Author's Note: Okay, so here we go! I discovered the movie RENT a few months ago, (I know, I know, I'm behind!) and I'll admit that I may have become slightly obsessed. I absolutely love the friendship between Roger and Mark, and I really wanted to expand that beyond the year that we get to see in the show. Hopefully each event that takes place in this story, whether good or bad, will serve to further develop that relationship.
This is my first attempt at a fanfiction, and I don't claim to be a novelist or anything of the sort, so please bear with me! Enjoy!
Disclaimer: Not mine. But oh, how I WISH I owned Adam Pascal…
January 20, 1992
Mark stared, horrified, at the dishes that were piled disturbingly high in the kitchen sink. "Roger!" he yelled angrily, directing his shout over the counter at the young man sitting on the couch, quietly strumming his guitar. Mark saw his roommate jump at the sound of his name.
"Roger, I told you it's your turn to wash the dishes! These have been here for like two weeks and this is fucking gross!" Mark tentatively reached out to lift a spoon from the unstable tower of plates and bowls. He quickly dropped it when he noticed an abnormally furry ball of- What is that?he wondered curiously- of something that seemed to be growing on the end. He huffed out an annoyed sigh. He'd been hoping that Roger would take the initiative and perhaps do something about the mess, especially since Mark had been the one to wash dishes the last four or five times. But it seemed that Roger had been too preoccupied in the last few weeks to focus on the state of his living conditions.
Mark saw Roger watching him with something that may have been amusement, a slight smirk on his lips, before turning back to his guitar and strumming a few chords. "Chill, Mark. I told you I'd do them." His body rocked slightly as his arm swung up and down against the strings. "Most of those bowls are cheap plastic anyway. Why don't you just throw them out if the mess bugs you so much?"
Mark glared at him, annoyed. "Because then we wouldn't have any dishes."
"Great, problem solved."
He wasn't about to drop the issue so quickly. "You do realize that this is hazardous to our health, right? Especially yours. Who knows what's growing in here?" He knew he was acting like a nagging mother—my mother, he realized with dread—but he was fed up with the way that Roger had been acting lately. Mark thought that his friend had been getting his life back on track the last year or so, but in recent weeks Roger had been disappearing frequently and was barely around the loft. If he was, he would retire to the roof with his guitar, or lock himself up in his room. Today was the first time in weeks that Roger actually sat down in the living room where Mark could see him.
The others had noticed the strange behavior as well. The musician was never home when they stopped by, and Mimi had come to Mark more than once asking if he'd heard from him. They hadn't talked about it, but Mark knew that their friends were feeling the same way as he was, though they were all too nervous to bring it up. They were worried. And right now, Mark's worry was coming out in the form of anger.
"Mark, we live in New York City. The germs on our dishes should be the least of your health concerns."
Mark ignored the musician's flippant attitude, eyeing the half-full coffee cup on the table in front of Roger. He quickly strode across the loft and grabbed the cup, skillfully avoiding his friend's desperate swipe for it. Then, returning to the sink, he poured the still semi-warm liquid down the drain before tossing the cup on top of the pile of dishes, causing them to wobble dangerously.
Roger threw his hands up in annoyance. "What the hell?"
"I'm serious, Roger. I'm not going to let you use these dishes until you wash them. You drink out of that mug every day and it probably hasn't been cleaned in weeks."
"Who cares? I'm the only one who uses it."
"Yeah, you and the couple million bacteria that have chosen it as their breeding ground."
Roger glared at him before his expression softened just a bit, and a flicker of guilt crossed his face. Mark realized that he was being over-dramatic, but he had a legitimate fear of Roger getting sick, and his friend knew that. "Look, I'm sorry about the dishes, okay? I'll do them now." He set his guitar aside and rose from the couch, walking towards the sink. He playfully pushed Mark out of his way and reached for the dish soap, then grabbed the mug that Mark had just relieved him of and squirted a generous amount inside. He made a show of meticulously scrubbing the mug, holding it up close to his face and scrutinizing it through squinted eyes, then shaking his head with mock dissatisfaction and scrubbing at it again.
Mark couldn't help but smile slightly at his friend's antics. He's such a child sometimes.
Roger finally finished washing the mug and carefully dried it with a towel before holding it so close to Mark's nose that he had to take a step backwards to focus on it.
"There. Does it pass inspection, or would you like me to repaint it as well? Maybe put on a nice glaze?" he asked with a cheeky grin.
"I'm impressed that you even remember what a glaze is. Ceramics was never your strong suit," Mark replied. He clearly remembered spending days in his high school ceramics class carefully painting various bowls and vases that he'd made while Roger struggled to construct a single piece. They would always end up lopsided, and Roger would always shrug and say that he'd designed them that way.
Mark took the spotless mug out of Roger's hand and set it on the counter. He nodded approvingly. "That's a good start, now keep it up!" He indicated the remaining pile which, in all honesty, stood at quite an intimidating height.
Roger groaned. "How the hell do we end up with all of these anyway? You and I are the only ones who use them. Mimi washes her own…" he paused, brow furrowing with confusion. "And why are there so many dishes if we never even have food?" He reached into the sink, pulling out some dirty silverware. "And what the fuck is that?" His nose scrunched up in disgust as he studied the fuzzy, unidentifiable object on the spoon that Mark had found earlier. "Ugh, I think it's moving tossing." He tossed the spoon back into the sink and picked up a plastic bowl instead.
Mark felt a little better now that Roger seemed to be acting normal, but his worries returned quickly. Why had Roger been gone so much lately? The last time he'd disappeared this often was when he was using… No, Mark stopped himself immediately. That's ridiculous. Roger's over the drugs… Right? He thought so, but he couldn't shake the fact that his behavior lately had been so similar to the days when he would disappear to get high. Mark didn't think that Roger was showing signs of using heroin, but honestly, he was never around enough to tell.
Something must have shown on his face because Roger kept glancing at him quietly. "Is everything okay, Mark? You don't normally get this uptight about things." He cocked his head to the side slightly, frowning. "Well, you do," he corrected, "but usually not about dishes." He looked up so that his eyes met Mark's, and Mark saw genuine concern there.
He wanted so badly to say that nothing was wrong and let his suspicions go, but his mind suddenly replayed a scene from a little over two years ago...
Mark felt helpless. Absolutely worthless. He wished more than anything that he had the solution to this problem, but there was nothing he could do, and he and Collins both knew it.
They were each seated on one end of their ratty couch, and between them was an incredibly sick Roger, burning with fever and shaking uncontrollably. His eyes were closed and he was leaning heavily against Mark's shoulder, too weak to sit up on his own. Collins wrapped him in a thin blanket and gently swept back the hair that was plastered to his too-hot forehead. All Mark could do was sit and hold him tightly.
"Shit," Roger moaned, his head rolling with the pain. "Can't do this, can't do it," he mumbled, almost delirious.
"You're fine, Roger," Mark whispered to him. "A little while longer and this'll be over." Roger was shaking so hard that Mark was struggling to hold him upright.
Collins put a large comforting hand on Roger's shoulder, squeezing gently to let him know that he wasn't alone. "We're proud of you, Rog. This isn't easy, but you're going to get through it. And once you do, you'll be free from that shit. It won't control you anymore."
In a moment of clarity, Roger opened pain-filled eyes and met Collins' concerned gaze. "You s- sure?" He stammered through chattering teeth, and Mark could hear the uncertainty in his voice, the need for support and comfort.
Collins looked a little surprised at this response; his eyes flicked up briefly to meet Mark's before moving back down to the musician. "Yeah. Once this is over, you can forget about the drugs."
"What if I c-can't give 'em up? What if it h-happens again? C-can't do this again." His voice was quiet and unsure, almost childlike. It reminded Mark of a young kid seeking his parents' reassurance that the monster in the closet wasn't real.
Collins' face was nothing but sympathetic as he gently moved his hand to Roger's hair, stroking the shaggy dirty-blonde locks. "It won't happen again. This is it."
Mark's heart hurt to see his friend this way. This whole situation was so fucked up. This wasn't the Roger that Mark knew. His Roger was never meant to be the one who was unsure of himself. That was Mark's role, and he played it well. His Roger had always been the strong one, the confident one. It was too much for Mark to see Roger curled up against him, weak and moaning in pain.
He was pulled out of his thoughts as he strained to hear Roger's raspy voice. "P-promise me," he sobbed quietly, teeth chattering harder than ever and his eyes closing tightly in pain. He leaned into Mark even more, burying himself in the comfort of his friend's arms. "P-promise you'll n-never let me t-touch another f-fucking needle in my l-life. P-please promise me."
Mark silently pulled Roger towards him, placing his chin gently on the rocker's head. With a quiet determination, he whispered, "I promise."
"Seriously, Mark, if there's something going on, you can tell me about it," Roger said, concentrating on his chore.
Mark made his decision.
"I'm worried about you," he confessed, gaze locked on the side of Roger's face as he continued with the dishes. Roger's head snapped around in surprise, one eyebrow rising towards his hairline.
"You're worried about me? Why?"
Mark looked away, not able to meet his friend's eyes just in case what he was about to say was true. "I'm worried that you're back on drugs," he said quietly, staring at the floor.
Roger's eyes widened in surprise, hands freezing over a partially scrubbed plate. "What?"
Mark's voice rose unintentionally, his frustration with his friend's behavior sneaking through again. "You're never home anymore, Roger. You're always off who-knows-where, and you never tell anybody where you're going or when you'll be back. Not even Mimi! And when you are here, you're locked up in your room. It's just, it's a lot like when you were using heroin."
Roger stared at him, and the instant that Mark met his eyes, he knew he had been completely wrong. He saw only hurt in the green orbs staring back at him, and his shoulders sagged with relief.
"I'm not back on drugs. I told you a long time ago that I was done."
Mark knew that he had hurt Roger with his accusation, but he also knew that Roger probably didn't remember the promise that he'd pleaded Mark and Collins to make almost two and a half years ago.
"You believe me, right?" the man asked, unsure for a moment, and his voice had an almost begging tone.
Mark knew at once that he could trust Roger on this. His friend had given him no other reason to doubt his actions in the past year, and Mark was confident that Roger had finally kicked the drug habit for good. "Yeah," he replied with complete honesty. "I believe you."
Roger nodded, satisfied.
"But really," Mark said, raising an eyebrow. "Where have you been disappearing to? Everyone's been worried. Did you even come home last night?"
Roger let out a sigh, throwing down the sponge and turning to face Mark as he leaned backwards against the counter and crossed his arms. He looked as though he was arguing with himself over whether or not he should answer.
"Ok, look," he said, rolling his eyes. "Honestly, I've been rehearsing with the band almost non-stop. And when I'm not rehearsing with them, I'm practicing on my own or writing new songs." He smiled slightly at Mark's surprised look. "We signed up to audition for a show at that new club downtown, and if we get it, it'd be a huge gig for us. We'd get paid, and we'd get some exposure, you know?" Roger's eyes shone with excitement.
Mark's surprise turned to happiness as Roger explained the situation. "An audition? That's great, Rog!" He knew he was grinning like an idiot, but he couldn't help it. If Roger got it, this would be his first gig since before April died. The fact that he was ready to perform again furthered Mark's feelings that everything was finally back on track. "Why didn't you tell us? Everyone would be thrilled to hear this!"
Roger shook his head, his face falling slightly. "I know," he said, and Mark was confused to see that this didn't seem to please Roger as it should. "And that's why I didn't tell you guys. I don't want to disappoint everyone if we don't get it." He met Mark's eyes. "I mean, I know I haven't exactly chipped in my fair share of the rent and stuff, and you pay for everything, even my AZT, so I just want to get something going to bring in a little flow. I was only going to tell you if we got it." Roger looked down at his feet, perhaps slightly embarrassed at his admission. Mark thought that there was really no reason for him to feel so bad; they actually weren't doing too poorly financially now that Mark had a job, and Roger had taken to playing on the street sometimes to earn what he could. In fact, they could easily purchase some new dishes if they chose. They just didn't particularly care that their bowls were plastic.
"Who cares if you haven't chipped in for the rent—we don't pay it anyway," Mark replied with a grin, and Roger tipped his head, acknowledging the truth of that statement. He dug the soapy sponge out of the sink and finished scrubbing the plate he had abandoned. "And you wouldn't disappoint us. Seriously, you should tell everyone. When's the audition?"
Mark checked his watch. Tuesday, January 20, 1992, 4:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, he mentally narrated. "So do you think the band is ready?" he asked.
Roger shrugged with an anxious look on his face. "I don't know. The guys seem to really like the new songs and stuff."
Mark nodded. It seemed that Roger's songwriting was finally coming along. It was like something inside him opened up after Mimi's near-death experience over a year ago, and since then Roger could often be seen picking up a pencil at random times and scribbling down a few words, just waiting to set them to music. So far, Mark had been unsuccessful at persuading his roommate to sing the finished products for him, and he was dying to hear them. In a way, Mark hoped Roger got the gig just so he could satisfy his own curiosity.
The ringing phone disturbed his thoughts, but neither Roger nor Mark made any attempt to answer it. There was always the possibility that the caller was one of their mothers, and that was a risk that neither of them were willing to take.
"Speeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaak," the machine droned.
"Mark, Roger, pick up, you lazy bums! I know you guys are there." Maureen's voice was easily recognizable, and Mark leaned over to snatch the phone off the receiver.
"Hey, Maureen, what's up?"
"Mark!" Her voice was loud in his ear, and he pulled the phone away about an inch. "Can Joanne and I stay with you guys for the rest of the week? They decided that the entire apartment complex needs to be fumigated, and then they're putting on some fresh paint. We aren't going to be let back in until Monday."
He nodded in understanding and shrugged. "Yeah, that should be fine."
"Great, thanks Mark!" she exclaimed. "Can we sleep in your bed? You're floor is so uncomfortable." It made him laugh quietly. Maureen and Joanne practically spent every weekend at the loft just hanging out, and Maureen asked this question every time.
He gave his customary response. "No, you can't."
"What about Roger's?"
"I don't think Roger would go for it either." Out of the corner of his eye, Mark could see his roommate, up to his elbows in soapy water, looking at him curiously.
"Fine," Maureen finally grumbled, letting out a frustrated huff. "We'll see you guys tomorrow."
"See you." Mark set the phone down, shaking his head.
"What did she want?" Roger asked.
"She and Joanne are going to stay here for the rest of the week. Their building is being fumigated and painted and shit and it won't be ready until Monday." He smirked, glancing at his roommate. "She wanted to know if she and Joanne could sleep in my bed so they didn't have to camp out on the floor. And when I said no, she wanted to know if they could sleep in your bed."
Roger snorted. "Ewww, I don't want them getting kinky in my bed." He was twisting a dish towel in his hands, and he suddenly lunged, snapping it at Mark's thigh. Mark jumped backwards, barely managing to avoid the whipping and the angry welt that would come with it. After spending his entire life around the man, he was used to these impulsive tendencies. There was a time when he wouldn't have been able to avoid the towel, but he'd had a great deal of practice in the 20 years that he'd known the rocker. Roger looked disappointed at his failure, but he quickly recovered and went back to the sink, continuing their conversation without missing a beat. "Five days of non-stop Maureen is going to be tough."
He knew that Roger was joking and that he was really quite fond of Maureen, but their relationship was one based on these little quips. He loved to tease her, and she'd deal it right back at him. However, Roger was actually right. It required a heightened level of patience to put up with her for an extended period of time—something they'd both learned when she and Mark had been dating.
Mark smiled tauntingly. "Come on, Roger. Tough guy like you can't handle a girl for a few days?"
"I can handle a girl. She doesn't qualify. She's more of an animal."
"It's not like you'll even be around to deal with her," Mark reminded. He picked up his scarf and wrapped it around his neck. "You'll be gone or in your room. I'm going to be the one who has to put up with the chatter."
Roger raised an eyebrow. "All I'm saying is that she'd better keep her hands off my guitar," he warned. "And leave me alone when I'm trying to practice. And I swear to God if I find her in my bed, someone's going to get hurt."
Mark laughed at his friend's complaints. "I'll make sure she knows not to bother you." He headed across the room, grabbing his camera off the table on the way. Sliding open the loft door he glanced back briefly, just long enough to see Roger, who had barely made a dent in his task, throw down the sponge with frustration, splashing soap and water everywhere. Mark grinned broadly as he slid the door shut behind him, clearly hearing his roommate's words.
"And tell her that while she's here, she can wash her own goddamn dishes!"