Business as Usual by Lilachigh

The story so far: This is the story of Miss Agnes Pringle, English spinster lady, excellent cook, very reluctant vampire and Spike's friend. This is the vampire Spike refers to in the episode The Replacement, when he tells Buffy he has been having a cup of tea with the woman who runs a tea stall in the local garbage dump. All Agnes wants is a quiet life, but being Spike's friend, meeting Harmony, Dru, Dawn and Joyce, means that dream will never come true!

Please note this is not a Spuffy story. Comments appreciated.

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 be dusted 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, middle-class 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.