A/N: Because friendship is strange and satisfying, and the Collins&Roger friendship isn't explored nearly enough. Reviews greatly appreciated.
Collins often finds himself showering in the dark, or at least in some time that either follows or precipitates it. Sunrise; sunset; when the light is either just beginning to invade or is making its hasty departure. He likes the way things look in the half-light, when depth perception is distorted and the lines between what is and what should be are blurred.
Collins talks a lot about blurred lines and distortions. They've always fascinated him, just like nearly-incomprehensible books and people who don't know when to smile. He thinks this is why he's so close to some of his friends, but it's not something that anyone other than Roger would understand.
Collins talks a lot about blurred lines and distortions, but he thinks that it also must be because he's always had such a time with rules. "Rules," He would say, especially on days when he was sure that Roger would destroy himself, "don't make you a good person. They just keep you restrained." And after Roger artfully ignored him while reaching for small baggies of temporary amnesia, Collins would wonder if some people needed restraint.
Straight streets with orange streetlights, big dream houses that held money but not dreams. Trees that don't sway in the wind, lawns that are green all year round. Snow that doesn't fall on sidewalks, streets, and driveways; baseball teams that never lose. Moms with smiles and dads with hugs; moms with bottles and dads in holes underground. Girls who on weekdays were girl scouts and on weekends were shameless flirts, boys who all their lives have known everything about life except how to live it.
Collins and Roger, lying on their backs in empty parks, content with being.
They were always good at having the conversations that no one wanted to have. A sick form of stability, constancy in misery, all wrapped up in undesired advice and heavy words.
"Think I'm allergic to stars," Roger would say, from Collins' balcony, after he had sneezed for the third time.
"There are no stars out," Collins would reply, monotonous, and raise a Sprite to his lips (the days when they didn't need caffeine to keep them awake). "And you're allergic to things that are good for you."
"You don't know that."
"I know everything." Even though he didn't, and only because it made him feel better to say it."
Roger would run a hand through his hair and prop himself onto the railing, leaning over enough that he could have fallen with a little extra effort. The cue for a shift in conversation, and Collins could read signals well. "I used to hate him." He would lean over more, because Roger was always interested in how much something could take before it broke. "But I don't anymore."
"So you shouldn't hate her."
And Collins would raise his head to look at Roger, who always seemed more vulnerable at night. Unexpected car accidents are not the same as suicides, and Roger knew this better than anyone. Collins didn't have to reply, not just because today had been the tomorrow of the dreaded yesterday, but more because it was Roger, and that was enough.
Neither of them would bother with supposedly-reassuring hugs, but just the same, the words would creep into the air, aided only by half-hearted fear. "I don't hate her." Collins would take a deep breath and another swig of Sprite. He'd slosh the liquid around in his mouth until fizzy bubbles reached his nose. "I just hate that she's gone."
Collins was the one who always knew what to say, but Roger was the one who could sometimes tap into the right thing to do. He sat next to Collins and cried with him.
The perfect math equation: two boys with too-big dreams. Add a too-big city with two ads across the street from where they lived. Open parentheses, and the assent with the ascent: an industrial loft, simply waiting for the brews and bruises, ready for late-night talks and sundaes on Sundays. Close parentheses. Divide the equation by the words that aren't allowed to be spoken aloud, and multiple it by one boy's band—no, the band is canceled out by the banned drugs.
And on the other side of the equation, the distance of two frustrating years: bored roommates, board games at 2 AM. And while some browse books, others pierce brows and get pulled under. Multiplication again: cracked ceilings, sealings of job offers. Add in more roommates: a beauty, the opposite of chaste, and yet chased by the next: a not—complacent, surprisingly complaisant, filmmaker. Add in more: a dreaming future-hypocrite who discussed "selling-out" with (ironic) disgust. And the last, a star, shining and dimming simultaneously.
Subtract the last.
It's a race, and when the tier breaks, the tears fall. The one who won was the first, and the prize was a virus.
The only difference between a year and a month is the number twelve, and the only difference between a month and a week is three and a half, sometimes four. A week and a day is seven, a day and an hour is twenty-four, and an hour and a minute is sixty. Seconds make up minutes, and numbers make up lives.
"Someone created time," Collins rants. "Someone created time, yet it rules our lives! People get mad when they're late and risk their lives to be early. It doesn't make sense!"
Words are powerful, but mainly useless. They fill up space, fill up time. They twist the truth, are thrown like rocks. They hurt, they help, and Collins hates them but employs them ruthlessly.
"And the real problem," Collins continues, "is that no one realizes what a hold time has! You think the government cheats us? Hell, no, time does. What we need to do is find a way to live outside of time. What we need to do is—"
"Thomas." Roger's voice is quiet and gravelly. "I miss you."
Collins can't speak from shock.
"It's the fifth circle down here." Roger doesn't laugh, but he exhales enough for Collins to shiver. Mark and Maureen argue, Roger trembles, and Collins remembers.
Because the worst feeling for Collins is helplessness—it mocks while it hurts, and its object of concentration is always so close and so far at the same time.
The best way to deal with it is with laughter, even when it feels cheap.
And there's the day that Roger goes to detox.
Roger yells against it for weeks, curses and swears that he'll never do it, he can do this alone, he doesn't need anyone's help, and then one day sits up and announces that he's leaving tomorrow.
Collins goes with him, and Mark sits on the other side. The look on Roger's face is blank, so blank that they doubt whether or not he is alive.
"Going to Hell?" Collins jokes. Mark gives him a warning glance, but Collins wants to see life in his friend.
Roger doesn't stir, doesn't blink, but does reply: "Rehab."
The subway moves faster than life itself, and the people on it are stuck in time, drifting without a clue. Collins wonders if rehab isn't a well-crafted hell, complete with nameless assistants to direct you to your level.
"No Dante," Roger tells him, as if reading his mind. Collins nods, subdued. "Promise?" Roger asks suddenly, and blinks rapidly. Collins feels a hand clutch his, and knows that Mark is feeling the same.
Collins doesn't know what he's promising, but he agrees to it. "Promise. No Dante until you get out."
Mark swallows, Roger half-exists, and Collins remembers.
High school, English class. The two of them, for once not causing chaos. Listening raptly to their teacher read from The Inferno: Collins because he thinks that Dante had something to say—Roger because he's always been interested in how much someone can take before they break.
Then—and now. Now Collins clutches the phone and presses it so hard against his ear that it hurts. And he laughs, so loud and long that he shakes, and he's sure that he can sense Roger smile.
Collins likes pictures more than he likes videos, though he'll pose for both without a thought. He finds value in the unexpected results: clarity in candids, friendship in suburbia, dedication in teaching, love in drag queens.
Mimi walks like liquid and Angel struts, but when they're together they both adopt the same stride: a proud saunter, long and head-turning.
Roger and Collins struggle over Spanish words and laugh when their gracias sounds more like an attack on a person's specific physical feature. They lean over Spanish-to-English dictionaries, intent on discovering what their "significant others" are saying, but soon discover that they are fine with not knowing if said "significant others" continue to smile at them like that.
And of course, there has been more than just the two of them; Angel and Mimi are proof. In middle school there were hockey and basketball teams. In high school there were girlfriends (and the one boyfriend). After, there were differences in careers and choices. There has been Mark, with whom Roger shares a strangely strong bond, and there has been Benny, who used to understand Collins' rants. There was Maureen, who once almost broke them apart, and Joanne, who never understood how they got along together, and countless others who stood on the outside. And now, Angel holds Collins in strong and graceful hands and Mimi has captured Roger with meaningful glances and unlit/lit candles.
There has always been more than them, but that's never seemed to matter.
The sun's setting or rising. Collins isn't sure which, but he's sure that it's not important. He's in the half-light, and there is still that blur between what is and what should be, but this time it's joined by what was.
Roger is on the couch, hand gliding across old strings. Notes jump now and then into the room, though silence maintains a tighter hold.
It's fitting, Collins knows, that it's the two of them who are left asthe only two in their group with the virus (welcome to the post-Angel, post-Mimi era, he thinks matter-of-factly). After all, when they are there, the pieces seem to fit together.
Gone are the days of shamefully-bought bags of escape. With them are the days of empty parks and small towns, the days of high balconies and talks of life and death and why, the days of perfect equations and discoveries of viruses, the days of numbers and words and rehab, the days of love and separation.
Things have come and gone, and will continue to do so. And one day, one of them will switch to the latter half of their unfinished sentence and become a part of the gone, and neither wants to imagine what will happen then.
These are the days when Roger would realizes that the only places where people fall in love because of songs are in musicals, and when Collins knows somewhere inside of him that authority might be necessary. These are the days of wanting nothing to do with each other except anything, days when nonsense and purpose write themselves into their lives.
It's half-way beautiful.
These are the days that feel like life, and Collins doesn't think it's sappy to think of Roger as his best friend.
Half-light fills the room, and Collins stands to take his shower.