Summary: Dawn escapes from a boring summer at the Hyperion by finding a summer job. The job isn't quite what it appears. That's okay: neither is Dawn.
Notes: Written for wndx for the Antique Roman ficathon. Request at the end. I make some minor time sequence modifications to AtS S4 canon. Many thanks to theblackmare for the overnight beta-read!
Word count: 11K
Distribution: Yup, sure!
Feedback: Makes the author happy. Even if you just say hi.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. I claim no ownership and am making no money.
"I think you'll like Ferlinghetti," the man behind the register said.
He had an accent like Giles', educated English. Dawn glanced up at him for a second while she dug inside her backpack for her wallet. She hadn't expected that. He was about Giles' age. He had a mischievous smile on a long face. She liked it, though she couldn't have said why.
The Englishman rang up her purchases on an old-fashioned register, the kind with long-throw keys that printed up a receipt on a thin strip of paper in blue ink. The kind the Magic Box had had. Dawn had learned to count up change, behind that kind of cash register. He tucked the receipt into the title page of the Ferlinghetti, and slid book and change across to her. He stepped back to the Pavoni to brew her drink. He limped visibly even in the three steps he took. Dawn looked, and saw a cane hung on the edge of the counter, a spar of dark wood with an odd silver handle.
The milk steamer roared, then was choked silent. The man emptied the little silver pitcher into a wide porcelain cup, then poured in milk. He brought cup and saucer to Dawn and smiled for a moment. He re-perched himself on his high stool and returned to his own book. Heavy, leather-bound, the sort of thing Dawn associated with Giles and research parties. Nostalgia was sweet in her throat for a moment. She swallowed, and turned her back on it.
Dawn carried her coffee over to one of the two tables at the window, in the cafe area. A gray tabby cat dozed on the windowsill, in the sun. A half-high wall topped with planters separated it from the poetry bookshop. A couple of customers browsed the shelves. A man folded his newspaper, tucked it into his messenger bag, and left. His foam-stained latte glass remained on his table.
Another customer moved to the back of the shop and through a curtained doorway Dawn had not noticed until that moment. The curtains were dark red velvet. Over the door was a bas-relief of a two-faced head, done in some white stone. Dawn had been well-taught, by some definitions. She recognized Janus, wondered briefly if the cafe owner had chosen it for meaning or decoration, then turned her attention to the book of poetry. She wound her feet around the legs of her chair unconsciously as she read. She read the poetry slowly, stopping to think about it and re-read. A rebirth of wonder. A cat on the counter of a candy shop. Like the cat asleep in the window sill. No candy for sale, though. Just biscotti in glass jars.
It was nice to get out of the Hyperion, away from the gang. The Slayerettes. Angel, who never seemed to look at her straight on, and his weird employees. From Xander, who was dealing with grief by fixing everything he could get his hands on in the hotel. From Giles and Buffy, who were at least so obsessed with each other that they didn't bother Dawn any more. Thank heavens for small blessings: Buffy had released her manic over-control. There were moments when Dawn was happy to observe Angel's distress, but even that palled after a while.
Plus, she was bored. There was only so much self-study Latin and Sumerian she could take in a single day. It was nice to find a place to hang out. A long walk from the hotel, not so close that any of them would trip across it by accident.
A faint chime sounded in the back. The man slid down from his stool, cast a glance at Dawn, and took down his cane. He limped out from behind the counter, cane thumping and creaking on the warped hardwood floor, and vanished through the curtains underneath the two-faced man. Some time later the customer emerged, with a book, leather-bound, large, ragged gilt edges. The sort of book Dawn had grown up reading. A minute later, the shopkeeper followed. Dawn didn't look up, but listened to the uneven creaks on the floor. A sideline in magic books, then. Poetry and coffee in the front, grimoires in the back. Open mike night on Wednesday, closed on Sabbat Day. Dawn grinned to herself.
The only downside was that she was no longer certain her refuge would be safe from visits from the Hyperion crew. Wesley at least had to know about this place.
Dawn put the book into her backpack and ran a hand over her hair. She looked up over the door as she went to leave, and saw another bas-relief of Janus. Bearded man, androgynous youth. God of gateways. Tacked up next to the door was a hand-lettered card. Help wanted. Dawn stopped, and yielded to impulse. She turned and walked over to the counter.
"I see you're looking for help," she said, directly, meeting the man's eyes. "I'm available, and I know about books. I'd like to fill out an application."
"Ah. Yes. I'm not sure you're, er, entirely qualified."
"Unqualified to do what? To run a cash register? Make espresso? Handle selling whatever's in the back room to your non-human customers?"
He raised an eyebrow.
"I have experience with non-humans and retail," she said, still defiant.
The eyebrow stayed up. "You can see the back room," he said, as if thinking aloud.
"Yeah. Am I not supposed to? Is there a glamour on it?"
The shop owner gazed at her and stroked his jaw. "There is, but quite a simple one. All it takes to see past it is, shall we say, awareness of a world beyond the mundane. Which you clearly have."
He looked at her again, meeting her eyes, and Dawn felt herself spinning dizzy for a long second. Then the man blinked, and she wondered if she'd imagined it. But his face had changed. He reached below the counter and came out with a xeroxed form, with the logo of the shop on top. Angel City Books and Cafe. Peter Martin, proprietor.
"Fill this in, for me, would you?
Dawn filled out the form quickly, printing neatly with block capitals. She'd learned some time ago some tricks for making her writing appear older than it was. No loopy script and rounded dots. Her name. Address of the Hyperion, and the phone number of the front desk, where that moronic vampire chick might or might not answer, and might or might not remember Dawn's name. She slid the form back to the man. His face did not change as he glanced down the form, up at her, then back down again.
"Have you worked before?" he said.
Dawn shrugged. "I've got experience. At a, a shop in that line of business. Not official on the books experience," she added, looking up. She didn't want to mislead him. "A friend owned the shop. And I've never used one of those." She gestured toward the espresso machine, the long expanse of gleaming red enamel and stainless steel.
"You'll learn in five minutes. Sorting out my inventory system will take you longer."
"I doubt it," said Dawn, before she could catch herself.
The shop owner didn't seem to mind. His face transformed in an easy smile. "I would pay minimum wage, but given that you can help with the, ah, more esoteric side of things, shall we say seven dollars an hour?"
Dawn nodded, on uncertain ground suddenly. Was that good or bad? Should she negotiate? "Do you need references?" she said.
Giles would probably do it just to make Buffy happy, and not mention the shoplifting. That was a different person who'd done that, anyway. Not the person Dawn was turning herself into now.
"I have my own means of determining reliability." The laugh once again chased itself across his face and vanished.
He stuck out his hand, and Dawn shook it.
"Well, then. Welcome to Angel City Books. You're my first employee, Miss Summers."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr Martin."
"Oh, pardon. The form is out of date. That's the previous proprietor. My name is Rayne. Ethan Rayne. Come by at nine-thirty tomorrow. We open at ten."
Dawn hadn't been certain she'd show up in the morning. Even if Mr Rayne didn't know who she was, she knew who he was. She'd worn one of his costumes, a burglar getup with a mask, and had a deep and intimate knowledge of safecracking and lockpicking as a result. She'd heard all about the demon thing, too.
Then she'd watched Giles pour Buffy's coffee and smile at her in that way that said there was no one else in their universe. And Wesley was doing the same thing with this Texas chick. Angel was all over Cordelia, still weak from her magical coma-thing, or whatever the hell it was. Xander hadn't paid attention to her in days, except to ruffle her hair and ask her to pass him the wrench for whatever it was he was fixing now. Nobody was going to notice her. Nobody did notice her. To hell with them all.
Dawn didn't even bother to mention that she'd gotten a job. She just got herself dressed-- black shirt for the poetry crowd, colorful vest over the top, hair tied back for the espresso machine part, sensible shoes on her feet-- and walked. Rush-hour traffic roared along Santa Monica Boulevard. Nine in the morning, and she had her sunglasses on. The summer heat shimmered up from the asphalt. She ducked over onto the side street of shops where Angel City was. A broad green shade had been pulled down behind the plate-glass window, nearly down to the low sill. The sign in the door said "closed". Dawn laid her hand on the doorknob.
It was locked.
A chime sounded within. Mr Rayne appeared at the door and let her in. It was cool inside the shop. The cat sat in the patch of sunlight from the half-shaded window. It groomed its face.
Mr Rayne drew Dawn back to the doorway with a gentle hand on her elbow.
"Allow me to introduce you to my janitor. He guards this door. Quartus? This is Dawn Summers. She is welcome here."
He gestured at the white stone bas-relief. It shimmered and seemed to move and Dawn swore it spoke. Rayne glanced sidelong at her. "The janitor is--"
"I know," said Dawn, and shrugged. "Janus. Gateways."
"And transitions," Mr Rayne said. "My little guardian knows you now. You will be able to enter at any time."
"Cool," said Dawn, and it was cool. Mr Rayne had impressed her already. The Magic Box didn't have anything so cool. She gave him her perkiest smile. "So. Show me what my job is."
Rayne did. He was right that it took her only a few minutes to get comfortable with the espresso machine and its nozzles and levers. After the morning rush was over, she knew how to steam milk and judge the temperature with a hand on the bottom of the pitcher, how to interpret the Italian words the customers used to order: Americano, doppio, ristretto, macchiato. Rayne was a past master of coffee-brewing. He seemed to enjoy the banter with regulars.
The bookselling business was more suited to Dawn's talents, as she saw them. She knew poetry. Or was starting to know poetry. It was almost a disappointment when she realized that the poetry bookshop was a front for the magical bookshop in the back. The shop's considerable profit was in that business, and in a sideline of artifact sale. Next in profitability came the coffee, and last the small-press poetry chapbooks.
Before the first week was out, she'd learned that her true talent lay in a very different sort of books. It lay in shaking out Rayne's tangled accounting and setting it straight. His accounting system wasn't so much confusing as insane. It took Dawn several days to understand it and, in the end, replace it. She didn't tell him she'd gone to the local public library in the evening, after closing time, and swotted up on how small retail accounting systems should go. She also read about software, but decided not to mention that. She'd seen no signs in the shop of technology newer than 1975. Even the Pavoni was an older one, though in beautiful condition.
On Saturday, near closing time, Rayne wrote up Dawn's first paycheck, doing the tax necessities she'd explained to him. She watched him write out the check and sign his name with a flourish. Fountain pen. The guy was more like Giles than he wanted to be, probably. Or maybe that was the other way around. Only with Mr Rayne, there'd be a story about how he got the fountain pen, involving a narrow escape from a disreputable sorcerer and probably the police as well. And he'd tell the story so engagingly, leaning forward to touch Dawn's arm to emphasize a point about the sorcerer's black-stained hands, and the steadiness of Rayne's own elegant hands as he lit a casual cigarette after the chase.
Rayne cleared his throat, and Dawn realized he was holding out the check for her. She took it and looked: her first paycheck ever. She couldn't stop herself from smiling as she folded it and tucked it away in her wallet.
"A marvelous first week, Miss Summers. I can already tell that I cannot do without you. I'll see you on Tuesday."
Dawn grinned, and had to restrain her urge to skip out the door. Grownups did not skip. Sophisticated world-weary constructed entities did not skip.
She stopped at an ATM to deposit the first check in her account. She stared at the balance, glowing green on the screen. It was not what it had to be, to pay for a year of college. That was another thing she was mad at Buffy about. She'd passed the test and gotten her diploma a year early. The letter had arrived, but Buffy hadn't asked what it was. Hadn't given Dawn a reason to boast. Hadn't offered to help her plan for college. Dawn had to do it all on her own. But she could.
She was Dawn Summers, and that meant she was self-reliant and plucky and brave.
Mr Rayne paid her every Saturday, and after the first two times, didn't need any help from Dawn to get the taxes right. He'd entirely given over the bookkeeping to her, but refused to allow her to tend to customers in the back room. There were etiquettes, he explained to her, complex rules of interaction, that were at times touchy. Sometimes the demons remembered that they were on a human's territory, and sometimes not. He would teach her, he promised, but in the meantime, he would not allow her in the back room while customers were present. The guardian over the doorway to the back, Tertius, enforced this restriction.
There were times when Dawn thought she would never want to be back there. It smelled strange, not like the warm comfortable coffee and cinnamon of the front. Damp and smoky at once, somehow. Mr Rayne had books that were seriously dark. Books bound in human skin, inked in blood and the ash of martyred saints, he said, and Dawn thought it was no wild claim. Giles had refused to sell books like that, though he'd owned some. He'd kept them locked in the safe, and he'd taken them away with him when he abandoned them all.
Those books were profitable. Rayne sometimes made special trips to acquire them, from estate sales and antiquarian conventions. In one case, he bid on the contents of the storage facility left in default by someone who wouldn't be showing up to claim it. Rayne seemed quite sure of his information on that one. The crate had contained some books he'd fussed over, a bag of blood-stained clothing, and an axe with gore crusted on the blade. Dawn shivered and dutifully entered each book into the ledger. Rayne cleaned the axe and burned the clothing in a brazier in the alley behind the shop.
They got along. It was strange, but they did. He was social, far more social than she expected. She had formed the impression from years of watching Giles that Englishmen were introverted and stammering, a trifle overwhelmed by too much social pressure, and prone to outbursts of surprisingly skilled violence. Ethan Rayne was not like this. Educated, yes, polite, reserved when on guard, but suave and gregarious with the customers. He knew something about each of his regulars in the morning coffee rush, and the people who came in to browse the unprofitable poetry in the front. Dawn watched him, and imitated, and learned that there ways to manipulate people that did not use power. Bestow a smile upon them and remember that they liked a scrape of fresh nutmeg across the top of their cup, and you went far toward relaxing someone who was uncertain that he truly needed the Oak and Thorn Herbology, or the complete set of Witchfinder Annals, Cambridge University reprint edition. The odd cup on the house turned browsers into buyers.
About the poetry there was more dispute. Mr Rayne cheerfully mocked her interest in Sylvia Plath as entirely predictable, and pushed her in the direction of Jacobean poets, men, who wrote elaborate puzzles with words, with Latin mixed in. Dawn surprised him with her facility with Latin, and she found the Sumerian tutor she'd been wanting. Giles, she told herself, wouldn't have consented to do it even if she'd asked. He was busy. Had more important things to do than Dawn. Chiefly, Buffy.
She broke the news of her job to Buffy on Tuesday the second week, when Buffy happened to be awake early enough to see Dawn heading out. Or, more likely, she'd been up all night vampire-hunting and stayed up to meet Giles on the flip side for breakfast. Buffy stared at Dawn's neat clothes and tied-back hair, and said, "That doesn't look very summer vacation-y. What's up?"
"I have a job. Had it for a while now. In a poetry bookshop. I make seven bucks an hour."
That last dig went home; Buffy had never made that much at the burger place. To Dawn's surprise, Buffy controlled the anger. "Why?"
"To earn money for college."
"But, Dawn--" said Buffy.
"Sorry, gonna be late. See you at dinner."
Dawn took off, and didn't hear whatever else Buffy had to say. That evening Giles gave her a mild catechism about the job, while Buffy hovered. When he heard the name Angel City and Peter Martin, he relaxed.
"Oh! Yes, yes. Quite famous. Associated with the Black Mountain school, at one time. You should meet some interesting people there. Well done, Dawn."
And that was the end of it. Dawn was almost angry to realize that they would allow her to pursue her summer plans in peace, that they trusted her. Which surely they could not. Surely it was that they didn't care. Or they would have found out that Giles' old enemy Ethan Rayne was really her employer. She was aware, at some level, that she was being unfair to them. But it didn't matter. she'd been simmering on this for nearly three years. Nearly as long as she'd been in existence.
And their opinion didn't matter. She was being responsible. Adult. She was taking charge of her own life, and it felt good. It felt good to get to know the regulars, and make easy jokes with them. It felt good to read poetry during the slack hours of the early afternoon, with Loki the cat dozing on the shelf next to her. To teach her employer a few new tricks, while learning from him. And getting to know him.
He was amiable for a guy who made Giles go non-linear the way he did if you even said his name. She guessed he was fifty-ish, but it was hard to tell. He looked older than Giles, more worn. Fine lines radiated out from his eyes and down from the corners of his mouth, and his hair was shot with gray at the temples. His left leg troubled him, and he often retreated to his stool to take his weight off it. He was restless otherwise, in constant motion, drumming a pencil on the desk, fidgeting. He was happiest when there were customers for him to flirt with and seduce into buying, or when he was actively using magic. He seemed to have a mail-order business in small magical objects, charged devices, usually small animal fetishes of wood and stone.
Dawn asked him what they did, once, several weeks into their arrangement. Rayne laughed.
"The usual, my dear. Like any man who wishes to make money, I cater to the obsessions of humanity. Love and sex, chiefly. And the thwarting of our rivals. Most of these are harmless."
"They don't work?" she said, uncertainly.
"Oh, they work, just not in a grand sort of way. They turn heads, trip feet, and in three months have lost their virtue. Mostly."
Mostly. Rayne was strangely careful with the truth. Dawn watched him rub oil into a tiny wooden carving of a sleeping cat. His long mobile face was still for once, intent on the task. He favored dark clothing, and was in wine red and black today. His sleeves were rolled to the elbow. He wore silver rings on his thumbs.
He looked up and met her eyes. Dawn looked away quickly.
"You've been staring at me all day. Why?"
Dawn blushed hot. "I dunno. Wondering."
"Well, you. Everything. I know almost nothing about you."
"What on earth might be interesting to you about a man more than thirty years your senior, I cannot guess. No, wait. I can. I am a fascinating fellow."
Then he laughed and turned what ought to have been a display of ego into a joke against himself.
Dawn said, "Well, yeah."
"Ask!" he said, sweeping out his arms.
"What happened to your leg?"
"The American government happened to it," Mr Rayne said, and then was silent. His arms curled in, around his chest, as if he were cold. Or defending himself against something.
Dawn thought about what had happened to him after he'd turned Giles into a demon. Riley had arrested him. Though what authority the Initiative had to arrest anybody-- Mr Rayne stared at her, and Dawn realized she'd said it out loud. His face darkened.
"How do you know about the Initiative? What are you doing here? Are you--"
"No! No. It's not like that. I lived in Sunnydale. I, I. Okay. I have a confession to make, and you gotta promise to hear it out."
Rayne resettled his arms into a more natural crossed posture, deliberately, elaborately. Regaining his composure. He still looked angry. The sigh of anger on that face was frightening. Dawn swallowed, and rested a hand on the edge of the counter to brace herself.
"Pray, continue. I am all ears."
"I'm the Slayer's sister. Buffy's sister. Giles? Her Watcher? I grew up with him around like some kind of uncle. I know you guys have some kind of history."
Rayne stared at her. "You're joking."
"No. Total scout's honor here. I'm Buffy's sister. We're staying nearby, in the Hyperion, after our house collapsed. I was bored one day, and saw your sign, and, I, you know. That's it, I swear. I had no plans. And I... I kinda like working here. With you."
Rayne laughed, and shook his head. "Rupert's Slayer has a sister? And she's working for me. How on earth did he hide that from me?"
"Um. He didn't. We've met before. You sold me a costume. When you sold Buffy hers."
Rayne sobered. "I don't recall seeing you before. I'd remember your face. Your hair. The fact that you were with the Slayer. Certainly I would recall the power inside you. I remember the girl with the Slayer aura, the red-haired girl, and the clumsy boy. No one else."
"It was-- Yeah. Okay. The monks made me, and gave everybody fake memories. I guess they missed you?"
And that was how Dawn came to tell Mr Rayne all about how she came into existence, about glowing green balls of light, and insane Hellgods. He listened and took her entirely seriously. Somehow she forgot she'd wanted to ask him questions, and instead answered his. He asked questions she didn't have the answers to: What was her earliest memory, fake or otherwise? When did they think she'd come into being? How was Buffy able to close the gate that had been opened with her blood? Was she really Buffy's sister? How had she come into being as a human being with a soul? How had the monks achieved such a monstrous spell, the alteration of the memories of thousands of people?
They talked until long after closing, until long past dinnertime. Dawn's stomach rumbled, and she lurched back to a sense of herself and the world. She looked at the clock, and almost panicked. Buffy would kill her. She lunged for the phone, and got Buffy in her room. Buffy hadn't noticed the time, either.
"Yeah, we got busy doing inventory. I get overtime, though!" The lie came easily. "Not coming home just yet. Mr Martin is buying me dinner. Yeah, yeah. I won't be too much later. See ya!"
Dawn pushed a finger down over the hook. Mr Rayne took the handset from her with a graceful turn of his wrist, and dialed something quickly. "Yes, hello, Mike. It's Rayne. My usual, please, double order. Cash. Deliver to the shop. Thanks."
He hung up and turned to her, eyebrow up. "Mr Martin?"
"Yeah. Well. I don't think they'd be so relaxed if I said I was working for a Mr Rayne. I think Giles would be here beating you up about five minutes later."
Rayne laughed that relaxed laugh he had. "Good judgment on your part, I suspect. Dear Rupert has a penchant. Several, to be honest."
"For men, for violence, for, you tell me, his Slayer. That last, oh, it's marvelous. Truly rich." Rayne laughed quietly.
"Men? You mean, oh. You and him?"
"Indeed. Though it was a bit of a sideline for dear Ripper, it's rather my main occupation. Disappointed?" He looked sly, and as if he were ready to laugh at something. Probably her.
But Dawn shook her head calmly. Something inside her relaxed. Mr Rayne was safe. But he was also about a hundred times as exotic as he'd been the moment before. If something deep inside her were disappointed, she hid it away. It had been a crush. A perfectly understandable crush on a sophisticated older guy.
Conversation ceased. Rayne was watching her and rubbing his jaw. She'd learned that meant he was thinking. So was she. He'd asked a lot of questions. Painful ones, if she was honest with herself. She hadn't really coped with being a glowing green ball of energy instead of a real person. She'd just kinda shoved it aside and gotten on with living. Which, when she thought about it, had been pretty much the only option she had. Being fifteen didn't give you a lot of power and choice. It was better to be seventeen: she had a driver's license, she had a job and a bank account. But the problem hadn't gone away, and eventually she'd have to solve it.
The door guardian chimed. Rayne gripped his cane and limped across the shop to the door. He let the food delivery guy in-- a young Asian guy, cute, college age, in a button-down shirt and jeans, wearing a red Angels cap. He handed over a plastic bag and the bill. Rayne tipped him something that made him nod and grin.
Rayne turned the sign around to the closed position and spoke a word to Quartus. He crossed the creaking wooden floor, one hand on the bag, the other tight on the handle of his cane. Thump. Thump. Dawn watched him move.
"The DiPuccio Family restaurant. Suspiciously operated by a family named Nguyen, but their tomato sauce is rather better than it was under the previous management. I do love Los Angeles at times. It almost reminds me of London. If London were left under a hot lamp for a hundred years."
He set the bag on the counter and pulled out containers. A pair of paper plates. Forks. Loki appeared from nowhere and leapt onto the counter. He kneaded his paws on the wood and purred.
"Mr Rayne? What did happen to your leg?"
Rayne pulled the top off a styrofoam bowl of something red, and inhaled deeply. He had a self-satisfied look on his face something like Loki's. "I shattered my knee in a fall while escaping from the soldier-boys. Then I botched the healing. Never try tricky magic whilst in agony, Miss Summers."
"Can't you get it fixed? Surgery."
"Yee-es. I could. Shall we say, I developed an aversion to medical experiences during my short week as guest of the American government. Serious enough that it does interfere with my life, rather. My dentist had to knock me out to do a simple tooth polish."
"Oh." Then, "I'm sorry."
He handed her a carton of angel-hair pasta. "It was not your fault."
"It was Giles's fault."
"I've always chalked that one to his Slayer's account, truthfully. He was rather occupied at the time, what with the mucus and the horns. And I think he had no idea."
Dawn thought about that. "Buffy kinda did. But she was in serious denial for a while. I'm still sorry, Mr Rayne."
"I appreciate your sentiment. And call me Ethan. Please."
Ethan smiled at Dawn, and she felt a thrill in the pit of her stomach. She had a name for that, too. But it was safe. She dug her fork into the pasta, and spun it. It was hotter than sin and dripping with garlic, and it was delicious.
The summer deepened and heated into August. Dawn's Sumerian was becoming almost decent, and she'd finished reading the Beats entirely. Ethan had begun working with her on simple castings, in an attempt to teach her how to make his charms and wards. For the first time in her life, Dawn tasted utter failure. No attempt worked. No power moved at her bidding.
"It's there," Ethan told her. "I sense it in you. It's bound somehow, perhaps? Or latent. I'm not sure which."
They gave up the attempts after a few days, because Dawn complained it had begun to hurt, almost. To make her bones itch, if that made any sense. Ethan shook his head, as if it didn't, but put the spell primers away in the back room. He returned and settled to the bookkeeping. Dawn had been marginally more successful at teaching this skill to him than he had been teaching her magic. He swore quietly to himself as Dawn rang up a copy of the collected Robert Frost for a tourist.
The customer left, and the shop was quiet. It was the post-lunch lull, and they might or might not see anybody before three o'clock. Dawn settled to read a translation of some Norse poetry. She wasn't liking it very much. The Beats had been more her style.
The guardian of the main door glowed red, and made a sound Dawn had not heard from Quartus before. A woman was standing outside the shop door, with her hand over the doorknob. It was apparently not turning to admit her.
"My my," Ethan murmured. "Quartus, she may pass, but this once only."
The woman walked into the shop. Dawn wasn't much of a judge of designers, but she recognized expensive when she saw it. Stockings, heels, gray suit with conservative side-slash, the buttery calfskin of the case she carried. High-powered professional. She oozed corporate gloss of the faked Hollywood kind: someone's idea of what a lawyer should look like. Dawn had met real lawyers, from her father's firm, and they tended to be rumpled. Nebbishy sharks. This woman had had any lurking nebbish groomed right out.
She certainly had a presence. One that set Dawn's nerves jumping. Her feet made no noise on the wooden floor. Neither clack nor creak. Dawn looked again.
The woman was non-corporeal.
"Mr Rayne? My name is Lilah Morgan. I represent the firm of Wolfram and Hart. We have not done business in the past, but we find ourselves interested now in retaining the services of a contractor with your, ah, reputation. Is there somewhere we could talk?"
"I have no customers at the moment. You may speak freely."
Ethan made a little gesture with his hand, and Dawn understood it to be an instruction to vanish. Dawn slipped out of the way and busied herself unpacking a shipment from their distributor, keeping her head down. Packing slip, verify contents. Then over to the drawers at the back, to put some shelves between herself and the visitor while she recorded the shipment.
Ethan and the corporate woman were having a quiet but intense conversation. She couldn't make anything out, but Ethan seemed on edge. His usual languid humor was not in evidence, and his shoulders were tense. Dawn wondered if the woman could read him as well as she could.
Eventually the bell over the door rang. Dawn returned from the back of the shop and raised her eyebrows at him. Ethan ignored her. He held a manila folder in his hands. He limped back to his office and came back without it. He installed himself on his high stool behind the counter, and seemed to be thinking. Dawn went to hand him the packing slip, but he waved his hand. She went to the cabinet to file it.
"I've seen that woman before," Dawn said, as she flipped through file folder tabs. "At the Hyperion. Talking to Angel. And to Wesley, before Fred started going all--" Dawn made a clawing gesture.
"She made me an offer I cannot refuse," Ethan said, eventually.
He said no more, as a customer came in at the moment. He smoothly rose to his feet, cane in hand, to tend to it. The customer was Vahrall, with a glamour cast around its head so it looked more or less human, and in search of a compendium of demon religions. Ethan made a sale, a rather hefty one, and returned to the front of the shop. Dawn pulled a ristretto, marked it with a dab of milk, put it on a saucer with a twist of lemon peel and a single cube of sugar. She carried it over to him.
"So? Tell me about this offer."
He didn't answer right away, but slowly stirred the sugar into the coffee. He tasted it, then spoke. "A great deal of money. Or she suggests I might find myself in difficulties with my, ah, somewhat unorthodox visa."
"What's the problem? Do they want you to do something you dislike? Like, put all the square pegs into square holes and label things correctly?"
Ethan smiled at her at last. "Nothing so uncongenial. I've been asked to convince your sister to leave the Hyperion. Along with her lover."
Dawn shrugged. "That all? I don't care if they're here or not. I hate them."
"Even your sister?"
"Especially my sister. Why?"
"She didn't say. But I think I can guess. Do you know who she is?"
"Beyond somebody who makes Angel get all tense and broody? And makes Giles fume? No."
"Ripper fumes? That clinches it. She represents the firm of Wolfram and Hart. Ever heard of them?"
"Yeah. Evil lawyers. Angel used to bitch about them, until he stopped mentioning them. They made him some offer recently. Which sent Giles into a rage. Or as close as he gets these days. More like, tut-tutting and wiping his glasses."
Ethan chuckled, and gently slapped the counter. "There's my connection. Tell me, my little dove, what you think of this theory: Your souled vampire host has, apparently, something the evil lawyers want. Your sister and Ripper have talked him out of giving it to them. The firm wishes the overly-moral Rupert out of the way, so that they can work on the vampire. Who is, by all accounts, not the sharpest tool in the shed."
Dawn considered this. It wasn't fair to call Angel stupid. He varied, depending on the topic. He was more volatile than a human, and always prone to brooding. Buffy and Spike had always been able to push his buttons reliably. Which argued the lawyer's case: getting Buffy out of the way would make Angel more malleable. But for what?
"Would help if we knew what she wanted."
"I'm not entirely sure I care. The money is... persuasive. It would enable us to do, ah, many things. If Angel is foolish enough to allow himself to do what the firm wants, well--" Ethan spread out his hands. "It's hardly our concern."
"If you assist me, half is yours."
Dawn saw college. Not just college at a California public university, but college wherever she wanted it. And all she need do was get her sister and her Watcher out of the Hyperion. Not hurt them. Not do evil. Just get them out of her hair. If Angel was going to be an idiot, let him be an idiot.
"What's our plan?" Dawn said.
Ethan smiled, slowly, his eyes never leaving hers. "I'll need to think, love. But I think it will be fun."
Concluded in part 2.