First, Mike. Well, really, Artie is first. And then Mike.
Then Matt (he and Mike were standing together, but it takes Matt a moment longer to get into it. It always does).
Then Brittany leaping in with abandon, a huge smile on her face.
Tina and Mercedes join in pretty much at the same time, from opposite ends of the concourse.
Kurt just watches, stunned, until he can't stand it any longer. (He'd been flirting with a cute guy when Artie calls him down the escalator. Now the guy seems to have disappeared-Kurt guesses he wasn't a very good dancer-and he didn't even get a phone number. Although, if he can't dance, Kurt's not interested.)
And then, after a rousing finale, it's over, as suddenly as it started.
Silence falls on the mall: the music cuts off and the dull roar of dozens of conversations takes over. The other dancers disappear, strangers filtering back into the crowd. The six of them just look at each other, and then the words are tumbling on top of each other: "What just happened?" "I don't understand." "Who knew there were so many good dancers in Ohio?"
They fall silent again, glancing around. No one else seems to have noticed anything; Tina could have sworn that there had been people taking video and pictures and stuff, and now everyone's just…shopping. Talking. Acting normal.
Nobody applauded, even though they had been good.
They had been great.
After a moment, Mercedes says, "No, seriously, what was that?"
Mike's face is pale and he's panting a little: Artie is pretty heavy for such a skinny guy. "I have no idea," he says. Those moves, how had they known them, when had they practiced? And everyone danced so well together. Including Artie.
"What just happened?" Kurt says again. "That didn't make any sense."
Brittany stares at them like she can't believe she's the one who has to explain. "That was Artie's Safety Dance," she says. "It was totally fun, wasn't it?" And then she skips away. Grinning, of course.
"Man," says Matt. "I just-" He meets Mike's eyes, but for once, there was no unspoken communication happening. Because what the fuck?
Tina takes a deep breath. "I should probably go find-" She stops, and none of them can meet each other's eyes. Where is Artie? He was just here a minute ago. Dancing.
In the end, they decide to stop thinking about it and go on with their day. Maybe if they ignore it, it'll go away, or become somehow explicable, or maybe they'll wake up and it'll have just been some bad shrimp.
But even though Kurt spends the rest of the afternoon dragging Mercedes around the mall trying to find that cute guy-he was very cute, even if he didn't dance-even though Mike and Matt each get three new games and go home and blow shit up for hours, even though Tina eventually does find Artie in the music store drooling over a gorgeous guitar, none of them can push the memory to back of their mind. It resurfaces over and over again, like a bad dream. And every time it does, they all think exactly the same thing:
Artie has moves.
Come Monday, Mike is still trying to figure out what happened.
"Let it go, man," says Matt. "It's not worth the energy. Whatever it was, Artie doesn't want to talk about it."
"But dude, shared hallucination? Food poisoning? There has to be some explanation."
"There isn't," says Tina, and shrugs. "And now Artie is really pissed at me."
Mike huffs and is about to roll into another lengthy rant about how things like that don't just happen when Mercedes strolls up. She says, "So, are we still not talking about last weekend?"
The boys glare at each other and then turn to Mercedes.
"So it probably wasn't food poisoning-" says Mike.
"Shut up, man!" says Matt.
Mercedes waves him off. "Probably not food poisoning, no."
"-but a shared hallucination between the six of us? That seems really weird. Like, majorly weird."
"Yeah," says Mercedes, "and why would we all hallucinate Brittany but not Santana?"
Out of nowhere comes Santana's voice: "Brittany but not Santana what?" Mercedes successfully surprises her flinch; Mike doesn't. Matt looks like he's attempting to shrink himself into a tiny ball, and he wasn't even talking.
"N-n-nothing," says Tina.
Santana frowns at her. "Is this about Artie's Safety Dance?" There is a pause while the rest of them contemplate answering, but Santana doesn't bother to wait for confirmation. "Because Brittany told me about it, and honestly, I thought she was just being Brittany. And now you're telling me that it was-that it really happened?"
They all look at each other, and then at Santana. And then they nod.
"Well, fuck," says Santana.
It's a week later at Glee, none of them can pay attention to whatever malarky Schue is spouting, and eventually, Rachel calls them on it. She's on the third minute of her rant when Mike finally cracks. "Why didn't you tell us you could dance like that, Artie?" he demands.
Artie looks completely confused and a little skeptical. "What?"
"At the mall-" Mercedes says.
Artie still looks confused, and so does everyone else, including Mr. Schuester. Finn is outright disbelieving. Puck and Quinn look ready to start snarking, probably starting with why everyone was hanging out at the mall, because who goes to mall anymore?
So they all start to try and explain at once:
"-really good, leaps and stuff-"
And as they're talking-top of each other, hardly stopping to breath so they can get the words out-they're also standing up trying to recreate the dance. Mike and Matt and Mercedes and Kurt and Tina, all sliding across the floor and talking and dancing at once.
It looks nothing like it did on Saturday.
"-one of the best-"
"-tons of people, like a flash mob-"
"-Brittany was there-"
Brittany, curled into Santana, turns her shining eyes on them. "Santana and I were at her house all day on Saturday. But we were definitely not trying out her new g-spot stimulator. Which is not the best dildo on the market at all, way better than that stupid realistic one that looks like Puck, only bigger."
Santana turns red. So does Puck. Brittany doesn't seem to notice.
Mr. Schue, a little purple himself, clears his throat. "Artie was dancing?" His voice is raspy, and he's kind of obviously trying not to look at either Brittany or Santana. Or Puck.
Artie, now more skeptical than confused, says, "I was at the mall on Saturday, but I spent most of the afternoon at the music store. Besides," and now he glares at Schue, "even if I can't walk, I can dance."
"-you were there-"
"-you were the best-"
"-seriously, man, those moves-"
"-it was great-"
"…I wasn't," says Artie. "Why would you even come up with such an asshole story? I'm paralyzed. I've been paralyzed since I was eight. I can't walk. Maybe, someday, I might walk again. Whatever. But right now I have about as much chance of walking as Finn does of joining Mensa."
"You were dancing?" says Mr. Schuester again.
Artie is staring at them all, and he looks utterly bewildered. "Guys, I dance all the time."
"What was that?" says Finn.
"I don't know," says Quinn. "Who ever knows what any of them are talking about."
"Have you ever heard Rutherford speak?" says Puck.
Finn looks genuinely confused. "Why weren't we invited?"
Puck stares at him. "Dancing? In the mall? Dude, how much lower can you get?"
Finn shrugs. "I like dancing."
"At the very least," says Rachel, "they should have invited me. I've been dancing since I was two years old, and I have extensive knowledge of the flash mob phenomenon."
"Yeah, and you would be the type to hang out at the mall. In the yarn store," says Quinn. "Whatever. I'm out of here. Text me if anything interesting happens."