BUSINESS AS USUAL by Lilachigh

What if Spike had been telling the truth when he made his sarcastic remark about visiting a nice tea-room at the garbage dump during Season 5's The Replacement? This is the story of Agnes Pringle, an English woman coping with life in America, a friend like Spike and oh yes, being a vampire. Which, as she always said, Was Not Her Fault!

May I please point out very clearly that this is NOT a Spuffy story. Buffy appears occasionally, but this is all about Agnes, her friendship with Spike and her role in the events that unfolded in Sunnydale.

Chapter One: Tea 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-something, 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.

She sighed and 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 tired; becoming a vampire when you were in you were not in the first flush of youth was an exhausting business. Youngsters seemed to take to the life with more enthusiasm. Sometimes she was so weary that she dreamt 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, an Unturned – 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, far 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 ate at children's parties with cream and blancmange.

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