Please don't hate me. You know how much I appreciate you guys, right? Seriously. I have been genuinely surprised and pleased at the response my little—er, not so little—story has received. I've loved writing it, especially because it has taken directions not even I knew it would. Seriously, I originally had a much different ending in mind. Then again, I think I prefer this one.
Anyway. Yes. This is the last chapter.
I apologize for any OOC-ness or any parts that seemed rushed.
Again, I so appreciate every review this story has and I hope that all of you—most of you—…some of you?...—are happy with this ending. It's been a good year. And if it ever feels like the Maureen/Roger section of RENT fanfiction is getting way too low, just give me a shout :)
There's Only Us
It was finally summer. After the one of the longest winters—and springs, for that matter—of Maureen Johnson's life, it was finally summer.
Maureen loved summer. For one thing, it was impossible to be totally miserable when the world around you was bathed in a golden glow. For another, summer was when people wore as little clothing as possible and, well, Maureen was not about to complain. The long cold months were at last behind her and there was a comfortable amount of time before autumn was upon them again so Maureen felt like she could actually relax for once. Nothing bad ever happened in summer. It was always spring and fall when she got royally fucked over.
Therefore, when she woke up on the loft sofa—which was comfortable in the way that only a piece of furniture felt to a person after several hours asleep, no matter how broken or rough it usually was—and the sun was shining through the window, she was instantly overjoyed. She leapt up and ran to the bathroom to throw on some clothes, staunchly ignoring the clock on the wall with the grimy face that read five to seven.
In her haste, she accidently woke up Collins, who stumbled from his room and arched a brow at her.
Maureen poked her head out of the bathroom door and grinned, "Morning, Tom!"
"What did you just—never mind. Why are you up this early?"
Maureen shrugged and retreated back into the bathroom. As she pulled a tank top over her head, she called, "Dunno. I guess I felt like it. Isn't it a beautiful morning, Colly?"
Incredulous, Collins repeated "Colly?" under his breath before commenting loudly, "Someone's happy this morning!"
"Well, keep it down, will ya? I'm going back to bed."
From the bathroom, there came a sharp, over-the-top gasp. After a moment, Maureen stepped out through the door to plant her hands on her hips and glare at him.
"Thomas Bartholomew Collins…!"
"It's a gorgeous, sunny, inspiring day outside and I want us to make the most of it! All of us! Today is a day when absolutely anything is possible—there is so much unbridled potential just outside our doors and you want to sleep such a glorious morning away?"
"Are you high?" Collins intoned. Maureen shook her head so violently that her curls went flying, refusing to stop swinging even after she stopped.
"Wake up Marky and Roger. I'm going to call Joanne," she declared. She turned towards the phone, only to be stopped by Collins' large hand on her shoulder.
"Okay, first, it's seven a.m. and not everyone is as alive as you at this time," Collins informed her, "Second, Mark's in there with Philippa and I am notgonna risk another eyeful of pasty white sex, okay? And thirdly, Roger worked the late shift last night so it is genuinely for health and safety reasons that I will not go in there and wake him. Have you ever been hit in the head by a ratty pair of plaid pants, Maureen?"
Begrudgingly, Maureen shook her head.
"No, you have not. I have. It was disgusting. I wish I'd never bought the fucking things for him."
Despite herself, Maureen snickered a little. Collins' eyebrows pulled together in an attempt to look threatening, though there was now a telltale gleam in his dark eyes that Maureen had not seen in some time.
"Why, Ms. Johnson," Collins growled in an unconvincing English accent, "Do you dare mock m—?"
Maureen had slammed into him before he could finish, her arms vice-tight around his neck. She could not explain exactly why such emotion had swelled within her chest and compelled her to do this. Perhaps it was because it was summer, a time when Maureen felt hot and happy and comfortable and appreciative and grateful—
"I love you, Collins," she sighed blissfully against his neck, "I love you so, so much and you're one of the bravest guys I know. Never ever change."
There was a pause loaded with every word that both felt and neither said. It was almost as though Angel was in the room with them, muffling her pleased laughter at their dramatic show of love with one perfectly manicured hand.
"Christ, you are high," Collins grumbled, but hugged her back anyway.
Angel would have loved the sunlight.
"Fine, we'll go out."
"YAY!" Maureen squealed, leaping back from Collins in order to clap excitedly. There was a second tense pause, as it dawned on both of them that their display had probably woken up their roommates. The silence was promptly broken by Roger, stumbling from his room.
"Fuck," he muttered, leaning to peer at the clock, "I hate you guys."
"No you don't. You love us!" Collins teased, instantly back to his playful, unapologetic self.
"No, I actually hate you. A lot."
"Well, tough, you're stuck with us," Maureen informed him firmly, "And we're all gonna have a fun day out because it's finally sunny. So get dressed."
Roger scowled at her, before turning to glance out of the window. Then he turned to scowl at her some more.
"Just as well it's a nice day, cos otherwise I'd really fucking hate you right now."
It took a lot of fighting, begging and petulant foot-stomping (almost all on Maureen's part) but eventually her whole gang agreed to go for lunch together. Maureen had been gunning for a whole day, eight in the morning to six in the evening (or something like that) but Joanne had to go into the office, Collins had an early meeting and it was unexpectedly difficult to extricate Mark and Philippa (or Nurse Pascal, as Roger and Collins called her because they were convinced that Mark called her that during sex) from the bedroom. In the end, Maureen just gave up and made them swear that they would come to the Life Café for twelve o'clock. Sharp. On pain of death.
In the meantime, she was adamant that she and Roger find a way to amuse themselves for a couple of hours. Roger was still a little groggy and cranky but he was still capable of nodding along as they strolled into the city and Maureen babbled.
It was only when Maureen abruptly went silent that Roger really woke up.
She had come to a complete standstill just next to one of New York's various subway entrances. Leaning forward and folding her arms over her chest, she gazed into the dank stairwell and allowed her mind to wander.
Almost startled, Maureen looked back at Roger, who was frowning a little in confusion.
"No," Maureen replied, "I was just…thinking."
She was quiet for another few seconds. Then, impulsively, before her mind could catch up to her mouth, she blurted out, "You know what we should do? We should get the subway back to Hicksville."
"You know, go home. See my parents, my stepdad, my little brother. I still haven't met him, you know? How the hell does that happen? And we could go see your mom and your sister. I'll bet Rebecca's beautiful—God, I haven't seen her in years. We haven't seen any of them in years. They leave so close and I've only talked to my mom face-to-face…like, once. Roger, how the fuck does that happen?"
Maureen was only aware of how breathless she was getting when Roger suddenly grabbed her upper arm and started to drag her through the throng of people towards a small store. His face was curiously stoic. Maureen's chest burned. She wondered what had brought on that rant; was she having a panic attack or something? Maybe a breakdown. Nothing bad ever happened in summer. Why couldn't this have waited until autumn?
The store turned out to be a relatively empty record store. Fairly dull, generic pop music floated over the speakers while a bored employee and a few stragglers drifted around the racks of CDs. Away from the noise of the streets, Roger turned to Maureen and asked her, once again, what was wrong.
"Nothing…nothing's wrong," Maureen insisted. Before, staring into that subway entrance, she had felt lost and despairing; it was as though a weight were pressed down on her. Now, she felt curiously calm.
"Nothing's wrong," Roger repeated disbelievingly, "You just randomly decided that you wanted to go home."
"I don't want to go home."
"I just—" Maureen broke off suddenly. A wave of emotion, similar to what she had felt earlier with Collins, struck her again. She was grateful; she loved her friends and her home and would not trade one second of the last few years in for anything.
But then—and it all hit her like a tidal wave, her fears and doubts and nightmares—there still lingered the fear that Maureen would end up alone, screwed up and miserable. The links she had to her loved ones sometimes seemed so tenuous—a word, a look, a thought sometimes seemed enough to break them—and, even on the days when Maureen felt like nothing would ever come between them, the ever present inevitability of Roger and Collins' conditions remained, niggling at the back of her mind. The threat of death hung over them like a cloud and Maureen was never sure that, when the day that it struck again came, she would be able to handle it.
And, of course, who could forget about the other shit that Maureen worried about constantly? All that baggage that she would be carrying whether or not her closest friends were dying—the fear of commitment, the botched relationships with her family. Would going home change that—any of that?
Probably not. Some scars could not magically heal, no matter how much time had passed.
There were some gloomy corners of the heart that not even sunlight could brighten up.
"Roger," she asked in a small voice, "Is this how you pictured your life turning out?"
It took only a moment for Maureen to realize that she had just asked a very stupid question. If she had not, the look Roger was giving her would have soon seen to that.
"What do you think?" Roger asked wryly. Maureen averted her eyes from Roger's thunderous face and felt herself begin to grow tearful.
"Sorry," she mumbled. An awkward pause passed before Roger sighed angrily and shifted.
"Sorry," he told her, causing her eyes to snap up in surprise, "that I…snapped. I'm trying to work on the whole, uh, touchy thing."
A smile pulled at the corners of Maureen's lips. Roger looked at her fondly with a hesitant smile of his own.
"Do you wanna…talk about it?" he asked. This is unfamiliar territory, they both knew. The Roger of ten years ago would have had no qualms about asking Maureen personal questions. This Roger was a little quieter, a little colder. But Maureen suddenly had the feeling that, if she scratched at the surface a bit, that Roger of old would shine through.
"Do you remember," she said instead, "when we first decided to come to New York? And I had to convince you by using all that leap of faith crap?"
"My father's leap of faith crap," Roger corrected witheringly. In response, Maureen arched a brow, causing the smile to break back onto Roger's face.
"Yeah, that," Maureen continued. She took a deep breath, before shyly mumbling, "I'm sorry if…none of that ended up being worth it."
Roger blinked. "What?"
"I know that I made it sound like moving here would be the best thing ever and our lives were gonna go exactly the way we planned. But, in reality, I just wanted to get the fuck out," Maureen admitted, "and I wanted you with me. It was stupid, I know. You didn't want to and I made you and if I hadn't…"
She trailed off, instead allowing her eyes to map his form pointedly.
"If we hadn't," she corrected herself quietly, "maybe none of this bad shit would've happened."
The silence that followed was, for lack of better work, loaded. Everything that had been unsaid, every feeling and thought, seemed to charge the air like electricity. Maureen imagined that Roger was letting her words sink in; maybe he was thinking about Nathan and his band and the drugs and the girls and the disease and wondering how much of it could have been prevent if, if, if.
If he had been stronger.
If they had never gone to New York.
If Maureen's parents had never divorced.
If his father had survived.
If he and Maureen had never met.
The thought was almost too devastating to bear. Maureen had to squeeze her eyes shut tightly to hide the fact that tears were threatening. The only thought even more terrible than never meeting Roger was Roger turning to her right now and telling her that she was right.
"You know," Roger remarked conversationally, "I knew you were dramatic but I never figured into the insecure thing."
Maureen was so taken aback that she did not even think before her eyes popped open. The sheen in her eyes was unmistakable to Roger and he smiled despite the situation around him.
"I wanted to come here, Maureen. Believe me, if I hadn't, I wouldn't have. And none of the things that have happened to me have been because of you. That was—sorry—that was bullshit. It was all…" Roger hesitated and had to brace himself before saying, "That was my fault. I shouldn't have ever got involved with that stuff. And I shouldn't have spent so long regretting it that I missed out on so much. I should've…" he paused again, this time to duck his chin in order to meet Maureen's lowered eyes, "I should've listened to you."
Maureen began to shake her head, "But I—!"
"Maureen, for fuck's sake," Roger interrupted, "You're my best friend so I can say this stuff without feeling stupid, okay? I've been the shit friend. Not you," he waited a moment, expecting Maureen to speak. When she did not, opting instead to stare at him, he rolled his eyes and continued, "Maureen, come on, you've heard this before. Forget regret. We've both done stuff we're not proud of. We're both totally messed up. But never—never—will I ever want to blame you for this. And I definitely don't want to stop being your fucking friend. Okay?"
The tears burned more insistently in Maureen's eyes but she continued to try and rein them in. When she spoke, however, her voice was wavering dangerously.
"Really," she said. It was supposed to come out as a question, but Maureen dared not use a higher tone in case her voice really cracked. Roger smirked a little.
"Yeah. Really," he said. After that, there were not any words left to say, so Roger simply pulled Maureen to him and wrapped his arms around her. Her ear was pressed against his heart; the beat is steady and surprisingly strong.
Because Roger is alive.
Because, disease or not, there was every possibility that Roger could still hang on for a few more years, that he could still lead a good life. Because Roger had, so far, defied every odd; he kicked his habit, he ventured outside, he fell in love, he learned to cope. He had had several moments of weakness but his heart had never given up.
For the first time in far too long, Maureen felt reassured. Her parents, his illness, all the issues and angst both still carried—none of that mattered for the time being. Why would it, when everything she needed—friendship, love, a therapist—currently had his arms tight around her?
"I love you," she muttered into his shirt. He had changed out of those goddamned plaid trousers, at least. He was still wearing that green sweatshirt. Her green sweatshirt.
Before he could reply, she added, "I can hear your heartbeat, Rog."
Her own was pounding. The rush of blood seemed to thump in her ears, muffling the surrounding sounds as Roger pulled back a little to look at her.
It was only when he absentmindedly pushed a lock of hair off of her forehead that Maureen's self-control snapped. That was when she leaned up and kissed him.
It was by no means the first time they had kissed. The first time, it had been about connection and reassurance. At the time, he had been a drug addict and she a mother. Now, they were not really anything; just Roger and Maureen. Maybe that was why it all of a sudden felt right.
It was an unexpectedly chaste kiss, considering who the parties involved were. Maureen did not want a sweaty, hot, French kiss, or sex or anything like that. She wanted to…well, she was not so sure. She just wanted—sorely, badly, desperately—to kiss him. For the first few seconds, it was strange, especially with several shoppers glancing judgmentally at them and with Roger rigid under her touch. Maureen was beginning to wonder if she had made a mistake—if she had just irrevocably destroyed the friendship that Roger, only moments before, had saved.
Then, she felt a gentle pressure against her mouth.
Then, she felt his lips part just a little bit.
Then, she felt Roger well and truly kissing back.
Roger and Maureen wound up being late for lunch at the Life Café. Their friends were more than a little irked; after all, was it not Maureen who had insisted on them all meeting up? Roger just shrugged and told them that they had got lost on the opposite side of the city.
"My fault!" Maureen chirped, not looking the slightest bit remorseful. Then she turned to the waiter and loudly demanded wine and beer. She was not ready to tell them what had really happened.
Obviously, whatever transpired between her and Roger in the future would not be simple. So many factors had to be considered—least of all, Roger's disease. Least of all, their baggage. Least of all, how to explain it to their friends, particularly Mark and Joanne.
Maybe it would not work out. Maybe it would.
Maybe there would be nothing to work out.
But let's say there was.