Business as Usual by Lilachigh

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, Dean, 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."