A/N: Last chapter, finally. Better late than never, I suppose. This is a long one, so brace yourself. Thanksto everyone who reviewed, I appreciate it. I'll be getting my next story out probably within the next two weeks, so stay tuned. Thanks again!
It was three in the morning and Roger was sitting at the window, a blanket wrapped around his thin frame and a scarf – Mark's scarf – wrapped around his neck. He wasn't really watching anything, just letting the stillness of the night surround him and searching for a sense of tranquility that he couldn't seem to find. The moonlight cast odd shadows through the window and across the floor, mixing with the fluorescent, blinking lights of the night clubs down the street. He sighed, resting his head against the glass, but pulling away as the cool surface made him shiver.
I'm always so cold, Roger thought bitterly, pulling the blanket tighter around his shoulders. He wasn't even going to try and blame it on the broken heater anymore. Not when he had woken up an hour ago to go to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and noticed the ugly purple lesions on his face. Followed by his hands shaking, his knees shaking, his palms sweating, a cough rising up from his chest….
Roger shivered again, curling into the wall as he searched for warmth. The florescent lights weren't pretty and peaceful anymore; rather, they were mocking him, laughing at him, taunting what's wrong, Roger? Can't sleep? Too cold? Too sick? To scared?
He closed his eyes tightly, trying to shut out the lights, the voices, but suddenly he felt incredibly nauseous. All he could see was his own face, covered in purple bruises, sweat-covered and pale and gaunt. And then it was Mark, crying, begging him not to go as he took his final breaths and…..
Roger shivered, curling up into a tighter ball.
Another wave of nausea, another hard swallow.
Roger opened his eyes, trying to get rid of those stupid images, and was surround by a splash of moonlight so bright he though he was being blinded.
Thank God for the moon...
Or perhaps it wasn't the moon. Perhaps this was it; this was the end, the warm, white light. Except he wasn't warm. And he didn't feel good. And he didn't want this, not at all, not in the least bit. Weren't you supposed to want this when it comes? Weren't you supposed to fight your way back to the world of the living? Wasn't there supposed to be some divine intervention? Angel? Mimi?
Maybe it's not the moon at all...
Whoops. Roger had spoken that one out loud, though he didn't mean to. He found he couldn't really control what he was doing, thinking, saying at the moment. His heart felt like it was going to pound out of his chest, it was beating so fast. He was shaking all over, his face sweating, his eyes welling with tears at the ungodly pain in his chest. He couldn't breathe.
Am I having a heart attack?
Roger looked around the room, noticing a lit candle sitting on the metal table.
Would you light my candle?
He wanted Mark. He wanted Mark to come and block out the moonlight and blow out the candle and stop the pain. Roger laid down quietly, his breath coming in hitches as he rested his head on the hard surface. He coughed.
And within seconds, Mark was standing in the hallway, rubbing his eyes and his face tiredly. Roger made a small noise in the back of his throat, something between a pathetic please help me and a more forceful get your ass over here and help me.
"Roger?" Mark asked, and Roger heard the sound of sock-clad feet shuffling over to him. Heard, because he couldn't see Mark right now, because he eyes were shut. "Roger, are you okay?"
"Not sure," he managed to sputter out before he started coughing again, that deep rattling cough that scared the hell out of him. Mark sat down next to him, pulling his head up off the window ledge and into his lap. He pushed strands of hair out of Roger's eyes and rubbed his back. It was almost a routine now.
"It's okay," Mark whispered. "Everything's going to be alright. Relax."
Minutes of hair stroking, back rubbing, and whispered endearments on Mark's part finally led Roger back to reality, to where he could breathe properly and he wasn't shaking nearly as bad. He was still cold, though. And still nauseous. But that was normal.
Roger let Mark help him into a sitting position, then wordlessly let himself be led to stand and walk slowly over to the couch. Mark sunk down against the arm rest, stretching out, and Roger collapsed, tucking himself between Mark and the cushions on the back of the couch. He curled into a ball and closed his eyes.
"Hey there," Mark said, and Roger couldn't help but smile as Mark gently traced the outline of his face with his fingers.
"Hey," Roger mumbled, opening his eyes. Mark's blue ones were stunning in the moonlight.
"You okay?" Mark asked, and Roger nodded. He saw the lines in Mark's face, the bags under his eyes, the thinness of his arms, the paleness of his cheeks. Roger frowned. He didn't like Mark to be pale. He liked it when Mark blushed, when Mark had a rosy tint to his cheeks. Mark cocked his head slightly, meeting Roger with a curious look.
Roger just leaned in and kissed him, closing his eyes and letting Mark's lips warm him. He thought he should deepen the kiss, because Mark and he hadn't properly kissed in quite a while. But he was just too tired, to exhausted to initiate anything. He didn't want to disappoint Mark.
He stopped, letting Mark kiss him gently on the lips, on the cheeks, on the nose. Mark pulled away, smiling, his eyes shining in the dim candle light.
"You know," he said, resting his head on the arm rest next to Roger's, "it's no fun when you're not participating."
Roger frowned again, but Mark laughed softly, giving Roger another peck on the lips. "I'm just kidding."
"I'm tired," Roger mumbled. Mark nodded.
Roger closed his eyes wearily, and smiled when Mark leaned over and kissed his eyelids gently. "You have amazing eyelashes."
Roger laughed, opening his eyes to find Mark blushing again. That's more like it.
"Thanks," he said, burrowing into Mark's side. They lay in silence for a moment, but Roger couldn't seem to relax. He twisted, trying to get comfortable, trying to get his mind to settle, and buried his head into Mark's shoulder with a sigh when he couldn't.
"Something wrong?" Mark asked. "You want me to move?"
"No," Roger said, rather firmly. "Just thinking. Don't leave."
"Course not. About what?"
"I think," Roger took a deep breath. He didn't want to say these words, but he knew he had too. Mark couldn't take care of him anymore. He didn't want Mark too lose that color in his cheeks forever. He couldn't stand to see those bags, those lines. "I think I need to go to the hospital."
Mark sat up, prompting Roger to sit up with him. He rested a hand on top of Roger's.
Roger nodded, swallowing. "Uh huh."
Mark nodded, the pulled Roger back down, but not before the musician could see the tears welling up in his eyes.
"Tomorrow," Marks said, his voice strained. "We'll just rest tonight. One more night, yeah?"
"Yeah," Roger breathed, leaning in to kiss Mark again. "Yeah, one more night."
They forced the tears out of their eyes, ignored the lumps in their throats, and kissed gently until the sun rose and sleep finally came.
Roger sat on the couch, wearing his leather jacket and his faded jeans, with Mark's scarf still wrapped around his neck. He may have been going to the hospital, but he wasn't going to the hospital looking like a damned invalid. His guitar sat in his lap, encased snugly within the protective leather. That was the only thing that he insisted come with him.
He stared at the door, refusing to look around for fear that he'd break down right then and there, and then they'd never get to the hospital in once piece. Mark said they'd have to take the train, then walk a couple of blocks, and would he be up to that? Roger said he would, even though he wasn't sure that was true.
"I'm almost ready," Mark called from the hallway. Roger blinked. Then blinked again.
"Take your time."
He finally took a deep breath and got the courage to look around slowly. He panned the entire length of the loft, sighing. It was just a loft, wasn't it? Just a shitty loft where he had spent a lot of his adult life wishing he could afford the rent, the heating, a better bed, a nicer couch, some food maybe……
But when Roger closed his eyes, he saw something else entirely.
He saw Collins, Mark, Benny, and him standing around the kitchen counter, eating cereal and drinking beer on a Saturday night.
He saw April sitting on the couch in one of his old t-shirts and a pair of his socks, falling asleep to the sounds of his guitar.
He saw Mark and Maureen kissing by the door at midnight, as he looked upon them with amusement.
He saw Angel and Collins, dancing in Collins' room as an old record played.
He saw Mimi, sitting on the fire escape, knocking and begging him to come look at the stars, they were just gorgeous tonight.
He saw Joanne and Mark, trying desperately to demonstrate a proper tango while he contemplated his two left feet.
And then, he opened his eyes, and saw Mark standing there, red eyed and quiet, a small suitcase in his hands. He gave a weak smile, gesturing to the suitcase awkwardly.
"In case I need to stay, for a little while," he said, shrugging. "Always better to be prepared."
Roger nodded, and closed his eyes again. "Ready?"
"Yeah," Mark said, moving to help Roger up, but Roger put a hand up to stop him.
"I've got it."
Mark bit his lip, withdrawing his hand. "You sure?"
"I'm not walking out of here like a cripple."
Mark nodded. He watched Roger struggle to his feet and lift his guitar. When it was all said and done, and Roger had moved to the door and was waiting for him, he wanted nothing more than to be back down on that couch, sleeping, with Roger in his arms.
"Let's go," he said with a sigh. He opened the door and stepped out into the hall, watching as Roger followed him slowly out the door. His eyes welled as Roger turned around, looking into the loft for a moment before grabbing his hand and handing him the guitar.
They walked hand in hand to the subway, and Roger slept on his shoulder the whole way there.
"Hey, bitches, what's happening?"
Roger smiled, opening his eyes as Collins entered the room, a small plant and a balloon in hand.
"You got me a plant?" Roger asked as Collins sat the small pot down on the bedside table and handed Mark the balloon.
"Don't forget the balloon, man," Collins laughed, pulling Roger into a hug. "How you feelin'?"
Roger shrugged. "The sun's out today. I'm feeling alright."
"Good, good," Collins said, sitting down in the chair next to Mark. "And how are you doing?"
"Fine," Mark mumbled, shrugging just like Roger had. He was looking past Collins, past Roger, towards the empty white wall. Collins gave Roger a questioning gaze, to which Roger returned with a shake of the head. Collins nodded, leaning his head back against the wall. "So, how's life been treating you?"
"Fine," Roger replied, as Mark simultaneously replied, "Like shit."
Collins gaze narrowed on Mark. "You alright, man?"
Mark shook his head, laughing bitterly. "What do you think?" He stood up, flinging his chair back against the wall and leaving the room in a huff. Collins whistled when Mark's back was out of sight.
"Not taking this well, is he?"
"No, not at all," Roger said, running a shaky hand through his hair, being careful not to jostle the IV. Today was a good day. Today he almost felt like he could get up and walk out of the hospital. Almost. "I guess now is as good as any time to tell you. We're kind of……together."
"No shit?" Collins asked, and smiled when Roger nodded. "Congrats, Rog. That's awesome. About time, too."
"Yeah," Roger said, smiling for a minute before his expression fell again. "Yeah, but, he's just acting weird. I know he's scared. I'm scared. But, I don't want our last days to be……like this, you know?"
"I know, man, I know," Collins said, moving to sit on the edge of Roger's bed and taking his hand. "You guys will work this out though. You always do. Remember how he was when Angel was in the hospital? All freaked out for a while? He got over that."
"Yeah," Roger said again. He felt stupid, like that was the only thing he could say. "I know. I'm just……scared."
"Of course you are," Collins said, patting Roger's hand and smiling reassuringly. "But Mark will help you through this. And you'll help him. It will be alright, I promise."
Roger nodded. "Thanks."
Collins nodded in response, and they sat in comfortable silence for a moment until Mark came shuffling back in the door, chewing on his thumb nail nervously, his head lowered.
"Long time, no see," Collins said, but Mark didn't look up. "Where've you been?"
"Walking," he said, sauntering back over to his chair and plopping back down into it. "I'm sorry."
"No apologies," Collins said, standing and clapping Mark on the back. "We're all friends here. But hey, I have to go, I've got a life support meeting to go to. I'll be back tomorrow, though, so don't miss me too much."
Roger laughed as Collins pulled him into another hug. "Miss you like hell."
"Of course you will," Collins said, pulling Mark up and into a hug. "Talk to that boy," he whispered into Mark's ear. "He needs you now."
Mark nodded and pulled away, sitting down on Roger's bed. Collins wandered out the door, smiling contently when he heard Mark begin to speak.
"Hey, Roger. How are you feeling?"
"Did you love her?"
Roger was curled up on his side one night as Mark sat on the edge of the bed, stroking his sweaty hair as his fever climbed. Mark didn't want to burden Roger with heavy conversation right now, but he couldn't help but think that they didn't have much time left to have these conversations. Not much time at all.
"Who?" Roger whispered, his hands curled up in the sheets. Mark couldn't remember who he'd been talking about, so he started at the beginning.
Roger sighed regretfully. "Yeah, I did."
Mark nodded. "Mimi?"
Roger smiled. "Of course."
Mark nodded again. "Do you love me? As much as you loved them?"
The question wasn't demanding, wasn't pressing, wasn't jealous or accusing. Just soft and curious. Roger rolled onto his back and met Mark's eyes. "More than anything."
"Then what's the difference?" Mark asked, still curious. "I thought I loved Maureen, but I didn't feel anything like this. Do you believe that there's only one true love? Is that why I haven't felt anything like this before?"
Roger smiled patiently, bringing Mark's hand to his chest. "I don't think there's only one true love. I think that's bullshit. I do think there are different kinds of love, though. Some stronger than others, but its all love. It doesn't always have to be a love at first sight, steals your breath away kind of thing. And it's not like if you lose your true love you won't find another."
Mark still looked confused, so Roger continued, although Mark could tell he was getting worn out by the short conversation. "April was my first love. Mimi was my savior. You……you're my soul mate."
Roger said it with such affection and love that Mark couldn't help but let the tears well up in his eyes. He leaned down and kissed him softly. "So I don't take your breath away, huh?"
Roger laughed. It was half the laugh of a year ago, but still warmed Mark's heart. "Of course you do."
Mark didn't dare leave the hospital now. He barely left Roger's room, only to go to the bathroom and get Roger water when he needed it. Roger was barely awake anymore, and when he was, he was too tired to do anything but lay there while Mark stroked his hand. Sometimes, Mark would crawl into bed with Roger until one of the nurses would come in and yell at him. Sometimes, he wouldn't even care if they yelled. He'd stay there anyway.
The end was coming; Mark could feel it screaming at him and eating at him from the inside out. Maureen and Joanne and Collins would all come to visit, and their eyes would all say the same thing: It's almost over.
Mark wiped tears away, the dim light over Roger's bed flickering on and off as the red numbers of the digital clock blinked 2:32. The nurses weren't bothering him anymore. They were letting him stay wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. They knew there wasn't much time, too.
"You need sleep."
The soft voice startled him, and he jumped slightly. Roger chuckled weakly, then coughed and rolled over. His green eyes were sleepy and dim, but still aware. That was a good sign to Mark. Every time Roger had woken up before, he'd always been extremely disoriented.
"Hey," Mark said softly, smiling at Roger. "What are you doing awake? Do you need some ice? Some water?"
"No, I'm fine," he said, smirking. "A kiss would be nice."
Mark laughed and leaned over, pressing his lips to Roger's chapped, dry ones. He didn't mind.
They sat quietly for a little while, until Mark brought Roger's hand up to his lips.
"I did something for you," Mark said into Roger's palm. Roger smiled.
"Oh no," he said jokingly, shaking his head slightly as Mark smiled. "What ?"
"Just a second," Mark said, standing up and going to the other side of the bed where Roger's guitar case was lying. He opened up the case, taking out the guitar and bringing it back over to the other side of Roger's bed. Roger raised an eyebrow curiously.
"What do you plan on doing with that?" Roger said, still smiling. "Lord knows you can't play it."
"That's what you think," Mark said, and slowly started plucking notes. At first, Roger didn't comprehend what song Mark was playing, and started to question if Mark was playing a song at all, or whether he was just playing random notes. However, after a couple of seconds, he heard something so familiar and so obvious that it made his eyes sting and his throat close when he realized it.
Of course it was Musetta's Waltz. Of course it was the song that he'd spent way too much time playing, when he didn't have inspiration or when he just wanted to feel the music and play. Of course it was the song that had supposedly driven Mark crazy, but that he really had a soft spot for. Of course.
Roger closed his eyes and listened as Mark played the entire song. It took a while, because Mark would occasionally hit a wrong note and would have to find a part in the song where he could start from. But it was beautiful to Roger, sending shivers down his spine. When Mark finished, he felt a sad sense of emptiness.
"Well, that was horrible," Mark said, laughing as he wiped a tear off of his cheek. Roger shook his head.
"That was beautiful. Thank you."
Mark nodded, then put the guitar aside and lay next to Roger, careful not to jostle him or his IV tubes. He wrapped and arm around Roger's stomach, resting his head on Roger's shoulder. Roger brought a hand up and ran it through Mark's hair.
"You'll be alright," he said, and Mark could tell he was falling asleep. "You'll be fine, when I'm gone."
"Will I?" Mark asked, suddenly full of fear, his hands shaking. "I don't know if I can."
"You will," Roger insisted. "You're Mark. You'll always be okay."
"What's a Mark without a Roger, though?" Mark asked, although it sounded stupid. He couldn't stop the tears.
"You'll be fine," Roger repeated, drifting quickly. "I love you. That's enough, right?"
"Yeah," Mark mumbled, leaning over to kiss Roger. Surprisingly, Roger returned the kiss. It was quick, but it was enough. "Yeah, that's enough."
Mark sat on the old park bench, his camera up to his face as he panned around in search of a good shot. A dog, a kid, a nice looking flower, anything that gave him inspiration.
Which, he realized with a sigh, was nothing nowadays. Nothing except that old guitar by his – actually, Collins' – bed and the picture on the nightstand. The picture of him and Roger on the fire escape, the one that Collins had taken years ago and had just given to him a month ago, when he moved into the guest room. He wanted to be able to tell Collins that he'd move out and get a place of his own soon, but he couldn't do that. He didn't want to be alone.
Mark looked across the lake, noticing a figure sitting on a park bench. He stood up, deciding that it couldn't hurt to take a small walk around the lake, and wandered over to the other side of the park. He couldn't help but smile, then, when he found the old woman sitting there, the same old woman who had been coming there for months, bundled up in a coat even though it was spring and beginning to warm up.
"Hi," Mark said, turning his camera off and approaching her. "Do you remember me?"
"Of course I do," the woman replied with a smile, reaching out to take Mark's hand in hers. "You're that filmmaker boy."
"Yes ma'am," Mark said. A warm breeze surrounded them. "How have you been?"
"Just fine, dear," she replied, looking around contently. "The park is always so beautiful this time of year."
"Yes, ma'am, it is," Mark replied. Suddenly, curiosity got the best of him. "Where is your husband?"
She didn't stop smiling. "Oh, he passed a while ago, dear. It was his time to go. Lord knows I miss him, though. He put up a good fight."
Mark swallowed, nodding. "I'm glad."
"Where is your friend? The other boy you used to bring here?"
"He…." Mark's mouth suddenly dried up, "….passed as well."
"Oh no," the woman looked honestly concerned and saddened. "I'm so sorry, honey. I didn't know he was sick."
"Yeah," Mark said tentatively. He didn't like telling people this, because most people had an unkind reaction or a rude remark. Still, he said it anyway. "He had AIDS."
"That's awful," the woman replied, but not unkindly. She patted Mark's hand. "I'm so sorry. I pray for you all the time."
Mark nodded. He wished he could have said the same thing. He finally sat down on the bench next to the old woman, letting her hold his hand. They said nothing for a few moments, letting the spring breeze ruffle their hair and their clothes.
"It's good to have love, though, isn't it?" the old woman said after a while. She looked at Mark, smiling. "It's nice to know there's someone watching out for you. Makes it all worth while."
"Yeah," Mark breathed. He thought about the pain of the last months, the heartbreak, the tears and the nightmares and the lonely nights spent alone in bed. He thought about the guitar next to his bed, and the picture of Roger and him looking up at the moon on a warm spring night. It was all worth while.
"Yeah, it definitely does."