Where did everybody go? I guess most people just gave up on this fic/fanfic in general, which is totally to be expected. I do thank SuicidalToeSocks and Shinji Lover for reviewing though. :D Anyway, on with the next short chapter!


She Volunteers

"And where do you think you're going this late young lady?"

"Mom, it's not even that late. And I'm not a little girl, you know."

Johanna looked at her daughter with exasperation, but grinned a little. It was true; her little Dawn was growing up. She was surprised the teen wasn't bringing home boys every night, but then again, Dawn seemed to have a bit of a shy streak around them. But maybe that was for the best.

"I know, honey. But it is nearly 10; the Veilstone streets aren't always safe at night, especially around the Gaming District…" Johanna trailed off, concern etched on her face.

"Don't worry, Mom," Dawn said, walking over and kissing her mother on the head. "I'm just going to Riley's."

"Well alright dear," Johanna replied, knowing she would be okay there, especially if Cynthia was working. "Just don't stay out too late; the café closes soon anyway."

"I know, bye Mom, I love you!"

Without waiting for a response, Dawn rushed out the door.

X

Gathering up her belongings, Cynthia headed towards the door of Riley's Café, flipping the sign to 'closed'. She looked back at Riley, and frowned. He didn't look like his normal self…

When he noticed she was leaving, Riley glanced up and forced a smile. "Thanks for helping to close shop, Cynthia," he said. "I'm going to need your help tomorrow night as well, but you won't be the only one. It's about time we decorated for Christmas, don't you think?"

"It's no problem; this place could use some Christmas spirit anyway! …Maybe I should put lights around the apartment as well… Anyway, goodnight Riley." Cynthia took one last look at him, mouth creasing slightly, before exiting the café.

As soon as she left, Riley slumped over, head hitting the counter he meticulously worked to keep clean. Rolling his head to the side, he glanced at the almost-empty cash register.

There was no denying times were hard for his café. It just wasn't pulling in customers like it used to, at least not paying ones. Riley's Café was just becoming a hang-out spot for all the regulars, who didn't even order coffee. Not that he minded their presence, but without money from sales, there would be no more "hang-out spot" for very long… And he couldn't help but think - know - that Reggie's new cyber café was partly to blame. Riley's rustic café just didn't have the appeal within the technologically-inclined world in which they lived.

He sighed, then shivered. It was cold without the fire going… But he was just so tired… Before he knew it, Riley began to doze off, thoughts wandering…

'There has to be a way to improve business…'

The blue-haired man had no clue how long he had been out, but was startled awake by the noise of the café door rattling. Cynthia locked it on her way out, and the sign clearly said 'closed', so who in the world could it be?

Rubbing his bleary eyes, Riley was surprised to see…

"Dawn?"

He leapt up and over his precious counter, hurrying to unlock the door and let the blunette in from the cold. Not that it was any warmer in the café…

"I didn't expect anyone to show up at the door, especially after closing time," Riley commented, stepping away from the door.

"Oh!" Dawn gasped quietly, feelings rather embarrassed. "I'm sorry if I'm bothering you or anything. I know you're probably busy…" She looked down at her toes, blushing. Even after spending time in the café as often as she did, Dawn still didn't feel entirely comfortable around Riley. He just seemed so…mature. It was slightly intimidating.

"Don't worry," Riley said, grinning. "It's a good thing you showed up actually; I was beginning to doze off." He chuckled. "…So what can I do for you, Dawn?"

The blunette faltered, not exactly knowing the answer. She just wanted to see him, but telling him that would be more than awkward and embarrassing.

"Oh, where are my manners?" Riley said suddenly. "You look like you're freezing! I'll go start the fire."

"No-," Dawn started, but Riley was already at the fireplace, match in hand. Once the fire was going, the two seemed to be at a loss for words. Dawn mentally berated herself for not saying anything, but Riley came to her rescue.

"Would you like any coffee?" he asked.

"Actually…some hot chocolate would be nice…"

"Sure, coming right up!" Riley smiled and bowed before heading back behind the counter. Even off-duty, he was as charming and as hospitable as ever. It was a surprise the café didn't have more customers just to see Riley in action.

"Feel free to take a seat."

Dawn snapped out of her trance, realizing she had been standing, transfixed, in the same spot since she arrived. She nodded and walked over to the fireplace, pulling up one of the comfy chairs that Lucian often occupied.

A few minutes later, Riley brought her hot chocolate over to her, which she graciously accepted.

"I even put in some extra marshmallows, just for you."

Dawn smiled, thanking him before taking a sip and letting the soothing liquid warm her to the core. They sat in silence, Dawn staring at the marshmallows floating in her mug, Riley gazing intently at her as the flames flickered off her features, bathing her face in a warm glow.

"I ran into Cynthia on my way here," Dawn said suddenly, desiring to break the silence.

"Oh really? I'm sure she scolded you for being out in the cold so late."

The blunette giggled. "Yes… But…then I told her I was on my way to see you." She paused, blushing slightly. "She told me…you had seemed down. Is, uh, something the matter?"

Riley raised an eyebrow, surprised at, yet appreciating her concern. His dark eyes darting toward the fire, he laughed awkwardly. "You see…I haven't really talking to anyone about this. Not Cynthia, not Volkner, not any of the other employees. But I'm sure they can tell. Business…has been rough. We're just not pulling in money like we used to, and I fear for the future of the café…" He suddenly let it all pour out, all his anxieties. Riley looked back at Dawn, who was making eye contact with him for the first time. He was captivated for the moment; he wasn't sure if it was the flames or something else that made Dawn's eyes shine with… Riley couldn't exactly put a word to it, but something about the girl was different.

Shaking his head, Riley continued. "I'm just…lost. For ideas to pull in more customers I mean. I suppose this is the type of thing I should bring up to Cynthia, Damion, and Marley... Sometimes I feel like I overwork them though…" He trailed off, folding his hands in his lap.

The entire time Riley had been speaking, Dawn appeared contemplative.

"I don't know if it would help business at all but…I could work here." Riley looked startled for a moment, unsure of what to say. "For free, I mean," Dawn added. "That way, you like wouldn't have to worry about paying me, and would still have an extra helping hand. Plus I can tell all my friends around school about this place, and maybe set up some fund raisers, or something." She looked up at him and smiled brightly.

"Oh wow, Dawn. Really, you don't have to."

"No," she protested, leaning forward eagerly. "I…want to."

"I don't even know what to say… Just, thank you." Riley smiled warmly, and Dawn felt his warmth penetrate her deeper than the heat from the fire. She was sure she was blushing.

"It's no problem, really." Dawn glanced up at the clock above the counter. "Well, it's getting late and my mom's probably worried… I should really head home."

Riley stood, nodding. "But wait, before you go, let me get you a uniform. It's the one Damion wore his first day, but don't worry, its clean." He chuckled and headed into the back, only to return a few minutes later, outfit in hand.

"So when can you start?"

"…Tomorrow, after school."

"Perfect! And if you want to stay after, you can help decorate the shop for Christmas!"

"Sure thing! …But it's a good thing you haven't decorated yet, or we would probably be standing under the mistletoe…" Dawn's eyes looked upward at the door frame, a perfect spot to plant the parasite. Feeling her face heat up, she immediately regretted those words.

"Haha, so we would be," Riley replied humorously. He then glanced down at Dawn with a rather serious face. "…But you wouldn't complain, would you?" A mischievous twinkle appeared in his navy blue eyes as Dawn blushed madly. Instead of giving her time to reply, Riley pushed open the door to the shop, letting in a blustery wind.

"Goodnight, Dawn. And thanks again." He leaned down, lips only barely brushing her cheek.

The blunette stood there, dumbstruck until another frigid breeze brought her to her senses. "G-goodnight, Riley."

Clutching her new uniform tightly to her chest, Dawn rushed off into the cold.


Riley, where are your manners? You should've walked the poor girl home instead of freaking her out! Oh well whatever.

Next time…either a slightly out of timeline-universe thing Christmas special… Or another Buck/Marley centric one. Depends on my mood.

Reviews are love!