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Practice Makes Perfect- 12/15
RENT, slash, Marker, Mark, Roger
Chapter Title: Bridges He Burned
Fandom: RENT
Pairing: Mark/Roger, Marker (what else?)
Rated: Back to T
Mark finally comes out to his friends, but he's still a little nervous about this whole gay thing. Does he even know HOW to be gay? The bohos, especially Roger, decide to help him out. Funny, slashy. Eventual Mark/Roger.
A/N: Posting posting pooooosting... God, it's going to take forever and a half to get everything over here from ff.net.

Chapter Twelve: Bridges He Burned


There are times when Mark understands Roger's aversion to facing the truth. This was one of those times.

It was out of necessity rather than preference that he had gone to the free clinic two blocks away alone. The reason that he was going wasn't exactly something he wanted to broadcast. Roger would be pissed- or worse, apathetic- if he told any of their friends about their drunken encounter on Halloween, and he didn't know anyone else to tell. Briefly, he'd considered Paul at Life Support- but Mark hated to worry people. And anyways, he was "The Negative One"- he couldn't take that away from them.

And so, Mark went to get tested without a hand to hold.

The test itself wasn't something to worry about. All he had to do was sit still while the nurse swabbed the inside of his mouth, then look away as she took a small sample of his blood. She gave him a sheet to fill out and left him alone in the sterile, silent room with nothing but the scratching of his pencil to keep him company. Mark shivered and wished that he had brought his camera. But that seemed morbid, to record the sick and dying people scattered around the waiting room. He squinted down at the paper in front of him, chewing his lip.

Full Name: Mark Anthony Cohen

Date of Birth: July 7, 1965

Preexisting medical conditions? None

Have you come into direct contact with the bodily fluids of an HIV+ person?

Snorting, he nodded to himself and filled in the "yes" bubble in slow, measured circles of lead. His eyes darted down to the next question and froze.

Have you participated in unsafe sexual activities with an HIV+ person?

For a moment, he contemplated how he would answer this. Did it matter, really, that they'd remembered the condom? Not if it broke. He scribbled in the "yes" bubble less than neatly, his hands shaking so badly that he was almost unable to fill in the rest of his information.

It wasn't long before the nurse came back in, smiling and patting the band-aid over his puncture as she took the documents from him. "That will be all, Mr. Cohen," she said sweetly, leading him out. Mark swallowed down the disgust he felt for himself at the pitied glances he received the moment he got here. Sure, he was probably pale and vaguely queasy-looking, but he was fine. Perfectly fine. Mark Cohen didn't need anyone to hold his hand while he got his blood taken.

But he might need something to hang on to when they called with the results.

He was patient. He really was. Mark was proud of his patience, actually, in a world where no one seemed to have any anymore. But this? He was realistically certain that he would drive himself insane with all of the waiting.

Was he positive? Negative? Until the results were in- two months from now- he would just have to assume the former to be on the safe side. No more carelessly leaving paper cuts or scrapes unbandaged. No more going without a coat, no sleeping without a blanket. But how would he break the news to Roger? God…

It was all that the filmmaker could think about the entire way back to the loft. He dawdled- he didn't want to face the brooding songwriter upstairs, didn't want to see his face when he said the words. Roger's reactions were famous for their inconsistency- however, in this case, Mark was fairly sure he knew exactly what would be.

He was amazed, really, that Roger had stuck around this long. Two whole weeks had passed and not a word had been spoken between them. Mark wondered if this was some bizarre form of the silent treatment- if it was, he wasn't sure what he'd done to deserve it.

Except maybe seducing his best friend when they both were less than sober.

Mark sighed and fished around in his pocket for his key, feeling the gloom descend on him again. As depressing as the dusty silence in the loft had become, it would be worse with this new information hovering, stagnant, in the air over their heads. He looked up, shading his eyes against the bright, cold November sunlight, to stare at what he thought might be Roger's bedroom window.

What am I going to tell him?


Up in his room, a fretful guitarist stared in dismay at the new hole in the wall just over his headboard.

His knuckles were throbbing, probably bleeding but he wasn't in the mood to check. He could bleed out for all he cared. Roger hadn't gotten a decent amount of sleep in fourteen days- every night was spent pacing the streets or brooding on barstools. He returned at odd hours smelling like stale beer and sweat but that was only the residual smell of the clubs that he spent all of his time in. God knows he wasn't about to go fucking anyone else after what he'd done to Mark. He probably couldn't even get it up anymore.

His dick had essentially killed his best friend.

Fuck. He hadn't put a hole in the wall in years, not since withdrawal and April. Those were the days that he put Mark in danger every day, but in a much less pleasant fashion. Where the hell had his carefully cultivated control gotten to?

He needed to get a hold of himself. He needed to-

Metal doors were not subtle. Mark's entrance was audible, the front door clanging shut loudly enough to wake Mimi from her afternoon nap. Roger felt all of the blood drain from his cheeks in record time, making him white and nauseous all over again.

A glance downwards told him all he needed to know about the state of his knuckles. Gritting his teeth, he slipped out of his bedroom and attempted to dart, unseen, to the bathroom. Thus far he'd managed to avoid talking to Mark at all by sheer force of will and a drastically unstable change of schedule, staying out or in his room for hours at a time and sneaking around in the wee hours of the morning when he knew his roommate would be asleep. It was better this way, he told himself- better if he kept his distance. Eventually whatever infatuation that Mark had for him and that he had for Mark would disappear into thin air and he would stay negative and everything would be hunky dory.

Then it would hurt less. At least in theory.

So far, all of Roger's theories have been pretty shitty.

Mark was quick today, though. An albino pale arm shot out and caught him before he could slam the bathroom door safely shut behind him, spinning him around. He struggled for a moment before recognizing the determined expression on Mark's face- damn it all. He wasn't going anywhere.

"Why are you avoiding me?" Even Mark looked surprised as he blurted the words, eyes widening slightly. Roger had a sneaking suspicion that it had taken all of the scrawny man's courage to say anything at all, force those words out of his mouth. Confrontation wasn't Mark's thing- but Roger? He was great at it. He answered easily.

"I'm not." A blatant lie- smooth, Davis. He inched closer to the bathroom door, heart simultaneously trying to sink and hammer right out of his chest.

"Don't bullshit me. Come on, Roger, we have to talk eventually-"

"No, we don't." Giving up the pretense, the guitarist jerked his arm and stalked away, ignoring the panicked ringing that had begun in his ears the moment Mark touched his shoulder. He wasn't allowed to touch him. God! There had to be rules, had to be some kind of order, or Roger was going to lose it right there.

If he ran away from Mark again, left him alone in this huge city, he would never be able to forgive himself.

"I got tested."

The words were like a bullet, stopping him dead. Deliriously, he realized that his heart had come to a halt for the moment and there was a brief second where it almost felt like he was drifting, floating, soul ripped right from his body-

What he wouldn't give to just be watching this. But no- he was living the nightmare.

"… Yeah? Good," he murmured eventually, physically forcing himself to smile. The result was probably more of a grimace, but it was the best that he could do under the circumstances. He made another stiff attempt to walk, but Mark wasn't having that- he tugged the songwriter back towards him by the sleeve.

"Don't. Please talk to me," he mumbled, not quite looking at him. His expression reminded Roger of that of a kicked puppy or a lost child, confused and wounded, as though his entire life had been thrown into chaos without notice. And it had, if he thought about it. Mark hadn't done anything wrong- Roger had, or at least that's what he'd convinced himself, but Mark was still the one being punished for it.

Maybe this was his punishment, he thought to himself. His punishment for the sin of murder was to watch his victim be dragged through hell, watch and be helpless to stop it.

"I don't think that's a great idea, Mark." Wincing at his own hard tone, Roger made a significant attempt to soften it. "I don't want to fuck this up anymore than I already have."

"You didn't." Blue eyes wide and bloodshot- Mark hadn't gotten a whole lot more sleep than he had, but he wouldn't know that- the filmmaker stared at him incredulously. "Roger, you didn't fuck anything up- for God's sake, not everything always has to be your fault-"

"The FUCK it isn't my fault!" Roger lost his temper at last, snapping his gaze up to Mark and snarling, face flushing with angry color. "If you- if- I can't even…" Losing momentum, his words deteriorated into harsh spluttering. Mark was alarmed by the shade of puce that his face had taken on. If he'd been listening, he would have heard the fear in his voice- but Mark was focused on only one thing, and that was proving that he was okay.

"If what? If I'm positive? It's HIV, Roger, not the plague- plenty of people have it. Plenty of my friends have it and they're still here and I don't love them any less." He frowned, furrowing his eyebrows in reproach. He'd expected Roger to be upset, but enough was enough. They both had to move along now. Roger just didn't want to understand, and as the narrator he felt that it was his job to make him. "I have years left either way… I'll get a job and it'll be fine."

"DON'T." Immediately regretting his outburst, Roger shuffled his feet and backed away from him, refusing to meet his eyes. "I'll pay for it." It was more difficult than ever to swallow back the bile that rose in his throat at the thought of Mark, like Angel before him, lying gaunt and sickly on the crisp white hospital linens with monitors beeping unsteadily all around him and dark sores appearing daily across his pale features, marring them irreversibly. Mark stuck full of IV needles, Mark at the next Life Support meeting standing up and announcing the results, the horrified and knowing looks all around him, the sadness hanging over the group at the news, Mark coughing wetly into the crook of his elbows, telling Roger to get away, he's sick, collapsing, sirens blaring and Roger screaming, "NO NOT MARK, YOU CAN'T TAKE MARK-"

"Roger? Roger are you okay? Rog?"

Blinking rapidly, heart pounding brutally against his ribcage, Roger exhaled a shaky breath and glanced up briefly to meet Mark's concerned gaze. The lack of sleep was catching up to him these past few days- that was the fourth or fifth hallucination he'd had, some sick daytime nightmare, all of them laden with guilt. Belatedly, in the midst of shaking it off, he realized that his roommate had taken his limp arm and was inspecting his bruised and bloodied knuckles. Another surge of hysteria gripped him in a tidal wave of raw emotion- he tore himself away, slamming back into the wall behind him and, wide eyed, staring warily at Mark who stood startled and reaching towards him only a foot away.

"Fuck. OFF." It almost frightened him to hear that low growl from his own throat, but he wasn't about to take it back. Mark had no concept of boundaries, no concept of self-preservation- and in order for Roger to make himself stay, he needed both.

"Alright! Calm down." Nervously, Mark backed into the opposite wall. He was all too aware both of his smaller stature and of Roger's terrifying strength, especially in these manic moments. The two men stood staring at each other uneasily from opposite sides of the hall, faces shaded in the dim light- Roger was the first to look away.

With his uninjured hand he shakily reached up to tug at his hair, closing his eyes wearily. It was impossible to watch Mark's face any longer. "No touching. N-no sex- or kissing- nothing. Don't touch me. I won't touch you. And- you'll be safe."

He tried to put emphasis on the last word, hoping that Mark would realize how idiotic he was being, but the filmmaker narrowed his eyes and he knew that it was hopeless.

"Safe? I don't care about SAFE!" Perhaps, judging by the twisted look on Roger's face, he could have put it more tactfully. But Mark was beyond tact at the moment. He could scarcely believe that Roger would do this to him, push him away when he needed him most. "You're my best friend," he hissed, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. Without his camera to hide behind, to protect him, he felt too vulnerable and far more likely to make some stupid mistake.

"Best friends don't fuck each other! Best friends don't give each other death sentences!" Roger's eyes flashed- and Mark knew that he'd really pissed him off this time, cringing back into the wall. "I'm not your friend, Mark. Hate me. You're supposed to hate me!"

The filmmaker shook his head mechanically, unable to process the meaning behind Roger's heated words. It was too much. The impending death of their relationship was too much, too much right now when he was already on the verge of an anxiety attack- he didn't want to deal with this, too. It was no longer a question of whether Roger "liked him back" but more one of whether or not he was going to stick around long enough for there to even be a chance.

"I- I can't, I don't- Roger, I don't. I don't h-hate you, I couldn't-" The words stuck half-formed in his throat, thick with tears that he was stubbornly refusing to let fall. Panic was setting in, making his whole body tremble. "Roger please-"

"No! That's it! You obviously can't make the right decisions for yourself, Mark, so I'll have to make them for you."

Roger spun on his heel, and the conversation was effectively brought to an end. Mark shuddered, wanting nothing more than to curl up and die, but the sound of Roger's door slamming in his face made him spring into action. He pounded on it furiously with his fist, yelling whatever came into his head. He had only one objective- to make him stay.


Ten minutes of screaming later his throat was raw- he would have continued, voice be damned, but the door swung violently open to reveal Roger's clenched jaw and stoic features. He pushed past Mark, a duffel bag in hand and his guitar as well.

"See you around, Cohen."

And try as he might, Mark couldn't keep Roger rooted to the spot. He watched in terrible dread as Roger walked out of his life and shut the door quietly behind him.

He would have preferred a slam. Slammed doors were angry. Temporary. But this…


Roger was gone and he was alone.

And then there was black.