Disclaimer: I don't own any of it!

Clear Blue Eyes and the Shell Exterior

When Joanne first met Mark, she thought him a bit stupid. Childish, young, disillusioned.

Joanne had a tendency to judge a book by a cover - a flaw she's been trying to change since she was young.

But Mark, she couldn't help but judge Mark. He was tiny, small, looked fairly young and at first meeting, spoke her fears, confirmed them and shoved them in her face.

She thought him naïve, really. A little boy with a self confidence problem.

But as time passed, she noticed the eyes. The blue eyes that should have a childish, playful sparkle in them. Instead, she noticed, there was nothing but cool glass, a sea of nothingness. Glassy blue that reflected nothing but blankness.

It scared her, that look. That shell, innocent and sweet, with a deep, secretive interior.

People like that, people with their faux smiles and false words and plastic crust - people like Mark? She knew they were hiding something.

And then she heard the stories - over the weeks, months. Through Angel's death, Mimi's disappearance and then reappearance. Through Collins' move to teach at UCLA and her and Maureen's change in apartments. Bits and pieces of stories, pieces of Mark and his shadowy past slid out through reminiscent voices, sad eyes.

From Maureen, she heard about April and how Mark had found her. Heard about Roger's violence through the withdrawal and how Mark got caught in the crossfire. Heard about Mark getting the punishment from Roger's former dealer. Heard about the cracked rib, the bloodstained hands, the black eye.

From Roger, she heard about the death of Mark's grandmother. Heard about the shame that resounded through Mr. Cohen's voice every time he spoke to his son. Heard about how Mark was never good enough, never, not for the Cohen family. How his family nearly disowned him. Heard about the yelling, the crying heard through the thin walls of the loft, the work.

From Collins, she heard about Mark's horrible high school experience. Being shoved into lockers and face kicked in the dirt. Being left out of the baseball lineup, having his camera smashed - once, twice, three times. Broken glasses and wedgies, pointed fingers and laughter.

All of this, even the slight bits and pieces she'd obtained from Benny and Mimi, had been received the same way they had them - through time, through stories, through reminiscent voices, sad eyes.

But standing there above him, she realized that this moment was obtained through him and only him. This piece, this moment, this memory - it was theirs to share, theirs to hold onto.

And she fell to her knees and wrapped arms around his shaking body, drawing him into her warmth. Her eyes fell to the scars, the pink lines, the open wounds across his porcelain forearm and pressed a hand to his temple, hushing his sobs.

This part of Mark she learned from Mark, and although everything else was back story, she knew it made him who he was. Those moments, those tears, those stories. All Mark.

All Mark, held tight against her body, tears cooling against her neck. Mark, small and still looking not a day over seventeen.

Mark, who's finally lost the battle, who's shell exterior, glassy eyes, had finally broken, exposing the weak that had been hidden within.

And now she has this part of Mark to take care of, to take care of like he'd taken care of everyone else.