These Years, They Burn Like Cigarettes

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A/N: This is messed up, even for me. Eh, crazier things have happened on this show.

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it's 20 seconds since i left you
and i remember why i never looked back
i got no reason to forgive you, i see it in your eyes
the suffering, it hides the blue
but i know that it's never gonna hide the truth
-blood, tears, and gold, hurts

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Once, a long time ago, it used to be Mark. Mark Fitzgerald. Not Fitz. Not Fitzy. Just Mark. Simple enough, easy enough, ordinary enough. Except then suddenly it wasn't enough – of anything really. Or well, maybe not so suddenly, but it's a story that's been told before in a hundred different ways but with the same general storyline.

There's a boy and it's great. He's got a great mom, a bit too soft even he has to admit, but great nonetheless. And a dad too, though he could do better on that front but whatever, he can deal. It's fine. He's fine.

And then he's not. Because there's high school and playground rules aren't enough anymore, there's hormones and reputations to build and trying to be something, someone,falling into new crowds, the ones that'll introduce you to things like plastic red cups of beer, fist fights, five-finger discounts on a box of condoms at the convenient store down the street on a dare, an initiation of sorts, to 'the group.' Late nights in the ravine, and beating the shit out of a random kid from school just for a power trip to the head, bottles of gin and packs of cigarettes - endless teenage crimes, endless teenage desires.

It's like a game. How much can you put yourself through before you finally crack, till you're left with absolutely nothing except for an abyss where your heart should be, where every happiness, every sadness, every petty emotion can fall into, everything but the callous things, the ones rough around the edges. Those are for keeps.

One thing always leads to another. One thing always builds off another until something finally breaks and bridges are only built so you can set fire on them afterwards anyway.

Watch them burn, watch him burn.

Yeah, he's pretty fucked up.

He won't deny it. Any of it.

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Ever since Clare can remember she's been the "smart one" out of two Edward sisters.

It's not that Darcy's everything she's not because she's over that, honestly. She has been for a while now. And besides, in some ways she's everything Darcy can't be too so it works both ways she supposes. But it's just that lately, she's felt more like the only Edwards daughter, the one getting lost in the middle of all her parents' fights, the one they still don't notice because they're too busy slamming doors and getting the last word over the other. A part of her is tempted to do something, anything, to get their attention, to wave her hands in front of their faces and shout, "Here. I'm here, right in front of you. I always have been, notice me, please." But desperation and antics has never been her. That's always been Darcy's department and Clare doesn't think she has the heart to take it, and even if she did, she definitely doesn't have the courage to deal with its consequences.

Because she's seen Darcy—really seen her—all skin and bones and dysfunction, pretty, tired eyes filled with tears, scars and bandages across her wrist in a naked white room in a hospital, limbs shaking, lips trembling and curved in shame and desolation, and it's easier to make mistakes when you're in the spotlight, it's easier to lose your way and fall when everyone's eyes are on you, the world revolving around you, only you.

And somewhere along the way, Darcy stopped being Darcy, her big sister. Somewhere along the way during her pre-quarter life crisis, Darcy disappeared, maybe on her trip to Africa or maybe across the English Channel to France where she's living now or maybe even somewhere inside of herself. Clare doesn't know the exact answer but whatever it is, it's why Darcy's calls have lessened over the year or so. Because if you're going to have to start over, make a change, sometimes you have to leave some things behind. If you never want to be seen again, not in thatway at the very least, it's something that has to be done. If she's taken anything from Darcy's experiences, it's that. It doesn't make it any less hard though.

But Clare doesn't think she could ever find the strength to start over if the situation demanded it. She rather stay like this, stuck in the background, like the wallpaper across her room, where it's safer, where no one can really notice (see) her, where there's less room for humiliation and blunders and complications because this is familiar, this is all she's ever known and she's fine with that, she's fine with things the way they are, at a stand-still. Really.

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Freak. That's what the emo kid is to him. The one that wears far too much eye-liner and opens his snarky little mouth far too many times in a day, as they pass each other in the hallway or in front of the school parking lot. It's why he likes to punch him straight in the mouth when he's beating him up to be honest - to get him to shut his goddamn mouth for one second.

But if he's going to be completely honest about this whole "feud," that isn't what really gets under his skin when he sees the kid. The thing that really digs deep below his veins is the fact that this kid can get away with it. All of it. This "freak" teenage stage of his life that he seems to be going through (why else would you wear those kind of clothes anyway), those smart-ass comments, the sarcastic smirks and artful plans of revenge, and just being a pain in the ass pointblank, it's all temporary.

He's got a brain, a potential to be bigger than high school reputations and walls. He's got honors classes and teachers practically eating out of his hands because he's just so damn smart—and look, he even gets the girl and he didn't even have to really try for any of it. It all just works out for him. It always does for those type of kids in the end.

He's going to get somewhere in life – no criminal records, no school suspensions, no adults with frowns of disapprovals on their faces and looks of disdain in his direction, no kids cowering flat against their lockers as he walks down the hallway, absolutely no black mark that stamps him off as a lost cause, as too deep in to ever get back up again, to ever get his life back in order again, in the right direction – none.

It's nothing personal though. Just that this may very well be the one and only time a burn-out like himself might ever have a chance to come up top against a kid like him. He'll take what he can get, is what he's saying.

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They could be like Ted Hughs and Sylvia Plath. That's what Miss Dawes gushes enthusiastically, excitedly and Clare takes another long hard look at the back of his head, silks of black hair, pale skin and she's still not sure what to make of the situation, of him.

A small part of her, the naïve, slightly confused but hopeful part of her, can't help thinking maybe they could in fact be something great indeed, maybe this is could the start of something great, him and her, like Ted and Sylvia, like great literature and poetry, a story that cannot be forgotten with time and age. Something flutters inside of her.

Except Sylvia Plath killed herself, an even smaller part of her voices reminds her rationally and the thought slips off her tongue flippantly. In front of her she can see him shake his head amusedly at the comment as the others groan at her insistent need to always be such a prosaic killjoy about every single detail.

She slides a bit further down in her seat, slightly a bit more miserable than before with the way things seem to always be undoing right in front of her eyes sometimes.

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Big blue eyes. Big blue kindeyes.

That's the first thing he noticed about her.

The next thing he noticed about her was the pile of books in her hands, advanced physics, advanced English, advance calculus, advance, advance, advance and too smart for him, too good for him, but the thought escaped his mind as she looked up, lips previously turned down in distress as she had gnawed at the bottom one slightly, lost in her own worries (probably about some science test she just got a B+ in), replaced instead into look of surprise as her eyes had met his.

He expected a quick look away, like their eyes never crossed in the first place, a nervous quickening in the pace of her steps away from him but instead – she smiled. It was small and slightly unsure but genuine nonetheless, that much he could sense.

And it didn't hit him until then that it's pretty hard to come across girls who are hundred percent genuine.

Hot yes, cute yes, goody-two shoes yes, mature yes, but genuine – well that's just a rarity these days, or that's what his mother likes to say at least every time she asks if he's dating anyone and he happens to roll his eyes and tell her dating is for saps.

And this girl, who has probably never snuck out of her house, probably goes to church every Sunday like a good Christian girl, practically Degrassi High's golden girl in the making (and thereby untouchable), she's genuine and that's…that's well something.

He ignores the smile, breaks eye contact and continues walking in the opposite direction towards Bianca but that doesn't mean he forgets it - her.

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She has short auburn hair that barely goes past her neck and the reddish-brown strands glint slightly when the sunlight hits them head on, like a halo or something, as she walks towards the school with the emo kid by her side. Her face is round and sweet and wholesome, her mouth curved into light, teasing smile and there's just a hint of curves to her petite frame.

She's by no means even close to those playboy models in those magazines Owen likes to buy and show off to his entire football team in the locker room and their fight club in the weightlifting room and her older sister was definitely hotter back when she was still around but still - he can't help take notice of all these little specks and details of her appearance regardless of all these facts.

There's a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach that he's not sure what to make of, it's just a bit unsettling and shit—this isn't good.

She passes by him, completely immersed in her conversation with the freak, laughing at some witty comment he's probably just made and he can't help roll his eyes at the sight of them. They're just so damn precious.

Whatever. He glowers at the ground for a minute or two as one of the kids around him says something stupid and the other two laugh at it in turn. He snaps at them to shut up, all of them. They instantly do.

He pushes some kid into a trashcan on his way into the school building, an extra warning of caution, more so than usual that is, for everyone to keep out of his way this morning.

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If she's going to be honest, she doesn't really know what to make of Fitz. He's a bit intimidating, a bit of a junkie from what she's heard, and she remembers the way he'd laugh at Johnny when he was dating her best friend. But then again, it's like their worlds apart so she doesn't exactly have enough to go on with him. He's never directly interfered in her life so it's all fine until the object of her affection is suddenly his target of humiliation.

She's not sure what to do but a part of her is screaming at her to do something, anything. It makes her feel dumb and useless, just standing around on the side lines and watching as her English partner and the school's residential troublemaker exchange verbal insults and threats. She tries to think of something, but nothing comes to her except this strange inkling of restlessness swimming inside of her every time she's there to see their interaction directly.

Eli won't listen to her though and it's a bit unsettling, the gleam his eyes, the way he wraps his objective for payback so tight around his finger, sweet revenge mapped across the curve of his mouth. We hit back, she can hear his voice inside of her head, over and over again, and something tells her this isn't going to end well long before the fake IDs come into play. There's something deeper in this for him than simply serving justice, that much is for sure.

She tries to get Eli to back out of this stupid feud but it's futile and she's starting to feel more and more anxious because suddenly Adam's in the mix and she wonders if there's anyone left Fitz hasn't targeted that she might care for.

She wants to resent him for it, the idea is more than just a little tempting, but then sometimes she sees him sitting at one of those corner picnic tables outside the school, without his normal crew of friends, so completely still and quiet, like he's miles away from here, these school grounds, these jocks throwing a football back and forth, the chatter of the cheerleaders, and she can't fathom how this is the same guy pushing an innocent underclassman against a locker for being different. The truth is though, she doesn't know who the real Fitz is, she might never and maybe that's a good thing. All she should be worried about is stripping this feud of its fire once and for all and everything will be back to normal.

They can go back to leading their respective, separate lives, their paths uninterwined once again, just the way it should be.

Except she can't help notice that every time she passes by him with Eli by her side she can feel his gaze on her, or maybe it's on Eli, that makes more sense, but still—she can't put her finger on it and it's driving her to the brink of insanity. She needs to solve this and quick – everything, she's always been so good at solving everything, until now.

And then he asks her to go to Vegas Night with him and everything seems to be coming together, those lasting looks, Eli's coming to terms with his ex-girlfriend's death, the next step, the final step, the solution.

There's no suggestive leer in his eyes like she expected and maybe she's just seeing things but he looks like he's trying to pretend her answer wouldn't affect him either way. There's something so incredibly human and flawed and twisted about this whole situation, she realizes. And maybe there's more to Mark Fitzgerald than he likes to let on.

It's one date, just one.

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He tries so hard to be on his best behavior, right from the very start of the night. No, he doesn't want to talk about why he has a stupid corsage in his hand or why he didn't throw it out on his way to the school but he wasn't planning to actually give it to her. Of course not. Why would he? She's…Clare and he's…Fitz and no, just no.

But he's fumbling with it in front of his locker, cursing himself for being an idiot and actually debating the idea of giving it to her inside his head and then she's walking towards him, that warm smile on her face as her eyes catch hold of it in his hands and it just sort of happens. He tries to sheepishly downplay the whole moment but he can see from the twinkle in her eyes that she knows better, which really sucks.

This is why he never goes for smart girls. This is why he finds smart girls extremely hot.

And just when he thinks he might have a chance of getting out of this without getting flustered or embarrassed by the awkwardness of the situation, she decides to throw an even meaner curveball in his direction.

"I'm not going to have sex with you."

He's totally taken-aback by this, by the sudden sternness in her eyes, and wait, what? Did he miss something because he doesn't think he ever implied he was going to try anything on her, did he? He goes over the few conversations they've shared in his head and finds no source for the sudden outburst from her. Instead he's left tripping over an explanation as she keeps giving him that skeptical, 'really, you haven't thought about it even once' look and damn, she's good. Or maybe he gave her too much credit because she starts talking about Eli and oh, so that's where she got the idea from. He should have known.

He takes a deep breath and tries to explain, this time with a calm head.

"It's just physics." He tries to explain straightforwardly.

She cocks an eyebrow, clearly amused by the hint of a smile near the cusps of her mouth, "Biology?" she corrects for him and he rolls his eyes, because what's the difference.

"Whatever." Because it's all the same when it comes to attraction he'd like to think: biology, chemistry, physics. He's not a science guy, or much of an academic guy in general, but he knows when he comes across something worth his attention, and this, her, standing here in front of her with a bow in her hair and her kind blue eyes, it's definitely worth something.

She laughs, eyes soft, and it's like summer in the air, even though, technically, it's winter. He's not much of a poet or anything he'll admit, but he likes the idea of making her laugh so it's close enough. He smiles back and maybe he might actually have a chance.

"In theory, not a chance." She says when he suggests it idly, but her tone is sweet and teasing and he shrugs, not defeated just yet. Because this is nice. He could get used to this, could get used to her in his life, he thinks.

As long as he doesn't somehow screw it up like he seems to with everything else, that is.

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So much for burying the hatchet.

"Well Clare, you sure have some taste in guys."

She looks away from the window towards Allie, studies how her cheeks are still tear-stained, black smudges from her mascara running from hours ago drying into something staler just below her big black gypsy eyes. Below her, she can feel the coarseness of the road with every bump the wheels of the car hits and she wishes this could all go away but it won't, even though, technically it's all over.

"What do you mean?" she asks just barely and Allie refuses to look at her because they both know what she's doing. They've been best friends for far too long not to. When Allie doesn't want to talk about her own problems she talks about yours instead.

She'll play along though, if it means forgetting what almost happened in the school hallway hours ago.

Allie laughs bitterly before listing off, "KC, Eli, Fitz."

"I never liked Fitz." Her voice rises a bit higher with the statement and she shudders at the name because the only image flashing over and over in her head when she thinks about the boy is the one in the one of him standing in the darkened school hallway, pocketknife in one hand, cold angry eyes, and bitter mouth and Eli shaking, eyes watering slightly, pleadingit's too much.

"Yeah," Allie replies, nodding her head hard, "But they always seem to like you though, don't they?"

She closes her eyes and shivers, "They always let me down somehow too. Shows how much they all must have liked me."

No one ever listens to her, especially not boys, especially when it actually matters. Not KC, not Eli, and definitely not Fitz. She wonders if anyone ever will.

.

The thing is he doesn't like to think too much or too hard because if you think, then you have to analyze and somehow doubts and regrets and mixed feelings surface their ugly heads up inside your head and Fitz doesn't need that, he has plenty of that stuffed somewhere in a forgotten closet in the back of his head.

All Fitz's has ever needed is a conflict and a simple resolution. Mess with him and he'll break your face. Simple enough to grasp, for most people that is. But not for kids like Eli. And really it's kids like Eli that are dangerous because they don't obediently follow what their role should be in a high school jungle like it's written out black and white in the handbook. It's kids like him that insinuate and instigate and keep pushing and pushing till they drive you over the edge and the situation has taken it's own turn, neither person having any control over it anymore, and that's why he's where he is right now, because of Eli, in juvie. Or well, it's easier to look at the whole situation this way at least, easier to swallow down the reality of what he's living through.

Juvie is not fun.

That's the understatement of the year but he rather not go into the details. There are kids here that are far worse than him, kids that have actually used a knife on someone. He'll just leave it at that and let you draw your own diagram from it.

For the most part, he keeps his mouth shut, doesn't give anyone much hassle and tries his best to keep out of everyone's way. Somewhere down the road, he strikes a stroke of luck and the judge decides he can be released from his sentence at the center earlier than originally planned on grounds of good behavior or something along those lines. He's on probation and required to do a hundred hours of community service instead as soon as he steps foot into Degrassi again though. At this point, he'll take anything over staying in that hellhole though.

He thinks about his mother's face at the alteration of his court order, thinks about how if he could redo everything up to this point, he-

He's too stubborn though.

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Today's just an all around bad day.

She's cranky from not being able to sleep well last night because of her parent's argument late into the night, pouring through the wall between their rooms. To make matters worse, Allie won't talk to her and Eli's acting weird again and she might have just bombed her physics test. Oh and come to think of it, the collar of this stupid uniform shirt won't stop feeling scratchy against the back of her neck—

She stops in place, eyes round and shocked, lips slightly parted as she sees him coming out of the principal's office with Mr. Simpson. There's no expression on his face, his mouth is in a straight line, his eyes unreadable and a murky blue as they slowly travel across the school hallway he hasn't been in for months now, on anything and everything that isn't the stern face next to him, lecturing him, warning him, One last chance, Mr. Fitzgerald, I mean it—they land on hers, make contact with hers and lock her there, her feet rooted to the ground.

Time seems to stop for one sick second and she feels bile rising up her throat as memories from the dance months ago skid across her mind in flashes - dark hallways, a sleek pocketknife, three figures in the darkness, pleas of apologies and menacing threats and, tension so unbearably thick—she can't take it. She runs into the girl's restroom in a frenzy, hyperventilating almost, her sides aching slightly for some unknown reason. She clutches at them tightly and the groups of girls passing her to get to the exit give her funny looks as the bell rings and they leave.

She breathes in and out, slow and assured, as if to make sure she is in fact alive, her heart beating, blood coursing through her veins. She looks up into the mirror, her expression uncannily calm and studies her reflection, the paleness of her complexion, the dread and panic trapped in her eyes, the slight quiver of her bottom lip-

Before she can think, she makes a run for the door and towards her English class, towards Eli.

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She does volunteer work most Fridays because of Christian Youth Group. Most of the kids in the group find the activities they have to do annoying, but she's never really minded enough to complain. It's a routine she's fallen into since she can remember and even if she doesn't exactly look forward to it she's not about to quit and make her mom feel any worse than she already does since dad's—

Today involves cleaning up the recreational park near the ravine for the children's event the church is holding over the weekend there.

She's lost in her own thoughts as the group walks towards the entrance of the park when the wave of hushed conversations around her start to quiet down and their instructor starts talking about the event on Saturday. She scans the park haphazardly when her eyes land on a very familiar teenage boy.

Something in the gut retches.

She tries to blend in with the rest of them instantly even if the chance of him noticing her in the big group is quite slim, feeling a slight chill down her back at the possibility nonetheless. It's not that she thinks he'd do anything to her; it's that she doesn't want to be anywhere near him - period.

She considers different viable excuses she could use to get out of being here today. She's always comes to every activity, has never once grumbled to anyone about it, she figures she at least deserves one freebie out if she really truly wants it. She doesn't think she's wanted the opportunity more than she does right now. Then again, maybe she could silently just slink her way towards the back of the group and slip away and no one would notice too.

She internally debates her two options but just as she decides on the latter one, the group around her starts to disperse. She's missed out completely on whatever Mr. Kellog was saying about Fitz to the group it seems. She briefly wonders what possible proper introduction can you give a youth group about a guy they already know has just been released from juvie. She shakes her head at the thought but not before his eyes meet hers.

She stands perfectly still and looks on, back at him.

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She keeps her eyes averted from his the entire time or that's what she's trying to let him on to believe at least. He knows better though. Curiosity always gets the best of girls like her – smart girls, smart but far too compassionate and willing to see the best in everything and everyone for their own good, even after everything they're put through by others.

She's trying to get the gum off some picnic table with a crappy scraper, her eyes zeroed in on the small area like it's the most fascinating thing in the world when he slides in next to her, observes how she stiffens slightly at his presence and he can't help grin at how hard she's trying to ignore him.

"Need help?" He asks finally and before she can open her mouth (and probably decline the offer) he gets the pocketknife out and swipes the gum neatly off the table with it.

She recoils at the sight of it and he really must be a sick person, because the expression on her face definitely sparks a bit of glee inside of him. "How did you get that?" she whispers furiously, looking around them in alarm, as if to make sure no one's seen the knife in his hand. "If someone catches you with it…"

Funny, how she can still be worried for someone else other than herself in such a situation after that incident from months ago.

"Are you trying to get yourself back into juvie?" she demands, blue eyes fierce and glaring as she snatches it out of his hand. He doesn't protest.

"Nope." He replies simply. "On probation actually." He brings his leg up and slides down his sock a bit to show the monitor around his ankle as evidence of the fact, though he guesses she and just about everybody else in this town's already gathered that since his early release from the center.

She crosses her arms across her chest and raises an eyebrow, "You seem so proud of the fact." She remarks dryly and he shrugs, still smirking and pretending to be unaffected by any of this.

"Seriously though, how did you get this…" she gestures at the knife uneasily before slipping it into the pocket of her dress and he shrugs again.

"They don't exactly have a 24/7 surveillance on me or anything. They just keep track of where I am, what I'm doing in general. As long as I stay out of trouble, everything's fine." He says it so casually, his eyes trained on the rotting wood of the table in front of them and even he wants to laugh at the real significance of his words, he keeps a straight face.

"Because still carrying around a pocketknife definitely implies staying out of trouble. Of course, silly me for thinking otherwise."she cuts in, high-strung and sarcastic, eyes narrowed, and for a second, he can't help wonder how they can even have a proper conversation, regardless of what it's about, after everything. He figured she would run at the sight of the knife in his hand but she's still here, glaring at him judgmentally. It's just a bit bizarre.

She's probably scared shitless on the inside, he thinks to himself, but she's doing a pretty convincing job with the act she's putting up and he guesses she has more in her than he's ever given her credit for before.

He rolls his eyes, "It's not that big of a deal."

"You had a knife that night!" she hisses accusingly, eyes narrowed and it stings a bit, he won't lie, the suggestion in her tone but could he really expect anything less than this.

"I wasn't going to actually use it – I didn't use it." he retorts heatedly and even he can't fool himself into thinking his argument is completely justified.

"Oh yeah, that's such a relief!" The sarcasm in her tone is starting to get just a little irritating.

"Look, I just wanted to teach that punk a lesson to never mess with me again—"

"Seriously!" she cries out in disbelief, "You're both unbelievable! To go at such lengths just for a stupid feud—"

"He got me arrested two times and into juvie for three fucking months—" he counters, trying to keep the strained menace from the experience in check.

"—and clearly you learned nothingfrom that experience, did you?"

"He was the one to put that shit into my drink—" he spits out in defense.

"And you were a bully. What else is new?" She demands.

"Don't be a bitch, okay?" He replies harshly, feeling the anger swelling inside of him, and he tries to contain himself as it begs to lash out at her, "I don't need this, especially from you."

She flinches a bit and he regrets it instantly, seeing the surprised and hurt expression in her eyes, but he swallows the guilt down as she crosses her arms across her chest, her eyes suddenly shining defiantly again. They glare at each other for a couple of seconds and then abruptly her expression becomes softer, more conflicted, "Then what do you need, Fitz?" she asks, quieter this time around.

He looks at her blankly, stone-faced and tight-lipped, and he knows the answer so well by now, it's almost sad, but he'll save her the time and trouble of knowing and feeling sorry because she'll never be able to give him what he needs, he knows that better than anyone else.

"Nothing," he blinks, tone emotionless and clipped.

He's not used to caring, to needing anything and he's not about start now with that either.

She doesn't say anything back, instead studying him warily and this was a bad idea.

"Whatever, better get back to the community service before my probation officer comes around to check up on me again. See you around or something." He mutters gruffly before getting up.

He doesn't bother to ask for the pocketknife back. It was all show anyway, just like the first time around.

.

He's sitting at the top of one of the slides on the playground, looking out into the streets and the passing cars and the damn monitor on his ankle keeps beeping, a reminder of his 'curfew time' and how he should be heading home soon. He snorts, curfew his ass.

Someone's climbing up to the top, he can faintly hear their steps but he doesn't bother to look around to see who it is, he figures if it's a kid, they'll just run away when they see him sitting here, they always do.

Instead he squints and gets a better look at the orange-purple dusk sky. Someone stands hesitantly behind him and he finally exhales and turns around to tell whoever it is to beat it when his gaze lands on the familiar face, soft features and troublesome mouth.

He laughs sardonically, giving her a crooked smile, "Am I in your place or something?"

She shakes her head, one hand gripping the other arm tightly as she moves closer to him, bridging the distance between them ever so cautiously.

"Can I sit here?" she asks unsurely, gesturing towards the spot next to him.

He shrugs, "Public playground. You can do whatever the hell you want."

She sits down, takes a deep breath, "I'm sorry about before." She rushes into her apologize, feeble but sincere at the same time, "Well, partially. I mean that night was both of yours fault, I still maintain that and neither one of you should have taken it as far as you two did—"

He snorts in between the ramble, "This is really turning out to be some apology—"

"I'm getting there," she snips, glaring at him briefly. He stares back resolutely, eyes dark and smoldering and she finally sighs exasperatedly, "My point is: you did your time and I'm sure you took something out of it. I—I don't know you enough so it's not my place to judge you, entirely at least, so…so I won't." She ends on a softer note, gnawing on her bottom lip a bit.

He studies her for a second, squirming uncomfortably in place under his discerning gaze, "Okay." He finally accepts awkwardly. "…thanks, I guess."

It's like she's waiting for something though because she's still there. He blinks, "What?" he asks dumbly. He hates how whenever he's around her he feels even dumber than usual.

She glares, "Aren't you going to apologize back?"

"…Uh, I'm sorry for calling you a bitch last week?"

She makes a funny noise from the back of her throat.

"And a few months ago too." He offers because he's starting to realize where she wants this to go but he'd rather not, really.

"Are you serious?" She demands in a low voice, eyes narrowed.

He gives her a bored expression before surrendering, "Okay, fine. I'm sorry for scaring the shit out of your little boyfriend and you that night at the dance, happy?"

She looks at him wryly, crossing her arms across her chest, a trademark of hers, "Wow, I can really feel the sincerity in that, really, thanks."

"Well that's all you're getting so take it or leave it." he replies back coolly.

She pauses for a second, considering it, before nodding her head and accepting it. They both look out at the sight in front of them for a couple of minutes.

"What's that sound?" She finally asks, looking around for the source.

"My ankle monitor," he says easily, not a trace of worry in his voice.

She shoots him a funny look and raises an eyebrow delicately, "Uh, shouldn't you do something about it?"

He doesn't bother to answer and she sighs again, this time in defeat. "Why don't you just do as they say?"

"I behaved the entire time in the juvenile center." He retorts, "Besides, it would mean they won if I did everything they ordered me to right down to the very line." He glowers down at the slide, twisting and spiraling downwards towards the sand.

She shakes her head slightly before muttering to herself, "You two are so alike it's almost unbelievable…"

"What?"

"Nothing." Her comment rings in his ears but he decides to let it go.

They continue to sit there and Fitz waits for her to finally get up and leave but she never does.

"So…" she starts pathetically as the monitor beeps yet again and it's like the dance all over again, her futilely trying to make conversation with him and seeming a bit over the edge and distracted at the same time - she's always so all over the place around him, it's painfully obvious.

He opens his mouth but just as he's about to tell her to cut the act and save him the pity act of kindness, a police car comes around, a familiar probation officer coming out of it and he can't help stare down angrily at the figure approaching the bottom of the slide.

"There you are! Mark, get down here right now, young man. The monitor has been going off now for forty-five minutes, you should have been inside your house thirty minutes ago—" the man calls out, obviously peeved off at the moment.

"So?" he calls back down with complete disregard, unmoving and aggravated himself, glancing over at the girl next to him, her eyes flitting back and forth between him and the figure below, as she puts two and two together.

He swears he hears the man mutter 'hoodlum' or something like that under his breath, a trail of synonyms for the word following after it anyway.

"So," the man takes a deep breath, as if trying to calm himself down before he says something he'll regret outloud, "Get your butt down here before you get yourself in more trouble than you've already been in in the past few months. Stop making this harder for yourself than it's already been. I can't keep tracking you down and bringing you back home and leaving it off the record every time. I won't, Mark."

"Fitz." He corrects him stubbornly.

"Mark," he maintains, disregarding his last comment, "Get down here and stop acting like a moron—and is there someone next to you. I swear you're only causing yourself more trouble if you're hanging out with one of those kids you used to, I'm serious. My patience is starting to run thin—"

He's this close to biting off the dipshit's head when Clare's voice cuts through, recognition in it. "Mr. Jonson?"

There's silence and then a, "Clare? Clare Edwards, is that you?"

She peaks her head over the top of the slide and down towards the officer as Fitz instantly moves out of the way, "Yes, it's me. How are you?"

The man laughs warmly, "I've been doing fine but what are you doing up there with…" he doesn't finish his sentence, realization dawning him.

"Is everything alright, Clare?" His voice rises a bit, becoming slightly protective and crisp, "He didn't…he didn't do anything to you, did he?"

Fitz's temper instantly flares up at the implication of his tone but just as he's about to mouth off to him, Clare interrupts again, as if guessing what he's about to do. "No," she quickly replies, "No, of course not. We were just talking. Here, we'll come down right now."

She gives him a meaningful look, as if to implore him to just go along with it. He relents eventually, rolling his eyes and following her down.

"Hi Mr. Jonson." She greets him. Fitz remains mute, looking instead at his officer sullenly.

"Hello Clare," he replies, smiling, before turning towards Fitz with hawk eyes and a stiff nod, "Mark." He addresses him coldly.

"Fitz," he repeats, it comes out almost like a growl this time.

"Fitz and I were just talking," Clare intercedes before it can get any worse, "Just, you know, after everything—the incident—I thought it was necessary. It's why he was late tonight, Jonson so if you should blame any one, it's me." She lies so fast, it's almost hard to process. "I'm sorry for making him late for his curfew, really. It won't happen again."

Mr. Jonson looks between the two of them dubiously, "So you're telling me the two of you met up willingly to talk and that's why Mr. Fitzgerald was late tonight?" He paraphrases slowly, warily.

"Yes." Clare affirms without hesitance.

Mr. Johnson looks him straight in the eye, "Is this true, young man?"

He glares, "What does it matter, you wouldn't believe me either way."

"Don't give me attitude, Mark." He snaps crossly, "We've talked about this—"

"Mr. Jonson," Clare laughs forcefully, "Cut him a break. He's really trying from what he told me a few minutes ago. Right…Fitz?"

The two of them look at her for a couple of seconds and she shrugs, the polite smile still plastered across her face. For the third time that day, Fitz wonders why she's doing this, all of this, including the whole saving his ass in front of his probation officer bit.

The officer finally cracks, his face breaking into a softer expression, his eyes full of endearment, "You're such a good girl, Clare. Always looking for the best in people. No wonder you make your mother so proud..."

It takes just about ever fiber of will power within him not to laugh outright at all this because shit, this is just plain hilarious. The way the man just peppers the girl next to him with compliments and he wonders how long it will take before he starts going off on his "good moral Christian values" tangent like he always does with him when he's lecturing him.

"How's your mother holding up by the way?" This catches him off guard and he quickly looks over to see the smile on Clare's face falter for a brief second.

"She's—she's doing good." She replies hesitantly, her smile even faker than before and it's clear she's not comfortable going into the details. Jonson clucks his tongue and looks at her sympathetically.

"Tell her that even in our darkest days, the good Lord is looking down on us, blessing us. We'll only realize this when the storm passes over though of course."

Clare looks down at her feet and crosses her arms and uncrosses them as he rambles on obliviously about Jesus and God's grace or something along those lines, and she clearly wants to be anywhere other than here as she weakly mumbles a random "mhm" here and there for politeness's sake, but the guy is too thick to notice this, he just keeps going on and on.

Dick.

He scowls at him and just when he's just about had it himself, the words slip off his tongue, "Can we go now?" he cuts in rudely.

The two look up at him quickly and he makes a "what" expression at Jonson, making sure to keep straight-faced afterward. "Can we?" he repeats indifferently, tone void of any emotion, when he doesn't answer immediately.

The man gives him a hard, scrutinizing gaze before exhaling, "Yeah, we should get going actually." He smiles one last time in Clare's direction, "I'll see you Sunday morning then. Take care, Clare."

Clare nods faintly, smiling again and as the guy turns around Fitz takes one last lingering look towards her, their eyes making contact and she gives him a small genuine smile as if to thank him silently for getting Jonson off her back.

He turns back around and walks behind his officer. As he gets in the car, he sees her still standing there, the light from the streetlight next to her setting her aglow almost, and as her shadow dances slightly in the background, she waves goodbye. He looks back down at his lap and proceeds to tune out Jonson's droning about good behavior and last chances as the car starts.

It's only as they drive out of her sight, he realizes he can't stop wondering where today leaves things between her and him.

.

.