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Where the Lovelights Gleam

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Past

--

It’s an accident really.

Blaine isn’t the type of person who leaves his Christmas shopping to the last minute; he likes his presents to have meaning - to show that he put some actual thought into them instead of just picking up any old thing off a display and hoping it will do (Cooper.) He certainly isn’t the kind of person who finds himself staring down the eve of Christmas Eve with the sudden realisation that he is short one present.

Usually, that is.

He blames it on the Christmas special, mostly. It had been easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all, of actually being on television and Artie’s rigorous rehearsal schedule and constant script changes and intense costume fittings that had been a lot more hands-on than Blaine had really anticipated. Then there had been the volunteer work and his present for Kurt which had taken literally hours to construct - it had been easy to get caught up in it all.

Except now it’s Christmas Eve Eve and he is missing one, really important gift.

It’s why he’s distracted enough when he gets the text from Sebastian, an innocuous enough, What are you up to? that he doesn’t even really clock who it is he’s texting before he fires back a miserable, I forgot my father.

His phone starts vibrating in his hand only moments later, the speakers blaring, ‘Uptown Girl’ at him until he picks up and a (far too familiar) voice laughs at him down the line, “You forgot what now, Anderson? I’m sure he can’t be too hard to find-”

“Sebastian,” he groans, trying his best not to crack a smile as he stares miserably at the assorted gifts spread out on his bed around him, “This really isn’t the time. I’m having a Christmas Eve Eve crisis.”

“I’m pretty sure nobody actually calls it Christmas Eve Eve,” Sebastian replies, sounding far too entertained. “How do you lose an entire, fully-grown person anyway?”

Blaine rolls his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose as he says, “I didn’t lose my father. I forgot to buy him a present and the malls are going to be insane and he is so hard to buy for. This is awful, he’s going to think I did it on purpose and then mom will think I did it on purpose and everyone will be-”

The sound of a snort echoing down the line makes him pause, blinking rapidly as heat rises in his cheeks at the realization he’d been rambling down the phone at Sebastian Smythe, of all people, about his family. “No, no, keep going,” Sebastian says after a moment of silence, something sly and far too amused in his voice, “I think I can practically hear the steam rising off your head, Blaine. It’s a Christmas present, not a peace treaty.”
“That’s what you think,” Blaine mumbles, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck before sighing as he wriggles his way off the edge of his bed, “I have to go, Sebastian. I need to get to the mall -”

“Great, I’ll see you there,” Sebastian replies sounding far too pleased with himself.

It takes a moment for it to sink in, Blaine frowning down at the collection of presents strewn across his bed before he starts to say, “Sebastian-”

“Don’t be so self-involved, Anderson,” Sebastian chides lightly down the line and Blaine can hear the vague rustle of something in the background before he adds, “I have shopping of my own to do. Besides, you sound desperate.”

“I’m not desperate,” Blaine retorts immediately, pointedly not acknowledging the inflection Sebastian had given the word, his cheeks heating up as he gathers up the mass of bags from his bed to stuff them back into his closet (Cooper’s flight was due in any hour now and Blaine knows better than to leave unwrapped presents in open sight for snooping.)

“Really? Because you sound pretty -”

Blaine rolls his eyes, laughing as he scoffs, “Goodbye, Sebastian. I’ll text you when I get there.”

“And I’ll be waiting with baited breath,” Sebastian replies before he can hang up and Blaine can practically feel the smugness dripping out of the speaker as he ends the call.

--

This is, officially, a terrible idea.

Blaine finds him standing near the Santa’s Grotto, leaning against a pillar and eating a hot pretzel as he stares down a particularly surly looking Elf. He’s pretty sure there has to be a story behind the daggers the Elf is glaring at Sebastian and the smirk visible on his friend’s(?) face but like most things about Sebastian Smythe, Blaine’s pretty sure he is better off simply not knowing.

As Sebastian turns his head, a slow smile that sends butterflies fluttering through Blaine’s stomach surfacing across his lips, Blaine knows exactly how bad of an idea this is. He should have called Kurt, he had said that he’d be busy with family things until after Boxing day but if Blaine had begged for the use of his superior shopping skills, he’s sure he would have shown him mercy.

He wonders if meeting Sebastian is crossing a line, if Kurt would see it as crossing a line (though he kind of suspects that anything that involves the word ‘Sebastian’ would be considered crossing the line, in Kurt’s book.) Friends went shopping together, didn’t they? This wasn’t anything for him to feel guilty about.

Blaine raises a hand in a wave as he approaches, his smile small and sheepish as he winds his way through the crowd, digging his hand back into his pocket to curl around his phone and waiting until he is in hearing range before he says, “Hey. Thanks for this.”

Sebastian’s smile stretches wider, curling up at one corner as he pushes off of the pillar he’d been leaning against, eyes dropping to Blaine’s feet and dragging slowly up again as he says, “I’m just here for the view,” before he glances back to the bag in his hands, tearing a piece of pretzel off with his fingers and offering it up with an amused, “Pretzel?”

The offending piece of pretzel ends up far too close to Blaine’s face for him to ignore, blinking down at it for a moment before he shakes his head, receiving a shrug in response before Sebastian pops it into his own mouth and licks his fingers clean of cinnamon. “Suit yourself, Anderson. It’s like the seventh circle of hell in here but this pretzel and those pants might just make it worth it.”

Fighting back the threat of a blush that starts to creep in across his cheeks (because he strongly suspects that is exactly what Sebastian is trying to accomplish) Blaine rolls his eyes and steps back, tugging the knot of his scarf loose as the heat of the mall and compact bodies starts to seep in. “You said you had shopping to do.”

Sebastian’s smile broadens and he steps in next to Blaine, shrugging as he replies, “I did. I had this sudden craving for a hot pretzel that wouldn’t be denied,” before tearing another piece of pretzel off with his teeth.

“You’re unbelievable,” Blaine laughs, shaking his head and resisting the urge to blush as Sebastian smirks back at him, licking cinnamon from his lips.

Definitely a terrible idea.

--

“Yellow?”

Blaine reaches out, brushing the knuckles of his fingers lightly down the material for just a moment before drawing them back at Sebastian’s decree of, “Too cheerful.”

“How can something be too cheerful?” Blaine replies, turning to frown over his shoulder at where Sebastian is standing, angled so he can alternate between casting judgemental looks in the direction of the group of carol singers who have been running through the longest Christmas medley Blaine has ever heard and Blaine’s suggestions without having to actually turn his head.

“I forgot who I was talking to for a moment there, Sunshine,” Sebastian replies with a snort, digging his hands into his pockets and glaring particularly hard as they segue from ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’ straight into ‘Jingle Bells’ without any sign of stopping. “This is the worst thing to happen to Christmas since Crazy Frog released a Christmas Album.”

“You’re horrible,” Blaine replies, with a shake of his head as he turns back to the tie rack. “Nothing’s worse than Crazy Frog.”

“I think they took that as a challenge, Anderson,” Sebastian replies and Blaine catches the wrinkle of his nose from the corner of his eye as a new soloist steps forward and an off-tune version of ‘Holly Jolly Christmas’ fills the air, his lips curling involuntarily upwards.

Blaine turns back to the display again, peering up at the array of different colours and patterns and sighs, rubbing at his eyes miserably because this was actually impossible, he was doomed and his entire family would hate him for ruining Christmas. He stares glumly at the display for all of two minutes before letting out a squawk of indignation as Sebastian’s hand closes around his arm and he is tugged away from it. “I refuse to listen to one more terrible holiday song die a brutal death at the hands of those tonedeaf geriatrics. Come on, all of those ties are hideous anyway.”

--

“It’s kind of perfect,” Blaine breathes out after a moment of just staring, pointedly ignoring the woman who keeps ‘accidentally’ whacking him with her purse every two minutes or so in an attempt to get him to hurry up.

From the corner of his eye he can see Sebastian staring her down, eyes narrowed and sharp, before his attention returns to Blaine, his fingers brushing over the back of Blaine’s hand as he reaches out to turn the jewellery box towards him and hums noncommittally. “Does your father have a thing for ties or something?”

Blaine turns towards him with a scowl, surprised to find that Sebastian’s expression isn’t as mocking as he’d anticipated, “It’s kind of our tradition. I mean, I don’t know if he even remembers, actually.”

When Sebastian’s eyebrow only hitches up a little, his expression still only showing signs of minor curiosity, Blaine sighs and adds, “When I first transferred to Dalton he would help me tie my tie and after the cast came off, he taught me how to do it myself. It’s probably silly, but it’s .. our thing, I guess. Or the closest thing to a thing we have. I get him a new tie every year.”

Blaine stares for a moment down at the tie-pin nestled in it’s velvet bed, it’s simple - not too flashy or ostentatious - but classy. It seems like something his dad would wear, though Blaine can never quite be sure. He’d been certain his dad would wear that pale green tie two years ago as well and that hadn’t made it out of his closet since after Christmas dinner.

“You’re such a sap,” Sebastian retorts after a moment, though Blaine thinks his smile seems a little softer, somehow more genuine, before he pushes the little jewellery box back against Blaine’s hand, shrugs and the illusion is gone. “You should get it.”

Blaine smiles back, eyes dropping to the box before he nods at the saleswoman who has been lurking behind the counter waiting and says, “I’ll take it.”

--

Later that night, after he’s stuck the last bow on his gifts and before Cooper decides he’s had long enough to wrap his presents, Blaine stares down at his phone, fingers poised over the buttons before he shakes his head at how ridiculous he’s being and types in, Thank you for your help today.

He taps his fingers at the edge of his phone after it sends, eyes dipping to the pile of presents that are sitting in the middle of his bed as he waits before it vibrates in his hand. I’m a very helpful person.

Blaine rolls his eyes and starts to text back a response before his phone vibrates again and another message comes through, If you’re ever in need of a helping hand, Anderson, I’ve got glowing references for both of mine. We wouldn’t want you getting desperate again.

The blush that creeps over his cheeks has him fighting the urge to toss his phone aside, instead he shakes his head, types back, Merry Christmas Sebastian, and hopes to god that he has gotten his blush under control as he emerges from his room. Cooper descends on him immediately, dragging him in under one arm and saying, “What were you doing in there, Squirt? You look like Mom just caught you watching porn again.”

Blaine tries to squirm out of the hold, wincing as Cooper ruffles his hair, one elbow hooked uncomfortably tight around Blaine’s neck to keep him from escaping. “I do not,” he insists as he finally breaks the hold, raising a hand to try and smooth his disturbed hair back into place.

“Texting the boyfriend?” Cooper teases, shoving his hands into his pockets and not so subtly trying to glance over Blaine’s shoulder through his doorway. “When do I get to meet him, anyway? We usually can’t shut you up about him.”

With a scowl Blaine shifts to block the view, pressing hard at one particularly unruly tuft of hair that he can feel sticking out at an odd angle and saying, “I already wrapped them, Coop, don’t even bother - and Kurt is busy with his family.”

Cooper’s eyebrows drift upwards but, whatever it is he’s thinking, he doesn’t say. Instead he hooks an arm around Blaine’s shoulders and tugs him towards the stairs, sounding overly cheerful in that way he always does when he comes home for these flying visits, like if he pretends hard enough Blaine will forget that they have barely even spoken since the last time he came home to visit, and says, “C’mon Blainey, Mom sent me up to tell you she’s making hot chocolate.”

--

Blaine watches the way his father’s fingers brush distractedly across the gleam of sterling silver at his chest for the third time during dinner alone, his head jerking up to nod as Cooper carries on with the longwinded story of how he almost met Nicolas Cage at a restaurant once while his mother nods along with wide dewy eyes. It doesn’t mean anything. His father always wears the presents he gets on the day, he’d even worn the green tie during dinner that year.

It’s two days later, when he is sitting bleary eyed at the kitchen counter after seeing Cooper off for his early flight back to LA and he catches a gleam of silver at his father’s chest as hurries past with a travel mug of coffee in his hands on his way out the door with a goodbye called over his shoulder. That’s when he feels like maybe, this time around, he’s finally gotten something right.

--

Present

--

The mall is stiflingly hot; a teeming mass of people and sound that all seem to move in one gelatinous flailing of limbs and purses and wailing children. Cooper is exhausted; stiff from the red-eye flight he’d arrived on the night before and working on precisely two hours of broken sleep. He has no idea what he is doing fighting through the Christmas rush on Christmas Eve Eve when all he really wants to be doing is sleeping or lounging around home except - well, that look on Blaine’s face really. That’s what he’s doing here.

Blaine has been wearing that same distracted expression since the bald guy with the baseball hat - Kurt’s father, he’d since discovered - had shown up on their doorstep that morning while Cooper was eating breakfast (the kind that didn’t taste like rubber painted to look like scrambled eggs) and asked to speak with Blaine with that serious expression on his face. Cooper doesn’t know the guy at all, has only ever heard glowing praise when Blaine has mentioned him in the past - but there is a part of him, the part that is trying so hard to be a better brother these days, that can’t help but hate him on principle for what he represents in Blaine’s life.

Cooper had watched his baby brother, the same brother he’d heard grow increasingly distant and more despondent down a phone line for the past few months, grow smaller at the sight of that man, shrinking under the weight of the guilt that rolled off him in waves so tangible it had made him sick to his stomach. He’d listened intently, trying to hear what the man was saying as he pressed an envelope into Blaine’s hands and watched Blaine’s face fall before something determined had sparked and that was it.

Burt Hummel had left with a polite nod in Cooper’s direction, folding Blaine into a hug that had stirred something angry in his chest that he couldn’t quite explain. It was the kind of hug that their own father had never quite known how to give, something all encompassing and filled with warmth and affection and he knew, right then, why it was that Blaine had stars in his eyes whenever he talked about Burt Hummel. Blaine struggled sometimes to see the love in the things their parents did for them. He has always been so incredibly different from them; has always worn his affection and his love, his stupidly big heart, so boldly on his sleeve that it hurt to look at him sometimes.

It hurt to see the way he folded himself into that outward display of affection from someone else’s father, because Cooper knows that a part of Blaine believes it can replace what he sees as a lack, when Blaine just doesn’t understand yet where to look. He doesn’t see that every day their father slides that tiepin Blaine got him for Christmas last year into place, right up beside his heart, not because he particularly likes it but because it’s a reminder that even though they don’t understand each other at all, his youngest son loves him.

And it made him angry to see the way Blaine cradled that envelope to his chest, knowing now what had been inside it, but Cooper knows his brother better than anyone on the planet; had seen that stubborn look on his face more times than he can count, and he knows there will be no changing his mind.

It is why, when his parents had disappeared into the next room to ‘discuss’ the matter and Blaine had started freaking out about not having a present for Kurt’s dad, Cooper had forgone the sleep and the shower he desperately wanted and instead followed Blaine to the car. If this is the only way he gets to spend time with his brother these holidays before he has to fly back to LA, he will have to take what he can get. Maybe Blaine will realize what he is giving up this Christmas one day and recognise that the hesitation their parents are showing isn’t disapproval founded on him spending Christmas with his (ex)-boyfriend and his father, but disappointment that he is giving up spending it with his family.

He wonders who Burt Hummel is that he can put that kind of responsibility on an almost eighteen year old kid without batting an eyelid, that he would come into his house at Christmas time and tell him news like that and hand him a plane ticket to carry him away from his family for the sake of his own. It isn’t fair - none of it is fair - but Cooper knows his baby brother and he knows there is nothing he won’t do for the people he loves if he thinks they need him. It’s that same willingness, that openness, that has only ever gotten him hurt.

Cooper hopes for Burt Hummel’s sake that isn’t the case this time around.

It’s why he is here, really - why he follows Blaine through the overcrowded mall and bites down every protest or attempt to talk Blaine out of it that starts to form on his lips (it’s christmas - we’re your family - this is the last year before you go away to college - I won’t get to see you) as he watches him battle through the crowds in search of the perfect Christmas present for the man who is stealing him away from his family.

There are few people in the world that Cooper legitimately resents outside of that guy that swooped him at the auditions for that Olive Garden commercial, but he thinks the Hummels may quickly be reaching the top of that list.

“What do you think?” Blaine asks, turning back to him with a novelty mug in hand and a desperate expression on his face, “I just - it has to be perfect, you know? He’s paying for me to go all the way to New York so I can see Kurt and I just - I really want it to be perfect.”

He’s paying for you to go all the way to New York so Kurt can see you, Cooper silently amends in his head, eyes narrowing as he tilts his head to the side in faux-consideration.

“It’s perfect, little brother,” he announces after a moment, plastering as much enthusiasm into his voice as he can as he eyes the fifteenth mug in Buckeyes colors he’s had shoved in his face in the past two hours.

- And he must be a much better actor than that hack of a critic had given him credit for because Blaine actually smiles back at him, eyes wide and still a little doubtful as he asks, “You really think so?”

“Perfect,” he repeats through a wide flash of teeth, savagely hoping that Burt Hummel is a Michigan fan as Blaine finally relents, clutching the mug in both hands and moving into the line at the register.

Cooper thinks he could go his entire life without seeing that miserable expression on his brother’s face again, but he is starting to realize that the hard part about deciding he wants to be a part of his brother’s life again is accepting that he needs to let Blaine figure these things out for himself.

When Blaine reappears next to him, that same distracted nervous energy practically vibrating off of him as his shoulder knocks into Cooper’s, he has to bite his tongue to keep the words from spilling out (he hasn’t spoken to you in months, he made Christmas plans with you and broke them off, and you are dropping everything, your family, just because his father asked you to) instead he throws an arm around Blaine’s shoulders, his jaw aching from the attempt to keep smiling as he says, “Let’s get something to eat.”

--

It’s the smell of cinnamon that sucks him in, ignoring Blaine’s soft protest that he needs to get home to wrap Burt’s present and start packing with an only slightly petty response of, “Sorry, Blainey, I’m not spending the one day I get to hang out with my brother these holidays watching you pack.”

Cooper only feels a little bad for it, the part of him that had seen his father’s face fall when he realized how willing Blaine had been to put Kurt’s family above his own feeling the tiniest amount of satisfaction at seeing Blaine realize that he is giving up something too. So they stand in line, Cooper glancing over at Blaine from the corner of his eye every so often as they wait and watching him twist the handles of his shopping bag between his fingers.

It takes all of a minute before Blaine looks back at him, eyes wide and miserable as he says, “Coop, it’s not like I planned it this way.”

“I know,” he replies, glancing over with a sigh, “You can make it up to me by buying me a pretzel. I left my wallet in the car.”

Blaine snorts, whacking him in the arm with his shopping bag before letting out a horrified noise as he remembers what’s in it and opening it up to check that the box inside doesn’t look damaged. Cooper privately hopes that the mug inside is broken beyond repair as they take another step forward in the line and it must be a new low, being so resentful of someone who was recently diagnosed with cancer, but his family have enough problems of their own. Blaine is so caught up in his inspection of the box that he takes an extra step forward onto the heels of the guy waiting in front of them.

Cooper winces as the guy’s head snaps around, eyes narrowed and vicious as he says, “Are you kidding me? What is it about waiting in a line that is so difficult for you to under- Blaine?”

The sight of Blaine’s head snapping up, the distracted expression disappearing completely off his face for the first time all day catches Cooper’s attention. He watches his brother’s neck crane up and up and up to meet the guy’s eyes before the momentary almost pleased expression on his face shutters away into something more guarded, and he says, “Sebastian.”

It’s almost comical how quickly the irritation melts away from this Sebastian guy’s face, something soft replacing it that isn’t entirely hidden behind the smirk he plasters across his lips as he turns to face them.

“Forget someone again?” Sebastian asks, the attempted nonchalance in his voice utterly betrayed by the intent stare that he can’t seem to tear away from Blaine’s face.

It is the strangest feeling, watching this stranger watch his brother and realizing that the way he looks at him, while Blaine is staring down at the bag in his hands or the tips of his shoes, is the exact same way that Blaine had looked at Kurt the last time he’d been in town. Worse still, he thinks as he watches this other boy - because he is only a boy, now that Cooper actually looks, can’t be older than Blaine is himself - is the realization that he had never once seen Kurt look at his brother in the same way.

“I’m Cooper, Blaine’s brother,” he says after a moment, extending his hand and receiving a bewildered handshake and the hint of a genuine smirk tugging at the corner of the other boy’s lips.

“Sebastian Smythe,” Sebastian introduces himself after a moment, his eyes darting back to Blaine as he says, “You never told me you were hiding a brother away somewhere.”

Blaine’s smile is distant and tight, something wounded lurking somewhere beneath his carefully smoothed expression and Cooper drifts as they start to talk, eyes stuck on the way the corner of Blaine’s mouth keeps twitching as he tries not to smile and the way this guy, who for all intents and purposes seems to be kind of an ass, couldn’t look more in love with his little brother if he had cartoon hearts floating around his face.

The problem, Cooper is starting to realize, is not that Blaine isn’t loved enough; it’s that he doesn’t ever seem to know where to look to see it.

--

“You didn’t have to drive me to the airport,” Blaine says for the tenth time since they got into the car as he fidgets with his carry-on luggage, checking the pocket with his tickets inside again to ensure they are still there. “Burt offered to pick me up, you know.”

“I know,” Cooper replies stiffly, fingers locked around the steering wheel of their dad’s car as he crawls through the parking lot. “But this is also the last opportunity I’m going to get to see you before I fly out, so your ex’s father can deal with it.”

He feels Blaine’s eyes stick to the side of his face, takes a deep breath and he realizes, as he forcefully pries his fingers from the steering wheel, that this is it. If he is going to do this, he’ll have to do it now. “Mom is really disappointed you know.”

“Coop,” Blaine starts to protest as Cooper crawls forward another few spaces and flicks on the indicator at the sight of an empty spot.

“Dad too. I know you think they don’t notice, but they’ve been worried about you lately,” Cooper continues as he maneuvers into the space, ignoring the uncomfortable feeling in his chest that tells him Blaine isn’t going to like what he has to say. “I know what you’re going to say too, so you can save it, Blaine. I just wanted you to know that, no matter what you did or what you feel like you owe anyone, your feelings matter too.”

Silence fills the car, the sound of the parking brake eerily loud as Cooper kills the engine and turns his head to look at Blaine, watching the way his jaw sets and wanting to curse his father for passing on his stubborn streak to both his son’s. “I want to go,” Blaine says stiffly after a moment, his fingers clenched tightly around the strap of his carry-on luggage.

“I know you do, squirt,” Cooper replies, rubbing a hand frustratedly over his face and releasing the sigh that’s been building up inside of him since that man appeared on their doorstep.

Without another word he unbuckles his seatbelt, leaning across the center console to tug Blaine into a hug, not trusting himself to follow him inside. Instead he closes his eyes, takes a breath and says, “I’ll see you at Easter.”

“Easter,” Blaine agrees quietly, eyes downcast as he tugs at the door, hauling his carry-on luggage up over his shoulder and turning to wave as the car door snaps shut.

--

There’s a phone call later that afternoon. Another a few hours later. They continue, on and off throughout the night, all of them filled with the sounds of the outdoors and Blaine’s quiet, attempting to be cheerful voice. Cooper knows what it sounds like when his little brother is feeling lonely.

It’s almost midnight when Blaine’s nervous chatter tapers off and he excuses himself with a panicked, “I’ve got to go - Mr. Hummel was planning to bring Kurt to the ice rink any time now and I don’t want to ruin the surprise.”

The dial tone sounds before Cooper can fully process the fact that it’s almost midnight in New York and his little brother has spent his entire Christmas Eve alone in the city.

It breaks his heart a little that, that is what Blaine thinks love should look like.

--

His father’s tie is charcoal grey this year, expensive probably, but so similar to at least four other ties in his wardrobe that it’s immediately clear Blaine hadn’t given much thought to it.

Come dinner time it stays in it’s shiny, store-wrapped box and the tie around his neck is pale green. It’s an odd choice, but when his mother smiles from the other end of the table, her eyes soft and a little sad, Cooper doesn’t question it.

It’s the quietest Christmas that Cooper ever remembers.

He kind of hates it.

--

Future

--

Sebastian has never really gotten the fuss about Christmas.

It’s nothing personal, really. No history to speak of. His parents have always been busy people and there are certain sacrifices to be made when you’re the only child of a broken marriage. Though that term had always seemed overly dramatic to him, his parents had never particularly worked well together at anything other than making each other miserable. Nobody was happier than Sebastian when they finally decided to make it official and just divorce each other already.

Christmas simply hadn’t been their holiday.

If he’d had his way, Sebastian would still be in New York right now, preferably bundled up in his dormroom or searching the city streets for the places where all the cool holiday orphans hung out to pretend they were above the Christmas madness. Sebastian thinks he’d be quite good at the pretending not to care part.

He dislikes the thick crowds of angry shoppers and whining children; the fake sentiments of good will and giving that disappeared the moment the decorations came down. He loathes the cheesy songs and tacky lights strung up everywhere; being chased through shopping malls by the shriek of brass bands and the wailing of snotty toddlers.

Yet somehow here he is, back in Ohio, sucked into the retail hell on earth that was the Lima Mall two days before Christmas - and the sole reason for it is humming along to what Sebastian suspects is the Michael Buble Christmas Album crackling through the sound system as he peruses the third tie section of the third lame menswear section of the third store they've been to in the past hour.

Sebastian pauses, tilting his head to watch as that reason wrinkles his nose in thought before asking, "Do pinstripes say 'my gay son bought this for me so I'll leave it in the back of my closet until he leaves for college again and I can safely throw it out'?"

He snorts, eyeing the fractional distance that has been closing between them as Blaine works his way down the display towards him, and says, "It does in those colours."

Blaine rolls his eyes even as he huffs out a laugh, placing the tie he'd been holding back on the display before turning back to Sebastian, his smile stupidly sweet as he asks, "What did you get your father?"

"His annual bottle of courvoisier," Sebastian replies, stuffing his hands into his pockets and wondering, again, how he can never seem to escape this mall when the holidays roll around. "I even put a bow on it this year."

"Why am I not surprised?" Blaine sighs, a hint of a smile twitching at the corners of his lips as he steps up beside Sebastian, close enough that their sleeves brush against one another and Sebastian licks at his lower lip, catching a hint of cinnamon at the corner of his mouth and blatantly ignoring the way the proximity makes his heart pound.

The things that he does for Blaine Anderson. It's gotten way past embarrassing at this point.

He shakes his head, glancing down at Blaine from the corner of his eye as he replies, "Because I have excellent taste."

The smile Blaine sends his way is borderline goofy as he leans into Sebastian's arm, laughing beneath his breath before he ducks his chin and says, "You really get him the exact same thing every year?"

"You can hardly talk," Sebastian replies, nodding towards the rack of ties spread out in front of him with a laugh, “You live in New York, Blaine - and yet we’re in this ratty backwater mall looking for a tie for your father, two days before Christmas. I’m embarrassed for you at this point-”

“Oh don’t start this again,” Blaine groans, turning to thunk his forehead softly into Sebastian’s shoulder.

The motion still takes him by surprise; even two months into this boyfriend thing they have going, the warmth of Blaine’s body pressed into him is something he doesn’t think he’ll ever really get used to. Sebastian breathes in through his nose, a hand sliding up Blaine’s back to rest between his shoulders as he asks, "Why did you even ask me to come with you?"

There’s a scoff and Sebastian can feel the heat of Blaine’s breath seep through the thick material of his sweater before he pulls back, tipping his chin up to stare up at Sebastian with wide eyes as he says, "Because you have excellent taste?"

“Cute,” Sebastian scoffs back as Blaine retreats from the fingers that scramble for his ribs, “But also not what I meant. This has to be weird - your parents hate me.”

“Not true,” Blaine retorts, straightening out his sweater and casting a hard look in the direction of one of the sales assistant’s who has been staring at them since they first got here.

That look makes Sebastian’s lips quirk, because New York and college have changed Blaine for the better. Settled him into his skin in ways that he’d never known Blaine had needed to be. It had been good for both of them, he thinks.

It takes until the sales assistant looks away, moving on with a blush rising high across her cheeks for Blaine to turn back to him, apparently unphased as he immediately picks up where he’d left off, “I’ll have you know my dad only pretends to hate you and Cooper just likes to see you squirm. My mom thinks you are delightful.”

“Delightful?” Sebastian scoffs in response, eyebrows inching upwards skeptically as he steps in to close the gap between them again, hand settling low at the base of Blaine’s spine, “Now I know you’re lying.”

“It’s not a total lie,” Blaine replies with a grin, tipping his head up to press a kiss to the underside of Sebastian’s jaw. “I think you’re delightful.”

“I don’t think that word means what you think it does,” Sebastian retorts, sliding his hand a little lower, sliding over the curve of Blaine’s ass and earning a squawk of indignation as it’s knocked away, Blaine turning on him with a glow in his cheeks that makes Sebastian smirk right back at him.

“Not here,” he insists, seizing the offending hand and tangling their fingers together with the hint of a grin as he says, “But if you’re really helpful-”

The flutter of eyelashes is a little overplayed and would frankly be completely ridiculous on anyone who didn’t pull off ridiculous quite so well as Blaine, but Sebastian had come to terms with how much of a sucker he was for this boy long before they’d ended up in the same hall in the freshman dorms at NYU and realized a reminder of home wasn’t always such a bad thing.

Still.

"Are you seriously flirting with me to get me to do what you want?" Sebastian asks with a snort, staring down at the fingers wrapped around his as Blaine swings their hands between them.

"It worked every other time," Blaine replies with a shrug, grinning over his shoulder at him as he tugs at Sebastian’s hand to get him to move.

“New York’s corrupted you,” Sebastian snorts as he lets Blaine tug him down another aisle, eyes dipping to the view of his boyfriend’s ass in those jeans with an appreciative smirk.

“No, that was you,” Blaine corrects him, glancing over his shoulder long enough to catch the direction of his stare and roll his eyes. “You haven’t changed at-”

Sebastian raises both eyebrows as Blaine trails off, eyes stuck on something over his shoulder and he turns his head, breath catching in a laugh as he says, “Bowties, Blaine? You don’t have enough already?”

“Not for me,” Blaine replies, lips twitching as he tugs at Sebastian’s hand. “I have an idea.”

--

“For the record,” Sebastian says as they walk out of the store, nodding to the giftbag swinging from Blaine’s hands with a snort, “That one definitely says my gay son brought this for me.”

Blaine grins up at him, pressing into his side and sliding his hand into Sebastian’s as he says, “Just what I was going for then.”

They make it almost ten more steps before Blaine turns towards him, the grin faded and his expression uncertain as he asks, “Do you think he’ll like it though?”

Sebastian isn’t sure when he became the authority on what Blaine’s father (who just stares at him when they’re in the same room, his eyes narrowed and intent like he is trying to silently communicate how much suffering he could inflict on Sebastian if he so much as looks at Blaine funny) might like, but he rolls his eyes to himself before he turns his head to look down at him and say, “He’d be an idiot not to.”

Blaine knocks their shoulders together, rolling his eyes as he says, “Nice of you to say, but it isn’t too much, is it?”

“I’m sure he’ll love it,” Sebastian replies, squeezing at Blaine’s fingers and wondering how it is that Blaine can not have noticed that his father looks at him like he’s the most precious thing on the planet, “I mean, it isn’t bright yellow at least so I’m thinking anything beyond that has to be a bonus.”

“You’ve been talking to Cooper again, haven’t you?” Blaine grumbles.

“So many stories, Sunshine,” Sebastian replies with a broad smirk crawling across his lips. “So, so many.”

The roll of Blaine’s eyes only makes him grin wider, going willingly when Blaine tugs at his hand to get him to face him and tips his chin up expectantly. Sebastian is suitably distracted by the elaborate ritual of rolling his eyes and begrudgingly bending down to drop a kiss to his lips that he doesn’t even notice where Blaine had stopped until it’s too late.

He glances up warily as the ensemble of elderly citizens in Christmas antlers and reindeer sweaters burst suddenly into the worst rendition of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ Sebastian thinks he has ever heard - and that included Hunter Clarington’s boozed up attempt at the Warbler Christmas party last year.

“Blaine, what are you doing?” he asks as Blaine turns, arms settling around Sebastian’s waist and head dropping forward in his chest as he starts to sway on the spot.

“Just go with it,” Blaine replies, humming low beneath his breath as he shuffles slowly on the spot until Sebastian has to follow suit or risk becoming the pole in the world’s strangest and least sexy poledancing routine.

“Are you seriously making me slow dance to a geriatric choir in the middle of the Lima mall?” Sebastian grumbles as he settles his hands over Blaine’s hips and obligingly starts to sway, far too aware of the incredulous looks they’re attracting from the passing shoppers.

“You’re ruining the moment,” is Blaine’s huffed response, as he whacks distractedly at Sebastian’s back, his giftbag smacking into Sebastian’s thighs with the motion.

“The old bastard in the back looks like he’s about to have a coronary,” Sebastian mutters in response, smirking when he hears Blaine snort with laughter and step down on the toe of his shoe pointedly.

“I know,” Blaine replies after a moment, his fingers splaying wide across Sebastian’s back as he tips his head back to grin up at him, “They were looking at us before.”

Sebastian scoffs, dropping his chin as he tries to hold back the laughter and says, “I’m a terrible influence on you.”

“The worst,” Blaine agrees, squeezing at Sebastian’s side before drawing back as the choir segues into ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ and tugging him away, waving brightly over his shoulder as he says, “Come on, Smythe. I’ll buy you another pretzel.”

--

The thing is - Sebastian didn’t really know what to expect from Christmas with the Andersons.

He expected the pointed not-quite glares of warning from Blaine’s father whenever he thought Blaine wasn’t looking, Blaine had seen fit to warn him about Cooper’s long tangents about his ‘glamorous’ life in LA and he hadn’t known what to make of Blaine’s mother until she started ordering him around the kitchen, though his uses seemed to be limited to grabbing things from the top shelf while Cooper sat at the breakfast bar and heckled.

(It had suddenly been made apparent where Blaine had inherited both his height and his latent bossy genes from).

But on Christmas morning, when he watches the bewildered expression on Mr. Anderson’s face turn to a tiny smile upon unwrapping Blaine’s present and Mrs. Anderson leaves the room for a good five minutes and come back with smudges of mascara at the corner of her eyes, Sebastian thinks that this must be what a real family looks like.

And when Blaine tangles their fingers together at the dinner table, beaming at the slightly lopsided attempt his father had made at tying his bowtie and Cooper coos across the table at them, Sebastian only rolls his eyes and squeezes Blaine’s hand in response.

Maybe Christmas didn’t have to be quite so bad after all.