He knows why they all look to him to somehow have the right things to say, when the doctors come back with words like paralyzed from the waist down and may never walk again.
The thing is, just because something like this happened to him years ago doesn’t mean he has any idea of how to talk to someone that it happened to just now. He doesn’t want the responsibility to make this okay somehow. He doesn't want to--
It’s still not okay for him, and he didn’t almost walk out of Lima, to go to Yale and be brilliant. Quinn danced like nobody was watching, these last few weeks, and sometimes smiled at him and everyone else in a way that made him feel like he could do anything if he really wanted to.
His wheels squeak loudly on the hospital floor as he rolls up to the window to her recovery room, where her legs aren’t even raised, the way they are on ER when the patient has a broken bone and they’re just waiting for it to set.
Nobody’s waiting for Quinn to get better, because she won’t.
He puts a hand on the window as the entire rest of the Glee club piles in to talk to her, now that she’s able to have visitors, and when he realizes that he just can’t bring himself to lie and say that it gets easier, he rolls away.
She doesn’t want to see Rachel and Finn.
He knows that through Mercedes, and finds out from Kurt that it’s because Rachel won’t stop apologizing and Quinn is tired of telling her that it’s not her fault.
It figures that Rachel doesn’t get that even apologizing somehow makes this about her, when it’s really not.
Santana and Brittany are unusually quiet, and drop out of the Cheerios without really saying anything. The weirdest thing of all is that Coach S just disbands the team for the year, and spends long afternoons on her own sitting out by the bleachers with her megaphone, staring at a place where Quinn’s legs used to split horizontally as she was tossed in the air.
Artie knows--knows, in a way that other people will have to ask--that her legs can still do that, in theory.
It’s just that she’d have to move them individually, with her hands, and when she’d positioned herself in the splits, she’d need someone else to help her out of it. There isn’t enough arm strength in the world to make for having such dead weight, down there.
He wonders how long it’ll take her to try even though they’ll warn her she can’t and shouldn’t.
It’s been a week, when he finally goes back to the hospital, and with the intention of actually saying something to Quinn this time.
Tina and Mike drop him off, and after Mike’s loaded his chair out of the trunk and he’s shifted himself into it, Tina drops a bouquet onto his lap and leans down and kisses him on the cheek.
“Good luck,” she says.
He’s reminded of why he used to like her so much, because she seems to be the only one who gets this isn’t somehow easy for him to deal with; the sight of her in that room, feeling like nothing’s ever going to be okay again.
There is no been there, done that.
There’s just--every day of his life, trying not to wish for something else.
The first thing he notices when he rolls into her room is that she’s closed the blinds, which doesn’t surprise him; it’s sometimes simpler to just be in the dark and alone, with memories of what came before.
Before is a haze to him, but hers must be clear. She didn’t suffer brain damage. The doctors called that a miracle.
He’d sort of wanted to punch them, but everyone else had looked so relieved that she was alive that he hadn’t wanted to be the guy to point out that it would take her a really, really long time to feel the way they did.
She glances over, when he hits the brakes next to her bed, and her mouth tightens abruptly.
“I was wondering when they’d send you,” she then says, her voice small and rough, before looking away again.
“They didn’t. I mean, I’m sure they wanted to,” he says, pushing his glasses up his nose, before glancing down at his lap. “But I didn’t want to come until I thought you might actually want to talk.”
The sheets she’s under rustle, and then she just says, “You’re still too early”, in this broken and bitter voice that he’s sadly heard on her before.
If there was a Guinness Record for amount of crap piled onto one teenager, he’s pretty sure she’s in the running, if not the lead.
“So, uh, Tina says lilies are--” he says, after a moment, lifting the flowers from his lap.
“What, going to make me walk again?” Quinn snaps. "You can shove those up your ass, for all the good they'll do me."
He takes a moment, and then, his palms sweating abruptly behind his gloves, says, “Well, I would, but you’re gonna have to tell me how to lift out of my chair and shove flowers up my butt at the same time.”
He can barely breathe while waiting for her to respond, and then it’s there; that wounded sob that says that he’s the first person to bring up her future life to her in a non-clinical setting.
Even if he didn’t mention her, at all, they both know she’s never going to shove flowers up her own ass without assistance, either, and--
She looks at him, after a few moments, gnawing her lip. “The doctors tell me that being a bitch is a side-effect of the … of what happened. Like I can’t just have been one all along, or something.”
“Yeah. People are going to be way condescending about everything for a while. Or maybe forever. I still can’t tell, a lot of the time,” he agrees, before reaching for the blinds, and twisting them just enough to let some sunlight in.
Her face is bruised, and her eyes are dark and red, and her legs look completely out of sorts under the covers, and she’s been scratching at her own wrist--right where the cast around her elbow ends--to the point where her nails are down to the quick.
She’s really, really real, out of nowhere, and when she just stares at him with the most hopeless look on her face, he reaches behind him and pulls his own gift from the chair.
“It’s okay if this just makes you want to, um, hit me or something,” he says, before placing it on the bed next to her. “But it took me ages to find gloves that actually prevent blisters and--”
Her pallor, already sickly, drops further until she’s almost translucent, just a mess of bruises and veins and God, he doesn’t want to but he can suddenly imagine how much blood she lost in the crash, and then she whispers, “You should go.”
He nods, and tries to reverse. Even with years of practice, though, sometimes he can’t judge spaces right, and he knocks into her bed accidentally. She grunts, and then he can hear her sniffle, and he wheels out of the room as fast as he can.
It’s not that he can’t handle her crying. It’s that he figures she probably can’t handle him seeing her cry, because they’re not exactly close or anything, and it’s probably not his hand she’d want to hold, to make it better.
He sits outside of the hospital for a long time, catching his breath, and then calls his mom.
It’s only when he’s being picked up again that he realizes that there wasn’t even anyone else trying to see her.
She was all alone, in there.
The gloves are still untouched the next day, on her nightstand.
He brakes, and folds his hands together in his lap, and then waits for her to say something.
“Is the wedding going ahead?” she finally asks.
He sighs deeply. “Not--right now. I mean--”
“Please tell me she isn’t waiting until I’m better,” Quinn says, with so much resentment that it actually makes him forget to breathe for a second. “Because, God, she’s going to be waiting--”
“No, I don’t think it’s that,” he says, quietly, and then watches her fingers knit into the hospital bed sheets; they claw harder and harder, until he reaches out and holds her hand.
It’s different, if she’s not crying; he feels less out of place, and just gives her hand a small squeeze.
Sort of like, this part of you is still yours, the way you remember it.
He knows she gets it when she just takes a shuddering breath, and then turns to him with a vaguely familiar venomous look. “So what, are you just going to sit here every day until I get released and not say anything?”
“If that’s what you want,” he says, mildly. He tries not to shake, but the crash didn’t fuck with her face, so when she wants to be terrifying, she’s still pretty scary.
After a moment she sighs and says, “Bring cards tomorrow, if you’re masochistic enough to keep coming back.”
“Why isn’t anyone else--” he asks, when she pulls her hand away and turns her head to the side again.
“Because they’re more afraid of me now than they ever were when I could walk,” she says, when he’s almost out of the room again.
He has no idea what to say in response to that, and just shuts the door quietly behind him.
On Saturday, her mom is there.
At least, he thinks it’s her mom. His memories of meeting her mother are kind of hazy, because of all the baby drama, but it’s an older woman who looks like she’s very upset and she has Quinn’s hair--the way Quinn’s hair used to be, anyway.
Whoever she is, she looks at him in surprise when he rolls to a stop in the doorway, and then says, “Oh. Is this--Quinnie, is this someone else in therapy with you?”
The fury on Quinn’s face is something else, and he raises his eyebrows and says, “Uh, actually--”
“What, just because he’s in a chair he can’t be anything more than just some cripple I randomly picked up in the hospital?” Quinn bites out.
Her mother pales, and then picks up her magazine and says, “I should go check on the parking meter, and... would you like some soda?”
The latter is directed at him, not Quinn, and after a second he mumbles, “Um, Diet Coke, but you really don’t--”
She somehow pushes past him--and it makes sense, these doors are wide enough for beds to be wheeled through, so for once he’s not just a massive obstruction, and then watches as Quinn’s hands violently tear at the sheets.
“Look--” he says, and then pushes forward ones, his arms extending with a snap. “I don’t think of myself that way--”
“I didn’t mean you,” she says, swallowing thickly and then wiping at her eyes. “I meant--that’s how everyone is going to look at me from now on. Like that girl who used to be a whole bunch of things and who’s now just--”
“That cripple,” he finishes for her.
Her eyes flash at him, dangerous and wet. “My own mother can’t even look me in the eyes anymore, because no matter how much I disappointed my family before, at least I could walk. So how am I supposed to feel like--”
Her hand grips his tightly enough for it to hurt, even with all the callus there, and then he squeezes back just as tight.
“Don’t let anyone else tell you that you’re broken, okay?” he then says, as firmly as he can. “It’s fine if you feel that way, and if you’re pissed and if you wish you could just--kick the crap out everyone who looked at you like you were falling apart, but don’t you ever--”
“How do you deal with it?” she asks him, in a half-whisper, and he changes his grip on her hand until their fingers are locked together.
“By--proving them wrong. I’m not going to tell you that it helps to think about all the things you can still do, because that’s what everyone else will say. It’s--what helps is proving people wrong. I can’t walk, but I can sing--and so can you. And--I directed that musical, and yeah, it didn’t go smoothly, but--”
“I’m not going to Yale,” she says, cutting him off, and then wiping roughly at her nose with the sleeve of her hospital gown. “I don’t know how I can.”
“So don’t,” he says. She looks at him again, and after a second he shrugs. “I mean, Yale’s pretty tight, but if you don’t want to go, or if it’s just going to drive you crazy that when you went for orientation you walked everywhere and now you have to ask them to make sure your timetable takes access routes into consideration and--”
“God,” she exhales, and he squeezes again, until she’s looking back at him.
“Forget about what you wanted to do then. What do you want to do now?”
She’s still just looking at him when her mother comes back, with a diet Coke and a bottle of Vitamin Water for Quinn, and he watches as the cap of that bottle gets stuck; but she grimaces, and tightens her hand around it a little more, and after a few moments, with a soft grunt, it gives way.
“You’ve got good arms,” he tells her, with a brief glance to her mother, who goes and sits in the corner of the room again and then picks up a magazine--which, whatever. He’s not here for her, so it doesn’t matter. “That’s going to make so much difference, when you graduate to--y’know, your one-seater.”
Her face draws shut again, and he takes a sip of his soda before putting it between his (useless, useless) legs.
Then, he sort of laughs. “I was eight, you know, when it happened. I had literally no muscles. I barely had a chest, I was just this shrimp. And they told me that I’d never walk again, and put me in this chair that I wouldn't have been able to push with another person in it if I’d been standing.”
She stares at him for a moment. “So what, are you saying I’m lucky?”
“No. Just that, y’know, at least you won’t have to have your mother carry you to the bathroom all the time. She just--” he starts saying, and then turns halfway to look at Quinn’s mother, whose hands are trembling around the magazine a little, but she’s looking back at him. “She just needs to make sure that the bathroom’s downstairs and that there’s space for your chair, and a seat in the shower, and bars by the toilet, so you can move yourself around.”
Mrs. Fabray’s breathing hitches, and then she swallows abruptly and says, “The--the physical therapists said they would send over some--”
“Those brochures are crap, but I can get my mom to call you and talk about--the changes we made to the house, to make sure I could have a pretty normal life there.”
Mrs. Fabray’s hands tighten around the magazine, and then she nods. “That would be great. Thank you.”
He looks back at Quinn, and then says, “The only card game I know how to play is strip poker, so I hope you’re ready for all this, yo.”
Quinn chokes on her Vitamin Water; the magazine behind him drops to the floor.
Her coughing laugh ends in tears, but for just one second, he could tell that she wasn’t thinking about her legs at all.
He feels strangely accomplished.
It’s another week gone, and Quinn’s hands are starting to blister from using her chair--though he hasn’t seen her in it, yet--when Rachel finally braves another visit.
She’s baked I’m sorry cookies, but immediately says, “They’re the only ones I know how to make, I--I understand what you mean and I’m not here to--talk about myself anymore. I’m not here to talk at all, actually. I just--want you to know that I’m here, if you need to talk.”
Quinn takes a deep breath, and for a second Artie can see the thunder cloud above her head form again--and yeah, she likes to take her moods out on her PT and on him and on her mother, but Rachel really just doesn’t deserve it right now...
… and then she just exhales slowly and says, “We’re playing poker. We can cut you in, if you want.”
“I don’t know how to play,” Rachel says, tentatively, and then adds, “I also really don’t want to interrupt--”
“What, the daily meeting of Paraplegics Anonymous?” Quinn asks, dryly. “Don’t worry, Rachel. We’ll still not be able to walk tomorrow.”
Artie flicks a card at her face. “Damn, woman. Be cool.”
She rolls her eyes at him, and then stares at Rachel with no end of challenge in her eyes. “So are you in, or what?”
Rachel opens and closes her mouth a few times, but then just puts her Tupperware container full of cookies down on Quinn’s nightstand, and pulls up a chair on the other side of her bed, gingerly sitting down.
Then, she raises her hand and says, “Can someone explain the rules to me?”
Quinn sort of relaxes, at the first normal thing that’s come out of Rachel’s mouth in weeks now, and then just nods towards him. “He’s the shark. I’m just here to deal.”
Artie feels himself smiling a little, and then gives Rachel his cheat sheet of hands she’s going to want to get.
The first time he finds Quinn in a chair, rather than on her bed, it’s a month since the crash--to the day.
He’s a little earlier than normal, but his mom had to go and get his meds from a pharmacy two towns over because the Lima CVS had placed the order wrong, and there’s not really a safer place to leave him than in a hospital--and so he wheels over to Quinn’s room and then bumps into her.
She looks up at him sharply, from where she was staring at her feet, and then says, “Oh.”
“I’d race you,” he says, after a second of letting her decide if she wants to send him off or if she’s ready for him, at least, to see her like this, “but I don’t want you to get some sort of inferiority complex.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those before,” she says, after a moment, and then wipes at her bangs; they’re long and hanging in her eyes, but she’s still just so pretty that it doesn’t really matter.
He only notices the gloves when she’s already gripping her wheels again, and backing into her room a little further, and then nods at them. “They’re good, right?”
She sort of half-shrugs, and he spots a stack of homework on her nightstand when she wheels over to it, with a few deliberate and slightly awkward pushes, and grabs her cell phone from the night stand.
“You thinking about coming back to McKinley?” he asks, after a moment.
She looks at the homework, and then at him, and then says, “I don’t think I’m going to graduate this year. I’m going to--um. I just don’t see--”
She exhales, frustrated, and then just shakes her head.
“Hey, my chem partner totally sucks--so if you’re going to retake that next year, can I call dibs on you? I know you were coasting towards being valedictorian and I’m totally going to give you a run for your money, but I figure we can at least help each other dominate in the hard sciences,” he says, when it's clear she can't continue.
She says nothing for a long while, and then says, “How does that even work?”
“How does what work? Dominating? Girl, you were Head Cheerio--”
She winces, sharply, and then shakes her head. “Chemistry. The tables are--”
“Oh,” he says, and feels his stomach twist at a random, but no less acute, reminder that even with just the two of them, he can’t ever really forget. “Uh--yeah, I normally just take notes while Elliot does the experiments but--screw that, there’s two of us shorties now. They can buy us our own station.”
The corner of her mouth turns up a little, and then she gently spins the chair back towards him. “And if they refuse, I’m sure Rachel’s dads will be happy to call the ACLU on our behalf--”
He laughs. “You have no idea. She’s been going crazy in preparation for your return; making sure everything’s chair-proof.”
“But--” Quinn says, and gestures at him.
He rolls his eyes. “It’s Rachel. I’m not even kidding, she wants to repaint the disabled toilet on the ground floor to like, a feminine but gender-neutral shade to make it more welcoming for you.”
Quinn raises her eyebrows. “Isn’t it just white?”
Artie shrugs, making a face, and after a second she laughs.
Like, she actually laughs, for the first time in weeks; and he feels lighter just for hearing her do it.
“God,” she then says, and shakes her head, before running her gloved hands along the spokes of her chair for a moment.
“Want to go explore?” he offers, when she seems to be drifting off into her own thoughts again. “Because there’s a lot of corridors and I can show you how to do tight turns so that you don’t hit people as often. They won’t run you through that in PT.”
Her eyes slowly focus on him again. “Maybe I want to hit people.”
“Okay, well, I have like, almost ten years of experience with that, too, so,” he says, after a second.
The small flash of teeth she shows, before putting her entire upper body into getting the chair moving again, is completely worth it.
She doesn’t come to Nationals.
It’s not that she can’t, because she’s settling in at home by the time they roll around, and with him joining the team in New York, it’s not like they’re not doing everything the wheelchair-friendly way anyway.
It’s also not that she’s not invited, and not still technically a member of the team, because she is, both of those things, at Rachel’s insistence.
It’s just that--
Well, nobody really asks questions, not even of him--and he’s weirdly become her spokesperson on these kinds of issues, which was like the last thing he ever wanted, but they sort of think of him as the approachable one in a chair and her as the angry, dangerous one in a chair, which is bullshit, but whatever--and when it’s all over, he just sends her a quick text that says, fifth place, kind of sucks, and we didn’t have fun without you here.
He doesn’t mention that Finn re-proposed to Rachel, and that this time she said, “Yes, a million times yes, but in a few years time”, like a freakin’ sane person.
Quinn’ll hear about that soon enough, and anyway, she should probably hear it from Rachel.
He’s still wondering if he did the right thing or not, in talking about Nationals at all, when she texts back, maybe next year, huh? it’s not like Tina can’t sing as well as Rachel (don’t tell Rachel I said that).
Suddenly, fifth place feels like it’s everything he’s ever wanted.
She looks skeptical when he tells her that hands-only DDR is kind of fun, when they’re hanging out together on a Saturday in late May.
Twenty minutes later, she’s so into it that she almost knocks his glasses off his face, and then glares at him and says, “This stays between us”, before starting up another game.
He straightens his glasses and then says, “Y’know, um, if you have some anger you’d like to get out we could probably try Halo. Or, if you just want to be distracted or whatever, I have like--about twelve trillion D-grade horror movies that are mostly just funny.”
“I’m not into video games or horror movies,” she tells him, tersely, slapping the DDR mat hard enough for the sound to echo through his bedroom.
“Okay,” he says, with a gentle shrug.
When she pauses the game to brush her hair out of her face, he says, “What are you into?”
She exhales sharply, and then hits play again. “Dancing.” Thwap. “Cheerleading.” Thwap, thwap. “Running three miles every day.” Thwap. “Letting a guy walk me to my door at the end of a date and--”
He looks at her for a few seconds, as she batters the dance mat but doesn’t finish that sentence.
When the song’s over, she’s sweating a little, and then sags back in her chair and stares at her legs with so much resentment that he feels it.
“I also like reading,” she then says, defeated. “And baking.”
He grimaces. “Baking’s such a chick thing to do. I mean, I don’t know why--”
She glares at him with enough force for him to swallow the rest of his sentence, and then smiles thinly. “How’s this, Arthur? I’ll watch one of your schlock horror movies if you agree to help me make brownies later.”
“I don’t know how to make brownies, yo,” he says, a little feebly.
“Oh, it’s not hard; I mean, if girls can do it, surely you can?” she tells him, sharply, and then un-pauses the game again.
His mom comes home to find the brownies on the counter top, and a kitchen floor full of flour, because he’d decided about twenty minutes in that baking was totally lame unless it resulted in a food fight.
Quinn had hesitated for a moment, but had then pelted him with a string of batter, and now the only parts of the kitchen that were clean were the track marks their chairs had left.
His mom’s jaw totally drops, and he winces, because--shit, she doesn’t treat him like he’s super special or weak or anything, and he’s totally going to get grounded...
… but then Quinn’s lip quivers for a second and she ducks her head, and just sort of whimpers, “I’m sorry--I’ve always been great at baking but I misjudged the height of the counters and--”
His mother just says, “Oh, Quinn, honey--” and then hugs her.
The smug smile she flashes him is completely awesome, actually, and he wheels out of the room before his mom can see him trying not to laugh at how hard she just got played.
At graduation, she’s with him and Tina and Blaine in the front audience row; Blaine cleared out a space for their chairs and has given them all matching sunglasses to wear, which is so lame it’s kind of funny again.
He’s got his Ray-Bans pushed up into his hair because of his actual glasses, and after a moment of watching him struggle to keep them both on his head, Quinn pushes hers up as well.
She’s finally getting a little bit of color back now that she’s getting comfortable on pavement, in her chair, and she looks--
Well, damn, she looks as good as she ever has, even if she’d never believe that.
When the ceremony starts, he’s completely focused on making sure she’s okay, as Principle Figgins rushes through the kids that are being called up to graduate, and up they go, walking up to the podium and then striding across it, with their lucky fucking legs, that they probably don’t know how to appreciate at all.
It’s hard to tell if he’s feeling the way he does because he suspects Quinn is, or because this is just a day for him to be reminded that, no, it’s never really okay. It’s just bearable, sometimes, and sometimes it’s not.
The names keep coming, from Adams to Berry to Chang to Evans and then--
Blaine whistles on his fingers loudly, as Kurt marches up there, and he glances over and sees tears streaming down Quinn’s face.
“That was my spot,” she says, after a second; it comes out in this soft, wet croak, and she drops her chin to her chest and slides the sunglasses down over her eyes abruptly, probably so that she doesn’t ruin this moment for everyone else.
He gets that, but fuck everyone else, really; and so he folds her hand in both of his, and then leans in closer--his sunglasses tipping off his forehead--and says, “I think you’re basically the hottest girl here today, and if you not graduating right now means that I get to spend another year scoping you out, I’m not going to pretend I’m sad about it. Aight?”
She stares at him in disbelief, and then just sort of shoves at his shoulder and shakes her head, but after a second, her lips clamp down together so hard that he knows she’s trying not to smile.
It makes it a hell of a lot easier to clap for Kurt, and Santana, and Brittany, and Puck, and hell, even Lauren friggin’ Zizes.
It’s the middle of summer, and they’re having a barbecue at Santana’s.
Quinn’s wearing a tank top for the first time since she started wheeling herself around; and her arms are popping, honest to God. Rachel’s been jealous of her definition forever--or so Mercedes says to Kurt, over by the pool--and is apparently now the most jealous ever, or something.
Kurt hisses, “That’s incredibly inappropriate, given how she came by that definition” and then stares daggers at Rachel, who is tucked up against Finn’s side, a new (and way less bad-taste bling-y) engagement ring gleaming in the sun.
He sort of shakes his head at all of them, and then just rolls over to where Tina and Mike are playing Pokemon over DS Wireless. They’re trying not to talk about how he’s leaving, and it’s rough, but--whatever.
They’ll be okay. The days when he wasn’t rooting for them are long behind him, now, and after a moment of watching Tina trounce Mike in a battle, he looks over to the other side of the pool, to where Brittany is doing Quinn’s nails.
She must feel him staring, because after a moment, she glances up, and just sort of quirks an eyebrow at him.
He flexes his bicep, points at it, then points at her, and then waggles both of his eyebrows.
Her laughter surprises her to the point where she almost clocks Brittany in the face, and then she just glowers at him, but whatever. That’s so not effective anymore, now that he actually knows her.
“You thinking about hitting that?” Puck asks, behind him, before handing him a glass of Kool-Aid with a bendy straw in it, and he tips his head back and says, “Okay, I know that you kind of thrive on being offensive, but just because we’re both in wheelchairs--”
“Dude--I’m not an idiot, okay; it’s more about how you, y’know, spend a shitload of time together and she told me the other day that she wished she’d known you sooner because you’re, and I quote, a great guy.” Puck slurps on his own drink loudly. “You know how many dudes she’s said that about? And meant it?”
Artie feels himself blush, and then sort of shoves at the back of Puck’s leg anyway. “She’s--like--she’s Quinn. It’s not like that.”
“So what’s it like, then?”
He doesn’t really know how to answer that, and when Finn cannonballs into the pool a moment later, dousing everyone on the sides of it, he’s spared from answering.
By December, they’re in the library together, studying for a Calculus test that she already passed once, and he glances up when her pencil taps against the textbook rapidly.
He glances at her, straightening his glasses, and watches as she stares at some point in the distance, and then turns that laser stare on him.
“Um,” he says, because even after months of spending most of his free time with her and Tina, he’s not really used to the flashes of old, super popular Quinn that surface from time to time.
“Do you think I’m dating material?” she asks him.
It’s meant to come out sort of commanding, but there’s such vulnerability in her eyes that he’s both surprised and taken aback by her question.
“Uh--yeah?” he says, feebly.
She doesn’t look very comforted, and just sighs and goes back to her homework.
He gingerly picks up his own pencil again, and then can’t concentrate at all, and ends up just closing his notebook and then bumping his chair against hers.
“Quinn, you’re... you’re the definition of dating material.”
She just sort of scoffs at him, and gnaws on her lip before running her hand, gloved constantly now, over her thigh--clad in pants, constantly, just because she won’t have to worry about how they position as much that way. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
“It’s--I mean, you’re kind of intimidating, but--”
“I didn’t see you,” she cuts him off, when he’s fumbling for a polite way to say that she’s completely fuck-worthy, and... like, okay, there is no polite way to say that, and so it’s probably for the best that she just shuts him up altogether.
She takes a deep breath, and then stares off into the distance, to where people are walking between shelf stacks, able to reach so many things neither of them can.
“You--we were in this club together for almost three years, and I didn’t see you. You weren’t--a guy to me. You were just Artie, and you were--”
“A cripple,” he says, for the second time in a year, when it’s clear she can’t bring herself to say it.
Her lip trembles for a moment, but she nods, and then looks down helplessly at her chair. “And now--now I’m like you. And everyone else--everyone I used to associate with, and everyone who I would’ve dated a year ago, will look at me and also just see--”
“I don’t,” he says, when her entire body starts to shake. He sighs, when her fingers curl into fists. “I know that probably means nothing but I mean, the right people--y’know, Brittany never cared and that only didn’t work out because--because she was so into Santana that--I don’t know. And maybe she did like Santana more because Santana can--can walk, and dance, and--”
A gloved hand cups his face, and turns it to the left abruptly, and then Quinn is pinning him with a look he really can’t interpret.
“I see you now,” she then says, quietly. “So don’t ever say it doesn’t matter. Of course it does. I just don’t know why you’d--why--”
She pushes away from the table without finishing, or waiting for a response, and he’s stuck watching her roll away, because--yeah, he could probably catch up, but he has no idea what the hell he’s meant to say to her, right now.
Of all the people he ever thought he’d call for advice, he didn’t think Rachel would be near the top, but she’s been really good about keeping in touch with Quinn and encouraging her to start thinking about Yale again--she deferred, at her mother’s insistence, and that’s good--so...
Well, nobody else really knows Quinn, aside from Puck, and what Puck would tell him to do, he honestly doesn’t think he’s ready to hear, and that’s how he’s dialing Rachel’s number at eleven on a Sunday, when Quinn’s at church.
“Is Quinn okay?” Rachel blurts out immediately, and he sort of rolls his eyes.
“Hey--’sup? I’m fine, thanks...”
He can basically hear her sigh in relief. “Sorry, I just didn’t--I mean, I know we’re all friends, but--”
He tries not to laugh. “I know, I didn’t think I’d be calling you, either.”
“What can I do for you?” Rachel asks, in that go-getter voice of hers, and he flexes his left hand a few times before staring at the pictures on his picture wall--a lot of those are from Glee, and a large number of them are of them doing group numbers before the spring of last year.
There’s one picture in particular, of Quinn standing next to him, her arm draped along the back of his chair, that he focuses on right now, and after a moment he takes a deep breath.
“Do you think I have a shot with Quinn?”
“Yes,” Rachel says, immediately, and it shocks him so badly that he almost fumbles the phone.
She’s calling his name by the time he pulls it back up to his ear.
“Yeah, I’m here, sorry--I thought you’d--I mean, shit, woman, aren’t you supposed to be all secretive about stuff like this?”
“I would be, under normal circumstances, as that’s what the Girl Code demands--”
“The Girl Code?” he asks, even though he’s not entirely sure he wants to know.
“It’s a secret,” she says, in a tone that brooks no argument. “Anyway. I am very invested in Quinn’s happiness, and she’s somehow talked herself into thinking she can never be with you now because she didn’t want to be with you before the accident, which--seems incredibly stupid to me--”
“It is,” he agrees.
“And, to be clear, she doesn’t just want to be with you because you’re both--handicapable,” Rachel says, a little awkwardly.
He rolls his eyes at her, even though she can’t see him. “Rachel, seriously...”
“She thinks the world of you, Artie. And, if I’m honest, I’m not sure she would’ve made it through the past year if you hadn’t been there for her.”
He just sort of lets that one sink in, for a moment, and then says, “Okay.”
“Okay--you’ll ask her out?” Rachel says, sounding so excited that it’s a little creepy.
“Okay, I’ll--talk to her,” he concedes, and then hears loud clapping in the background.
Five minutes later, he’s managed to get rid of Rachel, and then just finds himself staring at the clock, waiting for church to finish.
It’s been three days, of her ignoring or at least freezing out his texts, for the most part, and it must be some chick thing where she’s embarrassed about what happened in the library.
Whatever it is, it’s annoying, and she totally catches him off guard when on Saturday, she just invites him over to help her bake.
He still doesn’t know a damn thing about baking, except that it’s therapeutic for her and he really doesn’t mind the way she bosses him around a recipe much, so why not?
Her kitchen’s where she now vents things she used to pound out with exercise, and when she opens the door and thrusts a recipe for vegan chocolate chip cookies into his hand, he knows that she’s talked to Rachel, and just waits for her to say something.
She doesn’t, for nearly an hour, and then he slides a tray of chocolate chip cookies into the oven and closes it again. When he’s set the timer, he turns his chair around until he’s facing her directly.
She’s fidgeting with her cardigan, and suddenly it hits him that they’re being really stupid, after almost a year of spending every waking moment together because, truthfully, in some ways it is easier, to be with someone else that just gets it.
He laughs, and her eyes jerk up to his.
“What?” she then demands, so crabby it’s just kind of cute.
“Just--are you nuts? Do you really think I’m not--like, feeling this?” he says, gesturing between them.
The tips of her ears slowly pink up and then she just swallows and says, “I don’t know. Are you? Even though--”
“Yeah, even though you didn’t get it before. Because I didn’t either, okay? I mean, do you really think that--I don’t look at girls like you, towering over me and strutting around the school, and think that you’re so far out of my league that I shouldn’t even look?”
She sighs. “Artie, that’s--”
“Yeah, that’s me being an idiot, just like you’re being an idiot now. You think you can’t get any guy you want, just because of that chair?” He scoffs at her, when she looks up. “I wasn’t a loser just because I can’t walk, and you weren’t popular just because you could.”
There’s some really sad finality in those words, and she briefly freezes, but then looks at him with a sad little smile. “You’re right.”
“I mean it. You could rule the school again, if you wanted to, you know.”
She sort of nods, even though he doesn’t think she believes him, and he falls silent.
“So--” she then says, dragging a nervous hand through her hair; she leaves a trail of flour in it, and he smiles unwillingly.
It takes him almost thirty seconds to come up with a response, and when he does, it doesn’t come out in words.
“Brake,” he says, and watches as her eyebrows raise but her hand reaches down anyway and locks her chair in place, and--yeah, she’s catching up to him in arm strength, but he’s the one of them that’s strong enough right now to brace his hands on the sides of her chair and lift himself up.
He tips himself forward just enough to kiss her, when they’re useless knee to useless knee; and, okay, it’s a little clumsy, and he almost face-plants into her boobs afterwards, but she just laughs as he goes, “Woah, girl”, and then watches quietly as he settles his legs in his chair again.
When looks up, she’s still smiling a little.
“I didn’t think that what happened would ever get bearable--” she says, bending forward a little and running her fingertips through his hair, before straightening his glasses and looking at him with the softest expression on her face he’s probably ever seen.
After a second he just smiles back, covers her gloved hand with his own, and squeezes.