Title: Sepia Colored Memories
Pairing: pre-Tina Cohen-Chang/Mike Chang (with allusions to other canon S1 couples)
Spoilers: All of Season 1
Summary: Sometimes, what are better than the prize itself are the memories in retrospect leading up to them.
By and large, people spend their lives searching. It’s what makes us innately human and it’s what drives individuals to chase dreams throughout their lives, always looking and not always finding. But more often than not, it’s not the endpoint that matters, but the journey itself and the road traveled there. Sometimes, what are better than the prize itself are the memories in retrospect leading up to them.
She’s a nobody. She has no friends, no reputation, and people barely know her beyond colored streaks of hair, dark clothes, and a stutter. Tina Cohen-Chang is functionally invisible in high school and frankly, that’s barely any better than being a loser.
But that’s also precisely why she signs up for glee club. Well, sort of, at least. She loves to sing and perform and granted, she’s not the best, but that was the whole point of joining a club, right? To meet other like-minded people and improve, right?
Besides, she was invisible. She had nothing to lose.
Gripping the pen of the sign up sheet, Tina signs her name ‘T-T-T-T-Tina C.” and begins writing another when the cute boy in the wheelchair asks her with a smile.
He kind of knew her peripherally, but not really in any way that mattered. The Asian community in Lima, Ohio was pretty small, after all, and Mike could count the number of Asians in their grade on one hand. His memories of her consisted of noticing a scrawny, shy little girl with a stutter and pigtails at Asian community gatherings and making polite small talk. Besides, even though he was on the football team, which only had a nasty reputation for losing streaks, bullying, and tossing people in the dumpsters, the raven haired teenager liked to keep his head down and his lips sealed.
Okay, so maybe he thought she was kind of cute, but they were both really shy and had such different friend groups that it could never work. At least, that’s what Mike thought until he noticed her was on stage, dancing and singing to an absurdly inappropriate Salt-N-Pepa song. She might not have been on lead vocals, but that girl was working it. He felt a little embarrassed, rather blatantly ogling from the the safety of the audience as she bounced up and down and up and down and up and down.
Mike Chang never quite saw Tina Cohen-Chang in the same light ever again.
Even though she’s never had a boyfriend (much less a guy look at her in that way), Tina recognizes what’s going on in Mercedes’ head and shoots Rachel a worried look. As much as she might find Rachel grating and bossy, desperate times call for desperate measures and she knows she doesn’t have the nerve to confront Mercedes Jones, of all people, over anything.
It’s not going to be pretty and it’s most certainly not going to be fun, but that’s what friends did for each other, right?
Despite the fact that everyone in glee club is dramatic and theatrical, Tina isn’t stupid. She knows she’s a good singer. A pretty good one, actually. It’s just that, she knows she’s not as good as Rachel. Rachel knows it, she knows it, and she’s pretty sure everyone else in the glee club including Mr. Schuester knows it. And sure, getting her first solo is awesome and all, but seeing the trouble it causes makes Tina want to retreat back into her shell a little bit more.
Volunteering to give up the West Side Story solo had been her idea. As conflicted as she was, glee club was also the first place she felt like she belonged for the first time. Even if she was getting slushied on a semi-regular basis, Tina had friends now and a place to be. That was invaluable in and of itself and she couldn’t lose that, not after having sampled what it was like. Rachel was their best singer and they would crumble without her. Tina wasn’t a diva – she was a team player. If it meant keeping glee club, she was okay with losing out on the solo. There would be more in the future, hopefully.
And even though Rachel still stormed out, they get three new guys joining (which was frankly, really surprising) and Mr. Schuester still wanted her to sing Maria, so the gothic butterfly put on a shy little smile as she took to the front of the choir room.
The Single Ladies dance was actually super fun. Not that Mike would ever admit that to anyone else on the football team, even if it had led to their first (and quite possibly only) victory for the McKinley High Titans. Guys weren’t supposed to like dance, especially guys on the football team. Well, except for Finn Hudson. He was still a part of glee club and sure, he took a lot of shit, but Mike respected the hell out of him for doing it anyway. The fact he was the freaking quarterback made it even more impressive.
And maybe, just maybe, amidst all that admiration, Mike felt a twinge of jealousy that he couldn’t be brave and go off doing something he thought was fun.
So yeah, maybe Puck asking him and Matt to join glee club with him had started off as a convenient excuse to do what he wanted. But that look on her face when he walked into the choir room? Totally worth it.
April Rhodes comes onto all of the glee guys. She also reeks of desperation and boxed wine, so Mike (tactfully) avoids her when she pulls Matt and Puck into the showers and slips brochures for free STD testing at the clinic down the street into their lockers.
Besides, he’s kind of got his eye on someone else.
His vocals might have only been so-so, but Mike Chang could dance. Sitting among the rest of the girls, practically awestruck by the boys’ energy, Tina was enraptured by his dance solo, watching his lithe form sweep and spin across the stage. It was probably a bad thing that she wasn’t really focusing on Artie’s solo, but it was really hard to concentrate when watching Mike Chang dance.
(She never knew she had it in him, and well, to be honest, it was kind of sexy, especially with the leather jacket.)
That yellow sundress she’s wearing is bright and summery and unlike anything he's seen her in. With that broad smile and the sheer energy she puts into the performance, it’s hard to describe her as anything other than radiant. Mike is really lucky that the rest of the guys cheer so hard, because he was getting into that performance for all the wrong reasons.
“You’re really great at singing, you know?”
It comes out totally wrong and Mike blames the recent revelation of Quinn’s baby drama for the way the words just spill out of his mouth when it’s just him and Tina waiting back stage for their performance. He immediately ducks his head and goes back to fumbling with his suspenders, his cheeks flushing slightly. He had it bad for her and she would totally notice, especially if he complimented her voice on a song that she wasn’t even soloing.
The words give Tina slight pause and she’s puzzled for just a second. Beyond polite small talk between classes, rehearsals, and a few awkward Asian community dinners, Mike Chang had never so much as spoken a word to her. And why should he? He was a football player, after all, and Tina was practically a nobody.
Still, a compliment’s a compliment and well, it’s kind of nice to hear those words from someone else’s mouth, so Tina brushes back strands of blue hair and smiles lighlty. “T-t-t-thanks.” She falls quiet once the rest of the glee club arrives, a hush befalling them as they get ready to run that Avril Lavigne song they’ve been practicing.
The choice between the football team – which frankly, isn’t that fun, especially when they keep losing – and glee club isn’t that hard and Mike is happy to give Brittany the biggest bear hug he can muster, even if his eyes land on someone else over her shoulder.
Even though their relationship – or what’s left of their friendship, for that matter – is in shambles, Tina puts on a brave face and sings her heart out on “Proud Mary”. Artie still doesn’t talk to her after the performance and it makes her wish she could go back to being invisible again.
All the excitement at being assigned her ballad partner is immediately mitigated when he realizes this means he has to sing. To her. It doesn’t help that the way she said his name (“Other Asian,” he thinks a little bitterly) after pulling it out of the hat just goes to show that he’s definitely got a crush on her and she barely even acknowledges his existence.
Mike thinks he sees – like really sees - Tina for the first time when she takes to the stage for her Cyndi Lauper solo sans lacy vampire clothes and gothic makeup. For a lack of better terms, she looks beautiful, unadorned, natural, and practically beaming as she sings about appreciating one’s true self. Her voice soars above the chorus, sweetly expressive and crystalline clear, and he can’t help but think this song was made for her to sing.
She feels a little disappointed when Rachel doesn’t approach her to be Glee co-captain. On one hand, she’s been there since the very beginning and if nothing else is clear to Rachel, she’s been a team player.
On the other hand, Tina’s still pretty sure she would’ve said no anyway.
They win Sectionals. They win Sectionals with the last-minute number the four of them helped choreograph (and well, Rachel’s epic Broadway solo). Over the cheering of the crowd, Mike doesn’t even realize he picked up and hugged Tina Cohen-Chang until Matt starts giving him shit about it five minutes afterwards.
She adds a little wave into the choreo for Hello Goodbye and Mike can’t help the way his heart beats a little faster whenever she touches him. Puck seems to notice and gives him a meaningful look that he willfully ignores. Tina’s kind of maybe with Artie and as much as he might like her, Mike isn’t the kind of guy to go after another guy’s girl.
Was it too much to be both loved and respected? Was that really too much to ask for as a modern woman? Walking away from the stunned and terrified Artie, Tina practically seethed with fury as she stalked down the halls of McKinley High. Passing by Mike Chang exchanging books in his locker, the goth idly thought to herself that if she were dating Mike, she was pretty sure he’d treat her like gold.
He seemed like that kind of guy, after all.
She doesn’t think she’s beautiful. Tina doesn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes like most of the cheerios and she certainly doesn’t have their slender figures either. That comment Artie made (which he apologized for, but still stung) was just a reminder that she didn’t fit those constraining, narrow definitions of mainstream beauty. Even if he makes her feel beautiful with the way he looks at her, Tina wasn’t immune to insecurity.
And so when Mercedes steps up during the assembly and asks, she raises her hand.
MC Hammer is an epic fail and Tina mostly goes along with it because her friends seem to think it’s a great idea and well, it’ll at least make for a great story.
Mike spends the entirety of Rachel’s video project cringing over how terrible the song is and then wondering how she managed to rope Santana and Brittany into helping her out.
He’s never even sung a solo in glee club before and even Mike knows how bad Rachel’s singing is.
(That’s not even taking into account the fact that it’s a Miley Cyrus song.)
It absolutely shatters Tina’s heart when Artie asks her to dance with someone else. She gets that he only wants what’s best for her, but can’t he see it doesn’t matter to her? Can’t he see that she doesn’t care how bad of a dancer he is? All she wants to do is dance with him and after all the nights she spent futilely researching his condition and the drama of this week, she’s too tired to argue back.
Mike Chang is the one silver lining out of this whole thing. He’s excited to try tap dance for the first time and sure, she has to teach him a thing or two, but he brings his own flair to the routine and she can’t help but smile when they go through the performance.
Her heart flutters a little when he dips her at the end and their eyes lock for just a second too long.
It’s a dream come true when Tina comes to him asking to be her partner for the assignment of the week. Especially after the narrowly avoided ballad debacle, it’s nice to actually spend time with her and not be terrified the entire time, because they’re dancing and if there’s one thing Mike can do, it’s dance. Because he’s a perfectionist and she has so many ideas, they run through the routine until it’s perfect and he goes to sleep with Tina heavy in his thoughts the night of the performance.
He wakes up the next morning feeling guilty over dreaming about his friend’s girlfriend.
It’s taken close to a year for Tina to become comfortable with who she is and the thought of that getting taken away at first frightens, then angers her. With this week’s lesson in mind, she carefully applies royal purple lipstick, buys the sharpest costume fangs her allowance can afford, and waits outside Figgins’ office late one Tuesday night to give him a piece of her mind.
He hates to see Tina upset, so when she takes the stage proudly in plastic bubbles and white platform boots, Mike’s right beside Artie and Mr. Schuester in cheering when the girls are done with their performance. The fact that he’s not supposed to like a Lady Gaga song doesn’t even come close to registering.
(To be honest, he’d love to be on stage dancing alongside them.)
Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch aren’t even close to being a funk group, but watching Finn and Puck make complete fools of themselves is a nice distraction from thinking about Vocal Adrenaline crushing them. Mike is too nice to tell them they suck anyway.
The thought of losing glee club brings tears to her eyes, but the thought of another year breaks her out of her reverie and has her nearly crying for joy. Settling back down for Mr. Schuester and Puck’s performance, Tina smiles as she reflects on their year. For the first time, she’s found friends, love, and a place she belong, things she never thought she would ever find. Her eyes move across the room across the people she considers her family and it makes her cautiously optimistic.
This year had brought her so much. Who knew what the next had in store for her?