Disclaimer: I'm getting tired of these things, but I feel guilty if I don't. So. Not mine. Mark, Roger, New York City… whatever.
A/N: Well, here goes my third attempt at this. It's a heck of a lot harder to get Mark and Roger back together than it was to break them up. Not that they were ever actually together in the first place in this universe, but… Anyway. Lesson #1 Universe, clearly. And this is going to end up one of those chaptered fics like Lesson Number One, because I couldn't keep it to a one shot. I have no idea how long this one's going to run for.


On days like this, Mark missed his old scarf. It shielded him from the cold, true, which he certainly could have used on this late January day, but more, it had always used to shield him from the world, a last-ditch defense against hurt. Pain. Reality. But he didn't have it anymore; it had started to come unraveled in the wash ages ago, and had just sort of fallen apart. But then again, with the scarf went the last scraps of who he used to be, before.

Mark ducked his head, with one hand holding the front of his coat closed tight, and walked directly into the icy wind, careful not to slip in the sludge that had been made of this morning's sleet. Who he used to be before. Before held a whole new meaning for Mark these past six and a half years. It had always meant something specific, but exactly what it meant… At first, it had meant before he met Roger. Then it was before April killed herself. Now, it meant before that night he'd walked out of the loft and Roger's life for the last time, six years ago. These days, before was a word that always stung.

But he'd left all that behind, hadn't he? His scarf was gone, after all, and that was the last thing he'd held on to. His camera, in a closet in his apartment along with a few reels of film, untouched since he'd gotten a real job (which he hated) to pay the rent and feed himself. Benny would be proud. But then, the phone calls from the others were few and far between. It seemed he'd left them behind with the rest of the past—Collins, Benny, Maureen, Joanne, all faint memories captured on reels of film he hadn't watched in years. And Roger, the painful centerpiece of those memories, but even farther gone than any of the rest, dead or gone, and it didn't matter which because it was all the same. Because Mark knew, he knew he would never see him again.

When he'd first left, he used to look around for him. Not consciously, no, but surreptitiously… That was before he'd put his camera away. It was easier then. He used to scan the faces of people on the street, peering through the camera lens for that spark of recognition, searching although it had been he who left in the first place. He used to think he might find him somewhere, just stumble across him on the street and… and then what? It hardly mattered. Mark knew better now. He kept his head down, not even bothering to glance up, through with observing. The best he could hope for now was numbness.

Not a lot to observe now anyway, the whole world frigid white and gray. Very few people out on the street now, if they could help it, between the cold and the wind and the fact that it was almost dark out. No one but Mark, walking home from a job that would have long since crushed his soul had he thought he had any soul left to crush. And Roger always used to be the pessimistic one…

The thought stopped Mark in his tracks, and he stood there for a moment, frozen. He thought he'd forgotten him, but there were always those little thoughts of Roger that kept rising to tear at his heart, and no matter what he did to stop them… no good. It never did any good at all. Mark sighed, his breath frosting in the air in front of him, and kept walking, willing the memory away. No need to remember, to want to remember. What was the point?

Rounding the corner of 16th Street, he kept his eyes fixed on the sidewalk, intent on banishing the thought that had come, unbidden, into his mind. He ran right into someone just around the corner, and stumbled backwards. "Sorry," he said automatically, looking up with a start. "I didn't mean to—"

He stopped as he met a pair of blue eyes he knew all too well, his breath stopped in his throat. For a second, he could look at nothing but those eyes, pale blue, unchanged from the picture he held in his memory. Slowly, long suppressed habits of observation kicked in, and his eyes flickered over the other man, taking in the whole picture. The eyes hadn't changed, no, but the rest of him had. He looked gaunt, his face thinner, dark circles underneath his eyes. His hair, cut shorter than the last time Mark had seen him, and darker…

"R—Roger," he stammered, unable to find anything intelligent to say. This was like speaking to a ghost—how does one speak to someone he'd counted dead years ago? "Um… hi." The greeting came out soft, uncertain. There was nothing he could say to make this any less awkward.

The taller man stood there in silence for a second, two, his hands in his pockets, studying Mark's face, and at last said just as softly, "Hi."