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No Air

By bubblewrappedkitty

Romance / Drama

When Nightmares Bleed Over Into Reality

AN: Set weeks past "Sectionals," so possible spoilers in later chapters, and it's all in Tina's POV. 

Chapter 1

I wake up in a panic, shivering in the cold sweat on my skin and looking around with wide eyes, sure that there must be something horrible going on. Otherwise why would there be this huge ominous knot in my stomach? My eyes pan my half-dark bedroom, but nothing looks out of place.

Same music posters on the wall, the black screen of my silent computer and the blinking light of my plugged-in iPod next to it, a heap on the floor that is my discarded clothes from yesterday that haven't quite made it all the way to the hamper yet. My alarm clock is glowing out the time in pale red, four minutes before the alarm is set to go off. The rest of the house sounds silent as well, meaning Mom has already left for work (Dad is still out of town on business.)

The longer I sit here, the more the feeling fades away. It must have been something in my dream that had me so freaked out, I reason. I can't remember for the life of me what I was dreaming about, but that's nothing all that unusual. I very rarely remember my dreams. The fear I'd felt when I woke up makes me really curious, but after a few minutes I realize that I'm never going to figure out what I was dreaming and give up. A second later my alarm clock begins screeching and I thump it heavily to make it stop, resigning myself to having to get up with a loud groan. I am not a morning person.

A hot shower calms me down even more and by the time I get out I've pretty much put aside the panic. I go through my morning routine on autopilot, getting dressed, doing my make-up, and getting everything put into my messenger bag. When I realize my history book is missing I tear the living room and my bedroom apart looking for it (my homework is in it and it's due today) before finally discovering it on the kitchen counter. Don't ask me, because I'm pretty sure I left it on the couch. Mom must have moved it.

I look up at the clock and realize I should have left the house ten minutes ago. I grab my iPod and stuff it into my bag, barely remember to stick my cell phone in my pocket, and then race out of the door. Only at the edge of the yard do I remember I was supposed to lock up the house and I run back, digging my keys out of my backpack on the way. Once I'm sure that in the case of robbery, breaking will be required before entering, I backtrack to the sidewalk and keep on my way to school.

When I get to the corner where I normally meet up with Artie, he's not there. I wonder if he went on without me, considering that I'm so late, but normally if he does he'll text me to make sure I've woken up. Curious, I pull out my phone but there are no missed texts. I look down the road towards his house, wondering if he's running late too. His dad's van isn't in the driveway, which is kind of weird since his dad goes to work later in the day, but I can't see him coming down the sidewalk or anything.

Fifteen minutes and four unanswered texts later, I know if I don't leave now I'm going to be late for school. Sending one last 'Where r u?' to Artie, I tuck my phone back in my pocket and start for school by myself. Maybe he's sick, I think. Or maybe he's left his phone on vibrate again. He does that a lot, and that would explain why he's not answering me. Still, something doesn't feel right and I'm anxious to get to school. He's in my first hour, and then I'll know what happened this morning.

I get to the school right as the first bell rings. You'd think that since the bell had rung everyone would start filtering out of the halls and towards classes, but for some odd reason I'll never understand it actually makes the whole mess even thicker. I have to practically elbow my way to my locker, which is not that effective since I am not exactly a large or strong person, and when I get there Mercedes and Kurt are just walking away from it.

"Oh there you are, girl," Mercedes says in that overly boisterous voice she always seems to be using. I discovered a long time ago that Mercedes is pretty much incapable of talking in a non-bravado-y tone, except when she's feeling really down. "We thought you weren't gonna show."

"Overslept," I explain (well technically I suppose it's a lie), jerking my locker open and exchanging my history book for science. "Hey, have you guys seen Artie?" I ask, glancing over my shoulder at the connected-at-the-hips pair.

"We thought he'd be with you," Kurt answers, and he and Mercedes exchange one of those looks where I swear they must be talking telepathically. Judging by the mischievous curls in both their smiles, I don't want to know what they're thinking. Almost all of the possibilities that fill my head at that moment are the sort that make me blush, which I'm embarrassed to realize I'm actually doing. Irritating, since I really don't have a reason to be blushing in the first place.

"I haven't seen him, and he's not answering my texts," I say, closing my locker and turning in the direction of my first hour. Mercedes and Kurt both just shrug, neither of them looking quite as concerned about it as I am. I'm starting to consider that maybe my freaky dream thing has just made me extremely paranoid and I'm blowing things out of proportion.

"We'll let ya know if we see him," Mercedes says and then we head our separate ways for class. I slip into my classroom just after the bell rings, getting me an annoyed look from Mr. Spencer. I don't really care, since all of my focus immediately turns to the handicap desk and I see that it's definitely empty.

"Cutting it close there, miss," Mr. Spencer warns when I sit down in my usual desk right beside Artie's. I just nod and dig out my notebook. I try not to be too frustrated when five minutes later Jason Butler comes into class and Mr. Spencer just glances at him, smiles, and goes back to his lesson without the slightest reprimand. Sexist ass.

I zone out the moment Mr. Spencer starts talking about photosynthesis (at least I think that's what he's talking about) and I start doodling idly in the margins of my notebook. Every few seconds I glance over at Artie's desk, wondering where he is. Sick at home seems like the most logical explanation, but that doesn't actually make me feel any better because now I'm wondering how sick he is and what he's got. If he'd just answer his stupid phone I wouldn't be so worried. The last time he'd stayed home sick he'd at least texted me.

I look up long enough to check that Mr. Spencer hasn't written any test dates on the board before I go back to scribbling. I know I should probably be paying attention since Artie's not here to take notes that I can study off of later, but I can't bring myself to do it. Besides, Artie's really good at science so he probably knows all this already, so I'll just get him to tutor me later, like usual. It's just like what I do for him in history, about the only class where I understand more than him.

It feels weird, sitting in this class without Artie next to me. He hasn't missed school for a couple months now, except that one time he had a dentists' appointment but even then it'd been in the afternoon so he'd been here for this class. I suppose it's one of those things where you don't realize how much someone is there until they're gone. Normally he'd be sitting next to me, taking notes in that cool, slanting handwriting, and every so often he'd glance over at me and smile. Sometimes we'd make faces at Mr. Spencer when his back was turned, both of us biting down on our knuckles to muffle our laughing. Most of the time we just ended up passing notes whenever Mr. Spencer wasn't looking.

It was in this classroom, through one of our usual note passing routines, when Artie'd asked me out on our first date. My doodling stops as I submerge myself in the memory of that night we'd spent drag racing wheelchairs around the school. It hadn't ended the greatest, with the whole stutter thing, but everything before that had felt so perfect. We hadn't tried dating again since then, but once we had managed to make it back to being friends again everything seemed to have fallen back into place. And those feelings, the way I'd felt when we'd kissed, none of that had gone away.

I jump and am pulled out of my daydream (which would have made me blush if anyone else had seen it) when my phone vibrates in my pocket and I quickly silence it, looking around guiltily. No one's looking so I slip it out under the desk and my heart leaps when I read the screen.

Incoming call: Artie

Even though I'm undeniably grateful to finally be getting some form of contact from my missing best friend, I feel that sense of foreboding I'd woken up with creep back into me. Why is he calling me instead of texting? He knows I'm in class. Whatever it is, I know it can't be good.

"Mr. Spencer," I say abruptly, interrupting him mid-sentence. He scowls and I feel everyone's eyes turn to me but I swallow my nerves and plow on. "Can I go to the restroom?" He still looks royally pissed but he nods and turns his back on me again. Once he's facing away, I grab all of my things and rush out of the door. I don't plan on coming back to class, not after how much trouble I've already gotten into in this first fifteen minutes. I'll hide out in the library or choir room if I have to.

Once I'm in the hall, I hurriedly jog down to the end of the hall where I won't be overheard by my teacher and answer the phone. "What's up, Artie? Where are you and why haven't you been answering my texts?" I ask frantically.

"Tina, this is Judy, Artie's mom." My brow furrows in confusion and worry. She sounds really worn, which makes me even more scared than I was because I know she's the one Artie inherited his perpetual optimism from. If she's not in a really good mood than…oh God I don't want to think about it. "I'm sorry, I know you're supposed to be in school, I was just going to leave a message. I saw all of your texts on his phone and I just – I thought you'd want to know. That he'd want you to know."

"What is it?" I ask and that creepy feeling I'd woken up with is back in full force now, and I think it's brought along reinforcements too. I almost don't want to know what she's going to say but I literally stop breathing, afraid of missing a single word. Her answer makes my heart freeze up in my chest.

"Artie's in the hospital." Saying that my head feels like it's just been bashed over with a cast iron skillet would be a bit of an understatement considering how much I'm blown out of reality right now. I feel my knees give out under me and they hit the ground hard, but I'm not focusing on that right now. "He's just gone into surgery and we're really not sure how things are going to turn out."

I'm clutching my phone so tight I think it might break. Artie – in the hospital. For some reason my brain can't put the two halves of that sentence together. Artie and hospital just don't go together. He's indestructible. Despite his chair, or maybe because of it, Artie's so strong and the sorts of things that affect other people don't affect him. He's always been sort of invincible in my mind. Nothing gets to Artie, nothing at all. So how is this even possible?

I don't even think about what I'm going to say next, because it just seems like the only possible response. It's like some sort of reflex or intuition and it slips from my mouth with a sort of tough, iron resolve I didn't even know I had.

"I'm on my way."

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