Bottle Messages

Summary: Connor Reilly gets an idea while watching movies with his best friend, Dawn Summers. The next morning, the game begins. Dawn must find all the little bottles he left scattered about their apartment by night fall in order to learn his secret.

Disclaimer: I own neither Buffy the Vampire Slayer nor Angel. They belong to the very creative Joss Whedon.

Connor Reilly glanced back at his best friend before slipping out of the bed. She had once again snuck out of her room and into his. He sighed softly and ran his hand through his dark brown hair. He wished he could take her nightmares away, but she never confided in him about them; but that was fine, he never confided in her about his.

"Connor…you still love me, don't you?" The monster like woman that claimed to be his daughter asked him.

"Yes," he promised in a blank, almost dead tone that made the current Connor shudder before he shoving his fist through the back of her head. She fell to the concrete.

Connor shook his head and pushed his fist into his hand.

"No need to dwell on that, Con. You've got a mission to do…" He whispered to himself as he searched around for the notebook that he had carelessly thrown onto a chair after class yesterday. He found it easily and tore a blank piece of paper from the back. He glanced up at her, no movement. He smiled. He unzipped the corner of his backpack and pulled the bag filled with small, glass bottles out. He smiled. He had been waiting for a chance like this.

They sat on the couch watching a romance movie. It was a rare occurrence in the Reilly-Summers apartment, but every year Dawn would watch one in memory of her "chick-flick buddy", her older sister.

"That's seems like an adorable notion," Dawn pointed out with a piece of popcorn. Connor glanced over at her from the book he had been reading. He was, after all, only here to indulge her.

"What?" He asked, glancing toward the screen for a moment. "It's just a message in a bottle..."

"Yeah, but he left it so that she would know that he loved her when he died," Dawn answered, "well, by his leaving it, she would also know that he died…Oh!" She whined slightly, "Now, it's such a morbid idea!" Connor tilted his head in confusion then smiled as an idea came to him. Dawn glanced curiously over at him, but he only shrugged. "Ugh…you're such a guy!" Connor only smiled.

He did get it. It was why he was doing this now.

Dawn groaned as she entered the world of the conscious. She sat up slowly, reluctantly and stretched. She furrowed her eyebrows when she noticed her surroundings: Connor's bedroom. Then, the memories of last night came back to her. The nightmare, the memory of Buffy sacrificing herself for her, and her slipping into Connor's bed all came back to her. She blushed and shook her head.

'You're being silly,' she scolded herself, 'Connor's your best guy friend. He doesn't feel that way for you…He just comforts you like any good friend would…' She slipped from underneath his covers and practically staggered toward the bathroom.

"You're like a zombie in the mornings!" Connor had laughed when they first moved in together. She had only thrown her toothpaste at his head. She would have hit him too if it weren't for his almost freaky reflexes. If he wasn't a guy, she would swear that he was a Slayer. If he didn't have a heartbeat then she would think him a vampire. Thoughts of her best friend's freaky reflexes fled (It was only temporary of course; somehow, her thoughts would always travel back to Connor.) when she looked into the mirror. She flinched lightly as she took in her appearance.

"Zombie, indeed…" She muttered, slightly hating herself for sounding like Giles. She promptly began her morning routine of washing her face and brushing her teeth. As she went to grab her toothbrush, something smooth and cool brushed her hand. "Huh?" She whispered as she saw a small glass bottle. She took it from the holder and removed the small cork.

Let's play a game. There's a special message just for you if you find all these little bottles. You have by night fall.

Dawn tilted her head. Night fall she could understand. Connor would be in classes until one then he would have to head to work where he wouldn't get off until ten. Today was her break from classes, so she would have all day to find them…

"What are you up too, Connor?" Dawn asked quietly as she set the piece of paper down on the countertop. She brushed her teeth quickly, all the while staring down at the small bottle.

'The first one was easy enough, but then again he would want me to know about the game…so he followed my routine,' she thought as she tucked the rolled up message back into the bottle. She exited the bathroom as she put the cork back inside. 'But where would he hide all the others?'

She bit into her bottom lip as she reached the kitchen. Her morning routine would always be cereal, but Connor was a variety man. He liked eggs, sausage, and those little hot dogs…Dawn shook her head. No time to go through the list.

"I'll check the refrigerator," she whispered to herself as she opened the refrigerator door. She squealed softly in happiness when she saw the small glass bottle setting at the end of a row of eggs.

Good guess. Dawn snorted softly. The next ones wouldn't be so easy, so don't get cocky. I want to make you work it after all. Your first letter is I.

Like with the first one, Dawn pushed the rolled message back into the bottle and corked it. She slipped it into her pocket with the other one. She couldn't help but feel vaguely excited. This was fun! Instantly, she went into the living room. This was where the two normally ate their breakfast. She searched the armchair where she usually sat and the couch where he reclined as he ate. A small puff escaped her as she found them both empty. She placed her hands on her hips and looked around the room. She resolved herself to check the whole living room. Just before she was about to leave, she spotted it on the very top of their bookshelf.

"Oh come on!" She whined. She was only a little taller than Buffy and that wasn't saying much at all. She pulled a chair from the kitchen and propped it up beside the shelf. She climbed onto it and stretched the reach the top. Her fingers brushed the small bottle. It teetered off the edge. She caught it as it reached the bottom of the top shelf. "Wow!" She yelped as the chair tilted backward. She placed her foot forward and steadied it with a small sigh. Thank God for the years of training Spike had put her through after Buffy's death.

She dropped off of the chair and took a seat in it as she opened the bottle and unraveled the paper.

Glad to see you didn't kill yourself while getting this. I almost didn't do it. Dawn bit into her cheek slightly. A habit she had developed when she was aggravated, much like Spike. She shook her head as if to fight the influx of tears that usually followed any thought of her favorite vampire. The memory of hearing of his death from Faith still felt so fresh. But I do have faith in your ability to catch yourself. Your letter is O. (Didn't think I would do this in order , did you?) Dawn smiled softly. If there was one thing she learned about Connor it was that he never did what you would expect him too. He would always have a trick up his sleeve as well. There would more than likely be letters to through her off as well.

The next bottle she found had been hidden between lily stems. She gently plucked it from the vase and opened it. She leaned against the wall of their apartment's hallway and glanced at the paper. She had been correct. There was only one letter on it, a Z. She couldn't think of a word that would work with the letters she had been given so far. Still, she slipped the bottle into her opposite pocket.

Before she could hunt another, her stomach demanded food. Dawn walked back toward the kitchen. She wanted something quick and easy. As she was pouring her cereal into the bowl, a small clink alerted her. She laughed outright when she glanced down. A small glass bottle sat amidst colorful Fruit Loops. She plucked from the cereal and popped out the cork as she walked toward their refrigerator again. She unraveled the message and propped the door open with her hip. One hand reached for the milk while the other held the bottle, the cork, and the message.

Your letter is Y. She bit into her bottom lip. Messages were usually sentences…but with the letters she was given she couldn't think of a word at the moment. So, she slipped it into her pocket next to the Z. As she ate her cereal, she looked around the kitchen counter tops that surrounded her bowl. She decided that she would search every nook and cranny of the kitchen. Nothing turned up until she reached the pantry. There, hiding behind a can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, sat one of the small glass bottles. As she took it, Dawn realized that if she hadn't thought to look she would have overlooked them completely. If she hadn't forgone breakfast after finding the first one, she probably wouldn't have found the one in the refrigerator. And she probably wouldn't have found this one. The pantry wasn't her favorite. While she did like Campbell's, the soup was one of Connor's favorites.

Your letter is V. She went to her room and found two cloth bags. She slipped Y, Z, and V in one and then slipped I, L, and O. The next one she found was hidden in Connor's bedroom or to be more specific his bed. A small glass bottle rested underneath his pillow.

This message is three words long. Hopefully, it won't take you long to figure out. After all, you should know it by now. Your next letter is E. Dawn tilted her head at the message attached to her letter. She should already know the message? Still, she slipped the E in with I, L, and O. She thought of the letters she had as she searched his room for more.

'I have I, L, O, E, Y, Z, and V.' Her eyes widened slightly as she found a word among those letters. 'Love..' Before she could stop it, her mind added I in front of it. Before she knew it, she had the beginnings of you spelled. Her heart froze. 'He couldn't love me…' She placed a hand over her chest to still its frantic beat. 'Could he?'

"I hope you know that you're the only one I would do this for." Connor muttered as he threw a plastic ball into the glasses with startling accuracy.

"Why?" Dawn questioned, "it doesn't seem like you run the risk of embarrassing yourself…" Dawn pointed out as she watched him the next row with the same accuracy.

"Because it's very cliché…" Connor stated as he hit the last row. Meaning if his frat brothers saw this, he would never hear the end of it. Dawn smiled.

"Only if we're dating," Dawn returned, "that one." She said pointing toward the large stuffed panther in the corner. Its mouth was open in a wide roar. She turned to him as she waited for the tenant to get the panther down. "We aren't. So, it's not cliché." Meaning he should relax. He wasn't whipped.

Dawn got an idea and walked to the room. There sitting next to the stuffed panther he had won her that day at the fair was a small glass bottle. She smiled slightly and picked it up.

There are nine bottles so you aren't finished yet. Keep thinking. Your letter is U.Dawn's heart was now hammering. She looked around her bedroom slowly. Her eyes landed on her makeup kit that Connor refused to let her have in their conjoined bathroom.

"You don't need it." Connor had told her when she had asked him why. She unzipped the makeup kit and there lying among mascara and eye shadow was another glass bottle. With shaking fingers, she lifted the bottle from the bag.

I love you, Dawn Summers. It simply read. She immediately sank down on the floor of her bedroom. Her eyes locked on the note.

'You should already know it.' It was true. She really should have. He was always dropping very discreet hints. A small blush came to her cheeks as she recalled the memory of Connor's little sisters. It had been the summer and he had asked her to come meet his family. His reason had been that his parents were curious about the person he would be rooming with during the next semester.

"Are you Connor's girlfriend?" The fifteen year old, Adele, asked as soon as the two of them had walked through the door. Dawn had gapped at the young teen while Connor had simply laughed. His mother had scolded the child simply by saying her name.

She heard the small click of the door to their apartment opening and closing, but she couldn't move. It really shouldn't be so surprising, but she had lived so long in denial. Why would Connor, who was so…Connor, want anything to do with Dawn?

"Dawn?" Connor called. Still, she stared at the note, but she did push herself into standing. She walked to her bedroom door. The small glass bottles sounded like wind chimes from their position in the bag on her wrist.

"Here," Dawn mumbled breathlessly. She could hear Connor's foot fall as he walked toward her bedroom door. She heard him shift.

'Did I read her wrong?' Connor wondered as he stared at her. She had yet to look up at him. Her eyes seemed to be focused on the small paper in her hand. He had no doubts on which one it was. He placed a hand on her arm. Her green eyes snapped up to him.

"Are you okay?" He asked. Dawn shook the piece of paper slightly and attempted to will the shock away. Connor's hand left her arm. He crossed his arms over his chest and rocked back on his heels slightly. A sigh escaped him. "Look, I'm sorry if it seemed a little fast and there probably could have been a better way to do-"

"Did you mean it?" Dawn interrupted him. Connor blinked.

"Of course I meant it," he returned. Dawn smiled slightly at the annoyance in his tone. She was so tempted to ask him why, but knew that it would be a stupid question. They lived together. They had been friends for two years before they moved into together. He knew her better than anyone else living. "Dawn…" He sighed again. She blinked. Her silence was tearing him apart. She smiled sadly.

"Sorry…" She whispered. Connor flinched, preparing himself for the rejection that he had worried about coming all day. His eyes slid closed in his preparation then snapped open as a pair of warm lips touched his own. Dawn was kissing him! He smiled slightly then chased her lips as she moved to pull away.

They stood just outside her bedroom door while a shocked vampire stood just outside of their apartment window. Said vampire felt like jumping off the building he was standing on at the sight before him. He had followed his son home from work. The Reillys had told him that Connor had moved in with a sweet young girl. He had, of course, instantly been curious, but he couldn't ask who. It wasn't his place. The Reillys did not know about "their" son's real parentage and, for their sake, he wanted it to stay that way. But still, Buffy's sister and his son…Angel would have never thought. Now, he would never be able to get the image out of his mind. If his son continued to smile like that, though, it might very well be worth it…Briefly, he wondered when Connor would bring Dawn to "meet" his real father. A small smile of amusement tickled the corners of his mouth. That would be one interesting day…