Thank you to Sandshrew777 for fantastic beta-reading.
Disclaimer: Rent is Jonathan Larson's. I'm not sure who owns Parents but it's someone else. Proust and Sartre belonged to themselves. I think that covers all bases, but if I missed anything, I'm very sorry and don't own any copyrighted material.
January 14, 1996. New York reeled with its newly set world record for 24-hour snowfall and the approach of the millennium. Roger worked part-time tending bar. Mark was back at BuzzLine. He swore every obscenity he knew the first day back, then less the following day. Within a week he was swearing at the snow.
Evenings in the loft were cold, but never boring. Mark liked playing board games and card games and doing the crossword puzzle, all of which Roger could be persuaded into because Mark either offered to make it a drinking game or let him win. Of course, some nights Roger had ideas…
"Aw, Mark, please?"
In truth, Roger Davis was just one more corn-fed country boy aged by Proust and Sartre who came to New York City to become a rock star, and because he couldn't stand the dust and hot, dry winds. In the eyes of Mark Cohen, Roger Davis was a supernova, blistering and quick—most of the time. But when he looked at Mark and made his eyes bright, Roger was just an innocent little boy, new to the city, eager for real life.
Though Mark wanted to, he couldn't say no to Roger. It was like stepping on a sleeping puppy.
"Well…" Then again, this was going to be unpleasant to an extreme degree. He fiddled with his glasses. Mark simply did not want to sit through ninety minutes of one of Roger's movies, but he wanted even less to hurt Roger, especially when he was so excited about this.
Roger was already starting to grin tentatively, the corners of his mouth twitching upwards.
Mark sighed. "All right."
Roger grinned. "Thanks, Mark!" He hesitated, hugged him, then scampered over to the couch and began dragging it across the floor. Mark shook his head and went to his projector. He had modified it for Roger, after a week or so of whining and the insistence that it was the same basic concept, and finally a veiled threat that, with or without Mark's permission, Roger would modify the projector himself. And now Mark could string the tape from video tapes and play the films on his projector.
Logical objections like, "What will you do if one of us moves?" or, "But you're ruining the video tapes," were futile. Observations that Roger should be saving his wages for heat and food and AZT, and that he should be glad to have a job at all, were equally futile. So Mark prepared the film while Roger turned the couch sidelong, to face the wall. Then there was a low whirring sound.
Mark groaned. Roger chuckled. Last year it had been a hot plate; this year, Mark's parents had sent him a popcorn popper and a tub of kernels.
"They're getting closer," Roger said, snickering.
He wasn't sure he wanted to know. Nevertheless, Mark asked, "How is this closer?"
"Well… films, popcorn…" Roger shrugged. "Mark…" Roger ducked his head, but Mark heard giggles from the vicinity of the popcorn popper. He sighed and finished his work.
He had stopped tinkering, so Roger knew he was finished. The popcorn was still popping, shooting little white blobs into a cracked plastic bowl with Disney princesses around the edges. This had been a Christmas gift from a six-year-old who comprehended only that Uncle Roger drank and said naughty words and didn't believe in bedtimes, and therefore loved him. "Do you think Mimi wants to watch, too?"
There wasn't much left to Mimi but herself. Roger had left her half an hour prior, fast asleep. She was curled up in his bed, between his bare mattress and his mountain of thrift store blankets. She had spent most of her days there since Christmas. She came out to join Mark and Roger sometimes and made it to the bathroom and kitchen as per necessity, but mostly stayed in bed.
Roger's bedroom had no door. An old blanket was nailed up over the hole where a door would have been. He brushed it aside, then knelt and lit a candle. He shuffled over to the bed. "Mimi?"
Her eyes were closed. She held the blanket close with one hand. For a moment, his breath caught at her stillness. Then the light hit her eyes, and she stirred, moaning softly. "Roger?"
He smiled. "I'm here," he promised.
She freed her hand from the blanket and reached for him. He wrapped his hand around hers. Her hands were always smaller than his, but lately her bones felt more avian than human. "Me and Mark were gonna watch a movie. Do you want to come?"
Mimi smiled. "To a movie?" Her voice rasped slightly.
"To the living room," Roger clarified. "Mark Cohen home theater." He kissed her cheek. Her skin felt hot and damp, his lips were chapped and dry, and both of them wished he had kissed somewhere else. "And there's this really cute guy at the concession stand."
"Roger…" Mimi hesitated. Roger might have deep denial issues, but when he knew the truth, he could be brutal. "Did you just call Mark a really cute guy?"
"Mimi! No. I'm the guy at the concession stand."
Mimi laughed and squeezed his hand. "Sure, Roger. Just let me get dressed." She peeled back the blankets, giving Roger a brief glimpse of her belly and legs and the interesting bits, the curls of hair sprung free of her knickers and all the cleavage not covered by her bra. The strange thing was that these weren't the parts that made Roger's pulse quicken. He liked skin. He liked to think about, he liked to touch and stroke and kiss her there.
The glimpse lasted only a portion of a second. Then Mimi climbed to her feet and stumbled over to the rack and crate that contained the entirety of Roger's wardrobe. Roger watched her for a moment, but his stomach knotted and he began to sweat. He looked at his hands instead.
Mimi glanced over her shoulder and laughed. He barely even had a view; her hair fell below her hips now. She hadn't gotten it cut in over a year. "Roger," she murmured seductively. He laughed, but didn't look at her. "Does it really bother you, Roger?" she asked.
"Well… yeah," he admitted.
Mimi returned to the mattress and knelt behind him. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders. "Roger. Mio." She kissed his neck. Roger laughed, but it was that sort of disbelieving half-scoff Mimi knew meant he was really turned on. Of course, it also meant he didn't want to be turned on. "What is it?"
"Mimi." He couldn't believe the effect she had on his body, nor how she could be healthy enough to be horny when she spent most of the day asleep. She was like some kind of sex angel. Roger turned to face her. "I was sixteen my first time."
"Yeah," Mimi agreed, moving closer to him, "but… I'm not sixteen. I'm almost twenty-one." She wrapped her arms around him once again.
Roger smiled, stuck now. He never could look away from her eyes. "I know that. And I don't mean sixteen is too young, with someone your own age, because I'm not sorry I did it, Mimi, but when I was old enough to start fooling around, you were ten."
She kissed him, just until she felt his body shiver against hers, then she pulled back. "You're sweet."
"Uh… um…" He had that lost puppy look again. His eyes had darkened in awe, like the second time she visited him in the apartment, that time after work when he was alone with his guitar. Mimi moved in to kiss him and began to cough into his mouth. She yanked away quickly and coughed into her elbow, grabbed a tissue and spat into it.
Roger rubbed her shoulder. "Maybe you should rest, Mimi. We can watch the movie tomorrow--"
Mimi shook her head. "No, Roger, I'm all right." She glanced downward. Roger might have been thinking about her health, but his body was thinking about hers. "Not gonna let me take care of that, are you?"
Roger tried to give that uncomfortable chuckle, but was breathing too heavily. He glanced at the blanket. "Mark…"
Right. Mark and his year-long dry spell probably did not need to listen to Roger score. "Sweet," she repeated, stroking his hair. "So… you look after y'self in the bathroom, and I'll get dressed, okay?"
"Yeah," Roger agreed. He hesitated, then kissed her again. "I… um… see you soon," he murmured.
Mimi watched him go, laughing silently to herself. Men.
Roger stepped out into the living room and blinked at the sudden bright light. Mark was standing by the projector, idly chewing bits of popcorn. He looked up when he heard footsteps, then set down the bowl. "Oh, hey Roger. Is Mimi joining us?"
"Well, that's good," Mark observed. And it was; Mimi moving about was a definite good sign. He had thought it would be himself and Roger watching the movie by themselves. Things hadn't been the same since—well, long enough that Mark barely remembered what "the same" was anymore. If Mark and Roger watched the movie alone, Roger would constantly fidget and glance at his bedroom curtain while Mark sat rigidly, wishing he knew the right words to comfort Roger.
"Yeah," Roger agreed once again. He looked at Mark and needed something to say. There wasn't anything. "Look, Mark, I've gotta…" He jerked his head in the general direction of the bathroom.
It was also the general direction of the front door. "You're leaving?" Mark asked.
Roger laughed. Mark had been possessive for since Roger came home from Santa Fe, and Roger felt a bit like a complete shit about abandoning Mark. By now, he was getting tired of feeling like a complete shit. "I'm not leaving, I just need the bathroom. I was trying to excuse myself politely, Mark!" he said, clearly amused.
Mark laughed. "You used to pee when I was showering," he said. "It made me really uncomfortable."
"I still pee when you're showering. I don't ease my tight jeans when you're showering."
Mark's face turned blotchy pink, and he looked away from Roger. "Oh," he said. "Yeah… that's… that's all you, Rog."
Roger smirked. How had he ever gone two months without Mark? He was just so used to Mark. In Roger's mind, things were perfect, at least perfect enough that before heading to the bathroom he said, "We're all naked under our clothes, Mark."
Mark sighed. "That's… that's great," he murmured to Roger's back. "Just great, Rog. Okay!"
"What'd he do this time?"
At a rasping chuckle, Mark turned to see Mimi standing just outside Roger's dank little hole of a bedroom. She looked better, he thought. Still sort of hollow and pale, but not so much like she was dying. She looked a little too thin, possibly because she was drowning in Roger's plaid pants and banana slug hoodie.
"Oh," Mark replied. He looked around, tugged at his ear and fiddled with his glasses. "Well, uh, I… Roger… nothing. Nothing, it was nothing." He gestured to the couch Roger had moved in front of the projector screen. "Want to sit down?"
Mimi nodded and shuffled over to the couch. Uncomfortable sitting with her, Mark fiddled with his projector until Roger flopped onto the couch beside Mimi. Then Mark set the film running and sat beside Roger. He nibbled bits of popcorn. A wolfish grin grew on Roger's face, slowly, as the opening music rolled. He and Mimi whispered and stole quick, tender kisses, but Roger was not in the mood for a necking session, too involved in the film. It was just enough to make Mark extremely uncomfortable. He supposed this was what Roger did in high school, told his mother he had gone out with a friend and neglected to mention the girl.
Mark was surprised, but pleased, to find himself enjoying the film. He expected Roger to bring home movies filled with action and violence, but this looked… tasteful! Mark smiled. A casually jarring melody descriptive of the 1950s accompanied a slow pan across the rooftops of a suburban town. The view was vaguely familiar, but he couldn't remember how. Mark let himself relax and appreciate the cinematography. Then there they were, looking at the grill of a dusky green Oldsmobile, and it hit him.
Mark jerked in his seat. "Roger!" he yelped. "Roger! Parents?! Roger!"
Roger grinned. "You'll like it," he assured Mark. "It's—"
"Like it?" Mark demanded. "I've seen it! I saw it when it first came out, it was… it was… fucking… terrifying," he admitted, and Roger and Mimi laughed. Mark gave them both a furious look and stood.
"Hey, Mark, don't," Roger said. He had that puppy dog look once more. Roger reached out and squeezed Mark's forearm gently, almost tugging him back to the couch. "Just try it. You're not fifteen anymore"
Mark sighed. No, he wasn't fifteen anymore, but he still had no taste for blood and gore. He glanced at Roger. By now the film had progressed to the family sitting down to dinner, eating "chops" that were actually human meat. Mark's stomach felt wrong even thinking about it. "Roger," he said, trying to convey in those five letters that Roger really ought to know better, then he sighed and sat back down on the couch.
Roger smiled and wrapped an arm around Mark's shoulders. "Besides, I'll protect you."
Mark sighed, resigned himself and jammed his elbow into Roger's gut.
The following ninety minutes were exactly as he expected: Mark squirmed and winced and squealed while Roger whooped for the violence and Mimi burrowed into Roger's side and fell asleep there. When the movie finished, Roger was still grinning ear to ear. He stood.
Mimi fell onto the cushions. "Um?" she asked, blinking. She stretched and sat up. "Oh." She gave Mark a knowing smile and asked Roger, "What'd you think, Mio?"
"Awesome," he decreed.
Mark glanced at Mimi. She rolled her eyes, and he smiled. Sitting through another of Roger's zany movies was easier having someone else to share the experience. The sink sputtered, then blasted a stream of icy water. Roger dunked the popcorn bowl into it and started scrubbing. With the noise as cover, Mark asked Mimi, "So… why do we do this?"
Mimi glanced at Roger. "He's a sweetheart," she murmured.
"Nowhere near good enough," Mark grumbled. Mimi laughed.
"Stop making fun of me!" Roger called. "Or I'll cry."
Mimi and Mark looked over at Roger and laughed. "Come on," Mimi said. She stood and sauntered over, wrapped her arms around his waist. "'s get to bed," she murmured.
Roger pulled her close. They had been having such a wonderful time, he forgot to worry about Mimi. Her body felt bony against him. He felt her ribcage move with every deep breath she took, and her lithe body shuddered. "Yeah, Meems," he murmured. "Mark, I'll put everything back in the morning, all right?"
Mark looked up from his projector and scooted his glasses up with the middle finger of his left hand. "Yeah, sure, Roger," Mark agreed, nodding. He needed to get to bed, too.
Mimi took Roger's hand and led him into the bedroom. When the curtain swung shut, sealing them off from Mark and the rest of the world, Mimi drew close to Roger. Blind yet unnervingly apt, her fingers found the buttons of his shirt and undid them, one by one.
Roger was laughing his uncomfortable, aroused-but-unwilling-to-be-aroused laughed. "Mimi—are you sure?" he asked, breathless. These teasing moments were wearing away his resolve.
She kissed his mouth. "No," she said, laughing. "I can barely stand. I just… want to feel you next to me."
Something in her voice sent a wave of numbness through his body. Yet, deeply, Roger understood. He wanted it as though he had his whole life, yet not realized until that moment, and at her words Roger stripped, aware of how little nakedness meant to the darkness. He heard fabric rumple on the floor as she shed her clothes, then reached for her hand and took her to bed.
When they lay together that night, he felt her heart beating. He held her against him, and she tried and failed to keep her hands to herself. She understood what he meant about being older, or perhaps the solid presence of his body was more a factor of sex than age. He breathed quick, shallow breaths, and she knew he was nervous, or awed, by this strange closeness. They were closer than sex, more vulnerable than making love, rawer than fucking. They were words without meaning, a song without sound; they were sweaty and hot and when he woke he was embarrassed to find that his baser instincts had taken over during the night when there had been no shorts to spray.
But those moments between the world and sleep were perfect. They were the closest, purest perfection Roger and Mimi would ever share.
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