Title: "Fall Down"
Author: mala
Fandom: RENT
Rating/Classification: SAC, Benny/Alison, angst.
Disclaimer: Jonathan Larson, not me.
Summary: A pre-RENT story. Loose companion to "Spring Eternal." How exactly did one Benjamin Coffin The Third wind up marrying Alison Grey of the Westport Greys?

Alison moans, softly, in her sleep and instead of curving towards you when you reach out, she rolls away, huddling against the oversized down pillows that came with her trousseau.

A few years ago, you didn't even know what a trousseau was.

You stroke her hair...smooth down the blond strands that are never out of place when she's awake, but always seem to stick straight up when she's too tired to care. She mumbles something that might be "Ben", might be "Baby"... might be nothing at all.

At one time or another, you've been all three things to her. This is one of the times where you're nothing. You're in the doghouse for some imagined slight...missing another dinner party with her father's business associates or something else equally frivolous. Something where you'd have to pretend to be polished and Uptown Negro instead of the scholarship Boy all those suits know you are.

The last dinner party you actually went to, you purposely slipped and said "ain' no thaaang" to the president of 5/3 Bank just to watch him squirm.

But you love your wife.

You do.

That's what you tell yourself when you're drinking Stoli alone at a corner table at the Cat Scratch and Mimi slides into your lap, dangling the cuffs.

You love your wife from the top of her $200 coif to the heels of her Prada boots. Lovelovelove her.

Enough to wish you'd never met her.

You remember sleeping on an egg crate foam mattress in that old music publishing factory in Alphabet City. No heat. Flickering electric. Air that smelled like candle wax and wet wood. And slinging your arms around your friends and dreaming big.

You've got it big now.

And it isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Because they aren't with you.

You hear through the grapevine that Mark's still hugging that beat-up old camera close to his chest. That Rog' hasn't left the loft in ages. That Collins moved on up to MIT. And Maureen looks the other way and makes barking noises when you're out walking the dog and you pass her on the street. They don't call you "Benny" anymore. Just "Sell-Out."

It's success, you want to tell them. The smell of new suits and crisp property contracts in your hands. Success, rising up, not selling-out. But when you reach out and touch Alison's back, cold through the silk of her nightgown, you wonder exactly what it is that you succeeded at. You wonder why rising up feels so damn much like falling down.

She was being mugged in the park. That's how you met. Walking While Black and playing Boy Hero all at the same time. Beating the punk-ass brother down and chasing him off and helping the pretty girl with the angry blue eyes and the flushed cheeks limp over to a bench.

You must've had something to prove, you think now, remembering how you'd been on your way to a night class at NYU...wearing Collins's coat and Mark's scarf. "Wanna borrow my underwear?" Maureen had asked as you walked out the door. "Already stole a thong, Mo," you'd shot back, patting your ass emphatically.

You always had to have the last word.

You always had something to prove.

You still do.

"Thanks," Alison had whispered as you dropped her purse in her lap, taking her shaking hands in yours and rubbing the warmth back into them...hoping she wouldn't notice the huge hole in the thumb of your glove.

You never made it to class that night. Let her buy you coffee in the Village instead. Let the "let's piss off Daddy" tilt in her smile go unnoticed as she asked you for your number and slid her soft fingers inside your glove, stroking your palm and making the hole even bigger.

Dad tolerates you now. Mostly for your business acumen. For your intimate knowledge of dirt cheap property that will help him turn a profit. And, in turn, he's promised to let you turn the lot next to your old place into the cyber arts studio you've always wanted.

You just wonder if you'll have anyone to share the dream with when it comes true.

"Ben," she murmurs, half-awake, stirring against the pillows, "Ben, I can feel you fidgeting. It's late." Her voice is like gold...like the gold you told Mark and Roger they were when they couldn't make their rent on time. "Go to sleep."

"Can't," you mutter, rolling onto your back, staring up at the ceiling. The skylight and navy blue sky in the pristine canvas of white. The stars are duller on this side of town, you think, where you pretend to have two more Benjamin Coffins before you in some prestigious line.

Everything is brighter in Alphabet City. Hunger pangs made things razor sharp. You cut yourself over and over...and you're still bleeding from those wounds now.

Her hand skates over your shoulder, ivory against bronze-red-black and coming away clean. "Benjamin..." she urges, again. "Sleep."

You mumble something that might be "Alli", might be "Baby", might be nothing at all. And she doesn't resist this time when you spoon against her, pull her back against your chest. You kiss the nape of her neck and listen to her breathing even out as she falls back into the comfort of slumber.

She has no idea that you haven't slept since your wedding night.

And you wonder why rising up feels so damn much like falling down.



November 5, 2002.

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