“So you’ve still got nothing?” Buffy asked dejectedly.
Buffy carefully wiped her sword clean before putting it away in the weapons chest, then closed the lid, sitting on it exhaustedly. She and Spike were back from patrol, and their news had been disheartening. The Plautect sorcerer’s lair had been crawling with demons. There was no way they could get in to try and figure out what that sorcerer had brewed up. At least not without a major battle, and they weren’t ready for that at the moment. Buffy had clearly been counting on the research crew to give her some good news, but there wasn’t much to report.
Xander sighed. He couldn’t help but be discouraged. Despite his new attachment to Buddy, he really didn’t want to be a hero. His talk with Spike the night before had made a difference in his understanding of the word, but still, the whole concept of people counting on him for anything more important than ordering pizza gave him the wiggins. Besides, he may never recover from the shock of Spike giving him a pep talk. That had been bizarre on so many levels.
“I wouldn’t say that, precisely, Buffy. We simply haven’t learned as much as we would have liked.” Giles was being extra stuffy, which usually meant he had no clue what was going on, he just wasn’t willing to admit it yet.
From his seat on the stairs where he sat cleaning his axe, Spike snorted. “In other words, you’ve got nothing.”
Giles glared at him. “We’ve learned a good deal about the mail shirts. We know, for instance, that the demons who built them instilled in them a near human intelligence. They are sentient beings that are capable of seeing into the hearts of those they choose for companions, and recognizing their potential. I doubt very much it was an accident that Xander happened across this particular piece of mail; several books have mentioned that they tend to find a way into the lives of those meant to wear them.”
“Which is why I don’t understand why he lured me in, instead of Buffy. He found his way to Sunnydale, it just makes sense that he came here looking for the Slayer.” Xander could feel Buddy’s disagreement; he knew the mail had come looking for him. That didn’t mean he had to like it. He reached under his t-shirt surreptitiously, stroking his fingers across the cool links over his stomach in apology for doubting Buddy. Xander shook his head; even he knew how crazy that sounded.
“Maybe he’s only attracted to men,” Spike smirked.
“So it’s a gay mystical shirt of armor?”
“Well that would be pretty sexist.” Willow totally ignored Buffy’s comment, which was just as well in Xander’s opinion. “There are lots of women warriors in the world, even if you don’t include Slayers.”
“Yes.” Giles agreed. “There have been references to a number of women who’ve worn the mail, and for that matter, a number of demons whose sex was either indeterminate or of a gender that defies human perceptions of male and female. I doubt very much it preferred Xander over Buffy based on his sex.”
“I don’t understand why you doubt yourself so, Xander,” Anya proclaimed loudly. “You may not be as graceful as Buffy, but that doesn’t mean a thing. You’re a good man, and you put your heart and soul into demon fighting, the same way you do everything. You need to accept the fact that you’re worthy of being a hero and move on.”
Xander smiled faintly at her, “Thanks, An.”
One thing Xander had always appreciated about Anya was her ability to cut to the chase, and state what she thought. It made him feel good to know she believed in him. But then, she always had. After he’d lost his first construction job over the Chumash-inflicted diseases last Thanksgiving, she hadn’t let him get lost in low paying, nothing jobs. She’d found another construction job for him, and insisted he interview for it. She’d even promised him it had very little to do with how he looked in a hard hat.
She’d taken charge of his finances and had him moved out of his parent’s basement only a couple of months after he got the new job. It wasn’t a huge apartment or anything, but it was plenty big enough for Xander. It looked darn good for a bachelor pad. He counted himself lucky that Anya had helped him choose the furniture before she fell for Giles’ guitar playing at The Expresso Pump and she and Xander broke up. He bravely forced down a shudder, doing his best to repress all thought of that horrid, horrid day. If he hadn’t already been old enough to be considered an adult, seeing Giles being all suave and sexy and…musical would have definitely stunted his growth.
When she and Giles had first hooked up, Anya came by and talked to Xander about it, to make sure he knew before they told anyone else. It still threw him some days, knowing that his ex and the closest thing he had to a real father figure were doing the nasty. But all Xander had to do was watch the two of them together to know that she was happy – much happier than he could have ever made her. The two balanced each other somehow, and the way she looked at Giles some days made him wish he had someone he could feel that way about - someone he could trust that implicitly.
"I think sometimes we do underestimate you, Xander.” Willow looked as if she was uncomfortable agreeing with Anya on anything. “Maybe there really is a hero buried in there somewhere."
Xander took a moment to puzzle the positive out of that statement. “Gee, Willow, I appreciate your belief in me, but I’m really not hero potential. You’ve seen me fight.”
Buffy nodded. “He does have a point, there.”
“Buffy! He does not!”
“I’m not saying that he should throw the mail away or anything, but I spar with him, remember? He stumbles all over himself, and falls down even when I haven’t hit him or anything. He’s just – you know – kind of clumsy.” Buffy cringed as she looked over at Xander, her apologetic shrug annoying him even as he grabbed on to her comments to strengthen his argument.
“Exactly! What kind of hero would I be if I kept tripping over the rescuees?”
“Well, you’ll need training, of course. I think we, collectively, have enough experience in that area to handle your needs. As a Watcher, I have been trained extensively in many different forms of combat…”
“Right,” Spike laughed, as he laid his axe on the stairs next to him and stretched out his legs. “You’ve definitely excelled in your ability to recover from head-trauma.”
“Shut up, Spike. It’s not his job to actually deal with the demons. That’s my job. All he’s supposed to do is teach me how.” Buffy crossed to the bar and squeezed Xander’s shoulder comfortingly. “I’m sure that between the two of us, we can turn you into a fighter eventually. But I thought Giles said you were going to wait on the training until we knew if the Superman strength was going to stick around, or if it was only temporary. Without the cape and tights, hopefully. Sorry, Xan, but I don’t think you’d look good in tights.”
Xander had to agree. Anya looked at him contemplatively, but he warned her off with a shake of his head. Thank goodness she hadn’t gotten that idea when they were still together.
“The training will come in handy even if his strength does return to normal,” Giles pointed out. “However, I think my time is better spent in research at the moment. We need to be sure we have as much knowledge as possible before we take any risks.”
Spike shook his head as he strolled into the kitchen to root through the newly repaired refrigerator. “In the meantime, whelp, I guess you’ll just have to keep stumbling along as usual.” He pulled out a packet of blood, preparing his meal as he grinned at Xander. “I’m sure the Watcher’s home can survive another week or two of Hurricane Xander.”
“Watch it, Fangless.” Xander frowned angrily. “It could be you I break next.”
“Hey!” Willow stepped up to Xander’s defense. “He’s learning how to control his new abilities. He hasn’t broken anything since this morning.”
Xander cringed. “Oh. About that…”
Spike reached down, grabbing the broken cabinet door Xander had propped up against the back of the bar earlier, showing it off like the host of a game show. Xander had the sudden, strong urge to wipe the smarmy smile off Spike’s face with his fist, but he knew it wouldn’t help, no matter how good it might make him feel at the moment. In the back of his mind, Xander noted that his emotions seemed more volatile in the last few days, and wondered if that could be a side effect of either the potion or the shirt of mail.
“I’ll have to fix that one later, G-Man. I used the last of the wood putty yesterday.”
“Oh, Xander.” Giles sighed heavily.
Anya tutted over the damage. “You’re going to have to do something, Giles. At this rate, there won’t be anything left of your apartment by the time I move in.”
“You’re moving in with Giles?” Buffy asked, shocked. “You’ve only been dating two months!”
Anya tipped her head in that way she had - the way that Xander still thought was cute, even after she’d dumped him for Giles.
“Well, he hasn’t asked me, yet, but I’m sure he will at some point. And I’d like there to be an apartment left to move into when that point comes.”
“Perhaps we should start you on a few basic exercises that might help you deal more gently with your surroundings.”
Xander admired Giles’ technique. He’d never managed to ignore Anya’s comments so deftly.
“There are several methods of yoga and T'ai Chi Ch'uan that will serve our purposes, I believe.”
“Tai chi?” Buffy asked. “The martial art Tai chi? Don’t you think you should start him off on something a little simpler?”
Xander tended to agree, but he grinned anyway, imagining himself as a martial artist – a master of the art of defeating his foes with only his hands and feet. Ooohhh.
“Tai chi? Is that like karate? I think I’d fall over if I stood on one leg for too long, but I can wax a car.” The Karate Kid had played a large part in his childhood. He’d always dreamed of being like the Kid - the underdog who triumphs over the bullies in the end.
Giles watched Xander in confusion as he practiced his wipe on, wipe off moves. “I beg your pardon?”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry about him, Giles; he just wants to be Ralph Macchio when he grows up.”
“Is he a martial artist? I’m afraid I don’t keep up with these things.” Giles hurried on to reassure Buffy. “I don’t intend to teach Xander any offensive moves for some time yet…”
Xander stopped mid-wipe. “Damn.”
“…but the solo form of T’ai chi ch’uan has long been recognized as an excellent aide in training students to become more attuned to their bodies – improving ones sense of balance and coordination, retraining posture and increasing flexibility. I dare say it will help Xander to deal with his new strength, and hopefully prove advantageous in keeping what is left of my home in one piece.”
“So no Karate Kid?” Xander tried to hide his disappointment.
“Luckily for the rest of us, it looks like the Watcher has other plans, Ralph,” Spike drawled.
Xander suddenly regretted mentioning The Karate Kid. Spike didn’t need any help making fun of Xander; he managed to do that quite well on his own.
“Although if you insist, I’m sure Rupert’s new flash convertible could use a good wax and buff.”
Actually, Xander wasn't surprised he'd gotten a new car. He'd often wondered how Giles’ old Citroën had managed to make it to the gas station and back, but he refused to be the one to bring that up.
“Thanks, Spike, but I’ve had plenty of rotten jobs in my day; no need to add car wash attendant to the list.”
“Speaking of jobs, Xander, w-what are you going to do about work tomorrow?” Tara had been so quiet tonight that he’d almost forgotten she was there. As usual, though, she asked the tough questions.
“That’s right!” Willow squeezed Tara’s hand. “You can’t go knocking people off girders and hammering nails all the way through 2x4s and stuff. People will notice.”
Xander laughed at the image she presented. “Don’t worry; I called my boss this morning. I have the week off. Yet another tragic death in the family. As usual, Hellmouth blindness works in my favor – he didn’t ask too many questions.”
Xander didn’t have any more vacation days accumulated, but he’d been saving some money, hoping to find himself a better car, or maybe a truck. He’d have to dip into his savings a bit to cover his rent. Hopefully they could clear this up in a week; that was all the downtime he could afford.
“Then perhaps you should come over tomorrow morning, and we’ll begin training immediately.”
“Sounds good to me, G-Man.”
Giles sighed, but otherwise ignored the nickname. “Good. We’ll meet up with the rest of you for research tomorrow night then.”
Spike headed for the door, Buffy not too far behind him, but Willow was deep in conversation with Tara, so Xander made his way over to the couch, careful not to touch anything. He was constantly paranoid, now – almost too afraid to breathe for fear of wreaking havoc with the lightest puff of air. He’d spent most of the night on his stool at the bar, sitting on his hands to avoid waving them as he talked.
It hadn’t helped. He’d still managed to rip the door right off the hinges of one of the cabinets under the bar. He knew that was where Giles kept the napkins, and the holder was empty. It was a simple thing, but he’d forgotten for one moment that nothing was simple for him anymore, and bam! Oh, look, a new project for Super Handyman Xan. It was his new Superhero power: supplying himself with jobs to keep him busy as he single-handedly destroyed Giles’ apartment. At this rate, he’d never be bored again.
Willow and Tara looked up at his approach. “Hey, witchy women, it looks like we’re getting the old heave ho. Can I offer you two a ride home?”
“Oh! Sure. That would be great, wouldn’t it, Tara?” Willow began pulling her things together as Tara nodded, her serene smile making him feel a bit better about how the night had gone.
Anya made shooing motions with her hands. “Yes, please do go. I haven’t had any orgasms in close to twenty-four hours, and it’s wearing on my self control.”
Buffy groaned. “Oh, god. I so didn’t need to hear that.”
“Anya, how many times must I ask you to please refrain from discussing our private life in front of others?”
Willow and Tara giggled as they joined Buffy at the door. Xander chuckled - he knew that one was never going to sink in. “You’re going to have to get used to it, Giles. Some things never change, and Anya’s amazing ability to embarrass everyone in the room in less than 0.1 seconds is one of them.”
He clapped Giles on the shoulder in a show of manly solidarity, and watched in horror as Giles turned a neat somersault, flipping over the back of the sofa. He landed heavily on top of the coffee table, which collapsed under his sudden weight, shattering into pieces.
In the sudden silence, Giles’ long, wavering moan could be clearly heard, right before Anya’s loud pronouncement. “Oh, Xander, how could you? At this rate, I’ll never get any orgasms tonight!”