Chp 1 Back Home
A Nice Little Business by lilachigh
When Business as Usual ended, I promised myself I would write no more about Agnes, but this was written for the Kain auction and in her usual clever fashion, she wants me to tell you what happened to her next.
For readers who perhaps have never read any of my Business as Usual story - let me quickly say that it follows the unlife of the vampire lady referred to by Spike in The Replacement, Season 5, when, sarcastically, he tells the Scoobies that he has been having a cup of tea with the lady who runs a tea-stall in the local garbage dump. And I wondered...what if he wasn’t being sarcastic? Agnes Pringle immediately waved at me and insisted I tell her story. English spinster, splendid cook, very reluctant vampire (It Was Not Her Fault), and close friend of Richard Wilkins III and Spike.
At the end of Season Six, Agnes returned to England to avoid the Apocalypse, bringing with her several adopted vampire children she was trying to raise.......
A Nice Little Business
Looking back on the incident in the weeks that followed her big mistake, Agnes Pringle decided that the blood treacle sponge pudding was probably to blame. It was a new recipe she was trying for the first time and, she had to admit, it was a tad on the heavy side. If she hadn’t eaten a second helping she wouldn’t have felt so drowsy and she certainly wouldn’t have fallen asleep where she shouldn’t....
Agnes had begun the evening with the best of intentions. She’d been back in England for some time now, living in the cottage bought for her with dear Richard’s money, deep in the New Forest but close enough to the town of Ringwood for major supplies. Although to be honest, Richard Wilkins III’s idea of a cottage had turned out to be a large, rambling old farm house with plenty of rooms, which was ideal for the vampire children she’d brought with her from America.
She missed her life in California more than she’d thought she would; the few English vampires she’d met since her return seemed rather - unadventurous. Oh nice people - some newly Turned and uncertain about death, one or two who’d been around for some time. All nice, but - set in their ways.
Her thoughts often went to memories of her time in Sunnydale - her lovely Willow-Tree tea-rooms just two doors away from The Magic Box, her customers - both Turned and Unturned and she wondered if Spike had ever returned from Africa, if he’d continued his very odd, alarming relationship with Buffy Summers. Such an odd girl! She would have loved to have known how Clem was faring and if that nice demon girl, Anya had found her true romance yet. The apocalypse that she’d been told was coming obviously hadn’t happened because, as far as she knew, America was still there. That was the trouble with apocalypses, Agnes, decided, they tended to make people over-react.
But apart from those nostalgic memories, Agnes would have been quite happy to have spent the rest of her unlife pottering around her garden under the trees on gloomy days (and England, unlike California, had many of those). There was a village a mile away down the lane with a useful butcher’s shop for blood, a thriving church community and she’d plucked up the courage to join the Womens’ Institute - she did so love singing Jerusalem and, of course she prided herself on her jams. She could only attend an occasional meeting because so much of her time was spent caring for the young American vampires in her charge.
And that was the problem: the children were bored. They missed their American way of life but accepted that they were safer here in England. To their dismay, Agnes had discovered Gerald, an elderly retired teacher vampire living quietly in the town of Lyndhurst who’d agreed to teach the children for a few hours every week. He’d been delighted because vampire children were so rare he’d never thought his particular skills would be called on again.
So that part of their lives was cared for. No it was the play area that was the problem. Apart from trying after dark to ride the wild ponies who lived in the woods and were far too cautious of vampires to be caught, there was very little for them to do. Some nights Agnes drove them all to the coast in the new van that she’d learnt to call a People Carrier and they swam from the beach at Bournemouth - but she knew they missed the network of tunnels they’d roamed through at will back in Sunnydale. Miles of passageways where they didn’t have to worry about the sun coming up or their Aunt Aggy fussing about their safety.
Above all there was the problem of helping the children cope with vampire life. Agnes still felt woefully ill-equipped for this task, especially where the bigger boys were concerned. How she wished she’d managed to get Spike to give them some serious talks before he went rushing off to Africa.
“I’m sure other vampires must have been faced with the same problem,” she sighed to Gerald one evening as the children were sitting around his living-room table, their heads bent over their school work. “You’d think there would be some advice books written about it. There’s plenty of ”Thirty Ways to care for your Fangs” and “A beginner’s guide on how not to get staked when hunting your evening meal” but no one seems to have bothered about how to raise children successfully.”
Gerald munched the head off of one of Agnes’ special gingerbread men. “Well, they are a rarity, Miss Pringle. Until you arrived from America with your little friends, I don’t think I’d seen a vampire under the age of about fifteen or so.” He munched some more, savouring the blood flavouring, then said, “I wonder if the Watcher Library would have anything relevant?”
“Didn’t that get destroyed up in London in some dreadful explosion? I heard a rumour when I was in town recently.”
Gerald nodded. “Yes, very bizarre, completely flattened the building and usefully killed an enormous number of Watchers. Life was very pleasant for a little while - no vampire hunting at all for weeks and weeks. But then something changed. There seem to be a lot of potential Slayers around now, being trained. I think it’s disgraceful, personally. What’s happening to the world when traditions can be overturned, just like that. One Slayer - it’s the oldest rule in our world. Now they’re everywhere. I wrote a strong letter to the Vampire Times saying I was disgusted by the whole affair.” His eyes shone gold as he vamped out.
Agnes tried hard to be patient. Gerald could be an old fuddy-duddy when he chose and although she, too, was a great believer in tradition, one had to move with the times. She’d even been tempted to buy a mobile phone, what Eric and Nancy called a ‘cell’, but she didn’t actually know anyone to call. “Yes, I’m sure it’s all very vexing, Gerald, but what about the Watcher Library?”
“Oh, well, apparently, like bureaucrats everywhere, they had a back up collection that’s been in existence for centuries. Jobs for the boys, if you ask me. But still, if there’s ever been a book written about raising vampire children, that’s where you’ll find it. The library is housed in a little town called Alresford, just outside Winchester. You probably know it.”
And Agnes did. The house where she’d been born and raised was on the outskirts of Winchester and her first, dearly loved tearooms, Ye Olde Willow Tree Tea-Shoppe, had been within sound of the Cathedral, even if not grand enough to be within sight. She’d often thought about driving past one night now she was back, but it would be so awkward if anyone saw her - although if she was honest, most of her friends and acquaintances were now far too old to be out on the streets after dark. As, of course, she would have been too if it had not been for the unfortunate advent in Hollywood, which had Not Been Her Fault, which was a very odd thought.
But Alresford with its wide street, old coaching inns and wonderful Georgian houses in pretty pastel colours, well, she knew no one there. What possible harm would it do to discover where the Watcher Library was situated, how easy it would be to access their books? If there was even a slim chance of finding one that could help her - especially with the bigger boys who had recently started talking about hunting humans - it was worth a risk or two.
On her next visit to Gerald’s, she’d cooked them all a meal before the school work began. Gerald was a widower - his wife had sadly not survived being bitten by Gerald when he was Turned - and as far as Agnes could see, existed on bags of pig blood and Weetabix. The mixture reminded her strongly of Spike and she found herself sighing as she dished out a nice raw liver casserole and the little blood flavoured dumplings the children liked so much. Then she gave them her new recipe - the blood treacle sponge pudding - before telling Gerald that she was driving into Alresford and would collect the children when she returned.
The little town was quiet when she arrived. It had begun to rain and the streets were shining like burnished steel under the street lamps. The first two passers-by Agnes asked had no idea where the Library might be, but eventually she was directed to a large house, tucked away behind the church.
There were lights on but the door was shut and Agnes hesitated, peering out from under her frilly pink umbrella. There were so many rules and regulations regarding vampires entering buildings. She thought this would count as a public place, but what if it was still classed as a private house and she bounced off some invisible barrier? Then suddenly a man pushed past her, ran up the steps to the door and rang the bell. Agnes walked up behind him as the door opened and he vanished inside. She hesitated on the doorstep - oh dear, why was life so complicated? - when a voice said, “Don’t stand there dithering, woman. Come in - you’re letting in the rain!”
“Oh thank you! How kind! So sorry.” Agnes flustered her way inside, slamming shut her umbrella and apologising again as a shower of droplets scattered across both the highly polished floor and the man’s highly polished shoes.
“I take it you are the new cleaner from the agency. They said you would be late.” He peered down at Agnes, his attitude one of bored indifference.
“Cleaner? Well, no, you see, my name is Agnes Pringle and - ”
“Oh, I suppose you object to being called a cleaner these days. What is the fancy name, I wonder. Building supervisor, floor superintendent?” He laughed briefly and waved his hand dismissively towards the back of the house. “Anyway, all the brushes and dusters are in a cupboard down that passage. Please start with the main library, which is upstairs. And don’t cut corners. We are expecting important visitors and want it all spick and span by morning.”
An hour later Agnes was sitting in a high backed leather chair, her raincoat, umbrella and the cleaning implements stacked neatly in a corner, out of the way. The vast library, lit by two very dim reading lights, had shelves grey with dust that towered above her head: rows and rows of old books and manuscripts. The very sight of them had made her head spin when she’d first entered the room and her resolution had wavered. Without help it would be impossible to find what she wanted. She’d tried, hoping that perhaps the books were arranged alphabetically by subject, so Children would be easy enough to find. But it was a hopeless task. She found interesting and fascinating essays and notes about vampires through the ages and in an encyclopaedia of demons, severaL pictures of old friends. But nothing about children.
“Really, I thought these Watchers had collected every single piece of information about vampires over the years,” she muttered crossly. “They’ve been boasting about it for centuries. I could write a book with more details than some of these have.”
Agnes yawned - it was warm in the library and the big leather chair was very comfortable. She would have a long drive back through the rain so she would just close her eyes for five minutes to clear her head.....she wouldn’t sleep, of course,....that would be wrong.....
“B - I wish you’d stop this stupid pretending!”
Agnes woke up with a start, clutching the book to her chest. She’d been asleep! A vampire of her experience - sleeping when there were Watchers around. She felt deeply ashamed: Spike would have been disgusted at such behaviour. She would never forgive herself if she got staked. What would happen to the children if she became a little pile of dust on the shiny library floor?
Two people had come into the room but thank goodness they couldn’t see her because she’d slid down the chair and its high back was towards them. She would just sit quietly until they left. But the next voice she heard made all the hairs on the back of her neck wriggle as they always did when a Slayer was around.
“Faith - leave me alone. I’m not pretending. Everything’s great.”
The blood sponge pudding in Agnes’s stomach turned over twice in quick succession. She would have known that voice anywhere. Buffy Summers, vampire slayer! Here - in England! She’d hoped upon hope that she’d been killed in the earthquake that had struck California a few weeks ago. But obviously luck was not on the vampire world’s side.
“Everyone else tiptoes round you and just accepts all the crap you hand out. This happy-clappy Buffy. Big smiling fun girl. Well, the rest of your merry little gang might swallow it, but I don’t.”
“Why shouldn’t I be happy? First defeated, apocalypse vanished, lots of potential slayers training everywhere. All good.”
“Spike’s gone.” Buffy”s voice had an odd quality; it was as if the words were made of ice and could shatter if you touched them. “He died to keep us all safe.”
Before she could stop herself, Agnes let out a squeak of pure distress, vamped out and back, then froze as the Slayer said, “What the heck was that?”
“Mice, I expect. Old building, lots of paper. Place is running with them. But don’t change the subject, B. You know that you loved him - why are you pretending?”
“Spike was my friend, he got a soul to make himself a better man and he died for a good reason. It doesn’t matter what I felt about him. That’s all in the past. And anyway, what about you and Robin? Talk about giving a guy mixed signals. First of all you’re both off to Cleveland, all joined at the hippy, now you’re over here with Giles and me for this Watcher Conference, all mad face and not answering your cell when he calls. Did you have a fight?”
“Can’t be bothered to argue with guys. Walking away saves a lot of trouble.”
“But why walk away from Robin? You were good together.”
“Hey, you said it first, B. All in the past.”
Agnes tried not to moan - her feet had gone to sleep and hurt. But that was nothing to the pain she felt at losing Spike. Had he died in the Californian earthquake? It seemed very unlikely. Vampires were usually the first to sense problems in the earth’s crust and move themselves out of the area. She wondered if he had, in fact, been dusted and who couldl have done it; obviously not Buffy Summers who was now sounding brisk, bringing the conversation to a close.
“OK, I’m going to find Giles and see if this place can produce a cup of coffee before we start work.”
Agnes heard light footsteps, then the door shutting. Every part of her body ached with sitting so still and her eyes were blurred with tears she knew she had no time to shed. She would grieve for her friend when she got home. Now she just had to concentrate of getting out of the Library. She staggered to her feet, still clutching the book she’d been reading, turned and then gasped as a dark haired girl glanced up from where she was running her fingers along a row of books.
“Oh, hi. I didn’t know anyone was here.” Faith could see that the older woman - from her old-fashioned dress and sensible shoes, it was obvious she was some sort of librarian - must have been asleep. Her hair was ruffled and untidy and her eyes had the watery look of someone who’d just woken up. She also looked apprehensive - perhaps she thought Faith was going to report her to her boss for sleeping on the job.
“I was - er - reading.” Agnes said, edging slowly towards the door, still clutching the heavy volume in her arms.
“Hey - library - books!” Faith smiled, then her expression changed as she continued, “I was wondering - do you have a card index I could look at?”
Agnes had one hand on the door, a single step and she would be out of the room. But at the girl’s words, she felt extremely annoyed. A card index! Of course! That would have made her task so much simpler. Really, she must stop eating blood sponge pudding for her supper. It obviously did not agree with her.
“I’d like to find out more about a guy I knew once...in America...a demon sort of guy. His name was Richard Wilkins III.”
Agnes turned as her legs simply refused to take her another step and she sank into a chair. “I...I’ve heard of him,” she replied, wondering what this girl would say if she knew Richard Wilkins had proposed marriage to the woman in front of her, followed when she’d fled from him and looked after her from whatever dimension he was existing in at the moment.
“OK, that’s cool.” The girl smiled. “I’m Faith. One of the American conference gang. We’re late.” The stressed look on the older woman’s face made her say, “ Hope you haven’t been waiting up for us?”
“No - I often work through the evening,” Agnes said honestly. “Why did you want to know about Mr Wilkins?”
A shadow slid across the American girl’s face. “He was - well, let’s just say I trusted him and that makes him special. Hey, where men are concerned, that makes him unique! But I never knew that much about him. His life before Sunnydale, where he came from, that sort of thing.”
Suddenly Agnes was back in her bedroom in Sunnydale when Richard had appeared in the middle of the night - really, demons had no sense of decorum - to tell her to leave because of an apocalypse that was about to happen. He’d mentioned someone called Faith and Agnes had gathered that not only was she a Slayer, she was someone who had touched whatever he had instead of a heart. So this was Richard’s Faith - a pretty face, no striking that was a better word. She looked confident, one of those girls who feared nothing and no one, never doubted her actions or decisions. Tough, brash, the sort of person whose real emotions would never be shown, never disclosed. You could torture this girl to tell you what she felt and she never would.
But there was something darker in her expression that intrigued Agnes. Dark and, yes, as stupid as it seemed, vulnerable. She could well imagine that this deeper side had attracted Richard: he fed off darkness and vulnerability. It made him feel better to help those he liked. After all, look what he’d done for her?
“I remember reading an entry about him in one of these books,” Agnes said, waving her hand vaguely at the hundreds of volumes lining the walls.
“Don’t have time to stop and search now. There’s a meeting upstairs in ten minutes.” Faith looked bored and exasperated. “Sometimes I think if I have to sit through one more discussion about training potentials, I’ll scream! Or kill someone. Or both. So, can you remember what the book said?”
Agnes hesitated: she could sense that Richard had meant a great deal to this girl. She’d apparently trusted him - trusted one of the most deadly demons the world had ever known! Well, Agnes had done the same. Trusted him not to kill her, to be loyal, too loyal sometimes. A silly phrase from an old book ran through her brain, “Once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen in Narnia.” Well, once a friend of Richard Wilkins III, always a friend of Richard Wilkins III.
“Have you asked the other Slayer - Miss Summers ? I heard she’d known him.”
Faith had moved across the Library to where a giant globe of the world stood. She spun it violently, watching the seas and continents blur blue. “Known him? B destroyed him! Not going there with her. It was the mission. Can’t blame her.”
‘But you do,’ Agnes thought, a wave of pity sweeping over her. ‘You always will. Buffy Summers and all the others who were involved.’
She was so tempted to say that you couldn’t actually kill a demon such as Richard Wilkins. Not forever. Whatever you did to his body, the demon spirit just waited in an alternative universe to be born again. Would knowing that make Faith feel better? Agnes hesitated: perhaps that little nugget of information was best kept to herself. After all, Richard had told her when they were having a romantic dinner one evening: candlelight and wine could make even that master of evil indiscreet.
“Did he - did he have any family? I know demons do, sometimes.”
“There was mention of a wife,” Agnes said gently.
“No kids?” Turning away, Faith threw the remark over her shoulder, as if it was of no importance.
“Children? No. Well - ” Agnes saw the girl’s head drop then the long black hair was shaken back and she squared her shoulders as if to repel an enemy. Before she was Turned, Agnes hadn’t believed in lying and even after she’d acquired her demon, she was still sure it was wrong. But this was the truth, only she wasn’t going to be completely accurate as to how she knew it. Richard had given her so much: this was something she could do for him.
“There was a rumour that he’d adopted a human girl in America. Oh not officially, of course. But there was someone he was extremely fond of; that he considered to be the daughter he’d always wanted, apparently. But, as I say, it was just a rumour.”
“She must have been way messed up for that to happen. What normal girl would choose to get that close to a monster? Not the sort of girl guys would want to keep in their lives long term.”
Agnes winced at the bitterness in Faith’s voice: remembering the earlier conversation she’d overheard with Buffy Summers - something about breaking up with a man called Robin. Was this Slayer’s involvement with Richard behind that? She sighed: she’d thought she’d left all the complications of the Unturneds and their love lives behind her in California. There had been enough melodrama and pain in her world watching Spike falling for Buffy Summers. Tears welled up in her eyes again and she fought to prevent herself from vamping out. He was dead! Her dear friend, the one who had taught her so much was just dust blowing in the wind. But now wasn’t the time to think about Spike.
“Personally, I’m a great believer in love,” she said firmly. “And if you love someone, then who and what they are and who they have loved in the past doesn’t matter.”
“Tell Robin that!” Faith muttered under her breath, but she looked a little less strained as she walked towards the door. “Suppose I’d better show my face upstairs, otherwise Buffy and Giles will freak out.”
Oh no, Agnes wondered if this night could get any worse - Mr Giles, the nice Englishman she’d met in Sunnydale, the one who’d eventually found out that she was a vampire, was here, too!
“Thanks for your help, Miss er.... Mrs...”
“Pringle, Miss. I have never married.”
Faith tried hard not to grin. That was so obvious. If anyone had ‘spinster lady’ written all over them, it was this dumpy little librarian. Odd how she seemed to think she knew about love. She’d obviously never had any major problems in her nice cosy little life. “OK, then thank you, Miss Pringle. See you around.”
The door clicked behind her and Agnes drew a deep breath she didn’t need but, oddly, at times of stress, old habits died hard. Abandoning the cleaning equipment where it lay, she pulled on her raincoat and fled out of the Library, down the stairs and out of the house as if all the hounds of hell were after her, although they would have been far more welcome than the thought of Mr Giles and Buffy Summers seeing her and realising she was now living in England.
But it wasn’t until she was in the car and driving as carefully as she could out of Alresford, that she realised she’d left her nice pink brolly behind and sitting next to her on the passenger seat was a large, leather bound volume, the one she’d been clutching whilst she spoke to Faith.
And although being thought of as a thief was distressing enough, Agnes was far more concerned that her name and address were printed on a little label sewn neatly on the inside of the pink frilled umbrella, because Spike had given it to her a year or so ago and she’d been terrified of losing it.
* * * * * *
One of the things Agnes had missed during her long stay in America was the annual church fete. When she’d ran her dear Willow Tree in Winchester, she’d always loved producing baked goods for the Women’s Institute cake stall and although certain members of the W.I. used to put their offerings in prominent positions and pushed hers all together at the back, Agnes knew hers tasted better and were always sold.
Since arriving back from America, Agnes had joined the local W.I. although she was, of course, only able to go to evening meetings when the sun had set. She always sat at the back and tried to be polite when people spoke to her, without giving away too much of her history. There were always curious questions about the children living with her, surely not hers, the query came with delicately raised eyebrows.
“Oh no. Their parents are travelling in South America, doing research in very out-of-the-way places, so I am taking care of them for a few months.”
Agnes knew only too well that this answer would only hold good for a little while: the children would grow no older - well, they were but so slowly that Unturneds would not notice - and then the rumours and gossip would start in earnest. Sometimes she wished dear Richard had bought her a house in the centre of a busy town. You could be so much more anonymous in a city. Sadly, as much as she enjoyed her life in the countryside, Agnes knew she would have to move them all within a few months time.
The day of the village fete was held, in typical English style, at the end of a week of huge rain clouds, driven in from the West by a blustery wind. As the organisers ran in all directions, dismantling stalls and rebuilding them inside the Church Hall, sending the ponies for the pony rides back to their stables and the pig for guess the weight of the pig back to the farm, Agnes Pringle had to admit to being delighted. The children were all fast asleep and wouldn’t wake till late evening, and with dark skies overhead, it meant she could make her way to the hall and wander around to her heart’s content. She took a great pride in seeing the cakes she’d made the day before displayed and looking better than all the others. Thank goodness she’d remembered to use Unturneds recipes and not the blood flavoured ones that the children preferred.
But as she reached the hall door, her fifty pence entrance fee firmly in hand, the door was flung open and Mrs Payne, the President, appeared. “Ah, Miss Pringle! Just the person I need.”
“Me?” Agnes tried not to sound surprised. She was not the same Agnes Pringle who’d been terrified of the ladies whom she’d known in the past.
“Yes, we have a problem that I’m sure you can help us with. Mrs Foster - you know Mrs Foster?”
Agnes nodded - small, dark haired lady of a nervous disposition.
“She has had a very unfortunate happening. It seems she was attacked on the way here.”
“Oh my goodness! Is she all right?”
Mrs Payne, who was a great believer in stiff upper lips and getting on with things, nodded. “I believe so. But very distressing, I dare say. A youth, no more than a teenager apparently, obviously disturbed, something very wrong with his face. He tried to bite her. Really, what are the young of today coming to. I blame all these computer games.”
Agnes, who had no doubt that computer games had nothing to do with this lad’s actions nodded enthusiastically. “But Mrs Foster is all right?” she asked eagerly, wondering how she could discover if she might have a future vampire friend in the same W.I. That would be wonderful because, if she was honest, she did feel a little lonely sometimes. In Sunnydale there had been a thriving vampire community, customers coming into the shop, Spike and all his friends and the people she’d got involved with because of him. But here in England there was no one to talk to, except the children.
“Yes, some people driving past saw what was happening, screeched to a halt, leapt out of their car and came to her rescue. The young man vanished, scared of being arrested, of course, and Mrs Foster has gone home to recover. But - this means we do not have someone to run Madam Clara, the fortune teller’s stall. Unless you will step into the breach and help us out.”
And so an hour later, Agnes was sitting, draped in various scarves and ornamental chains in a little tented enclosure at one end of the hall. She had to admit she’d quite enjoyed talking to her first few customers - everyone realised it was just for fun, of course, and Agnes gave out lots of information about tall dark strangers, unexpected babies (that was a little tricky as the woman in front of her had gone very pale and rushed out) and vast riches arriving by post.
She was just sitting back, sipping a welcome cup of tea and munching on a rock cake that wasn’t nearly as tasty as the ones she made, when voices just outside the tent flap made her hand jolt and the tea spill into the saucer.
“I know it’s a nuisance, Buffy, but I hit something when I braked so hard and the garage can’t repair it for an hour or two. At least we’re indoors, out of the rain and can get a nice cup of tea and - oh look - iced buns over there.”
Yes, Agnes had been right. The Slayer was here, in the church hall, right outside the fortune telling tent. “Is there nothing you wouldn’t do for a cup of tea? You seem to have drunk gallons of the stuff since we arrived in England.”
“Just making up for lost time.”
“Well, I might have one of those cream doughnuts if you’ve got the patience to stand in line for it.”
“Buffy, in this country, we learn to stand in queues in our prams! Oh look! Madam Clara Will Tell Your Future! That sounds like fun. Why don’t you go in and have your fortune told while you’re waiting for me.”
Agnes bit back another squeak and pulled the fancy green and gold scarf she was wearing right down over her forehead until it nearly touched her nose. This couldn’t be happening to her. Not twice in such a short time.
“Giles, the last thing I need to hear is my fortune. And I so need a shower - I’m covered in vamp dust from that last guy.”
“I know. It was lucky we were passing or that poor woman would have been slaughtered. Some vampires don’t have the brains they died with. I wonder if he’d just been turned - must have had very little sense - attacking someone that close to the road.”
Agnes snorted gently: that applied to young Unturneds as well. Everyone had to learn somewhere, somehow. She felt sad for the young man dusted just as he was setting out on his unlife. This was one of the things she was determined to do: educate the children in her care so they had a better chance of surviving in this cruel world.
Suddenly, the flap to the stall opening lifted and Buffy Summers came in, smiling brightly. And Agnes could see immediately what that girl Faith had meant that night in the Watcher Library. The smile was bright, the Slayer looked fit and well, long blonde hair, close fitting black top and red jeans, at first glance all was well. But Agnes could see that the smile was too bright, her shoulders tense and the happy air was a bright hard shell that concealed something - something - Agnes glanced closely into the Slayer’s eyes and the word that crossed her mind was - despair.
She glanced down quickly; they had met in Sunnydale, of course, but only briefly in the horror that had been the non-reception for Anya’s wedding, and surely the Slayer wouldn’t be expecting to bump into a vampire at a Women’s Institute fete?
Buffy wrinkled her nose: jeez, she could smell vamp. That boy’s dust was still clinging to her hair and skin.
“So would you like to know your fortune?” Agnes managed to say without stammering.
The American girl sat down opposite her, laughed, and held out her hand, palm upwards. “Yes, OK, tell me what’s going to happen?”
Agnes felt faint. There was no way she was going to actually touch a Slayer. “I don’t read palms,” she said. “I...I look into this crystal ball and tell you what I see.”
Buffy leant back in the chair, her bright smile even wider. “Go for it, then.”
“Travel - you’ve travelled from afar.”
“Hey, American accent. Good guess!”
Agnes stared into the glass globe in front of her, ignoring the cynicism in the girl’s voice. “I can see a hot country, lots of sunshine...a man...”
“Tall, dark and handsome?”
“Yes.” Agnes stared harder and heard herself saying, “You’re dancing...someone’s watching you...someone isn’t pleased.” She blinked; goodness, where had that come from? She knew her grandmother, Granny Pringle, had told fortunes - indeed some people had called the old dear a witch. Had she inherited a touch of her talent?
Buffy sighed silently. She had far too much knowledge about witchcraft and magic to be taken in by this amateur. But the money she’d handed over did go to charity and Giles would expect her to enjoy herself and have fun. Everyone expected her to have fun these days. She caught them glancing at her when they thought she wasn’t looking - checking, worried, then relieved when they saw her smile. She was better than a win on the Lottery for cheering up people. Faith was the only person who suspected and she had her own problems.
“So, Madam Clara, what can you tell me about my life? Anything exciting about to happen?”
Agnes gulped and wished fervently that she’d stayed in bed. Well, it was her own fault - pride goeth before a fall - that was the old saying - and if she hadn’t been so full of her own importance, thinking her cakes might win a prize, then she wouldn’t have been here today.
“I see a very interesting life ahead of you,” she prevaricated. “Indeed, you have had an interesting past.” She pulled her scarf closer across her face and muttered gently, “You have lost people close to you. That has hurt you deeply.”
Buffy’s set smile faded a little. “My mother died - suddenly. It was...a shock. ”
“That’s very sad.” Agnes’ voice softened. She’d liked Joyce Summers so much in the short time she’d known her. She was only too aware how devastated Buffy and Dawn had been. “And I see a man passing, too. Very suddenly as well.” She knew she shouldn’t, but this was such a good opportunity to find out what had happened to Spike. “I can see a fight - some sort of struggle...” She was trying her hardest to ease some information from the Slayer. Surely Spike must have died in a fight: unless he’d managed to kill himself in some sort of stupid road accident, which when you considered the way he drove a car, was not out of the question.
“Some sort of struggle?” For a second Buffy’s smile became genuine and warmth flooded across her face. “Yes, you could certainly call it that. This guy, he died saving other people. Lots of other people.”
“He sounds very brave.” Agnes tried to keep her voice from wobbling, but it was difficult. This was Spike they were talking about, the vampire who’d been her dearest friend during her early, difficult days in Sunnydale. She could remember how nice he’d been to her when she was still running her little tea-stall in the town garbage dump. It was so hard to think of him as dead. She couldn’t believe it. Spike was too...too...stubborn! to die.
“Yes, he was brave.” Buffy clasped her hands together and gazed down at them, picturing the flames that had burnt around the fingers that had been clasped so tightly by Spike - flames that had left no mark on her skin, but inflicted scars on her soul. “They were all brave - everyone who died.”
Agnes flinched, then coughed hurriedly to hide her concern. “That sounds as there must have been some dreadful accident. Oh, yes, I can see in the orb now - a dreadful earthquake. You were there. That must have been so difficult, especially if you lost friends but survived yourself. And if you lost someone you loved very much, then it must be hard to accept he has gone.”
Buffy forgot to be cynical, to remark that the Sunnydale catastrophe had been on TV and in all the newspapers: the English lady’s voice was soft and sympathetic and she’d summed up the situation very clearly. Lost friends - a lost lover - for the first she felt guilt - oh not for surviving, that was what Slayers tried to do, but for the deaths of others. But for her lost lover - she was so proud of what he had done, devastated at his dying and wracked with the pain of an anger that never eased. How dare he go! How dare he die when she needed him so much? OK, Spike hadn’t left her in the same way as the other men in her life, but hey, still not there! Whatever evil fairy had kissed her at birth, she’d done a very good job of making sure no man ever stayed with Buffy Summers.
And this silly English fortune-teller in this damp, stuffy church hall was the first person who had given her any sympathy. Jeez, how odd was that? Odd but comforting. She realised suddenly that behind the chiffon scarf that was still drawn across the woman’s face, tears were glistening.
“Hey - please don’t get upset. It’s all in the past now. Nothing can hurt me again.” Feeling dreadful, because she shouldn’t have started talking about death and disaster to some little woman who’d probably never had to face a problem in her life, she jumped up and shook back her hair. “Look - I’m smiling. I’m OK. Off to Italy in a few days. My sister is going to school out there and I’ll be very busy - looking after Dawn, that’s my sister, getting on with my life. So all good.”
Agnes gazed up at her through the gauzy veil and sighed. The bright, shiny barrier was up once more and the real Buffy Summers, the one she could have seen Spike falling in love with, had disappeared and perhaps would never be seen again. Not unless Spike came back from the dead and how many times did that happen in a vampire’s life?
Just then there was a scuffling outside and the flap of the tent lifted. Rupert Giles thrust his head through the opening. “Oh do excuse me. I’m so sorry to interrupt but, Buffy, we’re needed urgently.”
“Giles - this is Madam Clara who’s been very kind and - ”
“I’m sure - but Buffy there’s another - gentleman! - like the one we met earlier - and I really want you to meet him!”
Buffy sighed: she knew exactly what that meant. “OK, Giles. On my way.” She turned back to Agnes. “Thank you, Madam Clara. You’ve been very kind. Sorry to have wasted your time.”
She held out her hand but Agnes managed to get hers tangled up in the drapery and scarves she was wearing and as Giles urged Buffy to hurry, the Slayer smiled and vanished out into the busy church hall.
All Agnes wanted to do was go home, make herself a nice cup of tea and sit with a buttered scone, remembering her friend who had died, obviously bravely - well, she never doubted that. He had taught her to think for herself in their weird vampire world and although their paths had parted when he, for some odd reason, had fallen in love with Buffy Summers, she knew she was glad to have known him.
But she couldn’t leave the fete just yet. There was a queue of people outside, waiting to pay their fifty pence and hear their fortunes. So Agnes chatted on about romantic meetings, lottery wins, new cars and promotions at work and tried to forget about Spike, Buffy Summers and Mr Giles. She didn’t have to worry about a Slayer living nearby - the girl was off to Italy. That was a relief.
Eventually the long day was over and Agnes made her way home through the woods where rain dripped off the leaves and she wished she hadn’t lost her pink umbrella in Alresford. At least, she thought, life could get back to normal now. She would find a new home in a town, give the children wider horizons and continue with her search on how to raise vampire youngsters.
Perhaps her walk home would not have been so peaceful if she had known that Rupert Giles, driving Buffy to the airport, was plagued by the irritation of knowing he had seen the fortune teller before and not being able to recall where. For some reason it seemed very important that he did remember.
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