Chapter Nineteen: Just A Dream

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Hiro groaned in his sleep. He was running, chasing something. But whatever it was, he couldn't seem to quite grasp it. It was always just out of reach, just out of sight. Why couldn't he grab it? And why couldn't he see what it was? All he knew was that he needed to find it, to stop something from happening. If he didn't, it would be bad, very bad.

Cotton-candy clouds floated all around, going from bright pinks and blues to more sinister-looking colors. And all throughout those clouds swam streamers of darker matter, like a cancer. It crept forward like a complex root system overtaking a garden. And everything it touched seemed to darken in comparison to everything else around it. In a way, it looked like the sky was cracking.

One thing Hiro knew for sure was that he couldn't let those cancerous tangles touch him. If he did, he was done for. Despite that realization, he noticed one reached out to touch his wrist and he twisted away in a panic. Only to see more roots shooting towards him from all sides. almost as if drawn to him. He was trapped.

Another tangle reached for him, caressing his cheek. Pain blossomed behind his eyes as it made contact and he let out a scream as his head felt like it was going to explode. It reminded him, for some odd reason, of rolling down a cement embankment, bashing his head against the concrete before landing face first in water.

"Hiro?"

The boy panted as the thing slid further down his body, causing all the nerves to fire off pain receptors. His body arched as he panted for breath, gritting his teeth against the pain. Shouldn't he be drowning? His face pressed down in the soft sand? Why did it hurt so much? And what could he do to stop it?

"Hiro! Wake up!"

It felt like someone slapped him, though he couldn't really be sure about that, and his eyes flew open. He lay against the mattress, his body twisted from thrashing around in his sleep. His breath came in short gasps as he stared up at the ceiling with unblinking eyes. His heart pounded out a staccato rhythm like beating drums. And then he coughed like his lungs had filled with liquid, or like he'd swallowed his spit the wrong way. Either was possible. He was breathing pretty hard.

It took Hiro a minute to realize he was no longer inside the Rift, or in the water for that matter, but lying on a bed in Fred's manor. He shuddered as he closed his eyes, the coughing slowly subsiding. "Just a dream," he told himself. "It was just a dream." A few residual coughs escaped his lips as he realized he'd somehow managed to breathe in something he shouldn't.

When he opened his eyes again, a familiar white shape filled his view, leaning a lot closer than usual. "Baymax," he said, still trying to get his body back under control. "Hey, buddy. Something wrong?"

"You appear to be distressed," Baymax observed. "Though your vital signs have stabilized significantly, they are still outside of normal perimeters. Did you have a bad dream?"

Hiro reached out one hand, which connected with one of Baymax's. He grasped one of the inflated fingers like a lifeline. "I was back in the Rift," he confessed. "The cancer inside was spreading." He shuddered again. "And then I was drowning." He didn't know if he could give any more details than that. The very thought of doing so threatened to send the pain shooting through him all over again, and he definitely didn't want that to happen. He already felt pummeled all over.

Both the robot and Hiro's attentions were diverted at the sound of the bedroom door opening. Hiro quickly let go of Baymax's hand and tried to straighten himself out. Lost circulation flowed through his limbs as he moved them to a straight position, sending pins and needles down his legs. He couldn't help but grimace. His throat still felt a bit raw from the whole experience. He didn't want to know what expression was on his face.

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