Summary: Roger's hooked on Reality TV, and Mark's out to cure him.
Disclaimer: Not mine. At all.
Note: Cross-posted to my journal, creative_words, and below14thstreet
Roger should have known there would be trouble as soon as Mark came home from shopping. After all, he'd not moved since he'd left-- eight episodes of "The Real World" marathon ago-- and he was pretty sure that the phone call that he'd ignored an hour ago had been from Mark. The couch had been just so comfortable, and the television so appealing (both of which had been splurges to reflect the Boho Boys' rapidly increasing income pool) that he'd decided to to take his chances with an aggravated Mark.
But this tirade had been going on for at least five minutes, and Roger was already getting irritated. Mark had spoken all the way through a commercial break, and was currently talking over the episode. Roger thought about asking him to wait until the next break, but he decided that would incite more trouble than it was worth. Besides, he'd already seen this episode yesterday.
"Out of curiosity," he said at last, "what exactly is your problem with reality television. I, for one, think it's a lot of fun."
Mark gave an aggrieved sigh. "Roger, it's all trash! From a professional standpoint, it's almost offensively awful! No one gives a shit about art or even real entertainment on those shows-- it's all just a slapdash amalgamation of sex and vulgarity designed to tether rubes to their TV sets so that they'll see more pointless advertising!"
"From where this rube is tethered," he snapped, "the ads are a small price to pay for the only sexuality-- however slapdash-- he's going to get anytime soon."
"That's just not true-- you could too get laid if you wanted to!"
"With whom?" he countered. "I don't know if you've caught this on camera, but since Mimi left, I've been as alone as..." Roger trailed off.
"As me?" Mark's voice cracked.
"That's not what I was going to say," Roger said quickly.
"No, don't worry. It's true. I don't even mind it anymore," he said, though his eyes betrayed otherwise.
But Roger was tired of eyes-- Mark's, Mimi's, or anyone else's, for that matter-- and he chose to accept the statement at face value. "You might not care, but I do! I used to think that I'd go crazy if I didn't do something at least once a week, and now that I haven't, I hate it. I hate being alone, so I'm going to take my cheap thrills wherever I can get them."
Settling back into his television position, Roger thought that Mark had left when he spoke. "Get them with me," he said softly.
"What?" For the first time all day, Roger jumped up off the couch.
"If you miss sex, or whatever, so badly, won't I suffice?"
"But you-- I --" Roger had never been this tongue-tied in front of his roommate before. "You're a guy," he finished lamely.
"It didn't seem to make a difference with Jamie from the Halloween party a couple of years ago-- the one dressed up like a Roman? Or with Pasha, the Pratt art major from Russia, who you met at Maureen's Fourth of July show and had to hide from her when he spent the night? Or with Benny, when he was still sharing the flat and you used to 'talk politics' with for hours, in his closed bedroom? Or--"
Roger cringed. "I got it, I got it!"
"So, unless there's something horribly wrong with me that makes real sex less appealing than reality TV--" Mark began to take off his sweater.
"Wait!" Now Roger knew he was panicking. But really, what was he supposed to do?
And now Mark looked like he was about to cry. "There is something wrong with me, then."
"No, it's not that." How the fuck had he gotten into this mess? "I mean, we're best friends."
"Which is why this would work! There's no need for you to have to get to know me, to flatter and convince me that you're 'a nice guy'," and Roger definitely didn't like the irony with which Mark laced those last words. "You don't have to worry about my reputation, or my motives, or my feelings, or anything."
"I don't?" Because it had been Roger's experience that whenever he didn't pay attention to Mark's feelings-- being the selfish asshole he often was-- he ended up hurting him badly. Like say, Santa Fe.
"No, you don't. I mean, what could you do? Ignore whatever happened? Refuse to acknowledge my existence?" Mark laughed softly. "I've already seen you at your worst."
Something about the resigned affection in Mark's voice was more endearing than it rightly should have been. "Don't you think it would change things between us?" Roger asked, realizing as he did that he was already taking this ridiculous offer seriously.
"Well, it'd get you off the couch, for one."
"No," he said at last. "Well, maybe. But only if you take it the wrong way."
"This is just two friends, helping each other out," Mark said with a smile.
Roger doubted that was all it was, but he went along with it for the time being. "Sort of like you spotting me the rent before the Well Hungarians got back on the club circuit?"
"Right! And it's like the time you helped me organize all my footage reels when I was working on the documentary." Mark grinned. "If you think about it like that, no one gets anything more than what they want."
The earnest look on Mark's face sold him to the idea more than anything else. Knowing full well that he was probably damning their friendship, Roger resignedly affirmed. "Okay."
"Really?" He seemed surprised that Roger'd given in so easily. That makes two of us, Roger thought. "Um, great!" Resuming the process of undressing, Mark toed of his sneakers without unlacing them. The effort threw him off his center of gravity, causing him to balance precariously on the ball of one foot as he pulled his t-shirt off. He looked like he was engaged in some extreme yoga position, and not doing a very good job of it, either. The entire situation grew more surreal by the second.
Mark, however, didn't seem to notice how weird this all was. He continued to babble on, blissfully caught up in his own actions. "Collins has a poetry reading at the Life Cafe tomorrow night, and I promised him I'd meet to listen to his work at eight. I don't think that should matter, since it's only--" he checked his watch-- "quarter to six, and I can't see this taking more than what, an hour, max?"
Roger nodded, though in truth, the prospect of imminent sex was becoming less appealing with more and more of Mark's chirpy monologue.
"Right, so I think we'll have plenty of time." Mark paused. "Wait."
"Where do you want to, you know," Mark blushed, "do it?"
"Oh," Roger said. "Um, I don't know. What do you think?"
Mark, shirtless and shoeless, blushed again. "You know that it's been, well, a long time since I did this last. I'm almost afraid I won't know how. You're the one with all the experience-- you decide."
Having his sexual accomplishments (which had never seemed so cheap as when Mark mentioned them, in that voice) held up like that, Roger found himself unable to make a competent decision. "Well," he said slowly, "I don't think we should do it here."
Mark shook his head furiously, dislodging his glasses. "No, that sounds right."
"Maybe your room?" he offered.
"Whatever you want," Mark said in a bright voice.
Whatever Roger wanted.
That was what this was about, wasn't it? Mark, once again prostrating himself to what he, Roger, wanted. Even an idiot could see that this was all about his own pleasure, from all Mark had tried to say about "favors." Mark was trying to be his usual, helpful self, but this time he was willing to make a very different sort of sacrifice. One that, Roger realized, he shouldn't have to.
Not like this. Not in an hour segment, prompted by Roger's libido and general discontentment, not in a spirit of simple physical pleasure. Mark deserved better than that, even if he didn't see it.
"Mark," Roger sighed. "This won't work."
Mark's expression froze in a combination of shock and disappointment. "Of course it will."
"No, it won't. Mark, I want more than this, no matter how little I'm willing to settle for with television. I don't just want sex-- I want everything else that comes with it. That's what I've been missing more than anything, I think. And it's not right for me to pretend otherwise with you."
"Oh." Mark's voice had gone flat. "I see."
"Sure I do." Mark pushed his glasses back up his nose, and set about collecting the clothes he'd so quickly divested. His shoes, sweater, t-shirt-- all of them he gathered into his arms, and turned to walk into his room.
Roger felt paralyzed to stop him. He'd hurt him again-- why couldn't he have figured out he was inevitably going to? Whatever his intentions, he was seemingly always hurting this man, this generous soul who was willing to give of himself for Roger's own comfort. He'd been a fool to think he'd be able to prevent Mark from getting hurt. Even though, he realized, hurting him was the last thing he ever wanted to do. Even though what he wanted to do more than anything was the opposite-- to keep Mark safe, to save him from everything that would wound him.
"Wait!" Roger said, his voice almost a shout. He reached over, turned off the television-- that felt good.
Mark paused in the doorway. Roger went to him, nearly running to cover the distance between them in mere seconds.
"I thought this was what you wanted," Mark whispered. He turned around to look at Roger, his eyes brimming with confusion, then looked down quickly.
"No, it's not!" He tried to make his voice as comforting as possible. "I want everything that comes with sex, yeah. Not just the sleeping together, but the falling asleep together, and the waking up, too. That's what I want, not just a favor-fuck.
"But I want it with you," he added, pushing Mark's arms to his side and forcing all of his clothing to the floor.
"If you'll have me, that is."
They stood like that for a long moment, bodies almost touching, Roger's hands gripping Mark's forearms. After a while, Roger loosened his grasp, and began to run his hands over the inside of Mark's arms. He traced the outlines of Mark's veins with his index finger, and didn't bother suppressing the frisson of arousal that pricked at his spine when Mark gasped at the sensation.
Mark eventually took his eyes from his feet, brought them up to meet Roger's. "Yeah," he said, leaning so close that their lips brushed when he spoke. "I think I can do that."