Disclaimer: Not ours, except for the OC's!

The Mistakes of Others

The alarm buzzed on and Shinobu opened her eyes immediately. She allowed her brain a few moments to orient itself before she clicked off the alarm clock and sat up. The clock read '5:00 a.m.' A small smile lightly touched her lips. Today marked the first day of her last year in high school. Shinobu shook off her silly smile and neatly arranged her futon, rolling it away.

"What type of person am I that I enjoy going to school…", she thought vaguely. But that didn't matter. She needed to shower and then make breakfast and pack lunches for the rest of the crew. Shinobu tapped her head in remonstrance at what she thought was her uncanny ability to waste time and then quietly slipped out of her room, making her way to the hot spring.

About twenty minutes later, Shinobu bustled into the kitchen, still careful about the amount of noise she made. Soon the older occupants of the house would start filtering down (except for Kitsune, the thought making her giggle silently), all asking for breakfast. Shinobu began to cook up her usual fare for breakfast: miso soup, rice topped with a seaweed garnish, some grilled fish, and green tea. The work became mechanic once again: chopping the seaweed, flipping the fish strips, stirring the miso, checking the rice, adding the tea leaves. At the same time, Shinobu prepared and packed everyone's lunches. Towards the end, Shinobu checked her watch. Keitaro and Naru should be up anytime now…and they were up, Shinobu realized ruefully, as she heard the distinct sound of Naru's fist meeting Keitaro's cheek. Motoko had already woken up before…Now it was just Suu and Kitsune.

Shinobu set down the food and plates on the table. She then made her way upstairs and tried to wake up Suu, who groaned and nestled herself further into her sheets. Shinobu bit her lip. She didn't want to be mean and wake up Suu…but she had to because Suu had to go to school.

Suu had, a few years back, taken a tour of the world because Molmol had an extreme budget surplus. With the consent of the people, they sent their second princess off to experience the multicultural education that you could only get from visiting other countries. As a result of that expedition, Suu was pulled down to a lower grade, one lower that Shinobu. However, she didn't mind and she still did very well.

"Suu, get up! You have school today!" Shinobu urgently whispered.

"No. Suu wants to stay home," Suu grumbled.

"Fine then. No breakfast for you." Suu was out of bed before Shinobu could blink. Worked every time.

On the way back down, Shinobu saw Keitaro and a blush rose to tint her cheeks. "Why, Kami, why?" Her mind screamed at her. It's not like she still liked him!

"Hello Shinobu! It's a nice morning today, isn't it?" He usually just smiled at her in greeting…Shinobu watched him carefully, a nervous smile pointed at him.

"Yes, it is." A silence followed. "Umm…I'll go now. Suu and I have to eat and then go to school."

"Do well and have fun! Remember, these are the best times of your life!"

Shinobu walked away, inwardly cringing. Looked like Naru had hit him a tad bit harder this morning.

Once Shinobu came downstairs, she found Suu gobbling up the last of her breakfast. Shinobu quickly ate a bowl of rice and downed a bit of green tea. Soon, the two were off to school.

And so went Shinobu's morning routine.

Upon reaching the school, Shinobu and Suu separated but only after Shinobu made Suu swear on Tama-chan that Suu would meet Shinobu at the gates 30 minutes after school ended.

"Shinobu!" The said girl turned to find one of her friends running up to her.

"Hey Yumi! How was your break?" Yumi rolled her eyes dramatically and linked arms with Shinobu, dragging her to a nearby tree, where "the group" usually met.

"You won't believe what happened! I was going to vacation to Thailand with my family, right, and then I saw HIM! He looked more gorgeous in person than he does on television! I mean, his body, and hair and everything! It's just so perfect! I even took a picture with him! And he put his arm around me!" Yumi squealed and looked to the bewildered Shinobu as if expecting the same reaction from her.

"Saw who?" Shinobu asked. Yumi tugged at her arm a little harshly.

"Takashi Ukito! You know, tall, handsome, deadly hot personality--"

"Please Yumi. You don't have to speak of me like that. I know I'm irresistible but really, drooling girls just aren't my thing." Shinobu and Yumi both turned to see a tall, lean boy making his way towards them. His cocky grin would usually make girls swoon but Yumi threw her notebook at him and Shinobu hid her giggle with her hand.

"Not you, Kyo! I'm talking about--" Yumi continued to babble on, as the rest of their friends filtered in. The girls, Chie and Jun, were split on Yumi's reaction to meeting the television soap star, with Chie going nuts and Jun not really caring. The boys, meanwhile, consisting of Kyo, Isao and Michimo, started their own conversation about their last year of school.

The bell soon rang, signaling the departure to the students' homerooms. The group was about to split when it was stopped by Chie's voice flinging an insult in an altogether different direction, one to their left. All the heads turned to see a gaggle of boys following a pack of girls, all goosing after one female in general.

"Kami, I hate that slimy wench," Chie muttered darkly.

Seven pairs of eyes followed the willowy figure enter the building with a haughty flip of her mane.

"Ten yen she's in my homeroom," Jun said flatly.

"Twenty," Shinobu teased, wrinkling her nose for effect. The troupe moved on, soon splitting. Shinobu traveled to her homeroom, followed by Kyo, Chie, and Yumi. The four sat in a square, with Kyo in front of Shinobu, who sat next to Yumi and diagonally from Chie. Shinobu looked out the window to see a few stragglers running desperately into the building. Sadly, she noted carefully, one of those stragglers who didn't seem to care was Suu.

"Oh dear," Shinobu clucked disapprovingly. "I'm going to have to talk to Suu about that."

A hand waved in front of her face. Shinobu snapped to attention.

"Hellllooooo! Shinnnnooobbbuuuu!" Kyo continued waving his hand in front of her face, which was made easier since he was seated backwards in his desk. Shinobu swatted at him unsuccessfully.

"Kyo, you can stop now!" Shinobu said, slightly annoyed.

"What? Don't like the attention?" He teased. Shinobu rolled her eyes and leaned forward.

"I just don't like you," Playfully, Shinobu pushed Kyo, smiling at him. But then, as if a bugle had sounded, the door of the classroom opened to reveal the haughty girl from before, only with less of her friends. She walked into the class and seated herself not to far from Shinobu's group.

Chie and Yumi groaned and hung their heads. Ume lanced a look in their direction, smiled at the charming Kyo, and then began to apply her make-up…again.

"There's nothing wrong with her make-up. It already looks like she just put it on," Shinobu mumbled.

"She's just trying to win my affections," Kyo said, smiling roguishly back in Ume's direction.

"Don't flatter yourself, Kyo. Everyone knows that Ume only has eyes for Toshio," Yumi whispered to him. Kyo frowned, looking down at Shinobu's desk.

"I wonder what she sees in him," He said. "I'm better than him in looks (my rippling physique), personality (my sparkling humor), sports (my amazing--)"

"Shut up, Kyo! You're bragging again! You're so full of yourself!" Chie shook her head at him disgustedly.

"You guys, calm down. We just need to wait a few more minutes and then we can all head off to our first classes," Shinobu said, ushering the flaring tempers back down to a normal level. There was a silence for a few minutes before Kyo spoke up again.

"You forgot your lunch again," Kyo stated simply, looking at Shinobu.

"Wha--?" Shinobu stared at him blankly before checking herself. She had forgotten her lunch. In fact, she'd forgotten to make herself one.

"Shinobu, you always forget to make yourself a lunch!" Chie admonished her. Yumi just shook her head.

"Sorry! I just forgot!"

Kyo snorted. "Don't be sorry about this. You're pretty busy at your place in the morning."

Shinobu frowned, "I'm not busy. I just do stupid things all the time, like forgetting to make my lunch. Sor--"

Kyo shot her a skeptical look, cutting off her apology. "You're not stupid. And plus, they give lunches to us," he said shortly.

The teacher walked in and Kyo reversed his position. Once schedules were handed out, the bell rang. The group broke apart, heading to their classes.

Shinobu's first half of the day breezed by, as teachers lectured her and her fellow students on how they should all be preparing for their examinations for university, but only if they wished to attend it. Shinobu paid attention to every lecture, no matter how similar it was to the last. Just as her calculus teacher ended his litany on the syllabus, the bell rang, signaling the break for lunch.

She made her way to the table where all her friends had already congregated after she picked up her meal. Yumi and the gang were already babbling away at what their teachers had told them.

"He told us that the exam for Todai is SO hard that most people have to take it more than once! I don't think I want to do that! But my parents--" As usual, Shinobu tuned out Yumi and thought back to the hardships faced by Keitaro, Naru, and Mutsumi. She'd have them to help her out, wouldn't she?

But there was so much going on at home that she sincerely doubted whether or not any of them would have time for her. Keitaro and Naru still were confused about the status of their relationship, even after all that they'd been through. Their fights often caused the household to blow up.

"I'm gonna get help at cram school," Isao said, using his chopsticks to sort through his pickled vegetables. The others nodded in agreement. They'd all been in cram school for most of their education, Shinobu remembered. But she'd never had the opportunity.

"What about you, Shinobu? Still not going to cram school?" Jun asked.

"Still not enough money!" Shinobu replied jokingly. The others started laughing lightly and then uneasily returned to their meals. Shinobu's financial problems had never been a fun topic.

"Well, I'm sure Shinobu doesn't need it," Michimo smiled warmly at her. "She is the smartest kid at the school." A warmth tickled Shinobu's cheeks and she looked down at her fish, slowly bringing a piece to her mouth but then stopping.

"I'm not the smartest person," she said.

"You're right," Kyo said. "I'm the smartest." There was a short silence in the group before Isao started snickering.

"You're really stupid, Kyo."

"No I'm not! I'm smarter than you!"

"You're smarter than anyone who says they're smart!" Isao countered. Shinobu sensed another confrontation.

"Okay guys, let's eat and go! We only have thirty minutes for lunch!"

"Right," Kyo said. "Only thirty minutes." Kyo went back to his meal, shoveling the food into his mouth. Shinobu nudged Kyo with her elbow. He looked at her questioningly. She nudged her head in Isao's direction. Kyo sighed and looked away, shaking his head. Shinobu lightly touched his arm with her fingers.

"I'm sorry, Isao. I was being a bum," Kyo grumbled into his rice.

"No problem Kyo."

Shinobu smiled back down into her rice, not noticing the look that her three best friends (female) passed between themselves. All the girls in this little group got along reasonably well with Kyo despite his over-frequent bouts of flamboyant arrogance, but only Shinobu ever really gave him that sort of reprimand. Her patient efforts to slow Kyo's mouth down to at least the pace of his brain had not been going unnoticed by her female friends, but for now, they did not consider the thoughts that these incidents brought to their minds interesting enough to comment on. For now.

The lunch continued in silence, until Jun finished and spoke up, absently tracing circles with her finger on her books.

"We've known each other for a long time, haven't we?"

Everyone looked at her, some blinking at her in surprise, others in thought.

"Well, yeah. We've all known each other for four to five years now. Some of us even longer," Michimo stated.

Shinobu nodded with the others. She'd known Yumi the longest, followed by Kyo, Chie, and then the others. She'd been the last addition to this group.

Jun spoke up again, though this time with more hesitance. "Do you think…ahh… Are we all going to still be friends after this year?"

The drove looked at her, stunned into silence. Without giving them a chance to answer, the bell rang. The group stayed, trying to wrap their minds around the question. Finally, someone spoke.

"Well, I'll do my best to keep in touch with all of you," said Chie. That's all she could manage before looking away and taking a deep breath. Shinobu felt tears prick her eyes. Whenever she saw someone cry, she had to cry.

Kyo let a smirk cross his lips. "I'll do better." They knew he meant it in a kind way, compared to his usual boasts of excellence. This boast was only meant to lighten the mood. Kyo looked around triumphantly as the others smiled and began to stand up. He followed Shinobu, soon next to her and matching her gait.

"Are you crying?" He asked nonchalantly.

"No!" But then again, Shinobu thought, I'm a horrible liar.

"You're a horrible liar," He muttered, looking down at her.

"You're probably more horrible," she teased, copying his signature attempt to be better. He rolled his eyes and left her to go to his classroom. Shinobu walked into hers and sat, a huge smile crossing her features. Her friends and Hinata family were her life.

The school day ended without anything spectacular, though Shinobu was slightly put-out that Ume was in her last class. But, she decided, not everything was perfect.

Ume had always been a source of contention with the group. Not only did she have everything she wanted but she emitted this...this sense of knowing it. You could call it haughty, for an easy way out. But she wasn't a high-and-mighty type. Ume was, as Shinobu liked to think, faking her happiness. She'd left their group earlier on in high school, a few months after Shinobu entered. No one knew the exact reason why. But she'd been one of core friends of the group, one of the ones that had started it off.

Chie, Jun, and Yumi especially disliked Ume and Shinobu could only put it down to jealousy. The boys, Shinobu thought as she closed upon the meeting spot, were a different story. None of them held qualms over Ume leaving or being who she was. The enmity that the girls felt, Shinobu thought, just had to do with being female. She too was jealous of perfect Ume. That girl had good looks, good grades, and boys flocking after her. Shinobu noted bitterly (not that she'd ever let anyone know) that she didn't have two of the three.

Shinobu waited near the tree that she had met her friends under in the morning. They would all chat for about thirty minutes before heading home. A few acquaintances congratulated her belatedly on her excellent job on last year's final exams and Shinobu received the comments graciously. The people left, and Shinobu could make out a few of her friends making their way to her.

A few minutes after they all assembled, Shinobu couldn't help but let a frown mar her features. Seemed like all of them were in for intensive cram school days whenever their schedules called for it. This day was one of the few when all of them had to go.

Shinobu sighed as they all left her, waving goodbye. She began trudging towards the entrance of the school, where she would wait for Suu. Checking her watch, Shinobu noted carefully that there was about a fifteen minute wait that she would have to endure for Suu. Not bad, right?

That's what she thought before she saw Ume walking towards her.

AN: Yay! First chapter done! Lots of original characters, yes, but we never see Shinobu at school. So we wondered what it would be like. Please read and review! Reviews offer us advice that we would otherwise never recieve. Constructive criticism is MOST appreciated!