The past was the past for a reason. It contained previous experiences that were not meant to be looked at too closely or rehashed. Especially not in Quinn's case. And she knew this, which was why she did her best not to dwell on her life leading up to this point. Why not live for the present? In the present, she was skinny, popular, everything she'd aspired to be in the eighth grade. And if she thought about who she'd been, how much she'd lost in the process of becoming who she currently was, her carefully-constructed façade might just fall apart on her. She couldn't very well have that, could she?
But fate liked to screw with her, as she'd known and was about to relearn that day. It was mid-November and still ridiculously hot outside. Wearing a skin-tight cheerleading uniform was not only an excuse to expose "naughty bits" but to maintain a comfortable body temperature underneath the blazing afternoon sun. Coach Sylvester was working them hard, like her own pack of prize-winning sled dogs, trying to toughen them up so that they'd be fit to perform on national television, courtesy of Fox network. Of course, when Coach wasn't yelling at them to "stand up straight!" or "put some more fucking pep in that cartwheel!" (oh yeah, when Sylvester was by herself, the F bombs flew around like they were going out of style) she was yelling at them about how weak they were. She pushed for perfection, and the thing was, she usually got it.
Quinn knew because she'd been on Sylvester's "invincible" squad since freshman year, and it was only this year that she'd been promoted to captain.
As Quinn silently climbed to the top of the human pyramid, she was thinking of Artie. It wasn't typical for him to be in her brain during school hours- usually she managed to keep herself mentally exhausted by thinking of Finn and the cheerleading squad and what stores she wanted to visit on the weekend. Trivial things like that. Thoughts of Artie only entered her brain late at night when she was tucked into bed and the darkness surrounded her, reminding her that she was a horrible person who deserved much less than what she'd gotten. She saw Artie's smiling face whenever she closed her eyelids, trying to sleep. She saw how happy and full of life he was. Then she saw what life had done to him- what he'd become, and she couldn't stop from crying a little bit. Not that she always cried, but on most nights the tears were inevitable. Her nightlife was ruled by guilt. But nobody else could ever know.
Just before she took her place at the top of the pyramid structure, she saw him. It was only from the corner of her eye and he was distant, but she was sure it was him. And he was being wheeled along by Puck and some of his jock friends.
Jesus Christ. Quinn's stomach did a painful kick flip, making her dizzy. She knew where they were heading. The port-a-potties. As if Artie's life didn't already suck ass, the jocks had to make it worse by picking on him. Over the years, as their mean streaks had become more pronounced, so had their choice of prank. Every time Quinn heard about what they had done or were planning to do to Artie, she had to will herself to be deaf. Command her ears to close against the acts of evil they were hearing.
She imagined Artie's face, contorted in terror as Puck rolled him along to meet his doom. He had no way to escape, no one to turn to for support; he'd be covered in human feces if someone didn't step up and do anything! Quinn shifted slightly in order to have a better view of Artie, and in the next second, her foot slipped and she was tumbling to the ground.
"Quinn!" The human pyramid disembarked, the girls all fanning around her like concerned geese. Sylvester was stomping towards the huddle, looking grim, and Quinn just lay there on her back, the sun beating against her face, wondering if she was finally getting her just deserts.
"C'mon, Fabray." Sylvester yanked her to her feet. Quinn was bitterly disappointed to find that she could still stand. "You okay?" The coach asked gruffly.
"Yeah, I think so." Quinn answered, feeling every crevice in her body ooze with invisible guilt.
"Take a fifteen minute breather on the bleachers, Fabray. I don't want you screwing up on simple routines." Sylvester dismissed her just like that, the blonde girl shuffled to the stands as she'd been ordered. She was up and walking away from the scene unharmed, just like last time. The shame was overpowering, like the smell of Axe cologne in the hallways.
She'd not only ruined his life, she'd destroyed their friendship.
Immediately following the accident, nobody (not even her own mother) could tear Quinn from Artie's bedside. The only time she ever left him was when the hospital staff kicked her out, or when she had to go to school; where she forged a mostly one-way friendship with Daniela (it was one-way because the queen bee decided to make Quinn her psychiatrist. Quinn had no say in the matter, and still wasn't very comfortable with her). Slowly but surely, as Artie began to recover and got well enough to go to school, Quinn had been integrated into the "cool" crowd. Mostly because she was the only one with updates on Artie, the rest of them couldn't be bothered to go to the hospital and check in on him themselves.
But when Artie, confined to his wheelchair, returned to class, the whole social pecking order changed. Devon Fanning was the new "cool kid" and Artie was the new "stay away from him because he's different and we don't want to try and understand him" person. The kids didn't realize that he was still the same old, fun-loving guy that he'd always been. They preferred to avoid him now, and when weekend plans were being made, he was never within earshot (and if he happened to be, the person who brought up hang-outs was glared at). Quinn couldn't comprehend their shocking behaviour. Even more surprising was that she- Quinn Fabray, still chunky and nerdy- was invited to go places and do things. Apparently, Daniela had reconsidered her position on the social totem pole and decided that she needed to be up higher.
That's how it started. Quinn was busy, trying to keep up with her newfound social life. Artie spent most of his free time visiting a physical therapy clinic, adjusting to life with his handicap. She still made time for him when she could, but the more time she spent with the people who had formerly ignored her, the more she craved their company, not Artie's. She'd been horrible to him, in those last few months of grade eight, ignoring his phone calls, electing to spend weekends and afternoons with Daniela and her posse, choosing to pretend that Artie was not there. She'd also convinced herself that she wasn't in love with the boy anymore- but it was only because she was scared. He wasn't the Artie she remembered. The Artie she knew wasn't disabled. He was popular. He could walk. He was everything she'd ever wanted. But he wasn't that way now, and that was part of the reason Quinn pushed him away.
The worst part, Quinn thought in retrospect, was that Artie never said anything. He never verbally expressed his confusion or hurt- actually yes, he had. Only once. He'd asked her to hear him out, so she did. She'd heard, alright, but she hadn't actually listened.
"Now that I'm crippled, nobody wants to hang out with me." Artie had resigned himself to that fact, smiling a little sourly. "Not even you."
"That's not true." She'd only said it because it was one of those things people were supposed to say, like when Daniela insisted she was fat or ugly, or had a really noticeable zit on her face. Even if she did have a big red splotch the size of Arkansas between her eyes, Quinn hastened to assure her that it wasn't true. Just as she did with Artie.
"Don't be stupid, Quinn."
"I'm not!" She frowned. "What's your deal, Artie?"
"My deal is that my back is broken, I can't feel anything from the waist down, and my supposed best friend doesn't give a shit."
"That's not true." Quinn repeated, shrinking. They were in the schoolyard, on the blacktop, having a serious discussion while the girls preened and the boys played tackle football in the field.
"Yes it is." Artie refuted stubbornly. "You've changed, Quinn. You became…"
"What? A bitch?" She didn't expect him to agree. It shouldn't have hurt so much when he nodded.
"You said it, not me."
Quinn was so pissed off that she didn't see Daniela, bouncing up next to her.
"Hey." The dark-haired girl greeted her. "Is he bothering you?"
Artie's eyes flashed. He was hurt. Quinn pretended not to notice.
"No." She answered dutifully.
"Well, come on, then! John wants you to watch him play football." Daniela gave her arm a tug and without another word to Artie, Quinn retreated to the grass. A place where he couldn't go, because driving his wheelchair on the grass was like murder, and he wasn't very good at steering anyway.
She didn't look back.
That summer, she enrolled herself in a weight loss camp, and had surprisingly positive results. By the time she came back, ready to start high school, she was thin- nicely thin- and boys paid her more attention. She barely noticed Artie on the first day of school. Or at least, she pretended she didn't see him wheeling onto the ramp of his mom's van. He'd gotten glasses and a haircut, but he was still the same.
She couldn't look at him for too long. She might just start feeling bad for him and disgusted with herself. During her time at camp she'd convinced herself she didn't need to worry about him. High school was coming up anyway, he'd find lots of new friends.
Quinn soon learned that high school was just like grade school- rumours, split-second relationships, sexual innuendos and pointless drama- only it was a lot worse. She became so lost in the tides of students trying to be somebody that she almost forgot about Artie.
Almost. Clearly, she'd never be over what happened. But she liked to pretend she was because then she could go about her day-to-day life without falling apart like an emotional wreck. There were nights she genuinely missed him, bawled like a baby for him, wanted to tell him that she was sorry for being such a self-absorbed bitch. But to talk to Artie, to tell him all of that, would be as useless as chasing fireflies. Things would never go back to the way they'd been before, they'd never be best friends.
But maybe it wasn't as hopeless as she'd first thought…
If she'd had any conscious control over herself, Quinn might have mentally wondered why she was doing this: getting up off the bleachers (Sylvester was too wrapped up in the rest of the team to notice) and sprinting for the port-a-potties. She got there just as Puck was about to push the portable toilet over, no doubt covering poor Artie with human excrement.
"Stop!" She shouted. Her voice was ragged, her heart was exploding against her ribcage. Puck and his friends turned to look at her, immediately respectful. She was Finn's girlfriend after all, even if he'd betrayed them to join glee. She advanced upon the football players, none of them moved.
"Yeah?" Puck asked casually, leaning against the port-a-potty. Quinn could already smell the stench. She felt awful for Artie.
"Let Artie out."
"Artie…" they stared at her, their faces blank. "The kid in the wheelchair!" She snapped, exasperated. "Let him out. I have to talk to him." Curious, Puck freed the paraplegic and shoved him toward Quinn. He was staring up at her, breath heavy, eyes wide behind his glasses. She forced herself not to look at him, wrinkling her nose against the still-evident smell.
"Get lost!" She ordered Puck and his goons. "I have to talk to him." They did as she asked, moving out of the way.
She rounded on Artie. "What were you doing? Why didn't you yell for help?"
"Nobody would've heard me. And if they had, nobody would've cared." Artie shrugged like it was a fact of life. Quinn winced. How could he be so blasé? How could he not be angry with those stupid assholes for bullying him like that?
"Thanks anyway." Artie began rolling away. She hadn't the faintest idea what possessed her to do it, but she followed him.
"Where are you going?" She inquired.
"Why do you care?" He snorted. She knew she deserved that.
"Nothing, never mind."
They ended up in the basement auditorium. Nobody else was there. Artie wheeled himself up onto the stage, she pursued him like an adoring child might follow their parent.
"Why are you here?" She asked. "I mean, nobody else is-"
"I like to be early. It gives me time to think."
"About?" She felt uncomfortably tall compared to the boy who used to tower over her so she sat down next to him, Indian-style. She could feel her skirt riding up a little bit but it didn't matter; it was only Artie. Even if he tried something slimy (which she was pretty sure he wouldn't) she could outrun him.
Artie laughed. A bitter sound. He shouldn't have been so dismal; it scared her. "Again, why would you care?"
"Look, I just saved your ass-" she started petulantly.
"I could've handled it." He cut her off harshly. "And why are you taking to me anyway? It's not like I matter."
It's not like I matter. She felt as if she'd been punched in both eyes. Literally, they stung. She bowed her head, staring at her folded hands. Tears spilled over. She wiped them away hastily, but not quickly enough.
"Don't cry." His voice had morphed; instead of nonchalant and cold it was the same warm one that she remembered. The one that she so desperately needed to hear at that moment. "I'm sorry, Quinn." She almost laughed, but refrained. Hewas sorry? He had nothing to apologize for (other than those fugly sweater vests he always wore, but that was excusable, given the circumstances). The duo sat in silence for an infinite number of minutes (it was actually closer to six and a half) before Quinn just blurted it out.
"For what?" He looked at her, truly bemused, she couldn't hold his gaze, twisting the purity ring around on her finger. She'd stuck to her chastity vow since making it in the ninth grade (after Daniela dropped out because she was pregnant), she'd always told herself that it was because she wanted to wait until marriage. But maybe… maybe she'd done it because Artie technically couldn't have sex, and she was punishing herself by making sure that she wouldn't, either. Not until she was old and confident about settling down.
"For everything." She didn't have to elaborate. He knew that she was referring to their sordid past.
"No," she stood and wiped at her moistened eyes again. Jeez, if she kept crying like this her mascara would run! "I suck at being a friend. You deserve so much more." It suddenly occurred to her that she had it within her immediate power to give that 'so much more' to him. She could make him a somebody, lift him from the pits of hell (AKA the basement, AKA glee), get him a girlfriend. His life would be peachy keen, she could be like his fairy godmother!
"It's not okay." She took a deep breath. "Do you want to sit with my friends and I at lunch?"
It took about a half a second for him to respond, and it definitely wasn't what she'd hoped for. He threw back his head and laughed heartily, as if she'd just suggested he get up from his wheelchair and do the chicken dance.
"You don't have to be so rude about it." She folded her arms over her chest, concealing the pain of rejection by appearing snooty. "I was only trying to help."
"By what? Making me popular? Quinn, in all honesty, I couldn't give a shit about being adored by people."
"But why?" She frowned down at him, utterly perplexed. "Everybody likes to be known."
"Sometimes the only thing you need is to be loved."
"How can you be one without the other?" She puzzled.
He smiled gently, as if she were a child too young to grasp something serious. "Daniela Cooper was known. You were loved."
Her cheeks burned as his words clicked in. 'You were loved' did that mean that he was in love with her? He was smiling, abashed, and she recalled that day in the third grade when he defended her.
"Thanks. You're loved too."
He glanced up swiftly in surprise. She slapped a hand over her mouth.
"You didn't say 'were' as in past tense. You said-"
"I know." She could've, should've, just blamed the word vomit as a mistake. She hadn't meant to say that he was still loved, but….
When she looked at him, all she could see was that boy from the third grade. The one she'd first loved, the one she still did. The chair disappeared. And suddenly, she was leaning down, to be at level with his lips. He was leaning forward. They were so close she could feel his breathe…
"Whoa!" Quinn jumped back, whipping around to see Finn and Rachel, staring at she and Artie from the floor of the auditorium.
"Is there something I should know about?" Finn asked. Quinn turned beet red as she stared at him, she didn't even care that Rachel was standing next to him, looking like she'd just been told that one day she would be the most famous actress in the world (yeah, right!) and Santa Claus was real.
"No, I…" Quinn sighed. "Finn, can we talk?"
She jumped off from the stage, shooting a pleading look at Artie (who looked torn between bemusement and mortification). She followed Finn backstage, and even though Rachel had probably found someway to listen in, Quinn blurted it out. The whole freaking story. Everything. Even her feelings about Artie.
"Do you still love him now?" Finn was way too calm for a guy who'd almost witnessed his puritan girlfriend kiss someone else.
"I think so." Might as well be honest. "Do you love Rachel?" There was no malice in her voice, just plain honesty.
"I think I'm starting to." She was way too calm for a girl who'd just learned that her boyfriend was into somebody else. "So, are you gonna tell Artie?"
"You should, I think he'd appreciate it." Finn departed without a word. Quinn just stood there, blinking. She'd just gotten dumped by her boyfriend… she felt nothing. Come to think of it, she'd never felt anything when her past relationships had ended, either. But maybe that's because someone else had held her heart all along.
She stayed backstage until the end of rehearsal, when Artie finally came to look for her.
"Hey." He was nervous, she recognized it.
"Look, I'm sorry about-"
"I love you."
"Are you sure-"
"Can I kiss you? I've been wanting to since I was thirteen." Now that the confession was off her chest, she felt a bit better. He only nodded, and as their lips connected, simultaneously releasing a burst of glee (how ironic) in her chest, Quinn realized something. After years of trying, chasing, avoiding, she'd finally caught a firefly.
Hmm, I'm not sure if I like the ending. I originally wanted it to be angsty, with Quinn and Artie not getting a second chance to rekindle their love, but I decided that the world needs more happy endings. Even if they're only fictional. On a side note, don't you hate it when people steal your ideas and words? They might not have taken what you wrote word-for-word, but they paraphrased, and didn't give you any credit. I know I hate it when that happens, and the only consolation is that none of this is written for profit. Otherwise we'd have a lawsuit on our hands (or not, because I suck at confrontation). I won't name names, but I'm extremely dissapointed in someone. OH, and before I forget, thank you Violet-Shadow for telling me how to correctly spell Artie's surname. One of these days I might go back and correct the first chapter. I hope the ending made you happy inside. Or something like that.
Anyway, please let me know what you thought =). Did the happy ending work, or should I have written the original, angst-filled one?