Title: Smoothness, or the Lack Thereof
Length: 1050 words
Prompt: For Glee Fic!Battle on Livejournal: Artie/Tina, Meeting in elementary school, G
Pairing: slight Artie/Tina; mostly friendshippy
Other: Some spoilers for 1x09 Wheels.
They met before the chair. In the kindergarten sandbox, in fact, before someone realized how unsanitary those were, when Artie had reached for the same rock in the sand that Tina was reaching for. She looked up and smiled at him, eyes slitted against the sun.
When he grabbed the rock he jumped up and started running, and she chased him all the way across the playground, giggling.
"I'm Tina," she said, when she finally caught him. He pushed his glasses up on his nose and handed her the rock like it was a precious treasure.
"Artie," he said, with a little boy grin, and that had been the beginning.
It wasn't exactly correct to say that they'd been inseparable since then. After all, Tina had girl friends and Artie had boy friends. They were both pretty shy, for kids, but their smiles, if not their voices, lit up the classroom.
But when Artie disappeared from second grade without a word, Tina did think about it a little. She figured that he'd moved, and though it made her a little sad, those things happened. Katie Garett had moved over the summer, and Derrick Jensen too, and she'd probably never see them again. She missed Artie a little more, though.
At the end of the year, the teacher passed around a card. It had Condolences written on the inside, in a very neat script, and the teacher explained what had happened in a quiet voice. Tina started crying. Nita Connor had to take her down to the nurse, and so Tina didn't hear the other thing that their teacher told them.
But Artie came to third grade in his wheelchair.
Everyone said that it was cool. They hovered around Artie and the chair, prodding at tires and admiring the awesome biker gloves he was wearing. No one seemed to care how tired he looked or how still the lower half of his body was.
Tina did, but she couldn't figure out what to say. "I'm sorry" wouldn't be enough. Neither would "condolences." She didn't approach, just watched as he patiently answered everyone's questions before making his way carefully to the special desk for him in front. His wheelchair could hardly squeeze between the teacher's desk and the first row.
He seemed different than he had before the accident. He'd never been loud, but now he was calm. There was just something about him that was immovable-- not because of his disability, but in his personality. He was almost cold, and polite. He spoke even less than he had before.
Tina caught up with him on the way out of school. He got to leave a little earlier because he had to have the special bus, and her mother was taking her out of class early for a dentist appointment. It was a slight adjustment to match her stride to his patient rolling, but she thought it would be nice to walk beside him.
"So," she said after a moment of silence. Artie looked as if he were concentrating, but then he looked up at her. "W-w-what did you think of the math today? I don't think I'll ever get fractions."
She had a habit of stuttering whenever she got too nervous (a habit she grew out of, the next year when her mother prodded her into doing the science fair, but it would be resurrected later, in preteen uncertainty).
Artie sighed as if this were a very deep question. "I don't either," he pronounced. But he smiled at her.
A teacher who saw that look and knew what Artie had been through over the past year had a word with Artie and Tina's teacher, and soon Tina was accompanying Artie down the hall every day after school. Sometimes she pushed him, if his arms were tired, and she was very, very careful. They talked about fractions and teachers and the other kids.
They didn't talk about the chair. Tina hadn't decided that she wasn't going to bring it up; it just happened. And Artie seemed happy like that. On the last day of fifth grade, he said something so quietly that she stopped pushing and leaned over his shoulder to listen.
"Thanks for treating me like a normal person," he said again.
"You are!" she answered without hesitation, and he smiled back at her, that same grin he'd had the day they met.
Middle school came painfully into Tina's life, especially since Artie had to go to a different one, one that was closer to his house and more wheelchair-accessible. She felt like she stood out in every crowd-- too short, too Asian, too quiet, too Tina.
So she dyed a streak in her hair to attract attention there instead of to her actual self, and started stuttering to avoid everything, and no one noticed her anymore.
And that was okay. She survived.
On the first day of high school, she heard an almost-familiar sound, wheelchair wheels on concrete, and when she turned around, there he was. Artie had grown, even his damaged legs had grown, but it was still him, and she grinned from ear to ear and leaned down to hug him.
"Nice hair," he said.
"Nice gloves," she answered. He held up a hand and wiggled it. The yellow really caught the light.
It was almost like the last three years hadn't happened. The high school looked huge and unnavigable and people were staring, but they hardly noticed. They'd find the ramps as necessary. (Sometimes, even when Tina wasn't with Artie, she found herself going those ways, just out of habit.)
Tina wasn't very fond of singing, because it was so public. But when Artie decided to join Glee, she thought she'd take the chance. She was already shunned for her stutter and for hanging out with the "wheelchair kid." And Artie had a really good voice. She sometimes sat and listened to jazz band rehearsal and heard him singing under his breath.
So she signed her name, and his, because he couldn't quite reach, and then the world began to change again.