Title: at the back
Rating: PG-13 (for violence and romance)
Warnings: Mentions of sex. No spoilers! Also unbeta-ed.
Author's Note: Posted as a response to turtleduckies prompt on comment_fic. The wheelchair is hot, and Tina is awesome, so I decided to post it here.
It's kind of their thing, to just sit at the back of the choir room and say very little – if anything at all.
The other kids don't ever mention Artie's paraplegia – they don't want to offend him – but it is a wall between them. He can see the pity in their eyes, and feel the unfilled gaps in their speech, where it is something that they just don't talk about.
Tina can walk, of course, but in some ways she is more impeded than Artie. He is comfortable with himself, and who he is. She has no idea. The spotlight gives uncomfortable illumination to those unexplored places within her – places that she fears as much as longs for.
When they sing, he is the only one who hears her, among the multitude of strong and confident voices of the glee club. She's not confident, not the best singer. But when they get to the parts of the song that she really likes, Tina's lips turn up in a quirky half-smile, and her voice comes out strong and clear.
"You're getting a lot better," he says to her, one day after practice as she is gathering her sheet music.
Immediately, her gaze drops to the ground, dark hair falling in the way of her face. "I-I- thank you," she says quietly, and then she quickly goes about picking up her music.
"I mean it," he says, and then he wheels away.
It happens sometimes – kids taking advantage of his paraplegia. Often enough that he's used to it, but that doesn't mean that it isn't annoying. His tormentors haven't been too original this time around – just a little duct tape and a metal bar.
The kids who did it are long gone, but they aren't the only ones around. A few give him pitying looks before passing by, a few snigger quietly at his attempts to get himself freed. He ignores them, and stretches to work at the duct tape.
She comes around the corner, books clutched against her chest, and a few moments later sees Artie. With a gasp, Tina sets her books down on the trash can, and then she rushes over to him and rips the duct tape off of his wheel. Suddenly he is mobile again.
Artie turns to Tina to thank her, but her face is unnaturally pale, and her fingers are balled into fists.
"Why didn't you h-help him?" she demands to the students around, stuttering and furious. "Y-you could ha- you could've done something!"
She turns and grabs the handles on Artie's wheelchair, pushing him into the next hall at a near breakneck pace. Once they are out of sight, she stops – she is trembling.
He takes her hand, and gives it a reassuring squeeze. "Thank you," he says.
She opens her mouth to speak, and then clams up. Artie understands.
"You left your books back there," he observes clinically.
"O-oh," Tina says. She turns the corner quickly, to go grab them.
"Does it bother you?" she asks quietly. "B-being in a wheelchair, I mean."
Artie shrugs, suddenly a little self-conscious. "Some people are jerks, and that's annoying," he says. "But I've been in a wheelchair most of my life. It's kind of become part of who I am. It's like, if you were ashamed of being Asian."
Tina looks suddenly embarrassed, and turns away from him. He realized that she is ashamed of being Asian.
"You're so self confident," she says, so quiet he almost can't hear it. "Th-that's really cool, y-you know."
He takes her hand again, holding it without a word. Eventually, she turns to look at him.
"Don't be ashamed of who you are," he says quietly. "It's something we can't change."
Her smile trembles. "Th-thanks," she says.
"For what it's worth, I think you're beautiful."
He thinks about her often. Sometimes, he thinks, it is too often. Other times, he loses himself in quiet daydreams of gold-brown skin and blue highlights.
There is always an edge of bitterness to those daydreams, a sense of disappointments to come. He knows, in the back of his mind, that he shouldn't get ahead of himself.
Wheelchair-kid as a friend, yeah, sure, that's easy. But wheelchair-kid as a boyfriend? What girl would want that?
He can't drive, can't go to an amusement park, can't play sports, can't dance at prom. And sex is probably out of the picture – at least without tremendous effort.
And he wishes, with a kind of fervent, desperate plea, to just be normal like other kids. He still knows that it is useless, but that just makes it all the worse.
Everybody is nervous, as they wait backstage. It is just a few more minutes until New Directions Glee Club performs at the Ohio State Finals. They can just barely hear the group already performing, through the doors that connected to the auditorium.
"Don't focus on the other teams," Mr. Schuester had told them, before he went to take a seat in the audience. "It's your night - you're going to remember this for the rest of your lives. Just focus on your performance."
That is a lot easier said than done. Nervous tension courses through all of them, manifesting itself in different ways.
Tina has been staring at her hands for the last half hour, not saying a word, despite the encouragement of Rachel and Mercedes. Artie wonders if she is worried about her solo, and quietly hopes that she will nail it like she did in practice earlier that week.
Suddenly, she stands up and walks over toward him. "A-Artie, c-can I talk to you?" she asks. "J-just real qu-quick."
"Sure," he replies. She leads him outside of the room and into the hall. A few people are out there, but mostly everyone is in the auditorium.
They are silent for a few moments. Artie looks up at Tina, who is fussing with her costume. "What is it?" he asks her, thinking that she needs prompting.
Tina brushes her hair back from her face, not quite meeting his eyes. Then she leans forward, leaning heavily on the arms of his wheelchair, and kisses him quickly. Artie takes a moment to register that- hey, she is kissing him. And then he kisses back, eagerly and with tongue and everything, his wheelchair backed against the wall, and his only thought is: this has to be the hottest thing, ever.
Tina pulls back, suddenly, and gives him a slightly mortified look. "S-sorry," she mutters.
Artie shakes his head, still not quite trusting his voice, and tugs softly on her arm to draw her closer. She does not resist.
The lights of the auditorium shine down, hot and too bright to look at directly, making the audience distant black blurs with no meaning. The notes and dance steps come as naturally as breathing – a reward for months of rigorous practice.
Tina makes her way to the front of the stage, looks out into the audience, and then drops comfortably into her solo. Her confidence is no longer wavering, her eyes no longer shy – she stands proud and tall, as the spotlight illuminates her.
When she returns to the back of the stage, that quirky half-smile dances on her lips. She's nailed it, and she knows.
Her success gives Artie the strength to play a little stronger, and to sing a little louder.