a more gradual approach.

------------------------------------------------------- standard disclaimer applies. my first fanfic. -------------------------------------------------------

"So, what should we do to celebrate our eternal departure from the hellfires of Lawndale High?" Jane asked, standing outside Daria Morgendorffer's front door, demanding a reply.

"Uh. Pizza?"

"Right. Sounds good to me. Our first slice of 'college-freedom' pizza, here we come!" Jane said, leading Daria out the door with one arm pointed in front of her.

************************************************************************

"Gee, that's funny. 'College-freedom' pizza tastes remarkable similar to 'high school-imprisonment' pizza."

"Yeah. Amazing." Daria said, not looking up from her slice.

"What's up with you tonight, Morgendorffer? I think it's a little too soon to be pining over your lost youth."

"Daria raised an eyebrow at Jane, then took another bite of pizza, forcing her friend to wait for a reply.

"As unnecessary and pointless as high school was," she said finally, "wasn't I supposed to have gotten something at least mildly meaningful out of it? I feel like I've wasted the last four years, and I don't know if it's because this town sucks meaning and purpose out of everything worthwhile, or because I'm incapable of absorbing anything positive."

Jane just rolled her eyes. "I'm glad our friendship has really touched you, Daria."

"Besides us."

"Imagine that, Ms. Daria Morgendorffer questioning her purpose in the world. Never thought I'd see the day." She smiled cynically. "I thought your purpose was to go through life ignoring the ignorance. Well, that and to make snide remarks at it occasionally."

Daria didn't return her smile. "I'm serious, Jane."

Jane put down her pizza and looked at her friend straight-on. "As much as I hate to say the clichés are true, Daria. . . the clichés are true. It's all about the 'memories' and whatnot. Sure, we may not have 'learned' a lot, but we made friends and through our experiences, we changed into the happily adjusted cynics we are today." She paused and looked down at her pizza, then up at Daria again. "That's all I got, kid."

Daria looked back at Jane and decided the topic was pointless.

"You want the last slice?"

Jane picked up the half-eaten slice on her plate. "No. Go for it."

Instead of picking up the pizza, Daria took a long pull at her soda. She practically choked on it when Trent appeared from out of nowhere.

"Hey, Janey." He stood in front of their booth and eyed the pizza. "You gonna eat that last slice?"

"It's been claimed by Daria already. You'll have to wrestle her for it." she said, eyes twinkling.

Daria gave Jane a look that she interpreted correctly as meaning, 'I loathe you.'

"Oh." Trent looked down at Daria. "Um. . ."

"Its all yours," she said, pushing the tray to the end of the table. She stared at him as he picked it up and took a bite.

"Thanks. I owe you," he said, winking.

Daria stammered for some kind of response, but came up with none, feeling her cheeks redden. Just then Jane noticed there was rain streaming down the window behind Daria's head.

"Well, there goes my idea of a little after-dinner run." Trent and Daria both turned to look out the window. "Can you give us a ride back home, Trent?"

"Sur- oh." He looked worried. "Mystik Spiral's got a gig tonight down on Dega." He looked around, supposedly for a clock. "I think I'm already late."

"That's cool. We'd love to come." Jane took off towards the door before Daria had a chance to shoot her that look again.

Daria looked up at Trent as he slowly turned towards the door and followed him out to the car, where Jane had already taken the back seat.

************************************************************************

Standing next to Jane at the perimeter of the small crowd gathered to hear Mystik Spiral, Daria's eyes locked on to Trent as he hastily tried to tune his guitar. Her mind was trying to rationalize for the umpteenth time what it was about him that had her so captivated. Yet again she came up empty. He wasn't some stimulating intellectual who fascinated her with his wit. He was absent-minded, lazy, and on the skinny-side. "Skinny in that tall, lithe, sexy kinda way," she thought to herself, immediately feeling shallow and Quinn-ish for stooping to that level of physical attraction.

Trent was finally done tuning and had begun to introduce the first song. Maybe it's the opposites attract theory. But then why isn't he attracted to me? Whatever. It didn't really matter. Suddenly remembering how Jane was fond of taunting her when she was caught staring at Trent for too long, Daria left Jane to get some drinks from the bar. Maybe it would distract her from the bad music coming from the stage, and the person making it.

Scanning the crowd as he played one of the easier numbers, Trent was pleased Daria and Jane had come along. They were becoming the best regulars they had. He looked at them, standing noticeably still on the outskirts of the small audience. They didn't look like they were particularly enjoying themselves. He wondered why they always came. Jane caught his eye and gave him an overly-enthusiastic thumbs-up. Just being supportive family, he guessed. But why Daria? He looked thoughtfully at the spectacled girl next to Jane. Sure, she was almost like family, as much as she hung around their house, but it just seemed like she should have something better do. "Wait," he thought, "this is Lawndale." He chuckled inwardly and focused on the music again.

Jane took the empty cup out of Daria's hand as the band stopped to take a break. "Refill?" she asked, eyeing Jesse heading for the bar.

"Sure," Daria said as she followed her friend. It occurred to her she didn't have any cup to refill, but she didn't have anything better to do, either.

Jesse was trying to pickup four glasses of water at once when they reached the bar.

"Hey Daria, why don't you help Jesse take drinks to the band? I've got the refills covered."

Daria was about to shoot Jane a look, but Jesse was quickly losing control of the water glasses.

After handing Nick his water, Daria headed unsurely for the small group of trendy goth groupies surrounding Trent. She did take note of the fact that Monique wasn't present tonight. "They must have broken up again," she thought contently. She stood nervously next to him in the group, finally poking him in the arm to get his attention.

"Huh? Oh, hey. Thanks, Daria." He took the glass from her and downed half of it in one go. "Uh, hey, will you get my guitar pick out of the glove compartment?" he asked, handing her his keys, "I lost my regular pick, and I need one for the next set."

"Uh, sure," she said, looking confused, but took the keys from him and headed slowly for the door.

As she was reaching Trent's car, she heard footsteps behind her. She turned to find Trent sauntering after her.

"Hey, thanks," he said, taking the keys back from her.

"Huh?"

"I had to send you out here so I could run out pretending I'd forgotten something else to say to you. Those groupies were getting on my nerves."

Daria raised an eyebrow at him.

"Come on, they're cute and all, but if I listen to them blather for too long, I begin to feel like some punk version of a Lawndale football player." He chuckled at his own joke, coughing, and leaned against the car.

Daria stood quietly in front of him, unsure what to do or say. "Err. . ." she paused, "so how long till the next set?"

"A while," he said definitively. The now-misting rain was getting heavier, so Trent opened the unlocked car, "Come on, if I get too wet they'll know I blew them off," he said, smiling.

Daria slowly moved to the passenger door and got in. Every time she had a conversation with Trent it seemed so surreal. Of course, she had imagined them having all kinds of conversations over the past two years, but somehow they never came out anything like she thought they would. "Oh, right," she thought, "because I practically become a dumb mute whenever he speaks to me."

Trent seemed content to sit in silence, and she didn't have the courage to break it, knowing anything she said would come out sounding silly and infantile. Finally he spoke.

"Thanks for coming to all these gigs, Daria. I know you don't have to." He turned and faced her as he finished.

"Uh," she could feel her cheeks reddening, "sure."

"I mean, I know Lawndale isn't exactly a hot-spot for exciting night life," he smiled at her, "but why do you come? I'm sure you could find something better to do than listen to music you don't like."

"I. . ." Daria stammered.

"It just seems like you're not really into it," he explained, "You don't dance, or look like you're enjoying yourself."

"Oh." He had noticed her in the crowd? "Well, I'm not really physically expressive about much."

That was true. He had rarely seen Daria smile, much less laugh out loud. He couldn't even imagine her dancing. "Yeah, I guess you're pretty good at hiding what you like, huh?"

That comment seemed to jerk Daria back into cognitive thought, and she steered her answer away from the response her some darker part inside her wanted to give. "I guess. The way I figure it, stoicism deflects ignorance. And since we're practically drowning in it here; playing Spock doesn't seem like such a bad way to go."

Trent chuckled. Daria was a hell of a lot more interesting than most of the girls he hung out with. She didn't say much, but when she did, it was usually pretty good. "You're pretty cool, Daria. We should hang out some time."

Daria's eyes widened, then she realized this was something she probably didn't want to look afraid of and tried to slowly relax them. She knew most likely they wouldn't hang out, but the fact that he had said it was something in itself. "Yeah, I guess that'd be cool," she managed to squeak out at him.

"Cool," he paused, "I just get tired of the band sometimes. They're great and all, but we don't really do anything interesting. Mostly we just sit at my house and make like we're gonna practice." He lowered his seat back and put his arms behind his head, staring at the rain coming down the window shield.

Daria copied him and they laid side-by-side listening to the rain.

"I don't understand Mystik Spiral's lyrics." She said out of nowhere. At least it was something to talk about.

"Yeah. I don't think you're supposed to." He smiled and scratched his chest. "They're pretty lame, sometimes."

"I think 'lame' would be a gross understatement."

"C'mon. We're trying. It's hard, you know."

"Try harder."

"Hey," he said, turning to look at her, "will you look at some of the lyrics I've written lately? Since you think they're so bad, maybe you can do something better with them."

"Uh, sure, I guess I can give it a shot. I'm not much of a poet, though."

"Whatever. I think Mystik Spiral has pretty much proven you don't have to be a poet to write music. Or even a musician, for that matter."

Daria laughed quietly, and decided to keep her comments to herself.

As Trent realized that he had just heard Daria actually laugh, a sharp rapping at the window interrupted them. It was a very wet Jane, tapping angrily on her wrist as if there were a watch on it.

"Oh, right!" Trent said as they scrambled to get out of the car, and the three of them hurried back inside where the band was playing acoustic numbers uneasily without their lead singer.

A disheveled Jane led Daria back to the bar, to grab the refills she had gotten them half an hour ago. They picked them up and sauntered back to their regular spot at the edge of the crowd.

"Hmm," Jane eyed Daria mischievously. "I wonder. . ."

"Just stop right there, Detective Lane. We just talked. He got bored with the groupies and I was the only alternative handy." She said, crossing her arms defensively.

Jane put her hands up, still holding her cup, "Did I say anything? I was just imagining what could have happened, had not fate forced me to interrupt. The both of you. . . rain streaming down the windows. . . The wonders of confined spaces can be quite exhilarating, Daria."

Daria squinted menacingly at her. "Well, I wouldn't know, would I?" she thought to herself. But out loud her only reply was, "Nothing would have happened. I'm a realist Jane; he might find me amusing and interesting to talk to, but it's never gonna be more than that; which is something I've come to terms with."

"You never know. . ." Jane started to say, but Daria had already turned away from her, back towards the stage where the band was finally getting it together again.

Trent scanned the crowd again. A bunch of people must have left while the band was on break, there was practically no one left. "Oh well," he thought. "Its good practice." He found Daria and Jane just where they were before, but this time there was no enthusiastic thumbs-up from his drenched sister. Jane looked kind of ticked, actually. Then again, she did have to run around in the rain trying to find him. Daria was looking at him when his eyes reached her. She looked kind of pissed, too, but he winked at her from the stage and her demeanor softened. Then she looked away quickly, like she was hiding something. "That was weird," he thought, but decided he should probably be focusing on the music, the band was kind of losing it.

************************************************************************

"Is Venus sending harmful UV rays to Earth that will turn your pets into vampires? Blood-sucking Fido, next on Sick Sad World." Daria lay back on the bed as Jane tried to mix a 'burnt sienna' out of her crimson and evergreen paints.

"Wouldn'tcha know it," she said, spotting her canvas with the brown paint.

"What?"

"Trent's got another gig tonight, and here we are with nothing better to do." She smiled sweetly at her friend. "Wanna go?"

Daria raised her head slightly to look at Jane. "Any answer I give is subject to your ridicule, so why don't you decide."

"Okay then. We'll go. Just because I know you want to go, and the power I get from knowing that you bow down before my petty taunting is great enough to allow you some leniency. For now."

Daria rolled hey eyes at Jane, then set her head back down. It was sad how true that statement was. Why should she be so embarrassed that she liked Trent? It was normal for kids her age to be responding to their hormones. Then why did it feel so petty when she did it? She pondered this till it was time to go, and they went downstairs to find Trent in the basement, rushing to pack up his stuff.

"You guys coming tonight?"

"Yep. Daria hasn't heard the new stuff you've been working on all week." Jane's stomach made a strange noise. "Besides, there's a much greater likelihood of finding food outside of this house than in it."

They helped Trent pack up his car with things Jesse and Max had forgotten to load in the tank and headed towards the gig, with uncommon promptness.

************************************************************************

"Much better crowd tonight," Trent thought as he began the chorus of 'Icebox Woman.' Everyone seemed be dancing, and they had responded well to the new song introduced earlier. Jane and Daria's lack of motion caught his eye again, and he locked eyes with Daria for a minute, only to have her turn away again. Maybe it just makes her uncomfortable, he reasoned. But he kept watching her as she stared into her cup. Then, a couple of younger guys appeared, introducing themselves to Daria and Jane. Jane looked mildly interested and tried to be sociable. Daria continued to stare into her cup, only interrupting her concentration to occasionally glance up at Trent. He got distracted by some girls in front of the stage who had begun to dance in a way that was hard to avoid, and when his eyes looked for Daria and Jane again, they were gone.

As Jane talked to the boys that had introduced themselves in the booth they had migrated to, Daria just stared at the cushion behind the head of guy across from her. Trent had been looking at her. For a really long time. As much as that made her happy- really, really happy- it also made her extremely nervous. What should she do? She glanced up at the stage, and decided that the next time Trent looked at her, she wouldn't look away. That was as much of a plan as she needed now. Jane poking her in the ribs from the inside of the booth brought her out of her reverie.

"Bathroom, bathroom. We're going to the bathroom," she practically snarled at Daria and pushed out of the booth, ignoring the looks the boys were giving her.

Once they were in the bathroom, Jane turned on her and growled, "I understand you're over there drowning in your everlasting love for Trent, but a response every once in a while would be nice, Daria. Then maybe I wouldn't look like such an idiot to the cute boys trying to be nice to us." She glared at her friend, then softened when she caught the discontented look in Daria's eyes. "I know you're not really the social butterfly type, but at least mumble when someone tries to say something to you, okay? For my sake, please."

Daria looked at her guiltily. "Sorry. I didn't even notice you were talking to me back there."

Jane raised an eyebrow. "You're really swimming in that ocean of love, huh?"

Daria just looked at her flatly, then went into one of the bathroom stalls.

"Alright. I'm going back out to try and make them believe that you've become mute due to years of emotional abuse that was ignited tonight after you saw your dead twin sister in the clouds before the show." As she left she heard Daria mumble something that sounded either like 'thanks' or 'sorry'.

Feeling rather guilty about verbally and mentally abandoning her friend, Daria exited the bathroom staring at the floor. As she rounded the corner into the main room, she smashed into someone and landed on the floor.

"eep." Her cheeks were fluorescent red as Trent helped her up.

"Sorry about that. You okay?"

"Yeah."

"I started to wonder where you guys had run off to, I looked up after a while and you were both gone." Wow. Her cheeks were really red. Trent wondered if she had been crying or something.

"Oh. No. We just sat down for a while." she said, and looked around for Jane, then pointed at her when she found her heading for the exit. Jane looked back at Daria and motioned something that was either 'their driving me to their secluded cabin in the woods' or 'we're going for pizza, then they're taking me home.' Jane winked at Daria and made swimming motions that quickly turned into drowning, then headed out the door. Trent looked questioningly at Daria.

"What was that all about?"

"Jane's going for pizza, then those guys are gonna give her a ride home."

Trent raised an eyebrow, wondering about the swimming; "Whatever. The bands on break now, but when we get back we're gonna play some new stuff. If you wanna tell me what you think, that'd be cool."

"Uh, sure." she said, distracted from the aching coming from where she had fallen on her leg.

"Great. Thanks, Daria." he said, and walked down the hall into the bathroom.

When he got back up on stage to start the next number, Daria was already stationed at her usual post, drink cup in hand.

"Okay, folks. This is another new one, it's called "Gum On My Shoe," hope you like it." Trent looked quickly at Daria and started the song.

I'm stuck to you Like gum stuck to my shoe I hope you feel it too Like I'm gum on your shoe

A sticky gum that stays, yeah A sticky gum that pays, yeah Its own way at the movie Yeah, you're the gum that's chewy

It went on. And it got worse. Daria grimaced inwardly. At least she didn't have an unrealistic notion of Trent's musical abilities. Actually, though, when you ignored the words and the lack of a steady beat, the guitar riffs weren't so bad, and his voice was pretty good, too. "He just needs help," she thought.

You're like gum on my shoe On my shoe On my shoe A sticky gum that I can't chew

"A lot of help." They finished the song and went on to some of their earlier stuff that was slightly better, because of the lyrics. There were less of them. When the song was finished, Trent looked at Daria expectantly, and all she could muster was a half smile accompanied by raised eyebrows. He went into the next song. She rather enjoyed these concerts. Obviously not for the music, but it did give her the perfect opportunity to stare at Trent.

Eventually she found him looking at her, too. And this time she was resolved not to look away. It felt like her heart had stopped. As she looked back into his eyes, her mind raced. Why was he looking at her? Why did he keep looking at her? Did this mean he liked her, too? No. She wouldn't go there. She refused to set herself up for disappointment. She wanted desperately to look away, to find some tangible emotion that she could deal with and ultimately disregard, but something made her keep staring back into his eyes.

"Hey," Trent thought, "that's cool, she's not looking away." He kept staring back at her, their eyes locked. "Actually, this is kind of weird. Usually I only gaze into the eyes of people I'm dating, or people I want to date." For some reason Daria looked nervous or something. She just looked. . . different. Then again, he had never really looked at her for this long. His mind started to wander, thinking about how people either looked more or less attractive the longer you looked at them. It was probably influenced by personality. And he thought Daria was pretty cool. That spock-look seemed to work for her. But then he began to wonder what she would look like smiling. The song was ending, though, so he broke off the gaze with his sister's best friend.

Daria was stunned. Stunted, more like; paralyzed in her position. Talk about surreal. He had stared at her for practically the entire song. It had seemed like an eternity, and she was reliving it over and over in her mind. Not her mind. Her brain was having difficulty comprehending the situation, but her heart was drowning in the sensation. She looked back at the stage dreamily. She couldn't help from smiling. She wished she were invisible, so she could walk right up to Trent and kiss him, thanking him for that gift. Even if he didn't like her, the memory of his eyes locked on hers would haunt her for months to come; something to look forward to; reality was always better than the fantasies in her head. Then she noticed he was staring at her. Again. This time she had a silly dumbstruck smile on her face. She couldn't help it. She didn't care. Either he liked her and would appreciate the smile, or he didn't and it wouldn't matter if he thought she was strange.

"Well, that answers that question," Trent thought. His eyes were locked on Daria again, only this time, she was smiling. Not a big smile, just one of passive contentment. It was nice, it suited her. In a way, it felt comforting to look at her. Strange. It felt like when he looked at her, it didn't matter what he did, she would always approve of him. He smiled back at her, ignoring the groupies up front obviously trying to get his attention. Whatever they had to offer, it wouldn't be as substantial as the emotional fulfillment he got from looking at Daria.

After staring at Trent most of the night, it was finally time for the band to pack up and go home. Daria began to get apprehensive. She feared whatever it was that had made Trent look at her for an hour would cause some tension on the way home. She pondered this, still atop cloud nine, and decided she would just roll with the punches. She could always just ignore that it happened, it didn't necessarily mean anything; she refused to jump to conclusions. Who knew what Trent's motives were.

"Hey Daria. You ready?"

She looked up at his eyes. "Sure, lets go."

Trent stared back at her for a moment, then turned and headed out for the car, Daria at his heels. He was still unsure what all that had meant. He had never liked Daria that way, but it seemed odd not to after staring at her all night. It just felt like they were connected in a different way now. A good way. Whatever; he figured he would just go with it and see what happened. Most likely nothing would come of it.

Exiting the parking lot, he breached the silence. "So, what did you think of the new songs?"

Oh, shit. She was supposed to be listening to his new material and evaluating it. Well, she had heard that one song. She cringed inwardly and tried to soften the blow as best she could. "Well. . . um. . . I think they showed some promise. That first one you played after the break, was, uh, pretty good. Some of the analogies could be improved upon, though." Not a direct lie. "I'd have to look at the lyrics of the other ones again to tell you what I think."

"That's cool."

They drove on in silence. For the first time since she had known him, and consequentially-- been hopelessly attracted to him, the silence wasn't awkward. There seemed to be an air of satisfaction surrounding them; of mutual understanding. Daria smiled again. It had been a rather fabulous evening, "I don't think any of Jane's taunting will ruffle my feathers tonight," she thought to herself. She closed her eyes and listened to the sound of the car rolling along on the pavement.

"Hey Daria, come on, we're home," Trent shook her gently.

She opened her eyes and slowly got out of the car, then helped Trent carry in his stuff.

"Night, Trent," she said, pausing on her way up the basement stairs. They locked eyes once more.

"Night, Daria." They smiled at each other for a moment, then he watched her turn and head up the stairs sleepily.

************************************************************************

"So, how was your night with the band?" Jane asked Daria as they were eating some bananas and cereal they had miraculously found in a cupboard of the Lane kitchen.

"Pretty good." Daria smiled at herself. No need to let Jane fuss over last night's little staring contest. She would no doubt blow it out of proportion. "How were your new friends and how much money did you manage to squeeze out of them for pizza?"

"Actually, they were very nice. One of them has definite possibilities, and since I can't seem to get you to throw yourself at Trent, I may have to find my own romantic endeavors." She finished her banana and got up to throw the peel away.

"I hope this doesn't mean you're going to desert me again. You do realize my friend count is hopelessly low; without you I have to start telling all my inner darkest secrets to the skull in my room. On second thought, your absence would give me time to catch up on my harmonica playing." She thought fondly of her pitiful harmonica playing echoing through her house, making everyone else in it miserable.

"And there'd be more scheduling slots available for quality time with Trent," Jane snickered. "I haven't completely given up, you know. And mockery and goading you can expect indefinitely."

"No, really?"

************************************************************************

Quinn opened the door to greet what she was sure was her date. "Hiii- oh. Daaaria!"

Daria came down the steps to see Quinn walking away disgustedly from Trent who was standing just outside the door.

"Hey Daria."

"Hey." Why was he here?

"I came over to see if you had a minute to look at those lyrics."

"Oh. Yeah, right. Sure." She motioned him inside the door and led him upstairs, where she closed the door behind them, assuring privacy from her family.

"Cool room, Daria."

"Uh, Trent? You've been in here before." He was hopelessly oblivious.

"I know. It's still cool. I don't know many girls with padded cells at their personal disposal." Trent smirked at her, then sat down on her bed and held up a spiral bound notebook.

"Uh, thanks." She took the notebook at sat down near him on the bed.

"Here, read this one first," he pointed towards the one at the bottom of the page. "I came up with it one night after the tank broke down and we were stranded out in the middle of nowhere for a while."

"Did you ever think about riding in a vehicle that has less than a 90 percent chance of breaking down?"

"Huh?"

"Nevermind," she pulled her knees up next to her and began reading.

I'm in the tank
Yeah yeah yeah

Aluminum and metal
I'll just have to settle
For your dirty shredded seats
The uneaten frosted wheats
Make me naseaus
Make me wanna cuss

At you! Cuz
I'm in the tank
Yeah yeah yeah,
The tank
The tank
I'm in the tank

She sighed. This was going to be difficult. New stuff she could write, but trying to turn this into something even mediocre was going to be near impossible. She stole a glance at Trent. He had lay back on the bed and was asleep. She decided to go on to the next song; maybe it would have more hope. She kind of doubted it.

You swim up and down
You bob around
But now you're mellow
A real unhappy fellow

I guess it must be
Autumn in my fish tank
Yeah yeah ooh
Autumn in my fish tank

A happy fish you used to be
But now you're melancholy
I wasn't trying to be mean
Dumping in that extra chlorine

That's why it must be
CHORUS

You're eyes are getting a glassy look
I'll go find that aquarium book
To see if I can try and fix
However I screwed up the mix

That made it
CHORUS

At least this one made sense. Hell, it was actually pretty funny. "Hey Trent, I like this one."

He sat up rather groggily. "Huh? Oh. Which one?"

"The one about it being autumn in your fish tank. It's really funny." She smiled. Maybe if she distracted him with flattery, he could just forget about the tank song.

"Cool. What did you think of the other one?"

"Err," there was no getting out of it. "If it had a point to it, it was apparently shielded by my glasses."

"Oh." He looked a little dejected.

"Look Trent, I don't know if I could help you fix that one up, mostly because I don't understand what you were trying to say with it." She floundered for something she could help him with; rather enjoying his company. "If you want, I can try and help you write a new song and we can talk about rhyme schemes and patterns while we go along. Then you'd be able to do it better on your own." She hoped she didn't sound too condescending. There was really no reason for him to listen to her advice; she was just a high-schooler, one who didn't know a thing about writing songs, at that.

"Sure, that sounds cool." He scooted up next to her on the bed, handing her a pencil from his pocket. "Where do we start?"

"Well," she had never really done this much. "Um, what do you want the song to be about?"

"Hmm. . ." he said, and paused. "Usually something just kind of hits me. Some emotional experience of some kind, or some little thing I notice. The muse likes to screw with my head in all kinds of strange ways, sometimes." He casually kicked off his shoes and scooched back to where he could lean against the padded wall. He shut his eyes and tried to think of something significant that had happened to him lately. Mostly he thought about staring at Daria, but that seemed like it would be hard to put into words, not to mention how awkward it could be. Especially since he didn't know what it had meant to Daria. Shit. What had it meant to Daria? He hadn't thought of it from her perspective. She probably thought he was totally into her. And now here he was, on her bed. . . But, she hadn't said anything about it later that night and she wasn't acting weird now, so maybe-

"Uh, Trent?"

He opened his eyes and Daria was looking back at him, legs dangling over the edge of the bed. "Yeah?"

"Just making sure you weren't asleep again."

"Uh, no. I can't think of anything emotional that would be good to write about, so maybe we should just pick some weird thing that sparks our imagination." He looked around Daria's room, searching for inspiration. Then it hit him. "Let's write about your room."

"Huh?"

"Yeah! There's all kinds of good stuff in here, would make for some cool lyrics."

Daria was baffled. Her room? She didn't know what to write about her room. But Trent seemed to be into it, so whatever. "Um. Okay. Well, where would you start? Would you start right in describing the things in it or-"

"Like 'Family Asylum Blues' or something. . . 'Domestic padded prison!" Trent said, suddenly caught up in the idea. "Yeah, can we start with that?"

"'Domestic padded prison'?" What the hell, it wasn't the most intriguing thing she ever heard, but it had some social criticism possibilities. "Okay."

After an hour, they had pounded out something that sounded pretty good, actually. Trent had come up with most of the ideas, Daria had just put them into the correct form. Trent watched her hand as she scribbled down the finishing touches, then erased the notes to make it look neat. She was now back against the wall next to him, her legs stretched out next to his. Without her combat boots on, her feet looked really little. He smiled at the way the socks were bunched up around her ankles, and the semi- permanent creases on the backs of her calves from the tops of the doc martins she always wore. When she held up the notebook so they could admire their handiwork, he took note of how small her hand was.

"Well, it may not be ready for the next national songwriters convention, but I think it shows definite promise. Trusted you can come up with a baseline and some chords to throw under it." She smiled at him, and he grinned back appreciatively.

"Thanks Daria. This is really great stuff," he said, taking the book from her and putting his shoes back on. "Maybe people will actually notice the band if we aren't just shouting jibberish at them anymore. We should do this again sometime."

"I don't know, my social schedule is pretty packed at the moment," she deadpanned. "I usually only have around 18 hours of free time daily, and I do need my 'alone time,' you know."

Trent raised an eyebrow and smirked at her. "Yeah, right. Wouldn't dare interrupt." He stood up and looked down on her. "Thanks again, Daria."

"Yup." She watched him walk out the door, then laid her head down where he had been sitting. It was still warm. She breathed in deeply, his smell still in her sheets, and dozed off, letting her imagination wander.

************************************************************************

Daria walked stiffly towards the Lane residence. The Morgendorffer family scene was beginning to get to her. Quinn had been trying non-stop for a week to get Helen and Jake to buy her a car. Helen had forced the whole family to go out car shopping, and talk to dealerships, learning the ins and outs of owning a car, discussing the responsibility it would require to drive a vehicle. . . and more useless parental advice. At every car lot Quinn had ran directly towards the convertibles, then flirted with the service boys. Jake nearly had another heart attack when he saw the price tags on the cars Quinn picked out. When Daria finally snuck away from them, she had wandered over to the foreign cars and was dreaming of herself flying down the Audubon in a new Audi when Helen came to collect her.

When she knocked on Jane's door, Trent opened it for her.

"Hey Daria. She's upstairs." Just then Jane came down the stairs, and smirked at Daria and her brother.

"Long time no see, amiga! Where've ya been?"

"Spending quality time with the family," she paused, "I feel ill."

It was a joke, but actually, Trent noticed, she did look different. Like, really tense. This whole family life thing must really get to her.

"Oh." Jane looked somewhat guilty. "Well, you didn't pick the best time to come catch up, actually. Seth's on his way over to pick me up and we were gonna go get some pizza and then catch a movie." She paused. "You can come if you want-"

"No. You two have fun. I'll just return to my house to wallow in the peace and quiet of my padded cell."

A car pulled up in the driveway. Jane looked at her feet, preparing to say something when Trent spoke.

"You can stay over here and keep me company. The band's 'sposed to come over later, and I was thinking maybe I should stay awake until then." Trent scratched his head and smiled, "I was gonna run the new songs by them. You should stay for that, too." He had been over to Daria's house twice since they wrote that first song two weeks ago, each time resulting in a very do-able new set of lyrics.

Daria blushed slightly and answered, "Uh, okay."

Jane smiled and thought, "Thank you, Trent!" He had saved her from the guilt of subjecting Daria to her family again. Was it just her or did Daria seem more comfortable around Trent now? And did he seem to be paying more attention to Daria? Maybe all it took was her staying out of their way. . . "Great," she said, realizing she was keeping her date waiting, "I'll be back later. You two kids have fun, now." She grinned at them and walked out the door.

As comfortable as she felt around Trent, whenever they were alone together, there was an air of excitement and she felt nervous and tense. "So, um. . ."

"You wanna watch TV or something? I could scrounge around and see if we have anything to eat."

"As appealing as molded cheese and stale shredded wheats sound, I'm not really hungry. TV's good."

"Cool." He looked at her. She looked really. . . uptight. He thought about giving her a backrub. He always liked it when people gave them to him, plus he felt the need to have some sort of physical connection to her. Didn't really know why, though. "You seem tense. Family life that bad?"

Daria stared back at him flatly. "You have met my sister, haven't you?" She sighed. "Yeah. I guess hanging out with them winds me up on the inside. I basically just shut down when I'm around them, it's the best way to limit contact to a minimum."

"Heh, yeah. I guess I see what you mean." He turned on the TV, then set a chair down facing the couch and patted the chair. "C'mere, sit."

"Huh?"

"I'll give you a backrub. It'll make you feel better." He sat down on the couch facing the chair.

Daria's cheeks flushed, and her eyes went wide. "I, uh," she paused, "I've never had a backrub before."

"Cool. You'll like it then. It's very relaxing." He patted the chair again and she slowly made her way toward it. She looked at him again, rather bewildered, and straddled the chair so her back was facing him. "You wanna take off your jacket?"

"Oh. I guess." She took off her jacket and threw it on the couch next to him. If he thought she was tense a minute ago, she couldn't imagine what she looked like now. When he touched her shoulders she jumped, then stiffened. His thumbs were kneading little circles around her shoulder blades. She closed her eyes and let go of her death grip on the chair.

"Wow, she really is tense," Trent thought as he massaged the muscles on the top of her shoulders. She was so small. His hands seemed to take up all of the space on her back when he spread them out. She looked so fragile, that some part of him felt compelled to hold her and protect her. Kind of like what he had done for Janey when they were little, but different.

Daria was in a state of euphoria. She wasn't used to having people touch her, but now she understood why people were so obsessed with it. It was like a physical embodiment of the feeling she got when they had locked eyes that one night. His fingertips were pressing into her, all over her back- but the tingling sensation ran from the top of her head straight through to her toes. He would do everything soft for a while, then concentrate on one area, gradually getting harder and harder, rocking her whole body forward a little.

After rubbing her back for nearly an hour, Trent's hands were numb. She had turned to putty in his hands, and he felt a great sense of accomplishment. He hadn't ever really seen Daria look very relaxed, but there was no denying it now. When he finally took his hands off her, she turned and smiled at him lazily, her eyes halfway closed behind her glasses.

"Thanks. That felt really good."

Trent grinned. "Told you."

Daria just kept smiling, everything seemed to be in slow motion now. It occurred to her maybe she should return the favor, seemed like that's what people did in movies, right? "Uh, wanna switch? I've never rubbed anybody's back before, but I could give it a shot."

"That's okay, I'll take a raincheck. Just remember, you owe me." He glanced at the clock on the wall. "The band was supposed to be here half an hour ago, so they'll probably show up pretty soon."

Daria felt like she was going to fall asleep. "Oh, okay. Well," she slowly stood up and stretched, then put the chair back and lounged back on the couch next to Trent.

Apparently she had forgotten whatever she was going to say. "You sleepy?"

She managed a nod, so he handed her a pillow from the other side of the couch. She took it and rested it against the arm of the couch, then curled into a fetal position with her head on the pillow and closed her eyes.

She wasn't actually asleep yet, so she relished in the sensation of Trent carefully unlacing her boots and slipping them off her feet. Then, to her surprise he smoothed down both of her socks and folded them over neatly over on her ankles. She had never felt so pampered in all her life. He got up and tucked a blanket around her, encasing her in a little warm cocoon. That backrub seemed to have disconnected her brain from her body, so she was enjoying all of this from a state of pure feeling, no rationalizing at all. Feeling warmer and safer than she had ever felt in her life, she drifted off to sleep.

Trent looked down on Daria, curled up on one end of the couch. She didn't even take up two cushions. He had just started to notice lately how small she was. Her clothes were kind of baggy on her, and her hair was pretty thick, so you didn't really notice that she was so tiny. She couldn't be more than 5'4, and she was pretty thin. She seemed so tough sometimes, like she had this huge intellectual wall up to protect her. But when he looked at her like this, it was like that wall had come crumbling down. Daria was somebody who needed someone to take care of her, and for some reason he wanted to do that. He wasn't sure why. Maybe it's because she's the first person he met that he really felt like he could take care of. He chuckled to himself. Most of the girls he dated could probably kick his ass; he wasn't a very big guy. Without really thinking about it, he bent down and kissed her forehead, then turned off the TV and went downstairs.

When Daria woke up, it was pitch black outside. She wandered upstairs, hoping Jane would be home by now. She found her in her room, stationed next to the easel beside the bed.

"Morning, sleeping beauty." Jane kept painting. "Your mom called a while ago to ask where you were, so I went ahead and asked her if you could stay the night. She brought by your stuff about an hour ago on her way to a meeting.

"Thanks." Daria went and sat down on the bed. "So, how was your date?"

"Hmm. Pretty good, I guess. He's nice. I want you to meet him sometime, but only if you promise to be civil. He won't bite you, and I would appreciate you giving the impression of being just as house-broken."

"Whatever. As long as he isn't a raging ignoramus, I should be able to handle myself. Helen's trained me well." She lay back on the bed and stretched her arms out.

"So. . . how was your night with Trent?" She asked, sure Daria would respond to what she was insinuating.

"I'm going to just ignore the tone of that question and its intentional meaning. It was fine. He gave me a backrub."

Jane raised her eyebrows in true surprise, "Aha! You must be quite the temptress. Trent doesn't give his backrubs out to just anyone, you know."

Some part of Daria went, "Really?" and started racing to obvious conclusions. Her mind tried to stop it and made her mouth say, "Well, he said I looked pretty tense. He was just being nice to his kid-sister's best friend."

Jane was thinking otherwise, but decided to keep her mouth shut. That tactic seemed to be working lately.

************************************************************************

"Daaaria! Trent's here again." Quinn scowled at Trent, as she always did. "She's upstairs," she said to him, and walked back into the kitchen to call Sandi.

When Trent opened the door, Daria had kicked her boots off and was sitting on her bed, leaning against the padded wall reading. The green jacket she always wore was draped across her pillow and her hair was up in a failed attempt at a pony-tail.

"Whoa. Nice hair, Daria." He grinned at her as she blushed and quickly took it down. "You don't put your hair up much, huh?"

"Um. . . no. Just when I take off my jacket and it bothers the back of my neck."

"Gotcha."

He looked kind of out of it to Daria in a frazzled sort of way. "You okay? You look. . . drained."

"Yeah. We had a really long practice session earlier, trying to get the new songs ready for a gig tomorrow night. Nick and Max started getting all. . . nevermind." He sat on the edge of the bed and looked at her for a minute. "Actually, could I get that rain check?"

"Huh?" Then Daria suddenly remembered a week ago when she had offered to rub his back. "Sure," she said, blushing.

"Great, I could really use it." He looked at Daria, figuring out how to sit; he thought lying down would seem a little forward or something. As if in answer to his question, Daria put her book aside, then pulled her legs in and crossed them. He scooted up till he was sitting directly in front of her, so her feet were just brushing over the top of his jeans, sending a little unexpected tingle up his spine whenever she wiggled her toes.

"Um, like I said, I've never done this before, so sorry if I suck." She put her hands on his shoulders and tried to remember what how he had touched her back to make it feel so good.

"You can do it a little harder, I'm pretty thick skinned."

Daria tried to forget some of her shyness and massage his skin with a little more intensity. She kneaded her thumbs up and down around the full length of his spine, made little circles with the pads of her hands all over his back, and ran her fingertips around the base of his neck, touching his skin. It was all she could do to keep from wrapping her legs around him and pressing her whole body against him, wanting to be as close to him as possible.

Her toes were rubbing up and down against the skin at the base of his spine, in a sexy, ticklish sort of way that brought his hormones to attention. "Whoa," he thought. Do I wanna go there? Daria was a lot younger than him, and he wasn't sure what Janey would think. Did he really feel that way about her? He thought about it with his eyes closed, Daria's fingertips massaging his neck. "Actually, yeah," he decided after much deliberation. It was just different with Daria, it wasn't the typical lust he felt, inspired by raging hormones. This came from his heart, and his mind; it was just now getting around to notifying his physical needs. As he pondered how to proceed, Daria suddenly stopped.

"Hey, Trent?"

"Yeah?"

"Would you go close my door and lock it? I just don't want to have to explain to my family if they walked in. Cuz' they would jump to conclusions, and the less I have to explain to them, the better."

"Sure." Trent got up and locked the door, those hormones quietly taking note of the situation and seeping little ideas into the back of his brain.

Daria absent-mindedly stretched her legs out wide in front of her; they were a little cramped from sitting cross-legged. Much to her surprise, Trent didn't wait for her to fold them back up to sit back down. He pulled back on the bed until his butt was touching her thighs. A little stunned by this and the sensations it was causing, Daria's cheeks flushed and her breath got a little quicker. But maybe he was just being oblivious, or was used to touching physically, so she pulled her legs in so they were touching the outside of his, then went back to rubbing his back.

Delighted that she had gone with it, and hadn't pulled away or freaked out, Trent smiled to himself and relished the feeling of so much of their bodies touching. Actually, he got the vibe that Daria was as into this as him, just a little unsure of herself. He had never seen her with many guys, and she didn't seem to be physically close to anyone. Looking down at where her legs were next to his, he began to stroke her calves with his hands. He felt her freeze up and shiver a little, obviously not expecting his touch.

"Oh my god." Daria thought to herself. How many people have their fantasies actually come true? She didn't know how to respond in a way that would tell him that she felt the same way, she was too unsure of herself. She found herself pressing her hands into him harder, in slower, longer strokes. He had slipped off her socks and was running his hands all the way from her ankles to just above her knees.

He could feel her subtly squeezing her legs against him, and he took his hands off her legs and pushed himself farther back against her, so close that he could feel her breath on the back of his neck. She began to massage the edges of his back, then up and down his sides, then down to slightly under the top of his pants. He breathed heavily and leaned back against her, so their torsos were touching from the collar bone down.

There was no way Daria could keep up the façade of a friendly back rub, so she ran her hands around his sides to his chest, and pulled him closer into her. She rested her head forward onto his shoulder and sighed deeply. Words didn't exist to describe her emotions at this moment, needless to say, complete and utter happiness was as close as she could get. She lifted her legs to the inside of his, and his hands ran up and down her thighs, up to where he was sneaking his fingertips under the bottom of her underwear on the outside of her hips.

He could feel her breathing getting heavier underneath him. Afraid of going too far, and of ruining the moment, Trent slid his hands back down Daria's legs, picked up her calves, and wrapped them around his torso. Then he crossed his own legs. He pulled her hands off of his chest and sandwiched them between his own. Eventually he pulled them apart and kissed the center of each of her palms. His fingers wrapped in-between hers, and he closed their arms back in a hug around himself. Finally, he rested his head against Daria's, and said quietly, "You're pretty cool, Daria."

"Thanks."