AresJoxerCupidStrife - Wildannuette


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


Title: The God Within
Author: Wildannuette
Fandom: Hercules:tlj and Xena:WP
Warnings: Character death and mpreg
Notes: Borrowed some lines from 'Ameggeddon now I'

Current mood: hungover

Big thanks to Jo for betaing this for me, sorting out and putting up
with my psychobabble ideas :)

Based on a plot bunny thrown out by Jessi on the mpreg mailing list
(http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mpreg/)

Summary: When Strife is stabbed with the Hinds blood dagger he finds
a new way to survive with the help of his friend Joxer.



Strife had long since left hysterical panic and was now entering
abject terror. Trapped inside his body, unable to move or speak, to
even open his eyes he felt the cold sting of the deadly Hinds blood
flood through him. Strife screamed within his own mind as he realised
even his sense of feeling was fading, he tried to hold on terrified
of the darkness that seemed to be swamping him.

He cursed himself for getting involved; that he even bothered to cosy
up to Ares and Callisto. He should have gone with his instincts, she
was a god but she wasn't one of them, the way she'd jerked Ares
around had proved he was right. Ares should never have trusted her.

//You know what? I'm gonna go to Zeus. We're gonna get the gods-- no,
that's stupid. He's gonna blame me for getting Strife killed, right
here!//

Hearing remnants of the conversation around him he felt something
inside him snap at Ares words.

Strife knew he wasn't well liked and he sucked up to Ares but it
wasn't out of duty despite what the other Gods believed. No one,
least of all a God, would put up with being treated like a whipping
boy and dogsbody for that. Being told to `shut up' and being
constantly pounded on was not his idea of fun but most Olympians
weren't big on family relations so he had to play along to fit in.

*What's the point in fighting, things can't be any worse and no one
would miss me anyway. No one cares.* Strife thought bitterly as he
gathered as much of his power as he could, not to call out for help
but to try to reverse the bloods toxic effects. He closed off his
mind ignoring everything around him as he concentrated.

Joxer ducked around the side of Ares temple putting his plan on hold
when he saw the fury on his Gods face. He'd had to do a double take
when he saw Ares companion, Iolaus. Joxer had been following Hercules
and Iolaus hoping to catch up with them and join them whilst Xena got
her time alone with Gabrielle. He'd drinking in the village Tavern
and overheard from the Warlords general chatter that something had
been going on down near Ares temple, something that involved
Hercules. When the ground had shook he'd felt a chill run through him
that he couldn't explain, he'd just known he had to get to the temple
fast.

"The one great evil is here-- as part of that creature that was with
her. And we've sensed him-- everyone on Olympus has. This-- this
force of darkness-- spells the end of all of us-- gods and man
alike."

Joxer couldn't see his face but Ares sounded upset, he strained to
hear Iolaus's reply as the two walked off but all he could make out
was Ares answer of `Strife' and `responsibilities'. He wondered what
the younger God could have done to cause such chaos and upset.

"Strife?" Joxer ducked through the side door of the temple and peered
inside, he knew when Strife caused mischief he usually hung around to
see the outcome. He frowned wondering where all Ares priests were and
why his friend didn't answer his call. Generally Strife loved to
recount his exploits to him, especially the big ones. He walked
inside, looking around and expecting his friend to jump out at him
from behind a statue.

"The ground was shaking, everything feels wrong," he shivered
slightly unable to explain the muggy feeling in his head. The upset
and equally pissed off looks on Ares and Iolaus's faces as they
strode out together, something that was miraculous in itself, had
prepared him to find Strife sulking and licking his wounds.

Still he didn't expect to find him on his own and lying on the
floor "Strife?"

Joxer felt his heart skip a beat and he stepped forward
cautiously "Strife?" he hesitantly asked again, he wondered if had
this time Ares had punished Strife until he passed out. Then he saw
the blood staining Strife's front. In a heartbeat he was at the Gods
side, dropping to his knees he forced himself to calm as he laid his
head on his friends chest. He placed a hand in front of the Gods
mouth as he strained to listen for a heartbeat.

The poison was slowly destroying Strife's organs making his heartbeat
slow and his breathing too shallow for mortal ears to hear. Joxer
could hear no beats or feel no breaths but he wasn't even sure if
Gods had them, he frantically strained to hear something, anything;
*God's don't die, they can't* he thought as he tried to reassure
himself. The tone was pleading now and Joxers voice cracked slightly
as he spoke. "Strife? Please wake up."

Joxer touched his friend's face gently; he noticed how unnaturally
pale Strife was much more so then normal and swallowed hard, his mind
still screamed that Gods didn't die but a slow feeling of horror was
creeping over him challenging that thought. Shaking he pulled Strife
onto his lap, cradling him gently "You can't die, you're a God and
Gods don't die." His voice hitched slightly as he spoke "You promised
you'd never do anything stupid, you promised!" He held Strife
tighter "What did you do? Who did this to you? Was it a punishment?"
He took a few deep breaths as his body screamed at the wrongness of
it all. God's were omnipotent, they barely aged and they worked
wonders, the idea that one could die terrified Joxer and shook his
beliefs deeply. God's didn't die, if they did what could be powerful
enough to destroy them

He gripped the God tighter "You promised." he murmured softly,
staring into the Gods face as he willed him to wake up.

"Can I call someone? Who can stop this? Zeus? Ares?" Joxer called the
names knowing it was in vain. He especially didn't want to believe
the War God capable of hurting another God to this extent, least of
all his nephew, but he couldn't disbelieve it either. Ares had a foul
temper and Joxer had often winced to hear of how he'd taken it out on
the hapless Strife.

He waited; hoping one would appear "Discord? Aphrodite, Cupid?
Anyone?" His voice cracked slightly and shook his head knowing that
none would heed his call. Maybe they didn't consider Strifes fate
important enough, he knew they had issues and most of the Olympians
hated Strife for something he hadn't done but he'd at least thought
his mother would come for her son.

//You promised//

*No one cares?* Strifes consciousness jerked awake though his body
remained still, he could feel the barest hint of warmth around him;
warmth and comfort. He pushed hard; fighting against the poison that
tried to pull him down, not only to reverse the damage done to his
organs but also now to hear and feel who had woken his mind. He was
intrigued by the person and felt a sense of wild elation at the hope
that maybe someone cared.

He tried to use what little power he had left to sense the person but
his brief fight had exhausted him. He managed to fight, to stay rigid
against the pull and listened.

//Remember when we first met? //

The voice was soft and filled with pain yet Strife could almost see
the soft wistful smile he knew the person would be wearing, he found
himself held, anchored only by that voice, by Joxer.

//I'd never seen a God before and you weren't that taken by mortals.
I wasn't sure how long you'd been watching me but I hoped the grin on
your face meant you weren't going to punish me. If you'd stopped me
halfway through I probably never would have done the grand finale and
you probably would have never bothered with me again.// Joxer laughed
somewhat shakily, //I didn't know who you were or why you were in one
of Ares Temples but I was terrified you'd call Ares, tell him what
I'd done but you just looked and laughed. You got a kick out of my
dad and his warlords getting what was coming to them, guess that's
why you came back next time I was in trouble. After that it seemed
like I didn't even have to cause much mischief and you'd appear. //

Strife drifted gently hypnotised by the sway of Joxers voice; he
remembered that day well enough, he'd been bored out of his skull and
dodged Discord several times already. She'd been pissed enough at him
to stake out all his usual haunts but he'd known she wouldn't bother
to look in any of Ares Temples, with the mood the War God had been in
at the time she wouldn't have dared.

He'd snuck around one of the Temples expecting to find snivelling
worshippers and arrogant warlords. What he hadn't expected to find
was the fragile looking boy that had been systematically crushing
small pink berries and casually tipping the juice into wine caskets.
He'd watched the young child crush berries and add them until his lap
was empty. Strife remembered wondering how the child had known (at
such a young age) what those berries could do but the excellent
laxative effect they'd had at Ares's feast that evening combined with
the ease at which the child hid all evidence of his crime had given
Strife one of the largest mischief bursts he'd had in a while.
Something like that was only topped by the morning when he'd seen
Joxer carry up a flagon of wine to settle his fathers belly, complete
with extra berry juice.

That brief encounter had caught Strife's interest enough to keep tabs
on the child who seemed throughout his life to be a natural mischief-
maker; even in adulthood he was a big magnet for trouble and able to
cause havoc and mayhem wherever he went. Some was intentional, just
like the berries; others like his natural ability to trip people over
were not. Strife wholeheartedly encouraged the child by teaching him
better and more cunning ways of hiding his crimes and appearing
before Joxer every so often to exchange stories and ideas. Some was
accidental caused by his clumsiness and ability to go off on strange
tangents when observing something or speaking to someone but Strife
had always made sure each little accident involved the other person
falling into something nasty.

Despite being dedicated and worshipping Ares Joxer had always given
Strife energy and power, no matter how small the act or how
repetitive. Even when he decided to become a hero Joxer never lost
the ability to cause mischief and chaos and so Strife had kept up the
appearances and started a tentative friendship between them as they
both sat on the sidelines and watched Xena and Ares, often critiquing
their fighting skills.

//I couldn't even tell you when we became friends but you were//
Joxer seemed to mumble and Strife strained to hear// You were my best
friend and I let you down//

Strife could feel the Hinds blood infecting his own and attacking
with renewed gusto, his powers were weakening, unable to hold the
poison at bay. Strife frantically fought against it as Joxers voice
grew fainter; he tried desperately to find his anchor.

//They may not have thought you a great mischief God but you were to
me. //

Strife strained harder fighting with all his strength

//And you were a great friend, I only wish I could have been the
same//

Strife fumed against it all, against Ares, that bitch Callisto, the
Gods, demigods, mortals- all of them for destroying his body and his
friend. He heard the sorrow in Joxers voice and vibrated with fury at
the self-loathing his friend was feeling.

//Maybe if I'd come clean I could have been here with you//

*I never would have let you get caught up in it* Strife shivered
slightly as he felt the undertow begin again, he fought to feel
Joxers arms around him, to hear his voice and he screamed with every
fibre of his being to live. The idea came to him in an instant, so
radical and amazing he had to pause. His body was gone; useless and
poisoned and the Hinds blood was trying to destroy the rest of him
but if he stopped fighting and gathered the last of his power to him
maybe he still had enough to fight one last time to return to his
friend, to the one person who cared and would miss him.

Strife wanted to live, not for vengeance but because he deserved to.
Joxer believed in him, he'd even miss him. He had a new purpose now;
to live for himself and for his friend, for both their sanity's, for
both of them to survive. Strife clenched and pulled everything
towards him he could possibly reach. Ever part of him, ever power he
possessed. He pushed out warping himself with his power and praying
to the one relative he actually still liked and respected Gaia. A
flash of bright white surrounded him, throwing him off balance he
screamed…

He lived.

Joxer slowly laid the body of his friend down; not seeing the dull
light that encircled him briefly and settled over his belly before
fading out. Numbly he carried Strifes body outside, still hoping that
some divinity would come. Carefully he laid Strifes body down and set
about collecting every piece of wood he could find to construct a
funeral pyre. He set about his task for his friend never once aware
of the God he carried within him; the tiny ball of cells within his
belly, which were rapidly dividing.




Part 2:


Joxer frowned down at his meal; he carefully divided it up keeping
all the fish bones on one side before carefully eating the flesh.
Fish wasn't his favorite food but it seemed like it was all they ate
whenever the five of them got together which wasn't very often,
usually he found Xena and Gabrielle tolerated his company more then
Hercules and Iolaus. Xena was the one who invited him to travel with
them though Gabrielle often treated him as a joke. Neither Hercules
nor Iolaus were actually rude but Hercules had made it clear that
traveling together was a temporary thing and Joxer was starting to
get the impression he'd worn out his welcome.

He was even more inclined to believe it at that moment. Joxer held
back a sigh, had he actually wanted to get involved in the quiet
fireside discussion he would have felt left out. Xena and Hercules
sat opposite him comparing weapons and talking about Ares' latest
plans for them some of which seemed too paranoid and ludicrous for
Joxer to believe. Despite his current lack of affection for the God
since Strife's death, he couldn't quite believe Ares was planning
some of the things Hercules was convinced he was involved in.

Joxer was attempting to look immersed in his dinner whilst listening
to the conversations around him; unsurprisingly no one noticed that
he was listening to them. He'd caught enough comments to know Iolaus
was speaking about his side in the battle against Callisto, so he
turned away from that conversation and tried to avoid Gabrielle's
various snorts and snide comments. He didn't know much about it
himself but he didn't want to hear yet again how Strife had had his
arse kicked (Iolaus' words) and been brutally murdered (Joxers
words).

Iolaus sat next to Joxer, his back turned towards him as he spoke
animatedly to Gabrielle who eagerly scribbled down notes intent on
writing the story of Iolaus' trip back in time. Joxer noticed he left
out anything related to Gabrielle's daughter, Hope, and skirted
around the issue easily. He glanced briefly towards Hercules and
Xena; the demigods were deep in discussion as Hercules recounted
Ares' latest attack on them.

"So unfortunately I can speak to pigs so I've gone off eating them,"
Hercules looked slightly embarrassed as Xena sniggered "But at least
Discord's a chicken now." The hero barely managed to hide a
smirk, "unfortunately though something tells me Ares won't be cooking
her up for dinner."

Xena laughed "Oh I'd love to have been there to see that, I can't
believe Ares made Iolaus and Auto into a monster!" she laughed
again. "I can't believe it, it just doesn't seem like something he
would do, it's hilarious."

Joxer smiled slightly; he agreed with Xena, it didn't seem like
something Ares or even Discord would think up, it sounded more like
something Strife would have thought up. Though he didn't dare presume
to know how the Gods thought, he could judge from their actions and
what he'd been told by Strife. Ares' plan to get at Hercules was more
worthy of Strife then Ares, the whole chaotic event just screamed
mischief. His smile turned slightly sad as he thought how his friend
would have reveled in the mayhem; had he been around.

He felt bile rise slightly in the back of his throat as his stomach
clenched, he forced it back down his throat and inhaled shakily. It
was odd that the worst week when he felt life was falling apart would
be the week he actually felt the best. He'd woken up every morning
feeling terrifically healthy though depressed and had barely tripped
over anything all week; in fact Joxer was sure his co-ordination was
improving and any bruises he did get for walking into things faded in
record time.

His eyes fixed on the flames of the fire and he swallowed hard,
ashamed that he had almost enjoyed listening to Hercules chatter
especially when it involved the Gods he no longer worshipped or cared
for. He clenched his fists slightly; he'd removed himself from his
dedication to Ares the night that Strife died. The night he stopped
being in awe of the War God and started disregarding him and most of
the other Gods.

He still ached to be a hero and to make something of himself, but the
feeling was hampered by the deep anger and bitterness that he felt
towards the God that he'd once worshipped. Joxer had waited till long
after nightfall to light Strife's funeral Pyre and yet still no other
Gods had arrived to claim Strife's body. He'd even tried praying to
ones other then Ares; he tried Discord despite being sure she'd maim
him, Cupid and even Aphrodite. No one had come to claim his friend,
not his mother or a God whom Joxer believed was his friend's ex-
lover.

*Some family* Joxer thought slightly bitterly as he set his fish
bones to one side and drew his knees up to his chin *Being kicked
when you're down isn't much fun but at least my family paid that bit
of attention to me*. Strife hadn't talked much about his family but
Joxer had got the impression, mainly from his comments and defensive
humour, that they weren't the kind of people you turned you back on.

Joxer knew Aphrodite deeply despised Strife, he'd once seen her
ignore the other God when face to face and then make derisive
comments before she left. He was almost completely sure that the time
she'd caught Strife chatting to him under the guise of giving him
grief for being Xena's friend was the reason she'd chosen to mess
around with his personality and make him feel like a fool, even now
he hated the sound of a bell ringing and got a slightly paranoid
feeling whenever one did. Strife had shaken off Aphrodite's words
with a nasty comment and a giggle that had had the love Goddess
flouncing away in anger, but Joxer had seen an undercurrent of pain
underneath it all. He hadn't pressed Strife on the matter; he may
have been a fool at time but he wasn't suicidal and he wasn't stupid
enough to think his friend was completely on the side of sanity. He
knew Strife lived by `blast now, think later' and much as he'd
assured Joxer that if that happened he'd get him back from Hades,
Joxer wasn't inclined to risk it. All he'd got were a few murmured
explanations of "Cupid, mistake and all hate me," which didn't make
all that much sense to him.

He hugged himself tighter, unconsciously protecting what remained of
Strife. The faintly glowing wall of tissue that now encircled the
tiny ball inside him; it still divided as it attached itself to Joxer
through thin, wispy tendrils of light.

Joxer stared into the flames and closed his eyes briefly remembering
the deep orange glow that had surrounded Strife's body before it
burnt to ashes. He swallowed hard and choked back a sob as he
remembered the look of fear on his friends face, Joxer had been
sickened by that look and the questions that went with it; why Strife
had been killed in the first place, why could anything kill a God and
why no one cared.

He bit the inside of his lip; the fact that the first two questions
were harder to answer disgusted him, he understood that Strife wasn't
well liked by most mortals and unlike most of the other Gods was only
actively worshipped in shrines rather then the large temples. The God
of mischief had admitted to him that most of his mischief energy came
from young children. In fact, he should have had energy from adult
mischief's like adultery and manipulation, however, Discord
considered them her domain and had made sure that from a very young
age Strife didn't get anything she considered her power. As a result
very few people actually worshipped him and he had to make his own
mischief most of the time or at least actively encourage it.

Joxer closed his eyes again not realizing how long he'd been silent;
he kept staring into the flames that hauntingly reminded him of
Strife. He still couldn't believe he'd been the only to actually give
a damn about the God, he'd waited as long as possible and then
cremated Strife. Joxer knew that once word got round every sales
person in Greece and anyone who'd hated him would be after a piece of
the fallen God. He didn't want that happening to his friend even if
all that was left of him was a broken empty shell. Joxer had waited
till the former God was nothing but ash and the flames had burnt out;
he'd scoped up the ashes not caring if they had cooled enough to hold
and had put them inside his helmet. Then he'd made the two-day
journey to his friends' nearest shrine and scattered the ashes as he
mumbled a prayer for the fallen God.

He'd left his helmet and armor behind at the shrine along with his
dedication to Ares, no longer did Joxer consider himself Joxer the
mighty wannabe hero trying to impress Ares, now he considered himself
just Joxer. He still doubted he could become a hero, at least one in
the same league as Hercules or Xena but he'd vowed never to help the
Gods not matter how small the problem or how dire. Joxer had to set
out for Abdera after he'd made sure Strife's ashes were scattered and
ignored the shrines to Ares along the way. When he'd had come across
Iolaus and Hercules a few days later he'd decided to join them and
had been slightly more enthusiastic when he'd found out they were
meeting Xena and Gabrielle. He'd been forced to listen to Iolaus
recount the battles with Callisto until he was ready to throttle the
hunter, luckily Hercules had seen the usually eager look in Joxer's
eyes turn to something far less pleasant and he'd hastily stepped in
and changed the subject. Joxer winced hearing Gabrielle's shrill
voice cut into his thought; she sounded almost delighted at the mere
idea that he theories were true.

"So Gods can die then? I knew it."

Joxer turned to look at her and frowned as he noticed the smug look
on her face "What a surprise when the going gets tough the Gods run
off," she sneered as she looked at Iolaus who (to his credit) looked
more then a little annoyed.

"Ares was scared." Iolaus spoke flatly "I'm not defending him but
wouldn't you be if the situation was reversed? I didn't even realize
anything could kill a God. Didn't you feel the ground shake where you
were? Didn't you just know something terrible had happened?" He
raised his hands and sighed before dropping them to his lap. "Ares
wasn't exactly broken up but he certainly wasn't happy that she'd
killed Strife."

Joxer noticed both Xena and Hercules now had their full attention on
the hunter as he spoke, he could see neither looked upset at the
mention of Strife's death, which he expected both of them having
fought him or been a victim of one of his `games', but both did seem
troubled by his death.

Gabrielle shook her head at Iolaus a slight patronizing smile on her
face as she spoke, "he was probably upset his little lackey wouldn't
be there to do his dirty work for him."

Joxer held his breath and counted silently to ten as he tried not to
lose his temper; she wasn't saying anything he didn't believe
himself, he figured Ares had only selfish reasons for being upset at
Strife's death. Joxer clenched his fists. The God probably viewed it
as a minor irritation and inconvenience that would get him into
trouble with Zeus.

"It's not like Strife ever actually did anything like the other Gods
anyway, he didn't exactly matter did he?" Gabrielle didn't seem to
know where to shut up, even Hercules eyebrows shot up at her next
comment, "I mean, God of Mischief? Not exactly a useful one was he?"

Joxer felt his nails dig into his palms as he tried counting again,
anger was swelling inside of him at her words. He was fighting to
keep his temper at bay. He noticed Iolaus shift slightly to look at
him but ignored the frown on his face as he kept counting past
thirty. Even Hercules was starting to look disgusted by Gabrielle's
comments.

"I don't see how anyone could defend any of them but Strife, he was
nothing but a jumped up little freak." Gabrielle sighed unable to see
what the problem was; they were down one enemy and severe
annoyance. "It's not like anyone misses him" she added snidely "You
said Ares just dumped his body where he was killed; I bet none of
them bothered to claim it."

"Shut up." Joxer spoke softly as he felt the fury curl into a fist at
the bottom of his stomach. The idea of his friend's body being left
till this day with no one but Grave robbers to abuse it sickened him,
he was eternally glad he'd given him a Warrior's funeral and left
nothing but ashes. He tried to tune out her voice as the mere mention
of Ares infuriated him further, he knew he should be more furious
with Discord but he'd always tried to convince himself that Ares
cared for Strife in his own way. *I wanted to believe he could
actually care for someone other then himself.* He thought, feeling
guilty at thinking of his own feelings rather then defending his
friend. He locked eyes with Gabrielle and listened to her rant never
once breaking eye contact, "I said shut up Gabrielle."

Iolaus knew when to move and when not too and the look on Joxer's
face told him they'd be fireworks. He quickly got up and moved next
to Hercules ignoring the look the demigod gave him; he at least
wasn't going to underestimate Joxer's temper.

Gabrielle blinked a look of stupidity crossing her face at Joxer's
words. She couldn't understand why the man who professed to adore and
dote on her (often to the point of nausea in her opinion) was being
rude to her. She moved closer to him ignoring the warning signs and
dug him in the ribs with her elbow.

"Please, you know I'm right" she laughed scornfully something that
instantly put Joxer's back up "If he was that important and they
missed him they would have got Hades to bring him back."

Joxer felt her body next to his and stiffened. Her body was literally
throbbing and he could feel her body heat seep through to his making
him angrier. He felt the knot of Fury inside him explode and stood
up, towering over her and interrupting her mid explanation.

"Don't ever speak like that about Strife again." He glowered down at
her and she shrunk back slightly seeing the pure ferocity on his face
as he spoke; she didn't even dare open her mouth only squeaked in
reply.

"I mean it Gabrielle; you are never ever to talk of him like that
again. In fact don't even mention him at all and never mock him or
who he was. He may not have been the best God and done the greatest
things or been worshipped far and wide like the others but he was
still a God; and my friend." He kept his voice steady refusing to
lower it "If you don't like any of that, too bad, I won't sit here
and listen to you bad mouth him."

He was shaking now, barely able to hold on to his rage. Part of him
wanted to strike out and he held back never one to deliberately hurt
someone, the other part wanted to burst into tears and was rapidly
winning.

Ironically Hercules saved the day.

"Just think how many people would miss you if the situation was
reversed." The demigod spoke softly as he glanced from Joxer to
Gabrielle "Now think how it must feel to have no one who would. I
didn't like Strife anymore then you Gabrielle but I'll be the first
to admit that his death was wrong." He locked eyes with Joxer and "I
won't condone anyone who will miss him but I don't support them
either."

Joxer nodded and swallowed back the tears. He didn't have the
strength to argue anymore and despite Hercules parting shot he was
glad the demigod had defended him, and Strife. He noticed Hercules's
eyes on him as the demigod put out the fire, Joxer could clearly read
the disappointment in them and he avoided looking at Hercules unable
to deal with more confrontation.

Iolaus avoided Joxer's eyes and lay down silently, though Joxer
wasn't sure if he was annoyed by his revelations he could tell Iolaus
was at least uneasy and he guessed that he and Hercules would set off
as quickly as possible in the morning. He doubted they would want him
to join them and he wasn't sure he could deal with more grief anyway;
despite Hercules word he was sure by the time morning came around
he'd be ready to add his own opinion and make his disappointment
clear.

"Let's get some sleep." Joxer felt Xena's hand squeeze his shoulder
and when he glanced into her eyes he saw understanding there. He knew
she wouldn't have agreed with his friendship with the Strife but she
didn't say anything against it and for that he was grateful. He
wasn't sure he could cope with her rejection too.

He watched as she dragged the now spluttering Gabrielle as far away
from Joxer as possible and forced her to lie down lying between the
two, making it clear to Gabrielle the conversation was over.

Joxer lay down quickly, his legs shaky after the fight. He wrapped
his arms around himself and tried to calm himself down. His heart
still beat fast and he felt on edgy and wide awake but he hoped that
after a nights sleep the next day would be easier to get through. As
he lay on his side, he realized one thing; for the first time he'd
actually admitted Strife was his friend even at the risk of his
loosing his other friends. He swallowed hard and closed his eyes
wishing he'd been brave enough to do so when the God was alive.


Invisible to the eyes of Gods and mortals alike the Goddess
Asyinnitos watched the mortal known as Joxer as he attempted to
sleep. His body was tense from the arguments and the adjustments
required to house the zygotic god inside him. She could see that
sleep would not be easy. Unable to whisper to the soul inside him
which hadn't awakened yet from its slumber she settled for running a
hand over Joxer's body, using her powers to drain the tension from
him taking it into herself.

She watched him tremble slightly under her touch before slipping into
a light sleep just outside of Morpheous' range. The painfully shy
Goddess of Pregnancy and the Unborn smiled to herself, happy that
Gaia had entrusted her to watch over Joxer and Strife hiding them
from the eyes of the other Gods. Asyinnitos was more then just a
minor God and often worked with Hera to ensure pregnancies went as
smoothly as Fates intended but she was rarely seen on Olympus. If she
attended festivals and coronations she always remained in the
background and was overlooked. She doubted any of the Gods aside from
Hera; her sister and mother could actually recognize her and knew
what she did. Most of her time was spent invisible to mortals' eyes;
she would soothe and calm unborn babies, lulling them into sleep and
encouraging them to grow and be strong.

Like Strife, she had very few shrines and no temples but gained power
through those she watched over. Even though few would know her name
their thanks for safe pregnancies fuelled her, she would be a
formidable goddess to go up against despite her shyness. Her fierce
protectiveness was normally saved only for those she watched over now
not only extended to her gestating cousin Strife but to his mortal
friend who carried him within.

Asyinnitos smiled slightly as she felt another Goddess flash in
behind her, the only other being also charged by Gaia with keeping
the two safe. She turned slightly to take the hand of Joxer's other
protector, Adrasteia the Goddess of Divine Retribution, her mother.
She placed a kiss on Joxer's head and pressed her fingers lightly to
his belly and murmured "Be safe, little one" before she allowed her
mother to flash them away.




Chapter 3:


Cupid stared down at his pouting son who stared back up at him, baby
Bliss; who was almost a miniature copy of his father, screwed up his
face and fisted his eyes as he cried. Cupid sighed; Bliss was
becoming more and more difficult at night and during the day which
was putting even more of a strain on the fragile bond between Psyche
and himself. Deep down Cupid knew the worries and increasing rift
between himself and Psyche was reflecting back onto Bliss. The baby
was just acting out in the confusing changing emotions.

He scooped up his whining son and walked up and down the nursery with
him, jiggling him gently in his arms. He tried to tune out Bliss's
unhappy cries knowing that he was in part responsible for them. Cupid
had been more then slightly inattentive recently preferring to
immerse himself in his work then face the troubles at home. He
stroked Bliss's back gently, carefully avoiding his wings, the action
seemed to soothe the Godling slightly and Cupid looked down into
Bliss's tearstreaked face "It's okay, daddy's not going anywhere. Go
to sleep." He murmured softly to him. He kept up his slow pacing and
continued stroking Bliss's back, the baby slightly soothed and calmed
pressed his head against Cupids neck and clung onto him tightly as he
tried to nuzzle deeper.

Cupid wasn't sure why things had changed, why everything had gone so
wrong but he knew when it had happened; just after he'd felt Strifes
death. He'd felt the hot burning pain lance through him, he'd dropped
to his knees just before Olympus shook and shuddered. Aphrodite had
clutched her head also feeling the terrifyingly odd feeling. Cupid
had clung to her, the same way he used to when he was a Godling, as
the dreadful certainty swept through him as it did every other God
and Goddess. That a God had died. *Not just anyone either, Strife*
Cupid thought as he clutched Bliss a little too tightly and the baby
whimpered in response; Cupid relaxed his hold and Bliss quieted as he
slowly drifted into a troubled sleep.

Cupid continued to pace, not just to make sure his son was asleep and
settled for the night but also to avoid the talk with Psyche; the
talk that had been building for the last month. Cupid had been to
everyone he could think of for advice finally settling to disregard
his mother's pleas to stick with it and try to ignore it and go with
his Hephaestus' advice instead. The older God had listened patiently
to Cupid before suggesting that whilst they try and work things out
maybe they should admit what they truly felt. The Fire God had told
it wasn't worth ignoring your own feelings and playing along, not
only were both Bliss and Psyche already sensing the problems but
Cupid would grow to resent them if he tried to play along. Aphrodite
had been furious at Hephaestus' suggestion and Cupids decision. She
had tried her best to convince him over dinner and some very odd
tasting drinks. Cupid frowned remembering the sweet aftertaste, a
familiar one he could almost identify, and it was almost on the tip
of his tongue…

He stopped pacing and slowly walked over the arm of arranged cushions
which served as Bliss's bed. Since the third month Bliss had taken to
flashing himself out of his basket and onto cushions on the nursery
floor and after many repeats of putting him back in the basket they
had opted for making a swarm of cushions for him to sleep on. The
cushions came complete with spells, courtesy of Hecate, to stop Bliss
rolling about. Cupid gently set his son down and tucked the blankets
around him; he smiled wondering how his son could look so innocent
and cherub-like when only an hour before he'd been screaming and
refusing to sleep. Cupid took a deep breath knowing that it was now
or never and glanced towards the door, he had to tell Psyche the
truth, that he didn't love her anymore. He wasn't sure how he could
have loved her so passionately and intensely in the first place,
though she was extremely beautiful and had a heart to match she
wasn't his type at all. He swallowed hard and looked down at his son,
Cupid was glad they had been together because he got Bliss out of
their marriage but he was still confused why he fell in love with
Psyche. It felt like his brain had been almost clouded and he'd been
living in a dream world for the last two years, now that world was
slowly crumbling and everything was starting to come back. Cupid was
starting to remember the heartache he'd felt before Psyche, the
heartache caused by Psyche. Cupid shook his head and rubbed his
temple, which was why he couldn't understand it how could he have
loved someone he'd once intensely hated? He didn't hate her anymore
but he didn't love her either and everytime he looked at her instead
of seeing the woman he'd been so madly in love with all he saw was
Strife.

Cupid clenched his fists, trying not to mimic one of his ex-lovers
patented insane giggles. It was more then completely screwed up; it
was more then just chaos! He stood up and watched Bliss roll over and
hug the pillows, the baby whimpered slightly in his sleep and Cupid
walked out of the nursery not wanting Bliss to pick up on his
confused emotions as he snapped his fingers and shut the nursery door
he briefly slumped against it. How could he have fallen so
passionately for Psyche when he'd been so heartbroken over Strife?
Cupid grimaced as a remnant of feeling crossed his chest; he couldn't
remember the heartache properly it was almost as though it had been
ripped from him but he'd been getting twinges, fleeting feelings
which jogged his memory. He couldn't feel what he knew he should be
feeling, what he desperately wanted to feel; the pain and heartache
at his ex-lover's death. Cupid clenched his fists; he should feel
something other then fleeting twinges. He and Strife had been friends
for nearly a hundred years and lovers for well over fifty before the
whole `Psyche mess' happened. They'd been closer then two people
could ever be; soulmates they'd both believed. He and Strife had had
so many plans, they'd wanted to get married, start a family; not a
night went by when the two hadn't been in each others arms, whether
it was making love or for comfort.

Cupid clenched his fists harder and slammed the, into the wall, he
didn't understand why he felt nothing when he remembered their times
together it was almost like he was detached from it, he didn't even
feel grief for Strifes death though he desperately wanted to. At the
very least he should feel the anger and heartache he'd felt at
Strifes betrayal, he should remember the pain he felt when Hera
announced one of her priestesses was carrying a demigod fathered by
Strife and the fury he'd felt when his lover had vehemently denied
the claims that the baby was his. He remembered volley upon volley of
fireballs he'd blasted at Strife as the mischief god had lied to him,
begging and pleading for Cupid to believe him. The mischief God had
never once tried to defend himself and in the end Ares had had to
drag Strife away. Cupid knew Ares had given Strife the hiding of his
life for betraying his son but all Cupid had felt was anger and pain
because of the betrayal from God he'd loved. The night before Hera's
news both he and Strife had decided to try for a baby of their own
and yet all the time Strife had known that a mortal was already
carrying his.

Cupid slumped back against the wall in frustration not understanding
why he couldn't feel the rage he'd once felt, he was getting angrier
over that then the betrayal that had happened. Cupid remembered how
he'd been a mess for years afterwards, he refused to come out of his
temples except for ceremonies and refused to be anywhere near Strife,
Cupid had spent practically everyday in tears and if not being sick
then throwing bad temper tantrums. He'd even felt satisfaction at
hearing all the Gods turned their back on the once popular God, much
to Discord's glee, although he'd been more then slightly pissed off
when he heard Ares had taken the traitorous bastard back. When his
emotions had started reflecting on the mortals, the other Gods had
put up with it but when they affected them they'd ganged up on him
and forced him to start doing his job properly and socialising.

Cupid snorted, forced being the right word. His Mum, Dad and two of
his uncles had dragged him out of his temple, forced ambrosia and
food down his throat and then proceeded to scrub him and his home
clean before dumping him at his mortal temple to receive his priests
and priestesses. It was only a year later that he'd fallen in love
with Psyche, straight out of the blue, and realised she was the
demigod Strife had fathered. Cupid frowned; he didn't know why it
hadn't bothered him that he was sleeping with his ex-lover's
daughter. It had bothered Strife greatly, he had tried to break if
off but he'd been rejected at every turn even by his own daughter and
despite his pleas he'd never been allowed to go near his grandson.

Cupid sighed, something was definitely wrong he needed to find out
why he felt the way he did and why he didn't feel the way he should,
he kept sensing Strife though he knew the God was dead and in
oblivion. He'd have to talk to his mother and get some answers, he
had a suspicious feeling that he knew the answer but the idea was so
horrific he tried to repress it. He strode towards his bedroom; first
he had to talk to his wife.

*********

Bliss wasn't the only one having a troubled sleep; Joxer had been
tossing and turning all night, mumbling in his sleep and even
whimpering. Asyinnitos placed a soothing hand on his head as she
tried to draw the mortal into a deeper sleep away from the memories
emanating from the embryo inside him. She couldn't suppress the
embryo Gods memories and although she knew the embryo couldn't
experience or feel them they were transmitting loud and clear into
Joxer's unconscious. From Strife's death backwards, Joxer was
experiencing snippets of the mischief Gods old life, some of which
Asyinnitos was sure wouldn't be pleasant especially those involving
Discord. One thing Asyinnitos was glad of was the rising feelings of
fury rising in the mortal. Though his waking mind didn't realize it,
subconsciously he was projecting the need to protect Strife, which
the embryo was picking up on and reveling in.

Asyinnitos gently pressed her ear against Joxers stomach, she
whispered to the tiny God to sleep, exerting her power over it in
combination with that which Gaia had given her to protect Strife and
Joxer. Her eyes widened as she caught the end of Joxer's dream and
she pushed into the memories, careful not to upset Strife she didn't
push too far back, and saw what he had been through in the last few
months. The pain and rejection from the other Gods, the abandonment
he'd felt from Ares and his Mothers constant gibes and taunts.
Asyinnitos rubbed Joxer's belly gently as she whispered to calm the
now agitated Strife to sleep. Her eyes filled with tears at the
memories she'd seen and she knew she'd barely scratched the surface,
the gods distress was firmly rooted in his childhood something the
embryo was too tiny to remember just yet. Asyinnitos was unaware of
the depth of the fury emanating from her until she felt the light
touch of Adrasteia on her shoulder. She turned and for the first time
in decades allowed her mother to take her into her arms as if she
were a Godling again. She used her powers to transfer the brief
knowledge she'd gathered from Strife's mind and Adrasteia almost
staggered under the weight of the anger flowing from her daughter. As
mother and daughter stared at each other Adrasteia saw in her eldest
daughter more of herself then she ever had before.

Asyinnitos looked her directly in the eye "Do you know how hard I had
to work just to keep Strife alive when Discord was carrying him?" her
voice was soft and deadly calm as she spoke "She tried trick after
trick to get rid of him and I had to keep using my powers to force
her to eat ambrosia. She went on the battlefield when she was eight
months pregnant, I think if it hadn't of been for the baby Ares would
have blasted her to Tartarus for that, the close calls she had." The
Goddess shook her head speaking more in a minute then she had in the
last few months "when he was born I lost my protection on him and I
couldn't help him. I wish I'd stood my ground and made more of a fuss
before he was born, maybe if they'd taken him away then he would have
had a better time of it."

In her eyes a fury deeper them both the Godhoods of her mother and
sister shone brightly and as she spoke Adrasteia felt a chill run
through her realizing her eldest was using her godly powers to curse.

"From this moment on Discord will never conceive of another child nor
raise one" Asyinnitos spoke quietly but her power was reflected in
her voice "and all those who wronged Strife shall be denied the
privilege of bearing children until the consequences of their actions
are seen and they truly realize what they've done."

Adrasteia shivered slightly as her daughter's curse passed though her
rendering herself and most of the Gods on Olympus barren and
infertile. Her body screamed to reject the curse and remove it but
she merely nodded accepting Asyinnitos' decision.

Asyinnitos bit her lip, grinding her teeth over it as she felt the
curse spreading even through herself "I forgot about him until he
became a father, at least one of sorts," She sighed "and then when
his grandson was conceived I focussed more on the children and tried
not to think about what must have happened to him."

Adrasteia wasn't sure what to say to help her daughters' guilt
anymore then she could help her own. Many a time she'd heard the
Godling Strife call out for revenge on his mother but she'd written
his pleas off as a normal child's tantrum, even without seeing that
far back she was certain he'd suffered greatly as a child as well as
an adult. She should have helped get to the truth of Strifes
offspring instead of going with the pantheons vote and believing the
worst in Strife, bringing retribution down upon him. Adrasteia
herself had a lot to make up for with Strife and with the rest of her
family, those who needed retribution would get it Olympian politics
be damned. She'd already failed the children once she wasn't willing
to do it again. Without consulting any of the other Gods involved she
released the bonds she'd once helped place on Cupid and waited for
all Tartarus to break lose.




"Yo Unc what's up?" Joxer blinked, confused, as the words flowed from
his mouth. He felt his own mouth settle into a smirk as he strode
into the simple white temple. A bright flash lit up the room and a
feeling of nervousness and dread settled over him. As the flash died
down he stared up at Ares scowling face and his heart sank, Joxer
tried to bite back the babble that flew from his lips but his body
moved of it own accord. "Yeh sorry about ta day it just would have
been bad ya know. It's not like I missed tha thing on purpose an I
bet Cupe was glad not ta have me there." Joxer grimaced inwardly as
he felt his heart twist at the mention of Cupids name but the smirk
remained fixed on his face.

Ares fist was a blur of red as it shot out hitting him straight in
the chest and Joxer felt himself fly backwards almost in slow motion.
His eyes were fixed on Ares and he saw disgust briefly in them before
the God turned away as Joxer crashed into the stone pillar behind
him. He kept the forced smirk on his face even as his body shuddered
at the flare of pain across his back. Joxer resigned himself to
dealing with the bruises as the thought, bizarrely, crossed his mind
that the only person who'd actually patch him up was busy down in
Greece trying to introduce his newest method of healing. *I hope he
doesn't rough me up too much, still rather him then Discord* the
thought crossed his mind confusing Joxer even more. He didn't
understand why he was being thrown around by Ares anymore than why he
was worrying about Discord roughing him up; it was true he'd probably
be terrified if he ever met the Goddess but he'd never worried about
it when he'd been friends with Strife.

*Speak of the harpy* the thought echoed snidely in his mind as a
slightly more muted flash lit up next to him. Joxer felt a hysterical
giggle pass his lips as he stared up into Discords face. She leant
over him, sneered and sashayed away moving closer to Ares then Joxer
would have liked. He inclined his head slightly and froze;
technically his mind did anyway, as he stared into the polished
reflective surface of a shield. His body pulled itself up despite the
stabbing pain that ran through it, dusted itself off and sauntered
over to Discord and Ares. Joxer's mind was still locked on the image
in the shield; instead of his normal cheerful average looks (his own
words) he had seen the sharper paler features of Strife. He tried to
scream "What in Hades is going on?" but as his mouth opened all that
came out was, "Hey ma, long time no see."

Joxer could feel conflicting emotions coming from Strife as he looked
from Ares to Discord. As he looked at Ares he felt respect and a deep
desire to please; he felt a need to make Ares proud along with a
comfortable feeling of security and safety which Joxer found
extremely ironic considering his visit to the pillar all of five
minutes ago. When Joxer turned Discord he felt Strifes emotions
become chaotic and twisted; he hated his mother and yet desperately
wanted her at the same time; he was terrified of her but enjoyed
baiting her and making her life miserable whenever he could even
though he seemed to grudgingly respect her work.

Joxer tried again to speak but nothing came out; his gaze was fixed
on Discord and as he looked at her he felt his body force itself not
to involuntarily tremble. Discord must have noticed a tremble no
matter how slight and Joxer felt Strife's heart sink as the Goddess
smiled, it wasn't a very nice smile it was the kind of smile that
made mortals piss themselves.

"Shame you missed the ceremony today Strife, you know presenting a
new God to the pantheon is a big thing. Zeus wont be pleased you
didn't attend." The light in her eyes told Joxer how much she'd love
to see him, Strife, punished for it. He felt something inside Strife
die little by little as she spoke, her words like poisonous barbs
despite their `sweetness', "and the baby was so cute you know. All
blue eyes, blonde hair and smiles. Oh and wings too you know, he
looks just like Cupid did when he was a baby. Can't see any of his
mother in him but that's probably for the best. Just as well he looks
so much like Cupid isn't it? He wouldn't want any other unpleasant
reminders coming out in the newest generation."

Joxer felt himself swallow hard and his fists clench involuntarily as
he watched Discord laugh. A bright light pierced his vision which
made him blink and he heard cold words echo in his mind displacing
the laughter briefly *You will never see him, never Strife. You're
nothing to them. * Joxer saw Ares on the edge of his vision blasting
Discord into the wall and he let out a mental cheer as the bright
light spread out encompassing everything. Joxer felt hands on his
shoulders and he hit out wildly. He felt relief flood him as he felt
his body move to slap away the intruding hands. He heard a squeal and
felt a sudden rush hit his body as tiny pinpricks of cold covered it.

Joxer sat up gasping and rubbed at his eyes as he spat out the
remnants of the ice cold water that had soaked through his clothes.
As his vision cleared he stared up at Xena, a very unimpressed Xena
who was holding a water carrier and sporting a slight bruise on her
shoulder. Joxers eyes went wide and realizing the implications of
this he stood up quickly babbling in apology.

Xena's face cracked a slight smile as Joxer raced over the apology
and he felt relief settle over him as she spoke "Apology accepted
Joxer, I won't try to wake you again." Xena frowned and looked at
him "You know you've been having a lot of nightmares recently,
kicking about and moaning but you always seem to settle straight
after them and not wake up," she shrugged "You must have been
fighting someone though, I wasn't expecting the punch but I should
have been able to stop it. You must be practicing." She turned away
before he could correct her and walked over to the light fire
scratching her head violently.

"Oh God it itches!" he heard the moan before he saw Gabrielle limp
into the clearing trying to scratch her foot as she walked. She
hopped over to Joxer then flopped down next to him on Xena's bedroll
holding her foot up for his inspection even as her eyes stared at
Xena in accusation "Foot rot!"

Xena rolled her eyes "Gabrielle I told you, if you didn't listen…"
she didn't have time to finish before Gabrielle was off griping
again "Foot rot Xena! From those disgusting swamps you made us wade
through," her eyes almost glowed in anger and Joxer edged away
slightly. On the whole Gabrielle only got that upset one day out of
the month and that was the day all of them had their `alone time'.

Xena looked more amused then annoyed though Joxer noticed her scratch
her head vigorously again "I warned you Gabrielle, I said…"

"And what in Zeus is this?" Gabrielle voice rose to new octaves as
she jumped up staring down at Xena's bedroll, "Lice! You've got lice
Xena?"

Joxer somehow managed to fight back a laugh as the normal unflappable
warrior princess almost shoved Gabrielle out of the way to examine
her bedroll; "I have not got lice. You think I wouldn't know if I had
lice?" she scowled at Gabrielle who was now alternating between
itching her foot and head "I don't think so," she stomped off back to
the fire mumbling the word "lice" under her breath as she tried to
get the fire going properly. Gabrielle had resorted to hopping as she
stared at Xena's bedroll.

Joxer resisted the urge to scratch his own head; with all the
gracefulness he could muster in the early morning light and with a
full bladder, sprang up out of his own bedroll not wanting the
irritating insects near him. He swayed slightly feeling momentarily
lightheaded and almost tripped over. He heard Gabrielle's laughter as
he righted himself and smiled ruefully; his clumsiness had been a
long time coming so he wasn't surprised she was making the most of
its comic value. It had been well over four weeks since his balance
and coordination had improved and Joxer had found himself becoming
less and less prone to falling over. Recently it seemed the own time
he did was when Gabrielle was near and he'd either fallen on her or
knocked her over in the process.

"Same old Joxer," Gabrielle smirked at him as he pottered past her
and Xena on his way to the river. Joxer felt a slightly popping in
his abdomen and frowned pausing on his way, after a few minutes
without any unpleasant side effects he shrugged and walked down the
slope to the water, he burst into laughter as his ears caught
Gabrielle's voice which was becoming fainter at each step "By the
Gods it's spreading, Xena look this things spreading all over!"

Still laughing quietly to himself, Joxer quickly stripped off and
laid his clothes by the waters edge checking them briefly for lice.
He couldn't help but smile at the slight sounds of argument coming
from the camp; He didn't like to see anyone fight but Gabrielle had
been becoming almost unbearable recently in her not so subtle
attempts to find out more about his friendship with Strife and insult
the God. The words `shut up' worked only so often and he could see
Xena becoming more and more short tempered as the days went on, for
the sake of their friendship well his and Xena's anyway, Joxer had
decided to part company with them once they reached the next village.
He choked back at laugh at Xena's `Scabrielle' comments and focussed
on himself, ignoring the sniping of the other two.

Joxer shivered slightly as he stepped into the cold water, the sun
had not had enough time to heat it. He took a few steps in and gasped
as the cold tingle settled over his privates, not waiting for the
water to lap higher he ducked down and shot up gasping as the too-
refreshing feeling. Joxer stepped out a little further and started
bobbing in the water, letting it soak up to his neck now. He'd been
so hot recently and now his body was becoming used to the water he
was feeling a lot better for it. His only real discomfort was a
throbbing feeling in his nipples, they'd been tingling on and off for
the last week but now they were throbbing violently. He touched them
and hissed; it wasn't quite pain but they were very tender his eyes
widened as he looked down at them; Not only were his nipples a lot
larger then normal but they were covered in small white bumps, Joxer
prodded a bump experimentally and groaned as the burning feeling hit
him. He cupped his pectoral as the pain passed and stared in
fascination at the pale bluish lines around his nipples, they spread
out like a fan making his pec more raised then normal, almost
swollen. It didn't look abnormal but it gave the impression Joxer did
a lot of training and exercise. If it wasn't for the lines and lumps
he wouldn't have minded the look, and the pain too of course.

Joxer washed his chest carefully before tending to the rest of his
body; a blush started in his cheeks and almost instantly ran down his
body as he realized his nipple explorations had caused his cock to go
half hard. Without thought his hand instantly moved to it and he
wrapped his fingers around the shaft stroking softly, as the other
hand swept down lower and cupped his balls he realized how sensitive
they were and bit back a moan gently massaging them. Closing his eyes
he blocked the sounds around him and focussed on the strong
sensations running through his body. Joxer licked his dry lips
keeping up a steady stroke; his hand moved off his balls and almost
hesitantly stroked his swollen nipples. It wasn't quite pleasure or
pain but it made him more aroused then ever; Joxer shuddered
slightly, his cock jumping at the feeling,. He whimpered as he pumped
his cock faster and ran his nails gently over his nipple, his back
arched and his mind slipped into one of his favorite fantasies.
Joxer's fantasy lover was caressing his body gently, teasing him into
frenzy as he kissed up and down. His dream lover sucked and teased
Joxers nipples with his tongue and the mortal rubbed harder and
faster on them. His dream lover took Joxers cock; he taunted the
mortal by bathing it with his tongue before he took it fully into his
mouth, sucking hard and encouraging the mortal to thrust into his
mouth. Joxers hand pumped herder and he thrust into time to the
thrusts in his fantasy. He felt a hot flush swell from within and his
body shuddered, arching his back Joxer didn't manage to bite off a
cry as he came, his fantasy lovers name slipping from his
lips, "Ares!"

The instant the name slipped from his lips Joxer collapsed back into
the water panting hard. Red faced and sweaty he opened his eyes and
was fervently glad that both Xena and Gabrielle were arguing too
loudly to hear him. A second after his relief came the guilt and
Joxer closed his eyes in shame as he realized he'd just fantasized
about one of the people who'd hurt Strife the most. The fantasy
wasn't anything new unlike the sensations from his body but he let
the guilt wash over him as he bobbed in the water glad there was no
evidence of his `crime'. Ares was the one person Strife actually had
seemed, both in Joxer's dream and in reality, to look up to and
believe in. The abandonment and pain his friend had to have felt when
Ares left him must have been overwhelming. Joxer bit his lip and
swallowed hard, he'd left his worship of Ares for a reason for Strife
and he'd be damned if he'd ever allow himself to indulge like that
again and defile his friend's memory. Joxer swore to himself that
he'd put his own feelings for the War God aside and focus back on the
ones he'd felt for Strife, over the injustice at his friends death
and mourning.

His decision made he stepped out of the water and stood in the
morning sun for a few minutes letting it dry him, Joxer slowly began
to pull on his trousers and tunic and was just reaching for his shoes
when he heard Gabrielle's shriek, it wasn't a `I'm furious with Xena'
shriek it was more of a `we're being attacked!' shriek. Reacting on
instinct and with no thought of the potential danger that could lie
ahead Joxer raced back up the slope, he ignored the rocks cutting
into his feet and burst into the clearing…and froze.

Xena was slowly making her way to her feet in a daze of confusion as
she rubbed her head at the pain and Gabrielle was pinned against a
tree, a muscular arm holding her in place as she tried to wriggle
free. Although their attackers back was to him Joxer would have
recognized the wings anywhere, he stepped forward cautiously and
asked "Cupid?" the only response he got was Gabrielle's gasp of pain
as Cupid tightened his hold around her neck. Joxer moved closer not
wanting to rush the God, he never imagined Cupid to be a violent God
but he wasn't going to chance startling him and getting Gabrielle's
neck broken "Cupid, put her down!" His voice was soft yet had a note
of command in it that even Joxer had never heard before.

He wasn't entirely surprised when Cupid dropped Gabrielle to the
floor as if she were a rag doll. He glanced at her, her eyes were a
little fuzzy and she was gasping but she seemed all right. Xena had
now righted herself fully and seemed back in control, despite her
itches she was poised to attack or defend as Cupid turned to face
Joxer.

Joxer stared at the God; though Cupid had never been one of his
favorite Gods he felt pity at the sight of the God before him. Cupid
looked like he'd been to Tartarus, for punishment, and back. The God
was shaking violently his body experienced severe tremors, small
sparks were spitting from his hands and his body was sagging under
his own weight. As Joxer stared up at Cupids face he saw sweat
pouring off the God, the pain and sorrow radiating off him was
obvious for anyone to see even without the miserly reflected in
Cupids face. He felt fear grip him as he locked eyes with Cupid and
the God's eyes locked back into focus, on Joxer. Joxer could see
Cupid was acting on instinct more then anything and now that the Gods
eyes were on him Joxer took a step back, trying to put himself out of
the line of fire. He saw a hunger more primal then anything ever seen
he'd ever seen before light up Cupid's eyes as they began to glow a
bright emerald green, the glow encompassing the Gods body as he
lunged for Joxer.




Part 5:

Joxer wasn't a fool; he knew Cupid was far stronger then he was and
any resistance or defence would lead to a lot of pain. He didn't
brace himself for Cupids attack or hold his ground, instead as the
God's body began to glow the same emerald green as his eyes Joxer
dived to one side to avoid him. Unfortunately as Joxer dived Xena
tossed her chakram at Cupid. It was only a warning shot which should
have whistled past the God's head and struck the trees just past him
but ended up heading straight for Joxer. The mortal barely had the
time to register the chakram heading for his face before the green
glow clouded his vision temporarily blinding him for an instant.
Joxer staggered back, blinking away the spots in front of his eyes he
heard a strange squishing noise that rooted him to the spot and a
terrifyingly unearthly screech that set his teeth on edge.

Before Joxer's vision could clear he was hit him hard from the front
with enough force to knock the wind out of him. Before he could fall
to the ground strong hands encircled him and held him close, he felt
his stomach lunch as his feet left the ground. Joxer blinked back
black spots and clung to the arms around him, he could hear Xena
screaming his name but the sound was becoming fainter and fainter as
wind whistled harshly in his ear, Joxer's stomach lurched and he
tried desperately not to be sick as the realisation dawned on him
that he was flying. Or more specifically Cupid had to be flying and
carrying him. Joxer was unwilling to let go of the deathgrip he now
had on Cupid but his vision was blurry so he rubbed his eyes quickly
against his arm when it cleared he blinked a few times and looked up
expecting to see Cupid holding him; instantly he froze. Joxer stared
up at the green scaly face of the monster and let out a cry as he
wriggled; panicking in the God's grip "Let me go, let me go!" He knew
the green monster had to be Cupid (having heard a few tales from
Strife) but he couldn't see anything of the God in the monster. In
his desperation Joxer forgot they were in flight and struck out at
the creature. It stiffened at the blow, letting out a cry then
dropping slightly as Joxers hand caught its eyes and almost dropped
the mortal. Terrified, Joxer stared down at the dizzying green below
him; despite wanting to get away self-preservation kicked in and
Joxer gripped the monster around the neck trying not to slip as it
rubbed its wounded eyes.

Hanging like a limpet around the monster's neck Joxer wrapped his
legs around its body and looked up fearfully into its face. It hissed
at him in anger its eyes slightly bruised than it completely
contradicted itself by wrapping it's arms protectively around the man
as it beat it's powerful wings *flying us to Zeus only knows where*
Joxer thought as he stared up at the creature. Something nagged at
him, the monster; Cupid, the green glow and Joxer frowned as he
stared into the creature's eyes. They didn't look the same but they
seemed the same, it felt the same. He wasn't sure that even made
sense but everything screamed at him that the green monster was
Cupid; he still clung on tightly despite the arms around him and
asked cautiously "Cupid?"

The green eyes glanced down at him for an instant and then flicked
back up. Joxer kept quiet he could see grin determination in the
monsters- in Cupid's face. He didn't know why the God had turned into
such a creature though he had heard rumours that Cupid had a dark
side; something to do with Psyche and Hercules as far as he could
remember. Joxer just hadn't expected the normally handsome Love God's
dark side to be so ugly; he also couldn't see what `Cupid's dark
side' as he dubbed the monster, wanted with him or what it had been
doing at their camp. Joxer had expected to see Ares with his hands
wrapped around Gabrielle's throat one day but he'd never expected
Cupid to be one to attack her, especially as the woman was almost
always nauseatingly flattering to Cupid in all her writings. Joxer
glanced down as he felt Cupid slow and start to descend,
instinctively he gripped him tighter. The stomach lurching dips
weren't helping his nausea any and watching the ground rapidly coming
towards him just increased the problem. Joxer knew one thing; he
really really hated flying. He clenched his teeth along with rest of
his body as he felt the jarring jolt as Cupid landed.

Opening his eyes warily Joxer looked around; he'd expected a much
harsher landing then that especially considering the hostile looks
Cupid seemed to be giving him; he blinked and peered behind Cupid at
the huge elegant building surrounding them. The monster form of the
love God kept Joxer firmly held in his arms as, despite Joxer's
renewed struggles; he carefully carried him across the Temple floor.
As the mortal tried to pull away Cupid hissed and tightened his grip
making Joxer dry-heave as his stomach twisted violently in protest.
Joxer glowered at the monstrous face above him but stopped
struggling; he was in no hurry to be squeezed again though a part of
him briefly entertained the idea of vomiting all over the God if he
tried it again.

Cupid dumped Joxer unceremoniously on a pile of blankets on the
floor, which knocked the wind out of him again; he rolled onto his
side fighting the remaining nausea from his `flight' and glowered at
Cupid. Joxer watched as the green monster glowed brightly before
fading into the Love God; as the glow cleared Joxer sat up scathing
remarks at the ready until he saw Cupids face. Joxer paused unable to
looks away; it was like walking past a battle whether you jumped in
or not you had to have a look and once you saw the horror in front of
you, you were unable to look away. Never before had Joxer seen such
abject misery and bitterness on anyone's face especially not Gods.
His breath caught in his throat cutting off the questions that
immediately came to his mind and he had to (ashamedly) push back the
spiteful thought that came to his mind *I hope Cupid's finally
feeling something about Strifes death*

"You look like death," Joxer spoke flatly finally hitting on a
neutral comment; he managed to ignore the slightly less neutral ones
as he looked at the God. He wasn't surprised when Cupid turned
towards him but he was shocked to see the tears building in Cupid's
eyes, tears the God seemed barely able to hold back as he wrestled
between heartache and fury. "What's happened Cupid, are you all
right?" Joxer wasn't quick enough to stop the words from coming out
but he couldn't berate himself over them; although he knew Cupid had
hurt Strife greatly it didn't stop him feeling pity for the love God.
Even if Cupid had put Strife through hell Joxer was unable to hate
him; he felt only compassion for him.

Cupid looked away and breathed deeply concentrating on grounding
himself and his emotions; the last thing he wanted was another
reappearance of the creature inside him and to feel the brief
insanity he'd felt before he got to Xena's camp.

Cupid had wanted to know the truth about himself, Psyche and Strife;
he had tried to stay calm to try to twist the answers he so badly
needed out of Aphrodite but she'd started pleading and pouting at him
as she tried to take his mind off the questions he had. Cupid had
felt a cold brittle feeling spread across his lower body and his
mother had gasped in pain he hands on her own abdomen. For a brief
instant their eyes had locked and he had seen confusion and anger in
her eyes as it dawned on him that they'd been cursed. Before he'd had
time to see who would dare curse another God, especially not two
powerful love ones, he'd felt something snap inside, then it had been
as if a dam had broken, releasing a torrent of pain, heartache and
rage. Cupid had barely even been able sort out one emotion from
other; the pain had almost crippled him. He neither heard Aphrodite's
shrieks and screams nor felt her race to pick him up as he collapsed.
His fury had brought out the worst in him, much more so then the pain
he'd felt. Everything had begun to make sense and fall into place;
his Mother's teatime drinks, his lack of feeling for Strife, his far
too obsessive love for Psyche that rapidly faded after Strife's
death… and then it had overwhelmed him.

Cupid didn't remember much he had been reacting on instinct, his
brain overloaded by suppressed emotion; he had been looking for
Strife, desperately searching for his former lover and soulmate.
Cupid had torn through Olympus leaving devastation in his wake;
Aphrodite's temple had exploded around them and the others nearest to
it had been shattered and broken from the fallout. He'd wrecked Ares
temple in a fit of fury when he couldn't find any remnants of Strife,
even his room had been bricked over and he'd almost torn Discord
apart when she'd started screaming at him about a curse. Finally he'd
descended to Tartarus and terrified the dead in his insane search,
his Uncle had tried to stop him once but after almost being
eviscerated had finally resorted to shouting at Cupid through a
shield of his power. Hades hadn't wanted to hurt his young nephew and
had guessed what Cupid was after. Pleased that finally someone was
interested in Strife other then Ares, Hades had unhappily blasted
Cupid from behind his shield and told the God what he wanted to know.
That Strife wasn't in Tartarus or the Underworld at all and that he
(Hades) hadn't seen his dead nephew or even felt him near. Hades had
sadly had to conclude that the Hind blood had condemned Strife to
oblivion.

Cupid hadn't taken the news well; in fact Tartarus now looked almost
as wrecked as Olympus. Without Strife Cupid would quickly have become
so unstable the God would have in all likelihood destroyed himself,
condemning his soul to the oblivion that had tried to claim his
exlover. But Strife was being reborn inside Joxer; his signature was
weak and slightly altered but it was enough to draw Cupids attention.
Cupid had flashed to Xena's camp feeling a tiny surge that he'd
recognised as Strife's mischief. He hadn't said a word to Xena of
Gabrielle just looked around for him lover, part of him unable to
accept that he was gone. Lost in his emotion and need Cupid
unknowingly repeated Strife's name over and over as he stared around
the camp. Only Gabrielle's scathing comment on "the useless mischief
God" had permeated his brain and he'd reacted rather then acted.
Cupid had slammed Xena out of the way and thrown Gabrielle against a
tree, one hand had gripped her neck and he'd started to squeeze not
comprehending that she was only mortal and that he was killing her.
All he had seen was red; Gabrielle became the sole focus of his rage,
his fury against his mother and the other Gods who had assisted her
leaving Strife to die alone and Cupid to not care, the bitch who'd
destroyed his lover and most of all himself.

The person who'd betrayed Strife the most; Cupid knew by turning away
from his lover and immersing himself in self-pity he'd turned
everyone else against Strife. He should have believed his lover,
trusted him enough to actually get to the bottom of the Psyche
business. Cupid couldn't help the guilt and self-loathing,
intensified by years of repression. Somehow Joxer's words had drawn
his attention away, had stopped Cupid from throttling Gabrielle.
Cupid wasn't sure what had done it but as he'd focussed on the mortal
he'd felt an unmistakable bond on him, Strifes bond.

The feeling had intensified as Cupid had stepped closer and though he
had seen Joxer, Cupid had felt Strife. In feeling that, an incredible
sense of fury and jealousy had swept through him, Cupid hadn't even
felt the change from God to monster as he stared at Joxer. Joxer
wearing Strifes weak signature could only mean one of two things to
his emotion-fried brain; that either the mortal was Strife's child
which Cupid knew couldn't be true as Joxer was one of triplets and
neither of his brothers carried Strife's signature or that Joxer had
been Strife's lover. As the last thought had struck him Cupid had
lunged for Joxer, intent of ripping the man apart. Registering Xena's
chakram heading for the mortal Cupid had been overcome by an extreme
need to protect Joxer and had leapt in front of it letting the weapon
hit him. His need to protect Joxer had intensified as he'd held the
man and instantly Cupid had spread his wings and flown away, still
carrying him.

Cupid rubbed his head and turned to look at the mortal, he felt a
strange hysterical desire to laugh bitterly at the concern on Joxer's
face. If Joxer had realised what Cupid was like the love God knew
he'd never have seen that sympathetic look. Unbeknownst to him Joxer
had a pretty good idea of the hardships Strife had had to endure
because of Cupid, the love God would have been shocked and confused
to discover it didn't stop Joxer's compassion.

"Cupid, are you alright?" Joxer repeated himself growing more
apprehensive by the minute, he felt a small measure of relief as
Cupid turned to him "You don't look to well and you are acting really
strange. Maybe you should call one of the other Gods?" he asked
hopefully. Though he'd turned his back on them maybe they would take
Cupid away and let him find his way back to Xena. Joxer jumped as
Cupid let out a harsh laugh.

"Who should I get Joxer?" Cupid laughed again "My Mom who in her
infinitely stupid wisdom thinks I can't take care of myself and I
should do what she thinks is best. Who even goes so far as to stop me
feeling what I want to feel, who thinks she has the right to take
away who I want to love and hurt over!" The last part was shouted at
the ceiling and Joxer flinched as the words echoed around the
temple. "Or how about my Dad, the great God of War who's more
comfortable in battle then actually helping people through things.
Who took back the one person who hurt me the most and saw him as more
of a son then he ever saw me!" Cupid didn't stop the tears from
escaping as they trickled down his cheeks.

"Or how about the rest of my wonderful family? Who helped make sure I
never got a second chance with Strife? Who put spell after spell on
me to get me to fall in love with his own daughter, Psyche! Just to
rub things in a little bit more." Cupid ran his hands over his face
and through his hair "to make me forget I even cared about him so
when he…. When he…" he tried to get the words out but his mouth
failed him.

Joxer stared at the miserable God and his heart went out to him, at
least in part. He truly felt sorry for Cupid; he doubted Strife did
cheat on Cupid and father Psyche but he guessed someone must have
tricked the Gods into believing he did. Or else someone must have
forced Strife to sire Psyche on the woman without his consent and
knowledge. Cupid was a mess, literally and emotionally the God could
barely stand up straight under the weight of his returned emotions.
It explained a lot to Joxer although there were more then a few gaps
for him to fill in; at least now he understood why some of the other
Gods seemed to hate Strife so much though Joxer wasn't sure where
Ares (who'd taken Strife back after it) and Discord (who rallied
against her own son) fitted in to everything.

Joxer rubbed his head; he was glad his nausea had faded but the
overload of information was beginning to give him a headache. He
stared at Cupid who was trapped in his self-loathing and felt a surge
of irritation. Joxer felt sorry for Cupid and what had been done to
him; Joxer knew what the other Gods had done was akin to rape but
whilst he knew it had to be massively traumatic for Cupid to be
suddenly get his repressed emotions back Joxer couldn't help but feel
angry at the God. Cupid wasn't as guilty as some of the other Gods
especially Aphrodite but Joxer felt he did have his part to play in
it. He wasn't sure why he felt so strongly about Cupid, the anger
that was slowly rising inside him was almost as if it was he (Joxer)
had been the one to be betrayed by the Gods. Joxer took a few deep
breaths ignoring Cupids rambling and bitter laments as he tried to
fight down the fury; not knowing why the emotion was so intense was
freaking him out.

Finally Joxer couldn't take it any longer his head ached and he felt
like he had joined Cupid on the wild emotion ride "Could you please
just shut up!" the words came out a little harsher then Joxer had
intended and he winced at the resulting silence around him. His eyes
focussed on Cupids and he saw pure shock there. Cupid was more
dumbfounded that Joxer had even spoke to him in such a tone then he
was at the words themselves but as the words slowly sunk in Joxer saw
anger begin to creep into Cupid's eyes. His heart plummeted as he
realised he'd directed the God's anger onto himself but as Cupids
eyes narrowed on him Joxer stood up. He stood by what he thought;
despite what Cupid was going through and had gone through he had to
snap out of it. If anyone could get the Mischief God brought back
from the dead it was Cupid; the God definitely had the connections.

"Stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something about it." Joxer's
eyes narrowed "So the other Gods have treated you like manure? What
do you think they do to us all the time?" Joxer could feel himself
getting worked up as he spoke but he couldn't stop the words tumbling
out, he couldn't help the bitterness that seeped into his voice "You
regret Strifes death? Fine, go and get him back and tell him
yourself. Why complain to me about it? In fact why bring me here at
all?"

Cupid stared at Joxer more in confusion then anything else. It was as
if the mortal had a deathwish. It was bad enough that Joxer was
standing in front of him feeling like Strife but now he was talking
back at Cupid, telling Cupid to sort himself out? What right did
Joxer even have to speak to him like that? He felt the fury rush over
him again and he glared at Joxer, his hands clenching and unclenching
as he lunged at the mortal determined to teach him a lesson and work
off some of his anger.

Through some amazing feat and using some unknown skill Joxer managed
to throw himself to one side, rolling onto his stomach. He easily
evaded Cupids first lunge but the God turned, fury on his face and
even more determined to teach Joxer a lesson then before. As Cupid
lunged again Joxer rolled onto his back and scrambled to get up; this
time he wasn't fast enough and Cupid caught him a glancing blow on
his shoulder which spun him back onto the blankets. Joxer forced
himself to sit back up and grimaced clutching his arm; the look on
Cupids face was frightening, it was as if the God wasn't even paying
attention anymore he was just beating on the first thing he could,
Joxer. The man felt a keen sympathy for Strife as he realised that
this was how his friend must have lived most of his life, maybe not
with Cupid but with Discord at the least. Pushing himself back as far
as possible Joxer's hands crossed over his belly unconsciously
protecting the life within as Cupid reached for him; in the instant
before the God grabbed him it briefly crossed Joxers mind that Cupid
was very much like his father.

Cupid was too far-gone to force himself to stop; it had stopped being
about `punishing' Joxer, thrashing him to within an inch of his life,
it was now about payback. He was paying back everyone for what they'd
done, what they'd taken from him. Cupid didn't even see Joxer
cringing before him anymore or feel Strife's signature all he saw was
red. He reached down to grab Joxer and as his hands connected with
the mortal's arms Cupid felt white hot shocking pain lance up them
into his head. He screamed and let go of Joxer letting the mortal
roll to one side as Cupid dropped to his knees clutching his head.

Joxer looked up at Cupid; his hands still clutched over his belly he
watched as a silvery glow appeared in front of the downed God. The
glow quickly formed into what appeared (from the back) to be a very
petite Goddess in a simple white toga. Joxer couldn't see the
expression on her face but as Cupid managed to look up, Joxer watched
bewilderment cross Cupid's face right before the Goddess lifted a
hand and propelled him back slamming him into the far wall with her
power.

Joxer tried to sit up but the Goddess turned to him with a noise of
distress; she moved quickly to Joxer's side and pushed him firmly
back down, her fingers dancing over Joxers head and abdomen an
extreme look of concentration on her face. Joxer thought it better
not to argue; he lay passively while she checked him over, his eyes
darted to Cupid who was groggily sitting up and he jumped slightly in
worry.

"Shh, it's okay. Relax Joxer," The soft voice of the Goddess
instructed him; something about her voice seemed familiar and Joxer
instantly calmed, still watching Cupid. The earlier flare of fear
gone, replaced by the certainty the Goddess would protect him. He
wasn't sure whom she was or what she was checking for but she'd
protected him from Cupid, sent the love God flying, something that
seemed almost amazing when he looked at her. The Goddess looked no
older then late teens, though Joxer knew they could appear much much
younger then they truly were, the Goddess had a strange softness
about her as though she herself was very young. Her dark brown hair
was curled and pinned so it was half up, half over her shoulders, she
had no weapons on her and her toga was very modest and simple, it
showed just enough flesh to intrigue you. Not that Joxer was in any
position to be intrigued. He couldn't help but smile though at her
happy exclamation although he did find it very bizarre when she
kissed his stomach.

"Who are you?" Cupid spoke the words, still slightly dazed, the tiny
Goddess packed one hell of a power punch and although she was
unmistakably Olympian he couldn't remember seeing her before. She'd
knocked him across the room and almost unconscious with one blow.
She'd also briefly distracted him from his rage that he was more then
grateful for, it was quickly dawning on him how badly he'd lost
himself in the moment. Had he managed to grab Joxer he could have
accidentally killed him. Cupid was rewarded by a scowl from the
Goddess, her eyes flashing in protective fury.

Asyinnitos was having difficulty keeping her temper in check; she'd
spent the last few hours having to explain her actions to Hera who
unsurprisingly wasn't happy. Though Hera wasn't cursed herself she
was severely irate that Asyinnitos had gone above her and cursed half
the Pantheon, Hera hadn't been able to see Asyinnitos' reasoning and
the younger Goddess had found herself embroiled in a furious shouting
match with Hera. Asyinnitos had got so carried away she'd only
realized Joxer was being attacked when she felt Foetus-Strife
obliviously use his powers to defend himself and Joxer from Cupid.
Without a word to Hera she'd flashed straight to Joxer; she hadn't
needed to read the mortals mind, Cupid had obviously been subjected
to Strife's defense and was whining on the floor whilst Joxer was
curled on his side, unknowingly protecting Strife. She'd lashed out,
instantly and without holding back; she'd thrown Cupid as hard and
far as she could before reaching to check on Joxer and Strife.
Thankfully Joxer had only a bruised arm and Strife was more then
adequately protected.

Asyinnitos looked up at Cupid; not surprised he didn't recognize her.
Despite sitting on the ground she made no effort to get up but merely
glared at him in ire and disappointment. "I expected better of you,
Cupid," she spoke softly and he quailed under her gaze, even his
Mother and Hera couldn't make him feel as guilty as the young Goddess
was. He bit his tongue and squatted down next to them, he made no
effort to touch Joxer sure by the look in the Goddess eye he'd be
sorry if he did.

"Is he okay?"

Asyinnitos glanced at him and spoke sharply "His arms bruised but
that will pass, you could have done more damage then you realize. You
could also ask him yourself." She raised an eyebrow at the Love God
appearing cool and collected though her heart was racing. With the
exception of a few Gods she'd barely said two words to the others
since their time in the womb.

Joxer was silently rooting for the Goddess over Cupid but when the
God spoke he could see sincere regret and embarrassment in Cupids
eyes as he spoke "Sorry Joxer," the words came easily to him making
Joxer believe he was indeed genuine. Joxer couldn't quite brush it
off with `never mind then' but he did offer Cupid an answering nod
that mollified the God slightly.

Asyinnitos kept her hand protectively on Joxer silently challenging
Cupid if he was to think of trying again but the look he gave her
placated her. The young God was embarrassed and slightly horrified by
what he had done, what he could have done. Her gaze softened slightly
though her body language made it clear she would protect Joxer if
Cupid tried again. Asyinnitos saw the pain in Cupid's eyes and she
felt herself soften even more; the God was miserable and in obvious
deep turmoil and whilst she knew Cupid had his part to play in what
had happened to Strife but he was by no means the truly guilty
person. That was reserved for the older Gods, the ones meant to
protect and guide the Godlings through their mistakes who should have
helped Cupid and Strife not alienated them from each other, the ones
meant to continue her own job once the babies left their wombs and
for the God responsible for Psyche. Asyinnitos knew Strife wouldn't
have strayed from Cupid which meant one way or another someone else
was responsible; Asyinnitos had shared enough with him whilst he was
still in the womb to know that Strife had a wicked sense of humor and
a nature akin to his Godhood but he had a good soul. She knew that
intimately having spent so much time keeping him alive with her own
power, whispering to him to grow and be nourished.

Asyinnitos laid a hand on Cupids arm; he was no more responsible then
anyone else yet underneath all his rage was a deep guilt that he was
the one to blame. She felt slightly saddened by it; Cupid had
demonstrated very emotional behavior even before he was born but he'd
always been compassionate, often picking up on his Mother's moods and
reacting with his powers. The empathy and compassion he had displayed
then was at the root of his problems now and ironically only his wife
had the best Godhood to help work through it. The only other thing
she could do was to calm him as best she could, unfortunately the
older the God got the less well her powers worked on the, and whilst
she would have no problem in calming Bliss it was harder to do so
with Cupid. Still the time she spent with Godly babies was greater
then with any others and whether he recognized her consciously or not
he did allow her to calm him.

Asyinnitos smiled, she watched as Cupid relaxed under her touch. She
had a soft spot for all those she'd taken care of before birth
especially the Godly babies, she smiled again wondering how Cupid
would react if he knew she thought of him as a `baby' especially as
she was only a few hundred years older then him.

Joxer made a slightly noise and blushed as both Cupid and the Goddess
looked at him "I'm sorry I'm just a bit uncomfortable." He blushed
deeper and shifted slightly "Um not to be rude I know you're
obviously a Goddess but who are you?" he asked Asyinnitos; he didn't
recognize her and if Cupid didn't recognize her he wasn't sure what
was going on.

Asyinnitos smiled slightly and patted his stomach lightly sensing the
foetus within Joxer stir "I am Asyinnitos, Joxer, Goddess of
Pregnancy and the Unborn." She saw the flash of confusion that
clouded his face and her fingers gently caressed his stomach. The
gasp behind her told her everything she needed to know and she looked
at Cupid who seemed to be caught between turmoil and hope. She
smirked slightly at the young God enjoying his confusion, he was too
young to put it all together but the idea had occurred to him. "Cupid
I want you to protect Joxer," she lifted her chin and focussed on his
eyes neither confirming nor denying what Cupid thought "Put your own
feelings aside and vent them in private but when I can't keep my eye
on Joxer I want you to be able too. I have the feeling this may be
more therapeutic for you than my curse will be."

She smiled at the startled look in his eyes "My curse, yes, designed
to punish those which failed before," a look of sadness momentarily
crossed her face as her hand passed over her own belly "all those who
failed before."

Joxer frowned; shifting onto his side he watched the two. Cupid
seemed torn between desperate hope and deep self-loathing but
Asyinnitos to be having a promising affect on him. The God no longer
had the wild desperate look of someone on the edge, now he seemed
more focused though Joxer wasn't sure why they were talking about
protecting him. There was no reason for him to need protection, he
wasn't important enough for the Gods to worry about. As if catching
his thought Asyinnitos turned back to him "I know this is hard for
you to understand Joxer and I will explain it to you in time but I
have to find somewhere safe for you, somewhere we can take you and
protect you. I can shield him until then but I need you to watch over
him." She addressed Cupid now "Can you imagine if Discord found out?"
her tone suggested she already knew the answer and Joxer watched
Cupid turn pale. Joxer was growing more confused by the minute but
something about the Goddess told him she had his best interests at
heart. Asyinnitos looked thoughtful for a moment, "You can get your
second chance later Cupid but for now I need you to help me by
checking him every now and again I also want you to go back to
Olympus and confront those you need to. For your own sake and
Joxer's; he doesn't need a turbulent guardian even if it isn't all
the time and you need to sort yourself out. Get the answers you need,
all the answers." She sighed "My curse is now in full affect; they'll
be a lot of problems up there and a lot of chaos. Just the right
thing to keep peoples minds off what's going on down here don't you
think?"

Cupid glanced at her sharply her meaning becoming crystal clear. He
had to admit he needed to sort things out on Olympus though now he
was loathe leaving Joxer's side especially after what he had almost
done; it didn't bear thinking of. If Asyinnitos hadn't got there in
time Cupid could have killed Joxer and Strife, the guilt weighed
heavy on Cupids mind but the idea that Strife was alive if not yet
kicking filled him with hope, something he had to keep to himself
until there was no option but to reveal. He had to admit he was
impressed by Asyinnitos plans but he felt pity for Joxer; the man
obviously didn't understand what was going on but unwittingly had
given them all a second chance, Strife included. He just hoped the
idea didn't bowl him over too much; mortals were such fragile things.



chapter 6:


Joxer tried to ignore the loud debate behind him and concentrated on
getting to the tavern; he was sick and tired of listening to the high
minded opinions of Hercules and Gabrielle. Nether one of them seemed
to actually have anything good to say they both just wanted to be
right and currently both of them were wrong. They were
both `discussing' Cupid's actions the week before; Gabrielle's
version of events was rapidly becoming more and more embellished; not
only did Cupid attempt to throttle her but now he also flung her
around and growled in her face before `borrowing' Joxer for an hour
of so and bringing him back. Gabrielle had also forgotten to mention
that she'd antagonized the God by making a rude comment about his
murdered cousin; she was too interested in portraying herself as the
innocent martyr- something even Hercules wasn't falling for.
Apparently despite his dislike for the Gods he was Cupids favourite
Uncle and was trying to defend said nephew by insisting another God
a.k.a. Ares had to be behind it. With Iolaus as the useless voice of
reason they were getting nowhere fast, in fact all Joxer was getting
was a headache. He rubbed his head and let out a low groan as Iolaus
interjected another comment in the hopes of getting the two to stop
arguing, not only did he start with "Before I start speaking, I'd
like to say something" but he just aggravated the two by explaining
how since Cupid was Ares son both of them could be right.

Xena offered Joxer a sympathetic look from her perch atop Argo but
didn't offer to switch places apparently the arguing was wearing thin
on her nerves too. Joxer just wished they could get onto another
topic; not only was he worried his headache was rapidly becoming a
migraine but he wanted some time to collect his own thoughts and
reflect on the confusing time with Cupid the week before, not to
mention the strange dreams he was still getting.

Joxer had had seven strange dreams so far and in all of them he'd
seen himself as Strife. It was like he was starring in a play of his
friend's life- a very unpleasant play. In the first dream he'd been
fireballed by Ares and upset by Discord who had made some digs about
a newborn Godling whom Joxer had to guess was Bliss (that in itself
confused him even more). In another dream Aphrodite had given the
Mischief God several threats about curses and rendered him impotent
(something Strife had been more embarrassed about then upset). A
dream that had had him waking up in a cold sweat at the intensity of
Strifes bitterness and hurt was one where Cupid had ignored him and
paraded a young woman in front of him who Joxer had learned was
Psyche. The latest few dreams seemed even odder; various Gods and
Goddesses, some Joxer only recognized from statues had treated Strife
as if he was some kind of criminal, they seemed to detest him and
made it clear he was nothing to them. Joxer sighed, he was getting
far too little sleep to have to listen to the stupidity behind him,
and he wanted nothing more then to curl up in a little ball somewhere
quiet and get some peace.

But he couldn't; both Asyinnitos and Cupid had made it clear he had
to stick with his friends and though Joxer wasn't sure why he
listened to them, he had. He felt a hot flush come over him and he
loosened his tunic wishing for the unteemth time that Hercules would
get a life.

Xena leant down to him, holding tightly to the saddle and as if
guessing his thoughts whispered conspiratorially "He's a legend in
his own mind." Joxer shook his head slightly wondering if he heard
right as she went slightly pink "I didn't mean that to come out like
that." The Warrior Princess straightened up in the saddle and looked
ahead an expression on her face that made Joxer wonder if she was
torn between laughing and being embarrassed.

Joxer suppressed a smile and kept walking glad for the brief
distraction and no way inclined to argue with her "You always cease
to amaze me Xena." He blinked at her sideways glance and blushed
slightly "I mean you never, erm, never mind" he blushed deeper and
concentrated on the road ahead not aware of the mischievous wakened
Godling inside him.

**********

Asyinnitos rubbed her temples tiredly as she surveyed the grim faces
around her, Hera, Zeus, Ares with Bliss asleep in his lap, Anteros
trying to soothe a tearful Psyche- the list went on. Any and every
God directly related or associated to Cupid aside from her was
present preparing for an intervention. Cupid was acting a little too
true to form; he was dutifully taking the attention from the mortal
world to stop anyone from recognizing Strife's power signature inside
Joxer but in doing so he was causing chaos and stopping Asyinnitos
from checking up on Joxer as much as she would like. Currently most
of the Gods had barricaded themselves inside their temples in an
attempt to ride out the problems on Olympus and Aphrodite had hidden
herself in Hephaestus forge, currently unscathed by Cupid's rampage.

"You need to lift the curse." Asyinnitos started out of her daydream
and looked towards her scowling Uncle, "No" she answered simply with
a shake of her head ignoring the anger in his eyes. She would be a
fool not to be at least slightly frightened of him as he was King of
the God's but he had no power over her and couldn't make her change
her mind. It didn't hurt that she knew Zeus was scared of her mother;
just before Asyinnitos was born the King of the Gods had learned the
hard way that you don't order your hormonal pregnant sister to reveal
the father of her baby.

"Now Asyinnitos," Zeus ordered pompously sitting upright as if trying
to tower over them all. It was slightly laughable as in the position
she was in Hera appeared the taller one. Asyinnitos suppressed a
smile at the action but the idea of speaking in front of everyone
terrified her. Most of the Gods in the room she barely knew and only
Hera really knew her. With no option, Asyinnitos swallowed hard and
shook her head again focussing on what she was protecting to give her
the strength to win the argument. "No the curse stays. If most of you
in this room are rendered barren or impotent," she dared look her
Uncle in the eye despite paling at his furious look "then you need to
reflect on why that is, until you make amends the curse remains." She
looked around the small gathering; the only ones not scowling or
glaring at her were Ares, Bliss and Hera. Hera looked smug as she
glanced sideways at Zeus, focussed more on him then the issue of
Cupid, Bliss was asleep and Ares looked…. contemplative. Asyinnitos
wasn't sure if that meant she could expect a dagger in her back soon
or if he agreed with her.

On some level he had to agree with her, as their eyes locked the War
God spoke "This is something that affects all of us but it's not as
important as Cupid we should stop focussing on it and think of a way
to help Cupid before I muck it all up'" he shot a glance at Anteros
no doubt quoting the sheepish Godling "And tie him down till he see's
sense." He shoots a look at Zeus that clearly translates as `start
thinking with your brain' and eases the tension slightly and everyone
tries to avoid smiling.

Asyinnitos smiled slightly at Ares glad to have backup, though she
was confused why. Even the War God was not exempt from her curse,
Ares had his own issues with his treatment of Strife. She had heard
rumors that Ares had seemed `abnormally despondent' (according to
Athena) over Strifes death but she'd assumed from his actions in the
aftermath, that the Goddess had exaggerated. Asyinnitos herself held
her own shame over Strifes treatment and the claiming of his body but
at least she was innocent of trying to continue as though she had no
contrition.

Feeling a slight tingle along her link to Joxer Asyinnitos frowned
and tried to concentrate on the mortal, something was going on,
something strange. She started and glanced at Zeus, in her attempt to
find what was wrong with Joxer she'd mentally tuned out the entire
conversation and she had no clue what had been said. *Zeus wants to
know if your curse had anything to do with your mother releasing the
bonds on Cupid* Ares resigned voiced echoed in her mind and she
blinked coloring slightly as she spoke aloud. "Maybe. Not really,"
she blushed deeper as she contradicted herself; she was having
trouble concentrating having to multitask between checking on Joxer
(and the extremely active Strife) and answering the questions. "The
answer is very complicating," she blinked trying to clear her head as
her face went from pink too scarlet at her own mistake. "I mean no,
it didn't. She chose to do it, we should have addressed what happened
between Strife and Cupid sooner instead of disbelieving one of our
own children and turning our backs on him." Blocking out her link
with Joxer, she lost the dark pink allure and spoke calmly drawing
strength from the knowledge she was right. She wished she could get
Gaia involved but the powerful Goddess was still far too angry to
want to face the other Gods yet. "When Psyche was conceived Strife
insisted he'd never been unfaithful yet we chose to believe that he
had rather then look to see if he was telling the truth. Oh I know
that there is no doubt that she is his but we have no idea if he
fathered her or if he fathered her without his own knowledge." She
focussed mainly on Ares as she spoke seeing an agreement in his eyes,
and more surprisingly for her, no shock at the suggestion. Clearly
he'd had the same thoughts at some point though she was unsure why he
hadn't acted on them. There was a flurry of denials and indignant
comments from the other Gods, which she ignored, her eyes boring into
Ares'.


"I've often wondered so myself," the War God admitted stroking his
beard and checking that the winged cherub in his arms was still
asleep "That's one of the reasons I took Strife back, that and he's
like a son to me." His brief sweep of the congregation waylaid any
comments at his words and he continued "but that's not even up for
discussion yet. We need to find an outlet for Cupid's grief, whether
we remake those bonds that I'm guessing won't happen." Ares glanced
at Asyinnitos as she nodded "Or we just wait for him to calm down and
then help him." He rolled his eyes "For an intervention we are
getting nowhere fast."

Asyinnitos could see acquiescence on both Zeus and Hera's faces, both
looked more thoughtful then she remembered seeing them before but she
guessed being by your own children was enough to humble anyone.
Sensing a sudden flurry of activity pushing at her link with Joxer
Asyinnitos focussed on it and seeing what trouble the mortal was in,
quickly stood up and made her excuses "Problem pregnancy, mother
needs help. Cupid…we should try to help but we have to remember
Thebes wasn't burned in a day." She groaned mentally at her words and
flashed out before the smirking War God could comment.

*********

"It's just wrong." Joxer groaned trying to block out the strident
tones of Gabrielle who was checking through her scrolls, he wasn't
sure what was wrong but the scowl on the woman's face told him she
wasn't pleased. He was just glad she wasn't scowling at him, poor
Xena was catching it now. The Warrior princess couldn't get a word in
edgeways; not that it appeared she was trying too, Joxer was almost
completely sure Xena had tuned out before they even entered the
Tavern. Gabrielle shook the scrolls in Xena's face and Joxer had to
admire the woman's restraint. Joxer figured himself partly to blame,
he never should have wished for them to loosen up especially as now
Hercules and Gabrielle were both drunk and not very nice drunks at
that. They'd passed the `I love you' stage almost an hour ago and now
both were trying to get their opinions across by shouting and (in
Hercules case) glaring people into submission. Joxer couldn't
understand it; he could see neither Hercules nor Gabrielle had had
more then a tankard full of the rich ale. Whilst Xena had claimed it
was strong Joxer knew both of them had consumed much more before and
been less inebriated; Iolaus and Xena also had ale and had drunk two
glasses each but they were both still sober so Joxer couldn't work
out why the other two were so hammered.

Joxer was drinking goats milk since the smell of the alcohol now made
him sick to his stomach he was a little embarrassed about it but had
been more annoyed then such when Hercules had decided to challenge
him on it leaving Joxer feeling like a child and wishing Hercules
would feel humiliated. Unbeknownst to him the tiny foetus of Strife
picked up on his two wishes and unconsciously granted them; had
Gabrielle of Hercules been paying attention and not being so high
minded they would have noticed that anything they drunk from their
tankard was instantly refilled. Instead of consuming less then one
glass Gabrielle had drunk five, Hercules nearly nine so it was
unsurprising they were intoxicated. Joxer sipped his milk feeling
warmth constantly rush through him as the foetus used it powers and
accidentally emitted mischief energy.

"Killing is mortally wrong!" Hercules bellow froze almost everyone in
the tavern except Gabrielle who giggled maniacally. "One day everyone
will see that and no one will believe in the Gods" an expression of
distaste cross Hercules face as someone hidden at the back (and
making a quick exit) shouted at him "Blasphemer!" The demigod stood
up thumping the wooden table and cracking it "Hey, I resemble that
remark!" He glared around the room at the absolute silence…before the
mortals all burst out laughing.

Hercules sat down with a thump, moodily chugging at his cup; his face
was like thunder and bright red from the tips of his ears down to his
chest. Joxer couldn't suppress a smile especially as Xena seemed to
be almost hysterical with laughter; not caring that Hercules was
embarrassed. Iolaus thumped Hercules angrily on the back,

"And you lectured me on drinking? " his eyes were narrowed as he sat
down next to the demigod "You're drunk or is it just a fiction of my
imagination?" he asked sarcastically causing Xena's giggles to
increase tenfold.

Joxer couldn't help but join her as Hercules tried to protest his
innocence. Things were rapidly descending into chaos as most of the
people at the tavern seemed to be becoming more excitable then
normal, he noticed even Xena had given up on keeping Gabby under
control; the bard was now searching through her scrolls and quoting
erotic poetry much to the poor bartenders embarrassment. As Gabrielle
sprouted on about bulging loins and burning crotches making Joxer
wonder what possessed her to become a writer in the first place.
Unfortunately for her the barman's wife did not appreciate
Gabrielle's comments and before long the two became embroiled in a
massive argument. With only the slight hint of mischief energy
somehow Gabby ended up knocking over a barrel of ale and the fighting
started. The barman was trying to avoid looking smug at two women
fighting `over him' (as he saw it) even if his tavern was being
wrecked. Hercules had Iolaus clinging to his back trying to calm him
and pull him off the mortal he was pounding who had done nothing more
then accidentally bump the demigod. Whilst Xena was trying to get to
Gabrielle and pull the two women apart Joxer sat calmly in the center
of the fighting unsure whom to help; his answer was swift in coming
when one of the masses accidentally caught him in the eye with their
elbow knocking him to the ground.

With a bright flash of green Asyinnitos appeared the tiny Goddess
completely out of place amidst the affray and Joxer struggled to pull
himself off the ground, worried for her safety, he was confused when
she laid a hand on his shoulder to stop him and glowered around. The
diminutive Goddess looked tiny in comparison as she grabbed Hercules
arm and pushed him to the ground like a naughty child, Iolaus
tumbling off of his back to land dazed on the floor. She patted
Iolaus apologetically before moving on. Hercules antagonist seemed
intent of hitting the hero whilst he was down but something about the
small glaring Goddess made him back off. "That's enough now"
Asyinnitos spoke firmly and when getting no reply she clapped her
hands sending a bolt of green power into the nearest ale barrel which
exploded drenching everyone with cold ale. Gabrielle flopped to the
ground blinking and licking her ale soaked hand as her opponent
scurried off. The Goddess of Pregnancy and the Unborn concentrated
feeling the mischief energy erratically leaking from Strife and she
smiled. The foetal God was rapidly coming into his powers and was
accidental letting out residual power after he used them. She could
sense Strife had benefited from the fight but he needed to learn his
boundaries and as Joxer wasn't a God he couldn't teach Strife them.

Walking over to Joxer, she ignored the sheepish patrons as they began
to tidy up and placed a hand on Joxer cupping his face "This may feel
odd Joxer just bear with me" she spoke gently as she connected fully
to Strife through him she could sense the need within the developing
Godling to please his `father' and be loved. Though foetal Strife
only had a vague recollection of his adult memories, Joxer having a
better one through his dreams, the foetal Godling felt the sharp
needs Strife had had; to be loved and make people proud of him.
Strife was to young to understand so Asyinnitos soothed him and bound
down his powers slightly; the Godling would still have access but not
enough to cause the mayhem he had today.

Joxer was frowning at her, more confused then ever. His original
suspicion he'd thrown out because it was far too preposterous but now
he wasn't so sure. Something nagged at him as he tried to tie the
Goddess into his new theory making it seem more plausible. Joxer
wondered if Strife had done something to him before he died; not in a
bad way he knew his friend never would have but somehow h was
different- Joxer felt different. He was calmer, less clumsy and
accident prone then ever before. The Gods seemed more interested in
him then ever before and thanks to his dreams he was getting new
insights into them; not to mention his body seemed to be going
through some kind of change, his chest was sore and swollen, his
stomach rebellious and alcohol just repulsed him. Joxer didn't like
any of the ideas his mind threw at him but he kept them to himself as
she finished whatever it was the Goddess did to make him feel all
warm and tingly.

Asyinnitos smiled and patted his cheek "It won't be long now Joxer I
promise." She knew unless the mortal was constantly watched over by
herself, her mother or Gaia they would have to arrange for him to
stay with a deity like them to keep an eye on Strife. The foetus had
just finished its critical development stage and was now entering an
erratic period; its powers would fluctuate unless moderated which
could possibly change Joxer and despite her slight binding someone
needed to be there incase the foetus adapted or had a growth spurt.
She leant up to kiss his cheek and murmured in his ear "I'll come for
you tonight, to explain."

With a decidedly unimpressed look at Hercules, who was blustering in
an attempt to appear in control despite being stuck to the ground,
Asyinnitos turned to Xena smiling slightly at the suspicious look on
her face. "I'm not here to hurt you but my business here is not of
your concern." Her tone softened slightly, as Xena grew more
guarded "At least not in present company." She added watching the
demigods eyes flick to Hercules and back before she nodded.
Asyinnitos smiled "All answers shall come in time." She raised an
eyebrow at Gabrielle who managed to stand up and stagger over to them
leaning on Xena,

"She's evil, one of them Gods," she whispered far too loudly and
poked Xena who promptly shrugged her shoulder displacing the woman's
balance and sending her to the floor. Asyinnitos managed to swallow
back a laugh and flashed to her mother's temple to collapse in
hysterics.

Joxer rubbed his nose as the bright green died away, now he was gong
to find out what was going on he wasn't sure he wanted to. He knew
enough to know whatever it was, was Godly and from what'd he'd seen
they could do many fantastically unbelievable things.

Gabrielle stared up at the vanishing green and frowned "Do our
senses deceive just as our eyes could deceive us?" she asked unsure
whether the Goddess was truly gone or not, her eyes widened almost
comically, "she could be watching us, invisibly watching us!" she
hissed staring around the room in suspicion "What if she's the
Goddess of Deceivement? Or Ares in disguise?"

Joxer caught Xena's eyes and the two both bit back smiles and shook
their heads as they listened to Gabrielle's paranoid rant. When it
finally finished Joxer vowed never to let the woman drink again and
Xena tried to humor her to get her to go to bed; talking to her as
though she were a child they left behind the still stuck Hercules and
supported her until they got to the rooms they had rented. Giving
Xena a sympathetic look Joxer left her to deal with her delusional
girlfriend and managed to wait till he got into his own room before
he collapsed with laughter on the bed. He was so swept up in
releasing it, it was a few minutes before he realized he wasn't alone
and raised his eyes to meet those of a very grim Ares.



Joxer stared at Ares, his face white as he swallowed back the
giggles and almost choked in his haste. Seeing the God of War glare
so coldly was enough to kill anyone's good mood and had Joxer been
drunk it would have sobered him up in an instant. He hesitated; still
lying across the bed propped up slightly by his elbows Joxer was
unsure of what to do. A part of him screamed to get up and stand in
front of his God, *ex-God* he thought reminding himself, to apologise
for leaving his service even if he had been a useless warrior. The
other part (which was still furious over Strife's treatment) wanted
to glare as coldly back and demand what Ares was doing in his room
before throwing the War God out on his backside. Unfortunately for
Joxer his mind then took the opportunity to remind him that Ares
could read thoughts which didn't help his decision making and left
the mortal staring silently at the God in confusion; Ares, who wasn't
in the best mood, took Joxer's expression and silence for defiance.

His mouth still set in a grim line Ares stood up intent on showing
the mortal how to properly respect his God when something caught his
attention that he'd overlooked before; he couldn't sense himself on
Joxer at all he could only sense Asyinnitos. His expression wrinkling
into a frown Ares strode over to Joxer and taking the man's shoulder,
the God pulled him up into a sitting position so he could scan
deeper. All he could sense was Asyinnitos' signature on Joxer; his
cousin seemed to have coated the mortal in it blocking off all
other's (though Ares couldn't tell why) except for Cupid's mark
which, although faint, was also there. Ares was pondering many
different scenarios none of which appealed and all of which annoyed
him, so he telepathically probed Joxer's mind picking up on the first
thing Joxer was thinking about,

*Is he angry because I don't worship him anymore or because of this
thing with Asyinnitos and Cupid? * Joxer couldn't help his current
line of thinking especially when Ares was mystifying him; not only
had he not thrown Joxer from the bed and pounded into him but the War
God merely stood beside Joxer's bed holding him upright as he stared
intensely at him for what reason Joxer had no clue.

Ares eyes narrowed at the thought of his son and cousin having
anything to do with someone the God had considered one of *his*
mortals but he released Joxer's shoulder letting the mortal slump
back against the bedsheets. Far too calmly Ares walked to the end of
the bed and thought up a chair that he sat on keeping his gaze firmly
fixed on Joxer.

"What thing would that be then Joxer?" The War God raised an eyebrow
keeping his annoyance at bay, "Do you worship them now instead of
me?"

Ares couldn't really see that happening; Joxer was too clueless for
Cupid to have as a worshipper having spent far to much time mooning
over Gabrielle and there was no way he could work in Asyinnitos'
service. The only way Ares could see that could possibly link Joxer,
Cupid and Asyinnitos together was to assume both God's were
recruiting the mortal in some manner- the only likely reason they
would be doing that was if they intended to start a baby boom with
Joxer as (in Ares opinion) the very unsuited stud. The idea was
extremely far fetched but it had been done before, though under
completely different circumstances for many complicated reasons. Ares
had to reject the idea; Cupid was far too unstable at present to even
think of such a venture besides Ares knew Aphrodite and Hera tended
to work very closely with Asyinnitos on those such matters. Whilst
Ares doubted his Mother would gossip he knew Aphrodite wouldn't have
been able to keep such a plan to herself.

Ares found the idea that Joxer had left his service deeply insulting;
although the man had been an incompetent warrior or hero he had been
a source of amusement for Ares. Only now Ares wasn't amused and Joxer
wasn't acting like a fool, which both intrigued and annoyed Ares. The
God wasn't sure whether Joxer had left his service for a specific
reason or was just feeling suicidal but the man was obviously
struggling to find an answer, one Ares was positive wouldn't satisfy
him.

Joxer's face twisted slightly in confusion at Ares questions but he
automatically answered, "I don't worship anyone anymore." He clenched
his fists waiting for Ares to blast him into tiny pieces but when the
God merely frowned as if just as baffled, Joxer found new strength in
being on a slightly more equal footing. "I gave up on the Gods over a
month ago. Cupid and Asyinnitos are the only one's I've seen since
then," Joxer continued finding it very insulating that it had taken
Ares over a month to realise that he was no longer worshipping him;
Joxer wondered if all the tributes he'd made were redundant, had Ares
never listened to the prayers Joxer had faithfully made each night?
He felt a nasty feeling settle in the pit of his stomach as it dawned
on him that obviously Ares hadn't considered him in any way at all;
Joxer could see now that, to Ares, he wasn't worthy of anything at
all. Rather then depress the mortal- it infuriated him; now Joxer's
fists were clenched for another reason,

"and since when are you so bothered about who I do and don't worship?
Did turning my back on you hurt your pride?" he asked annoyance
beginning to show on his face, "Or did it just piss you off that I
dared?"

Ares stared at Joxer in disbelief, a mere mortal was questioning him
and rudely at that, something the God wouldn't tolerate. Feeling
anger rise in him at Joxer words Ares stood up stalking back over to
the bed, he had every intention of teaching the man a lesson he would
never forget when he picked up on something else around Joxer,
something that flickered briefly amidst Asyinnitos signature. He
lunged at Joxer grabbing him by the shoulders and pinning him to the
bed as the mortal tried to pull away; Ares concentrated on the tiny
abnormality within the mark surrounding Joxer and focussed his power
on it, pulling it out to examine it. The answer hit him full in the
face and he staggered letting go of Joxer and collapsing on him as
finally he sensed it- Strife.

Shaking slightly, Joxer resisted the urge to poke the War God who was
lying on top of him; Joxer had been sure, the instant outrage had
flooded the God's face, that he was due a one way ticket to the
Underworld. Despite holding his ground the mortal had started shaking
the instant he'd answered Ares and it had only intensified when the
God had seized him. Joxer tried to shift slightly, extremely
uncomfortable because of Ares proximity; not only was the God lying
across him in a position only his dreams knew about but he was also
lying directly on Joxer's chest and bladder- the former of which was
sore, the latter full. Joxer shifted again trying turn the God so his
head was no longer in the nape of his neck and to get a look at Ares
face to see if the God had actually passed out. Instead the movement
pushed Ares slightly to one side so that his leather vest scraped
Joxers sore chest, the thin material of the mortal's vest barely
protecting his tender nipples. Joxer yelped, pushing more against
Ares as the God stirred and propped himself up his elbows either side
of Joxers chest. Biting off a sigh of relief Joxer stared up at Ares;
confusion was on the God's face for a second before he pushed himself
up and jumped up trying to exude a semblance of calm whilst he moved
back to his chair.

Hesitantly Joxer sat up and seeing the God watching him decided to
take a chance. "I need to um, you know, um go," he looked at Ares
trying to convey his meaning and when the God nodded Joxer managed to
stand up on his shaky legs. Making his way to the door, he passed
Ares chair and the God's hand shot out grasping Joxer around the
wrist and barring his way; despite the forceful grip Joxer kept his
eyes on Ares willing the God to let him go, his bladder was filled to
bursting and he knew better then to try to hide from the God besides
even if he did try to run away Ares would only find him later.

Slowly Ares let go of Joxer's wrist not seeing the fingermarks he'd
left behind; he allowed the man to pass him but used his senses to
keep an eye on him. Ares was slightly surprised to find Joxer
actually was outside relieving himself and not trying to run away. He
wasn't sure what the other God's were doing to the mortal but he was
starting to get at least one idea even if, unbeknownst to him, it was
the wrong one. When Ares had sensed Strife's familiar signature
amongst the others around Joxer he'd been instantly bowled over by
the feelings that arose in him. Grief had threatened to overpower
him; Ares had had to concentrate and block the signature from his
mind, which had caused him to collapse on Joxer. The idea that he'd
collapsed on a mortal was embarrassing enough but usually the mortal
in question would be threatened until he didn't dare reveal to anyone
Ares brief weakness. Ares could only assume that finding Strife's
very faint signature on Joxer meant the mortal had either been
Strife's lover (which he doubted because of Aphrodite's impotence
curse) or his child, something he hoped wasn't true because it would
reinforce the idea that Strife could have cheated on Cupid whilst
they were together.

Ares snapped out of his musings as Joxer hesitantly walked back into
the room, carefully closing the door behind him; Ares was impressed
the mortal hadn't considered waking Xena or Hercules but he didn't
let it show. The God wasn't sure why but the mortal bothered him; it
wasn't just because he thought Joxer could be Strife's son or because
Joxer left his service, that was only a small amount of it, the
mortal just made him uncomfortable and Ares disliked being
uncomfortable. He noticed the bruising around Joxer wrist as the man
dubiously sat down, trying hard not to rub at his wrist.

"Does it hurt?" Ares asked raising an eyebrow as Joxer looked at him
in bewilderment, "the wrist, is it sore?"

Joxer was bewildered more then anything else; there was something
almost surreal about the slightly psychopathic God he was attracted
to asking him if his wrist hurt. He shook his head, "No, not really."

Slightly relieved though he wasn't sure why, Ares put his behaviour
down to guilt over Strife's death. The God guessed he was
overcompensating with Joxer because he believed the mortal was
Strife's son, after all there was no other explanation why Joxer
would have Strife's signature imprinted on him. Ares sighed, "Let's
start again shall we?" he asked as he leant against one side of the
chair "I won't read your thoughts again but I do expect honest
answers." He kept his eyes fixed on Joxer's, "How did you know Strife
and what are you doing with Cupid and Asyinnitos?"

Feeling an involuntary belly lurch at the mention of Strife, Joxer
swallowed hard and struggled to find an answer; finally he settled on
one which he, very softly, told Ares, "Strife was my friend; he was
one of my best friends since I was a child." He wasn't sure where
Ares had got Strife's name from though briefly it crossed his mind
that maybe Ares could sense something that Joxer couldn't; he was
uneasy talking about his friend especially when he guessed Strife
also had something to do with the other God's protecting him.

Ares considered this, nodding slightly as it confirmed his theory
that Joxer was a child of Strifes. Whilst the knowledge that the
Mischief God had cheated on Cupid more then once infuriated him Ares
couldn't help but remember Asyinnitos' words about someone forcing
Strife to father Psyche without his consent. The idea made Ares
think, it definitely had merits; he'd been guilty of believing the
worst of Strife throughout most of the Godlings life, now his death
had proven to Ares that he was determined to not let that happen
again. One way or another Ares would find out who forced Strife to
father his children and somehow make it up to the God; Ares had only
realised once his nephew had died how fond he was of him. The War God
disliked using the word love but he had a definite fondness for
Strife, the same as he had with all his own children. He'd all but
raised Strife as a young Godling and taught him as best he could;
Ares regretted standing by whilst Strife was persecuted by the other
God's for something he wouldn't have done and resolved to not only
clear his nephews name but to also work harder on getting Hades to
find Strife and bring him back. Ares started slightly out of his
musings as he realised Joxer was speaking to him; the mortals voice
was soft but focussed,

"Why do you care what happened to Strife? You left him alone when he
was dying and then you left his body for anyone to get their hands
on. Wasn't he even worth coming back for?" Joxer willed his voice to
remain steady, something about Ares expression made him want to shake
the God roughly and force him to see what he had lost; the mortal was
unprepared for the sadness that clouded the War God's face and the
shame that followed seconds later.

"Yes I did," Ares answered, his voice calm not betraying the turmoil
he felt within not only at the new revelations or the mention of his
dead nephew but at the part he played in Strife's death. Ares had
been so intent on getting what he wanted and what he thought was best
that he'd never worried about his nephews' safety. Even though he'd
known that Hinds blood could kill a God Ares had, in his arrogance,
assumed that death would only be temporary until Hades and Zeus would
concede that the God was allowed back. Ares had been compelled by
guilt to ask them to bring Strife back but when neither had been able
to locate Strife and reinstate him as a God, the War God had had a
very unwelcome epiphany.

"I'm not going to explain my actions to you, the relationship Strife
and I had was very …difficult," Ares searched for the right
word, "But I did care for him and I will do everything in my power to
bring him back. I miss him." He admitted, not noticing the effect his
words had on Joxer.

Joxer had felt a deep rage at the arrogance of Ares first words but
the fury had tempered slightly at his last admission, "So why didn't
you come back for him then?" Joxer decided to push his luck; he
wasn't willing to take `I'm a God I don't have to explain' as a
reason he wanted to know the truth; he felt like he owed Strife to
find out. "I know most of the Gods hate him but no one came back for
him not even you or his Mother." Joxer paused, "And no one seemed to
mourn him either, not until Cupid," he avoided mentioning just how he
had found out that Cupid grieved for Strife and what the Love God had
discussed with Asyinnitos merely adding, "the last time I saw him he
was going ballistic over Strife's death."

Ares tried to quash the relief he felt at hearing Joxers explanation;
only a small part (to his shame) was from the knowledge that Strife
hadn't been alone when he died and that, Ares presumed, Joxer had
been the one to give him a Warriors funeral. He ignored the fact that
Strife's death had undoubtedly been the thing that made Joxer forsake
his faith; the War God also didn't want to examine why he was feeling
relieved over his son's motives for seeing Joxer and putting his
protection on the mortal. "Well I didn't really think you were Cupids
type." He paused not willing to go into the relationship between
Strife and Cupid or Olympian politics, "I'm guessing he noticed what
I can see, it makes sense why he would go slightly crazy." Ares
rubbed his neck, not only was everything starting to connect he was
beginning to feel more confident about what to do next. It was almost
a shame that he (unknowingly) had things connected so wrong; noticing
that Joxer was about to start asking more questions Ares hurriedly
added,

"As for Asyinnitos, I would hope you aren't sleeping with my cousin.
Her naiveté, despite her age, far outweighs your own. However the
soft spot she had for Strife doesn't mean she can let her heart rule
her head and embrace you in an attempt to get him back; besides you
aren't her type." Ares wasn't sure why he added that and he swiftly
moved on, "no wonder she's cursing everyone; I must admit I never
believed she would be the one to punish everyone for their mistakes
with Strife but I suppose it's in her blood." The War God smirked
slightly as Joxer blushed deeply and shook his head obviously denying
a relationship between himself and the Goddess.

"No I've never slept with a Goddess before or God for that matter,"
Joxer shook his head again trying to stop the blush coating his
cheeks from deepening, "And she's young, much to young for me."

Ares warded off the urge to smile at Joxer and merely moved closer to
tower over the flustered mortal as he babbled more denials; leaning
down until he was face to face with Joxer he was slightly amused by
the mortals ability to talk, Ares was almost tempted to grab him by
the shoulders and instruct him to `breathe'- he was positive the
mortal would pass out before he gave up on explaining himself.

"I've never slept with anyone with even a hint of Godly blood." Joxer
added as he tried to emphasise his point; he wasn't sure why he was
so adamant Ares believed him but he had an inkling that it was
because of his attraction to the God.

"Pity," Ares murmured as if in answer to Joxer's words which cut off
the man's chatter mid sentence leaving both mortal and God staring at
each other, their faces only centimetres apart. Joxer, unsure of how
to react when the object of his fantasies was so close to him, stared
up into his ex-God's eyes. Ares eyes remained fixed on the mortal
wondering why he invoked such a response in him, he was torn between
kissing the mortal and flashing away; never one to take the coward's
way out Ares made the first move and leant forward pressing his lips
firmly against Joxer's. When he felt the mans lips part slightly as
he responded to the kiss, Ares deepened it slipping his tongue into
Joxer's mouth to tease the mortals own.

Both men were so engrossed in their kiss they didn't notice the
bright flash that lit up the room but Ares definitely noticed the
power that ripped him from Joxer making him stagger back.

"Pig!"

Ares grimaced at the small fist that planted itself in his back;
though the punch hadn't been hard by any standards he was slightly
put out that someone had dared punch him and turned to glare at his
cousin who pushed passed him to check Joxer over.

His lips slightly swollen from the kiss, Joxer blushed deeply as
Asyinnitos ran her hands over his upper body scanning him anxiously.
Seemingly satisfied the tiny Goddess twisted around to face Ares
matching the War God's scowl with an almost identical one, "How dare
you attempt to block me from him?" Asyinnitos hands went immediately
to her hips as she attempted to out-glare the War God in front of
her, "What in Zeus' name are you even doing here?"

Ares licked his lips, still tasting Joxer on them he resisted the
urge to smile; his anger at his cousin had faded the moment he'd seen
her concern was that of a mother not that of a lover. Knowing that
reinforced his belief that Joxer was Strife's son and made Ares more
determined to get back to Olympus to start clearing Strife's name and
find a way to bring the dead God back. Holding up his hands in
apology Ares answered her, not going with his traditional `I'm the
God of War line' and trying not to smile at the look of furious
indignation on her face, "I apologise. I was a little concerned over
the relationship between you, Cupid and Joxer." The bewilderment that
flooded Asyinnitos face fuelled Ares belief that she'd never
considered any relationship and was just fond of Joxer, not in love
with him, and the God continued,

"I won't try to block you again and I won't bother Joxer either,"
Ares looked towards Joxer and smiled, unable to resist
adding, "Unless he wants me to of course," before he flashed out of
the room leaving behind an extremely confused mortal and irate
Goddess.



As the light from Ares departure faded Joxer licked his lips not
quite believing what had just happened- that the War God had kissed
him; noticing Asyinnitos still fuming by his side Joxer briefly
entertained the idea that the God's were all at least slightly warped
if not completely insane. Not only were Asyinnitos and Cupid
apparently looking after him and causing chaos but Ares also seemed
interested in seeing him too; briefly thinking back on the War god's
last words Joxer blushed as he realised he'd never been as willing to
be bothered by the God's as he was at the moment. Even if he was
becoming increasingly aware that all of the God's were hiding
something from him, something obviously important and worrying.

The blush on his cheeks faded as he looked up at the young Goddess
next to him who looked down at him, her scowl changing into a smile
as she observed his fluster. "Relax Joxer," Asyinnitos advised him
sensing embarrassment and worry rising inside the mortal; what she
was about to tell him would be difficult to grasp as it was but she
didn't want the news to overshadow or add to any other worries the
man had. It wasn't healthy for either Joxer or the baby for the
mortal to worry about Ares or anyone and anything else. She sighed,
mortals had so many more worries then God's which, though sometimes
useful wasn't now. She needed Joxer focussed so she could make him
understand what she was about to tell him, it would be hard enough
for his mind to comprehend when it was focussed but if he was
distracted and trying to figure things out himself it would be a lot
more difficult. She sat down behind him and stroked his back briefly
to calm him; she'd always found in babies that stroking was calming,
especially on the back, and that it lasted well into adulthood.

Joxer usually disliked his back being stroked unless it was by a bed
partner but the Goddess's touch was light almost soothing and the man
relaxed into it his worries diminishing slightly. Although he
couldn't be certain Joxer was almost completely sure that Asyinnitos
was going to tell him the truth, however weird and fantastic that
truth would be. He shivered slightly feeling something move over him
and pale mist spread throughout the room; as the mist disappeared
Joxer could see the edges of the walls and door glowing slightly.

"It's a silencer," Joxer turned to look at the Goddess who averted
her eyes flushing slightly before she continued, "It stops other Gods
and Goddesses listening in not to mention any mortals who may be
awake."

Joxer's brow furrowed slightly, he didn't see the need for all the
secrecy; even though he knew something was going on he had his doubts
that it would really that important after all he was involved, surely
if it was that big a deal Hercules of Xena would have been-not him.
As if she read his mind (which she hadn't, just his expression)
Asyinnitos continued softly,

"You are important to us Joxer and this is a big deal."

Now that Joxer did have trouble believing. What importance could he
be when he had revoked all the God's including his own? He opened his
mouth to interrupt and closed it as she gently laid a finger on his
lips.

"You are important Joxer, very important." Asyinnitos took a deep
breath as hundred of ideas whirled around her mind, she wasn't
entirely sure the best way to tell Joxer he was carrying a Godly
child. Not only would she have to explain how but who and why; she
was sure just announcing `your pregnant' would either floor him or
send him into hysterical laughter. She settled for her only option,
to play it by ear and explain bit by bit. "Do you remember…no that's
silly of course you do," she corrected herself her eyes fixing on
Joxer's, "Six weeks ago Strife the God of Mischief was murdered, his
body abandoned to its own fate."

Joxer's mouth dropped open in shock, he felt like she had just
punched him in the throat of everything he had expected she would say
that hadn't been one of them; blinking back angry tears at the
thoughts and memories her words invoked he managed to hold himself
together long enough to curtly nod in answer.

Asyinnitos continued as Joxer turned around completely to face
her, "You found him just before he died, just before he gave up." She
felt a lump in her own throat and had to cough to clear it as, once
again, her own guilt surfaced reminding her that Strife had been
alone and terrified. "I don't know what you said to him, Gaia refuses
to tell us, whatever you did say he heard. I don't know how he came
up with the idea but I know Gaia gave him the energy to carry it out,
to survive."

Joxer eyes narrowed in anger at her words, words that seemed
ridiculous given the circumstances, "I think you might have missed
something Asyinnitos, Strife didn't survive. Yes, I was with him when
he died. No, no other God or Goddess including yourself bothered to
help him." He paused his brow furrowed in confusion, "And Gaia wasn't
even there! I know she's all powerful but she didn't help Strife, no
one helped Strife! He died in my arms and not one of you bothered to
look back and even take his body."

Trying not to wince at the pain Joxer's words caused, Asyinnitos kept
her eyes firmly on Joxer's face, "No his body died; it couldn't cope
with the poison, but Strife's soul survived." She looked so earnest
that Joxer, who had been about to interrupt, kept quiet his attention
held solely on her as she tried to explain. "It's never been heard of
before, not with a mortal anyway, God's have to use a lot of energy
up and it doesn't always work often Hera and I have to help the
Godling along. The Hinds blood damaged Strife so much that he used
the little power he had left to transfer to the nearest available
person- you."

"What's never…" Joxer broke off his sentence rapidly and started
checking himself over, even inclining his head to peer at his back as
he tried to work out how Strife had apparently transferred to him.
Whilst he couldn't believe what she said, he did have a suspicion
that the strange dreams he was having could have been from Strife, if
the God had transferred to him that was. He kept looking, growing
more confused each minute, he only stopped searching when a soft
laugh reached his ears to which he looked at the Goddess in
indignation.

Asyinnitos blushed deeply smiling at Joxer, it wasn't an unkind smile
and it was obvious she wasn't laughing at him, "He's nowhere you can
see Joxer and he isn't exactly himself anymore; remember what I am
Goddess of?" she asked and placed a hand on his stomach. "Strife was
to weak too become an adult again, he had to rest and allow himself
time to gather his power once more and be reborn. He transferred to
you because you were his friend, you must have been willing to do
anything for him," she murmured, her eyes drifted to Joxer's belly
and then back up again, "You saved him Joxer. You let him start
again, within you, as an infant once more." At Joxer's blank look she
added, "You're pregnant Joxer, Strife is the infant inside you." She
smiled slightly glad to have delivered the good news though it waned
slightly as Joxer's blank look remained.

"You're joking," Joxer's voice was flat; his mind unable to
understand the news she'd delivered, "Men don't have babies,
especially not God babies." He spoke the words aloud to reassure
himself and push back the shrill voice that screamed in his head that
things were making sense; the way Joxer had been feeling of late, the
interest the God's had shown, even Cupid's behaviour. He rested his
elbows on his lap and covered his face trying to ignore the tiny
voice that shed all the self-doubt onto his simple sentence, `men
don't have babies'. After a few minutes he ran his hands down his
face and looked up seeing the anxious expression on Asyinnitos
face, "This is insane," he spoke quietly at first and then laughed as
hysteria started to take over, "Completely insane, you know that?
This is a trick right? A punishment for cremating Strife and turning
my back on all of you." He laughed again unable to shake the panic
that threatened to overwhelm him, "There is no way I'm pregnant!" he
shouted clenching his fists as the Goddess jumped in shock.

Joxer would have kept denying it to himself if he hadn't been looking
at Asyinnitos; her face was stricken, almost on the verge of tears,
and regardless of his anger Joxer felt an overwhelming guilt at
upsetting the young Goddess. Reaching out to take her hand, he
ignored her flinch and gently massaged her palm as he tried to put
everything she'd said into context. He could see the truth in her
face and so he tried to think back, reflecting on her words. "The
rumble, when the ground shook, that was Gaia wasn't it?" he spoke
gently and felt a little better when, hesitantly, she nodded. Spurred
on he continued as more things came to mind, "These dreams I've been
having, the one's where I seem to be Strife? They're his aren't they?"

Asyinnitos nodded, she wasn't used to people shouting in the way he
had, she generally avoided Olympus because of it. She definitely
hadn't expected him to react the way he had, *but then who am I to
judge? * She thought. She had never had children only cared for other
peoples and had never been pregnant herself, she should have expected
this and not been so sensitive at his mood. Looking into his face she
nodded more strongly this time and answered his questions, "Yes the
ground shaking that was Gaia, she was and still is, most unhappy with
us all. With the exception of my mother and myself she will not see
the other Gods, she's too angry with them. I think she's also using a
lot of energy on you Joxer, to help your body through this." She
smiled slightly, "I'm only the Goddess of pregnancy and the Unborn, I
keep Strife healthy inside you and moderate his powers the best I can
but I haven't been able to help you through this as much as I would
have liked." She took a deep breath wondering how best to explain the
dreams, "They are Strife's memories." She answered looking slightly
unhappy at the thought as she continued, "I know they aren't pleasant
but baby Strife can't remember them only you can. As he grows his
adult memories will replay in reverse in your subconscious, when he
reaches his first memory they will all be stored in his mind until he
is old enough to understand them himself."

Although he had expected it, Joxer was horrified that what he had
witnessed in his dreams were true memories of Strife's; he could only
console himself that he wouldn't allow anything like that would to
happen to Strife again and that the dreams brought him closer to his
friend.

*My baby?* He wondered placing a hand on his stomach in wonder. He
looked at Asyinnitos, "Strife will be my son? Won't he be Strife
anymore?" the idea that he would wholly get his friend back made him
immensely happy and worried at the same time; Joxer wasn't sure
Strife wouldn't grow up in an instant and have to go back to his
unfriendly existence, "Is he mine? My baby, my son?" He hadn't been
sure he'd wanted to know but as he'd said the words `my son' a sense
of pride had come over him, one that was unrivalled by anything else.

Smiling in delight Asyinnitos softly pressed her own hand back onto
Joxer's stomach, "Yes and no Joxer. He is still and always be the
soul that he was but this time he has the chance to be so much more."
Her smile grew wistful as she stroked Joxer's fingers, "He will be
your son; though his appearance will remain the same he will have no
memory of what happened before until he is grown up, and believe me
he will grow up slowly Joxer. No one will be able to force maturity
on him." Sensing Strife move within Joxer and kick for the first time
her eyes lit up happily, she could feel it even if Strife wasn't
strong enough for Joxer to feel yet. "Will you rectify the mistake's
we've made? Help us sort them?"

Joxer rubbed his belly thoughtfully; it didn't take much thinking to
answer the question it was an automatic yes, he missed his friend
deeply and he felt more then honoured that Strife had considered him
enough of a friend and trusted him enough to put his new fragile body
in him. Even if he was terrified at the idea of being pregnant. The
other thing that worried him was keeping Strife's imminent return
from the other God's, it didn't affect his decision just troubled
him, "Of course,"

Asyinnitos could barely keep herself from squealing in delight;
somehow she managed to nod happily at the man before shocking him and
throwing her arms about his neck in a hug, "This is going to be so
good; I can help you on the pregnancy things and get Cupid's help in
protecting you from the other's. Gaia and my mother are going to want
to see you and we'll have to settle about organising Strife's powers
and…"

Slightly surprised by the Goddess, Joxer patted her back gently and
smiled at her as she pulled back, a hot blush staining her
cheeks. "Strife's powers?" he asked unable to hold back a grin as she
beamed happily at him,

"Strife's powers; you might have noticed he isn't against using them
on any of us. I believe you had a few problems with words earlier? As
did I, though I think it was your friends that bore the brunt of
them." Asyinnitos stifled a smile at the memory, "When a Godling is
still unborn, the parent who carry's him or her to term regulates
their powers and stops them from making too much mischief." She
couldn't quite hide her smile at the words, "Strife having mischief
as part of his Godhood, keeps playing with his powers but because you
are mortal you can't stop him the way a God could. Discord prevented
him from ever accessing all his power and almost cut him off from
part of it but now what she stole has been returned to him. I can
control his powers up to a point, but mischief being what it is, is
very hard to tone down."

Joxer had to laugh, it sounded pure Strife; now he thought of it, all
of it was pure Strife, from Gabrielle's foot-rot and Xena's lice to
Hercules' drunkenness. He jumped slightly as a large marble bowl of
water appeared in between, "water? I'm not nauseous at the moment."

Angling the bowl for that it rested comfortably in between them,
Asyinnitos shook her head and looked into Joxer's eyes, "It's a
seeing pool, only small but it should do the trick," Joxer's vest
disappeared in a flash and he jumped as cool air caused his sore
nipples to harden; before he could protest her hand was on his
stomach and, for once, appearing older then he was she spoke, "I have
seen It all before you know, I am Goddess of Pregnancy." She peered
at his nipples and Joxer had to resist the urge to cover them with
his hand, "Breast swelling is common, we will just have to be careful
that you don't get mastitis. If you alternate between hot and cold
compresses and gently massage, it should help with the pain and
prevent infection."

"I don't have breasts," Joxer blushed an the amused look she gave
him, conceding that in some form he did have them and since her area
was pregnancy and all it's side effects he would agree with her.

Asyinnitos closed her eyes concentrating on Strife; one hand on
Joxer's stomach she projected the image of the foetus on to the water
in the bowl.

As a warm feeling settled over his belly Joxer gazed into the marble
bowl; he almost didn't believe his eyes as the water rippled and
became a deep pink colour before a peachy blob formed in the centre.
Joxer inclined his head this way and that as the blob spread forming
a vague baby shape that glowed ever so slightly. He itched to reach
out and touch it in wonder but worried that the image would disappear
all together. "That's Strife?" he looked closer, the baby was more
developed then he had expected; Strife almost looked like a baby,
only very tiny and without a few of the essentials, no hair, eyebrows
but he could see tiny fingernails and toes, not to mention … yep
Strife was definitely being reborn as a boy.

Joxer looked up at Asyinnitos, "That's amazing," his voice was quiet
as he was humbled by what he saw, his lips curled slightly into a
soft smile as Strife waved his tiny arms slightly and he had to
remind himself not to wave back- Strife couldn't see him. He felt
Asyinnitos as she shivered slightly and she removed her hand from his
stomach. Disappointed, he looked at her as she waved her hand making
everything disappear in a muted blue flash;

"I'm sorry," Asyinnitos looked apologetic, "I need to find Cupid
before he goes too far. We need him to help regulate Strife's powers
and I should go and see Gaia, she wanted to know how you were earlier
but I got pulled into a meeting by Zeus."

"What should I do?" Inwardly Joxer was still reeling from news of his
pregnancy and Strife's return, his mind was already listing potential
problems and he wasn't sure he could put them off for too long.

Asyinnitos patted him gently on the shoulder, "Carry on as you were,"
she ran a hand over his face and wrist removing the pain from the
bruising he'd sustained earlier. "I will catch up with you in a few
days which should give you time to think things through. If you need
me though, just call for me." She stroked his cheek gently and Joxer
couldn't help leaning into the touch needing reassurance, "Take
care."

As the blue flash cleared and the dark spots around his vision faded
Joxer lay back on the bed contemplating Strife, pregnancy and Ares.

On Olympus most of the God's and Goddesses were trying to avoid Cupid
who was, after spending time with Bliss to convince him daddy still
loved him and was just playing a game, systematically moving from
temple to temple to find anything remotely connected to Strife.

One God was not hiding from Cupid's rampage or trying to convince him
to calm down; instead he was silently watching Cupid's actions from a
viewing pool that Hera had set up in his Temple, whilst trying to
ignore his own guilt and focus on finding a way to tell Cupid the
truth. He didn't want to reveal to Cupid the truth about Psyche and
Strife but since the Mischief God's death, guilt had consumed all of
his waking thoughts and the God had had very little sleep.

Ashamed by his past actions and scared of losing his family, he could
only watch as Cupids image rippled in the water and was replaced by
that of a very determined Ares; he could only hope that sooner of
later he would gather enough courage to tell his family the truth.



Title: The God Within 9/?
Author: wildannuette
Fandom: btvs/herc
Email:auxilary25248891@aol.com
Website: http://www.livejournal.com/users/wildannuette/
Rating: FRT
Summary: The demigods realise something strange is going on and blame
Ares again. Someone grows supicious of Cupids behaviour
Warnings: mpreg, angst, reminder of abuse
Notes: unbetaed at the moment :)

Joxer flinched and twisted to one side as he awakened from the latest
set of nightmares, which he now painfully dubbed `Strife's former
life'. A little sweaty and trembling slightly he sat up rubbing his
face vigorously; he hadn't expected more memories to resurface for a
few days, he'd been sure that his dreams would be about his own
worries. Tiredly dragging himself over to the small washstand in the
corner of the room Joxer quickly bathed the best he could and, after
briefly hesitating, used cold compresses on his chest. He grimaced as
he massaged the tender skin around his nipples, not wanting to touch
them when they were swollen; he was worried about what would happen
if he didn't, he didn't want mastitis but worse was his worry that
Asyinnitos would take over, massaging it herself if she thought he
wasn't doing it. The idea of anyone touching him there was
embarrassing enough but from what he'd seen of the Goddess he doubted
that would stop her.

Jumping at a knock on the door, Joxer got up and hastily pulled on
his vest hiding his swollen pecs from view; he grimaced as the rough
material aggravated him and opened the door almost falling backwards
as Xena and Iolaus both strode in.

"Won't you both come in," he murmured sarcastically under his breath
as they walked passed him.

Iolaus seemed intent on nosing around the room but Xena at least was
courteous enough to speak to him, "Sorry Joxer, I thought you might
like to come into town with us. Gabrielle refused to get out of bed,
or bathe," a look of disgust briefly crossed her face as she recalled
the vile smell that had come from the bard. "I'm not sure how long
Hercules will stay in bed but I doubt Gabrielle will be out till
tomorrow, hopefully she'll have at least washed before we get back;"
she added under her breath.

Joxer stifled a laugh unable to feel in the slightest bit sorry for
either of them and slightly impressed as he recalled the way baby
Strife had manipulated them all the night before, "Yeah, there's a
few things I would like to get and..."

Xena nodded cutting him off, "Let's go then." Obviously taking charge
she walked from the room leaving both Joxer and Iolaus to follow her.
Whilst the hunter hurried to catch up with her, Joxer finished
bathing before he pulled on his shoes and made his way after them;
seeing them waiting outside the building he made his way jovially
over to them, whistling slightly. Although he stopped himself from
singing his song he still had a whistle it, even if it was just to
annoy Xena and Iolaus. He managed to hide a grin as he realised that
since Strife's powers were suppressed, the mischief he was doing was
all his own, as was his newfound attitude. His friend's death had
given him a new attitude and made him recognise that just like the
God's themselves had faults, so did their demigod offspring; Joxer
knew that learning Strife and he were friends had tarred his own
image especially in Gabrielle's eyes but now he found himself turning
away from some of his so-called friends. He doubted it was Strife's
influence; he'd tried to ignore the truth about them his friends for
too long, now Joxer was being himself rather then pleasing the crowd
they were starting to show their true colours. The idea that he would
lose his friends, whether it was because they found out he was
pregnant or because he had finally begun standing up for himself,
hurt him deeply; Joxer forced himself to remain optimistic, if he
could change so could they and if they didn't that was their loss.

Joxer had to smile at the small frown on Xena's face, the Warrior
Princess had obviously expected him to jump to her commands and
hadn't been impressed when they'd had to wait for him. He whistled
loudly as he joined them and broke off, grinning slightly at the
grimace on Iolaus's face as he placed the tune. "So is shopping all
we have planned for today?"

To her credit Xena didn't brush him off, "No, I thought we'd take a
look at Apollo and Cupid's temples, maybe try to talk to them. I
heard a few disturbing rumours last night; apparently Cupid hasn't
been to his temple in months even to receive tributes from his
favoured priests and Apollo has kept himself barricaded in his." A
slight smile curved her lips as she remembered some of the more
interesting rumours, "apparently his favoured mortals are getting a
little panicked, seems he hasn't been blessing them in any way for a
few weeks now."

Even Iolaus couldn't hide a smirk at that. Apollo, like most of the
other God's, prided himself on being a great lover and the idea that
the God had gone soft (however appropriate the saying was) was more
then a little amusing especially given the number of favoured mortals
he had.

Joxer hadn't smiled at the comment; it wasn't that he didn't find it
funny, he found it amusing and appropriate, but Apollo had recently
featured a lot in the dreams he'd been having and Joxer had gone from
being indifferent to the God, to intensely disliking him. So far in
Strife's memories Apollo hadn't gone out of his way to actually hurt
the mischief God himself, unlike some of his other relatives, but he
hadn't helped him either. In the last dream Joxer had had, Strife had
desperately gone to Apollo for healing; not only had Apollo refused
to actually help him, he'd transported the injured God to the worst
place he'd possible could- one of Discord's temples. The injured
Mischief God hadn't stood a chance against Discord who'd taken great
pleasure in tormenting him until Ares had finally realised what had
happened and retrieved him. Joxer had no way of knowing how long it
had taken for Strife to heal after his ordeal but he'd guessed it was
a while especially since the mortal had been witness to some of the
more imaginative torments she'd carried out on Strife. Deep in
thought Joxer jumped slightly as Iolaus spoke, the sudden
interruption snapping him out of the bad memories.

"There's been a lot of that going around." Iolaus crossed his arms
over his chest; "This isn't the only place where the God's seem to be
going insane. Before Herc and I got here we passed three villages,
all whose shrines to Aphrodite had exploded and one city where her
whole temple had vanished. The people there also said similar things
happened to some of the other God's; two of Athena's statues melted,
all of Ares horses were released from one of his stables and a bunch
of Amazons tried to convert to Hestian virgins." He shook his
head, "sound's like complete chaos to me"

Joxer knew exactly who was responsible but he wasn't going to
enlighten the others; catching sight of someone heading for them he
groaned inwardly, having hoped for a morning off from Hercules
opinions.

"Sounds like Discord to me," Xena sighed looking grim at the
idea, "You and Hercules know what she's like better then I do, do you
think she could be involved?" she asked the question to Iolaus but
she didn't turn her back on Joxer and shut him out, which the man was
grateful for. Unfortunately Hercules caught the end of her sentence
and couldn't resist adding his own comments,

"She could easily be involved," the scowl on Hercules face spoke
volumes about his mood, "Especially after last night, she must have
done something to us," the demigod couldn't believe that he'd
actually become drunk and acted so boorish without Godly
intervention. Iolaus rolled his eyes at the comment and locked eyes
with Joxer as he gave a small shrug; although Joxer knew on some
level Hercules was right and that he'd become intoxicated due to
Strife but Iolaus just believed that Hercules was trying to justify
and blame his behaviour on anyone else. The look on Xena's face made
it plainly clear she didn't agree with Hercules either but she wasn't
about to argue with the hero; once Hercules got an idea into his
head, especially one involving the Gods, he remained obsessed with it
until something was done.

Joxer sighed quietly as he took in Hercules and Xena's expressions,
the differences between their attitudes sometimes amazed him;
Hercules was so committed to protecting the innocent and fighting
against the Gods, that he often came across as thick-headed and
arrogant even though there were times when he could be the nicest
person. Xena, like Hercules, didn't get on with many of the God's but
even though she might believe them to be involved a lot of things she
usually kept her thoughts to herself until she was sure; whereas
Hercules jumped in like an overeager child, happy to point his finger
at the God's and blame them for anything and everything. Joxer had
always been aware the God's had their faults and were more like
mortals then they'd care to admit, he also knew that they did
interfere with mortals a lot and play games for their own selfish
desires; but never once had he believed they were solely responsible.
Hercules tended to conveniently forget that normal mortals did have
some measure of free will. Hercules preferred to believe it was the
God's that caused each and every problem that there was rather then
have to blame mortal failings, his own failings. Joxer hated that
that it was Godly problems that were causing problems in Greece at
the moment, that Hercules was right and not just jumping to
conclusions.

"If Discord's behind this then Ares is responsible," Hercules was
adamant that Ares was behind everything that went wrong regardless of
what it was.

Looking around at the small group Joxer was amazed to see Iolaus
nodding his head in agreement, he couldn't understand how either of
them automatically assumed everything bad centred on Ares and he
couldn't help feeling a little annoyed for the God too. Joxer was
about to open his mouth and say something he'd have regretted when
Xena interjected,

"I doubt Ares behind this just because Discord might be," Xena
sighed, rubbing her head, "Besides we don't even know if Discord is
involved anyway." She looked from Hercules to Iolaus who were staring
at her open mouthed, "well you don't, do you?"

Iolaus shrugged, "It seems like she's a good bet, the only other
person I'd think blame would be Ares little toady but since he's
ugh!" he broke off sharply as Hercules elbowed him in the side.

Joxer's eyes narrowed at Iolaus's comment, "Ares little toady?" he
asked quietly; an unpleasant smile started to form on his lips as he
felt his anger grow, he kept his gaze firmly on Iolaus and didn't
notice Xena move close to his side.

"You have to admit this was his style," Hercules smiled trying to
lighten the mood but when he got no response he stepped next to
Iolaus keeping an eye on Joxer. The hunter wasn't used to Joxer
losing his temper or taking a stand over anything and despite the
rage he saw in Joxer's eyes he couldn't help defending his statement,

"I might not have used the best choice of words, but I stand by I
said. If Strife was still around, he'd at least have a hand in what's
been happening." Iolaus kept his eyes fixed on Joxers; he had always
thought of Strife as nothing more then Ares lackey but he hadn't
meant to ever let Joxer hear him say it. Even though he had deeply
disliked the Mischief God, Joxer's friendship was important to him.

Joxer had always assumed Iolaus was the type of person who liked
anyone and always gave them a second chance, whatever their actions,
but the dislike that shone from Iolaus's eyes contradicted that; to
see such detest for his former friend, his soon to be son, made Joxer
extremely protective and furious. His rage only increased as Hercules
tried to play peacemaker and defuse the situation while agreeing with
Iolaus.

"Joxer you don't know the God's like I do. They're my family much as
it pains me to say it and whilst some are harmless, like Aphrodite
and Cupid, the rest of them wouldn't think twice about causing all
manner of problems." The earnestness in Hercules words made Joxer
feel like he was getting his first real bout of morning sickness, he
couldn't help laughing at them especially given the harmless comment.

Cupid, harmless? Not likely given the fact he was causing most of the
chaos. Aphrodite wasn't just the ditzy blonde Hercules believed her
to be either, it was obvious to Joxer that she'd been manipulating
her son for what she believed was his own good as well as making sure
Strife was persecuted by the other Gods. The Goddess of Love wasn't
Joxer's favourite person at present, only Cupid's anger towards her
appeased him slightly. Joxer trembled almost surprising himself over
the level of fury he felt. It wasn't just about the comments on
Strife it was Hercules, and Iolaus to some extent, attitude towards
the Gods. He couldn't see how they could be so pig-ignorant over
everything and refuse to believe anything other then what their tiny
minds could think up. He was firmly set against ever telling the hero
or his partner that he was pregnant and that it was with Strife. In
fact the whole conversation made him more determined to keep his son
away from both them as well as the majority of the Olympians.

"I'm a little confused Hercules," Xena spoke casually but their was
no mistaking her attitude it was pure defence, though what she would
be defending Joxer wasn't sure but he enjoyed the way Hercules eyes
immediately snapped to her.

"Confused?" The hero genuinely looked baffled and Joxer had to admit
to feeling just the same. Hercules attitude was clear, what could she
possibly be confused over?

"Didn't you help keep Cupid and Psyche together? You even suggested
she was made a Goddess didn't you?" The Warrior Princess's tone was
silky now; "Isn't she a friend of yours? Only I'm pretty sure you've
just made it clear you despise most of the Gods."

Joxer stared at her in amazement, having to swallow back his laugh at
the stupefied look on Hercules face as Xena continued, "You call
Aphrodite your little sister and allow Cupid to call you his
favourite Uncle but you seem to have a selective memory when it comes
to the rest of your family. I'm not saying some of them aren't
complete asses but it sounds to me like you're envious of them," she
raised an eyebrow, "And you're worried that your more like them then
you want to be. You make it clear you've got godly strength but you
seem disgusted by where it came from; you may not like it but you're
a demigod which means that, like me, you have failings on both sides
of who you are. The difference is I'm willing to accept mine."

He wasn't sure how but Joxer managed to hold off cheering Xena as she
finished; the incredulous look on Hercules face was hilarious, the
demigod looked like he'd just heard something far too complicated for
him to conceive. He glanced at Iolaus, the man's face was a picture,
and Joxer just wished there were an artist around to capture it.
Although he was trying hard not to smile and impressed by Xena's
attitude he wasn't ready to trust her with his secret yet but he was
glad she was adhering to her original attitude; she'd made it clear
she wasn't fond of Strife but had also made it just as clear his
death was unnatural and his friends had a right to grieve.

Feeling Xena's hand on his shoulder he locked eyes with her as she
spoke, "We should go and see Ares, he can tell us what's going on.
Even though I doubt he's responsible." As Joxer turned to walk with
her, she added so only he could hear, "I'm not any of the Gods'
friend or defender by any means Joxer but what Iolaus said was
unfair. I think you should give him the benefit of the doubt though,
he's not a vindictive person." She squeezed his arm and glanced back
at Hercules and Iolaus who were still too shocked to move, "I agree
this is related to the Gods but I don't share all of Hercules views,
I'm well aware the gods can be petty but generally they don't go
against each other."

Joxer nodded musing on her words as he walked; as stubborn and
decisive as Xena could be, sometimes she surprised him, "It's not
Ares or Discord," he murmured, when she glanced at him he quickly
added, "I don't think. It just doesn't feel like either of them," he
paused thinking over his words, "If that makes any sense.

Xena's mouth twitched slightly, "It does and I stand by what I said
before, sometimes Hercules is a legend only in his own mind."

Joxer stared at her for a minute before he burst out laughing,
glancing over his shoulder he noticed neither Hercules nor Iolaus had
made any effort to catch them up, something that made the walk with
Xena a far more pleasant one.

A familiar imposing building caught his eye and he inclined his head
towards it. It was unmistakably Ares temple; unlike the other temples
in the town it had a set of rigid grey steps leading up to its doors
and various disgruntled Warlords around it. "Ares temple. Should we
just walk in?" Despite his relationship with Ares becoming a little
more familiar, Joxer still wasn't ready to just stroll into his
temple and shout for him. The times he had before had been for an
extremely good reason or to give tribute and prayers, something he
had no inclination to do now.

Shrugging Xena strode past the Warlords and up the steps instead of
replying; she easily pushed the heavy doors open, "We can try calling
him, I doubt Discord will come and I know smashing the place up won't
help." She held the door open for Joxer as he hesitantly moved up the
steps and followed her into the temple. Swallowing hard, he looked
around at everything that reminded him of Ares finding it extremely
hard to stand around and do nothing especially as Xena started
calling Ares name. The whole temple wasn't just one of Ares temples
it was much more though Joxer wasn't sure what had changed his
perspective; everywhere he looked was a reminder of the War God, not
that Joxer didn't expect that in one of his temples but what he
didn't expect was the temple to smell like Ares, almost feel like
Ares. He closed his eyes, it felt like the War God was a part of each
and everything in the room.

"What else did you expect?" The murmur in Joxer's ear made him jump
violently; as he let out a small cry, invisible hands steadied him on
either side of his shoulders and Ares appeared behind him in a shower
of sparkles. Joxer pulled out of the God's hold and turned to glare
at him as he tried to steady his heartbeat, he was extremely glad
that the sparkles from Ares appearance merely graced his skin but
didn't burn.

Xena was at Joxer's side before he had a chance to complain her eyes
assessing the God, "Not funny Ares," her voice was steady but Joxer
could tell she wasn't impressed. Joxer's heartbeat was returning to
normal but his jumpiness was now from his close proximity to Ares.

The War God took it all in his stride and shrugged at them both, "It
is my temple," he reminded them, "and you obviously want me for some
reason, so what is it now? Come to start annoying me over some war or
another?" His comment was directed solely at Xena although he had
moved closer to Joxer; the mortal's nervousness was apparent and
inwardly Ares was delighted that the mortal seemed to want to be
bothered.

Xena's eyes narrowed thoughtfully as she took in the tension between
Ares and Joxer but before she could casually slide in between the two
and protect Joxer from Ares apparent new interest, the doors to the
temple crashed open revealing a very disgruntled Hercules who Joxer
(rightly) presumed had only just snapped out of his shock.
Unconsciously Joxer moved a little closer to Ares, something that
escaped everyone's notice but the God's, who was glaring at his
annoying half-brother.

"Ares!" Hercules growled the word out, arrogantly striding towards
the War god who was growing angrier by the second; luckily (for his
own health) Hercules stopped himself from grabbing Ares by his shirt
and merely stood in front of the God, his arms crossed as he glowered
at him.

Ares managed to put his homicidal tendencies about his brother
briefly to one side and raised an eyebrow at the scowling
demigod, "Something wrong Hercules?" his voice was deceptively
calm, "Or are you making a habit of barging into other people's
homes?"

Hercules scowl deepened but he was at a loss of what to say; his
patented `you're evil and behind this!' speech only worked when Ares
was hurling fireballs at him or obviously involved in some nefarious
plot; the demigod was a little stumped at how to reply to his
brothers comments on his manners. He glanced at Iolaus as the hunter
joined his side, having got over his own shock seconds after Hercules
had, and then looked back at Ares who was looking from Xena to Joxer
with an expression on his face that cried `why me?' Finding his voice
Hercules did his best to intimidate his brother, he was so sure Ares
and Discord were behind the latest problem's they'd been experiencing
he didn't even stop to consider if they had actually been affected by
them;

"What are you up to now Ares? I can't see how any of this could
accomplish anything for you," he meant the words sarcastically but a
small frown furrowed his forehead as it dawned on him that the chaos
that was happening wouldn't benefit Ares in the slightest. Not liking
that thought, Hercules switched to the next guilty person on his
list, "Or is Discord so out of your control, she would do this?" the
frown only deepened as an amused smile spread across Ares face, "you
think that's funny Ares?"

"Actually I do," Ares smile twitched slightly as his amusement grew,
he'd caught the tail end of Hercules thoughts and realised that his
brother was more upset about his rowdy behaviour when drunk then any
of the Gods problems; he was tempted to tell Hercules that Zeus acted
in exactly the same way when he'd had too much wine, but that would
only lead to more confrontation and much as he enjoyed Joxer standing
so close to him, he still had Strife's name to clear. Holding up his
hands Ares gathered his power as he concentrated on bringing Discord
to him, the God found it mildly amusing that as he did Iolaus jumped
to one side whilst Hercules took up a defensive stance. A bright
green light gathered between his hands as the two tensed further and
faded to reveal…a chicken.

Unable to hold it in anymore, Joxer burst out laughing as the chicken
clucked and warbled in Ares hands. It flapped it's wings angrily in
Hercules direction making the hero back up a few steps; swallowing
his laughter Joxer managed to straighten up and ask, "Is that
Discord?" At Ares nod he burst out laughing again; a chicken was more
then appropriate (in Joxer's opinion) for a Goddess who bullied her
own child.

Ares grinned, Joxer's laughter was extremely infectious; the God
could see Xena was trying valiantly to swallow her laughter almost to
the point of choking on it and Iolaus looked torn between hysterics
and embarrassment for his own presumptions. Hercules looked
astounded; his mouth was wide open and he was staring at the chicken
in shock, which kept trying to incline it's head enough to peck him.

"That's Discord?" The hero asked incredulously as he stared down at
the chicken, he noticed had an eerily familiar psychopathic look in
its eyes as it tried to peck his hand.

Smirking Ares nodded, "What you thought I'd turn her back right away?
I quite like her as this, means she can't get in my way," his last
words were in an icy tone and the chicken stopped flapping and
pecking straight away. Ares stared down at her thoughtfully, he was
fond of Discord despite her shortcomings; she had abused his nephew
and she did anger him greatly a lot of the time but she was still his
twin sister, Ares hadn't turned her back at first because he was
furious with her for acting although Strife had meant nothing but now
he did it to protect Joxer (even if it was for the wrong reason). If
Discord knew Strife had another child before Psyche, one who had no
way of protecting himself he was sure she would transfer whatever she
felt for Strife onto Joxer and subject him to the same punishments;
Ares knew that Joxer, being mortal, wouldn't survive her attentions.

"But she's your sister, you lieutenant?" Iolaus looked shocked at the
idea, "I thought you were joking when you said you'd keep her like
that, that's just…" he broke off not sure what it was, he disliked
Discord as much as he had Strife so he couldn't defend her.

Ares shrugged casually, "she's stuck like that until someone changes
her back and given everyone's moods that will be for a while. It
might also be safer for her to stay like this for now, I know at
least one God and two Goddesses that want nothing more then to
throttle her." A slow slightly devious smile came over his face as an
idea struck him, "actually Olympus isn't that safe for her at all
especially now I'm so busy so why don't you watch her." He sauntered
forward and calmly dropped the chicken into Iolaus's arms, he was
surprised that Discord didn't try to peck Iolaus and just sat glaring
at him but he did notice as Hercules moved to take her she pecked him
sharply on the hand.

Joxer couldn't help the idle thought that Hercules wasn't all that
suited to chickens as the hero cursed and rubbed his hand, in fact he
was much more suited to something else. He jumped as Ares patted his
shoulder in delight as he caught the mortal's thought, "I almost
forgot, chickens aren't really your thing are they Hercules?" Ares
waved his hand and the chicken glowed reforming into a pig; Hercules
noticeably took a step back and went slightly green as Discord
started snorting and squealing at him the sounds translating, to him,
into her furious voice.

Obviously on the verge of laughing Ares somehow managed to still
appear intimidating as he looked over the hero, "Don't forget little
brother, she is a Goddess and Zeus's daughter. You'd better take good
care of her." He spoke casually but meant every word; he had no doubt
that Hercules would protect Discord even if she was a Goddess turned
pig, ignorant and annoying as he could be Ares knew Hercules would
keep her safe, "next time try someone else. I'm a bit busy at the
moment and there are plenty of other God's who are responsible for
this mess." He squeezed Joxer's upper arm slightly as he addressed
him, "I can see you do want bothering, so I'll be sure to visit…
again." With a final smirk, he flashed out leaving Discord squealing
in Iolaus's arms.

He also left behind Joxer who blushed deeply as the hunter and two
confused demigods, one of whom was getting sorer ears by the minute,
turned to stare at him in disbelief.


*******

"Why?" The God turned his head briefly as he looked at the other
behind him, they were close enough to touch and yet nether made any
effort to.

"She needs you," his Fathers voce broached no argument, "So does the
rest of your family. By all means stay out of it if you don't want to
help with our Cupid-problem but your Mother needs you right now." His
hand hesitated by the God's arm and then drew quickly back; glancing
down at the object in front of the God, his Father shook his head
refraining from touching his son; something the God was glad for and
yet deep down hurt badly, his father hadn't laid a hand on him in
years not a hug, not a touch, not nothing. At the God's silence, his
Father flashed out with a final sigh leaving the God alone with his
own thoughts.

*They'll never believe it was an accident, * The God mused to
himself, *or was it? Sometimes I wonder, * he waved his hand over the
seeing pool making Cupid's image appear; the image rippled briefly
and the God watched in curiosity as Asyinnitos appeared next the
rampaging Love God. He expected Cupid to turn on the Goddess and take
his frustrations out on her especially after she'd cursed him along
with everyone else or for the Goddess to start trying to plead with
Cupid and apologise; what he never considered was that the Goddess
would say something to Cupid that would have him roaring in laughter.
The God had expected anger from Cupid, not laughter, the Love God's
attitude mystified him and made him suspicious that something was
going on.

The God knew Cupid's anger and grief had been real which made the God
was more then a little confused; the God himself had been one of
those to try to comfort Cupid before his grief was bound and yet now
those bonds were released it appeared the winged God was involved in
some kind of elaborate game, pretending to be more distressed then he
was. Of all the Olympians to work on such a sham with Cupid he never
would have expected the Goddess of Pregnancy to be involved, they
just weren't connected in anyway and yet she was saying something to
Cupid that had his full attention on her. The God frowned, Cupid was
no longer laughing but he was listening attentively to whatever the
Goddess was saying. The God rested his fingers in the seeing pool as
he wished he could hear what they were discussing; he slightly
disturbed the image but it remained obvious the two were working
together in some manner as they flashed out together. The God traced
their signatures back to Cupid's temple where both Bliss and Psyche
were in residence; the seeing pool remained fixed on the spot where
Cupid had been, it wasn't powerful enough to show the inside of a
warded temple and Cupid's temple was warded.

The God waited for something to happen as he concentrated on Cupid's
temple, at the very least he expected some kind of confrontation
between Cupid and Psyche. When nothing happened after a few minutes
the God scowled and ran his hand over the seeing pool, the image
blurred and changed to that of Ares- the one person the God was
deeply afraid would find out the truth. The God couldn't understand
where Ares sudden need to know the truth had come from and why the
God was so persistent with it; he had to assume part of it had come
from Asyinnitos and her curse which meant the God would have to deal
with her first. He sighed, things were becoming far to complicated to
keep up with and he knew the truth was a better option then more
deception but he still couldn't bring himself to do it. Not paying
attention to the seeing pool, the God missed Ares brief flirtation
with Joxer and the seeing pools fluctuation as it focussed briefly on
the mortal.

The God knew Cupid and Asyinnitos' subterfuge would cause problems,
more then he might have been able to cope with, but he wasn't ready
to turn his family against him by revealing the truth. He'd had many
a sleepless night imagining the horror and guilt on his mothers face
as she was confronted by the truth; his father he knew would be
disappointed in him, something the God found worse then anything
else. Even if he no longer had a proper relationship with him he
still yearned to, if his parents knew the truth it would be
impossible.

He clenched his fists believing that if he admitted what he'd done
most if not all of the Pantheon would turn against him despite the
deep hurt that had driven him to it and the accident that had
resulted causing all the mess. The God could see of no way out and
nothing he could do, save watching the others to try to find out what
was going on; before the time came for the truth to come out, he was
sure he would have to do things that weren't in his nature. He
clenched his fists, if he couldn't admit to the truth then one way or
another he'd have to bury it.





Title: The God With 10/?
Author: Wildannuette
Fandom: Herc/Xena
Website: http://wildannuette.livejournal.com/
Rating: FMT
Summary: Joxer gets a little stressed, Ares holds a inquiry and
leverage against Assyinntios is discovered.
Warnings: mpreg
Notes: Thanks for checking this for me Jo, you are a star! :)



Flinging his blanket from his body, Joxer rolled onto his back; as
his arm moved over his face to rest on his eyes, he wished that there
were some way to blacken out the bright light from the moon. Covering
his face with the blanket hadn't helped much, even though it was a
cool night the blanket was keeping him far too warm besides it was
too d scratchy to want to hold over his eyes for long so he was
finding it extremely difficult to sleep. It wasn't that the idea of
being pregnant that was keeping him awake or even the nausea that had
kept coming and going; the worry that Strife had to be kept safe had
played on his mind when he had first found out but it had not
affected his sleeping habits too much. Instead it was the scratchy
blanket, that grated on his sore chest and the snoring that kept him
awake. He sighed and removed his arm from his face, glancing around
at his companions. He had no idea how any of them could sleep through
the rasping snores but they were driving him crazy, he eyed the
Goddess-turned-pig with a glower as she snored and spluttered in
apparent contentment.

Why in Tartarus Hercules and Iolaus were still travelling with them,
Joxer didn't know. At first he'd tried every trick he knew of to get
them to leave; he couldn't believe either man couldn't take the hint.
Even Xena's, `well here's where our ways part' hadn't worked; she'd
tried it three times and all she got was an animated smile from
Iolaus and a glance from Hercules. Personally Joxer believed they
were following them as punishment, subjecting them to continual
versions of `Hercules berates the Gods' and `why God's didn't make
good friends' (Hercules wasn't exactly subtle).

A few days before, after listening to Hercules rant at Discord for
the fifth time that morning, Xena and Gabrielle had gone off to bathe
or get away from Hercules as Joxer personally believed, leaving both
Joxer and Iolaus who had decided to do some fishing rather then opt
for the more dubious pastime of mediation between a pig and her half-
brother. Only one good thing had come about from their time
together, both Iolaus and Joxer had come to an understanding about
Strife. Joxer hadn't been keen on spending time alone with Hunter at
first, he still remembered Iolaus' opinion on Strife and his `toady'
comment but he wasn't eager to lose another friend. He was sure once
(if ever) his pregnancy was revealed and Strife's rebirth announced,
his number of friends would drop down to the more realistic amount of
none; or one if he counted himself.

Joxer had hesitantly decided to bring up the issue of Strife but had
been slightly surprised when Iolaus had voiced it first. The hunter
had been feeling guilty about his reaction to the news that Joxer had
been his friends with Strife. Iolaus didn't normally speak so bluntly
or so ill of the dead and he usually bit his tongue for the sake of
friendship if nothing else; he'd admitted that listening to Hercules
rants about the Mischief God not put him in a good mood in the first
place and that he'd been the butt of several of Strife's more
malicious pranks- the first of which he remembered from his teenage
years. Listening to him Joxer had had to agree, the other man's
stories didn't paint Strife in the best light even if he had just
been doing what he did best; Iolaus even went so far to admit to
Joxer that had Strife kept up his antics he and Hercules may not have
remained friends. The strain Strife and Ares had put on them by
twisting things between them had almost wrecked their friendship. To
Iolaus losing his friendship with Hercules would have been worse then
dying. A loud grunt interrupted his musings and Joxer frowned,
letting out a loud sigh; if he couldn't sleep he didn't see why
Hercules should, he was the one who insisted on keeping Discord with
him. Joxer had only skipped back a year or so in Strife's dream
memories but from those mere glimpses into Discord and Strife's
relationship he was quite happy to let Hercules sell her.

Joxer tried rolling onto his stomach but was stopped by the slightly
paranoid thought that he could squash baby Strife, so he opted for
his side again and tried to pull the itchy blanket around him.

"Why do you even bother with that old thing?" the husky voice cut
through the silence making Joxer jump violently and twist back onto
his back. Letting out a loud yelp he glared at the smirking War God
who lay next to him propped up one elbow. Ares offered Joxer an
innocent look but it didn't quite work for him, as Joxer expression
remained annoyed. Taking the easy way out and as a peace offering
(ironic as that is) Ares ran a hand over the blanket changing Its
texture so that even though it appeared the same it was soft and
comfortable rather then chafing.

The further back into Strife's memories Joxer had gone the more guilt
he had felt over his attraction to Ares, luckily foetus Strife didn't
seem too bothered by his Uncle's presence or they might have had a
few problems. Though Joxer wasn't entirely sure how much Strife was
aware of he knew the foetus recognised something in some of the other
Gods; the one time Hercules had dumped the pig-Discord in Joxer's
arms he had felt a tingling run through his arms before the pig
screeched land leapt back to Hercules with her tail and hairs
standing on end.

"Dinah for them?" Joxer glanced at the God whose eyebrows were
raised, "Come on now say something, I don't often visit your
campsites," a slightly amused look crossed Ares face and he
added, "At least not for late night visits of this nature."

Joxer hesitated as he thought over his answer, not wanting to give
anything away; he guessed that if the War God knew how close he was
to Strife he wouldn't have been calmly lying next to him. Joxer had
to admit he wasn't sure just what Ares reaction would have been since
the relationship between him and Strife had seemed complicated to say
the least. Though Ares didn't appear to be outwardly grieving, Joxer
believed Ares at least missed Strife but their last conversation had
been too confusing for the mortal to gauge him properly. He settled
for the most neutral thing he could find,

"What nature?"

The surprise that crossed Ares' face nearly made Joxer laugh out
loud; it was priceless and something he was sure the God would never
want anyone to see again. The mortal was still uneasy around Ares
especially when he knew he was keeping such a big secret inside him
but seeing such a human reaction from a God set him a little more at
ease.

It took a moment for the surprised expression to drop from Ares'
face; since the God definitely felt a little off balance whenever he
saw Joxer, he secretly hoped the other man felt it too. In truth had
it been any other time or place Ares would have shagged the mortal
out of his system but between trying to clear Strife's name and
keeping the other Gods from finding out Joxer's existence he had to
settle for taking it slowly. "What do people normally sneak into
other peoples campsites for?" he asked softly.

Giving him an odd look Joxer counted the reasons off on one hand, "To
steal something from them, to spy on them, to kidnap them," he would
have continued if it hadn't been for the look of sheer incredulity
that spread over Ares face.

"How about trying to seduce them?" Ares felt like he was getting
nowhere fast, he knew Joxer was attracted to him, the other man's
response to their kiss had proven that but the mortal seemed intent
on making Ares do all the work; the God could only surmise that it
was the mischief in him coming out, he just had no way of knowing how
right he was. Catching sight of a strange mark on the underside of
Joxer's wrist he grasped the man's hand, his fingers tracing the
raised skin, "You burned yourself?"

Holding off the urge to shiver at Ares' touch Joxer nodded his cheeks
flushing slightly, "Tripped over yesterday when we stopped to get
Argo shoed," he answered shyly, "I wasn't paying attention so I fell
over one of the buckets and burnt my hand on the metal." He wasn't
sure how Ares had noticed, though the moon was bright and high the
burn was almost completely healed which Joxer had guessed was
Strife's influence; the mortal had never healed as fast in his life,
he'd had numerous burns, cuts and scrapes to compare with. Joxer
guessed it was a God thing and was grateful and slightly proud that
his baby-to-be was trying to protect him as much as he aimed to
protect baby Strife; at least now the man knew where his sudden co-
ordination had come from, he just hoped it remained after Strife was
born. It would be handy in protecting the Godling.

He froze suddenly as he realised what he'd just been thinking off,
*Just how is he meant to be born?* Joxer eyes trailed down his body
to his stomach as panic started to rise within him. Where was the
baby growing? Would he grow like a normal baby and how would he get
out?

Luckily Ares was too busy examining Joxer's wrist to notice the panic
on his face; Ares was deep in thought wondering how Joxer had healed
so fast, it was only after a minute or so the God decided he must
have just overlooked Joxer's natural abilities in the past. He'd
actually overlooked Joxer a lot in the past, which was something
Ares, had every intention of rectifying. A screechy summons cut
through Ares' mind and he closed his eyes, placing it and grimacing;
much as Ares was enjoying phase One of his `seduce Joxer' plan, he
was already late meeting the fates and the Goddesses were definitely
not happy about it. Naturally elusive and mysterious they rarely
granted appointments on short notice and when kept waiting they were
not appreciative.

"I'll be bothering you again soon," catching Joxer's chin with his
hand, Ares leant forward and kissed the man softly on his lips; it
was only a brief kiss but it left Ares wanting more and when he leant
back he was satisfied to see the startled expression on Joxer's face
before he flashed out.

Joxer had been astonished by the kiss but only because he'd been so
close to overwhelming panic that it had been completely unexpected.
The bright light from Ares exit made him blink black spots and he
touched his lips briefly all thoughts of anything but the War God
suppressed in his mind. Lying back down on his side he hoped sleep
was soon forthcoming.

********


First an intervention for Cupid, then a summit, every Deity present
could see Ares was obviously not wasting anytime at clearing Strife's
name; the only oddity to the proceedings was that whilst practically
every god and goddess on Olympus was in attendance save Zeus and Hera
(who were always late), Ares himself was missing.

The fact that they'd been waiting for an annoyingly long amount of
time seemed to be wearing thin on some of the Gods nerves and they'd
taken to either calling for Ares (Athena), glaring at Asyinnitos
(Aphrodite) or trying to brainstorm exactly how Ares was going to
clear the deceased mischief God's name. This was all except for one
God who was using the meeting as an opportunity to manipulate.

"You know you could always come to my temple for dinner and we could…
discuss this further," Apollo's voice was a purr as he stroked
Asyinnitos' arm causing her to stiffen more in nervousness then fear.
His attempts at seduction were having the opposite effect on the
younger Goddess though Apollo seemed completely oblivious to her
rising panic, he'd convinced himself her slight trembling was her awe
at being the centre of his affections, he never considered otherwise.
Despite what Asyinnitos' Godhood stood for she was very naïve when it
came to things of a sexual nature and Apollo's exaggerated
flirtations were alarming her. It wasn't as if Asyinnitos was afraid
of Apollo she wasn't used to be so closely confined to any other
member of the pantheon, especially him; she was, despite her naivete,
not ignorant of his true intentions and so whilst she was slowly
backing up away from him she was growing more annoyed at his attempts
to woo her.

"I'm not removing the curse," her voice held firm despite the tremble
within her, she crossed her arms over her chest her eyes darting
around in the hope that her Mother had arrived, "It stays Apollo, get
used to the side affects." Asyinnitos wasn't sure what response she
was expecting but it definitely wasn't for him to move in closer
forcing her to back up against the temple wall, his arm casually
looping over her shoulder as he used his most flirtatious smiles on
her apparently not used to anyone turning him down.

"But think of the benefits babe. Me, you, dinner and wine; think how
much more fun it could be if you took it off even for the night,"
Apollo's smile grew but Asyinnitos could see the desperation in his
eyes, the being barren wasn't bothering him but the impotence side
effect was. She was about to open her mouth and tell him something
she knew would have him running from her when he rapidly backed off,
straightening up and appearing chagrined; in bewilderment she
followed his eyeline and caught sight of Ares, considering her last
encounter with him Asyinnitos was surprised to see the cool glower he
had levelled at Apollo. It should have relieved her instead it made
her more uncomfortable about the War God's intentions; though Ares
seemed to accept her curse more readily then the other Gods and had
been civil, to the point of amused, with her so far she was still
unsure why. She had caught a few brief glimpses of his personality to
reassure her that Ares genuinely missed Strife and wanted him back
but it was hard to wipe clean the tarnishing memories of him she'd
witnessed from foetus-Strife.

Ares made no attempt to walk over to her and merely eased himself
into a chair whilst he waited for Zeus to arrive; in fact he ignored
the other Deities questions as they surrounded him trying to discover
what he had unearthed in such a short time.

No matter how minor a Deity or how busy they claimed to be they were
in attendance, Zeus and Hera's backing Ares on the whole matter of
clearing Strife's death had seen to that; only Bliss and Psyche was
excused since Cupid didn't want his Wife put through the trauma of
what learning about her conception and Bliss was too young. Even the
God who desperately didn't want to be in attendance had no choice but
to be; he was keeping up the pretence of listening to his siblings
whilst fervently trying to appear excited by what Ares would say
despite his deep fear and dread.

Tuning out what his older, more opinionated, siblings were saying the
God focussed on his own inner misery and guilt. Whilst he was sure
Ares wasn't close enough yet to reveal why Strife fathered Psyche,
the young God was sure such a meeting would not have be called unless
something big had been found; he knew for certain if the War God had
found out what had truly transpired, he would have been blasted into
oblivion before a meeting could even take place. The God shuddered
inwardly at the thought; oblivion terrified him though he had to
admit he would welcome it more then his family disowning him.
Whatever problems they had, however much his parents continual
rejection hurt him, betraying his own family would only turn them all
against him.

At least he had one consolation, Ares was so fixated on clearing
Strife's name and finding out who was responsible he had forgotten to
overlook the one thing that could have revealed the God in question-
the how. It was the one thing that could bring anything crashing
about him though luckily the thought had not yet occurred to Ares.
The young God shifted growing more worried as time wore on, he was
barely paying attention to his siblings now but luckily they were
fixated on talking to their mother about the curse. That was one
topic of conversation that made the God smirk inwardly and his eyes
drifted over to focus on its caster- Asyinnitos. Not that she was in
anyway aware of his attention on her; she was having her own problems
fending off the unwelcome and obviously annoying attentions of Apollo.

Crossing his arms over his chest he was unaware that, to his parents,
it appeared as though he was just annoyed as them over the cursing
and was focussing on the Goddess for that reason. In actuality he was
contemplating her part in it all; the God had to admit it was a good
curse, very effective to all who had wronged Strife even encompassing
the caster herself. The one flaw in it was it didn't punish him. The
one God at the root of it all was unaffected by it. It was the one
thing the guilty God could silently laugh over because it wouldn't
give him away, he wasn't immune or able to block it the answer was
far more simple- the young God was sterile; unable to conceive within
him, as arduous a task as it could be for a male God, it was possible
and unable to impregnate another be it mortal or God. Not only that
but he suspected that he and Asyinnitos appeared to have one thing
common, though he was guessed he was up on her by the one night of
passion he had; whilst the God would miss pleasuring himself he could
live with it and fake doing it to divert suspicion from himself.

Of all the Gods present he knew he was the least under suspicion;
appearing not only so close to Cupid and overlooked for having no
motive he should have been less worried. And yet he wasn't. Instead
he felt like he was running out of time. Should Ares chose to start
asking `how' the guilty God would be in deep trouble, his reasons
for `why' would seem unimportant to all the others; when they
discovered he hadn't tricked Strife or coerced him but had merely
used his own powers and a potion to take his form for the night they
never believe it wasn't for malicious reasons. Or that he had no way
of knowing that, by taking Strife's form he was no longer infertile
and would impregnate his lover with the mischief God's essence; he'd
had no way of knowing the potion was that good until after Psyche had
been conceived and it had been to late to hide his mistake. He
clenched his fists inwardly screaming at his own stupidity and so
almost missed Ares arrival, one thing he did catch was the
interchange between Asyinnitos and Ares. He couldn't understand why
the two were, if not working together, at least sharing information
from what he could see. His eyes narrowed on the Goddess as his panic
rose, she had been the one to suggest to Ares that Strife hadn't
fathered Psyche; she had been the one to place the curse that had
sparked so much interest in Strife. It was easier to blame her then
himself, any of the other many Deities that had wronged Strife or
Cupid whose instability had caused the intervention. Though they were
distantly related he found it easier to become enraged by her
involvement than his direct families, out of all of them he couldn't
take the risk that she would suggest anything else to Ares. Betraying
his family was what he had already done, it was too late to redeem
that mistake he could only hide it, try to bury it in the past along
with everyone else that got in the way.


The noise within the temple was almost deafening as many of the God's
and Goddesses did their best to manipulate, cajole and guilt Ares
into revealing what he knew. Only two Deities were not clamouring for
the gossip; Asyinnitos, who used the opportunity to flash down to
Joxer, and the one God responsible for starting off the chaos, was
sitting panicking inwardly until he noticed the young Goddess flash
out and silently followed her.

***


Joxer shifted within the blanket trying to find some part of the
ground that was comfortable, he stared up at the night sky groaning
inwardly as he realised it would be morning in less then a few hours
and he still hadn't been able to sleep. He hadn't thought sleep would
be more forthcoming after Ares visit but had had to try to relax. The
problem was the more he thought about trying to sleep, the less it
happened and the more secret worry infiltrated his mind. He was now
so focussed on his worries that every little problem or ache was seen
as an unusual side effect to his pregnancy. *My pregnancy* That
thought itself was something Joxer was having trouble comprehending,
at first he'd written it off as a Godly miracle now he was wondering
how far the miracle stretched, he kept rubbing his stomach attempting
to ease the slight ache he felt in the lower region; his latest
paranoid delusion had been that perhaps baby Strife was going to
emerge any second without warning and was pushing his way out. The
only thing that stopped Joxer hyperventilating and becoming
hysterical was the images of Strife he'd been shown. The baby in
those images was far too small and unready to be out of the womb.

A muted flash caught his attention as Asyinnitos appeared next to him
looking more harassed and fatigued then he'd seen her before. She
glanced around briefly before sitting down, cross legged, next to him
her toga modestly arranged over her legs, "You're worried." She
smiled as she spoke but Joxer could see a slight anxiety there as if
she was afraid he would change his mind.

Sitting up, he shook his head and then nodded slightly, "not that
worried," he spoke softly to reassure her, "just wondered how and
when Strife will come out." He hesitated, "I mean you dropped this
bombshell on me and I haven't seen you in fourteen days!" his voice
was rising slightly and he had to fight it down in case he awoke on
of the others.

Asyinnitos laid a hand on his arm, "Don't hold back Joxer you can
rant if you wish. I can sense Ares has been here and his illusions
and silencers are still in effect so be as loud as you wish," she
looked guilty though not as guilty as she felt; she'd been so busy
throwing people's suspicions off and allying with Cupid that she'd
forgotten how much Joxer had to be stressing. She was surprised he
hadn't gone into full-blown hysteria, forgetting he hadn't the
answers and knowledge the God's were born with she'd almost abandoned
him to that worry.

Joxer blinked slightly nonplussed that she didn't mind him yelling at
her, that calmed him more then anything else could, "Okay," he
worried his lip, "I just need some time, I need to know what's going
to happen and not just with me. With Strife too, my body and his body
and how this whole birth thing will work." He sighed, "You have no
idea how close I've been to blurting this out to Xena, the only thing
holding me back is Discord," he gestured to the sleeping pig, "And
Hercules reaction. I just don't want anything to happen to Strife,
what I've seen…it wasn't nice. His life wasn't nice. I don't want to
ruin it all again by accidentally doing something wrong."


Closing her eyes the Goddess berated herself for not seeing this
sooner and not explaining to Joxer, "You won't do anything wrong
Joxer, trust me. Strife didn't just choose you because you were the
closest to him, given his life history I seriously doubt he would
have chosen anyone else. If you hadn't been there…" she trailed off
watching comprehension flood Joxer's face, "This didn't just happen
for convenience Joxer, Strife didn't just pick the nearest incubator.
He was ready to give up until he felt you, you were the only thing
that kept him going and you're one thing keeping him safe right now.
You won't mess it up."

Hearing her earnest words Joxer didn't have to look at her to hear
the truth behind them, his hand roamed down to his belly to rest over
the place he'd felt the stretching, "He did huh?" A smile lit up on
his face and he looked at her seeing the same smile on her own.

A slightly tingle interrupted Asyinnitos focus and she concentrated
following it back to it's source, "Oh Tartarus!" She stood up
quickly, "I'm sorry Joxer all of us are supposed to be at a summit,
if I'm not there they will send someone after me." Agitated she ran
her fingers through her hair, "Here, I have an idea," she ran her
hand over Joxer's head and he felt a calming wave sweep through
him, "This shouldn't take long and I promise you I'll be back
tomorrow. I'm sure Cupid or Psyche can help me out with a distraction
for your friends so we can talk about this."

Joxer could hardly nod, the relaxed feeling was spreading and all he
wanted to do was sleep; he barely had time to lie down before he was
in a deep sleep, restful sleep. He never noticed Asyinnitos flash out
or the slight glimmer hailing the emergence of another God, which
appeared after she left. The one God that was also not at the summit
was the one who had followed Asyinnitos to Greece and who had allowed
himself to become visible after the Goddesses departure.

An unusual, almost cruel, smile lit up the God's face as he surveyed
the sleeping man; he had no idea Joxer was in anyway linked to Strife
but he was obviously special to Asyinnitos which gave the God the
leverage he needed in case she interfered again. His eyes assessed
Joxer as he bent down next to him, he moved to touch the mortal but
before his fingers made contact the shrill voice of his mother
sounded in his mind and with a curse he flashed back to the summit
keeping the thought of leverage in mind.






Appearing the embodiment of casual, Ares rested one ankle atop his
other knee and ignored the growing drone around him. The hundred and
one questions still hadn't ceased but the expression of cool
detachment on the War God's face had convinced the other Deities to
address each other rather then bother him. To each of the Gods and
Goddesses present Ares appeared to be completely in thought and
totally unapproachable, in truth he was mulling over the cryptic
clues the Fates had given him whilst coolly assessing each of the
Deities present to see who the clues could possibly apply to.


Having discounted most of the more distantly related Gods, Ares was
now focussing on those directly related to Cupid and those affected
by Asyinnitos curse; he suspected that they were the most connected
to `the chaotic mess' that the Fates had spoken of. He shifted
slightly sensing a deep hum in the air and a hush came over the
entire congregation as a deep purple flash lit up in the centre of
the room which quickly formed into Zeus and Hera. Not a word was
spoken as Zeus offered Hera his arm and the two regally walked to the
front of the room, leaving the other Gods to hastily arrange their
seating positions. Ares could sense, rather then hear a buzz of
mental conversation no doubt centred on Zeus and Hera's entrance. It
was rare, almost unseen for some of the younger Gods, for the King
and Queen of the Gods to appear united on anything. It didn't matter
that Hera was backing Ares because she agreed with finding out the
truth about Strife whereas Zeus was backing her for a hassle free
life and because he was more inclined for the curse to be lifted then
finding out what injustices had been done to Strife. The two were
obviously united in their cause to back Ares or they would not have
agreed to the Forum and arrived together.

Ares smirked as they passed drawing a brief smile from Hera and
eliciting several uneasy looks from those around him. A brief flare
of power at the back of the room had Ares scanning it briefly rather
then crassly turning around to gawk at the latecomer; realising the
latecomer was Asyinnitos he briefly toyed with the idea of
telepathically reminding her that arriving after Zeus generally put
the King in a bad mood, one which even Hera would find difficult to
shift him out of despite her ability to persuade him. A second less
powerful flare of power caught his attention as he sensed the arrival
of a late-coming God and this time he did briefly shift and eye the
tardy one. It took a second or two for Ares to place the Godling but
he immediately dismissed him once he had; the God in question was
extremely young by their standards, less then a century in fact and
judging from the uneasiness on his face he'd obviously been doing
something he shouldn't. As the Godling settled between his mother and
siblings throwing Asyinnitos a quick glance, Ares guessed the
youngster had been trying to get the curse lifted; though the War God
seriously doubted the Godling would be on the receiving end himself,
he knew how attached the child had been to Cupid especially when he
was young and suspected he'd had a hand in getting the Love and
Mischief God's together in the first place. As Ares eyes flicked back
to Zeus and he prepared to speak to the Pantheon it never once
occurred to him that the young God in question would have also been
the one to split them apart.

"Thank you all for attending," although Zeus' words were gracious his
tone implied that there was no way in which any of them could have
refused, "As you all know there has been some debate following the
death of Strife, our God of Mischief." For once the slightly self
centred God was focussed on someone other then himself and as his
eyes swept his audience, they could see his commitment. "I'm going to
turn this Forum over to my son in a moment but be advised he has both
myself," he glanced down at Hera who had sat down on her throne, "and
my wife's backing on any matters that may arise here. That includes
any crimes or misdemeanours relating to Strife and the punishments to
be handed out." The King's eyes scanned the room, fixing on
Asyinnitos and Adrasteia who sat beside her daughter and he
continued, "Some punishments have already been dealt out and will not
be revoked as yet."

As angry mutterings swept through the crowd Zeus boomed out, "Any
threats or bribery affected upon those who have dealt out these
punishments shall be met with severity by myself."

Though the mutterings ceased the Gods expressions ranged from shocked
(Aphrodite), angry (Athena) and accepting (Cupid); even Asyinnitos
seemed surprised by his words, she'd not expected Zeus to take the
matter as seriously and she was quite surprised when his eyes
softened as he looked at her and continued his speech. "Only Gaia and
Eris are not included today; Eris is erstwhile engaged and Gaia
doesn't wish to join us, it appears she is more then slightly annoyed
at our behaviour." The brief flare of colour lighting his face made
everyone there present sure that Gaia had given Zeus a few choice
words on the matter.

"Whatever the outcome of this forum be aware that serious
repercussions will be in order for those who ostracised Strife or
took it upon themselves to dole out their own justice."

Ares noticed several of the Gods pale at Zeus' words and those not
already on his mental list were added. Ares noticed Aphrodite try to
sink lower into her chair as Zeus' eyes scanned over her but as they
passed a sulky pout settled over her features. Although Cupid was
sitting as far away from her as possible and was only slightly closer
to Ares she seemed unconcerned by the Forum and Cupid's distance. Not
only were most of Aphrodite's other children congregated around her
in a show of support they were making it clear they were not
impressed with anyone going against her; Deimos and Phobos were very
obviously glaring, trying to look as threatening as possible towards
Asyinnitos who leant so close to Adrasteia that she was almost on her
mothers lap. The twins reception to Ares had been cooler then usual
but they had long ago accepted that, despite their fury, Ares still
considered Strife his nephew so they weren't that surprised that Ares
was willing to consider the Forum; but that he would head it and now
actively support Strife's possible innocence didn't sit well with
them.

Only Anteros sat close to Cupid, actively supporting his brother, his
body language towards Aphrodite making it clear that he defended
Cupid in favour of her. Cupid was a little paler then normal and
definitely grimmer but at least he was sitting quietly, preparing to
listen to what Zeus had to say. Out of all the Deity's present he was
the only one Zeus had given permission not to attend; Cupid was also
the one who wanted to attend the most.

Ares watched Cupid as Zeus kept up the long winded, politely phrased
threats; the War God was glad his son seemed calmer and more at peace
then he had decades before; Ares personally believed that had Cupid
been given more of a chance to vent after Strife's apparent betrayal
then Cupid may have been able to naturally move on. Ares had
supported forcing him to get on with his life but not altering it to
such an extent. The only good thing that had come out of the whole
mess had been Bliss; Ares was extremely fond of his youngest grandson
although he'd only seen him a handful of times. Despite, or maybe
even because, of Aphrodite's mind-messing Cupid had been a very rare
visitor to Ares temples, especially the one on Olympus, and he'd
never brought Bliss with him. Ares had only properly met his grandson
once, when Psyche had desperately needed a babysitter and he'd spent
nearly an hour with the boy before Cupid had picked him up; that had
been before Bliss had been even able to recognise him. Ares hoped
that he hadn't burned all his bridges with Cupid and that he could
spend as much time with his eldest child as he did with any of the
others. Cupid must have sensed eyes upon him because he turned to
stare at his Father; as Cupid's frown smothered out and he offered
Ares the tiniest nod in recognition, the War God felt the bridges
remaking.

"And now I turn you over to Ares,"

Having tuned out most of Zeus long winded introduction Ares almost
missed his opening, almost; the God stood up quickly but not fast
enough to draw attention, at least not the wrong kind of attention
anyway. Striding to the front of the room and making sure to glower
at every God looking his way as he passed, Ares reached the front and
nodded to Zeus in politeness as the King of the Gods settled down in
his throne next to Hera.

Ares looked out at the mass of Gods in front of him, his glower
fading into seriousness as he spoke; "as most of you have heard and
disputed I am sure, I believe that Strife, my nephew and ex-mischief
God was unjustly punished, shamed and almost disowned by most of this
Pantheon. None of you may like these accusations and most of you may
believe they're unfair but I have every intention of clearing
Strife's name and making all of you realise what you've also done."

Crossing his arms over his chest he aimed another glare at Deimos and
Phobos as he sensed their mental communication. Ares had to keep up
the formalities to keep his temper in check; already he could sense
other mental conversations taking place and he was finding it
increasingly difficult to hold back.

"I use the word also because none of us, including myself, are
innocent in this; Strife merely committed something many of us in
this room are guilty of," his eye caught Aphrodite's, who blushed,
and Apollo's who was notorious for seducing mortal spouses; he was
tempted to turn around and eye Zeus but the temptation was outweighed
by the need for his fathers backing. "At least that's what we all
believed, myself included. But I'm sure we were wrong,"

Ares took a deep breath, "I won't defend Strife or his actions by
justifying that he wasn't that kind of God because most of you didn't
know him, myself included; but there's one God in here who can truly
say if there's a chance Strife could have been innocent." Ares locked
eyes with Cupid, "and if he believes there was no chance of that
we'll end this now, no matter what." Ares kept his eyes trained on
Cupid, willing his son to get up and speak; he needed Cupid's backing
too especially after the things the Fates had revealed to him.

Cupid had gone a sickly white that only lightened as the other
Deities, catching Ares eyeline, turned to stare at him. A hundred and
one things raced through the Love God's mind as he stared up at Ares
but only the question cut through them demanding Cupid's attention;
dry mouthed and swallowing hard to hold back his pain, Cupid focussed
only on Strife and his ex-lovers possibility of rebirth, he had to
answer honestly despite the pain and guilt it brought,

"Yes there's a chance."

*Way to go son,* Ares thought noting the strength it had taken for
Cupid to answer his question and proud that Cupid had managed. As
Anteros reached out inconspicuously to grasp his brother's hand in
support Ares noticed the tiny shaky smile on Cupid's face. It wasn't
recovery but it was a start, Ares hadn't seen that smile no matter
how small for a long time. It pleased him to know at least two of his
sons were there for each other, the glance Cupid shot him gave him
renewed hope that all his bridges were not burned; it was a
combination of anger, acceptance and thanks.

Noticing the din sweeping the room Ares forwent diplomacy to palm a
deep red fireball which he flung at the wall behind the assembled
Gods. The explosive sound it made as it hit had those nearest it
jumping up and shrieking but luckily being Olympus and Zeus's Hall,
the wall was undamaged apart from a little singeing. Ares was unsure
if it was the expression of irritation showing clearly on his face
which had all those assembled quieting, or the other fireball he
tossed lazily up and down in his free hand; either one worked like a
charm and at a slight mental nudge from Hera, Ares reluctantly
dissolved the fireball.

"So Cupid agrees, the one person apparently betrayed by Strife
actually believes he could be innocent too." Ares noted that some of
his assembled relatives were starting to look a little uneasy and
exchanging glances as he continued, "I held this forum as more as an
introduction, a formal way to let you all know- you're all in
trouble," Ares glanced over at Hestia and Hecate who were both
raising eyebrows at him, "well most of you. From now on I'll be
reviewing every inch of Strife's life, from his death backward in
order to find anyone who mistreated him. Those who did will be
subjected to justice dolled out by myself… Zeus and Hera." The second
part was clearly said as an afterthought but the two divinities's
merely stiffened slightly, "and you might want to plea your case to
them before I review Strife's life and find it, remember some of you
have already been identified courtesy of one of our own." Ares shot a
smirk towards Asyinnitos but it was an impressed smirk, "that
particular punishment stands, regardless." He caught the small smile
the tiny Goddess threw at him as she relaxed away from her mother.

Ares could sense the anger in the room and despite Zeus's backing he
was sure a bloodbath would erupt soon; Athena looked like she was
about to spit fire and even some of the most mild tempered Gods were
clenching their fists. Aphrodite looked like she could emasculate
Ares on the spot and even the minor, and unlikely to be involved,
Godlings were feeling the tension and mentally sniping at each other.
Which meant it was time to bring out the big swords; the one thing
that would have them all accepting, however grudgingly, what had to
be done.

"And the Fate's have witnessed and agreed." Ares words may have been
spoken at their normal volume but the weight they held brought about
a great hush (mental and otherwise) and had the group paused in their
thoughts. Only Zeus and Hera remained unaffected, since both had
expected Ares to have found a way to get every God's immediate
acquiescence; Hera, because she knew her son had always been stubborn
and had a trick up his sleeve and Zeus…because the elder God hadn't
wanted to be surprised and followed him.

After a moment of silence in which Ares delightedly watched horror
dawn across the faces of his ashen family, he explained; "They were
cryptic as always but also surprisingly clear. His isn't the only sin
we have to ashamed of; according to them there have been a multitude
of offences, starting long before Strife. Strife's death has given
them a reason to interfere as directly as possible rather then just
guide us." Ares took a deep breath as he delivered his next
words; "Strife's thread of life is missing, hidden somewhere in the
tapestry, maybe even…erased." The words were difficult as regret hit
him, "Which confirms what Hades found, that Strife's soul is gone."

Ares could feel the horror mounting, even Aphrodite was starting to
look ill at the thought of complete annihilation; Ares guessed it was
probably more at the possibility of it rather then Strife's death but
at least he was getting a reaction. Hades had already warned Ares
that several of the Gods believed Strife's shade to be hidden in the
Underworld under Hades protection; it angered Ares to think Strife
was possibly lucky to have his soul destroyed then ending up as a
constant whipping boy to those who still wanted to avenge Cupid- it
enraged Ares more to think that, in life he had treated Strife like
that.

"They are prepared to help me go over every inch of Strife's life and
find out where we went wrong," Ares tone brooked no argument and
several of the older God's looked shamefacedly at their own neglected
offspring, "and to find out how in Tartarus, Psyche was conceived."
Ares knew they'd be comments at that statement so he quickly added
his next surprise, one that had shocked even him, "the Fates have
examined Psyche's thread; whilst they believe she and Bliss were once
woven from Strife's they believe there is some strangeness in the
pattern; although Psyche undoubtedly is of Strife, the thread
suggests that is not where she came from."

As chaos erupted all around him Ares couldn't help but smirk,
somewhat satisfied at the reaction as Zeus stood up frantically
trying to restore order and grant a recess. The War God was
determined to find out who was responsible for Psyches conception and
punish them and those who'd enjoyed or used the fallout from it.

Only Asyinnitos smiled in the growing discord as the Goddess, often
referred to as `mother nature', voice echoed softly in her mind, *he
can be a bit of a windbag child but finally he's actually taking some
action and not being all bluster so try to concentrate. Just don't
let any of them intimidate you when Ares calls for you; since you
have time now come to see me; I'd like to meet young Joxer soon and I
want to talk to you properly before I do.* Still smiling Asyinnitos
caught Ares eyes and nodded briefly before making her excuses to
Adrasteia and flashing directly to Gaia; the young Goddess wasn't one
to disrespect her great-grandmother especially when it involved her
favourite charges.

Unfortunately neither the raucous nor even his own deep-seated worry
distracted one other God. The young God in question saw the God of
War's apparent smugness and caught the brief smiles between Ares and
Asyinnitos before she flashed out; tracing her journey the young God
cursed silently as he lost her position until he quickly realised how
precarious a position Asyinnitos had left Joxer in. Since the entire
Pantheon was working themselves up into frenzies and the Goddess
herself was stupidly distracted, he decided it was the perfect
opportunity to slip away and use his leverage. A cruel and ugly grin
crossed his features as he flashed out, honing in on the unprotected
mortal.

**********

Another worried Godling in Greece unhappily twisted and turned as
more memories were released; baby Strife, as if picking up on the
vibes from Olympus, had been brought out of his deep sleep and was
drumming his feet against Joxer's stomach. The baby was far too small
for the mortal to feel anything other then a light fluttering in his
belly but Joxer was certainly sharing in Strife's anxiety as the
foetal-God's memories pulled him out of his deep sleep and into pain.
The transition into Strife's memories was a rough one as Joxer was
suddenly an unhappy witness and victim to the past.

Joxer bit back screams as he felt the skin from his back break under
the expert handling of a dagger. He wasn't sure how he knew what had
cut his back or why Strife should know but the blinding pain that
followed thrust all thoughts from his mind; as slim fingers were
pushed into the cut peeling the skin back easily his instinctive
reaction to retch took over and he bucked, biting down hard on his
lip to avoid vomiting. Trying to pull leaden arms towards him, Joxer
realised something was holding him down, pinning him to the cold
surface he felt below. The mortal wished he could turn his head but
once more his body wouldn't obey his commands and Joxer realised that
what he had thought to be a terrible nightmare was actually another
dream memory. Smooth fingers danced across Joxer's back tauntingly
and moved around the cut in a show of false-comfort before the nails
slipped under his skin; inwardly screaming Joxer prayed to ever
Divinity he could name for the excruciating pain to end as another
segment of skin was peeled slowly from his back but all his body did
was yank on it's bindings. Knowing he couldn't take much more and
wishing Strife couldn't and would pass out, Joxer screamed inwardly
letting loose the howls he knew Strife was trying to repress; each
time a strip was torn and his back massaged he echoed the inner
screams he could hear from Strife's mind.

Joxer wished he could have control for a moment though he knew it
would make no difference if he had; the bindings were too tight, the
torture too incapacitating. All he could do was experience the
blistering agony Strife had been subject to, the Mischief God's
punishment for something he hadn't been guilty of, and try to block
it out as ridiculous a notion as it was. Too exhausted to scream
Joxer felt new agony as something bitter invaded his senses, covering
his back, and Strife's body finally let loose with the God's
unwilling screams. Only a muted flash came in answer to Strife's
calls for help which Joxer could barely see, the identity of the
Deity was hidden from him as his tormentor stilled and Strife's body
trembled on the Altar it rested on. Joxer could feel Strife
frantically trying to regain control of his body and suppress the
pain he felt but Joxer fought against experiencing it to listen to
the soft conversation he could hear in the background.

Barely having heard the words, "worthless" and "deserves it" Joxer
felt the bindings around Strife's body release and he slumped onto
the cold marble, the God too weak to flash away and hide. It was only
when the chill had permeated his entire being that Joxer realised the
voices, and indeed all the Deity's, were gone leaving Strife's abused
body bleeding atop the Altar. Joxer was too tired to fight against
the cold, too hurt to even be sickened by the callous torture and
abandonment of the other Gods; he was almost ready to surrender just
as Strife had been over a decade before. Luckily unlike Strife who'd
been left for weeks to heal on his own, Joxer was rapidly pulled into
another memory one more then pleasant in comparison.

The cold sensation vanished in an instant to be replaced by a hot
flush which seemed extremely familiar as did the shudders that
followed, wracking his body; Joxer strained to see in the deep red
darkness ahead of him as a thin slit of light opened to rapidly
reveal light. He tried to mentally blink back the bright colours that
assaulted him as he attempted to focus. Joxer wasn't sure whether he
was embarrassed or relieved to realise the apparent darkness was only
because Strife's eyes had been closed but both emotions quickly gave
way to complete shock as he realised where he was and who he was
with. Had Joxer been in his own body, his face would have been blood-
red and not merely wearing the satisfied smirk he could feel upon it;
he was also sure had he been in his own body the God of Love would
not have been firmly nestled between his legs smirking back at him.
Joxer wanted to close his eyes at the sight before him; not because
naked Cupid was in any way bad to look at, in fact the God was even
more handsome then the last time Joxer had seen him but this time he
was definitely seeing a bit too much of him. The man wasn't entirely
sure he would be able to look Cupid in the eye again without thinking
back to the image of the hot and smirking God. This definitely didn't
bode well for his relationship with Ares especially if the God read
his mind.

Only the almost innocent kiss Cupid bestowed upon Strife's waning
erection snapped Joxer out of his silent panic, *Oh Gods please don't
say I'm about to experience sex with Cupid,* he whimpered mentally at
the thought. Gorgeous as Cupid was, Strife's obviously love for him
and Joxer's last dream experience had him cringing away; even if it
only was mental cringing since Strife's body was already recovering
and preparing itself for more pleasure, luckily the Love God had
other ideas as he laughed and crawled up Strife's body settling
beside him.

Cupid's laughter relaxed Joxer, despite the God's closeness to him;
the closeness didn't feel awkward or embarrassing in fact it felt…
nice. More then nice in fact, Joxer could feel security, love and
lust all wrapped up together which made him feel dizzy and almost
overwhelmed; it was so strong and passionate, not a single uneasy or
negative emotion flittered across Joxer's consciousness, just an all
encompassing feeling of content. He jumped slightly as Cupid pressed
against his, or rather Strife's body and had to remind himself that
he was merely a watcher in the dream not a participant. It saddened
Joxer to realise that these feelings had been absent for so long for
Strife, that the pain and bitterness Joxer had felt in every memory
had enveloped his friend instead. The mortal wished he was back in
his own body so he could wrap his arms around the growing foetus
inside him and comfort him; he knew baby Strife wouldn't remember and
couldn't understand the memories he showed Joxer but that Strife had
been put through such torment and lost something so precious to him
both pained and enraged Joxer. That in turn made him more determined
to protect his gestating friend even if he couldn't retaliate against
those who had harmed him.

A soft kiss to his lips distracted him and Joxer groaned silently as
Cupid gently kissed his lips again, teasing them apart with his
tongue; the mortals mental mantra of, *not my body, Strife's body*
began and only intensified as the Mischief God's body responded and
Joxer felt his arm, Strife's arm, lace around Cupid's neck as the two
God's deepened their kiss. Surprisingly enough Cupid was the first to
break the kiss and Joxer found himself staring into his deep green
eyes as a slow jubilant smile lit across his face.

"I won, your turn first," Cupid sounded more ecstatic then smug about
it and as Joxer tried to guess what he meant, Cupid pressed one hand
against Joxer's belly pulling him closer as he did. Joxer felt the
faked pout upon Strife's lips only seconds before Cupid kissed it
away again and cuddled against him. Still trying to guess what Cupid
could have meant and not coming up with much from the other jumbled
dream memories, Joxer's mind could only focus on the current memory
when his body shifted slightly of its own accord to curl around
Cupids.

"Ya think we should start nah? Or wait till its tah late for `em tah
stop?" Joxer felt the soft words come out of his mouth but despite
Strife's sarcastic tone he could sense that the issue, whatever it
was, was deeply bothering the God.

"They wouldn't try and stop us Strife, trust me," Cupid's tone was
equally as soft but his voice was unshakeably firm; as Joxer looked
into his eyes he felt his own inner furies about the God fade,
however Cupid had reacted after Psyches conception it was obvious the
God loved Strife. It was also glaringly obvious to Joxer that Cupid
was trying to reassure Strife, which proved that Cupid had sensed the
worry from him. Although he got no reply, Joxer could feel the
anxiety inside Strife ease a little at Cupid's words.

"Ya sure? Thay'll think ya can do bettah, ya know."

Strife was matter of fact about it but Joxer could feel the hurt from
within the God; it was the sad acceptance and truth Strife felt, that
made Joxer want to start dealing out vengeance to some of the Gods.
He'd always known his friend had had problems and issues but he'd
hoped most had only started after his emotional exile from the rest
of the Gods, that Strife felt only slightly better about himself
before the trouble began angered Joxer deeply. He was glad Cupid had
been some happiness in Strife's life but even that didn't stop the
Mischief God feeling disliked and unworthy of the rest of the
Pantheon. Joxer got brief flashes, images he presumed were linked to
the memory he was reliving; Discord hissing that he was nothing but a
mistake of Fate, Athena wrinkling her face in disgust and staring at
him in distaste, the look on Apollo's face saying it all and
Aphrodite's look of horror as Cupid presented Strife to her.

Only Cupid's quiet reassurances and love seemed to chip away the pain
Strife held inside; "Then they don't know you very well; if they did
they'd know you were too good for me,"

Cupid kissed Strife's fingers as he spoke but his eyes were locked to
the other God's; Joxer could see the honesty in them but Strife
obviously couldn't as the words made him only uncomfortable. Joxer
could sense Strife's unease only lift slightly and so he was glad
when Cupid continued,

"I hope you'll believe me one day even if you don't right now. Some
of the God's might be a little pissy yeah but only because they are
jealous, besides with Dad and Hera backing us they won't say
anything," Cupid smiled at him, "You know Dad's really fond of you
and you're totally Grandma's favourite, she definitely thinks you're
way too good for me."

Joxer felt Strife laugh at that before he heard the sound but it
wasn't a bitter or sarcastic laugh, it was more rueful; Joxer could
sense, and was ashamedly surprised, that the words were true and that
Strife never doubted it. Joxer had believed Ares had some kind of
fondness for Strife which Cupids words and Strife's feelings
confirmed, something the mortal was pleased about; he was slightly
confused about Hera, though he hadn't seen her belittling or
punishing Strife in any of his memories she hadn't helped him either.
A sudden thought caught Joxer's attention and had he been wearing his
own face he would have smiled; maybe the green-eyed monster curse on
Cupid wasn't for such petty reasons after all.

"I do think we should wait though," Joxer's attention switched back
to Cupid and Strife at the Love God's words, "Only because Grandma
will kill us, well me, if we don't do the wedding first. You know she
likes these things to be legitimate."

The hand caressing Strife's stomach was slightly distracting Joxer
but he tried to focus on Cupid's words; as Cupid's hand moved lower
all thoughts of focussing on his words left Joxer's mind and he and
Strife groaned as one whilst the Love God worked his magic.




Joxer moaned as teeth gently grazed from his earlobe, down his neck
and nipped teasingly at the skin at the bottom; wetting his lips,
Joxer made a noise in protest when the mouth was removed and he was
rewarded with a familiar deep laugh as hands stroked his overheated
and aroused body. A pout on his lips Joxer locked eyes with his lover
and rocked his body, rubbing against Ares. Joxer could feel the God's
arousal but Ares seemed determined to make their foreplay as
torturously slow and prolonged as possible; writhing under Ares
expert caresses, Joxer didn't know when he had fallen out of Strife's
memories and into his own dreams but he wasn't about to complain or
in any hurry to wake up. He just wanted more heated touches and
teasing kisses. Joxer was happy to worship Ares in every method and
manner possible but his dream lover seemed frustratingly hell-bent on
stopping him; just as the mortal managed to get his hands on Ares
exposed flesh he felt a chill permeate his body and a bright light
assaulted his eyes as he did a full body jerk into the waking world.

Coughing and spluttering the water from his mouth, Joxer rubbed his
sore eyes and blinked back dots as the world slowly came into focus.
Gabrielle's frown and the half full bucket she held in her hands
spoke volumes and Joxer eyed it slightly dubiously wondering if she
was going to soak him again.

"Finally you're awake," Gabrielle's voice was full of annoyance and
Joxer had to suppress a wince as she stomped back to the fire and
continued stirring the pots she was heating; that nasal a voice first
thing in the morning set his teeth on edge and it was those days he
wondered how he'd ever fancied himself in love with her- thank the
God's he'd grown out of it, for his sake and Strife's.

Joxer crawled out of his blanket, glad the cold water had effectively
dispelled his arousal; he wrung most of the water out of the blanket
and his shirt before laying them in full view of the sun to dry. "How
long has everyone been up?" he asked, careful to keep his voice
neutral, the last thing he needed was any arguments.

Making no attempt to hide her annoyance, Gabrielle stopped stirring
the vegetables she was cooking and frowned at him, "Well over an
hour. We were hoping to move on early today but since you sleep like
the dead, Xena insisted we make breakfast and wait for you." Her tone
of voice said more then just her words implied. Gabrielle obviously
wouldn't have been bothered about leaving him behind, a fact that
stung Joxer making it clear to him that it was time for him to travel
on his own. Not bothering with a reply, Joxer stood up keeping his
gaze firmly fixed away from her as he headed the short distance to
the river to bathe; only Xena's refusal to leave him and the memory
of his dream pushed him back into good spirits again.

Behind him, Gabrielle rolled her eyes turning her attention back to
the (thankfully) finally cooked breakfast, her mouth dropping open in
confusion as she stared down at the raw vegetables that barely
simmered in the pan.

By the time Joxer had reached the river Gabrielle's words had been
forgotten and his arousal had returned with a vengeance so he quickly
stripped off and walked into the chilly water. The river's current
was gentle enough that Joxer could wade into the middle and duck his
body down briefly to rinse it. Vigorously rubbing his body with his
cleaning rag, Joxer hoped that the rough treatment could do what the
cold water could not. His hips were barely covered by the water when
he stood up but his waning erection was hidden from view. Only when
it was time to clean his stomach did Joxer pause; he was still
worried about pressing too hard and upsetting the baby which was
laughable in itself not only because Joxer had to be the only man in
existence with that worry but because the baby in question was a God.

As he stared down at his stomach Joxer suddenly realised the usually
flat, almost concave, shape had been replaced by a very gently
swelling directly between his hipbones. It looked very unusual and
Joxer couldn't help running his hand down his body and cupping it as
he realised the tiny bump was Strife; a feeling of immense
protectiveness flooded Joxer and he swallowed hard as he understood,
for the first time, that Strife was truly being reborn. Joxer's
friend was coming back to him in the best way possible- as his son.
*The most vulnerable way too,* that thought pushed Joxer to wade out
of the river and pull his trousers back on, ignoring the damp
patches. Joxer knew Strife would be vulnerable without his powers and
more so inside the most accident prone person in Greece, only
Asyinnitos comments about Strife choosing him for a father and the
reassuring swell he could feel pushed his worries aside. Instead he
focused on breakfast, satisfying the deep hunger inside him and
finding the right words to tell Xena at the next village, that he
wished to part ways. Joxer was saddened by the loss of Xena's company
more so then anyone else's; only Iolaus came a slightly close second,
Joxer having reached a new understanding with him.

The mortal was so engrossed in wording his goodbyes properly that he
didn't notice the warning flash of colour behind him but did notice
when something slammed against his back, forcing him face first
against one of the trees and pinned him there.

Joxer heard the loud crunch before he felt the blinding pain that
shot across his face as his nose took the brunt of the damage; one
cheek was pressed against the bark of the tree, the rough surface
scraping it as Joxer's unknown attacker held him firmly despite the
man attempts to pull away. Tasting copper, Joxer choked as he
realised blood was tricking from his nose and into his mouth but
there was little he could do, struggling had no effect on the person
pinning him, if he was even a person at all; judging by his strength
and ability to sneak around, Joxer guessed he was more then just
mortal, more like a God-a very angry God. The voice that spoke softly
in his ear startled him, not only because it was unfamiliar and
unexpected but also because it was so very young and sensual.

"If you think this is bad you should see what my brothers can do,"
there was cold amusement in his attacker's voice but Joxer caught the
hidden warning, he had no intention of inflaming his assailant and
having him call for reinforcements. Remaining as still as possible,
Joxer tried to listen ignoring how much his body wanted to tear away.

"Which brings me to why I am here; brother's or rather just one
brother in fact, Cupid." As the mortal digested the realisation that
he was certainly dealing with a God, the God in question paused
briefly as if to give Joxer time to interrupt before
continuing, "he's been through enough already as has the rest of my
family they don't need this forum or this hassle so back off!" The
last words were punctuated by a malicious punch to his kidneys and
Joxer gasped as a sharp pain shot across his lower back. His mind
reeling at the implications, Joxer tried to answer him but only
managed a whimper before the God spoke again.

"Tell Asyinnitos to stay away from Cupid or I'll make sure that you,
and any other mortal she favours, are spread so far across Greece
that she'll be lucky if she finds you all." The God's tone was cruel
but final; he obviously had every intention of making good on his
threat, which was enough to spur Joxer into action.

Opening his mouth to scream for Xena or Hercules, Joxer was roughly
pulled away from the tree but before he could form the words he was
viciously slammed back against it, his hands splayed either side of
his head. This time the crunch was more pronounced and blood streamed
into his mouth as Joxer gagged, his stomach threatening to revolt as
the trunk dug into it. His stomach…. Bucking in horror, Joxer tried
to push his stomach away from the tree and give the baby some room.
His thoughts centred on protecting Strife, Joxer no longer thought of
calling for the demigods as he fought wildly with his attacker,
bucking and twisting as violently as possible to throw him off whilst
his hands covered the tiny bump. Even as Joxer felt a warm hand
firmly twist one arm behind him causing a slow burn to flood his skin
he fought, determined to keep at least one hand over the vulnerable
bulge. A hand gripped the hair at the back of his head and the mortal
tried desperately to pull away as he guessed his attacker's
intentions.

His mouth full of blood and gasping with exhaustion, Joxer mentally
screamed to every Deity he knew could come as his head was smashed
into the tree bark for the final time. It was a futile venture. Dizzy
with exhaustion and from the pounding in his head, Joxer hung from
his assailant's hands unable to fight anymore. *I'm sorry I'm not a
better fighter Strife, I hope you can protect yourself better then I
can protect you,* The thought slowly crept through Joxer's swimming
mind as a few salty tears dropped from his eyes, the mortal couldn't
tell if his son had heard him or even if the baby was still alive, he
just hoped someone would rescue them and save Strife.

As Joxer slumped against the tree the fight having taken its toll on
his body, he felt a slight movement in his lower belly something he'd
presumed to be either gas or food settling; as the movement came
again Joxer closed his eyes trying to focus on it's position, the
strange gentle squirming was coming from the tiny bulge in his
stomach and could only be one thing…Strife.

Regardless of his situation, a slow smile curved Joxer's lips as he
ignored the murmured threats behind him and centred all his focus on
his son, the pain in his body dull in comparison. Not aware that
Asyinnitos had arrived mid attack, Joxer was oblivious to how much
power she'd wrapped around Strife to protect him and bind his powers
whilst she beat at the assaulting God with her fists. It was only
when his assailant dropped him that Joxer's focus returned; slumping
against the tree in pain, he somehow managed to twist his body around
so that he faced the two Deities.

The God that had attacked him stood with his back to Joxer struggling
with the panicked Goddess and purposefully blocking the mortal from
her. Silently cheering when Asyinnitos managed to jab the God in his
eye with her fist, Joxer managed to lock eyes with her as he
struggled to pull himself up. He could see Asyinnitos was extremely
pale and seemed to be straining though Joxer doubted it was the
fighting that was responsible. Despite her size he'd seen the Goddess
push Hercules to the ground without much effort, an impressive feat
to Joxer. As the God tossed her casually aside and turned around, the
anger on his face made Joxer's stomach lurch upsetting Strife and
making the baby squirm again; the mortal tried to back up against the
tree trunk but his injured body refused to co-operate, all he could
do was cover his stomach with his hands and stare helplessly up at
the approaching menace.

Only when the God roughly lifted him up did Joxer see just how young
his attacker was; the God appeared to be a teenager and not a very
old teenager either, Joxer guessed he was no older then sixteen
years. In confusion Joxer stared at him, taking in every detail of
the God; even though he was dangling Joxer above the ground by his
throat, the image in front of the mortal didn't fit with the
malicious attack. There was something familiar in the God's features
but Joxer couldn't quite put his finger on it, his body was too
battered and his mind too achy to process much more then what he saw
in front of him.

The God was more then just gorgeous; he was beautiful and exuded a
gentle sensuality that would, in any other situation, put a person at
ease. Honey blonde hair surrounded the God's face which curled at the
neck adding to his youth; his dark blue eyes were piercing, framed by
long dark lashes which gave him a slightly sultry look and the shape
of his face and cheekbones almost enticed Joxer into cupping it with
his hands. If his hands hadn't been clawing at the God's fingers,
trying to release their hold. Joxer could only stare pleadingly at
the God as he tried to peel the fingers from his throat; the mortal's
face was darkening by the second as he strained to breathe.

As oxygen became an issue, Joxer's eyes dropped to Asyinnitos who had
finally managed to stand up; as their eyes locked he saw fierce
protectiveness in them, before she launched herself at the God's
back. Joxer felt the thump of her landing reverberate through the
God's arms and as the God dropped him to the floor, the mortal gasped
in much needed air. Coughing and spluttering as he breathed Joxer
almost doubled over as his lungs throbbed and he missed what would
have been an entertaining view at any other time; Asyinnitos was
clinging to the young God's back, her toga askew as she wrapped her
legs around his waist, her hands tugging at his face and hair; the
young God was yelping in response as he tried to detach his
determined leech and it appeared promising that the Goddess had the
upper hand. Until the God flung himself back against a tree, which
rocked violently as he slammed into it, squashing Asyinnitos in the
process. As the God pulled himself from the tree, he easily dislodged
the stunned Goddess and in a few quick strides, yanked Joxer to his
unsteady feet.

As Joxer attempted to pull away from the rough grip that bruised his
arm and lifted him onto his toes, the man's gaze caught the rest of
the God's body and he stilled in disbelief, his focus diverted. The
God shook him roughly as he noticed the man's focus, more in
annoyance then anger, and Joxer noticed a deep red blush work its way
down from the God's cheeks to underneath his tunic; presumably all
the way to the two softly swelling mounds which the tunic tried to
discretely hide.

Using the distraction, Asyinnitos managed to gather her energy and
stand up; however many years Asyinnitos had on the other God, what
she was doing to keep Strife hidden and unharmed was putting a great
strain on her. She didn't even have enough power to muster one
fireball, not that she would risk it with Joxer so close to her
target, all her power was diverted to ensuring the foetus's survival;
the rough treatment recently administered would normally have
damaged, if not killed, any unborn infant- Godly or mortal. The
remnants of power she scraped together were spent screaming
telepathically for Ares as she moved slowly forward toward Joxer, her
hands outstretched as she tried negotiating with the God.

"Put Joxer down," Asyinnitos voice was as level as she could manage;
the God's proximity to her charges and his rough treatment of them
made her blood boil as well as terrified her. When the God didn't
respond she tried again, "Hermaphroditus please put him down."

Staring into the face of his assailant, Joxer's eyes widened as he
caught the name and his mind started to catch up. Hermaphroditus,
Aphrodite's love child who was rumoured to be almost too beautiful
for mortal eyes and of whom only a few tales had reached Joxer's
ears. Bard's tended not to write much of him, save warnings of his
pool; Joxer had never seen anything more then a shrine in dedication
to the God.

Whether it was the use of his name or the tone of her voice,
Asyinnitos managed to capture Hermaphroditus' attention and the young
God's eyes flicked to her as she slowly moved next to them. The
Goddess was obviously taking care not to startle or set
Hermaphroditus off in a rage, instead she was gently manoeuvring
herself between him and Joxer, her pleading eyes locked to the young
Gods.

"I'm sorry if something has upset you and if it was my curse…"
Asyinnitos moved hurriedly on at the soft growl she got in response
from Hermaphroditus, "But Zeus has decreed it cannot be lifted,
hurting Joxer won't change that; so please let him go. If you have a
problem take it up with me, I'm to blame, he's an innocent in it all
and you're still hurting him!" Her last few words were filled with
horror and her plea held enough passion to convince the God to
release Joxer-at least for now.

Loosening his grip, Hermaphroditus dropped Joxer to the floor
eliciting a cry of pain from the injured mortal; an unhappy shamed
look crossed the God's face as he watched Joxer squirm backwards, as
far away from him as possible, but the look faded after a moment and
Hermaphroditus reached out to grab Asyinnitos by the shoulders
instead.

The Goddess bit off a cry as Hermaphroditus shook her roughly and
hissed in her face to `heed his warnings'; her power was still
diverted to protect Strife and her energy levels were running too low
to defend herself. She kept his gaze on Hermaphroditus but her power
trained on Joxer and almost cried out in relief as the mortal managed
to pull himself up. A split second later her whole body tensed as it
came to her attention that Joxer was not running away, instead he had
picked up a heavy branch and was advancing on Hermaphroditus, intent
on forcing the God to release her. Squirming in an attempt to
distract the God, Asyinnitos telepathically pleaded with the mortal
to run and make his escape but Joxer being the man he was, refused to
leave her in danger. The mortal wasn't a hero by his strength and
fighting skills but in every other sense of the word, he was a true
Champion; a champion who would have, almost certainly, been blasted
had help not arrived from an expected and extremely late quarter.

The flash that heralded Ares arrival was impressive, bright enough to
make Joxer drop his stick and shield his eyes, but the intense fury
on the God's face was even more so. When Joxer uncovered his eyes and
viewed the War God, his first response was to be aroused and alarmed
at the same time whereas Hermaphroditus wisely settled for mildly
terrified, the fear evident on his face as he released Asyinnitos and
flashed quickly out.

Sagging in relief, Joxer felt his battered body come down off its
adrenaline high as his legs gave out and Ares managed to break his
fall before he hit the ground. In dazed confusion Joxer stared up at
Ares, whose glare had faded into a concerned frown as he eased the
man into a comfortable laying position noting the blood and bruising.
Joxer couldn't tell what Ares was thinking which, given the God's
current train of thought, was probably a good thing since the War God
was inwardly seething at the impetuousness of Hermaphroditus. Ares
being an expert strategist had put things together in the same manner
Hermaphroditus had; given that the War God had first believed Joxer
was Asyinnitos plaything, it made sense to him that the other God
would have thought the same and been willing to use the mortal
against her. It enraged Ares that the Godling would dare go against
him in blatant disregard of Zeus' words or that Hermaphroditus would
try to touch something Ares considered his, be it as worshipper or
other interest.

The War God also noticed his cousin's lack of energy as she crawled
over to Joxer and laid her hands against his belly. Only concerned
for Strife and Joxer, Asyinnitos ignored Ares' presence as she
scanned Joxer's body hoping that her power had protected the baby
enough. She sighed in relief as she finished her scan, she could see
Joxer was injured and in need of rest but the power around Strife had
also protected his father from any severe internal injury and
external ones, she could deal with. Throughout her scan Joxer was
silent; it was only when her sigh broke the silence that he spoke,

"Is he alright?" The man was hopeful that Strife had been protected
but felt an enormous rush of relief as she nodded in confirmation,
her smile widening as Joxer's did. Neither Joxer nor Asyinnitos paid
any attention to the War God behind them, neither one noticing his
eyes narrow as he too scanned Joxer, Asyinnitos' power levels to low
to hide the mischief signature within the mortal. Had either looked
at Ares, they would've noticed the disbelieving look that flooded the
God's face as he scanned Joxer for a second, then third and fourth
time.

Ares couldn't believe what he was sensing; he was normally prepared
for everything, not willing to leave much open to Fate and never
really surprised. What he saw when he scanned Joxer took him far
above shock and surprise, into something completely different. Ares
scanned the tiny signature within Joxer one last time, not because he
expected it to change but because he felt compelled to, and felt the
flicker of his nephew's soul. His dead nephew's soul. The nephew he'd
believed was Joxer's father because Ares could sense something of the
mischief God in him. Ares didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He was
amazed at his own ability to overlook the obvious and the completely
insane. He was also impressed by the level of sneakiness and
subterfuge some of his family members were capable of concocting,
Asyinnitos and Cupid being the biggest offenders. Ares wasn't sure if
he should be insulted that no one saw fit to bring him in on the
secret but the joy that filled him at a second chance with Strife
overwhelmed the thought. Until he remembered Hermaphroditus' attack
on Joxer and the danger both the mortal and his unborn nephew were
placed in.

Bending down next to Asyinnitos, Ares grasped her arm watching as the
happy light faded from her eyes when she observed his expression.
Ares guessed Hermaphroditus had planned to punish Joxer for
Asyinnitos influence on Cupid and her cursing of Aphrodite. That
itself was no one's fault but the Godling's whom Ares had every
intention of chastising, but Asyinnitos had obviously taken
responsibility for Joxer and she'd let him down, even if it was
accidental. Ares valued the life within Joxer and was staring to
appreciate the value of Joxer too much to let anything happen to
either of them.

"Don't ever hide something like this from me or put either of them at
risk again. If you ever do," Ares paused as he stared down at the
paling Goddess, "I'm going to hurt you." He caught her chin with his
fingers as she started to look away and forced her to look into his
eyes, giving her some of his power to boost her energies as he
spoke. "Don't make me do that. Tell me the truth in future." As he
let her chin go Ares glanced at the man next to her, who had frozen
in panic; Ares fingers hesitantly reached out stopping about a
millimeter from Joxer's belly before they drew back.

"Take him to Olympus and get him healed," Ares words were soft but
commanding nevertheless. He knew Asyinnitos would probably take him
to her temple or to Gaia's and either place was safer for him then
Greece at the moment. At least until Ares had warned off
Hermaphroditus and taken his own precautions to ensure Joxer and
Strife's safety. The last thing Ares saw before Asyinnitos did as he
ordered was the look of trepidation on Joxer's face. As the flash of
their departure died down Ares decided to take it upon himself to
make sure he never saw that look again. Ares had seen not to mention
put better expressions on Joxer's face and he fully intended, despite
the circumstances, to keep seducing the mortal. Strife was a great
bonus and an added problem in the seduction but Ares was determined
to work around him.

The War God surveyed the clearing, noting the blood smeared tree and
cleaning it with a thought. He paused in the process as he sensed his
annoying half brother and friends nearby and an evil but justified
thought hit him. Not one of the four had noticed the trauma Joxer had
been through, nor come to search for him at any point, which didn't
sit well with Ares. Loyalty was a big must in War and it irked Ares
when it was given but not received, he'd done it before to Joxer but
at least he was making the effort to redeem himself. One hand
movement later and the blood smears were back, ready for the heroes
to find if they bothered to look.

Ares glanced one last time around the small clearing, understanding
the worst outcome that could have become reality so very easily,
before he flashed out leaving only silence and blood smears behind
him.




Title: The God within 13/22
Fandom: Hercules/Xena
Rating PG
Summary: Gabrielle takes a long hard look at herself and the heroes finally realise something is amiss and Joxer has disappeared.
Pairing: Ares/Joxer Cupid/Strife (overall and smattered throughout series)
Chapter warnings: Slash mention

Prompted by the challenge at 10_cliche_fics (http://community.livejournal.com/10_cliche_fics/profile) using the cliché~ Never judge a book by its cover

A/N: Since I'm now working off the ten prompts for the cliche fics, I now have a storyboard and know how long this series is going to be. It was meant to be locked but i keep swaying so i unlocked it, besides this way I keep Vae happy too cos i'm pimping the comm in a way.

Previous_parts_archived_here: http://www.livejournal.com/tools/memories.bml?user=wildannuette&keyword=Own+Hercules/Xena+fanfic&filter=all

Thanks to fanfictionaddict and Kerensa for the great betas *hugs*




Gabrielle wasn’t in the best of moods. If she was honest with her herself, she felt more than just a twinge of guilt as Joxer had walked away, shoulders slumped in dejection. Her bad mood had been becoming obvious of late and much as she tried to hide it, she knew he’d picked up on it-bore the brunt of it more like. They’d had so many fights in the last few weeks, especially since he’d taken to defending Strife-a god Gabrielle had nothing but distain for. But that wasn’t her main reason, it wasn’t just Joxer’s defence of Strife that made her agitated and put her on edge. His infatuation was just to uncomfortable for her. Knowing he cared for her, loved her even. The way he hung around all hopeful and puppy-like, as if he were pleading for her to try. Which she couldn’t, wouldn’t, do.

In a way the pre-emptive annoyance, the sharp comments and petty actions that just seemed to spring out when he was near, had worked in her favour. Joxer seemed less devoted and even interested of late, and more fed up. Possibly he’d be leaving them soon, which would in a way be a sweet relief, but Gabrielle didn’t want to lose his friendship in pushing him too.

She sighed. It was a difficult balance to find and she hadn’t been finding it well she knew that but with Hercules and Iolaus, who were normally pretty great guys to be around, being just as difficult and annoying-her patience was wearing thinner and thinner. Early that morning, Iolaus and Xena had gone fishing, leaving Gabrielle and Hercules to cook breakfast. Since Joxer had looked so peaky later, Gabrielle had agreed with Xena that they should let him rest.

Then Hercules had wandered off, leaving Gabrielle to pig-sit Discord on her own. Discord truly lived up to her godhood, making Gabrielle’s mood darken as she caused chaos and ran amuck. After stopping the pig from jumping on Joxer for what seemed like the hundredth time, Gabrielle decided to tie her to a tree her tolerance disappearing after being bitten several times. The peaceful, pleased look on Joxer’s face had pushed her over the edge and without even thinking she’d grabbed the bucket of cold water and thrown it over him.

“Not the best way to wake up,” she murmured to herself, sneaking a guilty look at Joxer’s wet bedroll as she poked the raw vegetables half-heartedly. She was more than a little confused what had happened to them, before the Pig-Joxer disaster they’d almost been cooked, but now they were raw and smelling pungent too. Gabrielle couldn’t help wondering if it wasn’t the work of a god, or goddess. She snuck a look at the pig, reassuring herself that she had no powers there.

“Something’s wrong.”

Hercules strident tones jolted her from her musings and Gabrielle jumped, her hand instinctively moving towards, and missing, her staff. She looked up at the demigod who wore a troubled frown, arms crossed as he towered over her.

“How do you mean?” Seeing no immediate danger, she pulled the vegetable pan from the fire before she stood up, not quite eyelevel but closer than she had been. For someone so big and bulky, he’d been surprisingly stealthy at sneaking up on her.

“Off. Something feels off, I just can’t quite put my finger on it-” Hercules words were bitten off at the sound of crashing from the forest, branches parting to reveal Xena and Iolaus. Both were carrying fish over their shoulders and both looked worried.

“Gods.” Xena’s word was almost a snarl as she glanced around the clearing, “where are they?”

“Who?” Gabrielle couldn’t help feeling confused. Unsurprisingly Hercules looked a little perturbed, though the demigod was catching on faster than the bard.

“Did you feel something too, Herc?” Iolaus moved past Xena, fish dropped to one side, just far enough away from Discord to get the pig squealing but not close enough to steal.

What in Hades is going on? Gabrielle thought, feeling her annoyance from earlier resurface. This time, without Joxer, to prompt it.

“I felt something.” Hercules admitted, looking away from Iolaus, his eyes locking with Xena. “You’re right, it felt like a God. Not just one either. There was something off about it all but they aren’t here. Usually I can feel if one is close, or has been close, but with Discord here all my senses are being thrown off.” He threw the pig an annoyed look, who was smirking back at him in a very smug and un-piglike manner. Even if she was rendered in a useless, embarrassing form, Discord was managing to cause problems for one of her least favourite people.

Xena, for her part, had stopped staring suspiciously around and though she still looked wary, she didn’t look as worried as before, at least not till her eyes flicked to Gabrielle. “Where’s Joxer?”

“He went into the forest, to the stream.” She felt her cheeks flush as Xena’s eyes narrowed, giving her a searching look. “We had an argument.” Gabrielle couldn’t keep the snappish tone from her voice as she felt the men’s eyes turn to her too. “What? It was just a little tiff and Joxer…he was being Joxer!” It was almost a white-lie but luckily no one called her on it. Instead she felt shame heating her cheeks, her stomach churning slightly as Xena turned back towards the forest.

“I’d better go and look for him. If there are gods about, who knows what kind of trouble they could visit upon him for their own amusement.”

“It might be better if we all go.” Iolaus was the voice of reason as he gathered up the fish. “Seeing as we don’t know what we’re up against. Besides if there are any of them around, it would be better if we moved on and made breakfast elsewhere.” Tossing the fish over one shoulder, he released Discord and swept her into his arms. Surprisingly, he was the only person the goddess didn’t ever bite and grunt rudely at.

“Besides, I think the vegetables have gone bad.” Hercules made a face as he peered into the pan, “How long did you cook them for anyway?”

Gabrielle clenched her teeth, stopping herself from making the snippy comment she wanted to make at Hercules and pointedly ignoring the question. Instead, she threw the vegetables into the bushes, and began gathering up what little they had. He’ll be back, he always comes back when he’s called. She told herself. Surprisingly she found herself taking extra care rolling up Joxer’s blanket, the dampness setting off guilt inside her, an inner voice making her wonder just how much of the worst was being brought out in her of late.

Gabrielle’s thoughts kept her quiet as they headed to the stream, resolving to ask Aphrodite perhaps to find Joxer a nice woman. After all he deserved one and it might be a quick and easy solution-besides the love goddess seemed to like him, or at least wrestle between liking and being amused by him.

“Perhaps he’s further downstream.”

Iolaus’ comment interrupted her inner musings.

Gabrielle was thankful that they hadn’t been greeted by a naked and blushing Joxer, but the wannabe-warrior not being there was a little odd. It was very like Joxer to just wander off or start following someone, but with Xena’s comments on gods and the uneasy expressions around her, Gabrielle’s stomach was starting to churn vigorously.

“Maybe.” Xena didn’t look convinced and Gabrielle could see her hand wavering over her chakram as she glanced around, eyes searching. “We should stay close. Hercules you and Iolaus move upstream, Gabrielle and I will check the area downstream.”

Body rigid, tension obvious, Hercules gave them a curt nod before turning away and striding up river, his eyes scanning around him. Iolaus was slightly less on edge, though worry was obvious in the hunter’s eyes as he attempted to reassure them with an -“I’m sure he’s fine”- before moving hurriedly after Hercules.

Unable to muster desire to engage in any kind of small talk, the ache in her belly growing colder and heavier by the moment as she gripped her staff, Gabrielle kept to Xena’s side who kept scanning the water and opposite bank as they walked past; her eyes taking in everything, her whole being focused on finding Joxer. It was Gabrielle, however, found him first, or at least something that marked his since-vanished presence anyway. Something which had her voice catching in her throat, the coldness sinking deep in her belly as she let out an involuntary shocked cry, spotting the bloodstains smeared casually on the side of a tree.

Stumbling forward, fingers pressing against the wetness as if to convince herself that it was real, she didn’t notice Xena’s shout to the demigod and hunter. Didn’t even notice their quick approach. As the redness coated her finger tips, warm and sticky and all too real for her conjuring up image after image of Joxer’s battered and bruised body.

It was Hercules who moved her out of the way, swinging her against Xena who steadied her.

They all crowded around the tree, no one saying a word at first as Hercules pressed his finger to the blood, raising the bloody digits to his nose and sniffing cautiously. “It’s blood, that’s for certain. And it’s fresh.”

He glanced at Iolaus, eyes shadowing slightly, a scowl forming on his lips as he noticed Discord vibrating excitedly in the other man’s arms-enjoying the chaos vibes he assumed. In truth though, the vibration was from anger, from sensing a power so weak it shouldn’t be there and so destroyed it couldn’t be there.

Strife. The goddess could sense him, pig or not. Just as she could sense the others. But even if she could tell Hercules she chose not too. Fury, guilt, loathing and confusion all in melding together in a miasma of unpleasant emotions, pushing Discord to bite her tongue and think rather than react-something she would later be grateful for.

“Tartarus, what do you suppose has happened?” Iolaus’ hand was in his hair, clenching at the curls Gabrielle noted absently, wiping the blood onto her skirt rather than have to keep staring at it. The all wore identical looks of distress, the uncertainty of what had happened to Joxer troubling them all.

Apprehension clutching at her chest, Gabrielle had forgotten what both Hercules and Xena had sensed earlier when she finally spoke, breaking the silence. “Someone must have dragged him off fast. He was only gone for a few minutes. Maybe-”

“Maybe we should shout for Ares.” Hercules patented response was too classic for Gabrielle, the woman just about managed to bite her tongue though her nostrils flared as she rolled her eyes.

“Do you actually think Ares would stoop to dragging Joxer off while he was bathing?” Even Iolaus look sceptical, “Come on, Herc. Wouldn’t he rather throw it in our faces, kidnapping someone right in front of us?”

“And why would he want to anyway? The only interest he’s shown in Joxer didn’t strike me as being one to kidnap him and given how much Joxer worships-” -” Xena paused, not only because she was unsure as to why she was getting so annoyed and defensive but also because of her sudden realization that it had been a while since she’d seen Joxer pay tribute or pray to Ares, which was extremely out of character for him. “Or do you think Ares needs to drag people off unwillingly to get them into bed?”.”

Gabrielle’s mouth dropped open at that, but she was the only stunned one. Iolaus didn’t bat an eyelid at the thought of Ares wanting to bed Joxer, nor did Hercules even appear surprised. In fact the demigod looked more annoyed, frowning back at Xena in displeasure.

“No, Ares may be a lot of things but he doesn’t need to have the inclination towards rape. I may find a lot of things against him but I can’t fault him there, and besides if that were the case and he propositioned Joxer then Iolaus is right- he would have paraded the idea in front of us..” Forestalling any further comments (though Gabrielle, at least, had been rendered speechless to make any), Hercules hurriedly continued, “But Discord is enjoying this far too much and if we both sensed something godly then we should call on him. Especially since he showed an interest in Joxer before-perhaps he could be willing to help, even if it is just to get in Joxer’s good books.”

Iolaus was nodding in agreement, nudging Xena to draw her attention to him, “He might be more receptive to you. The times he’s appeared when you’ve called he’s only glared, we get a grimace.”

Xena’s yell of ‘Ares’ made them all wince and started Gabrielle into snapping her jaw shut. Ares, the big bad god of war as he liked to portray himself, lusting after Joxer of all people. That certainly threw off all of Gabrielle’s plans for setting him up with a woman, much as she disliked Ares there was an attractiveness about him and an allure. Joxer having barely had any kind of attention in the past would never be able to resist it. The idea of her friend being taken advantage of, used in such a way, sat badly with Gabrielle. Even if she privately admitted she had treated him poorly, especially recently, Joxer becoming involved with Ares just seemed like throwing him to the wolves. Though it would solve my problem if Joxer became involved with Ares, he knows I’d never go anywhere one of the Gods has been…

Nothing…barely a bird sound broke the silence as they waited. After a few minutes, Hercules joined in and then Iolaus and even Gabrielle found herself shouting Ares’ name in chorus.

“Ares!” The warrior princess tired once more, a tinge of desperation to her voice. She knew that she didn’t have to yell for Ares to hear her, sometimes even a whisper sufficed, which meant the god was ignoring her.

“This isn’t going to work.” Iolaus was first to voice what they all knew, arms folding, bouncing on his heels in agitation as the cries died down. “If Ares was going to come, he would have by now.”

So now what do we do? Gabrielle clenched her teeth, This is just so typical of Joxer. She then sighed as she realized what she was doing. She’d got so used to being annoyed and made uncomfortable by Joxer's presence that she found both her tongue and thoughts often ran away from her.

“Cupid!” Xena’s exclamation, drew all their attentions to her as a smile curved her lips, “We know he’s taken an interest in Joxer too, though for whatever reason even I can‘t be sure.”

“Maybe one of Aphrodite‘s projects?” Iolaus suggested, shuddering slightly at the idea, having also been under the attention of several gods meddling in his life. Aphrodite was the most pleasant in his mind but he knew she’d meddled in Joxer’s love life once before and royally annoyed the man in the process.

“Cupid?” They didn’t even need to call for love god, Hercules’ confused bellow had him appearing in a flash of yellow light, an exasperated expression in place of his normal grin, as he juggled Bliss in his arms; the baby wriggling, curious to look around even if he poked his daddy in the eye to do so.

“What is it now?” Cupid had a ‘why me’ expression on his face, one that deepened to a scowl as he failed to get an answer right away. “Look I’ve got things to do, a son to feed, couples to hook up-so quit with the not talking and start, right now.”

Cupid wasn’t all that impressed with their timing. He’d been spending quality time with Bliss which was a rarity given all the subterfuge of late. It was time he enjoyed spending with his son and had looked forward to all day. With Psyche taking prayers at her temples it was the perfect opportunity, it was hard when they were together; the both of them trying to remain civil, building some kind of friendship and relationship for Bliss’ sake. He didn’t bother to explain why he had Bliss with him, even though it was a novelty for anyone to see him, given that the baby hadn’t even been off Olympus yet in an official capacity; having only small altars in his parent’s temples and no statues to call his own. In an official capacity anyway, Cupid couldn’t help smiling as Bliss giggled, waving to Xena.

“We have a problem,” Hercules paused for a moment as if drawing out the suspense, but Iolaus easily cut into the silence, drawing Cupid’s raised eyebrow and attention.

“Joxer’s missing. He went to bathe and now, he’s gone.”

“Gone? Gone as in wandered off?” Cupid strove to keep the anxiousness from his voice, though it still came out edgy. The fear only increasing as Gabrielle stepped to one side, still silent and waving slightly back at Bliss who waved to her.

His fingers were on the blood smears, moving too fast for them to realise at first. They didn’t feel right. They felt off, though Cupid wasn’t about to voice that opinion. Looking thoughtful, his tongue caught between his lips, Cupid touched the blood again keeping his face stoic as his fear dissipated. He could sense Ares’ handiwork and given the interest his father had shown in Joxer, and that he’d pretty much convinced himself Joxer was connected to Strife, he knew Ares wouldn’t harm him.

Rut him into the mattress was a more likely scenario, thought Cupid.Though Cupid had no doubt Joxer would resist the urge. The mortal was still furious with Ares and would have to consider Strife’s safety first. Still, something was strange. Cupid could sense three godly signatures in the area, in fact four. He frowned, closing his eyes for a moment to place them all.

Ares…Asyinnitos…those didn’t surprise him, but he could also pick up on one of his brothers. Though which one he couldn’t be sure. Uneasily, he mentally called to Asyinnitos who hurriedly urged him to return to Olympus and assured him Joxer was safe. That was a sweet relief. Cupid knew that over the years, several of his brothers had made sure Strife was aware of their displeasure with him. If they’d somehow also gotten the idea Joxer was connected to Strife, the man could have easily been a target.

Cupid sighed tiredly, seeing they were all on edge, all waiting.Truth be told, he was surprised by their reaction. He hadn't thought they’d do anything to check on Joxer, just wanting to ditch him. It was pleasant to discover he was wrong. The warm feeling it gave him had the small godling in his arms squealing in delight.

“Joxer’s safe.” He held up a hand, seeing Hercules’ mouth beginning to open, there was still something different about it all…something not quite right. “I’m going to go and find out what’s happened. I’ll get back to you if I can, but he’s cool, so just go about and do your thing.”

Discord, that was what was encroaching on his senses. Cupid tightened his arm around Bliss at the realization, finally sensing her presence. That was one goddess he didn’t want coming within fireball distance of Bliss; after what he’d managed to pry out of Strife that she’d done to him, he didn’t want her anywhere near the baby, her grandson or not. Focusing, his gaze was drawn downward, and then he saw her. The pig was snarling silently up at him and Cupid burst out laughing, which made Bliss giggle.

That didn’t sit well with them. Even Gabrielle felt herself glowering which was something that rarely happened when Cupid was around. The Love God was extremely attractive after all and so naturally flirtatious, no one could resist smiling around him.

“But surely Cupid-” Hercules began, trying his most winning smile but Cupid was too busy chuckling to be affected by it.

“Don’t even try it Uncle Herc. I can’t tell you what I don’t know.“ He smirked down at the pig, as Bliss clapped his hands together, enjoying all the emotion in the air. “Much as I could happily watch you barbeque her, you’d better watch after her. Dad and grandpa might take offence if you did anything she couldn’t snap back from.”

Later, Cupid’s words and actions would lead the heroes to wondering if Joxer was perhaps Cupid’s lover as well, the reason for his marriage breaking up and perhaps a pawn in a tug of war in lust between Ares and Cupid. For now though they all had other things on their minds and Cupid was effectively distracting them, making Hercules pout at having not been asked, as Cupid spoke to Xena about watching Bliss sometime, given that there was lots of trauma going on in Olympus.

“There's been a lot of drama going on in Olympus and it would be nice to give him time away from the vibes. Besides, he had so much fun the last time you met up.” Cupid couldn’t resist, especially as Hercules pout faded to a smug grin and Xena’s eyes widened. With that, he flashed quickly away before the demands that were sure to come to go to see Joxer and Asyinnitos.



Joxer sighed and dragged his eyes away from Asyinnitos' constant pacing, letting himself sink into the plump, comforting cushions. The fast repetitive movements were making him dizzy.

Her anxiety was noticeable, which Joxer appreciated. He really did. It was about time someone worried over Strife, cared enough to protect him but a small part of Joxer couldn’t help but wonder.

What am I, a brood mare?

He had new sympathy for his mother, who’d often said she was glad all three of them had come along at once, especially since Joxer’s father had been inclined to see her as nothing more than a baby-maker. The way Asyinnitos kept talking over him, acting as though he wasn’t there as she murmured to Strife, was grating on his nerves. It reminded him of Gabrielle and Xena who rarely thought he had a worthwhile idea or opinion. Of his parents who favored his brothers ,seeing them as being more worthy of their attentions, of almost every single person he remembered meeting. Oh, there were exceptions -- Iolaus, Meg, Strife -- but they were few and far between and even then they would from time to time slip into the same behavioral patterns as everyone else.

Joxer touched his belly. Even Strife had used him when it was necessary or the mood took him, Joxer wasn’t so naïve he didn’t know that. Finding themselves on opposite sides, with Strife working against Xena, had made sometimes made that necessary and Joxer couldn’t fault his friend for it. At least the god had never directly attacked him, verbally or physically, and their friendship was unaffected by it. He’d never tried to influence him either, at least, not until now and that was accidental rather than deliberately malicious. The earlier hiccups being the fetus’ accidental influence, before Asyinnitos had a chance to bind its budding godly powers.

Joxer sighed. He wasn’t sure if it was the stress on both his body and mind, from both the Pantheons own chaotic problems and his new role in them, that were causing his usual optimism to fade, or if it was Strife’s dreams and the struggles he witnessed that were making him more jaded. It could even more easily be a pregnancy side-effect that would soon right itself. Joxer certainly hoped it was the last. He didn’t like feeling so put upon, didn’t like the idea of being used. However ecstatic he was about Strife’s return, from the way he was constantly being talked over and his life was being rearranged, Joxer was starting to wonder if he was really needed- or just his body was wanted to nurture and protect Strife. Joxer was almost convinced the gods would be happy if it was a case of ‘the lights are on, but nobody is home’.

I feel like I’m in the way.

The thought depressed him, his eyes flicking to Asyinnitos as she finally stopped pacing and knelt down beside him, her fingers caressing his barely curved belly. Joxer rolled his eyes, screwing them closed as pain flared from his nose. Without saying a word, she kept touching Joxer’s belly, making the mortal both uncomfortable and aggrieved.

She could at least ask. It’s my belly, not hers.

Fed up with constant touching, Joxer started pulling away but the goddess didn‘t even seem to notice as her fingers ghosted upwards, trying to part his shirt further. Joxer squirmed uncomfortably, the goddess's touch was soft, almost a caress, but it was almost too pleasant. Even though he wasn’t attracted to her, Joxer could feel a tightening in his pants. He was about to object but was diverted as she flashed away his shirt, without even asking.

So the gods don’t do common courtesy, who would have guessed?

Joxer clenched his teeth together to avoid saying the sarcastic comment aloud. Pain flared across his face and he gave a muted groan, his head falling back against the pillows. Unfortunately, Asyinnitos took that as a sign of acceptance and traced her fingers up his chest, making Joxer yelp as she ran them over his nipples. Stunned speechless as she rubbed one and than the other, the over sensitive buds hardening and throbbing painfully. Mouth slightly agape at her audacity, his embarrassment was clearly obvious in his expression as she rubbed her fingers together making the stickiness vanish instantly. “No sign of mastitis. That’s good.” Asyinnitos was smiling happily, but Joxer was too put out to smile back and the goddess's smile became uncertain. “I don’t think your ribs are broken, but they might be cracked.” As her hand moved towards his bruised ribs, tracing the red/purple coloration blossoming there, Joxer caught it, more out of fear that she would strip him further than any feeling of pain.

“Maybe you’d like to touch my belly some more to tell me that.”

The tart response surprised both of them. There was a long silence as the goddess pulled her hands back -something Joxer was grateful for- and sat back on her heels, assessing him a small frown on her face. The mortal could only guess she wasn’t used to anyone snapping at her. After all, she’d told him she avoided most people and she was a goddess. On the whole, the deities each had at least touch of arrogance in them.

After a long pause, she hesitantly reached forward and tentatively touched his nose, “It's broken, I’m afraid.”

Joxer wasn’t sure he should feel relieved she wasn’t commenting or responding in kind to his sharp comment, or irritated that she was ignoring it.

“I’m sorry, Joxer.”

Asyinnitos’ soft words pulled him out of his contemplation. “I’m just so worried about Strife, I can’t help but be, even if I can sense he’s fine. I failed him so badly before," the goddess said, avoiding his gaze. "I spent so much time forcing him to grow and be well, I just can’t help getting fixated. I completely ignored Eris while she was carrying him, which had to be done. Had I not, had she known I was there, we would have come to blows.”

Joxer hadn’t expected the apology and murmured that it was fine, expecting it was the closest he‘d actually get to one, even she was once again focusing on Strife. Obsessing about being obsessed, that‘s a new one.. The pain in his body soon distracted him from feelings of self pity. Ribs aching, face burning, not to mention a headache that was starting to move behind his eyes. That unpleasant sensation had Joxer closing his eyes.

He winced as he felt her cool hand against his cheek, and cracked open one eye to see her frowning at him- concern lacing her features.

“Male pregnancy in gods causes a huge strain on the body and you’re only mortal, which would cause even more stress. This is completely new to me, unprecedented even, so I can only guess than really know. Being hurt like this…” She bit her lip and then added quietly, quelling Joxer’s sudden surge of annoyance, "I don’t like seeing you hurt, Joxer.”

“You don’t?” The genuine concern and honesty in her eyes made him smile, made his earlier angsts fade a little. Though Joxer caught a flash of hurt in the goddess's eyes before she nodded, smile curving her lips gently.

“I take an interest right from the start and triplet pregnancies aren’t all that common. You were the smallest. Meant to born first, but your brothers pushed you out of the way.” Her eyes took on a far-away look as she smoothed back his hair, “I used to make sure you all got enough of everything. Jett was always the strongest, the first to kick. He used to do that to you and Jayce a lot. Jayce would kick back, but you, you would just rest your head against your mother and close your eyes.”

Her words had Joxer entranced, even if he found what she described a little creepy. It was nice thought, although a small part of Joxer was still uncertain, still insecure enough in himself to doubt her. He’d never considered the possibility that any one really noticed him until he met up with Xena and even then he‘d been dubious. With the exception of Strife, the majority of them had acted as though he wasn‘t there, until they wanted to use him for something; then he was noticed, but only as a tool, a means to an end. He found his mind wandering once more, a small dark thought echoing at the back of his mind, taunting him with how similar to those circumstances this pregnancy was.

No, not just a pregnancy…Strife. My baby, my son, no one else’s. Using me then or not, what does it matter, I wouldn’t have said no if he’d asked.

“I want to call Asclepious.”

Her statement cut into the moment, and a surge of panic hit Joxer. His hands cupping over his belly at the mention of the God of Medicine and Healing, he asked, his gaze accusatory, “Why, what’s wrong? You said Strife was fine.”

“Strife is fine. You, on the other hand, aren’t. And we need you in the best of health possible, for Strife and for yourself.” Asyinnitos answer was soothing, her hands resting over Joxer’s. “Believe me, Joxer, I agree that the less others know the better, but sooner or later either Asclepious or Apollo will be needed and unlike his father and many of the other gods, Asclepious isn’t cursed.”

Joxer frowned, his brow wrinkling, making him wince once more as he considered her words. Apollo, he had no doubt, was cursed. Strife’s dreams combined with what happened in Greece to Apollo’s temples was an indication of that, but Asclepious…

Strife never mentioned him, not once, I don’t think, and he hasn't been in any of Strife’s memories so far. But why wouldn’t Strife go to him for healing, why would he go to Apollo instead?

As if sensing his questions -as well she had, Joxer’s musings being loud enough for Asyinnitos to hear without snooping- she answered him, “Asclepious was never friends with Strife. In all honesty, Asclepious doesn’t have many friends to call his own. Not through fault of his own though.” She said sounding slightly defensive, Joxer noted. “He’s young, barely two centuries, and shy, not to mention coddled by Apollo.” The last was muttered that Joxer strained to hear but she didn’t elaborate-just switched subjects.

He knew the goddess was right, he wasn’t built for child bearing. The pregnancy and its side effects were already causing issues, especially when it came to controlling the baby’s powers, but the idea of anyone else other than the select few that already knew, knowing, made him apprehensive. He had no guarantee that Asclepious wouldn’t go and tell the whole Pantheon and the next thing he knew Strife would be ripped out of him and shoved back into Eris in a foolish attempt to do everything over. “Asclepious won’t tell anyone, I promise you that.” Asyinnitos seemed so sure. “He’ll keep this private. I’ll bind him with an oath as both a god and a healer. Besides, Ace isn’t the type to shoot his mouth off. He takes healer confidentiality very seriously.” She added, grudgingly, “In all fairness, so does Apollo normally, but I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him. He’s got a too-vested interest in this.”

Uncertainty gnawed at Joxer, seeing her looking at him so expectantly, with such certainty in her eyes, he had to agree. He didn’t know much about Asclepious, except that the god had a very good, if somewhat shrouded, reputation. Besides, he trusted Asyinnitos. He nodded, feeling a little pensive as he considered the risks involved with calling Asclepious. Still, Joxer had to admit he was curious to know what the god looked like. He hadn't not seen any statues of him, not that he went in Apollo’s temples much, which was where he presumed the statues would be.

'Asclepious, would you please attend me?' Asyinnitos sent a mental request to the younger god. The slight niggle at the back of her mind didn’t have time to develop into worry as Asclepious, prompt and courteous as always, flashed in with a burst of green sparks.

Joxer jumped. The God of Medicine and Healing looked nothing like Joxer had imagined. He’d pictured a younger version of Apollo, someone muscular and flashy. The god, however, while very attractive, was very understated. Where Apollo wore next to nothing and vibrant clothes, muscles bulging underneath, Asclepious favored a deep blue sleeveless shirt and dark grey pants. It was unbuttoned more modestly than Apollo’s too, only about halfway down the gods chest rather than the shirtless or open look the others seemed to prefer.

'Father and son, Joxer mused, complete opposites.'

Asclepious eyed Joxer in confusion, assessing the mortal and wondering where he fit into Asyinnitos life. The questions he was about to ask, however, were left unspoken as Asyinnitos ushered him to the mortal's side, and told the mortal to lie back and rest.

Joxer should have felt annoyed by it, would have grown frustrated by being talked over earlier, but now, he felt too tired and bruised to care. His earlier talking had made his face ache even more, from skin right into his teeth and gums. He scrutinized the two for a moment, watching as the god's eyes grew wide, the displeasure on his face making Joxer tense. The whispers had grown progressively louder as the God of Medicine and Healing appeared to be lecturing the goddess. Joxer couldn’t help but wonder at their relationship, their closeness and the touches between them seeming too intimate somehow that they were more than just friends.

Suddenly tired, Joxer closed his eyes, trying to push the pain in his face aside. 'If you can fix me, please fix me. All I want to do is sleep.'

A moment later, a hand pressed against his forehead almost in response to his mental plea and he started. Opening his eyes, he saw Asclepious leaning over him. Unlike Asyinnitos’ touch earlier, Asclepious’ felt warm and comforting. Asclepious was humming and there was something relaxing about it, something that had Joxer going limp. There was compassion in the god’s eyes which were firmly focused on Joxer’s own and the mortal couldn’t look away, mesmerized by them as much as the emotion he saw there. He could see nothing but blue, so deep and bright that he almost got lost in them. Deep blue familiar eyes, Asclepious eyes, Asyinnitos eyes. 'Apollo’s too?'

He couldn’t quite turn his head but as Asyinnitos stepped forward, her hands resting on Joxer‘s belly, he stared into her face. There was confusion and wondering on his face for moment, but neither she nor Asclepious paid attention they were too focused on the task at hand. Both working together, easily and seamlessly. Closing his eyes as the warmth spread throughout his body and washed the pain away, Joxer found himself panting though he wasn’t sure of the cause. His body tingled, leaving behind a euphoric feeling like he'd drunk too much ale but without the sickness and disorientation. He couldn‘t remember when he‘d felt this good before. When Joxer finally opened his eyes, both deities were sitting in front of him-Asclepious on his knees, Asyinnitos crossed legged. “Wow.” The word was full of awe and Joxer pressed a hand to his face, amazed that there was no pain. He almost went cross-eyed trying to look at his nose, amazed to find it was no longer swollen and sore. He couldn’t help grinning, glancing down at his ribs. The skin was pale and unmarked, without any bruising or pain of any kind to remind Joxer he’d even been hurt. “Thanks.” Asclepious momentarily looked taken aback, though whether it was from Joxer’s appreciation or the way he was grinning, he wasn’t sure. He got over it quickly though, and speaking frankly, he chastised Joxer for not eating enough fruit and vegetables, not eating nearly enough food or water in general, and then told him to take it easy. The god turned to Asyinnitos then. “I know food isn’t as easy to come by in Greece as it is in Olympus, so make sure you bulk him up a bit for the next few days.” Asyinnitos nodded, her gaze flicking towards Joxer, focusing on the leanness of his body and making the mortal blush as she did. “But he can’t stay in Olympus.” Asclepious held up his hand as Asyinnitos turned to protest, “Any more than a few days in your mother’s temple will inflame the curiosity of the others and the last thing we need is for them to pick up on Joxer and Strife. We don’t need a repeat of… what did happen here, anyway?” He looked to Asyinnitos to explain just how Joxer came to be in such a sorry state but she didn’t answer, not wanting to shame Hermaphroditus , especially since she believed the young god’s actions were because of the curse. Asyinnitos had no clue about his real motives and wasn’t likely to either. The god was too quiet, too placid for her to even begin to suspect that he was the real reason Strife had been ostracized As Cupid’s voice rang in her head, Asyinnitos’s eyes unfocussed, as she mentally reassured him.

Joxer gave Asclepious a weak smile, not wanting to be the one to name Hermaphroditus despite the assault the god had rained upon him.

Asclepious didn’t look like he was about to let the issue go though and he started to speak but then paused, closing his eyes for a moment.

“I’m sorry there’s been an outbreak of foot rot among the Athenian soldiers and Athena’s pretty unhappy about it. Why she can’t just keep to threatening dad, I don’t know.” Asclepious sighed, shaking his head. He then turned back to Joxer and reassured him, “Don’t worry, I’ll continue to help look after both you and the baby, and I swear to you I’ll keep all this confidential.” The words had scarcely left his mouth when he grimaced and flashed out, having been privy to some of Athena’s rather colorful mentally-spoken threats.

The comings and goings and flashing around were starting to make Joxer nauseous. Asyinnitos, either reading his mind or his green complexion materialized a mug out of thin air and held it out to him. The smell was delicious. Joxer couldn’t say just what it was as he slowly sipped at it, the rolling in his stomach lessening as he drank the pink liquid.

“Cupid’s coming.”

Joxer looked up at her a moment, and then his eyes moved back to the glass as it refilled itself, “Now? Does he know about Hermaphroditus?”

“No.” She hesitated a moment before continuing, the look in her eyes apologetic enough to make Joxer suspicious. “Joxer, please don’t tell Cupid it was Hermaphroditus," Asyinnitos pleaded, "at least not right away. We were lucky Ares didn‘t blast him all the way to Tartarus. With Cupid still trying to hold onto his emotions, he could be more volatile and do him serious harm.”

“He wasn't worried when he caused me serious harm, and if you hadn’t been there he could have killed Strife!” Joxer said, the indignation obvious in his voice.

“Believe me, I’m furious with him too. I would be taking this farther but everyone here is so volatile and unpredictable, there's no telling what they might do. And Hermaphroditus is still young, not even hit half a century yet, a baby by our standards.” Asyinnitos paused, her fingers stroking Joxer's arm in an unconscious attempt to soothe. “As stupid as it was for him to attack you like that, it was only because he thought you were one of my favorites. I think he must see me as the root of all his mother‘s problems and was looking for both revenge and to appease her. Hermaphroditus has always clamored for his parents’ attention, right up until the time he merged with Salmacis, he probably believes that by getting revenge on you and myself by proxy, he‘s somehow endearing himself more to them. I must admit haven’t seen him much since then, but I assumed he’d have grown out of such foolish endeavors.”

Maybe it was the soft caress soothing away his anger or the reluctant pity he felt thinking of Hermaphroditus as a baby rather than an adult but whatever it was, Joxer found himself agreeing to keep Hermaphroditus’ identity a secret.

“All right,” Joxer muttered grudgingly.

The words were scarcely out of his mouth, when there was yet another flash. He was starting to get used to the constant and sudden comings and goings of the gods, Joxer mused, even though their sudden appearances still made him see dots. What did make his head spin was when the God of Love bent down, Bliss held on his hip with one hand while the other scanned over Joxer, concern and worry in his eyes.

'Well of course he’s concerned,' Joxer mentally chided himself. 'This is Strife we’re talking about. His ex-lover. '

“Are you okay?”

Joxer blinked as troubled green eyes peered at him, Cupid’s hand now resting upon his shoulder. “Strife’s fine.”

He could have sworn Cupid’s eyes flashed a darker green for a moment, “I know Strife’s fine, Asyinnitos told me. I’m asking how you are, Joxer.” He raised an eyebrow, settling back on his heels as he looked the mortal.

Bliss looked back from one to the other, hands over his mouth as if shushing himself.

"I'm fine," Joxer blinked.

Cupid nodded. “I heard you had a run in with my brother.” His tone was too neutral and Joxer couldn’t help glancing briefly at Asyinnitos. “Which one? Demios? Phobos? I know it wouldn’t be Anteros-”

“Does it matter?” Joxer tensed slightly at Cupid’s frown but continued nonetheless, “Strife's fine, I'm fine.”

“What about the blood? Dad couldn’t just create that. You must have been bleeding quite a bit but there’s not a scratch on you.” Cupid said, his eyes narrowing as his gaze turned towards Asyinnitos.

“It was just a nose bleed and I’m fine. Ares dealt with the…with the perpetrator.” Joxer’s cheeks flushed at the half-lie, hating that he felt he had to tell it. Hating the added deception, when it was deception that had originally created all the chaos.

“It’s because of my protection mark, despite Zeus’ assurance that no one should seek retribution there are a lot of cunning and disgruntled people out there,” Asyinnitos chimed in, arms folding over her chest as Cupid tossed her a glare.

“What’s with all the secrecy? Demios, Phobios, Himerus? Who was it?” Cupid looked annoyed enough to actively seek out each one of his godly siblings and Bliss squirmed in his arms a little, tetchy, as he stuffed his fingers in his mouth.

“When you’re calmer, I’ll tell you.”

Joxer closed his eyes for a moment, wincing at Asyinnitos’ tone. He knew the goddess disliked confrontation but her words could be interpreted so many ways and when he opened his eyes and looked at the scowling love-god, who wore an expression he’d seen so often on Ares’ face, Joxer knew he’d taken it as patronizing.

“Are you aiming to piss me off today?” Cupid scowl deepened, his hold on Bliss involuntarily tightening as he looked at her.

“Hey, I didn’t even know he was your brother. He just did the whole poof, appear looking all pretty and sparkling thing.” Joxer managed to smile at Cupid, distracting him away from both his annoyance and questions, the forced goofy grin becoming more genuine as the god’s scowl lessened. Whether he accepted the role of fool that Joxer was playing or if Bliss’ agitated movements convinced him, Joxer wasn’t sure.

Setting Bliss down, Cupid‘s scowl completely petered out into a slight smile as his son, toddled to Joxer, small hands resting upon the man’s thighs before he half flew, half climbed into his lap.

“Ares knows,” Asyinnitos’ murmur caught both Joxer and Cupid’s attention, the love-god making a sound of disproval though Joxer said nothing. Instead he diverted most of his attention to Bliss who was staring up at him, placing him from before possibly, from when he‘d shot Joxer with one of Cupid‘s arrows all those months before.

“Mine?” The baby sounded uncertain, Joxer holding up his hands to press against Bliss‘, playing a game his own grandmother had taught him and capturing Bliss’ delight and attention all at once.

“Joxer,” he nodded, then repeated his name once more slowly for Bliss to copy.

“Jorrer.” Bliss blew a raspberry as he tried to pronounce Joxer’s name, finally settling for Jodder when his frustration got too much.

Joxer shrugged, letting the little boy tap at his hands. He’d been called worse and sometimes rude enough names in the past and his was one that was hard for any child to pronounce. He remembered Jayce had steadfastly kept mispronouncing it, up until they were of a training age and later covered his difficulty and lisp with his odd accent.

“Asclepious, too!”

Cupid’s groan caught Joxer’s attention and Bliss’ too for a moment, the mortal’s hands mimicking Bliss’ movements when the baby turned back to the game though he was listening to Asyinnitos response. “Don’t you think it’s a bit much?”

“Ares discovered it himself, he was bound to Cupid. He’s by no means stupid and he wouldn’t have believed Joxer was Strife’s offspring for much longer. Besides he was helpful when Joxer was attacked.” Asyinnitos flushed a little realizing her mistake as she knelt beside Cupid.

“Attacked? I thought it was just a nosebleed.” His voice was silky smooth but Joxer had no doubt that when he wanted to, Cupid could have quite a temper on him. Had seen the monster within him, close enough to know he didn’t want to see any other bad side of the god.

Asyinnitos, for her part, ignored the question, her gaze slipping to Joxer and Bliss as she continued. “Asclepious needed to know.” At least she didn’t elaborate and explain just why he needed to know so soon, though Joxer could almost see Cupid putting everything together. The slight tensing in his forearms, the way his gaze narrowed on Asyinnitos, making her cheeks pinker. “We would have needed him sooner or later and with it being sooner, the better health he can keep both Joxer and the baby in.”

Bliss giggled, drawing Joxer’s gaze downward. The patting game forgotten, the baby god was throwing colored sparkles onto the floor, pulling them from thin air and looking expectably at Joxer as he did.

“That’s really pretty, Bliss.” The giggle of pure joy the small godling gave, the way he fluttered his fingers and bounced on Joxer’s lap brought a smile to the man’s face. He didn’t even notice the divinities exchange looks before they stood up and moved a little away.

Just holding Bliss, feeling the wriggling warmth on his lap, made Joxer think on how Strife would be once he was born. Firmly ignoring the ‘how’ that Strife’s birth brought to his mind, Joxer concentrated on the baby that sat with him, babbling both nonsensical and intelligent words to him.

“I told Psyche.” Cupid rubbed his head, shoulders tensing as he waited to be rebuked, defensive though Asyinnitos didn’t say a word.

Her eyes were on Bliss and Joxer, she could hear the baby’s questions, was surprised-though she was more amazed at herself for feeling that way- by Joxer’s patience with the child. Given the depression Bliss’ innocent escapade with Cupid’s arrows had caused, she would have expected the mortal to be rigid and a little off with the baby. Even if the act itself wouldn’t have been deliberate, she would have expected some kind of unconscious resentment from Joxer.

“She’s not sleeping, really unhappy, sorta swinging from clinging to Bliss and wanting to stay well away from everything. She’s totally furious with mom and we’re both starting to wonder if she wasn’t drugged up like I was.” Cupid paused. “It’s like she’s only just now realizing about Strife being her dad-even if he was forced to be- you know. She was so taken and wanting Hercules, she doesn’t remember when that stopped and she wanted just me.”

“Everything she’s ever known, all of her beliefs have been rocked and shaken to the core.” Asyinnitos looked at him, gaze tearing from the mortal and baby. “In some ways she’s just as much a baby as her son. Had any of us been thinking and not just reacting, we would have wondered why Aphrodite made Psyche a goddess right away. Usually it takes years for such a thing and they’re made immortal first to give them time to get used to it.”

“She’s not getting involved till we know everything, says she can‘t get used to one god being her father when she loves the mortal one she has and she now finds it, in her words, completely ick that she‘s been sleeping and married to her supposed-father’s lover.” Cupid made a face. “I’m not enjoying it too much myself, thinking she’s Strife’s, but hers is more from a mortal hang-up than anything else.”

Asyinnitos nodded in understanding. “Mortals do have different rules to ours, they may revere us but that doesn‘t mean they agree with everything we do. Some may, but not all. You need to give your wife time, not dissolve your marriage right away.”

The last thing Psyche needed was nothing to cling too; to be thrown into the deep end with no one to guide her. Yet Asyinnitos knew Cupid wanted nothing more than the both of them to be free and concentrate on Strife’s return but he was responsible for her, he had to be. And Strife’s birth was in no way going to be a quick fix and nothing more. They all had to learn, including the gestating god.

“I can understand why Strife would chose him.” Her eyes were on Joxer as she spoke, sadness in her voice as she heard the man quietly mumbling a story about ‘Joxer the Mighty’. She felt like she was intruding by listening and so looked back towards Cupid. “What he had before was nothing short of a travesty of childhood.“

Her cheeks stung with shame, guilt resurfacing as she thought how she should have pushed for Strife to be taken right away from Discord, but seconds after mischief’s birth, Eris had hugged the boy to her-all thoughts of ridding herself of him gone. And Asyinnitos had chosen to agree with Hera, that Strife should be monitored but not taken. Eris had taken special pains to hide anything that would have given away her latter acts of atrocity.

Cupid glanced at her, not furious as she expected, as he should have been-merely resigned. “You knew.”

“I knew.” Those soft words sounded almost final as she locked eyes with him, unhappiness churning her belly as though her own curse was choosing to do more than render her barren. “I worked so hard in those last few months, keeping Discord pregnant,” She bit back a bitter laugh, “and I never saw it coming. For all her faults, Eris never once harmed a child and she used to love caring for you and Anteros when she had the chance. I never suspected she would change so dramatically.”

“She did though,” Cupid shook his head, remembering the change his aunt had gone through- young as he was he’d still been a god and blessed with such a memory. “One minute she was great and so much fun to be around, the next snarling and calling us leeches. Mom said it was just hormones because of St-because of the baby but it never settled down.”

“She literally became the image of chaos she projected, to those who followed and feared her.” Asyinnitos sighed, running fingers through her hair as she looked towards Bliss and Joxer. The baby was lying against him, heavy lidded and barely able to keep his head tilted back as Joxer enthralled and lullabied him.

She’d lost her hold over Strife a long time ago and regretted it deeply now, but second guessing her actions was a waste of time. They all had a lot to regret and make up for, but the guilt was useless now, it was better to focus on helping him and on helping Joxer.

“Things will be different this time.” The fervor in Cupid’s voice was obvious and Asyinnitos eyes were drawn to him as he stared at Joxer, an adamant expression on his face.

“Not right away.“ Asyinnitos paused, she hated to drain away Cupid‘s enthusiasm and wanted to see the god’s own passion directed towards Strife but there was something she had to make clear first. Something Gaea had already told her would never happen.

“When Strife is reborn, he won’t just be coming back as Strife.” Her chest hurt as he glanced sharply towards her, fear flashing in his eyes and she hurriedly continued. ”He will and yet won’t be the god you know. He’ll have his memories as he gets older and he may even have the same godhood and name. But though his soul is the same, he’ll be different.” Hearing Cupid’s breath hitching slightly, she laid a hand on his arm. “He won’t be forced to mature, being reborn in an instant to fix this mess. Childhood is like pregnancy, a preparation of what is to come. It may be difficult but equally so is being overwhelmed with information, being adult in a few days and having to be apart and stand alone. Lonely and always trying to combat that, uncertain, striving to be what you think you should rather then what you could have been. Is it a wonder some of our relatives don’t know how to act appropriately? To socialize and interact? Strife’ll grow up a day at a time and what was once torturous for him will become a pleasure.”

The hope was dimming on Cupid’s face, he was visibly wrestling with understanding and agreeing with her, and his own emotions. Suppressing the feeling deep inside him that wanted maturity forced, that wanted to be selfish and have Strife back. Quickly making up for all he’d said and done.

“Guess this time round he’ll have someone who cares about him, always there.” Cupid was worrying his lower lip, eyes suspiciously shiny as he mumbled the words.

Who worse to feel a breaking heart when it’s your own, than the god of love? Asyinnitos didn’t voice the thought, just carried on talking, watching Cupid sway between the fury he wanted to let loose and the sorrow.

Nether one of them realized Bliss was already asleep, nor that Joxer was watching them as he slowly rocked the baby.

“Believe me Cupid, this is a good thing.“ The goddess wasn’t good at explanations, in fact the talking she’d done in the last few months was more then she’d done almost her whole life. “It gives you the chance to make it up to Strife, to be there from beginning and explain as his memories come back. You won‘t have a hurt and suspicious adult, remembering nothing but pain and wanting it all to stay away-you‘ll have a young, open child. One who may be able to forgive you.”

There were no certainties, Asyinnitos didn‘t know if Strife would forgive anyone once all his memories returned. The mischief god may well flash his new father away from them all, not wanting any association. But there was one thought she could voice, one that she knew with all certainty and Gaea herself had even echoed a belief of. “You have eternity Cupid, you’ll have time to prove yourself to Strife, to let him realize that you’re soul mates. You can be there for him when he needs you, when he faces the Pantheon once more, and what’s happened to him. And when Hades eventually comes for the man he’ll call father.” She hated that thought, hated knowing that would happen and wouldn’t have voiced it if she’d noticed Joxer watching. Noticed the mortal pale as he pressed a hand to his belly, to the baby that lay inside as he held the one on his lap closer.

The time would come for them to be together, but right now Cupid needed to sort out his marriage; to give Psyche help and time to adjust to her parentage, godhood and single life as well as both raising Bliss-giving him the attention he deserved. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

“What happens now?“ Joxer’s voice was quiet but the room itself was silent, so it cut into the silence making both Cupid and Asyinnitos jump.

“I don’t know.“ Cupid was unsure, moving closer to Joxer and Bliss, neither he nor Asyinnitos connected that Joxer’s somber mood could possibly come from what they’d just been saying, neither one realizing the man had been listening. “Maybe you could stay with me?” Having Joxer, and Strife by proxy, staying at his temple where he could keep them both safe definitely appealed, but Joxer was already shaking his head, speaking even before Asyinnitos could. Vetoing what he believed would be a bad idea.

“Sounds like you have your hands full there.“ Joxer licked his lips, suddenly apprehensive. “Seems like the tension’s too high wherever I think of.” His belly was already churning at the thought, Olympus not offering the harmony and tranquility he’d always imagined it too.

Asyinnitos was frowning musing, over an idea, Cupid was the one to speak his thoughts aloud. “Assy’s is good for a day of two, then someone will come looking. Same for anywhere else on Olympus. We could put you in one of our temples, or perhaps dad’s, but mom visits mine, still trying to make it up to me and warlords don‘t make for peace and rest.“ His voice held a bitter tinge to it but Joxer could see acceptance and reluctance in Cupid’s eyes. Whatever her faults, Aphrodite was his mother and Cupid couldn’t hate her. It was just blatantly obvious that he didn’t care for her much now.

“The demigods are so out of it, I wouldn‘t trust them to protect a water skin.” Cupid rolled his eyes, adding grudgingly, “besides they’re no match and protection from a god, much as they might try.”

“Nemesis,” Asyinnitos’ soft word prompted Joxer to get to his feet, cradling Bliss against him as the godling shifted and nuzzled into his neck.

“Nemesis?” Both he and Cupid echoed her word, Joxer with confusion, Cupid with something akin to understanding in his expression and tone.

“She’s our best bet.“ Asyinnitos nodded, set on the best course, intent on convincing them, though Cupid needed no pushing.

The god was nodding, though he looked at little rueful as he spoke. “Dad won’t be happy, he’s not allowed near. I mean it’s good none of us really are, means Joxer will be safer there, but you know dad’s got a special interested in Joxer, right?” The look he threw Asyinnitos was blatantly clear in just what that interest was but she merely shrugged.

“He can relax for a few days here and see Ares. Nemesis and Evander are protected by Zeus’ law-no god would dare attack there and entering would need good reason. I can act as a liaison there, mother and I can still visit-Nemesis welcomes us. It‘s just everyone else she doesn‘t want near Evander.”

Joxer had only heard bits and pieces of the entire Nemesis/Ares/Evander issue and now his brain was slowly clicking into gear. He was pensive and unsure about the idea, though he trusted that both of them knew what was best.

Before they could decide every moment of his life for him, Joxer spoke quietly, “I’m happy to rest here a few days if that’s what you want me to, but before I go and stay with Nemesis-if she’ll have me-” he couldn’t help reminding the gods of the courtesy they’d forgotten, “I’d like to see Xena and the others, explain that I’m okay first. Even if I say nothing about Strife.”

TBC



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