saga/title/fandom: Love and Mischief Saga: Seeking Balance chapter 8 (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. http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/scribescribbles and http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/foxluver

Chapter 8: Settling In

Ares stood, glanced upwards, and called, "Eris!"

There was a crackle, and his twin appeared, looking impatient and irritated, as usual. "What's up, and make it quick. I left a hot king of thieves tied up behind the altar at one of my temples. If I don't hurry, he'll be limp where it counts, and stiff where it won't do me any good."

"There's going to be someone around for the next two or three months. No killing or maiming, and try not to scare him shitless, if you can help it."

"What? Did you have a 'win a vacation with your god' contest for your mortal warlords?"

"No, it's a worshipper I'm... uh... sort of doing a favor for."

Eris had been preparing to transport, not really expecting any kind of substantial answer, and now she paused. "You mean a plain old mortal-mortal?"

Ares chewed his lip. "Not exactly."

Now she sat down. "Ar, they either are, or they aren't. There isn't a whole hell of a lot of in between."

"Well, he's human, but he's not mortal anymore."

"Oh, crap. You didn't leave a golden apple laying around, did you? Zeus will be PISSED--not to mention Gaia."

"I don't think we have to worry about Gaia. Any woman with the least bit of softness in her heart seems to direct it toward him."

"Joxer, huh?"

He stared at her. "How the TARTARUS do you know that?"

She shrugged. "I've had a few chances to gut him, and for some reason I never do. I can't explain it. I guess part of it is because he's good comedy relief. Oh, and he's terrific at spreading chaos, whether he means to or not, but this is going some, even for him. How did this happen?"

Ares explained the situation as quickly and as plainly as possible, but he found that he was rambling a little verbally. "And now I think his speech mannerisms are rubbing off on me. Are you SURE you didn't have twins when you had Strife and just misplace one of them?"

"You think Hera would have let me get away with that? Okay, he's safe enough from me, and I'll kick in with the misdirection if it looks like His Royal Goatiness is getting suspicious." She stood up. "But you'd better figure out what you're going to do with him, bro. Let him hang around too long, and people will start to talk." She flashed away.

Ares thought of the Muses, Aphrodite, and Cupid. "What do you mean START?"

Ares went in search of Joxer, and found him outside. The new immortal was walking around the perimeter of the garden, muttering to himself intently. *That's it--he's crazy.*

As he approached, though, Ares listened more closely. "Let's see-- nice even rectangle. Maybe I can plant bushes along the wall to hide them. Not all the same kind, though--that would look too formal, too stiff. Not roses, but I'll have roses scattered through the garden. Azalea, laurel, forsythia, hydrangea. Boy, a lot of them end in 'eeah', don't they? Oo, and hibiscus, LOTS of hibiscus! They have such vivid colors. Will they grow here?"

"Everything will grow here, Joxer. Just tell me what you need, and I'll have Gaia take care of it."

Joxer didn't seem the least startled. He said quickly, "But would you ask her to just bring the seeds, or bulbs, or slips, or whatever they are, and not just zap them into full growth? I mean, I'd appreciate the effort, but I'd kind of like to... I like to see little things grow."

"Most of the divinities don't bother with that, aside from Gaia and Hera."

"Really? But you have all the time--you could see it ALL. I mean, you could watch a tree go from an acorn to an oak as thick as a barrel. Why don't the gods like that? It's amazing, and after all, you all are pretty much responsible for things like that."

"I don't know, Joxer. I guess that we've just seen it for so long that we've sort of forgotten how amazing it can be." Joxer was on his knees, and as Ares spoke, he was carefully pulling weeds from around several rather sickly looking plants. "What are you doing now?"

"These are daffodils, but they're almost choked out. After I pull these weeds, they'll get the space and sunlight they need, and bloom."

"So that's your first campaign--to get rid of all the weeds?"

"No, no!" He reached out and touched a vivid yellow blossom, with scalloped leaves. "What would a garden be without a few dandelions? What would children pick to give their mothers? I like dandelions. I wrote a poem about them ones."

"Did you? Say it for me."

Joxer paused in his weeding, looking up in surprise. "You want to hear it?"

"I asked, didn't I?"

"Gabby said it's just a nursery rhyme."

"Nursery rhymes are our first verses, Joxer. If a child doesn't love nursery rhymes, how can they learn to love poetry? Go on, let me hear it."

Joxer cleared his throat. He didn't look at Ares, fixing his eyes instead on the simple weed. "Every day the children pass, yellow coins upon the grass. Tiny suns or lemon pies--dandelions through children's eyes. Golden treasures, grown from seeds. Never call them only weeds." He shrugged. "I told you it wasn't much."

"You need to say that one for Bliss. He'll like it. Make a list of the tools and supplies you'll need, and I'll get them for you tomorrow. I'm sure I can get most of them from Demeter. She'll be happy to know that there's someone as interested in gardening as she is. I need to tell you about how the house operates. Have you seen the bathing chamber?"

Joxer nodded. "Wow. Does that pool stay hot?"

"Yes, unless you want it to be cool. You'll have to tell me if you do."

"No, hot is fine! Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a hot bath? They charge like they're pouring molten gold at most of the inns."

"I may have to be away for a couple of days at a time, or even more, but if I'm not here, I'll make arrangements for someone to be bring you have food--Strife, Eris, Dite, Cupid--someone. I think that the Muses will be willing to set up a meals by chariot service, just for you. Now, sleeping arrangements." v "Um, yeah. If you have a couch or something around, I'll be fine. I mean, I've spent the last few years sleeping on the ground most of the time."

"And that's what you're comparing my hospitality to?"

"NO! I mean..."

Ares sighed. "I was making a joke."

"Oh."

"Or rather I was TRYING to. There's a room..." He was watching Joxer, watching his open expression become more guarded, and he came to a decision, mentally erasing the door to the (quite comfortable, if a bit dark) spare bedroom, "but it's sort of been in use as a, um, holding pen. It's kind of nasty--moldy straw, chains, bloodstains, you know... Not very cheerful. It would be better if you kept sleeping in my room for the time being."

"You wouldn't mind?"

"I don't do much if I don't want to, Joxer. Haven't you noticed? Look, immortal or not, you don't need to be overdoing it so soon after you were hurt. That's enough work for today. I have to go throw the fear of myself into a general who's been getting a little lax. I'll leave a cold supper on the table in my room. If Phobos or Deimos show up, don't get spooked--the look almost as much like Strife as you look like your brothers. I think it might be a good idea to go ahead and give you a mark, so they and anyone else who drop by will know that you're off limits. Will you accept my mark, Joxer?"

Joxer blinked at Ares. His voice had suddenly gotten formal, and Joxer realized that this was not a casual question. *Taking a god's mark IS serious. It designates that you're theirs, and they don't just hand them out. I know that Dite really likes me, but even she hasn't asked that. And he could just TELL me he was doing it instead of asking. After all, I was dedicated to him when I was just a kid-- he's owned me since then.* He looked into Ares' dark eyes, trying to figure out just why he was doing this. Then he thought, *Who am I kidding? I'd have belonged to him even if I was dedicated to Zephyr.* "Yes."

Ares nodded. Joxer shivered slightly as Ares reached out and undid the first few buttons of his shirt, pushing it off his right shoulder. He placed his palm flat, just over Joxer's heart. "This will burn, Joxer. It can't be helped." Joxer felt the heat pass from Ares' hand and into his flesh. Joxer gritted his teeth, determined not to make a sound. It hurt as badly as that hot poker had, *but this is different, different from when Father did that, because Ares isn't TRYING to hurt me. He's doing this to keep me safe--for always.*

Ares pulled his hand away, and the pain started to fade immediately. Joxer looked down, and there was a dark mark, not much bigger than a dinar, just over his heart. It was simple and graceful, looking a little like two slightly curved shepherd's crooks, back to back. "Just show that to anyone who makes you nervous," Ares instructed. "They'll know that they're taking their life, immortal or not, in their hands if they harm you."

Joxer bowed his head. "I'll try to be worthy of it, my lord."

"I know you will."

*Flash*

Joxer used the bathing chamber, luxuriating in the steamy water for almost an hour. It was a treat to be able to stretch out instead of sitting in tepid water with his knees almost to his chest, listening to some inn owner banging on the door and telling him to get his ass out of the tub because the next customer was waiting. He had a leisurely dinner, then found some scrolls on a shelf in Ares' study. He was rather surprised to find that they were not treatises on strategy or weapons. One of them was an interesting history of Chin, and some of its philosophies. He'd never been able to afford anything like that himself, so he brought it to the bedroom and sat cross-legged on the bed to read it.

He was engrossed when he suddenly realized that there was a sizzling sound. He'd been rubbing his head absently, and there was a crackle of static electricity. "Ow!" He laid aside the scroll quickly, thinking, *Ares coming, and he's pissed.*

*FLASH!*

Ares appeared in the middle of the room. Joxer leaped up in alarm. The War God was wild-eyed, and clutching a gore dripping sword. His vest was split, and there was a shallow gash across his chest, blood smearing his chest and matting the dark hairs.

"I warned him!" he shouted. "I WARNED the stupid cocksucker. I knew he was a little unbalanced, but I had no idea he was THAT crazy."

"Ares, what happened?"

Ares shook the sword, and Joxer winced as blood droplets spattered his face. "I was just going to let him know that I was watching, that I knew he was second guessing my orders, and that I wasn't going to stand for it any more. I DIDN'T WANT TO FUCKING KILL HIM!"

"Why don't you let me take the sword? You could hurt yourself, waving it around like that." Joxer held out his hands.

Ares stared at him in disbelief. Joxer crooked his fingers. Ares handed the weapon over slowly. Joxer placed it on the table. "I'll clean this up for you after we get you taken care of. Come sit down and I'll get something to clean you up." Still watching Joxer, he went and sat on the bed, slipping off his vest while Joxer poured water into a basin and carried it over to the bedside table, concentrating so hard on not spilling it that the tip of his tongue poked out the side of his mouth.

Joxer sponged away the blood. "You've already stopped bleeding. I guess that's a god thing, huh?"

"Yes."

"Good. That jar--that's what you put on my wound, isn't it? I'll use that. I'm glad you didn't throw away the spare bandages. I think that they're long enough to wrap around your chest. I THINK so, but you are pretty broad across the back, and deep-chested. Actually, you're just sort of big, period. Do you have a hard time finding clothes that fit? No, of course not--you sparkle them up. That must be convenient.*

"Joxer, don't you want to know what I did?"

Joxer was measuring off lengths of linen strips. "I don't think I could keep a pad on that, so I'm just going to have to wrap enough layers so that it's covered. Gabby doesn't usually let me work with the bandaging. Usually the ones I tend end up looking like one of those Egyptian dead guys, except that they keep all their internal organs. You'll tell me if you think I should know. I'm sure you had a good reason. Can you lift your arms without it hurting too much?"

Instead of replying, Ares held his arms to his side, and Joxer began to wind the bandages around him. Every time Joxer passed the roll of cloth behind Ares and reached for it with his other hand, he almost embraced the War God. Ares watched the intent look on Joxer's face. "He thought he was going to depose me as God of War."

Joxer's head jerked up, and he stared into Ares' face in astonishment. "You're right--he WAS crazy."

Ares sighed, the rage and tension that had been ruling him since he'd had to draw his weapon seeping away. "He used to be a good general-- one of my best. I honestly don't know where it went wrong. Even his highest officers didn't know what he was planning. I spared them." Ares' expression twisted. "But he did it in front of his son, Joxer. His SON! The boy was only seventeen, he hadn't even been in his first battle." Ares rubbed his forehead. "Damn it. The boy believed in his father implicitly. When the general attacked me, he backed him up." Ares' voice dropped. "I had to kill him, too." Joxer was tying off the bandage. Ares touched it. "He was the one who gave me this, after I killed his father. What a waste. He'd have been a magnificent warrior some day. Hades will send him to the Fields. I just hope the father regains his senses in Asphodel, but you never know. There are plenty of insane shades."

"Ares? You're going to think I'm crazy for what I'm about to say. Heh. Why you be any different from most of the world. But I want to make a suggestion--let it go."

"What?"

"Let it go. You did what you had to do. Even if it hadn't been self- defense, you couldn't allow a maniac to take over your godhood. Would that have even been possible?"

"We don't discuss things like that."

"Understood. Anyway, you couldn't let such an important position fall into the hands of someone who was unbalanced. It would be too dangerous."

"Joxer, you ARE aware that most mortals think -I- am unbalanced?"

Joxer thought about this. "Things can be hard to understand when you're seeing them from the bottom. I mean, if you're standing at the foot of a cliff, it's easy to shout at someone on top, but you ought to admit that they're going to be able to see the army in the next valley that's sneaking up on you a lot sooner than you can. Um, not YOU, but... You know what I mean."

"Surprisingly enough, I do. Thank you, Joxer."

Joxer flushed. "Is that wine in that ewer over there? Why don't you take off your boots... Wait, I'll HELP you take off your boots--I know they can sort of stick sometimes. You can lay down, and I'll bring you some wine, then I'll clean your sword off for you before the blood gets all gluey, all right?"

*When was the last time someone volunteered to do something like that for me? I've had some offer to LICK my blade clean, but those sort always worry me a little.* "That would be appreciated."

"Okie-dokie. Stick out your foot." Ares lifted one foot straight out. Joxer turned his back to Ares, then stepped over the god's leg, gripping his boot. "Put your foot on my butt and push."

Ares stared. Joxer, legs slightly spread, straddling Ares' leg, bent over. Ares looked down at his fly. *Great. Wait until I'm wounded to get interested.* He put his foot against the leather coated buttocks and pushed. The boot popped off, and they repeated the action.

Joxer set the boots neatly beside the bed and brought Ares a goblet of wine. He watched as Joxer took more of the bandages and proceeded to clean his sword, working with patient thoroughness, and he suddenly realized that there was nothing more that he wanted to do than spend the rest of the night watching Joxer, and maybe listening to him rattle on about some nonsense.

Joxer looked up, catching his gaze, and smiled.

*Well,* thought Ares, *maybe ONE other thing.*


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