The House Always Wins
by Catlin O'Connor

Dawn almost screams when she hears the door slam shut behind her. She swallows the sound just in time and spins around, only to find Connor standing there, smirking at her.

"Slam it a little louder, why don't you," she huffs, folding her arms across her chest and cocking her head to one side -- she's unconsciously settled into Battle Mode, because by now she knows Connor, or at least as well as anyone can know him, given that he's not exactly a) the easiest person to be around, and b) the most informative of teens (and that, she thinks, is really saying something), and all the signs that he wants a fight are there.

"It's late," he says, glancing out at the still-dark sky, and she's once again reminded that he trusts nature far more than clocks, though she does wonder what he does for time management when it rains -- probably count raindrops and study the angle and velocity at which they hit the ground or something. He's taken to science quite well, she hears.

Not, of course, that she's interested in what he likes or anything, because he's made it perfectly clear that he doesn't like her. Which would suck if she, you know, cared.

"Thanks for telling me, Dad." she snipes, thinking it'd be easier if he were more paternal in her eyes.

But sadly, he's nothing like her secretary-boffing father, even if he does have the abandonment thing down. Which is another reason to stay far, far away from Connor -- she has enough issues of her own, thanks, she doesn't need to take on anyone else's. Especially his.

"Hey, while your sister and my- and Angel," -- Nicely done, she thinks. I hardly even heard the pause. -- "are away, I'm responsible for you. You can't just leave whenever you feel like it."

"Says you," Dawn scoffs, annoyed because he's not only right, he's also a hypocrite. "And Buffy and Angel aren't just away, they're on honeymoon."

"They're not married. Isn't that a prerequisite of a honeymoon?"

Dawn silently curses the college classes Angel enrolled him in (with the help of Willow's computer skills, Connor now boasts a birth certificate, social security number and, much to Dawn's ever-lasting disgust, a drivers licence); his present-day vocabulary really has improved tremendously.

"I meant, their metaphorical honeymoon, you- you-" A deep breath, then, "Jerk!" she yells that last part so that she can be certain he hears it, then watches him step forward to say, softly,






She takes offense to that last insult, because she can take being called many things, but she is not a brat. Well, not anymore, anyway.

"You are so gonna pay for that," she says grimly, before lunging forward and attempting to step down hard on his toes so she can elbow him in the stomach, or maybe knee him in the groin. She hasn't quite decided yet, and she doesn't get a chance to -- before she can so much as bring up her foot, he has his arm around her neck, and her back is pressed to his front.

He's so warm, she thinks, and he smells clean and fresh -- like a forest or something -- and when he says, his breath cool and minty against her cheek,

"Think you can take me?"

she manages to turn her head to look into his eyes. Blue, blue eyes, like that gemstone that was once used to hypnotize Buffy, and as she stares into them, she knows she's falling, falling and she can't bring herself to care. She licks her suddenly dry lips, and into his eyes springs a dark, hot, male awareness, a flame of desire that makes her wish she could bury their enmity and lean forward and brush his mouth with her own.

But she can't, and she doesn't, so she takes the opportunity to slam her foot down onto his instep and ram her elbow into his ribs. She gains immediate release while he gasps for breath, but for some reason doesn't find much satisfaction in that.

"Oh," she says, flipping her hair over her shoulder, "like I'd even want to."

As she flounces off and heads towards the stairs and the safety of her room, she thinks she hears him say, with quiet intent,

"Wanna bet?"

But it really is late, and her hearing isn't that great, so she chalks it up to the time and the place and the oh-so-obnoxious person, and doesn't even consider the term 'wishful thinking'.

Still, as she gets ready for bed, those words, and the memory of his lips so close to her own, make her heart beat a little faster, and she thinks that maybe -- just maybe -- she'll take him up on that bet someday.


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