Living Conditions
by Catlin O'Connor

One of the great things about LA is that nobody knows Dawn; it's a new beginning where hell-mouths and arm-cutting and overprotective sisters -- Dawn apologizes mentally to Buffy for this, but, come on: it's true -- don't exist, or if they do, they're not talked about.

She's made friends at her new school, largely because of the cool- factor of having lived in Europe for several months, and the fact that Dawn doesn't talk about it, and just smiles when asked to, makes her kind of mysterious, she thinks; living in tiny rooms with hordes of other girls and not being able to go out alone in case she gets abducted or something (and hello, paranoid much?) isn't anywhere even close to cool, but. This is LA; honesty isn't exactly expected, and after the whole shop-lifting thing, Dawn is beyond skilled at bending the truth.

Dawn has just finished clasping a funky goth-style silver cross around her neck, when Connor says, from the doorway,

"Going somewhere?"

She curses herself for 1) jumping; it's that damn predator thing again, and 2) blushing, and she really has no excuse for that, except-

He's kind of cute, in an I-inherited-my-genes-from-my-immortal- parents-and-am-thus-superior-to-you sort of way.

"Just out," she replies, willing her cheeks to cool down before she self-combusts.

"Alone?" His voice is low, she can almost feel the vibration of it over her skin, and it reminds her of all the dangers that prowl in the dark outside, reminds her that the dangers might not all be outside.

"Um. Yeah?"

"Dressed like that?" he says, disbelief coloring his tone a deep grey, and making her swallow and glance down at her outfit.

She doesn't see anything to merit concern; black jeans and a red top are far from skeezy, and, so, okay, they're a little tight, but she is a teenage girl, after all: attracting boys is the reason she goes out in the first place.

"Please. Like you can give me fashion advice? Suggestion? Imitating Tall-Dark-and-Broody might be good for the whole bonding thing, but you're not Angel. Colors are your friend."

"Not," he says, through clenched teeth, "if you're going hunting. Though, come to think of it... I should bring you with me."

O-kay, that's a new one. He's never volunteered to have her join him on hunts before, and the fact that he's doing it after she's just pissed him off-

"You could be bait."

Even though she knew, totally knew, something like this was coming -- and part of her is kind of happy, because she so called it! -- she can't help it.

"What?" she squawks -- she wishes it'd been a more elegant sound, but really, it wasn't, and why would she want to sound elegant for him, anyway?

"... wouldn't even have to hunt..." he's saying and, God, is he actually serious?

"I am not going to be bait!" she exclaims. "Besides, I thought you liked hunting?"

"I do," he says, and his grin is feral and... really, really hot.

Dawn, get a grip, she thinks, and when his slow perusal of her causes a shiver, she tells herself it's nerves. Or anger. Anything but what she thinks it might actually be--

"At least you're wearing a cross," he says, grudgingly, and she reaches up to finger the necklace.

Buffy had given it to her just before they left for the airport, saying that at least Dawn wouldn't be confused with a Jesus-freak -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- and that the bottom could pull out to form a small dagger. Also, though this part Dawn thinks is a little sketchy, the silver can be melted down in case she comes across a werewolf. Of course, she might not exactly have time to smelt silver bullets, but-

"Hey-" Connor catches her arm. The look of concern on his face makes her realize she must've zoned out, but it doesn't embarrass her, she would in fact go back to her memories if she could, because, God, she misses Buffy so much. Funny, with all of her planning to get back to the US, she didn't once consider just how hard being all alone, without her sister, would be.

"I'm fine," she informs Connor, and promptly contradicts herself by bursting into tears.

"Hey," he says, sounding a little alarmed, "hey. You don't have to wear a cross. Holy water-"

A loud sob escapes before she can draw it back in, and he leads her to the bed, sits her down and stands before her, hands in his pockets, the very picture of the uncomfortable and bewildered male when faced with female tears.

"I just- I miss her so much," she manages, and when she catches the confused expression on his face, clarifies, "Buffy."

"You just spoke to her a few days ago," he points out, and yeah, it's a logical point, but this isn't about logic, dammit.

"On the phone," she sniffles. "It's not the same."

"Oh," he says, and though she knows he's being supportive in his own Connor-way, the fact that he doesn't understand only makes her longing for her sister all the more acute.

"It's okay," she sighs. "You don't understand-"

He stiffens, and she realizes-- "I didn't mean-"

"Yeah. Angel, my father, made sure I wouldn't understand how family works. He took that from me, Dawn, and- he shouldn't have given it in the first place if he was just going to take it away again."

It's Dawn's turn for confusion, because he isn't making sense, at least, not the sense that she knows, but maybe... maybe she just doesn't have all the facts. Maybe when she does, it'll all just click into place, and Connor--

-- will be striding out of her room like the hounds of hell are snapping at his heels.

"Connor," she calls out, but when he stops, loses her nerve. "I, uh, won't be going out tonight, after all."

He nods, would perhaps have said something if his jaw wasn't wired shut with anger and bitterness, and when he leaves, she knows he will be going out. To hunt. To kill.

Maybe to rid himself of a little of the anger she seems to raise in him so effortlessly? Yeah. Right.

She can't see that happening anytime soon, and when she flops down onto her bed, grabs her pillow to muffle her frustrated scream.


Dawn awakens muzzily, as is her style, and to the sounds of an argument raging somewhere in the hotel.

She raises her head and correctly identifies the voices as belonging to Connor and Angel. Not again. She's tempted to cover her head with her pillow again and try to ignore the fight, but she catches the words `Cordelia' and `dream' from Connor and decides that listening might help her decipher the weirdness that is Connor and Angel's relationship.

She slips out of bed and makes her way to the open door as quietly as she can; she's not discounting vampire senses, not after living in Sunnydale for... who knows how many years?

"So it wasn't a dream?" Connor.

"Probably a... memory. They said everything that'd actually happened to you would come back, in time."

"I can't believe you didn't tell me! This is-- just like you," Connor decides, and, from the footfalls headed her way, apparently ends the argument with Angel the only way he knows how: by storming out.

Dawn hurries to her bed, pretending to be asleep, and tries to regulate her breathing when he passes by -- which is becoming a little too familiar an occurrence to be comfortable -- and when he pauses -- somewhere near her door, she thinks -- she almost stops breathing altogether.

A few minutes pass, and though she knows he's probably just gone past her door without her hearing it, she can still, like, feel his eyes on her.

But when she opens them, delicious seconds later, there's no-one there.

She has to fight the ridiculous urge to pout -- come on, she doesn't want him to watch her sleep or anything. That would be so beyond creepy.

But... it could also be kind of sexy. Which it isn't, she assures herself, and pads to the door to close it as proof.

It isn't.


Dawn has only been home from school for a few minutes -- she hasn't even had time to put her bag down in her room yet -- when she hears, from behind her,

"Okay, it's big, which is, y'know, a plus on the party side, but... it kinda has a `welcome to the karma' feel to it."

Dawn whirls around and runs across the room, because she'd recognize that voice, that sarcastic commentary anywhere. Buffy.

Within moments, she's wrapped in her sister's arms, and they're really -strong- she's reminded, as Buffy gives her a squeeze then releases her. Dawn's still holding onto her, though, unwilling to let go until she's sure Buffy is really here.

"Buffy," she chokes out, "you- how?"

"I... left Faith in charge." Buffy says it like she's just bitten into something sour, but Dawn's too excited about her sister finally, finally being here, with her, to pay too much attention to the nuances.

"I'm so glad you're here," she whispers, and Buffy hugs her; blonde hair tickles her nose and tears tickle her eyes, and then Buffy pulls away and her grip slackens.

Dawn turns to see Angel standing at the bottom of the stairs, expression stoic as always, but... he looks happy, she thinks. Or at least as happy as it's possible for Angel to look.

"I... I should've called, I know, but it was a last minute thing and-"

"It's all right," Angel interrupts Buffy's babbling explanation. "I - it's good to see you."

He steps forward and Dawn moves out of the way. She has to nudge Buffy to make her freaking move already, but when she does...

Oh, boy.

It's as though she and Angel have forgotten there's someone else in the room, heck, the world, and she clears her throat after a while, because while she's happy for her sister (who's saying something about baking? And Angel talking about... eating? Oh, ewww. Dawn does not want to know.), this is totally TMI.

When they part, she can see that Buffy's cheeks are flushed and that Angel is almost smiling.

Dawn doesn't know what she wants in life, really, but she's absolutely certain she wants someone to look at her the way Angel's looking at Buffy: like she's beautiful, like she's everything.

Her eyes fall on Connor as he leaps down the stairs, and her eyes widen at the possible implications of his arriving just after she'd said-

"Don't tell me I slept with her, too," Connor all but snarls. Okay, scratch a line through those implications. Wait a minute -- too? What the..?

Buffy's apparently just as puzzled. "You-" she starts, staring from Connor to Dawn, and back to Connor again.

Or maybe not.

"Ohhh," she breathes, voice dangerously soft, "if he's saying what I think he's saying, I'll kick his ass to another dimension."

"Been there, done that," Connor mutters, but Dawn doesn't think anyone else is close enough - or sane enough - to hear.

"Buffy-" Angel says, but she holds up her hand.

"No, I don't care if he is your son, Angel! He's-"

Dawn, horrified at this turn of events, springs into action to stand before her sister, "Buffy, no, we didn't - there wasn't - no sleeping went on!"

No sleeping? God, talk about lame. Dawn is mentally chastising herself when she notices Buffy's expression has undergone a transformation from enraged to murderous. Ohhh. This is so many ways of bad.

She tries again. "Buffy, you have to listen to me-"

"No, Dawn, I don't want to hear it. God, is this how Mom felt when...?" her voice trails off and Angel looks uncomfortable.

"Buffy," Angel says, attempting to take charge of the situation, "nothing happened. I wouldn't have let it."

"Wouldn't have let it?" Connor interrupts incredulously, and Dawn feels pretty much the same way. And when was Angel elected ruler of her life, anyway?

Angel glares at Connor, and continues, "This is about something else entirely. I'll explain it all later."

Connor mutters something that has Angel clenching his fists, but Buffy doesn't seem to have heard anything more than Dawn did, which is: exactly nothing.

"Oh," says Buffy, blushing a little. "So he and Dawn didn't sleep-"

"I told you there was no sleeping!" Dawn says, loudly, and closes her eyes on Buffy's wry look.

"You'll understand if that doesn't reassure me any," she says, and Dawn groans. To have said it not once, but twice? It's a good thing she doesn't want to be a writer, because with lines like that, she'd never make it.

"Hey," Buffy says brightly to Connor, and reaches over to pump his hand enthusiastically. "Didn't mean to go all--" she gestures vaguely with her free hand and continues, "Norman Bates on you."

Connor stares at her, utterly bemused, and Dawn makes a mental note to tell Buffy that Connor and pop-culture go together about as well as Giles and casual-wear.

"Connor," Angel says, almost-smiling again, "this is Buffy. Dawn's sister."

That last addition is hardly needed, not after Dawn's sob-fest a few days ago, and Connor abruptly releases Buffy's hand. He nods, says, "Yeah, I figured." Which doesn't sound like a compliment, but even Connor can't be dumb enough to antagonize a woman who's not only super-strong, but also his father's... girl-friend? Dawn doesn't know, and she doesn't think that this particular moment is the right time to ask.

Connor takes the brief silence that descends over the room as an invitation to leave, and heads outside before anyone can so much as utter a farewell.

Angel opens his mouth, his countenance exasperated, and Dawn forestalls him with, "I'll go after him, and... give you two some time alone."

Buffy's eyes widen comically, and Angel's mouth is still open, so Dawn gives them both a quick wave and a brilliant smile, then makes for the exit.

Connor is standing on the sunny pavement quite a ways from the hotel, and she hurries to catch up to him before he starts walking again.

"Hey," she says, when she can breathe normally again. "What is with you? My sister comes back, and you freak. Couldn't you choke down your inner drama-queen for a second and just pretend to be happy for everyone?"

"She's just another of his-"

She knows where this is going, so she stops him before he says something she'll have to make him regret. "Don't even," she warns.

"I was going to say exes," he smirks, then adds, "Though she looked pretty current when I came in."

"So you knew who she was when you..."

He shoots her a look that plainly conveys the message of Don't be an idiot.

"Huh. Why'd you say that, anyway? Shock value?"

Without her noticing it, they've begun to walk back to the Hyperion, and he stares at the hotel for a moment, then shrugs in response.

"So you're, what, just not going to answer me?"

"It's none of your business," he says shortly, and the chill in his tone makes her want to shudder.

Instead, she stops in her tracks and says, "If it's got something to do with my sister, it is my business."

"It doesn't. Look, you got what you wanted. Your sister is here. And instead of spending time with her, you're out here, arguing with me. Why is that?"

Dawn blushes, and even as she recognizes his attitude as a distancing tactic, is helpless to do anything but respond the way he expects her to.

"Hello? She and Angel needed some time alone together; this was the easiest way to get out of there."

Which makes sense. It isn't entirely true, but hey, with her track- record, partial honesty is better than none at all.

He looks infuriatingly smug as he says, "Riiight."

"Whatever, Danger boy. But from now on, why don't you keep your post- coital issues to yourself?"

She feels a little weird, applying the words `post' and `coital' to Connor, but he isn't denying anything, so she huffily flips her hair over her shoulder and makes her way to the front doors of the hotel. As she pulls open one of the doors, she realizes that she feels a little shaky inside, but attributes that more to stepping back into the shade after all the sunshine than the topic of conversation.

Dawn lets the door swing shut behind her, and walks down the stairs to find Buffy and Angel still lip-locked. She sighs, and glances behind her, but Connor's disappeared.

Story of her life.


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