Author's Note: This is just a little two-shot story that I got the idea for while brushing my teeth yesterday morning. I was inspired by a line in the book in which Risa realizes that she sees Connor as a hero. Please enjoy, and reviews are always appreciated! :-) Also, who's excited for Unwholly? AUGUST 28TH, BABY!

Disclaimer: If you think I'm Neal Shusterman, please go have your head examined. I don't own the characters, the setting, anything. All I own is this bit of writing.

Risa's POV

The hot Arizona sun blazes down on me as I walk away from the large communal meeting area where we were all gathered a few minutes previously. This place, the Graveyard, for souls and planes alike, seems like it'll be tough, but I could use some order in my life right now. The last few weeks have been a frightening blur of fear and confusion, sweat and tears, friendships tested and heartaches initiated. Like last night.

The irony of it was that it was Christmas Eve. The preparation of a joy-filled holiday of lights, family, and miracles. Most American teenagers were probably getting dragged around by painfully cheery, middle-aged parents, whole families freezing their butts off from caroling off-key to neighbors already in debt from holiday shopping. Almost everyone probably had a cold, but microwave hot chocolate would warm everyone up, and make them forget about their illness and stress. Yet even through the problems of the holiday season, there was supposed to be a certain homey air to it all. That's the kind of thing I spent my childhood fantasizing about. Pondering what gifts I would receive from my awesome adoptive parents when they would take me home with them. However, life slapped my dreams pretty hard in the face. No one adopts anymore, and the idea of me finding someone to raise happy, squealing children in Santa hats with me has seemed ridiculous. So while teens everywhere were pretending not to love their parents, I was almost getting raped in a scuzzy warehouse bathroom. Great.

It's not the attempted sexual assault thing that bothered me the most, though. (Although that in and of itself was pretty traumatizing.) It was more that Connor didn't try harder to protect me. God. Just thinking that makes me want to punch myself. It's not that I can't take care of myself, I've stayed clean and out of trouble for fifteen years. Connor busted in, and that was enough to stop Roland from doing whatever he pleased to a semi-helpless me. In that situation, I needed a little help. Roland's a huge and ruthless guy. Most people, no matter how street smart, wouldn't have a chance against him.

But what Connor said about not taking Roland's bait to lure him into a fight confuses me, because, well, for once, he's right. Normally I'm the one in the pair that actually thinks things through, makes the good decisions, uses her logic and wits. He made the right call, I certainly wouldn't want him getting hurt, but something about that whole scene just seemed to demand some sort of more climactic conflict. I just thought that Connor, my rescuer, my so-called "hero", wouldn't be cowardly in the face of danger if it meant protecting me. We've been through so much together recently, and I feel like we've become close. We confide in each other, help each other out, keep the other one safe, and stay with them when they're having a difficult time.

That boy confuses me, there's no doubt. I know for a fact that he could quite easily be dangerous. He's passionately irrational, never makes good choices, and his brain seems to fry in stressful moments. He can be violent, but only to people that piss him off first. He seems to have broken most every law, and there's the whole matter of that girl he knew from back home. He cared about her a lot, I can tell, so I suppose he's "taken", whatever that's supposed to mean. Curse shallow, meaningless teenage girl language… She was probably pretty if he liked her face well enough to try to graffiti it into a concrete floor. Connor does strike me as a bit of a ladies' man, and if he's one of those types, makeup and a surgically skinny nose is all he'd like.

On the other hand, something about him is just… intriguing. How he rescued the unloved baby against all self-preservation. Even through he knew it would probably get us caught, he took that baby to save her from a miserable life. Connor finally looked at peace when he held her in his arms, as if feeling some sort of fatherly love buried deep inside him. The way he kidnapped that little rat Lev, just to keep him from being unwound. When I had just given Didi to that teacher and was so upset, he saw my pain, and tried his hardest to comfort me, even if that meant "keeping me warm." (AKA using any excuse to put his arm around me.) He had tears in his eyes after writing the letter to his loved one. I can tell that he tries to look tough, tries to be the bad boy in order to stay safe. It's a fairly transparent front when you really examine it; when you know him like I do. No matter how many fights he gets into, I know that his soul is gentle and kind. He's still finding his way in the world, but he is a good person. Really.

But after my little hero realization last night, I feel like some switch inside me has been flicked. Yesterday, I saw Connor Lassiter as a friend, or maybe a partner in crime. But now, I have no idea. Suddenly, I feel shy around him. Suddenly, I've become fixated with those sweet little freckles across his nose and cheeks, and I stare at his soft, floppy hair and think how I want to run my fingers through it. I've seen the occasional passing guy as attractive, I mean, I'm a heterosexual teenage girl. But this seems different somehow. I feel this warm, fluttery feeling when I think about him, and I know that I always want to be around him and keep him safe.

Just as I'm pondering all of this, a little while in front of me, I see him walking with a group of guys who seem very happy to be out of the crates. They're all being idiots, sprinting and jumping and punching each other for reasons I'm not even sure they understand. Connor stops in the middle of the mob, though, and waves to me.

"Hey, Risa!" he calls.

"Hi, Connor," I say back, blushing slightly. He has a really nice smile.

What is up with me? I've never been this ditzy girl. I've never been the type to go all stupid and blushy over some guy. But maybe this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Connor needs someone to keep him out of trouble, keep his head on straight. And, I mean, he's my friend, and I'm pretty sure it's okay to feel this way about him, even if a relationship between us would never work. In this crazy world, the chances of any teenage romance surviving though legal adulthood are zero and none. However, I can't stop it when my imagination starts to wander.

All of a sudden, I see countless scenes of us together. I can picture us spending all hours of the night staying up talking about life, holding hands in front of our friends, us kissing passionately in the rain. I can even see the two of us standing under a rose-covered altar. Chasing our little children around, trying to round them up to go inside.

Stop it, Risa. This kind of thing isn't good for you. You're getting your hopes up. Life gives you dreams, then laughs cruelly in the corner as you're disappointed when they're dashed. Don't go moony now. He probably doesn't even like you back like that…