Business as Usual by Lilachigh

Chapter 41: Leaving Home

The tunnel from the Tearooms, across Sunnydale to Spike's crypt had never seemed so long or so dark before. Agnes was aware of Clem hurrying in front of her and wondered what Spike could possibly have done to warrant this degree of panic in her kind-hearted demon friend.

She'd dressed so quickly that she'd forgotten to put on her outdoor shoes and her fluffy bedroom slippers made running even harder. But at least she'd had the sense, she thought grimly, to tell Nancy to wake the other children, that they could eat the blood muffins she'd baked for the shop and not to wander too far from the kitchen until she got back. And thank goodness she'd automatically picked up her handbag because she knew she could cope with most things as long as she was armed with a clean hanky and a packet of pig's blood.

"Can't you tell me what's happened?" she gasped as they reached a fork in the tunnel and Clem paused to catch his breath.

The demon's eyes glowed and his tentacles appeared briefly, waving madly and then vanished again. "I'm not sure, but I think it's to do with the Slayer, with Buffy."

Agnes felt a cold trickle of unease down her spine. Why was it that every time she heard that girl's name linked with Spike, she felt a wave of unhappiness? "Has she tried to stake him?" This was her worst fear - that however much Spike thought he was part of the Slayer's life, in the end she would react in the way she'd been trained. And Agnes knew she couldn't blame her for that. She'd always been taught to clear her plate at meal-times, to remember the starving children in Africa, and she still drained every drop of blood in a cup for that very reason.

"No - I think it must be far worse. Spike wouldn't have minded that. But he won't tell me - just that he's leaving."

Agnes heard the words again but they made no sense. She'd never thought much about the future in Sunnydale - well, vampires tended not to think further than the next evening then they didn't get disappointed when they were dusted. But if she had considered the months ahead, Spike had always been there.

They'd reached the door into the lower crypt. Clem stood back, shaking his head when Agnes gestured to him to go in. "Best you talk to him alone. He's...he's in a funny mood."

Agnes sighed and knocking, went in without waiting for a reply. The crypt was very dark, lit by only a single candle. Spike was sitting on the bed, head in hands and for one dreadful moment, Agnes thought he was crying. Which was ridiculous, of course, but when he looked up, the brilliant blue eyes gleamed wetly for a moment before he vamped out at her appearance.

"Aggie! I guessed bloody Clem had gone to get you. Look - there's nothing you can do or say, so don't bother trying."

"Well, I'm sure you won't mind if I just sit for a minute or two to get my breath back. I was told there was an emergency and so I hurried. I'm glad to discover there isn't but the tunnel floor is very stony and I twisted my ankle a little."

She sat down on the only chair and thrust a foot towards him. Spike glared at her, then vamped back to human as the pink fuzzy slipper fell off. Agnes bent to retrieve it but he was faster and knelt before her as he slid it back onto her foot. She gazed down at the platinum curls and wondered where exactly the chip lay inside his head, wondered how it felt to be controlled in such a way. She hadn't chosen to be a vampire, but at least she had control over her Unlife. Spike had none. A wave of pity washed over her but she schooled her face to remain expressionless as he stood up again and turned to the small bag he was packing.

"Clem tells me you're leaving us."

"Going to Africa. Going to find that demon you mentioned - going to change, then that bitch will have to watch out."

Agnes had no doubt that he meant Buffy Summers. "Change can be good sometimes - but I think it depends on why you want to change."

"Agnes - I haven't got time to listen to one of your sodding little homilies! If you knew what I'd bloody well done, you'd realise I have to change. Be what I used to be."

Agnes hesitated. This was a Spike she didn't know, his words hurtful but only because he'd been hurt himself - and badly. She took a deep breath and clutched her handbag tightly to her chest. This was all her fault. If she hadn't chattered on about the African shaman, then Spike wouldn't be leaving. "So, what did you do?"

Spike cast a glance over his shoulder. Would she understand? No, make that Could she understand? He didn't think there was anything in Agnes Pringle's character, now or when she'd been an Unturned, that would allow her to understand his relationship with Buffy Summers, to begin to comprehend how it had slid slowly downhill into a physical battle that had ended that night in a confrontation between a girl who wouldn't admit her feelings and a man who'd let his overide all common decency.

"It's between the Slayer and me and I have to accept that she'll never talk to me again and her friends and sister will cheerfully kill me if they get the chance. But if I change..."

"So you are coming back to Sunnydale?" Agnes tried to keep the wistful hope out of her voice.

"Eventually - yes." Something in her expression cut through the clouds of despair surrounding him. "Listen, Aggie, why don't you go home. Back to bloody Blighty. You can open another shop over there. You'll be happier and so will I, knowing you're far away from the Slayer."

Agnes stared at him, puzzled. "But Spike, what about the children?"

"What children? - sodding hell, Aggie, you're not running your life for a pack of vampire kids who probably won't see out the year! That's ridiculous. They're not yours."

"No more ridiculous than going all the way to Africa - which you must admit is a vast place - to visit a demon you don't even know is still there even if you discover where there is," she snapped back, wishing her sentence wasn't quite so confusing. "And I know only too well that they aren't mine, but then they don't belong to anyone, that's the problem. It would be lovely to just run away and leave them to their own devices, but I don't think I'd sleep very well ever again if I did. Running away is never the answer."

Her memory fled back to the night she'd left Los Angeles to escape from Richard Wilkins III. Hurrying to catch a bus, looking back over her shoulder, terrified that he would find her. Taking the first Greyhound - one that had been headed for Sunnydale - then changing buses several times, knowing he would never cease until he caught up with her. And that had all been for love. Or so he said. Had she been right to flee? He'd come to Sunnydale to live, searching for her, and here he'd met the Slayer and eventually died. Well, moved on, if she was being accurate. Perhaps if she hadn't run away, things would have turned out differently.

Spike shrugged: it was so easy for Agnes to trot out platitudes like that. She'd never had to run away from anything in her life - or death. And somehow he didn't think he was running away; he felt he was running towards something - bigger. If he could just find the shaman, pay whatever price he wanted, change, be - different - get the soul back that Buffy felt was so vitally important, then at least she would see that he'd tried. Even if she still would have nothing to do with him, she would know that he'd been prepared to go to the ends of the earth to prove his worth.

"Clem's moving into the crypt," he said, changing the subject as he picked up his bag. "I don't want some poxy newby vampire living here."

Agnes stood up, wishing her knees would stop shaking glad her skirt was long enough to cover them. She felt silly, standing there in her fluffy slippers. All that rush and hurry had been for nothing. She'd just annoyed her friend and they were going to part on bad terms. And it was difficult to "not let the sun go down on your anger" as dear Richard had often said, especially when one party to the quarrel was going to another continent.

"How are you getting to Africa?" she asked suddenly.

Spike frowned. "Bike to docks, cargo ship across, then - god knows. I'll manage."

"That'll take you months and months!" She hesitated, then opened her bag and rummaged in the inside pocket. Her fingers closed on the little card that Mr Nicholas Elder had given her when he came to discuss the money dear Richard had left her. He'd told her that she could ring at any time with any problem she might have and he would do everything in his considerable power to help.

The card felt oddly warm against her cold fingers as she handed it to Spike. "This gentleman - lives in Los Angeles. He's a lawyer, a business acquaintance of an old friend - contact him and ask if he can arrange a plane to get you to Africa."

Spike took the card. "Why the hell should he?"

Agnes sighed. Now was not the time to explain her relationship with a Master Demon. "It'll save you a great deal of time. The sooner you get there, the sooner you'll be back again."

She followed him upstairs: Clem was waiting and she turned away as the two friends said goodbye. Then they were outside in the cemetery, Spike astride the bike she'd bought him all those months ago when he and Dawn were planning on delivering home-made food around Sunnydale. The peaceful days before the Slayer returned from Heaven.

The engine roared and Spike reached out to take her hand, his gaze suddenly sharp. "Take care of yourself, Aggie. Watch your back. Stay as far away from the humans as you can." Pausing, he revved the engine until the tombstones shuddered - "Whatever you hear in the next few days, don't think too badly of me. And don't blame Buffy. This was all my fault. Oh - and there is one thing you can do for me, if you can and if you will, of course..."

...Ravello Drive lay in silence as Agnes scurried along the sidewalk. She'd considered going home first to put on some sensible shoes, but she was anxious to carry out her promise to Spike because what if she never saw him again, if he got staked or died in some other horrible way in Africa and she'd ignored his request?

Spike had told her where to find the spare key to the front door - Dawn was always losing hers, apparently, and so Buffy left one under the bushes by the porch step.

"Oh dear, I know it isn't really stealing," Agnes muttered under her breath, "but it feels like it."

She didn't need the key - the door swung open at her touch and for the second time in her Unlife, Agnes Pringle walked across the threshold, devoutly glad that Joyce Summers had invited her in on that fateful evening so there was no problem going inside the house.

Silent in her fluffy pink slippers, she stood in the dark, the sharpened hearing that still took her by surprise telling her that upstairs someone was crying - and trying to hide it. Agnes hesitated - but then shook her head. If the Slayer was upset, then there was nothing Agnes could do to help - and privately she thought the girl brought a lot of her troubles on herself. So it only took seconds to lift Spike's black duster coat from the post at the bottom of the stairs and within minutes she was hurrying back down the road, clutching it under her arm, trying not to let it trail in the dirt. Glancing behind her, she was terrified that the Slayer would appear and accuse her of theft, which would be far worse than being staked.

She didn't feel safe until she was back inside her kitchen, drinking a nice cup of tea and munching a very stale Eccles cake she'd found in the bottom of a tin. The Tearooms were empty - the children staying out until the very last moment; they would trail home when the sky was tinged with apricot and the sun about to rise.

Agnes was glad of the cake to eat: it stopped her lips from trembling too much. Spike had gone! He'd got into some deep Slayer trouble that was so bad he couldn't even tell her about it. Would she see him again - somehow she doubted it. She stroked the black leather and sighed. 'Put it somewhere safe,' Spike had told her. 'Somewhere I can find it when I get back.'

Draining her cup, Agnes contemplated her choices - not here in the Willow Tree; the children might discover it and ask difficult questions. Obviously not back in his crypt, which she didn't quite understand but surely Spike would have said, 'leave it here if you can get hold of it'. But he must have had his own reasons. She wondered about The Magic Box basement. There were so many boxes and shelves of odd things down there; surely one coat could be hidden away. But then, what if Anya found it or - and here she felt a colder shiver than normal run down her spine - that fat boy Xander who obviously hated Spike. He might destroy it or worst still, wear it!

No, it had to be somewhere no one visited but had a demon dimension that would make it the obvious place for Spike to look when he got back - if, for any reason, she wasn't around when that happened. And Agnes had no illusions about her longevity now that Spike had gone and the Slayer was still around.

So there was only one place - and she felt the tears well into her eyes because it was the one place she had studiously avoided during her years in town - the basement of the Sunnydale High School which was still being rebuilt: in fact it was almost finished. To Agnes this was a mystical place - legend had it that it stood just above the Hellmouth, although she'd never been the slightest bit convinced of this. But the main reason was that it was here that dear Richard Wilkins III, the demon who had loved her so much, had been slain and sent onwards into another dimension. She really didn't want to visit this horrible place, but she knew she had no choice. The coat must be hidden away and she could always write Spike a note, telling him where it was and leave that with Clem.

She braced herself, and set off once again through the tunnels. Standing under the school, she found a suitable hiding place for the leather coat and stood, for a long moment, head bowed, rubbing fine dust off her fingers. Even after all this time she could sense dear Richard all around her. She did hope he was living a happy and useful life in whichever dimension he'd entered.

She sighed deeply as she turned to go home. Her feet ached - in fact if she hadn't known she was being very silly, she would have said they felt quite warm, as if the ground itself was hot.

What a very odd, disturbing, unhappy night it had been, she thought as she reached her kitchen once more. She needed to check on the children, bake supplies for the Tearooms and get some sleep. "Oh well, at least tomorrow won't be nearly as horrible as today," she told herself and shivered. What was that expression her mother had used - "Oh, someone's just walked over my grave."

It usually meant a death was about to happen. "Agnes, you're getting very imaginative as you get older, and no wiser at all! " She pushed the thought away, but as she cut out gingerbread men, she hoped fervently that Spike would ride safely on his way to Los Angeles.

tbc