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"Vita dalla Morte" (1/1) Scott POV, SPECIAL #10

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  • Minisinoo
    A NOTE: In an effort to cut down on possible mailbox spamming in the process of story distribution, I m trying to get a sense of how many people read my fic
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 23, 2003
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      A NOTE: In an effort to cut down on possible mailbox spamming in the
      process of story distribution, I'm trying to get a sense of how many
      people read my fic on mailing lists (or use mailing lists for an
      announcement, then follow the URL). This story seemed a good choice,
      as it was announced on my website and LJ two weeks ago, but
      distributed to e-lists only now, once edited. So if you read
      exclusively from mailing lists and don't mind taking a moment to let
      me know that, as well as from which list and if you're a member of
      any of the others this was distributed to (OTL, XMMFF, X-Fiction &
      RedShades), I would VERY much appreciate it. Thanks -- Min

      ------------------
      VITA DALLA MORTE
      Minisinoo
      http://www.themedicinewheel.net/special/vitadallamorte.html

      Summary: Living and dying and living.
      Warnings: None
      Series: Special: the Genesis of Cyclops, #10

      ------------------

      It began with that most classic of symptoms, a night sweat.

      I woke somewhere after midnight in a soaking wet bed. It was so bad,
      I had to change my sheets and take a shower. By morning, muscle
      aches and diarrhea had appeared, too. Joy. I lay on my back and
      stared at the ceiling. The light in the room was unusually bright
      because it had snowed the night before, not much, but enough to coat
      the lawn and reflect the morning sun, and the big, drafty mansion was
      colder than a witch's tit. Even with a fever in my bones, I had
      heavy covers piled on. I felt too ill to get up, and I was angry.
      Furious, in fact.

      Couldn't fate see fit to give me a break? It seemed that for every
      good thing that happened in my life, something bad came along to
      trump it. Sure, I'd expected the disease to hit eventually, but I'd
      hoped for a little longer before it did. It was only the Monday
      after Thanksgiving.

      Rolling over, I fell back to sleep, woke again when a light touch
      tapped me on a mental shoulder. The professor, wanting to know where
      I was. I might not have been a morning person, but I did usually
      show my face by noon. Yet according to my bedside clock, it was
      after two. Sorry, I sent back to him. *I'm not feeling well.* For
      some reason, I didn't want him to know precisely how -- protecting
      him, perhaps, though he'd find out the truth soon enough. *I think I
      just want to sleep.*

      I should've known that wasn't going to work. He was knocking on my
      door within five minutes. Sighing, I called, "Come in." He never
      enters my room uninvited, even though it's his house.

      Pushing the door open, he motored his way in and up to my bed,
      reaching out to lay the back of his hand on my forehead. "Definitely
      fevered. Have you taken cold medicine?"

      "No, sir."

      "Not even aspirin?"

      "No, sir." With the drug cocktails Hank fed me, I was afraid to
      touch anything else. I'd taken some Excedrin one afternoon half a
      year ago for a headache, and had wound up puking my guts out in the
      toilet from the drug interaction. Just the cocktails themselves were
      bad enough.

      "What are your other symptoms, besides this fever?"

      "Muscle aches, upset stomach, diarrhea."

      "I do believe you have the beginnings of a winter flu, Mr. Summers.
      It's been going around." He didn't sound very worried, almost
      amused, in fact. "Stay in bed and rest, and I'll have the cook send
      up some chicken soup and apple juice. Henry will be in to see you
      when he returns from the hospital. It will be late, though, I fear."

      "Okay. Thanks." I rolled onto my side away from him. I hadn't told
      him about the night sweat and wondered if I should, then decided just
      to save it for Hank. It wasn't like the professor could do anything,
      besides worry.

      The cook woke me a little later with food. I could barely eat,
      though I did drink all the juice and she sent up more in a cooler, so
      I didn't have to go very far to fetch it. I slept most of the day,
      rising only to hit the bathroom. I forgot all about the drugs I was
      supposed to be taking. Hank arrived home after eleven in the evening
      and came straight up. I'd been sleeping again, but when he woke me,
      I'd already drenched the bed, just like the night before. He changed
      the sheets himself and made me sit in a chair, drinking more juice.
      "Staying hydrated is very important, Scott." He didn't say anything
      else and I watched him. He looked tired after a day at the hospital,
      but when he was done, he asked, "Do you think you can get down to the
      medlab with my help?"

      Wobbly on my feet and fuzzyheaded, I hadn't moved further than the
      room's private bath all day, but I nodded. He got a robe on me and
      took me down to the lab, kept me from staggering into the walls. I
      couldn't walk straight and my head was buzzing. I ached all over and
      had to move slowly to avoid becoming so dizzy, I threw up. Hank was
      extraordinarily patient. I suppose he could have picked me up and
      carried me like a baby, but he let me get there on my own two feet.

      In the lab, though, he simply lifted me up onto the exam table
      himself. "Lie down," he said. I did and he ran the usual tests,
      checking my temperature, blood pressure, listening to my breathing,
      checking my ears and throat (though definitely not my pupils). He
      didn't ask me for anything beyond my symptoms, which I gave him in
      more complete detail than I'd given Xavier. His face was solemn as
      he gloved to take a small blood sample. Then he gave me some new
      medication, took me off my usual medication, and slapped me
      (unexpectedly) with a saline IV on a slow drip. "I'd like you to
      stay here tonight. Between fever and diarrhea, you've lost a lot of
      fluid. You're dizzy and light-headed right now from simple
      dehydration." Then he took me to one of the med beds off the main
      bay and tucked me in. I didn't wake until sometime early in the
      morning. The sheets were damp again, but not as badly as before and
      I was able to ignore it, empty my bladder and go back to sleep.

      Hank came in before he left for the hospital and took out the IV.
      "You look much better today, not so dark under the eyes or so
      flushed." He gave me some more medication and helped me back up to
      my room, putting me to bed. Later that morning, the professor
      visited and we talked for a while until I fell asleep again. I'd
      probably slept forty of the last forty-eight hours. By evening,
      though, I felt well enough to get up and come downstairs for supper,
      or rather, more soup for me, supper for the professor. The cook
      clucked about like a mother hen and stocked up my cooler with juice.
      Mindful of what Hank had said the night before, I made sure to drink
      plenty, even if it meant running to the restroom. Everything seemed
      to go right through me.

      Hank was back earlier that night. He must have gone straight to the
      sub-basement as we didn't see him until after supper. He entered the
      dining hall where Xavier and I were talking over juice and tea. I
      had one of the mansion cats sprawled in my lap, a big fat black male
      with his legs hanging off either side. "Scott," Hank said, "could I
      see you in the lab?"

      Glancing at Xavier, I rose (dumping the cat, who protested loudly)
      and followed him out. I didn't need his assistance this time to get
      downstairs. "You're feeling better, I see."

      "Yeah."

      "Excellent." But he said nothing more than that. In the lab, he
      gloved and we went through the full blood test procedure, tourniquet
      and all. He took four vials, two from each arm. "Geez Louise,
      Hank." I eyed him. "Is it that bad already?"

      He just shook his head and gave me more medication. Whatever it was
      must have had a sleeping drought in it, because I was back in bed
      within half an hour. I slept the night through, and for once, didn't
      soak my sheets. In the morning, I was sneezing and had a runny nose,
      but otherwise, felt better. I was getting over the bug quickly,
      whatever it had been -- far more quickly than I'd expected. Didn't
      AIDS interfere with the immune system? But that evening, Hank called
      me down to the lab once again and took yet more blood as well as a
      cheek swab. I was starting to get nervous because he still wasn't
      telling me a damn thing. "What the hell is up?"

      "I can't say anything until I've completed all tests, Scott, and some
      of them require intensive lab work, running gels, separating proteins
      to blot strips, and then incubation periods. That means I need
      time." He glanced at me. "I should know something by next
      Thursday." Thursday seemed a long way away -- a full week. Just a
      week ago, I'd been stuffing myself with turkey.

      Jean showed up at the mansion on Friday evening for the weekend, but
      disappeared into the lab with Hank as soon as he got home. I wasn't
      sure that I liked the notion Jean now knew I was HIV positive, but as
      she knew everything else, it seemed a trivial objection. I was
      called down yet again for the routine blood sample, though this time,
      they took only a single vial. I was still sniffling and tired, but
      definitely on the mend. I saw little of either Hank or Jean all
      weekend, so I had no chance to talk to Jean, but by Sunday, I felt
      considerably better, and by Monday, I showed up in Xavier's office
      for my usual lessons. Hank continued to take blood samples from me
      on a regular basis.

      He was on all-night call Wednesday, but returned home by ten on
      Thursday morning, retreating to the lab to work instead of to his
      bedroom to sleep. That made me feel guilty as well as nervous about
      the results of what he was doing down there. I tried going to class,
      but found concentrating impossible and Xavier dismissed me, advising
      me to take a ride, yet by the time I had my gelding tacked, it'd
      begun to snow, as if to confirm that yes, December had arrived. The
      previous Monday's snowfall had melted off by noon the same day
      (though I hadn't been awake to notice), but today it came down heavy
      and I thought it might stick. Sighing, I took the horse back to the
      interior arena and we worked there, though he showed more enthusiasm
      for it than I. The rest of the afternoon, I spent cleaning or
      polishing because it kept me warm and made me too tired to think,
      while not requiring any real focus. Dark was approaching by the time
      I felt Xavier's touch on my mind: *Hank and Jean are requesting our
      presence downstairs.*

      *Jean's here?*

      *She arrived after lunch.*

      Well, that was interesting; she almost never came out to the mansion
      during the week. Being in the stables, I'd missed her arrival just
      like I'd missed lunch, but I hadn't been hungry, and now, the fact
      she was here and Hank was calling down both Xavier and me suggested
      his news wouldn't be good -- though I'd been expecting as much.
      Still, as the professor and I took the elevator below, my belly
      rumbled and I belched. Loudly. My stomach could always be counted
      on to give me away when I was nervous. Xavier glanced over at me.
      "He didn't sound upset, Scott."

      "Yeah, well, if it wasn't bad, why does he want us both? He could
      tell me it was just the flu without an audience."

      Xavier couldn't answer that, but he'd been right about Hank's mood,
      he'd just understated it by a magnitude of ten. Hank was all but
      bouncing off the walls (literally, in his case), and Jean wore one of
      her vibrant smiles. She turned at the sound of the pneumatic doors
      swishing open.

      "Jesus," I said to them both. "You guys look like you won the damn
      lottery."

      "In a manner of speaking, I do believe that *you* have!" Hank
      replied, leaping a lab table dangerously close to the equipment and
      hurrying over to take my elbow and pull me towards a metal tray.
      "Look, look!" On it lay a variety of what appeared to be test strips
      and slides. All of them were rather . . . blank.

      "Yeah, so?"

      "They're *negative*, Scott," Jean told me, having leaned up against
      the table on the other side. She pointed them out. "The Chiron
      QC-PCR and Coulter ELISA." She held up one of the slides. "Nothing.
      Zilch. Duplicated zilch, in fact." She picked up the mate of the
      slide she was holding.

      I blinked behind my glasses. They couldn't be saying what I thought
      they were saying, could they? I turned to Xavier, who appeared as
      astonished as I was. "Okay. But what the fuck does this all
      *mean*?"

      "These are standard HIV tests," Hank explained. "The same ones I
      gave you September of last year -- well, not the PCR test -- and
      again in April right after your mutation manifested. But these are
      *negative*. You're negative. HIV *negative*. At no point before
      has your blood ever been *completely* free of the virus. You have a
      drug-resistant strain. Moreover, I took you off your usual
      antiretroviral meds when you came down with the flu and haven't put
      you back on them. It's been almost two weeks -- yet there's still no
      detectable virus in your blood."

      "That's impossible."

      "We know," Jean said, but she was smiling. "That's why we did the
      tests several times. Every one reads negative. But before, every
      test Hank ran came out showing some trace of the virus."

      "I had to be sure," Hank explained. "I didn't want to say anything
      until I was fairly sure. It's still not a hundred percent, but -- "

      "-- but this is *impossible*," I said again, mostly because I was
      afraid to believe them.

      Xavier had motored up to the lab table as well and accepted the tray
      of results that Hank handed him. "You are certain of these, Henry?
      Could the test units have been faulty?�

      "I already thought of that. I purchased additional units for
      duplication from Coulter, and Jean and I made up fresh batches of
      chemicals. Like I said . . . it's not a hundred percent, but his
      viral loads have always been somewhat high, CD4 counts low, even on
      the drugs -- and now he's showing nothing. No detectable virus in
      the blood, so *something* has to be controlling it.

      "Back in September, I did the standard ELISA test, then verified it
      with a Western Blot. We started the antiretroviral treatments. I
      checked again in December and in May, to track the advance of the
      infection. The drug cocktails had taken down the viral presence, but
      not to zero and it didn't change much between December and May. In
      fact, the May counts were slightly *higher* . . . and I think I now
      know why. I should have done a third check-up on him last month, but
      with all the court proceedings, I put it on hold. So when he turned
      up ill on Monday with night sweats, I immediately ran a count on CD4
      T lymphocytes, expecting to find them lowered."

      Hank pushed himself up to sit on the lab table to face all of us.
      "Instead his CD8 and CD4 counts were higher than usual, not lower.
      That's exactly what I'd expect to find in someone suffering a viral
      infection . . . but not necessarily what you find with HIV disease.
      In short, his immune system was working normally -- that is, overtime
      to trounce the flu virus. Plus, the HIV antibodies were
      significantly lower, suggesting there was no HIV virus present in the
      blood . . . and probably hadn't been for a while.

      "The next day, I took more blood samples. While the CD8 and CD4
      counts were still high, the flu virus was weaker than it should have
      been -- particularly that virus, as we have a nasty strain out and
      about this year. He was defeating it *faster* than normal, not
      slower. So I took the rest of the blood and ran a standard battery
      of tests, including the newest version of ELISA. When I got the
      results, I was floored. The ELISA test came up showing him
      *negative* for HIV." Reaching over, he plucked up a Polaroid shot
      with the date and my name on the back, and handed it to me. "You
      might want to save that for sentimental value.

      "You have to understand, ELISA is a problematic test because it's
      inclined to false *positives* . . . not false negatives. It's
      usually used as a first line test for that reason. It's got a 99.7%
      sensitivity rating -- that is, it almost always catches the disease.
      If it says you're negative, then you're almost certainly negative.
      It's when it shows a positive that we do a back-up test, usually the
      Western Blot. That's what I did for Scott a year ago. The ELISA
      showed positive, so I ran the other test to confirm it.

      "On Thursday, I took more blood and a cheek swab and began a battery
      of HIV tests. Those are what Jean and I were finishing this
      afternoon." He gestured to the tray. "All negative. Even more
      interesting, the influenza virus is completely dead. In most
      patients, this virus takes one to two weeks to be eliminated from the
      system. Scott's body killed it in four or five days."

      I'd listened to Hank's rain of words with increasing confusion. I
      both did and didn't understand what he was saying and ran a hand
      through my hair, more upset than jubilant. Jean had sensed that and
      come around the lab table to slip an arm about my waist. "I don't
      get it," I said. "I don't get it. Are you saying I'm a . . .
      walking cure for AIDS or something?"

      "Or something," Hank replied. "We don't know for sure how this
      happened, though I have a theory."

      Xavier held up a hand to halt Hank before he could launch in. "Scott
      -- do you need to sit down?"

      "I -- yeah. Yeah, I do." Jean reached with her mind, never letting
      go of me, and brought a nearby lab stool to set it down behind me,
      easing me onto it. "This is . . . " but I trailed off. I had no
      idea how to express what I was feeling, nor did I even fully
      understand it.

      I'd been prepared to die. Not tomorrow, perhaps, but long before my
      allotted four score and ten years. Now, Hank was handing me a
      reprieve. I should have been jubilant, ecstatic, delighted.
      Instead, I was just . . . numb, unsure how to respond, afraid to be
      hopeful but guilty for feeling broadsided. How many people dreamt of
      receiving news like this? Yet I was just confused by my good
      fortune.

      "How?" I said finally, and Xavier nodded then to Hank.

      "I think it's your mutation."

      "You mean I have another one?"

      "No, I mean it's a side effect of the one you have. We'll have to
      run more tests to be sure, but as near as I can guess, your body's
      natural process of converting solar radiation into force blasts also
      contributes to the irradiation of bacteria and viruses. Now,
      normally, UV light kills bacteria but *excites* latent viruses --
      such as HIV -- by responding to the cellular proteins a cell makes
      when damaged; the virus 'turns on,' making more of itself. In fact,
      when Scott first became ill, I feared that's what had occurred. That
      his mutation had sped things up."

      He glanced over at me. "I didn't want to say anything to you about
      that possibility earlier, as I had no real idea what your mutation
      would do and saw little reason to alarm you with vague possibilities.
      As it turns out, that was wise. Apparently, the amount of UV light
      you absorb is so great, and the conversion process so powerful, your
      body kills both bacteria and viruses. Not instantly, at least not
      with viruses -- they do go into a brief frenzy of replicating
      themselves, which can make your initial reaction stronger and I
      suspect that's the reason you fell so ill with the flu. Combined
      with the antiretroviral drugs I've been giving you plus HIV damage,
      your body had a hard time fighting it off.

      "I suspect you've been HIV negative since early summer, but as I took
      blood samples only a few weeks after you manifested, your body hadn't
      had time to kill all the virus in the plasma and blood cells yet.
      That's why the counts were higher in May. The virus was desperately
      trying to reproduce itself fast enough to survive."

      "Could I cure others?"

      Hank's eyes turned sad. "I think not, although we will run
      additional tests just to make sure it's not something your body
      produces that killed it. But I fear it works only for you, nor will
      your mutation save you from other sorts of illness, only bacterial
      and viral infections. Moreover, HIV infects some cells that have a
      very long half-life, the memory T cells. You aren't completely free
      of the virus and may never be in your lifetime . . . but you'll never
      develop AIDS. Any new virus produced from latently infected memory T
      cells would be killed before it could infect new cells."

      "What if this is all a mistake?"

      Jean squeezed my waist. "That's why we waited till today even to
      tell you this much. So your hopes wouldn't be raised falsely. We'll
      wait a few more months and run tests again, but neither of us expects
      the results to change. You're not going to die, Scott, at least not
      from HIV."

      I got up and walked away from them at that point, walked right out of
      the lab, took the elevator above, grabbed a coat, scarf and boots,
      and went for a walk outside in the snow. I'm sure they hadn't
      expected that response, but what do you say when someone hands your
      life back to you? It had taken me a year to get used to the idea
      that I was going to die. I couldn't get used to the idea that I was
      going to live in the blink of an eye. It changed so much. If I were
      going to live, that meant I had to figure out what I was going to do
      with myself.

      I hadn't gotten very far, ambling about the estate yard with no clear
      direction, when I spotted Jean tromping through the snow and twilight
      after me. "Scott," she called, her breath white in the frigid air.
      "It's almost dark and you're still getting over the flu!"

      I stopped in the shade of an evergreen near the mansion wall.
      Flurries swirled in the wind and the cold bit at my nose and ears.
      "I wore a scarf."

      She rolled her eyes and slipped her arm into mine, dragging me back
      towards the mansion. I balked and she looked back at me. "What is
      it?"

      "I just -- I want to be alone."

      Her expression was more impatient than puzzled. "Why?"

      "I don't know. I just do. I need . . . I need to think, okay?"

      The impatience softened. "All right. But please don't stand around
      outside."

      "I'll go down to the boathouse. Will that do?"

      She nodded, then leaned in unexpectedly to kiss me on the cheek, her
      breath warm again my skin. "I'm so happy for you."

      The kiss caught me by surprise even though Jean's inclined to such
      gestures, and I stiffened. Sensing it, she pulled back. "Sorry.
      Sorry, I -- I never asked permission to touch you, did I? I just
      do it all the time. That's rude of me, isn't it?"

      Surprised, I glanced at her. "It's okay."

      "No, it's not okay. It's intrusive." She looked down at the toes of
      her boots half buried in the snow. "I'll quit."

      "No, please." I put a hand up to my forehead. I wasn't sure how to
      say what I wanted to, but I didn't want her to stop. "I like it."
      And boy, that came out wrong. It sounded almost like a come-on,
      which I certainly hadn't meant. "It's okay. Really. Just sometimes
      . . . sometimes there's . . . I don't know . . . ." I trailed off,
      frustrated. I couldn't look at her. "But it doesn't bother me, not
      like you mean."

      How does one explain, *Please don't stop touching me because you do
      it with such kindness and I'm not used to that, but I like it more
      than I can say?* It was too tender. I could barely acknowledge that
      in my own head, much less articulate it aloud. All I could verbalize
      was, "Please, don't stop."

      And now neither of us seemed to know what to say or where to look.
      She gestured towards the house. "I'll go on back and leave you
      alone." But her tone sounded on the edge of breaking and I looked
      up. Her cheeks were bright (though whether with embarrassment or the
      cold, I couldn't tell), and her shoulders had slumped. Ever since
      that day in the mall, things between us hadn't been as easy, spoiled
      by too much knowledge on my part and a certain caution on hers. We'd
      been trying to ignore it, but it felt as if a chasm yawned between us
      and I didn't like that. I wanted her to go, yet I didn't -- not on
      this note.

      "Jean." She glanced back, but I couldn't quite manage, 'Stay.' So
      instead, I asked, "Are you going to be around all evening? We could
      order out pizza and watch movies in the den."

      It was a plea for everything to go back to the way it had been, what
      I was familiar with, not this strange new world I'd entered that
      might require me to have a future. I'd once thought I wanted more
      life, but then had realized how much effort it would take to live
      instead of merely exist. Dying was easier. There was nothing I had
      to work too hard at because it would all be over soon. I hadn't
      really accepted my death -- I'd *embraced* it. The boy who'd once
      been too stubborn to die had become too chicken to live. Living was
      *hard*.

      Abruptly, I sat down in the snow, arms wrapped around my knees. Jean
      hurried back over to kneel beside me. "Scott, what is it?"

      But I couldn't explain; I'd started rocking back and forth. I
      couldn't feel anything. The cold was everywhere and Jean's voice
      sounded as if it came from a long way off. "Scott! Scott, what's
      happening?"

      I was a little surprised when she shook me, but it worked to snap me
      out of it. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she was saying. "But
      you went all white, and you weren't answering at all . . ."

      "It's too big," I choked out, forehead pressed to knees, no longer
      disconnected -- just scared. "It's too big. I don't know how to
      live. It's too big." She hesitated a minute, then wrapped her arms
      around me and just held on; I was reminded of the night she'd come
      after me when my mutation had first manifested. Jean's fearless that
      way. She'd bullied her way into my life, won me over despite myself,
      gentled me to her touch, then proceeded to make her friendship
      indispensable to me. For all that the rest gave me, when I was at
      the very end of my tether, it was Jean and only Jean who could haul
      me back. I could be weak with her in a way I couldn't with the
      others because they were all male -- and deep down, I was afraid of
      them. Still.

      She was holding me very tight and stroking my hair, not saying
      anything. Finally, I shifted a little and pulled away. She let me.
      "I don't know what I'm going to do," I said.

      "What do you mean?"

      "With my life. I don't know what I'm going to do. I didn't think
      I'd have to figure it out."

      She stroked my cheek with one mittened hand. We were still
      half-sitting, half-kneeling in the snow by the wall. "I don't think
      you have to decide right now. Besides, most people don't know what
      they want to do with themselves at seventeen." Reaching up, she
      hooked a palm around the back of my head and pulled me near until our
      foreheads touched. "You know, being scared of the future is pretty
      normal for a high school senior."

      That brought me to a full mental stop. I hadn't been thinking about
      my feelings in any kind of context. My personal situation was so
      strange that I tended to forget I could feel the same as others my
      age, but Jean was right. I was a high school senior, however odd the
      circumstances, and now I had a reason to think about SAT scores and
      colleges and career counseling -- and the very *mundanity* of that
      brought a certain comfort. I could be like everyone else, at least
      in some ways.

      "You want to go back in?" she asked finally. "Hank is still down in
      the sub-basement, and Charles is with him. It'll just be us."

      I eyed her. "They're staying away because you told them to."

      "Well, yeah. But they're also going over the test results and your
      medical charts. You presented Hank with quite a puzzle, y'know.
      He'll be as happy as a bug in a rug for at least a month, trying to
      figure it out."

      I laughed at that, but let her pull me to my feet. I felt better.
      "So," I said as we headed back, arm in arm, "you want that pizza?"

      She swatted at me. "What is it with you and pizza?"

      "What's wrong with pizza?"

      And so it went. Things were, if not back to normal between us, at
      least on the mend. That evening we shared the couch to watch 'Xena:
      Warrior Princess,' me leaning against one arm and her against the
      other, our feet warring over the middle. She looked up to ask, "Are
      you sure it's okay? The touching thing?"

      I glanced over. "I told you, it's fine." Light from the TV and from
      the fire behind the grate flickered over her face and caught in her
      eyes, making them glow. I hesitated, then added, "But thanks for
      asking."

      "I'm sorry I didn't before."

      I shrugged, and a few minutes of silence followed as we watched the
      end of the show, but when the commercial break came, I said, "When I
      tense up sometimes -- it doesn't have anything to do with you."

      "I know. But I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

      "You don't."

      "Okay."

      We kept watching TV until the wee hours when she fell asleep, lulled
      by the program buzz and the fire's warmth and the late hour. I got
      up to prod the logs in the fireplace with a poker. They were burning
      down and I considered adding another, but it was very late. Time for
      bed. I was just reluctant to give up the day. That was when I heard
      the distinctive whoosh of the elevator opening out in the hallway,
      and the hum of the professor's chair. I wondered if he'd come in or
      pass by, and which of those did I want? Then I felt the light brush
      of his mind on mine, a wordless query. He was letting me choose.

      Rising, I put the poker away and went out to meet him instead of
      asking him to enter. He was sitting in the dark hallway not far from
      the elevator, but I couldn't discern more than the shadow of his
      form. "Jean fell asleep," I said softly, leaning up against the wall
      across from him, my hands in my pockets.

      "How are you?" he asked. It was direct yet vague enough that I could
      choose how to answer.

      "I don't know," I replied, honestly. "I don't know if I can do
      this."

      "Life happens day by day, Scott. No differently than before."

      "But I don't have the luxury of just thinking day to day anymore."

      He considered that. "Perhaps," he allowed. "But we can spend so
      much time thinking of the future, we forget to live. Mortality has a
      way of focusing the mind on the things that matter. One learns how
      to be alive, when walking in the valley of the shadow of death. But
      once you leave the valley, don't forget the lesson. No matter how
      long our life may be, we still live it day by day."

      "I guess."

      "Go to bed, Scott. You're still recovering from the flu and need
      your rest."

      "What about Jean --?"

      "I'll wake her and send her to bed, too."

      "Okay."

      "Goodnight, son."

      "'Night."

      I went upstairs and, in the morning, woke to the rest of my life.

      ---------------

      NOTES: 'Vita dalla morte' = life from death. Available AIDS tests
      changed in the mid '90s, particularly 1995-96. This story takes
      place in late '94. Many thanks to Cyclops&Phoenix, Crys, Ally W, and
      now particularly Leslie, for help with AIDS, viruses and bacteria
      generally, and how Scott's power conversion might affect them. Ally
      beta-red the story, and Leslie answered endless questions from me,
      spending time tracking down information for me and explaining
      virology in simple terms to someone who isn't an immunologist.



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