A/N: This is my VERY first RENT fic so be gentle. I write mainly Pitch Black so the language in this might be apparent. I don't think Mark is OOC...but I may be wrong. If he is, just say so.

Disclaimer: I don't own RENT (characters, places, etc.) but everything else is mine.

50 bucks and an old bicycle. And now his child, his creation, was lying at the bottom of the damn steps in several pieces. Mark sighed, hunched his bag on his shoulder and bounded down the steps, scarf bouncing on his chest. The smell of acrylics assaulted his nose and he cringed, gathering his broken camera and standing. The stench was strong and he turned to his left, feeling a draft of air and another thick smell of drying cheap paint. The smell was oddly tantalizing...like when you were a kid and you'd smell the gasoline as your mother pumped it in the back of the car and close your eyes and sigh.

Damn artists!

Mark shook his head and placed the pieces in the bottom of his bag. He rounded the steps and strutted down, feeling the chill begin to hit him from the cracked front door. Cigarette butts littered the creases of the staircase and he brushed a few out of the crevices on the bottom of his shoes, tossing them out the broken window and pounding again down the stairs. He reached his hand in the pocket of his bag, digging around for his subway punch card – too many pockets in a big bag was not a good idea.

"Shit." Mark dipped his head down into the bag, looking in the tiny darkness and rummaging around. Suddenly, a searing pain shot through his forehead and the sound of skull-against-skull echoed. His glasses flew to his feet, making a hard thud on the old wood. He winced, his eyes watering and he brought his hand up to the burning spot. This was going to leave a mark later.

"Oh my God." Paint was strewn across the thick wood and Mark looked up. The face was fuzzy and he felt around for his glasses. Picking them up, he put them back on and his eyes focused on the bundle of colors in front of him.

"I'm an idiot. I'm sorry...it won't wash out now..." She picked up the upset cans that were bottom-up on the steps and oozing thick paint in obnoxious neon colors and she wiped them with her soiled tank top. Mark looked at his pants and saw that there were streaks down his pants and he looked up.

"Excuse me?" Mark asked and she placed the cans back on her tray.

"Your pants are ruined. These are acrylics...they don't come out." He furrowed his brow slightly, a little angry but confused. She sighed, obviously reading into his emotion and shrugged, "Listen, I'm sorry, I'll get you some new pants, okay? They're not going to be Calvin Klein but they'll be pants."

"I have pants..." he began and she climbed the steps. Was she just going to leave this mess here? "Hey, you need to do something about this..."

She looked at the pools of paint at his sneakered feet and then looked back up at him. "Have you seen this place? It needs some color." She hoisted the tray up and climbed the stairs. Mark only cocked his head and watched her walk up and shut the door that was emitting those awful smells. He looked back at the colors and mustered a smile.

Cigarette butts and neon paint and he was already smiling.

"What happened to you?"

Roger sauntered up with a beer, leering over Mark's shoulder as he ran through the film he salvaged from the pieces that were once his camera. Mark turned the crank and then looked at his ruined pants. Roger's eyes were there too and his brow was creased.

"Oh, had an accident on the steps. Some girl downstairs with acrylics. She said she'd give me a new pair of pants."

Roger shrugged, taking a drink off his bottle and replied, "Was she cute?"

"I wasn't looking at her. Just at my broken camera and ugly pants, that are now ruined."

Roger only rolled his eyes and walked back toward the window, peering out. Snow was falling lightly on the frozen streets and Mark shut off the machine, draping a sheet over it and walking to the alcove counter. Roger turned swiftly around, nose cringed painfully and asked, "What is that smell?"

"The girl who ran into me. She's doing some big artwork I guess," Mark replied, flipping through a discarded magazine. There was a sudden knock on the door and Mark lazily replied, "It's open." The door slid open and the girl in the dirty tank top stood there, something tucked under her arm.

"Hey," she motioned toward Mark, who rested his elbow on the table in front of him, "Sorry about the pants." She forced the item out from under her arm pit and he took it cautiously. A new pair of pants, not Calvin Klein, but nice. Nicer than most of the pants he had bought himself. Maybe he needed to bump into this chick more.

"They're nice." It was all Mark could stutter out and she shrugged lightly.

"You looked skinny so I got you a small size. If you need a different size just tell me." She tilted her head to one side and placed her hands on her hips, "I'm just down the steps. Follow the smell..."

"Yeah, what are you doing down there? This ain't the Vatican," Roger piped in and Mark grinned. Roger didn't dance around the point. He didn't have the time.

"Trying to make a living," she replied, cocking an eyebrow and hands moving to cross across her chest.

"Hey, aren't we all?" Roger walked away and Mark turned back to the girl, who was still agitated by Roger's obvious challenge. A large purple bruise was painted on her forehead and Mark rubbed his own forehead, where a welt was surely forming.

"Sorry about the bruise," Mark pointed to her head and her eyes crossed, looking up and then back at Mark.

"I'm a big girl. I can handle it." With that, she walked out of the loft and shut the sliding door firmly. Mark could only look at the new pants in his hand and hug them to his chest.

"She's a lesbian," Roger hiccupped from across the room, sifting through sheets of lyrics, "my gaydar was going off, man."

"Thanks Roger." Mark walked to the door and heaved it open, closing it firmly and walking back down the steps. He followed the smell and saw that the door was closed but sounds wafted from behind it, a crooning Mark couldn't place. He raised his fist and knocked hard on the wood. There was a shuffling and the knob turned.

"I followed the smell," he joked and the right corner of her mouth turned up slightly but she only scanned him from head to toe. He only handed her the pants and said, "I don't really need these..."

"No, take them. You look like a clown who crashed into the Gap." She walked away from the door and he assumed she wanted him to follow her. He did, shutting the door and she looked up. "Make yourself at home," she mumbled and went back to looking for something, overturning books and old newspapers that were covered in paint streaks. He crossed his hands in front of him and she moved into the next room. Mark began to look around and something big and bright caught his eye.

The canvas was enormous and the colors on his pants would have fit nicely into the painting. Something simple: a chair, a table, a window and drapes. But they were all alive – the colors almost shouting at him and he felt assaulted by color.

"A little violent, right?" He turned around and she was holding a few large paintbrushes in her right hand.

"No, it's...nice," he answered, looking at her and then back at the painting.

"Now, you're just lying," she chuckled and sat in a chair heavily.

"It's nice of you're into that sort of thing," he added and she only shook her head, a smile creeping on her lips.

"No one's into the same things I am. I end up giving most of my paintings to friends because they like them. Not the people of New York."

"Yeah, you're better off not being a freelancer."

"Thanks," she rolled her eyes sarcastically and stood up, tucking the brushes in her back pocket. She walked over to the canvas and pulled the sheet over it, silencing the color and turned back to Mark.

"So what's that?" she motioned to his fingers. He looked down and the tops of his fingers were coated in black ink and he tucked them in his pockets.

"I make films."

"Made any good ones?"

"I'm about as successful as you are at selling your paintings."

She laughed and crossed her arms across her chest. Mark noticed the muscles in her chest ripple up to her collarbone as she folded her arms and he swallowed. It reminded him of the way Maureen used to defy him – her eyes would narrow, her bottom lip pout, and make her chest heave up and down until she got what she wanted. He was sure it was probably working on her new girlfriend right now, because it always worked on him. Then again, he wasn't really known for his rigidity when it came to women.

"Well, film's still growing. Painting hasn't changed in the last million years. Even the cavemen could make a few bucks," she sighed, sitting on the end of her couch, "while I'm still fighting to pay last year's rent."

"So is all of Alphabet City," he answered and she nodded, looking out of the window.

Mark stood. "Listen, thanks for the pants. If there's anything you need, I'll try and help you..."

"Yeah, there is something you can do."

"I don't have any money for a painting..."

She laughed and shook her head, "No. I do need a muse, though. Would you be interested?"

"Would I be nude?"

"No thanks. I just need a face."

He shrugged, "Sure. Just come up when you need me. If I'm not there, I'm sure Roger'll do it too..."

She smiled and nodded, replying, "Good."

He stood and then stopped. "What's your name?"

"Daria," she stuck out her hand, "and you are...?"

"Mark...Mark Cohen," he returned and she nodded.

"Have a nice day, Mark Cohen." She smiled as she shut the door behind him.

"So, tell me something about yourself...and turn a little to the right."

Mark obeyed and shifted his body to the right, adjusting the camera on his lap. She cocked her head from behind the canvas and nodded, "Better."

"What do you want to know?" Mark sighed, relaxing his shoulders and she began a brushstroke on the canvas.


"Anything? That's opening it up a little don't you think?"

"Surprise me."

"Okay..." he let out a sigh, "I'm, um, Jewish."

"How's that working out for you?"

"Okay...I mean, there's really not anything you can say about being Jewish..."

"Do you like being Jewish?" She stuck her head out from behind the easel and he shrugged.

"My mother likes being Jewish, so she assumes everyone else does too."

She didn't answer, only titled her head slightly and swept up a large dollop of paint. She was silent, painting quickly and then sat back. Taking another color, she did a few more swipes and scratched her nose. "Why do you make films?"

"Isn't it my turn to know something about you?" Mark asked quietly and she looked out from behind the canvas.

"Okay," she nodded and went back behind the canvas, "I'm not Jewish. I'm Catholic."

"How's that working out for you?"

"Good. I go to Confession, take Communion, remember my Apostle's Creed, and I feel like I'm on top of the world."

"At least one of us has God on their side."

She laughed slightly and continued her ministrations on the canvas. "What about your filming? You cradle that thing like you gave birth to it."

"I'm restricting myself to real life. I'm fried when it comes to originality."

"And who says reality isn't the most original thing?" She snatched another color and became a bit quicker in her brushstrokes.

"You have a point," he sighed, "but I feel like reality is just people acting toward each other."

"Your faith in humanity is astounding," she scoffed and he let out a grunt. He came to be painted, not chided.

"I like filming people in their environment, not just when they feel like being filmed. Sometimes, the most priceless moments are caught off-guard."

She was silent and then looked at him from behind the painting. "I like that. It's simple. But I like it." She stood and wiped her hands on her tank top, "You can go. I've got an outline."

"That's it?" Mark rose, hoisting his camera up, "I thought you needed more time..."

"No, I just need to meditate over it for a while. I like the angle," she sighed, "and you have very pretty eyes." Mark raised his brows. The last time someone had said that to him it was his grandmother at his Bar Mitzvah. And Grandma Cohen was a little fuzzy on what she had for breakfast.

"Thanks..." he mumbled and placed his camera softly in his bag and then wandered over to the freshly painted canvas. She had painted the outline of a profile of his face and the camera, seated heavily on his lap. The whole painting had a blue tinge to it and Mark smiled.

"I'm sorry your skin color is a little pale..."

Mark shrugged, "I've accepted the fact. I'm always pale."

"Dow be stho ard on yurselfth," she lisped through her mouthful of paintbrush, packing up her paints and tossing them in a trunk across the room. She wiped her dirty hands on her pants and then removed the brushes, cracking a few bones in her neck. "You can go, if you want."

Mark nodded slightly but didn't move. "Do you want to come up and have a drink?"

"No, I have to go through the papers. I need a job."

"It's just one drink," he sighed, "and then you can get back to the classifieds."