Author's Note: For the Artina Ficathon on Tumblr (.com), filling a prompt by emmaliza, who requested a story based off the poem "The Other," by Ted Hughes. The poem is quoted at the bottom, to avoid the spoilery spoilers, and there's also a Post Author's Note.
As for my long-neglected "The First Time", I have not forgotten or abandoned it. Real life has just sucked out all of my will to write. I thought signing up for something like this would help get me back into the swing of things. I'm also going to wait until I have the story finished (or mostly finished) to post any updates, so as to avoid long hiatuses like this, which aren't fair to you guys.
Thanks for sticking with me!
"He had too much, so with a smile, you took some."
She knew he was special from the first day they met. She had noticed him right away, trying to maneuver his way awkwardly through the halls. The way people got quiet when he went by, or how they whispered words of pity after he was gone.
She hadn't known him Before. She was the new kid in town, starting the ninth grade without knowing a single person. Well, except him. Everyone seemed to know who he was. The Kid in the Wheelchair.
From what she had gathered from quiet conversations throughout the day, it was apparently his first day, too. Not in the same way it was her first day, mind you. Rather, it was his first day of his new life. Of the After. His first day of ninth grade was his first day back at school after the Accident.
She hated herself a little for thinking it, but she was grateful for him and his wheelchair. Everyone was so preoccupied with Artie Abrams and his wheelchair, that hardly anyone noticed the poor little goth girl with the weird stutter. Well, at least on that first day anyway.
He wore gloves like she did. Of course, his were much more functional than her fishnets, but as she twisted her hands together in her lap, relishing in the way the gloves dug into her skin, she couldn't help but notice that he did the same thing.
He sat in class with his back straight and rigid, like he was uncomfortable all the time. Like he wasn't used to it yet. (Do you ever get used to something like that?) His hands stayed pushed into his lap awkwardly, as he twisted them together repeatedly throughout the hour. He never relaxed. Maybe it was because even though he'd sat in the far back of the classroom (which happened to be next to her), people kept staring anyway. They'd peek over their shoulders or under their hair. Trying to get a glimpse of the Chair. Of the After.
But while she would glance away awkwardly, hide under her blue streak of hair even though they weren't looking at her, he didn't look away once. He kept his head facing forward, looking at the teacher. His face a careful mask of indifference. That is, except in the few moments when no one was watching. His mouth would twitch and he would blink furiously, trying to hold up the facade. He'd struggle to swallow without making a noise. Without crying.
The thing was, she was always watching.
While she was grateful for him on that first day, she also envied him. The way he could so easily shut them all out. The way he could make them think they had no effect on him. Like the Accident had somehow made him above all the nonsense of high school. Which, in a way, she guessed it had. She supposed that all of the drama and gossiping wouldn't mean all that much when you knew you would never walk again.
It wasn't until lunch that she had any desire to talk to him. Sure, she was curious, but she was mostly content to watch him from afar. It wasn't until she saw him waver in that cafeteria, that she had an unexplainable, but uncontrollable urge to speak to him.
She didn't feel sorry for him. As far as she was concerned, he made that impossible. But when she saw him slowly making his way through the tables, realizing that everyone was avoiding his eyes, and he dropped his head for the first time that day, she suddenly felt panicky. Maybe even … scared?
He was about to turn away, about to give up, and she felt her panic rising. If he couldn't handle it, how on earth was she supposed to get through this? She wasn't as strong as him, that much was clear. She'd been hiding behind him all day, letting him take the brunt of her first day horrors. He didn't realize it, but he'd been holding them both up all day. And now he was going to give up and walk away?
She hadn't even noticed that she'd gotten out of her seat, but all of a sudden, she was standing right behind him, a hand on his shoulder. He tensed at her touch, and she wondered briefly how long it'd been since anyone besides his family or doctors had touched him. She pulled her hand back quickly, like he'd shocked her. (Looking back, she thinks it's more like he branded her as his somehow.) When he turns around to look at her, his eyes fall immediately on the blue streak in her hair. And then he does something that she hadn't seen him do all day.
It's small and careful, like he's trying to hold it in. Like it's unnatural for him to have not smiled for so long.
"You're new," he says, and his voice is smooth and clear, the complete opposite of her nervous stammers. It calms her immediately. She lets out a breath she didn't know she was holding.
"Y-y-yeah," she answers. And then they stand there silently for a few moments, and it's not awkward as much as it's just new. Special.
He nods slowly, sagely. Like he knows everything about her from that one word. Like he understands.
"Me too," he says. She raises her eyebrows a bit at that, and then he surprises her by laughing. A wonderful, deep chuckle that hints at a dry sense of humor. "Well, sort of."
And then she smiles. Hesitantly, because for her, it's not natural. But then, she feels her face warm up because he's smiling again. At her. His big, brilliant smile that makes her feel somehow safe in this loud, crowded room. Makes her feel strong. Like him.
"I'm Artie," he says through that smile, holding his gloved hand out to her like he's offering her a safe haven. Like he's offering her so much more. She only hesitates for a second.
"I'm Tina," she says, placing her hand gently in his, and she doesn't even notice that she doesn't stutter. He holds it firmly for a few seconds too long, and then he's pulling her back toward her table.
"May I join you?" And he says it like he's making a promise, bowing slightly and holding out her chair. Trying to hold in that smile again.
"Of course," she answers quickly, not hesitating at all this time. She sits next to him, watches him intently as he makes his way through his sandwich, listening as he walks her through the social structure of William McKinley High, and he just seems so freaking confidant and normal. She doesn't get how everyone else only sees the chair. She just sees Artie. But mostly, she sees his strength.
She leans closer to him then, lets her arm rest against his. He only pauses in his story briefly, glancing quickly down at their arms, but then he continues like nothing even happened. Like this is the way it's supposed to be.
He doesn't realize it then, but she needs to be close to him. Needs to lean on him and soak up his strength into herself. She didn't think she'd last one month at this school, but somehow, with Artie by her side, four years doesn't seem all that long.
So, with a smile, she took some. At first, just a little. But four years really is a long time.
"Now that you had all he had ever had, you had too much."
It was Sophomore year when they joined Glee Club. Naturally, they did it together. Just like they'd done pretty much everything together since that first day in the cafeteria. People got used to seeing Wheelchair Kid and Goth Girl together, so much so that the two names were hardly ever separated anymore.
Except in Glee Club. In Glee Club, they were just Artie and Tina. Still usually clumped together, but "Artie and Tina" sent chills up her spine in a way that "Wheelchair Kid and Goth Girl" just didn't seem to do. (Duh.) In addition to all of the other stuff they did together, now they sang. His deep, soulful voice mixing fluidly with her smooth and sweet one. It made her hum all over.
And she thought she was happy. Like, actually, truly happy with herself and where she was in life. But then she'd look at him and realize that she wasn't. Not really. Not like he was. His smile was so infectious that he could even manage to make Quinn Fabray laugh. Sometimes when he told stories, it was like the entire club would just stop and listen to him, like he was the most interesting thing in the world. He had a way of speaking that just drew you in, and really, she wasn't surprised that everyone seemed to like him (and not just pity him). Sometimes she even thought that if he hadn't been in the accident, he'd probably be wedged between Brittany and Mike, fitting right in to their little cool group on the other side of the room.
And she was still the Stutterfly, as Puck liked to call her. Mostly in the background, never getting solo parts, and still too scared to talk very much in front of anyone. He even got along with Kurt and Mercedes better than she did, and they were technically her friends first. Hell, even Puck had complimented his guitar skills and asked for some pointers.
It wasn't until she saw Rachel Berry, self-centered extraordinaire Rachel Berry, completely captivated by some ridiculous rant he was going on about exactly why the film genre was superior to musical theater, that she felt it. A twinge in her gut. She wasn't sure what it was, and at first, she tried to chock it up to jealousy. (Jealous over Rachel Berry? God.) And then she made it all about Rachel, hating her a little for being the star that she secretly sort of wanted to be.
Because that's sort of what it was, she realized with a start after a few days. It was hateful, what she was feeling inside. It was envy and ugliness and she didn't know where it came from or how to make it go away. She should have known that it was about him. After all, everything always seemed to come back to him.
So, she ignored it. It gnawed at her slowly, but she knew it was irrational, so she figured she could just pretend to not feel it and maybe it would go away on its own. Because, obviously, she didn't hate him. In fact, she was pretty sure she was in love with him. But like little seeds growing inside of her, as he got more and more comfortable in his role as second male lead and everyone seemed to forget about the Chair, she got more and more insecure. Like she somehow wasn't good enough for them, not with him being so cool and awesome all the time.
She hadn't noticed, but she'd been taking a little from all of them, bit by bit. Attitude from Mercedes, strength from Kurt. Hopes and dreams from Rachel, confidence from Mike Chang, and even grace from Quinn. But she always took the most from him. And worst of all, she thinks he was starting to notice.
She'd taken to snapping at him lately. Taking her bad days out on him. He'd try to crack a joke and make her laugh, and instead of finding it charming or adorable like she used to, she just found it infuriating.
"You can't make a joke out of everything! Sometimes things just suck and you just have to deal with it!"
And he'd get this look in his eyes, like something inside him was breaking. But he would just put on a smile (the fake one, not the infectious real one), and he'd take it. He'd nod, tell her she was right, and let her yell at him some more. After all, if it made her feel better, who cared if his feelings got hurt a little? Or even a lot? To him, her happiness was what mattered. That's why he was the way he was, just trying to hold onto her and make her stronger. Maybe everything would have been better, easier, if she could have seen that. But she didn't.
All she saw was him having everything she wanted. The perfect and supportive family, friends who loved being around him, teachers who adored him and his efforts. And it wasn't fair. It wasn't fair for one person to have so much, despite all the crap he's been through. How did he do it? How did he always manage to come out on top, while she was always, always left at the bottom without him. She just couldn't see that he was giving everything he had to try and pull her up with him. Couldn't grasp the concept of someone loving her that much.
The more he tried, the more she resisted. The more she took. The more she tore him down, and tried to bring him back down to her level. She didn't even know that that's what she was doing. She just knew that as he got quieter and more withdrawn from the others, the more he followed her and made her feel like she was the only thing that mattered, the more the holes inside her started to close up. She took his strength and his confidence and filled herself up with them.
She didn't realize what she was doing. Didn't realize that as she made herself more of a person, she was hollowing him out, slowly and painfully. It felt like she was restoring some sort of lost balance between them, but how do you know when to stop? Especially when he loves you enough to give everything freely?
She couldn't see that she had too much now. He was always by her side, hand clutched tightly in hers. So, when people noticed him, they were now noticing her, too. Talking and smiling at her. And she felt whole. Better. Fixed.
How could anything be wrong when everything was finally perfect? She didn't yell at him anymore, but it was because he didn't try to joke anymore. His eyes didn't light up when he smiled. He let her talk stutter free, and nodded and agreed in all of the right places. He built her up and made her feel loved. But somewhere along the way, she forgot to love him back. Forgot what it felt like when she used to get butterflies, or when his smile was enough to make her smile.
The problem with holding someone up, you see, is that eventually you'll start to fall. She didn't notice that the boy she fell in love with was long gone. He played that part so well for her, so she wouldn't worry or be unhappy. He loved her that much. He'd given her everything, which meant he now had nothing. He was the empty one now.
And she didn't notice anything at all until the day he finally woke back up. She saw him smile and it crinkled his eyes, and she had forgotten what it felt like to love him. Forgotten what it felt like to be loved, when all along, that's all he was trying to do. And she missed him. So she laid her arms down and surrendered to him. And she smiled as he took some.
At first, just a little.
Post-Author's Note: Well, was that depressing enough for you? I don't know where this Tina comes from, but she brings the angst, so I'll keep letting her out to play. She always figures it out in the end and you get a happy ending, sort of. I think I may write a version of this from Artie's side, where he's taking from her. It really could work both ways, but with Tina being the taker, it matched the story I've been telling in "The First Time", so it was easier for me to write.
Thanks to Rose for setting this up! It was a lot of fun and will hopefully get me back into the writing mood. The full poem is listed below:
"The Other," by Ted Hughes
She had too much so with a smile you took some.
Of everything she had you had
Absolutely nothing, so you took some.
At first, just a little.
Still she had so much which made you feel
Your vacuum, which nature abhorred,
So you took your fill, for nature's sake.
Because her great luck made you feel unlucky
You had redressed the balance, which meant
Now you had some too, for yourself.
As seemed only fair. Still her ambition
Claimed the natural right to screw you up
Like a crossed-out page, tossed into a basket.
Somebody, on behalf of the gods,
Had to correct that hubris.
A little touch of hatred steadied the nerves.
Everything she had won, the happiness of it,
As your compensation
For having lost. Which left her absolutely
Nothing. Even her life was
Trapped in the heap you took. She had nothing
Too late you saw what had happened.
It made no difference that she was dead,
Now that you had all she had ever had
You had too much.
Saw her smile, as she took some.
At first, just a little.