A/N: Okay, this oneshot is set in the And I Just Keep universe (ya know, that fic me and Je NeParlentPasVraimentFrancais cowrote? Also, ignore the space between 'Je' and 'Ne'. FF is a pyscho bitch and for some reason keeps removing her name). You don't really have to read AIJK to understand this (or vice versa), but I'm sure it'd help. It's pre-AIJK. Yay! Warnings: Roger's terrible mouth and angst. Plus, implied sex, but nothing remotely naughty. Okay, readers, GO! Btw, title of this is from an All-American Rejects song, "Top of the World".
I feel peaceful for about two minutes when I wake up. I'm nice and comfy, and there's a warm lump next to me. Mm, I think, this is nice.
And then my stomach cramps up, and I hiss, my eyes fluttering open.
"Shit," I breathe, sitting up, wincing. My stomach hurts like hell. The cramp passes quickly, though, leaving me feeling vaguely nauseous. Damn it.
It's only then that I realize I'm naked, and that Mimi is blinking up at me sleepily. She smiles lazily.
"Hey, baby," she says.
"Hi," I say back. We must have had sex last night. Hmm. Did I eat last night? Don't think so. I had a headache. I must have faked otherwise, though, for Mimi.
She touches my arm lightly, gently trying to pull me back down. "Stay in bed," she says, pouting a little. "It's early."
My eyes reflexively dart to the clock on my bedside table. "It's eleven-thirty."
"A.M.?" she asks.
I smile, even as my stomach gives another ache. "No, P.M.," I quip back. "That's why it's light outside, y'know."
"Shuddup," she murmurs, pulling her pillow over her head. "It's too early to be smart."
I roll my eyes and toss my legs over the edge of the bed, giving the room a cursory glance in an attempt to locate my clothes, which are strewn around the room, interspersed with various articles of Mimi's clothing.
"Where are you going?" she asks from the bed.
"Gonna go take a shower," I say, absently rubbing my temples quickly as I get up and go to my dresser to get clean clothes. My head's already starting to pound a little. I used to get migraines sometimes when I was a kid, but until recently I haven't had any in a long time. I don't think that's a good sign.
"M'going back to sleep," she informs me.
"Try to wake up by one, okay?" I tease, ignoring the small jackhammer stabbing away in my head. "P.M., that is." My only answer is a muffled grumble.
Once I'm dressed in a pair of boxers and a t-shirt (the latter of which is a bit bigger than I remember it being), I go into the main room. Mark is sitting on the couch, sipping coffee and idly sorting through old film. He glances up and smiles a bit.
"Hey, Rog," he says. "Have fun last night?"
I rub my forehead, as though that will alleviate the building headache. He looks at me oddly, and I awkwardly try to pass it off by running my hand through my hair.
"Uh, yeah," I say. "Loads of fun. Were we that loud?"
Mark nods, taking a sip from his mug. "Exceedingly loud. No different than every other night," he says, rolling his eyes and making a rather disgusted face at his coffee.
"Sorry," I say absently, heading for the bathroom. "Gonna take a shower. If you need the bathroom, too bad."
I step into the bathroom, close the door, and lean against the sink. Fuck, my head hurts. I open the medicine cabinet, nudge aside the various items inside, until I find the bottle of Tylenol at the back. I dump out a few, not bothering to count (one or two extra never killed anybody), and swallow them with a handful of tap water from the sink.
I turn on the water in the shower, turning it as hot as it'll go. It's mid-May, but the loft is still pretty chilly. The pipes grate, and I shed my clothes hastily, stepping under the spray. It's icy at first, and I flinch away from the water, my head giving a protesting throb and my stomach giving a rebellious lurch. Finally, the hot water comes on, and I lean into the spray, eyes shut, head giving another dull pound.
I don't know how long I stay in the shower, but the water doesn't hold out very long, and soon it's back to being icy. I turn off the water, shivering slightly, feeling more and more nauseous as I get out and wrap myself in a towel.
I manage to get my underwear on, but I barely last another minute before I lurch towards the toilet and retch, shuddering slightly.
After a moment, I pull back, wiping my mouth with a piece of toilet paper. I stand up shakily, flush the toilet, and brush my teeth for a solid two minutes (the taste refuses to leave my mouth). I pull on my shirt, then walk out of the bathroom, rubbing my head with the towel, trying to act as nonchalant as I can.
Mark watches me carefully. "You just threw up, didn't you?"
I pause a second too long. "No."
"Shut the fuck up."
"Do you feel okay?"
"If I felt okay, would I have thrown up?"
"So you did throw up."
"Mark, I said to shut the –,"
Ring, ring, ring. The phone shrilly cuts me off, and I close my eyes and take a steadying breath through my nose. Behind me, my bedroom door opens.
Some nasally-voiced woman says something about the clinic, and my eyes snap open. Shit, blood-test results. I forgot. Dammit. I dunno why Mark even made me go to the clinic, it's not like –
And then the woman reads my T-cell count.
After that, I don't hear much. I make out the words 'AIDS' and 'medication', but the ringing in my ears blots mostly everything out.
Silence falls after the message ends. I hear Mark inhale slowly, then exhale just as slowly, and feel his eyes on me. I can't move or think, I just stare quite blankly at the phone. Oh, shit. Oh, shit, oh, shit, oh, shit, oh God, shit, no.
"Oh my God," Mimi says, behind me.
Mark takes another slow breath and says, "Shit."
"Shit," I echo. "Holy shit." My stomach turns, then lurches, and I bolt, my hand flying to cover my mouth, my head spinning. I make it to the bathroom, but barely – luckily, when I retch, nothing comes up, I just heave, shuddering.
When I'm done, I lean back, feeling like passing out might be within the realm of possibility. Mimi, who I hadn't even noticed had followed me, wraps her arms around me, sitting by me on the floor.
"Shit," I say again. I feel cold and sick, yet strangely empty. Almost numb. The clinical term is probably 'in shock' but I much prefer oh-shit-what-no-that-can't-be-no-what.
"It doesn't matter," she says suddenly, her voice falsely calm. "You're fine, okay? You'll be fine. Really. Lots of people have AIDS, Collins has had it for, like, forever, or something. You're gonna be okay. Really."
AIDS. AIDS. No, no, no, no.
I just blink at her, unable to formulate a solid reply. "I – I . . . oh, fuck."
"You'll be fine," she says again, and briefly, I want to slap her, but it's easier to just close my eyes and let her tell me that. In fact, I cling to that, I'll be fine, I'll be fine, I'll be fine, thinking it over and over in my head, desperately.
When I open my eyes, Mark is in the doorway, staring at us. His face is blank, and I wonder what he's thinking. Does this scare him as much as it scares me? Is he holding on to the same thought as me, he'll be fine, he'll be fine, even though we both know what AIDS means? Acquired immune . . . something-something. Death sentence. I might as well go ahead and grab my first-class ticket to Hell, because I'll be there soon enough. I wonder if the whole 'flames of Hell' thing is really as bad as it sounds. Probably is.
Panic slides through me, sliding through my veins, in my very blood, scarlet and pulsing and tainted. I don't wanna die.
I'm twenty-fucking-five. I used to think thirty was old – and now my thirtieth birthday is so far away, five long years. I'll be long dead in five years, cold and in the ground and –
I've never been good at suppressing, but pushing this down is almost simple. I shove the thoughts away, terrified by the sheer, frightened truth of it. My mind can't accept it, won't accept it, and therefore cannot stand it.
I gulp around the bitter taste of vomit, squeeze my eyes shut again, then open them. Mark and Mimi are looking at each other now, but I don't bother trying to read their gazes. The course of their silent conversation is easy to guess.
"I'm okay," I say after a moment, startling them both. My voice is a little raspy, my throat scratchy, but my nausea has subsided slightly, and the painkillers have taken effect, numbing my headache. I awkwardly get up off the floor, refusing to look at either of them. "I'm okay," I repeat.
"Roger," Mark begins, carefully.
"I'm okay," I tell him, firmly, angrily. He's used to this sort of response from me, and looks unfazed.
"You're sick," he merely says placidly.
Thanks for that news bulletin, I snap back mentally. "And?"
"And you should go rest, so you don't make yourself worse."
That's the big concern. Making myself worse. Since now getting sick is pretty much a given.
I don't answer him, instead pushing past him and heading straight for the fire escape. He doesn't say anything to stop me, and neither does Mimi. On my way out, I grab up the pack of cigarettes that either Mimi or I left sitting on the couch. Might as well smoke one, or two, or the whole fucking pack. My lungs are the least of my concerns.
I stand out there for a while, just looking, not letting myself think. I focus on my breaths, my blinks. Inhale, exhale. Blink. Blink. Blink. I quickly forget how to blink and breathe normally, though, so I have to stop doing that. Instead, I focus on the draws I take off my cigarette. Smoke rises above my head, and I watch it, not quite fascinated but not quite disinterested, either.
I'm on my second cigarette when Mimi comes out. She doesn't say anything, just stands by me, resting her hand over mine, which is gripping the railing I'm leaning on tightly.
After a moment of silence, I offer her a cigarette. "Here."
She takes it, lights it with the lighter I proffer. "Thanks," she says quietly.
Silence falls again, save for the usual street noises below us. My stomach hurts like hell.
"Do you want to talk?" she asks abruptly.
"No," I say.
She moves as though to toss her cigarette and go back inside, but I say, "Don't go in, though. Just stand here with me."
"Okay," she says quietly, not really looking at me.
We stand there for a long time, both of us thinking, neither of us speaking. I don't know about her, but me? I'm keeping a steady stream of everythingwillbeokayI'llbefine going through my brain, as though the thought has the power to fix my immune system, cure me of a deadly virus.
I remember when I first found out I was HIV+, right after April died. Sure, there was the whole "We've got AIDS" thing, but I'd hoped, wished, prayed that maybe, just maybe I'd been spared, that there would be a tiny minus sign following those three damning letters. But there wasn't, it was a fucking plus sign. I knew this day was coming, I knew AIDS would set in –
No. Don't think about it. Because if I think about it, it's real. It's happening. But I can't handle it, I can't. I'd rather deny it, push it away, pretend everything will be okay.
No, not pretend. Everything will be okay.
A/N: Tsk, tsk. Denial is not good for the soul. But reviews are! Review!