The first of two parts; can be read as a companion piece to "Sympathy From the Devil", but also works just fine on it's own.
I still haven't bought that shirt, so I still don't own anything. Someday…
"We need to talk."
Artie snapped the buckle on his instrument case and looked up. Kurt stood in front of him; manicured hands on his hips and one leg turned out to the side, looking for all the world as if he had posed specifically for the conversation. Which, Artie thought, he probably had. "Sure," he said. "Make it quick though, I've got to get going. What's up?" Kurt shook his head. "Oh no, Mister Rogers. You don't want to have this talk in here." Kurt scooped up Artie's bag and hung it off of one of the wheelchair's handles. "Let's go."
And before Artie could protest, Kurt was wheeling him out the door.
Not that he didn't try. "What are you doing?" Artie screeched indignantly. He twisted his body awkwardly to look back at Kurt, who was pursing his lips disapprovingly. "We're having a long overdue chat," Kurt informed him, "a desperately needed conversation between friends." Artie's jaw dropped. "F-Friends?" he sputtered. What the… "You're kidnapping me! What kind of a friend does that?" Kurt rolled his eyes skyward and sighed dramatically. "Will you cool it with the amateur theatrics, Joan Crawford?" he asked in a long-suffering tone. A little hypocritically, in Artie's opinion, since only one of them was wearing a high-necked women's blouse and white headband, and it certainly wasn't Artie.
This was ridiculous. As Kurt pushed his chair around the corner, Artie looked frantically down back down the hall toward the choir room, hoping to spot someone who could come to his rescue and put an end to this stupidity. No one. "It wouldn't have worked," Kurt said smugly. "Everyone is prepared to ignore any screaming or cries for help they might hear. Mercedes has been not-so-discreetly spreading the rumor that we intended to kidnap you after Glee and force you to burn all of your suspenders and geriatric-wear. And in fact," he continued, lighting up, "we may do that later, if we have time. I have a sacrificial fire laid out in Dad's barbeque pit, ready to be lit for just such an occasion." His eyes sparkled with a maniacal fervor that was starting to make Artie distinctly uneasy. "Fortunately for you, however, your Early Bird Special wardrobe is not the subject of today's intervention." Artie, while used to hearing Kurt's slurs on his clothing preferences at least half a dozen times a day, was really starting to get annoyed. "Fine," he said irritably. "What did you want to talk about that was so important, you needed to abduct me, which by the way is a felony?"
"Tina," Kurt answered simply.
Artie felt his stomach drop. "No. Oh no. We are not having this conversation," he said, his tight voice barely concealing his sudden anger. How dare he. How dare he wheel him out of rehearsal and bring her up, when he had to know… Kurt appeared unfazed. "Your participation in this conversation is entirely optional," he conceded loftily, examining his nails as he spoke. "However, given that I'm perfectly capable of holding you hostage until you've at least heard what I have to say, I'd advise your cooperation in this matter."
This time, Artie didn't even try to contain the rage that rushed over him. "That's completely unfair!" he ranted, seething. "What the hell is your problem? Just because you can physically stop the cripple from leaving, that makes it okay? Why is it all right to kidnap me and not anyone else, just because I'm not able to fight back? You wouldn't even think of trying to physically restrain someone else." He glowered at Kurt. "I would have thought, that out of anyone, you would be the one to understand that just because you can push someone around doesn't mean its right."
Kurt blinked, slowly. "I'll admit you are somewhat of an easier target than most," he said carefully. "But the only difference that makes is that I don't have to get creative to stop you from leaving." His eyes locked with Artie's, taking on a steely look that Artie had only seen him possess a few times. "But if I really thought one of my friends desperately needed to hear something they didn't want to hear, you can bet that seriously unattractive sweater vest you're wearing that I would find a way to make them listen." The intensity in Kurt's expression faded as he gave Artie a small, slightly sad smile. "And you have a point. But somehow, I think your 'roid rage was only partially directed at me."
Artie sighed. Now that the initial wave of anger and resentment had passed, it was quickly being replaced with other emotions. Oh, he was still angry. Pissed, even. But he was also embarrassed for lashing out at Kurt, who was at least well intentioned, if overbearing and bossy. He was frustrated, because he knew Kurt was right—he was an easy target. It didn't matter what he did, even his little sister could (and frequently did) force him to stay or go anywhere simply by pushing him. He was ashamed that that truth had gotten him locked in many a port-a-potty, helpless until someone came along to let him out. He despised feeling helpless. At least Kurt could pull himself out of the dumpster.
It all came back to the stupid chair. If he could just walk again, people wouldn't be able to lock him into places he couldn't escape from, or just assume it was okay to haul him wherever. Only Tina was allowed to do that. And Tina—
If he could just walk again, he could be the man that Tina wanted.
Artie swallowed thickly, pushing that thought back. "I apologize for yelling," he told Kurt, his composure returned. "And I'm leaving. I don't want to have this conversation, and I really don't think that it's any of your business." Artie lifted his parking brake and began to roll away.
"Have you even looked at her in the past two weeks?" Kurt called after him. Artie stopped moving, slowly rolling to a stop but refusing to turn around. "Of course I have," he spat. How could he not? He was mad at her, and hurt by her, and betrayed and confused and ripped apart by her. Not looking at her would be like not looking at a car wreck as you drove by. You knew if was awful, you knew you shouldn't look, but you couldn't stop your neck from craning to see.
"I mean really look," Kurt pressed. "Because she looks like crap, Wheels. And not just by my admittedly harsh standards. Anyone can tell she's a mess. Her makeup is, God knows how this is even possible, even sloppier than usual. She's withdrawn, she's paler, she's lost at least eight pounds, and while I'd normally be celebrating the fact that her dropping two dress sizes opens up a whole new world of designer fashion I can fit her into, the victory dance is a bit hollow when I know it's because she's not eating. Mercedes and I have tried everything. Movies, ice cream, manicures; I even offered to redye her streaks in whatever abhorrent shade her seriously misguided little heart desired." Kurt shuddered at the memory.
"And you know what the worst part is?" he asked. "She just goes with it. She'll go to the mall with us, she'll sit on the couch through movie after movie, she'll hold still while we paint and dye and moisturize. But she's not there. There's no spark left. It's like everything that makes Tina Tina has just flown the cuckoo's nest and left behind this compliant little doll who doesn't care."
Artie hadn't noticed Kurt's voice coming closer until the boy was standing right next to him, handing him a handkerchief to dry the tears that were cascading freely down his cheeks. He took the cloth halfheartedly, not trusting himself to speak. How…
How on earth had things gotten this bad? How on earth had things gotten this bad without him even noticing? He knew everything about Tina. He knew that she pretended to take notes in English class, but would really draw or do Sudoku puzzles in her notebook instead. He knew that Home Alone had scared the crap out of her in the fifth grade since she really was home alone so much, and that she had slept within arms reach of a baseball bat ever since. He knew that she had little scars all over her left hand from picking up the shards of a broken china plate, smashed against the kitchen wall in a fit of anger when her parents had extended yet another business trip. He knew that her laughter was the most amazing sound in the world, and that when she cried, it made him want to wrap her up inside himself to keep her safe from the world.
He knew that he was in love with her.
He knew that the real reason her lie had upset him so much was that for a split second, it made him think that maybe he didn't really know her at all.
"You know, when I was six, all I wanted for my birthday was a life size Barbie doll to play with," Kurt confided, patting Artie's shoulder as Artie wiped his eyes. "Now that I have one, I'm starting to realize that the whole concept is kind of creepy. Makes me glad that I got a tool kit and a curling iron instead." Artie's response was strangled, a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob. Kurt gave his shoulder one final pat before giving his wheelchair a shove. "I won't tell you what to do, as you've made your position on that quite clear," he said, his usual demeanor back in place as he carefully fixed his hair. "I just thought you should know."
Artie began rolling himself away from Kurt, toward the front door. Just as he was about to turn the corner, he stopped and looked back. "Thanks," he said. "Not cool, but…thanks." Kurt smiled back, knowingly. "I live to serve. Speaking of which, my bonfire offer is a standing invitation. Just give me a few hours notice, would you? I need to steal that technicolor monstrosity that is Mercedes' zebra zip-up for kindling."
Artie nodded and turned the corner.