AresJoxerCupidStrife - Hergerbabe


Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10
Part 11 Part 12 Part 13 Part 14 Part 15 Part 16 Part 17 Part 18 Part 19 Part 20
Part 21 Part 22 Part 23 Part 24 Part 25 Part 26 Part 27 Part 28 Part 29 Part 30
Part 31 Part 32 Part 33 Part 34 Part 35 Part 36 Part 37 Part 38 Part 39 Part 40
Part 41 Part 42 Part 43 Part 44 Part 45 Part 46 Part 47 Part 48 Part 49 Part 50
Part 51 Part 52 Part 53 Part 54 Part 55 Part 56 Part 57 Part 58

Title: The Plan
Author: Hergerbabe
Fandom: Xena
Pairings: A/J, H/I, X/G, C/S
Rating: NC-17
Archive: AJCS, JLA
Disclaimer: Not mine and sadly never will be
Warnings: possibly but not yet, sorry WIP
Notes: I guess this would be an AU, I’ve seen very few Xena eps beyond the first couple of series, so this is a case of two fingers up at canon :)
Summary: What if Xena wasn’t actually what she seemed? For Christine, this has been hanging around for ages, thanks for nagging me to continue with it and subsequently beta’ing, love ya hon!



“Excuse me?!”

“This is your future lifemate.”

“Joxer?” Ares raised an eyebrow.

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?” Three identical nods. “You don’t mean Jett?”

A snort and two chuckles. “Jett does not have what it takes to be your mate.”

“Huh? And Joxer does?” Another set of nods. “But, but he’s sweet and kind and gentle, and damn, *so* clumsy.” Not to mention, cute and sexy, Ares’ eyes glazed over momentarily.

Three sly smiles were shared. “You already know much about him.”

Ares shook himself. “Um, yeah, well. You try ignoring one of his prayers!” Two small grins and a muffled snort. Ares flushed. “So, I have to marry him?”

“Not yet, it is not time.”

“Oh.” Ares didn’t actually sound disappointed, did he? “So, why tell me?”

“You must protect him. He has a destiny to fulfil and only you can help him. You will know when the time has come.”

Ares nodded and flashed away. Three sisters stared at each other, before breaking down into hysterical laughter.

“Oh, he is *so* gone on Joxer!”

“I told you.”

“He didn’t even make a token protest.”


Ares flashed into his throne room and looked round carefully before he punched the air. “Yes!”

Just this once, he would forgive The Fates from interfering. Now they had declared that he would marry Joxer, no one could stop him. And, as his official consort, Ares could have him made immortal.

There was just one small problem. He sat back in his throne with a sigh. How in Tartarus was he supposed to protect Joxer without drawing unwanted attention to him? If anyone thought Joxer was important to him, it could be used against him.

He needed someone he could trust, but who wouldn’t raise suspicion. There were only three people he trusted, other than Joxer. Strife, Cupid and…

*Xena!*

*Yes, father?*

*I have a very important job for you.*

@>*~

(A little time later)

*Daughter.*

*Father.*

*How goes it?*

*This sucks, dad! People are so damn needy and pathetic. I hate this gig. You haven’t even told me why I’m doing this yet.*

*Patience, Xena. And remember who you’re talking to. Pretending that you’ve left my service is no great shakes either, ya know?*

*Yes father. ::sighs:: It’s just this girl, Gabrielle, she won’t leave me alone. Thinks I’m some big hero. Agh! I *so* want to kill her!*

*Well don’t. Every hero needs a sidekick after all ::laughs::*

*Yeah, thanks for that, *dad*!*

Ares sat back and grinned at his nephew. “It’s going well.”

“Yup,” Strife nodded, “I still don’t get it though.”

“You’re not supposed to,” Ares raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, okay.” Strife grinned. “So, what do I do?”

“With this? Nothing. Why don’t you go and help Cupid with Bliss, he could use it,” Ares suggested.

“Yeah, I know. I really don’t know how Psyche could give them up, but there you go. I guess she just couldn’t handle it,” Strife didn’t look particularly sorry.

Ares chuckled and shook his head, “No, but then that leaves the way clear for you now, doesn’t it?”

Strife stared in shock at his uncle. “How?” he shook his head, “Never mind, I take it you don’t mind then?”

Ares smiled, “To be honest, I always thought the two of you would get together a long time ago.”

“Really?” Strife was startled, “You mean you think I have a chance?”

Ares leaned forward and patted Strife’s shoulder, “Definitely.”

“Thanks, unc!” Strife hugged Ares before he disappeared to find his cousin.

Ares sighed contemplatively. For a Love God, Cupid could be a little slow, but now he’d given Strife a nudge maybe things would develop.

@>*~

*Dad?*

*Yes, Xena.*

*This guy?*

*Yes, Xena.*

*This is the guy you want me to protect?*

*Yes, Xena.*

*Are you sure?*

*::sighs heavily:: Of course I’m sure.*

*But he’s *so*…*

*Yes, thank you, I know. He’s also a very good man, and your future stepfather, so be nice.*

*::squeaks:: Stepfather?!*

*::sighs:: Yes.*

*But…*

*Look, I told you, The Fates say he has to be protected until we marry and he fulfils his destiny*

*Okay, okay, I’m sorry.*

*Don’t question me again in the future.*

*No, father.*

(A long time later)

Ares was furious. Xena was getting far too into this hero business and she’d almost failed him.

*Xena!*

*::hesitant:: Yes, father?*

*What in *Tartarus* were you thinking?!*

*I’m sorry, I was trying to help this…*

*Trying to help?! Your *job* is to protect Joxer, you nearly got him killed!*

*Dad! You sound like you actually care about him!*

*::snorts:: About as much as you care about Gabrielle.*

*Um, dad? I love Gabrielle.*

*::tense silence:: Um.*

*Dad? You love him!*

*Um.*

*Well shit, dad! You didn’t feel the need to share?*

*It’s personal!*

*So? I’m your daughter, things like this matter to me.*

*::snorts:: Since when?*

*Dad!*

*Sorry.*

*Dad… you won’t hurt Gabrielle, will you?*

*What? Why?*

*Because Joxer likes her.*

*::snorts:: No he doesn’t. That’s just a compulsion I put on him.*

*Oh, okay. Why?*

*To allay suspicion.*

*Suspicion?*

*::clears throat nervously:: Yeah. Believe it or not, Joxer is one of my best followers, ever. It doesn’t do for anyone to think personal feelings are involved, on either side.*

*You mean he…*

*I don’t know. I haven’t looked.*

*Oh. Why not?*

*Because I lo… because I care about him, and I won’t invade his privacy.*

*But what about his feelings, dad? I love Gabrielle, but she’s hurting him. You should take off the compulsion.*

*Jealous, are we?*

*Dad! No, I’m not, okay? I… I care about Joxer.*

*::deflates:: Really?*

*Yes, I think you’ll be good for each other.*

*Okay, okay, I’ll take it off.*

*Good. After all, you’ll never know how he really feels if he thinks he loves Gabby.*

*::defensive:: Yeah, whatever.*

*Don’t be so down on yourself, dad.*

*Oh shut up! You’ve gotten into this caring, sharing crap a little too much, you know that?!*

*Well excuse me for giving a damn!*

*::clears throat:: Yes, well. Just remember why you’re doing this, okay?*

*Yes, father.*

Joxer woke suddenly, feeling a little odd. He sat up and looked round. Xena was sitting by the fire, Gabrielle curled up next to her. Xena’s eyes were closed and she was frowning in what appeared to be fierce concentration. Joxer rubbed his eyes tiredly and got up, surprised that Xena didn’t react.

He frowned at her, waiting for a second. She still didn’t open her eyes. Joxer sighed, wondering what to do. He didn’t want to risk a near death experience if he surprised her, but he didn’t want to leave the camp with Xena apparently unaware.

Suddenly she sighed and muttered something. Her eyes flicked open and fixed on him. To his surprise, she jumped slightly, then flushed.

“Oh, um, Joxer, hi,” she stuttered feeling slightly awkward, especially after finding out how her father felt about him.

Joxer smiled softly at her, assuming she was embarrassed because she hadn’t noticed him getting up. “Hey, Xena. Are you okay?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah, sure,” she smiled briefly, “You going somewhere?”

“Call of nature,” Joxer said quietly. He didn’t mention how strange he’d felt when he’d woken up, because he’d already forgotten.

She nodded and he left the clearing. After relieving himself and having a brief wash in the nearby stream, Joxer sat down. He didn’t feel like returning to the clearing straight away. He stared at the gently babbling water in confusion, something felt different, but he couldn’t place what. He picked up a stone and threw it in the water listlessly.

With a sigh, he realised how long it had been since he’d visited Ares’ temples and he felt incredibly guilty. Not that his God would probably have even noticed, but it was important to him. Oh, he prayed every day, but because he travelled so frequently with Xena and Gabrielle, he’d avoided going to Ares’ temples so they wouldn’t know who he worshipped.

Joxer frowned suddenly, wondering why. Ares was everything to him. Why, in Zeus’ name, had their, and in particular Gabrielle’s, opinion mattered so much to him?

Joxer determined to visit the very next temple they came across, but oh! He sighed again. What in Hades could he give as an offering? Especially after such a long time.

Feeling incredibly dispirited, Joxer walked back to camp. Xena had started cooking breakfast and Gabrielle was awake, but yawning loudly. Xena smiled up at him.

“You okay?” she asked.

Joxer forced himself to smile and nod. “Fine,” he said quietly.

Gabrielle frowned at him. “You sure?” she asked, “You look miserable.”

Joxer shrugged. “M’fine,” he mumbled. He sat down, ignoring the glances the two women exchanged.

Xena noticed that Joxer had barely looked at Gabrielle so far. Maybe her father *had* actually taken off the compulsion. She was slightly surprised, she’d got the impression Ares was using the compulsion as an excuse not to have to find out what Joxer’s true feelings were.

Now, she had to wonder what those feelings might be. Whatever Joxer had on his mind, it obviously wasn’t making him very happy. Xena sighed, at least Gabrielle couldn’t hurt his feelings as badly now he didn’t think he was in love with her. Although she was sure Gabrielle’s knack for tactless insensitivity would manage to hurt their gentle friend at some point.

@>*~

*Well?*

*I don’t know, dad. I mean Gabrielle isn’t making him miserable anymore, but something is.*

*::sighs:: I know. I sense it in his prayers, a nervousness. He’s holding back, which isn’t like him.*

*Dad, you okay?*

*Not really ::sighs deeply::*

*Dad? Come on, talk to me.*

*Xena, I told you before, I don’t do all this caring, sharing bullshit!*

*Well, you’d better start, because it’s what Joxer’s looking for.*

*::snorts:: Yeah, well you’re not him, are you?*

*Dad!*

*Okay, okay. It’s just it’s hard, waiting till the time is right. I mean when’s that going to be?! His prayers keep me going, and their tone the last few days has worried me. There, happy now?!*

*I guess.*

*Gods! You’re never happy, are you?*

*Sorry, I’m just more worried now than I was before.*

*Oh.*

*Dad? I’d better go. Joxer woke up before I finished last time.*

*Fine, and Xena?*

*Yeah?*

*::whispers:: Take care of him for me.*

*I will, dad.*

Xena smiled softly as she opened her eyes and glanced over at Joxer. The young man was curled up on his bedroll, looking childlike and innocent. Which he was really. Xena wondered if that was what had drawn her father to him in the first place.

She sighed, wishing she knew what was bothering Joxer, and lay down next to Gabrielle to try and get some sleep.

Joxer tried to shake himself out of his depression, his mood was bringing the others down. But he couldn’t help it, he just didn’t have anything worthy enough to give his God after such a long absence. He ignored the worried looks Xena and Gabrielle kept giving him. He couldn’t do anything to lift his spirits, it seemed pointless to worry them more by forcing himself to be cheerful.

He continued to walk despondently behind them until…

“Oh, shiiiiiiiit!” The ground gave way beneath him and he landed heavily on his ass, before continuing to slide down the muddy slope into the hole he’d discovered. “Agh, agh, agh, agh, agh, oooof!” Joxer landed with a thud. He lay back and stared up at the sky in shock. “Ow,” he whispered when he’d recovered his breath.

“Joxer? Oh Gods, are you okay?” Gabrielle’s face appeared over the hole.

“Um,” Joxer sat up to check himself over, “Yeah, I think so.”

“Xena’s just rigging up a rope to come get you, okay?” Gabrielle called down to him.

“Sure.” Joxer sighed and looked round. Then he frowned, he thought he could see something twinkling in the darkness. Joxer got onto his knees and crawled forward.

Half buried in the soil he’d dislodged, was what appeared to be a jewel. But not like one Joxer had ever seen, it was bright, as if it was producing its own light. What an amazing thing, it would be perfect to give to Ares. Cautiously, Joxer reached out and touched it.

He got a short, sharp shock and pulled his hand away quickly with a quiet yelp. But the jewel appeared to be stuck to his fingers. In a panic, Joxer shook his hand frantically, to try and throw it away. But to his horror, as he watched, it slowly dissolved through his skin and his hand began to glow.

Joxer tried to scream, but when he opened his mouth nothing came out. He watched terrified and helpless as the glow spread slowly up his arm and all over his body. He shone brightly for a few more seconds, then it died away. Joxer swallowed hard and began to pat himself, checking everything was still there, that he was okay.

But truth be told, Joxer felt fine, wonderful in fact. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so good. A thud behind him made him jump and he fell over.

“Sorry, Jox,” Xena grinned at him, “Should have warned you.”

He smiled up at her and let her help him to his feet. “S’okay. Can we get out of here now?” he asked quietly.

Xena frowned, she hadn’t expected Joxer to be so quiet, *still* so quiet. She was really starting to worry about him now. “Yeah, course,” she said cheerfully, hoping for a more genuine smile.

But Joxer couldn’t quite manage a smile. He felt distinctly odd, but for some reason, it didn’t occur to him to tell Xena about the jewel and what had happened. He just wished it hadn’t disappeared, it would have been a perfect gift for Ares.

“Come on then,” Xena helped Joxer out of the hole, before following him. Gabrielle looked concerned, but Joxer managed a reassuring smile.

“I tell you what,” Xena started, “When we reach the next town, how about we stop at an inn for a couple of days and get a proper rest?”

“Sounds great!” Gabrielle grinned at her.

Joxer smiled quietly and nodded, he could use a night in a proper bed and it would give him more time to look for an appropriate offering.

@>*~

That night after Joxer and Gabrielle had fallen asleep, Xena waited for her father’s call.

*Xena?*

*I’m here, dad.*

*::sighs:: How is he?*

*No better, I really can’t work out why he’s so depressed. Something weird happened today, he fell down this hole, but he seems to have forgotten all about it.*

*Hmm, odd. But it’s been a strange day. Have you noticed anything different today?*

*::shrugs:: Not really, why?*

*I don’t know, there was a weird, sort of energy surge. It felt strange, powerful. But I’ve no clue what it was.*

*Anyone else notice?*

*I don’t know, I don’t exactly communicate with the others much, now do I?*

*I guess not ::sighs::*

*Well, just take care of him, I’m sure he’ll snap out of it, he usually does.*

*Does he now? ::chuckles::*

*Yes! Actually, he does.*

*Okay, okay, sorry, dad. I’ll talk to you soon?*

*Yeah. Maybe he’ll actually come and visit me, it’s been awhile.*

*That’s your own fault, dad. He would have if he hadn’t been worrying about Gabrielle’s opinion of him. ::raises an eyebrow::*

*Whatever.*

*::sighs:: Bye, dad.*

*Yeah.*

Xena opened her eyes and sighed again. Her father was sounding as bad as Joxer recently. She hoped that the time The Fates had spoken about would come soon, if only for her father’s sake. And she had a feeling that Ares would do anything to make Joxer happy. She gave a tiny smile at the thought of the God of War being in love, then she settled down, drawing Gabrielle into her arms.

As promised, Xena booked them into an inn at the next town they came across two days later. Joxer immediately made his excuses and wandered down to the local market to look for something to take to Ares’ temple. It had to be perfect.

But the next couple of hours just sank him deeper into his depression. There was nothing, nothing he could afford anyway. On his way back to the inn, he was so lost in thought about how much he could make if he sold everything he didn’t absolutely need, he didn’t see something sticking out of the ground in front of him, and his toe connected with it painfully.

“Ow!” Joxer bounced on one foot, trying to rub his assaulted toe, “Ow, ow, ow!” He was so fed up, he nearly didn’t stop to see what he’d hit. Joxer frowned and bent down, picking up the ornate dagger. He looked round to see if anyone had lost it, but nobody even glanced his way.

“Wow,” Joxer stared at the weapon. It was beautiful, perfect! He smiled genuinely for the first time that week. He just couldn’t wait now, Joxer hurried to Ares’ temple straight away.

@>*~

Ares sat impatiently in his temple, surely Joxer would visit? Before he’d got Xena to watch him and then placed that stupid compulsion on him, Joxer had come to every temple he passed and left an offering. Even if it was just some fruit, he always left something.

Ares sighed, realising how much he’d missed that and he dug into his pocket, pulling out a stone in the shape of a sword that Joxer had found and left at his altar in Thebes. He smiled, remembering how excited the young man had been, how enthusiastic and happy his prayer had been. Not like recently.

He’d sent everyone away, he loved to watch Joxer in his temples, alone. It always made the young man a little braver, and he’d stay longer, almost chatting to him.

Ares jumped. He felt Joxer’s presence immediately and smiled happily. He’d come! Ares quickly raised a shield to keep things private.

Joxer approached the altar slowly and somewhat nervously, feeling a little edgy, like he was being watched. He glanced around with a frown, but he couldn’t see anyone.

Ares tilted his head curiously, Joxer shouldn’t have had even an inkling of his presence, yet he kept glancing around as if he expected someone to appear.

Joxer shivered a little, then shook himself, telling himself not to be so stupid. He stood in front of the altar, unaware of his God standing on the other side watching him. Joxer stared up at Ares’ statue briefly, before bowing his head to pray.

‘Lord, I …’ Joxer sighed. What could he say? He stared at the dagger he’d brought with him and he had an idea.

To Ares’ surprise, Joxer raised both hands over the altar, wielding a dagger in one.

‘Lord Ares, my life has always been dedicated to you,’ Joxer restarted his prayer. ‘I know I’m not worthy, but I give you all that I am.’ Ares jumped as Joxer drew the blade across his palm. ‘By my life’s blood, I am yours.’

Ares moved quickly, not really knowing what he was doing or why. A dagger appeared in his hand. He slashed open his own palm.

“By my life’s blood, I am yours,” he whispered as he caught Joxer’s hand.

Joxer yelped in shock at the words and as he tried to pull his hand away, Ares appeared in front of him. Ares put his other hand over Joxer’s, pushing their bleeding palms tightly together. As their blood mixed, Ares felt strange, a weird sensation overwhelmed him and he blacked out, letting go of Joxer’s hand as he fell.

Joxer whimpered in fright. “Um, help?” he squeaked. Joxer really, really wanted to run away, but how could he leave Ares unconscious? Nervously, he crept round the altar to where Ares was lying and knelt down next to him.

“Lord Ares?” he said quietly. “Ares?” With a nervous gulp, Joxer reached out to touch his God’s face gently, reverently. He sighed, he might not live beyond this night, but at least he’d touched his God, just once. Then Ares’ eyes flicked open.

Ares had woken to the soft touch and opened his eyes. He stared up at Joxer, just catching the tenderness before it dissolved to terror, and he couldn’t help it. He reached up, pulled Joxer down and kissed him.

Joxer moaned in surprise and amazed pleasure, his lips parting quickly to his God’s demanding tongue. Ares thought his heart might burst with joy when Joxer kissed him back. He sat up and pulled Joxer into his lap, getting rid of the bulky, uncomfortable armour with a thought, cupping his face to draw him even closer.

Joxer whimpered happily. He had no clue why Ares was kissing him, but he could die happy now. Then again, maybe it was just one of his dreams, but he didn’t care, he was going to enjoy it as long as he could. He wrapped his arms round Ares’ neck and sucked enthusiastically on his exploring tongue.

Ares moaned, hugging Joxer close to his chest, his hand sliding up Joxer’s back to grip his hair tightly. Eventually, Joxer had to pull back, gasping for breath.

“Ares?” he panted in confusion. It didn’t seem to be a dream, so why had the God of War been kissing *him*? Ares started to smile, but then he felt the first nudge at his shield and he frowned, it was being breached. Joxer quailed fearfully at Ares’ expression. But instead of being blown to Tartarus like he’d expected, he was dragged to his feet and behind his God’s strong body as two flashes lit the temple.

“Uh oh,” Joxer whispered at the sight of Zeus and Hera.

“Okay, what did I do?” Ares asked with a sigh of resignation. Hera frowned and walked over to the pair, raising her hand. Ares pushed Joxer further back protectively.

“Married?” Hera whispered in shock.

“What?!” exclaimed Zeus, Ares and Joxer at the same time. Hera raised her other hand and frowned in concentration.

“Ares and the young mortal are married,” Hera repeated.

“What?” Zeus shook his head, “Typical! Things are coming to a head and you take off and get married!” He glared at his son. “Can it be broken?” he asked his wife.

“No!” Ares shouted.

“I beg your pardon?!” Zeus blinked at him.

“I have waited too long for this, he’s mine! As was declared by The Fates!” Ares roared.

Joxer’s heart was about to pound right out of his chest. Married? To Ares? And Ares wanted it? He felt slightly faint.

“As you are his, my son,” said Hera, “These vows cannot be broken, Zeus. They are vows of the most ancient and sacred order, a binding of mind, body and soul.”

This time, Joxer did faint.

Ares barely had time to turn and catch him. He glared up at his parents.

“What did you mean by things coming to a head?” he growled.

Zeus sighed, “We have had energy flickerings at the dimensional borders, we think, although we are not sure, that it has something to do with the bizarre energy surge two days ago.”

“At the dimensional borders?” Ares frowned, “Dahak?”

“Possibly,” Zeus nodded.

“And you think the energy surge is something to do with him?” Ares asked quietly.

“Actually, I think it is more likely that whatever that surge was, Dahak wants, which is why he has renewed his efforts to breach the borders again,” Zeus bit his lip thoughtfully.

“So why is my being married a problem?” Ares growled.

Joxer moaned, coming round slowly. Ares sounded angry and instinctively, he reached out to touch his God’s arm. At Ares’ sharp intake of breath, Joxer opened his eyes cautiously. Ares stared down at his young husband, who was still gently stroking his arm, despite looking terrified.

Joxer met his eyes nervously and Ares smiled reassuringly. Joxer smiled back in relief. Zeus and Hera exchanged surprised glances.

Ares looked up again. “Well?” he asked his father.

“I don’t want you distracted, that’s all. If Dahak is involved, I need you to work on the ground,” he frowned thoughtfully, “That daughter of yours, she can help, and uh,” he glanced nervously at Hera, “Your brother.”

“Aw, dad, do I have to?” Ares whined. Joxer couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped. Ares looked down at Joxer with a curious frown. “What?”

Joxer tried to suppress his grin. “It’s just…” he snickered, “You sounded like a little boy.” Ares blinked at him, and Joxer realised in horror what he’d said and who he’d said it to. “I, uh, I…”

To his surprise, Ares started to laugh and hugged him close. “Ares?” he said warily, “Are… are you okay?”

“Yes, Joxer. I’m very okay,” Ares grinned. He lifted Joxer’s chin with one finger and dropped a kiss on his husband’s upturned lips. Working with Xena was obviously not going to be a problem, and Ares thought he might even be able to cope with Hercules, now he was finally with Joxer.

“Very well, father,” he agreed. “I will investigate matters, with Xena, Hercules and their partners, on the conditions that, one, Joxer stays with me, and two, Cupid and Strife help me out.”

Zeus frowned slightly, wondering why his son had included Cupid. Then he sighed and nodded, “Agreed.” He glanced at Hera, “Happy, my dear?”

Hera looked thoughtful, “Not quite.” She glanced at Joxer, “I may not, even as Goddess of Marriage, be able to break yours, but I would like to know, how do you feel about my son?”

Joxer flushed lightly. He stared up at Ares who was looking almost nervous and he smiled. “I love him, ma’am.”

Hera sighed softly, “Very well, *now* I’m happy.” She took Zeus’ hand and they nodded at their son before disappearing.

Ares was too caught up in his own happiness to even notice. He kissed Joxer gently and then set him down on the altar. He picked up the dagger Joxer had brought.

“May I keep this?” he asked quietly.

Joxer gaped slightly in surprise. “I, uh, of course, I brought it for you.”

Ares smiled, “Thank you. It’s beautiful, where did you get it?”

Joxer flushed. “I,” he cleared his throat and looked down, “I found it.”

Ares stared closer at the dagger and frowned, “You know, it feels ‘made’ and yet not quite.”

Joxer blinked, “Made?”

“Yes,” Ares nodded, “Things we Gods make through thought, while real, are slightly different from something made in nature, but only a God could tell the difference.”

He paused, “Do you understand?” Joxer nodded and Ares grinned at him. “Well, this dagger feels different from a natural one, but it still doesn’t quite feel ‘made’ either. I really don’t understand.”

Joxer shrugged helplessly, a lot of strange things were happening to him lately.

“Where did you find it?” Ares asked, sitting next to Joxer.

“I tripped over it, after despairing of ever finding anything suitable to bring you,” Joxer sighed quietly.

Ares frowned, something strange was going on but he couldn’t put his finger on what. Shaking his head, he turned to Joxer. “Anything you bring me is perfect,” he said quietly.

Joxer brightened slightly, “Really?” he asked.

“Really,” Ares smiled at him. “Remind me to show you your room when we get up to Olympus.”

“*My* room?” Joxer blinked in confusion.

Ares just nodded. “Before we can do that, I need to get the freaky foursome together,” he paused to grin at Joxer’s snort of laughter at his nephew’s nickname for the four heroes. “Here would be better than the inn, don’t you think?”

Joxer managed to stop laughing and raised his eyebrows, Ares was asking his opinion? “Um, sure,” he said quietly.

“Give me a moment to contact Xena,” Ares closed his eyes.

Joxer blinked, contact Xena?

*Daughter.*

*::sleepily:: Father… what?*

*Do you know where Joxer is?*

*::panicky:: Uh, uh, he isn’t back from the market?*

*No, but I’ll let you off, he’s with me.*

*::smiles:: He did visit you then.*

*::sighs:: Yes.*

*Dad? What is it?*

*Nothing. Well, not nothing. Look, just come to the temple and bring the harpy. It’ll be a lot easier to only have to explain this the once!*

*Explain what? Dad? Dad!*

Xena sighed in frustration and opened her eyes. She nudged Gabrielle gently.

“Mmph,” Gabrielle snuggled closer. Xena nudged her again. “What is it?” Gabrielle mumbled.

“Come on, time to get up. Joxer’s not back yet.”

“So?” Gabrielle pouted, “He’s a grown man, he can take care of himself.”

“Gabrielle!” Xena stared pointedly at the younger woman.

“Okay, okay. I’m coming,” Gabrielle sighed in frustration.

Xena gave her a small smile and kissed her. “Come on, we still have tonight.”

Gabrielle smiled softly. “Yeah I know. And tomorrow, and tomorrow night!” she wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.

Xena chuckled, “That’s true.” They got dressed quickly and Xena led the way through the town.

“Where are we going?” Gabrielle asked.

“I have an inkling where Joxer might be,” Xena replied.

“Really?” Gabrielle frowned when she realised what building they were heading for, “Why here?”

Xena shrugged, “I’m not sure yet.” She paused, suddenly a little nervous. She had a feeling things were about to get awkward.

@>*~

When Ares felt Xena enter the temple, he closed his eyes briefly in concentration. Two flashes lit the temple, just as Gabrielle and Xena walked into the annex where they were sitting.

“What the… Ares!” Hercules snarled at his brother. Then he stopped in confusion, Ares was sitting on his altar with Joxer and he was smiling, actually smiling! Hercules wasn’t sure whether to be very worried, or very scared.

Iolaus glanced round and spotted Xena and Gabrielle. “Hey,” he greeted them, “What’s going on?”

Gabrielle shrugged, “Haven’t got a clue, we were just looking for Joxer.”

Xena stared at her father. He was sitting right on the edge of the altar, hands braced on either side. Joxer was sitting in a similar position, looking slightly shell-shocked, but with a glazed grin on his face. But on closer observation, she saw the way her father was leaning in close to the wannabe warrior, and the pinkies of their adjacent hands were linked together.

She smiled. “Well?” she asked expectantly.

Ares grinned at her, ignoring the other three and he nodded. “It was finally time,” he said happily.

To the complete shock of Gabrielle, Hercules, Iolaus *and* Joxer, Xena actually squealed excitedly, ran up to the altar and flung her arms round Ares’ neck.

“Oh, dad! I’m *so* happy for you,” she exclaimed.

Ares blinked in surprise, but he hugged her back delightedly. She pulled back to look at Joxer, who was staring at her in bemusement.

“Jox? You okay?” she asked quietly.

“Oh, I… yes, but you…?” Joxer stuttered.

Gabrielle had been in complete shock, but she finally found her voice. “Dad? *Dad*?!” she spat.

Xena turned round and stared at her friend and lover, her expression a mixture of guilt, apology and regret. “Gabrielle, I…”

Gabrielle folded her arms across her chest and tapped her foot.

“Xena,” Ares said gently, seeing his daughter search helplessly for words, “I have a lot to say, I’ll do the explaining, okay?”

“Somebody had better explain!” Gabrielle growled. Hercules stood next to her and crossed his arms, nodding his agreement.

Ares glared at the pair. He really had no clue what his daughter saw in the blonde bard. “Xena never left my service, the whole hero angle was merely a ploy, so that she could perform a specific task without raising suspicion,” Ares started.

“What?!” Gabrielle snapped, she felt sick, she thought she knew everything about Xena, now it seemed she’d never known her lover.

“You traitor,” Hercules said accusingly. Xena flinched and Joxer winced sympathetically. He couldn’t help feeling sorry for her, he knew how unforgiving Gabrielle and Hercules could be.

Ares growled at his brother. “Aren’t you even going ask what that task was?” he snapped.

“Another plan to get at me? Some twisted way of starting a war?” Hercules sneered.

“How about protecting a life?” Ares said quietly. “A life that would have been put in even more danger had it been known how precious it was to me.”

Hercules and Gabrielle looked confused, probably because they *were* both extremely confused. Iolaus glanced at the pair on the altar, noticing to his surprise that Ares had put a protective arm around Joxer.

“Oh,” he said in realisation. He smiled at Xena, who smiled back in relief.

“What life?” Gabrielle snorted.

“Joxer’s life,” Xena replied quietly.

Joxer choked. Ares rubbed his back in concern. “Are you all right?” he asked, when Joxer recovered.

“I… you did all this… for me?” Joxer stammered. Ares and Xena nodded. “Why?”

Xena frowned, “You *are* married now, aren’t you?” Joxer’s eyes widened in surprise and he nodded. “Dad, you haven’t told him, have you?” she sighed.

Ares flushed. “What, about The Fates and the prophecy? Not yet no,” he replied, knowing exactly what she meant, but preferring not to acknowledge it.

“Dad!” she exclaimed, “You know what I meant!”

“That is private and I am *not* saying it here!” Ares said in a tone of voice that made everyone flinch, except Hercules, who was too busy trying get his head round the fact that Xena had said Ares and Joxer were married.

“Say what?” Hercules asked. If looks could kill, Hercules would have been a tiny smear of grease on the floor from the glare he received from Ares.

“What prophecy?” Iolaus said quietly, trying to distract the brothers from a potential fight.

Ares glanced up at Iolaus, then turned to Joxer with a sigh. “I was told by The Fates that I was to look after you until we married and you would fulfil your destiny,” he said quietly.

Joxer’s heart dropped to the pit of his stomach and he had to bite his lip to stop it from trembling as he struggled to hold back tears. He wasn’t sure what exactly he’d been expecting, but he wished he hadn’t gotten his hopes up, because having them crushed was more heartbreak than he thought he could take. “Oh,” he whispered, looking away from everyone.

“Joxer?” Ares peered at him worriedly, realising a little late that he hadn’t put it very well. “Joxer, that wasn’t…” He stopped as Gabrielle and Hercules suddenly started to laugh.

Ares snarled and pulled Joxer into his arms protectively. Joxer didn’t struggle, Ares’ actions that whole evening had been too confusing, he just let himself be held, trying not to enjoy it too much in case it never happened again.

“You… you expect us… to believe…” Hercules stopped to get his laughter under control. “You expect us to believe you did all this *just* to protect Joxer?!”

Ares’ eyes narrowed and Iolaus discretely backed away from his tactless friend. He loved Hercules more than anything, but getting blasted by angry War Gods was not something he relished, being a mere mortal.

“And there I was under the illusion that you counted all life as worth protecting. Tell me, why doesn’t Joxer count?” Ares said so quietly it was almost a whisper. Xena recognised the tone and started to back away herself, and despite her fury, Gabrielle realised that it maybe was a smart move to get out of the way too.

“Well,” Hercules spluttered, “I didn’t mean it like that exactly.”

“Really?” Ares growled quietly, “What exactly did you mean?”

“I, uh, I merely meant that I couldn’t see you putting that much work into a scheme to protect someone like Joxer,” Hercules announced triumphantly, thinking he’d explained himself adequately.

“Uh oh,” Iolaus whispered, diving well away from Hercules, as Ares put Joxer gently aside and stood up. A fireball appeared and he flung it at his brother, followed quickly by two daggers. Hercules in his shock, was caught by the full blow of the fireball and flew backwards, only his slump to the ground saved him from the daggers.

“Someone like Joxer?!” Ares roared, “How dare you! He’s a hundred times the man you are, you sanctimonious little prick!”

Joxer roused himself from his despair, the roiling emotions of his God almost tangible to him. He frowned. “Stop, please,” he whispered.

Ares most likely would have stopped at Joxer’s quiet plea, but he never got to find out because he found for some strange reason, he had no choice *but* to stop. He backed away in confusion.

“Dad?” Xena started quietly. Ares glanced at her as he sat back down and pulled a surprised but unresisting Joxer back into his arms. “I assume you’ve got us all here for a reason, now is probably not the time for fighting.”

Ares took a deep breath, “No, you’re right. But I will *not* tolerate any insults towards Joxer, understood?!” He glanced around the room, getting nods from everyone including a dazed Hercules. “Okay, on with the explanations then.”

*Cupid, Strife, front and centre!* he called silently.

Two flashes, one deep blue, the other gold and sparkly, lit the room and resolved into the slim, dark-haired God of Mischief and the muscular, blond God of Love.

“Unc, s’up?” Strife grinned at his uncle when he saw Joxer wrapped in his embrace. “Cool! You got hitched?”

“Huh?” Cupid frowned in confusion, staring at his father and Strife.

“Unc and Jox. Man, I still can’t work out how you never guessed,” Strife chuckled.

“Dad and Joxer?” Cupid blinked. He walked over to the couple and raised his hand. “Wow,” he gasped, how could he have missed *that*? “Congrats, dad!” He hugged his father. Then he walked back to his cousin and playfully smacked the back of his head.

“Hey!” Strife pouted, “What’d you do that for?!”

“For not telling me,” Cupid shook his head with a small laugh. Strife just smirked at him.

Joxer was really confused now, what exactly was going on? And how come everyone but him seemed to know?

“Right, now everyone’s assembled, I can explain,” Ares started, “And don’t even think about complaining to daddy, Hercules, these are *his* orders,” he said hurriedly before Hercules could interrupt him. Hercules made a noise suspiciously like a snort, but cut it short at Ares’ glare.

“After an unusual energy surge a couple of days ago, disturbances have been noticed at the dimensional borders. We think, but we don’t know for sure, that it is Dahak. He may be after whatever the energy surge was or what caused it,” Ares continued quietly.

“So grandpa still has no idea what the strange force was?” Cupid asked.

Ares shook his head, “I don’t think anyone does.” Although, to be honest, something kept niggling at the back of his head about it. He sighed, “We are to investigate on the ground. So, Herc, Gabrielle, you think you can play nice while the world is potentially in danger?” he asked sarcastically.

Gabrielle pouted, “I suppose, but don’t expect me to talk to any of you!” The sweep of her finger included Xena, much to the Warrior Princess’ heartache.

Xena tried to get Gabrielle to meet her eyes, but her, it seemed now ex, lover and best friend refused to even glance in her direction. Joxer frowned, he could almost feel her heart break, and he felt as if he could sense Cupid’s distress at the split. He shook his head, he was imagining things.

“Right well, that’s all we need to go into right now. Cupid, Strife, you may go, be back here ready to travel an hour after dawn.” The two young Gods nodded and disappeared, Strife’s hand placed comfortingly on Cupid’s shoulder. “Same goes for you guys,” Ares gestured at the four.

Xena looked distinctly uncomfortable at the glares she was still getting from Gabrielle and Hercules, but she followed them out of the temple, hoping to be able to talk to Gabrielle. Iolaus patted her shoulder sympathetically as she passed him. Joxer moved to get up and follow them, but Ares stopped him.

“Where are you going?” Ares asked quietly.

“Um, I, uh, back to the inn?” Joxer replied hesitantly.

“Oh,” Ares looked down, “Don’t you want to come with me?”

“Oh yes!” Joxer stopped, “Um, I mean, yes, I just didn’t think you’d want me around.”

“Not want you around?” Ares frowned in confusion, “Whatever gave you that impression?” Joxer shrugged mutely. Ares sighed, “Come on, I have something I want to show you.”

Joxer nodded, he was a little scared, but mostly he was happy with whatever time he could spend in Ares’ presence. Ares hugged him close again and a flash blinded him. When his sight cleared he found himself in a richly decorated passageway, in front of a heavily locked door.

Ares waved his hand and the door unlocked and opened. “Here we go,” Ares gently guided Joxer through the door. “*This* is your room.”

Joxer walked into the room ahead of his God, staring in wonder. It was stuffed full of things. Shelves, tables and walls were covered in stones, shells, weapons, scrolls, feathers, jewellery, pictures, trinkets and perfectly preserved fruit and flowers.

Joxer twisted round and round trying to take it all in. He thought he recognised a lot of what the room contained. When he saw Ares place the dagger he’d given him, on the wall mounting which held the other weapons, it confirmed it. They were his offerings, *his* offerings to his God. And by the looks of it, every single one he’d ever left at one of Ares’ altars.

“Oh my God,” Joxer whispered, completely overwhelmed.

“Once upon a time,” Ares said quietly, “There was a God called Ares. He was the God of War and that made everyone a little afraid of him.”

Joxer’s chest clenched. It couldn’t be, surely? “Arry?” He spun round to stare at his God. Ares smiled softly. “That was you?”

Ares nodded. “Do you remember what I told you? That any offering given truly and faithfully was the most precious gift to a God.”

Joxer blinked, close to tears. Ares opened his arms, and Joxer crossed the room quickly, burying himself in the strong embrace. “That was really you?” Joxer still couldn’t quite believe it. Even as a child, he’d been drawn to the War God, and would often sneak into the Temple, usually to hide from his father, but also to pray to Ares.

When he was about five years old, a priest had found him asleep in front of the altar, and had taken him under his wing. He would always seek the priest out after his prayers, to play and to listen to stories about Ares. The priest had called himself Arry.

“Yes, it was,” Ares smiled quietly to himself, dropping a gentle kiss on Joxer’s hair.

Joxer pulled back with a frown of confusion, “I don’t understand. Why?”

Ares gently smoothed the crease from his brow and sighed. “Because your sweetness and innocence drew me to you even then. From your earliest years, your prayers were true and faithful; your offerings, gifts of love. You never asked me for anything, yet you gave me everything, unquestioningly.”

Joxer’s breath hitched and he swallowed the tears that threatened yet again. He allowed himself the tiniest spark of hope. “I love you,” he said with a small shrug, as if that explained everything.

“I know that now,” Ares smiled at him, “But I could never bring myself to search your heart. I was…” he paused, the next words were ones he’d never uttered before, “I was scared you didn’t.”

“Oh Ares!” Joxer breathed in utter shock. His God had been scared, that *he* didn’t love him? It was almost too much. “I’ve always been yours,” he whispered.

Ares thought he might burst, he felt a happiness, a rightness, he’d never felt before. The only time he’d come close was when chubby, young arms had wrapped round his neck, a beloved voice begging him for more stories.

“And I have always been yours, my love,” he whispered.

Joxer’s heart skipped a beat and he froze. He prayed he hadn’t just imagined what Ares had just said.

“You didn’t imagine it,” Ares said with a quiet chuckle. He lifted Joxer’s chin and looked him in the eye seriously. “I love you, Joxer.”

“Cupe, you okay, man?” Strife asked quietly. He sat his cousin down on his bed, and flashed in a glass of water. He couldn’t help his concern, he’d seen Cupid around couples splitting before.

Cupid nodded and managed a brief smile as he accepted the water. He drank deeply. “I’m okay, really, Strife. I just hate being that close to heartbreak, it hurts.”

Strife hugged him, “I know, cuz, I know.” He wished he could do more, but this closeness was enough.

Cupid sighed happily, and snuggled closer, he loved his cousin dearly. They may have been from opposite houses but they were family and Strife was his best friend. Sometimes other Gods made comments about him hanging out with a loser. He used to get really mad, but now he just ignored it, after all none of them knew Strife. None of them knew how much fun he could be and how sweet he could be when he loved someone. He was a good listener, probably because no one ever listened to him, except Cupid of course.

“Do you think Gabrielle’s gonna break it off permanently?” Strife asked quietly.

Cupid shrugged, “I don’t know, she does truly love Xena, but she feels betrayed. It’s a lot for her to forgive.”

Strife snorted, “And she isn’t exactly the forgiving type.”

“Nope,” Cupid sighed. “This is going to be a hard journey, in so many ways.”

“Yup, you better go pick up Bliss and get some sleep,” Strife nudged his tired cousin.

“Yeah,” Cupid sighed again, “To say goodbye. Blissy isn’t going to be happy about that.”

“He’ll be okay, you know his grandma spoils him, he loves that,” Strife smiled comfortingly and hugged him again.

“True,” Cupid smiled. He hugged Strife back tightly. “Guess I’d better go then,” he said reluctantly.

“Yeah, see you bright an’ early in the morning then?” Strife asked.

“Course. I’ll stop by here on the way, ‘kay?”

“Yeah, cool!” Strife grinned at his cousin before the blond disappeared in a golden flash.

Strife lay back with a sigh, silently blessing his uncle for including Cupid on the mission. Maybe away from his mother and son, he could finally get some time with Cupid without distractions, well too many distractions anyway. Get Cupid to see him in a different light.

Strife pulled his special scrying mirror out from under his pillow and watched the empty room. Eventually, Cupid appeared, looking very tired. Strife frowned in concern. He watched until Cupid had undressed and got into bed, falling fast asleep almost immediately, then he put the mirror down, reaching into his pants to gently stroke his cock.

Strife flashed his clothes away and lay back properly on his bed. In his head he pictured Cupid touching him, the way he longed to be touched. He pumped his erection slowly. He imagined his hand was Cupid’s, that Cupid was lying next to him as he pumped.

Strife whimpered, tightening his grip on his cock and stroking faster. In his head, he saw himself get onto his hands and knees and Cupid slowly slide his cock deep within him, to fuck him oh so slowly. Strife bit down on his lip and he stiffened, his back arching as he came in short, jerky jets.

Strife flopped back on the bed dejectedly and with a small burst of energy, cleaned himself off and moved himself under the covers. As he fell asleep, his lips parted. “Cupid,” he sighed.

@>*~

“Gabrielle, please,” Xena sat down despairingly and watched her lover gather together her things to move to Joxer’s room, now he didn’t need it. Gabrielle wouldn’t even look at her and if she tried to explain, Gabrielle would start to hum loudly or just walk away.

Xena struggled to hold back her tears. She knew that it was unlikely that Gabrielle could ever forgive her, after all, Xena *had* betrayed her. Even if Gabrielle let her explain, it wouldn’t be enough.

“Gabrielle,” she tried again.

“Just leave it!” Gabrielle snapped. “I trusted you, I *loved* you! But now I don’t even know you.” Gabrielle was still furious and that was the only thing keeping her from breaking down completely.

“Yes, you do, I’m still me,” Xena whispered, “And I love you.”

Gabrielle stiffened. “You love me? You don’t know the meaning of the word. Everything he puts us through and you *knew*! You knew the whole time it wasn’t real, you were just playing a part.”

Xena shrank back at the disgust and hurt in Gabrielle’s tone. “No! That was real, I would never play with your heart like that.”

Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed. “I’m just supposed to believe you, am I? You betrayed my trust,” Gabrielle’s voice dropped to a haunted whisper.

“How could I tell you? I didn’t know when we met if I could trust you, how close we would become, that I would fall in love with you. Hades, I didn’t even like you!” Xena exclaimed, then winced.

“Gee, thanks,” Gabrielle snarled sarcastically, starting to walk out of the room.

“No, Gabrielle, wait!” Xena said hurriedly, “By the time I knew I could trust you with something like this, it was too late. I’d left it too long and you hate Ares. How could I explain?”

“You could have tried,” Gabrielle whispered. She left the room quickly, before she burst into tears.

Xena smacked her head back against the wall, hard. She could hear Gabrielle sobbing in the next room and it hurt, so much. She was happy for her father and Joxer, truly, she was, but this was possibly the worst time in her whole life. Xena lay back on the bed, listening to her love cry.

@>*~

“How can you try to justify what she did?!” Hercules was pacing back and forth in agitation.

“Because she did it to protect a life. Who cares who the order came from? You can’t deny she did a lot of good, which she didn’t have to,” Iolaus said quietly.

Hercules sat down, “Maybe, but she still betrayed us, she is working for Ares!”

“I know,” Iolaus sighed, “But he *is* her father, she owes him first loyalty. Besides, Ares did seem to truly care about Joxer.”

Hercules snorted, “If you say so. I can’t see Ares really caring about anyone.”

“Sure he does. Strife? Come on, no one takes a guy like him under his wing if he didn’t care for him! And Cupid, and Xena?” Iolaus pointed out.

“Hmmm, maybe,” Hercules conceded.

“So, you going to ‘play nice’?” Iolaus playfully punched Hercules’ shoulder.

Hercules smiled at him gently. “Sure.”

Iolaus grinned at him and Hercules felt his chest tighten. His friend was far too understanding and open hearted sometimes. Hercules wasn’t going to trust Ares *or* Xena, but he would work with them if it prevented Dahak returning.

“Come on, let’s turn in. I’ve a feeling we’re going to need our rest,” Iolaus chuckled.

“Yeah, I think you’re right.” Hercules lay back on his bed and tried not to stare at his best friend.

“You love me?” Joxer looked up at his God, his love, his husband.

Ares took Joxer’s hand and kissed the scar where he’d cut himself with the dagger. He briefly wondered when and how it had healed. “Yes, I do. Let me show you?” He pulled Joxer even closer, sliding his hand down to stroke his ass gently.

“Oh,” Joxer gasped quietly, realising what Ares meant when he felt something hard digging into his hip. “Oh, please,” he breathed, licking his lips nervously.

Ares made a small, unintelligible noise and kissed him. Joxer wrapped his arms round his neck and kissed back, for all he was worth. When Ares finally released his lips, Joxer realised they had changed location to a simply, but elegantly, decorated bedroom. He looked round, slightly confused.

“My room,” Ares said quietly. “No, *our* room,” he corrected himself.

“Really? It’s… it’s not black,” Joxer blushed as soon as the words came out of his mouth, what a dumb thing to say!

Ares just chuckled, “No, that would be a little excessive, don’t you think?”

Joxer nodded. He glanced at the massive bed and shivered nervously. Ares pulled back slightly and looked at him in concern.

“Are you okay?” he asked quietly.

“Yes,” Joxer whispered, wishing he sounded a little more confident, wishing he *was* a little more confident. He looked into Ares’ eyes and, only seeing tenderness, love and more than a little lust, he shivered again. But he suddenly felt more sure of himself, less afraid of disappointing his new husband.

Tentatively, he reached up and cupped Ares’ cheek, drawing him into a kiss of his own. Ares moaned quietly and lifted him up into his arms, carrying him to the bed. Ares lay Joxer down and crawled over him without letting his lover’s lips part from his. His tongue delved between them gently to explore and taste.

Joxer slid his hand round the back of Ares’ neck and pulled the larger man down. Ares moaned again and thrust gently against him. Joxer’s heart was pounding hard and he was breathless with desire. He’d never dreamed that this moment could ever happen. So long he’d loved his God, but never dared to express it.

He wanted Ares, needed him, so much. Joxer found himself praying, his mouth occupied with Ares’ lips and tongue. Just one word, please, over and over.

Ares lifted his head. “Shh, love, we’ll take this slow.”

“I need… I need you,” Joxer whispered, losing himself helplessly in the dark eyes of his husband.

“I need you too, Joxer.” And he did. Ares needed Joxer badly, needed to bury himself deep inside his husband’s warm body, needed to feel Joxer’s love. He’d waited so long, he wasn’t sure he *could* take it slow. But he would, somehow, he wanted it to be perfect.

With a thought, Ares removed his vest and Joxer’s shirt. Joxer gasped at the feel of Ares’ smooth, warm skin against his. His hands slowly slid down Ares’ back to the top of his leather pants. With Ares’ encouraging moan, he allowed them to descend further, to clutch his God’s slowly flexing buttocks. Joxer started to rock with the motion of Ares’ hips, watching Ares’ eyes darken further with desire.

“Gods, Joxer,” Ares panted quietly. He shifted to bring his cock into contact with Joxer’s for the first time. Joxer gasped in surprise and thrust up reflexively. Ares buried his face in Joxer’s neck, kissing soft skin, sucking lightly. He rested his weight on one arm and let his free hand skim up and down Joxer’s side.

Slowly, he lowered himself, exploring and tasting every inch of Joxer’s pale, slim torso. Ares gently sucked soft nipples into sensitive peaks, smiling softly at Joxer’s moans and whimpers. His litany of prayers had started again, streams of words: want, need, please, Ares, love; over and over.

Ares knelt between Joxer’s legs and ran his hands down his flushed chest, coming to rest at the laces of his pants, where he stopped. Joxer stared up at Ares, trying to get his brain to work. He realised Ares was waiting for permission.

“Please,” Joxer groaned, “Oh, my God, please!”

Ares sighed happily. He ran his hands down Joxer’s hips and legs, his pants melting away at his touch.

“Oh,” Joxer gasped at the sudden chill of the air on his newly bare skin. Ares smiled and lay down between Joxer’s legs, nuzzling his face gently against Joxer’s groin. Joxer moaned loudly in surprise at the jolt of electricity that shot through him.

Ares swiped his tongue across the soft skin at the base of Joxer’s balls, dipping lower to trail over the entrance to his body, wanting to give Joxer every pleasure he could. Joxer yelped. He’d never felt anything so amazing before.

“Ares! Oh Gods,” he groaned. He bent his legs and pulled them back, silently pleading for greater contact. Ares lowered himself further and licked more firmly, gently pushing his tongue inside Joxer’s body. Joxer writhed against him and he put his hands on Joxer’s hips to hold him tightly.

“Please, oh Ares, please,” Joxer whispered, not even sure what it was he wanted or was asking for. Ares trailed his tongue back up to Joxer’s erection and replaced it with a slick finger which he worked slowly inside his lover. Joxer stiffened briefly, Ares stopped lapping his cock and lifted his head.

“Relax, love,” he whispered, “It’ll feel wonderful, I promise.”

Joxer licked his lips and gazed into his lover’s eyes. The concerned tenderness was enough to reassure him and he relaxed. Two fingers felt strange but the talented tongue of his God on his cock soon made him relax even more. Until they hit a spot inside him which sent shocks through his entire body.

Ares grazed his fingers over the small nub inside Joxer’s body and got ready.

“Oh my God!” Joxer shouted, his hips jerked up and Ares swallowed his cock. “Oh my God, oh my God,” Joxer chanted. A third finger entered him as Ares’ tongue swirled round the tip of his erection and he stiffened, his whole body spasming with the force of his orgasm. Ares stroked his belly gently as he swallowed.

Joxer collapsed back against the bed and Ares lifted his head, gently withdrawing his fingers. Joxer managed to raise his head to look down at his husband, who was kneeling between his legs again. He was now naked and Joxer sighed aloud at the sight of Ares’ leaking cock.

He sat up and reached out, carefully rubbing his palm against the smooth skin. Ares moaned and thrust against his hand.

“I want to be inside you, Joxer,” Ares whispered quietly, as he rocked his hips. Joxer breathed in shakily and he nodded.

“I want you inside me, Ares,” Joxer said nervously but determinedly. It was his first time with a man, Hades, it was practically his first time with anyone. But Ares had been so loving and gentle and tender with him, he wanted more.

Ares closed his eyes briefly, willing himself under control. With a thought, he lubricated them both and leaned forward to drop a soft, passionate kiss onto Joxer’s lips. He gently nudged the tip of his cock against Joxer’s opening.

“Relax,” he whispered. He pushed against the loosened, slick hole very slowly, gasping at the clenching muscles that gripped his cock tightly. Joxer groaned, sucking in a breath at the fullness, the stretch. Ares stopped moving and drew in a shaky breath of his own.

“Oh Gods, Joxer,” he gasped. It was more than he’d expected. It was beyond anything he’d experienced before. So intense, that the love between them was the only thing preventing him from taking Joxer hard and fast. He sank deeper inside his lover, watching Joxer carefully.

Joxer’s eyes opened and met his gaze, smiling breathlessly. “Arry, love you, move,” Joxer mumbled incoherently. Ares pulled back and then slid deeper still, gradually speeding up his pace, but remaining gentle and controlled. Joxer wrapped his legs round Ares’ hips and pushed his hips up to meet each thrust.

Ares moaned quietly and claimed Joxer’s lips again, plunging his tongue deep into the soft, yielding mouth of his lover. Joxer kissed him back just as fiercely, running his hands down Ares’ back to pull at his hips, knowing somehow that Ares needed more. He clenched his ass, shuddering as Ares’ cock brushed over his sweet spot.

“Oh, Gods!” Ares plunged deep one more time, the rippling of Joxer’s passage too much for him. He came hard, filling Joxer with his hot release. Joxer sighed, a second intense orgasm sweeping through him, his seed spilling between their two bodies.

Ares dropped on top of him and Joxer closed his eyes, unable to stop smiling. He hugged Ares close until his husband pulled back, his softening cock slipping out of his body. Joxer opened his eyes again questioningly.

Ares grinned, and kissed him passionately, before he rolled onto the bed and pulled Joxer over so the smaller man was sprawled on top of him. Joxer sighed again and snuggled as close as possible.

Ares stroked his hair, listening to his husband’s breathing start to slow. “I love you,” he whispered.

“Love you too,” Joxer whispered back as he fell into a deep, happy sleep. Ares smiled and closed his eyes, quickly following his husband.

There was a quiet knock at the door, disturbing the occupant.

“What?!” Gabrielle yelled hoarsely. Her throat hurt from crying long into the night.

“It’s time to go,” came the voice of her ex-lover.

Gabrielle stiffened, swallowing hard against more tears. “Fine,” she said quietly, proud that her voice didn’t tremble. She heard a loud sigh, but hardened her heart against Xena.

She got dressed slowly, listlessly. What she really wanted, was to go home, but how could she? She was needed, and she wanted to keep her eye on Joxer. What kind of an idiot got himself hitched to Ares?

Gabrielle opened the door and was nearly flattened by Xena who’d been leaning against it.

Xena just caught herself in time to stop from falling when the door opened suddenly. After waking Gabrielle, she’d just leaned her forehead against the door, wishing she could go in and say something to make things okay again. But she didn’t think things between them would ever be okay again.

Gabrielle glared at Xena, and shoved past her. She didn’t want to deal with the warrior right now, she’d either cry again or hit her, and she didn’t want to do either.

Xena stared after Gabrielle helplessly, before she shook herself and followed her down to the main tavern.

@>*~

Iolaus woke and glanced over to Hercules, smiling quietly when he saw his friend was still asleep. He loved it when he woke up first and could have just a moment to watch the man he loved beyond all things. He loved the way Hercules looked in the first light of day. Relaxed, soft, younger, as if he had no worries in the world.

Iolaus reached across the gap between their beds and ever so gently stroked Hercules’ hair back from his forehead, sighing quietly. He wished he could find the nerve to say something, but he didn’t want to lose Hercules’ friendship. He moved his hand down to Hercules’ shoulder and shook him gently.

“Huh, what?” Hercules stirred and blinked up at Iolaus slightly amused expression. “What?” he asked a little more sharply.

“Just your face when you wake up sometimes, like a little kid who’s been pulled out of a great dream,” Iolaus said with a quiet smile.

“Well, it was a great dream,” Hercules muttered, allowing himself a brief moment to remember how Iolaus had tasted in the dream.

Iolaus saw Hercules’ eyes glaze over for a second and sighed to himself. He was *so* not going to ask about those kinds of dreams, watching his friend’s relationships was torture enough. “Come on, man, time to get up!” he said cheerily.

Hercules was rudely interrupted for the second time by the object of his dreams and gave up trying to hold onto them beyond dawn. “Okay, okay.” He got up and stretched until his back cracked and he sighed in satisfaction. He pulled on the rest of his clothes and sat back down, quietly watching Iolaus dress.

Iolaus felt Hercules’ eyes on him and had to wonder what was going through his friend’s head. Especially when he continued to stare after Iolaus had finished dressing and was just standing expectantly. Iolaus cleared his throat and Hercules looked up at him with a slightly shocked expression.

“Um, ah, okay, let’s go,” Hercules got to his feet quickly and hurried out of the door, leaving Iolaus to follow with a confused frown.

@>*~

Strife woke suddenly, sitting up with a sharp intake of breath. He looked down and sighed, flopping back against the bed. He snuggled back against his large, soft pillow and tried to recall the details of his dream before it slipped away.

There was a small nudge at the edge of his consciousness and he hurriedly cleared up the physical evidence of the dream before he answered, wondering why Cupid was being polite and hadn’t just flashed in.

*Come on down,* he chuckled to himself, that had the potential to be a really annoying catchphrase.

The room lit up gold for a second and Cupid appeared, with Bliss in his arms. Strife grinned, Cupid had been making sure he was decent before bringing his son into the room. Strife snapped his fingers and the room lit up properly and he was standing, fully dressed, next to the bed.

“Hey, cute stuff,” Strife pounced on Bliss and started to tickle the Godling. Bliss laughed and squirmed in his father’s arms. He eventually managed to get away from them both and fly just out of reach. “Ah, as cheeky as your pop!” Strife giggled.

“Don’t encourage him,” Cupid laughed. “Come here, short man.” Bliss giggled and flew back into his father’s arms. “He wanted to know if you were going to be looking after him while I was away,” Cupid smiled at the dopey expression on his cousin’s face at that, “When I told him you were coming too, he wanted to come and say goodbye.”

Strife scrunched up his face and blew a raspberry against Bliss’ neck, to hide his emotions. He knew Cupid wouldn’t say anything and besides Cupid was one of the few who knew he was capable of being anything other than a sneaky bastard, but he still didn’t want either his cousin or his son to see quite how touched he was.

When he’d got himself under control again and reduced Bliss to a squirming bundle of hysterical laughter, he looked up. Cupid met his eyes and smiled softly, Strife realised he hadn’t fooled his best friend and shrugged ruefully.

“Say goodbye to Strifey then, Bliss hon,” Cupid smiled at his son. Bliss reached out to Strife and was pulled into leather clad arms for a hug.

“You love my daddy, Stwifey, I know you take care of him,” Bliss whispered. Strife sucked in a short breath of surprise and nodded, blinking back tears.

“Come on then,” Cupid sighed, “Let’s take you to your grandma. I’ll be back in a few, Strife, ‘kay?”

“Sure.” Strife sat down as soon as Cupid had flashed out. Well, that had been unexpected, if Bliss could work it out, then why in Hades’ name couldn’t Cupid? Unless of course he’d figured it out and decided not to say anything because he didn’t feel the same way.

Strife was sitting hunched and staring at his boots when Cupid returned. When he didn’t look up, Cupid frowned worriedly. He sat down next to his cousin, who jumped. Now he was really worried.

“Strife, what is it?” he asked gently.

Strife looked at his cousin and sighed. When Cupid put his arm round his shoulders, he couldn’t resist snuggling close. “I don’t know, I was just thinking.”

“What about?” Cupid pushed gently, sensing Strife wasn’t going to expand on that.

Strife sighed again,” Just, you know, what would you do if you found out someone had feelings for you, but you didn’t, like, return them?”

Cupid frowned, was Strife saying someone had a crush on him and he didn’t feel anything back? Why did that make him feel a little weird? “Well, I can’t tell you what you should do, Strife, but I would have to let that person down as gently as I could. If they know they don’t have a chance then they can get on with their own life.”

Strife pulled back and smiled, Cupid had got the wrong end of the stick, but at least he knew that if Cupid did know he had feelings for him and didn’t return them, he’d have said something by now. “Thanks, Cupe,” he said.

Strife stood up and held out his hand to his cousin, who took it with a smile and stood up to join him. He wrapped an arm round Cupid’s shoulders and they flashed down to Ares’ temple together.



When Joxer woke up, he kept his eyes shut tightly. He didn’t want to wake up from the most wonderful dream he’d ever had. He prayed intensely that it *hadn’t* been a dream and with a deep breath, cracked open one eye. He was facing a pair of deeply amused, brown eyes. Joxer breathed out in relief.

Ares was pulled out of his sleep by a very panicked prayer and he opened his eyes, watching a very nervous looking Joxer gather enough courage to open his eyes. Finally, one eye opened and his husband actually began to breath normally again.

“It wasn’t a dream, Joxer,” Ares said quietly.

Joxer smiled blindingly at his husband and leaned forward to kiss him. Ares blinked in surprise but kissed back with a small moan. Joxer smiled delightedly against Ares’ lips, still almost expecting to wake up. He yelped suddenly, and rubbed his ass where Ares had pinched him, and not gently either.

“What did you do that for?” he exclaimed.

“Just trying to find a way to convince you that this *isn’t* a dream,” Ares said with a smirk.

“Well, kissing *was* working just fine,” Joxer huffed. He pulled away from his husband and moved toward the edge of the bed.

Ares gaped, then he rolled over and grabbed Joxer. “Oh no you don’t, mister! I wasn’t finished kissing you yet.”

Joxer grinned happily, the words he was about to say were swallowed by Ares’ lips claiming his. He moaned, opening his mouth unresistingly to the gentle pressure of Ares’ tongue, sucking softly as his mouth was plundered thoroughly. Ares shifted his body on top of Joxer’s, rocking against the hardness he found at Joxer’s groin.

The new couple wrapped themselves up in each other and slowly rocked themselves to gently intense orgasms that left them both gasping. As Joxer managed to recover his breath, he wriggled out of Ares’ grasp and out from under him, sitting cross-legged on the bed.

Ares rolled over and stared inquiringly at his husband. “Joxer?” he asked slightly anxiously.

Joxer shook his head and smiled reassuringly, “I just… it’s a little overwhelming, I just wanted to look at you, take it in.”

Ares smiled back, his heart slowing from its anxious pounding. “Take all the time you want, love,” he whispered.

Joxer bit his lip and let his eyes trail over the naked War God. This was really real! He *was* married to Ares; an Ares he almost didn’t recognise he was so gentle and tender. He got onto his knees and shifted closer. Ares just lay still and watched him.

Joxer reached out and touched Ares’ chest carefully, lying his palm flat on the lightly hairy chest. He could feel Ares’ heart beat and for some reason that not only comforted and reassured him, but made him feel deliriously happy.

“That’s because it’s yours,” Ares said quietly.

Joxer glanced up and met his God’s eyes. He saw the truth there, love, then he leapt on top of Ares, who yelped at being suddenly crushed. Joxer chuckled. “Sorry,” he mumbled against Ares’ lips. Ares kissed him briefly, then sat them both up.

“That’s okay, you’re not heavy,” Ares chuckled. “Come on love, it’s time to go.”

Joxer sighed and followed Ares off the bed. He looked around for his clothes, then remembered that Ares had made them disappear.

“Ares?”

“Yeah?”

“When you make things vanish, do you move them somewhere else or do you, uh…” he searched for a word, “Unmake them?” he grinned triumphantly.

Ares tilted his head and smiled, “Good question, we can do either. In the case of your clothes, I chose to ‘unmake’ them.”

“Oh,” Joxer frowned, “Why?”

Ares chuckled, “So you never wear them again!”

“I’m not going to go around naked,” Joxer raised his eyebrows at his husband.

Ares leered at him and leaned towards him, “Shame really, but no, I don’t want anyone else seeing this beautiful body.” Ares moved a little closer and cupped Joxer’s balls, giving them a gentle squeeze. Joxer gasped but Ares pulled out of his reach before he could react.

“Hey, no fair,” he pouted, finding both himself and his husband suddenly clothed almost identically in black leather pants and light cotton shirts. Ares’ shirt was black, but Joxer’s was cream. They both carried swords at their hips.

“Wow,” Joxer gasped. He wished he had something he could give Ares, but all he’d had were the clothes that now didn’t even exist and a few bits that were back at the inn. He only hoped Xena or Gabrielle remembered to bring his stuff along to the temple.

“Don’t worry so much,” Ares pulled Joxer into his arms, “What’s mine, is yours, okay?” Joxer smiled softly and nodded. “Good.” Ares leaned forward and kissed Joxer gently. There was a flash and Joxer opened his eyes to see they were now in the temple. Ares relinquished his lips reluctantly and only because of the reactions they were getting from the others present.



“What in Hades?” Hercules exclaimed, while Gabrielle fumed next to him. Ares glared at them.

“Well, you know they *are* married,” said Iolaus reasonably.

“Yes, but, but,” Hercules sputtered. He hadn’t thought of it as being anything more than a marriage of convenience. Then he had a sudden thought. “If you’ve hurt Joxer, or forced him to do anything…” he stopped in confusion as Joxer started to laugh. “Joxer?”

Joxer managed to calm himself a little, enough to speak anyway, “F-forced me? Are you kidding?” He lapsed back into laughter, and had to be supported by his now grinning husband.

“What’s funny? What’s so funny?” Hercules looked round in confusion. Gabrielle stared equally confused as Xena, Cupid and Strife joined in the laughter. Iolaus shrugged. “Would somebody please tell me what’s so damned funny?!” Hercules yelled in frustration.

“You really don’t get it, do you?!” Cupid exclaimed. Hercules and Gabrielle stared at him blankly. “They’re in love,” Cupid said very slowly as if he was talking to very small children, although sometimes that might have been thought an insult to the intelligence of very small children.

“You wha…?” Hercules gaped at his brother and his husband, who were leaning against each other sniggering.

Gabrielle snorted, “Oh please. Joxer, I’m sure, is under some sort of spell, I mean even he’s not that stupid and as for Ares,” she growled the War God’s name, “I expect he knows as much about love as his daughter!”

Ares expression darkened, he stood up straight and gently pushed Joxer over towards Xena. Joxer watched nervously as his husband stalked over to Gabrielle, who rather foolishly stood her ground, bringing her staff up defensively. Joxer squeezed his eyes shut and prayed Ares wouldn’t kill her.

Ares stopped when he felt Joxer’s unconscious prayer, undirected prayers from Joxer always went to him. He sighed and stopped, staring almost longingly at Gabrielle. He *so* wanted to kill her. He settled for aiming a small but sharp burst of energy at her.

“Wha!” Gabrielle squealed in pain and dropped to the ground.

“Don’t piss me off,” Ares growled and he walked back to Joxer.

Hercules hurried to Gabrielle’s side, and helped her up, glaring at Ares. “You piece of shit, attacking a mortal woman, such a big, strong God!”

Ares’ eyes glazed over with hatred and anger, but Joxer already had a hold of his arm. Joxer could feel the negative emotions pouring off his husband and stroked his arm, wishing he could make Ares feel better.

Ares was about to pull away, when he suddenly felt a lot calmer and he relaxed against his husband. Joxer sighed in relief, glad that no one had been seriously hurt. Yet anyway.

“Right,” Ares rolled his shoulders back, “On to what we’re going to do. First thing is to get as close to the dimensional borders as possible which…”

“Excuse me!”

Ares’ temper flared up again almost immediately and he glared at his half-brother menacingly, “Now what?!”

“Who put *you* in charge?” Hercules growled.

“Is it just me, or did I not say this was Zeus’ idea yesterday?” Ares raised an eyebrow and looked round the room. Cupid and Strife nodded with a smirk, they shared an amused glance. Joxer nodded quietly and Xena shrugged before nodding too.

“Yeah, like he’d have left *you* in charge!” Hercules exclaimed.

“Do you see anyone else around with millennia of experience at this?” Ares snorted.

“Oh yeah right, experience of killing and bullying and generally being a pain in the ass!” Hercules sneered.

“That’s it!” Ares strode forward more quickly than Hercules could see and grabbed his brother by the throat, throwing him back. Hercules flew across the temple and hit the wall on the far side with a nasty sounding crunch.

Hercules lifted his head dazedly, for the first time he really got a feel of what his brother could do to him if he chose. “Father!” he yelled, determined that Ares would be shown up. Nothing happened. Ares smirked and walked menacingly towards him. “Father!!” Hercules yelled louder.

There was a flash and Hercules smiled triumphantly. Ares stopped where he was and crossed his arms over his chest, waiting. The flash resolved into a small, willowy figure.

“Mom!” Strife exclaimed in surprise. Eris glanced at her son and winked.

Hercules frowned, “Where’s father?”

Eris turned towards Hercules, “Like, ‘father’ is totally pissed at you, Jerkie. I quote, ‘Doesn’t that fool boy realise I have more important things to do, than deal with his petty squabbles?’” she intoned in an exact match of their father’s voice, ruined only by the slightly sinister giggle at the end.

Ares laughed loudly at Hercules’ completely shocked and outraged expression. Then Eris turned her attention to her twin. “Don’t get too happy, bro, he also said,” she cleared her throat, “’Ares had better have better control if he intends to get anything done!’” She dissolved into hysterical laughter at Ares’ expression.

Ares was still immensely pissed off with Hercules, but unable to direct his anger where he wanted, he chose the next best target, his sister.

“You forget yourself, Discord!” he yelled.

Eris stopped laughing and cleared her throat fearfully, “You’re really pissed now, aren’t you?”

“*YES!*” Ares roared, a statue exploding with the force of his anger.

“Agh!” Strife yelped fearfully, dragging himself and Cupid well away from his uncle. He was well acquainted with a completely furious Ares and he wanted to be as far out of the line of fire as possible.

Xena had only seen Ares this angry once and she grabbed Gabrielle, ignoring her protests, pulling her into an alcove in a sheltered position.

“Uh, Herc,” Iolaus whispered, “I think it might be good idea to get out of the way.” Hercules took one more look at his brother, who was almost glowing as he seethed, and nodded his agreement.

Bolts of energy and fireballs exploded in the temple as Ares worked his fury off. Eris ducked and protected herself as best she could. Then she spotted Joxer just standing, looking terrified and she dived for him, hiding behind him.

Ares came to an abrupt halt, growling angrily. “Let him go, *now*!”

“Nuh uh! You let me leave first!” Eris exclaimed.

Ares’ nostrils flared and his chest heaved, but the fear in Joxer’s eyes was just too much for him. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back, taking a deep breath to try and let his anger diffuse. “Go!” he snarled.

Eris patted Joxer. “Thanks,” she grinned and vanished.

Joxer blinked and released the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding since the statue had exploded. He hadn’t moved simply because he’d been paralysed by the overwhelming emotions, mostly anger and fear, that he could somehow feel.

He knew it had to be his imagination, but he couldn’t seem to fight it. When Eris had used him as a shield, he’d caught a glimpse of Ares’ eyes and for a brief second had feared for his life. Joxer thought he may even have prayed. Now though, he needed reassurance.

Ares walked cautiously towards his husband, he didn’t want to spook him. But Joxer closed the gap first, throwing himself at his husband. He was caught by a happy and relieved God of War.

Ares hugged Joxer close. “I’d never hurt you, you know that?” he whispered. Joxer nodded, burying his face in Ares’ neck.



Xena poked her head cautiously out of the alcove. Seeing her father hugging Joxer and no sign of Eris, she sighed in relief and pulled Gabrielle back into the room.

“Get off me!” Gabrielle snapped, wrenching herself from Xena’s grasp.

“Sorry,” Xena whispered, hanging her head.

Strife glanced at Cupid worriedly, as he stared at the two women from behind the pillar where they’d taken shelter. Cupid smiled.

“I’m fine. They,” he nodded his head in the direction of his father, who was still soothing Joxer gently, “Are more than enough to balance the pain.” He leaned closer to Strife and dropped his voice to a whisper. “Wanna know a secret?”

Strife managed to control the shudder Cupid’s warm breath on his skin caused and nodded.

“There’s plenty of unresolved sexual tension around too.”

Strife stiffened for a split second until he realised Cupid was nodding his head discretely towards Hercules and Iolaus.

“You have got to be kidding me?!” Strife exclaimed in shock. Cupid had frowned when he felt Strife freeze for a moment, but he couldn’t help grinning at Strife’s flabbergasted expression. “Truth?” Strife demanded.

Cupid nodded, “Truth.”

“Ah Gods! You couldn’t have told me before?! I coulda had, like, *so* much fun!” Strife groaned at the missed opportunities. “You know I won’t be able to do anything till after all this.”

Cupid watched his cousin in amusement, “ I’m sure you’ll think of something, if you really want to.”

Strife raised an eyebrow at his best friend, “That sounded like a challenge to me!”

“Maybe,” Cupid grinned.

“Cupid, Strife, quit whispering, you’re making me nervous,” Ares interrupted them.

Strife smirked at his uncle, noting that Joxer now had a soft smile on his face and was snuggled up in a strong embrace. He smiled, he knew that his uncle’s arms could feel like the safest, warmest place in the universe.

Cupid patted his shoulder, recognising the nostalgic look on Strife’s face. They exchanged a smile and walked back over to Ares.

Hercules and Iolaus had remained semi hidden for a while. Hercules had watched the battle between Ares and Eris with shock, suddenly glad that he hadn’t remained the target of Ares’ unrestrained anger. Only when Eris had planted herself behind Joxer had he moved to interfere. He had been shocked by Ares’ abrupt halt.

Ares hadn’t wanted to hurt Joxer, why? What was his brother up to?

Iolaus was just thankful to be alive and that Hercules was, for now at least, out of the line of fire. And when he saw the terrified Joxer leap into Ares’ arms and how gently Ares held and comforted him, any lingering doubts over their feelings for each other, vanished.

As soon as Xena and Gabrielle appeared, they cautiously approached Ares and Joxer.

Ares held Joxer close and continued to whisper reassuringly. “You know I love you, don’t you? You do know that now?”

Joxer gasped, he really did. He almost thought he could feel Ares’ love for him, even though he knew that was impossible, and it was overwhelming. He smiled dazedly as Ares called Strife and Cupid over. Joxer frowned slightly as he watched the two Gods approach. He could sense something between them, and he couldn’t quite work out what it was. He shook himself, he really had to stop imagining this stuff.

“Right,” Ares started, “Maybe we can get back to business now?” He glared at his brother, who nodded curtly. “Good. As I was saying, before I was so *rudely* interrupted, we need to get close to where the dimensional border thins and check out the locality for strange activity.

“If Dahak is trying to return, I’m sure he will have sent a call to any remaining followers, and his influence might already be affecting anyone in the area.” He glanced round, his eyes alighting on his son.

Cupid shifted uncomfortably under the weight of his father’s inscrutable gaze. “What?” he asked defensively.

Ares frowned, “ I think it might be an idea to shed your wings, we don’t want to draw any unnecessary attention.”

“Ah, man, do I have to? They are a pain in the ass to grow back!” Cupid whined.

“I know, but it’ll be easier than maintaining a glamour, which would probably attract attention itself,” Ares said quietly.

“Okay, okay,” Cupid sighed. He closed his eyes and concentrated. Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, Iolaus and Joxer watched in awe as Cupid’s wings slowly detached from his body, then fell to the ground. Strife sighed regretfully, he loved Cupid’s wings.

Joxer gave Strife a sharp look, he was sure he could feel, no… he really, really was imagining things now! He shook himself and turned back to Cupid who was making his wings disappear. Joxer glanced at Ares questioningly.

Ares, interpreting him correctly, answered quietly, “Unmade.” Joxer smiled and nodded.

“What?” Xena asked curiously.

“Just something I was explaining yesterday,” Ares answered vaguely.

“You told him about that?” Cupid asked in surprise. It wasn’t a normal thing to talk about how Gods used their powers to mortals.

Ares shrugged, “It came up.”

“Can we have less of the cryptic conversations and more action?” Hercules said impatiently.

Ares’ eyes narrowed, but he kept a tight rein on his temper. “Certainly. Cupid, you take Xena and her little companion,” his tone managed to be extremely derogatory and Gabrielle bristled, she was still furious about the earlier confrontation. Ares ignored her. “Strife, you take Hercules and Iolaus.” He showed them where they were headed mentally and his son and nephew nodded.

Strife put his hands on Hercules’ and Iolaus’ shoulders and they vanished. Before Cupid could do the same, Xena picked up a pack.

“We brought you your stuff, Joxer,” she said quietly, handing it to her friend.

Joxer smiled happily, “Thanks, Xena.” He hefted it over his shoulder and looked expectantly at Ares. Ares smiled and pulled him close. They too vanished.

“Let’s go, sis,” Cupid grinned as Xena’s startled expression. She smiled and nodded. Gabrielle snorted and crossed her arms. Cupid put his hands on their shoulders and transported them to the others.



They all appeared in a forest not far from a town and a couple of small farming villages, nestled next to the mountains. The three Gods now carried packs of their own and were dressed in slightly less obvious clothing.

“What first, pop?” Cupid asked Ares.

Ares grimaced, “Don’t call me that.” He frowned at Strife, who was snickering, “Shut up, Strife!” Strife raised his hands in a pacifying gesture and kept quiet. “Lunch at the local inn, we can feel out the atmosphere, probe the locals,” Ares continued quietly.

“’Kay,” Cupid grinned, “Pop.” Ares growled. “Just kidding, dad,” he said hurriedly.

“Better not call me ‘dad’ either if we want to go unnoticed,” Ares frowned thoughtfully.

“You trying to pretend you don’t look old enough to, like, have a grown up son, unc?” Strife couldn’t resist saying with a giggle. Cupid chuckled.

“Well, I don’t!” Ares huffed angrily.

“Whatever you say, *Ares*,” Cupid smirked. Ares glared at his son.

“We can’t really go round calling him Ares either, I mean who, in their right mind, would call their kid, ‘Ares’?!” Gabrielle snorted.

Ares stiffened, but before he could lose his temper in a big way for the second time that morning, Joxer took his arm worriedly. He didn’t want anymore fights, that day at least. Ares took one look at his husband’s pleading expression and sighed. He patted Joxer’s hand reassuringly. This being in love business was going to play havoc with his rep if he wasn’t careful.

“You criticising my mom’s taste in names, little girl?” he spat at Gabrielle.

Gabrielle paled slightly and backed up. Xena subtly shifted her body weight, not enough for Gabrielle to notice, but enough that Ares knew she would protect Gabrielle against him if it came down to it.

Ares met his daughter’s eyes for a moment and he sighed, nodding curtly that he understood. She smiled ruefully at him, knowing he couldn’t fathom her choice of partner, but tolerated it, even if he could barely tolerate Gabrielle. Not that he would probably have to worry too much about that in the future, Gabrielle wasn’t talking to her again, and if she looked at her at all, it was a glare.

Everyone backed down and Joxer breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t over by any means, he could almost taste the tensions bubbling just beneath the surface. He didn’t even try to shake it off this time. Things were strange enough for him as it was, if his brain insisted he could feel the others’ emotions, then so be it. Fighting it was just making him tired anyway. He shouldered his pack and waited for the others to follow suit.

As they walked towards the first village, Cupid quietly restarted the previous conversation. “What names shall we use then?” he asked.

Ares shrugged, “You could call me Arry.” He glanced over at his husband’s sharp intake of breath. “What?”

“No,” said Joxer determinedly, “No one’s calling you that, that’s mine. My name for you, Ares.” He stopped and stared at Ares, trying to make him see how precious what his God had done for him as a child was to him.

Ares met his husband’s eyes, seeing the silent message, reading what wasn’t said aloud, and he smiled. “Sorry, Joxer, I wasn’t thinking.” He ignored the gasps of surprise and shock from the others at his apology, and leaned in to place a gentle kiss on Joxer’s lips.

Joxer lifted his hand and cupped Ares’ face as he kissed back, just letting his tongue trace his God’s lips briefly. Ares sighed and pulled back reluctantly. He licked his lips to get a taste of his husband and turned back to the others, whose curious and shocked gazes were starting to annoy him.

“What?!” Ares snapped. His son and nephew just grinned at him, then each other. Xena had a half-smile on her face as she contemplated the couple. Iolaus was actually watching Hercules, watching for signs that his friend was going to do something stupid.

Hercules was still trying to work out what his brother could be up to and he frowned at the gesture of affection. It worried him, Joxer wasn’t exactly the most discerning person in the world, he would believe anything Ares told him.

Gabrielle just glared, nostrils flaring in disgust. “Freaks,” she muttered, determining to ignore everyone except Hercules and Iolaus.

Before Ares could react to her comment, Joxer sighed, “Can we please *try* to get along?”

Everyone found themselves nodding and quieting down. They started walking again.

“Well, I’d like to be called Achoo,” Strife said.

“You catching a cold, Strife?” Cupid smirked. Strife chuckled at him.

“Achoo?” Ares snorted and shook his head.

“Yeah! It’ll be, like, totally cool, don’t you think?” Strife’s grin grew wider.

“Oh, definitely you,” Cupid reached out and ruffled Strife’s hair.

Strife hid his blush and quickly stifled a surprised moan by complaining loudly. “Do *not* touch the hair, dude!” Cupid just smirked at him, as he tried to get his hair back into place and not think of Cupid’s warm touch. “What about you?” he asked.

“Hmm,” Cupid frowned thoughtfully, “Oh, I know, Spike!”

Strife snorted, “Spike? You want to be called Spike?”

“Sure, why not, I’m a hot blond after all,” Cupid smirked.

Strife gaped, “You think Spike is *hot*?!”

“Oh yeah,” Cupid nodded, “ Slim, pale, blue eyes, hot? Damn near perfect! Prefer dark hair myself though.” He looked up and realised everyone was staring at him, and he blushed. “What, I can’t like guys?”



Strife shook himself, Cupid had pretty much described him as his ideal man, but surely not? Did he know what he was saying? Strife stared at Cupid carefully. No, his cousin was completely oblivious, even though he was fairly sure the others were thinking the same thing, by the way they were also looking at Strife.

“Who’s Spike?” Hercules asked eventually, impatient with all the nonsensical conversations going on.

“A character from something in the future,” Ares shook his head with a sigh, “I thought I told you two to lay off the TV, huh?”

“Yeah, but come on, unc, it’s Buffy!” Strife whined.

Iolaus glanced at Xena, ‘Buffy?’ he mouthed, his eyebrows raised. Xena just shrugged in bemusement.

Ares snorted. “Yeah, but unc, it’s Buffy. Yeah, but unc, it’s Star Trek. Yeah, but unc, it’s Stargate, X-Files, Sliders, Angel! You two are addicted!”

“Uh, TV?” Iolaus asked in confusion.

“Yeah, it’s a future thing, way cool!” Strife explained.

Hercules frowned, “I thought Father didn’t want anyone messing with the future.”

“Are you kidding?! Like he’d miss an episode of Diagnosis Murder!” Strife snorted.

“Huh?” Hercules gaped in confusion.

“Man, that show sucks, still love it though,” Cupid chuckled.

“Yeah, ooh, did you watch Mission: Impossible yesterday? I about pissed myself laughing!” Strife giggled.

“I know, I know! The best though has to be Farscape!” Cupid chuckled.

“Aw dude, that reeks of sucktitude!” Strife bent over and clasped his stomach he was laughing so hard.

“Have you been watching the wrestling again?” Ares sighed. Strife nodded unable to speak, Cupid had joined him, and whenever one stopped the other started up again and they’d both collapse into giggles.

“M-maybe you should be Sc-Scotty too Hotty,” Strife giggled. Cupid stared at him for a second and then they both resumed the hysteria.

“Why don’t we call him ‘bimbo’ then maybe we can get moving!” Hercules snapped.

“Hey!” Strife stopped laughing, he stalked over to Hercules and had his hand wrapped round his throat before anyone else could move or speak. “You *never* insult my cousin!” he snarled.

Cupid hurried over and gently pried Strife away before Hercules retaliated. He didn’t want his cousin getting hurt over a dickwad like Jerkules. His heart was pounding kind of strangely though, he wondered why.

“It’s okay, Achoo,” he grinned at Strife and waited for his cousin to smile back, then he sighed, giving him a hug. He looked up, wondering why everyone was staring at them again.

“It’s not okay, but I’ll leave it,” Strife glared at Hercules, he’d leave it for now anyway.

“Good, so, I’m Spike then,” Cupid said firmly.

“What about you, Ares?” Joxer asked quietly, hoping to take the attention off the two cousins. He knew for certain now that Strife had feelings for the Love God, and somewhere, hidden under obliviousness, Cupid returned those feelings. He couldn’t help feeling sorry for Strife, after all, he’d suffered from not being able to show his feelings for a long time. He wished that there was someway Cupid could be made aware of his own feelings.

Ares stared at his husband. From long experience of watching Joxer, he could tell something was bothering him. He decided not to say anything for now, but answer the question. He shrugged, “What do you think?” Ares frowned, he didn’t like the mischievous smirk that flicked over his husband’s face.

Joxer smiled up at Ares innocently, he was tempted to suggest something very silly, like Iphicles, but at the expression on Ares’ face, he decided not to push things. “I don’t know, what about just calling you ‘Res?”

Ares blinked, that wasn’t half bad, he could stand that. “Yeah, okay, sounds good.” He grinned at Joxer’s pleased smile and hugged him close, “Thanks, Jox.”

Joxer slipped an arm round Ares’ waist and they walked along together, oblivious of the grins being exchanged behind their backs. Joxer sighed happily, but he was still contemplating Strife and Cupid.

“Ares,” he whispered quietly. Ares glanced at him curiously, he was about to find out what had Joxer so thoughtful. “What would you say if Strife and Cupid were a couple?”

Ares frowned, “A couple of what?” Joxer made a disgusted noise. “Sorry, I guess I’d say it was about time, why?”

Joxer shrugged, “Well, I… I just think that Strife’s in love with Cupid.”

Ares blinked, “What on earth makes you say that? You’re right by the way, but how could you possibly know?”

Joxer shrugged, “I don’t know, I just know that I know, you know.” He stopped and started chuckling. Ares grinned at him.

“That almost made sense,” Ares laughed. He sobered quickly, wondering how Joxer *could* know. “What about Cupid then, if you just know what Strife’s feeling, do you ‘just know’ what Cupid’s feeling?”

Joxer nodded but didn’t say anything. Ares stared at him expectantly, and he realised his husband was waiting for an answer. “Oh sorry, he doesn’t realise how deep his feelings for Strife are, he still thinks of him as his best friend and cousin.”

“Hmm,” Ares said thoughtfully, “I did wonder.”

“You believe me?” Joxer gasped, he wasn’t even sure *he* believed himself.

“Yeah, I do,” Ares squeezed him gently, “For one, you’re right, and anyway, I know you, you don’t lie.”

Joxer smiled, “Thanks, I thought I was going mad.”

“So,” Ares started casually, “Do you ‘just know’ what I’m feeling right now?”

Joxer frowned thoughtfully, then he flushed, “Arry!” he exclaimed quietly, clutching Ares’ arm tightly at the heat that rushed through his body. “Please don’t, not when we can’t stop.”

“Sorry,” Ares was surprised that Joxer had known, he hadn’t given anything away with body language, or voice intonation, which was his original theory for Joxer’s knowledge. He wondered what could be going on, things had been really strange these last couple of days. “How long have you been able to, uh, feel these things? I don’t remember it ever coming up in your prayers.”

Joxer shrugged, “I don’t know, a couple of days I guess, but I really started noticing it yesterday.”

“Hmmm,” Ares lost himself in thought as they walked along, arm in arm.



They entered the village quite unprepared for the glares they encountered from everyone they passed. Even the presence of Hercules and Xena didn’t lessen the frosty reception. They all kept silent and headed for the inn.

The inn was quiet, but nothing compared to the silence as all conversation ceased and all eyes turned to them as they entered. Ares gestured to the group to sit down and beckoned Strife to the bar with him. He met the glare of the innkeeper steadily until the man sighed.

“What can I do you for?” the innkeeper asked reluctantly.

“Ale all round, and whatever passes for food round here,” Ares replied quietly, trying not to let the barman’s attitude annoy him. The innkeeper stiffened at the implied insult. When he saw Strife smirking, he snarled.

“See sumthin funny, *boy*?” he snapped.

Strife just shook his head and smiled guilelessly. “Name’s Achoo,” Strife said in a friendly manner.

“Hey! Don’t want no sick people round here!” the innkeeper growled.

“I ain’t sick, name’s Achoo,” Strife repeated.

“Huh?” the innkeeper looked confused. “You taking the piss?!”

Strife shook his head. “I’m Achoo, and this is my uncle ‘Res,” Strife maintained a friendly tone, smiling widely.

“Look bud, if you’re looking for a good time, I suggest you piss off elsewhere,” the innkeeper spat out.

Strife raised his eyebrows, “Touchy much?! Just trying to be friendly, man.”

“You treat all your visitors like this?” Ares asked quietly.

Two men got up from stools by the bar and stood behind them. “We don’t take kindly to strangers round here,” one of them growled menacingly.

“You get many?” Ares asked casually.

“Too many recently,” the other muttered under his breath.

“I’m surprised the local attitude doesn’t keep people away, frankly,” Ares commented. The two men stepped closer, but backed off at a shake of the head from the innkeeper.

“Just finish up here and leave,” the innkeeper said quietly.

“Now, you didn’t ask very politely,” Ares started.

“I ain’t askin’, I’m tellin’! You eat, you leave. You stay, I can’t help you,” the innkeeper interrupted him.

Ares struggled to keep his temper under control. “That sounded like a threat,” he said silkily.

The innkeeper just shrugged and started pouring ale. Strife and Ares went to sit with the others, whose tension eased somewhat.

“Not very friendly,” Cupid commented.

“Nope,” Strife agreed, sitting close to his cousin unconsciously. Cupid smiled at him and patted his shoulder. He wondered why he felt so much better now Strife was sitting down with the group instead of up at the bar, where he’d been relatively exposed. He shook himself mentally, he was just concerned about his best friend, which was silly really, he knew Strife was more than capable of taking care of himself.

“Well?” Xena glanced at her father.

“They don’t like strangers,” Ares said quietly, “We’ve been told in no uncertain terms to leave as soon as we’ve finished here.”

“That’s not right,” Hercules frowned.

“No, it’s not,” Iolaus agreed, “I’ve been here before, didn’t have any trouble. I mean it *was* a while back, but still.”

“One of those guys,” Ares’ gaze flicked over to the two men who had approached them, “Said they’d had too many visitors recently.” He sighed, “I’m guessing our fears were correct.”

Ares paused and he looked at Joxer with a frown. His husband had been silent since they’d entered the village and it was starting to worry him. “Joxer? What is it?”

Joxer blinked and looked up dazedly. “It hurts, Arry,” he whispered.

Ares shifted closer, putting an arm round Joxer. He rested his chin on his husband’s shoulder. “What hurts, Jox?” he asked in quiet concern.

“Fear, hostility, it’s everywhere. Can’t you feel it?” Joxer whispered with a small shudder.

“Joxer?” Xena frowned, “What do you mean?”

“I think the atmosphere is overwhelming him,” said Ares quietly, the worry evident in his tone. “Let’s finish here and get away. This place feels darker the more we stay.”

“I agree,” Cupid nodded, “It’s stifling and it’s on the edge of erupting. I don’t relish the thought of fighting my way out of here.” Cupid glanced at Strife, raising a questioning eyebrow and tilting his head slightly in Joxer’s direction. Strife raised his eyebrows briefly and shrugged. He didn’t know what was going on either, but he knew he definitely didn’t want his cousin in the middle of violence. It was the only reason he’d pass up a good fight.

“Oh, this is ridiculous,” Hercules snapped, “I don’t know what in Hades you are all going on about. The atmosphere is tense and the locals aren’t very friendly, so what? It’s certainly not the first village to regard strangers with suspicion!”

Iolaus closed his eyes. Just once he wished Hercules would shut up. He loved his friend more than anything in the world but why he was going out of his way to antagonise his brother was beyond him.

“Try not to make inane comments about things you know nothing about!” Ares snarled. Only the glares they were getting from the locals prevented Ares from launching himself at Hercules.

“Are we done?” Xena asked quietly. After a couple more seconds glaring at his brother, Ares nodded. “Good, now, let’s get out of here before this degenerates into a brawl of our own making. Besides, Joxer’s looking very pale.”

Ares’ anger immediately dissolved into guilty concern. “Let’s go,” he growled. He gently urged Joxer to his feet. “Come on, love,” he whispered, “I’m going to get you out of here.”

Joxer managed a nod. The negative emotions brewing in the village were overwhelming him and he felt a little sick. Xena automatically held her hand out to Gabrielle, then she flinched when the blonde glared at her and then ignored her.

Iolaus gripped Hercules’ elbow before he stood and leaned close. “Please, Herc, don’t push him,” he whispered.

Hercules heard the quiet concern in his friend’s voice and patted his hand. “I’ll try.” He would also try to forget how Iolaus’ warm breath against his skin made electricity tingle down his spine to his groin. He stood abruptly, startling Iolaus. Cupid watched them with interest and winked at Strife, who smirked.

“C’mon, Spike, let’s get going,” Strife grinned at Cupid’s blank look, which turned quickly to an answering grin as he remembered his fake name.

“’Kay, Achoo,” he replied.

“Bless you,” Strife chuckled.

“Oh, very funny!” Cupid laughed, hugging Strife.

Several of the men in the tavern stood up and started to approach the table.

“Uh oh,” said Iolaus quietly.

“We don’t take kindly to faggots round here,” one man snarled.



“You don’t take kindly to much, do you?” Strife commented. He glanced at Ares who was supporting a very unsteady looking Joxer. “Unc, why don’t you get Jox out of here, we can manage.”

Ares was torn, it was against all he was to leave a fight. Joxer’s knees giving way made the decision for him. He lifted his husband into his arms. Freeing one hand to punch a man who lunged at them, he carried Joxer towards the door.

“Spike, go help him,” Strife ducked a blow and returned it with a sharp punch to his attacker’s exposed ribs. Cupid blinked at him. Strife stared pleadingly, “Please.”

Cupid nodded, picked up their packs and followed Ares and Joxer, yanking back another man going for his father’s back. Behind him, all Tartarus broke loose as the villagers made the mistake of taking on probably the best warriors around. They were lucky the very best had just left, or most of them would have ended up dead.

With Cupid watching his back, Ares carried the now unconscious Joxer safely out of the inn and towards the edge of the village. When they reached the relative safety of the trees, Ares dropped to his knees and gently lay Joxer on the ground. He touched Joxer’s forehead. It felt cold and clammy and it worried him.

Cupid knelt next to his father. “Dad, what’s going on?”

Ares looked up, “He doesn’t know how to shield himself.”

Cupid sucked in a shocked breath, “Shield himself?! But, but… he’s not a God, these things shouldn’t affect him!”

“I know that!” Ares snapped, “But for some reason they do.” Ares gently pulled Joxer up so his head rested in his lap. He stroked the pale features. “Come on, love, wake up,” he whispered.

Cupid sighed, he wished he could find someone to love like that, find someone who loved him like that. He was a Love God for Hades’ sake, why was he so alone?

Ares glanced up at his son and guessed what was on his mind. “Cupid,” he said quietly, “There’s someone out there for you, you’ll see. Just open your eyes.”

Cupid blinked, not quite understanding the last statement, but he smiled at his father. “Thanks, dad.” Ares nodded and turned his attention back to Joxer. “Have you tried shielding him yourself?” Cupid asked quietly.

“Yes,” Ares sighed, frowning in confusion and frustration, “It won’t stay. Somehow he’s casting it off.”

“Huh?!” Cupid’s mouth dropped open, “Wha… I mean, how, I mean… oh fuck I don’t know, how is that possible?!”

“I don’t know,” Ares whispered. “I think we’re going to have to get him further from the village, he overloaded. I’m just going to have to show him how to shield himself and hope it works.”

Cupid looked back, relieved to see Strife leading the rest towards them. He had to smile at the look of exhilaration on his cousin’s face. “C’mon, dad, they’re on their way.”

Ares hefted Joxer back into his arms and stood up with a small grunt.

Strife skipped over, grinning broadly. “Damn, that was fun!” he chuckled. Gabrielle and Hercules shared a snort of disgust.

“Let’s get out of here,” Ares growled.

Xena hurried to her father’s side as he started to walk away from the village. “Dad, is he going to be okay?” she asked, she was very worried about Joxer *and* her father.

Ares clenched his jaw tightly to stop himself from snapping at her. He knew she was concerned. “I hope so,” he said quietly.

“Everybody okay?” Cupid asked the group.

“Yeah, think so,” Strife glanced round, the others seemed to be fine. Cupid breathed a bit more calmly, he hadn’t realised how tense he’d been, and worried about Strife, but he was fine now that he knew his cousin was okay.

“What’s wrong with Joxer?” Hercules asked. Cupid glanced at him in surprise. “What?!” Hercules snapped.

“Uh, nothing,” Cupid blinked, “Um, we’re not sure, we just need to get him away from here.”

Hercules nodded. Ares strode ahead of the rest, staring blankly in front of him. He gripped Joxer’s unconscious form close, trying not to let his stomach churning, heart pounding fear overwhelm him. He refused to let the others, and in particular his brother see how badly this was affecting him.

Ares forced himself to go over everything strange that had happened over the last two or three days, to try and pinpoint what could be happening to Joxer. But for some reason everything that he tried to recall that had bothered him was a little hazy. The only thing that *was* clear, was that Joxer was suddenly, somehow, very strongly empathic.

The War God cursed himself for not seeing it sooner and putting Joxer in a position to be bombarded with so much negativity. “I’m so sorry, my love,” he said under his breath.

“Arry, I’m okay,” Joxer whispered weakly. The darkness that had overwhelmed him at the village was rapidly easing, but he could feel Ares’ guilt and worry strongly.

“Oh Gods, Joxer!” Ares stopped and shifted Joxer into a hug, “You had me so scared.”

Joxer chuckled shakily, “Arry, need to breathe.”

“Sorry,” Ares sighed, releasing his tense grip, but making sure to keep his unsteady husband on his feet.

“I didn’t mean to worry you,” Joxer whispered, trying to ease Ares’ conflicting emotions.

“I’m just happy you’re okay, love,” Ares said, gently cupping Joxer’s face.

“Getting there,” Joxer sighed. His head ached, but he didn’t feel so nauseous and faint.

“Just a little further, then we can stop, okay?” Ares whispered, dropping a gentle kiss onto Joxer’s lips.

“’Kay.” Joxer let himself be picked up again and snuggled close to his husband.

When Ares had stopped so abruptly, Strife had almost walked into him. When he realised Joxer had regained consciousness, he turned and glared at the others, determined to stop anyone from disturbing the couple.

Cupid realised what his cousin was doing, and smiled fondly. He stood next to Strife and put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing encouragingly. Strife managed to suppress the small shiver of longing and smile back at Cupid. The others kept quiet, Gabrielle and Hercules actually exercised some tact and gave the couple at least a little privacy.

When Ares started to walk again, they all followed in silence. They reached a small clear area next to a river and Ares stopped again, gently laying Joxer under a tree.



Ares looked up, “Did anyone bring our stuff?”

Cupid nodded and carried their packs over. Ares rooted around and pulled out a blanket, bundling Joxer up in it tightly.

“Arry,” Joxer protested with a small laugh, “I’m all right, really.”

Ares sighed, knowing he was overreacting, but he’d been so scared. He leaned forward, resting his forehead against Joxer’s, clasping the young man’s face between his hands. “I’m not sure *I* am yet, love,” he whispered.

Joxer mirrored the gesture and clasped Ares’ face between his own hands. “Shh, I’m here.” He drew Ares into a soft, passionate kiss, instinctively knowing his husband needed reassurance. Ares moaned quietly, letting Joxer slowly explore his mouth, sucking gently at lips and tongue.

Ares pulled back reluctantly, he didn’t want to ever let go, but he wanted Joxer to get some rest before he started teaching him shielding. He smiled at Joxer who patted his cheek gently, and shifted round so he was sitting against the tree, and he pulled Joxer between his legs and into his arms.

“Sleep,” he whispered. Joxer nodded and closed his eyes.

Gabrielle went and sat with Hercules and Iolaus, completely ignoring Xena. She had no wish for her former lover to start trying to talk to her again. During the fight, she’d found herself worrying about the warrior, and she was annoyed with herself. When Xena tried to approach, she glared at her.

Xena sighed and stared aimlessly round the clearing. She caught Cupid’s eye and he smiled, beckoning her over. Xena gave him a half smile and sat down. Strife plonked himself just behind Cupid and hooked his chin over his cousin’s shoulder.

“How you doing, Xena?” Cupid asked, reaching up to pat Strife’s cheek absentmindedly. Xena found herself wondering again what their relationship was.

“I’m okay I guess,” she sighed, “I can’t expect Gabrielle to just get over this, if she ever does.”

“I’m very sorry it had to happen,” Cupid grimaced apologetically. He held back a small smile at the tiny squeeze Strife gave him. “She does love you,” he continued, “She may yet forgive you. The question is, will you be able to accept it?”

Xena frowned, “What do you mean?”

“Forgiveness will come at a price with Gabrielle, you may find it too high,” Cupid reached out and patted her hand gently.

Xena sighed and lay back, turning her head to watch her father with Joxer, missing that closeness.

Cupid twisted his head awkwardly to look at Strife, who was watching Hercules and Iolaus. Strife got up and he leaned down to squeeze Cupid’s shoulder. Cupid tilted his head back to look up at him. Strife’s breath caught in his throat, Cupid looked so beautiful, and he longed to taste that exposed neck. He wrestled his desire ruthlessly into submission and grinned wickedly.

“Far too good an opportunity for me to pass up,” Strife glanced back over at Hercules and Iolaus. Cupid followed his gaze and nodded, grinning back at his cousin.

“Go for it,” Cupid chuckled.

@>*~

Hercules flopped down in the clearing with Iolaus, only looking up when Gabrielle joined them. He was watching Ares with Joxer, suspicious of his brother’s motives. When they started to kiss, he looked away in disgust. It wasn’t till then, Hercules noticed Iolaus clutching his head, his eyes tightly shut.

“Hey,” he said quietly, trying not to sound as concerned as he was, “You okay?”

Iolaus looked up guiltily, he hadn’t said anything about the resounding blow to the head he’d gotten during the fight, but now it was really starting to hurt. “No,” he sighed.

Hercules frowned and got onto his knees, “Let me see.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing, “Iolaus protested, he was finding it hard to control his emotions, he didn’t think he could cope with Hercules being too close.

“Let me see,” Hercules’ tone brooked no argument. Iolaus moved his hand and turned slightly. He stifled a moan at his friend’s unexpectedly gentle touch.

Hercules breathed out heavily in annoyance and concern. Iolaus had a nasty bump developing and there was a bit of blood drying in his hair. “Needs cleaning,” he said quietly. Hercules dug out a clean cloth and took it over to the river to soak it. He went back to Iolaus and crouched down, very carefully wiping the wound.

Iolaus was having trouble breathing under the tender ministrations of his best friend. He looked up and Hercules met his eyes. Both men gasped at what they saw. Iolaus reached up and grasped Hercules’ wrist. He held his breath as Hercules slowly leaned forward. Hercules’ heart was pounding fearfully, but he was lost in Iolaus’ eyes and he couldn’t stop himself.

Without warning, he was jostled from behind and he lost his balance, knocking Iolaus to the ground and landing on top of him. Hercules jerked up as if he’d been stung, hoping against hope his friend hadn’t felt his erection. Iolaus closed his eyes to hold back tears of bitter disappointment, he’d obviously been wrong, Hercules didn’t want him.

“Gods damn it, Strife!” Hercules yelled, “Can’t you watch where you’re going?!”

“Whoa, dude don’t get your panties in a bunch!” Strife hid a smirk. “Just wanted to see if he was okay.”

Hercules frowned suspiciously, “Why?” he demanded.

“What’s it to ya?” Strife raised an eyebrow. “We need everyone one hundred percent on this little trip ya know.” He knelt down next to Iolaus, who was now sitting up, and put his hand on his head. “Not a problem,” Strife smiled and stroked Iolaus’ hair gently, healing him with a burst of energy. He leaned close to Iolaus and smiled. “Feel better,” he breathed, not removing his hand from Iolaus’ head.

“Uh,” Iolaus swallowed nervously and pulled back, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. “Yeah, thanks, Strife.”

“You a natural blond?” Strife rubbed Iolaus’ hair between his fingers, wishing it was Cupid’s.

“Y-yeah, why?” Iolaus stuttered.

Strife shrugged and leaned closer again, leering, “I like blonds.” Strife’s smirk was getting harder and harder to suppress the more terrified Iolaus looked. “Can you, like, prove it?”

“What?!” Iolaus squeaked.

Strife bent over the now almost prostrate hunter and whispered hotly in his ear, “Are ya blond down here too?” he groped Iolaus’ crotch.

“HEY!” Hercules yanked Strife to his feet, furious with the God. “You are *done* here!”

“Yeesh, rude much?!” Strife growled, “I was talking with Iolaus.” He leered at the hunter, who’s eyes widened in fear.

“Well, now you’re not,” Hercules shoved him away, “Get lost!”

Strife sneered at him and stomped back over to Cupid who was looking at him strangely.

“What?” Strife frowned in confusion. Cupid looked almost angry, and damn if he wasn’t even more gorgeous with his eyes flashing like that.

Cupid shook himself, realising that he’d come close to losing control, “Oh nothing, sorry, just wasn’t expecting the whole Iolaus thing.” He didn’t want Strife worrying about him.

“Yeah well, he’s cute. Wouldn’t be hardship ya know,” Strife leered at his cousin, who laughed. Not quite the reaction he’d hoped for. He sighed and lay back.

Cupid stared at Strife a little longer. As soon as he’d noticed his cousin flirting with Iolaus, he’d felt odd. Then when he’d seen Strife grab Iolaus like that, well it had almost felt like… no! It couldn’t have been, why would he be jealous? But hearing Strife as good as say he’d have sex with the hunter made his heart pound painfully again and he’d had to really force the laugh. He just didn’t understand why. He lay back next to Strife pondering his strange feelings.



Everyone except Xena had drifted off, worn out by all the tensions, arguments and the fight. Xena just couldn’t relax properly, she kept thinking about Gabby and what Cupid had said. She really hoped he wasn’t right and that Gabby loved her enough to eventually accept everything.

She kept an eye on things, building a fire as it got darker and the temperature dropped. Slowly, people stirred. Gabrielle sat on the opposite side of the fire and was soon joined by Hercules and Iolaus, who started cooking some food. Strife and Cupid sat next to her and Cupid patted her knee sympathetically.

“You think we should wake unc?” Strife asked quietly.

“Uh, maybe…” Cupid stopped when they heard a moan. “Maybe no,” he chuckled. Strife grinned at him and then glanced across the fire where Hercules was looking pissed and Iolaus looked embarrassed and possibly a little horny. Strife leered at him and Iolaus looked away hurriedly. Strife winked at Cupid, who only took a second longer than he should have to wink back.

Cupid could not work out why this was affecting him so much, but he made an effort to enjoy his cousin’s tricks. They all sat quietly again, trying to ignore the couple under the tree.

@>*~

When Joxer woke up again, it was dark. He could see Xena sitting by a fire and watched as she was slowly joined by the others. He yawned and stretched as best he could in Ares’ arms. He felt a hundred percent better, and wriggled round in his husband’s embrace. He looked up at Ares, who was blinking sleep out of his eyes, and smiled softly.

“How are you, love?” Ares whispered.

“I’m really good,” Joxer whispered back. He reached up and gently scratched Ares’ beard. Ares chuckled quietly; he grabbed Joxer’s hand and kissed it.

“Are you now?” he whispered. He twisted Joxer round in his arms and bent his head to capture soft lips with his own. Joxer opened his mouth, revelling in the gentle probing of his husband’s tongue. He couldn’t quite stifle a moan and Ares smiled against his lips.

He shifted them down and pulled Joxer on top of him, rearranging the blanket so that it covered them both.

“Ares?” Joxer whispered, he could feel the heat from his husband and the need for reassurance, but he wasn’t sure he could be so intimate with the others so close.

“S’okay love, we’ll keep it quiet. I just need to touch you, feel you,” Ares said quietly.

Joxer sighed as Ares nuzzled his neck, there was no way he could say no, and he didn’t want to. “Oh yes,” he whispered.

Ares’ hands wandered down his back and pulled his shirt from his pants, sliding under to stroke his skin. Joxer lifted his head and met Ares’ eyes. His husband smiled and held him closer, pulling his head down for a soft kiss. Joxer moaned again quietly, slipping his hands into Ares’ hair, gripping gently.

Ares’ tongue traced his lips before sliding between them. Joxer’s tongue met and greeted its mate and both men sighed happily. Ares shifted them onto their sides and wriggled a hand between their bodies, firmly stroking Joxer’s crotch, revelling in the feel of his healthy husband next to him.

Joxer gasped into his mouth and thrust against him. He pulled away and buried his face in Ares’ neck, panting heavily. Joxer started to unbutton Ares’ shirt hurriedly, wanting, needing, to feel warm skin. Ares moaned as nimble fingers explored his chest, tugging gently at nipples.

“Need you, lover,” Ares murmured, urging Joxer’s hands down. Shirts were pushed aside and pants pulled open and Joxer found himself plastered against bare, hairy skin from neck to groin. Ares thrust against him again and he barely held back a groan, still slightly aware of the company only a few feet away.

Joxer squeezed his hand between them and wrapped his fingers round their cocks, pressing them together.

“Oh Gods,” Ares breathed out heavily, thrusting up within the circle of Joxer’s fingers and sliding against Joxer’s shaft. He pulled his husband’s head up for a kiss as his other hand slipped between them. Their fingers linked together and wrapped back around their cocks, pumping together.

“I love you,” Joxer whispered against his husband’s lips. Ares’ breath hitched, he may have teased Joxer about being disbelieving, but sometimes even he didn’t quite believe it was real and that Joxer was finally his. He dipped his tongue into Joxer’s mouth as the pace and pressure of their pumping increased. The heat and love between them surged through Joxer and overwhelmed him. He moved against Ares frantically.

“Come, love,” Ares moaned, “Need to feel you.”

Joxer gasped. Ares’ free hand slipped down the back of his pants and began to explore his ass. A finger grazing his asshole at the same time as his earlobe was nipped, was more than he could take and he stiffened, grinding his mouth against Ares’ to stifle his cry as he came.

Ares felt the warmth of Joxer’s seed against his stomach and cock and he moaned, clutching tightly at his husband as his orgasm crashed through him.

“I love you, Joxer,” Ares whispered. They kissed quietly, then Ares gently cleaned them up, using the corner of the blanket. He did up their pants and held Joxer close for a little while. Joxer sighed happily and snuggled.

“You feel up to joining the others?” Ares whispered. Joxer flushed and buried his face against Ares’ chest. Ares chuckled. “Come on, you need some food before I train you.”

Joxer lifted his head and stared at Ares, a small frown creasing his brow. “Train me?” He wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that.

“Yes, love. I don’t know how or why you’re able to feel what you’re feeling, but I’m going to try and help you,” Ares replied.

“Oh,” Joxer smiled delightedly, “Really?”

“Of course,” Ares stroked his cheek gently. They got up and joined the others by the fire. Strife and Cupid were nowhere to be seen. Xena was grinning at them, Gabrielle just ignored them and Hercules and Iolaus looked distinctly uncomfortable. Ares smirked at them.

“Where are the boys?” he asked.

Xena shrugged, “Strife went off somewhere, Cupid went to see if he was okay.”



Strife sat by the fire feeling more and more uncomfortable. He could feel Cupid’s body heat next to him, smell his delicious chocolate chip cookie smell, and combined with the noises coming from Ares and Joxer, Strife was unbearably turned on. If he stayed there any longer, he’d grab Cupid and drag him into the woods, to Tartarus with the consequences. He stood abruptly, startling everyone.

“I, uh, I have a thing…” Strife flushed and hurried away. Xena and Cupid exchanged surprised glances. After a couple of minutes, when Strife didn’t return, Cupid started to worry. He excused himself and wandered in the same direction Strife had gone. He didn’t know whether to be quiet or make some noise, he didn’t want to startle his cousin, although he wasn’t likely to embarrass him, they’d seen each other naked all their lives and knew each others’ bathroom habits too.

Cupid pushed aside a branch and froze, his heart missed a beat and he forgot to breathe. In the middle of the small stream that led to the river, the moonlight shining off drops of water glistening on pale skin, was Strife. He was naked, but not how Cupid had ever seen him before. Strife was kneeling in the shallow water, eyes closed, head flung back as one hand trailed over his chest, fingers tugging at his nipples.

With a hard swallow, Cupid let his gaze lower to the parted legs, where Strife’s other hand was wrapped around his long, slim cock. Cupid’s lips parted and he started to breathe again, shakily. His hand tightened on the branch as he watched those slender, strong fingers squeeze and pump. Cupid’s mouth was dry and he realised his cock was straining against the laces of his pants. He panted and licked his lips.

Strife parted his legs further and leant back, supporting himself on one hand as he continued to slide the other up and down his cock, fingers occasionally skimming over the tip to collect the leaking juices. Cupid barely managed to stop himself from running over to taste his cousin. What in Hades was happening to him? Strife moaned and Cupid felt his chest tighten. Realisation crashed through him.

“No,” Cupid whispered. He let go of the branch and backed away. But he couldn’t deny it. How could he not have realised that he was in love with his cousin? Tears sprang to his eyes; so that’s why he’d felt so jealous earlier. And there was nothing he could do, Strife liked Iolaus. Even if he was just teasing the hunter to get at Hercules, he’d as good as said he wanted the man. Cupid stifled a sob and fled.

He didn’t hear Strife gasp out his name as he came, didn’t see Strife’s own tears.

Strife sat in the cold water, letting the tears stream down his face. It wasn’t till his teeth started chattering that he realised how cold he was. They weren’t using many of their normal powers just in case it drew attention to them. He washed himself listlessly and pushed himself unsteadily to his feet. Using his undershirt to dry off, he got dressed slowly.

Strife wiped his tears away and slowly made his way back to the camp. He frowned when he noticed Cupid wasn’t there and he sat down next to Ares.

“Unc, where’s Cupe?” he asked quietly.

Ares glanced at him in surprise, “I thought he’d gone after you.”

Strife flushed. “Gods, I hope not,” he muttered.

“Hmm?” Ares frowned.

“Uh, nothing, I guess he didn’t find me,” Strife replied hurriedly. He looked away and sighed. He couldn’t help wondering if Cupid had seen him, it wasn’t as if he’d gone very far.

Ares stared at his nephew for a moment, but Strife was shielding his emotions strongly. Just out of curiosity, Ares wondered if Joxer could feel anything and turned to his husband. Then he frowned again. Joxer looked as though he was trying not to cry.

“Love, what is it?”

Joxer looked up at Ares, barely holding back tears. “Arry, I think I need that training now,” he whispered with a small sniff. Ares raised his eyebrows in concern. “Too much heartache, it hurts,” Joxer explained.

“Heartache?” Ares didn’t think that Xena and Gabrielle’s break up was enough to hurt Joxer that much.

Joxer nodded, it was bombarding him from all directions. “Everyone hurts, Arry.” Joxer crawled into Ares’ lap and was quickly pulled into a strong embrace. Ares found that he could extend his own shield around Joxer without a problem and he felt his husband relax.

“Something up, Jox, you okay?” Strife asked.

Joxer looked up at the young God and nodded, “I feel better.” He could feel that Ares had done something and it had relieved the pain. “Strife!” Joxer reached out to grab Strife’s wrist suddenly. Both Ares and Strife looked startled. “You’ve *got* to tell him, somehow let him know, please, somehow.”

Strife gaped at Joxer, “What the…?” He stared at Joxer’s earnest expression and nodded, “I’ll try.” Joxer squeezed his wrist and let go.

They were starting to get looks from the others, although Hercules had already been watching Ares and Joxer with a slight frown. He still couldn’t figure out what Ares was up to; if he didn’t know better, he’d have said his brother really was in love. Hercules snorted to himself, getting a glare from Ares. He glared back. He definitely didn’t believe that they were really married, probably Ares had tricked Joxer somehow.

It wasn’t just the sheer improbability of Ares marrying someone like Joxer, he just couldn’t see his father allowing it, and, as psychotic as she might be, Hercules didn’t believe for a second that Hera would allow her son to marry a male mortal.

A gentle hand on his arm took his attention away from his brother. Hercules glanced at Iolaus, who was looking at him pleadingly, and he sighed, nodding minutely. He didn’t want to upset Iolaus.

Gabrielle watched for a while. She hadn’t said a word most of the day and she knew Xena was worried, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. She couldn’t bring herself to care about anything, although Ares’ and Joxer’s little performance had disgusted her. She pulled away from the fire and laid out her bedroll, lying down with her back to Xena. Hercules and Iolaus soon followed her example.

Xena sighed, this was going to be a lonely, painful trip.

*Daughter.*

Xena’s head shot up and she stared at Ares.

*Yes, father?*

*Would you like me to talk to Cupid?*

*What?!*

*Well, I just, you know…*

*Dad, I, I appreciate you asking, but *that* she would never forgive.*

*::sighs:: I suppose. Your brother is very understanding though, if you ever need to talk to someone.*

*Yeah, thanks Dad.*

Xena smiled at Ares. “Where’s Cupid anyway?”

Strife got up, “I’ll go find him.”

Ares nodded. Joxer was staring up at him in confusion. “What is it, love?” Ares asked quietly.

Joxer shook his head, “I… were you and Xena just talking?”

Ares blinked. What in Hades was going on? There was no way, even empathically, that Joxer should have been able to know that.

“I think we need to have a talk about what’s happening to you.” Ares looked up at his daughter, “Xena, will you take first watch?”

She nodded and he drew Joxer away from the fire.



Strife crept through the trees, he was adept at tracking, not that Cupid had exactly made it hard, although it did look as though Cupid might have seen him at the stream. Strife sighed, wondering if he’d blown it. He followed Cupid’s trail along the small stream, coming to a sudden halt when he heard a small splash.

His eyes narrowed and he peered through the trees. There was another splash, and he spotted Cupid sitting by the water, picking up a rock. He threw it into the stream. Strife started when he realised Cupid’s shoulders were shaking, as he got closer he heard sobs and he hurried over, dropping to his knees to draw his cousin into his arms.

Cupid jumped, he hadn’t realised anyone was there. He stared up at his cousin. Strife gently wiped the tears from his cheek and Cupid crumbled. He gripped Strife’s top and dropped his head on the leather clad chest, crying desperately.

Strife wrapped his arms round Cupid and held on tight. He didn’t have a clue why Cupid was so upset, all he knew was that it caused him physical pain. He made little noises and swept his hands in soothing circles over Cupid’s back. He couldn’t help but miss his cousin’s wings though. Unable to quite resist, he scratched the spot between Cupid’s shoulder blades.

Cupid tensed. It was ironic enough that he was accepting comfort from the source of his despair, but when Strife started to scratch between where his wings should have been, he actually started becoming aroused. Cupid forced himself to stop crying and pushed away from his cousin.

“Cupe?” Strife looked a cross between concerned and terrified. Cupid almost smiled.

“I’m okay.”

Strife’s mouth dropped open, “No, you’re not!”

“Strife,” Cupid stopped his cousin. “Please, I’m okay.” He had to get back to the others before he did something stupid. Strife was too close, was still touching him, smelt of leather and musk. “Oh Gods,” Cupid groaned.

“Cupe?” Strife was really worried. It wasn’t like Cupid to not tell him what was wrong, he was used to his cousin telling him everything. Well, he supposed it wasn’t as if he told Cupid everything, but he still couldn’t help feeling hurt.

“Let’s get back, okay?” Cupid said hurriedly.

“But Cupe…”

“Please, Strife,” Cupid begged. Strife sighed and nodded, how could he resist those eyes? Standing up, he held out a hand to his cousin. Cupid took it automatically and stood just as Strife yanked up, and he slammed into his cousin. They grabbed each other to keep from falling.

Strife sucked in a breath, Cupid looked all startled and his lips were parted. Cupid stared at Strife and licked his lips, then coming to his senses, he cursed himself mentally and pulled away.

Strife sighed and followed Cupid as he started to walk back to the camp. As they walked quietly, Strife remembered what Joxer had said. It had seemed important, but he couldn’t bring himself to just tell Cupid.

“Hey, Cupe,” he said, trying to sound normal.

“Yeah?” Cupid hoped Strife wasn’t going to try and find out why he’d been crying.

“Been thinking about changing my fake name.”

“Yeah? What to?” Cupid felt relieved, but now he was curious as to what Strife might have come up with and he grinned at his cousin.

“Xander,” Strife said quietly.

Cupid blinked, then grinned wider, “Cool, now we’re both Buffy boys!”

Strife sighed, Cupid didn’t get it. He forced himself to grin, “Yeah.”

They got back to the camp, glancing curiously at Joxer and Ares who were sitting cross-legged in front of each other.

“What’s going on there?” Strife asked.

“Dad’s showing Joxer how to shield himself,” Cupid replied quietly, settling himself down by the fire. Strife dropped next to him and blinked.

“Huh?”

“Yeah I know, don’t ask cos I don’t know,” Cupid shrugged.

Strife bit his lip thoughtfully, maybe what Joxer had said was more important than he’d thought. “Cupe,” he began nervously.

“Yeah?” Cupid looked up, praying to no one in particular that Strife wouldn’t ask him about earlier.

Strife licked his lips and met his cousin’s gaze, slightly concerned about the touch of fear he thought he saw there. “I, uh, I want you to know…” Strife faltered, “You can talk to me about anything.” Strife cursed himself vehemently and colourfully for chickening out.

Cupid smiled, “I know.” He grabbed his cousin in a tight hug, quickly letting go before he embarrassed himself. “Come on, we should get some sleep,” he whispered.

Strife nodded mutely and curled up behind Cupid, staring at his cousin’s blond hair.

@>*~

“Sit down, love,” Ares gestured. Joxer sat down opposite his husband, licking his lips nervously. Ares smiled gently, “This isn’t going to hurt, it’s going to help, like when you sat in my lap, that helped, right?”

Joxer nodded cautiously.

“Right, I’m, hopefully, going to show you how you can do that for yourself,” Ares said, reaching out to take Joxer’s hand. He stroked the knuckles until he felt Joxer relax a little. “Trust me,” he whispered.

Joxer looked startled. “You know I do,” he whispered back, horrified that Ares might think he didn’t. “I’m ready.”

Ares squeezed his hand gently before letting go. “Before we start, love, why did you ask me if I was talking to Xena?” he asked quietly.

Joxer frowned slightly, trying to think of a way to explain, “It was like I could hear something, but as if from a great distance, I wasn’t even sure. But I could recognise the sound of your voice, and Xena’s.”

“Hmmm,” Ares bit his lips thoughtfully, “I was talking to Xena mentally. Mostly it’s a, uh, a God thing, but because she’s my daughter, we have a strong connection. Mostly that type of communication is too much for mortals to deal with.” He sighed, “What I don’t understand is how you could ‘overhear’ us, even a God shouldn’t be able to overhear a private communication.”

Joxer’s breath hitched. “I didn’t mean to,” he said worriedly.

“I know, it’s okay,” Ares smiled reassuringly. “There’s not much I can do about that now. We’re going to town tomorrow, I want you to be able to protect yourself from that much emotion, negative or not.”

Joxer nodded, “Okay. Do you think this will really work?”

“I don’t know, love, I hope so. Let’s start,” Ares said quietly. Joxer nodded and he smiled, “I want you to close your eyes and relax, but try to keep sitting up straight, okay?”

Joxer nodded again. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, trying to get his muscles to relax.

“First, you need to feel your connection to the earth, try imagining roots growing from your spine, deep into the earth.” Ares blinked, it was almost as if he could see Joxer connecting to the earth.

“The, uh,” he shook his head, “The idea is to draw energy from outside, not from yourself, but it’s also protective.” He smiled as Joxer nodded.

“Okay, now see a circle of flames surrounding you,” Ares stopped again and blinked again. He could see a faint glow surrounding his husband. “Uh, draw the flames up around you, so they surround you in a sphere.” Okay, now he could definitely see something, almost as if Joxer was manifesting his visualisations. What in Hades was going on?

Ares shook his head and continued, “See a ball of light above your head, then draw the light around the flames to form a second sphere.” There was a sudden flash and Ares fell back. “Fuck!”

Joxer opened his eyes, “What? Arry! Are you okay?” Joxer crawled over Ares and was pulled down into his husband’s arms.

“Yeah, yeah I am,” Ares grinned, “I just got a massive energy burst from you.”

Joxer lifted his head, “How?”

Ares shrugged, “I have no idea, but damn if I don’t need you now!”

Joxer smiled and dipped his head to kiss Ares hard. He felt great, the oppressing heartache was gone. He could still feel it, but it wasn’t overwhelming and painful anymore. He was full of energy and damn if he didn’t need his husband too.

Standing abruptly, Joxer held out his hand, “Let’s go.” Ares leered at him and took his hand. He stood quickly and dragged Joxer into the trees.



Strife lay quietly, wishing he *could* sleep. He stared at Cupid’s back, fighting the urge to touch him. A sudden exclamation from his uncle startled him and looked round to see the couple sprawled on the ground. They got up quickly and ran into the trees. Strife sighed enviously.

Sitting up, he looked round. He smiled briefly at Xena, then fixed his gaze on Hercules and Iolaus. Slowly, a grin spread over his face. Definitely too good an opportunity to pass up. He stood and crept over to the pair, who were practically snuggled up together.

Carefully, he put Hercules’ hand on Iolaus’ ass. Then he took Iolaus’ hand and rubbed it against Hercules’ crotch until he saw the Demi-God start to harden. With a small spurt of energy, he brought Iolaus to the point of waking up and let go of his hand, smirking with satisfaction as Iolaus continued to rub, murmuring quietly. Hercules groaned, pulling Iolaus closer.

Strife snickered and hurried back to the other side of the fire, smirking at Xena. She grinned and shook her head.

@>*~

Iolaus was having a wonderful dream, he was touching Hercules. Suddenly his ass was gripped tightly and he was pulled against a firm body. Iolaus opened his eyes, horrified to find it wasn’t a dream and he was stroking Hercules’ hard cock. Swallowing thickly, Iolaus tried to will himself to stop, but Hercules was holding him tightly and rolling his hips against him.

“Iolaus,” Hercules moaned.

Iolaus nearly choked, but found himself pulled into a kiss. He whimpered. No longer able to control himself, he kissed back desperately.

Hercules woke slowly, trying to hold onto his amazing dream, only it didn’t fade, it got stronger. His eyes flew open. Iolaus was kissing him, touching him!

“Oh Gods,” he moaned into his friend’s mouth.

Startled, Iolaus pulled away, panting hard, “I, uh, I,” he stuttered.

“Don’t stop,” Hercules whispered.

“Oh,” Iolaus gasped. Hercules rolled on top of him and dipped his head, possessing Iolaus’ lips urgently. Iolaus wrapped his legs round Hercules’ and thrust up hard.

Hercules moaned, quite unable to believe what was happening. His tongue plunged into Iolaus’ mouth and he rocked his hips frantically against the smaller man. Iolaus sucked and licked desperately. His hands wandered down to Hercules’ ass, one sliding beneath his pants, gripping and rubbing a tight, smooth ass cheek, waves of pleasure and need shuddering through him. Hercules wanted him!

He yanked Hercules’ head back suddenly, want wasn’t enough. “Herc, wait,” he gasped, somehow finding the willpower to stop. Hercules’ eyes were glazed and his lips swollen and red. Iolaus moaned, but held onto his self control by a thread.

“Iolaus,” Hercules whispered. Their eyes met and Hercules saw the doubt and questions in his friend’s gaze. Hercules rocked gently. “I love you, you know,” he whispered. Iolaus sighed and smiled. He cupped Hercules’ cheek and drew him down for another kiss. Hercules groaned and Iolaus thrust up against him. Quickly, their movements became urgent again, their need too great to stop, neither man even aware of their audience.

Iolaus moaned, it was too much, he’d waited so long. His balls tightened and he stiffened as he came in his pants. Hercules thrust hard against him, shuddering, groaning loudly. Iolaus flopped back and Hercules collapsed on top of him.

A sudden whoop startled them and they sat up, blushing furiously as Strife leered at them, applauding politely.

“Encore!” Strife snickered.

Cupid elbowed him, “Don’t tease them.” He resolutely didn’t look at his cousin, he was getting far too much energy, first from his father and Joxer, now from Hercules and Iolaus, added to the vision of Strife jerking off that he saw every time he closed his eyes, he was reaching his limits.

Hercules stood abruptly and stalked off. Iolaus smiled ruefully and hurried after him.

“Herc, wait. Herc!” he grabbed Hercules’ hand and stopped him. Hercules sighed and his head dropped to his chest. “Herc, I love you too,” Iolaus whispered.

Hercules looked up and smiled. He pulled Iolaus into his arms and hugged his best friend tightly. Iolaus held on, rubbing Hercules’ back, burying his face in the strong neck. They stood like that for a while, both still a little surprised and nervous. Finally Iolaus pulled back.

“Shall we go wash up?” he asked quietly. Hercules nodded and let him be drawn to the stream.

@>*~

“You are evil,” Cupid commented, trying to distract himself.

Strife grinned, “Thanks.”

Cupid snorted and shook his head. He glanced round, noticing his father’s and Joxer’s absence. “Where’d they go?” he asked.

Strife leered. “Where’d you think?” he chuckled, wishing he could drag Cupid into the trees. Cupid half smiled and sighed. “What’s up, cuz?” Strife asked quietly.

Cupid shrugged one shoulder, “Nothing.” He settled back down on the bedroll. “Strife?”

“Yeah?” Strife tilted his head to look down at Cupid.

“I’m cold.” Cupid knew he was being stupid, but just for a little while, he wanted to feel Strife’s arms around him and pretend.

Strife swallowed nervously. He lay down behind Cupid and pulled his cousin into his arms, careful to keep his crotch away from Cupid’s gorgeous, firm and gah! not helping! ass.

Cupid sighed happily and snuggled closer. “Night, Strife,” he whispered.

Night, love, Strife whispered in his head. “Night,” he said aloud. How was he going to sleep now? Cupid felt so good in his arms. He sighed and rested his head on Cupid’s shoulder.



Joxer stopped abruptly and Ares nearly fell back.

“Can’t wait,” Joxer muttered impatiently. He yanked his pants down and braced himself against a tree. Ares groaned at the sight and dropped to his knees behind his husband. He reached out and rubbed pale, firm ass cheeks, massaging and separating them. Joxer sighed under the warm hands, wriggling and pushing back, needing a more intimate touch.

Ares almost smiled at his lover’s impatience and he leaned forward, biting one tight cheek.

“Ares,” Joxer breathed. Ares licked up the crease of his ass and Joxer groaned. He was hard and aching already and desperate for his husband to fill him.

Ares pressed deeper, sliding his tongue between Joxer’s cheeks, licking up and down from the base of his balls to his lower back, only skimming over his puckered hole.

“Please, Arry,” Joxer panted. Ares flicked the tip of his tongue across the entrance to his Joxer’s body and his lover jerked against him. “More,” Joxer begged, “Need you.”

Ares let his tongue circle the tight hole before he pushed the tip inside, encouraging the tight ring to relax. Joxer moaned, dropping his head onto his arms as cool wetness pressed inside him. Ares’ hands wandered up to his groin and stroked his balls roughly, fingers pressing against the sensitive skin just beneath them.

“Ah, Gods, Ares!” Joxer gasped. Ares stiffened his tongue and wriggled it deeper inside the tight passage, tasting his husband’s musky essence. He groaned and gripped Joxer’s hip with one hand as the other slid across Joxer’s balls and up the silky skin of his hard shaft.

“Arry, Arry, Arry,” Joxer chanted breathlessly. His husband’s large, strong hand wrapped round his cock tightly and he thrust into the firm grip.

Ares used his strength to force Joxer into stillness and Joxer whimpered until Ares finally moved his hand, pumping his fist in time to the thrusts of his tongue. He slid his thumb over the head of Joxer’s profusely leaking cock and spread the milky fluid to ease his movements.

Joxer’s body was trembling and he ached to fuck himself stupid on his husband’s tongue and into his fist, but Ares’ strong grip held him almost completely still.

The slick tongue delved even deeper into his body, just touching his sweet spot, sending jolts of delicious electricity through him. Joxer managed to jerk forwards. Ares twisted his hand, squeezing tighter and Joxer gave a strangled moan.

His ass clenched down and his body went rigid as he came. Ares milked his cock, catching the jets of his husband’s seed. Joxer panted hard, trying to catch his breath, wanting to beg for more, but Ares was already on his feet.

Ares rubbed Joxer’s come over his desperately aching cock. His eyes were fixed on his husband’s slim buttocks, barely able to wait to slide between them and bury himself in tight, velvety heat.

Joxer looked back at Ares, moaning at the dark hunger he saw in the God’s eyes. He pushed his ass back further and wiggled it, gasping at the growl he elicited.

Ares pressed himself up against Joxer’s slim body, slinging one arm around his waist as he slid his cock between those firm globes. He pulled Joxer’s collar aside and bit down on the muscle at the top of his shoulder, relishing his husband’s taste and his ass jerking against him. Nibbling Joxer’s neck, Ares placed the tip of his cock against the loosened, slick hole.

“In me, Arry, now, need you,” Joxer whimpered.

Ares groaned and pushed, sliding home smoothly. Joxer’s ass clenched around his cock and he paused to regain his self control. Joxer squeezed down again, this time deliberately.

“Move,” he whispered hoarsely. Ares pulled out and snapped his hips forward, plunging deep inside Joxer’s body. “Oh Gods,” Joxer groaned.

Ares gripped his hips, pushed him forward slightly, then slammed back into him. He was drowning in sensation, the heat and quivering of Joxer’s ass enveloped Ares and he thrust harder and faster, ecstatically aware of his husband rocking back to meet every stroke.

“Gods, fuck,” Ares panted harshly. He bit down on Joxer’s shoulder again and plunged as deep as he could into the welcoming passage, jerking as he filled it with his hot seed. Ares locked his knees and held tightly onto Joxer who sagged against the tree. Once he got his breath back, Ares gently pulled out and slid them both down to the ground, turning Joxer round so he could kiss him.

Ares licked Joxer’s skin where he’d bitten him, surprised to find no mark at all, even though he was sure he’d tasted blood. Yet another strange occurrence. Then there was the matter of their desperate need for each other after completing the shielding. Not that he minded in the slightest, but unexplained, uncontrollable need for each other was not a good thing on this mission.

“What is happening with you, love?” Ares murmured into Joxer’s hair.

Joxer sighed. “I wish I knew,” he whispered.

Ares hugged him, “Let’s go back, we have a lot to do tomorrow.”

“’Kay.”

They got up and walked hand in hand back to the camp.

“You’ll need to reinforce your shield every so often, and if you need energy, remember to draw it from outside, don’t drain yourself, okay?” Ares said quietly.

Joxer nodded. At the camp, they stared at Hercules and Iolaus, who were wrapped in each others’ arms, fast asleep and Strife who was holding Cupid, quiet pain reflected in his eyes as he glanced up at them. The couple sat down.

“Go to sleep, Xena, I’ll watch now,” Ares whispered. Xena nodded and curled up. “I wonder what happened,” Ares whispered to Joxer.

Joxer closed his eyes, somehow instinctively knowing how to lower his shield and probe their companions, he sighed, both happy and sad. “Hercules and Iolaus are happy now, together. Cupid is in so much pain, I guess he knows now, Strife is the same.” He turned into his husband’s embrace for comfort.

Ares frowned, “I don’t understand this, their shielding is too strong for me to feel that, how can you possibly…” Ares sighed, “Get some sleep Joxer, there’s nothing we can do about that now.”

“Okay,” Joxer leaned up for a kiss, grinning against Ares’ lips at his husband’s soft moan. “Night, Arry,” he whispered, curling up in Ares’ lap.



The camp was tense and mostly silent the next morning. Ares and Joxer sat quietly together, sharing soft smiles, Hercules and Iolaus seemed slightly embarrassed, but kept close together, touching constantly. Gabrielle was quiet again, glaring at every concerned glance from Xena.

Strife’s natural exuberance was muted and Cupid was worried about his cousin. He sat down next to Strife and cautiously put a hand on his shoulder. Strife looked up in surprise, he’d been busy brooding and hadn’t noticed how quiet it was.

“What’s up, Xanpet?” Cupid asked in an appalling attempt to imitate Spike.

Strife smiled weakly, “Nothing, Fangless, just tired.” Cupid smiled and sighed. “Unc, can we go now?” Strife wanted to get going, get distracted.

“Definitely, I want to know what’s going on and we’re more likely to find out in the town,” Ares nodded.

“Oh, and how *exactly* did you figure that out, oh mighty one?!” Hercules asked tersely.

Ares growled, but didn’t reply, he wasn’t going to waste his time on his brother. He ignored Hercules and picked up his pack and took Joxer’s hand ready to go.

Strife couldn’t help snickering at Hercules’ look of confusion and annoyance. He decided to explain. “Because, dumbass, strangers and disappearances are less noticeable in a town, it’s the most likely place for what we expect,” he said very slowly, giggling at Hercules’ steadily darkening expression.

Hercules growled and started towards Strife menacingly, “Can someone tell me why we have to put up with this stupid, insane excuse for a God?! Whose bright idea was it to bring him back anyway?”

Strife whimpered. “M’not stupid,” he whispered.

Ares was at the point of exploding, how dare Hercules bring up Strife’s death?! Joxer put a hand on his arm.

“Wait, look,” Joxer whispered. As he spoke, Cupid snarled and leapt on Hercules, knocking him to the ground.

“How fucking dare you?!” Cupid yelled, punctuating each word with a punch to the shocked hero. “*Never* talk about his death, and never call him stupid, you bastard.”

The others watched in stunned amazement, nobody moved until Strife finally shook himself out of his daze and he ran over to pull his cousin away from Hercules.

Cupid struggled but Strife held tight. “He’s not worth it Cupe, he’s not, I’m okay,” he whispered. He rubbed Cupid’s back slowly, wondering what had come over his cousin. It had given him a small thrill though, almost as if Cupid had been defending his honour. Strife couldn’t help smirking at Hercules, who was being helped to his feet by Iolaus.

Cupid finally calmed down, but he was still glowering at the hero. He took Strife’s hand and dragged him ahead of the mortals. Finally, they set off. Gabrielle walked with Hercules and Iolaus.

“I can’t believe that,” she said quietly, “Are you okay, Hercules?”

Hercules shrugged, “Just surprised really, I mean *Cupid*?! Why’s he so worried about Strife’s feelings? I can’t imagine them having much in common.”

“I don’t know, they’ve seemed really close this trip,” Iolaus commented, “I was wondering if they were involved.”

“I doubt Strife would have been groping you, if he was with Cupid,” Hercules shuddered, “Anyway, come on, Cupid with Strife! What a thought.”

Gabrielle nodded, “Yeah, come on, Iolaus, Cupid could have anyone, why would he want someone like Strife?!”

Iolaus made a noncommittal noise. He thought the other two were wrong. It was obvious the two Gods cared for each other deeply and were very close, even if they weren’t a couple. There was nothing really wrong with Strife, he was just weird. Really, really weird.

Ares and Joxer walked behind Strife and Cupid. Ares glanced at his husband.

Joxer looked across and met Ares’ gaze. “What?” he asked quietly.

“You knew Cupid would do that, didn’t you?” Ares asked.

Joxer nodded, “Well, I guessed he’d do something, anyway.”

Ares smiled and slipped an arm round Joxer’s waist for a brief hug. “I’m just going to have a word with my brother, okay?”

Joxer nodded, “No violence though, please,” he reached up to stroke Ares’ lip.

Ares sighed and kissed his finger, “I wasn’t planning on any.” Joxer grinned. They dropped back and Joxer walked with Xena while Ares dropped further back to walk with Hercules, Iolaus and Gabrielle.

“You okay, Xena?” Joxer asked quietly.

Xena sighed, “Mostly, I guess. I just wish she’d talk to me. If we could talk it’d be easier. I’m a little worried though, she seems too quiet, you know?”

“Yeah,” Joxer nodded, “I had noticed that. She’s probably got a lot on her mind.”

“Hmm, I suppose so,” Xena sighed again.

Hercules glared as his brother joined them. “What do *you* want?”

“Just a warning,” Ares said with quiet menace, “You *ever* bring up Strife’s death again, and I will personally remove your tongue and shove it up your ass!” Hercules and Gabrielle looked slightly shocked at his vehemence. “Understood?”

The three nodded.

“Why, Ares, anyone would think you gave a damn,” Hercules muttered.

“Fuck you,” Ares snarled, he strode forward and rejoined his husband and daughter.

Hercules and Gabrielle shared a look of disgust when Joxer put his hand on Ares’ back and rubbed gently.



By late afternoon, they’d reached the town and made their way to the tavern to get rooms for the night.

Ares had a bad feeling as soon as they entered the town and by Joxer’s sudden death grip on his hand, he guessed his husband felt the same. He glanced over to Strife, signalling for the younger God to keep his eyes open. Strife nodded minutely and whispered to Cupid.

Xena watched the exchange and when Ares glanced back at her, she too gave him a tiny nod. She dropped back to Hercules, Iolaus and Gabrielle.

“Keep an eye out for anything weird, Ares reckons something’s wrong,” she whispered.

Hercules snorted, “Does he really? Adding paranoia to the list now, is he?”

Xena scowled at him. “Well, so far, Hercules, I’ve spotted two men disappearing as soon as they noticed us and we’re being watched by the guy on the donkey, but hey, it could be nothing.”

Hercules looked startled, and he carefully glanced round. “Shit,” he muttered.

Xena rolled her eyes, “Yeah, understatement there.”

“Don’t be so superior!” Gabrielle snapped, “Why don’t you go and report to your daddy,” she sneered.

Xena stiffened, “I won’t need to, he’ll already know,” she said quietly.

Hercules snorted, “Great, well, I’m sure you don’t need to be bothering with us anymore then.” Iolaus frowned at him and he shrugged. Xena stalked ahead of them to join Joxer and Ares.

“Well?” Ares asked quietly.

“I had to bring it to their attention, but I think they’ll be more aware now,” she replied.

Ares snorted, “Good, because I’d say we’ve only got a few minutes.”

Xena nodded, she’d noticed the rapid emptying of the small street they were on, “I’m ready.”

“Joxer, try to be careful,” Ares said quietly. Joxer patted his arm and smiled.

“You ready, Cupe?” Strife muttered to his cousin.

“Hades, yeah,” Cupid replied, “I’m still pissed at Hercules.”

Strife snickered, “Yeah, just, you know, be careful.”

“Strife, I was trained by dad you know, I *can* fight,” Cupid pointed out.

“Yeah, I know, won’t stop me from worrying though,” Strife sighed.

Cupid held back his urge to grab his cousin and kiss him senseless and smiled instead, “Thanks, I worry about you too, you know.”

They were prevented from any further conversation by several dark figures emerging from alleyways.

“Here we go,” Strife muttered. He dropped into a relaxed fighting stance, smiling when Cupid did the same, they stood back to back, ready.

Ares growled and drew his sword, watching the approaching men carefully. They were outnumbered but not for long. A cruel smile stretched across his face. He gestured to Xena and she nodded, ready to protect Joxer, as was still her job.

Gabrielle, Hercules and Iolaus formed a small circle waiting for the attack.

Eerily silent, the men attacked. Ares took two down quickly and dived at a third. Swords clashed loudly, he shoved the man back forcefully, pressing his advantage as the man stumbled back.

Hercules ducked under a sweeping sword and knocked one man back with one blow, he hit a wall with a sickening crack. Iolaus grinned briefly before joining in the fight enthusiastically, Gabrielle lashing out with her staff next to him.

Strife and Cupid moved together synchronously, taking down every attacker that came their way. Cupid felt strangely exhilarated, he could understand why Strife loved fighting so much, even if it wasn’t something he would want to do regularly.

Joxer knew that Ares and Xena were keeping the brunt of the fight away from him, and he enjoyed watching both of them fighting, with such sinewy grace and agility. But they couldn’t keep all the men away from him and without his bulky armour, he was actually doing quite well.

One man however, was pushing him hard. He was stronger and faster than Joxer and had already opened a painful wound on his arm. Joxer managed to duck under a sweeping blow, but he lost his balance and fell back. With a startled gasp, Joxer hit the ground, knocking the air out of him. He saw Ares run towards him, screaming, but the sword was already flying down at his chest.

Joxer closed his eyes and wished that he wouldn’t die, he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Ares alone. To his surprise, he felt the blade hit his chest, and bounce off. The man stumbled back in surprise into Ares’ furious grasp. His husband snapped the man’s neck and hurried over to him.

“No, Joxer,” Ares gasped, he dropped to his knees, running his hands over Joxer’s body in terror. “Love?” he couldn’t quite hold back tears of heartfelt relief, “Oh Gods, you’re not hurt!”

Joxer blinked and felt his chest, just to make sure, then he reached up to cup Ares cheek. “Arry, I’m okay, it’s okay.” He was pulled into a rib-crushing hug.

“Oh, thank the Gods,” Ares mumbled, raining kisses onto his face. Joxer held tight, rubbing Ares’ back gently

“Unc, we kept one alive for you,” Strife walked over unhurriedly, dragging an unconscious body behind him.

“Good,” Ares growled, helping Joxer to his feet. He kept one arm round Joxer’s waist, “Bring him.”

He ignored Hercules’ and Gabrielle’s disgusted expressions and stalked over to the inn. Cupid grinned at his cousin and helped Strife drag the captive after Ares.



“Room, now!” Ares growled at the innkeeper. The man squeaked and showed them upstairs. “Strife, bring him in here. Xena, you come too. Joxer, will you go with Cupid? We won’t be long.” Joxer nodded and he kissed him softly. Cupid gently drew him away.

The others followed them into the room and Ares scowled. “What do you want?”

“Just making sure you don’t abuse your power,” Hercules snapped.

“Huh? Hello, brother, bad guy, just tried to kill us, working for Dahak? And you’re worried about his welfare?!” Ares blinked.

Hercules crossed his arms over his chest and nodded. Ares sighed.

“Fine, Xena, do your thing when Strife wakes him up,” he ordered.

Strife grinned maniacally and reached between the man’s legs, moving the cloth of his pants slightly. Iolaus shifted uncomfortably.

“Hey, what’s he doing?” Hercules frowned in confusion.

“You’ll see,” Ares smirked.

Strife gently stroked the man’s crotch until the unconscious man groaned and spread his legs. With a giggle, Strife slid his fingers under his balls and pinched viciously, twisting the sensitive skin. The man let out a terrible scream and jumped up, screaming again when Strife didn’t let go. Strife used his grip to pull the now whimpering man into a seat, then let go.

“I’d like you to meet Xena,” Strife chuckled, “She’s worse than me. You can either tell us what you know and we’ll kill you quickly, or Xena can question you, we find out what you know, and we kill you slowly and painfully.” He grinned evilly at the terrified man.

“I, I, d-don’t know anything,” the man stuttered. Ares snorted and the man stared at him in horror, “A-Ares?”

Ares smiled cruelly, suddenly recognising the man. “Well, well, Drohos, not only betraying your God being here, but dare to attack him too.”

“No, my Lord, I didn’t know this was your party, I swear,” Drohos was sweating profusely.

“Really? Why don’t you tell us what you were doing, hmm,” Ares said quietly, his voice deceptively friendly.

“I, uh, we were told to attack Hercules, Xena and anyone with them,” Drohos said hurriedly.

“Why?”

“To stop any interference,” Drohos stopped and blanched, “I’m sorry, my Lord, I can’t.”

Ares’ nostrils flared in disgust, “Xena.”

Xena nodded and stepped forward and stabbed her fingers at Drohos’ neck. “I’ve just cut off the supply of blood to your brain, you have 30 seconds to tell us what we want to know.”

Drohos grasped at his neck, “I, I, the priests will bring Dahak across tonight.”

“Where,” Ares hissed.

“The caves, outside the town, that’s all I know, I swear,” Drohos gasped. Ares nodded and Xena released the pressure on Drohos’ blood vessels. The captive flopped back against the chair.

“Leave,” Ares snapped at the rest.

“I’m not leaving him here with you!” Hercules declared.

“He is mine to deal with,” Ares snarled at his brother.

“How so?” Hercules stepped forward.

“He is dedicated to me, and he has betrayed me, it is my right!” Ares met Hercules half way and the brothers glared at each other, noses almost touching.

“You have no rights over a man’s life!” Hercules snapped.

“I am a God, I am *his* God, that gives me every right!” Ares shoved Hercules back, “Now get out!”

Hercules was about to hit back when Strife and Xena stepped in front of him. Xena shook her head and stared pleadingly at Iolaus to help. Iolaus sighed and gently pulled Hercules away. Xena and Strife followed the other three out and shut the door behind them. Hercules ranted all the way to the tavern where Joxer and Cupid were waiting.

@>*~

Joxer sat down while Cupid ordered drinks. Once again he looked down and touched his chest where the sword had just bounced off him. Just how was that possible? He realised that his arm, which had been quite badly slashed, was completely healed, there wasn’t even a scar. Joxer breathed out heavily in frustration. He had no idea what was happening to him, but he was glad he wasn’t dead.

Joxer accepted his drink from Cupid with a small smile. The Love God didn’t look any the worse for wear for the fight, except for slightly ruffled hair. Joxer smiled slightly, he’d seen Strife looking longingly at Cupid.

One scream, followed by another straight after made them both wince and the tavern fell silent briefly.

“Dad’s got Strife on it then,” Cupid smiled at Joxer.

“Doesn’t that bother you?” Joxer asked quietly.

Cupid frowned in surprise, “What?”

“Well, you’re both very close, but you’re so different,” Joxer commented.

Cupid shrugged, “It’s never bothered me, it’s part of his job, you know, part of who he is, and I lo…” he stopped suddenly.

“You love him,” Joxer finished for him.

Cupid cleared his throat, shifting uncomfortably, “Well, of course, he’s my cousin, my best friend.”

Joxer sighed and shook his head, “Friends talk you know, tell each other everything.”

“We do,” Cupid protested. Joxer raised an eyebrow. “Anyway, you understand, you accept dad for what he is.”

Joxer reached out and patted Cupid’s hand, “I’m in love with him.”

Cupid gaped at Joxer, since when did the wannabe warrior know more about love than he did?



They were prevented from further conversation by the others joining them, Hercules muttering something about Gods who thought they were better than everyone else.

Joxer glanced up at Strife, who grinned and plonked himself down next to Cupid, snaffling his drink. “Unc, won’t be too long.” He took a long draught, ducking a playful slap from his cousin, who wrestled his drink back.

“Cheek!” Cupid huffed, but he was unable to suppress a small grin. “Have fun?”

“Hades, yeah!” Strife sighed in satisfaction, “Not as much as I’d have liked but, ya know, time factor and all that.” Cupid chuckled and nodded. Hercules shot the Love God a look of confusion.

“What?” Cupid asked defensively.

“You, just casually asking about torture like that,” Hercules shook his head.

“Oh please, if you thought *that* was torture, you’re more naïve than I thought!” Strife snickered.

Hercules glared at him, but they all stopped and looked up at a sudden loud, trembling wail that was abruptly cut short. Joxer sighed feeling both the terror and pain of the captive and the deadly satisfaction of his husband. He cut it off quickly. It might be something that he accepted, but it didn’t mean he wanted to know the details.

“Drink up,” he said quietly. He looked up at the stairs and the others followed his gaze to see Ares emerge from the upper level. Ares’ eyes met Joxer’s immediately and he smiled, letting his husband’s love wash away his anger and tension. He joined them and drained his mug in two swallows.

“Right, let’s go, we have no time to waste if we’re to stop them,” Ares stood again, wrapping his arm round Joxer when his husband stood to join him.

“What did he say?” Cupid asked.

“They’re bringing Dahak across tonight, The Fates only know how,” Ares growled in frustration, “They haven’t had long enough to prepare for this, unless it was something they were expecting and have been ready for it.”

“That’s probable,” Xena agreed. She frowned at Gabrielle’s pale expression, worrying suddenly about the wisdom of her being there. “Gabrielle?” she reached out to put her hand on the blonde’s shoulder.

Gabrielle flinched and twisted away. “Don’t touch me,” she hissed.

Xena pulled her hand back, unable to quite hide her expression of hurt. Cupid drew his sister gently away and Strife sighed, patting his tender hearted cousin on the shoulder.

Iolaus gently put his arm round Gabrielle as they followed the rest out. “Are you okay?” he asked quietly. She nodded but didn’t reply. Iolaus frowned worriedly at Hercules, who shrugged.

@>*~

They hurried out of the town and headed for the mountains. Iolaus knew of a cave system nearby, from previous visits to the area, and they hoped that they would find the priests before anything could happen.

After quite a long walk, Strife was starting to get impatient. “Are you sure you know where the fuck you’re going?” he muttered in Iolaus’ direction. It seemed to him they were wandering in circles.

Iolaus glanced back and smirked at the frustrated looking God. “Pretty much, yeah,” he replied. He carried on walking, slipping his hand into Hercules’ warm grip with a happy sigh.

Strife scowled at the show of affection. He had a lovey dovey couple in front of him, one behind him, and Cupid was walking beside him smelling all nice and looking all sexy, and it was driving him nuts!

Cupid glanced over at his cousin worriedly, it was unusual for Strife to be in such a bad mood. He reached out unconsciously and put his hand on the back of Strife’s neck, squeezing gently.

Strife flinched, but then relaxed, sighing quietly. They shared a small smile, neither realising the other was wishing for more. Strife felt a cross between intensely happy and incredibly sad.

Cupid walked quietly, not really registering that he was still rubbing Strife’s neck gently, while he thought about what Joxer had said to him. Glancing back, he saw Joxer give him an encouraging smile. Maybe he should say something.

“Strife?”

“Yeah,” Strife looked over at him, trying to maintain his concentration and not pull Cupid into his arms and kiss him senseless.

“You know that I, I,” Cupid twitched nervously. Strife raised an eyebrow at him. “I’m always here for you,” Cupid finished hurriedly.

Strife took a deep breath to stay in control and nodded. He attempted light heartedness. “I know, cuz, we’re a team, Spike and Xander,” he grinned.

Cupid’s heart sped up and he grinned back, “Yeah, a team.” Spike and Xander, Spike and Xander. Cupid frowned, what was it about those two? Something Strife had said once.

“Here it is!” Iolaus exclaimed quietly, gesturing behind him for the others to stop. “Guards.”

Silently and staying low, the group moved to flank Iolaus and Hercules. They were looking down to the entrance of a cave. A hooded figure stood on either side.

“That can’t be all,” Ares muttered quietly.

“There’s a bowman on the ridge over the entrance,” Joxer whispered. He could feel the tension of the man.

Ares grinned and kissed him hard. “Any more?” he asked quietly. Joxer shook his head. “Strife, you know what to do,” Ares glanced at his nephew.

Strife nodded and grinned, slipping away quietly. He watched Xena slipping into place and headed for the man on the ridge. Grinning, Strife snuck up behind the unknowing man and stabbed him in the back, covering his mouth to silence him. He snickered in satisfaction, and wiped his dagger clean, putting it away before he signalled the others.

He watched Xena sneak closer and when she was in position, he back flipped off the ridge and flung himself at one guard. He landed with a small gasp on the man’s chest, drew his dagger again and slashed it across the guard’s throat before he could shout for help. Strife sniffed in satisfaction, watching the blood bubble out of the gaping hole.

Xena smacked his shoulder and he looked up, rolling his eyes at her expression. He nodded and got up, carefully cleaning his dagger again before putting it away and dragging the body into the bushes. He looked up when he heard the others joining them, grinning at his uncle who nodded and grinned back.

He didn’t quite dare meet Cupid’s eyes, his cousin had never really been confronted by this aspect of Strife before, even though he knew Cupid knew what his job was like, he didn’t think he could bare any disgust or censure in Cupid’s gaze. He didn’t see Cupid’s devastatingly happy and wondering smile.

Cupid watched Strife kill the man, oddly the death didn’t affect him, he was too caught up in his cousin’s beauty as he moved. He hurried down the hill, thinking that Strife ought to be Spike, not him, they both had the same grace in motion. Spike and Xander, what a pair! What a pair?! Dear Gods, how could he have forgotten?

Strife had refused to watch Buffy after the middle of season five saying that it was a sacrilege, Spike couldn’t be in love with Buffy, because he and Xander belonged together. Oh Gods! Was that why Strife had changed to Xander? Did he, could he possibly have been trying to tell him, that he loved him?

Cupid smiled slowly at Strife, wishing they could be somewhere where he could tell his cousin that he felt the same. Maybe that night after they prevented Dahak from coming across.



The group moved into the caves, quietly stalking through the dark, damp tunnels, faintly lit by smoky torches. Ares sent Strife to the front as point, and he cut a swathe of death through unsuspecting guards, joined occasionally by Ares and Xena when there were too many for him to take at once. The caves too narrow to allow more than the three of them forward to fight.

Each time there was a fight, Strife withdrew more and more from his cousin, wishing sadly that Ares hadn’t asked to include Cupid after all. His situation all the more hopeless in his eyes for his cousin’s witnessing this aspect of his job.

Finally, the cave tunnels began to widen and they could hear chanting, and screaming getting louder and louder. The light up ahead of them grew and they hurried towards it. Ares shook his head when Hercules tried to rush into the main cave. Hercules scowled at his brother, but before they could get into an argument over it, there was an explosion, then abrupt silence.

Joxer grasped his head and dropped to his knees, barely stifling a moan of pain. Ares sucked in a worried breath and bent down to pull his husband back up, holding him tightly.

“We’re too late,” Joxer whispered. As he spoke, horrible, triumphant laughter began to echo through the caves.

“We have to stop him, here and now!” Hercules said vehemently. For once Ares agreed and they shared a grim smile. Ares gestured to Strife, and the Mischief God snuck forward to peer into the cave. He paled and swallowed hard, before shaking his head and making the count.

“Just about even,” Strife whispered when he reached Ares, “It’s not pretty though. They’re dressing some naked guy, I’m assuming it’s Dahak. I didn’t realise they could get him his own body.”

Ares grimaced, “Damn, neither did I.” His jaw clenched and unclenched reflexively. “Let’s go, take them all down, understood?” he glanced at Hercules, Iolaus and Gabrielle to make sure they knew death was the only option. They nodded grimly.

They all moved silently again, almost in complete synchronicity as their enemies broke the silence and hurried to meet them, swords drawn, faces mad and twisted. Strife moved quickly through the fray and, by all the Gods! How, in Tartarus, had he managed to be the one facing Dahak?

Granted a weak Dahak, who’d only just become fully corporeal, but still Dahak. Strife took a deep breath and met his menacingly grinning opponent. The fight wore Strife down surprisingly quickly, every move was blocked and countered, and he hurt.

Then suddenly, Dahak twisted and his arm was round Strife’s throat, and somehow, Strife’s dagger was in his hands. Strife struggled and Dahak chuckled into his ear. He grunted in pain, biting his lips as the dagger slowly sliced down his back, slashing his shirt, cutting through his skin like a hot knife through butter. An agonising trail burned down his spine.

Before he could even scream, the dagger was at his throat and he felt fingers at his neck, digging in through the skin. And then just pain, just sheer agonising, ripping pain. Strife screamed and then there was nothing.

@>*~

Cupid was fighting hard. He’d just managed to get the priest into a headlock, when a scream pierced his heart with deathly cold. He looked up. Dahak had Strife, Cupid could see the Demon God’s grip on Strife’s neck, too much blood flowing down his arm. Cupid struggled to finish off the priest, pulling till he heard a snap. But as he dropped the man, Strife’s scream built to a crescendo of pain that ripped at Cupid’s soul. He watched in horror as he ran, seemingly in slow motion, as Dahak wrenched bone after bone out of his cousin’s body, then dropped Strife carelessly to the ground.

It was Cupid’s turn to scream. Time ran normally again and he reached Strife, dropping to his knees as Dahak raised Strife’s spinal column aloft, dripping with blood, and laughing hideously. He was vaguely aware of his father shouting, others’ moving about, even Dahak running, but he didn’t care. He gathered Strife’s shattered body in his arms and howled. There was a tremendous bang and a clap of thunder, but all Cupid could hear was his heart breaking.

@>*~

The fight was over and everyone turned to stare in dismay at the blood saturated Love God, rocking his cousin’s body, eyes wide and blank, tears coursing down his face.

Hercules grabbed Iolaus before he fell and pulled his lover tightly, unable to help his own tears of sympathy for Cupid as Iolaus shed painful tears for them both. Gabrielle dropped to her knees, allowing Xena to draw her into a tight hug as they both cried silently in shock and horror.

Ares was standing behind Cupid stiffly, staring down at the two Gods in shock, fists clenching and unclenching by his sides, his head shaking as he whispered, “No!” over and over.

There was a flash, followed by a small scream, “My baby, no!” Ares moved suddenly and pulled his sister into his arms. “No, not again, please, not again.”

“Eris, no,” he whispered as she struggled against him, before collapsing into his arms, sobbing desperately.

Joxer watched in a slight daze. Then, not really knowing what he was doing, he walked over to Cupid and Strife. His heart contracted at the sight of Cupid covering Strife’s face in kisses, begging him in quiet whispers, “Please, wake up, please, I love you, don’t leave me.”

Joxer knelt down beside Cupid and touched Strife’s face gently.

“No!” Cupid shoved him, “Don’t touch him!”

Ares frowned, what in Hades was Joxer thinking? “Jox,” he started firmly, but stopped at the look Joxer gave him. Ares barely suppressed a shudder, it was almost frightening. Joxer’s eyes were pale and glowing and seemed so old somehow.

Joxer reached out for Strife again, this time catching Cupid’s arm and holding him still.

“No,” Cupid moaned, “Leave him alone, please.”

“Shh,” Joxer whispered. Still not really knowing what he was doing, he put his hand on Strife’s face, feeling power flow from him into the God.

“Oh Gods,” Ares whispered, watching Strife’s body slowly reconstruct itself. As the process went on, he noticed Joxer becoming steadily paler. “Draw energy from outside yourself,” he said urgently. Joxer gave an almost imperceptible nod.

When Strife was whole again, Joxer fell back, panting harshly. Cupid stared at Joxer uncomprehendingly. He pulled Strife into his lap, holding him as close as he could.

“Strife, please baby, wake up, please,” he whispered, “I didn’t get to tell you that I love you. Please, you can’t die now.”

“Cupid?”

Cupid barely heard the whisper. His heart clenched and he froze, hardly daring to look down, hardly daring to hope, until a hand touched his face.

“Strife?” his voice broke on a sob as he met Strife’s confused gaze. “Oh baby, oh Gods,” Cupid gasped, more tears pouring down his face, “Strife, I love you so much.”

Strife didn’t really understand what was going on, why he felt so weak, why Cupid was crying, why Cupid was covered in blood…oh Gods! He struggled to move. “Cupe, are you hurt, you’re bleeding,” he gasped.

Cupid just pulled him closer, shaking his head. “I love you, I love you, oh Gods, Strife, don’t *ever* leave me again,” Cupid whispered, kissing Strife over and over desperately.

Strife breathed in shakily, “You love me?” he whispered. Cupid nodded and kissed him again. Strife held tight. “Oh Cupe, I love you too, but…” he took another deep breath, shaking slightly with the effort to speak, “What happened? Why’re you covered in blood, are you sure you’re not hurt?”

Cupid shook his head, “Not my blood,” he shuddered, “Not…” his voice broke again, and he buried his face in Strife’s neck, sobbing in overwhelming relief.

Ares finally let Eris go and she flew over to her son as he hurried to Joxer, helping him to sit up. They watched Discord take Cupid and Strife into her arms.

“Thought I’d lost you,” she muttered fretfully, kissing a bemused looking Strife.

“Mom?” Strife shook his head wonderingly.

Hercules, Iolaus, Xena and Gabrielle watched in stunned amazement, unable to quite comprehend what had just happened.

Ares held his trembling husband close, “Joxer, how did you…?”

Joxer just shook his head tiredly, “I don’t know.”

“Thank you,” Ares whispered, kissing him softly. Joxer buried himself deeper in Ares’ embrace, feeling strangely peaceful as he watched the confused Mischief God pet and comfort his mother and cousin.

“I thought Discord and Strife didn’t get on,” Hercules whispered.

“There’s a lot you don’t know,” Xena said quietly.

“Evidently,” Hercules scowled at her and she flushed. Another flash interrupted them.



“Strife, why aren’t you dead?!”

“Nice to see you too, Unc Hades,” Strife smiled weakly, “Rude much?”

“Who dared interfere in my domain?” Hades glared round the cave.

“What the fuck are you talking about Hades?” Ares growled.

“Strife cannot be brought back!” Hades declared, “It was one of the conditions of his release, if he ever returned to Asphodel, it was permanent.”

“No, you can’t have him,” Cupid whispered, clutching Strife close.

“I…” Hades started.

“He didn’t return.” A quiet voice interrupted him. Hades snarled, looking for who dared. His gaze fell on a slim, pale mortal, who stared back at him defiantly. He frowned briefly, wondering why the mortal was wrapped in Ares’ arms.

“I beg your pardon?” he asked, his voice dangerously quiet.

“He didn’t reach Asphodel before his body was restored, his shade had not yet left,” Joxer spoke with quiet certainty.

“You dare tell me my domain?”

Joxer’s eyes glowed with anger. “If death is your domain, you should know it better, boy!” he snapped.

Hades took a step back in shock, “What?!” He could swear he recognised the voice.

“Joxer?” Ares was startled by the comment and the manner in which it was spoken.

Joxer shook himself, “I, uh, sorry Lord Hades, I don’t know why I said that.”

Hades stalked angrily towards him, only to be confronted by Ares. “Get out of my way,” Hades snapped furiously.

“Don’t even think about touching my consort!” Ares glared at his uncle.

“Consort?” Hades stared at Ares in amazement. He glanced round his nephew at the mortal and laughed. “That? That is your consort?!”

“Oh, big mistake, unc Hades,” Strife chuckled, then winced as Hades flew back across the cave with a loud explosion.

Hades stood up and brushed himself off, glaring at Ares. “Enough of this, who brought Strife back?”

Joxer stood slowly and walked to join Ares, rubbing the seething God’s back gently. “I did,” he said quietly.

Hades snorted, “You are really starting to piss me off, mortal!”

“He did though,” Cupid said.

Hades swung round, “And how, *exactly*, did he manage that?”

Cupid shrugged, “Who cares? Strife’s here, that’s all I care about.” He hugged Strife close.

Hades raised an eyebrow at the Love God. Cupid and Strife? He’d never have guessed. “I care, it’s not supposed to happen,” he snapped.

“Tough, it did,” Ares growled.

Hades glared, “We’ll see about that. Zeus!”

Another flash lit up the cave. “You yelled?” Zeus said sarcastically. He glanced round. “Strife? You’re alive!” He smiled at the Mischief God, who grinned back.

“And kicking, Gramps,” Strife chuckled.

“Good, good,” Zeus nodded, “How?”

“Apparently, Ares’ little mortal healed him,” Hades growled.

“Really?” Zeus stared at Joxer, who flushed and ducked behind Ares, suddenly very nervous.

“By all rights, he should be dead, brother, he is mine,” Hades stated.

“Well, I…” Zeus blinked, “I suppose…”

“No!” Cupid gently eased Strife into his mother’s arms and stood up, stalking over to the two senior Gods. “You can’t have him!” he poked Hades in the chest to emphasise each word.

Hades caught his hand, “It is my right! I will not tolerate this interference,” he snarled.

“Joxer said…” Cupid started.

“I don’t care what the mortal said. Strife died, he stays dead!” Hades insisted.

“Well, that is true, the conditions stated…” Zeus began.

“The conditions stated that if he returned to Asphodel, he stayed,” Ares interrupted this time, “As Joxer pointed out, Strife didn’t get that far before he was brought back.”

“Oh,” Zeus frowned in confusion, “Oh well in that case…”

“He’s mine!” Hades snapped.

“Will everyone *stop* interrupting me?!” Zeus thundered, “Hades, the conditions were clear, you did *not* state simple death, you specified his shade’s return to Asphodel. He is not yours.” Hades opened his mouth to complain.

“No, he’s *mine*,” Cupid growled. “Do *not* interfere *uncle* or I will be speaking to my mother about your sex life, or lack thereof!” Hades blanched and backed off.

“I’m yours?” Strife said quietly, raising an eyebrow.

“I, well, that is, if…” Cupid stuttered.

“Cupe, I’m teasing,” Strife smiled softly, “Of course I’m yours.”

Cupid flew back to his cousin, gathering him in his arms. “Baby,” he whispered. He bent his head and paused, “And I’m yours,” he whispered before he closed the gap and pressed his lips gently against Strife’s. Strife moaned. He reached up and gripped the back of Cupid’s head, pulling him closer, as their lips parted and their tongues twined together.

“Dear Gods,” Strife panted when they reluctantly parted, “If I hadn’t just died, I’d nail you to the floor,” he whispered.

Cupid laughed breathlessly. “Please, soon,” he whispered back. Strife nodded.

Eris smiled fondly at the couple and reached out to stroke Strife’s hair. “You’d better make an honest God of my boy,” she mock-growled at Cupid.

Cupid tore his eyes from Strife’s face and smiled happily, “If he’ll have me!”

“Stupid thing to say,” Strife giggled.

“Yes, thank you, that’s quite enough!” Hades snapped. “What, in Tartarus, is going on? How did this *mortal* heal a dead God?”



Zeus blinked, “Ah yes, good question. Um, Joxer, isn’t it?” he turned back to Ares and Joxer. Joxer glanced round Ares’ shoulder and nodded.

“Yes, Lord Zeus,” he replied.

“Oh, no need for formality, dear boy, you are family after all,” Zeus smiled kindly. Ares frowned suspiciously and carefully wrapped a protective arm around Joxer as he stepped out from behind him. “Ares, I’m not going to hurt your consort,” Zeus said quietly.

Joxer looked over at Ares, he could feel the truth in Zeus’ words. “It’s okay, Arry,” he said quietly, “He means it.”

Ares met Joxer’s eyes and he relaxed slightly, “You sure?” Joxer nodded. “Okay.”

Zeus raised an eyebrow at the sight of his son deferring to a mortal, consort or not.

“And you know this, how?” Hades asked, also surprised by the interplay between his nephew and the mortal.

Joxer shrugged, “I feel it.”

“You… *feel* it?” Zeus asked quietly. Joxer nodded. Zeus stepped closer, with a wary glance at his son, and raised a hand in front of Joxer’s face. “Where did you learn to shield yourself?” Zeus asked, shocked.

“Ares taught me,” Joxer replied quietly.

“Ares?” Zeus raised an eyebrow at his son, such things were simply not done!

“He needed it,” Ares said defiantly, “I couldn’t shield him myself.”

“Why would a mortal need a shield?” Hades scoffed.

Ares glared at him, “He’s an empath.”

“Joxer?!” Everyone looked round and Gabrielle glared. “Give me a break, Joxer is a clueless, mmph.” Xena clamped her hand over Gabrielle’s mouth quickly. Gabrielle hissed and pushed her away. “Do *not* touch me!” she yelled. “Who gives a damn about Joxer anyway? In case everyone’s forgotten, Dahak got away,” she shuddered slightly, but pulled away from Xena’s offer of comfort.

“Fuck you, bitch!” Ares shouted, “I give a damn.”

“Ares,” Zeus said quietly. Ares turned his furious glare on his father. “Son, I’m sorry, she has a point, Dahak is our main concern here.”

Ares growled, but eventually nodded. Joxer had to tap his arm to remind his husband not to squash him, the arm around him having tightened enough to hurt.

“Sorry,” Ares whispered. Joxer smiled at him.

“It’s fine, Ares, I wasn’t comfortable being the centre of attention,” he whispered back.

“For now, I’m going to assume the unusual manner of your binding somehow transferred power to Joxer,” Zeus’ tone indicated a close to the matter.

“Still doesn’t explain Strife,” Ares muttered.

“Nothing could explain Strife,” Joxer whispered with a tiny smile.

Ares blinked at him and then he laughed, drawing all eyes back to the couple in shock. “Damn, I love you,” Ares declared, kissing Joxer fiercely.

Hercules stared, blinking in utter shock and surprise. First, his father confirming the marriage, then Ares actually saying he loved Joxer, out loud, in front of everyone?! He shook himself, there was no way… was there?

“So, what happened?” Zeus asked.

“We didn’t get here in time,” Cupid said.

“Yeah, an’ he has his own body now,” Strife continued.

“How did he get away? He would have been weak,” Hades frowned.

“Strong enough to kill me,” Strife muttered. “Oof, Cupe,” he eased Cupid’s death grip on him, “I’m here, it’s okay.” He reached up and brushed a tear from his cousin’s cheek. Cupid buried his face in Strife’s neck, inhaling deeply. Strife stroked his hair gently.

“We were somewhat distracted by Strife’s death,” Ares said quietly.

“Understandably,” Zeus nodded, “But it means we must find him, urgently, before he can gain enough strength to be a threat to us all.”

“Obviously,” Ares rolled his eyes.

“Ares,” Zeus growled warningly.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, I failed, it’s my responsibility.” Ares sighed.

“Damn right,” Hades snapped.

“We all failed,” Xena pointed out.

“Speak for yourself,” Hercules glared at her.

“Hercules!”

Hercules looked up in surprise at his father’s tone, “Yes, father?”

“Did I, or did I not include you in this mission?” Zeus asked quietly.

“Yes, father.”

“Did I, or did I not charge you all with finding and stopping Dahak?”

Hercules licked his lips nervously, “Yes, father.”

“And did you?”

“No, father,” Hercules whispered, looking down.

“Then you failed, did you not?” Zeus raised an eyebrow at his son.

“Yes, father.”

Ares bit his lip to stop himself from laughing, knowing from experience that it would get him into a whole lot of trouble. He distracted himself by licking Joxer’s neck, chuckling at his husband’s shocked gasp.

Zeus glared at the couple, muttering something about newly-weds and inappropriate behaviour. “This concerns us *all*,” Zeus glanced round the cave. “Hades, find out all you can from the dead priests. I want to know Dahak’s plans. We still need to know what caused that odd energy surge and how it concerns him.”

Hades nodded and flashed out of the cave.

“You still don’t know what caused it?” Ares asked in surprise.

Zeus shook his head. “Hera and the Muses are searching through the Hall of Time for anything unusual, but that may take too long.”

Ares grimaced, “Far too long. Do you want us to continue down here?”

Zeus nodded, “Yes, if we’re lucky, you can find him before he gathers too much power. He needs followers and death. It’s a good thing you seem to have killed off the majority of his followers here.” He frowned, “Eris will act as go-between and keep you updated.”

Ares raised an eyebrow, “Not Hermes?”

“He’s busy coordinating on Olympus,” Zeus explained. Ares nodded. “I have Apollo, Selene and Hecate watching from the skies, you will know if they see anything.”

“What about our duties?” Strife asked quietly.



“They are on hold. Ares, Eno and Athena will take over from you temporarily,” Zeus paused and smiled at Ares’ groan. “Aphrodite can manage without you for a while, Cupid, and Eris will do what she can for you Strife, agreed?”

Cupid and Strife nodded.

“No messing with my plans, mom,” Strife waggled a finger at Eris, who grinned.

“Would I?” she chuckled.

Strife snorted at her, “In a nanosecond!”

“A what?” Iolaus asked curiously.

“A very, very small period of time,” Joxer explained. He flushed as all eyes turned to him again.

Zeus raised an inquiring eyebrow at his son-in-law and then at his son.

Ares just shrugged. He was surprised at Joxer’s knowledge, but not as surprised as the others. He knew something much more significant than a simple transfer of power was happening with Joxer, but nothing he could explain.

“Damn, Joxer, when did you get so brainy?” Strife asked. At Ares’ glare, he hastened to rectify his mistake. “Sorry, that didn’t come out right.”

Joxer smiled and elbowed Ares. “I know, don’t worry,” he reassured Strife.

“Right, I need to get back and sort out the rest,” Zeus sighed. “One more thing, Asclepius!”

A bright green flash lit the cave. “Please state the nature of the medical emergency.”

Zeus rolled his eyes as Cupid and Strife fell about laughing and Ares chuckled. Hercules, Iolaus, Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer stared in confusion.

“Can you say, Trekkie?” Strife snorted.

Asclepius flushed and grinned. “What?! It’s appropriate, don’t you think?”

“TV?” Joxer asked Ares, who blinked and then smiled.

“Yeah, TV.”

“So,” Asclepius looked round, “Why am I here? I’m kinda busy with dad’s stuff and…oh,” he frowned at Cupid, “That’s a lot of blood, what happened?”

Cupid looked down, realising he was still covered in Strife’s blood, and he paled, quickly changing their clothing and cleaning them both up.

“I want you to check Strife before I let him continue,” Zeus said quietly, smiling at Eris’ grateful look.

“Strife?” Asclepius walked over to the prone God, “What’s up?”

Strife grimaced and sat up, “I died.”

“Again?! Damn, cuz, that’s a nasty habit you’re developing,” Asclepius shook his head.

Strife chuckled,” I’m not planning on doing it again, believe me!”

“Damn right you’re not!” Cupid growled.

Asclepius concentrated and scanned Strife. “Hmm, a little lacking in power reserves, but otherwise, a-okay,” he grinned at Strife. “So, what happened? Hades go easy on you this time?”

“Nah, got healed,” Strife grinned back, “Hades was *so* not happy.”

Asclepius blinked, “I’ll bet. Healed, huh? Who managed that? Dad’s busy.”

“Joxer,” Strife said quietly.

Asclepius looked round, “Hey, Jox, you’re looking healthy for a change and whoa…” he frowned suddenly.

Joxer started to feel a little nervous under the penetrating gaze of the healer.

“What?” Ares snapped.

“Um.”

“Asclepius, what?!” Ares yelled.

Asclepius flinched, “I, uh, I… just a sec. Grandma Hera, can I disturb you?”

A flash of blue preceded the entrance of Hera. “This had better be important!” she snapped. Asclepius hurried over to her and whispered something. “What?!” Hera gasped, glancing at Joxer.

“What, what?” Ares was about to snap with worry, frustration and anger.

Hera approached the couple. “May I?” she asked Joxer quietly.

Joxer frowned worriedly and nodded, not really understanding what she was asking. Gently, she placed her hand on his stomach and she gasped again.

“Mother, please!” Ares shook with the effort to control himself.

“Oh my,” Hera whispered, “You’re right, Ace dear.”

“Will someone tell me what is going on with my husband?!” Ares roared.

“Ares!” Hera slapped him and he gaped at her.

“Husband?” Asclepius shook his head, “Well, I never.”

Hera drew Ares and Joxer aside as the rest looked on in confusion.

“What is it?” Joxer asked worriedly, clinging to Ares, who finally snapped out of his shock and hugged him close.

“Well, I really don’t know what to say,” Hera started, “It’s a little unprecedented to say the least.”

“Mother, please,” Ares begged.

“I, uh,” Hera shrugged, deciding to just say it and be done with it. “Congratulations, you’re going to be fathers. Oh dear,” she looked down at the unconscious couple.

“Way to break it to them gently, Hera,” Asclepius muttered. Hera glared at him.

“What’s going on?” Strife struggled to his feet with help from Cupid, “Is Jox okay?”

“Yes, he’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with him per se,” Asclepius said.

“But?” Cupid asked worriedly.

“I’m afraid it’s up to them to tell you,” Asclepius shrugged.

“But Joxer’s okay?” Xena asked, joining Cupid and Strife to stare worriedly at her father and her friend.

“Yes.”

“Am *I* permitted to know?” Zeus said sarcastically.

“I’m sorry, grandfather, you know I can’t discuss a patient’s details with anyone,” Asclepius said apologetically. Zeus spluttered.

“Be quiet, Zeus,” Hera snapped. She bent down and patted Ares’ cheek. Ares started awake, grabbing Hera’s hand, reaching reflexively for his sword. Then he relaxed, until he remembered what had happened.

“How?! How?” he stuttered. He realised Joxer was still unconscious and pulled him into his arms. “Joxer, love? Wake up.”

Joxer blinked up at Ares, and then sat up suddenly, whacking his head on Ares’ chin. “Ow!”

Ares grunted and rubbed his jaw. “Joxer? Are you okay?”

Joxer stared at him. “Yeah, fine, I…” he stopped and paled, “Did she, did she just say…?” Ares nodded. Joxer’s eyes widened worriedly, he couldn’t focus enough to feel Ares’ reaction. “Is, is that okay?”



Ares frowned, suddenly realising his husband was worried that he might not want this. Unexpected though it was, now he’d gotten over the shock, Ares was ecstatic.

“Oh, it’s very okay,” he whispered and kissed Joxer, delving into his husband’s sweet mouth and pulling him close, showing him just how okay it was. Joxer moaned and shifted to straddle his lap.

Strife chuckled, “Guess it was good news,” he glanced at Cupid. “You think they’re gonna do *it*?”

Cupid laughed, “Maybe.”

The voices penetrated Ares’ and Joxer’s lust filled brains and they pulled apart reluctantly.

“So, is anyone going to let us in on the secret?” Zeus asked impatiently.

“Yeah, c’mon unc, spill it,” Strife grinned.

Ares carefully lifted Joxer into his arms and stood, before just as carefully putting his husband down again.

“Arry, I’m not going to break,” Joxer said gently. Ares smiled ruefully.

“Sorry.”

Zeus, Hera and Asclepius gaped slightly. ‘Sorry’ was not a word Ares spoke very often.

“Well?” Xena asked agitatedly.

“I’m not telling,” Ares grinned at the frustrated sighs from almost everyone in the cave. “Joxer? Do you want to tell them?” he asked his still slightly dazed spouse.

“Oooh, come on!” Strife bounced in frustration, then held onto Cupid tightly as his legs trembled from the effort. Joxer flushed and looked round nervously.

“It’s all right, dear,” Hera smiled reassuringly.

“I, uh, I’m,” Joxer paused and licked his lips, “I’m pregnant.” There was utter silence for a brief second.

“Huh?” said Hercules, his jaw dropping.

“I second that,” Iolaus shook his head.

“Well, that was coherent,” Ares snorted.

“Holy shit, that is, like, so way cool,” Strife whooped.

“Yeah, what he said,” Cupid said, blinking continuously in shock.

“Are you sure?” Zeus demanded when he recovered his voice.

“Oh yes, quite sure,” Hera nodded.

“It’s not possible,” Zeus whispered.

“I know that,” Hera frowned reprovingly, “But he *is*”

“That’s all we need,” Gabrielle muttered, “A child that’s the product of those two!” she continued before Xena or Iolaus could reach her in time to shut her up.

“I’ve had it with you.” Ares snapped, literally.

Gabrielle looked up, startled as a furious Ares strode towards her. She blanched, realising that she may have gone too far this time.

“No, father, please,” Xena tried to stop him, but he shoved her out of the way. Iolaus stepped in front of him, regretting it immediately as he found himself flying across the cave. Hercules growled and launched himself at his brother.

“You bastard!” he yelled.

Ares caught him easily, still moving, and lifted him into the air. Hercules struggled. “No, that would be you!” Ares snarled and hurled him in the same direction as Iolaus. Hera laughed, stopping abruptly at Zeus’ glare.

Gabrielle backed away, but not fast enough, as Ares grabbed her throat and lifted her bodily from the ground. She dangled helplessly.

“Ares, stop.” Ares froze at the quiet command, much to everyone’s shock. “Put her down.” Ares’ eyes widened in horror as he put her down. “And let go.” Joxer sighed, walking over to his husband. Ares growled angrily, but let Gabrielle go, unable to do anything but obey his husband. He shook with fury.

Joxer slipped between Gabrielle and Ares, and put his hands on Ares’ face, forcing his husband to look at him. He met Ares’ glare without flinching, but tears filled his eyes as he realised just how angry Ares was and just how humiliated he felt.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, “I’m sorry, I just, I couldn’t…” Joxer closed his eyes and swallowed, dropping his head onto Ares’ chest. To his utter horror and despair, Ares pushed him back and walked away without a word. His tears spilled down his cheeks and his legs gave way. “I’m sorry,” he breathed.

The cave was filled with an awkward, tense silence. Xena moved quietly over to Joxer and knelt beside him, drawing her distraught friend into her arms. She stared up in dismay at her rigidly furious father, who still had his back to his husband.



“I, ahem,” Zeus cleared his throat, distinctly uncomfortable with the atmosphere. “Well, we’re done here, Hera, Eris, Ace, time to go.”

“But…” Hera started.

“Now,” Zeus said firmly. Hera sighed, she gently squeezed her son’s shoulder and smiled sadly at Xena, who was trying to quiet a sobbing Joxer before he choked himself. Four flashes lit the cave briefly and the group were left to themselves again.

“Dad,” Cupid said hesitantly. He blanched at the look Ares gave him but persisted, “Do you want to set up camp in here, or outside?” he asked quietly.

“Here will do,” Ares growled, snapping his fingers to clear up the dead bodies and give them better light. He still hadn’t even looked in Joxer’s direction and Strife and Cupid exchanged a worried look.

Cupid made as if to approach his father, but Strife shook his head. He knew from greater experience that when Ares was in this kind of mood, it was best not do or say anything until he came out of it. Unfortunately, the last time he’d seen his uncle like this, it had been weeks before he’d snapped out of it and Strife and Eris had suffered a great deal during that time.

Oh, Strife loved his uncle a great deal, but that didn’t alter the fact that Ares could be and often was temperamental, violent and downright cruel. He figured the only reason Ares had withdrawn into this kind of mood was so that he didn’t lash out, but it wouldn’t take much to push him into uncontrolled fury.

Hercules, Iolaus and Gabrielle stayed at the far end of the cave, well away from the others. Hercules was truly frightened of his brother for the first time he could remember and he wasn’t going to let Iolaus anywhere near him, or anywhere near Joxer for that matter, as sorry as he felt for the man. But at least Joxer now really knew what Ares was like. Hopefully, they could persuade him to leave the War God.

@>*~

Ares withdrew after making a fire in the centre of the cave. He sat back against a wall and closed his eyes, fighting the urge to kill something. He could feel his fingers glowing, itching to create balls of flame to hurl randomly at everyone occupying the almost silent cave. The wary stares he sensed were directed at him, only served to annoy him further.

Only the sobbing of his husband prevented him, and that just annoyed him even more.

He hadn’t minded showing a bit of restraint around Joxer, hadn’t even minded the times Joxer had asked him not to hurt the others. But, to be *forced*, to be helpless against the soft commands, to have the others witness his inability to resist; that was more than he could take.

Ares felt his body shaking with his barely suppressed fury and he tried to calm himself, he couldn’t think like this. That was one of the reasons he’d walked away from Joxer. He needed to think, needed to deal with this.

The other reason he’d walked away, even knowing he was hurting Joxer, was the certain knowledge that if he hadn’t, he would have said or done something he would ultimately regret. Something that would hurt Joxer more.

Ares sighed, feeling the tension drain from his body at last. He dropped his head onto his knees, relieved that Joxer had finally stopped crying. All he could hear now was the soft murmuring of voices.

@>*~

Cupid helped Strife over to Xena and Joxer and sat down, pulling the still weak God into his lap. Xena glanced up at them, raising an eyebrow questioningly. Strife shook his head.

“Best to leave him,” Strife whispered, staring sorrowfully at Joxer, whose face was buried in Xena’s neck. He put his arms round Cupid, rubbing his back to try and ease the tension in his cousin’s body. Cupid sighed and nuzzled his neck.

“How you doing?” Strife whispered.

“Okay, I guess,” Cupid mumbled.

Despite the situation, Strife couldn’t help the shiver of longing that spread through his body and down to his groin at the feel of Cupid’s lips moving over his skin, warm breath puffing gently on his neck. Cupid smiled softly and placed a small kiss just below Strife’s ear before lifting his head. He brushed Strife’s hair back and shifted them round slightly so they were both facing Xena and Joxer.

Xena glanced at the couple again, sighing at the looks of concern as she continued to rock Joxer slowly. He’d stopped crying, but he was still gripping her like his life depended on it.

“What now?” she asked quietly. She looked over at her father, who had his head on his knees. He looked relaxed, but she could see an edge of tension and his hands slowly clenched and unclenched.

Strife followed her gaze and sighed. “There’s nothing we can do,” he stopped as Joxer looked up at him, wide-eyed. “Joxer, I, he loves you. More than anything or anyone. You, you’re just going to have to have faith.”

Joxer shook his head despairingly. “No,” he whispered, “What I did… it, it was unforgivable. Strife, I *forced* him, and I don’t even know how.” He groaned and wiped his face, “I *made* him stop, I didn’t even ask! I didn’t let Zeus or Hera stop him. I *made* him, and in front of Hercules too, oh Gods!” Joxer felt tears prick his eyes again.

Cupid reached out and took Joxer’s hand, gently letting his power flow over the other man soothingly. “Joxer,” he whispered, “Do you know what I felt back at the temple when I first found out you were together?”

Joxer shook his head, looking at him hopefully.

“I felt deep, powerful love between you. I felt one of the most intense bonds I’ve ever known, you are part of each other, trust me,” Cupid said quietly.

Joxer sniffed, “We… when we married, it was,” he sighed, he didn’t have the words. “Hera said she couldn’t break it.”

Strife sat up slightly. “Really? What did… I mean, sorry,” he trailed off.

Joxer took a deep breath, “It’s okay. Do you, do you want to know about it?”

“Only if you want to talk about it,” Cupid said gently.

Joxer nodded hesitantly. “It was, it was an accident actually,” he almost smiled at the expressions of surprise on the others’ faces. “I, uh, I hadn’t been to a temple, made an offering in a while. I wanted, needed to do something, I don’t know, special. I’d found this dagger, and over the altar, I had this urge to give myself, dedicate myself completely and I,” he paused and looked at his hand, gently tracing the scar with a finger.

“I made a blood vow, and suddenly Ares was there, making one too. He took my hand, he’d cut himself too and our blood mixed.” He stopped abruptly, lost in memory, the fear and wonder he’d felt, the sense of completion. Softly, he started to cry again, surrendering to Xena’s gentle embrace as he wept for what he’d lost.

“What was the vow?” Cupid asked quietly.

“By my life’s blood, I am yours,” Joxer sobbed.

Cupid and Strife shared a surprised look. “Eternal binding,” Cupid whispered in awe.

Strife tensed suddenly. It was such a rare thing, but more than anything, he wanted it with Cupid.

“Baby?” Cupid frowned, pulling back slightly to look at Strife properly. “What is it?”

Strife swallowed hard. “I, I want, I want…” he stopped and sighed, biting his lip.

Cupid felt his heart clench with joy, he hadn’t even let himself hope. “Really?” he whispered. Strife nodded, still not quite meeting his eyes. “With me? Are you sure?”

Strife frowned, finally looking up at his cousin, “What do you mean ‘with you’? Of course with you, I *love* you!”

“Oh, Strife,” Cupid breathed. He pulled his cousin closer and brushed his lips over his soft mouth. With a moan of need, Cupid pressed harder, urging Strife’s lips open with his tongue so he could plunder the sweet warmth.

Strife clutched at Cupid helplessly, happily giving himself over to the onslaught of lips and tongue, kissing, sucking and licking back urgently. They parted, breathless, staring at each other in wonder.

“I love you too,” Cupid whispered, “I want that too, you and me, forever.” Strife smiled and hugged him close.

They pulled apart slightly, both remembering where they were. They glanced at Xena and Joxer, relieved to see that Joxer was smiling at them, even though they could see the pain in his eyes.

“Sorry, Joxer,” Strife said quietly.

Joxer shook his head. It hurt to see what he might have lost forever, so strong between the two Gods, but it was beautiful. He didn’t want his friends to worry about hurting him. “It’s okay, please don’t worry,” he smiled again, wishing he could do something for the couple.

“I… oh,” he stopped in surprise, feeling something in his lap. He looked down and picked up a dagger wonderingly. It was similar to the one he’d used, but the hilt was decorated differently. He looked closer, recognising one of the symbols as Cupid’s, the other he guessed was Strife’s. Joxer shook his head slightly and held the dagger out towards the couple. “I think this is for you,” he said with a small shrug at their questioning gazes.

Strife reached out and took the dagger, wondering where it had come from. “Oh, Joxer!” he gasped when he saw the symbols, “It’s… th-thank you,” he stuttered.

Cupid ran a finger along the blade and he smiled at Joxer. “Thank you,” he whispered.

Joxer gave the couple a tiny smile. He dropped his head back onto Xena’s shoulder, letting himself, at last, look over to his husband. Ares was still sitting against a wall, his head on his knees, his arms clasped around his legs.

Joxer swallowed nervously, wanting to determine Ares’ emotions. But he couldn’t, he couldn’t let himself. After what he’d done, it felt too much like a violation to probe his husband’s mind.

Eyes closing briefly against the pain, Joxer tried not to think about the expression in Ares’ eyes before he’d walked away; the anger, pain, hurt, humiliation and betrayal that had pierced his heart. How could he ever expect forgiveness?

Xena gently lay him down on a bedroll and wrapped a blanket round him. “Try and get some sleep,” she whispered. Joxer smiled at her gratefully and she lay down next to him, patting his arm.

Across the cave, Hercules, Iolaus and Gabrielle had already bedded down and she gazed at Gabrielle longingly. Her hand clutched at her chest in remembered fear at how close to death her ex-lover had come. While she was grateful to Joxer for saving her, she regretted the price he’d paid for stopping Ares.

She looked at her father one more time, sending a silent prayer to the War God that he wouldn’t let pride ruin what he had, knowing all too well what it was to lose the love of your life.

Ares’ head snapped up and he stared at her. She caught a glimpse of pain in his eyes, before his expression blanked and he looked away again.

She sighed and tried to sleep.



Cupid lifted Strife into his arms and carried him over to a small recess in the cave wall. He put his cousin down gently and knelt opposite him.

Strife twisted the dagger in his hands, suddenly strangely nervous. Cupid smiled softly and reached out to touch Strife’s cheek. Their eyes met and Strife stilled.

Holding Cupid’s gaze, Strife took hold of the hand on his cheek and held it palm up. He waited. Cupid nodded and smiled. Quickly and carefully, Strife drew the point of the dagger across Cupid’s palm. Then he held the dagger out to his cousin.

Cupid took a deep breath and took it, drawing a bloody line across Strife’s upheld palm. He put down the dagger and held his bleeding hand out.

“By my life’s blood, I am yours,” they whispered together as they clasped hands.

Cupid’s eyelids fluttered closed and his lips parted. He felt energy fill and surround him, felt his own power flowing to Strife. Strife gasped as he was embraced with the warmth and love of Cupid’s energy. He’d never felt so complete.

Their eyes locked again and they swayed closer, hands still tightly clasped together. Strife eased his hand away and he lifted Cupid’s to his mouth. Cupid’s eyes widened, darkening with desire as he watched Strife lick the blood from his palm, the feel of the soft, wet tongue on his skin sending jolts of need straight to his groin.

“Oh Gods, Strife!” he breathed, pulling his hand free to clutch at his husband, dragging the slim man bodily into his lap. “Need you, need you so much,” he gasped, running his hands frantically over Strife, unable to touch enough of his warm body.

“Oh, please,” Strife begged, grasping at his husband just as desperately. Their mouths met forcefully, teeth almost clashing together as lips fused urgently. Strife slid his hands into Cupid’s hair, clutching reflexively, trying to pull him closer.

Cupid groaned, running his hands down Strife’s back to his ass, jerking up when he felt Strife’s groin grind against his. Strife rocked against him, and Cupid pulled him to the ground, rolling on top of the smaller man. His tongue plunged deeper into the heat of his lover’s mouth.

Strife wrapped his legs round Cupid’s hips, bucking up against the hardness digging into his stomach. Focussing briefly, he managed to flash away their clothing and raise a shield, before the feel of Cupid’s hot skin sliding over his took over his senses.

Cupid groaned and forced himself to pull back. If they kept going like that he was going to come too soon, and he wanted more. He straddled Strife’s hips and stared down at the strong, slender body, flushed with desire. Love and need welled up inside him and he whimpered.

“Cupe, please,” Strife begged, reaching up to try and draw Cupid down again. A slick hand wrapping round his cock suddenly, made him drop back with a gasp. “Oh Gods, Cupe. Cupe, fuck me, please, please.” Tears trickled down his cheeks from pure need.

“No,” Cupid whispered. Strife froze, frowning in confusion.

“What… ooooh Gods!” Strife’s eyes widened and he lifted his head so he could watch his cock slowly disappear into Cupid’s tight ass. “Oh fuck, oh fuck,” he moaned. He reached down and gripped the base of his cock tightly to stop himself from coming, the clenching heat of Cupid’s passage almost too much for him.

Cupid bit his lip, watching Strife’s face as he slowly sank down onto the long, slim cock he’d wanted ever since he’d seen his cousin in the stream. It filled and stretched him, felt so good. “Strife, baby, gonna ride you so hard, want to feel you slamming into me, want it to hurt so good,” he gasped out.

Strife swallowed convulsively, panting with urgent need. He gripped Cupid’s hips tightly, jerking up hard. Cupid’s eyelids fluttered, “Oh yes,” he moaned. He sat up and dropped down again, body spasming at the force with which Strife’s cock hit the nub inside his ass. “Fuck!” he growled.

Strife gasped, urging Cupid to lift up again. He thrust up to meet Cupid’s downward stroke and their bodies connected even harder. He looked down again as Cupid started to impale himself over and over, moving faster and harder, licking his lips at the sight of Cupid’s asshole quivering round his cock, his own thick erection bobbing in front of him, begging for attention.

Strife reached down and wrapped his hand round it, gripping tightly, stroking hard.

“Yeah, touch me Strife,” Cupid moaned. He flung his head back and slammed himself down onto his lover’s cock. He reached behind them and slid his fingers between Strife’s legs, pressing below his balls, then reaching further. “Faster,” Cupid ordered. Strife pumped his fist faster, parting his legs with a moan when he felt Cupid’s fingers brush over his asshole.

“Oh, fuck, Cupe,” Strife panted, thrusting harder into his lover’s hot body, as Cupid forced a finger into him. Cupid bent back, letting Strife do the work pounding inside him as he delved deep into Strife’s passage. The fist wrapped round his cock tightened convulsively when he brushed over Strife’s sweet spot and he howled, coming in jerky spurts over Strife’s chest.

Strife screamed, bucking helplessly against the multiple onslaught, Cupid’s ass clenching around his cock, Cupid’s finger grazing his prostate and the feel of Cupid’s come splashing onto his skin combined to drive him out of his mind. As he shot his seed deep inside his lover, everything went black.

“Strife?”

Strife blinked and sucked in a shaky breath, “Cupe? Wow, that was… wow.”

Cupid chuckled and leaned down to kiss him softly. “Yeah, it was,” he whispered against Strife’s lips. He lifted his head slightly and brushed Strife’s hair back. “I love you.”

Strife gazed up into his eyes and smiled, pulling his husband back down for another kiss. “I love you too.”

Strife gently eased out of his husband and they wrapped themselves up in each other, flashing a bedroll and blanket around them, before they slept.



Ares watched his son and nephew, unable to help the small smile, until he saw Strife cut Cupid’s hand. Ares frowned, watching the couple perform the same ritual he and Joxer had only a couple of days before.

Damn, had it really only been three days? It felt like a life time.

Cupid and Strife disappeared behind a shield and Ares sighed, dropping his head onto his chest. At least someone was happy. And that was it, wasn’t it? It didn’t matter what had happened, he was miserable without Joxer, even in such a short space of time.

Ares lifted his head again and gazed across the cave at his husband. Joxer was curled up into a foetal position, arms wrapped around his head. Ares squeezed his eyes shut and smacked his head back against the cave wall. Even in sleep, his husband looked devastated.

And he’d told him he wouldn’t hurt him, damn it, and he had, and for what? Xena was right, but Ares just wasn’t sure he could swallow his pride. Joxer had *forced* him to do something against his will, Joxer could control him. Joxer could make him do anything he wanted, change him.

Ares stopped that train of thought with a snort of self-contempt. He knew Joxer better than that, his husband would never try to control or change him. Stopping him from killing the bitch hadn’t been deliberate, it had been his gentle hearted husband’s natural reaction to seeing someone he cared about in danger.

Ares dropped his head back onto his chest and he swallowed hard. What was he going to do now? How could he expect Joxer to forget, to forgive *him*? Maybe he shouldn’t, maybe Joxer would be better off without him. He knew one thing, he didn’t deserve Joxer.

@>*~

Hercules woke when the warm bundle in his arms shifted. He looked down and smiled, kissing the blond curls of his friend and lover. Easing gently away from Iolaus, he stood and stretched, looking round the cave.

Gabrielle was still asleep, as was Xena. He stiffened when he saw Ares sitting against the cave wall, staring blankly at the fire. Joxer was sitting opposite, near the fire, chin nestled on his bent knees. He was glancing at the silent War God every few seconds.

Strife and Cupid were nowhere to be seen.

Hercules went outside to relieve himself. When he returned, Gabrielle was preparing food, and Iolaus was helping her. Joxer was still distracted by Ares.

“Strife! Clothes before shield?” Cupid’s voice startled him and he swung round.

“Oops, sorry,” Strife chuckled.

Hercules frowned, “Where did you two come from?”

Cupid looked up, “ We had a shield up, man.”

“Why?” Hercules cocked his head, still frowning.

“Why do you think, Jerkules, we were, hey!” Strife stopped abruptly, rubbing the back of his head where Cupid had smacked him.

“For privacy,” Cupid finished for him.

Hercules pulled a face and Strife snickered, deliberately kissing Cupid noisily until the other man stalked off.

“He needs to get that stick removed from his ass,” Strife muttered.

“Yeah, and you need to stop goading him,” Cupid grinned.

“Ah, come on, what would be the fun in that?!” Strife pouted.

Cupid groaned and leaned over to kiss him soundly. “Come on,” he whispered against Strife’s lips.

“You sure you don’t want to put the shield back up?” Strife raised an eyebrow suggestively.

Cupid patted his cheek gently, “Don’t tempt me, baby.” He nodded at the fire, “Look.”

Strife glanced over and sighed. “Well, at least unc isn’t mad anymore.”

“How can you tell?” Cupid frowned, staring at his father. Ares still looked the same to him.

“You don’t live with unc as long as I have and not learn to read him. It’s vital for your health,” Strife explained. “Right now, he’s not mad, but he’s not happy either.”

“Damn, I never thought about that. It’s been hard for you, hasn’t it?” Cupid sighed, realising just what Strife had lived with all his life.

“ Hey, it’s fine. Unc’s unc you know? Mostly he’s pretty cool,” Strife smiled and touched Cupid’s cheek, “C’mon lover, let’s get some food.”

@>*~

Joxer had woken early after a horrible nightmare, where he’d been running after Ares, calling for him. But Ares hadn’t stopped and he just couldn’t catch him.

He glanced over to see Ares staring at him, but his husband had looked away immediately. He wondered if Ares had slept at all, worried that the War God had been brooding all night. At least he didn’t look as if he was about to explode at any minute.

Dropping his head onto his knees, he was oblivious of the others slowly stirring and getting up around him, until Xena sat next to him and put a comforting arm around his shoulders. Joxer tensed slightly, then sighed and relaxed into the embrace.

“How you doing?” Xena asked quietly. She was really worried, Joxer looked completely miserable, and she hoped he wasn’t going to make himself ill.

“I’m a bastard,” Joxer sighed listlessly.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Hercules snapped as he walked past them. He sat down next to Joxer. “You saved Gabrielle’s life. Are you saying you should have just let her die?”

“No,” Joxer shook his head, “But I shouldn’t have done what I did. Zeus would have stopped him.”

“Maybe,” Hercules said slowly, “But you did what you had to.”

“At what price, Hercules?” Xena said quietly.

“Oh please! Like it’s any great loss,” Hercules ignored the small noise Joxer made, “Joxer, it’s Ares. He’s a violent, evil bastard. At least you can leave him, before he really hurts you.”

“No, he can’t.”

Hercules glared at Cupid, “I think that’s Joxer’s choice, don’t you?”

“He can’t leave him, any more than dad can leave Joxer, they are bound together,” Cupid glared back, “Besides, there’s the baby to think about.” Cupid and Strife sat down, smiling gently at Joxer.

“He should get rid of it.”

“Hercules!”

Hercules turned to see Iolaus staring at him in disgust. “What? It’s completely unnatural anyway, men don’t just *get* pregnant! Ares probably forced it on him,” Hercules protested.

“Not possible,” Strife growled, “Gods can’t get men pregnant, any more than they can get pregnant themselves.”

“Then how did it happen?” Hercules challenged him.

“How did Joxer bring me back? I don’t fucking know!” Strife exclaimed angrily.

“It doesn’t change the fact that it’s wrong,” Hercules continued.

“I don’t believe you sometimes, Herc!” Iolaus snapped, “The who’s, what’s and how’s don’t matter, it’s a child. How can you say he should just get rid of it?!”

“I…” Hercules started.

“No, I don’t want to hear it.” Iolaus moved away from his lover, furious at his attitude.



“I don’t want to have this baby alone,” Joxer whispered.

“Oh Joxer, you won’t, trust me,” Cupid squeezed Joxer’s knee gently, “Give him a little time.”

“Oh please, Ares doesn’t forgive and forget,” Gabrielle joined in.

“I think we’ve had quite enough of that from Hercules, thank you!” Strife glared at her.

“Get lost, deadboy,” Gabrielle snapped, then frowned in confusion when Cupid and Strife looked at each other and started laughing.

“Deadboy Jr., surely?” Cupid snickered.

“No, you’re Spike, remember?” Strife giggled, “My very own hot blond.”

Cupid grabbed him, hauling him into his lap for a long, passionate kiss. Strife pulled away breathlessly and rested his forehead against Cupid’s.

“You sure you don’t want the shield back up?” he smirked at Cupid’s glazed expression.

“Far too tempting, husband mine,” Cupid grinned.

“Husband?!” Hercules exclaimed.

Strife twisted round, “Yeah, got hitched last night.” He grinned, “Thanks, Jox, by the way.”

Joxer smiled weakly and nodded.

“Married? Wow, congratulations,” Iolaus smiled, sincerely happy for the two Gods.

Cupid and Strife grinned at him. “Thanks,” Cupid said.

“You, you married *Strife*?!” Gabrielle couldn’t quite get her head round it.

Cupid glared at her. “I would have thought you’d have learned to keep your trap shut after last night!” he snarled.

“Hey, don’t you threaten her!” Hercules snapped.

“Did I threaten her?” Cupid raised an eyebrow.

“Enough!”

Everyone stopped talking at the quiet, menacing command and turned in Ares’ direction.

“We waste time.” Without further ado, Ares stood, grabbed his pack and walked out of the cave, leaving the others to scramble to get their things and follow him.

Ares was fuming again, but at Hercules and Gabrielle, no surprise there really. In any other situation he would have killed both of them without thinking twice, Zeus’ rules be damned. Unfortunately, with Dahak on the loose, all help was necessary.

He hadn’t listened to most of the conversation, but Hercules’ suggestion that Joxer should get rid of their baby, that had very nearly got him killed anyway. What Iolaus saw in his brother, he had no idea.

But there was another reason Joxer was better off without him. Ares sighed, what kind of a father had he ever been before? Joxer just didn’t need him.

Another prayer from Xena made him look round. The others had caught him up.

*What?* he growled, continuing to walk.

*Are you okay?* Xena asked, relieved that he was speaking to her.

*What do you think?*

*He didn’t mean it.*

*I… I know that ::sighs::*

*Are you going to talk to him?*

*No.*

*But dad, he’s devastated.*

*He’ll get over it.*

*No he won’t, he needs you!*

*::swallows:: No, he doesn’t. He’s better off.*

*How can you say that?*

*Because he is.*

*Bullshit. Talk to him.*

*I can’t.*

*You have to.*

“Leave it, Xena!” Ares snapped out loud. He couldn’t, he just didn’t know what to do, what to say. He was still convinced that Joxer would be better off without him.

Xena subsided, ignoring the curious glances she was getting from the others. “Stubborn bastard,” she muttered.

*I said enough!*

Xena flinched, mentally deafened by the volume. *Sorry, father.*



“*Hey*!” Ares looked round in surprise at Joxer. “Yes, that’s right, you!”

Ares actually started to back away as Joxer stalked towards him.

“What?!” he snapped defensively.

Joxer’s nostrils flared angrily and Hercules’ snicker was cut off abruptly as he waved his hand and they were shielded from the others.

“What’re you…?” Ares frowned.

“I heard,” Joxer crossed his arms over his chest, “I didn’t mean to, but I did. So there you go, be mad if you want.” He was so angry with what he’d heard, he wasn’t even scared or worried. “You have every right to be mad at me, every right not to forgive me for what I did, but you do *not* get to make those kinds of decisions!”

“I beg your pardon?” Ares lost his temper too.

“I’ll decide whether I’m better off without you or not!”

“Oh really?” Ares growled, “Am I not involved in this marriage too?”

“Apparently. Haven’t noticed it today though,” Joxer snapped.

“Hey, I never forced anything on *you*!” Ares took a step closer, glaring at his husband.

“Oh, low blow Ares, and yes, you fucking have!” Joxer’s voice raised to a yell.

“I,” Ares frowned in confusion, “What?”

“Being alone, being a single parent,” Joxer’s face crumbled and Ares felt like he’d been punched in the gut.

“I… damn it, Joxer, you *are* better off.”

“Stop saying that!” Joxer was so upset he smacked Ares in the face. Ares blinked at him, stunned. “What is it? You can’t stand the fact that I might be stronger than you? Cause damn it, that’s not fair!”

Ares shook his head and started to walk away, “I hoped you thought more of me than that.”

“Arry, stop,” Joxer said quietly, but he wasn’t commanding him to. Ares sighed and stopped. “You know I do. I’m not your family, I’m not your warlords, I know *you* and I love *you*.”

“Joxer,” Ares turned to face his husband, “I can’t do this!”

“The only way I’m better off without you, is if you don’t love me,” Joxer whispered.

“But…”

“Tell me you don’t love me and I’ll walk, I’ll be ‘better off’,” he made quotation marks with his fingers.

All the fight and anger left Ares in a shaky exhale, “You know I can’t.”

“Then please, Arry, don’t do this,” Joxer frowned in distress, breath hitching quietly.

“I… I just don’t know,” Ares whispered. He turned away and started walking again.

“Damn it, Ares,” Joxer whispered, watching his husband walk away, letting the tears fall unchecked.

@>*~

“Whoa,” Cupid frowned, “Was it me or did Joxer just put that shield up?” He stared in the direction where his father and Joxer had been until they’d disappeared behind a sight and sound proof barrier.

“Nope, you’re right,” Strife agreed, “Feels kinda weird too.” He wrapped himself round Cupid and licked his ear, “So lover, what shall we do while we wait?”

Cupid made a small noise and tugged him further round, grasping his head for a quick, fierce kiss. “We don’t have *that* long, baby,” he chuckled when they pulled apart.

Strife pouted, “Spoilsport.”

“Do you two have to keep on like that?” Gabrielle complained loudly.

“Hey, I died, found out Cupe loved me back and got married in one day, what do you expect, blondie?” Strife leered, “I’m on ma honeymoon here!”

“What, exactly, is going on?” Hercules started, ignoring the Mischief God and the fact that he’d started licking Cupid again, “What do we do if Ares hurts Joxer? Are we just supposed to wait?”

“Uh, yup?” Strife snickered.

“Besides, Ares won’t hurt Joxer, he’d kill himself first,” Xena said quietly.

“Oh please, don’t raise false hopes here!” Hercules snorted.

“Shut up,” Iolaus scowled.

“But, Iolaus…”

“Just shut up!” Iolaus moved over to where Xena was standing. “How’s Joxer really holding up?” he asked her.

Xena shrugged, “Not very well, understandably. But the way he just yelled at Ares like that, I, I just don’t know.” She shook her head.

Iolaus sighed and scowled over at Hercules, who looked confused. He really hoped he was going to be able to keep it together, there was something about Ares that brought out the worst in Hercules sometimes. Sometimes his lover’s attitude was more than he could stand.

“How long do you think we’ll have to wait?” Iolaus glanced over to the two Gods, distracted briefly by their giggling and loud kissing.

“Not long I hope. I just, I really hope this doesn’t make things worse,” Xena whispered.

“I don’t know. But, Xena, even I could see how much Ares loves Joxer, you know? I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Iolaus tried to comfort her.

“Thanks, Iolaus,” she smiled.

The shield disappeared abruptly and they all turned. Ares was further down the path walking steadily away, and a silent Joxer stared after him.

“Joxer?” Xena hurried over to him. He turned and smiled at her tiredly. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I think so, or I will be,” Joxer replied weakly, “At least I know he loves me.” He picked up his pack and started to follow Ares, humming quietly. Xena frowned at him, more than a little concerned.



“What exactly are we doing?” Hercules growled as they all followed Joxer and Ares.

Joxer glanced round at him with a quizzical smile, “Tracking Dahak, what else?”

“How?”

Joxer shrugged, “Don’t ask me. All I know is, Ares is going in the right direction.”

“Does Joxer seem a little off to you?” Gabrielle asked Hercules quietly.

“No more than usual, he’s always been weird,” Hercules subsided quickly at a glare from Iolaus.

“How’d you know that?” Strife asked curiously. He and Cupid were both slightly worried about the almost dreamy mood Joxer had been in since his argument with Ares.

Joxer smiled and shrugged, “I haven’t the foggiest. He’s good isn’t he?” he asked casually.

“Uh yeah, well God of War and all that,” Strife raised an eyebrow at Cupid, who shrugged.

“Hey, baby,” Joxer put his hand on his stomach and grinned, “Let’s catch up with daddy.”

“Huh?” Cupid stared after Joxer in shock. He frowned at Strife, “What was that?”

Strife’s eyebrows climbed up his forehead and he shrugged, “Do *not* be asking me!”

“Weird,” Hercules muttered, “Talking to a kid after two days.”

“Hercules!” Iolaus frowned at him, “There’s obviously something going on, try showing a little consideration!”

“About what?”

“Gods damn it, Hercules! What is wrong with you? Can you at least *try* not to let your feelings for Ares blind you to everything else?” Iolaus yelled.

“What?” Hercules squeaked in confusion.

“Iolaus.”

Iolaus looked up, “Yeah, Joxer?”

“Don’t worry about it, you can’t change him and if you did, he wouldn’t be the man you fell in love with, would he?” Joxer smiled and raised his eyebrows.

Iolaus blinked, “Um, I guess not, no.”

Joxer sighed happily, “Good, good, shall we continue? Ares is getting ahead again.”

“Uh sure, Joxer,” Iolaus shook his head and followed his friend.

Strife took Cupid’s hand and pulled him close. “And what was *that*?” he whispered.

“I don’t know, but damn if he didn’t sound like mom when she’s on her true love kick,” Cupid replied with a frown.

“It’s kinda freaky, Cupe,” Strife shook himself. “I mean they obviously didn’t make up, so why’s he so happy? What in Hades happened behind that shield?”

“I wish I knew, baby,” Cupid sighed.

@>*~

They continued walking for several hours, never quite catching up with Ares. Everyone was concerned with Joxer, but he seemed oblivious and happy, occasionally talking to his belly and on the odd occasion bursting into a chorus of Joxer the Mighty.

The song got him several oddly hurt looks from Ares.

Joxer was in the middle of singing, when first Ares, then Xena and Strife froze. Joxer shut up immediately, eyes narrowing as they skimmed the trees. Everyone slowly drew weapons and crouched in readiness.

A lone figure burst onto the path. “Wait!” it screamed before anyone could attack.

“Auto?” Joxer laughed, “Thought it was you, who’s after you?”

Autolycus frowned at him, “How’d you… never mind, I need,” he ducked a dagger which made a *thunk* noise in a tree behind him, “A little help!” he squeaked.

Several more men appeared on the path. “You bastard! I’ll kill you!” They stopped warily when they spotted the small group.

Auto cleared his throat, “I didn’t know she was married!” he turned to Hercules and Xena, not even realising Ares was further up the path and heading back in their direction. “I swear, help me!”

“You didn’t steal anything?” Hercules asked quietly.

“No! For once I didn’t,” Auto made a pleading gesture.

“He’s telling the truth,” Joxer said quietly. “I’m afraid, sir, you just don’t satisfy your wife,” he continued to the leader of the men chasing Auto.

Strife burst out laughing, “Joxer! Way to go!”

“A little consideration works wonders,” Joxer continued, chuckling a little himself. The man growled at him and started to move threateningly in Joxer’s direction. Xena stepped in front of him.

“I really wouldn’t do that if I were you,” she said quietly.

He sneered at her, “You going to stop me, girlie?”

“No, but the really pissed off God of War behind you just might,” Xena smirked.

The man laughed at her, “Yeah right, I haven’t heard that one before!”

“Actually, Skylus,” one of the other men said tremulously, “I’d turn round if I were you.”

Skylus sighed, “Why, doofus? Is there another girlie behind me?” He froze suddenly as someone snarled in his ear. Turning slowly, he came face to chest with a very large man. Looking up, he nearly fainted, he was face to chest with a very large, very angry War God.

Ares picked Skylus up by the scruff of the neck, “I suggest you and your friends leave before I get really mad, and I suggest you never threaten my consort *ever* again, understood?” he shook the man slightly.

“Yes, my Lord,” Skylus whispered.

“Good, now scram!” Ares dropped Skylus, who scrambled to get to his feet and ran away, after his companions who’d already fled.

Ares looked at Joxer, sucking in a breath at the dreamy smile his husband was directing at him.

“Wow, okay, so am I in another dimension or something?” Auto asked, more than slightly confused.

Xena sighed, “Come on, we’ve got a lot to tell you, we might as well continue on our way. Dad?”

Ares tore his eyes away from Joxer, “Yeah?”

“You leading again?”

“I, uh, yeah I guess,” Ares glanced back at Joxer, who was still smiling at him. Had he missed something? Frowning, he looked closer, he could sense something was different about his husband.

“Yo unc, come on, lead on,” Strife interrupted his focus.



“Okay!” he growled. Ares turned and stalked ahead again, trying to work out why Joxer seemed so happy. Not that it was a bad thing, or anything. All he wanted was for Joxer to be happy, but it hurt. It hurt a lot.

A giggle sounded in his head and he swung round, but none of the others were laughing, they were busy arguing over the details of what they were telling Auto, who looked thoroughly confused. All except for Joxer who appeared to be talking to his stomach.

Ares frowned and sighed, continuing to walk. He really didn’t know if he had the strength to keep away from Joxer anymore. He just had this gnawingly urgent need for his husband that had grown stronger throughout the day.

He kept his eyes fixed on the path ahead, forcing himself to keep walking, even though he wasn’t even sure why he was going in this direction. It just seemed right.

@>*~

By nightfall, everyone was silent, except Joxer who was humming, and tired. They had barely stopped walking all day. When Ares finally stopped, they all heaved a sigh of relief and dropped where they stood.

Joxer smiled brightly and lit a fire.

“Shit, Joxer!” Strife exclaimed, startled, “Give a guy a little warning.”

Joxer chuckled, “Sorry, just wanted to see if I could do it.”

“What’s up with that anyway, dude?” Strife asked curiously, “How come you can do all this stuff?”

Joxer found all eyes staring in his direction, “Um, I really don’t know, things just get all hazy when I think about it.”

Ares frowned, things went hazy when he tried to think about it too. And what about in the cave? Zeus had just shrugged it off. He would never ignore that kind of power ordinarily.

He heard the giggle again and looked round quickly, but everyone was still on the ground, semi-conscious. Again except for Joxer who was smiling at him and rubbing his stomach. Ares dropped his head on his chest, suddenly feeling guilty for making Joxer walk all that way.

“Ares.”

Ares glanced up at Joxer. His husband was walking slowly over towards him, smiling softly. “I’m fine, really. Come on, you’re hungry.” Joxer took a very bemused Ares’ hand and led him to the fire.

Joxer smiled, he knew his behaviour was confusing and worrying everyone, but it didn’t matter for now. Later, once he’d spoken to Ares, and hopefully been nailed to the floor, he’d explain. Well, as best he could anyway. He touched his stomach again. “Let’s feed daddy, huh?” he whispered, laughing quietly at the giggle he got in reply.

He raised a hand over the fire and produced a spitted pig, that was already mostly cooked. “Damn, that’s so much fun!” Joxer smiled delightedly at Ares, who couldn’t help smiling back, remembering how excited he’d been when he was still a kid and had finally got his power to do what *he* wanted it to do.

Then, as if nothing had happened between them, Joxer snuggled up to him and Ares was unable to stop himself from sighing happily and pulling him close. Joxer looked up and patted his cheek.

“We need to talk, but after dinner, okay?” he said quietly. Ares nodded. “’Kay everyone, get up, time for food.”

There were several groans, but the smell of the pig eventually got everyone up and sitting round the fire, ready to eat. While they ate, Auto regaled them with the tales of his latest adventures, which got him laughs from Cupid, Strife and Joxer, smiles from Xena and Iolaus and muttered comments from Hercules and Gabrielle.

Ares wasn’t listening, he was too busy just holding Joxer, breathing in his scent, and trying to work out where in Hades that giggle was coming from. He wasn’t sure of anything at that moment, and he wanted to fill his memories with Joxer in case this was the last time he held him like this.

“Don’t mope, love,” Joxer whispered. Ares sighed and held him tighter. Joxer gently rubbed his cheek against Ares’ chest. “Come on, I think it’s time for us to talk.” He stood up and waited for Ares to join him. “We’re going for a walk,” he told the others.

Xena looked up, “You going to be okay, Joxer?”

Joxer smiled, “Yeah, everything’s going to be fine.”

The group watched the couple disappear into the trees.

“Is it just me, or has Joxer put on some weight?” Auto asked thoughtfully.



“Stand there.”

“What?”

“Ares, just will you stand there? I can’t do this otherwise,” Joxer said quietly.

“Okay, sorry,” Ares let Joxer position him behind a log, wondering what his husband was doing. And again that giggle! He looked round, maybe a tree nymph was following them or something.

Joxer dropped to his knees in front of Ares, but on the other side of the log. “What are you…?” Ares eyes widened, Joxer was praying to him.

‘My Lord, I guess it’s been a while again, hasn’t it? I suppose it never really occurred to me, because, well you’re always here, with me, you know? I thought maybe you couldn’t get past my powers growing, I’m sorry, that was unfair. I know you’ve forgiven me for forcing you, but I still can’t forgive myself for that, and I swear, Ares, I swear it will *never* happen again.

‘I don’t know why I didn’t realise it before, I should have. Did you really think I wouldn’t need you anymore? That I wouldn’t love you anymore? Oh Arry, I need you more than I need air to breathe, I love you more than anything in this universe, except our child, I can’t live without you. Now do you understand?’

Joxer raised his head and met his husband’s eyes, surprised and slightly worried to see tears flowing freely. “Arry?”

“I’m so sorry, Joxer, I love you. You are everything.” Ares stepped over the log and dropped to his knees opposite Joxer, reaching for him. Joxer caught his hands and kissed them gently.

“I’m not finished.” Ares nodded, and Joxer continued, “Don’t ever make a decision that concerns us both without me again, okay? Please?”

“I won’t,” Ares whispered, shifting closer. Joxer smiled and let himself be pulled into Ares’ arms, surrendering to a soft, tender kiss. Until a little voice whispered to him, and he pulled away.

“Stop teasing him,” Joxer said quietly.

“Huh?” Ares frowned in confusion, and annoyance. The giggle got a little louder and then Ares’ eyes widened.

*Sorry, daddy.*

“What, what, what was that?” Ares stuttered.

“The other thing I had to tell you,” Joxer smiled shyly. He took Ares’ hand and slipped it under his shirt, placing it palm down on his very slightly rounded belly. “Say hello to our baby.”

“I, but, oh Gods!” Ares gasped, feeling the life force of their child far stronger than it should have been. He heard another giggle. “That’s our baby? Laughing?”

Joxer nodded, biting his lip as he smiled.

“How far, I mean, how long… I,” Ares stopped, shaking his head in confusion.

“Three months,” Joxer replied, smiling wider as he was enfolded in Ares’ arms.

“When?” Ares asked, pulling Joxer as close as he could.

“Just after our last argument,” Joxer whispered softly, pulling Ares’ head closer, slipping his tongue out to taste soft lips.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Ares breathed.

“Couldn’t, wanted to do this too much,” Joxer closed the tiny gap between them and pressed his lips against Ares’ mouth, sliding his tongue between full lips. He sighed happily, renewing his familiarity with his husband’s warm, wet depths thoroughly.

Ares’ eyelids fluttered closed and he moaned into Joxer’s mouth, happy to let him explore, taste, lick and suck. Until he heard another giggle. *Sleep, you.*

*Aw, daddy.*

*Sleep!*

*Yes, daddy.*

Joxer pulled back and grinned at him, “Come on, lover,” he reached up and trailed his hand down Ares’ chest, melting away his shirt the way Ares had his pants on their first night together, “I need you.”

Ares growled and their clothes ripped apart with a burst of energy. Joxer raised his eyebrows, but didn’t get the chance to say anything before he found himself flat on his back under Ares, his mouth being passionately plundered.

Joxer moaned and wrapped his legs round Ares, shifting slightly to bring their cocks together. “Oh Gods!” he whispered against Ares’ lips. The feel of Ares’ cock, all silky skin and hard muscle, combined with the soft scratch of pubic hair against him, was almost overwhelming. He wrenched Ares’ head back.

“Arry,” he whispered harshly.

Ares was startled by the dark desire in his husband’s eyes and he thrust smoothly against him. “What, love? Tell me what you need.”

Joxer’s head fell back, “Need *you*, damn it!”

Ares chuckled and dipped his head for another searing kiss, resisting Joxer’s hands, which were pushing him down. Eventually he gave in, but paused again at Joxer’s chest. He nibbled gently on one dusky nipple until it stood in a small peak and Joxer was gasping, moving against him frantically.

“You’re going to torture me, aren’t you?” Joxer managed to breathe.

“Not if you tell me what you need,” Ares ran his tongue around Joxer’s other nipple.

“I, oh Gods,” Joxer’s breath hitched when Ares sucked hard on the sensitive nub, “I need you to suck me.”

“Thought I was,” Ares whispered.

“Damn it, Arry!” Joxer panted, “Suck my cock now!”

Without further hesitation, Ares slid the rest of the way down Joxer’s body until he was facing his husband’s flushed, smooth cock. He dipped his head to nuzzle at the base, inhaling Joxer’s musky scent, before he let his tongue trail up the hard length.

“Gods, Arry, please!” Joxer grasped at Ares’ head, trying to direct him.

Ares relented happily, wrapping his mouth around Joxer’s cock and letting it slide deep into his throat.

Joxer whimpered. He looked down, needing to see Ares, needing to see his erection slip in and out of Ares’ mouth. Needing to see Ares’ eyes watching him. “Oh fuck, Ares!” Joxer moaned, letting his head drop back. “I need you inside me so badly.”

Ares sucked a little longer, using a flash of power to prepare Joxer and slick up his aching cock. He crawled back up the length of Joxer’s body and pushed his husband’s legs back and apart. He stroked Joxer’s hole gently, smiling at Joxer’s blissful expression.

Pulling back a little, he lined up his cock and pushed carefully, gasping at the combination of watching his cock disappear inside Joxer and the feel of Joxer’s tight passage sucking him inside.

“Joxer,” he groaned, pushing a little harder until his entire length was encased in hot, quivering muscle. It took all his self control not to move. “What do you need?” he asked again, his voice a little strained.

Joxer almost laughed. Ares was buried balls deep inside him, and he was desperate to feel him move he wasn’t sure he could speak. He squeezed his ass and Ares shuddered. “Fuck me,” he managed to whisper hoarsely, “I need you to fuck me.”

“Oh Joxer,” Ares pulled almost all the way out and thrust back inside the grasping heat.

“Yes!” Joxer screamed. He clutched at Ares’ hips, trying to encourage his lover to move faster.

Ares retained some control for a while, plunging into Joxer steadily, tipping up his hips to pound against his sweet spot. But soon, Joxer’s gasps and whimpers, the fingers clawing down his back, the muscles clenching tighter and tighter against him, were too much.

“Arry,” Joxer wailed. Ares lost all control and slammed into Joxer, pulling out quickly, to start pounding hard and fast into his lover.

Joxer groaned, he held on tight, meeting every thrust, screaming every time Ares’ cock scraped over the nub inside him. His cock rubbed against Ares’ hairy, sweaty stomach, and he felt himself start to shudder.

“Ares, Ares,” he panted, then his back arched and a wave of pleasure rolled through him.

Ares plunged deep into the rippling passage, feeling Joxer’s hot seed on his stomach, and he let go, reclaiming his husband, filling him with his own seed.

Ares collapsed and Joxer held him tightly, happily. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Joxer,” Ares whispered.

*Love you daddies, but you’re heavy daddy.*

“Uh, oops,” Ares shifted off Joxer, *Sorry, baby.*

Joxer chuckled, “Well, you are kind of heavy.” At Ares’ pout, he hurried to continue, “Hey, I like it, but we got to look out for baby now.”

Ares smiled and leaned down to kiss Joxer’s belly. “I know, I love you both.”



“I can’t believe we just let them go off like that,” Hercules muttered.

“Oh for Gods’ sake, don’t even start,” Iolaus growled, “You saw what Joxer could do, stop trying to pretend you’re concerned for his well-being.”

“But…” Hercules protested.

“Shades of grey, Herc,” Iolaus said quietly.

“What?” Hercules frowned in confusion.

Iolaus knelt beside his lover and touched his head gently, “Sometimes things aren’t black or white, there are shades of grey. I love you Herc, but I need to take a step back for a while, okay?”

“No, not okay,” Hercules shook his head, “Iolaus, I don’t understand. How can you side with Ares like this?”

Iolaus sighed and dropped his head to his chest, “It’s not a matter of siding, Hercules, damn it! This is exactly what I mean. Think about what I said, I mean it, really think.”

Hercules watched his lover in stunned silence as Iolaus stood up and went to sit with Auto and Xena. What in Hades did Iolaus expect from him? How could he ask him to think about something when he didn’t understand what he meant?

Hercules shifted closer to Gabrielle, who looked up at him inquiringly. “What did he mean, shades of grey?”

Gabrielle frowned thoughtfully, “I have no clue. All I know is everyone’s gone mad! Trusting Ares, Cupid with Strife,” she stopped and snorted, “Joxer pregnant and with powers? I mean Gods, whatever next? Could there be anyone worse?” Pausing, Gabrielle shook her head, “Well, okay, maybe Jett.”

Hercules nodded thoughtfully.

@>*~

“So, this has been one fucking journey for you guys then?” Auto exclaimed. He’d finally managed to get the details of what had happened over the past few days straight in his head. Xena, Cupid and Strife nodded.

He chuckled, “I never would have guessed, Ares had a thing for Joxer, well damn! Hey, if that was what they’re like when they’re arguing, what are they like when they’re not?”

Xena smiled properly for the first time in a long time, or so it seemed to her. “In public, affectionate, in private?” she shook her head and chuckled, “I dread to think.”

Auto shook his head and grinned, “Damn!” He stared at the two Gods for a moment and then grinned again, “So, if you got married yesterday, how come you’re sitting here, talking to us?”

Cupid stared at him, then turned to Strife, “You know, he’s right.”

“Uh, duh?” Strife smirked. Then he squealed as he was swung over Cupid’s shoulder and carried off into the trees. “Yeehaw!” Strife yelled happily.

Xena and Auto exchanged glances and promptly started laughing.

“I still can’t believe you though,” Auto said quietly, once they’d calmed down. Xena tensed. “I mean, how did you manage? The times you must have felt so torn,” he smiled ruefully, “You’re sneakier than I thought, but you’re braver too.”

Xena blinked away sudden tears, “I, thank you,” she sighed, “I just wish Gabrielle would let me try to, that she would…”

“I know,” Auto whispered.

Xena frowned, sensing more behind his words. She stared at him, meeting his eyes, seeing a sincerity there she’d never expected from the thief. “You really do, don’t you?”

“Hey, you know, where d’you think I learnt how to break hearts?” he smiled tightly.

“Auto,” Xena started.

“But hey, you get over it,” Auto cleared his throat and forced a grin. He glanced up when Iolaus joined them, happy for the distraction. He couldn’t quite believe he’d been on the verge of spilling his guts like that, even to Xena.

“Hi guys,” Iolaus said quietly, “What’s up?”

“Oh, you know, same ol’ same ol’, Xena’s not buying it though,” Auto shrugged with a small smirk.

Xena met his eyes and smiled briefly, “Yeah, you think Auto would know I’ve heard it all before by now!”

Iolaus sighed, his eyes suspiciously bright.

“Iolaus? What’s wrong?” Xena frowned in concern.

“I uh, I told Hercules I was taking a step back,” Iolaus dropped his head onto his chest.

“Iolaus, why?” Xena gasped, “I thought, I mean you two only just worked out how you feel about each other.”

“I know, but everything that’s going on at the moment, it’s just brought a few things home to me. Why can’t he just try, you know?” Iolaus whispered.

“I understand,” Xena swallowed hard.

Iolaus nodded, “I know, I know.” He sighed again, “Do you think Gabrielle will forgive you?”

“I don’t know, Iolaus, she’s not saying much of anything nowadays,” Xena looked over at her ex-lover, “I wonder if it’s a good thing for her to be involved in this, you know?”

“Because of Dahak?” Iolaus asked quietly. Xena nodded. “Maybe she needs to.”

“Maybe,” Xena said quietly.

“Hey, ‘Laus,” Auto interjected, “I wouldn’t worry, if there’s one thing I know about Hercules, he’s a stubborn bastard. He won’t give up till he figures it out, and he’ll make it up to you. That’s the kind of guy he is.”

Iolaus blinked at the thief, realising that Auto had just pointed out one of the reasons he loved Hercules. He smiled suddenly, feeling more hopeful that his lover would come through for him. “Yeah, thanks.”

Auto nodded, but he felt slightly uncomfortable under Xena’s piercing gaze. If he didn’t watch it, she’d be weaselling out all his secrets.

@>*~

Joxer stroked Ares’ hair gently, as his husband continued to chat to his stomach, and he smiled fondly. He still couldn’t quite get over the fact that their child was fully sentient, conscious and intelligent, let alone communicating with them.

Ever since the growth spurt after their argument, he’d been chatting to their baby; in fact it was the baby who’d let him know exactly what Ares had been feeling. That was the reason he’d been happy, even though they hadn’t made up then, he knew they would.

“Arry?” he whispered. Ares shifted his head and looked up at him. “I think it’s time we got back, don’t you?”

Ares pulled a face, “Yeah, I guess.” He sat up and pulled Joxer up into his arms. He’d been enjoying talking to the little one. Their child was an odd mixture of childish innocence and ancient wisdom and knowledge, he couldn’t quite fathom why or how. “What are we going to tell them?”

Joxer shrugged, “That I’m three months pregnant, I guess. I’m not sure I want them to know our baby is talking to us, do you?”

Ares frowned, “No, I don’t.”

“Come on then, lover,” Joxer stood up and looked down at Ares who was looking very amused. “What?”

“Are you going to go like that?” Ares smirked.

Joxer glanced down at himself and blushed, he was still completely naked. Ares started chuckling, then the baby joined in too.

“Yes, very funny,” Joxer sighed and shook his head. He waved a hand and dressed himself in slightly looser, more comfortable cotton pants and a cotton tunic. Then, with a smirk he pointed a finger at Ares and dressed his husband in a replica of his old armour. The baby laughed harder.

Ares spluttered and Joxer started to laugh. “Oh, oh dear Gods, you l-look terrible,” Joxer sniggered.

“This is so fucking uncomfortable!” Ares shook his head, “How in Hades did you manage to wear it for all that time?”

Joxer sobered, “I don’t know, I got used to it. I made it, you know, it was mine, something no one would steal from me.” He found himself wrapped tightly in Ares’ embrace.

“I’m sorry,” Ares whispered, “I wish I could have done more. I just, I couldn’t risk anyone knowing that I cared about you.”

Joxer hugged Ares back and smiled, “I know, love, I know.” He cupped Ares’ face gently and pulled him close for a soft kiss.

When Ares pulled back, he realised the armour had been replaced with his clothes, and he smiled. “Come on then, I suppose they’ll be wondering where we are.”

“Yeah,” Joxer pulled Ares’ arm round his waist and they walked back to the fire.



“Cupie! Put me down,” Strife whined, he didn’t see why they had to go so far, he wanted to get his hands on his husband *now*.

“Soon,” Cupid chuckled, then yelped, when Strife grabbed hold of his ass and squeezed.

“Oh yeah?” Strife giggled. He managed to worm his hands down Cupid’s pants, sighing a little at the smooth, silky skin under his fingers. He wriggled his hands deeper into the small gap between leather and skin, giggling again when Cupid moaned.

Their clothes disappeared and Strife grinned, “Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!” He leaned further down Cupid’s body and licked the crease at the top of his buttocks.

“Okay, that’s far enough,” Cupid panted, flipping Strife back over his shoulder and laying him onto the ground.

“Knew you’d be reasonable,” Strife chuckled. Cupid pounced and Strife just managed to catch him so that he wasn’t completely squashed. “Hey, watch it, recently revived dead here.”

Cupid sucked in a breath and raised himself up on his hands to stare down at his husband in horror, “Oh Gods, Strife, I’m so sorry, I…”

Strife reached up and put his finger over Cupid’s lips quickly, he hadn’t meant to upset Cupid, he was so happy to be alive and loved, he didn’t want to think about how close it had been. “Shh, Cupid, I was kidding around, it’s okay.” He met Cupid’s intense, pain-filled gaze, “Aw, lover, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it. Please, Cupe, don’t get upset.”

Cupid swallowed the lump in his throat and kissed the finger pressed gently against his lips. “Baby,” he whispered, “I nearly lost you. It’s just not something I can kid about, okay?”

Strife leaned up and clasped Cupid’s face, “I’m sorry, Cupe, really. You know I kid about everything, I didn’t mean… I didn’t mean to…”

Cupid sat back and pulled Strife up and into his lap, holding on tightly, burying his face in his husband’s neck. Strife stroked his hair gently. “I love you, Cupie, I love you. I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”

Cupid took a deep breath and tried to shake off the fear and pain thinking of Strife dying had caused. “You better not, or I’ll kick your ass,” he whispered against Strife’s neck.

Strife stared at him seriously, “I’d rather you fucked my ass, lover.”

“Oh Gods, Strife!” Cupid felt all his blood rush straight to his groin, shuddering with the force of how much he needed to be inside Strife, reconnect completely with his lover, his husband.

Cupid slid his hands into Strife’s hair, gripping tightly, tugging him close to possess his mouth fiercely. Strife moaned and shifted so that he was straddling Cupid’s lap. One of Cupid’s hands slid down to his ass, gripping, pulling at him.

Strife moved closer, pressing his cock against his lover’s, moaning around the tongue in his mouth at Cupid’s groan. Cupid’s fingers trailed between his asscheeks and he shuddered. Using a small burst of power, he filled his passage with oil.

Cupid slipped his finger easily into Strife’s tight ass, gasping when he felt the slickness. Strife moaned again, pulling back slightly to stare at Cupid.

“Told ya, I want you to fuck me, Cupe,” he whispered intently. Cupid nodded breathlessly. He lifted Strife up and reached between them to push his cock down. Strife moaned and tilted his hips forward until he felt the tip of Cupid’s erection pressing against his hole. Then he sat down, slowly, hissing quietly as he was filled.

Cupid groaned, dropping his forehead onto Strife’s shoulder. Strife was hot and tight and felt like home. Strife dropped his legs down, either side of his lover’s lap, bracing himself on his knees.

“Need you so much, lover,” he whispered. Cupid nodded, unable to speak. Strife pushed himself up, feeling Cupid’s cock start to slide out of him, then sat down hard.

“Gods!” Cupid exclaimed, trying to hold onto his control. The soft, tight, grasping heat of Strife’s ass was almost too much for him. He felt Strife’s cock jerk against his stomach and removed his hand from Strife’s hair to slide between them to grip the hard length tightly.

“Mmm, lover,” Strife panted. He lifted up again and tilted his hips back slightly. He dropped down, shouting reflexively when Cupid’s cock hit his sweet spot. Cupid groaned again, his hand tightening convulsively on Strife’s shaft. Strife bucked against him helplessly and he started to ride Cupid, urgently, desperately.

“Love you, love you, baby,” Cupid panted.

“Cuuuupe!” Strife groaned, his hips bucked, thrusting down and forward and he shuddered as he came into Cupid’s hand.

Cupid was surrounded by clenching heat and he gasped, holding tightly onto Strife as he claimed his husband with his seed.

“Love you. Love you. Love you.” Strife kissed him over and over, stroking his hair, his arms, his back, rocking gently against the softening cock that was sliding out of him. Cupid slid his arms round Strife’s back and held him tight.

Strife was overcome, he was crying and he didn’t want to think about why. He couldn’t stop touching Cupid, almost afraid he’d disappear. Cupid felt his panic and tried to soothe him, rocking gently, but it didn’t seem to help.

Cupid leaned back, frowning worriedly at Strife’s frightened whimper.

--

He caught his husband’s clutching hands in his, and put them on his chest, over his heart.

“Strife, Strife, shh, it’s okay, baby. I’m here.” Strife finally looked at him properly and Cupid could see the fear in his eyes. “Baby, you feel that?” he pressed Strife’s hands harder against his chest. Strife nodded, eyes wide. “Good, it beats for you, you understand? You and Bliss, you’re my life. You’re not going anywhere, I’m not going anywhere, okay?”

Strife squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and took a deep breath. “You will,” he whispered. Cupid pulled him back into a hug, frowning, murmuring quietly. He wondered what had set off such an extreme reaction in Strife. Carefully, he pulled them down to the ground and held Strife as close as he could. His husband was still shivering. Cupid stroked his hair gently.

“Baby, what’s wrong?” he whispered.

Strife wriggled deeper into Cupid’s embrace, trying to control himself. “I just, Cupie…” he shuddered, “I nearly lost you too. The first time, it was so, so bad. Hades wouldn’t let anyone visit me, he wouldn’t let me associate with anyone down there. He, he made me do… And I missed you so much. I thought, if I ever got out, I’d tell you, tell you straight away. But when I finally came back, I just, I couldn’t risk losing you altogether, I couldn’t, even if we were just friends.” Strife buried his face in Cupid’s neck.

“But I, I nearly lost you anyway. I don’t think I could have survived being down there again, not without you, not without having told you,” Strife started to cry again, he knew he was going to have to tell Cupid everything.

“Baby, it’s over now. You didn’t lose me, okay? I’m here for you, forever. Eternally bound, remember?” Cupid whispered, softly kissing Strife’s forehead, then eyelids, then cheeks and finally, he brushed his mouth over Strife’s lips. “Hades always told us you refused to see anyone, what was he doing to you?”

Strife shuddered violently, “He, he made me service the warriors.”

“What?!” Cupid pulled back slightly.

Strife clutched at him desperately, “No, don’t leave me!”

Cupid immediately pulled him close again, “Shh, it’s okay baby. Never leaving you, never, I swear.”

Strife shook his head, ”You will, that wasn’t the worst.” He shook, trying to suppress the tears.

“Nothing Hades made you do will make me leave you, Strife, nothing,” Cupid tried to reassure Strife, but his husband just shook his head again.

“No, I should have told you before, I didn’t want to, I wanted to be with you. I’m so sorry, so sorry, Cupid, forgive me,” Strife finally lifted his head a little to stare into Cupid’s tear-filled eyes.

“Please, Strife, tell me, it’ll be okay,” Cupid whispered.

“One of my duties was in Tartarus,” Strife’s voice was hollow.

“Makes sense,” Cupid said quietly, when Strife didn’t continue.

“No, Cupid, you don’t understand,” Strife’s voice broke on a sob, “There are children in Tartarus.”

Cupid froze, he couldn’t mean? No, not that?! “Oh Strife, oh Gods, tell me he didn’t make you punish children. No, not you, please.”

Strife clung tightly to his husband, unwilling to let go, even though he knew he should. He knew what was coming. He’d tricked Cupid into eternal binding, without him knowing what kind of a monster he was. He just hadn’t wanted to think about it, ever, *ever*!

“I’m so sorry, so sorry. Please forgive me, forgive me, forgive me.” Strife buried his face in Cupid’s neck, his body wracked with painful sobs.

“No, Strife, it’s okay, please, love, please, it’s okay. It’s not your fault,” Cupid forced Strife to lift his head and meet his eyes, “Strife, I love you, I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I know how much kids mean to you. Baby, I’m so sorry.”

Strife stared at Cupid in confusion, “You, you don’t hate me?”

“I could never hate you. I know you Strife. You are my cousin, my best friend, my lover, my husband and my life. I know you would never hurt a child, even a dead one, unless you were forced,” Cupid kissed Strife’s forehead, “I love you, I won’t leave you.”

Strife flung himself forward, back into Cupid’s tight embrace, “Promise?”

“I promise, love, I promise,” Cupid whispered. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Never told anyone, I couldn’t,” Strife’s breath hitched, “I tried to forget it had ever happened.”

Cupid pushed Strife’s head back down onto his shoulder. He was furious and he didn’t want Strife to see, to think he might be angry with him. He wasn’t angry with Strife, he was angry with Hades. Strife may have been dead, but that was no reason to send him to his own private Tartarus. Servicing the warriors was bad enough, most of his father’s warriors feared and disliked Strife and they would have treated him horrifically.

But to make him punish children, Cupid took a deep breath. He of all people knew what children meant to Strife, you only had to see him with Bliss to know how much he loved them, worshipped them as much as they worshipped him. Cupid was about ready to rip Hades’ arm off and beat him to death with it, and that was just for starters.

“Baby, why, how could he do something like that to you?” Cupid asked quietly, “You weren’t supposed to be punished.”

Strife shook his head, “I don’t know, he never told me. I begged him, I said I’d spend the rest of eternity with the warriors if only he wouldn’t make me… Oh Gods.” His voice broke again. Cupid rocked him slowly until his breath slowed a little. “He just laughed at me, Cupe. I don’t understand, I don’t know what I did that could make him hate me so much.”

“We should tell dad,” Cupid sighed, trying to soothe his distraught husband.

“No! No, please. I don’t want anyone else to know, please,” Strife begged desperately.

“Baby, Hades hurt you badly, but none of it was your fault. You know dad would never have let that happen if he’d known. He’d want to know,” Cupid tipped Strife’s head back and stared at him intently, “But he is behind me in the queue to fucking kill Hades.”

Strife’s mouth parted in shock, finally realising that Cupid really didn’t blame him or hate him, that he wanted to kill Hades for what he’d done to him. Strife had never seen Cupid look so angry, and it was all for him, in defence of him! He started to smile, blinking away the last of the tears.

“I love you, Cupie,” he whispered, leaning forward to capture the soft lips of his lover for a sweet, tender kiss.

Cupid’s eyes closed and he kissed back just as softly, holding Strife close, stroking his hair gently. When Strife lifted his head again, he smiled, “I love you, Strife.”



Xena looked up to see Ares and Joxer approaching the fire, hand in hand. She smiled in relief, everything was okay.

Ares felt slightly uncomfortable when all eyes turned to him and Joxer. Xena and Iolaus smiled and he surprised himself by smiling back. Autolycus just smirked. Gabrielle looked away as soon as he glared at her, but Hercules just stared.

Ares sat down and pulled Joxer into his lap, then he turned his attention back to Hercules, who was still staring. He growled quietly, but couldn’t help noticing something different about the way his brother was looking at them. No disgust or anger, no sneering, just a faint frown as if he was trying to work something out.

Joxer grinned, twisting slightly to get more comfortable in Ares’ lap. He looked up at his husband, who was staring at Hercules in bemusement. Reaching up, Joxer ran his thumb gently along Ares’ lower lip. Ares kissed his thumb and looked down with an inquiring smile.

“Are we going to tell them?” Joxer whispered.

Ares nodded, “When Cupid and Strife get back.”

Joxer smiled and looked at Xena, “How long have the lovebirds been gone?”

“Nearly as long as you two,” she replied with an answering smile. “So…” she raised an eyebrow.

Joxer grinned, “We’re fine, we talked.” She nodded.

“Nice new threads, Jox,” Auto commented.

“More comfortable,” Joxer snickered, “The leather was getting a little tight.”

*Daddy’s getting big.*

Ares and Joxer shared a glance and started to laugh.

*No baby, you’re getting big,* Ares said quietly. He put his hand on Joxer’s stomach, rubbing gently.

Xena stared in confusion, then turned to glance at the others who looked just as bemused.

Cupid and Strife returning prevented any further questions.

@>*~

When Ares and Joxer returned, Hercules watched them, attempting objectivity. Why was Iolaus so supportive of what was happening? Surely it was just wrong?

The biggest surprise was that Ares appeared to have forgiven Joxer, something he would have bet his life on never happening. Then the fact that they stood side by side, as equals, instead of Joxer trailing behind Ares as Hercules would have expected of the War God trying to re-establish his dominance.

He watched in confusion the gentleness with which his brother pulled Joxer into his lap and held him. They seemed to communicate almost without words and Joxer’s gentle caress to Ares’ lips made Hercules yearn for his own lover’s touch.

He sighed and glanced over at Iolaus who was watching him from half shuttered eyes. Hercules smiled hesitantly and was relieved when Iolaus smiled back, although his lover made no move to join him. Sighing, Hercules turned his attention back to Ares and Joxer. Their sudden laughter had him more confused, but he suddenly found himself touched by the reverent way Ares stroked Joxer’s stomach.

@>*~

Joxer looked up at the returning couple, somewhat concerned. He could feel tension and pain radiating from the two Gods. But the way Cupid was holding the uncharacteristically subdued Strife reassured him that they were okay. When they sat by the fire, Joxer could see Strife’s red, puffy eyes and his concern grew again.

Cupid gently urged Strife into his lap and held him tightly. Joxer looked up at Ares and his husband nodded, dropping his arms so that Joxer could crawl off him and over to the couple. He was fairly sure he knew what had happened and he wanted to help.

“Cupid, Strife?” he reached out slowly and stroked Strife’s hair. Strife stared at him slightly shocked, but the touch soothed him. “It’s okay,” Joxer whispered quietly, “No one will judge you.” He shot a stern glance at Gabrielle and Hercules.

Strife was startled, “You know?”

Joxer nodded, “When I healed you, I knew.”

“You never said anything,” Strife whispered.

“It wasn’t my place to,” Joxer glanced at Cupid apologetically, relieved when the Love God nodded understandingly. “It was something you had to tell him in your own time.”

“You don’t hate me?” Strife hated the pleading note in his voice, but he couldn’t help it. Cupid’s arms tightened around him and he sighed.

“Of course not, none of it was your fault,” Joxer said quietly.

Ares frowned, “What’s wrong?”

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong,” Cupid growled.

“Cupie,” Strife said quietly, twisting round to meet his husband’s eyes. The flash of anger still surprised him slightly; thrilled him too.

“Sorry,” Cupid forced himself to stop planning Hades’ murder, “Sorry, baby.”

Strife smiled gently and pulled his head down for a soft kiss. Cupid cupped his face, stroking his cheek tenderly. “Love you,” Strife whispered.

“Love you, Strife,” Cupid replied. Strife took Cupid’s hand and kissed the scar on the palm.

Joxer smiled and sat back, leaning against Ares. “Arry?”

“Yes love?” Ares replied, curious and a little worried.

“Promise me you’ll try to stay calm,” Joxer whispered.

Ares frowned, “What? Why?”

“Please, just promise me,” Joxer insisted.

“Okay, I promise, but I don’t understand,” Ares said eventually.

“You will,” Joxer sighed, “Go ahead, Strife, whenever you’re ready.”



Strife looked round the group. Joxer and Cupid looked supportive, while Ares was staring at him in concern. The others just looked confused. He sighed. “I, uh, I told Cupie about what happened when I was in Asphodel,” he started quietly.

Ares blinked, he hadn’t been expecting that. His nephew had always refused point blank to talk about it before. It had always upset him so much that he and Eris had stopped asking him about it. That was one of the reasons he’d been so furious with Hercules when he’d brought it up before.

“Cupid told me that Hades said I wouldn’t see anyone. That was I lie, Hades forbade me any visitors,” Strife continued.

“Why? That’s ridiculous, he shouldn’t have done that, he had no right to do that!” Ares frowned, annoyed suddenly with himself for not having pushed harder to see Strife, that Strife had been alone all that time.

“Part of my punishment,” Strife replied. He closed his eyes, he wasn’t sure he could do this again. Cupid nuzzled his neck gently, trying to encourage him.

“Punishment?” Ares growled, eyes darkening angrily.

“Dad, this is hard enough for him, just let him speak,” Cupid said firmly. Ares stared at him for a moment, then nodded.

Strife took a deep breath. “I had two duties,” he laughed bitterly. “At least, that’s what Hades called them. I was the primary source of ‘entertainment’ in the Warrior Hall.”

Joxer gasped at Ares’ sudden death grip on him. Ares knew exactly what that meant, even if the others looked confused.

“But that was easy compared to my other duty. But I,” Strife blinked furiously and struggled to control his breathing, “I couldn’t help it. I was dead, Hades could compel me to do whatever he wanted. I couldn’t…” he stopped and buried his face in Cupid’s neck.

Xena looked round; Joxer was crying silently, Cupid looked as though he might break or break something and Ares looked a cross between furious and confused.

She was confused too, what could be worse that what he must have gone through with the warriors? It looked like what Strife meant by entertainment had finally dawned on the others, even Gabrielle and Hercules looked shocked and horrified.

“Baby, you want me to?” Cupid whispered. Strife nodded. Cupid sighed, Strife’s hot tears were scalding his neck. “He had to work in Tartarus,” Cupid sighed again at the confused looks and he put it as simply as Strife had, “There are children in Tartarus.”

There were blank looks until Ares surged to his feet. “I’ll fucking *kill* him!” he roared.

Joxer stood up quickly and caught his arm before he could flash away, “Ares, Arry, I think Cupid’s got that covered.”

The quiet comment startled Ares and he stared at his son, shocked by the matching fury and hate he could see in Cupid’s eyes. He nodded curtly. “You need anything, you tell me,” he hissed. Cupid smiled unpleasantly and returned the nod, even as he rocked Strife.

Ares knelt down next to his son and nephew and gently drew Strife into a hug. Strife clung to him, surprised. Ares hadn’t been this gentle with him since he was a Godling.

“It’s okay, my boy, it wasn’t your fault,” Ares whispered. He pulled back and kissed Strife’s forehead, not caring in the slightest that the others were watching.

“I don’t get it,” Gabrielle said quietly. Ares shot her a glare and she quailed slightly. “Sorry, but I don’t,” she whined.

“Hades made him torture children, Gabrielle,” Joxer explained quietly.

“And he cares?” Gabrielle snorted doubtfully. Joxer stared at her and she blanched. Joxer’s eyes flashed and he looked far more terrifying than even Ares for a moment.

“Gabrielle! Even I know Strife loves children,” Hercules frowned at her. He was taken aback by the number of surprised looks he got. Iolaus got up and walked over to him slowly. Hercules watched him apprehensively, surprised and happy when his lover bent over and hugged him, dropping a kiss on his forehead. Iolaus pulled back and gave Hercules a small smile, then he walked back to Xena and Auto and sat down again.

Hercules sighed, he’d made a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t enough. He was starting to understand what Iolaus had meant though, maybe all hope wasn’t lost.

Strife managed to stop crying and he pulled out of Ares’ arms, giving his uncle a tiny smile. He settled back in Cupid’s lap.

*Daddy.* Joxer touched his stomach and smiled.

*Good idea, little one.* He glanced at Ares, who grinned and nodded.

Joxer moved closer to Cupid and Strife. “Strife?” Strife turned to face him, confused by the sweet smile. Joxer reached over and took his hand, slipping it under his shirt and pressing it against his belly.

Cupid frowned, “What are you…?” Strife’s gasp of surprise stopped him. He watched in confusion as his husband moved forward, pushing Joxer to the ground and lifting his shirt. “Strife?” Cupid squeaked, looking nervously at Ares, surprised to see his father smiling. He watched his husband lie down and place his head on Joxer’s stomach.

As soon as he’d touched Joxer, a soft giggle had filled Strife’s head, making him gasp. He hadn’t realised what he doing until he was already lying on Joxer, but the young man’s hand gently stroking his hair reassured him. He didn’t pull away as he listened to the tiny life inside Joxer telling him about all the fun they were going to have. He couldn’t help laughing along with his newest cousin. The baby filled him with happiness and renewed hope.

“Oh Joxer,” he whispered, sitting up again. He leaned over and kissed Joxer’s cheek, before reaching out to yank Cupid over. “Cupie, you gotta say hello.” Cupid looked at Joxer, then his father in confusion.

“Go ahead,” Ares whispered. Tentatively, Cupid lay his head on Joxer’s stomach.

*Big brother,* a tiny voice giggled.

“Oh,” Cupid gasped. His unborn sibling chattered away and soon Cupid was laughing and smiling too. Eventually, he lifted his head and grinned at Joxer. He held out his hand and helped Joxer sit up, before hugging him. “Thank you,” he whispered, then he hugged his father.

“Thank the baby,” Ares whispered, hugging back briefly.

Cupid sat back and pulled Strife into his arms again, “Better, baby?”

Strife nodded, “A little, yeah.”

“So, you going to explain?” Xena asked, voicing the curiosity of all the others.

Joxer smiled proudly, “The baby had a growth spurt, I’m three months pregnant now.”

“Wow,” Xena looked stunned.

“Are you okay, Joxer?” Iolaus asked. It was one thing for a man to get pregnant in the first place, but to abruptly be three months pregnant would surely be a shock to the system.

“Yeah, I’m great,” Joxer smiled.

“Are you guys sure I’m not in a different dimension?” Auto laughed, shaking his head.

“No such luck,” Xena chuckled.

“Let’s get some rest,” Ares said quietly.

“I’ll take first watch, if you like,” Autolycus offered.

“Good,” Ares nodded, “Just keep your hands to yourself.”

“Hey,” Autolycus pretended to be offended. “As if I would.”

“Oh, you would,” Xena smiled at him. Autolycus smiled back.

“Yeah, I guess. But I think I can control myself,” he chuckled.

Joxer glanced at the two contemplatively and smiled to himself. He watched the group settle for the night, Xena and Iolaus lying down either side of Autolycus, Gabrielle and Hercules curled up fairly close to each other on the far side of the fire. He smiled at Cupid, who was wrapping himself round Strife and lay down to allow Ares to do the same with him.



Gabrielle couldn’t sleep. She’d thought the events so far had been hard. The cave had been the worst, her most terrible nightmare made flesh. And all they’d done was go on about Strife. It wasn’t like he’d stayed dead after all. She’d felt bad for Cupid being so upset, even if she didn’t understand it, but still.

The whole Ares and Joxer thing was just beyond her comprehension so she’d simply given up trying to understand why and how Joxer could possibly trust Ares enough to love him.

This whole power thing was freaking her out though, and Joxer pregnant? She’d believe that when she saw it!

But nothing changed the fact that they were getting closer, closer to what she had to face. It didn’t mean she wanted to, and the fact that she was on her own just made it harder. Oh the others were all around her, but she was alone. She glanced over at Xena and sighed. Maybe it was time to talk.

@>*~

Joxer woke first, or he thought he had until he realised that Gabrielle was awake if still wrapped up in her blanket. He’d felt her brooding most of the journey, but he knew it couldn’t be easy for her. If only she would give Xena a chance to at least talk, maybe try to build up their friendship again until she felt she could trust Xena again.

He wasn’t sure that was likely though.

A hand slipping into his pants distracted him from thinking any further about Gabrielle, or anything for that matter. Ares chuckled in his ear and he squirmed as agile fingers tickled him gently.

*Daddy!* the baby grumbled.

“I think the baby’s going to be a grouchy morning person,” Ares laughed softly, nibbling at Joxer’s ear.

“Doesn’t get it from me,” Joxer mumbled, pushing his hips back hopefully against Ares’ morning erection. Ares groaned against his neck, but pulled away as the others began to stir. After yesterday, having sex right in front of the others was not appropriate. Besides, unfortunately, they had to get going again, and soon.

“Sorry, love, later if there’s any justice in this world,” Ares turned Joxer over for a long, deep kiss, then they both sat up.

Cupid and Strife were the last to emerge from their blankets, and they only got up then because they were threatened with being left behind. They trailed behind the rest, munching quietly on some bread and meat Joxer had saved for them. They were very quiet, but that was understandable.

It must have been so hard for Strife to bear that terrible secret on his own for so long. Joxer had to wonder why Hades hated Strife so much. From what he’d seen from Strife, the Mischief God had no idea either.

Hopefully, with Cupid and Bliss, Strife would be able to get over it at least a little. He was going to make a great dad to Bliss, it was a shame he couldn’t have kids of his own, restore that part of his soul a little. Of course, Joxer supposed nothing was stopping Strife from having a child with a Goddess, but he just didn’t see it happening. Strife would want any child of his to be Cupid’s too.

An exasperated sigh made him pause in his thoughts. *What is it, baby?*

*Why can’t Strife and Cupid have a baby together?*

*Uh, baby, Gods just don’t get pregnant, honey.*

*Why not, you did?*

*Uh, yes, that’s true.*

*Well then.*

*But sweetie, I don’t even know how that happened,* Joxer sighed.

*But I do, daddy,* the baby chuckled.

“It’s a good idea,” Ares murmured.

“You heard?” Joxer asked.

“Yeah,” Ares smiled, “I think it might be what Strife needs. It’s worth asking them.”

“Yeah, okay, when we take a break?” Joxer wrapped an arm round Ares’ waist. Ares nodded and squeezed him carefully.

@>*~

“You’re very quiet, baby,” Cupid commented. Strife sighed and nodded, easing himself closer to his lover.

“Just thinking,” Strife said quietly.

“Want to share?” Cupid asked, gently hugging Strife.

“I just, I,” he sighed and tried again, “I was thinking about Bliss.”

“You’re not worried are you? You know he loves you,” Cupid looked at Strife in concern.

“Yeah,” Strife smiled at the thought of his little cousin, stepson now. “You know he knew I was in love with you?”

“He did? Cheeky little monkey!” Cupid shook his head wonderingly.

“Yeah, told me to look after you,” Strife sighed and leaned into Cupid, “What am I going to tell him, Cupie? He’ll have to know, when he’s older, what I did.”

“What Hades did to *you*,” Cupid corrected him firmly, “Won’t stop him from loving you. You’re going to make a great dad, you know.”

Strife scrunched up his face in an effort not to start crying again and keep his eyes open at the same time. “I don’t.”

“Don’t what, baby?” Cupid stopped them and turned to face his husband.

“I don’t know that,” Strife met Cupid’s eyes with difficulty.

“Well, I do,” Cupid said quietly in a tone that brooked no arguments, “I only wish we could have one or a dozen of our own.” Strife blinked at him, lips twitching slightly. “Go on, I know there’s a smile in there somewhere,” Cupid smiled himself.

Strife shook his head and sighed, letting the smile spread across his face. “A dozen? If we ever have that many, you’d better be the one carrying them,” he chuckled.

Cupid breathed out a small sigh of relief that Strife could make a joke. “You know I would. Although, I kinda like the idea of you banged up with our kid.”

Strife’s eyes flashed with humour and lust, “Really?” He pulled Cupid close, and slipped his husband’s hand under his shirt onto his stomach. “We’ll need a lot of practice, wanna play?” Cupid groaned and moved closer, leaning forward to kiss Strife.

“Boys, you’re going to get left behind.” They jumped apart and Cupid glared at his father. Ares chuckled, “Come on, if Joxer has anything to do with it, we’ll be making a pit stop soon.”

“Good,” Strife sighed. He needed the reassurance of Cupid’s touch as well as his words. He grabbed Cupid’s hand and they followed Ares to catch up with the others.



“Jox?”

“Hmm?” Joxer glanced at his husband distractedly.

“We’re getting close, aren’t we?” Ares asked, slightly concerned at Joxer’s introverted mood.

“Yeah, I think so. I think another break before we get too close might be in order. Just to, you know, settle everything,” Joxer said quietly.

“Yeah,” Ares nodded, his emotions a mixture of despondency and anticipation. Joxer slipped his arm round his waist and squeezed gently.

@>*~

Gabrielle watched Xena with Autolycus. The pair were talking and laughing easily and Gabrielle was annoyed. Xena shouldn’t be so cheerful, she was the one in the wrong! And Gabrielle was the one facing past demons, she was the one in need of comfort. Yes, okay, so she had rejected all of Xena’s attempts to talk, but she should have expected that. Gabrielle was the one who’d been betrayed! Anger built up inside her as they walked.

@>*~

Hercules was walking silently beside Gabrielle, mostly ignoring her as he contemplated Ares, Joxer and Iolaus, everything really. He was starting to understand what Iolaus had meant, at least he thought so.

He was never going to trust Ares; in fact, he was sure that after this was all done, Ares would go back to his usual mode of operation. But for now, Hercules had finally accepted that Ares could and did love Joxer and his family, and that he was, in this case, working for the good of Greece, even the world.

It was a strange feeling, having to sort of trust his brother. His whole life they’d fought, Ares had tried to kill him, probably still would given the chance. Hercules snorted, drawing attention from Iolaus.

Iolaus dropped back to walk with his lover, wondering if Hercules understood what he’d meant. His comment about Strife had been a good sign. What the Mischief God had been through, Iolaus sighed, he wondered how he’d survived. Probably his love for Cupid. Iolaus glanced back at the silent couple trailing behind them, the two Gods wrapped in each others’ arms. He smiled at them and they smiled back.

“I think…” Hercules started. Iolaus turned his attention back to his lover expectantly. “I think,” Hercules repeated, “That I’m starting to understand what you meant.”

Iolaus raised an eyebrow, “Really?”

Hercules nodded, “Yeah. Ares really does love him. I can never really trust him though, you know that.”

Iolaus nodded and smiled, “I know, I don’t expect you to.”

Hercules glanced at him hopefully and Iolaus sighed. He loved Hercules, stepping back had been the hardest thing he’d ever done, and he couldn’t resist any longer. He slipped his arm round Hercules’ shoulders and hugged him.

“I love you, Iolaus,” Hercules sighed happily.

“I love you too, Herc, I love you too,” Iolaus smiled.

@>*~

Xena and Autolycus chatted about inconsequential things, but she was intensely curious about the new side of him he’d almost revealed to her. But she guessed that if she broached the subject, he was likely to clam up.

Glancing back, she sighed at the expression on Gabrielle’s face. She looked pissed off.

“Are you two going to be okay?” Autolycus asked her, noticing her change of mood.

Xena shrugged, “I really don’t know. I don’t know if she will be able to accept all of what I am. I… I love my father, despite what he can be like, but it’s not all he is, you know? I don’t know if she’ll ever be able to see that.”

“Yeah, I know. You’ve got to admit, seeing Ares like this is somewhat of a shock,” Autolycus commented, “If I hadn’t seen him with Strife last night, I’d never have believed it.”

“I know. Most of his attitude towards Strife, Cupid, Eris and Dite in public is an act. Oh yeah, I’m not saying he’s not a temperamental, selfish bastard… just he isn’t always,” Xena smiled ruefully. “I mean, you know what he did to Eris when he was pissed with Hercules.” Autolycus nodded.

“True, although I do think being with Joxer has changed him a little,” he agreed.

Xena smiled, “Yeah, love will do that to you.”

“Yeah,” Autolycus sighed, for a second lost in the past.

“I take it love changed you,” Xena said quietly.

Auto snorted, “You could say that.”

“She really did a number on you, didn’t she?” Xena asked gently.

Autolycus grimaced, “I guess he did.”

“He?” Xena was surprised.

“Yeah, he. I… I thought we were enough for each other I guess. Damn, I would have followed him anywhere, done anything…” Autolycus trailed off. What was he doing?

“It’s okay, Auto, you don’t have to talk about it,” Xena smiled at him sympathetically.

“I know. I never have talked about it,” Autolycus shrugged helplessly, “Maybe, maybe I should.”

Xena stayed quiet, happy to listen if he wanted to continue or just offer sympathy if he didn’t.

“We talked a lot, about travelling together, all over, just ways to always be together. I didn’t expect him to give up what he was, what he did. I was happy to carry on doing my thing, while he did his, but together you know?” he glanced at Xena who nodded, “But, one day I woke up and he was gone. No explanation, no word, just gone,” Autolycus sighed. “When I found him again, he was shacked up with some woman, acted like he didn’t even know me.” He blinked away tears at the memory.

“Who?” Xena asked when Autolycus stayed silent.

He sighed again. “Jett,” he whispered.

“Oh,” Xena couldn’t quite manage anything coherent, she was so shocked.

Autolycus snorted derisively at himself. “Yeah, oh. Got my heart broken by the King of Assassins, should have seen it coming.”

“No,” Xena shook her head, “You shouldn’t. You were in love, you never see it.”

Autolycus stared at her and nodded. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Anyway, I threw myself into what I was best at, stealing and womanising. So there you go.”

“That’s not all you are, Auto,” Xena said quietly.

Autolycus managed a smile, “Thanks.”



“Hope we stop soon,” Strife whispered, tipping his head slightly to nuzzle Cupid’s neck.

“Me too, baby,” Cupid sighed, “I want you, before…”

“Yeah,” Strife stopped and pulled his husband round for a soft kiss. Cupid kissed him back with a hint of desperation. “Shh, lover, it’s going to be okay,” Strife whispered, stroking Cupid’s cheek.

“Hope so, we have things to do,” Cupid’s voice hardened.

“Hey, don’t you even think about going after Hades on your own, you got me?!” Strife said insistently.

Cupid sighed, “Okay, but he *will* pay, baby, he’s not getting away with what he did to you.”

Strife couldn’t help smiling, he really liked this protective streak of Cupid’s. “Later, Cupe,” he cupped Cupid’s face and pulled him close for a fierce kiss. Cupid gripped the back of his head tightly and nipped at his mouth. Strife moaned and parted his lips for Cupid’s tongue, accepting it happily, sucking and licking back. He wrapped his arms round Cupid and stroked his back.

Strife pulled his head back. “Hey, Cupe, your wings are growing back!” He smiled in delight.

Cupid chuckled, “Yeah, I know. They itch like a bitch.”

Strife giggled. They took each others’ hands and started to walk again, hurrying to catch up with the others.

@>*~

*Bad, close.*

*I know, honey, I feel it,* Joxer replied with a sigh.

“Time to stop?” Ares glanced at Joxer.

“Yeah, we’re close,” Joxer replied. Ares nodded.

He looked round for a suitable place to stop and then led them off the path to a clearing. The others followed in relief.

“How far?” Xena asked as she sat down next to Autolycus.

“Not far enough,” Joxer replied with a grimace. His head ached a little with the blackness that was increasing in strength as they got closer. Ares pulled him down between his legs and rubbed his head gently. Joxer sighed happily and leaned back against his husband.

“Okay, this is it, last chance to do or say what you need before battle,” Ares announced. He glanced at Cupid and Strife who were about to slip away. “Boys, before you go, Joxer and I need to talk to you.” The couple looked surprised, but walked over to join them.

@>*~

Hercules and Iolaus sat against a tree and held each other, oblivious of the others.

Gabrielle stalked over to Xena and Autolycus angrily. “Xena, I want to talk to you,” she glared at Autolycus, “In private.”

Xena stood up and nodded, feeling slightly nervous. She followed her exlover out of the clearing. Autolycus watched them with a small frown. He had a feeling things were not going to resolve themselves between the two women and he felt for Xena.

@>*~

“S’up, unc, Jox?” Strife asked curiously.

“Well,” Ares started, he felt a little awkward. “We wanted to ask you something, well, tell you something.” Cupid and Strife looked confused and Joxer chuckled. “Oh, you tell them,” Ares said in frustration.

Joxer nodded, “Have you two talked about kids?”

Strife raised an eyebrow, “Well yeah, but it’s pointless cos we can’t have any. And I don’t want any that aren’t Cupe’s so…” he shrugged.

“But if you could, would you?” Joxer asked.

Strife glanced at Cupid, who smiled. “Yeah,” he whispered with a shy smile of his own. Then he frowned. “But we can’t, so why bring it up?” he snapped, a little hurt.

“Strife,” Joxer leaned over and patted his arm gently. “I wouldn’t ask, but well, it *is* possible.”

Strife and Cupid exchanged a glance. “What? How?” Cupid asked.

“I don’t know for sure, but the baby seems to think that we can help you to, well, get pregnant, like me,” Joxer said quietly.

“Really?” Strife gasped.

Joxer nodded, “But it’s something we have to do now, I don’t know what will happen after this, and after the baby is born.”

“Oh,” Strife breathed out heavily. “Cupe?”

Cupid wrapped his arms round Strife. “I’d love to have a baby with you,” he whispered. “As long as you’re sure.”

Strife grinned and buried his face in Cupid’s neck. He nodded. “Always wanted a kid of my own,” he mumbled against Cupid’s skin. Cupid hugged him.

“How?” he asked Joxer.

Joxer licked his lips and let instinct take over. “Hold hands,” he said. He took Cupid’s and Strife’s entwined hands between his own and felt energy begin to flow into the couple. “Ares,” he whispered. His husband shifted behind him again and put his hands on his hips, helping to ground him and feeding him energy. There was a flash and Strife fell back against Cupid. They stared at each other.

“Damn!” Strife exclaimed. Overwhelmed with need for his husband, he leapt to his feet. “Cupie!” he said urgently. Cupid stood hurriedly and picked Strife up, carrying him out of the clearing.

Joxer leaned back against Ares with a happy sigh.

*Worked.* A happy little voice said with glee, *Nephew coming.*

*Nephew?* Ares grinned.

*Yeah daddy, they’re going to have a boy.*

*Oh good.* Joxer sighed. “It’ll be good for Strife.” Ares nodded.

“Uh, Jox?” Iolaus was staring at them, “What just happened?”

Joxer smiled, “The birds and the bees, Iolaus.”

Iolaus blinked for a second, then he laughed, “Really?!”

“What? I don’t get it,” Hercules looked round at his lover.

“They’re going to make babies,” Iolaus laughed.

“Oh,” Hercules frowned in confusion, “But Gods can’t…”

“Neither can Joxer, but he is,” Ares raised an eyebrow, waiting expectantly for Hercules’ reaction, his temper on a knife edge. Joxer and Iolaus held their breaths.

“Oh okay.” Hercules grinned suddenly, “Who’s going to be mom?” Iolaus snorted and Ares gaped at his brother in shock.

“Oh Gods, we didn’t ask them who would carry the child,” Joxer said suddenly aghast.

“I don’t think it matters to them, love,” Ares said reassuringly.

*Strifey, make him feel better,* the baby chuckled.

“Oh dear Gods,” Ares groaned, “A pregnant Mischief God. Maybe we were a bit hasty.”

Joxer slapped his arm, “Don’t be silly.”



“Hey!” Ares mock growled, rolling Joxer onto the ground and pinning him down. Joxer giggled and wrapped his legs round Ares to pull him down. Ares grinned and dipped his head to claim his husband’s smiling mouth with a deep kiss.

“Uh, you guys want some privacy?” Autolycus chuckled. Ares looked up and glared at him, but the rest of the clearing was suddenly cut off as Joxer waved a hand and raised a shield around them. Ares looked back down at Joxer with a predatory grin.

“Kiss me,” Joxer whispered huskily.

“With pleasure,” Ares growled. Their mouths met almost violently and Ares plunged his tongue between soft, acquiescent lips. Joxer moaned and wrapped himself round his husband’s larger body, thrusting his hips up.

*Honey,* Joxer whispered.

*I know, sleep,* the baby chuckled.

“Mmm,” Joxer muttered into Ares’ mouth. Ares laughed and lifted his head to stare down at his husband. Their eyes locked as they rocked together, and Ares gasped when their clothes disappeared and his cock slid against Joxer’s.

“I think I like you having powers,” he panted, thrusting harder against Joxer.

Joxer grinned, “Yeah?”

“Yeah, I forgot about… the clothes,” Ares breathed out. Joxer laughed, then groaned when Ares leaned down to suck at his neck. “Joxer?”

“Mmm?” Joxer slid his hands down Ares’ back to grasp his ass, pulling him closer.

“I want you.”

“You’ve… got me,” Joxer panted.

“No, I mean,” Ares stopped moving suddenly and lifted his head to stare down at his husband. “I want… I want you inside me.” Joxer’s eyes widened in surprise. “I’ve never…” Ares continued, “And I want to, with you, in case,” he stopped, uncomfortably aware that he was babbling.

Joxer reached up to cup Ares’ face. “Nothing’s going to happen,” he said quietly.

“I know, but I want to have this, with you, Joxer,” Ares whispered, “I’ve never trusted anyone enough, never loved anyone like I do you.”

“Oh, Arry,” Joxer breathed, overwhelmed. He pulled his husband down for a heart-stopping kiss. Then he shifted his weight and flipped them over, pushing Ares’ arms back. “I love you,” he whispered.

Ares stared up at him and smiled, “Make love to me.”

Joxer gently started to rock against Ares’ strong body again and he leaned down for a soft kiss. Relinquishing Ares’ arms, Joxer slowly moved down his husband’s body, steadily exploring every inch of skin with fingers and mouth. Ares moaned, writhing helplessly as he gave himself completely to Joxer’s control.

Joxer softly tongued Ares’ nipples into hard peaks, his hands skimming lightly down to his hips, holding him still. Ares groaned a complaint, but Joxer nipped at his ribs and he quietened. Joxer was still slightly awed at his husband’s trust in him, that he was going to be the first, and only! one to have this gift.

He shifted further down and nuzzled the rigid length of Ares’ cock, before bypassing it altogether, to taste his balls. Letting go of Ares’ hips, Joxer pushed his husband’s legs back and apart. He wanted to give Ares as much pleasure as his husband had given him. He let his tongue trail down, firmly licking the soft skin under Ares’ heavy balls.

Ares moaned again and tilted his hips up, wanting, needing to feel Joxer’s touch. Joxer took the hint and slid his tongue over Ares’ asshole, delighted at the whimper from his husband.

“Oh Gods,” Ares gasped. He hadn’t realised quite how good it felt. The cool, wet tongue of his lover pressed against the entrance to his body and Ares spread his legs wider. Joxer reached up to wrap his hand round Ares’ shaft and Ares jerked at the ripple of pleasure.

As Joxer’s tongue pushed inside him, the slim fingers started to stroke his cock and he struggled to stay still, not to dislodge the welcome invader. Joxer stroked Ares’ hip gently with his other hand, soothing his writhing husband.

“Gods, Joxer, more,” Ares gasped. He wanted to feel more, but the combined assault of hand and tongue already had him close to the edge. Joxer thrust his tongue deeper into Ares’ body, wriggling around to loosen the tight muscle. His grip tightened on Ares’ shaft as he felt the tension building in his husband’s body. Then he pulled back and sucked his fingers.

Ares didn’t have time to complain before two fingers pushed into him and his lover’s mouth replaced his hand round his cock.

“Oh fuuuck!” Ares groaned. The fingers crooked inside him, brushing over the sensitive spot as he was sucked deep into Joxer’s mouth. Pleasure tore through him and his hips jerked up and he shot his release down Joxer’s throat with a shout of completion.

As he struggled to recover, Joxer continued to lick his softening cock and another finger wriggled into his body, stretching him, brushing over his sweet spot to send aftershocks of pleasure through his body.

His hole suddenly slick with oil, Ares glanced down at Joxer, shuddering again at the dark lust in his husband’s eyes. “Joxer,” he whispered.

Joxer smiled and slid up the length of Ares’ body, gently withdrawing his fingers. Their lips met in a soft kiss and Ares reached between them to grasp Joxer’s cock. Joxer sighed, he was aching with need but still a little nervous. Ares pushed Joxer’s erection down between his buttocks and against the entrance to his body.

“In me,” he whispered.

Joxer groaned and pushed slowly. He wasn’t prepared for the tight heat and he gritted his teeth, struggling for control. “Gods, Arry,” he panted.

“Please,” Ares breathed. He relaxed against the pain, groaning as it changed to a sense of completion. Joxer sank deeper inside him and Ares sighed happily. He’d never guessed it could be this good, but then he doubted it would have been with anyone else. Joxer dropped his head onto Ares’ shoulder and slowly pulled back a little before pushing in deeper.

“I don’t think I can…” Joxer started.

“Do it, love, want it,” Ares whispered. He wrapped his legs round Joxer’s slim hips, moaning as the change in angle put more pressure on his pleasure spot. Sighing in relief, Joxer released his weakening control and started thrusting strongly into his husband’s body.

“You feel… so good,” he panted. Ares grunted his agreement, clutching at Joxer’s hips to urge him on, harder and faster. His cock hardened again with the friction of their sweaty stomachs and Ares thrust up urgently.

Joxer pounded against his sweet spot and Ares moaned, “Oh yes, Gods, there, yes.” He clenched his ass against Joxer’s cock and his husband whimpered.

“Gods, Arry, so good, can’t…” Joxer gasped.

“Come, come in me, want to feel it,” Ares breathed in encouragement. He could feel his own orgasm building, heat growing in his groin, but he wanted to feel Joxer’s release before he was lost in his own. Ares squeezed Joxer’s cock again. His husband jerked against him, shouting his name and he watched Joxer’s face in awe. Wet heat filled him and Joxer collapsed on top of him. Ares wrapped his arms round his husband and thrust up frantically.

“Gods,” he groaned. His second climax exploded between them and his head dropped back. Joxer shuddered, Ares’ ass rippled around his still half hard shaft, milking the last of his seed from him with a last pleasurable shock. Ares’ arms wrapped round him, a hand stroking his sweaty neck gently.

“Love you, Arry,” Joxer whispered.

“Love you too,” Ares sighed, rubbing his cheek against his husband’s hair. “Baby okay?” he mumbled.

“Yeah,” Joxer kissed the soft, hairy skin under his mouth. “You okay?”

Ares smiled, “Very okay.”

Joxer lifted his head and smiled back. “Don’t want to move.”

“Don’t have to,” Ares whispered, “Not yet.” Joxer sighed and lay his head on Ares’ chest again.

*Can I wake up now?*

Joxer and Ares looked at each other again and started to laugh.

“Baby’s going to be a handful,” Ares chuckled.

“Mmm, takes after you,” Joxer grinned. He rubbed his face against Ares’ chest, then with a reluctant sigh, pushed himself up, sliding out of Ares’ body.

Ares pouted, but sat up, “Back to reality, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess, world to save and all that,” Joxer sighed.

“Dahak doesn’t stand a chance against you, love,” Ares grinned.

“Against us,” Joxer corrected him.

“Yeah,” Ares leaned over and kissed Joxer hard.

Joxer was shocked to feel his cock twitch and he pulled back. “We’ll never get back to reality if you keep that up.”

“Good,” Ares leered at him.

“Arry,” Joxer chuckled and shook his head.

“Yeah, I know,” Ares sighed and waved his hand to clean and dress them. They shared a lingering kiss before settling in each others’ arms and Joxer removed the shield.



“Welcome back,” Autolycus snickered, “Have fun?”

Ares’ eyes narrowed and Autolycus held up his hands placatingly. “Sorry, sorry, I was a bit bored ya know?”

Ares and Joxer looked round, Xena, Gabrielle, Cupid and Strife were nowhere to be seen and Hercules and Iolaus were far too heavily involved with each other to notice the couple’s return.

“Ah,” said Joxer, “Gabrielle and Xena?”

“Gabrielle wanted to talk,” Autolycus explained.

“Oh dear,” Joxer sighed.

“Xena will be fine,” Ares said quietly.

“Yeah. Yeah, I know,” Joxer tilted his head back to smile up at his lover.

@>*~

Xena sat and stared at her ex-lover. “Gabrielle?”

“What?!” Gabrielle snapped.

“You wanted to talk?”

“Yeah,” Gabrielle shifted uncomfortably, she didn’t know where to start. “It’s not exactly easy you know.”

“I know,” Xena whispered.

“Do you?” Gabrielle glared at her, “Really, no ready answers? No explanations of how you didn’t really betray me?”

Xena flinched, “I know I betrayed you, but I never lied about loving you.”

“How can you expect me to trust a word you say?”

“Gabrielle, I tried, I really did. But, I was different then. I didn’t want to be a do-gooder, a hero. I had my orders, pretend to have turned against Ares, gain people’s trust enough to be able to protect Joxer without suspicion. I, I didn’t like you. You were so trusting, so dedicated to doing the right thing. So different from me,” Xena paused at Gabrielle’s snort.

“Gabrielle, you changed me. I began to feel differently, to *want* to help people. Hades, Ares nearly *killed* me once when I didn’t protect Joxer as well as I should have because I was helping people. That’s what you did for me. I don’t want you to hate me, please Gabrielle, can you understand?”

Gabrielle stared at Xena and swallowed hard. “I can’t, I can’t understand how you can say you’ve changed, yet still work for Ares. I can’t trust you if you work for Ares.”

“But I…”

“No, I can’t Xena. I can’t trust him not to hurt us. Damn it, he nearly killed me!” Gabrielle spat angrily.

“You provoked him,” Xena pointed out quietly. “Come on Gabrielle, I know what he’s like, but I also know what he can be like when he lets himself feel.”

Gabrielle shook her head. “I don’t believe it. I never will believe it. He is an evil, manipulating bastard and he will always come between us.”

Xena closed her eyes in resignation, “No, *you* are coming between us. Gabrielle, I love my father, you can’t ask this of me, please.”

“I can and I am,” Gabrielle said stonily.

“What about Joxer?” Xena asked.

“What about him?” Gabrielle frowned, “He made his choice, he’s not our friend.”

“He is *my* friend,” Xena said quietly.

“You’re choosing Ares and Joxer over *me*?” Gabrielle was shocked.

“No Gabrielle, you’re asking me to choose between what, who I am and who you want me to be,” Xena sighed, “I don’t think I can be who you want me to be.”

“Fine,” Gabrielle snapped, suddenly furious again. Xena was betraying her all over again. “When this is over, I never want to see you again!”

“Gabrielle, please,” Xena tried one last time.

“Don’t talk to me,” Gabrielle stood up and walked away.

Xena watched her go, then leaned back against the tree and let herself cry for the first time she could remember.



“Cupie! Cupid, damn it, put me down now!” Strife glared up at his husband.

“What?” Cupid blinked in shock.

“Now!” Strife wriggled out of Cupid’s arms. He was beyond need, he *had* to have his husband right *now*. He pushed Cupid to the ground, waving a hand to remove their clothes before he leapt on top of his husband. Cupid landed with a gasp and barely had time to catch Strife.

“Baby? Oh!” Cupid gasped again as Strife rocked his hips against him.

“Gotta have you in me, gotta, gotta, now!” Strife’s whole body shook with the force of his need and Cupid wasn’t far behind.

“Come on, baby,” Cupid groaned. He quickly slipped his hands round Strife’s hips and lifted his lover up. Barely pausing for oil, he pressed a finger into his husband.

“Ah, please,” Strife panted, pushing his ass back against the wriggling digit, “More, deeper.” Cupid slipped a second finger into the tight hole and used them to push Strife forward. “Cupie, what are you…? *Oh*, Cupie!”

Strife looked down in shock to see his cock disappear into Cupid’s mouth. Strife reached down to cup the back of Cupid’s head and started to rock himself between the wet heat sucking slickly at his shaft and the now three fingers embedded in his ass. Cupid probed deeply as he sucked and swallowed. His tongue worked the length in his mouth quickly, feeling Strife’s urgency.

“Cupe, yes! So good,” Strife moaned. Cupid’s fingertips pressed inside him and he jerked forward with a cry, shuddering when Cupid’s throat muscles squeezed round the head of his cock. “Cupe, need, gonna, oh!”

Cupid took just enough time to swallow Strife’s seed before he pulled back and slid out from under his husband. He pushed Strife onto his hands and knees and shoved his cock deep inside the still quivering passage.

“Fuck,” he grunted. He pulled back quickly and slammed forward again, knocking Strife to his elbows.

“Yeah, do me,” Strife panted, digging his fingers into the ground.

“Baby, so… good,” Cupid leaned forward, gripping Strife’s hips to pound into his husband’s willing body. Dropping his head, Cupid licked the sweat from Strife’s back, then bit down as his husband began to squeeze his cock with each thrust.

“More, Cupie, more,” Strife gasped. His cock was still hard and he could feel his second orgasm building fast with every stab at his pleasure spot. He felt Cupid’s cock jerk inside him and pushed himself up, sitting down hard on Cupid’s lap.

“Yes, Strife!” Cupid shouted, his release pumping deep into his lover. With the last of his energy, Cupid reached round and tugged hard on Strife’s erection. Strife groaned loudly and shuddered, his seed spurting messily on Cupid’s hand.

They stilled, panting harshly. Cupid slipped his other arm round Strife’s waist and held him tightly. Strife dropped his head back onto Cupid’s shoulder, twisting his head round to kiss Cupid’s neck.

“Mmm,” he mumbled, “You are awesome, lover.”

Cupid smiled weakly, “So are you, baby.” He let go of Strife’s softening cock and rubbed his flat stomach.

Strife smiled and put his hand over his husband’s, holding it still. “Hope it worked,” he whispered.

Cupid turned his head and kissed Strife’s temple, “Me too.”

@>*~

Joxer and Ares were chatting to Autolycus. Or rather Joxer and Autolycus were talking and Ares was listening and touching Joxer.

Gabrielle stomped into the clearing and sat down away from everyone, her expression discouraging anyone from approaching her.

Autolycus stared at her for a moment, then he stood up, “Excuse me.”

Joxer nodded. He glanced briefly at Gabrielle, then he looked over at Hercules and Iolaus curiously. The pair were wrapped up in each other, kissing softly, but so far had made no move to slip away. Patting Ares’ arm, he stood up and walked over. Iolaus looked up questioningly.

Joxer flushed and cleared his throat. “Uh, hi. Um, are you guys, do you want… I mean, aren’t you going to…”

Iolaus smiled, “We, well we haven’t got the uh, the necessary, you know.” It was Iolaus’ turn to flush.

“*Oh*,” Joxer bit his lip, trying not to grin as Hercules looked thoroughly embarrassed. He bent down and took Iolaus’ hand. Putting his own hand over Iolaus’ palm, he concentrated for a second, then grinned at Iolaus’ expression. Iolaus gripped the tiny bottle that had appeared in his hand, comprehension dawning.

“Thanks, Joxer,” he grinned and got up, tugging Hercules to his feet. “C’mon, Herc.”

“Huh?” Hercules was very confused. Iolaus leaned over and whispered in his ear. Hercules turned bright red, picked Iolaus up and carried him out of the clearing.

Joxer chuckled and shook his head before walking back over to Ares. “Stop glaring at her,” he laughed, dropping down next to his husband.

“Why? She’s a bitch,” Ares growled, angry at the thread of pain he could feel from Xena.

“Sometimes, yes,” Joxer sighed. He lay down, putting his head on Ares’ lap. “But I don’t think even you could kill someone with a look. Anyway, she’s hurting too.”

Ares snorted. He leaned back against a tree and stroked Joxer’s hair, contemplating what was coming.



When Autolycus found Xena, she was sitting dejectedly, silent tears trickling down her face. Autolycus sighed and sat down next to her, gently pulling her into his arms. It shook him a little to see her so vulnerable, it touched him.

Xena accepted the comforting embrace, the warmth of empathy and friendship easing her heart a little. But eventually she pulled back and wiped her face.

“Thanks,” she whispered.

Autolycus cupped her face and kissed her forehead. “No problem. How are you feeling?”

Xena shrugged, “Mostly okay. I think… I think a small part of me always knew it wouldn’t work out. In the end, we’re too different. I can’t be what she needs and she can’t change how she feels.”

Autolycus nodded, “I know. It sounds trite, but it does get better.”

Xena smiled, “Does it?”

Autolycus sighed and shook his head, “Mostly.”

Xena dropped her head onto his shoulder and hugged him. They sat quietly for a long time, holding each other. Xena liked the new bond between them and said nothing when Autolycus started to stroke her hair, enjoying, just for once, not having to be strong.

Eventually, she pulled back and smiled. “Thanks,” she said again. She gently kissed Autolycus’ cheek and stood up, holding out her hand. Autolycus took it and stood up. They didn’t let go of each others’ hands as they walked back to join the others.

Back at the clearing, Joxer was asleep in Ares’ lap. Cupid and Strife were sitting facing each other. Strife’s legs were wrapped round Cupid’s hips, their forehead’s pressed together. They were smiling, but not talking, unless it was mentally.

Xena glanced at Gabrielle, quickly looking away again at her ex-lover’s expression. But she didn’t let go of Autolycus’ hand. Ares met her eyes and he smiled gently. Xena smiled back and wandered closer to her father. She sat down and Autolycus sat next to her, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Xena,” Ares said quietly.

Xena laughed a little, “No, you’re not.” When he started to protest, she continued, “I know,” she leaned forward and put her head on Ares’ shoulder, “I know, daddy.”

Ares swallowed hard and patted her head awkwardly. She pulled back, blinking furiously, and smiled sadly.

“We’re, uh,” Ares cleared his suddenly tight throat, “We’re just waiting for Hercules and Iolaus, then it’s time,” he finished quietly.

Xena and Autolycus nodded. Xena sighed and leaned against Autolycus, she could see the battlelust building in her father’s eyes already.

@>*~

Hercules walked till they reached a small river, concentrating on not dropping Iolaus as his lover sucked at his neck. He gently put Iolaus down and wrapped his arms round the smaller man. Iolaus tilted his head back and smiled up at him.

“Kiss me,” he whispered. Hercules sighed happily and bent his head to brush his mouth gently over Iolaus’ lips. The tip of Iolaus’ tongue traced over his mouth and slipped between his lips, licking softly. Hercules moaned and pressed closer, flicking his tongue against Iolaus’.

Iolaus’ hands wandered down his back and tugged his shirt up, hot fingers stroked his skin and slipped under his pants. Hercules crushed Iolaus to his chest briefly, then he moved back and pulled his shirt over his head. Iolaus grinned and tugged his own shirt off. Reaching out, Hercules gently skimmed his fingers over his lover’s chest, letting them brush lightly over pink nipples.

“Herc,” Iolaus whispered. He pulled Hercules close again, slipping his hand to the back of his lover’s neck. He urged Hercules back down into a deep lingering kiss, groaning quietly as his lover gripped his hips tightly, their cocks brushing together. Iolaus pushed Hercules away and hurriedly pulled off his boots and untied his pants. Looking up, he grinned, Hercules was watching him and pressing his hand against his cloth covered erection.

“Hercules, clothes,” Iolaus said quietly. Hercules blinked, then nodded, quickly stripping off the rest of his clothing. Iolaus sat down on his shirt and held out a hand to his lover. Hercules took it and Iolaus dragged his larger lover down on top of him.

Hercules dipped his head to kiss him again and Iolaus slipped his hands down to his firm ass, pulling their groins tightly together. Hercules groaned and rocked his hips, eyes fluttering shut at the feel of their cocks sliding together. He rolled over, pulling Iolaus on top of him and opened his eyes again to stare up at his lover.

“Iolaus,” he whispered, “Will you… would you take me?”

Iolaus blinked in surprise, “Oh Herc, Gods yes!”

Hercules smiled and pulled him down for a soft kiss. “Iolaus, now,” he whispered.

“But…” Iolaus started.

Hercules put a finger against his lips. “I want to take my time with you, and we will when we win this, but I need you now.”

Iolaus nodded and reached over for the small vial of oil Joxer had given him. He carefully and thoroughly prepared Hercules, surprised by the physical and vocal responsiveness of his usually stoic partner. Finally he slicked up his cock and gently pushed against Hercules’ loosened asshole.

“Oh Gods,” he groaned, sinking into the velvet heat that gripped at his shaft.

Hercules moaned loudly, “Yes, Iolaus. Gods, you feel good.”

Iolaus braced himself on his elbows and locked his gaze with Hercules’. Then he started to move. He stroked into Hercules’ body with deep, slow thrusts. Hercules sighed, he couldn’t ever remember feeling this good, *this* happy. Iolaus’ cock inside him, completed him. He rocked his hips up to meet every stroke, the slow rhythm steadily driving him towards the edge. Reaching between their writhing bodies, Hercules took a tight grip of his erection and pumped it in time to the deep thrusts of his lover.

“Iolaus, please,” he begged for release, needing more of his lover to reach it.

Iolaus kissed him and started to move faster. He couldn’t quite believe he was inside Hercules, that he was finally making love to the one person he’d always loved, but never quite thought would love him back. He thrust harder into the hot passage that claimed him as much as he was claiming Hercules, shocks of pleasure driving him forward.

Hercules stiffened against him and cried out. Hot seed splashed between them and Iolaus felt Hercules’ ass squeeze against him, pulling him even deeper. He groaned, the burning pleasure in his groin spreading through his whole body as he came. Groaning again, Iolaus flopped down on top of Hercules, sucking in deep breaths.

“I love you, Iolaus. I like the man I am when I’m with you,” Hercules whispered, holding his lover tightly.

Iolaus reached up and stroked Hercules’ hair, “Love you too, always.”

Slowly, exchanging soft kisses and touches, they got up and cleaned themselves off in the river, before dressing. After a long, silent cuddle, they finally felt ready to rejoin the group.



Ares woke Joxer gently when Hercules and Iolaus returned. Joxer sat up and smiled wanly at him. “Time?” he asked. Ares nodded. Joxer hugged him, “Let’s go then.”

The group got their things together in silence, tension in all of them building. They followed Ares and Joxer back to the path and through the forest. It wasn’t long before they emerged from the trees and found themselves heading towards the crest of a large hill. At the top, they stopped, overlooking a vast plain in the valley below.

“Oh dear Gods,” Hercules whispered.

“We are in *big* trouble,” Autolycus shook his head.

“I think that may be the understatement of the year,” Strife giggled nervously.

“Arry, what are we going to do?” Joxer asked as he stared in horror. Almost the entire plain was filled with Dahak’s army.

“How in *Tartarus* did he do this without anyone knowing?” Ares exclaimed angrily.

“They must have been planning this for years,” Iolaus gasped.

“We’re going to need help,” Ares glanced at Joxer, “A *lot* of help.” He hugged Joxer briefly then stepped back.

“*By my right as Defender of Olympus, I call on Zeus, the All-Father, to invoke the ‘Rule of War’*,” Ares called out.

Zeus appeared in a flash of lightning. “You can’t be serious, Ares!”

“Oh deadly, Zeus,” Ares pointed at the valley. Zeus turned and blanched.

“Ah,” he muttered, “Very well. *Host of Olympus bear witness, the ‘Rule of War’ is invoked, present yourselves for battle*.”

First to appear were Eris, Eno and Athena.

“Is this really necessary?” Athena raised an eyebrow.

“While half of us are Gods, I feel the nine of us may be just a little outnumbered, sister dear, don’t you?” Ares glared at her and swept his arm round to indicate the battlefield.

Eris grinned, “I like these odds!”

Athena gazed out over the plain. “How was an army of this magnitude mobilized without our knowledge?” she asked.

Joxer looked up, “There’s some sort of shielding. No way Apollo, Selene or Hecate could have seen from the skies.”

Athena blinked at him, “And *who* are you?”

“Joxer, ma’am. How do you do?” Joxer smiled guilelessly.

“Oh yes, because of course that explains everything!” Athena snapped sarcastically.

Ares glared at her and put his arm around Joxer’s shoulder. Athena frowned at them. More Gods and Goddesses were flashing in, all armed to the teeth. Aphrodite bounced over in a leather version of her normal dress.

“Joxie!” She pulled him away from Ares and kissed him soundly. “Ares! What are you doing with my Joxie?” she admonished sternly.

Joxer extracted himself from Aphrodite’s bosom and backed into Ares’ embrace.

“*My* Joxer,” Ares growled.

Joxer grinned and reached up to pat Ares’ cheek, evoking several loud gasps. “Ares, I don’t think anyone else knows.”

“Knows what?” Athena snapped, now impatient. “Nobody has yet explained who this mortal is and why he claims to sense a shield *I* certainly can’t see.”

Ares sighed, “All here present, I introduce Joxer, Consort of War, and if he says there’s a shield, there’s a shield!” More gasps and whispers broke out.

“Hmm,” Zeus approached the couple and studied Joxer intently, “You are not a God, yet you are not mortal.”

“So, cool, what are you, Jox?” Strife asked. Joxer shrugged in bemusement.

“I just can’t tell,” Zeus frowned, “Ares?”

Ares shook his head, “I don’t know either.”

Hades, Poseidon and Hera appeared and approached the central group. Ares snarled at Hades, who looked taken aback.

“Something wrong, nephew?” Hades asked.

“You’ll find out when this is over, Hades,” Ares growled.

Before anyone else could say anything, Cupid stalked over and punched Hades with all of his pretty considerable strength. Hades flew back into Poseidon, who just managed to catch his brother.

“A promise of what is to come, *Hades*,” Cupid snarled.

“Cupie?!” Aphrodite exclaimed in shock.

“What is going on?” Zeus thundered.

Strife ran over to Cupid and wrapped his arms round him.

“*Another* pair of newly-weds?” Hera raised an eyebrow at Cupid and Strife, who both nodded.

Hades recovered from his shock and glowered at Cupid threateningly. “How dare you, *boy*?!” A fireball appeared in his hand.

“I wouldn’t,” Ares said with quiet menace. “Or the Houses of War *and* Love will declare war on the House of Death. This matter will *wait* until Greece is safe.”

Hades blanched and Zeus glanced between his son and his brother.

“Wait,” Aphrodite frowned, “In whose name do you include the House of Love in this?”

“Mine,” Cupid growled.

“Cupie?” Aphrodite was thoroughly confused.

Cupid eased himself from his husband’s arms and walked to his mother. He put his hands on her head and mentally conveyed to her what had happened.

“Hades!” she exclaimed in shock and anger, Strife being her most favourite nephew, as well as the best friend and now husband of her son. “As head of the House of Love I will support any declaration of war against the House of Death!”

“Excuse *me*!” Zeus yelled, “King of Gods here, someone explain.”

“Yeah,” Eris stepped forward, glancing at her son, “I have a feeling this is something I should know.” She glared at Hades, who glared sullenly back at her.

“Cupie,” Strife whispered in distress. Cupid hurried back over to him and enfolded him in a comforting embrace.

“Hades stands accused of abuse of his power and crimes against Strife, God of Mischief, member of the House of War and by marriage, the House of Love,” Ares declared formally.

“You little sack of shit!” Hades shouted at Strife, “What have you told them?”



Strife stiffened. For a long time, he’d kept the truth to himself, believing himself the worst kind of monster. But the reactions of those he loved had convinced him otherwise and bolstered his self confidence. Now, instead of fearing Hades, he was filled with anger and hatred.

“The truth, you dick sucking, donkey fucker,” he hissed through gritted teeth. Cupid smiled, happy that Strife no longer blamed himself for what had happened.

“You know, now is not really the time, or place, for this,” Athena commented. She backed away under the combined glares of Ares, Cupid, Strife, Eris, Aphrodite and Joxer. Strangely, it was Joxer who scared her the most. There was something about his eyes.

“Ares, dear, I’m afraid she’s right,” Hera said quietly.

“Yes, I know,” Ares said grimly, well aware of the morbid interest of the assembled Host. “Cupid,” he beckoned his son over. Cupid moved closer, raising an eyebrow curiously. “I need you to grow your wings in now,” Ares said apologetically.

“In one go?” Cupid grimaced.

“I need you in the air,” Ares nodded.

Cupid sighed, “Okay.” He backed away, waving Strife back when his husband moved to join him. Getting down on his elbows and knees, Cupid dropped his head onto his forearms and concentrated, forcing his wings to grow and unfurl. He bit his lip to hold back the scream of pain, his back arching with the agony of the unnatural growth. Tears trickled down his face as he pushed himself back to his knees and he took a deep, shuddering breath.

“Shit, Cupe!” Strife dropped down next to his husband. Cupid sagged into Strife’s arms.

“I’m okay,” Cupid whispered.

“How come it hurt him so much?” Iolaus whispered.

Ares glanced at him, “Because he was manipulating his own body. Wing growth is pretty painful and annoying naturally. In one go, it is agonising.”

Ares walked over to his son, where Strife was gently grooming the new feathers. “Okay?” he asked quietly.

Cupid looked up and nodded. Stretching out his wings. He flapped them gently. “Yeah, fine.”

“Right,” Ares turned back to the whole group. “Cupid will coordinate from the sky. Athena, you will take the Home Guard and organise defence of Olympus in case we fail here.” Athena nodded, she and several other Gods and Goddesses disappeared again.

“Eris, Eno, liase between me and the left and right flanks respectively. Deimos, Phobos help them. Leaders of the Houses, you know your places,” Ares continued. All the Host of Olympus began to organise themselves into ranks.

Hercules watched in amazement. He would never have guessed that all of Olympus could work together, let alone under Ares’ leadership. “Where do you want us?” he asked quietly.

Ares turned to his brother and smiled, “With me, Hercules.”

Zeus watched his oldest and youngest sons in bemusement as they clasped forearms.

“Ares!”

Ares swung round in time to see Joxer collapse to his knees. Joxer flung his head back and howled.

“Joxer!” Ares ran to his husband as Joxer convulsed, falling to the ground. Instinctively protective, Cupid, Strife, Xena, Autolycus, Hercules and Iolaus quickly surrounded the couple, blocking them from view.

Ares gathered Joxer into his arms as his husband’s body continued to be racked with tremors. He held on tightly, horrified by how helpless he felt. He didn’t know what was wrong, and he didn’t know what to do.

“Apollo!” Ares roared. Apollo hurriedly pushed through the circle and knelt next to the couple. He reached out to touch Joxer and was blasted backwards.

“No interference!” Several loud resonating voices erupted from Joxer’s mouth.

“What the fuck?” Apollo gasped.

Joxer’s body finally calmed, but he began to glow. The light emanating from Joxer’s body grew so bright that everyone had to turn away. When the light died, Joxer collapsed back into Ares’ arms.

“Ow,” Joxer whispered with a shaky laugh.

“Joxer!” Ares buried his face in Joxer’s neck to hide his tears.

*Sorry, daddy.*

*S’okay, sweetheart,* Joxer whispered.

Ares looked up and tentatively put his hand on Joxer’s now very large belly. He breathed out heavily. *Are you both okay?*

*Yes, daddy, needed to grow.*

“I’m fine, Arry,” Joxer stroked Ares’ hair reassuringly.

“What in Tartarus is going on?” Apollo asked in confusion.

“Joxer’s baby just had a growth spurt,” Cupid said quietly.

“Baby?!” Apollo gaped in stunned amazement, “And the voice thing?”

Ares helped Joxer to his feet, “Yes, baby. Joxer’s pregnant. No, we don’t know how or why and we don’t know what the voices were either. That cover everything?”

“Well, shit,” Apollo shook his head.

“However, it does remind me,” Ares continued, ignoring his brother. “Under the Rule of War, Joxer, Strife, you are both exempt from battle.”

“Uh, uh, no way!” Strife protested.

“’Scuse me, *Strife*?” Zeus pushed past Xena.

“Strife is pregnant too,” Cupid smiled proudly.

“So I even want to know how?” Zeus asked faintly.

“Strife, pregnant?” Eris squeaked, blinking. She ran over, flung her arms round her son, squeezed him and then ran away. Strife just shook his head and laughed, then looked at Zeus.

“Well, see,” Strife smirked, “When two people love each other very much,” he started in a tone reminiscent of a kindergarten teacher telling a story, “They get nekkid, fuck like rabbits and have kids!” He cackled loudly at Zeus’ expression.

“That’s quite enough, thank you,” Zeus raised a hand.



“Ares,” Joxer said quietly, “I have to be there.”

“Are you sure?” Ares frowned worriedly. Joxer nodded. “Very well. It is time.”

The combined forces of Olympus flashed down to the valley to face the dark army. The original group of nine, minus Cupid who had taken to the air, stood in the centre.

In the middle of the valley, Dahak stood and laughed. Dark power radiated out and with a roar, his army attacked.

“Stay with me,” Ares told Joxer. Joxer nodded and followed his husband into battle.

The dark warriors, while empowered by Dahak, were still mortal and whole swathes quickly fell against the divine onslaught. But behind them were ranks of demons called forth by the Dark God and the battle grew in intensity as Gods began to fall.

Asclepius and Apollo flashed all over the valley, pulling out the injured and returning them to Olympus. In between, Apollo released the power of the sun against the demons, blasting them to dust.

Hades, Celesta and Thanatos extended the touch of death as far as they could, their power bolstered by Zeus, Hera, Hecate and Poseidon. Gaia and Demeter worked together, using the destructive power of nature against the ravening demons. Cupid flew overhead, directing the forces mentally, unleashing balls of flame and death arrows over the dark army.

But still they kept coming.

Ares worked his way purposefully towards Dahak, Joxer behind him. The rest of the group formed a semi circle behind them, helping to keep Joxer especially from too much of the fighting.

Finally Ares was facing Dahak, a small area clear of other warriors surrounded the Dark God. He stared at Ares and started to laugh. Ares smiled and raised his sword. Then Dahak’s eyes looked past him.

“You!” he pointed at Joxer, “You are the one. Come to me, you are mine.”

Ares snorted, “Not likely, Joxer and I belong together, you want him, you have to get through *me*.”

Dahak laughed again, “Is that supposed to be a challenge?”

Ares roared and leapt at him. Strife tried to join him, but suddenly found that Dahak, Ares and Joxer were cut off from the rest of the field.

Ares and Dahak fought hard; but as time passed, Ares began to fade, and he’d gained no ground. The battle continued to rage around them, but the dark army was gaining ground over the divine forces. Finally, a huge blow, knocked Ares backwards into Joxer’s arms. Dahak made a triumphant noise and stepped forward raising his sword.

“No!” Joxer shouted forcefully. He held up a hand and Dahak stopped. The Dark God frowned and tried to move, but found himself blocked from the couple. He growled angrily.

“You can’t stop me for long, Titan, you will be mine.”

“*Never*,” Joxer’s voice took on several tones once again. “You are insignificant, you waste our time.” Dahak looked taken aback at the statement.

“Joxer?” Ares frowned in confusion.

“Join with me, my love,” Joxer’s voices whispered. Joxer stepped forward and wrapped his arms round Ares. Ares slipped his arms round Joxer’s shoulders, trembling as he was overwhelmed with power.

“Joxer?” he whispered. Then he groaned, it felt like he was growing, growing in both size and power. Feeling a strange sensation in his stomach, Ares looked down, realising suddenly that he and Joxer now occupied the same body, making them both pregnant. Their minds melded, joining completely.

“Dahak!” Joxer/Ares snapped, with an Ares’ type of cruel smile, “Time to die.”

Dahak stopped looking quite so smug and evil as he looked up at the gigantic form of the Titan/God. He raised his sword and his other hand blasting at Joxer/Ares with a fireball and electric bolt. Joxer/Ares laughed and batted them aside.

A large hand shot out and caught Dahak by the scruff of the neck, lifting the Dark God to Joxer/Ares’ eye level. “You. Are. Nothing.” With those firmly spoken words, Dahak’s body went limp and slowly dissolved into dust. The shield that had been around them faded and Strife, Xena, Auto, Hercules, Iolaus and Cupid rushed towards Joxer/Ares.

“Dad, Jox?” Cupid frowned, approaching more cautiously.

“Not quite,” Joxer/Ares smiled and ruffled Cupid’s hair. Cupid blinked in bemusement, his father hadn’t done that since he was a tiny Godling. “A moment if you wouldn’t mind?” Joxer/Ares waved them back.

Joxer/Ares extended both arms skyward and power crackled audibly round their fingertips. “Enough!” they shouted. Huge bolts of electricity scored the ground, rushing towards the dark army. Demons and warriors exploded as the lightning hit them. Some tried to flee, but in the end they were all destroyed.

Ares felt himself again, just him, alone, and gently he was pulled away from his husband. Joxer sucked in a deep breath.

“No, Arry, never alone,” he whispered. Ares’ arms tightened around him briefly and they smiled into each other’s eyes.

*Ow! Squashed, it’s cold out here.*



Ares stared at Joxer, who stared back, eyes wide. Then they both looked down. A tiny baby lay between their entwined bodies.

“Oh, sweetheart!” Joxer gasped. Ares blinked and swallowed hard. He reached down and gently took his little daughter into his arms, quickly flashing a soft blanket round her.

*Thank you, daddy.*

“Joxer!” Ares gasped quietly, “How? What?”

Joxer laughed and shook his head, wrapping his family in his arms. “I have no idea, Arry, I have no idea.”

Strife reached the couple first, “Oh Gods, that was fucking awesome,” he exclaimed, “How did you… wow!” He reached out and stroked the baby’s cheek, “Hey there, sweetie.”

*Strifey,* she giggled.

Cupid slipped an arm round Strife’s waist and hooked his chin over his husband’s shoulder, “She’s beautiful, dad, Jox.”

“Yeah,” Xena agreed, hugging Joxer. Hercules and Iolaus cooed at her.

Autolycus peered round Xena and grinned, “Hey, she has your eyes, Ares.”

Ares tore his attention from his daughter. “Yeah, she does, doesn’t she?” he said proudly, “And Joxer’s mouth.”

“You’re lucky, she got my nose.”

Ares looked up. “Mother,” he grinned.

“How did all this happen?” Zeus approached the group.

*Grandpa!*

“Oh,” Zeus blinked in surprise. He stared at his tiny granddaughter and smiled, “Hello, child.”

“I remember!” Joxer exclaimed suddenly, “There was this stone.”

“What do you mean, love?” Ares asked.

“I found a crystal just before all this started, it dissolved into my skin, I…” Joxer shook his head uncertainly.

“I guess you fulfilled your destiny when you defeated Dahak,” Ares said quietly, a little uncertain of what was going to happen now.

“No.” The three Fates appeared.

“What do you mean?”

Atropos smiled, “Dahak’s reappearance was merely an unfortunate coincidence. Joxer, you were bestowed all the power of the Titans, your destiny was to give birth to the Goddess of Time, Space and Energy.”

The Fates approached Ares and smiled at the baby.

“Welcome, Ariasta, Destiny of the Gods,” Clotho grinned.

*Thank you,* Ariasta laughed.

“Destiny of the Gods?” Zeus shook his head and laughed ruefully, “Well Ares, looks like you found a way to depose me after all.”

“What?” Ares frowned.

“Destiny of the Gods, is the official title of the new Ruler of the Gods, the one who will lead us into the new era and protect us from the One God,” Atropos explained.

“My baby?” Joxer stuttered in shock. The Fates nodded. “But, why me, why us?”

“Only your innocence and pure heart, your love for your God could have borne the powers bestowed upon you, Joxer. And only the strongest of the Gods, capable of both the purest love and the purest hate, of ultimate tenderness and deadliest violence could be strong enough to support you,” Lachesis bent her head to indicate Ares.

*The best daddies in all the world,* Ariasta giggled.

“You sure she’s not Goddess of Laughter?” Strife chuckled.

Ares smiled down at his daughter, gently stroking her cheek, “Maybe that too.”

“Rule of War is dissolved, what say we all go home?” Zeus sighed, suddenly tired and actually a little glad that Destiny had finally arrived.

“Mm, good idea, I could sleep for a week,” Strife mumbled.

Cupid held him close. “Sounds nice,” he whispered. Strife snuggled against him.

“Let’s go then, *daddy*,” Strife snickered. Cupid laughed.

“We’ll deal with everything when we’ve had some sleep," Cupid cast a black look in Hades’ direction. “Dad, Joxer, everyone, see you later,” Cupid nodded and the couple flashed away.

“Let’s take you home then,” Ares dropped his head back onto Joxer’s shoulder, after a meaningful glance at Eris. Joxer nodded and it was he who took them back to the War Temple after a grin at Xena, Autolycus, Hercules and Iolaus.

“Well,” Eris sidled up behind Hades, “I think it’s time we had a little talk, don’t you?” Hades made a move to escape.

“No,” Zeus shook his head, “You have been formally accused, and I now formally charge you. Eris, you are to question him, try not to kill him, hmm?”

Eris smiled cruelly, "No problem.” She grabbed Hades before he could protest and flashed them away.

Zeus turned to the remainder of the original group with a smile. “How would you like a holiday?”

“Oh, please!” Iolaus exclaimed happily.

“Where’s the blonde?” Zeus frowned.

Xena looked round in shock, realising Gabrielle had left without a word. Autolycus’ arms slipped round her and she accepted the embrace with a resigned sigh.

“Just the four of you then?” Zeus continued. Xena nodded. “I have a lovely cabin in the mountains, you four have the use of it for as long as you wish. Ready?”

The group nodded and Zeus flashed them out of the valley.

“So, the clear up is left to us then?” Hera raised an eyebrow at her husband. He chuckled and nodded. With a couple of bursts of power, they erased all signs of the deadly battle from the valley. All the other Gods had already gone and with a happy sigh, they too returned to Olympus.

“Ariasta, what are you doing?” Strife chuckled, leaning over his heavy belly to help his little cousin, who was currently trying to lever her way up his leg.

“Talkin’ ta Jay,” Ariasta smiled.

“Come here, baby,” Joxer scooped up his daughter.

“Daddy!” she huffed.

Joxer smiled and tickled her gently until she was giggling and squirming in his arms.

“So how’s Xena then?” Strife asked curiously. Joxer was still travelling with the Warrior on occasion. Joxer sat down next to him, cuddling Ariasta.

“Not too bad. Auto’s taking good care of her, you know?” Strife nodded. “It’s funny to think how different they both are now,” Joxer mused.

“Yeah, well, I still think she’s better off without the bard. Auto understands her, loves her,” Strife commented.

“Yeah, it’s sweet actually. He’s being so careful, I think she’s actually starting to get a little impatient with him. It’s good to see that she can feel love again though. I think she trusts him too, which is the main thing,” Joxer sighed.

“Yeah,” Strife grinned. “Not like Herc and unc, huh?” he chuckled.

Joxer shook his head, “Yet another argument, Iolaus and I tried to mediate but you know them, there’s just no dealing with them sometimes!”

“Ah well, it’s a brother thing I guess,” Strife laughed, “Just as long as Bliss and Jay are okay, I’ll be happy.”

“They’ll be great, they’ve got great parents after all,” Joxer smiled. Strife flushed and ducked his head.

“Wanna play, ‘Ria?” Bliss bounced over and tugged on Joxer’s pants, “Can we, Grandpa Jox?”

“Sure, be careful, okay?” Joxer put Ariasta down and she crawled over to Bliss.

“’Course!” Bliss looked affronted at the suggestion that he wouldn’t take good care of his aunt. Joxer grinned.

“So, nearly there now, huh?” Joxer looked pointedly at Strife’s huge belly.

“Yeah,” Strife patted his stomach, “Jay’s getting restless that’s for sure. Didn’t get much sleep last night, so me an’ Cupe planned out Hades’ punishment for the day.”

Joxer laughed and shook his head. “Between Ares, Cupid, Eris and you, I’d say the last nine months have been worse than Tartarus for Hades.”

“Yeah. I just still can’t believe he’s actually my father,” Strife bit his lip thoughtfully.

“Thinking you were Eris’ child from an affair while they were lovers is no excuse for what he did!” Joxer said firmly.

“Oh *I* know,” Strife nodded, “Of all the petty, bitter… oh!”

“Strife?”

“Oh, ooooh Gods!” Strife grabbed Joxer’s hand and squeezed it, “Shit, Jox, ow, fuck!”

“Strife, is it time?” Joxer asked worriedly.

“Yeah, think so,” Strife groaned in pain.

Joxer took a deep breath, determined not to panic. “Okay, Dite!” he yelled.

Aphrodite appeared in a flash of pink. “Joxie, what, oh. Strife?”

“It’s time, could you please watch Bliss and Ariasta?” Joxer asked, carefully helping Strife to his feet.

“Of course,” she nodded.

Joxer walked Strife to a bedchamber and lay him down on the bed. “Arry, Cupid, Eris, Asclepius,” he called out, “Here now!”

“Oh shit, Jox,” Strife panted harshly, “Want Cupie, now.”

Cupid and Ares appeared first. Cupid immediately ran to the bed and climbed up behind Strife. “Baby, you okay?”

“Sorta,” Strife groaned, grabbing his husband’s hand. “Ah, fuck.”

Ares sat on the edge of the bed and took Strife’s other hand. “Where’s Asclepius?” he glanced back at Joxer, who hurried closer, putting a hand on Ares’ shoulder.

“I called him, Eris too.”

“I’m here,” Asclepius flashed in. “Ares, Joxer move please. Cupid…”

“I’m staying right here,” Cupid growled.

“I was going to say that,” Asclepius shook his head, grinning slightly.

“Oh, okay, good,” Cupid nodded.

“I want my mom too!” Strife yelled.

“Eris! Where the fuck are you?” Ares roared.

“Right here, keep your panties on!” Eris scowled as she appeared in the room. “Strife?” she ran to the bed, nearly knocking Asclepius over.

“Mom,” Strife smiled weakly.

“Okay, enough!” Asclepius smiled, “Can I do my job please?” Eris flushed and moved out of his way. Asclepius scanned Strife who was writhing in pain again.

“Ace, please,” Cupid said worriedly.

“He’s coming fast. I need to cut you open, Strife, like we talked about, okay?” Asclepius said gently.

“Do it,” Strife gasped.

Asclepius pushed Strife’s pants down round his hips and flashed his shirt away. Running a hand over Strife’s belly, he checked the baby and numbed the area at the same time. Flashing in a scalpel and cloths, he began to make the incision.

Cupid clung to Strife, holding him tightly, whispering into his ear. Joxer gently pushed Ares over to Eris. Understanding, Ares took his sister in his arms and hugged her.

A tiny cry echoed in the room and Asclepius gently cleaned up the newborn God, wrapping him in a blanket before handing him to a silently weeping Strife.

“Oh baby,” Cupid whispered, blinking back his own tears. “He’s perfect.”

Asclepius ran his hands over Strife’s stomach again, healing the wound he’d made.

Strife stared in wonder at his son, gently stroking the red, crying bundle. “Oh, Cupie,” he gasped. He tipped his head back and smiled up at his husband. Cupid kissed him gently. Ares let go of Eris and she sat on the bed. “Hey, mom, isn’t he cute?”

She smiled, “Beautiful, just like his dads.”

“Aw, Cupie, he’s got your eyes, look!” Strife grinned.

Ares and Joxer moved closer. Joxer leaned over and gave both parents a kiss on the cheek. “Well done,” he whispered.

“Dad,” Cupid smiled at Ares, “Look, he looks a little like Ariasta.”

Ares smiled back, “Yeah, he does. Do you want your mom and Bliss now?” Cupid nodded.

“Yeah, Bliss has been really impatient about seeing his brother,” Strife chuckled.

“Dite,” Ares called. His sister flashed in with Bliss and Ariasta.

“Daddies!” Bliss raced up to the bed and clambered up to sit next to Strife. “Jay,” he grinned, “I’m a big brother!”

“Yep, short man, you are,” Strife chuckled.

Bliss leaned over and very carefully kissed his brother. “No wings though,” he pouted.

“No sweetie, no wings,” Cupid ruffled his son’s blond curls.

Joxer took Ariasta from Aphrodite so she could go and meet her grandson. She grinned proudly at Cupid and Strife. “My sweet boys,” she sighed happily, stroking Jay’s downy hair.

“See Jay, daddy?” Ariasta squirmed impatiently.

“’Course, honey,” Joxer carried closer and she looked down happily. Joxer stroked her dark hair.

Ares wrapped his arms round them both and sighed contentedly, smiling at his beloved family.

the end


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