Summary: Two unlikely characters meet for dinner on a holiday none of our bohemians seem to celebrate. Why did Mark correct Roger in the Finale?
AN: Well, this is what happens when I'm sick, tired, dehydrated, having dizzy spells, pretty much out of my mind, and watch "Rent." Oh, and listen to the OBCR and random Duncan Sheik songs for five hours straight in a car. Good times…
Disclaimer: It isn't mine. I really have no right writing in this genre at all, because nothing I could ever write could EVER measure up to Jonathon Larson, but hey… I was sick. So yeah, "Rent" is all the work of the genius/deity commonly known as Jonathon Larson, not me. Oh, and "Out of Order" is off of the 1996 CD "Duncan Sheik" by (who else) Duncan Sheik.
--"Don't breath too deep,
Don't think all day.
Dive into work,
Drive the other way.
That drip of hurt,
That pint of shame,
Goes away, just play the game…"
Jonathon Larson's "What You Own"
Mark is sitting in the loft, working on a write-up for "Buzzline," when the phone rings. He jumps; it hasn't done that in a while. Then the old hope that it might be Roger kicks in and he races to answer it, not even bothering to screen the call.
"Hello?" he says, his voice sounding pathetic and desperate even to his own ears.
"Mark?" comes a voice he hadn't thought he'd hear again, and his heart sinks when he realizes it isn't Roger. "This is Benny. If-if it isn't a bad time… could you meet me at the Life Café for dinner tonight? I need to talk to you."
"Um," Mark says. He hasn't even caught a glimpse of Benny for a month… "Sure," he finds himself saying. It isn't like he has anything else to do. "Tonight. I'll be there."
"Great," Benny says, sounding oddly relieved. See you there." He hangs up, so Mark does too, and frowns as he realizes that Benny is the first person outside of work he's spoken to for a month. Maybe this is what it felt like to be Roger, he muses.
He pushes the thoughts of his best friend away and works until 5:45. Then he pulls on his scarf, coat, and camera (more out of habit than anything else), and walks down to the Life Café.
The waiter almost doesn't seat him before he remembers that the last tab was fully paid. Then, smiling widely, he gestures Mark to a table. He sits there for about twenty minutes nursing a tea before anything happens; memories of Angel and Mimi dancing on the tables run through his head and are suppressed as Benny finally walks in the front door.
"Sorry," Benny says, sitting down. "I hope you haven't been waiting long. I had to work." Mark shrugs, and there's an awkward silence for a minute before Benny clears his throat. Mark looks up, and is surprised to see that his ex-roomy looks concerned. "Mark, are you sick? You don't look so good…"
He chuckles, rather darkly. "Just homesick," he says softly.
"For Scarsdale?" Benny asks in surprise. "I know it's Thanksgiving, but…" He's cut off as Mark laughs for the first time in nearly a month at the thought of missing Scarsdale.
"No," he says once he's caught his breath. "No, it's just that…" He finds himself sinking into depression once more as he speaks. "The loft isn't home without Maureen and Joanne calling at least once a day with either tech or relationship issues. Or Collins and—and Angel coming over every other night for dinner unannounced. Or Mimi," here Benny winces, but Mark determinedly keeps going, "Popping upstairs every half-hour just to say 'hi'.
"But mostly," he says, taking a sip of tea, "The loft isn't home without Roger sitting on the couch, playing his guitar, and being a pissed-off hothead." He shrugs, and ends his miniature rant with "So I'm homesick." Duncan Sheik's new song "Out of Order" is playing on the Café speakers, and Mark finds it fitting, in an odd way.
I hear what you're sayin', I may seem out of order
Nothing's quite the same now
As it ever was before her
And you're lookin' at me
With one of those sideways glances
You say I'm giving too much
And takin' too many chances
But I won't believe you now, I've got to check this out
And nothin' you can do
Will convince me otherwise
You're just tryin' to be a friend
I know the message is well meant
But none of it does compare to her eyes
Just go easy on me, I'm feelin' out of order
I'm beaten and I'm wounded
Like I never was before her
Benny opens his mouth to speak, but Mark cuts him off. "I'll get over it though. The loft wasn't home for awhile after you left. It wasn't home for even longer after April or Maureen. But I got over all that, and I'll get over this too. So if that's all…" He's aware that he would never have said any of this before Halloween, would have tried to keep the peace, but something inside him broke during that fight with Roger, and now he can't seem to stop fucking speaking his mind.
"It's not," Benny says. Mark's grateful for the change in subject; it makes him feel less awkward, somehow. "Mark… I've been embarrassed to call you, after all that's happened, but I had to, because no one else would listen. I mean, who knows where Collins is these days. Maureen won't listen to me, and Joanne's always working. And, well, I don't exactly have a number for Roger." Mark winces as though he's been struck, but Benny continues.
"I don't know how to say this, but Mimi's run away from rehab. No one can seem to find her—"
"What?!" Mark breathes, eyes wide. He jumps to his feet. "Then what the fuck are we sitting here for? We have to go around, put up posters, talk to people! Would she go back to the Cat Scratch Club? Or—"
"Mark," Benny interrupts. Mark finds he's disappointed at the halt; for the first time since Angel's funeral, he had felt like his old fire was back. "Mark, it's been two weeks. I've filed a missing person's report, I've talked to everyone I can think of; I can't find her anywhere. I've been trying to contact Roger, but—"
Mark had sat down again while Benny was talking, and he jerks and glares at Benny at his last sentence, cutting him off with an angry hiss. "You have no right," he snarls. "You're the fucking reason he left in the first place!" His anger rushes out of him suddenly, leaving him feeling weak and numb. "The reason…"
Benny sighs. "I know. And I'll never be able to apologize enough for that, Mark." There's another awkward silence before Benny clears his throat. "Look… let me buy you dinner. You could use it."
Mark shakes his head. "No. It's Thanksgiving. You should get back to Muffy." He can't resist the familiar jab, and Benny winces.
"Alison's spending Thanksgiving with her family," he says quietly. "I told her I had to work today. I'm free all evening."
"Ah," Mark says sarcastically. "How nice you are to your loved ones, Benny."
Benny shakes his head, a sad smile on his face. "I don't love Alison." Mark's jaw drops despite himself. "I've never loved Alison. I love not living in a dump. I love having a good job. I love having connections. I love… I love Mimi."
Mark stiffens and glares at Benny with pure, unadulterated hatred. "Ok, then. If she's your girl, you'd damn well better find her."
Benny snorts, to his surprise. "She's not my girl. We may be together, but she was never my girl. She's Roger's through and through, just as much as he's hers. I love her, Mark, but she'll never love me back."
Mark stares at him for a moment. "Yeah." There's yet another silence before he adds, "I'd stay for dinner, but I need to—"
Benny cuts him off. "You need a break, Mark, or you're going to break down." Not giving Mark time to refuse, he waves the waiter over (who ignores the redhead's splutterings), and orders two tofurkey dinners.
"You shouldn't have done that," Mark says. "There's no way I could eat that much."
"Tough," Benny says. "You need to eat that much. You're starving yourself, Mark. I might be a horrible friend, I might have left, but I'm not going to sit and watch you die by inches."
The unspoken "I have Mimi, Roger, and Collins for that," rings in the air, and Mark shivers from the weight of it.
They don't talk much during dinner. and Benny refuses to allow Mark to pay anything. "It's the least I can do," he says. "I owe you one for trying to break up the fight a the funeral, and for telling Mimi about the clinic. She needed it."
"Yeah," Mark says softly, but what he's thinking is Yeah, needed it so much that she ran away. If Mimi dies, he realizes, it will be all his fault. He pulls on his coat and scarf and gets ready to go; Benny does the same. "Tell me if you get any word about her, any at all," Mark says. "I'll look on my own, too."
Benny nods. "Alright," he says. He opens his mouth to say something, stops, and says it anyways. "Don't work yourself to the bone, Mark. At least eat and sleep once in a while, alright?"
"Benny, I'm fine. I'm an adult, I can take care of myself. Stop babying me."
"Mark," Benny says, and sighs. "Look, if you don't take care of yourself, I will find out, and I will hire as many private detectives as I can afford to track down Roger. He won't be happy, Mark."
Mark feels his stomach drop. Roger cannot know; if Roger finds out how Mark has been living, at most one meal every two days and as little sleep as possible, he would kill him. They would find Mark's bloody and mangled corpse on the street. It would be bad
"Okay," Mark says. He doesn't add that he's only agreed because, well, the threat of Roger's anger for one, and the need to find Mimi for another. "I don't… I haven't forgiven you, and I don't think I ever will, but I think I—I think I understand now, at least a bit. So… thanks for dinner. Happy Thanksgiving, Benny."
"Happy Thanksgiving, Mark," Benny says, claps him on the shoulder, and leaves. Mark is alone once more.
Despite his promise, Mark barely sleeps over the next few weeks, and forgets to eat more often than not. He's doing better than he was, though, and Roger has yet to come home in a fury, so life is… better.
Benny has left him several phone messages updating him on Mimi (who there is still no trace of), but Mark hasn't spoken to him since that night at dinner. He has called and spoken to Collins (who's on the lookout for Mimi; he offered to come home, but Mark told him not to bother) and Maureen (she's doing what she can, but she has a big show coming up). Joanne he's talked to as well (she and Maureen are apparently working together, and seem to be on the verge of getting back together; Mark can't seem to bring himself to be upset).
There's still no sign of Roger. Well, there are plenty of signs of Roger; Mark has lost count of the number of times he's thought he saw his best friend, but Roger hasn't returned from Santa Fe… or called, for that matter. Mark is slowly losing hope, and starting to screen his calls once more.
His last words to Roger echo constantly through his mind. Perhaps it's because I'm the one of us to survive… Mimi's running out of time, Roger's running out the door! For someone who's always been let down, who's running out of town? He'd blamed Benny for Roger leaving, but maybe if he had kept his head he would have been able to stop his best friend from running out.
And then all of his suffering, the pain he won't admit even to himself, pays off, and in the middle of the night he snaps out of a light doze and smiles (it feels foreign on his face). He can see his film, and it feels brilliant.
He works the entire rest of the night, almost as if some sort of angel is urging him on. (He smiles again, because he knows an Angel is.) By the morning he's figured out the basic sort of sequence he wants and he's figured out a title of all things—more than he's had for a project in a long, long time.
And that morning, at nine on the dot, he calls Alexi and leaves her a message. "Alexi? Mark. Call me a hypocrite, but I need to finish my own film… I quit!" He hangs up, satisfied in the knowledge that no matter how bad things get, he'll never work for "Buzzline" again.
He goes onto the rooftop. He doesn't know why; maybe because Roger came out here so often. He just stands there for a moment and then turns as he hears a noise—only to see the face that has haunted him for a month and a half.
Roger sighs as he enters the building. He'd considered shouting up to Mark to throw down the key, but decided that was too awkward. He admits it probably has something to do with the nervous sinking feeling in his stomach at the thought of facing his old friends. Friends? a nasty voice in his head says. You left them. You don't deserve them. He pushes the thoughts down and climbs the stairs to the loft as the sinking feeling grows.
He's more scared than he has been in a long time when he sets down his guitar and knocks on the door. The single minute seems to stretch forever. What will Mark say? Will he forgive him? Will he even answer the door? Roger knocks again after a few moments of nervous waiting, and still no one answers. He sighs and sits against the wall.
Where would Mark go? The "Buzzline" offices? The Life Café? And then, suddenly, he knows. He doesn't know how, but he's sure Mark is on the roof. He stands and grabs his guitar (he doesn't want it to get stolen right when he's gotten it back again) and goes up the last flight of stairs, two at a time at a dead run. He throws the door open and only has to move about two steps to see Mark, who's turned and is looking at him with his jaw dropped.
He slowly puts down his guitar and stares at his best friend, his brother in every way that matters. He remembers their goodbyes—Mimi did look pale… Mimi's getting thin, Mimi's running out of time… All these things seem to fit Mark, and Roger is horribly jolted.
Mark has the same jacket, the same glasses, the same scarf, event the same hair, but somehow he doesn't look like Mark. He's skin and bones, there are dark circles beneath his eyes (which have lost the spark Roger is so used to seeing), and he looks even more sickly than when he'd gotten the flu. And Roger knows, deep in whatever constituted his soul, that he was to blame for his best friend's predicament.
And then Mark moves hesitantly towards him, and just for this moment the guilt doesn't matter, because he's home.
Mark isn't sure if he's hallucinating again or just insane, but his eyes tell him that Roger's standing not forty feet away from him. And suddenly, he doesn't care that it's not really Roger; he needs to pretend, just for this moment, that it is, just to survive. He strides forward and attempts to enfold the hallucination in a hug, even though he knows he'll just walk through this fake Roger.
The hallucination hugs back.
It takes him a moment to realize what's happening. This isn't a hallucination. This is Roger, for real. And in the next moment he's clutching his best friend tightly and crying unashamedly. He and Benny didn't drive Roger off for good; he was home.
He realizes, a few minutes later, that Roger's shaking and that the wet patch on his scarf means that he's crying too. Mark pats him on the back and Roger chuckles, pulling away so that they're an arm's length apart.
"You only ever did care about how other people felt," Roger says, and Mark inadvertently starts crying again at hearing his voice for the first time in a month and a half. "Worry about yourself for a change. You don't look so good." Mark snorts, because he knows it's an understatement. He looks like shit, and he knows it.
"How was the food?" he asks shakily.
"Hmm," Roger says. "Pretty good. But nothing can compare to sharing a box of stale Captain Crunch with you and Mimi." Mark stiffens and Roger's eyes widen. "Oh God, what happened? Is she…"
"Roger," Mark says, and sighs. "There's something I should tell you…"
"December 24th, 10 P.M., Eastern Standard Time," Mark says, slowly and clearly, panning his camera around the apartment. "I can't believe a year went by so fast. Time to see what we have time to see… turn the projector on," he mumbles to himself, and the grey title screen he's made pops up. He smiles, turns the camera on Roger.
"First shot Roger, tuning the Fender guitar he just got out of hock; when he sold the car that took him away and back."
"I found my song," Roger says, smiling.
"Found his song, if he could just find Mimi," Mark says for the benefit of the camera.
"I tried," Roger snaps. "You know I tried." Mark sends him an apologetic look, and Roger shrugs.
Mark turns the camera on himself. "Fade in on Mark, who's still in the dark." He shrugs.
"But he's got great footage!" Roger says with a smile.
"Which he's cut together!" Mark adds with a grin.
"To screen tonight," Roger puts in.
"In honor of Benny's wife!" Mark says, his grin widening.
"Muffy," Roger starts, but Mark cuts him off.
"Alison," he corrects without thinking, remembering Thanksgiving. This time he owed Benny; he might not even be here if not for him. That was an odd thought. "Pulling Benny out of the East Village location!" Well, it didn't mean he couldn't be happy the yuppie was gone.
And with Roger sitting on the couch with his guitar, laughing, Mark knows somehow that everything will be okay.
--"I'm not alone…"