It was not the same theater as the night before. It was emptier and fuller at the same time: beautiful closure next to aching loss. The next day, people would come in and begin to take it apart, piece by piece. But for now it sat peacefully still, light and airy, enjoying the last traces of its final show.
One man sat in the balcony, his eyes unblinkingly focused on the stage before him. His face was younger than his eyes: they had lived a lifetime of pain and celebration, grief and joy, loss and happiness. But at this moment, above all else, they were tired.
He flinched slightly as someone laid a hand on his shoulder; yet without turning, he knew who it was. He sighed deeply and let his eyes fall closed for a moment.
"Jon," came from behind him, warm and gentle and firm all at once. He didn't open his eyes. "Jon," again, with more force.
"I still can't believe it," Jon said softly, looking once more at his beloved theater. His eyes went over everything, drinking in the colors and shapes with something like desperation.
"I know," said the person behind him. "I do know."
"It happened…better than I could have imagined, and I still can't believe it," Jon said, shaking his head slightly. The chair beside him squeaked, and Mark sat down with a long sigh. Jon looked over at him and smiled slightly.
"You still look like him, after all these years. Is that what you've wanted?"
"I can't help it, neither can the others," Mark said, returning the smile weakly. "They made us who we were. They are us, deep down. They'll always be a little bit back in that time, when we were new and so were they. Plus, I like being blonde. It works for me."
Jon laughed quietly, his gaze returning to the stage. Mark breathed deeply, his fingers gripping the armrest of his seat. "Jon…you have to go."
Jonathan didn't respond for well over a minute. His eyes never wavered as they memorized every detail of the stage. "I was here all night…in the wings, at the back, up here." He gestured to the balcony, low and sweeping through the theater. "No one saw me, but I was here."
"They saw you," Mark told him, gripping his shoulder again. Jon closed his eyes.
"I thought so. Especially you—I mean Anthony. He always saw me a little more than everyone else. And Gwen…and Daphne…and—" Jon broke off, his breath hitching in his throat. Mark nodded thoughtfully, rubbing his shoulder.
"It was so strange to see them all again. Seeing them on that stage and knowing that they were finishing what they started…what I started…"
"Everyone was here last night," Mark said. "Your cast, your friends, your family; they all wanted to be there for this. And they were."
"I miss them," Jon said simply, gazing at the shining metal tables below him.
Mark gave him another few minutes. Then, trying to not let his hand shake, he brushed Jon's hair back from his face. With that same hand, he touched Jon's shoulder a third time. With the other, he grasped his hand.
"It's time to go, Jonathan."
"Not yet," Jon said in a strangled whisper. Mark squeezed his hand and shoulder.
"You stayed the night…you can't be here any longer. It's over."
"Twelve and a half years, I watched this stage…I've watched my world change into something I hardly recognize, my friends and family get older, my music spreading out to be played by a thousand musicians, and this stage has always been the same. It's…it's my home." Jon could hardly talk now, his throat was so tight. Mark held back his tears with supreme effort.
"And it always will be. We won't disappear…we'll be everywhere. Here, no matter what they do, and in the East Village you know, and in the one today. We couldn't leave if we wanted to. It's not dead, Jon…we'll all keep it alive. We don't have to go."
"Unlike me," Jon said bitterly. Mark nodded slowly.
"You're not like us, Jon."
"I know." And he stood abruptly, Mark's hands sliding away from him. For one moment, he stood tall and proud: a general, a mastermind, a creator, looking out over his kingdom. Then his shoulders slumped, and he was a young man again, snatched away by time and fate, leaving his home for the last time.
He walked towards the door to the hallway. Mark followed him silently, moving through the curving red seats. The air parted for them as they made their way through the stillness of the theater.
At the door, Jon turned and grasped Mark in a tight hug. His creation clung to him, shaking and struggling not to cry. Even at this moment, Mark was still the character Jonathan had made him.
"Tell the others I love them," Jon whispered. Mark nodded; he understood.
They parted. Jon reached up and touched Mark's face: the pale skin and hair, the ice blue eyes, the chiseled jaw and light stubble. A living reminder of the past; never to die, never to shine as brightly as he once had. Everything that was left: not the whole, but enough.
Jon's face shone with exhaustion. He looked down at his theater one more time. It danced in the light, dust motes floating through the air. He smiled.
"Viva la vie boheme," Mark said soflty. Jonathan nodded.
"Saying goodbye never gets any easier." He turned back to Mark. "Promise you'll stay with all of them."
"Okay." Jon smiled again. He looked peaceful, just like his theater.
Another bow, like before. A single word: "Always."
And he was gone.
Love is a powerful thing: it can bring the dead back to this world; it can change a million people; it can bend any force on earth to its will. It can even let one man, who has given so much to so many, get a little bit back. It can let him live one last night: one last performance. Love always; even after memory and grief. Even after loss, love.
And his never-fading blaze of glory: RENT.
For every day and today.