Feedback: yes, please!
Pairing: Mark/Roger friendship
Word Count: 2340
Rating: T (warning: self-injury, eating disorder)
Summary: The weight of the world on his shoulders is becoming a little too much to bear.
Notes: First RENT fanfic! How exciting.
Disclaimer: They're all Jon's.
Mark used to be depressed, back even before he left Scarsdale for the city, before he moved into the loft and met Roger and Collins and Maureen and April. In high school, he popped pills in the morning and at night to cope with all the weight of his adolescent angst – a cocktail of antidepressants to keep the bad headaches, the panic attacks, and the constant, overwhelming sadness at bay.
He brought the pills with him when he left home, rattling in their plastic orange prescription bottles in the bottom of his duffel bag. They lasted him about two months. And then, Mark could feel himself slipping.
He sat around the loft with the others, his roommates, his new friends, and tried to smile when they did, tried to laugh, but mostly he just hurt on the inside. He cried himself to sleep. Sometimes, he cried in his sleep.
Then April died.
April slit her wrists and bled to death in the bathroom, and if Mark isn't fucked up enough already, he was the one to find her, pale and slumped over – red on the walls, on the mirror, staining the tiles. Mark never did have the stomach for blood, but that day, fighting nausea, he called her name and shook her and held towels to her arms even though he knew, by looking at her, that she was already gone.
In the days following her funeral, Mark was so busy trying to coax Roger to eat something that there really wasn't much time for crying. Then, as the days turn into weeks and then months, as Benny and then Collins moves out, and Roger withdraws into himself and it becomes Mark's responsibility to make sure he takes his AZT, he finds that the crushing darkness he'd battled before has left him.
And the way things are now, he hasn't cried for a very long time.
It's funny, his problem before was that he felt his sadness a little too deeply. Now, he can't feel a thing.
Maureen dumps him on the first day of winter, and on this day he goes to work and shoots and comes home and makes dinner for himself and Roger. It is like most other days, except he's lost the girl he thought he might spend the rest of his life with, and for some reason he can't get to sleep at night and lays awake in bed, staring at a spot on the wall and watching the clock hit three and then four and five and six.
He hasn't seen the sun rise since he was a boy. But watching the shadows grow long and then dissolve into light suddenly makes him want to run away – to where, he doesn't know.
Every day for a week after the breakup, Roger asks him how he is feeling.
This is all Mark can think of to say. Isn't he fine? There are no other words. He isn't sad or angry or happy. He isn't excited or devastated or melancholy.
He finds he isn't feeling much of anything at all.
The answer is always the same. Eventually, Roger stops asking.
This emotional void is unsettling sometimes. And when he thinks about it, Mark sometimes wonders where he has gone, because he feels fairly sure he isn't entirely where he should be.
He still gets headaches. He used to call them migraines, and they used to hurt so badly he couldn't get out of bed sometimes.
Now, he doesn't call them anything at all. He is dimly aware of the pain, a throbbing in his temples that makes him sick to his stomach, and on these days the most he can do is crawl to his room, squeeze his eyes shut, and hope to sleep the agony away. But he doesn't complain like he used to. He doesn't cry out or make a sound, and somewhere in his feverish mind, this scares him a little – the fact that he can't respond normally to even physical pain.
Sometimes Mark thinks he may have lost himself.
Mostly, though, he scoffs at the notion. He hasn't lost himself – if he did, he is sure he would be able to tell. He is sure he would know exactly where to find himself again.
After all, he is Mark, isn't he? Dependable Mark, responsible Mark; Mark, whose job it is to take care of everyone else. Trouble is, most of the time his friends can't see that the strong, steady shoulder they have grown accustomed to crying on isn't what it used to be. They don't register that the hands that smooth back their hair can't stop trembling no matter how hard he tries to still them.
So he keeps telling himself he is okay. He is – he's fine. He keeps working, keeps shooting for the documentary he still hasn't finished, brings home money so he and Roger can pay the rent and survive for another month.
So what if he's started cutting himself with his pocketknife, neat lines horizontal across his left wrist and up his forearm? They all have their vices, their ways of coping. Roger has his old track marks to remind him of a much deadlier habit. Maureen used to live on nothing but two apples and a handful of carrots a day to wiggle her five-seven figure into size 2 jeans. Compared to them, the scars he hides beneath his watchband and long sleeves don't seem nearly as bad.
He likes the pinch of pain as the blade cuts through flesh. He likes watching the blood rush to the surface, a crimson bubble until surface tension breaks and it drips red down his arm. It's funny, though – Mark still can't handle the sight of blood, unless it's coming from his own wrist, his own knife.
He's not like April. He doesn't want to die. It just feels so fucking good to feel something again, after so many months of nothing.
Sometimes, Mark thinks he might have disappeared all together, simply faded away. And sometimes he can't figure out whether he's alive or not – maybe, one day he just got tired and ended it all with a bottle of pills and just doesn't know it yet. But he guesses he must still be here, in this rundown loft, pretending not to notice the concerned glances from a roommate who doesn't quite know what to say to him anymore.
Mark can hear Roger from his room, pleading with Maureen to come over.
"Please Mo, maybe he'll talk to you."
He closes his eyes.
"I don't know what's wrong. No, it's not like before – it's worse, I think. He won't –"
Roger exhales in frustration. "Just, come. Please."
Maureen does come, though Mark can't tell whether it's been hours or days since Roger's phone call. She stands in the doorway to his room, framed by sunlight. Mark turns away.
"You look thin."
He remembers telling her the same thing, two years ago, when she was anorexic and he was still the Mark that knew how to fix things.
She steps into the room, closer to him. "Have you eaten anything?"
Roger tries to bring him food sometimes, a sandwich or some soup, or a bowl of cereal. Mostly, he chokes it down so Roger won't have to worry, but more often than not he is heaving his guts up in the bathroom an hour later while Roger pretends not to hear.
"I'm not hungry."
Mark feels her leg brush against his as she climbs into bed beside him, and closes his eyes. He doesn't want to remember the past.
"Roger's worried about you. I'm worried about you."
He shrugs and feels a little guilty.
"Mark, come on."
Her cool hands touch his forehead, his cheek, and he can't take it.
"Talk to me, baby. Please."
Mark doesn't fight as she pulls him closer, cradles him in her arms like a baby. She slips easily into this role, a mother, but it's like every other part she's played before – scripted lines and stage directions – and he doesn't know what's real or pretense.
Zoom in on this scene, Mark thinks ironically – this beautiful lesbian piecing together the broken remains of her angst-ridden ex-boyfriend.
"I'm fine, Mo," he sighs.
"No, honey." Maureen shakes her head. "You need to get up. You need to get help. This is bad."
He doesn't say anything else, and she leaves a little later. Mark finds himself thinking all night about how it felt to be in her arms again.
Mark can't sleep. There is a violent pain beneath his eyes. He is suddenly aware of hot tears on his cheeks, though he doesn't remember crying.
Roger appears before him, holding a glass of water and two pills out like a peace offering.
"Here. Take these."
Mark swallows them gratefully as Roger takes a seat at the foot of the bed.
Mark chokes back a sob and pulls the covers over his head, shutting out the light and the sound and Roger, looking at him with concern. He can hear his breath coming in quick gasps. His shoulders and his neck are stiff with the effort of trying to move as little as possible.
Already, the drugs are beginning to take hold – they are probably Roger's painkillers, Mark figures, since aspirin won't work anymore and he hasn't been to a clinic in ages. He usually doesn't take anything for his headaches, refusing the Tylenol Roger often offers him, so he is almost surprised when the pain gradually begins to subside. When it has settled to a dull ache in his temples he can open his eyes, blinking owlishly and reaching for his glasses on the nightstand.
"Feeling better?" Roger asks.
"Yeah." Pause. "Thanks."
"Must've been some headache." Roger says in the awkward silence.
Mark shrugs and waits for Roger to get whatever he wants to say out of his system, so that Mark can go back to his blankets and pillows and disappear from the world for another day. It's Sunday, and he doesn't have to work or go to the bank or the pharmacy to refill Roger's AZT. There is a half a loaf of bread and some cold cuts in the fridge. It's Sunday, all day, and right now he'd rather Roger go away so he doesn't have to think about all the things he's putting on hold.
He just wants to forget, for these twenty-four hours, that there are bills to pay and food to buy, and a best friend to fool into thinking he's okay.
On Sundays, he doesn't have to put on the mask, to worry about the ties that bind him to Buzzline and his friends and, above all, Roger. He doesn't have to fake his smiles when he'd really just rather be alone.
"Come on, man."
Mark look at him blankly.
"Look – Mark, I'm worried about you. You don't eat. You can't sleep. Or you sleep all the time. What's up?"
They are all words he's heard before, and he doesn't want to deal with them now.
"I'm fine. I'm okay."
Roger sighs. "You're not fine – you need to stop saying that."
"I am." Mark buries his head in his pillow, his words muffled by fabric. "We're still alive. We have heat and food and water. You have your AZT."
Mark feels something inside him break. "So? Isn't that enough?"
"What are you talking about?" he says, finally.
"Nothing." Mark can't meet Roger's eyes. He can't let him know that he's sick of the obligation. That all the responsibility of keeping Roger and himself alive is, most times, too much to bear.
"What do you mean?"
Mark is afraid that if Roger looks at him long enough, he'll be able to see the weight of the world on Mark's shoulders.
"We're worried about you!"
"You don't have to be."
Roger is on his feet, screaming, looking ready to punch something, and Mark is instantly brought back to two weeks after April's death, to Roger's first tantrum during his withdrawal.
"You're always telling everyone to face their problems, when all you do is hide from yours."
Mark opens his mouth to speak, but falls silent as Roger presses on.
Look at yourself, Mark. You're falling apart, Mark. What are you so afraid of, Mark?
He can feel himself coming loose under Roger's words, mostly because he knows they're right.
And then, as Roger spots the scars, the question that really hits home: What's that on your wrist, Mark?
"Talk to me, Mark."
And he wants to, but he can't.
Mark takes a deep breath and shakes his head, sealing in the secrets. He looks down at the horizontal marks crisscrossing up his forearm and, to his surprise, begins to cry.
Roger's anger collapses into defeat. He comes around to the side of the bed and puts his arms around Mark. And suddenly, Roger, who has never taken care of anyone before in his life, is the one soothing and rocking and comforting this broken man.
"Shh. It'll be okay."
Later, he will convince Mark to go to the clinic, a place that Mark used to frequent to pick up Roger's AZT refills, for a prescription of antidepressants. He will stop picking at his guitar, the empty tunes echoing in the loft, and start looking for real gigs again. He will bring home groceries, and make the coffee in the morning, and even wash the dishes sometimes.
He will, in an ironic reversal of roles, remind Mark to take his meds, instead of the other way around.
Roger will quietly shoulder some of the burden his best friend has dealt with, alone, this past year and a half.
And now Roger is saying what Mark has been insisting all this time. Except now, maybe there will finally be some truth to it.