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"Plug Me In," Puck and Artie gen, pastfic
skull
chronic_lady
Title: Plug Me In
Author: chronic_lady
Characters: Puck, Artie
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 3,420
Spoilers: None
Summary: Somehow, Puck and Artie have the wrong guitars. Pastfic – elementary school era.



Puck got his first guitar for his tenth birthday. It was a full-sized electric, a Telecaster. A real man's instrument, his dad said – badass. Puck had a little trouble reaching down the neck, but his dad said he would grow into it. The guitar had a beautiful black finish and a pickguard that said Fender Fender Fender in a repeating pattern, sort of like the fabric of his mother's Coach bag.

“Typical Michael,” his mother said when she saw it. She was pissed off because he hadn't paid child support in six months, but Puck understood. It had been a while since his dad had a good job, but now he did again, so things were going to be different. He still couldn't be around that much – Puck's mother wouldn't let him in the house, for one thing – but he wanted to do something for his kid with his first paycheck. His son.

They spent the afternoon of Puck's birthday together in the almost-bare studio apartment on Fruit Street. There was a blue corduroy sofa-bed and a TV and a couple of Yuengling boxes with books and cassette tapes and stuff in a jumble. The door to the empty battery compartment of the smoke detector on the ceiling hung open. The sun came in the west-facing windows. Puck's dad switched on the amp.

First, he showed Puck where to put his fingers to make an E minor chord, and how to strum the strings. It sounded great right away. While Puck was practicing that, his dad got them each a Mountain Dew out of the minifridge and rolled himself a cigarette with a little bit of weed in it from the tin on top of the TV. He smoked it with his back turned, blowing the smoke out through the vents in the derelict air conditioner. Puck wasn't supposed to know what it was, but he wasn't stupid. The pop was sweet and sticky-tasting and not very cold.

His dad took the guitar in his big hands and showed him how to play Horse With No Name. It was just four chords – easy. They cranked up the amp and put the Telecaster in Overdrive. They played it till the sun started to go down and the car horn honked for him outside on the street.

Back at home on the other side of town, Puck tried to remember. He sat crosslegged on his bed long after his mom and sister were asleep, guitar unplugged, pressing down the strings until his fingertips hurt. Four chords. Easy.

***

Artie got his first guitar for his ninth birthday. It was red, with a Spanish-looking design around the soundhole and nylon strings, and it came in a kit with a CD about how to play flamenco, a pitch pipe and a foot stool. It was a classical guitar, smaller than a regular acoustic. His parents bought it at Music World in the mall for $89.99. The brand was called Diamante, but a sticker on the back said Made in China.

They chose it for him, he thought, because of its size. Artie had always been small for his age.

His first wheelchair was red too, and it had high armrests. According to the instructional CD, a classical guitarist rested his left foot on the stool to elevate the leg, and rested the body of the instrument against his left thigh. That position didn't really work for Artie, even if he maneuvered onto the couch or sat in one of the hardbacked chairs from the kitchen. His stupid foot slipped off the stool, and with both feet on the ground, the guitar was too low to play unless he hunched over, and that hurt his back. A strap would help, but there was no way to attach one.

His father said he could probably rig something up, only he wasn't sure how drilling a hole in the body would affect the sound, and he muttered about it being a goddamn cheap piece of shit. It made a hollow sound when he knocked on it with his knuckles. Artie's dad had been cursing a lot in the last eight months. He didn't used to do that.

The best way to play, Artie found by trial and error, was to sit in his wheelchair and rest the guitar against the left armrest, with the butt between his legs. This put it at an angle closer to vertical than horizontal, with the neck pointed almost straight up. He couldn't look at his fingers were doing very easily, but you weren't supposed to do that, anyway. It worked fine, after he got used to it. Just like a lot of things.

The CD wasn't very helpful, since he didn't want to play flamenco, or anything that was quiet and beautiful. He figured out the first part of the riff to Purple Haze by himself, hitting the lowest string, and then the string that was two higher, two frets up the neck. Bum-BAH, bum-BAH, bum-BAH, bum-BAH. Easy.

It would sound better on an electric guitar, but Artie knew about how to make do with what you get.

***

By April, everyone was getting really sick of hearing Horse With No Name, even Puck, but his dad had been too busy with the job to teach him anything new. One of his weekends, he didn't come to pick up Puck and his sister and didn't even call to say sorry.

Puck's mother said they could probably sign him up for music lessons through the school district, but he knew she would forget, so he rode his bike to the library and got the librarian to show him where the music books were at. They had one called “How to Play Guitar: Everything You Need To Know To Play the Guitar.” Puck stuffed it in his backpack and slunk through the bogus sensors without any alarms going off. Perfect, he thought.

The only problem was, when he got home, he discovered the only thing it had chords for was gay-ass shit like Skip to My Lou. No way he was playing that. He hid the book under his bed.

It was softball season now, and he was good at softball, one of the best kids in the under-12s. On days when they didn't have practice, they went over to his teammates' houses and played video games. They didn't go over to Puck's that much because his mother acted weird and nervous around his friends, like they might break something or steal something. Puck never knew when she was going to be mean to him in front of everybody, or worse, to Matt or Finn, who hadn't even done anything to her. When they did go to the Puckermans', they stayed in his bedroom with the door shut, and sometimes he fooled around with the guitar, but his friends never looked that interested.

Playing guitar was cool. Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Kirk Hammet – everyone knew them. But it wasn't that cool if you were just a kid and you weren't very good. Still, he thought about it all the time now, even in gym class or in the middle of a game of GoldenEye at Matt's or whatever. He was trying to decide what to name her.

Nothing in “How to Play Guitar” was really the right kind of thing for the Telecaster, but Puck learned Skip to My Lou anyway. He learned Tum Balalaika, which the book said was a Yiddish folk song, so his mom would get off his case about the amp and the noise and him never coming out for dinner anymore. He learned Beautiful, Beautiful Brown Eyes.

It was probably the gayest song in the whole gay book, but for some reason, he found that he liked it a lot.

***

It was softball season now, so the big kids who sometimes picked on Artie had better things to do than wait for him as he cut through the parking lot. He went straight home these days, to his room or else to his mom's office to look up tablature.

As soon as he had torn the wrapping paper from the box two months ago, Artie decided that he was going to be good at guitar. When he was younger, he had a chemistry kit, and after that, a skateboard, but he'd never tried hard enough. It hadn't seemed urgent. Now, he knew that he needed to be good at something, and he had lots of time to be make it be this. His family didn't mind how much he played. They were glad he was doing something safe, or maybe they didn't know how late he was staying up. The nylon strings and small body meant that it wasn't very loud, even when he played with a pick and strummed as hard as he could.

He started to bring his guitar to school so he could practice during recess. He figured out a way to attach the gig bag to the handles on the back of the chair in a way that was pretty secure, and got permission from his teacher to use her classroom. He was working on a song for the talent show at the end of the year. Sometimes Ms. Allen stuck around, looking at lesson plans and humming along – she was a big fan of classic rock, it turned out – but a lot of times when she had to make copies or something, he was left alone.

It was raining the day it happened. Artie was too busy worrying about the guitar getting wet in the downpour to think about the fact that softball practice was probably cancelled. At first, he considered calling his dad to pick him up, but that meant waiting around inside Independence Elementary for another two hours when home was only a few blocks away, so he got a plastic trash bag from Paul, the custodian, and wrapped it around the gig bag. He arranged his raincoat so that it covered as much of his thighs and the backpack on his lap as possible and pulled up his hood.

He didn't even see them coming.

* * *

Puck had never noticed that the wheelchair kid had a guitar too.

He knew who he was, of course. Artie Abrams kind of stood out. He was a skinny little fifth grader, nerdy looking, the kind of guy him and his friends picked on sometimes, although they had stopped being rough with him after he got in a car accident last summer. It didn't seem fair to beat up a cripple, and Puck was worried about somehow hurting him. That didn't make it was any less satisfying to call him names when you'd had a bad day, though.

When he stopped by the office to use the phone and let his mom know he'd be home early, she ordered him to go collect his sister from the after-school program in the cafeteria and take her with him. He and Becca caught up to his friends outside the side entrance to the school. Matt and Tyler were near the double doors at the top of the concrete ramp. Finn was hanging back, under the overhang where it was dry, pretending to look for something in his Iron Man lunch box. Finn was the only one of them who still carried a lunch box, and sometimes he could be kind of a pussy. Puck let go of Becca's hand.

The kid, Artie, was at the first turn of the ramp, glaring up at the three of them, and he looked really mad. His lips were pressed together tight and his eyes blazed through the drops of water on his glasses. “Come on, you twerp,” said Tyler. “Show us what you can play,” and Puck realized that the black plastic-shrouded package in Matt's hands was a guitar. It looked really small, held up over Matt's head like he was about to smash it down.

Artie seemed to be thinking the same thing. “Don't!” he said. “Please, just give it back. You guys don't even want it.”

“Maybe I do,” Matt said, shrugging. “Maybe I want to be a rock star, like you and Puckerman.” He grinned at Puck. “He says he can play some AC/DC on this dinky thing. What do you think, dude?”

Puck zipped up his sweatshirt and walked out into the rain. “What kind is it?” He thought it must be an acoustic, but it was awfully tiny.

“It's not a good guitar,” the kid said. “It's actually pretty terrible. Even my dad admits it, and he bought it. I like it though. The color matches my chair.” He was trying to make a joke or trying to make them feel guilty, Puck couldn't tell which, but he cared about this. It was easy to see that he was really upset.

“Give it back to him,” said Becca. “It's his.” She was only in Kindergarden and didn't really get what was going on. She looked like she might start to cry.

“I don't know. If it's such a piece of trash, maybe we should throw it away,” Tyler said, raising his eyebrows suggestively. “Give it to me, Rutherford.”

Artie charged up the ramp at him, then, shouting something incomprehensible. He slammed into the bigger boy, reaching up, grabbing at his jacket, his face. For a second, Tyler didn't seem to know what to do. Then he took hold of the wheelchair and pushed hard, sending Artie skidding backwards into the rail. “You assholes!” Artie yelled, his voice shrill with anger. “You assholes! Give it back!”

“Tone down the language in front of my sister, Wheels.” Puck stepped forward and took the guitar from Matt's hands. The garbage bag it was in was wet now, and slippery. He settled it safely under his arm, opened the door and pushed Becca back into the school. They could go out by the office. Finn would probably keep Tyler from screwing the kid up any worse than he was already screwed up.

“I'll take care of this for you,” Puck called over his shoulder. “You can have it when you chill out some.”

***

Artie sat in his bedroom, metaphorically kicking himself. If he hadn't brought it to school, it never would have been taken away from him. He was so dumb.

What really burned was knowing that if he told an adult, he could probably get it back. His dad or Ms. Allen would call Noah Puckerman's parents, and of course they'd feel terrible about what their anti-social little psycho had done to a kid who couldn't defend himself and they'd make him return the guitar.

And then Artie would be a crybaby and a tattle-tale on top of everything else and his life would totally be over.

It wasn't worth it. So he was trying to be mature and philosophical. In general, this was something he was good at. His father said Artie was more mature than his mom sometimes. The guitar was probably OK, Artie told himself. If Noah wanted to throw it into a dumpster, Artie knew he would have made him watch him do it, and he hadn't. Now it was Noah's guitar, that was all.

There was a knock on his door and he jerked up, guiltily. He hadn't figured out what to tell his family yet, so he'd sort of snuck into the house without saying hi. “Artie?” his mom's voice asked. “Are you in there?” She pushed open the door. “One of your friends is here to play music with you.” And in the hallway behind her, Noah Puckerman put down one of the two guitars he was carrying – Artie recognized the navy gig-bag as his own and winced as the instrument inside banged against the hardwood floor – and gave an awkward little wave. “Go on in,” Artie's mom said to Noah, and left them.

“Um, hi,” Artie said from the bed. Apparently, the big sixth grader had had a crisis of conscience, and he wasn't ungrateful. “I didn't know you played.”

Puck stood in the middle of the room with one case in each hand, like luggage. “It's not that crappy,” he said abruptly. “I kind of like it. His eyes darted around the room, taking in his posters, maybe, or looking for a chair. When he saw that there wasn't one, he sat cross-legged on the bare floor and started to unzip the gig bag. He pulled Artie's guitar out onto his lap and strummed a chord. Then he looked up, almost shyly. “Do you mind?”

The song he played was one Artie didn't know. It was sort of country, but nice. It suited the mellow tone of the little guitar. “What was that?” Artie asked when he was done.

“It's called Beautiful, Beautiful Brown Eyes,” Noah said. “My dad taught it to me. Do you take lessons?”

“I'm teaching myself. I was planning to play something at the talent show. If you were going to, you know, let me have it back?”

“I said you could have it back.” Noah sounded wounded. “I just took it so those guys wouldn't hurt it. If you got in a fight or something. You were going completely ripshit – I think you scared my sister.”

“Sorry,” said Artie, realizing how crazy this was.

“I was wondering … do you think I could borrow it for a while? Your guitar? I brought mine, so you could try her out.” Noah indicated the case of the other guitar. “She's a Fender, see? It could be, like, an exchange of hostages.” His voice dropped. “Her name is Layla.”

“Oh.” Artie scooted himself over to the edge of the bed to look at the case. It was flat and rectangular. “Is it – is she – electric?”

“Yeah, there's a mini amp too, but I couldn't get a ride here, so it's at my house,” Noah said, all in a rush. “I could go get it and bring it – ”

He wasn't even listening. “Awesome.”

***

Artie insisted that the red guitar didn't have a name, but privately, Puck called it Diamond, because the word Diamante was printed on the label you could see through the sound hole in curly letters. That was Spanish, and it was a Spanish guitar, like at the beginning of the song Spanish Caravan by the Doors. Puck couldn't manage that intro, but he figured out a workmanlike set of chords to play along to his mom's record, and it sounded pretty good. She brought all her LPs down from the attic for him. A lot of things in her collection and in his stupid book sounded pretty good unplugged. He was playing stuff from his own CDs too – right now he was learning It'll Be A Breeze by the Long Winters.

Diamond wasn't as nice of an instrument as the Telecaster. His dad would be pissed if he found out that Puck had traded Layla in, but he hadn't been around for months now. Anyway, it was just a temporary arrangement. A favor.

Artie Abrams played Back in Black at the Independence Elementary School Spring Talent Showcase. Some kids laughed at him when he rolled out onto the stage, but Puck told them to shut the hell up so he could hear. The way Artie held the Tele with her head and neck pointing up looked sort of weird, but his playing was badass and he won first prize over that dumb Rachel girl's tapdancing.

That was in June. Now it was September, and they hadn't traded back yet. He was in middle school so they didn't see each other that often, which was good, because he wouldn't want Abrams to get confused and think they were friends or something. Puck knew where to find him if he wanted to get Layla back. And he would.

Eventually.

(the end.)

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