Disclaimer: I don't own Glee or any of its characters.
Artie didn't choose to become friends with Tina.
When he moved to Lima in sixth grade, he was assigned a "buddy" to help him get used to the school. His teacher apparently believed that freaks of a feather should flock together, because she chose the girl who could barely talk to introduce the boy who couldn't walk to his new school.
Sixth grade Tina was a miniature version of the current model. She was already wearing black, already sulking, and already afraid to meet people's eyes.
Mrs. Heslop had led her over to Artie with an ingratiating arm around her shoulders. "Artie, this is Tina Cohen-Chang. Tina, this is Artie Abrams. He's new here. Will you show him around today?"
Tina nodded instead of answering, and Mrs. Heslop beamed with frightening cheer and walked off to corral a group of boys who were throwing spitballs.
"Hi," Artie said. He looked up to meet Tina's eyes, finding he didn't have to look up very far, but she wasn't looking back. Her gaze was fixed on the hem of her baggy black pants instead. She didn't return his greeting, so Artie tried again. "Um, hello?"
"H-h-hi." Spitting out the single syllable cost Tina so much effort that Artie immediately understood her preference for silence.
"So, uhhh... do you like this school?"
"N-n-no. And you won't e-either," she said darkly.
God, why did they have to pair me up with the grim reaper? Artie thought grumpily. He decided to make one final effort at being a friendly new classmate to this weirdo. His eyes focused on the portable CD player peeking out of one of the oversized pockets on her pants.
"Oh, um, so, what kind of music do you listen to?" His question came out with such difficulty that he wondered if her stutter was contagious, but then... her eyes lit up.
She pulled the CD player out of her pocket and opened its lid so he could see the CD inside. He realized that she was avoiding speaking, so he read the label on the CD out loud for her.
"Tegan and Sara, huh? Is it good?"
"They're amazing. Listen!" The lack of stuttering and little smile blooming on her face were so encouraging that he accepted the CD player without thinking. She pulled the headphones off from around her neck and held them out to him, and he pulled them on, realizing that they had a nice, girly smell to them from being so close to her long, dark hair.
Just as he slipped the headphones on, the bell rang, and the teacher told everyone to take their seats.
"Oh..." he said awkwardly, pulling the headphones half-off. "I guess..."
"You can l-l-listen to it l-later if you want..." Tina said, her stutter coming out more shy than hostile this time.
"Oh, great! Yeah, I will." He saw her heading toward a desk in the back corner of the room, and noticed the space by it was empty. "Can I sit by you?"
She nodded and smiled again, and he wheeled his chair up to the desk next to hers.
And from that day on, they were almost never apart.
Thinking about the way they had met made Artie feel lucky, and foolish, and scared. Just think, if Mrs. Heslop hadn't been such a condescending busybody and put them together, he might never have spoken to Tina. He might have been just another one of the people ignoring her. If he hadn't been forced to talk to her that day, would he have known? Would he have looked at her and recognized that she should be his friend? His best friend. His... more-than-friend. His... whatever she was.
His favorite person in the world. That about summed it up.
He hated to think that he might not have ever known her. Really known her. People who didn't take the time to talk to her only saw the shyness or the weird clothes. People who only talked to her a little knew she was kind, if not a little bitter. But very few people knew all about her the way he did.
He knew her pet causes, because she always had some. He still smiled remembering how she explained her master plan of singing "I Kissed a Girl" for her auditions to "p-p-protest heteronormativity and homophobia." She had a blog-- not a stupid gossip one like Jacob Ben Israel, but one where she wrote about politics and feminism and things that Artie wouldn't have even taken the time to think about if not for her. She used an online pseudonym, and only he was lucky enough to know that the blog was hers.
She was funny once you got to know her, too. Once she got over her self-consciousness enough to talk without worrying about stuttering in front of him, he got to hear all of her thoughts on the classmates that bullied them, most of which were wickedly amusing.
His favorite secret about her was that she could sing. He had coaxed her into singing while he played when he first started learning guitar, and until Mr. Schue started New Directions, Artie was the only one in the school, maybe the world, who knew that Tina had a beautiful voice. Even though everyone knew that Rachel was the star singer in Glee, Artie still preferred Tina's voice. He always somehow played better when Tina was singing.
Artie was happy when Glee Club started, for a lot of reasons, and most of them had to do with Tina. He was happy to see her express the talent she had always hidden. He was happy to see her get a chance to hang out with other girls, like Mercedes and Rachel and even Brittany, because he knew that she had wanted some friends who were girls, even though she had insisted to him that he was the only friend she needed. When he saw Tina belting songs out, dancing, and laughing with other people, his heart swelled with pride. Like a proud parent.
Except not, because that was analogy was kind of creepy considering the types of feelings he had for her.
When you're already so close to somebody, how do you tell them that you want to get closer?
They were together on Tina's bed, which would be kind of suggestive except for the fact that they had been doing that since they were eleven. Tina's bed was huge, and lying down gave Artie's back a nice rest when it got sore from sitting in the chair all day. It only made sense for him to lie down sometimes at the Cohen-Changs house, since he was there so much. So it really wasn't suggestive at all. Unfortunately.
Tina was next to him, but still too far away for his taste. She was sitting cross-legged, her algebra book laid on her lap as she scribbled out her math homework in the terrible handwriting that had made all of Tina's teachers since Mrs. Heslop wring their hands in despair.
Artie was lying flat on his back, his head on one of Tina's pillows and his unplugged guitar laid across his stomach. He was plucking the strings without looking, because he was looking at her. Tegan and Sara were playing on Tina's laptop, singing I know, I know, I know you're still my love...
Tina was humming along as she wrote out the quadratic equation, and she started singing quietly, to herself, Artie supposed. "The same as I love you, you'll always love me too, this love isn't good unless it's me and you." She never stuttered when she sang.
Then it was like something clicked, or snapped, or some other inexplicable sound effect, and he was telling her.
"Tee," he began, his sudden voice breaking the calm, musical atmosphere of the room.
"Yeah?" She stopped singing and stopped writing proofs and put her pencil down and just looked at him, and he wondered what he had just gotten himself into. But he didn't want to wimp out. Artie Abrams was not a wimp. Usually. Not this time. Not with her.
"Tina," he began again. He felt like he should be doing something other than lying there like a dead fish, so he sat up and reached out to take her hand.
He realized too late that she was wearing her fishnet gloves that day, and it felt ridiculous to be holding her hand with those on. "Here, let me..." He didn't finish his sentence and just pulled the glove off without explaining. So much for acting casual.
She was looking at him with a completely blank, tense expression that made him nervous, but he forced himself to take her hand again, and finish what he was saying.
"I-I...love you, Tina," he blurted out, and what do you know? The stutter apparently was contagious.
"Y-you mean like... love-love? Or like f-friends?" Tina looked more scared than he had ever seen her, even more than that time in seventh grade when they had stayed up all night watching horror movies while her parents were out of town.
But it was too late to take it back now.
"I mean like... everything," he answered vaguely. He cleared his throat. "I mean... more than anything. I love you more than anyone."
Her blank look had turned into a shocked stare, like the first time someone had ever thrown a slushie in her face.
"So, yeah, love-love, I guess," he finished weakly.
Before he knew what was happening, he was lying flat on his back again, and for a minute he wasn't sure how, until he realized that Tina was lying on top of him. Her face was all close to his, and she was smiling now, the sweetest smile, like that time... scratch that. He had never seenthis smile before.
"I love you, too," she whispered against his cheek, looking right into his eyes, quiet and without even a hint of a stutter.
It took only a tiny tilt of his head for their lips to touch, and then they were kissing, his first kiss, and hers too, their first kiss, and how could it have ever happened but just like this?
When the kiss ended, he reached up and stroked her hair, which smelled even better than it had back in sixth grade. He realized that his other hand was still holding hers, and he was smiling just as wide as she was.
I know, I know, I know, be still my love, Tegan and Sara sang, and Tina scooted down a little and laid her head on his shoulder, her body settling into all of the planes and curves of his body, fitting together perfectly.
Artie hadn't chosen to become friends with Tina, but he knew how lucky he was that it had happened anyway. And now, as long as he had any kind of choice at all, he would never let her go.