Wow, yeah. Guess I should finish this one, huh? Well, I stopped writing for a while, then got sucked up into other fandoms, so I apologize. And Abby, thanks for hanging in there. I hope you see this update. I've wanted to respond but you're posting as "anon", so I can't! Anyway, here you are, probably one or two more chapters after this one which I hope to crank out. It's short, but it's there. Thanks for reading!
Officer Billard turned off the projector. "Good thing we still had this in the back. That's quite a film you've got there. Bet you bought yourself a heap of trouble with it."
Mark flinched uncomfortably. "They broke into my apartment looking for it."
"You file a report?"
"Nothing was stolen."
"Just the same. Breaking and entering. What about that face, they bang you up any?" The officer pulled out a chair with a scrape and tapped his yellow memo pad with a pen.
"Thugs," Mark said, looking at the cop. "Just your average, everyday thugs."
Officer Billard leaned forward, fingering the pen. "I know you seem to think we're not doing much for his community, but the truth is we've got our hands full. And someone not telling us the truth just makes our job harder. Now according to this tape, they saw you. Did they catch you?"
Mark twisted uncomfortably. "Yeah."
"So we can add assault to the charges of breaking and entering and illegal drug use. We'll have to see the apartment, of course."
He'd had enough. Mark stood. "Look, as much as I love for the power of the people to prevail, I think I'd rather just leave the tape and go home."
The officer stood as well. "I understand that, son, but you're not safe there. Not if they know where you live. Do you live alone?"
"I have a roommate."
"Both of you need to go into custody, just until we find these guys. Understand?"
"Custody? But I didn't. . ."
"It's a safe house, son. So we know where you are and can keep you safe."
"Safe house." Mark sighed. "For how long?"
"As long as it takes." Officer Billard leaned over his desk. "Listen. We know who these guys are. We just haven't been able to scrape up the evidence needed to prosecute. Now we have it. Would you be willing to testify against these young men in court?"
The prospect was terrifying. "Uh, yeah. Sure. I guess. You sure you can get all of them?"
"It shouldn't be too difficult."
"It has been so far!"
Officer Billard smiled. "I'll introduce you to Officer Grains. He'll get you and your roommate situated."
Mark wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. He wanted to go back to his place, clean up a bit. "Thanks." Great, he didn't even have the energy to resent authority. Of course at the moment, authority was bent on helping him, and he was ready to accept it.
"Nice." Collins looked around the safe house. "You should film druggies more often, man."
"Can it." Mark sighed and tossed the small duffle on the sofa. He'd been allowed to get a few things, namely a change of clothes and a few books. Roger had his guitar. Collins was just along for the ride. "Gotta make sure my friends are safe," he'd told the cop, pulling himself to an intimidating stance that he probably shouldn't have pulled on an officer, but the cop let it go.
The room was white. Pretty bare, but very clean. The furniture was worn but not impossible. The television was off, and Mark suddenly found that he didn't know what to do with one, it had been so long since he watched. He eyed his books, then eyed the screen.
Roger threw himself on the sofa and gestured at the screen, making the decision for them. "Turn it on."
Collins looked ready to join them, but caught the eye of one of the many guards who would be stationed outside the room. "Look, I'll catch you guys later. You call me as soon as you get out, hear? They won't let me call in this place. You tell me when they spring you from this hellish place they've put you in." He looked around in some envy. "Almost makes me want to go clean my place up."
"Like that'll happen." Roger stood and clapped Collins on the shoulder, then pulled him close into a hug. "You watch yourself," he said quietly.
"You too," Collins said. "And watch him too. He'll get a room cramp and wanna go out filming something."
"I think he's gone off filming for a while," Roger said, glancing over his shoulder.
"Shame." Collins patted Roger's arm and gave Mark a fake salute. Then he was gone, and the room fell uncomfortably silent, despite the noise of the television.
Roger turned and looked at Mark, who was faking concentration on a talk show. He glanced around. Not much to do, really. A few magazines on the table. The tv, of course. There was a small kitchen, and he wandered over to check out the cabinets. Couple of cans of soup, a box of cereal. "Man, you people know how to stock this place," he muttered, wondering how long the soup had been on the shelf. The sell-by date was far off, so he pulled down two cans and looked for a pot to heat it in. Ten minutes later, he and Mark were sipping on wonderfully warm broth while watching cartoons.
"You know," Mark said once his bowl was empty, "I could get used to this. Told them not to bring me here."
"Gonna make the loft harder to live in, that's for sure. Course it's better than me scraping you off the sidewalk, so I'll live with a little disappointment."
Mark smirked, and said nothing.
The news came two days later. Six men had been caught, all between the ages of seventeen and twenty. They had given chase, and shots were fired. One officer was hit, as well as a bystander. The leader, a gruff, tattooed boy called Wart, swore revenge on the "red-haired fascist with the camera". Officer Grains remarked that he was impressed the hooligan knew the word, though he apparently had no clue what it meant. And they were taken away.
"So you're free to go," Officer Billard said as Grains fumbled with some paperwork. "I'll let you know when the trial date is set."
Mark looked relieved, but Roger put a restraining hand on his arm. "Hang on, I thought people usually stayed in these places until the trial was done and people were in jail."
"No guarantee they're going to jail."
Mark's eyes widened. "Wait, you're saying they can skip out and show up on the streets again? What about me?"
"Son, I'm sure they'll be prosecuted. You'll be just fine." And the officer seemed to lose interest, since his part of the case was complete.
Roger hesitated, then pulled at Mark's arm. "Come on. We'll get a watchdog or something."
"Just put Benny out front."
"You really hate the guy, don't you?" Roger steered Mark to the waiting cab.
Two weeks passed. Two weeks of cleaning, dumping, and looking out of the corner of their eyes everywhere they went. To Mark's surprise, the trial was immediate and quick, with all members of the gang prosecuted. Even after it, he walked the streets hunched over, and jumped when he was jostled by people in a hurry to god-knows-where to do god-knows-what that at one time he would have filmed. His camera hadn't been touched. It sat on his bike, which he hadn't touched. That was in the corner with his film canisters and projector. . .which hadn't been touched.
Instead, he was filling his days with reading and volunteering at the center. Looking after Roger and Mimi. Debating with Collins. Arguing with Benny. And trying to find a new path for himself, one that wouldn't cause him and his friends so much grief.
It was hard. Damned hard.
But it went on for three weeks after the trial, then over a month. He hated the way Roger looked at him mournfully, without saying anything. Or the way Maureen would casually ask if he wanted to see a film. He didn't want anything to do with films. Not now. Not ever.
He didn't go to see Ms Willie. He was afraid of what he would find.
And so he spent a lot of time wandering the streets. Filling his head with half-dreams that he only half-heartedly wanted. Curling his shoulders protectively over his slight frame even though the weather was warming slightly. If his friend noticed his new stance, they didn't say anything, and didn't blame him. They just waited impatiently for him to come home from his hours at the center, which was dripping towards late night as he struggled to lose himself in a different activity.
He was engrossed in thinking about one activity, a play that a small group wanted to put on, a sort of La Boheme set in modern day. The streetlights played over him as he walked. He wasn't the only person out by any means. But suddenly he knew, he knew, he was being followed.
Mark was suddenly too scared to look back. The loft was right in front of him, two buildings down, and he could see Roger out on the iron balcony, waiting for him. He glanced up quickly, then hunched over more and kept walking. He couldn't go in. He couldn't bring whoever was following him to his friends. He had to lose him. So he rounded the corner, and took off running.
The sound of pounding feet followed him, as did a distant yell which he hoped wasn't Roger's voice. He slipped on the small stones and banged into the wall as he rounded another corner and pounded down the street, trying to get a far away from his friends as possible, trying to lure the danger after him. He didn't let himself question what he was doing, why he was trying to be a martyr. Maybe he had a death wish. Maybe he was so depressed that he wanted it all over. Funny how now, he knew how Roger felt, except Roger had death hanging over his head. Mark didn't.
Or did he?
No. If he did, he wouldn't still be running five blocks later, his steps clumsy with fatigue, arms pinwheeling with the effort of forcing himself further along. The river was ahead of him, and he launched himself towards the water, skidding down the embankment, hoping to lose his pursuer in the darkness underneath the bridge where the streetlights couldn't follow.
He didn't count on the man knowing the area. He didn't know the man had trained athletically, that he was bearing down on Mark, almost with him. All he knew was one minute he was free, and the next he was on his face in the grass, the ill scent of the river in his nostrils. He was rolled, and looked into the face of a man that probably wanted to kill him.
He was pulled to his feet and shoved backwards. There was no reason to run, and nowhere to go. Mark held his stance, still ready to flee, but knowing he was caught.
The man glared at him. "You shit. You know how much trouble you caused us? Cop's been lookin'. Now I wonder why they've been lookin'? Could it be because someone ratted on us?" The black man shoved Mark's shoulder hard.
"Maybe if you weren't doing something illegal in the first place you wouldn't have a problem!" he said, self-righteously, knowing he was about to get his ass kicked. Something about that knowledge made him feel brave.
"Oh," the man laughed menacingly, "you just said the wrong thing there, asshole. I was supposed to bring you back so we can skin you alive. Too bad."
We? "I thought they got all of you."
That was the wrong thing to say. The man reached out and grabbed Mark.
Mark had no idea what the man planned on doing to him. He fought back, felt himself whipped around and pulled into a firm chest, and gripped in a choke hold as the man whispered into his ear. "I got nothin' thanks to you. They raided my place, I can't go back there. They arrested my little brother. He ain't even involved, and they got him. Now who do I have to thank for that, huh?" He tightened his hold, and Mark gasped. He tried to breathe as the man continued to talk, threatening him, a silver blade of his pocket knife glinting in the moonlight. Gouging out his eyes so he couldn't see through his camera, slicing his guts, cutting off his fingers, Mark lost track of the threats. The man holding him seemed to enjoy feeling Mark's pulse race. He kept talking, doing little, but Mark had no doubt that when it came down to it, he was a dead man.
And then he heard a noise that made his blood freeze in his veins.
"Mark?" A voice cut through the threats, light and questioning and desperate. Mark managed to catch a glimpse of a figure on the bridge above him, moving to look over the wrong side.
Oh, no. No, Roger couldn't be here. But he was, and Mark fought only slightly with the notion of protecting his friend. Self-preservation won out. "Roger! Help me!" He wasn't even sure he said it out loud, though he tried to. The one thought that kept going through his mind was, help me. Help me! But he must've said it out loud, because he heard Roger call out his name in fear. And the attack began.
And Mark prepared to die, right there in front of his friend.
Roger heard the voice. Panic registered. If there was one thing Mark never did, it was ask for help. He ran to the opposite side of the bridge and saw him from above, fighting for his life. "Mark!" He slapped his hands on the railing angrily and hauled ass down the length of the bridge, keeping an eye on his friend below as he struggled with the man. A punch to the jaw had Mark down, and he disappeared in the blackness of the man's coat as his attacker leaned over him.
Shit. No – nononono . . .Roger's heart pounded as he pushed his shaky legs forward, forcing them to cooperate. He reached the end of the bridge and swung around the side, stumbling over the rocky slope that led down to the attacker. They were right in front of him. Right there, he could see them, see the man, see Mark on the ground beneath him.
He saw the man stand, pulling Mark to his feet, his hand wrapped around Mark's throat. Mark was trying to beat off the grip, twisting at his attacker's wrists, gasping for air. His head jolted at a punch, then another, and he let loose as his consciousness apparently faded. "Stop!" Roger yelled, realizing his mistake too late. He froze as the man looked at him, saw a flicker of recognition in Mark's expression before his eyes closed. His heart stopped as his friend was suddenly shoved backwards off the hill, into the cold river water. The attacker ran.
So did Roger. He ran to the spot where Mark had crashed into the water, desperately searching for his friend. He saw a hand emerge, and dove in.
The water was frozen black, and it was all he could do not to yell out in shock and suck it in. His limbs felt heavy and sluggish. He forced himself up, gasping. "Mark? Mark!" Roger whipped his head around frantically, and caught a glimpse of a blond head before it ducked under. He grabbed, and caught hold of a jacket, pulling his friend up for air, wrapping an arm around him as he gasped, struggling to keep them both afloat. "I gotcha, I gotcha, hang on," he said loudly over the current that tried to sweep them away. Mark's plaid coat was sodden, dragging them down. Roger fought against the current, fought against the weight. Mark managed to come to his senses enough to help, and together they made their was through the water, each spurring the other on.
"What the hell's going on down there?" a voice called out from above. Roger could just make out a figure on the end of the bridge walking down to them, steps jerking. He tried his hardest to swim to it, half pulling Mark along with him.
They crawled onto shore, coughing, shivering, and landed at the feet of Ms.Willie.
"Well, I'll be," she said, "just seem to get you out of all sort of trouble, don't I?"
Mark just looked up at her as Roger rolled over and groaned.
Mark didn't know the homeless had so many blankets. He was stripped down and wearing clothes that came from a god-only-knew-who-but-please-don't-be-dead person that used to live in the tent near Ms. Willie. He and Roger were bundled together. The tent smelled like something dead, but with his rising body heat combined with Roger's and the fire barrel at his feet, he found he didn't care. Both his arms were around Roger, warming him, trying to still the shivering, terrified of the man catching pneumonia that could very well end his life. "Y-y-you s-s-s-shouldn't have jumped in . . ." he chattered. "Asshole." He tightened his grip.
"Oh, I g-g-uess I could've let you drown," Roger retorted as bet he could as he folded in on himself. He was freezing. He had never felt so cold, and his chest was lead.
"Could've . . .got back . . ." Mark insisted.
"Bullshit." Roger looked up as Ms. Willie entered.
"Any warmer?" she asked, bent down underneath the flap of the tent.
"G-g-g-getting there," Mark replied, his grip on Roger not lessening.
"You got all we have," she said, almost apologetically. "Got Art and Jonah out there huddled around a barrel, and Cindy's wearing three coats. Try tellin' her she only gots to have two."
"We're fine, thank you." Roger looked up at the woman through reddened eyes.
She tutted and bent down. "You don't look too good."
Mark had to agree. "Listen, can you sit with him a minute? I need to make a call."
"Sure, but you don't need to be going out there any more than he do."
"No choice." Mark unwrapped himself and watched as Ms. Willie settled in, pulling Roger's head to her chest. "I'll be quick."
"You do that. I gots me some soup waiting, an it don't plan on waitin' much longer." The way she stroked Roger's long hair from his forehead showed she wasn't serious.
Mark hugged himself and hurried out of the tent.
The black Range Rover pulled up almost hesitantly. Mark felt blue by this point, if he had any feeling left. He waited as Benny got out and looked around him, then walked forward impatiently. "Come on already!" he snapped, and started to lead Benny to the tent.
"What the hell are you wearing?"
"Something not wet. Get over here, he needs a hospital." There was an air of panic in Mark's voice that Benny wasn't used to hearing, and he kept up step with Mark. They ducked into a tent, and seconds later Benny was carrying out a half-conscious Roger, Mark trying to keep the blankets from sliding off of him. He was bundled into the heated vehicle, stretched over the backseat. Mark took as many blankets as he dared off his friend and handed them back to Ms. Willie.
"I'll get the others back to you as soon as I can," he promised quickly as he climbed into the passenger seat.
"Just you send word of your friend back with them," she said. "Now go."
And the Rover sped off into the night.
Mark watched helplessly as the hospital staff placed Roger onto a gurney. He saw the nods when he explained that Roger was HIV positive. He turned to Benny, he was certain he did, he remembered seeing the look of surprise on the dark face as he collapsed.