Story Notes:
Is now complete and will run through the holiday season.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Super Speedy beta by All4Spike and so many thanks to her! Mistakes (along with all instances of passive voice) are on me. (At this point are you a little worried that I have a huge crush on parenthesis and am going to use them throughout the story?) (Me too!) On with the tale!
Jonathan reached the end of the wide street and kicked at a tumbleweed-sized thunderhead. It rolled along the smooth plane of the altostratus cloud, then blew off the edge. Funny thing about clouds. While riding in an airplane they seemed to be made of water; in this place they were anything but. You could walk on them, wrap one around yourself like a comfy quilt. If you found the right kind of cumulus, you could even hop on the thing like a trampoline.

Since he’d only been dead for a few weeks, Jonathan was still getting used to heaven. If, indeed, that’s what this place was. Considering his more recent past, he wouldn’t place any bets that he’d managed to land in an eternity that was far removed from fiery pits.

He stopped at the street’s end, just before a dark, thick door made of stratus clouds. Large, puffy letters floated above the door, spelling out ‘Christmastown.’ He’d been wandering around looking for this place all morning. If the person he was searching for was real, this would be the place to find him. And if there was a day for miracles, what better time than Christmas Eve?

Jonathan tugged open the door and stepped inside to find a crowded Main Street featuring shops and decorations from every time period imaginable. A trio of World War One soldiers stood outside the window of a Hot Topic, admiring the jackets on display. Dickensian carolers strolled past a shop banner that read ‘8-tracks Now 50% Off!’

Jonathan reached a hand out and tapped one of the singers on his shoulder. “Excuse me. Do you know where I might find ‘The Mangy Lion’?

“Aye.” The portly man nodded. “Two streets up and take a right at ‘Garters Galore.’ It’ll be halfway down and tucked away. Blink and you’ll miss it.”

“Thank you.” Not knowing what else to do, Jonathan gave an awkward wave. He turned and pushed his way through the crowd before he lost his nerve and decided the whole idea had been a fool’s mission.

After a bit of jostling through the masses, he found the quiet little side street; it was paved with wispy, cirrus clouds. Though the nondescript street was crammed with shops that sold everything from hooped skirts to Nintendo Game Boys, he couldn’t find anything that resembled a pub within the jumble of businesses.

He walked the length of it twice and was just about to give up, when he saw the sign. It was a wonder he’d been able to spot the thing: a ragged bit of cardboard taped to a weather-beaten door. ‘The Mangy Lion’ was written across the scrap in drunken scrawl. Just above the words someone had drawn a cartoon lion with sticks for legs and little scribbles of hair where mane should have gone.

Jonathan reached out for the knob and gave a tentative twist. It turned, much to his surprise. He opened the door and stepped inside.

Though the crude sign led him to believe the place would be abandoned, the pub appeared to be quite cozy. It was, in fact, the very picture postcard of the typical English Pub of his imaginings: a long wooden bar with gleaming brass beer pulls, snug corner booths and a man with mutton chops mopping up the counter with a bar rag. Only a few patrons sat at the bar and they didn’t look up.

The bartender greeted him with a nod. “Happy Christmas, young man. I’m Cecil. What can I get for you?”

“A beer.” Jonathan hoisted himself onto a stool.

“Which sort of beer?” Cecil stroked his mutton chops thoughtfully. “We have more than a few.”

“A Guinness,” Jonathan said with authority. He’d seen an episode in which Dr. Who ordered a Guinness. If it was good enough for the doctor, it was good enough for him.

The bartender busied himself with the taps and placed a glass before Jonathan. Though it was full of a substance that looked like tar, the foam on top indicated that it was at least related to the beer family. Jonathan took a tentative sip. It was at that moment that he discovered that the tastes of bitter and sour weren’t actually the same thing. They warred for possession of his taste buds and he willed his eyes not to water. What he wouldn’t give right now for a Zima.

“Yum,” Jonathan said, in what he hoped was a genuine tone.

Cecil laughed, but not unkindly. “You’re clearly not here for a pint, young man. And this is a place that mostly caters to angels, not human sorts like you. Why don’t you tell me what really brought you here?”

Jonathan released a sigh. “I’m looking for someone and I was told that he hung out here a lot. You don’t happen to know a Clarence, do you?”

“Clarence? Got a last name?”

“Odbody,” Jonathan said. “Clarence Odbody.”

“Over there.” Cecil chuckled and pointed to a booth at the far end of the room. “Christmastime seems to bring you fellows out – all of you looking for Clarence.”

Jonathan swallowed. He hadn’t expected to hear that there would be others. To be honest, he hadn’t even expected to find that Clarence actually existed. “So, would it be okay if I just … went up and talked to him?”

“The only way to know is to ask him.” The bartender shrugged and turned to polish the counter.

Grasping his glass tightly, Jonathan pushed off from the bar and walked to the back of the room. As he rounded the corner, he held his breath and looked down at his beer. When he lifted his eyes, he saw the man seated at the booth. No, not a man, an angel. Clarence. He looked just like Jonathan knew he would: a suit and hat from the 40s complete with polka dog bowtie, white hair and a round bulb of a nose. With a few more pounds and a beard, the man could have been cast as Santa Claus instead of the angel-in-training from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’

“Hi Clarence!” Jonathan blurted.

The old man looked up from his glass. It was the same dark brew that Jonathan’s own glass held. Maybe Guinness wasn’t made for humans. It was a kind of beer brewed specially for angels and time-travelling aliens. That would certainly explain the taste.

Clarence greeted Jonathan with a smile. “Ah. Another one has found me out. Have a seat, won’t you?” He gestured at the wooden bench on the other side of the booth.

“So, you’re real.” Jonathan scooted into his seat and wrapped his hand around his beer like it was a liquid security blanket.

“I’m as real as you are.” Clarence took a sip of his beer. He did not wince at the taste. “Most folks dismiss the whole idea of me. Think I’m only a character from a movie. Still, around the holidays traffic tends to pick up. It’s why we made the pub so hard to find. Only the most diligent are rewarded.” The old man tilted his head and looked over at Jonathan. “Who might you be, young man?”

“Jonathan Levinson.”

“And newly dead, are you?” Clarence asked. “You have something of an earthly feel about you.”

Jonathan nodded. “I’ve only been here for a few weeks.”

Clarence tilted his glass back again. “So, why’d you go to all the trouble to find little old me?”

“I was hoping for a favor.” It was best to just cut to it. Clearly the angel was used to these sorts of requests. “Christmas is the time of giving, after all.”

Clarence nodded, his expression serious. He took a long pull from his beer. “So, what is it you’d like me to give to you?”

“Oh, it’s not for me.”

Clarence raised his brows. “Well, this is a pleasant surprise. Who is it for then?” The old man watched Jonathan with patient eyes and nursed his beer.

“It’s … well, you can see what’s happening on earth now, just like me. And that means you can see what’s happening in Sunnydale right now.”

Clarence nodded again. “Everyone in this place is following the events in Sunnydale. They’re up against it there. But nobody knows that better than you, my young friend. After all, it’s where you lost your life.”

Jonathan said nothing. He stared into the dark liquid in his glass. His guilt weighed down on him like the ghost of Marley’s chains. If this place was heaven, he wished he’d been able to leave most of his memories at the door.

“So what would you like me to give to the people of Sunnydale?” Clarence’s voice was kind and steady. “There’s only so much that I’m able to accomplish you know. My powers are weak at best and only so-so as far as reliability is concerned. I certainly can’t help everyone.”

“How about just helping one person? The girl who deserves it most of all. Buffy Summers.”

Clarence grinned. “Worthy, is she?”

Jonathan nodded. “She’s saved my life more than once and I repaid her horribly. She’s saved … a lot of people. I knew that once. Somehow, I got caught up in my own stuff and managed to forget that for a while.”

“And now you’d like to repay her in some way?”

“You bet, I would.” Jonathan considered taking another sip of beer, but decided against it. “She’s in a hell of a mess now. Err, can I say ‘hell’ here?”

“I don’t know why the hell not.” Clarence shrugged. “Please continue.”

“Well, it’s just that … she’s stuck in a war against the First Evil and her troops are nothing but a bunch of green girls. Even now that it’s the holidays, she’s stuck with evil Christmas tree lots and getting the shit kicked out of her by an ubervvamp. She keeps fighting even though she knows she can’t win.”

Jonathan snuck a glance up at Clarence but the old man merely continued to watch him while he nodded in a distracted manner, the way old men tended to do.

“I figure its payback time,” Jonathan said, “But in, you know, a good way.”

“And what do you want me to give to her? The Standard Package?”

Jonathan laughed. “You mean a chance to see what everyone’s life would have been like if she’d never been born? No. I think that ground has already been covered when Cordelia made a wish to a vengeance demon. Also, I don’t think that’s what Buffy really needs right now.”

Clarence clapped his hands together. “I quite like where this is going. To be completely honest, I’m getting a little tired of The Standard Package. What should my gift be, my fine fellow?”

“I’d like her to have a break. That’s all. To have one good Christmas away from all the slaying.”

“One good Christmas for Buffy. Easily done.” Clarence tipped his beer up, drained it, then set the glass back on the table. “Is there anyone else you might extend your good wishes to? Anyone at all?”

Jonathan coughed. “I hope you’re not hinting about Andrew! He’s the one who killed me. I mean, I know its Christmastime, but …”

“Not Andrew, no.” Clarence waved an arm toward the bar, signaling for another beer. “I was thinking more of someone who’s currently tied up in the school basement being tortured by the First. You can see him as well as I can.”

“You can’t mean Spike?” Jonathan sputtered.

“If anyone can understand what its like to be tortured by the First Evil, I would think it would be you.”

“But a good Christmas? I don’t think Spike deserves…”

Clarence pursed his lips and sighed. “You might be surprised by what Spike is truly worthy of, my boy. Besides, no one knows better than you that sometimes a fellow ends up with a fate far better than he might deserve. Isn’t that right?”

Jonathan stared down at his beer, once again feeling that chain of guilt wrap a little tighter around him. Cecil arrived at their table and handed a frothy pint to Clarence.

The old man waited until the bartender had departed before speaking again. “I made it snow for Angel once, you know. Hard to say how worthy he might have been. Christmas isn’t about judging people as deserving, Jonathan. It’s about giving to others, regardless.”

Jonathan grasped his Guinness, braced himself and took another gulp. It tasted just as foul as he expected.

“Fine.” Jonathan waved his hand. “Buffy and Spike, then.”

“All right!” Clarence raised his glass up. “We Christmas Angels are a lot like Vengeance Demons, you know. There’s a certain way of doing things. You need to state your wish exactly and in the form of a toast.”

Jonathan stared at Clarence dumbly.

“Raise your glass, state your toast, then clink our glasses together.” Clarence smiled encouragingly. “It’s quite simple, really.”

Jonathan raised his glass of Guinness. “Here’s to Buffy and Spike. May they have exactly the kind of Christmas they deserve and want.”

Instead of Clarence’s face lighting up, the way Jonathan had expected, the old man looked as stunned as if someone had punched him hard in the stomach. “Oh dear. A Christmas they deserve is one thing, but the kind of Christmas they want – well that would be an entirely different kettle of fish.”

“Should I reword it?” Jonathan asked.

“Too late now.” Clarence shook his head and clinked their glasses together.

A light sparked to life just where their two glasses touched. Their beer lit up, turning the dark liquid amber and quickly illuminating the entire bar. The patrons, however, didn’t react in the slightest. No one even turned their head.

As the light sparked and danced between their glasses, Jonathan felt a sudden heat where his fingertips held the beer, followed by a sudden pop. Their pints burst, raining down a shower of dark liquid and glass.

Jonathan was soaked in the foul stuff. He shook his head and bits of glass tinkled to the floor.

“Making wishes come true by Guinness sounds like a terrific idea until you read the fine print,” Clarence grumbled. He shook his hat out over the floor, then wrung out the excess liquid before plopping the soggy thing back onto his head.

“You didn’t seem so sure about my wish,” Jonathan said. “This is going to turn out well for them, isn’t it?”

Clarence’s eyes widened. “I certainly hope so. I’d hate to think that we have to smell like stale hops for the rest of the day and have made this terrible mess – only to have disaster fall upon two deserving souls.”

Clarence waved sodden arm toward the bar. “Cecil, I’ll need to borrow your mop again. And bring another Guinness for me and a nice lemon shandy for the lad, will you? I think we may be in for a long night.”

Chapter End Notes:
Questions you might ask if you weren’t so darned polite:

Q: Um, do you have a fixation with the nerd trio? Most of your stories start with them. It’s creepy.
A: Yes, it is. I think it’s a subconscious thing. I’m seeking help. Also looking for pills. If you find any pills, you should send them my way.

Q: How well did you plan this? Do you realize that if you’re starting this story now, your readers are going to read about Christmas Eve in Jan and Feb?
A: Sure! Those months generally suck and could use a little Christmas cheer. It’s part of My Clever Plan ™.

Q: Are you sure this isn’t a William and Elizabeth story?
A: Really sure! Although that’s not to say that some familiar faces won’t pop up.

Q: Come on. Guinness isn’t that bad, ya big pansy.
A: Is too! I have it on good authority that they tar roads with it. Also, that wasn’t really a question. I can tell because it didn’t have a ‘?’ at the end.

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