Pairing: Roger/Mimi, Maureen/Joanne, but a Mark centric fic.
Summary: Mark reaches a pinnacle in his life and makes an interesting decision. Set Post-Rent.
Notes: This was written for challenge #44 over at speedrent on LJ. It could possibly be the first chapter of lengthy fic, or could stand alone, so any and all thoughts are appreciated. It was the bunny that just wouldn't die, so I do hope it stays in character.

Disclaimer: Rent is not mine. I only own the DVD, but that DVD is all mine.

From facing your failure,
facing your loneliness,
facing the fact you live a lie...

"I took the MCAT."

Conversation at the table stopped. His father held his fork mid air, and Mark almost wished he had his camera so he could get the complete look of shock on his father's face on film.

"You what, honey?" his mom asked.

"I took the MCAT," he repeated.

There was another moment of silence and Mark's gaze dropped to his plate. This was a bad idea. This was most definitely a very bad-

"Well, how did you do?" his father finally asked, laying his fork down on his plate.

Mark's eyes didn't move from his food. "Um...a 35."

"A 35?" his dad repeated. "Katherine, did you heard that? A 35." There was no denying the pride in his voice and Mark hated it. Hated the fact that he needed to do this to earn it.

Mark swallowed. The next part was the hardest part. The part he truly despised and the sentence that made him cringe every single time he thought about it during the train ride into Scarsdale. Only now, it would be worse. Now he'd have to say it out loud.

"" He swallowed again, his throat dry. "I think I'm going to need some help."

Later all he'd remember was the smile on his father's face and how his mother jumped up out of her seat, declaring it a special occasion and even going as far to break open a bottle of wine. He sat, played with his food, listened to the happy chatter, the promises his father made and the connections he offered.

He smiled, knowing he needed this. He needed the connections. A good MCAT score wasn't all he needed to get into medical school and that reasoning was exactly why he'd come and why he'd asked.

And why a small part of him died inside.

He ignored it, pushed forward, drank a glass of wine to appease his mother, and made small talk. Said the right things. His father went out on and on about him taking over the practice and Mark simply nodded. He needed help; then, only then, could he disappoint his parents again. And oddly enough, he looked forward to that day.

That night he couldn't sleep. He tried to catch the late train back into the city, but his parents insisted he stay. So he did. He stayed and found himself wide awake at two a.m., sitting on the front porch in the house he grew up in, and wondering just what the hell he had gotten himself into.

He wanted this, he told himself. He needed this.

Roger needed this. Mimi needed this. Even Collins needed this.

He'd gone over it a hundred times, found it staring him in the face as he watched old reels of Angel, as he reviewed his finished film. He'd faced it with Mimi's latest scare, earning her a week in the hospital and new lines of fatigue on Roger's face.

Sure, films made a difference. They captured life, savored moments, brought smiles. But they only preserved the past, leaving the future wide open.

He loved his camera, loved staring through it and witnessing someone else's life, someone else's love, and someone else's triumph.

But Roger had put it best. From facing your failure, facing your loneliness, facing the fact you live a lie... the words still haunted him almost a year later. He did hide. He hid from his own failures, from his own loneliness, not feeling because feeling hurt. Which was why he was here, why he needed to do this. He needed to grow up and be able to make a difference in his friend's lives, instead of filming their demises. Instead of hiding behind a lens and pretending everything was all right.

Because again, Roger had been right. He wasn't ready to be alone.

It happened innocently enough, really. He'd stopped at a Barnes and Noble near NYU when he passed the study aids section. He'd come to buy Collins a gift, pleased that he'd actually planned ahead and saved enough to splurge a little on his friend's birthday.

Mimi had just been released the day before from the hospital, surviving her second bought with pneumonia this year. Perhaps that was why he stopped, staring at the array of brightly colored guides for while.

He didn't buy one then. Instead, he bought Collins a book and found himself knee deep in the health and medical section, dragging book after book on AIDS over to a padded chair and reading.

He knew a lot about the disease already, he discovered. He'd been a biology major at Brown and always did all the talking at Roger's doctor's appointments. He was the one that read the pamphlets when Roger cast them aside. Picking up medical information had been fairly easy from the start as his father was a doctor, and had hoped he'd become one too. But Mark had dismissed that idea when he had followed Benny to New York to film instead.

There were newer treatments on the horizon, new hopes, and life spans were expanding. HIV, itself, wasn't a death sentence; it was the germs it opened the door to that were fatal. Something Mark had seen daily through his camera lens.

Today 4 U had made a difference, been shown here and there, becoming a sort of underground documentary and putting a bit of money into Mark's pocket. But he wanted to do more, so much more. After all, Today 4 U wasn't going to stop that fact that someday all his friends would be gone and he'd be alone with only a movie or two to remember them by.

He left the bookstore heavy in thought. That night they celebrated Collins' birthday at the loft, Mimi set up on the couch amid a pile of blankets while Collins blew out the candles on a cake that Maureen had made. As Roger joked about Maureen's baking skills and whether or not the cake was even eatable, Mark stole another glance at Mimi.

She was all smiles, offering her own gift to Collins and agreeing to try Maureen's creation, but Mark couldn't ignore the long bouts of coughing in between sentences.

He wanted to help his friends, his family. Whether it was for purely selfish reasons that he didn't want to admit or not, he wanted to do more. More than financing an AZT prescription and showcasing a reel full of vibrant memories.

Two days later, he counted his pennies and went back to the bookstore.

He spent hours locked up in his room, studying page after page. He dragged himself out to local libraries, and came back, telling Roger he had been filming. It was only a half-lie, really, he still filmed whenever he could, but he'd gotten a new idea in his brain and the determination he had wasn't about to wane.

After all this, if he succeeded, he could make an awesome film.

Scraping together the cash to take the test wasn't easy. Admission tests were expensive, especially when there were AZT prescriptions to worry about. But still, he managed, after cutting a few meals here and there, telling himself that soon, maybe, he could afford more, even providing Roger, Mimi, and Collins with the latest modern technology could offer.

If anyone noticed anything out of the ordinary with him, they didn't say a word. Mimi was healthy again, clean, and had finally quit her job at Cat Scratch Club, exchanging it for a job at the Life Cafe. She wasn't a wonderful waitress, in fact she was terrible if Mark was honest, always messing up orders, but her smile made up for her flaws and she hadn't gotten fired yet. Roger had just gotten his first solo gig at a tiny club in Soho. Collins was teaching again, tackling the City College of New York this time. Joanne was trying to make partner at her law firm, and Maureen...well, Maureen was Maureen, performing, auditioning, dragging Joanne and whoever else would come to another off-off-off Broadway show she'd managed to get a role in.

So he slipped through the cracks, yet again. But this time, he use it to his advantage.

He often wondered how he'd break the news to his friends, revealing his plan. Roger would call him a sellout, he was sure. That he was crazy and that this wasn't him and that he was doing exactly what he'd said he'd never do. But how would Roger know? Roger may be his best friend, but Roger hadn't known him forever. Maureen was the one who had known him the longest and the only one that had ever met his parents, knew why he'd come to New York. He wasn't sure what she'd say - she'd be pissed as well, he'd expect, but Maureen didn't dwell. No, that was his job.

Maybe he could never tell them.

He didn't have to, it turned out. Well, not all of them, at least.

The test was on a Saturday. Mark wasn't sure how he made it through it since the damn thing took nearly all day, but in the end, he did. Now all he had to do was wait.

He was heading out the door when he bumped into Joanne, literally.

"What are you doing here?" was the first thing she asked.

"I could ask you the same thing," he answered, shoving his hands deep into his pockets. He'd left his camera at the loft, so nervous that morning he was afraid he'd have dropped it if he had taken it with him.

"I'm meeting my boss," she answered. "Her daughter is taking the MCAT and we are all supposed to go to dinner. Part of the whole trying to make partner deal."

"Ah," he responded. "I was just walking by, stopped in to use the bathroom." He was surprised at how quickly the lie came and why he lied at all. Was he embarrassed?

"Uh huh." Joanne didn't sound convinced. "Mark, Maureen found your study guide at the loft."

"She what? That was in my room, how dare she invade my-" He stopped short, realizing he'd given himself away. "I mean, I-"

"Maureen is nosy as hell, and you and I both know it," Joanne interrupted. "She didn't tell anyone, except me. She thought it might have been left over from your college days, but she'd never seen it before. She was confused and we both know how Maureen gets when she's confused. But I convinced her it was your business and that she shouldn't have been snooping through your things in the first place. So don't worry, she isn't about to broadcast it to the free world."

"Um, well, thanks," he said softly, shuffling his feet.

"So, you know what I'm about to ask next, right?" She raised an eyebrow. "You really thinking about going back to school?"

"Would it be so bad if I was?" he shot back, feeling the sudden need to defend himself and his intentions.

"Calm down, Mark. Do you think, me, of all people, is about to tell you that going back to school is a bad thing?" Joanne offered him a smile and he relaxed. This was Joanne, the Joanne that went to law school and valued success and knew what it was like to have expectations.

"I'm just surprised," she admitted. "Maureen told me your father is a doctor and it's the last thing on earth you ever wanted to be."

"My father is in family practice and wanted me to join him. That was what I didn't want. I just..." He sighed. "Don't you need to catch up with your boss?"

"I have a couple of minutes," she answered. "You just what?"

"I just..." He took a moment, considering his words. "I want to help. I want to help Roger and Mimi and Collins. Movies are great, they get the message out there and I will never stop making them, but movies aren't going to keep people alive."

"Really? Never thought I'd hear that sentence from your mouth," Joanne responded. "Mark, you know you don't have to try and save-"

"The world?" he finished. "I know. I just want to help save my family. Is that any different from you taking on pro-bono cases? Cases like mine, in fact?"

She shook her head. "No." Down the hall, Mark heard someone call her name. "I have to go. But Mark?"


"Let me know how you did, at least."

He smiled. "Sure. You'll be the first to know."

She had been; he called her office and left a message on her machine, away from a certain person that might just hear it. He hung up the phone shortly after, knowing just what he needed to do next and dreading it.

That dinner had been his greatest nightmare.

His father made several calls the next day, piled Mark's lap with brochures, applications, and stack of names and numbers. All Mark could manage to get was the fact that he wanted to go to school in the city and that he didn't intend to move home.

"That would be too much to ask for wouldn't it?" his father had said as he drove Mark to the train station. "Your mother will be crushed, but what else is new? is the city? You still living with..."

"Roger," Mark answered, filling in the blank. "Yes." He preferred to keep chatter to a minimum and almost cringed when they hit another red light. Just how many lights were there on the way to the train station?

"Huh." He rested his hands on the steering wheel. "You know you don't have much time to fill out applications and get recommendations if you've looking for fall admission. You need to call Andy-"

"Brightman when I get back into the city if I want him to write me a letter of rec," Mark finished, keeping his tone even. It was a necessary evil, networking with his father's friends to attain a long-term goal. He also had to reopen the lines of communication with a couple of professors at Brown as well. For a brief moment, he wondered if this was worth it.

The light changed and he told himself it was.

His father gave him a hug at the station, an awkward sign of affection that felt so out of place that Mark was sure even the strangers around him knew it.

He got on the train and found a seat, listening the sounds around him as they pulled away.

He wasn't his father and he never would be and that's exactly what he wanted.

He needed to tell himself that. That doing this wasn't following in his father's footsteps, that he was still taking his own path and that in the end it would a different family he'd come home to and a different sense of pride he'd feel.

His own.

After his visit to Scarsdale, he spent the first day filming and even showcased some of he latest stuff for Roger and Mimi. He had some good footage, even enough to market, perhaps. God knows he could use the cash.

School would be taken care of. His father had assured that, giving Mark no more excuses. Networking needed to be done and after a visit to his dad's pal Andy Brightman, and surprise, Mark even found himself a new job, working nearly thirty hours a week at Brightman's office.

However, the real surprise wasn't the job. It was Andy Brightman himself. Mark's mind had remembered the man as having a ritzy practice in midtown, servicing wealthy patients. But somehow no one had mentioned the free clinic Brightman helped run on the side. A clinic not at all unlike the one Roger went to and one that saw an influx of HIV and AIDS patients.

Had his father known? Mark had never discussed New York with him. The only person that knew about Roger was Cindy. He'd been forced to confess all when he needed to borrow money for Roger's rehab. Cindy, for the most part, hadn't lectured, playing the part of the dutiful older sister, and handed over the money.

Had she talked to their father? She must have, but still, it shocked Mark that his father would even listen.

He spent a lot of time at the clinic and his camera was on every second it could be. Andy - he'd forbidden Mark to call him Dr. Brightman from day one - had laughed at this, and unlike Mark's father encouraged it.

"You learn a lot about people through that lens, I bet," he told Mark one afternoon.

Mark looked at his camera and shrugged. "I guess so."

"You're an observer," Andy continued. "It's a great trait for a film maker and an even better one for a doctor. You'll see."

Mark wasn't sure he ever would, but he did see something else.

He liked his new job. He truly enjoyed the clinic and he felt guilty when he came back to the loft after work. He brought tons of new footage, but was afraid his secret would come tumbling out if he ever showed it.

"Oh come on," Mimi insisted. It was a Thursday and Mark had spent eight hours at the clinic. He was tired, but it was Mimi's day off and she was anything but tired. In fact, she was restless. Roger was practicing; his latest gig had sparked renewed interest in recreating his band and while it meant great things for all of them, it left Mimi with Mark for company.

"It's not ready."

"So? You always showed us raw footage before - and I know you have tons of it." She plopped herself down on the couch next to him and gave him her best pitiful look. "Pleease..."

"Mimi, you sound like you're five, you know," he told her, shaking his head.

She shrugged. "Does that mean if I throw a tantrum, you'll give in?"

He sighed. Maybe he could show her. Today's footage didn't reveal much, if he recalled correctly, and Roger was due back in about a half-hour or so.

"Fine. The top one."

Mimi jumped and dragged out his old hanging-on-by-a-thread projector. He'd shown her awhile back how to load film onto it, on another night when she and he were Rogerless. He closed his eyes and listened to the sound of the film turning, almost lulled to sleep by its familiarity.

"Hey, Mark, where'd you film this?"

His eyes popped open as his felt a hand shake his shoulder. The projector was off and Mimi was sitting back on the couch next to him. Standing in front of the couch was Roger.

He must have nodded off. He shifted and blinked the weariness from his eyes.

"Film what?" he asked.

"This one." This time it was Roger who answered and placed the film in question on his lap. Mark peered down, straightening his glasses as he stared at the date.

"You got a job at a clinic? I thought you were working at some film place. When did that happen?" Roger didn't sound miffed, just confused.

Right, he knew. That day was one of the few he'd found himself in front of camera, when one of the nurses decided he needed to be filmed instead of always being the one that filmed.

He decided to be honest. "Not too long ago," he admitted. It had only been three months, really. "The money's good."

"I bet," Roger said. "Explains how you covered both mine and Mimi's AZT this month, too."

He shrugged. "Connections, right? Do what you have to do."

"I thought you hated doctors," Mimi said. "Wasn't your dad a doctor?"

"Is still a doctor," Mark corrected, "and I said I hated him, not the profession. Like I said, the money's good and you have to admit, even with your waitressing and your gigs, we could sure as hell use it."

"Oh yeah," Roger admitted. "So this is what you've been filming, huh?"

"It is."

Roger grinned. "You know, next thing you'll be telling us you're going back to school or something. Ready to make a real living."

He swallowed. "Um, would that be such a bad thing?"

Roger shook his head. "Nah. Not if you wanted to sell out again, that is."

"I didn't sell out," he defended, knowing right away what Roger was referring to. Alexi has been a means to an end and the job had gained him enough exposure to get Today 4 U out into a niche market. "And besides, it got us away from Benny's handouts, didn't it?"

At Benny's name, Roger flinched. Something had happened between Benny and Roger that Mark never quite figured out, just that it had happened right before they found Mimi on that Christmas Eve. All Mark knew was that Roger and Benny were civil, but it still didn't mean Roger didn't consider Benny a complete sell-out.

"I think about going back to school," Mimi piped in. "I never actually graduated from high school. It'd be nice to finish."

"High school's overrated," Roger answered.

Mark shot Roger a look. Roger had dropped out his senior year, Mark had been told, but Roger's own battle with education didn't need to influence Mimi's. "It is not. You could go back, you know, Mimi. It was one of your New Year's resolutions."

"Yeah, like forever ago." She settled into the cushions. "Angel always told me I could go back. Get my GED, go on to college, and make something of myself. I never believed it. I liked heroin too much to believe it."

At that sentence, even Roger caved. "Mark's right. You could go back. I'd support you."

Mimi waved a hand. "I know you would. And the GED might happen. But college, no way. There's no money and no ti-" She cut herself short when she realized what she almost said.

No time. Never knowing if there were enough tomorrows to make it graduation.

"There's always time," Mark interjected. Again, he thought of what futures people like Andy could offer people like Mimi. Maybe not everything, but any amount of time itself was a precious gift. "And I'm rolling in the big bucks now. I could help."

"Hey! Once the band takes off, I'll be rolling too," Roger insisted.

Mimi laughed. "I'll be a lucky woman."

"That's right." Mark squirmed as Roger leaned down to kiss her. Some things he didn't need a front-row seat for. He got up off the couch, ready to leave the two lovebirds alone.

"Oh," Roger said as Mark headed towards his room. "You got mail, by the way. It's on the table."

Mail? He stopped in his tracks.

"From who?"

"Some college. You sure you're not going back to school?"

Mark didn't answer, just made a beeline to the table. He'd been on four interviews last month and hadn't heard a thing. He had no idea what to expect.

He opened the envelope, scanning its contents. As he lowered it, he found two sets of eyes on him.

"Who's it from?" Mimi asked.

He considered lying. He really did. Mark thought about Roger's philosophy, Roger's idea of selling out, and his own current motives that lay in front of him.

"I'm going back to school," he finally said. "Medical school."

Further A/N: For those who care, a 35 on the MCAT is pretty damn good (basically med schools love to see anything over 30, meaning double digits in each of the three sections) and I picked that number because to me, Mark is pretty damn smart. I learned all about the MCAT and its history when my very good friend took it three years ago. She refuses to disclose her score, but it was high enough to get her in Michigan, so it had to be over 30 :).