Artie knows what’s happened to him before any of the doctors tell him, knows even before his parents do. He knows as soon as he opens his eyes that he’ll never be able to walk again. Artie thinks he probably knew even before that, knew as soon as the other car smashed into theirs. He’s willing to put down good money that the second the metal broke his spine Belisarti settled.
He’d opened his eyes to the sound of the beeping and whirring of machines, and seen Belisarti looking back at him. She was so small, her thin yellow crest drooping hopelessly. Artie had looked at her, and he’d known.
Belisarti is a macaroni penguin, and Artie had hated the car crash for taking away his daemon more than he hated it for taking away his legs.
Both Artie and Tina spend the entire Chemistry class glancing at each other from across the room instead of paying attention to Ms. Vandersted, but neither of them ever quite makes eye contact. Arti’s the one who finally waddles over at the end of class and introduces herself to Kyrillion.
Ky is one of the most gorgeous birds they’ve ever seen; when they’re tucked into bed at night Belisarti waxes lyrical on the beauty of his orange and black barred head, his scarlet breast, his dappled tail. Artie doesn’t say anything, but his daemon knows that he could stare at Tina for years and never get tired of it.
They don’t say it, but they both know the biggest reason Arti finally worked up the courage to go over to Ky. Neither of them can fly. Even when it turns out she doesn’t like Star Wars (sacrilege) and she realizes he zones out whenever her grumbles about her family/teachers/clothes get too long it doesn’t matter.
Artie knows that Tina can understand, in a way that no one else, not even their fellow Glee Clubbers, can. They have that connection.
(Even though, who doesn’t like Star Wars? Seriously.)
The day Tina tells him that she’s been faking her stutter he goes home and googles Chinese Pheasants.
While they can fly, they prefer to run. If startled, they can suddenly burst upwards at great speed and with a distinctive wing sound.
Although they can fly in short bursts, they are quite clumsy in flight and spend most of their time on the ground.
Kyrillion could fly the whole time. He can fly. He just chose not too.
Arti’s trembling so much her crest is a yellow blur. She doesn’t say anything, and that says so much more than if she’d railed and broken things like she did that time Rachel told them to stay on the side because neither of them could dance with anything appropriating grace. Him with his broken spine, and her with her flippers and fat stodgy body.
Artie’s pretty sure he’s never hated anyone as much as he hates Tina and Ky at that moment.
He trusted them.
“You’re dancing Artie!”
Kyrillion is so excited that he leaps around Artie like he’s his daemon, jumping into the air in little spurts of flight in time with the music. Artie glances at Belisarti, who’s flapping her useless wings nervously on his chair, and wishes that the pheasant really were his. At least Ky can fly a little.
It’s only for a second, but the thought is so horrible and wrong that he slips and falls to the ground with a thud. His head is ringing with pain and shame; he can feel it echoing back from Belisarti and it’s like he’s trapped in an endless circle of revulsion. He can taste metal in his mouth and why won’t Tina just go away and leave them alone?
Finally, she flees, Kyrillion slinking away at her heels.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” He mumbles into the floor, because he can feel the pain radiating off his daemon. She knows he didn’t mean it, but it doesn’t make it any less agonizing.
“You should be, foo’,” she snaps, her voice tight and harsh. She’d tried to make him see that dancing wasn’t a good idea, but he’d just accused her of trying to hold him back, to be more like her. Flightless. He’d been high off the idea of finally walking again someday. It was like someone had dangled a carrot in front of him to see if he could jump for it. He’d just ended up flat on his face in trying. In every sense of the phrase.
He giggles a little, and tells Arti what he’d thought. She slaps him upside the head with a flipper. She does the exact same move pretty much every day, but this time she makes it hurt.
But after a few minutes of telling him exactly how much of an idiot he is, she rolls his wheelchair over to him. She leans against him and lets her love and strength flows into him. Her feathers absorb the tears prickling his eyes as he holds her.
They stay like that until Artie can pull himself back up.
Ms. Pillsbury looks so sad, her rabbit daemon’s whiskers twitching despondently as she tells him what he really already knew.
Belisarti doesn’t tell him I told you so when they leave, and he knows that she was hoping Ms. Pillsbury would tell her she was wrong. They pass a girl who’s running to her next class, cat daemon loping beside her. The girl doesn’t look at him, but her daemon eyes Belisarti’s waddle pitying as he picks up the pace to vanish around the corner.
He glances down at Arti, who looks back up at him. He cracks a smile and lifts her up to sit on his lap.
“Where to next milady?”
“To the next great adventure.” She says grandly, and he wheels them off to the library. They’ve got some books to check out.
The next day, Artie tells Tina that it’s okay that he’s not going to be a dancer.
And it is okay. What’s so not okay is that he didn’t get to choose to not become a dancer. And that no matter how many amazing films he’ll direct, people will always look at him and see a chair first, person second. But he can choose to become a director, and if they see a chair, it’ll be a goddamn director’s chair. In fact, he’s going to be the most badass director of all time. He’ll even get a special chair with Chinese Theater style floodlights so that everywhere he goes, he’ll be in the spotlight. He’s going to make that dream true.
I’m already dressed for the red carpet Arti murmurs to him, and he snorts so hard that Ky leaps back in a jumble of red and gold feathers.
“It’s not that she can’t fly.” He explains, pointing to Arti when Tina still looks confused and sad over his change of heart, “It’s that she doesn’t need to.”
Tina just blinks at him, and he’s never felt the difference between them more strongly. She could turn off the stutter. He can’t turn his legs back on. Belisarti presses against his legs, and he can see her but he can’t feel her warmth against him. It helps anyway.
“It’s like in Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix” Tina grins widely before she remembers herself and he smirks at their shared geekdom. Maybe tomorrow he can show her his director’s cut of the movie and see if it gets him to second base. “You know, when Harry was all ‘it’s the difference between being dragged to your death kicking and screaming, and walking to it with your head held high’? I won’t ever be a dancer. But it’s okay. Seriously.
I’m going to be a boss director. I bet I’ll even go crazy like Spielberg and shoot a movie in Costa Rica but insist on getting all my meals flown in from Italy and get Eskimo-sculpted ice palaces shipped in from Alaska for Arti to play in. It’ll be pretty epic.”
Tina smiles softly and asks him to at least sing the song for her, but Ky skims the ground as they walk away. She looks ridiculous; wings pumping manically to keep her heavily plumed body aloft.
Tina can’t understand. It’s literally not part of her nature. Kyrillion can fly, only in short bursts but still. He flies. Artie actually pities them both for that. Ky can try as much as he wants, but he’ll never be able to fly properly. He doesn’t feel bad about it, because he sees the little glances Tina gives Arti whenever Artie has to pick her up and carry her.
He doesn’t need to walk. Arti doesn’t need to fly. They’re perfectly fine just the way they are.
It’s hard to remember that when Mike’s twirling his girlfriend around the stage and Kaisa is twining around Ky in flash of white and red and gold, but Arti presses her crest again his Adam’s apple and he sings.
He can’t dance, but he can sing. So he sings and watches his girlfriend smile at another guy. He pets Arti’s feathers and pictures his first Oscar nomination. She can’t fly, but she can swim. She doesn’t need to fly, because what she can do, she can do better than anything else. She’s perfect.
At Rachel’s party, Belisarti spills the bag of ice on the ground and starts sliding around on it, breakdancing like a motherfucker. Mike’s Kaisa tries to get in on it, but ends up tripping over her own wings and for once Belisarti completely schools him. Who has a motherfucking world famously graceful mating dance now?
Rachel starts shrieking about stains, but then Puck gives her another drink and she stops talking long enough to chug it down. She’s far enough gone that the few seconds of distraction are enough that she forgets about it and wobbles over to the stage where Finn’s sitting to fall into his lap.
Artie gloats the entire night, especially when Brittany decides to give him a lap dance to show how awesome she thought Belisarti’s dancing was and how she could dance too.
Penguins may not be able to dance everywhere, but when they do they’re the shit.
“Why’s Arti a penguin, Artie?”
He should feel offended. You don’t just ask someone that. But. It’s Britt. He’s been expecting Ashley to ask Arti for ages now.
Artie can feel Belisarti’s puzzlement over the fact that Ashley doesn’t just ask her. But then again, they’re been dating for weeks now and the butterfly hasn’t said a single word to Belisarti. Artie would have been freaked out if it weren’t for the fact that he didn’t think he’d ever heard Ashley speak. Nobody in Glee Club had. Well. Maybe Santana had, but she hadn’t said anything and Artie preferred not to think about the way Angel’s eyes always followed Ashley around the room.
You would have thought Ashley was just some butterfly that happened to be flying around Brittany, rather than her soul. It was pretty weird, but then again Brittany was pretty weird so it was right that her daemon show it. Artie sometimes wished his girlfriend had a more obvious daemon that he could look at for hints about Brittany, but in the end he likes Ashley. They’re both so beautiful it takes his breath away.
He suddenly realizes he hasn’t answered, but Brittany doesn’t seem annoyed. He’s honestly not sure if she realizes how much time has passed.
“Uh. I can’t walk Brittany.” He gestures to his daemon who lifts her stubby wings pointedly, “and she can’t fly. Seems pretty obvious.” He thinks about the last time he tried to explain his daemon to his girlfriend, and doesn’t expand. He’s pretty sure if Tina couldn’t understand, Brittany definitely won’t. Especially when her soul’s default is to fly over everyone’s heads.
“I can’t swim.”
She says it so matter-of-factly that Artie nearly answers with “I can’t play the tuba.” He has a feeling that this could turn into a game, which would eventually turn into sex. Most things with Brittany turn into sex if you just hang in there long enough. Arti faux-casually sidles over to where Ashley’s perched on a potted plant just in case.
“I mean, my mom told me that I couldn’t go swimming anymore once Ashley settled. She said that it was too dangerous, since the water could weigh Ashley down and we’d drown before anyone realized what was happening.” She traces one brilliant wing with her fingertip, the movement so thoughtlessly graceful that it makes his mouth water, “We had to give up swimming so we could fly.” She cocks her head at Arti, “Did you have to give up walking so you could swim?”
Hold up, did she just suggest that he chose to be in the wheelchair? Arti scrambles back into his lap, leaping away from Ashley as if the butterfly had burned her.
“Artie? Are you okay?” Brittany lays a tentative hand on his knee and he doesn’t even know if he’s grateful he can’t feel it or if he’d do anything to be able to feel the warmth he knows is radiating off her skin. The three of them sit there, frozen.
To everyone, even Brittany’s, surprise it’s Ashley who breaks the scene.
The butterfly meanders around them in casual loops until landing on Arti’s crest, wings looking even more jewel-like with the bright yellow as a background. Artie’s instantly flooded with the warmth of Ashley’s regard as it flows through his daemon into him. He swallows painfully around the lump that suddenly appears in his throat.
“It’s not like that Britt.” Arti says, her voice trembling with emotion and he’s glad she’s speaking because he couldn’t but he shakes anyway because his daemon is speaking to someone else, “I swim because I don’t need to fly.” And then Artie has to ram his wheels into Brittany’s knees and ask her to pleasepleaseplease leave now, he’ll see her tomorrow okay? Breadstix, it’s a date. They’ll get spaghetti and practice slurping it like Lady and the Tramp.
He nearly cries as soon as she leaves, his body curled around his daemon like a comma. The fierce joy radiating off of her is too much to bear, and he is so fucking proud of them that he can’t even speak. She understands though, and just presses her forehead against his Adam’s apple. They both close their eyes and watch themselves flying under the waves.
Artie teams up with Arti against Mike and his Kai on Mario Kart (which Artie was horrified to realize was the only video game Rachel had) and completely schools them. It’s the first time they’ve tried teaming up with their daemons, since the controllers aren’t exactly bird friendly. But Arti had insisted that if given the chance she could totally ‘show you noobs how it’s done.’ Kai had been the only one who would agree to try and play too. She’s balanced precariously on the sofa’s armrest, using her dexterous claws to handle the controller. Rory had been the one to wonder aloud if flippers could even press buttons as everyone tried not to look too interested.
But Arti had shown them all. She balances on one foot, smashing buttons with the other while she expertly toggles her car into first place. Best of all, Arti uses her completely filthy mouth to trash talk Kai into a tailspin. Twice.
She wears the paper crown Kurt makes for her and insists on being referred to only as ‘Arti, Queen of Karts’ for the rest of the evening. When Puck’s daemon sniggers that she’s more like the queen of crap, Belisarti doesn’t even hesitate. She treats the massive dingo to a taste of her pimp flipper, sending her fleeing behind Puck. Artie pounds her flipper and thinks if he was any prouder he’d explode.
“What do you think you would have been, if we hadn’t been in the car accident?” It’s been in the back of his mind for a few days, since he saw his son playing with his newly settled monkey daemon, “you liked monkey shapes a lot.”
Belisarti gives him the ‘bitch please’ look that she learned from Hannah, “I would have been a penguin. It’s what we are.” She tosses her head so her crown catches the light, “it’s a daemon thing, you wouldn’t understand.” She pats his knee, “even if you could dance across the room, you’d still be a penguin inside.”
“Well, I do look good in a suit.”
She nips his fingers affectionately, and they watch their son dance with his daemon.
Artie stares at his wife. She smiles back, a little more crooked than normal.
“But,” he remembers to blink, and Hannah’s Sabra lets out a gusty sigh, “that’s for old people.”
Belisarti nips his fingers, but Hannah just laughs and for a second he’s twenty-six and falling in love all over again. Then she stroke’s Sabra’s head, and he notices for the first time all the white around his muzzle.
“I hate to break it to you darling, but we are old. It comes with the territory of staying alive. Alive and not-undead that is.” She frowns, “Although considering how these days it’s the mind you have to worry about going sooner than the body in most cases, I wonder how they deal with the centuries mentally. There are plenty of stories about vampires growing tired with life, but what about going slowly senile? I would imagine that the same thing that keeps them from decomposing would keep their synapses from shutting down but-“
He rolls over and kisses her for that, because come on, she just fell into wondering the finer points of the undead psyche he has to. It seems to remind her that she was talking abut her arthritis though, so the possibilities of vampire senility is shelved for another conversation. He kisses her again, because they have conversations about the possibility of vampire senility and are completely serious the entire time.
“It’s mostly in my legs, I’ll still be able to do my knitting and such,” She breaks off, horrorstricken, “oh god, I just said knitting and such. I am old.”
He pinches her affectionately, “It does come with the territory. Of being not-undead and all.”
She swats him, but settles into his lap with a practiced carelessness that still manages to send a shiver up his spine even after forty years together. He can her the creaks and see how her face pinches in discomfort, but it just makes him love her more. “You’ll have to teach me all your tricks. I already have plans for my wheelchair. Purple streamers and flashing lights. It’ll be my own little midlife crisis.” She slams a hand over his already opening mouth, “and don’t you dare say anything about being too old for one of those.”
He smiles weakly, “I wasn’t going to say anything like that!” Hannah just gives him an unimpressed ‘bitch please’ look, so he kisses her hand, right on her ring. “We’ll have you popping wheelies in no time.”