Chapter 42 – Shocking Revelations
Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, the larger DC comics universe that I am drawing elements from, or any of the Mythology that I am about to mangle to suit my own twisted purposes. Frankly, if you recognize it, 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…
Author’s Note: Sorry I didn’t get anything posted last week like I had hoped to… hopefully this will make up for it.
-== Chapter Forty-Two – Shocking Revelations ==-
Xander stared blankly at Athena for a long moment as his mind struggled with that single word: husband. She had referred to him as her husband. There had to be some sort of mistake, some misunderstanding. He had only just met the Lady Athena, how could he possibly be married to her? It didn't make any sense. After all, weddings were grand affairs that were presided over by an authority figure of some kind... and he was fairly certain that he would remember something like that. "Wh... what did you call me?" he asked, striving to keep his voice calm and failing miserably.
"I called you my husband," she replied in a confused tone, taken aback by both the question and the apparent panic in the Aesir's voice. Sudden comprehension dawned in her eyes, "You... you didn't know. No one told you of our betrothal... Oh, by Hera, what have I done?" The color and expression drained from the goddess's face and was replaced by a pale, shamed look. "Please, forgive me, my Lord," her voice took on an almost pleading quality as she sank to her knees and cast her gaze to the floor. "I... I thought you knew... that you understood the ritual or I would never have greeted you in the traditional manner,” the sadness and hurt in her voice was so palpable, so intense that Xander felt it like a blade in his gut. "I would never have intentionally tricked you into claiming me this way, please believe me."
Part of him wanted nothing more than to absolve the beautiful Olympian who so closely resembled Chloe. He wanted...no, he needed, somehow, to ease her sadness and soothe the hurt in her voice. The sight of the kneeling goddess asking for his forgiveness made his heart ache in a way that he had never felt before. At the same time, however, he had just been made painfully aware of that he was completely out of his depth here. Something was going on that he did not fully understand and acting without knowing what his actions might mean was what had apparently gotten him into this situation in the first place. So he steeled himself against his desires, forcing himself to ignore both his strange need to comfort her and the sudden, acutely sexual awareness of still very naked woman that had arisen to accompany that need. "I don't understand, Lady Athena," he said very carefully, in a calm voice that he hoped would mask his wildly conflicting desires. "Explain this to me... keeping in mind that I was raised a mortal man and know next to nothing of the customs and traditions of either Olympus or Asgard." His tone ended up sounding far more commanding than he had really intended for it to and he had to force himself to resist the urge to apologize for it.
Athena stiffened almost imperceptibly at his words and Xander could practically feel her sorrow as she spoke. "At the end of the war against the Titans, King Odin of Asgard and King Zeus of Olympus decided to formalize the alliance between their kingdoms. To accomplish this, they decreed that the Princess of Olympus would be wed to the Prince of Asgard, and we have been betrothed ever since."
"You were betrothed to Thor then, not to me," Xander argued. "That betrothal had to have been announced hundreds, if not thousands, of years before Thor betrayed Odin!"
"Not just thousands, but tens of thousands of years before Thor's betrayal," she agreed in a hushed voice, "before the beginning of civilization as humans know it. And I, too, believed that it was Thor to whom I was betrothed. Thor, however, refused to take me as wife, in defiance of his father's will. He had sworn to wed no one but the sword-maiden Sif at the beginning of the war and would not be persuaded otherwise. What only Odin and Zeus knew, though, was that Odin's much vaunted foresight had shown him that Thor might betray him." The Goddess of Wisdom paused, swallowing hard. "Because of that neither of the two Kings forced the issue of marriage and we were never wed. When Thor was cast out of Asgard and became a mortal, human man, his unfulfilled betrothal to the Princess of Olympus became part of his legacy. The same legacy that you eventually claimed."
Xander's jaw dropped open in shock but before he could speak, Athena continued her explanation. "Under Olympian traditions, betrothals like ours are uncommon, but they stand in place of more traditional wedding vows. All a betrothed couple need do to be wed is for one of them to claim the other and the other to permit it..."
The Aesir felt as if he had just been sucker punched. His head spun with the sudden understanding of what he had unknowingly done. If this was true, and he had no doubt that Athena was telling him the truth, then he had just married a woman, a goddess, that he didn't even know! "So when you asked if I came to claim what was mine..."
"I meant me, my Lord," she whispered softly. "It is the customary greeting when one's betrothed calls upon them in their own home..."
"Why?" he demanded angrily, pausing before he clarified what he was asking. "Why would you permit me to claim you in the first place? We have never even met before today and I'm barely sixteen years old! Why would you... why would anyone accept me as husband?"
"My Lord," her voice quavered slightly in the face of his enraged outburst, "I have watched over you since the day you were born, knowing that we would one day be wed. I know you better than any other could. Even now, despite your youth and inexperience, I knew that you would be a worthy husband... an equal with whom I would gladly spend the rest of eternity." She raised her eyes slowly from the floor, meeting his gaze with a pleading look. "You are
a man, my Lord. An adult by the standards of both Olympus and Asgard, a warrior tested repeatedly against worthy foes and victorious each time. If you were not, I would not have been willing to give myself to you."
The Thunder God closed his eyes, his anger drained away by the softness of her words and the sincerity in her eyes. Inwardly, he cursed himself equally for his temper and his inability to stay angry at a beautiful woman. He felt lost and helpless in the wake of these events, trapped utterly by his own ignorance of the details of Thor's legacy and the demands it placed on him. Yet even as he felt like wallowing in his perceived misery, another, deeper, part of him swelled with pride. Athena had paid him a high compliment, he knew, by accepting his claim on her, but that still didn't outweigh the feeling of being trapped. Arranged marriages such as this one were almost unheard of in the modern, western world and the very idea of being married to someone he didn't know appalled him. Yet, he somehow doubted that either Odin or Zeus would be moved to change their minds because of his protests. "I don't suppose there's some way to undo this? To pretend that this never happened and that we didn't just accidentally get married?"
"We could pretend, my Lord," she answered, hurt creeping back into her voice, "but only death can undo what we have done this day, no matter what our intent was. Am I so undesirable that you would see me dead rather than call me wife?" She dropped her head in shame once more. "If that is how you feel, then end my life. I would rather die than spend eternity with my husband resenting me..."
The words twisted in his gut, making him ashamed that he had hurt her this way. Xander sank to his own knees before reaching out and lifting her chin so that he could meet her tear-filled gaze. "You are far from undesirable, my Lady," he said sincerely. "And I don't resent you or your role in what happened here, though I really don't see what you find so worthy in me that you would have me as your husband." He sighed aloud. "It's the situation that I'm unhappy with. I'd never even given the idea of marriage a thought. Hell, I've never even really dated anyone before and now I'm married to an extremely beautiful woman that I don't even know."
"We have the rest of eternity to get to know one another, my Lord," she reassured him gently. Her own hurt and sadness seemed to vanish like fog burning off in the morning sun in response to his words. "And there is no reason for our marriage to stop you from pursuing whatever other sexual conquests you desire..."
"What?" the Aesir asked abruptly. He couldn't possibly have just heard his new wife give him permission to be unfaithful.
She smiled softly at him, "Our concept of marriage is very different from humanity's ideals, my husband. Among humans, marriage grew out of a deep drive to propagate the species and reinforce favorable genetic characteristics... the very same animal impulses that govern almost every mortal creature on nearly every world in the multiverse." She reached up and took Xander's hand in her own as she spoke. "Sexual fidelity became important to humans, whether they want to believe it or not, because other than basic survival, the need to procreate is the most deeply ingrained genetic imperative that they possess." She paused to let her words sink in.
"And sexual fidelity is the only way to absolutely ensure that any child born to a man's mate was his own," the teen said slowly, grasping the logical implications of what she was saying.
"Exactly," she agreed with a nod. "Procreation is the only avenue to immortality among most humans, allowing them to ensure that their family line continues even if they do not. Enforced monogamy became the norm among humanity as a result." She squeezed Xander's hand reassuringly. "We, however, lack the driving need to procreate that most of the shorter lived races possess. Even the mortal members of our races can easily live for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years. As such, marriage among our kind grew out of a very different desire... our desire to not be alone." Her smile grew more pronounced. "As a result, sexual fidelity is almost entirely counter-productive."
"Why?" Xander asked, not seeing the immediate connection.
"Because we experience the same kinds of attractions and desires as humans, but for different reasons," she explained. "We crave the pleasure of the experience, the sensations, the physical intimacy of that moment of shared release," her voice grew husky with remembered desire as she spoke. "But sex alone isn't enough and even the most skillful of lovers would grow boring and dull after hundreds or thousands of years of uninterrupted monogamy. Even mortal men and women have difficulty remaining completely faithful to their mates and their lives can be measured in mere decades, how much more difficult would it be over the span of eternity?"
"Then why get married at all?" the Thunder God countered.
"Our marriages are more than a mere social convention or a legal contract like most human marriages are. It forms a spiritual bond between two beings that can never be severed while both still live. It's like carrying a piece of your spouse with you in your spirit," she answered with an almost rapt smile. "You'll never be truly alone again, no matter what may come. You'll never be somewhere that I can't find you if you need me, or where I can't feel your presence with me. Even now, you can feel it can't you?" Athena rose gracefully, pulling Xander to his feet with her. She gently placed her hand over his heart. "You can feel what I feel when we touch... and that bond will only grow stronger over time."
Xander's eyes closed and he felt the truth of what she said. It was small; a thin and thready presence in his awareness, but it was there. She was there. He suddenly understood the source of his strangely powerful need to comfort the goddess when she had been hurt by his words and actions. The thought of it, of having a part of her, a part of someone he didn't really know, with him always scared him and yet it also comforted him in a way he had never thought possible. The absolute certainty that he would never be completely alone again, no matter how long he lived, was more reassuring than he could have imagined. Still, his all too human doubts persisted, "I can feel you... but if what you say is true, why would we ever need to turn elsewhere?"
"You will never need
to, husband," she whispered softly, moving closer to Xander as she spoke and carefully emphasizing her point. "You are welcome in my bed whenever you wish and you always will be, but that is not to say that you will never wish to share your bed with another and there is no shame in that. You are free to take whomever you wish as a lover, whether it is for an occasional, casual fuck," the harsh vulgarity of the word sent an unexpected thrill of sexual heat through the teen, "or something longer term and more serious. There is no need for jealousy between us, because we share something with one another that is more intimate than any sexual contact could be and that no one, not even the Creator himself, can take away from us while we still live."
Athena's smile turned seductive as she warmed to her subject and slid closer to Xander again, leaving mere inches between their bodies and tracing small circles on his chest with the hand that rested there. "In fact, as your wife, it is my duty to ensure that you are being properly taken care of... perhaps I should help you select a proper consort to share our bed?"
The sudden proximity of his still very naked, and apparently increasingly aroused wife, was making it increasingly difficult for Xander to focus properly on the topic of conversation, but unless he was gravely mistaken... "Our bed?" he asked, swallowing hard at the implication.
"Of course," she said, biting her bottom lip enticingly, "it's only fitting that we share what pleases us with each other..."
Before he could formulate a response to that statement, Athena kissed him and pulled him aggressively against her body. Then, to Xander's great surprise, he felt his wife's hands on things that no one else had ever touched and conscious thought became utterly impossible.
* * * * *
Clark whipped through the air toward Smallville at few times the speed of sound, putting a distance of several dozen miles between himself and the somewhat slower moving Green Lantern. He needed space and a bit of solitude so that he could try to make sense of his feeling and this would work for the moment. As he flew, a single scene played out over and over in his mind, feeding his turmoil. He watched again and again as Midori kissed Xander and each time the memory was like a slap in the face.
He liked Midori, even though he barely knew her, and, until just a little while ago, he was fairly sure that she liked him too. In fact, he was almost positive of it, right up to the point where she kissed his brother. Now he really wasn't sure of much of anything, except
that the girl he liked had just kissed his brother. Rationally, he knew that the kiss between Xander and Midori hadn't seemed anything like what he had shared with the girl earlier, but that really didn't change the way it made him feel. It had hurt him to see her do that, even if kissing Xander hadn't meant anything. And if that kiss hadn't meant anything, then how could he be certain that it had meant anything when Midori kissed him? It wasn't like he'd actually had a chance to talk to the girl privately after his fire-starting episode or anything.
That, he realized, was actually the crux of the problem. They hadn't actually talked about anything yet. Not about their kiss or the battle in Los Angeles or what any of this really meant for them...or if there even was a 'them' for that matter. Unfortunately, he had never really been overly successful in the whole 'talking to girls' department. Every time he'd ever tried it with Lana it had turned into a complete disaster thanks to her Kryptonite necklace. Of course, that had never actually stopped him from trying to talk to her and at least with Midori he didn't really have to try and keep any secrets from her...
The Kryptonian slowed down abruptly and dropped deeper into the atmosphere, where there would be air thick enough to make conversation possible. Within moments Midori caught up to him and Clark drew to a stop several thousand feet above the ground.
"Clark," she said cautiously, "is everything okay? Because it seems like you've been trying to avoid me for the past thousand miles or so... and doing a fairly good job of it at that."
"I... I just needed a little while alone... to think," he answered hesitantly. He paused for a long moment before just blurting out what was on his mind, "Why did you kiss Xander?"
The Green Lantern stared at him blankly for a few tense moments before she spoke. "Why?" she asked pointedly, raising an eyebrow at him. "Did it make you jealous?"
"No!" he denied automatically only to have his conviction falter a moment later when she frowned disapprovingly at him. "Okay... maybe just a little... But should it have? Because I honestly don't know what to think or how I'm supposed to react."
Midori sighed softly. "I'm the first girl you ever really kissed, aren't I?" The embarrassed look on the boy's face answered that question better than any words could have. "Wow, I really wouldn't have guess that from the way you kissed me back... Look Clark, I like you a lot. I really want to get to know you better and see where things go between us, but not if you're going to get jealous of my other friends." She looked him in the eye before continuing. "This is how I am, Clark. I'm affectionate with my friends when the mood strikes me, just like when I kissed Xander. I indulge in harmless, playful flirting just because I can, because I enjoy it. None of that will change, not even if I'm dating someone and really serious about them."
A long moment of silence passed as the girl let Clark digest her words. "But if I'm dating someone or if I'm in a committed relationship with someone or even if I'm really interested in someone, they'll know the difference between how I show them affection and flirt with them and how I do those same things with my friends."
"Like the difference between how you kissed me and how you kissed Xander?" he asked in a calm, neutral tone.
Midori just nodded her answer. "If you can't handle that without being jealous, then there's no point in you and I trying to be anything more than friends," she added bluntly. "I've been with jealous types before and it never, ever, ends well. I'm not going to change who I am to please someone else. And honestly, if you can't trust me to draw the line between cheating and flirting... we've got no business being together anyway."
"So when you kiss your friends like that... it doesn't really mean anything?" he asked, wanting to be sure that he understood.
"Of course it means something," she countered with an exasperated look. "It's not like I kiss just anybody. It means that I care about them and that they're important to me. Which is something I've come to feel about you, Xander, and Chloe... and even Willow to a lesser extent... way faster than I ever thought possible before." She smiled tightly, "But what it doesn't mean is that I'm going to hop in bed with them the first chance I get or even just make-out with them if the opportunity arises. I have never, ever, been unfaithful to the person I was in a relationship with and I don't plan on starting that now." Her smile faded slightly at the impassive look on Clark's face. "So the real question here is: can you accept me as I am, without turning into a jealous ass, or should I be looking for that with someone else?"
"I... I don't really know," the Kryptonian admitted with a sigh. "I like you a lot too, Midori, but I've never been in a situation like this before. You're not like anyone else I've ever met..."
"I'd be disappointed if I was," she quipped with a slight grin. "You don't have to know the answer to that question right now, Clark," she continued more seriously, "but if you can't handle this, please... walk away before we end up not even being able to be friends afterwards."
Clark nodded sharply, realizing that this little conversation had given him a great deal to think about. He turned to head back toward Smallville, when a sudden sound ripped painfully through his eardrums. It was a loud, shrill tone like nothing he'd ever heard before and it left him wincing and pressing his fingers against the outsides of his ears in an effort to muffle it. The tone lasted for just a few, short seconds before fading as quickly as it came.
"Clark? Are you alright?" Midori asked quickly, moving closer to the other teen and placing a hand on his shoulder. "What is it?"
"That noise," the young man replied as the tone repeated, just as painfully, for a second time. "Where is it coming from?" he asked as it faded away again.
"I don't hear anything," the Green Lantern answered with a dismayed frown.
"You can't hear it?" he repeated dully, wincing as the sound blared through his skull one more. "It's almost like some kind of alarm going off..."
"Ring, do a full-spectrum signal scan," she directed, addressing her power ring aloud for Clark's sake, "figure out what he's hearing and where it's coming from."
A few moments later, a strangely tinny and emotionless voice emanated from the ring, surprising both of the Justice Leaguers. "The signal is an extremely high frequency ultrasonic pulse, well outside of the audible spectrum for any creature native to this planet. Point of origin is approximately 300 miles away, just outside of the local settlement designated 'Smallville'."
"Good ears there, Superman," Midori said with a half-grin, teasing him with codename that Xander had saddled him with.
"We should go check it out," Clark replied, ignoring the teasing as another burst of the ultrasonic noise blasted through his head. "If only to shut it up before I get a headache..."
The two superheroes surged into motion with Midori leading the way at her ring's direction. They covered the intervening distance in a matter of minutes and found themselves in a somewhat hilly field just off of one of the highways that ran through Smallville. The instant they landed the irritating noise fell silent and stopped repeating.
"Are you sure this is the right place?" Clark asked with a frown, turning his uniform back into normal clothes with a thought. "We're just a couple of miles from the farm and I don't see anything that could be generating what I heard..."
"Yeah, this is it alright," the Green Lantern replied with a frown of her own. "The pulses came from somewhere within about ten meters of where we're standing. Be careful though, the ring's picking up pockets of really odd radiation scattered around here."
"It's probably just Kryptonite," the boy replied darkly, "I think this area got hit during the meteor shower."
"Whoa," the girl said abruptly. "Sensors just found a small metal object buried about two feet down. It's made of a Kryptonian alloy... impossible to manufacture from local materials."
"Where?" the last son of Krypton asked sharply, surprised by the news.
"Uh, right here," she pointed the ring at a spot on the ground and a beam of green light lanced out from the ring, rendering the dirt and stone encasing object invisible so that they could see what it was.
The object in question was a small, octagonal metal disc. A disc that perfectly matched the small octagonal depression on the hull of Clark's spaceship. The young man stood motionless for a long moment, gaping at the tiny piece of his past.
"What is it?" Midori asked, puzzled by the Kryptonian's reaction.
"It's a key," he replied, moving to the spot and looking at it more closely. After a moment's consideration, he punched his hand into the still solid, yet invisible, ground, grabbed the disc and pulled it free in a smooth motion. He brushed away the suddenly visible dirt that still clung to the surface of the object, revealing the gold metal to the rays of the fading sunlight.
"To what?" The Green Lantern stared at the disc as Clark held it up, fascinated by it.
"My ship..." Clark answered with a slight frown, wondering for a moment if this field was where he'd arrived on this planet. "Or at least, I think that's what it is... but I'm pretty sure it was the source of that sound I heard. I think it was calling to me."
"Okay," she said with a grin, "I guess that's one way to keep from losing your keys."
* * * * *
Chloe froze completely as her eyes met Willow's across the short distance between the two identical couches the girls occupied. Her entire body was trembling in the wake of the kiss the two girls had shared and the intensely sexual release that had accompanied it. From the looks of things, the experience must have been much the same for Willow, who seemed equally flushed from what had happened. Inwardly, her mind whirled in confusion as she fought to comprehend what had just happened and make sense of it. She had expected kissing Willow to be different from the few kisses that she'd shared with boys in the past, but she couldn't have prepared herself for the completely earth shattering experience that it had turned into.
After all, she was straight... wasn't she? She had never thought of other girls as particularly attractive or had any real desire to be with another girl. Wasn't that sort of the definition of being a heterosexual woman? Or did that just mean that she hadn't met the right girl yet? But if she was really a lesbian who just hadn't met the right girl yet, why had she spent years lusting after Clark and the past few months utterly infatuated with Xander? Why didn't any of this make sense?
The silence in the room was tense and uncomfortable as the teens stared at each other for a long moment as each of them struggled with what to say or do next. Chloe could see the fear and anxiety in the other girl's bright green eyes, but was at a total loss for how to react. How could she anything after what had just happened between them? She watched as Willow bit her bottom lip anxiously and felt an odd pang of... something go through her. She couldn't help but wonder what the hell this was. What was going on with her?
Finding her voice, the blonde finally spoke, "Willow? Are you alright?" It seemed strange and even somewhat ridiculous to ask such a mundane question after everything that had happened, but they were the only words that would come.
The question hung in the air for a long, almost painful, moment before a change came over Willow. Her fear and anxiety were swept away on a wave of sad resignation and she answered in a quiet voice. "I'm... I'll be fine, Chloe," she said honestly.
The hurt in her voice left an uncomfortable knot in the blonde's gut. She had never wanted to hurt Willow, had never wanted to lead her on or deceive her...but nothing about this situation made sense anymore. Chloe felt like she was trying desperately to ignore this giant, rainbow-colored elephant that took up most of the room in the hopes that it would just go away on its own. Unfortunately, that solution just didn't seem to be working.
The mortal Olympian rose to her feet with the same sort of languid grace one might expect in a hunting cat, a sort of fluid motion that seemed utterly effortless. It was only as she felt the soft, supple leather of her outfit drag against the bare flesh beneath it that Chloe realized her clothing here in Olympus had mysteriously changed to match what she'd been wearing in Azerath. Pushing that rather distracting mystery aside, she moved to Willow's side and sat next to the redhead. She knew that she had to say something, had to find a way to make things right between them again. "Willow, I..." she began hesitantly before the other girl silenced her placing a single finger on the blonde's lips. The momentary contact sent a momentary thrill through Chloe and her mind exploded once more into confused questioning.
How could she tell Willow that she was sorry? That the kiss didn't change anything between them, when she didn't even understand how she felt about it? That kiss had changed everything. It left her questioning everything she thought she knew about who she was and what she wanted in a way that even the truth of her heritage hadn't. Not even the kiss she had shared with her own sister had so deeply affected her... how could she just brush it aside as nothing when she wasn't sure about anything anymore?
A strange, soft smile slid over Willow's face, displacing her momentary burst of melancholy. "You don't have to say anything, Chloe," she said in a gentle, but firm, tone of voice. "What happened between us happened and that's all that needs to be said about it for now. I know what you're feeling. I can feel it too..." she explained without rancor. "The kiss doesn't have to change anything or it can change everything, but not until you're sure what you want."
The redhead's words sent a surge of relief through the Olympian, washing away the tension that had seemed to fill the room so totally. "Are you sure?" she asked quickly, wondering about the sudden shift in Willow's emotions.
"Chloe... you're confused and overwhelmed by everything that's happened," the other girl replied. "I've had weeks to come to terms with how I feel and what I want. It's unrealistic of me to expect everything to change in an instant. We're friends. And we'll stay friends, no matter what you decide you want."
* * * * *
"Willow? Are you alright?"
Disappointment seemed to explode inside Willow at Chloe's mundane question. A part of her had expected this, expected the blonde to discount what had happened between them as the product of the situation and nothing more, but that didn't make the reality of it any less painful. Deep down she had known that it was unrealistic to expect anything else, but that hadn't stopped her from hoping that the kiss they'd shared had affected Chloe as deeply as it had her.
"I'm..." she hesitated at the lie she was about to tell. It was harmless to say that she was fine even though the moment was ripping her heart out, but she didn't want to lie to Chloe, not even as trivially as this. "I'll be fine, Chloe," she said instead, not bothering to mask the hurt she was feeling. Strictly speaking, it was the truth: eventually she would be fine.
The look on Chloe's face in the wake of the words surprised the redhead. She hadn't thought that the words would hurt the other girl, or felt that they would provoke anything more than vague sympathy, but they had. That look forced Willow to re-evaluate what was going on here. Maybe, just maybe, Chloe wasn't as oblivious to other people's feelings for her as Clark and Xander seemed to be. For the first time since discovering her empathic gifts, Willow wished she had an excuse to touch the blonde, just so she could get some insight to what was going on in the girl's heart.
She watched as Chloe rose to her feet with a smooth, graceful motion that would have made any woman jealous and sat back down beside her with a troubled look on her face. It gave Willow the perfect opportunity to touch her, except that the Titan's child was far too preoccupied with thinking about how incredibly sexy the Olympian looked in tight leather to take advantage of it. It wasn't until the blonde opened her mouth to speak that Willow finally seized the moment by laying her finger on Chloe's lips to prevent her from saying anything that they might both regret.
The instant her finger touched the softness of the girl's lips, the redhead was plunged into the churning turmoil of her friend's emotions. Conflicting desires, confusion, doubt, fear and a dozen other, weaker feelings swirled in an intricate current that raged with storm force over the girl's heart and mind. A soft smile of understanding lit Willow's expression as she realized what was really going on here. What had happened between them, what Chloe had felt, had challenged her most basic assumptions about her self. She needed time... time to make sense of everything, time to come to some sort of grip on what it all meant and time to decide what she really wanted.
Sympathy for the girl's plight swelled in Willow's heart. She knew exactly how painful and confusing it was to have your own sexual identity challenged like this. It had taken her six weeks of intense meditation and thought to accept what she had discovered about herself and it might have taken even longer if not for her isolation at the time. So she would give Chloe all the time she needed and support her no matter what happened... no matter what decisions the girl reached.
"You don't have to say anything, Chloe," she said sincerely. "What happened between us happened and that's all that needs to be said about it for now. I know what you're feeling. I can feel it too..." she explained, skirting around the issue of her own empathic abilities for the time being. "The kiss doesn't have to change anything or it can change everything, but not until you're sure what you want."
She felt Chloe's relief clearly through her empathic senses before removing her finger and knew that she had made the right choice. Of course, it went without saying that she still wanted Chloe, now more than ever since the possibility of it had suddenly become so tantalizingly real, but if her time in Azerath had taught her anything, it was patience. That didn't mean that she wasn't going to try and win the other girl's heart, because she sure as hell planned on it, but without putting pressure on her. It immediately seemed odd to Willow that she could plan to actually pursue the object of her desires this time, instead of impotently waiting around like she had with Xander. She supposed that sixteen weeks spent in a blasted wasteland of a hell dimension just forced you to realize that if you really wanted something...you had to go after it.
"Are you sure?"
Willow didn't need her empathic powers to hear the odd combination of surprise, relief and wondering curiosity in that particular question. "Chloe..." she considered her next words carefully, "you're confused and overwhelmed by everything that's happened. I've had weeks to come to terms with how I feel and what I want. It's unrealistic of me to expect everything to change in an instant. We're friends. And we'll stay friends, no matter what you decide you want."
"And what is it that you want, Willow?" Chloe asked with a half-smile and a hint of a challenge in her voice. "What do you really want?"
It was a bold question, one that surprised Willow a great deal. Something in the way the blonde asked it, in her tone, her poise, her expression maybe, made the Titan's daughter realize that Chloe had a pretty good idea of the answer but wanted to hear her say it. That realization caused Willow to make an abrupt connection between the parentage that Chloe had announced to Raven in Azerath and the blonde's abilities. "You're the telepath," she replied with a grin, calling the other girl on her suspicions, "you tell me."
Chloe shook her head, her grin never wavering. "No," she said, her voice serious but not too serious. "Surface thoughts and emotions can be ambiguous or unintentionally deceiving, especially if you know I'm listening, and I won't pry deeper into a friend's mind than that without a really good reason. I want you to tell me." She paused, her grin slipping slightly. "I need to know, Willow. I've got to be sure that you aren't expecting something from me that I may not be able to give you."
"I want you to fall madly in love with me and for the two of us to live happily ever after," the redhead said, honestly meaning it. She swallowed hard and waited a moment before continuing, "I..."
"Willow," Chloe cut her off abruptly, hold up a hand, "I don't know if I can feel that way about you, but I'm glad you told me. You're the first real girlfriend I've ever made and I don't want to lose that if I can't be what you want me to be..."
"You asked me what I wanted, Chloe, not what I expected," she countered quickly. "You're not going to lose me as a friend just because you decide that you're straight or even if you decide you're not but don't want to see if we can make a relationship work," she smiled at the blonde. "I'm happy just having you in my life at all and I don't want the fact that I am definitely not straight to ruin that." She took on a joking tone, "Besides, I think I do the unrequited love thing pretty well. I've had plenty of experience in it with Xander and even managed to avoid any creepy, stalkery tendencies." Chloe managed a smile at her feeble attempt at humor before Willow turned serious again, "Just... promise me that we'll be honest with each other... even if we think it might hurt. I don't want anything making things more difficult between us then they have to be..."
"I think I can manage that," Chloe agree with a smile. "Now, let's go see if we can find Athena and get back to Earth before the others completely freak out." She rose and looked toward the door.
"You mean they're not here?" Willow asked, taken aback once again by the strangeness of the situation. "I thought that you'd all be in Olympus waiting." She stood and the two girls wandered out of the room.
"I'm not even sure if the rest of the League even knows where we are," the blonde admitted. "Your wish brought us here physically and then carried your mind to Azerath."
That statement brought the redhead up short. "Alright, so I was gone for 112 days, learned to use my powers, and you had to rescue me...but it was all in my head, I never left Olympus?"
"No, it was very, very real," the Olympian explained. "Astral projection is just one of those things that are really difficult to wrap your mind around... so to speak."
"So," Willow decided to change the subject and just take Chloe's word on the relative 'realness' of her experience, "how did you learn so much if I was only gone for a couple of hours here? I mean, you seem to have mastered your powers pretty quickly."
"Uh...yeah," Chloe answered hesitantly. For a moment she really reconsidered the whole honesty thing that she and Willow had just discussed before finally biting the bullet and blurting out, "Athena kissed me and used her powers to wake up my inner Olympian... in the process she also shoved everything I needed to know about using my powers into my mind."
"Oh," Willow said feebly as the explanation stopped her dead in her tracks while Chloe walked on a few paces further. "When you say kissed... do mean kissed or kissed-kissed?"
"She kissed me like I kissed you," Chloe answered with a wince as she stopped and looked back toward Willow.
"Oh!" the redhead's eyes went wide. "So I wasn't the first girl you kissed then?" She shot Chloe a half-grin. "Should I be jealous?"
"No! Definitely no, in fact, a whole world of no!" Chloe shuddered again as she remembered that kiss.
"Was it that bad?" Willow asked, shocked by her friend's reaction.
"Worse," the blonde confirmed. "Athena is my sister... or at least my half-sister."
"Oh," it took the explanation a long moment to really sink in. "Oh God... and she kiss kissed you?" She stopped herself just short of saying anything that might make the other girl feel worse.
"Yeah," Chloe admitted. "Apparently that whole incest thing... not a real big deal among the Olympians." She turned away and started walking again and Willow hurried to catch up.
A few moments later both teens slowed their steps suddenly as they heard sounds coming from an open archway just ahead. The faint murmuring of soft voices punctuated with an occasional moan brought a puzzled frown to Chloe's face. One of the voices definitely sounded male, which effectively ruled out the possibility that she was about to walk in on Athena and Nike finishing the make-out session she had interrupted earlier. Unfortunately, neither voice was loud enough or clear enough for her to identify them.
"Oh yes! Xander!"
Or at least they hadn't been until that single phrase, practically shouted in near ecstasy by Athena reached her ears. She froze completely at the sound, her eyes going wide and her mouth dropping open as her mind tried vainly to reject the idea that her half-sister... her openly lesbian half-sister... was having sex with the guy she had a crush on. She wanted to laugh at the absolute absurdity of the very idea.
"Oh god, Athena!"
Xander's response hit the blonde like a physical blow and the world seemed to vanish around her as her focus narrowed to a single thought: Athena and Xander were having sex in that room. Except that they couldn't possibly be. Why in the name of all that was holy would a Goddess of Wisdom cheat on her girlfriend
with a teenaged boy? Peripherally, the blonde was aware of Willow trying to stop her, but she shrugged off the other girl's hand. She had to see... had to know what was really going on in that room.
She stepped through the archway into the room and stared dumbfounded at the sight that greeted her. She was so shocked that it took several long, silent minutes for her brain to make proper sense of what she was seeing. Xander was standing with Athena in his arms. Her legs were wrapped around him and her back was pressed tightly into the pale marble wall of the room. They were also both very naked and so wrapped up in what they were doing that didn't seem to notice her. And what they were doing apparently involved Xander screwing her sister against the wall...
"Chloe, no!" Willow's shout rang out clearly, cutting through the moment and bringing the blonde to her senses. It also seemed to get Xander and Athena's attention as well, as the two deities turned immediately toward the sound and were confronted by a look of shock and betrayal on Chloe's face an instant before she turned and bolted from the room.
Xander saw a brief glimpse of the upset look on Willow's face and a flash of red hair as the other girl turned to follow the fleeing teen before he fully realized what was going on. He stood paralyzed for a long moment in a combination of mortified embarrassment and indecision before a familiar female voice spoke from near the still open outer door of the palace. He turned quickly to face this new interruption.
"Well, that could've gone better," Aphrodite commented dryly from where she and another lithe, blonde goddess stood watching unobtrusively.
"Gee... do you think?" the unknown goddess asked with a glare at her companion.