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By bubblewrappedkitty

Drama / Romance


Artie Abrams always wears gloves. They're for protection, because of his wheelchair. He never needed them before the accident. Then his hands had been safe and protected on their own. There had been occasional scrapes or paper cuts, but that was typical in life. As a normal little boy, he hadn't needed the extra shield. But that was Before.

There were so many more potential injuries in the After. The wheels of his chair were like magnets for the sorts of things that hurt. Small bits of gravel that pressed hard against his palms, sometimes even breaking skin if they were sharp enough. Slivers that pierced straight through and buried themselves inside, stinging again every time that spot was touched again. The roughness of the tires wore against his soft skin until it started to grow hard and callused in defense to the abuse. By the age of nine, only a couple of months after the Before became After, his hands were tougher and more damaged than most people three and four times his age.

That was when he got his first pair of gloves. They were red, a dark angry red. He liked them because he thought they made him look tough, like someone who didn't need people's pity and wouldn't stand for the abuse his chair put his hands through. He thought that if he looked tough enough, that people would stop pestering him so much. For the most part, the trick worked. But he'd been hard on the angry red gloves, trying to appear tough, and it was only a few months before he'd worn them straight through. When the time came to buy a new pair, he decided he was sick of red. He needed a change.

Over the next two years, he went through a long line of gloves in various colors. The red ones were replaced with blue ones, a sad blue that reminded him of when his best friend since kindergarten found a new best friend he had more in common with. After that came the green ones he wore the next year, when his older brother joined the high school baseball team and became a superstar. They were red again after that, and for an entire year after that they were solidly black, colorless and without any emotional implications.

He was twelve, halfway through the sixth grade, when he found the perfect gloves. They were yellow, a bright happy sort of color that reminded him of sunshine and daffodils and lemonade and a dozen other yellow things that make people smile. So he bought them, despite the odd look his mom gave him over the color, and proudly wore them to school. Because no one could hate a happy yellow, right?

It didn't have quite the effect he hoped for, although it at least wasn't an adverse reaction. It didn't make people forget about his chair, because they all seemed to notice how the bright cheery yellow contrasted so much with his chair. But at least they stopped shirking so far away from him like they had with the red ones, and stopped shooting him pitying looks like they had when he was wearing the blue ones. Generally they just stopped paying attention to him, but he was okay with that. He'd found comfort in those yellow gloves, which seemed to protect his hands better than any other pair had, and after that he refused to buy a different color.

Tina Cohen-Chang always wears gloves. They're part of her style, part of who she is. She hadn't always worn them, not when she was younger. Back then she'd been content with suffering through the bedazzled jeans and flowery blouses the other girls in her year wore. They never seemed to fit her right and everyone could tell, and they teased her about it. She was in the fifth grade when she realized she didn't like that. She preferred plaid and chains and artistic rips.

So she changed. She tossed out anything with a floral print and packed her closet full of black skirts and studded jackets and combat boots. A lot of people gave her weird looks for it, and in response she just sank further into her new style. She snuck away one of her mother's eyeliner pencils and learned to apply it to herself. She used her allowance money to go down to the hair salon and had colored streaks blended into her dark hair. By the time she came back from summer break to start the sixth grade, she looked like an entirely different person.

One of her old friends, one of the few she could consider even calling that, confronted her about the change before school one morning. She called Tina a lot of names that hurt and when Tina had tried to defend herself, the girl had shoved her. Tina fell hard and scratched her hand on the chain link fence behind her. The jagged metal carved several deep scratches in her palm. She tried to ask her friend for help, and tried to apologize for changing, but her sentence came out broken as she bit back tears. The girl had laughed at her stuttering and then hurried away.

After a trip to the school nurse had her hand bandaged up, Tina was forced to go back to class. That day everyone in her class was supposed to be giving speeches on important moments in history. She loved history, but she didn't love the way that everyone was staring at her. They stared at her clothes, so different form everyone else's, and the bright white bandage around her hand, and the obvious signs she'd been crying. As she fidgeted in front of the class, trying to remember what her speech was about, she met her ex-friend's gaze and when she finally spoke, it was with a stutter again, but not from tears this time. She had only gotten through three extremely long and arduous sentences before the teacher, alarmed by the speech impediment, let her go sit down. She breathed a sigh of relief and vowed to use that escape as often as necessary.

That was the day Tina started wearing gloves. After school she went down to the drug store and bought a pair of ninety-seven cent black knitted winter gloves. She wanted to hide the bandage on her hand from her parents, so they wouldn't make a fuss about it, and from the other kids so they'd quit pestering her about it. When she realized the material was slick, she took scissors and cut the fingertips of the gloves off. She decided she liked the safety and security, the feeling of being hidden and protected but not being hindered. The next time her father dropped her off at the store to go clothes shopping, she found a display of arm warmers and bought dozens.

Her gloves never changed from being black. There were occasionally patterns on them, little red crossbones or purple stripes, but they were always black. She liked black; it was emotionless, untainted. Black was like darkness, and no one liked to venture into the darkness. They stayed away from her dark gloves, and between the gloves and the stutter she was official deemed weird. The teasing and taunting stopped and instead they simply ignored her. She liked it that way. When they stayed away, they didn't hurt her.

In the seventh grade her family moved. They thought that if they moved, put her somewhere new, that she would give up the gloves and go back to the way she'd been before. She knew it wouldn't happen. She liked that people didn't try to look past her gloves, because she didn't want them to see the scars underneath. She wouldn't take off her gloves, because if she did then her hands might get hurt again and she didn't need another scar to go along with the ones already there. She liked the comfort of her black gloves too much to go back.

Artie Abrams only ever took his gloves off for one thing. Music. He wore his gloves for nearly every waking moment of his life, but there were times, when he was alone in his room, that he would strip them off and strum his guitar. Music was the one place where he wasn't worried about the injuries on his hands. The calluses on his fingertips from the guitar strings felt different than the hard bumps in his palms caused by his chair. They were there of his choosing, not something forced on him. While he was playing, he felt free and safe and protected even without the gloves.

That was exactly what he was doing the first time he met her. It was midway through seventh grade, and he was taking his lunch break in the music room like usual. Not really in the mood to eat, he'd gotten his guitar out of the case to play. He slowly, carefully, took off his gloves, looking around to make sure no one was around, and then started playing. He didn't really have a song in mind when he started, but after slipping through fragmented chords of several songs he settled into a slow, melancholy ballad. His soul poured into the music, and the scars that normally hid beneath his yellow gloves seemed to glow out even more brightly against his skin the longer he played.

At the end of the song he finally became aware of his surroundings again, and he felt eyes on him. Frantically, he looked up. There was a girl standing in the doorway, half hidden behind the frame, and she was watching him. He realized in that instant that she could see his hands, see every one of his calluses and every patch of hard and cracked skin and every scar, and he hastily jammed his gloves on again.

She looked alarmed and embarrassed at being caught, and she stammered out a quick apology. He shrugged, smiling and acting like he wasn't concerned about the fact that he'd been caught. She explained that she was lost, trying to find the cafeteria, and she'd heard him playing and got curious. He suddenly recognized her, which considering her distinct appearance he rationalized he really should have figured it out sooner, as the new girl in his first hour.

Feeling safe and contented now that he had his gloves on again, he asked if she wanted an escort. She smiled, a shy small little thing, and thanked him. After he'd put his guitar back into its case, he rolled out of the room and stopped to introduce himself. He said his name and held out a gloved hand to her. She stuttered over her own name in answering, but what he really noticed was that when she slipped her hand into his, she wore gloves too. They were different than his, black knit arm warmers, but they were gloves none-the-less.

It was something they had in common, the way they both wore gloves to protect their hands and to hide their scars, and from it they quickly formed a friendship.

Tina Cohen-Chang only ever took her gloves off for one person. Him. Artie. They had been best friends almost since the moment that they'd met, that day she'd stumbled across him in the music room when she was lost. She had been wandering the halls when she'd heard the music coming through the open doorway. It was low and melancholy and hauntingly beautiful and it touched something deep inside of her and she instantly connected to it. It was almost like hearing her own soul played out in music notes and guitar chords.

Curious, she'd gone to see who it was. There he was, sitting in the middle of the room with his guitar cradled in his lap. His head was bowed, eyes closed, and she saw everything she was hearing in the song etched into the lines of his face. It wasn't her soul she was hearing, it was his. His hands, as they slid up and down the fret board, were obviously heavily damaged and somehow the sadness of the music only made that more noticeable. Her hand slipped down to readjust her arm warmer self-consciously, afraid of what the beautiful music might do to her scars.

The music faded out and suddenly he looked up. He looked just as scared and surprised as she felt, and before she really considered what she was doing she was stuttering out apologies. When he said it was nothing she looked up at him through her hair, and he had set his guitar aside and was fastening the Velcro of his gloves. They were bright, cheery yellow, and it seemed like the moment they were securely on him, his face broke into a smile. At the same time she could see that the yellow wasn't quite sunshine and rainbows. It was slightly muted, like the scarred white skin beneath was bleaching out the color. Or maybe it was just her eyes playing tricks on her.

The next thing she was really sure of, he was sitting in front of her, offering his hand in introduction. He didn't seem put off when she put her own gloved hand in his, and she knew why. He wore gloves too. He understood, knew what it felt like to have to live with hands hidden away to cover the scars and protect from further damage. They became friends almost instantly.

Time passed and their friendship flourished. The more time they spent together, the more they learned that they had in common. There was so much more to them than just their shared accessory. She never asked about his reason for the gloves, his chair, and he never commented on her unique sense of style or her stutter. They talked about everything else though, and it seemed like it was only fate that by the time they reached high school their relationship should shift.

During their sophomore year, they joined the Glee club. She grew more comfortable with herself, realizing that everyone there had their own scars that they didn't need to hide. It got to the point that there were days she almost considered shedding her gloves entirely and facing up to the scar, but she always held back. Because in the end there was only one person who made her feel just as safe as her gloves did.

She had fallen in love with him at some point, or at least she was fairly certain that's what the feeling he gave her was. She loved him for everything, even for those calluses she knew he hid beneath those yellow gloves. She understood what it was like to hide away the scars, and she was sure that they understood each other on a level that no one else could come close to. It seemed almost like they were meant to find each other, to help each other. His careful patience and his smiles and his support are what led her to the discovery of fishnet gloves. They weren't quite as protective, but they allowed little glimpses and that was really what she wanted now. She wanted to let him in.

He asked her out on a date, and that afternoon she wore her thinnest, lightest gloves. Being around him felt natural and safe and protected, and when she kissed him and she felt the way he touched her inside without ever physically touching her, she knew. So she faced him, took a steadying breath, stripped off her gloves, and showed him the truth.

Artie Abrams couldn't get rid of his gloves. Most of the time he was okay with that. Gloves were protective, not harmful. He liked that they made him feel safe and they dulled the pain that his chair put on his hands. The only thing he didn't like was that they dulled everything else as well. Whenever he felt things, it was through the palms of his gloves and it didn't feel the same. There were times, when he saw something that he really wanted to feel, that he considered taking off his gloves and tossing them away. He never did it, because even if he had, the moment he was in the chair again he would need them. He couldn't survive the chair without the gloves.

She was one of those things that made him want to get rid of his gloves. More than anything else, he wanted to be able to take off his gloves and actually feel it when he touched her. He gripped her shoulder to comfort her, patted her knee to encourage her, tugged at her hair to tease her, but he never really felt it. Not all the way.

When he was alone, he traced the outlines of the scars and calluses on his hands. Even if he wanted to lose his gloves, could he with so many injuries already there? How would people react to seeing what he was hiding underneath those happy yellow gloves? How would she react? Would she still look at him the same way if she saw all the damage and darkness he was keeping hidden away? Every time he did this he shook his head and tightened the Velcro of his gloves. No, he couldn't get rid of his gloves. They were necessary, essential to his survival.

Asking her out on a date hadn't actually been as difficult as he'd expected it to be. Somehow he just knew that she would say yes. They had a certain understanding, a relationship that was based on their shared need for the gloves. No one else could understand them the way that they understood each other, and it was only right that they end up together. He had never been one to believe in fate, but he thought that she might just be it.

She kissed him, and for once in his life he actually felt it. She was hardly touching him, her lips the lightest pressure against his, but he felt it in every inch of him. Suddenly in that moment he knew that the two of them, just the way they were, even with the gloves in the way, was what he wanted.

He was surprised when she told him she had a confession to make. He didn't know what to expect, but when she spoke he felt as if the ground had fallen out from underneath him. Her voice faded to the background as she pulled off her glove and all he could focus on was her hand. He had expected it to be like his own, hard and abused, because that was why they both wore gloves, wasn't it? The only blemish to it was the faintest white scar that ran down the middle of her palm. Besides that, her hand was beautiful. Smooth and curved and undamaged and perfect.

That when he realized that they weren't as alike as he thought. As she led him to believe. He thought that the gloves were necessary for the both of them, that she needed them to survive just as much as he did. She didn't. She had hidden her hands away beneath those gloves without any real cause and now she had removed them. She could take her gloves off and chuck them in the corner and never have to put them on again. She could do the one thing that he could never do.

When he told her that he didn't understand her anymore, that they weren't the same like he'd thought, she looked devastated. He saw her hands almost itching back towards her gloves and he scowled. She was a coward, a fake. She took something that defined his very life and made a mockery of it, wearing it like it was a performance costume for Glee. He turned away from her.

She called out to him, and when he looked back at her that beautiful little hand was reaching toward him. That perfect hand that would never know the damage and the abuse and the hardships that his had. He frowned, tugging his gloves more securely against his hands, and turned her down one more time. With that he spun around and left her behind, trying not to notice that under the harsh lighting the yellow of his gloves looked sickly and unnatural.

Tina Cohen-Chang wears her gloves again. There was only one person who she felt comfortable taking them off around, and that one person had angrily thrown her aside when she'd done it. At the same time, she was mad at him for rejecting her without even trying to hear her out. She vowed that she was not going to bother dealing with people who had to hide behind their gloves anymore.

Following their date, she started spending more time around her other friends. Mercedes and Kurt and Brittany all had their scars, but they bore them proudly. Artie went back to pretending nothing had ever happened, but she noticed that he continually adjusted the Velcro of his gloves and their yellow seemed almost dirty. The brightness of his smile when he looked at her only made the gloves look darker, and she knew the smile wasn't fully genuine. She self-consciously tugged at her black arm warmers.

The more time that passed, the less she worried about her gloves. While she still enjoyed having them, she found that she didn't need them quite as much as she used to. On the occasional day she would go without them for a while and it amazed her that almost every time she came away without injury. In fact the only times that it ever really hurt her to be without them was when she caught him staring at her hands, that same dark expression on his face he'd worn the first time she showed them to him. She didn't understand what it was about her hands that made him so angry, but it both frightened and enraged her at the same time.

Several weeks went on in this way, and finally she couldn't handle it anymore. He was hiding something from her and they both knew she knew, but he kept just flashing those yellow gloves in her face and smiling at her. She was furious with him and the way he was acting and she was starting to hate those stupid gloves. So one day, after Glee rehearsal, she cornered him about it.

She asked him why he left that night. He told her it was because she had lied to him and they no longer had something in common. She was torn between slapping him and crying as she tried to explain the hundreds of other things they had in common, but he was refusing to listen. She held her bared palm out to him and asked if that was why he was mad, if it was the scar on her hand that had driven him away. He bitterly replied that she had no idea what it was like to be scarred, that she'd never known what it felt like. So she asked him to help her understand, to let her know what it was like. He scowled at her and tried to leave, but she stepped in front of him.

Taking a deep breath, she reminded him of the day they met. She told him that she had seen him that day, seen what he looked like without the gloves on. He looked scared and hopeful at the prospect. She described the scars she could remember, the jagged ones across the back of his right hand, the hard, heavy calluses on his palms. She said that she had seen him, his hands, out of their protection that day and she had never turned away from it.

He was watching her, his face closed off and blank like one of her black gloves. In his lap, his hands were toying with his gloves. She heard the scrape of the Velcro, accompanied by a shuddery breath, and for a moment she thought he might actually relent. Then he'd just tightened the strap further and let his expression fall back into indifference. Before he could turn away again, she reached down and seized one of his hands in her own. He jerked his hand away from her and something that had been lodged in the fabric of his glove tore at her skin, leaving a shallow cut. For a moment they both just stared at it in awe, and then a gasp passed through her lips. He bowed his head, looking ashamed, and left.

As he rolled away from her, she shouted after him that she was done fighting him. That she had shown him her scars and that unless he could respect her enough to return the gesture then she was through trying. That he shouldn't expect her to wait for him. He hesitated, coming to a stop in the middle of the hall. She held her breath, hoping, and then felt the air in her lungs disappear as he started moving away from her again.

Feeling the burn of being rejected once more, she wiped away the narrow stream of blood that had pooled on her hand and pulled her gloves back on. They were a different pair than what she'd worn before their date, fishnet with highlights of blue on them, but they still served their purpose. She wouldn't hide her scars behind her gloves anymore, just like she wouldn't hide her voice behind her stutter, but she still wasn't strong enough to go on without the protection.

Artie Abrams wishes more than anything that he could have taken his gloves off. When he was sitting at home that night, after turning away from her for what must surely be the last time, he realized how much he wanted to let her in. He was terrified, scared that she would reject him once she saw how damaged his hands were. Hers were so beautiful, dainty even with that little scar. His were thick and hard and unsightly. There was no way she could see those and not leave.

Not that it mattered anymore, because she wasn't ever going to ask him to take his gloves off again. The words she'd shouted after him in the hallway rang in his head for days afterward. He had thought she would always be there, but now she was gone. Why it mattered so much to her that he shed his gloves, he didn't really understand. But apparently it was important to her and now he had lost her entirely.

The worst part of it was when he thought about that red scratch on the side of her hand. He had put that there. Not intentionally, but he had hurt her with his gloves. He tried not to think about it, but when he looked over at her in classes and in Glee rehearsals he could see it. She was wearing gloves again, fishnets most days, but they didn't hide the spot of red that glowed through the openings tauntingly. It sickened him to know that it was his gloves that had done that to her. He had never wanted to injure her; he cared about her too much for that.

He honestly thought that he might be in love with her. He wasn't sure because, just like with everything else in his life, his gloves were in the way and dulling the sensations. Could it really be love if he was keeping up boundaries between them? The only way he would know would be to take off his gloves, give her what she wanted, and see how it worked. Except he couldn't open himself up to that sort of hurt. What if she retaliated for the scratch he'd given her? What if she cut him too? He supposed he deserved it, but he couldn't handle the thought of being injured by her of all people. She was his safety, his protection, and he couldn't lose that in the same way he couldn't lose his gloves. Only he had lost her.

In the days following their confrontation, she talked to him even less than before. She treated him civilly when she did speak to him, but for the most part she seemed to have moved on and removed him from her life. Whenever they did interact, he couldn't keep his eyes off her right hand and the guilt was enough to make him start avoiding her as much as she avoided him. He knew everyone must be able to see that scratch on her hand and he wondered how many of them knew where it had come from. He started feeling paranoid, sure that everyone knew what he'd done to her and that they would turn away from him in the way that she had.

It had been two weeks since they had parted ways, and he was determinedly trying not to look at her. She was talking to her friends and she looked happy. He wanted to look at her and see that smile, because even if it was aimed at other people, seeing her smile made him feel good. The problem was he couldn't look at her without seeing that scratch. It hadn't faded yet, was still red and swollen, and he wondered if maybe it was infected. Had whatever he'd scratched her with caused even more damage than he'd initially thought?

Averting his eyes down at his own hands, he noticed it: there was a hole in his glove. He had spotted the broken thread in the seam weeks ago, but sometime recently it had opened and now there was a wide hole in the fabric, his skin visible underneath. The opening was right above a thick callused scar, which had turned red after coming into contact with his wheels since whenever the hole had opened. He felt an irrational panic build in him, closing his other hand over the hole and looking around wildly to make sure no one else had seen. It seemed like every eye was on him.

Mr. Schuester, looking concerned, asked if he was alright. Artie gently prodded the hole and his exposed skin beneath the shield of his hand, and then shook his head. He made up an excuse, said he'd forgotten he needed to miss practice today, rambled out some confused lie about a family thing. And then before anyone could get the chance to look any closer at the hole in his happy yellow glove, he wheeled himself out of the room.

His mother interrogated him about why he was home so early, but he brushed her off by saying rehearsal had been cancelled. He kept his hand pressed flat against his leg, hiding the hole from her as well. He couldn't take off his gloves in front of her anymore than he could anyone else. His ruined hands made her sad. Making up a homework assignment, he managed to escape into his room.

Once he was alone, he began examining the hole in his glove. It was on the palm of his left hand, the same hand she had grabbed that afternoon in the hallway. As he touched the broken seam, he wondered if whatever had been on his glove that scratched her had been the same thing to tear his glove. The string had been loose since after their date, but he knew the hole couldn't have been there for that long. It must have gradually opened or he would have noticed before. Now it was too big a hole to ignore.

He wasn't sure how long he just sat there, fidgeting with the hole in his glove and trying to figure out what to do about it. He was no good at fixing things, not things like this. When there was a light knock at his door, he twitched in surprise. It was her, he could tell even though she hadn't actually spoken yet. She pushed the door open slowly, peeking in nervously. He instantly covered the hole in his glove with his other hand.

Tina smiled at him but it seemed broken and he could tell she was scared. He asked her why she had come, and she replied with a joke about wanting to congratulate him on his first diva-storm-out and asked if he was going to make it a habit. Despite himself, he smiled a little at that. She grabbed his desk chair and made herself comfortable, sitting directly in front of him, her knees hardly inches from his. He wanted to move back, but was so afraid of her seeing the hole in his glove that he didn't dare.

Her eyes softened and she sighed, setting her elbows on her knees and clasping her hands in front of her while she watched him. His eyes instantly moved to the visible red line on the side of her hand, and before he knew what he was saying the apology had left his mouth. She smiled softly and shrugged, said it was just a scratch, but the way she flexed her hands slightly and tried not to grimace told him it still hurt her more than she wanted to let on.

He tried to stop his breath from catching in his throat when he asked her again why she had come. This time she didn't try any jokes. She admitted that she was worried about him, that she could tell whatever had happened must have been serious and that she wanted to make sure he was okay. At this she gave him a questioning look, and he reflexively tightened his hands to keep a stronger hold over the hole. He lied that he was fine, just tired, and he instantly saw the disappointment on her face. She adjusted her fishnet gloves, said if he was tired she'd leave so he could sleep, and turned toward the door.

He'd turned away and left her enough times already, but this was the first time she'd turned away from him. Panic, even worse than what he'd felt when he noticed the hole in his glove, exploded in him and he called out for her to stop. She froze, her hand already on the doorknob. He searched around for the right words, because he knew if he let her go then it really would be the last time. His voice sounded embarrassingly weak as he asked her if she would stay just a little longer.

There was one minute, one heartbreakingly long and painful minute, when he thought she'd just keep going. But she didn't. She'd always been stronger than him. She turned back to him, and at the same moment they both realized he had outstretched his hand, the one without the hole in the glove, after her. He blushed and hastily put his hands back in his lap, but she nodded and took the seat in front of him again.

For a while they just stared at each other in silence. She was brushing a finger over her scratch delicately, and his fingers were sliding back and forth over the hole in his glove anxiously. Finally he met her eyes and saw a pure questioning concern, the sort of genuine look she hadn't given him in weeks. Something inside him snapped, and he held his gloved left hand out to her.

Her eyes fixed instantly on the hole and the patch of visible skin. In broken, unsteady sentences he told her what had happened. She tentatively reached out and took his hand with both of hers, tracing a finger around the edge of the hole. When her skin finally moved to touch his, he felt a shudder pass through him. He was terrified, feeling her soft skin against the roughness of his, but at the same time he was really feeling it for the first time and it was exhilarating.

When she took her finger away, he looked up at her imploringly. She met his gaze and with full certainty told him that she could fix the hole. His shock showed on his face as she pulled off her gloves and stuffed them into the pocket of the jacket she was wearing. Then she very gently touched his arm and told him that if she was going to fix it that she needed him to take the glove off.

His heart stopped in his chest, and he looked down at his hand in horror. Could he do it? Could he really take that glove away and expose all of his scars to her? Could he really live with himself if he didn't, spending all his time obsessing about keeping the hole hidden?

He bit his lip to stop its shaking, and slowly moved his hand toward the Velcro. A fraction of an inch away his hand stopped and he couldn't will it any further. He asked if she could just do it for him, but she shook her head, saying he had to be the one to do it. His fingers migrated a centimetre closer and then froze again. He was embarrassed to feel a warm trail rolling across his cheek, and in a cracked voice he told her he couldn't do it.

Her hand joined his, resting gently on the back of his wrist and applying the lightest pressure. For some reason seeing her beautiful hand encouraging him gave him strength and with her help his fingers finally found the strap of Velcro. The sound of the pieces separating sounded unnaturally loud in the room that was silent except for his shaky breathing. And then, with her gentle and patient hand always on his own, he carefully began peeling the glove away from his hand.

Tina Cohen-Chang wishes more than anything that she could have taken his gloves off for him. Watching the pain and fear in his face when he tried to do it himself was heartbreaking. She knew he'd worn his gloves for a lot longer than she had, that he was almost entirely dependent on them to survive the day, and most of all that he was hiding a lot more underneath his than she had been. The glimpse she'd gotten in the junior high music room had shown her that much. She hadn't seen everything, just the scars on the backs of his hands for the most part since his palms had been facing the guitar, but she knew his hands were badly beaten.

She did the only thing she could do, and reached out to touch him. She poured every ounce of encouragement into the touch that she could, and when she finally heard the sound of the Velcro parting she felt her heart stick in her throat. It didn't make any sense, but all of a sudden she was scared too. Not of what she would see, she knew that she would stay for him no matter what, but of what the experience might do to him. She squeezed his wrist reassuringly and then waited patiently for the glove to shift. He had to go at his own pace, she wouldn't push.

Gradually the glove began inching down his hand. With every millimeter she saw more and more damaged skin. Every time a new scar was revealed he paused, telling her where it had come from and letting her look at it, his eyes watching her expectantly like he was just waiting for her to run out the of the room. Each time this happened, she would examine the scar, ask the occasional curious question, and then meet his eyes and smile at him to show she wasn't leaving.

Time ground on as he kept talking. He told her about scars that had come from the accident, from pieces of shattered glass and twisted metal. He told her about scars that he'd received since then, from getting his fingers caught in his wheels while he was adjusting to the change and from catching his hand against the edge of the dumpster one of the first times he was tossed inside. There was a narrow scar across his wrist from a time he'd been tied to the flagpole with baling twine. He even talked about the scars that had come from before the accident, a curved white line beneath his knuckle from being scratched by his old best friend on the playground in kindergarten.

By the time the glove finally slipped all the way off his fingers, his voice was choked and hoarse. He let the glove fall to the floor, and as his exposed hand hovered between them, she saw him shiver. She ignored the glove and reached out for his hand, and he didn't resist when she brought it toward her. She laid it on her palm, and ran her fingers across the hardened calluses on his palm, the places where his skin had gotten thick and unyielding. His eyes closed as he let her continue her exploration, and she could tell he was still scared but he was also enjoying it. For what she was sure was probably the first time since the accident, he was trusting someone else with the protection of his hand instead of his gloves. She smiled a little because she knew what it felt like, even if her moment had only lasted for a fraction of a second.

Curious, she held his hand up and placed hers against it, leveling their palms and lining her fingers up with his. Her hand was smaller than his, and narrower, and her fingertips tapered more than his, but they looked well together somehow. She watched him open his eyes, staring at her between their fingers, and there was an intensity in his gaze that she rarely ever saw. The only other time he wore it was when he was really into the song he was playing, when it was one he could put his soul into.

With another smile, she let her fingers slip down into the chasms between his, curling her fingers down onto the back of his hand, marveling at how well they seemed to fit. He hesitated only a second longer before his fingers bent as well. And for the very first time, they held hands without any barriers, without any protection, and without any gloves. They both breathed awed sighs.

His smile was sad as he thanked her, for listening and for not leaving the way he had. She just squeezed his hand in comfort, her other hand moving over to wipe the streams from his cheeks. He looked over at his other hand, the one still covered in happy yellow, and his smile flickered. He told her that he would still have to wear his gloves, that he couldn't just give them up the way she had. She pointed out that she still wore gloves at school. When he didn't meet her eye, she reached over and tilted his chin until he was looking at her. She said that it was only natural to wear his gloves out in public, that she understood that there were things out there that would hurt his hands and that he shouldn't have to open himself up to that pain. All she asked was that when they were alone, when it was just the two of them and they were safe, that he not hide his hands away from her. That he trust her not to hurt him. His smile wasn't sad.

Minutes later, they were both comfortably settled on his bed. She had retrieved the portable sewing kit from her schoolbag, a fact that he teased her for but she deftly reminded him that since she altered most of her own clothes that it was nice to have a needle ready for emergencies. While she stitched the seam of his glove shut again, he took off his other glove and told her the story of his other hand. When he finished talking again, she was through fixing his glove and was sitting against his side, her head on his shoulder while her eyes followed as he gestured to each mark.

She met his eye when he finally trailed off, and she could tell he was surprised and touched that she was still sitting there beside him. For a moment, he seemed to be debating with himself, and then he wrapped his arms around her and drew her into a hug, whispering his thanks into her hair. She pulled herself tighter against him, realizing that here she felt even more protected than the thickest of gloves could accomplish, and she replied that it was what best friends were for. They were both smiling when they finally pulled back, and this time he was the one to reach for her hands, entwining their fingers. Neither of them said the words, but they didn't have to because when their hands met they both just knew what the other was thinking.

It was late in the night and they fell asleep together, still holding hands. The next morning when she left to go home, they both pulled on their gloves and readied themselves for the day. And when she made to leave the house, he'd smiled at her and said thanks again, and she realized he still possessed that ability to touch her inside without having to actually touch her. She took a step back toward him and bent down, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek, and then left. When she glanced back at the end of the sidewalk, he was sitting in the doorway and he beamed, waving at her. She smiled back, and wasn't the least bit surprised to notice that his gloves were a brighter, sunnier yellow than she'd ever seen them.

Artie Abrams and Tina Cohen-Chang wear gloves, but with time they've become less of a necessity and more of just a similar accessory.

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