((Here it is, kiddos! The final chapter. Yay!! *applause* Umm... it's yummy. I hope you like it. Please review now that it's finished. Oh, and Kait, the DarkSide is so incredibly delicious. You have corrupted me forever -- thank you so much!!!

Disclaimer: The characters in my story no longer belong to Jonathon Larson, because they are mine, all mine. (Just kidding, in case that wasn't obvious.) Please don't sue me because I have nothing for you to win and I'm too darn tired to defend myself in a court of law. I wonder if Mr. Larson knew how much sleep deprivation he would cause for obsessive Rentfic writers. Oh well, I wouldn't want to change even if I could.))

Anything But Lonely

Chapter Six: It Had To Be You

"Happy Valentine's Day, Pookie!"

"Happy Valentine's Day, Honeybear!"

I watched in dismay as Maureen and Joanne kissed passionately, about six feet away from me. Sure, I was happy for them, but I had been pretty depressed since Christmas, and watching my ex and her girlfriend make out was not exactly helping. Today was supposed to represent love and companionship, but for me Valentine's Day had always been another unsolicited reminder of my rightful place in this world: nowhere.

"Smile, Marky," Maureen told me. "You're acting like you just lost your best friend."

I stared at her, wondering if she was being serious. That girl could be such a ditz sometimes. "I did," I reminded her.

She rolled her eyes. "But not permanently. He'll come back."

"You're too optimistic."

"No, you're too pessimistic."

"Only when it's necessary."

"But it's not! You two are inseparable."

"It's been nearly two months. If Roger was returning, he'd be here by now."

Joanne placed a hand on my leg, ending our bickering. "Then maybe it's time to move on."

"I can't move on that quickly. Roger meant everything to me. He still does."

"Well it's obvious how much you mean to him," Maureen blurted, eliciting a slap on the thigh from Joanne. "Sorry, that was rude. I didn't mean to --"

"No," I interrupted, "it's true. I guess I am holding on to the past. I need to let go and move on with my life."

"See? The first step is admitting you have a problem." Maureen grinned brightly. A well-intended but poorly-received attempt to cheer me up.

"I guess." I shrugged.

"Ooh! I know what you need," she said, as if she had just gotten a brilliant idea.


"A girlfriend."

I shook my head emphatically. "No."

"Come on, I know the perfect girl. It'll get your mind off of Roger."

Joanne sensed my apprehension. "I don't think he's ready to move on," she told Maureen.

"Please, it's not like he's in love with Roger."

I stared down at the table to hide my furiously blushing face. "Um, I should go," I said.

"Why?" Maureen didn't seem to notice my embarassment, thankfully.

"Oh, I've got a lot to do. . . errands to run, you know." To be honest I just wanted to get out before I accidentally revealed too much.

"Have fun. Are you coming over for dinner tomorrow?" Joanne asked.

"I don't know. We'll see. Probably. My schedule's not exactly bursting at the seams." I quickly excused myself and left the apartment.

I'm not really sure why I didn't want them to know what had happened between Roger and me. After all, they certainly weren't going to look down on me for being gay. But I didn't think I was gay. I was in love with Roger, that I had come to accept as fact.

But I didn't love Roger because he was a man. I loved Roger because he was Roger. I loved him because he knew all of my secrets and I knew all of his. I loved him because he could make me laugh when the rest of the world made me want to cry. I loved him because when I was sick he would feed me chicken soup and read to me until I got better. I loved him because we fit together so perfectly, like two halves that comprise a whole. It just made sense. Alone we were each one person, but together -- together we were MarkandRoger. Like it was meant to be that way.

That didn't mean I was gay, did it? And so what if it did? This was the end of the millennium, and I was a modern guy. I'm allowed to be gay if I want, I thought. Or straight, or bisexual, or even trisexual; it didn't matter.

Except that it did matter. It mattered because Roger was too scared. To him, if he confessed to being anything but strictly heterosexual, that would make him wimpy and effeminate. And nothing was more sacred to Roger than his toughness and masculinity.

In other words, I would never have any chance with my songwriter.

I arrived at the loft just as the telephone rang. "We screen," I said. Old habits are hard to break.

The answering machine began recording, and for a few seconds all I heard was silence. Then a voice quietly said, "Mark." One word was all I needed to know who was calling. "It's me. Pick up the phone." He paused. I deliberated whether I should answer or ignore it. "Please, Mark. We need to talk."

"We needed to talk two months ago," I corrected, even though he couldn't hear me. "There's nothing left to say."

"I know you're there. Please pick up." He sighed loudly. "Fine. I'll call later in case you change your mind. Bye."

Suddenly I rushed toward the phone. "Wait!" I cried, reaching for the receiver. The only reply I received was a dial tone.

Shit. Why didn't I pick up? My emotions whirled torrentially through my mind; I didn't know what to feel. What if he was calling to apologize? Or was it too late for apologies? Maybe he just needed some cash. Hell, for all I knew, maybe he was inviting me to his wedding.

That caused a wild pang of jealousy to stab at my chest. For the first time I realized a frightening possibility: the moment had meant everything to me, might have meant nothing to him. It wasn't that he was afraid to commit or admit his feelings. It was that he didn't even have any feelings to begin with.

I swear, sometimes it's a miracle my head doesn't overheat and explode from thinking. This really must be detrimental to health. I shifted my brain into auto-pilot, letting my feet lead me to the nearest movie theater. I purchased a ticket: "Attack of the Ooze-Filled Sewer Creatures." Sounded good.

An hour and a half later, I walked home, my stomach queasy from the film. What I saw when I opened the door, though, made me forget all about the lousy, plotless movie.

Sitting cross-legged on the table, facing the door, was Roger. "Hi," he said nervously.

I opened my mouth but no words came out.

"I, uh -- I came back."

"No shit," I said, finally regaining my voice. "How'd you get here so quick? You just called a few hours ago."

"I called from the pawnshop."

"Where you bought back your guitar, I guess?" Before he could answer, I continued. "What the hell do you want, Roger?"

He didn't speak for at least a minute or two. Then he cleared his throat, swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and responded: "You."

My eyebrows shot through the roof. He couldn't have said what I had just heard. "Come again?" I squeaked dryly.

"I want you, Mark. I tried to deny it to myself -- that's why I left -- but I can't anymore. I know I can be a prick sometimes but I never meant to hurt you and I'm sorry. I'd do anything to have you back in my life." He inhaled sharply, having said all that in one breath.

I examined Roger closely. His eyes were wide and frightened; he was wringing his hands in a nervous gesture I remembered him doing during oral presentations in high school. This was incredible. Almost unbelievable.

Still, I couldn't let myself forget what he had done. "So, this is what you expect, huh?" I said bitterly. "Roger vanishes for two months then comes back to find the filmmaker he abandoned running eagerly into his open arms."

"I made a mistake, okay? I am human, you know," Roger snapped. When he realized the tone he had used, his voice softened immediately. "I got freaked out. I thought if I admitted how I felt about you, that it would change who I was. I needed time to realize that. . . that. . ."

"That it was who you were all along," I completed his sentence.

He nodded silently, giving me a curious look.

"I know what you mean. I wouldn't face the truth for a while either, but I guess it was always there."

Roger took a tentative step closer to me. He slipped a hand behind my neck, sending a shiver through me. Our lips touched, and every memory I had with him seemed to flash before my eyes. I reached my hands up to his face, my fingers traveling along his jawline until they combed into his hair.

Kissing Roger was unlike any experience I'd ever had. I thought I knew everything about him. But when we kissed, an element of excitement, of newness and discovery, hit me. Even though we had kissed once before, this felt like the first time all over again. Roger and I already shared an intense connection, but now were being exposed to a new, previously unrevealed side of each other.

I could've stayed like that for eternity, but eventually we both pulled away. I held my breath, fearing in some small recess of my head that Roger might run away again. But he didn't; all he did was look at me and -- smile! He actually smiled, something I hadn't seen him do in a good three or four months. And I was the cause of his happiness. Me, the guy who always sat on the sidelines, watching life and love happen to everyone else. Now, I thought, maybe I've found love too.

"I, uh. . . I got you something." Roger dug into a nearby suitcase. "That's why I was at the pawn shop."

"Really? What is it?"

He pulled something from the luggage and thrust it in my direction. "This."

"Oh my God," I murmured. He held a camera, nearly identical to my old one except in perfect condition. "You didn't have to do this."

"Yes," he insisted. "Yes, I really did. I'm the reason yours broke. I wanted to make it up to you."

I wrapped my arms around his broad shoulders. "Thank you so much, Roge. I love it."

"I would have gotten you a better, more modern one, but I know how persnickety you are when it comes to your films and I --" He noticed me snicker and stopped in mid-sentence. "What?"

"Nothing. You said persnickety." I stifled another chuckle.

"Yeah. So?"

"It was cute."

He grinned and kissed me softly, his strong hands encircling my waist. "I should tell you," he began, "I --"

"Shh." I silenced my musician by placing a finger to his lips. "You don't have to, I already know everything I need to know."

He took my outstretched hand, placing it in his. Our fingers interlaced and I felt something that had been missing for a very long time: a sense of completion. This was what I had needed, all my life. It was what we both needed, it just took us thirteen and a half years to figure it out.

Roger's beeper went off. When he didn't move I asked, "Have you been taking your AZT?"

He looked down sheepishly. "I ran out and couldn't afford more. It's not like here. You can hardly find it on the streets in Santa Fe. Only doctors can get it for you, and --"

"You didn't want to go to the doctor," I finished. "I know."

"But I didn't have the money either, I swear. That stuff's expensive when you have to buy it legit."

"You could afford a camera,", I pointed out.

"Exactly. I was saving all my money to buy it for you."

"How long ago did you run out?" I asked worriedly.

"Just a few days ago. Calm down, Mark, I'm okay. Really. As long as I start taking it again."

I grabbed my coat from the table. "I'm gonna go get you some more. I'll be back soon."

Roger kissed my forehead. "What would I do without you?"

"Not much, and that's exactly why you better never leave me again."

"I won't. I mean that." He watched me walk to the door. "Bye." Then he added, more quietly, "I love you."

I stopped in my tracks, surprised. "I love you too," I replied, then I headed outside, my new camera in tow.

In the street, I turned the camera on and began recording. "Zoom in on the window of the loft," I narrated. "Inside, Roger has finally come home. I guess it's never too late to start over. For me or for him. He's changed -- but in a good way this time. He's becoming the Roger he used to be, the Roger he was before New York, and April, and drugs. My Roger."

I turned, panning across the 11th street lot. "And I think I'm changing too, back to the old Mark. I'll never regain the innocence I lost in the last few years, but maybe the happiness and sense of belonging will return. As long as I've got Roger, I'll never have to be lonely again." I smiled with satisfaction and hit the power button. Then I lowered the camera to my side and walked off in search of an AZT vendor.

- - - - -

((Whew! Finally done! It seems strange to think I've spent the last three weeks of my life on almost nothing but this story. It feels nice to have it finished, but now I keep thinking of things I need to explore here. So I might write a sequel from Roger's POV. It won't be as long as this story, though. I don't think I've ever written anything as long as this, not even formal papers for school. Sheesh. Well, please review for me, I'd really like to know what y'all think, and if you think a sequel's worth writing here.))