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One Step Closer To Heaven

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Prologue

"You don't have to tell them right now, you know?" Ares wrapped his arms around the young god lying on the bed.

"I know Ares. But, they're my friends. And it's been over two moons now since I last saw them. And they deserve to know what happened. They were there for me and you. And I've gotten enough training for my powers from you. I'll be alright."

"Okay Jox. But why in Corinth? I mean you could just go directly to where Xena is. You can do that now too."

Joxer turned in the war god's embrace to look in his eyes. Brushing aside the hair that always feel on his face, he leaned over and gently kissed his lover. Ares wanted so much more, but after last night, he was too tired.

"I want to see if I run into Mom"

"You sure you don't want me to go with you?"

"No. I don't want to give Mom a heart-attack. She doesn't know anything about you and me, and for the time being I would like it to stay that way. And Ares, we are talking about Corinth here. Where almost the entire population knows what you look like, since birth. No, I can take care of myself there. Any way, with these clothes I look like Jett, and no one will bother me. . . him. . . whatever. Xena and Gabby are headed there so I know I'll meet up with them eventually."

"Oh. . . okay. But you get in trouble. . ."

"And I get out of there on the double."

"Very funny," the dark god said sarcastically.

"I'll be back before you know it. It will give you a chance to deal with that war going on in Thebes."

"I have Strife working on that one. He needs the practice."

"Yeah, but you've got the special touch. I love you. Bye," the young god said as he claimed Ares' full lips for another kiss before disappearing.

***************************************
Part :1 Sixteen. . . Hundred Candles

The god of mischief was lying on his stomach on the god of love's bed. Cupid was straddling his waist, giving Strife a much deserved massage. He had just come back from Thebes, doing Ares' dirty work. A few well placed rumors, doubts, suspicion, and a little push, and the war had broken out.

Cupid had him almost purring under the attention when a flash of green light distracted him. Turning his head to look, he saw Joxer materialize from the light. Without interrupting the massage he motioned to Joxer to sit in a couch by the bed.

Strife let out a soft moan when his lover found and worked out a knot of muscle. Slowly turning his head to look at the new god, he asked, "So, Unc don't know ya here? I don't want him popping up while we're doing this."

"No." The young god sounded apprehensive. "He thinks I'm visiting my mom." Shifting in the couch, he got up when he didn't find a comfortable position. Pacing behind it, Joxer continued, "What if Ares finds out? I don't like to lie to him."

"He won't find out, Jox." Cupid got up from Strife and with a slap to his backside, said, "There, all done."

Strife sat up and stretched, dressed in only a pair of soft black leather pants. "Thanks Cupe. Look Jox, I don't have much time. I gotta keep tabs on Thebes. Ya said ya wanted to do this."

"I do!" Joxer said, sitting again on the couch.

"Well, then. Where and when?" Cupid asked.

"I thought maybe one of your temples. Ares never goes there."

"I have one on the road to Cyro's. It's a bummer, but it's almost always empty."

"Okay, flyboy, so can ya get it decent for the day after tomorrow?"

"Don't call me that. And yeah."

"Okay guys, day after tomorrow, Cupid's temple. We're going to do this?"

"Yeah, for the one hundred time."

Joxer got up and looked nervously around. Finally deciding to leave he said goodbye to the gods on siting on the bed.

"Don't worry Jox, we're going to have a blast," the love god reassured him.

"Bye guys."

"Later."

"See ya."

Disappearing in another green flash of light, Joxer pondered what to get the war god for his birthday.

***************************************
Part 2: Party Plans

Once having left the God of Love's Temple Joxer God of Nothing-in-Particular-Yet headed for the King of the God's study. Not his first choice of destination true, but the next step in his plan to bring a little joy to Ares' life was all set to burst into fruition. So there he was. Hand poised over the door trying to persuade himself it was safe to knock. Resignedly he let his hand fall and raised it and let it fall again a few more times.

"Joxer, do come in, dear boy!" Zeus more or less knew what the newest God wanted of him. In fact he had discussed it with Hera earlier that morning. That was the other surprise.

As Joxer entered the room he saw not just Zeus but Hera too, both trying hard not to grin at him. The would be warrior began to fear for either his life or his sanity, or perhaps both.

"Ehm, as you probably know better than me," Joxer said as he settled down in the empty chair besides him, "it's Ares' birthday the day after tomorrow and I want to hold a party for him. A surprise party. A surprise fancy dress party!" Now that did wipe the smile from the King and Queen of the Gods faces.

"His birthday?" Hera looked at Zeus and they were obviously thinking fast and hard at each other. Joxer could almost follow the chase of emotions as they raced over their faces. Had they lost so much track of their son's life?

"Yes, his birthday. I know he doesn't normally keep it, in fact, no one does, but, I thought that a party might do him some good. He's been under quite a lot of stress of late..." Joxer trailed to a halt.

"He's been under stress?! What about you? That was no picnic!" Zeus looked into this ex-mortals face and his heart and saw only his love for his son. Ares had chosen well when he had fallen in love with this one.

"Yes, well, that's in the past. It is the day after tomorrow that concerns me now. Will you come to the party? It's going to be in one of Cupid's lesser frequented Temples. And as I said fancy dress." The dark warrior in training stopped talking again and did what he did best, he watched the other two reach their decision.

"What's the theme or isn't there one?" It was Hera that spoke. She was already picking out several costumes even as Zeus silently bid her slow down and think about it.

"I first though of famous battles but discarded that idea as the whole purpose of the party is a break from the norm. Then I thought famous lovers, but as he was the most famous lover I could think of that one went the way of the war one. I thought children's games might be fun, but I finally picked ancient legends as the theme." Again he halted his discourse and waited and watched.

"Legends?" Hera grinned she was evidently warming to the idea, and running through a long list of suitable legends in her mind. "That could work. That would be fun! So other than the party what are you getting Ares for his birthday?" The sudden change in conventional direction almost threw Joxer.

"A very unfussy new dagger. One designed for practical use rather than show."

"Sounds nice. He's always had a soft spot for functional weaponry." Hera nudged Zeus firmly in the ribs.

"Eh? What? Yes, yes, we'll be there, let us know exactly where and when and we will make sure we will be there. Who else is coming?" Zeus suddenly recalled that Joxer was friendly with Hercules and Ares, Hercules and Hera in the same party was a recipe for disaster if ever he had heard one.

"The other Gods and Goddess' some mortals. You know, folk!" Joxer was frightened by the sudden look of panic on Zeus' face, he thought a moment and interpreted it correctly. "Ares' closest and dearest. It wouldn't be much fun for him to have people he didn't really care for there. Would it?"

Zeus was visibly relieved, as was Hera, who knew exactly who her husband had been thinking of.

"Well with your blessing I'll begin to invite the others then? Day after tomorrow and Cupid will let you know where and when?" Joxer stood, hoping this meeting with his 'in-laws' was over.

"Yes, Joxer, day after tomorrow then. And good luck with the surprise." Zeus bade him good day and he and Hera set too to argue extensively over what gift to give their dark and deadly son for his birthday.

Joxer all but ran from the room, and kept on running all the way to Aphrodite's temple.

He knocked on the door and was welcomed by the Goddess herself.

"Joxy!" She squealed, Joxer was convinced her true voice would be an octave lower, if she ever remembered where she'd left it. "To what do I owe the pleasure? Can't be needing my special help already can you? Is dark and dangerous treating you right? Come on, you can tell me! Just think of me as your fairy Goddess mother!" She hauled him into the inner sanctum of her temple and all but dropped him on a pile of silk cushions.

"Well, it's like this. The day after tomorrow is Ares' birthday and I'm putting together a surprise party for him..." He was interrupted.

"A surprise party, I love surprise parties, unfortunately Ares doesn't like surprises..." She was interrupted in turn.

"A surprise costume party..." Then her words hit him. "What do you mean he doesn't like surprises?"

"Costume, like fancy dress costume? I LOVE fancy dress costume parties. Ohh where, when, what's the theme?"

"What do you mean he doesn't like surprises." He tried repeating himself slowly, it seemed to work this time.

"Surprises make him nervous. Well, I always found he was nervous when I tried to surprise him!" She pouted, she was now looking forward to the surprise party and didn't want Joxer to chicken out on her.

"Oh, your surprises!" The unspoken portion of that statement wasn't entirely lost on Aphrodite. She wasn't THAT stupid. 'Your surprises are worse than my surprises.' If she was not mistaken. But in order to salvage the surprise she let it pass.

"I'm sure he'll love your party, that you thought about it being his birthday and all .... Wait a mo'. Did you just say it's his BIRTHDAY day after tomorrow?"

"Yes, why?"

"That's less than two days. Sorry Jox, would love to stay and chat but I gotta go shop. Like now! Bye!" And with that she 'winked' out and left Joxer standing in an empty temple. Three down only a dozen or more left to go!

Considering he was supposed to be in Corinth, Joxer spent the rest of the day skulking around Olympus avoiding Ares and talking as many deities as he could into attending the party. Some were easier than others, some only agreed because Zeus and Hera were going. Several Goddess' shrieked and ran out on him muttering about 'Dite and shopping and that she'd better not buy all the best presents.

Ares' birthday rapidly deteriorated into a buying war between the Goddess'. So if nothing else it was good for the merchants in several major cities.

But as cautious as he had been, he hadn't been cautious enough. Ares caught sight of Joxer coming out of the Muses' temple when he was supposed to be in Corinth visiting his mother.

What did this mean? Was Joxer involved with one or more of the muses? Ares followed his lover, wondering if he was being betrayed, frightened to face his beloved in case the answer was indeed yes. He followed him from the Muses temple to Hephaestus' temple and then to Athena's temple. Which was where Joxer changed location to Corinth and treated himself to lunch in a fine Inn. Ares remained invisible and watched as his lover had a fine lamb stew and fresh bread for lunch and wandered into the market. Feeling somewhat guilty for doubting him, he left.

Arriving back on Olympus he turned his mind to work and summonsed Strife to report on the condition of the Theban war.

"Yo! Unc! What's happening?"

"A war one would hope!" 'Unc' looked at nephew and said nephew shifted from foot to foot evidently hiding something. On closer prying he discovered that whatever it was concerned Joxer and Cupid.

That green-eyed monster sprang into life once more. Joxer and Cupid. His lover and his son? He couldn't see it somehow. Cupid was still trying to hide his affair with Strife, while his relationship with Psyche fizzled out and died. Strife was not one for broadcasting his love affairs anyway, in case his mother found out. And Joxer, why was he suspecting Joxer? They were very much in love. Weren't they?

Further prying disclosed something about the day after tomorrow. There wasn't any wars planned for that day, no new ones at any rate. What was going on around there?

"Well, the war started right on schedule. I like the Thebans, their real punctual, ya know?"

Ares nodded and brooded, the absentminded approach to handling wars made Strife worry. What did his uncle know? About the ... he succeeded in not actually thinking about it. And sighed inwards, with relief. Then there was Joxer's discussions with Asclepius. Could Ares have found out about that. That would throw his and Joxer's plans into a cocked hat!

Ares watched each thought chase the last one through the caverns of his nephew's mind. Asclepius? Was Joxer ill? Was Strife? What plans did these two young Gods plan? Was he being paranoid? Quite probably. But when the God of War loves, he loves deeply and when he is betrayed, he hurts just as deeply!

They wouldn't betray him! Would they?

***************************************
Part 3 Birthday Surprises!

Getting Ares to the party had been a lot easier than Joxer had been to lead to believe. Getting him to dress up had been only slightly harder, but worth it. The legendary characters the Gods had chosen had been amusing. Even though Hercules had not been invited there seemed to be four of him in attendance, three of whom were female!

"Now that would explain a lot!" Ares observed, laughing at his own observation. Willing to have the faux Hercules at this surprise party Joxer had arranged in honor of his birthday. The party was by far a better surprise than all the death and betrayal he had been imagining. Of course the birthday presents helped. A lot!

All that remained to be discovered was the reason for Stife and Joxer to be dealing with Asclepius. The God of War did freely admit, that when Hercules had been younger, he had had the habit of taking out his frustration by fireballing his nephew. Had he harmed the God of Mischief in some way? Some way that was only showing up now? For Strife and Cupid's sake he hoped not. Compassion from the God of War? He was happy, and consequently he wanted his favourite relatives to be happy too. That short list included both his nephew and his son.

Joxer was indulging in a spot of dancing, not an activity Ares enjoyed. Not that he couldn't, he just felt ridiculous and embarrassed when dancing in public. Ares enjoyed watching Joxer dance, his lithe movements quite sensual in their grace. All at once Ares was jealous again. Jealous and annoyed with himself, if he wanted Joxer to move that sensually for him and him alone then he should be out there dancing with the newly created God. So why wasn't he? Scared he'd be laughed at? What a pitiful excuse. Coming to a decision, Ares stood and crossed the dance floor, butting in and reclaiming his lover from a female fake Hercules.

"Ares! I thought you didn't dance?" Joxer quizzed the God of War.

"Well I do, just not often." To prove his point Ares did indeed dance every bit as sensually as Joxer. If it wasn't for the fact that the party-goers could see both Gods were fully clothed they'd have sworn that Ares and Joxer were having sex on the dance floor.

It took Joxer a few minutes to realize that the looks Ares took to be laughing at him dancing were closer to tongues hanging out lusting at him dancing. His War God was as fluid with his movements on the dance floor as he was on a battlefield. Joxer smiled at Ares, encouraging him to relax into the dance. It worked! Once he focused on Joxer, Ares let go the last of his inhibitions and really set to.

Hip to hip they parodied the sexual act, thrusting and grinding their bodies together, heads thrown back, eyes tight shut. Always moving in time to the music, in perfect harmony, and the other Gods finally saw what Aphrodite had seen in Ares all these millennia. He was beautiful, he was sensual, he was desirable, he was still single!

After that first dance with Joxer, Ares found himself the subject of many offers. Some even to dance. All the while Joxer just smiled at him, stroking his hands with a single sharp finger nail, making love to him with his eyes. Suddenly Ares was tired of the party and wanted nothing more than to take his beloved home and to bed, and if he was really good he might eventually let him sleep. For a little while!

Lost in his daydream Ares finally noticed that Joxer had stopped his ministrations to his hand and had actually left his side in favor of Strife's. The two young Gods were once more deep in conversation, neither taking much notice of those around them. Ares closed in from one side while Cupid closed in from the other. All the while Asclepius closed in from a third direction. Cupid and Ares noticed the God of Medicine at the same time, and both began to worry at the same time. Was one of them ill? Joxer? Cupid could imagine just how devastated that would leave his father, likewise Ares was imagining all manners of horrors should Strife die once more and leave Cupid behind again. Not that he thought his son would remain alive all that long if that was indeed the case.

Asclepius arrived first and held a hand in front of Strife and smiled at the younger God, he turned to Joxer and nodded. Joxer relaxed and beamed at both Gods before him. The sudden change from worry to what looked like delight made the two older Gods pause in their respective approaches. Though not for long. They hurried to find out what was in fact going on!

"Joxer, Asclepius what's going on here? Was Strife ill? Something go wrong with his re-incarnation?" Ares was first to ask questions, Cupid's worried face showed the world he was beyond coherent speech at that moment.

"No Ares, on the contrary, quite on the contrary, Strife has never been in such wonderful health, but I don't think that will last for too much longer!" Asclepius started to laugh at his own joke only to strangle the sound when he realized Cupid was about to panic. "Strife? Don't tell me you didn't tell him?" Asclepius gently cuffed the God of Mischief up the side of his head. All the group activity had drawn attention, from Aphrodite, from Discord and from Zeus himself. If something was affecting his family then the King of the Gods wanted to know what was going on. He arrived to hear Asclepius' admonition to Strife.

"Told whom, what?" Zeus inquired. Looking at his grandfather Strife knew he was going to have to break this news very publicly indeed, and he was still unsure how Cupid would take it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, the old saying echoed in his mind and just dared him to speak. So he spoke, the fates be damned!

"I'm not sick, I'm pregnant." Strife held Cupid's eyes for the duration of his short speech and saw realization dawning on his lover's face.

"But how?" Cupid looked at Strife, almost accusing him of infidelity. "It takes the consent of two adult Gods to allow Asclepius to make the necessary changes to your body. If I never consented that you were up to it, then who did?" Cupid wondered momentarily if the child was indeed his. The pain of that thought evident on his face.

"I did Cupid, I backed him up. It was supposed to be a surprise for you when Strife asked you a very important question. Now it's been pre-empted." Joxer put an arm around the shoulders of the God he thought of as his almost stepson and squeezed tight. "I suppose you might as well ask it now Strife." Strife nodded slowly and cleared his throat.

"Cupid, will you marry me and raise this scourge of humanity of ours with me?"

Cupid stood there, mouth open, eyes fixed and dilated. Classic case of shock if ever Asclepius had seen one.

"Married?" Cupid asked, wishing some clarification. "Like you and me, together like, forever and all that? And with a baby?" Strife grinned and nodded, suddenly finding himself holding onto Ares' hand for dear life.

"I'm too young to be a grandmother!" Discord wailed her shock, not her disapproval though.

"Duh! I already AM a grandmother! I mean, do I look like a grandmother?" Aphrodite wailed loudly too.

The half sisters were standing together looking alternately at each other and at Cupid who had yet to reply. Strife dropped his eyes from his lover's, thinking he knew what the answer would be. Taking that long to answer Cupid must be wondering how to say no! A tear escaped and slowly rolled down the gaunt Mischief God's cheek. Cupid watched its track as he took in its significance. He stopped forward and took Strife in his arms.

"Try an' stop me lover!" Cupid kissed Strife, in public, an act Strife almost never permitted due to his innate shyness. A trait most found incongruous in the Mischief God, yet his grandfather saw it as a balance in his nature.

"A wedding!" Dite and Discord screamed together, in glee. "And as mother's of the, well, grooms we get to organize it!" Discord added, Dite only a fraction of a second behind her sister added her own succinct observation. "Bitchin'!" The two Goddess' kissed the soon to be grooms and wandered off with Zeus, who had added his congratulations, ready to plan out the entire wedding their own way.

"Congratulations son." Ares clasped wrists with his son, treating him as an equal, then did as much with Strife. "Both of you!" He smiled at Joxer. "And a baby too, now that's brave. What about Bliss?"

"I never thought. I'd better divorce Psyche first!" Cupid looked around, not really sure who or what he was looking for. "We're gonna raise them both aren't we?" He turned back to his betrothed.

"Well, as for the divorce no one could deny you've been unfaithful, now could they? And of course we'll raise them both. Littl'un'll need a big bro' to look out for him, or her! " Strife took one of his lovers hands and placed in over his own belly. Where their child was now growing.

"Erm, no they couldn't deny it now, could they. And a baby? Bitchin'!" Cupid drew Strife away to sit down, just as Strife was thinking they might dance a little. Ares could see a fight brewing, unless his nephew showed enough sense to allow Cupid a few days too panic and coddle him a little.

"Married, my son's getting married ... again. And I've never walked that road once!" Ares smiled indulgently after the retreating backs of his son and nephew, he felt a warm arm come around him and soft lips tickle his ear as they whispered softly to him.

"Wanna make it a double wedding then?" Joxer enjoyed the total shock that was so clearly visible on Ares' face.

"You mean it?" Ares asked, then really looked in Joxer's eyes. "You mean it!" He confirmed for himself. "Well, damn right I do! After all the shit we've been through to be together, do you really think I'm gonna let you get away now?" Ares drew Joxer into the deepest kiss they had ever shared in public, it was actually the first real kiss they had ever shared in public, but that didn't bother them. Finally both Gods had to come up for air.

"Dite, Discord?" Ares shouted at his sisters, getting their undivided attention for a moment. "You'd better make it a double wedding girls. Jox is gonna be mine!"

The birthday party took on a new life as a double engagement party. More wine, more food, more dancing and a wake for all those who had had dreams of sampling Ares' delights that night.

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Part 4: Wedding Blues

"Pink!" And with a wave of her hand, the goddess of love turned all the decorations in Zeus' temple into shades of pink with white accents.

"Red!" Another wave and Eris turned it all back again into red with gold accents.

"Pink!" Another wave, another change.

"Red!" The goddess of discord shrieked as she launched herself to attack Aphrodite.

Ares groaned as he watched the cat fight escalate, the patience he'd somehow managed to hold onto for the last two days since the party, slipping from in between his fingers.

Getting up, he walked up to the fighting goddesses and roughly separated them. Waving a hand and turning the decorations in question into different shades of blue with silver accents, while holding them off each other at arms length. He did *not* want scratch marks on his face for his wedding. "Blue, got it?"

The disheveled goddesses slowly agreed, the menace in Ares' voice daring them to question him. They looked at each other, silently conceding to not take him up on his dare.

"Blue's nice," Aphrodite said, in an extremely sweet voice, meant more to annoy than appease.

"The boys and I decided on it last night, during dinner." Well, more like Joxer decided, his god of sweet reason, when the sons of the dueling Goddesses began defending their respective mothers against each other, over the
same argument.

"I still say red," Eris mumbled, but Ares ignored the comment, seeing as how a pulsing pain was intent on taking up residence right behind his eyes!

Ares returned to the couch he had been sharing earlier with Joxer, before all the fuss about color schemes had erupted. Joxer had quite uncharacteristically remained quiet during this exchange, more than a bit amused at the antics of his soon to be sisters-in-law.

"So, like, I found this absolutely bitchin' band from the future. They're incredibly romantic, and would be perfect for this. Their name is The Beatles, or something like that."

"No way, I thought of another band, Grateful Dead, they're much livelier!"

Joxer, knowing that this would be an eternal duel if he didn't put an end to it, said, "Guys, I already asked Apollo to play."

"APOLLO!!!" the goddesses chorused.

Ares groaned. This was going to be a very, very long week, indeed!

***************************************

Several days later, and Ares was agreeing with himself, foresight and hindsight in perfect accord! For once. It had been, indeed, the longest week of his life. Between 'Dite and Eris' bickering over every single detail of the wedding plans (about which Joxer ended up making all the major decisions anyway!), Cupid divorce to Psyche, not that she minded, she was still living her blessed adventure, and Strife's incessant hurling, Ares was feeling positively worn out.

Lying in his over-sized bed the master bedroom of his palace on Olympus, the god of war groaned, the migraine he was suffering was truly making his head pound.

Joxer appeared by his side without any showy lights, knowing how much worse it made his beloved God feel. Pulling a small vial filled with some coppery colored liquid in it, he placed a soft kiss on Ares' brow.

"Come on Ar. Get up and drink this," he whispered, uncorking the vial and holding it up for the war god.

Ares let himself be pulled into a semi upright sitting position, before carefully opening his eyes. Covering Joxer's hand on the vial with his own hand, he brought it to his lips, wincing at the bast taste. His lack of questions as to what it was he was being asked to drink a silent testimony to how much he loved and trusted the ex-would be hero. If it were possible, Joxer fell even deeper in love with him at that moment.

"Asclepius said it's a sure fire way to get rid of the migraine, but it takes about an hour to take effect."

Ares groaned once again at the thought of having to endure the headache for one more hour, as he fell back into their bed and onto the now cooled and fluffy pillows, he pulled his lover down with him.

Joxer changed his leathers into a pair of soft white cotton pants, and settled down next to the war god. Joxer rested his head resting on his sick lover's broad chest.

"Just rest love. Everything's going fine. The girls have finally stopped bickering since the last time I separated them. 'Dite's been reduced to babysitting Bliss while Cupid doing the divorce thing with Zeus and Psyche. Eris been taking care of Strife, and. . ." Joxer stopped talking when he noticed his lover had fallen asleep, the desired effect of the medicine.

The new god closed his eyes, thinking about life's irony, that he, Joxer the former mortal wanna be warrior would be marrying Ares, the god of all warriors, tomorrow. The god he'd worshipped and loved for as long as he could remember. Life just didn't get any better than this.

And with these thoughts, Joxer too, fell asleep.

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Part 5: One wedding, two weddings, three weddings, oh my!

The day broke bright and cheery, much as every day did on Olympus. Ares awoke just as bright and cheery as the day, this was the day he was to marry Joxer. They would put all the past misunderstandings behind them and declare their love publicly, openly, for every one to witness. So too, would Cupid and his pregnant lover, Strife, at least they will if Strife could stop throwing up long enough to say the words.

Poor Strife. Not a thought that normally occurred to the War God, but it was heartfelt that morning. Discord, Strife's mother, was fussing over the wedding, the pregnancy and was even compiling a list of names that read like the roll call for one of Jason's infamous voyages. Unable to contain his good humor or his nerves, Ares laughed out loud as he pondered such ideas as Orpheus son of Strife or Meleager son of Cupid.

That just cracked him up totally, it was probably a good idea that Joxer had spent the previous night with Zeus and Hera, or he might refuse to marry the War God so evidently going insane. But, the idea of Meleager brother of Bliss just didn't work somehow.

And what if it were a Goddess, they could hardly call it Hercules now could they?

Ares had to get control of himself, and he was not succeeding too well. Deep breathing didn't help. Getting up and getting breakfast didn't help. Getting dressed in his normal clothing did help, a little. Going to Earth and pestering a certain individual helped a lot.

"Herc, my dear little brother, how are you? Doing well I trust? And Iolaus, so long since I've seen you, I think I missed one of your deaths, you're looking fine though. Have you eaten yet?" He looked around their camp and saw that indeed they had not eaten. "Oh, well then, allow me." Ares produced breakfast. Sweet cakes and very cold milk. His absolute favorite if anyone ever asked. Not that they ever would ask, but Joxer already knew this so Ares didn't really care.

"Tuck in." He said with fervor and passed them each a plate and a beaker of milk. "Oh, it's a little chill this morning, a definite nip of winter in the air. Hmm!" Ares formed and lit a fire for them. Then sat back and ate his sweet cakes.

More out of shock than thought Hercules and Iolaus ate their sweet cakes, wondering idly if they were being poisoned, but doubting it somehow.

"You two are quiet eaters, are the cakes not to your taste?" Ares was really enjoying this morning, what better way to counteract his pre-nuptial nerves than by messing with Hercules' mind.

"No there fine. It's just that, it's you that I'm worried about. This is not like you Ares, what's up? Are you alright? Has something happened that you want to tell me about and gloat about. Something 'wonderful' going on I should know about?" Hercules was totally unprepared for the answer he got, just as Ares was unprepared for the shock of telling Hercules the truth, for once.

"I'm getting married today, so I decided to share my good fortune and great mood with you. Hey, if you don't want breakfast in bed, you could just say so!" Ares did however, enjoy totally the shocked look on Hercules' face.

"Married!" Iolaus squeaked, then grinned, then put aside his plate and beaker and came and sat beside the War God and surprised himself when he hug him and kissed his cheek. "Good luck, every happiness, who's the lucky woman then?"

"Not a woman, I'm marrying Joxer. And he's a God now, he asked me and I said yes. What else could I say ..." He drifted off into memories of Joxer, the love clearly seen on his face by both mortals who were still trying to get their
minds around the whole concept of Ares and Joxer; Joxer and Godhood.

"I hope you are as happy as Deianeira and I were." The truth so gently spoken by Hercules shocked Ares out of his reverie.

"Oh, thanks." He looked at his brother's heart and saw the sorrow at the loss of Deianeira still fresh in his heart, but the love he shared with Iolaus was so bright and new it occluded the pain, almost totally. "And it's a double wedding." Ares giggled again. "Strife and Cupid are getting wed."

"Cupid's married to Psyche. I witnessed it." Hercules spoke with out first thinking things through.

"True, but now he's divorced from Psyche. He kinda fell out of love with her when Strife died. He was so depressed that Zeus feared for him. He and uncle Hades got together and brought Strife back and they've been together ever since. Psyche's with Hermes these days anyway. She says he's much more fun than stay at home Cupid. Well, judging by Strife's condition he has to be good at staying at home!" Ares laughed again.

"Strife's condition? What's wrong with Strife?" Iolaus was well into his third sweet cake, he'd heard about them but never expected to be fed the favorite breakfast of the Gods, especially by Ares of all Gods!

"Strife's pregnant." Ares counted to two before Iolaus sprayed half chewed sweet cake, everywhere. Ares laughed out loud that time, even though most of the cake had covered him.

Iolaus was gasping for breath when Hercules reached for him to pat his back, but Ares beat him to the mark with assistance. With a sweep of his hand Iolaus was hale and hearty once more.

"Thanks!" The blond hunter said.

"Consider it my wedding gift to you, okay?" Ares smiled. It was so obvious to Hercules and Iolaus that Ares was totally in love and loved, that degree of happiness must have been missing from the War God's life for so long. They had never known him to be this mellow, ever.

"Isn't it supposed to be the other way around? We give you wedding gifts?" Hercules risked a smile to see how that went down with the love struck War God.

"What ever!" Ares shrugged and went back to grinning, his dimples in his cheeks clearly showing.

Then Ares had his brilliant idea. He sprang to his feet and laughed and drew both Iolaus and Hercules to there feet with him. Iolaus found himself caught up in Ares' infectious mood.

"What's so funny Ares?" Iolaus smiled and giggled a little at the evidently delighted God.

"Why don't you two join us, make it a triple wedding. You're in love, you're lovers, you're committed to each other. Come on make it a real family occasion. What do you say?"

Hercules looked at Iolaus and smiled, blushing furiously. Iolaus looked at Hercules and grinned like a maniac. Ares stood to one side and bounced like a child waiting for a present.

"Eh, if you're sure, I mean, I don't want to muscle in on your big day, but if it's okay and ..." Hercules was cut short but Ares.

"I'll take that as a yes then?" And he transferred them all to his palace on Olympus. "Welcome to my home brother, you too Iolaus!" He spun around, arms wide pen and gestured to the entire place, "Treat it as yours today." Ares smiled and looked distant, a second or two later Zeus arrived, laughing.

"Ares, my sweet one what is your big news, huh?" He appeared with his back to his mortal son and his son's lover.

"Behind you!" Ares pointed over his shoulder, biting his lower lip, but unable to totally stop the grin from forming. Zeus turned around and saw Hercules and Iolaus, on Olympus, with Ares on Ares' wedding day! Was the day to be filled with surprises and miracles?

"And they're gonna join us in getting hitched. Well, Herc and Iolaus have been with each other for just about as long as they've known each other. So you're gonna do three weddings!" Ares laughed out loud at the look on his father's face. The shock was absolute, and absolutely funny.

"Will you share Ares and Joxer's vows ... with each other that is, I don't think we have time to write out yet another set?" Zeus was doing his best to cope with the shock, as were Hercules and Iolaus. The only one not panicking was Ares, he'd obviously reach critical mass with his nervousness before he awoke that morning.

"What about witnesses?" Herc asked, a little perplexed at the speed of things.

"Sorted!" Ares cried out, they can share Xena and Gabrielle with us, after all we only really need the one witness." Ares was totally enjoying manipulating his mortal brother into a marriage with Iolaus, maybe if they were happy together, settled somewhere, they'd interfere with fewer of his wars in the future. Especially as they'd be due him their happiness with each other.

"That's fine then, there will be clothes in that room when you have bathed and it is time. Hercules you stay here, Iolaus you come with me. Maybe we should tell Joxer first, and HE can tell Hera. Hmm, yes, that'll work." Zeus turned to his still grinning dark and dangerous son, so full of love, so caring, so probably conniving too if he could figure it all out. "It is a good idea Ares, I just wish you'd had it a few days ago. It would have given me time to think about it and Hera an..." Ares broke in on his train of thought.

"And talked Herc out of it. No, has to be this way or not at all!" Ares laughed at the guilty look on Zeus' face.

Before Ares could control himself to say anything else he left with Iolaus.

"Now what?" Hercules was now alone with Ares and feeling shy and somewhat exposed.

"A long, leisurely bath and we dress for the occasion. Come!" Ares headed for his bathing room and Hercules just followed along.

"Why are you doing this Ares?"

"It seemed like a great idea at the time, you chickening out?" Ares opened the door to reveal the biggest bath Hercules had ever seen, and it was filled with hot water and bubbles, millions upon millions of foamy bubbles. His worries set to one side Hercules stripped of and indulged himself in that great bath.

"Who's chickening out of what? Ares, this is heavenly, pun definitely intended!" He closed his eyes, sighed and relaxed. Ares joined him.

***************************************

Two hours later saw the brothers standing before an ornate door, waiting on Cupid arriving and the ceremony to commence.

"Hey dad, uncle Hercules! Uncle HERCULES? What are you doing here?" Cupid was a touch frail for deep shocks.

"He's getting married too, great ain't it?" Ares grinned at his son and his brother.

"Wow, that's great. To whom though?"

"Iolaus, of course." Ares explained.

"Yeah, right, Iolaus." The music from the other side of the door changed. "Our cue to go in!" Cupid's hands began to shake, as did Ares'.

"Shit, I'm nervous, I've never been nervous before, no matter the size of a battle. Look at me!" Ares held a hand up and it did indeed shake like a leaf in a winter storm.

"Come here, both of you." Hercules took one hand each from his brother and his nephew, not in the least nervous, having done this before more than once he knew Iolaus would be waiting the other side of the door and what ever odd reasons Ares had for including them today he could set aside for the joy of claiming Iolaus as his forever. "Together then." And he pulled them forward, as they approached the doors they opened of their own accord.

"Together then." Ares and Cupid agreed. All three men marched to the forefront of the great hall, holding hands.

"Welcome one and all to witness this triple wedding. Cupid who is to marry Strife, Ares who is to marry Joxer and Hercules who is to marry Iolaus. This is a day of joys and all past disputes will be put aside, as their lives are born anew so shall we who are here to witness them." Hera looked around the hall, not a single face showed the slightest trace of sarcasm, they knew better, Hera Goddess of Marriage, performed all Godly weddings held on Olympus or involving an Olympian, if they were to be regarded as true, sacred marriages.

"Hercules come here!" She pointed to the floor directly in front of her, when the hero arrived at the appointed spot she whispered to him. He listened, he nodded and he got down on all fours. She stood over him, and called forth her youngest son to be reborn into the world, and Hercules crawled out from under her skirts. The he stood and kissed her, after the kiss he raised his voice and spoke steadily and clearly.

"Mother!" He acknowledged her.

"Son!" She greeted him to his new life. Together mother and son looked around the room, they had trumped Zeus and Ares, not a muscle moved. Total shock prevailed, it was a moment to savor, especially as Hercules was now her son, which put him under an obligation to defend his mother against all that would or could prevail against her, including his father.

She indicated the line of couples and spoke gently

"I think you should rejoin Iolaus, he's looking lost with out you, son." She was enjoying today, immensely.

"I call upon Cupid to avow his truth." Hera pointed to the God of Love who turned and faced Strife, how was very pale, shaking and fighting the urge to run out and throw up.

"Strife, you have saved me from my darkest despair and given me the gift of new life." Cupid lifted a hand to Strife's belly, and smiled even wider if that was possible. "You have shown me the true power of love and I avow my love for you, before these witnesses, forever. Take me as your husband, as I would take you, and let us go forward into our new life together."

"Strife." Hera's voice and smile were very gentle for her pregnant grandson. Marriage and childbirth, two of her three field and being a male he couldn't manage the third even with Asclepius' help.

"Cupid, I would call out Bliss to stand with you. Bliss?" Every eye looked to the Mischief God, the Love God and finally young Bliss as he proudly walked to his father's side.

"This is my vow to you. Cupid I love you, and through you I have been given a new chance at life. From you I have been given the chance to bring forth a new life from our love. As we go forward together I avow this, that I will always love you, that I will always love our child and I will always love your son Bliss. I will never stop you from loving him, being with him, from raising him as I know you will love and raise and be there for our child. Bliss, this day I not only marry your father as my husband but you too as my son, let us go forward into our new life together, as a family should." Strife was trembling, waiting for Cupid's reaction. The God of Love looked at his son and saw that Strife had had a consultant in helping him design his vow.

"Oh, Strife." He managed before he took him in his arms and kissed him deeply.

"Ares." Hera coughed and got her son's attention.

"Joxer, from the battles and ashes of our past your generosity of spirit has let our love rise like a phoenix from the flames. All I can offer you is my body to shelter you, my soul to worship you, my heart to love you. If these humble things are enough, take me as your husband and go forward by my side as my reason for living, my love, my husband."

Hera cleared her throat before continuing, out the corner of her eye she saw Xena and Gabrielle do as much and heard Zeus proclaiming he had something in his eyes.

"Joxer." She had a semblance of control over her voice. No one would think she was thinking of Ares and Joxer's dark past mistakes but that perhaps she was emotional at her beloved son marrying.

"You have shown me nothing but your forethought and support, that our love could soar as a phoenix. We have survived the worst if times and look forward to the best of times, I wish nothing more than to stand at your side as your rock, your shelter, your husband."

Ares didn't wait for another word, he took Joxer in his arms and kissed him deeply, passionately, so evidently hopelessly in love. Even Hercules wiped a tear away.

"Hercules, avow as you will." Hera encouraged him to give his soul words.

"Iolaus, with out you, life is empty, incomplete. You have been at my side since childhood, since childhood I have loved you. First as a childhood friend, then as a fellow student, then as a comrade at arms, always as a brother, but now I am reborn as a man and as a man I love you with all my heart, be my husband for always, my protection, my haven, my heart." Iolaus stood open mouthed hearing the absolute truth from Hercules' lips.

"Iolaus, avow as you will." Hera managed around the lump in her throat and the guilt in her heart, but as she had said at the start this was a new beginning. She tried to believe it, really believe it soul deep.

"Oh, Herc, I .. Hercules, simply put, I love you. I want nothing from this world than the privilege of loving you, of being your husband as you are mine, if I am your heart then you are my soul, be my husband and my haven and I will be your forever." He smiled just for Hercules and before the smile had even time to fade they were kissing joyously.

"Witnesses, come forward." Hera drew the three witnesses to the couple's sides. "Hepheastus bare witness."

"I, Hepheastus, bare witness that the love avowed between Cupid and Strife is true and that to the best of my knowledge they are free to so avow."

"Xena bare witness."

"I, Xena, bare witness that the love avowed between Ares and Joxer is true and that to the best of my knowledge they are free to so avow."

"Gabrielle bare witness."

"I, Gabrielle, bare witness that the love avowed between Hercules and Iolaus is true and that to the best of my knowledge they are free to so avow."

"I, Hera, Goddess of Marriages, Queen of the Gods, Consort of Zeus, Mother of these children or of their line. " She smiled at her grandsons. "Do solemnly declare these people married, thus blessed by me, let none decry false witness and try to break their vows, or cause them to try and break their vows. Cupid and Strife, and of course Bliss, you are a family now and are under my protection, seek me if you need me and I am here for you. Ares and Joxer, you are a family now and are under my protection, seek me if you need me and I am here for you. Hercules, my newest son, and Iolaus, you are a family now and are under my protection, seek me if you need me and I am here for you. I bless these unions and wish then well. Now get to the kissing so we can get to the partying!"

They obliged, and the party was quite possibly the very best Iolaus had ever been too. Strife, however, was not allowed to drink wine, dance or stay up late, but as Cupid went to bed at the same time, he didn't lose out on too much.

***************************************
Part 6: Heaven

Dawn was fast approaching, and the wedding banquet was still going on strong. It certainly was the event of the millennia, and not one god or mortal attending was going to miss it. Except one very tired (and nauseous) Strife and his newly proclaimed husband Cupid. Cupid had convinced Strife to wait until the baby was born for them to celebrate their honeymoon, and the very pregnant god of mischief was happy to avow.

Zeus had surprised Hercules and Iolaus by reserving a small island for them to spend their honeymoon, and well deserved vacation, with every commodity Zeus and Hera could offer.

Xena, Gabrielle and Autolycus were taking turns dancing with each other (a very silly dance, if truth be told) with practiced ease. Ares watched them as he and Joxer shared a very late dinner (or very early breakfast). He kicked himself when he realized he could have made it a quadruple wedding with Xena and Gabrielle. Why it didn't occur to him earlier was beyond him. The two women had gone through just as much as he and Joxer, and they were still together. As Ares decided to do something about it, Joxer ate a grape from Ares' fingers, giving them a good licking. Later, he thought, I'll do something about it *much* later.

Slowly, the attendants of the celebration left, for they too had responsibilities, until only Joxer and Ares remained, dancing to a song only they could hear. Disentangling himself gently away from the war god's embrace, Joxer walked over to their table, laden with gifts and congratulations scrolls. The war god took the cue and starting collecting their things and left for their Olympian temple.

Dumping their presents in the wide bed, Ares gathered Joxer in a playful embrace and in a flash of mixed blue and green light, transported them to a mountain retreat he had prepared. The mortal world was going to enjoy a month of peace in his absence.

Turning the new god around in his hug, Ares kissed the soft lips tenderly, rebelling in the thought that, at last, they were together forever. Working his hands in between them without breaking the kiss, the war god started unlacing Joxer's vest and shirt.

As Ares' fingers came in contact with his nipples, Joxer moaned into his mouth, and with a impatient thought divested them both. Running his hands over Ares', Joxer interlaced his fingers with Ares' and pulled back, breaking the kiss. Walking backwards towards the bedchamber, he fell back onto the bed, pulling Ares on top of him.

They made love slowly, languidly and passionately all day long. Collapsing exhausted in each other's arms, they ran soft caresses over the other's body, meant to reassure and soothe, rather than inflame.

"I love you, Ares. So much, it consumes me."

"The feeling goes both ways, love. You have opened so much for me. So many feelings, I don't even know what to do with them."

"I'm sorry," Joxer said, hiding his face in the war god's shoulder.

Ares tilted Joxer's face up, to look him in the eyes. "You have nothing to be sorry about. I'm so happy for what you did to me. I love being able to feel so much. My life before you was all death and war. You bring me love and peace, of mind, body and soul. I have never known I could possibly be this happy. Tartarus, I'm even happy for Hercules. I love you Jox. I wouldn't have missed loving you for anything. Believe me?"

Tears clouded Joxer's vision. "I do. You have brought me so much happiness too. I love you too, with mind, body and soul."

"Forever?" Ares asked, rapidly loosing himself in Joxer's eyes.

"There is no other way. Forever, Ares. I love you, so much."

"Really? How about you prove it to me?" Ares cupped one of his husband's lower cheeks, squeezing playfully.

And with a shout of laughter, Joxer, the god of peace, proceeded to prove it.

The End.