Disclaimer: I do not own Rent or any of the characters from Rent.
A/N: Feedback is thoroughly appreciated. If you guys like this story, I'll continue!
Chapter One: Shuffling Feet, Marshmallow Cereal and How It All Might Change
It was the sound of a door on it's rusty hinges squeaking that first pierced through his subconscious, stirring him awake. It was the sound of feet shuffling across the worn carpet of the hallway outside of the bedroom, though, that made him swing his legs over the side of his bed (wincing as the bottom of his bare feet hit the cool of the old wooden floor), and grope blindly for his glasses before peering at his bedside table. 3AM - no one in this house - including him - had any business being up at that hour.
Carefully and quite stealthily (something he thought about later and was proud of himself for), he crept out of his room, noticing as soon as he stepped out into the hallway and began the descent down the stairs that every light had been flipped on.
A sharp click of a lock being pulled, and his feet carried him faster, looking for the culprit behind the attempt to escape. A turn of a corner from the downstairs hallway to the main room revealed a head of dark curls, tippy-toed feet and a hand reaching for the doorknob of the front door, and before the person could pull open the heavy wood, he crossed the room and pressed his hand against it, stopping the movement. He peered down at the little girl at waist height, eyes wide and surprised.
"Hi Marina," He said, eyebrows to his hairline and expression blank and still. Inside, he was slightly bemused by her innocent, shocked eyes, but years of practice made him aware that in situations like where your seven year old is trying to leave the house at 3AM on her own you do not laugh.
"Hi, Uncle Mark," He voice faltered and the bottom lip protruded, something she did when worried that was inherited from her mother, of whom she would never know she inherited from.
"What are you doing?" He asked, calmly, coolly, pulling his hand from the door and sliding the lock shut with a defiant click. He watched as Marina slid her old worn Strawberry Shortcake backpack further up on her shoulder.
"I wanted to go to Abby's house, Uncle Mark. You said I couldn't go sleepover for her birthday but I wanted to so I was going to go," She shrugged her shoulders and there goes the backpack, sliding off her tiny frame and down her arms. It was at that moment that he realized how tired he was, that he was certainly too old to be up at this hour anymore.
"What did I say about Abby's sleepover?" He asked, placing a hand on her back as he began to guide her back towards the staircase. She sighed, her whole body rising and then falling in disappointment.
"That I can't go to sleepovers yet," She murmured, swaying a bit as she shuffled through the living room, stopping for a moment to pull her pajama leg up and out from under her socked foot.
"What else did I say about going out by yourself?" He said out loud, allowing a bit more of a humor-tinted tone to slip from his exhausted voice. They began ascending the stairs.
"That I'm not allowed to, not 'til I'm 37," She sighed, obviously not understanding her guardian had been exaggerating a bit when he'd explained that to her.
Mark, thoroughly amused with his own wittiness, smirked so she couldn't see him, "Exactly. And I told you that next year you can start going to sleepovers, and that I don't really know Abby's Mom enough yet."
"Yeah yeah," She continued as he lead her into her small bedroom. His eyes widened as he noticed her bureau drawers opened and clothes strewn on the floor - a mess that had been left in haste to escape to a sleepover party. Mark tsked out loud just as Marina looked up at him, eyes wide, knowing she was in quite a bit of trouble.
"Marina," His soft tone wavered into more of a warning one, "This is…"
"I'm sorry, Uncle Mark! Real sorry!" She pleaded, big dramatic tears forming on her emerald eyes. Mark shook his head and pointed to the bed, it's pink lace cover kicked half-way onto the floor.
"Get into bed, Marina- you are going to clean this up tomorrow, and then you and I are going to have a Stern Talk about this." Stern Talk meant business, and by the way Marina scrambled into her bed, her backpack tossed and forgotten on the plush rug next to Mark's bare feet, she knew this. Mark pointed at her for a second, shook his head, and ignored the bottom lip that was making it's presence known on her little face.
"Goodnight," He said finally, as he exited the room. He pulled the door closed behind him, just in time to hear her soft reply of goodnight.
The baby, Mark thought, seemed very much like a wrinkly, red doll. An alive, wrinkly red doll - one that breathes and makes noises and has feelings, that is. It was at that moment, as he cradled this little person in his arms, that he knew everything he'd ever known would change. His life as he knew it - in all it's bohemian glory, in it's scraping by day by day on whatever change in their pockets or sending Roger out to play a gig to get a couple of bucks for them to make it through the week- it'd all have to be flipped upside down. A baby, especially one that's going to be raised by him and Roger- didn't need all that extra stuff, all that baggage. It needed stability - food and comfort and the ability to be carefree, to be a kid.
There was a lot to be done, Mark knew, and he was going to have to be the one to nudge both of them in the right direction.
"We're not going to be able to do this," Roger's voice permeated his thoughts. Mark looked up from the baby in his arms to her father, sitting in the hard plastic of the hospital chair, "We can't do this without her."
Mark felt the lump in his throat, tucking Marina closer to his chest, her little fists brushing against the material of his teeshirt.
"Mimi-" He began, but Roger would hear none of it.
"Mimi wouldn't want our baby growing up in that place - she had bigger plans for her, Mark -"
"Mimi wouldn't want us to give up on her," Mark very nearly growled, feeling suddenly very disgusted by Roger, "This isn't something you turn your back on, Roger. This is a human being. We're not going to toss her to the state or put her up for adoption because it might be too hard for you - for us."
"But this is not what Mimi wanted for her -"
"Mimi is dead, Roger," Mark said, and immediately regretted his words as Roger's eyes glittered with pain. He continued anyway, "This baby you and Mimi created together, Rog. This baby is part of you- a part of Mimi, it's a miracle. Don't be so quick to let it go."
And Mark felt bad, because this was hard for Roger, so hard for Roger. They didn't plan for Mimi to die, not during childbirth, not for a few years now. The child he held in his arms was a miracle to begin with - an accidental conception kept HIV-negative by the miracle of modern, developing medicine. Mimi had a lot of life ahead of her, a lot of happiness surrounding this child. She'd saw her future in this baby, in Roger. She trusted them both.
"I'm worried about you, though," Roger's voice said suddenly, softly, cutting through the silence that had plagued them. Mark raised his eyes questioningly.
"I'm not going to be around forever, Mark. It'll be you and Marina."
"Mark, buddy," Collins voice rattled through the phone, sounding dry and tired, "I'm heading back towards old N-Y-C."
The next morning, phone cradled to his ear, cup of coffee and newspaper on the kitchen table, leg crossed ankle-to-knee as he rubbed the soft material of his flannel pajama bottoms between his fingers. Marina sat across from him on another chair, legs tucked underneath her, curly hair curtaining her face as she picked the marshmallows out of the store-brand version of Lucky Charms. She was swaying her head back and forth and singing to herself in between bites.
"That's fantastic," Mark said , leaning back in his chair, eyeing Marina's progress from his perch. Dissatisfied, he pulled the phone away from his mouth, "Marina, baby, you need to eat all of the cereal. I told you I'll stop buying that kind if you just eat the marshmallows."
Marina didn't answer but obliged her uncle by picking up the spoon she'd been ignoring only moments before and began spooning the cereal into her mouth.
"When are you coming in?" Mark went back to his grown up conversation, yawning into his open palm.
"Tuesday," Collins replied, and Mark didn't look at the calendar to know that was three days from then (there had been a time in Mark's life when Tuesday was no different than Saturday, but things have changed).
"Great, I can't wait to see you," And that was the truth, because Mark hadn't seen Collins for four years, not since Roger's funeral. Not since he'd left to go to UCLA where he'd finally got a steady job, "Do you need a place to stay? You can crash here."
"Yeah, actually," Collins replied, and Mark could hear rifling through papers, "That'd be awesome. At least, until I get an apartment or something. I got transferred to NYU - gave me a better offer."
Mark couldn't hide his excitement and yet out an uncharacteristic whoop, which startled Marina a bit, making the little girl drop her spoon into her bowl with a splash. Mark laughed at this and offered his napkin to her, watching with a careful eye as she mopped up the little spill she made in response to her uncle's yell.
They'd spoken two to three times a week, Collins and Mark, for several hours at a time - but it was nothing like being able to sit and philosophize with his best friend in person.
Collins laughed in his ear, softly but happily. Mark could sense that his friend was tired, and he was worried about that - but he trusted Collins - he'd tell him if something were wrong.
"Is my favorite girl around?" Collins asked, "I want to talk to her."
"Sure," Mark smiled, then looked over at Marina, who was still trying to cleanup, "Marina girl, do you want to talk to Uncle Collins?"
Marina's eyes lit up and she scrambled off her chair as Mark rose from his own, trading her milk-soaked napkin for the phone receiver. Mark cleaned up the little mess she'd smeared on the small table and listened to her side of the conversation.
"Yeah, Uncle Collins, it was really weird," She paced, twirling her hair in a finger - another trait she'd inherited from her mom. Then there was the scrunched up nose, from her dad, "Bobby Miller said he liked me in class and then Mrs. Smith told him that that was not 'proapriate because he yelled it at me across the room during spelling."
Mark had heard this story, literally the moment she'd bounced out of school that day, but it still made him smile. He wondered if he ever did that to some poor, unsuspecting girl in second grade.
Suddenly, the sound of the doorbell startled him, and he hesitated a moment before answering it, racking his brain with who it could possibly be. With no idea, he left Marina in the kitchen, knowing at the level she was talking (loud, which is always how she spoke on the phone) he could hear her in the living room, where he answered the door.
"May I help you?" He asked the business-suited man at the door. The man smiled politely, eyed Mark's outfit (pajama bottoms and a teeshirt- it was before 10AM!) before putting out his hand.
"Hi, I'm Mr. Went," He said with a faux smile, "I'm Marguerite Marquez's - Mimi Marquez's mother, if you're not familiar- attorney. I'd like to speak to you, if that's okay."