Part 1 of 2 of this story.
Hello! I'm experimenting a bit with p.o.v. change in this story—it should be pretty obvious when it switches back and forth, but kindly let me know if it fails completely so that I don't do it again. This is a bit darker than my previous pieces, but I rather like how the second half is turning out so far.
I own so little, it's actually a bit sad.
Rehearsal had begun fifteen minutes ago, and Tina still hadn't arrived. The last time Artie had seen her was nearly two hours ago, just before 7th period. She'd smiled at him, waving goodbye as she ducked into math class just before the bell had rung. She'd been fine then, but it was highly out of character for her to be this late—and even more so to ignore the six texts and three calls that Artie and Mercedes had made between them.
Noting the unease of several of the kids at her absence, Mr. Schue had dispatched them to look for Tina while he worked with Finn and Puck on a complicated harmony in their newest number. Rachel and Kurt were searching all of the girls' bathrooms and Brittany and Mike were to check all of the offices (nurse, guidance, Principal Figgins), while he and Mercedes swung by the auditorium before retracing Tina's after-school route: her final class, then her locker, then the winding path to the choir room.
And then Artie heard the scream, and his blood ran cold.
Without a moment's hesitation, Mercedes grabbed the handles of his chair and ran toward the sound of Rachel's voice. Artie held fast to the armrests. This was bad. This was very, very bad. Rachel never screamed—the negative affects of screaming on the vocal chords had been the subject of one of her more recent pompous, self-important diatribes. However, Artie was certain that it had been her bloodcurdling shriek they had heard, which could only mean something horrible had happened.
As Mercedes turned the corner into the athletic wing, Artie's worst fears were confirmed. Rachel and Kurt were on the ground, pulling Tina into a sitting position. The floor around them was spattered with red, and blood coated the left side of Tina's beautiful face, matting her hair into disheveled tangles that clung to her neck. "I'm fine," she was murmuring, as Kurt—seemingly oblivious to the state of his clothing, for once—wrapped an arm around her back to keep her upright.
"We found her like this," Rachel was telling Mercedes, her voice even more rapid and anxious than usual. "She was regaining consciousness, but the cut on her hand may require stitches and it's highly likely that she's sustained a concussion and should receive medical attention." The words washed over Artie. Blood roared in his ears, his hands shaking, as he took in the harsh sight of Tina in front of him. Why wasn't anyone doing anything? All that blood…she needed an ambulance. Artie knew he should call, but his arms and mouth refused to work, completely disconnected from his brain. As if his whole body was paralyzed instead of just his legs.
After what seemed like years, Tina finally lifted her head and gazed at him. Her eyes were blank, as if she didn't see him at all, and Artie could do nothing but stare back in horror. Slowly, finally, recognition crept into her expression, and worry marred her features as she realized what he was thinking. "No, Artie. No, it's okay," she crooned, words slurring together. "It's paint, it's just red paint, see?" She stumbled toward Artie without warning, surprising Kurt, who quickly moved to regain a grip on Tina before she fell. Tina grasped Artie's hand with one of her own, her nails biting into his skin in her haste. "See, it's okay," she said gently, wiping some of the paint off of her cheek and holding it out for him to inspect. "It's okay, I'm okay."
Without even thinking, Artie pulled Tina roughly into his lap, wrapping his arms around her in the tightest hug he could give. He didn't realize he was crying until he felt his chest heaving against the weight of her. As if she were mindful of his need to reassure himself of her presence, Tina laid her head down on his shoulder and closed her eyes, letting him anchor her in place. And then went still.
She was so tired. People were talking, but she wasn't listening anymore. Her eyes were closed again, and it was warm and safe there. She was so, so, so tired, and the back of her head hurt from when her body had slammed into the lockers. She was vaguely aware that people were talking to her, asking her questions, that Kurt was grasping her face with both hands, but she just wanted to sleep. Sleep was so good. Tina, they were all saying, Tina stay awake Tina wake up you have to stay awake… She frowned slightly. Why was everyone yelling at her? She opened her eyes a little and saw Artie looking down at her. He looked scared. She didn't want him to look scared, but why wouldn't he stop talking and just let her take a nap? Tee, he was saying, Tee, stay with me. Stay with me Tina, please.
Stay. She could stay. Sluggishly, she sat up. She didn't want to, but she'd wake up if it would make Artie feel better. Struggling, she concentrated on keeping her eyes open.
Artie breathed a sigh of relief as Tina sat up in his lap. She was clearly out of it, hazy and unfocused, but at least she was cognizant enough to hear them and take directions. That had to be good, but he had no idea what to do now. Fortunately, Mercedes took charge. "All right people, we've got to get her cleaned up. I can't tell what's going on under all that hot mess—we might have to take her to the hospital, if she's really hurt." Kurt nodded. "Hold on to her," he instructed Artie, taking control of the wheelchair and pushing them down the hall. "Rachel, grab some supplies and meet us in the Cheerios's locker room. Mercedes, my locker." Both girls took off without a word.
Artie had never spent much time in the athletic wing beyond schoolwide assemblies for obvious reasons, but Kurt seemed to know where he was going. Less than a minute later, he was backing Tina and Artie into a surprisingly clean, well-lit room filled with sinks and lockers, a row of showers lining the back wall. Kurt picked the biggest one on the far right and turned on the water, being careful to stay out of the spray. "We'll have to wait for the girls," he called over his shoulder to them as he adjusted the water temperature, "but go ahead and see if you can get those boots off."
Before Tina could bend over to reach her legs and send all the blood rushing to her probably-concussed head, Artie tightened his arm around her waist. "You can do it, just let me help," he explained, when she looked at him. As gently as he could, he eased his hand under her left knee and lifted her leg, resting her boot on his armrest where she could reach the laces. He watched her fingers fumble, but eventually untie the knot. He deliberately averted his gaze from her legs, where her skirt was hiked to an inappropriate length thanks to the angle of her body in his lap. The boot Tina had been working on clattered to the floor, and Artie swallowed as he realized that he'd have to reach between her bare legs in order to reach her other boot. She needs your help, he chastised himself. Not the time, Abrams. With that in mind, he reached over and raised her right leg up to rest with her left, watching intently as she untied and pushed off the boot with slightly more dexterity than the previous one.
Finally, the girls arrived—Rachel with shampoo, conditioner, and a hairbrush; Mercedes with towels and clothes for both Tina and Kurt, as well as a hairdryer and some styling products with French names that Artie couldn't pronounce. Artie was left alone as Rachel and Mercedes took a fully clothed Tina into one shower stall and Kurt retreated into a second. Wheeling himself over to the row of sinks, he washed the paint off of his face and hands. His shirt was probably unsalvageable, but he didn't really care. He realized, with a bit of a jolt, that in all the confusion, Mr. Schue probably hadn't been told what was going on—it had been nearly twenty minutes since they had left to search for Tina.
Figuring that Brittany and Mike had probably made it back to the choir room by now, he shot Brittany a text saying that they had found Tina and were cleaning her up, and that most likely none of them would make it back to rehearsal. He deliberately didn't mention that Tina was injured, since he didn't want to cause a panic until they could assess the damage. Everything sounded okay, Artie could hear Mercedes talking over the spray of the shower—"Girl, you have enough hair to stuff a sofa"—with Rachel occasionally interjecting comments about how she couldn't scrub the paint on Tina's clothes while Tina was still wearing them, but that she'd be happy to take them home and treat the marks with the wide assortment of stain removers she had amassed over the years.
Artie looked at his face in the mirror over the sink, and was almost surprised at the hardness of his reflection. Nowhere in his expression could he find a trace of the anxiety, panic, worry, or relief he'd gone through, in that order, over the past half an hour. All he could see was anger. Cool, calculated rage, an intensity that would have been frightening if he didn't know the reason: Someone did this to Tina. He'd gotten mad on her behalf when people had thrown slushies in her face, tossed her in the dumpster, even locked her in a storage closet that one time. She'd done the same when people had mistreated him. But those incidents were nothing compared to this. For a few, horribly indescribable moments, Artie had thought…
Eventually, Mercedes would turn off the showerhead, and she and Rachel would help Tina dry off and change into a clean outfit. They'd do it again four hours later, when the nausea became overwhelming and Tina vomited up the soup that Artie had made them all for dinner, with Kurt's assistance. They would panic briefly, until Rachel googled the symptoms of a head injury and they discovered that this was par for the course. He would direct Rachel, who had never been to Tina's house before, to a spare bedroom—Kurt already knew where to go, and Mercedes had claimed Tina's bed. He would spend the entire night at her side as she slept on the couch, only letting go of her hand to manually stretch his legs every two hours. He would fall asleep just after dawn. She would press a kiss to his cheek when she woke up, head sore but far clearer than the day before. He would feel it, but think it was part of his dreams.
But this was all eventually. In that moment, Artie was alone with his reflection, vaguely listening as Kurt hummed a song he didn't know and the girls scrubbed away the last of the paint. In that moment, Artie had only one thought.
Whichever motherfucker did this is going down.