AN- Guh! You guys! My feels!
So, I need you to know that seeing how much I tortured your emotions... oh god it messed with me!
Picture me on the couch, wiping my eyes with a tissue as I read your reviews. My hubby walks into the room.
"Um, V? You okay?"
I fall sideways with an incredibly unladylike snuffle.
"No! I'm crushing people's souls and killing their dreams with my words!"
I can be a tad bit of a drama queen.
This is me officially apologizing for your shattered hearts and spilled tears!
That being said, I actually have zero regrets. There is more to this story than what meets the eye right now, and there are numerous perspectives that I feel strongly about addressing. Angst is not the main emotion I wish to convey, but it is a real one, and heavily involved with situations like this. Also, while shit times in life are just that... shit... they are sometimes entirely necessary. I do not believe in just pretending that the shit times don't exist or can't happen. They stretch us and force us to evolve. We grow. We gain wisdom. We become stronger. We become better people... as long as we allow it.
My characters will allow it. I will force them. Oh, the power of being behind the keyboard ;)
Rest assured, I love these characters as much as you do. Have faith in me. My author's note at the beginning of the last chapter was meant to be foreshadowing in the extreme. Therefore, I will repeat myself, just as a little reminder for those of you who have lost faith as to my goal and desire here...
The sweetest victories, the happiest endings... they come after a journey filled with the most harrowing obstacles.
Sweet victories and happy endings guys. Hold onto that please.
Blaine watched out the window, numb everywhere.
He and Kurt were alone in the house. Puck had taken off only minutes ago, realizing that there was nothing more he could do. Finn and Burt had taken all four kids, just for the evening- so that Blaine and Kurt could talk.
They were supposed to be talking, comforting each other.
They weren't. They were in separate rooms.
They hadn't said a word to each other since saying goodbye to the kids, and even then they were just putting on a brave front. Brandi had refused to talk to either of them, climbing into the back of Burt's car with red, swollen eyes. She had clung tightly to Addy when the little girl approached her, and Blaine had been grateful for that at least, both for Brandi's sake and Addy's.
The nurse clenched his jaw, struggling to hold on to the angry bitterness he was feeling. He tried hard to push away the guilt that kept creeping up - guilt that had been building slowly ever since he had lashed out at Kurt in the yard. Guilt that told him he was treating Kurt so unfairly right now.
He just wanted to be angry. Irrationally angry. He could be angry at his husband, because his husband was there. Tangible. It was easy.
Being angry was better than being hurt, right?
And he was so hurt right now. So much so that he just wanted to die. If he gave into the hurt, if he just gave in and let himself be weak... he felt like he would never recover.
Alex had always thought he was so weak. Alex had always...
Blaine's eyes widened as he clutched at the glass pane in front of him.
What am I doing? What the hell am I doing?!
This was Kurt, not Alex.
This was Kurt- the kind, loving, accepting, always steady, ever encouraging, continually supportive man he had married.
This was Kurt- the man who was doing his best to hold it all together, despite the fact that he had to be dying inside, same as Blaine. The man who had been craving this huge family for longer than he had even known Blaine.
Kurt- the man he loved. The man he had just treated like shit because he had been so blinded by his own pain.
With a deep groan, he pushed himself away from the window.
It didn't matter if it hurt. It didn't matter if being finally being real about his feelings with Kurt almost killed him.
He needed to apologize. He needed to hold his husband and be held. He needed to give his support even though he felt as if he had nothing to give.
That was what marriage was: 'for better or for worse'. Right now was just the 'for worse'.
Kurt closed his eyes, leaning up against the wall in Tia's room. He was crouched down on the floor, listlessly running his fingers through the silky hair of her favorite My Little Pony. One they had failed to pack for her to take.
He had failed everyone. He couldn't protect Tia and Liam. Brandi hated him. Blaine was angry with him. Even Elly, Addy and Greyson had to be taken away for a bit, because he apparently wasn't able to care for them either.
He had never, in all his life, felt so very alone.
It seemed disturbingly ironic that he should feel this way now, after finally having the big family he had always wanted.
Why did it have to be this way? Why did it have to hurt so fucking much? He felt as if he was breaking apart from the inside out.
He sank down onto the floor completely. The strength and composure he had felt earlier were gone. Now he was weak, vulnerable, and visibly broken. He clutched the stuffed pony to his chest, and rested his head on his knees, silent tears streaking down his face.
He jumped when he heard Blaine speak his name from the hall. He sucked in a deep breath, trying to withdraw as far into himself as possible. He knew he couldn't handle any more tension or dissent. He tried to shrink into himself, wanting to feel small... to disappear.
He turned his head away when the door to Tia's room opened.
"Please, Blaine," he whispered. "I know you're mad. I know I didn't do the right things. I can't though... I just can't hear any more..."
He looked up in surprise when he felt Blaine fall down onto his knees, right by his side, with an anguished little huff of breath. Relief, inexplicable relief, flowed through him when Blaine's arms surrounded him.
He didn't hesitate. Not for a second. There was nothing left that he could hide. Nothing left he wanted to hide. He crawled into Blaine's lap, feeling like a child, and started sobbing in relief, just at the feeling of his husband holding him again.
"I'm sorry," he gasped. "I'm so sorry! I'm sorry it seems like I don't care sometimes! I don't mean for it to! I care so much, Blaine! I want to die it hurts so much! I-"
"Kurt, no!" Blaine interrupted in a pained voice. "I'm the one who's sorry! I'm so sorry! I was so terrible to you and you didn't deserve it! I'm sorry, baby. Shhhh... It's okay. We're going to be okay. We-"
"It's not okay!" Kurt sobbed, clinging to Blaine. "Our babies are gone! They're gone! It's so unfair! WE took them in! WE nurtured them when they'd been abused! WE are the ones who they call daddy! WE are! US... not absentee father of the year over there! What is wrong with this world, Blaine?! Why would that judge do this?! Why would that man decide to just swoop in once we had fallen in love with them? Why?! It's not fair. It's not okay! It will never be okay!"
Blaine moved to settle himself all the way on the floor, adjusting Kurt carefully in his arms so that he could hold onto his husband a bit better.
The nurse slowly let out a deep breath, trying to calm his own crying. He figured it wouldn't work for them to both be hysterical at the same time.
"Listen to me," Blaine sniffed, holding Kurt's face in his hands and brushing away the tears with his thumbs. "This is what we're going to do. I'm going to stop acting like an ass, thinking that I'm the only one with legit pain, and you're going to stop with the whole 'brave front' where you act like you're fine. We're gonna cry, and talk and just generally feel like shit together. We're gonna say out loud every hurtful thing that comes into our minds, even if we feel selfish and childish for saying them. We're just gonna be a mess together for the rest of the night."
Kurt gulped a ragged breath, nodding with wide eyes. At this point, any type of plan at all was better than what they had been doing previously. He also had to admit that the idea of being so free with his emotions right now sounded amazing. Painful, but just what they both needed.
"Can I add just one thing to that plan of action?" Kurt asked, calming significantly and wiping his eyes with the back of his hands as he stood from where they were huddled.
"What's that?" Blaine asked, standing too when Kurt offered him a hand.
"A drink. Because god I could really use one at the moment and we can be as irresponsible in our pain as we want since we're kid-free."
Blaine actually smiled a little, though it was mixed with a painful grimace, slotting his fingers with Kurt's and leading them from the room.
The first evening of being a real father was not going at all how Bryan Scott had imagined. He had never really been around children before now, so while he was ready and willing, he had no idea what he was doing. Both children had started wailing the moment he had pulled down the road, and that had started off the tone for their entire evening. They would cry inconsolably, and he would desperately try any and every trick he had seen in a family movie with bumbling fathers, hoping to God that something would make his children happy. Obviously his simple presence was not going to do the trick. He had, quite naively, believed that it would.
It had started with them crying for their daddies in the car, which had ripped at his heart in ways he hadn't imagined possible. He had lasted a full two minutes, before pulling off to the side of the road desperately. He turned around in his seat, singing every silly song he could think of from his own childhood. It had consisted of a grand total of two songs, which he repeated about four times. After a few minutes of him singing, accompanied by what he considered to be ridiculous faces and hand motions, they had calmed considerably. They weren't exactly happy, definitely not smiling, but they had at least stopped crying. From the looks they were giving him, he was sure that they thought he was a little bit nuts. He didn't blame them.
The tears had started again not ten minutes later when they passed by a billboard for a local hospital with a smiling, young doctor holding a baby. Apparently the image struck a chord with the children because they had both promptly burst into tears again, crying for daddy.
That time he resorted to bribery, immediately pulling into the nearest McDonalds and ordering two happy meals. With watery eyes and snotty noses, they clutched the cardboard boxes to their chests, watching him warily... but at least they had stopped crying again. It crossed his mind that maybe Tia was too young for this kind of food, and he was suddenly hit with how ill-prepared he was for this. After a moment's hesitation, he took away the chicken nuggets, offering her just the fries. He breathed a sigh of relief when she started gumming contentedly on the fried food without choking.
The crying had started again the moment he had parked his car at the apartment complex. Liam had started wailing that he just wanted to go home as soon as he saw that this wasn't 'his home'. Bryan was sure at this point that his heart couldn't take much more.
It had been twenty-five minutes.
The next challenge had been taking all of the childrens' things inside. An odd tightness filled his chest when he saw, yet again, all of the bags given to him by the Hummels. They had been more generous than he had a right to expect. Particularly the man named Kurt, though his husband's reticence clearly came from his devastation at losing the children, not a desire to just be unfriendly. Bryan was smart enough to see that.
He stood at the side of his car, feeling at a complete loss as to how he was supposed to carry all of this inside, along with the two young children, and never leave them alone. They were sobbing uncontrollably once more, to his extreme embarrassment, he realized that he wasn't far behind.
That was when Finn had shown up.
He had to give the social worker a lot of credit. He knew very well that the over-sized man was less than happy with how things had turned out, but once the decision had been made, he had been nothing but professional and helpful. He had been a solid and in-control presence at the exchange, and was helpful and even comforting once he had shown up at Bryan's apartment.
Finn had offered to carry in the bags while Bryan carried the kids up to his apartment, and then stayed for a while, offering suggestions and even reassuring Bryan that he would be fine, that it would just take time.
After a bit, the kids finally started to settle. Bryan tried incredibly hard to not let it bother him that Tia and Liam were obviously much comfortable with 'Unca Finn' than him. He wondered briefly is this was a conflict of interest, but the kids were so comforted by the tall man's presence that he would be damned if he took that away. God knows he had already ruined their lives enough. First all those months spent living with an abusive mother, now he had jerked them away from, who he now considered to be, the world's most perfect parents. A sick feeling kept creeping into Bryan's gut when he considered the whole situation, but he pushed it aside. As horrible as this was, he was the children's father. There was no one better to raise a child than their own parent.
Before leaving for the evening, Finn had given him a multitude of pamphlets and information. Some were for local organizations and support groups that offered help for parents in his situation. A couple were for organizations located in Nevada, for when Bryan finally headed home, along with a couple names and numbers Finn had looked up.
Bryan had held the information in his hand, staring at it in relieved disbelief, before looking up to Finn and speaking carefully.
"Thank you. I know you hate me. I know you don't think I'm doing the right thing here, but you haven't let it affect your work at all. I appreciate it. I have a lot of respect for you."
Finn stared back evenly, almost disconcertingly, before answering long seconds later.
"How I feel about you personally has nothing to do with this. My job, my desire, is to see these kids happy and healthy and, if possible, loved. I will do anything within my power to make that happen, and right now that means setting you up for success, so I will do so."
Bryan swallowed roughly and looked down at his lap, knowing that the other man's words were a true show of his character. They stung like a bitch though. He looked up when Finn sighed heavily.
"Look, I may not have liked how this went down," Finn said carefully, "but my job now is to see you succeed, and believe it or not, I genuinely want that. If I couldn't see my way around my emotions I would be in the wrong profession."
Bryan nodded gratefully, smiling a bit. Finn smiled back, though it was obvious that it was a bit forced. As the social worker turned to leave, Bryan spoke softly at the door.
"It is possible you know. I do love them. That's why I'm doing this. They're my kids. I love them."
Finn stopped in his tracks, peering back through the tiny apartment to peek at the kids snuggled up in the second bedroom under Sesame Street blankets that had obviously been purchased especially for the kids that afternoon. He let out a heavy breath before heading back out the door.
"I really do believe you," he responded with a serious expression. "I do."
"So," Kurt asked in a low voice as he played with the half empty shot glass between his fingers. "What next?"
Blaine sighed heavily, pushing his own partially filled glass aside. They really didn't drink together that often, mostly because they had been fathers since the day they met. The few times they had gotten drunk together, it had been a fun, light-hearted thing, where they did it purely for the experience of doing something fun and a little crazy. They had never gotten drunk out of desperation to not feel anything, and to be honest, it was kind of making things worse.
Really, they had barely drunk anything even now. Just a few sips here and there as they tried to talk everything out. They were slightly buzzed, mostly numb, and really... just plain depressed- even more so than they already had been. He couldn't help thinking deep down that they should have known better, that this wouldn't really help. Even just from the basest fact that they were two medical professional who knew perfectly well that alcohol is, in fact, a depressant.
He pushed both of their glasses back completely, and slid down from his barstool, pulling Kurt into his arms. The doctor sighed heavily, wrapping his arms around Blaine's waist and leaning into him.
"I guess that was a stupid idea. Drinking to feel better just isn't us, huh?"
"Guess not," Blaine sighed.
They were silent then, and just stood there, considering everything they had discussed over the last couple of hours.
They had talked the crap out of everything. How they felt. How angry they were. How heart-broken they were. How devastated they were for Brandi's sake. Was there any possible way to fight this... ending with them both realizing that there really wasn't. They discussed trying to work something out with the father so that they could visit, for Brandi's sake more than anything. Even that plan had them feeling unsure though. Would seeing Tia and Liam further, beyond the initial transitionary visits being planned before they left town, be in the best interest of the kids? As tragic as this was, they couldn't imagine that continually exposing Tia and Liam to their presence could be a healthy thing, especially when the children missed them so much. It seemed along the lines of waving a cookie in front of their faces and then snatching it away again.
They had finally come to the decision that they would sit down with both Finn and Nick in the next couple of days to try and sort some of these thoughts out. Get some perspective.
Now they were just standing there, feeling achy and empty and just agonizingly crushed... with no tangible way of fixing anything.
Eventually, Kurt pulled back and grasped Blaine's shirt lightly with both hands, then leaned in for a kiss. Blaine let himself be drawn in, somewhat half-heartedly, but pulled back after a couple of light little pecks. Kurt shook his head quickly, a rush of breath leaving his mouth and nose.
"No, don't do this. Don't pull away."
Blaine looked at Kurt in surprise. They had both pretty much cried themselves out after the first hour or so of talking, and had turned fairly stoic and solemn.
Now, though, Kurt's voice was tight, as if he was trying to hold back more tears.
"Kurt, I-I'm not trying to pull away, I just-"
"No!" Kurt snapped, causing the nurse to jump a little in surprise. "This is exactly what Finn was talking about! Well, maybe not exactly because I'm pretty sure he's tried very hard to NOT picture his brother having sex. I know I try hard not to, but this is what he was talking about!"
Blaine felt some tears build in his eyes again, hating to see Kurt this distraught. At the same time he was laughing a bit at the comment about Finn not wanting to picture them having sex. It always amazed him how, when he was upset, every emotion possible seemed to rise to the surface and mix together in a jumbled haze that made him feel a bit crazy. His laugh was a bit like a choked cry, which caused the doctor to let out a similar laugh of his own.
"Look, Blaine," Kurt sighed, rubbing his hands up and down his husband's arms and pulling him in again. "Finn said this to us before he left. He said that we can't allow this to come between us. He sees things like this every day. I know he does. He's talked to me about different stories over the years, stories of the stress becoming too much for couples, and they end up fighting, and they split up because they never talk or are physically close anymore, and that can't happen to us because we're better than that!"
Blaine just watched as Kurt started rambling, becoming a little more intense and high-strung with each word.
"I'm not talking about sex," Kurt rushed on, barely realizing that Blaine had spoken, "okay, well, I am, but not in the sense that I normally do. It's just, for us, this is a way in which we really connect with each other, and very regularly might I add. I feel so... lost right now... and I just need to connect with my husband! I need to feel close to you! I need to BE close to you. I need to feel something normal and I need to know that we're going to be-"
He stopped talking when Blaine grabbed his hand and yanked him toward the bedroom without a word.
They still hadn't said a word to each other.
No exclamations of how good it felt, or even discussions what they wanted.
There weren't even any 'I love yous'. They really weren't necessary.
The intensity of this moment was beyond all of those normal things. Kurt had meant it- and had been completely right, when he had said that, ultimately, it wasn't about the actual sex right now.
It was about the connection... and they had honestly never felt so connected. For both of them, every emotion was on the surface. Every emotion was so bright and vivid. While their grief was vast and even physically painful, so was their contentment in the fact that they could find such comfort in their intimacy.
Their eyes locked as Blaine pressed down heavily onto Kurt's chest, sliding his hands up his husband's arms until their fingers met and threaded together on the pillow under Kurt's head. Kurt lifted his head slightly, meeting Blaine's lips and gasping softly as the nurse finally thrust forward completely.
His eyes closed for just a moment, sinking into the feeling of being completely joined together with his husband. This was exactly what he needed right now, and he knew the same was true of Blaine.
Their gaze met again, and held, while they moved together.
Breathing in, as the other breathed out.
Slow, steady, perfectly in time with each other.
It was the calmest and most articulated they had ever been together. It was also the most overwhelmingly intense.
They took their time, knowing that for once, it truly wasn't about the culmination. It was about everything leading up to it. It was about how incredibly close they were, body and spirit. The unity they were creating.
In those moments, they were both overpowered by the knowledge that no matter what happened, no matter how bad things got, they would make it through.
They would succeed, because they were in this together.
"Honey, what can I do for you?"
Brandi stiffened and burrowed her face down into her pillow. She knew that Grandma Carole meant well, but she just wasn't in the mood to be comforted. She scooted over as far as she could possibly get when she felt some pressure on the side of the bed. Her eyes squeezed shut when a hand started stroking her hair.
Please stop trying to make me feel better!
She narrowed her eyes and whispered roughly.
"You'd better not try to say things like it's gonna be okay. I know better."
There was silence for a moment as Carole continued to stroke her hair, then the smooth, comforting voice of a mother.
"I wouldn't dream of it, sweetie."
Brandi furrowed her brow, not entirely sure if she was more surprised or more annoyed with that answer. Surprised, because Grandma Carole's first instinct was to comfort and reassure. Annoyed, because the stark realness of the answer was dangerously close to breaking down her carefully built walls. The teen gulped back the tears that we building once again in her chest and burning the backs of her eyes.
"It's not fair, Grandma."
"No, it's not. Nothing has ever been more unfair."
"I know. You have every right to be."
"I hate that stupid judge."
"I hate that stupid man."
"He's not a real dad."
"Well, he definitely hasn't been up until this point. You're right."
"I hate all of our real parents!"
"I know. I don't blame you."
Brandi paused for a moment. Her breathing was thick and shallow as she fought to hold back more tears. She was so sick of crying. She almost stopped herself from saying what came next, but she couldn't help it. It felt so cathartic to just get it all out. It was almost a bit of a test actually, though she wasn't thinking logically enough to realize that that was what she was doing. Would they still love her, would they still want her... no matter what she said or did?
"I hate dads."
The room was quiet for several long seconds, but the gentle strokes on her hair did not stop or even slow.
"Why is that, punkin?"
"Because they let them take my brother and sister away!" She snapped harshly, choking a bit on the cries she was holding in. "Because they promised they would take care of all three of us! They promised! They lied to me! They lied to Tia and Liam!"
"Did they really lie, sweetness? Did they say they wanted to keep you all, without intending to do so?"
Brandi wanted to lash out. She wanted to continue being irrational, because it felt better than the soul-killing sadness. She wanted to, but she couldn't. Carole's voice was so soft and loving... so very non-judgmental. She wasn't criticizing. She was gently nudging Brandi to open her mind.
Slowly, slightly, Brandi shook her head no.
"They were told they would be able to keep Tia and Liam. They honestly believed it could happen. Believe me when I say that their pain about disappointing you is second only to their pain of losing them."
Brandi didn't answer, but she was starting to shake a bit with the effort of continually holding back the sobs that just wanted to break free.
"I'm still angry," she whispered.
"I know," Carole answered quietly. "I know. You should be. Everything about this is terrible. There's no plus side or silver lining that I'm going to try to convince you of."
Brandi's resolve was pretty much gone by then, and tracks of tears were making their way to her pillow.
"Just remember," Carole went on, "when you're ready, those two fathers of yours love you more than life itself. They may not be able to fix everything, and life sure as heck won't be perfect, but it's a whole lot easier to handle when you have people to surround you and love you. You went without that for so long. But now? Now you have it in abundance."
That's what finally did Brandi in. She knew this was true. For the first time in her life she actually had real parental support and love. It was so foreign to her that she didn't know how to respond. She had known deep down that none of this was the Hummel's fault, but it had been so easy to blame them, because they had been right there to take it.
She had also been struggling, since day one, with the feeling that she was so incredibly undeserving of their love. When she had completely lost it earlier today, and lashed out at them with everything she had, a tiny voice had told her she was doing the right thing. She was going to lose them eventually. Nothing good was ever a permanent fixture in her life. At least she had gone ahead and given them a reason to dismiss her. In a twisted way it had been a relief.
Now, though... now she was terrified that it had actually worked.
She buried her face down into her pillow, and cried.
"Are they gonna be mad at me that I was so mean? Do you think that they aren't gonna want me anymore?"
"Oh, honey!" Carole laughed, but it wasn't in a mocking way, just in a loving 'don't be ridiculous way'. "If you had any idea how unconditionally they love you, you wouldn't even dream of questioning them. No, punkin. They are absolutely not mad at you. I can guarantee it. And yes, they will always, always, always want you. Always. Nothing you do could ever change that."
Brandi shifted around so that she was looking Carole in the eyes, and the older woman gently wiped away some of the tears with a sad smile.
The teen let out a shattered little breath and slowly reached out to take Carole's hand as she contemplated what she was just told.
Unconditional love was still such a foreign concept. She wasn't entirely sure that she believed in it. One thing was for sure though; the longer she was with the Hummel's, the closer she came. Even in moments like these. Especially in moments like these.
She squirmed uncertainly for a moment, knowing what she wanted next, but not sure if she had the right to ask. Carole watched her knowingly and smoothed back her hair.
"What is it, honey? What do you need?"
Brandi blew a little breath from the corner of her mouth, trying to clear her nerves.
"Can I, maybe, if you don't care... text them? Dads, I mean."
She looked up at Carole nervously, and felt relief wash over her when her Grandma immediately grinned and pulled her phone from her pocket, handing it over without a word.
The teen bit her lip nervously and started pressing the buttons with shaky fingers. She had to fight every learned instinct- screaming in her ear- that she shouldn't do this.
Don't reach out. You'll just be rejected. How could they possibly still love you after you treated them that way?
With a sick little flip-flop of her stomach, she pressed send...
Kurt was lying between Blaine's legs, head resting on his chest, mindlessly running his fingers up and down his husband's arm. Blaine had his arms looped around Kurt loosely, pressing lazy kiss after kiss to the doctor's hair.
They were in a state of numb calmness. Yes, they felt reassured of their love for each other, and of their renewed solidarity. There was, unfortunately, no assurance of anything else. Tia and Liam were gone, soon for good, and Brandi was still angry with them, hated them.
They knew that this would pass, somehow they would get past this... but it was so heartbreaking in the midst.
Kurt looked up with a racing heart when his phone sent an alert, and quickly scrambled to the side of the bed to snatch it up. He wasn't even sure what he was hoping to see, just that any news coming in right now felt like it had to be monumentally important.
A surge of happiness shot through him when he read what was flashing across his screen.
"Blaine," his voice cracked just a bit. "You need to see this."
He scooted back up so that he was back between Blaine's legs, resting against his husband's chest, cheeks pressed together as he held the phone out for the nurse to read.
"Oh my god," Blaine gasped. "Oh, Kurt!"
~Hi daddies. It's Brandi. I'm sorry I said all those things. I didn't mean them. Are you mad at me?~
They both choked back happy little sobs as Kurt rushed to reply. He glanced back at Blaine for approval before sending the text, and received a quick nod of compliance as Blaine kissed his cheek...
Brandi was worrying her bottom lip anxiously, holding the phone tightly in her hand when it beeped. She sniffed and looked up at Carole with a watery smile, showing her the message.
~Never, punkin! Never, ever, ever! There's nothing to forgive. Daddy and I love you so very much. Always. Are you okay?~
She thought for a moment, and then sent back a quick message.
~Not really, but I know that you aren't either. I love you too.~
It was barely two seconds before she got a response.
~You're pretty special, you know that? We'll see you tomorrow. Xoxo, Daddies~
She smiled softly, handing the phone back to her Grandma and sinking back into her pillow. Carole tucked the blanket in around her, and kissed her head before moving toward the door. Brandi was just closing her eyes, when Carole spoke one last parting comment.
"You know, sweetie. I don't want to interfere, and you should definitely talk to your dads about this, but you are still Tia and Liam's sister. We can look into making sure that you can still visit them."
Brandi's eyes widened and she slowly sat up in bed. Carole looked at her evenly and went on.
"You have been put in the position of having little to no control of your circumstances for so much of your life. That's not the case any more... at all. Now, there is obviously nothing we can do about the custody, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are being taken away from you completely. Believe me when I say that your dads will do anything and everything they can to help, and every single person in this extended family will help and support you.
Carole sent her a little wink and left the room.
Brandi didn't sleep for quite a while. She suddenly had a lot to think about.
Late Monday Night
Bryan paced the floor of the small bedroom with a crying Tia. He glanced at his watch. 2:30am.
"What, honey? What do you want? What do you need?" He asked the baby in an anxious voice. He glanced down to the small toddler bed where Liam was sitting up, looking tired, confused, and anxious himself.
"What do you think she needs, Liam?" He asked carefully. He felt beyond ridiculous asking a two-year-old for help, but at this point the toddler probably had a better idea than he did.
Liam watched him curiously for a moment. The small boy was obviously still trying to figure out how he felt about this situation, but Bryan felt he was at least coming around to realizing he wasn't a bad guy. After a few seconds, Liam shrugged his shoulders in a tired motion.
"Tia wan's daddies."
Bryan nodded slowly, choking back a little cry at how insurmountable this path suddenly seemed. He gave Liam what he hoped was a genuine smile and did his best at tucking the child in, though he was quite positive that Doctor and Mr. Perfect would have done it ten times better.
He took Tia into the tiny living room and continued his pacing.
Burt looked up from his newspaper, surprised to see Brandi standing in front of him. She had been hiding out in Kurt's old room all morning, and they had been giving her her space, knowing she needed time to sort out how she felt. As surprised as he was that she was showing her face to the rest of the world, he was even more surprised at her expression.
Her eyes were a bit puffy and red still, but other than that, she looked very... determined.
"Hey, punkin. Morning... or, err, almost afternoon I guess. Grandma Carole's outside with all the kids."
Brandi nodded distractedly and sat down at the table next to him. She pulled a page from the section of newspaper that he wasn't reading, and fiddled with it in her hands.
"Did Addy and Elly go to school?"
Burt shook his head with a smile.
"No, Grandma Carole figured they could use a break. They're playing out in the snow with the rest of the kids."
"Where is Gres?"
Burt sighed, seeing that she was on task as her role of protective older sister. This was something she slipped into pretty easily already, and the trauma of last night had definitely magnified it.
"He's sleeping in the pack-n-play. Brandi, are you doing okay? Is there anything I can do for you?"
She shrugged, careful to not display any emotion. Burt reached out to take her hand, and she looked at him in surprise. While they had always gotten along well, even to the point where she normally joined in with the rest of the kids in calling him Grandpa, they hadn't gotten to this place of closeness.
"Look," he said a little awkwardly, reaching up to rub the back of his neck with his free hand. "I'm not all feely and stuff. I was never good with the emotional things, just ask your dad... but sweetheart, you just need to know that I love you same as any of my other grandkids. I couldn't be happier that you're gonna be an official part of our family..."
He trailed off when her face fell.
"Aww, shit. I couldn't have brought that up at a worse time, huh?"
He paled then, realizing he had sworn. She looked at him in shock, before completely surprising herself and giggling. It really had been the perfect thing to break the ice.
"Uh, just don't tell your dads that I said that in front of you."
She nodded with a little smile.
"Anyway," he went on, rolling his eyes at himself. "That was my screwed up way of saying that I'll be there for you, kid. Whatever you need."
Her smile faded and she gave him a look as if she were evaluating him. She gave one sharp little nod, before speaking quickly, afraid she would change her mind.
"I need to make a phone call. I need to call Uncle Nick."
Burt's eyebrows rose.
"Can you tell me why?"
He used every ounce of his self control to not burst into laughter at her crisp tone, knowing that that would be the worst possible thing he could do. He considered the situation for a moment, and then shrugged, figuring that if she was going to be secretive, there was no one they could trust more than Nick.
He handed her his phone and pointed to Carole's office.
"Go ahead, sweetheart. You've only got about half an hour though. Grandma is gonna feed everyone lunch and then I'm going to take all four of you home. Your dads want you back."
The excitement that leapt into her eyes was completely unexpected to him, and after she had snatched his phone, given him a hug, and skipped off to Carole's office, he wondered briefly if he had helped to start something he would regret.
"Oh my god, you are such a boy!"
Nick grinned wickedly at his husband as he took another enormous bite out of his messy cheeseburger. Jeff rolled his eyes, reaching out with a napkin to wipe the cheese dripping from the lawyer's chin. Nick was just trying to figure out how to set his sandwich down without it completely falling apart- when his phone rang. He looked at Jeff with questioning eyes, motioning with his grease covered fingers.
Jeff chuckled and reached across the table to grab the phone from Nick's pocket.
"Hello? This is Jeff. Nick would be answering but he's too busy eating like a middle school child."
Nick narrowed his eyes as he quickly dampened some napkins from his water glass to wipe his hands. Jeff immediately stopped grinning though when he heard the voice on the other end.
"Um, h-hi Uncle Jeff. It's Brandi. I-I thought I was calling Uncle Nick's phone. I'm sorry I bugged you, I-"
Jeff's eyes widened. Brandi had barely gotten over the intense nervousness that came on every time she was around adults other than her fathers or Finn, let alone call them on the phone. She actually hadn't even referred to them as uncles before, though it made sense since all of the other kids did.
"No, sweetie. You're not bugging me, and you did call Uncle Nick's phone. We're at lunch together."
"Honey, are you alright?"
Jeff quickly shook his head when Nick gave him an inquisitive look, and held up a finger.
"Um, yeah, I guess. Can I maybe talk to Uncle Nick... i-if that's okay?"
"Sure, honey. Of course. Just a second, okay?"
Nick had finished cleaning his hands by then and held one out curiously when Jeff handed him the phone.
"Who is it?" Nick mouthed.
Jeff just made a motion for Nick to answer, and the lawyer did so with an exaggerated sigh.
"Hi, Uncle Nick. It's... it's Brandi."
Nick's eyebrows shot up halfway on his forehead and Jeff gave him a look that clearly said, 'I know, right?"
"Hi, honey. How are you doing with everything? I'm so, so very sorry," he finished softly.
There was a heavy silence for a moment.
"Thank you, Uncle Nick. I, um, I actually called you on business though."
If Nick thought he'd been surprised before, just at the fact that he'd called him, he was blown out of the water now.
"Okay, can you tell me about what specifically?"
"First I need to know some things."
"Sure," he responded slowly. "What sort of things do you need to know?"
"I want to hire you, but I don't have any money. Can I pay you in babysitting? Elise really likes me and I'm really good with kids."
"Sweetheart, if you actually do need me for something, your dads would pay for it. I know they wo-"
"I don't want dads to pay for it. They buy me so much. I want to do this myself."
Nick sagged a bit against the back of his chair. He knew a bit from the things that Kurt and Blaine had told him how amazing this girl was, but this was his first real experience with her.
"Brandi, if you need me for something, you don't need to worry about the payment. Uncle Jeff and I are more than happy to-"
"No! I-I mean. That's really nice, Uncle Nick. It means a lot... but, if I'm going to do this I want to pay you. If babysitting won't work then I'll find another way."
Nick chewed the inside of his lip for a second, contemplating.
"Well, Brandi. I do a certain amount of work each year that is something called 'pro bono', which basically means that I do it for free. I would be happy to do this kind of work for you, should it turn out that you require my services. However, if you would like to babysit sometime for Uncle Jeff and I, just because you want to do something nice for us in return, we would absolutely love it. How does that sound?"
There was a moment of silence, and he could practically hear her contemplation over the phone. Nick ignored the questioning look Jeff was trying to shoot at him.
"Okay. What else did you need to know?"
"If I hire you, I'll have attorney-client privilege, right?"
Nick looked at Jeff incredulously, and the blonde bounced irritably in his seat, frustrated at not hearing whatever the news was firsthand.
"Good. I looked it up on Grandma's computer. That means you can't tell dads what I tell you."
"You're right. That's exactly what it means. Why don't you want Kurt and Blaine to know though?"
"I just... I want to talk to you first. They have enough to worry about. I don't want to give them something else to stress about."
Nick had to hold back the comment that knowing your child is hiding something is more stressful on a parent than just knowing whatever the news was.
"Well, yes then. It would absolutely be just between us. Whatever you have to say. Just know that my advice as Uncle Nick, not as attorney at law, is to talk to your dads. They only ever want the best for you. Okay?"
"I know. I will. Just, not until I know some things."
"I can go along with that. So, what can I help you with?"
Nick waited and listened to her suck in a deep breath before speaking.
"Okay, here's what I want to know..."
"Honey, they're here!"
Kurt ducked out the front door before Blaine even had a chance to respond, skipping down the steps as Burt's car pulled up the drive. Blaine was seconds behind him, ready and waiting once the car pulled to a stop in front of the house.
Addy rushed out of the car first, diving immediately into Kurt's arms and asking him if Tia and Liam's daddy had changed his mind and given them her brother and sister back. He sighed heavily, picking her up and holding her close before answering.
He was actually pretty proud of how calm and reassuring his response was, and knew without a doubt that the reason for his composure was Blaine's steady hand on his waist.
He gently explained that things hadn't changed, and that they weren't likely to. She nodded dejectedly, then threw her arms around his neck, telling him that she would give him and daddy the 'biggest, bestest' hugs in the world whenever they were sad.
Kurt just hugged her back, thinking that there probably wasn't a better cure in the world.
Elliott came cautiously from the car next, eyeing his fathers with a discerning eye. Blaine knelt down; arms open wide with a soft smile. Elliott smiled back and jumped into the open arms. Neither said a word, but Elly's sigh of contentment was enough for Blaine to know that he was going to be okay.
Burt called for Addy and Elly to grab their bags from the car, and they quickly ran to obey.
Brandi came next, stepping up toward Kurt and Blaine timidly, eyes downcast. She glanced up, the turmoil she was feeling almost tangible. They stepped toward her in the same moment, yanking her into their arms between them. She latched onto them immediately, physically sagging in relief and letting out a small broken sob. They stayed that way for a few minutes, each just feeling relieved that they were still loved by the others.
"I'm sorry," Brandi finally whispered.
"So are we," Blaine whispered back.
All three knew that they weren't really apologizing for anything said or done, just for the fact that life wasn't as it should be.
She pulled back after a moment, sending them a look that told them, if nothing else, she was still so grateful that she had them in her life, before turning to the house.
Burt approached last, with a fussing Greyson. Blaine gave his father-in-law a quick hug before taking the whimpering baby into his arms. The nurse automatically sang and rocked as he took their youngest inside and out of the cold, and Greyson immediately relaxed with small contented sighs.
Father and son stood there for a moment, neither knowing exactly what to say. Burt blinked away some tears, seeing clearly the pain and exhaustion in his son's eyes. With a sharp shake of his head, he stepped forward and pulled Kurt into an embrace.
"You okay, kid?"
Kurt sighed and shook his head, resting on his dad's shoulder.
Burt nodded, holding his son closer.
"You gonna be?"
Kurt smiled then, sadly, but genuinely.
"Yes. In time. Yes."
"Daddy does it better."
Bryan stiffened, working hard to not react. He had heard this sentence no less than fifty times since the previous evening.
When he put their pajamas on. Daddies made it so the buttons matched up.
When he brushed their hair. It didn't hurt when daddies did it.
When he read them a story... something about how "the stuffed animals should be talking".
When he tucked them in. Daddies made them a "little baby burrito" in their blankets. Bryan had no idea what that meant.
When he made them breakfast. Daddies made the food go into their mouths like an airplane.
When he fixed Tia's hair. Daddies used bows.
When he asked them to pick up their toys. Daddies sang a little song about cleaning up so it was fun.
The list just went on.
Apparently 'daddies' were Mr. Rogers incarnate.
Bryan put on the most genuine smile he could muster, still attempting to fasten the buckles on Tia's overalls. He wasn't successful.
"Well, Liam. This daddy is still learning, okay? I'm gonna try hard to do things just as good."
When Liam shot him a look that clearly said he didn't believe Bryan was capable, quite a feat for a two-year-old, he slumped against the back of the couch. Tia pushed away from him, sliding down onto the floor and out of her pants.
Bryan watched them both crawl into a corner together, as far from him as possible, then turn and watch him distrustfully.
A cold feeling crept into his chest. He had failed them by not being around when they were born. He had failed them by not rescuing them from their abusive mother. What if now, in trying desperately to right his wrongs, he had failed them again?