Summary: Roger finds something in Mark's drawer. Complications and flashbacks ensue. Mark/Roger friendship, past Mark/Benny, all canon ships. Written for speedrent challenge #111.
Challenge: I'd really LOVE a PreRent Benny/Mark. Really. There's not enough of it out there. The actual story, however, must take place DURING Rent. Let's get some controversy, some regret. I NEED my angst.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
To Be Okay
"What's up?" Mark asked, glancing away from the projector, squinting at the glare from the afternoon sun that was coming through the window. Mimi's twentieth birthday was coming up; for his gift, he had decided to put together a film of all of their mutual friends wishing her well. It wasn't much, but she would probably appreciate it, and it was the best he could come up with considering that he still didn't know her that well. After all, she was Roger's girlfriend, not his. He had no idea what the man in question was doing for the occasion; at the moment, the musician was pacing agitatedly near his bedroom. It took a full minute before he responded to Mark's question.
"I can't find any clean paper," Roger said, "and I need some for Mimi's gift."
Mark turned off the projector, picked up his camera, and slung it around his neck. "Check the drawer in my bedside table. I've got some unfinished screenplays and things in there…there might be some leftover paper too."
"Okay. Thanks." Roger turned as his roommate headed towards the door. "Going somewhere?"
"Yeah, I'm off to interview Joanne. She's the only one I haven't gotten in the video yet…I was going to get her footage and Maureen's at the same time, but she was at work when I dropped by. We'll probably go out for coffee or something after, so I might be a while."
Roger chuckled. "Must be nice to have money for coffee whenever you want it."
"Have fun, then."
It was past dark by the time Mark set out for the loft, hurrying because of the cold. Still, the Christmas lights that no one had bothered to take down yet and the fact that he was pleasantly full for the first time in ages kept the walk tolerable. Joanne had seemed out of sorts when he went over, and after some gentle prodding she had confessed that she was bothered by Maureen's constantly flirting with other men and women. Mark had listened to her rant for over an hour; feeling guilty afterwards, Joanne had treated him to a meal.
He finally arrived at their building and hastened up the steps, eager to get inside. He slid open their door and stepped into the loft–and stopped so suddenly that he almost tripped.
The room was silent. Utterly silent. Mark felt a dark quiver of foreboding shoot through him. Roger's jacket was on the sofa, so he presumably was still in the apartment–Mimi was at work, so he wouldn't be at her place–but never before had the loft been so eerily silent when it was occupied. Roger lived the way he sang–usually loudly. He rustled pages when he read, stomped when he walked, and snored obnoxiously when he slept. If the loft was this quiet when he was in it, something was very, very wrong.
"Roger?" Mark called uncertainly, sliding the door shut with a thump. "Where are you?"
The door of Roger's room opened–quietly–and the musician stepped out and began to walk towards him. Mark felt a thrill of fear course through him at the expression on the other man's face. He looked contained, but just barely, as if all hell were about to break loose. He was gripping a piece of paper so tightly that his knuckles were white.
An instant later, Mark found himself being shoved against the door of the loft. His head snapped back and hit the door so hard that he saw stars. "Fuck! What the–"
And then Roger was letting go, pushing Mark away with enough force to make him slam against the door again. He shoved the piece of paper at the other man, who quickly grabbed it. "What the fuck is this, Mark?"
"Tell me what the fuck this is!"
Mark, completely floored, looked at the paper. It took him a minute to understand what he was seeing; when he did, he heard a roaring in his ears so loud that he thought he was going to faint. He'd almost forgotten about it, almost forgotten everything it represented–the clinic letterhead. The copy of his information.
The statement that read MARK COHEN: NEGATIVE.
He looked up. His hands were shaking. "What the hell are you doing with this?"
"What the hell am I doing with it? What the hell are you doing with it!"
"I found it stuffed in your fucking drawer!" Roger shouted, looking at the paper as if he wanted to rip it to pieces. "Why didn't you tell me, damn it? What did I do to you?"
"It says 'negative,' Roger! Negative! I'm not–I don't have–"
"I saw the date, Mark! I was right in the middle of withdrawal then! I was a fucking mess, and you were–you were walking around looking like death all the time, and I don't remember–God damn it, I don't remember–" Roger broke off, breathing hard. He backed away, sinking down onto the sofa, looking at the filmmaker with sheer terror in his eyes. "What did I do to you? Why did you get tested? I could have–God, I could have–"
Mark moved forward quickly then, the fear and despair in Roger's eyes breaking him out of his paralysis the way nothing else could have. "It wasn't you. You didn't do anything–nothing that you don't know about," he added when Roger snorted. He leaned down and grabbed Roger's shoulders, locking eyes with the other man. "It wasn't you."
Mark sat down next to Roger, sighing and closing his eyes as the memories rushed back in a flood. "You know that I'm bi."
"What the hell does that have to do with–"
Mark opened his eyes and looked at his roommate. "I had a–a thing with a guy, while you were in withdrawal. Just once."
Roger looked ready to explode again, jumping to his feet. "With a guy with HIV? After April–after I–"
"No–Roger, sit down!" Mark caught the other man's gaze and held it until he reluctantly sat back down. "You were–like you said, you were a mess, and Maureen was cheating on me, and I–I just needed a release. The guy was a friend, and he was going through a rough time since his girlfriend was cheating on him too, and we found ourselves in the same place at the same time and things just–just happened. It would have been over and done with, but the guy later found out that the man his girlfriend had been cheating on him with had HIV, and he told me to get tested. Both our results came out negative–so did his girlfriend's. And that was the end of it. It had nothing to do with you."
Roger looked at Mark, raw vulnerability shining out of his green eyes. "It wasn't me?"
"It wasn't you."
The musician tilted his head back and closed his eyes, his throat working. "But it could have been."
"I'm going for a walk," Roger said, standing up abruptly. He grabbed his coat and stalked out, slamming the door behind him. His stomping footsteps echoed down the stairs.
Mark, left alone in the loft, let out a long sigh. After a moment, he stood, going over to the window seat and sitting down, curling his legs up underneath him. He leaned back against the wall, closed his eyes, and remembered.
Mark rushed into the apartment building, eager to escape the cold, pounding rain that was coming down. The man at the desk inside the lobby looked at him coldly. "Are you here to see someone…sir?"
"Benjamin Coffin, and I'm Mark Cohen," he replied, not caring that he was dripping all over the floor. He turned around to stare at the rain outside as the man at the desk sniffed disdainfully and picked up the phone on his desk. Mark didn't mind the weather, really, so long as he wasn't in it. Thunder boomed with primal fury as the rain pelted the glass doors–yeah, the weather was perfectly suited to his mood, actually. He couldn't believe that he was actually considering doing what he was doing.
The man at the desk coughed pointedly, and he turned back around. "You can go up. It's number–"
"I know where it is," Mark said, and moved toward the elevator.
Benny opened the door immediately when Mark knocked, looking extremely confused. "Hey, man, what's up? How's Roger? Come in, come in." When the other man didn't move, Benny paused and looked him up and down. He was shocked at what he saw–the dark shadows in the all-too-prominent hollows of Mark's face, the unshaven chin and cheeks, the emptiness in his blue eyes. "Are you all right?"
"Not really. Benny, I need a favor."
Benny opened the door further, but Mark didn't take the hint to come in. "What is it?"
Mark sighed. "I want–I want to send Roger to rehab. I've been trying and trying, but it's not working and he's more than I can handle, Benny, and I just–" He broke off, rubbing his temples. "We have no money–none–and I can't–"
"Okay, okay," Benny interrupted hastily. He'd never seen Mark look truly desperate before, and it unnerved him more than he was willing to admit. "Whatever you need, Mark. Just come in, and we'll talk about it." He moved aside to let Mark enter. The filmmaker halted as soon as he got in, looking around with wide eyes.
"What the hell happened here? Where's Muf–your girlfriend?"
The room was a wreck. Papers and belongings were strewn everywhere; fragments of a shattered vase lay on the expensive carpet; there was a fresh scuff on the polished mahogany table. Benny sighed, stepping around the mess to clear off a sofa. He motioned for Mark to sit down and then did so himself. Emotions flickered over his normally unreadable face as the filmmaker gazed at him concernedly. "Alison happened. I caught her cheating on me, and we had a–heated discussion. She has quite a temper, as you can see. She left last night and hasn't been back since."
"Wow, Benny, I'm sorry. That's–"
"Yeah. It's okay." An awkward silence fell. "Speaking of girlfriends–how's the drama queen?"
Mark sighed again. "You're not the only one being cheated on."
The two men looked at each other. The tension and uncertainty in the air was virtually palpable.
No matter how many times Mark replayed the incident in his mind later–and he would replay it many, many times–he was never able to determine exactly how or why it happened. One minute they were sitting on the couch, each reading the hopelessness in the other's eyes, and then they were moving–crashing together in a raw tangle of emotions, hands and clothes going everywhere. Perhaps it was because Benny was the first man Mark had ever done anything with, both wanting to experiment with their newly discovered bisexuality back at Brown. Perhaps it was because he wanted to do to Maureen what she was doing to him, whether or not she ever found out about it. Perhaps it was because he'd had to leave Roger locked in his room, screaming and crying for a hit. Perhaps it was because he was drowning–drowning in a sea of desperation and hopelessness and loneliness and bestfriendlessness–and he was willing to grasp at anything if it would only keep him from going under. Or perhaps it was just raw, inexplicable human need–a need that Benny obviously felt as well, though Mark never did find out what was going through the other man's mind. But however and whyever it happened, it helped them both. He knew that they would never talk about it, but that was okay. As Mark left after helping Benny clean his apartment, a wad of cash in his jacket, he promised that he'd call if he decided that he wanted more money to send Roger to rehab.
It was over a week later that he got the message.
Mark was sitting at the counter in the loft, nursing a cup of coffee. Roger had finally fallen asleep about half an hour before. He looked at the phone as it rang, too tired to pick it up.
"Mark, it's Benny. I…I don't know how to say this, but it turns out that Scott–the man Alison was sleeping with–has HIV. You need to get checked out. I–I'm so sorry, Mark. Call me."
Mark stared at the answering machine as he felt his world crashing down around him–again.
"It's Mark. Mark Cohen. I'm…a friend of Benny's. Is he there?"
Mark waited, clutching the piece of paper in his hand. After a moment, he heard a mutter as someone came to the phone, heard more sounds as someone else moved away.
"Mark?" Benny sounded hesitant.
"It's okay, Benny. I'm negative."
The relief in Benny's sigh was detectable even over the phone. "Thank God. So are we."
"Good." Mark let out a long breath. "So…Alison's back?"
"Yeah, she's back," Benny replied, his tone regaining its usual restraint. "She and I are…we're okay now, Mark. We're engaged, actually."
"Congratulations," Mark said, and meant it. And when he said "Maureen and I are okay now, too," he knew that he and Benny understood each other.
"Good." There was a pause. "…be my best man?"
"You know I will."
They never had needed many words.
The door opened and shut, and Mark jerked in surprise. He stood and walked forward, trying to make out the expression on his roommate's face. "Roger."
"Mark." They stood in silence for a moment, looking at each other. Then, without warning, Roger grabbed him into an embrace, his grip so tight that it was painful. "You're okay," he said into the smaller man's hair.
"Yeah," Mark breathed, squeezing back just as tightly. "Yeah, I am. I'm sorry."
"Yeah." A pause. "Me too. It's…it's okay."
It is okay, Mark realized then, feeling any number of emotions rush through him as he held tightly to his best friend. I'm okay. Benny's okay. Roger's okay…maybe just for now, but he's okay.
They stood like that for a long time.