saga/title/fandom: Love and Mischief Saga: Seeking Balance chapter 12 (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 12: The Next Day

It was decided that Joxer's immortality being known by so many people was risky enough. Ares and Aphrodite agreed that the fewer people who knew about Joxer's new divinity, the better. Cupid promised to keep an eye on Bliss, not leaving him with anyone who might listen too closely to the godling's prattle. Other than them, it was agreed that Hephastus should know, because he was the one most likely to notice that his wife, stepson, and grandson were concealing something.

Joxer watched Ares as he adjusted his sword, getting it to hang comfortably. "Ares, I'm not going back to earth, right?"

Ares looked up at Joxer, who was still lounging in bed. The new godling was tousled and sleepy, and Ares had to fight the urge to just crawl back in bed with him. "I thought I'd explained that."

"Yeah, I know. But if I can't go back, I need to get word to my friends that I'm all right." Ares grunted. "If I remember correctly, I was in pretty sorry shape when you took off with me. They're going to be worried, and you shouldn't let people who care about you keep worrying."

Ares considered telling Joxer that from the way his 'friends' had pushed him aside, ignored him, or directly sniped at him, he could hardly be expected to take troubles to spare their feelings--if they had any. Finally he said, "It's only been a couple of days, Joxer. There's no hurry."

Joxer frowned. "I know it looks like that to you, since you're a god..."

"So are you."

"Maybe, but I still have the mortal mindset. For mortals, a couple of days of not knowing are BAD. Please take a minute today to tell them I'm all right. I know you can't tell them all of what's happened, but just let them know I'm not dead, and I'm recovered."

"They saw how you were. How am I going to explain that?"

Joxer shrugged. "They probably won't question Apollo being able to heal me. You don't have to tell them about the apples and the ambrosia."

Ares considered this. "I suppose I can. If I don't tell them something, Xena and Hercules are liable to start trashing my temples in an effort to get the information out of me, anyway."

Joxer beamed. "Thank you. Suppose I write a letter you can show them? I know that Xena and Herk, um, don't exactly embrace everything you tell them as absolute truth."

Ares smirked. "You may very well be fated to be God of Tact." He gestured, and ink, quill, and parchment appeared in Joxer's lap. "Hurry up." Joxer scratched out a hasty message, muttering under his breath when he smeared the ink. When it was done he rolled it up and handed it to Ares, who tucked it in his belt. "Before I go, let's see you dress yourself."

*sigh* "All right, I'll try, but I don't guarantee anything." Joxer closed his eyes and concentrated. "Nothing."

"The creation of material is harder than simple manipulation. Try again. Imagine everything you can about that piece of clothing--color, texture, even scent." Joxer thought HARD. Ares saw a faint shimmer of color seem to pass over Joxer's torso. It passed, and Joxer was almost panting with effort. "Were you trying for a red shirt?"

Joxer nodded. "How could you tell?"

"You came close. Once you can hold your concentration a little longer, you'll have it, but no need to exhaust yourself right now." He waved his hand, and Joxer was dressed--including red shirt. "Try doing some things with your mind today, Joxer. Nothing big, though. Don't go trying to move any statues, or you're likely to have them slip and fall on you. It wouldn't kill you now, but it could make you damn uncomfortable. Let's see... Where is the Freaky Foursome now?" He reached out, seeking the life essences of his daughter and half-brother. He found them, together. Good, he wouldn't have to transport all over creation. "I'll be back this afternoon."

Joxer had gotten out of bed. Now he grabbed Ares' collar and gave him a quick kiss. "I'll be waiting."

Ares hesitated a moment, enjoying the warm feeling that came with knowing that someone would be eagerly awaiting his return. He thought about saying something--telling Joxer that he'd hurry back to him. Instead he just nodded, and left.

Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, and Iolaus were all lodging at an inn not far from where they'd battled the hydra. Ares transported into the common room, remaining invisible as he got a sense of the situation. The four were all sharing a table in the corner. Ares noticed that three of them seemed to be pretty drunk, considering how early it was. Xena, Hercules, and Iolaus had an impressive collection of ale mugs and wine glasses gathered in front of them. They were silent, but it was the sort of silence that usually fell when a group had simply exhausted themselves talking about something.

Xena was glaring into a near empty wine goblet. Iolaus had his head down on the table, buried in his arms, and Hercules was stroking his hair with surprising tenderness. The only one who didn't seem lost in melancholy was Gabrielle. She had writing implements spread before her, and was scribbling diligently. She paused and said, "Okay, tell me how this sounds."

'The scaly scourge lurked in its lair, its foul stench poisoning e'en the air. The helpless herdsmen did despair Of peace and security.

But some heard their cry, and they did heed This fervent prayer, this ardent plea. Hunter, warrior princess, hero, and bard Flew to the rescue, to battle the...'

She frowned. "Okay, I probably shouldn't say 'li-ZARD'. Don't they say 'iz-zard instead in some places? That would scan better. Or maybe I should find a way to use the word 'hard' or 'guard' instead."

Iolaus lifted his head and directed a bloodshot glare at Gabrielle. "I thought you said you were writing a ballad in tribute to Joxer."

Gabrielle blinked. "I am."

"You haven't mentioned him in the first two verses."

"That will come later."

Xena scowled at Gabrielle. "He's right. You gave a listing of the group, and didn't even include Joxer."

"I'm GOING to, but he wasn't really a part of the attack group, after all. I mean, it was a tragedy what happened to him, but I see this as also serving as a warning to those who are foolish enough to insist on meddling in matters they aren't suited for. If Joxer had just stayed back with the shepherds, he wouldn't have been killed, and..."

Iolaus slammed a mug on the table, and Gabrielle shut up with a squeak. "He fucking saved the life of a GOD, Gabrielle! What the Tartarus does it take to impress you?"

"And we don't know that he's dead," said Xena grimly.

Gabrielle gave her friend a sad look that managed to be condescending. "Xena, you just have to face reality. ARES took him. He probably got pissed because Joxer was bleeding on him, and dropped him somewhere."

Ares was fuming. He was about two seconds from just blasting the blonde bimbo when Hercules surprised him by speaking up. "He wouldn't do that. I don't have any great admiration for Ares, but he DOES have a sense of honor, no matter how twisted it might be. He would do his best to save Joxer, if only to show his other followers that remaining loyal to him could have its benefits. And if he got Joxer to Olympus in time," Hercules shrugged. "They can do some pretty fantastic healing for themselves, they can probably do a lot for mortals."

Gabrielle was gathering up her materials. "You're all being unreasonable, but I can understand that--you're upset. I don't need this, though. I've been having a bad time myself, you know. That comedy they performed here last night had an absolutely disgusting rag-picker woman named Gabrielle, and then someone recited a bawdy poem about a 'legion's sweetheart' who was named Gabrielle, too. To top it off, I heard a rumor that Finaculous is writing a new play, and had a pig thief who was going to be called Graccus, but he was suddenly inspired to change the sex, and name her Gabrielle. I have to consult with a lawyer and find out if there's anyone I can sue." She scuttled out of the room, grumbling.

Iolaus let his head thump back to the table. "Why have I never noticed what a bitch she is?"

"Watch it," said Xena, but there was no heat in her voice. Iolaus glanced at Hercules, then gave Xena a sympathetic look. He knew all about loving someone in spite of themselves.

Ares sat in the chair Gabrielle had vacated, then appeared. It was a note of how drunk they all were that no one either fell out of their chair, or drew a weapon. "My, I haven't seen such red eyes since Greagus got downwind of the burning manure pits in Tartarus."

Hercules started to stand up, and Iolaus grabbed his sleeve. "Don't."

"He's right, brother. I'd be more than happy to leave you to your drink and speculation." *I WON'T, because that would hurt Joxer, but there's no need to tell YOU that.*

Hercules slowly sat back down. His voice was thick and gritty. "Where is he?"

"Probably in the garden by now." They were silent, staring at me. "In case you've all pickled your brains too far to understand, that means that he's all right." Ares pulled the parchment from his belt and tossed it to Xena. She showed that she wasn't as far gone as she might have looked (a very useful trait in a warrior) by snatching it out of mid-air. She unrolled it quickly and began to read, pale blue eyes darting quickly over the message. The relaxation was tiny, but it was visible in the loosening of her shoulders, and the disappearance of the furrow between her brows. She passed the message over to Iolaus, ignoring Hercules' outstretched hand.

Iolaus had compassion on his lover, though, by reading the paper aloud. "Dear Xena, Hercules, Gabrielle... To whom it may concern. Hi, it's me--Joxer. I'm not dead. Well, I couldn't be and still write this, could I? I'm okay, hope you are the same. That hydra didn't get up and cause you anymore trouble, did it? Anyway, I'm at Ares' temple on Olympus, and I'll probably be here for a while. I'll let you know when -I- know what's going to happen. Don't worry about me. Take care, and don't take any dinars from Salmoneus--they're usually wooden. Your friend, Joxer the Mighty."

"How do we know that this is genuine?" asked Hercules suspiciously.

Iolaus sighed. "Well, for one thing, the first greeting is scratched out, before the 'to whom it may concern'. There are ink smudges all over it, and just LISTEN to it. Could anything sound more like Joxer?"

Now Hercules relaxed a little, sighing. "Thank Zeus."

"Believe me, Father had NOTHING to do with this," drawled Ares. He stood up. "Well, I've fulfilled my promise."

"Wait," said Xena. "When will you bring him back?"

Ares cocked an eyebrow at her. "What makes you think I'll be bringing him back?" He smiled. "I'm growing quite fond of him."

Now Hercules DID spring up. "You toad! He's not a toy, Ares! You can't keep him to torment as you please."

"Is that all you think he's good for, Hercules?"

"Ares," Xena said softly, "I know that we haven't been as good friends to him as we might have, but we care about him."

He looked at his daughter, weighing the merits of playing with his brother's mind, or setting his daughter's mind at rest. He noted Iolaus' pained gaze, and decided. "I swear to you, Xena, that he is well cared for. He's also treated with honor and respect," he glared at Hercules, then pointed at a quill that had been left on the table, and made it disappear in a small burst of flame, "which is more than he had here on earth." With that he vanished.

Hercules slumped back into his chair. "We'll never get him back."

Iolaus and Xena both stared at him. Finally Iolaus said quietly, "What if he doesn't WANT to come back?"

Hercules frowned. "Why would he want to stay with Ares?"

Iolaus and Xena exchanged looks. Iolaus shrugged, as if to say, *We'd never be able to explain it, and he wouldn't believe us if we could.* He poured some ale from a pitcher into his lover's mug. "Have a drink, Hercules, and trust me--Joxer is all right with Ares."

One Month Later

Strife left Ares at a strategy meeting with some of his generals and popped over to the House of War for a visit with Joxer. He hadn't seen the new immortal for a few weeks. Things were a little tense lately. Mom had been snappish, which could be downright DANGEROUS with her. He'd been feeling restless, his emotions even more of a jumble than usual. He'd tried working it off through romps with some of the willing worshippers at his temples, but other than a temporary physical release, those didn't accomplish much. He just knew that, for some reason, being around Joxer was soothing, so he dropped by for a visit.

He popped in on the bed, sitting next to Joxer. "Hiya." Joxer upchucked in the basin he was holding in his lap. "Well, I ain't useta warm welcomes, but I gotta admit that's a bit much."

Joxer wiped his mouth, smiling weakly. "Sorry. Just can't seem to keep anything down today."

"An' Unc went off an' left ya alone?"

"Oh, I didn't start till after he left." Strife materialized a glass of water for him. "Thank you, but let me try. I have to learn how to do these things for myself." Joxer held out his hand and stared at it. After a second a lump of ice appeared in his palm. Joxer shrugged good-naturedly. "At least it's the right element this time, and... Oops." He looked at the wide-eyed god. "Uh, you didn't know about this."

"Nah, I didn't. Joxie, did Unc slip ya ambrosia?" He grinned. "Ooo, that bad boy! It's times like these I'm proud ta be related."

"It wasn't Ares," Joxer protested. "I was just trying to get Bliss to eat, and he somehow talked me into trading bites."

Strife fell off the bed laughing. When he hauled himself back up, chuckling weakly, he said, "I KNEW I gotta HUGE burst of energy right aftah I left Dite's place, but I figured it was from Autolycus slippin inta that Persian ambassador's harem. Zeus, I LOVE that kid! Wish he was mine."

"He's a special little fella, all right," agreed Joxer. "And his daddy seems very nice, too. A little off-hand, perhaps, but I don't get the same 'there's a bug' sense from him that I do from a lot of people."

"Knowwhatcha mean. He don't usually get that 'oh, Zeus, there he is again' look when I show up. Yah, Cupe's tha bomb."

Joxer smiled at him. "You like him a lot, don't you?"

Strife shrugged negligently, but he was looking away. "What's not ta like?"

Joxer looked down at the ice. "My hand is cold, and I'm dripping." Strife offered the water, and Joxer dropped the chunk of ice in it, then sipped the chilled liquid. "Thank you. Maybe I should try thinking of a FILLED GLASS instead of just water. Otherwise I'm likely to get a shower when I don't want it."

"Sounds like a plan. Yer lookin a little bettah now."

"I'm all right." Joxer stared at the filled basin, and it disappeared. He smiled. "That one I've gotten down." In Asphodel, Hades was wondering why a basin of vomit had appeared in front of his throne. He considered tracing the power signature, but glanced at the line of souls waiting to be sorted, and decided it was too much trouble. Instead he just sent it to Tartarus and had it deposited over the head of a man who had knowingly sold tainted meat. He was a great believer in poetic justice.

"Ya want me ta take ya ta see Apollo or Ace?" asked Strife.

"No, I'm sure it's nothing. I feel fine now. I'll just stick to bread today--that should settle things down." He smiled at the Mischief God. "It's good to see you. How are things in the outside?"

Strife shrugged. "Tha usual insanity." He poked Joxer in the shoulder. "Unc's been a lot, um, steadiah lately. Yer keepin him mellow, Jox."

"Mellow? He told me yesterday that he personally saw to it that a soldier could get a new nickname--'Eight Fingered Endigus'."

"Tha twerp was dozin on sentry duty. Usually he'd've made 'im eligible fah tha nickname 'Tha LATE Endigus'."

Joxer hummed. "I don't want to be part of limiting him."

"Yer not." Strife put an arm around Joxer's shoulders, giving him a friendly squeeze. "Big secret, Jox? There have been a lot of times that Ares has worried us up here. We all hafta do our bit in our godhoods, but it's possible ta get TOO caught up in it, dig? Everyone needs somethin MORE. Hera has her gardens, Zeus has his strange nookie, Hades has Persephone, Hecate has a pink stuffed bunny..." Joxer laughed. "Yah, well, it has fangs, but don't tell anyone I told ya--I'd rathah not spend a month as a newt. Just trust me, Joxer. Ares needed somethin ta take him away from War occasionally. It looks like yer it, an' there are a lot of us in tha Pantheon who are happy about it."

"What about Zeus?"

Strife sat back. This was a question he'd rather not answer, but with Joxer's steady, direct gaze on him, he didn't want to evade. "I'd liketa tell ya that he'll be fine with it, too, Jox, but I know tha old goat too well. He ain't happy with most things that aren't his idea. But there are certain things that even HE hasta just deal with. I think this is gonna be one of 'em."

Joxer sighed, but gave him a small smile. "From your mouth to the ears of the Fates."

Three Months Later

"You've really done wonders with this place." They were under the willow tree in the garden, and Ares was lying with his head in Joxer's lap. They were naked, because when Ares had returned, Joxer was eager to show him the new fish he'd put in the ornamental garden pond. Now that he'd cleaned it out, it was once again healthy enough to support fish, and Poseidon had sent over some very pretty ornamental koi that he'd received from the Nippon God of Waters. Joxer had been so excited that his natural clumsiness had kicked in, and he'd gotten a dunking when he leaned out too far. Then, of course, Ares had felt compelled to go in after him. That had led to water wrestling, and then sex on the bank, and now they were air-drying.

The garden had bloomed, literally, under Joxer's care. It had become an oasis of beauty and serenity, with smooth swatches of green grass between fragrant bushes and flowerbeds. "Well, that centaur manure was a pain to spread, but BOY does it work. Besides, it isn't as if I have much more to do than work on it."

Ares rolled his head on Joxer's thighs, looking up at him. "Do I detect a touch of accusation in your tone?"

Joxer sighed. "Ares, it's been three months since I got deified, or whatever the Tartarus you call it. Godhooded? Anyway, you can't keep me hidden here forever."

"I could try."

"We're gonna have to deal with this, sooner or later."

"Later, then."

Joxer was quiet for a moment, stroking his hair, and Ares had started to drift off to sleep, when Joxer said softly, "Is it because you don't want everyone to know that we're, um, together?" Ares sat up abruptly, turning to stare at his lover. Joxer continued nervously, "Because we ARE sort of together, aren't we? I mean, I'm not sure how these things work on the divine plane of existence, but this is the longest I've ever been with anyone before. Of course, if it's just because you have to keep me hidden..."

Ares stopped his babbling with a kiss. "Yes, Joxer, we ARE together." He leaned his forehead against Joxer's, gazing deep into his eyes, thinking that Joxer was one of the few people he'd ever been able to do this with who didn't flinch away. Instead he just gazed back. "I'm not really sure what that means. Three months isn't long by our standards, you know, but... Well, it is for me. I haven't really taken lovers since Dite and I were together to make Cupid. I've had bed partners, and plenty of them, but no one I really wanted to wake-up with on a daily basis. No one I looked forward to coming back to, day after day." He bit his lip. Lying would have come easy to him at one point, but not now--not with Joxer looking at him this way. "I can't tell you it's love, Joxer. Not yet."

Joxer nodded, a little sadly. "That's okay. You didn't tell me it ISN'T love." He took a breath. "But you ought to know that's what it is for me." Ares was silent. "You don't have to worry about it. I mean, I'm not the sort to be, uh, difficult. I just... I know that even when... if this ends... at least I'll still be able to see you. I mean, I'm here now. I can't go back. We'll still see each other, even if it's only, like, at official functions, and stuff, and maybe my godhood will let me work with you sometimes, so..."

Ares kissed him again. "Let it go for now, Joxer, okay?"

"Okay."

Ares stroked his hair. "Good. You shouldn't worry about things." He ran a fingertip over Joxer's forehead. "Your brow should be smooth, and serene. It just looks RIGHT for you."

Joxer smiled. "You think so?"

"I do." He tapped Joxer's nose. "Of course, I ALSO think you should be naked all the time." He lay back down, snuggling his head in Joxer's lap. Turning, he nuzzled against Joxer's belly, noting that it was oh, so slightly convex, instead of the board flat plain he was used to. He thought it was cute. "I do believe that being a god agrees with you, Joxer."


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