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Breathe

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Abby knows, even before it's really started, that this is going to be a bad one.

And Anna knows too, because the second Abby sinks to her knees, Anna is racing across the soccer pitch, a spare inhaler in her hand, her eyes wide.

"Hey," Abby wheezes. "It's almost like we have ESPN or something..." She chokes at the old joke and Anna ignores her, thrusting the inhaler in Abby's face.

She is too breathless to say thank you. Her lungs feel tight and flat, like they're sucking against the back of her spine. Her throat feels narrow and she's aching for air and she just can't get any in.

She breathes out, though her lungs are aching for her to breathe in.

She breathes out. She breathes out. And then she shakes her inhaler and she puts it in her mouth and fights to breathe in again. Tries to force air in down the narrow little passageway that her throat has become.

Anna watches anxiously as Abby presses on the inhaler and fights to breathe in the first dose of medication.

"Hey!" One of Abby's opponents has only just noticed Anna's presence on the field. "You're not allowed out here!"

Anna fixes a glare on her just as Abby's coach runs up, breathing heavily. "Are you all right, Abby?"

Anna answers for her. "I think we need to get her to hospital."

Abby's trying not to panic. She's had bad attacks before. She's been in hospital before.

(But this is so bad, and her lungs hurt and they're small and on fire and she just can't.)

"Take more, Abby," Anna says anxiously, motioning to Abby's inhaler. "Take another one."

A crowd has gathered. From the corner of her eye, Abby can see the muddy knees of her team-mates. She tries to concentrate on her inhaler, but she's embarrassed and scared, and her chest hurts and it's getting worse; it's getting so bad...

"You need to call an ambulance," Anna blurts, looking up at Abby's coach. "Right now. And call our mom."

Abby crushes Anna's hand in a vice-like grip.

"Don't worry," Anna soothes. "It'll be okay, Abby."

The inhaler hasn't helped. Abby clutches it in her other hand, her palm slippery with sweat. She can hear her own breath squealing past the narrow gap in her throat.

And she can smell grass and mud and dirt and she thinks if she sneezes she will die; she will actually die from sneezing and it's both terrifying and (somehow) hilarious at the same time.

Anna fusses with Abby's hair, looking pale and worried.

Abby doesn't know which one of her team-mates has run off to call the paramedics, but Coach is still there, leaning over her, eyes narrowed with concern.

"Just breathe, Abby," Coach says.

"She can't!" Anna snaps. "Can't you see she can't breathe?"

Underneath all the fire and tension knotted in her chest, Abby wants to make light of Anna being so tense and terse. She also, sort of, wants to laugh at the idiocy of her soccer coach. (Just breathe, Abby.)

Abby's eyes are watering and she doesn't know if it's because of her asthma or if it's because of her tears, or if it's because of something like all this mud and grass she's kneeling in.

"The paramedics are coming," Anna says, trying to keep her voice carefully measured.

Abby's next painful breath hitches, like her throat has finally closed up completely. Instead of a narrow, rattling, thin intake, she coughs, and she loses precious air and suddenly she's panicking, her inhaler landing in the mud and her fist wrapping itself in Anna's t-shirt.

She can't breathe in and she can't breathe out and even if she wanted to (and she doesn't, she doesn't she doesn't) she couldn't sneeze because there's just nothing there.

Anna grips her and she starts sobbing and pleading for people to go and find the paramedics, to get them here now because Abby can't breathe, she can't breathe...

Abby slides sideways, down into the mud, and her own heartbeat is loud in her ears.

Anna pulls herself together again, striping mud across her face as she rubs her tears away. "Look at me, Abby," she demands, sounding bossier than she ever has in her life. She leans over Abby, her hair framing her face.

The mud is wet and cold against the back of Abby's t-shirt.

"It's all right," Anna says. "It's going to be fine."

Abby wants to remind her about their twin mind-reading skills, because Oh, Anna, you liar.

"Just breathe in, slowly," Anna says.

Abby can barely hear her over the painful, desperate throbbing of her own heart and lungs.

Anna holds her hand up like she's conducting oxygen into Abby's airways, and suddenly she looks so calm and in control, Abby finds herself believing her, just a little.

But it's not enough. She can't physically get enough air into her lungs. Sparks are flashing at the edges of her vision. Her fist is still bunched in Anna's t-shirt. She's wet all over and mud is in her hair and against her back.

Anna grips both of Abby's hands in her own, tightly, mud clammy on her skin. "They'll be here soon," she says, trying to smile encouragingly. Her eyes and her voice and everything about her looks like panic and fear.

Abby finds her thoughts tumbling into insanity. (No change there, says the little voice at the back of her head.)

But she wants to claw her throat out. She wants to open her throat up to the air so she can get it down into her lungs. Her feet kick and slide against the ground as she arches her body, trying to find some position that lets her suck in a little more, little more, just a little more.

Anna pins her down. "Stop it!" she says fiercely. "Abby, look at me."

She's almost too tired to listen.

But Anna's eyes are brimming with tears and if there's anyone Abby trusts and loves, it's Anna.

"It will be all right," Anna says, and she sobs. "Just breathe, Abby. Please just breathe."

She breathes out. She breathes out when she wants to breathe in. She breathes out when she thinks there's nothing left to breathe out. She wants to breathe in.

She wants to breathe in. That comes next.

Anna's thumbs leave muddy prints against Abby's face. "One more," she whispers. "Just look at me and breathe, Abby."

Abby looks at her. She looks at Anna and breathes.