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The thing no one gets about Courtney is that she's not actually stupid.

Granted, she's not exactly on Daniel's level; then again she probably didn't have a mother like his who threatened punishments that probably bordered on child abuse if he didn't make straight A's. She also didn't suffer from the resulting social trauma of spending the formative years of one's life with only one friend, who has the authority to make you do whatever she wants or you won't get dinner. So as far as he's concerned, they're on pretty equal ground.

Growing up isolated and awkward, you spend a lot of time making up ways to entertain yourself. He's spent inordinate amounts of time people-watching, trying to discern strangers' moods and relationships from situational clues. This combined with his already high IQ and self-diagnosed OCD has led him to become incredibly observant. He notices things, little things, almost everything.

It's not until he gets to college that he realizes the things he picks up on aren't perhaps as obvious to everyone else as they are to him. And that's probably because, to be honest, college is the first time he's able to form true friendships. 5 South, for reasons he still cannot quite fathom, don't seem to mind his fastidious cleaning habits and the way he only likes to use black ballpoint pens, not blue. College is also the first time he's not even the strangest kid in the room, and wow is that a revelation.

It starts with Shane and Gopher.

He hates them on sight, of course. And even getting to know them doesn't stop the countless screaming matches about sharing cleaning duties and reasonable noise levels. But when they think no one is watching, they let little bits of themselves slip, and this is how Daniel likes people best. He doesn't figure everything out, it's not like he's a mind reader, but Shane's waggling fingers reveal complicated piano sonatas, and Gopher mumbles aloud as he scribbles poetry in the small Moleskine he hides beneath his mattress. Often they seem to forget that Daniel is even there, and Shane rests his head on Gopher's shoulder while they watch TV, their motions so synchronized he's sure they don't even realize it. It's the tiny things, always the tiny things - the way they share food and drinks, the way their hands brush against each other, the way they finish each others' sentences. Little, inconsequential details that add up to something Daniel is still struggling to figure out.

He tries to talk about it with Mike, but beats around the bush, not quite sure what to say, and in the end they're both a little confused by the conversation.

He's more direct with Josh, who quotes him nonsensical verse in response. He expected nothing less.

Marshall slams the door in his face in the middle of his third sentence.

Brit coos in that "how adorable" tone girls seem to get, but he doesn't really think she believes him.

Abigail stares blankly, blinks a few times, and scampers off, but not before he catches the slight quirk of her upper lip, and in a flash of clarity as the tail of her braid disappears around a corner he realizes that they probably have more in common than he ever realized. He makes a conscious effort after this to greet her whenever he sees her, make small talk, even if she doesn't respond. He can't be sure, but he likes to think it helps.

(He almost tries talking to Steph, but catches the manic gleam in her eye from across the room and can just imagine her trying to play overzealous Cupid. So for his roommates' sake - and his own - he averts his eyes and walks past her instead.)

It's Courtney whose eyes light up when he suggests the possibility that his friends might be slightly more than just friends.

"Danny B, give me the scoop!" she exclaims, practically yanking his arm out of the socket as she pulls him into her room by the elbow and situates him on the foot of her bed. She leaps onto the pillows at the head, rests her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands, and eagerly gestures him to speak. It's a little awkward, at first, but as he starts explaining his suspicions and a few of the things he's witnessed, he realizes that she's actually listening - full, complete attention turned to him. When he's finished, she blinks a few times - not because she doesn't understand, but because she's processing.

"I think that you have stumbled upon fate, Daniel," she finally declares, with a dramatic, sweeping gesture. "And fate does not like to be toyed with." She waggles a finger at him, then pushes him out and back towards his own room, leaving him in a daze with the smell of her perfume still lingering in his nose.

After that, he's a little smitten.

He's also a little more careful with the information that he gleans from watching his friends. He swears that he doesn't intend it in a creepy way, it's just become normal to him the way that being alone was normal, and trying to merge the two worlds now is awkward, but rewarding, and he's learning. So when he sees Brit's gaze straying towards Mike even as she cradles Derrick's hand in hers, or Steph slam her hand against a wall in frustration when Marshall publicly snubs her, he keeps it to himself. It's invasive in a way he never meant to be, so he tries to step back. Re-learning his entire social structure is not an easy task.

But with Courtney...

With Courtney the more he tries to look away, the more he finds himself fascinated. She's a study in contradictions, and he has this sneaking suspicion that he's never going to fully figure her out. But that niggles at his overactive brain. Call it a byproduct of his school-centered childhood, but if there's one thing Daniel dislikes it's a puzzle he can't solve.

For one thing, he knows that she makes straight A's in all her classes, because he overhears her bragging to her mom over the phone. Yet she is often genuinely confused when someone gives her directions that require more than a few steps. She spends entire conversations looking out the window and twirling her hair, yet days later will offhandedly reference something someone said. She hooks up with seemingly anyone that will pay attention to her, yet constantly tells Steph to get rid of Marshall because he doesn't treat her right.

(There's also the time that she hooks up with Gopher. He's still actively trying to repress that.)

When Brittany and Courtney have their big blowout (over a guy, that's all he really knows; he's heard both of their sides and still comes away with only the knowledge that girls are eternally confusing), Brit starts spending more time in the triple. Initially he's off put; he's not very good with girls (obviously), and the three boys in one room is loud and messy enough. But Brittany is sweet, and funny, and even a bit of a calming influence. Shane lets her straighten his hair, and Gopher helps choreograph complicated dance routines for them to perform. When she makes them clean up the empty pizza boxes and DVD cases after movie night, Daniel knows she can be trusted. Still it takes him a few days before he risks bringing up Courtney in conversation; he does so as casually as possible, in context of the girls' fight, but there's a knowing look in her eyes as she fills him in.

"Courtney is self-centered," she says gently. "She doesn't really mean to be, but she's an only child, and her mom spoiled her. She's just kind of gotten used to doing whatever she wants, no matter what."

He can see that. But he also kind of thinks that people don't give her enough credit, take her at face value and never quite see below the blonde hair and pretty eyes.

He suspects the drug use, but doesn't know for sure until midterms roll around. A year before - heck, even a few months - that would have freaked him out. Now, it's little more than a niggle of discomfort. Shane and Gopher, after all, have been obliterated on God knows what since last week, spending their time alternately wandering the halls distracting the rest of the floor and laying in a dazed stupor in the room (often cuddled together, but no, he's not prying into peoples' personal lives anymore. Aside from the obvious exception.) He finds her in the lounge, toe tapping a staccato beat against the table leg, pen twirling between her long fingers. She's staring at a book in front of her, but Daniel's pretty positive she's not actually reading any of the words. He paces awkwardly behind her a few times, moving closer and closer trying to catch the subject. Thankfully, the room is empty and she's too focused to notice, because he's starting to creep even himself out. But on the fourth pass, he catches a glimpse of a familiar equation. Okay. Algebra he can handle. He pulls out the chair next to her, and she starts, as if just suddenly realizing that there's a second person in the room.

"Daniel Benjamin, I need to be studying," she says sternly. Daniel gestures to the text.

"I'm really good at algebra," he says. "I can help you, if you want." Courtney narrows her eyes, scrutinizing him.

"Okay," she finally relents. Daniel hides a smile and reaches out to pull the book between them.

It quickly becomes obvious that lacking the skill is not the problem. She's not stupid. Instead he thinks the problem is actually that she's got so much going on in her head. She jumps from one topic to the other, not quite always finishing a thought. Part of it, certainly, is whatever amphetamine she's on. But once he coaxes her into focusing, and gives her time to work things through, she breezes through the material. Numbers don't seem to phase her, as long as she's allowed to go about things her own way. Daniel pauses when they reach the end of the problem set. Courtney drops her pencil and rests her head on his shoulder. He freezes, but she seems content to rest there for the moment.

"Thank you, Daniel," she says quietly, breath warm against his shoulder.

He smiles.