saga/title/fandom: Love and Mischief Saga: Seeking Balance chapter 3 (Hercules/Xena)
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. http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/scribescribbles and http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/foxluver
Chapter 3: Visitors
Joxer drifted up to consciousness. *Oh-kay. I think I've established that I'm not dead. However, if I really AM on Olympus, and that wasn't just a weird ass dream I had, that status could change at any moment. WAS it a dream? Lessee... Ares held my dick so I could pee. I'd say it might qualify.*
He shifted a little, the pain coming back. *Well, I wish I could have the dream again. It was more pleasant than this, even if it was a little scary. Ares holding my dick... Yep--scary. Interesting, but scary. Okay, so I'm not dead. Maybe I'm just insane? That would explain things. Of course, Gabby has been claiming for months that I must be crazy. She points to Jett and Jayce for supporting evidence. Can't argue with her there, I guess. I suppose none of us are the tightest wrapped parcel under the Winter Solstice tree.*
*I guess I'd better see where I am--probably some field hospital.* His fingers moved on the smooth sheet that covered him. *Or maybe a better class brothel?* He slitted one eye open cautiously, then shut it again quickly. *BRIGHT! Either I have a window and it's broad daylight, or they're burning enough candles or torches to endanger the ceiling.* He tried again, managing to get the eye half open this time. *Oh. Part of it is because the light is reflecting off all that marble.* He rolled his head to the side and got a glimpse of the floor. Both eyes came open in surprise. *Sunbursts? That looks like real gold gilding the tiles. I don't think even Iphecles has that sort of lavish decor in his palace. Maybe Caesar, or someone...* He closed his eyes again with a groan. *Or a god--like Apollo.*
He heard footsteps, and considered whipping the sheet over his head, then decided that might draw too much attention. Besides, the pain was increasing steadily, and he wasn't sure he could accomplish the move. The steps came closer, till whoever-it-was was standing beside the bed. A large, warm palm was laid across his forehead. A deep, masculine voice said, "You don't seem to have any fever. That's a good sign." Joxer did his impression of a corpse. "Oh, stop it! I can tell that you're faking it, you know."
Joxer sighed, and opened his eyes. "I don't know why I bother."
"Ah, and capable of coherent communication."
"It's my brother Jayce who's the actor in the family, but I thought I'd gotten pretty good at acting unconscious, because I needed to when I was a kid, but when I got older usually just running away was more effective."
Apollo blinked down at the babbling man. "Perhaps semi-coherent." Apollo snapped his fingers, and a servant brought in a tray of supplies. "I need to have a look at that wound, and change the dressing." He took hold of the sheet, but Joxer clutched at it. "Oh, really! It isn't as if I haven't already seen all you have. Let go of that sheet. I'm a busy man, and I don't have time for this nonsense."
Joxer reluctantly let go of the sheet, and Apollo pulled it down to his knees. He bent over Joxer's body, and the mortal tensed. Apollo just brought his face close to the bandaged area, and sniffed. "No smell of corruption. Very good." He held up his hands, and a pair of large golden shears appeared. "This is going to hurt." Joxer's hands flew instinctively to cover his privates. Apollo's eyebrows rose. "Great Zeus, who HAVE you been hanging about with? It's for the bandages, silly--the BANDAGES." Joxer smiled sheepishly, but kept his hands in place. Apollo shrugged. "All right, but you might have the urge to grab when the real pain hits you--then don't say you weren't warned." Joxer slowly moved his hands to his side.
"Good boy." Apollo slid the tips of the shears under the edge of the bandage, and Joxer shivered slightly. "Yes, I know they're cold. Sorry. I suppose I should have warned them."
"It's not that. I'm just a little nervous about having sharp objects that close to... um..."
Apollo chuckled. "I thought they said you were stupid, but that's an imminently sensible attitude." He started carefully snipping through the linen.
Joxer let his head drop back on the pillow. *Great. My lack of brainpower has reached even unto the gods. Figures.* As the pressure around his leg decreased with each snip, the pain increased. By the time Apollo was spreading the bandages open he was sweating.
Apollo glanced up at the mortal, surprised that he wasn't yelling with pain by now. *Well, he's feeling it.* The man's expression was tight, jaw clenched, eyes pressed shut so hard that his brows were drawn down. *Well, you're braver than you look. I think even Ares would have at least been swearing by now. Let's see how he does when I remove the packing.*
He did quite well--only a few whines, and a yelp when he had to work a bit of seaweed free of dried blood. Since the bleeding had stopped and the wound had begun healing cleanly, Apollo had intended to leave the cleaning and rebandaging to the servant while he went on to the rest of his duties. Instead he snapped his fingers, and the servant brought up the basin of water and cleaning supplies. Apollo glanced down at them, then said, "Get me the green vial."
As the servant handed him the vial, Apollo said, "You seem to be alert and strong enough to stand a little pain killer. I'm going to give this to you, because this is going to be very painful. I'm afraid it won't actually take away the pain, but it will dull it a bit. It should be tolerable."
"I'm all for tolerance." Joxer reached for the vial.
Apollo said, "No, you'll need help. That potion is a bitch to make, and I'm not going to have you spill it all over."
Once again a strong arm was slipped behind Joxer's back, lifting his torso. *But it's not the same. It felt different when Ares did it. Maybe it was the leather?* Apollo held the vial to Joxer's lips and he drank. This one didn't taste QUITE as bad as the hydra blood antidote had, but that was like saying that losing a toe was better than being hamstrung.
Apollo was watching the faces Joxer made, amused. "Pretty nasty, huh?"
"Um... well..." *It's gotta be bad form to criticize someone who saved your life, and STUPID when that person can fry you butt just as easily.*
"It tastes rotten, I know. But hey--it's medicine. I used to put flavorings in them, but I could never be sure that it wouldn't change the effect. Besides, Strife lobbied so hard."
He eased Joxer back down. "Yeah, and it'll keep kids from getting into it, thinking it's a treat. It couldn't be good for them to take medicine when they didn't need it. It might make them sick."
Apollo smiled. "That's pretty perceptive. You know, not one of the adults who complain about the taste has ever realized that." He patted Joxer on the head, then slowly stroked the young man's hair. "You have quite nice hair--as soft as the Muses'."
Joxer was beginning to feel a little lightheaded. "Thank you." *Is Apollo flirting with me?*
"I'll have one of the servants wash it for you later. Now, to tend to that wound."
*Nah. That drug must be kicking in, if I thought that. I mean, this is APOLLO. He has his pick of the Muses. I have to be imagining it.*
Apollo quickly cleaned and rebandaged Joxer's wound. As he tied the last knot, he glanced us at the pale faced man. *Not a sound. Pretty impressive for a mortal.* Humming to himself, he whimsically tied a bow in the bandage's trailing ends. "Gotta make you look good for your visitors." As he straightened up, he drew his hand slowly up, brushing the edge of Joxer's pubic thatch. Then he cupped his hands over Joxer's genitals and gave a gentle squeeze. "Nice package, dude." Then he pulled the sheet back up. "I'll have them send in some breakfast, but you're going to be on liquids and pap till I'm sure of what your digestion can handle." He tapped Joxer playfully on the nose. "Be grateful. You sure as Tartarus don't want to throw up while you're immobile." Apollo took Joxer's chin in his hand and studied the red mark on his cheek. "Okay, it looks safe to handle that without a barrier." He scooped up a little salve and smoothed it over the weal. It had been stinging a little, and now that faded. Then Apollo cupped Joxer's other cheek, rubbing slowly. "Hm... You don't have many whiskers, do you? I bet that up until a couple of years ago your cheeks were as smooth as Bliss' butt. You can go for another day or so without a shave." He patted Joxer's cheek, then left, with the servant trailing after with the rest of the supplies.
Joxer, who had been stunned since that big hand had engulfed his cock, thought, *Okay. Maybe he WAS flirting. He wouldn't actually DO anything,* Joxer assured himself. *I mean, after all, he's a GOD.* Joxer winced. *Yeah, and so is Zeus.*
His leg was aching terribly, but drowsiness was creeping over him. He fell asleep. He was gently awakened some time later, and servant propped him up with soft pillows, then spoon-fed him strong broth. Joxer had protested, wanting to feed himself, but the servant replied that Lord Apollo had been very specific in his orders, and it wasn't worth the servant's skin to disobey.
After the meal, the servant brought in more jugs of water and a basin. "I already had a bath."
"I know. Lord Apollo has said that your hair is to be washed."
"That's thoughtful of him, but I don't see how it's possible if I can't get out of bed. It'll make an awful mess."
"The trick is in the length of the hair."
"Oh. You mean that it would be hard to do it for Iolaus, but easy for Cupid?"
"Well, I'm glad my hair is short."
The servant picked up a pair of shears. These were plain metal instead of gold, like Apollo's, but they looked just as sharp. "Not as short as it WILL be."
Joxer put the pillow over his head.
Ares looked up from the map he was studying, and scowled. "Strife, if you pick your nose one more time you'll have to learn how to do it with another finger, because I will REMOVE the digit you use." Strife shrugged. He was sitting in a chair with his left ankle on his right knee, and he casually wiped his finger on the sole of his boot. "Why do you DO that?" Strife grinned. Ares heaved a sigh. "Because you know it annoys me. Silly question."
"I'm just bored, Unc. You been stewin ovah those maps fah ages now. I'd say 'give it up--they ain't gonna change', but I know that ain't so." The maps in question were enchanted. The marks on them moved to show the exact position of different troops and individuals that Ares wanted to keep an eye on. "But Zeus, Unc--they're so slow that it must be like watchin' paint dry."
"There's been a group of rebels trying to sneak up on one of my warlords. I've been checking their progress."
"They won't make it by morning, and they won't attack in daylight." Ares scratched a few lines on a parchment, and rolled it up. "I'll need you to take this to Otess. Before you give it to him, try to find out if he already knows about the planned ambush. If he doesn't, burn his tent down. His scouts should have warned him by now."
Strife fidgeted. "Do I hafta?"
Ares looked up in surprise. "Since when do you question what I tell you to do?"
"Oh, I ain't," Strife said quickly. "I'll do it, if ya really need me to, but I was plannin on goin ta visit Joxer, an' it's gettin kinda late. 'Pol don't like people visitin his patients aftah sunset. I'm gonna hafta remembah that fah if healin establishments evah become common." He tittered. "I'll call it 'visitin hours', an' it'll piss a lot of people off."
Ares looked thoughtful. "All right, you don't have to waste any time picking for information or punishing if he's been lax. Just drop it off, then you can do what you like."
"Thanks, Unc!" Strife took the scroll.
"Why do you want to visit him, though?"
Strife paused, thinking. "Tartarus, I dunno. He's a nice enough guy, he's helped me out before, an'..." He lifted one shoulder. "Tha guy is gonna be stuck up here fah awhile, right? It ain't like anyone he knows from Earth is gonna be able ta visit. I s'pose he's gonna get fuckin bored aftah awhile. Besides, he can be funny. If ya don't HAFTA listen ta him--I mean, if ya ain't TRAPPED with him, his babblin can be pretty fuckin amusin." Strife tapped the scroll to his head. "See ya soon." He transported.
A few tiny frogs hopped in Strife's wake. It was something new he'd been trying. He said that if Dite and Cupid could have hearts, flowers, and doves when they transported, he saw no reason why HE couldn't add a flourish to his transportation. Ares watched as the little green creatures disappeared in a puff of smoke. *I suppose it could be worse. He COULD have chosen to use polecats--and I hope like Tartarus he doesn't catch that stray thought.*
Ares leaned back over his map, but after a moment he rolled it up. He considered materializing something to eat, sharpening his sword, studying a book on strategy, and even doing a bit of training with some of his war dogs. None of it appealed to him. He finally realized that he was bored. *That's ridiculous. I'm a GOD. Tartarus, I'm the fucking God of WAR! I'm not supposed to get bored. Why am I bored? I've spent almost every waking hour doing my job--fighting or planning. Then Zeus decides to celebrate his anniversary with Hera by cutting hostilities back by half for two seasons, and all of a sudden I have free time on my hands. I guess I should thank the Fates that he didn't declare absolute PEACE. Tartarus, it would take AGES to get things back to normal if he did that.*
He found that he was pacing, and he angrily threw himself into a chair, unconsciously sliding down into a sullen slouch. *This whole Joxer fiasco is Zeus' fault, really. If he hadn't ordered me to ease up, I'd have been off directing a battle, or something. Instead, what happens? I'm bored, I'm looking for something to do, I spy on Xena, and find out that she's going to help my meddling half-brother slay a hydra. Instead of productively slicing up some barbarian horde I end up on that damn unstable ledge. If Zeus hadn't forbidden me my work, I wouldn't have been there. I wouldn't have fallen, I wouldn't have been in danger of being hydra-chow, Joxer would have stayed safely on the other side of the meadow, and wouldn't have gotten injured, and wouldn't even now be laying in Apollo's temple, waiting for Strife to visit him.* Ares sat up a little, blinking. "Shit, I wonder if Joxerbabble is catching?*
He didn't relax back into the chair. Instead he stood up. *I suppose I ought to go check on him,* he thought grudgingly. *If I can get some good news to take back to Xena, I can lay an obligation on her.*
It was as good an excuse as any, since he wouldn't admit to himself that he simply wanted to see how the odd little man was doing.
Strife appeared in Apollo's temple. Actually, he appeared in the middle of the Muses' bathing chamber, sending naked, wet, shrieking females flying in all directions before he said, "Oops!" and transported to the front room. He was giggling happily when Apollo stalked in, glaring at him. "Don't start on me, 'Pol. I was just lookin fah a friend of mine, an' I, uh, miscalculated."
Apollo grunted. "Right--and Bacchus is the God of Virtue and Restraint. I suppose you're looking for Xena's tag-along?"
"Joxer, yah. I heard he tried ta tangle with a full grown hydra, an' came out a little tha worse fah wear."
"He's very lucky. If Ares hadn't gotten him to me when he did, Hades would have already had him sorted out. As it is, it still isn't a sure thing, but I'm hopeful. If there's no infection, he should be all right, but he's going to have to stay here on Olympus for a while. The conditions on Earth would be just too filthy and rough."
"He up ta havin visitors?"
"Yes. I think it would be good for him, as long as you don't tire him out. Come on, and I'll show you the way." As he led Strife along the halls he said, "How did you find out about Joxer being injured?"
"There was an air sprite that saw it happen, an' she blabbered ta Zephyr, an' ya KNOW what he's like."
Apollo nodded. "That airhead LIVES to gossip."
"Yah, well, I was tha first one he told, an' I brought it home ta him how pissed Ares would be if he went talkin it around that he'd gotten his bacon pulled outta tha fire by a mortal."
Apollo grunted. "Thank you. I hate having to do repair work on Zephyr. Parts of him just go wafting off, if you aren't cautious." Apollo smiled. "You know, Joxer is kind of cute, for a mortal."
Strife looked at Apollo in surprise. "Ya think?"
"Have you ever seen him naked?"
"Um... I popped in on him once when he was bathin. That dude can stay undah watah a LONG time. I was too busy givin him some false information from Ares ta pay much attention."
"Trust me--he's pretty nice, in a long and lanky, needs some sun way." Strife cleared his throat, glaring at the Sun God. "What?"
The tall, thin, pale Mischief God rolled his eyes. *What's tha use? * "Nothin. Are we there yet?"
"Yes, we are." Apollo pointed. "That door there. Remember the way, because I won't have time to act as guide. No more than an hour--he needs his rest." Apollo bustled away.
Strife walked into the room. "Heya, Joxie!" He peered at the man lying on the bed. "Look, I know that they pull sheets up ovah tha dead, but 'Pol said ya were doin okay, so what's with tha pillah ovah yer head?"
"Want me ta turn tha stuffin in that pillah inta manure an' prove it?" Joxer sighed and tucked the pillow back under his head. Strife blinked. "That's kind of a new look for ya, ain't it, Jox?"
"I needed a shampoo."
"Damn, man, how hard did they scrub?"
"Yah, I thought it was pretty decent." Strife went over and sat on the edge of the bed. "So--hydra, huh?" Joxer nodded. "Pretty ambitious, Jox. Don't ya think ya shoulda started off with somethin a little less threatenin--like maybe a sheep?"
"Ares wasn't being attacked by a sheep."
"Yah? Well, it coulda happened. Them things are treacherous beasts, especially if they're in flocks. It makes 'em vicious."
Joxer was staring at him. Strife grinned. "Oh. You're fooling me."
"Of course I am. Damn, Jox, you're not THAT gullible, are ya?"
"Heck, Strife, you're a god. You have access to secrets unknown to mortal man, and for all I know that might mean that somewhere there are carnivorous sheep.
"There ain't, but it's an interestin idea."
"You scare me."
Strife stuck out his tongue. "I'm supposed ta."
Joxer smiled. *He's nicer than everyone seems to realize. I mean, causing mischief is his JOB, and there HAS to be a certain amount of trouble in the world. He's fairer than a lot of gods, too. He usually doesn't concentrate on anyone unless they've done something to really piss him off, and that's pretty much what ANYONE would do.*
"Dinar fah yer thoughts."
"I was just thinking that nobody really seems to understand you."
Strife's grin faltered, and something flickered in his eyes. "Sure they do, Jox. Heck, I'm not complicated--if I can cause mischief, I do." He shrugged. "Simple."
"Sure. I guess it's the same for me. What you see is what you get."
Strife cocked his head, studying Joxer. He knew something of Joxer's past, what he'd had to overcome. He knew that other people would have given up and turned hollow, or gone bitter and turned mean. Joxer had done neither. He was full to bursting with warmth and affection--and he had no one to share those feelings. Despite his desire to be a warrior, he was one of the gentlest souls around. Those were the reasons that he was such a favorite with Aphrodite-- she saw them, too. "I dunno about that, Jox. Ya know what Poseidon says--still watahs run deep."
Joxer was trying to think of an answer to that when there was a red flash, and Ares appeared. "I've come to see how you're doing. I see that you're conscious, at least, and what the fuck happened to your hair?" For a second Joxer blinked in confusion at the sudden shift of topic. "Your HAIR," said Ares impatiently. "What happened to it? Your head looks like a porcupine--one that's had its quills clipped."
A little color came into Joxer's pale cheeks. "They cut it so they could wash it. You see, with it this short they could just use a cloth to wet it, rub the soap on, then use a damp cloth to wipe it off."
"In other words they were too damn lazy to make the effort to do it normally." Ares stalked over and bent down to examine Joxer.
The hair was no more than a half-inch long. This short you could really tell how soft and fine it was. It DID stick up a lot, but Strife thought it was more like dandelion fluff than porcupine quills. "Hello ta you, too, Unc."
Ares glanced at him, his expression saying 'oh, so YOU'RE here'. He nodded, then looked back at Joxer. "Who did it?"
Joxer's eyes shifted. "I don't know."
"Don't lie to me, Joxer. I can find out easily enough."
"I wish you wouldn't." His voice was plaintive. "Sure, I didn't like it much, but I can see WHY they did it, and it'll grow back." He paused. "Won't it? Olympian shears don't, like, make it stop growing, do they?"
Strife giggled. "I love 'im--he's so easy." He stood up. "I gotta go. Joxie, I'll tell Dite what happened, 'kay? I know she'll wanna see ya."
"Okay, but don't make too much of it, huh? I don't want her to worry."
"Gotcha. No details of pumpin blood an' hideous screams." He twiddled his fingers, and disappeared.
Joxer said, "Why do I have the feeling that he's going to make the description as gory as possible?"
"Because that's exactly what he's going to do." Ares reached down and passed a hand over Joxer's scalp. "I suppose I don't have to gut anyone over this, but they didn't need to cut it this short, did they?" *Damn, his hair is soft. If feels like Cupid's did, way back when I used to brush it for him, except his curled. Joxer's is straight. I think it would fall just like a sheet if he let it grow. And it's thick, too. I ought to be able to see his scalp with it this short, but I can't.*
Joxer lay very still as Ares rubbed his head, his eyes half closing. *Boy, that feels nice. No wonder cats like to be petted so much. When was the last time someone stroked my hair? Um... Yeah, I remember. It was Jayce. I'd found out he was going to run away from home, and I was crying because I'd be the only one left at home. He stayed another hour and let me cry in his lap, petting my hair and my back. But he still left, and the next day Father...*
Joxer's eyes popped open. "My head."
"I know that. I mean this." Ares' finger moved through his hair, brushing his scalp. "This raised ridge, here."
"I--had an accident."
"What sort of accident?"
"It was a long time ago. I don't remember."
"What do you mean you don't remember?"
Joxer stared up at Ares for a moment. Finally he said softly, "I mean that sometimes the Fates are merciful, and let you forget something."
"You could remember, if you tried."
"I don't want to try. If I wanted to forget it, I'm pretty sure that I don't want to remember it, and it's not important, anyway. It's just a scar." He turned his face toward the wall. "I have lots of them."
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