Disclaimer: Glee belongs to Ryan Murphy and Fox, not me.
It wasn't until he was halfway through the first stack of paperwork that it finally struck him.
"It's the twenty-fourth," he mumbled, frowning at his invoices. He sat up straight. "It's the twenty-fourth. It's Christmas Eve."
Suddenly it made sense why Kurt had been hanging that stupid thing on his window. It wasn't just another one of the kid's glitter-shedding arts and crafts projects. It was a Christmas ornament. The only piece of Christmas his boy was going to have.
"Dammit," Burt said, scooting his chair back and pushing his papers aside. "Oh, dammit. I'm the worst father ever. Dammit."
He hadn't done anything. No tree. No decorations. No presents. God, no presents. And Kurt hadn't said anything. Not that Kurt said much at all anymore, but still. It was Christmas Eve and the kid hadn't breathed a word.
He nudged Kurt's bedroom door open and switched on the bedside lamp, then hesitated. Kurt didn't sleep well anymore, and he sort of hated to wake him up if he'd finally fallen asleep. But then he noticed the sad little sock tacked up at the foot of the bed, and he sat down carefully beside him.
"Hey, kiddo," Burt said, brushing Kurt's hair back from his forehead. "Wake up."
Kurt roused a little, rubbing his eyes with the backs of his hands. "Santa?" he mumbled.
The guilt was beginning to make him a little nauseated. "No, baby, it's Daddy," he said. "Wake up. We're gonna go get a Christmas tree."
Kurt sat up. "We are?" he said.
"Yeah, buddy, come on," Burt said, scooping him out of bed and setting him on the floor. "Go get your shoes, okay?"
"But I'm in my pajamas," Kurt objected.
"Doesn't matter, it's Christmas," Burt said, glancing down at his watch. It was a little past nine- they'd probably better hurry. "Come on."
Kurt hastily pulled on his teal sneakers and followed Burt down the stairs, trying to smooth down his bedhead. Burt snatched their coats out of the closet, helped him into it, and hurried him out to the truck.
"Are we really gonna get a tree?" Kurt asked as he buckled himself in and pulled on his gloves.
"Sure we are," Burt said. He put the truck in reverse and backed into the street. "You didn't think I'd really forget, did you?"
Kurt just shrugged a little and turned to press his face to the window to watch the brightly-lit houses roll by, and that hurt a lot more than he expected it to. He cleared his throat and fiddled with the radio until he found some half-muffled Christmas carol.
He drove down the street, sighing in relief when he caught sight of a still-open tree lot, brightly lit with strings of white lights. "Here we are, bud," he said, pulling into a parking space. "Go pick out whatever one you want."
Kurt paused, tilting his head to the side. "Really?" he said.
"Really," Burt said, giving him a slight push. "Go on, bud. Pick out whatever tree you think is the best."
Kurt slid out of the truck and trotted off towards the tree lot. Burt exhaled slowly as he locked up the truck. He had to fix this. He had to make this better.
He trailed up and down the aisles behind Kurt, his hands deep in his pockets. "Have you found one you like, kiddo?" he asked.
"No, not yet," Kurt said.
"What're you looking for in particular?" Burt asked, sizing up a decently sized tree.
"I don't know. I'll know it when I see it."
Burt paused, tilting his head back to stare blankly at the night sky. God, that wasn't fair. Kurt shouldn't be able to say things just like Mollie used to.
"Dad! Dad, I found it!" Kurt shrieked.
Burt rubbed the back of his neck and rounded the corner. "What'd you find, bud?" he asked.
"This one," Kurt declared, pointing to a tall evergreen with perfect branches. "I want this one, Daddy."
Burt grinned. "It looks good," he said. He squeezed Kurt's shoulder. "I'll go take care of it, you go see if there's anything else we need."
Kurt nodded and darted off. Burt rummaged around in his back pocket for his wallet and headed over to the proprietor. "Can I help you, sir?" the tired-looking man asked.
"Uh, yeah, I-"
A large woman pushed past him. "Excuse me, I need to pay for that tree over there," she said, gesturing broadly.
Burt started. "Actually, I was about to buy that tree for my kid," he said.
"Yes, well, I'm decorating for the Junior League Christmas party, and we need just one more tree, and that one'll be perfect," she said, whipping out her checkbook.
"Now, hold on a second," Burt interrupted. "I promised my son he could pick out whatever tree he wanted, and that's the one he wanted, so that's the one we're getting it."
The tired man leaned back, arms folded. "She asked for it first," he said, nodding towards the woman.
She scowled fiercely. "And your boy should learn that he can't get everything just because he wants it," she said.
Burt gritted his teeth. "Okay, you see that little kid over there?" he said, pointing towards Kurt. "That's my son. He's eight years old. His mom died seven months ago. This is going to be our first Christmas without her, and I'm the ass who forgot to do anything for him. No presents, no decorations…no tree."
The woman stared at him blankly. "I, um…I suppose I could find another tree that'll do," she said, stiff and awkward, before sticking her checkbook sloppily back into her purse and hurrying away.
Burt's shoulders sagged in relief and he rummaged around in his wallet to pay for the tree. The man held up his hand. "No, mister, I can't take that," he said. Burt blinked. "You take the tree. Get your kid some presents or something instead."
"Uh…thanks," Burt stammered. "Thank you."
"Merry Christmas," the man said. "You need help loading the tree up?"
"No, no, I got it," he said. "Thank you."
He jogged back over to Kurt. The little boy was standing close to the tree, hiding a yawn behind his hand. "You ready to go?" he asked.
"The tree's ours?" Kurt said.
"All ours," Burt said. "Let's-"
He paused. Kurt was staring up at the tree, his blue eyes wide, and he was smiling. It wasn't much- just a tiny hint of a smile, his lips tilting up faintly, but it still counted as a smile.
It was the first time he'd smiled since Mollie died.
Burt swallowed the sudden lump in his throat and hugged Kurt to his side, rubbing his upper arm. "Let's get this bad boy home, okay?" he said.
They loaded the tree into the bed of the truck, lugged it to the house, and got it set up. The top of the tree nearly brushed the ceiling, and Kurt seemed in awe of the sheer size of it. "Go get all the decorations out," Burt said. "Go on."
Kurt nodded and ran for the stairs. Burt pulled out his phone and punched in the speed dial for Kurt's usual babysitter, glancing around at the empty house.
"Hey, Ashley, it's Mr. Hummel," he said, crossing an arm over his stomach. "Listen, I know it's late, and it's Christmas, but…I kind of forgot it was Christmas."
"Oh my god, Mr. H, are you serious?"
"Yeah," he admitted. "And I need to go out and get some stuff. Like…" He glanced around and covered the mouthpiece. "Presents."
"You seriously didn't get any presents for him?"
Burt sighed, rubbing his hand over his face. "Is there any way you can come over and keep an eye on him?" he asked. "Just for a little while."
"Sure, I'll be over in just a bit."
"Oh, god, thanks," he said, relieved.
Kurt lugged a large plastic bin of ornaments up the stairs from the basement, bent nearly double as he dragged it into the living room. "I think I got everything for the tree," he huffed as Burt hung up the phone and stuck it back in his pocket. "Can we put everything on it? Can we?"
"We can do anything you want, buddy," Burt said, ruffling Kurt's hair. "We gotta start with the lights, though. Go on, get 'em out."
Kurt scrambled to obey, pulling the strings of round colored lights out of the box. He managed to get himself tangled up in it instead. Burt laughed and unwound him from the wires before carefully draping them around the tree branches.
Someone knocked brightly at the door and Kurt paused. "Not Santa, just Ashley," Burt explained. "I told her to come over so I can go out and…get cookies for Santa."
"Oh, okay," Kurt said, turning back to the boxes. Burt brushed off his jeans and walked over to the door.
"Mr. Hummel, you seriously forgot about Christmas?" Ashley said.
Burt sighed and held the door open wider for the pretty blonde teenager. "I know, I know, enough," he said. She rolled her eyes at him as she unwound her scarf. "Look, this shouldn't take long. Just keep an eye on him. Help him get the ornaments on the tree."
"I can do that," she said. She dropped her coat and backpack on the floor. "Hey, Kurt. You need a hand with that?"
Burt grabbed his keys and his wallet. "I'll be back, Kurt!" he called, and he pulled his coat tighter around his shoulders as he headed to the truck.
He managed to get to Lima's only Toys 'R' Us literally minutes before it closed. "I know, I know, I'm sorry," he said as he brushed past the harried, exhausted employee at the door. "This won't take long, I swear."
He grabbed a cart, headed down the nearest aisle, and started throwing things into it. Price it didn't matter, really. He just started picking up things that he thought Kurt might like, things like games for his Gameboy, action figures, a toy keyboard with a built-in microphone. And after a moment of hesitation he headed down the pink aisles and started grabbing toys that he'd seen Kurt gazing at longingly during commercial breaks on Nickelodeon- Disney princess figure sets, a friendship bracelet kit, even one of those Barbie fashion design art sets. Even one of those pastel-colored plastic playhouses. Maybe that would make Kurt smile again.
He got through the checkout line, purposefully ignoring the announcement of the total. It didn't matter. He'd gotten the first check from Mollie's parents, now that they wanted to finally do something for their only grandson for the first time in his life- might as well put that towards giving him a decent Christmas.
The store employees locked up behind him the second he left and he hefted the presents into the back of the truck's cab. He stopped by Kroger on his way home to grab what he thought might make a decent Christmas dinner, along with some gooey cinnamon rolls and cold milk for breakfast while they opened presents. He almost forgot to buy cookies until the last possible second, but he grabbed some Oreos right before he checked out. Nothing like what Mollie used to make, but it would do.
He pulled into the driveway just as it was starting to snow again. The lights were still on in the house, but he couldn't see if Kurt was still decorating the tree. He grabbed the Oreos and headed into the house.
Ashley was packing up the empty ornament boxes when he walked in. "Hey, Mr. H," she said. "How'd the shopping go?"
"Good," he said. He eyed the tree. "I see Kurt did most of the work."
"Oh, he's stubborn," she shrugged. "I kept telling him it would look funny if the ornaments were all on the bottom half, but he wanted to do it all on his own."
Burt took off his coat and draped it over a chair. "Is he back in bed?" he asked.
"No, I made him some hot chocolate and he fell asleep," Ashley said, nodding towards the couch. Burt followed her gaze. Kurt was fast asleep, sprawled out in the corner with chocolate smeared around his mouth.
Burt smiled. "I'd better get him to bed," he said. "Give me a second, I've got money to give you in my wallet-"
"Don't worry about it," Ashley said, already shrugging into her coat. "Merry Christmas, Mr. H."
"Merry Christmas, Ashley," he stammered.
The front door closed behind her and Kurt roused a little bit, rubbing at his eyes. "Santa?" he mumbled.
"No, kiddo, still just Dad," Burt smiled, brushing Kurt's hair back. "But you'd better get into bed, or Santa won't come."
Kurt kept rubbing his eyes and smacked his lips a little. "Didja get cookies for him?" he yawned.
"Yeah, buddy, I got cookies," Burt grinned. "I got him some Oreos."
Kurt frowned. "I didn't know Santa liked Oreos," he said.
"Well, he does," Burt said. "Trust me." He licked the pad of his thumb and rubbed at the chocolate smears on Kurt's mouth. "Now come on."
"Wait, Daddy, wait, I want to put the cookies out for Santa," Kurt fussed, sliding away from him and padding into the kitchen.
"You need any-"
"No, Dad, I can do it."
Burt sat back on the couch, grinning to himself as Kurt busied himself in the kitchen. He came out a little bit later with a plate of neatly arranged Oreos in one hand and a glass of milk in the other. "There," he said, clearly pleased, and set them down the coffee table.
"What's with the carrots, kiddo?" Burt asked. "Putting Santa on a diet?"
Kurt just gave him a look, hands on his hips. "It's for the reindeers," he said.
"I see," Burt said, hiding a smile. "You ready for bed?" He nodded, and Burt scooped him up. "All right, buddy. Let's go."
Kurt nestled into his shoulder as he carried him up the stairs, and he was already half asleep by the time Burt eased him down onto his bed. He rolled over onto his tummy the second his head hit the pillow, his small fist against his cheek. Burt smiled and stroked his silky hair away from his forehead. "G'night, baby," he said. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas, Daddy," Kurt mumbled, his long lashes brushing his cheeks as he dozed off, and Burt bent to kiss his soft cheek before tucking him in and turning off the light.
He closed the door gently and headed back downstairs. There wasn't going to be a lot of time to get everything ready, especially if he wanted to put some of the stuff together. And he was awful at wrapping presents. He never knew how much tape to use, and inevitably he used too much.
He did the best he could, and while he'd never win any awards for his sense of design, at least everything was properly covered. The playhouse was assembled in short order and the shiny silver scooter even faster, but just when he thought he was done, he remembered the box hidden in the back of his closet- and thankfully, that box was already wrapped.
He set the box under the tree and sat down on the couch for what felt like just a few seconds, but suddenly he jolted awake at an excited half gasp, half shriek behind him on the stairs. "Hey, kiddo," he said, scratching the back of his neck. "How'd you sleep?"
He turned around to see Kurt standing there with his eyes huge, staring in shock at the presents under the tree. "Santa came," he whispered.
"Yeah, buddy, Santa Claus came," Burt grinned. Kurt wandered towards the tree in a daze. "Looks like you were good this year."
Kurt touched the door of the playhouse. "It's all for me?" he said.
"Uh-huh," Burt said. Kurt trailed his fingers along the doorknob, but he wasn't smiling, Burt's grin started to fade. "What's wrong?"
Kurt shrugged, but Burt knew what he was thinking. He exhaled slowly and leaned forward, clasping his hands. "You see that box over there? The one with the shiny gold paper?" Kurt nodded. "Go get that one. I think you should open it first."
Kurt picked up reluctantly and held it up for Burt to see. Burt patted his thigh. "Come sit with me," he said.
Kurt crawled up on his lap and settled down with the present on his knees. "Why'd I have to open this one first?" he asked.
Burt wrapped his arms around Kurt's waist. "Read the tag," he said.
"To Kurt, love…" Kurt's voice trailed off. "Mommy." He turned around to stare at Burt, his mouth open. "Mommy got this for me?"
Burt nodded. "Go on and open it," he urged.
Kurt peeled back the shiny paper, revealing a plain white box, and lifted the lid. A small pale blue envelope rested on the top of a pile of folded sparkly tissue paper. Kurt picked it up and immediately thrust it into Burt's hands. "You read it," he said, his lower lip trembling.
"Okay, okay," Burt said, unfolding it carefully. He cleared his throat, trying to force down the sudden lump that formed at the sight of his wife's pretty handwriting. Kurt pressed himself closer to his chest, hands tangling in his flannel shirt.
"Dear Kurt," he read aloud, following Mollie's neat writing with the rough pad of his index finger. "I hope you're having a wonderful Christmas. I'm sure Santa brought you a lot of presents, and I bet you remembered to put out carrots for Rudolph and the other reindeer."
Kurt bit down hard on his knuckle and chewed anxiously; Burt gently pried it out of his mouth, linking Kurt's soft fingers through his.
"This is the first Christmas without me there with you, and I know you're probably sad right now," Burt read aloud. "And it's okay to be sad, even if it's on Christmas. And I know you and Daddy feel…" He cleared his throat again. "Feel lonely right now, but that's okay too."
Kurt wrapped both of his small hands around Burt's, and Burt squeezed back. "You'll probably feel sad next Christmas too, but not as much as this year," he read. "And a little less the next year, until you're all grown up, and it doesn't hurt the same way it used to. That doesn't mean you don't love me anymore. It just means that it's easier to remember all the good times, instead of just feeling sad."
He rested his chin on the top of Kurt's head as he turned to the next page. "I know things are going to be hard, but your daddy is…is going to take good care of you, just like you're going to take care of him."
He could feel his eyes starting to well up, just a little bit, and he breathed out slowly. "I know it's not the same as having Christmas with me there with you, but I have a present for you, just the same," he said. "It's just a little something, but it's for you."
Kurt let go of Burt's hand and tentatively lifted the tissue paper back. An empty bottle of Mollie's favorite perfume rested on the bottom of the box, a pretty ribbon tied around the neck. "You can hang it up on the Christmas tree if you'd like," Burt read. "There's a little bit of my perfume left in it, and you can still smell it. I knew you always like the way it smelled."
Kurt nodded thoughtfully and slid off Burt's knees, balancing the ornament on his fingertips, and hung it up carefully on a low-hanging branch. Burt rubbed his hand over his mouth and steeled himself for the rest of the letter.
"I miss you so much, KK, and I'll love you forever. You'll always be my little boy." He took a deep breath. "Love, Mommy."
He rested his forehead in his hand, letting the letter slip from his fingers and flutter lightly to the floor. The carpet blurred in his vision, but he didn't realize he was crying despite himself until he felt a small hand patting his cheek.
"Don't cry, Dad," Kurt said quietly. "It's going to be okay." He smeared a stray tear off Burt's cheek. "I promise."
Burt sat up and drew Kurt onto his lap. "Hey, I thought I was the dad and you were the kid," he said, trying to laugh it off, but Kurt's eyes were thoughtful and serious as he reached over to straighten the collar of Burt's shirt. Burt sighed and cupped Kurt's chin in his hand. "You're awful grown up for eight."
"Eight and a half," Kurt corrected.
Burt sort of laughed and ruffled Kurt's hair, earning a frown. "Eight and a half," he repeated wistfully. "How about you open the presents in your stocking, and then we'll have breakfast?" he said.
"Just like always?" Kurt said.
Burt tweaked the tip of his nose. "Just like always."
Kurt slid off his knees, then paused. "Can I eat breakfast in my new house?" he asked, glancing longingly at the yellow and blue playhouse topped with a big red bow.
Burt laughed. "Oh, good, you are still just a little kid," he said. Kurt huffed, blowing his bangs off his forehead. "Yeah, bud, you go ahead and eat breakfast in your house."
He got Kurt settled in his playhouse with a giant sticky cinnamon roll and his Mickey Mouse mug full of milk, then settled down on the couch. The letter from Mollie was still lying on the floor and he bent to pick it up. The sight of her handwriting didn't hurt as sharply as it did the first time- it still hurt, but not the same.
He could hear Kurt talking to himself in the playhouse, his young voice sounding happier than he'd heard in a while, and he relaxed, folding the letter around his fingers. Mollie was right, and so was Kurt. They were going to be okay. It would take a while, but they were going to be okay.
UGH ALL THE FEELS.
This was the part that struck me the most in the Christmas episode. Not only the story itself, but the fact that Burt was telling it to Blaine, and that Kurt seemed so wistful remembering it. And so I wrote this.
ALL THE FEELS.
I feel like Kurt was already taking on the caretaker role, even when he was that little. Sweet baby.
I really ought to write more in-depth author's notes, but I'm a little rusty at this and AUGH ALL THE FEELS.