Author's Note: Wow, that was a bit of a wait, wasn't it? And, despite that wait, I still feel like I don't like this chapter. I knew from the beginning that I was going to have a hard time with this – I wanted to do the Santa Fe scene justice – but it just took forever. But, whether I'm extremely happy with it or not, this chapter is finally done and I get to focus on some nice MushxBlink action in the next chapter. And then the Performance Art. Oh, lordy, I'm already dreading that one ;) But, at least, this one is done. Now it's time to go ahead and poke Shoe, hehe. It's her turn to update now ;)

Disclaimer: I do not own, nor stake any claim, to any of the original characters shamelessly borrowed from Newsies – they are the property of Disney, © 1992. Any other character, when noted, is property of their respective owner and will be noted in the disclaimer. The core idea to this story – the adaptation of the Broadway musical, RENT, is © 1996 to Jonathan Larson.

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How can you connect in an age where strangers, landlords, lovers, your own blood cells betray?
Because one can never be sure if such a moment could be the last...

January 4, 2007

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Let's open up a restaurant in Santa Fe,
Sunny Santa Fe would be nice…

--

Blink slapped Jack on the back of his worn leather coat as he followed him out into the main lobby of the Ryder Community Center. "Man, I almost shit a brick when I saw you walk in that room. How the hell did Dave ever convince you to leave your hidey-hole?"

David, who was just glad that Jack showed up – and, to be quite honest, was probably more surprised than Blink and Mush put together when Jack joined in at the meeting – walked forward and, in a way that was probably too queer to be considered straight, slung his right arm around Jack's shoulder. "Yeah, Jack. How did I convince you?"

There was a mild snarl as Jack picked David's arm off of him and dropped it. "Do that again, Dave, and I will be forced to yank off your damn arm, lather it with fucking butterscotch and make you eat it. Capisce?"

David pulled his hand back, knowing that Jack didn't mean anything that he said. How could he? He sounded like a complete lunatic. What was it with Jack's sudden fixation with butterscotch, all of a sudden, anyways?

"Oh, boys," Mush giggled coyly as she brought up the rear. Blink fell back and, mimicking David's gesture, placed his arm around Mush, drawing her close. Mush looked at Blink's profile. "Isn't Jack just the cutest? Him, with his long hair, leather jacket and fancy talk, looking like a real life version of Uncle Jesse."

If looks could kill, Mush would have fallen out of her three inch heels just then and died on the street right outside the Community Center. Jack was glaring so angrily at her that David, who had looked wounded when Jack snarled at him, felt better.

He lifted his camera up and, as Jack continued to wish death upon Mush with his eyes – who was to busy snuggling up to Blink to notice – David grinned. "Say cheese, Jack."

Before Jack could cross his eyes and make a face, David snapped a picture of his pouting profile. Blinded by the flash, Jack lowered his eyes and mumbled curses under his breath.

David swiveled the camera forward and found Blink and Mush in the viewfinder. Unlike Jack, those two did not seem to mind if they were photographed. Inherently photogenic, the couple automatically paused and adopted matching smiles as David turned his camera on them. He took their picture and, right away, they relaxed and started to walk down the street.

David was not done with his camera. It had been a good couple of days – he blamed it on the holidays that had just passed – without him exercising his need to photograph everything in sight. Apart from the night when Spot had their electricity cut, and the last two Life Support meetings he had tagged along on, his camera had been suffering from neglect.

It was a cold and dreary day, with the grey clouds overcast melding into the too-tall skyscrapers that littered the City. It had snowed a few days before Christmas and much of the street had a bit of the dirty, once-white slush clumped alongside it. It made for an interesting photo opportunity; many of the tourists who came to Manhattan assumed that it was some magical place but David knew better.

While walking alongside (the still pouting) Jack, a few paces behind Mush and Blink, David kept the camera right up at his nose. He took a few shots, trying to capture the real, gritty essence of the City. He got a patch of black slush with about five or six cigarette butts standing straight up – a makeshift ashtray, really – and a garbage can that had overflowed with McDonald's refuse. There was a Christmas Eve circular to some big name department store, glued to the damp sidewalk, one rather large boot print stamped right in the center.

And there, at the corner of the street, there was an old Black woman, kind of heavy, wearing worn clothes, sleeping on top of a layer of cardboard. His heart pained only slightly at the sight of her but he took the picture any way. The homeless were a part of everyday life in the City; unfortunately, you get used to it. Besides, you never know when it'll be your turn out on the street.

His eye glued to his camera, David did not notice it right away when Mush (and, because he was all but glued to her hip, Blink) paused. In fact, he did not notice it until he bumped right into Blink's backside and the camera hit him. "Ow," he whined and lowered his toy. He looked out to see what had caused them both to stop – because only tourists cross when the little man is white; locals cross the street whenever the hell they feel like it – and saw that there was a crew of policemen, about three from the NYPD, standing above the sleeping woman. One of them, a big burly man with a thick mustache, was poking her with his billy club, trying to wake her up.

David pushed in front of Blink and Mush, his camera back up. His finger poised above the top button. "Smile for Ted Koppel, officers." He snapped the picture. "You wouldn't want to start up anything like the Rodney King incident last year, would you?"

The mustachioed policeman turned to look at David but seemed to think better of it – most likely he was thinking back to the LA riots from the end of April. He shook his billy club warningly at the young man but said nothing. He just nudged the woman – now awake, though she was still lying on the ground – in her hole-filled shoe and walked away, his two peers following behind him.

David lowered the camera and felt a bit proud of himself. However, the pride did not last long when the homeless woman struggled to get to her feet and, once she was standing, basically turned on him. "Who the fuck do you think you are? Do I look like I need some help from you, white boy?"

Mush took step forward, her hand outstretched in a gesture of peace. "Easy, sugar, easy. He was just trying—"

The woman snorted and spit at David's feet. "Trying, my ass. Don't go thinking that your fancy artistic ways," she sneered, pointing at him with every word, "are going to do me any fucking good." She spread her arms out above her. "This whole mother fucking area is full of artists." She lowered her hands and stared hard at David. "Hey, artist? You got a dollar?" When David, ashamed and abashed, turned his head away from her, she smirked. "Didn't think so."

Jack took charge of the situation. They didn't need to put up with this lady's crap. "Whatever," he said, grabbing hold of David's coat sleeve. "Forget this bullshit, Dave. Let's go," he announced, as he dragged the still stupefied man across the street. Mush smiled sadly and followed them. Blink just flipped the homeless woman his middle finger as she settled back onto the ground.

--

None of them really said anything until they had gone through the subway turnstile and had settled in their car – David, Jack and Mush sitting, Blink standing up, hanging onto the pole. In his more Blink-style clothes – he swore that it was Mush who dressed him up as a flaming pirate – one would be hard-pressed to tell that he was queer. He was even making lovey-dovey faces at the best looking girl in the car; it was just that the girl happened to be a dude in drag.

Mush did not like the quiet so, in that unassuming way she had, she decided to break up the silence. " New York City," she said, smiling, her arms outstretched, mocking the crass way the homeless woman had done it. "There's no place like home." It was strange, hearing Mush sound so sarcastic. The others must have started to rub off on her.

Blink pointed at her. "You tell them, girl."

"Can it get any worse?"

Blink shook his head. "Nope. This shit hole is the bottom of the barrel, if you ask me. Absolute fucking bottom."

Jack nodded in agreement; David just thought the way that Blink was hanging onto the pole made him look like a Chippendale's dancer. Trying to push the accusing image of that woman out of his head, he brought his camera up and started taking pictures.

"Hell, any place is better than here. But you know what place would be best?"

Jack jumped in on the conversation. " Santa Fe."

Blink nodded. " Santa Fe," he agreed, touching his nose with his finger.

" Santa Fe," Mush said, quite breathily.

David snapped another picture. To be honest, he could not imagine living anywhere else but New York. But he let Jack and Blink have their fantasies. Sometimes, it was all they had.

Despite the gentle – and, sometimes not so gentle – rocking of the subway car, Mush stood up and took her place next to Blink's side. "Tell me about what we would do in Santa Fe, Blink."

"Well, there's really only one thing that we can do in a place like Santa Fe."

Jack, for the first time since he met up with them that afternoon, was smiling. "Of course there is." He laughed to himself. "Go on, Blink. Tell her."

"We got to open up a restaurant."

"A restaurant?"

"A restaurant," Blink affirmed. "You know, some quaint little restaurant out in Santa Fe. Tex Mex, I figure. Nothing else would be right. You," he said, looking Mush up and down, his lips curving a bit, "can be the chef, cooking for our diners. And the entertainment, too. We would have lines out the door to come see Mush on her drums."

Mush laughed, a tinkling sound that made the rest of them grin. David snapped his camera. It would be an interesting picture. You have Mush, her hands just below Blink's, as he held onto the same pole. Her head was lifted back, her wig fanning out behind her, her mouth open widely as she laughed.

When she had composed herself, she placed her hand on Blink's chest. "What would you do, Blink?"

He straightened himself up, pretending to tie a tie that did not exist. "I? I would be the maitre'd. Sit down all of our many customers and chat them up. Tell them about the history of their fair city, so my dumb ass history degree doesn't go to waste."

Blink nodded and reached over Mush, took the seat next to Jack. He held his hand out to Mush, she took it and he pulled her onto his lap. "Hey, Blink. We should do it. Let's open up a restaurant in Santa Fe."

He placed a gentle kiss against her neck. "Sunny Santa Fe would be nice."

"You know, I used to tell Sarah that I would whisk her away to Santa Fe," Jack interrupted, his smile all but faded from his face. Whether it was the discussion of his dream city or watching the happy couple interact as they dreamed up their own future, Jack looked as if he was hurting. "I used to say that the sun was bigger and she would always remind me that it was the same sun." He paused. "Everything just seems like it be bigger there, you know."

Dave heard the mention of his sister and placed his Nikon N90 back into his lap. It was rare to hear Jack speak about Sarah lately. Sometimes he wondered if she was being pushed out of his memory; at other times, David thought that Jack dwelled too much on the dead girl. Either way, he thought it was unhealthy.

Right then, though, he was not sure if it would be better to let them continue in their discussion or change the subject entirely. But, before David had the chance to try to remedy the awkwardness of the situation, Mush piped up.

"We can bring Jack with us to Santa Fe, right Blink? You told me he's a writer. He can do the menu for us," she said, reaching down and patting Jack's leg. Jack, momentarily forgetting that Mush really was a guy, seemed not to mind the gesture... too much.

"Hey, Santa Fe, wait for me," Jack said, his brown eyes losing the sadness that had been there only moments ago. It had always been his dream to head out west. Maybe it still was.

David smiled to himself as he watched – not really a participant, more of a spectator – to the three of them continue to talk about this fictitious restaurant. He was feeling really appreciative towards Mush right then; the more time that David spent around Mush, the more he liked her. She was not only good for Blink. She was good for them all.

An angel to the first degree.

--

The subway pulled up their stop, just outside of Avenue A. David, who still did not particularly like the direction that the conversation had taken, was the first one to notice – Jack, Blink and Mush were too involved in planning their menus and describing the interior of one of many of their imagined four star restaurants.

Though he was still very pleased with the way that Mush had enticed Jack to lose that sourpuss attitude, it unnerved him to hear them discuss, quite seriously, how it would be to live in Santa Fe. At the beginning of the conversation, it had been amusing to listen to them plan but, as the subway slowed to their stop, the talk was growing much less fantastical and much more realistic – as if they really planned to build this restaurant one day.

What would he do if they left him?

"Hey guys… and girl," he added when one of Mush's drawn on eyebrows seemed to rise in amusement. "We're here."

She slid off out of her seat – Blink's lap – and offered him one of her perfectly manicured fingernails. "Come on, lover. We wouldn't want to miss our precious stop."

"Oh, yes. Because it would be a shame to be stuck on the subway. I mean, it's not like it doesn't go back around or anything. Or we couldn't just get off at the next stop and walk," Blink said, playing along as he let Mush pull him up from his slouched position. "You know, the world would just end," he continued, snorting almost as he struggled to keep a straight face, "if we did not get off the subway right now."

Jack just smirked to himself as he placed his leather jacket over his shoulders. Mush was giggling. David scowled.

"Yeah, yeah, yuck it up," David muttered as he hoisted his Nikon N90 up and placed the strap around his neck. He still continued to hold onto it though; no matter how long he lived in the Alphabet City of Manhattan, he was always a bit paranoid that someone would come along and just grab at his camera. And what sort of photographer would he be if he didn't have a camera? "Just because I'm the guy who actually pays attention to what's going on instead of being lost in some fantasy world."

Mush blew a simple kiss at him while Blink laughed. David led it slide; if there was something that David noticed about the way Blink was acting now, compared to when he left the city, it was that he was so much more… likable? Blink had always had a bit of a sarcastic streak – in order to protect himself against unwelcome jabs at his sexuality, Blink had been snarky from the womb – but, with Mush around, he was… softer, almost. Mush really was quickly becoming one of his favorite people.

And David was not about to bring the old bitch back. Jack, however, was a different case. Jack would be bitter regardless.

He waited until Jack had followed the three of them out onto the subway platform and taken a few steps up the stairs before going after him. He poked him in the back. It was time to get his mind off of Santa Fe and back on New York. "What are you doing now, Jack? I mean, this is a once in a year event, you leaving the apartment. You up to seeing Annie's show with us tonight or are you going to poop out?"

Jack started shaking his head earnestly as soon as he heard Annie's name. The way he saw it, he had already made up to David for his attitude that morning by going to that AIDS pity party. He was not about to resign himself to watching Twister at her performance art. In fact, he would rather have a round two with Jessica barging in on him again. And that had ended up with one hell of a hangover.

But, before he had the chance to answer, Mush turned around. "Of course Jacky will come with us. We insist. Right, Blink?"

Blink's arms were around her waist, his chin resting on her shoulders. "Hey, buddy. You don't think we're going to let you slip away from us, do you?" He laughed. "If we have to put up with Twist's show, you're coming along, too. We can suffer together."

Jack sighed and glanced over at David. The younger man's blue eyes were dancing in amusement. He knew that Jack was only moments from giving in.

He was right.

Jack turned his face away from the rest of them all as they emerged onto the busy street. "Okay. All right. I'll go." He shrugged his shoulders heavily as if this was the hardest thing he has had to do in a long time. And, considering how over the top Twister was when doing a "performance", it probably was.