Disclaimer: Nope, don't own it.
A/N: Holy cheese, batman! Probably the cheesiest story I have ever written. Hopefully I didn't destroy Roger and Mark's character too much. Also, this takes place Post-RENT.
Strangers on a Sidewalk
Blank, emotionless eyes stared back at one another from where their owners stood on the sidewalk, halted in shock. The bustle of New York City drifted in between and around them, busy shoppers taking no notice of the two men as they banged into them with shopping bags and strollers. The distance between them was only a few feet but felt like miles, both men searching the others face, figure, and eyes to see if they could find anything that still held them together. Despite the sirens, constant chattering, brakes squealing and horns blaring around them, the silence that stretched between them seemed cold and bitter. Everything seemed slow and bleary, almost as if they were stuck in a moment of slow motion.
The sudden sound of one of them speaking sent the world back into it's normal speed, making them realize the uncomfortable ness of the city around them.
"Last I heard you were still in LA," Roger Davis piped up, his fingers rubbing together as he tried to seem nonchalant. Mark Cohen, calm, cool, collected only moments earlier felt his heart begin to pound as he began to buckle under Roger's pained gaze.
Avoiding his former-roommate's eyes, he nodded, stepping an inch closer to Roger as he realized he was in someone's way.
"I was, I mean, I'm still technically there," He sighed, wrapping his signature scarf around his neck, "I, uh, am here on some business."
A surprised expression flushed over Roger's face, "Things going well then, I guess?"
Mark's ever-tightening stomach churned at the flat, uncaring tone that was laced through Roger's voice.
"Yeah, I sold a script, finally," He nodded, "They're talking about it being directed by this new guy, Gus Van Sant. Have you ever heard of him?"
Roger stuffed his hands in his pockets and shook his head.
"Well, yeah, he's pretty good, or least that's what my agent told me. I figured once I got my name in there somewhere I can maybe work my way up to directin-"
The sudden shove of the increasing crowd around them caused someone to bump into Mark rather hard, causing him to nearly fall. Roger's hand went out instinctively to steady him.
"Look, Mark," Roger said, as he helped Mark, "It's been what? Five years? If we're gonna talk it can't be in the middle of fucking Times Square. Let's go to a diner or something, at least."
Mark eyes met Roger's and he hesitated for a moment, unsure of what to do. After he was bumped again, Mark nodded, allowing Roger to lead him out of the crowd and in the direction of downtown. They walked in silence, dodging tourists and shoppers and the homeless, being careful to look out of the corner of their eyes once and awhile to make sure they hadn't lost one another.
Reaching a random diner, Roger and Mark sat down, the warmth of the place sending shivers down Mark's spine. After ordering drinks (Hot tea for Mark and root beer for Roger) they sat in a standstill, each unsure of where to begin.
Finally, as he ripped up a paper napkin into a series of tiny little balls, Mark spoke, "So, how's everyone?"
"Okay," Roger replied after a moment, sighing, "Mimi is doing really well, her T-Cells are the highest they've ever been, considering after the whole Christmas Eve thing, what was it? Six years ago now?"
Mark recoiled a little and nodded, allowing Roger to continue.
"Yeah, after that, the doctor said he didn't think she was going to survive more than a coupla more years." Then, with a half-grin, "I mean, hey, I was technically supposed to be dead and rotting for a long time now. Shows what they know."
Mark cringed, "You're okay? Feeling well and all that?"
"I was, for a long time. They came out with some other cocktail crap that worked with the AZT. I can't even remember it's name right now -"
Mark interrupted him, "ddC."
Roger looked at him for a second and then nodded, "Yeah, ddC. It gave me stomach cramps for weeks but worked real well for a long time. At my last checkup though Dr. Stein told me my T-Cells are falling pretty rapidly."
Mark's breath caught in his throat but Roger didn't notice as he continued.
"I probably won't see next Christmas, but hey, I should've died years ago. I'm one of the lucky ones."
Mark's eyes had closed and his hands had covered his face as he tried to catch his breath. He never had ever heard Roger talk that easily about dying, none the less with a smile on his face. He wasn't sure what was more disturbing - the fact that the Roger sitting in front of him was literally now a stranger who was absolutely okay with the thought of dying, or that it was Mark's own fault that he hadn't been there to watch this change happen in his former best friend.
"I'm so sorry, Roger," Mark said softly, pulling his hands away from his eyes. His softened expression met one of building anger that was on Roger's face.
"You left, Mark," Roger laughed slightly, "You don't have the right to be sorry."
His words stung Mark and the strawberry haired man rushed to defend himself.
"I told you I needed to do this."
"I told YOU that I needed you here."
"You wouldn't support me, Roger, my dream is to be a filmmaker and because I was obviously not getting any sort of work here, I had to go there. It was only going to be a year-"
"But turned into five."
"It wasn't GOING to be five, you told me to never come back, don't you remember? You told me, and I quote, 'Mark, if you leave, don't you ever fucking come back. You won't be wanted here.' THAT, Roger, were your last words to me. How was I supposed to come back after you said that?"
Roger's expression softened, "You know me, Mark, I say stupid shit when I'm angry all the time. It's what I do."
Mark scoffed, "Oh of course, I should've known that. That you telling me that I shouldn't come back was just your anger, oh, and I should just know it was all okay. My fault, sure."
"You never even called or left a number to reach you!"
"You didn't want me here."
"Why the fuck did you go to LA anyway? You were always the one spewing shit about not selling out, and there you went, to the city that reeks of plastic and swings of dollar signs."
"This is the argument I had with you BEFORE I left. I told you, I was sick of not being able to afford anything. I just wanted a foot in the door, some contacts -"
"You're a fucking sellout, Mark." Roger's blazing eyes connected with Mark's. A shudder of anger traveled from Mark's head to spine, making him shiver. Gritting his teeth, he said the first thing that popped into his head.
"Maybe I was just sick of sitting around and watching you all fucking die."
The silence that stretched between them for nearly a full minute after that sent an air of awkwardness over the whole diner. Mark gritted his teeth, wishing he could reach out and grab the words he'd just said before they reached Roger's ears, but it was too late. Leaning forward on the sticky red tabletop, over his root beer, Roger scowled.
"Then you're nothing but a fucking coward."
Roger's words were barely out of his mouth before Mark slid out of the booth and grabbed his jacket and messenger bag. Roger watched as the smaller man pulled the coat on him and swung his scarf around his neck, hands shaking with anger and face tainted with hurt.
"You don't understand," Mark pleaded as he threw a few dollars on the tabletop, "I wasn't strong enough to watch you all die. I wasn't strong enough to even watch Angel die, none the less the rest of you. I am so weak, Roger, you have no idea."
Mark began hurrying away, and Roger jumped up to follow him, grabbing his jacket and throwing a handful of singles on the tabletop, before running to follow him out. The wind stung their cheeks as they escaped out into the New York winter air, and Roger jogged to catch up, unable to let the conversation go.
"You couldn't watch us die," Roger called after him, anger burning deeply in his chest, "But you could hear about it through the grapevine, is that it?"
Finally matching Mark's hurried steps, Roger grabbed Mark's arm, abruptly stopping him and spinning him around.
Not expecting the grab, Mark whiplashed back into Roger, causing his bag, which had been slung over his shoulder, to fall. They both watched helplessly as the contents of the bag spilled out, papers and notebooks and pens littering the dirty sidewalk. Mark dropped to his knees, grabbing at the loose papers before they could blow away. Roger watched for a moment before leaning down to help him, his eyes drifting over the papers strewn out before him. Carefully, he reached over to an overturned notebook, it's pages splayed against the gum-laden cement. Turning it over, the pages flipped open, and on the front inside cover of said notebook, a series of four pictures were taped. Roger flicked his eyes over to Mark, who was still scrambling to retrieve his lost belongings before looking back at the photographs in front of him.
The bottom one was a group photograph, from about two weeks before Mark left. Roger's eyes scanned over the picture, taking in the happiness of the people staring back at him. The photograph above it was of just Mark and Roger, and Roger recognized it as one Joanne had taken. It was very spontaneous and super candid, a laughing shot where Roger was bent over his guitar and Mark had his face in his hands they were both laughing so hard.
The third photograph was of Mark and someone Roger didn't recognize as they stood on some sort of boardwalk. Mark was wearing a black teeshirt that had the logo of Roger's old band faded on it and jeans. Of course, despite the weather appearing to be warm, he wore his signature scarf. The girl in the photo next to him was laughing, one hand over her face, the other on Mark's arm. Her bright red hair framed her face in loose curls, and Mark was looking at her with an expression of slight awe.
And the final, made Roger's eyebrows go up in confusion.
It was of Mark with a tiny red-faced infant in his arms, the baby nothing much more than a insignificant little body lost in a sea of blue blankets.
Roger looked up to see Mark standing above him eyes trained on his face and tears running down his cheeks.
"His name's Roger Angel," Mark smiled, wiping his face of the tears. For the first time, Roger noticed the ring on Mark's left ring finger, the single white gold band glinting in the dimming sun.
Roger's shock burned through him like wildfire, and his jaw dropped slightly.
"You're married," He realized, closing the notebook and swallowing deeply, "You moved on."
Mark looked at the notebook, which was being held out to him from Roger's outstretched hand, to the burning glare that was being thrown his way.
"You MOVED on. You mourned us and moved on, and we weren't even DEAD."
With that, Roger turned on his heel and began charging away, ignoring the sound of Mark's jogging to catch up coming from behind him.
It was Mark's turn to grab Roger, and he did, pulling the singer away from the bustle of the sidewalk and pushing him lightly against the side of a building.
"Don't touch me!" Roger yelled, pushing Mark off of him. They stood glaring at one another for a moment.
"I came here looking for you guys. I'm here for you. Not a business trip," Mark admitted, feeling tears beginning to well up again, "Please don't push me away."
"You left, mourned, and moved on. I can't welcome you back with open arms, Mark."
"I made a mistake," Mark pleaded, fists clenched to his chest, "I let go and I shouldn't've. I was a coward, and I regret it. I feel so much guilt everyday that it's taking a toll on my family. Every time I look at my baby I think of the Uncle Roger he's not going to know, or the Aunt Joanne or Aunt Mimi or Uncle Collins or anyone. I can't do this anymore, I can't pretend I don't miss you all. I can't pretend you never happened to me, and I can't live with this fear that I won't be with you when you finally do go. You left once, you know the feeling."
Roger's eyes met with Mark's pleading ones and he very nearly growled, "I came BACK."
Grabbing at Roger's shirt Mark very nearly began sobbing, "I came back too, it was just more time. I never moved on, Roger, I just kept going. There is not a day that I don't think of any of you. I need my son to know you, Roger, and I need him to know the rest of the group too. I'm never going to not be guilty for the loss of so many years, but let me try, please."
As Mark begged his heart out to Roger, Roger felt the burn of tears tickling behind his eyelids. As Mark finished his declaration, Roger's cries could no longer be held back and he launched himself into Mark's arms, hugging the smaller man as they both cried.
Roger cried for the return of his best friend, for his realization that he wasn't so okay with dying, not anymore, and for the baby Mark and his wife created that was his namesake.
Mark cried for the guilt plaguing his heart, the realization that he was scared shitless to lose Roger, and for his son, who would get to know his Uncle, even if it were for only a little while.
And as the two men, grief-stricken and beaming with happiness, a combination that's rare and bittersweet, hugged one another, they realized that the small, biting sensation that lingered in their chests ever since Mark had fled to LA was really only loss.
Loss of friendship, loss of trust, loss of family, loss of each other.
It was only then, on the gum-laden of New York, that they began to heal.
Nearly two years later, Mark Cohen held Roger Davis' hand as his best friend drew his last breath. Mark cried for a moment, silently, in honor of the guitarist, before leaning over and kissing the man on the forehead, pulling his hand out of Roger's.
He took the walk back to the waiting room slowly, taking deep breaths to himself. And as he appeared in the doorframe of the stark-white room, the people in there, their family, knew by the look in Mark's eyes that he was gone.
Mark just walked over to his wife, who's dark emerald eyes were shining with tears, and took his son into his arms, rocking the little boy to his chest, as the tears ran down his face.
"I love you, Roger," Mark mumbled into the little boy's ear, brushing the strawberry red hair out of his son's face.