Let this be a lesson to you all – this is what happens when you spend all your life watching anime and letting caffeine carry your mind away. I know, it's a scary thing, but it's also two in the morning, a time for scary things. Oh yeah, I don't own anyone in this fic at all. grouses.

A soft beeping rose the small girl from her sleep. She groaned softly, lifting a delicate hand to silence the electronic annoyance. She stood gracefully, allowing herself one satisfying stretch before proceeding to the bathroom. She sighed upon seeing her dark blue hair tousled, and her midnight blue eyes were tired. She stepped into the shower, letting the water bring back her back to life. It wasn't long before she found herself in the kitchen. It was another morning for Shinobu Maehera.
Her sister, Ami was an intern during the night shift at the local hospital. Shinobu pitied the poor girl, knowing that the shifts took a great deal out of her, so she often made dinner before taking off to school. She relished the way the spaghetti noodles slid through her hand and the pattering noise they made against the pot, letting herself find peace for a moment in the simple task. Fear nibbled at her edges of that peace, though, threatening to unravel her. She knew that her mother lay sleeping on the couch in the other room. Passed out, more likely. Since Shinobu's father had died so many years ago, her mother had taken to the bottle, and had never come up for air. It was Ami who took the reigns of the household, and she'd never let go.
Ami, now 21, was a genius. She'd graduated high school when she was fifteen, moving immediately on to college with a full ride scholarship. Not that she had abandoned their small family, far from it. Ami had taught Shinobu how to cook and they shared cleaning duties. No matter how much homework she had, Ami always had time for Shinobu. She was always there. Her mother was a different matter entirely. She was always there, but she was always there to cause trouble. She had a pretty low opinion of Shinobu, and try as she might to tell herself that her mother didn't mean the horrible things she said and did, she couldn't help but feel as though she were somehow responsible. After all, if she were a better person, her mother wouldn't have any reason to be angry. She sighed, leaving the competed meal on the counter and gathering her books. It was time for school, not time for regret.
Shinobu let herself meld with the flux of students in the school. She found bliss in her anonymity. It was somehow soothing to her to know that no one noticed her. It wasn't that Shinobu was without friends, in fact, she had a very good friend in Lita Barton. She knew she was hiding, and deep down inside, she knew what she was hiding from, or more specifically, who she was hiding from. She didn't want him to notice her.
Well... that wasn't exactly true, she did want him to notice her, but she didn't. She got so confused around him, constantly feeling off balance and dizzy. She always did foolish things around him, causing a heinous blush to rush to her cheeks. So she avoided him, she tried to not look at him.
He was the most popular boy at school; she knew she wasn't alone in her attraction to him. Half the girls in school wanted him. He was charming, funny, graceful, intelligent, and handsome; the perfect specimen of the high school male, Duo Maxwell. He had long chestnut hair braided down to his back and sparkling violet eyes. Those eyes had made Shinobu stammer on more than one occasion when they'd trained themselves on her.

It was enough to make her dread her first class, he was in it. She sighed heavily.

"Aw, Shinobu, first class blues?" Lita's eyes smiled as broadly as her mouth with the joke, and Shinobu had to smile back. Lita was just like that. She was electric, and everyone around her felt the buzz. Her emotions were more contagious than the flu.

"Good Morning, Lita." The perky brunette smiled broadly at her. Lita had a brother in school with them, the mysterious Trowa. Unfortunately, he was friends with Duo, and Lita kept threatening to 'pull some strings'. Shinobu didn't even want to know what that meant

"The semester is almost over, Dearie... pretty soon you won't have to see him."

Shinobu frowned, a gentle crease that settled over her features with grace, "I know, Lita, and I'm kinda glad it is ending, but at the same time..."

"I know, but hey, 'grin and bear it', eh?" She squeezed the smaller girl's shoulder, giving her a little push toward her classroom. "Knock 'em dead, tiger."

Shinobu could only sigh, training her eyes on the distant door with hope and dread.

He watched her walk in the classroom out of the corner of his eye, blessing the alphabet. Why the alphabet? It was easy. Her name came right before his alphabetically, assuring him a seat behind her on the seating chart. To him, Shinobu Maehera was a doll. She was beautiful, no sane person in the universe would deny it, but there was more to her.

She was so quiet and shy... maybe vulnerable? He wasn't sure; he'd never been able to speak to her long enough to know. He knew she certainly looked it, her shoulders slightly curved, her midnight blue eyes casting an aura of sadness around her. She looked like a wounded angel, and Duo wanted nothing more than to be the one to comfort her.

If it were anyone else, he'd turn on his charms and flirt her into submission, but with Shinobu, it seemed rude, disgraceful, like talking out loud in an art gallery. He wanted to be gentler, but fear held him in check. She seemed afraid of him, and he didn't think he could bear her rejection if he told her how he felt, or even showed an interest. In frustration, his hand flicked to his braid, bringing the tip of it over his shoulder so that he could play with the rubber band that kept his vast amounts of hair in check.

"Maxwell, what's eatin' you?"
Barely able to keep himself from rolling his eyes at the condescending tone of one Milliardo Peacecraft, Duo grudgingly turned his head left. The alphabet is not always your friend, for it can land you next to assholes. "Can it, Peacecraft, I'm not in the mood for your garbage right now."

"Jesus, Maxwell, don't get your panties in a twist."

Duo wanted to scream, yell anything to vent his frustration. Milliardo was one of the worst things to ever happen to a high school. Secretly, Duo nicknamed him the Suckerfish, willing to suck up to anyone to be more popular. He was arrogant and selfish, and worst of all, a poser. He had so many airs and canned comebacks that he had to practice them in front of the mirror at night. It seemed that Duo was his new target, but what Milliardo didn't know was how tired Duo was of everyone like him. He wanted to be with someone real, some one like Shinobu.

He turned his head forward once more, breathing in slow and deep. She always smelled of jasmine, and he loved it. It suited her. He wanted to talk to her, but for as silver as his tongue was, he couldn't find the words. He grinned the grin of the devil at that thought, knowing that it was a blue moon for Duo Maxwell to be speechless, but he was. She had that much power over him.

He lost his chance when class was called to order, so he spent the hour trying to find a way to get her attention, to maybe get her to talk to him. It wasn't until the end of the hour that his salvation swept down from the heavens.

"Class," the teacher began in a painful monotone, "we will be starting our semester projects soon, an analytical paper. The objective is to select any character from one of the plays we've read this semester and analyze it fully. It's a fairly weighty assignment and I will not be gentle with the red pen, so I suggest you take this quite seriously."

Normally, the thought of a strenuous paper would be enough for Duo to groan, but if he could ask Shinobu to be his partner... well, that wouldn't be so bad. He snorted derisively, 'wouldn't be so bad', hell, he'd be at the library every god damned day if it meant that he could be with her.

"With as serious as this project is," he continued, "I'm picking the partners." That did make Duo groan. "The first two people in every row will be working together, as will the last two people in every row."

Duo caught his breath and blessed his lucky star, his guardian angel, God, whoever saw fit to pair him up with her. Maybe now he'd get a chance to talk with her, hopefully about something other than this heinous paper.

Shinobu was pretty sure she was going to die. In fact, when the teacher had announced who she'd be working with, that was the exact moment her heart had stopped. She was frozen to the spot, even though her mind was telling her that the bell had rung. She couldn't get over her shock, and she wasn't really sure how she felt about working so close to the one and only Duo Maxwell. A voice at her ear broke her from her thoughts, a very familiar voice, "Penny for your thoughts?"

Her mouth went dry and her pulse quickened, but the only word she could come up with to answer him was, "Pardon?"

His laugh came out easy and seemed to flow from him. For some reason, it comforted Shinobu, "You look tense, Shinobu... and deep in thought to boot. I was just being nosey." Duo's eyes seemed to hold hers like magnets. She couldn't get away from them.

"Oh," she smiled faintly while inwardly plundering her mind for something to say, something memorable, or even funny, but all she could think of was, "What do you want to do about the... er, paper?"

He smiled and shifted his weight to his heels, "Not sure, but it's a doosy. We'd better start it soon."

She nodded in agreement, letting her mind wander through her options. "Well, I, uh, work at the library in town everyday after school – its not like it's busy, we could work then." She felt hope flare in her chest as she spoke.

"Really? What do you do at the library?"

She felt like her cheeks had just caught on fire, "I - I work at the help desk. Every once in a while I help some one find a book. Nothing else."

He nodded solemnly, "Works for me. See you after school." With that, he sauntered out of the room.

Shinobu could only watch him as he left. She found herself admiring the easy way Duo flowed through life. She was pretty sure he had no idea who she was, and yet he was as kind and friendly as if she were his friend... well, maybe not, but still.

The rest of the day had passed in a blur of nervous anticipation. Of course Lita just had to put in her two cents about the project. It was alright though; they'd both gotten a good laugh about it. She loved how Lita could do that, she made Shinobu let go of so much tension by simply cracking a joke.

After seventh hour physics, Shinobu made her way back to her locker. It only took her until she was ten feet away to notice things looked a lot more crowded by her locker than normal. Like Duo was standing there. By her locker. She took a deep breath and tried to gain some sort of composure. It didn't work. She sighed in defeat and went to go meet with him, trying to ignore the hilarious looks that Lita was giving her.

"Hi, Shinobu, ready to get going?" He spoke as if it was the most normal thing in the world for him to be there, and since when did he know her name?

"Uh, yeah, let me get my things." She wanted to bury her head in her locker and not come out; at least then no one would see her blushing. She shoved that desire aside, grabbing her light jacket and book bag.

As they left the school, Lita sang out, "You Kids have fun, now!" Sometime, Shinobu could swear Lita enjoyed her discomfort. Duo only laughed.

If you asked him right then, Duo'd have told you that he was in heaven. Yeah, Shinobu was shy, but he'd find a way to open her up. He had to. He'd been taken with her since he'd tutored her chemistry class last year. To be totally honest, he'd not noticed her until several weeks into the class. He'd had to do a project for tutoring, teach the class for the day. It was no biggie, he knew the stuff and a lot of the people in the class, but when he'd called on her randomly to answer a question, her eyes had gone wide, and she looked as if she were about to cry. In a voice that sound faintly of bells, she'd said very quietly that she didn't know the answer. It was then that Her Pinkness swept in for the kill.

Her Pinkness was Milliardo's sister, Relena Peacecraft. A year younger than her terror of a brother, she was the reigning queen of her class. Everything had to go her way, everything. Duo really didn't like her – she'd been stalking his good buddy Heero for a long time, and he was really sick of it. Relena just couldn't get it through her head that Heero wasn't interested.

Duo'd always known that Relena was obnoxious, but he'd had no idea she was evil too. Her words sealed it for him, though, "Oh, Duo, don't call on Shinobu... you'd have better luck getting an answer from the wall, she's special." He'd watched the elfin girl wilt under the criticism, and it made his blood boil. He hated seeing people take that kind of abuse. Not like there was anything he could do, though. No matter how much in charge the teacher had left him, Relena saw herself as untouchable. She wouldn't listen to him, and worse, if she did, no doubt she'd take it out on the girl later.

He'd carried the anger from Relena's remarks through class and out in to the hall, right to the water fountain where he always met Heero. He hadn't waited to even say hi before bursting out with, "I can't STAND Relena!"

"Things not go well in chem?" Heero'd replied with his traditional smirk.

"She's such a bitch... I had to do that tutoring thingy today, and she lit into this poor girl who didn't know the answer. I thought the other girl was going to cry!"

"Typical Relena. Who was it?"
Duo blinked in surprise, then, "Oh, uh, some girl, Shinobu, I think."

Heero had jerked to a stop at those words, practically glaring at Duo, "Shinobu Maehera?"

"Uh, yeah, that sounds right." Duo was puzzled by his friend's sudden change in demeanor.

"I'm going to kill Relena."

"Why, do you know Shinobu?"

"Her older sister, Ami, has been dating my brother, Spike, since their senior year in high school."

"That long?"

"Yeah, Shinobu's, she's kinda like a little sister to me. Wait, what did she say?"

"Shinobu?"

"No, Relena, Gomer."

"Oh, uh, something about blood from turnips and Shinobu being a moron. I felt awful, because the girl seemed to take it hard."

"I'll kill her."

Duo sighed, remembering with more than a twinge of regret that Heero had not held good on his promise, and every so often, he'd caught Relena saying more nasty things to Shinobu. He wasn't sure why, I mean, even though Relena was the incarnation of evil, he wouldn't believe that Relena would just be awful to her for no reason, I mean, other than Trowa's sister, she didn't talk to a soul. There's no way she could have pissed off Relena.

"So, Shinobu," started Duo, determined to get the girl to talk to him, "got a favorite character you want to write about?"

He tried to ignore the precious blush that flooded her cheeks. He found her blush adorable, but there was no way in hell he could tell her. "Uh, I kinda liked Puck."

"Puck, huh, from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'?" She nodded slowly, her eyes fixed firmly on her shoes. "Yeah, he's good. I liked him."

"Really?" She seemed surprised, and that startled Duo.

"Well, yeah, I mean, he's a joker and goofs off, but at the end of it all, he's the one who's got his shit in a bag. What's not to like?"

She smiled at him then. Granted, it was faint, and it seemed tingled with an intangible sorrow, but she smiled, and it made his heart soar. "Hey, Shinobu – wanna catch dinner after you're done at work?"

She went pale so fast that Duo braced himself to catch her if she fainted. She stayed on her feet though, and he found himself looking deeply into two twin pools of midnight blue. They were hypnotizing. He was so drawn into them that he nearly missed her words. "Why are you making fun of me, Duo?" It was then that he saw the tears glistening at the corner of her eyes. Unbidden and unasked, his hand brushed them away. She cringed at the contact then turned from him, running down the street.

Her throat was choked and the tears were streaming down her cheeks. She couldn't understand how Duo could be like that. He had always seemed so kind, but hey, high school was a terrible place. She cried a little harder, stifling a sob. But Duo was supposed to be different.

At least, she thought he was. He'd been her tutor in Chemistry last year. During his lecture, Relena had dug in on her pretty bad, and Shinobu had been humiliated. But when she'd looked at Duo, she saw pure anger in his eyes, not the laughter she'd expected. But now she realized that the anger was for the interruption and not the barb like Shinobu had originally assumed.

It was like her mother always said, Shinobu was worthless. Ami had gotten the talent and dedication, Shinobu was just a waste. She was dumb, she was useless. There was no way, and no how anyone would find anything worth liking within her. She stopped her run and covered her face with her hands, wishing for all the world that she were dead.

A soft hand on her arm startled her, nearly making her fall, but strong arms caught her, gently bringing her to her feet. "Shinobu, look at me."

Tenderly a finger snaked under her chin, pulling her face up so that her eyes met his. "I would never make fun of you, Shinobu."

She found herself trapped by his amethyst eyes and silent at his words. He continued, "You are different from every other girl at the stupid school, and I simply wanted to get to know you better, but if I said something wrong, I've never been more sorry in my life."

"Why, Duo? Why me? I'm nothing – I'm invisible. I'm... worthless." More treacherous tear fell, and Shinobu felt like a fool.

"Oh, Shinobu... how could you ever think that? You're the most real thing, the most real person I've ever met. And you're far from invisible, when you walk into a room, the whole world stills."

She noticed a slight blush on his cheeks and wondered at it, unconsciously bringing her hand to touch his cheek. To her surprise, he leaned into her touch, letting his eyes close. It made her head zing to stand so close to him, to touch him. He smelled faintly of some cologne that was unknown to her, but it was intoxicating.

"Shinobu, you're not worthless. In fact, you mean... a-a lot to me. You're - priceless to me."

Her eyes widened in shock at his confession, but before she could say a word, his lips had captured hers, locking them in a cautious, but heart stopping first kiss. It was over soon after it had started, but it was enough to leave Shinobu weak in the knees. "Duo..."

He smiled tenderly at her, once more wiping the tears from her eyes, "I don't care how long it takes, Shinobu, I'll prove to you that you aren't worthless.