A/N: This piece of fanfiction is extremely personal to me, as a chronic self-harmer of over six years who can never stick to quitting. Most or all of Mark's intrusive thoughts will be italicized. No one should take any of the things he tells himself in this story to heart – Mark is mentally ill, and these intrusive thoughts don't reflect reality. If you are reading this and you struggle with mental illness, intrusive thoughts, or self harm, then I hope that this resonates with you and you enjoy reading. If any of this triggers you, please redirect yourself to another one of my stories without graphic self harm! I hope that everyone is enjoying. I am definitely enjoying revising this, although it's slow going.
Chapter 2: What's the Line?
"Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are a class of drugs that are typically used as antidepressants in the treatment of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders."
"God help me…" Mark muttered, inwardly shouting abuse at himself for somehow managing to lose the only umbrella they owned in the middle of April.
It had been three months to the day since Mimi had passed away in that hospital bed and Roger was, predictably, moping in his room. He'd been almost alarmingly cheerful for the first month after Mimi's death, but these past few weeks he'd started backsliding – withdrawing more and more, the color leeching out of his face, almost painfully similar to how things had been after April.
Well. It was possible, of course, that it was the rain that had him down. But it made Mark nervous enough that he didn't really want to go out to lunch with Collins anymore as he'd promised.
It seemed sometimes like all he really did was dote on Roger, but then again that was nothing new. He'd been doing it since April's death, before even, when Roger was in constant danger of overdose. And he didn't really mind it – it's not as though anyone was actually asking him to, he just wanted to, had to – except times like these when he's anxious to get out of the stuffy loft and Roger is pulling a Roger on him and making it difficult.
He rummaged through his dresser drawers in a final attempt, rolling his eyes at his own sparse wardrobe. It was debatable, actually, whether or not the bulky black contraption would even fit inside his dresser but he'd run out of places to look and he was supposed to meet Collins at the café in half an hour. He'd hoped, earlier, that maybe the rain would taper off before he had to leave but one glance at the dreary gray sheet over the window made it very clear that he was going to be drenched the minute he stepped out the door.
Great. It must be Monday.
Well, there wasn't much he could do. He was born and bred in New York, he should have been used to this by now. He'd just have to brave it with his hood up in a futile attempt at blocking out the chill and make a run for it. Once, God knew how many years ago, he remembered his sister telling him matter-of-factly over the phone that running in the rain only got you fifty percent wetter. That was just too bad, because he didn't have a lot of time to go anyways.
As he felt into the corners of his boxer drawer pointlessly in the last vestiges of his sad attempt, Mark's hand brushed the smooth, cold plastic of a bottle that he was almost certain he'd thrown out over three years ago. It was empty, covered in dusty old fingerprint smudges and obviously long-untouched, but it still sent a thrill of anxiety through him as he pulled it out and stared at it, stomach doing curious flips.
30 VALLEY RD, SCARSDALE NY 10583
FLUOXETINE HCL 20MG CAPSULE.
TAKE 1 CAPSULE BY MOUTH ONE TIME DAILY.
Lovely, he thought. The ghost of hospital stays past.
Aggravated, he itched absently at his wrist beneath his sweater sleeve and stowed the bottle away, back where he'd found it- it wasn't doing anyone any harm there for now, and he might as well wait to dispose of it until he found the others. He couldn't very well waltz out fifteen minutes late to his lunch date with Collins with his arms laden with orange prescription pill bottles.
Just as he shut the drawer brusquely and strode out of the room, tensing and bracing himself for the coming unpleasantness, he brushed Roger in the hall and found himself abruptly shoved back into the wall. Eyes flashing up to Roger's wry expression, Mark tried not to let his face show exactly how close he'd come to swallowing his tongue in surprise and clutched the black umbrella that had been thrust unceremoniously into his hands.
"Hey- where did you find this?" he spluttered. Roger just raised an eyebrow and shrugged noncommittally.
"Nowhere. Go, I know you're running late."
Of course he did. Roger always seemed to know when Mark was having a minor crisis, like a sixth sense. Mark wondered sometimes if it was just that he knew him so well, or if Roger was paying more attention than he seemed to be.
But if he continued on that train of thought he would only make himself paranoid, so he decided to leave it at that, nodding hurriedly, a look of eternal gratefulness crossing his face as he scurried to the door.
"Thanks, Rog, I'll be back," he sighed, pulling his jacket on along the way. He was still only halfway shrugged into the second sleeve as he exited and pulled the door shut behind him with the metallic grating noise that they've become so accustomed to.
"Tell Collins I said what the fuck." The words followed him, muffled through the door and lost in the echo of his footsteps on the metal staircase.
Roger's eyes hadn't left him until the door had slammed shut between them, and it's not until he's halfway down the stairs that Mark stops feeling irrationally hunted. Self-consciousness, Mark mused to himself, was nauseating enough to put him off his lunch all by itself. But he probably wouldn't get away with using that as an excuse to skip out, either.
On the bright side (he was proud of himself for even bothering to look for one), it was easy to keep his mind off of the bottle when he was struggling with the rusty old umbrella, trying to get the damn thing open. When he finally succeeded he was just grateful that it didn't immediately appear to have been devoured by moths- the last time he'd checked, most of the things in his closet were more holes than fabric.
Not that he cared about his clothes, really... He didn't care about the state of his own body much less what he wore over it- his only concern was that, without all of those long sleeves to fall back on, he might be exposed.
None of them were ever meant to find out anything about his little problem, and he didn't plan on letting it slip. Not to Roger, not to the guy at the laundromat, no one. Mark was an adult and he could make his own decisions about his body. It wasn't some desperate cry for attention, or something.
He wasn't that pathetic.
As he walked, though, the thoughts kept drifting past. They were so insistent sometimes, so fucking pushy; poking and prodding and tormenting him with scraps of the past that he should have left behind in Scarsdale. Not that he hadn't tried. The pills; his mother's tear-streaked face; the hospital room. The crisis therapist. Benny. Years had passed and instead of fading into an achy blur it had become a living nightmare that he couldn't shake off – left him trembling at night, curled into himself choking back the tears, pressing the biting metal firmly to his wrist to ward them off because anything was better than crying.
Thoughts like that weren't supposed to follow him this loudly in the daylight hours, but lately things had been slipping just a little bit. Enough for Mark, with his obsessive tendencies, to notice and feel increasingly, incredibly anxious about it.
He was Mark – he was the center, the rock, the one that everyone could vent to and count on. The safe one. He had to be the least fucked up person here, right? Mimi had said so once, jokingly, and he hadn't known how to handle the surge of guilt-relief-fear that swept through him as he laughed in nervous agreement.
He was supposed to be strong, for all of them, and at one time he had almost thought that he was. That he could be.
But apparently not.
Strong people didn't shake when their friends weren't looking.
Strong people didn't have needless scars lacing up their arms like ugly red shoelaces.
He really needed to pull himself together before he got to the café, before Collins saw his expression and began the inquisition he dreaded so much. Every day was so full of fear, a foreboding tremor that started from somewhere deep in the center of his chest every time somebody made eye contact with him –
Do they know? Can they know? What am I going to say?
It wasn't very rational, but again, most of the things Mark thought to himself those days weren't. He was a stoic person. He had to be. He had watched so many people drop dead around him, people he had loved, and it had chipped violently away at his emotional foundation.
And people looked to him for an anchor, when things like that happened. What could else could he do but try to be that? Mark had no choice but to be a great liar, and it didn't take much to school his expression after all of the funeral services and memorials he's sat through with a blank, sorrowful face and dry eyes.
Despite all of that, he couldn't still his thundering heart as he turned the corner and spotted the familiar neon letters on the face of the Life Café glowing bright and defiant against the cloudy backdrop of the city in the distance, above the sea of dark umbrellas and frowning faces. Vaguely, Mark realizes that his face is set in an identical scowl, and he hastily rubs over his mouth with his free hand as though he can scrub it away. Not that he really needed to justify being in a bad mood on a gloomy day like that one, but one could never be too careful where Collins was concerned. If Roger had a sixth sense for when Mark was struggling, Collins had a PhD, and it was impossible to lie to the man once you had his full attention.
He'd dig up everything if Mark gave him half a chance. And Mark wasn't interested in reliving the worst moments of his life with anyone else.
A man in front of him abruptly stopped and turned back, and although Mark knew that he was looking through him and not at him, he still instinctively stepped around him and walked a little faster. He could taste blood where he'd bitten halfway through his lip. When did I do that? If there was anything that Mark didn't want to be, it was noticeable. Once upon a time he'd wanted attention- way back, when Roger had been the earth and he had been the moon, hopelessly orbiting in an attempt to help however he could, never drawing as close as he'd like to be – and now he liked to think that he's grown out of that childish tendency.
He's doesn't need anyone anymore. He just needs himself and the comforting presence of his switchblade, which was a constant weight in his pocket. Just that hard, slim rectangular outline on the outside of his thigh, where he could touch it under the table to calm himself.
The scabs itch. Instead of the empty Prozac bottle, he focuses on that, and although it becomes painful to resist he'd rather not start gushing blood when Collins was waiting for him just on the other side of the café doors.
Stop thinking about it stop thinking about it stop thinking about it –
You don't need it! You don't need anything!
He didn't disappoint – a fraction of a second after he had stepped inside, umbrella half-open and dripping as he's hit with a blast of wonderfully warm air, Mark found himself pulled into a back-breaking bear hug by his much taller friend.
"You made it! Good man, Cohen." Mark pulled out of his embrace with an awkward stumble that made Collins laugh, probably because it was so damn familiar. Now was the time to muster that smile he hadn't dared before, an ache that's becoming all too familiar growing in his chest. Collins fixed him with a blinding smile in return and reached out to snap the umbrella closed, plucking it out of his hands and setting it in the rack beside the door.
"I thought it would be rude to cancel without calling," Mark said meekly as he handed it over, even as he felt that irrational anger flare up beneath the façade.
Rude is expecting someone to crawl through the rain for some lousy lunch on their only day off.
Almost instantly he was horrified with himself, his insides twisting in revulsion that he was even capable of thinking something like that about his longtime friend; even though he knew (well, he hoped) that he hadn't actually spoken the words, he winced apologetically at Collins' questioning look as they stepped up to wait in the queue.
A group of teenagers was ahead of them, two girls with short-cropped hair holding hands and a boy shyly tugging at his earring while he complained about his job cashiering at the Blockbuster Video near his house. His voice kept fading in and out of Mark's consciousness, distracting him. He couldn't focus on whatever Collins was saying. He was too busy being angry with himself.
Fuck. This was happening more and more often lately. Possibly, it was just a testament to just how awful a human being he was. No wonder Roger didn't want him, when he was capable of thoughts like that. Collins had obviously wanted to see him, or he wouldn't have trudged through the rain.
He had a lot more to lose than Mark if he caught a cold, and it had been a couple of months since he'd found the time to visit. Mark ought to be more grateful.
Somehow, though, as he slid into a booth opposite his friend, Mark didn't feel at all comforted by this. He felt as unwanted as ever, he realized – and then paused to wonder why he was so goddamn inconsolable.
Suddenly, Collins reached across the table and playfully swatted at his hair to grab his attention again.
"Fuck! Sorry," Mark squeaked, blinking rapidly to try and bring himself back to the present. Luckily, Collins didn't look at him strangely right away – the kids that had been in front of them in the line did, though.
One of the girls caught Mark's eye and gave him an apologetic smile before covering her mouth and quickly turning back towards her friends. He struggled not to scowl.
"So, Marky," Collins teased, leaning back and crossing his arms behind his head. His eyes, though, were searching Mark's face and it was making him too nervous to relax, crossing his legs and squirming across from him. He grimaced at the sound of his least favorite nickname but didn't have the energy to launch a protest, just waiting for the rest. "What have you been up to? I've been out of the loop."
Maybe you shouldn't have expected the loop to stretch all the way to Michigan for you.
"Nothing exciting… Um. I mean…"
Actually, Mark reflected, it was probably a good thing that Collins hadn't been around recently. He was too sharp, with an uncanny eye for detail – he was too similar to Mark that way, and certainly would have noticed Mark's slow-motion trainwreck of a descent into the pits of depression. Just sitting this close to him, feeling his dark eyes to rake over him with the casual assessment of an academic makes him feel naked.
Where were his sleeves now? It felt alarmingly as though Collins could see right through them if he wanted to.
God, but it would be the worst time for Collins to develop super powers.
A server appeared briefly, introducing herself as Caitlyn with a helpful point to the nametag on her chest, and asked if she could get them anything to drink. Mark jumped on the chance to break eye contact, asking for water. Collins asked for the same, flashing his charming smile, and she bustled away, leaving Mark back in exactly the same awkward position he'd started in.
Collins cleared his throat helpfully. "Well? Come on, Cohen, I want to hear it, don't think you're boring me. I grade essays for a living. And none of my students have half your crazy imagination."
The compliment only served to make him grimace, though he tried to suppress it. In typical Mark fashion, things were getting awkward. Or maybe that was just his own skewed perception. Cursing his own poor social skills either way, he fumbled for the words that would shift his friend's focus to something more neutral.
"Ah- nothing really. Really." He adds emphatically at Collins' raised eyebrow, allowing a small smile to reassure him. That's really beginning to hurt his cheeks. "It's been… boring, honestly. I'm incredibly jealous of your life right now. I've just been, um. Well. You know me. Same old… Filming. Working. Getting bitched at for reminding Roger to take his meds."
"How's he taking it?" The concern on Collins' face shifted subtly, and Mark let out a silent, relieved breath.
There was little room for misinterpretation, and it was a loaded question. After April, Roger had overdosed almost six times before Mark had finally cut him off, given him the ultimatum that Collins had suggested – get clean or get out. None of them knew how many of those times Roger had been trying to off himself and how many were just overzealous attempts to escape, or dull, the constant, maddening grief – which he was sort of known for handling poorly, in the first place.
Either way, the second dead girlfriend could easily have tipped the scales, and everyone – especially Mark – had taken to watching him carefully out of the corners of their eyes for any infamous Roger Davis-typical behavior since the funeral. So far there hadn't been enough to start worrying.
But he wouldn't be Mark if he didn't obsess over the littlest things.
"He's actually not been bad," Mark admitted, glancing down absently at the laminated menu. He wasn't really hungry- he was rarely hungry anymore, which he would find more concerning if he gave a shit about anything. "The weather's got him down, I think? But other than that…"
"Got a new band?" The professor arches an eyebrow in slight amusement and the endearing gesture – something that he'd taught Mark a long time ago that to this day aggravated Roger to no end, entirely because he couldn't do it – made Mark's chest quiver with an odd nostalgia. It took him several extra seconds to compose a response, preoccupied with an inexplicable bout of nausea.
"Yeah… He doesn't like them much, but it gets him out, you know?"
There, that sounded natural. Satisfied with himself, he looked away again and allowed himself to lapse into silence, picking something random and cheap off of the menu and setting it aside disinterestedly. His eyes strayed out the window into the gray cityscape, the ducked heads and muted patters of rain. It was alarmingly descriptive of his mental state. Cold, bleak, and vaguely downtrodden.
When the waitress returned with their drinks, he did finally force himself to look back at Collins, who was halfway through rattling off his order. Mark bit his lip and managed to order a side salad without ever looking up, too anxious to care if the girl thought he didn't like her. She left again without a fuss. His friend was wearing that speculative expression that Mark had always hated so much – he had to forcibly clamp a lid down on his own hysterical assumptions that yes, yes he knows, he knows and now they'll all know-!
That was ridiculous. He was being ridiculous. He needed to find his center.
"W-what?" he asks nervously, trying to smile. It probably looked forced, but it was too late to try and fix it. Collins just shook his head, furrowing his eyebrows just slightly as though regarding an impossibly difficult equation and trying to figure out where to start.
"Mark… are you feeling alright, man? You seem kinda pale," he asked, sounding so genuinely concerned that guilt clawed Mark's guts to ribbons all over again.
"I'm always pale." He gave his friend a half-hearted grin, shrugging. There wouldn't be any point in worrying him. It would pass… it had always passed before. His inner monologue agrees, scathing.
You just need to get a fucking grip. What's wrong with you?
"You don't always look this beat. Don't give me that crap, Mark." Collins frowned, and Mark could almost feel him starting to dig. He panicked.
"I've already got a mother to nag me, but thanks for the concern." He swallowed a wave of too-intense emotion, wishing he had anything else to focus on. He ends up staring at the back of Earring-Boy's head over Collins' shoulder. Why couldn't he have waited until we had our food? "I just had a rough week. You know, service industry bullshit, it doesn't really get better over the years."
"I know you better than that," Collins said firmly. "You know, you can talk to me, Mark. I ain't gonna judge you." His eyes were beseeching. It was almost physically painful to deny him the simple intimacy of sharing, but all of the progress he'd made in the past few years on that front had chipped away and crumbled under the force of his recent mental break. He couldn't even begin to verbalize all of that
He forced a laugh, words slightly sharper than he'd intended as he shook his head.
"I'm fine, Tom." He never really called him Tom, but this was sort of a warning. If he was even "What have you been doing, aside from grading papers? C'mon. Michigan has to be beautiful."
Collins frowned, obviously still worried; but he visibly backed down after a long moment, nodding shortly and then mustered another smile as he tried to restart their stinted conversation.
The waitress returned once more with their plates. Things eased a little after that.
Lunch was at least a little better than the short, awkward affair that Mark had expected it to be, but as they parted – Collins nearly broke his ribs again, and blew him a teasing kiss as he backed out into the rain with a neon-rainbow umbrella that makes one of the girls from earlier giggle where she's standing outside the bathrooms – the ache in his chest returned with a vengeance. Whatever he had wanted out of the reunion, it obviously wasn't what he got.
And whatever it was that he wanted, he reasoned with himself, he probably wasn't ever going to get it – so he might as well forget about it. Right?
The nausea had disappeared, replaced with a slightly uncomfortable but terribly familiar hollow feeling deep in the pit of his stomach. He didn't want to think about it.
The only other thing to think about, however, seems to be that bottle looming closer than he ever wanted it to be in his mind. Fluoxetine hydrochloride. He shuddered to even think about how those words had sounded the first time he'd heard them in a clinical proposal. His grip on the plastic handle of the umbrella tightened, but he forced himself to follow the echo – because anything was better than feeling empty, even this.
It was so long ago, but for Mark it was all still crystal clear. It was the pain that made it sharp, he thought to himself grimly, a morbid smile twisting his lips.
He kept his head down to keep anyone from seeing it; no matter how many times he walks down this street, he still expected someone to take one look at him and try to rush him to the psych ward.
Pain was the entire problem. It was good for his memory, he was convinced, because all of the most vivid things he could remember were embedded in his mind on a scale of clarity, from crystalized agony to that grey, miserable ache.
Benny had been there, he remembered that. His mother, too, and his father had been on the way. The paramedics had said later that he was lucky to have been caught while they could still pump his stomach but he didn't feel lucky, not at all. He felt like a fucking failure.
Still, he plastered on that smile that he'd grown so accustomed to wearing like a mask as the years worn on and insisted he was fine.
It wasn't like they could prove otherwise.
He took the stairs one at a time, dragging his feet, pulling the umbrella shut again with some difficulty. Now that he thought about it (now that he was almost home, going to have to face Roger again, force himself to act when he was never meant to be an actor) he really, really didn't want to go back. Just being inside the building felt claustrophobic then – Mark felt sweat beading up at his temples and stopped abruptly to lean against the wall, halfway up the third staircase, releasing a shaky breath.
For fuck's sake, he couldn't face Roger having an anxiety attack. Over nothing! What the hell was wrong with him lately? He'd stomped this all down for years – he'd ignored it, he'd swept it under his mental rug, it should have died there.
He glanced up the center of the staircases and toward the ceiling, trying in vain to measure out his breaths like they'd taught him all those years ago.
Pointless… Breathing exercises have never worked for me, it's been ten years, give it up…
Nevertheless, he was able some minutes later he drags himself back upright – he had no idea how long he'd stood there paralyzed, no one has emerged from any of the doors (it's the middle of the day, everyone is at work) to disrupt the fragile stillness in the air that he's clinging to, though he could hear the muffled laughter of a woman and what sounded like two young children in the apartment nearest him, soft thumps that he would guess to be roughhousing.
The memories were always a bit easier to deal with when he approached them deliberately. He took a painfully deep breath, felt his ribcage press firmly against his lungs, and resumed his reluctant trudging upstairs to the loft.
The pills he remembered, too, but not as clearly. The pills were numb rather than painful and they made his memory foggy but he still manages to dredge up the memory to torture himself with.
He remembered waking up every morning and taking one with breakfast, swallowing them and making a face. Breakfast, they had lectured him, was normal. They just wanted to help him get back to normal. He hadn't had the heart to tell anyone that he hadn't eaten breakfast before the whole ordeal and normal was somewhere he'd never been, so he couldn't exactly go back to it. He just swallowed and winced and went on with his day, because that's what he should do, was expected to do, and hadn't he always been eager to please?
When he reached the top of the stairs, he opened the door and tried futilely not to think about the key in his hand. He'd had enough of remembering for the day. The loft was silent, as it frequently was lately, but what he really wanted to know was whether or not Roger is sleeping.
As much as he tried to pretend that it didn't mean anything, he tried not to cut himself when Roger was home and awake. He didn't honestly know what he would do if Roger ever walked in on him with a blade to his wrist.
Slowly, cautiously, he set down the still-wet umbrella and strained his ears for the sounds of the acoustic, or Roger's characteristic humming. Nothing. There was a mostly-empty mug of coffee on the metal foldout table in the kitchen, which looked as though it hadn't been touched in at least an hour.
Encouraged, Mark crept down the hall practically on his tiptoes and leaned around the doorframe to peer into Roger's bedroom – one glance was enough to Peeking into his room he's ease the hard, tense lines of his shoulders, and he exhaled in relief, rubbing the shape of the blade through his jeans compulsively.
Roger was sprawled out across the bed, fully clothed and presumably asleep, if the guttural snores issuing from his slack mouth were any indication. This had been a common sight a couple of years ago, so much so that Mark had to blink away his instinct to search out the empty baggie he was certain he'd find nearby, on the floor or on top of the bedspread beside him. Roger never slept during the day anymore, not since withdrawal, but Mark slunk away without questioning it, too caught up in his relief to feel truly guilty yet.
He's probably just not feeling well, anyway. The band's not doing well, the weather is shit, and Mimi…
He didn't have time to be worried about whether or not Roger was getting sick right now. He can do that later – its all he ever fucking does. Everything feels too bright and too real, and he slips a hand into his pocket to clutch the soothing-smooth handle before he's even got the bathroom door shut behind him.
It was all too much, the past and the present and the desolate future stretching before him, and he didn't have the pills or the liquor to make him numb. So he'd settle for pain.
The sink was so white and obviously recently cleaned – had Roger actually done housework while he was out? He must be seriously out of sorts – he almost felt bad when he dug the sharp edge into his forearm and dragged it across, blood dripping rapidly down to stain the porcelain.
I need this. I'll clean it later. It's fine.
He turned the tap on and lifted the blade from his skin, only to bear down again an inch from the first mark. Several older scabs tore up and away. He hardly felt it.
If pain could make him remember, it could also make him forget.