A/N: I don't know what this is. It's random, it's me writing at three in the morning, it's...I don't even know. It's weird and like, all dialogue. This came to me while watching the Rent commentary, when it said all the boys actually did live together, I thought I'd write a Mark/Roger friendship piece. I don't know, Collins turned out kind of stalkerish in this one, I think. Didn't mean to make it that way...oh well. You could make it slash if you want to, but I didn't intend to write it that way. Enjoy!
It had taken Collins entirely too long to figure out why Mark and Roger were so close. From day one, his roommates had some kind of connection that he, for the life of him, just couldn't figure out. The songwriter and the filmmaker, the rocker and the nerd, the confident and the timid...it just didn't fit to him. It had been a stretch letting Mark into their already crowded loft in the first place, but Collins had a soft spot the size of some lager countries, and Mark had looked so damn miserable and young standing at the door, begging for a place to stay. Nineteen years old, a college dropout and new to Alphabet City, Collins' first thought was about how much he was going to clash with Roger.
True, Mark had seemed intimidated at first by Roger and the crew, but after a few days, Collins knew he'd eventually start fitting in. Maureen had taken an almost obsessive liking to him (Collins warned her about coming on too strong, but Maureen informed him, with an all too conspiratorial wink, that she was just "curious"), Benny enjoyed talking to him about his films, and Collins naturally fit into the role of Mark's tour guide and "protector", so to speak. But it was Roger who developed the most interesting relationship with Mark, and it took Collins almost two months to realize it.
He should have noticed it sooner, both Mark and Roger's overwhelming need for human contact. Sure, Collins would consider himself a huggy-touchy-feely kind of guy, but his displays of affection were expected and routine, even to newcomer Mark. Maureen's "displays of affection" were, more often than not, too overzealous, and Benny had never been one for showing emotion. It seemed as if Mark and Roger were a perfect match, both eager to give affection, and doubly eager to receive it.
Casual touches were something that Collins guessed he took for granted. Ever since his diagnosis, he'd decided to touch as many people as he could before he no longer had that opportunity. But when he finally became aware of Mark and Roger's timid, almost shy ways of initiating contact, he felt an odd swelling in his heart, a mixture of emotions he couldn't really sort out. Mark's shyness seemed to bring out a new timidity in Roger that was endearing to Collins; Roger, in turn, gave Mark a confidence that filled Collins with an almost fatherly sense of pride.
It started out completely casual and random. They were always bumping shoulders on the way to the bathroom or to the kitchen, sharing a smile afterwards. They sat close together on the couch, knees touching and arms rubbing up against each other. They always walked side by side, stealing any opportunity to engage in some playful shoving match. They shared blankets, ate together, sat in the windowsill together...the list went on and on.
The night that Collins discovered Mark and Roger's connection, he was lying awake in bed, listening to Maureen snore in the next room and staring at the cracks in the ceiling. After a few hours of frustrating attempts to fall asleep, he'd decided to venture into the kitchen for a glass of milk and a piece of the chocolate cake that Mark had made earlier in the day. When he walked out of his room, though, he was immediately distracted by a light peeking out from under Roger's door. Intrigued, he snuck quietly across the hall, pressing his ear to the door and listening.
He heard hushed whispers and chuckles, and the occasional rustle of a bed sheet. There were two people in Roger's room, he could tell, and Benny's closed door and the "Do Not Disturb" sign he'd swiped from a hotel were a clear indicator that Benny was fast asleep inside. Collins was now even more curious. He'd been suspecting for a couple of days that Mark was developing a little crush on Roger, but he figured he'd watch for a while longer before confronting Mark about it.
Collins quieted his breathing, trying to eliminate all noise so that he could hear what Mark and Roger were saying. To his great fortune, the duo began speaking a little louder.
"Details, man. How'd you meet?" That was Mark, sounding excited and bouncy.
"She was at the show. Waited until we were done playing, then came over and started talking to me. We stayed at the bar for, like, three hours. Her name's April." That was Roger, sounding dreamy and eager.
"April. That's awesome, Roger. Are you going to see her again?"
"I got a phone number."
"Then call her! You like her, right?"
"Yeah. She's got...soul, Mark. She says she understands my music. I can't even remember the last time a girl wanted to talk about my music without trying to get into my pants."
"Oh, shut up. You like it."
"Fuck off, Mark."
There was a swish and a thump, and Collins barely contained his laughter as Mark yelped, obviously not expecting whatever Roger had just done.
"Shut up! You're so goddamn loud!"
"You the one who just hit me with a fuckin' pillow, asshole."
"Get over it."
Collins composed himself, figuring this was the perfect opportunity to get a first hand account of the boys' activities. He put on the best "I'm pissed and sleepy" face he could muster, and knocked on the door.
"Uh, yeah? Come in."
Collins pushed the door open, and once again had to contain a grin at the sight before him. Roger and Mark were both lying on Roger's bed, heads together and feet dangling off the edge of the mattress. Mark was holding a pillow, looking slightly offended, his hair a ruffled mess and his glasses askew. Roger was grinning beside him, his hands folded inconspicuously across his stomach.
"Do you two even know what time it is?"
Mark smiled sheepishly, blushing slightly. "Sorry. Roger hit me with a pillow."
"You asked for it."
"It's too early for this," Collins rolled his eyes, yawning dramatically. He turned towards the door, shuffling back out into the hallway. "Night, bitches."
Collins laid awake in bed for a little longer after that, dwelling on the fact that Mark and Roger had said goodnight in complete unison. He fell asleep with the decision that this was too intriguing not to be observed more closely.
Collins next instance came a month or two after that, once again in the middle of the night, this time at the windowsill. He'd gotten up to go to the bathroom, had seen Mark and Roger sitting there at the window, cross legged and knees touching, and decided to hang out in the bathroom a little while longer as they talked. It seemed as if Mark had found a lucky lady this time. There goes my crush theory...
"I don't even know why, Roger, because it's just so random." Mark sounded anxious and nervous.
"Well, if you don't tell me who this mystery woman is, I'm not gonna be able to give you any kind of advice." Roger said, sounding amused and only slightly irritated.
"We're not five, Mark. Just tell me."
A deep breath. Then...
"Maureen. It's Maureen."
Silence. Then, Roger broke into a fit of hysterical laughter, and Collins was grateful for the loudness of the guitarist's chuckles, because he couldn't contain his own snickers.
"Fuck! You told me you wouldn't laugh!"
"No...I...didn't! I said...I said..." Roger was taking deep breaths, trying to control his breathing, but his bouts of laughter refused to subside.
"Damn it, Roger." Collins could almost hear the blush in Mark's voice.
"Sorry...I'm sorry. Just, give me a minute. That was...unexpected."
"Tell me about it."
"Okay..." Roger seemed to have gotten his laughter under control, "so, you like Maureen?"
"Yes. We've established that."
"You do know what you're getting in to, right?"
"Hell...I don't know anything."
"Want me to hook you guys up?"
"Sure," Roger laughed again. "But promise me one thing."
"Don't get your heart broken."
The sincerity in Roger's voice made Collins' throat swell all of the sudden. He snuck out of the bathroom, retreating back to his room and opening the door silently. He halted when he heard Mark's voice again, soft and serious.
"If you don't let her break my heart."
Collins shut the door quickly, but still heard Roger's response.
"Don't worry, I won't."
Roger's preoccupation with April greatly hindered Collins' observations, as the musician was never home anymore. It took a great toll on Mark, who was constantly fretting over Roger, saying he was too thin, too pale, too sick looking all the time. Roger, however, was always in a drug induced stupor those days, and it broke Collins' heart to see Mark's concern, and Roger's lack of it.
Collins had almost abandoned his little game all together, when one afternoon he heard raised voices coming from Mark's bedroom. He crept down the hallway, sitting in Benny's room, which was almost always empty. It seemed as if Benny had adopted an entirely new life, one that neither Collins nor anyone else knew about.
"Would you just once, just once, Roger, show a little bit of concern about someone else?" Mark, sounding angry and upset.
"Jesus, I said I was sorry, what else do you want?" Roger, sounding entirely too unfeeling.
"I want you to wake up, get off your ass, and realize why the hell I'm mad, instead of just laying there like a fucking idiot!"
"I know why you're mad, Cohen, chill out." Collins noticed the way Roger called Mark by his last name. It sounded unnatural and gave Collins the chills. He didn't like it, not one bit. "I got drunk, I was a little out of it, I accidentally fucked in your bed instead of mine. I'll wash the sheets...fuck, I'll even buy you new sheets. It's not that big of a deal."
"You don't...you don't even fuckin' get it! It's not the sheets I'm mad about! I could care less about the sheets! It's you!"
"What about me?"
"You're gone all the time, doing fuck-knows-what with April –"
"You liked April once."
"I still like April. It's what she's doing to you that I don't like! You're high all of the time. Don't pretend like you're not, because I know you are. You're getting careless. It doesn't take an idiot to figure out what's going on."
"So what if every now and then I like to feel good?"
"That shit's deadly, Roger. And you used to be happy without drugs. You don't laugh anymore. We don't talk anymore."
"We're talking now, aren't we?"
Collins cringed. The silence between them was deafening.
"Fuck you. Do whatever you want, see if I care anymore."
Mark stormed out of the room, but Collins left Benny's room and caught his arm before he made it out of the hallway. Mark stopped, shoulders slumping, his eyes refusing to meet Collins'.
"You heard?" he mumbled dejectedly. Collins' heart ached.
"Every word," Collins muttered, bringing a hand to the back of Mark's neck. The boy was severely lacking in his needed amount of human contact. "You okay, man?"
"Fine," Mark whispered. He sighed, turning towards Collins, his eyes tearing up. "I do care. That's not it, I do care."
"I know," Collins said, nodding and running his hand down Mark's back. Mark shook his head, pulling away from Collins and walking towards the window ledge.
"I just don't know what else to do."
Collins was there for April's death. He heard Mark's soft curse, sounding sick and deeply disturbed. He heard the filmmaker's efforts to keep Roger out of the bathroom, desperate pleadings of "Roger, no!" and "Not yet, please!" and "Stop, no Roger, stop!" He saw April's body, limp in the bathtub and covered in blood, he watched Roger fall to his knees, and heard Roger's gut-wrenching scream.
Roger spent the night in Mark's bed between Collins and Mark, sobbing until he threw up and his throat was raw. Roger clung to Mark, his hands twisted in the blond's shirt and his face pressed up against his neck. Warm tears clung to everything: the blankets wrapped tightly around Roger's shaking body, the pillows, Mark's skin. Mark was whispering nonsense in Roger's ear, trying to calm him down before he made himself sick again. Collins just rubbed his back, a slip of paper in his back pocket with April's fateful last message scribbled on it. They wouldn't tell him them. Not until he was calm.
Collins was there when Roger found out about AIDS. He stood with Mark outside of Roger's room, trying to get him to unlock the door, to come out and talk. He sat on the couch with Mark for hours, until finally Roger called out to Mark, his voice hoarse from the amount of crying he'd done in the past few days. He watched Mark enter Roger's room, and heard Roger start crying again. He figured it was a moment that did not need to be observed, and put his coat on, deciding it was the opportune time for that much needed walk.
Collins was still there for the first rounds of withdrawal. Most nights, he sat in front of the door, in case Roger was feeling particularly stubborn and tried to get out to buy his own smack. There were some nights when both Mark and he had to physically restrain Roger, his strength doubled from his need of the drug. Then, there were other nights when Collins just sat and watched as Mark carried him to the couch, Roger too weak to stand on his own. He remembered one of those nights quite vividly, a night when his previous observations came back to him, more out of a means of distraction than anything else.
Mark was sitting on the floor next to the couch, wiping Roger's face gently with a cool washcloth. Roger was trying desperately to sit up, his limbs shaking uncontrollably with spasms, his body covered in sweat.
"Relax, Roger," Mark whispered, bringing the washcloth away and replacing it with his hand. He brushed a couple of strands of Roger's hair, now much longer that it had ever been, away from his face. "Calm down. It's okay."
"M-Mark," Roger whimpered, still trying to fight through the pain. "Help."
"Shhh, relax, its okay," Mark sat up on his knees, framing Roger's face with his arms and running his hands through his sweaty hair. "Lay down, its okay. Shhh, Roger. Shhh. Look at me, its okay."
Collins felt like he should have turned his head then, because Roger collapsed back down into the couch, fixing Mark with the most intense gaze he'd ever seen. He could see the pain in Roger's eyes, his non-verbal plea for Mark to make it stop, to make it better. Mark looked at Roger with an equally intense stare, his eyes softer and comforting, although still filled with pain for Roger.
"Just look at me, Roger, I'm right here," Mark's voice was achingly tender, one hand in Roger's hair while the other brushed across his forehead and stroked his cheek. "I'm right here, you're okay. You'll be fine."
"Don't leave," Roger gasped, another spasm clenching his body. "Stay...stay, please."
"Of course," Mark lowered his head, resting his forehead against Roger's. Roger closed his eyes, grabbing Mark's arms in a death grip, nails digging into his skin.
"I...I'm sorry. For...everything."
"Shhh, don't be. Its okay, everything's okay."
Collins brought his legs up to his chest, resting his arms against his knees and dropping his head into his arms. He desperately needed a distraction, before he broke down right then and there. He thought about the first day Mark showed up at the apartment, he though about Roger's first meeting with April, he thought about his little game, his little observations, and decided that it didn't matter anymore what kind of relationship Mark and Roger had. They were there for each other, and that's what mattered the most.
When Collins came back from MIT, the first thing he noticed was that Roger was almost healthy looking. The next thing he noticed was that Mark was almost happy looking. The next thing he noticed was that Roger was entirely too shy around him. And finally, he noticed that Mark and Roger didn't touch nearly as much as they used to. It was a pity, he thought, that two people who had such a strong relationship before were now torn apart by a stupid drug, a stupid disease.
Touching was a good thing, Collins decided with a smirk as he lay down in his old room one night back at the loft, thinking of Angel. When Angel touched him, he felt that all was right in the world. He felt like his disease, Angel's disease, didn't exist. He liked to think that, for a little while, at least, he'd be able to fall in love and be loved in return. He was almost asleep, those thoughts leaving a ghost of a smile on his face, when he heard movement out in the living room.
Once again, curiosity got the better of him, and he crept out of his bedroom, leaning against the wall and folding his arms across his chest. Roger was sitting in the windowsill, blanket wrapped around his shoulders, gazing out at the moon. Mark's was lying on his back, his head resting against Roger's thigh. He was playing with his camera, fiddling with the knobs while Roger ran fingers through his hair. Their words were hushed, but not secretive. Just quiet, peaceful, so as not to disturb the moment.
"I mean, I couldn't have been that bad, could I have?" Mark, dejected and confused.
"I'm sure you weren't, Mark. If she's a lesbian, you can't help that." Roger, soft and comforting.
"It's just like high school, all over again. You think one thing about a person, and the next minute..."
"Mark, don't worry about it. There'll be someone else, I promise you. Don't let this bother you."
"I know, it shouldn't even bother me anymore. I'm just being stupid."
"No, you're not. You trusted her. You loved her."
Collins sighed, relaxing against the wall. For so long, Mark had taken care of Roger. It seemed now that Roger was repaying the favor. It was one of the most touching things Collins had ever seen.
"Mark, listen to me. You're going to find someone else, someone better. You're too good of a guy not too. Most girls would be lucky to have a boyfriend who treated them as good as you treated Maureen"
"Tell that to her, then."
Roger smiled, and Collins felt his throat close up again. He hadn't seen Roger smile in so long. The musician leaned over, placing a kiss on Mark's forehead. Collins then realized something: Mark and Roger's relationship had changed, this was an undeniable fact. With so many obstacles, so many things to deal with, how could a relationship not change? That didn't mean, though, to his great relief, that their friendship was any weaker. In fact, Collins believed that they had surpassed friendship by now; they were brothers, in everything but blood.
Which, Collins thought bitterly, makes all the difference in this case. Because blood separated them, now. Blood was going to take Roger away, and leave Mark by himself. The disease that ran through Roger's veins was going to deprive Mark of his need for touch, for contact, that Collins had first noticed so long ago.
Yes, Collins thought, their relationship was stronger, but it was also more private. Which wasn't so bad, now that he thought about it. They wouldn't have people like himself trying to figure out just what their relationship was all about, anymore. Collins smiled, shaking his head and moving back towards his room. Roger and Mark began talking again.
"So, what about this girl? Mimi?"
"I don't know."
"You've gotta give me more than that. She seems to be quite interested in you."
"Yeah...I've got baggage, Mark."
"Then you should tell her that. What can it hurt?"
"She might run."
"Then you'll still have me."
Collins jumped, stopping in his tracks, startled by the sound of his own name. He turned, smiling embarrassedly and rubbing the back of his neck.
"Hey, guys. Sorry, just goin' to the bathroom," he said, and Roger smiled at him.
"In the hallway?" Mark asked, sitting up and smirking. Collins blushed.
"Get your ass over here," Roger said, scooting back so that he was leaning up against the wall. Mark scooted back as well, his head drifting back to Roger's thigh. Collins sauntered over to the ledge, tucking his left leg under him as he sat. He looked at Roger and Mark and smiled.
"You two," he said, shaking his again head and chuckling. "What are you up to now?"
"Talking about Roger's new girlfriend," Mark said, a mischievous glint in his eye. Roger gave him a light smack to the side of the head.
"She's not my girlfriend," Roger insisted as Mark swatted his hand away. "She just...came over...for a light. It was nothing. She wanted to have breakfast. It was nothing."
"Uh huh," Collins said, raising an eyebrow at Mark. "She sweet on him?"
"Definitely," Mark said, earning him another smack on the head. "Ouch!"
"Shut up, will you?"
"What? It's true!"
"Oh fuck off!"
Collins laughed, leaning back against the wall. He had this strange feeling that something had come full circle, that something was complete now, though he couldn't put his finger on what. He looked out the window and thought about Angel, with the sounds of Mark and Roger's banter in the background, and knew this was exactly how it should be.