Roger opens his eyes, sees Mark, and smiles. The smile hurts, but it comes instinctively; Mark is pale and pinched, so ridiculously careworn, and his glasses are all steamed up from the soup he's trying to spoon into Roger's mouth.
Roger tries to speak, but the words stick in his throat. He swallows a mouthful of the soup, waits a moment while it warms him from the inside, tries again. "Where am I?"
"Hell," says Mark pleasantly. "Also known as Scarsdale. Mom made chicken soup for you. With matzoh balls. The universal remedy."
"Not for what I've got."
Mark says nothing.
Roger doesn't see much of the Cohens while he's in their house. Mrs. Cohen flutters over him a little, but she and her husband work much of the day, so it's Mark who cares for him. Mark who feeds him and helps him up when he has to take a leak; Mark who reads the tabloids to him and laughs for him when he's too weak; Mark who finds his old cassettes and plays them for him again and again because it's too damn quiet outside the city.
They don't talk much. Once, Mark says, "I should call your mom. I don't have her new number."
Shivering and clutching the blanket tightly around his shoulders, Roger replies, "It's on a piece of paper at the apartment."
"I can get it," Mark offers.
There's no keeping the plaintive note out of his tone – "Don't leave me."
And softly, "I won't."
Another time, late at night, when the older Cohens are asleep in their bedroom and Mark is tossing restlessly beside him, Roger croaks, "I keep dreaming about them. Angel, Collins, Mimi. They're all dancing at the end of this tunnel." He knows he's burning with fever, but he's freezing. He has his limbs tucked as close against his body as he can get them, but they still feel like ice.
"Shut up," mutters Mark.
It's dawn when Roger's fever breaks. While Mark combs the sweat-drenched hair away from his face, he says, "Why?" His voice sounds like air being blown through a punctured reed.
"Why what?" Mark doesn't sound much better; it gives him a grim satisfaction.
"Why're you alone?"
Frowning, and without his glasses, Mark looks older. "With my camera?"
"I'm not alone if I'm with you. Anyway, what was I supposed to do? Leave you at the clinic?" He laughs, but he's angry; Roger can tell.
"No. I mean." He feels as if he's drowning. As if the icicles his limbs had become while he'd been feverish are melting. "I mean, how come you're not with anyone? Collins had Angel. Maureen has Joanne. I had Mimi. You haven't been with anyone since Maureen dumped you."
"Thanks for the reminder."
Roger is quiet and after a time he feels the anger leave Mark. His shoulders sag, and the fingers in Roger's hair slow, but don't stop.
Roger says, cautiously, "And you never seemed that upset when she dumped you. I mean, you were upset, but you weren't…"
"It wasn't a big deal," Mark finishes for him. "Maybe I'm not a drama queen, like some." A wispy smile flashes across his face. "Maybe I just loved you more. That what you want to hear?"
Darkness is gathering, but he's not going into the tunnel. Not yet. Mimi and her brown eyes will have to wait. This is just sleep claiming him. From far away he hears his own voice say, "Yeah, it is."
Unlike Mimi's, the lips the graze his cheek are thin, but they're wonderfully cool. "Maybe it's true," Mark whispers. "In any case, I'll be here when you wake up."
Roger hears himself say, "So will I." And, thinking with his last bit of strength that that doesn't mean anything, he adds, "M'not leaving you, yet."