A/N: Wow, I'm just fandom jumping like crazy. Well, this is my first Rent fic. I've only seent the movie, but don't worry folks, I'm going to see the play at the first possible chance. Constructive crit is most welcome. Thanks!
It all started on a rainy night in late December, although Mark could never remember the exact date or time because, for once, his camera was absent from his grasp. It was one of those nights where the air and the wind seemed bone chillingly cold, and yet, not cold enough for snow to fall. Not even cold enough for sleet or hail. It was the miserable cold of pelting rain and gusting wind and near-yet-not-quite-frigid temperatures. In Mark's opinion, it was the worst kind of cold.
Mark didn't mind New York winters all that much, despite what his friends may have thought. He had always had a childlike fascination with snow. It seemed that when a fresh coat of snow covered the landscape, the dirty, disease and only god knows what else ridden streets didn't seem so miserable anymore. Snow had a way of making even the most rotten things seem naively pure. A ridiculous thought, he knew, but besides, it didn't seem so cold outside with a scarf and a general appreciation for the winter landscape.
However, as much as Mark enjoyed the snow, he had an equally powerful hatred for the winter rain. It seemed to amply everything miserable and depressing about their life in the loft, in New York……life in general, actually. That particular night, Mark was even more disgusted with the chilling rain than usual. First of all, he never had anything to film when it rained, because people generally didn't enjoy walking the streets of alphabet city when it was rainy and cold. People didn't enjoy walking the streets in general, but a cold rain usually drove away even Mark's regulars, who he liked to film when he was bored or Roger was gone.
Which brought Mark to his second point. Roger was gone. He had left about three hours ago to take a walk, something that Roger had been doing more that usual lately. Mark didn't mind all that much; since Mimi's death, Roger had been a bit too subdued, a bit too moody, a bit too hermit-like. A bit too much like his "former days", as Mark liked to put it. He didn't like to think of them as Roger's April days, his suicidal days, his drug days, his withdrawal days…..it was too morbid for Mark, too close to bad memories.
When Roger returned from his walks, though, Mark noticed that he usually seemed refreshed, happier, more likely to engage in a long conversation or partake in some friendly banter, something that was sorely missed by the filmmaker. So when Roger would announce that he was going to take a short walk, Mark never really cared, as long as Roger bundled up, took his AZT, and promised to eat something substantial when he came home.
Mark glanced at the clock, his hands twitching nervously without something to fiddle with. It had been three hours and five minutes now. Roger had never, ever, taken this long of a walk. Mark was a creature of habit, and when things didn't go exactly as they always had, he got agitated. And why shouldn't he? When you were a starving filmmaker, living in the middle of New York, and your best friend was living with (and dying from, Mark couldn't stop himself from thinking) AIDS, things weren't always predictable. He couldn't help it if he enjoyed the things that were.
Supposing he should occupy himself, Mark stood from his perch on the windowsill and stretched. What should he do now? He could read……too restless……he could sleep……again, too restless……he could eat……not hungry……he could make tea. Yes. He could make tea. Some for himself, some for Roger, who would most certainly be home soon.
Halfway through Mark's attempt at making tea, however, he caught the faint noise of footsteps on the stairs outside the door. Bounding footsteps, from the sound of it, Mark thought with a smirk. If Roger was feelings well enough to bound up the stairs, he would probably be feeling well enough to stay up and talk with Mark. Mark felt the silly rise of anticipation as he gazed towards the door. Roger and he hardly ever talked anymore, and he was looking forward to getting a glimpse back into the world of his best friend.
When the door finally opened, Mark's was ready with a snide remark about why Roger had been gone so long, involving the rain, a horny musician, and a prostitute with a warm apartment. As Roger appeared fully in front of him, though, all words, and oxygen for that matter, were caught in Mark's throat.
Roger was soaking wet, hair dripping, coat sopping, jeans drenched and stuck to his too-skinny legs. Not only was he wet, though, but he was shivering. Shivering and shaking and trembling and……was he crying? His face was red, but Mark could tell that it wasn't only from the cold. When Roger was cold, the tips of his nose and the tops of his cheeks turned a bright, delightfully rosy color (something that everyone could notice platonically about their best friends, Mark was sure). But when Roger cried, his eyes turned red, as did the rest of his cheeks, giving him an absolutely miserable appearance. And right now, Roger looked utterly miserable.
"Roger?" Mark breathed, taking a step forward as the songwriter shut the door and leaned back against it, folding his arms across his chest. "Hey, are you okay?"
Roger didn't answer, didn't move, didn't acknowledge the fact that Mark had even spoken, didn't change at all, except for the lone tear that tracked down his cheek. Mark was used to Roger crying by now; after Mimi's death, Roger was prone to almost violent moods swings. One moment, he could be practically high on life, laughing and smiling and almost enjoying life, which was almost impossible in this day and age. And on other days, Roger could break down and cry for almost no reason. Mark blamed it on the weather, on Mimi, on the disease, even on himself. Perhaps this was just a bad day. Perhaps Roger just needed a bit of comfort.
"Hey, what's wrong, Roger?" he asked, closing the distance between him and Roger and resting a hand on his best friend's trembling shoulder. Roger flinched.
"I…." Roger started, shaking his head and wiping his eyes. "Nothing. It's nothing, I'm fine."
Mark looked at him quizzically. Something was definitely wrong. "Are you hurt? Did someone hurt you, Roger?"
Roger shook his head and remained silent. Mark pressed on.
"Did something happen? Is everyone okay?"
Roger shook his head again, and Mark felt a twinge of fear. Was it Collins? Was Collins sick? Was Maureen hurt? Was something wrong with Joanne?
"It's nothing. I just…… I just don't feel very good, that's all.
Coming from any other person in the world, Mark wouldn't have thought twice about those words. Coming from Roger, however, those simple words were downright scary. Roger had been looking especially drained lately, tired, worn out from performing simple tasks. Mark had denied to himself that it had anything to do with the virus. He imagined that Roger had been thinking the same thing. But the fact of the matter was, it was still there. Roger was getting weaker, for no logical reason other than the inevitable.
But Mark didn't like to think about it. So he didn't.
"Okay, Roger," Mark said, taking Roger's arm and pushing him down into the couch. "Let's just get your wet clothes off, I already started making some tea, and……"
"No, no Mark, it's not okay," Roger said suddenly, pitifully, resting his head in his hands and taking a deep breath. "I was stupid, stupid and idiotic, because I saw the clouds coming, I saw the rain coming and I ignored it. I ignored it, Mark, cause I didn't want to think about how I couldn't get sick, how I couldn't risk it, how I couldn't do this and that and maybe, just maybe, it would snow and then I could come get you and we could play in the snow or do something stupid or childish or just something and……"
"Whoa, Roger, whoa," Mark said, sitting down and pulling Roger's hands away from his face, stopping his friend's mindless babbling. "Slow down. Start over. What happened?"
"I didn't want to come home yet," Roger said, a little more calmly than before, his eyes still pained. "I mean, I thought, why should I have to worry about storm clouds in the middle of December more than anyone else? Stupid, I know. But damn it, Mark, I just wanted to…….I don't know what I wanted."
Roger stopped for a minute, looking to Mark as if the filmmaker was going to yell at him. Mark just nodded, encouraging Roger to go on.
"I didn't mean to get caught in the rain, Mark, honestly. I didn't know how far from home I was. I got disoriented. I got fuckin' lost, in the middle of a city I know like the back of my hand. And then I got pissed. I got mad at myself for getting lost and for getting depressed and for worrying about the rain and I just got this ridiculous idea that I could find my way home on my own. That I didn't need anyone's help for anything and that if I stopped or asked for help that I was weak, that I was giving in……And then I started feeling sick."
Roger took another deep breath, and rested his head back in his hands. His next words were whispered.
"I'm not ready yet, Mark. I'm not fuckin' ready."
"Hey now," Mark said, placing a steady hand on Roger's back. "You were just saying that you were fine. That's probably true, okay? Everyone has off days. You might just have a cold……"
"Yeah, and for anyone else that would be just peachy," Roger laughed bitterly. "But for me?"
Mark shook his head. "Let's not worry about it, okay? You're just blowing this out of proportion. It's nothing. It's nothing, okay?"
"Okay," Roger said, nodding. He laughed, a little less bitterly this time. "Yeah. I'm just being stupid."
Mark laughed too, but it sounded forced, strangled. "Nah, it's just your disillusioned brain working overtime."
Roger smiled. It, too, was forced. "Yeah. Right. It's just the weather. Puts me in kind of a weird mood. Sorry."
"It's okay," Mark said. "It happens."
And then there was silence. Painful, deafening silence that Mark thought might make his ears explode. Along with his heart, which was working overtime now in an attempt to calm himself down, which didn't even make sense to him. He had to be calm, for Roger. Because Roger was far from calm right now, with good reason. Not that he had to know that.
The piercing blare of the tea kettle finally broke the silence, and Roger jumped at the startling sound. Mark smiled, patted Roger's shoulder, and made his way into the kitchen.
"I'll get us some tea," he said, glancing back at Roger. He ignored the flutter in his chest when Roger looked up at him, attempting to smile, coughing instead. "Go change."