AresJoxerCupidStrife - LadyBard


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 Part 15 Part 16 Part 17 Part 18

This was previously titled Strange Twists. It has outgrown that title
over the years, and so I've edited earlier parts and am carrying on. To
any one interested who has previously read this. . I've expanded some
scenes, rearranged others, changed some concepts and just generally
thrown in a bunch more angst.

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


title: Fates Decree

Authoress: Lady Bard

Feed back: ladybard@shellworld.net

Rating NC-17

Pairings: Ares/Joxer, Cupid/Psyche, Autolycus/Strife, H/I, X/G (others)

type: hc, angst, AU, nonconsensual

Archive: Joxerotica, SAFFLS, AJCS (if wanted) anyone else ask please.

warnings:

This fiction mentions child abuse, both physical and emotional. There's a rape scene.
Later parts also discuss rape and has some m/f relationships. There are the strangest
family dynamics that I could think up. This is not your typical 'We hate Ares because...'
I have tried to make it plausible, if not believable, or something like that.
disclaimers:

Most of these characters are not mine. They belong to the PTB and I only
borrow them for entertainment purposes. Any characters that you do not
recognize are mine. You can love them, hate them, and pet them and you
can even use them but please give credit where it is due.



note:

/.../ thoughts

//...// telepathy

Thank yous and all that:

Beth is the best feedbacker in the world. This works even when you are
swamped with all the worse things life can throw at you. You open an
email and she's asking about your story and bam! You feel just a little
better. That doesn't mean I wrote more. It just made me feel fuzzy.

I'd like to thank Shamenka for 'The Fool The God'. Why? Because I feel
like it. Because it is the most awesome fanfic in the world. It gave me
the idea for this in a vague sort of way. I'd also like to thank atheea for
her characterization of Hestia. I'm shamelessly borrowing from it. Last but
not least... Hergerbabe. It was 'The Plan' that got me back to writing this
story.

Betas, I have been blessed to work with some great people through out
various sections of this fic. From its inception: Lori Bush, and D'nalia. Now
that I've picked it up again: Ellen, Christine, Star Earth Angel, and Dane, Hugs
to all of you and everyone else.

summary: When an old prophecy of the fates starts coming true, no one in
its path will ever be the same again




1/

Joxer trudged through the downpour wondering just who on Olympus was
upset, and why. He had no particular destination in mind, he rarely did.
He had a terrible sense of direction. Joxer looked around and saw big
trees. They looked forbidding in this rain. They cast early
shadows and made him feel just slightly afraid. He realized slowly that he
had somehow wound up in a forest. He felt dispirited and alone.


Xena and Gabby were off gods only knew where. Not that they'd want
him along. A sad smile tugged at his mouth at that thought, but never
touched his usually warm brown eyes.

He remembered the day he had realized his love was useless. It had been
a day like any other. The trio had set up camp and Joxer had gone off to fill
their water skins at a near by lake. He had returned to find the women locked
in a passionate embrace bodies molded together.

They had been so apologetic. They had begged him to stay, not to go off and
do something stupid. He remembered feeling dead inside and leaving them that
very night. He had barely got up the energy to send his God of choice a soft prayer.

He came back from the memories but harsh thoughts still plagued him. He was
incompetent at some things. Well, he amended to himself, at a lot of things,
but he was not stupid.

Why people thought he was stupid was beyond him. Joxer quickly stifled that
thought. What people thought of him was his own fault. He had just
become very good at forgetting who he was. It was no wonder that
people took him for a stupid person. Still, he wondered if being a fool was
the same as being stupid. He didn't think so, but what did he know? At this
moment it felt like each dream he had ever held was out of reach.
It seemed that his thoughts were destined to get gloomier and gloomier
for he suddenly found himself thinking of Autolycus. He shook his head
in an attempt to dispel the thoughts, but it was useless. He suddenly
spotted a building ahead and hurried his step. "If I'm gonna get
depressed, may as well do it out of the rain," he muttered to himself.
Joxer's expression suddenly brightened; it was a
temple to Ares. He took a second to wonder why a temple to the God of
War would be in the middle of nowhere, then shrugged and entered. He
thought it might be sacrilegious to shelter from a storm in the War God's
temple, but he didn't really care.


/Whoa! Look at that./ The temple was beautiful. There was no other word
for it. The decor was in the usual black, but this temple looked softer somehow. It
felt to Joxer that this particular temple was a special place. For the
briefest of instances, he reconsidered going in, but then he shrugged.
The way Joxer saw it was that if Ares had a problem, then he could come
and tell him. Not that Ares had ever paid him any attention before.
None of the gods had. Then he thought of the goddess of love and
grimaced. Ok, maybe some did, but it was never for any good reason.
He felt like the universe's joke. He could never do anything right.

He was no kind of hero or warrior. The only thing he was remotely good
at was music and he only played to cheer himself up.
He'd played for Auto before...
He suddenly sat down on the cold floor
and wondered for the millionth time what Ares saw in the color black.

At the moment Joxer found it soothing but normally the color black was
too depressing for him.

He reached into his pack and pulled out a leather wrapped bundle and
slowly unwrapped it. Inside was a finely crafted lyre. It looked
delicate, but Joxer knew just how strong it was. Its wooden frame should
have made it bulky and heavy, but it was light and easy to carry. Joxer
gently plucked at the strings, once again amazed at the instrument's ability to stay
practically tuned on its own. The tears he'd been holding back all day
came to his eyes and he no longer fought them. He figured he was as
safe here as he'd be anywhere and if someone wanted to kill him, he
wouldn't try too hard to stop them. There was really nothing for him
anywhere.

Joxer's fingers absently stroked the lyre strings, bringing forth a haunting
melody. It was slow and soft, almost hypnotic in its sadness and
beauty. Joxer saw nothing special in his tune. He wasn't even aware that his
fingers were softly plucking at the strings. The memories came and he
let them wash over him.

***

After the adventure with Meg and the baby that was really a king, Auto
and he had continued traveling together. There had always been
attraction between them but they had never acted on it. Well, there had been
that kiss after the Cleopatra mess involving his brother. At the
thought of his brother a shiver ran through him. The thief and he had
traveled together after that for a while as well. This time things had been
different.


Auto had been really nice and considerate. He'd smiled at him a lot
and flirted with him. Joxer couldn't help but flirt back. The thief was
gorgeous and he definitely knew it. He'd even offered to teach Joxer some of the
tricks of his trade. Joxer had been dazzled by this good-looking man's
flirtatious ways. The fact that he'd always been attracted to the thief
didn't help.


It had been Autolycus who had bought the lyre for Joxer. He'd seen it
through the window of a music shop and he'd fallen in love with it.
He'd mentioned it to the thief and that afternoon it had been his. He
thought now that the thief had probably stolen it.
That night Autolycus had asked Joxer if he could play and he had. He'd
improvised and Autolycus had seemed genuinely impressed.

"That's lovely. I'd heard that you enjoyed music, but not that you could play so
beautifully," complimented Auto


"Oh... Well..." he'd stammered, blushing all over his pale skin, making it easy for
the thief to see the effect of his words. "I'm out of practice. My
father didn't think it was proper for a son of his to be a musician, so I
had to sneak around to take lessons, but he eventually found out and I
convinced myself that music wasn't..." he'd trailed off at that point as an
old sorrow he'd thought was buried almost overwhelmed him.


Autolycus had reached out and taken his hand sliding over until their
knees had been touching. He'd gently slid his arms around the wanna be
warrior's waist and pulled him close. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to
drag out old memories. You're really good Joxer. I'm not just saying
that."


He'd found himself resting his head against Auto's shoulder believing
in his words. Even now, he still believed them.

***

It was now a week after they had parted company but Joxer was still
reeling from the events that had lead to his parting company with the
thief. They'd become lovers, not that night but soon after. He'd been
astonished at Autolycus' gentleness, his tender touches and warm sweet
kisses. Joxer had felt all the hurt and fear he'd always lived with
melt away in Auto's arms. He'd felt cherished.. Cared for... He'd
lived in a dream for weeks. They'd argued on occasion, but Joxer had been
able to live with that because he knew that after the anger faded away
they would be in one another's arms again.


He'd been foolish enough to think that Autolycus was falling in love
with him and the thief had done nothing to make him think otherwise.
Joxer had not known then that Autolycus really loved someone else and
that, though he cared for Joxer, if by some miracle, his lover was returned
to him, Joxer would not stand a chance.


One good thing had come out of the time he'd spent with Autolycus, he
had learned to find joy in music again. He knew that he was not the
best, or even very good, but he could make a living off his playing. He
had provided a distraction sometimes when Autolycus had been doing a
job. He would play for the nobles, guards, or whoever and the thief would
slip in and get what he wanted then wait for Joxer to finish his
performance.


Joxer would usually be paid for his playing, but not always. By then, the
dinars hadn't mattered any more. He loved the music again and would
play for the sake of the music, and for his own enjoyment. That had
eased his mind when his playing had also made it easier for Autolycus to
do his job. He shook his head at himself and vowed once more that
he would not let music equal Autolycus in his mind.


It suddenly occurred to him that if he was going to be a musician, he
could not worship Ares. He'd been a worshiper of the War God all his
life. He prayed when things were good, bad, and just because he'd lived
through another day. Now he had to pray to say goodbye? He thought about
that for a while and it felt right. It felt off as though he were missing
something, but still right. His fingers continued plucking the strings of his lyre.

The melody had shifted from one of sorrow to one not so sad, but still
lonely. As he continued to play he spoke in slow measured tones... He
tried to sound firm but succeeded only in sounding tired and defeated.

***


"Ares, you know I've prayed to you all my life. I've tried my best to
be someone you could be proud of. I know! It's sort of probably dumb
and that you probably don't care about one lousy mortal," The music
slowly became harsh and haunting , "but I... I" Joxer's voice cracked
but continued.

"I can't be a warrior. I figure you've always known that but it took someone
to make me see that the warrior's path isn't for me. I've always loved
music and I've been convinced that I can be better as a musician than
I'll ever be as a fighter." Joxer's fingers gently strummed the strings of his
lute and his melody picked up much of the sorrow it had lost releasing much of the harshness.

"I guess I just want to say goodbye. I don't know where I'll go from
here, or what I'll do but I know I can't keep living like this. See, I
learned a long time a go that nothing I did would please my family.
I was just never good enough!"

A note of bitterness crept into his tone at that last statement, but
it was quickly gone. "Somewhere in my head I thought that maybe if you
noticed me then they'd be proud of me, somehow! Then I wound up meeting
Xena and Gabby and hanging with them. I thought I loved Gabby and that
I could make her love me but then she and Xena got together and I knew
that I would never have her which was alright because I guess what I
feel for her... She treated me like a person sometimes and she smiled
and she was so pretty but," he sighed. "This doesn't matter. I guess
you've always had better things to do than to listen to a poor excuse for
a warrior mortal praying to you all the time so I'll go now and won't ever
bother you again."

***


On Olympus in her home temple, Aphrodite threw an expensive vase
across the room in her rage. It was not supposed to go this way. "What are
you doing Joxie? You're supposed to realize that you love that dark,
tall, dangerous hunk of god. //Arg! Cupid!!!!// she mentally bellowed




2/

On another part of Olympus, the relatively young, very happily married
god of love came awake with a start. /Now what's mom done?/

He thought to himself, feeling annoyance towards his mother. //I'm coming
shut up you'll wake up your grandson.//

That made her stop for though she didn't much like Psyche she loved her
grandson. //Well hurry up!//

She snapped but her tone was much quieter. Maybe only half of Olympus
could hear her this time. He groaned softly and rose. "Wa' wrong!"

"Mom's done something and probably wants me to fix it. I'll be home as soon as I can."

"Kay! Luvya."

"Love you too."

With those words he blinked out of his home and to his mother's. He found her pacing and muttering. His eyes widened at the broken glass.

His mother loved beauty and that vase had been that. It must be huge if she was breaking things in her home. Cupid knew that his mother only brought the best offerings home for herself. The rest she either left on her temples on Earth or used to help poor mortals. His mother was a complicated woman though most only saw what she wanted them to see.

"Mom?" He asked tentatively. "What is it? What's the matter?"

"I don't know! That is why I have called you!"

"Oooohkaaaaayeee. Wanna tell me who this involves?" His mother was in a fine rage, which probably meant death to someone.

Most thought her to be air headed, self-absorbed, cruel... The list went on and on. There were only a few on Mt. Olympus who knew that though she could be self-absorbed and cruel, she was not air headed. His mum was usually kind and caring with a tender heart. She truly loved daddy Heph, which most people could not credit.

The god of smiths was lame and could not give mom kids, but that was all right with her. With both of them Cupid guessed.

Ares was his father, but not much of a dad. He kept everyone at a distance accept for mom and Heph. He suddenly realized that his mom had been speaking /ah oh!/

"And now Joxie has renounced Ares and what in Tartarus am I supposed to do?"

"Can you slow down? What does Joxer have to do with Ares? You know father never pays him any attention. Since that mess with Dahak he hasn't been paying much attention to anything. It's amazing grandfather hasn't-"

"Enough! What do you know of the Dahak affair? It was a disaster if your father hadn't acted as he did then we'd probably all be slaves, or worse, dead. You should go speak with your grandfather and get the whole story from him-" She took a breath high on a wave of anger on her beloved brother's behalf.

"I am on the council but I'm just not into the whole war thing. It's really groty. Ok, now pay attention!

I was watching Herc and Iolaus and Ares, then Herc proposed to iolaus and Ares just started the huge thunderstorm that's raging out there. I decided it was time for him to get together with his true love you know so I peeked to see what Joxie was doing-"

"Mom! Joxer is my father's true love?"

"Yes! Now let me finish. Joxie was tramping through the woods. I've never met someone with such a lack of direction, but then he got to Arry's little temple in that secluded glade of his. The one he goes to when he's really bummed. Joxie plopped himself down in the middle of the floor and told Arry that he couldn't like be a warrior anymore cause his true path lay in music.

AAwwww!" She Wined. "What am I going to do and who made him get that? I mean it's true, but like it's too soon for him to know. They're supposed to be together. I've *seen* it and while I'm not as good as Apollo when I see something, especially to do with my job, it's true."

"Mom, I haven't seen anything like that."

"Our jobs aren't exactly the same. You have more to do with romance

and puppy love. The types of relationships that help one grow into who

they will become. I deal with the real, lasting sort of thing."

"He spent time with Autolycus. I sort of helped them get together. I figured that if Strife was gone and Joxie was alone, why not?"

"Why not??? I'll tell you why because Joxer is meant to be with Ares. Now he's decided that he's not a warrior so Ares can't protect him anymore!!!" Aphrodite spat.

"Maybe it's not time yet. Have you thought of that?"

"It has to be time."

"Why!!!" Cupid was now getting angry and frustrated.

His mother tended to know what she was doing... Unless she was angry, or jealous, or when she cared about the people involved.

"What makes you think it's time? The fact that Joxie's little blond interest has disappeared and gotten together with the Warrior Princess? The fact that your brother is moping? The fact that without the protection of the gods that little mortal would be dead? Come on mom--"

But Aphrodite interrupted her temper once more getting the best of her in this conversation. "Don't take that tone with me! I was doing this way before you were thought up kiddo, so like chill! If I say it's time for something, than it is!"

Suddenly realizing some of what she had said the goddess could of smacked herself. /oh Tartarus. I don't need cupid wanting to get to know Arry, not now./ She wasn't quite sure what to do.

She along with Hephestus had fostered the belief that Ares didn't care about Cupid, when the truth was that Ares ignored him for his own sake. He was the least loved of the Gods and he didn't want any of his kids stained through association with him. Now she felt change on the wind, and hoped it would be for the best.

//Aphrodite?"!//

The voice out of no where made them pause. "Hey, big bro!"

She waved a hand and suddenly Hercules and Iolaus appeared. "Umm! That was quick!"

"Don't worry love we're safe. Dite, will you marry us?"

A speculative gleam entered her eye. "Course big bro! Can you do me a favor? When? Oooo! It's gonna be great. We can invite the family and-"

"Little sis! I was just thinking a small one with friends and maybe dad. Uh, a favor! What kind of favor?"

He had a bad feeling about that and Iolaus was shaking his head in dread. Aphrodite was the least offensive of the gods but favors never lead to any good things.

"Just a tinsy little one! I need you to check up on Joxer."

"Joxer! Why?"

"I'm worried about him. He hasn't been himself lately. He's been depressed and please!"

She let tears fill her eyes and stuck her lower lip out in a pout. Herc was a big sucker for women in distress, any kind of distress.

Hercules laughed a little helplessly. "Alright Dite. That should be simple enough. We'll go find him and talk to him and maybe get him to travel with us awhile. Will that be ok?"

"That'll be great! You're the best bro! I'll just send you guys to where he's at."

She waved her hand in a circular motion and they vanished. Cupid quietly slipped away. It was time to find his grandfather. There were things he needed to learn.




Ares sat back on his throne open-mouthed. He could not believe what he was hearing. He was being told goodbye by that... Joxer? Who did that little mortal think he was? He was nothing, nothing! If it hadn't been for Ares then he would have been dead long ago.

It was only that Ares had been sort of protecting him. Not that any one knew or anything, or that it meant anything. It was simply that he needed power to keep all the wars going and Joxer was a devoted follower and he needed that. It wasn't that Joxer made him smile. It certainly was not that if he had a bad day he'd just watch the mortal and feel better. /No! It does not hurt and I do not feel betrayed!/

The flash of light in *his* temple, how had Joxer found his way there anyway, made him blink. What was Apollo doing there in his retreat?

"hello, Joxer."

Joxer looked up, startled. "Hello, Apollo. Why are you here in *his* temple? Should you be here?"

"No little one I probably shouldn't be here, but I was entranced by your music. You drew me like a moth to a flame."

/Like a moth to a flame?/ Joxer thought but said nothing.

The god continued. "I've come with an offer. Here me out before you say anything! You've just ended your association with Ares, which leaves you at loose ends. I've come to offer my personal training to you in whatever area of music you want to study. You seem to have a special gift for playing instruments, though with your lack of coordination I find that amazing."

/Oh yeh,/ thought Ares. /Make him go to you by telling him he's a disaster area all on his own./ He was but Ares didn't think you gained followers by pointing out their flaws.

Although he'd always found Joxer's lack of coordination and common sense entertaining, for once, he wondered why Joxer hadn't sworn himself to Apollo much younger. He'd heard the mortal play before on a poorly made lute and had been surprised at the sound Joxer had been able to coax from the badly made instrument. He thought he might look into that. There was something very not-funny about Joxer right then and Ares wasn't laughing. He leaned forward to watch.

"Ok. I'll go with you," replied Joxer.

"Just like that mortal? You won't even give it some thought?"

"What is there to think about? It isn't like I have much else going for me. I think I maybe would have come to you on my own much sooner if I'd had a bit of encouragement from somewhere. Maybe my so-called friends. Shall we go?"

/He should be honored that I'm offering him training. What is the matter with him,/ thought Apollo! /Oh well, I'll figure that out later./

Alright then! Let's go." Apollo reached out and took Joxer's hand disappearing with out the flash of light he'd used in his entry.

***

Half a second later Hercules and Ioalus walked into the temple expecting to see Joxer and surprised when they found nothing.

"He's not here Herc. Could your sister have made a mistake?"

"I don't know. I guess but we're here so let's take advantage of the cozy little place." The demigod said holding out his arms for Ioalus who grinned and flew in to them. It never occurred to him to wonder why this temple to Ares was different from any of the others he had ever seen.

***

Ares flashed into his woodland temple. "Out!! I want you two out of here!"

The roar did nothing for the demigod who glared at his brother. Ioalus, however, was a bit taken aback. No matter how much time he spent with Herc the gods were stil slightly disturbing and Ares topped the list of disturbing presences.

"Brother dear; Will you never learn manners?"

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't fry you and that pint-sized little blond of yours!"

"I'm under Zeus' protection and if you hurt Ioalus-" He sputtered to a stop because he couldn't think of what he'd do.

"Dite asked us to come check up on Joxer who was supposed to be here and obviously isn't! Ares there's a storm out there the likes of which I've never seen before and we don't have automatic transportation methods."

"He's with Apollo." Ares voice was strangely subdued and his eyes were lowered so the look in them could not be seen.

"He's always been a devoted follower of yours! What's he doing with Apollo?" The tone in Hercules' voise seemed to imply that it was about time Joxer came to his senses.

Ares looked up, his dark eyes blazing with rage and something else. Something Hercules had never before seen in those eyes---pain.

"Learning music because I never pay him any attention, or so he said in his goodbye. I don't think he set out to leave with Apollo but he's gone now." He started out yelling the words at his half-brother but finished in a barely audible whisper.

"Oh! I guess we'll go. Unless you'd let us stay here?" Hercules pushed away the strange way his half brother was acting. He didn't understand it and didn't want to.

"Go ahead,"

and the War God was gone.

***

Ares decided it was time to do some research and he flashed to his home on Olympus. He paced around the main room picking up weapons then discarding them. He finally picked up a sword. and once more flashed out of his temple.

He arrived in a long mirrored hall but unlike most mirrors these did not reflect his image back at him. They were blank as if covered by sheets. He reached out a hand and pressed it against one of the mirrors and it slid aside. For several seconds he stood there contemplating what he was about to do.

Some said they changed you, others had gone through one and come out just as they'd gone in. It was said that long a go his father had entered one and come out the cheating husband and bad father he was.

Ares shrugged his broad shoulders and took a deep breath. These mirrors gave you access to the past, present, and the most likely future, but unlike the mirrors where you could view events when you entered one of these glasses, it was said that you lived events, but could not change them. The viewer became an actual participant in whatever unfolded before them. They got to view events with the full range of emotions that the person they were watching had experienced.

He tried to tell himself that he could just use a normal mirror and call up the past, but that didn't feel right, not this time. He had never been able to understand Joxer by using a regular scrying mirror so now he would try this. He didn't understand the sudden urge he had to *know* Joxer but it was there and he was in no mood to fight with himself. He set down the sword he had brought with him. It would not help him where he was going. The hard length was comforting but it had done all the comforting it could do for now. He took another deep breath and stepped through the mirror. It closed behind him no longer blank but showing the events as Ares would experience them.



He could see nothing the darkness was so deep. Ares wondered what he'd gotten himself into. The darkness started to dissipate and he could see again.

He found himself looking up at a powerfully built man. A foot shot out and he found himself sailing across somewhere to slam against the wall. Ares winced and suddenly he realized what must be happening. He was in Joxer's head, feeling what Joxer had lived through.

/ouch! I'll kill the little shit. Wait until I get out of here./ Ares thought to himself vissions of destruction running through his head.

His father had ignored him, yelled at him, undermined his efforts and on occasion thrown a fire ball at him, but he'd always been able to fight back. Joxer was beyond fighting back.

/The mortal must be about 15./ Ares babbled to himself in horror.

"When I tell you to do something you incompetent fool, you do it. No back talking, no questions, I made you, I can also kill you."

"You wouldn't bother to do me the favor." Ares somehow knew that the man sneering down at Joxer hadn't heard the young man's whisper.

"You will not associate with that boy again. Do you understand?"

Ares felt Joxer gathering himself to agree, but the man was impatient. He grabbed the slender mortal by the neck, shook him, and then punched him in the stomach hard.

Ares felt things start to go dark again but the darkness never quite closed in. The mortal somehow held on. Ares could feel Joxer's will-power as an almost physical thing.
/Amazing. I never would have guessed./ Then he felt powerful thoughts almost overwhelm his own.
/maybe I am a changeling. Maybe I don't belong here. I'll stop seeing Kam for Kam's sake you good for nothing bastard but not because you say so but because you can hurt him/ thought Joxer.
Joxer got to his feet and staggered out the door. Ares wondered how he could even move, let alone walk. He didn't look around just walked to a well maintained inn where he was greeted warmly. No one even blinked at his battered condition. A motherly looking woman came over to him, and she gave him a compassionate look.

"Oh dear. What happened now?"
"He found out about Kam helping me with music. He forbade me to see him, and then proceeded to knock me around a bit, Serea. I just can't be like Jett! I've tried. It makes me sick. I had to come here, one more time to see him." Joxer's words were soft, inaudible to all but Serea.
"Were you going to even tell me?, the tall, black-haired, green-eyed young man standing before him asked.

At the unexpected question, Joxer looked up wincing when he moved too fast. "That's why I'm here Kam!"

"You look awful. You're puffy everywhere, and you're gonna turn black and blue. Maybe I can-"

"No! You can't try to contact Apollo. Please Kam, just drop it."

"You're going ta walk away?"

"What can I do? He'll hurt you and your family. I can't just run off with you. I'd be no help. My brother got all the smarts in the family."

"Nah, he just got all the murderous instincts. You don't see me going out with him, do you?"

Joxer laughed then groaned. "Why are you helping me? Don't you even care I can't see you anymore? You don't even seem upset."

"Where would being upset get me? Would you change your mind? Would you come to one of Apollo's temples with me? No you wouldn't, besides, we aren't meant for one another you know that. Joxer, your destiny is not my destiny."

"Kam, knowing something and accepting it are two different things."

"You're right of course. I was going to ask you to come with me when I left next moon."

"And do what?"

"C'mon Joxer! You know you're a very talented musician plus you could be an above average bard, better than I'll ever be. Just because you let your father fill your head with that... With his beliefs, it doesn't mean that you can't follow your heart, your dreams."
***

Ares mentally reeled at the emotions he was experiencing. The god had never felt anything so powerful. He finally understood how Joxer was one of his most powerful worshipers. His focus was phenomenal. His emotions, strong and pure, a wild, barely held in check hunger for acceptance. It was a dream he himself had given up long ago, but this mortal had never stopped needing that acceptance or given up on attaining it.

"I'm sorry Kam. Maybe we'll meet again some day."

***

He turned slowly and walked out of the inn into the waiting arms of his brother.

"You little fuck face. Wait until I tell father where you've been."

"Jett please."

"Please what, brother dearest."

Jett grabbed Joxer's hair and started dragging him off. Joxer fought back, but he was no match against his more agile and stronger brother.

"Maybe I won't tell father. Actually, thinking about it, I better handle this myself."

He raised a fist and slammed it into Joxer's nose shattering the bone. He then slid his right foot in between Joxer's legs and tripped him, making sure to release him as he fell. Joxer's head cracked against the solid ground beneath him but he forced himself to stay aware, to fight off the encroaching blackness.

jett held his brother down as he tugged down the loose trousers Joxer wore.

Jett whispered softly, you like it up the ass brother? A woman don't cut it for you? Should have come for me bro. We could have kept it in the family."

"J-Jett, don't do this. Please."

"shut the fuck up you good for nothing piece of trash."

No time was wasted. The next thing that Joxer and Ares felt was the agony of invasion. The flesh entering the small unprepared hole felt massive. The act didn't take long only a dozen terrible strokes that tore tissue and left anguish and self loathing in its wake.

Jett then hauled him to his feet by his hair, and pushed him into a nearby wall. He proceeded to pummel Joxer with his fists only stopping just before Joxer blacked out. Throughout this Joxer never made a sound. Jett suddenly slapped him hard across the face.

"Wakey, Wakey little bro! Wouldn't want you missing any of
the fun."
/He sounds just like Strife. A very unstable Strife/ Ares wanted out of this situation. It wasn't because of the actual abuse but the emotions Joxer was experiencing. They hit to close to something buried deep within Ares' soul that he didn't want to remember. This mortal felt too much. Feeling was a dangerous commodity. /Why can't you see that feeling is dangerous little mortal?/ Things slowly started to go dark.

This time Ares welcomed the darkness. It blanketed him in warmth and soothed away the aches of the body he was in. He didn't feel the swirling mist that wrapped around him and took him to another time.

***

When he awoke he was laying on something soft. An insistent voice was speaking, but it hurt too much to answer. "Joxer. Joxer. Son. Can you hear me?"

"Mother?"

"You have to leave here. You're in danger. I can't protect you from them. Why do you have to be so different? You'd be a perfectly good warrior if your father hadn't beaten you so much."


"What about you mama?"

"I'm a healer dear heart. He won't hurt me too much. It's been over 2 years since that friend of yours left. I think you should do the same."

"Maybe someday father and Jett will be proud of me."

"I hope so honey."

"What will happen?"

"What do you want to happen?"

"I still want to be a warrior."

/That's all I have./

"I know I'd make a better bard, but Mom, I want *him* to notice me." The word him was strongly associated with a mental picture of Ares. His mother let out a tinkling laugh.

"Oh my sweet child. You're such a dreamer. Why would a god notice you? You've been a light in this life I was condemned to." She made a shushing gesture just as Joxer would have spoken. "No, I don't know why, but you are meant to be just the way you are. Once, long ago, I had a vision that showed you and your two brothers. While They shown bright for a long time, in the end you out shown them both. Don't give up hope my little one."

"Dad knows about you being a healer but not about the prophecy? A firm nod.

"Listen," And the voice of his beloved mamma was hard as steal. "Joxer, you must never tell. Go now before they return. My work is done I think.

"Joxer rose and left the room. He quietly packed some clothing and food Then went to the chest against the wall. He stared at it for a long time. Placing his little finger against the bottom right corner, he watched in satisfaction as an entire section of the chest popped out. He felt a wave of anger run through him.

He looked around the dingy house he'd lived in all his life. The once bright colors were now dull. The roof leaked in several places making the house drafty. Signs of disrepair were everywhere. The fireplaces were chipped and the furnishings were falling apart. The worse part was his mother.

His beautiful mother was very ill, and his father claimed that there was no way to help her. Joxer had always known that was a lie, but he had been able to do nothing, could still do nothing. His entire life he'd been powerless, but now he would escape for his Mother and for himself. Maybe one day he'd be able to come back to help her. She was the one constant - in his life. The one person who believed in him no matter how big a klutz he proved to be.

He reached into the secret compartment and counted out several coins. He could not believe the amount of dinars his father had stashed away. He suddenly realized that he was crying and forced himself to stop.

/No, that's not the way Joxer. You have to grow up now and stop acting like a child./

He wiped a hand across his eyes and closed the compartment once more. He wondered who had made this chest. You couldn't tell there was a secret compartment. It was amazing. He smiled as inspiration struck him.

"Thank you father!" he whispered, "You gave me the perfect plan." It's so simple. /I can't believe I didn't think of it before. All that I am I'll hide away in a secret place just like father hid the dinars in that chest. People only see what they want after all.

I'll focus all my energy on being the best warrior I can be. Effort has to count for something, doesn't it? If it doesn't then I'm in trouble because I really don't have it in me to fight. But I can pretend and if I pretend hard enough, maybe it will become true./

***

/I can not believe what I am witnessing. All that quick wit and bright intelligence gone to waste in a futile quest to gain my attention. In my millennia of life, I've never known anyone to be so persistent./ He suddenly knew what it was like to feel for someone else. /We're alike in many ways. Joxer is truly brilliant./

/What I don't understand is how he's managed to keep up the foolish persona for so many years./ Then Ares thought about it a bit more and realized that the only time Joxer actually acted foolish was when he was around other people. /That doesn't feel right but I can't figure out what I'm missing./ He told himself he would think about it some more later as things slowly went dark again.



When he again became aware of things, he was outside the mirror, blank once again. "Did you learn anything Ares?"

"Poseidon?"

"Yes, I felt the activation of the mirror, and I knew that it was time to try to fix the mess that Zeus, Hera, Hades and I made."

"mess?" Ares felt like a parrot repeating everything his uncle said back to him but he felt exhausted.

"Yes, come with me and I'll show you what happened."

Ares reached out a hand to his uncle a bit apprehensive after what he'd just experienced. Poseidon patted the hand Ares held out to him and whisked them away in a flash of blue/green energy. Seconds later, they reappeared in Poseidon's home under the ocean. Ares looked around marveling at the beauty surrounding him. Everything around him was in shades of green or blue. He'd rarely visited his uncle yet each time he did it had the same affect.

The home seemed to be built of one huge peace of coral. The depictions on the wall were of sea creatures of all shapes and sizes. Partitions seemed to be made of groups of sea shells glued together. "I don't have all day Ares."

His uncle's voice held the power of the waves in it, deep and rolling yet gentle and soothing. Ares turned slowly. His dark eyes meeting his uncles bright one's. "I'm ready."

/Somehow I doubt that, but we'll see. It's about time this ended,/ he thought to himself.

"What do you know about your parents relationship?"

"They can't stand one another. Father continuously cheats on her and she retaliates by making everyone else's life unbearable. Oh yes, and let's not forget he's a terrible father, at least where I'm concerned. His baby Hercules can do no wrong and as for ATHENA and Artemis-" Ares was stopped by an upraised hand.

"What if I told you that the reason your father cheats on your mother is to save all our lives. That the reason your mother behaves the way she does is so that the mortals we have under our care do not loose respect for her and so that the Gods, if they do not respect her, at least fear her?"

"Uncle Don, I think you've been living under the sea to long. Maybe you should spend more time on Olympus." The words were accompanied by a bitter laugh.

"Somehow I didn't think it would be so easy. They've hurt you too much for you to believe me, and even that is so you'd be strong enough to do what you must. Let me show you how things unfolded, ok?"

Part of Ares wanted to get away from his seemingly crazy uncle but a greater part wanted to hear this implausible story. A part of him wanted to believe it. It wouldn't magically fix things, make the centuries of neglect go away, but maybe it would make it easier to let go of some of the bitterness. "I'll listen, Uncle."

"No, I told you I'm going to show you how things happened. Look towards the back wall."

Ares did as he was told noticing that the coral on that wall was different, translucent and even as he watched, it shimmered with the Blue Green aura that characterized his uncle. Figures slowly took shape. It was his parents and his two uncles Hades and Poseidon.

***



As he watched the figures began to move and speak. "What a mess! How are we ever going to fix this.?" Zeus asked his older siblings.

"You've been elected to be in charge. You figure it out." Hades lounged against a half shattered pillar.

"We've got to fix Olympus up and renew our power sources before we can even try helping those poor Mortals that survived our clash with the Titans." Hera said, a sadness in her voice, that her son watching over a millennia later had never heard before.

"Well, here's the solution. You and Wonder King over there get married."

"We what!?" The two in question asked together.

"She and Hades love one another. Don, I can't keep them apart."

"We have to do this," Hades said his voice barely audible.

"Don't I get a say in the matter." Hera protested.

"You know you'll do *it* if for no other reason than to help the mortals."

"I hate it when you're right, Don." She replied defeated.

Poseidon directed a small flicker of power towards the Wall jumping things forward. Hecate and Hestia were standing on either side of their sister.

"I don't like this, Hera," Hecate, Goddess of Magic said. "I sense no good of this union."

"Oh Hecate! We do not love one another but we respect each other and care for one another. It isn't what I would have wanted but we're out of choices right now. Can you think of something better? Will you marry him?"

A snort of laughter from her other side made her turn towards her other sister. "Hera dear, Hecate and I are past our prime."

"Nonsense." Hera shook her head in denial, making her long flowing hair billow out like a halo.

Hestia, goddess of Hearth fires shrugged. "We can't change things now." Her small form contrasted greatly with her smoky voice.

"No matter, what will be will be. You look lovely sister." Hecate's no nonsense tone made the watching Ares grin.

He had to admit that his mother did look lovely. She wore a gown the color of snow, her hair bound loosely in a pearl clasp. On her feet, she wore a pair of sandals that exactly matched her dress.

"I won't bother with a silly veil. Come on my groom awaits."

The wall flickered again. It now showed Zeus standing between Hades and Poseidon. "I don't know that we're doing the right thing. I've spoken to Hecate and she seems unhappy with our plans, but she can't think of a better one."

"Then we must go on as we've begun," Hades murmured.

"You look great little bro. White looks good on you. You should grow your hair a little."

"Don, and just how am I supposed to do that with power so low? We depleted everything defeating father and those titans of his."

Ares tuned the conversation out and watch his father and uncles. They all looked so young. His uncle Poseidon was the one least changed. His uncle Hades was missing the sorrow lines around his eyes. As interesting as his uncles were, it was his father that held his attention. His hair was much shorter and he looked almost innocent. He reminded him in some ways of Hercules. The thought of Hercules brought a frown to his face. "Uncle, I have things to do. Can we move this along?"

Poseidon sighed a little. Ares was always the most difficult to deal with. He had so much of his parents in him. He was tired of the secrets, of the cruel treatment they had inflicted on the bright child that had become the bitter cynical War God standing before him. He wondered how this mess would turn out. He wondered if they'd done the right thing. He shook his head. /We did do the right thing, but sometimes, watching the young ones, I don't know. Do you two even know how close this is to ending?/

He also felt annoyed. "I was trying to ease you into what happened but I guess I'll just get right to the point. What do you know of the Halian mirrors?"

"The what?" Ares started feeling lost, and didn't like it one bit.

"Let me rephrase that. What do you know about the place where I found you?"

"It's different than a scrying glass." He began hesitantly. "I've personally experienced that you can relive what you see with out effecting it. I've heard that you can see the most likely future-" He trailed off. "I don't know much more than that."

"None in your generation does. We wanted it that way. The Halian mirrors are very powerful. Once, there was a time those mirrors could show the best course to take under any circumstance. Tartarus, those mirrors could *create* the perfect circumstances. Now they do what you said and not much more than that."

He smiled a bit sadly, then continued. "But they are very important in the history of our family so I wanted to see what you new. Don't fidget Ares sit down. This is going to take a while."

"If I'm going to be here awhile can I at least get a drink?"

His lower lip was beginning to stick out in a pout. His dark eyes lowered a bit. The god of the seas concentrated and a glass of nectar appeared in Ares hand. "Can you dispense with the theatrics and just get to the story?"



Ares didn't mean to snap but he was on edge. He'd been on edge all day. It was all Joxer's fault, Ares decided. He'd been perfectly fine until that silly, ridiculous mortal had just walked away from him.

/You're also afraid to gain understanding./ He thought to himself, disliking the fear that was clawing at him. /What if what I learn changes things? What will I do then? I just won't think about it now. I'll consider things later. Joxer, my parents, everything later. Right now I'll just listen to uncle Poseidon and then maybe go work on some wars./

He felt a hand on his shoulder. "Ares, what is it? We don't have to see it all tonight, but I'm positive it's time you new the truth. The best thing to do would be for me to gather everyone and let the Halion mirrors explain things. I'm sure if everyone takes turns understanding can be gained in a couple centuries"

A twinkle had entered the usually stern eyes. "Uncle! No, I don't want another trip through one of those things. Wait a second. Zeus did go into one of those things? The whispers are true?"
"Yes. What whispers?"
Poseidon felt a bit alarmed and spoke a bit more harshly than he meant too.. Only the four of them, Hecate and Hestia new the truth. "I heard some of the Muses talking when I was much younger. They didn't know I was listening. They were trying to figure out just what had happened to make things so different. I didn't understand much of what they said"
"That's alright then. Shall we continue?"
Ares took a deep breath. He had a strange premonition that this would change everything. "Ok, Uncle."
"A lot of this next part I can't show you but there is something I want you to see."
Poseidon once more sent a flicker of power at the coral wall and other images appeared. It was Hera, queen of the gods holding something in her arms. "You and your sister Eris."
Ares eyes were riveted on the picture in front of him. "She looks like she cares for us. She's smiling."
"They cared very much."
Zeus entered the chamber where his wife and children were. He grinned a distinctly un-Zeus like Grin. "They're beautiful, Hera. A boy and a girl?"
"Yes, Ares and Eris."
"I've been back from the fates an uncooperative lot if I've ever seen one."
"What did they say?"
"They said that the future of the children is unclear,.. THAT they can see little... They told me to enter one of the Halion mirrors. Then they went on to say something about when war found love and regained his true place. honestly. It was the most harrowing experience. I don't suggest it, dear."

"I don't like that. I sense great change coming from this and not for the better."
The words were preceded by a shimmer of red energy heralding Hecate's arrival. "Sister, there is much that none of us like that we have done and must continue to do for our survival as well' as that of the mortals in our care."
That was more like the father Ares new. It was clear for all to see that Zeus temper was about to snap his eyes flashed blue fire at his elder sister. "Can you be more specific, Hecate? Should we make this a full meeting? Should we call the others?"
"No, in the end this must be. Zeus is right but there will be so much suffering. I wish I could give you a clearer picture but all I've seen is much death and destruction. I am not the enemy. I wish to help but there is nothing I can do. The thing is no matter what happens many will be hurt. I think there just aren't enough of us."
"We could make some of the nymphs and driads more like us, couldn't we?"
Hera suggested hopefully. "No, that would be tampering with the natural order of things. "Hey how about mortals!?"
Zeus suggested excitedly. "They're much more like us and they can handle the change."
"Some can, but what's to say that they wouldn't abuse it? No, I don't mean to be an alarmist, but I needed to share my fears with someone. You will need Don and Hades to aid the two of you in activating the mirror while I monitor and generate a field to protect us from whatever happens. I will also be the one who mainly channels the energy."
"It almost makes me wish I'd studied more of the magical arts!" Zeus said laughing a bit.

"What? you who have control of air and light like no other has before you, or probably ever will. Hera's teasing was gentle and Ares noticed a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. He wondered if they had been growing to care for one another.

"I'll leave you two. Speak with our brothers and let us see if we can't get this done within the next couple of moons, eh? Hecate said her lips quirking up in a smile. As Hecate flashed out, Ares noticed that his father was grinning back at his mother almost against his will.

"Hera, you are a great lady. It is good to know that I will always be able to count on you to make me smile."
"I hope that's not all you want to count on me for. I have work to do in my own right, not just to be your queen and I know we'll have some hard decisions ahead. We'll have to make them together."
"Of course. It's just that right now laughter is a very precious commodity and I want all of it I can snag."
"Would you like to hold the twins?"
"If you're sure I won't hurt them or anything."
He smiled tenderly as he held out his arms. Hera started to sit up but Zeus gently pressed her back down. He then took both babies out of her arms and hugged them. "You're both so special. Do you know that? Soon we'll have lots of little baby gods running around for you guys to play with."
Ares gaped in astonishment. His father had never spoken to him with so much feeling, even when he disobeyed orders or went off in a tantrum to start a war.

***

"Over the next few months I'd find your father talking to either or both of you at all hours. It was the strangest thing. This is the part I can't show you, or even talk about. I don't know what would happen to me if I did. We took an oath that binds the six of us to silence, where the Halion Mirrors are concerned. We left enough knowledge so that if someone stumbled into them, or went looking for them, they'd have a vague idea of what they were getting into. All I can say is that we cent your father through the mirror and he came out."
"Really, Uncle! I'm so shocked!"
"Be quiet!"
Poseidon ordered harshly. The memory of those frantic years running through his head. "What your father saw was the destruction of our world. He saw you and your sister dead. There were others not yet born there too, all dead.. The mortals were all dead as well. He was gone for days, trapped in that horror, unable to leave until it was over. We had a great family life. Everyone got along. There weren't nearly all the factions there are now. You and Eris held the positions you do now, but you also held Apollo's and Artemis' as well. Your father was a faithful husband and a wonderful father, but in the end it didn't save us, or our world."
"Gone for days? I was only gone a few hours."
"You only experienced a few hours."
"You mean, time runs the same?"
"Yes, for the most part, but we didn't know that, we new very little of the Halion mirrors at the time."
"Did you take the time to study them?"
Poseidon opened his mouth to speak and felt a searing pain shoot through him. "I told you that I can't talk about it."
He whispered. He realized that his mind had still been running through the frantic plans they'd come up with after his brother had come out of the mirrors and recovered enough to tell them what he'd seen. Not the plan they'd settled on, but plans which included the Halion mirrors. He gathered his strength once more and put the mirrors out of his head. "Never mind what we did or didn't learn. The thing is that we put your mother in one of those things next. We wanted to see if we could stop it somehow, Change what Zeus had seen. This time..."
He took a deep breath, unable to go on for an instant. I didn't know reliving this would be so hard. "Your mother came out much faster than your father. We just wanted certain questions answered not something as broad as the future of two children."
"What did she learn?"
"She learned that the survival of both Gods and mortals rested on the shoulders of three demigods and three mortals. She learned that one of those demigods would be your brother, one your daughter, and The third your nephew. We were clueless about the mortals. The only certainty was that the six would be born around the same time."
He walked over to the coral scryer and lay his hands on it. He couldn't face any more of this. Ares would just have to come to him if he wanted any more questions answered. Slowly he set the images he wanted Ares to see, then turned to his nephew. "I'm leaving Ares. Here you will see all that I can show you. If you need me, and it doesn't have to be tonight, you know where to find me."
Ares watched in a half daze as his uncle vanished. Then he turned to the scrying glass wondering what other surprises were in store for him this night. He didn't think he could take much more.

***
The six figures looked terrible. He could barely recognize them. He noticed his parents, each holding a baby, not so much babies anymore. He and Eris looked to be about six. "I think we've drawn all we can from the Nymphs and Driads, any more and we'll start decimating them,"
Hestia began. "Unfortunately, they're so fragile. The elements are even rebelling against our treatment,"
Hestia continued. "But at least things are slowly recovering and it is that rebellion that is slowly helping our power come back."
Hecate added quietly. The usually blustery goddess subdued to say the least. "We have to make plans, and soon. I don't care the cost! I. Will. Not. Have. My. Children. Die the way I saw!"
Zeus exploded. "He's right. What I saw gives us hope. It's an awful path to walk, but we must! My poor twins. The road will not be easy for any of us but in the end I saw much joy,"
Hera said resolutely. Suddenly Ares saw the creation of the family he new. His uncle Poseidon looked angry and tired, and Hades eyes looked sad and his parents... They did not look with contempt on one another but they seemed hard and they had not even decided on a plan. Hestia and Hecate were solid supportive presences in the background. "This isn't going to happen over night. The first thing is the children. What are we going to do with them?"
Hades asked. "We can give them to the muses. When they are older, I will come train them in whatever they need to know. Right now we must attune them into their power, but not activate it, that will happen when it must."
"Hecate's right. If we can't be parents to them. The muses will at least insure them a bit of joy."
"Hera just how much did these key mortals and half-mortals change?"
"Along with Ares, they stopped the destruction of our world. I assume you fathered some of them."
"But that would mean.."
"Yes dear. You would have to make children with others besides me."
"Hey, he could be the slut of the gods."
Hestia grinned. That seemed to dissolve the growing tension and they all laughed. There was a slight blurring and Ares saw himself and his sister with Hecate. "I know they think of me as cold hearted but I love you both very much. I wish I didn't have to do this. It's a crime, but in the end it will make you both happier and keep you safe. I just can't imagine what this will do to you."
Ares saw a faint shimmer in the air and then he and his sister collapsed. "It's done."
Zeus and Hera shimmered into view. "They'll have no pleasant memories of us to contrast with what we must become?"
Zeus asked. "Not one. When this is over, if it's ever over. We can restore their childish memories. It will be very easy."
Hecate said as soothingly as she could. "Will they want the memories?"
Zeus asked. "I don't know. What they must do... What he must do is hard, the hardest job we've got and the mortals that come to our temples to talk and play with him will move on and their descendants will forget and hate him."
Ares watched his parents holding on to each other. He couldn't believe what he was seeing... What he was hearing. It seemed impossible, yet in some deep corner of his being, he new it to be true. The images came faster now.

Athena's explosive entry into the world... His father spending the night with Leto... The births of Dite and Heph... Hermes birth... Then almost too fast for the eye to catch the births of Hercules, Xena, Autolycus, Ioalus, Gabrielle and Joxer. Then they stopped.

***

For the briefest of instances Ares was frozen. It was all too much for him to handle. He needed to get out of there and without another thought he found himself in his rooms on Olympus.

He knew he had a lot of thinking to do, but not tonight. He forgot all about the wars he'd been about to encourage and drifted off to sleep. His dreams were of being a small boy and laughing with his father. Then of reaching through a wall of fire to someone, silently begging them to hold on.



Joxer sat on a bench nibbling half heartedly on a thick slice of bread dripping with honey. He stared silently into the fire. Unable to become interested in what his new god was going on about, he tried to pretend intense concentration.

"Joxer, I'm a god. do you truly think you can fool me? You aren't even looking at me. Why don't we continue this tomorrow, hmm?" Asked Apollo.

Joxer's eyes snapped to the blue ones in front of him. "I'm sorry. It's just been a long day. I guess I'm tired and my mind is wandering."
"That's alright. I'll send someone to show you to your room."

Joxer gave an absent-minded nod and Apollo left. What could have been a few minutes, or hours later, Joxer wasn't sure. He heard a vaguely familiar voice call his name. "Joxer? Joxer! Is it really you?"
Joxer came back to himself with a start. Eyes slowly rising to meet a pair of green eyes looking anxiously at him. "K-k-kam. I never thought I'd see you again."
Then the thought came to him, his eyes are as green as Gabby's. They were both unable to move, the years falling away. Kamrin remembering his last sight of his first love, battered and bloodied, bidding him fair-well in the mistaken belief that he was saving his family. Joxer remembering the kind gentle young man that had taken the time to teach him cords and finger positions. Remembering that maybe in time he could have loved this person that now stood before him. Then they were in one an other's arms, laughing and crying and both trying to talk at the same time.

"Oh Joxer, I have so much to tell you. Come on, I'll take you to your room. Father says you're going to train with Rayna and me."

As he spoke he gently tugged on Joxer's hand, bringing the young man to his feet. Kam looked Joxer up and down not expecting the wave of desire that ran through him. It was easily controlled, but it surprised him with its existence. They walked through several halls turning left and right several times. Joxer was totally lost by the time they reached his room. He stood open-mouthed in the doorway.

The first thing to catch his attention was the soft looking bed. Then his eyes jumped to the marble fire-place which took up one wall. The chest for his clothing he saw had the likenesses of instruments carved in it. There was also a table and a comfortable looking chair. Joxer pointed at them, Looking a question at his former teacher and friend. "For when you compose. This is a huge place. I'll show you around tomorrow. You can meet Rayna." The green eyes took on a dreamy look just then.

"Kam, Apollo's your father?" Joxer asked quietly. He felt a sudden wave of fierce anger and it must have shown on his face because Kamrin's answer was immediate.

"Yes. I couldn't tell you before. It was my own way of protecting you."

Joxer opened his mouth to speak and Kam tried silencing him with a shake of his head.

Joxer's memories were too vivid for him to be silent. "You were trying to protect me?" The question came out in an almost histerical tone. "Do you know that after I left Serea's my brother beat and raped me. Is that what you call protection? After you left-" but the events of the day cought up with him and he started sobbing.

"No Joxer. No. No! No!" He swept his friend into his arms sobbing with him rocking them back and forth in an attempt to soothe them both.

Please, don't say anything more. I thought I new everything. I thought I understood what would happen. I'm sorry! I'm sorry so sorry. Please forgive me? the years of suffering I caused you. I could have stopped it."

Joxer started calming as his friend became more and more ajitated. He realized that in Kamrin's arms the memory of Jett didn't hurt nearly as bad as he thought it would. He remembered Autolycus' touch and that banished the rest of the terror and rage that had momentarily gripped him.

"What could you have done?"



I didn't know." Kamrin mumbled again. Then the question seemed to register. "I could have taken you with me somewhere."

Joxer shook his head. I'm not angry any more, Kam. I was just so shocked and I'm so tired."

"When I found my dad I tried looking for ways to help you. Did you know your mother was once a seer with great potential?"

"Yes! She gave it all up so that my brothers and I could be born. She said my father could never know of it. She said that I had to be the way I was, that she couldn't understand it. I had to leave. They almost killed me after one of their raids because I wouldn't... Wouldn't kill a child. Jett tortured a child to death and sacrificed it to Ares. A child, Kam!"

"Shh! You're safe now. I somehow don't think Ares was very pleased."

"You know him," Joxer breathed.

Kam wondered at the gleam in his friend's eyes but didn't mention it. "Joxer?"

"Ummmm!"

"You look great, but you need new clothing."

"Yeah!" The mention of Ares name had made him remember his childhood dream of gaining the attention of the God of War.

"I think we have a lot to talk about. I hope we can be friends again. Why don't you go through that door and clean up and I'll get you a light meal? Then while you eat we can talk, do a bit of catching up."

Joxer suddenly noticed the small door to one side and walked over to it opening it and staring. His mouth slowly dropped open, There was a bathtub the likes of which he'd never seen before. It was sunk into the ground and it was huge.

Kamrin gently lead him over to it and showed him how it worked. He also showed him the valve to open and close the drain. He then proceeded to show Joxer an array of different bath soaps, explaining to him that when he decided which one's were to his tastes only those would be brought to him. Then he walked away with a sad smile leaving his friend to bathe in peace.

***

Joxer filled the tub with steaming water, amazed that he didn't need a fire to heat it. He sniffed the various little jars of soap and settled on one that smelled like the sun and spring. It reminded him of walking with his mother through the gardens when he was very young. It reminded him of the best times with Xena and Gabby, of Auto, of laughter.

He didn't linger in the tub though his body screamed for him to do just that. Instead, he efficiently washed his body and hair, thoroughly enjoying the sensual feel of his soapy hands gliding over his skin. He pressed the lever that released the water and rose from the tub. He reached out a hand and grabbed a huge fluffy towel hanging from a hook on the wall and dried himself. He wandered out into the bedroom and found a wool robe laid out for him to wear. He slid into it and sat to wait for Kamrin.

Kamrin returned a few minutes later with a bowl of fruits and more of the bread smothered in honey he'd been eating earlier. Joxer hesitantly smiled at him and motioned for him to sit and share his light meal. Kam sat and they made short work of the food. They stared at each other an uncomfortable silence growing between them.

"I don't want things to be like this between us, Joxer. I cared, still care very much for you."

"I'm sorry. It's been a long time since someone's wanted to get to know me. Why don't you tell me about this Rayna that's making you all dreamy."

Kam laughed and started telling Joxer about the shy dancer that had stolen his heart. Joxer told Kam about Xena and Gabrielle and some of the trouble he'd gotten into. He felt no need to make things up knowing Kam would see through it. He slowly told Kam about Auto and finding him in the arms of the god of Mischief.

"It hurts Kam but you know what?" His friend gazed at him acknowledgement in his eyes. "He helped me get over what Jett did to me. I don't mean putting it out of my head and pretending. I mean really making me feel good about myself. And he gave me back my music. I owe my family nothing. I think it's finally sunk in."

"Praise Hera" was the fervent reply.


The conversation flowed much easier after that and before they new it dawn had arrived. "I'm sure father was going to test your knowledge today, but he won't now. It's dawn. I had things to do myself but they can wait."

"Oh good! I can sleep. I'm so tired."

"If I'd had the few months you've had, I'd be tired too." Kamrin answered with a tiny grin.

He then gave his friend a hug and slipped out of the room, shutting the door behind him. Joxer quickly fell asleep wondering what his new life would be like, wondering what tomorrow would bring him.

***



/Why do I feel like something earth shattering happened last night?/ Ares tried to focus his memory but found it hard too. He gave it up and just lay in bed, waiting for the memories to return on their own. He turned his head to the left to gaze out the floor to ceiling window and winced when he realized he'd slept the morning away.

/Now Father will have at me for missing that stupid meeting, where nothing would have been accomplished anyway./


It was the thought of his father that brought the previous day's events back in a rush. He remembered Joxer's fair-well and departure with Apollo. He remembered finding Hercules and Iolaus in *his* forest retreat and His rash decision to experience Joxer's past through the Halian mirrors. He remembered Joxer's father's cruel treatment and his vow to do something about it. Most important of all, he rememberd his uncle waiting for him and the revelations that had bombarded him, one after the other.

His mind shied away from those memories. He could do nothing about them. He couldn't change the past. He was unable to alter the decissions that had been made. He was afraid that if he thought about them too much he would do something foolish, like confront his parents to know if he had been worth all they had sacrificed.

He forced the thoughts back. They would do him know good. There *was* something that would help him feel better, torturing Joxer's father. Everything else could wait. He wouldn't have him killed but- "//strife!//

He decided to take care of Jett himself. He would plan something special for that sadistic bastard.

***

Strife was at that very moment comforting a very upset Autolycus. The mischief god had been stunned when his uncle Hades had told him that he couldn't stay dead. Hades had told him that there was no one that could do his job properly. Strife didn't understand it all but it was something about the lack of direction for mischievous impulses. Apparently the world was a bit crazy, was brimming with uncontrolled violence and petty acts of cruelty, too many for even Ares to control.

He'd also been thrilled because that meant he could be with Autolycus once more. He'd seen the state of depression his lover had fallen into after his death and had ached to do something about it. He'd been pleased when the thief had taken up with the wanna be warrior because Autolycus had been more himself. Then he'd realized that he couldn't just break them up so he'd gone to wish them well, but instead had been swept into strong arms and kissed breathless.

Autolycus had been almost savage in their loving. Strife had honestly tried to resist the thief reminding him of Joxer, but Autolycus had been past reason. He'd babbled something about how he cared for Joxer but didn't love him. He'd said something about maybe growing to love Joxer in time but now Strife had been given back to him. Then had wrapped him in those wonderfully strong arms and Strife had been lost. He'd returned Auto's words of ever lasting love and forever and they'd reaffirmed their bond. That had been a week a go. Now the euphoria of their reunion had worn off a bit and Auto's conscience was back, with a vengeance.

"What have I done Strife. He trusted me... Let me..."

"Shhhh," Strife said soothingly, not wanting his lover to get going again. "Ya couldn't of done nothin! Ya care for him don't cha? Ya didn't set out to hurt him, right?"

Autolycus nodded glumly. Strife ran a distracted hand through his hair making the already spiky mess even spikier. "What do you want to do? How can I help?"

"I gotta find him. Maybe if I talk to him. Explain to him that I never meant to hurt him."

Strife could feel his friend's anguish as an almost physical thing beating at his mental barriers. "I could help you find him. Give me a sec to see if I can track him. He's one of Unc's most devoted followers and it's hard to track him. Don't look at me like that dude. It's s'posed to be a secret that Unc kinda keeps him protected so like everyone pretends they don't know."

Autolycus could no longer hold back the snort of laughter. "Ares the mush ball."

Strife gave a sigh then returned his thief's grin with a mischievous one of his own. Then closed his eyes and concentrated on Joxer and gasped, his eyes popping open in shock.

"What's wrong?" Autolycus asked, fearing the worst.

"He's like totally open to any god that wants him, completely unprotected. I tracked him with out any effort."

He wondered if something had happened to his uncle and reached out in alarm and felt that wild spark that always said Ares to him. //Strife!//

//I'm comin, Unc!//

Strife mentally screamed back his pounding head making him a bit unsteady on his feet. Autolycus had risen and was holding his shoulders with both hands. "Are you ok?"

"Unc bellowed and I was like totally unshielded, so it kind of hurt. I gotta go see what he wants, but if you want I'll drop you where I felt Joxer. Maybe you guys can work things out, or start to. Don't think ya can do it in one sitting. He's like majorly hurt. All fragile... I never seen nothin' like it. Kind of like the guy. It'll work out. You'll see, Auto."

"Ok, that would be nice. You'll come back?" He had this fear that he'd wake up one morning and Strife would still be dead.

"Always." Strife replied.

Smiling softly, he slid his arms around Autolycus and dropped him outside one of Apollo's temples then went to see what trouble he could cook up for Ares.

***

Autolycus wondered where to start his explanation then decided finding Joxer first would probably be better. He slowly walked up to the temple doors and pushed them open not knowing what to expect and froze at the sight of his former lover. Joxer stood in a pare of loose trousers and a green shirt. The clothing set his form off to perfection. He held an instrument Auto had never seen before fingering the string with a light purposeful hand.

"That's good, Joxer. Now you have to relax a bit and we're in business."

Autolycus felt his mouth hang open in stunned amazement. There, standing before him, as though he had nowhere else better to be, stood Apollo, God of the sun, and undisputed musical champion. The god was smiling warmly at Joxer, approval oozing out of him in waves. "If you say so!" The thief found himself surprised at the power that light tenor still held over him.

"Oh, I say so. Now we take a break. I think there's someone here that wishes to speak with you. If you need me, I'm a prayer away, ok?"

Joxer smiled one of those warm rich smiles that could melt stone. Autolycus saw the sun god respond to that smile with one of his own. Then Joxer turned and did a double-take. "Auto."

***

Joxer kept his voice without inflection with a great effort, the smile sliding from his face. A part of him wanted to throw himself at the thief and another part wanted to throw the thief out. He did neither just looked at him impassively.

"Joxer we have to talk, or I have to talk. I'd like you to listen to me. Can we go for a walk?"

"No, but you can follow me and we'll talk somewhere private."

Joxer lead him down a wide carpeted hall and through a door then pointed to a comfortable looking couch. He took a chair across from him placing a low table between them.

"Would you like a drink?"

"No. That's alright. I owe you an explanation Joxer. I don't really know where to start."

His voice broke a little on the last phrase. The thief found it difficult to breathe. He realized suddenly that he was on the verge of tears. "I didn't mean to hurt you. Joxer I really care about you. He was dead!! I wasn't expecting him ever to come back. Oh gods! I'm so sorry. In my own way, I was starting to love you. You're an incredible man. The things you've survived... Please. I don't expect you to instantly forgive me, or for things to just be okay."

He took a deep shuddering breath and continued. "I just want a chance to be your friend, to be there for you."

"I walked in on you. You were all over him. You didn't... weren't thinking of me then. The look on your face... Gods, Auto."

Joxer couldn't continue for the tears streaming down his face. Silent sobs rocked his body and the desolation he'd been holding back all day with studies swept over him. Autolycus had tears running down his own face. He shook his head and held out a hand to Joxer. Joxer turned away. "Go p-please, Auto, I can't see you right now. I really want you to be happy: I'll forgive you in time. I've always wanted what I saw between you. It's like what Xena and Gabby have. You're both real lucky. Go and enjoy that."

"If you need me just... just call Strife ok?"

He didn't wait for an answer but stumbled out the door. He had no idea where he was going only that he had to get out of there. Suddenly a pair of arms were around him. "Bad?"

He turned and buried his face in his slender lover's neck. "Oh Strife. He's so broken. It's like I was the last straw or something."

"C'mon love. I just saw Unc and he gave me an assignment that should cheer you up a bit."

"Do you gotta steal something?"

"Nope just torture Joxer's dad a bit. Wow, does Unc have it out for this guy.?"

That brought a grin to the thief's tear streaked face and they left together.



***

//Ares, I'd like to see you in my study.//

Ares contemplated ignoring his father. Then did it again. Heard his uncle Poseidon's voice in his head, "They loved you very much."

He quietly rose to his feet and sauntered towards his father's study. He forced his breathing to stay even. He kept his step light, his head held high. He felt like a child being taken to task. He made it to the door and stopped. He slowly lifted a hand to knock. "Come in, Ares!"
Ares slowly entered the room. He felt as though he were standing in quick sand, like whatever he did, or said, wouldn't be right. wouldn't quite cut it. It never had and even though he now had some answers, now had a better understanding of why. He couldn't quite make himself forgive the centuries of emotional neglect.

"Where were you?" The voice was as impassive as ever and Ares wanted to hit him.

/How can you do this? I don't know that I could be so strong. Why couldn't you take the time we would have had as a family?/

"I was sleeping. I had a long night. I was. I was discussing something with Uncle Don."

"Oh?"

/He turned out so much better than we ever hoped. He's so strong and brave./

"It was business. You know how that goes." Ares had the overwhelming urge to fidget.

"I need you to work with Hercules on a problem. Do you think you can manage that?"

/You cannot be soft with him now, Zeus. This madness must continue a bit longer/ but the self talk did little to ease his guilt.

"You need me to do what? Have you spoken with your precious Hercules?"

Ares face had twisted into a mask of rage and hatred so intense that Zeus feared, but wasn't sure for who or what. Zeus closed his eyes and suddenly Hercules and Iolaus were standing before him. /I'm so tired. When this is over... If we survive... I'm going to take Hera away somewhere and see if there is anything left to salvage of our friendship if not our marriage. I wonder where... when... did this charade turn to reality./


Hercules stood stiffly before his father and brother. He took in the anger on Ares face and the blankness on his father's and wondered if there were any normal members in his godly family.

"Do you two think that maybe you can work together with out attempting to kill one another? Because I would be very pleased if you would make the attempt. There is great danger coming to our world and we must work together to stop it."

"I suppose I'll have to work with Xena and Gabrielle as well? I'll do it but I don't like it, nor will I take my orders being contradicted. I'm the god of war and I'm going to assume we're at war"

Zeus Nodded, "Fine!"

Ares continued, "You make sure your baby boy understands who's in charge! If he wants to join in."

With those words, Ares left and his rage carried him all the way back to his rooms. It allowed him a bath... Gave him the ability to deal with wayward warlords... Then abandoned him. He felt shaken and alone and wasn't quite sure what to do, or who to turn to. In desperation he went to Hestia. She would know what to do. She would help him as she'd helped his parents long ago.

***

Hestia was lounging on her favorite couch when her nephew Ares showed up. She knew instantly something was different. The fact that he was there would have been enough to alarm her, but the dark circles under his eyes and the way he glanced around as if afraid of being followed told her she should be afraid.

"Child what is it? Why do you come here?"

Ares was suddenly doubting the wisdom of his visit. He felt confused and unsure. He doubted everything, yet wanted so very badly to believe. What could he say? How could he explain to her that he understood the sacrifices they had all made and felt unworthy?

He had to work with Hercules but Hercules hated him. They all hated him. Everyone always hated him. He was tired. So very very tired. He wanted to sleep but he had to work. Didn't he?

"I don't remember, you know?"

"Remember what Arry? Talk to Aunt Hestia."

"Can you call Aunt Hecate too?"

"O...k... Can you tell me what has you upset?"

"The mirrors." He felt all emotion leave him. He knew he sounded flat but it was the last little bit of protection he could find.

Hestia inwardly flinched and called Hecate then Poseidon because she knew Ares was close to him. The two summoned appeared and quickly took in the situation.

"I told him all I could. It's time. The others have decided to be born so I didn't think we should wait."

"Don, Have you spoken to Zeus and Hera?" Hecate asked, concerned over how this bit of news would fly and ignoring his ill-timed stab at humor.

"No, no I have not. I will though."

"Good, because I certainly do not want to be the one to tell them that things are starting to move." Hecate said sourly.

/In some ways, she's the most changed,/ Hestia thought sadly.

Her always serious sister had become bitter and withdrawn.

"Ares, it's all true. If you'd like I can give you back your child-hood memories." Hecate said, a long absent gentleness in her voice.

"No, I don't want them. I can't afford them now. If I'm going to have to work with the *wonder children* I would like not to dislike them more than I already do. If I remember a time when things were different... I just can't."

"Xena's your Daughter, Ares."

"So what Uncle Don!" He jumped to his feet agitated. "I have nothing to show for all my years of being War but hatred and disdain from the mortals and my family. She hates me and she's my daughter. Do you know what else? The only mortal that I tried to protect, because he believed in me with every fiber of his being, left me. He left me for Apollo. Everyone hates me and he went away. Why did he leave? Why?"

By this time he was breathing heavily, his dark eyes were brimming with tears and he was trembling.

"I don't want to do it any more. I don't want to be War. Please... Please..." The tears in his eyes brimmed over and his earlier trembling had increased.

//Zeus! Hera! Hades! We've got one Tartarus of a problem brewing here.//

//What is it?// The trio replied in unison.

//Hera Zeus, your Son is having a break down, so if the parents amongst you would appear and bring Hades too//

//Don, the jokes are not cutting it.// Zeus sent back, half laughing in relief that the nightmare would soon be over. He could feel it in the air.

//I'm sorry. Hurry!// Then Poseidon suddenly gasped as Ares collapsed.

On the other side of Olympus, the trio being summoned felt it. They popped in, various states of alarm evident by the expressions they wore.

"What happened here?" Hera asked, all the motherly concerned she'd been forced to sublimate finding its way to the surface..

Poseidon took a deep breath.

"I found Ares last evening making use of one of the Halian mirrors. He'd decided to check on the past of one of his warriors. The same warrior that left him for Apollo. I believe what he learned may have shocked him. He came out dazed. I asked him what he'd learned and whisked him off to explain to him the history of our family."

"Why, may I ask, did you choose that moment to enlighten him?"

"I don't know sister. It just felt right."

They watched as Ares suddenly leapt to his feet screaming "Noooooooooooo!" in one long anguished cry. Then he launched himself at the door, being halted by a force field thrown up by the half dozen Gods in the room.

"I do believe we need a healer." Murmured Hecate.



Joxer lay curled up in the center of his bed, shaking from reaction. He couldn't believe Autolycus had come to see him, to apologize no less. He felt exposed and hurt.

He'd tried so hard to keep it cool and had failed so badly. He understood deep inside that in order for his relationship with the thief to have worked out much more work would have needed to go in to it. He wasn't sure he could have put forth the energy needed before they would have fallen apart

"Joxer?" The Sun God called gently, appearing in a subdued golden flash. "Do you need to talk?"

"It hurts!"

"He's not for you. I'm sorry."

//Apollo.//

//father?//

//come to Hestia's. We have a bit of a problem. we need your help and hurry, would you? It's an emergency.//

//Kam, childling, would you come watch out for Joxer? Bring Rayna if you'd like. It's about time they met. Don't you think?//

//i'll be right there.//

"I need to go. KAM'S going to come to you. Don't argue. I don't want you alone." Then leaned forward and brushed his lips across Joxer's, flashing out with the contact, leaving a stunned Joxer behind.

***

joxer still sat, a bemused expression on his face when Kamrin knocked on his door. "Come!" The door slipped open and Kamrin entered, a slender young woman on his arm.

"What happened, old friend?" Kamrin asked, holding out his arms to Joxer, who slid into them.

"He came to say sorry. S-s-said that h-h-he, said that he might have fallen in love with me but..." Joxer took a deep breath trying desperately to stop the tears. Then Kamrin's lips covered his own.

"Sshhh." A gentle voice murmured in his ear. "You don't have to be alone tonight. KAM and I were going to come to you in any case. We did not want you to be alone after that visit."

"You don't even know me." Joxer tried to say, but his friend was not allowing him the time to talk.

"Shh, dear one. This is about you feeling good."

"B...but..." Joxer started.

together, KAM and Rayna drew the hurting Joxer to the bed, sliding his clothing off along with their own in one easy flow of motion. Joxer sighed, a deep contentment settling over him as hands and lips gently stroked and nibbled the most sensitive spots on his body, bringing him to a gentle climax. He reached out to them and gave back to them some of the tenderness he'd been shown. Much later, they fell asleep in a tangle of limbs. Before they slept, Joxer thought that maybe healing his heart would not be as out of reach as he believed. Joxer *knew* the power of tenderness and as he drifted off to sleep a smile was on his lips.

***

apollo stared in amazement at his brother. Ares stood rigidly his hands clenched in his hair. His face wore no expression and his eyes were completely empty. Apollo was scared witless. Ares was always hard to read but now there seemed to be no one home.

"Ummm!" He started wondering if he could disappear. He did not want to deal with this. It was selfish and wrong but he could not stand to see his brother like this. "What happened here?" He asked, attempting to pull the mantle of healer around himself.

"You're the healer. We were hoping you could tell us?" Poseidon questioned.

apollo kept thinking to himself, /he won't bite,/ as he reached out a hand to lay it on Ares chest. His eyes all but popped out of his head after only a second of contact.

They had never gotten along each wanting the approval of their father and neither knowing quite how to secure it. He felt great admiration for Ares and the job he did but he didn't know him and now he wondered at what would make a god hide from himself.

"He's not there. He's retreated into himself. I want answers!" he managed to infuse his tone with all the authority his healer status gave him.

The Gods and Goddesses in the room looked at one another.

"All right son. I suppose we owe you that much."
hera looked at the healer for a long time. "Will you take care of him? He's very fragile, and believe it or not, we need him to survive."

"I've always known that. Just because the two of you seem to hate him for some reason, it doesn't necessarily follow that we all do. For now, may I lay him in your guest room Hestia?"

"Of course."

apollo gently lifted the now catatonic Ares into his arms, taking him into the indicated room. he set him on the bed while conjuring up a cup of tea to make him slide into a natural sleep. After making sure Ares drank the tea by triggering his swallow reflex, he tucked him into bed and went to find some answers.

when Apollo returned to the main room he was told to sit. "You might want to drink a cup of soothing tea because you might be shocked by the things you will learn. You realize that's a big part of Ares' problem? Don't you? He's in shock."

"Yes Hera, I do."

he called a cup of tea to his hand and drank it while the elders in the room took turns explaining things to him. By The time they were done, he felt as if there were no solid ground for him to stand on.

"I'LL take care of him Lady Hera. I swear it to you on my life. I'll take him somewhere he can recover, at least a little."

"I was hoping to be able to count on you. Will you be able to give progress reports? We don't know how long we have. If he doesn't want to be War then maybe he can practice music, or healing, or..." She sighed, "He'll have to pick up the mantle of War once more, eventually but in the mean time."

"Don't worry. I think I know what will help. One of his warriors decided to follow a different path."

"Joxer isn't much of a warrior, but he has a warrior's heart. Do you think he can help?" Zeus asked.

"I don't know Father, but we can try. We can change his appearance a bit so that Joxer won't recognize him right away."

"I guess it'll have to do. It's almost dawn! Would you like to rest here awhile?"

"No thank you Hestia. I'd like to get him settled in before the magnificent trio awakes." He replied, a grin lighting his features.

"Your son is a good vocalist and so is his young woman." Zeus complemented realizing that Ares had not been the only child he had mistreated.

"Joxer can play anything from any time period. It's amazing. I'd better be going. Thank you for being honest with me. I'll do my best not to let you down." Apollo babbled, stunned by his father's praise.

"Try to get some rest." Hera said as they all rose. Apollo went into Hestia's guest room, scooped up Ares and vanished, leaving behind a subdued, but slightly more hopeful, group of gods.
***

apollo flashed into his home holding the unconscious War God in his arms. He reached out to his son and his friends and grinned at finding them all in one bed.
//been
busy KAM?//

//shut up! You have no idea what we've had to deal with. He's asleep now. What'd the old goat want?//

//Kamrin, That's no way to talk about your grandfather!// Apollo tried to keep the amusement out of his thoughts but failed. I need to talk to you!// He added all seriousness again.

//give me a few minutes dad and I'll be there.//
"Rayna! love wake up my dad needs to see me."
"Mmmm??"

"Come on love! Help me wake Jox up."
"Just let us sleep."
a stirring from his other side made him glance over and lick his lips. Joxer was stretching, exposing his well muscled body to good effect.

"Morning. Waz all the noise?"
"My dad wants to see me."

"hurry up and go then so we can sleep." Joxer mumbled not completely awake.

Kamrin wriggled from between them wondering how he'd got there. He could have sworn when they'd fallen asleep Joxer had been in the middle. Moving his mind away from the two on the bed he quickly washed himself and dressed hoping Joxer and Rayna would have no regrets when they woke.

***

He hurried to his dad's study and through open the door. "What's going on?"
apollo thought quickly. "Father asked me to take care of someone for him. Arion this is my son KAM. KAM this is Arion."

//Dad you mean I'm going to turn into a baby sitter?//

"No mind speech Kamrin. It's not polite. No you are not to baby sit. Does he look like a child?"

"I guess not. What do I do?"

"Why don't you introduce him to Jox and Rayna and show him around?"

***
a bit later...

joxer slowly glided out of sleep his mind muzzy but he did not become alarmed, until the events of the previous night came back to him. "Oh gods."

"It's alright. We wanted to: Besides you were so sweet. I wouldn't mind doing it again sometime. In relationships you sometimes have to be flexible enough to do things you might not like. Kam sometimes needs things I can't give him."

"You mean he's asked you to do this before?" Joxer asked indignantly.

"No! no! He's never even hinted to me that he wanted to be with a man again, but I knew he'd enjoy it so I told him to invite you into our bed, or in this case invite us into your bed, this one time and to my surprise found that I enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed watching the two of you."

joxer laughed at that thought. "I'm probably blushing Rayna."

"And mighty good it looks too!" Said Kam's laughing voice from the door.

"Shove it Kam." The two on the bed said in unison.

"You guys get ready I've got to introduce you to someone and we've got to show him around."

"Don't we get any kind of vacation around here? I just got here--" Joxer suddenly paused and shook his head in astonishment. "about 2 days ago. Apollo get over here, and I'm not running around showing someone a place where I haven't had time to learn my way." Joxer never raised his voice above a conversational tone.
"So think of it as an adventure. Rayna and Kam will be with you." The words were preceded by a flash heralding the arrival of Apollo.

"Rayna and Kam have their duties to fulfill I'm just here learning all I can until you change your mind."

"I. will. not. change. my. mind:" Each word was spoken very concisely. "However, one day you might. Now, I'm not arguing with you! At this moment in time, I'm your god so you do as I say and right now I say to go freshen up and then come to the kitchen and stuff your face. That goes for you two as well."

"Hey aren't these my rooms?" Joxer grinned.

apollo closed his eyes in frustration and prayed for strength and felt a calmness wash over him that he'd never known before.

"Fine fine you two out!"

"Apollo anyone ever told you how hot you look when you're frustrated?"

"Joxer! Alright I've had it."

he dramatically gestured with his hands in midair and a figure appeared.

"Oh by the... Tartarus! Who by the name of... of... You is that?!"

the calm Apollo had been maintaining went out the window as Joxer ranted at him. He was absolutely sure that laughing would undo all the work he'd put into Joxer over the past little while but he couldn't help it. He looked so adorable and outraged.

"You're laughing at me."

"No... Yes, not at you, oh your face... Like a fish..." Then he dissolved into laughter again. He put a mirror in front of Joxer's face, who looked in it and was suddenly laughing as hard as Apollo.

they slowly got themselves under control. Joxer's eyes flickered towards the figure in the doorway. Then he took a second longer look. His eyes roamed appreciatively along the tall well-muscled body. The face was smooth, eyes so dark they were almost black, dark hair a bit long and wavy which framed a nice looking face. That face wore the most incredible mouth Joxer had ever seen. He wondered what his chances of kissing that full gorgeous looking mouth were. He was surprised at the carnality in his thoughts. He rarely if ever looked at someone and thought about getting them into bed yet something about the man in the doorway called to him.

"Joxer. I'd like you to meet Arion. Arion this is Joxer. He's one of my students."


"Pleased to meet you." Voice as rich as honey.

"Me too."

"Now that I've utterly embarrassed you. I'll leave you to clean up and change the sheets."

"gods man go away."

"At least you're not being ignored."

"Be careful what you pray for because you might get it?" That almost set apollo off again.

"Something like that. Come Arion let's leave Mr. comic here," and with a wave Apollo and the stranger were gone.



11/?

Joxer found himself alone and happy to be so. There was something very familiar about Arion but he couldn't place it. He reminded Joxer of someone. As he readied for the day, he puzzled over that fact and made a note to himself to ask Kam. The thought of his old friend and first lover made him smile warmly.

When he was ready he went into the kitchen to eat whatever was there. A night of sex made for lots of hunger.

Rayna was stuffing her mouth full of porridge. When she spotted him she waved him over with her spoon which dripped porridge on to the table.

"Yuck!" He said flopping into the chair next to her with his own bowl.

"Oh, see what I get for trying to get your attention?" He grinned at her outraged tone and cleaned the spill up for her.

"Rayna, What do you think of Arion?"

"He's hot?"

"Nooo! That's not it. I can't put my finger on it, but he reminds me of someone."

"Hmmm! Let's ask Kam."

"I intended to do that later. Will you come with me? How did you guys meet anyway?"

"Didn't he tell you? And i'll be glad to come with you."

joxer smirked "Kam? Oh yes he told me, but this is Kam we're talking about."

she burst out laughing and hugged him. "Well this is what happened." ---

***

the night was cool and the young woman walked quickly to where her troupe was staying when they attacked her. She fought back her dancers speed and agility giving her a bit of an edge, but their were 3 of them and in the end she didn't stand a chance.

two held her down while the other one ripped her gown off her. She screamed and screamed and still fought even as one of the men slammed into her virgin passage. She twisted her head and bit one of her captor's arms who retaliated by yanking her head back so hard that a hank of hair fell out. She continued to fight as best she could while they took turns abusing her body. She kicked out with her leg and heard a thud. She had a moment of partial freedom which she used to twist free, and stagger to her feet.

"Oh no you don't you little whore."

a fist punched her in the stomach knocking the breath right out of her and making her fall to the ground. Then there were feet kicking her and hands holding her down and her last thought before consciousness left her was not again. Terpsichore, help me please.

***

"Oh gods, Rayna. How could you stand to let us touch you? I know after-" realizing what he had begun to say he stopped.

she smiled gently at him. "Oh Jox. I could ask you the same thing."

"How did you know?"

"There's still a slight hesitation when someone goes to touch you. Even in our most intimate moments last night, you made sure to have the ability to flee. Don't look like that." She added at the sad look Joxer gave her. "I don't think even Kam noticed. I've been there and I think that's why I did."

"I thought I was over the fear. I was with a man for a while and I thought I was over it."

"Maybe you are, for the most part. That doesn't mean things won't make you remember, or make you afraid. I'm well. sorry is most certainly not enough." They shared a sorrowful smile.

"We're here now and we're both going on with life," Joxer said and Hugged her.

"Are you *sure* you want me to keep going?"

"Yes."

"Ok." She took a deep breath before continuing.

***

"When I woke up again they were still going at it. I honestly wanted to die. Then this god appeared looking like death and took care of them. I was about to pass out again but the last thing I saw were green eyes to die for. This was about oh, almost four years ago."

"About the time I was meeting up with Xena and Gabrielle." Joxer murmured, half to himself.

"It took me months to recover. Kam finally brought me here to his father. I remember my first sight of Apollo. He wore this put upon expression. It's all an act you know! I wonder if anyone in the entire pantheon knows how to be themselves!"

"What a thought." Joxer said, a laughing tone entering his voice.

"What's a thought?"

"Kam, give a guy some warning would you? Popping up like that is bad for my health."

"Don't you mean mine?"

"No, I mean mine. You're going to make my heart stop working one of these days!"

"That's ok, I'll just ask my dad to start it again, or my brother? Would you like to meet my brother?"

"I'm going to play charming tour guide to our visitor and ignore you."

"Tour guide? Have you been reading those future books?" Kamrin pouted as he spoke.

"Apollo said I could."

"Mmph. He just doesn't know you like I do. You'll glue yourself to those books and stay there."

"Kamrin!"

"Will you deny it?"

"Do you remember how long it took me to learn to read?"

a slight smile curved Kamrin's lips at that memory. "I remember you never gave up."

they all saw the figure skulking almost out of sight at the same time. "You can join us Arion." The two men glared at Rayna.

"What! he's probably lonely."

"Thank you... i don't know your name."

"Rayna."

"Thank you, Rayna."

"Have you had breakfast?"

"No, not yet."

"Well, help yourself." This time, it was Joxer that spoke.

He shot his friends a grin before continuing. "Alright Kam Rayna off to work. I'll do this showing around thingy."

"what and miss all the fun." Kamrin laughed. "No way."

***

the four of them spent the morning walking the grounds. Kamrin enjoyed showing off his father's place. It was more than just a temple, it was a refuge for any one who needed it, but especially his father's special students. Those students that were found to be the best in whatever they did.

"Are you going to study with Apollo?" Joxer asked Arion after a period of silence.

"If he'll have me. I know some music but not much."

"How about healing?" Rayna asked hoping she'd have someone to learn with.

"That might be nice. Do you think he'll have me?"

"I don't see why not. My father's really a sweetie when he's not trying to impress the old goat."

"Oh kam if your dad hears you," his girl friend giggled.

"I know love, but he is. I mean really just think about it." He snickered "he sleeps with anything that moves. I'm amazed--"

"I think you should stop." Joxer murmured, just loud enough to be heard his eyes flickering towards Arion.

kamrin blushed so hard it made everyone laugh.

"Oh sure, make fun of me."

as they turned a corner in the garden they were walking through, they almost ran into Apollo. "Are you all having fun?"

a warm open smile was on his lips at the sight of the laughing group of people.

"Uh-huh." Joxer answered for them all, his eyes bright his entire demeanor that of someone very happy with life for the moment.

"I hate to do this to you Joxer, but a couple of my priests have become very ill and I need Kam and Rayna to fill in. Don't worry if you stick around you'll be doing it in a couple of years. You can show Arion around." He reached out a hand and laid it gently against Joxer's forehead.

//see? Everything is just so. Be careful. Have fun.// Joxer was left blinking and swaying slightly. He barely noticed the arms that closed around him.

"Are you all right?" The voice by his ear rich and soft smooth and warm. Joxer found himself nodding.

"This attention from the gods." Joxer spoke slowly, "is a hard thing to get used too. I have a map in my head of this place."

"Does it hurt?" The words were filled with concern.

"hmm! No, not really, but I think I should go inside to sit."

"I'll come with you." Arion murmured.

"Thank you." They walked back towards the sprawling house that was their temporary home Joxer's weight mostly supported by Arion.



12/?

Arion lead Joxer to a balcony and sat him down. He sat on a low bench near Joxer and looked out over the city. He wasn't quite sure where in Greece he was but it didn't matter. For the first time in a very long while he felt safe and free. He wanted to hold on to that.

Sitting with Joxer was relaxing and comfortable. He didn't feel as if they needed words. Every once in a while, Joxer would look over at him and smile and he was helpless to do anything but smile back.


After a long while, Joxer spoke. "Well the mornings gone how about some lunch?"

"All right, but I'm not all that hungry."

"That's alright. Will you sit with me? I've enjoyed your Company even though we've said very little to each other."

They went back to the kitchen and Joxer saw a plate with small loaves of bread with meat in the middle and fruit juice.

"The wonders of living with a god. This table's always got something to eat on it" Joxer said as he sat down.

"It's amazing." Arion's eyes were wide and he was looking around himself in every direction. JOXER took the look to be shock when in reality it was pure astonishment.

ARES, god of war was stunned. HE'D never known this brother could be so kind. THERE had always been rivalry between them and the only times he'd seen Apollo and not sniped at him was when he was being healed. NOW that he didn't have to be the War God anymore maybe they could become friends. HE hoped so. HE was tired of being alone.

He found Joxer's company to be continuously relaxing. THE mortal was funny and kind and good looking. HE wondered if he could be more than friends with this one, and how to bring it about. HE could just learn here with Joxer and his friends and not have to hurt anymore or start wars. THEN maybe someday--

"Ari, Are you alright? Don't cry! You're safe here. NO one's going to hurt you. WE won't let them. WHATEVER it is it's alright. I'M here." Joxer whispered that last feeling that he'd found a kindred soul in this sad young man.

"You don't know," He whispered brokenly.

The healing that Apollo had done to Ares mind last night was slowly losing its effectiveness and The War God found himself unable to think straight or clearly. He just wanted to be held and comforted. He wanted to feel loved and not alone but he *knew* that when Joxer learned who he was their friendship would end. Everyone hated the War God.

"Shhh!" Joxer rose and slid his arms around Arion. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No, not now. Maybe later?" He whispered and tucked his head in Joxer's shoulder.

"Alright then. WANT to see the music room? It's all kinds of fun"

"I'd like that."


It took them a few minutes to get moving. They were simply giving and receiving comfort but neither had ever felt so cherished before. The two young men walked through the sprawling house that was becoming their home. THEY kept stealing glances each at the other when they thought they could get away with it. ONE time when they were both looking there eyes met and they shared a smile.

Joxer paused in front of a locked wooden door and pulled out a key.

"welcome to my favorite room in the place, other than the library." Joxer said as he unlocked then opened the door, motioning his new friend to precede him.

"It's beautiful." He murmured, meaning it.

The room was light and airy. There were windows set high in the wall, giving the room a spacious feel. It was packed wall to wall with instruments, some of which no one in greece had ever seen before. The floor was covered with a thick rug that felt soft as they walked upon it.

//I've never been here. I'VE been related to him all his life, yet I've never been to the heart of his world.//

"Ari... Ari... are you with me?"

"I like it when you call me that."

"I never asked you if you minded."

"No I don't. NO one's ever called me a nickname. WELL, my sister but..."

"It's alright. YOU don't have to be alone any more. Kam and Rayna and me We'll be your family. PLEASE don't get sad again."

"You don't know! You can't know what I've done." The guilt was suddenly overpowering him. HE wanted to confess the lie he was currently living to this mortal and be given absolution. HE wanted to explain how tired he was, and how unworthy he felt and most importantly, he wanted to pull the mortal into his arms and lay him on the floor and make love to him until they passed out.

"How long have you been here" Arion asked Shyly.

"Just a couple of days. It feels longer though. Sometimes I wonder if time doesn't run a bit differently here. I just don't know how I've managed to do and learn so much."

"You've only been here two days? You must be so smart."

"Well Apollo says I'm real bright but to tell you the honest truth--" A slight smile played about his lips. "When I first got here I was kind of down. I still am but it's not as bad as it was. IT feels like I've been here forever. HE showed me things in my mind. That still doesn't explain to me how I've picked up so much. I wonder why he didn't show you?"

"You're his son's friend so maybe you get special consideration. I don't mind."

"look at me." The dark head rose until their eyes met. THE anguish Joxer saw took his breath away.

The impulse that drove him to do what he did next, Joxer would never know but he knew he would never come to regret it. HE held out his arms calling his new friend to him with his eyes and as if mesmerized the one called responded.

Ares, god of war, found himself moving the few steps that separated them and slipping into the arms held out for him.

"it'll be alright. I'M here now. JUST hold on to me Ari."

He captured those full lips gently with the lightest of pressure and felt the instantaneous response and a small moan escaped him. HE felt strong arms slide around him and tightened his own hold on the man in his arms. JOXER let the fingers of one hand twine into that dark hair holding the head in place. HE parted his mouth slightly allowing his tongue to gently ask for entry.. IT was granted and the kiss slowly escalated.

Moments passed as the two explored one another's mouths delighting in the wild feelings this simple contact stirred up. IT was Ari that broke the kiss allowing his lips to gently roam his new lover's face. HE kissed and nibbled his way along Joxer's jaw then followed a teasing path to his neck. HE bit and sucked at the juncture of neck and shoulder leaving a healthy mark. Joxer was also busy his hands searching for and finding skin.

"You feel so good... all muscle... So strong... mmmmm! Never hurt you Ari. LET me love you." Joxer was completely lost in the moment. His only desire to give pleasure to this wounded soul.

"Yes Joxer take me." Those breathless words whispered on a sigh were like a bucket of ice water for Joxer.

"No." Joxer said frantically, pushing him away. "I can't do that."


"Alright. I'm Sorry. I didn't mean to push you. It just felt so good. Kissing you and you kissing me." Arion rose to his feet and started to leave.

"Wait," Joxer reached out and took his hand. "It isn't you. It's me. I had a bad experience and while I don't mind um." he blushed. "being taken I just can't bring myself to do it to someone. I just keep remembering that it hurt that time so much and-" The words were halted with a kiss.

"no one will hurt you again. I won't allow it. I'll kill him." The last words were growled softly.

"Ari?"

"What."

"I'm alright. I don't want you hurting anyone on my account. We just have to take things slow and do them a little differently. Maybe together we can overcome my fears?"

"I'd like that." The reply was accompanied with a gentle smile.

The 2 curled up on the rug. Joxer went over to one of the contraptions hanging from the wall and flipped a few switches and music was suddenly playing.

"That's very neat." Arion said completely impressed.

"apollo says that the world isn't ready for some of these things and that we can't discuss them." He leaned back into Arion and allowed the music to soothe them both.

As the afternoon slipped away Arion gently questioned Joxer about who had hurt him. The part of him that he was trying to keep at bay already knew a great deal but he wanted Joxer to tell him. He wanted to build something that had nothing to do with his godhood or power.

Joxer slowly talked about his brother. The pain was as fresh as it had been on that long ago day but it faded quickly. In Arion's arms, he found shelter.

"Why do you think it hurts so much, Ari? I thought I had put it behind me."

"Well, my guess is that Apollo being in control of healing-" he paused and thought for a bit. His hands petting Joxer gently. "maybe he felt that you hadn't dealt with it properly?"

Maybe not. I never had anyone to discuss it with. I didn't even discuss it with my lover."

"Can I ask you why?"

"Oh I just thought he'd think less of me. I can't see the king of thieves allowing himself to be raped by his brother, or by anyone."

"I think you give yourself too little credit. I don't know many people that would be as strong as you."

Joxer thought on those words a bit. For the first time in his life he thought maybe he wasn't such a failure. He wasn't sure though. It could just be that Ari liked him. He was starting to like Ari very much.

He thought he might be feeling more than like but his heart shied away from that thought. He was only certain that his feelings for Ari ran deeper than what he had felt for Auto.

"It's almost night! Now what?" Arion asked softly.

"Dinner! Then, whatever you want. I really would like it if you ate something. You didn't eat lunch and not much breakfast either."

"I will. Afterwards, can we just talk?"

"I'd love to. I've talked all about my pitiful childhood but I know nothing about you." He went on oblivious to the fear he had raised in his friend. "You really have to look around here tomorrow. IT'S a great place. IT'S better than the library."

All Joxer's energy came back in a rush as he bounced to his feet dragging Ares with him. They went to see what was available for dinner. Arion found himself captured by Joxer's excitement. He even managed to temporarily forget his cares and worries.



13/?
Two days later... Joxer's family estate...
"Strife, Explain to me what we're doing again?"
"Oh, we're going to have a bit of fun with Jox's family. THEY have neighboring warlords visiting and we're going to make everyone's lives miserable."
They did just that for nearly two weeks everything that could go wrong did. AT first, it was only minor things like broken dishes, food was spoiled, ale spilled on one of the Warlord's wives best dress... Then about four days into Strife's plans, Jayce and Jett decided to come home for a visit. THAT'S when things started to go very wrong for Janus.
Strife was jumping up-and-down with joy. `Couldn't have planned it better. HELLOOOO Jayce."
"What are you going to do?
"Watch and Learn lover. WATCH and learn."
Jayce decided it would be fun to have a fling with the heir of his father's nearest neighbor. THE heir, not liking that idea punched Jayce in the stomach, doubling him over. HE quickly followed that up with a punch to his eye. JETT, who had been watching and drinking lost all common sense as he went after the young man with a knife determined to stick it into his heart. THE group of warlords who had been quietly planning a campaign heard the racket and went to see what was wrong.
What they found was a group of about a dozen young men beating the daylights out of each other. JAYCE sported a black eye. JETT wore a split lip. THE young man who had rebuffed Jayce's advances lay on the floor with several cracked ribs, a split lip, a black eye to match the one he'd given Jayce, and a broken nose. ON top of all that, he had a broken wrist that would never properly heal. THE others that had joined the fray lay in various states of undress a fact which was never explained to anyone's satisfaction. ONE of those semi clothed young men was laying on top of Jayce who was enjoying the attention. HIS enjoyment was clearly broadcast for those in the area to hear.
Unseen, Strife and Autolycus were laughing fit to burst. IT had been Strife who put the idea into Jayce's head to seduce his father's neighbor. IT had also been Strife who had contributed to the unique fighting style which had unclothed the majority of the young men. `Isn't it cool? Janus won't be able to live this one down. HIS son seducing a neighbor then allowing himself to be seduced by a stranger in front of company.?" It took almost an hour for the details to be sorted out to the satisfaction of the heads of the four families involved. THROUGH out the rest of that day Janus received several strange looks which went unnoticed. DINNER was quiet and tense. EVERYONE did their best to forget the events of that afternoon but with Jayce sitting at the table holding the same young man that had been pleasuring him this afternoon on his lap, it was impossible.
The next several days saw fights start up with little provocation. A look or accidental touch would see fists and knives flying.
Then, Autolycus got in the spirit of things. HE'D come to the conclusion that he despised Joxer's father and that if nothing else came out of this little vengeance spree Ares had Strife doing, Janus' reputation would be destroyed.
"Hey babe, you see that fat slob over there. THE one with the green and gold?"
"Yes, what about him." Strife smiled warmly at his love. HE found it very easy to be himself with the thief. HE didn't even feel the need to talk in his "annoying speech patterns" as the family called it.
How would it look if he lost his pouch with all the other accidents that have happened during this gathering?
"Not good... Not good at all. YOU realize that's the father of Jayce's attempted seduction a few day's back?"
"Uh-huh. HOW unfortunate."
"I'll keep you invisible but don't wander around."
"I'm on it lover!"
Autolycus was almost bouncing up in down in his eagerness to be helpful. IT went off with out a hitch. HE silently snuck up behind "the slob" and filched his pouch. THEN he walked over to Janus and hooked the pouch in such a way that when he rose it would fall to the floor. HE and Strife went unobtrusively to a corner to watch.
Strife contentedly hugged Autolycus to him. `You're so beautiful when you're being bad."
"Sshhhh! You already know how much I missed you so stop fishing for complements," but when he turned his head towards Strife he wore a smile. `now, don't talk. I wanna see this. CAN we have some wine or something to help us relax?"
Strife hid a smirk against Autolycus' neck. THEN casually made a glass of wine appear right in front of Autolycus' nose. HE let it hover until it was snatched out of midair. GLASS of wine in hand, Autolycus snuggled deeper into the arms of his beloved. "My money pouch is missing. JANUS, what kind of household do you run if people can have their possessions stolen from them?"

"Are you accusing me or my people of theft?" Janus bellowed and leapt to his feet, at which point the sought after pouch fell.

It was immediately noticed and "green man," as Autolycus called him, rose from his seat.

"You theiving scum. HOW dare you! Not only is that son of yours an affront to the gods but now you're a thief!?"

"Adran, I would never take from you and yours. I swear to you by Lord Ares that I do not know how your pouch came to be in my possession." It would later be commented that he avoided the topic of his son.

Janus met the eyes that regarded him with out flinching. THE other looked away. HE got the distinct impression that something was not right here but for the life of him could not place it.

"My family and I are leaving. THIS isn't the first accident to occur during this visit. I'LL not stay here with my family and tempt the gods."

Adran quickly gathered his family and left. Several other families had been watching the exchange and decided to leave as well. THE party was over.

"Are we done here?"

"For now but we might have to come back! I want to go see what unc wants me to do." He ported himself and Autolycus to a town with a nice inn. `If I leave you here, will you try to stay out of trouble?"

Autolycus thought about teasing his lover, but noticed the serious tone in his voice as well as the look in his eyes. `Yes, I will."

Strife dropped a gentle kiss on Autolycus' lips and handed him a pouch full of dinars and vanished.

mount olympus...

Strife flashed into his uncle Ares' home and found it empty.

Unc? Where ya at?

//Quiet child. ARES is not here, nor will he be here for the foreseeable future.//

Strife felt a chill run through him. HE suddenly got a clear picture in his mind of his uncle commanding him to cause trouble for Janus. HE'D looked defeated. And angry but there had been something else there as well. HE and ares had kept discord away from him by having him pretend to be nothing but a trouble-maker but now he had a feeling that all his skills would be needed to find out what was going on, and more importantly, how to help.

//Hestia?//

//Come to my home. I believe you will be able to help out.//


olympus: several hours later... "So what you all are telling me," Strife said, feeling his entire world flipped up-side-down and then shaken up for good measure, "Is that our entire pantheon was a planned out event?"

"Well, I wouldn't go that far but in a way you have a point." Hades said, feeling very uncomfortable.

"It's more accurate to say that we broadened the gene pool." Hera spoke softly.

"You hate it when--" Strife squeaked.

"yes, I do, however since the birth of Hercules he's stopped his affairs."


STRIFE stared at his family members in shock. "Well, for the most part." She amended. "We wouldn't want our followers worrying or anything like that."

"I-I think I need a drink." Strife said faintly.

"Yes of course you do." Zeus said handing him a glass of wine straight from Artimus' grove.

"How can I help?" Strife asked, trying to get over his shock.

"Will you bring Autolycus here?" Hestia asked gently.

"I'll go get him." And he flashed out before they could say anymore.


***

"The youngling took it rather well, don't you think?"

"If you count not passing out taking it well Heccate then I suppose he did."

"No Poseidon. That's not what I mean. He was a little shocky an expected result of our talk but mentally he took it well. He never wavered in his mental focus. The entire time we spoke to him, his only thought was how to help."

"Well great..." Zeus started as a hand clapped over his mouth.

"You will watch your language the young ones are coming."

"Yes wife." He responded, but a warm feeling started in the pit of his stomach. MAYBE there would be hope for them after all. It would not be an easy road, of that he was sure but there was a road for them to travel upon.


A muted flash caught their attention and Strife appeared with Autolycus in his arms. "Don't you two ever stop?" A brighter flash accompanied Cupid's arrival.

"Grandfather, I must speak to you."

Zeus hid his face in his hands.

Not now Cupid.

"But grand father, I've been looking for you everywhere for the past 2 and a half weeks."

"Figures." Zeus muttered. Then continued in a louder tone. "You may as well sit. Have a drink! you'll need it everyone else has."

"Here Autolycus you can have this one." The mostly silent Hestia said.

They told the entire story again this time accompanying the tale with visual effects. They also informed everyone of Ares' discovery of the pantheon's well hidden past and his subsequent collapse.

Cupid created a row of drinks all the while smiling at Autolycus. He snagged one of his master pieces and used his other hand to pass another to the stunned thief.

"You boys might want to close your mouths. The open-mouthed look just doesn't cut it." Poseidon smiled feeling the weight of secrecy slightly lifted.

"How can we help??" Autolycus questioned.

"I need you to find Xena and Gabrielle and bring them here." Zeus said quietly. Then continued. "Strife, I don't trust your mother. She's a bit unbalanced. We'd like you to do your uncle's job for a little bit."

"Where is my uncle?" Strife needed to know that desperately.

"I can't tell you that. If something were to happen to you I don't want you to have any information."

"Doesn't this story count as information?"

"It isn't something that cannot be found out if you have the know how. This evil that we're fighting probably already knows what we've told you Cupid."

"Is there anything I can do?" Cupid asked quietly wondering how he, as a god of love had not known what his father had been living all these centuries.

"Keep Hercules and Iolous safe." Hera said firmly.

Strife, Autolycus, And Cupid gaped in utter astonishment.

"Now go children. If you would help, then this is how you each can help."

"Does Hercules know?"

Hera grinned looking remarkably wolfish. "Not yet, but I will take great pleasure in informing him."

Everyone in the room laughed. It wasn't that they particularly disliked hercules but more the fact that he'd always felt so superior to his godly family. Now he would understand just how important he really was. They all wondered how they would put up with him.

"Alright children. Gather around." Heckate said. "I'm going to put you each in positions very near to where you need to be, except in the case of Cupid. You I will drop in Zeus' study. As a matter of fact, since you will be there with Iolous and Hercules you might find a moment or two to let them know what's going on. Strife, You will go to Thrace and hold things together. Autolycus, I'm going to drop you in the same town with Xena and Gabrielle. You will get them here. We cannot transport you back here. Do you all understand?"

I have a couple of questions." Strife said calmly.

"Alright, let me send these two off then we'll talk." With a bright flash of power, Cupid and Autolycus were gone.
"Now Strife ask your questions."
"Wouldn't it be best if I physically looked like Unc? What do I do if some major conflict develops?

"looking like Ares would be a good idea strife. As for the rest, if anything big develops call Athena or myself." Zeus responded fear and exhaustion clear in his tone.

"Do you need a lift? You've been using a lot of power torturing that warlord." Hades offered.
"That would be nice." Then Strife too was gone.

***



Apollo's sanctuary... later that night...
after that first day together, Joxer and Ares became inseparable. Joxer and Ari discovered many things in common besides their love of music. They both enjoyed books and could talk for hours. In all their conversations, there was never talk of war a fact which surprised Joxer but he chose to ignore it.

They were unaware of the planning going on outside their sanctuary. They had no idea that on Mt. Olympus, the family was slowly coming together in order to save the world.

They were too busy taking delight in one another. They walked through the gardens. They took turns reading to one another and they played and sang. They slowly opened up to one Another. Ari slowly told him of the bad relationship between he and his parents and how he had always felt an outsider. He talked of his sister and her husband and how he loved them and their children.

***

Apollo sat in front of his desk wondering if his family life would ever be the same and decided he didn't want it to be. He still felt bemused an entire half hour after his telepathic conversation with Hera. She contacted him and asked about Ares. Over the past couple of weeks she and Zeus seem to have gone into parental overdrive. It wasn't just with Ares but with him as well. Was he eating, sleeping, taking care of himself. Had he remembered to have a little fun? They asked at least twice a day about Ares.


He'd told them about Ares' relationship with Joxer. Recently, he'd started sharing his concerns about the ease with which Ares had stopped using his powers. Apollo told them how Ares had completely submerged himself in Arion's persona. The king and queen of the gods were concerned but chose to let things play themselves out. Their fear of harming Ares overriding their common sense to Apollo's way of thinking.

After his report, Hera had informed him that Strife, Cupid, and Autolycus were now involved in whatever would come. She told him what each had been assigned and then had thanked him for all his help. He had attempted to shrug it off and she'd laughed. That had been a shock. He'd never heard Hera genuinely laugh. He hadn't even believed she knew how and after the revelations of the last couple weeks Apollo found Hera's laughter to be a wonderful thing. He found himself thinking about Ares and Joxer again and worrying for them. He'd been using his proffetic abilities to try and find out what was coming and saw nothing.

Apollo grew frustrated with them because they wouldn't study what or when he asked them to. If it hadn't been for his conversation with his elder family members he might have thrown them both out But he was starting to care for his half-brother As a person and not just the God of War. He decided Joxer was good for him. Unlike Ares, he was not living in a dream world. He understood that changing your name and pretending your life didn't happen would not change it but he feared for the day when the truth would come out.

He was brooding over that fact when his son stormed into the room.

"Unbelievable father. I wondered what it was about Arion that seemed so familiar to us. Uncle Ares??? by Hades! What IS Going On Here? Joxer doesn't know--"

"Kam." Apollo interrupted. "Please, you don't understand. This is important. How did you know?"

"No... no... no... What's important is that my dearest friend... My first real love... is dating my uncle and he doesn't even know it. I will not keep this from him. i'm going to tell him. I know uncle Ares is not the monster he's made out to be, but all his life Joxer has praied to him and never been answered and now they're sleeping together? And if you'd think quieter maybe I would never have known."

"Please son, be reasonable. I've come to care for them both very much. I'd never hurt Joxer. Let your uncle tell him. Kamrin please!!..."

Kamrin left his father still pleeding with him to listen and think for a moment. He was angered beyond words that his father would do this. He wondered what was going on but then decided not to care. He through open the music room door and stormed in.

***

The music room one hour earlier...

Joxer curled up next to his lover on the blankit they'd spread over the soft carpit. "I don't understand why you insist on spreading a blankit Ari when the carpit is nice and soft."

"We'll get the little hairs on us. Don't try to get out of telling me about your friends."

"Which ones?"

"The lover ones."

Joxer bit his lower lip. "I haven't had many of those. There was Meg but she said I deserved better than her. Kam before that and then Auto."

Ares wrapped his strong arms around Joxer. He pushed away the knowledge that he could get whatever information he wanted with a look into Joxer's mind but with each passing day that became harder to do. He had hard decissions to make but fear held his tongue. What if he lost the best thing in his life?

Joxer took a calming breath and slumpt deeper into Ari's arms before continuing.

Twenty-five minutes later...

"So that's the entire story."

"I'm so sorry love. You have me now. I know it doesn't negate the hurt done to you but I'm so honored to have found you."

"You're so silly. I'm the honored one. Do you want to hear about Xena and Gabby??"

Ares nodded tightenning his arms around Joxer. "Well, I met them when" A bit later, the two were curled up together on the blanket holding one another.

***



"Hello uncle Ares."

He saw both sets of dark eyes widen. "Ares!" Joxer squeeked glancing quickly around the room.

"Yes, right there."

"Right where?"

He turned where his friend was pointing and grinned.

"mmph." A slow smile spread over his intire face as he twined his arms around the one person with whomhe felt completely safe.

"Joxer, do you remember when you and Rayna came to me and asked me if Arion didn't look familiar? Would you unwrap yourself from around him please and listen to me. I don't know what's going on here, but I'm telling you the truth. He's Ares Arry, Ari. See how Similar they sound? Aunt Dite calls him Arry!"

Joxer nodded slowly hiding a grin. He slowly unwrapped himself from his lover and walked to his friend hugging him.

"It'll be alright Kam just calm down. What's got you so--" Fru--" the inability to make Joxer believe him snapped his temper and he grabbed his friend by the shoulders and shook.

"Look at him! Give him a beard, dress him in black leather, take the contented look off his face."

Ares rose from the spot they'd been sitting in feeling strangely numb. The thought flitted through his mind that he should have told joxer sooner but everything had been so wonderful between them. Now only two weeks after they'd come together, the lie he had been living would most probably tear them apart.

"No." Joxer whispered. Then louder. "No. Please no."

"I'm sorry. You have a right to know." Kam started to think maybe he had made a mistake.

Joxer took one long slow look at his lover avoiding his eyes.

"How did you figure it out?" Joxer was slumpt in his arms and Kamrin felt horrible.

"My father, I heard him thinking about how good you were for him."

"I see."

"Joxer, please listen to me. I never meant to hurt you. I'm still me. Please look at me love." He took a step towards Joxer, thinking that maybe if he held him things would be alright again. He had never begged in his life but he would get down on his knees if it would help.

"Don't call me that, never again. Did you enjoy your game? Were you going to try to make me come back to your service? Were you having a nice laugh behind my back? Must have been a snap to talk me into bed. I'm such a fool. I believed you... I believed that someone so handsome and smart could love me. I think this time I've learned" He pulled free of Kamrin's hold and with out looking back left the room.
Ares shimmered for an instant and his uncle stood before him.

"What's going on uncle."

"Don't worry about it. It's over here, I'll just go thank your father and leave."
***

Ares wondered if you could die from a broken heart. He'd have to ask Dite about it. How had this mortal stolen his heart so completely? As he walked through Apollo's home he was assaulted by memories of himself and Joxer.

He stopped in front of a statue and took a deep breath at the particular memories it invoked.

---

"Come here Jox."

"What! Want me to watch you ride him?" Joxer was grinning like an idiot.

"Want to ride you." There relationship had not progressed beyond kisses and heavy petting but they took every oppertunity to tease and torment one another.

"Ah, I get it so that's why you've been wining and dining me." But the warm smile on Joxer's lips never wavered.

"I think I love you." He reached out a hand and ran it along Joxer's cheek.

"I think I love you too."

He pulled Joxer against him and leaned back against the statue devowering his mouth in a heart stopping kiss. He gently slid his hands into the loose shirt Joxer wore and stroked the hardening nipples. Joxer moaned into his mouth.

"I need you so."

"Mmmmmmm! Just a kiss from you Jox."

"Eh-hem." They lept apart, Ares' head slamming into the statue. They looked up to see Apollo's smiling face.

"You boys have somewhere else to do that so get out of here."
---

It felt as if a knife were being plunged in to his heart. They'd been together a week that day and he'd known with every ounce of his being that Joxer was the one.

***

Joxer ran through the halls of Apollo's home heedless of where he went. He felt such total dispare and wasn't sure what to do. He ran out one of the doors and found himself in a garden. He new he couldn't stay here. He had to leave this place. The place of his greatest joy and now greatest sorrow. Where to go? Then he remembered.

"Strife?" He whispered, half plea half question.



In Thrace, Strife was holding things together. The city held Ares' main temple in the mortal world so that made things easier than they might have been. He had worked with Ares long enough to know how he would react to most situations. He allowed the requests and pleas to filter through his thoughts and found the urgent ones and granted them. The rest he ignored.

into this orderly chaos, came a desperate prayer begging him for help. For a moment, he couldn't place the caller. He wondered who would be praying to him with such need? It wasn't Autolycus. His lover was persuading Xena and Gabrielle that their help was needed. Then the identity came to him and he flashed out of the temple foregoing his disguise.

***

Aphrodite felt two hearts break simultaneously and doubled over in pane. She focused her powers and gasped in shock as the identities of, what she now realized, was one couple, came to her. She wondered in horror what she had missed. She had been making other matches. She had been working nonstop. There were several key matches that needed to be made if Greece was to thrive.

//cupid!!// She cried, her distress mounting with each passing second.

Cupid, on his way to do his grandfather's bidding winced because he'd felt the hearts braking as well.

//Hera!//

// I'm on my way child. I will handle your mother. I might not like her but I know that she truly cares for your father.// Hera felt the youngling pull away from her thoughts and sighed. Just one of the things they had to make up for, she thought sadly.

"Aphrodite!." The voice behind her made the goddess jump.

"Hera!" Aphrodite was a bit frazzled having been expecting her sun, and her voice showed it.

"There is much we need to talk about. May I have a seat?"

Aphrodite blushed in shame at her lapse in courtesy. "of course. I'm sorry. I was expecting Cupid. Would you like something to drink?"

"No thank you. Yes, I know about that. He will not be coming. That is one of the things we need to discuss."

Aphrodite felt a hard, painful lump form in the pit of her stomach. She just knew this had to do with the brokenhearted couple. The couple consisting of her brother and her favorite mortal. She tried to compose herself but found it difficult giving up after a moment. She and Hera rarely saw eye to eye but they both loved Ares. It was a start.

"There is much I need to tell you. Long ago..." Aphrodite listened in fascination and growing horror as the past of Olympus was revealed.

"Ares knows all this?"

"Yes, then your father told him he needed to work with Hercules and Xena. I think that pushed him over some edge he'd been on. Then he went to Hestia, and in desperation, we asked Apollo to take care of him. He met up with Joxer and they got together. From what I've been able to gather Kam figured it out and confronted Ares. Joxer took off and Ares probably has taken off by now too.

Aphrodite's response was to swear like a sailor. Hera found herself quite amused. She had envied the goddess her relationship with her son and had made sure that everyone god or mortal knew Aphrodite was very much disliked by the goddess of marriage and child birth. Now, she found herself unsure of what to do or say. This was another damaged by actions taken long before their birth. It was a mess.

"What do you suggest?" Asked Aphrodite, truly aching for them. They both deserved joy.

"I don't know but can you keep an eye on Joxer? I just don't know what else to do. I will keep one on Ares. I have been doing it for centuries with out his knowledge. I believe I can do it for a bit longer.

//Strife.// The tone in his uncle's voice told him not to argue.

/What isgoing on"/ He ignored the voice to answer the other call instead He was sure his uncle could wait a bit. He did take a split second to look in on the Romans. Satisfied, he went to see why he was being called so desperately.
***

Joxer waited and waited but Strife didn't come. He huddled outside. The thought of going back in hurt but he had nowhere else he could go. The best days of his life and they had been lies. . He wondered if he could die from this pain. He hoped so. He couldn't think of any reason why he should go on.

"Joxer?" The soft voice startled him.

He looked up and the young woman gasped. "Oh Jox!" She wrapped her arms around him and held him close. She stroked his hair as he wept silent tears

A sudden shimmering in the air and the god of mischief stood there.

"Ya called me? Strife was sure that whatever made Joxer call him was horrible. When the mortal looked up he was positive.

Take me with you. Please! I need to get out of here.

"Alright, let's go?"

"Joxer wait! What about apollo?"

I'll take care of it later. Oh and Rayna, don't be too hard on Kam. He was just doing what he felt was right."

***

In Thrace, Ares was doing his job. That was all he had left. Into his dark mood popped Strife with Joxer in his arms

"Well? I haven't got all day."

The romans are moving very quietly, Unc. I can't feel any other gods."

Joxer didn't want to be here. Why had Strife brought him to Ares? /He is more beautiful to me now than ever. Now that I have touched him and kissed his lips. He is more than any dream I could have ever had./ But Ares had taken his trust and broken it into so many peices that he was unsure that it would ever be recovered.

Joxer was unable to help himself as he drank in the sight of Ares. He followed the conversation. despite the pain it caused him, he listened to Ares voice. Then because he could still see Arion beneath the beard and the black, he spoke.

"Wouldn't they know that the gods of this area would be looking for them?"

***

The quiet words came from Joxer and Ares found his mind assaulted by memories of this man's voice: filled with laughter, harsh with tears, extatic with pleasure, whisper soft and comforting. He couldn't think, couldn't breathe.

"Lord Ares,." That voice so filled with indifference filled him with a deep anguish.

"Joxer!" He looked up and their eyes met and held.

/How can I look away from you? How can I let you go?/ Ares thought needing to lash out at something but even in his anger he could not bring himself to do or say anything that would hurt Joxer. He had suffered enough. That made him smile because he *knew* of a way to help him feel better.
***

The world faded away. All that remained was Ares. Those eyes as soft as dark as ever. They reached into him dissolving his anger and pane. He wanted to reach out and hold. He wanted to make the sorrow in those eyes go away but it was so hard to get past the betrayal.

He found himself moving across the space between them. It was so easy. He had been angry not so long ago. He had been unwilling to listen to what Ares had to say and now he wanted that chance. He didn't know what could be salvaged but they had been friends. Some of the things he had been told had to be true. /besides,/ he thought to himself, /Apollo wouldn't let anyone hurt me like this. I can at least listen. Ares deserves that much. I deserve that much/

He stopped when inches separated them. He held Ares' eyes even though it was one of the hardest things he had ever done.

***

joxer was unnerving him. He was just standing there, close enough to touch. /What am I expected to do?/ He felt frightened and vulnerable.

/Is this love?/ They hadn't spoken much of love. He had believed it to be love. He knew that there would never be another for him. He had been entertaining the idea of being honest with Joxer of telling him everything but this very outcome had stayed his hand. /love,/ thought Ares. That possibility made him tremble and hope.

***

Aphrodite felt Ares calling her. He wasn't calling her by name but he needed her, even if he didn't know it. With out thought, she flashed into where he was. Because of her abrupt departure, she didn't see the Gray sludge that oozed out of her walls and into olympus.



Aphrodite flashed in behind her brother and watched him with Joxer. Just watching them made her ache. They both looked so lost, standing mere
inches apart and neither knowing how to reach out.

The goddess spoke softly into her brother's mind. //Tell him the truth,
Arry. He deserves that from you.// She then vanished as quickly and
quietly as she had come.

***

/Can it be that easy,/ Ares thought.
"Joxer, I know I lied to you." Ares began but found it difficult to continue. As Arion,, speaking had been so much easier. Now he found that the words simply would not come.

***

Joxer was almost certain that losing Ares would be too much for him to survive. Suddenly, the first day they had been together came to him as though he were reliving it. He remembered the tears and the fear that Arion had displayed. The broken words about how Joxer wouldn't understand and how there were terrible things he had done. Joxer remembered his own reassurances.

/Well/ thought Joxer, /you messed up badly. Now to fix it./

"Ari?" The nickname rolled easily off his tongue, as though the last hours of pain and soul-deep sorrow had never happened. Joxer watched the beautiful dark eyes he loved widen. He saw the flicker of hope that was quickly banished from the face he had been able to read only hours before.

"I understand, I think. I was just remembering that day we spent in the music room. You wouldn't talk to me but you were so sad."

Ares covered the distance between them. He slipped his arms around Joxer, sighing with contentment. Then tensed as Joxer pulled away.

"I'm sorry. I thought... I mean you said so I assumed we were okay. I didn't mean to..."

"Ares." The sharp tone stopped him mid ramble. "It's fine, really. I want this. I do. I just think we need to start over. I don't want lies between us. I can adapt to the fact you're God of War, but I didn't give myself to him. I gave myself to Arion, music student of Apollo. Can you understand that?" Joxer lifted a hand and caressed Ares' cheek gently.

"It hurt like nothing before; when Kam figured it out. I felt so betrayed."

"Start over. I can do that." Ares mumbled, slipping past Joxer and out of
the tent.

***

He took a deep breath. /This is the most important thing you will ever do. You cannot afford to screw up,/ he told himself and with that thought to bolster his failing courage he walked back into his command center and smiled.

***

Joxer felt a twinge of worry when Ares slipped past him and out of the tent. /What is he doing?/ Joxer wondered, the memory of Ares warm skin beneath his fingers making him tingle. Before he could conjure up images of abandonment or worse, the tent flap opened and Ares was ducking through its opening. And he was smiling.
***


"Hello," Ares held out a hand as he strolled up to Joxer. "My name is Ares but my friends and my favorite sister call me Arry."

For a second Joxer was paralyzed and Ares fretted. Then, "Pleased to
meet you, I'm Joxer of Athens Jox to my friends."

The instant their hands touched they felt a current run through them. They stood in the middle of Ares' command tent, unaware of the seconds slipping past or that a flicker of light heralded the arrival of the Fates.

***

//It is a shame to interrupt them// commented Clothos.

//It is good to see *him* happy// added Atropos.

//Yet we must inform him that Olympus is under attack. He must come.//
>>>Lachesis spoke firmly.

"Ares god of War," began the trio, "the time has come to take your
place. Olympus' hour is at hand. The attack has begun."

***

"It's a conspiracy," Ares groaned but released Joxer's hand. "What must I do?" He asked, the glare perfected as God of War gracing his features. The 3 women were utterly unimpressed.
>>>The women spoke in unison. "You must unite with those you dislike. You must reach an understanding. Then your love will set Olympus free." The Fates then vanished.
***

Ares reached for Joxer and wrapped the fragile mortal in his arms. He didn't want anything to ruin this chance for him. He silently cursed the fates, his father, mother daughter and any one else he could think of.

The tiny squeak alerted him that something was wrong. He looked towards where the sound had come from and found Joxer clinging to him rather desperately.

***

He was floating. It was disconcerting to realize that he was being held close against Ares' chest and they were floating. Ares feet were not touching the ground.

"What?" Ares asked concerned.

"We're floating and what were *they* talking about?"

"If I swear to you that when this is over I will tell you everything
will you allow me to take you to my brother?" As he spoke, he gently
lowered them to the ground.

Joxer tilted his head slightly and looked in to Ares' eyes for a long moment. Satisfied, he captured Ares' mouth in a lingering kiss. It was slow and soft. One hand sliding around Ares' neck and the other stroking the side of his face.

Joxer felt his beloved tremble. It was a heady feeling, the power he had over this being holding him so tenderly but it was also humbling. He understood that he had the power to break Ares as no one could.
Thought quickly fled as Ares responded to his kiss.

The god twined fingers into his hair and teasingly ran his tongue along the corner of Joxer's mouth. He deepened the contact until Joxer's world had narrowed to the feel of those warm lips over his. Claiming... possessing... Surrendering completely. The next time Ares' tongue flickered against the corner of his mouth, Joxer parted his lips and gently sucked it inside. Joxer allowed his own tongue to meet Ares' and slowly he coaxed the god's tongue to twine in a playful dance
with his own.

Joxer murmured a protest as Ares attempted to end the kiss and followed the god's mouth gently nibbling on Ares' bottom lip. With a sigh, Ares kissed him back. This time it was frantic and rough in complete contrast to a second before. This kiss held despair and fear. It was demanding and bruising. Joxer whimpered and tried to get even closer.

"J-Jox..." Breathing uneven and ragged, Ares gently held Joxer at arms
length. "We have to go. I need to end this, whatever it is."

"You'd better come back. You owe me an explanation." Joxer felt bereft at the loss.

"I'll come back to you." With one last gentle kiss, Ares made their surroundings shimmer and shift. When Joxer was again aware, he was standing before Apollo and Ares was nowhere to be found.


18

olympus

It fed, sliding and slithering leaving unfelt clouds of poisoned air in Its wake. It was invisible. The menace that stalked olympus had waited silently.

It had grown out of the madness left by the titans. The unbalance of power had helped It to be strong. /soon!/ It thought hungrily. The creature craved the grief and hatred It sensed.

It wanted to glut itself on the pain being felt. It wanted to rend and squish and choke all positive emotions so that all that remained would make It strong. Trembling and oozing through olympus the being formed of madness hunted.

tbc


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