Oh, yeah, said Daria's brain, more than an hour too late for the information to be of any practical use to her, we moved to a different town, didn't we?

The dark, dingy streets that Daria found herself aimlessly stalking could so easily have been Highland, but the turn that should have led to her house instead brought her to what, at first glance, appeared to be some kind of Demilitarised Zone. Despite the relative warmth of the night, she huddled deeper inside her bottle-green jacket, hoping to avoid any attention from the locals.

A crude epithet formed on Daria's lips – aimed roughly in the direction of her misplaced sense of direction – but it died when she ran into something the size and consistency of a slab of beef. A strangled yelp escaped her mouth as her eyes alighted on a body that was exactly the kind of brawny mass that made someone like Kevin Thompson (you know, he's the QB) look like a limp, shrivelled prawn by comparison.

Trying to force her way past the meat mountain, Daria reflected that this was exactly the sort of slab of beef that other slabs of beef slathered all over their walls to serve as inspiration to put on even more beef.

Mental note: avoid hamburgers for the next ten-to-twelve hours after this.

She'd barely taken two steps when she found her forward momentum impeded by something huge, sweaty and powerful clamping painfully around her shoulder; in another life, it had probably been a relatively normal hand, but now it was a thick, leathery catcher's mitt that could only harbour delusions of ever having been an organic entity.

"What's the hurry?" asked the sort of drawling, self-satisfied voice that one didn't often hear outside of documentaries about the terminally slow of wit. "Why don't you stay with us for a while and keep us … company?"

Peering through her thick-rimmed spectacles, Daria could only catch sight of an unsettling yellow smile piercing the gloom; there were few occasions that elicited anything other than pure, unabashed apathy for her, but it was a very different, very unsettling sensation taking root in her stomach now. The four-cheese pizza that she'd shared and enjoyed with her new friend was threatening to upend itself.

One thought repeated itself ad infinitum: I'm going to die tonight. Or worse.

Chunky, probing fingers grasped at her, touching her in places that, even when showering, she barely paid any attention to herself; powerless as she was to do so, Daria did her best to fight them off, batting at them with her own scrawny arms and trying to get a good shot in with her steel-toed DMs. All of a sudden, she was made frighteningly aware of just how pathetically scrawny her own body was. She had nothing with which to damage her assailants, and they were all too aware of that fact as they laughed at her pitiful efforts.

"Fiesty one, this," someone said from behind her. "I like that."

Just as she was becoming resigned to her fate, Daria heard a familiar voice say, "Hey!"

Is that …? Oh, god, just when I thought that this night couldn't get any worse.

At least the groping had – temporarily – halted as the group turned as one to face the interloper.

"Leave her alone," Kevin Thompson said sternly.

"Dude," the gang-leader said, his head gesturing in the direction of his comrades, "there are five of us and one of you. Join in or walk away."

"I never was very good at maths," Kevin replied, the cocky, naïve grin that was practically his trademark expression firmly fixed in place. "But if you need to go and get a few more guys to make it a fair fight, I'll wait."

"Hold her." The leader shoved Daria to his men until she was almost smothered, suffocated by sinewy arms. "I'll deal with this fool."

The fight was brief: Kevin might very well have been outmatched by the gang's burly leader, but that didn't matter when he was so much quicker and – loathe as Daria was to admit it – smarter. One clumsy blow after another sailed toward Kevin and he effortlessly dodged them as if they were being thrown at him in slow-motion; weaving and pirouetting like a prima ballerina, never once did his smile waver, the quarterback showed just why he was so lauded by his peers on the football field. Gasping for air after his exertions, the leader was effortlessly dispatched by a solid shoulder barge into a nearby pile of garbage cans. He made a token effort at getting to his feet, but slumped back against the brick wall.

Turning to the rest of the gang, Kevin dusted his hands and said wittily, "Well, that's the trash taken out."

Despite the gravity of the situation, Daria found herself smiling.

"Anyone else want to end up like him?" asked Kevin darkly, inclining his head in the direction of their fallen leader.

Like most pack-animals, having witnessed their Alpha being taken out so brutally had knocked the confidence out of the rest of them and they promptly dispersed, shoving Daria roughly toward Kevin as they did so. She was ruffled, but unhurt.

On the outside, anyway.

"This neighbourhood's a bit sketchy, isn't it?" said Kevin with a shake of his head.

No shit, Sherlock.

Holding out a hand, he asked, "Want me to walk you home?"

Daria gawped like a stunned fish at the proferred hand before accepting it. "Sure," she eventually said, still not quite able to process what had happened.

"Glen Oaks Lane, right?"

"Yeah," replied Daria dumbly, not even bothering to wonder how or why Kevin knew where she lived.

"How did you end up out here?" asked Kevin as they walked.

"Huh?" Daria blinked a couple of times, trying to clear the fog that had settled over her mind. She felt like she should be crying, or throwing-up, or both, but her body was simply cold and numb at what had happened. "Oh, uh. New in town, remember? Got lost finding my way back from the pizza place."

"What about that Jane-chick? She ditch you?"

"She got a call from some guy called Trent. Apparently there was an emergency and he needed to be bailed out." Daria shrugged. "I told her that I could make it back home without any problems."

When they reached her house, Daria let out a soft sigh of relief. Sure, what was inside could be trying, but at least it was a familiar – and familial – sort of chaos. "Thanks," she said to Kevin and meant it.

It was Kevin's turns to shrug. "Don't mention it." He looked at Daria as if seeing her properly for the first time. "You're still shaking."

"Nothing like this has ever happened to me before." Daria laughed bitterly, wrapping her arms around herself. "And I'm from Highland. If you hadn't shown up when you did-"

"-Don't think about it. Guys, well, we're not all bad, all right? We might not always know exactly how to, you know, talk to or interact with girls, but most of us can actually be respectful."

Mental note: go easier on Kevin in the future; he may be a bit dim, but he's definitely a good guy. On impulse, she hugged him.


"Um." Suddenly abashed by what she'd just done, Daria said, "Believe me, I'm as surprised by this as you are."

"Better not tell Brittany."

"Or Jane. She'll never let me hear the end of it."