AresJoxerCupidStrife - Kerensa


Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 part 7 part 8 part 9 part 10 part 11 part 12 part 13 part 14


Fic: Bumps Along The Way
Author: Kerensa
Pairings: Strife/Cupid (pre-slash, so far), Joxer/Ares
Rating: FRT, so far
Archive: Yes, just let me know where
Site: LJ- http://strifesmistress.livejournal.com/
Feedback: Well duh!
A/N: This is part of the Children At Play series. 1st was Overheard Conversations, 2nd was Heads I Lose, Tails I Lose and now this one is 3rd.

However, chronologically, OC is after Heads and then this one. (Is everybody confused now? Good. )

Chapter 1

Strife glanced around the room, his pale blue eyes sparkling in the light from the flickering candles, and sighed happily. He, Cupid and Bliss were

eating dinner in Cupids temple, a semi-regular event as of late. Strife was amazed at how nice the meals were, especially compared to what the

mischief god was used to.

Not the actual food itself, of course. Cupids servants were always excellent at what they did and Strife, when he did eat, just magicked up

something or the other, so he wasnt particularly picky. No the time that they spent consuming the meal was what was so wonderful. Nobody was

yelling or throwing lightening boltsit was a peaceful meal on Mount Olympus, a rarity.

The mischief god was relaxed. He really liked being around the two blond gods, one a miniature of his gorgeous daddy, and was starting to feel that

he could trust Cupid and the way he was feeling inside. The mischief god hesitated to call it love, even to himself, because he wasnt entirely certain

what that emotion should feel like. But he knew he was feeling something and it felt good. Strife was even a *little* hopeful that Cupid was

beginning to like him back.

A little.

"Awww, do's I hafta?" Bliss whined.

"It is 'do I have to', Cupid corrected automatically. "And yes, you do. Vegetables are good for you. Do you want to have to wait *several* more

years before you are strong enough to fly?"

Bliss shook his head quickly. Long, blond curls were whipped around at the motion. His big blue eyes widened at the *horror* of having to wait

*that* long to fly like his daddy. Why, that was forever!

Strife watched the exchange and tried not to laugh. What Bliss didn't realize was that it would probably take him years to master flying. The God of

Mischief decided to help Cupid out and scooped up a deliberately large serving of *his* vegetables and ate them. Cupid did the same and both men

made a show of how good the food tasted. Bliss watched all this carefully, and not wanting to be left out (or face that *horribly* long wait), used

his spoon to take his own bite. The look on the godling's face showed that he wasn't impressed by the taste, but he kept eating anyway.

"Soooo, what did you do today?" Cupid asked Strife with a smile.

The God of Mischief and second-in-command to Ares raised an inquiring eyebrow at the question. He could see it when Cupid realized his mistake

almost as soon as hed said it. Strife's work didn't generally include anything that a small child could or should hear. Strife's eyes twinkled with

mischief at the panicked look on the love god's face.

"Oh, not taa much. Just tha usual. I had a few followahs that played some pretty spectaculah pranks. I went ta watch tha fallout from them."

"Fallout?" Cupid asked.

Strife paused and then gave a little laugh. "Sorry about that. It's a term from tha future. Uh, I went ta see what tha outcome would be."

"Ah," Cupid nodded in understanding. Bliss held up his plate with his *mostly* eaten vegetables and Cupid dutifully inspected it. "Very good, son."

Bliss smiled at the approval and looked over at Strife who winked at him. Cupid waved his hand, clearing the large table and a bowl of desert

appeared in front of each of them. The little boy giggled happily and dug in. *This* he ate without complaint. Of course, Cupids clever chefs had

made a desert that included several kinds of fruit, so the little boy was unknowingly eating more healthy food.

"I had to spend most of the day at my main temple. The one on Earth, I mean. I listened to followers and answered petitions all day. Luckily for me,

each temple has one acolyte that gathers up their petitions and brings it to the one spot, otherwise, I'd be running all over Greece the whole day

and never get anything done." He turned to look at Strife. "Don't you just hate that?"

Strife hesitated. "Uh, yeah."

It really wasn't a problem for Strife. He had one, badly made, and very unsteady temple, on Olympus. There were no shrines or places to worship the

God of Mischief on Earth and just the one spot on Olympus. Getting petitions wasn't really a problem either. Most of Strife's followers were children

and when they did want to say anything to Strife they prayed directly. The few petitions he did get were from older worshippers and they were

generally odd in some ways. The things they wrote would frighten Deimos, the God of Fear, let alone anybody else.

^^^^^

"Stwifey, will you tell me a story?" The little boy blinked slowly. His great big, blue eyes looking up at Strife adoringly.

Strife was nonplussed. He didn't know any stories that were suitable for a two year old child. Looking at the godling, lying in his tiny bed, his white

wings peeking out from under a sleeping shift, and Strife didn't have the heart to beg off. He racked his brain and finally thought of something.

"Okay, but ya hafta lean back." After Bliss was settled, Strife began.

"Once upon a time, theah was a young man who wanted ta be a mighty warrior. He wasn't a very good fightah, but his heart was in tha right place.

He was very brave and did his best though and that's what's most important ah all."

Bliss nodded his head and smiled. He turned onto his side and clutched a stuffed dragon, his eyes slid closed. The little boy determinedly reopened

them. Strife pretended not to notice that he was already losing his audience.

"One day he was travelin along and some very bad men decided they wanted his...food," Strife amended the thought quickly, glad he hadnt

inadvertently said the wrong thing. "The mighty fightah tried his best, but there were taa many of them. He was about ta lose his food, when

anothah man heard tha yellin and came runnin."

Strife saw that Bliss was asleep. He sat a few more minutes beside the little boy, just watching him, and making sure he didn't wake back up. When

he was sure that Bliss was out for the night, Strife stood up, brushed back the soft blond curls from Bliss' face and kissed the little one on the

forehead.

"Goodnight, kiddo," he whispered.

^^^^^

"Did you have fun?" Cupid asked. He had already told his son goodnight, before leaving him alone with Strife.

"Yeah, I did. He wanted me ta tell a bed time story."

"How'd that go?" Cupid arched an eyebrow.

"Pretty good. I didn't get very far before he fell asleep."

Cupid laughed. "That's what usually happens. I don't think I've ever been able to finish a story for him." Cupid was lounging on a large chair, his legs

hanging over one arm of it. "Why don't you stay for a while?" he asked lazily.

Strife was tempted. More than tempted, but he could see how tired Cupid was and figured the invitation was automatic. "Nah, I bettah get goin. Unc

has a full day fah me tomorrow."

The God of Love stood up and sauntered towards Strife. The young god's mouth went dry at the sight and it was all he could do not to whimper.

"That's too bad."

'Is he purring?' Strife wondered dazedly. 'Dear Zeus, I think he is.'

"But, before you go."

Cupid wrapped one tanned hand around the back of Strife's neck and gently pulled him forward. Strife didn't know what to do, so he let himself be

led. When Cupid's lips met his, Strife forgot how to breathe. It was the first time his 120some years that the god had been kissed and he was

overwhelmed by it. Strife didn't know if all kisses were like this or if it was because it was a love god doing the kissing or what. Whatever the cause,

Strife immediately decided he liked kissing and wanted to keep doing it indefinitely.

Then it was over and Cupid pulled away. Strife gasped as he remembered to breathe and gazed up at Cupid with wondering eyes. The God of Love

smiled happily and ran a thumb over Strife's kiss slick lips, wiping them dry.

"I-I think I need ta go now," Strife stuttered. His mind was whirling in confusion; he'd never felt like this before in his life.

"Okay." Cupid seemed to regret his leaving. "Bye," he whispered.

"Uh, b-bye." Strife waved as he disappeared in a flash of multi colored sparkles.

^^^^^

It took Strife three times to make it back to his own temple. The first time, he ended up in Thrace. The second time was outside of Hermes' home

temple. He finally made it home and stood in the middle of the room for several minutes before coming back to himself.

When he did, Strife realized he had another problem. He had an erection. At least, that's what he assumed it was. Strife had heard all about

erections and being aroused and masturbation, but before now, none of that had ever been a problem. But after that kiss...

Strife glanced down at his groin guiltily and saw that the front of his black leather outfit was tighter than usual. It didn't seem right that Cupid's

innocent kiss had caused this. Was there something wrong with him?

But no, according to Aphrodite and her *Coming of Age* speech, there wasn't anything wrong with what he his body was doing; it was a natural

part of sex. But, for Strife, sex meant Tr...Him.......Tryst.

Strife spun around, looking for the hulking horror. No one was there. His thinking of the god hadn't made him appear. Strife was relieved, because

that had happened so often in the past. The God of Mischief would think of the God of Secret Meetings and he would show up.

Glancing back down at his crotch, Strife realized he didn't have to worry about his reaction to Cupid anymore or what to do with it. The thought of

Tryst had killed any arousal he had, just like always.

With a shrug, Strife got ready for bed. That consisted of walking over to his pallet, laying down, pulling the ratty, misshapen blanket over his

shoulders and closing his eyes. Strife didn't wear bed clothes, because you never knew when you might have to flash out, so he worn his leathers all

the time. He didn't remove his boots, because when he had lived with Ares, Tryst liked to flash into Strife's bedroom, grab him by the feet and yank

him off the bed. Bare feet meant he was going to be raped and then the bottom of his feet burned and beaten. Ares didn't know why he hated to

have his feet sticking out and would have been horrified to realize the cause.

Closing his eyes, Strife began his own bed time story. "Once upon a time, there was a beautiful god and his adorable son..."





Fic: Bumps Along The Way
Author: Kerensa
Pairings: Strife/Cupid (pre-slash, so far), Joxer/Ares
Rating: FRT, so far
Archive: Yes, just let me know where
Feedback: Well duh!
A/N: This is part of the Children At Play series. 1st was Overheard Conversations, 2nd was Heads I Lose, Tails I Lose and now this one is 3rd.

However, chronologically, OC is after Heads and then this one. (Is everybody confused now? Good. )


Chapter 2

Hi Daddy, Bliss yelled as he ran/flew up to Cupid. His little white wings were flapping vigorously and they gave a little extra lift to his small body, so

by the time he reached his father, Bliss was floating at about waist level.

Woah there, little one. Cupid caught his son up and kissed him on the tip of the nose. Bliss giggled and rubbed a chubby little hand across his face

and then giggled even louder when Cupid kissed it again.

Daddyyyy!

"Bli-issssss!"

The little boy giggled when Cupid said his name like that. "Spin me, spin me!"

The God of Love put the little boy back on the ground and took hold of his impatiently outstretched hands and swung him out, so that Bliss' feet flew

out behind him. Before he could touch back down, Cupid started turning in a circle, faster and faster. Bliss was soon being spun around, his legs

parallel to the floor. Father and son laughed at the antics.

Cupid slowed down and carefully sat his son's feet back down on the ground. Bliss swayed for a few moments, trying to get his head to stop

spinning and naturally Cupid held on to him until he was steady. The little boy's attention quickly wandered and Cupid watched him run towards the

*water colors* that Strife had given him. The little godling loved to paint with them and Cupid had said he could use them on the wall and floor in

the far corner of the main room. So far everyone was impressed with the childs offerings.

Bliss plopped down on the floor. He *eeeped* when his bare bottom met the cold marble. Cupid grinned and with a flick of his finger Bliss loincloth

was back where it belonged, instead of underneath his bed where the child had flung it, as was his tendency to do. Cupid smothered a laugh with his

hand when he realized that it was a good thing no one else was around or Bliss would have been flashing them when they had been spinning.

*Flashing.* That was another term that the love god had gotten from Strife and the future.

"Did you have a nice time today son?"

Cupid knew that today was one of the days that Bliss and his nanny went down to Earth to play. There weren't any godly children Bliss' age and

Cupid wanted his son to be around people other than adults all the time. In one of Cupid's temples there was a little boy who came to play most

days and brought several friends. Axrius was the son of one of Cupid's most devoted followers.

"No," the little boy said petulantly. The rainbow he was painting had a black stripe added. Bliss *did not* like Axrius. "Axrius was there. I don't want

to play with him anymore, daddy. He's a bastard."

The love god sat down at his desk and picked up one of the scrolls at random and began reading. They were all requests of one sort or another.

Some people were asking for true love, others just wanted sex. Cupid was contemplating one such missive when his thoughts were interrupted by

what Bliss was saying.

Cupid spun around and stared at his son. His mouth fell open in horror as he listened to the crude language that his small son was using. Bliss

remained unaware of his father's dismay and quickly moved on to talking about the games he and the other children had played.

The blond god didn't say anything. By the time he had overcome his shock, Cupid realized that the time to reprimand Bliss had passed. The boy's

mercurial mind was already on to something else. Cupid decided that if and when Bliss used that word again, then he would say something.

The love god sat at his desk, scrolls lying there forgotten, and thought and thought. Where in all the world would Bliss have learned to say such

things? He knew that Bliss' nanny wouldn't all words like that around or by the children, so it wasn't there. With a sinking heart and clenching

stomach, Cupid came to the only conclusion he could think of.

Strife.

The God of Mischief was around very rough people most of the time and probably said it without meaning to. But then, what else could he have

taught Bliss?

Questioning Bliss didn't help. Anytime Cupid mentioned the mischief god's name, the little godling did a happy dance and forgot the question. Cupid

needed some advice on what to do next.

^^^^^

Cupid decided to go to Aphrodite and ask her opinion. The goddess wasn't as ditzy as she led people to believe and actually had a keen intelligence

and was able to think fast on her feet. Besides, she was mom!

"Hi, honey." Dite waved from where she was sitting on her throne. The chair wasn't as impressive as Ares' massive black one, but instead was a

delicate filigree of glass and multi-colored crystals. It wasn't as delicate as it looked, however, and fit in more with the love goddess decor of subtle

pinks and golds. (Yes, subtle.)

"Hey, mom."

Aphrodite looked up at Cupid's subdued tone and immediately dropped the scroll she was reading. That was one thing about Dite, any time one of her

family needed her she was there for them. It didn't matter what love match she was working on, her family, especially her children, came first.

"Cupie, what is it?"

He sat down on one of the visitor's chairs and sighed tiredly. Cupid had been up all night worrying about the problem. He didn't tell Aphrodite who he

thought the bad influence was, not wanting his mother's perceptions of Strife to influence her. He didn't even tell her what Bliss had been saying,

just that he had been using inappropriate language. Dite assumes that it is a temple priest or someone like that.

"You need to keep the bad influence away from your son," the goddess advised her son.

Cupid raised one eyebrow at this. One of his earliest memories was being at one of his mom's orgies. He hadn't actually seen Aphrodite having sex,

but he had heard her. Personally, he figured that's why it had taken him so long to loose his own virginity.

"Bliss is so impressionable, you don't want him to learn nasty habits this early in life." The goddess patted Cupid on the arm and he reasoned that he

must look as miserable as he felt.

^^^^^

Two days later

Cupid and Bliss flashed in to Ares' temple so that the little boy could see his grandfather and Joxer. As they were walking down the hall, they saw

Strife coming out of Ares' war room.

Bliss was thrilled to see Strife. He squealed and ran over to grab hold of the mischief god's legs. "Stwifey!"

The delighted smile on Strife's face showed how touched he was by Bliss' reaction. "Kiddo, it's good ta see ya." He hugged the little boy, being

especially mindful of his fluffy wings. "Hiya, Cupid."

"Hello, Strife." Cupid forced himself to be friendly, but not encouraging. "Son, why don't you go play in the garden. Joxer is probably out there and

you can see Grandpa Ares later."

Bliss didn't notice the strain, but Strife did. He stopped smiling and let go of Bliss; Strife had been patting the soft curls. They both watched as the

godling bounced out of the room, singing a little song that he'd heard from one of his play friends.

Cupid gritted his teeth and nodded rather curtly to Strife and went to see his father. As he passed by Strife, Cupid refused to look at the other god

and didn't see the pain and desolation in Strife's blue eyes where only moments before there had been happiness.

^^^^^

Strife flashed to his *thinking spot* out in the middle of the ocean.

It was a tiny, rocky island that was more rock than island. There wasn't enough sand on the ground to make a decent sized sand temple. The rocks

were sharp and made walking a dangerous proposition. There were no plants, no trees, nothing. Even birds avoided the place if they could. The only

thing that the place had to recommend it was one large rock that Strife had moved there and flattened off the top, so it made a *mostly*

comfortable seat.

The mischief god sat on the barren rock for hours as he thought, trying to figure out what he'd done wrong, where he'd screwed up this time and

messed up with Cupid. His pale skin became bright red and his eyes were bloodshot and glassy, because of the glare off the unrelenting water.

Still he sat there, not moving, not speaking.

^^^^^

Poseidon watched the young god and frowned. Being an underwater dweller, he didn't have to worry about such things as sun and overexposure, but

he knew that most people who lived on the land did have to be wary of those problems.

Looking at the leather clad god, Poseidon knew that Strife was going to make himself ill if he didn't get under cover...and soon. The mischief god's

light colored skin was particularly susceptible to the harsh rays. The water god caused clouds to form over the pale, only not so pale now, man.

Strife continued to stare at the waves as they flowed around his little island. He neither noticed, nor cared that he was becoming feverish.

Poseidon's subtle help didn't register either.

^^^^^

The next time Poseidon looked, it was much later in the day and Strife still sat motionless. The God of the Sea decided that more drastic measures

were needed to help his great-nephew, so he blew gently into the water. A storm began to brew overheard. The water god waved his mighty arm

and the clouds dispersed somewhat, making the storm settle down from a wild squall to a gentle summer rain.

Strife hunched down a little and now watched the raindrops as they bounced off the gray water. Water ran off his wild hair, flattening it a little and

cooled off his hot skin. His chest hitched a little and the water god wondered if the younger man was crying. It was hard to tell in the rain and any

tears were quickly mixed in with the salty water of the ocean and quickly forgotten.

Poseidon waited. He swirled the air so that the little rainstorm stayed over Strife and didn't blow away like it should have. The older god was

perplexed. "I've always heard that Strife wasn't coiled very tightly, but I just assumed that was Eris being a bitch."

The large god was trying to decide if he needed to summon someone to help and was thinking over who to yell for, when Strife disappeared with a

flash of black sparkles. Poseidon sighed in relief and a large wave rolled over the little island. The next time Strife visited there he would find the

placed sparkling clean.

=====

Joxer grinned at Bliss antics. The godling was playing hide and go seek with Ares in their garden. The childs blond hair and snow white wings made it

easy for his grandfather to find him. Naturally, Ares pretended that it was harder to do.

Oh darn, where could Bliss be? Ares looked behind a very slender green stalk with a bright red flower on top, ignoring the little boy two bushes

over. Bliss sweet giggle could easily be heard.

Cupid exchanged a carefully hidden smile with Joxer. The young immortal sighed in contentment. He felt safe and happy.

There was a muted flash to the side. Joxer wasnt afraid, he knew that Ares would protect him, but he was curious as to who was coming in. All of

the gods he knew preferred to put on more of a show than that.

Hey, Joxah, Strife said quietly. Ive got tha wood ya wanted.

The piece of lumber was hastily switched to the other hand when Bliss launched himself out of his hiding place. If Strife hadnt moved the wood, the

enthusiastic little boy would have brained himself on it.

Stwifey! the small child lisped. He had recently lost a couple of teeth and it made him talk funny, in a cute sort of way.

Hey, kiddo. Strife gave the little boy a quick smile.

Joxer saw his friend glance towards Cupid and the smile melted off his face, leaving behind a look of nothingness. The former warrior looked at the

love god with a frown.

Heah ya go. Strife laid the large block of reddish brown wood down beside Joxers chair.

Thank you, Strife. Joxer glanced down quickly. Its just perfect. Uhm Joxer glanced around quickly. Why dont you join us for a while. He

waved a hand, indicating the food and drink laden table.

Thanks fah tha invite, Joxah, but I gotta go, Strife said quietly, not glancing at anyone else. Unc wants me ta help stir up some unrest in He

swallowed convulsively a couple of times. I-in Gracion.

Joxer gasped at the name, his eyes widening in distress for his good friend. He recognized the name as where *that* battlefield was located.

oh.

Joxer thought frantically, trying to think of some way he could help. He knew that Ares would never let him go with Strife, come to think of it, Strife

wouldnt either, but he couldnt stand the thought of his friend being in the place he was so brutally attacked all alone.

Its okay, Strife said quietly. Ace is gonna be theah, checkin on tha injured.

Strife flicked a quick look over at Cupid. It was as if he were unable to help himself. The blond god was frowning at Strife and Joxer saw the dark

haired god look away quickly.

Bye everybody. Strife gave a half wave and disappeared amidst a flash so slight that you had to look hard to see it.

=====

Strife arrived at the battlefield in Gracion and looked around dispiritedly. He didnt understand what Ares needed him here for, it looked like the battle

was already over.

He probably just wants me outta tha way, Strife figured to himself. Cupids told Unc about whatevah Ive done wrong and hes keepin me away from

his son.

The God of Mischief nodded miserably. I get tha hint. People not wantin me around is normal. Bein wanted by Cupe and Bliss was tha aberration.

Strife shrugged one slender shoulder in resignation. I guess its back ta business as usual.

Strife began to walk among the dead. He avoided the far end of the field and its giant tree. The god didnt want to go near the place where Tryst

had attacked him all those years ago.

I just wanna know what I did wrong, Strife muttered.



Fic: Bumps Along The Way
Author: Kerensa
Pairings: Strife/Cupid (pre-slash, so far), Joxer/Ares
Rating: FRT, so far
Archive: Yes, just let me know where
Site: LJ- http://strifesmistress.livejournal.com/
Feedback: Well duh!
A/N: This is part of the Children At Play series. 1st was Overheard Conversations, 2nd was Heads I Lose, Tails I Lose and now this one is 3rd.

However, chronologically, OC is after Heads and then this one. (Is everybody confused now? Good. )

Chapter 3

Over the next couple of weeks, things went from bad to worse.

Ares could see the tension between his son and Strife and wrongfully assumed it was Strife's fault. As a result, the young god was sent from job to

job with hardly a day's rest any where.

Joxer saw the way Cupid was acting and knew that his young friend wouldn't have done anything to hurt Cupid and was upset with the love god.

Joxer saw the way Ares was treating Strife and was mad that no one, other than himself, was willing to give the mischief god the benefit of the

doubt.

No one was talking to anyone else. Everyone was sad. And it was only getting worse.

Generallythey were all acting like twits. (Not that there was much acting needed.)

"Hi, Joxie." Bliss waved at his favorite immortal.

Hiya, Bliss. Joxer was genuinely happy to see the sweet little boy. He turned to Cupid and gave the love god a smile so cold that it would have

frozen the Aegean Sea.

Joxer was cool to Cupid, who understood. He knew how close Strife and Joxer were. The immortal owed his life to Strife and his lover. Without the

friendship of the sad god, he and Ares would never have gotten together.

Hey, Joxer. I-is pops around anywhere?

The former warrior gave a tight lipped nod. Yeah, hes in his war room. Probably sending Strife out on another mission, Joxer grated out. After all,

hes been back from Atatenia for a whole 3 hours now.

Cupid nodded solemnly. He was aware that Ares was being hard on Strife, thats the main reason hed come here today. His and Strifes problems had

nothing to do with the war god.

Son, you stay here with Joxer. I need to talk with grandpa for a little bit.

Bliss gazed up at his daddy seriously. Gwown up talk?

Yes, grown up talk.

The little boy nodded sadly. Joxer reached out a hand. Hey, kiddo. You wanna come out into the garden with me? Theres a new bird I want you to

see.

Joxers enticement worked the miracles it was expected to. Bliss started bouncing up and down, his sadness forgotten for the moment, and began to

pull the former mortal out of the room.

====

Dad, leave Strife alone.

Ares turned at Cupids request and looked into his sons earnest eyes. The god sighed and nodded. I am. I just told him to take the next few days

off.

Cupid took a breath to argue and let it out with a gust when he realized hed won that easily. Uh, okay.

The God of War snorted and ran a hand over his unruly hair. Its time to get it trimmed again, he realized and wondered where that had come from.

I shouldnt have interfered, Ares admitted. Its just that I hate to see any of my kids upset. Of course, I realized that I was upsetting Strife too.

Ares winced when he remembered the conversation where he *realized* that. Joxers sweet voice could be scathing when he was pissed off.

Too bad he never blasted that harpy, Gabrielle like that. Maybe she would have treated him better if he had. Wisely, Ares *hadnt* said that to

Joxer. He was learning to keep his mouth shut around his sensitive lover.

Good, Cupid said. He gave his father a quick look out of the corner of his eye and considered consulting him about Bliss colorful vocabulary. The

love god quickly decided against it though. Ares was just beginning to treat Strife better and Cupid didnt want to mess it up.

====

Back in his ramshackle temple, the God of Mischief was trying to rest. He certainly needed the sleep, but it just wouldnt come.

Strife didn't see the upset that his and Cupid's estrangement had caused. And it was a good thing, because the pale god already blamed himself for

whatever happened. That was what rankled so much, not knowing what hed done wrong. SoStrife decided to do some investigating.

====

Look mommy, a kitty.

Xena looked over to where her precocious daughter was pointing and sure enough, there was a smallish, solid black cat. The poor thing was skinny,

and a little sickly looking, but not ill kempt.

Now Eve, Xena began and then she stopped. There was a feeling

Xena? Gabrielles voice was wary. She recognized a battle stance when she saw it. The Amazon Princess readied herself to grab up the little girl

standing between them and run.

A god is around.

Flash.

Hey dudettes. Aphrodite flashed in with a trilling giggle.

Xena and Gabrielle relaxed at the appearance of the blond goddess. Dite was a good friend and *usually* didnt cause them problems. Plus, that

answered the question of what god was hanging around. You couldn't be too vigilant, especially when their little group included Ares' daughter and

granddaughter.

"Hello, Aphrodite," Xena said with a welcoming smile.

"Hi, Dite. What're you up to today?" Gabrielle gave her friend a hug. The three women, one goddess, one demi-god and one mortal sat down to talk.

Eve took advantage of her mother and aunties inattention to go play with the kitty.

====

Strife never thought hed live to see the day when hed be glad for Aphrodite to pop in. The goddess was generally either mad at Strife for messing

up her plans (and therefore caused him trouble) or was glad to see him so that she could *use* himfor one of her plans (and caused him even more

trouble). So Strife tended to be a little wary around her. Okay, let's face it, Strife was wary around *everybody* and with good reason.

He made a meeping sound when Eve picked him up and squeezed too hard. "I'se sorry," the little girl said and loosened her death grip around his

middle.

Bein undah covah aint all its cracked up ta be, Strife thought. Ah course, most people dont disguise themselves as a cat eitah.

Eve trotted over to stand behind her mother. Strifecat was draped over her arms like a skinny sack of grain.

This is kina comfortable, Strife decided after a little bit. Yad think it wouldnt be, but it is.

and bye to you too, sweetie.

For one panicked moment, Strife thought Aphrodite was talking to him. Thered be Tartarus to pay if he was caught here. But no, the blond woman

was talking to Eve. The little girl giggled when Dite tucked a small pink flower behind her ear.

With a lot of pink flash, Aphrodite left. Eve sat back down on a patch of sweet smelling grass. Apparently the little girl had been playing there,

because the ground was littered with small toys.

It still feels like a god is around, Xena admitted.

It probably will for a while.

Xena acknowledged Gabrielles statement and picked up her sword. She walked a fair distance away from her child and began sparring. Gabrielle sat

down under the shade of a tree and picked up her discarded quill and scroll. The younger woman began to write, pausing occasionally to tap the

edge of the quill against her lips as she thought.

You need fowers too. Strife looked up in time to see a tiny circlet of flowers being placed on his catly head. He stayed perfectly still and let her, it

was kind of nice to be pampered.

Strife laid his head down carefully, so as not to dislodge his flowers, and alternated between watching Eve play *Gods and Goddesses* and listening

to Xena and Gabrielle talk.

They dont talk very much; Xenas too interested in swinging her sword in graceful arches and Gabrielles too intense on her writing, so Strife is lulled

into a sense of calm. He closes his eyes and falls asleep on the soft, warm grass; tiny little hands patting his back.





Fic: Bumps Along The Way
Author: Kerensa
Pairings: Strife/Cupid (pre-slash, so far), Joxer/Ares
Rating: FRT, so far
Archive: Yes, just let me know where
Site: LJ- http://strifesmistress.livejournal.com/
Feedback: Well duh!
A/N: This is part of the Children At Play series. 1st was Overheard Conversations, 2nd was Heads I

Lose, Tails I Lose and now this one is 3rd. However, chronologically, OC is after Heads and then this

one. (Is everybody confused now? Good. )

Chapter 4

Hiding from Ares wasnt nearly as easy as hiding from Xena had been. Strife had to stay perfectly still

and concentrate on not giving off any godly energy signatures.

Of course, being a plant made the staying still part fairly easy. But I digress

Im sorry, Angel.

Ares walked up behind Joxer and tentatively touched the immortal on the shoulder, as if he were afraid

of being rebuffed. Joxer didnt move away and after a few moments he leaned back against his lover.

Its not me you need to apologize to, Joxers voice was as soft as a whisper.

I know, Ares said with a soft sigh. Ive been worried and have taken it out on Strife. I was wrong

and Ill tell him so.

Strife was so astonished to hear his uncle admit that he had been wrong to treat Strife badly that he

almost lost his plant form. When he paid attention to the conversation againthere wasnt any

conversation.

Ares and Joxer were kissing and hugging and feeling and touching Strife wished he had eyes to close

or could risk flashing out. He didnt want to be a voyeur, but he was afraid what Ares would think if he

found Strife hiding in his rooms.

Luckily for Strife, the couple soon left the room. Joxer was walked backwards by Ares, through the

connecting door to the hallway that led to their bedroom. The two lovers didnt even break off their

kissing and groping to leave.

As soon as they left the room, Strife made his escape.

****

Strife lay on his pallet, limp and boneless, like an overly long, skinny piece of black cloth. The strain of

hiding himself from Ares had taken a lot of energy and the mischief god was worn out. It had been over

two days since Strife hid in Ares' temple and he was only now recovered enough to even try and feed

himself.

The young god sat up with a groan and leaned against the wall of his temple. He decided that the next

time he hid, it would be somewhere that he just needed to be invisible. All this disguising himself as

animals or worse yet, objects, was too tiring.

He reached out with his foot and bumped it against his *offering table*. An apple wobbled on the edge

for a moment and he hit it again. That worked and the fruit fell off and rolled close enough that Strife

could pick it up.

The God of Mischief examined the red fruit for a moment and decided that it wasn't *too* ripe to eat.,

especially if he avoided the especially squishing place on the one side. Biting down, Strife began to

contemplate his next maneuver. Xena and company hadn't known anything. Ares and Joxer seemed

equally in the dark.

Strife thought of and just as quickly dismissed the idea of going to Dite's. He'd have to be especially

vigilant around the observant goddess and Strife didn't think he was up to that right now.

'Besides,' he thought to himself. 'I don't know if I could handle that much pink right now. Not without

heavin mah suppah up.'

A small smile graced Strife's features. It was the first hint of a smile that he'd had in quite a while.

Unfortunately, it went bad as quickly as the apple that he was eating. Strife tossed the half eaten

piece of fruit out the window and lay back down.

"I know wheah I'll go," he said resignedly. "Tomorrah...or maybe tha next day."

Strife was asleep in moments. Outside his temple, a few birds fought over the rest of the apple.

****

Iolaus ran a stone across the blade of his sword and surreptitiously watched Hercules out of the corner

of his eye. Even with the blond curls covering most of his face, the longing there was easy to see. At

least it was to Strife.

The god shook his head at the obliviousness that the demi-god wore like a cloak over his head. The

strong man hadn't even noticed that a god was close by. Since he and Iolaus had their camp set up

close to one of Apollo's temples, he mistakenly assumed he was feeling that god's comings and goings.

Strife didn't mind though. He didn't have to expend as much energy hiding this way.

This was the third day that the God of Mischief had watched the two heroes. He had only planned to

stay for a few hours, like he had with the others, but as he'd been leaving that first day, Hercules had

mentioned something that had the possibility of solving all Strife's problems.

He'd talked about the hind's blood dagger.

Strife had been caught, mid-flash, and had missed part of the conversation. A shiver of dread had

traveled up the god's back and Strife had sat down on the ground with a plop.

The God of Mischief could remember that day very vividly. Hed been in his uncles temple when the

newest and most psychotic god had arrived. At his uncles behest, Strife had tried to talk to her. His

uncles strong hand yanking him to one side had been the only thing that had saved the younger god

from being stabbed.

Callisto had just laughed, bragging about almost killing a god. The dagger, it turned out, had been

covered with hinds blood, the only thing that could kill a god.

Othah than Zeus cursin ya or somethin, Strife added.

It was only because Ares had seen the danger his nephew was in and pulled him out of the way at the

last moment that Strife was even standing, err, sitting here. Otherwise, Strife would have been in

Hades' realm.

Sitting on the ground, Strife's mind kept replaying that long ago scene, over and over again, only this

time, Ares *didn't* save him. Strife could see himself dying and standing in judgment in front of the

God of the Underworld. Strife thought about it a moment and thought that it wouldn't be *too bad*.

He'd tried to help people in his lifetime and had never deliberately hurt anyone that wasn't part of his

job as Ares' second-in-command. The god decided that he might go to the Elysian Fields when he died,

or even one of the lesser parts of Tartarus.

That decided it. He was so depressed that he didn't care any more. Strife wished he could just

disappear and not have to worry ever again.

****

After many, long and boring hours of watching Hercules and Iolaus, Strife decided to go back to his

uncle's temple. The god knew he needed to check in once in a while, in case Ares wanted him to do a

job.

What Strife really wanted to do was disappear. He was so depressed that he really didnt care about

much anything anymore. Before Cupid and Bliss had been a part of his life, Strife hadnt missed the lack

in his life, but now thats all he could think about. Strife didnt want to have to think or feel ever again.

Since that was unlikely to happen, he tried to let it go.

"I'm bigger," a voice shouted.

"Well, I'm closer," another voice replied.

Strife followed the sounds of arguing, around the corner, and into another room. Standing, face to

face, in the middle of the room were Deimos and Phobos. The god looked at his cousins and cringed.

Deimos looked enough like Strife to give the mischief god a headache. He just *didn't* look good with

blond hair and what the Tartarus was up with those weird short thingies.

Whats up? he asked without his usual zing.

I keep telling him that Im bigger and therefore more important, Deimos said with a determined tilt of

his chin.

Well, Im closer and thats better. Phobos stuck out his tongue to emphasize his point.

Biggah? Closah? Strife held his hands out from his body in a questioning manner. Whatre ya two

talkin about?

I have a moon named after me.

Well, so do I, Deimos added. And mines bigger than his. He jerked his head, indicating the other

god.

And mines closer to Mars.

Strife rolled his eyes at his cousins antics. Ya both have moons around Mars and yare fightin ovah

which ones bettah? he asked incredulously.

Yes. They both nodded in unison.

Riiiiight, he drawled. Is Unc heah? I needed ta check in and see if he wanted me ta go cause some

more problems anywheah.

Both heads shook. No, hes not here right now.

Oh, Strife sighed in disappointment. Hed been looking forward to seeing his uncle and also his best

friend, Joxer. I guess Ill be going then.

Why dont you stay for the night? Deimos suggested.

We both are, Phobos agreed.

Your room is still there, just like ours are, the blond added.

No. Thanks fah tha suggestion, but no.

Ares had told him, years ago, that he needed to get his own place. Strife had figured that was his

uncles way of telling him that the war god didnt want him around anymore. After the disaster with

Cupid, he certainly wouldnt want him around.

****

Meanwhile

Joxer was worried about Strife. He knew that the situation with Cupid had hurt the god more than

anyone realized.

Ares saw the state his immortal lover was in and had planned a surprise. To be sure, the surprise had

already been in the works for a while now, but the war god decided today was the day.

The smaller dining hall in their temple, the one Joxer and Ares used for private dinners, was decorated

from top to bottom.

Feathery green fern plants were placed around the room. Vases filled with bright yellow flowers were

dotted in among the greenery. Yellow was Joxers favorite color and most every shade of that color

was represented.

After the meal was finished, Ares stood up from his chair and circled around the table to stand in front

of his young lover. Joxers eyes widened at the intense look on the God of Wars face.

"Before you came into my life, all I thought about, all I was, was war. There was nothing else in my life.

I had my children, who I see once in a while, and the occasional fling. So many things have changed

since I met you, really met you. I love you more than breathing."

Joxer blinked in surprise at the intense statement, his breath catching in his throat. "I love you, too."

The war god's smile grew. He reached out a hand. Joxer placed his pale hand in Ares' much larger and

tanned one. Ares pulled Joxer to his feet. With his mind Ares pushed everything on the dinning table

back. He picked Joxer up by the waist, his massive hands wrapped easily around Joxer's slender body,

and set him up on the cleared spot on the table.

"You honored me by agreeing to live with me. Then you became immortal for me. I was so overwhelmed

that you wanted to be with me forever. No one else has ever wanted to do that before." He put a

finger over Joxer's mouth when the young immortal would have protested. "No, it's true. None of my

godly lovers have wanted to stick around for more than a few months at a time." Ares ran a hand down

the side of Joxer's face, tracing the jawline with one lingering finger. "Then you became my beloved

consort."

Ares pulled out an exquisite ring. The band was black onyx with gold figurines etched on the stone.

Ares and Joxer's name were intertwined in the middle, with the word eternity curving around the

underneath side of the circle.

"Now, will you do me the honor of becoming my husband?"

Joxer was stunned into speechlessness. He never really thought that Ares would want to marry him.

Unable to speak past the lump of tears that were clogging up his throat and running down his face,

Joxer could only nod happily.

Ares swept Joxer up into his arms in an all encompassing hug. Joxer felt something wet on his shoulder

and realized that Ares was crying too.

"Yes," Joxer was finally able to say.

The God of War placed the ring on Joxer's finger and then leaned in for a kiss. Luckily neither being

could die from the lack of oxygen, because the kiss went on for quite some time. When Joxer realized

what was going on again, he realized that Ares had transported them to their bedchamber.

"My fianc," he said for the first time.

"My Angel," Ares stated, leaning over his husband-to-be.



Chapter 5

Cerberus balls! Strife exclaimed, in an uncharacteristic use of profanity. The God of Mischief only

cursed because he was sure that no one could hear him.

Geez, these two are sa borin. They nevah do anythin but stand around. Even Gabbsters talkin is

bettah than tha quiet.

Strife had been following Hercules and Iolaus around all day again. The pair had split up to do some

hunting and, in a moment of insanity, Strife decided to follow Iolaus.

The hunter, while a very nice man, was also extremely quiet when he was hunting. Which was also

very boring.

Strife watched the hunter as he squatted by a rabbit hole, waiting for his prey to come out. The god

was sitting on the ground, unobserved, a few feet away. After an interminable amount of time, Strife

laid down on the moss covered ground.

This aint too bad, Strife decided. Its bettah than my pallet by fah.

With that the God of Mischief closed his eyes, just to rest them, of course. In minutes, he was fast

asleep. He never heard it when Iolaus left the clearing.

****

Joxer stomped into the meeting hall and sat down on his chair with a thump. "Darn it!" he cursed. That

was usually the strongest curse he could come up with. Like his good friend, Joxer didnt have a foul

mouth.

He was still sitting there a few minutes later when Cupid walked into the room. *He* didn't stomp into

the room, but his face was as sad as the young immortals.

"Hey, Joxer. What's up?" Cupid asked.

Not Strife, Joxer answered. I cant find him anywhere. Have you seen him? He turned to look at the

blond god.

No. I havent seen him inawhile, Cupid admitted.

Joxer grunted and frowned. Okay, I have another question. Where does Strife live?

Cupid opened his mouth to answer and then closed it with a frown. Uhm

Thats what I thought. Joxer nodded. Nobody seems to know where his home temple is. Ive lived up

here all these years and not *once* have I been there. Every time I bring up the subject, Strife

changes it. I just hadnt realized he did that.

Cupid had to smile a little at that. They all knew how easily Joxer was distracted. The young immortal

was hyper at the best of times and it didnt take much to get him off on a new subject. Especially if

someone, namely a certain god, put his mind to it.

Well just have to change that, Cupid said quietly. Hed been around the other god for over 100 years

and didnt know him any better.

Yes, we will. Joxers soft, sweet voice had an iron (What? Steel wasnt invented yet.) tone to it,

making him sound almost as tough as his lover.

****

Cupid walked around Apollos temple. He was certain that hed sensed Strife there, just a few moments

ago. He kicked at a rock, frustrated that hed missed the young god.

I dont care what happened. Bliss can be taught what not to say. I miss Strife and want him back.

Mom was wrong and I was wrong.

The blond god sighed. He knew that Aphrodite hadnt really been wrong, just misinformed. Cupid was

the one who took the advice too much to heart. He hadnt even given Strife a chance to explain or to

remember to curb his language around the godling.

I know I felt something. Hercules voice echoed around from the corner of the temple. Cupid

grimaced, not wanting to meet his uncle right now, and flashed out.

He missed Hercules alright. Iolaus too. Unfortunately, he missed Strife, who was in disguise as a street

vendor.

****

Cupid found Bliss hiding behind a statue, crying.

Baby, whats wrong? The winged god sat down on the floor and held the little ball of tears and

feathers close.

Stwifey dont like me anymore, Bliss lisped, his missing front teeth making it hard to speak plainly. He

wont talk to me no mores.

The little boy buried his head in Cupids neck and began to sob. Cupid felt his heart clench in his chest

at his sons words.

Oh, Blissy. He rocked the godling back and forth, trying to offer a little comfort. Strife still likes you.

Bliss shook his head. Nuh uh. He goes pooft when he sees me coming.

No, Bliss. Cupid leaned the little boy back. Tears were still streaming down the softly rounded cheeks.

Its my fault. I got upset about something and made Strife think he wasnt welcome anymore. But Im

going to fix it.

Pwomise? Bliss bottom lip trembled.

I promise, Cupid said seriously.

He stood up, holding the small boy easily in his arms. Lets get you cleaned up. Okay?

Bliss nodded. Okay.

He didnt say anything until Cupid had tucked him into bed. Daddy?

Yes, son? Cupid sat down and brushed the light colored curls out of his sons face.

I loves Stwifey, Bliss said seriously.

I do too, Cupid admitted.

Will he come back? Tears threatened again.

I hope so, son. I hope so.

Cupid lay down beside Bliss on the bed and hoped he hadnt lost any hope of winning the mischief gods

love. For all of their sakes.

****

I wondah if anybody else knows about tha daggah? Strife asked himself, eyeing the two men in front

of him. Theahs got ta be an easiah way.

and I believe that Sonius way is best. It will lead to more prosperity for the valley, Hercules

concluded with a knowing nod of his head.

Uhyeah, Herc. Even Iolaus was stunned by the pompous attitude.

Eithah that or hes been bored inta a coma, Strife concluded, looking at poor Iolaus glazed eyes.

Strife leaned against the tree and watched the two heroes. He was contemplating whether or not to

give up for the day when a loud noise behind him startled the nervous god.

and after I took it from Callisto, it wasnt that hard to hide the dagger in Strife missed hearing the

conversation hed been waiting for.

He looked over at the village. Apollos temple was in the middle of it, naturally, but the rest of the

village was arranged around the large edifice. And today there seemed to be a festival of some sort

going on.

A juggler, apparently a bad one, or maybe he was just unlucky, had dropped a couple of the flaming

torches that hed been tossing in the air. Even as Strife watched, the unfortunate man, who was

stumbling around, trying not to drop that last torch, stepped in a pile of manure.

A *very* big, squishy, *slippery* pile of manure.

His feet flew out from underneath him, dropping the juggler into the shit and causing the torch to fly

out of his hands. Strife watched, with an open mouth, as the burning wood arched beautifully and

landedon the top of the tent.

In seconds, the old material was ablaze. It was only a few seconds after that when screams could be

heard and people of all ages and sizes came running out of the blazing tent like a stream of water from

a jug.

The noise was too much for a team of horses standing nearby. That was the last straw for the jittery

animals, who had been upset by the flames in the first place. One of the front horses attached to the

wagon reared up on its hind legs. Its front hooves were flailing wildly in the air and almost hit the other

front horse in the eye. Needless to say, the second horse didnt appreciate that one bit and it started

dancing around. Not wanting to be left out, the other pair of horses started their own jig.

Finally, the inevitable happened. One horse kicked another in the butt, causing the first horse to run to

one side. One of the other horses tried to go the opposite direction. Amazingly, the animals seemed to

reach a mutual consensus and took off running down the dirt packed street.

Several jugs of wine (what the wagon had been carrying) went flying off when the wild ride began. One

of them burst open, splashing red wine all over the juggler who inadvertently started the whole mess,

leaving him clean of mud and crap, but now red and sticky.

The poor owner of the team gave up trying to control the animals and cowered in the seat of his

wagon. Every once in a while he would pop up like a demented rabbit and then duck back down again.

He held on for dear life as they careened out of sight.

****

Strife was laughing so hard, he thought he was going to break some ribs. Every time the mischief god

would get himself calmed down a little, another jug of wine would fly off the wagon or someone else

would fall into a pile of poopwine.

Tears were streaming down the mischief gods face as he looked around the mess that had just

moments earlier been a very calm and sedate town festival. Now, it looked like Cerberus and a couple

of hydras got plastered on a drunken binge and made whoopee with the locals.

This is more fun than Ive had in a long time, Strife admitted.

His body kept giving little jerks as more and more magical energy ran into him. The mischief potential,

however unintended, was truly magnificent.

With a happy sigh, Strife decided to go home. He might not even come back for a while.

His flash, as he left, was brighter than it had been.

****

I tell you, this must have been Strifes doing, Hercules stated as he stomped around.

Iolaus rolled his eyes at his best friends antics. Hercules was the only one who was still upset about

what had happened. Everybody else, including the wine merchant, was laughing about the strange

chain of events.

So?

Hercules whirled around. So! he said indignantly.

Yeah. Iolaus shook his head. So what if Strife did cause this. Hello, he *is* the God of Mischief.

Hercules opened his mouth to complain again, but closed it when he realized that Iolaus was making

sense. I guess youre right.

Uh. Iolaus was speechless. Hercules *never* gave up that easily. Not when a god was involved.

Yeah.

The demi-god tossed the broken board down that hed been holding. The Tartarus with it. Im not

going to be the only one cleaning up.

Slinging an arm around Iolaus shoulder, Hercules hugged his good friend. How about we go get a

drink? he offered.

Y-you bet. Iolaus felt his cheeks tingling with a bright blush, but didnt care. It wasnt very often

that he got this close to the man he secretly loved.

Wrapping an arm around Hercs waist (Hey, Iolaus knows when to get in some groping.) the two men

sauntered off down the road.

They completely missed seeing Strife, whod dropped his invisibility when hed been laughing so hard.

They also missed seeing Cupid, who flashed in just as Strife flashed out.

The love god looked around at the mess and swore silently at having missed the younger god again.



Chapter 6

Strife!

The young god jumped at his best friends yell. Joxah?

He wasnt too worried though when he turned around and saw the smiling immortal hurrying towards

him. Strife smiled back. You couldnt resist the happy look on Joxers face.

I have good news! Joxer squealed.

Thats great. What is it?

Joxer grabbed hold of one of Strifes black leather sleeves and pulled him into a side room. Strife wasnt

scared, because he knew that his gentle friend would never hurt him.

Im engaged! Joxer blurted out the second the door shut behind them. He waved his left hand

excitedly.

Strife caught the flying hand and looked closely at the ring. His friend was so excited that it was like

trying to catch a hummingbird in his hand.

Sa Unc finally popped tha question, Strife said with a smile. He patted Joxers hand. Im glad fah ya.

Thank you. Joxers smile was so bright that it actually lit up the room. He asked me last night. Ive

been *trying* to find you all day to let you know the good news.

Im sorry, Joxah. Ive beenbusy taday.

Thats okay, but Ive been bursting at the seams to tell someone.

Ta tell? Strife trailed off.

Thats right, Joxer said with a happy bounce, you are the first to get the news.

Strife was speechless. IImthank ya, he finally said, sincerely flattered by the special attention.

Youre welcome. Im going to need your help in planning this wedding. Joxer snickered. Ive got to

find some way to get have my friends and family around and nobody get killed.

The mischief maker giggled. And not have everythin pink, he added. Both men nodded, thinking of

Dites influence.

****

Will you watch Bliss for me?

Uh

Ill be back in just a couple of minutes.

Joxer was still so happy that Strife didnt have the heart to remind him that Cupid obviously didnt want

the god to be around his son.

Ah course I dont mind, he said truthfully.

The immortal hurried down the hall, forgetting in his haste to even shut the door. Shaking his head,

Strife closed the heavy door and sat down at one of his uncles tables. He situated himself where he

could watch the child he adored, but not be seen. Hopefully that would keep anyone from getting in

trouble.

Strife had missed Bliss a lot. The little boy was like a ray of sunshine. He missed Cupid even more.

Determined not to let himself become upset again. Strife mentally slapped himself upside the head and

went back to watching Bliss who was coloring on the temple walls.

I hope he has permission ta do that, Strife thought.

He smiled in amusement, trying to picture Ares punishing his grandson. Strife could almost picture the

large war god laying that small boy over his large knee and spanking him on

Nah, Strife thought with a decisive grin. Not in a million years.

Yeps, dis is mean ol Hercwules.

Strife craned his neck and could see a crude drawing of a very large man who seemed to be dripping

purple blood. The god frowned. The innocent child he loved didnt like *scary things* and usually drew

flowers and trees. Even as Strife watched, Bliss drew what appeared to be arrows being thrown at the

Hercules figure. He could tell it was Hercules, from the odd pants, even if Bliss hadnt identified him.

Neither one of them realized it when Cupid flashed in. He saw Strife sitting on the other side of the

room from Bliss and was disheartened. The love god decided to wait and give Strife and Bliss a chance

to talk.

I knows. Bliss nodded his head, as if listening to someone talking. Hes a bastward.

The God of Mischief gasped. Bliss!

The little godling epped and jumped in the air. Stwifey! He jumped up and ran to the dark clad god

and hugged him around the knees. Youwse here!

Yeah, Im heah, Strife said solemnly. He loosened the little boys hold on his legs and squatted down.

Little onewheah did you hear that word?

Innocent blue eyes blinked up at Strife. What word, Stwifey?

That one Strife hesitated to say it. He didnt want to teach the child any bad habits, but since he

already obviously knew it Tha word, *bastard*.

Ooooh. Bliss smiled, happy now the mystery had been solved. I heard Gwandma Dite saying it. She

was mad at that mean ol Hewcules for *messin up one of her matches*.

Strife sighed and sat down on the rug. He patted the ground beside him and Bliss obediently sat down

beside him.

Little one Strife hesitated. Sometimes grown ups say things that little kids shouldnt hear. Or

repeat.

Why? Bliss tilted his head to one side like a little bird, listening for its mother.

Because Again, Strife struggled with how to say this. Its just like sometimes yar Grandpa Ares

does things in war that are scary.

Bliss nodded vigorously and shivered.

Right. Strife rubbed a little shoulder soothingly. Well, when ya are older, it wont be sa scary. But

right now, when yare a kid, it is.

Bliss frowned, not quite making the connection.

Sometimes, grownup words arent sa nice. We still say them, even if we dont really mean them, when

we get upset.

The godling nodded again. He could understand. Sometimes the bigger kids would start to say things

and then stop when they realized he was around.

Tha word ya used

Bastward, Bliss supplied helpfully.

Strife winced and placed a finger over the little boys lips. Please, dont use that word. Its not a nice

word.

Its not? Bliss asked.

No, its not. Strife took a deep breath. Da ya know what it means?

Bliss big eyes and head shake indicated he didnt.

There are two meanings. Tha first one means somebody who is not a very nice person. Tha second

onemeans somebody whose mom and dad werent married when they were bornlike me.

The godling had a small hand over his mouth and was looking at Strife in horror. Imse sowry. He

threw himself into Strifes arms, crying his heart out. I didnt know it meanted that.

Strife held onto the little bundle, being mindful of his still pliable wings. Its alright, little feathahs. Ya

didnt know what ya were sayin. He rocked the distressed child in his arms.

Oh, honey, its okay.

The God of Mischief jumped when he heard Cupids voice. He looked up and saw Bliss daddy, and the

man he loved, standing there in all his feathered glory. The love god knelt down beside them and

wrapped his tanned arms around both Strife and Bliss.

Strife closed his eyes and reveled in the closeness. Even if it only lasted for a few moments, he needed

this.

But the few moments lasted a lot longer than that. Even after Bliss had stopped crying, Cupid didnt let

go of them.

Im sowry, Bliss lisped.

Strife leaned forward and kissed the little boys nose, making him giggle. Its okay.

Cupid leaned forward a moment later and kissed Bliss cheek. Yes, it is. But honey, next time, ask me

before you use a new word. Okay. Bliss nodded carefully, a determined look on his face. Alright, go

back and play now.

The God of Love gave his son a swat on the butt as he raced off, earning himself a giggle in return.

Strife didnt move as this was going on, not wanting to draw attention to himself and have the moment

end.

Im sorry, Cupid said quietly. Strife turned and looked at the other god. Dark and pale eyes met.

Cupid explained what had happened with Bliss and Aphrodite. Strife didnt say anything as he listened

to the explanation of why he had been frozen out of their lives.

I undahstand, Strife told him. I would have protected Bliss taa. He gave a quick, uncertain smile.

I should have known you wouldnt say anything like that in front of Bliss, not with how good you are

with the kids, Cupid tried to apologize more.

Strife stood up, uneasy now with how close they were. Its okay, he said, twisting the edge of one

sleeve nervously. Its not like

They were interrupted when the door opened and Joxer hurried in.

Sorry it took me so long, Ares wanted to He paused at the tension in the room.

Its no problem. Strife hurried over to his friends side. I, uhIve gotta go anyway. The nervous

god waved. Bye.

And then he was goneagain.

****

Welldarn! Joxer groused. He did it again.

Cupid seemed stunned by Strifes abrupt departure and Bliss was drawing in bright red on the wall.

Joxer sighed and walked over to sit down by the little boy, unable to leave him so hurting.

I swearIm going to put a bell around his neck, Joxer muttered.

Bliss giggled and Joxer smiled at him. He glanced over at the love god, who was still standing in the

middle of the floor.

I guess Cupid has just learned that sometimes *Im sorry* isnt enough, Joxer thought sadly.



Chapter 7

Finding out where Strife's temple was didn't turn out to be that difficult after all, which was both good and depressing. It upset the young immortal to realize that no one knew where Strife lived"because they didn't care enough to look.

Joxer walked down to the temple, because he didn't want to bother Ares with having the god flash him. Not that Ares ever minded, but there was the principle of the matter. And"Joxer missed walking.

He was used to traveling around with Xena and Gabrielle, and even when he didn't, where he walked everywhere he went. Even after all these years of living on Mount Olympus, the former warrior liked to take his walks.

"He can't keep avoiding me if I come to his home," Joxer reasoned. "He's got to come here"eventually""

Joxer stopped and stared, open mouthed, at Strife's"home.

"Home?" Joxer questioned, looking at the haphazard edifice.

"Joxah?" Strife's voice wafted out of the doorway. Joxer wasn't surprised that he could hear him so well, not considering that the door was just a couple of boards cobbled together.

"Yes, it's me." The false brightness in his voice belied the sickening feeling that Joxer had in his stomach. "I've brought a picnic," he added, holding up a basket of food.

"A picnic?" Strife opened the door. A wave of his hand and a burst of godly energy were all that kept the rickety door from falling apart. "Uh, come on in."

"I'd love to." Joxer beamed happily at his friend and followed him inside.

****

"Ares, it was horrible."

The war god watched as his lover, no, his fiancé, he amended to himself, stomped around, gesticulating wildly. Ares hadn't seen Joxer this agitated in years.

"Joxer." The young immortal didn't seem to even hear him. "Joxer!" The God of War snagged hold of the smaller man's arm and pulled him down onto his lap. Ares was sitting on his black marble throne and now had a lapful of Joxer for company.

"Tell me about it," he demanded.

"It's all"" Joxer waved his hands around, trying to describe the decrepit place. "It's falling apart. No, actually, I don't think it was ever together in the first place."

Ares frowned, trying to imagine a god living in some place less that perfect. He started to question his lover, but Joxer beat him to it.

"The walls aren't straight, the ones that are there at least. Not every wall is complete!" Joxer took a deep breath to calm down. "The roof is made of"I'm not sure what, but it's a good thing it doesn't rain on Olympus or Strife would have been drenched."

The God of War could feel the horror coming off of Joxer and if it was bad enough that he was upset"it was bad. Joxer had spent the majority of his grown life living outdoors and sleeping on the rocky ground; it would take a lot to bother him.

"There's just one room," Joxer said quietly, "with one, small offering table. I"there was another doorway and I peeked." The warrior looked at the god with tears in his eyes. "It was a door that led nowhere," he whispered. "I saw what might have been a beam or two, indicating that another room had been planned, but there wasn't anything there."

Lips trembling, Joxer buried his head in Ares' neck and began to sob. Ares rubbed his lover's back, trying to soothe the immortal. All the while, he was alternating between rage and sorrow at the news.

****

"Strife?"

Even with the warning, Ares wasn't prepared for the reality of the situation. The god glanced around the shack that his nephew had been living in for all these years and thought he was going to be sick.

Not only was it only one, badly constructed room, but there weren't any amenities at all"not even a bed. Ares glanced at the pile of twigs and leaves in one corner in wonderment. It was only when he saw the scrap of a blanket lying, neatly folded, on one corner did he realize that *this* was the bed.

"Uh"Unc."

Strife grinned nervously and scuffed his boot against the floor. A small cloud of dirt billowed up and he stopped. Pale blue eyes darted around his home and Ares could see the pale skin of his cheeks brighten in embarrassment.

"Strife"" Ares hesitated, feeling unsure, which wasn't his usual behavior.

"Uh, was theah somethin ya needed me ta do fah yah? A war ta stir up or somethin?"

"Well"" Ares took one quick look around and made a lightening fast decision, as was his wont. "Yes, Joxer needs you."

"Joxah?" Strife straightened up and looked his uncle in the eye for the first time. "Is somethin wrong with him?"

Ares shook his head quickly. Most everyone, but Strife especially, worried about Joxer since his ordeal with the Spanish Inquisition. The last thing Ares wanted to do was add to that.

"No, nothing wrong, but he does need your help."

"Ah course. Anythin I can do," Strife said sincerely.

"Good. He, uh"needs your help planning the wedding."

"Tha weddin?" Strife blinked in surprise. "It's kinda soon fah that, isn't it?"

"Well"yes, to us it is, but not to Dite it won't be."

Strife nodded his head knowingly. The black spikes glistened in the sunlight that was coming in from several open spaces in the roof.

"Okay, sa what can I do ta help?"

"I want you to come back with me to mine and Joxer's temple"and stay there for a while."

The mischief god sucked in a surprised breath. "Ya"what?"

"Yes, you can stay in your old rooms," Ares added nonchalantly. Privately, he decided that there was no way in Tartarus that Strife was coming back *here* until it was livable.

"O-okay."

"Great, that's all settled." Ares rubbed his hands together vigorously. "Let's go."

The god started to flash them out of there, but stopped in mid-flash when Strife yelled, "Wait!"

Ares frowned at the interruption, but his (brown) unfurrowed when he saw the smaller god dart over and pick up his blanket. Looking around, Ares realized that it was the only thing of dubious value in the home.

"Okay, I'm ready now."

This time, they flashed out without interruption.

****

"It's tha same,' Strife was stunned to realize. "Mah rooms look exactly like they did when I left"all those yeahs ago.'

"Strife?"

The God of Mischief yelped and spun around. He'd been so amazed at what he'd found that the hyper man was caught off guard, something that hadn't happened"in forever.

"Jox!"

"I'm sorry." Joxer winced in sympathy. He knew some of Strife's horrific background, but not all of it. No, Joxer sensed that there was a *lot* more that he didn't know about.

"T-that's okay. I was just startled." Strife smiled and sat down on the edge of his bed. He ran a hand over the dark blue coverlet, smiling at how soft it was.

Joxer sat down on the other end of the bed, after questioning Strife with his eyes. The god nodded shyly and Joxer realized he was nervous about being back at his childhood home.

"I, uh, was wondering"" Joxer bit his lip and tried to think of a tactful way to phrase his question.

"Ya're wonderin why I live in such a crappy place," Strife completed for him.

"Ye-es," Joxer admitted.

Strife shrugged one skinny, leather clad shoulder. "Traditionally, a god's followahs build their temples, not tha gods themselves. Or at least they start tha job. My followahs are mostly kids"or unhinged." He ran a gentle finger over his blanket. "I don't have that much powah ta do anythin," he admitted.

"Oh." Joxer frowned in contemplation. "There's got to be some kind of loophole for a situation like yours. It's not your fault that the little kids can't build anything. Are your other temples like that one?"

A pink stain crept across Strife's cheeks. "Oh," Joxer whispered, as realization struck. "That's""

""tha only temple," Strife finished for him. "Yeah."


"Yeah, I do a lot of the work on my temples myself," Ares admitted. "The excess energy I get from my followers sort of...automatically repairs and updates the buildings, adds additions, etc."

Strife blinked blankly at Ares, obviously not understanding what he was talking about. His pale brow furrowed over his equally pale eyes. "Uh, okay."

Ares leaned back in his chair and studied his nephew. Strife was picking at the food on his plate, eating a bite or two of this and that. The war god tried to remember the last time he'd eaten a meal with his young relative and decided it was several months earlier. Thinking of that time, Ares realized Strife didn't eat much then either.

'No wonder he's so skinny.' Looking his guest over, Ares amended, 'And sickly looking.'

The God of War's eyes unfocused for a moment, as he looked *inside* of Strife for the first time in decades. It was common enough practice for godly parents to *look* at their children and see that the energy from their godhoods was flowing correctly. Ares was ashamed to admit that he hadn't checked Strife since the pale man was a child.

Ares was stunned at what he found, or rather what he *didn't* find. Mischief should have been a fairly strong godhood, considering all the unintentional bits of mischief that people played on each other daily, not to mention the deliberate pranks that some of the older children perpetrated. And adults were oftentimes the worst of the lot. Even some of the crafty, underhanded dealings that happened during a war could be traced back to mischief.

So why was Strife so weak?

There was a thin, wavery line of power seeping into Strife's aura, one that flickered and faltered from time to time. Every once in a while, a burst of energy would appear out of nowhere, but for the most part there wasn't much coming in.

Strife's uncle wondered how the God of Mischief was able to do any flashing around at all, let alone as much as he did when running errands for Ares.

He watched as Strife sighed and picked at his food, wondering who to talk to about this problem.

****

Strife sighed and tried to eat more. It wasn't easy, eating and paying attention to the conversation with Joxer. The god could see his uncle, out of the corner of his eye, watching him. Strife didn't want to be rude, but he was worn out, what with the upheaval of the day.

In truth, most days he felt like this...drained and exhausted. If Unc needed his help with a war, and Strife had been flashing from one spot to the other all day, Strife would just collapse on his nest* and concentrate on breathing, because that was all he could manage to do.

"Two weeks,' Strife reasoned. "It'll take two weeks at tha most fah Unc ta get sick ah me and want me ta leave.'

Strife figured decided to make good use of the time with Joxer and Ares. He dug into his food, determined to make up some of the energy he lost daily. If he couldn't do it the godly way, he'd do it the mortal way.

****

Strife felt like he had a grin permanently affixed to his face. That would've been fine, if it had been real, but it wasn't.

Cupid's invitation to dinner had been not completely unexpected, neither had the nervous flutter that had appeared in Strife's stomach the moment he'd been asked. Trying to pinpoint what was different from all the other meals he'd enjoyed at Cupid's temple, Strife realized he didn't feel safe here anymore.

****

If Strife's shoulders got any tenser, they snap off like little frozen wings.

Cupid watched as Strife smiled at Bliss' non stop chatter. Strife had been smiling when he'd arrived and hadn't stopped since, but it was a false smile, one supposed to reassure Cupid. It did the opposite. Even little Bliss felt the tension, hence his hyper talking.

Like his father, Cupid noticed how little Strife was eating. This was a change, because the mischief god had always eaten, if not heartily, at least enough to satisfy the cook.

The young god was subdued, not something that Cupid would ever have thought possible for the hyper god. But Strife was subdued and he was nervous too.

" `Thanks fah tha wondahful repast," Strife said with his painted on smile. " `I've gotta go, but thanks fah askin me ovah."

" `Uh, are you sure you don't want to stay a while?" Cupid was desperate to keep Strife around a little longer. " `Maybe have some desert?"

" `No thanks. I've got a war that Unc needs stirred up in tha morning." With a quick, nervous little wave, Strife flashed out.

Bliss sat in his special chair, the one that sat him up higher, yet protected his fragile wings, and looked miserable. His bottom lip quivered as the godling tried not to cry.

" `I'se don't want dis-des""

" `Desert," Cupid helped him out.

" `Yeps. I don't want any neither."

" `Either," Cupid corrected automatically. " `Alright, I'm not very hungry myself."

He helped his son down and watched as Bliss walked towards his bedroom. Snowy white wings drooped in disappointment. Cupid knew that Bliss had been looking forward to Strife reading him a bedtime story.

Disappointed himself, the love god plopped down in one of his chairs and compared this disaster of a night to the one, just a few weeks earlier, where he'd kissed Strife for the first, and so far, only time.

" `Damn."



"*That's* Strife's head priest?" Cupid muttered.

Ares looked over at the scruffy man who had come in and was arranging things on the God of Mischief's offering table. It was apparent to Joxer that neither god was impressed with the slightly unkempt man.

"What do you expect," Joxer said in a low, but icy voice, "someone in flowing, white robes?"

Cupid and his father both looked surprised at the open hostility in Joxer's voice. Naturally, that was what they were expecting, because none of their priests would have dared to even enter one of their temples looking like this.

Cupid's priests were dressed in the finest linens and had genuine, gold-tips on their sashes. Ares' priests wore steely gray robes and had small, jewel encrusted daggers in their belts. The more jewels, the higher up they were in the hierarchy.

Strife's priest, his *one* priest was small and stooped over from too much work and poor diet. His hair was clean, as were his clothes and person, but they were ragged and, in the case of his clothing, patched in numerous places. He was barefoot and had been unshod for the majority of his life.

Joxer shook his head. "Ares, Cupid...Strife's priest works all day. He can only do this," he gestured to the straightening that the priest was doing, "*after* work."

Cupid's mouth was hanging open and Ares was frowning at the information. Ares turned to watch the man, who was ignoring everyone else in the mischief temple. He was used to not paying attention to the adults who frequented the place, because they usually weren't the sanest of people. Hence, the man didn't realize he was in the presence of two of the most powerful gods on Mount Olympus and a very well liked consort.

"He has a stall in the market, selling..." he paused to think a moment, "vegetables, I think."

"But...why?" Cupid asked in confusion.

"Because Strife doesn't get enough offerings to keep a priest all the time," Joxer explained patiently.

"You mean that's his *only* priest?" Cupid said in horror.

"Yes."

Ares digested the upsetting news and took a closer look at Strife's *temple*. He could look his fill, since Strife wasn't with them today. The war god had assigned some of his brawnier priests to fixing up the Mischief god's temple. The men hadn't been too thrilled with the assignment, what with Strife being a *minor* god, but one look at Ares' impassive face and they had caved. Even with the work that was going on, there still wasn't much to look at.

Strife's offering table was a slab of driftwood that had obviously been scrounged from somewhere and hadn't even been smoothed over. Ares knew, from what Joxer had told him, that Strife sat on and ate at the *table* which was the only piece of furniture in the room.

The walls give the impression of being wet and they were a kind of...gray and mottled looking. The God of War didn't want to know what must be growing on the walls to give them that nasty of a coloring. Hanging from the walls were cobwebs. Lots and lots of cobwebs, some so thick Bliss could probably get stuck in them.

Ares winced at the thought of his little grandson, innocently flying around the room, and accidentally getting caught, like a fluffy, white butterfly.

"Strife was innocent when he came here to live. And I never checked up on him, not once.'

Unaware of Ares' self castigation, Cupid was also fighting down his growing sense of horror. He pointed to one wall where a few, crude drawings were hung. They looked like cave paintings, unrefined and hard to decipher.

"Wh-what are those?" he asked hoarsely.

"Oh. Those were drawn by an insane follower of Strife's. According to him, "No one else wanted ta put anythin up on mah walls, so I let him.'"

Cupid whimpered. His walls were covered in beautiful frescoes and murals, painted by the most revered artists of their day. The love god knew that his father's walls were covered with battle scenes, but they were well done renderings.

"I...we...we've got to fix this." The love god's wings were quivering in distress. The fluttering motion stirred up a few leaves. "Why don't we sweep up, get rid of some of the debris in here." Cupid gestured to the pile of leaves and branches in the corner."

"No, don't mess with those, that's..." Joxer looked at both gods, hesitating to say something that would upset them even more. "That's where Strife sleeps."

Joxer grabbed hold of Cupid's arm. The god had turned so pale that the young immortal was afraid he was going to pass out.

"Where he...sleeps?"

"Yes," Joxer confirmed. The former fighter couldn't think of anything to say to ease the pain of discovery. They had all failed Strife, some just longer than other.

"I have an idea," Ares interrupted their musings.

****

The large god stumbled when he appeared in Phyladia. The ground underneath his feet was littered with all sorts of things; toys, weapon...and farm equipment. Ares looked at the paraphernalia with a jaundiced eye.

"Tartarus only knows what all this is for," he muttered.

"You have a wicked mind," came an amused voice.

Ares looked over and saw a smaller, blond-haired woman with eyes the color of summer grass. She was the person he'd come to see, Chymra, the Goddess of Magical Offerings.

"These," she indicated the items littering the ground, "were brought here by followers of mine. If you can believe it, they are all part of one man's jesting act."

Ares eyed the shovel and tried to imagine how that could be funny. He couldn't do it and gave a mental shrug. The god had more important things he needed to do. Chymra could have told the war god that the shovel was used to bury the animal droppings that the jester's pack animal left behind...but the imp inside her decided to let him wonder.

"I need your help," Ares told her.

"Of course, little one." She reached up a delicate hand and cupped Ares' face. "Anything for my favorite great-great-nephew."

"It's about Strife..."

****

"See here," Chymra pointed to a point on the mirror. "That's when Strife reached his majority. His full powers should have been activated then, but they weren't." The goddess stared at the Mirror of Revealing and frowned at what she saw. "Someone put a block on Strife when he was 15."

Ares' brow furrowed at that news. Someone had messed with his nephew's godhood and had made his life miserable for decades.

"As a god with such young followers, the energy of each prank *and* the idea of each piece of mischief should have translated into godly energy." She looked up at Ares. "This should be crackling with energy."

Instead, the mirror had a barely seen, rippling wave of energy, one that only slightly moved the energy around it. Once in a while there would be a slight *plop* and an energy bubble would break the surface, sending out waves across the mirror.

****

Strife leaned against the edge of Ares' throne in false nonchalance. He watched as Ares paced back and forth and tried to explain what had transpired.

Of course, Strife realized what must have happened. Tryst put the block on him.

Automatically, Strife cringed. His eyes darted around fearfully, expecting the huge god to come flashing in and punish Strife for even thinking about him.

When nothing happened, the mischief god pretended to relax. He was glad that neither Ares nor Joxer had noticed his brief moment of weakness.

"...your temples should have automatically appeared wherever there was a lot of worshipping of you going on. Little kids can't be expected to erect temples on their own, so they should have built themselves," Ares explained to Strife.

The young god nodded his head. "Okay, I get ya, Unc."

In Strife's mind, he didn't see what the big deal was. It seemed obvious that he *didn't* have that many worshippers...his temple was proof of that.

"You should brace yourself. Chymra is going to release the block on your magic, so you'll get the backwash from all these years." Ares eyed his nephew, trying to decide if Strife should lay down for what was going to come.

Strife bobbed his head a few times and stayed casually leaning against the black throne. He didn't want to disappoint Ares, who clearly thought the God of Mischief had a lot of pent up power hiding somewhere, but Strife really wasn't expecting much. All he's ever felt was a trickle of energy, most of the time, with brief flares when an especially big prank was performed.

"So, will she come heah or do I need ta go ta her temple?" Strife asked.

"No," Ares shook his head, his long black curls gliding across his leather vest. "Chymra doesn't ever leave her temple. She's going to release the block from there."

"Okay." Strife stood up straighter and waited for the *onslaught*. The young god giggled at the idea. Ares didn't get mad at him for laughing, they were all used to Strife's odd ways.

Ares tilted his head, listening to someone not in the room with them, and warned Strife, "here it comes".

"I'm re...ady..." Strife trailed off as the first wave of power washed over him.

"Oh...wow, that's really..." He gasped, his impossibly pale blue eyes widening in surprise at what he could feel surging towards him.

"Unc," he whispered in a small, frightened voice.

"It'll be okay," Ares assured him. The older god started to go to him.

Strife was blasted off his feet and across the room by the sheer volume of power that hit him all at once. The young god slammed onto Ares' map table and rolled off the other side. His breath came out in a woosh when Strife hit the rock floor.

"Strife!" Twin yells filled the room as Ares hurried to his fallen nephew and Joxer, hearing the loud thump, hurried in from the hallway.

"Why did you blast him?" Joxer demanded. His normally sweet countenance was scrunched up in anger.

"What?" Ares turned Strife over and was happy to note that there weren't any apparent injuries from the fall. "No, babe. I didn't blast him. This was a release of *part* of the energy he should have been getting."

"Oh." Joxer ducked his head and blushed. He should have known better. It had been years since Ares blasted Strife. "I'm sorry."

Ares grinned and cupped Joxer's blushing face in his hand. That only made the pink tinge even brighter. "I accept your apology."

It still thrilled the older god when Joxer apologized to him. Before the young man came into his life, no one would really admit they were in the wrong. It just wasn't an Olympian trait.

"What should we do with him?" Joxer asked.

Ares stood from where he'd been kneeling beside the table, an unconscious Strife draped limply over his arms. "We'll put Strife in his old rooms and let him sleep this off." Glancing down, he *read* Strife and added, "it may take a while".

****

It had been three days and Strife was still sleeping. Apollo had reassured the *very agitated* Ares that this was normal. Strife's body wasn't used to that much power and needed to let it absorb into his being, like a flower soaking up rays from the sun.

"Okay, honey, here we are."

Cupid gazed down at his son and hesitated for a moment. He had given into the little godling's begging and brought him to visit the unconscious Strife, but Cupid was hesitant. He was worried that the sight would upset his impressionable little son. After all, being one of the gods, Bliss had never seen anyone he loved sick before.

Bliss stood in the open doorway, one plump little thumb firmly entrenched between his lips. He eyed the sleeping god for a moment, his blue eyes wide. Shuffling hesitantly over to stand beside the bed, Bliss reached out a hesitant hand and patted Strife's pale one that was lying on top of the bright green coverlet.

"Hi, Stwifey." One front tooth was finally making its appearance, but the godling still lisped adorably. "How's you doing?" he questioned.

Taking hold of Strife's hand with one of his hands and the covers with the other, Bliss pulled himself onto the bed to sit beside the somnolent god. Cupid started forward when he saw Bliss struggling, but stopped when the little boy flapped his wings a few times to give himself a boost.

"So, you'se going to sleep a while, huh?"

Strife was lying on his right side and almost seemed to disappear in among all the bedclothes. Strife's larger-than-life personality and wild antics distracted people from noticing how small framed and delicate boned he really was.

Bliss carefully brushed the hair off of Strife's forehead. "That's okay. We'll take care of you." Bliss bit his lip as he thought. "I knowse, I'll tell you a bedtime story."

Cupid began to carefully back out of the room. He didn't want to disturb his son and hope-to-be lover.

"Once upon a time. There was a lovely pwincess. She lived in a tower *high* up in the sky." Bliss raised his arms in the air to demonstrate just how high up she was. "But she didn't like that, so she blasted out the door and left. One day..."

****

It took Cupid a while to stop laughing. 'Only in this family,' he thought, 'would a fairy tale include someone blasting things.'

Walking as softly as possible, Cupid tiptoed up to Strife's room. He flapped his wings so he was actually hovering, instead of walking. Peeking into the bedroom, Cupid smiled at the sight that greeted him.

Bliss was lying on the bed asleep. He was facing Strife, his little arms wrapped around the god's neck. Strife had a soft smile on his face.

_____________________________________


Chapter 10

"How're you doing?" Joxer asked while they were sitting at the breakfast table.

"I feel *great*," Strife enthused. He bounced up and down in his seat a couple of times, hardly able to contain his energy. "I don't expect it ta last very long," he admitted. "Aftah all, this is tha result of ovah a hundred years ah pranks and bits ah mischief."

Strife shrugged, happy over the extra energy, and willing to enjoy it while it lasted. He dug into his breakfast with an enthusiasm that he hadn't show since he was a baby.

Joxer watched as Strife eyed the table and picked out *yet another* hunk of bread, one of the dark ones this time, and put another scoop of fluffy, scrambled eggs on his plate.

The former warrior had his doubts that Strife's newfound energy would just "fade away". The moment that Chymra had begun to release the pent up power, small shrines began to pop up all over Greece for the God of Mischief. Most weren't very big yet, but every day saw more and more.

Strife waved his hand and gave a delighted giggle when his mug filled up with orange juice. He'd had the luxury of that fruity delicacy a few times in his life, but had to leave it as a special treat because of the extra energy it expended to bring the liquid from a different part of the world.

This time though...

"Heah, try this, Joxah."

The god waved his hand one plate of odd looking food appeared in front of his best friend and an identical one in front of himself. The large, round discs were stacked on top of one another and topped with a fluffy white substance.

"What is it?" Joxer asked, looking at the concoction warily.

"Belgian pancakes," Strife informed him. He flapped a hand at Joxer's puzzled face. "Thay're from tha futah."

"Uh, okay." Joxer reached out and swiped a slender finger through the white stuff on top. He licked his finger and smiled over at Strife, who was watching him in anticipation. "This is really good."

His eyes glazed over for a moment as he imagined this sweet, fluffy stuff"spread over Ares' nicely browned skin. He imagined licking it off, very slowly.

"Can you get some more of this stuff for me?"

Strife grinned at the unfocussed look on his friend's face. He didn't have any experience with sex, the good kind anyway, but he knew lust when he saw it.

"I think I can arrange that."


Ares looked up in surprise when he heard the door to his war room opening and closing quietly. The quiet part is what had him amazed. *No one* was quiet in the God of War's temple"except for"

"Joxer," he breathed out softly.

The pale, slender man stalked, yes, stalked, towards the bigger god. Ares' eyebrow shot up at the predatory look in his fiance's eyes.

"Joxer, what's going on?" Ares noticed that the immortal had something long, white and metallic in his left hand.

"A surprise," Joxer replied. His voice was husky.

Ares opened his mouth to find out what he meant but he never got the chance. The much smaller, and infinitely less aggressive, lover"tackled the war god, knocking him back and onto the massive wooden table he was standing in front of. Maps and rolled up scrolls, containing correspondence from different generals, were knocked and/or rolled off onto the floor.

The God of War was stunned and incredibly turned on. Joxer attacked his mouth like a warlord pillaging a peaceful village, showing absolutely no mercy. Ares' tongue was shoved back into his mouth by the force of Joxer's tongue.

"Now!" Joxer sat up on the tabletop, straddling Ares' hips, a wicked grin on his face. "Let's get creative."

"What's"(gasp) He jerked when Joxer did something with the cylinder and a cold foam was sprayed on his neck, just where it began to become his chest.

"Whipped topping," Joxer explained. Of course, since Ares didn't study the future, like Strife did, he had no idea what that was, but he soon didn't care.

Joxer began to lick off the whipped topping. One tiny, little swipe of his tongue at a time, like one of the many kittens that roamed around the temple.

Ares definitely *did not* squeal at the sensation.


Strife sat down at one end of the table. At the other end Cupid presided and Bliss sat in his own little, raised chair mid-way between them.

The God of Mischief smiled at them, boy and man alike. In the back of his mind, like a sweet dream, he remembered Bliss lying beside him and telling stories. He also had a vague recollection of Cupid washing his face and arms, but he wasn't sure if that was wishful thinking or not.

"How have you been?" Cupid asked.

Strife gave an honest grin. "A lot bettah. Since they got tha mix-up fixed, I've got a lot more powah and energy."

"That's great," Cupid enthused.

"Thanks. I" Strife looked down in surprise when one of Cupid's servants sat a dish down in front of him. It was a concoction of fruits and custard and cake. Dessert.

He looked up at Cupid and frowned. "What's this?"

"Dessert," the blond god answered. "We thought," he glanced over at Bliss, "that we'd eat dessert first."

'So, I'll stick around for the whole meal,' Strife realized with a pang.

They wanted him to stay so much that Cupid, the strict disciplinarian, was willing to break the rules. Strife looked over at Bliss, and Bliss had such a hopeful expression on his sweet little face that Strife simply melted.

"Mmmm, it sure looks good," he admitted. "But maybe we can set it ta one side and have the regulah food first."

Bliss grinned and bounced a little in his seat. Come to think of it, Cupid was bouncing a little bit as well.

"Will you read me a stowy?" Bliss asked, eyes shining.

"Yeah, kid. I'd love ta."

Cupid, Bliss and Strife were all grinning when the servant brought in the first course. Normally, a smile from Strife was a scary thing, indicating that something hinky was going to happen very soon. But this time it wasn't. All three gods were simply happy.


Joxer walked into the throne room and stopped so suddenly that a passerby would have thought he'd hit an invisible wall. No, it wasn't his lover and fiancé ambushing the former warrior for a little afternoon romp. It was Strife.

The young god was sprawled over one of the thrones, his long, slender legs draped negligently over one of the arms of the chair. His casual attitude in such an austere room wasn't what was surprising though. It was what he was doing with his mouth. (Get your minds out of the gutter!)

Strife's jaw was moving up and down, like he was chewing something vigorously, but the seeming food never got any smaller. And when he opened his mouth...something pink and faintly glistening could be seen. Strife stuck his tongue out slightly and the protruding end was coated with the pink...glop. The god pursed his lips, sucked in his cheeks...and a bubble started to form from between his lips.

Joxer watched in fascination as the bubble got bigger, and bigger, and bigger. The immortal's eyes got bigger with each increase in the bubble's size. Finally...

POP!!!

"Strife?"

"Heya, Joxah." Strife waved a hand in greeting.

"Hi. Uhm, what is *that*?" he asked, pointing a finger at the god's mouth.

The God of Mischief giggled. Not one of his 'holy crap! run for the hills' giggles. No, just a small, amused laugh. "It's called bubblegum. It's somethin from tha futhah."

"Oh. Okay."

They were all used to Strife bringing odd things out of the Hall of Time. Something called a Rubik 's Cube had driven Zeus halfway out of his mind before Hera had banished it to Tartarus.

"What is it for?"

"Nothin," Strife smirked as he answered. "It really d sn't have a function. Ya just chew it fah fun. Wanna try?" He held out a piece of something covered in parchment.

Joxer shook his head. "No, thank you."

"K. Yar loss." Strife grinned again and this time, it did look slightly maniacal. "I can't wait ta get somebody with a beard ta try this. Cause when it pops, sometimes ya get it all ovah ya face."

" Is it really sticky?" Joxer asked, a suitable wince on his face.

" Yep," Strife agreed with a nod and a pop of the gum.

Joxer, who had once fallen asleep next to a tree and gotten some extremely sticky tree sap in his hair knew how easily it had intermingled with the strands of hair, holding it fast.

"And I'll bet it's hard to get out of hair, isn't it."

Strife nodded happily and giggled. "It's hardah than pryin a dinar outta Salamonuous' hand."

"Wow," Joxer said, suitably impressed.

"Yeah. I like Sal, but he sure loves ta make money."

Joxer nodded. He eyed Strife thoughtfully. "I wouldn't give that to Ares if I were you," he cautioned.

The former warrior winced, imaging something akin to tree sap in Ares ' beard. Joxer had been forced to all but shave his head; he didn 't want to see his fiancé lose his sexy beard.

Strife laughed. "Yeah. Tha temptation is theah, but Unc would be maddah than Cerberus with hemmrhoids."

The former warrior winced at that image. "Right."

" Avoid anybody with wings, taa," Strife advised.

Joxer flinched as he imagined Cupid or, even worse, little Bliss with their wings stuck together. " That would hurt."

" Most likely."

Strife seemed to think about it for a moment before he reached up to pluck the not so pink blob out of his mouth. He held the glistening wad in between his index and middle fingers for a few moments, contemplating before a truly evil grin appeared on his face.

" But wait til ya see what it d s tat ha bottom ah sh s," he whispered, giggling.

Giving into temptation, Joxer followed the God of Mischief outside.

__________________________________


Ares heard giggling and paused in his perusal of a letter from one of his warlords. It wasn't just any giggling either; it was Strife. The younger god generally only giggled when he was up to some mischief and the laughter usually meant that the mischief was going to border on something nasty for someone.

Putting down the missive, the muscled god stood up from his black, leather chair, which matched his black, leather clothes and walked out into the hallway. He stood for a moment, because he wasn't sure of which way to go, until he heard another giggle that sounded even more maniacal. With a resigned sigh, he started down the hallway, his boots (black leather, naturally) made no noise against the stone flooring of his temple. He could hear Strife's voice coming from a room, two doors down. The war god was about to march into the room and find out what was happening when he heard another sound.

It was Joxer's laughter this time.

Ares stopped at the edge of the doorway. Joxer's laughter meant that whatever was happening wasn't something that was going to cause too much trouble. But, with Strife in the mix...he wasn't sure.

"See, Joxah," Strife said.

"Yes, that is so funny." Joxer laughed and this time, when Strife joined him, it was really a laugh, not one of his trademark 'run for the hills' giggles.

Ares glanced around the doorjamb, into the room, trying his best to look like he wasn't checking up on his nephew and his fiancé. Which, of course, is exactly what he was doing, but hey, he is the GOW (God of War, dontcha know) and he had some standards to maintain, after all. The two younger men were preoccupied with something they were watching on a scrying mirror to even notice the tall man watching them.

Strife and Joxer were sitting in two chairs that surrounded a small, low table, on which the scrying mirror lay. Joxer had his hand over his mouth, trying to hold the laughter in. Strife was holding his sides and had obviously given up and was laughing out loud. The two grown men looked like children playing. Ares knew for a fact that neither man had ever had much of a childhood, so he backed away, as quietly as he could, to leave them to their fun.

Ares was glad that they were so distracted. He was thrilled to see Strife back to himself. Since whatever happened between he and Cupid, the younger god had been subdued, something that Ares never thought he'd think about his hyperactive nephew. Apparently, things had worked out between the love god and Strife and both men, plus Cupid's little godling, were all happier for it.

Settling back down into his chair, Ares reluctantly picked up the scroll one of his idiot warlords had sent to him. The man had the brains of a rock, but he did have a loyal following, so Ares tolerated him. He put his lover and his nephew out of his mind, for the time being.

"Surely, they can't cause too much trouble," he reasoned.

####

"That has to be one of the funniest things I've ever seen," Joxer admitted, in between giggles.

"Yeah. Who woulda thought that ol' Apollo would have gotten inta sucha tizzy." The god broke into another gigglefest at the memory of this morning, which they had conveniently saved for posterity's sake on a scrying mirror.

Late, late the night before, or really early in the morning, whichever your preference might be, the two culprits, Strife and Joxer, and snuck into the stables where Apollo kept The Chariot.

You know, the one he used to pull the sun across the sky. Yeah, that one.

Anyway, they snuck in and left a little present in the bottom of said chariot. It was only after Apollo had started out on his morning ritual that he discovered the joys of bubble gum on the bottom of his sandals. He'd been too high up already to hear his reaction, but the chariot, and consequently the morning sun, had wobbled a bit as it rose into the sky.

Strife looked over at his friend as they watched the scene on the mirror, again. He knew that his job as the God of Mischief lent itself to doing crazy things, but Joxer was used to being more "reliable'. His father, and later on, Xena, had insisted on it. Strife was glad to see his quiet friend let loose and vowed to visit the Hall of Time more often to see if he could find things to coax the inner child out of him.

####

"What do you think?" Joxer asked Strife.

The mischief god leaned over until his chin was resting on Joxer's shoulder, so he could see what the immortal was talking about. The former warrior turned his head to look at Strife, who gave him an unrepentant grin. Joxer rolled his eyes and shook his head. Strife was always up to something or another, but it was so good to have him not being depressed any more that no one was really complaining.

"I don't know, Joxah. It's kind ah"floral."

"What's the matter with flowers?" Joxer asked in all innocence.

"Nothin. But, uh, can ya see Unc wantin flowahs all around on his weddin day?" Strife asked with an apologetic wince.

Joxer turned back to look at the room where their engagement party was going to be housed and winced. There were indeed flowers everywhere; around the chairs, all over the dais where Zeus would stand, on the walls"the ceiling.

"Dite?" Strife asked.

"Yes," Joxer admitted. The blond goddess had come over to help the day before, hence the plethora of flowers, a lot of which were pink, naturally.

"Maybe if we did something like this," Strife offered, as he waved his right hand in a circle.

When Joxer looked again, he saw that interspaced among the pink flowers were several that were darker in color. There were the expected black ones, but also purple and magenta colored ones, as well. Where the darker flowers would have been depressing on their own, mixed among the bright pinks, they weren't too grim. Likewise, now the explosion of pink was tamed down a bit and seemed pretty, instead of "gag me' overwhelming.

"I like it," Joxer stated, turning around in a circle to see the whole room. "And, more importantly, I think Ares will too."

"Yeah, I think Unc'll appreciate tha changes," Strife said, his tongue firmly between his teeth.

Both younger men new that the war god would have been horrified with Aphrodite's idea of decorating. However, with Strife's little touches Ares might just live through his engagement party, without going color blind. "Pink' color blind, that is.

__________________________________


The party was tense with a capital 'T'. On one side of the room you had Hercules, who was guaranteed to cause tenseness, Xena, Gabrielle and Iolaus, who was the only one that really seemed to be enjoying the party.

On another side of the room, the one directly opposite Hercules and Co. stood Hera and her entourage. Just having the Queen of the Gods in the same room with Zeus' hated, bastard son added more fuel to the fire.

Zeus was leaning against another wall with a wide eyed, panicked look on his face. The older gods head kept whipping back and forth between his wife and Hercules.

Apollo and the Muses (which sound an awful lot like a rock group) were lounging on yet another side of the room. The Muses had couches that they were draped decoratively across and Apollo wasn't doing anything so mundane as waiting for the fur to fly.

No, definitely not.

Aphrodite was sitting on her husband, Hephestaus', lap on, you guessed it, another side of the room. (Yes, that makes more than four sides. Seeing the way everyone was separating, like teenagers at a school dance??, Ares had reconfigured the room into an octagon.)

It was bound to happen sooner or later. If you get that many people together who hate one another, a fight is gonna happen. Like Aphrodite will wear skimpy, revealing clothes, it was inevitable.

Strife was looking at Cupid, who had just walked in with Bliss, so he missed the beginning of It. That's what the disaster was referred to from then on, It.

He heard a thump and then a crash. And then, a shriek.

"Look at my clothes!" Aphrodite screamed. She stood up and, indeed, the whole front of her lacy, see through dress was covered in the food that had been sitting on the table in front of she and Heph.

Strife felt a zing in his godhood, so he knew for a fact that Discord had not accidentally knocked the table over.

"Oh, chill out," Eris said with a smirk. "Bimbo," she muttered under her breath.

"Exsqueeze Me!" Dite bellowed, the hands on her hips curling into fists as she narrowed her eyes at the younger goddess. "Who are you calling a bimbo?!"

The Goddess of Discord smirked, looked Aphrodite up and down, and then crossed her arms over her chest. "Well, if the almost invisible clothes fit," she sassed.

Dite snarled, Hephestaus was trying to calm his wife down and everyone else was frozen in amazement, waiting to see what happened next. With a roll of her eyes, Eris turned her back on the stained goddess and started to walk away. That was the final straw for Aphrodite; no one walked away from her.

"Slut!" she shrieked and in a move worthy of one of those bendy acrobats from Chin, she dove over the table and tackled Eris from behind. In seconds, the two women were punching, clawing, pulling hair and calling each other names.

Not to be left out of the fun, Hercules decided that he should be referee. Someone, they could never decide who and no one ever came forward and admitted it, decided that Hercules was being a pompous ass and wanted him to lighten up. With fruit. All down the front of his fancy, woven leather pants.

Red fruit.

It went downhill fast. Food and lightening bolts were being flung with abandon. Xena decided to try her own brand of diplomacy and started tossing her chackram around the room. It didn't do a bit of good, since most of the beings there were gods and goddesses, but it did add to the drama a bit as the flying disc knocked over flowers and cut down decorations.

Iolaus was smart enough to stay out of everyone's way, both god and demi-god. He backed himself into a corner and sat down, thus he was one of the few at the party not to look like a walking food demonstration. Gabrielle either wanted to be by Iolaus or was smarter than she'd acted before now, because she sat by the hunter and stayed out of the way.

Strife, who was still a little stunned by how quickly the engagement party had turned into a melee, was glad to see Cupid hurrying from the room, little Bliss tucked under his arm. It was bad enough that the boy had to see the 'grownups' acting like a child having a tantrum, but he certainly didn't need to see his Grandma Dite and Auntie Eris rolling around on the floor in"Strife craned his head to see better"custard?

'Wait a minute,' Strife thought to himself. 'I don't remember theah bein any food like that...'

####

Hercules' laughter startled Strife. He looked over and saw that the demi-god was talking pleasantly with Athena, who was one of his favorite aunts.

Strife glanced around the room and rolled his eyes. People were standing around in little groups, talking politely and eating finger foods off of plates.

'And they're not even real fingahs,' Strife thought with a smirk. 'This party is sa boring! It's worse than watchin dirt turn inta...more dirt.'

Thus, the reason for the mini-fantasy a few moments earlier. Not that he really wanted things to go wrong at Joxer and Ares' engagement party, but livening it up a little wouldn't go amiss.

'It ain't natural,' Strife thought, eyeing the people in the room. 'I've nevah seen this many ah my family tagether when they weren't fightin.'

"Enjoying the party?" Joxer asked, coming up to stand by his best friend.

"Oh, hey Joxah. Uhm, uh huh," he lied.

Joxer smiled at his best friend before looking over his shoulder at the quiet party. "Liar," he said affectionately.

Strife shrugged one shoulder. Joxer knew him well. For once, the mischief god had worn something other than his black leather outfit. He had on a pair of pants"yes, they were black leather"and a form fitting red shirt made out of cotton. Not a safety pin or piece of metal to be found. In the clothes, that is. He still had his earrings on.

"I know it's kind of boring," Joxer admitted. "But at least everyone is getting along, even if it is just for one night."

Strife nodded. "Yep, and no custard in sight."

Joxer looked over at his friend quickly; Strife said some odd things at times. 'But what in Tartarus is custard?' he thought.

__________________________________


Three days after the party

Strife arrived at the House of Love and Happiness (Cupid and Bliss' space, dontcha know), heralded by a bright, purple flash of light. The god had toned his entrance down somewhat tonight, from his usual hopping, green toads and hissing, red snakes that were generally added in with the flash. Personally, Strife thought that the purple, green and red made a nice color combination. Most people just screamed and ran when they saw his entrance, but he thought they had bad taste; when he wasn't giggling over the looks on their faces, that is.

"Stwifey!" A white blur of feathers came flying (literally) at Strife from one side.

From the adorable lisp, because even though he had gotten his front teeth back in, Bliss had a little trouble with 'R's, Strife knew who it was immediately. That and the feathers. Strife grinned to himself. It wasn't that tough of a guess, because Strife only knew two beings with white feathers and he could only hope that Cupid would throw himself on Strife that way.

"Heyya, kiddo."

The God of Mischief caught the little boy without very much fumbling this time; he still wasn't used to people wanting to be that close to him on purpose. But Strife had discovered that after over a century of living without being touched that he craved it, so he held the little godling tightand gave him a hug, closing his eyes in bliss. (pun intended)

"Strife." The volume wasn't quite as loud with this greeting, but the deeper voice spoke of warmth and softness, like honey being poured over cotton. Strife turned his pale blue eyes and looked at the newcomer.

"Cupid." He wanted to say more, like 'hello39;, 'how have you been?', 'can I lick your toes?', but the sight of Cupid sauntering down the hallway, bare-chested, barefoot and in his kilt stopped any and all words in their sandals.

"Hello, Strife. It's good to see you." No one's voice should sound that way, all hot and tempting. The God of Mischief didn't know how he was expected to talk after hearing that voice.

"Uh, yeah, hiya." He turned back to Bliss, hoping the distraction would untie the knot in his tongue.

"How have you been?" Cupid asked, stepping even closer. The blond god's left hand touched Strife's side and slid around until it rested on the small of his back, all warm and comforting. Strife found himself unconsciously leaning into the touch. A glance up at Cupid showed that the older god didn't mind at all. Strife's heart began to pound; he'd never felt anything like this before.


Cupid looked into Strife's fathomless blue eyes and found himself drowning in the naked expression there. His palms began to sweat and his heart gave a little flutter. The God of Love recognized the signs; he was in love.

'And not an arrow in sight,' he thought to himself. Referring, of course, to the disaster with his own arrows and the following, ill-fated romance with his ex-wife, Psyche. This time was different; it even felt different. More real. Genuine.

Strife was almost exactly the same height as he was, so when they were standing face to face like this, their lips were in the perfect position to be kissed. He wondered what would happen if he kissed his cousin. They had kissed on the one occasion, but usually when he, or anyone other than a child, got close, Strife would panic. You could see it in his expressive eyes when he felt crowded or pressured.

Bliss made a little squeaking noise, meaning he'd remembered something he forgot, and ran out of the room. Cupid took that as a sign from the gods (Zeus maybe) that he was meant to give it a try. Leaning slightly closer, Cupid moved until their lips were merely a hairsbreadth apart and waited for a few seconds, just in case Strife objected. When the God of Mischief didnt back away in fear, Cupid closed that last, tiny difference.

The dark haired god whimpered in reaction and Cupid took that as an indication that Strife liked being kissed. Wrapping his arms around the slender god, Cupid pulled his cousins body closer. This time, there was a difference, as after a seconds hesitation, Strife hesitantly put his arms around Cupids body as well.

Yes! the love god thought to himself. I dont know why Strife is so unsure, lovewise, but the love I feel for him will conquer that problem.


Strife smiled in happiness as he pulled the blanket up further around his shoulders. In his half-asleep mind, the mischief god could almost imagine that the fluffy material was the downy feel of Cupids wings, like when the blond god had wrapped his arms around Strife the night before.

A beam of sunlight slipped through the curtains on the window and right across Strifes eyes. With a discontented sigh, the younger god knew that he had to get out of bed now. Reluctantly, he threw off the covers, along with the fantasy they had engendered.

Anothah day, anothah dinar, Strife misquoted to oldOr would it be young, since tha sayin is from tha future? he asked himself.

Giving himself a mental shrug, Strife got out of bed. His morning routine hadnt varied a great deal since moving back into his uncles temple. Strife still wore his leathers to bed most of the time, not because he didnt have anything to wear. No, because being back in the temple, and more importantly, the bedroom where so much of his abuse had happened meant that Strife was more than a little uneasy about being naked in his room.

Theahs nothing ta worry about, he made himself say out loud. Strife repeated the mantra every time he came into the room, went to bed, got up, or was generally alone in Ares and Joxers temple. So far, it had helpeda little. Strife knew that he just needed to keep repeating it to himself and eventually he would feel safe.


Tarion!

The little boy in question jumped as his mothers strident voice ripped through the twilight. Knowing better than to keep his mother waiting, the child gave a quick glance back to the bush that hed heard a suspicious rustling noise a few moments earlier and then hurried towards his familys modest dwelling.

There you are, young man, the younger mothers voice sounded harried, but nonetheless, there was relief too. Come inside, its dangerous to be about when it is getting dark.

Yes, mama, the boy said resignedly. The warning was an oft heard one, but he still did his best to heed it, because he really loved his mother and didnt want her to worry.

Giving the darkening night a suspicious glare, Amelian, Tarions mother, pulled her eldest child inside where it was safe. She bolted the door behind them and the family sat down to their evening repast.


Amelian never knew how right she was about the dark and Tarion, thank the gods, never realized the danger hed really been in.

With a snarl, Tryst, God of Secret Meetings, stepped out from behind the bush where Tarion had heard a noise. The large and bulky god glared at the home in front of him and was seriously tempted to break down the door, kill the rest of the family, and take the child he wanted. It was only the knowledge that such an attack would gain the attention of the other gods, and Zeus in particular, that stayed his hand.

His eyes glittering in the dark night, Tryst popped out with an explosion of sparkles. When he reappeared in his own modest looking home, which was where he was hiding, the insane god started screaming in frustration. His large hands slammed down on the heavy oak table that he ate at, splitting it in two. He picked up one of the halves and began to swing it around the room, knocking over shelves and tearing out huge chunks of wall. In fact, if it hadnt been for the reinforcements that Tryst had done to the dwelling, it wouldnt have been standing after just a few minutes of his tirade.

In the rest of the village, no one heard anything, because Tryst had used his godly powers to make the house soundproof, so they didnt know that there was a reason to worry.

The End



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