effort Finn and Blaine were making to get to know each other, but his boyfriend's presence would hinder, not help.
Then, Kurt felt guilty. By getting sidetracked, he'd abetted Finn's tendency to get lost in his own cauldron of thoughts.
"I'm so scared of losing her," Finn said, seeming like he was talking to himself more than Kurt. "I'm... I'm gonna lose her. I'm gonna lose her to New York, to, to some preppy jerk with one of those Zac Efron haircuts and designer stubble. He'll play Scrabble with her dads, and remember to put soy milk and not the regular stuff in her tea, and remember she likes half a teaspoon of honey in it for her voice, and..."
"Will you just stop being so melodramatic? Rachel loves you. Rachel's so deeply in love with you she's at risk of drowning." Kurt snorted, shaking his head. "God knows, I'm tempted to throw her a swim vest during your duets, except sometimes I'm so overcome with nausea I think I'd rather watch her sink."
Sighing, Finn stood up, rummaging in his dresser. Kurt really hoped he was seeking more suitable apparel.
"She says she loves me," Finn said, "but I know she loves New York even more. I need a way to hang on to her, Kurt, don't you think? And that's not gonna happen unless I do something big."
Kurt nodded to himself and stood up. Rachel's one true love was drama, after all. "All you need to do is find a way to show her you're not going anywhere." He paused. "And use your actions, not your words. That poem you gave her for her birthday was atrocious."
"Well, yeah. It's not my fault nothing rhymed with Rachel." Finn was silent for a few moments, his finger raised to his lip. Then, he began flailing his arms in the air like he was swatting imaginary flies. "Wait! Yes! That's it! You're, like, the best brother ever."
Kurt rolled his eyes and exhaled a small oof as large arms pulled him in close again. Finn had an idea. Great. Kurt should ready his earmuffs now, because Finn's idea of romance was singing an Air Supply song in the cafeteria. Or, ugh, driving Rachel out to the reservoir for the old park and make out and pointing out his star. Ugh. He didn't want to think about that. Nationals had been scarring enough, let alone the time he'd come home early and witnessed him swallowing her tiny face whole like a boa constrictor.
Pulling away, Kurt patted Finn gently on his shoulder. "I'm sure she'll love whatever it is you're planning," he said, hoping his voice sounded kind. The likely result would be Rachel complaining to him that it wasn't sweepingly romantic or expensive enough. "Please, though, Finn. Don't do a pirouette before you learn how to plié."
"Kurt, man. I don't know what a plié is, but yeah. I, got this, though."
"If you insist," Kurt replied. Finn held up a pale blue shirt, his eyes open and hopeful, and Kurt shook his head. "No. Absolutely not. That colour washes you out at the best of times." He strolled over and extracted a much more suitable garment, pressing it into Finn's hands. "Consider that my Amelie-esque good deed for the day."
Kurt stared down at the floor as Finn took off his shirt. "And I'm sorry. I wrapped myself up in NYADA a little too much recently, too. When you're angry, when you need someone, turn off the 80s soft rock and talk to me, okay?" Kurt looked up. Finn looked good, the Brooks Brothers sweater they'd picked out together at the mall hugging his broad shoulders. A small twinkle was back in his eyes, and Kurt smiled. Finn seemed much happier; more himself.
"I, uh... yeah." Finn scratched his head and opened his mouth, but then closed it. "Look, we kinda both owe each other apologies for not being around much. Kurt, I... you're a really great brother, okay? When I say I got your back, I mean it."
"Well, of course," Kurt replied. "I've got your back, too. All eighty seven feet of it. And yes, we might have come together because of a piece of paper, but with or without that, I'm not going anywhere."
"Kurt?" Finn said, raising his eyebrow. "What do you mean you're not going anywhere? Is there something you wanna talk about, too?"
Of course Finn would interpret that literally. Though, yes, Kurt did fear they might both be stuck in Ohio after graduation.
Finn had extra curricular written all over him. Yes, Finn Hudson's name would never be on the front of a playbill. He'd never lift up a Superbowl trophy, or sell out arenas. He did, however, have so much more going for him than he realised. Briefly, and bitterly, Kurt totted up Finn's achievements. Leading a fragmented football team to State Championship. Basketball and baseball. Belting out his own original song at Nationals. Assistant assistant manager at Sheets n' Things - granted, that was because Mr. Schue's ex-wife had, eew, taken a Mrs. Robinson-like shine to him, but an admissions tutor would undoubtedly have been impressed.
Yes, Finn's GPA was rather woeful, but it was easy to forget he didn't just vegetate in his room wasting zombies all day. And if Finn didn't think he was New York great? Kurt sighed. He couldn't burden Finn with this. Not now. He couldn't resent Finn, either. It wasn't Finn's fault that his worries about not being good enough were causing Kurt to dredge up his.
"You're right," Kurt said, shooting Finn a look from over his shoulder as he walked over to the door. "There is something on my mind. If I wear pants with an elasticated waist under my sweater, do you think people will mock me?"
"Um, no?" Finn sounded confused, and Kurt just knew he was doing that adorable little eyebrow crease of his. "You can rock anything, Kurt. You always look awesome."
"Of course I do," Kurt replied, as he closed the door behind him. "I need to go and change, but can you do something for me, Finn?"
"Sure!" Finn said, his voice slightly muffled through the door, but so much brighter than before. He sounded a little happier than before, at least. It was unrealistic to expect that beautiful sunshine-like quality to be back immediately. Kurt himself knew all too well what it was like to feel like everything was settling into place and then have the rug pulled from under your feet. Sometimes, it felt like there wasn't even a rug under his feet to begin with.
"Call Breadstix and check they're serving chocolate cherry cheesecake this evening," Kurt said.
"Cheesecake? But you don't -"
Kurt nodded. He didn't. Not normally. But after a junior year which ended on a relatively high note, him, Finn and Rachel been plunged into a senior year which was a cesspit of suck. And, Kurt realised grimly, there were still a good six months of it remaining.
"I'll check they have a whole one," Finn replied, sagely, "gotcha."
"Better yet," Kurt said, trying not to dwell on what other surprises senior year would bring, "let's make sure they have two. The regular ones." He paused. "And a pint of Wild Berry Supreme Tofutti, because Rachel's indigence over a lack of empty calories can get rather messy indeed."
1. Brotherly Furt. Oh, how I missed writing you.
2. Let me know if you have any more ideas for fill-in-the-gaps fic between these two, because I find them a whole barrel of fun to write.
3. Kurt has no idea what Finn's 'big gesture' really is, of course. He certainly wouldn't be this flippant if he did...