AresJoxerCupidStrife - Scribe


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Title: Seeking Balance
Author: Scribe
Fandom: Xena/Hercules
Pairing: None in this chapter
Rating: NC17
Summary: Joxer is badly injured saving Ares.
Archive: Sure. Tell me where, put up my email address
for feedback, and credit me.
Feedback: poet77665@yahoo.com
Status: WIP
Sequel/Series: Sidebar to the Love and Mischief
Series, might end up as its own series eventually.
Disclaimer: I did not create the characters here, I
don't own them. I derive no profit from this effort.
I mean nothing but respect for the creators, owners,
and the actors and actresses who portray them.
Websites:
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/scribescribbles and
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/foxluver
Warnings:
Author's Notes: Ares and Joxer are together in my Love
and Mischief series, and a few readers expressed
curiosity in their back-story, so here it is.
Story Notes: I'm not up on the finer points of hydras,
so here's my personal take on them. They are large
creatures, usually larger than an elephant when fully
grown, and they resemble a legless, three-headed
dragon. Their body scales are incredibly thick and
tough, thinning and becoming a little more fragile up
the necks. If one head is cut off, two will grow in
its place. The only way to kill them is by destroying
the brains, WITHOUT cutting off the heads. Also the
blood is like poisonous acid.

Seeking Balance, 1/?
Unexpected Savior

*Trust my brother to be able to find a hydra, even in
this wilderness,* thought Ares. *And now he has to go
and try to kill it. Damn, what is his problem? Sure,
it's eaten a few sheep and cattle, but its a PREDATOR,
damn it. If those idiot shepherds hadn't decided to
start pasturing their livestock in this mountain
meadow, it would have gone on feeding on rabbits and
moles. If you go ahead and present it with creatures
that are bigger, tastier, and easier to catch than its
natural prey, of COURSE it's going to go for them.
And it wouldn't have eaten that shepherd if he'd had
enough sense to run away instead of trying to get that
lamb back.*

The meadow was a good way up a mountainside. *Grazing
must be getting scanty in the surrounding valleys and
flatlands. I'll have to have a talk with Demeter.
Maybe I ought to have a small war in the area--thin
the population out a little.* Ares settled back
against the cliffside behind him. This particular
meadow was almost enclosed by cliffs. It was
sheltered from harsh winds, but it still caught a lot
of sun. Thus the grass was lush--that was what had
attracted the shepherds. Unfortunately the thick
grass, providing an abundance of seeds, and the berry
bushes that ran around the sides of the meadow, also
attracted a lot of small game--the natural prey of the
hydra. With a warm, dry, good-sized cave for shelter,
it was inevitable that a predator would move in. It
was just bad luck for the shepherds that this
particular predator was big, scaly, toothy, and had
three heads, and a bad attitude.

Ares, invisible, was sitting on a rock that projected
above the entrance to the hydra's cavern. It wasn't
all that high up, no more than eight or nine feet, but
he figured he'd be out of the way, and still have a
good view of the battle. Hercules had just arrived at
the meadow, followed by a knot of mortals. *Fools,*
thought Ares. *He MIGHT be killed, you idiots, and if
he is that damn tri-headed snake will be burping for a
month after gorging on you.* Then he took a closer
look at the mortals, and sighed.

*I might have known. It's the entire Freaky Foursome,
with that idiotic tagalong in the junk armor. I can
understand Hercules asking Xena along, but what
possessed him to bring the others? Iolaus might do a
little damage with his arrows if he hangs back, but
Gabrielle's staff won't be worth shit... unless the
hydra uses it as a toothpick after he eats her.* Ares
had to stop a second and smile at this mental image.
*And that other one... What's his name? He's always
praying to me to be a better warrior. Tartarus,
that's a laudable ambition, but you have to have
SOMETHING to work with. Anyway, the only use I can
think of for him in this sort of battle would be if
Hercules used him as bait, and that's way too
practical for Baby Brother.*

The five stopped at the edge of the meadow, across
from the cave entrance, and huddled. Ares noticed
that Joxer was on the outside, as the other four put
their heads together. He moved around them, looking
for a space to wedge in, but every time he approached,
someone would shift, closing him out. He hopped a few
times, armor clanking, trying to look into the huddle,
and Ares shook his head. The image of the lanky
figure, draped in castoff armor, standing on tiptoe in
an effort to be included, gave him an odd, fleeting
feeling. It came and went so quickly that he couldn't
identify it. *Of course they're shutting him out.
He's more likely to get them killed than help them
win, and he's even MORE likely to get HIMSELF killed.
They'll tell him to hang back.*

The knot of plotters loosened. "It's agreed then.
Xena and I will flank the entrance. Iolaus, you'll
fire a few arrows into the cave to lure it out.
Gabby, you get those things around their necks." The
bard had opened a sack and withdrawn a pair of curious
looking weapons. Each consisted of two balls--one at
each end of a section of rope. Ares recognized the
form, but usually the balls were studded with spikes.
*Shit. Is she such a peace monger that she doesn't
want to cause excess pain to what she sees as a
man-eating monster?*

"Xena, I know how effective that chakram is, but
remember--if you cut off one head, two will grow in
its place."

Xena, quite rightly in Ares' opinion, scowled at
Hercules. "You don't have to spoon feed me, Hercules.
I've known that since before I picked up my first
training sword."

*You tell him, Xena. I don't much mind if it eats the
others, but I suppose I'll have to save you, if things
get hairy. Wouldn't look right to let one of my own
kids get eaten--not if I could prevent it.*

"What about me?" The other four heroes looked at
Joxer. "I know! I go right in, make a frontal
attack! While it's concentrating on me, Herc and Xena
come in from the side, and we finish it off."

Hercules put a hand on Joxer's shoulder, and Ares saw
the slender man's knees bend slightly from the
pressure. "No, Joxer. We need you to do something
very important." Joxer's expression brightened with
pleasure. It fell as Hercules said, "We need you to
stay back here and make sure that none of the
shepherds come into harm's way."

"Oh." His disappointment was evident in that one
syllable. Joxer cleared his throat and said, "And if
it gets past you, I'll be here to take care of it
before it can escape."

"Um, right."

They positioned themselves. Iolaus and Gabrielle went
almost to the center of the meadow while Hercules and
Xena walked along the perimeter till the were on
either side of the cave's entrance, close against the
side of the cliff. Hercules drew on a pair of thick
gloves. *Hm,* thought Ares. *He's had those bound
with wire. If he has to tangle with the hydra, the
jagged scales won't cut him. Damn, if he keeps this
up I may have to admit he isn't a total fool.* Xena
took her chakram off her belt, flexing her arms like a
javelin thrower, warming up. Gabrielle had one of the
bolos dangling from each hand, swinging slowly back
and forth. Iolaus checked an arrow, then notched it
in his bow. Joxer drew a sword that would have been
melted down as scrap by any self-respecting weapon
maker.

Hercules gave a nod, and Iolaus let the first arrow
fly. There was a questioning grunt from inside the
cave, but nothing more. After a moment he shot
another arrow into the darkness. This one elicited a
grating snarl, and he quickly sent two more after the
others.

It worked. There was a roar, and the hydra squeezed
out of the cave. Ares heard Xena swearing, and he had
to chuckle. From the size of the cave entrance,
they'd been expecting a much smaller
monster--something along the size of an ox. They
hadn't taken into account how, um, COMPRESSIBLE the
beasts were. They could squeeze through openings that
looked far too small to let them pass. This one
was... Ares cocked his head as the creature finished
exiting its lair and reared up. He couldn't think of
any other land animal that was comparable in size.
Maybe one of Poseidon's smaller whales. A head rose
up before him, halting six feet over his head. *That
isn't counting the neck length, of course.*

The hydra had fixated on Iolaus. All three heads
hissed, and its bulky body began to slither toward the
Golden Hunter. Gabrielle let the first bolo fly.
Ares smirked when it hit the beast in the chest
instead of wrapping around a neck or head. It must
have hurt, though, because the hissing increased in
volume. The hydra increased its speed as Gabrielle
snatched up another bolo, and Iolaus loosed another
arrow. The arrow struck the creature's chest also,
and bounced off. *Damn, I thought Iolaus knew better.
He's not going to stick the thing like that--not
unless his arrowheads are made of Hephastian metal.
The farther you go up the necks, the thinner the
scales get. Aim higher, Blondie.*

Xena was on the hydra's left. She screamed her battle
cry and charged, chakram cocked. Ares sighed as the
hydra's left head whipped around, zeroing in on her.
Ares sighed. *The yell may work well in ambush when
you're dealing with bandits, Xena, but this time it
was a warning instead of a shock.*

Hercules, to Ares' eternal surprise, was sensible
enough to be silent as he made his own charge. He
leaped, and grabbed. He managed to get a handhold in
the thick scales, and began to climb up the creature's
side, toward its shoulder. If he got on its back, the
right head would have enough room to twist back and
snap at him, but that close... It would be like a
human trying to bit himself on the back of the neck.
It didn't stop the left head from trying, though.
Only some acrobatic swinging kept the hero from losing
a leg.

Xena threw her chakram, and it thunked into the right
neck, sinking deep. Hercules saw this and yelled,
"Xena! No decapitation!"

She'd drawn her sword. "Shut up! I'm wearing it
down."

Ares nodded. *Yes, it's losing blood now. Another
couple of dozen wounds like that might actually slow
it down.*

Iolaus managed to put an arrow through the neck of the
center head, high up. The beast threw its head,
spattering his blood in a bright crimson arc. A spray
landed across one of Xena's gauntlets and immediately
began to eat through the tough leather and metal.
Xena stopped her charge and jerked frantically at the
lacings that held the arm guard on, trying to get it
off before the poisonous acid could reach her skin.
The sight of her lover in peril must have distracted
Gabrielle. Hercules had hauled himself up on the
hydra's shoulder. He'd just buried his sword in the
skull of the weaving right head when the bolo wrapped
around his throat, knocking him to the ground. He had
to swiftly roll to the side to avoid being crushed as
the hydra shifted its massive body.

The hydra whipped all its heads again, and Xena's
chakram, slick with hydra blood, came loose, dropping
into the thick grass. Xena dived for it, and jerked
her hands back with a shriek when her fingertips hit
the blood. She frantically wiped her hands on the
grass, quickly enough to avoid any real damage--she'd
just have some blisters. She ripped off her short
leather skirt and used it to wipe the chakram clean.
The leather was smoking and crumbling by the time she
tossed it down and grabbed her weapon again. She
finished just in time to back peddle quickly. The
teeth of the wounded left head snapped shut inches
from her belly as she tripped and fell.

The head that Hercules had skewered hung limp and
dead, but the other two were wounded--and more
dangerous than ever. The center head had twisted to
look at the still struggling, slowly choking Hercules.
It both heads had worked together, Ares had no doubt
that they would have made short work of the heroes.
But the center head strained toward Hercules, and the
left strained toward Xena. First one side would gain
a foot, then the opposite would drag it back. *It's
going to split itself down the middle, like a fucking
wishbone,* thought Ares in disgust. *Who's in charge
of Unnatural Beasts, anyway? I'll have to have a talk
with them, because if all hydras are this stupid,
they'll be extinct in no time.*

Gabrielle snatched up her staff and ran across the
meadow, swishing over her head, as she called out to
Xena. Xena, crawling backward like a crab, tilted her
head back and saw, upside down, what Gabrielle was
doing. "No, Gabby! Stay back!"

Gabrielle listened about as well as she usually did.
She kept coming. She bonked the left head squarely on
the nose. The left head jerked back with a surprised
grumble, then it gave a great, honking cry. *Way to
go, bitch. Now you've made it PERSONAL. I hope it
eats your ass.*

It didn't get the chance. Xena threw the chakram, and
this time it caught the left head right between the
eyes, sinking deep. The head swung in a death spasm,
and slammed into Gabrielle. It knocked her flying.
She landed several yards away, and immediately started
ripping at her clothes, screaming. Xena crawled over
to her and began ripping at her companion's clothes,
stripping away the fuming fabric.

Hercules was wheezing and turning blue, plucking at
the cords that were cutting into his throat. Iolaus
threw down his bow and ran to help him, drawing a
hunting knife. He knelt beside his gasping lover,
saying, "Hold still, Herc. I have to cut these away,
and I can't afford to slip."

There was so much going on at once that Ares didn't
know where to look first. He leaned over the edge,
peering this way and that...

And the ledge crumbled.

Ares fell, thumping down on the back of the hydra.
The beast's body rippled spasmodically, pitching the
god over the remaining head. Ares hit the ground
hard--hard enough to stun him. His breath whooshed
out, and he became visible--too dazed to stay hidden.
No one noticed except the hydra--and Joxer.

Joxer had been bouncing with excitement and... and...
*No, not fear. I'm a warrior, and I'm not afraid.
I'm APPREHENSIVE. That's only normal, right? I mean,
my friends are going up against a big ass,
pointy-toothed, multi-headed people eater, and that's
enough to give ANYONE pause, but they're doing pretty
good, except for Gabby sort of strangling Herc, but
Iolaus is taking care of that and...* He blinked as
the dark haired man in leather suddenly appeared on
the ground before the wounded hydra. The man sat up,
putting a hand to his head. Joxer recognized Ares,
his god, and the center head of the hydra was drawing
back, ready to strike at him.

He didn't pause. He didn't think. He charged.

Xena had stripped Gabrielle completely, much to the
bard's combined relief and mortification. Iolaus had
sliced Hercules free of the choking bolo and was
helping his dazed friend to his feet, ready to drag
him to safety. They all looked up at the yell. What
they saw astonished them into immobility.

Joxer was running across the green, flower-spangled
expanse of the meadow. It would have looked like a
cliche about serenity if not for two things: the grass
was charred in large blotches, and Joxer, with a
frightened, but fiercely determined look in his eyes,
had his sword drawn.

"Joxer!" Hercules croaked. The other three had more
volume. They screamed at their friend. "Go back!"
"No!" "What the hell are you...?"

The head darted down. Joxer smashed into Ares,
knocking him flying in a move that was classic Joxer.
The hydra missed biting his intended prey in half, but
one huge fang gouged Joxer's right thigh, opening a
deep wound that immediately began to pump blood. Even
as he screamed, Joxer hacked at the hydra. He landed
only a glancing blow, but it sliced through one of the
creature's eyes. The hydra jerked its head back,
roaring in agony as the slender man crumpled to the
ground.

Iolaus was cursing himself as he ran back to the other
side of the meadow in search of his bow. Gabrielle
screamed again and again as Xena tried to find her
sword, which had disappeared into the long grass when
she dropped it. Hercules leaped at the hydra and
tried to jerk his sword out of the right head's skull,
but it was trapped in the bone. The center head drew
back once again, preparing to snap the head off the
pitiful creature that had dared to hurt him.

Ares sat up again, shaking his head to clear it.
*What the fuck?* He heard the screaming, the horrible
hissing and roaring, and most of the fog cleared away.
The sight before him was both horrible, and
ridiculous. Joxer's 'helmet' had slipped down over
his eyes, covering half his face. That was enough for
a laugh. But there was a gaping wound in his thigh.
It couldn't have happened more than a few seconds
before, but the grass was already being soaked with
his blood. The hydra... *Shit. I should be dead now.
How...?*

The hydra whipped his head again, and blood flew,
sending the four heroes scrambling out of the way. A
thin stream hit Joxer, falling across his helmet. A
drop ran off the edge, etching its way down the
human's cheek, and Joxer screamed again. Ares had
heard men scream before, in pain, grief, and death.
For some reason this made his gut clench. Then the
hydra's head was diving down, and Joxer was going to
die. He had to die. No one was close enough to
prevent it. Even Ares couldn't think and move quickly
enough to get him to safety--if he so chose.

Joxer saw the head descending toward him, moving like
a lightening strike. He still had his sword in both
hands. Acting on instinct he thrust up and forward.
The hydra had its mouth open, gaping to take a huge
bite of soft, living flesh. The battered, nicked
sword slid between razor sharp teeth, plunged through
the soft palate, and sank deep into the creature's
brain. It was dead before it thumped to the ground.
There was a moment of shocked silence, then shouts,
and frantic activity. Joxer lay half under the thick
neck of the center head, and it took a moment for his
friends to pull him free.

"Oh, gods, oh gods!" wailed Gabrielle, jerking off his
helmet. She laughed hysterically. "This stupid
helmet was finally good for something! It protected
his face from the worst of the blood. He'll have a
scar..."

"That's the least of his worries," snapped Xena.
"Someone give me a strap. We have to tie off his leg
before he bleeds to death."

Iolaus began to tug at his waist. "Use my belt."

"Is he all right?" Joxer's voice was faint.

"Joxer, don't try to talk," ordered Xena. "Save your
strength."

"Hercules is fine," said Gabrielle.

"That's nice, but I meant..." Joxer trailed off, his
eyes fluttering shut.

"He means me."

Hercules, Iolaus, and Gabrielle looked around in
surprise. Things had happened so quickly. Their view
had been blocked by the hydra, and they hadn't seen
Joxer knock Ares sprawling. They had just assumed
that Joxer was being his usual impulsive, reckless
self. Suddenly things made sense--Joxer had
sacrificed himself to save Ares.

Gabrielle shouted, "You've killed Joxer, you bastard!"

"He isn't dead yet."

"He could be soon," said Iolaus sadly. "He's losing
an awful lot of blood, Xena."

"I can't get it to stop," she growled. Her hands were
slick with Joxer's blood. "And I'm worried about that
hydra's blood."

"It's only a drop," said Ares.

Xena glanced at him angrily. "Damn it, Ares, you
know that shit is dangerous, even for a god, and he's
a mortal. One drop could be enough, especially as
weak as he is now."

"He died saving you, Ares," accused Hercules, stalking
toward Ares. "Here's another life you've destroyed."

"You're not blaming this one on me," Ares snarled. He
shoved Hercules aside and went to Xena. "Hand him
over."

Gabrielle pushed between them, oddly unconscious of
her nudity as she confronted the God of War. "Just
let him die in peace!"

"HE ISN'T DEAD YET!" Ares roared. When the God of War
took that tone of voice--everyone except the godly,
the stupid, and the suicidal moved. Gabrielle was
none of those, and she shifted out of the way quickly.
Ares glared down at Xena, who was glowering at him
defiantly. "Give me my follower."

Xena studied him. Her voice low, she said, "Why?"

Ares hesitated. *Why? I don't owe her a reason.
Because I want him. Because he's mine.* "Because
he'll die if you don't."

Xena nodded, and sat back. Ares lifted the limp,
blood smeared body into his arms. Joxer's head rolled
back loosely, dark hair falling across his forehead, a
livid red streak on one pale cheek. Ares could sense
the life force inside him, but it was weakening. He'd
have to move quickly.

There was a flash of red. As the sparks faded, the
remaining humans looked at each other. Gabrielle
said, "Xena, why did you let him take Joxer?"

Xena shrugged. "We couldn't save him. Maybe Ares
can."

"Do you really think that Ares will put himself out to
save Joxer? I don't think he's even noticed him
before, except to be annoyed. He probably just wanted
to play with him for a while. We could have at least
made his last moments peaceful, and comfortable."

Xena looked toward the sky. "I'm hoping that Ares can
keep Joxer's last moments a long time in the future."



Title: Seeking Balance, 2/?
Author: Scribe
Fandom: X:WP/HtLJ
Pairing:
Rating: NC17
Summary: Ares 'encourages' all and sundry to do their
best to help Joxer.
Archive: Yes, but tell me where, provide credit and a
feedback email addie.
Feedback: poet77665@yahoo.com
Status: WIP
Sequel/Series: Sidebar to the Love and Mischief Series
Disclaimer: I did not create the characters here, I
don't own them. I derive no profit from this effort.
I mean nothing but respect for the creators, owners,
and the actors and actresses who portray them.
Websites:
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/scribescribbles and
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/foxluver
Warnings:
Notes:

Seeking Balance, 2/?
By Scribe

Part Two
Maximum Effort

Ares appeared in the main room of Apollo's Olympian
temple, bellowing even before the red sparks of his
arrival faded. "'Pol! 'Pol, I need you--NOW!"

The priest on duty was used to the abrupt comings and
goings of the Pantheon, and he didn't waste a second
being startled. The War God's reason for coming to
the Temple of Healing was obvious--a pale, blood
soaked figure dangled limply in Ares' arms. The
priest reached out. "Lord Ares, let me take..."

"Stand back!" Ares snarled, unconsciously cradling the
unconscious man closer. "Go get your master, and
hurry, or you'll be the next to need his aid." The
priest hurried away into the recesses of the temple.
"And get Asclepius, if he's here." He lowered Joxer
onto Apollo's altar, mentally cursing the lack of a
bed or sofa. "We're going to need all the help we can
get."

Ares examined Joxer, noting that the flow of blood
from his wound had slowed. This worried him, rather
than reassuring him. It could very well mean that
there simply wasn't that much blood left in the
mortal's body. The strap Xena had bound around
Joxer's leg, high up on his thigh, was already so
tight that it had almost disappeared into the pale
flesh, and Ares knew that leaving a tourniquet on too
long was almost as dangerous as allowing the bleeding
to go unchecked--at least in the long run. There was
a chance of gangrene later. *But there's no point in
worrying about that unless he SURVIVES.*

Blood didn't bother Ares, unless it was his own, or
that of a loved one. He jammed his hand firmly
against the wound. It must have hurt, because Joxer
regained consciousness with a gasp. He tried to sit
up, but Ares put his free hand in the middle of
Joxer's chest and held him down. It wasn't hard.
Joxer had never been exactly robust, and the loss of
blood had weakened him terribly. "Lie still, mortal,"
snapped Ares. "You've gotten yourself into a bad
state, and if you want a chance to live, you'll have
to do exactly as you're told."

"Yes, lord Ares," he whispered.

"Shut up, fool. You need to conserve your strength."

"Yes, lord..."

"Shut UP!" Ares could feel the blood trying to escape
as a flutter against his palm. "'POL!" he roared.

"I'm here, I'm here. No need to scream." The Sun
God, tall and golden came into the room, the priest
scurrying behind to keep up with his long strides.
"My priest tells me that you're disrupting the
serenity of my temple on behalf of a human? Who is
it? Priest? Warlord? Current bed warmer?" He
caught sight of the wounded man, and blinked. "Isn't
that Aphrodite's pet?"

"How should I know? He's in a bad way. Help him."

"How can I turn down such a gracious request?"

"Where's Ace?"

"There's a nasty run of pox in a village near Pallas
that could turn into a plague if it isn't nipped in
the bud. Zeus, will you LOOK at the state of my altar
cloth? I'll expect you to replace..."

"'Pol, do something before he becomes Hades' problem
instead of mine."

"Impatient. How bad is that wound you're covering
up?"

"Bad. It's deep, and ragged. And," he nodded at the
red streak on the silent, frightened mortal's cheek,
"he got hit by a drop of hydra's blood."

"Oo, nasty." Apollo looked at the priest. "Leave
that and go back to the storeroom. I'll need the
white jar on the third shelf from the top, right wall.
The one with the jade lid. And bring the vial of red
liquid next to it." The priest deposited an armload
of objects at the foot of the altar, bowed, and left.
"I'm going to assume from the way you're leaning on
him that he's still bleeding."

"It's slowed, but it hasn't stopped."

Apollo opened a wooden box and lifted out what looked
like a gray, tangled mass of hair-fine vines, vines
with leaves no bigger than an infant's fingernail.
"I'm going to have you remove you hand, and I'm going
to press this to the wound. Be ready to hand me more
when I ask for it. Are you ready?" Ares nodded
curtly. "Now."

Ares jerked his hand away. There was a short,
emphatic squirt of blood, but then Apollo slapped the
wad of material down. He didn't have enough of the
stuff to completely block the flow, and some oozed out
around the fast darkening clot. Apollo pushed,
jamming the stuff INTO the wound. Joxer passed out
again. Ares growled, "Did you have to be so rough?"

Apollo gave him a surprised look. "If you want him to
live, yes. Hand me some more." Ares passed over
another handful. Apollo packed it down into the open
gash, holding it in place. "Besides, if he's
unconscious, he won't be feeling the pain. I can't
give him anything to dull the agony right now--he's
lost so much blood that he might not survive it." The
gray mass was dark and wet around the edges, but the
center remained dry. "It looks like this is working.
If it stays dry for another minute or two, we have a
chance."

They both watched the wound silently. Apollo said,
"Yes, this is Aphrodite's favorite. What's his name?"

"Joxer."

"Ah, yes. Say, he's brother to Jett, the assassin,
isn't he?"

"I believe so."

"You believe? I thought he was one of your favored
followers."

"I don't bother to research the genealogy of all my
followers. The stuff seems to be working."

"Yes, it does. Remarkable stuff, this. It's seaweed.
I have an agreement with Poseidon to keep me
supplied. He brings it to me, I make sure his
favorite reef gets plenty of sun, so his mermaids can
bask. Get that bottle of spirits. The seaweed is
very, very clean, but there's no use in taking
chances. Mortals are such fragile things." Ares
uncorked the bottle and offered it to Apollo. "No, I
need to keep pressure on this. Just pour it over and
around my hand--it will soak in."

"Will it hurt him?"

"Zeus, Ares, it will be alcohol on raw flesh--what do
you think? But as I said before, he's unconscious, so
I doubt he'll feel it. Pour!" Ares did as
instructed. "Since when are you so solicitous of a
mortal's pain? This is working well. I need one more
handful, then hand me a couple of those pads."

As Ares did so, the priest returned, setting the
requested items with the other supplies. Apollo
didn't look up. "Is there a private room prepared?"

"Of course, my lord."

"Good. Prepare the binding cloths." Apollo pressed a
thick, clean pad of cloth over the seaweed. "Ares,
lift his leg so that I can get the bandage around it.
Whatever you do, don't squeeze or let it drop, or it
might reopen."

Ares hooked his arms around Joxer's knee and lifted
carefully. Apollo took the cloth strips from his
priest and quickly and neatly bound the wound,
wrapping it in several layers, completely covering the
pad. "Let it down carefully. Now I need to tend to
burn. I just hope none of it got into his blood.
That could be very, very nasty."

"Shouldn't we get him to a room first?"

"Who's the God of Healing here? I need to take care
of this NOW. If it gets into his blood... Well,
let's just say that he'd wish he'd had a nice,
peaceful death by blood loss."

Ares watched as Apollo opened the jar and, first
wrapping his finger in a strip of leather, scooped up
an oily, gray ointment. He smeared it over the red
weal, saying, "We'll do this several times a day--if
he lives. He'll have a scar, though. Even a god
would scar from a contact with hydra blood." He
picked up the little vial, uncorking it, and
hesitated. "Damn, I suppose I'll have to wake him up
to give him this. No point in having him choke to
death when I've gone through all this trouble."

"Wait," said Ares. He slid an arm under Joxer's back,
lifting his upper body carefully. Joxer slumped
against him, his head dropping back on Ares' shoulder.
"Give me that, and tip his head up." Apollo handed
the vial over, then put his fingers under Joxer's
chin, tilting his head back. "How much?"

"All of it." Ares tipped the vial to Joxer's lips,
letting the liquid trickle into his mouth. Joxer
twitched, making a choking noise. Ares dropped the
vial (Apollo had to lunge to catch it), and quickly
stroked Joxer's throat, urging him to swallow. The
man's throat pulsed, and the medicine went down. "If
the poison did get into his system, hopefully that
will counteract it?"

Ares scowled at him. "What do you mean, 'hopefully'?"

Apollo angrily tossed the vial to the floor.
"Tartarus! He's MORTAL, Ares! I've never used this
on a mortal before, so I can't be sure exactly what
will happen. I've done everything I could, my altar
cloth is ruined, I have stains on my best robe, I'll
have to scrub my hands raw to get the gore out from
under my nails, and you're giving me fucking
ATTITUDE!" He glared at the priest. "Take him to the
room. I'll check him later."

When the priest reached for the unconscious man Ares
shoved him away and lifted Joxer into his arms. "Just
show me where to take him." The priest bowed, and
Ares snapped, "Move, before you find a fireball up
your ass!" The priest scurried away, and Ares
followed.

Apollo stared after him, lips pursed thoughtfully.
*Well, well, well. Ares, God of War, acting like a
mortal's personal body slave. I think I'm going to be
watching Joxer's progress with a great deal of
interest.*

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

Ares waited for the priest to turn back the sheet on
the bed, then lowered Joxer. "He needs to be bathed."

"Yes, my lord. I will send a servant immediately."
The priest bustled out.

Ares started to leave, thinking that he'd wasted
enough of his day. *Where should I go? There's that
border trouble. The pot's about to boil there, and it
wouldn't take much to raise the heat a little.* He
thought of where he wanted to go, and prepared to
transport.

His eyes fell on the still figure in the bed, and he
paused. He lifted his voice. "STRIFE!"

There was a sizzle of energy. The Mischief God
appeared before him in a burst of blue sparks. "You
bellowed?"

"I need you to go tip those two warlords we were
discussing over into a confrontation."

"Can do." Strife was glancing around the room. When
his eyes fell on Joxer, he startled. "Hey!
Whathafuck happened to Joxie?"

"Hydra."

"Oo, not good. Is he gonna be all right?"

"Maybe." Ares was a little surprised by the question.
To the best of his knowledge, Strife only asked that
sort of question when he was hoping for a negative
answer. It didn't sound like that, though. "Do you
care?"

Strife shrugged, looking a little embarrassed. "I
s'pose so. Joxie's done a lotta work fah me." He
giggled. "Not intentionally, mind ya. If I hadda
dinar fah every time he tripped an' knocked someone
sprawlin, usually inta a nice, steamin pile of
manure..." He shrugged again. "He ain't bad, fah a
mortal. Life would be duller without 'im. Oh,
well..." He snapped an ironic salute. "Off ta
formant chaos." There was another giggle (a sound
that had cause more than one mortal to wet their
pants), and Strife disappeared.

It was just as well that he left then, because two
servants arrived, carrying jugs of water, a basin, and
bathing supplies. Strife tended to make the priests
and servants of the other gods and goddesses nervous.
The servants bowed, then put down their supplies, and
began to unbuckle Joxer's armor. The man moaned
quietly, and Ares said, "Stand back." He waved his
hands, and Joxer's armor and clothes disappeared.
"Get on with it."

The servants, a man and a woman, poured warm water
into the basin and began to sponge the drying blood
and dirt from Joxer. Ares stood by, arms crossed,
watching. *Damn, he's almost as pale as Strife, and
almost as thin. Doesn't Xena feed him?*

Ares stepped closer, dark eyes running over Joxer as
the servant's continued to wash him. He noticed a
number of scars. *Why am I surprised? Strife said
he's clumsy. I've seen him go ass over ears often
enough. I think he could trip over the pattern in a
smooth marble slab. But there ARE a lot of them, and
they all seem to be pretty old. They're faded to
white, as if they happened a long time ago.* He
cocked his head, the better to examine some a couple
of dozen lines on his shins. *Those start around
back, on his calves. They look like lash scars. I
don't recall hearing of him ever being in trouble so
serious that he'd be flogged. And even if he had
been, they don't do it across the back of the legs.*

*He's thin, but he has some muscle. I never would
have known under that claptrap he wears.* His eyes
roved over Joxer's body, and halted when they came to
his crotch. One eyebrow rose slowly. *Well, I
CERTAINLY wouldn't have expected THAT. Not quite in
Priapus' class, but then, who is? No wonder Aphrodite
is so fond of him. Joxer, it's a good thing that
beast didn't gore you a little higher. There'd surely
be some disappointed women in the world.*

The servants finished the ablutions, patting Joxer dry
carefully, then pulled a sheet up to his shoulders,
bowed to Ares, and left. Ares prepared to leave
again, thinking that he'd check back tomorrow. After
a moment he pulled a chair up close to the bed and
sat, eyes fixed on Joxer's face.

*Why did you do it? My followers are supposed to be
willing to die for me, but I know that most of them
never expect to do it on the personal level that you
were courting.* He grimaced. *And you do it by
knocking me over, then making a lucky stab--typical.
How is it that you managed to run clear across that
meadow without stepping in a rat hole, or tripping
over a daisy? Have you ever gone that far in that big
a hurry without falling?* He crossed his arms,
slouching in the chair, not realizing that he'd
assumed a posture that said he intended to be there
for a while. *Maybe I ought to ask the Fates about it
the next time I see them.*

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

*Hurts. I sure do hope I'm not dead, 'cause an
eternity of feeling like this would be a bitch. I
can't think of anything I've done that might deserve
that. Unless Ares was pissed when I ran into him? I
did that, didn't I? I didn't mean any harm. My
intentions were good. Yeah, right, Joxer--and the
road to Tartarus is paved with good intentions.*

*Oh, Zeus, I haven't felt anything like this since...
since... I don't have anything I can compare it with.
Not even that time Father laid the hot poker against
the soles of my feet.*

*Maybe I failed, and Ares died, and this is my
punishment. Yeah, it feels like something Zeus would
cook up. This would be nothing to a guy that can
dream up chaining someone to a rock and having an
eagle eat his liver every day. Wait a minute--would I
need to pee if I was dead? Hm, maybe it's part of the
punishment. Maybe I have a really, really bad
infection, and it's going to feel like I'm passing
hydra blood.* He lay still, eyes closed, for another
minute. *I think that in a little while it's going to
be a toss up as to what would hurt more--urinating
hydra blood, or holding it. I'd better get up. I
know what happens when you pee the bed, at least in my
case--a beating. I kinda expected it from Father. I
mean, why would he react any differently to THAT? I
think that mercenary who crawled into my bed in
Corinth last year might have restrained himself. He
was just as drunk as I was, after all. I'd heard that
some women peed on would-be rapists, but I never
expected to use that defense myself. Heck, I never
would have thought of it, but he SCARED me. I guess I
should have known he was up to something, buying me
all that ale. I should have known he wasn't
interested in my sparkling conversation. DAMN, it
hurts. I REALLY have to pee soon.*

He heard a quiet rasping sound nearby. Opening his
eyes was an effort, but he managed. The sound came
again. His eyes wandered toward it. *Ares? He's
alive.* The sound came again, and Joxer saw that
Ares' mouth was slightly open. *He's alive--and
snoring. He looks younger when he's asleep. Maybe if
I'm real quiet I can sneak out without waking him. I
have a feeling that waking Ares up unexpectedly isn't
too healthy.* Joxer started to pull the sheet down.
There was the minute rasp of linen against skin. Ares
sat bolt upright. Joxer quickly closed his eyes
again.

It didn't work. "What do you think you're doing?"

He tried to speak, but his throat felt raw. *Oh,
yeah. I was screaming a lot. And I suppose now I'll
be screaming some more.*

"Don't pretend to be unconscious. Your hands are
balled up into fists."

Joxer quickly relaxed his fingers. *Hostile posture
around the God of War. NOT good.*

"Do you need anything?"

*Whoa, now THERE'S a phrase I never expected to hear
from a god. I wonder if it's a trick question?"

"Look, I CAN read you mind if I have to, but it's a
pain in the ass, so don't MAKE me. Now, do you need
anything?"

Joxer swallowed. "Chamber pot?"

"Oh. Right." Joxer opened his eyes to find Ares
standing beside him, holding a glazed clay vessel with
a curved neck. Joxer started to reach for it. Ares
sounded annoyed when he spoke. "Stop that. If you do
it alone, you're going to tear that wound open again.
Just stay still."

Ares flicked the sheet down around Joxer's knees.
That was when Joxer realized that he was nude. *Oh,
geez. If I had enough blood left, I'd blush like a
boiled lobster. Boiled... Boiling oil... BAD
thought.* Ares had reached down and had his hand
around Joxer's cock. *Manual emasculation--even WORSE
thought.* He squeezed his eyes shut, hoping he
wouldn't live too long after his privates were
removed. He was, after all, rather fond of them.
He felt a cool touch against the underside of his
member, and slitted one eye open.

Ares had directed his cock into the mouth of the pot.
He glanced at Joxer. "Well? I can't spend all day
standing around, holding your dick. Pee if you have
to."

"I... um... I don't need to now."

"PEE!" Joxer did--abruptly. When the urine stopped
tinkling into the pot, Ares gave Joxer's member a
surprisingly restrained shake, then lowered it back to
rest against his groin. He walked over to a table and
set the jug down. His back turned to the bed, he
slowly rubbed his hands together, glancing back at
Joxer. "If you need to crap, you'll have to get one
of the servants to take care of it. I draw the line
there. Do you want anything else before I go?"

"I... I'm a little thirsty."

Ares silently went back to the bed and materialized a
goblet. Joxer flinched when Ares reached for him, but
stayed still when his god scowled. Ares lifted his
torso a little, and held the goblet to his lips,
letting him sip.

It was the coolest, sweetest water Joxer had ever
tasted. When he'd had a few sips he stopped. "Thank
you." Ares offered the goblet again. "No thank you."

"Apollo said he couldn't give you any drugs for the
pain, but this should help a little."

*That was good water, but I hardly think it'll dull
pain.* Joxer glanced down. The liquid in the goblet
was a rich red, and it smelled tart. *What the...?
Oh, yeah--divine powers.* Joxer drank the proffered
wine gratefully. It DID help a little. He frowned,
licking his lips. "I had the weirdest taste in my
mouth."

Ares found himself watching the path of that pink
tongue, tracing the shape of Joxer's mouth. He made
the goblet disappear, and said absently, "That would
be the hydra blood antidote. Zeus knows what's in it.
If I were you, I wouldn't ask Apollo about it."

"Why would I talk to Apollo?"

"He'll be looking in on you, idiot. This is his
temple, and I doubt that he'll leave you to his
priests after tending to you personally."

"Ah-Apollo hih-himself?"

"You don't believe me?" Ares sounded ominous.

"No! I mean yes! I mean... Um, I didn't think there
WAS a temple near the shepherds' camp."

"There isn't. You're on Olympus." Joxer blinked,
then his eyes rolled back in his head, and he fainted.

Ares quickly put his ear against Joxer's chest. His
heartbeat was steady. Ares listened a little longer,
one hand on Joxer's shoulder, and the other on his
flat belly. After a moment he stood, reached down,
and drew the sheet up again. He considered sitting
back down, then muttered, "I've wasted enough time,"
and disappeared. A second later he appeared in the
temple's kitchen, and wrapped his fist in the tunic of
the closest servant. "That mortal I brought
here--keep your ears open in case he needs anything."
He lifted the trembling man till they were
nose-to-nose. "If by some insane chance he was
neglected in any way I would be very," he shook the
man, "VERY displeased." He dropped the man and
transported.

One servant went to get a mop for the puddle that had
been made by the servant Ares had selected, and
another brought the damp and shaking man a drink.



Title: Seeking Balance, 3/?
Author: Scribe
Fandom: Xena/Hercules
Pairing: None in this chapter
Rating: NC17
Summary: Joxer begins to recover, but is very
confused. So what else is new?
Archive: Sure. Tell me where, put up my email address
for feedback, and credit me.
Feedback: poet77665@yahoo.com
Status: WIP
Sequel/Series: Sidebar to the Love and Mischief
Series, might end up as its own series eventually.
Disclaimer: I did not create the characters here, I
don't own them. I derive no profit from this effort.
I mean nothing but respect for the creators, owners,
and the actors and actresses who portray them.
Websites:
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/scribescribbles and
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/foxluver
Warnings:
Notes:
Rating: Eventually NC17 for series

Seeking Balance, 3/?
By Scribe

Part Three
Visitors

Joxer drifted up to consciousness. *Oh-kay. I think
I've established that I'm not dead. However, if I
really AM on Olympus, and that wasn't just a weird ass
dream I had, that status could change at any moment.
WAS it a dream? Lessee... Ares held my dick so I
could pee. I'd say it might qualify.*

He shifted a little, the pain coming back. *Well, I
wish I could have the dream again. It was more
pleasant than this, even if it was a little scary.
Ares holding my dick... Yep--scary. Interesting, but
scary. Okay, so I'm not dead. Maybe I'm just insane?
That would explain things. Of course, Gabby has been
claiming for months that I must be crazy. She points
to Jett and Jayce for supporting evidence. Can't
argue with her there, I guess. I suppose none of us
are the tightest wrapped parcel under the Winter
Solstice tree.*

*I guess I'd better see where I am--probably some
field hospital.* His fingers moved on the smooth
sheet that covered him. *Or maybe a better class
brothel?* He slitted one eye open cautiously, then
shut it again quickly. *BRIGHT! Either I have a
window and it's broad daylight, or they're burning
enough candles or torches to endanger the ceiling.*
He tried again, managing to get the eye half open this
time. *Oh. Part of it is because the light is
reflecting off all that marble.* He rolled his head
to the side and got a glimpse of the floor. Both eyes
came open in surprise. *Sunbursts? That looks like
real gold gilding the tiles. I don't think even
Iphecles has that sort of lavish decor in his palace.
Maybe Caesar, or someone...* He closed his eyes again
with a groan. *Or a god--like Apollo.*

He heard footsteps, and considered whipping the sheet
over his head, then decided that might draw too much
attention. Besides, the pain was increasing steadily,
and he wasn't sure he could accomplish the move. The
steps came closer, till whoever-it-was was standing
beside the bed. A large, warm palm was laid across
his forehead. A deep, masculine voice said, "You
don't seem to have any fever. That's a good sign."
Joxer did his impression of a corpse. "Oh, stop it!
I can tell that you're faking it, you know."

Joxer sighed, and opened his eyes. "I don't know why
I bother."

"Ah, and capable of coherent communication."

"It's my brother Jayce who's the actor in the family,
but I thought I'd gotten pretty good at acting
unconscious, because I needed to when I was a kid, but
when I got older usually just running away was more
effective."

Apollo blinked down at the babbling man. "Perhaps
semi-coherent." Apollo snapped his fingers, and a
servant brought in a tray of supplies. "I need to
have a look at that wound, and change the dressing."
He took hold of the sheet, but Joxer clutched at it.
"Oh, really! It isn't as if I haven't already seen
all you have. Let go of that sheet. I'm a busy man,
and I don't have time for this nonsense."

Joxer reluctantly let go of the sheet, and Apollo
pulled it down to his knees. He bent over Joxer's
body, and the mortal tensed. Apollo just brought his
face close to the bandaged area, and sniffed. "No
smell of corruption. Very good." He held up his
hands, and a pair of large golden shears appeared.
"This is going to hurt." Joxer's hands flew
instinctively to cover his privates. Apollo's
eyebrows rose. "Great Zeus, who HAVE you been hanging
about with? It's for the bandages, silly--the
BANDAGES." Joxer smiled sheepishly, but kept his
hands in place. Apollo shrugged. "All right, but you
might have the urge to grab when the real pain hits
you--then don't say you weren't warned." Joxer slowly
moved his hands to his side.

"Good boy." Apollo slid the tips of the shears under
the edge of the bandage, and Joxer shivered slightly.
"Yes, I know they're cold. Sorry. I suppose I should
have warned them."

"It's not that. I'm just a little nervous about
having sharp objects that close to... um..."

Apollo chuckled. "I thought they said you were
stupid, but that's an imminently sensible attitude."
He started carefully snipping through the linen.

Joxer let his head drop back on the pillow. *Great.
My lack of brainpower has reached even unto the gods.
Figures.* As the pressure around his leg decreased
with each snip, the pain increased. By the time
Apollo was spreading the bandages open he was
sweating.

Apollo glanced up at the mortal, surprised that he
wasn't yelling with pain by now. *Well, he's feeling
it.* The man's expression was tight, jaw clenched,
eyes pressed shut so hard that his brows were drawn
down. *Well, you're braver than you look. I think
even Ares would have at least been swearing by now.
Let's see how he does when I remove the packing.*

He did quite well--only a few whines, and a yelp when
he had to work a bit of seaweed free of dried blood.
Since the bleeding had stopped and the wound had begun
healing cleanly, Apollo had intended to leave the
cleaning and rebandaging to the servant while he went
on to the rest of his duties. Instead he snapped his
fingers, and the servant brought up the basin of water
and cleaning supplies. Apollo glanced down at them,
then said, "Get me the green vial."

As the servant handed him the vial, Apollo said, "You
seem to be alert and strong enough to stand a little
pain killer. I'm going to give this to you, because
this is going to be very painful. I'm afraid it won't
actually take away the pain, but it will dull it a
bit. It should be tolerable."

"I'm all for tolerance." Joxer reached for the vial.

Apollo said, "No, you'll need help. That potion is a
bitch to make, and I'm not going to have you spill it
all over."

Once again a strong arm was slipped behind Joxer's
back, lifting his torso. *But it's not the same. It
felt different when Ares did it. Maybe it was the
leather?* Apollo held the vial to Joxer's lips and he
drank. This one didn't taste QUITE as bad as the
hydra blood antidote had, but that was like saying
that losing a toe was better than being hamstrung.

Apollo was watching the faces Joxer made, amused.
"Pretty nasty, huh?"

"Um... well..." *It's gotta be bad form to criticize
someone who saved your life, and STUPID when that
person can fry you butt just as easily.*

"It tastes rotten, I know. But hey--it's medicine. I
used to put flavorings in them, but I could never be
sure that it wouldn't change the effect. Besides,
Strife lobbied so hard."

He eased Joxer back down. "Yeah, and it'll keep kids
from getting into it, thinking it's a treat. It
couldn't be good for them to take medicine when they
didn't need it. It might make them sick."

Apollo smiled. "That's pretty perceptive. You know,
not one of the adults who complain about the taste has
ever realized that." He patted Joxer on the head,
then slowly stroked the young man's hair. "You have
quite nice hair--as soft as the Muses'."

Joxer was beginning to feel a little lightheaded.
"Thank you." *Is Apollo flirting with me?*

"I'll have one of the servants wash it for you later.
Now, to tend to that wound."

*Nah. That drug must be kicking in, if I thought
that. I mean, this is APOLLO. He has his pick of the
Muses. I have to be imagining it.*

Apollo quickly cleaned and rebandaged Joxer's wound.
As he tied the last knot, he glanced us at the pale
faced man. *Not a sound. Pretty impressive for a
mortal.* Humming to himself, he whimsically tied a
bow in the bandage's trailing ends. "Gotta make you
look good for your visitors." As he straightened up,
he drew his hand slowly up, brushing the edge of
Joxer's pubic thatch. Then he cupped his hands over
Joxer's genitals and gave a gentle squeeze. "Nice
package, dude." Then he pulled the sheet back up.
"I'll have them send in some breakfast, but you're
going to be on liquids and pap till I'm sure of what
your digestion can handle." He tapped Joxer playfully
on the nose. "Be grateful. You sure as Tartarus
don't want to throw up while you're immobile." Apollo
took Joxer's chin in his hand and studied the red mark
on his cheek. "Okay, it looks safe to handle that
without a barrier." He scooped up a little salve and
smoothed it over the weal. It had been stinging a
little, and now that faded. Then Apollo cupped
Joxer's other cheek, rubbing slowly. "Hm... You don't
have many whiskers, do you? I bet that up until a
couple of years ago your cheeks were as smooth as
Bliss' butt. You can go for another day or so without
a shave." He patted Joxer's cheek, then left, with
the servant trailing after with the rest of the
supplies.

Joxer, who had been stunned since that big hand had
engulfed his cock, thought, *Okay. Maybe he WAS
flirting. He wouldn't actually DO anything,* Joxer
assured himself. *I mean, after all, he's a GOD.*
Joxer winced. *Yeah, and so is Zeus.*

His leg was aching terribly, but drowsiness was
creeping over him. He fell asleep. He was gently
awakened some time later, and servant propped him up
with soft pillows, then spoon-fed him strong broth.
Joxer had protested, wanting to feed himself, but the
servant replied that Lord Apollo had been very
specific in his orders, and it wasn't worth the
servant's skin to disobey.

After the meal, the servant brought in more jugs of
water and a basin. "I already had a bath."

"I know. Lord Apollo has said that your hair is to be
washed."

"That's thoughtful of him, but I don't see how it's
possible if I can't get out of bed. It'll make an
awful mess."

"The trick is in the length of the hair."

"Oh. You mean that it would be hard to do it for
Iolaus, but easy for Cupid?"

"Exactly."

"Well, I'm glad my hair is short."

The servant picked up a pair of shears. These were
plain metal instead of gold, like Apollo's, but they
looked just as sharp. "Not as short as it WILL be."

Joxer put the pillow over his head.

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

Ares looked up from the map he was studying, and
scowled. "Strife, if you pick your nose one more time
you'll have to learn how to do it with another finger,
because I will REMOVE the digit you use." Strife
shrugged. He was sitting in a chair with his left
ankle on his right knee, and he casually wiped his
finger on the sole of his boot. "Why do you DO that?"
Strife grinned. Ares heaved a sigh. "Because you
know it annoys me. Silly question."

"I'm just bored, Unc. You been stewin' ovah those
maps fah 'bout ages now. I'd say 'give it up--they
ain't gonna change', but I know that ain't so." The
maps in question were enchanted. The marks on them
moved to show the exact position of different troops
and individuals that Ares wanted to keep an eye on.
"But Zeus, Unc--they're so slow that it must be like
watchin' paint dry."

"There's been a group of rebels trying to get sneak up
on one of my warlords. I've been checking their
progress."

"And?"

"They won't make it by morning, and they won't attack
in daylight." Ares scratched a few lines on a
parchment, and rolled it up. "I'll need you to take
this to Otess. Before you give it to him, try to find
out if he already knows about the planned ambush. If
he doesn't, burn his tent down. His scouts should
have warned him by now."

Strife fidgeted. "Do I hafta?"

Ares looked up in surprise. "Since when do you
question what I tell you to do?"

"Oh, I ain't," Strife said quickly. "I'll do it, if
ya really need me to, but I was plannin on goin ta
visit Joxer, an' it's gettin kinda late. 'Pol don't
like people visitin his patients aftah sunset. I'm
gonna hafta remembah that fah if healin establishments
evah become common." He tittered. "I'll call it
'visitin hours', an' it'll piss a lot of people off."

Ares looked thoughtful. "All right, you don't have to
waste any time picking for information or punishing if
he's been lax. Just drop it off, then you can do what
you like."

"Thanks, Unc!" Strife took the scroll.

"Why do you want to visit him, though?"

Strife paused, thinking. "Tartarus, I dunno. He's a
nice enough guy, he's helped me out before, an'..."
He lifted one shoulder. "Tha guy is gonna be stuck up
here fah awhile, right? It ain't like anyone he knows
from Earth is gonna be able ta visit. I s'pose he's
gonna get fuckin bored aftah awhile. Besides, he can
be funny. If ya don't HAFTA listen ta him--I mean, if
ya ain't TRAPPED with him, his babblin can be pretty
fuckin amusin." Strife tapped the scroll to his head.
"See ya soon." He transported.

A few tiny frogs hopped in Strife's wake. It was
something new he'd been trying. He said that if Dite
and Cupid could have hearts, flowers, and doves when
they transported, he saw no reason why HE couldn't add
a flourish to his transportation. Ares watched as the
little green creatures disappeared in a puff of smoke.
*I suppose it could be worse. He COULD have chosen
to use polecats--and I hope like Tartarus he doesn't
catch that stray thought.*

Ares leaned back over his map, but after a moment he
rolled it up. He considered materializing something
to eat, sharpening his sword, studying a book on
strategy, and even doing a bit of training with some
of his war dogs. None of it appealed to him. He
finally realized that he was bored. *That's
ridiculous. I'm a GOD. Tartarus, I'm the fucking God
of WAR! I'm not supposed to get bored. Why am I
bored? I've spent almost every waking hour doing my
job--fighting or planning. Then Zeus decides to
celebrate his anniversary with Hera by cutting
hostilities back by half for two seasons, and all of a
sudden I have free time on my hands. I guess I should
thank the Fates that he didn't declare absolute PEACE.
Tartarus, it would take AGES to get things back to
normal if he did that.*

He found that he was pacing, and he angrily threw
himself into a chair, unconsciously sliding down into
a sullen slouch. *This whole Joxer fiasco is Zeus'
fault, really. If he hadn't ordered me to ease up,
I'd have been off directing a battle, or something.
Instead, what happens? I'm bored, I'm looking for
something to do, I spy on Xena, and find out that
she's going to help my meddling half-brother slay a
hydra. Instead of productively slicing up some
barbarian horde I end up on that damn unstable ledge.
If Zeus hadn't forbidden me my work, I wouldn't have
been there. I wouldn't have fallen, I wouldn't have
been in danger of being hydra-chow, Joxer would have
stayed safely on the other side of the meadow, and
wouldn't have gotten injured, and wouldn't even now be
laying in Apollo's temple, waiting for Strife to visit
him.* Ares sat up a little, blinking. "Shit, I
wonder if Joxerbabble is catching?*

He didn't relax back into the chair. Instead he stood
up. *I suppose I ought to go check on him,* he
thought grudgingly. *If I can get some good news to
take back to Xena, I can lay an obligation on her.*

It was as good an excuse as any, since he wouldn't
admit to himself that he simply wanted to see how the
odd little man was doing.

He transported.

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

Strife appeared in Apollo's temple. Actually, he
appeared in the middle of the Muses' bathing chamber,
sending naked, wet, shrieking females flying in all
directions before he said, "Oops!" and transported to
the front room. He was giggling happily when Apollo
stalked in, glaring at him. "Don't start on me, 'Pol.
I was just lookin fah a friend of mine, an' I, uh,
miscalculated."

Apollo grunted. "Right--and Bacchus is the God of
Virtue and Restraint. I suppose you're looking for
Xena's tag-along?"

"Joxer, yah. I heard he tried ta tangle with a full
grown hydra, an' came out a little tha worse fah
wear."

"He's very lucky. If Ares hadn't gotten him to me
when he did, Hades would have already had him sorted
out. As it is, it still isn't a sure thing, but I'm
hopeful. If there's no infection, he should be all
right, but he's going to have to stay here on Olympus
for a while. The conditions on Earth would be just
too filthy and rough."

"He up ta havin visitors?"

"Yes. I think it would be good for him, as long as
you don't tire him out. Come on, and I'll show you
the way." As he led Strife along the halls he said,
"How did you find out about Joxer being injured?"

"There was an air sprite that saw it happen, an' she
blabbered ta Zephyr, an' ya KNOW what he's like."

Apollo nodded. "That airhead LIVES to gossip."

"Yah, well, I was tha first one he told, an' I brought
it home ta him how pissed Ares would be if he went
talkin it around that he'd gotten his bacon pulled
outta tha fire by a mortal."

Apollo grunted. "Thank you. I hate having to do
repair work on Zephyr. Parts of him just go wafting
off, if you aren't cautious." Apollo smiled. "You
know, Joxer is kind of cute, for a mortal."

Strife looked at Apollo in surprise. "Ya think?"

"Have you ever seen him naked?"

"Um... I popped in on him once when he was bathin.
That dude can stay undah watah a LONG time. I was too
busy given him some false information from Ares ta pay
much attention."

"Trust me--he's pretty nice, in a long and lanky,
needs some sun way." Strife cleared his throat,
glaring at the Sun God. "What?"

The tall, thin, pale Mischief God rolled his eyes.
*What's tha use?* "Nothin. Are we there yet?"

"Yes, we are." Apollo pointed. "That door there.
Remember the way, because I won't have time to act as
guide. No more than an hour--he needs his rest."
Apollo bustled away.

Strife walked into the room. "Heya, Joxie!" He
peered at the man lying on the bed. "Look, I know
that they pull sheets up ovah tha dead, but 'Pol said
ya were doin okay, so what's with tha pillah ovah yer
head?"

"Strife?"

"Want me ta turn tha stuffin in that pillah inta
manure an' prove it?" Joxer sighed and tucked the
pillow back under his head. Strife blinked. "That's
kind of a new look for ya, ain't it, Jox?"

"I needed a shampoo."

"Damn, man, how hard did they scrub?"

"Ha ha."

"Yah, I thought it was pretty decent." Strife went
over and sat on the edge of the bed. "So--hydra,
huh?" Joxer nodded. "Pretty ambitious, Jox. Don't
ya think ya shoulda started off with somethin a little
less threatenin--like maybe a sheep?"

"Ares wasn't being attacked by a sheep."

"Yah? Well, it coulda happened. Them things are
treacherous beasts, especially if they're in flocks.
It makes 'em vicious."

Joxer was staring at him. Strife grinned. "Oh.
You're fooling me."

"Of course I am. Damn, Jox, you're not THAT gullible,
are ya?"

"Heck, Strife, you're a god. You have access to
secrets unknown to mortal man, and for all I know that
might mean that somewhere there are carnivorous sheep.

"There aren't, but it's an interestin idea."

"You scare me."

Strife stuck out his tongue. "I'm supposed ta."

Joxer smiled. *He's nicer than everyone seems to
realize. I mean, causing mischief is his JOB, and
there HAS to be a certain amount of trouble in the
world. He's fairer than a lot of gods, too. He
usually doesn't concentrate on anyone unless they've
done something to really piss him off, and that's
pretty much what ANYONE would do.*

"Dinar fah yer thoughts."

"I was just thinking that nobody really seems to
understand you."

Strife's grin faltered, and something flickered in his
eyes. "Sure they do, Jox. Heck, I'm not
complicated--if I can cause mischief, I do." He
shrugged. "Simple."

"Sure. I guess it's the same for me. What you see is
what you get."

Strife cocked his head, studying Joxer. He knew
something of Joxer's past, what he'd had to overcome.
He knew that other people would have given up and
turned hollow, or gone bitter and turned mean. Joxer
had done neither. He was full to bursting with warmth
and affection--and he had no one to share those
feelings. Despite his desire to be a warrior, he was
one of the gentlest souls around. Those were the
reasons that he was such a favorite with
Aphrodite--she saw them, too. "I dunno about that,
Jox. Ya know what Poseidon says--still watahs run
deep."

Joxer was trying to think of an answer to that when
there was a red flash, and Ares appeared. "I've come
to see how you're doing. I see that you're conscious,
at least, and what the fuck happened to your hair?"
For a second Joxer blinked in confusion at the sudden
shift of topic. "Your HAIR," said Ares impatiently.
"What happened to it? Your head looks like a
porcupine--one that's had its quills clipped."

A little color came into Joxer's pale cheeks. "They
cut it so they could wash it. You see, with it this
short they could just use a cloth to wet it, rub the
soap on, then use a damp cloth to wipe it off."

"In other words they were too damn lazy to make the
effort to do it normally." Ares stalked over and bent
down to examine Joxer.

The hair was no more than a half-inch long. This
short you could really tell how soft and fine it was.
It DID stick up a lot, but Strife thought it was more
like dandelion fluff than porcupine quills. "Hello ta
you, too, Unc."

Ares glanced at him, his expression saying 'oh, so
YOU'RE here'. He nodded, then looked back at Joxer.
"Who did it?"

Joxer's eyes shifted. "I don't know."

"Don't lie to me, Joxer. I can find out easily
enough."

"I wish you wouldn't." His voice was plaintive.
"Sure, I didn't like it much, but I can see WHY they
did it, and it'll grow back." He paused. "Won't it?
Olympian shears don't, like, make it stop growing, do
they?"

Strife giggled. "I love 'im--he's so easy." He stood
up. "I gotta go. Joxie, I'll tell Dite what
happened, 'kay? I know she'll wanna see you."

"Okay, but don't make too much of it, huh? I don't
want her to worry."

"Gotcha. No details of pumpin blood an' hideous
screams." He twiddled his fingers, and disappeared.

Joxer said, "Why do I have the feeling that he's going
to make the description as gory as possible?"

"Because that's exactly what he's going to do." Ares
reached down and passed a hand over Joxer's scalp. "I
suppose I don't have to gut anyone over this, but they
didn't need to cut it this short, did they?" *Damn,
his hair is soft. If feels like Cupid's did, way back
when I used to brush it for him, except his curled.
Joxer's is straight. I think it would fall just like
a sheet if he let it grow. And it's thick, too. I
ought to be able to see his scalp, with it this short,
but I can't.*

Joxer lay very still as Ares rubbed his head, his eyes
half closing. *Boy, that feels nice. No wonder cats
like to be petted so much. When was the last time
someone stroked my hair? Um... Yeah, I remember. It
was Jayce. I'd found out he was going to run away
from home, and I was crying because I'd be the only
one left at home. He stayed another hour and let me
cry in his lap, petting my hair and my back. But he
still left, and the next day Father...*

"What's this?"

Joxer's eyes popped open. "My head."

"I know that. I mean this." Ares' finger moved
through his hair, brushing his scalp. "This raised
ridge, here."

"I--had an accident."

"What sort of accident?"

"It was a long time ago. I don't remember."

"What do you mean you don't remember?"

Joxer stared up at Ares for a moment. Finally he said
softly, "I mean that sometimes the Fates are merciful,
and let you forget something."

"You could remember, if you tried."

"I don't want to try. If I wanted to forget it, I'm
pretty sure that I don't want to remember it, and it's
not important, anyway. It's just a scar." He turned
his face toward the wall. "I have lots of them."



Title: Seeking Balance, 4/?
Author: Scribe
Fandom: Xena/Hercules
Pairing: None in this chapter
Rating: NC17
Summary: Joxer gets more visitors, and Ares has some
'strange' reactions.
Archive: Sure. Tell me where, put up my email address
for feedback, and credit me.
Feedback: poet77665@yahoo.com
Status: WIP
Sequel/Series: Sidebar to the Love and Mischief
Series, might end up as its own series eventually.
Disclaimer: I did not create the characters here, I
don't own them. I derive no profit from this effort.
I mean nothing but respect for the creators, owners,
and the actors and actresses who portray them.
Websites:
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/scribescribbles and
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/foxluver
Warnings:
Notes: Some myths claim that Aphrodite was born when
Zeus 'spilled his seed' on the sea foam, which would
explain the whole 'rising from the waves naked on a
giant clam shell' thing.
Rating: Eventually NC17 for series

Seeking Balance, 4/?
By Scribe

More Visitors

Ares was silent for a moment, then he sat in the chair
beside the bed. "Yes, you do, and some of them are a
little odd. Take those lash marks on the back of your
calves. How did you come by those?"

Joxer didn't look around. "How do you usually get
lash marks?"

Ares regarded him in surprise. "Did you realize that
smart remarks to me can be hazardous to your health?"

"Strife does it all the time."

"Strife is a god--he can take an occasional fireball
without too much damage. Tell me about the lashes."

"No."

"Joxer..." Joxer turned his face even farther toward
the wall, shoulders tensing, and Ares realized that he
was waiting to be, if not killed, then hurt. Ares was
faced with the unfamiliar task of making an effort to
reassure someone. He tried again, keeping his voice
level (but hopefully not in a scary way--Strife had
told him he was at his most scary when he was too
quiet). "Joxer, look at me." The young man rolled
his head on the pillow, looking at Ares. *Zeus, I
never noticed how huge his eyes are. It must be the
short hair.* "You don't have to talk about it if you
don't want to, but don't DO that."

"Do what?"

"Start to shut yourself off. I've seen too much of
that with Strife. It isn't good, Joxer. It makes you
crazy." He grimmaced. "Or in Strife's case,
craziER."

There was a distant sound something like a heavy
wind-chime caught in a hurricane, and they heard a
female voice shrieking, "Where is he? Where's my
Joxie? You show me RIGHT NOW or you'll have the love
life of a ninety-year old syphilitic SLUG!"

"Of course, sometimes you don't have to cut yourself
off from others to be a little cracked," drawled Ares.

There was the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps,
and a man's voice babbling.
"Rightthiswayhe'sfinewe'retakinggoodcareofhim..."

One of the priest's appeared in the doorway. A
dainty, carefully manicured hand shot out and shoved
him out of the way. "One side, Solar Sycophant."
Aphrodite flounced into the room, as only she could
flounce. Semi-opaque pink chiffon drifted around her,
and a few stray rose petals (left over from her
transport) drifted to the floor. Tears sprang into
her blue eyes, and she rushed toward the bed, arms
outstretched. "Oh, my poor Joxie!"

Joxer cringed. "Wound, Dite! Wound!"

She halted scant inches from grabbing him. "Oh,
right! I'm sorry, sweetie, but I was SO worried.
Hearing it from Strife, I expected to find you in
three or four pieces." She started to sit on the side
of the bed, saw Joxer tense again, and instead perched
on Ares' knee.

"Uh, Dite?" Ares said.

"Don't start with me, Ar. Besides," she reached back
without looking and tugged at his beard. "it isn't as
if I haven't done it before. Joxie, hon, are you
okay?"

"Well, I have a big hole in my leg and it hurts like
Tartarus, and I'm on Olympus, and I'm half convinced
that everyone up here is crazy, but other than
that..." He looked sheepish. "No insult meant."

Aphrodite waved her hand dismissively. "Don't sweat
it. It isn't as if most of the Pantheon hasn't had
their sanity called into question on a regular basis.
Are they treating you good?"

"Oh, yes, they're being very considerate."

"Do you need anything? Want me to arrange for someone
to come in and give you oral sex?"

*It's a good thing Joxer wasn't eating or drinking,*
Ares thought, *Or 'Pol would be in here trying to save
him from choking. As it is, I think it was a near
miss that he didn't swallow his tongue. I wonder how
he's going to answer that?*

"Nuh-no thank you."

"You sure?"

"I'm a little sore right now, Dite."

She looked worried. "Nothing, um, IMPORTANT got
damaged, did it?"

"I think it missed all the major arteries and internal
organs, so... Oh, you mean EXTERNAL organs. No, just
the thigh, and this." The touched the welt on his
cheek.

Aphrodite made a face. "Oh, my poor pookie bear.
Don't worry, doll. I think that when it heals it'll
make you look sorta dashing."

Joxer gave her a goofy smile, and Ares thought, *He's
buying that? How desperate is he for approval?* Ares
recalled one spying session when he'd seen Joxer offer
Gabrielle a handful of field flowers, and been
rewarded with a bonk on the head. *I guess that
answers my own question--pretty fucking desperate if
he'll spend about a year trying to win that harpy's
heart. Here's a clue, Joxer--they have to have one
for you to win it.*

Aphrodite had leaned over and was cooing to Joxer,
stroking the soft, short bristles of his hair. Joxer
was looking up at her with gratitude and affection
shining in his big, brown eyes. Ares suddenly unbent
his knees, sliding his heels straight out, and Dite
tumbled with a squeal. She landed butt first on the
floor and glared up at Ares through a tangle of blonde
curls. "Oops."

"Oops? Cerebus crap, Ar! You did that on purpose."

He gave her an innocent look. "Why would I do that?"
She glared at him suspicously, then got a thoughtful
look on her face. She smiled slowly. *Uh-oh. I have
to remember--I can't DO innocent. STRIFE can do
innocent better than I can.* "Dite? Don't do
anything rash."

Aphrodite smiled sweetly, and rose gracefully to her
feet. "Me? Rash? Ares, I'm surprised at you."
Joxer was looking apprehensive, and she smiled at him
reassuringly. "Sweetie, I can't stay long right now.
I have some research, and some thinking to do. But
first..." She pointed at the table, and a large glass
bowl of sweet scented pink roses appeared. "And..."
She pointed at Joxer, and he suddenly found himself
holding a stuffed centaur toy. "I'd leave sweetmeats,
but I know how picky Apollo is about nutrition during
healing. Maybe later." She bent down and kissed him
on his unmarked cheek, lingering for a few seconds
more than was strictly necessary. When she stood back
up, Ares was glowering darkly. Dite giggled. "Is it
okay if I tell Cupid he can visit?"

"Oh, uh, sure, I guess. If he wants to?" The last
statement had a questioning lift at the end.

"Cool." She wiggled her fingers. "Toodles." She
disappeared in a shower of gold and pink sparks, and
rose petals.

Ares grumbled, "Flighty woman. Why she can't just use
sparks like a normal person..."

Joxer picked a rose petal off his chin. "I think it's
pretty."

"Well, of COURSE it's pretty," Ares snapped. "She's
the Goddess of Love, she can't HELP but do pretty
things. Is 'pretty' THAT important?"

"Beautiful is good, too," said Joxer shyly.

Ares felt cold. "Right." He stood up abruptly.
"I'll check on you tomorrow." He waved his hand
briskly, and was gone in a fountain of red sparks.

They continued to rain down for several seconds. Even
though Joxer knew they weren't dangerous, he found
himself jerking the sheet over his face. The motion
was too strong, and something pulled. The pain
flared, and he moaned. *Everybody goes away. What
did I say this time?*

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

Ares appeared in his own bedroom, and was pacing
before the sparks settled. *Beautiful. Of course,
beautiful is good. Here I was thinking that maybe
there was someone who wasn't blinded by physical
beauty, since he was so wrapped up in Xena's bard
bitch, then... Oh, all right. I suppose some people
might find Gabrielle beautiful--until they were around
her for more than five minutes, or had to listen to
her voice for more than a few seconds at a time. It
would make more sense if he was in love with Xena.
Xena IS beautiful, personal prejudice about my own
blood aside. She's buff, and she can kick ass--THAT'S
beautiful.*

He paused in the middle of his room, head down, and
thought, *Of course, the same could be said about me,
and I'M not beautiful. Devastatingly sexy, maybe, but
not beautiful.* He made a sound of disgust. *Why am
I losing sleep over... Exactly what the hell AM I
losing sleep over? Nothing. Joxer is fine. I
wouldn't be losing sleep even if he WASN'T fine. I
mean, he's just a mortal--not even a particularly
IMPORTANT mortal, either. It isn't as if he's a
strategically important person, like Iphecles, or a
high-level warlord. He's just a not-very-good...
okay, hopeless. He's a hopeless warrior-type, who
nearly got himself killed...* Ares flashed away his
clothes, falling back into his bed, *saving me...* he
extinguished the torches with a thought, *when he
didn't have to.* As he drifted off to sleep, the
thought that followed him down into his dreams was, *I
never noticed before. He has brown eyes.*

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

After Ares left so suddenly, Joxer called one of the
priests in, and was granted some more of the pain
killing draft. The agony that had been building in
his leg faded back to a managable ache. The priest
gave the toy that Joxer was hugging a curious look,
but he didn't say anything. He'd been on Olympus long
enough to know that it was better just to take minor
oddities in stride. He made sure the patient was as
comfortable as possible, then extinguished the lights
in the room. When he exited, he left the door to the
hall open, to provide a little light, and to make
certain he would be able to hear Joxer if he needed
anything during the night.

Joxer cuddled the toy that Aphrodite had given him.
He was alone now, and he didn't have to worry about
feeling silly. The truth was, he hated to sleep by
himself. The only times in his life he'd felt the
least bit secure was when, as a child, he snuggled
down between his two big brothers at night, and felt
their warmth on either side. Sometimes Jett would hug
him, often half squashing Joxer as he slept, but that
was all right. And sometimes Jayce would let Joxer
hug him, smiling tolerantly as the other boy burrowed
against his side. But since they'd both left home,
there'b been no one. Well, not really. There was the
occasionaly tavern wench, but they usually wanted to
be paid. Also they were willing to have sex, but they
often weren't interesting in snuggling afterward. If
he had a dinar for every time he had heard, "What?!
You don't think you're going to SLEEP here?" If he
didn't have a real, breathing person to cuddle, a toy
helped a little.

*Of course, I can now kiss any iota of respect Ares
might have had for me good-bye. Who's going to take a
warrior with a stuffed centaur seriously? I know,
I'll tell him that I was humoring Dite. EVERYONE
humors Dite. Yeah, that'll work. I wonder why Dite
isn't with Ares? I mean, I know that she isn't REALLY
his sister, since Zeus did that 'scattering his seed
on the sea foam' bit. But that makes her his
HALF-sister, and that's still... still sorta icky.
But they're not together now, and from what I hear
Hephastus is a pretty nice guy, but she left ARES.
How could anyone walk away from him? And I'm not
talking about the increased chanced of being
incinerated or torn limb from limb, either. He's so
BEAUTIFUL. And I think that's probably inside as well
as outside. Okay, maybe I haven't had too much proof
of that inside part, but the OUTSIDE part is beyond
dispute. And as for the inside... well, I just feel
it, that's all. Maybe I ought to try to get well and
get back to earth real fast. I like that feeling, and
I'd kinda hate to have it spoiled if I pissed him off
and he killed my ass.*

Joxer settled down to sleep, thinking. *I sure do
wish I could turn over. I wonder if Ares' beard is as
soft as it looks?*

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

"Say what, Mom?"

"You heard me, Cupie."

"Yeah, I heard you--I just can't believe you actually
said it." Aphrodite scowled. "Oh, c'mon, Mom. Joxer
and Dad? I mean, I know that opposites attract, but
PLEASE!" Aphrodite stared at her son, and a small,
secret smile crept across her lips. It made Cupid
nervous when she smiled like that. "What?"

"Just thinking about opposites, sweetie. Look, you go
over and visit Joxie tomorrow and see what I mean."

"If you insist, but it will hardly do any good unless
Dad is there, too."

"Oh, I think he'll show up, if you wait around a
little while," she said smugly. "Just observe, and
you'll see what I mean. Oh, and keep your arrows in
your quiver, big fella. If this doesn't happen
naturally, I'm a sea cow," she patted her curls, "and
we all know THAT'S a damn lie." Cupid rolled his
eyes, but grinned. Typical Mom.

Aphrodite eyed her big, blond son as he sprawled in
front of the table. She indicated a brightly smeared
parchment. "Is that Bliss' latest masterpiece?"

"No, Mom--I've taken up fingerpainting." He smiled
fondly. "He says it's Aurora. I don't think she
favors purple quite that much, but I wasn't about to
tell him."

"Is he visiting his mother?"

The smile faded. "Yeah," he said shortly.

"You know that I think that you're doing a terrific
job raising him, hon, but really--a child needs TWO
parents."

"Don't start on me, okay? After Psyche, it's going to
be at least a century before I'm interested in having
another wife."

Aphrodite patted her son's shoulder consolingly, while
thinking, *And who said anything about a WIFE?*

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

"Wake up, sleeping beauty."

Joxer blinked awake. "Who?"

"Oh, and he's coy, too." Apollo was standing beside
the bed, smiling down at him. "Time to change the
dressing again. I have a salve to speed healing that
I should be able to apply today." As he pulled down
the sheet he explained, "The wound was too fresh
yesterday." Again the shears appeared. This time
Joxer didn't flinch. Apollo began snipping through
the bandages. "How did you sleep last night?"

"Okay. I woke up a couple of times."

"Hm. Well, I could give you something to help you
sleep, if you want." Apollo was unfolding the opened
bandages with his right hand. He rested his left hand
lightly just above Joxer's hipbone, and his fingers
started tracing a circle.

*Oh, Zeus! I don't think I WANT to be drugged too
much while I'm in this place.* "Oh, it was just
because I had to call someone to bring the chamber
pot."

"Yes, that antidote I gave you DOES have a diuretic
effect?"

"A what?"

Apollo peeled up the pad, peering first at the wound,
then at it. "It makes you pee, sweetcheeks--a lot.
I'm going to have them put a pitcher of water and a
mug within reach, and I want you to empty it as often
as you can. This looks very good. The wound is
beginning to scab over, and there's scarcely any
leakage on the pad."

*I'm misinterpretting again.*

Apollo completed the bandaging quickly, then smiled at
Joxer and ran a finger up the inside of his thigh.
"You'll be ready to climb back in the saddle in no
time, dude." His eyes twinkled, and he brushed
Joxer's scrotum. "Or do you prefer playing saddle?"

*No, I'm not.*

*FLASH*

"Geez, 'Pol, you're SUCH a horndog! The guy just
missed visitng Uncle Hades--at least give him some
time to rest up before you start hitting on him."

Apollo drew the sheet back up, patting Joxer on the
chest. "Careful, Cupid. You're going to get a
reputation as a prude, talking like that. You have a
point, though." He tapped Joxer on the nose, making
him blink. "You're going to need at least another
couple of days of bed rest before you use a bed for
anything but resting. We'll see then, all right?"

"Uh..."

"Super. Have to go. Demeter has a drought scheduled
to the east, and I'm going to be busy." He left.

Joxer looked up at Cupid. "Help?"

Cupid shrugged. "Don't worry about it too much,
Joxer. If you just turn him down firmly, you won't
have a problem."

"Cupid, I don't have a lot of what you'd call
resistance. Ask me sometimes about the 'Scroll a
Month' club Salmoneus talked me into joining once."

The corners of Cupid's mouth twitched. "So, how's it
going? You need anything?"

"A bodyguard would be nice."

"Look, Apollo can be an egotistical prick, but you
have to admit that he's way ahead of the pack in the
looks department. What's the problem, Jox?"

"He's... he's..." Joxer was obviously searching for a
reason. "He's... really, really blond."

"Yeah, he's that," Cupid agreed, amused. "But I
thought you LIKED blond?"

"Why would you think that?" Cupid pretended to write
something. "Oh, Gabby!" Joxer sounded surprised.
"Yeah, sure, but she's a WOMAN."

"I could find you people who would debate that with
you, but what's the difference?"

Joxer stared at him, perplexed. "Cupid, she's a
GIRL--I'm a guy. I mean, you HAVE noticed, haven't
you?" Cupid nodded, fighting down another smile.
"And Apollo's another guy."

"What's that got to do with the price of baklava?"

"I'm in LOVE with Gabby. I can't be in love with
another man."

"Why not?" Joxer gaped. "Oh, Tartarus, Joxer! You
mortals and you're prejudices. I'll be glad when you
people finally learn that gender isn't really
important unless you're interest in procreating. It
doesn't matter a flip when it comes to passion and
love."

"But... but... but... Love?"

"Of COURSE, love! Do I have to draw you a picture?"

"No, thank you. I'm not up to looking at gay erotica
right now."

Now Cupid DID smile. "You mean you might be 'up' for
it later?" Joxer opened and closed his mouth a couple
more times, eyes the size of saucers. Cupid finally
took pity on him. "I mean offer an example to
illustrate my point, not show you dirty pictures."

*FLASH*

Strife was lounging in the doorway. "Why not? Lookin
at dirty pictures is a worthwhile occupation." Cupid
glanced at him, and rolled his eyes. Behind Cupid's
back, Strife stuck his tongue out at him.

Joxer, aghast, shook his head. Not looking around,
Cupid said, "He made a face at me, didn't he?"

"Um..."

"Never mind--I'm used to it. Okay, example--Hercules
and Iolaus."

"But Iolaus can get the panties off any barmaid in
Greece, and Hercules was married."

"So? Iolaus can also charm the pants off most of the
barkeeps in Greece."

Joxer was starting to sound desperate. "Hercules had
CHILDREN!"

Strife cackled. "What? Ya think that takin it up tha
tailpipe means ya can't sire kids?"

Joxer's eyes were approaching dinner plate size now.
"HERCULES?"

Strife's laughter was progressing toward
uncontrolable. "Ya gotta PROMISE me yer gonna ask him
about that tha next time ya see him."

"Quit teasing him, Strife. Joxer, yes Hercules was
married, and he loved both of his wives very much.
But think about it for a moment--who has he gone back
to after he lost each one? He's been with Iolaus
longer than both his marriages combined. How often do
you see one of them without the other? Don't they
almost seem to share a secret language? Sometimes
they even complete each other's sentances, and if THAT
doesn't say 'old married couple', I don't know what
does."

"When you put it that way, it makes sense," admitted
Joxer. "Uh, what were we talking about before? I
sort of lost track."

"The fact that Apollo is sniffing around you, and you
aren't interested."

"Right!"

"Ya ain't?" Strife asked, curious. "Howcome? Ol'
Shiny Britches has a pretty good record where lovahs
are concerned. I mean, nobody could possibly be as
good as he thinks he is himself, but..." Cupid was
arching an eyebrow at him. "What? Oh. Nobody but
Cupid could possibly be as good as..."

"Are you speaking from personal experience, Strife?"
Cupid asked calmly.

Joxer was watching the two gods closely. *I thought
Cupid had hazel eyes. They sure do look green now.*

"I don't fuck an' tell, cuz." He tittered. "Well,
not aside from some graffiti now an' then. Anyways,
MY sex life ain't in question here--Joxie's is. Or
rathah what MIGHT be his sex life, unless somebody
lays a chastity belt on 'im."

"Hm. Well, I can't have him over at my place. He'd
never get a moment's peace with Bliss running around."
Cupid tapped his chin. "I have an idea. If it
works, I'll know whether or not I owe Mom an apology,
and it will settle this problem. If it doesn't
work..." He shrugged. "I'll see Hephastus about that
chastity belt. Where's Dad, Strife?"

"A group of rebels is about ta lace inta wunna his
warlords, an' he's busy watchin an' bein majorly
pissed," Strife answered. "He's too fuckin stubborn
ta just appear an' kick ass. He's determined ta let
tha warlord learn a lesson, but he doesn't wanna risk
losin him eithah, an' tha conflict of interest is
about ready ta pop his skull. I was with him, but
he's so ticked I decided it might be more prudent ta
put some space between us till that particulah fiasco
is ovah."

"Stay with Joxer, then. If Apollo tries anything,
drop a few spiders down his toga." Cupid transported.

Strife sighed happily, dropping down into the bedside
chair. "I love my job. So," he said brightly, "aside
from tha horny, grabby, Sultan of Sunburn, how are
things?"

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

A small group of rebels crouched hidden among some
rocks on a hill overlooking the warlord's camp in the
valley nearby. Ares was stalking back and forth
behind the rebels, cursing. Since he'd stayed
invisible, and blocked the mortals from hearing him,
it wasn't having any noticable effect. When Cupid
appeared beside him he growled, "Not now, son. I'm
trying to decide the best way to handle this shit."

"Dad, do you WANT those two groups to fight?"

"No, not now, anyway."

"Point out the leaders of each side." Ares flicked a
finger at one ragged man who was muttering fiercely to
another, eyes full of hate fixed on the second man
Ares indicated--the general who was haranging his
troops, waving toward the hillside. "Just a second."
Cupid hitched his quiver around so that he could look
into it. He muttered to himself, sorting through the
arrows, then removed two identical ones, banded with
blue and silver. He swiftly notched and let them fly,
one after the other. One thudded into the back of the
rebel leader. The other soared, and caught the
warlord square in the chest. Both disappeared with a
poof that was neither seen, nor heard by the mortals.

Suddenly the hatred faded from the rebel leader's
expression. He gazed at the warlord with great,
mooning eyes. The warlord's hand dropped limply to
his side for a moment, then pressed over his heart as
he gazed up at the hillside, a goofy smile breaking
across his face. Ares looked from one to the other.
"Tartarus, Cupid, what did you DO? I said I don't
want them to fight NOW--I didn't say NEVER."

"Chill, Dad. It's just a little puppylove hoo-doo.
It'll wear off in a couple of days, but till then,
neither one of them is going to let their followers
attack the other. Now that's taken care of, can I
have a moment of your time?"

"Sure. What's the problem?"

Cupid carefully kept his tone casual. "Oh, it's
nothing urgent. It's just that you know what a pet
Joxer is to Mom, and I'd rather not see a major feud
break out between her and Uncle Apollo over him."

Ares scowled. "Why should there be a feud over Joxer?
I thought Apollo was taking good care of him." His
voice dropped ominously. "Nothing's happened to him?"
He cleared his throat. "I wouldn't want Dite to be
upset."

"No, Joxer is okay, he's just a little freaked out."

"Well, that's understandable. Recovering from a major
injury..."

"That's not it." Cupid shrugged. "It's just that
Apollo has taken a fancy to Joxer, and..."

"Has he done anything to him?"

Cupid looked at his father in surprise. *Whoa, Dad.
That tone had more steel in it than your armory.*
"Oh, just a little friendly groping, but Joxer isn't
interested, and you know how Apollo is. I figure it
would be best to put temptation out of his reach, but
I can't have Joxer at my place, and..."

*FLASH*

Ares was gone. Cupid smiled a little. "And I guess I
DO owe Mom an apology."



Title: Seeking Balance, 5/?
Author: Scribe
Fandom: Xena/Hercules
Pairing: None in this chapter
Rating: NC17
Summary:
Archive: Sure. Tell me where, put up my email address
for feedback, and credit me.
Feedback: poet77665@yahoo.com
Status: WIP
Sequel/Series: Sidebar to the Love and Mischief
Series, might end up as its own series eventually.
Disclaimer: I did not create the characters here, I
don't own them. I derive no profit from this effort.
I mean nothing but respect for the creators, owners,
and the actors and actresses who portray them.
Websites:
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/scribescribbles and
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/foxluver
Warnings:
Notes: styptic--able to stop bleeding: slowing down
the rate of bleeding or stopping bleeding altogether,
whether by causing the blood vessels to contract or by
accelerating clotting
Rating: Eventually NC17 for series

Seeking Balance, 5/?
By Scribe

Part Five
Transfer

"Ya mean it nevah occurred ta ya that it was pretty
fuckin co-inkidental fah there ta always be a puddle,
horse trough, or pile of manure around whenevah ya
knocked Gabrielle ovah?"

"Zeus, Strife, I never thought much about it. And
since she raps me on the head with her staff every
time it happens, I'm surprised I could remember half
the time. I should have brain damage by now. Of
course, Gabby SAYS..."

"Ya gotta quit listenin ta those jerks who bad mouth
ya, Joxie."

"I will, if you will."

"Ow! Shit." Strife had been cleaning his nails with
a knife point. At Joxer's quiet response, he'd
flinched minutely, and nicked his pinkie. He sucked
the finger briefly, eyeing Joxer, his expression
unreadable. Finally he said, "I don't bad mouth ya,
Jox. Not fah a long time now, anyways."

"You know what I mean."

"Nah, I don't." There was a stubborn tinge to
Strife's tone.

Joxer sighed. "Strife, I'm aching right now, so let's
not argue about it, okay? I know a little about this.
I'm not as oblivious about myself as some people
think. When most of the known universe constantly
tells you that you're crazy, stupid, worthless,
etcetera, etcetera, you react one of three ways. You
totally shut yourself off from the world, closing up
like a clam to the point where it's a miracle if you
say a dozen words a week. You tell everyone how
marvelous you are, and how wrong THEY are, even if you
don't believe it yourself. That's me. Or you speak
the party line. That's you."

Strife stared at Joxer. He said slowly, "I ain't
sayin yer right. Ya got that, Jox? What ain't I
sayin?"

"You're not saying I'm right," said Joxer dutifully.

"Remembah that. I WILL say that ya undahstand more
about tha mind than that bitch Psyche evah did."

"Thank you." Joxer shifted. "Could you please call
one of the attendants?"

"Why?"

"Because I feel silly just hollering. I keep
picturing them rolling their eyes and saying, 'oh, no,
it's HIM again. I'm going to set his chamber pot in a
tub of snow before I bring it to him.'"

"Okay, I'm rememberin that one, but I meant why do ya
want me to call them? Ya need somethin?"

"I need to use the jug."

"I can take care of that." Strife picked up the water
jug and started to pour out a mug full.

"Not that jug, Strife."

"Nah?" He looked puzzled. Joxer cleared his throat,
then tipped his chin toward the curve-necked pot Ares
had helped him use before.

Strife picked it up and peered at it. "Whathafuck?"
Then his expression cleared. "Oh, I remembah this
from that time Mom got pissed an' tried ta remove my
kidneys. Okay, I can do this."

"You don't have to, Strife. You can just call one of
the attendants."

"Jox, have ya stopped ta think that Apollo might hear,
an' decide ta see what was tha mattah, then offah ta
*ahem* lend ya a helpin hand?"

Joxer quickly flipped down the sheet. "No cold hands,
please." Strife made a show of blowing on his hand
before he leaned over Joxer and began to help him with
his elimination.

*Flash*

"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?"

Strife jumped, and Joxer yelped. "Makin a fuckin
mess, an' givin Joxer more aches when he really don't
need 'em! Geez, Unc, are ya TRYIN ta make me turn tha
poor guy inta a eunuch?"

Ares paused, quickly taking in the scene before him.
All he'd seen when he'd transported into the room was
Strife bending over Joxer, who had the sheet down
around his knees again, and an embarrassed look on his
face. His first thought had been, *Son of a bitch,
not him, too!* As was not uncommon in his life, he'd
spoken before he'd thought. Strife was just lucky
that he hadn't reacted even more in character and
acted before he spoke. Apollo would have given him
Tartarus about the mess he'd have left on the walls,
and Strife would have been spending some time here
himself.

A second after the angry question had left his lips,
he'd seen the pee jug in Strife's hand. Now he
noticed that there were splashes of fragrant liquid
bathing Joxer's thighs, and beginning to soak into the
mattress. Ares knew that at Strife was waiting for
some sort of explanation. *He isn't getting one.
Since when do I have to explain myself to anyone?*
Instead, Ares said, "We can't risk urine getting on
that wound." He got a cloth from the table, poured
water into the basin, and began to wipe Joxer clean.

Strife watched, eyebrows slowly climbing toward his
hairline, as the God of War washed pee off the man who
was generally held to be his sorriest follower. *His
sincerest, maybe, but since when has that evah ground
any mustard seeds with Ares?*

"Shit," Ares muttered. "Some of it got on the
bandage. That'll have to be changed."

"Ya want me ta call...?"

"No!" Ares was curt. He looked at Joxer. "Are you
up to traveling?"

"Well, I can't walk, and horseback riding is out. I
might be able to manage in a cart, as long as it
wasn't too bumpy. Maybe if it had those
shock-absorber things Salmoneous has talked about..."

"Is it possible for you to answer a simple question
WITHOUT making an epic out of it? I meant
transporting."

"You mean," he waved his hand, "Brrrzapt, sparkle,
sparkle, where'd he go?"

Strife giggled, and Ares shot him a glare. "Yes."

"No, don't think I'm up to that. I have this little
fear of being hurled through space. Call me silly,
but..."

"Help me pick him up, Strife. I don't want his leg to
move any more than is necessary."

"Wait a second!" Joxer protested. "Don't I have any
say in this?"

"No." To Ares' surprise and Strife's vocal delight,
Joxer got a mulish expression on his face and grabbed
on to the bed frame on either side. "Oh, for...
Would you rather stay here and wait for Apollo to
declare you 'fit for exercise'?" Joxer's eyes got
round, and he held out his arms. Ares felt a peculiar
twinge. When was the last time anyone had reached for
him with such quick trust? *Cupid. It would have to
be Cupid when he was little, and he'd scraped his
knee, or had a bad dream. But this is different,
somehow.* "I'll support his upper body. Strife, you
take care of his legs--and be CAREFUL."

"Like ya need ta tell me. Where we goin? We sure
don't want fah you to end up in Athens an' me end up
in Corinth. I got no idea what would happen ta Joxer,
but I have a feelin it would be messy an' not too
pleasant."

"My room. On the count of three. One, two, three."

*Flash*

*Urp*

Ares grimaced. "Crap."

Strife wrinkled his nose, though he was lookin
distinctly green himself. "Nah, I've seen some funky
crap, but that's DEFINITELY upchuck."

Ares rolled his eyes at his nephew. "Now it isn't
just his leg I need to clean."

Joxer was even paler than he had been. "Well, I'm
sorry, but I haven't felt anything like that since the
time I tried to ride Argo, and a wasp lit on her rump
just about the time she decided to throw me." He
looked down at himself. "I haven't had anything but
broth and thin porridge since this happened. Where
the Tartarus did all that come from?"

Ares looked at Strife, who glared back at him. "Don't
look at me. I dint even hurl, an' I'm gonna hafta
burn these leathahs."

Ares grunted, then looked at his bed. A sheet of
linen appeared over the black sheets. "Let's get him
situated." They carefully settled Joxer on the bed.
"Strife, I have an errand for you to run while I get
him cleaned up."

"He really wishes you'd stop talking about him like he
was a chair," said Joxer.

Ares had been heading for the door, with Strife in
tow. He stopped and looked back at Joxer. His tone
irritated, he said, "What?"

Joxer looked surprised at himself, but said, "I'm not
an inanimate object. Even Gabrielle doesn't talk
around me like I'm part of the furniture." There was
a pause. "Not much."

"Fine. Joxer, I will be going to get what I need to
clean you up. I will be back shortly. Is that all
right with you?" Ares said sardonically.

He felt that strange twinge again as Joxer gave him a
shy smile. "Thank you. I don't enjoy wearing vomit.
It's happened a time or two when I had too much ale,
and believe me, if you let it dry you'd better not
plan on sneaking up on anyone for at least a month,
because your infamy precedes you, if you know what I
mean." Ares was staring at him. "Right. Epic.
Sorry. Hurry back." He winced. "I wasn't trying to
order you around. It's a generic farewell that
indicates that you're looking forward to seeing
someone again in the near future, and..." Ares was
still staring. "Is it me, or is it chilly in here?"

"I suppose it could be because you're naked," drawled
Ares. He flicked his finger, and a thick fur throw
cover Joxer, neck to toes. He nodded at Strife, and
they went into the hall.

Joxer waited till they were gone, then thumped his
head back into the soft pillow several times,
muttering, "Babble, babble, babble." *Now he not only
thinks I'm klutzy, I've added brainless. When I
recover he'll bring me back to earth, hopefully not by
just kicking me off the side of Olympus, and tell me
not to clutter up his temples again. What am I going
to do if that happens? Worshipping him is pretty much
the only constant thing I've ever had in my life.
Well, that and being treated by most of the world like
I'm as welcome as a case of hives, and I like
worshipping him a lot better than that. Though I
guess I haven't been all that much of a worshipper,
either. I mean, look at the offerings I've been able
to bring--a pretty rock, some food, wine--and THAT
from the second pressing...* Joxer didn't remember
that he'd often gone hungry to offer the food, and
that the wine was cheap because it had cost his last
dinar.

He sighed, closing his eyes. *I wish there was
something special I could give him. Something
worthy.*

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

Out in the hall, Ares told Strife. "Go back to
Apollo's temple and get all the bandages and cleansing
cream that you can."

"What--ya think they'll just hand it ovah ta me?"

"Are you kidding? They'll hand you their nuts,
Strife. They're scared shitless of you."

Strife laughed. "Ya, but it's more fun ta steal it."

"I don't care how you do it. Leave him a little, in
case someone else needs it, but don't skimp. He can
mix more of the cream up easily enough, and he can
always shred his dress robes for bandages. Oh, and
you know that potion that speeds healing?"

"I oughta. Ya got any idea how many jugs of that
stuff I've had ta swill down?"

"Bring some of that, too."

"That may be more difficult. He hordes that shit
closer than Midas did before he got tha goldfingah."

"If you don't think you can get it..."

"Please do not insult me. Of COURSE I can get it."
He rubbed his palms together gleefully. "I love a
good challenge." He flashed away.

Ares got water, soap, and cloths from the bathing
chamber. *I wonder when that wound will be healed up
enough for him to bathe? Of course when he CAN bathe,
I don't see how I can let him do it alone. He
wouldn't be able to get in and out of a small tub, and
he'd likely drown in the bathing pool. I wonder which
one would be best? I can probably lift him in and out
of the tub, but then, I could carry him in and out of
the pool.* He paused, a dreadful though occurring to
him. *But what if I slipped? He could be hurt even
more badly, and he'd think I was some sort of clumsy
oaf. Maybe the tub would be best.*

As he re-entered his room, it didn't occur to Ares
that he was just assuming that this Joxer was going to
be in his household until he was completely healed--or
just how long that might be for a mortal. Ares
materialized a table beside his bed, setting the basin
down. Joxer had his eyes closed. "Joxer, are you
asleep?" *Oh, INTELLIGENT. He won't be if he
answers, will he?*

Joxer opened his eyes. "Just thinking." *I kept the
answer to only two words! I can do this.* "I do that
a lot. Gabby says that letting my mind wander shows a
lack of focus, and I'll never get anywhere if I
don't..." *Maybe I can't do this.*

"Joxer, has it occurred to you yet that Gabrielle is
not an authority on anything, most especially
character?"

"She says that she's very careful about character
development in her stories, but I told her that...
Well, take how she represents you. She makes you out
to be a violent, arrogant, selfish, devious, power mad
near lunatic. And I told her, 'Gabby, you're not
being fair. Sure, he's a little rough around the
edges, but look at his JOB. He couldn't be all
sensitive and 'let's hold hands and sing and pet
bunnies', because if he did all sorts of things could
happen that might be just as bad as war.' And she
goes, 'What could possibly be worse than war?', and I
said, 'Oh, famine is pretty bad. And it would be bad
if some of the rulers who thought it was fun to kill
off all their subject were never deposed, and...
and...'" He trailed off.

Ares was looking at him in near astonishment. "And?"

"I don't know. That's when she knocked me out."

"I'm going to have a talk with Strife about her. I
need to get you cleaned up and change your bandage
now." He pushed down the spread and wet the cloth.

Joxer said, "I think I can do that without it hurting
too much."

'I think I can do it without it hurting at all. Just
lay still." Ares began washing Joxer, and this time
his movements were not quite as brisk as they had been
before. When he was done he dried Joxer with a soft
cloth. He noticed a dozen small scars scattered over
Joxer's chest, most of them scattered around his
nipples. He touched one. "How did you get these?
They don't look like any battle wound I'm familiar
with."

"They aren't from a battle."

"An accident, then?"

Joxer's voice was bleak. "No, it was deliberate, all
right."

Ares was opening his mouth to ask about that when
Strife reappeared, his arms loaded down. "Where ya
want it, Unc?"

"Drop it on the table over there for the time being."
Strife obeyed, and Ares said, "Did you get the
potion?"

"Look, I know Autolycus claims ta be tha King of
Thieves, but I can claim at least Prince." He reached
into his shirt and pulled out a vial of lavender
liquid. "He had it in a vault behind a portrait of
himself. Shock, shock."

Ares helped Joxer sit up and offered him the vial.
Joxer drank, then smacked his lips. "Boy, that's
better than the others. Tastes fruity."

Ares pulled a knife from his belt and bent, making
ready to slip the blade under the bandage. He paused,
glancing up at Joxer. "Don't worry--I won't hurt
you."

Joxer gazed back at him. "I know." *HOW do I know?
I was ready to jump out of my skin when Apollo was
cutting off the bandages, and he's probably as skilled
with sharp objects as Ares--in a different way. But I
just know.*

Ares undid the bandage, and scowled. "Damn it!
You're bleeding again."

Strife came over. "Not too much. Blot 'im down good
an' smear on plenty of tha salve," advised Strife.
"It's styptic if that bleedin ain't too bad."

Ares blotted away the rivulets of blood, then peered
at the wound. "It stopped." He quickly dressed the
wound, slathering the ointment on in the hopes of
preventing the pad from sticking again, and rewrapped
it. "Are you hungry?"

"You know, I haven't really had much of an appetite
since the hydra, but all of a sudden I'm STARVED. I
could eat an oxen."

"Not unless it's boiled to rags and put through a
grinder--twice."

Joxer made a face. "C'mon. I'm ready for a loaf of
bread, a big chunk of cheese, and about half a
suckling pig."

Strife started giggling, and Ares said ominously, "One
remark about 'suckling' and you'll be asking Artemis
for a ride home, because I will put you on the moon."

"Yer crampin my style, Unc."

"Someone has to." Ares held out his hands, and a
steaming bowl of bread and milk appeared in his hands.
He sat beside Joxer, prepared to feed him.

"Can't I at least have pudding, or something?" Joxer
asked plaintively.

"If you do well in the next day or two, we'll see."

Strife said loudly, "I'm gonna go crash, unless ya
need me, Unc."

"No, go on."

"Check." Ares had lifted the first spoonful and held
it toward Joxer. Strife twiddled his fingers behind
Ares' back, pointing at the bowl, then he mouth,
'G'wan.'

Joxer squinched his eyes, and accepted the first
spoonful. His eyes flew wide open. *Honey. Lots of
it.* Strife grinned, and nodded as he left the room.

Ares sounded satisfied. "Not so bad, is it?"

Joxer smiled at him. "Nope. Not bad at all." He ate
the entire bowl with relish.

When it was finished, Ares disposed of the utensils.
"Brace yourself."

"Why? What's going to...? Whoops! Damn, that felt
funny! What was it?"

"I just got rid of the clean-up sheet. Couldn't very
well leave it there." Ares started to strip.

"Uh, Ares?"

"Yes?" His vest hit the floor.

"Ares, I..." He was pulling off his boots. "I
think..." Ares tossed them casually aside. "I
mean..." He had unbuckled his belt and was sliding it
from it's loops. "Do... did Dite ever complain about
you leaving your clothes laying around?"

"Her things were usually mingled with them. We
usually were too preoccupied to worry about neatness
if it had reached the shedding clothes stage."

"Why are you taking off your clothes?"

"Do you wear all your clothes when you sleep at home?"

"I haven't had a home since I was fifteen."

Ares paused in unfastening his pants. "You ran away
from home at fifteen?"

"My brothers did it when they were fourteen, and I
didn't run away. My father threw me out."

Ares gritted his teeth. "We're going to have to have
a long talk soon. Anyway, I sleep in the nude, so the
clothes come off."

"You--you're going to sleep here?"

"It's MY bed." Joxer was staring at him. "Oh,
Tartarus! Look, I'm not going to rape you. Despite
what Gabrielle may have told you, I DO NOT rape. For
one thing, I don't have to. For another, it's a damn
sight better if my partners enjoys himself."

Joxer's eyes were huge. "Himself?"

Ares blinked, then shrugged. "Himself, herself,
themselves."

"Themselves?"

"Oh, for... Joxer, that bed is big enough so that I
might as well be in the next room unless I -choose- to
be close. Don't worry about it, okay?" He shoved
down his pants.

*Nakedhe'snakedI'mseeingAresnakedohgodsandgoddessesdon't
staredon'tdrooldon'tgethardwhydidIthinkTHAT?!*


The torches went out, plunging the room into darkness.
The bed was so wide that Joxer didn't feel it dip.
He didn't realize that Ares had gotten into bed till
he heard Ares say, "You're so tense I can almost feel
you vibrating. Relax, and go to sleep."

*Ha. Easy for you to say.*

Not really.



Title: Seeking Balance, 6/?
Author: Scribe
Fandom: Xena/Hercules
Pairing: None in this chapter
Rating: NC17
Summary: Joxer is feeling better.
Archive: Sure. Tell me where, put up my email address
for feedback, and credit me.
Feedback: poet77665@yahoo.com
Status: WIP
Sequel/Series: Sidebar to the Love and Mischief
Series, might end up as its own series eventually.
Disclaimer: I did not create the characters here, I
don't own them. I derive no profit from this effort.
I mean nothing but respect for the creators, owners,
and the actors and actresses who portray them.
Websites:
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/scribescribbles and
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/foxluver
Warnings:
Notes:
Rating: Eventually NC17 for series

Seeking Balance, 6/?
By Scribe

Part Six
Recovery

*Mmm. I must've really lucked onto a soft piece of
ground last night.* Joxer shifted. *And the blanket
feels extra smooth, too. Must've been that pounding
it on a rock the last time I washed it.* He shifted
again. *Oo, it's nice and warm. Is the sun already
up? I hope Xena and Gabby haven't gone off an left
me again. I mean, it's considerate of them to want to
let me sleep, but...* Shift. *Something smells nice.*

"Will you be still? I'd like to sleep a little
longer."

The only thing about Joxer that moved were his eyes.
They popped open and cut quickly to the side. Ares
was lying next to him, face down, *and that weight
across my belly would be... let me check," his eyes
darted down, then returned to the ceiling, *his arm.
Okay, Joxer, don't panic. Sure, you're currently
helpless and pinned down by a being with near infinite
powers, who is likely to zap you into pieces that
would easily fit through the mouth of a wine bottle
should he realize that you're getting warm tingles.
But look on the bright side--maybe Hades will let you
relive these few seconds for the rest of eternity.
Aside from the terror, it's pretty nice.*

"You're babbling mentally, aren't you?" Ares' face
was turned away, but his voice was darkly amused.

"No, I was just... Uh, I was wondering, did Chronos
REALLY swallow his children whole?"

Ares turned on his side, facing Joxer. The dark
sheets were down around his waist, and he casually
scratched at the hair on his chest. "Yes. And if
Rhea had just allowed him to go ahead and swallow
Zeus, a lot of crap would have been avoided, because
I'm sure dear old Dad would have given him a massive
case of indigestion, and he'd have vomited up everyone
anyway."

"What must your family reunions be like?"

"Pray that you never know." He studied Joxer. "You
seem to be feeling much better."

"I am, thank you. I don't ache at all." He sounded
surprised.

Ares grunted, then sat up, running his hands through
his hair. "I have to go oversee negotiations between
a couple of warlords. I'd leave it to Strife, but
sometimes he gets carried away, and I don't want to
end up with a couple of battalions decimated because
one side thinks the other has insulted their mothers.
If I don't want all-out warfare, he's better as a
back-up. If I set you up before I go, will you be all
right till lunch time?"

"Yes, I'll be fine."

Ares had gotten out of bed. Joxer didn't have to
worry about where to look for long, because he dressed
in the divine fashion--with a thought. "Think you can
eat some toast and eggs without re-using them as
decorations for my sheets?"

"I think I can manage a few slices of toast, and maybe
a couple of softly scrambled eggs." Ares nodded, and
held out his hands, palms up, preparatory to
materializing the food. "Or three eggs. No more than
four, anyway. With a little cheese, and some of those
nice, skinny green onions." Ares cocked an eyebrow.
"That's all." He lifted his hands again. "Unless it
would be too much trouble to whip up a few sausages to
go along with that, or some bacon. I'm not sure which
would be, um, more digestible, so it might be better
to have both." Ares tipped his head. "Thank you.
That should do it." He lifted his hands. "But if you
happen to have some fruit, or a few honey cakes just
laying around, I could force them down." Ares stared.
"Really, I don't want to be any bother."

"Is that all?"

"Yes."

"All right..."

"That bread and milk yesterday was pretty good."

Ares growled. A table suddenly appeared--one that
straddled the bed completely, and was spread with an
assortment of food stuff that could have comfortably
fed a troupe of bandits. "Eat what you want, and it
will vanish when you're done. The jug is within
reach. Don't wiggle around too much, and if you have
to throw up, do it over the side of the bed."

*Flash*

The opposing sides wondered why Ares was laughing so
hard when he appeared, but decided to take it as a
good omen.

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

Joxer had eaten a hearty breakfast--heartier than he
was used to. Xena always shared whatever she had, but
rabbit and fish was a pretty sparse diet, even in the
best of times. Joxer had seldom actually been able to
eat as much as he wanted at one sitting, and when he
finally lay back from the table, he was burping
contentedly, and replete. True to Ares' promise, the
table vanished, but not before he managed to grab a
last apple--in case he needed a snack.

After a while he found that he was tossing the apple
up and catching it, pretending that he was juggling.
He'd once watched a member of a troupe Jayce was
traveling with juggle two daggers, a hatchet, and a
goose egg. Joxer had tried to recreate the feat after
the show and had literally ended up with egg on his
face. That hadn't bothered him as much as the lump on
his head and the gash in his big toe. Jayce had
scolded him as he bound up his wounds, saying, "You
try to be a little bit of everything, Yoxie. If you
try to be everything, how are you ever gonna know WHAT
you are?"

While he was distracted by the memories, the apple
landed square between his eyes, and bounced away.
"Ow!" When he could see straight again, he felt
around in the sheets for the apple. It wasn't
anywhere within reach. Then he spotted it--lying on
the floor, several feet from the bed. "Tartarus!"
Joxer stretched his arm out toward the fruit. *Oh,
right. I'd have to have arms like one of those
orange-tang-tang beasts from Sumatra.* He stretched
again. *Or maybe an octopus.* He lay back down with
a sigh. *I guess I'll just have to wait till someone
comes and gives it to me.* He stared up at the
ceiling. *I don't really want it right now.* *pause*
*It's not even ripe--it would have squished instead of
bonked if it was.* *stare* *Maybe if I hang onto the
sheets...*

He wrapped one fist in the top sheet, stretched his
arm toward the apple, then carefully leaned out...

...and found out that Ares didn't tuck his top sheet
under the mattress.

"Ow." *Dammit, he's a god, why doesn't he have rugs,
so the floor wouldn't be so cold the first thing you
get out of bed? Of course, he probably doesn't
usually get out of bed by falling on his ass, but
still. Shit, I bet I've done it now. I've probably
torn the wound open, and now I'll bleed to death
before Ares comes home, and he'll find me all pale and
tragic looking in a pool of gore, and he'll think that
it's a shame that such a loyal worshipper had to die
so young and why aren't I screaming in pain right
now?*

Joxer sat up, moving cautiously, ready to freeze at
the first stab of agony. It didn't come. There was
the usual aches he got when he took a header out of
bed (one advantage to sleeping on the ground, he often
told himself), but nothing at all like what he'd been
expecting. For the moment he ignored the cold slate
against his bare bottom (it was warming up as the
stone leeched away his body heat, anyway). Instead,
he concentrated on his bandaged thigh. He bent down
and stared intently at the bland white bandages,
waiting for the blood to blossom. After a few minutes
he sat back up, puzzled.

The next order of business was getting back into bed.
He briefly considered just laying there, but decided
that he didn't want to worry anyone. *But I'll stop
if it hurts too bad, or if I can see blood,* he
decided. He grabbed the edge of the bed, gritted his
teeth, squeezed his eyes shut, and got ready to
strain. He came up smoothly and easily, which would
have been strange enough even on his best day. He
found himself standing, with not a twinge.
"Ooooh-kay, this is weird." He was reluctant to open
his eyes, so he bent down and felt around for the
apple. Bonking his head on the bedside table
convinced him that wasn't the best idea. He sighed,
rubbing his head as he picked up the apple. "This is
more normal."

He sat gingerly on the edge of the bed. Again, no
pain. Joxer poked the bandage experimentally.
Nothing. *Am I crazy, or didn't I have a big, fucking
hole in my leg yesterday? I mean, like, bleeding
buckets, makin' a mess, headed for Hades gouge. Let's
see... Does this come under looking a gift horse in
the mouth? But if the people of Troy had looked that
big horse in the mouth, wouldn't they have figured out
it was full of Trojans, and saved themselves a lot of
pain?* He poked the bandage again--harder. Hard
enough to thump. He winced. "Oh, now I feel better."
*Maybe I should just sit here and wait for Ares to
get back. He said he'd be back by lunchtime. I
wonder how long it is till lunchtime? I could eat the
apple.*

He started to take a bite, but stopped when his
fingers squished through the peel. *Bleh. And I
thought it wasn't ripe.* He set it on the table, and
held his hand out, away from his body. *Great--now
I'm dripping. I need to wash this off before it gets
all in the sheets. He left a basin and jug over there
on the other table. If I can stand up, maybe I can
walk.*

Joxer got up and carefully shuffled forward a few
steps. He tripped, and stumbled the rest of the way
to the table. *Yep, everything normal here.* He
washed his hands, and then just stood there a moment,
bouncing on his heels, looking around the room. *I
have a unique opportunity here. I'm alone in the
House of War. I could probably find out all sorts of
secret things, if I wanted to. If I wasn't worried
about getting summarily executed.* He sat back down.
A few minutes later he stood back up. *Or I could die
of boredom. Maybe I'll just take a LITTLE peek out
into the hall.* He opened the door, and a chilly
breeze wafted against him. His balls immediately
lodged a protest by trying to crawl back where they
came from.

*Or I could die of cold. I wonder what happened to my
clothes? I can't even think about borrowing some of
Ares' clothes, even considering I wasn't worried about
being flash fried when he found out, because I don't
see anything around here that looks like a closet.
Does he even NEED a closet? I mean, he did the whisk
thing with his clothes this morning. Wait a
minute...* He searched the floor. *Where did they
go? I didn't see him pick them up.* *snort* *There's
a concept--the God of War picking up after himself.
Do they just melt away, like dew, and he replaces them
each morning? This is fascinating, but if I don't get
something between me and the breeze soon, I'm gonna
look like one of those blue painted Picts from
Brittannia.*

Even though Joxer was pretty sure that Ares wouldn't
appreciate his sheets being used for anything but
sleeping, he didn't know what else to do. He pulled
off the top sheet and draped himself in it, doing a
surprisingly artful job. He paused for a moment,
lifted a swatch to his face, and sniffed. The scent
was musky, spicy. *Ares. That's Ares I'm smelling.*
He looked down in surprise at his crotch. "Don't YOU
start! We're sick, remember?" He hastily tucked the
tail end of cloth securely away and eased out into the
hall.

The hall was long, with a couple of other doors along
the sides, and a turning at each end. Joxer padded
slowly in one direction, then the other, not sure of
where he should go--if he should go at all. He opened
one room and peered into a bathing chamber, with a
central pool of steaming water. The next one
interested him more. It led outside, and Joxer got
his first real look at Olympus.

He wasn't impressed.

It was obviously supposed to be a garden, but it was
neglected almost to the point of wildness. Joxer took
a few steps out, blinking up at the bright sunshine.
The sun was almost over head, so it should be
lunchtime soon, but he wasn't really thinking about
food. *Except,* he walked past a rosebush that was
growing ragged, fragrant pink petals drifting down to
the lush grass that rose high up on his calves, *that
this would be a nice place for a picnic, if it was
tended a little better.* There was a tiny pond that
would have been pretty if some of the choking lily
pads were cleaned out, and it was overhung by a willow
that trailed lacy green fronds into the water. *Yes,
this place could really bloom, with a little care. I
wonder why it's so neglected?*

"JOXER!"

Joxer flinched, instinctively diving behind an azalea
bush. *WhatdidIdonow?* There was a boom, and a flash
emanated from the door he'd left open. *Oh, DAMN, he
must be mad if I can see it all the way out here! I
wonder if it would kill me to just dive over the side
of Olympus?*

He stayed crouching for a few moments more, then he
heard a voice calling, "Joxer! Joxer, if yer here,
say somethin! C'mon, Joxer, this ain't no place ta
play hide an' seek."

Joxer reluctantly got out from behind the bush, went,
and peeked into the building. Strife was standing at
the end of the hall. When he saw Joxer he hurried to
him. "Quick! Ya gotta come with me!"

"Where?"

"Ta Apollo."

Joxer pulled back from Strife's grasp. "Don't wanna."

"Damn it, Jox, c'mere!" Strife grabbed him. "Unc
thinks Apollo nabbed him, an' there's gonna be war on
Olympus if I don't get ya there ta show him it ain't
so, so shut up an' hang on tight."

*Flash*

"DUCK!"

Joxer hit the floor, dragged down behind a sofa by
Strife, just in time to miss the fireball that whizzed
over them. Strife patted him on the back. "Ya gonna
hafta learn ta be faster'n that if yer gonna hang
around here."

"Can't I just go somewhere safe, like a battlefield?
Maybe the Underworld? I hear things can be peaceful
in Asphodel."

"Propaganda, kid."

Joxer realized that he heard very loud, very angry
voices nearby.

"I cannot BELIEVE that you would just KIDNAP one of my
patients! What if the wound reopens?"

"I'm taking care of him. I heard how you were groping
him, 'Pol, and I won't have it. The poor nit needs to
recuperate in peace."

"You aren't fooling me for a second, Ares. It's not
my fault if you can't take care of your pets, and I
have to patch them up. What are you going to do if he
gets gangrene? He could lose that leg."

"I'm not exactly unfamiliar with wound treatment, and
you're not fooling me, either. You only want him
because..."

Strife popped up from behind the couch and bellowed,
"Company!" He grabbed Joxer's shoulder and pulled him
up, too. "Found 'im wanderin around yer backyard,
Unc. See? All in one piece--still as pure as when ya
left him." He looked at Joxer. "Ya are, aren't ya?"

"Why would you want to know...?"

"Just NOD," Strife hissed. Joxer nodded. "Now quit
buildin up that power charge, Unc. Ya know Zeus will
be pissed if ya do anythin nasty ta Golden Boy."

Ares flicked his fingers, and the red charge that had
been building up on his palm dissipated. He stalked
over to Joxer, leaned over the sofa (causing Joxer to
lean back, and bump his head), and snapped, "DON'T DO
THAT TO ME!"

"I... what... Okay."

"And lie down before you kill yourself."

Joxer started around the sofa, only to find himself
swept up into Ares' arms. "I can walk! I can walk!"

"Shut up. I thought I told you not to wiggle around,
Joxer."

"I wasn't wiggling. I only walk that way when my
pants are too tight."

"I... I'm not going to discuss that right now." He
lowered Joxer onto the sofa. "'Pol, get over here and
examine him."

Apollo crossed his arms. "Oh, NOW you want my help."

Strife said, "'Pol, hello? Dedication to the
well-being of others? Remember that?"

"Piss! All right, stand out of the way, Ares."
Apollo went to the sofa. "Damn, Joxer, what's with
the black? As pale as you are, you look like a
Bacchae in that."

Strife rested his chin on the back of the sofa. "I
like it. I think I'll call it 'goth'."

Ares peered around Apollo. "Is that one of my
sheets?"

Joxer's voice was small. "I was cold."

Apollo started to raise the hem of the impromptu toga.
It was moving toward the groin area when Ares reached
out and caught Apollo's wrist. "That's high enough.
Everything that you need to look at is uncovered."

"You're a pain in the glutes sometimes, bro. Let go
so I can get on with this." Ares did. The shears
appeared, and Apollo carefully cut away the dressing.
"Judging from the outside of the bandage, I don't
THINK there will be a major problem, but stand by to
run for supplies." He spread the linen aside, leaning
down to run a critical eye over the wound.

He blinked, and leaned closer. Ares tried to look,
too, but his view was blocked. He didn't like the
silence, though. "What? What's wrong?"

"Um... nothing, actually. That's what's puzzling me."

"Why should you be confused that he's healing?"

"Well, bro, to start with, healing is never a sure
thing, not even with gods, dig? I've had things I
thought should have cleared up in a couple of days
linger for weeks, and vice-versa."

"And?"

"This has me stumped." He took a half step back,
indicating that Ares should look.

Ares moved closer and looked. He stared. "I'll be
damned."

"Probably," said Apollo dryly.

Where yesterday there had been ragged, gaping, still
moistly red flesh, there was now an irregular, shiny,
dark pink patch of skin. It was slightly textured,
like plaster that had been carelessly smoothed, but it
could undoubtedly no longer be classified as a wound.
It was now a scar. "What the fuck happened?"

Apollo shrugged. "Search me. I'm good," he traced a
finger around the perimeter of the scar. "But I'm not
THAT good."



Title: Seeking Balance, 7/?
Author: Scribe
Fandom: Xena/Hercules
Pairing: None in this chapter
Rating: NC17
Summary: Something new has been added, and Joxer isn't
at all sure he's happy about it.
Archive: Sure. Tell me where, put up my email address
for feedback, and credit me.
Feedback: poet77665@yahoo.com
Status: WIP
Sequel/Series: Sidebar to the Love and Mischief
Series, might end up as its own series eventually.
Disclaimer: I did not create the characters here, I
don't own them. I derive no profit from this effort.
I mean nothing but respect for the creators, owners,
and the actors and actresses who portray them.
Websites:
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/scribescribbles and
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/foxluver
Warnings:
Notes: I don't know if Thalia is the youngest Muse or
not, but she is in this story.
Rating: Eventually NC17 for series

Seeking Balance, 7/?
By Scribe

"I don't get it," said Apollo. "I mean, this rate of
healing is unprecidented, even on Olympus. Strife is
the quickest healer we have, due to having SO MUCH of
it to do, in my humble opinion..."

Strife cackled. *sniff* "Sorry, 'Pol, it's just you
usin tha adjective humble ta apply ta anything about
yerself. But yer right. It woulda taken me at least
a week ta get ta this stage."

Apollo nodded. "And that would have been with the
healing potion." Ares and Strife looked at each
other. "You didn't." They shrugged. "You COULDN'T
have! I had it cleverly hidden."

"Nice portrait," said Strife.

"STRIFE!"

Apollo reached for him. Strife ducked, but he didn't
really need to. Ares intercepted his brother. "For
once it's not his fault. I TOLD him to bring it."

Apollo threw up his hands, rolling his eyes skyward.
Joxer, happy that they seemed to have forgotten about
him for the moment, thought, *I know that when I do
that, I'm sort of mentally appealing to the gods on
Olympus to witness the crap that I'm going through.
Why is he doing it? Is there someone we don't know
about on a higher level? I'd better not think about
that. My head already hurts from trying to keep track
of what's going on.*

Apollo was thinking again. "Ares, I've never tried
that on a mortal! There's no telling what sort of
effect it will have on him."

"From what I can see it's only been a positive effect,
so what are you worried about?" said Ares
dismissively.

"Uh-huh. And what kind of effect do you think it's
going to have on things when Zeus finds out Joxer is
now immortal?"

"WHAT?" Strife fell down behind the couch. He could
be heard giggling breathlessly. "Shut up, Strife.
Apollo, how could this happen."

Again the eye rolling. This time Joxer studied the
ceiling warily. "How do you think the healing potion
works?"

"How should I know? That's your department. I don't
ask Dite how her concoctions make people go all goopy,
and I damn sure don't ask Hecate how HER'S do what
they do."

Apollo looked at Joxer. "Joxer, how did that last
dose of medicine taste?"

Joxer smacked his lips thoughtfully. "Surprisingly
nice, actually. Sort of like a mixed fruit punch."

Apollo spread his hands in a 'you see?' gesture. When
Ares didn't respond, he shouted. "Apples! Damn, this
HAS to be willful ignorance, because you CAN'T be that
stupid. Golden apples, Ares. Not a lot, but enough
to do the trick for a mortal. Joxer, next time you
see Uncle Hades, all you have to worry about is the
proper form of address. He'll just be sending you
back topside."

Ares sighed. "I can't believe..."

Joxer scrambled to his feet, face flushed. He yelled
at Ares, "Why do you hate me so much? What did I
ever do to you? All I ever did was worship you,
and... and..." He dashed out of the room, sheet
flapping.

There was silence. Ares started after Joxer, but
Apollo grabbed his arm (a pretty brave thing, when you
think about it). "Hang on, Ar. He's upset right now.
Give him a few minutes to himself."

"Are you sure he'll be all right?"

Apollo shrugged. "He's immortal, remember? Did you
do something to him before Strife brought him back?"

"I left him eating breakfast, and he was gone when I
got back. He seemed happy enough. How did we get
from there to here?"

"It's strange. I've never heard of a mortal being
upset when he found out he was gifted with
immortality."

Strife climbed into view. "Maybe cause some mortals
might view it as a curse instead of a gift. Ya evah
think of that?"

Apparently Apollo hadn't. "He must not realize that
eternal youth is included. I can see being upset if
you'd have to go on and on, getting all wrinkly and
decrepit."

"Not it eithah, Bright Boy. Eithah one of you two
thought about what mosta Joxer's life has been like?"

Ares said, "Sure, a warrior's life is hard, but he
chose it."

Strife shook his head. "Yer only partly right. It
was chosen fah him. His dad dedicated him an' his
brothahs to ya when they were still snot noses,
remembah? Joxer DID decide ta continue once he grew
up, cause it was all he knew, an' by then, well, you
were his GOD, Unc. Joxer don't desert people he cares
about, no mattah how much he's ignored, or kicked. Ya
musta noticed that, right? How long has he been
taggin along with Zeen an' Gabs, with nothin ta show
fah his loyalty but thumps, condescention, contempt
that they don't bothah ta hide, an' tha occasional
fish dinnah or pat on tha head, when Zeen is feelin
generous?"

"Hearing you put it like that, it makes me want to
smash them myself," said Apollo.

Ares sounded doubtful. "It hasn't been THAT bad a
life for him, has it?"

Strife shrugged. "Oh, he's been happier in tha last
coupla years than he was before. His early life was
really pissy, though. I don't know alla it, an' I had
wunna his Dad's war horses kick tha old asshole in
that nuts, then crush botha his kneecaps." Strife
grinned. "I gotta special agreement with Gaia that
his neighborhood has more cold, damp weathah than tha
climate would usually support."

Strife clambered over the back of the sofa and sat on
it. "Since Jox has been nekkid as a jay bird lately,
I s'pose ya noticed tha numbah of scars?"

Ares nodded. "I asked, but he didn't want to talk
about them. Do you have any idea how he got those
lash marks on his calves?"

Strife's expression tightened. "Lessee... those were
from tha time Jonas was beatin Joxer's mothah, an'
Joxer tried ta stop 'im. Jayce an' Jett had already
left home by then. I dunno what the woman had did ta
piss Jonas off, but he prob'ly woulda killed tha sad
bitch that time, if Joxer hadn't distracted him.
First Jonas beat Joxer unconscious. Then he strung
him up by his wrists an' spent tha next three days
whippin him whenevah he had tha inclination, or
energy. He also used anythin that was just layin
around handy. Jonas finally let her cut Joxie down,
an' she kept him alive, an' nursed him back. Joxer
nevah was all that sturdy, ya know, an' he's been a
little fragile evah since." Strife looked down at his
lap, fingers working restlessly at the leather
covering his thighs. "He begged her ta let him die.
Said he hoped he could get inta tha fields, but he
figured Tartarus couldn't be much worse than what he
already had. She guilted him inta wantin ta stay
alive."

Ares and Apollo were both regarding Strife with
bemusement. This was the longest coherent speech
either could remember their nephew making. Ares
finally shook his head, as if clearing it. "I'd
better go find him." He left the room.

Apollo sat next to Strife. "Since when have you been
all sympathetic for a mortal's troubles."

Strife elbowed him. "Look, all children are mine, up
to what some people laughinly call tha age of reason.
When they start bringin grief down on their heads
through their own powah, I lose mosta my interest in
'em. Joxer nevah reached that stage. Tha poor goofus
has been a freakin' victim ALL his life, but he's
nevah ceased ta believe that things'll get bettah if
he just tries hard enough. Now, from most people,
that attitude would make me wanna spit, but from
Joxer--it's kinda... I dunno... Endearin, I guess.
An' if ya tell anyone I said that..."

"I know, I know. Muses with PMS, snapped harp
strings, dive bombing birds, loose wheels on my
chariot..."

"Ta name only a few of tha delights I'll visit on ya.
Deal?"

They shook hands. "Deal. And if YOU tell anyone
about THIS..."

"Yer so cute when ya try ta be threatenin."

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

Ares searched in a systematic manner. Finally he
heard the soft murmur of female voices. *That'll be
the Muses. Well, they aren't screaming, but maybe
they've seen him. It's worth a shot.* Ares followed
the voices. The scene he walked in on was...
unexpected, to say the least.

Joxer hiding behind furniture while shrieking Muses
threw pottery was believable. Joxer knocked out cold
and trussed up would have been even more believable.
Joxer, surrounded by petting, cooing Muses, who seemed
to be attempting to kill him with kindness, was not
believable at all, but there it was. He was ensconced
on a comfortable sofa, with his head in the lap of
Melpomene, who was stroking his short hair, her
usually grave expression sadly tender. Urania was
holding his feet, massaging them, carefully wiggling
each toe. Euterpe was playing her flute and Clio was
playing her lyre as Terpsichore danced before Joxer.
Erato and Polyhemia were taking turns feeding the
totally baffled new immortal grapes.

Calliope, the senior Muse, and Thalia, the youngest,
spotted Ares, and hurried over, shoving him back out
of the room before anyone else noticed. Out in the
hall, Calliope hissed, "What have you been doing to
that poor, sweet little man?"

Ares blinked. "I thought I was going to have to
rescue him from you girls."

Thalia snorted. "Huh. It's not us he needs rescuing
from. That poor baby. He comes flying into our room,
and Mel asks him, very calmly, what he's doing in
there, and he just wails, 'Why can't beautiful people
ever be HAPPY to see me?'" She smacked Ares with her
shepherdess crook.

"Ow! Why are you hitting me?"

"Well, he'd just come from being with you, silly, so
you must've been the one he was talking about."

Ares shook his head. "He must've meant Apollo, but
that doesn't make sense, either." He scowled.
"Apollo would be just TOO damn happy to see Joxer."
The two Muses exchanged looks, then started whispering
together. Ares couldn't be sure, but he thought he
caught the words 'Dite', 'cute', and 'clueless'.
"What?"

They smiled at him. "Nothing," said Calliope. "We'd
love to keep him, but Apollo draws the line at two
footed pets. You'll have to take him home with you."

Ares looked into the room. Urania was trying to
convince Joxer to let her paint stars on his toenails.
"I don't know. He's immortal now, so there isn't
much on earth that would be a threat to him, but up
here... Zeus won't like it when he finds out."

"He'll be safe at your place," said Calliope
confidently.

"I wish I could be sure."

"With all nine of us, Apollo, Dite, Strife, and Cupid
distracting Zeus, he will. We might even get
Persephone to kick in, since the fewer times Joxer
Hades has to send Jox back, the more time he has to
spend with Seph."

Ares eyed the two Muses suspiciously. "Why is
everyone suddenly so co-operative?"

He didn't like the way Thalia was giggling. Too much
like Strife when he was up to something. "Just keep
him at your Olympic temple for a few months, letting
him get adjusted to his new state, before you toss him
out." She glared. "He's had enough of that in his
life."

"I suppose I can do that. He's already proved he can
keep himself amused." Ares walked into the room.
"Joxer."

Joxer swallowed a grape the wrong way and started
coughing. The seven Muses around him were immediately
thumping him on the back and shoulders (or, in
anxiety, anyplace they could reach). Consequently he
was getting pretty lustily thumped. As she whacked
him, gentle Euterpe was trying to reassure him.
"Don't be scared, Joxer. Remember, you can't die now.
Choking feels rotten, sure, but it can't kill you."

"Really, ladies, I'm okay," he said hoarsely. He
caught whatever flying hands he could. "PLEASE don't
distress yourselves over me."

"Are you ready to go now?" asked Ares. His voice was
more subdued than usual. Calliope and Thalia went
around, whispering in the ears of their sisters. Soon
all of them were looking at Ares with small, secret
smiles. "I'd really like to get home. I feel like
I'm about to be overwhelmed by estrogen." Joxer gave
him a questioning look. "I don't know. It's
something female, like testosterone is something male.
Strife is continually bringing back unearthly
concepts from the future. It just sounded right in
this instance." Joxer stared at him doubtfully. Ares
held out his hand. "Joxer?"

Joxer had never heard his name said like that. It was
as if there was a whole string of thoughts and
feelings, a whole epic poem of a story, in those two
syllables, Ares said it in just that tone. *I think I
might be able to figure it out if I just sat with him
for a long, long time, and listened to him say it over
and over again. That won't happen. But maybe if I go
with him I can hear it one more time--if I'm lucky.*
He gently disengaged himself from the Muses and stood
up, going to stand beside Ares. He bowed to the
women. "Ladies, I'm sorry I intruded, and I thank you
for your kindness."

"It's all right, Joxer," said Melpmene softly. "You
come back and see us sometime--some time when you're
feeling better."

Ares took Joxer's hand. Joxer looked down at them,
then up at Ares. "I have to transport us." *Why am I
explaining this to him?* "I know it makes you sick,
but we can't go walking around outside right now."

"It's okay."

*Flash*

The Muses started chattering happily. Erato said,
"So, which one of them do you think will snap to it
first?"

Melpone said, "Joxer. He already knows he loves Ares.
He just doesn't know he's IN LOVE with him."

"Is it just going to be a fling, or are they going to
STAY together for a few decades?" asked Polyhymia. "I
already like the little guy, and I don't want to get
too attached if he's going to be sent away in just
thirty or forty years."

Calliope said, "I'd say it's going to last, and it's
going to be HOT. After all, Aphrodite AND Cupid are
involved. Now, lets come up with suggestions as to
what to do to that snot bard who's been so mean to
him."

"Oo, oo! I know!" Thalia waved her hand. "Every
comic writer in Greece is suddenly going to start
naming all their most haggish female characters
Gabrielle!"

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

*Flash*

They had appeared in Ares study. "Sit down." Joxer
took one of the chairs before Ares' desk. He was a
little surprised when the War God didn't go behind the
desk, but instead too the chair beside him. Ares
materialized a cup of wine and offered it to Joxer.
"Here. You probably need this." Joxer took the wine
and gulped it down. "That's some of Dionyses' best,
Joxer. Do that again, and you'll probably slide right
out of that chair." He tapped the side of the cup
again, and it refilled. "I mingled that one with some
water. Sip it."

Ares slumped more comfortably in his chair, stretching
out his legs and crossing them at the ankles. "I'm
still not entirely sure how you got it into your head
that I purposefully did something to hurt you."

Joxer flushed. "I'm sorry. I was sort of freaked
out."

"Learning you're never going to die can do that to
you, I suppose. Joxer, I was trying to make you live,
I wasn't trying to make you live forever. Immortality
isn't something to be handed out willie-nillie. As a
matter of fact, Zeus sees it as his own personal
perogative. Any god or goddess who wants to bestow
immortality on a particularly worthy mortal has to go
through an approval process that you wouldn't BELIEVE!
Lots of times the mortal in question just goes ahead
and dies of old age before a decision is reached." He
cocked his head. "Eventhough it was a mistake on
everyone's part, you sort of slipped in under the
wire, and Zeus would NOT appreciate that. I'm sure
you can understand why it would be better to keep this
information from him for as long as possible."

"You get no arguements from me there."

"Good. Then you see that it's essential that you stay
here."

"Wouldn't I be better off farther away from him, on
earth?"

"Think, Joxer. You're in all sorts of dangerous
situations on Earth. It's a miracle that Hades hasn't
already sorted you. If you keep dying, then
reappearing, don't you think that rumor will get back
to Zeus?"

"There is that. Gabrielle alone would spread it over
Greece, because she wouldn't be able to resist writing
a few ballads about it."

"So you'll stay here till things are sorted out."

"Okay. And I was wondering... You know that garden?"

Ares frowned. "I had that for Aphrodite when she was
expecting Cupid. I haven't been out there in ages."

"I was wondering. I'm going to have a lot of time on
my hands. Do you suppose I could sort of work with
it?"

"Why?" Joxer's expression, which had been
brightening, drooped. "I'm not saying no, I'm just
curious. If you really want a good garden, I could
ask Demeter or Gaia if they'd whip it into shape for
you."

"Oh, no, please!" Joxer said quickly. "I'm not
ungrateful for the offer, it's just that... Well, I
was allowed to tend the vegetable gardens when I was a
kid..."

*Allowed? I bet you were strapped to within an inch
of your life if Jonas thought you weren't being busy
enough.*

"...but I was never allowed to do anything with, like,
ornamental plants. Since I left home, I've never been
in any one place long enough. Since I'm going to be
here for awhile, I thought it would just be nice to
grow something, and know that -I- was the one who was
tending it, helping it along."

"I don't see any reason why not. Just let me or
Strife know what you need, and we'll get it for you."
Joxer beamed, and Ares blinked. *It's like Apollo
driving his chariout out from behind a cloud when he
does that.* "Anything else?"

Joxer nodded, then said hesitantly, "If it isn't too
much trouble." Ares shrugged. "If I'm going to be
staying, and I'm not going to be bedridden, can I
please have some more clothes? I'd like some pants.
This sheet is very smooth, but it's also kinda
drafty."

Ares tilted his head, studying Joxer. "Are you
positive that your wound isn't giving you ANY
discomfort?"

"Not a twinge." Joxer shivered as a crackle of red
static ran over him, from head to toe.

"I can't do anything about the hair--that'll just have
to grow back by itself, though why the healing potion
didn't regenerate it, I'll never know."

Joxer looked down at himself. He was wearing a simple
white linen shirt, and brown leather pants and boots.
"Wow! I haven't had anything this nice since my last
set of 'go to temple' clothes when I was a kid!" He
hopped up to try out the boots, walking slowly across
the room. "And these boots are... are better than
SEX! Um, well, maybe not THAT good, but BOY, are they
comfortable! Can I go out and look at the garden
again? I want to start planning what I'm going to do
with it."

"Just stay out of the audience room."

"Will do!"

Joxer walked out slowly, again keeping his eyes
admiringly on his new footwear. He didn't notice how
closely Ares was watching him. When he was gone, Ares
muttered, "I'll be damned. He DOES wiggle in tight
pants."



Title: Seeking Balance, 8/?
Author: Scribe
Fandom: Xena/Hercules
Pairing: None in this chapter
Rating: NC17
Summary: Joxer settles in, and Ares sees where having
him around could be a good thing.
Archive: Sure. Tell me where, put up my email address
for feedback, and credit me.
Feedback: poet77665@yahoo.com
Status: WIP
Sequel/Series: Sidebar to the Love and Mischief
Series, might end up as its own series eventually.
Disclaimer: I did not create the characters here, I
don't own them. I derive no profit from this effort.
I mean nothing but respect for the creators, owners,
and the actors and actresses who portray them.
Websites:
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/scribescribbles and
http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/foxluver
Warnings:
Notes:
Rating: Eventually NC17 for series

Seeking Balance, 8/?
By Scribe

Part Eight
Settling In

Ares stood, glanced upwards, and called, "Eris!"

There was a crackle, and his twin appeared, looking
impatient and irritated, as usual. "What's up, and
make it quick. I left a hot king of thieves tied up
behind the altar at one of my temples. If I don't
hurry, he'll be limp where it counts, and stiff where
it won't do me any good."

"There's going to be someone around for the next two
or three months. No killing or maiming, and try not
to scare him shitless, if you can help it."

"What? Did you have a 'win a vacation with your god'
contest for your mortal warlords?"

"No, it's a worshipper I'm... uh... sort of doing a
favor for."

Eris had been preparing to transport, not really
expecting any kind of substantial answer, and now she
paused. "You mean a plain old mortal-mortal?"

Ares chewed his lip. "Not exactly."

Now she sat down. "Ar, they either are, or they
aren't. There isn't a whole hell of a lot of in
between."

"Well, he's human, but he's not mortal anymore."

"Oh, crap. You didn't leave a golden apple laying
around, did you? Zeus will be PISSED--not to mention
Gaia."

"I don't think we have to worry about Gaia. Any woman
with the least bit of softness in her heart seems to
direct it toward him."

"Joxer, huh?"

He stared at her. "How the TARTARUS do you know
that?"

She shrugged. "I've had a few chances to gut him, and
for some reason I never do. I can't explain it. I
guess part of it is because he's good comedy relief.
Oh, and he's terrific at spreading chaos, whether he
means to or not, but this is going some, even for him.
How did this happen?"

Ares explained the situation as quickly and as plainly
as possible, but he found that he was rambling a
little verbally. "And now I think his speech
mannerisms are rubbing off on me. Are you SURE you
didn't have twins when you had Strife and just
misplace one of them?"

"You think Hera would have let me get away with that?
Okay, he's safe enough from me, and I'll kick in with
the misdirection if it looks like His Royal Goatiness
is getting suspicious." She stood up. "But you'd
better figure out what you're going to do with him,
bro. Let him hang around too long, and people will
start to talk." She flashed away.

Ares thought of the Muses, Aphrodite, and Cupid.
"What do you mean START?"

Ares went in search of Joxer, and found him outside.
The new immortal was walking around the perimeter of
the garden, muttering to himself intently. *That's
it--he's crazy.*

As he approached, though, Ares listened more closely.
"Let's see--nice even rectangle. Maybe I can plant
bushes along the wall to hide them. Not all the same
kind, though--that would look too formal, too stiff.
Not roses, but I'll have roses scattered through the
garden. Azalea, laurel, forsythia, hydrangea. Boy, a
lot of them end in 'eeah', don't they? Oo, and
hibiscus, LOTS of hibiscus! They have such vivid
colors. Will they grow here?"

"Everything will grow here, Joxer. Just tell me what
you need, and I'll have Gaia take care of it."

Joxer didn't seem the least startled. He said
quickly, "But would you ask her to just bring the
seeds, or bulbs, or slips, or whatever they are, and
not just zap them into full growth? I mean, I'd
appreciate the effort, but I'd kind of like to... I
like to see little things grow."

"Most of the divinities don't bother with that, aside
from Gaia and Hera."

"Really? But you have all the time--you could see it
ALL. I mean, you could watch a tree go from an acorn
to an oak as thick as a barrel. Why don't the gods
like that? It's amazing, and after all, you all are
pretty much responsible for things like that."

"I don't know, Joxer. I guess that we've just seen it
for so long that we've sort of forgotten how amazing
it can be." Joxer was on his knees, and as Ares
spoke, he was carefully pulling weeds from around
several rather sickly looking plants. "What are you
doing now?"

"These are daffodils, but they're almost choked out.
After I pull these weeds, they'll get the space and
sunlight they need, and bloom."

"So that's your first campaign--to get rid of all the
weeds?"

"No, no!" He reached out and touched a vivid yellow
blossom, with scalloped leaves. "What would a garden
be without a few dandelions? What would children pick
to give their mothers? I like dandelions. I wrote a
poem about them ones."

"Did you? Say it for me."

Joxer paused in his weeding, looking up in surprise.
"You want to hear it?"

"I asked, didn't I?"

"Gabby said it's just a nursery rhyme."

"Nursery rhymes are our first verses, Joxer. If a
child doesn't love nursery rhymes, how can they learn
to love poetry? Go on, let me hear it."

Joxer cleared his throat. He didn't look at Ares,
fixing his eyes instead on the simple weed. "Every
day the children pass, yellow coins upon the grass.
Tiny suns or lemon pies--dandelions through children's
eyes. Golden treasures, grown from seeds. Never
call them only weeds." He shrugged. "I told you it
wasn't much."

"You need to say that one for Bliss. He'll like it.
Make a list of the tools and supplies you'll need, and
I'll get them for you tomorrow. I'm sure I can get
most of them from Demeter. She'll be happy to know
that there's someone as interested in gardening as she
is. I need to tell you about how the house operates.
Have you seen the bathing chamber?"

Joxer nodded. "Wow. Does that pool stay hot?"

"Yes, unless you want it to be cool. You'll have to
tell me if you do."

"No, hot is fine! Do you have any idea how hard it is
to get a hot bath? They charge like they're pouring
molten gold at most of the inns."

"I may have to be away for a couple of days at a time,
or even more, but if I'm not here, I'll make
arrangements for someone to be bring you have
food--Strife, Eris, Dite, Cupid--someone. I think
that the Muses will be willing to set up a meals by
chariot service, just for you. Now, sleeping
arrangements."

"Um, yeah. If you have a couch or something around,
I'll be fine. I mean, I've spent the last few years
sleeping on the ground most of the time."

"And that's what you're comparing my hospitality to?"

"NO! I mean..."

Ares sighed. "I was making a joke."

"Oh."

"Or rather I was TRYING to. There's a room..." He
was watching Joxer, watching his open expression
become more guarded, and he came to a decision,
mentally erasing the door to the (quite comfortable,
if a bit dark) spare bedroom, "but it's sort of been
in use as a, um, holding pen. It's kind of
nasty--moldy straw, chains, bloodstains, you know...
Not very cheerful. It would be better if you kept
sleeping in my room for the time being."

"You wouldn't mind?"

"I don't do much if I don't want to, Joxer. Haven't
you noticed? Look, immortal or not, you don't need to
be overdoing it so soon after you were hurt. That's
enough work for today. I have to go throw the fear of
myself into a general who's been getting a little lax.
I'll leave a cold supper on the table in my room. If
Phobos or Deimos show up, don't get spooked--the look
almost as much like Strife as you look like your
brothers. I think it might be a good idea to go ahead
and give you a mark, so they and anyone else who drop
by will know that you're off limits. Will you accept
my mark, Joxer?"

Joxer blinked at Ares. His voice had suddenly gotten
formal, and Joxer realized that this was not a casual
question. *Taking a god's mark IS serious. It
designates that you're theirs, and they don't just
hand them out. I know that Dite really likes me, but
even she hasn't asked that. And he could just TELL me
he was doing it instead of asking. After all, I was
dedicated to him when I was just a kid--he's owned me
since then.* He looked into Ares' dark eyes, trying
to figure out just why he was doing this. Then he
thought, *Who am I kidding? I'd have belonged to him
even if I was dedicated to Zephyr.* "Yes."

Ares nodded. Joxer shivered slightly as Ares reached
out and undid the first few buttons of his shirt,
pushing it off his right shoulder. He placed his palm
flat, just over Joxer's heart. "This will burn,
Joxer. It can't be helped." Joxer felt the heat pass
from Ares' hand and into his flesh. Joxer gritted his
teeth, determined not to make a sound. It hurt as
badly as that hot poker had, *but this is different,
different from when Father did that, because Ares
isn't TRYING to hurt me. He's doing this to keep me
safe--for always.*

Ares pulled his hand away, and the pain started to
fade immediately. Joxer looked down, and there was a
dark mark, not much bigger than a dinar, just over his
heart. It was simple and graceful, looking a little
like two slightly curved shepherd's crooks, back to
back. "Just show that to anyone who makes you
nervous," Ares instructed. "They'll know that they're
taking their life, immortal or not, in their hands if
they harm you."

Joxer bowed his head. "I'll try to be worthy of it,
my lord."

"I know you will."

*Flash*

Joxer used the bathing chamber, luxuriating in the
steamy water for almost an hour. It was a treat to be
able to stretch out instead of sitting in tepid water
with his knees almost to his chest, listening to some
inn owner banging on the door and telling him to get
his ass out of the tub because the next customer was
waiting. He had a leisurely dinner, then found some
scrolls on a shelf in Ares' study. He was rather
surprised to find that they were not treatises on
strategy or weapons. One of them was an interesting
history of Chin, and some of its philosophies. He'd
never been able to afford anything like that himself,
so he brought it to the bedroom and sat cross-legged
on the bed to read it.

He was engrossed when he suddenly realized that there
was a sizzling sound. He'd been rubbing his head
absently, and there was a crackle of static
electricity. "Ow!" He laid aside the scroll quickly,
thinking, *Ares coming, and he's pissed.*

*FLASH!*

Ares appeared in the middle of the room. Joxer leaped
up in alarm. The War God was wild-eyed, and clutching
a gore dripping sword. His vest was split, and there
was a shallow gash across his chest, blood smearing
his chest and matting the dark hairs.

"I warned him!" he shouted. "I WARNED the stupid
cocksucker. I knew he was a little unbalanced, but I
had no idea he was THAT crazy."

"Ares, what happened?"

Ares shook the sword, and Joxer winced as blood
droplets spattered his face. "I was just going to let
him know that I was watching, that I knew he was
second guessing my orders, and that I wasn't going to
stand for it any more. I DIDN'T WANT TO FUCKING KILL
HIM!"

"Why don't you let me take the sword? You could hurt
yourself, waving it around like that." Joxer held out
his hands.

Ares stared at him in disbelief. Joxer crooked his
fingers. Ares handed the weapon over slowly. Joxer
placed it on the table. "I'll clean this up for you
after we get you taken care of. Come sit down and
I'll get something to clean you up." Still watching
Joxer, he went and sat on the bed, slipping off his
vest while Joxer poured water into a basin and carried
it over to the bedside table, concentrating so hard on
not spilling it that the tip of his tongue poked out
the side of his mouth.

Joxer sponged away the blood. "You've already stopped
bleeding. I guess that's a god thing, huh?"

"Yes."

"Good. That jar--that's what you put on my wound,
isn't it? I'll use that. I'm glad you didn't throw
away the spare bandages. I think that they're long
enough to wrap around your chest. I THINK so, but you
are pretty broad across the back, and deep-chested.
Actually, you're just sort of big, period. Do you
have a hard time finding clothes that fit? No, of
course not--you sparkle them up. That must be
convenient.*

"Joxer, don't you want to know what I did?"

Joxer was measuring off lengths of linen strips. "I
don't think I could keep a pad on that, so I'm just
going to have to wrap enough layers so that it's
covered. Gabby doesn't usually let me work with the
bandaging. Usually the ones I tend end up looking
like one of those Egyptian dead guys, except that they
keep all their internal organs. You'll tell me if you
think I should know. I'm sure you had a good reason.
Can you lift your arms without it hurting too much?"

Instead of replying, Ares held his arms to his side,
and Joxer began to wind the bandages around him.
Every time Joxer passed the roll of cloth behind Ares
and reached for it with his other hand, he almost
embraced the War God. Ares watched the intent look on
Joxer's face. "He thought he was going to depose me
as God of War."

Joxer's head jerked up, and he stared into Ares' face
in astonishment. "You're right--he WAS crazy."

Ares sighed, the rage and tension that had been ruling
him since he'd had to draw his weapon seeping away.
"He used to be a good general--one of my best. I
honestly don't know where it went wrong. Even his
highest officers didn't know what he was planning. I
spared them." Ares' expression twisted. "But he did
it in front of his son, Joxer. His SON! The boy was
only seventeen, he hadn't even been in his first
battle." Ares rubbed his forehead. "Damn it. The
boy believed in his father implicitly. When the
general attacked me, he backed him up." Ares' voice
dropped. "I had to kill him, too." Joxer was tying
off the bandage. Ares touched it. "He was the one
who gave me this, after I killed his father. What a
waste. He'd have been a magnificent warrior some day.
Hades will send him to the Fields. I just hope the
father regains his senses in Asphodel, but you never
know. There are plenty of insane shades."

"Ares? You're going to think I'm crazy for what I'm
about to say. Heh. Why you be any different from
most of the world. But I want to make a
suggestion--let it go."

"What?"

"Let it go. You did what you had to do. Even if it
hadn't been self-defense, you couldn't allow a maniac
to take over your godhood. Would that have even been
possible?"

"We don't discuss things like that."

"Understood. Anyway, you couldn't let such an
important position fall into the hands of someone who
was unbalanced. It would be too dangerous."

"Joxer, you ARE aware that most mortals think -I- am
unbalanced?"

Joxer thought about this. "Things can be hard to
understand when you're seeing them from the bottom. I
mean, if you're standing at the foot of a cliff, it's
easy to shout at someone on top, but you ought to
admit that they're going to be able to see the army in
the next valley that's sneaking up on you a lot sooner
than you can. Um, not YOU, but... You know what I
mean."

"Surprisingly enough, I do. Thank you, Joxer."

Joxer flushed. "Is that wine in that ewer over there?
Why don't you take off your boots... Wait, I'll HELP
you take off your boots--I know they can sort of stick
sometimes. You can lay down, and I'll bring you some
wine, then I'll clean your sword off for you before
the blood gets all gluey, all right?"

*When was the last time someone volunteered to do
something like that for me? I've had some offer to
LICK my blade clean, but those sort always worry me a
little.* "That would be appreciated."

"Okie-dokie. Stick out your foot." Ares lifted one
foot straight out. Joxer turned his back to Ares,
then stepped over the god's leg, gripping his boot.
"Put your foot on my butt and push."

Ares stared. Joxer, legs slightly spread, straddling
Ares' leg, bent over. Ares looked down at his fly.
*Great. Wait until I'm wounded to get interested.*
He put his foot against the leather coated buttocks
and pushed. The boot popped off, and they repeated
the action.

Joxer set the boots neatly beside the bed and brought
Ares a goblet of wine. He watched as Joxer took more
of the bandages and proceeded to clean his sword,
working with patient thoroughness, and he suddenly
realized that there was nothing more that he wanted to
do than spend the rest of the night watching Joxer,
and maybe listening to him rattle on about some
nonsense.

Joxer looked up, catching his gaze, and smiled.

*Well,* thought Ares, *maybe ONE other thing.*




Title: Seeking Balance, 9/?
Author: Scribe
Fandom: Xena
Pairing: Ares/Joxer
Summary:
Archive: Yes, but tell me where, and give credit and a
feedback address.
Feedback: poet77665@yahoo.com
MPreg Archive:
Rating: NC17
Parts: 9/?
Status: WIP
Disclaimer: I do not own the recognizable media
characters presented in this story. I have no
official agreement with the owners or creators of said
characters. I make no profit from this work. It is
strictly for entertainment purposes. The actions of
the characters in this story are in no way meant to
reflect on the personal lives of the actors who
portrayed them.
Authors notes:
Series/Sequel: Parallel piece to the Love and Mischief
Series
Warnings:

Seeking Balance, 9/?
By Scribe

The Next Morning

"Yer in a good mood t'day, Unc."

"What makes you say that?"

"Well, when that sentry questioned ya, ya just hung
'im up in that tree."

"I put him at the TOP, and it's a TALL tree, Strife."

"Yah, but ya hung 'im by his belt insteada his
intestines."

"You're right. Well, shit, I don't want to look like
I'm changing my mind, but I don't want to look soft,
either. Send him something to make it interesting."

"Bees, or loose boweled birds?"

"Mmm... both."

"I take that first remark back--yer a combination of
good mood an' pissed off."

"I didn't sleep much last night."

Strife grinned at Ares. "How is he?"

"Pre-occupied with planning the garden, and..." Strife
was giggling. Ares scowled, realizing the innuendo
had gone right over his head. "I wouldn't know."

"Yet?"

"Just DROP IT."

"Well, if ya weren't knockin boots, what kept ya up?
Does he snore? Kick? Drool?"

"He BREATHES."

"Most mortals do, Unc. I mean, now that he's
immortal, he could prob'ly hold his breath a LONG ass
time, but it's pretty uncomfortable, an' ya hafta
CONCENTRATE. If he's too loud, just flip him on his
side, an' that should quiet 'im down."

"He's not loud--he's just... THERE." Ares was staring
off into the middle distance. "He sort of pulsates."

"Now yer bein weird."

Ares shook his head, as if to clear it. "I just mean
that he's so close that I can feel his body heat, and
if he accidentally touches me, I can feel his pulse
beating, just under his skin."

Strife stared at Ares, knowing that the War God didn't
realize what he was saying. *Son of a bitch. I knew
Unc had tha hots fah Joxer, but he's got it BAD. Has
Cupie been messin around in his Dad's love life? Much
as Ares loves him, he'd pluck Cupe an' stuff a pillah
if he thought Blondie was messin in his love life.*

"I have to go. Hephastus is working up a bunch of
garden tools for him. I'm having him spell them so
that they won't cut skin--just in case."

"Smaht move."

Hephastus was honing the blade of a hoe when Ares
arrived. "Ares. I'll have this done in a moment.
Are you sure you don't want me to put a
self-sharpening spell on them? It'll save a lot of
time."

"No. Joxer seems pretty set on doing things the
mortal way."

Hephastus chuckles, running his thumb along the edge
critically. "Imagine that--a human willing to do
things the hard way. You won't find many of those."

"I get the feeling he's pretty unique."

"Really?" Hephastus began to bundle tools into a
small, three-wheeled cart. "I made this for him,
too--my compliments. I thought that he was one of
three?"

"He's a triplet, but it's sort of like it is with
Apollo and Artemis, or Eris and I--different
similarities. Or is that similar differences?"

Hephastus was staring at him. "When did you stop
making sense?"

"I have no idea. Is that all? I'm still not entirely
comfortable with leaving him alone in my temple."

"I don't think he could really HURT it, Ares."

"I'm not worried about that--I'm worried about what
might wander in. I gave him my mark..." he didn't
notice Hephastus' surprised, speculative look, "but
you know how quick some of the Olympians are. They
might do something--THEN check. The Bacchae are
particularly bad about that."

Ares took the tools and flashed away. Hephastus went
home earlier than he had planned, and located his
wife, who was carefully painting her toenails coral
pink. He took over the job. "My dear, what is this
about Ares and that human he's taken into his home?"

Dite's eyes narrowed. "Who told you about that?"

"I'm not sure. I think you did."

"Did I?" She relaxed. "That's all right, then. Poo,
this is becoming one of the most open secrets on
Olympus. Let's see, who do we REALLY need to keep it
from? Zeus, of course. I'm not sure about Hera. She
might keep the secret, just because she'd know that it
would piss Zeus off. Then again, she might TELL him
for exactly the same reason, so we'd better keep her
out of the loop. Athena had better not know--she'll
do anything she can to undermine Ares with Zeus. We
probably don't have to worry about Bacchus, since Zeus
doesn't give that vino veratis stuff much credit.
Janus doesn't meddle, and Hecate is a witch, so she'll
ENJOY having a secret..."

"Dear, if you're going to list every godling on
Olympus, we'll be here till the Twilight. Do you want
another coat on these?"

She kissed him. "No, that will do." *sigh* "This
has to work out, Heph. I've been worried about
Ares--he's been too wrapped up in his work."

"He IS War."

"Yes, but he's himself, too--aside from his godhood.
I think he's been forgetting that. He NEEDS something
else in his life, and Joxer is just perfect for that.
If I can just get Ares to REALIZE that, he'll be so
much more stable, and it'll be good for everyone."
She giggled. "Except Zeus, of course. I can almost
see the veins in his neck swelling now."

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

Ares hauled a dripping, choking Joxer up out of the
pond. "Joxer, how in the name of Asphodel did you
manage to do THIS?" He began untangling the slimey
mass of dark green vines that were twined around just
about every visible portion of Joxer's body.

"I don't know. I just waded in to start thinning out
the water plants, and I slipped. Are you SURE that
these things don't move on their own? I'd swear I
could feel them wrapping around me on purpose. I
don't see how I could have gotten this snared just by
rolling around a few times."

"No, these are plain old earthly plants. Hecate's the
only one who really favors the sentient greenery.
Word of advise--NEVER go walking in her greenhouse
unless she's just gotten through feeding the
carnivorous plants. You couldn't have waited for me
to bring the tools?"

"Ares? Me, swinging something sharp, underwater,
around my feet?"

"Right."

"I'll be more careful, though. I won't go out past my
knees till I get it thinned out some. Whoops!" He
suddenly jumped and began to wiggle in a very
distracting manner. "That is the WEIRDEST..." He
stuck his hand down the front of his pants.

"Joxer..." *Oh, PLEASE don't grope yourself right in
front of me! I won't be able to stand it, and outdoor
sex is great, but if I just jump you now...*

Now he was reaching down the back of his pants.
"ZEUS, this tickles!"

Ares closed his eyes. *If he doesn't stop...*

"THERE you are!" Ares' eyes popped open. Joxer was
dangling a tiny fish, no longer than his pinky,
between his thumb and forefinger. He grinned at Ares.
"I didn't think there were any fish left alive in
there. I caught him just in time. He was *ahem*
heading for parts unknown. I guess that after he'd
been swimming around in that muck that it wouldn't
seem so smelly in my..." He turned scarlet, and
flipped the fish quickly into the water, where it
darted away with a flick of its tail. "He was just
panic stricken. Wow, what a great load of tools!"

Ares dragged himself back from some mental images. "I
got what you asked for, and I think Hephastus threw in
a few he thought you might need. You can try them out
tomorrow. Come on, you're all mucky. Time to get
cleaned up."

As they entered the temple, Joxer said, "That bathing
chamber is really fantastic. I've had to freeze my
butt so many times, bathing in a river, that I can
really appreciate it. You know what would be a good
idea? If they could arrage to have something like
that in inns. They could give it a special name, and
use it as a selling point. I'm not sure
how--Salmoneous is better at things like that.
Maybe... a hot tub. Yeah, that covers the facts.
It's a sort of a tub to bathe in, and it's HOT--you
don't have to have someone dragging in buckets of hot
water to pour over you again and again." They'd
reached the bathing chamber and Joxer began stripping,
dropping his clothes beside the pool. "That can be
really embarrassing. You can never really relax,
because someone might come in, and... You're taking
your clothes off."

"I always do when I bathe. I went in after you,
Joxer, and in case you didn't notice, I'm just as
slimed as you are. Go on and get in the pool, before
that shit starts to form a crust." He pushed his
pants down.

Joxer jerked off his own pants while Ares was bent
over, and then dived head-first into the pool before
the god could straighten back up. He figured that
he'd better hide his incipient erection as quickly as
possible.

"Don't do that again, or you might crack your skull,"
warned Ares, wading into the water.

Joxer back pedalled toward the other side of the pool.
"You ought to stay there. You don't need to get your
bandage wet."

"Joxer, I just got through being doused in pond water,
remember? Besides," Ares unwound the bandages, and
all that was left of the gash was a pink line across
his chest, parting the dark hair. "Divine healing,
remember? In a couple of days this will be shrunk and
faded. You'll hardly notice it." He tossed the
bandages up on the side of the pool, then waded toward
Joxer.

Joxer started working his way along the side of the
pool, babbling brightly. "Wow! Look at this tileing
over here. Is that a mosaic? It is. What detail.
It's men and women, and they're... uh... Oh, boy.
And here it's just guys, and they're... they're...
Wow."

"Aphrodite decorated. I drew the line at pink marble,
but the orgy mosaic seemed like a good idea. You
can't get clean if you just keep floating around."
They were right by the area where the soap was stored,
within easy reach. Ares reached out and scooped some
soft paste out of a dish, and began to scrub it over
his torso. It foamed immediately, creating a lather.
"Go on."

Joxer dipped up a dab of the soft soap and started to
wash his hands with it. *I have to stall. He'll
finish and get out, and then I can get rid of this
boner without him finding out and maybe drowning me.
Can I drown now? Well, he could certainly try...*

"Zeus, Joxer! You'll be here all night." Ares dug
out another handful of soap, and grabbed Joxer's
shoulder with his other hand. Joxer squeaked as Ares
splatted the soap right in the middle of his chest and
began to rub it in vigorously. "I haven't had to
actually bathe anyone since Bliss was little, but I'm
sure I can remember." Ares' hand passed over Joxer's
nipples in a combination of slightly rough fingers and
slippery soap. Ares paused, eyebrows climbing, as he
felt the stiff points poking against his palm. He
rubbed more slowly, watching Joxer's face. The
redness creeping into his cheeks wasn't just from the
heat of the bath.

Ares' grip on Joxer slid along his shoulder, to cup
the back of his neck. "But then, this isn't anything
like bathing my son, thank Olympus."

"Ares... I..." Ares hand slid down Joxer's torso,
under the water, and bumped his erection. He closed
his eyes.
"Peoplegethardinthebathallthetimenothingpersonal."
Joxer twitched as he felt the tickle of Ares beard on
his neck. *Oo, damn, he's gonna BITE me.*

Then there was the brush of lips against his ear.
"You mean that isn't because of me? I must be losing
my touch, then."

He squeezed lightly and, before he could stop himself,
Joxer gasped, "Your touch is just fine!"

He bit his lip in dismay, but Ares was chuckling.
"Good. I was wondering if I was going to have to keep
chasing you around this pool all evening. I don't
mind pursuing what I want, but it wastes so much time
that could be spent in more pleasant activities."

He turned them so that Joxer had his back against the
side of the pool, then moved up till their bodies were
pressed together. Joxer's eyes got big when he felt
the hard length of Ares' erection slide along his
groin, and he looked quickly into his god's face.
Ares nodded. "That ISN'T just a bathtub erection,
it's because of you." Ares humped against Joxer
slowly, and the mortal grabbed his shoulders as his
knees went weak. "That's better." He DID bite Joxer,
but very lightly, nipping at the side of his neck,
then licking the slight sting. "You DO understand
that the sleeping on opposite sides of the bed,
pretending to ignore each other shit is OVER?" Joxer
wrapped his arms around Ares' neck, and his legs
around his waist. "Good. Just so we're clear. But
we're not making it to the bedroom this time."

Ares reached down and cupped Joxer's ass, then carried
him over to the shallow end of the pool, and sat down.
He ended up waist deep in water, with Joxer sitting
on his lap. He held Joxer's head, cupping either side
of his face, and kissed him, slowly and deeply. He
was pleased when Joxer sucked his tongue, making tiny,
pleased noises in the back of his throat. Ares
skimmed some of the lather off Joxer's shoulders, and
pulled his head back far enough to whisper, "Raise up
a little." Joxer obeyed, and Ares slid his hand back
under him, along the crease of his ass. He quickly
located the little hole he sought, and sank a finger
in up to the second knuckle. Joxer gasped, letting
his forehead drop down on Ares' shoulder. "How much
of this have you done?" *I don't really want to know
his history, but I need to know how experienced he
is.*

"I've sort of played around some," Joxer's voice was
breathy. "Mostly just my own fingers. My friend Meg
has this thing she calls a Spinster's Comfort, and she
swears it's safe, but I only used it once. I kept
worrying about splinters."

"Mm, there's something to keep in mind for later. But
I meant with other men, Joxer."

"Oh. Nothing." He rolled his head and peeked up at
Ares. "I'm not exactly sought after. There was this
one mercenary who got me drunk and was going to try
something, but throwing up on him sort of spoiled his
mood."

Ares frowned. "Can you remember his name?"

"Something-or-other-us."

*I can't very well kill everone that name would fit.
I'd depopulate Greece.* Joxer was pushing back, and
Ares' finger slid in deeper. *It can wait.* Ares
slid a second finger in beside the first, reveling in
the little cooing noise that Joxer made. He worked
patiently as they kissed again, stretching his fingers
apart gradually. He knew that the first penetration
would hurt some, and he wanted to make it as good for
Joxer as he could.
Finally he mumbled against Joxer's mouth. "Are you
ready?"

In response, Joxer raised up, pulling free of the
probing fingers, reached down, and gripped Ares' rigid
cock. He quickly smeared a thick coat of soap on the
turgid flesh, then stared into Ares' face and slowly
began to sink down. Ares grabbed at Joxer's waist to
help steady him. He felt Joxer spread, then his
cockhead was encased in moist heat, and his head fell
back as he groaned.

Joxer froze, a slightly dazed, surprised look on his
face as he adjusted to the feeling. The reality of
what was happening had finally struck him. He was
having sex with his god. He was taking into his body
the flesh of the man he'd worshipped... *no, loved. I
love him* for as long as he could remember. And
judging from the look on Ares' face and the sounds he
was making, he wasn't doing a bad job of it, either.

"You're going to have to move." Ares voice was
hoarse.

"Sorry." Joxer began to lower himself slowly, wincing
a little. It burned as his back channel was forced
open--but it felt good, too.

"Stop apologizing, damm it." Ares was now fully
embedded. He could feel Joxer's balls nestling just
above where their bodies joined. "Damn, you're
TIGHT."

"I need to wait a minute. Can I wait a minute?"

Ares wrapped his arms around Joxer, pulling him even
closer, till their chests were pressed together, and
Joxer's own hard-on was trapped between their bellies.
Ares kissed him, probing forcefully with his tongue,
then said, "Just tell me when you're ready."

Ares contined kissing him, and not just on the mouth.
Joxer quickly discovered that, where Ares was
concerned, his entire body seemed to be an erogenous
zone. The ache was fading, replaced by a delicious
sense of fullness--COMPLETENESS. "Please."

"Now?"

"Please, yes, please."

The water helped. Ares was able to lift Joxer easily,
sliding him a few inches up, before dropping him back
down. Joxer whimpered with pleasure from the
friction. He shifted a little on one of the downward
slides, and his eyes flew wide in surprise as a hot
burst of intense pleasure rode through him. "Uh!
What did you DO?"

"What is it?"

"That was so GOOD! Is it a god thing?"

Ares laughed. "Apollo has a particular name for it,
but it's just your special spot, Joxer. All men have
it--the smart or lucky ones figure out how to use it.
You've never had it touched before?"

Joxer shook his head emphatically, damp hair flying.
"Believe me, THIS I would have remembered." He tipped
his chin down, then looked up at Ares almost shyly.
"Could you do it again?"

"I can damn sure try."

It took another couple of minutes of experimenting
with different angles (all of which was enjoyed by
both), but Ares finally found the exact right angle
that would cause his cockhead to rub over Joxer's
prostate on almost every thrust. They moved together,
faster and harder. The water around them churned,
splashing out onto the surrounding tiles as their
coupling grew more active.

Joxer yelped, clinging to Ares as his first orgasm
with a man ripped through him. Ares grinned in fierce
satisfaction as he felt the warm sperm splash his
chest, and felt the squeezing ripples that passed
through Joxer's ass. It was like being stroked by
Joxer's internal muscles. Another few thrusts,
jamming the now pliant body down firmly on his
spearing prick, and Ares came, too. As he felt the
hot gush of Ares' seed fill him, Joxer felt a sense of
warmth over his heart, where Ares had placed his mark.
*No, not over it--IN it. If I wasn't his before, I
am now. He's marked me in every way, inside and out.
No matter what happens, even if he sends me away--I'll
always be his.*

"What was that, Joxer?"

*Did I SAY that? Oh, Zeus. No pressure, Ares. I
just love you.*

"Joxer?"

"I said is this what they mean by good, clean fun?"
There was a moment of silence, then Joxer both heard
and felt Ares rumble of laughter, and he relaxed.
*Maybe I can tell him--some day. But if I HAVE to
tell him--maybe I shouldn't.* Joxer once again rested
his head on Ares' shoulder, and wondered when his life
had gotten so complicated.



Seeking Balance, 10/?

Aphrodite was picking at her dinner, frowning in thought, when she suddenly sat bolt upright, a smile streaking across her face. Her husband watched her indulgently. "That must be a good one."

She concentrated, then her smile softened. "A first time. Oh, Heph--it's Ares and Joxer! I am SO right about them. Now, if Ares will just tone down the bull-headed 'I don't need love, sex will do me just fine' attitude..."

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

Joxer woke up with an odd combination of discomfort and comfort. For one thing, his ass ached, and so did the muscles in his thighs, particularly the inner ones. On the other hand... He stretched luxuriously, grinning with his eyes closed. This sort of relaxed, smug feeling could only come after a night of kick-ass sex. He'd have probably achieved this state just from the encounter in the bathing chamber--but then there'd been the rug, and the bed. He couldn't come any more after the second time, but he could still enjoy the sensations that Ares caused. *Boy, has he got stamina. He claims that no one, god or otherwise, can do it forever, but I dunno. He could make a pretty good run at it from my standpoint.*

"You aren't one of those people who are disgustingly cheerful as soon as they get up, are you?"

Joxer opened his eyes to find Ares, on his side and head propped in his hand, regarding him. Joxer couldn't help it--the smile got bigger. "Fraid so, unless I don't have any tea, or I'm, like, routed out of bed by a bandit attack, or something."

"I can take care of that." Ares swooped down on him.

Joxer had honestly thought that he wouldn't be able to achieve an erection for at least a few days--and he'd been perfectly willing to live with that, given what he'd had in exchange. Ares quickly showed him that he was perfectly capable, though. The feel of soft beard rubbing over various interesting, and interested, areas of his body had Joxer twisting, moaning, and hard in very short order. Joxer, in dazed amusement, wondered how he had ever thought that a 'butch' man would never suck cock. Ares DEVOURED him. Joxer knew that the next time someone referred to the partner giving head as the 'passive' one, he was going to laugh out loud. In fact, he DID giggle.

Ares glanced up at him from his lap, one eyebrow cocked. "I have to admit that's a unique reaction."

"I can't help it," said Joxer breathlessly. "It's not that it's funny, but your beard is tickly."

"Really?" Ares tested the assertion by scrubbing his chin over Joxer's belly, while dancing his fingers along the warrior's inner thighs. Joxer howled. While he was in the middle of that bray, Ares swallowed his cock and sucked--HARD. Joxer's body arched helplessly, caught between two powerful forces--sex and laughter, and he came. Ares wrapped his arm around the limp, panting, giggling man, then rolled them both over so that Joxer lay on top of him. He then humped against Joxer in a leisurely manner till he achieved his own orgasm. By then Joxer was regaining his breath. Ares, playing with Joxer's hair, said, "And I don't do tea. You'll just have to wait till we get over to Aphrodite's place." He smacked Joxer's ass, then flipped him off, onto his back. "Get dressed. I promised Bliss I'd come by and visit today."

Joxer got up. "And you want to take me along?"

Ares was pulling on his pants, and he paused. "You COULD stay and work on your garden, but I know that Dite would like to see you." He frowned a little. "You'd rather garden than see my grandson?"

"No!" He looked around. "Clothes--I need clothes. I mean, I know Dite is a clothing optional sorta gal, but I'm pretty sure Hephastus will be there, and if Bliss is... I'm sure the little guy doesn't need any further education from ME... He hasn't gotten hold of his father's arrows lately, has he?"

"He's been warned about that very sternly." Ares waved his hand, and Joxer was dressed. Joxer looked down at himself, then looked at Ares. "Do you mind the pink? I just thought I might as well make Dite happy--she'd probably try to get you in pastels, anyway."

"I don't mind the shirt, but pink leather pants?"

Ares flicked a finger, and the pants were plain black leather. "There, pink and black. Strife calls that a fifties color scheme, for some reason." He took Joxer's hand, and flashed away.

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

Bliss was sitting on an adult sized chair, which meant that his legs stuck straight out in front of him (they were still too short even to DANGLE). He crossed his plump arms, leaned back till his little white wings were squashed, tucked his dimpled chin, and gave his daddy a mutinous look. "Don' wan' it, Daddy. Taste nasty."

"I know, baby, but you NEED this if you're going to grow up big and strong, like Daddy." Cupid again offered a spoonful of quivering pinkness.

Bliss shook his head. "I g'o up skinny an' cool, like Stwife."

Strife, on the other side of the table, giggled madly. "Stop it, Strife! Don't encourage him," snapped Cupid.

"Hey, don't blame ME, cuz," Strife protested. "I ain't doin anythin. Tha kid comes by his naughtiness naturally.

"Strife is right, dear," said Aphrodite. "No one REALLY likes it." She wrinkled her nose. "Lord, the struggles I used to have to get YOU to eat it. Ares had a little more success, but then, he IS the God of War. Have you tried mixing honey in it? That used to help with you."

Strife materialized a square of honeycomb, held it over the bowel, and squeezed till the honey leaked out. "Give it a stir, Cupe."

Cupid stirred the honey in, thinning the glob in the bowel. "Don't you dare wipe your hands on anything around here. I don't want to end up sitting in stickiness."

"Perish tha thought." Strife dropped the was of was on a plate. "I'll chew that latah--even bettah than that gum stuff they have in tha future." Then he proceeded to lick the honey off his fingers.

Bliss pointed. "Daddy, Stwife usin' bad manners." Cupid was staring as Strife chased a golden droplet down one long finger, pink tongue working industriously. "DADDY!"

Cupid blinked. "Huh?"

"You gonna 'pank Stwife?"

Strife had slid the finger into his mouth and was sucking on it with every evidence of enjoyment. *Only if he asks me nicely. Oh, geez, I didn't SAY that, did I?* "I'm not in charge of Strife's manners, Bliss, and you know very well that it's different for grownups. Now, take a bite for Daddy." The chin went down again. Cupid sighed. "Mom?"

"I just changed clothes, sweetie."

"Mom, you've ALWAYS just changed clothes. If you waited to do anything till you HADN'T just changed clothes, nothing would ever get done."

"Cupid, I love Bliss madly, but he FLINGS, and that stuff is just about impossible to get out of my hair. I'll try, though." She bent down, putting her face on level with Bliss. "Hi, baby!"

"Hi, Gan'ma!"

"Aren't you just the cutest, sweetest little thing?"

"Yeah!"

"Aren't you going to eat for grandma?"

"No."

Dite stamped her foot. "And I called myself 'grandma' for you, you ungrateful cherub! Strife?"

"Dite, do ya remembah that one time ya got me ta change his diapah?" Dite turned green, and Strife nodded.

*FLASH*

Ares and Joxer appeared. "How's my grandson?"

"He's being a pill," said Cupid tartly. "It's time for his weekly dose of..." he spotted Joxer, "uh, his weekly tonic, and he's being difficult about it, as usual. Is Ace SURE this stuff can't be taken as a suppository?"

Strife fell out of his chair laughing. He climbed back up, snorting. "Sorry. Just hadda mental image of what my Mom's reaction would be ta that." He waved. "Hiya, Joxie." Joxer smiled back, waving. Strife bounced out of the chair and hurried over to the mortal. Then he put his face close to Joxer's and gave him a minute examination.

Joxer got nervous. "What?"

Strife grinned, shrugging. "I think maybe yer eyes are slantin a little bit." He punched Ares on the shoulder. Joxer flinched, waiting for Ares to bat his nephew across the room. He was surprised when the War God just blushed. Strife said, "Well, I got work ta do. There's a boat leavin fah Roma, an' I wanna make sure it has a full load o' rodents an' vermin." He rubbed his hands together. "Gotta do my bit fah export." He frowned down at his hands for a second, then gave his palm a long, lavish lick before disappearing.

"Cupid," Ares started. Cupid was staring at the last few blue sparks that marked Strife's disappearance. "Son?"

"Huh?"

"I need to have a few words with you and your mother in private."

Cupid shook his head slightly. "Can't it wait, Dad? Heph isn't here to watch Bliss, so one of us..."

"I'll do it," Joxer volunteered. When he received thoughtful looks, he said, "I have experience. I can't tell you how many times Xena and Hercules have gone forth to battle bandits or warlords, and I've been delegated to stay behind and protect the women and children. I WANTED to help them, but they always explain that mine is the most important job, so..." The were staring at him. "I know games and stories."

Cupid looked at Bliss. "Bliss, if I leave you with Joxer for a few minutes, will you behave? No getting into Daddy's arrows, or Grandma's potions?" Bliss nodded, looked confused, shook his head, looked confused again, then shrugged.

Joxer looked sympathetic. "Don't make it a question."

Cupid shot him a look, then said, "Okay, I DON'T WANT YOU to play with those things. And no flying, okay?"

"'kay, Daddy."

"Good boy."

Ares, Cupid, and Aphrodite left the room, headed for a nearby audience chamber. Joxer went and sat at the table with Bliss. "Hi."

"Hi," responded Bliss, giving him a sunny smile.

"So," Joxer poked the bowl that had been left behind. "That doesn't look like vegetables."

Bliss crinkled his nose, looking a lot like his grandmother. "That ammy-rosy-brosy-yucka. Taste nasty."

"Most stuff that's supposed to be good for you does." Joxer cocked his head. "You're a pretty big kid, Bliss. Why don't they let you feed yourself? I bet you'd eat it if you could feed yourself."

Bliss smiled. "May--be."

Joxer pushed the bowl closer to the godling, who stood up in the chair. "Go on. Won't they be surprised if they come back in and it's all gone?"

Bliss was stirring the pink stuff, his eyes gleaming. "Sure will."

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

"I want to know if either one of you has put a whammy on me."

Cupid shook his head, and Dite made her eyes big and round. "Why would you suspect that, Ares?"

Ares figited. "Just certain circumstances. Are you SURE?"

"Dad, duh? I have to AIM, okay? I'd know if I'd shot your butt," Cupid assured him. "Mom?"

Aphrodite spread a hand over her bosom. "I'm hurt that you'd suggest such a thing." Both of the men stared at her. "Oh, all right--so I'm devious. But not this time. Again, why do you ask, Ares?"

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

Joxer wiped pink goo off his face, getting his eyes clear so he could see Bliss, who was chortling happily. "Okay, so I guess THAT'S why they don't let you feed yourself." He instincitively licked his lips, and said, "Oo, ick. No wonder. That stuff tastes like... like cheap perfume." He scraped some off his cheek and tasted it again. "Cheap perfume mixed with honey."

Bliss had dropped the spoon back in the now half-empty bowl. "You eat it."

"No, thank you."

Bliss gave Joxer a shrewd look. "I eat it, if you eat it."

"Spoon for spoon?" Bliss nodded. Joxer made a face. "Well, if you really NEED to eat it... It won't make me sick, will it? No, wait a minute--I'm immortal now. Okay." He dipped up a spoonful and offered it.

"You first."

"Big surprise." Joxer forced down a spoonful, then dipped up some for Bliss. Bliss kept his bargain, and swallowed it, with many a grimace. They traded off several more bites. "You know, this stuff isn't so bad. You sort of get used to it. It'll never take the place of custard with strawberry sauce, but..."

"JOXER! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"

Joxer squeaked, and dropped the spoon as Cupid entered, with Ares and Dite right behind. "I... you wanted him to eat." Ares and Dite were staring at him. "Yeah, I know--I'm a mess. The kid has quite an arm. When he learns to use a sling, he's going to be deadly. Anyway, I had it all over my face, and he's right--it DOES taste nasty, at least at first."

Cupid thumped down into a chair, holding his head and moaning. "All my fault. Grandpa is going to neuter me."

Now Joxer was bewildered. "Well, I'm sorry if I ate too much of his supper. Isn't there more of it for him? I mean, after all--you're gods. I figured that running out of food wasn't a problem with you."

Cupid groaned and thumped his head on the table. Ares said shortly, "Stop it. He doesn't understand."

Aphrodite, who seemed to be caught somewhere between hilarity and horror, said, "Joxer, sweetie, do you know what that was?"

"Cupid said it was a tonic." Cupid thumped his head again. "You ought to at least wear a helmet if you're going to do that."

Aphrodite patted her son on the back. "We're all a little to blame, hon. We shouldn't have left it here with a mortal, but it honestly never occured to me, and I'm positive it wasn't deliberate."

"No," Joxer protested. "I wouldn't just dunk my face in food. I mean, I've fallen face first into a few soup bowls, but I was really, really drunk then, and they were my own meals. Bliss just got a little, er, enthusiastic."

Ares sighed. "He really DOESN'T know. Joxer, that pink shit is ambrosia."

"Am...? Oh, amy-brosy-rosy-yucka." He smiled at Bliss. "I see what you mean now. That's a pretty good name for it, and..." His eyes shot wide open. "Ambrosia?" Ares nodded. "As in 'food of the gods'?" Ares nodded again. Joxer's voice was rising. "As in 'eat it and you're a god, whether you want to be or not'?"

"Yes."

"I DON'T WANT TO BE!" Joxer fainted.

Ares caught him before he could hit the floor. Cupid sat up. "I guess he DIDN'T know about it. I've never seen a mortal confronted with the possibility of divinity react like that."

"Yes," Ares was easing Joxer down on a sofa. "Well, he may not have a lot of PRACTICAL sense, but he's smart enough to realize that there's a lot of baggage that comes along with a godhood. Dite, what the Tartarus are we going to do now? Zeus would be pissed enough with him just being immortal. Now..." Ares stroked Joxer's hair. "I'd rather not have him tossed up to the moon, or chained down in Asphodel."

"The old goat tries that," said Dite grimly, "and he won't be getting anything from anyone, male or female--under the age of eighty-five. And you know the normal life span of mortals these days--his pickings will be SLIM."

Cupid was looking around. "Are you SURE Strife left? This smacks of something he'd do."

"Not intentionally," said Dite firmly. "He likes Joxer, and he's dealt with Zeus extensively. He wouldn't wish that on someone he liked, not even with the bonus of divinity thrown in. No, it just happened. Shit does."

"What?"

"Happen. Shit happens--at least that's what that funny peice of sticky paper that Strife brought back from the Halls of Time says."

Ares was watching Joxer in concern. "Dite, he's sweating--bad."

"Oh, dear. Cupid, take Bliss to his room. I don't want him to see this." Cupid scooped the little boy up into his arms and carried him out of the room, with Bliss protesting loudly that he wanted to stay with his new sitter. "Ares, you've never seen a mortal take ambrosia. You need to be very calm about this..."

"Shit! Any time someone tells me I need to be calm, I know that it's probably going to be fucking natural to be anything BUT."

"I know, but in this case getting upset won't help." The still unconscious Joxer had started to tremble. "I'm glad he passed out. This is the unpleasant part."

"What's happening to him?" Joxer's arms and legs had begun to twitch, his head tossing. Ares sat, pulling him into his arms and trying to still the tremors. "Damn it, Dite! Go get Apollo, or Ace. Get both of them."

"It won't do any good, dear. This is natural."

Joxer was thrashing now, movements so violent that Ares was having trouble holding on to him. "NATURAL? He's having a fuckin SEIZURE!"

"It's his godhood manifesting for the first time. We're born with ours, and we begin absorbing our energy in small, gradual doses. Poor Joxie is getting several years worth of power all at once, and it HURTS. But it will only be another minute, Ares," she said quickly, seeing his grim look. "See? It's stopping now."

Sure enough, the shaking was easing. Soon Joxer lay limp in Ares' arms. "DAMN it, Dite! Is this what being a god is going to be like for him?"

Aphrodite materialized a small bottle, uncorked it, and waved it under Joxer's nose. "Not if we teach him how to handle it. It will get easier, one his godhood is determined, and channeled."

Joxer coughed, and opened his eyes. "What happened? I feel like I've been through an earthquake." He winced apprehensively. "Did Zeus find out about the apples and ambrosia? If he did, and this is the worst he's going to do, I'm not happy, but I can live with it."

Ares materialized a glass of wind and held it to Joxer's lips. "Drink." Joxer took a mouthful and then swiftly spat it back into the glass. "Joxer."

"That has ambrosia in it," Joxer protested. "I can taste it."

"Just a little, and you're going to need it to build up your strength. You might as well get used to it--we ALL have to eat it."

"You mean that I'm going to have to go through that on a regular basis? How do you people STAND it?"

"No," Aphrodite explaind. "The first time is a little rough for mortals. You'll be all right now, and Ares is right. If we don't eat at least a little regularly, we sort of fade. You know--decline?"

Joxer reluctantly finished the wine, then sat up. "You know, I DO feel a little perkier. Okay, you say I'm a god now?" The other two nodded. "God of WHAT?"

"We don't know," said Aphrodite. "You have to be officially designated. Zeus will need to consult the Fates, then make a formal declaration, and present you to the Pantheon. Once that's done, the power will be channeled, and you can learn to control it."

Joxer paled. "You mean that I'm going to have to go face to face with Zeus?"

"There's no other way."

"Couldn't we put this off for, say, a century or two?"

"I suppose we can wait a little while, don't you think, Dite?" Ares asked. His eyes were telling her that she'd better agree.

Aphrodite chewed her lip. "It can't be for too long, 'Res. The longer you wait, the more energy is going to build up. He could get like someone wearing wool on a cold, dry day. Then he reaches for something metal, and ZAP! Energy's natural state is flux, and god-energy is at least a little sentient. It's going to be looking for some outlet."

"Don't worry," said Joxer. "I'll exercise a lot."

Aphrodite didn't miss the sudden gleam in Ares' eyes, and forced back a smile. *Yeah, and I think you'll have help.*



Seeking Balance, 11/? By Scribe

Beginning

*Flash*

Ares released Joxer, who staggered a couple of steps. Ares caught his arm. "You're going to have to get used to this, Joxer. As a god, it's going to be your main form of transportation."

Joxer sat on the bed, rubbing his head. "Ooo, I'm not sure about this. Can't you just send me back to earth, and we'll forget this all happened?"

Ares sat beside him. "Look, I can understand that you're reluctant--there are times I really wish I was just a simple mortal warlord. But that's not how it is, Joxer. You are now divine, and you're stuck with it."

"Couldn't Zeus make me mortal again?"

Ares chewed his lip. "Look, considering how this happened, I have to feel that the Fates are heavily invested in it." He scowled. "Though why the Trippy Trio never said anything to ANY of us escapes me. Usually they delight in making cryptic pronouncements, then watching us run around, trying to figure them out. Tartarus, maybe they HAVE said something about it, and it was just so obscure that we couldn't interpret it. Now that we've been blindsided, they'll probably chortle about it, and pick out every little nuance and twist that we SHOULD have caught. Strife explained something he's planning for the future called 'term papers', where people have to come up with the most outlandish meanings that authors are supposed to have hidden in their works. I think the Fates are a lot like those Lit Professors he talks about."

"Huh. Well, if they're THAT bad, I'm not surprised they're lit. I'm sure that doing something like that would make a lot of people want to burn them at the stake."

"The point is, if the Fates decreed it, it's impossible for even Zeus to reverse it. We're talking end of the world shit here, Joxer. You don't fuck around with the Fates. If they've woven you into the Tapestry of Life as a god, then you're a god--end of story."

Joxer stood up. "But it's NOT the end of the story, Ares! The story never ends. See, that's one thing I learned from Gabrielle. The..."

"You don't mean to tell me that witch actually knows something worthwhile?"

"Will you let me finish?" Joxer snapped.

Ares blinked at him. "You know, Joxer, I think that being a god may have made you a bit more forceful."

Joxer was flustered. "Uh, I'm sorry. I just wanted to explain..."

"I like it."

"Oh." Joxer cleared his throat. "Uh, anyway... No story ever REALLY ends, the teller just stops telling it. Things continue, things change; people have to keep on keeping on. Now, Zeus either takes away the godhood, or leaves it in place. Either way, the story goes on." He dropped back down on the bed again, shoulders drooping. "Either way, I have to deal with it. It's MY story, because it's happening to me." He sighed, then looked over at Ares. "Sorry. I babble sometimes."

"If you think that's babbling, you've obviously never listened to Dite on a sugar rush. No, Joxer, you're right, and I apologize. It ISN'T that simple for you. It's just that I've had to deal with it all my life, so it's never really been a question of what I was going to do."

"That's right," said Joxer softly. "You never had a choice."

Ares shrugged. "Neither does anyone else, god or mortal. Iphecles didn't ask to be born king, Salmoneus didn't choose to be a scam artist... Wait... that's not a good example--he probably DID. Even Zeus didn't' have a choice of being what he is." He rubbed the back of his neck. "It's just that some people are easier in their fates than others, I suppose, and can make more or less of it."

Joxer nodded. They sat in silence for a few moments, then Joxer said, "Can I ask you a question?"

Ares shot him an amused look. "I haven't noticed you being reticent before."

"It's the only way to learn anything," he paused, thoughtful, "unless they have a scroll available, but I've noticed that they don't HAVE scrolls on a lot of important stuff, and sometimes READING about something just won't help that much. Like trying to learn another language? You can read all the vocabulary you want, but if you don't LISTEN to someone speaking it, then you'll never get the pronunciation right, and that can be DANGEROUS. Did you know how that in Chin if you go UP at the end of one word it means 'friend' and if you go DOWN it means 'piece of shit'?"

"Fascinating. You had a question?"

"Oops--side tracked again. Yeah. Why are you being so nice to me?"

Ares stared at him. Finally he said, "Why shouldn't I be?"

"It's not fair to answer a question with a question."

"I'm a god--I don't have to be fair."

Joxer frowned. "Well, if THAT'S the attitude a god has to have, I SURE don't want to be one!" He stood up and stalked out of the room.

Ares pounded his fist on the bed. *Fuck! Well, that went well. Why couldn't I just tell him that I like him?" He smoothed his hand over the sheets, remembering last night, and this morning. *Or maybe MORE than like him?* He shook his head quickly. *He's a good lay, he's an amusing companion, he's a decent guy. But love?* He snorted softly. *What would be the point? Loving someone who doesn't love you back is something that had to be invented in Tartarus. No, I don't have to love him.* He stood up and started for the hall. *But I DO have to go apologize to him.*

Joxer was where Ares expected to find him--in the garden. He was on his knees in front of what was barely recognizable as a flowerbed--it was so overgrown that the flowers themselves were tiny, and almost hidden by weeds. Joxer was weeding, sharply jerking up clumps of plant matter and tossing them, here, there... Ares stood behind him. "Joxer..." A clump flew over Joxer's shoulder, striking Ares' leg. Ares noticed a faint trail of silvery sparks following it. *Tartarus! He's already starting to manifest. I'd better get him calmed down before he does something. Knowing him, he'd beat himself up if he accidentally blasted someone.* "Joxer, slow down. You're pulling the flowers as well as the weeds."

Joxer stopped cold. "Crap." He sighed. "I shouldn't do things when I'm angry--it makes me careless. And I guess I can't let that happen, now that I'm a god."

*You have no idea how right that is.* Ares knelt beside him. "You know, a lot of us who are born to it never really grasp that." He put a hand on Joxer's shoulder. "And you've learned it your first day. I'm proud of you, and I'm sorry I upset you."

Joxer looked over at him, expression solemn. Finally he smiled faintly. "Why do I get the feeling that apologies from you aren't exactly common?"

"That's because I'm never wrong." Joxer folded his arms. "Okay, seldom wrong."

The smile returned. "Oo, and I think THAT might qualify as ANOTHER apology. Two in one day. Maybe the Fates should be notified?"

Ares sat back on the grass. "You damn sure don't make things easy. You asked me a question earlier. Do you still want an answer?"

Joxer sat beside him. "Questions don't really go away, just like stories don't end."

"Okay." Ares scratched his beard. "Joxer, I don't see it as me being particularly NICE to you. I'm doing the right thing. You got hurt protecting me. You're my follower..." he paused, "you WERE my follower. I had a responsibility."

"Oh." Joxer drooped slightly.

Ares leaned around to peer at his face. "The explanation doesn't suit you?"

"No, no. It makes sense." His voice dropped. "I sort of figured that was what it was."

"What's wrong?"

He pulled his knees up and hugged them. "Oh, it's just that I would have liked it if someone was nice to me because they WANTED to be instead of because they felt obligated," he sighed, "or wanted something."

Ares felt stung. "Are you saying that you think I was nice to you because I wanted to get into your pants?"

Joxer plucked a blade of grass, twirling it between his fingers. "Weren't you?"

"I... I wasn't thinking of that, Joxer. I just... Do I strike you as the sort who'd do something he didn't want to, just to get some nooky?" Joxer seemed to consider this. "You have to THINK about it? Damn. What sort of reputation have I got lately?"

"It's not that. Heck, the thought of you having to go out of your way to convince someone to sleep with you is kind of silly." Now Ares felt a prick of pride. He'd long ago learned to take worship in stride, but genuine admiration was different--it was much harder to come by. Joxer was continuing. "I'm just pleased that I was there to help you when you wanted someone." He got on his knees again and began pulling weeds, more carefully now. "I'd better finish what I started."

Ares watched as Joxer carefully thinned out the greenery, and thought, *I didn't want just anyone--I wanted YOU.* But he didn't say anything. The only people in his life that he'd told he loved were his blood. Those instances were few, and usually consisted of a quick, half-embarrassed, half-irritated mumble. After all, he was War--how could anyone view him loving someone as anything but a weakness? And showing weakness was DANGEROUS. *This type of weakness would be most dangerous to the other one involved. When you're a god and you acknowledge that you love someone, it might give them SOME protection, but it also might paint a big, red bull's eye on them. Better not risk it.*

"Geraniums."

Ares blinked. "Pardon?"

"Geraniums. See? These are geraniums--red. And those are delphiniums--blue. You could hardly tell before with all the weeds, but there's really quite a nice little bunch of flowers here. Now that I'm a god, am I going to have to get my own place?"

*Move out? I hadn't thought about that. What if Zeus sends him to the House of Love?* A horrible thought occurred to Ares. *Or the House of Intellect. Shit, he CAN'T put Joxer under Apollo's directive!* He kept the unease out of his voice. "Not necessarily. The newer godlings usually stay with the deities who rule their respective houses, at least at first."

"But aren't most of the new godlings BORN, not made? They'd stay with their parents, right?"

"It can be tricky, Joxer. Cupid was designated House of Love, so he went to live with Aphrodite and Hephastus."

Joxer stopped what he was doing, and looked at Ares with dismayed sympathy. "I hadn't thought of that." He laid a hand gently on Ares' arm. "Your son was taken from you."

Ares felt his heart tighten as he remembered the pain of that time. "It isn't really like that. Dite lived here with him for a couple of years before she moved back to her place. Dite and Heph have never tried to keep me out of Cupid's life, never talked me down to him. They've made me a part of his life, involved in the important decisions."

"But he's your child, and you couldn't raise him. That hurt, Ares." It wasn't a question--it was a statement of fact. "It must have been very lonely when he went to stay with Aphrodite. "You must have been so lonely when they went away."

"Eris asked me to take over Strife not long after. Strife is very good at filling your time. He's infuriating, but seldom boring." Ares was quiet for a moment. "You know, it HAS been pretty quiet since that maniac moved out."

"You miss him."

Ares frowned. "No, I don't. I just can't handle massive doses of peace and serenity."

Joxer looked around the garden. "Well, when I get through with this place, any time you need a little peace, you can just come out here. It'll be something to remember me by."

The squeezing sensation was a little stronger this time. "You planning on going somewhere?"

Joxer shrugged, not looking at him, as he wiped his hands on the grass. "I can't stay here forever. After all, I'm not your relation, or your pet, or your... whatever. I suppose I'll have to go somewhere, sometime."

Ares reached over, cupping the back of Joxer's neck. "We don't have to think about that right now." He massaged, working at the tensed muscles, making his voice persuasive. "Can't we just let that go for a little while?" Joxer's eyes closed, as he leaned back into the touch. Ares realized that the new immortal wasn't worrying about holding himself up, trusting instead to Ares. "Have you ever had sex outdoors?"

Joxer smiled slightly. "Yes. You know, twigs can get in VERY uncomfortable places."

Ares pushed him back gently onto the grass. "There aren't any twigs here, and you've never had sex with ME outside." Ares knelt, straddling Joxer's thighs. "Open your shirt." Joxer reached for the buttons, but Ares caught his wrists, pinning his hands at his sides. "Not like that."

"I can't very well reach them with my teeth."

"Do it with your mind."

Joxer laughed a bit nervously. "Yeah, right."

"I'm serious, Joxer. You're going to have to start learning these things, and it might as well start now."

"But HOW?"

"Think about it. Picture the buttons sliding free of the holes, then concentrate. SEE it happening. Go on."

Joxer sighed, then closed his eyes. His face scrunched up in concentration, brow furrowing. After a moment he opened his eyes. "It's no use."

"I didn't think you were a quitter, Joxer." Joxer frowned, and Ares decided to push a little harder. "I KNOW you're not a quitter. You'd have given up on being a warrior long ago if you were, what with everyone telling you you couldn't do it, you were no good at it. This is something I believe you can do. Try, Joxer."

Joxer's jaw firmed. Ares believed he could do it. He pictured the buttons of the pink shirt sliding out of their holes. Nothing. Ares voice was impatient. "Damn it, don't you WANT me to make love to you?"

*Make love? HE SAID MAKE LOVE!* Joxer gritted his teeth and PUSHED. There was a ripping sound, and suddenly several tiny somethings pattered down on his chest, and he felt a breeze.

"DAMN, Joxer!"

Joxer opened his eyes and looked down at himself. The pink shirt had been ripped open down the front--the little touches he'd felt were the buttons raining down on him after they'd been popped off. Not only that, but the lacings on his breeches had been torn open. At this angle he could see pubic hair peeking out, and the curved base of his half-hard cock. He looked quickly up at Ares, who shook his head. "Wasn't me." He squeezed his hands, and Joxer realized that Ares was still pinning his wrists down, and the grip had never eased. "No, you did that all on your own. I wasn't expecting you to be able to do more than get the top couple of buttons undone." He smiled slowly. "A person would think that you had some sort of inspiration."

"Let's say 'incentive'." He sighed, relaxing against the grass. "I'm tired. I feel like I've been working like a mule for about two days."

There was a tinge of disappointment in Ares' voice. "We can wait, then."

Joxer lifted his knee till his thigh pressed up against Ares' crotch, then he rubbed it back and forth slowly. He watched as Ares' dark eyes grew almost black. "I didn't say I wanted to wait. I just want to go slow."

"I can do slow." Ares proceeded to prove that he could, indeed, go slow. He helped Joxer remove the rest of his clothing, then stripped himself. For the first time, Joxer experienced what it was like to be oiled by will power. One moment he was dry, the next a generous layer of slickness coated the inside of his back passage, and Ares first finger was slowly sinking inside.

Ares took a long time preparing him, probing and stretching gently till Joxer was relaxed and open, and whimpering with pleasure. Then he rolled the slender man over and moved up between his spread legs. Joxer buried his face in the sweet grass, feeling his throbbing cock caressed by hundreds of soft, cool blades as he was filled with hot, hard flesh.

It went on for a long time. Ares fucked him slowly and gently, kissing his neck and shoulders, sliding his hands over every stretch of smooth skin that he could reach. When he felt close to bursting, and Joxer was moaning and thrusting back at him, he rolled them both over onto their sides, gripped Joxer's cock, and stroked him to completion as he came. Joxer trembled as he felt the hot, liquid gush, and his body clenched automatically. The internal muscles rippled, squeezing the last drops of Ares' seed from him. Joxer took hold of Ares' hands, drawing them to fold over his belly, then holding them there. They were both very still, neither wanting to lose the physical connection. Even though he'd softened, Ares' cock remained inside Joxer's body for long minutes while Ares cuddled against the new godling's back, marveling at how RIGHT this cuddling felt.

~~~***~~***~~***~~***~~***~~~

Clotho had long ago learned to do her job automatically, while her sisters, Lachesis and Atropos had to pay attention to what they did, since any little slip could have far reaching consequences. Clotho had only to be sure that she did not snap or fray any new thread through clumsiness. To do so might end a life prematurely, or weaken it so that Atropos was forced to sever it before its appointed time. She did what she had to do, but took little interest in the new threads that flew from her distaff.

Sometimes, though--very rarely--there was something REALLY new. Today something caught her eye. There was a glint in the web of threads that spun off from the distaff, and she peered at them more closely. The last time she'd seen one of those had been...

She sat up quickly, her voice rising in delight. "Sisters! Come see."

"What is it, Clotho?" Atropos snipped a thread, and on earth, the last rung but one on a tall ladder snapped. She was weaving the cut end of the thread into the tapestry even as people began to gather around the still form that lay on the ground at the foot of the ladder.

"There's a new thread."

"Of course there is." Lachesis twined two threads together, and Cupid's arrows struck two young people, binding them together for life. From now till Atropos cut one or the other, they would run together. "There are ALWAYS new threads."

"But this one is special."

Lachesis frowned, scanning her recent work. "I don't see anything unusual."

"Of course not, silly! It's very, very new. It won't reach you for some time yet--months."

Atropos shrugged. "As she said, sister--there are always new threads."

"Not like this one. The last time I saw one like this, Passion and Mind brought forth Joy."

The other two gasped, and Lachesis said, "A godly child!" They stopped their work immediately, smiling, and came to examine the new thread. Clotho carefully pushed the other threads aside, so that they could see it clearly.

"Ah," breathed Atropos, "See it shine!"

"But look," Clotho didn't quite touch the fragile new life. "There's darkness here, too. Just a little, like a shadow. This child will be a blend of dark and light."

"Who are the parents?" asked Atropos.

Lachesis shrugged. "You know better than that, sister. It will be a while before I could even make a good guess. There are many, many threads that it is close to. It is, of course, bound with the mother's thread for now--this one. My, my. I've seldom seen such a pure color. If we wait a few months, the new life will be strong enough for us to trace the mother's thread, and learn who she is--and perhaps the father. For now, though, we must leave it be. We dare not disturb it."

They all three nodded in agreement, and went back to their work--it could not long be neglected. There were already people who had suffered more than they should have, waiting for Atropos to end their lives. There were important decisions that had been put off till Lachesis resumed weaving.

"One thing we can do while we wait, sisters," said Atropos. "We must begin to consider what godhood this new divinity is to assume. We'd best begin to think on it now."

"Yes," Lachesis agreed. She laughed softly, and her sisters gave her a questioning look. "I was only thinking--I hope that the mortals never learn that there are forces which rule destiny that even WE do not comprehend." She shook her head. "Bless them, they WILL expect things to make sense."



Title: Seeking Balance, 12/?
Author: Scribe
Fandom: Xena/Herc
Pairing: Ares/Joxer
Summary: Ares lets Joxer's friends know he's all
right, Joxer talks with Strife, and Ares.
Archive: Lists and AJCS, otherwise ask
Feedback: poet77665@yahoo.com
MPreg Archive: http://www.blooddance.com/mpreg/
Rating: NC17
Parts: 12/?
Status: WIP
Disclaimer: I do not own the recognizable media characters presented in this story. I have no official agreement with the owners or creators of said characters. I make no profit from this work. It is strictly for entertainment purposes. The actions of the characters in this story are in no way meant to reflect on the personal lives of the actors who portrayed them.
Authors notes:
Series/Sequel: Sidebar to the Love and Mischief Series
Warnings:

Seeking Balance, 12/?

The Next Day

It was decided that Joxer's immortality being known by so many people was risky enough. Ares and Aphrodite agreed that the fewer people who knew about Joxer's new divinity, the better. Cupid promised to keep an eye on Bliss, not leaving him with anyone who might listen too closely to the godling's prattle. Other than them, it was agreed that Hephastus should know, because he was the one most likely to notice that his wife, stepson, and grandson were concealing something.

Joxer watched Ares as he adjusted his sword, getting it to hang comfortably. "Ares, I'm not going back to earth, right?"

Ares looked up at Joxer, who was still lounging in bed. The new godling was tousled and sleepy, and Ares had to fight the urge to just crawl back in bed with him. "I thought I'd explained that."

"Yeah, I know. But if I can't go back, I need to get word to my friends that I'm all right." Ares grunted. "If I remember correctly, I was in pretty sorry shape when you took off with me. They're going to be worried, and you shouldn't let people who care about you keep worrying."

Ares considered telling Joxer that from the way his 'friends' had pushed him aside, ignored him, or directly sniped at him, he could hardly be expected to take troubles to spare their feelings--if they had any. Finally he said, "It's only been a couple of days, Joxer. There's no hurry."

Joxer frowned. "I know it looks like that to you, since you're a god..."

"So are you."

"Maybe, but I still have the mortal mindset. For mortals, a couple of days of not knowing are BAD. Please take a minute today to tell them I'm all right. I know you can't tell them all of what's happened, but just let them know I'm not dead, and I'm recovered."

"They saw how you were. How am I going to explain that?"

Joxer shrugged. "They probably won't question Apollo being able to heal me. You don't have to tell them about the apples and the ambrosia."

Ares considered this. "I suppose I can. If I don't tell them something, Xena and Hercules are liable to start trashing my temples in an effort to get the information out of me, anyway."

Joxer beamed. "Thank you. Suppose I write a letter you can show them? I know that Xena and Herk, um, don't exactly embrace everything you tell them as absolute truth."

Ares smirked. "You may very well be fated to be God of Tact." He gestured, and ink, quill, and parchment appeared in Joxer's lap. "Hurry up." Joxer scratched out a hasty message, muttering under his breath when he smeared the ink. When it was done he rolled it up and handed it to Ares, who tucked it in his belt. "Before I go, let's see you dress yourself."

*sigh* "All right, I'll try, but I don't guarantee anything." Joxer closed his eyes and concentrated. "Nothing."

"The creation of material is harder than simple manipulation. Try again. Imagine everything you can about that piece of clothing--color, texture, even scent." Joxer thought HARD. Ares saw a faint shimmer of color seem to pass over Joxer's torso. It passed, and Joxer was almost panting with effort. "Were you trying for a red shirt?"

Joxer nodded. "How could you tell?"

"You came close. Once you can hold your concentration a little longer, you'll have it, but no need to exhaust yourself right now." He waved his hand, and Joxer was dressed--including red shirt. "Try doing some things with your mind today, Joxer. Nothing big, though. Don't go trying to move any statues, or you're likely to have them slip and fall on you. It wouldn't kill you now, but it could make you damn uncomfortable. Let's see... Where is the Freaky Foursome now?" He reached out, seeking the life essences of his daughter and half-brother. He found them, together. Good, he wouldn't have to transport all over creation. "I'll be back this afternoon."

Joxer had gotten out of bed. Now he grabbed Ares' collar and gave him a quick kiss. "I'll be waiting."

Ares hesitated a moment, enjoying the warm feeling that came with knowing that someone would be eagerly awaiting his return. He thought about saying something--telling Joxer that he'd hurry back to him. Instead he just nodded, and left.

Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, and Iolaus were all lodging at an inn not far from where they'd battled the hydra. Ares transported into the common room, remaining invisible as he got a sense of the situation. The four were all sharing a table in the corner. Ares noticed that three of them seemed to be pretty drunk, considering how early it was. Xena, Hercules, and Iolaus had an impressive collection of ale mugs and wine glasses gathered in front of them. They were silent, but it was the sort of silence that usually fell when a group had simply exhausted themselves talking about something.

Xena was glaring into a near empty wine goblet. Iolaus had his head down on the table, buried in his arms, and Hercules was stroking his hair with surprising tenderness. The only one who didn't seem lost in melancholy was Gabrielle. She had writing implements spread before her, and was scribbling diligently. She paused and said, "Okay, tell me how this sounds."

'The scaly scourge lurked in its lair,
its foul stench poisoning e'en the air.
The helpless herdsmen did despair
Of peace and security.

But some heard their cry, and they did heed
This fervent prayer, this ardent plea.
Hunter, warrior princess, hero, and bard
Flew to the rescue, to battle the...'

She frowned. "Okay, I probably shouldn't say 'li-ZARD'. Don't they say 'iz-zard instead in some places? That would scan better. Or maybe I should find a way to use the word 'hard' or 'guard' instead."

Iolaus lifted his head and directed a bloodshot glare at Gabrielle. "I thought you said you were writing a ballad in tribute to Joxer."

Gabrielle blinked. "I am."

"You haven't mentioned him in the first two verses."

"That will come later."

Xena scowled at Gabrielle. "He's right. You gave a listing of the group, and didn't even include Joxer."

"I'm GOING to, but he wasn't really a part of the attack group, after all. I mean, it was a tragedy what happened to him, but I see this as also serving as a warning to those who are foolish enough to insist on meddling in matters they aren't suited for. If Joxer had just stayed back with the shepherds, he wouldn't have been killed, and..."

Iolaus slammed a mug on the table, and Gabrielle shut up with a squeak. "He fucking saved the life of a GOD, Gabrielle! What the Tartarus does it take to impress you?"

"And we don't know that he's dead," said Xena grimly.

Gabrielle gave her friend a sad look that managed to be condescending. "Xena, you just have to face reality. ARES took him. He probably got pissed because Joxer was bleeding on him, and dropped him somewhere."

Ares was fuming. He was about two seconds from just blasting the blonde bimbo when Hercules surprised him by speaking up. "He wouldn't do that. I don't have any great admiration for Ares, but he DOES have a sense of honor, no matter how twisted it might be. He would do his best to save Joxer, if only to show his other followers that remaining loyal to him could have its benefits. And if he got Joxer to Olympus in time," Hercules shrugged. "They can do some pretty fantastic healing for themselves, they can probably do a lot for mortals."

Gabrielle was gathering up her materials. "You're all being unreasonable, but I can understand that--you're upset. I don't need this, though. I've been having a bad time myself, you know. That comedy they performed here last night had an absolutely disgusting rag-picker woman named Gabrielle, and then someone recited a bawdy poem about a 'legion's sweetheart' who was named Gabrielle, too. To top it off, I heard a rumor that Finaculous is writing a new play, and had a pig thief who was going to be called Graccus, but he was suddenly inspired to change the sex, and name her Gabrielle. I have to consult with a lawyer and find out if there's anyone I can sue." She scuttled out of the room, grumbling.

Iolaus let his head thump back to the table. "Why have I never noticed what a bitch she is?"

"Watch it," said Xena, but there was no heat in her voice. Iolaus glanced at Hercules, then gave Xena a sympathetic look. He knew all about loving someone in spite of themselves.

Ares sat in the chair Gabrielle had vacated, then appeared. It was a note of how drunk they all were that no one either fell out of their chair, or drew a weapon. "My, I haven't seen such red eyes since Greagus got downwind of the burning manure pits in

Tartarus."

Hercules started to stand up, and Iolaus grabbed his sleeve. "Don't."

"He's right, brother. I'd be more than happy to leave you to your drink and speculation." *I WON'T, because that would hurt Joxer, but there's no need to tell YOU that.*

Hercules slowly sat back down. His voice was thick and gritty. "Where is he?"

"Probably in the garden by now." They were silent, staring at me. "In case you've all pickled your brains too far to understand, that means that he's all right." Ares pulled the parchment from his belt and tossed it to Xena. She showed that she wasn't as far gone as she might have looked (a very useful trait in a warrior) by snatching it out of mid-air. She unrolled it quickly and began to read, pale blue eyes darting quickly over the message. The relaxation was tiny, but it was visible in the loosening of her shoulders, and the disappearance of the furrow between her brows. She passed the message over to Iolaus, ignoring Hercules' outstretched hand.

Iolaus had compassion on his lover, though, by reading the paper aloud. "Dear Xena, Hercules, Gabrielle... To whom it may concern. Hi, it's me--Joxer. I'm not dead. Well, I couldn't be and still write this, could I? I'm okay, hope you are the same. That hydra didn't get up and cause you anymore trouble, did it? Anyway, I'm at Ares' temple on Olympus, and I'll probably be here for a while. I'll let you know when -I- know what's going to happen. Don't worry about me. Take care, and don't take any dinars from Salmoneus--they're usually wooden. Your friend, Joxer the Mighty."

"How do we know that this is genuine?" asked Hercules suspiciously.

Iolaus sighed. "Well, for one thing, the first greeting is scratched out, before the 'to whom it may concern'. There are ink smudges all over it, and just LISTEN to it. Could anything sound more like Joxer?"

Now Hercules relaxed a little, sighing. "Thank Zeus."

"Believe me, Father had NOTHING to do with this," drawled Ares. He stood up. "Well, I've fulfilled my promise."

"Wait," said Xena. "When will you bring him back?"

Ares cocked an eyebrow at her. "What makes you think I'll be bringing him back?" He smiled. "I'm growing quite fond of him."

Now Hercules DID spring up. "You toad! He's not a toy, Ares! You can't keep him to torment as you please."

"Is that all you think he's good for, Hercules?"

"Ares," Xena said softly, "I know that we haven't been as good friends to him as we might have, but we care about him."

He looked at his daughter, weighing the merits of playing with his brother's mind, or setting his daughter's mind at rest. He noted Iolaus' pained gaze, and decided. "I swear to you, Xena, that he is well cared for. He's also treated with honor and respect," he glared at Hercules, then pointed at a quill that had been left on the table, and made it disappear in a small burst of flame, "which is more than he had here on earth." With that he vanished.

Hercules slumped back into his chair. "We'll never get him back."

Iolaus and Xena both stared at him. Finally Iolaus said quietly, "What if he doesn't WANT to come back?"

Hercules frowned. "Why would he want to stay with Ares?"

Iolaus and Xena exchanged looks. Iolaus shrugged, as if to say, *We'd never be able to explain it, and he wouldn't believe us if we could.* He poured some ale from a pitcher into his lover's mug. "Have a drink, Hercules, and trust me--Joxer is all right with Ares."

One Month Later

Strife left Ares at a strategy meeting with some of his generals and popped over to the House of War for a visit with Joxer. He hadn't seen the new immortal for a few weeks. Things were a little tense lately. Mom had been snappish, which could be downright DANGEROUS with her. He'd been feeling restless, his emotions even more of a jumble than usual. He'd tried working it off through romps with some of the willing worshippers at his temples, but other than a temporary physical release, those didn't accomplish much. He just knew that, for some reason, being around Joxer was soothing, so he dropped by for a visit.

He popped in on the bed, sitting next to Joxer. "Hiya." Joxer upchucked in the basin he was holding in his lap. "Well, I ain't useta warm welcomes, but I gotta admit that's a bit much."

Joxer wiped his mouth, smiling weakly. "Sorry. Just can't seem to keep anything down today."

"An' Unc went off an' left ya alone?"

"Oh, I didn't start till after he left." Strife materialized a glass of water for him. "Thank you, but let me try. I have to learn how to do these things for myself." Joxer held out his hand and stared at it. After a second a lump of ice appeared in his palm. Joxer shrugged good-naturedly. "At least it's the right element this time, and... Oops." He looked at the wide-eyed god. "Uh, you didn't know about this."

"Nah, I didn't. Joxie, did Unc slip ya ambrosia?" He grinned. "Ooo, that bad boy! It's times like these I'm proud ta be related."

"It wasn't Ares," Joxer protested. "I was just trying to get Bliss to eat, and he somehow talked me into trading bites."

Strife fell off the bed laughing. When he hauled himself back up, chuckling weakly, he said, "I KNEW I gotta HUGE burst of energy right aftah I left Dite's place, but I figured it was from Autolycus slippin inta that Persian ambassador's harem. Zeus, I LOVE that kid! Wish he was mine."

"He's a special little fella, all right," agreed Joxer. "And his daddy seems very nice, too. A little off-hand, perhaps, but I don't get the same 'there's a bug' sense from him that I do from a lot of people."

"Knowwhatcha mean. He don't usually get that 'oh, Zeus, there he is again' look when I show up. Yah, Cupe's tha bomb."

Joxer smiled at him. "You like him a lot, don't you?"

Strife shrugged negligently, but he was looking away. "What's not ta like?"

Joxer looked down at the ice. "My hand is cold, and I'm dripping." Strife offered the water, and Joxer dropped the chunk of ice in it, then sipped the chilled liquid. "Thank you. Maybe I should try thinking of a FILLED GLASS instead of just water. Otherwise I'm likely to get a shower when I don't want it."

"Sounds like a plan. Yer lookin a little bettah now."

"I'm all right." Joxer stared at the filled basin, and it disappeared. He smiled. "That one I've gotten down." In Asphodel, Hades was wondering why a basin of vomit had appeared in front of his throne. He considered tracing the power signature, but glanced at the line of souls waiting to be sorted, and decided it was too much trouble. Instead he just sent it to Tartarus and had it deposited over the head of a man who had knowingly sold tainted meat. He was a great believer in poetic justice.

"Ya want me ta take ya ta see Apollo or Ace?" asked Strife.

"No, I'm sure it's nothing. I feel fine now. I'll just stick to bread today--that should settle things down." He smiled at the Mischief God. "It's good to see you. How are things in the outside?"

Strife shrugged. "Tha usual insanity." He poked Joxer in the shoulder. "Unc's been a lot, um, steadiah lately. Yer keepin him mellow, Jox."

"Mellow? He told me yesterday that he personally saw to it that a soldier could get a new nickname--'Eight Fingered Endigus'."

"Tha twerp was dozin on sentry duty. Usually he'd've made 'im eligible fah tha nickname 'Tha LATE Endigus'."

Joxer hummed. "I don't want to be part of limiting him."

"Yer not." Strife put an arm around Joxer's shoulders, giving him a friendly squeeze. "Big secret, Jox? There have been a lot of times that Ares has worried us up here. We all hafta do our bit in our godhoods, but it's possible ta get TOO caught up in it, dig? Everyone needs somethin MORE. Hera has her gardens, Zeus has his strange nookie, Hades has Persephone, Hecate has a pink stuffed bunny..." Joxer laughed. "Yah, well, it has fangs, but don't tell anyone I told ya--I'd rathah not spend a month as a newt. Just trust me, Joxer. Ares needed somethin ta take him away from War occasionally. It looks like yer it, an' there are a lot of us in tha Pantheon who are happy about it."

"What about Zeus?"

Strife sat back. This was a question he'd rather not answer, but with Joxer's steady, direct gaze on him, he didn't want to evade. "I'd liketa tell ya that he'll be fine with it, too, Jox, but I know tha old goat too well. He ain't happy with most things that aren't his idea. But there are certain things that even HE hasta just deal with. I think this is gonna be one of 'em."

Joxer sighed, but gave him a small smile. "From your mouth to the ears of the Fates."

Three Months Later

"You've really done wonders with this place." They were under the willow tree in the garden, and Ares was lying with his head in Joxer's lap. They were naked, because when Ares had returned, Joxer was eager to show him the new fish he'd put in the ornamental garden pond. Now that he'd cleaned it out, it was once again healthy enough to support fish, and Poseidon had sent over some very pretty ornamental koi that he'd received from the Nippon God of Waters. Joxer had been so excited that his natural clumsiness had kicked in, and he'd gotten a dunking when he leaned out too far. Then, of course, Ares had felt compelled to go in after him. That had led to water wrestling, and then sex on the bank, and now they were air-drying.

The garden had bloomed, literally, under Joxer's care. It had become an oasis of beauty and serenity, with smooth swatches of green grass between fragrant bushes and flowerbeds. "Well, that centaur manure was a pain to spread, but BOY does it work. Besides, it isn't as if I have much more to do than work on it."

Ares rolled his head on Joxer's thighs, looking up at him. "Do I detect a touch of accusation in your tone?"

Joxer sighed. "Ares, it's been three months since I got deified, or whatever the Tartarus you call it. Godhooded? Anyway, you can't keep me hidden here forever."

"I could try."

"We're gonna have to deal with this, sooner or later."

"Later, then."

Joxer was quiet for a moment, stroking his hair, and Ares had started to drift off to sleep, when Joxer said softly, "Is it because you don't want everyone to know that we're, um, together?" Ares sat up abruptly, turning to stare at his lover. Joxer continued nervously, "Because we ARE sort of together, aren't we? I mean, I'm not sure how these things work on the divine plane of existence, but this is the longest I've ever been with anyone before. Of course, if it's just because you have to keep me hidden..."

Ares stopped his babbling with a kiss. "Yes, Joxer, we ARE together." He leaned his forehead against Joxer's, gazing deep into his eyes, thinking that Joxer was one of the few people he'd ever been able to do this with who didn't flinch away. Instead he just gazed back. "I'm not really sure what that means. Three months isn't long by our standards, you know, but... Well, it is for me. I haven't really taken lovers since Dite and I were together to make Cupid. I've had bed partners, and plenty of them, but no one I really wanted to wake-up with on a daily basis. No one I looked forward to coming back to, day after day." He bit his lip. Lying would have come easy to him at one point, but not now--not with Joxer looking at him this way. "I can't tell you it's love, Joxer. Not yet."

Joxer nodded, a little sadly. "That's okay. You didn't tell me it ISN'T love." He took a breath. "But you ought to know that's what it is for me." Ares was silent. "You don't have to worry about it. I mean, I'm not the sort to be, uh, difficult. I just... I know that even when... if this ends... at least I'll still be able to see you. I mean, I'm here now. I can't go back. We'll still see each other, even if it's only, like, at official functions, and stuff, and maybe my godhood will let me work with you sometimes, so..."

Ares kissed him again. "Let it go for now, Joxer, okay?"

"Okay." Ares stroked his hair. "Good. You shouldn't worry about things." He ran a fingertip over Joxer's forehead. "Your brow should be smooth, and serene. It just looks RIGHT for you."

Joxer smiled. "You think so?"

"I do." He tapped Joxer's nose. "Of course, I ALSO think you should be naked all the time." He lay back down, snuggling his head in Joxer's lap. Turning, he nuzzled against Joxer's belly, noting that it was oh, so slightly convex, instead of the board flat plain he was used to. He thought it was cute. "I do believe that being a god agrees with you, Joxer."



Seeking Balance, 13/?
By Scribe

Part Thirteen
Noticing

Two Months Later

"Daddy?"

Cupid yawned. Without opening his eyes, he groped, looped an arm around the waist of the little boy standing beside his bed, and hauled him up, bringing him to rest on his chest. "Morning, baby boy. What's Daddy said about not coming in till I call you?"

"Youse said 'at sometime ev'n Daddies need private time. Gan'ma Dite says I might fin' somthin' Ise not 'spectin if I come in 'thout knockin'."

"Yeah, well, I love Mom, but sometimes she runs her mouth a little." He opened his eyes to gaze up into his child's wide, blue eyes, and gently stroked the boy's baby-soft white wings. "Daddy isn't going to bring anyone here who might not be good for you to meet." Bliss nodded, as if this was something that didn't need explaining. "Was there anything you needed to tell me?"

"Hadda dream."

*Oh, this could be good. Bliss has some real corkers. Hypnos really loves the kid.* "What sort of dream?"

Bliss slid off to the side, so that he was resting just his torso on Cupid's chest. "Funny one. Dream 'bout G'anpa an' Joxie."

Cupid smiled. "You like Joxer, don't you?"

Bliss smiled. "He's funny. G'anpa likes Joxie lots an' lots, huh?"

Cupid squeezed him. "Yes, he does. But don't talk to him about it, huh, son? Dad hasn't really gotten used to the idea yet, and he... well, he sort of balks at things if he thinks they aren't his own idea."

"He 'tubborn."

Cupid laughed. "Yeah, but we love him anyway. Was that all the dream, baby? Just Dad likeing Joxie a lot? Doesn't sound too funny to me."

"Tha's not the funny part, silly. Funny part was that Joxie has a baby in his tummy."

Cupid chuckled. "That IS funny. I wouldn't say anything about that, either, hon. Joxer's still close to being a mortal, and I don't think he'd deal with the idea of being pregnant very well--even if it WAS just a dream."

"Okay." Bliss slid off the bed.

Cupid sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Don't go far, son. I'll have breakfast ready in a few minutes."

"'kay!" Bliss trotted back to his bedroom. He went right to his bed and pushed aside the tumbled sheets, the groped under his pillow. He pulled out a small sliver of stone, not much bigger than his little finger. Bliss held it up before his face and whispered, "Hey." Nothing. "Hey, you there?" A faint, greenish glow appeared in the depths of the stone. "Is you fibbin' to me? Is Joxie really got a baby in his belly?" The light pulsed. "You sure? He on'y been livin' with G'anpa for a little bitty while." *pulse* "What you mean, it just takes once?" The glow faded. Bliss shook the stone, but got no more response.

He shrugged, then slipped the stone back under his pillow, and carefully made his bed. He was just smoothing the sheets when Cupid came into the room. He watched his son, hands on his hips. "Well! Aren't you getting grown up? Made your own bed without any help, did you?"

"Yeah. I can clean my own room now, Daddy."

"You don't want any help?"

"This way I knows where ev'thing is. You won't lose my things."

"Oh, well! Certainly, your majesty!" Bliss giggled. "C'mon, hon. Time to eat, then you'll be spending the day with Hestia. And no fiddling with her cooking when she isn't looking, all right? That last time when you put the puckernuts in the cookies she gave to Hades, Strife just about over-dosed on the energy. He was bouncing off the walls for hours." Cupid snorted, then smiled, muttering, "Idiot."

"Daddy!" Bliss tugged his hand free of his gather's grip and shook a finger at him sternly. "Stwife notta idjet! He SMART."

Cupid felt a little ashamed. "I know, Bliss. You're right, Strife is VERY smart. He's just... uh... a little hard to take sometimes. I didn't mean anything hurtful."

Bliss shook his head. "I knows that, Daddy, but what if Stwife hear you say that? HE might not know you don' mean it."

Cupid sighed. "Right again. Careless words. I ought to know how they can hurt. I've seen them undo enough of my work, haven't I?" He tousled Bliss' curls. "You like cousin Strife, don't you?"

Bliss grinned up at him, then said simply, "Don' you?"

Cupid laughed ruefully. "You're related to him, all right."

~~**~~**~~**~~**~~**~~**~~**~~**~~**~~**~~

Ares met Joxer outside the bathing chamber. "Hey, where'd you go so suddenly?"

Joxer was looking a little pale. "Just had to, um, answer a call of nature--a very VEHEMENT call."

"There was a chamber pot right under the bed." Joxer gave him a look. Ares laughed. "Right. You and romance." He kissed Joxer, gave his butt a fond squeeze, and went on into the bathing room.

Joxer just managed to whisk away the full basin before Ares went in, though the War God DID sniff around a bit suspiciously. Finally he shrugged and thought up a little sandlewood incense to get rid of the sour smell. Joxer must not have been kidding about that 'nature' bit. He made a mental note to teach his lover how to create roasted duck that wasn't QUITE so rare. Now that he was a god, he didn't have to settle for charred outside, raw inside.

On the other side of Olympus, Hestia was staring at what was in the bowl that SHOULD have contained the makings of a gooseberry fool. The green and the lumps were appropriate enough, but that CERTAINLY wasn't whipped cream. She looked around suspiciously. "Strife?"

*Flash* "Heya, Hestia. Wassup?" Strife lounged against the table. Hestia pointed silently at the bowl. He stepped back quickly, nose wrinkling. "Yow! Whatevah it is--I pass."

"Did you do that?"

"Ain't nunna mine, lady." He chuckled. "Good idea, though."

"Hmph! That was the last of this year's crop of gooseberries. I was making this specially for Bliss, and I just can't bother Gaia about getting me more at this late date." She glared. "Are you SURE you didn't...?"

"If it's fah tha squirt, I ain't messin with it." He picked up the bowl. "I'll get ridda it for yah." He giggled. "I know just where to put it." He disappeared.

Hestia sighed. "Zeus help whoever is on the receiving end."

Strife reappeared in his own room in the House of War, sat down, and forced himself to concentrate on the bowl of swill. He was good at picking up power traces when he wanted to be, and he wanted to be now. Anyone who would dump vomit in Hestia's kitchen without being caught was someone he wanted to meet. He felt around, tongue poking out the side of his mouth as he sharpened every mental facet he had. He found the spark of energy, latched on to it, and traced backward. He was surprised to find that he had a very short distance to go.

His eyes widened when he found the source. "Yer kiddin me!" He cackled. "It's gotta be a mistake, but damn... Joxie, yer a natural." Instead of going off to deposite the upchuck personally, he simply transported it to the floor of Apollo's chariot. As he'd thought, the Sun God was busy at the moment, and didn't notice the new arrival till he made a sharp turn, and got his feet doused. Strife didn't even wait for the resulting burst of energy--he went in search of Joxer.

He went on foot, a matter of politeness for his uncle's new roommate. Joxer was getting better, but sudden appearances and disappearances still startled him, and if that basin was any indication of the state of his stomach these days...

~~*~**~**~**~*~**~***~****~******~*****~****~

Joxer carefully dipped the anchovy filet into the saucer of honey, then munched it down quickly. *Why am I doing this? Usually the very THOUGHT of anchovies makes me queasy, but somehow the combination of salt and sweet is just exactly what I need. The only thing it needs...* He thought, and materialized a lemon half, then squeezed it into the honey. He dipped another filet and ate it, then sighed. "Perfect."

"Damn, Jox, no wonder yer upchuckin if that's tha sorta stuff yer eatin."

"Oh. Um, well... I don't know why... What do you mean, upchucking?"

"That basin ya tried ta get rid of ended up in Hestia's kitchen."

He paled. "Oh, dear. It's not a good idea to piss off someone who might be doing your food at a later date."

"Chill, she don't know who did it, an' she'll forget pretty soon. Where did ya THING ya were sendin it?"

"I... I don't know. I was just trying to make it go away. You know... not exist."

Strife sat by him, shaking his head. "This may be kinda hard fah a mortal ta undahstand, but DESTROYIN mattah is harder than creatin it. Somethin about Nature abhorin a vacuume. Is this tha first time ya did it?"

"Ooo, no. I've been having an upset tummy every morning for about a week now." He made a face. "It's getting hard to keep it from Ares."

"Why'd ya wanna do that?"

"I don't want to bother him."

"Joxer!" Strife poked him.

Joxer rubbed his arm. "Ow."

"Well, someone's gotta wake ya up! Ya don't screw around when yer sick, kiddo."

"I just thought that since I'm a god now..."

"Ya still don't screw around about yer health, Jox. Anythin else goin wrong lately?"

"Oh, nothing much." He made a face. "I guess it's mostly because of all the garden work I've been doing." He looked down at his feet ruefully. "My feet are getting swollen. I'm gonna have to start wearing slippers instead of boots if this keeps up."

Strife giggled. "Mornin sickness, swollen feet, strange food cravins. What are ya, Jox--pregnant?" They both laughed. Then Strife's giggles slowed, and he looked at Joxer thoughtfully. "Waitaminit."

"Hm?"

"Pregnant?"

Joxer laughed again, but it was a bit uncertain now. "Strife, I'm not the most masculine man around, but I don't have the sort of equipment you need for that."

Strife put an arm around his shoulders. "Joxie--yer a god now. Hello?"

"I... You... It..." Joxer shook his head. "Noooo, that's just not possible."

"Aw, c'mon," Strife whispered in his ear. "Ya don't mean ta tell me that Unc hasn't gotten some booty off ya yet?"

Joxer cleared his throat, shifting a little. "Uh, well... There HAVE been... Once or twice... or maybe some more. But Strife-- PREGNANT?"

"You'll hafta see Apollo or Ace ta be sure, but it could happen."

"HOW DO YOU KNOW?!"

"There's Athena, fah one thing."

"Yeah, but she sprang fully formed from Zeus' head." Joxer suddenly clutched his belly, staring down at it in horror. "I'm not going to be pregnant for nineteen or twenty years, and then..." He was turning paler by the second.

"Joxer, calm down. Granted, all we've had so far is regulah births, an' that one spontaneous generation. Nothin is certain. I'm just tellin ya that ya'd bettah prepare yerself fah any eventuality. Look, I'll take ya ta see Ace." He stood up. "Lemme go tell Unc, an'..."

"NO!" Joxer clutched at him. "No, don't tell him ANYTHING!"

"But if this is his kid, Joxer, he's gotta..."

"Strife, PLEASE."

Strife sat back down slowly. "Joxer... are you scared?" Joxer looked down. "I could kick myself fah puttin doubt in yer mind, Jox. Look, there's not a whole Tartarus of a lot that can really do any damage to a god. Whatevah's goin on with ya, I'm sure Ace can..." He trailed off. "That isn't it." He put a finger under Joxer's chin and tipped it up. "Jox, are you scared of tellin Unc?"

Joxer wiped a hand quickly over his eyes, but they remained suspiciously bright. "He... he has a lot on his mind. I don't want to bother him when it's probably nothing."

"But it could be EVERYTHIN."

"Strife... I'm sure--he isn't."

"Ah." Those last four words, their tone, said more than an hour's worth of talk. Strife took a deep breath, looking at his friend. "I really oughta, Jox. I mean, I guy bein a daddy--that's big shit." He smiled. "But think of tha mischief charge I can get if I DON'T tell." Joxer drooped in relief. "Yer right, this could just be some sorta new divine bug, but..." he held up one finger warningly, "ya gotta promise that if this goes on much longah, you'll lemme take ya ta Ace. Not Apollo--Ace. Doctah/patient confidentiality be damned-- he's tha biggest gossip on Olympus."

"All right, I promise. But I'm sure it's nothing." Strife cocked an eyebrow. "Really. I mean, surely even -I- can't have that kind of luck." He glanced around apprehensively. "I can't think the Fates would be that... perverse."

"Ya know, Jox," Strife dipped a fingertip in the dish of honey-and- lemon, then licked it clean. "Don't blab it around, but sometimes I get tha feelin that those broads ain't as all knowin as they'd liketa have us believe."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~**~*~*~*~*~**~*~*~**~

"Sisters," said Lachesis, her voice excited, "I've managed to discover one of the parents for the godly child." Her two sisters stopped what they were doing and hurried over eagerly. "Look." Lachesis indicated a very dark thread that ran beside the new one. It would look black to someone who was unfamiliar with the threads, but actually it was blue--deep, midnight blue.

The three sisters studied it, and then they all smiled. "Another child for War," said Atropos with satisfaction. "Good!"

"They can be trouble, but they certainly make the job more interesting," agreed Lachesis. "I still haven't located the mother's thread, though."

"You mean it isn't Aphrodite?" asked Clotho. Lachesis shook her head. "How odd. I didn't know that he had an interest in any other goddess, and it can't be with a mortal. This is definitely a divinity, not a demi-god."

"I should be able to tease it out, with a little more effort, but I can't devote too much time to this," sighed Lachesis.

Atropos went back to snipping threads. "I wonder why they haven't sent an official announcement yet?"

Lachesis went back to weaving, while Clotho took up her distaff again. The spinner said consideringly, "Do you suppose it's because there's been no formal committment with the mother? Oh, I know they make a show of it not mattering, but really... I can't help but think that Strife wouldn't be quite as, er, well, whatever he is, if he'd had a strong father figure."

"Well," said Atropos tartly, "Having a father doesn't necessarily mean having a good influence. Anyway, it's time that this came out in the open. It can't be easy on the poor dear, whoever she is, hiding the pregnancy. I think we should send a prophecy. Now, let's see... Perhaps since this is a godly child we should bypass the earthly oracles and go straight to Apollo..."

"Oh!" Lachesis gasped.

"What is is, sister? Did you prick your finger? Be careful--a drop of blood can cause all kinds of mischief in the tapestry."

"No, Clotho, I was just startled. It seems that we have no need of sending a prophetic dream. One has already been sent." The other two stared at her. "I swear! It's right here, and I didn't weave it." She received looks. "I swear to you! You know that I can't recall every single detail of what I weave, but I'm fairly sure I would have remembered this. Yes, a dream has been sent to..." She started laughing.

"What is it?" asked Atropos. Lachesis just waved at her to wait a moment, still laughing. "Sister!"

"It... Whoever or whatever arranged this has a sense of humor." Her smile softened. "I suppose it is appropriate, though, since such an event is bound to bring great joy."

Atropos leaned back. "No!"

"Oh, yes. The littlest godling on Olympus is the first to know of this great news. Judging from the way the threads are running, I'd say that there's going to be more than one dream. So, we have nothing to do but sit back and watch it all unfold. Someone is doing our job for us."

They started working again. Clotho said, "Lachesis, will there be a wedding before there is a birth?"

"I can't see that far ahead, sister, but I hope so." She sighed. "The thread of Ares' life has been stretched so taut before. It's better, now--not limp, but not pulled near to breaking. Whoever she is--she's good for him."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~**~~**~**~***~**~*~*~*~*~

"How was your day?" Ares had appeared behind Joxer in the garden. Now he nuzzled his face against his lover's neck, delighting in the delicious shiver he caused.

"Pretty much the same as usual. I ate breakfast, I worked on the garden, I ate lunch. Oh, Gaia came by--brought me the prettiest little cherry tree. I'm going to plant it right beside the pond, opposite the willow, so that the blossoms will float on the water." He trailed off. "Ares, it's pretty much the same, every day. Sometimes I feel like years have gone by, when I know that can't be the case. When am I going to, um, come out?"

Ares stepped back from Joxer. "You aren't happy here?"

"No, I didn't say that! I... Ares, I want to DO something. I want my life to MEAN something. On earth, I got to help people--I protected them, and... Okay, so I wasn't all that good at it, but I was out there doing something. People knew who I was." His voice lowered. "I knew who I was. I don't, now. I was Joxer the Mighty. Then I ate that pink goo, and everything changed. What am I now? Even you don't know. I have all sorts of strange, new feelings running around inside me, and I need to learn how to direct them. I don't think I can until I'm put in my proper place. What God am I? Only Zeus can settle that, can't he?"

Ares heaved a sigh. "Yes--nothing is officially till Zeus puts his stamp on it. We'll have to make things known. But give it a couple more days, hm? He should be coming to the end of his latest fling soon. We'll catch him between affairs--his thinking should be clearer, then. Okay?"

Joxer sighed. "Whatever you think is best."

"Come on in and eat, then."

"I'm not hungry." He burped, thinking of the olives, radishes, and lump sugar he'd shoveled down at lunch.

Ares frowned. "You've been acting a little funny lately."

"Oh, I'm okay. I feel a little funny, but I think it's just that I've been in the sun too much. The sun's going down now. I'll just sit out here under the tree and watch the moon come up--enjoy the cool breeze. You go ahead and eat."

"Are you sure?"

"Ares, It'll go away." He smiled. Ares kissed him again, then went inside. Joxer sat under the tree, leaning back against the trunk, gazing up as the sky went pink and gold, then dark. Stars began to come out. He whispered, "It'll go away. It'll go away. It'll go away." Then something happened. There was... He couldn't really call it a MOVEMENT. It wasn't quite a flutter. *It could be just a gas bubble.* Joxer touched his belly, considering. The feeling came again, and his eyes widened. "Baby?" he whispered. The feeling came again, and Joxer suddenly wrapped his arms around his own waist, feeling a flood of warmth like he never had before, not even when he was being held by Ares. "Don't," he whispered. "Oh, don't. Don't go away."



Seeking Balance, 14/?
By Scribe

The next day

Cupid watched his son yawning and rubbing his eyes. "Why are you yawning, Bliss? Didn't you sleep well last night?"

"Nuh-uh. Talkin' gave me dweams."

Cupid frowned. "But we didn't have any guests over last night."

"Not guests. Other talkin'."

"What other talking?"

Bliss' blue eyes shifted. "Hadda funny dweam. Joxie hadda big tummy 'gin." He laughed. "Youse could see the baby kickin' from the inside. Poor Joxie."

"Oh, yeah, I bet that WOULD be uncomfortable. Did you make your bed again today?"

Bliss nodded. He wondered if he ought to move the talking stone somewhere else, just in case Daddy decided that he ought to put fresh sheets on the bed. He couldn't be absolutely sure that the stone wouldn't vanish with the sheets. Maybe he should put it in his belt pouch--the one he kept his shed feathers in.

A week later

"Gan'ma, I hadda dweam las' night."

Aphrodite sat and pulled Bliss up onto her lap. "Did you, punkin? Was it a scary dream, or a funny dream?"

He giggled. "Funny. I hadda same dweam before."

Cupid smiled indulgently at his son, sitting beside his mother. "Was it the one where you were swimming in custard?" Bliss shook his head. "Or the one where Uncle Hades was singing and dancing?"

Aphrodite laughed. "Oh, I'd pay to have a scrying mirror of that!"

Bliss was shaking his head, and Cupid said, "Then was it the dream about Joxer?"

Bliss nodded vigorously, and curved his hands in front of his own plump belly. "Him hadda tummy like THIS!"

Aphrodite giggled. "I suppose being able to think up food whenever you liked WOULD be a temptation for a former mortal."

Cupid chuckled. "That's not why he had the big belly. Tell her, son."

"Him gonna have a baby!"

Cupid laughed. "Isn't that the silliest thing you ever heard? Mom, why aren't you laughing?"

"Bliss, honey, are you sure this is the same dream? Exactly?"

Bliss frowned in concentration, but nodded again, holding up three fingers. "Had it this many timeses now."

"Hm."

"What is it, Mom?" Cupid asked.

"Well, dear, you know that sometimes repeated dreams are prophetic, especially when they come in threes."

"Oh, please!"

"I'll admit that it isn't by any means a sure thing, but it's POSSIBLE."

Cupid regarded his son, puzzled. "But he never has before. I haven't, and you haven't. I don't think Dad has. He's never mentioned it if he did."

"Yes, but there's your Uncle Apollo to consider. It may well have skipped a generation. Or it could just be something specifically related to what's going on. You have to admit it's been pretty weird, and I see no reason why it couldn't generate a lot of energy that would have to be funneled out SOMEHOW."

"I'm pretty sure that if Dad was going to have another kid, everyone on Olympus would know about it."

Aphrodite sighed. "This is a special case, remember? There's a limited number of people who even realize that he's in a situation where children are likely."

"Mom, they're hardly LIKELY now."

"All right then, Mister Semantics--POSSIBLE." Aphrodite sighed. "Oh, it would be nice if it were true. I'd love to have a baby around again." She giggled. "Especially since I wouldn't be the one changing diapers or breast feeding."

Bliss poked Aphrodite in the bosom. "Gan'ma, how do bwests feed a baby?" He tried to peer down her cleavage. "You gots food in there? What kind?"

She handed him to Cupid. "It's time to have a talk with your son." She was gone in a flash of pink sparks.

"Right," said Cupid. "It's 'my grandson' this and 'my grandchild' that till he asks the BIG questions, then it's 'here's your son'." He sighed. "Okay, Bliss--you know about cows, right?"

Bliss gave his Daddy a 'duh' look.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Aphrodite appeared in the Cave of the Fates. They looked up from their work. "Hail, Love," said Atropos.

"To what do we owe this visit?" asked Lachesis.

Aphrodite pointed at Clotho. "I want to know if a new thread has been spun out from the God of War's life." The Fates exchanged looks. "And I'm going to take that as a yes!" She clapped her hands and bounced over to the tapestry. "Show me, show me!" Smiling, Lachesis carefully pulled the shimmering silver-blue thread to the forefront. Aphrodite cooed. "Oh, how sweet! Does the blue shade mean it's a boy?" The Fates shrugged. "Don't give me that. You know, don't you? I need to know NOW, so I can start helping with the nursery things."

"All signs point to a boy," agreed Clotho. "But... um..."

"What?"

"Well," said Lachesis, "this is an odd situation. We, uh, are having difficulty identifying the mother. Perhaps you have an idea?"

Aphrodite stared at each Fate in turn. Her lips started twitching, then she started giggling. Finally she had to materialize a chair and sit down. "Oooh, this is rich! You don't know the baby's mother. That's why you haven't made an official pronouncement, isn't it? There's several good inches on that thread, so the baby must be at least a couple of months along..."

"About three-and-a-half," said Clotho.

"And you still don't know. No wonder you didn't want to say anything. You don't want to admit that you don't know everything."

"We know ALMOST everything," protested Lachesis. "And I HAVE had some indication, but..."

"What?" snapped Atropos. "Sister, you learned this, and you didn't TELL us?"

"It can't be right," Lachesis insisted. "There has to be a mistake. Two similar threads have to have gotten wound together so tightly that I can't tell..."

"It's a man's thread, isn't it?" asked Aphrodite.

Clotho and Atropos looked at Lachesis. The middle sister blushed. "It, uh, it looks like."

"Why didn't you trace it?" said Atropos, obviously annoyed. "We should have broken the new long ago."

"It's just so... odd that I figured I had to be reading it wrong. I mean, I haven't seen so many bumps and kinks in a long time. There's one place not to long ago where it's almost nipped through, then mended. And then... There's no other way to say it--it starts mortal, then becomes divine, and I knew that Zeus hadn't created any new gods lately. Quite frankly, I didn't feel like dealing with the fall out from being the one to tell him."

Clotho was shaking her head. "This is a fine thing. Keeping secrets from your own sisters. Lachesis, it's all well and good for us to befuddle the rest of the world, but if we can't trust each other..."

"Enough of that for now. Who is the mother?" asked Atropos. "Er, I mean the other father."

"Oh, I know that," said Aphrodite cheerfully. "It's Joxer, the Mighty." She preened. "My grandson is prophetic. But really, ladies, you might have waited till he was a little older to send..." she trailed off. "Wait a minute. You didn't know, so you COULDN'T have sent the dreams, could you?" They all shook their heads. "Then who the Tartarus DID?"

"That can be discovered later," said Atropos. "We need to summon Hermes now, and notify Zeus officially of the newest god... Uh, I guess that's one new god, and one soon-to-be god."

"Oh, no you don't! He's not going to know even before Ares does," protested Aphrodite.

"Protocol..."

"Protocol can be damned to Asphodel and buried by Cerberus for all I care!" She narrowed her eyes. "If you try to tell Zeus before Ares knows, the manure fly like a flock of geese have gotten into a patch of unripe berries. I'll make damn sure that EVERYONE knows that a toddler godling figured it out before you did."

"Well, there's no need to get nasty about it," huffed Lachesis.

Atropos cleared her throat. "I think that, perhaps, this could be one of the times that it is, uh, necessary for things to remain totally obscure until they are revealed by circumstances."

Aphrodite primped her hair, "And it will give you time to go sort through all the obscure predictions you've made in the past and find one vague enough to pass off as relating to this. That will be just dandy. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think it's time that we had a little family conference."

*Flash*

She appeared in Ares' main chamber. It was a lot more crowded than she'd hoped for. Ares and Strife were sitting at the table, picking over the remains of breakfast. Bliss was sitting on the bed with Joxer, playing a stick tossing game. That was one reason why Bliss loved Joxer--he always had time for a game. *I just hope that doesn't change,* thought Aphrodite, *cause he's gonna be way busy in a few months.* She studied him. *Does he even know?* Joxer was watching Bliss as the little boy tried to carefully extricate a red stick from the jumbled pile before him without moving any others. His expression was tender as he watched the child, and his hand stole down unconsciously, curving over his belly. *Oh, he knows, even if he doesn't know that he knows.*

She received nods from the men, and went to sit beside Bliss. "Baby, what are you doing here?"

"Daddy hadda work fast," Bliss explained.

"Somethin about some young buck's hormones had just kicked in, an' if they weren't directed right, he'd end up in a spear point weddin that would screw up tha dynamics of a certain village's love-lines for a coupla generations," offered Strife.

"Drat. Strife, do you suppose that you could take Bliss out into the garden for a little while? There's something we need to discuss that he doesn't need to hear."

Bliss looked up at her. "I din't tell."

"What?"

"Daddy said not to talk 'bout the dream, an' I din't." He looked at Joxer, then reached out to pat his tummy, very gently. "Joxie, how do the baby go potty in your belly?"

Joxer keeled over. Ares was across the room so quickly that he might as well have transported. "Joxer!" He stretched his lover out on the bed and materialized a damp cloth, wiping his face.

Bliss looked at Aphrodite. "Joxer sleepy?"

"Strife!" called Aphrodite.

"Gotcha." Strife hopped up and went to take Bliss by the hand. "C'mon, kiddo. We'll go feed tha fish in Joxer's pond."

As they started out, Aphrodite called, "And why don't you look surprised?" Strife just giggled, and shrugged.

Ares lifted his head and bellowed, "Ace!" He patted Joxer's cheek lightly. "Wake up, Joxer. Shit, what's wrong?"

"It... uh... it isn't all that uncommon for someone to fate under these sort of circumstances," said Aphrodite.

"What sort of circumstances? Fainting is never..."

*Flash*

Ace stood beside the bed. He took in the situation and immediately bent over Joxer. "Any idea what brought this on? Has he been over-exerting himself? Got over heated?" He was running his hands through the air over Joxer's body, concentrating as he scanned him.

"No, nothing like that." Ace suddenly started. He frowned, then did the scan again. "What is it?"

"Well," there was a hint of amusement in the Healing God's voice, "I'd say that him getting overheated in one way or another definitely had something to do with this."

"WHAT'S WRONG?"

"Nothing--Daddy."

"Well, that's good, because... What?"

"You heard me."

Joxer had opened his eyes and was just sitting up. Ares said, "Joxer, you're knocked up?" Joxer fainted again.

"Way to be tactful, Ares," said Aphrodite.

Ares sat on the bed heavily. "That's... impossible."

"No, it isn't." Aphrodite arched an eyebrow, spreading a hand on her bosom. "Not considering all the energy you two have been feeding me lately."

"But... but... I.... he... He's MALE."

Aphrodite and Ace exchanged looks. "He's a DIVINE male," said Ace patiently. "You WERE warned about these possibilities, weren't you? Dad is supposed to have that 'talk' with every god."

"Well, yeah, he did, a long time ago. But I never thought... It... It's fucking RARE, isn't it?"

"Try 'unique'--so far. In fact, this is going to be the first non-spontaneous one on record. You and Joxer are really going down in the scrolls for this one." He materialized a tiny bottle, opened it, and waved it under Joxer's nose. "There's nothing to worry about. He's very healthy, and so is the baby. It's just that sometimes pregnant people faint, especially during moments of emotional stress." Joxer's eyes fluttered open. "Hi, Joxer. Don't be afraid."

Joxer's hands crept down to his stomach. "The baby?"

"The baby is fine. But you're going to have to start taking it easy, okay?" Joxer nodded. "You should rest now. I'll come by tomorrow and have a talk with you about what to expect, and what you should do. I'm warning you--you're going to need to be very dedicated to staying healthy. You haven't been a god for long, and this can be a strain on your constitution, but if you're careful, there shouldn't be any problem. Ares..."

"Huh?"

Ace smiled. "Keep him in bed for a few hours--RESTING, nothing else, you dog. I'm going to want him to start taking a nap in the afternoons. I'll be by tomorrow." He shook his uncle's hand. "Congratulations."

*Flash*

Ares looked at Aphrodite. "Do you mean to tell me that Bliss knew about this before I did?"

"He's been having dreams."

"I need to find out about this." Ares stalked out.

Aphrodite looked over to find Joxer with his head in his hands. She sat beside him quickly, putting her arm around him, "Are you all right?"

"He didn't even speak to me once he knew," Joxer said faintly.

"Oh, sweetie!" Aphrodite hugged him. "He's just surprised--that's all."

"He doesn't want the baby." Joxer sniffed. "He doesn't want ME."

"No!" Aphrodite shook him gently. "That is SO not true. Joxer, listen to me. This is my JOB, right? It's what I am. Ares LOVES you. Maybe he hasn't said it yet, but it's harder for some people than it is for others. Ares has always been a shower instead of a sayer. He's like that with EVERYONE."

"I've been thinking," Joxer said softly. "Ever since I sorta knew? I thought, 'If he sends me away now, I'll still have a part of him with me forever, and that will be enough'." He lifted dark, pain filled eyes to Aphrodite. "But you know what? It wouldn't be. I realize that. It will be wonderful to have his child, but if I can't have him... if WE can't have him... I... I don't know what I'll do."

Aphrodite watched the despondent man. *I wish I could believe it was just the hormones, but the poor guy has been rejected so many times in his life that once more might break him. Ares, I know you love him. Damn you, if you mess this up, you're gonna think the Furies are a bunch of parakeets once I get through with your ass.*

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Strife was helping Bliss sail leaf boats on the pond. He looked up as Ares came into the garden, and (even though he knew that he risked getting tossed through the wall) couldn't resist. "Howzit goin, Dad?"

Ares clenched his fists and ground out, "Does EVERYONE except me know about this?"

"Do ya honestly think that yer Pop would know about somethin like this an' not take tha opportunity ta rake ya ovah tha coals?"

"No, you're right about that." Ares squatted down beside Bliss. "Bliss, how did you know that Joxer is going to have a baby?"

"Like I told. I'se dweamed it..." He held up three fingers. "This many."

"Three?"

"Yeah, free. An' my friend tol' me."

"What friend?" asked Ares alertly. "Apollo?"

Bliss giggled, shaking his head. "'pol notta frien'. 'pol a nuncle. No, my..." His hand had been drifting to his belt, and he stopped, biting his lip. "Jus' my friend."

"Bliss, let me see what you have in your pouch." The boy hesitated. "Bliss."

Bliss sighed, opened up the pouch, and pulled out a sliver of stone. Ares held out his hand, and Bliss clutched the rock close to his chest. "I found it."

"Bliss!" Bliss handed it over.

Strife craned his neck to get a look at the rock, while Ares studied it. The Mischief God's eyes suddenly widened, and he sat back quickly, dragging Bliss with him. "Uh oh!"

"Uh oh, what?" asked Ares. "It's a stone."

"It's a freakin force of nature," insisted Strife, "an' it's dangerous as Tartarus."

Ares eyebrows climbed. "The Chaos Stone?" It glowed faint green for an instant. Strife stood up, taking Bliss with him, and dodged behind a tree. "Bliss, you said you found this. It belongs to Gaia."

"Uh huh," said the godling. "Thas' where I foun' it." He noted the sharp looks, and protested. "But it SAID to take it home wif me!"

Strife giggled nervously. "Any othah time I'd know tha kid was just makin excuses, but with that think, it damn sure COULDA done that."

"I suppose it could," said Ares thoughtfully. "It certainly has had it's own agenda in the past. But Gaia is usually very careful of it. I wonder why she hasn't been turning Olympus upside down looking for it?" He shook his head. "I can find out about that later. The thing now is..."

"Gan'pa, Joxie anna baby not sick, huh?" Bliss' face was scrunched up in concern.

"No, no. Ace says they're doing well."

"I go see?"

"He needs to rest right now, Bliss."

"I see 'morrow? Wanna feel the baby tickle."

"Maybe. Strife, take Bliss back to his house, or to visit Hestia, or something. I need a little privacy around here."

"Check." Strife hefted Bliss up onto his hip, but hesitated. "Unc? Yer happy, aren't ya?"

That seemed to surprise Ares. "Of course I am."

"Ya might wanna tell Joxer that."

*Flash*

Ares went back inside. Aphrodite was sitting with Joxer, and she shot him a glare when he entered. Joxer looked up also, and there was such worry and unsureness in his eyes that it was almost physically painful to Ares. "Aphrodite, I'd like to be alone with Joxer." Aphrodite gave him a hard stare. Ares looked back at her levelly. After a moment, her expression softened, and she nodded. She kissed Joxer on the cheek, and disappeared.

Joxer dropped his gaze to fix on his hands, which were nervously stroking his own stomach. Ares watched the movement, this time looking at the slight curve with a different perspective. *How could I not see it? How could I not know?*

He went to sit beside Joxer. "Joxer..."

Joxer drew in a watery, hitching breath. "I'm sorry." The words and tone was like a slap in the face to Ares. This man--this brave, funny, sweet, LOVING man--was APOLOGIZING for giving him a child? Joxer was continuing. "I didn't know this could happen. I wasn't trying to... to trap you, or anything."

"Joxer." Ares reached out, laying his hands over Joxer's, stilling their restless movement. He pushed them aside, then laid his own hands there, feeling the soft mound, the warmth.

Joxer studied the War God's face. He saw the tenderness in those dark eyes, and the despair that had been creeping up on him began to fade. "You're not angry?"

"Angry?" He cupped Joxer's face between his palms and kissed him. "I haven't been this happy since Aphrodite told me Cupid was on the way. A child, Joxer." He rested his forehead against Joxer's. "Our child--yours and mine." He stroked Joxer's cheek. "You do realize that you have to marry me now, don't you? I wanted to wait a little while, till after you'd been officially declared, and then ask you, but now..."

"Ask what? You mean you want me to be your consort?"

"No, I want you to be my husband. Consorts are not necessarily spouses, Joxer--not necessarily forever. Aphrodite was my consort, but she's Hephastus' wife now." He slid his hands back into Joxer's hair. "I'm not going to give you up, ever. I love you too much for that."

"Did... did you say...?"

"Love. Yes, I've waited too damn long to say it. I love you, Joxer. I have for a long time. I used to think of love as a 'soft' emotion, and I didn't want to admit to being soft in any way. Well, let me tell you--since I've known you, I've realized that love can also be just as strong and fierce as anything. Marry me, Joxer. I can't promise you anything but kooky in-laws and the fact that I will cherish and protect you to the end of time. It's all I have to offer."

Joxer kissed him softly. "Don't worry about the in-laws, Ares." He smiled, "You've MET Jett and Jayce, haven't you?"



Seeking Balance, 15/?
By Scribe

Joxer closed his mouth and crossed his arms, looking at Ares stubbornly. "Joxer, open up."

Joxer shook his head. "Mm-uh."

"Just a little more."

Joxer covered his mouth with his hand before he spoke. "No more of that pink thing. I'm sick of it."

"C'mon, baby, do it for me."

"Ares, I am SICK of ambrosia! You've been shoveling that stuff into me by the bucketload."

"You're exaggerating. Anyway, it's for the baby."

Joxer sighed in defeat, dropped his hand, and opened his mouth. Ares spooned some more of the quivering pink glob into his lover's mouth. "And CHEW--don't try to swallow it whole, no matter how soft it is."

Ares made a sympathetic expression as Joxer scrunched up his face in distaste. Joxer sighed, and his hand rested on the curve of his belly. "The things I'm willing to do for this child."

"As Strife would say, think of the future guilt material you'll have. That's enough for now." He set the bowl aside, then took Joxer's hand. "Anyway, I thought it would be a good idea for you to have a little something to boost you." He took a breath. "Zeus is between affairs, and I think it's time."

Joxer went very still, eyes wide. "Really?" Ares nodded. Joxer swallowed. "Oh, gosh. I've been waiting for this for so long, and now I feel like I'm standing on the edge of a cliff, about to jump off."

"None of that till after the baby is born, and even then, I don't advise it. The healing can take months."

"How are we going to do this?"

"Well, everyone who knows about you is coming with us."

"Oh, gosh, are you sure about that? What if he feels humiliated in front of all those people?"

"There's that, but then again, there's also a good chance that he won't make a scene in front of that many people. He isn't going to want to let it be seen that he's upset. Are you ready?"

Joxer squared his shoulders. "Yes. Although I have to tell you, I looked forward to meeting that hydra more than I'm looking forward to this."

Ares hugged him. "You're brave when it counts, lover." They stood, and he took Joxer in his arms. "Hold on tight."

*Flash*

They appeared in Zeus' audience room. Ares had a chair appear with them, and eased Joxer into it immediately, popped a basin into existence, and offered it. Joxer held his stomach for a moment, then shook his head, and looked around, his eyes growing rounder by the second. The room was very quiet, considering the number of people present. There was Ace, Aphrodite, Hephastus, Cupid, Strife, Hermes, and Gaia.

Zeus and Hera were sitting on their thrones. Hera looked curious, and Zeus looked curios, irritated, and frustrated. He said. "Finally. Perhaps now you'll tell me what's so urgent that you all DEMAND an audience?" He blinked, then pointed at Joxer. "And someone get rid of the mortal. He has no business here."

Ares rested a hand on Joxer's shoulder. "On the contrary, Father--he is the reason we are here."

"Well, if he's the trouble, why aren't you handling it yourself? Surely one mortal isn't that big a difficulty."

Ares scowled. "You know, Father, you have a bad habit of only looking at the surface of things. Take another look at this 'mortal'."

Zeus did not miss the ironic emphasis his son put on the last word. He stared at the slender, dark haired man in the chair beside his eldest son, studying him. There didn't seem to be anything unusual about him--just a simple human, and not a very impressive one at that. But Ares had said that he only looked at the surface, so he concentrated, reaching out to scan the man with his power.

His eyes flew open. He shot to his feet, arm out thrust, finger stabbing toward the seated man. Joxer cringed, and immediately Ares was between him and Zeus, shielding his lover. One hand flexed, ready to flick a power bolt to deflect anything that Zeus could fling, but there was no need. Zeus did not attack, he just went, "YOU! THAT'S the new god?"

Jaws didn't' actually hit the floor, but several of them ended up on chests. Aphrodite was the first one to find her voice. "You... you KNEW?"

Zeus gave her an irritated look. "Well, of COURSE I did. Do you really think that there could be a new god on Olympus for almost five months and I WOULDN'T know it? There have been strange power flashes going off for ages now--bursts that I couldn't identify. Plus there was that bowl of vomit that appeared floating in my bathing pool a month ago. It wasn't one of Strife's, and I couldn't think of anyone else who'd be foolhardy enough to do that on purpose, so I figured it had to be someone trying to get control of their new powers."

"Why haven't you said anything?" asked Ares.

Zeus snorted, then smiled. "Well, to be honest, I was having fun trying to figure out who it was. I like a good puzzle, and they don't come along often. What I DON'T know is how this happened, and why you all felt like you had to keep it a secret from me--aside from the obvious fact that this isn't supposed to happen without my approval."

Strife waved his hand, "Oo, lemme, lemme! It was soooo cool!" Aphrodite and Bliss had told him everything. He had been a little disappointed that Cupid didn't, but then Cupid wasn't talking to him lately. He was STARING a lot, but he wasn't talking. It was making Strife nervous, since it had him constantly going over in his mind whether or not he'd done anything receently to piss his cousin off. Strife related how Joxer had come to be a god, complete with gestures. He was so involved that he didn't notice Cupid covering his mouth to hide his smile. "...an' BOOM! Godhood. So ya see, it really wasn't ANYBODY'S fault. This has gotta be wunna those 'decreed by Fate' thingies."

Zeus said dryly, "I'm going to have to have a talk with those girls about being a little more conscientious about telling me things. If they haven't notified me about this, what other secrets might they be keeping?"

Joxer peeked around Ares, lifting his hand timidly. "I think that maybe the fact that I'm pregnant by Ares might be one." Zeus sat down suddenly, a stunned look on his face. "Ah, I see that I'm right."

"You... Ares... What?" Ares blocked Joxer again, but Zeus slowly smiled. "Another grandchild."

Joxer pushed Ares gently aside. "I'm pretty sure it's going to be a boy. He's being awfully active lately."

"It's probably those peppers you ate this morning," said Ares.

"JOXER!" squawked Ace, then, "Ares?"

"He can conjure up his own food now, Ace. I can't very well stop him. But believe me, he heard about it." Joxer crinkled his nose at Ares, who sighed. "Though I don't know how much good it did." Ares smiled almost reluctantly, "And I thought I'd be getting a nice, submissive consort." Joxer rolled his eyes.

"Consort? Oh, I think not!" Hera's voice was firm.

Ares blinked. He hadn't really expected that, but he supposed that Hera's long suffering through Zeus' dallying in the mortal realms might have prejudiced her. "I'm not giving him up, Mother."

"I should say not! But you're not just having him as a glorified concubine, either. You're getting married, son, and that's final!"

Aphrodite was clapping her hands, Cupid and Strife were grinning, and Ares and Joxer exchanged stunned, but happy looks. Ares cleared his throat and said, "Mom, Father... I... I don't know what to say."

Zeus and Hera exchanged looks. "Well, obviously you were expecting me to go on some sort of rampage. Would it make you happy if I threw a few thunderbolts?"

"Don't bother."

Hera came down off the throne. "Ares, get out of the way so I can have a look at my future son-in-law." Ares stood aside. "Stand up, child." Joxer stood, and bowed to Hera. "Oh, stop that, silly! You'll cramp the baby." She reached out, spreading her hands over the swell that was just pushing out the front of Joxer's loose tunic. After a moment she smiled, eyes twinkling. "You're very astute, Joxer. You will have a son. Grandmother?"

Gaia stepped forward. "Yes, dear?"

"While this obviously wasn't impossible, we all know that it's improbable, given the fact that Joxer is a made god, and not a born one. Did you have a hand in this?"

"Not directly, dear, no."

Hera looked at the gentle, shining haired woman shrewdly. "Doing the mysteries of Nature bit again?"

Gaia smiled, then looked at Cupid. "Dear, I need for you to tell Bliss that it's time for him to send back the Chaos stone."

Cupid slapped his forehead. "I should have known."

"Oh, I didn't give it to him. No, this was all the Stone's own idea." She gave a silvery laugh. "You didn't all think I have complete control of it, did you? No, indeed. It has a mind of its own. I can't say I disagree with it this time, though." She smiled at Zeus, who was still looking stunned. "Don't you think that you ought to go ahead and make the godhood official? I'm sure that Hera and Aphrodite are just itching to get after planning the wedding and baby shower, now that things are out in the open."

Zeus stood again, straightening his robes with great importance as he came down off the dais. "Yes. Let me determine it now, and we can have an official ceremony in a couple of days to announce it to the world."

He came down to Joxer, reached up, and settled his hands on either side of the young man's face. "Relax, Joxer. I need to read your power aura to determine what your godhood is." He closed his eyes, and so did Joxer.

There was a sense of breathless anticipation in the room. There was no telling what godhood would be bestowed--whether an entirely new one would be created, or whether an existing god would have to give up a portion of their present authority. Apollo was feeling particularly antsy. After all, he was God of Music, Medicine, the Sun... Oh, he complained sometimes of how busy he was, but he honestly couldn't imagine giving up any of it.

Zeus scanned the young man before him, searching deep into his soul. He saw the past pain that bred compassion, the scars that did not harden him, the empathy for those who suffered, the desire to ease that suffering, and the very new, but soul deep, serenity that he had found in the love of Ares. In a single flash, it was all very clear to Zeus. There was only one godhood that was right for Joxer, he would do a splendid job at it, taking joy in the good that he could do, and this was a godhood that had been needed for a long, long time.

The other gods and goddesses were surprised by the gentleness of Zeus' smile when he opened his eyes. He settled his hands on Joxer's shoulders. Instead of the usual booming tones he used to make official pronouncements, Zeus' voice was almost soft. "Welcome Joxer, God of Peace."

There were gasps, then an approving murmur ran through the group as Joxer smiled. His eyes lighted, and he stood straighter. Zeus stepped back, and Joxer began to glow as his official godhood began to manifest for the first time. The young man closed his eyes and let his head tip back, spreading his arms as if welcoming the new responsibility.

The power was not as great as it might be for some of the others, but then, the human race did not know that they now had someone they could petition directly to bring peace, both in the grand sweep of nations, and the small, quiet moments of their own lives. Yes, the power was not specifically directed to Joxer yet, but it was there, because there were always those who longed for peace. There was more than one person who watched the silvery glow suffuse the former mortal, and thought that there might come a time when Joxer would be very important and powerful indeed.

The glow increased till it was near blinding, making those gathered turn their eyes aside, or shield them. Then it began to die down. Joxer's clothing was in much the same style as it had been, but now it white, the gentle cream color of a dove. His boots and belt were of butter soft grey leather, with silver buckles. On his breast was a pin. In its center was a single milky opal, the size of a robin's egg, surrounded by perfect pearls, each the size of a fingertip, the whole mounted on a simple circle of silver. It spoke of the full moon, and deep, still waters--Nature in those all to brief moments of calm, that were all the more precious for their brevity. These were to be Joxer's official robes, how he would appear to his followers, and on state occasions.

Joxer had always been an attractive man, though most people on earth had been blinded to this by their initial impression of brash clumsiness, and Joxer's self-doubts (which were hidden by bravado). Now, due mainly to his security in Ares' love, but partly because of the gift of inner peace bestowed by his new position, Joxer shone as he had been meant to. He was, quite simply, beautiful--his inner goodness shining through to enhance the physical.

"Well," said Here, smiling, "You and Ares should make some very pretty children. Now, then, I think that we ought to have the joining ceremony quickly, but not with undue haste. I'd say that a week after the official presentation should do. Apollo, tell the Muses that I'll need their help. Oh, and I'll need Hestia and Demeter, of course, to help with the reception. Cupid, can Bliss handle being ring bearer?"

Cupid smiled. "I don't think I'd be able to deal with him if he was passed over."

Aphrodite was bouncing up and down. "And Gaia was right. If we're having the wedding that early, we have practically no time to give Joxer and Ares a wedding shower."

Ares sighed, rolling his eyes. "Like we really need one. It isn't as if we can't just make anything we need."

Aphrodite's lip stuck out (a lot like Bliss), and Joxer said quickly, "Hey, I'm looking forward to that! No one has ever planned a party just for me before." He whispered to Ares, "So we end up with a half-dozen toasting forks and a couple of sculptures that we stick in the back bedroom. It'll make her and the other girls happy."

Aphrodite perked up, and gave him a hug. "Don't you worry, sweetie! We're going to have just the best shower for you! I have to go start planning the decorations." She flashed away.

"One thing," Strife muttered to Cupid, "Now that tha baby is officially identified as bein a boy, 'Dite's gonna hafta curb tha pink a little." He giggled. "I'd hate ta see what transpires if she evah gets her mits on a female grandchild."



Seeking Balance, 16/?
Unofficial Announcements

They were back at Ares' (and now Joxer's) home. Ares insisted that Joxer sit down and put his feet up. "Well, I have to admit," said Ares, "The old goat took me completely by surprise."

Joxer lifted an eyebrow. "You'd have preferred roars of rage and thunderbolts?"

Ares shrugged. "I was all wound up to fight for you, and now I have all this extra energy built up. I need to go have a squirmish or something to work it off. Maybe I can get Strife to spar with me. Whipping his ass always relaxes me."

Joxer frowned. "That's not very nice, Ares."

Ares cocked an eyebrow. "Joxer, this is STRIFE, I'm talking about, okay? It isn't as if he doesn't expect it."

Joxer folded his arms. "I'm sure that some primative tribes say the same things about their human sacrifices. Just because something has always been one way, that doesn't mean it's RIGHT."

Ares rolled his eyes. "It's your godhood--you can't help it."

Joxer sighed. *Well, I can't expect to change his outlook overnight, and there are a lot of things I shouldn't TRY to change. I'll just have to wait and figure out what those are. In the meantime...* He reached over and stroked Ares' thigh. "There are better ways to work off energy."

Ares smiled, starting to sit beside him on the lounge, then frowned, standing back up suddenly. "You're pregnant."

Joxer arched an eyebrow. "We've established that. Now you won't have to worry about me getting pregnant..." he thought, "not that that was a big concern before."

"No, I mean you're PREGNANT. What it if hurts the baby?"

Joxer stared at Ares. Simultaneously they lifted their heads and shouted, "ACE!"

Asclepius appeared in a flash. "WHAT IS IT? PAINS? BLOOD? WATER BROKE? CONVULSIONS?"

"We need to know if it's safe to have sex," said Ares.

Ace stared at him, then collapsed into a chair, materialized a glass of water, and drank it down. "Don't DO that to me! I thought it was an emergency."

Joxer looked at Ares. "Whether or not we can have sex isn't considered an emergency?" He looked at Ace. "It darn sure is to me."

Asclepius sighed. "Look, Ares--did you have to give up sex when you found out Aphrodite was pregnant with Cupid?" Ares shook his head. "Same principle here. Really, with most pregnancies, that isn't a problem, as long as you don't get, er, gymnastic. Later you may need to consult a little to figure out a way that will be comfortable for Joxer and not squeeze the baby, but there's nothing to worry about right now." He stood up. "Now, if you'll excuse me..." he grinned, "and I have a feeling you will--I need to get back. I just about have Strife talked out of piercing his nose." He flashed away.

"Well, Joxer, I..." Ares looked down to find Joxer's eyes crossed at he tried to look at his own nose. He passed a hand over Joxer's eyes. "Stop it. Do you want the baby to be cross-eyed? Don't worry, I think Ace will talk him out of it. Strife just does it occasionally to mess with him. He's going to run out of body parts to threaten to pierce one of these days."

"Speaking of body parts being pierced..." Joxer started unlacing Ares pants.

"Yes, that sounds like a good..." *whoop!* "Joxer! You're going to choke yourself." *slurpslurp* "Not that I mind, but..." *slurpslurpslurp* *lick* "Ooooh, Tartaus!" *squeeze* *howl!* *pantpant* "Damn, Joxer!"

"That's the quick one out of the way," said Joxer cheerfully.

*****

Two hours later

*tickletickletickle* *moan* "Joxer, I'm a God, but even a god can only manage so much, so fast. I need a nap."

"Would a golden apple help? Maybe some ambrosia?" asked Joxer helpfully.

"Zeus! Babe, isn't your ass sore? I mean, I've hardly been out of it for the last hour and a half. And I want to know where you learned that trick that kept me hard inside you even after I came."

Joxer grinned at him. "Let's say I ate a lot of roughage back in Greece, and you have to do SOMETHING to get rid of it."

Ares grimaced, then sighed. "I thought I wasn't very romantic, love, but that's a bit much, even for me."

"Sorry." *pause* "Are you ready yet?"

"Uh, don't you think it's time I broke the news to your friends and family?"

Joxer sat up. "Why can't -I- break the news to them?"

"Well, I don't think you should be traveling any more than necessary, particularly between realms, and you know very well that Hercules and Gabrielle don't like to be summoned to Olympus. Xena and Iolaus don't mind, but they wouldn't like being brought here without their companions."

"Okay, I can see that. But what about Jett and Jayce? I want to tell my brothers."

"Well, that shouldn't be a problem. Let's get dressed." They both flashed on clothes. "They can visit here with you while I go talk to the other ones. Do you have any idea where they are? It'll make things quicker if I don't have to hunt for them."

"Let's see, this month... Jayce is usually in Athens for the opening of the theater season. Jett..." he shrugged. "If he isn't in prison, probably in the area of the highest concentration of political machination. He picks up a lot of work just by hanging around the various royal courts."

Ares closed his eyes and concentrated. "Ah, there's Jayce." There was a flash of red sparks.

Jayce, resplendent as usual in multi-colored clothes, was sitting on the edge of the bed, legs crossed neatly at the knees, holding a sheet of parchment. He looked around, blinking, then crossed his arms, chin tipping down. "Hokay. I was yust about to see the premier of a lovely play, with the yummiest leas actor, and hwhy am I here instead?" He looked aorund huffily, then saw Joxer. All irritation fell away as he squealed, "Yoxie!" He grabbed his brother in a hug that was surprisingly vigorous for someone who acted so whispy. "Baby brother! I haven't seen you for MONTHS!"

Ares said, "Well, now that the family reunion is officially underway, I'm off. I'll send Jett along as soon as I can find him." He flashed away.

Jayce lifted a carefully plucked eyebrow at Joxer. "Yoxie, doll, was that who I THEENK eet was?"

Joxer blushed. "Ares."

Jayce looked around. "And thees ees obviously Olympus." Joxer nodded. Jayce clapped his hands. "Oh, Yoxie! He FINALLY notices you!"

"Um, well... he did a little more than notice me, Jayce."

Both eyebrows went up this time. "Hyes?" He gave Joxer a careful look, then grinned, and crooned, "Oo, someone looks VERY well loved. You're yust GLOWING! In fact, you almost look like..." He tilted his head, studying his brother closely. "No, that's not possible."

"What's not possible? I gotta tell you, Jayce--there's been a lot of strange stuff going on lately."

Jayce snickered. "Hwell, the last person I saw who looked like you had twins." Joxer fainted. "Yoxie?" Jayce had experience with people who had vapors (the theatrical world was full of the overly dramatic). He efficiently checked Joxer's pulse and breathing, then got a glass of water from the pitcher sitting on the table and flicked drops in Joxer's face. When Joxer started blinking, Jayce put aside the glass. "We'll yust loosen your clothes a bit to make it easier to breathe, hm?" Before Joxer could comment, Jayce was making short work of Joxer's lacings. He giggled. "Yoxie, what has he been feeding you?" *patpat* "Yust look at that leetle dumpling tummy! You almost look..." His eyes widened, and he looked questioningly at Joxer.

"Like I said, a LOT of weird stuff has been going on."

"Hyou have any wine around here? I could really use a snort." Joxer held up his hand, and a goblet of wine appeared. Jayce put a hand to his breast. "Honey, I see we have a LOT to talk about."

*****

Ares had been giving some thought to how he was going to break the news to the Freaky Four. Truth be told, he wasn't really worried about getting word to Gabrielle and Hercules. He was still of the opinion that they had treated Joxer shabbily. If Xena hadn't over rode their suspicion and antagonism to Ares, Joxer might well have died before he could get Joxer to help.

*I think Iolaus and Xena will be happy enough at how things have turned out that there won't be a problem with I mess with the minds of their significant others just a bit.*

He located Xena and Gabrielle in a small tent that was situated between two very small armies. A couple of third-level warlords were threatening to get into a pissing contest, and of course the foursome were trying to talk them out of it. Ares assessed the situation, and appeared in the tent. He glared at first one warlord, then the other. "Neither one of you are ready for this, you ninnies! All it will accomplish is a lot of fairly decent warriors dead, and maybe a mile or so of land exchanged, one way or the other. Knock it off, till I can think of something constructive for you to do."

"But Lord Ares..." began one.

Ares wrapped his fist in the man's tunic and lifted him up on his toes. "Look, I'm in a good mood right now, so I won't skin you alive for questioning me, but I don't have infinite patience. Go home to your wife." He looked at the other warlord, who was smirking. "You, go home to your husband." The man gaped, but both of them left, though the first one was snickering.

"Ares!" said Gabrielle. "That wasn't very smart. Now that second one is going to feel obligated to go after the first one somewhere down the line."

"No. Really? What a shame. Now, shut up. I have a couple of announcements to make."

She jutted his jaw beligerently. "Why should we be interested in anything you have to say?"

"Well, considering what a VITAL interest you take in," his lips twisted, "peace, I think this is worth your attention. Olympus has a new god--the God of Peace."

There was a moment of silence, and then Gabrielle, looking joyous and smug at the same time (if that was possible) crowed, "At last! I knew it would come to pass some day! Who is this new god?"

"Oh, I wouldn't dream of letting THAT cat out of the bag. Dad would be irritated if I spread it around before he made the official announcement. But a proclamation will go forth from every temple of every deity in Greece in a few days." He smiled, and it wasn't entirely nice. "You seem excited, Gabrielle."

She clasped her hands. "Oh, I've waited for this for so long. I knew that the Way would eventually triumph, and now the end is in sight! People will flock to this new god."

"I can understand why. How about you? Are YOU going to worship him?"

"How could I not worship someone dedicated to something so wonderful. I will gladly lend my services to his cause."

"I'm going to remind you of that in the future, and I may have more news for you later. By the way, I'm getting married, there's going to be a baby, Joxer is fine, and he sends his regards." He disappeared.

Xena and Gabrielle were left batting away sparks, and gaping. Gabrielle said, "What poor woman has he trapped?" Xena rapped her on the head with her knuckles. "Hey!"

"He's still my father, Gabby." She smiled. "So, Dad's getting married. I THOUGHT he was acting kind of mellow."

"Mellow?"

"He only THREATENED flaying, right? And a baby! I'm going to be an aunt again. This is so exciting." She sighed. "And it's good to hear that Joxer is doing well."

"Humph," said Gabrielle. "Ares' version of fine is likely to mean he's managing to remain conscious through most of the torture."

Xena gritted her teeth. "You know, Gabby, this is getting old." She turned around and stalked off, with Gabrielle following at her heels, demanding to know what she'd said to get Xena so upset.

*****

Ares reappeared on Olympus. Joxer was sitting with his feet up, while Jayce fanned him with a leather breast plate. Jayce looked at him and grinned. "Hola, Lord Ares. Thank chu very much for my first niece or nephew."

Joxer, amused, looked up at him. "Um, Jett?"

Jayce shrugged. "Hwell, the first one that we know of."

"Speaking of Jett--Jayce, do you have any idea where he is?"

Jayce pursed his lips. "He's been naughty again. I theenk he's in jail at Tolanamous. They haven't figured out who he is yet, so they haven't executed him. I theenk he's taking a wacation, or he'd have been out of there by now."

"I'll send him to you." He gave a sharp smile. "I still have to go have a talk with my brother." He disappeared.

Jayce flapped the breast plate at Joxer again. "So, sweetie, thees child is obviously going to be especial. You need to start theenking right now about what sort of training chu want to give heem."

"I'm sure Ares will want to take care of his arms training and fighting."

"Yoxie! I mean dancing, recitation, voice... Oh, I hope he gets chur voice! You could have been the best soprano in the world, but then again, there would have had to be that nasty operation..."

*****

*Let's see--the guard is taking his second whizz of the day. I should have a good five minutes.* Jett pulled the make-shift knife from under a pile of straw in his room and began to sharpen it against a stone, whistling softly to himself. *I'd better leave tomorrow. If I wait, they might get word about that little incident last month...*

*Flash*

Jett looked up to find a tall, bearded man in leather standing in his cell. He immediately stood and bowed. "Lord Ares. How may I serve you?"

Ares looked around. "Getting sloppy, Jett?"

The Kind of Assassins shrugged. "Miscalculation. I didn't know that minor official would be returning from his vacation early. My bad luck that is concubine ate bad clams. He knew he knew me from somewhere, so he had me locked up on general principles till he could be sure. I was planning on leaving tomorrow."

"Would you mind making it a day early? Your brother would like to see you."

"Sure! Which one?"

"They'll both be there, but it's mainly Joxer." He gripped Jett's arm and flashed them both away.

They reappeared on Olympus. Jayce squealed and ran to them, grabbing Jett. "Yett! You gonna be an uncle!"

Jett started. "Jayce, what have you been up to?"

Jayce laughed. "Not me, silly! Yoxie."

Jett grinned at Joxer. "Bro! You finally get into that bard's pants?"

"No, I didn't father a baby. I'm sort of... mothering one."

Jett blinked. He was silent for a moment, processing. His face tightened. "Who the hell is he? Is he gonna marry you, or do I have to convince him?"

Ares put a hand on Jett's shoulder. "It's me, and no, you don't have to convince me. Hera and Dite have their heads together right now, planning the wedding."

Jett's expression relaxed, and he grinned. "Then welcome to the family."

Ares looked between Jayce and Jett. "You two are taking this well."

They both just shrugged. "Let's face it," said Jett cheerfully, "we've been out of the mainstream since Mom popped us out."

"Besides," said Jayce, "hwhat the Tartarus ees so great about being 'normal'?"

Ares snorted. "You know, when it comes to in-laws, I think I'm getting the better end of the deal. Joxer, I have to go break the news to Hercules and Iolaus now. Why not ask the boys to stay for awhile? We have plenty of room."

"That'd be great! Um, how did Gabby and Xena take the news?"

"Well, Gabrielle is very happy about the godhood. I didn't stick around to poll their reaction. Gotta go."

*Flash*

Joxer frowned. "Why do I have the feeling that he wasn't saying more than he WAS saying?"

Jett had found a whetstone and was sharpening his knife again. "Get used to it, baby brother. It's a god thang."

*Flash*

"Oops."

Hercules and Iolaus jerked out of a passionate embrace. Hercules did, anyway. Iolaus wasn't fazed much by being interupted during nookie unless it was by someone very young, very large and enraged, or someone carrying a weapon. Ares could have qualified on the last two counts most days, but right now he didn't have a weapon in hand, and he looked amused.

Hercules got very red in the face very quickly. "What are you doing?"

"Interrupting, from the looks of it. I won't keep you two but a moment. I thought you'd want the news about Joxer."

"How IS Joxer?" said Iolaus eagerly. He really liked the brash, bumbling, but good-hearted warrior.

"He's doing very well, and quite happy. And I thought you'd like to know, Olympus has a new god."

Hercules groaned. "Just what we need!"

"I suppose you could get Father to reconsider it, if you asked nicely. After all, we don't really need a God of Peace."

"Pea...? What?"

"Clean your ears. God--of--Peace. He'll be formally announced in the temples in a day or so." Ares sneered. "I suppose you'll be pushing in as soon as possible to offer your services."

"If he promotes peace, yes," said Hercules stoutly.

"What a shock," drawled Ares. "As long as I'm here, I might as well tell you--I have a kid on the way, and I'm getting married."

Hercules frowned, and his tone was disapproving, "The order of things is a bit off."

"Oh, come on, Herk." Iolaus elbowed him in the side. If I remember things correctly, Iphecles came along WAY before your Mom had her first anniversary with Iphecles' father. You're not going to say anything about HER, are you?"

Hercules was silent. Ares smirked. "Yeah, I thought that would shut you up--as long as it didn't come from me. You're both invited to the ceremony. Don't worry about gifts, or transportation." He flashed away before Hercules could protest.

Hercules sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. "That's the LAST thing we need--him breeding more of his kind."

"I don't know. Cupid and Xena turned out pretty cool." He plopped down on Hercules' lap, putting his arms around his neck. "I wonder if I ought to get a new set of clothes for the wedding?"

Ares reappeared in his bedroom on Olympus, and looked around. It was empty. He lifted his voice. "Joxer?" Joxer entered the room. "Where are your brothers?"

"Well, Hermes came by to tell us that the announcement has been set for tomorrow. Jayce went with him to visit the Muses, and maybe see Apollo. You know, since he's in the performing arts. I told Jett he could look around in your weapon room. You don't mind?"

"No. If anyone has respect for a good weapon, it's Jett, and he wouldn't steal--he'd just ask." Ares took Joxer in his arms and kissed him. "He knows that I'm going to be a soft touch now that we're getting married."

Joxer rolled his eyes, but grinned. "I have something to show you. You remember that little room at the end of the hall?"

"The spare room? What about it?"

"I was talking with Jayce, and he mentioned something one of the premiere actresses in Athens had done in decorating. It sounded great, so I tried it, and I think I did a pretty good job, too. C'mon." He grabbed Ares hand and tugged him out of the room.

Ares, feeling indulgent, followed along. "Decorating, Joxer? Please tell me I'm not going to find pink guaze draperies and floral murals."

"I said Jayce, not Dite. And this," they were at the door of the room, and Joxer was grinning, "is something completely different." He swung the door open and pushed Ares inside.

The room was suffused by a soft, golden glow. At first Ares thought that Joxer had lit a slew of candles, but after his eyes adjusted, he saw that there were only two--but those two were reflected many times over. The walls were lined with mirrors. Besides the small table holding the candles, the only other thing in the room was a large, black-sheeted bed sitting in the exact center.

Ares stepped deeper into the room, gazing around at the reflections. It was almost surreal. The door shut, and he looked at the opposite wall to see a reflection of Joxer leaning back against the door, watching him. Surreal, but damn sexy.

"Joxer, are you sure that you weren't REALLY meant to be dedicated to Aphrodite instead of me?"

"I'm not her worshipper--I just admire her work." He tackled Ares. Clothing flew, limbs thrashed. Ares had the very novel and inspiring experience of watching himself make love to Joxer. He also found out that the ceiling was mirrored, too.

They lay on the bed afterward. Ares held Joxer, feeling tired, but content. He'd often felt exhausted in his life, but he'd very seldom felt... SATISFIED.

He was just drifting off to sleep when he felt a tickle at his thigh. "Ar?"

He groaned. "Joxer, AGAIN?"



Seeking Balance, 17/?
Ascension and Marital Aids

Ares appeared at Aphrodite's temple, and found her, Demeter, Hestia, and Hera discussing the upcoming ceremonies--wedding, reception, and baby shower. They all looked up at him with various types of smiles, but all of them held a certain amount of smug wisdom. He wondered if ALL women were like that. "Ladies, I'm glad to find so many of you together. I'll just need to get in touch with Eris, Athena, Artemis, Hecate, and the Muses."

"Allow me," said Hera. "Hermes!" He appeared in a flash of silver sparkles. "Fetch Eris, Athena, Artemis, Hecate, and the Muses, tell them to come quickly, tell no one, and no, they may not beg off." He raised an eyebrow, but nodded, and went.

Ares said, "Thank you, mother, but what was with the 'tell no one'?"

"You were just looking rather sneaky, so I thought it would be a good idea. I do hope it's something amusing. As much as I love preparing for weddings and births, coming right on top of the new godhood, this IS a bit stressful."

Goddesses started popping in. Aphrodite, ever the good hostess, materialized plenty of comfortable seats, snacks, and beverages. Ares watched as Eris eyed a plate of tiny sandwiches, snorted, and materialized a smoked turkey drumstick. She took a hefty bite and said, "I hope this is good. I left someone interesting tied to my bed."

The other women were watching him curiously. "How would you ladies like to mess with the minds of Hercules and Gabrielle?" His smile wasn't at all nice, and the smiles that answered it weren't much different. "All it involves is a little deception, and strong stomachs."

Later that night--or would it be early that morning?

*rubrubrub*

*moan* "Joxer, I love ya, but have mercy. Don't you need to rest?"

"Well, I AM a little tired, but I'm still horny, too."

"Look, you have your official presentation in a few hours. Do you really think it would be a good start if the God of Peace made his first public appearance looking like he'd spent a wild weekend in a whorehouse?"

*nip* "Don't talk about yourself like that." *grope*

"I swear, I'm chaining you down if you don't give me a little rest."

Joxer's voice was a little smug. "Ha. I'm a god now, too. Ya can't do it."

"Wanna bet?" *brrrzpt* *clinkclink* "See these? They're made of Hephastian metal, and I WILL use them if I must. Now, lay your well-used ass down and try to sleep!"

"You're so cute when you're pissed off." *jingle* "Okay, okay." *pause* "I love you when you're coy."

"JOXER!"

*****

Just Past Dawn

"Mmm... Ooo, Hephie..."

*Flash* "Dite, you've got to help me."

*Squeak!* "Ares, KNOCK, or something!" scolded Aphrodite.

*growl!"

"Look, Heph, I'm sorry, but I'm at my wit's end."

The God of the Forge scowled, but said, "Well, I can't remember you ever pulling this stunt before--not like Strife. I suppose it must be fairly serious." He and Aphrodite sat up, drawing sheets to the proper level.

Aphrodite raked blonde curls out of her eyes (she was the one who invented the 'just rolled out of bed look'). "What is it, Ar?" Her voice was anxious. "Nothing wrong with Joxie?"

"It depends on how you look at it." Ares sat on the edge of the bed. "The only reason I escaped is that Jayce wanted to give him a couple of deportment lessons before the ceremony."

"What do you mean, 'escaped'? And why do you look so tired? Have you started another war I haven't heard about? You look absolutely KNACKERED."

Ares sighed heavily. "It's Joxer."

"What? Has he got you moving furniture? You can do it by mind power, remember?"

Aphrodite giggled. "Heph, really!" She waved a finger at him. "Thaaaat's not what it is. Haven't you noticed how much energy I've had the last couple of days?"

Understanding dawned in Hephastus's eyes, and he grinned. "I'll be damned! Ares, you mean to tell me that little mortal is wearing you out in bed?"

Ares groaned. "I never thought I'd complain of too MUCH sex, but I'm starting to feel chafed. And the last time, I almost... uh... almost didn't..." He was turning red. "Joxer enjoyed it, anyway, because it took me practically forever to come. He finally passed out, and I snuck over and woke up Apollo." At their astonished looks, he said, "Yes, I resorted to talking to Shiny Britches. He was pissed when I popped in, because it turns out that Jayce was having a 'sleep over'." Ares shrugged. "I'm pretty sure he's rebounding from not getting his hands on Joxer, and if this makes it less likely I have to skin him alive, I'm all for it. Anyway, he was feeling good enough not to snicker at me. He says it's just hormones, and Joxer should settle back to normal in a week or so, but I don't think I can LAST till then. What am I going to do? And stop laughing, Heph."

Hephastus stifled the chuckles. "I'm sorry. It's just that the only other people I know less likely to have that problem would be Bacchus and Apollo, and the very idea of either one of them..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Dite, can you help me?"

"I suppose I could try to trickle a little of the energy back to you, but that might be sort of like pouring gasoline on a fire." She got up and started pacing, arms behind her back. Since she was still nude, this might have been distracting to most men, but Ares was in no condition to get horny over anything at the moment, and Hephastus had the contentment of knowing that was HIS, and he could get lucky pretty much any time he pleased. "Okay, the way I see it is that instead of charging you up, we need to find a way to drain Joxer's batteries."

"Oh, no!" said Ares instantly. "I wouldn't agree to that anyway, and with him carrying the baby."

"No, not an actual energy drain, silly! I mean giving him something to do that'll take care of his urges, but not wear you down to a nub." Ares brows lowered. "And don't look at me like that. I'm sure not going to suggest screwing around to anyone whose relationship is as fresh and strong as the one you two have. No..." she smiled. "I think Joxer just needs a toy. Heph, honey, do you remember that little domestic aide I was telling you about the other day?"

Hephastus grinned. "Yes, and I think you have exactly the right idea. I've been setting up the process. Ares, I'm pretty sure that no one will notice if I'm not at the ascension ceremony..."

"Joxer would notice," said Ares.

Hephastus's smile softened. "Yes, I think you're right. Anyway, if we hurry, and you make my excuses to Joxer, I think I can have that little thing done by this afternoon."

"I can tell him that you're attending to some urgent prayers from a village that has just started a new forge to make weapons, to protect themselves from bandits. He won't mind, if it's to help the vulnerable defend themselves."

"Good, because I really WILL hate to miss his ceremony, but I'd rather do this little thing for him." He stood up, dressing with a thought. "Come with me. We should just have time to do the molding."

Ares blinked. "Molding?" Hephastus and Aphrodite smiled. "Uh..."

*FLASH*

*****

The sound of brazen horns, cymbals, and drums rang through the city of Athens. A few citizens had visited the city temples and received news of the new god's ascension the following day, and they had been very efficient at spreading the word. Those who had not hear the gossip/announcements heard the noise, dropped what they were doing, and hurried toward the temple of Zeus. He was the only god who had the authority to make such an imperious and general summons. A new god was going to be presented--a MAJOR god, one that many had been hoping for a long time. No one wanted to miss this.

Hercules didn't exactly bull his way through the jostling crowd, but someone his size naturally cleared a path. Anyone with a lick of sense got out of his way on the general principle that it was better not to risk getting run down. Xena cleared a path just as easily, but that was due mainly to the set of her jaw and perhaps the hand resting on her chakram. Iolaus charmed his way through the crowd, pinching butts and receiving blushes and giggles from both sexes. Gabrielle had neither size, attitude, nor charm, so she just stayed in Xena's wake and occasionally let her staff 'slip'. However they made their way, they were inside the temple, right at the front of the crowd, near the altar, when the time came.

The temple had been specially decorated for the occasion. Zeus's throne took place of pride, of course, set at the exact center of at the head of a shallow flight of wide marble stairs, with a smaller, slightly less grand throne a bit behind and to his right for Hera. Usually there was a throne on each side of the five steps leading down to the temple floor. The squabbling that had been done over the placement of those thrones had been epic, and was still, in fact, going on. Every now and then one of the deities would petition Zeus for a change of order, going into elaborate detail about exactly why they should be moved up a step, or at least seated at his right hand instead of his left. Depending on his mood, or his desire to stir things up, Zeus occasionally granted the request. He then usually ducked out of sight for a few days to give the inevitable fallout a chance to settle.

Gabrielle was burbling over with excitement, and more than a little smugness. Xena simply let her chatter roll over her, though she did wonder occasionally if the bard had convinced herself that she had been directly involved in the bestowal of godhood. She interrupted Gabrielle's chatter abruptly, saying, "Gabby, what's wrong with this picture?"

Gabrielle, a little surprised looked around. "Well, you seldom see a crowd in Zeus's temple so joyful. The decorations are nicer even than they usually are at his festivals. I've never seen so many different kinds of white flowers in my life." There was a fluttering and cooing overhead, and the people around them ducked as a dove flew low, then roosted gracefully on the head of the larger-than-life statue of Zeus. "And not one of those doves that have been swooping around has crapped on anyone."

Xena grunted. "Considering where it alighted, that's a shame. No, look at the thrones."

Gabrielle did, and frowned. "Ostentatious as always."

Xena sighed. "How are you at math, Gabby? COUNT!"

Gabrielle shrugged. "Okay, Zeus and Hera's, one and two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twel-ve..." her voice slowed down, "thir-teen... four... Wait a minute."

Xena nodded. "This IS a change. They won't be The Twelve anymore."

"But they're just adding one new god, so why are there FOURTEEN thrones?"

"You don't think that they'd be so crass as to let things be unsymmetrical, do you? He must mean to elevate one more to the highest level of the Pantheon, but look at the others. See the way they're looking at that fourteenth seat, and whispering to each other? He must not have told them about the other elevation. He DOES love his jokes. I wonder who it will be?"

Gabrielle thought about it. "I'd say Bliss, except that he's still so young. Maybe Persephone?"

"Maybe, but she's more part of her mother's godhood than anything else. I don't think it'll be Eris, either--her work is too close to that of Ares."

"I don't think that Apollo would take too kindly to Asclepius being advanced, even if Ace IS his son. It might dim his glory a little to have someone so close to his own godhood..."

There was a flash of green light, and Demeter appeared in her throne. "Sh," said Xena. "It's starting." One by one the gods and goddesses appeared, each with a different display--colored sparks or flashes. The senior deities appeared last, and highest up. Poseidon brought a distinct briny smell, and more than one person wondered how Hades managed BLACK sparks. Ares, heir to Olympus, finally appeared in the topmost right hand throne, and the crowd grew hushed, waiting for the King and Queen of the gods.

Ares' eyes searched the crowd. When his gaze fell upon the four heros gathered at the front, his grim expression broke ever so slightly--just enough for his lips to twitch. Xena was immediately suspicious, but surely Ares wouldn't dare to try anything at a state ceremony. She looked around. *Strife, on the other hand...* The more minor godlings were gathered on either side of the altar. Strife was leaning against a pillar with exaggerated nonchalance, using a dagger to clean his fingernails. Cupid was watching him, one eyebrow quirked. Xena blinked. *Funny. Cupid doesn't look irritated. He almost looks...*

*Flash* Hera, Queen of the Gods, was seated regally on her throne. The crowd held its collective breath. *FLASH* Zeus, looking regal as all Tartarus, appeared on his throne. *Gotta give the old reprobate this--he sure does LOOK the part.*

Zeus spoke, voice deep and dignified. "People of Greece, you have been summoned to witness a rare and wonderful occasion. As some of you have no doubt heard, Olympus has received a new god." He smiled slightly. "I won't say exactly how--I'm sure the bards will be able to come up with many interesting versions, and I look forward to hearing them."

He stood, straightening his robes, and came slowly down the stairs. "This godhood would have been delegated some time in the future, but I am glad that the time has come now. It has been noted that at times the gentler aspects of divinity," here he smiled at Aphrodite, Hestia, and Demeter (and Xena thought wryly that only someone who could throw lightening bolts would consider an aspect of nature gentle), "have been outweighed by the more forceful aspects," he glanced at Ares, Eris, and Athena, all of whom rolled their eyes.

He had reached the floor, and now moved to stand before the altar. "Your new god embodies the serenity that a balance of these forces can bring. You may pray to him for peace in all things, great and small, from mighty wars to domestic harmony. I present to you--" The crowd seemed to lean forward eagerly. He knew how to mild a crowd. He paused. At last he said, "The God of Peace..." There was a flash of white light and silver sparks. A tall man in pure white and gentle gray, an olive wreath crowning his smooth brown hair, appeared beside Zeus, smiling sweetly. "Eirini."

*thud* *thud*

"Hercules!" Xena said. "Gabby fainted!" She scooped the limp bard up into her arms. "You clear a way, and I'll carry here..."

"Uh, Zeen?"

"Iolaus, I have to get her out of here before..."

"You'll have to get her somewhere quiet by yourself."

Iolaus was gazing down at his partner. Hercules wasn't unconscious, but his mouth was hanging open, and his eyes were wide and glazed. Hercules said, "Wha? Peace? Gah... gah... God? HIM?"

Ares voice, sounding very satisfied, floated down, "Eirini is the official name, but I'm sure he won't mind if his friends still call him Joxer."



Seeking Balance, 18/?
By Scribe

"Uh-oh!" Joxer hurried down to where his two friends were currently on the floor. The crowd fell back in awe as Olympus' newest god squatted and materialized a goblet of water, then began flicking droplets in the fallen bard's face. "Xena, has she been staying up to all hours writing again, then skipping breakfast? You can't let her do that--it's bad for her."

"Uh, Jox, I don't think that's what did it," murmured Xena.

"What else could it be? Nothing serious, I hope. Maybe Ace could..."

"I think it's just surprise."

"Surprise? For what?"

"Well," Xena gestured at him vaguely, then at the watching gods and goddesses. "This."

Joxer frowned. "But why should that come as a surprise? Ares told you, didn't he?" Xena was silent. "Didn't...?" He frowned, turning to gaze accusingly at the War God. "Ares!"

Ares shrugged. "I told them that there was going to be a new god, and I was talking about you at the same time. I just assumed they'd be smart enough to put two and two together on their own."

"Oh, sure." Joxer gave him a look that said, 'we're going to talk about this when we get home'. "I guess you informed Hercules and Iolaus the same way?" Ares shrugged. Joxer looked at the group. "Guys, I'm sorry this came as such a shock." He grinned. "Actually, it's been pretty much of a shock to me, too, and..."

"If we could get on with this?" Zeus' voice held an impatient edge that no sensible person would ignore.

"Oh. Right."

Joxer had continued to flick water on Gabrielle, who was now pretty damp. The bard's eyelids fluttered open, and she gasped, "But it was so clear outside!" Then she took in Joxer, who was still dousing her, and sat bolt upright, growling, "JOXER!" She lifted her hand, as if to give him one of her usual smacks.

There were shocked gasps from the assembly, and a warning growl from Ares, but before he could react, Joxer sat back on his heels and LOOKED at Gabrielle. The bard's expression smoothed out. She stared at her upraised hand, as if unsure of exactly what it was doing, then lowered it slowly. "I... you... Why don't I want to hit you anymore?"

Joxer shrugged. "Um, because I'm the God of Peace, and I just did what I'm supposed to do?"

Gabrielle gaped. "You CALMED me? How dare..." The hand went up again. Joxer looked at her. The hand lowered, as Gabrielle smiled serenely. Then she shook her head and snapped, "Stop doing that!"

"Young woman," Zeus said severely. "I'll thank you not to question a god in the performance of his duties. Count yourself lucky that I chose not to mar this happy day by allowing my eldest son to do to you what he so obviously wants. Joxer, please return. There's another matter that needs to be attended to."

"Sure. Sorry, your Bigness." There were titters from the Olympians, and a non-plus look from Zeus, all of which Joxer did not notice. He was busy materializing a goblet of wine, and handing it to Iolaus. "Here, Iolaus. Maybe this will help Herk." He hurried back to the assembled Pantheon as Iolaus began to try to get a still muttering Hercules to drink the wine.

Zeus cleared his throat. "Now, then. As you have all probably notices, there is not one, but two new thrones. I have decided that, in order for the power of the Pantheon to remain balanced, we will not be thirteen, but fourteen. I will be elevating one of our number to a senior position." He smiled smugly as whispering broke out among the divinities, rivaling the eager chatter of the mortals. Everyone was speculating on who was going to get a promotion. Zeus was thoroughly enjoying the curiosity.

At last he said, "This was not an easy decision. There were a number of worthy candidates, but I had to weight the choice carefully, in order to maintain a balance of power." He took a deep breath. "I had first considered Cupid..." The voices rose. Cupid was definitely a favored prospect, but they were troubled by that one word--'had'. "But we already have one divinity in charge of love and passion." He bowed his head toward Aphrodite. She seemed torn between pride in her own importance, and disappointment for her son. "In the universe, all things must balance--love and hate, passion and indifference, dark and light. The Pantheon has for ages been most heavily weighted toward the brighter aspects of the cosmos, with only my son Ares, and my brother Hades, to represent the very necessary dark aspects. Therefore I cannot elevate another light aligned divinity into the upper ranks."

The whispering increased as the possible candidates were tallied by the observers. Bacchus? Hecate? Many noticed that Eris--Discord--was almost vibrating with excitement. More than one person shuddered at this. Eris with more power was a very scary thought.

Strife, slouched against a wall, was watching the proceedings with a sour expression, even though he was getting a power buzz from the mischief the old goat was fomenting by teasing the crowd. "C'mon," he muttered, under his breath. "Get if ovah with."

"You're not excited to see who it will be?"

Strife blinked to find Cupid standing so close-by. "Why should I be? It just means someone's gonna hafta look that much farthah down their nose at me. How 'bout you, Feathahs? No ambition?"

Cupid shrugged, and noted the way Strife's eyes quickly flicked away from the shift of his shoulders, then returned to resolutely fix on a spot in the center of his forehead. "I'm happy where I am." He paused. "Well, pretty happy, but it's nothing that would be cured by a promotion."

"Yah? Yer usually almost as chipper as Sunny Boy. What gives?"

Cupid was studying him. "Maybe I'll tell you sometimes." Strife, curious, started to say something, but Cupid tilted his chin toward Zeus. "Granddad's about to make the big announcement."

"I had considered Eris," Eris started to step forward, but Zeus said quickly, "I'm sorry, my dear. It's the same as it was with Cupid--your position is far too similar to your brother's. I have given this much thought..." Strife snorted softly, thinking of how little time there'd been between Zeus' learning of the new god and this ceremony. "And have chosen to elevate... Strife, God of Mischief."

Stunned silence, then pandemonium. Strife, expression absolutely slack, slumped against the wall, then slowly slid down to sit as his eyes rolled back in his head. Ace and Apollo sprang forward--a fainting god was not a common thing. Before they reached him, Cupid had scooped the limp Mischief God up into his arms and deposited him on a hastily created sofa.

Ace and Apollo both ran their hands through the air over Strife. After a moment they exchanged glances, and Ace said, "Power overdose?"

Apollo nodded. "We have to siphon off some of the power, or his brains might be scrambled. Well, more scrambled than they already are."

"Where do we divert it?"

"I'd say Eirini. He's the newest, with the smallest present power base." They each grasped one of the other's hands, and laid their free hands on Strife--Apollo touching his head, and Ace his chest. "Joxer, come here." The God of Peace immediately came over, his face tense with concern for the young god whom he had begun to consider a friend. "Grip our clasped hands, and brace yourself."

Joxer did as they said. All three of the gods closed their eyes. There was a faint, but resonant, hum. Joxer stiffened, and Ares started down to the group. Aphrodite caught his arm, whispering, "No, Ares--he'll be all right. He's going to have to learn how to deal with power surges, and you know that he wants to help Strife." Ares chewed his lip, but nodded, not trying to break away. Truth be told, he was worried about his nephew. Strife was always so resilient, able to bounce back from anything life threw at him--including his uncle's fireballs. Seeing the younger man so helpless was... disconcerting.

After a moment Strife's eyes opened, and he batted at Asclepius and Apollo. "Enough, already! Ya wanna have me faintin 'cause I'm too low insteada too high?"

"You're welcome," huffed Apollo, turning to rejoin the others.

But Ace smiled at Strife and gripped his shoulder. "You're sure you're all right?"

"Yah." Strife giggled, and it sounded even more unsteady than usual. "As all right as I CAN be, considerin tha butt-load of responsibility that just got dumped in my lap." He glanced toward the other gods, noting their various expressions. "An' tha shit I'm gonna hafta deal with from tha ones passed ovah." Discord was glaring at him. He winced. "Pahticularly Mom. Damn, is my leatha bein singed? But what about Joxie? That musta been a hell of a jolt fah him."

"Joxer?" asked Ace.

"Hm?" Joxer was staring back at Ares, a dreamy smile on his face. "Isn't it wonderful how he can make his own clothes? A mortal tailor could NEVER get those pants so tight."

Strife snickered, seeing the suddenly uneasy look on his uncle's face. "Uh-oh. I guess I know where Joxer is plannin ta channel that extra energy." He snickered again. "Unc oughta rethink that 'I ALWAYS top' policy of his. Sure, he'll end up kinda sore, but I think it'd wear Joxer out quickah if he hadda actually WORK at it."

"Strife, Joxer--get up here so I can finish this," called Zeus.

Strife was a little surprised when Cupid took his hand and drew him to his feet. He noted his cousin's unusually expression, but couldn't understand why he would look so... Not exactly distressed, but close to it, and very thoughtful. Strife nodded his thanks and followed Joxer back. They ended up standing on either side of Zeus. The King of the Gods muttered under his breath, "Will you two PLEASE try to act with a little dignity and purpose in front of the mortals? We have a reputation..." Strife cocked an eyebrow at him. "Oh, all right!"

Zeus held a hand over the head of each god and intoned, "Mark well this day, ye bards and historians, for it is unlikely that such an event will come again. Today Greece has seen the arrival of a new god, and the elevation of an existing one." His voice dropped into normal tones. "You can quit pestering me to end wars, and maybe my wife will get a brief respite from your petitions about domestic arguments. And I'll be expecting you to lay some more work on this stripling," one finger flicked at Strife's spiky hair, but he only grinned, "but do NOT try to sic him on any of us. We get enough of him as it is. Okay, I think that about covers it. Joxer... er, Eirini--remain for awhile. I'm sure you'll be receiving a rash of dedications, offerings, and such like--it always happens with a new god. Everyone feel free to festival." He disappeared in a flash, and roll of thunder.

Once Zeus was gone, Hera stood up and said, "Well, while my husband may have something," she lowered her voice, "or someONE," then went back to a normal tone, "to do, the rest of us shall remain, in honor of the new god." She sighed. "Will someone PLEASE get my husband's offspring up out of the middle of the floor? He's blocking traffic, and even more of a hazard than usual." She glanced at Hestia. "Dear, would you...?"

"My pleasure." Hestia lifted her hands. Suddenly long tables of food and drink appeared at the front and back of the temple. Hestia gestured at the tables nearest the altar and said clearly, "These are off limits to you mortals, but please do make hogs of yourself at the other tables." She beamed as there was a near stampede toward the groaning tables. The chance to sample food prepared by the Goddess of the Hearth (and thus Goddess of Domestic Life) was not to be missed.

Some people might have been offended by how quickly attention was turned away from them on their special day, but Joxer was much too pre-occupied. He'd started to... Well, the term 'stalk' is appropriate, Ares. The God of War was trying to evade him while not LOOKING as if he were evading, much to the amusement of Cupid and Aphrodite.

Joxer had more or less cornered Ares against one of the buffet tables, and was running one fingertip along the open Vee of his leather vest. Ares, beginning to feel desperate, hissed, "Joxer! Not in front of the mortals." Joxer stuck out his lower lip, pouting, and Ares felt a sudden tingle of interest, but forced it down. "Look, we have eternity. Go do your duty for a little while." When Joxer hesitated, sighing, Ares urged, "Go on. I'll have a surprise for you later."

Joxer brightened. He loved surprises, and he'd seldom experienced a surprise prepared specially for him by someone he loved. "Okay, but just for a couple of hours. Then..." he leered.

As his husband stepped away to greet his first official worshipper (a very rare creature--an elderly soldier), Ares let out a breath of relief. *I'm not sure exactly what these hormones are, but if I could figure out a way to inflict them on people, I could just let opposing sides fuck each other to death.*

He figured there was still a little while before Hephastus would be finished with his work, so Ares looked around for something to occupy himself without getting within arm's reach of his horny mate. He considered going over and speaking to Strife, letting him know that, as far as Ares was concerned, the new status didn't mean jack shit when it came to the Mischief God's duties to the House of War. He wasn't going to be shuffling off anything he deemed menial or tedious. But to his utter shock, Eris was talking to Strife. TALKING to him--not screaming, beating, or otherwise inflicting physical or psychic damage. She wasn't smiling (you REALLY wanted to be careful around her when she smiled), but she didn't look much more pissed off than usual.

He considered going to talk to Cupid, but his son was lounging comfortably on a sofa with Bliss on his lap, feeding the little boy something that was apparently too sloppy to allow unsupervised consumption. The funny thing was, every time Bliss had a mouthful and was busy chewing, Cupid's eyes would drift over to Eris and Strife. Many people thought of Cupid as a simple, open person. Idiots. Love was one of the most complex emotions in existence, and if Cupid wished, he could put up a front so blank that it would be the envy of a Stoic.

Finally Ares noticed that Iolaus and Xena had helped Hercules up into a chair. His half-brother was still looking numb. He was saying to his companions. "I had the weirdest dream. Joxer was a god."

Xena patted his shoulder. "No dream, friend."

Hercules tried to sound hopeful. "But the last part was, right? I mean, Dad would never have the bad judgment to promote Strife to..." As he was speaking, Strife walked over to the fourteenth throne and walked around it, head cocked. There was a flash of red light, and the throne was suddenly not quite so massive, carved of dark wood instead of marble, with black and scarlet cushions and draperies. A carving about the size of a large man's hand graced the back--an elegant ebony spider, with a bright red hourglass enameled on its belly. Strife grinned in satisfaction and threw himself into the seat, slouching comfortably with one leg thrown over an arm. "Oh, man."

Gabrielle said, "Well, now that I'm over the initial shock, I think it's... um... Okay. I guess. Well, we know who the new god is. Maybe we can weasel out the info of what poor wench got suckered into agreeing to marry Ares."

"I'm more interested in who's going to be the mother of his child," said Xena. "After all, if she's going to be popping out my niece or nephew, I'd like to get to know her."

Hercules said, "But wouldn't that be the same...?" He trailed off as the others stared at him. "Right. Not necessarily... uh... right."

*Couldn't have had a better opportunity if I'd scripted it myself,* thought Ares. He gave Aphrodite a significant look, nodding toward the heroes. She giggled, flashed a plate of food into her hands, and sauntered over to the little group. "Hercules, did you faint?"

Hercules blushed. "I did NOT."

"Oh, good. Fainting is never a good sign." She started eating. "I mean, it's not all that unusual in some instances, but you'd HARDLY qualify." She giggled. "I remember when I was expecting Cupid... Well, never mind." *munchmunch* "You know, this noodle thingy from the Chin is pretty good, but it needs something. I know!" *Flash* *munch* "Mmm. The smoked, herbed goat cheese ALMOST does the trick, but it needs a TEENY bit more of a zing. I know!" *Flash* Yellow lumps appeared in the tangled, gummy pile on her plate, and she dug in with relish. "Ooh, yes." She rolled her eyes happily. "You know, pineapple is SHAMEFULLY ignored in main dish cooking."

She wandered away while Iolaus, Xena, Gabrielle, and Hercules began to exchange significant looks. "Well, of COURSE," said Gabrielle. "I mean, there's Cupid, after all. It makes perfect sense that he'd..."

One of the Muses came over. "Gabrielle, just wanted to say nice going on that last poem." She was nibbling from a fragrant bowl of what looked like sauerkraut. As they watched, she dunked a small honey cake in the swimming juice and nibbled it. Sighing, she said dreamily. "I want you to consider writing an ode to motherhood. I know it isn't your usual style, but..." Another sigh. "It... it's just so... so..." One hand lightly, unconsciously, touched her belly. "So, you know?" She frowned absently at her bowl, then materialized a handful of shelled sunflower seeds and sprinkled them in as she walked away.

After a moment's silence, Xena said, "I don't know. Wouldn't Apollo be pitching a major hissy fit?"

Iolaus was glancing around. "I don't know. I'd say so, but right now I see at least three other Muses who are acting, um, peculiar. Two of them are sharing what looks like a plate of raw oysters..."

"That's not so unusual," broke in Hercules.

"It is when they're garnished with candied cherries and hot peppers. And the third on is knitting what appears to be either a large handkerchief, or a very small toga."

Artemis and Athena passed close by. Athena was griping. "Goddess of Wisdom, my ass! I can't believe I got in this position. I hate this! I'm upchucking all the time, and it seems like I don't dare get more than three feet from a chamber pot. I'm tiddling more than Cerberus did before Ar got him housebroken, and it's supposed to get WORSE?"

"You think YOU have it bad?" grumbled Artemis. "I've been ordered to lay off the chase till further notice." She snorted. "And my ankles are so swollen I can't fit into my boots anyway."

After they'd passed, Xena shook her head. "No, it HAS to be something else. I mean--they're both virgins, right?"

Iolaus shrugged, smiling faintly. "Contrary to popular belief, that's VERY difficult to definitively prove."

In the next few minutes they listened to a dewy eyed Demeter talking about how she'd always wanted to give Persephone a baby brother or sister, while Hestia mused about the possibility of inventing a diaper that was cheap, efficient, and could just be thrown away after one use. Hecate complained that her boobs were tender, and asked a blushing, stammering Hercules if the nipples had darkened enough to be visible through the gauze of her tunic.

"This... this is IMPOSSIBLE," muttered Gabrielle. "They can't ALL be... I mean, I might believe it of Apollo... Maybe there was a particularly spectacular orgy a couple of months ago that we didn't hear about?"

They hadn't seen Ares whispering to a grinning Ace. The healing god sidled over to the little group and whispered, "Look, the rest of the more fragile beings are keeping on the other side of the temple, so I thought I might just warn you..."

There was a loud *SPANG*. Eris had just flung an almost empty serving tray against a pillar. "DAMN IT TO TARTARUS! WHO ATE THE LAST OF THOSE ATOMIC FIREBALL THINGS STRIFE BROUGHT FROM THE FUTURE?"

"Ma, ease up," Strife soothed. "Look." He materialized a small golden sponge cake and offered it to her. "It's called a Twinkie. Try it."

"BUT I WANT..."

*zap* "I laced tha cream fillin with poblanos."

"Oh. Well, then..."

Gabrielle turned a little green, but said stoutly, "It's his SISTER! And... and LOTS of people occasionally have strange food cravings, and it doesn't mean..."

"Oh!" The sound froze the four heroes. It came from Eris, and could only be called a 'coo'. "Calliope, is that a baby unicorn on that shirt you're making? Oh, that is so SWEET! Give him great, big eyes, and don't forget the ribbons in his tail, and... and..." *bawl* "I shouldn't have eaten that Twinkie! I'm so damn fat! I'm a WHALE!" *sniff* "But it sure did taste good. Strife, could you get me some of that marinated baby squid? Oh, and don't forget the caramel sauce."

"I'm scared," said Gabby in a tiny voice.

Xena said, "This is decidedly weird. Maybe we should ask someone in authority. C'mon." They made their way up the steps, and paused before Hera's throne. "Your highness, something is bothering us, we were wondering..." She trailed off, eyes going wide.

Hera looked up from her bowl of strawberries and whipped cream. "Yes, Xena?" A pause. She stirred pickled herring into the mix. "I'm a little angry at Eris for hogging all the caramel sauce, but I suppose she had her reasons, and this will do just as well. You had something to ask me? And someone DO pick Hercules up off the floor again. I can't abide litter."

*****

A rather tired, but very happy Joxer, flashed into the House of War later that evening, on the arm of Ace. "Thanks, Ace, but I think I could have done this myself."

Ace smiled, patting his arm. "Maybe so. You're still a little buzzed, what with that energy surge from Strife, and the flow that you're beginning to get, now that you've been officially acknowledged. But you know how you've been reacting to transporting, and we don't want to take a chance. Appearing at your ascension was one thing--you were just in the back room, but earth to Olympus is something entirely different. Will you be all right now?"

Joxer looked around, eyes gleaming. "I will be as soon as I find Ares." He chuckled, and his friends would have been surprised by the lascivious tone. "He's been avoiding me all day. I know it's only because he's feeling a little tired, but I hope he knows that I'm just gonna wear him out even worse now."

Ace smiled. "I'd better go, then. It's not easy to embarrass a healer, but it CAN be done. Get to bed soon--you need your rest." Joxer wiggled his eyebrows, and Ace laughed. "All right, but HORIZONTAL, okay?" *FLASH*

Once Ace was gone, Joxer lifted his voice, "Ar-eeees? Come on, lover. Baby needs a snuggle."

*FLASH* Ares appeared. "Zeus. If anyone had ever told me I'd answer to a summons like that, much less from one of my former WARRIORS..." Joxer pounced, and Ares found himself WEARING his mate. "Oof! Joxer, try and calm down for a minute."

Joxer was kissing his neck. "Don't wanna. Do you have any idea how horny a sudden burst of power like that makes you? Wait, of course you do..."

"Yes, but it can be worked off different ways. There's the fight, flight, or fuck options. Dite... well, you KNOW what her reaction would be. Artemis races one of her stags, and a lot of the time I'm already in the middle of something important, so a good bloodbath takes care of most of the energy..."

Joxer nibbled his earlobe. "Quit stalling and get nekkid." He wiggled, grinning. "I'm already oiled. I have been since before I started greeting worshippers. I had planned on dragging you into an alcove or under a table, but you disappeared."

"Just as well. I usually avoid public sex unless it's at an official orgy. Babe..." Ares, carrying Joxer without really NEEDING to support him, went to the bed. "Sit down."

Joxer, arms and legs still locked, sort of lunged back, dragging Ares down. The surprised War God managed to twist, so that he landed on the bottom. He gripped Joxer's arms and pushed him up, saying firmly, "JOXER!" Joxer, who had been wiggling, paused, wide-eyed. That was an 'I mean business' tone. Ares sighed. "Calm---down." He cupped Joxer's cheek. "Jox, I almost FELL on you--and you're PREGNANT."

Joxer winced, and buried his face against Ares chest--but this time it was to seek comfort. "Tartarus, Ares, I'm sorry! I... I'd never do anything to hurt you OR the baby. I just..."

"Sh." Ares stroked his hair. "I know. It's the hormones, love. They're making you a little crazier than usual."

Joxer peeked up at him. "Ace did say this would slow down, right? I mean, of course I'm enjoying it, but if it's going to put a strain between us..."

"I think I have something that will take care of that. Remember that I told you I had a present for you?" He sat up, pulling Joxer into a sitting position, also.

Joxer frowned slightly. "Okay, I know you're not going to offer me the temporary use of a trained pleasure slave..." Ares growled, and Joxer laughed. "I SAID I know you're not--and I wouldn't want one. I'd rather melt into a little puddle of frustration."

"You don't have to do that, and we don't need anyone else." Ares held out his hands, palm up. There was a small flash, and a carved wooden box appeared. He offered it. "For you."

Joxer took the box and turned it in his hands, examining it curiously. "It's pretty. What is it--some sort of a passion draining potion?" He sounded a little sad. The sheer physical pleasure aside, he was enjoying the constant intimacy with his husband-to-be.

"Open it and find out." As Joxer lifted the lid, Ares discreetly checked to be sure that his lover wasn't close enough to the edge of the bed to be in danger of falling if he was too startled.

Joxer blinked. And blinked. And blinked some more. He lifted huge eyes to Ares. "Is... is that what it LOOKS like?"

Ares couldn't help smiling. "What does it look like?"

Joxer gazed at the glimmering object that lay on a bed of black velvet, displayed like the finest jewel. "It looks like a metal cock."

"It's called a dildo."

Joxer cocked his head. "I've heard Meg's girls talk about those." He blushed slightly. "Oh, I'll be honest. I, uh, saw one or two in use. But they were just sort of, um, tubes of, like, carved wood." He winced. "They were varnished or enameled, and I STILL kept thinking about splinters."

"You won't have to worry about that with this," Ares promised. "There isn't a rough or sharp surface anywhere."

Joxer leaned down, peering closely, then said, "Ares! This is GOLD!" Ares nodded. "But... but wouldn't bronze have been more, um, practical?"

"For my man?" Ares put his fingers under Joxer's chin, tipping it up to get him to look at him. He kissed the God of Peace softly. "Nothing but the best for you, Joxer." Then, as if uneasy about sounding 'sweet', he let himself smirk and said, "In the real thing, AND in substitutions."

"It's beautiful." He looked even more closely, then gasped. "Ar, this is YOU!" Ares chuckled. "No, it IS! I'd recognize that cock anywhere, any time--in a dark room." He gave a sudden cheerful leer. "In fact, I HAVE done, and look forward to doing it again. But HOW?" His eyebrows suddenly lowered, and his tone became ominous--a very disconcerting thing with the gentle man. "Exactly HOW did the 'artisan' manage such an accurate copy?"

Ares looked at him blankly for a moment, then barked with laughter. "You're JEALOUS! And I thought I was the only one in this relationship who had that problem." He hugged Joxer, who remained a little stiff, though the frown did soften. "Baby, you have nothing to worry about. That was made by Hephastus. I have NO interest in him. Ask Dite--she tries to talk me into a threesome every now and then. He used clay to make a mold. I just thought about you to get 'in the mood'." Now Joxer was beginning to smile again, face flushed. "I went alone for a few minutes and thought about you, remembering our first time together," his voice was husky, "touching myself. Then when I had 'maximum effort, Heph gave me the pot of glop and I sort of suited up." He bent over and quickly nipped Joxer's earlobe. "Let me tell you, that wasn't where I wanted to stick it right then, but anything if it will help you. Then I had to stand there while the stuff hardened, and I softened and s
hrank enough to pull out without damaging the mold." Now Ares regarded the golden dildo with satisfaction. "I think it was worth the sacrifice. Look at this..."

Ares reached into the box and lifted out the phallus. He gripped the shaft tightly, and Joxer's flush deepened. It was an incredibly erotic sight. Then Ares gripped the metallic testicles and twisted hard, popping them off. Joxer fell back on the bed, squeaking and grabbing at his own crotch with protective instinct. "Oh, damn, I'm SORRY!" Ares looked contrite, but was trying not to laugh.

"WARN me next time!" huffed Joxer, sitting up.

Ares shrugged sheepishly (and there were a lot of people who would have gone into shock at seeing THAT). "I just wanted to show you one of the special features." He up-ended the phallus, then materialized a beaker of faintly steaming water. Joxer saw now that the dildo was hollow. Ares carefully filled the thing, then flashed away the beaker, and screwed the base back on. He held it out toward Joxer. "Feel."

Tentatively, Joxer laid his hand against the smooth metallic side. After a moment he felt the cool surface warming under his touch. "Ooh..." he whispered.

Ares nodded. "It's spelled so that it won't ever be more than body-temperature." Ares lifted the golden cock and gently stroked Joxer's cheek with the shiny tip, whispering, "So my lover will be comfortable." He offered the dildo to Joxer.

Joxer looked at it, his gaze hungry, but still uncertain. "Are you sure, Ar?"

Ares put an arm around him, hugging him. "Joxer--I love you, and I want you to have everything you want and need. I'm doing my damndest, but lover... I just can't keep up with you right now, and don't you DARE let that slip to Strife! It'll end up written on every bathing house wall from here to Chin, no matter WHAT the consequences he knows he'd reap." He smiled, resting his forehead against Joxer's. "I like toys. We'd have gotten around to them eventually, but I didn't think it would be this early."

"You want me to do this?"

"It's a suggestion, Jox--not an order. Your body has gone a little insane right now. According to Ace it's going to calm down soon, but till then I don't think there's anything wrong with helping nature along. Do you want to try it?" Joxer nodded shyly, reaching out to run one finger from the base to the tip, slowly circling around the glans. Ares took a deep breath. "I'm glad. It means that all those pubic hairs that got torn out were not sacrificed in vain."

Joxer stood and began to strip. He paused with his hands on the laces of his breeches, and said in a small voice, "Would... would you sort of... I mean, this first time..."

Ares stood and took him in his arms, hushing him with a kiss. "Yes. It isn't meant as a substitute, love--just a helper." Joxer sighed in relief.

In a short time they were both naked. Joxer lay back, comfortably propped on pillows, and watched as Ares materialized a small pot of oil. "I told you that I was already prepared."

"I know you did." Ares dipped up oil and spread a film over the dildo, making the gold glisten even more in the candlelight. "And don't think I didn't start getting hard when you told me that, but you know I'm not going to risk you hurting yourself."

"Okay." Joxer was propped up on his elbows, watching Ares' big hand gliding over the phallus. Joxer was already half-erect, and he reached down to stroke his awakening flesh. Ares smiled, gently pushed Joxer's hand aside, and spread more oil over his lover's erection. "You're so thoughtful."

"Yeah. Well, don't let it slip, and ruin my reputation." Ares squeezed Joxer gently. "Can you get your legs up and open without too much discomfort?"

"I did this morning, didn't I?" Joxer slid down a little more, raising and spreading his legs, hooking them back slightly with his arms.

Ares sighed. "The sexiest target in existence. Relax." Joxer closed his eyes as slick fingers stroked down the crease of his ass, then circled around his asshole. One fingertip pushed against the crinkle, and Ares whispered, "Yes, you did a good job, didn't you?" Joxer bit his lip as one thick finger slowly breeched his entrance and began to slide in and out. "Babe, I'm not so tired that I don't want to fuck you. I AM going to fuck you later, if you still want it, but this first time you need to use this, so we can be sure it's going to do the trick."

Joxer moaned softly as a second finger joined the first and began to slowly stretch him. "'If I still want it'. One of your sillier statements, Ar. There will never come a time when I DON'T want to have sex with you."

"Yeah? Keep saying that," said Ares wryly. "Along about the eighth month with Aphrodite, she threatened lock up Cerberus for a week, then chain me down with Hephastian metal, smear raw liver on my balls, and turn him loose." Joxer slitted his eyes open. "And once Cupid was born she swore that she was going to be the first born-again virgin in history." Joxer smiled. "Right--it's temporary." He continued to prepare Joxer for another few moments, then said, "Ready now?"

Joxer nodded, but when Ares went to hand him the dildo, he pushed his hand away. "You do it. Please? Just to start."

Ares saw that, though Joxer's eyes burned with passion, there was still a small uncertainty. He needed reassurance. "Of course." Ares pulled his fingers out. Joxer gasped with pleased surprise as his lover bent and pressed a kiss to the slick opening, tongue flicking out to thrust shallowly into the slightly loosened orifice. Ares pressed the rounded head to Joxer's anus and whispered, "If there's the SLIGHTEST hint of pain, you tell me IMMEDIATELY."

Again Joxer nodded. "Please, Ares."

Ares kissed Joxer, tongue moving softly in the younger man's mouth, and slowly slid the dildo in. He stopped after only three inches, and held it there, muttering against Joxer's panting mouth. "Okay, babe?"

"Ares," Joxer hissed. "Teasing is supposed to be STRIFE'S area of expertise!"

Ares snorted, but it was amused. "Ever heard the term 'bossy bottom'?" He pulled back, and stilled Joxer's protesting whine by pushing it back in, deeper this time. He continued to pump gently, thrusting in a little more with each stroke, till the dildo was fully sheathed, only the rounded golden balls still outside Joxer's body, cradled in Ares' hand. Then he stopped and just studied his lover.

Joxer's face was flushed. He caught Ares' eyes, then smiled and purred quietly, ass wiggling. Ares' gaze sharpened with hunger, but he quickly reached down to encircle his own hardening cock, squeezing ruthlessly. This was for Joxer--his time would come. His voice rough, Ares took hold of Joxer's hand and moved it down, wrapping the long, fingers around the base. "Do it, Joxer. Right now I can't think of anything sexier than seeing you pleasure yourself. Let me see it." Joxer gripped the dildo and pulled back slowly. His expression was intent, as he concentrated on the sensation. Then he pushed in, just as slowly, and sighed voluptuously. "Feels good?"

"Um." Joxer braced his feet flat on the bed, to keep himself open and comfortable. With his free hand he reached out and captured Ares' hand, bringing it up and kissing his palm before bringing it down to where his cock lay against his belly, hard and weeping. "Oo, yes. But not as good as you, Ar. Never as good as you, NOTHING as good as you. Help me?"

Ares began to masturbate Joxer, his motions almost tender as the other man worked the golden phallus in and out of his body. Unable to resist, Ares began to stroke himself with his other hand, needing to join his lover in this, knowing that Joxer needed it, too. Joxer's motions became stronger, and faster. Soon he was pumping strongly, head pushed back deep into the pillows, face sweaty. But he didn't close his eyes. They never left his lover's face, drinking in Ares' own passionate, tender expression.

Soon Joxer's body arched, and he came, his sperm coating Ares' still moving hand. Joxer quickly released the toy, grabbed Ares by the shoulder, and bodily hauled the surprised War God higher in the bed. The dildo still cradled in his flesh, Joxer shifted, and Ares' hard prick into his mouth, and swiftly down his throat, sucking strongly. Ares gritted his teeth, throwing his head back and burying his hands in Joxer's hair as his hips jerked. He came with a gush, and Joxer eagerly drank his essence, never missing a drop.

Finally he let Ares go with a small lick, and they settled down in each other's arms. After a moment, Joxer shifted a little, murmuring, "I think the water is cooling off."

"Really?" said Ares lazily. "I would have thought you'd boiled it away, hot stuff." Joxer snickered, rubbing his face on Ares' chest. "Shouldn't you take that out?"

"Um, not just yet," Joxer sighed.

"Okay, you can keep it for another few minutes." Ares kissed him, a kiss that held a promise. "But it's going to have to come out soon. There isn't room in there for both it AND me."



Part Nineteen

Plans

That evening, in bed, Joxer began, "Now, then--why didn't you tell Hercules, Xena, Gabrielle, and Iolaus about this immortality/godhood thing?" Ares eyed Joxer, then closed his eyes and snored. Joxer poked him. "Not gonna work, Ares."

Ares sighed, opening his eyes, then smiled slyly. "Hungry, Joxer?" Joxer frowned. Ares knew that Joxer was ALWAYS hungry--especially now that he was pregnant. He started to say something, and Ares materialized a plate. "Deviled quail's eggs?" Joxer's mouth closed, and he looked tempted. A shimmer passed over the dish. "With shaved truffles."

Joxer took the plate and started stuffing eggs into his mouth. He paused to shake a finger at his lover. "Are you SURE you aren't Strife's father? I could see where he'd get his deviousness."

Ares shrugged, laying back smugly to watch his lover eat. "Not to the best of my knowledge. I'm sorry to disappoint you, love, but really--they got on my nerves. There I was, popping in to give them some of the best news in existence, and they were..." he grimaced, "their usual selves."

Joxer sighed. "Well, at least you told them about the wedding." He was too busy licking a smear of tangy yellow off his thumb to notice Ares' eyes shifting. "Are you going to be bringing them up for the ceremony?"

Ares snorted. "You honestly think my mother and Aphrodite are going to let me go anywhere between now and the time we say 'I do'? Mom wouldn't admit it, but Father has made her wary of ANY man being able to commit. She wouldn't want to think I'd get cold feet, but the idea is going to be there, lurking. I'm not stepping foot off Olympus. With all the crap Zeus has put her through, I figure she deserves a little peace of mind. And besides, 'Dite is going to be trying to groom both of us to within an inch of our lives. Just put your foot down with her, Joxer--no pink."

"I suppose you're right." Joxer gave Ares one of those smiles, the sort that he still had a hard time believing were directed at HIM. "That's one thing you and Hercules have in common--you're good to your mothers."

Ares groaned and pulled a pillow over his face.

*****

"What the fuck do you MEAN, he's sleeping over at your place tonight?"

Aphrodite regarded Ares calmly. "How many different interpretations can you put on that sentence? I have a guest room--he's using it."

"Dite, this is his home. He has a bedroom here--OUR bedroom. He has a bed here--OUR bed. I want him IN OUR bed--that's why we're getting married."

"And because you're getting married, he has to spend the night at my place. Betrothed couples are not supposed to see each other for, like, a day before they're married."

"Who the fuck made up that ignoramus rule?"

"I think it was Hera. I think it was something like giving them 24 hours to clear their heads and be sure this was what they really wanted."

"Well, it's STUPID!"

"I didn't say it wasn't--I just said it was a rule."

"You can't tell me that all the mortals do this," Ares said stubbornly. Dite started to open her mouth, "And don't give me that 'we're gods, so we have to be held to a higher standard' garbage. As far as I'm concerned, he's already my husband, and he's pregnant, and I DON'T WANT to sleep away from him."

There was a genuine note of pain under the irritation in Ares' voice, and Aphrodite softened. "Hey," she said softly, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Ares, calm down. It's one night. He'll be less than a mile away, and he'll be with people who care about him, and will look after him." She smiled. "Bliss is so excited at the idea of Joxer sleeping over. He's already picking out scrolls for Joxer to read to him."

Ares smiled reluctantly. It was obvious that Bliss had hit the jackpot in the grandparent department with Joxer. "Joxer asked you to ask me, didn't he?"

Aphrodite nodded. "I told him first, and he said he could see where family tradition was important, but he just couldn't bring himself to ask you."

"Go home, Dite. I'll walk him over in a little while, okay?"

"Sure." She kissed him on the cheek. "If it's any consolation, when I had to stay away from Heph before our wedding, I destroyed an entire set of bone china. It helped. If it gets too bad, just look for something breakable." She flashed away.

Ares looked for Joxer first in the garden, then in the bathing chamber. Finally he noticed that the door to the small room at the end of the main hall was standing open, and he went there. The room itself was a little bare, sparsely furnished and decorated. War had never entertained much, and he hadn't seen the need.

Joxer was sitting on the bed. His back was to the door, and Ares paused, watching him for a moment. Joxer gestured at the wall before him, and it was suddenly covered in a mural of the sky--bright blue, with puffy white clouds. Ares had to choke back a laugh when he saw that one of the clouds resembled a winged horse, and the other looked a lot like a ship under sail. Joxer gestured again, and a peaceful looking valley appeared beneath the sky, green, dappled by small ponds and stands of trees. Joxer's hand wavered, as if indecisive, pointing at first one section of the wall, then another. Finally he snapped his fingers, and a tiny cottage appeared on the hillside. Then he cocked his head, and just studied the effect. Finally he slowly made a sweeping motion with his arm. The blue sky transformed, becoming awash in pinks and purples, the underside of the clouds gilded gold. A tiny sun could be seen just peeping over the mountain, lengthening the shadows of the hut a
nd trees below. "It's beautiful, Joxer."

Joxer didn't jump, as he might have a few months before. He just turned his head and smiled at Ares. "I figure we'll be keeping the baby with us in our room for at least a few months, but then I thought 'it's never to early to begin decorating a nursery'."

Ares came in and sat beside him, putting an arm around him. "Hera may not know it yet, but she's going to love you." Ares nodded at the wall. "Is this some place you know?"

"Sure," Joxer said agreeably. "Um, I've never actually BEEN there. Uh, and I'm not positive it exists on earth, but I'd like to think it does. This is the place I used to go to when things got really, really bad."

"I thought you said you'd never been there."

"I mean I went there," he tapped his head, "in here." He laid a hand on his chest, "And in here. This was my real home."

"Ah." Ares nodded. "To get away from everyone."

"Oh, no, that's not it at all. Just to get away from the hurt. I would never want to leave the world completely behind--there's too much good, too many good people in it. Look at the cottage, Ares. It's faint, but see, there? The path?" Ares squinted. Sure enough there was a path that began at the cottage's door and wound it's way down the hill, into the valley, and passed into a stand of trees. "You can't see it, but there's a village just beyond those trees. Even in my safe place, I had to have a way to get back to the world." He smiled. "There were still people there who needed me."

"You're talking about this in past tense, Joxer."

"Mm. I haven't gone there for a long time." He put his arms around Ares and looked into his face, eyes soft. "Y'see, I haven't needed it. I traveled all the time; I didn't belong anywhere, but there. That was my home. But now THIS is my home. I'll never lose that place, because I love it--it was there when I needed it, but I have a REAL home now, with someone who loves me. That's sort of why I can go spend the night at Aphrodite's. I know you're here, thinking about me, and I'll be coming back."

Ares looked into his loving, trusting face, and sighed heavily.

That evening, Hercules, Iolaus, Xena, and Gabrielle were sharing a pitcher of ale at an inn, discussing the new development in the Pantheon. Well, Xena, Gabrielle, and Iolaus were discussing it. Hercules was still so stunned that he hadn't said much of anything since the ceremony, except, "Joxer?"

"Well," said Gabrielle, "I am just totally flabbergasted. I mean, if they needed a God of Peace... And they did. There were so MANY choices open to them."

This was old ground, and Xena was getting tired of it. "Oh? Like who?"

"Um, well... How about Demeter? The solid, nurturing earth!"

"How the hell peaceful is an earthquake or mudslide?" demanded Iolaus.

"Okay. Um... Gaia! The serenity of Nature! Deep, still glades, quietly flowing streams..."

"Blizzards, tornados, hurricanes..." muttered Xena.

"Um... er... Morpheus, or maybe Hypnos?"

"Nightmares," chorused Iolaus and Xena.

Hercules's voice was a little snide, "Hey, how about Thanatos? Can't get much more peaceful than Death, right?"

Iolaus slapped him on the back. "Finally! I was beginning to worry that you'd never..."

There was a shower of red sparks, and Ares appeared before them. He said curtly, "I'll make this brief. The wedding is tomorrow, mid-morning. Someone will come for you. Gifts optional, but my intended would be thrilled by anything you lot decided to give. By the way--it's Joxer, and he's pregnant with my baby." He flashed out.

There was complete and utter silence from the quartet for a moment. Gabrielle toppled over again in a dead faint. Xena made sure she hadn't cracked her head on the nearby hearth, and dragged her farther away from it, so her hair wouldn't catch fire. She considered dumping a cup of ale on the bard's face to bring her around, but decided she needed a drink a lot more than Gabrielle needed another shock.

Iolaus took a sip of ale and said, "Tell me, Joxer's official vestments are white, but if he's knocked up, is he still entitled to wear white at his wedding?"

Xena snorted. "I'll pay you if you'll ask Ares that question."

"Not a chance." Iolaus looked over at Hercules. "Herk, want to go in halves on a present?"

Hercules stared at him. "Joxer?"

Iolaus sighed. "Crap. Here we go again."

*****

"What?"

"You heard me, Dad."

"Cupid, it's generally considered to be an honor to be asked to act as best man."

"I know that. I AM honored--I just think that there's someone who'd be more appropriate."

"But STRIFE?"

Cupid looked up from the arrowhead he was sharpening, frowning at his father. "Dad, don't YELP like that. I nicked my thumb." He sucked a drop of blood off his fingertip, then notices his father's wary expressing, and laughed. "No, don't worry. No sudden change in father-son activities on the way. This isn't spelled yet. Gimme a little credit, huh? Who trained me about weapon upkeep?"

Ares relaxed a little. "Why do you want me to have Strife as my best man instead of you?"

"It'd just be more appropriate, Dad. Bliss, baby, don't touch," he said sharply, when he saw his son reaching for a handful of darts that were laid out on the table.

Bliss tucked his hands behind his back. "Sowwy."

"Strife is visiting with Joxer and Mom." Cupid grinned wickedly. "Go ask Joxer to sing his song for you again."

Bliss clapped his hands, flapping his wings at the same time. "I CAN? YAY!" He darted out of the room.

At Ares' look, Cupid shrugged. "You know how little kids love repitition, and how it can get on an adult's nerves? Bliss is so obsessed with Joxer's song that it's started to drive Mom nuts. I figure this will help calm Joxer's jitters, and the mischief will give Strife a nice little energy boost. He said that endlessly repeated songs were gonna be a classic. The he started singing some crap about 'I love you, you love me, we're a happy family...' I threatened him with an obsession with Falafel to get him to stop."

Ares grunted. "Occasionally he can be subtle." Cupid frowned at that, and seemed about to comment, but Ares continued. "What do you mean it would be more appropriate?"

Cupid blew out a breath. He hadn't really been sure what he was about to say to his father, so he postponed it for the time being. "It just IS. Dad, Strife is your second in command, he's family, and he's a new god. It would be the right gesture to honor him with this position."

Ares gave a grudging nod. "I suppose you're right." He stood up and clapped his son on the shoulder. "I guess I'll go tell him."

Cupid arched an eyebrow. "Ask him, dontcha mean?" Ares looked blank, then shrugged, and left the room. Cupid sighed and went back to his work, muttering, "I gotta have a talk with that man."

As Ares came into the salon, he caught the tail end of the song, Bliss' gleeful treble blending with Joxer's deeper voice. "...he's Joxer, Joxer the Miiiiighty!" Then Bliss crowed, "One more time!"

"NO!" It was a near shriek from Aphrodite, then she laughed nervously. "Um, sweetie, you don't want to tire Joxer out, what with his wedding tomorrow and all?"

"Oh, I don't mind," said Joxer cheerfully. "Whatever makes Bliss happy, and..." Strife was giggling, and Joxer caught Aphrodite's 'look'. "Ya know, I AM a little pooped. Some other time, kiddo."

Aphrodite got up. "C'mon, Blissy, and I'll put you to bed."

"Kay." Bliss started passing out hugs and smacking, wet, baby kisses. "Nighty-nite, Gran'pa Res. Nighty-nite, Gran'pa Joxie." Joxer returned the hug, almost glowing with pleasure. "Nighy-nite, cuz Stwife." Strife gave the little boy a big hug, then stood up, flipping him upside down in his arms. He carried him like that over to Aphrodite, and offered the giggling boy. She put her hands on her hips, arching an eyebrow, and Strife chuckled, setting Bliss on his feet. Before he went with Dite, Bliss gave Strife's legs another fast hug, and Ares was surprised to see a fleeting expression of tenderness on his nephew's face. Then Strife gave Bliss a little push, saying, "Ew! Kid spit on my leathahs!" This earned him another giggle from Bliss as the child followed Dite out of the room.

Strife looked at Ares, sitting next to Joxer on a small sofa, and said, "Well, I s'pose you two wanna swap some spit, since ya ain't gonna be able ta for at least another ten, twelve hours. I'll just go, an'..."

"Hold on a minute, Strife." Ares paused. "I want you to be my best man tomorrow."

Strife's jaw dropped. "M-me?"

"Clean your ears. You."

"B-but I thought that Cupe..."

"So did I, but he seems to think that you deserve it."

"Oh." There was a hint of disappointment in Strife's voice as he realized that he wasn't first choice, but then his tone lifted a little. "Cupe said that, huh?"

"Yes, and I suppose he has a point."

"Sure, Unc. I'd be honored."

"Of course you will. Ow!" Ares stared a Joxer, who, arm behind Ares' back, had just pinched the War God's ass--and not in a sexy manner. Ares stared at Joxer in puzzlement, noting the small frown on his beloved's face. "I mean... thank you, Strife."

Strife, for once in his life too befuddled to miss the by-play, nodded. "Sure, Unc. Ya welcome. I... uh..." He grinned maniacally. "I s'pose whippin up a bachelah party is out of the question?" Joxer put his head down on Ares' shoulder, laughing. "Ah, c'mon. A few kegs of Dionysius' best, Etruscan dancahs, a bard ta tell dirty fables, some easily breakable furniture... It'd be fun!"

"You can plan Cupid's next bachelor party," said Ares shortly.

The amusement suddenly died out of Strife's expression. "Yah, there's a thought. I gotta go do best man stuff. See ya bright an' early tomarrah, Unc." The fountain of sparks that marked his passage sprayed up to the ceiling.

Ares blinked. "What crawled up his ass?"

Joxer sighed. "I love you, but you're majorly clueless some times." He refused to elaborate, just telling Ares that someone was going to have to have a talk with him soon.



Seeking Balance, 20/?
By Scribe

Part Twenty
Joining

Ares opened his eyes. His first thought was, *I'll be damned--I actually slept.* His second was, *I'm pretty sure I could sneak over and visit Joxer without anyone being the wiser.*

*Flash*

Strife appeared, lying on his side next to Ares, head propped in his hand. "No, ya couldn't."

"Strife, what the fuck...?"

"Dite knows how yer mind works, Unc, an' she laid responsibility fah keepin ya away from Joxer square on my narrow shouldahs."

"Shit." Ares sat up and rubbed his hair angrily, then got up and started pacing.

Strife stayed comfortable, watching his progress. After a moment he said, "It's just 'bout eight hours since ya last saw him. Do ya really miss him that much?" Strife had been expecting to be ignored, or perhaps have to field a few cutting remarks concerning the God of War being involved enough to actually be affected by someone's absence--except in how it related to the efficiency of his work. But Ares just gave him a dark look, then grunted in an assenting tone. "Is it..." His voice trailed off.

"What?"

"Ya really wanna marry him, dontcha?"

"Of course I do, nitwit. I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't."

"It's just kinda hard ta understand." Ares gave him a 'go on' look. "Well, if needin someone that much is gonna make ya this, um, uncomfortable... I mean, there's gonna be times ya can't be tagetha. Now, wipe that thundacloud outta yer eyes, Unc--ya know it's true. There are times ya don't get back up here fah days on end, an' it's a good thing ya can't starve ta death, cause ya don't even really have time ta eat. An' God of Peace looks like it's gonna be a busy gig, if only fah tha reason that he's sorta yer opposite numbah, so there's gonna be times when HE won't be around..."

"Thank you so much for reminding me of that."

"Yer welcome. Ya didn't hafta marry him. Hera mighta squawked some, but I think Zeus woulda supported ya, hopin ta use that position in future negotiations. An' Joxer--Joxer would do whatevah ya wanted--anyone can see that. So--why?"

Ares stared at him. He hadn't often been asked to explain himself in his life, and when he had, it had usually been a simple matter of pointing out strategies, advantages, and disadvantages. People just didn't ask him about his emotions--his FEELINGS. At last he said, "Because the times together are worth the times apart."

Strife frowned, then said slowly, "Ya know, strange as it seems, I think I can undahstand that."

"What am I supposed to do till the ceremony?"

"Well, first off, we gotta get ya dressed an' slicked up--get that outta tha way."

Ares waved his hand, and he was dressed. "Next?"

Strife was shaking his head. "Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Ya don't get off that easy."

"What do you mean?"

Strife pointed. "Unc, yer in yer standard issue formal attire. As much as ya think of Joxer, isn't he worth somethin a little bettah?"

"What do you suggest."

"Lemme summon my consultants." He snapped his fingers. Jett and Jayce appeared in the room.

Jayce was in a short, silky scarlet robe, and his face was slathered with something that was pale green and smelled of cucumbers. Jett was, perhaps, more interesting, since he wasn't wearing anything but a yawn. Jett finished the yawn, rubbing a hand through his hair and said, "You mind? I feel a draft."

Strife giggled. "Nice view." Jett gave him a wolfish grin in return.

Jayce pulled his robe tighter. "Hyou might warn a person, your Naughtiness. Eef hyou are providing valet service, Hi hwould like to request something in scarlet and gold, hand please use cold water to wash off my masque--it tightens the pores."

In a flash both of the brothers were scrubbed, dressed, and groomed. Jett regarded his all black, mostly leather ensemble, then nodded. "Cool. Is it time already? Do I have time for coffee? I get irritable if I don't have my coffee, and that really isn't a good idea."
A steaming mug appeared in his hands. "Thanks." He sipped.

"Don't mention it," said Strife. "Tha bloodshed should be kept fah tha reception. If we have it at tha ceremony, it'll take attention away from tha happy couple. All right, Jayce," Strife pointed at Ares, "Magic time."

Jayce squealed and clapped his hands, while Ares' eye widened. "Oh, no fucking WAY!"

"Him or 'Dite, Unc. At least Jayce knows tha difference between dramatic an' flamboyant. Ya go with 'Dite, I can almost promise ya crushed velvet. Jayce, baby, concentrate on what ya want, an' I'll make it so."

"Oh!" Jayce pressed a hand to his chest. "Thees will almos' be like having unlimited power! Let's see..." He closed his eyes and looked intent.

Strife squinted, snapped his fingers, then burst out laughing. Ares looked down at himself, then closed his eyes in near pain. "I'll snatch Joxer's ass, and we'll elope first."

Strife had to lean on Jett for support. Jett didn't laugh, but then, you have to really be able to control yourself when you're an assassin. He commented, "You look like Apollo in that gold lame get-up."

Jayce waved his hands. "Lighten up, your Snarliness. That was yust a test run. Ready, Strife?"

Strife twiddled his fingers. "I was born ready." Jayce concentrated, Strife snapped his fingers. Jett still didn't laugh, but it was a good thing he was tough, because he DID snort coffee. "I'll have ya know," said Strife, "that striped pants are actually gonna be tha thing at classy weddins in tha future."

"I can believe that, but pink and red?"

Jayce smacked his shoulder. "That's salmon and scarlet, you heathen. But yudging from the expression on Ares' face, perhaps you're right. Next option."

Cupid was walking over to his mother's temple, leading Bliss. The little boy was grumbling loudly about the periwinkle colored shift he'd been given to wear. "Son, Grandma picked it out for you, so you know darn good and well you're stuck with it."

A burst of rather colorful language, oddly mixed with opinions about various fashion touches, was heard floating from Ares' temple. It was accompanied by a mad giggle that couldn't belong to anyone but Strife. *Great,* thought Cupid. *Trust him to be driving Dad crazy on his wedding day.* Bliss looked up, then used several of the more choice expressions. Cupid picked him up, ordering, "Hands over ears!" Bliss obeyed, and Cupid hurried on. But as he went, he heard deeper, hearty laughter join Strife's. He felt a wash of surprise, because he recognized that laughter. He didn't hear it often, but his father had a wonderful laugh. Had Strife somehow coaxed that laughter from Ares, when Cupid knew that his father had to be tense, tightly strung? He went on his way, thinking that there was more to Strife than most people realized.

In Ares' temple, Jayce was saying, "Hokay, so royal purple is out, because Zeus might throw a hissy." He snorted. "And they say women are bad if two show up at a party dressed alike. Hwell, as much as they say that black at a wedding is a no-no--"

"That's gonna go, too," Strife assured him. "Well, not fah brides--unless they're rock stars?"

Jayce blinked. "Famous statues will get married?"

"It's a future thang--ya wouldn't understand."

"As I was saying, I theenk that's the route we'll have to go, so..." He closed his eyes. Strife snapped. Jayce looked. "Oh, HYES!"

Ares looked down at himself. He was in black, but it was silk so fine that it almost shimmered, and there were onyx-and-pearl studs, along with a matching brooch. He blinked. "I like it." He sounded surprised.

"Hove course you do," he said complacently. "The pearls will keep you from looking like Hades, not that he isn't one fine hunk of Underworld ruler."

"Not bad," agreed Jett. "I'll have to remember that if I need something to blend in at court functions for the upscale jobs."

"Great, can I go get Joxer now?" said Ares.

"Unc, don't make me call tha reinforcements ta sit on ya."

Ares cocked an eyebrow. "Strife, I'm almost to the point where a combination of Cerberus and the Titans wouldn't slow me down."

Strife grinned. "Yer goin in tha wrong direction. Give me grief, an' you'll find yerself facin down Demeter, Hestia, Persephone, an' Hera, an' ya KNOW how pissed a woman can get if she thinks a weddin is in danger of bein disrupted."

Ares scowled. "You don't fight fair, Strife." His lips quirked in an almost smile. "You've learned well."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Joxie, honey, I've never seen a rut worn in marble before, but I think you may be on the way."

"I'm sorry, Dite." Joxer sat down on a love seat--for about three seconds. Then he was up and pacing again. He paused in front of the full-length mirror, examining himself. "Do I look...?"

"Honey," said Aphrodite, "you're almost six months pregnant. It's going to show a little unless you wear a tent."

He sighed. "Well, I'm not too worried about that, since everyone already knows I'm expecting. But do I look FAT?"

She hugged him. "No, dear. You're not GOING to look fat, unless things change radically. You're going to look like you've stuffed a pillow under your tunic, and that's going to be it. From behind, I doubt you'll look pregnant at all."

"I guess that's good, considering my sexual preference."

Joxer realized what he'd just said. His eyes bugged, and red swept up his cheeks, but Dite just laughed. "I love you, Joxer! You and Ares are already one of my favorite couples, and I think it's just going to get better." She hugged him again, whispering, "You make him happy, Joxer. Thank you for that. I DO love him, but Hephastus has my heart--I can't help that. I've so wished that Ares would find someone who'd see what I see in him." Eyes bright, she touched his cheek. "And maybe you two will serve as a good example to certain other people."

"You mean Cupid and Strife?"

She stepped back quickly, looking almost stunned, then giggled. "Oh, why am I acting surprised. You've been spending a lot of time with Strife, haven't you?" He nodded. "I'm having to fight myself not to step into that."

"Resist, please. It's there already." He frowned. "It's just that they both seem to be trying so hard to ignore it."

"It isn't easy for either one of them. Strife..." she sighed. "He hasn't had much by way of acceptance in his life, and I'm afraid I haven't done as much as I could. And after what Cupid went through with Psyche..." her voice trailed off, and now the glint in her eyes wasn't from any gentle emotion. "By the way, she's going to have one of the most spectacularly disastrous love lives in history. His heart is so raw. It's going to take a real leap of faith for him to give his heart to someone else, but oh, Joxer--he needs to. It's his nature to love and be love, and he's just marking time now. He'll never be..." she wrung her hands, searching for words. "He just won't be what he's meant to be without the right person, and I think that Strife is the one. I just have the feeling." She giggled. "It's my job--as a goddess, and as a mom."

Cupid led Bliss into the room. "Mom, don't be alarmed if Bliss's vocabulary is a little spicier the next few days. I don't know what they were up to at Dad's temple, but he was swearing fit to singe Cerberus." Cupid smiled at Joxer. "Hey, Jox--don't look alarmed. That was just for a minute. Then he was laughing like he was going to bust." Cupid shook his head. "I could hear Strife having one of his patented giggle fits, too. I'm glad I got Dad to make him best man. I'm sure I couldn't have gotten him into such a good mood." Joxer and Aphrodite were smiling at each other. "What?" asked Cupid.

"You'll know soon enough," said Dite serenely. "Bliss, baby, come give Grandma a hug!" Bliss trotted over and hugged her. "Hi, G'anma. I hates my clos'."

"Oh, nice greeting."

Cupid shrugged. "You can't blame him, Mom. It's only a half step from lavender, and Jayce aside, most men don't really go for pastels."

Joxer said, "Couldn't you deepen the color a little bit to a nice purple?"

"Zeus might not like that. It's pretty much supposed to be reserved for royalty--namely him."

"Surely he wouldn't object to one of his littlest great-grandchildren wearing it?"

Dite giggled. "Well, we'll find out. This is going to be a happy occasion, and if Joy himself isn't happy..."

She waved her hand, and the shift became a deep, rich purple. Bliss examined it, then squealed happily. "Grapes!" He trotted over and hugged Joxer fiercely. "I wuv you, Joxie. Youse gonna be my favorite nuncle."

"Not uncle, son," corrected Cupid. "Um... grandfather, I think."

"He just be my Joxie," said Bliss firmly. "Wanna talk to the baby."

Joxer sat down, and the little boy climbed up on the sofa with him, and laid his head in the man's lap, pressing his ear to the swell of belly. Joxer stroked his curls, while Cupid and Aphrodite came closer, smiling indulgently. Bliss was whispering. "Hey, baby. You daddies is gettin mawwied t'day. We gonna have a BIG party! What?" Bliss looked up at Joxer. "The baby says you got to eat lots at the party 'cause he's hungry."

"Is he?" Joxer looked at Cupid and Dite. "IS he?"

They understood that he was asking if Bliss actually COULD communicate with the baby. Cupid shrugged. "Your guess is as good as ours. This is something new."

Bliss looked up at Joxer. "The baby wants honey cakes an' ice cream. They gonna have ice cream, right? If they don't, they gotta get them for the baby."

Cupid covered laughter with a cough, and Aphrodite said, "I think that's a pretty fair indication. I'm sure we can have ice cream for the baby, hon. And I'm also pretty sure that the baby will want you to eat some, to keep him company."

Bliss nodded solemnly. "That's a good idea. Daddy, you think Stwife will eat wif me an' the baby?"

"Junk food?" said Cupid, amused. "He'll be there. You stay here with Grandma, son. I have to go pick up a few guests."

He flashed out, and Joxer said, "I hope nobody faints this time."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"I have to tell you, Herk, you've been no help at all," grumbled Iolaus. "I mean, choosing a gift should involve more than just forking over a few dinars. You could have at least come along to offer opinions. I mean--he's your brother--you know him better than I do."

"But Iolaus--Joxer?"

Iolaus sighed. "Oh, shut up."

"What did you settle on?" asked Xena.

"Well, what can you get for someone who can make everything for themselves? I talked to the priests at the temple, and they said that Joxer is really into gardening now..."

Xena looked thoughtful. "You know, I remember once we'd camped near a thick patch of wildflowers. I noticed him pulling grass and weeds, and he said that he was thinning it out, so they'd have enough space and light, otherwise they'd choke themselves out. I thought he was... just being Joxer." She scratched her chin. "I'm beginning to think I just dismissed a lot of things that might have been pretty significant."

"Anyway," Iolaus continued. "There's a merchant who deals in exotic plants, and I managed to get some rare seeds and bulbs from Chin--only the Emperor is supposed to have them."

"Those must be expensive," said Gabrielle. "How did you afford to pay for them? I know you haven't been exactly flush lately."

Iolaus grinned. "There are other ways of paying for things."

Hercules seemed more alert. "Iolaus, you didn't... with a merchant?"

Iolaus smiled slyly. "He has a wife. Don't sulk. I put your name on it, too. Xena, how about you?"

"Well, Joxer likes to cook, and I'm pretty sure he won't give it up entirely for creating food, and I figure that since their both gods, Joxer won't be able to kill him with his cooking. I got him a nice roasting rack--great for fish."

"How about Ares?" asked Hercules.

She shrugged. "I think Dad will eat whatever Joxer cooks, even if it comes close to choking him. But I'm throwing in deluxe hand-tied flies, so he can catch the fish himself. I think he'll like the idea of providing food for Joxer."

"Makes sense," said Iolaus. He paused. "Gabby?"

She examined her nails, and sighed. "I'll give them the gift of my talent. I'll write their story."

"Oh, how original!" said Iolaus brightly. "And I'm sure it's going to be FAR superior to the other thousand or so that will be written by every other bard and historian in Greece."

There was a flash, and Cupid appeared. "Hi, everybody." He looked at them carefully. "Um, you guys DID know that the wedding is today, right?"

"Sure," said Hercules.

"I was just thinking that maybe... Why don't I just help you all freshen up before we go?" Before anyone could say anything, there was another flash, and all four of the heroes were dressed in new, clean, fashionable, and expensive clothes.

Hercules, as usual, was irritated. "We don't need..."

"Shut up, Herk." Iolaus was happily examining his new, cream-colored outfit. "I look good in this shade."

"Gabrielle, surely you won't put up with this?"

Gabrielle was admiring her new sky blue silk gown. "I'm a woman, Hercules. It takes a lot to get me outraged enough to refuse a good ensemble."

Xena fingered her dark blue skirt, then shrugged. "I can put up with it for a few hours."

"Quit griping, Herk," Iolaus advised. "Save them. Next time you visit your brother's court you won't stick out like a sore thumb."

"Good," said Cupid briskly. "We'll just go straight to the audience chamber. Joxer has requested that you four have places in the front, along with his brothers."

"I know his mother is dead, but what about his father?" asked Gabrielle.

"Ares will kill him if he ever sees him," said Cupid bluntly. "That is, if Strife doesn't do it first."

"But his own blood," protested Gabrielle.

*FLASH*

Strife appeared. "There's blood, then there's BLOOD, toots," said Strife. "Just the fact that the asshole managed ta squirt his seed somewhere it took root doesn't make 'im a dad. Ask me--I know a little bit 'bout how much a person owes fah neglected paternal duties." He glanced at the others. "Ya ready? They're gatherin, an' it won't be long before they get tha ball rollin. If they hafta wait much longah, either Joxie or Ares are gonna explode."

"Ready," said Cupid. "You take two, and I'll take two."

"Fine." Strife quickly wrapped his arms around Xena and Iolaus. He grinned. "See ya topside, cuz."

*FLASH* Strife and his two companions were gone.

Cupid looked at Hercules and Gabrielle glumly. "Gee, thanks, Strife."

"Hey!" said Gabrielle indignantly.

"The only other time I took you anywhere, I lost a handful of feathers," he said bluntly. "Don't do that again." He wrapped an arm around Gabrielle, then lifted his other arm for Hercules. Hercules glowered, and Cupid sighed. "Uncle Hercules, COME ON! You don't want to get Granddad pissed, do you?" Hercules reluctantly allowed himself to be snugged up against Cupid's side. "Thank you. Zeus has been in such a good mood since he learned about the baby, I'd hate to irritate him." He smiled slyly. "You know, every time there's a new baby, Zeus gets a new favorite--for awhile. He scarcely has time for anything else--or anyone." He almost chuckled at the disconcerted look on Hercules' face.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The main gathering chamber on Olympus was filled with murmuring gods and goddesses--and a few mortals. Joxer, already popular, had cemented the adoration of his priests and priestesses by inviting them to the ceremony. Since Joxer had done it, Ares had done the same for his own, and it certainly didn't hurt his image in their eyes.

Cupid appeared near the front of the crowd and released his two passengers. They went to stand with Jett, Jayce, Xena, and Iolaus. Gabrielle started talking to Jayce about the possibility of him starring in a play she was thinking of writing (as the brother of a god, his participation would guaranty a rousing success). Jayce said frostily, "Hi know hit ees nearly eempossible to resist, Gabby--but TRY. Thees ees my brother's wedding day--hardly the time to discuss this."

"But Jayce," she wheedled, "it'll be... uh... Joxer's story! Who better to play him?" Jayce looked thoughtful. "I'll write it, produce it, and direct it--design the scenery and the costumes..."

"EXCUSE me?"

"You can design the costumes, but other than that, all you'd have to do is emote as only you can."

Jett poked Jayce. "Why don't I just cut your balls off now and tuck them in her pocket? It'll be the same results, just quicker and less painful."

"Will you people PLEASE show a little dignity?" hissed Iolaus. "I swear, I can't take you anywhere."

There were two flashes--one gold and one silver, and Zeus and Hera appeared at the front of the room. The crowd quieted immediately. Zeus intoned. "Welcome, divinities and honored mortals. We have gathered together today for a rare and joyous occasion." Hera cleared her throat. "Which I will now turn over to my beloved wife--Hera, among other things, Goddess of Marriage."

He stepped back, and Hera stepped forward. She surveyed the crowd. "As my husband said, this is a joyous occasion, but one which is solemn as well. We have gathered to witness the joining of two souls in the most intimate and sacred of bonds. There are many types of joining. There is the casual joining of companionship, a simple sharing of mild caring. There is the intense bonding of passion, that by nature is ephemeral. There is the deeper, warmer joining of true friendship, which can be so strong that it deepens into love. There is the abiding love that grows so strong that the two involved can scarcely imagine living without each other. And then there is the rare, wonderful bonding that can only be described as the meeting and melding of two souls." She smiled gently, eyes moving over the crowd. "It isn't a myth, children, but it is rare--very rare. We are privileged to witness the formalization of one such bond today. I call Ares, God of War, and his second--S
trife, God of Mischief."

A door in the wall to the right opened, and Ares and Strife came forth. They walked to stand before Hera, bowing their heads in respect. "Strife, has Ares come to this ceremony of his own free will, without reservations?"

There was the sound of indrawn breath as almost everyone in the crowd waited for Strife to do something crazy. The Mischief God said quietly, "My Lord Ares stands before you willingly, with no reservations, and no shadow on this grave decision. I do so attest." He stepped aside.

Hera turned her eyes to Ares. "Ares--I know what is in your heart. You have confessed it freely, but I ask you now to speak it once again, so that it may be known by all."

Ares straightened his shoulders, and spoke firmly. "I have loved in my life. That love produced children, who I would die for. But though that love was sweet, I did not find the other part of myself. I have now." He smiled slightly. "And I have found it in a most unusual person. It has taken me by surprise. Though my godhood would make me a master tactician, I never saw this coming, but I wouldn't have evaded it if I could. He is my heart, my soul, my life, and my love."

"Call him, my son."

Ares faced the crowd, and raised his voice. "I call Eirini, God of Peace." His smile softened. "Joxer, the Mighty. Come take your rightful place at my side, my love."

He waved his hand, and the crowd parted. The large double doors at the back of the room opened. There was a chorus of coos as Bliss came down the aisle. He had a silver basket in his arms, and as he walked he scattered handfuls of white rose petals before him. Next came Aphrodite (in pink, of course)--and Joxer. He was wearing an ensemble that resembled his formal dress, but in pure white, and he was crowned with a wreath of laurel leaves and baby's breath. Their arms were linked, and they walked down the aisle at a slow, stately pace.

Joxer's four friends watched as they approached, and though the details of their thoughts differed, they all had one thing in common. All of them thought that they had expected for Joxer to be so nervous he'd be near collapse. Instead, Joxer was smiling slightly, his eyes fixed on Ares, and his expression showing nothing but joy, and serenity. At the front, Dite kissed Joxer on the cheek, then did the same for Ares, and went to stand with Cupid, Strife, and Bliss.

Hera looked at Joxer. "Joxer, God of Peace. Why are you here?"

Joxer's voice was calm and clear. "I come to claim the promise made to me by Ares, God of War. He has already given me more joy and love than I ever hoped to have, and I ask no more than that. But he has done me the honor of offering to take me as his mate, before all the world. He has promised to cherish and protect, and provide for both myself, and the child we have created together. I have humbly accepted, and will do all in my power to ensure that he never regrets his decision."

"Have you proof of this promise?"

Joxer silently opened his shirt, exposing Ares' mark. "I bear his sign, but..." he laid a hand over his heart. "The deeper mark is here--invisible to the eye, but more real than the other. I have worn this mark upon my heart for much longer than I have bourn the other mark on my flesh."

Hera nodded. "It is more than sufficient." She held out her hand, and two rings appeared in her palm. "Ares..."

"My lady, may I speak?"

Hera looked at Ares in surprise. It wasn't proper to interrupt her while she was performing a ceremony, but then--this was an unusual circumstance. She inclined her head. "If you feel it is important."

"I do." Ares faced Joxer. "Joxer, before we were pledged, I gave you my sign. I marked you as one of my own. But your aren't ONE of my own, Joxer. You are not one of many. I feel the need to make this clear." Ares opened his shirt, baring his chest. He looked into Joxer's eyes. "Please, if you want me, give me your mark."

A gasp went up through the crowd. The assembly knew that a god only did this with mortals. Joxer had received his mark when he was mortal, as a sign of protection, and it was more or less seen as a mark of possession. It was unheard of for a god to accept another god's mark, and for ARES to actually seek it... There could be no doubt of his sincerity now.

Joxer was smiling at him tenderly, his eyes moist. "With all my heart." He reached out and laid his hand on Ares' chest. He closed his eyes, and flexed his new power. If he had been experienced at this, it might not have been a visible effort. As it was, a pale glow surrounded him, shining more brightly around his hand. The only sign Ares made of discomfort was a slight tightening of his jaw. But when Joxer dropped his hand, there was a pale symbol visible against Ares' tanned skin. It was very simple, but elegant--two shallow arcs, joined--a stylized bird.

Ares took Joxer's hand and kissed his palm. "Thank you."

They both turned again to Hera. A golden cord appeared in one hand and a silver dagger in the other. "Show me your left hands, children." They each held out their hand. She made a shallow cut in each man's palm. Strife stepped forward, and she handed the dagger to him. "You will save this dagger, as a reminder that you must stay together, supporting each other through pain as well as joy. Clasp hands." They clasped their left hands, entwining their fingers. Their blood mingled, dripping down their forearms. Hera took the golden cord and bound them tightly together, lashing them together down to the elbow. "My children, you have already formed a bond of blood, mingling the deepest parts of yourself in the child you have created together." She smiled. "For once, this part of the ceremony is more symbolic than actual, but traditions must be observed. Ares, Joxer--observe each other, and once again commit yourselves in your hearts." She stepped back, raising her ha
nds. "All here, bear witness to this joining. Be still, as these two join for all eternity."

The room was silent. All eyes were on the pair at the front, but Ares and Joxer were aware only of each other. A full minute passed. Hera again stepped forward and quickly unbound the wrist, handing the cord to Strife. "This cord symbolizes all that binds you together--keep it in memory of this. Hold out your hands." They did. She passed her hand over theirs. The flow of blood stopped as the wounds sealed. She materialized a basin of water, and gently sponged the mingled blood from their skin. "All things that kept you apart are washed away." The basin of pinkish water disappeared. "Face you peers." They turned to face the others, still holding hands. "Gods and goddesses, mortals and demi-gods, and all creatures under the heavens--I present to you Ares, God of War, and Eirini, God of Peace--honorable spouses for now, and all eternity. May the Fates deal kindly with this union. It is done."

There was an immediate uproar of cheers. Ares leaned over and kissed Joxer. Joxer gently stroked Ares' cheek, tweaking his beard, then buried his face against his new husband's neck as the good wishes rose even louder. Bliss was dancing and hopping in gleeful excitement. After one particularly vigorous hop, he failed to return to the ground. Strife caught his food before he could get out of reach, hauling the little boy down into his arms.

Xena was busy clapping and whistling, but she heard something incongruous. Someone was crying. She looked around, and Jayce was boo-hooing lustily into a gauzy handkerchief. "Jayce," said Xena. "What gives? I thought you were happy for Joxer."

He swatted her with the soggy handkerchief. "Hi am, you seely thing. But our mama couldn't attend..." he sobbed, "and SOMEBODY has to cry at a wedding."

Go to Part 21 - ?



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