It's four am, and Collins' back is killing him. The hard, plastic chair squeaks in protests every time he moves, but he stands up anyways and stretches.

I'm getting too old for this, he thinks.

He must have been asleep for a while because it takes a few minutes of pacing before the feeling in his legs comes back. The room is hushed and dim, the nurse's station glowing fluorescent against his eyelids.

If Collins had any sense of humor left, he'd laugh right about now. It's almost macabre, how festive the place looks. A scrawny tree bowing under the weight of red and gold garlands. A neon Santa sign blinking merrily above the visitor's desk. It's hospital, not a mall for fuck's sake. Who do they think they're fooling?

Outside, it's snowing, the flakes sticking against the window in small clumps. Collins closes his eyes and thinks of another snowfall in a different time and place. It had barely been a dusting, not unlike this one. The crystals had been stuck to her eyelashes, their breaths coming in quiet puffs and twisting upwards together into the night. It had been the start of something new and exciting. This feeling. Collins couldn't describe it, but he'd had enough sense to know what it was.

It's been almost two years, and he's ashamed to admit that her voice is fading. Those months after she had died, Collins swears he could still hear her. He'd be walking down the street and she'd be there, right in his ear whispering to him.

He wonders what she would say to him now if she were here.

Collins shakes his head and glances down the hall. He could do with a cup of coffee, anything to clear his thoughts. He can't think of her now, not with everything that's happening. He can't afford to go down that road just yet…not until, until—

He stops his thoughts before he can finish them and starts down the hall. He's been here so many times he could find his way with his eyes closed. It doesn't take long to get to the right room.

Collins has never liked hospitals, even before Angel died, but the ICU is an altogether different environment. The sense of despair that hangs around the air is more tangible than in the waiting room. He leans against the door and wills himself not to think of the last time he was here.

On the bed are two figures, talking in low murmurs, so close together their foreheads are almost touching, and everything is the same—the sheets, the beige walls, the silence. Angel is dead, but it still hurts like hell.

He blinks away the moisture from his eyes and chuckles softly, causing the men to look up from their conversation.

"Hey, Collins," Roger says with a faint grin. "I thought you were sleeping?"

"It's Christmas Eve, man," he shrugs. "Can't sleep anyways."

Collins takes a few more steps into the room and glances at them curiously. "You gonna tell me what you two were whispering about?"

To his credit, Mark blushes to the roots of his hair, dark enough to match the stripes on his sweater.

"Nothing," he says and refuses to meet Collins' eyes.

"Un huh, just huddled together like little girls for no reason, swapping secrets?"

Roger just shakes his head as Mark shoots him a glare. "Something like that," he agrees.

Mark stands up from where he's been sitting on the edge of Roger's bed and places a hand on Collins' shoulder.

"I'm gonna go get a cup of coffee, you want one?"

"Yeah, that'd be nice."

Collins takes the only empty chair in the room and watches Mark slowly gather up his jacket and wallet off of the bed covers.

"You sure you don't want to take a break? Maureen and Joanne will be coming over soon."

Mark waves away his concern and nods at Roger. "I'm fine, just keep an eye on him. I'll be back soon."

It's silent for a while after he leaves, but Collins is perfectly content to sit and wait. He knows how Roger gets when he's working up to something. The clock ticks away in time to the steady beeping of the monitor, and Collins is considering taking another quick nap when Roger finally decides to speak.

"I'm not getting out of here, Tom" he says suddenly.

Collins can't bring himself to be surprised, and he won't lie to Roger. They both know how it goes. After all, it's the most lucid he's been in days.

"Have you told Mark?"

"God, no, every time one of those doctors comes in here he gets this hopeful look in his eyes."

"Roger," Collins begins, but he is cut off as Roger suddenly grasps his wrist with unexpected strength.

"Collins, you have to promise me something." And Roger is looking at him with wide, panicked eyes. "Promise me that you won't let him shut himself up in the loft. Hell, you saw how he was when Mimi and Angel died. He won't let anybody in."

"He won't be alone, Roger."

Roger lets his hand fall and turns away. "But it won't be the same."

"I know," Collins says solemnly. "It won't be okay, not for a while. But trust me, Roger, he'll get there. Maybe not now, but someday. And we'll be here when he's ready."

"I told him I didn't mean it," Roger whispers. "All that shit I said to him before I left for Santa Fe."

"You don't think he'd be here if he didn't know that? Come on, Roger, I knew you were dumb but not that dumb."

Roger takes a shallow breath and closes his eyes, his laughter turning into a hoarse cough.

"Thanks," he says. "And thanks, for being here, I mean. I know it must be hard seeing this, like with Angel and everything."

"Nowhere else I'd rather be, now get some rest. I'll be right here when you wake up."

Collins shifts and settles further back into the chair, and he watches as Roger drifts off before closing his own eyes. I hope you're watching up there, baby. Keep him safe for us.

The line for coffee is unusually long, and Mark can feel the beginnings of a headache unfurling near his temple. He hasn't been getting any sleep since Roger was checked into the hospital. The doctors are vague and frustrating in their answers to his questions. It's turned into a waiting game, at this point. But Roger doesn't have the time to wait.

He's been spending almost every moment he can with Roger, trying to memorize his voice, the way his eyes light up every time he walks into the door. He wants to remember Roger the way he was in the good days, before the virus started to gnaw its ways through their lives and Roger's body. Selfishly, he hopes that it will be enough to save him, to stop him from dying and leaving Mark alone in their dusty old loft, when all his friends have moved on, but he can't because this is Roger he's talking about and he can't die. He can't. AIDS and drugs and this shitty city will be the only things left, the last remainders of their life together, and Mark refuses to let it end this way.

The coffee warms his hand and it's oddly comforting to have something to hold onto as he makes his way back down the hallway. As he gets closer to the wing, he can hear muffled shouting and the fear that he's been working so hard to beat down, to hide every time the doctors have walked into Roger's room, begins to stiffen in his chest.

It could be anyone, Mark thinks. And it could, because Mark has been here long enough, has seen the sick and frail that pass through this place, the ones that look like Roger and the ones that look even worse. But something forces him to take another step and then another until he's close enough to Roger's room and the noise starts to get clearer and he can hear a low, long beeping. And then he sees him.

Collins is walking towards him with his hands held out, but Mark already knows what he will say. He can see it in the slump of his shoulders, the grief shining in his dark eyes. Even before he opens his mouth, Mark knows. It's over.

He barely registers the cups falling from his hands, the liquid heat nearly burning through his shoes. All he can see is the outline of the sheet, whiting out his vision. His hands are shaking, or maybe it's his legs. Dimly, as if he's underwater, he can hear the screaming, building up into a cacophony and exploding in his brain. A pair of strong arms pull against him, wavering and sinking and rushing up to meet him. And then everything—just—stops—

Someone has removed his glasses, probably Collins, who's been keeping a silent vigil since she'd arrived.

A strangled sort of laugh makes its way up her throat, and Maureen can't help but think of all those years ago when she'd first stumbled upon him. They were so young, then, new to the city and full of wild and silly dreams. Mark had been all gangly and awkward, eager to please her and in awe of his new roommate when she'd brought him home. Roger, with his seductive grins and careless tattoos, and those crazy drunken nights, back when he was still with the band. She runs a hand down his cheek. Even in sleep, he looks weary.

The sorrow creeps through her veins, persistent and sharp and heavy all at once.

He hadn't cried at Mimi's funeral. Collins had had to give the eulogy— Roger had been a mess, almost delirious with grief, weeping into Mark's shoulder throughout the whole service. And Mark, he'd been like he'd always been—dry eyed and pale, rigid as Roger had clung to him.

Even when they'd gotten the news about Roger's T-cells, he'd been strangely calm. The message he'd left on her answering machine had been brief, detached. But she'd been there when they'd heard the doctor's prognosis, and the devastated look in Mark's eyes had almost broken her. She doesn't think she'll ever be able to forget it, even if she lives a thousand years. And then Roger had squeezed his hand and the look was quickly replaced by something much worse, a numbness that's remained ever since. Maureen has always prided herself on being loud and brash and unafraid to voice exactly what she's thinking, but for once, she doesn't know what to do.

"Collins," she says hesitantly, twisting her jacket in her hands and stealing another glance towards the bed, "You don't think he would try and…do anything extreme, do you?"

Collins jerks up sharply, and the odd expression on his face unnerves her. "No," he says firmly. "No. He wouldn't do something like that. This is Mark we're talking about."

"I know, but I've never seen him like this. He kept saying he was fine, Collins, but what if he—"

A low groan causes her to swivel back and she can't help the stinging in her eyes as Mark begins to blink blearily at her in confusion. "Collins? Maureen, what are you doing here?"

"Mark, honey, you collapsed," Maureen begins, and the tears that fall threaten to choke her words into an unintelligible garble. "We're in the hospital, do you remember what happened?"

It's quiet for a moment, as if he is struggling to recall some all-important fact. But then the color slowly begins to leach out of his face, his glazed look quickly sharpening into awareness at the awful truth that is evident in her voice. Mark clutches Collins' sleeve so tightly that his knuckles turn white.

"No," he says weakly. "Collins, no…please…"

His eyes are begging Collins to lie, to say it was all a joke, a dream—what right does he have to deliver this last blow and break both their hearts? Collins can see the same pain reflected in his own countenance, the weightlessness of disbelief. He takes a breath and tries to quell the trembling in his voice.

"He's gone, Mark," he says gently. "It was quick, there was nothing they could do."

Abruptly, Mark sits up and veers across the edge of the bed. "I'm gonna be sick," he mumbles.

Maureen looks around in a panic, and then spots a small bin near the foot of the bed. She shoves into his hands and Collins rubs small circles on his back, as Mark dry heaves.

"I never….we always said—I didn't get to—"

He breaks off, breathing heavily and trying to focus on his composure, because if he had continued, he isn't sure he would've been able to stop himself from sobbing. But Collins must understand his fragmented thoughts because he places a warm hand on his shoulder and leans against him.

"He knew, Mark, he already knew."

"I can't—I can't do this. I don't know how to—"

"You can, and you will." Collins grips his shoulder and looks directly at him, somehow still reassuring and solid and there, even with all this pain choking them into oblivion. "I've been there, I know what it feels like. You're gonna get through this, Mark."

"That fucker couldn't even wait for me," Mark laughs hollowly, and this time he can't stop the tears that slide down his cheeks. "He always was a selfish bastard."

"He was," Collins agrees. "But that was Roger."

Mark gives a sort of teary laugh and wipes his eyes with one hand, as Maureen wraps her arms around him in a tight hug. "You're not alone, Mark," she whispers. "We're all gonna be right here with you."

"Okay," he says. "Okay."

Outside, the snow has stopped falling.

A/N: Reviews are greatly appreciated!