AN: I lied, there's even fewer chapters than I thought. This chapter was originally written as two chapters but it felt drawn out, so it got combined into one long chapter. So here it is, the climax! Don't hate me.
Chapter 11 – A Bid for Freedom
"Tina, this is completely insane." Artie had been tailing her as she got ready, repeating things like this over and over again no matter how well she ignored him. "I'm serious; you can't think you can possibly pull this off."
"I have to try," Tina said, rounding on him. "I can't just give up on you, Artie."
Artie sighed. "Do you know what you'd need to make this work?" he asked. "I mean the medical knowledge alone required to stabilise a comatose patient, especially one who also happens to be paralysed..."
"That's what you're for," she pointed out. "You know all of that, and you can talk me through it the same way you talked me through helping that guy at the restaurant. Together we can keep you alive long enough to figure out how to get you back into your body." Artie hesitated and rubbed his forehead wearily. "Do you want to die?"
"What?" Artie seemed surprised by the blunt question and it took him a second to gather himself. "No, of course not."
"Then we've got to try this," she insisted. "It's the only way to give you a fighting chance. You know I'm right."
"This is insane," Artie repeated, but he appeared to be deep in thought even as he said it. "I mean, it's completely psychotic, right?"
"Absolutely," Tina agreed. "But I'm doing it."
Artie bounced on the balls of his feet for a minute, and then finally he nodded. "Alright, well first you're going to need someone with a loose moral compass and a van," he instructed.
Tina grinned. "I know exactly who to call."
. . .
The van was racing along the streets and Tina was gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles as she fought to keep it on course. In the seat next to her Mercedes was clutching the dashboard in terror.
"You know, for some reason your friend looks really familiar to me," Artie said distractedly from the back seat.
Mercedes cut in before Tina could say anything. "Girl, do you wanna tell me why we headin' for the hospital and what exactly is the big rush?"
"They're having a sale on some old hospital stuff," Tina lied, slowing down just enough to round the corner safely and then accelerating again. "This morning only. They're selling old hospital beds. You know how much I always wanted one of those."
"Oh great," Mercedes said wryly. "So you're gonna go from being a couch potato to a bed potato. Fantastic."
"You didn't tell her?" Artie gasped in surprise. "What the hell, Tee?"
Tina ignored him as she steered the van into the side parking lot and shifted the van into park. "C'mon, let's go," she said, unbuckling her seatbelt and jumping down out of the car. Mercedes followed close behind her, hissing questions at Tina under her breath and not getting any answers. Artie was jogging along beside Tina and when they'd gotten up to the third floor, he directed her to a supply closet.
"Alright, you're going to need a portable ventilator," Artie said, and then at her confused look he pointed and added, "One of those."
Tina grabbed one and pushed it into Mercedes' arms, and then handed her several more things as Artie pointed them out to her. "Whoa, hold up, girl," Mercedes said. "This ain't a hospital sale. This is stealing. So tell me, for real, what is going on?"
"Tell her," Artie said firmly.
Tina sighed and nodded. "Okay M, so you remember how I told you I was seeing that guy?" she asked hesitantly.
"The hallucination?" Mercedes clarified.
"Yeah, him," she agreed. "Well it turns out he wasn't a hallucination at all. He was the guy who lived in that house before me, and he was in an accident. So he's in a coma and it's his spirit that was haunting my house. But now his family is going to take him off life support, so I'm here to steal his body so I can keep him alive until we can find a way to get his spirit back into his body."
Mercedes stared at her in open-mouthed awe. For a minute she looked like she couldn't seem to find any words, and then all she managed was a breathless, "Really?"
"I swear it," Tina said. "I know it sounds insane, but it's the truth."
"Right," Mercedes said. "So, this ghost guy, he's here in the room with us?"
"Just there behind you," Tina said, pointing to where Artie was.
Mercedes glanced over her shoulder and then back to Tina with a sceptical look. "Okay, well if he's back there then how about he tells you how many fingers I'm holding up behind my back," she said and moved her hand out of Tina's eyesight.
Tina glanced at Artie, who immediately said, "Three." Tina repeated the number, and Mercedes' eyes widened. "Now it's two," Artie said, which Tina also repeated. "Now five. Now one. Now – oh well that's completely uncalled for."
"Mercedes!" Tina chided. "Don't flip him off."
Mercedes looked thoroughly shocked now, but she shook her head. "Okay, that's weird," she admitted. "But it's not completely unheard of for patients suffering a psychotic break to experience mild precognisant abilities."
"I'm not crazy," Tina said flatly.
"Right, Tina," Mercedes said but she was clearly humouring her. "Well then tell me this. If all of this is true, then why are you risking this? What reason do you have to risk everything you've got and for me to risk my professional career on this?"
"Because –" Tina paused and the answer jumped unforeseen into her mouth. "Because I love him." Staring passed Mercedes, she met Artie's gaze. "Because I love you. I thought I'd never be able to be in love again, but then I met you and somewhere between trying to have you exorcised and last night, I fell in love with you. And I can't lose you now."
Artie's face split into a grin so wide it was almost comical. "I love you too, Tee. I really do. I'd – I'd get down on one knee and do this properly if I could, but this doesn't really seem like the right time. But later, I promise."
There was a long pause while Tina's eyes grew incredibly moist, and then Mercedes broke the quiet. "Okay I've got no idea what just happened here, but I'm in," she said and shifted the supplies to a more comfortable grip. "Let's do this thing."
"Thank you," Tina said gratefully. Artie nodded to her and she added, "He says thanks too."
"No prob," Mercedes said. "Alright, is that everything?" Artie instructed Tina on the last few things to grab and then they slipped back out into the hall. Tina and Mercedes ducked into a faculty lounge and stole a pair of white lab coats as well, pulling them on over their clothes to look less conspicuous. Finally they ducked into the hospital room and Tina rushed up to Artie's bedside.
"Oh my God," Mercedes said abruptly, dumping her armload onto the foot of the bed.
"What?" Tina and Artie asked together.
"This is the guy," she answered. "That blind date I set you up on back in March with my friend's little brother, the one you stood up. And then he never made it to dinner either. This is that guy."
"It was you?" Tina asked, glancing at Artie.
"You're the girl I was supposed to meet?" he asked in reply.
"Is that why-?"
"-only you can see me?" Artie finished for her.
They stared at each other in shock for a minute, and then suddenly Artie rounded on Mercedes. "Wait, that's why she looks so familiar to me," he said. "She's Kurt's best friend from college. The one from the wedding."
"You're Sadie?" Tina asked, looking at Mercedes with wide eyes. "You kissed Kurt at his wedding!"
"What?" Mercedes asked in alarm. "How'd you find out about that? No one else was there. No one's ever called me Sadie but Kurt."
"Artie told me," Tina said.
Mercedes looked visibly shaken and she looked from Artie's body to Tina in surprise. "Alright, I'm definitely convinced now," she said. "Let's go. I can't let them kill Kurtie's little brother."
Tina and Mercedes launched back into unhooking all of the equipment from Artie's body that they couldn't take with them, Artie coaching Tina through the things she wasn't familiar with. They had just about finished when the doorknob suddenly twisted. It only opened a fraction, but it was enough for them to hear a faintly Spanish accented woman's voice speaking from outside.
"Shit, it's Santana Lopez," Artie said. "She's here to turn off the machines."
"She's early," Tina said, glancing at her watch. It was only a quarter 'til.
"Can't wait to off me," Artie said mutinously.
Tina looked across at Mercedes and whispered, "Keep working. I'm going to go stall." Mercedes flashed her a thumbs-up and went back to work. Tina pulled the lab coat on straighter and walked over to the door. She opened it and stepped out, and found herself face-to-face with a thin, Latina doctor.
"You must be Dr. Lopez," Tina said, plastering on a fake smile.
"Yes, and who are you?" Santana replied suspiciously.
"Dr. Cohen," Tina stuttered out, trying to sound confident. "Cohen-Chang, that is. Dr. Cohen-Chang."
Artie groaned. "She's never going to believe you're a doctor," he said. "Too late now. Uh, tell her Dr. Schuester sent you for a consult."
"Dr. Schuester called me up here for a final consult," Tina rambled off in what she hoped was a professional-sounding voice. "We're here from Ohio General to give Dr. Abrams one last look, to see if he's eligible for our new treatment therapy for coma patients."
Santana scowled and folded her arms over her chest. "I wasn't informed of this," she said.
"You can go check with Dr. Schuester," Tina said and shrugged nonchalantly. "He was the one who authorised for my team to be here."
"I think I will," Santana said. Tina felt her heart leap, thinking they'd pulled it off, when Santana pulled a phone from her pocket. "I've got his number here; I'll just give him a call."
Tina watched as Santana scrolled down through the contacts on her phone, and she felt a surge of panic well up in her. She glanced at Artie but he didn't seem to have any useful advice. So she did the first thing she could think of to stop Santana Lopez from placing that call: She hauled back and punched her right in the face.
"Tina!" Artie yelped as Santana crumpled to the floor.
"I panicked!" Tina snapped back and then darted into room again. "M, hurry. Time's up." They dropped down and unlocked the wheels on the bed, and then they both took ahold of the bars on either side of the bed and exchanged quick glances. "It's now or never," she said. Mercedes nodded her approval, and they started pushing for the door.
Artie led the way as Mercedes and Tina steered the hospital bed out of the room. Santana was still slumped in a heap in the hall, but people down at the nurses' station had noticed the disturbance. "This way!" Artie directed, pointing down the hall that led away from the nurses' station. "We can get to the elevators around this way."
Tina relayed the directions to Mercedes and they turned, chasing after Artie with the hospital bed between them. They could hear people chasing after them, and Tina picked up the pace. They'd just rounded the corner and the elevator doors were visible when a large doctor barrelled in their direction.
"I got this girl," Mercedes said breathlessly before letting go of the bed and charging at the man. She caught him around the middle before he could reach the bed and took him to the ground, and Tina clung onto the bed rails as she managed to steer it into an open elevator. Pivoting around, she slammed her palm against the "Door Shut" button and watched in relief as they closed. In the same movement she hit the lobby button and the elevator jerked downward.
"We're gonna make it," she said as they coasted the three floors down, although whether she was convincing Artie or herself she wasn't sure.
Artie didn't respond, rubbing his chest and seemingly distracted by something. Before she could ask what was bothering him, the doors slid open and she started shoving the bed forward again. It was harder going getting the bed to move now, pulling it from only the one side, but she managed to get it out into the hall.
Remembering the way to the doors they'd come in from, she dug her heels into the ground and felt the bed nearly tilting as it pivoted and she made a hard right. Someone came up next to her and she kicked out, catching them in the leg and making them fall hard. "Just a little further," she murmured and bent over the rail, using her full body strength to push the bed down the hall. They rounded one more corner and found themselves in the main lobby.
"Tee, something's wrong," Artie said from just behind her.
"We're trapped," Tina said in alarm. She glanced around at the four hallways leading off the main circle and there were people clustering in each of them. "Artie, is there any other way we can go?"
Artie didn't answer, and she looked back at him. He was grimacing and clutching at his chest, and both of their eyes went down to his body. "My breathing tube," Artie whispered in horror. "It's gone."
"No," Tina gasped, but she could clearly see it was true. Even as she listened, she could hear the heart monitor clipped to the bed rail slowly falling. "No, Artie, not now. Not like this."
"We tried," Artie said. His spirit was thinning, becoming slowly transparent. Through him she could see people advancing on them. "It's too late."
"No!" Tina shouted, curling her hand around his. "No, Artie!"
Artie smiled, the same soft, sincere smile he'd given her the night before. "Goodbye, Tee."
"No!" Someone tried to grab her arm from behind but she elbowed them hard in the chest and bolted to the bedside. At the same time the heart monitor let out a long, monotone note and even she knew what that meant. Pinching Artie's nose shut, she bent over and closed her mouth over his. An electric shock ran through her body but she was more focused on the feel of his chest rising under her palm as she exhaled.
She lifted her head just slightly to breathe in again, but before she could do anything more a pair of strong arms hooked around her from behind and hauled her backwards. "Artie!" she shrieked, clawing at the hands that were pulling her away.
"Ma'am, you need to calm down," the man holding her said gruffly.
Beyond the bed she could see Artie's brother, Kurt, and just a step behind him was another man with tightly curled black hair who was clutching the hands of the little twins she'd seen at their house. Mercedes was being detained by two men in security uniforms. A few feet to the side was Dr. Santana Lopez, clutching her bleeding nose, and the Mohawk-sporting Dr. Puckerman she'd met the first time she'd come to the hospital. She could see everyone; everyone except Artie. His spirit had vanished with the flat line of the heart monitor.
"Calm down!" the man bellowed in her ear but Tina wasn't listening. She kept her eyes fixed on Artie's prone figure, even as tears started to blur her vision. Her chest tightened until she could no longer scream his name and she could barely manage to gasp for breath. Sobs built up in her stomach, making her double over in her captor's grip until she was practically being held off the ground by him, incapable of standing on her own.
All of this way, everything they'd been through, and it ended like this. Her heart felt like it was breaking in her chest. She'd come all this way only to lose him at the last possible second. It wasn't fair.
Tina's head shot up and she wiped her face against her shoulder to clear away the tears. The lobby had gone oddly still, all of the commotion of a second ago hesitating in anticipation.
"Oh my God," Kurt gasped out, covering his mouth with his hands.
It seemed impossible but the heart monitor was steadily picking up in speed. Tina froze, waiting on bated breath. Kurt slowly walked over to the bedside and took his brother's hand. "Artie, are you with us?" he asked, his voice thick and shaking.
The entire building seemed to be holding its breath during the next ten seconds. And then Artie's head shifted slightly and his eyes slowly cracked open. "Kurt?" he rasped out.
Kurt let out a choked laugh. "Hey Artie, welcome back," he said, squeezing Artie's hand and pressing it against his cheek. "How are you feeling?"
"Confused," Artie responded.
Kurt glanced across at Tina and then nodded to the man holding her. He slowly released her and Tina straightened up before approaching the bedside. She stepped up and Artie's gaze flicked over to her face. He looked different without his glasses, and he was squinting just to make her out, but he was undoubtedly Artie.
"Hey, good to see you again," Tina said with a soft smile.
Artie's forehead furrowed and he frowned. "Yeah. Sorry but – who are you?"
Tina's smile flickered. She looked over at Kurt, who also looked surprise. "Artie, you don't remember Tina?" he asked uncertainly.
"Should I?" Artie asked, glancing back and forth between them. Bemused, Tina reached out for his hand, but Artie pulled his away and continued to frown up at her in confusion. "Kurt, what happened to me?" he asked, apparently dismissing Tina as he turned his attention back to his brother.
Drawing away, Tina held her hand against her chest. He'd forgotten her. The Artie that she'd known had only been his spirit, not his mind. He wouldn't have formed any memories of her. Now that he was back in his body, it was all like a dream that was forgotten the moment he'd woken up.
Tina turned around and fled the hospital. No one tried to stop her, and even if they had she would've fought her way to freedom. She ran and kept running until she'd reached Mercedes' van. Clambering into the open back area, she curled up against the wall, hugging her legs to her chest. Not knowing anything else to do, Tina buried her face in her knees and let the tears escape.
It was all over.