Disclaimer: RENT belongs to Jonathan Larson.
"Hey!" The loft door slid open and Tom Collins stepped inside. "How can anyone justify this much rain in May?" he asked.
Roger grinned. "Give me thirty seconds," he said to a small sixteen-year-old fumbling with her guitar. "Keep playing!" he added over his shoulder, then, "Hello, Thomas." They embraced.
"So you're all keyed up for today?" Collins asked.
Roger nodded. "Yeah," he said, breathless. "You want me to get Mark for you?" He glanced at his watch, then told his student, "Okay, that's thirty minutes. Sorry to interrupt you like that. Think you got the scale?" he asked. She nodded. "Good, so next week you'll know this for me, right?"
"No, by next week."
The student grinned, stuffed her papers into her backpack and headed out the door. "Bye, Mr. Davis!"
Collins snorted. "Mr. Davis?" he repeated when the student had gone.
Roger raised an eyebrow. "Your point, Mr. Collins? Ah-ha! Mr. Cohen!" he exclaimed as Mark emerged from the bedroom, buttoning a blue-grey sweater that was just a bit too big for him and intended for someone nearly three times his age.
"Hey," he said, half to Roger and half to Collins. "I'll be ready in just a minute—"
"Here." Roger gently pushed Mark's hands away from the buttons and slipped them into place, then tugged the seams to rest over Mark's shoulders. He kissed him, and under plastic-framed lenses, Mark's eyes half-hooded. "Take care of yourself."
Mark grinned. "What's going to happen to me?" he asked. "I'll be with Collins."
"That is what's going to happen to you," Roger retorted, looking directly at Collins as he spoke. "You'll come home an anarchist, convinced the toothpaste people are out to get you or boycotting underwear."
Collins laughed. "Yeah, that's right," he said. "The toothpaste people are all out to get us. Honestly, what do you see in this guy? Roger, you got a candy flavored cock or something?"
With a wicked grin, Roger swung his hips and retorted, "Mint chocolate, you want a taste?"
"Ha, ha. Come on, Mark, let's go."
"'Bye." Mark stood on tiptoe to kiss Roger, though he did not completely need to, then grabbed the umbrella with the bent spokes and hurried out after Collins.
As they sat opposite one another at a table at the Life Café, Mark said, "You know, there are other restaurants in New York. Even places we can afford."
"Yes, but are their French fries this good?" Collins asked. He shrugged. "Why change what's already working for you?" Mark nodded and made a noncommittal noise. "Of course, if something isn't working for…"
After a moment's silence, Mark raised his eyes. Oh. Collins was watching him, waiting for a response. "It's working fine," he said.
"Okay. I'm just asking."
"Fine," Mark repeated.
"Because you could talk to me if it wasn't. And I could talk to Roger for you—"
Mark stiffened. "Collins, if I have a problem with Roger I can talk to him myself."
"Okay." Collins held his hands up in a gesture of peace. "I'm just saying, no one manipulates Roger like I do."
Mark refused to play. He drank the foam off his beer. Collins tore the bottom half-inch of wrapper away from his straw. "Did you give up alcohol?" Mark asked.
"Nope, it's just not my taste at three in the afternoon."
Mark felt his shoulders slump slightly. There was nothing wrong with a beer at three in the afternoon, he told himself, but he didn't believe it, not because there was anything in his mind to suggest that he was some alcohol-addicted boozehound, but because Collins had implied that there was something wrong with wanting a beer at three o'clock in the afternoon.
"So you're all right?" Collins asked. A waitress who one day hoped to be an actress deposited a basket of fries on the table and hurried on without much conversation. Collins frowned at her back. "You know, with kids like Maureen used to be, all happy and friendly, you wanted them to succeed. This batch… they make me feel old."
Mark smiled. He took a French fry. "Maureen is as successful as she wants to be," he said. "I think she likes being the big fish."
Collins nodded. "The center of attention, definitely. Were you doing it, when you were with her?"
"Doing what?" Mark asked, uncertain. Something about the way Collins said "doing it" suggested that this was not the "it" usually referred to by that phrase.
Off-hand, Collins said, "Cutting yourself," and bit into a French fry.
Mark froze, straightened up against his chair and stared at Collins. He forced his mouth to open, but something was blocking his throat. Mark tried again. He swallowed. "You… you…?"
"Of course." He sucked salt off his fingertips, waited for Mark to answer, and when Mark continued to stare blankly, Collins said, "Not that this is something you're necessarily comfortable talking to me about."
"It's not that," Mark assured him. "I didn't… I didn't know you knew."
"How… how long did you know?" Mark asked, feeling a blush envelop him. He wanted to stop stammering, to understand what was going on, to melt into a puddle on the floor.
Collins shrugged. "How long have you been doing it?" he asked. Mark said nothing. "I never thought you and Mimi would get along. Goes to show what I know, but I never imagined it. Remember when Angel described her to us after Life Support?"
Mark nodded. He remembered. "I was terrified," he said.
"You hid it so well," Collins remarked sarcastically.
"You were practically biting your nails. And now there's the babies…"
Mark nodded again. "Exactly," he said. "I can just imagine the little six-year-olds pleasantly informing their first grade teacher that 'Daddy likes boys'."
You have high hopes for Roger. Collins suppressed the thought and snickered. "You know what you're going to be to them?" he asked.
"Honestly, no," Mark admitted, "but I'm okay with that. I mean, Roger and Mimi don't know how to be parents, they're barely adults. But if they're figuring it out and I'm figuring it out, you know… we'll get there," he declared confidently. "We will." Somehow he had swallowed down over half his beer without noticing it.
"Do you know what you want to be?" Collins asked.
Mark shook his head. "I'm leaving that up to them. These aren't my kids."
"They might be," Collins pointed out. "If you stick around, they might be."
Mark shifted. "I'm not… I'm not good with kids," he said. "But you know, Mimi said something that really helped me get sorted out."
"Yeah? What'd she say?"
"She told me, 'You didn't get me pregnant. You didn't come into a partnership with children. The most they are, is your friend's babies. No one says you've gotta love them.'" Mark shook his head. He took a long draught of beer. "Part of me wants to," he admitted. "Break Roger's heart if I didn't."
"I think Roger's heart can take it."
When Mark and Collins returned to the loft, Maureen and Joanne were there, as well as Roger and Mimi. Roger was cross-legged on the couch, holding a blanket-wrapped child even more gingerly than he handled the acoustic. The other baby was in Joanne's arms, with Maureen and Mimi cooing over it.
The twins had finally come home.
"Let's have one," Maureen said.
Joanne looked up at her, not even surprised. "We'll talk," she said.
"Hey." Collins had no problem slipping into the knot of people. He sat beside Roger on the couch and peered at the baby. "Which one's this?" he asked.
"Sasha," Roger told him. "The girls have Gabriel. He's a ladies' man already," he joked, smiling at the baby in his arms though she was irrelevant to his comment.
"Can I hold her?"
Roger kept his hands near Sasha as Collins picked her up, biting his lip. Collins laughed. "This girl will never have a boyfriend in her life," he said.
"Who would want one?" Maureen retorted.
Roger raised his hand.
"Not that it matters, because Roger'll never let her out of his sight."
Roger blushed. "I'm gonna take care of her," he muttered, very quickly, under his breath. "Mark?" he asked. Mark had kept himself back, standing a few feet away and watching his friends and lovers melt at the sight of the babies. He couldn't bring himself closer. He couldn't, because he wouldn't be able to feel what they felt. He wouldn't melt. He would lack. "Mark, would you like to hold her?" Roger asked.
Roger's heart will break.
Forcing a smile onto his face, Mark reached out and took the baby.
She was heavier than he had expected, warm and heavy and solid, and when he tried awkwardly to cradle her, she squirmed and opened her eyes. The falseness of Mark's smile stopped hurting.
"Hey, baby." He stroked her cheek with one finger. Sasha reached up and latched on to that finger. Mark choked. "Um…" He was surprised to find tears clogging his throat.
And it didn't matter that a moment later Sasha soiled herself and Roger attempted to explain how cloth diapers worked, but was shouted down; it didn't matter that she was taken from his arms at the first wail; it didn't matter that when she wanted a bottle, Roger held it for her without questioning Mark.
It didn't matter, because in that moment, Mark knew where he stood in the babies' lives.
Later that night, as Roger cuddled up to Mark in bed and nuzzled his neck, he asked, "How do you say 'Dad' in Hebrew?"
Mark stared up at the ceiling. He would need to find himself a job soon. Tomorrow, maybe.
"Go to sleep," Mimi whined.
Roger murmured something incomprehensible. He slipped an arm around Mark's waist and was asleep in moments.
Only then did Mark collect himself enough to answer, quietly, " Aba."
Thanks for reading my story (since if you're reading this, I assume you did). I hope you enjoyed it! This isn't the end of it forever, I'll probably do a sequel, but that won't be until next break.