This is my first Rent fanfic, although I first saw the musical 7 years ago and have watched the film countless times. This is largely canon but set a few years on from the Finale. It's a slow burner and very long - I've just begun part 2 and I'm on 60 000 words. It will eventually have 3 parts, and potentially a sequel. I'll try and add once a week, but I've started with 2 chapters as the Rent-crowd don't really appear until Chapter 2.

I don't own Rent, but I do own all the characters who aren't in the film/musical, especially Cat.

Chapter 1

That summer was oppressive in Manhattan even by their standards. Over the course of the six weeks I spent in the city, I was frequently informed by customers that it was the hottest they'd ever known and that I'd picked a particularly bad summer to visit their wonderful city. It was odd that virtual strangers felt the need to apologise for something entirely out of their control. Their pride had been dented by the weather's refusal to break and show me something other than scorching days and humid nights. They felt I deserved better than that on my first trip.

The truth was it was the best summer I could ever have picked to be in New York. It just didn't always seem like it.

I'd left my own leafy green corner of England in a bad temper, as usual. The weather there was very different to what I experienced on my arrival in the USA, a typical British July of localised downpours and sudden bursts of icy wind. I'd originally intended to go to New York in June, but various things had happened that month which had delayed my journey yet not dampened my desire to go. By the time I finally waved goodbye to my brother at Heathrow airport not even his concerned frown could have made me stay. The nearer I got to the famous city, the further away I got from everything that had driven me insane for the last few years. As the plane touched down at John F Kennedy airport, I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders even as it was replaced with the heaviness of a Manhattan summer. Here I didn't have to be my father's daughter or someone else's girlfriend. I didn't even have to be Catherine, a name I'd struggled to feel comfortable with ever since I'd found out it meant 'pure' when I was sixteen. For however long I stayed in New York, pure was the last thing I intended to be. I didn't want to waste a single second in the city that never slept. Here I could be anything I wanted to be.

I chose to be Cat, nocturnal and independent. It felt like a new start.

My mother had long ago given up trying to persuade me to change my mind about anything in my life. I'd been stubborn, she claimed, from the moment I was born, and now I was twenty-five she doubted I would ever change. If her criticisms hurt me, a lifetime of similar complaints meant that I barely noticed. I tolerated the list of friends she pressed upon me, nodded as she insisted that I just had to visit them whilst I was in New York. She didn't say I should throw myself on their charity now that my father had withdrawn all his offers of financial support, but her conviction that the Hamiltons would just love to help in any way they could gave me more than a few hints in that direction. Poor Mother; unable to convince her husband to relent, unable to persuade her daughter to stay. Naturally I promised I'd call on the Hamiltons and the Rushes and the Thompsons as soon as humanly possible – and then promptly forgot their existence. This was my trip and I was going to do it on my own.

My way involved heading towards the Lower East Side of the city. As the cab driver dropped me off and I fumbled through my purse for his fare, he glanced up and down the street.

'You got family here?'

I resisted the urge to laugh; none of my family would be seen dead in this graffitied and run-down area of the city. It was a far cry from the palaces of Madison Avenue where my brother had summered a few years ago. In actual fact, it was a far cry from my own experiences in London and if it wasn't for the sheer relief of finally being out from underneath my parents' scrutiny I might have found myself hankering after similar levels of luxury.

'No. I'm hoping to find a room here,' I revealed as I handed the cash over, remembering the ten percent tip and then regretting it as my purse suddenly seemed very small. It was the first time I'd ever really considered money in my life and it was a rude awakening.

The cab driver glanced at me and raised his eyebrows. 'A room? Here?' It seemed as though he was about to say something but then thought better of it. We said goodbye and then I was left on the street, alone. I'd tried to keep my packing to a minimum, leaving most of my clothes in my London flat. Even so, my holdall was heavy, weighed down with the clothes, shoes and books that I just couldn't leave behind, and I lugged it up the street as I hunted for somewhere to stay that night.

Alphabet City had been at the heart of the artistic movements in New York over the last ten years or so. It had been renowned for being bohemian and different, everything I wanted this summer to be. I was looking forward to being me without needing to justify it to anyone. Whatever that meant and whoever I turned out to be. There were signs that the area was changing, with some shops being renovated and updated, and yet the general feeling was one of relaxation and freedom. It was late afternoon and the cafes were beginning to fill up. Laughter and smoke filled the air as I moved towards the nearest one. It was too hot for coffee and I was beginning to realise that I didn't have the money to waste anyway, but they might be able to give me a glass of water and possibly a tip on a room for rent.

The owner of the cafe was hospitable enough with the water but was unable to help me with the room. The pattern was repeated in the next three cafes I visited. By the time I stumbled into the fifth, my holdall felt ten times heavier than it had at Heathrow and I regretted my choice of tight jeans that morning. A glance at my watch only sent my spirits swooping lower; I'd been in the city less than two hours and home was looking more attractive by the second. Maybe my father had been right, something I never liked admitting.

The cafe was less busy than the others had been, but no quieter. A woman and two men at a table were talking earnestly and enthusiastically about something, I had no idea what. They broke out into fits of laughter at times, the woman leading the pack with a particularly dirty and raucous cackle. I smiled; somebody was having fun and that gave me some hope. Maybe I'd be lucky this time and that would be me.

'Can I help you?' The man behind the counter turned his attention to me as a previous customer collected their order.

Reluctantly, I changed my tactics. 'Could I have a coffee please?' As I handed over the cash, I realised that job hunting would have to become one of my priorities very quickly; my purse was rapidly becoming lighter.

The assistant handed me a cup of coffee. There were no other customers after me and so he leaned on the counter as I collected my change. 'I'm going to go out on a limb and say you don't sound like you're from around here.'

'Not exactly. I'm from England.'

'What brings you down to this end of the city? We don't get many tourists down this way.'

'I'm not a tourist.' On that point I was adamant, disliking everything that the word stood for. I'd been on enough holidays with my family, staying in an exclusive resort or one of their many getaway houses, and I'd seen my parents mingling with 'people like us', ignoring the locals unless they could provide a useful service. I planned to immerse myself into the New York life. To that end, I'd even left my well-loved Nikon F601M at home. This was one trip which wouldn't be documented and pressed between the leaves of a photograph album, locked away and forgotten about.

Time to focus on the situation at hand though. It wasn't as though I could have expected the cafe owner to know of my own petty problems. Stirring my coffee, I said as casually as I could, 'I'm actually looking for somewhere to stay. Do you know of anywhere?'

'That's not really my remit.' The assistant shook his head and shrugged, all interest in me vanishing almost instantly. I supposed homelessness wasn't the most attractive trait. 'Enjoy your stay.' He glanced over my shoulder. 'Oh no, not another glass of water?'

'And ice if you don't mind.' One of the men from the table was standing behind me. He delivered his words with a broad grin, which said that he knew he was taking liberties but he wasn't backing down. The smile lit up his unusual face, flushing his pale cheeks with some colour underneath his thickly framed classes. I was grateful to see that someone else had dressed for the weather as inappropriately as I had, as he was wearing corduroy trousers and a long sleeved shirt. My jeans seemed quite lightweight in comparison, especially as I'd teamed them with a sleeveless t-shirt.

And by about this point I became aware that I'd been gazing inanely at him for the last few seconds and I hastily lowered my eyes and moved away. There was a limit to how confident I could be.

'Hey, did I hear you say you were looking for a room?' The man touched my arm to gain my attention as he spoke.

'Yes.' I regarded him a little warily but decided I couldn't be too picky anymore. I could always say no if he offered me space in his bed, after all.

'I might be able to help. I'm Mark, Mark Cohen.' He held his hand out.

I took it, shocked by how grateful I was for some human contact already. 'I'm Cat Carter.' I could always make a run for it if he turned out to be a crazed killer.