Business as Usual by Lilachigh

The story so far: In the episode, The Replacement, Spike tells Buffy he has been having a cup of tea with the lady who runs the tea-stall in the local garbage dump. Enter Miss Agnes Pringle, English spinster lady of uncertain age, excellent cook, very reluctant vampire (It Was Not Her Fault) and Spike's friend. All Agnes wants is a quiet Unlife, but being friends with Spike ruins that dream very quickly! Agnes is just getting over the death of Joyce Summers, whom she'd met in hospital. Spike isn't.

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 happily Turned, 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 sodding TV's broken. I'll need to nick another one tomorrow."

Wincing at his language, Agnes asked, "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 odd 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 self-centredness, 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. What had happened to that nice Harmony? The one who'd had a girl-friend in Los Angeles with a pretty name. Perhaps she'd gone to visit her.

"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….when he wanted…how 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 his English friend.

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."


Author's note: I do hope you are enjoying this rather different story. Do let me know.