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Business as Usual

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Chapter OneTea and Comfort

 

The evenings were always the busiest. Trade really picked up when it began to get dark and by midnight she was usually taking a steady amount of money.

 

Agnes sighed and rubbed at the dirt on her fingers and under her nails. She could never get them clean no matter how hard she tried. She didn’t understand why being a vampire meant being dirty.  It was as if the mud that had covered her when she rose had never been fully washed away, which was ridiculous because sometimes, when she had enough money, she booked into a little motel and took a shower.

 

She’d never been dirty when she’d been Agnes Pringle, forty-five, unmarried but always wistfully, hopefully searching for Mr Right. She’d worn nice tweed skirts and pretty pale pink and cream twinsets with a single strand of pearls round her neck.  Her hair had been washed and set every week at the trendy new Cutz shop, although she did think the youngsters talked too much over her head when they were at the washbasins and she didn’t understand the dreadfully loud music they played all the time..

 

But she’d been happy. She’d been so proud of her little teashop in Winchester, a lovely English cathedral city. Lots of tourists and cheerful, happy people who came in for morning and afternoon refreshment.  She’d chosen the furniture and fittings herself – nice dark oak tables and chairs and dainty blue and white crockery. And only the best cakes.

 

She’d made them herself every morning. Luscious cream horns, strawberry jam sponges, chocolate gateaux, fondant fancies, lemon curd tartlets, Chelsea buns, Eccles cakes and scones, fruit, cheese, plain full of jam and double cream. Oh, there was something different every day.  And such nice customers, no riff-raff just pleasant ladies and gentlemen – and even sometimes a member of the clergy from the Cathedral itself had popped in for a cup of tea and a slice of Dundee fruitcake.   Sighing, she wondered what had become of the Ye Olde Willowtree Tea Shoppe?

 

Silly Agnes, she should have stayed at home, but winning that movie magazine prize of a trip to Hollywood and Los Angeles had seemed like a dream come true. And the gentleman she’d met on the coach trip, who’d sat next to her and smiled and flattered and raised her foolish hopes….  Well, she’d soon discovered he’d only been after ONE THING. And that, sadly, hadn’t been her virtue, although she’d been quite bravely prepared to offer that up to him. No, he’d wanted something else entirely.

 

So here she was, in a funny little town called Sunnydale that was nothing like Winchester, living in a cardboard box amongst all the trash because there was no way she could go home.

 

Here she could apologetically feed on the odd down and out who scrounged through the rubbish, but she had no idea what the food situation was like back in England. There was probably a law against feeding there, but, oddly, no one seemed that bothered over here.

 

But even vampires had to have money and so she’d gone back to doing what she did best. She’d set up a few old tables and chairs and brewed tea and served cakes and what the Americans called ‘cookies’ to any passing hungry vampire or demon.  And, apart from the endless dirt, it was paying. She had quite a few regular customers and the nice, handsome, blond Englishman with the stunning blue eyes who called in regularly for tea and shortbread – well!  He was such an interesting man and one who seemed concerned about her; and no one had done that since Dear Richard.

 

A week later, Agnes had just made herself a nice mug of hot chocolate laced with the remainder of the blood she had saved from lunchtime. She’d sunk down into the cosy armchair rescued from the dump – it was quite extraordinary how much good stuff these Americans threw away; there was a good six months life left in this chair if you avoided the sticking up spring.  She was so tired; becoming a vampire when you were in your mid-forties was an exhausting business.  Youngsters seemed to take to the life with more enthusiasm.  Sometimes she was so weary that she wondered about sitting behind her little table amongst the rubbish and waiting for the sun to come up - as it always did in Sunnydale.  Sometimes she longed for a nice rainy evening.

 

She wondered what to put on her menu  – the Eccles cakes had gone fast this evening and adding blood to the strawberry jam filling in the Victoria sponge had been inspired.   Agnes sighed. She’d made that specially for her favourite customer, the blond, English vampire called Spike who called in two or three times a week.  But tonight he hadn’t appeared.  

 

She heard a rumour that he had a full time girl-friend.  Not that she’d ever really expected that he and she would – well, not often, anyway.  “Pull your socks up, Agnes,” she said bracingly to herself. “Feeling sorry for yourself is not an attractive trait.  He’s a very good-looking man, of course he’ll have a lady friend.” 

 

Agnes was working out how much sugar she needed when there was a knock on the door. She tutted – really, if that was Willie after the rent, well, he could just wait until tomorrow evening.  It was nearly dawn and she wanted to read a chapter of her Barbara Cartland romance and go to sleep.  She stood up, hesitating.  It wasn’t that she was actually scared of Willie – he was, after all, only human – but it would be so demeaning if he caused a disturbance on her doorstep.

 

This little room at the rear of Willie’s Bar had been a godsend to her. It was tiny, but lovely and dark with only one small window that she had curtained in the prettiest pink flowered chintz.  But it’s biggest advantage was a stove so she could do all the baking for her little tea-room in the dump where she served tea, scones, cakes and biscuits – she refused to call them cookies when she was on her own.

 

She’d had to struggle with her conscience about living next to a place that sold intoxicating beverages. Her dear parents – long since passed over and thankfully still dead – would have been horrified.  Drink was the temptation of the devil.

 

Still, America was a difficult place to live in at the best of times and when she’d arrived in Sunnydale, Agnes had found that without a car you needed to be close to where you worked.  Luckily this town was small, smaller than Winchester where she’d lived in England. The dump was only a quarter of a mile from Willie’s and it wasn’t as if she had to walk there in the heat of the day.

 

Obviously she had nothing to do with the demons and vampires who frequented the bar – although some of them did take tea and scones when she baked them, especially if she had home-made jam – oh, no she must remember to call it jelly.  Which was ridiculous because jelly was what you made from gelatine and had at children’s parties.

 

The impatient banging at the door made her start.  There!  She was standing, prevaricating again.  A bad habit.

 

Cautiously she unlocked the door, took off the chain and slid the bolts back. One could never be too careful.  “Oh!”  She squeaked and stepped back in horror, clutching the edges of her dressing-gown tightly together.

 

Spike, the blond vampire, was leaning against the door, kicking impatiently at the floor with his boot heel.  “’Evening, Aggy!  You still open?”

 

There was no mistaking the smell of Scotch.  “Certainly not.  This is my home. The tea-room shut an hour ago.”

 

Spike pushed past her and threw himself down in her armchair, wincing as the spring bit him somewhere Agnes didn’t care to consider.

 

“No point in running a bloody business if you shut up shop when your customers need you.”

 

Agnes thought that perhaps it wasn’t the best time to remind him that running a business would be far easier if people paid their bills. He still owed her the equivalent of three pounds sixty pence for several cups of tea and a plate of Cornish cream horns he’d eaten the week before.   “I didn’t see you earlier at the dump.”

 

Spike stretched out his legs and contemplated his boots.  “No, too busy running around at the Bronze with the Slayer.  She wanted to know – oh, it doesn’t matter.  Don’t know why I bother.  If I vanished in a cloud of dust, she wouldn’t care.”

 

“The Slayer?  Oh, I’ve heard of her.  That’s the small blonde girl I’ve seen you with, isn’t it?”

 

“Small blonde nuisance more like.  Wanted to kill her, you know – even took a shotgun over to her house tonight - but they put this rotten chip in my head and now I can’t. Anyway, she was – sort of upset. So I didn’t. Anyway, I can’t kill anything – apart from demons and vamps.  Got anything to drink?”

 

Agnes felt her own game face slip out – the one she tried desperately not to show to the world because it wasn’t very pleasant and also because she regularly caught her bottom lip with one of her fangs.  “Why would you want to kill your fellow vamps?  And I think you’ve had quite enough to drink already.”

 

Spike shrugged and sank even lower in the chair.  “What else is there to do, except kill things?  Hey, have you got a TV?”

 

“Certainly not.”

 

She stood, staring down at the top of his platinum head, wondering if he was just going to sit there, brooding.  He was obviously drunk and although she would have loved to believe he had come to see her, she knew she should not fool herself.  What he wanted was comfort food, not comfort – well, not from her, at any rate.

 

“Why was the Slayer lady upset?”

 

“What?”  The vampire looked up at her blearily.  He wasn’t quite sure why he’d wanted to talk to Aggy tonight.  He’d finally left Buffy, still sitting on the porch step, upset about Joyce. He could have gone back to the crypt, back to Harmony, but instead he’d stumbled into Willie’s and downed a bottle of Scotch.

 

The thought of Joyce being sick had made him feel – weird.  And suddenly he’d wanted to hear a voice, a point of view that reminded him of home.  He liked Agnes – poor old coot with her cakes and tea. She was the only genteel vamp he’d ever come across and he wondered idly what Dru would have thought about her. “Her mum’s not well.  Is that hot chocolate?  Joyce makes me that sometimes.  Joyce is the Slayer’s mum.”

 

“The one who isn’t well?” Agnes said, passing him her mug with a sigh and cutting him a slice of slightly stale fruitcake.

 

“She’s OK, Joyce is,” he mumbled through a mouthful of crumbs. “Not like her bloody daughter. God, she irritates me so much.”

 

“Don’t blaspheme,” Agnes said automatically.  “Perhaps you irritate her as well.  We often see our own faults in people we dislike.”

 

Spike stared up at her, his mouth ringed with chocolate.  Agnes watched in fascination as his tongue came out and licked his lips.

 

“You mean I’m a stubborn, bloody-minded, aggravating kill-joy?”

 

Agnes sniffed, whipped the mug away from him and washed it up.  “Why don’t you try being nicer to her? Then she might be nice to you.  Although why you should want to be nice to a Slayer I don’t understand. I’ve always believed that everyone should know their place in life and keep to it. Remember the old hymn – ” She broke into a song, her voice squeaking on the high notes,  “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, He made them high or lowly, And ordered their estate. All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and – “

 

The slamming of the door made her spin round.  Spike had gone, leaving cake crumbs on the floor and the smell of Scotch in the air.

 

Agnes sighed as she tidied the room and got ready for bed.  It was nearly dawn and she had to have a good day’s rest to get ready for the night ahead.  But as she knelt to say her prayers – because it wasn’t her fault she was a vampire and she was sure God understood that – she added a little one before the final Amen. “If you could find the time, could you watch over Spike, Lord? I’m sure he’s a good man really.”

 

And as she crept into her narrow bed, she wondered when she would next see the vampire and if she would ever meet the Slayer.  She hoped not, because she was absolutely no good in a fight and that was what Slayers did. They killed vampires.  Except this one obviously – didn’t!

 

 

tbc

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Agnes woke suddenly the next afternoon, trying to banish the tail end of a very weird dream.  She'd been home in England, riding on the little steam train that ran tourists up and down the Watercress Line in Alresford near Winchester.  She’d been wearing her best dress and new pink sandals, then when she’d looked down, the front of her chest had been stained in blood and the man sitting opposite her had turned and smiled – and it had been Spike.  His fangs had been extended but she wasn’t frightened – just concerned that the blood was dripping onto the floor of the train….

 

“Really, Agnes Pringle!  That is the last time you drink hot chocolate before going to bed.  It’s bad enough being a vampire; dreaming about them is not a good idea.”

 

She pottered quietly along the passageway to the little kitchen area behind Willie’s Bar where he had an old refrigerator to keep his beer cold. She’d made puff pastry yesterday and collected it along with the half bag of pig’s blood that was all she had left for her breakfast.  Sighing, she returned to her room and poured it into the lovely Royal Doulton cup she’d found on the dumpsite the month before - it was only a little cracked. Some vampires drank their pig straight out of the plastic bags, but Agnes knew once you went down that road, the next thing would be cutting a bread roll with a knife instead of tearing it apart!

 

She decided she would make mille-feuille as her special of the evening.  Lots of demons loved the layers of cream, raspberry jam and puff pastry.  She knew Spike did.  There!  She was thinking about him again.  But, she had to admit, not romantically.  No, he was a fellow compatriot in a strange land and she felt she should help him in some way.  Especially because he was so obviously upset with this Slayer person being unpleasant to him.

 

“I wonder if I should try and meet her – explain that for all the bluster and bluff, Spike really does have quite a sensitive side,” she murmured, her hands busy with eggs, sugar, almonds and cherries.  She was making Yorkshire Fat Rascals. They sold well and sometimes a vampire who was just setting off on a journey would swop some blood for a boxful to eat on his trip.

 

“After all, I am a slightly older woman and probably have more worldly experience than the Slayer.  Not that I’d want to push in, of course!”  She vamped out, bit her lip, forgetting as she so often did that she had fangs, and absentmindedly licked at the resulting trickle of blood.

 

Agnes sighed. Pushing in where she wasn’t wanted was one of her biggest fears.  In the past, people – especially other girls – had been quite scathing about her trying to help.  They had called it interfering, which was ridiculous.  How could offering a little timely advice be anything but welcome?  And making remarks about her physical appearance had been so hurtful. Her nose was not that big.  And the one big plus of becoming – well, becoming undead – was that she no longer needed to wear her spectacles.  That had been a big surprise, but a nice one amongst all the other horrid things she’d had to cope with on that dreadful day.  The mud had got everywhere!

 

No, perhaps she wouldn’t confront the Slayer.  After all, the poor girl had a sick mother to worry about.  For a second Agnes debated whether a bowl of nourishing chicken soup would be acceptable in the circumstances, then decided, regretfully, that perhaps that gesture, too, would be misunderstood.  But surely there must be some way of making the Slayer friendlier towards Spike.  She smiled.  Her dear grandmother would have made a love potion!  Agnes often thought that was where she got her cooking skills.  Granny Pringle could whisk up a little home-made charm for every occasion.

 

Agnes packed up her supplies for the stall and stacked them neatly in the very useful metal trolley someone had abandoned in the dump.  The front wheel was only slightly wonky and as long as you put all your weight on the left side when going round corners, it worked very well.  Yes, Granny Pringle, she thought lovingly.  She could see her now, bent over her range, the flames illuminating her dear, wizened face.  So clever, so kind. She’d even forgiven those awful local children who called her names in the street.

 

Agnes had met a lot of very odd people recently and she was quite certain that Granny Pringle had not been a witch!  But she had known about love potions.  Lots of young ladies in Winchester had come to her cottage, asking for help to catch and hold the attentions of certain young gentlemen.

 

“A love potion?  Well, perhaps not a love one!  I’m sure Spike doesn’t want the Slayer to love him! That would be a dreadful idea.   But if I made it weaker, then it would be a ‘liking’ potion, wouldn’t it?” Agnes thought with enthusiasm.  Just then, as she pushed the trolley along the pavement, which she always had to remember was called a sidewalk, she saw the shop.  The Magic Box.  Well, she didn’t believe in magic.  Love potions were not magic, of course; they were the use of nature’s gifts to help you through life.  Agnes had once gone to a séance when she was living in Winchester and she hadn’t enjoyed it at all.  Madame Rosario had told her that her Great Aunt wanted her to avoid travelling abroad and strange dark gentlemen who could change her life.  Although, when she thought about it, both predictions had come true.  No, magic was for children and people of very limited intelligence. Still – she parked the trolley safely down the side of the shop and entered the shop, hesitating as her eyes got used to the gloom.  A tall, distinguished gentleman looked up from where he was writing in a ledger and said, “Good evening. Can I help you?”

 

“Oh, you’re English!”  She hadn’t meant to sound so rude and forward, but she was so surprised to hear yet another English accent.  Goodness, did Sunnydale have a whole British Society she hadn’t found yet? That would be wonderful. Not that she didn't like Americans, of course, if was just that sometimes she found them a little - forceful.  Agnes moved to the counter, smoothing her hair.  She could sense that this man was not a co-vampire, no, he was an Unturned; but she could see no need to inform him of her unfortunate transformation.

 

“Yes, hello!  Rupert Giles at your service. Late of England – Bath, actually.”

 

“Oh Bath!  I went there on a coach trip once. It was lovely.  The buildings, the Roman Baths, the lovely tearooms.  Oh – ” She realised Mr Giles was holding out his hand and she clasped his fingers and gave them a small shake saying, “Agnes Pringle.  Late of Winchester.” 

 

Giles smiled warmly, his eyes kind.  He had met a lot of women like Agnes before. The backbone of English society, the type of women who were loyal members of the Women’s Institute, even if they never ran for office.  Women who were aunts, babysitters, home helps, who gave up their careers to care for elderly parents.  She was a breath of home; as comforting as hot buttered crumpets.  “I’m very fond of Winchester.  I’ve been to several services in the cathedral.”

 

Agnes realised she was still holding his hand and dropped it nervously. She glanced round the shop and gulped.  Bottles and boxes of weird objects, strange customers obviously enjoying browsing through the shelves.

 

“Are you here on holiday, Miss Pringle?”

 

“Oh no!  Well – no. I’m – resting.”

 

Well, that wasn’t a complete lie, she reasoned.  She was officially dead, so she supposed she was “at rest”.

 

Giles tactfully changed the subject.  He could tell by her shabby clothes and strangely grubby appearance that she had fallen on hard times.  The contrast couldn’t have been more different to the stunning blonde woman who was impatiently tapping the counter top for his attention.  “Please wait,” he said. “I am just dealing with this customer.”

 

Agnes turned her head and gasped at the brilliance of the blonde hair and sparkling eyes that burnt dangerously into hers. The high-heeled shoes, the tight dress.  Did this woman have on any underwear?  It must be very thin if she did. Agnes tried to picture herself wearing a red dress like that over her interknit vest and knickers and failed.  “Oh please!  Do serve this young lady first. I can wait…only too pleased to wait.”  She backed away from the counter.

 

Giles was deeply irritated.  He hated to see a fellow countryman being pushed aside by this presumptuous girl who wanted some old amulet and a bloodstone.  He parcelled them up, aware that somewhere in his mind a warning bell was ringing  -  but he paid it no heed.  He took the money from the slender, scarlet-tipped fingers, rang up the sale and turned back to Agnes.

 

“Now, Miss Pringle.  I am so sorry about that.  I’m afraid Americans have very vague ideas about queuing.”

 

“Oh no, that’s quite all right, Mr Giles. Such a beautiful woman, if a little arrogant.  I just wanted….well, I need a charm to make people like you.”

 

 Giles frowned and felt a wave of sympathy sweep over him.  Poor dear. Wanting friends and having to rely on magic to get them.  He reached behind him and took a small paper packet from a drawer.  He didn’t think there was anything in the powder apart from sherbert and talc, but if it made Miss Pringle feel better about herself, then that was all to the good.

 

“Try this,” he said helpfully.  “I’m sure you’ll feel – ”

 

“Oh, it isn’t for me!” Agnes said swiftly. “I would never dream – never dare to – no, it’s for a young gentleman friend of mine.”

 

Giles nodded, not believing her for an instant.  He parcelled up the powder, said goodbye and watched her leave, wondering if he would ever see her again.  What a strange, pathetic creature, he thought sadly.  He would have bet a million pounds that she had no gentleman friend who needed someone to like him.

 

Of course, if Giles had bet a million pounds, he would have been badly out of pocket later that night.  Agnes had mixed the powder into a cup of chocolate and stood in the dump tearoom, watching Spike drink it as he tucked into the Fat Rascals.  She smiled to herself as she watched the blond vampire stalk away into the night.  She hoped he would meet up with the Slayer who disliked him so much, but even if he didn’t, he’d be sure to find someone who liked him a lot. 

 

She decided she would close up early and wearily pushed her trolley back towards Willie’s Bar. Just as she reached the doorway, she yelped as a tall, fair-headed man swung in from the other direction. “Sorry. Didn’t see you there, ma’am,” he muttered and headed for the bar.  

 

Agnes parked the trolley and slowly followed him.  He had seemed a nice, well-spoken young man.  Looked a lot like a soldier.  He might well be a good friend for Spike to have. She felt a little flutter of excitement. She loved arranging things for people and if she could get the two of them to be good pals, then that would be a fine achievement.

 

tbc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Chp  3    Faults and Foibles

 

 

Agnes was in shock:  there was no other word for it.  She’d opened the tea-room at the dump in the usual way, served cookies and cakes – the Viennese Whirls had gone down extremely well -  poured tea and listened patiently while two regular customers, Marcus and Philip, had a violent argument about the relative values of adding absinthe to pig or ox blood and what colour they were going to paint their cellar walls.

But even as she tucked away the grubby dollar bills, or sipped the flasks of blood that were sometimes offered in exchange for her wares, she knew her heart and mind were elsewhere.  Agnes accepted – because she’d been brought up to face your faults and try to cure them - that she was a tad naive at times. She did always tend to look for the best in people and so could be sadly let down. After all, she was a vampire now and that had only come about because she had trusted the handsome man sitting next to her on the coach during her holiday trip to see the Stars Homes in Hollywood.

She sighed. She’d thought that perhaps she was learning to be a little more streetwise, as the Americans said. Take last night – the young man she had seen going into Willy’s Bar.  He had looked such a clean-cut, upright, manly man!  The sort you knew would open doors for you or stand up and give you his seat on a crowded bus or train.  And all the time he was – well!  Oh, she knew that sort of thing went on.  She might have led what some people would call a sheltered life back in England, and becoming a vampire had opened her eyes to a world where core values could get neglected if you didn’t concentrate on them, but she wasn’t stupid. There were some things that were just not done.

The night before she’d waited for the tall, broad-shouldered man to leave Willy’s Bar. She’d had some vague idea of introducing herself, inviting him for tea, arranging for him to meet Spike, hoping they would be good friends. Spike seemed so unhappy these days. That Slayer woman seemed to have a grudge against him. Agnes couldn’t understand why because Spike’s terrible affliction made him harmless to Unturneds.

Anyway, there had been a commotion in the bar – Sandy, a girl Agnes knew, a customer, had got herself dusted. It was dreadfully sad. She’d been a difficult girl; Agnes had never been too sure where she got her money from and sometimes she’d forgotten to pay for her cup of tea.  But she’d still been a person, with feelings and not doing too much harm in the world, not enough to get herself dusted.

Agnes never went into the bar at night, not when people were drinking.  She’d promised her mother and father never to go near strong liqueur and even if her room was in the back of a bar, she didn’t have to see the drink being taken. So she’d been outside when the tall young man left in a hurry. He’d pushed past her without a word of apology and vanished into the night.  A bunch of demons had tumbled out of the door, making half-hearted attempts to catch him. They’d told her the man, whose name was Finn, had killed poor Sandy. 

“You see, you just can’t be too careful,” she muttered to herself now, absentmindedly nibbling on a cheese straw and then chiding herself for eating the profits.  “Goodness, if he hadn’t walked so fast, I might have actually spoken to him. He might have staked me!”

“Agnes, Agnes – why are you talking to yourself? People will think you’ve gone bats.”

Coughing violently as a crumb went down the wrong way, she looked up to see Spike standing there, moodily surveying the remains of her food.  

“Where have all the jam doughnuts gone?”

“I’m sorry, Spike. That sweet demon, Clem – do you know Clem?  -  bought the last dozen.  I’ve got Eccles cakes.”

Spike shook his head and if he hadn’t been her very favourite person, Agnes would have said he pouted.  “You still haven’t told me what you were muttering about. Seriously, Aggie, you’ll get a reputation for being weird. You know what Sunnydale’s like. A lady like you can’t be too careful.”

A pink blush spread across Agnes’ face. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had paid her a compliment. Well, not one that wasn’t to do with cakes. “I was just thinking what hypocrites some Unturneds are. They try to destroy us and then the next thing you know, they want to indulge their nasty little habits and use us as a way of doing so.”

Spike frowned and nodded. He’d had a rotten day. That wanker Riley Finn had thrown him out of Buffy’s bedroom, just when he was indulging in a feast of smelling and touching and –  “Which particular human has rattled your cage, then?  And if she’s young, blonde and skinny, you have all my sympathy!” 

“Oh you mean the Slayer?  No, I haven’t met her yet.”

“You’re bloody lucky, then,” Spike replied, moodily.  “Wish to God I’d never met her.”

“Don’t blaspheme,” Agnes said automatically and poured him a cup of tea, adding a tiny splash of pig to give it body.  “No, I had a narrow escape last night. I could have been staked!” She gave a little shudder.

Spike looked up sharply, licking his lips as he savoured the fascinating taste of PG Tips and blood.  “Agnes – what happened? It’s not like you to wander away from where it’s safe. Are you sure you haven’t run across the Slayer?”

“A girl got staked in Willy’s bar last night. By a young man called Finn.”

“What?”

“Yes!  Isn’t that dreadful?”

“Finn staked a vamp last night?”

Agnes wondered if he was going deaf or perhaps he was still distracted by his own troubles.  “Yes, that’s what I just said. A poor young girl called Sandy.  Dreadful thing to do. Especially as he and she – well – ” she pursed her lips and turned away to tidy up the empty cake plates.

“He and she what?”  Spike put down the cup and smiled at her, his eyes warm and as blue in the moonlight as the cornflowers that used to grow in her grandparents’ garden. “Agnes?” His voice deepened.

She felt her heart flip.  Oh, she knew he wasn’t at all romantically interested in her, but it was so nice to have a real friend here in Sunnydale, someone who was interested in what she thought and did.  “Well, as you know, I am not one to gossip and we all have our faults and little foibles, but rumour has it that this Mr Finn likes to – you know!”

Spike shut his eyes and counted to ten.  He liked Agnes and knew she would tell him in her own time. “Know what?” he said patiently.

Agnes peered round to make sure no one else was loitering in the garbage dump, waiting for their supper.  In a loud whisper she said, “He’s been sampling – tasting – drinking from us vampire girls, apparently!  Isn’t that awful? Why on earth would any self-respecting vampire let a man do that to her? Spike – Spike ?”

But with a swirl of his long leather coat, her friend had gone.  

Agnes spent the next day baking and worrying about Spike.  She couldn’t understand why he’d rushed away when she’d told him about that young man and how he’d staked poor Sandy.  Or was it because Mr. Finn had been sampling blood from vampires as well?   It was all very confusing. Still, she expected Spike to turn up at the garbage tearoom some time during the night.  He usually did and she had to admit she looked forward to his visits. Agnes had found it hard to make close friends since she’d arrived in Sunnydale. She sighed as she rolled out pastry to make apple turnovers – to be fair she hadn’t had too many back in her other life in England.

She’d been a member of the local Women’s Institute, of course. And although she hated to think bitter thoughts, she knew that their annual fete wouldn’t have been so successful if she hadn’t been there, running the cake stand, supplying the goodies for the tea tent. But even then, although the Chairlady had thanked her every year in her speech, she’d never invited Agnes to the select little luncheon she always hosted in her very grand house when the final amounts of money were counted.

And of course now Agnes was a vampire, she didn’t think she could possibly join the different groups that she’d heard of in Sunnydale.  There were several church choirs, a quilting society, which she would have loved to have belonged to - she, was a dab hand with a needle – and even a gardening club, although the ‘not being able to go out during the day’ might have made taking part in that one a little difficult.

Agnes sighed and allowed herself the luxury of five minutes sit down before she began the weary journey out to the garbage dump. Her back ached from bending over the tiny stove and tabletop where she prepared her food.  She shut her eyes, overwhelmed with tiredness. Some people seemed to enjoy life as a vampire, but all it meant to her was hard work and dirt. She missed having a garden; just a tiny patch to call her own, to grow a few begonias and herbs, maybe some early salad vegetables.

Agnes wondered who was living in the rooms over her tearoom back in Winchester and if they still put out organic birdseed in the feeders she had hung around the fences.

Suddenly a tear ran down her face and she felt her bottom lip tremble. Oh, how she wanted to go home!  But she couldn’t. “Needs must!” she said out loud and got to her feet. “Not like you to feel sorry for yourself.  There’s thousands worse off than you. Think of all the starving people in Africa!”

But as she began to pack her cakes and cookies into the trolley she used to convey them to the dump, she wondered if perhaps being a vampire was worse than starving. Blood was so difficult to come by, except by those methods that Agnes only apologetically used when she was desperate.

“What you need, Agnes Pringle, is a hobby. Something to take your mind off your problems.”  Perhaps she could start a lady vampire’s book club, or even offer cooking lessons to any young girl setting up a crypt for the first time. Or boy, of course, Agnes told herself firmly. She was quite aware that this was today, this was America and she understood all about young men living together, although, if she was being totally honest, she didn’t quite understand what they – well - did.

 

And although she understood, that didn’t mean she had to approve, of course. At least she was quite certain that Spike was quite happy to have a girl friend.  Agnes knew there was a girl who shared his crypt, and she had a funny feeling that his anger towards the Slayer woman wasn’t based wholly on hatred.

 

When the attack came, it was vicious and unexpected.  One moment she was carefully packing gingerbread men into a box and the next she was fighting for her life as someone hurtled through the door – without knocking! – and hurled her to the floor. Someone was pulling her hair!  Scratching, biting, growling!

Agnes felt her face change into the distressing lumpiness that she hated so much. She twisted and kicked and for one dreadful moment she thought she heard herself using a word she didn’t know she knew!

“Leave my boyfriend alone, you bitch!” a voice hissed in her ear and a hand slapped her across the mouth.

Agnes, who had once played hockey for the reserves at school – it consisted mainly of the rougher sort of girls who didn’t make the first team and those like her whom no one ever chose – had learnt at an early age that the best means of defence is attack.  Without thinking twice, she snapped her fangs tight around one of the fingers as it crossed her mouth.

“Ow!  Ow!  That hurt. Jeez, I’m bleeding!”

Agnes staggered to her feet, gasping for breath. She stared down at the girl still sitting on the floor, sucking her finger. She was young, blonde and pretty.  As Agnes looked, the bumpy ridges on the face vanished and she stared up at the older woman, tears glistening on her cheeks. “That really hurt.  You’re mean and – ” as she looked at Agnes her eyes grew bigger and rounder – “totally old!”

Agnes reached out a hand and pulled the girl to her feet. She was wearing a very short skirt and a top that left nothing to the imagination. Agnes shook her head: it got cold at night, even in Sunnydale; this child would catch her death of cold – well, she would if she wasn’t already dead, of course, but a cold was just as nasty for a vampire as it was for a human. “I am certainly older than you, Miss – Miss – ”

“Oh Kendall, Harmony Kendall.”

“Harmony? What a very pretty name. I’m Miss Agnes Pringle.”

The blonde girl smiled and her face lit up. “Oh, do you think it’s a pretty name?  I’m sort of used to it, of course. My best friend used to say it was dreadful, that it sounded as if I came from the poorest part of town. She had a really great name, from a book by that guy Shakespeare.”

Agnes frowned. “Well, she doesn’t sound like much of a friend to me, but then, as you say, I’m older than you.”

Harmony suddenly looked apprehensive. “Oh jeez, did I hurt you much?  I thought you were young. I’d never beat up an old lady.”

Agnes, who admittedly would not see forty again,  forty-five or any birthday, picked up a chair that had got overturned in the fight. Old lady, indeed!   “It doesn’t matter how old I am, Harmony. You have no right to go around fighting. Why did you hit me, anyway?”

Harmony flung herself down in the chair that Agnes had been about to sit in. Absentmindedly, she reached out and picked up a slice of treacle tart that had fallen to the floor during the fight – Agnes always found that adding a soupcon of blood to the treacle made the syrup go further and increased the flavour.

“My Blondie Bear keeps on talking about you, on and on – Agnes this, Agnes that, Agnes wouldn’t say that or do the other. I got sick and tired of hearing about you. But I thought you wanted Spikey for yourself so I decided to come round and tell you to leave him alone. I didn’t realise you were old.”

Agnes watched as another slice of tart vanished between the pouting lips. So this was Spike’s girl friend.  She was pretty but not – well, she didn’t seem particularly bright, but perhaps she had hidden talents. So many girls did these days. Agnes sighed and wondered why she’d never discovered any of her own.

“Spike is my friend,” she said carefully and began picking up the broken cookies and cakes. The tearoom wouldn’t be open for business this evening. Not unless she could rustle up a batch of chocolate brownies or perhaps a lemon meringue using the cookie crumbs or – 

“Can you have a friend who’s a man?” Harmony asked wistfully.  “That’s weird, but I suppose when you’re old, it doesn’t matter about sex.”

Agnes flinched. That was a word she usually pretended not to hear.  The last time she had had – well, warm feelings – for a gentleman, she’d realised that the relationship would never do and running away, had ended up here in Sunnydale. Sex, Agnes decided, was greatly over-rated.  “Surely Spike is your friend as well as your – ” she hesitated and settled for “companion?”

Harmony gazed into a distance that didn’t seem to contain too much happiness.  “He likes sleeping with me,” she said frankly. “But I don’t think he loves me.” Another tear trickled down her face. “I don’t think he even likes me very much,” she whispered.

Agnes stopped cleaning the floor and glanced sharply at the vampire girl. She had too much experience of pain and rejection herself not to recognize them in someone else.  This young woman was being hurt and, although it distressed Agnes to acknowledge it, Spike was the one doing the hurting.  “There is a very old saying about couples,” she said slowly. “One who kisses and one who turns the cheek.”

Harmony nodded. “That sounds right. Spike’s only really ever loved his first girlfriend. Her name was Drusilla and she was completely mad. But he won’t hear a word said against her. I mean, I’m his girlfriend now. I have rights. I have a position in vampire society as Spike’s lover. I had my own gang recently. I was going places. Now I just hang around, waiting for him to get back from stalking the Slayer!”

Agnes pulled up another chair and sat wearily facing Harmony.  “That doesn’t sound much fun. Does he like the Slayer?”

Harmony looked startled. “Ewww! Of course not.  He’s trying to kill her.  He steals her clothing so he can scent her wherever she goes. We’ve got a whole closet full of it in our crypt.”

“So what do you do when Spike’s out – stalking?”

Harmony shrugged. “There’s nothing to do -  that’s the trouble. I’ve made the crypt as nice as possible but you know – cobwebs!  Uggh!”

Agnes remembered her own thoughts earlier. “Perhaps you need a hobby?  A book club?  Quilting?  Can you sing?”

Harmony looked horrified. “I’m not very good at anything like that. My best friend’s an actress in Los Angeles.  I’d love to do that, but I know I could never remember all those words.”  She looked suddenly shy. “I do collect unicorns.”

Agnes clapped her hands together. “Well, that’s definitely a good start.  Collecting things is fun.  And perhaps you should think carefully about getting away for a little while. How about visiting this friend of yours?  Los Angeles is an interesting place. Lots of vampires and demons. You might meet someone else…”

“What – leave my Blondie Bear?  Oh, I could never do that. He needs me.”

Agnes got up, thinking privately that this young woman was the last person Spike would ever need. But she also sensed that underneath all the glamour and fluffy, she was a survivor, like herself. It took one to know one.

“I’d better get back to the crypt,” the blonde girl was saying now. “I’m sorry about the fight and breaking your cakes and things. You won’t tell Spike I was here, will you. Pretty please?  He wouldn’t understand.”

Agnes nodded. “I certainly won’t tell him. Come round to my tearoom at any time and let me know how you’re getting on. And do think again about perhaps visiting your friend.”

Harmony smiled. “I’d love to see Cordy again but it isn’t possible. You see there will always be Spike and while he wants me here, I’ll stay.”  She turned at the door and gazed back at Agnes. “It’s mega weird. Although you’re so old, I feel we’re friends, too. Thanks for the cake.  Bye!”

Miss Pringle finished clearing up the mess the fight had caused. She felt sorry for Harmony. She knew Spike well enough to know this was not the girl for him. And it was very ungentlemanly of him to lead her on in this way if there was no future in it. Agnes found herself yawning and decided she wouldn’t open the tearooms that evening. She was too tired and ached from where Harmony’s punches had landed.  And she didn’t actually want to speak to Spike. She felt she might take him to task about his girlfriend and that wouldn’t be tactful.  Although – she squared her weary shoulders – someone should do something about it and soon.

tbc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4     A New Friend

 

 

 

Hospitals late at night were odd places, Agnes Pringle thought, as she hurried down a long corridor towards the exit.  Full of people trying to sleep and failing. She wondered why the authorities dimmed the lights so early.  Surely not many people went to bed before ten pm. when they were home? Why should the nurses think they would want to sleep this early in hospital, especially when they had been in bed all day?

Of course, Agnes had to admit the dim lights did make her life easier. It was surprising how often she came across the odd bag of blood on a trolley, waiting to be used, or even discarded when some poor soul had departed this world for good. And you couldn’t call that stealing, could you?  The blood didn’t actually belong to anyone at that point. It wasn’t as if she would ever go into a ward and take it off a dispensing pole!  Although she had heard of some vampires who did just that.

Agnes quite liked hospitals. She fondly recalled her days back home in Winchester in England when she’d been quite active in the hospital’s free book service.  She’d enjoyed pushing the trolley around from ward to ward, suggesting and advising which volumes the patients would care to read. Of course, some of the suggestions the men had for what they considered suitable books she ignored. She’d been perturbed to discover that one of the male helpers had a secret pile on his trolley of – well, she supposed you would have to call them magazines, but they were certainly not full of recipes and helpful hints about what to wear if you were invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace!  Agnes sighed. She missed the friendly chat from the patients, running little errands, making phone calls, helping.

“Hello!  Is anyone there?”

Agnes hesitated. The door she’d just passed was ajar and the voice from inside sounded soft and weary.  Carefully she pushed the handle and went inside. The room was dim, the light over the bed turned to one side.

“Oh, I’m so sorry; I thought you were a nurse. I’ve been ringing the bell, but I expect they’re all busy with some emergency.”

“You don’t like to be nuisance for them, do you?” Agnes agreed, walking up to the bed.  The woman lying there was about her age – well, perhaps a little younger.  She looked pale and in pain.

“I was writing a letter and must have fallen asleep for a second. It’s slipped under the bed and I really need to finish it before I – well, before I leave here.”

“Oh – allow me – “

“No, please – ” 

But Agnes was already enthusiastically scrambling under the bed, glad that she had on her serviceable brown cord trousers instead of a skirt because it certainly wasn’t the most elegant of positions in which to find yourself.  “There!”  With a flourish, she waved the paper in the air. “Triumph!  Although, I have to say, it isn’t as clean under there as it could be.  Dust, you know.”

“I hope you haven’t marked your clothes?”

“Oh indeed, no,” Agnes said cheerfully, brushing herself down and wondering what this woman would think if she knew that she’d climbed out of a grave covered in mud, so a little dust was no great problem.

“I’m Joyce.”

“Oh, how do you do?  My name is Agnes Pringle.  Very nice to meet you.”

“You’re English.”

Agnes smiled in delight. “You can tell by the accent, I suppose?”

Joyce nodded, then winced, wishing she hadn’t.  “I have a very good English friend.  Well – ” she paused, then laughed quietly. “I suppose I have two, although I’m not sure the second one considers himself my friend!”

“Oh – a gentleman friend?” Agnes asked, then blushed. “How rude of me.  I do apologise, Joyce. What must you think of my manners?”

Joyce smiled. The rather plump, flustered woman in front of her had a kind face and worried blue eyes.  She could tell from the quality of her clothes that she wasn’t rich. The pink sweater and brown pants had that over-washed look that Joyce knew only too well.   “Don’t be silly.  And William certainly isn’t a gentleman friend. If anything, it’s my daughters he likes. Especially the oldest.”

“Aahh.  From the tone of your voice, you don’t think he is quite suitable.”

Joyce’s lips quirked into the first genuine smile she’d managed all day. Was William the Bloody a suitable boyfriend for her Slayer daughter? Perhaps not!  But explaining to this nice Agnes Pringle would be far too difficult a task.  She could just imagine her pink flushed face turning white with shock if Joyce started to talk about vampires and demons.  “No, he isn’t suitable boyfriend material, but – ” she paused. She’d found herself thinking quite a lot about Spike recently and she wasn’t sure why. It was as if something was leading her towards a conclusion and she didn’t know what or why!  It was very confusing and this constant headache didn’t make it any easier to think.

Agnes quietly poured out a glass of water and handed it to her.  Joyce sipped it gratefully. It was nice when you didn’t have to constantly ask for things. She hated to be a burden to the girls. There was no way that was going to happen.

“May I enquire why you’re in hospital?  Of course, if you would rather not say….”  She stopped in mid sentence. There she went, being totally tactless!  What was it her friend at home used to say, “Agnes, your foot is in your mouth again.”

“It’s my head. Or rather, something inside my head causing pain.  Probably nothing serious.”

“Oh yes, as you say, probably nothing to worry about at all.”  Agnes fell silent. It was odd, but since becoming a vampire, she’d realised that she could often tell when someone wasn’t well.  It was an odd gift – she likened it to being similar to one of those lionesses you saw so often on safari programmes – the one who could stalk the weakest member of the herd because she knew it was sick or injured.  Not that she, personally, would stalk anyone, of course.  The very idea!  Anyway, she didn’t think she had quite the right physique for stalking.  But knowing when someone was sick seemed to be instinctive nowadays. And – Joyce was sick.

“Are you visiting? Don’t let me keep you if you are, but it is nice to chat to someone who hasn’t just left college. Even the nurses seem about eighteen these days.”

“No – I’m just passing through. I used to help out at the local hospital when I lived in England and so I thought…..”  Agnes trailed off.  It was so difficult to explain that she wandered through the hospital once a week to see if she could find some blood to drink.

“Do you have family in Sunnydale?  Children?” Joyce asked.

“Children?  Oh no. I’ve never been married. But I’d have loved to have been a mother. Such a joy. What about you?”

Joyce didn’t like to remark that being married had nothing to do with having children these days. Obviously to her new English friend the two went hand in hand. And as for motherhood being a joy – well, when you were mother to the Slayer, that was sometimes a diminished feeling.  “I have two daughters – the youngest, Dawn, she’s – ” Joyce hesitated, frowning. What was Dawn? Difficult? Funny? Loving?  “She’s complicated.”

“And your oldest girl?”

Joyce’s pale face softened. “She’s marvellous.”

“They’ll be glad when you’re safely home. But I expect you have lots of friends helping them cope.”

Joyce lay back on the pillows.  Friends, no, she didn’t have many friends. It was only now, when she was sick, that she realised just how empty her life was of adult company. Somehow it had always seemed so complicated; bringing people home to meet Buffy, especially after she’d learned that she was the Slayer. It wasn’t the sort of information you could slip into a conversation.  “Oh, your daughter likes softball? Mine likes staking vampires!”  So which adults were there for Buffy to turn to. Rupert Giles, of course.  He was reliable; in an emergency, Buffy could always lean on him.  And Spike.  Definitely unreliable but – in an emergency?  Joyce frowned. She the oddest feeling that she would trust Spike to fight at Buffy’s side more than Giles. Which was ridiculous.

“Well, I must be going. Leave you to get some sleep,” Agnes said brightly. “I’ve enjoyed our little chat.”

“Give me your phone number,” Joyce said. “Perhaps you’d like to come round for a coffee when I get home?”

“I – I don’t have a telephone.  The people I’m staying with are very old-fashioned. They don’t believe in modern technology.”

Joyce stared at her. The Englishwoman had gone very pink and flustered. OK, it was weird not to have a phone, but we couldn’t all be the same.

She scribbled down her address.  “OK, look, here’s where I live.  Drop round in a few days time. I should be home by then.”

Agnes beamed. “I’d like that.  I’ll bring cake.”

“Home baked?”

Agnes looked puzzled. “Is there any other kind?”

Joyce smiled up at her, remembering all the packets of instant cake mix that stood on her kitchen shelves.

“I’ll bring enough for your daughters and in case your English gentlemen friends call round,” Agnes said as she walked to the door.

“Rupert and William.”

 Agnes gazed back at her and for a moment, Joyce thought the other woman’s eyes looked a very strange colour – almost yellow.

Agnes struggled to control herself.  Honestly, Aggie, she thought crossly, vamping out just because poor Joyce looks so poorly, is a pretty bad show. You should be ashamed of yourself!  “Yes, Rupert and William,” she repeated. “I’ll look forward to meeting them.”

Tbc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Business as Usual

Chapter 5 A Good Idea - Perhaps?

 

Agnes was up to her elbows in dough when the door to her little room at he back of Willy’s Bar burst open and Spike strode in. He flung himself down on her bed – thank goodness, she thought that she always adhered to her mother’s instructions and made her bed every evening when she got up. But there were limits. “Spike – feet!” she said, holding her doughy fingers above the mixing bowl and waiting until the vampire had swung his dirty boots off her nice clean patchwork coverlet.

Spike scowled up at his friend, searched for his cigarettes, then scowled again at her raised eyebrows. What was it with the bloody women in his life and smoking, for god’s sake? He was dead! Wasn’t going to get any deader. “How do you get a girl to like you?” he blurted out.

Agnes sighed and plunged her fingers back into the pastry mix. She was making apple turnovers and she’d learnt from bitter experience that good puff pastry couldn’t be achieved with only half your attention on the job. Luckily, one of the pluses of being a vampire cook was that your hands were so cold, they were ideal for making pastry! Well, when God shut a door he opened a window. “Have you had a falling-out with Harmony? She seems like a sweet girl, not one who would argue.” Except for the trying to kill me, she thought silently, but decided not to mention that because she didn’t believe in making a problem worse.

“Harm? God, no, she likes me already. Look, you’re a woman, Aggie, what do women want from a man?”

Love, respect, a nice house with one of those white picket fences, a big garden, children, fat grandchildren and a dog, were the words that sprang into Agnes’ head, but she somehow had the feeling that wasn’t quite what Spike had in mind. “Sometimes we want you to be what we think you could be if you tried.,” she said slowly.

“What?”

“Well, it’s a bit like cooking, Spike. You see all the ingredients on the table in front of you and know that with time and patience they will turn into something else. You told me once about your first girlfriend, the one who turned you. She obviously saw something in you that she thought worth pursuing.”

Spike raised an eyebrow. Dru’s idea of pursuing had been all about chasing terrified girls down dark alleyways to tear out their throats and bathe in their blood.

“So does this girl you want to impress really know you?”

Spike lay back on the pillows and considered the question. Did Buffy know him? The real him? No, she had no idea. But – there was a connection between them. It had been there from the first time he’d seen her at The Bronze. He knew that and he was pretty certain she did, too, although she’d never admit it. Poncing around with Riley Finn, pretending to be in love. “She won’t let me show her how nice I can be. Perhaps I should just march up to her and make her bloody well love me! Women like men to take charge, don’t they?”

Agnes sighed. She was keen to help Spike, but he was such a – she struggled for a word – complicated man. She couldn’t think of many girls who would react in the right way to the scenario he was describing. “Spike, perhaps you should try a more traditional approach first.”

A lean white hand swooped round her and whisked away a loose piece of pastry. “Reminds me of the kitchen when I was growing up,” he murmured, enjoying the feel of the pastry on his fangs. “Are you putting blood in with the apples?”

“Well, I was going to use cloves, but there’s a little blood in that cup over there. Just add a few drops to the apple mixture. But not too much, it’ll ruin the flavour.”

“So what sort of poxy traditional approach should I try on her?” he said, watching as the pastry was rolled, folded and rolled again.

Agnes shut her eyes for a second, trying to remember back to when she was younger. There had only been one beau in her life. His name had been David. He’d sung in the same church choir as her; a beautiful tenor. She could still hear the echoes of his voice in her mind, see the fine blonde hair that fell across his brow, the white ruff of his robes around his pale neck.

David had come from a very wealthy family: his parents owned the local manor, although Agnes knew they weren’t proper gentry. His father had made his money building nasty little houses that ate up the countryside for miles. But locally they were important people; David’s mother had big ideas for her only son and Agnes Pringle was not at the top of her list – or anywhere on the list! – of marriageable girls.

But once, when Agnes had come down with chicken pox and been unable to go to the annual summer church picnic, David had called round to see her. He’d given her a little gift, hardly winced at the spots all over her face and been so kind, saying he would miss her. They’d gone for a walk along the river path and once his hand had brushed hers and she’d wondered, hoped…. She’d hugged his kindness to her for weeks, even after his engagement to the Hon.Davina Ponsonby-Smythe was announced. Agnes gave herself a little shake as she came back from long summer days in Winchester.

“Chocolates!” she said firmly. “All girls like to be given a nice box of chocolates. Especially one with a pretty ribbon round it. I know they can be expensive, but then if she’s worth it, money is no object, is it?”

Spike picked up the pastry cutter and pushed it against the ball of his thumb, watching distractedly as beads of blood welled up. He had no intention of actually spending good money on chocolates. He’d nick them from a shop. Would the Slayer like them? He frowned, shook the blood into the apple mixture and licked his thumb. Well, Agnes was a pretty good judge of etiquette, he reckoned. And he could practice what he would say. He’d make Buffy see that he could change. He’d make her love him.

Yes, a box of chocolates. It was a bloody good idea and he zoomed out into the night to steal a present for the girl he hated.

The problem with living in California, Agnes thought with a sigh, a day or two later was the rain. Or rather the lack of it. At home in England you could almost rely on it raining at some time during the week. Being a vampire in Winchester would have been quite easy. With a sky full of clouds, you could have gone out and done your shopping without any fears of not coming back. Take this morning, for example. There had been quite thick cloud overhead and she’d thought she had plenty of time to hurry to the store for flour, sugar, fruit and vegetables. She’d put up her trusty yellow umbrella – and yes, it did look a little odd when it wasn’t actually raining, but people around here expected her to act in a weird manner.

Then, whoosh! The clouds had parted, the sun had burst out and suddenly the umbrella had seemed extremely small. She had felt a distinct singeing sensation on the backs of her legs and there had just been time to scuttle inside this coffee house. She sat now, gazing round with interest at the laughing, talking youngsters, the business men and women having a well earned break. This, she supposed, would be her competition if she ever got enough money together to open a little shop of her own here in Sunnydale.

The rubbish dump was so dirty and smelly and, apart from Spike and one or two other demons who had obviously been well brought up, the clientele could be difficult. Only last night she’d had quite a little argument with two small, ferrety faced demons, both dressed as monks of all things, who refused to pay for their Earl Grey tea and ginger biscuits. As luck would have it, she’d earlier overheard them complaining about their employer, how she overworked them and how they got very little time off. It had, admittedly, been unkind of her to say she would report them to their boss if they didn’t pay their bill, but in the cut-throat world of business, it was every vampire for herself. Although she had to admit she’d been surprised at their grovelling demeanour and the haste with which they’d then paid their bill.

But that was the type of person who walked through the dump. Now, if she could find a cheap little place in town to rent and decorate – maybe in the same row of shops as that interesting Magic Box store, that would be wonderful. Agnes sighed and stirred the cup of coffee she hadn’t wanted, but what Americans did to a cup of tea - it wasn’t worth the money. Just dreams. That’s all they were. Where was she going to find the capital to fund such a venture?

“Excuse me, madam. Would you mind if I sat at your table? There seems very little room. It will only be until my colleagues arrive with the limousine.”

Agnes glanced up. An older gentleman wearing a lovely tweed suit – and if he hadn’t bought that in Jermyn Street, her name wasn’t Agnes Pringle! – was standing next to her, holding a cup of coffee and looking with irritation at a group of youngsters who were being a little too loud.

“Oh – yes – I mean – oh please do. There’s plenty of space. Let me just remove my umbrella and handbag and – oh, yes, that cardigan is mine, as well. And the bag of apples. And the tomatoes. Do be careful where you sit – that tomato seems to have squashed itself – let me just wipe the seat – there!” Flustered, she pulled all her belongings towards her, rescuing the apples that were determined to escape from their neat brown grocery bag.

The man sat down and gave her piercing look from under busy eyebrows. “Why, I believe you are a fellow compatriot of mine.”

Agnes smiled. She had already heard and placed that upper class English accent. The Bishop had spoken in a similar fashion all those years ago. “Agnes Pringle – late of Winchester.” She didn’t think it necessary to tell him just how late.

“Quentin Travers. From London,” and he shook her hand. “Ah Winchester – I know the school so well. And the cathedral, of course.”

“Are you here on business, Mr Travers?”

“Yes, a flying visit. My colleagues have gone to collect the hire car. We need something a little larger than the one we were given at the airport. And you, er, Miss Pringle – ” he had noticed she wasn’t wearing a ring – “visiting family, perhaps?”

“No – sadly I have no family.” Well, that wasn’t strictly true, she thought. She had cousins, but she hadn’t spoken to them in years. “I came to America on holiday and – stayed.”

Quentin Travers smiled benignly and stopped listening as the fluffy haired woman in front of him began on a long involved story about winning a coach trip to see the Stars’ homes in Hollywood, some sort of accident and eventually finding work in Sunnydale. This was such a waste of time. He had a lot to do today and, glancing at his watch, wished the team would arrive with the car. He wanted to confront Miss Summers and Rupert Giles before lunch. His expression hardened. He couldn’t wait: he’d had quite enough of treachery and insubordination.

“You seem a little concerned?” Agnes said.

“I do apologise, dear lady. I have a difficult business meeting ahead of me. A young – er – employee who has been, how shall I put it, stepping out of line lately and endangering our whole operation in Sunnydale.”

“How distressing for you. But I expect you’re used to all these high-flying problems. I can imagine you are very adept at negotiation and compromise. Indeed, I recently had the same sort of problem myself when a friend’s young lady came to see me – oh, he’s English, too. What a coincidence. I’m sure you’d get on very well. His name is William and….”

Quentin Travers stroked his chin and stopped listening again. Compromise? Negotiation? He didn’t really recognise either word.

He sipped his coffee - he knew better than to ask for tea in California - and stared over the rim of his cup at Agnes Pringle who seemed to be giving him the recipe for a happy relationship between men and women for some bizarre reason. Quentin sighed. Poor, ineffectual woman. What would she ever know in her comfortable, protected world about vampires, demons and hell gods? What would she say if he told her that he ran a Council that controlled an army of Watchers who coped with the whole world’s vampire problems?

He laughed quietly to himself, basking in his own power, wondering what this funny little woman would say if he told her that Sunnydale was built on a Hellmouth. Her could imagine how surprised and terrified she would be if he said that the Slayer worked not a half mile away, that vampires walked the streets of town at night? He peered out of the window, but there was still no sign of the car. He had a nasty feeling that the left hand drive might have defeated Lydia.

Agnes’ voice trailed away. Oh dear, had she been boring her companion? She feared she had. That glazed look in his eyes, the impatient tapping of a finger on the table. She bit her lip, trying to stop it from trembling because when it did, her fangs had a bad habit of slipping out and she would have died rather than show herself up in front of such a gentleman as Mr Travers.

They sat in silence, sipping their coffee, both wishing heartily that it was tea. Just as they finished, “Ah, my colleagues have arrived,” Mr Travers said as a car jerked to a violent halt against the kerb. He stood up, raised Agnes’ hand to his lips and kissed it. “Thank you for your time, dear lady, and for sharing your table. I do hope you continue to have an enjoyable time in Sunnydale. One small warning, please do not walk around after dark, even on the main roads. You never know whom you might meet. Good day!” And he was gone.

Agnes sighed. What a lovely man. So distinguished. So charming. How wonderful it must to live and work in a world of money and influence such as his must be. She was quite certain Mr Quentin Travers had never even heard of vampires. And if he had, he would certainly not believe they existed!

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Chp 6 The Nasty Shock

 

Agnes was hurrying home from the Sunnydale Swimming Pool and Keep Fit Centre. Not that she’d been swimming or keeping fit, but the showers there were nice and hot and in all the comings and goings, no one ever noticed that she changed into her swimming costume, then went straight into the shower, bypassing actually going into the pool. Not that she had anything against swimming, but she did find that the chlorine made her hair go a funny colour.

Having a good wash was one of the practical disadvantages of becoming a vampire. It was all very well keeping to the dictates she’d been brought up with, wash as far down and as far up as you can every morning, but sometimes the little sink in her kitchen hardly seemed adequate and it was difficult to wash your feet properly.

So the showers at the swimming-pool were extremely useful once a week and it was a good opportunity to use the lovely Lavender talcum powder and body spray that a – well, she had been going to call him a friend, but she wasn’t certain that was the right word – had given her when she first arrived in Los Angeles, a few years ago.

Agnes remembered him every time she took a shower, which wasn’t really appropriate, of course, because although he’d been a widower and quite free, she knew she had let him down rather badly. He had asked her a very special question but because she had known that her response would disappoint him - and he wasn’t someone who took disappointment well - she’d left town and ended up here in Sunnydale.

She was smiling to herself, recalling how much he’d enjoyed her chocolate cupcakes, when she reached Willy’s Bar and realised, with a thrill of worry that there was a light on behind the curtains in her room. Had she left a lamp burning? It had been nearly dusk when she left, not dark but safe enough to walk through the streets as long as she kept in the shadows as much as possible. And she always did.

She stared at the square of light in the darkness. She was usually so careful about her little lamp. Electricity was expensive. Willy always charged her extra and although Agnes had a sneaking feeling that if she told Spike this he would make certain the bar-keeper didn’t, she was reluctant to do so. After all, this was Willy’s income. One had to be fair. Business was business and just because she always made him a large batch of Cherry Bakewells every week was no reason to expect preferential treatment from her landlord. No, she’d definitely not left the lamp burning and Willy wouldn’t arrive at the Bar until much later in the evening. Sadly, she decided, she had a burglar.

Agnes frowned and felt her face slip into that distressing state that she could feel with her fingers but had never been able to see. She had very little to steal. Her savings – the little she had! - were wrapped in an old stocking and hidden inside a very battered brown china teapot. No one would ever think of looking in that.

But in the room were all her little mementos of her time in America – sadly she had none of her life in England - her recipe books, the china dog with Present from Hollywood written on it in real gold, even her precious patchwork quilt that she’d spent so many long afternoons making while she was shut indoors out of the sun. This room was her home! It might be small and furnished with old, ramshackled pieces of furniture, but it was still her home and no one had a right to rob it.

And – her heart went cold – there was Little Ted who sat on her pillow and whose fur had soaked up so many stupid tears over the past few years. Whoever this robber was, he should never have Little Ted! With a most regrettable growl, Agnes flung herself through the door in a cloud of Lavender water, her eyes glowing almost orange with anger and fear, fangs out, fists at the ready. She stumbled over the Welcome doormat and would have fallen, except for Spike’s strong hand under her elbow.

“Bloody hell, Agnes. Watch where you’re going. I know our bones heal quickly, but what’ll I do for a cuppa if you’re out of action for a week?”

“Spike!” Agnes felt her face shiver back into human form but not quickly enough obviously, because a voice said, “You’re a vamp, too? Jeez, Spike, you could’ve told me. You said it was a friend’s place.”

“She is a friend. Agnes, this is Dawn. She’s the Slayer’s little sister. Dawn, this is Agnes Pringle. She runs the tearoom in the dump. Your sis knows all about that.”

“Oh she knows everything about everything. Pity she doesn’t know how to make me human!”

Agnes raised her eyebrows at Spike but he was gazing down at the teenager sitting on the bed and, for the first time ever since they’d met, Agnes thought he looked worried.

“Dawnie’s had a bit of a shock recently. Seems she isn’t quite like the rest of her family.”

“I used to be a ball of green energy,” the girl said defiantly, looking up from where she was busy tearing the skin from around her thumbnail. “I never existed until a few weeks ago. Everything else I remember, everything that happened when I was little, is a lie. Everything!”

“I’ve been trying to keep an eye on her,” Spike muttered. “She’s OK some of the time, then it all becomes a bit much for her and I find her wandering around down town, or she comes over to my crypt and sits and cries.”

Privately Agnes wondered exactly what that was supposed to achieve, but decided that getting Spike’s attention was probably high on the teenager’s agenda. “Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Dawn.”

“‘Very nice to meet you, Dawn,’ ” the girl mimicked back at her. “Don’t lie! Of course it isn’t nice to meet me. You don’t know me. That’s the whole point. No one knows me. There isn’t anyone to know!” And she flung herself face down on the bed and began to sob, dramatically.

“She’s been saying that for the past hour,” Spike said gloomily. “God, I need a drink.”

Agnes took off her coat and hung it neatly on its hook. She had an hour to get her last batch of biscuits and scones cooked before she headed for the dump and the evening demon rush hour. “Willy will be in the Bar by now,” she replied. She didn’t hold with alcohol, but she had the feeling that at the moment, the teenager was only too pleased to have a captive audience.
“Dawn can stay here with me. One drink, Spike, then come straight back and take her home.”

The door closed behind him with a thankful slam. Agnes sighed and pulling on her biggest apron, crossed to the little table where all her cooking ingredients were already laid out, waiting for her. She was kneading the scone dough, adding grated cheese for a more savoury flavour – a big brown Scritfle demon lumbered through the dump every Thursday evening and tended to get extremely irate when there were no cheese scones.

“You don’t have to feel sorry for me, you know.”

Agnes looked up. Dawn was sitting up now, peering out from between two curtains of long brown hair. “I don’t.”

“Because I don’t need anyone and – you don’t?”

“Certainly not. And if you feel under that pillow, you will find a nice clean hankie. Blow your nose and wipe your eyes. No one can think clearly with a runny nose.”

Automatically, Dawn obeyed, then she stood up and came across to the table. “Can’t you see how awful everything is for me?”

“I can see you’ve had a nasty shock, but nobody’s died or been dreadfully injured, so I suggest you take a deep breath and concentrate on the positive side of things. At least you were given a lot of good memories, even if they aren’t real. Just think, you could have found yourself remembering dreadful, unhappy things. And after all, we were all little balls of cells once upon a time, so the doctors tell us. Your little cells appear to have been green, that’s the difference.”

“But I’m not really Dawn Summers. Mom and Dad aren’t my parents. Why would they want me? They’ve already got their own daughter, my big sister.”

Agnes sprinkled flour on the table, placed the round of dough on top and attacked it with the rolling-pin. “I’ve never had any children, so I’m afraid I have no first hand knowledge, but I have been both alive and dead for a good many years. From all I’ve seen, whatever a child is or does seems to have no impact on how much they are loved by their mother and father. On the other hand – ” she paused, glancing at Dawn’s wistful face as the girl watched the pastry turn from a mound into a glistening sheet, half an inch thick.

“I have seen several cases where the parents didn’t like their children very much, because of what the child said or did. Loving is one thing; liking quite another. Here – ” Agnes handed Dawn the pastry-cutter. “Press out as many neat rounds as you can, then roll out the scraps and make some more.”

She turned away to start on the biscuit mixture, casting a swift glance over her shoulder, smiling at the look of concentration on the teenager’s face. The devil makes work for idle hands – that had been the favourite saying of the man she’d liked in Los Angeles. How very true that was.

“I wish I could cook.”

“It isn’t difficult and quite useful.”

“My mom isn’t well, otherwise I expect she’d teach me if I asked.”

“I’m sure she would.”

“She’ll be better soon, though. Everyone says so. Hey, if you taught me, I could cook something for her. Like a surprise.”

Agnes pushed a loose strand of hair back from her forehead, leaving a smear of flour down her face. “I’m sure we could arrange something. Now, if you’ve finished, perhaps I’d better call Spike and he can walk you home. It’s getting late and I have to bake these scones and biscuits and go to work.”

Dawn went pink. “I’ve been a bother, haven’t I? I’m sorry.”

Agnes smiled. “No, you’ve been a great help.”

The girl walked towards the door. “I’ll shout for Spike. I expect he’s lurking just outside. He usually is.” She hesitated, “Is it hard, being a vampire? I mean – ” she gestured round the little, shabby room – “I didn’t know you had to work. I thought you just went around – biting people.”

Agnes shook her head. “Well, lots of us do, of course. But I’ve always seen that as taking the easy way out. I was brought up to make my own way in the world, stand on my own two feet and try and contribute to society. I didn’t ask to become a vampire and no, it isn’t a life-style I would have chosen, but I could see no reason to alter my beliefs when it happened.”

Dawn looked puzzled. “But my sister says – when the demon enters you – ”

Agnes pushed the scones into the oven. “I suppose I was a tiny bit like you, Dawn. I woke up one morning to find I was a different person, but I was quite determined that I should be the best different person I could.”

Dawn opened the door and peered out. Yes, there was the glint of moonlight on a platinum head, the glow from a cigarette. It was comforting to know she’d been right. That Spike would be there for her. “Do you think I could be like that?”

The vampire wiped the flour from her cheek, leaving a smear of dough in its place. Her eyes twinkled suddenly. “I’m sure you can.”

Dawn smiled back and shut the door quietly behind her. She walked towards Spike, wondering why she felt better, clutching a handkerchief in her hand that still smelt faintly of Lavender water.

tbc

Chapter Text

Chp. 7 Parenting

 

It was the scars Agnes noticed first: the second thing she saw was that the young woman really was not wearing warm enough clothes on what was quite a chilly night for southern California. The third she felt - long nails scratching Agnes’ face as the girl held it between her two hands.

“You look just like my Mummy!”

Agnes flared gently into vamp face – just enough so the girl would realise she was speaking to a fellow compatriot – and back again. She was beginning to wonder what the attraction could be that brought so many English people to Sunnydale. This girl had a definite accent. Small, thin and pale, she looked as if a good meal would do her the world of good. And, if Agnes was completely honest, she also seemed – now what was the word her grandmother used to use – oh yes, fey.

“I’m afraid I am no one’s mother, dear,” she said gently, pushing the sharpened nails away.

The girl seemed to lose interest and wandered around the station waiting-room, trailing her hand across the smeared wooden seats. It left marks. Agnes could smell blood, lots of blood. Perhaps this girl didn’t need a good meal, after all. She peered out of the door towards the train; no one seemed to be getting on or off. Agnes had arrived at Sunnydale Railway Terminal to collect a new tea-urn. Her friend Spike had arranged for it to be sent to her from Los Angeles. He’d felt responsible when a fight between him and a pack of bright pink, furry demons, who had apparently been called The Woofters, according to Spike, had erupted around her tea-room in the dump. The lone victim had been her old urn that was smashed beyond repair.

Agnes sighed: she’d been relying on the station porter helping her to unload the package from the goods’ van. It was sure to be bulky and although Agnes had brought the super-market trolley with her that she used to carry her cakes and baked goods, she knew she would need a hand lifting the urn into it. Sometimes being a woman who was not blessed with physical strength was extremely annoying. She wondered why, if she had to become a vampire in the great scheme of things, she couldn’t have been one with muscles. But she'd been delayed, waiting for a sponge cake to finish cooking, and the train stood there, all the passengers gone, except for this one.

Behind her the girl with the scars was singing to herself. Agnes recognised the tune and smiled.

“Rockabye baby, on the tree-top,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.”

“That’s very nice. It’s a long time since I heard that nursery rhyme. Did your mother sing it to you?”

The girl looked across the waiting-room, her eyes so dark Agnes couldn’t tell if they were black or brown. “I sing it to my dollies. But I’ve lost one. She was in the cradle, being rocked, rocked, rocketty rocketty rock, rock, rock, rocketty rock.”

“Oh, you were on the train!” Really, this girl was obviously not fit to be out alone. People should take better care of those less able to protect themselves. Vampires should always have their wits about them and she rather thought this young woman’s wits had gone a long time ago. She probably had a Turned family in Sunnydale who’d been delayed meeting her. Surely she must have a carer somewhere - in the rest-room, perhaps? Train journeys could make you ill if you weren’t used to the continual motion. Agnes recalled a very unhappy visit to London Zoo when she had been forced to get out of the Tube train at every stop because -

“Are you sure you’re not my mummy? You sound just like her - but I can't remember her face - just the blood. Ooooh, there was so much blood.”

Agnes sat down on a bench and briskly patted the seat next to her. Obviously the station porter had been delayed on business somewhere. She would just have to wait until he appeared. In the meantime, she needed to take charge of this poor innocent. The girl drifted across the room and obediently sat down.

“There! That’s better, isn’t it?” Agnes slid her arm round the thin shoulders and gave her a brief hug. “Now, don’t you worry. I expect someone will be along quite soon to collect you. You really shouldn’t walk around town on your own. It isn’t safe for – well, for people like us.”

The girl nodded wisely. “No, even Angel wants to kill us. Look!” She turned so Agnes could see her scars.

“Oh, that’s nasty! A fire, was it? A candle in the shape of an angel? You have to be so careful with candles, don’t you?”

The girl frowned, then stood up and twirled round the room, humming to herself before stopping in front of Agnes again. She raised her arms above her head, her fingers reaching, searching for something invisible to the rest of the world. “I’ve got to find my boy and get him to come back with me. He’s been a naughty boy, but I still love him.”

Agnes looked up at her and realised, with a shiver, that this vampire was much older than she had originally thought. She wasn’t a young girl, she was a woman.

The dark eyes gazing at her suddenly looked sly. “Do you want to see a glorious mess? A wonderful, splish-splashing mess. Rocketty slash, rocketty bite, rocketty suck, rocketty scream. Oh, do come and look.”

Agnes frowned. “Certainly not! If you’ve made a mess, you should clean it up before anyone finds it. That’s only good manners.”

The girl spun round in her secret dance again, her mind drifting in skeins of scarlet, fountains of crimson, rivers of ruby goodness.

Agnes peered anxiously out of the door onto the gloomy station platform - it was deserted, silent. Very few people took the train these days; everyone had cars. She couldn’t see any rubbish. No litter, no soda cans or boxes with take-away food scattered about. The girl had probably been lying. She hesitated. She needed the urn, but she had to be back at the dump soon to open the tea-room in order to catch the passing trade. She had made gingerbread parkin today and it was nicer to eat it when it was warm. When she turned back, the girl was watching her once more.

“You’re cross with me about making the mess, aren’t you? I don’t like it when people are cross with me! My boy was cross with me about – ” she smiled and Agnes shuddered. It wasn’t a nice smile; it reminded her of Miss Potter, the biology mistress at school, and the way she had enjoyed dissecting frogs so much; the way she had forced Agnes to use a scalpel on one when –

The girl walked forward, forcing Agnes back against the wall. “He was cross about the chaos demon. Lovely slimey antlers, drip, drip, dripping. But a girl’s got to do something when her boy’s all surrounded by someone else. A girl gets bored, waiting. I don’t like waiting!”

A hand flashed out and Agnes winced in pain as a sharp nail just touched her bottom lip and she tasted blood. She felt her own fangs flash out and was annoyed. She was trying so hard to keep that side of her character under control. “Now stop that at once! I’m quite certain this is not the way you were brought up to behave. I’m sorry you have been having problems with your boyfriend, but I’m sure it can all be sorted out if you have a nice long chat with him. Now sit down quietly over there, and wait for whoever is coming to meet you.”

“Sorry!” The girl sat, her fingers trembling across her mouth like moths round a flame, her eyes dark with tears. “Is Mummy cross?”

Agnes sighed and licked blood from her lip. It reminded her that she was hungry and that she had a nice bag of pig in the little refrigerator at home. She stared at the pathetic figure in front of her. What on earth had happened in this young woman’s life to make her like this? Well, whatever is was – and Agnes had the strong impression that it involved A Man – there was no excuse at all for behaving badly in public.

Suddenly the silence of the station was broken by voices. People were coming. Agnes picked up her handbag and eased towards the window to look out - yes, lots of people, and what looked like a police car. She would have to leave. It was a pity about the urn, but her name would be on the parcel; she could come down and collect it in the morning.

Wearily, she turned back; she felt extremely uneasy in this young woman’s company, but Agnes knew her duty. There was no way she could leave her here, especially if she had been telling the truth and had made some sort of little mess somewhere on the station. People got so worked up about vandalism these days. And quite right, too, but she didn’t think this vampire was the sort who would take kindly to being interrogated. It would be better if she went with Agnes to Willy’s; she could phone her friends from there.

But the waiting-room was empty. The door swung to and fro and the smell of fresh blood and dead roses filled the air.

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

Recipe for disaster!

 

Crash! Agnes Pringle was pushed violently into a room and hurled to the floor. She lay, trembling, embarrassed, knowing her skirt was rucked up round her thighs and that there was a ladder in her only good pair of stockings. So this was it. Her last few minutes on earth. She wished she’d washed her hair last night. Obviously she was going to die for a second smelling of the meat and onion patties she’d baked for the late night demon truck drivers who’d started using the tearoom as a sort of mid-way halt on their routes. At least the first time she’d been wearing a nice lavender eau-de-cologne.

A clacking of heels on the wooden floor echoed through her head. She opened her eyes to see two bright red, shiny, high-heeled shoes in front of her face. One of the shoes was tapping the floor in irritation. “What is - this?”

“Great Glorificus, oh Mighty Wonderfulness, oh – ”

“Get on with it, Jinx! You know if I have to repeat myself, someone dies.”

“Yes indeed, you of Superior Beauty. Well, this person might know where the Key is hidden.”

The shoe moved forward and Agnes yelped as the toe caught the corner of her mouth. “Why would it know about the Key?”

“Oh Worthiness most Wonderful, it runs a teashop in the town garbage dump. All sorts of people go there and humans talk around her all the time. I have been there – oh, not to have Earl Grey tea and scones, oh no, but just to do your work - and observe what happens. She might have heard where the Key is hidden.”

“Pick it up.”

Agnes felt hard, scaly hands dragging her up by her hair and arms. She winced at the pain and realised both her own shoes had been torn off her feet as she was dragged across the room and thrown into a chair. Trembling, she pulled her skirt down over her knees and licked a drop of blood off her bottom lip. Her hands were shaking and she was desperate to go to the bathroom. If only she hadn’t had that last cup of tea before these creatures grabbed her.

Suddenly the owner of the shoes was standing in front of her. Agnes forced herself to look up into brilliant, diamond hard eyes – eyes that had not the smallest hint of humanity in them. She wondered what it was. Not vampire, that was certain. A demon, then. But even the worst she’d ever met – and for a couple of seconds she allowed herself the luxury of imagining what her Sweetheart would have done to this thing – had some warmth in their gaze. This woman’s eyes were just bottomless pits of – nothing.

“Does it have a name?”

The weasel-faced creature – which she would never, ever serve in her shop again: it was barred! - muttered, “I think it calls itself Agnes, oh Mighty Magnificent one.”

“Agnes? What an extremely nasty name. So, Agnes – ” a red tipped hand flashed out, grabbed Agnes’ chin and savagely tilted her head back. “What have your dirty little ears heard about my Key?”

“I – I – I’m s…s….sorry, a key, have you lost your keys? I haven’t found any keys and people always hand in lost property, well, they do most of the time, but some demons are a little more casual and – OH!” She cried out as the sharp red nails pinched her cheeks and suddenly she was back in the girls’ lavatory at school, she was twelve years old, being made to sit on the toilet seat with her knickers round her ankles while Brenda Marlow and Jessica Green tormented her about her inability to climb a rope in gym class. Goodness, did this demon woman think she could make her cry, when Brenda and Jessica couldn’t? Agnes felt her fangs slip out; there was that weird sensation in her eyes – as if the skin was being pulled upwards and she bit the hand across her mouth – hard!

“Ouch! That hurt. Look! Blood! It’s drawn blood! You stupid trolls – it’s a vampire. Don’t you know a vampire when you see one?”

The wrinkled demon threw himself on the floor and grovelled. “Oh Humendous Honey-Tongued Heaven-sent One, kill this poor, unworthy creature, kill me now!”

The girl sucked at the marks on her hand and watched as they vanished. “Oh get up, Jinx. You’re getting dust on my shoes. Who’s going to cook my dinner if I kill you?”

“Kill him,” Agnes said calmly. “I can cook.”

The girl pursed her lips and tilted her golden head to one side. “Mmmm, it’s a good idea, but no. He’s slightly useful in other ways. But a cook? I could do with one of those on my staff. Diet’s very important when you’re trying to keep yourself looking good. Don’t you think so?”

Agnes hesitated. She didn’t know what this thing was, but it was beautiful, vain and female. She’d been dealing with women like that all her life. “Diet is important but not dieting,” she said firmly. “A person such as yourself, does not, of course, need to loose an ounce of weight, but some people get carried away.”

“Great Glory, the vampire woman is quite correct. Your body is perfect as it is and – ”

“Yes, yes, I know all that.” Glory waved an impatient hand at Jinx and stared down again at Agnes, a small frown marring her beautiful face.
“Jinx usually cooks hot dogs and chicken wings,” she said.

Agnes couldn’t help it; she was appalled. “Well, if that’s all you’re eating, your complexion will be the first to suffer!” Then she winced, shut her eyes tight and waited patiently for the blow to fall.

When nothing happened, she opened them slightly and squinted to see what weapon was going to end her existence. To her surprise, the creature called Glory was sitting on her bed, gazing at her face in a silver backed hand mirror. “You’re right, vampire. Look! Look, Jinx, you scaly excuse for a servant, look at the skin on my chin. I can see – a blemish!” Jinx peered over her shoulder at her reflection and was thrown across the room for his trouble.

Agnes opened her eyes completely. The immediate threat to her life seemed to have subsided somewhat, but she still didn’t have any great hopes of leaving the room without being swept out in a dustpan. She wished Spike knew where she was; although perhaps, on reflection, it was better that he had no idea. If he came to her rescue, he would run the risk of meeting Glory. And Spike might well know more than Agnes did about this key the demon girl had lost and who had found it. She risked standing up. No one paid any attention. Glory was moaning at her reflection and demanding a rose petal rinse from the terrified minion.

“Glorificus of the most Astounding Beauty, I’m not sure roses in the quantity you require would be obtainable at this time of night.”

Agnes edged slowly towards the door –

“And where do you think you’re going, Vampire?”

She froze. “Oh, nowhere. Just – “ Agnes glanced around in desperation. She was quite aware that this demon could squash her like a bug at any time. “Honey and oatmeal - that’s what you need for your face, young lady.”

Glory spun round suspiciously. “Honey and what?”

“Oatmeal – its very good for cleaning and nourishing and – ”

“Jinx, get oatmeal!”

“At the speed of light, immediately, Glorificus, oh wondrous one of Superb Beauty – ”

“And honey – lots of honey!”

“I will scour the world for the purest honey made by bees that have supped on the nectar of the rarest plants found in the Highest Himalayas – ”

“I have a jar in my shopping bag,” Agnes interrupted in helpfully. “I was going to make honey fudge squares for my stall, but of course, if you want it – ”

Twenty minutes later, Glory was lying back on a red silk sofa, her hair tied back from her beautiful face, glaring up as Agnes hovered anxiously next to her, a basin full of face mask in her hands. “You do realise what will happen to you if this doesn’t work, don’t you, Vampire?”

Agnes peered down at the mixture, wondering if perhaps she’d made it a tad too strong. And should she have added some other ingredient? She couldn’t remember. Oatmeal could set in a very solid fashion if there wasn’t enough honey in it. She only ever used plain soap and water on her face herself. But she was sure this was the recipe her grandmother had used. But then some people had called Granny Pringle a witch.

“I am sure it will help,” she said nervously and began to dab the concoction on the girl’s apparently perfect porcelain skin. “You need to sleep for ten minutes and let the potion work, then wash it all off. You’ll be amazed at the results.”

Two brilliant cold eyes flashed open from the midst of the yellow porridge now covering her face. “You’re a very odd vampire, Agnes.
You seem to know a lot of different things. Are you certain you don’t know where my Key is?”

Agnes paused, honey mixture dripping down her skirt; then she began rubbing the mixture across the skin in soothing movements. “No, but I’ll certainly keep my eyes open for it. What sort of key is it? Large, small, ornate? Where did you last see it?”

“Not for a long, long time.” Glory sighed and relaxed a little. “My life has been just one long problem for years. You can have no idea what troubles I have to deal with. And losing the Key has been traumatic. I’m surprised I haven’t gone grey over night.” The eyes flashed open again. “I’m not going grey, am I?”

“No, no,” Agnes said hastily. “Your hair is quite perfect.”

The eyes shut again. “So, keep a look out for my Key, Agnes. Listen to what your customers talk about. I don’t know what it looks like now, but it used to be green and glowing. A beautiful shiny emerald colour. If you help me find it, you can name your own reward. And I can give you anything you want. Anything in the whole world!”

Agnes’ fingers kept working automatically, plastering the gooey mess across the girl’s face. A green, glowing object. Now, where had she heard about something green and glowing quite recently? Her fingers stilled as she recalled Spike leaving the young teenager, Dawn, in her room. The girl who’d told her she had once been a ball of green energy before she was given human form.

Yes! She could tell Glory she knew where she could find her Key. She would be safe from any attack, probably given a reward, although Agnes was pragmatic enough to think it would not be as wonderful as Glory said. But still, her unlife could be completely different. Why, she might even get enough money to buy a plane ticket home to England, back to her little tea-shop in Winchester. Tears filled her eyes and a great rush of homesickness flooded through her. She wanted her little house and garden so much. Longed to push open the bedroom window and lean out to smell the tiny yellow roses that clustered round the sill. But, of course, she would never push open a window in daylight again.

“Why I - !” The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them, then she swallowed the rest of the sentence because no matter what the reward, there was no way she would give away Dawn’s secret. Glory was a bully and bullies should never prosper “ – will certainly watch out for anything suspicious. Only too happy to serve,” she finished weakly. But luckily the girl was dozing, soothed by Agnes’ massage.

Agnes waited until she was fully asleep, then carefully wiped her fingers on a towel and examined her work. The mask was drying very fast and she had the nasty feeling it was going to be unpleasantly tight in another ten minutes or so. It would probably be prudent not to be around when Glory woke up. Jinx and the other weasel creatures had vanished so there was no one to stop her leaving. The sky was lightening in the east as she reached the road and she knew she would have to hurry to get home before the sun came up. She sighed, wearily. Another morning, sleeping in the little room behind Willy’s Bar. Another afternoon spent baking, eking out her money, living in fear and poverty. And it could all have been so different; just a hint to Glory, a pointer in the right direction. No one would ever have known.

Except herself.

But Agnes was humming happily to herself as she scurried through the dark Sunnydale streets. In some strange way, she realised that after all these years, she felt she had at last defeated pretty, little Brenda Marlow and her piggy-faced friend, Jessica Green. And that feeling was wonderful.

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 9 : Friendship

Agnes was so excited! Usually she worked every night because money and blood were too hard to come by to laze around at home. This was the first time for ages that she had given herself a night off. The tearoom in the garbage dump was adorned with a large notice saying “Closed until Tomorrow” and if her demon and vampire customers didn’t like it – well – they could do the other, she thought and felt quite wicked.

She’d dressed with extra care, baked some lovely little almond biscuits and packed them in a pretty box. She’d even tied the box with ribbon in a very American style, although all her English dislike of ostentation made her bridle at the bow. Still, when in Rome – she thought and wondered wistfully if she would ever get to see the Eternal City. Visiting it was on her list of Things to Do Before I Go – although it had admittedly slipped quite a long way down as more mundane comments such as “Get new shoes” and “Find a cheaper butcher” took precedence.

Still, she was not going to be miserable with her lot tonight because she was off to visit a friend. Drop by and have coffee. That seemed to be the right way of saying it. Or was it drop in and drink coffee? Or drop off and take coffee? Agnes was always worried about correct usage of the language in the United States. At home it would be “come round for tea” but she knew that wasn’t correct over here. She wished she’d thought to ask Spike last night, when he’d been glooming around the tea-stall, devouring her honey crumpets and getting into a fight with a harmless Corzotel Demon who was minding his own heads and tails and not bothering anyone.

No, on second thoughts, Spike had been far too distracted to answer questions about the correct use of language. There was something on his mind, something he hadn’t told her about – yet. Oh well, whatever you called it, she was going round to see her newest friend to spend the evening. Admittedly the friend didn’t know about Agnes’ little affliction, but then the vampire reasoned, lots of people had things wrong with them and didn’t broadcast the fact far and wide. “I might have flat feet, or be scared of heights or colour blind. I wouldn’t dream of telling even my closest friends. No, there’s no reason for anyone to know. It doesn’t change who I am – well, not much, anyway.”

Strangely, Agnes had the feeling that Joyce, the nice woman she’d met in hospital a few nights ago when she’d been searching for any leftover bags of blood, would not judge her too harshly if Agnes ever told her about the change that had come over her all those years ago. Joyce had seemed such an understanding sort of person. Warm, kind interesting – the sort of woman Agnes would be pleased to call a friend. It had taken her several attempts to pick up the phone in the passageway behind Willy’s Bar and call the number Joyce had given her. But eventually she’d found the courage to do so and been thrilled when Joyce had seemed equally as pleased to hear from her.

“Do come round – any evening. My girls are usually out till late.”

Agnes approached the house, a little frown on her face. She knew how ill Joyce had been in hospital. It seemed a little thoughtless for her daughters to leave her to her own devices. But then that was children nowadays, always out enjoying themselves with no regard for their parents. “Now, now, Agnes Pringle, you are beginning to sound like a sour old maid,” she muttered to herself as she knocked on the front door. “Pull yourself together. Things have changed since you were a girl, and you must learn to move with the times. After all, you’ve certainly changed! You should be used to the fact that things don’t stay the same.”

Then the door opened and Joyce Summers stood there, smiling warmly. “Come in, come in! How very nice to see you again.”

Agnes followed her inside, pleased that Joyce had asked her to enter because it had occurred to her as she reached the house that if Joyce just opened the door and expected her to walk in, she would have had a problem. Being invited inside a house had been one of the vampire requirements she’d had to learn. Along with your hair not growing, which made life so difficult for those women who were turned just after having a bad experience in a beauty salon!

“You have a lovely home,” she said, taking in the pretty ornaments, the pictures of two girls – one of whom looked a little familiar. But that was probably because the light was bad on that side of the room.

“Thank you, Agnes. I like it. I try to keep it tidy but – “ she laughed, “you know what teenagers can be like?”

Agnes smiled gently. Actually she had no clear idea what teenagers could be like. She didn’t often come across them in the town garbage dump. There had been that strange youngster whom Spike was fond of – the one who’d said she’d started out in life as a ball of green energy, but Agnes didn’t think that even in Sunnydale that could be normal. “I bought some biscuits,” she said and produced the little box. “I mean cookies, of course.”

Joyce smiled and took the box, exclaiming over the ribbon. “How pretty! And how very kind of you to bother. I haven’t felt a lot like home cooking recently. The girls will love these.”

Agnes bit her lip. She’d made them for Joyce, but perhaps that was selfish, to want her friend to eat one now and tell her how much she enjoyed it. “Your daughters are out again?” she asked.

“Yes.” Joyce looked suddenly tired and sat down on the sofa. She rubbed her forehead, her finger slipping surreptitiously under her hair to where the small scar still lingered. “But I’m sure they’ll be home soon. I’d like you to meet them.”

“Are you completely recovered from your - ” Agnes lowered her voice – “little problem?”

Joyce’s lips twitched as she tried hard not to smile. She didn’t consider a brain tumour a little problem, but she had no idea what this odd English woman had experienced throughout her life. Perhaps to her it was nothing to get concerned about. “Oh yes. Completely. I still feel tired occasionally, but otherwise I’m okay.”

Agnes nodded, wondering why all her vampire senses were telling her otherwise.

“It was a wake-up call, in some ways.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, I realised that with the girls growing up and getting on with their lives, I have to do the same. The last thing I want is for them to have to be worrying what Poor Old Mom is doing on her own when they want to go out and have fun.”

Agnes smiled. “That sounds as if there’s a gentleman on your horizon! Is it one of your English friends, perhaps?”

Joyce looked startled. “English – oh, yes, I remember mentioning them to you in hospital. No, definitely not! One is far too young – well, he isn’t actually young but – well, never mind. That’s too complicated to go into right now. And the other – ” She paused, her mind going to a time and place that she usually only thought of when she was on her own, in the darkest hours of the night. A time of bad candy and hot sex and a man who was definitely nothing like the Giles she now knew!

“It isn’t anyone in particular, just that I can now see that I have to start a fresh chapter in my life. This operation was rather like drawing a line at the bottom of the page and writing The End. From now on it’s a whole new episode.”

“That sounds exciting,” Agnes said wistfully, wishing she could begin a new chapter of her life. But that was unlikely. She had had her one chance of romance a couple of years ago and ruined it. She knew very well that she would never get another opportunity to be anything except the tea-lady who baked cakes and cookies for vampires and demons. And one day she would meet someone – probably this Slayer girl that Spike talked about so much – who would push a stake through her heart and that would be that.

“Let me make you some tea,” Joyce said, starting to get up. “Believe me, I do know how. I’ve been given instructions by two people who have very strong views on how tea should be made!”

“No, no, sit still. You look weary,” Agnes said, jumping up. “I love other people’s kitchens. Mine is – well, very small – it will be such a treat to use yours. If that is all right, of course, I mean, I don’t mean to push in and you may not like strangers taking over your cups and saucers and – ”

Joyce laughed. “Agnes! You’re certainly not a stranger. And so many people use my kitchen for all sorts of things that I have no territorial feeling about it at all.”

“Then you sit there and relax and I’ll get to work.” Agnes hurried out, finding a tea-pot on a high shelf and tea-bags in a box. She gave a disdainful sniff. Well, whoever had taught Joyce Summers the finer art of tea-making, they certainly hadn’t told her that to make perfect tea you had to use loose tea-leaves!

“This is such a treat,” Joyce called out from the other room. “It’s lovely to have someone here, company.”

Agnes smiled, standing humming quietly to herself, waiting for the tea to draw, delighted that her new friend was so happy. Joyce’s cups and saucers were pretty and she found a plate for her almond biscuits. Oh, she was enjoying herself so much. Gazing round the kitchen she suddenly flinched. There was a small photograph in a frame on one of the shelves. It was of Joyce, hugging a girl with long dark hair. They were both smiling, looking happy, contented, a beautiful mother and daughter picture. Agnes picked it up nervously. Surely it couldn’t be Dawn, the green energy girl? But it was. There was no mistaking the eyes or the hair. She put it back with a clatter, nervously picking it up as the frame fell over. She heard a sound from the other room and called back, “Sorry!” Joyce was probably wondering about the odd noises. “Just making the tea. Won’t be long.”

There was no reply. Oh dear, Agnes began to get flustered. Was she annoying her friend? She knew she could sometimes irritate people and often didn’t know why. Hurriedly she found milk and sugar and arranged everything on a tray. There! That looked lovely. She cast another glance at the picture. How could Spike’s young friend be Joyce’s daughter? Why would this nice woman have a child who had started out as a ball of energy? Who was probably the Key that the demon Glory was hunting for? None of it made any sense. Agnes picked up the tray and carried it triumphantly back into the living-room. “Here we are! Safe and sound. I do hope you like – ”

Her voice trailed away into a hiccup …. Joyce was half sitting, half lying on the sofa. Her eyes were open but whatever they were seeing, it wasn’t her new friend. Agnes knew, without even checking, that this lovely, warm, generous woman, had gone.

As the teacups began to chatter on the saucers, Agnes tightened her grip on the tray and willed her hands to stop shaking. She’d seen death before, even experienced her own, but nothing prepared you for the shock, the loss, the desire to shout “No!” There was nothing she could do. That was the hardest part of all. She couldn’t tell anyone, phone anyone, share her grief. There was no way she could be found in the house. She would have to leave Joyce for her daughters to discover. And perhaps that was for the best. Trembling, she walked slowly back into the kitchen and replaced the cups and saucers. Washed away the tea and repacked the biscuits in their fancy box, the biscuits that Joyce had never tasted. Stupid selfish tears wanted to fall, but she had long ago learnt that crying achieved nothing.

Back in the living-room, she stood for a long minute, looking down at the body, then vamped out as a pure anger swamped her. “It isn’t fair!” she said and realised that for the first time she knew how Spike felt when he kicked and stamped and smashed things out of pure frustration. Life and death – neither one was ever fair.

Agnes closed the front door quietly behind her and headed out into the dark, leaving the empty eyes staring at the beginning of a very new chapter.

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 10 : Dust to Dust

 

Agnes Pringle was shutting up her tearoom in the Sunnydale garbage dump. It had been a long night and dawn was just breaking over the mounds of rubbish, casting strangely beautiful pink, rose and golden beams across the cast aside remnants of Sunnydale society. She sighed wearily and rubbed at her eyes, admitting that she was tired to the very depths of her being. It was all very well having vampire healing ability – it did come in useful every time she burnt herself on the little oven she used to make her cakes – but it did nothing for physical exhaustion apparently.

Although Agnes knew her problem wasn’t just physical. She’d lost a friend. That nice woman, Joyce, had died, almost in front of her. Now Agnes had a close and personal knowledge of death; she’d seen a lot of it over the years, and experienced her own, of course. But she was never prepared for it. And tonight she was feeling guilty as well as sad. Had she contributed to Joyce’s demise in some way? Perhaps some little thing she’d said or done had made the other woman realise that the quiet, plump lady making tea in her kitchen was not just a friend, but an evil vampire! Joyce would have been terrified, not having any knowledge or experience of such things, of course. Could that have caused her to have some sort of attack and die? Agnes wished there was some way of finding out. It would put her mind at rest to learn the exact cause - although it wouldn't bring Joyce back, of course.

There was also a fine moral dilemma that wouldn’t stop buzzing around the English spinster’s brain. If she hadn’t been in the kitchen, if she’d been in the same room and seen Joyce dying, should she have tried to turn her? Was a life as a vampire better than no life at all? She just couldn’t decide. Compared to her previous existence, this life was hard, dirty and unfulfilling. But – she struggled with herself, trying to be honest – would she prefer to be dusty dead?

She wondered if there’d ever been any books written that covered this knotty subject. Perhaps she would visit the Library and see. She knew that most people looked up such things on the Internet but her knowledge of that was hazy, to say the least, and she knew she would never have the courage to enter the Internet Café in town and ask for help. Anyway, even if she did, it would be so embarrassing if someone wanted to know why she was interested in vampires.

Agnes sighed and packed the remaining rock cakes back into their tin. Shunned by her customers – well, they were perhaps a little hard, but she hadn’t been in the mood for fine cooking and really, with some of the fangs and teeth she’d seen around here tonight, complaining about hard rock cakes being inedible struck her as being particularly unnecessary! She was just about to set off for home when she heard the sound of something smashing its way through the dump. Alarmed, Agnes drew back into the shadows. Whatever it was, it was obviously not in a good mood, destroying whatever was in its way.

Then she heard a violent English voice swearing and, shutting her ears to the words, which she didn’t completely understand, she called out, “Spike! Is that you?”

“Of course it’s me! Who the sodding hell else would it be?” The black-coated vampire flung himself through the gap in the cardboard boxes that made the entrance to the tearoom and stood, swaying gently, glaring at Agnes. He was holding a bottle of Scotch whisky which, Agnes regretted to see, only had a mouthful left inside it.

“You’re intoxicated, Spike!”

“Absholutely. Completely and utterly. I couldn’t be more intox – intoxsh - sloshed than I am, but bloody hell, I’m going to try!” He lifted the bottle to his lips, swallowed, then hurled it out across the dump. Agnes heard it smash somewhere and hoped it wasn’t on the path because there were often little feral cats around at this time of day. She’d been feeding –

“Joyshe Shummers is dead.”

The words fell on her ears like nails being driven home.

“Joyce – “

“Oh, you wouldn’t have known her. She was the Slayer’s Mum. A really nishe lady. Really nishe.” His legs suddenly gave way and he staggered. Agnes pushed forward the little chair she used behind her serving area and Spike collapsed onto it. He looked up at her and his eyes were dark with a grief that mirrored Agnes’. Suddenly he sounded sober once more, as if all the Scotch in the world couldn’t kill his pain. “She’s dead and the bastards wouldn’t even let me leave her some poxy flowers. I didn't want to see Buffy or Dawn, just leave flowers for Joyce. Bloody Xander Harris. I’d like to tear out his throat and – “

“Mrs Summers is the Slayer’s mother?” Agnes knew she sounded astonished but Spike was too wrapped up in his own misery to notice.

“She was, yes. Buffy Summers is the Slayer. You know that, Agnes,” he finished impatiently. “She was Dawn’s mother, too. Oh God, Niblet! What the bloody hell are you going to do now?” He ran his fingers through his hair, digging his nails against his scalp, pulling at the tight curls until they loosened, making him look younger, more vulnerable, which, Agnes thought, was a strange word to use when thinking of Spike.

“You were fond of her,” Agnes said softly. Working out what she thought about Joyce Summers and her daughters would have to wait.

Spike raised his head, pushing the emotions he felt to the back of his mind. Strong feelings made you weak. He’d learnt that lesson a long time ago from Liam, Darla and Dru. Shrugging his shoulders, he replied, “Fond? I liked her, but then I’ve liked a lot of people over the years and they’ve all gone as well.” He laughed suddenly and the sound was bitter. “That comes with the territory, being undead and everything! How many of your friends are still around, Agnes? No point in people like us keeping an address book, is there?”

He stood up and walked to the entrance. He paused, gazing out at the dump, the rich stench rising up around him. “There’ll be a funeral and I won’t be allowed to go to that, either.” He was silent for a few seconds, then, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Perhaps that’s what those words meant, even all those years ago when they were written. Earth for humans, dust for vampires.”

“Then it’s the same ceremony and perhaps the same salvation,” Agnes murmured.

Spike turned and gazed at her, his expression a little pitying. “Do you really believe we’ll be saved, after all we’ve done? Joyce, yes, I can believe that. She’ll have gone somewhere good, some nice cosy heaven, I reckon. But me, you – well, sorry – I don’t hold out much hope of that. I'm destined for the deepest Hell the Devil can find.” He shrugged, then lifted a hand in farewell. “Nearly sun up. Go straight home. Be safe, Agnes,” and vanished into the early morning that was growing lighter with every passing second.

Agnes watched him go and blinked away the stupid tears she always shed when someone, some animal, some thing, was in pain. She would have to hurry to get indoors by sun up. Poor Joyce, poor Spike and even poor Slayer, she thought. Agnes knew she wasn’t very old, although there was never a good age to lose your mother.

She pushed her supermarket trolley back through the lanes that cut through the dump. There was no time to feed the cats tonight; she would have to give them extra tomorrow. There was Willy’s Bar, with her little room at the back. She was home! Safe. It was lovely to get indoors, kick off her pinching shoes and make a nice cup of tea before going to bed.

As she undressed, she wondered, would she really go to Hell for being a vampire? Spike seemed to think so, but then she wasn’t stupid enough not to realise that he’d probably done a lot of very bad things in his life that she hadn’t. Agnes had to admit the thought of what would happen – afterwards – had crossed her mind on occasion. Especially if she was extra tired or sad and feeling sorry for herself, because it really Hadn’t Been Her Fault. So it seemed vastly unfair to go to Hell.

She got into bed, picked up her prayer book from the table next to it and flicked through it to find something suitable to say for Joyce Summers.

And as she fell asleep, Agnes realised she was humming a childhood hymn that she found oddly comforting, because surely she and Spike could be included somewhere in this list.

“All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 11 : A Friend in Need

 

Agnes had been quite determined to go to Joyce Summers’ funeral. Even though she’d been a new friend - they’d only met the twice - she still wanted to pay her respects to such a nice woman. But not only was it a very sunny day which made it difficult, but Agnes had a drunken vampire sitting dejectedly in her room, sipping neat whisky, ruining her fluffy rug with his dirty boots and annoying her by wanting to talk when she needed to get on and get ready.

“Did I ever tell you that Joyce used to make me hot chocolate?” Spike said for about the sixtieth time that day.

“Yes, you did. And I have told you that I think that was a very kind thing for her to do, especially as you’re a vampire – even though you couldn’t hurt her because of – ” Agnes waved her hand in the general direction of his head. It was difficult to mention the chip to Spike. He got very defensive and irritated if you did. And no matter how much of a friend he was, a drunken irritated vampire was not something Agnes felt like dealing with today of all days.

“She used to put these little marshmallow things on the top of the chocolate.”

Agnes sighed and glanced anxiously at the clock. Time was rushing past and the cemetery was quite a way from Willy’s Bar where she lived. “Yes, so you said. Would you like me to make you a hot chocolate now, Spike? Instead of that whisky?”

He shook his head and took another swig out of the bottle. “I wanted to tell Buffy and Dawn – wanted them to know, to understand how I felt – that I’d be there for them. But that wanker Harris – he spoils everything!”

“So you’re not coming to the funeral?”

Spike laughed and it wasn’t a pleasant sound. All the bitterness of many years echoed in his voice and Agnes found herself shuddering, hoping that he didn’t cross paths with this Mr Harris any time soon. “They won’t let me within miles. And anyway, it wouldn’t be right. Vampires at funerals – most people wouldn’t understand. I wouldn’t want a lot of nastiness. It would only upset Buffy and Dawnie and while I don’t mind usually – well, not today.”

Agnes looked at him sharply. She realised from his unslurred speech and the way he was thinking that he wasn’t drunk, not really. The Scotch was doing nothing to deaden the pain he was feeling. She could only hope that he would finally fall asleep. “They have lots of friends and family, don’t they? People to help them. I know there’s nothing anyone can really say or do, but still – sometimes it’s the little things that help the most.”

Spike raised an eyebrow. “The Slayer take help from someone? – that’ll be the day! She’s too well trained by her Watcher bloke. You’re the Slayer, you cope with everything that Life throws at you. She’ll be patrolling for vamps again tonight, no matter how bloody bad she feels inside.”

Agnes pulled her best black hat – well, to be honest, it was her only hat – out of its box and tried, by just feeling, to make it sit down neatly on her head. Not having a reflection made putting on a hat such a trial. Once she’d gone out with the grosgrain ribbon over one ear, instead of at the back. She must have looked extremely weird. But then, she sighed, there was no one around these days who would care what she looked like. Not since she had parted company with her Sweetheart.

“But what about her little sister, Dawn? She won’t be out tonight, will she? Or tomorrow. And she’s had to cope with all that problem of where she came from – the green energy difficulty. This loss of the woman she thought was her mother will be devastating.”

“Oh yes, they’ll all gather around to look after Dawn,” Spike said wearily. “They’ll give her cakes and presents and try to take her mind off her mum dying. They think she’s just a child and can be distracted. Her friends don’t really know her at all.”

Agnes gingerly pushed aside the curtains and peered out. The sun had gone behind a bank of cloud. If she was careful, she might be able to reach the woods that bordered the graveyard where Joyce was being laid to rest. She could watch from the shelter of the trees and pay her respects that way. “Surely the people you’re talking about are her sister’s friends, not hers,” she said absently over her shoulder, realising Spike was waiting for her to reply. “Hasn’t Dawn got friends of her own who can be there for her?”

Spike frowned. He knew most of Dawn’s friends, of course, by name. He’d learnt to shut his ears to the stream of “She said, and he said, and she said and you’ll never guess what happened when she said – ” that flowed from Dawn’s lips most days. He knew the girl Janice by sight. Would she be at Joyce’s funeral? Doubtful. Would another fifteen year old be what Dawn needed today? No, she needed her big sis and that thought gave Spike a strange squirming feeling in his stomach that had nothing to do with the amount of Scotch he’d drunk. No, he knew Buffy too well. An emotion this powerful would make the Slayer retreat inside her own defences. Would she have the time or ability to deal with Dawn? He had a nasty suspicion that she wouldn’t - couldn’t - be of much help.

Agnes picked up her big black leather handbag and checked the contents. Clean hankie, a few coins, a five dollar bill carefully folded into the zip pocket, a comb and a packet of blood, just in case of delays. Right, all tickety-boo. She was ready.

Spike didn’t look up when she quietly left the room. It was a complicated journey - she’d discovered that if you hugged the left side of the road you were under cover all the way to the Library, then you cut through to the back door and, as long as your hat had a wide enough brim and your coat was done up tightly to your neck, you just had enough time to hurry across to the side entrance of the shopping mall before you began to smoulder.

The underground car park was a haven for Agnes because one small service entrance led out into an area where the garbage was collected and on the other side of that were the trees that marked the edge of the woods. These ran for about half a mile, all the way up to the cemetery and, apart from the muddy patches in places, which didn’t do her shoes any good, she was out of the sun the whole time.

Agnes knew the tunnel system that criss-crossed Sunnydale made travelling around town faster and safer; she thoroughly approved of it - but there was one big drawback. Spiders! Walking through those dark tunnels, knowing what was lurking above her head - no! She just couldn’t do it. So the long way round was her best approach - and as long as she moved quickly, she would manage. Shuddering gently, she finally reached the trees and stopped to draw breath. She knew spiders couldn’t hurt her and since her new life had begun she’d met demons who had just as much hair and as many legs, but it was the way they – scuttled! She would rather face a sunny street any day, rather than tackle a spider.

The path through the woods led uphill, twisting and turning. Agnes knew she was going to be late but she still felt a pang of regret when the trees thinned out and she could see that the funeral party had left. No, she was wrong, there were two people remaining. A small blonde girl and a tall, dark haired man. They were sitting together, not talking, just sitting. Agnes’ face changed gently as she recognised a fellow vampire. Did the young girl know who she was hugging? Well, she didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger, but Agnes took a firm grip on her big black handbag. It felt heavy and she was sure it could do some damage if she needed a weapon. Then the girl moved and Agnes recognised her. This was Joyce’s eldest daughter! The Slayer, the one Spike had feelings for, whether he admitted it or not. “But she’s talking to another vampire! And not just talking. Well, really!”

For a split second Agnes was transported back into her old classroom. A hot sunny day, the buzzing of a fly trapped inside against a windowpane, the English teacher’s voice droning on as she read from Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. What was the quote? Something about losing one parent being a misfortune, losing both looked like carelessness. Well, the Slayer was being extremely careless if she had a second vampire friend with whom she felt safe.

Agnes moved a little closer. She had no desire to meet the Slayer. She was certain that would not be sensible, but the blonde girl was Spike’s friend and he certainly wouldn’t want another vampire to be getting so close and – well – intimate with her. The dark haired vamp’s arm was right round her shoulder and really this was not suitable behaviour at a funeral. Agnes could see where the soil had been cut for Joyce’s coffin and wondered what the Slayer’s mother would have said about this.

The minutes passed: Agnes stood very still, her black hat and coat merging into the shadows. She’d learnt patience over the past few years and at last the tall man kissed the Slayer, hugged her briefly and then melted away into the woods on the far side of the graveyard.

Agnes moved and a twig cracked under her foot. The blonde girl spun round, her hand moving to her belt….
Buffy reached for a stake – the smell of vampire was everywhere – then she paused. Of course, it was Angel she could sense. He was still there, somewhere, in the trees, watching over her. She conjured up a sympathetic smile for the small woman dressed all in black, standing a few yards away…

Agnes gave a timid cough. “I am so sorry to intrude at such a difficult time, but…”

“No, not at all. Thank you for coming. Did you miss the – the – burial? Yes, of course you did. It’s getting late, isn’t it? You knew my mother - ?”

“Oh from the hospital,” Agnes said quickly. “We talked and then, when I heard – I am so very sorry for your loss. I would have spoken sooner, but you obviously had a companion with you.”

“A companion?” Buffy rubbed wearily at her eyes. She wished she could cry. Maybe they wouldn’t sting so much if she could just shed some tears and wash away a little of the burning grief. But somewhere along the Slayer path, she’d forgotten how to cry.

“The tall gentleman – I couldn’t help noticing, but I didn’t like to interfere. You didn’t seem to be in any danger, but trust me, I would have come to your aid if I’d thought he was about to do anything inappropriate.”

To her astonishment, Buffy found her lips twitching. Of course she wasn’t going to smile! She would never smile again, she was quite certain of that. But she did just wonder exactly how this prim little Englishwoman, who seemed to be a bit older than her mom, would have dealt with a vampire who had killed more people than she had had hot dinners. Hit him with her purse, probably! “Well, that’s kind of you, but he’s gone now, so you won’t have to – come to my aid!”

Agnes shifted uncomfortably. She realised she didn’t feel comfortable in the Slayer’s presence. Which, of course, was only to be expected. If only she wasn’t dear Joyce’s daughter as well. But there was an air of desolation about this girl that worried her deeply. This wasn’t just the grief of a child who has lost her mother; this was something else, some other loss, some other burden. “So your friend has left? He isn’t staying in Sunnydale to help out?”

Buffy turned back to the grave and sank down on her knees, patting at the untidy clods of earth. “Oh no, he won’t stay in Sunnydale,” she said bitterly. “He’d like to – well, I think he would – but, jeez, that would mean having to put me before himself and I don’t think he knows how to do that. I mean, he knows I’m upset. That’s why he came. But he wants me to feel better now. People ask, ‘how are you?’, but they don’t really want to know. They just want you to say, ‘oh I’m OK.’ Then they can stop feeling bad themselves.”

“Oh, I see.”

“No, you don’t. But thank you for trying. Now, it’s getting late. Would you like me to walk you back to town? You can meet some very odd people after dark in Sunnydale.”

Agnes shook her head. “No, my dear. That’s quite all right. I shall be perfectly safe. There’s nothing in these woods that can harm me and I feel you should have just a few moments alone with your mother.”

The blonde girl looked up at her sharply. “But she isn’t here. She’s dead.”

Agnes shifted her handbag onto her other arm. It was beginning to feel extremely heavy and she was also very hungry. It was dreadful to admit it, but her face had moved – very slightly – when the Slayer looked up at her. It was that nice, white neck and all that lay beneath the skin. It made her stomach rumble. No, she needed a quiet spot to drink her packet of blood, away from prying eyes. But she couldn’t leave without replying to that last ridiculous remark.

“Being dead doesn’t mean you don’t know what’s going on in life,” she said firmly. “I am quite certain Joyce knows exactly how you feel and is desperately sorry for causing you such pain. Now, you sit quietly there and talk to your mother about it. She’ll always hear you, you know. Always.”
And with a smile, Agnes turned and headed back into the woods.

Buffy Summers realised that the smell of vampire had gone. So Angel had left. Gone back to L.A. She was completely on her own. She reached out her hands and plunged them into the earth. What had the funny little Englishwoman said? Speak to your mother? Tell her how you feel? That was crazy, something Willow or Tara would do. But if she couldn’t tell someone how she felt, she would die and there was only one person who would truly understand.

“Mommy - ?” Buffy said tentatively, and the first cleansing tear burnt its way onto her cheek.

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 12 : Buyer Beware

 

“That will be four dollars and fifty cents, please.” Agnes held out her hand, trying to smile pleasantly at the demon standing in front of her.

Green and black spittle flew from its mouths and the smell of very ripe cheese hung in the air, overwhelming the other smells coming from the garbage dump surrounding the tea-shop. “Who says?”

Agnes sighed. That was the trouble with Clenorax demons. They thought they had some god given right not to pay for anything in life. She had had trouble with this one before. Well – she peered closely into the maggot-infested section of skin that she thought was it’s face – she thought it was this one! “You have consumed three Bakewell tarts, two dozen cheese straws and several cups of tea. The sum total is four dollars and fifty cents.”

The Clenorax shook several tentacles at her. “You find the money on me and you can have it.”

The English vampire bit her lip. There was no way she could afford to let him get away with not paying. Once word got around that she could be cheated out of money, she would be put out of business. And takings had been good recently. There seemed to be an enormous number of demons in Sunnydale at the moment. She’d heard rumours that they were gathering, waiting for some big event to take place. But demons were like that. The gossip that went on was unbelievable. They were always expecting a new apocalypse to happen, the world to come to an end at two o’clock next Friday or when there was an R in the month and birds flew backwards.

In the years since she’d been a vampire, Agnes had decided that demons were incredibly gullible. They believed any nonsense circulating on the grapevine. That was why this Clenorax was in town, refusing to pay his bill. He’d heard there was big trouble ahead – something to do with that strange girl Glory whom Agnes had met - and wanted a front row seat to watch the action. Or some such nonsense.

Suddenly Agnes had had enough! What with dear Joyce’s funeral, meeting the Slayer, dealing with a drunken Spike and loosing a whole night’s business, she was not in the mood to turn the other cheek. Her Sweetheart had told her once a few years ago that a vampire never had to reach for a weapon, you had your fangs already to use. That was true, of course, although her Beloved hadn’t actually been a vampire and so didn’t realise that if you bit into a Clenorax, you got strands of filthy flesh between your teeth and no amount of mouthwash could rid you of the taste for weeks.

The demon laughed and turned away, chatting to his mates, obviously telling them that he had bested the silly tea-lady vampire. Agnes lost her temper completely. She was weary, her legs ached from standing for long hours and her shoes pinched her toes. And she hated to be laughed at. She’d hated it when she was a human – the sniggers from the girls in the office she’d worked in before she ran her tea-shop in Winchester - and she hated it just as much now. She vamped out, picked up the half empty tea-urn and, with a strength that still surprised her, flung the scalding contents at the Clenorax.

His howls filled her ears with delight and she watched him stagger off down the lanes between the rubbish, his friends trailing anxiously behind him. With a shimmer, her face changed once more and she immediately felt a wave of remorse. “Really, Agnes,” she murmured to herself, “that was a dreadful waste of tea!” She would have to hurry back to Willy’s and make some more. There were always late customers at dawn – vampires hurrying to get indoors before the sun rose, wanting a substantial snack – demons going home from a night playing poker who fancied a sugary Danish pastry.

“Need any help?” It was Spike, leaning against a pile of cardboard boxes, looking at her, eyebrow raised inquiringly.

“No, thank you,” Agnes replied. “I managed quite well.”

Spike grinned. “I could see you had everything under control, Aggie. Otherwise, I’d have stepped in.”

Agnes glanced up at him. He looked very much the worse for wear, his pale face whiter than usual, the lines around his mouth deep with grief. “You’ve been up to the cemetery to visit Joyce,” she said softly.

Spike shook his head and an odd expression crossed his face. If she hadn’t known better, Agnes would have said it was one of guilt. He reminded her of how the small boys back home in Winchester had looked when they came into the shop and scooped up a fingerful of cream from the top of a particularly luscious cake sitting on the counter when they thought no one was looking. “No, just hanging out with Dawn. Trying to help. Watching her back. She wanted – she thinks she can bring back – oh well – “ He shrugged. “It’s impossible. Never ever going to happen anyway, but it keeps her happy to try.”

Agnes was about to ask what on earth he was talking about, then realised she had more customers approaching. And no tea! “Look, Spike, I have to go back to Willy’s and make some more tea. Could you possibly look after the shop for me?”

Spike stared at her and the words Big Bad, Scourge of Europe and Slayer Killer trembled on his lips. But somehow what came out was “Can I kill them if they don’t pay?”

“Certainly not! These are customers, good customers. Just serve them what they want to eat and tell them if they want tea, it will be about fifteen minutes. I’ll run all the way.”

Agnes picked up the urn again, put it in the old shopping cart she used to carry her goods around and headed out of the dump, turning just once to call back – “And don’t eat all my profits!” As she scurried through the garbage, pushing the cart in front of her, she found herself wondering sadly if she would ever be able to afford to set herself up with proper premises. She knew exactly how much money she’d saved so far. It was all tucked away in a tin box under her bed, safely hidden under her winter knickers. Sometimes, when she was feeling sorry for herself, she took it out and counted the notes and coins. But although she added to them every week, Agnes knew she was years away yet from having enough to put a deposit on a small shop and pay monthly rent. But looking on the bright side, she thought, the one thing she did have was years. If she kept herself out of trouble and away from people like the Slayer, there was no reason she shouldn’t go on for a long time yet. And so perhaps her tea-shop wasn’t such a dream, after all.

Willy’s Bar was heaving with customers – most of whom were worse for drink. Agnes squeezed past them, down the passageway, ignoring invitations to partake in activities she wasn’t quite sure were physically possible, and into the sanctuary of her own little room.

The water seemed to take an age to boil and she knew it was well over fifteen minutes before the tea was made and she could load the urn back in the cart and head for the dump once more. At the corner of the road, she hesitated. It would be far quicker if she took a short cut down Revello Drive. But since Joyce had died, she’d promised herself never to go down that road again. There was always a chance of meeting the Slayer, coming or going, and Agnes had no doubts of the outcome of that meeting!

She glanced up at the sky and tried to sense the world around her. Dawn was hours away but everywhere was still and oddly quiet. Agnes felt uneasy. There should be some sounds: insects, a night bird calling, wind rustling in the trees. But there was nothing – just – silence. Almost against her will, she walked slowly down the road, peering at the houses as she passed. Everywhere was in darkness – except for Joyce’s house. Agnes paused outside. There was a light on downstairs. The Slayer and her sister were still up. “Poor little things,” Agnes thought. “I expect they’re finding it hard to sleep. They must be missing their mother so much.”

She could remember how she’d felt – that dreadful desire to shut your eyes and blot out the world and the knowledge that when you woke, for one moment you thought you’d had a nightmare, then the truth crashed in and everything was exactly the same. Your loved one was still gone and so you refused to go to sleep because the pain from that broken hope was almost unbearable.

Suddenly a strange odour swirled around her and the air became cold and dank. Agnes shuddered. If she’d been alive, she’d have said something was walking over her grave. Indeed, this smelt as if something had come up out of a grave! The smell grew ranker and now, to her horror, a dark, misshapen thing appeared on the sidewalk and shambled towards her as she stood outside the Slayer’s house. It was too dark to see it clearly, but Agnes knew one thing - the Summers girls were under attack and there was no one here to protect them – except her. Agnes had no problem with the Slayer dying, but she’d quite liked the child Dawn when she met her and anyway, Spike would be devastated if anything happened to either of them.

Agnes sighed and wondered what it took to breed such devotion in a man. Well, she would never know. But what she did realise was that whatever this – thing - was, it must not get inside the house.

The tea-urn was so heavy now, full of tea and almost beyond her strength, even when she vamped out. But somehow she managed to take off the lid and lift it out of the shopping cart. “Go away! Go back!” she whispered as the thing came closer. The smell made her sick and the very air around her seemed to shimmer and sway, as if some sort of magic was working its power. But the creature came on – it lifted its head and for one dreadful, shuddering moment, Agnes could see Joyce Summer’s eyes pleading with her from a face that was not a face, from flesh that was no longer flesh. And with a shock, Agnes knew. Someone had called Joyce out of her grave but she had come back wrong.

And even as Agnes realised what had happened, the magic in the air attacked the thing and for a second it seemed to vanish. But then it returned, stronger than ever and this time the vampire could see Joyce’s mouth, see the words “Help Me!” forming through death and horror.

For the second time that night, boiling tea soared up in a brown, glistening arch and smashed down on a grotesque thing in front of Agnes. But this time there was over a gallon of liquid and the heat was enough to send the thing back to wherever it had crawled from.

Agnes stood very still, aware that her legs were shaking. She could hear little insects in the undergrowth, a bird murmuring somewhere close by. The air was sweet and smelt of wild flowers. And as she looked, the light downstairs in the Summers’ house went out.

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: Quiz Time.

 

There is, Agnes decided, nothing in the world quite so wonderful as taking off shoes that pinch your toes and putting on a nice pair of fluffy slippers. Especially when you’ve been standing on said pinched toes for the past few hours, selling cakes, tea and various savouries to the local demon and vampire residents of Sunnydale. Now it was seven in the morning, the curtains were tightly drawn against the rising sun and she was snuggled up in her armchair, a mug of hot chocolate at her side and a plate of only just stale iced fancies that wouldn’t go through another day until the evening.

Agnes sighed in contentment. She had made quite good money that evening, she was alive, comfortable and in half an hour she would make some dough for bread tomorrow, go to bed and sleep the day away. From under her chair she pulled out the favourite magazine she’d been saving, picked up a pencil and took the first sip of her chocolate that she’d laced with a little pig blood. Bliss!

The knocking at the door shattered the silence and she didn’t even get a chance to say, “Who is it?” before Spike was in the room, flinging himself down on her bed – rucking up the coverlet as he did so! – and peering hopefully at her drink. Agnes sighed and handed him the mug.

“My TV’s broken. I’ll need to nick another one tomorrow.”

“Doesn’t that demon Barry usually mend televisions?”

Spike nodded gloomily. “He’s visiting his mother-in-law up in Washington. He won’t be back for weeks. I’ve asked around but there’s no one – you’d think out of all the people turned during the last month, one of them would be a bloody television engineer, wouldn’t you? I’ve tried hitting it.”

Agnes sucked the end of her pencil. “Yes, I’ve heard that does work sometimes.”

Spike glowered. “I’ve ended up with lots of bits! I sort of smashed it. That’s why I need to nick another one.”

Agnes pretended she hadn’t heard. She’d found recently that that was the best policy where Spike was concerned. He was in such an odd mood. She knew he’d been upset by Joyce Summer’s death: indeed, she felt it had hit him harder than he would ever say. Of course it was all mixed up with the feelings he had for the Slayer girl, but it wasn’t just that. Agnes knew Spike had been genuinely fond of Joyce. If she’d been killed by a demon, or even turned by a vamp, he could have avenged her death and it would have helped. But you couldn’t avenge a natural death. You couldn’t kill God. She cast a swift glance across the room at him. He’d finished her drink and was trying to balance the mug on the end of one finger. He looked – she searched for a word – jittery. “How are your friends? How are the Slayer and her sister?”

Spike tossed the mug in the air and caught it one handed. “No idea! Not good, I suppose. But no one bloody well tells me anything. I see their little gang of friends coming and going from the house. They’re all het up over that Glory creature.”

Agnes nodded, frowning. She remembered her meeting with Glory – the power – the malice – the complete lack of understanding she’d sensed in the younger woman. How would Buffy cope with her?

“Apparently she’s not a demon, she’s a god,” Spike muttered.

“A god?”

“So they say. Everyone’s all “oh she’s a god, what are we going to do, how are we going to beat her?” Just kill the bitch, I say and let’s get back to normal.”

“I met her once.”

The mug crashed to the floor, smashing into bits. Spike swung his feet off the bed and stared at the dumpy little figure sitting opposite him. “Bloody hell, Aggie. You never told me. Did she – look, if she hurt you – ”

Agnes waved a hand. “Oh, hardly at all. Nothing for you to get concerned about. But she’s dangerous, Spike. Buffy and Dawn need to be very careful. She’s desperate to find what she calls her Key – which, from what you’ve told me, is Dawn herself!”

“Niblet will be OK. She’s got enough people looking out for her. Surrounded by friends. A nice tight little group. They’re all so reluctant to make room for anyone new. There’s a girl called Tara who’s taken up with one of Buffy’s friends - the one who’s a witch. Poor cow is allowed to stand around on the edge of the group but she’ll never be part of the gang. Never in a million years.”

Agnes picked up her magazine. She could tell from his voice that Spike wasn’t just talking about the girl called Tara. He was thinking about himself. But why would he want to be part of a group of Unturneds? It wasn’t natural. You could make friends with them, of course you could, but it wasn’t like being with one of your own kind. Not that she had anything against humans. She’d liked Joyce very much and, if she was honest, she had a soft spot for the gentleman who ran the Magic Box shop. He had such a lovely voice. But Spike wanted to be more than casual friends with this group of Unturneds; he wanted to belong. Was it just because of his feelings for the Slayer? Did he really have no one of his own, a nice vampire girl, to love and take care of? He seemed dreadfully alone.

“Have an iced fancy,” she said suddenly, offering him the plate. “I made the sugar topping with blood. It’s come out quite well.” She watched as he grinned and surreptitiously took two when he thought she wasn’t looking.

Spike munched happily through the blood icing. Aggie was a funny old duck, but sodding hell, could she cook! He wondered if he could arrange for her to teach Buffy. He had a pretty good idea that the Slayer wasn’t going to be providing good wholesome meals for her little sis in the months to come.

But Buffy and her Scoobies weren’t going to pay any attention to what he suggested. He hated this feeling of being shut out, even though he didn’t want to belong to their stupid gang. It reminded him of watching Liam, Dru and Darla whispering together; of being a fourth at a table that was permanently set for three. Still, if that Warren geek came through with the project, he wouldn’t be on his own for long. He’d have his own little gang, and one who would do exactly what he wanted….

“What are you reading?” he asked suddenly, chasing a pink crumb of sugar along his lips with his tongue and knowing he had to move before his thoughts were mirrored by his body in front of Agnes.

Agnes sighed. Her lovely peaceful morning was shattered. She might as well give in. “It’s just a magazine. I was about to do this personality quiz. See – they ask you questions and you tick the box that applies to you and then at the back of the magazine you find the scores. It’s very scientific. Look, it says here it was written by a doctor.”

Spike picked up the pencil and peered at the little boxes. “You find a ten dollar bill on the sidewalk. Do you a) keep it, b) give it to charity or c) hand it in to the police? That’s easy. You keep it. What else would you do with it?”

Agnes held her tongue. She didn’t think that was quite the right answer.

“Hey, this is a load of bollocks. Listen – “Your neighbours are holding a noisy party. Do you a) bang on the wall, b) go round and politely ask if they could turn the volume down or c) call the police. I’d go round and kill the lot of them! Do you mean people get paid for writing these?”

Agnes nodded and left him scribbling away while she made dough for bread rolls and left it to rise against the hot water pipe. She finished washing up and turned to find Spike stretched out on her bed, fast asleep. The magazine had slid from his hand and Agnes rescued it before it could fall on his face and wake him. He was frowning in his sleep and she didn’t think his dreams were very happy, but at least he was getting some rest.

With a sigh she pulled the coverlet over him and settled herself down in her chair. She could sleep anywhere; it was a trick you learnt very quickly when you were turned. She glanced down at the quiz and as she read through the questions and answers, she realised tears were burning her eyes.

Spike had decided he was romantic, good-looking, a people person, good-natured, generous and a great lover. She knew it was only a silly game, but the final question had been “Are you happy? The answers were a) always, b) sometimes and c) never. Across the page Spike had scrawled, “Only when I’m with Buffy.”

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 14 : Rose-coloured Spectacles

 

Agnes was dreaming – she was home in England, sitting in her little garden, under an apple tree that was in full, glorious blossom. Somewhere a bird was singing and a breeze touched her cheek like a kiss. She raised her face to the sun and then, even in her sleep, automatically flinched and ducked for cover. She woke instantly, the blankets pulled over her head, every sense alert. There was someone in her room! She pushed the sheet down and peered over the edge, and before she could stop herself, she let out a small squeak. The Slayer was standing in the middle of her room, gazing round, hands on hips, her eyes wide and curious. The Slayer! Here, in her room! Agnes knew that meant she was going to die – again.

“Hello!” The blonde hair swung enthusiastically as the slender girl turned and stared down at Agnes.

Agnes scrunched herself up into the corner of the bed closest to the wall. She really didn’t want to die today. She was making a birthday cake for a little demon boy in the shape of a human skull and she knew the child would be so disappointed if it didn’t appear. “Er, hello. It’s Buffy, isn’t it?”

“Yes, that is correct. My name is Buffy. Have you seen my boyfriend, Spike? I am looking for Spike. It is most urgent that I find him.”

“Spike? Um, no, not today – I mean, this evening – I mean –” Agnes looked up at the window. It was darkish outside. The sun had set and it was the time she would normally start getting ready for her night’s work at the tearoom.

“He went out. He told me to stay indoors, but he is my lover and I need to be with him.”

“Your lover?” Agnes let the sheet drop from her fingers. For all her terror, she felt surprised and a little angry. She had no idea that their relationship had developed so quickly. It was only a few days ago when Spike had been pining all over the place about how lonely he was. Now he and the Slayer were – lovers! She shivered. There was something extremely unpleasant about that thought.

“I have sex with Spike. He has sex with me. We do lots of fun things to each other. Would you like me to list them for you?”

Agnes wondered if she could ask to be staked instead. It wasn’t that she was a prude – she had Known Love, although admittedly it had been supremely chaste – but she also believed that sex was a private matter and not to be discussed out loud. “No, thank you. I’m sure you’ve got lots more interesting things to do.”

“No.” The girl suddenly swooped towards the bed and Agnes shut her eyes tight, hoping it wouldn’t hurt. Then she felt the bed give way and opened one eye slightly to find Buffy sitting cross-legged, leaning against the footboard, staring at her. “Are you Spike’s mother?”

“I beg your pardon!” Agnes was mortified.

“You look extremely old and you are a vampire. I have no input as to whom you are, but as an older woman he talks about and visits, it is logical that you are his mother. Or perhaps an aunt? I understand about family relationships.”

Agnes bit her lip and reached up swiftly to pull the giant pink rollers out of her hair. She knew she never appeared at her best in the early evening, but surely she didn’t look old enough to be Spike’s mother. “You know perfectly well that I’m a vampire, young lady, and no, I am not Spike’s parent or aunt. The very idea!”

The Slayer reached forward, smiled brightly and patted Agnes’ hand, ignoring the way the older woman flinched from her touch. “Don’t be angry, elderly vampire lady. Being a mother is a good thing. Mothers have very high scores in my brain.”

Agnes hardly heard her. There was something very odd about the Slayer. Not just that she was sitting on her bed, chatting, no, it was more than that. Agnes knew that compared to lots of vampires she had met, her skills and abilities were not highly developed. She’d never found the time to study being a vampire. She’d been too busy surviving and making a living. But one thing she was sure of – when you were close to a human you could sense the pulse; almost hear the blood pumping through their veins. You could see the movement of that precious liquid under their skin, especially in their neck.

And with a shock, Agnes realised this Slayer had no pulse. Whatever she was, she wasn’t human! Moving slowly, because even if this wasn’t the Slayer, it might still be dangerous, Agnes swung her legs out of bed and sat on the edge. “Have you known Spike long?”

The Slayer tilted her head for an instant and Agnes had the oddest impression of wheels turning behind her bright eyes. “Spike loves me, I love Spike,” she replied happily. “Where is Spike? Have you seen him?”

Agnes was about to reply that he would be found quicker if Buffy went and looked for him when her door opened and Spike strode in. “Bloody Hell! There you are. I thought I told you to stay in the crypt?”

“Spike! You found me!” With a squeal of joy, the Buffy creature flung herself at the vampire, wrapping her arms round his neck and kissing him frantically. After a long minute, he pushed her away and let her nestle against his chest, making cooing noises. He grinned at Agnes over the top of the blonde head, then slowly his expression changed as he saw the look on her face.

“What’s the matter? It’s just a robot. If I can’t have the real Slayer, then I’ll have a better one - who does exactly what I want and likes me, too. And that’s more than Buffy Summers does.”

“How did she get into my room?”

Spike looked slightly ashamed. “I had your key in my pocket. I think she must have nicked it. Sorry!”

“But what if she had been the real Buffy Summers,” Agnes whispered. “I could have died in my sleep. How could you be so careless – ?”

“My name is Buffy Summers. I’m – ”

“Ssshhh, pet. Be quiet until I tell you to speak.”

Agnes struggled to find the words she wanted. This was Spike, her best friend in the whole world. She wanted him to be happy, she didn’t want to lose that friendship. But – this ‘thing’ he’d had made for him. That was so wrong and Agnes knew that there was no way she could condone it.
“I don’t think it’s very nice.”

“Not very nice!” Spike repeated, tauntingly echoing her accent. “Come on, Aggie. I’m the Big Bad, an evil creature. When did I have to be nice?”

Agnes bit her lip at the sarcasm and pain in his voice. Oh, it would be so easy to laugh, give in, agree with him. She found herself wavering, then took a deep breath. “It’s wrong, making something like that. A thing to love you, to have sex with. Just because we’re vampires, doesn’t mean we have to – ”

“Don’t tell me you think we have to act like little ladies and gentlemen! It’s a bloody toy, Aggie. That’s all. She’s made to love me. What’s wrong with that? Haven’t you ever wanted someone to love you? Oh no, I forgot. You’re far too la-di-dah and ladylike to think about love, aren’t you?”

Agnes dug her nails into her palms so deeply that she had little crescents cut in the skin for weeks. She wanted to cry but her eyes felt dry and hard. This sneering Spike was the side of her friend she had refused to accept existed – until now. She realised she had always tended to look at him through rose-coloured spectacles, not acknowledging the demon that could still rule him so effortlessly when he let it.

“I do know about love,” she said quietly. “I also know that I’d rather never be loved at all than accept it from something just because it’s programmed to do so. I think it’s called having some self-respect, Spike.”

The vampire tightened his hold on the robot, anger flooding through his body. How dare the silly old trout lecture him about self-respect! She’d never loved someone so much it hurt, been reviled and shut out, known that whatever you did, it was never, ever, enough.

And under his anger, one clear voice whispered, “But she’s right.” Spike shook his head: he didn’t want to listen. He wanted to be evil again, be William the Bloody, up to no good, cutting a swathe through humankind. And he never would. Until the chip was removed, he would continue on in this half-life, loving a girl who thought he was disgusting, who pitied him so much she wouldn’t even dust him in fair fight.

“I’ve got enough self-respect not to spend my time cooking bloody biscuits for bloody demons. You need to learn to be a proper vamp, Aggie. Forget your hoity-toity, approach to life and join the rest of us down in the gutter.”

Agnes sat up very straight on the edge of the bed, an incongruous figure in her high-necked, long-sleeved floral nightie, her fair hair still in the big sausage shapes where the rollers had been overnight. “I’m sorry you have such a bad opinion of me. I don’t want to argue with you, so I think you’d better go, Spike. And take that poor thing with you.”

The robot turned her head and smiled. She hadn’t uttered a word since Spike had told her not to speak.

“Oh, I will. Don’t you worry.” He strode to the door, one arm still locked round the girl’s waist. “We’ve got things to do.”

“Spike!” Agnes tried not to let the anguish she was feeling show in her voice. “That thing – that Buffy – it might be made to love you, but it’s still love. So I imagine it can feel loss, pain, betrayal, as well. Don’t – don’t hurt it.”

Spike turned in the doorway, trying to think of a cutting comment. How could he hurt a robot, for God’s sake? For a second he felt sick at the sight of his friend sitting, small, plump and angry, then he pushed the feeling away. He didn’t need friends. He was the Big Bad. He was evil. He had his robot Buffy and she loved him. Well, that was enough. He could never imagine doing anything that could make the real Slayer soften her feelings towards him.

The door slammed shut behind him; Agnes still didn’t move. She realised she was shivering but couldn’t find the energy to get dressed. So, that was that. Her friendship with Spike was over. Well, he obviously wouldn’t miss her as much as she would miss him. Could she have done or said anything different? She knew she would lie awake once dawn came and weary her brain with that question. A single tear ran down her cheek and plopped onto her hand. The urge to get back into bed, pull the covers over her head and have a good cry was overwhelming. But that luxury was an option for vampires who didn’t have to earn their own living.

Slowly Agnes stood up and began to gather together her baking utensils. She had a birthday cake to bake and a skull was a difficult subject to get right because of the shape. She would concentrate hard and perhaps she would forget the last few minutes. Perhaps. She just wished she didn’t feel so very, very wretched.

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 15 “Have Cakes – Will Travel”

 

Business was brisk this evening – Agnes shifted wearily on tired, aching feet and sold the last of the spicy cheese straws that several demons enjoyed. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had so many customers. Vampire and demon activity in Sunnydale seemed to have increased tenfold over the last few days. There was a strange atmosphere in town: it was as if the air itself was thicker, darker, even though - if Agnes was to believe the gossip! – the sun shone just as brightly during the day. But even at night, the moon seemed to struggle to illuminate the earth. She’d also noticed that the little birds were absent – the ones she fed every evening with the stale crumbs from her storage boxes.

She’d picked up on all the rumours, of course – Apocalypse, hell gods, end of the world, great fun, are you coming?, there’s going to be a party. Several demons had asked for picnic boxes for when the day finally arrived. They wanted a front row seat but didn’t see any reason to go hungry during the big event.

But Agnes wasn’t really concentrating. It meant nothing to her, except that she was earning a decent sum of money for once and her savings were growing nicely. Spike hadn’t visited the tea-stall for some days now and that had left her feeling sad and bereft. She’d seen him. Oh yes. She bit her lip at the memory and crashed two plates together so hard they cracked. The grapevine had been very busy one evening, letting her know that Spike had been in a fight and had come off second best. She hadn’t even stopped to think – she’d just picked up her First Aid Box and hurried through the tunnels to the lower cavern of his crypt. Now she felt a wave of embarrassment sweep over her. How silly and naive she’d been, climbing the ladder, all ready to dole out help and advice, to assure him they were still friends and she would nurse him back to health.

But of course he hadn’t been alone. As she’d peered up through the entrance to the top cavern, she’d seen the Slayer there. The real Slayer, not the robot. And the Slayer was kissing Spike, so obviously they had made up their argument and there was no way Agnes was going to play gooseberry. She’d almost fallen down the ladder in her haste to get away, but was quite sure that the two people in the room above were far too absorbed in each other to hear her.

When she’d got back to the safety of her little room behind Willy’s Bar, she’d tried to work out why she was so upset. She knew she should be pleased for Spike if the Slayer was at long last being nice to him. But – and Agnes struggled to be fair – she didn’t trust Buffy Summers! Oh, not because she was the Slayer, obviously the young girl would stake Agnes in the blink of an eye, and that was fine because that was what Slayers did. No, it was the girl herself whom Agnes didn’t trust. She’d seen her after Joyce’s funeral with that tall, dark haired vampire and they’d looked very – intimate. Agnes had the nasty feeling that she could hurt Spike very badly indeed.

She sighed. She missed Spike; missed her friend, the English accent, the memories of home, shared backgrounds and culture. It wasn’t that she didn’t like American vampires and demons. Of course she did. She’d met some very nice people over the past few years, and one in particular she had loved. But there was no denying the fact that they were foreigners and looked at life – and death – in a slightly different way. And none of them had even heard of The Archers on the radio! Spike could tell her all the latest goings on in Ambridge although she had no idea where he discovered the information.

Oh, how she missed The Archers. Every Sunday morning, sitting in her kitchen, after the early church service, the sun streaming through the window, listening to the omnibus edition of the everyday story of country folk, breakfasting on hot buttered toast and cups of very hot tea. “Tum te tum, te tum te tum, tum te tum te tum tum – oh, I do beg your pardon!” She realised an extremely fat demon was standing at the counter, looking plaintively at her and wincing as she hummed the signature tune to her favourite programme.

“I’ve come to settle my debt.”

Agnes peered up at him. Buried in the folds of bright orange fat were three very red eyes and she remembered now. A couple of weeks before, she’d made this demon a vast iced cake, three tiers high, covered in purple icing and flavoured with spinach and aniseed. Not the nicest tasting cake in the world, she had to admit, but the demon had loved it. Sadly, he’d eaten it all in one sitting, fallen off his chair and had to be carried away by his friends before paying her for the cake. “How very kind of you to remember,” she said with a warm smile. There! If you trusted in the good in people, they came up trumps.

“I have no money.”

“Oh.” Agnes’s belief in the good in people took a turn for the worse.

“But Benzdotas always pay their debts. Otherwise your men have the right to kill and eat me.”

“Oh. How - tidy.” Agnes didn’t think it was particular wise to tell him that she had no ‘men’ in her life.

“So – I give you this.” A hand appeared and he dropped a set of keys onto the counter.

“A car?” Agnes picked them up, confused. No one gave away a car in payment for a cake.

“Not a car!”

“No, no, of course not.” She was beginning to get flustered. She was sure these were car keys, but perhaps she was wrong.

“It’s parked outside Willy’s Bar.”

Agnes couldn’t wait to get home. She begrudged every cake and cup of tea she sold and finally pushed her shopping cart through the garbage dump so fast that she found herself half lying across it, her feet off the ground. She rounded the final bend and then gasped. There, outlined against the pale dawn sky, stood her very own – well, it was a sort of camper van. She’d seen them around Sunnydale many times. Admittedly it was a little elderly and - as she opened the door, shuddering at the smell of unwashed demon – a little frowsty, but nothing a good bucket of hot water and green soap wouldn’t cure.

As she ran her hand gently across the seats, the first seeds of a great idea began to form in her head, an idea so tremendous that she had to sit down because her legs were shaking. She could live in this van! It could be her home. Agnes blinked away tears at the thought of getting out of Willy’s back room. A real home of her own. She could take driving lessons – admittedly this was not yet a skill she had at her fingertips but how hard could it be? – and then she could drive to the dump every evening. Or – another wonderful vista opened up in front of her and a little squeak escaped her. She could become mobile! Like the library at home that trundled around the Hampshire villages every week. But instead of books, she could sell cakes and hot drinks and savoury snacks. A mobile van! A new home and a business opportunity all rolled into one.

Cautiously, she sat in the driving seat. She would have to get used to it being on the wrong side, but she’d lived in American long enough for it not to worry her any more. Timidly, she stroked the wheel. “I think I’ll call you Esmeralda,” she said softly and for the first time in months, she felt happy.

Agnes lay awake all that day, plans circling her brain in glorious technicolour. There was so much to do and think about. She was going to have such fun! She would have a sign painted on the side of the van – “Have Cakes, Will Travel” was her favourite at the moment.

Knowing she would never sleep, Agnes got up early, rushed through her cooking and then stood, under the shelter of her umbrella, gazing in fond pride at Esmeralda. Suddenly, the back door to Willy’s Bar opened and Spike was standing there. “Bloody hell, Agnes. I heard you’ve got wheels!”

Agnes turned, her face joyous. “She’s called Esmeralda! She’s going to change my life.”

Spike stared at a happiness he’d never seen before, closed his eyes briefly, then said hoarsely, “Aggie, I need to borrow it.”

“Borrow Esmeralda?”

Spike took a step forward and she could see the pain and worry etched on a face that was still showing signs of the beating he’d taken recently. “I wouldn’t ask – well, I’d just take it – but – Agnes, this is very important. I need transport.”

Agnes stared at him, watching as her dreams shrivelled up and floated away. “Really important?”

He nodded. “Life and death. End of the world stuff. You’re the only person who can help. I knew when I heard about the van that I could rely on you.”

The little English woman lifted her chin and squared her shoulders, even though the umbrella was shaking in her grasp. This was what friendship was all about, of course, she thought. Not just sharing the good times, or listening to the same radio programmes, watching the same television shows, even arguing together. Friendship was giving up a dream because your friend needed you to.

She didn’t watch as Spike drove Esmeralda away. She knew she would never see the van again. She lowered the umbrella, trying to stop her fingers from shaking. This pain would pass. Death would go on. She would cook and bake and serve the vampires and demons just as before. No one had died. Well, as she was dead already, she couldn’t!

As she opened the door she heard another vehicle drive up and turned to see a long black limousine pulling alongside her. A tall, thin man got out. He was wearing a dark suit, pristine white shirt, sober tie and Agnes nodded improvingly because his shoes were polished to a high, black shine. She was impressed. Willy didn’t usually get such distinguished visitors.

“Miss Agnes Pringle? You’re a hard lady to find.”

Agnes shivered. She didn’t recognise the man, but she knew one thing for sure. Whoever he was, he spelt trouble.

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

A Cottage in the Country

 

Agnes smoothed her skirt down over her knees and gazed nervously at the man sitting opposite her. He had politely accepted a cup of tea and she’d served it in one of her best china teacups. His dark gaze met hers over the brim of the cup and he smiled. “Delightful drink. I appreciate it, Miss Pringle. It is a dry drive from Los Angeles.”

“Should I take something out for your chauffeur?”

“Oh no! He doesn’t – well, let us put it this way. His tastes run for substances you probably do not have in your – ” he gazed round the room, his expression never changing – “ quaint little premises.”

Agnes sat up straighter, wishing she didn’t feel quite so much as if she was sitting in front of her old headmistress, about to be punished for some misdemeanour. “This is my home,” she said softly. “And although you know my name, I’m afraid I didn’t catch yours.”

The dark haired man carefully put the cup back on its saucer. He pulled a sheaf of papers from his briefcase – and Agnes felt a slight queasiness when she realised exactly what sort of skin it was made from – and lined them up in front of him. “I didn’t give one. But here is my card.” He produced a small white square and Agnes took it gingerly, aware of the odd smell coming from her visitor. So not vampire, not demon but definitely not human.

“Wolfram & Hart, Los Angeles Branch. Mr Nicholas Elder. How do you do, Mr Elder?”

“I do extremely well, thank you, Miss Pringle. Now, after the welcome tea, perhaps we can move on to what brings me to Sunnydale.”

Agnes nodded nervously and gulped. Could there be some demon law she’d broken? Did she perhaps need a licence to sell cakes to vampires? It didn’t seem likely, but she would be mortified if she discovered she’d been a criminal all these years!

“You are Miss Agnes Kathleen Pringle, formerly of Winchester, England?”

“Yes.” Her voice had become a mere whisper and she wished will all her might that Spike was somewhere nearby. But he wasn’t. He’d driven off in her old van without a backward glance. Gone to save the world, or the Slayer. She wasn’t exactly sure. But it had obviously been important.

“Do you have any proof of your identity? A passport, perhaps? An old driving licence?”

“No. My handbag was stolen several years ago in Hollywood when I was – “

“Turned. Yes, we are quite aware that you are of the vampire persuasion, Miss Pringle.”

“Not by choice. It Wasn’t My Fault.”

Mr Elder raised an eyebrow. “I don’t imagine there are too many people who become one voluntarily, although I suppose I can think of a couple – but that is by the by – I must not digress and take up any more of your valuable time than is necessary.”

“Have I done something wrong?”

“Wrong?” Mr Elder sounded puzzled, as if he didn’t quite understand the meaning of the word, his eyes very black in his pale face. “This is not about anything you have done, Miss Pringle – or may I call you Agnes? Oh no, I am here because we, at Wolfram and Hart, have strict instructions regarding you.”

“Me?”

Mr Elder sighed and consulted his notes. He blinked and pulled a pair of spectacles from his pocket. “I have here a document, signed and sealed with the seven blood oaths, which as you know, includes the actual blood of seven species and so is binding throughout the whole demon world. Would you care to read it?”

Agnes shook her head, staring at the sheets of heavy cream paper as if hypnotised. “No, just tell me what it says. Wait – ” She took a deep breath and pulled her faithful cardigan tighter around her shoulders. There was something about Mr Elder’s expression that she found extremely alarming. She had the oddest feeling that she was standing at a crossroads and that at any moment now she would have to choose which way to go. “Please continue,” she managed at last.

Mr Elder cleared his throat. “It states here – and do stop me if I am reading too fast –

‘If I should in any way cease to exist in this universe and be unable to contact my lawyers, Wolfram and Hart, the following instructions must be carried out. Failure to do so will result in the listed punishments - Appendix A, sub section 1.

‘I trust that I shall soon be in a position to rule the known world, but as I have always said, a stitch in time saves nine and there’s many a slip between cup and lip and so I am making sure the said Miss Agnes Kathleen Pringle is taken care of in the unlikely event of my being unable to do so myself.’”

Mr Elder stopped reading and glanced at her over the rim of his glasses. “Our client was always a little, shall we say verbose, but we were honour-bound to write down exactly what he wanted.” He smiled reminiscently and Agnes could see that his shining white teeth were all pointed. She had never met anything quite as terrifying as Mr Elder in all her years as a vampire.

“And we were all extremely scared, too, I remember! Terrified, in fact. Well, well, I will continue – ‘Apocalypses are like taxis, you wait for one and then two come along together. Wherever and whatever Agnes is doing when the next one arrives, I instruct Wolfram and Hart to find her and make available to said Agnes Kathleen Pringle the means of leaving America and returning to England where a cottage in the country should be purchased for her, preferably in a deep wooded area. Cost of cottage should not exceed amount stated in Appendix A, sub section 2. I am also leaving a substantial amount of money – see Appendix A, sub section 3 – which I trust she will accept in the spirit in which it is given. That is – love.’”

Agnes tried not to squeal, but it was very difficult.

Mr Elder frowned and went on, speaking faster and faster, “‘I would like to take this opportunity of thanking Agnes for her friendship, for her companionship and her recipe for genuine Yorkshire pudding. I hereby forgive her for not agreeing to marry me, but hope she will always remember the happy times we spent together playing Scrabble. I hope that one day she will learn to play golf and she must never feel regret for the priceless chandelier she smashed when I was attempting to show her how to chip out of a bunker.

‘Wherever and whatever I am, I want her to know I will always be watching over her.

‘Signed in the blood of seven unwilling species, Richard Wilkins III.’”

Mr Elder shuffled the papers together and slipped them into a folder. “There is also a private letter, addressed to you from Mayor Wilkins.” He handed her an envelope and Agnes felt her heart flip as she looked down at the neat, black, upright handwriting spelling out her name.

“Do you have a bank account, dear lady? No, I didn’t think so. Well, well. That much cash could be inconvenient. Paper is so heavy. I will have a word locally. I’m sure a note from my Head Office will smooth away any difficulties you might have in that direction.” He glanced at Agnes and frowned. “Oh dear, you seem very pale. May I get you a glass of water, perhaps? Or a little blood? My wrist is perfectly clean, if you wish to imbibe, feel free to do so.”

Agnes shook her head, speechless.

“I do understand that news like this can come as a shock. We would have liked to have given you more warning, but we didn’t realise this particular Apocalypse was so close. Right – “ He stood up, towering over the plump little vampire. “Here is a plane ticket for London – a private jet will fly you out of Sunnydale directly to England. A limousine will meet you at the airport. Please don’t worry – we have friends on the ground who will deal with the officialdom. The cottage has been purchased in your name. We chose the New Forest in Hampshire as a suitable site as that will give you easy access to some large towns should you need to – well – feed.”

Mr Elder lifted his head and sniffed the air and all Agnes could see was a great bird of prey searching for its kill. “Yes, I think you only have a day or so left here. The Key is found. The end is near. America will fall. What fun it will be! A pity you cannot be around to see it, but Mayor Wilkins was quite explicit about that and we would hate to offend him – wherever he is!” He picked up his briefcase and strode to the door. “It has been delightful to meet you, Miss Agnes Kathleen Pringle. Delightful. Who knows, one day our paths may cross again. Death has a way of bringing together the strangest of bedfellows. No, please do not get up. I can see myself out.”

He paused in the doorway and looked back at her – a dumpy little vampire with a face that had once perhaps been pretty. There were a thousand questions he wanted to ask – starting with “What in all the dominions of heaven and hell did Richard Wilkins see in you?” But she raised steady grey eyes to his and for the first time in a million millennia, Mr Nicholas Elder felt the slightest touch of shame. And left.

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 17 : No Looking Back

 

Agnes Pringle snapped shut her shabby black handbag and took a last look round the little room that had been her home for so long. Small and cramped it might be – and the noise from the drinkers in Willy’s Bar was a distinct disadvantage – but she’d been happy here.

“Now Agnes, no looking back!” she told herself firmly. “Dear Richard has made it possible for you to continue your journey elsewhere. He wouldn’t want you to be downcast about leaving Sunnydale and going back to England.”

She bent down to check under her bed, wondering whom Willy would find to live here when she had gone. She’d paid him an additional three months rent because you never knew what the future held in store. Agnes was quite certain that the cottage in the New Forest area of Hampshire back home in England would be lovely. She could see it in her mind’s eye, thatched with blue paint on the window frames and a yellow rose rambling across the front porch.

She sighed and clambered to her feet. Yes, the cottage would be wonderful and she’d been assured that it was set in deep woods, which would make it shaded and dark inside. Absolutely perfect.

But – Agnes had no intention of burning all her bridges until she had settled herself back in England. It had been some considerable time since she’d been there. She was sure life would have moved on and although she was not and never would be American, she had come to enjoy a much freer way of life over here in California. She was worried about fitting into the local vampire community. Did they have a lot of rules and regulations? There was sure to be all sorts of local by-laws that she would have to learn. English village life could be very confusing to an outsider, and by that Agnes meant anyone who hadn’t lived in the village for the past three hundred years.

And then there was the fact that she would be leaving her friends here. All her customers whose likes and dislikes she now knew so well: the demons who couldn’t eat nuts, the ones who enjoyed steak and kidney pudding as long as the steak and kidney were fresh that day and not cooked and the vampires who loved the blood she added to her iced fancies.

Admittedly she didn’t have too many lady friends. That was odd, she mused, as she combed her hair and pinned her hat firmly onto her fluffy curls. Joyce Summers had sadly died, of course, and she’d been a human anyway. The Unturned were difficult at the best of times – you never knew how they were going to react - although Joyce had seemed extremely unprejudiced. No, most of her friends were men. There was dear Clement who dropped in for tea and chocolate biscuits most evenings on his way to his poker match. Agnes sighed. She had done her best to wean Clement away from the devil cards, but to no avail. Still, and she brightened at the thought, he assured her they didn’t play for money, so it wasn’t like real gambling at all.

A thunderous hammering outside drew Agnes to the window and she peered out into the early evening sky. In the distance was the vast wooden tower that was being built in the middle of Sunnydale. She shuddered: the oddest individuals were busy constructing this ramshackle affair. It looked as if a good gust of wind would send it crashing to the ground and an air of malevolence hung over the whole area. She would be glad to be out of Sunnydale when whatever was going to happen started.

She wondered how Richard had known the time would come when it would be better to be out of town. She’d loved him so very much, but – in her heart of hearts she had known he wasn’t for her. She recalled the day he had asked her to marry him. It had been so romantic – a dark little restaurant, run by two sweet demons called Jason and Marcus. Her blood had been served at room temperature in a silver goblet and she hadn’t had to cook any of the meal!

Richard had held her hand, explained that two people in their middle years could give each other comfort and companionship. He would take care of her – always – and she played a mean game of Scrabble, which would help pass the long evenings.

So why hadn’t she said yes? Agnes stared out at the darkening sky, the great black clouds shutting out the stars. Most people would say she was a silly little woman, throwing away a man like Richard Wilkins III. But – she sighed heavily – all her life she’d wanted to come first with someone, to be loved completely and utterly before everyone else. In the romances she read so avidly there was always a dark stranger who rescued the heroine from some dreadful plight. Usually he was rich and she was poor and he whisked her away to life of untold luxury.

Of course these were stories for Unturned people but she could still remember that in all of them, the love they shared had never been shared before. The heroine was the only person the hero ever wanted and it was that love that Agnes longed for. Oh, it was a silly, girlish dream, but Agnes knew she had come second at best and usually third, in all her friendships in life and now she was dead, she didn’t want to repeat the pattern. Richard had loved his wife to distraction right up to her death; Agnes sensed he didn’t love her in the same way. Once again she would be settling for second-best and suddenly, it wasn’t enough.

And – she had to admit – there was something about Richard Wilkins that made her uneasy. He was a powerful man, a demon destined for great things, she was sure. So why was it that when he held her hand, his fingers felt colder than her own dead skin?

So she had said no. Politely, because there was no need to throw a demon’s proposal back in his face. He hadn’t understood, of course. He had been – well, annoyed wasn’t a strong enough word. Disbelieving, furious, then horribly friendly and calm. Agnes had preferred him when he was angry.

He had bombarded her with gifts, refusing to accept her decision and then, just when she’d thought she would have to leave Los Angeles, Richard had moved away himself and become Mayor of Sunnydale. She had lost touch with him for a year or two, then received an invitation, pleading with her to attend a ceremony he was holding at the high school. He wanted her to meet someone very dear to him, someone who needed an older woman’s guidance: a girl called Faith. Agnes had been flattered and although she had misgivings, there was nothing in the letter recalling his wild obsession so she’d decided to go. It had been a difficult journey; she had to catch a train that arrived after dark and by the time she reached the school it lay in smoking ruins and Richard had gone.

Was he dead? Her mind told her yes, but deep inside she wasn’t entirely sure.

She came back to the present with a jump. The tower was nearly finished, although what it was to be used for was beyond her. But the demon population of Sunnydale were getting very excited about it. Agnes had sold a great many packed picnics to those who were vying for good seats around its base to enjoy the show. She felt a little guilty about that – it struck her that it was a bit like feeding the women who’d sat knitting, watching the Guillotine blade fall.

But money was money and even though she knew Richard had arranged for a sum to be paid to her, Agnes didn’t feel that in all honesty she should use that. The cottage and the plane ticket home – well, those she would accept – but not the money. She’d always earned her own living and would continue to do so. The money could sit in the bank for the time being. She was sure she would find a worthy use for it sometime in the future. Perhaps she would come across his Faith at some time and be able to help her.

Agnes turned away from the window and glanced at the clock on the wall – the only fixture that Willy provided. The car would be arriving soon to take her to the airport and she still hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye to Spike. He just hadn’t been around. His involvement with Buffy Summers and her sister was growing daily. Agnes couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Sunnydale without speaking to the person she considered her best friend, but there was no way she could intrude into that little gang of friends just to tell him she was moving to England. Would he care? She didn’t want to know the answer to that question, although she knew he would miss her gingerbread men – he liked biting off the heads.

She sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed, clutching her bag on her knees, waiting for the knock on the door that would herald the beginning of her great new adventure. The problem was, of course, that although Spike was her best friend, she wasn’t his. She was far down the list where he was concerned.

Opening her bag, she took out an envelope. She’d written Spike a little note. Nothing effusive, of course, just a jolly, upbeat letter, wishing him all the best and saying she would send him her new address when she was settled and that he was, of course, welcome to stay if he ever came to England. Agnes read the PS she’d added. “Take Care of Yourself”. She wondered if that was a silly thing to say to a vampire like Spike but it was too late to tear up this letter and start again.

A crack of thunder from outside almost drowned the knocking on her door. “Miss Pringle? Your car, Madam. For the airport.” A tall, distinguished demon picked up her suitcases and stowed them inside the long, black limousine.

Agnes followed, gazing around in a last goodbye. Then the door was shut behind her and she sank back into soft grey leather, amazed to find a little shelf in front of her with a television set and a glass full of champagne sitting there. The driver pushed back the glass screen that separated him from Agnes and said, “Looks as though you are leaving just in time, Miss Pringle.”

He pointed through the window and Agnes peered out and up to where a small figure in blue was perched on the very top of the tower. Even from this distance she could see it was Spike’s little friend, Dawn Summers. So, Glory had found the Key. Oh dear, that was very sad, but only to be expected. She scanned the crowd for Spike but couldn’t see him. She did hope that Dawn’s death wouldn’t upset him too much. At least he would survive the apocalypse.

The limousine crawled slowly through the crowds as the heavens shook, thunder rolled and the very fabric of the world began to tear to let through demons who would never fancy any of Agnes’ cakes and buns. Suddenly, just as the car was through the crowds and out onto the road, Agnes heard a scream. She spun round and stared out of the back window, in time to see a small shape plunge from the top of the tower. But this wasn’t Dawn. The figure falling was blonde. It was Buffy Summers!

The rolling thunder faded away, the clouds vanished and the stars appeared again.

“Will you stop the car, please?” Agnes said swiftly.

“You’ll miss your flight, Miss Pringle!”

“Never mind. Just stop the car.”

She jumped out and pushed her way through the crowds of vampires and demons who were heading in the opposite direction, muttering in discontent that their fun had been spoilt. At the bottom of the tower, the tragedy was being played out to its close. Agnes didn’t look at the body; all she could see was Spike, crouched in a heap and – crying! The other humans were gathering around the body on the ground, ignoring the vampire. Agnes eased her way forward and held out her hand to the man whose distress touched her so deeply. “Stand up, Spike!” she whispered. “Stand up and come with me.”

“Agnes! She’s…she’s…Buffy…”

“I know. Come. Quickly. They won’t want you here.”

“But we’re all on the same side. Oh God, Dawn! I’ve got to get to Dawnie.”

Agnes glanced over her shoulder. The young girl was being helped away by the redheaded girl and a boy who was blubbing unashamedly. None of them were looking for the vampire and she knew instinctively that they certainly did not consider him to be on their side. “Later, Spike. You’re going to need all your strength later.”

The vampire stood up, swaying with grief. Leaning on Agnes’ shoulder, he walked with her to the car, then stopped, puzzlement cutting through his misery. “Are you going somewhere, Agnes?”

She helped him into the limo and told the demon driver to take them back to Willy’s Bar. “Me? Going somewhere?” She sighed. She might never be first with him, but he was first with her and she had the oddest feeling that Richard Wilkins would have approved of what she intended to do. He understood loyalty. “No, Spike, I’m not going anywhere.”

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 18: Aftermath

 

The oldest cemetery in Sunnydale was a place of many shadows: the guy who was supposed to care for it only came when someone complained that their ancestor’s grave was overgrown. The grass grew dank and high, dark trees threw black shade, old tombstones and stone angels, pitted and scarred by the years fell where they could. The people they marked had long disappeared from memory, their bodies now dusty bones – or, of course, as Agnes Pringle thought cheerfully, they had been Turned and were living happy and productive deaths in the underside of Sunnydale.

Of all the graveyards, this one was her favourite: the new ones with their smooth stretches of grass and neat plaques and headstones – all made to a similar size and style – she found soul destroying. Well, she would have found them soul destroying if she’d had a soul to destroy, but she was sure the feeling was the same. They were too polished, too laundered. People were all so different in life; why did they have to be regimented in death?

She changed the bag she was carrying from one hand to the other. It was very heavy, but it hadn’t been easy deciding what to bring, so she had finally packed everything.

Agnes reached the wooden door of Spike’s crypt and hesitated. She put down her shopping bag and took a deep breath. She hadn’t seen him for several days, not since she’d helped him back to his crypt after the Slayer’s death. He had said nothing as they’d stumbled together through the streets of Sunnydale.

He’d stopped the dreadful crying, but Agnes had heard the broken bones inside his body grating as they walked. But when they’d reached his crypt, he had opened the door, gone inside and closed it in his face, shutting her out. She didn’t blame him: she knew how he felt. When her dear mother had passed on, all Agnes had wanted to do was crawl into bed, turn her face to the wall and grieve. But, of course, that hadn’t been possible because the funeral had to be arranged, friends contacted, her clothes sorted and even when it was all over, there still wasn’t time to cry because the bills had to be paid, so Agnes had to go straight back to work.

For some reason, Agnes had expected Spike to appear at her tea-stall the following night. Because, of course, she’d had to start working again in the garbage dump. The limousine that had arrived to take her to the airport to begin yet another new life had been sent away, back to Los Angeles with a message to Mr Nicholas Elder of Wolfram & Hart, saying that it wasn’t convenient to leave America at this precise time, but Agnes would certainly be only too happy to move to England in the future when her affairs were a little less unsettled. She'd seen no need to mention Spike’s name. Mr Elder didn’t seem like the sort of demon who would understand completely about friendship and loyalty. Agnes recalled the rows of shiny, pointed teeth – and shuddered. Dear Richard had always been - a little, what was the word she wanted? – unreliable - when it came to choosing his employees.

Spike had not come to the dump. Clem told her that he had tried to speak to him but he’d just shouted to him to bugger off and refused to open the crypt door. Agnes had sighed at the use of such foul language but knew now wasn’t the time to get upset. She had pondered on whether it would be polite to enter his crypt through the tunnel system that ran under the whole of Sunnydale. But – she felt a shudder of embarrassment – the last time she’d visited Spike in that fashion, she had found him kissing the Slayer. Well, he certainly wouldn’t be doing that again!

She gasped as the full implication of that conclusion reached her. “Agnes Pringle, that is a mean-spirited thought,” she said out loud, bitterly ashamed of herself. She’d been brought up never to speak ill of the dead, and although it was hard, with Buffy Summers being who and what she was, surely there was no need for cattiness. “I know that a dead Slayer is a thing to rejoice about, but Spike obviously doesn’t see it that way. And I’m quite sure her little sister doesn’t.” Agnes bit her lip, wondering if Spike would swear at her. Still, this was an emergency and she would just have to bear it if he did. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me,” she murmured and knocked on the door.

“Whoever it bloody well is, go the bloody hell away!”

“Spike, it’s me, Agnes. Please open the door.”

There was a long pause and then, wearily, “Go home, Agnes. There’s nothing you can do here. There’s nothing anyone can do.”

Agnes hesitated, then her vampire hearing picked up the sound of a bottle clinking on glass and even through the door she realised she could smell the aroma of whisky. “Spike! Are you drinking? That really is not going to help.” She was beginning to get angry. There was so much to do and he was wasting time in getting intoxicated. Men! She sometimes wondered why they were considered the stronger sex. “Spike – I am going to stand here until you let me in. And there are some very odd-looking demons wandering around Sunnydale at the moment. Although I am quite prepared to fight for my virtue, I think you might be – ”

She stopped as the door swung open and Spike stood there. She gasped; his red shirt was open, his jeans dirty and soaked with Scotch. He looked dreadfully thin, although the cuts and grazes on his face seemed to be healing. He swayed slightly, glaring at her. “Come in if you’re coming, then. Last thing I want to see is you giving up your virginity to some sodding demon, Aggie! That would be the final straw.”

Agnes shut her ears to the words and marched into the crypt, clutching her bag to her bosom. She placed it on a handy tombstone and began to unpack. “I expect you haven’t eaten since – well, since. I’ve brought you a flask of chicken soup and a ginger cake. Here – drink this. I’ve added a whole packet of blood to it. Straight from the butcher. Really thick and wholesome, I insisted on bull’s blood, not pig. And then there’s a ginger cake for afters.”

Spike stared at the mug she was holding out to him. He flashed in and out of game face, overcome with a desire to smash the soup to the ground. Why the hell didn’t people leave him alone? Buffy had gone – the girl he loved so much was dead and he had to carry on without her.

“Spike – it’s the funeral tomorrow. The Slayer’s little sister will need you to be there for her.”

The vampire turned away, not wanting even Agnes to see the pain those words caused him. “The last person she’ll want to see at the funeral is me,” he said. “Dawnie’s got all the Scoobies to support her and Giles. What the hell can I do that they can’t? I tried to see her yesterday and Willow told me to get lost, that I was making things harder for Dawn, reminding her. She said Dawn blamed me; I should have tried harder to save Buffy. And she’s right! I could’ve run faster, jumped higher, fought the Doctor better. Then she wouldn’t have jumped.”

Agnes sighed. She didn’t know Willow but she knew he meant the redheaded witch who was one of the Slayer’s closest friends. “So you came back here and started drinking,” she said dryly and pushed the mug forward again. She tilted it and, almost without thinking, Spike caught it before it could fall to the floor.

Agnes tried not to smile. Step one accomplished. She didn’t know many male vampires who could resist a mug of home made chicken soup and blood once they were holding it. She pretended not to notice when Spike absentmindedly began to drink. She turned away and picked up a collection of bottles that were rolling around on the floor.

“That’s it then, is it?” she asked in an off-hand manner. “You’ve given up on Dawn Summers. Right, then perhaps we can go on a little trip together. I’ve never seen the Niagara Falls and – ”

“Bloody hell, Aggie. I can’t go on any trip - I haven’t given up on Dawn! She’s all I’ve got left of Buffy. The Slayer would expect me to look after her – but how do I know the Scoobies aren’t right? That seeing me will just make things worse for her?”

Agnes unwrapped the ginger cake and cut him a slice. Sadly it was a little soggy in the centre; she had been so distracted while she was making it. The customers in Willy’s Bar had been holding a “Ding Dong, The Slayer is Dead” party. But hopefully Spike wouldn’t notice.

“Well, you’ll never know until you try, will you? Perhaps the funeral isn’t a good time to talk to her, but how about afterwards? She’s going to feel even worse. It’s so final when the earth hits the coffin. That sound will stay with her forever. First her mother, then her sister. That’s a lot of grief for a young girl to cope with, Spike. I think you owe it to Joyce and Buffy to at least try and watch out for her.”

Spike gloomily ate another slice of ginger cake. “OK, after the funeral, I’ll try.” He laughed bitterly. “That’s another thing; they’re burying the Slayer in the middle of the day! Couldn’t have chosen a worse time for me, could they? No way I can bloody go, not covered up in a blanket.”

Agnes sighed. She had the nasty feeling that Buffy’s friends and family hadn’t arranged the funeral to spite Spike. They just hadn’t thought about him at all – which was even worse, of course.

“Agnes? I want to see her one more time before they bury her.”

She spun round, still clutching an empty whisky bottle; her faded blue eyes wide with surprise. “What?”

He raised his head and she thought she had never seen such pain on a vampire’s face before. “They’re going to put her in the ground tomorrow. Tonight’s my last chance – just to see her one more time. Will you come with me?”

Agnes hesitated: she would never tell Spike, but a big part of her had rejoiced at the Slayer’s death. It wasn’t easy living in a town where you could be staked at any moment of the day or night. And as no new Slayer had appeared, it looked at though whoever had been called was going to operate somewhere else. Which was such a great relief.

But Buffy Summers had been dear Joyce’s daughter. And Agnes had liked Joyce. What was more important, Spike loved Buffy; as strange and inappropriate as that was, it was the truth. Agnes knew she had already sacrificed a new life back home in England to stand by his side. Visiting the Slayer’s dead body would be just one more thing she could do for him.

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 19: The Night Before

Agnes Pringle hurried along in Spike’s footsteps as he strode through the dark, empty Sunnydale streets. He seemed oblivious of the fact that he could walk far faster than she could, striding out, an axe balanced across one shoulder of his long black leather coat. Agnes was clutching a screwdriver. Spike had been uncertain which tool would be the most use for breaking into the Sunnydale Funeral Home where the mortal remains of Buffy Summers were being kept until her burial the following day.

It was a very good job she didn’t need to breathe, Agnes thought, because she would be puffing and panting at having to walk at this speed. Even as a vampire, she certainly wasn’t designed for action, she decided sadly, wishing she could cover the ground with the same easy, cat-like lope her friend used.

Luckily Sunnydale seemed empty; the inhabitants were still at home, recovering from the odd effects the hell god Glory had caused during her brief but terrifying visit to the town. Suddenly Spike stopped; they’d arrived. Agnes caught up to him, then hesitated as she heard the other vampire swear viciously. He leapt forward and burst through the front door which, apparently, was already unlocked.

The private room of the Sunnydale Funeral Home was decorated in, what was to Agnes’ mind, a rather ornate style. There seemed to be a good many velvet curtains and the carpet underfoot was, in the opinion of her vampire nose, in need of a good clean from too many footprints and not a few tears.

“What the bloody hell – ” Spike shouted as he strode inside. “Dawn Summers! Niblet! For God’s sake – ” His voice died away in despair and Agnes, scurrying behind him, peered over his shoulder into the velvet hung gloom.

She felt her face growing lumpy and struggled to control it. The Slayer’s coffin was there, in pride of place, lid open, and she could see the still body laying amongst the white satin cushions, the long amber hair tastefully arranged, the skin washed and creamed. Agnes sighed and felt tears burn in her eyes. Even though this was the Slayer, she looked so young and innocent; a life hardly begun, now ended. It was all very, very sad. But this girl was dead and beyond her aid, thank goodness – and briskly Agnes turned her attention to someone she could help. The Slayer’s little sister, Dawn, was sitting on the floor, leaning against the casket stand. She was gazing up at Spike, her face as pale as the dead girl’s, her eyes far too old for her years and far too dry, as if she had no more tears to shed.

“I’m sorry, Spike. But I didn’t want her to be alone tonight. She’s going to be on her own for ever and ever under the ground. And that isn’t right. She liked people. We’ve got each other; who has Buffy got?”

Spike sat down next to her and draped an arm round the thin shoulders. “I’m sorry I shouted, Dawnie. I thought….bloody hell, I wondered – ”

“You thought I was trying to do some magic trick to bring her back? Like I did with Mom.”

“Well – ”

“Oh, it’s OK, Spike. I’m not a silly child any more. I know once you’re dead you have to stay dead.” Suddenly she laughed and the sound was far more chilling than the dead, cold air of the funeral home. “Unless you become a vamp, of course. But there wasn’t even a chance for you to do that for her, was there? Not after I killed her.”

“What are you talking about? You didn’t kill Buffy. She jumped to – well, to save the sodding world.”

Dawn pulled away from his comforting arm. “Of course I killed her, Spike. If I hadn’t been the Key, if I’d never existed, then none of this would have happened, would it? Buffy would still be alive, still be the Slayer.”

Spike glanced over her dark head to where Agnes was standing in the shadows. “Listen, Dawn. No one believes you were responsible. No one at all.”

Dawn jumped up, all long hair and legs. She wrapped her arms tightly round her body, trying to hug some comfort into herself. “Yes, they do! Oh, they would never say so, but I can see it in Xander’s eyes, the way Willow is really, really nice to me, but she won’t touch me. Do you know, she’s never given me a single hug since Buffy died? Tara does. Tara’s sweet, but not Willow and in my mind, I’ve known her ever since we moved here to Sunnydale. As long as she and Buffy were friends. I know exactly what she thinks.”

She spun round and leaned over the still body in the coffin, reaching out to push a tendril of hair into place. “Buffy just looks as if she’s asleep, doesn’t she? But she’s dead. I wonder if she’s somewhere now, looking down and blaming me for what happened? Are you, Buffy? Can you hear me? Why won’t you say something? Shout at me. Tell me off. You always tell me off, tell me what I’ve done wrong. Stop being quiet – stop – stop – stop being dead!”

Dropping the hammer and screwdriver, Agnes stepped forward before Spike could move. The young girl’s voice had risen to a hysterical pitch and she flung herself onto her sister’s body. Agnes pulled her away and folded her tightly into her arms as, at long last, the tears came and Dawn collapsed into shuddering sobs. Long minutes passed. Agnes held Dawn and watched over her head as Spike took the chance to say his own goodbyes to the girl he loved. As he bent to kiss her, Agnes looked away, feeling that there were some things no one should witness.

Spike looked up at her, his face a mask of exhaustion. “She’d stake me for doing that if she was here,” he said. “She told me once the only chance I’d ever have of kissing her was if she was dead. Funny, eh?”

Agnes thought privately that kissing a Slayer must be the most traumatic act of any vampire’s life. She was only thankful they were always women and never men. Because although she’d once had a crush on Eunice Murphy, head girl in her sixth form at school, she’d never wanted to actually kiss another woman. “Spike, I know this is difficult for you, but this child needs to be in bed, trying to get some sleep. She’s got a long day ahead of her tomorrow and it isn’t going to get any easier in the weeks ahead.”

Spike turned his head and gazed for the last time at the Slayer. He was so tired. All he wanted to do was wait until he heard that final sound, the earth thudding down on the coffin lid, then walk out from the trees surrounding the graveyard and die in the midday sun, next to her grave. But – there was Dawn. He looked back to where Agnes was holding the youngster, stroking the long dark hair, hushing the sobs, rocking her gently in her arms. Dawn Summers, all he had left of his love.

He slid his arms round the girl and lifted her effortlessly. “I’ll take her home,” he said, his eyes gleaming in the gloomy room. “Thanks for being here tonight, Aggie. I won’t forget it.” And he strode away, the teenager’s dark hair gleaming against black leather.

Ten minutes later, Agnes was halfway home herself, so tired she could hardly put one aching foot in front of the other, when she realised that Spike had left the axe on the floor next to the coffin! She would have to go back for it. She was quite sure that the Slayer’s friends would guess who’d been in the room if they discovered it there in the morning and Spike was not in the right frame of mind to deal with more trouble. He was likely to lash out first and regret it afterwards. And that child needed him in one piece, not dust floating around Sunnydale.

The door had swung shut behind Agnes when she’d left the Funeral Home but luckily she still had the screwdriver and, thanks to Jason Biggs, she knew how to use it. Dear Jason, ten years old and one of the naughtiest little boys she’d ever known. She hadn’t realised that all those times she’d found him in her tea-shop back home in England, he’d been playing truant from school. She’d believed him when he said he was off sick. But when she’d locked herself out of her shop one morning, it had been Jason who’d shown her how to unlock the door with a screwdriver. Dear Jason; she believed he was something big in television these days. Or was it Parliament?

“Agnes, you’re dithering. Concentrate,” she muttered to herself and with a few deft flicks of her wrist, the door unlocked and she hastily entered the room and picked up the axe from where Spike had left it.

A sudden noise made her jump and she spun round to see something lurching through the far door. Agnes whimpered with fear. She had no idea what it was – demon of some type, she supposed – but it was black and foul, dripping slime and filth all over the floor and was heading straight for the Slayer’s coffin. She gripped the axe with both hands and backed away. Oh, if only she was brave! She didn’t know how to fight, only cook. And this didn’t seem like a custard cream situation!

The thing belched and a foul, fetid smell filled the room. Agnes coughed, gasping for the air she didn’t need, then realised the thing was completely ignoring her; all it’s attention was focused on the coffin. With a quiet squeak, Agnes stepped in front of it and jabbed with the axe. “Go away! I don’t want to hurt you, but you simply can’t feed off the Slayer’s body. Go away. Shoo! Shoo!”

The thing belched again, even louder, but didn’t stop. Agnes jabbed again with the axe. She had no problem with the Slayer’s body being carried off and probably eaten in some hell hole, but she knew it would upset Spike and Dawn a lot. And this thing just wouldn’t listen to reason! With another gasp, she swung the axe back over her shoulder, then brought it down with all her might. The demon roared as the blade cut into its arm, but it still kept coming. Moaning with fear, Agnes swung the axe again, then shrieked as it thudded into something hard and jammed tight.

She dropped the handle, scurried round the side of the Slayer’s coffin and realised the axe was stuck in the underneath of the coffin lid! Muttering an apology to the Slayer, Agnes hoisted up her skirt, knelt on the edge of the coffin and, with all her power, plucked the axe free from the padded white satin lining.

“You – are – not – going – to – drip – mess – all – over – this – dead – girl!” she panted, her face becoming lumpy and her teeth fangs. Valiantly, she edged forwards, jabbing the axe out, again and again until finally the thing gave a last belch of disgust and disappointment, turned and vanished back into the darkness.

Agnes leant against the coffin, trying to control her trembling legs. She stared down at the still, pale figure and wondered how on earth this little slip of a girl had killed and destroyed so many things. It was such hard work. “Oh no!” She gasped in dismay as her gaze settled on where the axe had smashed into the coffin lid. It had cut right through the padding and – yes – she pushed her fingers through the cut, the coffin lid itself was badly cut and weakened. Thankfully it didn’t show from the outside. Agnes pulled her little sewing kit from her cardigan pocket. She was never without it, because one of her mother’s many sayings had been “a stitch in time saves nine” and now that was coming true. With swift, neat stitches, Agnes sewed the lining together again. When she’d finished, you wouldn’t have known anything had happened to it.

Of course she realised as she finally carried away the axe and left the Slayer to her long sleep, there was nothing she could do about the damaged coffin lid. But there: it wasn’t as if Buffy Summers was ever going to notice it.

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 20 Plans

 

Agnes Pringle eyed her destination from across the street. She was standing in the shade cast by the Sunnydale Library, but on a day as hot and sunny as this, the road in front of her was a death-trap. Even her trusty umbrella wouldn’t completely protect her. Agnes sighed. She’d received a letter from the Sunnydale Bank that morning, asking her, quite curtly, she considered, to please arrange to speak to the manager about her account. Agnes had used Willie’s phone to ring and ask for an appointment late in the afternoon, but a very brisk woman had told her that the only time available was noon.

Agnes had found herself apologizing for disturbing the woman but then, when she’d hung up, she’d got cross. She was a customer! Even if she was of the vampire persuasion, shouldn’t she have some say as to when she saw the bank manager? But, to be fair, he was sure to be a very busy man and she thought she knew what he wanted to see her about. Ever since Mr Nicholas Elder, the lawyer from Wolfram and Hart, had told her that a little of dear Richard’s money was going to be deposited in a bank for her, she’d pushed the information to the back of her mind.

She hadn’t actually forgotten it; sometimes when she woke in the night, the thought that she didn’t have worry so much about money ever again was like drinking a nice cup of hot tea, refreshing and comforting. But so much had been happening; what with the Slayer dying and coping with Spike, who was so dreadfully upset. A cheque-book had arrived and a very official looking card, all shiny with lots of numbers on it. Agnes had no idea what she was supposed to do with it.

Her last bank, in Winchester in England, had been a homely affair. You went in and queued at a little window where one of the two clerks – both of whom she had known since they were in infants school – took the bags of money she was depositing from her tea-shop takings, counted it and gave her a nice receipt, whatever spending money she needed, and they had a little chat about the weather and the clerk’s parents, whom Agnes knew as customers in the tea-shop.

Now, peering through the heat haze at the tall stone pillars that framed the imposing glass doors of the Sunnydale Bank, she thought it didn’t look – well, very friendly. Agnes glanced down the street. She could see The Magic Box shop at the far end. She knew there would be a Closed sign on the door as a mark of respect for the Slayer from that nice Mr Giles. Several shops were closed for other reasons, of course. Their owners had left town when Glory arrived and were determined not to come back. It was going to take a little while for Sunnydale to recover.

There was a large clock on a building next to the bank. Goodness, it was ten past twelve already. “Well, needs must when the devil drives,” she muttered and buttoning up her cardigan (even though it was extremely hot, Agnes had a fear of draughts), she pulled her old straw gardening hat down as far towards her nose as it would go, put up her umbrella and scurried across the road. Almost falling through the glass doors into the cool of the bank, she dropped her umbrella and wished the floor would open up and swallow her, as everyone turned round to look at the clatter. Picking it up and wishing her feet would stop smoking – she decided her stockings were just not thick enough!

She sidled up to the counter marked “Can We Help You?” and whispered, “Miss Pringle. Agnes Pringle. I have a letter – ” she fumbled in her bag, and the bored girl at the desk screwed up her face in horror as a small glass bottle of some nasty looking red liquid tumbled out. g“Oh, I am so sorry! So sorry. I know it’s here somewhere, you see I was baking and time was going by and I thought I picked it up and – ”

The girl shuddered. Half a scone – Agnes had been testing it to see if it was stale – followed the little bottle. “Please take a seat. Mr Grant is very busy at the moment, but I’ll give him your name and see if he can fit you in some time this afternoon.”

“But I have an…..” Agnes’s voice trailed away as the girl turned to the next customer, smiling widely at the tanned, middle-aged man standing behind Agnes. Recovering her possessions, the English vampire backed nervously away from the desk and sunk into one of the low seats the girl had indicated, giving a little gasp as her legs shot up in front of her. She wondered how she would ever get up again, but at least the seat was comfortable and she was nicely in the shade of a large potted palm.

To her surprise, the man who had been behind her in the line, sat down next to her. He turned and gave her a weak smile. “Seems we have arrived at a busy time for Mr Grant.”

Agnes glanced across the bank at a clock. “I think it is more likely to be his lunch hour,” she said and then felt deeply ashamed of such a catty remark. “No, that is unfair. Such an important person must be busy all day. I expect he eats at his desk. I wonder what he has? A packed lunch from home or - does he buy something on the way to work or – perhaps someone delivers sandwiches to the bank or - ”

The man obviously didn’t see any fascination in the bank manager’s eating habits. “Well, I have a plane to catch and I need to see him urgently.”

“A plane? Goodness, then do go in before me,” Agnes said swiftly. “I am in no hurry at all. And it is really very pleasant sitting here. Are you travelling far?”

“Spain.”

“Oh how lovely! I went to Benidorm once for a week with my mother. It was wonderful, except that Mother and I were very upset by the way they treated their donkeys and we wanted to go and protest outside the bull ring but unfortunately we both got a nasty dose of Spanish tummy and so we were forced to stay in our rooms for three days. But Benidorm was lovely!”

The man looked a little surprised. “That must have been some time ago. I can’t imagine you enjoying Benidorm now. It’s mostly hotels and night-clubs.”

“Really?” Agnes was intrigued. She’d always wondered about nightclubs. She knew there was one in Sunnydale called The Bronze. Such a nice name. It sounded as if it would be a good venue for vampires and probably would need snacks to sell with all the drink. Oh dear, the drink, yes, that was a problem. Mother wouldn’t have liked her selling food in that sort of establishment. But then Mother was no longer here….

“You’re British,” the man said, obviously casting round for a subject of conversation.

“English,” Agnes corrected gently.

The man laughed, a little bitterly. “It isn’t hard to tell. I’ve just spent a couple of days in the company of an Englishman.”

“Oh, are you on business in Sunnydale?”

The man took off his dark glasses and Agnes winced to see how sad and red his eyes were. “No, I’ve been attending a funeral.”

“I am so sorry. I do hope no one close to you.”

“My daughter. My – ” He stopped for a second, frowned, then went on, “My eldest girl. Her name was Buffy.”

Agnes caught back the squeak that was just about to emerge from her mouth. This was the Slayer’s father! This was Joyce’s ex-husband. She fought back the lumps that were trying to appear on her face, pulling out a large handkerchief and pretending to blow her nose. “How dreadfully sad. Was it an accident?”

Mr Summers sighed. “Yes, a fall, I believe. The details are a bit hazy. Seems she and Dawn – that’s my – my – my other daughter, were climbing some tower that a travelling circus had erected in town.”

“What?”

“Yes, I know. Completely ridiculous. What Buffy was doing allowing Dawn to act in that way I have no idea. But that was Buffy. Irresponsible. Headstrong. Always in trouble. Well – ” he sighed again – “she’s paid for it with her life.”

“You must be devastated. Please may I offer you my sincere condolences?”

The man looked a little embarrassed, then nodded. “Thank you. She was such a sweet little girl, but – growing up – a difficult teenager. I blamed her mother. No control. Far too easy-going. Still – ” His voice trailed away, then, “I wish Mr Grant would hurry up with his lunch. I really do need to catch that plane. I have a lunch appointment tomorrow in Spain.”

“I suppose your other daughter is going with you,” Agnes said, wondering if Spike knew that Dawn was leaving the country and how he would react to losing another Summers girl.

“Dawn? No.” Mr Summers looked uncomfortable for a moment, then his face cleared. “She has school over here and her friends and it would be difficult for her to fit into my way of life over there.”

Agnes frowned. Buffy’s father was a good-looking man, but his mouth and chin were weak. He reminded her very much of the Reverend Carlisle who had been a regular customer of her Winchester teashop. When he disappeared with the church funds, everyone had been surprised, except her. A weak man. She had no doubt that a grieving, needy teenager was not what Mr Summers wanted in his nice new Spanish life.

“That’s why I need to see the bank manager,” Mr Summers was continuing, almost to himself. “It’s the house. If Buffy left a will, it isn’t in the house, but I suppose she might have deposited it here in the bank. When my ex-wife died, she left the house to both the girls. I imagine Buffy would have left her share to Dawn, but if she didn’t, then of course, as her next of kin it comes to me. And even if Dawn has inherited the whole property, she certainly doesn’t need such a big place and I can’t afford to keep up the payments on it. I intend to sell the house and find Dawn a room to rent with a good family who are in need of the money.”

Agnes carefully folded her handkerchief and put it away. She was in perfect control of her face now and was only glad that Spike wasn’t around to hear what this man was saying. She hated to think of the blood that would have been spilt all over the bank floor. “Of course it’s none of my business, but don’t you think it would be a dreadful shock to your daughter to lose her home on top of her sister?”

Mr Summers shrugged and looked at his watch again, obviously bored. “Oh, children soon adapt. The only people who’ll be really upset are all the hangers-on that Buffy collected around her. Two of them have moved in already.” His neck went red. “Nice girls, but – I wonder – they share a room – my wife’s room – and - ”

Just then the door to Mr Grant’s office was flung back so hard that it crashed against the wall and a large, portly man rushed out, crumbs smeared around his mouth, mustard staining his shirtfront.

“At last,” Mr Summers said and stood up as Agnes floundered in the soft depths of the chair, waving her legs in the air, trying to make them lever her upright.

“I am so sorry to keep you waiting! My secretary has only just told me you are here. A thousand apologies. What must you be thinking? Do come through to my office.”

And to Agnes’s astonishment, he brushed straight past the bewildered Mr Summers, pulled her to her feet and ushered Agnes across the bank and into the inner room. By the time he had settled Agnes in a nice hard chair with a firm back, asked her if she would like coffee, was she comfortable and apologised once more for his staff’s shortcomings, she had made up her mind.

“My dear Miss Pringle,” Mr Grant said at last, peering at her over his desk. “I have your account here in front of me. Such an amount – well – I have never – largest customer – anything I can do – advice on investments – a safe deposit box – anything at all, dear lady.” He stopped to draw breath, staring at the small figure wearing a shabby blue cotton dress, fawn cardigan and thick stockings, a battered straw hat pinned firmly to her fluffy curls.

Agnes was staring at the remains of his lunch that was still sitting on the desk. A cardboard box with half a roast beef sandwich lying limply inside. “Excuse my curiosity, but did you bring that meal from home?” she asked suddenly.

“What?” Mr Grant looked and sounded bewildered. “My lunch? No, er, I believe someone comes round with a basket of various goods and my secretary purchases whatever I want. They aren’t particularly good and indeed, I believe the company are about to close. There have been a lot of complaints.”

“Indeed. That’s a shame. I make a very good sandwich. The art is in freshly baked bread and interesting fillings.”

Mr Grant looked confused as to why they were discussing his lunch. Agnes took a deep breath, feeling a buzz of excitement flood through her. So this wasn’t exactly what dear Richard had wanted her to do with his money; it would mean a great deal of work and odd hours, but it would get her away from the garbage dump and out of Willie’s back room.

She had an idea she was going to be seeing quite a lot of Dawn Summers from now on and there was no way the dump was a suitable place for her to visit. And perhaps a little part-time job delivering sandwiches or helping to wait on tables – not late at night of course, because of the vampires and demons she might meet, but weekend lunchtimes – might help divert the child a little from her grief.

She sat up straight, wishing she were wearing her best black hat instead of the floppy straw. She looked so much more business-like in black. “Mr Grant, I shall be needing quite a lot of money. I am, you see, going to buy premises in Sunnydale and open a tea-room and cake shop!”

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 21: Just like home

Agnes Pringle, English spinster, reluctant vampire and now proud owner and manager of the Olde English Willow-Tree Tea Shoppe, Sunnydale, USA, stood and surveyed her domain.

Tears – she hadn’t realised she could still cry – trickled down her cheeks. It was all so beautiful! She could have almost been standing in her own little shop back home in Winchester. There were thick blue and white flowered curtains at the windows – double lined to keep out the sunlight - dark oak tables and chairs with neat royal blue cushion pads, little blue vases with flowers in each – which she realised she would have to remove after tonight because the Ostvxysch demons had a bad habit of eating them. The vases, not the flowers, of course, because they were by nature vegetarians, so much that they also slaughtered all carnivores they came across - which made seating arrangements after midnight extremely complicated. She had wondered about having a “non-person-eating” zone at one side of the shop, but it really would be difficult to police.

The Willow-Tree Tea Shoppe was opening only four doors down and across the street from The Magic Box, which Spike had told her was a good idea because Dawn was in and out of there all the time and he could keep an eye on her without getting under everyone’s feet. Agnes would have preferred a site further away from where Buffy’s friends hung out, but this shop had become vacant and she had to admit it was suitable in so many ways. She now had her own kitchen and a little room for a bedroom. There was a basement for storing flour, sugar and all sorts of ingredients. And the tunnels that ran beneath most of Sunnydale passed right by her basement door. So convenient! She could go to the Library, the Mall, the bank, even the Laundromat and dry-cleaning shop without ever having to brave the streets again. Everything about it was perfect.

Also, that very nice gentleman, Mr Giles, who owned the Magic Box, had come along to say good-morning and offer any help she might need with settling in. He was so well spoken; his accent reminded her of home although for an Unturned who apparently knew all about vampires, he certainly didn’t recognise one when speaking to her!

At the moment, Dawn Summers was here at the Willow-Tree, sitting at one of the tables, carefully writing out the menu cards. Her face was still white and strained from the loss of her sister, but she was enjoying the task because Agnes had agreed with her ideas to draw little blue flowers and birds on the top of each menu. She inspected the master card that Agnes had handed her earlier. “You haven’t got any angel cake for sale, Agnes. Don’t you know how to make it? I could show you. Mom – ” her voice wobbled slightly – “Mom taught me and Buffy, but she….my sister isn’t really interested in cooking.”

Agnes surreptitiously mopped her tear-stained face with one of her best handkerchiefs. This was obviously not the right time for sentimental journeys into past memories. “Well, being the Slayer, I expect she was always very busy.”

“Did you ever meet her?”

Agnes bit her lip and gazed down with affection at the dark head bent over the menus. “No, I never had that – pleasure.” She thought it wouldn’t be wise to add that if they had met, she probably wouldn’t be standing here now! “And as for angel cake - I did make one once, but it wasn’t a great success.”

“Didn’t your customers like it?”

Agnes made a non-committal sort of noise and turned away. There was so much she couldn’t tell Dawn, including the fact that Spike had picked up the angel cake and hurled it to the ground when she mentioned what the bright pink concoction was called! Such a waste and so messy, sugar and sponge ground into the carpet. She really didn’t understand what he had against angels. But perhaps he didn’t believe in them, or didn’t understand that everyone has a guardian angel looking after them, even, she stoutly thought, vampires. Although, to be fair, she was a little hazy about that last fact.

The door to the basement steps opened and Spike appeared. He glanced across to Dawn, who waved a hand languidly at him and went on with her work: then he turned to Agnes. “You’ve made a nice job of the basement. I like the door into the tunnels. Who made it?”

Agnes sighed. Spike had obviously walked straight through her back door without ringing the little bell she’d had installed. She had pondered the possibility of having a lock fitted, but knew that would be the way Spike came in and out of the shop during the day and even if she gave him a key, he would only lose it.

“Your friend Clem built it for me. He’s very handy to have around.”

“Good poker player, too,” Spike said absently, wandering around the shop, inspecting everything. “You should see him with kittens.”

Agnes smiled. “Oh, does he have a cat? I’ve thought of getting one. It does help to keep down the mice and you always get vermin when you have lot of flour and sugar around. There were – ” she shivered in distaste “rats at the garbage dump.”

“Oh, are you getting a kitten?” Dawn heard the word and bounced enthusiastically in her seat. “Oh do, Agnes, dear. Do get a kitten. Willow and Tara had one. Rats are OK, too. Willow has one: it lives in a cage in her bedroom. She’s very fond of it.”

Agnes shuddered. Really, the more she heard about this girl Willow, the less she liked her. How could anyone keep a nasty, dirty rat as a pet? “We’ll see. Maybe Spike will ask Clem if he knows where we can find a nice kitten.”

Spike raised an eyebrow but valiantly didn’t enlighten his friend as to where Clem got his betting chips and what he actually did with them. “Are you opening tonight?” he said.

“Yes. That was the plan. I’ve told all my old customers to call in after midnight. I thought I’d open for the Unturned from tomorrow onwards, but I think it’s only fair that the demons and vampires came to the grand opening.”

Spike frowned. He looked tired, the cuts and bruises on his face had taken a long time to fade. “Are you sure you want to serve Unturneds, Aggie? What if someone guesses you’re a vamp? There could be all sorts of trouble and I might not be around to help out.”

“Why – are you going away?” Dawn’s voice rang out, scared and shaking.

“What – no, of course not, Niblet. I’m not going anywhere.” He threw an anxious glance at Agnes over Dawn’s head, alarmed at the note of hysteria in the teenager’s voice.

“People are always going away. I hate it,” Dawn said, sounding sulky but Agnes realised the girl was terrified of losing someone else close to her.

“I promised your Sis to look out for you,” Spike said briefly, pain cutting across his face like a sword slash.

Dawn jumped to her feet, the menus scattering across the table onto the floor. “What – you’re only hanging with me because Buffy asked you to? I thought you liked me. Well, you needn’t bother in the future. I’m going home!” She flounced out of the tearooms, the door banging behind her, causing the bell hanging over the doorframe to jangle violently.

Agnes began to pick up the menu cards. “She’s still upset about her sister.”

Spike rubbed his hands through his hair, messing the smooth peroxide strands into a riot of curls. “I know. Sometimes I think she’s getting over it, then she’ll explode in temper or tantrums and I’m not certain if it’s because she’s a teenager or something more.”

Agnes sighed. “Or a teenager and something more. That’s a violent combination.”

“What should I do?”

Leave Sunnydale; find another vampire girl to love, travel abroad and start a new life – all these thoughts flashed through her mind. She was desperately worried about her friend. If he stayed here, watching out for Dawn Summers, what would happen to him? Dawn would, eventually, get over her loss and grow up. She would go to college, get a job, marry, raise a family, grow old, die. And Spike would still be there, watching over someone who no longer had any need for him.

“Keep her busy and occupied, but don’t prevent her talking about her sister. I notice you hardly mention her and you should. Do her other friends let her talk about Buffy?”

Spike shrugged and prowled restlessly round the room. “Not when I’m around, but bloody hell, that isn’t that often! I’m extremely useful for taking care of Dawn when they’re busy and I’ve been doing patrolling with them some nights, but we work in silence most of the time.”

He moodily picked a flower out of a vase and began pulling the petals off, one by one. Agnes recalled an old rhyme she used to say with her friends when she was very small. Sitting in a field, making daisy chains, picking off the petals as they chanted, “He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me – ” She did hope Spike wasn’t still thinking that way about the Slayer that way.

“I wondered if she would like to do a little waitressing for me – ” Agnes said. “Oh, not in the evenings, of course, but perhaps for an hour after school and at weekends during the mornings?”

“I’ll ask her,” Spike said slowly. “It won’t happen if I suggest it to the Scooby gang, but if she tells them it’s what she wants to do, then it might work.” He stared round at the tearoom as if seeing it for the first time; clean, pretty, waiting for the customers to arrive. “You’ve worked wonders in here, Aggie,” he said. “It must have cost you a fortune.”

Agnes shrugged. There was no way she was going to tell Spike about Richard Wilkins’ legacy. She had the feeling he wouldn’t understand how A Great Love could strike you at any age. “Oh, you know what it’s like, Spike. Banks can be very helpful when you want to start up a small business and, of course, they don’t know of my affliction.”

The bright blue gaze swung round to the small English vampire; small, a little plump, wrapped in a vast frilled apron, her light brown hair fluffy, cut in an old-fashioned style. “Is that how you still see it? Becoming a vampire. An affliction?”

“Spike, it’s a long time since you were turned. Perhaps you don’t remember it very well. But only a few years ago, I was one of the Unturned and sometimes I find it – difficult – not to look back and think what my life was like compared to now. Although – ” she squared her shoulders and became very busy untying her pinny and fluffing up her hair. “If you look backwards, you’re more than likely to trip over what’s in front of you. Now, I’ve got baking to do and I think you had better go after that poor child and convince her that she is liked for herself and not because you are duty bound to do so.”

Spike headed for the basement stairs, then stopped. “The stupid thing is, I do like her. She’s a brave kid who’s had more to cope with than most girls of her age. I’d have kept an eye out for her even if Buffy hadn’t – well, if the Slayer was still here.”

The next morning was a Saturday. Aching with weariness, Agnes was standing at her counter, adding up the evening’s takings. Demons and vampires were difficult payers. Sometimes you had to insist and sometimes they just didn’t have cash so would leave you whatever they happened to be carrying with them at the time.

She put the money away safely in a drawer and peered at what was left: two small bottles of a red liquid she had been told was blood, but if so, it had certainly had alcohol added to it! A piece of parchment, which apparently was a genuine treasure map. Four IOUs and a small collection of buttons and tokens that she would have to take to the Magic Shop to get evaluated.

But all in all, her first evening had been a success. It was a great pity about the sausage rolls, of course, but there had been no way she could have known that Vistars were allergic to flaky pastry! She would just have to remember to make them with short crust next time. And only one fight! And even that was only because of a shortage of chairs that had seats large enough to accommodate the bigger demons’ – well, rear-ends, she supposed was the tactful way of putting it.

Agnes looked up as the doorbell clanged. Surely she had put the Closed sign up? But it was Dawn, a smiling Dawn.

“Hi, Agnes. Is it true that I can come and work for you sometimes? That would be great. I’ve brought two of my friends along to meet you. This is Xander Harris and this is Anya. Everyone, this is Agnes Pringle.”

Agnes blinked and stepped back into the shadows. And that wasn’t just because of the bright sunlight streaming in through the open door. It was because she sensed, very clearly, that this girl either had been or still was, a demon and would have no trouble in identifying the woman standing in front of her!

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 22 : Business Women United

 

“This is Xander and this is his girlfriend, Anya.” Dawn Summers smiled at Agnes and escorted her two friends towards a table. The man, dark haired, chubby faced but with a nice smile, waved a hand to where Agnes was standing in the shadows at the back of the shop.

“Miss Pringle – hi! Any chance of a coffee?”

“And some cakes, please,” the girl called Anya said, looking round her with a puzzled expression on her face.

“Agnes makes marvellous cakes,” Dawn said proudly. “I’m going to be a waitress here at weekends. That will be so cool. I can take money and serve tea and I get to keep the tips!” She glanced anxiously at Agnes. “There will be tips?”

Agnes nodded nervously, aware that the demon girl’s gaze kept coming back to her. “Of course. You can start by serving your friends, Dawn. It’ll be good practice for you. Come into the kitchen and I’ll make the coffee.” She hustled the teenager away, brewed fresh coffee and arranged a plate full of jam tarts and slices of parkin - which was a little over its best, but still eatable.

She watched from the doorway as Dawn proudly carried the tray out to her friends, wincing slightly as, putting it down on the table, it tipped and everything slid towards Xander Harris’ lap. But luckily the youngster managed to correct the tray and her friends hastily took their coffee and cakes before they ended on the floor. “Won’t you come and join us?” Dawn asked. “You’re closed now. There's no more customers to worry about.”

Nervously, Agnes stepped forward, her hands twisting the edge of her apron. “I can only stay a moment. I have a great deal of baking to do.”

“Iggf theyg’re as grood as these, I’ll breee bag,” Xander mumbled through a mouthful of jam and pastry.

The girl sitting next to him stared round the tea-room, her lips moving silently. Agnes realised she was counting. “If all these tables are full every evening, you must be making a lot of money,” she said at last, her eyes shining.

“It’s early days yet,” Agnes replied. “I’ve only been open one evening so far.”

“Why don’t you open at lunch-time?” Anya said, looking at her curiously. “You could double your takings.”

Agnes hesitated. How could she tell this demon girl that she was usually fast asleep at midday? Yes, it was odd that the shop wasn’t open during the day, but she had no choice, unless she employed more staff. “There are so many fast-food places in Sunnydale,” she murmured. “I can’t compete with their prices. My clientele like to have tea and cakes around four o’clock and, of course, I am open in the evenings.” She didn’t think it would be wise to mention that she was open after midnight, through to five in the morning as well, for the demon market.

“I wanted to have a coffee bar in the Magic Box,” Anya said. “But no one else thought it was a good idea. They were worried, but I never understood why.”

Xander finished his jam tart and wiped pastry crumbs from his mouth. “Sweetie, there are soooo many things against having drinkable liquids for sale in the Magic Box. Potions and latte, not mixy.”

Anya pouted. “Are you saying you can’t mix human commerce with the magic world?”

Xander sighed. “No, I’m just saying, selling coffee and love potions at the same time could lead to problems.”

“Miss Pringle here doesn’t seem to have any problem and she’s – ”

Just then the bell rang as the door opened and a slim, red-headed girl strode in. Agnes backed away another few paces. This newcomer was buzzing with energy and confidence; anyone who got in her way would be pushed to one side. “There you all are! I’ve been hunting for Dawnie for ages. I wish you’d tell me where you’re going. I thought you were with Spike. He must let us know if he’s going to wander off and leave you. Tara was worried sick.”

Agnes eased away from their table and pretended to rearrange the flowers on the cake display counter. It struck her as odd: this girl hadn’t said that she was worried, just someone called Tara.

“Sorry, Willow. I haven’t seen Spike this morning. He’ll still be asleep. But hey, listen, this is cool. I’m going to work here at the tearooms as waitress at the weekends.!”

“Dawn, I’m not sure that’s a good idea because - ” Anya started to speak but Willow broke in with:

“As long as you still do your homework, I think that sounds great.”

Dawn frowned, then said quietly, “Buffy would have been pleased, wouldn’t she? That I was working, not just hanging out with friends.”

Xander’s face changed and he gave her a hug. “Buffy would have been delighted. She’d have been proud. We’re all proud.”

Dawn bit her lip and stood up, busily loading the tray with plates and cups and bearing it away into the kitchen where Agnes could hear the crashing of china and the running of hot water.

“But Willow – do you honestly think it’s OK for Dawn to be working here with this Miss Pringle? I mean, how weird is that? She’s a plain old – ”

“ – very nice person, I’m sure!” Xander broke in hastily, glancing across to where Agnes was now sitting, folding paper napkins into water-lilies, embarrassed in case she might have over-heard. But luckily the short, fluffy-haired woman was too far away. “Ahn!” he groaned. “This is one of those ‘let’s keep our thoughts about people to ourselves moments’ I was telling you about. Remember? I know she looks weird and old-fashioned, but looks aren’t everything.”

“Yes, Anya, you must be careful. You can’t go round upsetting people all the time. Think before you speak,” Willow said. “We’ve got such a lot to do and it will be useful having Dawn out of the way. I don’t want her to guess about – well, you know! So just watch what you say.”

Agnes peered across the room. Vampire hearing and vampire vision did come in so useful sometimes. She could see quite plainly the expression that crossed the demon girl’s face. It was only there for a moment, then it was hidden by a bright, blank shield. But Agnes was in no doubt that she had been hurt by those words. She could sympathise, knowing what it was like to be an outsider, always seeking entry to the inner circle. This young lady, Anya, was in an even worse position that she had ever been. She was so obviously in love with a man who would never, could never, fully understand her.

‘At least the man of my dreams wasn’t human!’ Agnes thought, fondly remembering Richard Wilkins III. ‘I can think of nothing worse than falling in love with an Unturned.’

At the far table, the three heads were now close together and the voices had dropped to a whisper even her ears couldn’t distinguish. What were they planning? Whatever it was, Agnes wondered if Spike knew about it? She sighed. There was no point in telling him. He wasn’t bothered about what the Unturneds did any more now that Buffy was gone. Dawn being safe and well, that was all he was concerned about.

She jumped as the three young people stood up and walked across to her. Xander shook her hand and told her how please he was that Dawn was going to be working in such a safe place. The red-head smiled in her direction, but Agnes knew she didn’t really see her. Whatever her mind was busy with was obviously far too important to bother with a lowly tearoom lady. “I do hope you don’t lose too many cups and plates with Dawn washing them up,” she said and, laughing, turned to go.

The demon girl paused, watching as her two friends left the shop, her eyes bruised as they saw Xander’s hand resting on Willow’s shoulder. “They don’t know,” she said at last.

“Will you tell them?” Agnes watched as different emotions flashed across the pretty face in front of her.

“Is there any reason I shouldn’t?”

Agnes smoothed down the frills of her apron. She was so tired; her feet ached, she had been up all night and still had a morning’s baking to do. Fighting for her unlife was so tiring; sometimes she wished it was all over and she could just fade away into dust. But the distant sound of another plate breaking in the kitchen reminded her that she had promised to help Spike and Dawn. If they were now her mission in life, she couldn’t give up at the first obstacle.

“I assure you that Dawn will be perfectly all right with me. Spike wouldn’t have let her come here if he hadn’t been certain of that.”

“Anya! Hurry up!” Xander’s voice was calling from outside.

“And I could let you have a basket of muffins every day to hand out to your customers in the Magic Box. Blueberry, chocolate chip, coconut, raspberry – ”

“Free? Without charge?”

“Absolutely free.”

The demon girl smiled brightly. “Starting tomorrow. Great,” she said and flicking back her hair, turned to leave. “I do hope your shop is a success, Agnes,” she added. “There aren’t enough women bosses in Sunnydale’s business world.”

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 23 : The Visitor

 

A quarter moon was glimmering just above the treetops as Agnes Pringle picked her way along the paths of the cemetery, heading for the furthest part where the woods reached almost to the graves themselves. Dried leaves scuttered across the gravel walkway. It was odd how there were always dead leaves in graveyards: Agnes sometimes wondered if they were the souls of those departed, rushing around together, having fun.

She liked graveyards; she always had, even when she had been one of the great Unturned. Back home in England, the little church she’d attended on the outskirts of Winchester – sometimes going to the Cathedral itself had seemed a little overwhelming and she never had quite the right hat - had stood in the midst of a lovely graveyard. Her dear parents were buried there, both their names engraved on one stone.

Devoted Husband and Devoted Wife. Although Agnes was not entirely sure those words were completely accurate. Her mother had never done anything that her husband had asked her to do. Mrs Pringle had ruled the roost for as long as Agnes could recall. It was sad to think she would never join them in their eternal rest, although she had paid for the space in advance and had even made sure there would be room for her name on the headstone when the time came. Agnes Kathleen Pringle, Devoted Daughter. That was what she had wanted because that was what she’d been. She’d never had a chance to be “Much Loved Mother of…” or “Dearly Missed Grandmother”. But Devoted Daughter was still a good title to be remembered by.

A reluctant smile twitched across her solemn face. “Agnes Kathleen Pringle, Vampire of this Parish” wouldn’t have looked right at all.

She paused to catch her breath as the path sloped uphill, putting the bag she was carrying on the ground and stretching her shoulders. Really, she was beginning to feel her age – not that she could age, of course, but her muscles didn’t seem as strong as they used to be.

Agnes spoke severely to herself. Just because life was a little easier now she had the teashop and no longer had to work in the garbage dump, that was no reason to “let herself go”. But long walks were not a possibility for someone in her position and although she’d heard recently that a very nice demon called Shane had opened a gymnasium on the far side of the tunnel maze under Sunnydale, she didn’t think she had quite the right body shape for those lycra shorts that the girl vampires wore while they cycled and what was the expression? – oh yes, “worked out”.

Of course there was nothing wrong with her arms. Recently she had lifted and stacked so many bags of flour and sugar that all he flabby skin had vanished.

Well, all this worrying about herself wasn’t going to get the baby bathed. She picked up her bag and walked on. Agnes knew the way well: she often came here, to the Slayer’s grave, to leave flowers. She wasn’t quite sure why. Was it for Spike’s sake? She was well aware that he never visited Buffy. Perhaps it was for Dawn? She knew how much the youngster missed her big sister, missed Buffy, not the Slayer. If she was honest, she knew that neither answer was the true one. She came because, for a very short time, she’d had a friend called Joyce Summers. And this was her daughter’s grave.

Joyce’s own burial plot was always kept clean and tidy, adorned with fresh wild flowers every week. Agnes knew that Dawn visited sometimes but most of the upkeep was done by Spike. For some reason, he could cope with Joyce’s grave, but not the Slayer’s.

As she reached the little path that lead from the main walkway up a slope to where Buffy’s grave stood, Agnes hesitated. There was someone standing next to the grave. Another vampire. She felt a rush of excitement. Spike had finally decided to visit; Agnes was sure he would feel better for it. Perhaps just looking at the grave would help him to move on, to accept that she was never coming back.

Then, as her senses stretched a little more, she realised it wasn’t Spike. Although he was wearing a black leather coat, this man was taller, broad-shouldered – and older. Agnes wasn’t sure how she knew this, just that she sensed centuries of grief surrounding him, weighing him down with its misery.

She stepped gently to one side and took shelter behind a large stone cross. Suddenly, as his silhouette was outlined against the sky, she realised she had seen him before. This was the vampire whom she’d seen once in the Slayer’s company, when Joyce had died. This vampire had been comforting the girl Spike loved.

Agnes flared briefly into game face, then hurried her features back to normal. This was no time for dramatic gestures. As she watched, the vampire picked up a huge sheath of flowers from where they’d been laying on the ground and placed them across the grave.

“She didn’t like lilies! And could you have bought anything more hideous or ostentatious than that monstrosity. So, come to pay your respects – at last? Bit late, she’s been dead over six weeks now, the woman you are supposed to love beyond anything else. But I expect you’ve been busy, busy - busy – detecting!”

Agnes almost jumped out of her highly polished brogues as Spike’s voice cut through the air.

“Spike! What the hell are you doing here?”

“Graveyard, night-time, come on, Liam, surely you haven’t forgotten how we live quite so easily. Or has all that city life softened you up?”

“You’ve no idea how I live or what I do.”

Agnes could hear the hurt bubbling under Spike’s reply. He thought it was covered by sarcasm, but she knew him too well to be fooled.

“Too bloody right, I don’t. You’ve never bothered to let me know and I haven’t bothered finding out. Had enough of watching you being the big detective when I was trying to torture you to death.”

“And that ended well, didn’t it? You got yourself beaten up and sent packing. I’m only surprised Buffy didn’t stake you long ago –oh no, I forgot, you’re impotent now, aren’t you? Poor Spikey. What’s it like, not being able to get any – ?”

Agnes heard the snarl, saw the thinner shape fly through the air, heard the crack of fist on flesh and then they were on the ground, growling, snapping, snarling, both in game face. Their boots tore up great lumps of grass and as they rolled, they smashed the bouquet of lilies under their bodies and the strong scent drifted into the air like some evil miasma.

Agnes was horrified: she couldn’t believe they were fighting on top of Buffy’s grave! Without thinking, she ran out from behind her stone shelter, scurried across the grass and began hitting the two vampires hard with the heavy shopping bag she was holding. Whack! “Stop it, Spike.” Wham! “Stop it immediately. Both of you.” They took no notice, so she just hit harder, aiming at their heads. “I’m ashamed of you. Both of you! Stop it. Do you hear me? Stop this at once.”

With a final swing, the bag crunched down just as they drew their heads apart for a second. It forced its way between their foreheads, smashing their noses and bursting open, scattering stale buns and slices of bread and apples in all directions. The two men fell apart, panting. Spike had blood running from a cut lip and one of the big man’s – had she heard him called Liam? – eyes was shutting fast.

She stepped back as they rolled over and stood up, still glaring at each other. Agnes stepped between them, looking up into two pairs of furious vampire eyes. She felt a frizzon of fear run through her, knowing that it would only take one wrong word for them to launch themselves at each other again and she would be squished in the middle.

“If you want to fight, please go away and do it somewhere else,” she said, her voice trembling. “This is a graveyard. People are buried here. You are standing on the Slayer’s grave!” Agnes silently handed Spike a clean hanky from her coat pocket and said to the taller man, “You should find a nice piece of steak to put on that eye.”

For a long minute, no one moved. Then Spike shimmered back into human face and a wave of grief and shame flooded across him. The bigger man’s face returned to normal and he stared down at Agnes, looking puzzled, as if a poodle had attacked a lion. “I don’t know who you are, but you’re right. I’m sorry. I’ll go. I should never have come. She knows how I feel. How I’ve always felt. Flowers – well, flowers say nothing, really.” He stared at the younger vampire and for a second Agnes thought he was going to reach out to touch him. But he just muttered, “William,” turned and vanished into the woods.

Spike slumped back down away from the grave, his back against a stone angel. He stared at the broken flowers, the smashed buns and cake trodden into the trampled grass and the tears he had sworn never to shed again, burnt in his eyes like molten salt. “I’ll clean it all up, Pet,” he murmured softly into the dark air. “My fault. I should have just let Peaches have his moment and go.”

“Peaches? I thought his name was Liam?”

Spike flinched. He had almost forgotten his friend was standing there, holding the remains of the ridiculous bag in her hands. He dabbed at the blood trickling from his lip with a square of pink linen that was rapidly becoming scarlet, then licked his fingers. “Liam, Angel, Angelus – he has a lot of names, like we all do. He’s the same bloody ponce underneath, whatever he calls himself.”

“Have you known him a long time?”

Spike looked up and, for a second, the veil of grief and despair lifted and genuine amusement glinted in his eyes. “Yes, a few, Aggie. We’ve shared – ” He stopped and the amusement faded. “We’ve shared quite a lot.”

Agnes was confused. “But you’re enemies, not friends?”

Spike stood up and began to tidy the grave. “Enemies?” he said vaguely, reaching over to touch the words carved in the headstone. “Oh, yes, I suppose we are. But once – ” There was a long pause, then, “Bloody hell, Agnes. What the heck were you doing with all these buns and apples?”

The English vampire bit her lip. She knew she had funny little habits Spike laughed at sometimes and liked to keep them secret. She lifted her chin and said bravely, “I sit up here sometimes and when it’s very quiet, a little deer comes out of the wood and I feed it apples and buns. I know I shouldn’t. That wild animals shouldn’t be tamed, but it is so very sweet.” She sighed. “I’d love a little dog or a kitten. Yes, a kitty.”

Spike tried to hide his amusement. He felt the cut on his lip. Yes, laughing at Agnes Pringle might not be a sensible thing to do.
“OK, Agnes, I’ll find you a kitten. That shouldn’t prove difficult at all.”

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 24 : A Purrfect Night

 

The night air was warm, almost tropical: a slight breeze coasted through the trees, hardly moving the leaves. Scent from the clusters of flowering shrubs hung heavily in the air but for once, Agnes Pringle was not enjoying her walk up the main street towards her Old Willow Tree Tea Shoppe. She would be late opening this evening but – she frowned and forced herself not to change face - some things came before money and profit. Some things were far more important. As Certain People should realise.

In her arms she was holding a large wicker basket.

“Agnes – wait. Slow down!” Spike’s voice rang out behind her, but Agnes’s steps never faltered. She heard the heavy ring of his boots on the road, the creak of his long coat, then he was there at her side, but she refused to look at him.

“Aggie – I don’t understand why you’re so miffed. I said I’d get you a kitten – and I did! A pretty white one.” He dodged around and walked backwards in front of her, looking puzzled.

Agnes stood still and drew herself up to her full height, the basket held fiercely against her chest. What she had seen tonight had seared her very – well, to be fair, she didn’t have a soul, but the place where her soul had once been hurt a lot. She glared at Spike who tried hard not to smile at being confronted with five foot two inches of English Womanhood with a Cause.

“You were playing poker, Spike! Not only were you gambling, which is the plaything of the devil, but these poor, poor creatures were being used instead of money.” Her grip on the wicker basket tightened as she flashed into game face and the occupants inside squeaked.

“We always use kittens,” Spike said, who’d never really understood or learnt the lesson of when you are in a hole, stop digging. “Even when humans play, they call the money in the centre of the table the “kitty”. Why do you reckon they do that if the game wasn’t supposed to be played with kittens?”

“I neither know nor care about what the Unturned do when practising their unspeakable habits. I am, however, deeply disappointed that you would be involved. What happens to the poor kitties when you have finished your game? What happens – ” she took a deep breath she didn’t need – “when they grow up?”

The words “snack before bedtime” hovered on Spike’s lips, but the same deep instinct for survival that had kept him unstaked for so long prevented him for uttering them. “We let them go,” he said smoothly and realised, with a flash of horror that childishly, he had crossed his fingers behind his back so that the lie wasn’t really a lie. There, in his mind, was a picture of the namby-pamby William he had once been, standing in front of a teacher at his dame school, insisting he had not spilt the ink over the floor when the black marks were heavy on his fingers. Spike sighed. Sometimes he wondered if being Agnes Pringle’s friend was good for his street cred.

“I do hope that is so, Spike,” Agnes said quietly, shaking her head more in sorrow than in anger. “But just to be on the safe side, I will release these kittens myself.”

“But you will keep the white one, won’t you? Dawn will love it.”

Agnes’s face softened and she continued on her way to the tearooms. “Why don’t you give her a kitten as well? To keep at home. It’s sad if she just has to share mine.”

Spike absently took the wicker basket from her. She had carried it a long way and it was no lightweight. “Would love to, Aggie, but when I suggested it, Willow insisted they already had a cat, although I never see it around.”

“Willow is the red-headed girl, isn’t she? The witch?”

Spike nodded gloomily. “That’s the one. She’s moved in to look after Dawn.” His voice softened. “To be fair, she’s brought Tara with her. I like Tara. She’s Willow’s – ” he hesitated. Agnes would probably be shocked if he said partner – “best friend. She’s all right is Tara; cares for Dawn really well. Worries about her, like I do. Willow – well, sometimes I get the feeling that she doesn’t like Niblet.”

They had reached the tearoom and Spike handed the basket back to Agnes who took it thoughtfully. She’d met plenty of girls like Willow before. Not witches, of course. Winchester didn’t have too many of those, although there had been one …. “Willow was the Slayer’s friend, wasn’t she?”

Spike frowned. “Yes. Willow, Buffy and Xander. Best mates at school and all that rot. There was a cracking girl called Cordelia who hung out with them too, but she had the sense to get out of Sunnydale. Went to L.A.” His thoughts flashed back to a day a couple of years before when he had made his last visit to L.A. “Anyway, Buffy’s mates called themselves the Scoobies. Bloody silly name.”

“I’m sure Willow was devastated when the Slayer died – ” Agnes paused as the vampire in front of her flinched as the truth rang home once again – “but perhaps now, because she is a witch, she finally finds herself the most important person in their little group. And that can be a heady experience.”

Spike nodded. “Makes sense. Not much fun always being the bridesmaid and never the poxy bride. But why would that make her dislike Dawn?”

Agnes bit her lip and ran her finger up and down the wicker bars, listening to the purrs inside the basket. She wasn’t going to tell Spike but she quite understood the relationship between Willow and Tara! Goodness me, she had gone to an all girls boarding school – not a very good one, admittedly - and had seen crushes and ‘friendships’ at close hand.

She could try and explain to Spike that every time Tara showed Dawn any affection, Willow felt jealous because she wanted all her attention, all the time. But it was late and she didn’t feel Spike, being male, would ever fully understand. Friendship was a very powerful emotion. Spike was her friend, but Agnes knew that next to the Slayer and Dawn Summers, she came in a very poor third.

“Dawn reminds Willow all the time that she is only in charge by default,” she said slowly, wearily. “Like pushing your tongue against a loose tooth to see if it still hurts. She’s living in the Slayer’s house, looking after the Slayer’s sister, and, for all I know, trying to do things the Slayer would have done. But that’s someone else’s life she’s leading, isn’t it? Not hers. That’s - worrying.”

Spike ran his fingers through his hair. He didn’t want to think about Buffy tonight, well, not until he was home in his crypt with a whisky bottle at hand. But at least Agnes had forgotten about the sodding kittens for a while.

Agnes sighed. “I must open the shop. It’s way past midnight and I can see several customers lurking. I’ve promised devils on horseback to a party of vampires tonight and I still have to stuff the prunes with cheese, wrap them in bacon and see if I have enough hot sauce to go round. So I will wish you a very good night, Spike.”

“Night, Aggie.”

He waited across the street as she went inside, turned the Closed sign to Open and switched on the lights. Agnes would never know that he often stood there in the small hours of the morning, when he knew Dawn was safe in bed, watching to make sure none of the bigger, rowdier demons decided to walk out without paying, or use the Willow Tree as their personal battle-ground.

Inside the tearoom, Agnes hurried into her bedroom and placed the wicker basket on the floor. Lifting the lid, she smiled in pure pleasure as an explosion black and white, tabby and tortoiseshell hurtled round the room. She shut the door on them and hurried to the kitchen. As soon as she had a moment, she would pour them some milk. There would be a mess by morning, but nothing she couldn’t clear up.

But as Agnes served her impatient customers, baked savouries and worried about Spike’s dreadful habits, she realised she was beginning to feel distinctly uneasy. The hairs on the back of her neck were flickering and that always meant there was an Unturned around somewhere. Somebody was hiding in her tearoom, watching her.

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 25 - The Power of Cake

 

Two nights later, Agnes Pringle decided that enough was enough! It was time to take a stand. This was the third night running that the hairs on the back of her neck had wriggled and she’d realised an Unturned was hiding somewhere in the Willow Tree Tea Room. Sometimes she could feel its gaze on her downstairs while she was cooking, sometimes it was when the demons and vamps were enjoying their food.

She’d tried to spot the stupid human – in fact she was seriously worried that it might be someone who was mentally disturbed, because really, who would be silly enough to linger when there were several serial-killers of various types sitting in close proximity? But so far she’d been unable to find the intruder.

Agnes was pretty certain that the basement door that led into the maze of tunnels that ran underneath the whole of Sunnydale was how her stalker was getting in and out of the tearoom. And every time she came close to him – or her, of course, because Agnes had learnt to be politically correct recently – vanished back into the tunnels. The first night she’d wondered if it was Dawn – unhappy at home, coming to the Willow Tree where she worked at the weekends as a waitress. But she was pretty certain that Dawn wouldn’t hide. She would tell Agnes she was there and probably sit in the kitchen, nibbling left over iced fancies and drinking hot chocolate, playing with one of the kittens that Agnes had decided to keep, having liberated them from Spike’s demon poker game.

So, not Dawn. And this evening – it had gone too far! Agnes had baked a whole tray of strawberry jam turnovers. She’d left them to cool on the kitchen table and when she returned to take them upstairs, several of them were missing. She’d been horrified to find herself hoping that whoever it was had burnt their mouth on the hot jam! But turnovers were extremely popular – and she’d added a little blood to the pastry which turned it an interesting pinkish brown.

Unable to sleep that day, she got out of bed and made herself a nice cup of tea. Whoever it was, what did they want from her – apart from her second death? Agnes ran the faces of all the Unturneds she knew through her mind. She’d met quite a few because of her friendship with Spike and his unfortunate tendency to get involved with humans. But she couldn’t think of one who would hide away in this manner and – apart from Dawn – she couldn’t think of one who knew she was a vampire.

She often wondered why Spike was so concerned that she kept her true identity hidden. He wasn’t at all bothered if people knew he was of the vampiric persuasion. But when she’d once told him she was – and she had checked on the parlance – “coming out” – he’d choked on the blood soaked anchovy sandwich she’d made him and told her that advertising herself rather than her product, bloody well wasn’t good business sense.

Overlooking the bad language, Agnes admitted that he might have a point. Since The Willow Tree had opened, shortly after the Slayer had died, she’d managed to build up two very different clienteles. Unturneds during the afternoon and early evening, then she would close until midnight when she opened again for vampires and demons. Apart from the daily basket of blackmail muffins that she had to provide to Anya, the ex-demon girl who managed The Magic Box, for not giving away the secret of her vampire identity, everything she baked she sold, and the profits were beginning to grow. So this Unturned, who was watching her from the shadows and now sampling the goods without paying for them, had to be stopped.

Agnes laid her plans with cunning. She baked a special chocolate cake; several layers of sponge, frosting, raspberry jam, its surface studded with pecans and chocolate drops. When she closed the tearooms at seven that evening, she cut a slice of cake and left it on a plate, as if it had been forgotten. And just in case that didn’t tempt the Unturned, she also stood the mixing bowl with the remains of the chocolate frosting on the table as well.

She stood behind the half open pantry door and waited, clutching a large rolling-pin in her hand. She just hoped whoever it was wasn’t too big or violent, but if she had to Change her Face, she would, even though she hated to do so, except in very exceptional circumstances. But there was no way she could stand idly by and watch her profits be eaten every night.

The minutes ticked past, but Agnes was used to standing for hours; her time running a tea stall in Sunnydale’s garbage dump was coming in useful. Then, just as she was beginning to think that the Unturned wasn’t going to show up, she heard the creak of the basement tunnel door and footsteps crossed the kitchen. A small gasp, almost a squeal and she could picture the slice of cake being munched. She waited another few seconds, then, trembling with agitation, she stepped out from behind the pantry door, brandishing the rolling-pin above her head. A young man was standing by the table, clutching the mixing bowl, sucking a finger that had obviously just been scooping up the remains of the chocolate frosting.

“Stop that! Who are you and what do you want?” Agnes took two quick steps towards him, then, almost against her will, found her face changing and knew how very ugly she must look.

The young man gave a hiccup, dropped the bowl - which promptly smashed on the tiled floor – and fainted. When he came round to find Agnes patting his face with a wet cloth, the boy moaned and scrabbled away from her. “Don’t kill me! Please don’t kill me! I won’t tell anyone. I won’t tell the Slayer. Promise.”

Agnes realised she was still using her Turned face and shimmered back to pudgy normality with an annoyed shrug of her shoulders. “Why should I kill you? Calm down, young man and tell me what you’re doing in my kitchen, stealing my food?”

The boy gulped nervously. “You’re a vampire, like Spike, aren’t you? I didn’t know. I thought you were just the lady who runs the tearooms where Spike eats all the time and the Slayer’s sister works.”

He scrambled to his feet and Agnes sighed, wondering what it would take for him to answer one of her questions. And obviously he had no idea that Buffy Summers was dead, which was very odd. “You know Spike?”

The boy went very pink. “Well, not to actually know, but I think he’s wonderful.”

“Do you have a name?”

“I’m Tucker’s brother, Andrew.”

Agnes frowned. It seemed such an odd way of introducing himself. As if being Tucker’s brother was far more important than his own name. “I am Miss Agnes Pringle and this is my shop. And every time you eat something and do not pay for it, you are stealing from me.”

The pink in the boy’s cheeks went a darker shade. “I…I…didn’t realise, Miss Pringle. It all looks so great – I mean, this cake – I’d love to cook something like this.”

Silently Agnes handed him a broom and pointed to the broken glass on the floor. Andrew began to tidy up without a murmur. “So you enjoy cooking?”

“Oh, I don’t – I mean, my friends – we’re sort of tough guys, rebels, outside the law – cooking? – oh, no – ” he laughed nervously. “I can just imagine what my friend Warren would say if he knew I liked being in a kitchen.”

Agnes sat and watched him as he worked. Poor boy, he seemed so muddled, so unsure of himself and even though she had never met him, she was beginning to dislike his friend Warren. “Cooking can be extremely useful, even for men,” she ventured at last. “You never know in life what skills will come in useful. There might come a time when you need to provide food for a lot of people. I could teach you.”

Andrew shook his head and, without waiting to be told, began to wash up the dirty dishes in the sink. “My friend Warren says – ” he stopped, licking his lips, glancing back at the remains of the chocolate sponge. “Would it take long to learn how to bake a cake like that one?”

Agnes raised her eyebrows. She had learnt a long time ago – her would be husband, Richard Wilkins III, had always been a perfect lamb when there was a chance of chocolate cake – that the male of most species would do a lot for cake that they wouldn’t for anything else. Well – she pushed the thought aside, obviously there were other ways of persuading gentlemen to do what you wanted, but she preferred to rely on cake. “No, Andrew, it wouldn’t take you long to learn that skill,” Agnes said gently. “And, of course, it would mean we both knew a great secret about each other, wouldn’t it?” Andrew looked puzzled, so she went on. “I mean, I won’t tell your friends that you are learning how to cook and you won’t tell them that I am not human.”

She could see a struggle taking place inside the boy’s head and the words, “My friend Warren says – ” trembling on his lips. His face was far too open and easy to read: every emotion he felt was written on it. She could guess from his expression now that telling this Warren a huge secret about vampires was extremely tempting.

“I’m not very good at keeping secrets, Miss Pringle,” he mumbled at last. “I don’t think you’d better trust me not to tell. I’m not – I’m not a very brave person, you see. My brother Tucker was brave. Everyone knows that. And Warren is – well, Warren is my friend!”

“I know how you feel. I’ve always been of a timid disposition, too. But sometimes you can surprise yourself. A few weeks ago, I would never have set a trap for you. I would have waited for Spike and asked him to sort you out.”

As Andrew squeaked under his breath, Agnes reached for a clean apron and tied it quickly round her waist. Could she trust this young Unturned? She realised he was too easily led and far too impressionable. So she had two alternatives – she could teach Andrew how to cook and hope that a little steel entered his backbone with the chocolate frosting or she could call on Spike to come and frighten him so badly that he left Sunnydale for ever.

She handed the boy a bag of flour and pointed towards the scales. She’d made her decision. Of course chocolate cake alone couldn’t make a difference to a person; it was producing something you had made with your own hands. That was the trick; your creation. Agnes would trust the power of cake to help Andrew find his own character and stop being just Tucker’s Brother and Warren’s Friend. And if she was wrong? Well, it would only be her Unlife that would be in any sort of danger.

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 26 : Changing Sides

 

“So, will you baby-sit for us tonight? Please?”

Agnes looked up from her mixing-bowl and sighed. It was hard to say no to Shona, especially when she was wearing her pleading expression. But she was so busy at the moment and it really wasn’t convenient.

“Come on, Agnes. Mike and I never get a chance to go out together without the kids and you know how fond they are of you. But it’s too dangerous to leave them on their own all night.”

Agnes added more butter to her pastry and rubbed the mixture through her cold fingers. The Pattersons were one of a very few whole vampire families living in Sunnydale. They’d arrived, as so many others had done, to watch the last Apocalypse: then, sadly for them, because they’d promised the kids such a good time, the Slayer had defeated Glory. The majority of the Apocalypse tourists had left, but the Patterson were among those who had found a nice cave, moved in and stayed.

“I suppose I can ask Clem to look after the Willow Tree for the first couple of hours,” Agnes said, cross with herself for giving in so easily. “But you must be home by three a.m. It gets so busy in here around then and Clem, sweet as he is, is a soft touch for a hard luck story and I find most of my cakes have been given away.”

Shona smiled with relief. “Oh yes, we’ll be home by three, I promise. We just want to have a little time together. You know!”

Agnes busied herself with rolling out her pastry and pretended she hadn’t heard. But she was well aware that four vampires living in one cave didn’t leave a lot of room for privacy, especially when two of them were aged eleven and eight.

It was obviously extremely rare that a whole family was turned, rose and stayed together. Couples, yes, but not the children. When they were killed – and Agnes could find no good reason for any vampire to do that; after all there were always people around whose death wouldn’t be mourned! – they were rarely turned. In the case of the Pattersons, whatever vampire had been responsible had obviously gone through their house, feeding and turning each of them, one after the other. Their families had buried them in the same grave and so they’d had no problem finding each other – afterwards.

Agnes liked Shona very much, but wasn’t quite as fond of Mike, her husband. She thought he was one of those vampires who, although fairly newly risen, thought he knew everything about his new way of life. He’d been a mathematics teacher Before and was keen on explaining to Agnes how she could make her business more successful. Agnes had heard that he’d started his own enterprise recently, advising demons and vampires on how to invest their money. She’d tried telling Shona a few days ago when she called into the Willow Tree with the children that this was not a good idea – a demon and his money should never be parted – but she’d just laughed and said that Mike was a law to himself and she didn’t like to interfere.

“Anyway, it stops him getting under my feet all day long,” she’d added, nibbling on a chocolate éclair and watching the children munch their way through blood flavoured Angel cake.

Now, as Agnes swiftly cut out the bases of her jam tarts, she asked, “Have you managed to find the children another teacher yet?”

Shona shook her head. “No, Mike can teach them their sums, but they’re too young to learn the sort of maths he did Before and that annoys him. They can read and write, of course, and we’ll just have to muddle through as best we can. To be honest, Agnes, I’m not too worried about that part of their lives. It’s – ” she hesitated and picked up some spare pieces of pastry to mould between her fingers. “At the end of the day, our biggest worry is feeding them!”

Agnes swiftly added strawberry jam mixed with blood into each tart and popped them in the oven. Of course feeding the children was a problem. That was why so many Turned children faded away soon afterwards. Oh they could feed if they were lucky and found someone sleeping, but even then there was the likelihood of that person waking up and fighting off the child.

“They like pig blood, don’t they?”

Shona sat on the table, swinging her legs. “Thank goodness, yes! You should see the problems Rebecca Mossiman two caves along has with her little girl! But it’s so expensive: the butchers charge twice as much for pig as they do for cow or sheep.”

Agnes tutted angrily. “I know! There should be a law against that. It’s profiteering.”

“I was wondering if you might have a word with Spike about it? He likes the kids, doesn’t he? I know he’s always busy and I wouldn’t want to bother him, but if he could just speak to the butchers, it might help.”

Agnes sighed. Just recently she seemed to have become a sort of go-between for vampires and demons who wanted to ask Spike a favour. It wasn’t that she minded, just that she had a business to run.

Much later that night, she surveyed her two charges and wondered if motherhood was, indeed, the wonderful experience she had always believed it to be. The children, awake for about two hours, had devoured their breakfast – and she had to thank Spike for the Weetabix and blood hint – read books and played games. Agnes had inspected the hole where one of Nancy’s baby teeth had fallen out, and been lectured in a kindly fashion by Eric on the rules of American football.

The children were now sitting, moodily kicking the table legs. Eric and Nancy were not looking their best. They were pale, skinny children, wearing T-shirts, jeans and baseball caps worn backwards. They both had dark hair like their mother's; and they both needed a good wash. Agnes knew how hard it was to keep yourself clean when you were a vampire and realised that caring for two little ones must be difficult, but still…. Her fingers itched to braid Nancy’s hair.

“Stop kicking the table, Eric dear.”

“I’m bored, Aunt Aggie.”

“I’m bored as well,” Nancy said

“How about reading to me from your nice book.”

Eric scowled. “It’s a stupid book. I want to watch TV.”

Agnes shook her head. “You know your father’s rules. No TV on weekdays during the night. You can have it on for an hour before you go to bed tomorrow morning.”

Eric sighed. “Can we go out, then, Aunt Aggie? It’s dark enough.”

Agnes hesitated. One of Shona’s rules for babysitting was that the children stayed in the cave. But Agnes didn’t think she was right. She could tell that both children were suffering from living in the cramped quarters of their cave for hour after hour. They needed to run about, play, let off steam. “Well…”

“We could go on the swings again!” Nancy said, her eyes shining. She wrapped her arms round Agnes’ waist and beamed up at her, lovingly. “There’s no kids in the playground at night, Aunt Aggie. You told us that, remember?”

Agnes made up her mind. The children needed exercise and, as Nancy said, the playground would be empty. Half an hour on the swings and climbing frame would burn off a lot of their repressed energy and their mother need never know. Adult vampires could hunt and kill if they felt bored – children couldn’t.

She scurried along behind the children as they ran, whooping and yelling, along the underground passages. She was always amazed how they could find their way, unerringly choosing the right tunnel when the path divided. She had been in Sunnydale a long time and still had to think in case she got lost. The cool air on her face announced they had reached the entrance. The children stopped and looked back for her. Agnes smiled: they were good children at heart. She’d been teaching them their Safety Code for weeks, every time she looked after them. Stop, Look, Listen, Scent, Listen, Scent Again and if all clear and dark, you can go Outside.

She straightened Nancy’s jacket, rubbed dirt off Eric’s face with her hanky and then watched as they raced across the empty playground. Agnes followed them slowly, enjoying the night air on her face, the smell from the flowering bushes planted along the borders wafting over her. Eric was hanging upside down from the climbing rails and Nancy was swinging, working herself higher and higher.

“Oh look. A whole family to stake. I haven’t done a whole family before!”

Agnes spun round in shock. The Slayer, wearing a bright red top, tight jeans and a wide smile, was standing in front of her, holding a stake in her hand. Agnes backed away. Oh God, the children! She had to protect the children. And why hadn’t she sensed the Slayer was there?

“I’m Buffy. I’m the Slayer. I’m here to kill you.” The slim, jaunty figure stepped forward confidently and Agnes took another step backwards. This was ridiculous. The Slayer was dead, buried deep in Sunnydale Cemetery. Suddenly something clicked inside Agnes’ head. This wasn’t the real Slayer! This was that – that thing that Spike had had made a year ago. His sex toy. No wonder she hadn’t sensed it’s presence; it was a robot!

“Good evening, Buffy. We’ve met before. Remember? My name’s Agnes Pringle, Spike’s friend.”

“Spike? Spike’s my lover. Oh, no, Willow says not lover. Willow says I must kill all vampires. Stand still, Agnes Pringle. Let me kill you quickly. Then I can kill the little vampires. Vampires are bad. Vampires must die.”

“Children - ” Agnes’ voice sounded strained and old as she tried to make it sound as calm as she could. “Eric, Nancy, I want you to run away, now. Do you hear me? Eric, don’t go home. Find a tunnel deep down where you can both hide. Now, run!”

She stepped forward, brandishing her handbag. She knew it wouldn’t stop the robot, but it might give the children just a few more seconds to escape. And, a bitter little thought flew through her head, at least you won’t be here to tell Shona that you nearly got her children staked! Agnes heard the chains of the swing rattle and hoped Eric had Nancy safe. He was a good boy; he’d look after his sister – “Oh no!” She gasped as two little bodies sped past her and two small figures crouched between her and the robot. Both children were in full game face, Nancy’s fangs were even showing through the space her baby tooth had left. The robot Buffy looked surprised, then laughed and flung herself forward just as there was a roar, a flying figure in black leather and the stake in her hand was sent spinning across the ground.

“Spike!” Agnes shimmied her face back to normal and reached out to pull the children close to her. She knew she didn’t have a heartbeat, but was convinced she could still feel it racing in her chest.

“Spike! My lover. Oh no, my friend.” The robot lay on her back, smiling up at the vampire standing over her. “Why did you stop me, Spike. I must kill vampires. I am programmed to kill.”

Spike threw Agnes an anxious glance. “You OK? Kids OK? Bloody hell, they were brave. She didn’t touch you, did she?”

Agnes shook her head, still trying to find her voice. “It’s….it’s that robot creature, isn’t it?”

Spike nodded. “We call it the Buffybot. Willow’s given it an overhaul. She goes out patrolling, but not on her own. One of us is always with her. I’m sorry, Aggie. She slipped away from me after her last kill.”

“You should have told me she was out at night,” Agnes said, smoothing Nancy’s hair back from her face.

For a moment, Spike looked ashamed. “Sorry! We didn’t want the demons and vamps to know the Slayer’s dead.” He turned to Buffybot. “This is Agnes Pringle. She is my friend. You will not stake Agnes. Repeat after me…you will not stake Agnes Pringle, ever!”

“I will not stake Agnes Pringle ever.”

“That’s good. Oh and you won’t stake kids, either. That’s just – well, it’s beneath you, Buffy.”

Agnes ushered a strangely quiet Eric and Nancy towards the tunnel entrance. All she wanted was to get the children safely home. This was all her fault. She’d thought she’d known better than their mother and she’d been wrong. She’d almost got them killed: she knew she would never forgive herself for this evening. Thank God Spike had been there to save them.

But as the three of them stumbled along the tunnel towards the Patterson cave, Agnes knew that as well as worrying about what had nearly happened, she wanted to understand what Spike had meant when he said, “We didn’t want the demons and vamps to know the Slayer’s dead.”? ‘We’ meant he’d linked himself with Unturneds once more. He was growing further and further apart from the vampire community. Agnes realised as she hurried the children into the cave, lit candles, made sure they changed their shoes and produced a box of cherry cookies for them to eat with their warmed pigs’ blood, that this was the reason she was constantly being asked to pass on messages to Spike now. The vampire community no longer had a leader. He had gone over to the other side.

“Should we tell Mom and Dad about what happened tonight?” Eric asked through a mouthful of cookie. “We won’t if you don’t want us to, Aunt Aggie.”

Agnes looked at him affectionately. They had both been so brave and none of it had been their fault. “I think we’d better confess, don’t you?” she said. “It was all my fault. Not ours. And you shouldn’t have secrets from your parents and anyway – ” she gestured to where Nancy was curled up, fast asleep on the sofa, “you know what a gossip your sister is. I don’t think the secret would be secret for long, do you?”

Eric nodded seriously and, because he hadn’t asked, Agnes switched on the television – she would argue with Mike and Shona when they got back. The reception was bad down here, but the cartoons needed little explanation. Agnes sat on the sofa with a sleeping child on either side of her. She glanced at the clock and frowned: four am. Really, Mike and Shona were naughty; they’d promised to be back by three.

A noise at the cave entrance brought her out of a little doze. Agnes stared as Shona came in through the curtains hanging across the opening. She was covered in mud, her face scratched, her hair a tangled mess. There was blood on her hands and arms but it was the look in her eyes that brought Agnes to her feet – an expression of such pain and loss that the air in the cave seemed to darken.

“Shona, my dear, what’s happened?”

The vampire girl looked at Agnes as if she didn’t recognise her. “Mike’s gone. Staked to dust. The Slayer killed him.”

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 27 : Choices

 

Agnes Pringle eased her toes out of her sensible shoes and wriggled them blissfully. She’d been on her feet constantly since she’d got out of bed at noon and she now had half an hour when she could relax before the early evening customers arrived. The smell of baking hung in the air; the spicy warmth of cinnamon, blood and apple turnovers escaping into the street to entice people into the Olde Willow Tree Teashoppe. She wished she didn’t feel so tired: she was babysitting again this evening. That poor girl, Shona, who’d lost her husband to the pretend Slayer, had asked if she would look after Eric and Nancy for a couple of hours and Agnes hadn’t the heart to say no, even though she was exhausted.

But weren’t vampires supposed to have endless energy and strength? Agnes sometimes wondered if a lot of the laws and legends she’d heard over the past years were nothing more than fairy-tales. All she knew was that her feet hurt – she was sure she was developing a corn on one toe and she’d never heard of a vampire foot specialist living in Sunnydale.

Sometimes she wished so much that she was back home in England; that she had never come to the States, never been Turned. That she was in her own dear little cottage and knew exactly where to go for all the little ailments that afflicted ladies of a certain age. Agnes wondered what her life would have been like if she hadn’t won that movie magazine competition and come on a coach trip to Los Angeles to see the Homes of the Stars. Why, the original Willow Tree Teashoppe in Winchester might have blossomed into a whole chain across the southern counties of England!

Picking up her knitting, and dreaming of a business empire that Richard Branson might have envied, she watched indulgently as Snowball, her white cat, patted the ball of wool across the floor. No longer quite the kitten she had rescued from Spike’s poker game, of course, but still with kittenish ways. The other kittens had gone to good vampire homes all through the tunnel system, which of course was a good hunting ground for mice and rats of all sorts and types.

Agnes stared at the jumper she was making. A good red, blood- coloured and she had a very nice motive to appliqué on the front. She only hoped Dawn liked it. Agnes had been appalled to discover the girl only had one jersey. Admittedly it didn’t often get cold enough in Sunnydale to wear a thick sweater, but recently the evenings had been chilly.

She looked up as a crash from the tearoom made her wince. Dawn was stacking up cups and saucers, ready for opening time. Agnes sighed. A lot of her profit seemed to vanish into shards these days, but at least the child gave the impression of being a bit happier. She stopped to count stitches, tutting as she realised she’d knitted when she should have purled and wondering if it would notice. Was Dawn happier? She spoke cheerfully to the customers, was eating well and Agnes had heard her laughing with Clem and Spike the other day. But – and it was a big but – there was a sadness in her eyes that Agnes felt would never vanish. And a hint of – what – desperation? Was that too strong a word? As if being left completely alone in the world, except for a few friends, was too much for her to handle. Although of course she would.

Agnes knew that feeling. She could remember the first morning after she had Risen. Well, a lot of the despair had been because she couldn’t get the mud out of her hair and she’d had to creep back into her motel room to have a hot shower and collect her belongings. But there had also been the despair of knowing that life had changed, there was no going back, no second chance, that from now on you were on your own.

The door to the tearoom opened and Dawn hurried in, looking guilty. “Sorry. Don’t worry. It was only one cup!” she said, holding out the pieces for inspection. “And I think I can stick them together again. Or Willow can magic them whole. I’m sure she would if I asked her, except that she seems so busy at the moment, I don’t like to bother her.”

Agnes was not quite sure if a magically mended teacup would be strong enough to take hot liquid and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. “Oh, let’s not bother her. I’m sure one cup won’t break the bank.”

“Is that my sweater?” Dawn asked, her eyes brightening. “Awesome colour, Aggie. You’re so clever. Could you teach me to knit?”

“I expect I could, one day when we’re not so busy.”

Dawn stole a piece of shortbread that was cooling on the table and nibbled at it. “We do seem to have a zillion more customers than we did a week or two ago. You know, Agnes, it’s a pity we can’t do a home delivery service at weekends. You could make your hot chicken pasties or those scrummy hot cheese things or pizzas!”

Agnes bent her head over her knitting. She had a strong suspicion where this was leading. Certain magazines had been left lying around in the basement for the past week. “But we’ve no transport,” she said innocently. “And I can’t have you walking around town on your own.”

“Well – Dawn looked the picture of innocence. “Say - say you bought a motorbike – just an old, cheap sort of bike, nothing fancy. I bet you could get Spike to ride it and I could carry the food on the back.”

Agnes knitted to the end of the row before she replied. “I’ll think about it,” she said at last.

Dawn leapt up, eyes shining. “Wow, that’s great! Spike said – I mean, I thought you’d agree. I’ll tell Spike to look out for a bike, then, shall I? Wow! It’ll be mega cool.”

A banging on the door upstairs made them both jump. Agnes looked at her watch. “Customers already. We’re late opening, Dawn. Off you go. Be polite and apologise for the delay. I’ll be out in a moment or two.” Agnes rolled up her knitting, found some food for Snowball, pushed her feet back into her shoes and tied on a clean, frilly apron. She knew very well why there were so many more customers at the weekends. Coach trips were being diverted to Sunnydale to see the “Fantastic Modern Sculpture” on the edge of town.

The rickety tower left standing when Glory was defeated had become a money-spinner for the Mayor and other dignitaries. There’d been plans to dismantle it, then someone realised it could be of value. Although no one was allowed to get too close to it – the town could be sued if someone got injured – you could always find a group of tourists taking pictures from a distance, oohing and ahhing over the “asymmetrical wonder” and “futuristic design”. There had even been postcards printed and T-shirts with the tower on the front. Admittedly these had not been around for too long. Spike and Dawn’s other friends had destroyed every one they could find.

By the time Agnes entered the tearoom, Dawn had the early customers seated and was rushing around taking orders. Agnes filled teapots, buttered scones, spread strawberry jam and arranged plates of iced fancies, shortbread and Parkin, double checking that she was using the human variety and not the one she made for her vampire clients that had ox blood and chilli powder in it for extra bite.

She didn’t look up when the bell over the door rang, but her hand jerked, sending tea all over the counter when a strident, disdainful English voice said, “Well, I don’t expect we’ll get a proper cup of tea in a place like this, but at least we can all sit down. Find a table, ladies. Remember to use what the Americans call the Rest Room. We’ve got twenty minutes before the coach comes back for us. And Betty, do be careful this time, dear, and don’t have a second cup of tea because we certainly don’t want to stop again before we get back to Los Angeles, do we?”

Agnes stared across the room: she could never have mistaken that voice. It was Pamela Megson, Chair Lady – or should that be Person? – of the Women’s Institute group that Agnes had belonged to back in England!

Tall, stately, with a gravity defying bosom, Mrs Pamela Megson - so clever and able – so determined that her poor husband should get a knighthood, thus raising her status to Lady Megson that she had driven him to the verge of a nervous breakdown. Pamela Megson who’d been only too happy for Agnes to provide refreshments for fetes or Christmas bazaars, but had never invited her to attend the little soirees she gave for her closest friends – or those women she felt could be of use in the future.

Agnes stared at the other ladies who were scattering across the shop, finding tables, reading the menu, queuing outside the Rest Room. She didn’t recognise most of them – well, several years had passed since she was a member – but Betty Grant – small, thin, a permanent expression of worry on her face, she was there.

Dawn was standing by Mrs Megson’s table, waiting for her order. “The full tea, I think, with fruit cake and the buttered crumpets. And do make sure the extra water is boiling! And please provide lemon as well as milk. And can that be real shortbread on the menu? I doubt it. Well, I will try a piece, but I will not pay for it unless it is genuine shortbread.” She gestured at Betty Grant. “My friend here will have some plain bread and butter, thinly cut, mind you, and half a scone with no jam.”

“I don’t know if we sell just half a scone,” Dawn said, looking worried.

“I’ll deal with this order, Dawn,” Agnes said gently. “Start buttering some bread. Good afternoon, Pamela. This is a great surprise. Fancy seeing you in America.”

There was a silence, broken only by a sort of squeak from Betty Grant whose mouth was a complete O of surprise. Pamela Megson was made of sterner stuff. She only blinked, but then spoilt it by saying, “Agnes Pringle? But you’re dead!”

Agnes had an overwhelming desire to say ‘How right you are, Pamela!’ but restrained herself. “Well, I had heard that rumours to that effect had been circulated in Winchester, but here I am, as you can see.”

Mrs Megson stared up at her. “So you stayed in America after your holiday? What a very odd decision.”

“Well, it was really made for me,” Agnes murmured.

Mrs Megson sniffed disdainfully and glanced around the tearooms. “I can see now that this little place is a lot like your café back home.”

“It was a tearoom, not a café.”

“Well, dear, let’s face it, it wasn’t in quite the right part of town to attract the best sort of tourists, was it?”

Agnes felt her face slipping and fought to control herself. It simply would not do to show Pamela her fangs. There was far too much crockery on the tables! “You are here on holiday?” she asked at last.

“Yes.” It was Betty who answered. “We’re on a coach trip – Los Angeles and Surrounding Districts. Visits to the Homes of the Stars. It’s been – very interesting.”

“It’s been extremely hot,” Pamela Megson said firmly. “I have been most displeased with the accommodation and the coach they have given us. I intend to complain to the agency when we return to England.”

“I thought the coach was lovelyj – ” Betty started, then stopped, her lips quivering as Mrs Megson glared at her.

“So, do you have any plans to return home? I’m sure your life must be very unfulfilling here in California.” She peered up at Agnes. “The climate must agree with you. You don’t look any older, but you’re very pale. But then you were never one for good, healthy exercise, were you? I run a group called Ladies who Hike. I organise a brisk walk every Sunday afternoon through the fields and woods, regardless of the weather. It would do you the world of good.”

Agnes looked down at the woman who had caused her so many sleepless nights in the past, so much distress at being overlooked and treated as if she was less than worthless. She glanced round her domain; she had built this herself – well, with the help of dear Richard’s money, of course. There was Dawn, struggling with a vast teapot, doing her very best to survive the loss of a mother and a sister. At any moment Spike might arrive through the tunnels, anxious to discuss motorbikes. Tonight she was babysitting the child vampires, Eric and Nancy. Tomorrow she was giving that strange boy Andrew another cookery lesson.

In Winchester she knew what each day would bring. Here in Sunnydale, she had no idea what was about to happen.

“I am home,” Agnes replied quietly.

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 28 : Everything Changes

 

Agnes Pringle didn’t believe in second sight, visions or out of body experiences. Well, in a way she’d been out of her real body for a long time, so perhaps the last didn’t count. A lot of her old acquaintances back in England had been interested in Spiritualism and Agnes had even accompanied them one evening to a séance in the home of a Mrs Bachelor.

Nobody had ‘come through’ to Agnes from The Other Side, which her friends blamed on her inability to relax and let Things Happen. Agnes had to admit that she had been so appalled at the quality of the biscuits Mrs Bachelor had served with their cups of tea and her own extreme reluctance to speak to her departed mother – who would only have found fault with her – that she had found relaxing difficult. And the only time in her life she had relaxed and let Things Happen, she’d ended up a vampire, so she’d always looked upon that as something to be avoided where necessary.

No, Agnes – a baptized and confirmed member of the Church of England: she had a handwritten card from the Bishop of Winchester to prove it – believed in God and Heaven and found that was quite enough. Even after her unfortunate experience in Hollywood all those years ago, she was convinced He would look out for her because It Hadn’t Been Her Fault! So why, on this particular evening, did she feel that something dreadful was about to happen?

She was thinking of shutting the Tearooms early: there were no demon or vampire customers, not even Malcolm, the hulking lad in black leather who’d taken to coming in as soon as she unlocked the doors at night to feast on hot curry pasties and cream cornets. Malcolm was a problem to his mother, one of Agnes’s friends, a very reclusive demon lady who lived under the Sunnydale Library and was studying Californian butterflies. Malcolm had grown up in that quiet, rarefied atmosphere which might have suited some demon boys, but sadly Malcolm was not academically minded and was now running with a bad crowd.

Agnes gazed uneasily out of the window at the dark street where a vicious wind was scattering loose rubbish in all directions. There were no customers in sight. Even earlier that afternoon there had only been a few Unturneds coming in to purchase hot buttered scones and iced fancies. Dawn had been thrilled when her friends from The Magic Box had arrived and sat at a table in the corner, heads together, obviously deep in a discussion about something important. But, peering out from where she had been keeping a low profile in the kitchen, Agnes had been well aware that whatever it was, they had no intention of letting Dawn in on the secret. She’d noticed that every time the young girl went across to speak to them, they stopped talking and pretended to be eating.

Had Dawn noticed? Agnes didn’t think she had, she was far too excited about working out the route for the packed meals Agnes was, apparently, going to cook every evening and Dawn and Spike were going to deliver around Sunnydale. “Like pizza, but far tastier,” she’d said to Agnes, her eyes sparkling with enthusiasm. “I’m going to write out what’s on offer and put a leaflet into every mailbox in Sunnydale. Then the orders will come flooding in and Spike and me will deliver them. We’ll make a fortune, Agnes.”

Agnes privately doubted that, but anything that cheered up Dawn was good news to her and as long as she wore her helmet and Spike didn’t drive the monster bike too fast, then all would probably be well. That was where the two of them were now, checking out the quickest routes through the backstreets of town.

Was that what she was uneasy about, she wondered? Dawn on the back of the motorbike she had, after much pleading from the teenager, bought for Spike? No, it didn’t seem to be that sort of worry. She knew Spike would never drive wildly with Dawn sitting behind him, whatever he did when he was out there alone, night after night, riding the long, lonely roads that surrounded Sunnydale. Agnes knew that he hoped the grief that still clung to him like a cloak would somehow be blown away by the speed of his passing. But Agnes also knew that grief never left you; it only faded eventually through darkest black to palest grey.

No, it wasn’t Spike she was uneasy about tonight. It was difficult to pin down. This was more the feeling she used to have at home when a storm would sweep in from the west and blanket the Hampshire countryside with black clouds and thunder. All she knew for certain was that she’d put Snowball, her cat, out into the tunnels that ran under the tearooms and checked that the two vampire children, Eric and Nancy were safe in their cave. They’d pleaded with her to take them to the park again, to play on the swings. Shona, their mother, was out somewhere with her new boyfriend, but tonight Agnes was determined that the children would stay safely underground.

She was down in the basement, preparing the dough for the next day’s bread when she heard the first roaring of the bike engines and the distant sound of smashing glass. Hurrying upstairs, she faltered as she saw the glare of fires outside in the street, heard the yells and screaming, the roaring of engines, the crashing as shop windows were shattered all along the main road.

Hooligans! A whole gang of demon hooligans! And somewhere out there, Spike and Dawn were driving into big trouble. Before she could run, the door to the Tearooms was smashed open, the lock breaking as if it didn’t exist. Two huge, leather coated demons stood there, lengths of chains in their hands, teeth glistening, blood already coating their hands and boots. One of them roared and flung out his arm, sending the nearest cake-stands flying, the air suddenly filled with spiralling sponge and paper doilies. They were going to destroy her shop! Her dear Willow Tree that she’d built with Richard’s money. How dare they! If Richard was here, he’d – he’d – eat them! Agnes felt her face change and for once she didn’t care. She gripped a weapon in her hand – it was only her rolling pin but made from solid wood – and yelled, “Get out! Get out of my shop, both of you. How dare you come in here?”

The bigger demon looked surprised, then sneered and took a step towards her, plucking a bloodstained axe from his belt. “Silly little vampire!” he jeered. “How funny you’ll look in tiny piles of dust all over the floor.”

“Yes – all over the floor,” the second demon echoed, but his voice sounded a little strained and, to Agnes, familiar.

She stared up at him. “Malcolm? Malcolm Briggs is that you? You should be ashamed of yourself!” She was so angry she found herself shaking the rolling-pin in his face. All those curry pasties she’d made for him. The jam doughnuts, the toad-in-the-hole with real dried toad for his birthday. “Go away at once or – or – I’ll tell your mother!”

Malcolm took a step backwards, but the other demon just laughed and advancing, drew the axe back over his shoulder, reading to swing at her. Then, suddenly, more screams came from outside and Agnes could hear someone roaring out names.
The demon and Malcolm turned and fled and Agnes stood trembling amongst the broken china and crushed Victoria Sponge. Dropping her rolling-pin, she picked up a chair and, slamming the door, pushed the chair under the handle and sat on it. She had no idea if she could stop them returning, but she would do her very best. Soon Spike would come to check up on her, then everything would be all right. She sat for a long time, terrified but determined, tears running down her face and dripping from her chin. She had no idea why she was crying: she decided at last it was realising that Malcolm and his mother would never be her friends again.

Whatever was happening outside went on for hours until eventually the noise died away. Every bone in her body ached and she had the utmost difficulty in getting her face to go back to normal – her fangs would keep slipping out, cutting her bottom lip. She knew she must go and check on Nancy and Eric and only hoped their mother had got back safely before the trouble began.

Agnes was sure Dawn was safe; Spike would have seen to that. He could always be relied on to look after his friends. He would probably come through the tunnels to the Willow Tree; she waited to hear his footstep on the stairs from the basement. Or perhaps the roar of the motorbike would herald his arrival, his voice impatiently shouting to her from outside to let him in. But as the hours passed and she was still alone, she realised she’d been expecting too much. There was no sign of the vampire.

The storm of destruction had passed, but Agnes had a cold, sinking feeling that the aftermath was going to be even more traumatic.

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 29 : Not Human

 

The demon invasion of Sunnydale had swept through the town like an evil plague; terrifying, destroying, killing everything in its path. But eventually a strange silence fell outside the Willow Tree Tearooms and the owner Agnes Pringle, wiped away the tears of self-pity that had overwhelmed her. Spike wasn’t coming to her aid and she might as well accept the fact and get on with surviving.

Gingerly, she stood up, wincing at the ache in her legs and realised she was still gripping her best rolling-pin, her weapon of choice. Moving the chair she’d pushed under the door handle to stop any more demons coming into the Tearooms, she opened the door and peered out. The town looked as if the end of the world had happened. Fires flickered, smoke drifted through the air, burglar alarms were screaming and somewhere – a long way away – she could hear a police siren. But the demon gang had gone. Something had changed, too, something was different and Agnes suddenly realised that the weird metal tower that had dominated the skyline since Glory’s days had vanished.

More worrying to her - there was no sign of Dawn or Spike. The Sunnydale streets were empty, but Agnes caught sight of various furtive movements as residents began to appear in doorways and windows, checking the damage, wondering if it was safe to come out. Agnes walked up the street a little way, worrying about her friends. She didn’t understand why Spike hadn’t come to see if she was all right. Not that he had any obligation to do so, of course, she thought hastily. He had other friends, other people to worry about. It was just odd that the other people were Unturneds! But she did hope that Dawn Summers was all right. Agnes had a clear memory of the young girl’s face earlier that evening as she’d pulled on her crash helmet over her long dark hair. She so enjoyed riding on the back of Spike’s monster bike.

Suddenly Agnes felt her legs quiver; she’d spotted something lying in the road in front of her. Arms, legs, oh no, there was a body and a head – oh no, please no. She took a couple more steps then felt a wave of relief rush through her as she saw the wires and chains, pieces of metal, rods and hinges. The ruins of the Buffy robot lay in front of her, the eyes wide open and staring, sightlessly, up into the starry sky.

“Oh you poor thing!” Regardless of the dirt and grit digging into her knees, Agnes knelt at its side. She knew the robot wasn’t human, of course, but it had still been happily alive in some strange computer way she didn’t understand. It had helped, done the job it was programmed to do and seemed to enjoy its life. Of course it hadn’t been human, didn’t possess a soul, but then neither did she and Agnes knew with a cold certainty that she would have been horrified to find herself abandoned in pieces on her death. At least she would descend into decent dust and scatter gently in the air. Being left by her friends in the middle of the road as if you were just rubbish – well, it was unseemly, rude, uncaring.

She felt a surge of anger at the way the robot’s owners had just abandoned her, like a game they’d finished playing with once it got broken.

It took Agnes two trips to carry the remains back to the Tearooms. They were heavier than they looked and it took a little time to collect the innards that were scattered over the road. She found carrying the head with those sightless eyes particularly distressing. For some reason it reminded her of how unpleasant she always found the sight of dead fish lying on ice slabs in the fishmongers. Eyes glaring up at you, accusing, defiant, dead. Gasping – because really she wasn’t getting any younger, even if she wasn’t getting any older either! - Agnes managed to get everything down the stairs into the basement.

She longed for a nice cup of tea, but needed to get things sorted before she sat down to rest. Eric and Nancy, the vampire children she sometimes cared for, would be charging along the passages into her basement as soon as it was safe to do so. She didn’t want them to see these – remains. It might worry them. Children were odd creatures and although they happily killed things on their little computer games, Agnes wasn’t quite certain if they would find a dismembered body, even a metal one, unsettling.

She hesitated – what should she do with the pieces? She could put them in her shopping trolley and wheel them down to the garbage dump later in the week – but that was treating them as rubbish and so not an option. Well, perhaps she could dig a hole in one of the smaller passageways that ran under Sunnydale? Except she didn’t actually own a shovel and – Agnes was nothing if not pragmatic, she didn’t know if she was strong enough to dig a hole deep enough to bury a body, even a dismembered one.

Sighing, she opened the storage bin where she kept her bags of flour and sugar. A few minutes later, they were stacked neatly on the floor and Agnes was piling the metal pieces inside the bin. Gently, she placed the head in last, pushing down the little plastic eyelids over those dreadful staring eyes. Shutting the door, she stood up and wearily filled the kettle. Tea! She would die – well, obviously she wouldn’t, but she felt like she would – if she didn’t have a cup of tea right now.

Suddenly the door to the basement was flung open and Spike half fell down the steps. Startled, Agnes spun round. “Spike?” She stared at him in astonishment as he stood there, swaying slightly. His eyes were blazing with an inner joy she’d never seen before and his whole face was alight with a happiness that was shocking in its intensity. “She’s alive! She’s back. Buffy’s back!” He reached out, grasped Agnes round the waist and swung her into the air, round and round as if she was a child again.

“Spike! Put me down. Whatever’s happened?” Agnes found her feet and tottered across the room to sink into a chair. “What do you mean, Buffy’s back?”

“They rescued her from Hell - Willow and Tara and Xander. The devil knows how. Some mojo. I don’t care. She’s back. Oh, they didn’t do it that well; had to claw herself out of her own coffin. God knows how she did that. But it doesn’t matter. Agnes, she’s alive! Alive!” And before she could speak he’d turned and two great strides took him up the stairs and away again.

Agnes sat very still very a very long time, tea forgotten. The Slayer was back in town – and Spike found this something to rejoice about. That was so odd that she couldn’t quite grasp it, but the look on his face had told her quite plainly that the vampire’s feelings for that small blonde girl were far more complicated than she’d ever imagined. His words about the coffin slowly began to penetrate – and she was thrown back to a night some time ago. To a funeral parlour, to damaging a coffin lid when fighting a demon and sewing the lining up quickly so no one could see. So, had she helped the Slayer return? Had she, Agnes Pringle, released a vampire killer back into her own little Sunnydale world, putting them all in danger. Why she might stake Shona or the children next! That was a horrifying, sobering fault.

“Be sure your sins will find you out,” she muttered at last. “I should have confessed I broke the coffin lid, then her friends would have chosen a new one. This is All My Fault.”

At last she stood up and pulled on her second best coat. Buffy Summers returning from the grave had at least solved one of Agnes’ problems for her.

Just before dawn, a small, plump vampire could be seen pushing a trolley through the streets of Sunnydale, out to the main cemetery. It was a bit of a struggle getting the wonky wheels up the slope – the trolley had a tendency to steer to the right no matter how much she tugged it in another direction – but at last she manoeuvred it across the grass to the open grave.

“Well, the Slayer won’t be needing it any more,” Agnes murmured. The mud and grass had been scattered violently around and the lid of the coffin lay in pieces nearby. But the inside was untouched and, carefully, Agnes began to lay the pieces of the robot inside its final resting place. She was just placing the head inside, resting it against a silk cushion, when a noise made her jump. It was only a night bird but the head slipped from her grasp and fell a few inches.

To Agnes’s horror, the eyes opened, there was a small click and a voice said, “I can’t see! Hello! Is anyone there?”

Agnes struggled to make her voice work. “Yes, my dear, I’m here.”

“Am I sick? Willow must mend me. I feel broken. Very tired.” The mechanical voice was getting softer and softer, as the final energy in the final battery was exhausted.

“You must go to sleep, my dear,” Agnes said. “I’ll…I’ll stay here until you do.” And she reached out to touch the plastic cheek that felt no warmer than her own cold hand.

“Mommy? Mommy!” And there was a lift of excitement, delight and then – nothing.

It didn’t take long to push the broken coffin lid back and smooth earth and grass back into place. It wasn’t perfect, but then who would come to look at it? Buffy Summers was no longer buried here. Agnes stood, leaning on her wonky trolley. She felt she should say a few words, but she needed to go home, to get away from this place before the horrid sun rose.

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 30 : Goodbyes

 

Agnes was up to her elbows in flour when she heard footsteps on the stairs. She continued kneading dough, quite aware that it was Dawn Summers who was coming down into the kitchen basement. Agnes hadn’t seen the young girl for some days now; she’d coped with the Saturday morning trade by herself as there had been no sign of Spike or Andrew, the young man who sometimes helped out in return for cooking lessons. Even Clem, her favourite demon friend, had deserted her it seemed. But then the Slayer was back in Sunnydale and a lot of the easy ways of the past couple of months when people, demons and vampires had seemed to survive side by side with only the occasional blood bath, had been swept away.

Nancy, one of the vampire children whom Agnes sometimes looked after, had offered to help in the tearooms, but there was only so much china you could afford to lose to breakages before your profits for the week vanished into splinters.

“Hi, Agnes!”

“Hello, Dawn. It’s very nice to see you again.”

Dawn slid onto a stool at the table and helped herself to a handful of raisins from the bowl. “You’re making Fat Rascals.”

Agnes nodded. The cross between a cake and a scone was a great favourite of many demons and vampires, although she had a suspicion that Some People – and she wouldn’t name names in case she was wrong – bought them and then waited for the rock cakes to become stale and very, very hard. They did make wonderful weapons and, of course, didn’t harm the environment when they smashed to pieces on someone’s forehead.

“Are you here to work?” Agnes asked gently, but she already knew the answer. She could tell from the tension in the girl’s shoulders, the way she was letting her dark hair fall across her face so Agnes couldn’t see her expression.

“No, well, that is – you see – oh, Agnes, my sister’s back! Had you heard? Buffy’s back home.” She glanced up and Agnes felt her eyes watering as she saw the blazing joy and delight in Dawn’s face.

“Yes, Spike told me. That’s – well, that’s simply wonderful for you.”

“I don’t quite understand how it happened. I think Willow and Tara and Xander did something – especially Willow. She seems really pleased all the time.”

“And how is your sister?”

Dawn swallowed the last raisin and began to play with the sugar sifter. “Oh, you know, sorta tired and her hands are cut and bruised. And there was a demon thing in the house that came with, but she dealt with that. She – she doesn’t say much – but then hey, she’s probably exhausted, don’t you think? She’s been in some hell dimension.”

Agnes rescued the sifter and began to cube the butter. She couldn’t really understand why Buffy Summers should be tired. After all, she’d been lying motionless for weeks and apart from having to fight her way out of her coffin – which, yes, Agnes had damaged so it hadn’t been that hard – she hadn’t had to do anything recently. But perhaps being dead was tiring. Oh, Agnes did hope not. She’d been looking forward to a good rest for years. And she wasn’t quite certain why Dawn thought her sister had been in a hell of some sort. Wasn’t the Slayer supposed to be a good person? Wouldn’t she have gone straight to heaven?

Agnes, a true daughter of the Church of England, even after the Unfortunate Events in Hollywood which Had not been Her Fault, had firm beliefs in heaven and hell. The former was presided over by a kindly deity with a long white beard and there were meadows full of flowers and angels playing harps. Hell, of course, was where you went if you were dreadfully bad and devils poked you with pitchforks while you burnt like a sausage until you had atoned for your sins. In fact, she’d had a very interesting conversation with Andrew only a couple of days ago about what happened to you when you died. She was afraid that that boy had a very strong morbid streak in his character.

Anyway, being a vampire made everything more complicated because when she finally died she would just be dust, floating in the wind and without a soul, she wasn’t sure exactly what part of her would go on to the afterlife. But, this was not the time for these sort of musings. Agnes pulled herself up sharply. Really, she was beginning to get quite weird; she should be thinking of Dawn. “Measure me out a little cinnamon,” she said briskly. “I suppose you feel you should spend your spare time with your sister, instead of working here?”

Dawn’s hands trembled slightly and the cinnamon cascaded from the spoon onto the tabletop. “Sorry! I’ve missed her so much! And she says she’s missed me. We can do all sorts of things together, can’t we? Shopping and movies. We could go ice-skating – I know she loves that. And just, I don’t know, just hang. It’ll be cool.”

Agnes briskly grated the zest from an orange and a lemon and added it to the mixture. “That all sounds like fun. And have you spoken to er, Buffy, about these plans? She might have some ideas of her own.”

Dawn frowned. “Well, not so much spoken to her about them, no. You see, she’s only just got home and so she’s busy trying to catch up with things like bills and patrolling again – oh sorry, Agnes, did I make you jump? I’ll pick up the cherries; the floor isn’t that dirty. And, of course, Willow and Xander and all the others want to spend time with her, too. But when things get back to normal, everything will be great. I just know it will. But I can’t keep on working here, can I? You do see that, don’t you, dear Agnes? I mean, that might be the very time when Buffy wants us to go out together.”

Agnes nodded and swiftly mixed egg yolk, water and salt together and brushed it over the scones before putting them in the oven. “Oh, I quite understand, Dawn. I’ll certainly miss you, but your sister must come first. Tell me, though, won’t she have to get a job herself? I mean everything costs such a lot these days and with your dear mother gone…..”

Dawn jumped off the stool and headed for the stairs. “Buffy work? Oh no. She’s the Slayer, she hasn’t got time to sit in an office. There must be plenty of money in the bank. Mom always had money for us. And Willow and Tara are living with us, too. I expect they’ll help out.” She turned and with a swoop of long arms and flying black hair, enveloped the vampire in a tight hug. “Oh Agnes, you’ve been great. Thank you for being you. And you do know I would bring Buffy here to meet you except that – ” She paused, embarrassed, and Agnes patted her shoulder.

“Don’t fret yourself, Dawn. I do understand. But you pop in whenever you’re passing.”

Dawn gave her a brilliant smile and clattered away up the stairs. Agnes watched her go, then sat in the silent kitchen, listening to the hum of the stove, the odd clickings and crackings that came from the old building above her.
She felt suddenly rather old and weary. She’d grown very fond of the teenager and would miss Dawn; knew she wouldn’t “pop in” no matter how often she passed by the shop. No, Dawn was starting a new life with her sister and would have no time for anyone else.

Agnes flinched as the smell of burning scones filled the kitchen. Her Fat Rascals were now burnt offerings to some lesser god and she scraped them into the garbage, cross with herself. “Really, Agnes Pringle, you aren’t fit to be let out alone,” she muttered. “What a waste. Just because you’re feeling sorry for yourself. Now just set to and make some more otherwise you’ll have a queue of hungry demons lining up all tails and claws and crossed horns.”

The early evening trade was quiet and Agnes was glad of the chance to sort out bills and receipts, wondering why there seemed to be so much paperwork involved in running such a small business. It wasn’t that she needed the money, of course. She still had the majority of dear Richard’s money gaining interest in the bank, but still, waste not want not had always been her watchword. When the bell over the door rang, she looked up and smiled in welcome as Andrew came into the tearooms. She was about to ask why he hadn’t been around when she realised he was glaring at her. A sort of “please don’t speak to me, please don’t, I don’t know you,” frightened sort of glare.

Two other young men followed him in – one very small with plump little hands and the mouth of a spoilt child, the other tall, dark-haired, with cold eyes that were expressionless, although his voice was registering disgust. “And just what are we doing in here?” he asked disdainfully. “This place’s a dump. Don’t tell me you’ve taken up tea drinking, Andrew?”

“Of course not, but I’ve – I’ve got to get doughnuts for my mom,” Andrew said swiftly. “It’s the only place open in the evening that has fresh ones just made. And I thought we could have coffee – and, you know, Warren, plan things!”

“Mother’s little helper! Not cool.”

“You never saw Hans Solo buying doughnuts.”

Agnes could tell that the smaller boy was trying to sound bored, even though he was being rude about some poor German man. And although his words were off-hand, she noticed that he was the one leaning over the counter, gazing greedily at the cream horns. “Can I help you?” she asked, trying to keep herself as far back behind the counter as possible. She had the feeling that these young men might not worry too much about her being a vampire, but she couldn’t be too careful.

“Three coffees – black!” Andrew said in a voice that seemed to have mysteriously deepened within seconds.

“And three of those!” The smaller boy had obviously given in to his inner needs and was pointing at the cakes.

The one called Warren sighed ostentatiously, then flung himself down at a corner table. Agnes pretended not to watch as she poured coffee, loaded a tray with cakes and carried it across to them. The boys stopped talking and sat in silence until she left. Andrew refused to meet her gaze and Agnes could see that, gripped tightly together under the edge of the blue and white checked tablecloth, his hands were trembling.

She retreated back to the counter and pretended to be busy adding up columns of figures. A few early demons drifted in, anxious to take on as much carbohydrates as they could before the evening’s action began. Even over the clittering of claws and chattering of fangs, Agnes could still hear a few bits and pieces from the conversation at the far table. She could hear the Slayer’s name, Spike, and several mentions of the force, although she wasn’t sure what the police had to do with them. She glanced up once and caught Warren looking at her. Fighting back the urge to run, Agnes held the cold gaze for a couple of seconds, then looked away, as if bored. What a very unpleasant young man, she thought. This was obviously the friend that Andrew was always quoting, “Warren says…” “Warren thinks…” were words that she’d got quite tired of hearing.

“My poor Andrew!” she thought suddenly and blinked. Why on earth did she think that? Warren might be a condescending sort of young man but he wasn’t dangerous. He was no vampire or demon. Just a young man who thought he was better than everyone else around him. But Agnes knew with a cold certainty that he would not be a good friend for Andrew and she sighed with relief when the boys finally left.

Around five in the morning, when the final customers began to trail out of the tearooms, arguing over the last sausage roll and threatening death and destruction if she didn’t make more of those little spicy vegetable puff pastries, the bell over the door rang again.

“I’m so sorry – I’m just closing – oh, Andrew.”

The young man edged hesitantly through the door, glancing anxiously over his shoulder. “Agnes – I’m sorry – I couldn’t – I didn’t – you see, Warren says…”

Agnes sighed. “Warren wouldn’t like you knowing a vampire?”

“No – yes – I mean – you don’t understand! Warren says….” He stumbled to a halt and looked miserably at the small Englishwoman. “He and Jonathan are like my best friends. We’re like – super-friends! I’ve never had – well, obviously at school, but not since and we’re going to have a great time, Warren has all these plans and – “ His voice trailed away and gazed at Agnes.

“You don’t have to always follow where Warren leads? You can make up your own mind.” But she could tell her words were having no effect: Andrew was experiencing the heady taste of being a member of an inner circle.

For a long minute Agnes was fourteen, back at school, staring from a distance at a group of girls sitting on the grass at lunchtime, laughing, chatting, smiling at each other. She took a few tentative steps towards them, then stopped as backs were turned, the circle closed to her forever. Because there’d been a test you had to pass to join their gang – go into a local shop and take lipsticks or nail-varnish without paying. They’d called Agnes a goody-goody because she wouldn’t do that and she’d never been able to admit that it had been fear of being caught that had stopped her. That and some sort of inbuilt reasoning that told her some things were just wrong. Now she didn’t blame Andrew; she understood what he was feeling, but he was wrong.

“I just wanted to thank you for teaching me to cook,” Andrew said, edging towards the door.

Agnes sighed. “Well, hopefully it’ll come in useful one day.”

Andrew hurried out into the dark Sunnydale street. He felt guilty, relieved, guilty about being relieved, excited about the future. Poor Agnes, she was stuck in the past. Yes, he’d found cooking interesting but now he was about to head out to explore the final frontiers of life with Warren and Jonathan. When would he ever need to cook again?

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 31 : The trouble with knickers....

 

….the trouble with knickers, Agnes Pringle thought crossly, was that they didn’t make them properly any more. She stared balefully at the rows and rows of items in front of her in the biggest store the Sunnydale Mall could offer.
Every colour and pattern under the sun – well, that was perhaps an unfortunate remark, but even under a nice cold moon they would have been useless as far as she was concerned.
Agnes was quite aware that she had to move with the times; that she couldn’t settle into middle-aged ways. Young Dawn Summers had been telling her that for ages.
She had, in a moment of revolution, thrown out her suspender belts and stockings and purchased what were apparently called panty-hose – although sometimes the contortions needed to make them sit properly on your limbs hardly seemed worth the effort. Now the time had come when her Marks & Spencer’s best white cotton knit knickers could no longer be called decent. Sadly worn out and destined to be used as dusters – they were rather on the old-fashioned side. But they were comfortable! That was the main thing.
The vampire picked up a bright red piece of string which was apparently a “thong”. She couldn’t at first imagine how you actually wore that, then she realised and knew her face was going as red as the material she hastily put down again.
‘Very appealing to gentlemen, I expect!’ Agnes thought, because although unmarried, she had Lived. The fact that no man, living or demon, had actually ever seen her underwear, didn’t cross her mind as she fingered some very pretty pink panties with kittens printed on them. Sweet to look at, but to wear?
Agnes shook her head and moved further down the counter. The shop was mercifully empty this late at night; they would be closing soon and she had to hurry back to the tea shop to open up for her first customers. She squared her shoulders, the light of battle in her eyes; somewhere in this store there must be a pair of white cotton knickers that would cover the majority of her rear.
Her lips twitched as she remembered an elderly aunt telling her, oh so many years ago now, of her school-days. Aunt Violet had attended a boarding school and every weekend parents and friends were allowed to take the girls out to tea in the local village.
Agnes used to beg her Aunt for descriptions of the cakes and biscuits eaten in those far off days. Why, she realised, her own recipe for Parkin had been one of Aunt Violet’s.
She picked up some black satin briefs and smiled. As a school-girl, Aunt Violet had worn white under pants with baggy navy-blue gym knickers over the top of them beneath her navy blue serge skirt. Once in the local tea-shop you ate as many buns and cream cakes as possible: you were then on your honour to stuff what was left up your knicker legs where the buns would be held in safely and successfully by the elastic round the top of your knees. You would then waddle back to school to distribute your largesse to favoured friends.
Agnes sighed. Such far away days; a world vanished and gone, much as her own life had done when the Unfortunate Event in Hollywood had happened.
Suddenly, the light of victory sparked into her eyes. At the far end of the counter she spied some packets of knickers that looked as if they might well do. She could always buy some new elastic to strengthen the waist. Picking up several packets, the slippery plastic slid out of her hands and they cascaded onto the floor. Tutting at her own carelessness, Agnes bent to pick them up and so was doubled over out of sight when she heard a familiar voice.
“Wait a sec, Buffy! I just want to look at these cute blue socks – ”
“Jeez, Dawn. We’ve been here for hours.”
“Fifteen minutes.” Dawn’s voice was flatter than usual, Agnes thought. As if all the joy had been washed away from it.
“I need to patrol. You’ve plenty of socks. I told you we can’t afford to keep on buying things we don’t need.”
“Right. Sorry. Yes, you told me, several times.”
Agnes half stood up – the pain in her knees from being crouched down was excruciating. Luckily the Summers sisters were on the other side of the counter and the Slayer was moving away already, heading for the doors out into the Mall.
Clutching her packets of knickers to her chest, Agnes stood up completely. Surely there would be no harm in saying hello to Dawn? Just a quick greeting.
But before she could speak, the dark-haired girl was turning away as well, following her sister out of the store.
Agnes slowly made her way to the check-out counter, her face solemn, her expression worried. She would like to have thought that she’d been mistaken in what she had just seen, but knew she hadn’t.
As Dawn had turned away, she’d pushed a pair of pale blue socks into her jacket pocket.

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 32 : Growing Pains

 

The Unturned sprawled on the ground in the children’s’ playground was dead – well, Agnes Pringle fervently hoped he was dead or at least unconscious, because there was a group of young vamps – all in their late teens – feeding from him in turn. Fangs dripping blood, eyes glowing, five faces turned towards her. The growls died away and one of them relinquished his place by the body and stood up. “Oh, good evening Miss Pringle,” he said politely.

“Good evening, Karl. I’m sorry to bother you while you’re eating, but have you seen Eric?”

“Eric?”

“Tell the old biddy to go away and leave us alone.” One of the teenagers snarled up from the ground. Agnes didn’t recognise him; he certainly wasn’t one of her customers in the Tea Shoppe because she never allowed such bad language to be spoken in front of her, certainly not by vamps that were barely old enough to be called men.

Karl’s fist moved with speed, sending the other boy flying through the air to crash against a metal post and lie, motionless on the grass. “Sorry about that,” he mumbled. “Todd’s new. Only rose tonight. He doesn’t understand.”

Agnes nodded. “But what about Eric?”

“You mean that kid who hangs around all the time? About eleven or twelve? Got a sister, but we don’t see her that much.”

“That’s the one. He’s not at home and his mother is getting upset. She doesn’t like him being out so close to dawn.”

Karl wiped his fangs and shimmered back into human face. “He was here when we spotted our supper – grabbed a couple of mouthfuls, but I wasn’t sure if he was allowed to drink fresh, so I told him to get lost.”

“You didn’t bully him?”

Karl shook his head and glanced longingly back at the body. “No, honest, Miss Pringle. Just told him to take a hike. He’s probably somewhere in the cemetery, watching to see if anyone new arrives tonight. He likes it when they come out and don’t know where or what they are. Well, it makes us all laugh, doesn’t it?”

Agnes sighed: she was certain that the expression on her face when she rose all those years ago would have made a lot of people laugh, but she could never quite see the humour of the situation herself. But then young boys always did have an odd sense of fun. She nodded towards the body, “I do hope you’re not going to leave the rubbish just lying around, Karl.”

Karl, who’d been planning to do just that because he wanted to get to Willie’s Bar for a drink, shook his head. He was never quite sure why Miss Pringle always made him feel as if he was six years old, but she did. Poor old duck; she made great cakes but looking at her, he wondered if she ate enough proper food; she looked thinner than he remembered. Perhaps hunting Unturneds was harder when you were turned older. Jeez, she might not have eaten for days! “Would you like a drop?” he offered politely, remembering a distant lesson his mom had once taught him about sharing your sweets with everyone. “There’s plenty. He was a big guy.”

Agnes thanked him but said she’d just eaten, although to be fair the Unturned was large and healthy looking, not one of the shambling dregs of society that these teenagers usually found for snacks.

The cemetery seemed very dark that evening. Agnes trotted purposefully along the paths, her eyes scanning every moving bush and twig in case the Slayer was out on patrol. She thought it was probably a little late for Buffy Summers – her usual killing time was around midnight to one a.m. and now it was closer to four. But you could never be too careful. Many vamps had come to grief over the years because they had become careless where the Slayer was concerned. Suddenly a faint rustling in a clump of bushes brought her to a halt. She sniffed the air – “Eric? Eric – I know it’s you behind that bush. Come out, there’s a good boy. You need to go home. Your mother is very worried about you.”

The bushes parted and a bedraggled child appeared, sullenly scuffing his trainers into the mud. Agnes winced – he looked dirty, as if he hadn’t washed for days – and the fresh blood had dried around his mouth in a nasty crust.

“She won’t care where I am.”

“Who’s she? The cat’s mother?” Agnes responded automatically and sat down on the edge of a stone angel’s wing. “And why would you say something so silly?”

“S’not silly. It’s the truth. Mom would be glad if Nancy and me were staked and out of the way! We’re just a nuisance to her.”

“Nonsense! I’m certain your mother loves you both very much,” Agnes said severely. She stared at the boy in front of her, noticing how his fists clenched and unclenched, the tension in his shoulders under the dirty and torn red soccer shirt. “You’re all she has now your father has - gone.”

There was no reply. Agnes took a bag of homemade chocolate out of her pocket and the sweet smell drifted into the night air. Eric’s head came up and he watched her nibble on a piece of candy. Slowly he sat down next to her on the tombstone, silently accepting the square she pressed into his hand. Somehow during the next five minutes, the bag was emptied.

Agnes shifted on her stone perch, wondering how it could possibly feel cold to someone who no longer felt the cold. She was tired; it had been a long night in the Willow Tree Tea Shoppe and she needed to get home, to feed the cat and cuddle down under her patchwork quilt to sleep until midday. But first there was this little problem to sort. She wished desperately that Spike was around to call on for advice, but recently every time she’d seen him, whatever they started talking about, the conversation soon came round to his favourite topic, Buffy Summers. Agnes frequently wished she’d never heard the name.

No, this was a problem she had to solve on her own, the difficulty being, she had no experience of children. Admittedly quite a few came into the shop to buy candy and cake, but they were humans. She was certain that if she began asking Eric direct questions, he would clam up and all she would get would be grunts and shrugs. She needed a plan of campaign, but oh, Spike would do this so much better! She’d seen him with Dawn during all those months when Buffy was lying around, having a nice rest, sleeping in heaven. She knew young people saw through the Big Bad exterior to a person underneath that adults never knew. Still, Spike wasn’t here. Needs must when the Devil drives, as dear Richard had been so fond of saying; this was up to her. She took a deep breath. “I saw Karl earlier. Nice boy. Kind. Said you’d been there when they caught their supper. That must have been exciting?”

Eric nodded. “It was cool. I got really hot blood instead of that baby warmed up stuff Mom gives us. And real human, too, not pig or cow. Pig sucks.”

“Eric! Well, I must admit I quite enjoy a nice glass of pig, myself. Human is a little rich for my stomach.”

“But you’re old.”

Agnes, who had never really considered herself old, just in her prime, nodded sadly. “I suppose I am a bit too old for regular human, but you’re a bit too young, Eric.”

The boy jumped down from the angel and kicked viciously at a clump of grass. “Never going to get any older, am I?”

Agnes winced at the pain in his voice. So this was what was at the heart of the matter. She tried to stay calm. “Well, I am not entirely sure, but I believe us vampires do age, but very, very slowly.”

“How slowly? When will I be able to hunt for myself, get my own blood? I hate being treated like a baby, eating what I’m given, when I’m given it. I can’t even go out and buy rotten pig from a shop!”

Agnes held her tongue; she had already heard from Eric’s mom that money had been vanishing regularly from her purse and she was sure her young son had been the culprit. As she’d told Agnes, he was moody, surly and belligerent and she had no idea how to control him. He refused to clean his part of their cave or take out the trash. But in a way, who could blame him. Eric had enough sense to know that nothing would ever be the same for him again.

“Well, it will be a long time, I won’t lie to you about that. But you will grow up eventually.” She didn’t add, “if you survive” knowing he was street-wise enough to be well aware of that fact.

“Things used to be fun – before -” Eric’s face screwed up in doubt – “Jeez, I think they did. It’s weird, I can’t quite remember. But – but there was soccer!” he finished triumphantly. “I can’t even play that any more. The bigger boys aren’t interested and Nancy’s the only other vamp kid round here.”

Agnes was quite certain she’d seen Unturned girl children playing soccer, but decided that it wasn’t the time or place to bring up feminine equality in sports. She stared harder at the child’s dirty red shirt. On the back was a name, Beckham, and the number 7. She didn’t need the badge on the front to tell her that it was a Manchester United shirt. Her eyes brightened with unshed tears as she remembered. Dear Richard Wilkins III had had many faults, some of which were, of course, inexcusable. Watching English football matches – which he insisted on calling soccer no matter how many times she corrected him – on television whilst eating a meal she had cooked especially for him, had been one of them. Agnes knew all about David Beckham. She also knew, because Spike made no secret of his allegiances, that his favourite player - even though he was Irish - was a gentleman called Roy Keane who used to play for the same team.

She stood up, pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and held it in front of Eric’s face. “Spit!” she said briskly and then holding the back of his head, rubbed the dry blood from around his mouth, ignoring his wriggling whines. “There! Now we must get home. Look, the sun’s almost up. And Eric, I need some help in the tearooms. Would you be interested? It would give you some cash in your pocket.”

The boy looked at her suspiciously. “I won’t cook cakes. That’s for girls.”

“Certainly not. I quite understand. But there are lots of things that I need help with – like - like lifting very heavy bags of flour - but perhaps you’re not strong enough….”

Eric thrust out his chest and strutted off in front of her, boasting that he could lift anything! Agnes sighed and followed him, weary to the bone. Somehow she had to persuade Spike to take an interest in this boy. Kick a football around with him; talk about Manchester United, explain how to cope with life as a male. Goodness! She stopped in her tracks, feeling all quivery. Did Eric even know about sex? That was one conversation she refused to have with him.

Gritting her teeth, she hastened after the youngster. She had a mission to fulfil and she only hoped she could steer Spike away from his obsession with the Slayer long enough to help her.

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 33 : Soul Mate

 

“It’s a very pretty ring!” Agnes peered at Anya’s finger, which wasn’t difficult as it was waving vigorously right under her nose. She always felt a little nervous when Anya came round to the tearooms. Although the ex-demon had kept her secret for a long time, Agnes was well aware that the girl liked to talk – a lot – and as dear Richard had often said, “Careless Talk Costs Lives”, although Agnes was fairly sure that hadn’t been an original saying of his, although, of course, she wouldn’t have dreamed of telling him.

“I’ve had it for ages. Been longing to wear it – I thought it would cheer everyone up. I mean, when someone is very happy, it makes you happy in return, doesn’t it? But Xander didn’t want me to – ” She frowned for a second, as if remembering a time when she had been completely independent and just doing what a man wanted would have been unthinkable. “But I did. Because I love him!” she finished brightly.

Agnes poured herself a second cup of tea. She liked Anya – the ex-demon often dropped into the tearooms to chat – but she was just a little tiring. “I thought you’d be very busy in The Magic Box, what with Hallowe’en almost on us.”

Anya greedily licked the topping off a currant bun. “Oooh, cinnamon sugar! Well, Giles is back from England. You know, Rupert Giles – Buffy’s Watcher. He used to own The Magic Box but he gave it to me when Buffy died. Now he’s back because she’s back – and between you and me, I think it’s a little unfair to Xander and the others to ignore them while she’s gone and then, wham, she’s back and so there he is again, but anyway, he can’t have The Magic Box. It’s mine. I’ve got the papers to prove it. I must admit he’s useful, though. The customers like it when he speaks English at them. I expect you find that in here, don’t you? I mean, it’s so quaint when you say biscuits instead of cookies and sweets instead of candies!”

Agnes – who tried hard with the American use of English, but knew the occasional smidgeon of a Hampshire accent crept into her voice - smiled politely. “Your Mr Giles has been in for tea,” she said. “But he didn’t pay me a lot of attention, so I don’t think he realises what I am. But I must admit, I was a little alarmed the other day,” she continued. “I brought your muffins and cakes round, as usual, and found the Slayer working in your shop! Naturally, I didn’t come in.”

She shuddered as she recalled opening the door, the bell ringing, and seeing Buffy Summers striding towards her. “Is she going to work there every day? I mean, you know your own clientele better than me, but I can think of several of your customers who would be horrified to find they were being served by the Slayer when they just dropped in for some little harmless charm or potion.”

Anya pulled a face. “Oh I know. I would lose so much money! That was just an experiment. It only lasted one day. Buffy’s dreadful with customers.” She twisted her finger again so the ring sparkled, hesitated, then said, “Agnes - do you think it matters that Xander bought my ring in a shop?”

Agnes frowned. She knew exactly what the girl meant. Engagement rings in the demon world were usually fought for – a battle that involved a lot of blood, weapons, teeth and the removal of limbs, tentacles and fangs. They came carrying their own properties – luck, wealth, a life that lasted longer than a year – some even came with three wishes included, but they were very rare and had to be handled with great care. “That’s the problem you have being fully human now,” she said gently. “You can’t wear a demon ring.”

Anya sighed, ate the last piece of Chelsea bun and eyed a plate of gingerbread men that Agnes had just taken out of the oven. She picked one up and nipped off its head.
“I know,” she mumbled through a mouthful of hot crumbs. “And I don’t regret being human – except – oh, a demon ring would have made me feel so more secure about the whole marriage thing.”

“But Xander loves you. And you love him, don’t you? He’s your soul mate.”

Anya nodded violently. “Oh yes he is and I’d never tell him about the ring. I mean, it’s a beautiful diamond and I love it. Only – “ she sighed. “I’m sorry, Agnes, I don’t expect you to understand.” She giggled. “I mean, I don’t suppose anyone’s ever offered you an engagement ring!”

Agnes poured herself another cup of tea, from her favourite brown pot – tea tasted so much better when brewed in that – and smiled thinking back…..

……she hadn’t known what to wear for her dinner date with Richard Wilkins III. She possessed very few clothes; somehow the shops in Los Angeles didn’t stock the same things that Marks and Spencer did back home. She’d tried to find a new twinset, but it was so difficult to window shop when you couldn’t go out in daylight.

Agnes had flirted with the idea of a cocktail dress, but somehow she wasn’t cocktail shaped and even “a little black dress” which all the magazines told you was what you could always rely on in an emergency, would need shoes with a slightly higher heel than her sensible brogues. (She often wondered why she’d been buried wearing them, but was eternally grateful to whoever decided these things that she’d woken up wearing her best shoes and not her Clarks sandals which were the ones she’d been wearing when – well, that had happened on a dinner date, too, but she wouldn’t think about that now.

So when Richard arrived in his limousine to pick her up from her funny dark room at the back of a Chinese restaurant, she was wearing her best flowered summer dress and a white cardigan, because even though she no longer felt the cold, she knew Los Angeles restaurants were chilly and she didn’t want to start shivering in front of him, because it might give him the wrong idea. Unfortunately, she was fairly certain that Richard already had all the wrong ideas. The large bouquets of roses that arrived regularly, the boxes of chocolates filled with blood – and Agnes would never know how he got human blood inside chocolate creams! – trips to the theatre, lunches, dinners, and what was even more unnerving, the feeling she had that wherever she went, someone was watching over her.

Occasionally – it happened to every vampire, Agnes had discovered – you found yourself in an awkward situation where eating was concerned. Usually when you were trying to have a nice snack of some sort. The person involved took exception to what you were doing and there would be a disagreement, sometimes a scuffle, and often a dusting.

Agnes had got used to pig blood but, and she was honest enough to admit it, nothing tasted as good as a hot human. But she did find the actual hunting and eating bit extremely difficult. She always felt she had to apologise first and that gave the meal time to get away or fight back! Since Agnes had met Richard Wilkins III, she’d realised that her life had become far easier. Only the other evening, a terrified young man had almost thrown himself into her path, baring his wrists for her. When she’d finished and thanked him, he’d moaned that anything was better than what he’d been told would happen to him if he refused to comply.

Richard had made it quite plain that he had big plans for this evening. Agnes had tried to back out of the date, but Richard Wilkins wasn’t the sort of thing you stood up easily. Well, as she settled herself in her chair, she steeled herself for a difficult time. She had to admit that the empty restaurant on top of a skyscraper – she wondered if it had a bad reputation as there were no other customers – had a wonderful night-time view of Los Angeles.

The meal was extremely good; the chef’s slices of rare beef spread with mustard, rolled round a blood pate and simmered in a light pig blood sauce, was delightful. Agnes ate with appreciation, keeping her eyes firmly on her plate. She had two reasons for doing this, of course. One, she couldn’t catch Richard’s too warm gaze and Two, she didn’t have to look at his meal that refused to stay still on his plate. But, as she'd guessed, there was no way she was going to avoid having a serious conversation with her host.

“Now Agnes, stop fiddling with your spoon and listen to me.”

“Dear Richard – please don’t – ”

“Agnes, I am a widower, I have ample means and a good social life. But Agnes, I’m a lonely man. I have no children – oh, how I’d have loved a daughter, but that was not to be. What I need is a wife. We get on so well, Agnes; we agree about so many things. You could live anywhere you liked, indulge yourself, take up a nice hobby – pottery, watercolours. I also think a nice hobby is such a plus for a woman, don’t you.” He sighed. “I haven’t got time for a hobby myself, although I think I could get quite interested in golf.” He looked hopefully across the table at the English vampire. “I don’t suppose you would care to take up golf, would you?”

Agnes bit her lip. She’d been brought up not to contradict a gentleman but really, Richard should have more sense that to suggest such an outdoor, sunshiny game to a vampire. “No, Richard, I do not think I would find golf interesting! And please, don’t say any more because – ”

But Richard Wilkins III wasn’t listening. He usually didn’t when people were saying something he didn’t want to hear. Instead he pulled a small box out of his pocket and opening it, offered it across the table to Agnes. “Here! This is your ring, Agnes. I want you to do me the honour of becoming my wife. Mrs Richard Wilkins III.”

Agnes hadn’t meant to touch the ring: she’d meant to say something kind and complimentary as she turned him down, because as thrilling as a proposal was, at any age, she did not love Richard Wilkins and she knew that she could only marry someone who was her soul mate. She frowned for a second or two because she didn’t quite understand how not having a soul changed that belief, but Agnes had secretly read Barbara Cartland novels when she was a teenager and knew without a doubt that Love Would Conquer All in the end.

But – it was an engagement ring! Being offered to her, Agnes Pringle, whom no one had ever loved. And before the kind words of refusal could be spoken, she had taken the box and touched the ring. The shock ran through her body, jolting her in her seat. A foul smell filled her nose, images crashed inside her head. The stone was a ruby, carved in the shape of a rose. It was stunning, beautiful, the most wonderful ring she had ever seen. But as she touched it, she saw in a flash all who'd died for Richard to win it. Humans, demons, vampires, things that had no name and no place in this world. All had been extinguished from their lives so that she could put this on her finger.

From a distance she heard Richard’s warm, cheerful voice. “It comes with eternal life, Agnes. No Slayer will ever kill you. I thought you deserved that. I’m a great believer in eternal life. So, when do you reckon we should plan our wedding? What about Hallowe’en? “

Agnes flung the ring onto the table, pushed back her chair and stood up. It wasn’t the horrors that had upset her so much; it was the temptation she’d felt to give in, embrace it all, take what Richard was offering. She felt humiliated; she’d believed she was a nicer person than that. But obviously she wasn’t.

He looked up startled and with a flash of clarity, she knew that he did love her and that hurt her even more. Trying not to be sick, she fled from the table, pushing past Richard’s guards and throwing herself into an elevator, praying she could get out before Richard came after her.

She’d left Los Angeles the same night; taking nothing with her except a suitcase and the money from her pink piggy-bank. She knew she dare not stay; Richard thwarted would not be an easy man to deal with. She only hoped he would want to forget about her as soon as possible; that he would feel she wasn’t worth chasing. She bought a ticket to a place called Sunnydale, then quietly got off the Greyhound bus and bought another ticket to Los Vegas. She hoped that would confuse anyone trying to trace her movements. And, of course, she'd learnt later that Richard had followed her to Sunnydale - although she'd also been told that there were several other reasons for that and she'd been so glad not to be here when he passed on.

“No, I’ve never been engaged,” she said now to Anya and there was something in her voice that made even self-centred Anya glance up in concern.

“Oh, I didn’t mean – I just thought - anyway, Agnes, what I wanted to ask was, will you do the catering for my wedding and make the cake for me?”

Agnes beamed with pleasure. “I’d be delighted! You must let me know exactly what you’d like.”

Anya sighed. She knew what her guests would enjoy, but knew the Harris clan would find that inedible. So hopefully Agnes could make a cake with tiers made from different ingredients.

And after she had left, Agnes sat for a long while, sipping cold tea and wondering if she could reproduce the rare slices of beef, spread with mustard, wrapped round blood pate and simmered in pig’s blood. It would make such a good dish.

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 34 : A Different Path

 

“I thought you’d be shutting the shop tonight, Aggie.” Spike was wandering around the tea-room basement as Agnes tried to ice currant buns and keep a watchful eye on the oven where her Parkin was baking. “It’s Hallow’en – take the night off, most vamps and demons do that.”

The small English vampire cast an anxious glance at him, a look tinged with irritation. She wished her friend would sit still for two minutes; give this nervous pacing a rest. He hadn’t been a frequent visitor recently and that saddened her. He’d been her first and best friend in Sunnydale but since the night of the biker invasion, when the Slayer had returned from the dead, Agnes had realised she could no longer trust Spike to be there for her when she needed him. When he’d had a choice, he’d chosen Buffy Summers.

For a second or two, her sure hands wavered and the icing slid off the bun onto the tray. She was back, years ago, in the first year at her English boarding-school. She knew now that it hadn’t been a good school; the teachers had been second-rate, mean-spirited, bored with trying to educate girls who had no great desire to learn anything. Now Agnes realised that it had been the best her parents could afford; her mother’s desire to better themselves had over-ridden a more sensible course of action – to send her daughter to the local school where she could have learnt to cook professionally at a much younger age.

But plump, fluffly haired, bespectacled, eleven-year old Agnes Pringle had gone to boarding-school, wearing a uniform that was inches too big all over – bought for growth – and a straw boater one size too large that slid down across her ears. She was plunged into a world of friends, cliques and spite that she was woefully unprepared for.

But she’d made a friend – Sally – another new girl and for three glorious weeks, Agnes had known what it was like to giggle and whisper and share secrets. But then – Agnes looked up at Spike who was moodily digging his finger into the pots of different spices on the rack – Sally had decided she no longer wanted to be her friend and had joined up with Brenda Marlow and Jessica Green, the trio who would torment Agnes for the rest of her school life. So Agnes had learnt at an early age that sometimes friendships were not all you’d hoped they would be.

She blinked vigorously and applied herself to her icing again, adding a drop of two of blood to the mixture – it made such a nice shade of pink. She didn’t understand Spike at the moment; she liked him, would always like him. She thought at heart he was a good man; at heart, of course, Sally had not been good. But this obsession with the Unturneds, especially the Slayer was bizarre and dangerous.

She started as she realised he was looking at her, still waiting for a reply to his question. “No – the tearoom will be open. I’ve two big Hallow’een parties booked in. One is for the whole Fninetzh family and I have had to insist that their tradition of eating their oldest relative on October 31st is not one I will allow – not unless they agree in advance to pay for washing the table-cloths!”

Spike shrugged, almost as if he wasn’t listening again, shifting the containers of sugar, flour and currants back and forth on the shelves, opening lids and peering inside.

Agnes hesitated, pushed a stray, fluffy curl back from her forehead, leaving a smear of pink icing in its place, then made up her mind. After all, he could only say no, but why should he? “I wanted to talk to you about tonight, Spike. If you’re not going to be busy, do you think you could take Eric and Nancy out trick or treating? I don’t understand it too well because we never had anything like that at home, but I’ve seen what fun it can be for children over here.”

“Who?”

Agnes turned to the oven, pulled out the Parkin and slapped the tray briskly onto the table. Sometimes she found herself loosing patience with Spike. “Eric and Nancy – you know, Shona’s children. They live just along the passage from here. I know they’re a little old for it, but Eric’s having problems with being Turned – remember, I’ve asked if you could speak to him about – well, about growing up as a vampire, how to cope, how long it will take him and – ” she wanted to add that she was sure there were lots of manly things Eric needed to know that she was unable to tell him, but her voice died away – she could see Spike wasn’t paying attention, her worries about Eric meant nothing to him.

Biting her lip, trying to stop her fangs from appearing and cutting the skin – she’d never mastered the skill to stop this happening – she continued to work and the silence grew thick and heavy in the basement kitchen. Agnes felt both angry and guilty: angry, because she was fond of Eric and knew he needed a male figure in his life and guilty because she knew that she only had to say one word and the floodgates would open. The only person Spike wanted to talk about was Buffy: the Slayer consumed his thoughts, his every waking moment. To Agnes she seemed like some odd virus that had taken over her friend, one he didn’t know whether to fight or welcome.

“The ex-demon girl, Anya, showed me her engagement ring,” she said at last. “She’s getting married to that dark-haired boy you know, Xander.”

Spike nodded absently then he dropped the canister of sugar and spun round, his blue eyes sparkling. “Just shows you, Aggie. People can fall in love with anyone. There’s always a chance that – ”

Agnes was rolling out pastry and banged the rolling-pin down as hard as she could to drown out his words. “Anya is no longer a demon, Spike. And I’m not sure if she really loves this Xander; she loves being engaged, loves the security of marrying, of belonging. Are they in love with each other? He’s an Unturned and she used to be a thousand year old demon. It’s not likely, now is it?”

Spike began scooping the sugar back into the jar, then stopped, irritated by her words. He was fond of Aggie, but sometimes she drove him crazy. She had no idea what a wonderful woman Buffy was. To Agnes she was and always would be just the Slayer. But Spike knew she was far, far more than that. He glanced at his friend – rolling out pastry – a small, plump, middle-aged vampire with fluffy hair. There was no way she could ever understand the strength of the emotions that were driving him. What did she know about love, passion, desire? Bloody hell, it was impossible to imagine there had ever been a man for whom she would have given up everything.

“I can be what Buffy wants,” he said suddenly. “I know I can.”

Agnes peered up at him, sighing silently. Sensing a fever in his voice that worried her, she knew there was no point in telling him what she thought about the Slayer. She would never change his opinion of Buffy Summers. “So – what about trick and treating with Eric and Nancy?” she said, valiantly trying to change the subject. “That boy can really use your help, Spike.”

But the vampire was talking as if she’d never spoken: he sat at her kitchen table, gazing into space, seeing – she had no idea what but his voice was hoarse.

“Buffy told me – she was in some sort of heaven and her friends dragged her out. She was finished, her mission completed, at rest. Now she’s back and - Aggie, she’s in pain, suffering. And I’m the only one who can help, who’s there to listen to her. She can’t tell her friends what they’ve done. She won’t hurt them. Can you imagine keeping a secret like that? She clawed her way out of her own coffin. I’ve done that. I can understand.”

Agnes felt a wave of anger wash over her. She didn’t often lose her temper – it left her feeling sick and tired and full of regret – but she wondered if Spike remembered what he was and what she was – a vampire. She tried very hard to keep up with modern idioms and thought that the ungrammatical one she’d heard many youngsters use in the shop would be about right – “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt!” Although she had never actually seen a T-shirt with “I rose from my grave and survived” printed on it, at least she would be entitled to wear one.

She knew it was wrong to be jealous of Buffy Summers, but the Slayer had come back to her own home, her friends and family. Whether it had been right or wrong to bring her back, Agnes didn’t know. All she did know was that she herself had struggled up through a particularly wet and muddy grave to reach what was to her a foreign country only to discover that not only had she become a vampire, she had lost her suitcase with all her new, Going- to-Hollywood, holiday clothes in it!

“I’m the only one who’s there for her,” Spike was still speaking, blissfully unaware of the reaction his words were causing. “One day she’s going to need me. So I haven’t got time to take Shona’s kids sodding trick or treating and if I had, I wouldn’t. And let’s face it, Aggie, Eric might as well learn that lesson – vamps don’t do Hallowe’en! Tell him that from me.”

Agnes nodded, unable to reply for a few minutes. What would be the point of trying to explain to Spike that Eric and Nancy were excited because it was the only night they could run freely around town with other vampire children. If anyone saw them, no one would care. If their fangs slipped out, people would think they were wearing good Hallowe’en masks. For a few hours they could act like normal Unturned children.

But if she started to explain to Spike, it might make him feel bad. No, she would keep her feelings secret, pretend that everything between them was as usual. It wouldn’t be difficult; she'd spent years pretending her life was OK. She frowned, putting glace cherries on the final bun, mulling over what she’d just thought. Something didn’t feel comfortable; then she realised she was very wrong. Eric and Nancy were vampires; why should they act like Unturneds? Why should she want them to? In this case Spike was right. Vampires didn’t do Hallowe’en; it was a lesson the children had to learn. They would probably be better off sitting in the tea-rooms, watching the Fninetzh family devour their oldest relative. That was the world they now lived in; that was a good example of the customs and habits they needed to know about.

Agnes carried the tray of iced buns and Parkin upstairs. Even thought she accepted he was right about Hallowe’en, she found it hard to excuse Spike for his lack of interest in the children. He could have helped in some way to guide Eric through the maze of problems a young vampire boy faced.

Spike had left through the basement door, muttering something about checking up on Buffy and maybe seeing Agnes later on. She’d watched him go, aware that he had no idea how much he’d disappointed her this evening.

As she laid the tables for the Hallowe’en parties, blew up balloons and checked that the live appetisers in their little cardboard boxes were still alive, Agnes wondered about love. Could anything that powerful, that consuming, be a good thing? She sensed a fire in Spike that burnt so brightly, every other nearby flame flickered feebly in contrast. But at the end of the day, when the roaring conflagration finally went out, the candles would still be gleaming in the dark.

And her last thought, as much later she wearily cleared up the bloody remains of Great-grandfather Fninetzh from under the table, was that Spike was walking a different path from her and his other friends now and try as she might, all she could see at the end of it was loneliness and despair.

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 35 : Life was Beautiful Then

 

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens,
Brown paper packages tied up with string,
These are a few of my favourite things…”

Agnes found herself singing out loud as she worked, her hands automatically kneading dough, making pastry, sorting cutlery. She knew she was trying to cheer herself up because the night before had been very stressful and she’d hardly had a minute’s sleep this morning worrying about things. Spike and his growing obsession with the Slayer that was taking him further and further away from the vampire community; young Eric and Nancy, vampire children growing up without a father to guide them and lastly a disastrous accident that had happened the night before involving her experimental dish of the day – the one she remembered eating in Los Angeles with poor dear Richard - slices of rare beef, spread with mustard, wrapped round with blood pate and simmered in pig’s blood.

“When the dog bites, when the bee stings,
When I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don’t feel so bad.”

Conscientiously she’d made two separate dishes – one with the blood pate and extras for her demon customers and one without for the Unturneds who often asked for hot snacks around ten and eleven in the evening as they were heading home from the cinema or The Bronze. But somehow the two dishes had become mixed up and a large Unturned gentleman and his partner had coughed violently, spattering themselves and their friends with a sticky mixture of mustard and demon blood sauce, making an incredible mess. Agnes sighed: those customers would not be returning!

“Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes,
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes – ”

She’d never had a white dress - let alone one with a sash made of blue satin. The closest she’d come to a dance frock was the one she’d worn to the tennis club dance the year she left school. Agnes thumped the pastry with a clenched fist – she could still feel the wash of bitter unhappiness that memory caused. She hadn’t wanted to go but her mother – determined her daughter should better herself locally – had made her. Agnes had sat on a little chair at the side of the dance floor, knowing that her smile was fixed so firmly to her face that her lips would never feel normal again, wearing a dress she’d made herself from a pink material that had looked pretty in the shop but puckered when sewn and made her fair hair and pale face look even more washed out than usual.

Her mother had been helping in the kitchen and Agnes knew she would feel much happier if she’d been allowed to do the same. Then, suddenly, David, a young man who sang in the church choir with her, who had once walked with her in the fields close to home, asked her to dance! She had stood up, her heart beating so fast she thought it would jump right out of her chest. Oh, how she’d loved David, even after he eventually married a rich girl far more suitable to his political career than little Agnes Pringle. But for one hundred and twenty seconds he had held her – his arm round her waist, his hand – a little clammy, she now recalled – holding hers very tightly.

Agnes looked up from swirling her pastry knife round the edge of the jam plate tart and smiled. For two minutes she’d been so happy: the two minutes they'd moved jerkily around the dance floor together – she realised later that learning to dance at an all girls school meant she tended to want to lead which caused problems – had been the most wonderful two minutes of her life.

Then someone had tapped her on her shoulder – her mother had been taken ill and needed Agnes to take her home. So she had. Mother had been ill for some time and choir practice had been one of the things Agnes had had to give up. She'd cried herself to sleep night after night. Would she and David ever have been more than a dream? She would never know but was only too aware that she had never felt anything like that for any other man. Indeed, she’d refused to marry dear Richard because she knew she didn’t love him in that way.

And she’d never danced again.

Before the Unfortunate Experience in Hollywood, she often dreamed of that night, of that one turn on the dance floor. Strangely, though, in all the dreams in all the passing years, she was wearing a white dress covered in sequins, her hair had miraculously gone several shades blonder and she was four inches taller. Oh, and she could dance like Ginger Rogers!

She sighed, twisted the pastry strips into latticework for the top of the tart and popped it into the oven. How lovely that would be. Agnes had adored all the dresses that lady had worn in her wonderful films, although, of course, completely impractical when you were cooking all day and serving vampires and demons at night! Thank goodness a very sweet Chinese lady vampire had set up a laundry three passages down from the Willow Tree basement. The pipes that heated the Sunnydale Library ran through her cave making the drying of clothes so much easier. She was a godsend to Agnes where tablecloths were concerned because as friendly as some of her demon customers were, there was no disguising the fact that they were very messy eaters.

“Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard,
While we’re in the mood,
Cold jelly and custard!
Pease pudding and saveloys,
What next is the question - ? ”

Agnes broke off in mid verse: she had no idea why she was singing that song from Oliver! Well, probably because there were too many questions in her life at the moment, that was the trouble. And she really needed no reminding of hot mustard, thank you very much! She was dreading the Unturned gentleman returning to the tearooms with the bill for his dry-cleaning. She wasn’t at all sure that you could get demon blood and mustard stains out that easily.

Suddenly, as she was making her drop scone mix, she heard a very odd sound from the shop above her head. The Willow-Tree was closed for business, the door firmly locked. There was no way anyone could be up there – but she could hear footsteps quite clearly on the floorboards – and not just steps, but a sort of tapping! It was almost as if – Agnes shook herself but couldn’t help the comparison – someone was dancing across her shop floor.

Clutching her rolling-pin, Agnes crept up the stairs. If some young Unturned teenagers were making trouble, then she would retire back into the basement and go for help through the tunnels. But if it was a demon - she put on her cross expression, all fangs and wrinkles, wondering fleetingly why she no longer thought of it as her ugly face.

“Whenever I feel afraid,
I hold my head erect,
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect
I’m afraid.”

Just as she pushed open the door at the top of the stairs, she stopped singing, wondering if she’d suddenly taken leave of her senses. If someone had broken into the tearooms, broadcasting her presence wasn’t the most sensible thing she could do!

“Oh!” Agnes squeaked as she stared round. An extremely red demon was standing, peering into the glass cake cabinet, his feet beating out a rhythm as he hummed a little tune. Two wooden- looking demons stood stolidly on either side of the doorway and Agnes could see immediately that there was no escaping that way.

“Ah, Miss Pringle, I presume.” The demon spun round, teeth very white in his scarlet face. “How nice to meet you and how splendid to find this oasis of calm in Sunnydale.”

Agnes clutched the rolling-pin tighter, shimmered her face back to human and smiled nervously. “Er…how do you do?”

“I do very well, thank you. Very well. Busy…yes, always busy in my line of work.” He spun round, his feet tapping faster and faster. “I was hoping for something to sustain me before my night’s endeavours begin. Tea and scones, perhaps? Fruit cake? Or perhaps something hot and spicy? Something to burn the tongue, send flames scorching through the body! Your fame has spread into many dimensions, my dear Miss Pringle, including mine.”

Agnes blinked. Famous? How silly. There was no way she was famous. Did he think she was stupid? She was only too aware of how demons used words to get their own way. “I can certainly give you tea, but I must ask you to stop dancing. I’m not licensed for entertainment.”

The demon smiled again and Agnes felt a flicker of fear run through her body: there was a very odd odour coming from him. She was used to some demons sometimes smelling disgusting – she had wiped up more slime and ooze during her life in Sunnydale than she cared to remember – but she’d never smelt anything like this before. This was death, decay – and the smell you got when the pork crackling was left in the oven too long.

“So, your human desire to obey rules and regulations remains with you, Miss Pringle? How interesting.” He raised an eyebrow at her as she served his food – she’d compromised with toast thickly spread with Marmite paste that an English vampire brought back regularly from his visits home - and a pot of tea.

Agnes bit her lip, watching as the strong white teeth snapped through the toast. She wanted to turn and walk away, but had the dreadful sensation that if she moved her feet they wouldn’t just start walking! Her head ached; she could feel fingers poking at her brain. Squaring her shoulders, she lifted her chin. This was her home and no demon was going to browbeat her here. “I’ve always thought that rules and regulations can be helpful and make the world a better place for everyone. I don’t see that being Turned should alter my opinion. Every world has its own rules – I’m sure yours does too.”

The demon munched toast, savouring the bite of the topping and wishing he was called more often to England as he did enjoy Marmite. He stared at the odd little vampire in front of him: she wouldn’t like his world, although one of her oldest friends was recuperating there, gathering strength for his return to this world. Mentally, the demon reached out again, trying to worm his thoughts inside her mind, discover the secret she was concealing – because everyone had a secret and although she wasn’t the reason for his being in Sunnydale, it would be interesting to discover what Miss Pringle was hiding, to see her twirl and spin and -

He hissed as his thoughts plunged into a sea of multi-coloured kittens frolicking in a snowdrift but underneath the fluff and pink he found – ah!!!

“I could have danced all night, I could have danced all night
And still have begged for more
I could have spread my wings and done a thousand things
I’ve never done before.
I’ll never know what made it so exciting
Why all at once my heart too flight
I only know when he began to dance with me
I could have danced, danced, danced all night.”

Agnes was appalled to find herself singing, the soprano voice that had been the backbone of the church choir quite secure on the high notes. She tried to stop, but couldn’t until the last line echoed round the tearooms. With a shudder of relief, Agnes felt herself free from whatever had been holding her in place against her will.

The demon smiled: he always smiled; he’d learnt from a master of the craft that pleasant words lulled people into a false sense of security. “So, Miss Pringle, you do have a secret, something hidden in your mind that you refused to share with me. Hmmmmm.” He hummed a tune under his breath…..pushed with his mind again and standing up, flung his chair away, caught Agnes by the hand and sent her spinning across the floor.

“Dance, Miss Pringle, dance!”

There was a crack of light and Agnes realised her flowered apron and sensible dress had vanished and she was wearing the wonderful white-feathered dress Ginger had worn when dancing Night and Day with Fred. She was vaguely aware that the wooden demons had cleared the other tables and chairs to the side of the room and she was spinning in her partner’s arms as he sung in her ear,

“Night and day, you are the one
Only you beneath the moon or under the sun.
Whether near to me or far, it’s no matter darling where you are
I think of you,
Day and night, night and day.
Night and day, day and night,
Under the hide of me there’s oh such a hungry yearning,
Burning inside of me…. ”

With the demon’s voice purring in her ear, Agnes felt her feet skim the floor, a strange heat roaring through her body and for a minute she was back in England, she was dancing with David, spinning round and round and she was young and pretty and yes, there was a hungry yearning burning inside of her. For the first time in years she could feel heat! If only…the words scorched her mind…if only…. She would leave her mother to take care of herself, return to the choir, go out with David and as her whole skin seemed to flare with fire, she knew her whole life was about to change…

Then with a strength of will she hadn’t realised she possessed, Agnes came to a juddering stop, pulling herself out of the red demon’s arms. The white dress vanished and her apron, still stained with mustard and blood, reappeared. She shook her head. She refused to be sorry about losing David, about caring for her mother. He had never, ever been hers. But her mother had. Mrs Pringle might have been a difficult woman, really rather domineering when Agnes thought about it, but for all her funny ways, she’d loved Agnes and Agnes had loved her. Now she sighed; another world, one now gone. Agnes knew that you must live the life you had, not the one you wanted.

The demon smiled: he was angry that she’d managed to stop dancing before she burst into flames, but he admired her courage in doing so and, if he was honest, he would have been terrified to have returned home to tell a certain someone that he'd killed this little Englishwoman. “So your secret is out, Miss Pringle. A life lost to duty, a love lost to daughterly devotion.”

Agnes felt the strange heat fade from her body and her nice, familiar chill return. “Is that what you do?” she asked sadly. “You make people confess their secrets?”

The demon shrugged and gestured to his companions to put the tables and chairs back in order. “They have to tell the truth. Face up to reality.”

Agnes sighed. Like most people she dealt with the realities of life every day. ‘If only – ’ were, in her opinion, the two saddest words in the whole world. “I’m sure you know your business better than me, but that isn’t always a good idea,” she said gently. “When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favourite things and then I don’t feel so bad. The song says it all, but sometimes your favourite things are in your imagination. As long as you realise that, it can’t do you much harm. I read in a book somewhere, ‘the consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.’”

The demon didn’t look convinced. He finished his tea and stood up. “Thank you for a most interesting time. It’s been a pleasure to meet you.”

Agnes produced his bill because business was business and she didn’t like this demon enough to treat him to hot toast. He looked a little surprised, but obediently placed some money in her hand.

“I’ll report back to our mutual friend that you are in good spirits. Now, Miss Pringle, sadly I must leave you. I have – ” He clicked his fingers and the two demons left the shop – “an appointment with a young lady. ‘I’m getting married in the morning! Ding dong, the bells are going to chime!’”

Smoke began to billow around him and Agnes watched in relief as his body vanished into the clouds and hissed out of the ceiling. A mutual friend? She could only think of one person that could be – which was impossible, of course, although she’d always thought reports of his death were over-dramatic and didn’t take into account his ability to escape most situations with very little damage to his inner demon.

Business was very slack that night. Spike stayed away; Agnes had no doubts that he was chasing after the Slayer. And there was no sign of Dawn or Andrew. She thought there must be a fire somewhere in town because the clamour of fire engines rent the silence several times. When the last customer had gone, Agnes locked the front door, put out the lights and sat in the dark, her white cat on her lap, gazing out into the empty street. She felt weary and sad and her feet ached. Kicking off her shoes, she sighed with the relief of wriggling her toes on the cold floor.

What a very odd day and night it had been: she would be glad when tomorrow came. She hadn’t thought about David for a long time and now she couldn’t get him out of her mind. How silly she was. He would be quite old now but she wondered if he ever remembered her, what he would think if he could see her now. Ignoring the stupid tears that gathered in her eyes, she stroked the cat’s soft white fur and sang,

“Memory
All alone in the moonlight
I can dream of the old days
Life was beautiful then.
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again.

Daylight
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn’t give in
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin"

Agnes fell silent for a few seconds, then tutted to herself. "Waiting for the sunrise indeed! What a thought. l think you are suffering a mild case of indigestion, my girl," but as she took herself off to bed, she wondered exactly whom the dancing demon had visited that night in Sunnydale.

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 36 : Family matters.

It was odd, Agnes thought, how you started to notice teeth once you became a vampire. Before the distressing event in Hollywood - Which Had Not Been Her Fault – she’d never given them much consideration. They caused trouble arriving, gave you pain throughout your life and eventually had to be disposed of, to be replaced by false ones. (Mother had had a set that resided every evening in a glass of water by her bedside). Agnes had to admit that Americans had better teeth than people back in Britain. All those braces and strange practices to do with flossing and little brushes. And as a vampire you were never free of the worry – even fangs could break and although they did eventually repair themselves, they were extremely painful for a few days.

Admittedly there was Vinnie - a vampire living in a cave under the car wash - who’d had a really flourishing dental practice before he was Turned, but a) his personal hygiene left a lot to be desired and b) Agnes had heard rumours that he’d once been a member of the Mafia. Since then she’d never been able to bring herself to relax in his chair.

Yes, teeth were complicated, she thought again and watched as the two rows of sharp, white ones owned by Mr Teeth, the shark-headed demon, bit the head off another fresh sand dab. She heard the crunching of the bones and watched, fascinated as what she took to be a smile of pleasure crossed his rather plain face. “Delicious, Miss Pringle. Quite delicious! I’ll take some more. And I believe I can smell anchovies! My favourites.”

Agnes sighed: it was always good for business to have a satisfied customer, but Mr Teeth had a very unsavoury reputation and all her regulars had vanished when they’d seen him sitting in the Olde Willow Tree Tea Rooms. It was also extremely annoying that his passion for fresh fish meant her supper for Eric and Nancy had now vanished.
Fish blood was so good for children, especially young vampires like Eric who were still coming to terms with their change of life-style. He hated pig’s blood, insisted he was old enough to hunt for human and although Agnes had made him promise that he wouldn’t do so until Spike had taught him some basic stalking lessons, she was afraid he was getting into bad company. She’d noticed him hanging out on tunnel corners with much older vamps and was terrified the Slayer might find him one night.

Shona, the children’s mother, seemed to be finding life both as a vampire and a single parent harder and harder these days. She’d turned down Agnes’ offer of waitress work, insisting that she had a well-paid job dancing in a demon bar on the other side of Sunnydale where she was apparently working with a Pole, although Agnes hadn’t realised there was a Polish demon community in Sunnydale. But quite often this meant she was away for twenty-four hours or more and Agnes worried constantly about the children. But she wasn’t a relation; she had no right to tell Shona how to raise Eric and Nancy. It was all very vexing and oh, how she wished, she could get Spike to take an interest.

Mr Teeth lay back in his chair and blinked his large black eyes in satisfaction. “I’ve been looking for a friend of mine – Spike – has he been in tonight?”

Agnes came back from her worried thoughts and automatically shook her head. She’d always found it was best to have no knowledge of Spike’s whereabouts, whoever asked. But this time she was telling the truth; she hadn’t seen Spike. She wanted to; she was desperate for his help with Eric, whose behaviour was getting more and more out of control. He needed a man in his life and Agnes couldn’t understand why Spike wouldn’t get involved. She had to admit that as hard as she fought to stay calm, it irritated her: he was keen enough on helping young Dawn, the Slayer’s sister, which showed a very nice side to his nature, of course, but why was he turning his back on his own?

She remembered when her young helper Andrew had been her friend; he’d insisted she went with him to a cinema one evening, to see a long science fiction film. To be honest, she hadn’t understood a great deal of it: so much noise and fighting and very odd hairstyles. But one phrase came into her mind now, “He’s been seduced by the Dark Side…” Agnes was very afraid that was what had happened to Spike.

Mr Teeth stood up and motioned to one of his men to open the door. “Now I know a lady such as yourself would never dream of lying to me, Miss Pringle, but I urge you to think very carefully. I’ll be back – later. Perhaps your memory might return by then. You see – ” His eyes gleamed as he noticed Snowy, Agnes’ cat, sitting fat and contented on a chair on the far side of the room. “It’s a question of kittens. Lots of kittens. And if I can’t get kittens, then I need to have – cats!”

Agnes bit her lip and refused to answer. As the door closed behind the demon, she rushed across and pushed the bolt shut. That wouldn’t keep Mr Teeth out, she realised that, but it made her feel a little safer. She snatched up Snowy – and fled down the stairs into the basement. She was quite certain that she knew the tunnel maze under Sunnydale better than most vampires or demons. She would stay out of the way for a few hours. Snowy wasn’t a kitten, of course, but there had been a very odd gleam in Mr Teeth’s eyes when he looked at her.

“Aggie!”

“Spike! Spike?” Agnes stared in horror as the vampire peered out from the doorway into the tunnels and tried not to giggle at the tweed suit he was wearing and the deerstalker he had on his head. “Well – that’s a different look. Did you lose your coat?”

“It’s a disguise. To stop Teeth finding me. You didn’t tell him where I was, did you?”

Agnes felt a tightening in her chest. Did he really have so little trust in her? “No, Spike, I did not tell him. I didn’t know where you were. But why do you owe him kittens? You promised me you wouldn’t play cat poker any more!”

Spike shrugged and helped himself to a stale Chelsea bun he found in a cake tin. He was hurt that the little English vampire had such little trust in him. “Old debt,” he mumbled through the crumbs, refusing to tell her that it was Clem’s debt he’d taken on because he knew he stood a far better chance of beating Teeth than his saggy skinned friend did.

Agnes sighed; she’d believed him when he’d told her he wouldn’t gamble for kittens any more. She scooped up Snowy and pushed her out through the tunnel door. “I’m going to check on Eric and Nancy. I don’t want them wandering around while Mr Teeth is in town. Will you come and help? I’m so worried about that boy.”

Spike hesitated – he was desperate to see Buffy. The memory of their kiss still burnt in his mind, in his body, in the place where he had once had a soul. “Look, Aggie, I promise I’ll have a chat with him soon, just not today, OK? You worry about those kids too much; they’re not your children, they’re vamps – they’ll be fine. You need to look after yourself first.”

Agnes ignored the pain his words caused; she would think about that later. “I thought you could just tell Eric about hunting – and how to stay away from the Slayer and – ”

“Buffy won’t stake a child!” Spike snapped. “She’s not a monster.”

Agnes stared at him, her eyes anxious but determined. “Spike, she’s the Slayer? It’s her job to kill vampires. I don’t think she stops to ask for their birth certificates. And Eric doesn’t look that young. In the dark she could easily mistake him for an older boy.”

Spike pulled off the deerstalker and pushed his fingers through his hair. “You don’t know her. She’s a good person – brave, kind, she’s having to be a mother to Dawn, cope with coming back from being dead – her life isn’t easy, Agnes.” He pulled the hat back over his head. “Look – we’ll talk about it later, when Teeth has gone. I promise I’ll have a word with Eric, but he needs to find his own way in the world. He’s got a family; that’s what’s important. He’s not on his own. Now, stay out of Teeth’s way. Be safe. See you later.”

“Goodbye!” The whisper hardly carried out into the tunnels as Spike’s long loping stride carried him away from her. Family! Unbidden, his thoughts swung back to his mother, the family that had replaced her - Liam, Darla and Dru. They’d been together for a long time with the Aurelian family bloodline reaching far into the distant past. Now – Spike reached the doorway to his crypt; he was anxious to get to Buffy, to check that she and Dawn were okay. The Summers women, first Joyce and now her daughters – why did they have this power to make him want to belong to them?

Agnes felt quite ill as she scurried along the tunnel, heading for the caves where Shona lived with Nancy and Eric. Spike’s words rang over and over inside her head and as hard as she tried, she couldn’t banish them as they fell like blows from a hammer.

“They’re not your children!”

Well, of course they weren’t. She wasn’t even their grandmother or aunt or any sort of relation. She was just the lady vamp who looked out for them while their poor mother was at work. But she cared for them – Spike cared for Dawn Summers and she was an Unturned! At least Eric and Nancy were part of the vampire family and not a completely different breed.

“Hi, Miss Pringle!” Nancy looked up from where she was sitting at the table, obviously playing with her mom’s make-up. Agnes sighed. With no way of seeing her reflection, the results – smeared red lips, thick mascara and glittery eyeshadow - were to be expected. But every young vamp girl had to learn by trial and error and it wasn’t Agnes’ place to tell the child not to experiment. She moved automatically to the little kitchen area and checked on the blood supply. As she’d feared, there was nothing to eat, except for two very squashed sandwiches in their Double Meat wrappings.

“Are you making us a meal tonight?” Nancy slid off her chair and skipped up to Agnes. “Can we have that pig with cereal you made the other day? That was great.”

Agnes nodded, ruffling the little girl’s dark curls, and silently sighing as her fingers found countless tangles. And the child was dirty! Shona’s mothering seemed to be slipping away with the passing of each day. She glanced around the cave. “Where’s Eric?”

Nancy opened her eyes very wide and said sweetly, “I don’t know, Miss Pringle!”

“Nancy!” Agnes didn’t have that much experience of youngsters, but even she could tell the child wasn’t telling the truth.

Nancy giggled and swung on Agnes’ arm. “He told me not to tell, but he’s just a silly old poop face! He said I’ll never grow up, never have a boyfriend or get married or have children or anything. How stupid is that?”

Agnes felt a pain lance through her. She’d fervently hoped that Eric would keep that knowledge to himself for a while longer – Nancy still believed in Father Christmas – it seemed desperately sad to shatter her little world in this way. Mind you, she didn’t seem to be that upset. Probably because she hadn’t believed him. “Yes, well, boys can be silly, can’t they? And where is he now?”

“He’s gone to the Magic Box – you know the shop that sells all those weird things.”

Agnes’s face puckered into a mass of worried lines. The Magic Box was one of the places the Slayer frequented and, like night following day, Spike too! Mr Teeth would be prowling around and there was no way she could allow Eric to be caught up in that encounter. “What’s he doing there?” she asked Nancy.

The little girl shrugged and returned to the table and her mom’s make-up box. “Some stupid potion, Todd, one of his friends told him about. It sends you back in time a whole year. I think it’s silly. I don’t want to be a year younger.”

But Eric did! Agnes could see that all too clearly: he wanted to be back before he was Turned, a human boy. Was there such a potion? What would happen if she drank it? How far back did it send you? For a long second she could see herself back in England, walking down the High Street in Winchester, opening the doors of the Old Willow Tree Tea Shoppe, listening to the cathedral bells as the Sunday sunlight streamed into her bedroom….

She blinked and the dark, dank cave came back into focus. No, there was no such potion; she would have to explain to Eric that it was just a fairy-story, a rumour spread by vamps who should know better. The same sort of fairy-story as the one about the pill you dropped into water to turn it into blood. Oh, yes, she’d spent a lot of money on a box of those in her early days as a vampire! Agnes felt her face change; her fangs slid out – the one on the left catching her plump bottom lip as it always did, the blood trickling down her chin. But for once she didn’t immediately hurry herself back into human face. She needed to be a vamp at the moment. “Well, Nancy, I think we’ll go and find Eric. He’s late for his supper and your mother won’t be pleased.” She couldn’t leave the little girl alone – there was no knowing what would happen with Mr Teeth on the prowl. At least she could try and protect Nancy if she was by her side.

With Nancy holding her hand, Agnes scurried back, past the doorway to the Willow Tree and down a side tunnel to the entrance to the larger cavern right under The Magic Box shop. All she could hope for was that Spike would be somewhere in the vicinity if needed.

Suddenly, a hand shot out of the darkness and tugged her violently sideways. She hardly had time to squeak before she realised it was Eric, crouching behind a large pile of rubble, in full vamp face. He wrapped his arm round his sister’s shoulders and shushed her before she could speak. To Agnes’ surprise, Nancy, too, had vamped out, her tiny fangs hardly bigger than large needles, but still wickedly sharp.

“Miss Pringle! What are you doing here?” the boy whispered.

“Looking for you. Why are we hiding?”

“Demon debt collectors – big fight.”

Agnes blinked anxiously. “Oh Eric, you didn’t – ”

Eric shook his head. How could he make her understand? Oh, how he’d wanted to rush out and get involved, feel human flesh under his fangs, drink blissfully from veins pumping hot blood straight into his mouth. So what had stopped him? His hand stroked Nancy’s dark curls. She was a pest and a nuisance but she was still his little sister and even if he was only nearly thirteen, he was the man of the family.

Even as he’d sneaked into The Magic Box to find the potion that would return him to human form, he’d realised he couldn’t drink it. How could he leave Nancy and his mom behind? What would they do without him? And there was Miss Pringle who was a sort of aunt, he wasn’t quite clear what, but definitely family. She lived all alone and ran that tearoom place. She often looked tired. OK, Spike was her friend, but Eric wasn’t blind; he’d seen the way the older vamp looked at the Slayer. Would he have time for Miss Pringle? Yes, lots of people needed him, Nancy especially because she was going to have to deal with the whole not growing up thing very soon. And he’d been mean to her earlier and was sorry.

The three vampires stayed hidden until all the sounds from demons and humans had faded away. Aching in every limb, Agnes stood up, wincing. Really, her knees did not do bending for long periods any more.

“I’m going to get a job,” Eric said suddenly. “Loads of vamps need someone to help out – shopping, sweeping caves, helping you in the Willow Tree. I can earn a few dollars; buy fresher blood. I can’t leave everything to Mom.”

“I think you’re a very brave boy,” Agnes said, shimmering back to human face. And she meant it. Somehow in the last few hours Eric had faced up to his family responsibilities and accepted them. Maybe it would be years and years before he ‘grew up’ but she had the feeling that if he survived, he would be a remarkable man. “And I’ll ask Spike again about teaching you all about hunting and – ”

Eric shook his head. “Nah, don’t bother him, Miss Pringle. I guess I’ll learn as I go. He’s an Aurealian, I’m not. I know my place. I’ll steer clear of the Slayer, don’t worry. We all know where she likes to hang out. No, I want to play soccer, not hunt. I’m going to find other boy vamps like me and start a team.” His eyes glowed gold and then he, too, shimmered back. “I reckon there’s lots of kids all over the place like me and Nancy. I just need to find them.”

He turned to his sister. “Hey, pickle face, you could be a cheerleader! And look – I got you a present.” He reached into a crate behind him and pulled out a large black and white rabbit. Nancy squealed with delight and cradled it in her arms.

Agnes raised her eyebrows at the boy who grinned. “Don’t worry, Auntie Aggie; they’ve got hundreds of them upstairs. They won’t miss one.”

And hearing what he called her, Agnes knew that if she’d had a soul, it would have been singing.

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 37 : "Can we change?”

 

Spike could smell the blood a hundred yards away as he strode through the tunnels, heading for the basement of Agnes Pringle’s tearooms. His pace quickened and he was running at top speed by the time he crashed open the door, vamping out, a growl on his lips. OK, he might have the fever of Buffy Summers on his mind day and night but that didn’t mean he wanted anything to happen to one of his friends, especially a poor old duck like Agnes.

As he crashed into the basement kitchen, he skidded to a halt. A small vampire child, a girl, was sitting on the edge of the wooden table, with Agnes tutt-tutting over her. His friend Clem was standing, looking worried, trying to make the kid smile by waving his tentacles at her. There seemed to be blood dripping everywhere. Another small girl vampire was standing watching, chewing the ends of the ribbon tied round the end of her long, thick braid.

“What the – ”

“Spike!” Agnes bit off the word he’d been about to use, raising her eyebrows and nodding at the little girls. “Just the person I need. Poor Nancy has broken a couple of fangs and they’ve got embedded in her bottom lip. Can you help me get them out, please.”

Spike sighed. “Hi Nancy. Hi Clem. Look kid, vamp out. Your lip will shrink and the fang ends drop out.”

They watched in silence as the little girl promptly turned on her human face and Agnes sighed with relief as two needle sharp fangs slid down the bloody chin. She produced a handkerchief and began to wipe the child clean. “Thank you, Spike. I should have thought of that myself. There, Nancy, all better. I’m sure you’ll grow new fangs very soon. Now, off you go with Brittany and Clem and find something quiet to play.”

She watched the children clasp Clem’s baggy hands and drag him, unprotesting, out into the tunnels, chattering on about “watching TV at Brittany’s cave because her mom wasn’t home yet and teaching him a dance routine that was way cool” and muttered to Spike, “I just hope the new fangs don’t come through crooked. Such a worry for a young girl. I mean, even if you are a vampire, you want to look attractive to young men vampires, don’t you? Well, not you yourself, of course, but - ”

“What happened to her?” Spike asked hurriedly before his friend could stray into even deeper waters.

“Her brother Eric and some friends were playing football in the big tunnel – well, they call it soccer - and they made her goal-keeper. I’ve already told them what I thought of that behaviour and they are now busy cleaning out a couple of empty caves just along from the tearooms to give me some extra storage space. I don’t understand where all these vampire children are coming from. Brittany’s another one; she arrived with her mother a few nights ago.”

“Right – listen, Aggie – the Slayer - ”

Agnes scattered flour on the table to soak up the blood, retrieved the pastry she’d been making when Nancy had come howling into the kitchen, and thumped it hard with her rolling pin. She didn’t mean to interrupt her friend, but she had so much on her mind. Shona, Nancy’s mother, still hadn’t returned to their cave. It had been days now and no sign or message. Agnes was beginning to fear the worst. She’d moved Eric and Nancy into her spare room because she couldn’t have them sleeping on their own where anyone could find them.

“You know, Spike, it really annoys me that most of the vampires that are Turned these days contribute nothing to our society. Silly, stupid boys, most of them. I suppose that’s why they get caught so easily, but it would be so useful if you could turn say, a dentist tonight or a good doctor. We lost our plumber to the Slayer last week, as you know and I’m not blaming her, because I realise she has no choice, but there are pipes leaking in so many caves that I’m beginning to worry about rats.”

“Aggie – ”

“A teacher would be good, too. A young one who could relate to how the children feel. I’m doing my best, but mathematics was never my strongest subject at school.”

“Aggie – you know I can’t bite anyone, let alone turn them.”

Agnes sighed. “I was just dreaming out loud. Your chip is really a great inconvenience, not to mention a health hazard. But just think, if you turned a brain surgeon, he might be able to take it out! Have you no friends who could do that for you? I would offer, but you know I don’t like even speaking to Unturneds unless one really has to. They’re so – illogical! But sometimes….”

Spike shifted uneasily. He was desperate to ask Agnes about Buffy’s odd behaviour but his curiosity was aroused. “Have you ever turned anyone?”

Agnes banged the rolling-pin down again across the silently protesting pastry. It was odd how water, flour and fat could change into pastry as light as a feather, but tonight the outside of her apple-turnovers were going to be steely hard. Luckily most demons had very sharp teeth. “You know I don’t approve of drinking human blood,” she said at last. “Now, what did you want to ask me?”

“But you have drunk it in the past?”

Agnes shut her eyes for a second, the warmth of her home under The Olde Willow Tree Tea Shoppe vanishing and she was back in Los Angeles, newly arisen after the event That Had Not Been Her Fault and so, so hungry. She’d been sitting on a bench and there’d been a young woman walking towards her, and –

“I didn’t know the rules,” she murmured, tears that she never shed pricking her eyes. “But I do now. I’ve changed.”

Spike looked up sharply, sensing her distress. “So you reckon vampires can change? Become – something different?”

Agnes sighed, remembering dear Richard Wilkins III. ‘Something different’ didn’t really do justice to his altered life style. “I think everyone has the power inside them to change the way they live,” she said. “None of us are vampires by choice and we have to cope with so many difficulties. Some of us have demons inside us that can’t be controlled, some of us have demons that can, to a certain extent. You have your chip and a demon so that makes it extra hard for you. But we can always try to be different if we want to be. I think it’s the trying that’s important.”

Spike prowled round the kitchen, examining the various jars of spices. He poked a finger into the ginger jar and stood licking it thoughtfully. “What about humans? If say, someone has died, not naturally, but by some sodding magic, and then they’re brought back by magic. Would they be the same person as when they went?”

Agnes flipped the apple and cinnamon mixture onto the pastry in six pools, then folded it over, prinking round the edges with beaten egg. She picked up the baking tray and stood considering her friend. He looked – the first word she thought of was tired, but she could see that wasn’t correct. There was an edge to his behaviour, as if he was wound up like an old clock spring and one more turn of the key would break him in two.

“Spike – I understand very little about magic and demons, but I wouldn’t have thought so. You need to talk to someone who specialises in that sort of thing. What about that very unpleasant demon, Rack? He pops in sometimes for fruit tarts. He knows a great deal about magic – well, he says he does. Constantly. And please don’t eat all my ginger. I’m making Parkin tonight.”

He put down the jar and stared moodily into space. Then – “I can hit the Slayer!”

Agnes winced as she flinched and her hand caught the hot edge of the stove as she banged the door shut on her turnovers. “Hit Buffy Summers? Why would you want to do that? It sounds incredibly dangerous. Were you fighting? I thought you – liked her.”

Spike waved a hand impatiently. “Why doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that it’s not impossible any more that’s important. I shouldn’t be able to, not with this chip inside my head. But I can!”

“Can you hit anyone else? Have you tried? Can you turn people again?” Agnes hoped she didn’t sound too optimistic but the thought of a new vampire school-teacher, a dentist, perhaps even a doctor, swam before her in all their enticing glory.

“No, just Buffy.”

“Oh. Oh, well, she is the Slayer. I expect your chip has to work harder to compensate where she’s concerned. Maybe it has to be – ” Agnes floundered for the right word; she really did not understand modern gadgets – “rebooted!” she finished triumphantly, remembering a very odd conversation she’d overheard Andrew and his friends having one evening in the Tearooms which she’d thought had been about buying new shoes but wasn’t. “You see, if someone could just turn a scientist of some sort, you could probably get it repaired.”

“Rebooted?” Spike stared at her, puzzled. “Where the heck did you hear that word, Aggie?”

Agnes cleaned her table top of blood soaked pastry crumbs and began to sort her ingredients for Parkin. “There’s no need to sound so surprised: I try to keep up with all the modern idioms,” she said huffily. “Andrew’s friend Warren is apparently very good at computers and - and – and things,” she finished.

“That wanker.”

Agnes flinched but knew there was no point in mentioning bad language to Spike. He didn’t even know he used it. “I have no knowledge of his personal habits, but yes, he might be able to help. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that young man before – ” she clasped her flour covered hands together in excitement – “he might be able to remove your chip altogether. And it would really help if you could ask Rack if he knows where I could contact a vampire teacher.”

Spike frowned: he’d given up hope a long time ago of ever getting the chip taken out. But to return to what he’d been before the Initiative had changed his life so drastically – to feed and bite and kill! He shuddered as he remembered the iron tang of real blood filling his mouth. Was it possible that Warren could help him without removing the chip? He seriously doubted it. That took the sort of black magic power only a few demons possessed and there certainly wasn’t one in America. Rack was powerful, but a bit of a charlatan as well. He reminded Spike of Dracula – lots of hypnosis and flashy spells. But Warren – he was the type of nerd who might well be able to tell if the chip was mis-firing, because if it wasn’t, it would prove there was something wrong with Buffy, not him.

But if he could get it out – what would the Slayer say, what would she do? He knew he’d been accepted a little way into her circle because he was tamed, unable to kill humans, useful to her when she chose. And since she’d returned from Heaven, she’d sought his company, confided in him, seemed to need him, even kissed him!

But even she had no idea how bloody difficult life was, fighting in a fog, the blinding pain that shot through his head when he stepped too far in one direction. But that pain was no longer there where Buffy was concerned – and that meant – Spike muttered goodbye to Agnes and strode away down the tunnels, heading for Warren’s house.

He’d meant to warn Agnes against Rack – he really had. That was one bad demon. He only remembered fleetingly while he was waiting for Warren to do his nerdy thing and then the news that his chip was working perfectly drove it out of his mind.

Which was a shame because as Agnes watched Eric, Nancy, Brittany and the other children gathering round her kitchen table demolishing pig and chicken blood smoothies, she knew something would have to be done. They looked to her for so much, which was ridiculous: she couldn’t teach them, care for them. They deserved more than she could give. Their lives had changed so drastically, some of the younger ones still didn’t understand what they had become.

She didn’t like Rack – if she was honest, he scared her so much she often had trouble putting his fruit tarts in a carryout box without dropping them. But, she thought, grimly, being scared was no excuse. If Rack could help her find some useful vampires who might be persuaded to come and live in Sunnydale and help her with these lost children, well, she had no choice. And as she fell asleep that morning, she was wondering what sort of cakes she could take with her on a visit to that demon.

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 38 Let them eat Cake

 

“Devil’s Food Cake, Deviled Eggs, Devil Crab Cream Cheese Ball, Devil’s Chutney, Chilli Hot Devil Pork – ” Agnes Pringle paused. She'd had no idea there were so many interesting dishes one could take as gifts for demons. “Ah – Devil’s Fruit Cake – that one might be best appreciated.”

She peered at her selection of ingredients – yes, plenty of chocolate and dark brown sugar for the sponge and oranges and lemons for the zest for the cream. She began working, her hands busy as her thoughts skittered away to actually facing Mr Rack and asking him if he knew where she could find a vampire teacher or a dentist – even a doctor.

Earlier, her friend Clem had been so worried about her plans that his tentacles had appeared and changed colour every time he talked about it.
“Agnes, he’s a very dangerous guy. You know us demons come in all shapes and sizes, some good, some not so good. Rack is – well, he’s – oh, please don’t go. Why not wait for Spike to come back and let him deal with the problem?”

Agnes had thanked him for his concern but with an implacability that Richard Wilkins III would have recognised from when she refused to marry him, had shaken her head. “Spike seems very preoccupied with his own problems at the moment,” she’d said wistfully. “I don’t like to bother him when I can manage perfectly well on my own. After all, what possible harm can I come to by asking a simple question?”

“OK, then I’ll come with you.” Clem had gulped, every piece of extra skin wibbling with fear. “I mean, his place is cloaked and it moves every few nights. You might not be able to find it.”

Agnes smiled at him. “That’s very kind of you, Clem, but quite unnecessary. Mr Rack often comes into the Willow Tree for fruit tarts. I’ll ask him then – with the counter between us, so I’ll be quite safe. I mean, why should be object?”

Clem hadn’t been completely reassured – he didn’t think that Rack’s black magics would be stopped or altered by a piece of wood laden with doughnuts, blood straws and gypsy cream cookies! But he’d been taught never to argue with a lady and so he didn’t. But that night, in Willie’s Bar, he’d poured out his worries to the barman and noticed that even that miserable piece of Unturned humanity paled at the thought of asking Rack for anything.

Now, as she beat the sugar and fat together for her chocolate sponge, Agnes gave herself a stern talking-to. “You lied, Agnes Pringle. You told poor Clem a fib and that simply isn’t the right thing to do, even if it was justified. Don’t do it again!” She sighed; was it right to tell a lie if it was in a good cause? The days when she could have asked the vicar after Sunday service had long gone. She’d known that Clem would insist on going with her to speak to Mr Rack and that would have been a disaster. She was scared enough herself without having to worry about him. He was a dear demon and one of her closest friends, but she knew instinctively that he wouldn’t be like Spike in a fight.

Agnes also had to admit that she was just slightly irritated that men vampires and demons always thought the females of the species were incapable of doing anything without help. Of course it would be very nice to have a gentleman around, to carry heavy objects – although her vampire strength did rather make this aspect redundant - open doors, deal with household problems such as plumbing and garbage collection, but she had been dealing with all these and more for years by herself.

No, she felt quite capable of approaching Mr Rack. Although…Agnes frowned and made herself a cup of tea, waiting for the cake to rise. Perhaps it wouldn’t be such a good idea to speak to him in the Tearooms. What if there were other customers waiting – although to be fair, as soon as Mr Rack arrived, everyone else usually vanished or developed a deep interest in studying the pictures on the walls.

No, this was a business arrangement – it should be on a far more official level. She would find his office, make an appointment and be very polite and brisk. She wasn’t sure exactly what type of business Mr Rack was involved with in Sunnydale. She knew he was a warlock, of course, and she had heard that he sold black magic to those who needed the type of spell that wasn’t easily come by elsewhere, but she wasn’t sure if she believed that. Dark magics were so dangerous, so addictive. They opened up so many avenues that could lead you deeper and deeper into unknown territory, rather like Thai cooking. And Agnes had, of course, had first hand experience of a demon who revelled in the darker side. Well, Mr Rack certainly wasn’t another Richard Wilkins! She could sense his power when he came into the shop and it was like comparing a candle to a floodlight.

Even so, she also sensed he was a very dangerous demon and she couldn’t stop her legs shaking when she was in his presence. She was only too pleased that her sensible skirt and apron hid that fact. Agnes had the strong impression that Mr Rack was like some of the girls who had bullied her at school – the more you showed you cared, the worse they became. So perhaps she would do what Spike and Clem wanted and not visit him.

Agnes sighed as she slid the two halves of the cake onto a grid to cool and began whipping up the cream for the filling. She didn’t regret fleeing from Los Angeles and the demon who’d wanted to marry her but she knew that if dear Richard was here today, he would have provided her with all the vampire teachers, doctors and dentists she needed for the little group of vampire children she was caring for. Right on cue, Eric and Nancy, the children who now lived in her spare bedroom – their mother still hadn’t returned – wandered in from the tunnels, bouncing a soccer ball and leaving muddy footprints on the clean kitchen floor.

“Aunt Aggie – there’s water pouring into the tunnel under the Post Office, just where we play our games. I think a pipe has burst again.”

Agnes sighed. There! That was just the sort of thing she couldn’t deal with herself. You had to know about something called stop-cocks – and she wasn’t even sure if that was the name for them in America. “Which way is the water running?”

“Oh, down towards the woods. Not in this direction, but it’s too wet to play a proper match. Lashawn and the other boys have gone home. I’m bored.”

“Have you done your homework?”

Eric vamped out: he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but he’d been doing the sort of sums she set him since he was seven. He was sure there was a lot harder things he should be learning. He vamped back again. “Yes, I left it on the table upstairs.”

“Can we go and see the big diamond in the museum?” Nancy asked hopefully. “The boys said it’s huge! I bet it sparkles.”

Agnes bit her lip. Yes, going to a museum was a sensible, educational thing for them to do, but they couldn’t go during the day unless they sneaked in through the tunnels. And two children on their own might look a little odd. No, she would have to take them but goodness knows when she would find the time. How useful a vampire teacher would be!

“Well, not tonight. The museum will be closed, I expect. Perhaps we’ll all go tomorrow. Now, Eric, take a couple of dollars out of my purse and walk down to the Mall tunnel and look at the shops. Be back by dawn, don’t vamp out - if you see the Slayer, walk slowly in the other direction, don’t run, and don’t let Nancy eat any human food, especially popcorn. You know it upsets her stomach.”

“What if we meet someone who knew us – before?” Eric’s face changed again and Agnes bit her lip. There had been a very unfortunate happening the last time the children had visited the Mall. Someone who’d known them when they were Unturneds had stopped, asking about their parents, where they lived now in Sunnydale, what schools they attended. They'd managed to get away but Nancy had been upset for days, remembering a time when she had been a normal little girl who ate ice-cream and didn’t have fangs.

“Just smile nicely, be polite, tell them your father is away on business, your mother is working and you are staying with a relative.”

After they’d gone, Agnes stared down at the Devil’s Fruit Cake without seeing it. She was so fond of them but felt such a failure where these children were concerned. Why was she the only vampire who seemed to be bothered by their plight? Spike just shrugged and told her they would cope. Even Clem didn’t see the whole picture. They were children, regardless of what had happened to them. If they had been from some ethnic minority, everyone would have wanted to help, there would haves been endless visits from social workers, teachers, concerned individuals. Just because they were vampires, no one cared. It just didn’t seem fair to her.

So, there was no alternative. She’d made the cake as an offering; now she would just have to find the courage from somewhere to face Mr Rack. Agnes sighed: she envied Buffy Summers. How nice it must be to be so brave, to fear nothing and no one. She couldn’t imagine the Slayer ever being bullied at school or wondering how to put food on the table for her family.

“I suppose it’s that bravery that Spike admires so much,” Agnes murmured as she packed the cake in a box and tidied the kitchen. She had about two hours before her evening customers for the Tearooms would start to arrive. “Being friends with a vampire like me must be very trying for him, poor dear.”

She opened a tin of food for Snowy, her cat, and added more to the dish as he seemed to have found himself a lady friend recently! A nice little girl whose name, according to her broken collar tag seemed to be Kit Fan. Agnes had tried advertising as she was obviously lost, but no one had seemed bothered about her – except for Snowy! Agnes played with the cats for a while, then, reluctantly, admitted she was busy wasting time. She wasn’t going to become any braver by waiting a few minutes. Grimly, she pulled on her favourite hat and set off down the tunnel.

Rack’s office was in a very rough part of town. Old buildings, long past their best, most boarded up, ready for demolition. Agnes hurried by, averting her eyes from groups of lurking Unturneds who were obviously up to no good. She sensed the building behind it’s cloak and gingerly opened the door into a small, stuffy waiting-room.

It was empty, except for a man wearing a smart dark suit, white shirt and dark tie. Agnes approved his highly polished shoes: it was a sadness to her that Spike’s boots were always so very dusty. She wondered if the man was an official from some tax office. He looked very business-like, but somehow she couldn’t see Mr Rack actually paying taxes. Well, perhaps that was what the man was here to find out. She smiled as she took a seat, clutching her cake box on her lap. “It’s a very pleasant evening,” she said politely.

“Indeed. Very seasonal.”

“Do you think Mr Rack will be long?”

“I’m sure he won’t. Are you in a hurry?”

“Well – ” Agnes bit her lip. She needed to be back at the Willow Tree before opening time because some demons became very rumbustious when they couldn’t buy their favourite snacks.

“Do take my turn. I am in no hurry at all.”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you.” Agnes beamed. Such a nice gentleman, such good manners. If only he’d been a vampire, he’d have been ideal as a role model for Eric, Lashawn and the others.

Then an inner door opened silently and a finger beckoned. Gulping back her fear, Agnes summoned her courage and trotted into the office. Five minutes later, she was beginning to think it had all been a great waste of time and an even greater waste of her cooking ingredients. Mr Rack’s eyes had gleamed when she showed him the Devil’s Fruit Cake and he’d proceeded to eat half of it. But her requests for knowledge of a vampire dentist, doctor or teacher in the area had been ignored. And he had a very mean mouth. Agnes was a great believer in reading character by mouths.

At last her stumbling words fell away into silence. Rack shrugged. “So, Miss Pringle, you bring me cake and you want my advice, but what else can you give me? And what else can I give you?”

Agnes was puzzled. “I really need nothing else except information.”

Rack licked his lips. He knew this silly little English vampire, of course. He liked her fruit tarts – and so did his mother. What he wanted from her, though, wasn’t pastries, it was entry into her innocence, her kind heart, oh he could use this in his blackest magics to such good effect. But she had to be willing. “Oh come now, I can send you flying through the night skies, touching the dancing stars.”

“Oh that sounds quite lovely, but chilly – and although I am a vampire and grateful for the improved vision and teeth, I still have a weakness in my chest and have to be careful of draughts.”

“A trip back to England? Wouldn’t you like to sit in your garden again, smell the flowers, run through a meadow at midnight with the grasses swishing around your knees?”

Agnes sighed. “Oh, so very much. What a nice idea. But you see – I do have a tendency, very slight, but there’s no denying it exists, to suffer from hayfever.”

He stared into her mind for a long while, then smiled. “I could give you back your soul, Agnes Pringle!”

Agnes frowned. Her fear of this demon was fading fast. She was beginning to think he was, as her mother once said of a young man in the village, ‘all talk and no trousers’ and this last remark confirmed it. He was lying. Agnes had learnt a long time ago – and being Spike’s friend had reinforced her beliefs – that when gentlemen talked, they usually spoke of themselves, their likes, dislikes and hobbies and health. Dear Richard had been just the same and during the course of their friendship, she’d learnt to only listen with half her mind. She now recalled a very long luncheon when Richard had been telling her about famous demons he knew across the world and he’d been quite adamant that if she wanted her soul back, the only one who could do this lived in Africa. And it certainly hadn’t been Mr Rack. Of course, she couldn’t quite remember what the demon's name had been – she’d been busy wondering what sort of sausage you would get if you stuffed a pig’s intestines with raw scallops.

So Mr Rack was lying and probably had been about all his other very tempting gifts. And even if some of it had been true, she had a wedding cake to make this week and there really wasn’t time to do a mass baking which was probably what he would want in exchange.

She stood up briskly and pulled her hat firmly down over her eyes. She suddenly realised it was bitterly cold in this room and she had trouble turning and walking towards the exit, almost as if something was trying to stop her. Then, suddenly, the door was flung open and the gentleman from the waiting-room was standing there.

“Oh, I am sorry! I do hope I haven’t been too long,” Agnes said. “Especially as you so kindly let me go first.”

“Not at all, Miss Pringle,” he said with a little bow and turned to watch her scurry out of the room. His eyes when he looked back at Rack flamed red for a second. Now he would have to explain to this stupid demon that there was a protection charm on Agnes Pringle that had been placed there many years ago by someone who was probably, even at this very minute, in another dimension, hatching out of yet another demon egg. His employers in Los Angeles had been alerted by a source in a bar here in Sunnydale that his intervention might be needed, but, luckily they’d been wrong. And he had the strangest feeling that Agnes Pringle needed no protection charm at all. He would report that interesting fact back to Los Angeles.

Agnes hurried home. What a waste of an evening! She was annoyed with herself and disappointed that she was no further forward in her quest to find some nice, useful vampires. Sometimes she wondered what her life was all about. Then a thought struck her and she stopped in her tracks – how had that man known her name? That was very odd. He’d called her Miss Pringle but she knew she hadn’t mentioned it to him.

She turned – wondering if she should go back. How rude she must have seemed if he’d been someone she should have recognised.

Then, suddenly, there was a roaring crash, and bricks, plaster, wood and dust cascaded down as the old house next to her collapsed in ruins.

 

tbc

Chapter Text

Business as Usual by Lilachigh

Chapter 39 A Special Day

 

The room allocated for the wedding supper at the Sunnydale Bison Lodge was large and ornate. The noise level was rising from the room next door where the actual ceremony was to take place but at the moment, all was calm in the banqueting area.

Agnes Pringle surveyed her preparations with not a little pride. The tables were laid - white roses and lilies on green linen. Green ribbons on the back of each chair - even the cutlery had green handles and the glasses were tinged with the same rather unpleasant shade. It certainly wasn’t to her taste, but then she was a traditionalist and had to remember that modern girls liked things to be different. Although she couldn’t really call Anya modern, could she?

She’d been very worried about taking on the catering for the ex-demon’s wedding to Xander Harris; there was so much on her mind at the moment. Spike’s increasingly odd behaviour was worrying her and she was still no further forward with finding a vampire teacher and doctor for the little group of children she was now looking after almost full time. Eric and Nancy’s mother had never returned home and even the most optimistic vampire would have given up hope by now that she ever would.

The children didn’t say a lot but Agnes knew they understood, even the little girl. They no longer asked for their mother. Vampire children learnt not to at an early age. Desperate to keep them occupied, Agnes had been glad of the wedding. They’d enjoyed helping her with the baking and decorating and together with some of the other vampire children, they’d agreed to help wait at the table and serve the food because, as Anya put it so succinctly, the human waiters would turn and flee when faced with some of her wedding guests.

But when Anya had insisted that she wanted Agnes to cater for her wedding, her first thoughts had been to panic and say it wasn’t possible. There would be Unturneds there, including, of course, Buffy Summers, the Slayer. Of course, with so many demons also included in the wedding party, it meant that the Slayer’s ability to spot one small, plump vampire would be greatly decreased.

But Anya had been so persuasive. “Agnes, just think of the different sorts of guests that have to be fed! Ordinary caterers could manage Xander’s side but demons eat different food and even though I’ve given up that world, they are still my friends and I won’t disrespect their rather odd preferences. You can cook both types and oooh, one of your lovely cakes. Three layers and can the icing be green? That’s the color of the bridesmaid’s dresses and I want everything to be perfect. Now do say you’ll do it.”

Agnes had hesitated - green icing? She had the feeling that perhaps Anya had never read Peter Pan and the fate that had awaited anyone who ate green icing. But she said she would give an answer very soon, then waited for Spike to come round so she could ask for his advice. He’d only visited the Willow Tree Tearooms once or twice recently and had seemed distracted, almost vague. If Agnes hadn’t known better (she had a lot of experience with gentlemen who had taken strong drink) she would have said he was drunk, but he wasn’t. No, he just seemed weird, zooming from very high spirits to deep depression within seconds. And the cuts and bruises on his face recently convinced her that he’d been fighting, although he’d just shaken his head and shrugged off her concern.

“Don’t fuss. I’m OK. Been turning the other cheek and all that! You really don’t want to know the details. Look - if you want to bake the wretched wedding cake, then do it, Aggie. Make up your own mind. I’m no bloody wedding expert. Although I was engaged once!” He laughed again but it wasn't a nice sound. "Some girls like The Wind Beneath my Wings to be played at the ceremony, apparently!"

She’d hated to hear the exasperation in his tone - it made her feel she was, perhaps, being something of a burden to him, always asking for his help and advice. And yet, she thought as she lay in bed the next morning, watching Snowy and the new cat, Kit-Fan, playing tag around her room, she didn’t really ask him that much any more. The days of relying on Spike to guide her every step had long gone.

She felt tears burn her eyes. When had that happened? When had Spike changed and the close friendship faded away? She got out of bed and sat at her dressing-table, staring into the empty mirror. She always brushed her hair in front of the looking-glass - a hundred strokes every morning - even though she couldn’t watch herself doing it - old habits died hard. But with every stroke of the brush, it was as if the stiff bristles were forcing the truth into her scalp. The truth was that Spike hadn’t changed that much. Oh, there was definitely something going on his world that she didn’t know about but if he didn’t want to tell her, she certainly wasn’t going to pry!

No, it wasn’t Spike - it was her. The past few years had changed her. The poor creature who had run from Los Angeles and Dear Richard no long existed. She wasn’t any braver - she had to admit that - but she’d grown used to being a vampire now. She’d discovered the advantages amongst the areas that had upset her so much in the early days and she had her own dear Willow Tree to run and was making a profit. Well - Agnes banged the bristle brush harder against her scalp in punishment at lying. Not so much a profit, perhaps; you could see whole days’ worth of baking vanish in an instant when certain demons arrived in town and refused to pay. But there were fewer of those incidents now than there had been at the beginning. Threatening never to cook slug, snail and scorpion cookies ever again had been useful.

She dressed for the day, facing the fact that she didn’t have to rely on Spike quite so much, pleased that she’d justified her behaviour in such a sensible way. And if a little voice in her head wanted to insist that it was Spike’s apparent determination to spend so much time with Unturneds that was driving them apart, she chose to ignore it.

So Agnes had agreed to cater for Anya’s wedding; helped by discovering that there was an extremely handy sewer tunnel that ran right under the venue with a door leading up into the basement. So she had the perfect way in to deliver her meal. She hadn’t bothered Spike again but days ago she’d been forced to brave his crypt one night to ask a favour: some very special eggs were due to be delivered any time now, ordered from a demon supplier who provided her occasionally with ingredients for her more complicated recipes that were impossible to come by in Sunnydale.

“You see, Spike, I need the eggs to go completely bad before I cook them. They make a very toxic egg nog which, according to Anya, some of her demon friends always use to drink the toast with at weddings and funerals. Unfortunately there is a small problem in that they smell disgusting and I really don’t want the Willow Tree to give off that sort of odour. So your lower crypt room would be ideal to store them.”

Spike had shrugged. “Put them where you like. They won’t bother me.”

“Thank you.” Agnes hesitated. Her friend was sitting, staring at - well, at the rucked up carpet on the floor, as if he was desperate to memorize the pattern. “Are you coming to Anya’s wedding?” she’d asked, trying to rouse him from the brooding lethargy that seemed to be consuming him.

He laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “Well, no one’s invited me, Aggie! Can’t imagine I’d be on the top of Xander Harris’ guest list.”

“But you like Anya?”

Spike had shrugged. “For an ex-vengeance demon, she’s OK. She speaks her mind, which not a lot of them do and God only knows what she sees in Harris, but yes she’s trying hard to make a new life for herself.”

The words “Is that what you’re trying to do?” tried to escape but she bit them back. She couldn’t imagine that Spike was unhappy with his life. He was a good-looking, powerful vampire and although the chip in his head did make his life a little difficult, well, everyone had problems to cope with in this world, didn’t they, and worrying about something you couldn’t change was no use at all.

She’d left soon after, almost bumping into a dark, rather grubby vampire girl whose dark hair and black clothes did nothing for her, except, of course, Agnes tried to be fair, it would make her very difficult to see in the dark which was a plus when the Slayer was out hunting. She wondered if the girl was a friend of Spike’s and did hope that she wasn’t the one he was getting depressed about. He had told Agnes many times about his Dark Princess and this girl, although she was no princess, was definitely dark.

Now it was the day of the wedding. Agnes had been up all hours working on the final preparations: she was tired and her feet hurt because she’d thought it only right she should wear her best shoes that were smart but did have a tendency to pinch. She eased her toes now as she stood, waiting for the ceremony to be over and for the guests to swarm into the room for their meal. She’d sent the children down into the basement to have their own meal; she didn’t trust Brittany and Lashawn not to steal little titbits off the plates as they served them.

Sighing, Agnes glanced at the clock on the wall - she could tell by the buzz of noise that the ceremony hadn’t even begun yet. Well, it was the bride’s privilege to be late, of course. Agnes had often wondered what she would have worn if it had been her good fortune to get married. In the old days it would have been white tulle she thought fondly, and even Dear Richard had been a traditionalist when it came to these sort of affairs. She was drifting off into a happy dream where someone who was a cross between Clark Gable and Brad Pitt was gazing down into her face and about to lift a drift of white veil and kiss her - when - Agnes squeaked and spun round. Someone had pinched her - rear!

The man standing there - an Unturned and a very drunk one - leered blearily at her. “Hello, my dear. And who are you?”

Agnes, who had the sense to realise that he was so drunk he had no idea of her age, fought down the urge to pour a bowl of cold Oubliette Soup over his head. It had taken her too long to make and she’d never recover the live spiders once they’d escaped. “Oh, I’m just the hired help,” she murmured and pushed a plate of sticky Chelsea buns under his nose.

“Now, now, you can’t fob me off like that,” he muttered, swaying gently. “Give us a kiss, then.”

Agnes reached reluctantly for the soup tureen, but then the door banged open and she turned, her relief at being rescued turning to terror as Buffy Summers, resplendent in green, hurtled down the room towards them. “Mr Harris! Stop that! I’m so sorry, is he bothering you?”

“What, no, no, not at all, well, maybe he needs a nice cup of black coffee.” Agnes slid backwards a few paces. The Slayer seemed to be far too preoccupied with guiding Mr Harris out of the room to realise she’d been talking to a vampire, but at any second she might and then...

“We can’t find Xander - that’s why there’s a delay,” Buffy called back as she firmly towed her charge back towards the ceremony room. “And you’re the lady my sister Dawn worked for, aren’t you? That was nice of you - to give her a job. I do hope she was no trouble.”

“Dawn - oh yes - oh no, I mean - sweet girl. No trouble at all.”

“I’d love to stop and chat but can’t right now. Hopefully there’ll be a chance later. See you.”

Agnes gulped as the door swung shut. She could only hope that the Slayer would have far too much on her mind to remember later on.

Hours later, Agnes knew her hopes had come true. Buffy Summers would not have the time or inclination to come and make small talk. Agnes gazed at the cake that would now never be eaten, at the plates of food, congealed and curling at the edges. The big brawl and finished and the guests had gone their separate ways. A step behind her made her jump. It was Anya, her face as white as her dress, her lips a steel line. “All your hard work, Agnes. All for nothing. I’m sorry.”

“My dear, you mustn’t - “

“Please - you can’t say anything that would help. But if you would like to take the cake home with you, I’m sure you can cut it into slices and sell it in the Willow Tree. Perhaps we could halve the profits. I hate to see a good business idea go to waste. Right, I must get on. Lots to do.”

And she was gone. Agnes sighed, kicked off her shoes and wriggled her toes in relief. She’d sent the children home ages ago through the tunnels, when it became obvious that there would be no party. She’d go and get Eric and he could help her carry the cake back to the Willow Tree.

“That looks wonderful.” It was the red-headed girl, the one who reminded Agnes forcibly of the chemistry mistress at her old school all those years ago, the one everyone had had a crush on one term until she ran away with the lady who ran the travelling library. “Sorry you’re left with all the cleaning up, but things are chaotic.”

“That’s quite all right. Such a dreadful shame.”

“A shame?”

“That Xander decided not to marry Anya.”

“Oh - yes, of course. Yes, a shame, but then he can do so much better.” Then, as if she realised she’d said too much, she leant forward across the table and sliced off a tiny sliver of cake. “I’ve heard that if you put it under your pillow, you dream of the one who loves you most. Magic!”

Agnes nodded. It was one interpretation, she supposed. Gently, she took the slice from the girl and wrapped it in a paper serviette. “I hope it works,” she said.

The red-head frowned. “I can make it work,” she said fiercely and left without another word.

The tunnel was cool and dark and Agnes couldn’t wait to get back to her own home. She was carrying the top layer of the cake and would have left the rest to be thrown out, but that might have seemed like the final snub to Anya if she had.

As she climbed wearily up the stairs, she could hear the children laughing and found her smiling as the sound lifted her spirits. While vampire children could giggle like that, surely their world couldn’t be all bad. She walked into the kitchen and startled gazes swung in her direction.

“What on earth - ?”

Something fat, wriggly and tentacled was happily rolling across the table top. Eric looked scared then said, “We didn’t steal it, Aunt Aggie, honestly. That girl Dawn gave it to me to look after and then later told me to throw it away. But it’s cute. Can we keep it?”

“Oh can we?” Nancy picked up the unwanted wedding gift and clasped it to her chest, her eyes like stars.

Agnes found herself smiling. “I don’t see why not,” she said. “I wonder if it likes cake?”

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 40 : Hidden Secrets

 

Since she’d been Turned back in Hollywood all those years ago, Agnes had always fought a determined battle with the demon who lived - without any permission! - inside her. It was a fight she knew she could never win entirely: sometimes she made a few little gains when she managed not to be nasty or spiteful or too bitter about her lot in unlife. But she knew the demon - whom she always pictured as rather plump and sleepy - would wake up, force her into game face and make her act against her old nature in a way that was quite horrifying.

Her feeling towards young Andrew’s friend Warren Meers was just such a case. She didn’t like the boy. It was completely wrong, she admitted, but as hard as she tried, she could find no redeeming features in his character. Which was ridiculous, of course. He was young; bumptious, ambitious, with an overblown belief that he was better at everything than anyone he’d ever met. But lots of young men - and some older ones, too - were just the same - vain.

Of course most vampires and demons were no angels, she thought, as she polished the wooden tables in the Willow Tree Tearooms. But even the very worst - the demon Rack came into her mind - had at least one thing in their nature that gave her some hope. Rack still came into the Tearooms to buy fruit tarts for his mother - a demon lady Agnes had never actually met but who was, by all accounts, totally to blame for her son’s very difficult nature. Yes, for all his dreadful way of life, Agnes believed that Rack loved his mother. But as for Warren....did he love anyone but himself?

She sighed; she knew that Andrew loved him, with all the adoration that a weaker person can often feel for someone who seemed so strong, so clever, so determined. Did he love Andrew in return? No, of that she was certain. Love was not an emotion that Warren Meers knew anything about.

Agnes sat down abruptly, the polishing forgotten. She disliked Warren so much and it wasn’t just his treatment of her friend that upset her. There was a coldness at his very core that worried her. A cunning sneakiness that left a bad taste in her mouth. Could an Unturned be completely evil? They had souls so she didn’t see how that was possible. Nevertheless, she was always very careful that none of the vampire children she cared for ever came into his sight. She was still keen to find a role model for the boys, but neither Andrew, Warren or their plump little friend, Jonathan, were right for that.

Oh how she longed to get Andrew away from the other two. She’d tried desperately to get Spike to help, to come up with some plan that would seduce the boy away from his friends. The Spike of a year ago would have laughed, grinned and devised some diabolical plot to send Andrew to Los Angeles or New York. But the Spike of today - Agnes glanced down and found she’d torn her polishing duster into little strips!

Yes, Spike was travelling a path that had taken him a long way from his vampire friends. But even so, when she’d made her disturbing discovery a few days ago, she’d had no choice but to turn to him again because she was sure something was going on in Sunnydale that was odd and dangerous, but her vampire friend was somewhere else in his head and he’d had no time to listen to her worries. Buffy Summers had apparently been taken ill, was out of her mind and he’d been able to think and talk about nothing else. “I think it’s our relationship that’s bothering her,” he’d blurted out in the basement kitchen as Agnes was gathering together the ingredients for her latest cake bake.

“I didn’t realise you had a relationship,” Agnes had replied, spilling the sugar over the table top and trying to keep her voice from squeaking, wishing his words didn’t make her feel so queasy. A relationship? With the Slayer? This went far beyond a friendship.

“It’s a secret. Well, I don’t care who bloody well knows, but she still does. I’ve told her, tell your sodding friends and it’ll make you feel better. They’ll either freak out and never speak to you again, or accept us being together. Either way, you won’t be hiding any more.”

“Speaking of hiding....”

“I mean, I understand it’s a weird situation, but it’s not as if she hasn’t had experience of dating a vampire.” He paced up and down the kitchen, his coat flying. Agnes rescued a bowl of eggs and tried again....

“You’ll never guess what I found this evening when I was cleaning....”

“I suppose it means that it was OK for everyone to know about her and Angel, just because he had a rotten soul! And a lot of good that did him. One quick shag and oh, look who’s arrived - Angelus! At least that isn’t going to happen to me. And what is this obsession with souls? Do you miss yours? Honestly, Aggie, do you miss that burning spark that can stop you doing everything you’ve ever wanted to do?”

Agnes vamped out and back. It wasn’t the bad language she minded so much but the way Spike just wasn’t listening to her. Did she miss her soul? Yes, of course she did, but she was a vampire now, what on earth would she do with it if she got it back? There was a demon living in that place inside her now and in an odd way she worried about what would happen to it if her soul did, in some way, return. Being evicted was never nice, even if you were a demon.

No, in life - and death, of course - you moved on, dealt with the problems in front of you and kept your deepest worries to yourself because people never wanted to hear about them no matter how many times they asked “How are you?”. They usually wanted to tell you about their own woes. Just as Spike was doing now!

She was certain he wouldn’t want to listen to her biggest concern - that even though she was sure God realised it Hadn’t Been Her Fault, somewhere along the line in the future, she would be denied entry into Heaven. She often dreamt of herself knocking on a great golden door and being told to go away in a voice that sounded just like her long ago choir master at church.

Startled, she realised Spike was still going on about Buffy Summers and his soul. “It’s a pity you can’t buy one somewhere! Perhaps if I got mine back, I’d be the man she thinks she wants.”

“He doesn’t sell them for money,” Agnes muttered absentmindedly.

“What? Who doesn’t?”

And so she’d told him about the demon who lived in Africa that dear Richard had mentioned once when he was courting her. He’d said that although he would, quite literally have given her the world, he couldn’t give her back her soul. This shaman was the only one who could do that. And even Richard with all his knowledge wasn’t sure that the rumours were nothing more than just that - fairy-tales for vampires.

Spike had frowned, then said he, too, thought it a load of old bollocks but before Agnes could tell him about what she’d found in the Tearooms, he turned and strode off back through the basement door into the tunnels, muttering something about having to get back to Buffy in case she needed him. And it had taken Agnes all the will-power she possessed not to hurl the bowl of eggs after him. Spike seemed oblivious that other people might need him, too.

Now, days later, Agnes threw away the remnants of her polishing cloth and at the same time took from her apron pocket the odd little device she’d found on a shelf in the Tearooms and consigned it to the garbage. She had no idea what it was but she was quite sure that the only person who’d been sitting in that part of the room since she’d last dusted, had been Warren Meers. And if he’d hidden this little metal object in her home, it could only be for a very bad reason.

She sighed: she was probably worrying about nothing and there was no reason at all to feel so uncomfortable and apprehensive. A clatter of feet and burst of chatter broke through her worries as Eric, Nancy and the growing group of vampire children burst into the kitchen, hungry as the little hunters they were, eager to tell her all their news.

Agnes dished up pig’s blood risotto and watched as they ate, crowded round the table, vamping out and back again, cheerfully planning what they were going to do the next night, full of enthusiasm for their Unlifes. She counted them: Eric, Nancy, LaShawn, Brittany, Adele Mossiman - whose mother had only recently vanished - and the two latest arrivals, Colin and Craig, blond haired brothers who were only five and six. Craig still carried his teddy-bear with him everywhere.

Every night seemed to bring another child scurrying through the tunnels towards the Tearooms. They all seemed quite happy to sleep where she put them - although she was running out of empty caves - eat what she provided and obey the few rules she insisted on applying to their odd Unlives.

But they were a huge responsibility and one she couldn’t see how to resolve. She had no experience with youngsters but even she could see that with Sunnydale built on top of a Hellmouth - really it was so unhealthy for vampire children. Even if the present Slayer should die - and Agnes didn’t want to acknowledge that she would be overjoyed if she did - another one would be called and would surely live here, too.

Was there an alternative? As dawn broke, she checked that all the children were safely tucked up in bed, removed Snowy her white cat from Nancy’s pillow, promised Brittany that she would get a book from the library that would teach her how to braid and bead her long black hair and assured Craig that his teddy was indeed now a vampire bear.

She lay awake for hours, her mind struggling to find an answer to her continual question- how could she educate and rear these children? When she finally fell asleep she dreamed she was back home in Winchester in England, human once more. It was very dark when she was woken from the nightmare, aware that she’d overslept and there was a hammering at her door.

She sat upright in bed as little Nancy bounded into the room, closely followed by her demon friend, Clem.

“What? Clem ?”

“Agnes, you must come. Spike’s in the worst sort of trouble! He’s leaving Sunnydale - right now.”

tbc

Chapter Text

Business as Usual

by Lilachigh

Chapter: It won’t be me

 

Agnes woke suddenly, every nerve in her body on edge and tingling. Her internal clock told her in was daylight outside, that she’d woken too early. Had she been dreaming? She didn’t think so but as she lay there, gazing at the heavy flowered curtains that safely covered the deadly bedroom window, she knew something was wrong.

The air felt heavy, charged with an emotional electricity that made her shudder. In all her years as both a human and a vampire, she’d never felt anything like this before. Was she in danger? She didn’t think so, but whatever was happening in Sunnydale, it was bad. Agnes sighed crossly: not more demon bikers, surely? Or hell-gods. Or vampires bent on destruction. Really, there didn’t seem to be a moment when there was any peace.

She shivered again and was about to get up to check on the children when she was aware - and not in a good way - that there was a man in her room! And not any man. Richard Wilkins III was standing at the foot of her bed, smiling down at her.

Agnes squeaked and pulled the bedclothes up to her chin, only thankful that for once she had not gone to sleep wearing the large pink rollers that usually adorned her head during the daylight hours.

“Agnes, my dear little Agnes. And how are you? Isn’t this pleasant, meeting again.”

“Richard!” Agnes stared up at the familiar figure. A ghost? Well, he was a very substantial one if he was. Ghosts were supposed to be all transparent and drifty. Richard Wilkins looked extremely well fed and substantial. Gingerly she reached out to touch his hand; it felt as cold as hers and a little scaley, but real.

“I’ve missed you, Agnes.”

“Richard - I am in bed!”

The ex Mayor of Sunnydale blinked genially. “Well, I can see that, Agnes. Living in an alternate dimension hasn’t affected my eyesight. And I have to apologise for disturbing you at such an inconvenient time, but time is of the essence, and you know what they say, for want of a nail the war was lost. Not that this war is going to be fought with nails - well, fangs and claws in plenty, but not nails. And at least you are in bed, Agnes, and not, going about your ablutions.”

Agnes found herself nodding in agreement, the idea of Richard appearing whilst she was in the bath was alarming. Then she shook herself in annoyance. He had no right to appear unannounced at any time. “What do you want, Richard? Not that it isn’t very nice to see you,” she added swiftly in case she’d hurt his feelings. Men, even demon ones, she’d learnt over the years, did like to be welcomed when they came to call. Spike had always looked most surprised if she’d seemed too busy to talk to him on his frequent visits to chat about his feelings for Buffy Summers.

The Mayor looked thoughtful as he considered her question, then sighed. “Another chance at ruling the world would be nice, but sadly that won’t happen for another few months and even then I will have to stand in line behind a whole host of other contenders.”

Agnes didn’t understand and she wasn’t in the mood for guessing games. “Richard, I cannot have a conversation with you whilst in bed. Turn your back, please. I am getting up.”

Obediently the Mayor faced the wall as Agnes scrambled out of bed, pulled on her fluffy pink dressing-gown and tied the belt as tightly as possible. “Right - now, as I said before, nice as it is to see you - “

The Mayor spun round, beaming. “Is it really nice? Agnes, you don’t know how happy those words make me. I have missed you so much.”

Agnes found herself smiling. “I’ve missed you, too. And I have to thank you for the lovely money you left me in your Will. It has been of such a help.” She paused, suddenly alarmed. “Is that why you’ve come back? Do you need the money? I haven’t spent all of it; there is a considerable sum left.”

Richard Wilkins shook his head. Where he existed at this very time there was no need of money at all. Which, he considered, was a shame as he’d always been so very good at making it and he hated to see a talent going to waste. But now wasn’t the place to worry about that. “Agnes, I need you to listen to me very carefully. I want you to pack up and leave Sunnydale.”

She stared at him in blank astonishment. “Leave? But why?”

The Mayor stared at the plump, English vampire whom he would once have willingly married. Ah, would his reign on earth have actually happened if she’d accepted his proposal? Would she have made him a better or worse demon? All he knew was that she was the kindest, nicest vampire he’d ever met. He wished with every drop of the toxic substance that flowed through his veins that he’d been able to introduce her to his Faith. His Firecracker had been in such need of a sensible, motherly influence, although perhaps her reaction to a vampire in that role might have been unfortunate.

“Soon, quite soon, within months in fact, the Hellmouth under Sunnydale is going to open and all the evil you can imagine will flood out. It’s going to be quite a party and, under other circumstances, I’d advise you to stay and enjoy it, but...”

He paused: how could he put this without offending her? “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I used to feel that you hadn’t entirely embraced the vampire and demon lifestyle here in America.”

Agnes felt annoyed: she’d tried very hard to fit in and even if she didn’t have a Green Card, she’d never shirked working for her unlife. She was about to tell Richard that, in no uncertain terms, when honesty prevailed. She had to admit she wasn’t keen on the more violent aspects of her world. Killing to eat was obviously acceptable behaviour - although she thought more vampires could persevere a little longer than they did with pig blood - but killing for fun always seemed, well, wrong. Especially where Unturneds were concerned. What was the pleasure in slaughtering people who couldn’t fight back? Spike’s voice from long ago echoed in her head, “It just isn’t cricket, Aggie. That’s why I like fighting with the Slayer; she gives as good as she gets.”

Coming back to reality with a bump, she realised Richard was still waiting for her answer. “Yes, I suppose I do worry sometimes about the indiscriminate blood-letting. It draws attention to our little community in a very unnecessary fashion.”

The Mayor nodded wisely. “I always knew you were a turn the cheek type of girl.”

Agnes smiled - because it had been several years since anyone had thought to call her a girl.

“That’s why you need to leave Sunnydale. When the Hellmouth opens, I want you to be a long long way away from it. You still have the cottage my lawyers bought for you in England, don’t you?”

“Yes, and that was so kind of you to arrange - “

“England will be safe for some considerable time. I don’t think we’re scheduled to annihilate it for a couple of years. Go there, Agnes. And, if you ever had any sort of tender feelings for me, please go fast.”

Agnes looked into his eyes and saw - she blinked and shuddered. She knew everyone had their faults but sometimes Richard Wilkins’ seemed worse than other demons. But she didn’t doubt the truth of what he was saying.

“I take it you’ve no one to keep you here in Sunnydale,” a hint of suspicious jealousy appearing in his voice.

She was just about to tell him about the children under her care when she stopped. Putting temptation in his way was not a kind thing to do. She crossed her fingers under cover of her fluffy dressing-gown and lied. “No, no one. Spike - my closest friend - I don’t know if you’ve met him - has gone to Africa to consult a shaman out there about his soul. Or lack of one.”

The Mayor looked interested. “Well now, that’s a juicy little bit of news to take back to the Boss. Spike could be very useful to us. Why does he want a soul?”

Agnes pulled a face. “He thinks he’s in love with the Slayer.”

“My Faith? Oh no, you mean the Summers woman, don’t you?”

Agnes had no idea who Faith was, but nodded in agreement, the expression on her face mirroring the disgust on his at the very idea.

“Jeepers creepers, look at the time! I must go. So much to do. It has been a perfect joy to see you again. I’ll be thinking of you over in England.”

Agnes reached out a hand, but he’d already stepped away towards the door. “I think of you all the time,” she murmured, wishing for the thousandth time that she could have loved him as he deserved.

Just then he turned and casting a glance over his shoulder which she would have said - if anyone else had done it - was one of fright, he whispered, “And Agnes, if you see me again in the next few months, if I arrive and start talking to you, I want you to shut your eyes and sing very loudly because it won’t be me. Take care of yourself and remember - it won’t be me!”

And he was gone.

tbc

Chapter Text

Chapter 42: Victims

 

“Snowy! Kitty! Here, kitties. Oh dear, where have you got to!” Agnes Pringle sank down on a large wooden crate - not to catch her breath exactly, because of course she didn’t need to breathe, but even if she was a vampire, her legs still ached a little when she ran too far.

She peered round the dark off shoot of one of the sewer tunnels, hunting desperately for a sign of her two cats. Ever since she’d had that very alarming visit from Richard Wilkins III, telling her that she would be well advised to leave Sunnydale because there was an unstoppable Apocalypse on its way, she’d been grimly preparing to do just that. Agnes was well aware that when Richard said ‘immediately’ then that was what he meant. She wondered why she hadn’t questioned his advice: she was no longer the timid, unsophisticated vampire she’d been when he first met her. Oh no, she now prided herself on being - what was the expression young Andrew used? Streetwise. Yes, well, tunnelwise would probably be a better description for a vampire, but the meaning was the same.

No, she hadn’t queried what Richard had said because she felt in her very bones that he was telling the truth. She knew she wasn’t a clever, upper class vampire, an Aurelian, like Spike, but even she could sense something extremely unpleasant was building all around Sunnydale. So in the hours that had passed since her ex-sweeheart left, she’d been busy packing. Not because she was scared to stay: no, if she had only had herself to worry about, then she would have barricaded the door to the Olde Willow Tree Tea Shoppe and fought off anything that dared to threaten her beloved home.

But she wasn’t alone. She was, like it or lump it, as her dear mother used to say, in charge of several vampire children.

Agnes gripped the edge of the wooden packing case so hard that a splinter dug into her flesh. Wincing, she sucked her finger, tasting her own blood. There was no choice; that was the trouble. She knew only too well that when trouble broke out between the human world and demons and vampires, the first casualties were the weak - children and, yes, women, but the children most of all. What chance would Nancy and the others have against packs of Unturneds, probably lead by the Slayer, out to defend their town against a demon invasion? None at all. It was all very well for Richard to say they were going to destroy this world - he did exaggerate so! - but no matter how many demons arrived, it would be bloody and nasty. So, although it broke her heart, she knew she had to leave Sunnydale, take the children and, somehow, someway, get them to safety.

Leave Sunnydale! A shudder rippled through her body as if the very foudations of her being were crumbling. This little town was her home, the place where she’d made friends, a new life, run a thriving business, survived and she had to give it all up for a very uncertain future. Agnes knew herself well enough to know that she’d rushed around without stopping since Richard left, not allowing a second of time to sit and think, to accept what was going to happen. Keeping busy kept her despair at bay, but she had the horrid feeling that it wouldn’t stay away once she was quiet for more than a few minutes.

She’d already told the children to start getting together their most valuable possessions, ready for when night fell and she could buy a nice big camper van from Sheldon, the vampire car dealer whom, admittedly didn’t have a good reputation amongst her customers - convertibles whose roofs opened unexpectedly during daylight were unforgivable - but beggars couldn’t be choosers when it came to escaping from an Apocalypse. She needed to get to Los Angeles, to visit Mr Nicholas Elder, who had helped her once before. She only hoped that by sending Spike to see him when he’d headed off to Africa, she hadn’t used up all her credit with that very odd man who worked for such an alarming organisation.

But that was a bridge she would have to cross when and if she came to it. Now her problem was far more basic - she had to find her cats, Snowy and Kitty Fan, and get them crated up, ready to travel. There was no way she was leaving them behind! She’d been searching and calling for half an hour but guessed they were probably home by now, laying on her bed, oblivious of the trouble they were causing her. Agnes sighed and struggling to her feet, peered round to get her bearings. Oh, yes, she knew now where she was - underneath Anya’s shop, The Magic Box.

Turning to hurry back to her own basement, she hesitated. She liked Anya, had felt so sorry for the poor girl when she’d been so cruelly jilted by that boy Xander, the Slayer’s friend. And Agnes knew that Spike had liked the ex demon girl, too. Why, only a few days ago, Clem had let drop a remark that made Agnes think the vampire might be looking away from the Slayer at last and have warmer feelings for Anya. That would have been such a happy arrangement. She’d had such a nice dream about the two of them settling down together in a cave just along the tunnel from her, perhaps adopting a couple of the children and...

But then - she sighed - Spike had rushed off to Africa, his mind still full of Slayer obsession and Anya had been left once more. Agnes thought it sad: she’d always been so reliable; theirs had been a good, business-like relationship - a basket of muffins every day and Anya had keep quiet about her neighbour being a vampire. It had worked very well. Leaving Sunnydale without saying goodbye seemed a very poor way of acknowledging that friendship. Surely it couldn’t hurt. Richard hadn’t said his information was a secret - although she supposed it would be a little difficult to explain, even to an ex-vengeance demon.

Making up her mind, she climbed the wooden ladder from the tunnel up to the door that led into the lower store-rooms of The Magic Box. She knew Anya worked late and hopefully would still be there, stock-taking or counting the money she’d taken that day. But as she climbed into the basement of the shop, she froze. The noise from above was terrifying - crashing and banging - glass shattering, wood splintering and even the air here in this room shimmered with the oily grease of magic being used close by.

Agnes felt faint - she could taste such power, such hatred and despair, jealousy, revenge, every skein of colour of every anguish she could remember, but overlying them all was grief - deep, bottomless, grief that ripped at her brain until she was forced to crouch in a crumpled heap on the floor and vamping out, she buried her head in her arms.

She had no idea how long she lay there but finally she realised the air was still and quiet once more. Wincing from the stiffness in her arms and legs, she stood up and brushed the dust from her clothes. With trepidation, legs trembling, she stared up the wooden steps that led into the main shop. Whatever had happened up there was none of her business, she told herself. There was no need to go poking her nose into demon matters that didn’t concern her.

“I must go; the children will wonder where I am,” she muttered to herself but oddly she watched as her hand clutched the wooden rail and she found she was pulling herself upwards. There had obviously been some sort of fight and where there was fighting there were usually casualties. Anya might be hurt, badly injured and there was no way Agnes could go home without checking.

Nervously pushed open the door, and was faced with a scene of such devastation that she let out a little squeal of horror. The Magic Box had been smashed to pieces, with such force that Agnes could only guess that the demons Dear Richard had spoken about had arrived early. Really, some people couldn’t even organise a war successfully! She imagined organising an Apocalypse was probably like following a really difficult recipe and it you deviated, disaster happened, as when she tried to make lemon curd with blood instead of lemon juice.

She took a step forward, stopping as glass crunched underfoot and a noxious smell rose from whatever had been in the little flask. Agnes hesitated - she couldn’t see Anya but somewhere, buried in the wreckage, she could hear groaning. Carefully, she edged forwards - the sound was coming from under a pile of splintered book shelves. Thanking the fact that being a vampire made her far stronger than she’d been as an Unturned, Agnes heaved the jagged spears of wood aside, then gasped. It wasn’t Anya lying on the floor but the battered face gazing up at her was that of nice Mr Giles who’d once owned the shop before he went home to England.

Before she could stop herself, Agnes vamped out, then hastily shimmered back into human face. She was almost certain that her fellow compatriot hadn’t noticed because blood was trickling down into his eyes from a cut across his forehead.

“Oh goodness! Oh dear. Do let me help you. Can you move? No, perhaps you shouldn’t. I believe moving is not a good idea until you know how much damage has been done.”

“I’ll... be... fine.”

The words came in no more than a whisper and were so patently untrue that Agnes tutted crossly. “You certainly won’t be unless you let me help you.”

“If you could just help me up - I need to - vitally important - she must be stopped - must - ”

“Who must be stopped? Do you mean Anya? Surely she didn’t fight with you, Mr Giles?”

“Anya? No - it was - look, please, help me up. I can stand - I’ve suffered worse than this over the years.”

Agnes doubted this last remark but knew gentlemen didn’t like to be argued with, especially when they weren’t well. She slid her hands under his shoulders and effortlessly heaved him upright, forgetting that there should have been no way she could have done that.

Rupert Giles staggered a little and clutched her arm. Leaning heavily on her, he stumbled through the wreckage towards the shop door.

“My tearooms are just along the street,” Agnes said. “If you can walk that far, I can administer some first aid and a nice cup of tea. Sweet and strong - for shock, you know.”

She pushed open the door, then hesitated. How stupid! For the first time in how many years, she’d forgotten to think about the time of day. Was the sun still out? Surely not. It must be evening by now, but then Californian evenings could be very bright.

“I think you’ll be all right,” Rupert Giles murmured, “she’s made it almost night out there.” He swayed violently and would have fallen if Agnes hadn’t caught him round the waist and held him as he doubled over in pain.

She looked down at the blood-stained head so close to her now, the tender skin of his neck showing just above his collar and felt a wave of anguish sweep over her. She didn’t understand what Mr Giles had just said, but one thing was quite clear - he knew! She felt her stomach turn over, just as it did when she forgot a batch of scones and they came out of the oven black as cinders. This man who was a friend of the Slayer and so many other influential people in Sunnydale, knew her secret, that she was a vampire. She would, of course, have chosen not to kill him if it had just been herself to consider - but if he knew about Miss Pringle, surely he would know about the children, too.

And she vamped out.

tbc

Chapter Text

Business as Usual by Lilachigh

 

Chapter 43 Miles to Go....

For the first time ever, the Olde Willow Tree TeaRooms in Sunnydale had a Closed notice on the door. A few disgruntled demons wandered past, growled or hissed and rattled the handle, annoyed at being deprived of the dish of the day, which was warm worm casserole with asparagus dumplings - not that they actually ever ate the dumplings, but Agnes was always determined to provide vegetables in everyone’s diet.

But this evening the door was firmly locked and the blinds drawn tightly across the windows. If they had been able to look inside, they would have seen a tall, English gentleman lying unconscious in a chair, surrounded by seven vampires. Admittedly, six of them were children, but the demons would have been forgiven for thinking an orgy of blood-letting was about to take place.

“Is he lunch?” Nancy asked, vamping in and out in quick succession she was so excited.

“Certainly not!” Agnes was only just able to control the trembling in her limbs that had started as she forced herself to turn her fangs away from Mr Giles’ neck. “He’s a guest. We do not eat guests. Hopefully, we don’t eat anyone, unless we have to. There’s plenty of nice pig in the fridge.”

“But he wouldn’t know anything, being unconscious and everything,” Eric said wistfully. He knew that his little sister was already beginning to forget the taste of real hot human blood, but he still longed for it in his dreams.

Agnes shook her head. She could hardly speak; remembering that dreadful urge to bite Mr Giles’ neck, how her fangs had even grazed the skin before she’d fought back the demon and recovered her senses. It was a wake-up call; she’d been deluded into thinking that she had that side of her nature well under control

The man sprawled in the chair groaned and his eyelids began to flutter. “He’s waking up.” Agnes shooed the children away. “Right, back to work. Remember, I want all your luggage packed and ready by tomorrow evening. Eric, LaShawn, I need you to go over to see Sheldon - the vampire who sells used cars - and see if he has a really nice big camper-van, what he will call an RV, I think. Something that will sleep all of us. Don’t let him know who wants it, but make a note of the price.”

“Can I go, too?” The plea was from Adele, who was twelve and considered herself too old to be counted with Nancy, Brittany and the little boys.

Agnes sighed. “All right, but come straight home afterwards. The rest of you shoo, back downstairs. We’ve a lot to do before tomorrow and don’t wake Craig. He’s still very confused about being Turned and needs his sleep.”

Obediently they scurried away as Agnes peered down at Mr Giles who was groaning now and swearing in a most ungentlemanly fashion. “Oh that’s better! You had a nasty shock and seem to have been in a fight.”

Rupert Giles blinked, winced as pain hit him in various parts of his body and memories of his failure to stop Willow swamped his brain. He tried to focus on the small, plump woman in front of him. “Where am I? Oh good Lord, I have to stop her. Find Buffy - find Willow - stop her....Tara!”

He began to try and struggle upright but Agnes pushed him effortlessly back again, then took a deep breath. “Oh please sit still, Mr Giles. You’ve suffered considerable damage. My name is Agnes Pringle. This is my teashop - just a few doors away from The Magic Box. I brought you here because I was very afraid whatever attacked you was still there. The destruction is dreadful. I don’t know what that nice girl Anya is going to say. What was it? An enemy of some sort? Do you need to go to hospital? Should I send for a doctor? Here, drink this, it’s a nice cup of tea, hot, strong and sweet. You need it for shock, you know. I do have biscuits, but perhaps you shouldn’t eat in the circumstances.”

Giles tried to say something to stem the flow of nervous chatter. He could see that the hand holding the cup and saucer was trembling and he realised that the Englishwoman was terribly, terribly scared. And he knew why. “It was brave of you - bringing me here. You could have killed me. I don’t think I would have been able to put up much of a fight.” He swiftly took the teacup from her hand before it smashed to the floor. “But I have to go - I must find...”

“I appreciate there is some sort of emergency, but please drink your tea first. It will do you good.”

Giles hesitated, then, like many before him, decided that arguing with a small, implacable vampire lady was probably not a good idea and certainly not good manners. He drank deeply, aware that this was proper tea, made with leaves and not teabags. The hot sweetness flooded through him and he sighed. It had been an odd day - one of his best friends had tried to kill him, the world was probably coming to an end and he was taking tea with a vampire.

Agnes stood watching - if he made any sudden moves towards her she’d decided to throw the teapot at him. It still contained a good amount of scalding liquid which should give her time to get down the stairs into the basement and lock the door. How odd it was - she’d decided to leave Sunnydale earlier but now she would have had to go anyway. She’d trusted Spike, Dawn and Anya not to give her presence away to the Slayer, but she sensed in this man a different sort of character. He looked inoffensive but that was just a cloak for a ruthlessness she’d seen before in men from upper class English families, sent to boarding school from seven years of age, forged in the tough fires of Eton, Harrow and Winchester public schools, then coated with the unbreakable polite patina applied by Oxford or Cambridge.

“So was it a demon who attacked you?” she asked as the silence lengthened.

Giles shook his head and laughed, a bitter sound. “No, a friend of mine. You may not have heard, but a girl was killed, her name was Tara - ”

“By - “ Agnes swallowed hard and the next word came out as a squeak “...vampires?”

“Oh no. I suppose that would have somehow made things a little better. No, she was shot by someone trying to kill Buffy Summers. Shot by a young man.”

Agnes sighed to herself. The Slayer again! Really, now Buffy Summers was apparently causing the deaths of helpless victims. She was so glad she would shortly be leaving Sunnydale and need have nothing more to do with her.

“My friend Willow - well, she’s a witch and was in love with Tara. I suppose that shocks you?”

Agnes made a small noise that could have been taken as a yes or a no. “And she - ”

Giles put his teacup down on a little table and stood up, swaying slightly, one hand going to his head where blood still trickled from a gash on his scalp. “Willow has - well, let’s say she’s over-reacting and that’s putting it mildly.”

Willow! Agnes remembered her only too well. The red-headed girl who’d come into the tearooms when Dawn worked there; the girl who’d been desperate for a piece of Anya’s wedding-cake; the girl whom Agnes had always believed was in love with Xander, Buffy’s friend. She sighed. These Unturneds had such very complicated relationships and people who came in contact with them all seemed to suffer. No wonder poor Spike had got himself so dreadfully mixed up, believing he was in love with the Slayer.

Rupert Giles took a couple of unsteady steps. Agnes, on the alert, clutched the hot teapot to her chest and stealthily moved backwards. “You were trying to calm her down?” she asked, hoping to distract him.

The Englishman laughed that bitter sound once more. “I’m sure you know the old saying, Miss Pringle, ‘pride goeth before a fall’. I though I was being clever; I thought I was far stronger than her, that I could control her through powers that aren’t even mine.”

Agnes ran her hand round the hot curve of the china teapot. She could understand pride bringing a fall. That had been her on the coach tour round Hollywood all those years ago. So proud to have won the Movie Stars competition in a magazine, sure that the good-looking gentleman who sat next to her was attracted to her, happy to accept his invitation to dinner that evening. And look where that had ended up - in a dark alleyway being bitten and Turned by someone whose surname she’d never even known! The shame of not knowing her Sire still rankled. Sometimes she let herself dream that he was a film star, or famous politician or perhaps even a TV presenter! She only wished he’d stayed around long enough to introduce himself.

She realised that Mr Giles had reached the door and was about to leave. “Wait!” she said impulsively, “You really aren’t well enough...”

He shook his head. “My friends will need me. We have to stop her. Willow wants to end the world that took her love from her.”

“Grief can do terrible things - if you let it - but surely the rest of the world hasn’t harmed her, only one young man.”

Giles shook his head wearily. “He is guilty but we have to let the law take care of him. And he has two friends - they don’t deserve to die but I’m afraid Willow is determined they will all pay the ultimate price. Then you, me, everyone will die as she makes the world end.”

Agnes shut her eyes briefly. So leaving Sunnydale would not save the children after all. In the end, The Slayer would have inadvertantly caused them to perish. Still - ‘You’re getting morbid, Agnes Pringle,’ she thought crossly. The world hadn’t ended yet and if this was the Apocalypse that dear Richard had come to warn her about, then obviously leaving Sunnydale must make a difference, otherwise he surely wouldn’t have bothered. And she wasn’t at all sure that the Slayer’s friend was capable to what she was threatening to do. Agnes had met too many people who boasted of doing things and then failing to succeed. Miguel, the vampire who’d said he could bring air conditioning into all the caves, was one such. And the mess that had left behind had to be seen to be believed.

“I’m leaving town tomorrow,” she said quietly as Rupert Giles opened the door. “I know you are well aware that I am of the vampiric persuasion, but perhaps, if the world doesn’t end, your Slayer will be a little too busy to bother with me for a few days. And then she won’t need to worry because I won’t be here.”

Giles smiled. “I’m afraid Dawn let slip to me once that the lady she worked for was a vampire. I must admit I meant to tell Buffy, but - ” he frowned - “Dawn would have been devastated to think she caused your dusting. And you make an incredibly good cup of tea, Miss Pringle.” Suddenly, the eyes that had seemed so bleak and lost, twinkled. “May I ask where you’re going?”

Agnes found herself smiling back. Really, he was quite charming for an Unturned, even with cuts and bruises and tempting blood trickling down his neck and staining his collar crimson. “Los Angeles. I have friends there.”

Giles went to shake her hand, then grinned, boyishly, and stopped. “You should go home to England. I have an apartment in Bath. Lots of tourists; a very good area for a teashop.” And with a wave, he left, shutting the door to the Willow Tree behind him.

Agnes sighed. If only she had herself to think about, she’d have been delighted to move to Bath and open her third Olde Willow Tree TeaRooms. But Mr Giles did not, thankfully, know about the children. She was quite sure that his generous ability to overlook her unfortunate circumstances would not extend to several healthy vampires who would, eventually and with her help, grow up.

Downstairs in the caves that honeycombed the tunnels, packing was well underway. There wasn’t time to worry about what the Unturneds were doing with their nasty murders and revenges. Agnes and the smaller children were busy trying to find a crate big enough to pack the tentacled monster that had been an unwanted present to Anya and Xander at their disastrous wedding. It had grown very fast but Nancy refused to leave it behind. Agnes did, however, insist that it travelled in a separate box to the rabbit that they’d found under The Magic Box months before. She sometimes found the monster looking at the rabbit and waving its tentacles at it in a very suspicious manner.

“One monster, one rabbit, two cats - and I simply cannot leave my best knives and all my baking pans behind. Oh dear, we look more like a travelling circus than refugees fleeing to a new life,” she muttered, opening her spice cupboard and wondering how many she could pack into a suitcase.

“Aggie - ” It was Craig, the youngest of the children. “How will my Mommy know where I am? Pr’ps me and Colin had better stay here till she comes.”

Agnes vamped out, caught her fangs on her bottom lip - when would she learn to do it properly! - and changed back again. Craig’s Mommy had been dusted by the Slayer one evening right in front of the Tearooms. She wasn’t coming back. His big brother understood that, but Craig was only five and totally confused about everything.

She was about to tell him not to worry, that they would leave a message for Mummy, but then she knew it was wrong to lie. They had a long journey ahead of them and they couldn’t do it looking backwards and wondering.

“Well, Craig - you see - ”

“Aunt Aggie! Aunt Aggie!”

She spun round: Adele had burst into the cave, panting, out of breath, in vamp face with her hair tangled, scratches down her face.

“Oh my goodness. What’s happened? Are you all right? Where are the boys?”

“Oh Aunt Aggie, it’s so exciting! There’s an Unturned hunt going on in the woods. All the demons and vamps are talking about it. The guy at the car place told Eric and LaShawn and they’ve gone to watch. I went, too, but I lost sight of them; they ran too fast and the branches scratched me and so I came home.”

The woods around Sunnydale were not completely foreign territory to Agnes. She’d often ventured into the darkness under the heavy leaf canopy looking for mushrooms and fungi of all different varieties. There were certain poison berries that particular demons loved in pies and had been prepared to pay good prices, especially if served with the chilli and ginger icecream she made at weekends. She’d always found the woods a friendly place, full of little birds and buzzing insects. She’d used to feed the deer where the woods reached the edge of the new Sunnydale cemetery, but since the Slayer had returned from her little rest in Heaven, the deer had been strangely absent.

But as she hurried along a path tonight, she was aware that no birds or little animals could be heard. The atmosphere was heavy, the leaves above her head seemed to be suffocatingly close and thorns and brambles tore at her skirt and stockings.

Agnes was allowing herself to be angry. It was either that or feel very hurt that Eric and LaShawn had disobeyed her and run off to watch the Unturneds hunt each other. There was so much to do back at the Tearooms before they left Sunnydale and she still hadn’t taken collection of the van she was buying. Still, they were only boys, she reasoned: she couldn’t be too hard on them and she would need all their cooperation in the weeks ahead. But she was still determined to tell them exactly what she thought of their behaviour, although at times like these she wished Spike was here to help. How could she bring up young teenage boys to be good, responsible vampires? She knew nothing about children. The whole situation was ridiculous.

The undergrowth lessened slightly and, to Agnes relief, she could see Eric and LaShawn standing close together, their backs to her. They didn’t seem to have heard her coming - and that annoyed her all over again. Vampires had to be on alert the whole time - why she might have been The Slayer creeping up on them, stake in hand.

“Boys! What on earth do you think you’re doing? You know we - ” She stopped with a sort of gasp as she pushed the final bush aside and saw what they were standing looking at.

There was a body tied to a tree; there was a lot of blood, flesh oozing, mouth pulled back in a horrified grin. Agnes put her hands gently on the boys’ shoulders. It was pointless telling them not to look; the blood was enough to make them both vamp out but the sheer nastiness of the scene had kept them from feeding.

“There was a woman,” Eric whispered at last. “I think she must have been some sort of demon. Her face was all veiny. She killed him.”

“Did she see you?” Agnes asked sharply. She realised that they were talking about The Slayer’s friend, Willow. That this must be the boy who had killed the girl called Tara.

LaShawn shook his head, dreadlocks bouncing. “No, we kept really quiet. And he knew her. The boy knew her. He wasn’t frightened, not until the end. That’s...that’s...sort of wrong. She didn’t need to do that to him, did she? We thought she was a demon, that she wanted to eat him, but she didn’t. So killing him would have been enough.”

Privately Agnes reckoned that dead was dead however you got there, unless you were Turned, of course, but she was glad to hear the boys still had some flicker of compassion inside them, although how long it would last was probably up to her from now on. She gazed round the clearing. “And she’s gone? You’re certain?”

The boys nodded.

“And you haven’t....?” She couldn’t personally think of anything worse that eating off that bloody corpse, but teenage boys were always anxious for their next meal.

“We’re not hungry any more,” Eric said. “Can we go home now, Aggie?”

Agnes hesitated. Of course the right thing to do was to get the boys to safety. Surely more Unturneds would arrive at any moment to take away the body. But who would know he was hanging there? What if no one came? She felt a wave of disgust and anger sweep over her. If Unturneds wanted to kill each other, for whatever reason, so be it. But just leaving ‘that’ for children to find, for wild animals to gnaw, that was wrong. She couldn’t remember the number of times she’d nagged vampire friends to clean up after themselves. No matter how they died, dead bodies were unhygienic. She’d always thought she could rely on humans to be tidy, but obviously she was wrong.

She stepped forward - whatever he’d done, whoever he’d killed, he was still someone’s son. Did he have a family? Was somebody even now looking at a clock and wondering.... Suddenly she gasped. She recognised that face - what was left of it! Warren Meers, Andrew’s friend.

Agnes felt her head whirling. Mr Giles had spoken of the murderer having two friends - he must have meant Andrew and little tubby Jonathan! Poor Warren - he’d tried to kill the Slayer - and Agnes really couldn’t fault him for that - but apparently murdered an innocent bystander instead. And now he was just - meat. She’d never liked him, hated the way he controlled Andrew who was so easily lead, but surely no one deserved this end.

And, from what she remembered hearing from Andrew, there would be no one to mourn Warren. He had no family, no one to cry or even claim his body, what remained of it.
She sighed. “It’ll be dawn soon. We must get back to the little ones,” she said. “But we’ll come back tonight and if he’s still there, then we’ll bury him.”

Agnes spent a wakeful day. The Tearooms were closed and when she wasn’t dozing, she pottered around, finishing the packing. All sorts of rumours circulated through the tunnels about what the Unturneds were doing but it all sounded very unlikely and highly exaggerated, she thought wearily, although she was desperately worried about Andrew. At dusk she woke Eric and LaShawn and pushing the shopping cart between them, they fought their way through the thick woods to where the body still hung. Whatever the Unturneds had been doing during the day, they’d obviously forgotten this problem. Typical! Flies buzzed everywhere and grimly Agnes and the boys cut down Warren Meers and tipped him messily into the cart.

Only a quarter of a mile away, the woods thinned dramatically right up to the lawned spaces of the new Sunnydale Cemetery. It took hardly any time to heave Warren’s body into a grave that had been recently dug and was waiting for its inhabitant. Agnes muttered an apology to whoever had to share with Warren and watched as Eric and LaShawn kicked mud and earth down to cover the body. Agnes sent the boys home with the shopping cart and stood for a moment, gazing down, wondering if saying a prayer was appropriate for a murderer. All she could remember at this moment was “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep,” which she supposed was really valid for those attacked by vampires, not witches and demons.

It was puzzling about souls. She wished she knew what had happened to hers when she lost it. Did it just vanish up to Heaven without her? She did hope it wasn’t still looking for her back in Hollywood. She felt rather sorry for it although having it back, even if that was an absurd thought, would have been awkward. Brushing the soil and dried blood from her hands, Agnes turned away from the grave. Too much thinking about your soul could lead you to having nightmares, she decided. Like wondering about how many angels could stand on the tip of a needle. Spike had made a very vulgar joke about that saying once. It was one of those after dinner party discussions that caused all sorts of fights between vampires. Best avoided at all costs.

Just after midnight, a pale blue RV with blacked out windows trundled out of Sunnydale, up the hill to join the main highway that lead to Los Angeles. The moon was sailing, high and round, and Agnes was glad of the extra illumination as she struggled with the wheel. The van, admittedly, was severely overloaded and the combined howls of the two cats in their baskets and the moans from the tentacled monster were giving her a headache.

As she rounded the final bend, Craig and Colin decided to have a fight and as she turned to tell them off, she swerved, the side of the van clanging against metal. Agnes braked sharply, told the children to be good, yes, they could start eating their packets of pig blood lunches, no they couldn’t let the animals out and no, they weren’t nearly there yet.

The night air was cool on her face as she walked back and realised that on the slopes below her, the whole town was spread out, lights shining. Whatever Willow the witch had been intending, it obviously hadn’t happened. Agnes wasn’t surprised: young girls did exaggerate so. Down there was her dear Olde Willow Tree Tearooms, doors firmly locked with a notice saying “Closed Due to Unforeseen Circumstances. Thank you for your Custom.”

She felt her bottom lip tremble as she realised, fully, that she would never see it again. Her life here was over; this town was not the end of her journey as she’d often imagined. She’d been fond of Sunnydale, made some very good friends - would Spike ever return from Africa, she wondered? Would he ask after her, try to find out where she had gone? Probably not, she sighed, especially if he was still enamoured of The Slayer. But she had left Mr Nicholas Elder’s firm in Los Angeles as her forwarding address. Wolfram & Hart. Such an interersting name; for some reason it reminded her of an old English medieval tapestry. Mr Elder was a very odd demon but he’d been so kind to her and she did hope he had helped Spike to get safely to Africa. Agnes decided that when she found some way to move the children to England, away from the end of the world dear Richard had prophesised, she would send them her details and if Spike ever needed to, he could find her that way. She did hope Spike wouldn’t get involved in the forthcoming Apocalypse. Surely even if he was Buffy Summers’ friend, he wouldn’t take a stand against his vampire kin?

Resolutely, she turned away from the view. There was no point in making herself sadder than she was already. She gazed at the RV; she could hear the chatter and laughter from here. That was good; nothing cheered her up more than that. The children at least were smiling, utterly convinced that she could look after them, even if she doubted her own abilities. Agnes sighed and started back towards them - worrying would help no one, her old life was over, a new chapter had begun and as that lovely poem said, there were miles to go before she would sleep.

Her foot kicked against something that clanged and she tutted as she realised it was what the RV had hit. Bending, she lifted up a road sign that said Welcome to Sunnydale and tidily, she propped it upright again on the side of the road.

 

Ends.

 

Thank you all so much for comments and kudos!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

First Christmas by Lilachigh

 

As a recently risen vampire, Agnes Pringle considered she’d been extremely lucky. Oh not to have been Turned - although that really Was Not Her Fault because she’d had no idea that the good-looking gentleman sitting next to her on the tourist bus was anything other than what he seemed.

Well, she’d agreed to go for a cup of coffee with him when the bus got back to their hotel and even when he’d peered down a dark alleyway and said, “Oh look, that poor kittie is in trouble. Let’s help it!” she’d had no qualms about following him.

She’d really known little more until she’d found herself pushing up through rough, sandy soil out of her grave. Apparently the little insurance policy she’d taken out back home in Winchester hadn’t covered her for being flown back to England if dead, and as she had no relatives to get involved, she’d been buried in Los Angeles.

And that was where her luck had started. Some kind person had dressed her in practically all the clothes she possessed, including her sensible walking shoes - the thought of being a new vampire in Clarke’s sandals sent a shiver down her cold spine - and because they had obviously not known what to do with it, her nice black handbag had been hooked over her arm and so came up through the soil with her.

She’d been lucky that whatever demon now resided inside her instead of her soul was a sensible sort who imparted the knowledge about what had happened so she did not make any stupid errors, such as walking around in daylight or touching crucifixes. Mind you, Agnes did wonder if it had been luck or her guardian angel who had broken the clasp of the little silver cross she usually wore which was tucked away in the deepest pocket of her handbag, safely wrapped in a black velvet bag.

Agnes believed whole-heartedly in guardian angels and only hoped hers wouldn’t have to work too hard from now on. She’d since met other vampires who laughed at her beliefs, saying that if there were such things, hers would have flown away as soon as she’d been turned. Agnes had shaken her head: surely the whole point of guardian angels was to look after you, no matter what. She firmly believed hers was still in place, even if looking rather ragged around the edges with a propensity for frowning.

Her luck had even continued in the first few months - she’d found a cubby-hole in an abandoned warehouse and work in the vampire laundry just down the street. She’d been very hungry for a few days - there had been one most regrettable incident in a park one evening that she bitterly regretted - then, thankfully, she’d discovered pig blood. She’d even begun to get acquainted with the tunnel system under Los Angeles, and had put out feelers as to where she could buy some proper leaf tea because to her astonishment, she still longed for a nice cuppa.

But she missed her old life dreadfully, longed to be back in her Olde Worlde Willow Tree Tea Shoppe, making scones and pastries, polishing the nice pieces of china displayed around the walls, ironing her blue and white checked table cloths. Still, there was no use in looking back. Her days of running a tea shop were gone and wouldn’t return, no matter how hard she wished. She wondered what would happen to her shop. She still owed the bank a lot of money so she supposed they would sell it to someone who would throw out all her precious keepsakes of seaside holidays - there was a particularly pretty donkey engraved Present from Llandudno - and make it look modern. That wasn’t a happy thought.

Some nights she managed to work through until dawn without thinking about the past, but for the last few evenings that had proved impossible.

Christmas was almost here. Tonight was Christmas Eve and tomorrow - well, it would be the first time in her whole adult existence, alive and dead, when she had not attended the Midnight service at Winchester Cathedral. She’d coped with not writing or receiving cards, and her fellow vampire workers had been very pleased with the pots of blood jam - no she must remember to call it jelly - she’d made them as presents. (They hadn’t wanted to do a Secret Santa. They’d said they were far too evil, although Agnes hadn’t seen much sign of that. She was beginning to learn that it was expected that as vampires you boasted that you were the biggest, baddest, most obnoxious things around. But most of them were just ordinary people trying to get along for however much time was left for them.)

Yes, she’d enjoyed making the presents. She loved cooking but knew that her chances of doing more in the future were slim. She sighed as she worked and shifted wearily from one tired leg to another. American Christmas was so - so - odd. Every night, Unturneds dressed as Father Christmas and stood on street corners, ringing bells and collecting money for charity. Apparently there was no Boxing Day on the 26th so they were all due back at work. And although the holiday for Thanksgiving had been very welcome, it wasn’t quite the same. It was now that she fully realised she would never go home again, never feel the soft damp of an English morning bright with Spring flowers, or stand watching a bonfire on November 5th, warming her hands on baked potatoes.

Still, she’d decorated her little space in the warehouse and tonight she was determined to venture out and find a tree, even though she was so very tired from being on her feet for hours at a time. She was getting really annoyed with the laundry working conditions. They were paid in blood and, as far as Agnes was concerned, that was only one step above slave labour. She was working on shirts tonight - they all had to be hand-folded, which was hard on your fingers because most vampire men also wanted them heavily starched. What with that and the bleach needed to remove blood stains - really, why were men vampires such messy eaters? - laundry work was very taxing, even if you were dead.

She’d heard that the owner of the laundry, some high-up, important demon, was due to visit this evening to inspect the books.

“Making an obscene profit out of our labour,” Agnes muttered to Sandra, a young vampire girl who worked next to her. “No union, no health regulations, not even a blood-break mid night. It isn’t right. It isn’t fair. It isn’t....American!”

“Ssh, Agnes.” Sandra glanced around, scared. “Someone will hear. You’ll lose your job!”

Agnes folded another shirt, wincing as the stiff edge of the collar rubbed more skin off her fingers. Her job was important to her, that was true. But the conditions the vampires worked in - they were wrong. She frowned: of course, to be fair, perhaps the owner didn’t know. Rich demons didn’t often get involved in their money making schemes. They left it to minions - like the boss of the laundry. Agnes tried hard to find good in everyone, but apart from wondering if he had unfortunately been taken over by a particularly bad-tempered demon when he was Turned, she could find nothing nice to say about her boss. When she’d given him his pot of blood jelly, he’d vamped out and snarling, shouted at her to get back to work. Mind you, she thought, hopefully, he hadn’t given the jelly back: she’d glanced into his office on several occasions and it was still sitting on his desk.

Now the office door was shut. She supposed the demon owner was in there, counting his takings. Suddenly Agnes had had enough: she would find another job. She refused to believe there wasn’t something useful a vampire could do in Los Angeles. She knew she’d been a fairly timid person back home in England - she’d been brought up to always turn the other cheek, to stay out of trouble and rise above the bullying that had followed her through her schooldays. But she was dead now: the same rules didn’t apply. Ignoring Sandra’s anxious glances, Agnes took off her work coat, picked up her handbag, buttoned her cardigan, then rebuttoned it as she’d got the wrong buttons in the wrong holes. Tomorrow was Christmas Day and she knew she wouldn’t enjoy it if she hadn’t spoken out.

Ignoring the trembling in her legs, the English vampire walked apprehensively across the laundry work floor and, taking a deep breath, knocked on the office door.

A mumbled “Come in,” and she was facing a smiling, good-looking man with a genial expression, who stood politely, an action rather marred by the spoonful of blood jelly he was busy devouring with far too many teeth.

“Excuse me, Sir - ” Agnes clutched her handbag to her chest and took a deep breath. “My name is Miss Agnes Pringle and - ”

The man sat back down and waved the spoon at her, his expression blissful. “My dear Miss Pringle. I was about to send for you. You, I believe, are the lady who made this delightful jelly.”

Agnes blinked. “Well, yes, but you see - ”

A rather sticky hand was extended to her across the desk. “Let me introduce myself. I am Richards Wilkins III. I am so very, very pleased to meet you, and, if it isn’t too early, may I wish you the compliments of the Season.”

Ends