: Mind the Gap (One)Author
: mhlalchai at gmail.comSpoilers
: Series Finale of BtVS, Incubus Dreams
: Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy own all things Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Laurell K. Hamilton owns all things Anita Blake. I am but borrowing the characters for a brief time and shall return them intact at the end.Summary
: Taking a gap year from her college degree, Dawn runs out of money while visiting her aunt in St. Louis. Funny how the only place that's hiring is the local zombie shop...Author's note
: In no way related to my other Dawn-centric story.
Dawn Summers adjusted a pencil on her desk, then squared the note pad by the phone. The desk, her desk, now completely in order, she let herself lean back in her chair and folded her hands on the desk. The butterflies in her stomach were still flying in formation, she thought.
She had really lucked out with this job, she reflected as she looked around the pale yellow reception area. She had taken a year off from university to travel, meet family she hadn't seen in a while. Or ever. She was in Saint Louis visiting her mother's sister Karen, when Buffy had put out a frantic call for money. Seemed Willow needed some expensive do-hicky to save the world. With Anya dead, the Scoobies had no real connections to the do-hicky dealer, so they needed to go through someone who jacked up the price.
At any rate, Willow had indeed saved the world. Dawn's bank account (and everybody else's) had been temporarily depleted while Buffy and Giles tried to access one of the Watchers' Council's bank accounts and liquidate some assets so everyone could get repaid.
When Aunt Karen had heard of Dawn's little problem, sanitized of most of the gory apocalyptic details, she suggested that her niece stay in St. Louis for a few more months. Dawn had been hesitant to take up her aunt's hospitality, but as the only other option would have been hitchhiking back to San Francisco, she really had no other choice.
Then one day the phone rang. It was an old friend of Aunt Karen's, Mary, who was a secretary at some company downtown. The friend had called to tell Aunt Karen that she needed to cancel their coffee date the following week, as she had to go out of town for a family emergency. The conversation progressed, and when Aunt Karen hung up, she wheeled on Dawn with a feverish light in her eyes. It was so similar to one of her mom's looks that Dawn cringed. Nothing good ever came of that look.
The next day, Dawn had been sitting in Bert Vaughn's office at Animators Inc. Maybe it had been the thoughts of Anya after the recent expensive apocalypse-prevention, but the blond man in front of her had reminded Dawn very strongly of the late vengeance demon. She figured out later that the creepy way he lit up when thinking of money.
"So, Miss Summers, what kinds of experience have you had as a secretary?" Bert had asked.
Dawn had smiled and prepared herself to stretch the truth. "Well, I spent a few summers between my college semesters organizing and filing documentation for a world-wide philanthropic organization. I have good people skills, and take very concise phone messages." The glib responses she had planned in the car were drying up on her, and the set expression on Bert's face told her that she would soon be booted onto the street. Oh well. At least she tried.
Bert had flipped through the pages on his desk, making himself look busy. Dawn narrowed her eyes. He was nervous. "Miss Summers, may I be blunt?"
Dawn had no idea where this was going, so she just nodded.
"I'm sure your skills as secretary will be adequate while Mary is out of town at her son's bedside after his surgery, but our office and our clientele requires a certain... discretion, shall we say?"
Discretion? What kind of discretion would an animation studio need? "In what way?" Dawn asked neutrally.
Bert put his hands on his desk. "Some of our clients don't want it to be general knowledge that they've come in to have one of our animators raise the dead for them. I'm sure you understand."
A thrill ran down Dawn's spine, and it took a second for her to readjust her mind from animation studio
to animators of the dead
. "Of course I understand," Dawn replied. She gave herself a mental pat on the back for keeping her voice calm.
"Good, then," Bert said. He looked relieved. "What would you say for a trial run for a week?"
"Sounds great," Dawn replied, trying not to sound too eager. She had buried the Oh, what have I done?
thoughts until she got back to her aunt's place.
And so here she sat, on her very first day as a tax-paying member of the nine-to-five society. At least it was better than Buffy's Doublemeat Palace gig. Everything was ready and set for the day to begin.~*~
An hour later, Dawn was slumped back in her chair, building a log cabin with pencils. No one had called, no one had come in. Hell, even the boss hadn't shown up. Dawn wondered if the whole thing was some sort of practical joke set up by her aunt. No,
Dawn thought, I doubt she'd be paying me to sit here. If I'm even going to get paid. It's not like I have anything else to do until Buffy refills my bank account.
She cast another longing look at the computer sitting on the other side of her desk. It was tempting to turn the thing on and start surfing the Internet, but Bert struck her as the kind of boss who would track his employees' computer time religiously. She didn't think he'd take boredom as an excuse for her researching demon languages on company time.
There was noise in the hall. Dawn opened the desk drawer and with one swoop of her hand pushed the remnants of her pencil-house into the desk, before straightening in her chair and putting on the welcome-client-and-your-money face she'd seen Anya use.
The office door opened and a short dark storm blew in. The woman who had just flung herself into the room was about as tall as Buffy, with wild curly black hair and an irritated expression on her face. Her royal purple suit had drying blackish splotches over it. Dawn swallowed when she realized that it was probably not paint on the suit, but blood.
The woman made it across the room and was about to go down the hall when she stopped and turned around. All of her attention was now on Dawn. "Who are you?" the woman demanded.
By now, Dawn had figured out who it was. Bert had told her all about the animators at the firm. Everyone had ranked a glowing description except the last. "Anita Blake. She..." Bert had seemed to struggle with a description. "She's short," he had finished lamely.
"I'm Dawn Summers. I'm replacing Mary for the next month until her son's better," Dawn explained, and smiled weakly.
Anita blinked a couple of times. "How'd you get hired so fast?" she asked. A suspicious expression crossed her face. "You're not a relative of Bert's, are you?"
Dawn shook her head, wondering why she was bothering to explain herself to this woman. "My aunt is a friend of Mary's."
The answer seemed to satisfy Anita, for she whirled around and carried on down the hall, out of Dawn's sight.
"Hello bluntness," Dawn muttered under her breath. She jumped when someone chuckled.
"Anita is nothing if not blunt," the young man said. He must have come in just after Anita, Dawn thought. Then she thought, Wow. The young man standing in front of the desk was absolutely gorgeous, from his long auburn hair to his impossible lavender eyes to the shy smile on his face. Dawn did her damnedest to avoid sighing appreciatively.
Instead, she said, "It's cool. Blunt is better than not, things move faster that way." And my god, could I sound any more like a tool?
Dawn thought in disgust.
The young man didn't seem to notice. "I'm Nathaniel. I'm with Anita." He gestured to the chairs on the other side of the waiting room. "Is it okay if I sit down over there? I need to wait for her."
"Sure, no problem," Dawn said. Curiosity won the battle and she asked, "Why do you need to wait for Ms. Blake?"
Nathaniel shrugged elegantly. How could anyone make a shrug so damn graceful? "She picked me up from work and needed to come get some stuff done before we could go home."
"So you're her boyfriend?" Dawn asked. It figured. She met a nice, amazingly cute guy, and he was attached. Story of her life.
A strange play of emotions passed over Nathaniel's face. "Yes, I'm her boyfriend," he finally said, soft and hesitant.
"Lucky Anita," Dawn said before she thought about it. Then, to hide her embarrassed blush, she said, "Would you like some coffee?"
"Yeah, coffee would be nice," Nathaniel said and jumped up. "Do you want some?"
Dawn had stood as well, and now it was suddenly awkward. "No, when I drink coffee I get all crazy and jumpy and I start to ramble, kinda like, well, now. But I've been here for an hour with nothing to do. Sit down, and I'll get you some. Cream and sugar?"
Nathaniel eased back into his chair. "Both, please."
Happy to finally be doing something, and hoping it would stop her from acting like a total moron, Dawn walked down the plush-carpeted hallway to the coffee table. Handsome men didn't usually turn her into a babbling idiot, she thought as she measured out a spoon of sugar into a company coffee mug. True, it was fast approaching her twenty-first birthday and it had been a long time since she'd been in a relationship with anyone, but damn it, her hormones needed to calm down.
She carried the coffee mug back to Nathaniel. "Hope it's okay," Dawn said as she handed the young man the cup.
"I'm sure it'll be perfect," Nathaniel said, and smiled again.
Riiight. Dawn went back to her desk, carefully sweeping her skirt under her knees as she sat. The phone rang and she just stared at it. The butterflies were back. Come on
, she told herself. You've faced vampires and demons and gods. Get a grip
. She picked up the phone and said, "Animators Inc., how may I help you?"~*~
The phone kept ringing, and clients started coming in for appointments. A few of the other animators had come in and introduced themselves, much more politely than Anita. Dawn had met Manuel Rodriguez, Charles... she hadn't caught his last name, John Burke, and Jamieson Clarke.
Throughout it all, Nathaniel sat in the waiting room, quietly reading magazines. Only Jamieson had eyed Nathaniel oddly. The rest seemed to either not see him at all, or ignored him completely. He didn't seem to mind.
Around eleven, the calls tapered off and clients stopped coming in. The lull was welcome for the first five minutes, then Dawn got bored again. Really, really bored.
"You're not used to this much inactivity?" Nathaniel asked quietly. He had put his magazine down and was staring at Dawn.
Dawn was more accustomed to him now, and his mere attention didn't send her into a tailspin. "No, not really. Before, it was my degree, or the research, or the hanging out. Plus, not being able to join in all the little online reindeer games makes for a boring day for Dawn."
"What is your degree in?" Nathaniel asked. He sat up in his chair, all bright-eyed and interested.
"Demonology," Dawn said. "Well, demon languages and the like. I'm not so much with the stabbey-stabbey, but more the theoretical and identification."
"That's really neat," Nathaniel said. "Have you ever faced a real demon?"
Dawn had to think about that. Most of what Buffy and company had faced in Sunnydale weren't true demons. Willow classified them as demi-demons, later. Although by some classifications, Glory could have been called a true demon.
"Yeah." Dawn shook her head. "And she brought death and destruction in her wake."
"I know what you mean," Nathaniel said, so softly that Dawn almost couldn't hear his voice over the air conditioning.
"Who'd you lose?"
"Me, almost." Nathaniel pushed his hair back over his shoulder absently.
He looked, suddenly, at the hallway to the animator offices. Anita stood leaning against the wall, her arms crossed over her chest. Dawn hadn't heard her coming.
"You and Dawn having a good talk?" Anita asked. Dawn would have expected malice in the tone, but Anita's voice was mild. Nathaniel nodded, his eyes never leaving Anita's face.
"She's taking a degree in demonology," Nathaniel said.
"Is that so?" Anita turned that dark gaze onto Dawn, and it was now hostile. "So that's why you're here? Thought working with the zombie makers be good for the classes?"
Dawn let out a breath and told herself that pissing off an armed woman (she could see the bulge of the gun under the purple suit) was a really bad idea. "No. I needed a break from the school work. I took a year off and came to visit my aunt when my bank account took a sudden downturn. I'm here because I am, in theory, getting paid. That's all."
Anita pushed her hair back in a gesture remarkably similar to Nathaniel's. "Any particular reason that you needed a year off?"
Dawn shrugged. "Just too much stuff, you know? Most of the students in the program burn out before the end of the last year. Professor Merek suggested that I take a year to save myself a mental meltdown in a bit."
"You're taking classes with Philo Merek?" Anita asked. She pushed herself off the wall and sat down beside Nathaniel. "I attended a lecture with him back years ago. You actually got into his program? I heard that's near impossible."
"Don't think it wasn't. I had to get like, ten reference letters and go through five interviews. And my sister nearly exploded when she found out what I wanted to do." Dawn couldn't help gushing; she always did that when talking about her chosen career. As careers went, being a demonologist wasn't too different from what she'd done in Sunnydale.
Anita smiled, a real, honest-to-God smile. "Yeah, family never understands about fighting bad things." The smile faltered slightly, and Anita turned her head toward Nathaniel, who was sitting very quietly. "You did that on purpose."
"What did I do?" Nathaniel asked, face as blank as he could make it.
"You got me talking to Dawn about something I'd think was cool so I'd stop being grumpy."
Nathaniel nodded, his head moving a fraction of an inch. "Yes, I did."
Anita reached over and squeezed his hand. "Thanks."
The smile that blossomed over his face was brilliant, like the sun peeking out from behind clouds. "You're welcome."
Anita smiled back at Nathaniel. It was a shared smile, something couples had, and it made Dawn sigh.
"You two are so good together," Dawn replied. "It's nice to see." Tara used to smile at Willow the way Nathaniel was smiling at Anita, like she was his whole world. Funny, for the first time in years, it didn't hurt to think of Tara being happy.
Anita squeezed Nathaniel's hand once more, then stood up. "I need to get going," she told Dawn. "My first appointment isn't until six, right?" Dawn checked the appointment book on her desk and nodded. "Then I'll see you later. I need to go home and get some sleep."
"See you later," Dawn said as Anita and Nathaniel left the waiting room. She stared at the closed door for a minute. There was something about Nathaniel, some reason Anita reminded her of Willow for more than just the Tara-like smile... but Dawn could not put her mental finger on it. Oh well. She would figure it out eventually.
Then the phone rang and Dawn banished such thoughts until after work.~*~
Dawn sighed and dropped her purse on the couch in the living room. Her aunt came out from the kitchen when she heard the noise.
"So, how was your first day at work?" Karen asked.
Dawn smiled weakly. "Good. Busy. I never knew so many people wanted to raise the dead."
"People seem to want all sorts strange things in this town," Karen said. "Come on, you can tell me all about if while I fix dinner."
"Do you want any help?" Dawn asked as she trailed her aunt into the large kitchen. The counters were clean, but the table was strewn with the morning's newspapers.
"No, they do wonderful things with frozen lasagna these days," Karen said. "So, your first day. Mary never really told me what kinds of things they do down at Animators Inc."
Dawn settled into a chair at the table and proceeded to tell her aunt about some of the clients, and meeting the animators. She left out the portion where she drooled all over Nathaniel like a teenager.
"Mary always made the job seem boring, whenever we talked about it," Karen said as she joined Dawn at the table.
"Yeah, well after a while, it feels like you've seen it all." Dawn fiddled with the papers.
"You know, Dawn," Karen said, her voice telling Dawn that the topic had just been changed. "I never told you I was sorry for not being there for you and Buffy, after Joyce... after your mother died."
"It's okay," Dawn said. "That was right when Barry had his accident." Barry, Dawn's younger cousin, had been in school bus when it was t-boned by a truck on the freeway. He had lived, but his legs had been crushed in the accident. He was still in a wheelchair. "Buffy took real good care of me. Sometimes I wondered how she did it."
"Your sister is just like her mother," Karen said. "Always taking care of others before herself." Don't I know it,
Dawn thought, but smiled blandly.
The timer on the oven went off, and Aunt Karen went to rescue the lasagna. While she was busy doing battle with her oven, Dawn's other cousin Alice came in. Dawn fought to keep the smile on her face.
Alice was a few months older than Dawn, but she seemed years younger. She was going to college for something... Dawn hadn't worked out the details yet, not after weeks of being in St. Louis. No, Alice was usually pretty vague on the details, because Alice herself was a little bit vague.
Now that bounty of vagueness bounced into a chair. "So, so are we still on for your birthday party on Thursday?" Alice asked.
Dawn fought not to wince visibly. She had accidentally mentioned that her birthday was on Thursday, in Alice's earshot, the previous week. Now Alice was convinced it was her destiny in life to throw Dawn a twenty-first birthday party.
Problem was, Dawn couldn't see any way to get out of it.
"Um, sure," Dawn replied. Alice grinned vacantly and bounced out of the kitchen.
"I expect it won't be that bad." Karen's voice brought Dawn out of her Alice-induced stupor.
Dawn raised her eyebrows.
"Well, it can't be any worse than previous birthdays, can it?" Karen asked.
Dawn considered that. There was Buffy's birthday when the vengeance demon Halfrek had bound everyone to the house. Then there was her birthday where a whole cadre of vampires rushed the house she was staying with Buffy and Willow. Then there was that last birthday when she had had been helping Professor Merek handle a yucky exorcism.
"Probably not," Dawn conceded. "I mean, what could go wrong?"