Turning a New Leaf(2/?)Pairing: M/R.Rating: R.Summary: Mark learns things aren’t always as easy as they seem – the hard way.Disclaimer: It’s not mine.In the end, guilt-sick and confused, Mark left Roger to Maureen’s not-quite-as-gentle care, with very firm instructions not to hesitate in the dispensation of either painkillers or clonidine. He paced the streets without aim, sometimes with a blank mind, other times thinking a mile a minute. Roger hadn’t been in good shape when Maureen had entered, of course. He was all but starving himself and suffering withdrawals besides. However, he hadn’t done anything to give even the slightest indication that seconds before Maureen had bounced into the room he’d been sitting on her boyfriend’s lap with his tongue in his mouth. Mark hadn’t been able to make himself be so discreet. Maureen would speak and he wouldn’t hear a word she’d said, too busy staring blankly and blushing. Which wasn’t to say that Mark’s problem was in any way tied to his friend’s gender – Hell, gender in Alphabet City was basically an opt-in convention, and biological sex had no bearing on it – or even really Maureen. Maureen’s notion of fidelity was loose at best, and besides, nothing had to come of it. Mark did love him; had for some time, but it was in a way that seemed to transcend actual romance. Until just recently, when he was really the only one Roger had left, neither of them had ever even thought of it. Maybe, for all he knew, Roger still hadn’t. Their present situation demanded trust and intimacy on an almost staggering level, and maybe to Roger that had just been a natural extension, the only way he knew to offer thanks that would seem at all substantial. It certainly almost seemed as much, because when Mark returned to the loft, Roger behaved about as normally as he could under the circumstances, at least for a little while. The clonidine helped, that much was clear, but he was still in more than enough pain, and when he wasn’t in pain he was antsy. Maureen had gotten him to eat a piece of toast in Mark’s absence. It came back up twenty minutes after he got home. Roger wept bitterly for it – or at least it was enough to start him crying again, at any rate, and Mark was tempted to follow suit. How was he supposed to take care of someone who couldn’t stomach even the smallest amount of food? He seemed able to manage apple juice and had no qualms about swallowing a multi-vitamin (those were from Maureen, who didn’t “want Roger’s bony ass getting anymore malnourished”), but Mark knew that the pills were ideally to be taken with a meal, or at least something with some fat to speak of. Even though he’d improved greatly since he’d first collapsed that morning, Roger still always seemed able to find something worthy of tears. At first it was smaller things – the dizzying nausea, the actual vomiting, and simply the fact that he had no control over his emotions whatsoever. Quickly, though, the small problems escalated back to full-fledged withdrawals, and Mark cursed himself for following the directions on the pill bottle instead of dispensing them as he felt necessary. He knew overdose wasn’t really a risk, about the worst thing they’d do to Roger was knock him out, which at this point would probably have seemed a blessed respite. Mark gave him the pills an hour early, then set about doing what he could to reduce Roger’s discomfort. A hot flash had brought him out of his clothes – he was sitting on the couch in nothing but a pair of sweat-damp boxers – and Mark had thought to use the opportunity to apply some Ben Gay to his back, which still plagued him with pangs of pain. That hadn’t gone well, because in the midst of the application Roger whimpered and drew his knees to his chest, trying to keep the warmth he’d seconds ago so hated. Rather than attempt to dress him, as his shaking had begun once more, Mark put them both under an Afghan Maureen had gotten them from somewhere. Ignoring the more confusing things it stirred within him, Mark found himself holding his friend once more. It was doing precious little to help him with the cold, but Roger seemed to feel what little it was doing helped, because he made himself as small as possible, small enough to be comfortably enfolded between Mark and the blankets. As the cold subsided, though in it’s own time, Roger’s shivering stopped, but it only served to make Mark acutely aware of the tiny, telling tremors that wracked him every time he breathed. He could feel Roger fighting the urge to bend double from some unknown muscle pain. And it wasn’t long before Mark heard his own breathing patterns shift to mirror Roger’s. That was when he began to suspect he was putting himself through too much; Mark never cried in front of other people. His throat ached and each breath shook him, making tiny sounds he willed the guitarist not to hear. Roger heard it anyway, and his reaction, as childish (or maybe just as honest) as it was, broke Mark’s heart. “Please don’t cry,” he whispered in a tiny voice drawn tight with pain. “Not over this. Because I can’t do this if it’s going to make you cry, Mark. I can’t make you upset for my mistakes; you don’t deserve it.” It only served to make Mark ache to sob even more, and this time it was Roger who had to piece together words from tears, though even then Mark was rather more coherent than he’d been. His voice cracked and trembled a little, but he still appeared wholly in control. “You’re gonna have to let me, Rog. Watching this hurts,” he admitted, relenting to the guiding pressure Roger was exerting on his neck and lowering his head to rest gently against the juncture of the bigger man’s neck and shoulder. “But it’s got nothing on what losing you again would do. Sometimes…” he sniffled, watching a tear land on Roger’s shoulder then commingle with his sweat and roll down his body. “Sometimes pain doesn’t mean you should stop, sometimes pain’s just a rite of passage.” Roger smiled weakly, a feigned gesture made only for Mark’s comfort, then protested softly, “But you didn’t do anything to deserve it.” Having regained his composure a little, Mark managed a serious look, staring Roger in the eye. “You talk a lot about what we deserve, Roger,” he said softly, “but you don’t have the first idea. Everyone deserves to have somebody care about them, doesn’t matter how they’ve fucked up. And this right now… It’s got nothing to do with what I deserve or don’t. It’s just where I chose to be.” “But why?” Roger demanded, so insistently that Mark wasn’t sure he’d be able to form an answer to his satisfaction. In the end, he didn’t even try, he just said what he knew in his gut. “Because it’s you,” Mark explained shortly. “Because you’re my friend no matter how your karma’s stacked right now. I want you to get better. Besides, playing nurse might not be easy, but it’s got nothing on what you’re putting yourself through. If you’re determined enough to go through all this, helping you out’s the least I can do. Maybe you made the mistake in the first place, but making it right… I’ve really got to admire you for even trying, you know?” “Don’t,” Roger said curtly, biting his lip to hide his pained grimace. Mark noticed it anyway, it was easy to tell – the lines in his face grew deep and apparent when he was worried or in pain. Roger continued, “If you’re really okay with all this… I can’t pretend to understand, Mark. I really can’t. I guess all that’s left is thanks for what you’ve done already, and I want you to know I won’t blame you if you ever decide you can’t do this any more.” “Doesn’t matter a damn,” Mark replied airily, having decided that leaving the mood in it’s present state was dangerous. “I’ll blame me; that’s enough. Sorry buddy, but I think you’re stuck with me.” Roger sighed, “Mark Cohen, I swear. I’m never gonna get you, not if I make a hundred.” He paused. “You know, whatever the hell it is you’re feeding me, it really works. It’s not perfect, but I feel a hell of a lot better.” Though he regretted thinking it, Mark couldn’t help but observe that despite the obvious improvement in his condition, Roger hadn’t said or done anything about their proximity. Problem was, now that their contact didn’t seem to be Roger’s last tie to reality, Mark’s mind was going places it most definitely should not have been. Not that the fact that he found Roger attractive was news, or even that it meant much, but he’d never been so acutely aware of it. And why not, Mark considered grimly, when anyone who saw us right now and didn’t know would think we were lovers. Their eyes met, and despite the inquisitive, prompting look in Roger’s, neither broke the gaze until Roger shrugged, then tilted his head back and dropped a light kiss on Mark’s jaw. Mark laughed nervously, trying desperately to remember what they were supposed to be talking about. When he remembered, he blurted in a shaky voice, “Speaking of feeding you…” Mark started, hoping he could coax Roger into taking something, even if it were juice. But unless Mark was wrong (which he seemed to be thinking a lot lately), and it was looking less and less like he was, he saw a hurt look cross his friend’s face at Mark’s dismissal. He recovered quickly, though, and made a face and shook his head. “Definite no. Where’d you get those things, anyway?” Mark considered lying, knowing Roger wouldn’t like the truth, but in the end he knew it was useless. He’d probably find out the truth eventually, and if it had come from any source but Mark, Mark knew he’d never hear the end of it. “Benny threw some money at it,” he admitted. “I have no idea.” “Oh,” Roger said simply. A moment later his nose wrinkled and he said, “You know I can’t take those anymore now, right?” “What?” Mark asked immediately, sounding worried even though he’d yet to fully process the implications of Roger’s statement. “You heard me, Cohen,” Roger shot back, grinning in an almost-sincere way. “If I’m doing this, it’s gonna be without ending up beholden to Benny.” As soon as he finished talking, his eyes flicked to Mark’s again, and though Mark only blushed and glanced toward the window, he saw enough to confirm his suspicions. “Mark,” Roger began, almost sounding like a parent or a teacher who knew he’d done something wrong, “how long has it been since you slept?” Mark shrugged. He’d slept a couple hours after he’d taken the T3s, and had been just getting ready to catch a few hours when Roger had woken up. Granted, he hadn’t actually needed Mark yet, but Mark had found himself spending the rest of the night – or the morning, more aptly – talking to Roger. Still, not wanting to get caught in a lie, he told the truth, phrasing it in a way that didn’t sound as bad. “Last night, while you were sleeping.” “So in other words, you’re dead on your feet,” Roger extrapolated, raising his eyebrows. “Right then. Bedtime for Marky.” Though he didn’t dare do it, Mark wanted to shake his head, slightly awed. Would Roger never be done surprising him? Not ten minutes ago he hadn’t even had the presence of mind to be able to tend to his own well-being, and now he was telling Mark to sleep? But he was right, Mark realized. He’d slept maybe five of the past fourty-eight hours, and he was running on stress, caffeine, and worry. He knew he would have eventually resorted to catching ten-minute fragments of sleep whenever he could, and he knew that that course would only lead to Collins making him sleep. Mark knew Roger’s logic was good, and he knew that the fact he’d said anything was only an expression of concern. Concern, at this point, was something it was only fair to let Roger return, at least if he felt he needed to. “Fine,” Mark sighed loudly, making his reluctance clear. “But promise me you’ll get me the minute you need me.” Roger shrugged. “Mark, there are people who do this by telling whoever they live with they have the flu and living in bed. It won’t kill me not to have you for a few hours.” Mark looked at him with eyes like chips of ice, didn’t avert his eyes or blush. “Roger,” he insisted sternly. “Yeah, fine,” Roger agreed. “But you know, I was thinking about getting some sleep anyway. You could just stay here with me. Fuck, we’re well equipped,” he pointed out, gesturing at the mess of pillows and blankets strewn about the couch. Well, Mark thought, that would be enough to make him sure he’d be there if need be, and besides, it wasn’t unheard of for either he or Roger to pass out on the couch just for a change of scenery. When your mattress wasn’t any more comfortable than the couch, the couch became a much more popular bed. But… “Both of us?” Mark asked, trying to sound confused. Roger laughed. “No, genius, I was gonna sleep on the coffee table. Yes, both of us,” Roger snorted, sliding off of Mark’s lap and tossing a gigantic overstuffed pillow into the corner of the couch. “Then you won’t have to be worried, not that you need to be, and I’ll have some company. We both win.” Roger seemed reluctant to abandon the Afghan, even for another blanket, as though even the few seconds of exposure to the open air would freeze him. Mark was about to let him have it, to curl up on the other end of the couch with a different blanket where it was safe, when Roger flopped back against the pillow, blanket be damned, and crooked a finger at him expectantly. Like Roger sprawled lazily against a cushion in his boxers, beckoning to him, was really a mental image Mark needed. Immediately, Mark went a shade of red to rival his sweater. “Uh, Roger, I don’t think…” “I do,” Roger replied, looking at him blandly, as if issuing a challenge. “This place is fucking freezing, Mark, and don’t tell me it’s just me. Christ, you look like I just asked if I could bend you over the coffee table and…” “Fine,” Mark interrupted tersely, his voice cracking a little. “You’re right; it’s no big deal.” Well, at least Roger didn’t seem to think so, which answered a lot of questions. Ignoring the butterflies in his stomach, he crawled into the space Roger had made for him. He had a comfortable amount of room to sleep, but the amount of space between he and Roger – which was to say, none – was anything but comfortable. And neither did Roger seem inclined to make it easy on him. “You’re wearing that to sleep?” he asked Mark incredulously. “I mean, keep them on if you don’t have underwear or something, but jeans? Who sleeps in jeans?” Me, Mark wanted to say, even though he knew there was truth in what Roger was saying. But this, he sensed, was something Roger was set on, for whatever reason, and obliging him would be a lot faster than arguing. For all his discomfort, Mark was too exhausted to let anything else delay his sleep. He stripped down to his t-shirt and boxers then laid back down. They laid in a comfortable silence for a little while – comfortable for Roger, at least, who seemed the most at peace he’d been in a long time. Mark, on the other hand, couldn’t help but feel he’d gotten in over his head. Anyone else who’d said or done half of the things Roger had to him in the past day would have ended up in his bed long ago, at least if not for Maureen. Contrary to popular opinion, Mark was not meek by nature. But this seemed different. Like somehow, unbelievably, Roger was completely unaware how he was making things seem. But that couldn’t be true. No, for all his suffering, for the fact that his blood sugar had to be ridiculously low, even for the infection that was turning the welts on his forearm rigid and yellow-green… Roger was lucid, when he wasn’t distressed. Granted, he wouldn’t have had those lucid times without the medication, but they were there, and aside from his seeming flirting with Mark, they almost made him his old self. But Mark was too tired to worry anymore, not unless he had to. He was about to fall asleep when the situation became a “had to.” As soon as it had seemed polite, Mark had turned to face the back of the couch, hoping to deter Roger from initiating any more of his oh-so-frustrating contact. It didn’t work. It wasn’t a minute after Mark moved that Roger began spooning with him. He tensed momentarily in Roger’s arms, then drew a deep breath and released the tension in his muscles when he breathed out. Right, he decided, the easiest way to get out of this was to ignore the fact that it had even happened. So he did, pretending to sleep, hoping Roger wouldn’t have one of his sleepless nights. If he outlasted Roger, he could free himself and sleep. As it turned out, he didn’t. Once he’d been forced to focus on it, he’d realized just how fatigued he was. He was sick with exhaustion, and his body’s weakness quickly overwhelmed his mind. Mark was still asleep when Roger rolled of the couch and away from him. In his sleep, Mark’s mind had no control over his baser wants, and he whimpered in protest and pawed at the spot where Roger’s hands had been. It gave Roger cause for pause – he spent the better half of the next ten minutes kneeling beside the couch, watching Mark’s face for any trace of wakefulness. For all his patience, though, he couldn’t help taking one last risk – he stroked Mark’s cheek with the back of his hand, murmuring an apology. Then he grabbed his jacket and his wallet and left through the fire escape, gradually relaxing as he slipped into the anonymity of the night.--- Two days, he thought, a sick feeling in his stomach. He’d made it two days, and that was with help from both Mark and the medicine. Two fucking days, not even long enough for the withdrawal to reach its worst. Just give the hell up, Davis, you fucking junkie scum, he thought darkly. Not like anyone’s gonna miss you. His heart gave a sick little offbeat thud in his chest, as if to remind him he knew he was lying to himself. Collins cared. Maureen cared. Even Benny. April couldn’t care about anything any more, but he liked to believe she would have wanted him to get better. He thought she would. Mark’s name popped into his head unbidden, and just remembering the name hurt. He’d been so good about everything. Kept him physically alive, done everything in his power to keep him as comfortable as he could. Held him while it seemed like the world was crumbling around him, let him cry and didn’t try to stop it, just tried to make him feel better. To say nothing of the fact that if it were anyone but Roger, he knew Mark would have confronted them about the way he’d been playing with him. Not that he meant to be doing it, not at all. It was just that his strength – his confidence – came and went at whim. He’d resolved to say something honest more than once, but every time he tried, he’d do something stupid. Whether it was kissing him that morning then not having the words to say why, or his bit of blatant flirting on the couch. He’d gotten what he wanted, then he’d run out the door, back into the embrace of a lover not nearly so concerned with his health. But even now, when he was still dry-mouthed and a little foggy from the drug, he thought of Mark, and for short moment, he longed to take it back. All he’d done, and this was how Roger repaid him? He shouldn’t even have had the money to do it. Food, his AZT, electricity… all of it cost money. He should have given the money to Mark. But the thoughts gave him guilt, and guilt spurred still more craving for the drug. Before he could find his strength, before he could tell himself he didn’t need it and that he’d betrayed Mark enough… His common sense never had a chance. He had the work and the powder sitting right in front of him on the bed. It was too easy to resist. Within seconds, candle already lit and supplies at hand, he had the solution mixed and in the syringe. Within a minute, he’d injected it. Within a half second, Roger knew with sudden, terrifying clarity that he’d die without intervention. He’d been desperate, gotten foolish with it, and somehow he’d used what would have been a three day supply within three hours. The next thing he knew, which would have been a welcome revelation in other circumstances, was that he wanted to live. With the last full-chested breath he drew, Roger screamed.