She corners him after glee club one night about two weeks since the last time they spoke.
"Artie," she says in a clear voice, trying to make him look at her. He stares at his gloved hands and says nothing.
She's not sure why, but it breaks her heart. It's odd; it's not as if he hasn't been avoiding eye contact for two weeks. It's not as if he's so much as said her name since she told him. But now, when it's just the two of them, alone for the first time since the last time, and he won't look at her, it breaks her. Despite herself, despite the fact that no one at school has ever seen her cry, she starts to sob.
She kneels in front of him and wants to place her hands on his knees, take his hands in hers, but she stops herself and settles for just being at eye level. She's embarrassed that he's seeing her this way, but she has more important things to focus on.
Like not losing the best friend she ever had.
Like getting another opportunity to kiss him.
Like getting him to look her in the eyes.
"Artie, I am so sorry," she begins, and feels guilty for her clear speech, but she's through pretending, through pushing people away. And the last thing she wants is to push Artie away. She wants to pull him closer. "I'm sorry I lied to you. I'm so sorry I made you think I was something I'm not. But, Artie," and now she does, she reaches out and takes one of his hands in hers, strips the glove off it and holds it tight, "we do share important things. We're still so similar, you and me."
Artie scoffs and Tina tries to continue, but can't, not with the tears blocking her vision and a lump in her throat and Artie looking at their intertwined hands. She kneels there and tries to collect herself. It takes a moment.
"You're my best friend, Artie. And I'm so scared-" she's cut off by her own sob but soldiers on, "I'm so scared I've lost that. That I've lost what it could turn into. And… I really, really, like you."
His eyes flick up to hers so briefly she almost misses it. It heartens her and she continues, knowing she messed up, knowing she needs to earn this.
"Every time I see you I think about kissing you that time, and how good it felt, and how I finally felt like I had someone. And it hurts because now I just feel…" she chokes on the word and it comes out strained, "alone."
She thinks she can feel a shift in his energy. He knows that her parents aren't around very much. He's been the recipient of countless phone calls when she's had no one else to tell her secrets. He doesn't want her to be lonely.
"You aren't alone," he mumbles, and glances up at her again.
"I know I hurt you, Artie. I really didn't mean to. I thought I was doing something good, coming clean with you. I thought it would bring us closer," she sighs, "god, this almost makes me wish I did have a stutter."
His eyes meet hers, finally, and he says "don't say that."
She just looks at him with a tear-streaked face and hiccoughs back a sob.
"You're lucky you don't have a disability, Tina. You can be like everyone else."
She notices his eyes are watering and she takes a chance, leans forward and places a hand on his cheek. "I'd rather be like you," she says softly, letting her thumb trace his jaw line.
She can feel him smile a little under her palm.
"You're the best person I know, Artie, chair or no chair, glasses or not, singing or staying silent. You are my absolute favourite person in the whole world, and if I could chose to be like anyone, it would be you."
He looks away again and she's momentarily terrified she's said the wrong thing. Then she feels one tear track down her index finger.
"Can you forgive me, Artie?" It's so soft it's almost a whisper and the wait for his answer feels so long it nearly kills her.
He shrugs a little, "yeah," he replies, swiping the tear away with his gloved hand, "I can. I just thought that we were in the same boat. It hurt to find out that I was sort of on my own in this."
Tina places her free hand on the other side of his face and repeats his own words back to him, "you aren't alone."
His big brown eyes meet hers and he says "thanks."
She stares at him until she realizes that she must look weird, clasping his face and just looking at him dumbly. She leans in cautiously, close enough to feel his breath on her lips, and waits.
When he fills the space between them she's so relieved that she lets out a happy little noise. He smiles against her lips and she climbs into his lap, looping her arms around his neck. They stay that way until Mercedes returns to the auditorium, inviting them out for pizza with the rest of the group. She stops midway through her sentence when she sees them all but making out on the stage and they break apart and just smile at her. Tina reluctantly climbs out of Artie's lap and positions herself behind his chair, pushing him up the new auditorium ramps.
He reaches back and places a hand on one of hers, and she smiles. She's through pushing people away; but she's happy to push Artie anywhere he needs to go.