Business as Usual by Lilachigh

Chapter 44: Miles to Go...

For the first time ever, the Olde Willow Tree TeaRooms in Sunnydale had a Closed notice on the door. A few disgruntled demons wandered past, growled or hissed and rattled the handle, annoyed at being deprived of the dish of the day, which was warm worm casserole with asparagus dumplings - not that they actually ever ate the dumplings, but Agnes was always determined to provide vegetables in everyone's diet.

But this evening the door was firmly locked and the blinds drawn tightly across the windows. If they had been able to look inside, they would have seen a tall, English gentleman lying unconscious in a chair, surrounded by seven vampires. Admittedly, six of them were children, but the demons would have been forgiven for thinking an orgy of blood-letting was about to take place.

"Is he lunch?" Nancy asked, vamping in and out in quick succession she was so excited.

"Certainly not!" Agnes was only just able to control the trembling in her limbs that had started as she forced herself to turn her fangs away from Mr Giles' neck. "He's a guest. We do not eat guests. Hopefully, we don't eat anyone, unless we have to. There's plenty of nice pig in the fridge."

"But he wouldn't know anything, being unconscious and everything," Eric said wistfully. He knew that his little sister was already beginning to forget the taste of real hot human blood, but he still longed for it in his dreams.

Agnes shook her head. She could hardly speak; remembering that dreadful urge to bite Mr Giles' neck, how her fangs had even grazed the skin before she'd fought back the demon and recovered her senses. It was a wake-up call; she'd been deluded into thinking that she had that side of her nature well under control

The man sprawled in the chair groaned and his eyelids began to flutter. "He's waking up." Agnes shooed the children away. "Right, back to work. Remember, I want all your luggage packed and ready by tomorrow evening. Eric, LaShawn, I need you to go over to see Sheldon - the vampire who sells used cars - and see if he has a really nice big camper-van, what he will call an RV, I think. Something that will sleep all of us. Don't let him know who wants it, but make a note of the price."

"Can I go, too?" The plea was from Adele, who was twelve and considered herself too old to be counted with Nancy, Brittany and the little boys.

Agnes sighed. "All right, but come straight home afterwards. The rest of you shoo, back downstairs. We've a lot to do before tomorrow and don't wake Craig. He's still very confused about being Turned and needs his sleep."

Obediently they scurried away as Agnes peered down at Mr Giles who was groaning now and swearing in a most ungentlemanly fashion. "Oh that's better! You had a nasty shock and seem to have been in a fight."

Rupert Giles blinked, winced as pain hit him in various parts of his body and memories of his failure to stop Willow swamped his brain. He tried to focus on the small, plump woman in front of him but without his glasses everything was blurred. "Where am I? Oh good Lord, I have to stop her. Find Buffy - find Willow - stop her...Tara!"

He began to try and struggle upright but Agnes pushed him effortlessly back again, then took a deep breath. "Oh please sit still, Mr Giles. You've suffered considerable damage. My name is Agnes Pringle. This is my teashop - just a few doors away from The Magic Box. I brought you here because I was very afraid whatever attacked you was still there. The destruction is dreadful. I don't know what that nice girl Anya is going to say. What was it? An enemy of some sort? Do you need to go to hospital? Should I send for a doctor? Here, drink this, it's a nice cup of tea, hot, strong and sweet. You need it for shock, you know. I do have biscuits, but perhaps you shouldn't eat in the circumstances."

Giles tried to say something to stem the flow of nervous chatter. He could see that the hand holding the cup and saucer was trembling and he realised that the Englishwoman was terribly, terribly scared. And he knew why. "It was brave of you - bringing me here. You could have killed me. I don't think I would have been able to put up much of a fight." He swiftly took the teacup from her hand before it smashed to the floor. "But I have to go - I must find..."

"I appreciate there is some sort of emergency, but please drink your tea first. It will do you good."

Giles hesitated, then, like many before him, decided that arguing with a small, implacable vampire lady was probably not a good idea and certainly not good manners. He drank deeply, aware that this was proper tea, made with leaves and not teabags. The hot sweetness flooded through him and he sighed. It had been an odd day - one of his best friends had tried to kill him, the world was probably coming to an end and he was taking tea with a vampire. Because even though he couldn't see her clearly, he was very aware of what and who she was.

Agnes stood watching - if he made any sudden moves towards her she'd decided to throw the teapot at him. It still contained a good amount of scalding liquid which should give her time to get down the stairs into the basement and lock the door. How odd it was - she'd decided to leave Sunnydale earlier but now she would have had to go anyway. She'd trusted Spike, Dawn and Anya not to give her presence away to the Slayer, but she sensed in this man a different sort of character. He looked inoffensive but that was just a cloak for a ruthlessness she'd seen before in men from upper class English families, sent to boarding school from seven years of age, forged in the tough fires of Eton, Harrow and Winchester public schools, then coated with the unbreakable polite patina applied by Oxford or Cambridge.

"So was it a demon who attacked you?" she asked as the silence lengthened.

Giles shook his head and laughed, a bitter sound. "No, a friend of mine. You may not have heard, but a girl was killed, her name was Tara - "

"By - " Agnes swallowed hard and the next word came out as a squeak "...vampires?"

"Oh no. I suppose that would have somehow made things a little better. No, she was shot by someone trying to kill Buffy Summers. Shot by a young man."

Agnes sighed to herself. The Slayer again! Really, now Buffy Summers was apparently causing the deaths of helpless victims. She was so glad she would shortly be leaving Sunnydale and need have nothing more to do with her.

"My friend Willow - well, she's a witch and was in love with Tara. I suppose that shocks you?"

Agnes made a small noise that could have been taken as a yes or a no. "And she - "

Giles put his teacup down on a little table and stood up, swaying slightly, one hand going to his head where blood still trickled from a gash on his scalp. "Willow has - well, let's say she's over-reacting and that's putting it mildly."

Willow! Agnes remembered her only too well. The red-headed girl who'd come into the tearooms when Dawn worked there; the girl who'd been desperate for a piece of Anya's wedding-cake; the girl whom Agnes had always believed was in love with Xander, Buffy's friend. She sighed. These Unturneds had such very complicated relationships and people who came in contact with them all seemed to suffer. No wonder poor Spike had got himself so dreadfully mixed up, believing he was in love with the Slayer.

Rupert Giles took a couple of unsteady steps. Agnes, on the alert, clutched the hot teapot to her chest and stealthily moved backwards. "You were trying to calm her down?" she asked, hoping to distract him.

The Englishman laughed that bitter sound once more. "I'm sure you know the old saying, Miss Pringle, 'pride goeth before a fall'. I though I was being clever; I thought I was far stronger than her, that I could control her through powers that aren't even mine."

Agnes ran her hand round the hot curve of the china teapot. She could understand pride bringing a fall. That had been her on the coach tour round Hollywood all those years ago. So proud to have won the Movie Stars competition in a magazine, sure that the good-looking gentleman who sat next to her was attracted to her, happy to accept his invitation to dinner that evening. And look where that had ended up - in a dark alleyway being bitten and Turned by someone whose surname she'd never even known! The shame of not knowing her Sire still rankled. Sometimes she let herself dream that he was a film star, or famous politician or perhaps even a TV presenter! She only wished he'd stayed around long enough to introduce himself.

She realised that Mr Giles had reached the door and was about to leave. "Wait!" she said impulsively, "You really aren't well enough..."

He shook his head. "My friends will need me. We have to stop her. Willow wants to end the world that took her love from her."

"Grief can do terrible things - if you let it - but surely the rest of the world hasn't harmed her, only one young man."

Giles shook his head wearily. "He is guilty but we have to let the law take care of him. And he has two friends - they don't deserve to die but I'm afraid Willow is determined they will all pay the ultimate price. Then you, me, everyone will die as she makes the world end."

Agnes shut her eyes briefly. So leaving Sunnydale would not save the children after all. In the end, The Slayer would have inadvertantly caused them to perish. Still - 'You're getting morbid, Agnes Pringle,' she thought crossly. The world hadn't ended yet and if this was the Apocalypse that dear Richard had come to warn her about, then obviously leaving Sunnydale must make a difference, otherwise he surely wouldn't have bothered. And she wasn't at all sure that the Slayer's friend was capable to what she was threatening to do. Agnes had met too many people who boasted of doing things and then failing to succeed. Miguel, the vampire who'd said he could bring air conditioning into all the caves, was one such. And the mess that had left behind had to be seen to be believed.

"I'm leaving town tomorrow," she said quietly as Rupert Giles opened the door. "I know you are well aware that I am of the vampiric persuasion, but perhaps, if the world doesn't end, your Slayer will be a little too busy to bother with me for a few days. And then she won't need to worry because I won't be here."

Giles smiled. "I'm afraid Dawn let slip to me once that the lady she worked for was a vampire. I must admit I meant to tell Buffy, but - " he frowned - "Dawn would have been devastated to think she caused your dusting. And you make an incredibly good cup of tea, Miss Pringle." Suddenly, the eyes that had seemed so bleak and lost, twinkled. "May I ask where you're going?"

Agnes found herself smiling back. Really, he was quite charming for an Unturned, even with cuts and bruises and tempting blood trickling down his neck and staining his collar crimson. "Los Angeles. I have friends there."

Giles went to shake her hand, then grinned, boyishly, and stopped. "You should go home to England. I have an apartment in Bath. Lots of tourists; a very good area for a teashop." And with a wave, he left, shutting the door to the Willow Tree behind him.

Agnes sighed. If only she had herself to think about, she'd have been delighted to move to Bath and open her third Olde Willow Tree TeaRooms. But Mr Giles did not, thankfully, know about the children. She was quite sure that his generous ability to overlook her unfortunate circumstances would not extend to several healthy vampires who would, eventually and with her help, grow up.

Downstairs in the caves that honeycombed the tunnels, packing was well underway. There wasn't time to worry about what the Unturneds were doing with their nasty murders and revenges. Agnes and the smaller children were busy trying to find a crate big enough to pack the tentacled monster that had been an unwanted present to Anya and Xander at their disastrous wedding. It had grown very fast but Nancy refused to leave it behind. Agnes did, however, insist that it travelled in a separate box to the rabbit that they'd found under The Magic Box months before. She sometimes found the monster looking at the rabbit and waving its tentacles at it in a very suspicious manner.

"One monster, one rabbit, two cats - and I simply cannot leave my best knives and all my baking pans behind. Oh dear, we look more like a travelling circus than refugees fleeing to a new life," she muttered, opening her spice cupboard and wondering how many she could pack into a suitcase.

"Aggie - " It was Craig, the youngest of the children. "How will my Mommy know where I am? Pr'ps me and Colin had better stay here till she comes."

Agnes vamped out, caught her fangs on her bottom lip - when would she learn to do it properly! - and changed back again. Craig's Mommy had been dusted by the Slayer one evening right in front of the Tearooms. She wasn't coming back. His big brother understood that, but Craig was only five and totally confused about everything.

She was about to tell him not to worry, that they would leave a message for Mummy, but then she knew it was wrong to lie. They had a long journey ahead of them and they couldn't do it looking backwards and wondering.

"Well, Craig - you see - "

"Aunt Aggie! Aunt Aggie!"

She spun round: Adele had burst into the cave, panting, out of breath, in vamp face with her hair tangled, scratches down her face.

"Oh my goodness. What's happened? Are you all right? Where are the boys?"

"Oh Aunt Aggie, it's so exciting! There's an Unturned hunt going on in the woods. All the demons and vamps are talking about it. The guy at the car place told Eric and LaShawn and they've gone to watch. I went, too, but I lost sight of them; they ran too fast and the branches scratched me and so I came home."

The woods around Sunnydale were not completely foreign territory to Agnes. She'd often ventured into the darkness under the heavy leaf canopy looking for mushrooms and fungi of all different varieties. There were certain poison berries that particular demons loved in pies and had been prepared to pay good prices, especially if served with the chilli and ginger icecream she made at weekends. She'd always found the woods a friendly place, full of little birds and buzzing insects. She'd used to feed the deer where the woods reached the edge of the new Sunnydale cemetery, but since the Slayer had returned from her little rest in Heaven, the deer had been strangely absent.

But as she hurried along a path tonight, she was aware that no birds or little animals could be heard. The atmosphere was heavy, the leaves above her head seemed to be suffocatingly close and thorns and brambles tore at her skirt and stockings.

Agnes was allowing herself to be angry. It was either that or feel very hurt that Eric and LaShawn had disobeyed her and run off to watch the Unturneds hunt each other. There was so much to do back at the Tearooms before they left Sunnydale and she still hadn't taken collection of the van she was buying. Still, they were only boys, she reasoned: she couldn't be too hard on them and she would need all their cooperation in the weeks ahead. But she was still determined to tell them exactly what she thought of their behaviour, although at times like these she wished Spike was here to help. How could she bring up young teenage boys to be good, responsible vampires? She knew nothing about children. The whole situation was ridiculous.

The undergrowth lessened slightly and, to Agnes relief, she could see Eric and LaShawn standing close together, their backs to her. They didn't seem to have heard her coming - and that annoyed her all over again. Vampires had to be on alert the whole time - why she might have been The Slayer creeping up on them, stake in hand.

"Boys! What on earth do you think you're doing? You know we - " She stopped with a sort of gasp as she pushed the final bush aside and saw what they were standing looking at.

There was a body tied to a tree; there was a lot of blood, flesh oozing, mouth pulled back in a horrified grin. Agnes put her hands gently on the boys' shoulders. It was pointless telling them not to look; the blood was enough to make them both vamp out but the sheer nastiness of the scene had kept them from feeding.

"There was a woman," Eric whispered at last. "I think she must have been some sort of demon. Her face was all veiny. She killed him."

"Did she see you?" Agnes asked sharply. She realised that they were talking about The Slayer's friend, Willow. That this must be the boy who had killed the girl called Tara.

LaShawn shook his head, dreadlocks bouncing. "No, we kept really quiet. And he knew her. The boy knew her. He wasn't frightened, not until the end. That's...that's...sort of wrong. She didn't need to do that to him, did she? We thought she was a demon, that she wanted to eat him, but she didn't. So killing him would have been enough."

Privately Agnes reckoned that dead was dead however you got there, unless you were Turned, of course, but she was glad to hear the boys still had some flicker of compassion inside them, although how long it would last was probably up to her from now on. She gazed round the clearing. "And she's gone? You're certain?"

The boys nodded.

"And you haven't...?" She couldn't personally think of anything worse that eating off that bloody corpse, but teenage boys were always anxious for their next meal.

"We're not hungry any more," Eric said. "Can we go home now, Aggie?"

Agnes hesitated. Of course the right thing to do was to get the boys to safety. Surely more Unturneds would arrive at any moment to take away the body. But who would know he was hanging there? What if no one came? She felt a wave of disgust and anger sweep over her. If Unturneds wanted to kill each other, for whatever reason, so be it. But just leaving 'that' for children to find, for wild animals to gnaw, that was wrong. She couldn't remember the number of times she'd nagged vampire friends to clean up after themselves. No matter how they died, dead bodies were unhygienic. She'd always thought she could rely on humans to be tidy, but obviously she was wrong.

She stepped forward - whatever he'd done, whoever he'd killed, he was still someone's son. Did he have a family? Was somebody even now looking at a clock and wondering... Suddenly she gasped. She recognised that face - what was left of it! Warren Meers, Andrew's friend.

Agnes felt her head whirling. Mr Giles had spoken of the murderer having two friends - he must have meant Andrew and little tubby Jonathan! Poor Warren - he'd tried to kill the Slayer - and Agnes really couldn't fault him for that - but apparently murdered an innocent bystander instead. And now he was just - meat. She'd never liked him, hated the way he controlled Andrew who was so easily lead, but surely no one deserved this end. And, from what she remembered hearing from Andrew, there would be no one to mourn Warren. He had no family, no one to cry or even claim his body, what remained of it.

She sighed. "It'll be dawn soon. We must get back to the little ones," she said. "But we'll come back tonight and if he's still there, then we'll bury him."

Agnes spent a wakeful day. The Tearooms were closed and when she wasn't dozing, she pottered around, finishing the packing. All sorts of rumours circulated through the tunnels about what the Unturneds were doing but it all sounded very unlikely and highly exaggerated, she thought wearily, although she was desperately worried about Andrew. At dusk she woke Eric and LaShawn and pushing the shopping cart between them, they fought their way through the thick woods to where the body still hung. Whatever the Unturneds had been doing during the day, they'd obviously forgotten this problem. Typical! Flies buzzed everywhere and grimly Agnes and the boys cut down Warren Meers and tipped him messily into the cart.

Only a quarter of a mile away, the woods thinned dramatically right up to the lawned spaces of the new Sunnydale Cemetery. It took hardly any time to heave Warren's body into a grave that had been recently dug and was waiting for its inhabitant. Agnes muttered an apology to whoever had to share with Warren and watched as Eric and LaShawn kicked mud and earth down to cover the body. Agnes sent the boys home with the shopping cart and stood for a moment, gazing down, wondering if saying a prayer was appropriate for a murderer. All she could remember at this moment was "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep," which she supposed was really valid for those attacked by vampires, not witches and demons.

It was puzzling about souls. She wished she knew what had happened to hers when she lost it. Did it just vanish up to Heaven without her? She did hope it wasn't still looking for her back in Hollywood. She felt rather sorry for it although having it back, even if that was an absurd thought, would have been awkward. Brushing the soil and dried blood from her hands, Agnes turned away from the grave. Too much thinking about your soul could lead you to having nightmares, she decided. Like wondering about how many angels could stand on the tip of a needle. Spike had made a very vulgar joke about that saying once. It was one of those after dinner party discussions that caused all sorts of fights between vampires. Best avoided at all costs.

Just after midnight, a pale blue RV with blacked out windows trundled out of Sunnydale, up the hill to join the main highway that lead to Los Angeles. The moon was sailing, high and round, and Agnes was glad of the extra illumination as she struggled with the wheel. The van, admittedly, was severely overloaded and the combined howls of the two cats in their baskets and the moans from the tentacled monster were giving her a headache.

As she rounded the final bend, Craig and Colin decided to have a fight and as she turned to tell them off, she swerved, the side of the van clanging against metal. Agnes braked sharply, told the children to be good, yes, they could start eating their packets of pig blood lunches, no they couldn't let the animals out and no, they weren't nearly there yet.

The night air was cool on her face as she walked back and realised that on the slopes below her, the whole town was spread out, lights shining. Whatever Willow the witch had been intending, it obviously hadn't happened. Agnes wasn't surprised: young girls did exaggerate so. Down there was her dear Olde Willow Tree Tearooms, doors firmly locked with a notice saying "Closed Due to Unforeseen Circumstances. Thank you for your Custom."

She felt her bottom lip tremble as she realised, fully, that she would never see it again. Her life here was over; this town was not the end of her journey as she'd often imagined. She'd been fond of Sunnydale, made some very good friends - would Spike ever return from Africa, she wondered? Would he ask after her, try to find out where she had gone? Probably not, she sighed, especially if he was still enamoured of The Slayer. But she had left Mr Nicholas Elder's firm in Los Angeles as her forwarding address. Wolfram & Hart. Such an interesting name; for some reason it reminded her of an old English medieval tapestry - the Wolf, the Ram and the Hart. Mr Elder was a very odd demon but he'd been so kind to her and she did hope he had helped Spike to get safely to Africa. Agnes decided that when she found some way to move the children to England, away from the end of the world dear Richard had prophesised, she would send them her details and if Spike ever needed to, he could find her that way. She did hope Spike wouldn't get involved in the forthcoming Apocalypse. Surely even if he was Buffy Summers' friend, he wouldn't take a stand against his vampire kin?

Resolutely, she turned away from the view. There was no point in making herself sadder than she was already. She gazed at the RV; she could hear the chatter and laughter from here. That was good; nothing cheered her up more than that. The children at least were smiling, utterly convinced that she could look after them, even if she doubted her own abilities. Agnes sighed and started back towards them - worrying would help no one, her old life was over, a new chapter had begun and as that lovely poem said, there were miles to go before she would sleep.

Her foot kicked against something that clanged and she tutted as she realised it was what the RV had hit. Bending, she lifted up a road sign that said Welcome to Sunnydale and tidily, she propped it upright again on the side of the road.

Ends.

Well, we have finally reached the end of Agnes' account of life in Sunnydale. Thank you so much for all your kind comments: I do hope you have enjoyed the journey as much as I have done. I promised myself I wouldn't write any more about Agnes, but have weakly given in to her pleading for her continued tale to be told. I will not be uploading it here until there is much more of it than at present but if anyone wants to read the first chapter, let me know and I will e mail it to you.

Do have a look at some of my other stories. Hopefully you will find some your enjoy.