May 23, 2016

In Which Aspen Touches Ice

May 2, 1200

"If you're here to scold me, just get it over with and leave. I'm not feeling up to arguing."

A normal person would have either dismissed her with a quick 'I told you so' or walked out the door. Nato, of course, did neither. "I just don't get why you keep doing this."

"Cat wanted to go to the wedding."

"Cat had a cold. She would have been well in time for the wedding--and you missed the only chance you were ever going to get to see a bride beat her bridegroom with the bouquet because his dress was prettier than hers." Nato crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. "But it's more than a cold in you. You're much sicker than Cat was. You'll probably be sick for two more weeks. You don't just take people's ailments; you incubate them."

"You think I hadn't figured that out by now?" Aspen blew a few strands of hair out of her face. "I'm not as stupid as you think I am, you know."

"I don't really think you're stupid--but I don't think you're selfless either. I think you're self-destructive."

"Says the man who bites the heads off of anyone who tries to talk to him--and who keeps refusing medical help."

"Medical help?" Nato's brow furrowed. He didn't know what she was talking about. Idiot. "Aspen, I had the flu. So I didn't want to make you sick; that's not a crime."

"I'm not talking about the flu." That did it--if the widening eyes and draining color meant anything. "I overheard your mother confiding in mine once, back when we were kids. She said you were refusing to see any doctors. I'd never heard anyone so upset. She was so worried about you."

"Aspen--"

"You still haven't seen a doctor, have you?"

He shot to his feet. The pale of his face was enough to fear a forward fall, but he kept steady--if steady allowed for trace amounts of shaking. "Mind your own damn business."

"I will if you mind yours. Don't try to stop me from slowly killing myself if you take issue with me doing the same for you."

"Don't pretend it's the same thing. You're the one who has a choice here. You could live a long, healthy life!"

"You might too!"

"Would it be worth it if I do? I can't have friends. I can't have a family." He shuffled to her bedside on tired feet and grabbed her arm, pulling her aching form to a stand with his trembling fingers. "It's bad enough that I might just drop dead on day on my parents and siblings--never mind anyone who could have just as easily not been in my life and wouldn't have felt a thing if I hadn't been so selfish as to keep them around. Don't go throwing away what I can't have."

"Don't talk like that. You're not dying."

"We're all dying; some of us just do it faster. And you can slow down--so you should."

"Nato--"

"Please." He squeezed her hands and leaned nearer. His grasp was so firm, so shivery, so cold. Like touching ice. She must have felt like fire to him. "You can have better. You should have better."

He was inches away and she found herself transfixed with a small scar on his bottom lip. He must have bitten himself, one time or another. She'd read that that could happen. "Stop making it so hard to hate you."

"Then stop making it so easy."

"Liar. You never hated me. You wouldn't be here if you did." The tip of his nose met her cheek and slid downward. She craned her neck in an effort to meet him halfway. "You never hated me..."

"Keep this up and you'll wish I did." Her fevered head was a July heat, but his breath hit her lips like a January snowstorm. "Aspen, promise me--"

His head jerked upright, his chin ramming into hers on the way up. The impact ought to have been enough, but the surreal fog of the almost-kiss had her a few blinks shy of noticing--noticing his labored breath, his bulging eyes, his swelling pupils. "Nato!"

"Don't--" He sprung back for all he was in no state for a quick getaway. That motion must have taken all he had. "Don't touch me."

"Nato--"

She dove forward just in time to catch him beneath his arms, his seizing body pinning her to the side of the bed as they both folded to the floor.

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