Career Advancement


by
Two Ladies of Quality



12

At first blush, Friday night in a demon bar looked a lot like Friday night in any other bar. Smoke in the air, booze on the floor, indistinct shapes huddled together in corners. Junior Brown's classic "You're Wanted By the Police and My Wife Thinks You're Dead" came from the juke box near the bar.

Xander didn't look too closely at the patrons, just kept his eye on Willy as he strolled up to take a perch at the bar. Willy looked up from the beer taps and did a lovely triple take.

"When did you put country on the juke box?" Xander said, nodding towards the music. "I thought you were a classic rock kind of guy."

Willy gaped at him. "Uh, duh, um . . ."

Spike slithered onto the stool next to Xander. "Damn, looks like the brain worms got him. Hope they just ate the speech center, I want a bourbon."

Beer sloshed out of the glass mugs Willy held. "You--uh."

"Yeah, me. Bourbon. Now. Whelp?"

"Beer," Xander said. "Something unAmerican."

Willy stared a moment, then shook himself and hurried off.

Spike glared at the jukebox. "I think I'll kill it."

"Hey, I like Junior Brown."

"You would."

The drinks arrived with no comments from Willy, who disappeared quickly. Xander inspected the label on the bottle to make sure that it was at least from the Earthly dimension and relaxed at the recognizable German. He twisted the cap off and lifted the bottle to his lips.

"Human!"

"Oh, fuck," Spike muttered.

In the mirror behind the bar, Xander saw something large and blue-green and which he'd last seen knocking down his front door stand up from a booth on the other side of the room. The tentacles around its head writhed happily as the demon moved towards the bar.

"Crap," Xander muttered as he turned. "Hey, Reinhart."

Reinhart flung his arms around Xander and lifted him off the stool. "Well met, honorable human!"

Xander gasped for air, then wheezed when he was dropped back onto his stool.

Spike sipped from his glass, an eyebrow raised. "So you know each other, I take it?"

Xander waved in Reinhart's direction. "He challenged me to a duel."

Reinhart blinked when Spike turned the raised eyebrow in his direction. "The matter was resolved honorably." He turned back to Xander. "I am glad to see you, honorable human. I must speak to you of Anyanka."

Xander pulled himself up to his full height. "What did you do?"

The tentacles curled up tight as Reinhart shook his head. "Nothing, apparently. That is the problem."

"OK, what didn't you do?"

Reinhart frowned. "What is this festival she was talking about, this Christmas?"

"Oh-h," Spike said knowingly.

Xander nodded. "Presents."

Spike grabbed his drink and slid off his bar stool. "Mate, if you've got a woman talking to you about presents, than that requires more comfortable sitting than here at the bar." He led the way back towards Reinhart's booth. "Willy! Another round, over there!"

Spike hip checked Xander to get the spot in the corner of the booth against the wall, leaving Xander on the end of the bench with the entire bar staring at him with various degrees of suspicious interest. He focused his own interest on the demon accountant and the vampire. "So, Anya's been making hints about what she wants for Christmas?"

Reinhart nodded. "Yes, and I have heard vague things about this festival, reindeer and a baby and shepherds and a creature who can enter any residence and leave gifts. It is very confusing."

Spike lit up a cigarette. "Christmas is a human thing, but this one is worth the trouble. People wander around and visit each other and you can get invitations into just about anyone's house just for the asking--"

"Christmas started out as a religious holiday," Xander interrupted, "and it's turned into the biggest holiday of the year You give presents to the people you care about, and you have parties and generally try to treat people as nicely as you're supposed to the rest of the year."

Reinhart frowned. "Presents. Anyanka said something about putting thought into it and not just buying the first thing that caught my eye."

Spike smirked at Xander. "Went out and grabbed something from the convenience store on Christmas Eve, did you?"

"That was the first year," Xander snapped, "and I didn't get paid till late. All the other years I put some effort into it."

"Ah ha!" Reinhart said. "Christmas is a competition to see who can bring home the most attractive prey!"

Spike thought a moment. "Yeah, that pretty much covers it."

Xander shrugged and nodded. "And if it's not up to her standards, you'll hear about it."

"And be careful of the blokes who might try to give her something better than you do," Spike added, glowering into his drink.

Reinhart frowned. "Cogs in Special Events has been asking questions about my plans. And he watches Anyanka with longing eyes."

"Guys, it's not just about the expensive presents," Xander said. "A woman likes a man who pays attention to her and makes her laugh."

Spike and Reinhart both stared at him, then Spike looked at Reinhart. "It's a human thing."

Reinhart laughed. "You are mostly human, vampire, for all that you have a demon inside you."

"I am not!"

"You don't look that much different," Xander said to Reinhart. "Except for the--" he gestured at the tentacles on Reinhart's head. "Two arms, two legs, stand upright. That's pretty humanoid."

Reinhart drew himself up. "I am not humanoid."

"Oh, sorry."

Spike took another slug of his drink. "The biped thing, that's mostly environment. You've got to be able to stand up and reach something at some point in evolution."

"Since when did the Victorians know anything about evolution, Spike?"

As Spike glared, Willy showed up with the next round of drinks. Xander realized his beer was already empty and picked up the new bottle. Willy collected the empties then looked around at the three of them. "So, uh, whose tab does this round go on?"

Spike studied his fingernails, and Xander shook his head. "My round, Willy." He reached for his wallet.

Willy took the twenty nimbly, then peered at Xander. "Are you sure you're old enough to buy booze, kid?"

"You ask me this *after* taking my money?"

Spike leaned forward. "The boy kills demons, git. I think he can handle a beer." Willy scurried away without any further argument.

Reinhart took his own bubbling mug and chuckled. "You humans are amusing."

"I already told you, mate, I'm not human."

Xander looked between Spike and Reinhard. "Could you turn him into a vampire?" he asked Spike, nodding at Reinhard.

"He could not, honorable Xander," Reinhard said. "Vampirism is something that happens to humans."

"So demons are, what, a different species? But there are demons that can have kids with humans."

Spike smirked. "You were reading *those* books in the old library, weren't you."

"I'm not talking to you." Xander looked back at Reinhard and raised his eyebrows questioningly.

Reinhard looked--embarrassed. "Yes . . . there have been matings between humans and the creatures you call demons."

Xander frowned, trying to remember information from the biology classes he'd generally slept through. "So if humans and demons can have kids, then biologically they're not that different from each other. Which means we descended from the same ancestors."

Reinhard nodded. "There are many intelligent races on this world. It is not only humans who have raised civilizations here."

Xander looked around the barroom. There were several fully human looking people, but there were lots of other types of creatures in the place, too, things with horns and tails and multiple limbs. In the science fiction shows all the aliens looked like humans because all the actors were humans. This time, though, maybe all the demons looked like humans because they were in a human-friendly environment and the truly alien looking things couldn't survive in this environment. Like in Babylon 5, with the areas of the station with the non-human environments for the non-humans.

"Why do the others come here?" he turned and asked Reinhard. "What is so interesting about Earth that demons show up?"

Reinhard thought a moment, then shrugged. "There are so many different types of humans, for all that you look alike. You're so very creative and entertaining."

"And you taste good," Spike added, grinning. He snickered at Xander's glare. "You lot are never boring. You've got lives like mayflies, and you manage to come up with all these different ways to entertain yourselves."

"Your world changes so very quickly," Reinhard added. "Other races, we have much more sedate lives. Twenty years is nothing to my people, yet for you, your entire existence can be turned on its head."

Xander pulled out his cell phone and looked at it. "These were barely getting started when I was born, now you can buy one at the 7-Eleven."

"Dru hated those little phones," Spike said quietly. "She couldn't stand the push buttons. She loved sticking her finger in the holes on the dial and listening to the whirr." He hunched his shoulders and stared into his glass.

Xander let him be. "I once caught Anya in the bathroom, flushing the toilet over and over. I told her to stop wasting water, and she gave me a lecture on privies and moss and the poor schmuck who had to shovel out the garderobe." He subsided into his own depressed slump.

Spike straightened, then slouched back against the wall again. "So where did all this come from, whelp? Used to be, you were all 'Kill the vampires, demons are evil, slay 'em all.' Gonna start up a chapter of 'Demons are People Too'?"

"There is such a group?" Reinhard asked. "Gunnird keeps putting up fliers promoting a group he belongs to, named 'Humans, More Than Just Breakable Toys.'"

Xander blinked at him, then leaned on the table and laughed.

"Is he ill?" Reinhard asked Spike.

"Nah, he just gets like that occasionally. It wears off, but sometimes you've got to shock him to get him out of it. Speaking of which--Evening, Slayer, fancy seeing you here."

Xander braced himself on his arms, wheezing. "Yeah, right, Buffy's really standing right--"

He heard a familiar, female gasp of disbelief--"Xander?!"--and choked.




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