Pairings: Burt/Carole, Kurt/Blaine
Word Count: Just shy of 5000
Summary: Carole teaches Kurt to knit.
A/N: Many thanks to misscake for doing a bang-up beta job and for telling me about this comm! A previous stories that I wrote about this family (specifically about Burt and Kurt the day they moved out of their old house) is here.
(cross-posted to kurt_blaine)
One Stitch At A Time
When Burt had his heart attack, Carole took to spending hours at their house, just sitting with him. It scared her to see this strong, vibrant man so pale and tired, but she'd been a nurse for a long time and she knew how illness could take a toll on a body. Kurt refused to be chased away, but she eventually convinced him that she had the time and she had the training, and he agreed to let her share in his dad's care.
After a while he could safely move out of bed, and he took up residence on their lumpy old sofa. There, wrapped in blankets and sustained by (sodium-free) chicken soup, she nursed him back to health the best way she could, with attention and old movies, and they talked. They talked a lot.
They discussed where they had gone wrong earlier in the year, and they dove into it about their kids. There was a lot to hash out there, and it could be tricky because the last thing she wanted to do was get his heart rate up, but his heart attack had made it clear to her that she was irrevocably in love with him, and it was worth some pain and awkwardness to find a way to get them closer.
By the time he was back on his feet and ready to put the blankets back in the hall closet, she knew that she would marry this man the moment he saw fit to ask her.
He finished folding the ratty old afghan and put it atop the pile with a smile and a lingering stroke.
"It's beautiful. Who made it?"
"That's Jenny's work. She made it when we first got this couch – god, she hated this thing, thought it was so ugly, but it was all we could afford." He smiled fondly at her, reaching out for her, and the best thing was that it didn't even sting when he talked about his ex-wife like that. She loved how he loved and honored her, because it meant that he wouldn’t ever forget her, either.
"I noticed there's a hole in it – right here," she says, and she flips back the corner to expose a place where the knit is disturbed. It's ringed around with a thick line of jagged, bright pink stitching.
"Yeah, Kurt got a little enthusiastic with a pair of scissors and some felt when he was about nine, and the blanket was caught in the crossfire. Man, he was eaten up – it was right after Jenny died and he was upset that he'd messed up something she'd made. He tried to glue it back together, but my sister said stitching would work better, so he got a needle and thread and… well, you see what happened," he said with a grin.
She grinned back at him. "Do you think… would it be okay if I fixed it?"
Burt looks surprised. "You know how to do that?"
"Yeah, I used to be a pretty good knitter. I haven't done it in a few years, but I definitely remember how to darn – Finn was a nightmare with clothes when he was younger, and it was cheaper to repair than to replace."
"Then go for it!"
The next week she brings her knitting basket over and goes to work. Kurt eventually finds her there, sorting through her yarn collection to find the best match for the hole.
"What are you doing?" he says from the doorway, standing awkwardly, his bag pulled tight against his body.
"Hello. Your mother was very talented, Kurt – she did beautiful work. Your dad said it would be okay if I fixed this hole. You did a very good job keeping it from unraveling – that was smart thinking – but I can knit it back together. Is that okay with you?"
He holds her eyes and she's surprised to see them fill with tears. "I think that would be wonderful. Is it okay if I watch?" and it's then that she realizes what she's done, what he's trusted her with so simply, and how important it is to get it just right.
She keeps sorting for just the right yarn, now even more desperate to make it perfect, and Kurt sits and starts going through it with her. He has endless questions, about fiber content and weight and colors. She starts explaining, telling him how thinner yarns make finer knits, but they want something heavier so it will match the original yarn. His hands drift to the rarer fibers in her basket and he seems unable to stop touching the cashmeres and the single skein of silk she's saving for just the right project, but she explains that what you really want for a project like this, something that's going to get used heavily and washed frequently, is an everyday cheap acrylic, "and that," she assures him, "is something I have plenty of."
"This is amazing. Where did you learn all of this?"
She shrugs. "I've been doing it for a long time, but I first learned from my grandmother. She was insistent that all of her granddaughters knew how to knit. I always wanted to teach Finn, but he'd never sit still long enough," and she shrugged again.
Kurt looks uncomfortable, so she goes on. "It's not just a girl thing – there are some very famous male knitters and designers – Kaffe Fassett is one of the most famous knit artists in the world, and he's turned out some beautiful things. And there's a young man in Brooklyn right now whose work is very prized." She pauses, comparing two colors of off-white. "Finn was never that kind of boy, but I've seen the way you can focus on your artwork. I'd love to teach you, if you're interested."
"Oh, I don't know," he hedges.
"Well, that's okay if you don't want to, but it would really be my pleasure," she insists.
"Yeah, I guess that could be okay," he says, smiling at her.
The next afternoon she heads out during her lunch hour and eats drive-thru in the car so she can go to the fancy yarn store across town. She shells out for three balls of hand-dyed, hand-spun Peruvian wool dyed to a shade of grey very reminiscent of the color of his walls in his old bedroom. It takes her a while to find the exact right grey, but the shopkeeper is very nice and allows her to take them outside to check the color. The shopkeeper balls the yarn and then wraps it in bright pink paper and asks her what she's planning on making. She says, "oh, no, it's to teach my stepson," and when the woman looks surprised and asks her if she wants her to rewrap it in plain white, she just shakes her head and says, "no, I think the grey looks pretty against the pink, and he'll like it," and dares her to say something in response.
That night she presses a pair of bamboo needles into his hands and hands him the bag, and the smile on his face is sweet, touched, and so worth the extra time. She tells him a scarf is the best first project and he beams, saying, "Perfect! I love scarves!" She casts on for him and shows him how to hold the needles. He's awkward with them, and he keeps trying to hold them like chopsticks or pencils or drumsticks so she gently repositions them in his hands.
"This isn't right – I'm terrible at this!" he insists.
"No you're not! It's just hard at first. You'll get it, though – it's just one stitch at a time, and once you get the muscle memory it'll be yours forever," she promises.
He's a little bit right, though – he has a hard time holding both needles while he's wrapping the yarn, and she tries to teach him English-style knitting until she realizes she doesn't understand it well enough and is just confusing both of them and she switches back to Continental. It goes a little bit easier after that, and he gets used to picking up the yarn with his working hand.
He's easily frustrated, though, unable to remember the sequence for a simple knit stitch, until she remembers something her grandmother used to say.
"Okay, okay, relax. There's no race here. Let's try this," and she goes through the mnemonic rhyme and a single stitch slowly, making sure he can see how they're connected to each other.
"Up the tree
around the back
down the tree
off jumps Jack."
"Carole." He's just looking at her, and she can tell he's about 3 seconds from a very dramatic, very Kurt eye roll.
"Too juvenile?" she asks, grinning.
"You think?" he responds, his voice thick with sarcasm, so she just says, "Fair enough. What about this one?" and she does it again, this time with a wicked grin.
rip its guts out
and throw it off a cliff."
"Mmm, that Jack is a very active and violent young man. At this point I appreciate the impulse, though, so let's go with that."
They sit together on the sofa for a few minutes, and Kurt works slowly while she repeats the chant at him, reminding him when he gets confused about which way the yarn is supposed to wind around the needle, or which loop he's supposed to be stabbing into. They finish a row and Carole shows him how to turn his work to knit back the other way, and when they're about halfway through the next row Kurt says, "Okay, this is ridiculous; that rhyme is leaving me murderous. Do you know any others?"
She doesn't, but he asks her to hold his work ("No way, I'm not putting this down – I'm not at all sure the whole thing won't unravel if somebody isn't holding it. Please, Carole?") and he digs out his phone. After several minutes of typing and scrolling he smirks at the screen, and then takes his work back with a quiet "thanks" and starts on a stitch, quietly intoning,
"Kurt goes in,
Puts on his scarf,
Comes back out,
And takes it off."
He knits the stitch beautifully, and beams up at her. "That's it," she says, and he nods, a pleased smile settling across his face.
After that he's everywhere with it - sitting on the sofa, at the kitchen table, mumbling to himself. He doesn't have a whole lot of time to work on it, and so his attention to it is irregular, but she notices him working on at odd times. It disappears entirely for the weeks surrounding the wedding, but once he's accustomed to the new workload at Dalton he occasionally joins them in the living room in the evening to make slow progress. Burt and Finn shout and complain all the way though football and into hockey with Kurt barely even noticing, he's so distracted with his work, and Burt's just happy to have the whole family in one room – he doesn't care that Carole and Kurt are busy with their own thing and talking quietly about what they're working on, just so long as they're there.
The night before Regionals, though, Finn's at a late-night practice and Kurt's a nervous wreck, flitting all over the house and singing under his breath, the same three lines of melody over and over until she finally asks him to just sit down and stop singing for a minute and put all that nervous energy to use on something else. He goes into the living room to grab his knitting and sits at the table while she washes dishes. Suddenly she hears a new version of his favorite rhyme muttered under his breath.
"Blaine goes in,
Puts on his scarf,
Comes back out,
And takes it off."
She stifles a grin as she finishes the dishes and watches him while she waits for the kettle to boil. His hands have become more fluid, less jerky, and he's able to transfer the stitches from needle to needle with less and less fumbling. "Seems like Blaine's getting a little quicker about getting dressed and undressed," she observes.
She laughs. "What? I'm just noticing that you're getting better, that's all."
Kurt just hums at her and keeps knitting while she comes to sit at the table while she dunks her tea bag.
"How about everything else? Is that getting better, too?"
He shoots her a glance and then just grins down at his knitting. "It's... you can't tell my dad this, okay? I'm sorry, I know it's weird, but I could stand a chance to talk about it and he's... just not yet."
She nods. "Got it."
"Well! There's been some movement on that front, yes." He keeps knitting, nodding his head in time with the stitching. He takes a deep breath and glances up at her quickly before saying, "He kissed me this week," and he's wearing this pleased little smile.
Kurt just nods.
"And was it a good kiss?"
"Carole!" he says again and he's just so scandalized, and that alone is a pretty good sign that there's nothing to worry about.
She just laughs. "Kurt, honey, I've been through a teenage pregnancy scare, okay? You are not going to shock me." She just nudges his foot with her own, under the table. "I think I can handle it. So: good kiss?" He's silent for a minute and she watches him work. "Careful, there, with your tension - you're kind of - well, you're choking Blaine, a little bit, and you're going to have to redo those if you don't ease up a little."
He huffs out a breath and drops the knitting to the table, rolling his eyes. He gingerly presses a hand to his mouth and then peels it away and just looks at her, a sweet, shy smile on his face. "Okay. It was... it was a really good kiss. Just - he has these great hands, you know, and he put them on my face," he's staring at her shoulder now, and he brings his own hands up to cup his cheeks, and she thinks, 'This is what they mean by "lovestruck".'
She's pretty sure she's about to start blushing herself; she shouldn't be surprised that he's over-sharing just a little bit, because Kurt with an enthusiasm is a talkative Kurt, and it's not like she didn't ask for it. And this is the benefit of having step-children: the youngest Kurt's ever really been to her is fifteen, and no matter how many photo albums she and Burt have looked through, how many stories they've shared about their kids as babies and children, this boy came into her life almost fully grown.
"Well, that's very romantic! Is he your boyfriend now?"
Kurt looks at her and drops his hands to the table. "I'm not sure yet. I think so? I don't know - are we supposed to talk about it?"
She shakes her head. "Oh, honey. I have no idea how this is supposed to work." She takes a sip of her tea. "Was it... I don't want to pry, but was it just the one kiss?"
He blushes, looking down at his knitting, picking at the last few stitches which are squeezed tight, hugging the working needle a little too much. "No. No, I... kissed him the next day. It's a thing now."
She remembers - it hasn't been that long since she and Burt... well, that had moved a bit faster, but Kurt really doesn't need to know that. "Holding hands, the whole thing?" He nods and looks up again, still a little shy, and oh how she adores this boy.
She raises a brow at him. "Sounds like you've got yourself a boyfriend. You should talk to him, just to make sure, but that's a pretty good sign, I think. Congratulations, honey - I can tell you're happy."
He beams at her. "I really am," and he looks down to where his hands are folded on the table. "And I'm sorry about dad - I want to tell him, it's just... he just gave me this hugely embarrassing talk about sex, and I don't want him to think that I'm… that."
Kurt picks up the stitching and sighs at it. "You're right, this row is a mess - is it fixable?"
She reaches for the knitting and says, "Kurt, you're about to learn one of the best things about knitting - every time you screw it up, there's always a chance to fix it." She shows him how to tink back, "just like 'knit', only backwards, see?" and goes back the last ten or twelve stitches to where he'd been before the conversation had grown so awkward for him. "You must carry a lot of tension through your hands - that's a good thing for you to know, so you can be aware of it." She finishes the repair and hands it back to him, holding on to it for a second so that he has to look at her. "You should talk to your dad. If he thinks you're keeping things from him again... that's not as easy to fix."
He just nods, and they sit in silence until she stands and stretches and picks up her mug.
"I'm gonna go sit with him. You a little calmer now?"
He just nods and smiles his little smile, still looking down at the work in his hands.
Just before she slips out of the kitchen he says, "Hey, Carole," and when she looks back he's watching her go. "Thank you."
She smiles and says, "You're very welcome."
She spends most of the rest of the evening lost in thought, trying to decide what to do with this new little piece of intelligence. Kurt trusts her, and that's so important. Burt and Finn are doing their part, and although she's been trying with Kurt, he's so self-contained, so stuck in his own head that it can be difficult, and she can't betray his confidence now.
At the same time, she knows her husband, and his first reaction to things isn't always the one he wants to go with in the long term. He's a man who does best when he has time to absorb new information, to let it sink in so he can mull it over on his own schedule, and she's afraid it will end badly for both of them if Kurt springs it on him after their performances tomorrow.
So that night, when they're both in bed and ready to fall asleep, she says quietly, "Hey, Burt?"
"Yeah?" he asks sleepily.
"You should… Kurt has something he needs to tell you."
He rolls over to face her. "What's that?"
"It's Kurt. He might talk to you tomorrow, or he might wait. It's good news; everything is okay and he's happy. Just… get yourself ready."
"What's this about?"
"You know very well what and who this is about, Burt Hummel. Don't act like that."
"Well what's he doing telling you about it?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" she asks.
Burt's quiet for a minute. "Yeah, that came out wrong, I'm sorry. I just… he doesn't talk a whole lot as it is, and why didn't he talk to me?"
"Didn't you tell me that you told him that he should wait to have sex until he was 30?"
"Sex? This is about sex?"
"Oh, relax. No, it's not about sex. But can you think of a reason why Kurt might not want to tell you first if something was happening for him, romantically? A reason he might want a little practice talking about it before he goes for the big leagues?"
Burt just groans and scrubs at his face. "Ohhhh, man." He dropped his hand and peered at her through the dim light. "It's okay?"
She smiles and squeezes at his arm. "It's okay. It's good, actually – it's perfectly appropriate and he's very happy."
"What happened, exactly?"
"Nope, no way. I only said what I did so that you could not make an ass out of yourself to your son, and that's it – I'm out of it now. And don't you dare say a word to him first – you have to act completely surprised or he'll never tell me anything ever again, and then where will we be?"
"I'll be even more screwed than I already am, that's where we'll be."
"Exactly. So hush. And roll over." She pushes him onto his back and settles herself down on his shoulder.
He wraps his arm around her and kisses her hair. "I'm glad you're here."
She just smiles. "So am I."
Carole takes her knitting to the competition the next day, glad to have something to do with her hands during all of the waiting. Kurt had found a shawl pattern online (the things he'd found on the internet were amazing - she'd had no idea, and now she had a Ravelry account of her very own, thanks to him) and she's finally going to dive in with that single skein of silk – no more waiting.
The Jesus kids freak her out a little bit and then Kurt is up there singing with Blaine. She looks at Burt and he has tears in his eyes, so proud, and she knows he sees them, sees how they can't stop their bodies and eyes from drifting toward each other. Kurt does a beautiful job, and she's so proud of him, and then so proud for him when Blaine is a perfect gentleman and drags him further into the spotlight. He goes on to be the perfect front man, raising all of them to their feet, and she forgets to breathe for a moment when Kurt leaps into his arms and Blaine can't quite let go of him. Oh.
In the next intermission she picks her knitting up from her lap and starts to figure out where she left off. Burt is silent for a minute until he turns to her and says, "Tell me I didn't just see my son's secret boyfriend sing a song about panty-snatching and underage drinking," and she just laughs and shakes her head and kisses him, letting her hand come up to cup his cheek. It really is so romantic.
"You saw what you saw. Did you see him smile?" she asks, and he just nods.
Fifteen minutes later and her son's ex-girlfriend is singing a beautiful song about remorse, and then her boy is up there, so tall and handsome, so talented, and tears spring to her eyes when she sees Kurt leaping to his feet to cheer for him, and by the time she realizes Finn is singing verses inspired by what had happened to his brother those tears are just coursing down her face. She's never been more proud, and with her son, that's really saying something.
Burt puts her back together during the intermission, holding her little mirror up so she can fix her eye makeup, and then it's just about the waiting.
Kurt and Blaine find them during the intermission, and they're holding hands right up until the moment they're standing next to their row. Color is high in Kurt's face, and he doesn't seem to know what to say after the necessary congratulations and thanks are exchanged – he just looks at her and nods, so she says, "Burt, honey, would you get me a bottle of water. Kurt, do you know where it is?"
Burt jumps up, glad for the excuse to be in motion. "Sure, honey. I'll – we'll be right back."
They bustle off through the crowd and Blaine slips into the seat he'd left empty. He seems a little lost, looking over his shoulder and trying to play it cool, so she just picks up her knitting.
Eventually he says, "Is that knitting, or crochet? I can't ever tell them apart."
She nods. "Knitting is two needles, crochet is one hook, so yes, I'm knitting. I've been teaching Kurt a little, actually."
He perks up at that, and she has to stifle a smile. "No way, really? Wow, he didn't tell me. He seems like he can do… everything," and then he's looking over his shoulder again.
She reaches over to pat his knee. "Don't worry, honey, they'll be fine. Really." He looks at her and smiles, and he is a handsome one – 'well done, Kurt,' she thinks.
They sit in silence a while longer, and Blaine is just about to twist his head off in his anxiety when the Hummel men suddenly come at them from the front, and Blaine jumps a little in his seat. Kurt is beaming a shy happy smile and Burt looks pleased, so Carole smiles back at them. Burt rests his hand on Blaine's shoulder and says, "I hear you're going to be around more often. I'm glad to hear it."
Blaine just says, "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," before they all lapse back into silence. He breaks it with, "Your wife was just telling me about her knitting, sir."
Kurt interrupts, "Oh, yes, she's amazing, isn't she? I want to see – Carole, hold it up," and she does, smiling at Burt while the boys solicitously ooh and aah over the little bit of work she's done so far.
The lights blink twice, and Kurt looks at Blaine, who reaches for Kurt's hand before cutting his eyes over to Burt. He just looks back at him impassively and then breaks into a small smile.
"I think that's your cue, gentlemen," he says, and the boys are off with promises to see them later that evening.
The rest of the afternoon passes in a blur, and Carole doesn't touch her knitting for the rest of the day. New Directions wins and Finn is beside himself to be going to Nationals. Kurt, for his part, is quiet and withdrawn at the dinner table; it's hard, having them both there, and being excited for Finn's successes without rubbing Kurt's nose in what he so badly wanted. She'd known it would be, but there was no preparing for this.
Dinner ends, though, with the ringing of the doorbell, and suddenly Blaine is there and Kurt is happier – still subdued over the loss, and she hears him say something about burying Pavarotti (she'd wondered about that – it had certainly been quieter lately) – but there's a sweet, sad smile on his face that wasn't there before.
They're all awkwardly standing in the kitchen, and she suggests to Kurt, "Blaine seemed really interested in your knitting, Kurt. Why don't you show him?"
Kurt just shakes his head and says, "Oh, I don't think he wants to see that," but Blaine insists, and so Kurt shrugs and says, "It's in the living room."
She peeks out a few minutes later to see Blaine holding up the three feet of scarf that Kurt has finished so far. Blaine is gushing about it – about the work, about the color, about how he can't believe that Kurt has actually made it, and Kurt is smiling, obviously pleased.
"I love it, really. Will you make me one?"
"You want me to make you a scarf?"
"Are you kidding? Something you made with your hands? I would love it – I'd wear it all the time!" Blaine picks up Kurt's free hand and drops a kiss on the knuckles, then picks up the scarf again, holding it in both hands and peering down at it.
It's too much, and it's adorable, and Carole's just stepping back when Kurt glances up and catches her eye. She raises both fists in a little pantomime of a cheer and mouths, "Yes!" at him and backs into the kitchen, Kurt's surprised laughter following her all the way there.