Disclaimer: Nothing is mine. I'm just playing. RENT is Jonathan Larson's.

"Oh, for G-d's sake, Roger!"

Joanne elbowed him out of the way and shoved a tip into the hands of the delivery boy. She sent him on his way, then turned to Roger, who stood by the door with his hands on the pizza box. Joanne smacked him on the forehead. "All those stairs, you give him two dollars?"

"Fuck you, let's eat pizza," Roger replied. He carried the box to the table, where their friends had already assembled. "Oookay." Roger earned himself another light-hearted scolding from Joanne as he pulled a piece for himself, wrapping melted cheese around his fingers. "Ow! Stop doing that!"

"Yeah, give us all the chance to hit Roger," Collins said.

"Shut up!"

"Don't talk with your mouth full."

Roger stuck out his tongue.

"Give me some fucking pizza!"

That was Maureen's contribution from the end of the table. Collins passed her a slice. "Thank you!"

"Easy, Mo," Mark cautioned as she inhaled half the slice in one bite.

Joanne laughed. "Easy yourself, Mark, that's a hungry Maureen you're taking on."

Maureen gave Mark a sympathetic smile. "I think he can manage himself, Jo. Marky's a big boy."

"At least that's what it says on the bathroom wall," Mimi quipped.

Collins shook his head. "Roger," he scolded.

"Oh, fuck you!" Roger sputtered between giggles.

Mark closed his eyes. His temperature was steadily rising. He felt droplets of sweat pop up on his back and along his arms. His eyelids were leaden, almost as though he was tired. Nothing but tired as his throat dried and he could not force down another bite of pizza.

Mark took a deep breath and conjured an image. A forest. He had always daydreamed about places, about being alone somewhere silent. He thought of touching a leaf, watching it fall and gasping as it did… and realizing, suddenly, that it was all right.

"Mark? Mark?" It was Joanne's harsh whisper and her hand on his arm. "Are you all right?"

Mark shook his head. "Huh?" Everyone was looking at him. "Yeah," he said. Stop it. Stop looking at me like that. Stop it, stop it, STOP IT! "Yeah, just… thinking," he finished lamely. "Wow, is everyone full already?" How long was I dreaming?

Maureen laughed. "Yeah, we only ate an entire pizza," she said.

"Oh. Um, then I have something I need to tell you," Mark announced. He cleared his throat. Of course his friends respected his privacy and dropped their voices to listen to what he needed to say. "I, uh… I started seeing a therapist," Mark began, "about… two months?" he asked, looking to Joanne. She nodded. "Two months ago. And she thinks it would be best, um, if I was honest with all of you," Mark said.

He had barely finished the introduction to his speech, but it felt enough like an accomplishment. He looked again to Joanne, who smiled encouragingly. "Um, anyway…" Mark took a deep breath.

No. Don't do this. You're a freak. You're a freak and they always wanted you to be the healthy one. They never knew. Don't change that.

But it's the truth. It's better to be who you are… and everyone has flaws.

Mark looked to the one-time anorexic with a string of pizza cheese on her chin, the ex-junkie with a frown and a furrowed brow, unable to determine what was wrong. "I just wanted you guys to know that. That, that I'm seeing someone." He chuckled, too nervous to do anything more.

---

Roger tossed the dishtowel over his shoulder as he replaced the plates in the cabinet. The sound of a fork clattering against other cutlery filled his ears, harsh and sudden enough to make him jump. Roger glanced over his shoulder. Mark stood at the sink, his arms completely buried in soap water, flecks of soap probably fogging his glasses.

"Um… so tonight went well," Roger volunteered.

"Yeah," Mark agreed. "Really well." Roger stepped up to the sink to dry the remaining dishes. "The… the only thing, Rog, is that… um, you didn't say anything and, if there's anything about… what I said…"

Roger asked, "Is there something you want me to say?" The twitch of Mark's shoulders made his gut twist. "I'm sorry. That was harsher than I meant."

Mark forced a smile. "No hard feelings." He pulled the plug to let the soapy water drain and began scrubbing his hands.

"They put me in therapy for a while when I was in rehab. I never liked it, but if that's what you need, Mark." Roger tossed a handful of forks and knives into the drawer. "That's it. I'm goin' to bed. Night, Mark."

Again with that forced smile, Mark agreed, "Yeah. Good night."

And he could not for the life of him understand why he felt so much pain.

To be continued!

okay, I know I haven't updated 'Once More...' in about forever. Give me time to get it sorted, ok? I will be running both of these stories at once.

Reviews would be golden!