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Bumps Along The Way

Chapter Text

Bumps Along The Way
by Kerensa

Chapter 1

Strife glanced around the room, his pale blue eyes sparkling in the light from the flickering candles, and sighed happily. He, Cupid and Bliss were eating dinner in Cupid's temple, a semi-regular event as of late. Strife was amazed at how nice the meals were, especially compared to what the mischief god was used to.

Not the actual food itself, of course. Cupid's servants were always excellent at what they did and Strife, when he did eat, just magicked up something or the other, so he wasn't particularly picky. No the time that they spent consuming the meal was what was so wonderful. Nobody was yelling or throwing lightening bolts...it was a peaceful meal on Mount Olympus, a rarity.

The mischief god was relaxed. He really liked being around the two blond gods, one a miniature of his gorgeous daddy, and was starting to feel that he could trust Cupid and the way he was feeling inside. The mischief god hesitated to call it love, even to himself, because he wasn't entirely certain what that emotion should feel like. But he knew he was feeling something and it felt good. Strife was even a *little* hopeful that Cupid was beginning to like him back.

A little.

"Awww, do's I hafta?" Bliss whined.

"It is 'do I have to', Cupid corrected automatically. "And yes, you do. Vegetables are good for you. Do you want to have to wait *several* more years before you are strong enough to fly?"

Bliss shook his head quickly. Long, blond curls were whipped around at the motion. His big blue eyes widened at the *horror* of having to wait *that* long to fly like his daddy. Why, that was forever!

Strife watched the exchange and tried not to laugh. What Bliss didn't realize was that it would probably take him years to master flying. The God of Mischief decided to help Cupid out and scooped up a deliberately large serving of *his* vegetables and ate them. Cupid did the same and both men made a show of how good the food tasted. Bliss watched all this carefully, and not wanting to be left out (or face that *horribly* long wait), used his spoon to take his own bite. The look on the godling's face showed that he wasn't impressed by the taste, but he kept eating anyway.

"Soooo, what did you do today?" Cupid asked Strife with a smile.

The God of Mischief and second-in-command to Ares raised an inquiring eyebrow at the question. He could see it when Cupid realized his mistake almost as soon as he'd said it. Strife's work didn't generally include anything that a small child could or should hear. Strife's eyes twinkled with mischief at the panicked look on the love god's face.

"Oh, not taa much. Just tha usual. I had a few followahs that played some pretty spectaculah pranks. I went ta watch tha fallout from them."

"Fallout?" Cupid asked.

Strife paused and then gave a little laugh. "Sorry about that. It's a term from tha future. Uh, I went ta see what tha outcome would be."

"Ah," Cupid nodded in understanding. Bliss held up his plate with his *mostly* eaten vegetables and Cupid dutifully inspected it. "Very good, son."

Bliss smiled at the approval and looked over at Strife who winked at him. Cupid waved his hand, clearing the large table and a bowl of desert appeared in front of each of them. The little boy giggled happily and dug in. *This* he ate without complaint. Of course, Cupid's clever chefs had made a desert that included several kinds of fruit, so the little boy was unknowingly eating more healthy food.

"I had to spend most of the day at my main temple. The one on Earth, I mean. I listened to followers and answered petitions all day. Luckily for me, each temple has one acolyte that gathers up their petitions and brings it to the one spot, otherwise, I'd be running all over Greece the whole day and never get anything done." He turned to look at Strife. "Don't you just hate that?"

Strife hesitated. "Uh, yeah."

It really wasn't a problem for Strife. He had one, badly made, and very unsteady temple, on Olympus. There were no shrines or places to worship the God of Mischief on Earth and just the one spot on Olympus. Getting petitions wasn't really a problem either. Most of Strife's followers were children and when they did want to say anything to Strife they prayed directly. The few petitions he did get were from older worshippers and they were generally odd in some ways. The things they wrote would frighten Deimos, the God of Fear, let alone anybody else.

^^^^^

"Stwifey, will you tell me a story?" The little boy blinked slowly. His great big, blue eyes looking up at Strife adoringly.

Strife was nonplussed. He didn't know any stories that were suitable for a two year old child. Looking at the godling, lying in his tiny bed, his white wings peeking out from under a sleeping shift, and Strife didn't have the heart to beg off. He racked his brain and finally thought of something.

"Okay, but ya hafta lean back." After Bliss was settled, Strife began.

"Once upon a time, theah was a young man who wanted ta be a mighty warrior. He wasn't a very good fightah, but his heart was in tha right place. He was very brave and did his best though and that's what's most important ah all."

Bliss nodded his head and smiled. He turned onto his side and clutched a stuffed dragon, his eyes slid closed. The little boy determinedly reopened them. Strife pretended not to notice that he was already losing his audience.

"One day he was travelin along and some very bad men decided they wanted his...food," Strife amended the thought quickly, glad he hadn't inadvertently said the wrong thing. "The mighty fightah tried his best, but there were taa many of them. He was about ta lose his food, when anothah man heard tha yellin and came runnin."

Strife saw that Bliss was asleep. He sat a few more minutes beside the little boy, just watching him, and making sure he didn't wake back up. When he was sure that Bliss was out for the night, Strife stood up, brushed back the soft blond curls from Bliss' face and kissed the little one on the forehead.

"Goodnight, kiddo," he whispered.

^^^^^

"Did you have fun?" Cupid asked. He had already told his son goodnight, before leaving him alone with Strife.

"Yeah, I did. He wanted me ta tell a bed time story."

"How'd that go?" Cupid arched an eyebrow.

"Pretty good. I didn't get very far before he fell asleep."

Cupid laughed. "That's what usually happens. I don't think I've ever been able to finish a story for him." Cupid was lounging on a large chair, his legs hanging over one arm of it. "Why don't you stay for a while?" he asked lazily.

Strife was tempted. More than tempted, but he could see how tired Cupid was and figured the invitation was automatic. "Nah, I bettah get goin. Unc has a full day fah me tomorrow."

The God of Love stood up and sauntered towards Strife. The young god's mouth went dry at the sight and it was all he could do not to whimper.

"That's too bad."

'Is he purring?' Strife wondered dazedly. 'Dear Zeus, I think he is.'

"But, before you go."

Cupid wrapped one tanned hand around the back of Strife's neck and gently pulled him forward. Strife didn't know what to do, so he let himself be led. When Cupid's lips met his, Strife forgot how to breathe. It was the first time his 120some years that the god had been kissed and he was overwhelmed by it. Strife didn't know if all kisses were like this or if it was because it was a love god doing the kissing or what. Whatever the cause, Strife immediately decided he liked kissing and wanted to keep doing it indefinitely.

Then it was over and Cupid pulled away. Strife gasped as he remembered to breathe and gazed up at Cupid with wondering eyes. The God of Love smiled happily and ran a thumb over Strife's kiss slick lips, wiping them dry.

"I-I think I need ta go now," Strife stuttered. His mind was whirling in confusion; he'd never felt like this before in his life.

"Okay." Cupid seemed to regret his leaving. "Bye," he whispered.

"Uh, b-bye." Strife waved as he disappeared in a flash of multi colored sparkles.

^^^^^

It took Strife three times to make it back to his own temple. The first time, he ended up in Thrace. The second time was outside of Hermes' home temple. He finally made it home and stood in the middle of the room for several minutes before coming back to himself.

When he did, Strife realized he had another problem. He had an erection. At least, that's what he assumed it was. Strife had heard all about erections and being aroused and masturbation, but before now, none of that had ever been a problem. But after that kiss...

Strife glanced down at his groin guiltily and saw that the front of his black leather outfit was tighter than usual. It didn't seem right that Cupid's innocent kiss had caused this. Was there something wrong with him?

But no, according to Aphrodite and her *Coming of Age* speech, there wasn't anything wrong with what he his body was doing; it was a natural part of sex. But, for Strife, sex meant Tr...Him.......Tryst.

Strife spun around, looking for the hulking horror. No one was there. His thinking of the god hadn't made him appear. Strife was relieved, because that had happened so often in the past. The God of Mischief would think of the God of Secret Meetings and he would show up.

Glancing back down at his crotch, Strife realized he didn't have to worry about his reaction to Cupid anymore or what to do with it. The thought of Tryst had killed any arousal he had, just like always.

With a shrug, Strife got ready for bed. That consisted of walking over to his pallet, laying down, pulling the ratty, misshapen blanket over his shoulders and closing his eyes. Strife didn't wear bed clothes, because you never knew when you might have to flash out, so he worn his leathers all the time. He didn't remove his boots, because when he had lived with Ares, Tryst liked to flash into Strife's bedroom, grab him by the feet and yank him off the bed. Bare feet meant he was going to be raped and then the bottom of his feet burned and beaten. Ares didn't know why he hated to have his feet sticking out and would have been horrified to realize the cause.

Closing his eyes, Strife began his own bed time story. "Once upon a time, there was a beautiful god and his adorable son..."

TBC

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

"Hi Daddy," Bliss yelled as he ran/flew up to Cupid. His little white wings were flapping vigorously and they gave a little extra lift to his small body, so by the time he reached his father, Bliss was floating at about waist level.

"Woah there, little one." Cupid caught his son up and kissed him on the tip of the nose. Bliss giggled and rubbed a chubby little hand across his face and then giggled even louder when Cupid kissed it again.

"Daddyyyy!"

"Bli-issssss!"

The little boy giggled when Cupid said his name like that. "Spin me, spin me!"

The God of Love put the little boy back on the ground and took hold of his impatiently outstretched hands and swung him out, so that Bliss' feet flew out behind him. Before he could touch back down, Cupid started turning in a circle, faster and faster. Bliss was soon being spun around, his legs parallel to the floor. Father and son laughed at the antics.

Cupid slowed down and carefully sat his son's feet back down on the ground. Bliss swayed for a few moments, trying to get his head to stop spinning and naturally Cupid held on to him until he was steady. The little boy's attention quickly wandered and Cupid watched him run towards the *water colors* that Strife had given him. The little godling loved to paint with them and Cupid had said he could use them on the wall and floor in the far corner of the main room. So far everyone was impressed with the child's offerings.

Bliss plopped down on the floor. He *eeeped* when his bare bottom met the cold marble. Cupid grinned and with a flick of his finger Bliss' loincloth was back where it belonged, instead of underneath his bed where the child had flung it, as was his tendency to do. Cupid smothered a laugh with his hand when he realized that it was a good thing no one else was around or Bliss would have been flashing them when they had been "spinning". *Flashing.* That was another term that the love god had gotten from Strife and the future.

"Did you have a nice time today son?"

Cupid knew that today was one of the days that Bliss and his nanny went down to Earth to play. There weren't any godly children Bliss' age and Cupid wanted his son to be around people other than adults all the time. In one of Cupid's temples there was a little boy who came to play most days and brought several friends. Axrius was the son of one of Cupid's most devoted followers.

"No," the little boy said petulantly. The rainbow he was painting had a black stripe added. Bliss *did not* like Axrius. "Axrius was there. I don't want to play with him anymore, daddy. He's a bastard."

The love god sat down at his desk and picked up one of the scrolls at random and began reading. They were all requests of one sort or another. Some people were asking for true love, others just wanted sex. Cupid was contemplating one such missive when his thoughts were interrupted by what Bliss was saying.

Cupid spun around and stared at his son. His mouth fell open in horror as he listened to the crude language that his small son was using. Bliss remained unaware of his father's dismay and quickly moved on to talking about the games he and the other children had played.

The blond god didn't say anything. By the time he had overcome his shock, Cupid realized that the time to reprimand Bliss had passed. The boy's mercurial mind was already on to something else. Cupid decided that if and when Bliss used that word again, then he would say something.

The love god sat at his desk, scrolls lying there forgotten, and thought and thought. Where in all the world would Bliss have learned to say such things? He knew that Bliss' nanny wouldn't all words like that around or by the children, so it wasn't there. With a sinking heart and clenching stomach, Cupid came to the only conclusion he could think of.

Strife.

The God of Mischief was around very rough people most of the time and probably said it without meaning to. But then, what else could he have taught Bliss?

Questioning Bliss didn't help. Anytime Cupid mentioned the mischief god's name, the little godling did a happy dance and forgot the question. Cupid needed some advice on what to do next.

^^^^^

Cupid decided to go to Aphrodite and ask her opinion. The goddess wasn't as ditzy as she led people to believe and actually had a keen intelligence and was able to think fast on her feet. Besides, she was mom!

"Hi, honey." Dite waved from where she was sitting on her throne. The chair wasn't as impressive as Ares' massive black one, but instead was a delicate filigree of glass and multi-colored crystals. It wasn't as delicate as it looked, however, and fit in more with the love goddess' decor of subtle pinks and golds. (Yes, subtle.)

"Hey, mom."

Aphrodite looked up at Cupid's subdued tone and immediately dropped the scroll she was reading. That was one thing about Dite, any time one of her family needed her she was there for them. It didn't matter what love match she was working on, her family, especially her children, came first.

"Cupie, what is it?"

He sat down on one of the visitor's chairs and sighed tiredly. Cupid had been up all night worrying about the problem. He didn't tell Aphrodite who he thought the bad influence was, not wanting his mother's perceptions of Strife to influence her. He didn't even tell her what Bliss had been saying, just that he had been using inappropriate language. Dite assumes that it is a temple priest or someone like that.

"You need to keep the bad influence away from your son," the goddess advised her son.

Cupid raised one eyebrow at this. One of his earliest memories was being at one of his mom's orgies. He hadn't actually seen Aphrodite having sex, but he had heard her. Personally, he figured that's why it had taken him so long to loose his own virginity.

"Bliss is so impressionable, you don't want him to learn nasty habits this early in life." The goddess patted Cupid on the arm and he reasoned that he must look as miserable as he felt.

 

Two days later

Cupid and Bliss flashed in to Ares' temple so that the little boy could see his grandfather and Joxer. As they were walking down the hall, they saw Strife coming out of Ares' war room.

Bliss was thrilled to see Strife. He squealed and ran over to grab hold of the mischief god's legs. "Stwifey!"

The delighted smile on Strife's face showed how touched he was by Bliss' reaction. "Kiddo, it's good ta see ya." He hugged the little boy, being especially mindful of his fluffy wings. "Hiya, Cupid."

"Hello, Strife." Cupid forced himself to be friendly, but not encouraging. "Son, why don't you go play in the garden. Joxer is probably out there and you can see Grandpa Ares later."

Bliss didn't notice the strain, but Strife did. He stopped smiling and let go of Bliss; Strife had been patting the soft curls. They both watched as the godling bounced out of the room, singing a little song that he'd heard from one of his play friends.

Cupid gritted his teeth and nodded rather curtly to Strife and went to see his father. As he passed by Strife, Cupid refused to look at the other god and didn't see the pain and desolation in Strife's blue eyes where only moments before there had been happiness.

^^^^^

Strife flashed to his *thinking spot* out in the middle of the ocean.

It was a tiny, rocky island that was more rock than island. There wasn't enough sand on the ground to make a decent sized sand temple. The rocks were sharp and made walking a dangerous proposition. There were no plants, no trees, nothing. Even birds avoided the place if they could. The only thing that the place had to recommend it was one large rock that Strife had moved there and flattened off the top, so it made a *mostly* comfortable seat.

The mischief god sat on the barren rock for hours as he thought, trying to figure out what he'd done wrong, where he'd screwed up this time and messed up with Cupid. His pale skin became bright red and his eyes were bloodshot and glassy, because of the glare off the unrelenting water.

Still he sat there, not moving, not speaking.

^^^^^

Poseidon watched the young god and frowned. Being an underwater dweller, he didn't have to worry about such things as sun and overexposure, but he knew that most people who lived on the land did have to be wary of those problems.

Looking at the leather clad god, Poseidon knew that Strife was going to make himself ill if he didn't get under cover...and soon. The mischief god's light colored skin was particularly susceptible to the harsh rays. The water god caused clouds to form over the pale, only not so pale now, man.

Strife continued to stare at the waves as they flowed around his little island. He neither noticed, nor cared that he was becoming feverish. Poseidon's subtle help didn't register either.

^^^^^

The next time Poseidon looked, it was much later in the day and Strife still sat motionless. The God of the Sea decided that more drastic measures were needed to help his great-nephew, so he blew gently into the water. A storm began to brew overheard. The water god waved his mighty arm and the clouds dispersed somewhat, making the storm settle down from a wild squall to a gentle summer rain.

Strife hunched down a little and now watched the raindrops as they bounced off the gray water. Water ran off his wild hair, flattening it a little and cooled off his hot skin. His chest hitched a little and the water god wondered if the younger man was crying. It was hard to tell in the rain and any tears were quickly mixed in with the salty water of the ocean and quickly forgotten.

Poseidon waited. He swirled the air so that the little rainstorm stayed over Strife and didn't blow away like it should have. The older god was perplexed. "I've always heard that Strife wasn't coiled very tightly, but I just assumed that was Eris being a bitch."

The large god was trying to decide if he needed to summon someone to help and was thinking over who to yell for, when Strife disappeared with a flash of black sparkles. Poseidon sighed in relief and a large wave rolled over the little island. The next time Strife visited there he would find the placed sparkling clean.

=====

Joxer grinned at Bliss' antics. The godling was playing hide and go seek with Ares in their garden. The child's blond hair and snow white wings made it easy for his grandfather to find him. Naturally, Ares pretended that it was harder to do.

"Oh darn, where could Bliss be?" Ares looked behind a very slender green stalk with a bright red flower on top, ignoring the little boy two bushes over. Bliss' sweet giggle could easily be heard.

Cupid exchanged a carefully hidden smile with Joxer. The young immortal sighed in contentment. He felt safe and happy.

There was a muted flash to the side. Joxer wasn't afraid, he knew that Ares would protect him, but he was curious as to who was coming in. All of the gods he knew preferred to put on more of a show than that.

"Hey, Joxah," Strife said quietly. "I've got tha wood ya wanted."

The piece of lumber was hastily switched to the other hand when Bliss launched himself out of his hiding place. If Strife hadn't moved the wood, the enthusiastic little boy would have brained himself on it.

"Stwifey!" the small child lisped. He had recently lost a couple of teeth and it made him talk funny, in a cute sort of way.

"Hey, kiddo." Strife gave the little boy a quick smile.

Joxer saw his friend glance towards Cupid and the smile melted off his face, leaving behind a look of nothingness. The former warrior looked at the love god with a frown.

"Heah ya go." Strife laid the large block of reddish brown wood down beside Joxer's chair.

"Thank you, Strife." Joxer glanced down quickly. "It's just perfect. Uhm..." Joxer glanced around quickly. "Why don't you join us for a while." He waved a hand, indicating the food and drink laden table.

"Thanks fah tha invite, Joxah, but I gotta go," Strife said quietly, not glancing at anyone else. "Unc wants me ta help stir up some unrest in..." He swallowed convulsively a couple of times. "I-in Gracion."

Joxer gasped at the name, his eyes widening in distress for his good friend. He recognized the name as where *that* battlefield was located.

"oh."

Joxer thought frantically, trying to think of some way he could help. He knew that Ares would never let him go with Strife, come to think of it, Strife wouldn't either, but he couldn't stand the thought of his friend being in the place he was so brutally attacked all alone.

"It's okay," Strife said quietly. "Ace is gonna be theah, checkin on tha injured."

Strife flicked a quick look over at Cupid. It was as if he were unable to help himself. The blond god was frowning at Strife and Joxer saw the dark haired god look away quickly.

"Bye everybody." Strife gave a half wave and disappeared amidst a flash so slight that you had to look hard to see it.

=====

Strife arrived at the battlefield in Gracion and looked around dispiritedly, He didn't understand what Ares needed him here for, it looked like the battle was already over.

'He probably just wants me outta tha way,' Strife figured to himself. 'Cupid's told Unc about whatevah I've done wrong and he's keepin me away from his son.'

The God of Mischief nodded miserably. 'I get tha hint. People not wantin me around is normal. Bein wanted by Cupe and Bliss was tha aberration.' Strife shrugged one slender shoulder in resignation. 'I guess it's back ta business as usual.'

Strife began to walk among the dead. He avoided the far end of the field and its giant tree. The god didn't want to go near the place where Tryst had attacked him all those years ago.

"I just wanna know what I did wrong," Strife muttered.

END PART 2

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Over the next couple of weeks, things went from bad to worse.

Ares could see the tension between his son and Strife and wrongfully assumed it was Strife's fault. As a result, the young god was sent from job to job with hardly a day's rest any where.

Joxer saw the way Cupid was acting and knew that his young friend wouldn't have done anything to hurt Cupid and was upset with the love god. Joxer saw the way Ares was treating Strife and was mad that no one, other than himself, was willing to give the mischief god the benefit of the doubt.

No one was talking to anyone else. Everyone was sad. And it was only getting worse.

Generally...they were all acting like twits. (Not that there was much acting needed.)

"Hi, Joxie." Bliss waved at his favorite immortal.

"Hiya, Bliss." Joxer was genuinely happy to see the sweet little boy. He turned to Cupid and gave the love god a smile so cold that it would have frozen the Aegean Sea.

Joxer was cool to Cupid, who understood. He knew how close Strife and Joxer were. The immortal owed his life to Strife and his lover. Without the friendship of the sad god, he and Ares would never have gotten together.

"Hey, Joxer. I-is pops around anywhere?"

The former warrior gave a tight lipped nod. "Yeah, he's in his war room. Probably sending Strife out on another mission," Joxer grated out. "After all, he's been back from Atatenia for a whole 3 hours now."

Cupid nodded solemnly. He was aware that Ares was being hard on Strife, that's the main reason he'd come here today. His and Strife's problems had nothing to do with the war god.

"Son, you stay here with Joxer. I need to talk with grandpa for a little bit."

Bliss gazed up at his daddy seriously. "Gwown up talk?"

"Yes, grown up talk."

The little boy nodded sadly. Joxer reached out a hand. "Hey, kiddo. You wanna come out into the garden with me? There's a new bird I want you to see."

Joxer's enticement worked the miracles it was expected to. Bliss started bouncing up and down, his sadness forgotten for the moment, and began to pull the former mortal out of the room.

====

"Dad, leave Strife alone."

Ares turned at Cupid's request and looked into his son's earnest eyes. The god sighed and nodded. "I am. I just told him to take the next few days off."

Cupid took a breath to argue and let it out with a gust when he realized he'd won that easily. "Uh, okay."

The God of War snorted and ran a hand over his unruly hair. 'It's time to get it trimmed again,' he realized and wondered where that had come from.

"I shouldn't have interfered," Ares admitted. "It's just that I hate to see any of my kids upset. Of course, I realized that I was upsetting Strife too."

Ares winced when he remembered the conversation where he *realized* that. Joxer's sweet voice could be scathing when he was pissed off.

'Too bad he never blasted that harpy, Gabrielle like that. Maybe she would have treated him better if he had.' Wisely, Ares *hadn't* said that to Joxer. He was learning to keep his mouth shut around his sensitive lover.

"Good," Cupid said. He gave his father a quick look out of the corner of his eye and considered consulting him about Bliss' colorful vocabulary. The love god quickly decided against it though. Ares was just beginning to treat Strife better and Cupid didn't want to mess it up.

====

Back in his ramshackle temple, the God of Mischief was trying to rest. He certainly needed the sleep, but it just wouldn't come.

Strife didn't see the upset that his and Cupid's estrangement had caused. And it was a good thing, because the pale god already blamed himself for whatever happened. That was what rankled so much, not knowing what he'd done wrong. So...Strife decided to do some investigating.

====

"Look mommy, a kitty."

Xena looked over to where her precocious daughter was pointing and sure enough, there was a smallish, solid black cat. The poor thing was skinny, and a little sickly looking, but not ill kempt.

"Now Eve," Xena began and then she stopped. There was a feeling...

"Xena?" Gabrielle's voice was wary. She recognized a battle stance when she saw it. The Amazon Princess readied herself to grab up the little girl standing between them and run.

"A god is around."

Flash.

"Hey dudettes." Aphrodite flashed in with a trilling giggle.

Xena and Gabrielle relaxed at the appearance of the blond goddess. Dite was a good friend and *usually* didn't cause them problems. Plus, that answered the question of what god was hanging around. You couldn't be too vigilant, especially when their little group included Ares' daughter and granddaughter.

"Hello, Aphrodite," Xena said with a welcoming smile.

"Hi, Dite. What're you up to today?" Gabrielle gave her friend a hug. The three women, one goddess, one demi-god and one mortal sat down to talk.

Eve took advantage of her mother and auntie's inattention to go play with the kitty.

====

Strife never thought he'd live to see the day when he'd be glad for Aphrodite to pop in. The goddess was generally either mad at Strife for messing up her plans (and therefore caused him trouble) or was glad to see him so that she could *use* him...for one of her plans (and caused him even more trouble). So Strife tended to be a little wary around her. Okay, let's face it, Strife was wary around *everybody* and with good reason.

He made a "meeping" sound when Eve picked him up and squeezed too hard. "I'se sorry," the little girl said and loosened her death grip around his middle.

'Bein undah covah ain't all it's cracked up ta be,' Strife thought. 'Ah course, most people don't disguise themselves as a cat eitah.'

Eve trotted over to stand behind her mother. Strifecat was draped over her arms like a skinny sack of grain.

'This is kina comfortable,' Strife decided after a little bit. 'Ya'd think it wouldn't be, but it is.'

"...and bye to you too, sweetie."

For one panicked moment, Strife thought Aphrodite was talking to him. There'd be Tartarus to pay if he was caught here. But no, the blond woman was talking to Eve. The little girl giggled when Dite tucked a small pink flower behind her ear.

With a lot of pink flash, Aphrodite left. Eve sat back down on a patch of sweet smelling grass. Apparently the little girl had been playing there, because the ground was littered with small toys.

"It still feels like a god is around," Xena admitted.

"It probably will for a while."

Xena acknowledged Gabrielle's statement and picked up her sword. She walked a fair distance away from her child and began sparring. Gabrielle sat down under the shade of a tree and picked up her discarded quill and scroll. The younger woman began to write, pausing occasionally to tap the edge of the quill against her lips as she thought.

"You need fowers too." Strife looked up in time to see a tiny circlet of flowers being placed on his catly head. He stayed perfectly still and let her, it was kind of nice to be pampered.

Strife laid his head down carefully, so as not to dislodge his flowers, and alternated between watching Eve play *Gods and Goddesses* and listening to Xena and Gabrielle talk.

They don't talk very much; Xena's too interested in swinging her sword in graceful arches and Gabrielle's too intense on her writing, so Strife is lulled into a sense of calm. He closes his eyes and falls asleep on the soft, warm grass; tiny little hands patting his back.

END PART 3

Chapter Text

Hiding from Ares wasn't nearly as easy as hiding from Xena had been. Strife had to stay perfectly still and concentrate on not giving off any godly energy signatures.

Of course, being a plant made the staying still part fairly easy. But I digress...

"I'm sorry, Angel."

Ares walked up behind Joxer and tentatively touched the immortal on the shoulder, as if he were afraid of being rebuffed. Joxer didn't move away and after a few moments he leaned back against his lover.

"It's not me you need to apologize to," Joxer's voice was as soft as a whisper.

"I know," Ares said with a soft sigh. "I've been worried and have taken it out on Strife. I was wrong and I'll tell him so."

Strife was so astonished to hear his uncle admit that he had been wrong to treat Strife badly that he almost lost his plant form. When he paid attention to the conversation again...there wasn't any conversation.

Ares and Joxer were kissing and hugging and feeling and touching... Strife wished he had eyes to close or could risk flashing out. He didn't want to be a voyeur, but he was afraid what Ares would think if he found Strife hiding in his rooms.

Luckily for Strife, the couple soon left the room. Joxer was walked backwards by Ares, through the connecting door to the hallway that led to their bedroom. The two lovers didn't even break off their kissing and groping to leave.

As soon as they left the room, Strife made his escape.

****

Strife lay on his pallet, limp and boneless, like an overly long, skinny piece of black cloth. The strain of hiding himself from Ares had taken a lot of energy and the mischief god was worn out. It had been over two days since Strife hid in Ares' temple and he was only now recovered enough to even try and feed himself.

The young god sat up with a groan and leaned against the wall of his temple. He decided that the next time he hid, it would be somewhere that he just needed to be invisible. All this disguising himself as animals or worse yet, objects, was too tiring.

He reached out with his foot and bumped it against his *offering table*. An apple wobbled on the edge for a moment and he hit it again. That worked and the fruit fell off and rolled close enough that Strife could pick it up.

The God of Mischief examined the red fruit for a moment and decided that it wasn't *too* ripe to eat., especially if he avoided the especially squishing place on the one side. Biting down, Strife began to contemplate his next maneuver. Xena and company hadn't known anything. Ares and Joxer seemed equally in the dark.

Strife thought of and just as quickly dismissed the idea of going to Dite's. He'd have to be especially vigilant around the observant goddess and Strife didn't think he was up to that right now.

'Besides,' he thought to himself. 'I don't know if I could handle that much pink right now. Not without heavin mah suppah up.'

A small smile graced Strife's features. It was the first hint of a smile that he'd had in quite a while. Unfortunately, it went bad as quickly as the apple that he was eating. Strife tossed the half eaten piece of fruit out the window and lay back down.

"I know wheah I'll go," he said resignedly. "Tomorrah...or maybe tha next day."

Strife was asleep in moments. Outside his temple, a few birds fought over the rest of the apple.

****

Iolaus ran a stone across the blade of his sword and surreptitiously watched Hercules out of the corner of his eye. Even with the blond curls covering most of his face, the longing there was easy to see. At least it was to Strife.

The god shook his head at the obliviousness that the demi-god wore like a cloak over his head. The strong man hadn't even noticed that a god was close by. Since he and Iolaus had their camp set up close to one of Apollo's temples, he mistakenly assumed he was feeling that god's comings and goings. Strife didn't mind though. He didn't have to expend as much energy hiding this way.

This was the third day that the God of Mischief had watched the two heroes. He had only planned to stay for a few hours, like he had with the others, but as he'd been leaving that first day, Hercules had mentioned something that had the possibility of solving all Strife's problems.

He'd talked about the hind's blood dagger.

Strife had been caught, mid-flash, and had missed part of the conversation. A shiver of dread had traveled up the god's back and Strife had sat down on the ground with a plop.

The God of Mischief could remember that day very vividly. He'd been in his uncle's temple when the newest and most psychotic god had arrived. At his uncle's behest, Strife had tried to talk to her. His uncle's strong hand yanking him to one side had been the only thing that had saved the younger god from being stabbed.

Callisto had just laughed, bragging about almost killing a god. The dagger, it turned out, had been covered with hind's blood, the only thing that could kill a god.

"Othah than Zeus cursin ya or somethin," Strife added.

It was only because Ares had seen the danger his nephew was in and pulled him out of the way at the last moment that Strife was even standing, err, sitting here. Otherwise, Strife would have been in Hades' realm.

Sitting on the ground, Strife's mind kept replaying that long ago scene, over and over again, only this time, Ares *didn't* save him. Strife could see himself dying and standing in judgment in front of the God of the Underworld. Strife thought about it a moment and thought that it wouldn't be *too bad*. He'd tried to help people in his lifetime and had never deliberately hurt anyone that wasn't part of his job as Ares' second-in-command. The god decided that he might go to the Elysian Fields when he died, or even one of the lesser parts of Tartarus.

That decided it. He was so depressed that he didn't care any more. Strife wished he could just disappear and not have to worry ever again.

****

After many, long and boring hours of watching Hercules and Iolaus, Strife decided to go back to his uncle's temple. The god knew he needed to check in once in a while, in case Ares wanted him to do a job.

What Strife really wanted to do was disappear. He was so depressed that he really didn't care about much anything anymore. Before Cupid and Bliss had been a part of his life, Strife hadn't missed the lack in his life, but now that's all he could think about. Strife didn't want to have to think or feel ever again. Since that was unlikely to happen, he tried to let it go.

"I'm bigger," a voice shouted.

"Well, I'm closer," another voice replied.

Strife followed the sounds of arguing, around the corner, and into another room. Standing, face to face, in the middle of the room were Deimos and Phobos. The god looked at his cousins and cringed. Deimos looked enough like Strife to give the mischief god a headache. He just *didn't* look good with blond hair and what the Tartarus was up with those weird short thingies.

"What's up?" he asked without his usual zing.

"I keep telling him that I'm bigger and therefore more important," Deimos said with a determined tilt of his chin.

"Well, I'm closer and that's better." Phobos stuck out his tongue to emphasize his point.

"Biggah? Closah?" Strife held his hands out from his body in a questioning manner. "What're ya two talkin about?"

"I have a moon named after me."

"Well, so do I," Deimos added. "And mine's bigger than his." He jerked his head, indicating the other god.

"And mine's closer to Mars."

Strife rolled his eyes at his cousins' antics. "Ya both have moons around Mars and ya're fightin ovah which one's bettah?" he asked incredulously.

"Yes." They both nodded in unison.

"Riiiiight," he drawled. "Is Unc heah? I needed ta check in and see if he wanted me ta go cause some more problems anywheah."

Both heads shook. "No, he's not here right now."

"Oh," Strife sighed in disappointment. He'd been looking forward to seeing his uncle and also his best friend, Joxer. "I guess I'll be going then."

"Why don't you stay for the night?" Deimos suggested.

"We both are," Phobos agreed.

"Your room is still there, just like ours are," the blond added.

"No. Thanks fah tha suggestion, but no."

Ares had told him, years ago, that he needed to get his own place. Strife had figured that was his uncle's way of telling him that the war god didn't want him around anymore. After the disaster with Cupid, he certainly wouldn't want him around.

****

Meanwhile

Joxer was worried about Strife. He knew that the situation with Cupid had hurt the god more than anyone realized.

Ares saw the state his immortal lover was in and had planned a surprise. To be sure, the surprise had already been in the works for a while now, but the war god decided today was the day.

The smaller dining hall in their temple, the one Joxer and Ares used for private dinners, was decorated from top to bottom.

Feathery green fern plants were placed around the room. Vases filled with bright yellow flowers were dotted in among the greenery. Yellow was Joxer's favorite color and most every shade of that color was represented.

After the meal was finished, Ares stood up from his chair and circled around the table to stand in front of his young lover. Joxer's eyes widened at the intense look on the God of War's face.

"Before you came into my life, all I thought about, all I was, was war. There was nothing else in my life. I had my children, who I see once in a while, and the occasional fling. So many things have changed since I met you, really met you. I love you more than breathing."

Joxer blinked in surprise at the intense statement, his breath catching in his throat. "I love you, too."

The war god's smile grew. He reached out a hand. Joxer placed his pale hand in Ares' much larger and tanned one. Ares pulled Joxer to his feet. With his mind Ares pushed everything on the dinning table back. He picked Joxer up by the waist, his massive hands wrapped easily around Joxer's slender body, and set him up on the cleared spot on the table.

"You honored me by agreeing to live with me. Then you became immortal for me. I was so overwhelmed that you wanted to be with me forever. No one else has ever wanted to do that before." He put a finger over Joxer's mouth when the young immortal would have protested. "No, it's true. None of my godly lovers have wanted to stick around for more than a few months at a time." Ares ran a hand down the side of Joxer's face, tracing the jawline with one lingering finger. "Then you became my beloved consort."

Ares pulled out an exquisite ring. The band was black onyx with gold figurines etched on the stone. Ares and Joxer's name were intertwined in the middle, with the word eternity curving around the underneath side of the circle.

"Now, will you do me the honor of becoming my husband?"

Joxer was stunned into speechlessness. He never really thought that Ares would want to marry him. Unable to speak past the lump of tears that were clogging up his throat and running down his face, Joxer could only nod happily.

Ares swept Joxer up into his arms in an all encompassing hug. Joxer felt something wet on his shoulder and realized that Ares was crying too.

"Yes," Joxer was finally able to say.

The God of War placed the ring on Joxer's finger and then leaned in for a kiss. Luckily neither being could die from the lack of oxygen, because the kiss went on for quite some time. When Joxer realized what was going on again, he realized that Ares had transported them to their bedchamber.

"My fiancé," he said for the first time.

"My Angel," Ares stated, leaning over his husband-to-be.

Chapter Text

"Cerberus' balls!" Strife exclaimed, in an uncharacteristic use of profanity. The God of Mischief only cursed because he was sure that no one could hear him.

"Geez, these two are sa borin. They nevah do anythin but stand around. Even Gabbster's talkin is bettah than tha quiet."

Strife had been following Hercules and Iolaus around all day again. The pair had split up to do some hunting and, in a moment of insanity, Strife decided to follow Iolaus.

The hunter, while a very nice man, was also extremely quiet when he was hunting. Which was also very boring.

Strife watched the hunter as he squatted by a rabbit hole, waiting for his prey to come out. The god was sitting on the ground, unobserved, a few feet away. After an interminable amount of time, Strife laid down on the moss covered ground.

'This ain't too bad,' Strife decided. 'It's bettah than my pallet by fah."

With that the God of Mischief closed his eyes, just to rest them, of course. In minutes, he was fast asleep. He never heard it when Iolaus left the clearing.

****

Joxer stomped into the meeting hall and sat down on his chair with a thump. "Darn it!" he cursed. That was usually the strongest curse he could come up with. Like his good friend, Joxer didn't have a foul mouth.

He was still sitting there a few minutes later when Cupid walked into the room. *He* didn't stomp into the room, but his face was as sad as the young immortal's.

"Hey, Joxer. What's up?" Cupid asked.

"Not Strife," Joxer answered. "I can't find him anywhere. Have you seen him?" He turned to look at the blond god.

"No. I haven't seen him in...awhile," Cupid admitted.

Joxer grunted and frowned. "Okay, I have another question. Where does Strife live?"

Cupid opened his mouth to answer and then closed it with a frown. "Uhm..."

"That's what I thought." Joxer nodded. "Nobody seems to know where his home temple is. I've lived up here all these years and not *once* have I been there. Every time I bring up the subject, Strife changes it. I just hadn't realized he did that."

Cupid had to smile a little at that. They all knew how easily Joxer was distracted. The young immortal was hyper at the best of times and it didn't take much to get him off on a new subject. Especially if someone, namely a certain god, put his mind to it.

"We'll just have to change that," Cupid said quietly. He'd been around the other god for over 100 years and didn't know him any better.

"Yes, we will." Joxer's soft, sweet voice had an iron (What? Steel wasn't invented yet.) tone to it, making him sound almost as tough as his lover.

****

Cupid walked around Apollo's temple. He was certain that he'd sensed Strife there, just a few moments ago. He kicked at a rock, frustrated that he'd missed the young god.

'I don't care what happened. Bliss can be taught what not to say. I miss Strife and want him back. Mom was wrong and I was wrong.'

The blond god sighed. He knew that Aphrodite hadn't really been wrong, just misinformed. Cupid was the one who took the advice too much to heart. He hadn't even given Strife a chance to explain or to remember to curb his language around the godling.

"I know I felt something." Hercules' voice echoed around from the corner of the temple. Cupid grimaced, not wanting to meet his uncle right now, and flashed out.

He missed Hercules alright. Iolaus too. Unfortunately, he missed Strife, who was in disguise as a street vendor.

****

Cupid found Bliss hiding behind a statue, crying.

"Baby, what's wrong?" The winged god sat down on the floor and held the little ball of tears and feathers close.

"Stwifey don't like me anymore," Bliss lisped, his missing front teeth making it hard to speak plainly. "He won't talk to me no mores."

The little boy buried his head in Cupid's neck and began to sob. Cupid felt his heart clench in his chest at his son's words.

"Oh, Blissy." He rocked the godling back and forth, trying to offer a little comfort. "Strife still likes you."

Bliss shook his head. "Nuh uh. He goes pooft when he sees me coming."

"No, Bliss." Cupid leaned the little boy back. Tears were still streaming down the softly rounded cheeks. "It's my fault. I got upset about something and made Strife think he wasn't welcome anymore. But I'm going to fix it."

"Pwomise?" Bliss' bottom lip trembled.

"I promise," Cupid said seriously.

He stood up, holding the small boy easily in his arms. "Let's get you cleaned up. Okay?"

Bliss nodded. "Okay."

He didn't say anything until Cupid had tucked him into bed. "Daddy?"

"Yes, son?" Cupid sat down and brushed the light colored curls out of his son's face.

"I loves Stwifey," Bliss said seriously.

"I do too," Cupid admitted.

"Will he come back?" Tears threatened again.

"I hope so, son. I hope so."

Cupid lay down beside Bliss on the bed and hoped he hadn't lost any hope of winning the mischief god's love. For all of their sakes.

****

'I wondah if anybody else knows about tha daggah?' Strife asked himself, eyeing the two men in front of him. 'Theah's got ta be an easiah way.'

"...and I believe that Sonius' way is best. It will lead to more prosperity for the valley," Hercules concluded with a knowing nod of his head.

"Uh...yeah, Herc." Even Iolaus was stunned by the pompous attitude.

'Eithah that or he's been bored inta a coma,' Strife concluded, looking at poor Iolaus' glazed eyes.

Strife leaned against the tree and watched the two heroes. He was contemplating whether or not to give up for the day when a loud noise behind him startled the nervous god.

"...and after I took it from Callisto, it wasn't that hard to hide the dagger in..." Strife missed hearing the conversation he'd been waiting for.

He looked over at the village. Apollo's temple was in the middle of it, naturally, but the rest of the village was arranged around the large edifice. And today there seemed to be a festival of some sort going on.

A juggler, apparently a bad one, or maybe he was just unlucky, had dropped a couple of the flaming torches that he'd been tossing in the air. Even as Strife watched, the unfortunate man, who was stumbling around, trying not to drop that last torch, stepped in a pile of manure.

A *very* big, squishy, *slippery* pile of manure.

His feet flew out from underneath him, dropping the juggler into the shit and causing the torch to fly out of his hands. Strife watched, with an open mouth, as the burning wood arched beautifully and landed...on the top of the tent.

In seconds, the old material was ablaze. It was only a few seconds after that when screams could be heard and people of all ages and sizes came running out of the blazing tent like a stream of water from a jug.

The noise was too much for a team of horses standing nearby. That was the last straw for the jittery animals, who had been upset by the flames in the first place. One of the front horses attached to the wagon reared up on its hind legs. Its front hooves were flailing wildly in the air and almost hit the other front horse in the eye. Needless to say, the second horse didn't appreciate that one bit and it started dancing around. Not wanting to be left out, the other pair of horses started their own jig.

Finally, the inevitable happened. One horse kicked another in the butt, causing the first horse to run to one side. One of the other horses tried to go the opposite direction. Amazingly, the animals seemed to reach a mutual consensus and took off running down the dirt packed street.

Several jugs of wine (what the wagon had been carrying) went flying off when the wild ride began. One of them burst open, splashing red wine all over the juggler who inadvertently started the whole mess, leaving him clean of mud and crap, but now red and sticky.

The poor owner of the team gave up trying to control the animals and cowered in the seat of his wagon. Every once in a while he would pop up like a demented rabbit and then duck back down again. He held on for dear life as they careened out of sight.

****

Strife was laughing so hard, he thought he was going to break some ribs. Every time the mischief god would get himself calmed down a little, another jug of wine would fly off the wagon or someone else would fall into a pile of poopwine.

Tears were streaming down the mischief god's face as he looked around the mess that had just moments earlier been a very calm and sedate town festival. Now, it looked like Cerberus and a couple of hydras got plastered on a drunken binge and made whoopee with the locals.

"This is more fun than I've had in a long time," Strife admitted.

His body kept giving little jerks as more and more magical energy ran into him. The mischief potential, however unintended, was truly magnificent.

With a happy sigh, Strife decided to go home. He might not even come back for a while.

His flash, as he left, was brighter than it had been.

****

"I tell you, this must have been Strife's doing," Hercules stated as he stomped around.

Iolaus rolled his eyes at his best friend's antics. Hercules was the only one who was still upset about what had happened. Everybody else, including the wine merchant, was laughing about the strange chain of events.

"So?"

Hercules whirled around. "So!" he said indignantly.

"Yeah." Iolaus shook his head. "So what if Strife did cause this. Hello, he *is* the God of Mischief."

Hercules opened his mouth to complain again, but closed it when he realized that Iolaus was making sense. "I guess you're right."

"Uh." Iolaus was speechless. Hercules *never* gave up that easily. Not when a god was involved. "Yeah."

The demi-god tossed the broken board down that he'd been holding. "The Tartarus with it. I'm not going to be the only one cleaning up."

Slinging an arm around Iolaus' shoulder, Hercules hugged his good friend. "How about we go get a drink?" he offered.

"Y-you bet." Iolaus felt his cheeks tingling with a bright blush, but didn't care. It wasn't very often that he got this close to the man he secretly loved.

Wrapping an arm around Herc's waist (Hey, Iolaus knows when to get in some groping.) the two men sauntered off down the road.

They completely missed seeing Strife, who'd dropped his invisibility when he'd been laughing so hard. They also missed seeing Cupid, who flashed in just as Strife flashed out.

The love god looked around at the mess and swore silently at having missed the younger god again.

Chapter Text

"Strife!"

The young god jumped at his best friend's yell. "Joxah?"

He wasn't too worried though when he turned around and saw the smiling immortal hurrying towards him. Strife smiled back. You couldn't resist the happy look on Joxer's face.

"I have good news!" Joxer squealed.

"That's great. What is it?"

Joxer grabbed hold of one of Strife's black leather sleeves and pulled him into a side room. Strife wasn't scared, because he knew that his gentle friend would never hurt him.

"I'm engaged!" Joxer blurted out the second the door shut behind them. He waved his left hand excitedly.

Strife caught the flying hand and looked closely at the ring. His friend was so excited that it was like trying to catch a hummingbird in his hand.

"Sa Unc finally popped tha question," Strife said with a smile. He patted Joxer's hand. "I'm glad fah ya."

"Thank you." Joxer's smile was so bright that it actually lit up the room. "He asked me last night. I've been *trying* to find you all day to let you know the good news."

"I'm sorry, Joxah. I've been...busy taday."

"That's okay, but I've been bursting at the seams to tell someone."

"Ta tell...?" Strife trailed off.

"That's right," Joxer said with a happy bounce, "you are the first to get the news."

Strife was speechless. "I...I'm...thank ya," he finally said, sincerely flattered by the special attention.

"You're welcome. I'm going to need your help in planning this wedding." Joxer snickered. "I've got to find some way to get have my friends and family around and nobody get killed."

The mischief maker giggled. "And not have everythin pink," he added. Both men nodded, thinking of Dite's influence.

****

"Will you watch Bliss for me?"

"Uh..."

"I'll be back in just a couple of minutes."

Joxer was still so happy that Strife didn't have the heart to remind him that Cupid obviously didn't want the god to be around his son.

"Ah course I don't mind," he said truthfully.

The immortal hurried down the hall, forgetting in his haste to even shut the door. Shaking his head, Strife closed the heavy door and sat down at one of his uncle's tables. He situated himself where he could watch the child he adored, but not be seen. Hopefully that would keep anyone from getting in trouble.

Strife had missed Bliss a lot. The little boy was like a ray of sunshine. He missed Cupid even more.

Determined not to let himself become upset again. Strife mentally slapped himself upside the head and went back to watching Bliss who was coloring on the temple walls.

'I hope he has permission ta do that,' Strife thought.

He smiled in amusement, trying to picture Ares punishing his grandson. Strife could almost picture the large war god laying that small boy over his large knee and spanking him on...

'Nah," Strife thought with a decisive grin. "Not in a million years.'

"Yeps, dis is mean ol' Hercwules."

Strife craned his neck and could see a crude drawing of a very large man who seemed to be dripping purple blood. The god frowned. The innocent child he loved didn't like *scary things* and usually drew flowers and trees. Even as Strife watched, Bliss drew what appeared to be arrows being thrown at the Hercules figure. He could tell it was Hercules, from the odd pants, even if Bliss hadn't identified him.

Neither one of them realized it when Cupid flashed in. He saw Strife sitting on the other side of the room from Bliss and was disheartened. The love god decided to wait and give Strife and Bliss a chance to talk.

"I knows." Bliss nodded his head, as if listening to someone talking. "He's a bastward."

The God of Mischief gasped. "Bliss!"

The little godling "epped" and jumped in the air. "Stwifey!" He jumped up and ran to the dark clad god and hugged him around the knees. "You'wse here!"

"Yeah, I'm heah," Strife said solemnly. He loosened the little boy's hold on his legs and squatted down. "Little one...wheah did you hear that word?"

Innocent blue eyes blinked up at Strife. "What word, Stwifey?"

"That one..." Strife hesitated to say it. He didn't want to teach the child any bad habits, but since he already obviously knew it... "Tha word, *bastard*."

"Ooooh." Bliss smiled, happy now the mystery had been solved. "I heard Gwandma Dite saying it. She was mad at that mean 'ol Hewcules for *messin up one of her matches*."

Strife sighed and sat down on the rug. He patted the ground beside him and Bliss obediently sat down beside him.

"Little one..." Strife hesitated. "Sometimes grown ups say things that little kids shouldn't hear. Or repeat."

"Why?" Bliss tilted his head to one side like a little bird, listening for its mother.

"Because..." Again, Strife struggled with how to say this. "It's just like sometimes yar Grandpa Ares does things in war that are scary."

Bliss nodded vigorously and shivered.

"Right." Strife rubbed a little shoulder soothingly. "Well, when ya are older, it won't be sa scary. But right now, when ya're a kid, it is."

Bliss frowned, not quite making the connection.

"Sometimes, grownup words aren't sa nice. We still say them, even if we don't really mean them, when we get upset."

The godling nodded again. He could understand. Sometimes the bigger kids would start to say things and then stop when they realized he was around.

"Tha word ya used..."

"Bastward," Bliss supplied helpfully.

Strife winced and placed a finger over the little boy's lips. "Please, don't use that word. It's not a nice word."

"It's not?" Bliss asked.

"No, it's not." Strife took a deep breath. "Da ya know what it means?"

Bliss' big eyes and head shake indicated he didn't.

"There are two meanings. Tha first one means somebody who is not a very nice person. Tha second one...means somebody whose mom and dad weren't married when they were born...like me."

The godling had a small hand over his mouth and was looking at Strife in horror. "I'mse sowry." He threw himself into Strife's arms, crying his heart out. "I didn't know it meanted that."

Strife held onto the little bundle, being mindful of his still pliable wings. "It's alright, little feathahs. Ya didn't know what ya were sayin." He rocked the distressed child in his arms.

"Oh, honey, it's okay."

The God of Mischief jumped when he heard Cupid's voice. He looked up and saw Bliss' daddy, and the man he loved, standing there in all his feathered glory. The love god knelt down beside them and wrapped his tanned arms around both Strife and Bliss.

Strife closed his eyes and reveled in the closeness. Even if it only lasted for a few moments, he needed this.

But the few moments lasted a lot longer than that. Even after Bliss had stopped crying, Cupid didn't let go of them.

"I'm sowry," Bliss lisped.

Strife leaned forward and kissed the little boy's nose, making him giggle. "It's okay."

Cupid leaned forward a moment later and kissed Bliss' cheek. "Yes, it is. But honey, next time, ask me before you use a new word. Okay." Bliss nodded carefully, a determined look on his face. "Alright, go back and play now."

The God of Love gave his son a swat on the butt as he raced off, earning himself a giggle in return. Strife didn't move as this was going on, not wanting to draw attention to himself and have the moment end.

"I'm sorry," Cupid said quietly. Strife turned and looked at the other god. Dark and pale eyes met.

Cupid explained what had happened with Bliss and Aphrodite. Strife didn't say anything as he listened to the explanation of why he had been frozen out of their lives.

"I undahstand," Strife told him. "I would have protected Bliss taa." He gave a quick, uncertain smile.

"I should have known you wouldn't say anything like that in front of Bliss, not with how good you are with the kids," Cupid tried to apologize more.

Strife stood up, uneasy now with how close they were. "It's okay," he said, twisting the edge of one sleeve nervously. "It's not like..."

They were interrupted when the door opened and Joxer hurried in.

"Sorry it took me so long, Ares wanted to..." He paused at the tension in the room.

"It's no problem." Strife hurried over to his friend's side. "I, uh...I've gotta go anyway." The nervous god waved. "Bye."

And then he was gone...again.

****

"Well...darn!" Joxer groused. "He did it again."

Cupid seemed stunned by Strife's abrupt departure and Bliss was drawing in bright red on the wall. Joxer sighed and walked over to sit down by the little boy, unable to leave him so hurting.

"I swear...I'm going to put a bell around his neck," Joxer muttered.

Bliss giggled and Joxer smiled at him. He glanced over at the love god, who was still standing in the middle of the floor.

'I guess Cupid has just learned that sometimes *I'm sorry* isn't enough,' Joxer thought sadly.

Chapter Text

 

Finding out where Strife’s temple was didn’t turn out to be that difficult after all, which was both good and depressing. It upset the young immortal to realize that no one knew where Strife lived…because they didn’t care enough to look.

 

Joxer walked down to the temple, because he didn’t want to bother Ares with having the god flash him. Not that Ares ever minded, but there was the principle of the matter. And…Joxer missed walking.

 

He was used to traveling around with Xena and Gabrielle, and even when he didn’t, where he walked everywhere he went. Even after all these years of living on Mount Olympus, the former warrior liked to take his walks.

 

“He can’t keep avoiding me if I come to his home,” Joxer reasoned. “He’s got to come here…eventually…”

 

Joxer stopped and stared, open mouthed, at Strife’s…home.

 

“Home?” Joxer questioned, looking at the haphazard edifice.

 

“Joxah?” Strife’s voice wafted out of the doorway. Joxer wasn’t surprised that he could hear him so well, not considering that the door was just a couple of boards cobbled together.

 

“Yes, it’s me.” The false brightness in his voice belied the sickening feeling that Joxer had in his stomach. “I’ve brought a picnic,” he added, holding up a basket of food.

 

“A picnic?” Strife opened the door. A wave of his hand and a burst of godly energy were all that kept the rickety door from falling apart. “Uh, come on in.”

 

“I’d love to.” Joxer beamed happily at his friend and followed him inside.

 

****

 

“Ares, it was horrible.”

 

The war god watched as his lover, no, his fiancé, he amended to himself, stomped around, gesticulating wildly. Ares hadn’t seen Joxer this agitated in years.

 

“Joxer.” The young immortal didn’t seem to even hear him. “Joxer!” The God of War snagged hold of the smaller man’s arm and pulled him down onto his lap. Ares was sitting on his black marble throne and now had a lapful of Joxer for company.

 

“Tell me about it,” he demanded.

 

“It’s all…” Joxer waved his hands around, trying to describe the decrepit place. “It’s falling apart. No, actually, I don’t think it was ever together in the first place.”

 

Ares frowned, trying to imagine a god living in some place less that perfect. He started to question his lover, but Joxer beat him to it.

 

“The walls aren’t straight, the ones that are there at least. Not every wall is complete!” Joxer took a deep breath to calm down. “The roof is made of…I’m not sure what, but it’s a good thing it doesn’t rain on Olympus or Strife would have been drenched.”

 

The God of War could feel the horror coming off of Joxer and if it was bad enough that he was upset…it was bad. Joxer had spent the majority of his grown life living outdoors and sleeping on the rocky ground; it would take a lot to bother him.

 

“There’s just one room,” Joxer said quietly, “with one, small offering table. I…there was another doorway and I peeked.” The warrior looked at the god with tears in his eyes. “It was a door that led nowhere,” he whispered. “I saw what might have been a beam or two, indicating that another room had been planned, but there wasn’t anything there.”

 

Lips trembling, Joxer buried his head in Ares’ neck and began to sob. Ares rubbed his lover’s back, trying to soothe the immortal. All the while, he was alternating between rage and sorrow at the news.

 

****

 

“Strife?”

 

Even with the warning, Ares wasn’t prepared for the reality of the situation. The god glanced around the shack that his nephew had been living in for all these years and thought he was going to be sick.

 

Not only was it only one, badly constructed room, but there weren’t any amenities at all…not even a bed. Ares glanced at the pile of twigs and leaves in one corner in wonderment. It was only when he saw the scrap of a blanket lying, neatly folded, on one corner did he realize that *this* was the bed.

 

“Uh…Unc.”

 

Strife grinned nervously and scuffed his boot against the floor. A small cloud of dirt billowed up and he stopped. Pale blue eyes darted around his home and Ares could see the pale skin of his cheeks brighten in embarrassment.

 

“Strife…” Ares hesitated, feeling unsure, which wasn’t his usual behavior.

 

“Uh, was theah somethin ya needed me ta do fah yah? A war ta stir up or somethin?”

 

“Well…” Ares took one quick look around and made a lightening fast decision, as was his wont. “Yes, Joxer needs you.”

 

“Joxah?” Strife straightened up and looked his uncle in the eye for the first time. “Is somethin wrong with him?”

 

Ares shook his head quickly. Most everyone, but Strife especially, worried about Joxer since his ordeal with the Spanish Inquisition. The last thing Ares wanted to do was add to that.

 

“No, nothing wrong, but he does need your help.”

 

“Ah course. Anythin I can do,” Strife said sincerely.

 

“Good. He, uh…needs your help planning the wedding.”

 

“Tha weddin?” Strife blinked in surprise. “It’s kinda soon fah that, isn’t it?”

 

“Well…yes, to us it is, but not to Dite it won’t be.”

 

Strife nodded his head knowingly. The black spikes glistened in the sunlight that was coming in from several open spaces in the roof.

 

“Okay, sa what can I do ta help?”

 

“I want you to come back with me to mine and Joxer’s temple…and stay there for a while.”

 

The mischief god sucked in a surprised breath. “Ya…what?”

 

“Yes, you can stay in your old rooms,” Ares added nonchalantly. Privately, he decided that there was no way in Tartarus that Strife was coming back *here* until it was livable.

 

“O-okay.”

 

“Great, that’s all settled.” Ares rubbed his hands together vigorously. “Let’s go.”

 

The god started to flash them out of there, but stopped in mid-flash when Strife yelled, “Wait!”

 

Ares frowned at the interruption, but his (brown) unfurrowed when he saw the smaller god dart over and pick up his blanket. Looking around, Ares realized that it was the only thing of dubious value in the home.

 

“Okay, I’m ready now.”

 

This time, they flashed out without interruption.

 

****

 

‘It’s tha same,’ Strife was stunned to realize. ‘Mah rooms look exactly like they did when I left…all those yeahs ago.’

 

“Strife?”

 

The God of Mischief yelped and spun around. He’d been so amazed at what he’d found that the hyper man was caught off guard, something that hadn’t happened…in forever.

 

“Jox!”

 

“I’m sorry.” Joxer winced in sympathy. He knew some of Strife’s horrific background, but not all of it. No, Joxer sensed that there was a *lot* more that he didn’t know about.

 

“T-that’s okay. I was just startled.” Strife smiled and sat down on the edge of his bed. He ran a hand over the dark blue coverlet, smiling at how soft it was.

 

Joxer sat down on the other end of the bed, after questioning Strife with his eyes. The god nodded shyly and Joxer realized he was nervous about being back at his childhood home.

 

“I, uh, was wondering…” Joxer bit his lip and tried to think of a tactful way to phrase his question.

 

“Ya’re wonderin why I live in such a crappy place,” Strife completed for him.

 

“Ye-es,” Joxer admitted.

 

Strife shrugged one skinny, leather clad shoulder. “Traditionally, a god’s followahs build their temples, not tha gods themselves. Or at least they start tha job. My followahs are mostly kids…or unhinged.” He ran a gentle finger over his blanket. “I don’t have that much powah ta do anythin,” he admitted.

 

“Oh.” Joxer frowned in contemplation. “There’s got to be some kind of loophole for a situation like yours. It’s not your fault that the little kids can’t build anything. Are your other temples like that one?”

 

A pink stain crept across Strife’s cheeks. “Oh,” Joxer whispered, as realization struck. “That’s…”

 

“…tha only temple,” Strife finished for him. “Yeah.”

Chapter Text

 

"Yeah, I do a lot of the work on my temples myself," Ares admitted. "The excess energy I get from my followers sort of...automatically repairs and updates the buildings, adds additions, etc."

 

Strife blinked blankly at Ares, obviously not understanding what he was talking about. His pale brow furrowed over his equally pale eyes. "Uh, okay."

 

Ares leaned back in his chair and studied his nephew. Strife was picking at the food on his plate, eating a bite or two of this and that. The war god tried to remember the last time he'd eaten a meal with his young relative and decided it was several months earlier. Thinking of that time, Ares realized Strife didn't eat much then either.

 

'No wonder he's so skinny.' Looking his guest over, Ares amended, 'And sickly looking.'

 

The God of War's eyes unfocused for a moment, as he looked *inside* of Strife for the first time in decades. It was common enough practice for godly parents to *look* at their children and see that the energy from their godhoods was flowing correctly. Ares was ashamed to admit that he hadn't checked Strife since the pale man was a child.

 

Ares was stunned at what he found, or rather what he *didn't* find. Mischief should have been a fairly strong godhood, considering all the unintentional bits of mischief that people played on each other daily, not to mention the deliberate pranks that some of the older children perpetrated. And adults were oftentimes the worst of the lot. Even some of the crafty, underhanded dealings that happened during a war could be traced back to mischief.

 

So why was Strife so weak?

 

There was a thin, wavery line of power seeping into Strife's aura, one that flickered and faltered from time to time. Every once in a while, a burst of energy would appear out of nowhere, but for the most part there wasn't much coming in.

 

Strife's uncle wondered how the God of Mischief was able to do any flashing around at all, let alone as much as he did when running errands for Ares.

 

He watched as Strife sighed and picked at his food, wondering who to talk to about this problem.

 

****

 

Strife sighed and tried to eat more. It wasn't easy, eating and paying attention to the conversation with Joxer. The god could see his uncle, out of the corner of his eye, watching him. Strife didn't want to be rude, but he was worn out, what with the upheaval of the day.

 

In truth, most days he felt like this...drained and exhausted. If Unc needed his help with a war, and Strife had been flashing from one spot to the other all day, Strife would just collapse on his nest* and concentrate on breathing, because that was all he could manage to do.

 

‘Two weeks,’ Strife reasoned. ‘It’ll take two weeks at tha most fah Unc ta get sick ah me and want me ta leave.’

 

Strife figured decided to make good use of the time with Joxer and Ares. He dug into his food, determined to make up some of the energy he lost daily. If he couldn’t do it the godly way, he’d do it the mortal way.

 

****

 

Strife felt like he had a grin permanently affixed to his face. That would've been fine, if it had been real, but it wasn't.

 

Cupid's invitation to dinner had been not completely unexpected, neither had the nervous flutter that had appeared in Strife's stomach the moment he'd been asked. Trying to pinpoint what was different from all the other meals he'd enjoyed at Cupid's temple, Strife realized he didn't feel safe here anymore.

 

****

 

If Strife’s shoulders got any tenser, they snap off like little frozen wings.

 

Cupid watched as Strife smiled at Bliss’ non stop chatter. Strife had been smiling when he’d arrived and hadn’t stopped since, but it was a false smile, one supposed to reassure Cupid. It did the opposite. Even little Bliss felt the tension, hence his hyper talking.

 

Like his father, Cupid noticed how little Strife was eating. This was a change, because the mischief god had always eaten, if not heartily, at least enough to satisfy the cook.

 

The young god was subdued, not something that Cupid would ever have thought possible for the hyper god. But Strife was subdued and he was nervous too.

 

“Thanks fah tha wondahful repast,” Strife said with his painted on smile. “I’ve gotta go, but thanks fah askin me ovah.”

 

“Uh, are you sure you don’t want to stay a while?” Cupid was desperate to keep Strife around a little longer. “Maybe have some desert?”

 

“No thanks. I’ve got a war that Unc needs stirred up in tha morning.” With a quick, nervous little wave, Strife flashed out.

 

Bliss sat in his special chair, the one that sat him up higher, yet protected his fragile wings, and looked miserable. His bottom lip quivered as the godling tried not to cry.

 

“I’se don’t want dis-des…”

 

“Desert,” Cupid helped him out.

 

“Yeps. I don’t want any neither.”

 

“Either,” Cupid corrected automatically. “Alright, I’m not very hungry myself.”

 

He helped his son down and watched as Bliss walked towards his bedroom. Snowy white wings drooped in disappointment. Cupid knew that Bliss had been looking forward to Strife reading him a bedtime story.

 

Disappointed himself, the love god plopped down in one of his chairs and compared this disaster of a night to the one, just a few weeks earlier, where he’d kissed Strife for the first, and so far, only time.

 

“Damn.”

 

*This is the nest from Overheard Conversations, Chapter 34. Strife’s baby nest.

 

Chapter Text

“*That’s* Strife’s head priest?” Cupid muttered. Ares looked over at the scruffy man who had come in and was arranging things on the God of Mischief’s offering table. It was apparent to Joxer that neither god was impressed with the slightly unkempt man. “What do you expect,” Joxer said in a low, but icy voice, “someone in flowing, white robes?” Cupid and his father both looked surprised at the open hostility in Joxer’s voice. Naturally, that was what they were expecting, because none of their priests would have dared to even enter one of their temples looking like this.  Cupid’s priests were dressed in the finest linens and had genuine, gold-tips on their sashes. Ares’ priests wore steely gray robes and had small, jewel encrusted daggers in their belts. The more jewels, the higher up they were in the hierarchy. Strife’s priest, his *one* priest was small and stooped over from too much work and poor diet. His hair was clean, as were his clothes and person, but they were ragged and, in the case of his clothing, patched in numerous places. He was barefoot and had been unshod for the majority of his life. Joxer shook his head. “Ares, Cupid…Strife’s priest works all day. He can only do this,” he gestured to the straightening that the priest was doing, “*after* work.” Cupid’s mouth was hanging open and Ares was frowning at the information. Ares turned to watch the man, who was ignoring everyone else in the mischief temple. He was used to not paying attention to the adults who frequented the place, because they usually weren’t the sanest of people. Hence, the man didn’t realize he was in the presence of two of the most powerful gods on Mount Olympus and a very well liked consort. “He has a stall in the market, selling…” he paused to think a moment, “vegetables, I think.” “But…why?” Cupid asked in confusion. “Because Strife doesn’t get enough offerings to keep a priest all the time,” Joxer explained patiently.  "You mean that's his *only* priest?" Cupid said in horror. "Yes." Ares digested the upsetting news and took a closer look at Strife’s *temple*. He could look his fill, since Strife wasn’t with them today. The war god had assigned some of his brawnier priests to fixing up the Mischief god’s temple. The men hadn’t been too thrilled with the assignment, what with Strife being a *minor* god, but one look at Ares’ impassive face and they had caved. Even with the work that was going on, there still wasn’t much to look at. Strife’s offering table was a slab of driftwood that had obviously been scrounged from somewhere and hadn’t even been smoothed over. Ares knew, from what Joxer had told him, that Strife sat on and ate at the *table* which was the only piece of furniture in the room. The walls give the impression of being wet and they were a kind of…gray and mottled looking. The God of War didn’t want to know what must be growing on the walls to give them that nasty of a coloring. Hanging from the walls were cobwebs. Lots and lots of cobwebs, some so thick Bliss could probably get stuck in them. Ares winced at the thought of his little grandson, innocently flying around the room, and accidentally getting caught, like a fluffy, white butterfly. ‘Strife was innocent when he came here to live. And I never checked up on him, not once.’ Unaware of Ares’ self castigation, Cupid was also fighting down his growing sense of horror. He pointed to one wall where a few, crude drawings were hung. They looked like cave paintings, unrefined and hard to decipher. “Wh-what are those?” he asked hoarsely. “Oh. Those were drawn by an insane follower of Strife’s. According to him, ‘No one else wanted ta put anythin up on mah walls, so I let him.’” Cupid whimpered. His walls were covered in beautiful frescoes and murals, painted by the most revered artists of their day. The love god knew that his father’s walls were covered with battle scenes, but they were well done renderings. “I…we…we’ve got to fix this.” The love god’s wings were quivering in distress. The fluttering motion stirred up a few leaves. “Why don’t we sweep up, get rid of some of the debris in here.” Cupid gestured to the pile of leaves and branches in the corner.”  “No, don’t mess with those, that’s…” Joxer looked at both gods, hesitating to say something that would upset them even more. “That’s where Strife sleeps.” Joxer grabbed hold of Cupid’s arm. The god had turned so pale that the young immortal was afraid he was going to pass out. “Where he…sleeps?” “Yes,” Joxer confirmed. The former fighter couldn’t think of anything to say to ease the pain of discovery. They had all failed Strife, some just longer than other. “I have an idea,” Ares interrupted their musings.  **** The large god stumbled when he appeared in Phyladia. The ground underneath his feet was littered with all sorts of things; toys, weapon…and farm equipment. Ares looked at the paraphernalia with a jaundiced eye. “Tartarus only knows what all this is for,” he muttered. “You have a wicked mind,” came an amused voice. Ares looked over and saw a smaller, blond-haired woman with eyes the color of summer grass. She was the person he’d come to see, Chymra, the Goddess of Magical Offerings.   “These,” she indicated the items littering the ground, “were brought here by followers of mine. If you can believe it, they are all part of one man’s jesting act.” Ares eyed the shovel and tried to imagine how that could be funny. He couldn’t do it and gave a mental shrug. The god had more important things he needed to do. Chymra could have told the war god that the shovel was used to bury the animal droppings that the jester’s pack animal left behind…but the imp inside her decided to let him wonder. “I need your help,” Ares told her. “Of course, little one.” She reached up a delicate hand and cupped Ares’ face. “Anything for my favorite great-great-nephew.” “It’s about Strife…” **** “See here,” Chymra pointed to a point on the mirror. “That’s when Strife reached his majority. His full powers should have been activated then, but they weren’t.” The goddess stared at the Mirror of Revealing and frowned at what she saw. “Someone put a block on Strife when he was 15.” Ares’ brow furrowed at that news. Someone had messed with his nephew’s godhood and had made his life miserable for decades. “As a god with such young followers, the energy of each prank *and* the idea of each piece of mischief should have translated into godly energy.” She looked up at Ares. “This should be crackling with energy.” Instead, the mirror had a barely seen, rippling wave of energy, one that only slightly moved the energy around it. Once in a while there would be a slight *plop* and an energy bubble would break the surface, sending out waves across the mirror. **** Strife leaned against the edge of Ares’ throne in false nonchalance. He watched as Ares paced back and forth and tried to explain what had transpired. Of course, Strife realized what must have happened. Tryst put the block on him.  Automatically, Strife cringed. His eyes darted around fearfully, expecting the huge god to come flashing in and punish Strife for even thinking about him. When nothing happened, the mischief god pretended to relax. He was glad that neither Ares nor Joxer had noticed his brief moment of weakness. "...your temples should have automatically appeared wherever there was a lot of worshipping of you going on. Little kids can't be expected to erect temples on their own, so they should have built themselves," Ares explained to Strife. The young god nodded his head. "Okay, I get ya, Unc." In Strife's mind, he didn't see what the big deal was. It seemed obvious that he *didn't* have that many worshippers...his temple was proof of that. "You should brace yourself. Chymra is going to release the block on your magic, so you'll get the backwash from all these years." Ares eyed his nephew, trying to decide if Strife should lay down for what was going to come. Strife bobbed his head a few times and stayed casually leaning against the black throne. He didn't want to disappoint Ares, who clearly thought the God of Mischief had a lot of pent up power hiding somewhere, but Strife really wasn't expecting much. All he's ever felt was a trickle of energy, most of the time, with brief flares when an especially big prank was performed. "So, will she come heah or do I need ta go ta her temple?" Strife asked.  "No," Ares shook his head, his long black curls gliding across his leather vest. "Chymra doesn't ever leave her temple. She's going to release the block from there." "Okay." Strife stood up straighter and waited for the *onslaught*. The young god giggled at the idea. Ares didn't get mad at him for laughing, they were all used to Strife's odd ways. Ares tilted his head, listening to someone not in the room with them, and warned Strife, "here it comes". "I'm re...ady..." Strife trailed off as the first wave of power washed over him.  "Oh...wow, that's really..." He gasped, his impossibly pale blue eyes widening in surprise at what he could feel surging towards him.  "Unc," he whispered in a small, frightened voice. "It'll be okay," Ares assured him. The older god started to go to him. Strife was blasted off his feet and across the room by the sheer volume of power that hit him all at once. The young god slammed onto Ares' map table and rolled off the other side. His breath came out in a woosh when Strife hit the rock floor. "Strife!" Twin yells filled the room as Ares hurried to his fallen nephew and Joxer, hearing the loud thump, hurried in from the hallway. "Why did you blast him?" Joxer demanded. His normally sweet countenance was scrunched up in anger. "What?" Ares turned Strife over and was happy to note that there weren't any apparent injuries from the fall. "No, babe. I didn't blast him. This was a release of *part* of the energy he should have been getting." "Oh." Joxer ducked his head and blushed. He should have known better. It had been years since Ares blasted Strife. "I'm sorry." Ares grinned and cupped Joxer's blushing face in his hand. That only made the pink tinge even brighter. "I accept your apology."  It still thrilled the older god when Joxer apologized to him. Before the young man came into his life, no one would really admit they were in the wrong. It just wasn't an Olympian trait. "What should we do with him?" Joxer asked. Ares stood from where he'd been kneeling beside the table, an unconscious Strife draped limply over his arms. "We'll put Strife in his old rooms and let him sleep this off." Glancing down, he *read* Strife and added, "it may take a while". **** It had been three days and Strife was still sleeping. Apollo had reassured the *very agitated* Ares that this was normal. Strife's body wasn't used to that much power and needed to let it absorb into his being, like a flower soaking up rays from the sun. "Okay, honey, here we are." Cupid gazed down at his son and hesitated for a moment. He had given into the little godling's begging and brought him to visit the unconscious Strife, but Cupid was hesitant. He was worried that the sight would upset his impressionable little son. After all, being one of the gods, Bliss had never seen anyone he loved sick before. Bliss stood in the open doorway, one plump little thumb firmly entrenched between his lips. He eyed the sleeping god for a moment, his blue eyes wide. Shuffling hesitantly over to stand beside the bed, Bliss reached out a hesitant hand and patted Strife's pale one that was lying on top of the bright green coverlet.  "Hi, Stwifey." One front tooth was finally making its appearance, but the godling still lisped adorably. "How's you doing?" he questioned. Taking hold of Strife's hand with one of his hands and the covers with the other, Bliss pulled himself onto the bed to sit beside the somnolent god. Cupid started forward when he saw Bliss struggling, but stopped when the little boy flapped his wings a few times to give himself a boost. "So, you'se going to sleep a while, huh?" Strife was lying on his right side and almost seemed to disappear in among all the bedclothes. Strife's larger-than-life personality and wild antics distracted people from noticing how small framed and delicate boned he really was. Bliss carefully brushed the hair off of Strife's forehead. "That's okay. We'll take care of you." Bliss bit his lip as he thought. "I knowse, I'll tell you a bedtime story." Cupid began to carefully back out of the room. He didn't want to disturb his son and hope-to-be lover. "Once upon a time. There was a lovely pwincess. She lived in a tower *high* up in the sky." Bliss raised his arms in the air to demonstrate just how high up she was. "But she didn't like that, so she blasted out the door and left. One day..." **** It took Cupid a while to stop laughing. 'Only in this family,' he thought, 'would a fairy tale include someone blasting things.' Walking as softly as possible, Cupid tiptoed up to Strife's room. He flapped his wings so he was actually hovering, instead of walking. Peeking into the bedroom, Cupid smiled at the sight that greeted him.  Bliss was lying on the bed asleep. He was facing Strife, his little arms wrapped around the god's neck. Strife had a soft smile on his face.

Chapter Text

 

"How're you doing?" Joxer asked while they were sitting at the breakfast table. "I feel *great*," Strife enthused. He bounced up and down in his seat a couple of times, hardly able to contain his energy. "I don't expect it ta last very long," he admitted. "Aftah all, this is tha result of ovah a hundred years ah pranks and bits ah mischief.”  Strife shrugged, happy over the extra energy, and willing to enjoy it while it lasted. He dug into his breakfast with an enthusiasm that he hadn’t show since he was a baby. Joxer watched as Strife eyed the table and picked out *yet another* hunk of bread—one of the dark ones this time—and put another scoop of fluffy, scrambled eggs on his plate. The former warrior had his doubts that Strife’s newfound energy would just “fade away”. The moment that Chymra had begun to release the pent up power, small shrines began to pop up all over Greece for the God of Mischief. Most weren’t very big yet, but every day saw more and more. Strife waved his hand and gave a delighted giggle when his mug filled up with orange juice. He’d had the luxury of that fruity delicacy a few times in his life, but had to leave it as a special treat because of the extra energy it expended to bring the liquid from a different part of the world. This time though… “Heah, try this, Joxah.”  The god waved his hand one plate of odd looking food appeared in front of his best friend and an identical one in front of himself. The large, round discs were stacked on top of one another and topped with a fluffy white substance. “What is it?” Joxer asked, looking at the concoction warily. “Belgian pancakes,” Strife informed him. He flapped a hand at Joxer’s puzzled face. “Thay’re from tha futah.” “Uh, okay.” Joxer reached out and swiped a slender finger through the white stuff on top. He licked his finger and smiled over at Strife, who was watching him in anticipation. “This is really good.” His eyes glazed over for a moment as he imagined this sweet, fluffy stuff…spread over Ares’ nicely browned skin. He imagined licking it off, very slowly. “Can you get some more of this stuff for me?”  Strife grinned at the unfocussed look on his friend’s face. He didn’t have any experience with sex, the good kind anyway, but he knew lust when he saw it. “I think I can arrange that.” **** Ares looked up in surprise when he heard the door to his war room opening and closing quietly. The quiet part is what had him amazed. *No one* was quiet in the God of War’s temple…except for… “Joxer,” he breathed out softly. The pale, slender man stalked, yes, stalked, towards the bigger god. Ares’ eyebrow shot up at the predatory look in his fiancé’s eyes.  “Joxer, what’s going on?” Ares noticed that the immortal had something long, white and metallic in his left hand. “A surprise,” Joxer replied. His voice was husky. Ares opened his mouth to find out what he meant but he never got the chance. The much smaller, and infinitely less aggressive, lover…tackled the war god, knocking him back and onto the massive wooden table he was standing in front of. Maps and rolled up scrolls, containing correspondence from different generals, were knocked and/or rolled off onto the floor. The God of War was stunned and incredibly turned on. Joxer attacked his mouth like a warlord pillaging a peaceful village, showing absolutely no mercy. Ares’ tongue was shoved back into his mouth by the force of Joxer’s. “Now…” Joxer sat up on the tabletop, straddling Ares’ hips, a wicked grin on his face. “Let’s get creative.” “What’s…(gasp)…” He jerked when Joxer did something with the cylinder and a cold foam was sprayed on his neck, just where it began to become his chest.  “Whipped topping,” Joxer explained. Of course, since Ares didn’t study the future, like Strife did, he had no idea what that was, but he soon didn’t care.  Joxer began to lick off the whipped topping. One tiny, little swipe of his tongue at a time, like one of the many kittens that roamed around the temple. Ares definitely *did not* squeal at the sensation. **** Strife sat down at one end of the table. At the other end Cupid presided and Bliss sat in his own little, raised chair mid-way between them. The God of Mischief smiled at them, boy and man alike. In the back of his mind, like a sweet dream, he remembered Bliss lying beside him and telling stories. He also had a vague recollection of Cupid washing his face and arms, but he wasn’t sure if that was wishful thinking or not. “How have you been?” Cupid asked. Strife gave an honest grin. “A lot bettah. Since they got tha mix-up fixed, I’ve got a lot more powah and energy.” “That’s great,” Cupid enthused. “Thanks. I…” Strife looked down in surprise when one of Cupid’s servants sat a dish down in front of him. It was a concoction of fruits and custard and cake. Dessert. He looked up at Cupid and frowned. “What’s this?” “Dessert,” the blond god answered. “We thought,” he glanced over at Bliss, “that we’d eat dessert first.” ‘So, I’ll stick around for the whole meal,’ Strife realized with a pang.  They wanted him to stay so much that Cupid, the strict disciplinarian, was willing to break the rules. Strife looked over at Bliss, and Bliss had such a hopeful expression on his sweet little face that Strife simply melted. “Mmmm, it sure looks good,” he admitted. “But maybe we can set it ta one side and have the regulah food first.” Bliss grinned and bounced a little in his seat. Come to think of it, Cupid was bouncing a little bit as well. “Will you read me a stowy?” Bliss asked, eyes shining. “Yeah, kid. I’d love ta.”