Title: Metronome (Chapter 10/10)

Rating: R for language and adult content (for entire story)

Summary: From hence emerge the prior stories of our heroes. Pre-RENT.

Disclaimer: You know they're not mine; I know they're not mine. I promise to clean them after I use them. I make no money from this. I apologize if I have stolen or caused any sort of bodily harm to anyone through the production of this written material.

Author's Note: It's been fun, but we've rapidly approached the beginning of the play, and it's time to move on. My two reviewers, you've been very supportive and I thank you. The best of luck and inspiration to you all. Thanks for reading.

NOVEMBER 29TH, 1996, 6:15 PM, EST. 11th and Avenue B

It was strange, he thought, how if you caught the city at the right moment, it seemed to breathe. The thought itself was so clichéd he almost laughed, but at that exact moment, the gusts of air the city channeled into its many incidental wind tunnels came in bursts down the avenue, whooshing around his ears. He leaned back into the chain-link. It smelled like snow was coming, and he didn't want to be here all night if it did. The streetlamp flickered, and Angel looked up from the plastic tub. He stopped his drumming to swipe what in truth were someone else's bangs out of his eyes and glance behind him, through the fence and into the lot, which, he'd noticed, was getting more and more crowded as the days passed. Even the tents were ragged. Fucking Giuliani.

There was some commotion—even for New York, that was a damn commotion—across the way, a dealer slapping the living shit out of a junkie whose hands had gotten too close to those deep leather pockets. A boy—no, a young man—with a camera, edging away from the scene he'd just gotten on film. The news? Hanging out here? Oh—no, just a curious, camera-laden native. Couldn't be a tourist; he seemed to know where he was. A pair of sexy fishnets flashed by Angel's eyes and he glanced up at that chica he kept running into at Life Support. She was making good time in those stilettos, and she didn't look quite right as she glanced at her watch, but she caught his eyes as she turned into the lot and smiled at him. He smiled back. Maybe one day they'd really introduce themselves, because for the life of him he couldn't remember her name. Maybe New York was getting to him. The boy with the camera slunk past, talking to himself. Across the way, two women spoke in loud voices—something about construction sites and mike plugs. He couldn't be bothered; his hands were starting to chap. He wondered if he had enough change in his hat to snag dinner and a pair of gloves. As if reading his mind, Loretta, sassy, angry and probably hungry, lumbered out of the lot, where she'd been sitting in one of the rattier tents. She didn't even say anything, just approached meanderingly and eyed Angel, who grinned.

"Hi, Loretta, sweetheart. How are you doing today, sugar?"

"Fuck you," was the ever-pleasant reply.

"I was just on my way to grab something to eat, but I'd really rather not dine alone," continued Angel, not missing a beat. "In fact, I've spent the whole damn day here, all by my lonesome, no one to talk to, beating these poor fingers to the bone, and I'd be so happy if you'd keep me company that I'll pay for dinner." Nothing. "For both of us, honey."

Loretta squinted. "How much you make today?"

"Um..." and Angel rubbed his hands together to awaken circulation before attempting to sift through the change. "At least four dollars. More than enough for a meager dinner for two." And Loretta nodded, agreeing. He picked up the tub and considered stashing it somewhere instead of dragging it all around, but realized there simply wasn't a chance it would still be there in the morning. During his brief consideration, however, he did notice a pile of pipes lying around. "Maybe they've finally figured out that lead is not good for growing bodies," he mused tightly. "Those would make a good all-day arts-and-crafts project, if tomorrow's a slow day. What do you think, sugar? Something to brighten up this neighborhood with a little holiday cheer?"

Loretta didn't answer; she seemed to be listening to something Angel couldn't hear. Or, she was strung out again, and he was romanticizing a dirty, mean existence impulsively. Another gentle blast of wind; the city breathing. The feeling that something was coming...a feeling of impending...something. Oh, Angel, give it up, sweetie. Try to hold on to your marbles before the disease eats them up too. But Loretta was suddenly focused on him, looking intently, more aware than he'd ever seen her. Maybe something was on its way. Maybe it was just the holidays that were messing with his mind. The whistling of air between old buildings; it was cold and they were both hungry. Angel grasped his tub more tightly and smiled at Loretta, even as the streetlight flickered back on and the lot flooded orange. He didn't believe in signs, but maybe inexplicably his spirits lifted. He was okay, for now. He looked at the sky, grinned wider.

"Hey, it's beginning to snow!"