Chapter Fourteen – Letting Go
Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, or any of the Norse Mythology that I am about to mangle to suit my own twisted purposes. Frankly, if you recognize, I don’t own it. This work may not be sold or used for profit in any way shape or form for that very reason. Please don’t sue me because I don’t have anything worth taking…
-== Chapter Fourteen – Letting Go ==-
By the time he had acquired a key to his room and managed to reach the suite where he was staying, Xander wanted nothing more than a hot shower and a bed. Physical exhaustion may have no longer been a major concern, but he was still tired in an entirely different sense. The young Aesir felt spiritually drained in a way that mere words could not easily articulate.
There were things he knew he needed to do: phone calls that he should make himself, family that he should share this tragedy with personally. However, the clock at the reception desk had revealed that it was well past midnight and those things would have to wait ‘til a more respectable hour. Nobody wanted to be awakened in the middle of the night to the news that someone had died.
To Xander, the battle that he had fought against the elementals and the giant felt as though it had happened a lifetime ago. In truth, however, not even 8 hours had passed yet. Clearly he hadn’t spent as long in Asgard as he thought he had.
Pushing those thoughts and concerns aside, he entered his room and locked the dead-bolt behind him before stripping out of the tattered remains of his clothing. With a grimace he dropped the filthy, severely burnt rags into a wastebasket before walking into the suite’s luxurious bathroom. A large, marble, Roman-style bathtub dominated one corner of the bathroom, which was probably larger than Xander’s room at home had been. Another corner was occupied by a glassed-in shower stall with three separate shower-heads,
“Okay,” he said surprised by the room, “now I really understand the meaning of the word opulent.”
After taking a moment to get a good, hot stream of water from each of the shower-heads, Xander stepped into the scalding jets. Before everything had changed, before he found Mjolnir, this had been how he had washed away his failings, his faults, his sins. He would set a shower just hot enough that he almost couldn’t stand it and try to scrub the bad things away. The discomfort, the pain it would inflict on him was a penance, a way of paying for the people he’d failed in his life.
Now, there was no water hot enough to wash away the blood on his hands. He scrubbed away the mud, the rain, the dried blood that the storm had missed. He even scrubbed away the bits of charred and dead skin that still clung to him after his wounds had healed. But he couldn’t scrub hard enough to wash away the guilt he still felt. By the time he had finished trying, even this room’s ample supply of hot water had long been exhausted.
Shutting off the water, he stepped out of the shower, his anger at himself bubbling just beneath the surface. He scrubbed himself dry roughly, missing the physical pain this little ritual had always caused him, missing the satisfaction of hurting in body the way he hurt in spirit. After a long moment of self-loathing, he moved over to the sink and leaned against it, staring into his own eyes in the mirror.
“This will pass in time, Thunder God,” an unfamiliar female voice said from behind him, near the bathtub.
Turning, Xander was confronted by a woman that he didn’t recognize. She was dressed as Eve had always been, in utilitarian, almost militaristic clothing. Her hair was the color of the sunset after a storm, a dark red rarely seen outside of hair-dye these days. Her features were softer, less angular than Eve’s had been, but there was no doubt in Xander’s mind what she was.
“Lemme guess, you drew the short straw and got sent to take Yve’s place?” he asked bitterly.
“No,” she replied simply. “I was the Valkyrie who carried Eve’s spirit to Folkvang. She asked me to bring you a message from her, nothing more.”
“Good,” he said bluntly. “Then I won’t have to worry about being the cause of your death.” He threw down the towel he had still held crumpled in one hand and stalked, naked, back out of the bathroom. A menacing roll of thunder echoed through the city in response.
“You take too much responsibility on yourself, Thunderer,” the Valkyrie said sharply, following him as he stormed through the suite and into his bedroom.
“And how would you know?” he retorted angrily. “I fell for Jormungandr’s trap. I ignored the giant to deal with elementals, never realizing they were meant as a distraction. Yve and my parents paid the price.”
“And if you had pursued the giant instead? Sheila, Ira and Willow Rosenberg would have perished along with Yve. Two adults who treat you better than your own parents ever did and your best friend,” the Valkyrie countered. “There was no feint, Xander. No distraction. Jormungandr struck on two fronts knowing that you would not be able to save them all.”
Xander’s jaw dropped, “But Willow… she was at a camp…”
“She returned this morn,” the woman answered coldly. “She spent most of the day trying to reach you. You are not responsible for Yve’s death, and the guilt you take on yourself for your parents is too much. You were deceived by a creature that has had millennia to practice manipulating mortals. You did as well as ‘twas possible to do.”
Xander closed his eyes, considering what she was telling him. If he had known that Willow and his parents were both in danger… If he had known that he was being forced to choose between them, would he have done anything differently? “Yve would have died no matter what choice I made?” he asked, his anger draining away as the completeness of Jormungandr’s trap finally sank in. “She couldn’t have killed the elementals, only I could.”
“Yve chose to face one of those foes this eve and she faced the only one she could have survived,” the Valkyrie replied. “She fought bravely and with honor and fell in noble battle as was her wish. She begged the All-father to allow her to join the battle, knowing it could well mean her death. You bear no fault in that.”
The Valkyrie’s words caused the young Aesir to visibly deflate and collapse on the edge of his bed. “It really was a battle that I couldn’t win?”
“If you had command of your full powers as a Thunder God, you could, perhaps, have saved them both this time,” the Valkyrie’s face was sad and dark as she spoke. “It would have been a temporary victory at best, one that would have led to far worse suffering in the end. Jormungandr would not have underestimated you a second time. The next attack would have been far more vicious and subtle and many more would have died as a result.”
He sighed softly, “So was that Yve’s message?”
“No,” she replied with a small smile, “She bade me tell you that ‘Guilt is a heavy burden, even for the God of Thunder. Do not try to take on more than your portion of it or to carry it for too long. Stay on the path you have chosen, Alexander, it suits you.’”
He nodded, a sad smile gracing his lips. “Thank you,” he said.
“Xander,” the Valkyrie began, a troubled expression settling on her face. “There is one other thing you must know. The magick that Jormungandr uses to keep Sunnydale ignorant of the true nature of this place is strong. Those whom you reveal his true nature to within this town will not remember it once you leave.”
“So there’s no way that I can warn them about him?” he asked, appalled.
“Not so long as you are not around to abate that magick,” she said. Seeing Xander’s confused expression, she elaborated, “Though you are vulnerable to magick, your mind cannot be controlled nor your memories altered by it. Your mere presence will also prevent such effects on people you are close to unless the magician is targeting them specifically.”
“Is there some other way to counter the effect?” he asked.
“None that you are capable of, though perhaps the Watcher might be able to find a way to counter it,” she replied.
“Well,” he responded, stifling a yawn, “That’s useful to know at least. You know, you never told me your name…”
When silence answered him, he shot a glance toward where the Valkyrie had stood a moment before only to find that she had vanished.
A grin spread across his face and he chuckled softly. Perhaps things would be okay after all, in time. With a yawn and a sigh, Xander crawled, still naked, into bed and quickly drifted off into a dreamless, and painless, sleep.