Warning:::: Not beta'd. Read at your own peril.

Downward Spiral Rising

Chapter 18


My heart stopped, sucking all the sound from the room as Warren pulled me against him. Shock filled me as I laid there transfixed and frozen, aware only of the soft, pliant lips moving against mine. His tongue swept against my bottom lip before deftly slipping inside my mouth and the shiver that rushed through me knocked me from my stupor.

Grunting in protest, I pushed him away, the horror of the situation crashing over me like a tidal wave. Warren reluctantly moved back, a mixture of trepidation and excitement etched across his features. My conscience churned at the sight of his flushed face and skewed glasses.

Cue my very fist panic attack.

"Oh God." I choked, scrambling out of the bed to the far corner of the room. The farther away the better. I stared as Warren blinked in surprise, eyes glazed and hair mussed, and the gravity of the situation finally hit me. "Oh Fuck!"

Warren sat up, frowning. "That's not exactly the reaction I was going for."

The sound of his voice wrenched me from my self-loathing and I turned on him, completely furious. "What the hell were you thinking!?" I demanded, all my self-revulsion suddenly directed at him.

Warren's face darkened. "I didn't hear you complaining," he replied tartly and my cheeks flushed in shame at his words. It had only been a few seconds, but I hadn't pushed him away immediately. The reminder only made me angrier.

"Did you even consider Nikki's feelings at all?"

"I'm tired of considering Nikki's feelings."

"I cannot believe you just said that." I gaped, completely appalled. "Do you have any idea how selfish you sound?!"

Warren dropped his head into his hands and sighed. "That's not what I meant."

His retraction did nothing to mollify my anger. "If you didn't give a damn about her, why did you even bother asking her out?"

"I didn't. She asked me…. And I said no."

I snorted. "You have a funny way of rejecting her then."

"Look, I told her I still had feelings for you. I mean yeah, Nicole's cute and she's sweet and she's bubbly, but I like you more. I can't help it. But Nikki said she didn't care because she liked me enough for the both of us."

Silence hung between us as I gaped at him, utterly scandalized. "And you agreed?!?"

A bitter smile tugged at his lips. "I figured at least somebody'd end up with the one they wanted."

My head reeled. "What kind of twisted logic is that?" Moreover, how on earth had I failed to pick up on any of this? I mean, yes, I knew Nicole had been crushing on Warren since freshman year, but apparently her dedication went much deeper than she let on. The girl was desperate.

Warren snorted bitterly. "Yeah, well you were too busy drooling over Ian to even notice me, and Nikki was crying."

"And she's not crying now?" I spat, instantly regretting the words as remorse flashed across my best friend's face. I let out a frustrated groan. "Why would you date someone you weren't interested in, Ren? That just makes things worse."

"I do like Nikki;" Warren replied seriously as his golden eyes suddenly locked on mine, the conviction behind his gaze startling. "I just happen to like you more."

"For God's sake, why?" Except for a few jealousy issues, Nicole embodied the ideal girl friend. Seriously, she was an honest, loyal, devoted, and dependable beauty with a heart of gold…

Okay, with the way she'd been acting lately maybe silver.

Not the point.

"She's sweet but... I dunno." Warren shrugged, his gaze settled dangerously on my mouth.

I took a step back. "No way. That was a one time thing, Warren."

Annoyance flickered across his face. "Don't act like you don't feel anything, Chloe. I know you too well. You think of me as more than just a friend, and you have for weeks now."

I screwed my face into a confused expression. "What the hell are you on?" He might've been right, but I wasn't about to admit it.

"Lately you freeze every time Nikki and I touch and you stare at me when you don't think I'm looking. Then Nicole and I have a fight and you suddenly start wearing …" his voice trailed off as golden eyes flicked over me quickly and I protectively crossed my hands over my chest. Warren flushed, embarrassed at his involuntary appraisal.

"My wardrobe has nothing to do with you!" I protested hotly, thoroughly annoyed. "Claire stole all my stuff!" How many times did I have to say it?

A pained expression crossed over my best friend's face and my heart constricted. "So after two years of wanting you, you won't even give me a chance?"

I steeled myself against the instinctive desire to soothe him. "Do not make me out to be the bad guy here, Warren. You decided nothing would ever happen between us the second you became Nikki's boyfriend and you know it."

A sudden flicker understanding glimmered behind his eyes and Warren's face darkened. "It's Barton, isn't it?"

He did not just say that.

I clenched my jaw so tightly it started aching. "That's it, I'm out of here," I ground out, not trusting myself enough to say more. Instead I let the door speak for me, slamming it so hard the pictures in the hallway rattled. My entire chest burned with anger as I thundered down the steps and out of the house, too furious to even collect my belongings. I slammed the front door as I left, just incase Warren somehow missed the message the first time. If he came anywhere near me before I cooled off, I'd kill him.

It took four blocks before I realized it was December. In Connecticut. And that I had conveniently forgotten to grab not only my coat, but my cell phone and wallet too. I'm about as sharp as a rubber ball.

A gust of artic wind slammed into my back, sending a convulsion through my entire body. I cursed as my fingers began to ache with cold and stopped in my tracks. The Hill was at least ten miles from Warren's house and without a cell phone or wallet, I was screwed. Making the trek on foot didn't particularly appeal to me, and without a coat I doubted I'd even survive it… at least without suffering frostbite on some undoubtedly vital part of my body (as far as I'm concerned, every part is vital and I like it where it is). Which meant going back to Warren's. At least long enough to grab my coat and backpack.

Actually, frostbite didn't seem like such a bad option. I'm not too fond of my pinky anyway. What has it ever done for me?

Luckily I didn't have to find out since because, as I stood there sulking, a familiar looking Benz turned the corner. Squinting, I peered through the windshield and cursed as the glare from the sun obstructed my view. The car slowed to a stop across from me, the passenger window already rolled down. "Connor?" I mumbled, crossing the street to see him. "What are you still doing here?"

He shrugged. "Couldn't think of anything better to do. It's not like I can go home yet, school's not even out." Another gust of wind kicked up and his face melted into a frown as he finally registered my nonexistent jacket. "Why the hell are you outside?" he demanded.

I forced a weak laugh. "Funny story…"

Connor leaned over and opened the passenger side door. "Get in." With a relieved sigh I complied, practically hurling myself into the Mercedes' warmth. I shot Connor a grateful smile as I leaned over the heater, smothering the vents with my hands as feeling slowly began creeping back into my aching digits. At least I wouldn't have to see Warren until Monday.

"Thank God you're so uncreative," I grinned, "or I'd've had to walk the whole way home."

Connor frowned, eyes fixed on the road. "What happened?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

His knuckles whitened as they clutched the steering wheel. "It's Davis, isn't it?" God, talk about deja vú.

"Connor," I said weakly, "I don't want to talk about it. Please?"

He nodded, as if confirming something to himself, but didn't press it further. "Okay."

No words could express the relieved gratitude that flooded through me, but I tried anyway.

"Thank you."


Mom and Alec planned a romantic 'night out,' and I'd promised days before to baby-sit Kyle. Not that I minded, the squirt was a great kid and it's not like I had something to do. Hell, I wasn't sure I even had friends to do something with. Still, my day sucked and nothing tops off a crappy day than 12 hours of unpaid labor (our parents were lodging at the Hilton that night, for reasons I wish I didn't know).

Even after the three hour nap I'd taken, the day's events were exhausting. The kiss earlier that afternoon seemed to occupy my every waking moment and by 8 o'clock I'd almost driven myself crazy thinking about it. Hopefully babysitting Kyle would distract me, though I doubted it.

At quarter past eight mom called everyone up to the foyer to give last minute instructions. I reached the foyer first and a gloom settled over me as my mother, humming to herself, breezed down the hallway. Alec, apparently, was already in the car.

"Oh, sweety, you look tired," she cooed, rubbing my cheek.

I flashed a reassuring grin. "I'm fine. Really."

"Good. We'll wait for the boys and then get going." An excited gleam sparkled in her eyes. "I have a surprise."

"What surprise?" Kyle asked curiously. Mom jumped, startled as he peered at her inquisitively, no more than a foot to her left. I never knew the kid could be that sneaky. I'd have to keep it in mind.

Another body materialized, this time to my right and it was my turn to jump. The initial surprise passed almost instantly only to be replaced by a whole new kind of shock. "What are you doing here?" I demanded incredulously, dumbfounded by the sight of Connor Barton at home on at 8:15 on a weekend.

He looked at me like I was an idiot. "I live here."

"But it's Friday night."

Connor shrugged. "I felt like staying in."

Kyle stared at us in annoyance before turning to my mother. "What surprise?" he asked again, steering the conversation back to its previous topic.

My mom beamed and reached into her purse. "Ta da!"

"Prisoner of Azkaban!" Kyle shouted excitedly, snatching the DVD from her hands before racing off to the entertainment room. Mom beamed at the reaction. She loves giving people things, especially vocal, hyperactive kids. It's one of the reasons she and I get along so well.

Conner stared, horrified, as his brother danced off into the other room "Dear God, somebody shoot me," he groaned pathetically, burying his face in his hands.

Mom's eyes flicked over to Connor and I frowned as the smile melted from her face. She can be a little spacey occasionally and, yes, sometimes downright annoying, but in general my mom's a good person and as such Connor's death plea obviously concerned her.

Personally, I was wondering how long the offer was good for.

"You don't like Harry Potter?" She asked so innocently that I had to fight back a laugh. It was as if it had never occurred to her that such a possibility existed.

Connor sighed, running a hand through his unkempt hair. "I'm not… fond of it."

"Oh." Mom bit her lip in that nervous way she has, and quirked her lips into an apologetic grin. "Sorry. Guess I should've known, huh?" Yeah, okay, so Connor hadn't exactly been subtle about his deep, writhing hatred for all things Harry, but it's not like Becky was out to irritate him. Really, all she wanted was for him to like her.

Connor sighed again, and for the first time I can remember actually acted like a decent human being. "It's not a big deal. Kyle basically breaths that stuff so, uh… thanks."

Mom brightened immediately at his reply, her eyes shinning with renewed excitement. "Great! Next time I'll get one especially for you! Whatever you want, okay?" she paused then, thinking better of it. "Not porn or anything, though, alright? Alec would kill me."

I blushed, mortified by her blunt honesty. Connor stared at her owlishly and mom beamed back, waiting and oblivious. For once I actually felt sort of sorry for the guy. Leave it to my mom to make a situation awkward without even realizing it.

"Uh… thanks." He finally muttered, not quite looking her in the eye.

"No problem!" she chirped. From the driveway Alec honked the horn and she flashed us an apologetic grin. "Well, I gotta get going. Alec'll have an aneurism if I make him wait any longer. You kids have fun though, okay?" We nodded dutifully and Mom grinned, ruffling my hair as she walked by. "Don't stay up too late!" she shouted over her shoulder as she shut the door.

A moment passed as Connor and I stared blankly at the door before finally braving a glance at each other.

"Never speak of this again."

I cocked an eyebrow. "Speak of what?"

Connor nodded, satisfied, and turned in the direction of the entertainment room where Kyle was, by the sound of things, already setting up. Apparently the minute and a half spent with my mom was 90 seconds too long for Kyle, who, by this time, was already shouting at us to hurry up.

"What's taking you guys so long?" he whined as Connor and I walked into the kitchen.

I rolled my eyes. "Calm down, you little midget. I want some popcorn."

"Hurry up!"

Connor's face contorted reflexively at the sound of the Harry Potter theme music and I forced back a grin. The squirt was the only person in the entire world who could convince him to watch this movie and Kyle was completely oblivious to the power he held over his older brother. Such a waste.

Connie stayed in the kitchen for the five minutes it took for the popcorn to pop, futilely delaying his inevitable torture. I fought back a snicker at the ill look that came to his face as the microwave beeped. Kyle called out impatiently again and my love of Harry Potter (and for Kyle) increased ten fold. Grinning, I pushed a reluctant Connor into the den which would be transformed, for the next two hours, into his own personal hell.

I stopped half way to the couch, staring at the mound that had suddenly materialized in the center of the room. Within the seven minutes it took to make the snacks and see Mom and Alec off, Kyle had somehow managed to claim the entire area in front of the television.

"He nested," I breathed. Really there was no other word for the mass of pillows, cushions, and blankets he'd gathered from seemingly every room in the house and heaped onto the floor. Kyle lay sprawled on top of the pile, his body contorted in such a way that he somehow seemed to occupy the entire 10x5 foot area in front of the television. How a kid under five feet tall and less than 100 pounds could physically do that, I'll never know, but the laws of physics didn't seem to get in the squirt's way, so either he's supernatural or just really flexible.

Personally, I don't think anyone's that limber but then again, the lump in the far corner might not have been his leg…

Connor grinned, picking his way around the makeshift habitat and I gingerly followed after him, careful to keep Kyle's creation intact.

"Finally!" he groaned, pushing the play button. Beside me, Connor grumbled. It was sweet of the squirt to wait for us. Now Connie had to suffer through the whole damn thing. His predicament was, in some ways, not so unlike the hour I spent stuck behind a couch as he and a tweezer weilding Claire watched Reno 911. A smile bloomed across my face.

Revenge is sweet.


A/N:

(1) I decided not to change the title. Well, I did for about an hour and then switched it back. I can't conceive of this story as anything other than "Downward Spiral Rising," so oh well.

(2) This chapter is dedicated to RedViciousApple for comparing Warren to Gollum. That was not my intention, but the comparison was funny as hell.

(3) Also, thank you to everyone who voted for DSR during the Summer Some Kind of Wonderful Romance Awards. I was shocked, especially since updates have been so… nonexistent. THANK YOU!

(4) READERS' QUESTION:

"If Nikki won't even use the Lord's name in vain, why is she willing to have sex outside of wedlock?" : Nikki is head over heels in love with Warren (obsessed) and thus willing to over look some religious transgressions in an attempt to solidify their bond. She's hormonal and emotional, and just wants to make him like her (it's a little pathetic when put that way but…). Not using the lord's name in vain was something grilled into her during childhood. It's like second nature, but her parents never really discuss sex. It's just taboo and they assume she will wait (even though they didn't). Also, this needy obsession with Warren was planned from the beginning, but I'm not sure I did a good job of conveying it. Chloe is dense, she doesn't notice these things and the story is told from her POV. I might try to re work it and make it more obvious (but only a little, it's supposed to be slightly surprising).

RIP Steve Irwin (1962-2006)