xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

This is my first real venture into this fandom. The Rent characters aren't mine, but they are too good to just set down. The character of Ms. Willie is based on the homeless lady in the movie that Mark films right before "Santa Fe". She made quite an impact in that scene, and I couldn't get her out of my head. So I gave her a name, and here she is. Reviews are great should you feel like leaving one, helps me to figure out what work and what doesn't. :)

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

He didn't think it was possible to hurt this badly. Mark coughed himself into consciousness and curled onto his side, vaguely aware of the small street pebbles that dug into his cheek. He was dying. He knew it, he felt awful. Everything ached, burned. His stomach felt like a stone, his chest flamed with the need to vomit. His head throbbed. Wincing did nothing to clear his blurry vision, and all he could do was lay there and gasp, squeezing his eyes tight shut, wanting desperately to cry and knowing it was a stupid thought. He settled for sucking in air, trying not to get sick, trying to figure out what the hell had happened to him.

Two figures. He remembered that. Broad daylight too, but they came from behind him. He never stood a chance. And now he was on the ground, it wasn't as light, and apparently no one had come to his aid. Wherever the hell he was. He figured back in the slightly coherent part of his mind that he was in an alley. That was as far as the facts got him. Another cough pained his ribs and forced him to press upwards on the heels of his hands to ease the pressure. Better. No, no, not better, everything was spinning. Back down again.

Down hurt his ribs. Damn it. He growled in anger and would have fisted the pavement if he wasn't already hurting.

"Well, look at you. If it ain't the film maker hisself. You got mugged, honey?"

He knew that voice. It was from long ago, coupled with a feeling of embarrassment that stayed with him. It was all he could do to twist his body and gaze up at yet another dark figure. At least this one wasn't pummeling him to death. "Who are you?"

"Don't you remember me? I'm your friendly neighborhood project." She leaned over. "You're that boy with the camera, ain't you? I'd know that pale hair and scarecrow body anywhere. You look like you's as homeless as I am. Funny how I got some weight on you, when you's got that camera."

Mark squinted up in confusion.

She tutted and bent down. "S'pose I have to get you up. My back ain't built right for this, so if I scream out, you best let go and run like hell. Cops'll come."

Mark managed a snicker. "They'd be too late. And running isn't in my immediate future." He gritted his teeth. It even hurt to talk, and he was seconds away from emptying his stomach.

Somehow the lady had managed to lean all the way over, her dark eyes angling with his own. "They did you up good, didn't they?"

"Seems it."

"What's your name, boy?"

Mark opened his mouth, and gaped like a fish.

"Uh-huh. That's a nasty cut on your head. It's what I thought. Terrific. I ain't interested in taking care of no film maker wannabe sucking on my generosity." She rose with difficulty, and pointed at him. "I'll go get you some help. Don't need to be out here like this. S'pose you got friends, but ain't no good getting your friends when you don't even know who you are. Artist. I ain't a artist, and I know who I am. Course I ain't got a golfball on my head neither. You stay right there. I'll go get someone and they can get you to one of those clinics. I ain't going in there, they always lead me to a soup kitchen, and I tell you now, the soup sucks." She jabbed her finger toward him to make her point, and started off slowly.

"Wait!" Mark was suddenly terrified. "I don't need a clinic. I can't pay for a clinic." He frowned, tugging at his mind. He was pretty sure he couldn't pay. Hell, if he couldn't even remember his name, how was he going to come up with money? Gingerly he ran his fingers over his front pockets as he leveled himself off the alley floor. Checked the back. No dough. At lease he was right about something.

"Hm. Can you stand?"

Mark managed a wry smile. "Can you help me?"

"Guess you want me to bend down again. Throw my back out. You'll have to find a way to pay for that if I can't straighten again because of you. Come on." She reached down and grabbed his arm. "Jesus to Thomas, boy, you ain't got no meat on you nowhere! You's even thinner than you look!"

Mark wasn't sure it was possible to be thinner than what one looked like, but he accepted the help and didn't comment. The world swam around him, pain seized every nerve, and he gasped loudly. His vision was a little more clear, but not by much.

She leaned into his face. "You are hurt. Bad. Sure you don't want to go to no clinic?"

"No . . .clinic . . ." he managed to gasp.

"Shame. I'd hate to leave you here." He sent her a wide-eyed, half unseeing glare. "Lord have mercy on my soul. Look. I'll take you somewhere if you can walk, it ain't far. That is, if you ain't afraid of a few homeless folk."

"Best offer I've had so far," he muttered.

She looked at him, and shook her head. "You really don't remember your name?"

Mark thought so hard he winced. "No."

"Damn. Come on then."

He managed to hobble beside her, swerving occasionally, and she just waddled beside him and steadied him. They walked like that for some time, until he was certain he was lost, more due to his lack of sight than anything. The sky was darker, the bustle of the streets behind him noisy, and yet they seemed to be descending into a hole. He winced, forcing his vision to cooperate, but only got a sense of where they were. Dizziness assaulted him at once, and he crashed to his knees, hearing the lady curse above him and call out. More hands grabbed him, but he didn't have the strength to bat them away. He was led to a blanket set on the hard ground, and gently laid there. A cool cloth appeared from nowhere and started dabbing at his head. The pain rose in vivid reds and blacks, and he passed out.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Roger knew good and well that Mark should be back. It was dark. He always made an appearance at some point through the day, or called, if nothing else to make sure that he had taken his pill. The daily reminder was more out of fear on Mark's part than necessity, a way to contribute to an undeniable fact and ease it. It was guilt, it was terror, it was the only way Mark could help. And being the overly helpful sort of person, he reminded Roger daily, sometimes twice, to take his AZT. It was a pain in the ass, and Roger missed it.

The clock read seven pm. "He would have at least called."

"You sound like a worried old hag," Collins chuckled and snapped the newspaper he held. "Not like you." He continued reading.

"What are you talking about?"

"I mean usually you're more worried about what you're going to do than what he's currently doing."

"That's not true." Roger paused. "Is it?"

Collins lowered the paper and raised a brow.

"Damn. I'll have to watch that."

"Yep."

Roger paced for a moment. "What about the riot? I was worried about him then."

"Yeah. So worried that when I asked about him you said you didn't know where he was and went inside." The voice was casual, distracted by the print before him.

"I didn't! He was up front, I never made it up that far! I told Mimi to head for him, but we ended up in the center, you know. Then all that crap started, there was no way to see him, much less get to him."

"Uh-huh."

"Look, someone grabbed Angel and we hightailed it out of there!"

"Uh-huh." Collins tensed slightly at the mention of Angel's name, but Roger pretended not to notice. He couldn't pussyfoot around the death, as agonizing as it was, and he wasn't going to try to. It had been long enough to where Collins could talk about it openly. That didn't mean he wouldn't tense up. It was to be expected, so Roger expected it, and dismissed it.

He looked out of the huge loft windows, wondering why the hell he was having to defend himself. The events played in his mind, the jostling, yelling, screaming, Maureen trying to calm everyone then finally fleeing herself. He remembered grabbing Mimi, saw Collins grab Angel, felt himself shoved back through the entrance. It occurred to him that, to this day, he had no idea exactly where Mark was, how he managed to film what he did without breaking his neck. His concern was to get out, get his friend around him out, and he knew they would meet up as planned at the café. And he had waited, anxiously, hovering beside the door, and practically pounced once Mark entered. That stupid grin on Mark's face had made him feel like an idiot for worrying. He turned quickly. "I waited for him."

"And what about the time he was jumped in that alley?" Collins' eyes were still on the print.

"He was fine!" Roger's arms sailed up in exasperation. "He climbed a fence."

"So you dismissed it."

"No, I didn't! For your information, I was the one that . . . look, what the hell is wrong with you?"

"Just raggin' ya, boy. Seeing if you're really as concerned as you say you are." Collins grinned and folded his paper cheekily.

Oh, that was just . . ."Bastard." Roger waved him away. He was used to the ribbing, especially in Mark's absence. Sure, Collins had a few years on them, but at times it seemed that he used his age and 'higher education' more as a means of tolerance toward his young friend. Roger had taken to calling him 'old man' on occasion, when his ragging became too much. It was about there now, either that or he was going to kick the overly-educated african-american anarchist-wannabe back to his motherland.

He walked into Mark's room. It was messier than usual, Mark was a pretty mean picker-upper when it came to his personal things, to the point of mothering Roger when he was in a slump. Mark did his laundry once. Once. Never again. This mess meant he was distracted, but by what? He could have been distracted by a project, but that hadn't happened since . . . what the hell . . ? Roger bent down slowly and picked up a pair of wire-framed glasses, the frames bent beyond repair. This wasn't good. "Hey Collins," he said slowly as he exited the room, "didn't Mark bust up his black pair of glasses last week?"

"Think so. He was bitchin' about how he had only one pair left." Roger didn't respond, he just held up the wire-rimmed glasses for Collins to see. "Damn." The larger man shrugged. "Guess he must've gone for another pair."

"With what?" Money meant nothing in the loft, other than 'lofty dreams'.

"Hell've I know. He's resourceful."

"If he's so resourceful, then why don't we have any food around here?"

"'Cause you eat it all? Uh-huh, don't give me that look, I used to live here too, you know." Collins stood and tucked the paper underneath his arm. "Like a damn rat, you are, always nibblin'."

Roger grimaced. "Don't you have a class to teach or thinking to do or something?"

"As a matter of fact, I have to go and write my novel that will change the course of mankind as we know it. It's called 'Give a little'." He grinned. " I'll forward you an advance copy."

"Funny." Roger looked around, his hands on his hips. "Guess I'll go look for Mark."

"Uh . . .that would mean actually leaving the loft."

"Goodbye, Collins!"

"Later." He chuckled and fisted Roger's arm, and picked up his paper cup. He downed the remained of his drink, crushed the cup, and tossed it towards the trash can. "Let me know if he doesn't turn up, all right?"

"Yeah, I'll do that." All annoyance aside, he knew he could count on Collins in a pinch. Roger relaxed into a appreciative half-smile. The door slid closed, and he stared at it for a moment, feeling oddly empty in the silence. Collins was always good for a laugh, or discussion, and his presence filled the loft with a vibrating hum that was a natural pick-me-up, despite the jibes. He had no idea how the man did it, but now that he had gone, Roger found that he needed that comfort, that energy.

His eyes drifted over to the bicycle leaning against the wall. So Mark hadn't gone riding that morning, meaning logically that he was within walking distance. I shouldn't have stayed at Mimi's last night, Roger thought sullenly. He couldn't help it. She was growing weaker, slowly, but still. He wanted to spent what time they had left together. Mark understood that, hell, he pressed the issue, insisting that he was fine, go on, be with her. In fact, he grew downright angry about it, so Roger left.

It was quite a change in attitude for him, but if Angel's death had taught him something, it was how . . .complete. . . death was. He still expected to see a brightly colored skirt whirl into the loft, or hear drum beats along the stair rails. Instead he frequented the grave, filled with unanswered questions. With any luck Mimi would overcome this latest bout of weakness, of illness. She did look better this morning, he told himself. Hell, I could have at least called Mark, checked on him, something. No telling when he left. This new concern was different for him, too. Hadn't been all that long ago when he packed up and abandoned his friends, left for Santa Fe to pursue his dreams, to escape. He left Mark alone with no further thought about it, and it was his love for Mimi that pulled him back. But upon his return, did he seek her out? No. Instead he apologized to Mark, first.

His wandering eyes fell on a green object dangling from the bicycle's handlebar, nearly hidden in shadow. He took a curious step forward, and froze. Mark's camera bag. His forehead pinched and he reluctantly walked over to the bag that looked too full. Sure enough, the camera was inside.

Mark never, never left his camera behind.

He couldn't explain the dark panic that filled him as he rushed back into Mark's room. No, nothing was disturbed, nothing looked out of the ordinary, well, other than the clothes scattered about, yet his search was urgent. And there it was, his thin brown coat, and his scarf. Roger picked them both up, then flung them down in anger. "Fuck." He should've check earlier, rather than returning and plopping his ass on the couch, self-absorbed with his guitar and pity. He'd been doing so well, now he was allowing himself to fall back into that trap? "Fuck!" Bike, camera, coat, scarf, broken glasses . . .

Roger grabbed his leather jacket and ran out of the loft, desperate to catch up with Collins.