Disclaimer: I do not own Rent!
A/N: Thank you to everyone who reads/reviews. It means a lot to me.
20 Years Since Then
Metal crunching, glass shattering. Against the backdrop of hazy darkness and heavy breathing, eyes opened blearily to a fuzzy-around-the-edges world, and he quickly realized his glasses were off of his nose and hanging somewhere between his cheeks and chin.
A metallic taste in his mouth, pressure weighing heavily on his chest, and he struggled to move, struggled to get a grasp on his surroundings. Underneath his fingertips, he felt the stickiness of blood, warm and itchy against his arm, chest, legs. With an abrupt choked sob, he thrashed until his hand hit the steering wheel ahead of him.
Outside, on the suburban streets of Nassau County, Long Island- amongst the broken glass and metal remains of what once was an SUV, sirens wailed and a car horn, choked and dying, screamed out into the night.
"What's today's date?" A very female voice asked, piercing through his subconscious, cold, shattering. Pain, pain, pain everywhere.
"January 20th," Another voice answered, deeper, more masculine. Eyelids fluttered, and he opened his eyes, promptly shutting them as the whitewash of the walls burned him.
"Wow, I almost wrote zero eight," The female voice continued, disbelief and sadness tinting her voice, "I keep doing that. Good job, Leah. It's 2009."
He opened his eyes again, this time prepared for the glare but still uncomfortable with the deep ache in his chest.
"Marky Mark, welcome back, bud," The male voice chuckled, and Mark, pain aching aching aching, locked eyes with Chris, who looked a little more than tired. Leah, blond hair reflecting the already unbearable glare, nearly toppled herself over in the attempt to get to Mark's bedside.
"Hey you," She said softly, reaching out instinctively to grab Mark's hand. Her fingertips, though, brushed a tender bruise in the process and Mark winced, yanking his hand from her grasp.
"I'm sorry," She looked heartbroken, disappointed, guilty. Mark, confused, pained and more than a little bit angry, shook his head.
"It's okay," He finally answered, voice harsh and dry. His eyes darted from the woman before him to the rest of the room, looking for other familiar haired figures that he just needed, needed, needed to see.
"Where's Roger and Jeremy?" He asked, eyes going back up to Leah's. Leah shook her head and stepped a few inches back, running a hand through her hair.
"At your Mom's," She answered, falling back into the chair next to the bed. Chris leaned against the wall there.
"Can you bring them by?" Mark asked, fingers gently probing his other arm, wincing as he felt bruises, felt skin sewed together, felt dried blood.
"I don't know, Mark. I don't know if they should see you… like this."
And Mark realized what a sight he must be - bloodied, bruised, broken. It was certainly not for his seven year old son to see. His seventeen year old nephew, though - he should be there. He could do this - Mark needed to see him.
"I promised myself, well, outside of Roger's birth, of course," He smirked, tongue probing into gaps where teeth once stood, "That I'd never be in a hospital ever again."
"Well," Chris mused, an angry tone deep in his throat, "Tell that to the fucking jackass who ran the red light and hit your car."
"I promise myself a lot of things," Mark nodded, then turning to his wife, who's eyes were glassy and tired, "Can you bring Jeremy by tomorrow?"
Leah, unable to deny such an honest, powerful request, nodded.
"Yes, of course."
Underneath the machines and the pressure and the pain, Mark knew knew knew that something was wrong. In his fitful sleep, memories plagued and haunted him, years and years of images, of personalities, of people- it was all running in and out of his subconscious like a mismatched clip show. He felt his childhood, the skinned knees and colored chalk against his hands, the laughing and running around. His teenage years, awkward and quiet, camera in hand, long white high school hallways stretching before him. His college years and twenties, Benny and Maureen and Mimi and Collins and Angel and Joanne and Roger, a blur of smiles and tears and laughter and days and days and days. Jeremy's entrance into his life, his struggle, the thirties. Meeting Leah, falling for her pearly smile and unbelievable charm. Being a teacher, having Roger, his only son, and watching him and Jeremy grow.
"Hey dad," A voice startled him out of a fitful sleep and Mark glanced over to see a figure in the doorway, hesitant and scared. Mark's eyes took in the longish dark hair, tattered teeshirt, the earrings- and smirked.
"Get in here, rebel," He nearly croaked, and Jeremy's face split into a hesitant smile. Boots scuffing into the room, hands in pockets and hair falling into his face, Mark gestured for Jeremy to sit.
"What's up?" Mark asked, tilting his head to watch his nephew fall into the chair beside the bed ungracefully.
"Roger was crying all night," Jeremy admitted, "I didn't get much sleep."
"Is he okay?"
"Yeah. He just doesn't understand why he can't see you."
"As you can tell, I'm not exactly in a shape that he can see me in right now." Mark reached up to scratch his nose and winced as he nicked open a scab.
"Hold it together for me, Jer. Leah and Roger need you."
Mark watched as Jeremy covered his face with his hands, "I hate this kind of shit."
"Sentimental shit like this. You'll be okay." Jeremy nodded, pulling his hands away.
"It hurts, I know. It's so easy to avoid things like this…run away."
"Leah said you promised yourself you'd never be in a hospital again."
"Well," Mark coughed, his throat burning a bit, "I didn't want to be. Every time I'm in one of these fucking places I feel like more of my life is being consumed by it. I've seen the inside of enough hospitals over the years to know there's rarely a time you're in one for something good."
There was silence, stagnant and a little awkward. Mark could feel Jeremy's thoughts processing themselves, and he knew his nephew's words were going to be clipped, unsure, hesitant.
"Like for my dad and mom, right?" Jeremy wondered aloud and Mark wasn't surprised. He wasn't quite sure this was the time or place, but Jeremy finally asked, and Mark wasn't going to deny him the answers.
"Yes, and your Uncle Collins and Angel. You were born way after Angel was gone, and I doubt you remember Collins, but he was around for a little while."
"Yeah," Mark leaned back a bit, the kink in his neck throbbing, "You look more and more like your dad everyday though. When you were born you looked like Mimi but now you look like him."
"He's not my dad." Jeremy's statement froze them both, and Mark was shocked and touched, "I mean…he was. I know he meant a lot to you, but I never knew him. You're my dad."
"Dad…" Jeremy hesitated, and Mark saw the tears there, in the green eyes that were so eerily reminiscent of Roger's, "Tell me you're going to be okay."
And suddenly, Mark couldn't promise that. He couldn't promise he'd be up and okay, not now, not anytime soon. He was tired, so tired. He hurt and sleep came easier and easier. The throbbing and the swishing rush in the back of his mind- the voices, the memories, they were welcoming. In front of him sat a young man he'd raised to know he could be whoever he wanted to be. He'd let Jeremy get his ears pierced, let him let his hair grow. Let him don the leather jacket and play guitar, despite how painful the resemblance got to Roger Davis, former best friend, former roommate- forever soul mate.
Mark knows the April Years, Roger Years, the Mimi Years, the Collins and Angel and Maureen, Benny and Joanne Years - he knew that those Years were only a snapshot, a photograph, a box in the bottom of his closet compared to the rest of his forty four years. Those Years was only eleven little slashes on his tally of life, but somehow - they'd impacted him the most - and continued to impact him. He'd learned loss, love and respect during those Years.
Jeremy was a permanent remainder of the joy those Years had given him.
"I'm going to tell you something that your father told me when he was laying in a bed just like this."
Jeremy leaned forward and cupped his chin in his hand.
" 'Parting is such sweet sorrow' ." Mark chuckled as Jeremy's eyebrows knitted themselves in confusion, "It's a quote from Shakespeare, as I'm sure you know."
"He never was a philosopher… but that quote, it worked, you know. For the time." Warm, Mark felt warm, and he reached over to grab Jeremy's hand, "When you were born, I promised myself I'd give you the world. I can't, but you can."
Jeremy swallowed thickly, quickly brushed a lock of dark hair out of his eyes.
"He was right, though - parting is such sweet sorrow. Bittersweet, you know? Because through loss, you learn a lot. You mourn, you cry, but you move on. You have to."
"Dad-" Jeremy said, voice choked with unshed tears. Mark's eyes locked with the young man's his gaze, taking in the features - Roger's features, Mimi's features- that were sprinkled on the teenager's face.
"I'm going to miss you." Jeremy finally said and Mark cried then, knowing Jeremy had said what Mark couldn't.
And suddenly, Mark felt warm, sleep, sleep sleep drawing him to darkness, a invisible hand pulling him into the comfortable black. Jeremy's hand tightened on his, and Mark squeezed it back. Once, twice, the darkness taking him by the opposite hand and drawing him away from his nephew, his family, the white walls.
The hospital room faded then, white turning to hazy gray, Mark concentrating on the image of Jeremy's mossy colored eyes.
In the inky atmosphere, Mark found himself suddenly in a tight embrace, arms locked at his sides by the arms of another, warm and comfortable.
"Welcome home, Marky," A husky voice whispered, and Mark's eyes were drawn to Roger's, young and vibrant and healthy. The loft, in all it's dilapidated glory, appeared behind him, and Mark saw Angel, Collins, Mimi and April, smiling at him.
The air smelled like New York City and stale coffee and happiness. Around his neck, the blue and white scarf that he'd loved so much as a young man. On the metal table, a Fender and a camera, side by side, like it'd always been.
Hands enveloped him then, as tears of sadness, of loss, of happiness began streaming down his cheeks- tears for his nephew, for his son, for his wife. Tears for his best friends, who were alive and breathing and whispered soothing words around him.
Behind him, back in the remains of the inky blackness as it faded away into cracked plaster walls and old band posters, Mark didn't notice the sound of the steady flat line or the cries of a young man, coming to terms with loss, much like Mark had done himself all those years ago.