Turning a New Leaf(1/?)
Summary: In which Roger gets off smack, and is taught some very important life lessons by one Mark Cohen.
Disclaimer: It's not mine.
Notes/Warnings: Apologies for the melodrama. References to rape.
Against his rising nausea and despite the even more sickening feeling of an impending migraine, Mark made himself watch as his friend guided the needle into his already puncture-ridden vein. Roger's hands were wracked with tremors as he pushed the plunger, and Mark could no longer tell if it was simply nervousness from the magnitude of what he was doing or the other, more familiar sort of shivering.
Which ever it was, Roger's near immediate relief was apparent. His eyes slid shut as though it were merely a natural thing, and the syringe slid out of his hand and shattered on the ground. Mark saw every moment of its descent, but he still jumped at the sound. If he'd seen Roger do this a thousand times, it had done nothing to help his tolerance for it. In fact, if he were telling the truth, even seeing the tiny baggies of white powder left a resonating sense of dread in the back of his mind. Mark was – and he was not in the least ashamed to admit it - scared shitless of heroin. True, he'd never had much of a stomach for needles or blood, but then, watching someone get a flu shot didn't leave him green around the gills.
"Mark?" Roger started, almost in a small voice.
Mark jumped, surprised that Roger had been the one to break the silence; then, in a soft voice that was somewhat rough around the edges, he replied, "Yeah?"
"It's… done," Roger breathed in a way that expressed a profound relief that Mark somehow, perhaps only because of wishful thinking, couldn't believe came strictly from the drug. "Can I… have a minute?"
In spite of his guilt at the feeling, Mark was so relieved at the chance for escape that he left immediately, not even saying anything more. As soon as he left the bedroom, he made a beeline for the telephone.
Collins had wanted him to call, had wanted to be there in the first place, and Maureen hadn't even believed Roger when he'd sworn he was done as soon as this most recent supply ran out. Granted, no one had really seen any solid evidence he was sincere – they wouldn't, not until this (hopefully) last high had worn off and it was down to a battle between Roger's strength and his addiction, but Collins and Mark had believed from the moment he'd torn off the tourniquet and made his vow. If Roger said it, he meant it. He had to mean he was at least going to try.
Still, he had nothing either Maureen or Benny would call concrete, and knowing the road ahead of him – of them, he amended, for surely Roger would suffer from it worse than he – he couldn't face any doubts being thrown in his face at the moment.
And so it was that it was Collins' voice that answered him. "Tom Collins speaking," he said, in a collected, professional tone that Mark knew would go down the drain the moment Collins heard his voice.
"Collins," he greeted, trying to muster some cheer. Finding none within himself to give, he got straight to the point, echoing Roger's own words, "It's done. Or he just did it, rather."
"Ah," Collins replied slowly in a serious, considering tone, and Mark could almost see him holding his temples between thumb and forefinger, massaging slowly. "Guess I better get my ass back there and give you kids a hand, huh?"
"If you can find the time, I'd feel better," Mark admitted a little hesitantly, "but I don't know if there's too much you can do."
"Well, I can be there," Collins offered optimistically. "S'gotta count for something, right?"
"Yeah," Mark agreed, hoping his lack of conviction wasn't obvious. "Well, look, I just… thought you should know."
"Uh huh," Collins agreed, though he sounded hollow, as if there were something else taxing his mind. Very shortly, that "something else" came out. "Look, Mark, I know you'll do your best, and I know Roger's really gonna try… but you've done your research and you know just as damn well as I do that that boy needs a medically supervised detox."
Mark sighed and removed his glasses, squeezing the bridge of his nose against the headache that was once more threatening to escalate. "Yeah, Collins, I do know," he said tiredly, his voice a little sharp beneath his exhaustion. "But he won't do it, and they can't make him stay. What am I supposed to do, turn him in for possession then forget about it? He's better here with me without a doctor than in jail with one."
Surprisingly, Collins laughed, "Yeah, you got that right. Pretty boy like that'd be someone's bitch inside a day." In truth, Mark found the comment a little distasteful, but couldn't find it in him to be angry with Collins for needing to find something funny about the situation. Despite – or maybe due to – Mark's silence, Collins seemed to sense he'd said too much. "Look, man, I'm sorry. I know it's not something to be joking around about."
"No," Mark shook his head, for all that the phone was attached to his ear and it was a meaningless gesture. "Collins, come on. You know Roger. He's putting himself through hell, and the first thing he's gonna do to cope is joke about it. Remember last time he tried this, when he tried it without telling anyone? I found him crying his eyes out in bed in the fetal position. His legs just… quit on him, and he couldn't get up to take a piss, and the stubborn bastard wouldn't just ask for help… but I find him, and the first thing he does is give me this smile that almost looks like it hurts and go, 'See, this is just my coping method. I've regressed to the abilities of a 2 year old.' And okay, so it wasn't funny, but it was sarcasm, and I've got the distinct impression I'm gonna hear a lot of it."
"And can you deal with that?" Collins asked, with a kindness that undercut the bluntness of his question.
"I'm gonna have to," Mark's reply held a tell-tale waver of uncertainty that even he heard. The pulsing in his head was mounting now, and before Collins could remark on his answer, he said, "Look, Collins, I've gotta go. And I'd make something up, but truth is I've got nothing. I've got a headache and someone who's pretty much a dependent…" Not something he'd ever let Roger hear, but Roger was too high to remember anything even if he heard it, at the moment. "Wanting to go take some Tylenol's a good enough reason to go. But you're welcome whenever you can make it."
"Thanks," Collins acknowledged, thankfully not sounding upset. "You'll probably hear from me this weekend, okay?"
"Yeah. Bye," Mark heaved a heavy sigh and all but dropped the phone back into its cradle, then made his way to the small lock-box that held he and Roger's medications, very much looking forward to the oblivion that a somewhat too-large dose of Tylenol 3s would afford. It was a little hypocritical, he supposed, but he definitely needed the pain relief, and the stress plaguing him had to find an outlet of some sort. Codeine and heroin might be opiates alike, but the difference between them, Mark felt, was stark. He knew drug users of all sorts – from alcoholic bums, to harmless stoners of Collins' ilk, even casual users of harder drugs (Mark knew very few people who wouldn't be willing to take the odd blotter tab or line of morphine, though most of them would have shied away at the thought of injection), to all-out junkies. Even the junkies – especially the junkies – all had human faces to him, and whatever their habits pertaining to recreational drugs, it was secondary.
Mark took four of the pills and washed them down with a glass of milk, hoping to pre-empt any stomach difficulty the drug might provoke. When he went to put the medicine bottle back, he paused over one of the labels he saw. Clonidine. Those pills had been a gift from Benny, "on the off chance he actually goes through with it." The prescription on the two bottles carried someone else's name – by Mark's guess, a Hispanic woman's – but the dosage instructions were for heroin withdrawal, and no mistake. Mark had found what little information he could on the drug, and discovered that it was generally employed as a sedative or surgical anesthetic. It was reassuring enough information – even if it didn't treat the real withdrawal symptoms, it sounded like it could reduce Roger's suffering simply by virtue of its analgesic effects. Mark was hesitant to dispense with the medication, though. He didn't like not knowing everything he should about it.
When he snapped out of his contemplative haze, he sat down on the couch with a book in his lap. Though he didn't really process what he was seeing, he stared at its cover for a long time, until he began to feel the first, relaxing alerts of the drug. That it happened so fast surprised him a little; he remembered upon deeper thought that he hadn't eaten all day. At first, it brought the pain in his head back down to a dull roar, but as his thought process slowed and a faint sense of euphoria blossomed within him, any trace of discomfort was squelched. Mark was in heaven, or as close to it as he was like to get any time soon. He knew Roger would pass out for at least five hours following the heroin wearing off - it was ritual, like a host of other things - and although he was probably going to wake up fiending for a hit, that was only mental. The hell yet to come wasn't due for about another twenty-four hours.
But was it bad, Mark wondered, that it was the high more than the pain relief that had helped him? Possibly, but then, it was no different than several other times he'd done it, and it never affected his daily life. No, Mark decided, Roger's mistakes weren't his, and to internalize his worries over them would only cause problems he didn't need.
With that decision made, Mark's head gradually began to loll towards his chest, and eventually he slept the same sleep he'd predicted for Roger – the drug induced sleep of the dead.
Twenty-four hours later, Roger was a mess. The withdrawal syndrome had come out of nowhere – the drug had worn off, and for a little while, he'd almost been normal again. Then Mark had left him alone on the couch long enough to go to the bathroom, and he'd returned to find Roger collapsed in a shivering heap in front of their now vomit-streaked garbage can. It had taken him about five seconds to decide that he was going to take advantage of Benny's backhanded kindness, at least to see what relief it would afford him. After he'd gotten Roger to take both the clonidine and some Tylenol, he somehow managed to maneuver his larger and largely limp friend into his bed.
Roger hadn't eaten since his last injection, and had scarcely even taken water. He was wracked with tremors so badly they seemed to be coming not only from his muscles but from just below his skin, producing an array of odd twitches that didn't move his limbs, only their flesh. He was sobbing with an agony that Mark knew to be beyond his comprehension. It was a terrible sound, he was crying with all the shamelessness of a baby, but for all that, when he could muster words, Mark usually found them to be hopeful ones. Mark had been expecting him to grow hostile, and wasn't yet ready to rule out the possibility, but for the moment Roger seemed to be behaving the exact opposite way. It made him needy and open to affection, even the sort, as Mark was about to discover, that ran the risk of crossing lines they'd both drawn years before.
Mark had entered Roger's bedroom with a cup of weak sugared tea, and immediately gauged his trembling to be too severe to allow him to handle the hot liquid. It was with that decided that he sat down on the bed beside the small ball that was Roger, setting the cup on the bedside table. Roger seemed aware of his presence – when Mark glanced down he was greeted by dull blue eyes locked intently on him – but appeared to be unwilling or unable to move. Mark rested a hand gently on his shoulder for a few seconds, making sure Roger knew who was touching him and why before speaking.
"Hey, Roger," Mark said softly, staring directly back into his unblinking eyes despite the effort it cost him. "You've gotta sit up, okay?"
Roger gave him the finger and made a series of low mumbling noises that Mark could tell were supposed to be words in defense of his independence. In spite of himself, Mark laughed, encouraged by the half-hearted show of pride. Following the act of defiance, though, Roger obliged him and slowly rolled onto his back and straightened his arms, managing to push himself to a sitting position. He slumped against Mark almost immediately when the smaller man moved to his side, and bowed his head towards the proffered mug. Mark lifted it to Roger's lips, holding it completely steady. Roger didn't much look like he wanted any part of it, but took a few obliging sips regardless. After, Mark reached behind him and set the cup on the head of the mate's bed.
"How you feeling?" Mark asked quietly, sliding his arm down lower and wrapping it around the small of Roger's back, trying to offer his still shivering friend a somewhat greater measure of support. To his surprise, Roger let out another, sudden strangled sob and turned towards Mark, burying his face against the blonde's collarbone. He was repeating something feverishly through his tears – which had already soaked through Mark's shirt – but Mark couldn't make sense of them, so he pulled his friend into his lap, an act that shouldn't have been anywhere near as easy as it was, and began trying to soothe him.
"Shh, Rog," Mark said gently, rubbing his back. "Calm down, just say it a little slower and I'll get it, I promise." Roger's trembling almost rose revulsion in him, but he was able to keep it at bay by constantly reminding himself who this was: his best friend, who'd only begun this vicious cycle to assuage the emotional pain brought on by far too many things. At first it had been his rape – and though it had been nearly ten years ago, when he was fifteen, Mark had the sneaking suspicion he'd never really dealt with it – then his diagnosis, then April's suicide… Roger had never lacked for reasons to want to escape reality. He'd never really dealt with any of his emotional traumas, either. He was hurt, but Mark didn't want to leave him alone, didn't want to add any more bitterness or loneliness to a life that had known too much of it already.
Roger stopped babbling for a moment, long enough to draw a shuddering breath and stop what excess shaking had been caused by his tears. In fact, if Mark wasn't wrong, even some of his less controllable movement had abated. Maybe Benny had been some help. Then, in a clear if weak voice, he spoke.
"Mark, I'm sorry," he said clearly, looking plaintive. Mark fought the stab of unnamed emotion that rose in him, bowing his head and closing his eyes to hide it.
"It's all right, Roger," he breathed. "Just keep strong, okay? Just do your best; that's all any of us want from you."
Roger was crying again, with the same terrible abandon as before, but this time his frantic words were intelligible. "Don't let me, Mark," he pleaded, muffled by Mark's shoulder. "Don't let me go back to that, please; I can't. I want to," he confessed brokenly, as though it should have been a surprise. "Oh, God, Mark, do I want to. But I can't do it. I can't go through people looking at me like they do, I can't have all this pain when I can't get a fix… I'm not a man anymore, Mark. I'm using my own fatal flaw against myself over and over, and it's killing me. It's killing me faster than the virus has any chance of doing, and…"
"Roger," Mark interrupted firmly, tension rising throughout his entire body, tension Roger had to be able to feel. It might have been doing him some good to talk, but he was getting so excited that his actions were beginning to border on panicked, and provoking a stress response would only bring him more pain. "Please. I'll do everything I can, I swear. As long as you try, I promise I'll be here; I promise I'll do my best to keep you from it. We'll take care of you, Roger, all of us. Maybe not Benny, at least not more than in his own way, but Maureen, Collins… Collins is taking leave and coming here, Roger, because he believes in you. You'll never have to do this alone."
Roger sniffled, still in the unselfconscious manner of a child. "I don't deserve it."
Forcing himself to relax, Mark guided Roger's chin gently back upwards, bringing them eye-to-eye and in very close proximity. For the first time, he made note of the fact that between the sweating and Roger's inability to tend to even his most basic hygienic needs, the smell of both Roger and the room had become less than pleasant. As of yet, he'd retained enough self-mastery to make it to the bathroom when he needed to, or at least tell Mark when it was absolutely necessary, but that was the extent of his ability to take care of himself. Mark could think of nothing more undignified, and that alone was already beginning to take its toll on Roger's spirit. Suddenly filled with a compassion that transcended his disgusted feelings, he wiped the remaining tears clinging to Roger's cheeks with the pads of his thumbs and tucked the wayward wisps of hair that were clinging to his forehead behind his ears.
"You'll be okay," he murmured, almost more for his own benefit than Roger's. He brought his other arm around Roger's torso, and Roger seemed to wilt into it a little, as though abandoning the last of his resolve and giving himself into Mark's trust. "You'll be fine. But I don't ever want to hear you say that, you understand? It doesn't matter what you think you deserve – which, incidentally, is a lot more than you think – it matters what your friends know you deserve."
"It wasn't April's fault," Roger insisted suddenly, his hands fisting in the tail of Mark's shirt.
Mark started at that. He was willing to admit that not only hadn't he liked April, but that secretly he'd always blame her a little both for Roger's addiction and his infection. Some day, hopefully years from now, when they finally lost him, Mark would breathe a fruitless curse directed at the dead woman. But Roger knew none of it, so for him to have said what he just did left Mark more than a little taken aback.
In fact, he was so startled that Roger was the next one to act, in a manner that left Mark even more shocked. Almost completely steady and clean of his tears, Roger closed the last inch between them and pressed his lips against Mark's in a motion that was almost too delicate to call a kiss.
But a kiss was what it had been, and no mistake. Mark felt himself go red, felt himself lean forward a little as if in protest when Roger pulled back. His mind unfroze, then instantly began racing. Was he assuming too much? Maybe it had just been friendly. Maybe Roger had been too addled to know what he was doing.
Maybe, Mark thought as he leaned forward to capture the other man's lips again, not sure if he was responding to an invitation or doing it of his own volition, maybe he should stop thinking so much. And for about a minute, it looked as if he'd thought right. Roger's hesitation, it seemed, had been borne of not knowing how Mark would react, and now that he did, he was sparing no effort. If he wasn't particularly skilful at the moment, he put all of what little he had into it, enough so that he heard Mark make a small sound that seemed to be a protest when he drew away again.
Then they stared at each other, each second seeming an eternity, until there was a pounding at the door. Mark was slow to react to it, and slower to remove Roger from his lap. He set him back down in a reasonably comfortable position; he was as much the dutiful caretaker as he'd ever been in his physical actions, but neither of them knew what to say. Failing a fight or a declaration of love, neither of which was forthcoming, there seemed to be no way to address their current situation. And so Mark went to the door, the pounding escalating as he did. Then, when he was about to answer it, he heard a familiar voice all but scream, "Mark Cohen, you let me in here right now!" Suddenly, his stomach crashed into his shoes.