Duct Tape

By Alone Dreaming

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: very brief language, massive alternate universe, character death, major angst, general suffering and pain, tearful moments, etc.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything affiliated with RENT. If I did, this wouldn't be posted under fanfiction.

Dedication: To Emi and Andi who read, beta'd and approved this story. You two are awesome.

Quick Author's Note: Please be aware that this takes place in the middle of RENT and is a massive alternate universe. Please read and enjoy!

He had expected it from the moment that Collins had called to tell him Angel had died. As he listened to the broken, weeping voice over the phone, he knew that he had reached that ugly spot. Even when he put on his jacket and rode as fast as he could over the hospital to be there for his friend, it was crystal clear to him that this comfort was meaningless. For months, he had been trying to prepare himself for it. He had watched it slowly occur and though he had tried to prevent it, he had known that it was inevitable. He had also known which straw would break the proverbial camel's back and that was why he had spent so much time in Angel's hospital room. He had felt so selfish sitting there for hours on end trying to convince himself that he was there for Angel mainly because he knew that it wasn't true. He was there for himself and himself alone.

Because, he knew that when Angel was gone, his family would quickly follow.

It wasn't a revelation to anyone that Angel was one of the things that held them together. Angel was one of those pure things in life that kept other things from dying. He had always thought of her as the water of the family. Whenever someone was angry at someone else, she would go and revive the relationship. Her laughter brought laughter to others. When she danced around, not caring about what anyone else thought, she made the family feel like everything was right in the world. She always there to comfort those who needed a shoulder to lean on.

And when she started to fail, so did the family.

Mimi and Roger split and this time, no one was there to fix it. Roger went back to spending a lot of time in his room, and Mimi was using so much that she looked like the mere shell of a person. Maureen and Joanne, who had been at each other's throats for a while, suddenly got worse. They wouldn't stand in the same room without making some sort of snide comment or interrupting one another. Meanwhile, Collins was getting less and less happy and more and more worried as he watched his lover grow too weak to even paint her own nails.

And he, Mark, was left trying to duct tape everything together only to find that duct tape didn't work worth shit. Whatever Angel used was much better.

Which made it so ironic that Angel's dying request was for him to hold their small, neurotic family together. He wished that he could have begged Angel for another position, for another job, but he couldn't find it in himself. First off, it should have been an honor for Angel to ask him to take over her position. Secondly, what would be more selfish than to ask a dying person to change her mind about what she wanted to happen after she was gone? Clearly, Angel had been thinking about it for some time and her voice had been so sincere. It had nearly broken Mark's heart to realize he'd never be able to fulfill it.

From that moment on, his heart had broken a little more each day as he watched the family weaken until it finally died on Halloween; at Angel's funeral.

He watched everyone fight and he threw in his half-hearted protests, trying to put some semblance of sanity into the situation. It didn't do any good. Where Angel could have worked miracles, he, Mark Cohen, could only let disaster occur. No one listened to him the way they listened to her. When he spoke, everyone else just yelled louder. He simply didn't hold the strength of aura, mind and personality that Angel had wielded. How could he? He wasn't her. He was Mark, the camera man, the one who recorded the madness and stood five feet from it at all times. He was the man who didn't get involved if he could avoid it.

Failing; that was what he was doing. He had tried so hard to fill Angel's shoes by making everyone personally promise Collins that they would get along just for this day. In fact, he had been rather proud when they had all listened. What he had forgotten was that promises were meaningless unless the people who made them followed through, and so far, not one of them had. Maureen and Joanne were snarling at each other and stepping on already worn down nerves. Roger was being defensive and angry. Benny was standing in the background, his face stony. Mimi was sobbing and shouting for the world to hear. And poor Collins was approaching the group, trying to stop the tears that were flowing down his face.

He had failed.

His stomach hurt with it and his head felt light. His family was gone. His real family, the one he loved so dearly, was shattered on the rocks, never to return. There was nothing he could do to repair it. Duct tape, he knew, was never going to be enough. And that was what he was. He was duct tape, the silver patching that was clearly a quick fix and came off leaving a sticky residue. While Angel had the special touch, akin to a mother's touch with her child, he was the ugly, nasty duct tape that didn't work very well; at least, not on people. He wasn't special. He was just Mark.

His back was hurting now too, perhaps as a sympathetic pain to his stomach. He even felt dizzy from the stress. A bit of sweat dribbled down the sides of his face and made his glasses slide down his nose. Shivering, he pushed them back up his nose and tried not to look as sick as he felt. He was not to fall short of what was expected of him but everything looked so hopeless and he hurt so badly. The arguing just wouldn't stop, and, to top it all off, he could only recall what a disappointment he was going to be.

And suddenly, the world tilted at such an angle that he toppled backwards into a tombstone.

For some reason, he didn't think that the ill feeling was completely from all the raging emotions around him and in him. His head was aching now, and the pain in his abdomen was getting worse, not better. He couldn't seem to get in enough air in to keep his vision from getting dizzy or his mind from blanking out. His chest was starting to hurt as well and he wondered for a brief second if he was having a heart attack. He swallowed hard and clung to the tombstone in an effort to remain upright. But it wasn't enough and he kept going towards the grassy ground.

He was only duct tape, after all.

"Mark? Are you okay?"

It was difficult to comprehend who asked him and coming up with a response was even worse. "I th-think I'm... s-sick."

And he was on his back, staring up at the blue sky, wondering how Angel could have possibly thought he could do anything. He barely heard the cries of worry or the whimpering pleas to stay awake. They were coming from a great distance as he fought to keep breathing, keep thinking, keep trying; as he discovered that he couldn't try anymore; as everything became unimportant. The gentle rubbing on his hands and the patting on his face faded away to nothing and he slowly drifted away from it all.

"What are you doing?" Angel asked him, perched on the table next to where he was working. She was cross legged, in full-drag, and painting her fingernails without a care in the world.

He was watching her with a bit of apprehension. "Cleaning my camera," was the short, half-hearted answer.

It wasn't as though he was scared of Angel. Hell, there was nothing about Angel to be scared of except when she got a bit mischievous but even then, there was nothing to worry about. Angel never did anything out of spite. Some people feared her because she was a drag queen but those who had lived in the city for more than a year didn't have the time to trifle with such small things. Mark wasn't afraid of her for either reason but he did find himself fearing the questions. Angel was the queen of questions, the possessor of six thousand ways to ask the same things over and over.

He didn't like answering questions and it wasn't because Angel asked them so many times. He talked to his nieces on the phone every now and again and played the question game. Answering the questions made him nervous. It was as though he was giving up a part of himself to someone else when he told them exactly what he was doing. The idea of being understood and sharing secrets wasn't something he was very good at or even considered doing with anyone.

Until, of course, Angel waltzed in the room and insisted on it.

"Really?" Angel leaned forward, interest brewing in her eyes. "What exactly does that entail?"

"Um," he didn't really have an answer. He did it all the time, without thinking, without telling, without being asked. "Well, I sorta..." He sorta didn't want to answer the question. "It's..." He trailed off yet again and shrugged helplessly, pushing at his glasses. "It's complicated."

Angel was not to be deterred. She carefully put the lid on her nail polish and slid down to the floor. Placing herself on the stool beside Mark, she hovered over his shoulder and looked at the little pieces and cleaning tools. "I learn fast, sweetie," she assured, grinning. "Just show me what you do... and tell me what the little pieces are."

He swallowed hard and looked at her, messing with his glasses again. "Uh, okay... Sure... Just..." He fumbled with the tool he had been using so deftly before. It didn't make sense that this would be so hard. After all, he had always secretly wished for someone to understand his passion and to share his love for it. What was wrong with doing so with Angel?

A frown started to crease her forehead as she watched his discomfort. "What are you worried about?"

"W-what?" he stuttered, dropping the tool.

"You're scared, or upset," she stated, the frown deepening.

He tried to cover it up. "N-no, I'm fine. Wh-what are you talking about?"

"Oh no you are not fine," she insisted, waving a hand through the air. "You are playing with your glasses. You only ever do that when you don't know what to do or say."

She read him like a book. "Well, I... It's just..."

"You don't want to talk about the camera?" she offered, not looking at all offended. She just looked curious, attempting to understand what was wrong with her friend.

"No!" he said a bit vehemently. He did want to talk about the camera! It was just so difficult to say the things without feeling as though he'd lost a bit of himself. So hard to express his love without detaching from the situation. "N-no, I do... It's just..."

"Hard?" Angel said, now smiling again. She patted his arm gently. "Yes, it's always hard but if you don't try opening up, you'll never be able to do it." She shifted in the seat and delicately picked up an item. "Now, what's this?"

He had to hold himself back from lunging at her and grabbing it back. "It's the lens," he said softly. "Be-"

"Careful," Angel finished for him. "Of course, I will. Now, show me how to clean it."

And suddenly, he was able to tell her how to do everything. She helped him clean the pieces of the camera, being almost as meticulous about it as he was, if not more. When they put the camera back together, she allowed him to film her playing the table, pipes and everything else she could get a hold of. He got nearly of an hour of footage and by the time the others returned with food, he knew that Angel was going to be one of his dearest friends; maybe even his closest friend.

Mostly, it was because he felt like he could tell Angel anything.

"Pookie, you've got to eat something," Maureen whined through a bite of chow mein. "You look like a walking stick." She tried to fork a piece of Joanne's sweet and sour chicken and got her hand poked.

He set the camera on the table, letting it run and catch Angel and Collins feeding each other. "I'm not very hungry right now. Maybe a little bit later..."

Roger disengaged himself from Mimi briefly. "That's what he always says," he ignored the glare Mark sent his way, " and he never eats. Then he passes out at work and I get a call from Alexi Darling saying I NEED to pick him up."

"You passed out?" Maureen squeaked, sounding absolutely terrified.

Mark blushed to the tips of his ears. "Once... only once!"

"Three times to date," Roger corrected. "The doctor says that he has to be careful because he could give himself some sort of condition and-"

"- I can't make any promises. Abdominal aortic aneurysms are difficult to treat and their survival rates are very low. I am sorry to say I can't assure you of anything, even though your friend is young."

It wasn't Roger's voice anymore. This voice was calm, careful, and distant while keeping a slight hint of sympathy. It was the voice of someone who was use to giving bad news. He recognized it as a doctor without thinking too hard which was good because his mind was very foggy and confused. For a second, he considered dozing off again, falling back into good memories that were warm and safe. However, there was the irritating reminder in his less than clear head that he didn't have a clue as to where he was or what he was doing there. In fact, he could barely remember what he was doing before though he thought he could remember seeing Angel.

'Angel's dead,' his mind whispered sadly. 'Her funeral, you were at her funeral.'

He suddenly felt sick at heart as the things that had occurred swooped down on him. He had fainted at Angel's funeral after watching his friends argue and his family snap into pieces he couldn't fix with duct tape. He recalled feeling so inadequate. And then everything was filled with haziness and distant recollections from happier times. There was the inkling of being prodded and poked that had ultimately faded into solid nothingness.

And now he was nearly certain that he and his nasty duct tape were lying in a hospital bed.

He couldn't open his eyes and he gave up trying after one or two attempts. His ears were working well-enough to compensate and he was too weary to struggle. There was also the fear that he would go under again if he worked too hard. He had a strange fear of falling asleep and though he couldn't find the source of it, he obeyed it. Focusing as hard as he dared, he listened to the room around him.

"Said... he'd... bastard..."
"Try to... rest... I'll... for you..."

Soft sobbing and hushing; someone moving near by and the sound of cloth being smoothed. He thought he might have felt someone stroking his hand but wasn't sure.

"He can't die, he can't die... Not another death..."
"Shh, it's alright. Mark's gonna pull through this..."

Mimi? Roger? It sounded like the two of them but he thought his ears were playing tricks on him. It had been an age since they had talked to each other peacefully. Why on earth would they be getting along, now? Angel's death hadn't given them the ability to talk to each other. He, Mark, shouldn't have been any different. Yet, he seemed to be making a difference. It sounded like they were talking to each other, comforting each other.

"Pookie, do you want some coffee?"

"N-no, I'm alright..."

Whispered, barely heard. Joanne and Maureen getting along as well? No, it wasn't possible. He was only duct tape. He couldn't possibly be strong enough to do this. Angel's magic touch hadn't been passed to him. He didn't have the ability to fix things without a care, without a thought. And yet... things seemed to be slowly pulling together. Everything seemed to be healing and he was the cause.

It just didn't completely make sense.

"Are you sure you'll handle everything? I mean, you just paid," a hitched breath, "for Angel's funeral... I-"

"You guys are the closest things I have to a family. Of course, I will..."

He had to open his eyes. Wonder had overpowered the fear of fading away and he put his effort into peeling back heavy lids just to see what was going on. He had never really been afraid of death and now that he was facing it, he found that it wasn't all that scary. In fact, it was rather peaceful. All that he felt currently was an overbearing exhaustion and a need to give in to the soft darkness in his mind. So strange that something most people did anything to avoid was so simple and comforting.

His eyes opened to slits and he was blinded by the white in his room. When everything came into focus again, what he saw astounded him. First off, it was all so crystal clear and he was certain he didn't have his glasses on. Secondly, it was exactly what he had been wishing for for the past few months. It was before him, scattered in the hard plastic chairs, looking utterly miserable and worn down, and surrounded by styrofoam cups and plates. But the important part was that it was there and he never thought he would see it again.

Maureen and Joanne had their chairs drawn up next to each other, and Joanne's head was resting on Maureen's shoulder. Joanne was looking so upset that for a moment, Mark felt bad about dying. He felt guilty for leaving her there so miserable. After all, he had always felt a special connection with Joanne. There was something about her that was likable that he had often found himself wishing that she was straight. She was the type of girl that he would settle down with and marry. But reality would always snap back in and remind him that she wasn't straight and she had a lover. A lover, who she happened to be with for the first time in months. Maureen was resting her head on top of Joanne's, her arm around the other woman's shoulders and her eyes unfocused, staring off into the distance. Her face was pink with recently shed tears.

His eyes flickered over to Roger and Mimi. Mimi was curled up in Roger's lap, her thin shoulders shaking badly and her face wet with crying. Her chin was resting on Roger's arm which was wrapped around her and she was clinging to him desperately, as though he was her only lifeline. Roger, meanwhile, had his head perched on her shoulder, pressed against her neck. His eyes held a glassy , far away look that he often got when he was thinking about the past but usually, his guitar was resting in his hands instead of his girlfriend.

Mark wouldn't have anything else in Roger's arms at the moment.

There was a hand holding his, he noted. Collins was sitting at his bedside, much as he had done with Angel. There were no tears in his eyes, nor any stains on his face. He seemed sadly resolute about the situation as though he understood the inevitable and was ready to accept it. His hands were holding Mark's limp one, carefully avoiding IVs. A soft sigh escaped him and one of the hands was removed to rub his eyes.

But he was sitting there, with the rest of them, and none of them were fighting. Mark was beyond amazed and so pleased that he thought that maybe he would live to just experience a family together again. His body disagreed though, weakened from the actions of the past few minutes. He didn't have the strength to go on and even if he did, something told him this wouldn't last for long if he didn't depart. After all, duct tape only worked once and then it was gone. It wasn't reusable like Angel's powers had been.

Benny stepped into the room, several steaming cups in his hand. He approached Collins and offered him a cup but Collins declined. Benny was about to move on but he looked at Mark first and the cups fell to the ground. And Mark knew even as Benny dropped the coffee that it would be time to go soon.

"Mark?" Benny said, his face getting very close; too close almost.

Mark forced his lips to twitch which taxed him more energy than he could afford. His eyes started to fall closed even as his family gathered around and someone called for the doctor. He was sad that they thought this was all a good sign and that he was going to pull through. A part of him didn't want to leave, especially when they had finally come together once again. But it was time and he knew it. And even as his mind let go and his body started to give in to the trauma, he came to a last realization.

Angel was right. Duct tape was enough to fix just about anything, even if it was only once.

The End