A/N: This little scene just popped into my head an hour ago, so naturally, I had to write it.
At first, Artie wonders if he's seeing things. He rubs his eyes and checks that his glasses are clean and no, he is most definitely not seeing things. It's long after classes have let out, and Artie was just on his way out to the front of the school to wait for his dad to pick him up – he'd gotten out of Jazz Club early. And now he is sitting in the middle of the hall, staring at the alcove where Noah Puckerman is slumped…and crying.
The first thing that Artie thinks to ask is why Puck is there. It's December, so no football, and Glee doesn't meet on Fridays. And judging by the time, Puck has to have been there for well over two hours.
Artie debates whether or not he should comfort Puck or even let him know he's there – crying or not, the guy was still freaking scary sometimes – and finally wheels forward a few feet. "…Puck?" he ventures, readying himself to flee if Puck decides to kick the crap out of him. "Are…are you okay?"
Puck looks over at him, his chest heaving like he's just run a marathon, and it's only then that Artie realizes that there aren't any tears or tear tracks. Was Puck dry-sobbing? Artie had seen Tina dry-sob more than once during her panic attacks, and this seemed pretty similar. Or maybe Puck had had that operation that Coach Sylvester had been bragging about and gotten his tear ducts removed… No, Puck was crazy, but he wasn't batshit crazy.
"The...the fuck do you want...Wheels?" Puck wheezes out. He winces slightly.
Artie feels like he's going to regret asking, but Puck hasn't tried to punch him yet so he takes the risk. "Is something wrong?"
"...No. Get...get outta here."
Artie doesn't move. "Do…do you want to talk about it?"
Puck's eyebrows snap together in confusion. "Talk...talk about what?" His nostrils flare and he inhales and unsteady breath.
"I don't know, whatever's wrong," Artie replies.
"There's nothing...wrong," Puck says, and his voice is breathy and hollow. He leans his head back against the wall, his mouth opening a bit wider as he breathes.
"Are you sure?"
Suddenly, Puck laughs. Well, it's more of a strained huff, but it's still a laugh. "Holy...shit, Wheels, did you...did you think I was...crying?"
Artie is confused.
"Puckzilla...never cries," Puck coughs out. His breath rattles in his chest loudly enough for Artie to hear it.
Puck doesn't answer, wincing again as he draws a long breath and lets it out slowly, his chest shuddering slightly. He coughs and tries to inhale again. It occurs to Artie that Puck doesn't look upset at all, and his face his paler than it should be, even in December in Ohio. The sound of his breathing is stretched thin and hoarse, like his lungs aren't opening with his ribs. There's a faint line of sweat along his hairline, and Artie notices that Puck's fingers are shaking a bit.
"Oh, jeez, you're sick," Artie realizes, and he turns, about to wheel down the hall. "I'm gonna go get the nurse."
"No!" Puck barks suddenly, making Artie stop and turn back. Puck winces as the sudden increase in volume sets off another cough. "No, it'll...it'll pass."
"You're saying this happens to you on a regular basis?" Artie said.
"Jesus, will you...will you stop looking so...so damn concerned?" Puck snaps, though it doesn't hold a large amount of venom. He closes his eyes for a second, his arm wrapped around his middle like he's injured. "Relax, man, I just...I forgot...my inhaler at home...okay?"
Then everything clicks in Artie's brain, and he feels like a damn idiot. "You're – you're asthmatic?" he exclaims, more surprised than anything else.
"Shut...the fuck up. And if...if you tell anybody...about this...I will—"
Artie stops Puck's threat before he can fully dish it out, partly because he doesn't want to hear it and partly because he thinks that it's literally hurting Puck to talk. "I get the picture," he says. "I've got to be honest, Puck, you really don't look so good. I'm going to get the nurse."
"I just said that...that it'll pass," Puck rasps. "So, leave...leave the nurse out...out of it. I've...had worse." He coughs again, more violently than before.
"Puck, you can't breathe. I'm getting the nurse."
"Fucking...hell...Abrams..." is the only thing Puck can muster up to say in between short and sharp gasps for air, and Artie realizes that the only reason Puck hasn't stood up and punched him or locked him into a classroom is that he can't. There's not enough oxygen in Puck's brain right now to focus on anything other than breathing, and as soon as that realization hits, Artie spins around and is wheeling as fast as he can towards the Health Office. Puck might be a grade-A douchebag, but Artie's not going to let him suffocate no matter how much being helped by a wheelchair kid might damage his reputation.
Artie catches the nurse, Mrs. Halverson, just as she's leaving for the day and explains the situation. She hastily unlocks the office again, grabs the supplies she needs, and follows Artie back to the hallway where Puck is. Puck glares daggers at Artie when he sees that he brought the nurse, but is too out of breath to say anything. Mrs. Halverson produces some sort of oxygen mask thing, kind of like what they use on House MD but not quite so heavy-duty, and she presses it over Puck's nose and mouth and tells him to breathe. Artie sits off to the side, feeling kind of useless now that he's served his purpose, just watching Puck try to pull air into his lungs, his breath fogging up the inside of the oxygen mask.
"Honey, you should've come to see me an hour and a half ago," she chides, listening to his lungs with her stethoscope. "Kids are so stubborn nowadays."
It's clear that Puck wants to snark a retort, but he doesn't have the energy or the brain power to do so at the moment, so he just leans back against the wall and lets her take his pulse.
Artie's cell phone rings in his pocket and he pulls it out to see that it's Tina calling. "Hey, Tee," he answers. "I'm kind of in the middle of something, can you call me back in like half an hour?"
Mrs. Halverson glances at him after he hangs up, her fingers on Puck's wrist. "You can leave if you need to, hon."
"I'm good, thanks."
Puck sends him a questioning look. Artie shrugs.
It's odd, being the physically able one instead of Puck, Artie thinks. Neither of them can stand up, but Artie can still wheel away if he wants to. Puck can barely move, and Artie knows that he was bluffing when he said he'd had worse attacks than this. He suddenly wonders if he just saved Puck's life.
A few minutes later, Puck gives a weird sort of sigh that's smooth and doesn't make his chest hitch, and Artie can tell that the attack is beginning to subside. Mrs. Halverson takes the mask away and hands Puck an inhaler, which he takes a shot from, lets the medicine sink into his lungs, and takes another. It's another twenty minutes before Puck is breathing normally again, and Mrs. Halverson offers to call his mom.
"No. I'm fine, I'll drive home."
"Okay," she says, and as she packs up her things and heads back to the office Artie knows that she's going to call Puck's mom anyways.
"Feeling better?" Artie asks after a moment of awkward silence.
Surprisingly, Puck doesn't snap at him, only nods, looking worn out and exhausted.
"You sure you want to drive home? I can give you a ride."
Puck laughs lightly, still leaning back against the wall. "Funny. Getting a ride from the cripple kid." Artie frowns, and Puck notices. "Sorry, man. Guess I should be thanking you."
"You don't have to thank me," Artie says. "Just don't call me cripple."
Puck considers this for a second, then nods. "Deal. Long as you don't tell anyone about…this thing."
Eventually, Puck stands up and walks beside Artie all the way to the parking lot. Artie sits on the top of the front steps and watches him climb into his old pickup truck and drive off, wondering if he'd gotten an insight into Puck's character or if the fact that the self-proclaimed badass had asthma really made a difference at all. He smiles to himself. He could always use it for blackmail in the future.
A/N: Hope you liked it. I don't usually do friendship oneshots, so please leave a review and let me know how I did.
Shameless Plug: I'm also working on a series called Expect the Unexpected - it's pretty much exactly what it sounds like, but it's got the Gleeks doing all sorts of crazy things and it's a ton of fun to write and read, so you should all check it out :) Okay, I'm done advertising now.