“What if I don't want to go on any heroic journeys?”
The tone of Xander's voice was a mix of panic and pout, and Spike couldn't tell which amused him more. The last few days of teaching Xander how to fight had revealed an inner strength that, despite himself, Spike had admired. Tonight, though, he was well on his way back to being the childish boy Spike had always considered him.
Spike hadn’t been at the Watcher’s five minutes before Xander showed up. Herc Junior had swaggered into the room, struck a grandiose pose, loudly announced that there was a hero in the house, and that he was giving away coupons for free damsel-in-distress rescues with every purchase of a full-sized dragon slaying. That had the whole bunch of them tittering and acting silly, which was obviously what he’d had in mind. Even the Watcher had snickered softly, hiding behind the cover of his cup of tea.
The mood changed rapidly, though, when they began to discuss a book that had arrived earlier that day. A friend of Rupert's from the Watcher's Council had sent it, and it held a good deal of information on the mail shirts. They now knew what dimension they came from, a fair amount about what kind of magic went into the making of them, and a good deal of information on a handful of humans and demons who had worn them in the past.
Of course, some of that last information could be considered hearsay, and some sounded like pure legend, but they were pretty sure they’d been able to sort the substance from the myth. What they’d found had been quite illuminating. For instance, the shirts were called ‘The Companions’ by their makers. Buddy was able to confirm this, in that way he had that Xander could only describe as an internal 'petting' sensation that was half warmth running through his body and half mental agreement.
Giles had been thrilled to discover that most of the facts from the book were right on target. As a matter of fact, Buddy had recognized the book and had practically jumped up and down when he saw it, according to Xander. Spike had asked what that felt like, but Xander had declined to answer. Seeing how red in the face he’d got, Spike was determined to bring it up again at some point, just to see him blush.
The demons that created the shirts were from the Falenge dimension. Spike had heard of them, but never met any; they were very reclusive, and seldom traveled out of their own dimension. He’d heard they were well known as a peaceable people who believed strongly in right over might. It made sense then, that they’d created The Companions through a mix of sorcery and technical skill to aid those who were destined to be heroes.
“How can you be destined to be a hero? Doesn’t that take away from the whole idea of free will?” Xander’s voice was kind of shaky at this point. Spike got the idea he’d been thinking about it a lot recently. “Don’t I get to have some say in this?”
Buffy laughed a little bitterly. “Welcome to the club.”
“Well, yeah, but you’re the one girl in all the world.” He paused for a second, shrugging his shoulders. “Okay, maybe two, but one is evil, so she doesn’t really count.” Buffy laughed, but Xander didn’t let that stop him. “I mean, there’s proof out there that you’re the one girl – prophesies and legends and diaries and… stuff. I’m not that special.” He cringed slightly, and Spike wondered if Buddy was sending Xander another reminder about what happened when he badmouthed himself.
“How do you know that there aren’t prophesies out there about you?” Anya pointed out. “Just because we haven’t seen them yet, doesn’t mean they aren’t out there.” She frowned thoughtfully. “We may already have seen them, but we didn’t realize they were about you.”
“It’s just not right. Any of it.” Willow interrupted. “If there were prophesies about Xander, then that would mean that the chainmail is a force for good. Just because one book says it is, doesn’t mean it’s true. How do we know this whole book isn’t a lie? It was written by a demon, after all.”
Rupert sighed heavily, taking his glasses off and massaging his temples. Spike tended to agree with his frustration. Red just couldn’t seem to accept the fact that Buddy was not a malevolent creature, no matter what evidence they turned up to the contrary. Anya reached over, grabbed the Watcher’s handkerchief out of his pocket, handing it to him with a cheery smile. He blinked at her in surprise, but took it with a nod of thanks, putting it to use on the glasses already in his hand.
“You know,” Anya stared at Red with distaste, as if she were an insect that had crawled onto her favorite blouse. “One of these days you’re going to have to get over this complex of yours.”
Spike perked up some, Demon Girl didn’t pull her punches, that was one of the things Spike liked about her. This was likely to get interesting.
“Not all demons are evil; Giles has explained that to you more than once. Whether you like it or not, Xander is a hero, and your continued denial of the facts is making it hard for anyone to take you seriously. Maybe as a child he needed you to protect him, but he’s grown up now, and he doesn’t need you anymore.”
Red stood up fast, anger practically sparking over her in her fury. Glinda grabbed her hand and pulled, trying to get her to sit back down, but she broke away, crossing her arms over her chest. “What do you care, anyway? You’re with Giles now. Is that what this is all about? You want him back now that you think he’s a hero? He’s not yours to push around anymore!”
“He’s not yours, either.” Anya answered calmly. “He was my first friend, and I’ll always be grateful for that. But he’s more than merely my friend. I think it’s wonderful that others are finally realizing his potential. I say it’s about time.”
The whelp had followed the conversation quietly from his spot at the bar, and Spike could tell he wasn’t comfortable with how the discussion was going. He smiled at Demon Girl. “Thanks, Ahn.” He looked at Willow, biting his lip, but he seemed very determined to get whatever it was on his mind out. “Willow, I’m not certain about this whole destiny thing, either.”
Willow glanced over at Anya triumphantly before turning back to Xander, drawing a breath to speak. He kept talking, though, not letting her get a word out.
“That doesn’t mean that what Anya’s saying doesn’t have some truth to it. This last week Buddy’s been pointing it out to me every time I start to think bad about myself. I had no idea how many times a day I put myself down. I may complain about all this from time to time, but the truth is, if Buddy thinks I’m worth all this effort, I think I owe it to myself to try.”
He glanced over at Spike with a subtle grin. “How will I ever know if I could be a hero, if I don’t at least try?”
Spike sniffed, stretching himself out on the stairs, acknowledging Xander’s recognition of Spike’s brilliant insight with a small nod. Good for him; learning from his betters.
Red looked like she was about to lose her best friend, and who knows, if she didn’t get this right, maybe she was.
“I just want to keep you safe,” she said in that little girl voice of hers.
Xander shrugged. “Well, unfortunately, growing up isn’t always very safe, especially on the Hellmouth. But I have to do it at some point. I’d make a really annoying kindergartener at my age.” He grinned to take some of the sting out of what he was trying to say.
Red didn’t look very convinced, and Spike heaved a heavy sigh. This could take all night at this rate, and they still had to patrol. He decided the best move was to cut to the chase. If Demon Girl could do it, so could he. It would be a lot easier for Herc if Red were focused on Spike. With a start, Spike realized what he was doing. He was spending far too much time around the good guys if he was thinking of the best way to end the drama, rather than prolonging it so he could enjoy every agonizing minute.
“In other words, Red, butt out.” He stood up, shrugging on his coat. “Let the boy get on with his life and make his own mistakes.”
“Spike!” Damn, he’d only got a response from three of the participants of this evening’s round of torture, also known as a ‘Scooby Meeting.’ He must be losing his touch.
“What? We’ve got graveyards to patrol, people. If I sit here all night listening to you idiots sort out your feelings, I'll still be waiting for patrol when the sun rises. I have no interest in spending even another hour in this hovel, let alone another entire day."
The automatic scowl that earned him from Herc was perfunctory at best. Obviously he understood what Spike was trying to do, and wasn’t willing to call him on it in front of the others.
Willow scowled at him darkly, then her expression cleared and she turned to the watcher smiling sweetly. “Giles, what was that you said earlier about the hero and his Companion?” She asked innocently. “They always travel with a helper, right?”
Giles placed the glasses he’d spent a good five minutes polishing back on his nose, glancing down at the Falenge text on his lap. “Yes, that’s right, Willow. It’s traditional for a hero to travel with an attendant. They help him with his day to day, mundane tasks, to free him up for the more arduous duties required of a hero.”
“An attendant?” Xander seemed a little confused.
Spike, on the other hand, was beginning to get an of idea where Red was headed with this, and he was not happy at all with the fact that her smile promised revenge and was aimed right at Spike.
Xander’s face lit up. “Like a sidekick, maybe? Sorta like Batman and Robin, or Captain Kirk and Spock?”
Spike bridled at the idea of being anyone’s sidekick. He was the big bad, and he didn’t play second fiddle to anyone. It was a good thing he’d claimed this motley crew for his own because otherwise, Glinda would be looking for her lover’s eyes in nearest dustbin. He may not be able to do anything himself, but he still had a few friends left in this town.
“An aide, or assistant, who could do the menial tasks considered below a knight or nobleman. They were often called squires. They cooked and cleaned, set out the knight’s clothing for him, as well as helped him with his armor. The heavy metal plating and chainmail were awkward for a single person to don or take off.”
The look on the Watcher’s face was plain evil, and even Xander laughed as he finally caught on.
“Like the bleached menace helps me with Buddy!” He stuck his nose in the air and spoke in an absolutely terrible imitation of an English accent, “I say, my good man, help me with my armor, would you? And then get dinner started, I’m starving.” A grin split his annoyingly handsome face as the whole bunch of them started giggling. Spike growled at them all. He was no one’s second best.
He pointed a finger at Willow. “I’ll get you for this, Red. And don’t you forget it.”
“He’s right about one thing, though,” the Slayer said, managing to get her mirth under control. “It’s getting late. It’s time for patrol.”
Xander jumped up, grinning widely. “Finally!” He headed toward the door, turning back at the last second and striking a pose. “Have no fear, Xandercles is here!”