Disclaimer: Nope, not mine. Not even a drop

Mark's thoughts in italics

Mark's POV

Tuesday, November 13, 1990 10:30am

"You better get going, you're going to miss your taxi." That sounded like the biggest goodbye cliché ever.

Collins wrapped his strong arms around Mark's shoulders and held him for a couple minutes.

"I'll call you when I find out my phone number and all that rot. I want you to call for anything – anytime. Ok, Mark?"

"Yeah, ok." I seem to be doing these goodbyes things a little too frequently. You'd think I'd get used to it by now.

"Mark?"

"Yeah?" Mark kept his head down, not looking Collins in the eye.

"I know you don't want the whole gang to know, but I will tell everyone that you passed out at work the moment I get even the slightest inkling that you're not getting any better, or that you're not taking care you yourself – still. You hear me?" Collins was holding Mark by the shoulders.

Mark nodded mutely. I can fake good health over the phone can't I? I don't know, though, Collins might be the only person who could hear someone having a headache from miles away.

"Mark look at me."

Oh why does he always insist on eye contact? That sort of thing can be very dangerous with Collins.

Mark lifted his head up slightly and begrudgingly shifted his eyes to look into Collins'.

"I know you'd rather everyone think you're fine and everything's fine, but I can't be several hours away and live with the knowledge that you could be really sick, or that you could black out in the hallway or something - and since no one knows to check up on you…." Collins closed his eyes briefly to collect his thoughts. "Just….I'll respect your privacy and your pride as long as I don't think it's endangering you, ok? I beg you though, please find someone to talk to – to keep informed. That Tiana girl from Buzzline, Benny, whoever. Ok?"

Mark sighed. "You mean you want me to have a safety/emergency plan? Should I get one of those medical alert bracelets?" He smirked at his long time friend.

Collins smiled back, "Yeah, Mark. Call it whatever you want. Your friends are here to help if you let them know you need it. And there are at least two decent people at Buzzline who seem to give a rip." Collins looked at his friend, silently willing Mark to listen to him for once.

But I'm supposed to be here for my friends when they need me, not the other way around! Oh who am I kidding… I know these things aren't supposed to be one sided. But if everyone thinks I'm weak than they won't come to me when they need me. Why is he looking at me like that? I think he's searching my eyes for a sign that I'm going to obey him…ok Mark, look convincing now, lie through your eyes, lie through you eyes!

Collins nodded and broke eye contact. With his hands still firmly planted on Mark's shoulders, he gave Mark a gentle, yet effective shove onto the couch.

"Oof." There he goes again with his man handling!

Collins pointed a stern finger at the small blonde in front of him. "You. Lie down. Sleep. And stay like that for a couple of days. You called Buzzline right, tell them you need the next couple of days off?"

Mark rolled his eyes, "Yes, mom. That's all set."

Oh, no. Mimi will be expecting me though! And we had a really short talk last night… I should have told her then I wouldn't be coming in. Well… maybe I'll have the energy to go see her, just for a little bit. I should call Benny… see if he'll bring me. Sitting there on the couch though, he began to notice that he really was exhausted. He was still feeling a little weak and unsteady on his feet after yesterday's incident. Well, maybe after a nap.

"Mark, what? I can see you thinking." Collins said suspiciously.

"Oh, uh, I didn't call Meems… she'll be expecting me. I, uh… do you, do you think it would be ok if I-" Mark started fidgeting with the edge of the couch cushion he was sitting on.

Collins cocked an eyebrow at him. "No Mark. Uh-uh. If you're contagious she doesn't need your sorry germs, ok? Here," Collins grabbed the phone and stretched it across so it was sitting on the coffee table within Mark's reach. "Just call her. But don't talk for 3 hours at a time – you need your sleep. Mimi will understand. Besides, she's got Benny and the girls visiting, too."

Mark felt completely lost and dejected. Like some great purpose had been instantly taken away from him and he was left with a feeling of emptiness. All he could do was nod numbly.

He's right. As usual. I shouldn't be going. She'll be ok. It's not like I'm some great help to her while I'm there anyway. She really doesn't need me. It's fine. She'll be fine. I'm fine.

Collins ruffled Mark's hair. Mark blinked and looked up at him and forced himself to smile.

"Time for me to blow on outa here. I'll be in touch, Mark. I love you, man." His hand lingered on Mark's head.

Mark nodded and swallowed that danged lump that seemed to enjoy paying him semi-frequent visits recently.

Smile smile smile.

"Love you too. Safe journeying. I'll see you in a month." See, this is good. A month is nothing. It'll feel like I blinked.

Collins regarded Mark for a moment, shook his head and chuckled, "Medical alert bracelet…" He stuck a cigarette between his lips, hoisted his bags over his shoulders, and with a wave and a wink -was out the door.

Mark kept the small, fake smile on his lips for a few minutes after Collins disappeared out the door, and it clicked shut behind him. He just sat there, listening to his footsteps grow quieter as his friend made his way down the long staircase. He heard the door of the taxi waiting outside open and close. He heard the taxi accelerate and then listened to the sound of it's engine slowly fade into the distance. And the smile fell away.

6:15pm

BANG!

"Whha…what? Just a minute…" Mark groaned, being rudely awakened by deafening raps on the heavy metal door to the loft wasn't the most desirable way he could have thought of to wake up. He sat up, but remained seated with his head in his hands for a minute.

BANG BANG BANG

"Mark? I know you're home, open up. MARK!"

Who is that? Maureen?

"POOKIE – open up! I know how to pick a lock!"

Yep…Maureen.

"Just a minute!" Mark used up precious energy just to yell as loudly as he could. He hoped he sounded as annoyed as he felt.

Well, at least that shut her up. What the hell is her problem? She probably has some more material for me to film that absolutely could not wait until tomorrow.

Mark rubbed his face and pushed off the couch with a heavy sigh. He shuffled sleepily over to the door, unlocked it, and shuffled back to the couch without opening it. Today I will be Roger. I will just continue doing what I was doing and not cater to anyone. Today I will be an ass.

"You can come in now, it's unlocked!" He called to the closed door as he curled back up on his side. Dang, I should have grabbed a blanket while I was up. It's chilly in here.

Mark heard the door slide open. He gave a tired smile in the general direction of the door, but decided to be rude and just close his eyes and stay in his ball instead of getting up to entertain Maureen.

"Oh, Pookie…are you still sick?" Maureen cooed.

He felt a warm hand brush his hair off his forehead and check the temperature. He found himself feeling guilty about being so rude when she was being so sweet, and cracked open one eye and smiled up at her again.

"Hey, Mo. Just catching up on some sleep." He was about to close his eyes again when he noticed that she wasn't the only person there. Joanne and Benny were standing behind Maureen, both looking concerned, and uncomfortable.

"Oh, hey guys. Sorry I'm being such a pooper." Pooper? Apparently today I am also going to revert back to grade school. "Collins left…well, what time is it?" Mark sat up and squinted at the clock. "He left seven and a half hours ago or so. Were you hoping to catch him?" He yawned and rubbed the top of his head.

I could just fall asleep sitting up. I guess it's not such a bad idea to take a couple days off. Wow, I've been sleeping for seven hours? I can't remember the last time I slept for that long uninterrupted.

Maureen sat down on one side of him, and Joanne sat down on the other. Benny stood several feet away, looking somewhat out of place. He was dressed nicely, and Mark figured he had just come back from some work meeting, or would be heading off to one shortly. Mark patted the girls' knees and leaned back, resting his head on the top of the couch's back.

Benny chuckled, "You guys are cute. But, uh, no – we knew Collins would be gone. We just got back from seeing Mimi. She was looking for you. I told her that you weren't feeling well and that she might not be seeing you for the next couple of days."

Mark frowned. "Damn it. I was going to call her. I fell asleep. She's ok isn't she? How did she look?" Mark sat up and scratched the back of his neck nervously. I can't believe I didn't call her. Poor Mimi, she must have been waiting around, wondering where I was. I hope she doesn't think I've forgotten about her or that I don't care anymore. I hope she's not lonely or depressed…

Benny, chuckled again and took a seat in the chair. "Mark, my boy, It's ok. She's fine. She had a good day today. She was able to eat every meal and keep it down, she looked good. She's doing really well."

Mark swallowed and forced a smile in Benny's direction. Ok, relax, she's doing well. It's ok. You're not that much of a vital part of her life that she's going to fall apart just because she doesn't see you for a day or two.

Joanne took Mark's hand that was still resting on her knee and gave it a squeeze. "She was glad to know that you're taking a couple days off. In fact, she wants you to stay at home and really rest this time. She'd probably get the staff to kick you out if you showed up anyway." She winked at Mark, who sent another forced smile her way.

Maureen followed suit, squeezing Mark's hand and trying to be encouraging, "Yeah, Marky. I think she may the first person in rehab history to actually gain weight while going through withdrawal. She's lookin' smokin'!" She added the last part rather enthusiastically. Mark snorted and raised an eyebrow at his ex-girlfriend, who was too busy winking at Joanne and mouthing "But not as smokin' as you baby" to notice.

Benny stood up and wandered into the kitchen. "Oh, and Mark. Mimi will be coming home in two weeks. Well, two weeks and one day." He called over his shoulder while opening and closing Mark's cabinets.

Mark sat up straight, "Wow, really? Two weeks? That's great! She must be so excited…I hope that's, I mean do you think she'll be…two weeks…"

Benny snorted from the kitchen, Maureen laughed in his ear, and Joanne rubbed his back.

"Calm down, Mark. It's a 28 day program. It's standard." Benny's voice was tinted with amusement.

"Besides, she's been progressing really, well. They don't have any concerns." Joanne added, still rubbing his back.

Mark sighed and ran his hand over his face. Oh, yeah, I guess that makes sense. I think I remember that from brochures I picked up when Roger was going through withdrawal. This is good. She'll be home soon. You need to be happy not anxious. I can't believe I was doubting Mimi by wondering if it would be too soon, if she could handle it. As if she was weak or something…she'd be really happy to know I even began to think that. Ok, Cohen, stop thinking about it. Get up and offer your guests something to drink… even though one of them is already helping themselves.

Mark gave Joanne a kiss on the cheek as a silent "thank you" for her reassurance and stood up. The "t.v. static" momentarily passed over his vision, so he stood in place and waited for it to fade before he started moving.

"Stood up too fast, huh?" Benny asked as he leaned against the counter, watching Mark.

"Yeah, I haven't actually moved much today at all, so…." Not white sure how to finish that sentence. He cleared his throat instead, and started a new sentence. "So, anyone want anything to drink? I think I'll have tea."

"Naa, I'm good, thanks." Benny waved the suggestion away.

"We should be getting going anyway. You need your rest and don't need to be entertaining guests." Joanne stood, standing up to initiate the leaving process.

"We're not guests. Two thirds of us used to live here. We're family." Maureen protested, but stood up and grabbed her purse non-the-less. "But, we do need to get going. Mark, call if you need anything, ok, honey?" She walked over and gave him a kiss on the forehead and a gentle hug.

"Ok, Mo."

"Mark, you don't have shit to eat. I'll swing by tomorrow and drop off some groceries, ok? So, don't go out to get anything." Benny slapped him on the shoulder and slid open the door.

"I'm not a big fan of shit, actually, Benny. So really…don't bother. I don't have shit for a reason."

Benny rolled his eyes, but said nothing.

"I hope you can still sleep tonight after your nap." Joanne hugged him and kissed his cheek. "We'll stop by after we visit Mimi tomorrow, let you know how she's doing."

And check up on me, no doubt. Make sure I'm behaving.

"Thanks, Joanne. Have a good night you guys."

Benny waited for the girls to file out before giving Mark a pointed look and saying "Eat something, if you can find anything," and shutting the door.

Ok. Now what? I really don't feel like having tea.

Mark stood there in the middle of the room, not knowing what to do with himself. He finally gave up thinking about anything creative or interesting to do, and with a sigh plopped himself back down onto the couch. Just in time for the phone to ring.

"Aww, what now?" Mark growled irritably at the phone. As usual, he waited for the machine to pick up before deciding whether to answer it or not.

SPEAK

"Hey Mark, it's Roger. If you're there, pick up."

Mark reached over and picked up the phone, which was still sitting on the coffee table.

"Hey, I'm here. What's up?"

"Oh, hey. I thought you'd be there. You didn't go into work today, did you?" His voice had a tone that made Mark suspect that Roger knew why he wouldn't have gone to work.

What did Collins tell him now?

"Um…no." Mark said slowly. "I'm taking today and tomorrow off actually. Come to think of it, I'm off the next day anyway, so I have three days off." Huh, I didn't even think of that until just now. Cool.

"Oh, good. You need the rest." Roger coughed, "So, how have you been?"

I need the rest? Ok, how much does he know?

"Yeah, I guess so. Um, I'm ok…" Mark cleared his throat, and paused trying to think of how to get Roger to spill. "Uh, have you talked to Collins lately?"

"Yeah, Mark. I did. Yesterday." Roger sounded confrontational and sharp.

"Oook." Mark in turn, sounded hesitant and suspicious.

"Mark….Jesus. You don't have to act like you have no idea what I'm getting at. I was hoping you'd tell me on your own."

"Tell you what, exactly?" There was no way Mark was going to admit anything to Roger unless absolutely necessary.

Roger gave an exasperated sigh, "You are impossible. Collins told me, Mark."

"Told you what?" Mark was being stubborn and childlike, and he knew it.

"You know what, never mind. I'm not playing that game with you." Mark could hear him lighting up a cigarette. "Have you gone to the clinic or the emergency room or anything, yet?"

Shit…he must know about the incident at work. I have no freakin' privacy, even when I'm living alone.

Mark swallowed, still unsure how to proceed. "No, Roger." His voice was surprisingly weary sounding. "Of course not."

Roger was quiet for a moment, the only sound was his breathing as he took a drag off his cigarette.

"Mimi's coming home in two weeks and one day." Changing the subject, way to go Mark.

"Mark, you're-that's…"Roger sighed, "That's really good. That's…I'm…glad."

Awkward pause.

"So, is she going to stay in her apartment or…with you…or…."

Wow, I hadn't even thought of that yet. I hope she stays with me, actually. I don't like the thought of her staying alone so soon after getting clean.

"We haven't talked about it. I didn't actually talk to her today yet. Benny and the girls told me she was coming home. I think I'll call her later. Maybe I can ask if she's given that any thought yet."

"Yeah." Roger cleared his throat. "So, she's doing ok, then? I mean, as far as you know?"

Mark smiled, "Yeah, Rog. It sounds like she's doing really well." Pause. "So, how about you? How are you doing out there?"

"Me? Oh, uh. Ok I guess. It kind-a sucks. It's hot." Roger laughed. "I never thought I'd hear myself complaining about that, but…"

Mark laughed along with his friend. Why does it feel so strained? Why does it feel like we've lost something? Like we're suddenly trying so hard just to feel like best friends again? A strange feeling began to worm its way into the pit of Mark's stomach. He felt….doubt? Anxiety? Guilt? Lonliness? Fear?

"I got something interesting in the mail today." Roger kept the lightness in his voice.

"Oh, yeah?" Mark tried to keep the lightness in his own voice.

"Collins decided that he would be a smart-ass and send me a one-way ticket back to New York. Expires in a year."

"Oh." Mark wasn't sure if he should laugh about how funny that was or ask Roger when he would be using it and possible kill the cheerful mood Roger was currently in. "That is interesting…"

"I know you're dying to ask me when I'm planning on using it."

Ok then, if he already expects me to ask then, "Ok. When are you planning on using it?"

Roger chuckled. "I don't know."

"Oh." Brilliant reply, Cohen. Way to wow him with your wit.

"But, you'll be happy to know that it is very tempting to use it. I don't know Mark. I guess I thought it would be different. I don't know what I expected, but I guess I was hoping for something else…something more. Instead I'm out here, and it's beautiful, and it's hot. But, all that's changed is the scenery. And I'm alone."

I guess he's in one of those rare moods where he's insightful and open.

"Yeah. Yeah, I think I can understand how that could be." Mark said quietly, looking around at his own empty apartment.

"Yeah," Roger breathed. "I mean, I've had time to think a lot of things through. I've written a lot…about Mimi. The other day I thought I saw her walk by while I was playing outside of this bar in town." He laughed quietly through his nose. "I really thought it was her, I completely froze…just stopped playing and held my breath. When the girl turned around I realized she didn't look anything like Mimi. I thought I was losing my mind."

"It sounds like you really miss her." Mark hoped that was an ok thing to say.

"Yeah, I do. I can't stop thinking about her, worrying about her. Mark, I know I still love her. You knew that all along, I know, so you can say I told you so if you want." Mark could swear he heard a hint of bitterness in Roger's voice in that last sentence.

"No. I don't want." Mark said simply, and waited for his friend to continue his rare disclosure.

"I just don't know what to do. I need to know she's going to stay clean. I need to know she chooses me and not Benny, or smack. I can't be with someone who can't fully commit to me and I can't be with someone who is doing the very thing that ruined my life. The thing that is still hard to resist when it's right in front of my face. I can't… I just can't do it."

Mark swallowed and rubbed his eyes that had begun to well up hearing the pain his best friend was in, and feeling completely helpless to do anything about from so far away.

"I think….I think in another week." Roger said suddenly.

"Hm? In another week what?" Mark shook his head, thoroughly confused.

"I think I'll use that ticket in another week."

Mark coughed out a strange desperate sounding laugh. It was the only response he could manage to give.

"Do you think you can manage to stay alive and relatively healthy until then?" The light, amused tone was back in Roger's voice.

"I'll try my best." Mark whispered. He was finding it very hard to talk through all the different things he was feeling at present. That pesky lump in his throat was getting in the way, as well.

"I'm not convinced that'll be good enough, but I guess that'll have to do for now. A week's not too long. Say hi to the girls for me, ok?"

"K."

"Get some sleep. And get Benny or someone to take you to see a doctor if anything else happens. Or if you aren't feeling better after your three days off."

Mark sighed, "I'll talk to you later, Rog. Take your AZT."

"Always do. I'll call again in a few days. Love you."

"Love you, too."

Mark slowly leaned forward and hung up the phone. He sat back and let the conversation sink in.

He's coming home in a week. He's lonely, and confused, and in pain. Mimi's coming home in two weeks and by then, Roger will be back. What's she going to want to do with that? How long is he going to wait before letting her back in? What exactly did Collins tell him to cause him to tell me go see a doctor?

Mark sighed and closed his eyes. After those questions died away he became painfully aware of the stillness around him. He opened his eyes and looked around. In the distance a car horn blared twice then stopped. And then there was silence. Thick, suffocating, deafening silence.

A feeling of panic began to seep in through Mark's pores. He could feel his heart beating in his chest and temples. He felt cold and hot at the same time. His eyelids felt like they were heavy and sticky, but he couldn't stop blinking them rapidly over his red and watery eyes. He swallowed over and over and his breathing became erratic with the oncoming sobs.

With Collins officially gone; Benny, Maureen, and Joanne gone for the night; and without Roger's voice on the phone, Mark felt more alone then he had felt in a very long time.

Is this how it's going to be? Is this what's it's going to feel like everyday, every minute when they're all gone?

The thought was unbearable. The memory of Angel, his death still so fresh and the memory of Rachel, her death an old wound that never healed, clawed at his heart. Loneliness and grief fell over Mark like a lead blanket. He felt shredded and broken, like he was in so many pieces they could never be put back together. He felt small and helpless, like the faintest breath of wind could destroy him.

He brought his knees up to his chest, hid his face, and wept. He wept for himself, for Roger, for Rachel, and Angel. He wept for all his friends' pain now, and the pain yet to come. He wept for the lives lost, and the ones left behind. He wept for the unknown, and all the things he wished he didn't know. He wept until there was nothing left but hiccups and sniffs. He wept until all he felt was numb and…

Hollow. I am hollow.