saga/title/fandom: Love and Mischief Saga: Seeking Balance chapter 2 (Hercules/Xena)

author: Scribe

rating/genre:(NC-17) - Comedy/Romance/Drama

warnings: slash, sexual content, language, male pregnancy

summary: This story begins before the events of Cupid's Little Helper. An offshoot of the Love and Mischief Series. (Ares/Joxer)

comments/disclaimers: I did not create the characters here, I don't own them. I derive no profit from this effort. I mean nothing but respect for the creators, owners, and the actors and actresses who portray them. Archive? Yes, but tell me where.Notes: I love writing Cupid/Strife. I do a lot of it. I've only done Ares/Joxer as peripheral to the Love and Mischief Series, and one song fic. I feel like I'm neglecting the boys, and thought that since I had made it clear in Cupid's Little Helper and Tha Birds, an' Tha Bees, an' All That Othah Good Shit that Ares and Joxer were a couple, and had a child, that it would be only logical to tell THEIR story, too. So here goes. This story begins before the events of Cupid's Little Helper, and will most likely cover some of that ground from a different perspective. F'rinstance, what was it like when Cupid gave Ares a glimpse of the agony that Strife had gone through? We'll see. Ares and Joxer are together in my Love and Mischief series, and a few readers expressed curiosity in their back-story, so here it is. I'm not up on the finer points of hydras, so here's my personal take on them. They are large creatures, usually larger than an elephant when fully grown, and they resemble a legless, three-headed dragon. Their body scales are incredibly thick and tough, thinning and becoming a little more fragile up the necks. If one head is cut off, two will grow in its place. The only way to kill them is by destroying the brains, WITHOUT cutting off the heads. Also the blood is like poisonous acid. and

Chapter 2: Maximum Effort

Ares appeared in the main room of Apollo's Olympian temple, bellowing even before the red sparks of his arrival faded. "'Pol! 'Pol, I need you--NOW!"

The priest on duty was used to the abrupt comings and goings of the Pantheon, and he didn't waste a second being startled. The War God's reason for coming to the Temple of Healing was obvious--a pale, blood soaked figure dangled limply in Ares' arms. The priest reached out. "Lord Ares, let me take..."

"Stand back!" Ares snarled, unconsciously cradling the unconscious man closer. "Go get your master, and hurry, or you'll be the next to need his aid." The priest hurried away into the recesses of the temple. "And get Asclepius, if he's here." He lowered Joxer onto Apollo's altar, mentally cursing the lack of a bed or sofa. "We're going to need all the help we can get."

Ares examined Joxer, noting that the flow of blood from his wound had slowed. This worried him, rather than reassuring him. It could very well mean that there simply wasn't that much blood left in the mortal's body. The strap Xena had bound around Joxer's leg, high up on his thigh, was already so tight that it had almost disappeared into the pale flesh, and Ares knew that leaving a tourniquet on too long was almost as dangerous as allowing the bleeding to go unchecked- -at least in the long run. There was a chance of gangrene later. *But there's no point in worrying about that unless he SURVIVES.*

Blood didn't bother Ares, unless it was his own, or that of a loved one. He jammed his hand firmly against the wound. It must have hurt, because Joxer regained consciousness with a gasp. He tried to sit up, but Ares put his free hand in the middle of Joxer's chest and held him down. It wasn't hard. Joxer had never been exactly robust, and the loss of blood had weakened him terribly. "Lie still, mortal," snapped Ares. "You've gotten yourself into a bad state, and if you want a chance to live, you'll have to do exactly as you're told."

"Yes, lord Ares," he whispered.

"Shut up, fool. You need to conserve your strength."

"Yes, lord..."

"Shut UP!" Ares could feel the blood trying to escape as a flutter against his palm. "'POL!" he roared.

"I'm here, I'm here. No need to scream." The Sun God, tall and golden came into the room, the priest scurrying behind to keep up with his long strides. "My priest tells me that you're disrupting the serenity of my temple on behalf of a human? Who is it? Priest? Warlord? Current bed warmer?" He caught sight of the wounded man, and blinked. "Isn't that Aphrodite's pet?"

"How should I know? He's in a bad way. Help him."

"How can I turn down such a gracious request?"

"Where's Ace?"

"There's a nasty run of pox in a village near Pallas that could turn into a plague if it isn't nipped in the bud. Zeus, will you LOOK at the state of my altar cloth? I'll expect you to replace..."

"'Pol, do something before he becomes Hades' problem instead of mine."

"Impatient. How bad is that wound you're covering up?"

"Bad. It's deep, and ragged. And," he nodded at the red streak on the silent, frightened mortal's cheek, "he got hit by a drop of hydra's blood."

"Oo, nasty." Apollo looked at the priest. "Leave that and go back to the storeroom. I'll need the white jar on the third shelf from the top, right wall. The one with the jade lid. And bring the vial of red liquid next to it." The priest deposited an armload of objects at the foot of the altar, bowed, and left. "I'm going to assume from the way you're leaning on him that he's still bleeding."

"It's slowed, but it hasn't stopped."

Apollo opened a wooden box and lifted out what looked like a gray, tangled mass of hair-fine vines, vines with leaves no bigger than an infant's fingernail. "I'm going to have you remove you hand, and I'm going to press this to the wound. Be ready to hand me more when I ask for it. Are you ready?" Ares nodded curtly. "Now."

Ares jerked his hand away. There was a short, emphatic squirt of blood, but then Apollo slapped the wad of material down. He didn't have enough of the stuff to completely block the flow, and some oozed out around the fast darkening clot. Apollo pushed, jamming the stuff INTO the wound. Joxer passed out again. Ares growled, "Did you have to be so rough?"

Apollo gave him a surprised look. "If you want him to live, yes. Hand me some more." Ares passed over another handful. Apollo packed it down into the open gash, holding it in place. "Besides, if he's unconscious, he won't be feeling the pain. I can't give him anything to dull the agony right now--he's lost so much blood that he might not survive it." The gray mass was dark and wet around the edges, but the center remained dry. "It looks like this is working. If it stays dry for another minute or two, we have a chance."

They both watched the wound silently. Apollo said, "Yes, this is Aphrodite's favorite. What's his name?"


"Ah, yes. Say, he's brother to Jett, the assassin, isn't he?"

"I believe so."

"You believe? I thought he was one of your favored followers."

"I don't bother to research the genealogy of all my followers. The stuff seems to be working."

"Yes, it does. Remarkable stuff, this. It's seaweed. I have an agreement with Poseidon to keep me supplied. He brings it to me, I make sure his favorite reef gets plenty of sun, so his mermaids can bask. Get that bottle of spirits. The seaweed is very, very clean, but there's no use in taking chances. Mortals are such fragile things." Ares uncorked the bottle and offered it to Apollo. "No, I need to keep pressure on this. Just pour it over and around my hand-- it will soak in."

"Will it hurt him?"

"Zeus, Ares, it will be alcohol on raw flesh--what do you think? But as I said before, he's unconscious, so I doubt he'll feel it. Pour!" Ares did as instructed. "Since when are you so solicitous of a mortal's pain? This is working well. I need one more handful, then hand me a couple of those pads."

As Ares did so, the priest returned, setting the requested items with the other supplies. Apollo didn't look up. "Is there a private room prepared?"

"Of course, my lord."

"Good. Prepare the binding cloths." Apollo pressed a thick, clean pad of cloth over the seaweed. "Ares, lift his leg so that I can get the bandage around it. Whatever you do, don't squeeze or let it drop, or it might reopen."

Ares hooked his arms around Joxer's knee and lifted carefully. Apollo took the cloth strips from his priest and quickly and neatly bound the wound, wrapping it in several layers, completely covering the pad. "Let it down carefully. Now I need to tend to burn. I just hope none of it got into his blood. That could be very, very nasty."

"Shouldn't we get him to a room first?"

"Who's the God of Healing here? I need to take care of this NOW. If it gets into his blood... Well, let's just say that he'd wish he'd had a nice, peaceful death by blood loss."

Ares watched as Apollo opened the jar and, first wrapping his finger in a strip of leather, scooped up an oily, gray ointment. He smeared it over the red weal, saying, "We'll do this several times a day--if he lives. He'll have a scar, though. Even a god would scar from a contact with hydra blood." He picked up the little vial, uncorking it, and hesitated. "Damn, I suppose I'll have to wake him up to give him this. No point in having him choke to death when I've gone through all this trouble."

"Wait," said Ares. He slid an arm under Joxer's back, lifting his upper body carefully. Joxer slumped against him, his head dropping back on Ares' shoulder. "Give me that, and tip his head up." Apollo handed the vial over, then put his fingers under Joxer's chin, tilting his head back. "How much?"

"All of it." Ares tipped the vial to Joxer's lips, letting the liquid trickle into his mouth. Joxer twitched, making a choking noise. Ares dropped the vial (Apollo had to lunge to catch it), and quickly stroked Joxer's throat, urging him to swallow. The man's throat pulsed, and the medicine went down. "If the poison did get into his system, hopefully that will counteract it?"

Ares scowled at him. "What do you mean, 'hopefully'?"

Apollo angrily tossed the vial to the floor. "Tartarus! He's MORTAL, Ares! I've never used this on a mortal before, so I can't be sure exactly what will happen. I've done everything I could, my altar cloth is ruined, I have stains on my best robe, I'll have to scrub my hands raw to get the gore out from under my nails, and you're giving me fucking ATTITUDE!" He glared at the priest. "Take him to the room. I'll check him later."

When the priest reached for the unconscious man Ares shoved him away and lifted Joxer into his arms. "Just show me where to take him." The priest bowed, and Ares snapped, "Move, before you find a fireball up your ass!" The priest scurried away, and Ares followed.

Apollo stared after him, lips pursed thoughtfully. *Well, well, well. Ares, God of War, acting like a mortal's personal body slave. I think I'm going to be watching Joxer's progress with a great deal of interest.*

Ares waited for the priest to turn back the sheet on the bed, then lowered Joxer. "He needs to be bathed."

"Yes, my lord. I will send a servant immediately." The priest bustled out.

Ares started to leave, thinking that he'd wasted enough of his day. *Where should I go? There's that border trouble. The pot's about to boil there, and it wouldn't take much to raise the heat a little.* He thought of where he wanted to go, and prepared to transport.

His eyes fell on the still figure in the bed, and he paused. He lifted his voice. "STRIFE!"

There was a sizzle of energy. The Mischief God appeared before him in a burst of blue sparks. "You bellowed?"

"I need you to go tip those two warlords we were discussing over into a confrontation."

"Can do." Strife was glancing around the room. When his eyes fell on Joxer, he startled. "Hey! Whathafuck happened to Joxie?"


"Oo, not good. Is he gonna be all right?"

"Maybe." Ares was a little surprised by the question. To the best of his knowledge, Strife only asked that sort of question when he was hoping for a negative answer. It didn't sound like that, though. "Do you care?"

Strife shrugged, looking a little embarrassed. "I s'pose so. Joxie's done a lotta work fah me." He giggled. "Not intentionally, mind ya. If I hadda dinar fah every time he tripped an' knocked someone sprawlin, usually inta a nice, steamin pile of manure..." He shrugged again. "He ain't bad, fah a mortal. Life would be duller without 'im. Oh, well..." He snapped an ironic salute. "Off ta formant chaos." There was another giggle (a sound that had cause more than one mortal to wet their pants), and Strife disappeared.

It was just as well that he left then, because two servants arrived, carrying jugs of water, a basin, and bathing supplies. Strife tended to make the priests and servants of the other gods and goddesses nervous. The servants bowed, then put down their supplies, and began to unbuckle Joxer's armor. The man moaned quietly, and Ares said, "Stand back." He waved his hands, and Joxer's armor and clothes disappeared. "Get on with it."

The servants, a man and a woman, poured warm water into the basin and began to sponge the drying blood and dirt from Joxer. Ares stood by, arms crossed, watching. *Damn, he's almost as pale as Strife, and almost as thin. Doesn't Xena feed him?*

Ares stepped closer, dark eyes running over Joxer as the servant's continued to wash him. He noticed a number of scars. *Why am I surprised? Strife said he's clumsy. I've seen him go ass over ears often enough. I think he could trip over the pattern in a smooth marble slab. But there ARE a lot of them, and they all seem to be pretty old. They're faded to white, as if they happened a long time ago.* He cocked his head, the better to examine some a couple of dozen lines on his shins. *Those start around back, on his calves. They look like lash scars. I don't recall hearing of him ever being in trouble so serious that he'd be flogged. And even if he had been, they don't do it across the back of the legs.*

*He's thin, but he has some muscle. I never would have known under that claptrap he wears.* His eyes roved over Joxer's body, and halted when they came to his crotch. One eyebrow rose slowly. *Well, I CERTAINLY wouldn't have expected THAT. Not quite in Priapus' class, but then, who is? No wonder Aphrodite is so fond of him. Joxer, it's a good thing that beast didn't gore you a little higher. There'd surely be some disappointed women in the world.*

The servants finished the ablutions, patting Joxer dry carefully, then pulled a sheet up to his shoulders, bowed to Ares, and left. Ares prepared to leave again, thinking that he'd check back tomorrow. After a moment he pulled a chair up close to the bed and sat, eyes fixed on Joxer's face.

*Why did you do it? My followers are supposed to be willing to die for me, but I know that most of them never expect to do it on the personal level that you were courting.* He grimaced. *And you do it by knocking me over, then making a lucky stab--typical. How is it that you managed to run clear across that meadow without stepping in a rat hole, or tripping over a daisy? Have you ever gone that far in that big a hurry without falling?* He crossed his arms, slouching in the chair, not realizing that he'd assumed a posture that said he intended to be there for a while. *Maybe I ought to ask the Fates about it the next time I see them.*

*Hurts. I sure do hope I'm not dead, 'cause an eternity of feeling like this would be a bitch. I can't think of anything I've done that might deserve that. Unless Ares was pissed when I ran into him? I did that, didn't I? I didn't mean any harm. My intentions were good. Yeah, right, Joxer--and the road to Tartarus is paved with good intentions.*

*Oh, Zeus, I haven't felt anything like this since... since... I don't have anything I can compare it with. Not even that time Father laid the hot poker against the soles of my feet.*

*Maybe I failed, and Ares died, and this is my punishment. Yeah, it feels like something Zeus would cook up. This would be nothing to a guy that can dream up chaining someone to a rock and having an eagle eat his liver every day. Wait a minute--would I need to pee if I was dead? Hm, maybe it's part of the punishment. Maybe I have a really, really bad infection, and it's going to feel like I'm passing hydra blood.* He lay still, eyes closed, for another minute. *I think that in a little while it's going to be a toss up as to what would hurt more--urinating hydra blood, or holding it. I'd better get up. I know what happens when you pee the bed, at least in my case--a beating. I kinda expected it from Father. I mean, why would he react any differently to THAT? I think that mercenary who crawled into my bed in Corinth last year might have restrained himself. He was just as drunk as I was, after all. I'd heard that some women peed on would-be rapists, but I never expected to use that defense myself. Heck, I never would have thought of it, but he SCARED me. I guess I should have known he was up to something, buying me all that ale. I should have known he wasn't interested in my sparkling conversation. DAMN, it hurts. I REALLY have to pee soon.*

He heard a quiet rasping sound nearby. Opening his eyes was an effort, but he managed. The sound came again. His eyes wandered toward it. *Ares? He's alive.* The sound came again, and Joxer saw that Ares' mouth was slightly open. *He's alive--and snoring. He looks younger when he's asleep. Maybe if I'm real quiet I can sneak out without waking him. I have a feeling that waking Ares up unexpectedly isn't too healthy.* Joxer started to pull the sheet down. There was the minute rasp of linen against skin. Ares sat bolt upright. Joxer quickly closed his eyes again.

It didn't work. "What do you think you're doing?"

He tried to speak, but his throat felt raw. *Oh, yeah. I was screaming a lot. And I suppose now I'll be screaming some more.*

"Don't pretend to be unconscious. Your hands are balled up into fists."

Joxer quickly relaxed his fingers. *Hostile posture around the God of War. NOT good.*

"Do you need anything?"

*Whoa, now THERE'S a phrase I never expected to hear from a god. I wonder if it's a trick question?"

"Look, I CAN read you mind if I have to, but it's a pain in the ass, so don't MAKE me. Now, do you need anything?"

Joxer swallowed. "Chamber pot?"

"Oh. Right." Joxer opened his eyes to find Ares standing beside him, holding a glazed clay vessel with a curved neck. Joxer started to reach for it. Ares sounded annoyed when he spoke. "Stop that. If you do it alone, you're going to tear that wound open again. Just stay still."

Ares flicked the sheet down around Joxer's knees. That was when Joxer realized that he was nude. *Oh, geez. If I had enough blood left, I'd blush like a boiled lobster. Boiled... Boiling oil... BAD thought.* Ares had reached down and had his hand around Joxer's cock. *Manual emasculation--even WORSE thought.* He squeezed his eyes shut, hoping he wouldn't live too long after his privates were removed. He was, after all, rather fond of them. He felt a cool touch against the underside of his member, and slitted one eye open.

Ares had directed his cock into the mouth of the pot. He glanced at Joxer. "Well? I can't spend all day standing around, holding your dick. Pee if you have to."

"I... um... I don't need to now."

"PEE!" Joxer did--abruptly. When the urine stopped tinkling into the pot, Ares gave Joxer's member a surprisingly restrained shake, then lowered it back to rest against his groin. He walked over to a table and set the jug down. His back turned to the bed, he slowly rubbed his hands together, glancing back at Joxer. "If you need to crap, you'll have to get one of the servants to take care of it. I draw the line there. Do you want anything else before I go?"

"I... I'm a little thirsty."

Ares silently went back to the bed and materialized a goblet. Joxer flinched when Ares reached for him, but stayed still when his god scowled. Ares lifted his torso a little, and held the goblet to his lips, letting him sip.

It was the coolest, sweetest water Joxer had ever tasted. When he'd had a few sips he stopped. "Thank you." Ares offered the goblet again. "No thank you."

"Apollo said he couldn't give you any drugs for the pain, but this should help a little."

*That was good water, but I hardly think it'll dull pain.* Joxer glanced down. The liquid in the goblet was a rich red, and it smelled tart. *What the...? Oh, yeah--divine powers.* Joxer drank the proffered wine gratefully. It DID help a little. He frowned, licking his lips. "I had the weirdest taste in my mouth."

Ares found himself watching the path of that pink tongue, tracing the shape of Joxer's mouth. He made the goblet disappear, and said absently, "That would be the hydra blood antidote. Zeus knows what's in it. If I were you, I wouldn't ask Apollo about it."

"Why would I talk to Apollo?"

"He'll be looking in on you, idiot. This is his temple, and I doubt that he'll leave you to his priests after tending to you personally."

"Ah-Apollo hih-himself?"

"You don't believe me?" Ares sounded ominous.

"No! I mean yes! I mean... Um, I didn't think there WAS a temple near the shepherds' camp."

"There isn't. You're on Olympus." Joxer blinked, then his eyes rolled back in his head, and he fainted.

Ares quickly put his ear against Joxer's chest. His heartbeat was steady. Ares listened a little longer, one hand on Joxer's shoulder, and the other on his flat belly. After a moment he stood, reached down, and drew the sheet up again. He considered sitting back down, then muttered, "I've wasted enough time," and disappeared. A second later he appeared in the temple's kitchen, and wrapped his fist in the tunic of the closest servant. "That mortal I brought here--keep your ears open in case he needs anything." He lifted the trembling man till they were nose-to-nose. "If by some insane chance he was neglected in any way I would be very," he shook the man, "VERY displeased." He dropped the man and transported.

One servant went to get a mop for the puddle that had been made by the servant Ares had selected, and another brought the damp and shaking man a drink.

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