Just an idea that popped into my head as I worked on Grind. Hope you guys enjoy!

Chapter 1

Don't judge a book by its cover. That's what people usually say, isn't it? How I wish that were true. But, if the past seventeen years have taught me anything, it's that people love to say things, but rarely ever want to put them into application. Take me, for example.

I mean, aside from my appearance, is there really any reason at all to assume that I'm some sort of delinquent or thug? I live with my mom, I cook, and I clean. In other words, I do what every other teenage boy my age normally does. Well, okay, I don't exactly live a normal life, but I don't do anything too far out of the ordinary. So why is it that I am shunned by everyone, just because my bastard father passed me down his looks?

I just want to be normal, you know? I want to hang out with friends and talk to girls without them assuming that I'm attempting a mugging and shoving their purses in my face. And most of all, I want to tell Kushieda Minori how I feel about her. Look, despite how I look, underneath, I'm really just a hopeless romantic who wants his chance at the girl of his dreams. I mean, okay, she's a little eccentric, but that's endearing, right? And she's always nice to me, and she has the prettiest amber eyes I've ever seen in my life.

We met through Kitamura, who just so happens to be my only real friend at school. He's different too, but I guess that's why he and Minori knew each other in the first place. But like Minori, he's a good guy who I genuinely appreciate having around. Sometimes, it helps to be around someone who treats me like I'm just a normal high school student, which I am.

Of course, I can't mention Kitamura without bringing up the girl who has a crush on him, Aisaka Taiga. The two of us have worked together since the beginning of the school year in our mutual goals of confessing our love for Minori and Kitamura respectively, although I'm sad to say that we've both met little progress on either end. Of course, neither of us are one to call it quits so easily, so I guess there's still some hope for both of us.

And finally, there's Kawashima Ami. She's a model, who just so happened to transfer to our school in the middle of the year. With her cerulean hair and developed figure to go along with her beautiful violet eyes, she looks the part of a model, and most of the time, she acts like an airhead, which makes her the most popular girl in school. But I know that she's different underneath the surface, as much as she tries to deny it. She's actually wickedly smart, and cunning to boot, and maybe my understanding of that fact has colored my judgment a bit towards her, because I've always thought of her as being tougher than I could ever hope to be.

So that is why I was so confused as to why I was currently chasing her down after she ran off while we were picking up trash. After all, it seemed like nothing ever fazed the imperturbable Kawashima Ami, so what was different this time? My chest heaved as I gasped for breath, willing my exhausted legs further as cold drops of rain splotched onto my soaked clothes and into my hair. However, none of that mattered as my mind was focused on a singular goal: find Ami.

Suddenly, I saw it. She was crouched down under a bus stop, leaning up against a wooden plank as she peered out occasionally, as if she were searching for something.

"Hey, what's wrong?" I asked as I slowed down to a walk, finally taking some time to catch my breath after a long run, "If you're looking for shelter…"

I didn't have time to finish my sentence before she grabbed my arm and pulled me down forcefully, so that I was crouched down beside her.

"Hey, what was that?" I exclaimed, rubbing my arm gingerly. She really had quite the grip.

However, Ami did not respond with anything more than a shush and placed her finger over her lips, an action I understood immediately and felt obliged to follow, given the frantic look in Ami's eyes. It was an unfamiliar sensation to see Ami get worked up about anything, and thus, I knew that she was serious right now.

Silently, she jabbed a finger at the underpass nearby, where I noticed a familiar looking guy with a camera in his hands.

"Hey, it's that guy from before." I remarked, remembering when we had met him earlier.

Ami bit her lip slightly, as if she was debating whether or not to speak, "To tell the truth, he's a stalker."

"What? Why didn't you tell us earlier?" I whispered back, concern in my voice.

"Because! It's so…frustrating." Ami fired back.

"Frustrating?" I asked, intending to get answers as to why exactly Ami neglected to tell us such an important fact.

"I didn't want to admit that I was letting some freak mess up my life. I had to move because of him. I didn't want to cause trouble for my parents, so I came here to live with some relatives. I've even stopped modeling for the time being." The words spilled out, one after the other, and I watched her eyes snap shut in a combination of fear and anger. Her hands balled up into fists as she continued on, "But after all that, he's still chased me all the way here."

Ami's eyes opened back up to reveal hollowness, almost as if her soul had been sucked out of her. And in essence, it had. I understood immediately how she felt. She was tired, to put it plainly. She had fought for so long, and even now, her opponent refused to yield, and she was on the verge of giving in. I knew that because that's exactly how I felt in the past. No matter how hard I tried, it seemed like I was always going to be seen as a delinquent, despite my best efforts to convince everyone otherwise. There were times when I had felt like giving in as well, because over time, I had grown exhausted of fighting and I had begun to question why exactly I was still fighting. Even now, I still asked the same question of myself every now and then, and to be honest, I still don't know the answer.

"Takasu-kun! Kawashima-san!" Minori's voice ripped through the heaviness of the moment, and the two of us were temporarily snapped out of our thoughts by her words. We tilted our heads upwards to see Taiga and Minori walking down a set of stairs that ran parallel to the underpass.

As they did so, they drew the attention of the stalker, who came out with a large grin on his face that made me want to puke in disgust. I could tell Ami felt the same way because she immediately tensed as Taiga noticed the man's presence.

"What is she doing? He's a stalker." Ami muttered as it seemed that Taiga was getting into an argument with the man.

Without any warning, Taiga swung her garbage bag at the stalker with the intent of striking him down, a testament to the girl's fiery temper. In surprise, the two of us could do nothing but watch as Taiga chased the man down the street.

"That idiot!" I cried out, standing up to help Taiga in case she got into trouble.

However, before I could take a step, Ami's shaky voice stopped me.

"Why?" She breathed, "I mean, isn't she scared? That guy's twisted."

"Kawashima?" I asked, growing genuinely concerned for her.

"Because of him, I had to take time off of work, move, and transfer schools. I get so upset, the stress builds, and I end up binging on snacks." Ami admitted, looking more vulnerable than I had ever seen her before.

"Do you think this means I was defeated by that worthless freak and by Aisaka Taiga?" She asked no one in particular as she stood up.

"Takasu-kun, you just said that I should stop playing nice, didn't you?" She asked, with her wet hair draped over her face.

"Y-yeah." I managed, feeling worried for Ami.

However, that worry was quickly dispelled as Ami's lips curled up into a devilish smile, "I get it now. I do. No more cutesy crap. No more. No more, no more no more, no more." She repeated over and over again.

"From now on, I'll live with this nasty personality of mine! I refuse to let them have the last laugh!" She screamed with fire in her eyes and her normally placid face contorted into a scowl. With that, she started off, bolting into the rain after Taiga, and leaving me speechless as I could do nothing more than to watch her in amazement.

Somehow, I got up to my feet and numbly followed behind, watching as Ami charged past Taiga and Minori, who were not slow by any means, and cornered the stalker, knocking his camera out of his hands and stomping it until it was in pieces with the ruthlessness I had come to expect from her.

After the stalker had scurried off to whatever pathetic corner he had come from, Ami collapsed to her knees, just as I caught up to her.

"Hey, Kawashima!" I cried out, falling to my knees to help steady her quivering body.

"I did it, Takasu-kun." She sighed in relief, "But," she began, "I was scared."

And with that, she angled her face towards me, with tears in her eyes.

"Here, this'll warm you up." I said as I offered Ami a cup of tea, which she graciously accepted. She gently blew at the piping hot liquid and peered inside, remarking, "Honey preserved kumquats."

My eyebrows arched in interest, impressed at Ami's culinary eye, "How could you tell? Taiga loves this stuff."

"Taiga, you call Aisaka-san by her first name…" Ami mused.

"Do you still think there's something between us?" I asked with a frown, expecting some snarky comment in reply.

But instead, Ami closed her eyes softly, "She's lucky. She's self centered and a total mess, but she doesn't try to hide it. Yet she still has friends. She still has you."

I opened my mouth to reply, but I was cut off my Ami once more, "Takasu-kun, what would you do if I showed you the real me?"

As she asked that question, she gently set down her cup and leaned forward on her arms, "Would you fall for me?"

"K-Kawashima?" I stuttered, realizing that she had suddenly closed the gap between us, and that our faces were inches away, allowing our breaths to intermix as we both took heavy breaths that we desperately needed. I could feel my face redden as I stared into her hypnotic eyes, and I found myself leaning forward as well, in spite of myself.

Before we could come any closer however, we were interrupted by the sound of clothes hitting the floor and immediately, my eyes darted up to see a shocked Taiga standing right behind Ami, staring at us in our compromising position.

The next day at school was blur, as I couldn't help but to think back at the previous day's events. Ami and I had almost kissed, or at least, I think we did. I was too afraid to ask anyone else about it because, well, I didn't want anyone else to know. Aside from me, Ami, and Taiga, no one knew the truth, and I preferred to keep it that way.

For her part, Ami acted perfectly normal throughout the day. Contrary to what she had told me, she didn't seemed to have changed her personality in any way in public. She was still acting the same way she always had, and I don't blame her. I would never give up any of my friends, and she was doing the same.

Just as the bell rang, signaling the end of the day, I stood up to grab my things and go when I was suddenly blocked by Ami standing in my way.

"Say, Ryuuji, would you like to go out with me?"

Ami and Ryuuji are my pairing when it comes to Toradora, if Grind was any indication. For those of you who came from my previous story, I will be finishing Grind in the near future, but this was an idea that came to me and inspired me to write. However, I don't want to continue this if no one is interested, so if you guys want me to continue, please leave a review or PM, and thanks for reading!