Trimester? Try my patience more like!
Zeus was intrigued. It was not often that Ares came to him to beg a favor, and if the favor was the use of his personal study to hold an important family meeting then that was an easy favor to grant. And he had been invited to sit in as Ares chaired the meeting. That was progress; his relationship with Ares was improving by leaps and bounds these days. A happy Ares was a thing of beauty.
Unfortunately, the Ares chairing this meeting was not happy, nor was anyone else. There was Eris, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Joxer, Ares and himself. Not one of them was happy. The cause of this displeasure being Cupid's behavior towards his blooming husband. The pregnant Strife did look so very beautiful; his 'delicate' condition seemed to agree with him. It was just that Cupid didn't agree with him, them, and anyone on Olympus at all.
He had been involved in three punch-ups in the last week alone, and all because the poor Gods and Goddess he had attacked had looked at Strife. Even Hera was having to keep Cupid company while the young Love God was out on his duty assignments.
"So, to summarize our problem Cupid's acting like a prize idiot and Strife's talking of moving home to his mother's place until the baby's born?" Ares looked at his immediate family members.
"That'll not do Cupie any favors! We gotta keep them together!" Dite added.
"Too true, I can live without Cupid demolishing my home just because he's jealous that I'm too close to my son!" Eris rubbed her right cheek, at the exact spot where her son-in-law had punched her the day before, just because she had kissed Strife's right cheek!
"So what's causing this reaction?" Zeus asked, actually glad to not have to chair a meeting for once.
"Psyche is, I'm afraid." Dite sighed and shrugged. "She wasn't faithful even during the height of his passion for her. We had to wait until Bliss was born to even know if the child was his or not. Add to that, that idiotic curse of Hera's seems to be mutating. He's jealous almost constantly these days. And even she can't figure out how to remove it. That's why she's following him around, keeping an eye on him."
"So has anyone any suggestions as to how we do that? Sort out this jealousy before it goes too far?" Ares looked around the table, one set of blank eyes followed on the one before, until he reached Joxer's eyes. His husband was only just stopping himself from laughing. "Jox, what ever it is, spill it, we could all do with a good laugh!"
"I was just struck with the image of Gabs sitting on Cupid's chest trying to explain the Way to him, it struck me as funny, sorry!" The newest God to join the family blushed and shrugged but couldn't help himself from laughing.
Oddly enough it was Eris that was first to join in.
"And we could have Xena doing Cupie's job to give him some time off." She giggled, swishing her fingers through the air. "Just so you know, I've cut off the flow of blood to your dick, in thirty seconds you'll be impotent for life unless you fall in love with him/her/that sheep NOW!"
Despite their best intentions the other assembled Gods just couldn't help themselves from joining in her laughter.
"But she has to have the wings!" Ares gasped out. Starting the laughter anew.
"With the white, pure Chakram of Love, whee, p'tang, crash! Six bad guys, three princess' and a tree all fall hopelessly in love with her horse!" Hephaestus added extra sound effects to his suggestion.
Zeus found himself unable to stop laughing and had to keep wiping away the tears.
"And we would have to have someone sub for Strife, so he can be there to support his husband throughout his 'treatment' as is only proper." Then taking a deep breath, not sure how his idea would be accepted. "Can't you imagine Hercules doing it? I'm terribly sorry about this but you do have to have a fight with that chap over there. It's not what I want, no, not at all. It's all the fault of those big bad Gods. So if you don't mind getting on with the fight, I'd be ever so grateful. Just don't hurt anybody!" The King of the Gods got a surprising amount of ire into his alarmingly realistic version of Hercules' voice. Absolute silence fell and lasted for a full thirty seconds before the whole group laughed even harder.
"With a side order of bouncing Curly asking - 'Can I hit them now then?'" Dite asked, between gasps for breath.
"So, are we agreed, Cupid needs counseling, Strife needs a day or two off to be with him and we need to get the mortals working for once?" Ares put forward their newest proposition, finally calming down. That was when he decided it might be a good idea after all.
"And how do you propose to achieve all these miracles?" Zeus smiled at his youngest Godly son. Not challenging him, teasing him.
"You talk Hercules into it, while Dite talks Xena into doing Cupid's job and me and Joxer challenge Gabrielle with helping Cupid to realize just what he is doing and helping him through it. Easy!" Ares smiled at his dad, the look of horror on the elder God's face was a joy to behold.
"What about me and Hephy?" Eris asked.
"You two baby sit Bliss, and try and keep him out of trouble!" Ares enjoyed the look of absolute disgust that crossed his sister's face. Then he saw her remembering the last time Bliss got loose on Earth. The God of War had a sudden premonition of disaster!
Talking Cupid into agreeing he needed help was left up to his fathers, all three of them. His natural father, Ares, and his stepfathers Hephaestus and Joxer.
"How was your work load this morning?" Ares asked as he sat down beside his jumpy, twitchy son and put an arm around his shoulders.
"Not too bad, could have done without Grandma following me about though. She interfered with three of my targets!" Cupid fumed, his face red with unsuppressed rage.
"But Cupid, son, you were to have them all fall in love with their selected partners, not torch two of them and break both legs of the third! What got into you?" Ares pulled his son closer, wondering, vaguely, if it was a safe action.
"So!?" Cupid tried to rise but couldn't break his father's hold.
"What happened?" Ares asked again, more forcefully and directly.
"They were talking about their businesses and one of them said Strife had to be behind all the bad shit he'd been going through. Strife had nothing to do with him; he'd never look at a scrawny mortal like that. My Strife wouldn't bother with him, would he? He's having my baby, MY baby, not that piece of shit mortal's baby!" Cupid was livid.
"Son, Strife does deal with that kind of competition as well as working for me. And yes, he is having your baby, he loves you. But you can't keep starting fights and messing with peoples destinies just because you're feeling jealous. Cupe, it took your Grandma half a day to talk your great uncle Hades into releasing those guys souls and Asclepius had to intervene personally with the other guys broken legs. Or the poor sod would be crippled for life!" Ares tried not to shout, and almost managed it.
"Your dad's right Cupid. Remember when you turned into that big, ugly monster? You're going that way again. You're pushing Strife away with your actions!" Joxer sat on the Love God's other side and put his arm around his stepson's shoulders too.
"But what can I do about it? I see people, they want to take Strife away from me, to come between us, and I feel the rage and can't fight it!" Cupid slumped against his father and stepfather. Then his other Stepfather moved in for the coupe de grace.
"I think you need to talk with someone, someone outside the family but close enough to understand what you're going through. Someone like that pretty little bard that travels with Xena. She knows how to handle anger, maybe she can show you? Huh!?" They all watched Cupid as he gave in, knowing he was in danger of losing Strife if he didn't control his temper.
"I almost hit Strife last night. He wanted to come over and talk with Jox and I forbade him, I almost slapped him until he suddenly backed down, I think I might have, if he hadn't!" Cupid's confession shocked the three Gods listening to him.
"Let's go then. Sooner the better, huh?" Ares helped his son up on to his feet and they all made to get over to Gabrielle's location. Which would just leave them with Ares and Joxer's next task.
Since Dite had taken Xena away for a long, long girl talk and business proposition Gabrielle had been sitting in the shade of a nice, friendly tree meditating. She herd the telltale displacement of air that indicated a God had arrived, or in this case, as she looked up, three Gods had arrived, no, four Gods. There was a shy one with a bad leg at the rear of the group. Hephaestus she surmised.
"Hi Gabrielle, how is the meditation going? Getting transcendental yet?" Ares sat down beside her and smiled, a gentle smile, and somehow that worried Gabrielle more than his evilest leer ever had.
"Not quite, but I think I'm getting close. What brings you all here?" She eyed all the Gods, one by one. "Joxer? Is everything okay? I mean with you and Ares, you've got Cupid here.." She trailed off at the concerned looks the Gods were giving her.
"It's like this Gabrielle." Joxer sat and took one of her hands in his, his husband mirrored his action with her other hand. "Cupid has some deep issues of trust and love he needs to deal with. He's being crippled with jealousy, can't even let Strife come over and pay me a visit. As if I'd try anything on with Strife or anyone else, I got all I want in Ares. Anyway, we wondered if you could talk to him, show him the Way! Help him overcome his rages and pain. Please? You'd be doing the world and us a great big favor?" Joxer smiled and kissed her hand the exact same time Ares did the other one.
Gabrielle gave in, with out a fight. After all a fight would be so against the way. And the only way to spread the Way was to teach it. And to teach it to a God?
"Okay, I'll talk to him, if he'll listen." She smiled at the Gods either side of her.
"Cupid!" Ares called over his son. "Be gentle with him, he's my son, I worry, okay?" He winked at the bard.
"So Cupid, you want to face your anger? That is good, we can do this! But first I want you to learn to breath, slow and relaxed and clear your mind..." As Gabrielle settled into lecture mode the other three Gods escaped back to Olympus, Ares felt bad leaving his son to the bard, all alone. But they had to go see where Strife was and if he was going to go support his idiot husband?
Strife was pacing up and down their temple lounge, looking to the door every few seconds.
"How are you today Strife?" Joxer asked as they materialized. Strife just about jumped out of his skin.
"Jox! You gotta get out of here, Cupid's gone loco, he'll go ape if he finds you here." Strife looked at the door and wouldn't look away.
"We know what happened last night. Cupid's with Gabrielle, she's teaching him the way!" Ares stepped up beside his Joxer and faced his son-in-law.
"Aw, Ares, no one was hurt, he doesn't deserve Gabrielle!" Strife looked with his mind, trying to find his husband.
"Yes he does. He needs to get a hold on his temper and jealousies." Ares told him. "And we're going to take you to him, your duties will be covered while you have a few days off and sort yourselves out."
"So who you got being me?"
"Hercules." Ares told him, without laughing.
"Xena." Ares also managed to not laugh.
It took Strife, however, a full five minutes to stop laughing. Then they went to see Cupid and Gabrielle. What they didn't expect was Gabrielle sitting over Cupid's chest pinning him to the ground by his wings. Cupid was screaming. Gabrielle was screaming. It seemed it was a straight race between bard and God as to who finished screaming first.
"That's good, let it out. Cleanse yourself of all that tension. Let it flow!" Gabrielle sat back and tightened her hold on Cupid's wings, dragging him off the ground only to dump him back down harder.
"Shh!" Ares pointed out where Strife could sit and wait for his husband to be ready to talk with him. "We gotta go check up on the substitutes, see you later."
That was when Ares discovered the basic truth that when you send a mortal to do a God's job, chaos ensues. Their first stop was with Hercules and his idea of instigating market competition with a group of wood workers. Whereas he was supposed to have shown one a new technique he had started a small war!
"Damn, I've gotta stop this, before it spreads to the other market areas!" Ares stepped forward and then back. "Oops, too late. Any ideas, love?"
"Bring in Morpheus and send them all to sleep. Leave it as one of those unexplained mystery stories, it'll have the poets writing plays for years to come. Where are we anyway?" Joxer asked.
"Exphylos" Ares said, sighing.
"Hmm, Exphylos, just don't ever let them know that the truth is out here!"
"True. Wonder how Xena's doing?" Ares shuddered, a little afraid to find out. They moved themselves, once sure that Morpheus would help cover Hercules' disaster.
As they materialized Ares realized that Xena was about to make a catastrophic mistake. She was about to have a go at altering the love lives of the wrong group of mortals. The War God could just imagine how Cupid would take that in his current state of instability. Not good, was about the politest he could come up with.
Xena was now yipping her war cry as she shot through the air, letting fly with her 'chakram of love' at a group of people frozen to the spot in abject terror. Ares looked at them, saw non-of the markers that Dite would normally put on mortals destined for divine intervention and leaped into the air. He intersected the chakram and landed with it gingerly held in his out stretched hand.
"Ares! Damn it why did you interfere?" Xena had landed beside the now fainted mortals and glared at them and the Gods before her. Not so much angry with Ares but at the fates for landing her in the middle of this mess. That and she half worried the Gods had found out about the man she had 'pinched' and left impotent, she admitted that had been a bit of a miscalculation.
"They were not the ones you were told to help find love and you know it! What else have you done?" Ares handed the chakram to Joxer who wrapped it up in a heavy cloth. It looked to be a safer bet than giving such a charged weapon back to a defensive Xena. Suddenly Ares was filled with a cold fear and a dread of just what it was Xena was hiding. She hadn't had she?
"So, what does it matter when you Gods interfere all the time!" She stood before him, hands on her hips and pouted. Blinding the issue entirely, or so she thought with rage rather than confession. Ares, however, was a God and could see the ploy for what it was, he just didn't have the time to go looking to find out what it was she was really hiding. Truth be told he rather feared to go looking. The only idea he had on the subject making him want to wince in agony!
"I beg to disagree there, Xena!" Ares yelled back, hands on hips, nostrils flaring, he was either the very epitome of a War God or nearly a concerned father out to defend his children, not an inch a God deliberately allowing himself to be side tracked, oh no. "See that man there?" Ares pointed out one of Xena's would be victims. Xena stole a quick glance at the now back on his feet individual.
"Yes!" She snarled back at Ares; nowhere near ready to concede that Ares might, just, know something she didn't, especially about Godhood! And way too worried he might possibly know something about her earlier attempts at said Godhood...
"He is destined to meet the great love of his life at next winter's solstice festival. If you force him into falling in love at random with one of these other mortals you've got here, then his life will change, his wife to be's life will change, their six children will never be born, their forty two grandchildren will never be born, their one hundred and twenty three great grandchildren will never be born. Pretty damn soon, you'll have wiped out an entire city, let alone the three Queens, one General and fourteen healers he's supposed to father from his kids, their kids and the kids, ya know?" Ares winced as he suddenly realized he had revealed to Xena just how much he understood the passions that made up the mortal world. He almost waved bye to his hard earn reputation as a kick ass War God!
"How on Earth can you know that Ares, huh? Tell me, make me understand!" Xena was nose to nose with the War God when she was roughly pulled away and the man Ares had been talking about was in her places, grinning like a maniac. He grabbed the God of War by the neck and kissed the startled God.
Ares didn't know how to react. Instinct told him to fry the little fart for daring to kiss a God in such a manner, but that would just proven Xena's formerly held dear to her heart point for her. He peeled the exuberant mortal off him and smiled, as sympathetically as he could.
"What do you want ... mortal?" He asked as calmly as he could, he had an image of being too late, she hadn't hit this moron with her chakram had she, the thought brought on a wave of, well, almost panic. Not that he would admit that, the very idea was making him all cross, yet again.
"Thank you, thank you, oh, thank you Lord Ares!" Then the man realized what he had done and to whom. "Oh, shit, Lord Ares?" His voice either wanted confirmation as to whom he had kissed or to beg for a quick death.
Ares just looked at the almost dead from shock mortal he held in his hands, and sighed. Too relieved that the man wasn't in love with him after all to be able to formulate an intelligible response.
He was saved from further explanation by the propitious arrival of Aphrodite.
"That's his name, handsome, don't wear it out!" She smiled at the mortal, who faced with yet another God, or rather a partially dressed Goddess, fainted.
"Aphrodite!" Xena always made the Goddess of Love's name sound so rude, like she was the Goddess of festering boils or similar. Not that Dite did toy with the idea of festering boils, Argo and Xena's butt! Time delayed spells needed practice. Dite practiced. Once her Cupie and Strife were sorted, Xena was gonna get a visit from the bad butt fairies! Her temper and worries needed an out let and Xena was elected.
"Hi Xena, Arry is so right ya know, so chill!" She waved her hand and forced Xena to sit down on the suddenly there block of ice she had produced for her. "Right, you studmuffins take faint hearted loverboy here and scat, got me?" They did indeed get her, they grabbed the fainted man by his limp limbs and scurried forthwith away from there as fast as their little legs could scurry.
"Ar, it's just so not working, Xena does not understand love, Herc simply doesn't understand and even Curly's having problems controlling him. The only one who seems to be getting her little mortal act together is Gabs, an' she's doing just fine... I think!" Dite looked at the fuming Xena still unable to get up off her ice block and smiled so sweetly a lesser mortal would get diabetes.
"I take it you have an alternative plan then?" Joxer asked his beautiful sister in law.
"You can't mean you want Hercules to do Cupid's job?" Ares pleaded with his son's mother not to ruin their son's life like that. He felt sure Xena would understand... eventually. Xena saw how worried Ares was by the idea of Hercules running Love for Cupid. She suddenly felt a little sick at the idea herself!
"Chill, bro. I just thought that it might take the most passionate of all the Gods to fill in for Cupie. Someone who actually sees the full picture of what destiny has in store for all those mortal lovebirds. Someone like..." Ares finally caught on, as did Xena.
"Oh no, you don't mean me, do you?" Ares pleaded. Xena saw the panic rise on Ares' face then felt the same panic rise in her own throat. If Ares were now to fill in as God of Love then he'd find out about what's his name!
"You can't mean Ares? He's a soulless bastard, what does he understand about love?" She really tried to sound as if she meant it, she succeeded, even Ares thought she meant it for a spilt second. Dite however was not to be swayed. A mother with a mission was not to be interfered with, especially a godly mother!
"More than you realize, toots. After all, who fathered my Cupid? Cupid is controlled passion, until recently that is. His daddy is all uncontrolled passion, until recently too But he's got control now. Don't ya' lover boy?" She turned on her squirming ex-lover and grinned at him. "Who fully understands love these days? Joxer, come here please?" She turned to the ex-mortal. "With you to balance him, you two can do Cupid's job an' little miss know it all can go help Herc be Strife. Seeing as how Strifey has the more complex job, I had Eris jot down the basics for you all, here!" She handed the freezing woman a scroll and transported her to Hercules and Iolaus. Without looking into Xena's short but distinguished career as Goddess of Romantic Love.
Xena just sighed with relief and kept her mouth tight shut. With a spot of luck they'd blame Ares and he was big enough to take a little extra blame, after all hadn't always taken all the blame when things went wrong?
She knew she'd have to apologize, but later, much, much later.
"You aren't going to accept a no are you?" Ares asked, not really too embarrassed by having to fill in for his son, just down right mortified! Embarrassed would come later, once everyone knew what he was doing. Was doing? Was he going to accept his new role that easily? For his son and nephew he guessed he would.
Dite shook her head. He could see that there was no way she was going to accept a no in any size, shape or form.
"Damn!" Ares swore. "Come on Joxer, we'd better get on with things, before she finds new and even worse tasks for us to do!"
"I could think of one already but I guess you two wouldn't be 'up' for that?" She giggled at their troubled expressions and vanished in a shower of pink sparks.
"So where do we start?" Joxer asked brightly.
"Why do I get the feeling you're looking forward to this?" Ares scowled at his husband and held out his hand. A scroll duly appeared and he opened it with a one handed flick, read it, paled and looked at Joxer. "Oh, FUCK!" he said. Joxer had the intelligence to panic!
Back with Hercules and Iolaus once more Xena found herself sitting between her two closest friends after Gabrielle of course, and neither of them seemed ready to speak to the other.
"I met Aphrodite, she gave me this scroll!" She offered it to Hercules who looked at the offending thing in her hand and turned away from it and her. So she offered it to Iolaus, he mirrored Hercules' gesture. "Suppose I'll have to read it then." So she unrolled it and sat down to read a detailed list of Strife's jobs. "Well that I knew, that I didn't, nor that, and that, well it kinda makes sense in an odd godly sort of way. Who would have thought it? He's one busy little beaver isn't he? Okay that last one first I think, seems easiest!" She rolled up the scroll and looked at her enforced companions. "Coming?" She asked cheerfully, and got twin looks of disgust for her trouble.
"Where were you planing on going?" Iolaus asked, always first out of a sulk, if sulking were an Olympic event Hercules would win the laurel out right.
"To see a man about a broken oath. One of Strife's many jobs is to punish oath breakers!" Xena patted the scroll tied to her belt with a propriatorial hand. Knowing full well Iolaus wouldn't be able to resist her knowing what he didn't.
"So, can I read that scroll?" He smiled at her, a winsome smile, one of his best. She grinned, but inwards, only her inner soul grinned as she made a show of thinking about it.
"Oh, all right then, here you go enjoy!" As she untied the scroll and let him read it for himself.
"I see what you mean, the first and second I knew, the third and forth I didn't. How on Earth does he do that?" Iolaus stabbed a finger at the third item on the list and looked up at Xena, as if she would have all the answers, and for once she had to admit the truth, no matter how much it galled her to do so.
"I've no idea, I don't even fully know what it is he does there exactly!" She shrugged, conceding defeat for once.
"Do what?" Hercules finally asked, not liking being left out of things.
"That!" Iolaus showed him the scroll, somewhat terse in his response to his lover but a reply it was. Xena could only take it as an improvement.
"Strife does THAT?" Hercules actually squeaked. The third item on Eris' list just lost him completely. "How??!" He repeated their question.
"I have no idea." Xena replied, getting cross with her semi divine traveling companion, until she recalled her other piece of news. "And can you guess who's now doing Cupid's job since I got sent here to help you two?"
Twin blank looks of profound confusion met her question. Oh but she was going to enjoy this.
"Ares!" She told them.
The stood there, side by side, and in perfect synconisity they looked at each other, they looked back at her, then each other again and collapsed in a heap laughing hysterically.
"Why Ares?" Iolaus finally asked.
"He's Cupid's father, and according to Aphrodite the most passionate of all the Gods!" Xena helped them to stand back up.
"Ares passionate?" Iolaus asked.
"Ares, passionate, damn yeah!" Hercules got a far away dreamy look in his eyes, remembering something the others could only imagine and worry about. Xena actually did a double take; defending Ares was one of her new self-appointed tasks, and Hercules looked as if he were about to do that task too! That and her curiosity was killing her.
"You and Ares?" Xena quizzed the Demi God.
"Herc, you didn't?" Iolaus pleaded.
"Now where was this man you said broke an oath? What was it, to whom and any ideas what we're going to do about it?" Hercules ignored the worried look on Iolaus' face and held Xena's eyes, almost with out blushing.
Xena pointed silently up the road, unable to look away from Hercules, her imagination running riot. Hercules and Ares? Together? She tried picturing it in her mind. Ares would be passionate enough, but Hercules? And Ares? She always thought Ares had better taste.
Ares and Iolaus, now that she could see! Maybe she should mention this to Joxer the next time she got a chance?
"Herc, you gotta talk to me, you and Ares? As in Ares and you, as in…" Iolaus' voice followed them up the road, begging Hercules to tell him his worst imaginations were simply not true.
Strife had been sitting quietly, as he watched and listened to the exchanges between his husband and Blondie.
"Do you trust him?" Gabrielle demanded from the god she stilll sat on.
"YES! I trust *him*. It's everyone else I don't trust. Whenever I see him with someone else, or even think of him alone with someone else…" The god of love closed his eyes, trying to rein in his emotions. "I just… I lose it," he admitted.
Strife walked over next to his husband, and knelt, somewhat awkwardly, beside him. "I would *never* leave you, Cupe."
Gabrielle, finally noticing the very pregnant god of mischief beside her, didn't think twice about releasing the love god and giving Strife a hug.
Joxer had been keeping mental tabs on the 'therapy' section. And when he saw Cupid push Gabrielle away from Strife and form a pure blue ball of energy, bigger than the ones Ares tended to use, he didn't hesitate to disappear and reappear in the clearing, in front of Gabrielle. He was just in time to take the blow himself, its force knocking him against a tree, rendering him unconscious.
"Cupid, No!" Strife cried as he ran as fast as he could towards his uncle, where Gabrielle was already cradling his head in her lap, trying to wake him up. Seeing the severity of Joxer's condition, he sent a desperate prayer to Olympus. "Uncle Ares!! Asclepius!! Help!!!!"
Twin flashes of light signaled the arrival of the summoned gods. The god of healing went to Joxer's side immediately, but Strife intercepted Ares' similar direction.
"Unc! Ya gotta do something. Cupe went berserk when Gabs hugged me. If it weren't for Jox, she'd be dead now. Please do something, Unc, before it's too late!"
Ares saw Asclepius tending to Joxer, and knew he'd be in good hands. He had to take care of Cupid first. Turning to his son, he saw him frozen immobile from the shock of seeing the results of his own actions. There would be no denying it this time.
Ares sent his own silent summons bringing Zeus and Hephaestus to the clearing.
"Son, what goes on here?" Zeus demanded when he took in the scene before him. The answer to his question was postponed when the god of healing talked.
"Ares, I have to take him to my temple. Come as fast as you can." And he disappeared with Joxer and a distraught Gabrielle.
"What happened to Joxer?"
"*Who* happened." At the king of the gods confused expression, similar to the fire god's, Ares clarified. "Cupid. He got jealous again, and if Joxer hadn't appeared when he did, Gabrielle would be dead now. Father, I need to go to Joxer. But Cupid's a menace right now. To mortals and gods alike. If it had been Strife who took the blast, the baby…"
Hephaestus had crossed over to his stepson's side, trying to bring him out of his shocked state, to no avail.
"Yes, son. Hephaestus, please, will you…" Zeus didn't finish, knowing he'd been understood, when the smith produced a pair of manacles.
Ares started to disappear, but came back. "Father. We need to have another meeting. But I can't preside this one." And in a subdued flash of light the war god left.
Hephaestus let his eyes question Zeus. "Take him to the cells. And if you see Hermes tell him to announce a meeting for tomorrow."
Without another word, the fire god left with his stepson in tow.
Zeus saw Strife was still there, arms wrapped around himself as is for protection. Turning to his grandson, he said, "Strife, go to Eris'. Let her take care of you for now."
Strife nodded slowly, and Zeus gave him a little boost of energy, sending him to Discord's temple in Olympus.
Alone in the clearing Zeus begged the heavens, or Gaea, or anyone who would listen, for a solution.
Zeus' shout rose above all the chattering between the gods and temporary replacements present at the meeting, who immediately quieted. The Twelve, each in their respective thrones, plus Eris, Strife, Xena, and Hercules where the only ones present at the meeting.
"Now, Cupid has proved without doubt, that this was gone beyond a mere case of jealousy or stress. He has become a danger to mortals and gods alike. Yet, because of the importance of his job here on Olympus, I cannot take the normal course of action."
Aphrodite and Strife's heads both shot up at the king of the gods last words.
"Normal course of action?"
"What do you mean?"
Zeus' head dropped before he raised his head again and meet their eyes.
"To render Cupid mortal."
Every god present started protesting at once. Strife's voice rose above all others, questioning his grandfather.
"No, wait, ya can't. He's gonna be a father… I need him," Strife said, struggling to rise fom his chair.
Zeus got up from his throne and walked over to where Strife stood beside his chair. Easing his grandson back down, the king of the gods knelt beside him. That was enough to quiet the assembly. No one had ever seen Zeus kneel, especially not before a lesser god.
"I'm sorry Strife. But it's your safety and your baby's, as well as everyone else's, that's important here! He's imprisoned, but still a god. That means he's still dangerous, to you, and the baby, and all of us, Gods and mortals alike! You have to understand, child."
At Strife's barely noticeable nod, the king got up and crossed over to his throne again. "Now, we must define the problem, and hopefully find the solution. We will meet again in three days. If someone finds something before then, come to me, and the assembly will meet then. Dismissed."
Xena dashed over to Ares before he left. "Can we talk?"
"Sure. I was going to see Joxer. Wanna come?"
"Sure, lead the way."
When they entered Asclespius' healing room in Olympus, Ares all but ran to Joxer. A groggy but awake Joxer.
Sitting gingerly next to the young god, Ares said softly, "Hey, love. How are you feeling?"
Smiling, Joxer answered, "Like I got ran over by a chariot. Where's Gabby? Is she okay?"
Xena answered. "She's okay. It was quite a shock. You saved her life Joxer. You don't know how grateful I am."
"You guys would and have done the same for me. No thanks are needed." He sat up suddenly, groaning at the effort of his sore muscles. "How's Strife? Is he okay? The baby?"
The war god took hold of his frantic husband and settled him back down while he calmed his fears. "He and the baby are just fine. Asc' gave him a herbal tea that calmed him down. Eris is staying with him and I'm still debating if that will make matters better, or worse," he said with a grin, trying to get a smile from Joxer. He succeeded.
Ares looked down at their linked hands, not answering. Joxer noticed the strange behavior of the god and looked at Xena for answers, for his question and Ares' behavior.
"He's locked up. He's still a god, but Zeus restrained his powers."
Joxer gasped then tugged at his husband's hand, bringing Ares' gaze toward his face.
Xena started talking again, seeing that Joxer needed reassurance of Cupid's condition.
"The cell is not bad. Actually, it looks a damn sight better than a lot of the inns we have stayed in. He's okay, really."
Joxer listened to Xena, but didn't break the eye contact with Ares.
"I'm okay Jox. It's just difficult. He's my oldest son. Damn, he's my child. I can't bare to see him like that. Out of control and jailed. It…"
Hurts, Joxer finished in his mind, knowing Ares would never reveal that in front of Xena, or anyone else besides him.
Ares shook his head as if to clear it and turned to Xena. "You wanted to talk to me." It was a statement not a question.
"Yeah." She hesitated. "About Cupid."
"Yeah?" Ares prompted her to talk.
"Well, I was thinking during the meeting. I realized why I couldn't do the romantic love goddess stuff. I'm not romantic. Nor do I completely understand what it means to be romantic. Am I right when I assume that a god must fully understand the emotions he controls?"
Joxer cut in before Xena continued. "But if a god lost understanding of an emotion, he couldn't control it."
"Exactly! Now, let's not get into the why's and how's, but if Hera's curse, when it manifested itself, somehow damaged Cupid's knowledge of jealousy, could it affect him as well as mortals?"
"Yes. But wouldn't a rise in the jealous emotions be noticed?" Ares replied.
"Not if Aphrodite also controls jealousy," Joxer offered. "But there's bound to be an increased proportion of jealous couples, but not in such a grand scale like when you lost your powers, Ar."
"How do we confirm this?" Xena asked.
"Dite. The gods or their priests keep records of petitions. Some save them for over a season or two. Come on Xena, we're going researching." Ares got off the bed, just to go back and push the young god back down.
"I want to go help, Ar."
"You love, are going to rest." Ares tried to be commanding while gentle. "You're still not up to full strength, and we may need you later to help with Strife. He trusts you more than anyone else. Please love."
"I'll come back as soon as we find something." Ares kissed him lightly and then gathered the warrior princess in a loose embrace for the trip to the love goddess' temple.
‘Nothing could have been simpler!’
Ares was sitting on an up turned barrel, swinging his legs and wondering just how it had all happened. He had had it all figured out. A war and an orgy, an orgy and a war! What could have been harder to keep straight? Nothing! So where had it all gone wrong?
Philip of Agrathia had been marching his troops south to do battle against Alexander of Posdra. No problems there.
Both were accomplished psychos with more than their share of successful campaigns behind them. Philip had a particularly bloody reputation with young male captives. What that mortal couldn't do with short sword probably just couldn't be done. As for Alexander, Ares had long since lost count of his kill count.
They had been due to meet in combat outside the walled city of Edris, where Ares was to instigate an orgy, due to start in Cupid's temple.
A war and an orgy, an orgy and a war! Now look at them all!
Joxer materialized a barrel next to his husband and sat down, keeping his own counsel, waiting for his love to speak before he would.
Ares turned to look at him and was given a smile filled with love for his trouble. He smiled right back.
"Joxy, where did it go wrong?" Ares asked, somewhat forlornly.
"Did it?" Joxer asked.
"Of course it did. Look at this place! Does this look like a successful military campaign to you?" Ares gestured with his arms at what was supposed to be the remnants of a battlefield.
"Kinda. It does actually!"
Joxer put an arm around Ares' shoulders and hugged him close.
"Where, how does it look like that to you?"
Joxer looked around himself again then at his downhearted love. No doubt it was the worry about Cupid, Strife and the baby that was getting to his husband. He kissed Ares' cheek and rested his head on his husband's shoulder. The degree of caring that Ares was capable of would shock the majority of the world if they knew, but that was a secret best kept to the Gods alone. Ares, God of War sounded so much tougher than Ares, God of Squishy Feelings. Joxer laughed gently.
"Okay, you had two tasks to achieve, a military one and a love one. I'm correct so far am I not?" Joxer met his love's eyes as he spoke. Wordlessly, Ares nodded. "Good, Philip and Alexander were supposed to meet here. Right? Yes or no?"
"Yes!" Ares replied.
"And so they did. It's just that where you thought they would mutually annihilate each other, they formed a lasting alliance and an even bigger army. Correct thus far?"
"Yes!" Ares replied, again, rather reluctantly.
"And where Cupid, whose judgment is alarmingly off these days, had decided to bring together the houses of Dralma and Flarral, both of Edris, you proved the invalidness of his choice." Joxer felt Ares' shoulders stiffen as he remembered what was supposed to be the orgy.
"Invalidness, is that an actual word?" The despondent War God asked.
"It is now!" Joxer felt Ares give a tiny laugh, not much of a one, but a start.
The pair sat and listened to the noises of what was to have been a great battlefield. What was supposed to be the cacophony of the death cries of two armies had transformed itself into the cries of passion the direct result of two very large groups of fit, healthy, active men having very boisterous sex.
"But where exactly did it all go wrong?" Ares looked at the reason his heart kept on beating, such was his love for Joxer.
"What happened first: the fight or the orgy?" Joxer looked over at the Temple of Cupid, checking to see if it had finally stopped burning.
Ares thought hard and slipped an arm around Joxer's waist to see if it helped him think, which it always did.
"I think it was the fight." Ares reran the activities from earlier that day over in his mind. "Dralma and Flarral arrived at Cupid's temple in answer to his summons at the exact same time. I knew by the vibes they were giving off that this pair simply didn't find each other all that good company. Anyway, Flarral, he was the bigger of the two men, I mean physically bigger, he barges in, right up to Cupid's throne and since I wasn't sitting in it, or visible at that moment he sat in it. I have to admit that that disrespect for my son annoyed me. I mean, what with Cupid's current troubles the last thing a God in his state needs is a mortal dissing him like that!" Ares blushed, profusely, at being caught defending his son's honor. As with so much else that had happened in his life of late, it was yet another new feeling, paternal love! "Just as Dralma asked if he ought to be doing that I made my presence known. Big light show, cac-ra-foom blast of noise, the whole shebang." Ares sighed deeply, remembering how satisfying it had been literally frightening the shit from the uppity mortal.
Joxer just held him and waited patiently for his beloved War God to explain his actions concerning the war and orgy he had been overseeing.
"Flarral literally shit himself!" Ares' sense of humor couldn't resist the image and he laughed. It was such a relief to hear a happy sound from Ares that Joxer laughed too.
"So he had that 'Oh Gods there's something in my pants that doesn't belong' kind of a look on his face that Dralma clearly found funny because he burst out laughing." Ares grinned at that particular memory and cast a glance at Joxer. His husband just looked a question at him. "Okay, I admit it, I laughed too. The smell was really obvious ya' know?"
Joxer thought for a moment and smiled, he valiantly fought off the desire to laugh.
"So there they were both, the chosen houses of Cupid, not a shred of jealousy between them, just absolute hatred. And outside the city wall Philip and Alexander were meeting up face to face at MY shrine to dedicate their endeavors to my glory!" Ares shuddered again.
"Go on, things are getting interesting here." Joxer encouraged his love.
"Philip cried out for my attention. He's got this glorious deep voice, and it resonates. Great for battlefield commands!" Ares remembered that commanding bellow. "So he says something like 'Great Ares bless us now with your benediction!' and Alexander added his own voice. A little lighter in tone, but a perfect compliment for Philips deep tones. 'Yes, Great Ares attend our joining in this endeavor!'" Ares shook his head, slowly, sadly. "If they had waited a few minutes, or had used different words, or even if Flarral hadn't shit himself things might have gone as planned. Anyway, I had to bug out of Cupid's temple to my shrine and deal with Philip and Alexander. So I get there as they're standing there, looking at each other. And me being me and a little distracted, I had to go and say, 'Do you know how well your two voices sound together?' I ask you, what possessed me?" Ares shrugged.
"Then what happened?" Joxer moved round on his barrel to sit facing his favorite God in the entire world. It also let him get a hand on his husband's crotch. He began to stroke him, slowly.
"Well, Philip and Alexander looked at me, then each other. 'Do you like singing?' Alexander asked Philip. Philip looked at Alexander and blushed, a deep bloody red blush. 'In the bath, certainly!' He says. 'You certainly have the physique to have a deeply resonating singing voice' Alexander says, and then he shrugged. Somehow it took all of him to make one shrug. And Philip was watching, every little muscle movement Alexander made. 'Wow, that's supple' he says and when Alexander just looked puzzled he pointed to Alexander's body and says 'To be able to move that fluidly in full armor'. They both blushed this time. I felt the need to make by presence felt around about that point in time so I said 'That's true, you are very supple, damned if you couldn't grasp your own ankles from behind if you were out of all that armor!' I mean, what in Hades' name possessed me?" Ares covered Joxer's stroking hand with his own and increased the pressure.
"Tell me the rest. Then what happened? And when you're finished..." Joxer groaned, deep in his throat.
"What then?" Ares asked, his voice thick with desire and need.
"When you finish telling me all about, I'm gonna take you home and fuck you senseless!" The ex-mortal told him.
Ares just groaned, deep in his throat.
"Joxer!" Ares sighed letting his frustration show.
"So, Philip and Alexander were paying each other compliments." Joxer prompted.
"Right, Philip looked at Alexander and says 'That I'd like to see!' then Alexander grinned at him, took his armor off, and his shirt." Ares groaned at Joxer's questing hands and his memories. "That man has a beautiful body, reminds me of you, a little, anyway he flips over backwards and grasps his own ankles. His body was angled up and backwards; his belly was pulled tight. His pants started to slip, a little of his pubic hair began to show. Philip lifted a very shaky hand and touched that flat belly, this kinda surprised Alexander, and he shot back up right into Philip's arms. Philip says 'You have a beautiful body!' I heard the first cries of alarm from Cupid's temple and looked at Philip and Alexander and said 'Look, stay here and talk, okay? I gotta go do something!' They both looked at me and I felt the ridiculous need to say something. 'He's right, you do have a beautiful body, but then so does he.' I pointed to Philip and for some reason Philip decides to strip off and let Alexander see for himself." Ares looked a little wistful at that point. "So I had to bug out, before the fight could be dedicated and headed back to the Temple. When I got there, Flarral and Drama were already going at it, hammer and tongs! There they were, in the Temple of Cupid, God of Love having a square on go at skewering each other." Ares shrugged again and turned to fully face Joxer. He leaned forwards a little and took his husbands mouth in a passionate kiss.
Joxer broke the kiss after a while, having abandoned Ares' crotch to hold on around his God's neck.
"Then what? You got back to the temple and they're hacking great lumps out of each other."
"Dralma might have been the smaller man, but you try telling Iolaus that that makes him a weaker man! Dralma was evading Flarral's dagger with ease, and what Flarral thought he was doing bringing a dagger into Cupid's temple I don't know. Well, it did seem kinda unfair so I produced a dagger for Dralma, he thanked me profusely and Flarral started on about always being over looked by the Gods and it's all our fault his family weren't as powerful as they should be, yadda, yadda, yadda..." Ares' annoyance with Flarral was so very evident that it made Joxer smile.
"So Dralma yelled out the temple doors to his kinsmen and women, who had been commanded to appear before Cupid, the Flarral called in his and all Tartarus broke loose. I did try and stop them but when one of those bloody idiots almost took my head off I finally decided that Cupid's choice was a bad one and left them to it. By the time I got back to my shrine Philip and Alexander were reclining in a post coital fatigue, whispering sweet nothings to each other. The power of that sexual release was so strong, damn but I see what Cupie gets from it, and they both blushed and tried to get up and dressed instantly! It was so comical, but I stopped them panicking, by that point I didn't care what was going on. So I actually helped them get themselves dressed. Can you believe it? Me? Helping lovers get dressed at my WAR SHRINE? I mean, me?"
"Actually, I can. You underestimate your own abilities to love. I love you, Dite loves you, Strife loves you, and when he's rational Cupid loves you. Many, many people and Gods love you, if we didn't think you capable of returning our love in any way, would we bother?"
Ares blushed and coughed, then finished his story.
"Anyway, they were falling in love, not just battlefield lust, but the real thing. So I, well, it was, I kinda..." He blushed, looked at his patient husband and continued, finally. "Iblessedtheirloveandmarriedthem!"
He finished in a rush.
"You what?" Joxer teased.
"I blessed their love and married them!" Ares shouted out and finally noticed Joxer was laughing.
"I suppose this is the after effects of their wedding feast then?"
"Erm, well, yeah!" Ares blushed.
"And Dralma and Flarral?" Joxer asked.
"Killed each other, and are lying dead on Cupid's alter last I saw. Them and most of their families too, no doubt!" Ares looked around one last time. "So how is Cupid? And Strife?"
"Strife is almost a basket case, he's so worried about Cupid in that cell that he paced up and down until his legs swelled up. He's on bed rest in Asclepius' temple. Cupid is crying his eyes out, he keeps dreaming he's killed me and you're going to kill him! And he's worried about Strife and the baby, keeps asking if they're all right. I think you should go to him, he needs his dad." Joxer smiled at his husband. "You go to Cupid, I'm going to our home, I'll be in bed waiting when you get back, just don't feel you need to rush things on my account." Joxer vanished from the mortal world and left Ares to make up his own mind about his next action.
Then Ares left the mortal world too, his choice having been made as soon as Joxer spoke....
Ares sat and watched as his son pace tiredly around and around the cell. Cupid had been imprisoned for over a week now, and they still hadn't found a solution. Hera told him that the curse had mutated so much she couldn't remove it. It was damaging Cupid and she couldn't remove it!!! Ares was livid. And Hera was frantic!
Ares studied the love god. His eyes were red from crying, he seemed thinner, paler, and he was loosing feathers. What?!?! Gods didn't change in their appearance, only when in disguise. Or when they got sick… Was Cupid sick?!?
"Cupe, come here. How do you feel? You don't look good."
Cupid shuffled over to his father's side, sitting on the bed.
"I don't *feel* good. I tired almost all the time, and the nightmares don't cease. I'm always dreaming that I hurt Joxer, or Strife, or the baby."
"How long has this been going on?" Ares asked, draping a comforting arm over his son's shoulders.
"The jealousy? Since Strife and I got married. The tiredness? Sometime after that. Why?"
"I don't know son. But I am going to find out. In the meantime, I'll get Asclepius to come and check you out. You may be sick, and maybe that's what's causing the nightmares too."
"Can Strife visit?" Cupid asked, his pleading voice making him sound like a little boy.
Ares heart almost broke; he never had refused his son before. "I'm sorry, Cupe. But your Grandfather thought it best he'd stay in the temple, and not visit you. He's not as strong now, and with the baby…"
“Is anyone with him? There better not be anyone. I’ll rip-“
“Cupid! Stop that!” Ares reprimanded his son for the first time this century. “Strife is with Eris and Dite, resting.” Ares opened a viewing portal, letting his son look at Strife, in bed sleeping, while the goddesses of love and discord watched over.
“They’re taking care of him and Bliss. He asks about you all the time. You have nothing to be jealous about. Understood?”
"Yeah,” Cupid drew a deep breath. “I understand. Tell him I love him?"
"Sure. I'll come over later. Try to rest, okay?"
Ares hugged his son and left, the shower of sparkles fading rapidly.
The king of the gods sat heavily on his chair. Rubbing his eyes with his fists, he sighed.
"You want me to… release Cupid. Knowing the danger he is to Strife and the baby. And everyone else!"
"Dad, have you gone to see him? He looks sick. Pale, thin. He's loosing feathers, for the gods' sakes. He's always been a god of free and open spaces. Being locked up in that cell, no matter how big or comfortable, is bad for him. He hasn't any space to even stretch his wings!"
"I know you're worried, Ares. I’m worried too! But I can't do that. I can't let him free."
"Okay, how about he stays in his temple, and you create a barrier, so he can't leave. His temple is big enough for him to fly about a bit. And he'd still be restrained. Please Father? For Cupe?" Ares found himself begging to Zeus, something he’d never done before. But then again, for Cupid, he’d do anything.
"I’ll have to think about it. And discuss it with Hera. This is a decision that must be made jointly, between your mother and me."
Just then a bright flash of light announced the arrival of yet another god. Ares turned on the couch where he sat to see the god of medicine materialize from the light, shaking his head ruefully.
"Grandfather, Uncle. We need to talk." The grim look in his face alerted the war god.
Ares was up and next to Asclepius in a heartbeat.
"What's wrong?" Ares was tense, almost like waiting to be hit square on the face.
"Well, I believe that someone has been drugging Cupid. It explains why he’s in that state of health."
"Drugged?" Zeus jumped from his throne and grabbed the smaller god by the arms. "What do you mean drugged? Who was it?"
"I found a drug in his system. There is no way to trace the power signature. It must have been inserted in his food or drink."
"Is this drug responsible for Cupe's outrages?" Ares asked, ready to grasp any straw that might point them in the right direction to save Cupid’s life. Cupid’s, Strife’s and maybe even the baby’s life!
"It’s worse. From what I can tell, the drug is designed to kill a mortal, instantly. It’s effect in gods could be death too, if given in higher doses, I suppose. The outrages… well if it somehow triggered Hera's curse, yes, it could have mutated it."
“Kill a god!?!? Where is this drug from? How can this be?!?!”
“It’s not a natural substance. Not anything I’ve dealt with before. It’s man, or god, made. I wouldn’t have found it if not that I was looking for something wrong within Cupid’s system.”
"Is Cupid going to be all right?" Zeus asked, tightening his hold on the younger god.
"I don’t know. *If* I can extract enough of the drug from his system, I could make an antidote. But I’ll have to take him to my temple and father would have to help me."
"I’ll get Hermes to track down Apollo. You have permission to take Cupid to your temple, but make sure he’s not close to Strife; we can’t risk anything happening to him or the baby. I’ll set a barrier so he can’t leave. You find a cure, fast!”
“I’ll do my best Grandfather,” the medicine god said, straightening his back determinedly.
“I’m not *asking* you to do your *best*, Asclepius. I’m *telling* you to *do* it."
Asclepius stopped and looked at his grandfather. Deep lines of worry creased his face, dark bags under his eyes; he looked ruffled, like he hadn’t sleep for days. Ares wasn’t looking any better either. He’d never seen either god in less then pristine condition. Right then he realized how much these two gods, known for their detachment and uncaring natures, really loved Cupid and Strife, and the baby that was on the way. And he knew, right there and then, that he’d move the Heavens and Earth, to cure his cousin.
Nodding briefly, Asclepius disappeared, not wasting time and energy he’d need later, on a flashy light show.
Zeus took hold of Ares chin and looked into his son’s eyes, feeling more and more like the father he was; wishing he could just gather all his family to him and keep them from any harm.
"Ares, listen to me. Now, I need you to be your sneaky self and find out who did this. Understood?"
Ares looked into his father's eyes and found firm determination and a lacing of mischief gleaming from them, reassuring him. Straightening, he took a deep breath.
Joxer had listened his husband explain all that had happened during his visits with both Cupid, and later with, Zeus. He saw how nervous Ares was. The war god had been pacing non stop since he arrived in their chambers. Joxer knew he had to stop this behavior, and make his love sit down and do what he did best: plan.
“Ares, come on, sit down. You’re making me dizzy,” the peace god tried to inflect some humor in his voice so as to calm his husband.
“I can’t. I’m just so nervous and afraid and mad and, and… I just wanna blow something up!” The war god’s eyes’ were wild, his arms gesturing in time with his pacing.
Joxer bit back a bad joke, knowing it wouldn’t help Ares right now. Ares loved all of his children, godly or otherwise, but Cupid was his first-born, and held that special spot in his heart. And, though, he knew it sounded corny, to Joxer, the love god was like the son that he himself had never had. Even if said god was his elder for more than a thousand years!
Standing up from the bed, Joxer went to the fireplace, where Ares had been for the past half-hour. After two failed attempts, the younger god finally caught hold of one of Ares’ arms. Pulling his husband to him, Joxer embraced him tightly, giving all the comfort Ares needed.
After a minute, the war god relaxed into the hug, thanking the heavens and Fates for giving him such a strong, warm and caring soul as his husband. He never knew how much he craved that comfort until Joxer had offered it to him, so unconditionally!
“Better?” Joxer asked as he pulled back slightly.
Ares leaned forward and claimed Joxer’s pliant mouth, smiling at him so lovingly, in a long, excruciatingly sweet kiss.
“Better,” Ares confirmed as little breathlessly after the kiss ended.
Ares laughed a little at Joxer flushed and glazed look.
“Thank you love, you are magnificent!”
The younger god blushed profoundly at the compliment, making Ares smile wider.
“You look way too smug! Come on, now. How are we going to find out who drugged Cupid?”
Ares’ smile disappeared from his lips, as Joxer led him to a couch by the fire and sat him down next to him.
“I don’t know. Without knowledge as to what the drug is, or where it came from, I don’t know where to start looking.” Ares slumped on Joxer’s shoulder in defeat.
“How about the Halls of Time? We could see if we can see who put the drug on Cupid’s food?” The younger god sounded encouraging, his sunny nature coming through his speech.
“Joxer that’s brilliant! But, oh… it will take us days, weeks even to look into every moment of Cupid life since the wedding. It’s been four months already!”
“Not necessarily, Ares. We look for about a week before Cupid’s behavior started, when the drug must have been planted. If not, a bit further back.”
Ares kissed his husband briefly and nodded.
“Okay, then. Let’s go. But, we recruit the Fantastic Four to help us out.”
“Fantastic Four?” Joxer frowned, confusion etched all over his face.
“Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules and Iolaus,” Ares clarified, kissing the frown away from Joxer’s face.
Joxer laughed, happy that Ares was feeling better enough to be making jokes about his friends.
“Come on then, I look for Xena and Gabby, you for Herc and Iolaus.”
It had been an excruciating two days. Consequently Ares was feeling all of his sixteen hundreds years lately. With Joxer's help, he had finally tracked down Xena, Hercules and their sidekicks; they were trying to work out how to punish a man who'd broken an oath. He'd called Deimos and Phobus to take over from them, and had snatched the four mortals.
Since then Joxer and Ares had worked non-stop in the Halls of Time, and the mortals had taken turns to eat and sleep.
"You okay, love?" Joxer's voice broke into Ares' thoughts. The war god turned to find his husband presenting him with a mug of Demeter's special herb tea.
He smiled as he took the cup from Joxer's hands.
"Thanks love. You take good care of me."
"Yeah, well..." Joxer response was broken when Iolaus hesitantly laid a hand on his arm, drawing the young god's attention to him.
"Guys, take a look at this," the hunter said as he pointed to one of the Hall's windows he'd been watching.
"You found something, Iolaus?" Hercules asked as he came into the Halls.
Having figured out the trick to replaying the scenes shown, Iolaus started the window to show Cupid's temple. Joxer recognized the mess in the temple.
"That was before the wedding. Dite and Eris had made a complete disaster area out of it while supposedly figuring out the decorations for the wedding."
As they watched, Cupid flashed into the temple, carrying a plate full of Ares' famous sweet cakes. Placing the plate on a nearby table, he started picking up pieces of fabric, flowers and trinkets from the floor, dumping them on the side couch. Just then the goddess of love flashed into the temple, and grabbed one of Cupid's arms, pulling him way with her, all the while she babbled something about fitting his clothes.
The scene remained on the empty temple.
After exactly three seconds, Ares asked annoyed.
"Iolaus, why is this of any importance?"
Just then a pinkish flash of light signaled the arrival of a goddess in Cupid's temple. The goddess, walked over to the table, her back turned away, hiding her face. The gods and mortals looked on as she took a vial out from her side pocket and broke the seal. They watched in stunned silence as she poured the contents over the sweet cakes.
Just then, she flipped her hair back, revealing her face to her unknown audience.
Three voices rang in unison.
As quietly as she arrived, she departed. Behind her she left the plate of now poisoned sweet cakes. As her flash fades a new, bluer flash heralded the arrival of another God, or rather, the return of Cupid. The Love god crossed to the table with his precious sweet cakes on it, as he approached he created himself a new, sturdy chair and a goblet of very cold milk.
Cupid bit into one of the sweet cakes just as Ares arrived. He looked at his son, happily munching 'his' breakfast.
"Well, I kinda 'knew' it would be you or Bliss that got them. Where is the little 'cherub' then?" Ares looked around the devastation that had been his son's temple.
"Oh, this wasn't Bliss, this was mom and Discord having creative differences!" Cupid told him. "Thanks for the sweet cakes by the way!" He giggled, knowing full well he had stolen the sweet cakes from his father.
"You really ought to learn how to make them yourself you know?" Ares replied, and the elder god tried to reach for one, only to have the plate moved further away from him. "Hey, they were MY breakfast first ya' know!" Ares tried to sound angry but failed miserably.
"Yeah but I need the comfort food." Cupid pleaded with his eyes, and as always happened, his father caved in.
"Oh, all right!" Ares smiled even though his words sounded cross, the audience could see he was actually amused.
"Dad, you're the best!" And Cupid jumped to his feet and hugged his father, and was, of course, hugged right back.
The image faded and the four watchers stood quietly looking at the now blank window. Finally a shaking, angry, saddened voice whispered between them.
"If I had insisted that he returned my breakfast, I could have prevented this!" Ares let his feelings of guilt show; he sought and found Joxer's hand for comfort.
"But if you had taken those things, then it would be you and Joxer that are suffering. Either way someone suffers!" Iolaus turned from his husband to his brother in law, remembering he had this volatile God to thank for their marriage. "And of course, had you been suffering jealous rages, me an' Herc might not be married now!" He grinned, softening his otherwise selfish sounding words.
"What were those things he stole from you anyway?" Hercules asked, just as his stomach rumbled.
"Sweet cakes." Ares told him. "Remember I made them for you as our joint wedding breakfasts?" Ares winked at Iolaus, the smaller man thought back to that morning and those sweet cakes.
"Yeah, I remember them now, they were delicious..." As Iolaus spoke his stomach rumbled, loudly.
Taking pity on the hunter, Ares created a platter of piping hot sweet cakes and offered them around. Each of them took a cake and bit into it. A burst of honey, of cinnamon, of nutmeg and of ginger, of moist juicy fruits, of tastes the mortals simply didn't have words to describe hit them.
"Oh man!" Iolaus mumbled, once his mouth was clear enough, remembering his first ever taste of these delicacies. "No wonder Cupid stole them, these are marvelous! So, give, how come you can make such a sweet, wonderful delicacy that Cupid can't resist stealing them? What do his taste like?"
Another platter and three cakes were lifted, and three faces screwed up in disgust.
"Ugh! Way too sweet. Where's the spice, the tart bite?" Hercules finally managed.
"A God's food reflects their natures. Cupid has an unnaturally sweet nature normally. He represses his darker side. Represses it ... Shit, could that be what Psyche did? Released that side of him?" Ares looked at his companions then flashed out.
"Where'd'he go?" Iolaus asked, returning to Ares' first sweet cake.
"Asclepius' temple, to talk to him and the boys no doubt. Come on, I'll show you the way. Sorry I can't zap you both there but I don't have that amount of energy just yet." Joxer shrugged and smiled rather sadly.
"No matter, we got feet." Iolaus told him and they walked out of there.
"Where is Psyche now?" Hercules asked.
"I don't know, but I know someone who'll find out quick enough!" Joxer said. Then he seemed to close off from them for a moment, right before Dite and Discord appeared..
"What's so urgent Jox? News?" Dite asked,.
"More harm done to the boys?" Discord asked.
"Psyche poisoned Cupid. Well, so it seems anyway. Can you find her and take her to Zeus and Ares?" Joxer asked, ever so reasonably. "Eventually, that is!" The newest God of Peace grinned, a feral look worthy of Strife.
The two Goddesses looked at each other, then Hercules and Iolaus, then finally at Joxer, the newest and one of the most devious Gods on Olympus. Three equally wide grins appeared on three equally angry faces.
"It will be our pleasure!" Discord told him, hugging Joxer, and to their complete astonishment, kissing Hercules' cheek, and just plain kissing Iolaus.
Then Dite did the same.
"Give the boys our love, we'll be back later, with a prisoner in tow!" Dite turned to Discord and the two Goddesses began to discuss tactics.
Joxer and his companions continued on their way, arriving at a scene of pure bedlam unfolding in Asclepius' temple.
Asclepius was trying to treat a stressed out Strife, Ares was trying to get his enraged son to calm down, Hera was trying to move Strife's pregnancy along and Zeus was trying to prevent any damage occurring to the others in the temple. Cupid was none too fussy at whom he lunged; his jealousy was so out of control. Ares noticed Joxer and their helper's arrival and tried to inch towards his husband.
Cupid's rage was sufficient to have over powered the magical bonds he had been placed in while being treated.
"I'll kill him, he's trying to seduce MY husband, just because he doesn't have one himself! I'm gonna fry him, he'll have ta' heal himself before he'll be fixed enough to be returned to life! I'll rip his evil heart out and feed it to Graegus! I'll lift his head from his shoulders and give it to Bliss as a ball. I'll..." Cupid was interrupted by Joxer.
"Cupid, describe to me exactly what Asclepius is doing, my vision is playing up!" Joxer asked of the irate God.
"He's seduc.." He was interrupted again.
"I said describe exactly what he was doing. An' as far as I know 'Clepie don't do men!" Joxer replied.
"He's touching Strife's belly." Cupid snarled.
"What, like this?" Joxer prodded his fingers into Cupid's unprepared belly, causing immediate pain to the Love God.
"No! Not like that, softer, not prodding, touching!" Cupid gasped around the pain.
"Then how exactly?" Joxer asked.
"Like this!" Cupid placed the flats of his hands against Joxer's belly.
"And doing what exactly, what could he feel there?"
"The baby, he could feel the baby?" Cupid gasped, his pain so obvious, he was not able to go to Strife, the other's were keeping him away from his husband.
"Why would he do that? Do you think he gets a sexual pleasure from touching unborn babies?" Joxer pushed his luck with Cupid, his luck held.
"NO! That's disgusting! He's feeling where the baby's lying. He'll be feeling its heart beat. Making sure it’s all right." Cupid whispered, calming down rapidly.
"So what is Hera doing? I don't know much about the births of Gods!" Joxer answered seriously. Cupid realized that Joxer would have no idea what the Goddess of Childbirth would be doing. This was the first male-born child on Olympus for a very long time.
"She's speeding up the development of the baby, So it'll be born the sooner. Strife is weakening, he can't take the strain of a full pregnancy, and it's all because of me and my jealousy." Cupid began to weep, great heaving sobs. He leaned against his stepfather and enjoyed the first touches of peace his soul had known in a long time.
As the Love God calmed down Hercules and Iolaus joined them, hugging the God of Love, guiding the now anguished God to his husband's side. Once there, Cupid sat down, never released from Joxer's touch though. The newest Peace God was exerting all his energy into keeping Cupid on an even keel.
"How are you?" Cupid asked his husband, reaching out a less than steady hand to the bump housing their baby.
"We're fine. Her and me both!" Strife smiled as he finally told his husband they were to have a daughter.
"She? A daughter. Oh, yes, I can just feel her, her power's growing, and she’s so strong!" Cupid could not pull his hand free, even if he wanted to. Some force was holding him there.
He looked up at the healer, who saw his situation and Asclepius in turn looked to Hera for an answer.
The Goddess of Childbirth touched Cupid's hand and gasped at the power emanating from the unborn Goddess.
"Zeus!" She called out; alarm could be clearly heard in her voice. Noticing his wife's distress Zeus rushed to her side.
"What is it, has something gone wrong?" The King of the Gods also touched Cupid and Hera. He too knew what his wife knew. "Oh, I see your point!" He took his wife's hand and lead her away from the group clustered about Strife.
"What's wrong, is there something wrong with the baby?" Strife's emotions were so painfully close to the surface that no one in that temple could.
"Nothing sweet child, rest assured more is going right than wrong!" Hera smiled over her shoulder at her grandsons.
Joxer continued to hold his stepson's shoulders while Ares, Asclepius, Hercules and Iolaus conferred in another corner, leaving a little island of quiet as Cupid looked at Strife and Strife just looked right back. Joxer felt a little out of place in that very private tableau, but couldn't risk letting go of Cupid until he knew for sure everything was under control.
Asclepius crossed to Cupid and touched the younger god's head. A pulsating green light engulfed the healer and the Love God, and before the light could touch Joxer and Strife, Cupid moved towards his cousin and away from his husband and stepfather. His body twisted in pain and his mouth contorted in a silent scream.
As he watched, Strife began to panic, but Ares was there, holding him, touching the bump and he too touched the soul of the baby within.
"Oh, sweetheart, welcome home!" He whispered. He looked at Strife and they shared a smile, such a sweet smile.
"What is it, what is she?" Joxer asked them.
"Our daughter is a Goddess, naturally, and she is the Goddess of Jealousy, hers to give or take away!" Strife broke the news to the rest of the room's occupants.
"And this will be her emblem!" Hera extended her hand with Zeus' hand palm down over it. A bright silvery light glowed between those joined hands. Once they parted, a delicate pendant nestled there. A heart rendered in two equal halves that were held together by the sword separating each the two parts.
"And her name?" Ares asked, looking from Strife to the now settled again Cupid.
"She'll be named in the assembly, and not before." Cupid whispered.
"Drat!" Ares muttered. "I was hoping you'd fall for that one!" He smiled, kissed his son's cheek and Strife's, and then looked at his own husband. "Now, what are we doing about finding Psyche?" He asked.
"I asked Discord and Dite to find her and return her to you and Zeus." Joxer replied, smiling so sweetly.
"Now, that was nasty!" Hera told him. "Ah, Joxer, you're a great addition to the family!"
Zeus gave his wife a long hard look, then turned to his dark son.
"Shall we go to my study and watch the girls' progress?"
"Okay, but what about Herc and the others?" Ares stood, stretched and nodded to the mortal contingent of the group.
I'll take them to our temple and let them sleep them selves out. Okay?" Joxer grinned.
"Whatever.." Ares yawned and zapped out to his father's study.
"Don't worry, Jox, I'll see to it that he sleeps." Zeus grinned, then vanished, following his son.
"So, is Cupid cured now or what?" Iolaus asked, seeking clarification.
"Yes, and its thanks to you!" Cupid touched Iolaus' head and the hunter smiled. A cunning, lascivious, wicked, delighted grin.
"Poor boy!" Hera murmured to Hercules as she patted his shoulder in passing. Joxer saw her action, Asclepius saw her action, So too did Strife, the Mischief God turned towards Hera.
"Grandmother?" He questioned. "You didn't?" He pleaded.
Hera just zapped herself home, not even breaking a smile until she was in the very private study with a sleeping Ares and avidly watching Zeus.
"Did you?" He asked.
"You'll just have to wait and see!" She told him.
"So you didn't!"
She still smiled.
Zeus gave up, he concluded that he would indeed just have to wait and see.
"Come on Herc, home to Ares' place and bed!" Iolaus spoke from the scrying mirror as he lead his sleepy husband out the healer's temple.