Chapter 45 – Losing Battles II
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: Thanks again to everyone who has reviewed, recommended or voted for this story or any of my other work. I really do appreciate all the support.
-== Chapter Forty-Five – Losing Battles II ==-
Xander resisted the urge to fidget under the weight of the astonished stares of most of the people in the room. In fact, only Chloe and Willow weren’t gaping at him in the nearly deafening silence that followed his introduction of Athena, and even Chloe looked fairly surprised, and less than happy, to see her sister. Of course, he couldn’t really blame her for the unhappy part. Whether she’d admit it or not, he knew that Chloe had been hurt by seeing him having sex with her sister. He wondered how much more upset she would be if she ever realized that Aphrodite had probably been manipulating her feelings about him as well, but quickly squashed the thought. The last thing they needed right now was another reason to be angry at the Goddess of Love.
“How do you accidentally get married?” Jonathan finally demanded, his voice that of a man fighting to control his temper.
“Olympian marriage ceremonies are far simpler than the elaborate affairs that humanity uses to mark such occasions, Jonathan Kent,” Athena answered, unperturbed by his tone, “and those ceremonies become even simpler still when those being wed are already betrothed, as Xander and I were.”
“You and Xander were betrothed?” Martha asked, sounding more confused and surprised now than angry. “When did that happen?”
“The moment that I claimed Thor’s legacy apparently,” the Thunder God replied quickly. “It seems that Yve forgot to mention a few details to me about what all the legacy entailed, like the fact that it made me the Prince of Asgard and heir to Odin’s throne…”
“Or that the Kings of Asgard and Olympus, Odin and Zeus, had chosen to forge a permanent alliance between their peoples by decreeing that their heirs would be wed,” the dark haired Olympian finished for him. “My betrothal to Xander was announced before the dawn of human civilization, Martha Kent.”
“Wait a second,” Clark burst out abruptly. “At that point, Thor would’ve been the Prince of Asgard, not Xander…”
“Yeah, except that Odin could see the future and knew that Thor would eventually betray him and be condemned to mortal life, so he never forced his son to follow through and marry her,” Xander explained without missing a beat. “That’s probably why she was actually betrothed to the Prince of Asgard rather than to Thor specifically.”
“That still doesn’t explain how you two accidentally got married,” Jonathan interjected, the barest edge of his frustration slipping through in his voice.
“It was the result of Aphrodite intentionally leading me to believe that Xander knew of our betrothal and was familiar with Olympian wedding traditions, despite the fact that she was well aware that he knew nothing of the sort,” Athena’s voice was thick with remembered shame at her mistake.
“And I made a bad assumption about the meaning of a ritual greeting,” the Aesir added immediately, being quick to assume his portion of the blame for what had occurred. “The end result of which is that I claimed Athena as my wife without realizing what I was doing and that was enough to complete the wedding rite and leave us married.”
“And you just let him do that?” Jonathan practically exploded at the young woman, forgetting for a moment that she was a goddess. “He’s a sixteen year old boy, why would you want to let him marry you like that?”
“Because Xander is an adult by the standards and laws of both Olympus and Asgard and entitled to make his own decisions,” she replied far more calmly than Xander had expected, but with a definite hint of steel in her voice. “If I had had any reason to suspect for even a moment that he was unaware of what he was doing, I would have stopped him, but I did not.”
“You can’t honestly expect us to believe that,” Jonathan scoffed, “and even if it’s true, no one in their right mind would still expect him to honor a marriage he committed to without knowing what he was doing.”
“Olympian and Asgardian wedding rituals are more than just ceremonies, dad,” Xander said, his voice strained by his efforts to control his rising temper. “This marriage is more than some legal agreement on a piece of paper. It formed a magical bond between Athena and me, one that is more… real and tangible to me than you can know. The simple fact is that we are
married and that fact cannot be denied by some legal or logical argument.”
That revelation seemed to shock everyone in the room back into silence for another long moment. “What are you going to do about it then?” Clark finally asked.
“What are they going to do?” Jonathan snapped angrily. “They’re going to go back to Olympus and undo this, that’s what they’re going to do.”
“No,” the Thunder God said quietly, “we aren’t.”
“Xander,” Martha began quickly, preventing her husband from launching into another tirade, “no one will think less of you for having this annulled or getting a divorce. You shouldn’t have to stay married to a woman that you don’t even know to honor an arranged marriage that was set up thousands of years ago…”
“That’s where you’re wrong, mom,” he countered gently. “I would think less of me for it. Whether I knew what I was getting myself into or not, I got myself into it and I need to face that responsibility. Besides which, ending this marriage isn’t actually an option.”
“Of course it’s an option,” his adopted father argued, albeit a good deal less vehemently than he had a few moments before. The quiet sincerity of Xander’s reply to Martha had sapped away a great deal of his anger.
“I’m afraid that my husband is right, Jonathan Kent,” Athena added, calmly meeting the man’s eyes. “It is not an option because there is no divorce among our peoples, no way of undoing what was done. Only death can break the bonds forged by the marriage rites.”
“That’s taking the whole ‘til death do us part’ thing a bit literally,” Midori commented wryly, hoping to ease the tension that still filled the room.
“Yeah,” the Thunder God agreed with a half-hearted chuckle. “But even if undoing it were possible do you honestly think that Zeus or Odin would let us undo it?” he shook his head sadly. “One way or another I would have eventually had to marry Athena, Aphrodite’s meddling just sped that day’s arrival.”
“I just can’t believe that they’d do something like this. Arranged marriages seem so… barbaric,” Martha said quietly, her calm voice covering her emotions pretty well. “I mean they stopped being common in our society decades, if not centuries, ago…”
“Actually, that’s not entirely true, Mrs. Kent,” Willow said with a frown. “They may not be common here in the US, but they’re hardly unheard of in the rest of the world. It’s a cultural thing more than anything else, and it never really went out of style among royalty especially.”
“All of that is still beside the point,” Jonathan said resignedly. “There’s really no way to undo this?”
“No there’s really not,” Xander answered bluntly.
“Okay,” Chloe finally spoke up with a frown, “I really don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade or anything… but how can you even be here Athena? Odin made it pretty clear that the gods of Olympus and Asgard were forbidden from interfering in our lives on Earth anymore…”
“That’s right,” Willow agreed abruptly, surprised that she’d overlooked such an obvious problem.
Athena met her sister’s eyes and smiled softly. “You are right, no god or goddess of either pantheon may contact you or help you in anyway here on Earth.” Her smiled turned into a slight smirk, “However, there is a fairly simple way around that ban, though it was one that few enough of our brethren would take advantage of. By giving up my divinity while I am here on Earth, my presence becomes acceptable under the ban.” She chuckled aloud, “The Powers that Be did not believe that it was even possible that anyone would ever do such a thing, nor did they feel that an almost powerless deity would be enough of a threat to protest it. They could not conceive of any god or goddess willingly lessening their self for the sake of another.”
“What exactly did you have to give up?” Xander asked quickly, concerned by the revelation and its implications.
“While I am here on Earth, I am merely an Olympian rather a goddess,” she answered, turning to meet her husband’s eyes. “In order to be here, to have the chance to get to know you, that was the sacrifice I had to make. The only aspect of my powers I am permitted to retain is the ability to return to Olympus.”
“Why would you do something like that?” Chloe leapt to her feet, nearly shouting at the former goddess in a strange combination of fear and anger. “What on Earth were you thinking?!”
“Wait a minute,” Midori interrupted, sounding confused, “I thought all of the Olympian’s were gods and goddesses…”
“No, most of us actually aren’t deities,” Chloe countered, looking at the other girl as she explained. “Most Olympians aren’t all that terribly different from humans, except that we live a really, really long time. Sure, we’re a little stronger, a little faster, and a little tougher than the average human, but nothing like Xander or Clark. We’re not immortal and we certainly aren’t invulnerable the way the gods and goddesses are.” She turned her attention back to her sister. “You have all of eternity to get to know Xander better, why would you risk your life like this?” There was no denying the concern in the question.
“Just because we might have all of eternity doesn’t make it wise to wait, little sister,” Athena said with an almost sad smile. “You and my husband have chosen to commit yourselves to a dangerous path, fraught with serious risks to your lives. If I were to wait, I chance missing the opportunity to get to know either of you at all.”
“Little sis…” Clark blurted out in surprise, looking sharply from Chloe to Athena and back again. “Athena is your sister?”
“Uh, yeah,” Chloe admitted with an embarrassed smile, “did I forget to mention that earlier?”
“Uh, a little bit, yeah,” Midori said with a sarcastic smile, “it explains the resemblance though.”
“Chloe and I are both daughters of Metis, the former Goddess of Thought,” the darker haired Olympian explained, “But while my father was Zeus, the King of Olympus…”
“My dad was actually Hermes… who, I think, was actually one of Zeus’s son,” the blonde finished with a frown as that last part occurred to her, “which I really don’t want
to think about too much, because that means that my father is my half-sister’s half-brother and that’s eww territory.” She shuddered.
Ignoring the sudden sidetrack that the conversation seemed to have taken, Xander spoke softly to his wife, switching to ancient Greek for privacy, “*Chloe is right, this is far too dangerous a chance to take, my Lady. I would not see you risk so much just so you could be with me.*”
“*My risk is no greater than that you or my sister take, my Lord,*” she protested softly. “*In fact, my risk is far less than yours or Chloe’s because I am still forbidden from doing more to aid you on your path than offering you my advice and counsel.*” Her voice took on a distinctly pleading tone, “*If your place is here, my Lord, than mine can be no where else.*”
The sentiment made Xander smile and he realized quickly that he was going to have a difficult time denying his wife anything that was in his power to give. The fact that he could feel the echo of her emotions through the bond their marriage had forged made it almost impossible for him to willfully do anything that he knew would hurt her. Luckily, judging by her own reactions, the same seemed to hold true for her. This relationship was certainly going to make things interesting for them both.
“Wow,” Chloe said abruptly, interrupting the conversation between the newlyweds and staring at them in such genuine shock that it threw the rest of the room back into silence. “You two really care about each other. I mean,” she paused seeming almost at a loss for words, “I can feel your emotions in your voices when you talk to each other. How… You’ve barely known each other for a few hours, not even that really. How is that possible?”
“Because we cannot hide our hearts from one another while we are together,” Athena replied with a gentle smile at her sister. “That is the gift and the curse of the marriage bond between us. I will always know what Xander feels, as he will always know my heart.”
“So it’s what, love at first sight?” Willow asked skeptically, seeming surprised by the revelation. Of course, she was equally surprised by the realization that Chloe had empathic abilities of her own if she could feel the emotions in their words, but that wasn’t the point.
“No, it is not love we share, or at least not yet,” the Olympian corrected quickly because she knew that Xander would not, “but rather, something that might grow into love, given time.”
“Xander,” Martha spoke up to everyone’s great surprise, “why don’t you, Clark and Chloe show Athena, Midori and Willow around? I think your father and I need to talk a few things over…”
* * * * *
As the door closed behind the group, Martha turned to look at her husband and gather her thoughts. At the best of times it could be difficult to persuade Jonathan to change his mind and she had no doubt that it would take a great deal of effort this time. Fortunately, beneath all of his stubborn pride, he had a good heart and genuinely wanted what was best for his family. She just had to convince him that she knew what was best this time.
“He’s too young to be married, Martha,” he protested wearily before she could say anything at all.
“Jonathan,” she countered sympathetically, “that’s not really the point is it? Whether he’s too young or not, he and Athena are married and that fact can’t be changed.”
“So what are we supposed to do then?” he demanded, his tone growing angry as he spoke. “Welcome her into our family with open arms?” When Martha met his gaze with a wordless smile, he recoiled in shock. “You can’t be serious! We don’t even know this woman. For all we know, she may have planned this whole thing, intentionally trapping Xander into a marriage that he can’t escape!”
“You don’t really believe that any more than I do,” Martha scoffed with a dark frown. “The kind of woman who would do such a thing would hardly be willing to sacrifice as much as Athena has to be here with Xander and you and I both know it.” She paused for a long moment, watching her husband’s reactions. “I think she’s in love with him, Jonathan,” she added finally, “whether she’s willing to admit it or not.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he snapped back at her. “She’s thousands of years old, how could she possibly be in love with a sixteen year old boy?”
“Xander’s the kind of young man that a lot of women would have an easy time falling in love with,” she pointed out with a smile. “He’s a real life knight in shining armor: strong, brave, loyal and willing to do whatever it takes to protect the people he cares about. Plus, he’s immortal, just like she is.”
Jonathan scowled, not liking the amount of sense that his wife was making in her argument. “What makes you think she loves him?” he asked after a long moment of consideration, knowing that there had to be more to this than an abstract idea.
“You can see it in the way she looks at him, in the way she talks to him,” she explained, knowing that she was getting through to her husband. “And you heard what she said. The other gods didn’t believe that anyone would be willing to give up what she gave up to come here. That’s not the sort of thing you do for someone unless you love them.”
He sighed loudly, rubbing one hand over his face tiredly. “I still don’t like this, Martha,” he complained. “This whole marriage came about by mistake. Xander’s too young to have to live with the consequences of a decision like this one for the rest of his life, especially when he didn’t know what he was getting himself into.”
“We can’t change what happened,” Martha countered sadly, “no matter how much we wish we could. But Xander seems ready to accept the consequences of his actions, despite the unfairness of it. I think he wants to try and make this work. They might even be happy together…”
“For how long?” Jonathan shot back sharply. “At Xander’s age he couldn’t possibly know what he really wants or what to expect from marriage and with the age difference between him and Athena, what do they really have in common? How long will it take for her to get bored with Xander and look for someone else?”
“So what would you have us do then, Jonathan?” she asked just as sharply. “Send her away and refuse to acknowledge the fact that they’re married? What makes you think Xander wouldn’t go with her? He’s certainly capable of it and more than stubborn enough to go through with it.” She fixed her husband with a hard glare. “Do you really want our entire family torn apart over this?”
Jonathan slumped, defeated, in his seat, knowing that she was right. Xander would be more than willing to leave with Athena if it came to that. “Then how do we deal with this?” he asked finally, making it clear from his tone that he was unhappy but knew that she was probably right.
“We support them and do the best we can to give their marriage a fighting chance of working out,” Martha suggested with a warm smile. “And whether it works out or not, we do everything in our power to help them, or at least Xander, get through it.”
“You’re really serious about this?” he asked, surprised by her willingness to accept this. “You’re really okay with Xander and Athena living as man and wife under our roof?”
“No, I’m not okay with it,” she countered with a slight edge of her own unhappiness and anger slipping into her voice. “I am angry with the entire situation and if I ever get the chance I’m going to give Aphrodite a serious piece of my mind for interfering in Xander’s life and putting us all through this. But I don’t see where we really any other choice.”
“I still don’t like this,” he reiterated once more before sighing again, “but you’re right. I don’t see any other choice either, or at least no other choices that are any better in the long run.”
* * * * *
Athena and the Justice League had no sooner stepped out into the rapidly darkening evening when Chloe seized the moment to speak up. “Uh, if you guys will excuse us, I think that my sister and I need to talk privately for a bit,” she forced a smile that she really didn’t feel and stepped to the dark-haired Olympian’s side. “I hope you don’t mind me borrowing your wife for a few minutes,” she half-asked, half-told Xander as she snaked her arm around Athena’s and gently pulled her away from the group before he could protest.
Taking her cue from Chloe, Willow jumped on the opportunity and moved quickly to Xander’s side. “And I’m going to borrow Xander for a few minutes,” she said cheerfully, pulling him away from the group in the opposite direction.
Left standing alone at the base of the porch stairs, Clark and Midori just stared blankly at the retreating shapes of their friends for a long moment. Finally Midori looked at Clark with a strange mixture of concern and amusement in her eyes, “You know this has ‘disaster’ written all over it, right?”
The Kryptonian just shrugged in response, “As long as they don’t kill each other, I think it’ll all work out okay… eventually.”
* * * * *
The instant Willow touched Xander she was assaulted by the Aesir’s emotional turmoil. The boy’s emotions were more confused and muddled than anything she’d experienced so far, which was saying something considering how messed up Chloe’s emotions had been after they kissed. Instantly, she discarded her original plan, which had been to yell at him over how he’d handled everything so far. He really was doing the best that he could, seeing as he was so uncertain about everything. Instead, she sighed softly and leaned against her best friend for a moment. “This situation got really messy, didn’t it?” she asked rhetorically. “How are you holding up?”
She surprised herself by taking a page out of one of her parents’ books, quite literally. Xander needed help working through what he wanted and with her empathic abilities, she could help him. She wondered for a moment if she should consider a career in counseling, subtly using her powers to help people when she wasn’t, you know, obviously using her powers to help people by stopping bad guys.
“I don’t know, Will,” he admitted honestly. “Part of me wishes that I’d never gone to Olympus and never met Athena. Everything was definitely simpler that way.” He sighed aloud.
For a moment, as he contemplated his answer to the question, Willow caught a glimpse of how he felt about Athena and seized on it, “But you really do like her, don’t you?”
“I think I might,” the Thunder God said with a slight frown, “but I feel the same way about other people too. Is it really possible to like, or maybe even love more than one person that way? Or am I just confusing physical attraction for something more?”
There was something in the way he said it that brought Willow up short and a flash of smug pleasure flitted across Xander’s emotions. “You know I’m an empath,” she said accusingly, pulling away in shock at the revelation.
“Yeah,” he admitted with a smirk. “I read the book Hermes gave you. So did you see anything in there to help me figure out what the hell I’m doing?”
“You’re not mad at me for snooping around in your emotions?” she asked, having expected that it would bother him if he found out.
“Why would I be? You’re my bestest bud,” he answered with a shrug. “You’re the one I’d end up talking to about all of this sooner or later anyway.” His smirk came back with a vengeance. “So what’s your opinion, Counselor Troi?”
Rolling her eyes, she pushed Xander playfully, absorbing the momentary glimpse of his emotions even as she teased him back, “That you need to watch less Star Trek for one thing.” She considered carefully what to say next and swallowed hard, “I know that what you feel is confusing, Xander, but whatever it is, it’s real. You care about Athena even though you just met and you care about Chloe almost exactly the same way.” She smiled softly at him and tried to hide the sadness that made her feel.
“Athena’s right, you aren’t in love with either of them, but if you give it a chance you could be…with either of them, maybe even with both of them,” She suppressed a sigh at the thought of what that would mean for her own prospects. “I guess you should be glad that Olympian marriages don’t require monogamy.”
“Oh yeah, I’m sure mom and dad will be thrilled when that gets brought up,” he said with a snort. “Do you really think it’s possible to love more than one person, Willow?” he asked seriously.
“I’m sure of it,” she answered just as seriously, admitting to herself for the first time since she arrived in Azerath that she wasn’t nearly as over Xander as she wanted to think she was. “So what are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t have a clue,” he said with a chuckle. “I guess I’ll just have to see where things go from here. I really don’t think Chloe is going to be terribly interested in a relationship with her brother-in-law.”
Willow shrugged noncommittally. “You need to talk to her, maybe not tonight necessarily, but soon. Seeing you and Athena all… together like that,” she blushed furiously, leaving no doubt of which incident she was referring to, “really hurt her. I know you didn’t mean for it to, but it did.”
He nodded before changing the subject, “So how are you holding up? After Azerath and everything…”
“You mean finding out that my father is technically a psychotic, world-destroying giant who wants to use me as a portal so he can conquer the Earth?” she asked glibly. “Or do you mean the part where one of my best friends accidentally married another of my best friends’ sisters and horribly complicated everything?”
‘Or the part where I’m trapped in some kind of crazy love polygon with both of said friends?’ she added to herself.
“Uh… well, both actually,” he said, taken aback by the matter-of-fact tone, “though mostly the Trigon thing was what I had in mind…”
She shrugged, “How are you coping with the whole ‘you’re the Prince of Asgard’ thing?”
Taking her meaning, he grimaced. “That good, huh?” When she nodded, he sighed again. “We’re here for you, you know? Not just me… the whole team. We’re not going to let Trigon use you like that.”
“I know, Xan,” she acknowledged with a smile. “I know.”
* * * * *
Chloe turned to face Athena as soon as they were far enough away to be out of earshot of the others. She wanted to be angry with her sister, wanted to yell and scream at the woman who looked so much like her, but the anger just wouldn’t come. “You’re in love with him, aren’t you?” she asked instead, despite already knowing the answer. She’d felt it with her empathic senses, after all, how could she not know?
“I didn’t mean to be, if that’s any consolation to you,” her sister admitted softly. “For so many millennia only Nike held a place in my heart. I hated the thought of being forced to marry another. I wanted to hate Xander.” She sighed softly. “Unfortunately, he proved a hard man to hate. I watched him survive and thrive despite neglect and abuse from his parents. I saw him endure things that would have broken most men, leaving them cold and heartless, yet they merely made him stronger and more caring towards those he loved. I couldn’t help but fall in love with him.”
“But he’s not in love with you,” Chloe said quickly, trying to fathom what her sister was really doing here on Earth, “yet you made yourself vulnerable and came here to be with him. Why?”
“How could he love me yet, Chloe?” she replied pointedly. “Love at first sight is a myth. People can feel lust, attraction or desire at first sigh, but not love. Not even Aphrodite can make two people fall instantly in love with each other, she can only plant the seeds of attraction and desire and try to manipulate the situation to help love grow. The problem is that humans too often mistake those feelings for real love.”
“So you’re here hoping that Xander will fall in love with you,” the blonde stated with a half nod. “You’re willing to risk your life, your entire existence on the off-chance he might come to love you?” It sounded crazy to her. “What if he falls in love with someone else?”
“It changes nothing,” the elder Olympian answered with a warm smile. “I love Nike and Xander both a great deal and over the centuries I may yet find others that I love as well. Xander will love whomever he loves and through my bond with him, I, too, will come to love them in my fashion. Just as he will come to care for and love those I love. That is part of the nature of my bond with him.” At her sister’s disbelieving look, she continued. “Mother hurt you badly when she left you, little sister, but believe me when I say that it is possible to love without being hurt.”
“That sounds like something Aphrodite would say,” Chloe scoffed with a frown.
“She’d be right,” Athena countered with a grin before growing serious. “He cares about you a great deal, you know, the same way that he cares about me, or Willow, or Buffy, or even Midori. There is a great deal of room in his heart to love those women that he calls friend. Given the chance, his feelings for any or even all of his girls could grow into the kind of love you want from him…”
“Xander and I are just friends, Athena,” she countered quickly, denying what she felt for the Thunder God automatically. “Besides, he’s your husband. If he’s going to love any of us, it should be you.”
The darker haired woman sighed in mild exasperation. “I would be more than happy to share him with you or any of the others, Chloe. Do not let my relationship with Xander dictate what you will let yourself feel.”
“That’s just not how it works down here, Athena,” the younger Olympian protested quickly. “Our rules are different…the mortal world just doesn’t do things that way… usually.”
“Then ignore those rules if they do not suit you,” came her sister’s stern reply. “You are a daughter of the gods, no more mortal or human than the heavens above us. You are not bound by the laws and traditions of this world anymore than Xander or Willow are.”
Chloe stared at Athena for a long moment, trying to process her sister’s argument. Athena’s words confounded her on many different levels, shoving a fact that she had been trying ignore into her consciousness. It was one thing to say she was an Olympian and to know that she wasn’t really human. It was something else entirely to accept it and stop clinging to her humanity. She still felt human, still thought of herself as essentially human, but she wasn’t. Not any more. While she struggled with what to say, Athena turned and walked away, heading back toward the others, which is when something else entirely struck her about her sister’s statement.
“Wait,” she said abruptly, causing Athena to stop and glance back over her shoulder. “I understand why Xander and I are different, but why Willow?”
“The first gods were the children of the Titans, little sister,” Athena said bluntly. “Willow is Trigon’s daughter in every respect that matters. Do the math.” She turned and walked away, leaving Chloe staring at her through the darkness.
* * * * *
Xander and Willow rejoined the others at about the same time that Athena returned, without Chloe. He could feel Athena’s sadness and disappointment through their bond but wasn’t sure what to make of it. Clearly her talk with Chloe hadn’t gone as well as his talk with Willow, that was obvious, but beyond that he couldn’t tell anything. Or at lest he couldn’t until a very thoughtful looking Chloe came back a short while later and he felt Athena’s relief. It was something they’d have to discuss later.
The group was silent for several long minutes and a sort of tired tension seemed to fill the air around them. No matter what else could be said about the day, it had definitely been both long and exhausting for everyone. Even Xander couldn’t help but feel like he needed to spend some quality time sleeping despite his lack of a physical need to sleep. Everyone seemed almost relieved when Martha emerged from the kitchen a few minutes after Chloe came back and gave the tired teens a sympathetic smile.
“Xander,” she said in a calm soothing tone, “your father and I would like to speak with you and your wife.”
He took it as an encouraging sign that his mom referred to Athena as his wife, but held his emotions at bay. It didn’t necessarily mean that this was going to be a pleasant talk. Before he could acknowledge what she’d said, Chloe interrupted.
“Uh, maybe the rest of us should get going,” she suggested. “We can always get together and talk again tomorrow… after we’ve all had some time to rest and clear our heads.”
“That’s probably not a bad idea,” Xander conceded with a nod. “It’s been a long day and some rest would do us all good.” He started to turn toward Willow but Midori beat him to the punch.
“I’ve got a spare bed if you want to crash here in Smallville tonight instead of going back to Sunnydale, Willow,” she offered with a smile. “No point in having to spend the night by yourself after everything that’s happened today…”
“Thank you,” Willow smiled at the tiny Japanese girl and nodded, “that sounds nice.”
“Don’t forget, the farmer’s market opens tomorrow,” Martha called out from the porch, “You’ll have to wait until the afternoon before you can all get together here.”
Again, Xander took his mother’s response as a good sign. The fact that she hadn’t expressed any problems with the group getting together again, and so soon, made it seem like she felt everything would be okay. He watched as Chloe, Midori and Willow climbed into the blonde’s battered Volvo and drove off before turning briefly to Clark.
“Everything okay, little brother?” he asked, watching the younger boy closely for a moment. “You’ve been kind of quiet…”
“It’s just been a really long day, Xan,” the Kryptonian answered, “and I’ve got a lot to think about.” He forced a smile at the Aesir. “You better get in there before Dad blows a gasket.” The Kryptonian playfully pushed the other teen toward the farm house.
Xander nodded and let it go; resolving to push his brother for details on what was bothering him later. Forcing a grin of his own to cover his nervousness, the Thunder God offered his arm to Athena with mock formality, “Shall we, my Lady?”
Recognizing the motivations behind her husband’s act, she took his arm and replied in an equally mock-formal tone, “I would be honored, my Lord.”
Xander guided his new wife into the Kent family kitchen and felt his heart clench at the stern and disappointed look on his adopted father’s face. Facing Jonathan and Martha like this, without the support of Clark or the others, was a much more daunting task then even facing Jormungandr had been. It was the disappointment Jonathan’s expression that hurt him the worst, reminding him so much of the way Tony had looked at him growing up. He swallowed hard, reduced in that instant to the awkward child he’d once been, the young man who’d been certain of his own worthlessness.
Instantly, he felt Athena’s hand come to rest gently on his back and felt his fears and inadequacies melt away under her silent reassurance. He was not alone and he was not worthless. More importantly, Jonathan was not Tony. He had earned his father’s disappointment this time, which meant that could also earn his forgiveness as well. He drew himself up from the slump and squared his shoulders, noting the way that both his mother and father seemed to almost approve of the act.
“Dad, Mom,” he began, his voice far more calm than he felt it had any right to be, “I’m sorry about what happened to day and about how you found about everything. Not just my marriage to Athena, but about what happened in LA as well. None of this happened how I wanted it to.”
“If Willow and Chloe hadn’t pressed the issue, were you even going to tell us about getting married?” Martha asked quietly, the question one she’d wondered about for a while.
“Probably not,” he admitted with a shake of his head. “The gods of Olympus and Asgard are banned from having contact with me or any of the others anymore as of earlier today… or at least they’re banned from having contact with us here on Earth. If it wasn’t for the loophole Athena exploited to be here there wouldn’t have been much point in talking about it. It wouldn’t have changed anything.” He shrugged.
“You still should have told us, Xander,” Jonathan said with a sigh. “You should feel like you can trust us, no matter what.”
“It wasn’t a matter of trust, dad,” Xander countered with a half-frown. “It was a matter of not wanting to worry you over something that couldn’t be changed and wouldn’t affect anything around here anyway.” He let out a half-snort, half-sigh. “My life verges on the bizarre on the best of days,” he said flatly. “I didn’t want to expose you to more of the madness then necessary or to leave you worrying than when you didn’t have to.”
“Well, relative strangeness of your life aside,” Jonathan said with a slight huff. “We’re your parents. It’s our place to decide what to worry about. You shouldn’t try to protect us from worrying like that.” He paused to let the chastisement, gentle though it had been, sink in. “Now then, if you two are going to live under our roof, there are going to be some ground rules,” he said addressing them both.
Xander’s jaw dropped open in shock at his father’s words. The last thing he’d really expected was for his parents to accept the idea of him and Athena living there together. “Wait,” he said abruptly, “you’re going to let us live here together?”
“You’re married, Xander,” Martha said with a sad smile, “maybe not how or when we would have wanted it to happen, but we can’t change it. Making a marriage work is hard enough at your age without us making it any tougher.”
“You will, however, stay in school and keep both your grades and your chores up if you want to live here,” Jonathan explained sternly. “And, while what you and your wife do behind closed doors is your business, we don’t want to catch you doing those things anywhere else on the farm…got it?”
“And please, don’t make us grandparents before you graduate,” Martha added.
“You’re serious?” the Thunder God asked, still recovering from the shock of what they had just told him.
Jonathan nodded reluctantly, “We aren’t happy about this, but Martha’s right. Making this marriage work will be difficult for all of us, but if you’re determined to make a go of it, we’ll try to help as much as we can.” He fixed Athena with a stern look. “You’re part of our family now, Athena,” he said pointedly. “It’s the least we can do.”
“Thank you,” she said softly, smiling at the gruff farmer and his wife. “Thank you both. I will try not to disabuse your trust.” She swallowed hard and turned to look at her husband. “I wish that I could stay here with you always, my husband,” she said sadly, “but that is not possible. For each day I spend here with you, I must spend one day in Olympus. And I may spend no more then seven days at a time here on Earth. Those are the limits of the exception my sacrifice earned us.”
He smiled sadly in response. “Then we’ll make the best of what time we can spend together,” he said simply. He turned to look back at his adopted parents. “I…” he started to speak, having a hard time finding the words he wanted to say, “Thank you, mom and dad.”