[Author's Note/Summary/Disclaimer: This is a Mojo fic about how the two met and how their relationship developed pre-, during-, and post-RENT. The basic premise of the story is that Mark and Maureen's breakup didn't happen quite the way we were told it did. So, read on and see how the madness unfolds. Getting a review is the highlight of my day, and constructive criticism is extremely appreciated! Thank you for reading! … Musicalverse. Slightly AU and slightly OOC for Maureen and especially Mark, depending on how you look at it. Rated T because it's RENT. I do not own any part of RENT and do not claim any aspect of RENT used in this story in any way. And, always, thank you, Jonathan Larson.]
Chapter One: Nowhere
November 9th, 12:00 PM, EST
I wince as I push open the door and feel the frigid, early November air wash over me. Soft, dusty snow is quickly transforming into a full-scale blizzard capitalizing on the fact that this is shaping up to be a long, hard winter for the city of New York. But I suppose that, for the time being, I shouldn't complain: after all, we're using the inclement weather as our perfect excuse to close the firm at noon today, and I'm willing to brave the bitter-cold, twelve-block trek from the south end of Chelsea to the North end of the Greenwich Village for the sake of a snow day.
I'm interrupted from these musings when I turn off of 14th Street and into the little-used back alley that opens onto the corner of Hudson Street and 13th Street. On a typical day, when I'm walking home after dark, I would never come this way: when you live in this city, they teach you very early on that you do not enter back alleys at night. But in mid-afternoon, I see no real issue with this place- and it gets me home that minute or two faster. So, my train of thought vanishes as I become aware of an unfamiliar shape a few yards further into the alley, rendered unidentifiable by the torrents of snow blowing through.
On high alert, I walk slowly, tending toward the opposite side of the alley. As I approach, though, I discover the shape to be a person- a woman- sitting with a worn-out duffel bag a foot or so away and her knees hugged to her chest. Her face is hidden, and as far as I can tell she hasn't heard my approach over the howling wind. My heart breaks when I see her; maybe I'm too soft, but I've never been able to stand to walk by anyone who's living out on the streets- and especially not in weather like this. "Ex- Excuse me?" I ask, more hesitantly than I'd anticipated. I try again with more determination: "Excuse me?"
This time she hears, and she looks up at me. She's young: younger than I'd expected. To judge by her looks, she can't be more than about eighteen. Standing only a couple of feet away from her by now, I can also tell that she's been crying. She has big, deep, currently wet eyes that look distinctly frightened, and her porcelain skin is splotched red. I move to her side and crouch next to her, her eyes following my every move. "Are you alright?"
The woman falters for a few moments before narrowing her eyes in suspicion and responding with, "Well, I don't see why it really matters." She twirls the fingers of her right hand in her unruly brunette ringlets.
"Of course it matters," I tell her, and then I pause for a second. When I speak again, my voice is softer. "You don't have anywhere to go to get out of this weather?"
She bites her lower lip, endearingly smudging her cherry-red lipstick all over her front teeth. "I don't know… I mean, I could've gone to The Space, I guess, but that place turns into an ice rink this time of year… And I don't wanna deal with the people either."
"Forgive my ignorance, but what is 'The Space', exactly?"
"Ignorance? Actually, I think I should be asking you to forgive my low-class, East Village lifestyle." The woman flashes a wide, youthful, and rebellious grin, silently saying that she doesn't need or want my forgiveness. "But, anyway, The Space is my performance space- it's over toward the middle of the East Village- on 11th Street."
I nod. "Performance artist, I take it?"
There's that smile again: a little crooked, a little too wide, and a little bit perfect. "Yep!"
"But, seriously, you really don't have a better place to go than some back alley in the Greenwich Village?" I feel a little guilty as I watch her face fall and her eyes cloud with tears. She just shakes her head. "Well, come on then," I say, standing up and holding out my hand. The woman gives me a look of both shock and apprehension.
"Wh- what do you mean?"
"I mean, come on!" I say amiably as I pull her to her feet and collect my briefcase from where it lays snow-covered in the street. "I'm not leaving you alone out here in the cold."
"Okay… I mean, if you… I don't… I don't know…" Her voice gradually fades out and I can tell she's close to tears again.
"What do you say we wander up to that coffee shop on 9th Avenue and 15th Street?" She looks at me curiously with those big eyes and nods. "I'm Joanne, by the way," I tell her as we walk.
She smiles at me. "Well, it's nice to meet you, Joanne. I'm Maureen."
The rest of the walk passes in companionable silence.