saga/title/fandom: Love and Mischief Saga: Seeking Balance chapter 13 (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 13: Noticing

Two Months Later

"Daddy?"

Cupid yawned. Without opening his eyes, he groped, looped an arm around the waist of the little boy standing beside his bed, and hauled him up, bringing him to rest on his chest. "Morning, baby boy. What's Daddy said about not coming in till I call you?"

"Youse said 'at sometime ev'n Daddies need private time. Gan'ma Dite says I might fin' somthin' Ise not 'spectin if I come in 'thout knockin'."

"Yeah, well, I love Mom, but sometimes she runs her mouth a little." He opened his eyes to gaze up into his child's wide, blue eyes, and gently stroked the boy's baby-soft white wings. "Daddy isn't going to bring anyone here who might not be good for you to meet." Bliss nodded, as if this was something that didn't need explaining. "Was there anything you needed to tell me?"

"Hadda dream."

*Oh, this could be good. Bliss has some real corkers. Hypnos really loves the kid.* "What sort of dream?"

Bliss slid off to the side, so that he was resting just his torso on Cupid's chest. "Funny one. Dream 'bout G'anpa an' Joxie."

Cupid smiled. "You like Joxer, don't you?"

Bliss smiled. "He's funny. G'anpa likes Joxie lots an' lots, huh?"

Cupid squeezed him. "Yes, he does. But don't talk to him about it, huh, son? Dad hasn't really gotten used to the idea yet, and he... well, he sort of balks at things if he thinks they aren't his own idea."

"He 'tubborn."

Cupid laughed. "Yeah, but we love him anyway. Was that all the dream, baby? Just Dad liking Joxie a lot? Doesn't sound too funny to me."

"Tha's not the funny part, silly. Funny part was that Joxie has a baby in his tummy."

Cupid chuckled. "That IS funny. I wouldn't say anything about that, either, hon. Joxer's still close to being a mortal, and I don't think he'd deal with the idea of being pregnant very well--even if it WAS just a dream."

"Okay." Bliss slid off the bed.

Cupid sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Don't go far, son. I'll have breakfast ready in a few minutes."

"'kay!" Bliss trotted back to his bedroom. He went right to his bed and pushed aside the tumbled sheets, then groped under his pillow. He pulled out a small sliver of stone, not much bigger than his little finger. Bliss held it up before his face and whispered, "Hey." Nothing. "Hey, you there?" A faint, greenish glow appeared in the depths of the stone. "Is you fibbin' to me? Is Joxie really got a baby in his belly?" The light pulsed. "You sure? He on'y been livin' with G'anpa for a little bitty while." *pulse* "What you mean, it just takes once?" The glow faded. Bliss shook the stone, but got no more response.

He shrugged, then slipped the stone back under his pillow, and carefully made his bed. He was just smoothing the sheets when Cupid came into the room. He watched his son, hands on his hips. "Well! Aren't you getting grown up? Made your own bed without any help, did you?"

"Yeah. I can clean my own room now, Daddy."

"You don't want any help?"

"This way I knows where ev'thing is. You won't lose my things."

"Oh, well! Certainly, your majesty!" Bliss giggled. "C'mon, hon. Time to eat, then you'll be spending the day with Hestia. And no fiddling with her cooking when she isn't looking, all right? That last time when you put the puckernuts in the cookies she gave to Hades, Strife just about over-dosed on the energy. He was bouncing off the walls for hours." Cupid snorted, then smiled, muttering, "Idiot."

"Daddy!" Bliss tugged his hand free of his father's grip and shook a finger at him sternly. "Stwife notta idjet! He SMART."

Cupid felt a little ashamed. "I know, Bliss. You're right, Strife is VERY smart. He's just... uh... a little hard to take sometimes. I didn't mean anything hurtful."

Bliss shook his head. "I knows that, Daddy, but what if Stwife hear you say that? HE might not know you don' mean it."

Cupid sighed. "Right again. Careless words. I ought to know how they can hurt--I've seen them undo enough of my work, haven't I?" He tousled Bliss' curls. "You like cousin Strife, don't you?"

Bliss grinned up at him, then said simply, "Don' you?"

Cupid laughed ruefully. "You're related to him, all right."

Ares met Joxer outside the bathing chamber. "Hey, where'd you go so suddenly?"

Joxer was looking a little pale. "Just had to, um, answer a call of nature--a very VEHEMENT call."

"There was a chamber pot right under the bed." Joxer gave him a look. Ares laughed. "Right. You and romance." He kissed Joxer, gave his butt a fond squeeze, and went on into the bathing room.

Joxer just managed to whisk away the full basin before Ares went in, though the War God DID sniff around a bit suspiciously. Finally he shrugged and thought up a little sandlewood incense to get rid of the sour smell. Joxer must not have been kidding about that 'nature' bit. He made a mental note to teach his lover how to create roasted duck that wasn't QUITE so rare. Now that he was a god, he didn't have to settle for charred outside, raw inside.

On the other side of Olympus, Hestia was staring at what was in the bowl that SHOULD have contained the makings of a gooseberry fool. The green and the lumps were appropriate enough, but that CERTAINLY wasn't whipped cream. She looked around suspiciously. "Strife?"

*Flash* "Heya, Hestia. Wassup?" Strife lounged against the table. Hestia pointed silently at the bowl. He stepped back quickly, nose wrinkling. "Yow! Whatevah it is--I pass."

"Did you do that?"

"Ain't nunna mine, lady." He chuckled. "Good idea, though."

"Hmph! That was the last of this year's crop of gooseberries. I was making this specially for Bliss, and I just can't bother Gaia about getting me more at this late date." She glared. "Are you SURE you didn't...?"

"If it's fah tha squirt, I ain't messin with it." He picked up the bowl. "I'll get ridda it for yah." He giggled. "I know just where to put it." He disappeared.

Hestia sighed. "Zeus help whoever is on the receiving end."

Strife reappeared in his own room in the House of War, sat down, and forced himself to concentrate on the bowl of swill. He was good at picking up power traces when he wanted to be, and he wanted to be now. Anyone who would dump vomit in Hestia's kitchen without being caught was someone he wanted to meet. He felt around, tongue poking out the side of his mouth as he sharpened every mental facet he had. He found the spark of energy, latched on to it, and traced backward. He was surprised to find that he had a very short distance to go.

His eyes widened when he found the source. "Yer kiddin me!" He cackled. "It's gotta be a mistake, but damn... Joxie, yer a natural." Instead of going off to deposit the upchuck personally, he simply transported it to the floor of Apollo's chariot. As he'd thought, the Sun God was busy at the moment, and didn't notice the new arrival till he made a sharp turn, and got his feet doused. Strife didn't even wait for the resulting burst of energy--he went in search of Joxer.

He went on foot, a matter of politeness for his uncle's new roommate. Joxer was getting better, but sudden appearances and disappearances still startled him, and if that basin was any indication of the state of his stomach these days...

Joxer carefully dipped the anchovy filet into the saucer of honey, then munched it down quickly. *Why am I doing this? Usually the very THOUGHT of anchovies makes me queasy, but somehow the combination of salt and sweet is just exactly what I need. The only thing it needs...* He thought, and materialized a lemon half, then squeezed it into the honey. He dipped another filet and ate it, then sighed. "Perfect."

"Damn, Jox, no wondah yer upchuckin if that's tha sorta stuff yer eatin."

"Oh. Um, well... I don't know why... What do you mean, upchucking?"

"That basin ya tried ta get rid of ended up in Hestia's kitchen."

He paled. "Oh, dear. It's not a good idea to piss off someone who might be doing your food at a later date."

"Chill, she don't know who did it, an' she'll forget pretty soon. Where did ya THING ya were sendin it?"

"I... I don't know. I was just trying to make it go away. You know... not exist."

Strife sat by him, shaking his head. "This may be kinda hard fah a mortal ta undahstand, but DESTROYIN mattah is harder than creatin it. Somethin about Nature abhorin a vacuume. Is this the first time ya did it?"

"Ooo, no. I've been having an upset tummy every morning for about a few weeks now." He made a face. "It's getting hard to keep it from Ares."

"Why'd ya wanna do that?"

"I don't want to bother him."

"Joxer!" Strife poked him.

Joxer rubbed his arm. "Ow."

"Well, someone's gotta wake ya up! Ya don't screw around when yer sick, kiddo."

"I just thought that since I'm a god now..."

"Ya still don't screw around about yer health, Jox. Anythin else goin wrong lately?"

"Oh, nothing much." He made a face. "I guess it's mostly because of all the garden work I've been doing." He looked down at his feet ruefully. "My feet are getting swollen. I'm gonna have to start wearing slippers instead of boots if this keeps up."

Strife giggled. "Mornin sickness, swollen feet, strange food cravins. What are ya, Jox--pregnant?" They both laughed. Then Strife's giggles slowed, and he looked at Joxer thoughtfully. "Waitaminit."

"Hm?"

"Pregnant?"

Joxer laughed again, but it was a bit uncertain now. "Strife, I'm not the most masculine man around, but I don't have the sort of equipment you need for that."

Strife put an arm around his shoulders. "Joxie--yer a god now. Hello?"

"I... You... It..." Joxer shook his head. "Noooo, that's just not possible."

"Aw, c'mon," Strife whispered in his ear. "You don't mean ta tell me that Unc hasn't gotten some booty off ya yet?"

Joxer cleared his throat, shifting a little. "Uh, well... There HAVE been... Once or twice... or maybe some more. But Strife--PREGNANT?"

"You'll hafta see Apollo or Ace ta be sure, but it could happen."

"HOW DO YOU KNOW?!"

"There's Athena, fah one thing."

"Yeah, but she sprang fully formed from Zeus' head." Joxer suddenly clutched his belly, staring down at it in horror. "I'm not going to be pregnant for nineteen or twenty years, and then..." He was turning paler by the second.

"Joxer, calm down. Granted, all we've had so far is regulah births, an' that one spontaneous generation. Nothin is certain. I'm just tellin ya that ya'd bettah prepare yerself fah any eventuality. Look, I'll take ya ta see Ace." He stood up. "Lemme go tell Unc, an'..."

"NO!" Joxer clutched at him. "No, don't tell him ANYTHING!"

"But if this is his kid, Joxer, he's gotta..."

"Strife, PLEASE."

Strife sat back down slowly. "Joxer... are you scared?" Joxer looked down. "I could kick myself fah puttin doubt in yer mind, Jox. Look, there's not a whole Tartarus of a lot that can really do any damage to a god. Whatevah's goin on with ya, I'm sure Ace can..." He trailed off. "That isn't it." He put a finger under Joxer's chin and tipped it up. "Jox, are you scared of tellin Unc?"

Joxer wiped a hand quickly over his eyes, but they remained suspiciously bright. "He... he has a lot on his mind. I don't want to bother him when it's probably nothing."

"But it could be EVERYTHIN."

"Strife... I'm sure--he isn't."

"Ah." Those last four words, their tone, said more than an hour's worth of talk. Strife took a deep breath, looking at his friend. "I really oughta, Jox. I mean, I guy bein a daddy--that's big shit." He smiled. "But think of tha mischief charge I can get if I DON'T tell." Joxer drooped in relief. "Yer right, this could just be some sorta new divine bug, but..." he held up one finger warningly, "ya gotta promise that if this goes on much longah, you'll lemme take ya ta Ace. Not Apollo--Ace. Doctah/patient confidentiality be damned--he's tha biggest gossip on Olympus."

"All right, I promise. But I'm sure it's nothing." Strife cocked an eyebrow. "Really. I mean, surely even -I- can't have that kind of luck." He glanced around apprehensively. "I can't think the Fates would be that... perverse."

"Ya know, Jox," Strife dipped a fingertip in the dish of honey-and-lemon, then licked it clean. "Don't blab it around, but sometimes I get tha feelin that those broads ain't as all knowin as they'd liketa have us believe."

"Sisters," said Lachesis, her voice excited, "I've managed to discover one of the parents for the godly child." Her two sisters stopped what they were doing and hurried over eagerly. "Look." Lachesis indicated a very dark thread that ran beside the new one. It would look black to someone who was unfamiliar with the threads, but actually it was blue--deep, midnight blue.

The three sisters studied it, and then they all smiled. "Another child for War," said Atropos with satisfaction. "Good!"

"They can be trouble, but they certainly make the job more interesting," agreed Lachesis. "I still haven't located the mother's thread, though."

"You mean it isn't Aphrodite?" asked Clotho. Lachesis shook her head. "How odd. I didn't know that he had an interest in any other goddess, and it can't be with a mortal. This is definitely a divinity, not a demi-god."

"I should be able to tease it out, with a little more effort, but I can't devote too much time to this," sighed Lachesis.

Atropos went back to snipping threads. "I wonder why they haven't sent an official announcement yet?"

Lachesis went back to weaving, while Clotho took up her distaff again. The spinner said consideringly, "Do you suppose it's because there's been no formal committment with the mother? Oh, I know they make a show of it not mattering, but really... I can't help but think that Strife wouldn't be quite as, er, well, whatever he is, if he'd had a strong father figure."

"Well," said Atropos tartly, "Having a father doesn't necessarily mean having a good influence. Anyway, it's time that this came out in the open. It can't be easy on the poor dear, whoever she is, hiding the pregnancy. I think we should send a prophecy. Now, let's see... Perhaps since this is a godly child we should bypass the earthly oracles and go straight to Apollo..."

"Oh!" Lachesis gasped.

"What is is, sister? Did you prick your finger? Be careful--a drop of blood can cause all kinds of mischief in the tapestry."

"No, Clotho, I was just startled. It seems that we have no need of sending a prophetic dream. One has already been sent." The other two stared at her. "I swear! It's right here, and I didn't weave it." She received looks. "I swear to you! You know that I can't recall every single detail of what I weave, but I'm fairly sure I would have remembered this. Yes, a dream has been sent to..." She started laughing.

"What is it?" asked Atropos. Lachesis just waved at her to wait a moment, still laughing. "Sister!"

"It... Whoever or whatever arranged this has a sense of humor." Her smile softened. "I suppose it is appropriate, though, since such an event is bound to bring great joy."

Atropos leaned back. "No!"

"Oh, yes. The littlest godling on Olympus is the first to know of this great news. Judging from the way the threads are running, I'd say that there's going to be more than one dream. So, we have nothing to do but sit back and watch it all unfold. Someone is doing our job for us."

They started working again. Clotho said, "Lachesis, will there be a wedding before there is a birth?"

"I can't see that far ahead, sister, but I hope so." She sighed. "The thread of Ares' life has been stretched so taut before. It's better, now--not limp, but not pulled near to breaking. Whoever she is--she's good for him."

"How was your day?" Ares had appeared behind Joxer in the garden. Now he nuzzled his face against his lover's neck, delighting in the delicious shiver he caused.

"Pretty much the same as usual. I ate breakfast, I worked on the garden, I ate lunch. Oh, Gaia came by--brought me the prettiest little cherry tree. I'm going to plant it right beside the pond, opposite the willow, so that the blossoms will float on the water." He trailed off. "Ares, it's pretty much the same, every day. Sometimes I feel like years have gone by, when I know that can't be the case. When am I going to, um, come out?"

Ares stepped back from Joxer. "You aren't happy here?"

"No, I didn't say that! I... Ares, I want to DO something. I want my life to MEAN something. On earth, I got to help people--I protected them, and... Okay, so I wasn't all that good at it, but I was out there doing something. People knew who I was." His voice lowered. "I knew who I was. I don't, now. I was Joxer the Mighty. Then I ate that pink goo, and everything changed. What am I now? Even you don't know. I have all sorts of strange, new feelings running around inside me, and I need to learn how to direct them. I don't think I can until I'm put in my proper place. What God am I? Only Zeus can settle that, can't he?"

Ares heaved a sigh. "Yes--nothing is officially till Zeus puts his stamp on it. We'll have to make things known. But give it a couple more days, hm? He should be coming to the end of his latest fling soon. We'll catch him between affairs--his thinking should be clearer, then. Okay?"

Joxer sighed. "Whatever you think is best."

"Come on in and eat, then."

"I'm not hungry." He burped, thinking of the olives, radishes, and lump sugar he'd shoveled down at lunch.

Ares frowned. "You've been acting a little funny lately."

"Oh, I'm okay. I feel a little funny, but I think it's just that I've been in the sun too much. The sun's going down now. I'll just sit out here under the tree and watch the moon come up--enjoy the cool breeze. You go ahead and eat."

"Are you sure?"

"Ares, It'll go away." He smiled. Ares kissed him again, then went inside. Joxer sat under the tree, leaning back against the trunk, gazing up as the sky went pink and gold, then dark. Stars began to come out. He whispered, "It'll go away. It'll go away. It'll go away." Then something happened. There was... He couldn't really call it a MOVEMENT. It wasn't quite a flutter. *It could be just a gas bubble.* Joxer touched his belly, considering. The feeling came again, and his eyes widened. "Baby?" he whispered. The feeling came again, and Joxer suddenly wrapped his arms around his own waist, feeling a flood of warmth like he never had before, not even when he was being held by Ares. "Don't," he whispered. "Oh, don't. Don't go away."


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