Title: Family Ties
Fandom: Xena: Warrior Princess
Genre: Alternate Universe
Relationship(s): Ares/Joxer (Pre-Relationship), Cupid/Strife
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Character bashing; Free-Love, Greek mythology style.
Word Count: 13400
Summary: Cupid’s nuptials brings about some truths and forces some people to acknowledge things they were trying to keep hidden.
Xena sighed as she took her sharpening stone out of her saddlebag and began to sharpen the blade of her sword. She could hear Joxer cleaning the fish she caught earlier as Gabrielle moved around their camp. She wasn’t sure if her friend was trying to be useful or attempting to keep himself from saying anything to Gabrielle.
The bard was still upset about the small battle they’d come across on their way to Thebes. A small village was torn apart by a blood feud that dated back nearly a hundred years. The families involved had formed an uneasy truce for the past few decades, but suddenly the youngest son of one family attacked a cousin of the other family, and the violence just escalated from there. Gabrielle was convinced that Ares was the reason for the increased hostility.
Xena knew that her father was not responsible for every fight that broke out, just as she knew that Joxer’s brother wasn’t responsible for every unnatural death and that their father wasn’t behind anything mischievous to ever occur. However, convincing Gabrielle of this was another matter.
“I can’t believe him!” Gabrielle snarled as she stomped around the camp, mumbling to herself, cursing the Gods in general and Ares in particular.
“Ares is not responsible for every War in Greece.” Xena tried to make her friend see sense.
Gabrielle snorted. “Yes, he is.”
“And all the fighting that broke out when he became mortal?” Xena asked quietly.
“That was his fault too. He couldn’t control the rage and mortals paid the price.”
Joxer set down the cleaned fish and stood up, staring at the bard incredulously. “You’re saying that every fight that breaks out is his doing, as the God of War?” He asked quietly.
Xena tensed, she knew that tone, and it couldn’t be good.
“Yes.” Gabrielle nodded adamantly.
“And if Ares was mortal, then every fight that breaks out is still his fault because he is not the God of War?” Joxer shook his head as if trying to clear the insane logic out by force. “That is the stupidest, most judgmental thing I’ve heard you say yet, and considering the crap that comes out of your mouth most days, that’s saying something.”
Gabrielle’s mouth opened and closed for several seconds before snapping shut and stalking off.
Joxer sighed after she was gone. “Sorry, I lost my temper,” Joxer whispered as he returned to the fish and started to cook them.
“No, she was a little…”
“Crazy?” Joxer offered with a grin.
“Yeah.” Xena sighed. “She gets so nuts about Ares.”
They were silent for a moment before Joxer spoke again. “When are you going to tell her?”
“I don’t know,” Xena answered, not even pretending to misunderstand the question.
“The longer you wait…” Joxer spoke quietly, knowing why Xena was putting the discussion off.
“I know, I know.” She smiled slightly at him. “What about you? I haven’t heard you defending your own father.”
“True,” Joxer admitted ruefully. “But it’s not the same. One, Gabrielle has never actually met Strife, while her hatred of Ares is…” He shrugged. “Second, The situation isn’t even close to the same thing. Gabrielle doesn’t even like me, and I, unlike you, never left my father’s service. I’m not walking the same path as you.”
“It is different,” Xena admitted. “I want to tell her, I do, but where do I start? By telling her that Ares is my father, explaining that the reason he wants me back is that…” Her words were cut off as a noise interrupted her.
Xena and Joxer stood up as the rustling in the bushes drew closer. At the sound of familiar voices, they both relaxed. Joxer turned away and finished preparing dinner as he unconsciously returned to projecting his harmless but dorky persona.
“Hercules, Iolaus.” Xena nodded as the new arrivals entered the camp.
“Xena, Joxer,” Hercules said, looking around. “Where’s Gabrielle?”
Xena motioned towards the direction Gabrielle had stalked off to. “She’s cooling off. What brings you here?” The demi-goddess asked, not wanting to get into why Gabrielle had needed cooling off in the first place.
“We heard there might be trouble in Vathos.” Iolaus offered.
“What sort of trouble?” Xena asked as she sat down again and continued to sharpen her blade.
“There’s been talk of fighting, possibly a minor war brewing,” Hercules answered.
Xena looked across the camp at Joxer, silently asking a question. Joxer shrugged almost imperceptibly, and Xena looked back at the new arrivals. “We’ll join you.”
“Excellent.” Hercules sat across from the warrior princess.
“So, what’s for dinner?” Iolaus asked good-naturedly as he joined Joxer.
It was much later, after dinner and time spent catching up when Joxer wandered off, ostensibly to clean up before bed when a blue flash heralded the arrival of a god.
Joxer continued to sit on the ground next to the nearby lake. His grandmother sat beside him in silence for a few minutes.
After a little while, she nudged him with her leather-clad shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
Joxer sighed. “I’m tired, Gran.”
Eris hugged her favorite grandson tightly. “You don’t have to do this. We can find other ways to keep an eye on the freaky foursome.”
“I know, but it’s not just this…charade.” He paused and turned his head away slightly, looking out into the darkened night. “I’m worried about Xena.”
“Because of Gabrielle, or because of Ares?” His grandmother asked quietly.
“Gabrielle. Xena can handle Ares. Despite their parting of ways, she understands him, what he does and why.”
Eris snorted at Joxer’s polite phrasing but nodded. “I take it my niece hasn’t told the blond harpy who her father is?”
“No, and after this afternoon I don’t think she’d take it well.”
“What happened this afternoon?” Eris asked, scowling slightly. She wasn’t particularly fond of Xena, but her brother still hoped for some sort of reconciliation and Joxer cared for her.
“We passed Lucyna, right in the middle of a blood feud. Xena managed to get most of the village calmed down and at least talking about returning to the truce, but Gabrielle wouldn’t shut up about how it was all Ares doing. She said something foolish.”
“Doesn’t she always?”
“I got a little…irritated.” Joxer continued as if his grandmother hadn’t spoken.
Eris smiled. She didn’t know precisely what Joxer said, but she could guess.
“She stomped off all pissed off, Hercules and Iolaus showed up not long after that.”
“So, you think that when she finds out Ares is more than the God Xena walked away from, Gabrielle is going to what, scream and yell like the bitch she is?”
“At the very least.” Joxer sighed again and lie down, staring up at the stars overhead. “Maybe worse.”
Eris was silent for a moment before speaking. “Isn’t it better she finds out then?”
“How do you mean?” Joxer asked, tilting his head so he could see his grandmother.
“However she reacts, isn’t it better for Xena to know? It’s not like anything is going to change. Ares is her father. That isn’t going to change.”
“How is Ares?” Joxer asked partially to change the subject, partly because he wanted to know.
Eris smiled again. “I wondered when you would ask about him.”
Joxer looked away, thankful for the darkness that would hide his expression. His…interest in the War God wasn’t a secret, not to those who honestly knew him, but it wasn’t anything that had any hope of going anywhere, so he tried to ignore it.
“He’s been busy.” Eris sighed, feeling her grandson close himself off once again. “Demeter is insisting on a higher death count in Melnos, and the war brewing in Hynea doesn’t seem to be coming along as well as expected.”
“What about Vathos? Iolaus mentioned there might be trouble there.”
Eris searched her memory. “If there is, they are making it for themselves.”
Joxer nodded and began to get up. “Okay. If Ares or Dad need any help, you know where to find me. Until then I’ll keep an eye out here.”
Eris stood up as well. “You could leave them and come home. It’s been awhile.”
“Not yet, but soon.”
Eris nodded her understanding. Despite having a godhood of his own, Joxer took his duties to the House of War very seriously.
Without another word she flashed out of the small clearing, leaving her grandson to return to the camp, and his pretense.
“Are you sure about this?” Cupid asked one more time. They were waiting outside his grandmother’s study. Once they went inside and made an official request, there would be no going back.
“Yeah.” Strife nodded.
“Okay.” The two Gods entered the room quietly.
The queen of the Gods sat at her desk, a small smile on her face when she saw them. “Boys, what can I do for you?”
It was near midday when the five of them reached the outskirts of Vathos. They could hear crying in the distance, and the smell of wood smoke drifted over the air.
“We might be too late,” Hercules said as he ran on ahead, Iolaus and Gabrielle fast on his heels.
Xena turned to Joxer. “Do you know anything about this?”
Joxer continued to stare at the billowing smoke. “My grandmother said that whatever started this, it wasn’t us.”
“Did Discord say anything else?” Xena asked as she tied Argo up to a tree.
“Just that maybe it’s time I go home…and that waiting to tell Gabrielle isn’t going to change anything.”
Xena stiffened slightly. “I know, Joxer, I know.” She looked across at the God and smiled sadly. “As much as I would miss you, perhaps she’s right. You should go home. I don’t need your guidance to find my own redemption, but there are others who do.” There was shouting, and more screaming and Xena tilted her head slightly. “Perhaps there is justice required here if this…slaughter was unnecessary.”
They shared a long look before Xena moved forward towards the village, Joxer stared after her for a second before disappearing in a muted flash.
Xena joined her friends, a shrill scream preceding her arrival. Joxer appeared in the heart of the village of Vathos, invisible to mortal eyes. The village was in ruins. Houses burned to the ground, the dead and dying lying where they fell. A small group of survivors sat huddled in a circle near what had been the town meeting place while Hercules tried to find the people responsible. Gabrielle was doing her best to treat the wounded, but Joxer could see it was of no use.
He placed a hand on the forehead of a young man who appeared to have been dead for several hours, trying to absorb the man’s memories. He could sense pain and fear.
Closing his eyes, he moved to another dead body, then another. After nearly a dozen victims, he stepped away. He sensed a disturbing feeling of exhilaration and wild bloodlust surrounding the village.
“What happened here?” Hades asked quietly, flashing in next to Joxer, staying invisible as he spoke, letting his men begin to collect the shades.
“I’m not sure. I couldn’t get a clear image. They were clearly slaughtered. I sense fear and panic from the dying, and bloodlust from the one responsible. I can feel no real reason behind this though. It seems like killing for the sake of killing, but I cannot fathom why. There doesn‘t seem to be any logical purpose.”
“Sometimes there isn’t.” Hades continued to look around. “If you cannot avenge them, perhaps you should seek revenge on their behalf.” The God of the Dead moved away to start sorting the shades already collected.
Joxer raised his head to the smoky sky. “Mother, hear me. This atrocity cannot find justice. I seek the truth and vengeance.”
A single flash of lightning lit the sky before the Furies appeared.
“Where’s Joxer?” Gabrielle asked for the first time since they arrived at Vathos. They had done all they could for the survivors and were making camp just outside of what was left of the village.
“I’ll go look for him.” Hercules offered. Iolaus followed his friend while Gabrielle sat down and started to write her account of the day’s events.
Hercules had walked to nearly the opposite end of the village with Iolaus running to catch up. They had found no sign of the hapless warrior. Hercules felt the tingle on the back of his neck indicating a God was near and stopped, searching the ruins.
He spotted Hades speaking quietly with another god. “Hades!”
The Lord of the Dead looked up and sighed. Some days it never paid to leave the Underworld.
“What are you doing here?”
Hades blinked once and then turned to look at the surrounding area, still littered with bodies. “I would think that was fairly obvious, even to you.”
“Did Ares do this?”
Hades sighed again and pinched the bridge of his nose. This unreasonable hatred for the Gods in general and Ares specifically was really starting to get old. “No.” He snapped out, not in the mood to listen to another of his nephew’s diatribes on the evils of War. “Now, if you don’t mind, I have work to do.” Without another word, the God disappeared in a black flash.
Megaera, Tisiphone, and Alecto looked around the decimated village. Megaera’s face was unforgiving, as was usual. Alecto’s focus was assessing. Tisiphone gazed at the God who had called them.
“Son, you seek vengeance you cannot affect yourself?”
“Yes, mother.” Joxer nodded.
“Show us what you have learned, and we will decide.”
The three women formed a circle around the God of Redemption and Justice, each placing a cold hand upon his skin.
Joxer closed his eyes and showed his mother and her sisters everything he had seen that day. After a moment the cold touch of the Furies stopped, and he opened his eyes to see his aunt Megaera’s cold eyes looking at him.
“Your request is granted. Go now.”
Joxer nodded once and watched as the women cloaked themselves beyond even his ability to see. He turned towards the dead that had not yet been collected and surveyed in alarm as Hercules approached Hades.
“Hercules?” Joxer asked making himself visible and appearing as the demi-god was accustomed to seeing him.
The demi-god started at the sound of the familiar voice. “Huh?”
“Are you okay?” Joxer asked stepping closer. He was still a little disoriented. Moving between the planes and being scanned by his mother always made him dizzy.
Hercules shook his dead. “Where have you been?”
Joxer looked around, collecting his bearings once again. He had seen Hercules speaking to Hades and wanted to intercept him before he wandered into something he shouldn’t.
“I got lost.” He smiled goofily.
Hercules groaned. “Come on.”
Joxer turned back to the clearing he had just left. It still appeared the same to mortal eyes, but Joxer could sense his mother and her sisters as they scanned the bodies of the surrounding dead, even if they couldn‘t be seen. Joxer didn’t know what they would find but was confident his mother could handle whatever was found.
Xena looked up from sharpening her sword to see Hercules and Iolaus returning, followed by Joxer. Hercules was scowling slightly. Iolaus shrugged at her raised eyebrow.
Joxer came to sit near the fire while Hercules and Iolaus began to set their bedrolls out.
“Well?” Xena asked subvocally.
“I don’t know. My mother is looking into it.”
Xena looked up sharply at his words. “Was that really necessary?”
“Yes,” Joxer answered.
Xena sighed and looked into the fire. “We’re going to stay and help the survivors for a few days, but I think Hercules and Iolaus are moving on tomorrow.
“That’s probably best.” Joxer looked over at the demi-god and his companion.
Ares, God of War, paced back and forth in his father’s office. He didn’t have time to deal with whatever Zeus needed. He had several essential wars brewing and needed to be out in the mortal world doing his job, not here on Olympus.
“Ares.” Zeus nodded as he flashed in behind his desk.
“Father.” Ares stopped his pacing and sat down in the chair across from the desk.
“How is the conflict in Hynea?” Zeus asked, searching through some of his scrolls.
Ares sighed. “It’s preceding. I have Strife moving things along.”
“The death count is rising, as requested.”
Zeus sighed. “I heard there was trouble in Vathos.”
“So I have been told.” Ares agreed. “Uncle Hades tells me the Furies have it well in hand.”
“Was that really necessary?” Zeus asked with a raised eyebrow, unknowingly mimicking his granddaughter.
Ares shrugged. “Perhaps not, but Joxer felt it was necessary, and as the God of Justice, it was his decision to make.”
“Fair enough.” Zeus nodded, looking over his scrolls to see if there were any other business matters to discuss. “Have you spoken to your son about his wedding plans?” Zeus asked, noting that he could safely move on to matters of a more personal nature.
“I assume you are referring to Cupid?”
“Yes, of course.” Zeus nodded.
It was not a secret that Cupid was planning to get married, long overdue, as far as anyone close to the Love God was concerned. However, due to his recent workload, he hadn’t had a chance to sit down and actually listen to anything regarding the ceremony itself.
“Is there a problem?” Ares asked.
“No, of course not, but they spoke to your mother. They have asked for the official ceremony.”
Zeus waited for the importance of that to sink in.
“Why exactly?” Ares asked carefully, having trouble fathoming why either of the younger gods would want the formality of the official ceremony.
“I’m not entirely certain, but I think it probably has something to do with the official announcements and the impossibility of avoiding them.”
“Tartarus!” Ares cursed softly, knowing exactly what his nephew was thinking. “Do they think that forcing the truth into the open like this is going to help…anything?”
Zeus shrugged sympathetically. “Maybe you should ask them?”
“Yes, I will.” Ares stood up. “If we’re finished here?”
“Keep me informed about the progress of Hynea.”
Ares nodded distractedly before flashing out of his father’s study.
Xena woke to Hercules and Iolaus speaking quietly about what had happened earlier. She heard the blond asking about what had happened when the demi-god went looking for Joxer. She tuned them out, not interested in what Hercules had to say. She cared for Hercules as a friend, but she was more aware than the average person that the Gods had purpose mortals didn’t always understand, and Hercules had made no effort to understand his Godly relatives.
Gabrielle was still sleeping, and she heard Joxer‘s even breathing. He appeared to be sleeping, but she guessed he was probably listening to Hercules. After several minutes she heard him begin to move around and turned to watch as Joxer stood and stretched.
She started packing her own bedroll as Hercules continued talking to Iolaus. His voice had begun to rise, and the Warrior Princess focused back on the conversation. Hercules was scowling and telling his friend how he believed Ares was behind the massacre in Vathos.
Xena turned towards Joxer, who was watching the heroes with a stillness that may have concerned them if they had really known him.
After listening to Hercules for a minute, Joxer approached the pair.
“Are you saying Ares is responsible for every bad thing that ever happens to anyone?” Joxer asked quietly, interrupting the demi-god.
Hercules frowned slightly, turning to the apparently hapless man. “No, not every bad thing. Just the wars.”
“All the wars, in all of Greece?” Joxer asked, fighting the urge to shake his head at the demi-gods stupidity.
“It never occurred to you that mortals cause some of the conflict themselves?”
Instead of answering, Hercules stared hard at Joxer. “Why are you defending him? Do you still worship him?”
Joxer sighed. “No, I do not worship Ares.”
“Then why?” Hercules asked, confused.
Iolaus watched Joxer closely, curious. There was something in his friend’s expression he couldn’t place.
Joxer sighed again. “I grew up in a house of war. I may not be the best warrior, but I learned enough to know that every battle is not started simply to amuse the Gods.”
Hercules snorted but nodded as if agreeing at least on some level. “Maybe not every one,” Hercules admitted reluctantly.
“And maybe there is some purpose to some of the things the Gods do. A purpose we can’t always see.” Joxer continued, hoping to get Hercules to see beyond his own perceptions.
“He might be right.” Iolaus offered when it didn’t look like Hercules was going to respond. “Aphrodite isn’t always playing games. Demeter tries to help, and what about Artemis and Athena, or Cupid?”
“Perhaps some of the gods do have a purpose.” Hercules admitted, “But some of them shouldn’t even exist.”
Xena straightened slightly, having a bad feeling about where Hercules was going.
“Gods like Discord and Strife…what good could they possibly do?” Hercules continued.
Joxer’s eyes narrowed slightly but refused to get drawn into Hercules ridiculous hatred. “I don’t know. Have you ever asked them?”
Xena sighed in silent relief, but before Hercules could respond and possibly say anything else to irritate Joxer, she spoke. “If you’re going to make good time, you’d better get going.”
Iolaus looked up at the rising sun. “She’s right. Come on, Herc.”
Hercules nodded and began to finish packing, turning his back on Joxer and the uncomfortable questions he’d raised.
It was several hours before Xena was alone with Joxer. Shortly after Hercules and Iolaus had left, Gabrielle had woken up. The bard wanted to go into town and help the healers as best she could. Xena went with her to speak with the warriors that were left in the village, hoping to help them get organized, in case there was another attack.
Joxer claimed he was helping some of the villagers, but Xena thought he had something else to attend to.
It was nearing late afternoon before the three friends found themselves back at their camp. Gabrielle went to the nearby pond to clean off from the days work, leaving Xena a few minutes alone with her old friend.
“Thank you.” She said quietly.
Joxer looked up. “For what?”
“For not letting Hercules get to you this morning. I know how close you are to your family.”
Joxer shrugged. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. If he did, he wouldn’t hate us all so much.”
“He has history with Strife. Bad history.” Xena pointed out softly.
“If you mean that business with Serena, that was hardly my father’s fault, nor your fathers. Her service to Ares was the only thing saving her from Zeus’ orders. If anyone was responsible for her death, it was Hercules.”
“That much is true.” Xena agreed. “But Hercules would rather believe Ares and Strife acted alone than admit that his father ordered her death.”
Joxer shrugged again. “One day, he’ll have to face the truth. We all will.”
Before Xena could comment on what Joxer was really saying, the unmistakable smell of burning ozone alerted them both to the arrival of another God.
Joxer and Xena looked up to find a familiar God wearing winged sandals and carrying two scrolls.
“Hermes?” Joxer asked as he moved forward.
“Hey there, Joxer.” He handed one of the scrolls to Joxer then turned to the Warrior Princess and handed her the other one. “These are for you.”
“What is it?” Xena asked curiously. Since leaving her father’s service, she hadn’t had much contact with the other Gods, and none with the messenger of the Gods.
“A royal summons,” Hermes answered with a slight bow.
“What’s going on?” Gabrielle asked as she returned to the camp.
Hermes winked at Joxer and waved before disappearing in another flash.
“Well?” Gabrielle asked after a minute of silence, her eyes going from Joxer, who was reading his scroll, to Xena who was still holding hers closed.
Xena opened her scroll carefully, reading the flowing script she recognized as her grandmothers. “My brother’s getting married.” She said in shock, only barely aware of the words.
“To my father,” Joxer said with a big grin.
“What?” Gabrielle nearly shrieked.
Hermes reappeared on the road towards Corinth. Hercules and Iolaus stopped and turned towards the new arrival. Hercules groaned.
“Hermes. What do you want?”
The God of Messengers, Thieves and Liars disappeared in a flash the moment Hercules had the scroll in his hand.
“What is it?” Iolaus asked as his friend unrolled the parchment.
“A wedding.” Hercules frowned.
“Who’s getting married?” Iolaus asked a little excitedly.
“Cupid. But it doesn’t say whom he’s marrying. Only that this is an official ceremony and refusal to attend isn’t an option.”
“Isn’t Cupid already married?” Iolaus asked in confusion.
“Okay, immediate family is taken care of,” Hermes said with a sigh of relief after delivering his last summons.
“Excellent.” Hera, Queen of the Gods, smiled.
“I still don’t see why they had to go the traditional route. Cupid doesn’t strike me as the ceremonial type, and Strife…”
“Perhaps not.” Zeus agreed as he entered his wife’s office. “Nevertheless, this is as they wish it.”
“This marriage has been a long time in coming,” Hera stated. “If they choose a more…traditional binding, they are welcome to do so.”
“Besides,” Aphrodite said as she popped in. “By doing it this way, no one summoned can refuse.” She winked at the other three gods, “and as my soon-to-be son-in-law says, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
Zeus smiled, knowing precisely what Strife and Cupid had in mind by requesting a traditional wedding, despite his feigned ignorance when speaking to Ares.
Hera joined her husband in his amusement, hoping, for her son’s sake, that everything worked out as anticipated.
Xena flinched slightly as she realized that Gabrielle was standing just behind her and had heard her unthinking words.
“Xena,” Joxer said quietly. “Did you see this?” He was still holding his scroll. “It says they requested the official ceremony. You know what that means.”
He stared at Xena, his eyes flicking quickly to Gabrielle who stood, a look of shock and confusion on her face.
“Yes, I know. Do you think that’s why they chose it?” Xena asked quietly.
“Knowing dad, probably,” Joxer admitted. “But if so, this isn’t your father’s fault.”
“No, it’s mine.” Xena took a breath and turned to face her friend. “Gabrielle.” She held up the scroll. “My brother is getting married.”
Xena nodded. “Yes, Cupid.”
“Cupid is your brother,” Gabrielle repeated the words, not sure she heard correctly.
“Yes,” Xena said calmly, knowing that it was only a matter of time before Gabrielle started yelling.
“But that means…” Gabrielle started, thinking about whom exactly Cupid parents were. Her eyes turned to Xena. “Tell me that isn’t what it sounds like. That….he is not your father. Xena, please.”
“I’m sorry Gabrielle. Ares is my father.”
The bard turned away from her friend and focused on Joxer, not wanting to deal with Xena’s betrayal just yet. “Cupid is getting married.” Her brow crinkled. “Isn’t he already married? To some woman…Aphrodite made her a God?”
“Psyche.” Joxer offered. “They’re…not together anymore. It’s complicated.”
Gabrielle nodded, not really wanting to get into the weird relationships of the Gods. “Okay, so Cupid is marrying your father.”
Joxer nodded, not saying anything else just yet. He wanted to come to Xena’s defense but knew it wouldn’t do any good, not at the moment.
“Your father isn’t a warlord then?”
“Not exactly, no,” Joxer admitted, slightly ruefully.
“Does that mean you’re a demi-god too?”
“Um, no,” Joxer said quietly. “My mother is Tisiphone.”
Gabrielle paled slightly. “One of the Furies?”
“Yeah.” Joxer shrugged a little sheepishly.
Gabrielle back away from the two of them. “I can’t… I can’t deal with this now.” She ran away, towards the village.
“Maybe I should…” Xena said after a moment of silence.
“Give her a little time,” Joxer said. “Maybe some time spent helping the people of Vathos will help her.”
Xena turned to crystal gaze to her friend. “Do you really think it’s going to help?”
“I don’t know, Xena. I know she has a lot to think about. Whether she can accept who you are after she does, I just don’t know.”
“Who we are.” Xena corrected. “She left before she found out who your father is.”
“True enough.” Joxer nodded before looking at the scroll. “I should go congratulate them.”
“Not so fast little brother.” The words were spoken before the flash of power alerted them.
“Jett.” Joxer smiled at his older brother.
The two brothers embraced for a second. Jett’s expression lost its smile. “Mother sent me.”
The God of Mischief flashed into his uncle’s Olympian temple. “You bellowed?”
“What is the meaning of this?” Ares asked with deceptive calm waving around the scroll Hermes had delivered earlier.
“Um, a wedding announcement.” Strife offered.
“Yes, I can see that, Strife. Why?”
Strife frowned slightly, more for effect than anything else. “Well, I love Cupie, he loves me…” He trailed off when Ares expression darkened. “I don’t suppose you mean that…”
“Why the official ceremony, Strife?”
Strife shifted from one foot to the other. “Um…”
Ares sighed. “I know you mean well, but forcing the truth into the open like this…”
“I don’t know whatcha mean. Cupid wanted the formal ceremony.” He shrugged. “What Cupie wants, he gets.”
“So the fact that by requesting this…formality, neither Xena nor Joxer can refuse to come, not that they would anyway, doesn’t have anything to do with it?”
Strife shrugged slightly as if it made no difference. “Said it yerself, Unk, they woulda come anyway.”
“Yes, but this way, Hermes had to deliver the announcements personally, making it impossible to keep it a secret from the shrew.”
Strife shrugged again. “It had to come out sooner or later.”
“Is this about Xena?” Ares asked quietly, knowing that his estrangement from his daughter was something that Strife wanted to help him rectify, if for no other reason than it would make Ares happy. “Or is this about Joxer?”
Strife sighed and sat down on the floor. “Ma told me when she saw him the other day he didn’t look too good. The longer he stays out there…” He trailed off.
“And you know he won’t give up his deception unless his hand is forced.” Ares nodded, understanding only too well how seriously Joxer took his duties to the house of War.
“Ma said he asked about you.” Strife said quietly, carefully gauging his uncle’s reaction.
“Did he?” Ares asked casually as he looked at the scroll again. “It will be nice to see him again. It’s been awhile.”
Strife smiled to himself. He loved it when a plan came together.
“Jett.” Xena nodded her head. “Did your mother find out what happened here?”
Jett stared hard at his second cousin. “A warlord has delusions of grandeur. Seems he wants to reclaim someone else’s claim to fame.” He stepped closer to the demi-god. “Destroyer of Nations ring any bells?”
Xena stiffened slightly, not wanting another reminder of her bloody past. “What happened to him?” She asked quietly, feeling a new sense of guilt over the recent events.
“Don’t you worry about that. We’ve got it covered.” Jett answered maliciously. Of all the triplets, he worked most closely with his mother, as the God of Vengeance, and like his father, took entirely too much pleasure in his job.
Xena nodded once before averting her eyes. “So long as it won’t happen again.”
“You have a message from Mother?” Joxer asked, interrupting their by-play.
“Oh, yeah. It concerns both of you, actually.”
Xena looked up in surprise. “What is it?”
“A warning,” Jett answered with a smirk. “The Furies are watching. If your…friend does anything requiring their services, they won’t hesitate to act.” Jett answered with a sinister smile before he flashed away.
Joxer swallowed slightly. He wasn’t entirely fond of Gabrielle, but he didn’t wish Jett on anyone who didn’t deserve it, and so far Gabrielle hadn’t done anything that out of line, yet.
“Maybe now’s the time to have that talk with her,” Joxer suggested.
“Good idea.” Xena agreed. “Give your father my congratulations.”
Joxer smiled and disappeared in a blue flash.
Joxer appeared in the Temple of War in a subdued flash. He knew he should go see his father, but he had other things he needed to think about. He walked through the halls until he came into his own room.
“Well, the prodigal grandson returns.”
Joxer smiled as Deimos appeared behind him. “De, how you been?”
Deimos shrugged. “You know how Pop is.” He shrugged. “You home for good?”
“Yeah, I think so.” Joxer nodded if a little sadly.
“Not happy?” Demos questioned curiously. As far as he was concerned Joxer got a sucky gig, fermenting trouble in the mortal world, pretending to be something he wasn’t.
“No, I’m glad, but it’ll be weird.”
Deimos nodded as if he understood, but Joxer could tell from his expression he didn’t.
“Where is everyone?” Joxer asked, looking around the nearly empty temple.
“Phob is helping Pop in Melnos. Discord should be back soon.” The God of Pain hugged Joxer quickly, almost as if he was embarrassed. “I gotta go.”
Joxer sighed as he entered his old room, glad for the peace. He wanted to come home, but he did have mixed feelings. He would miss Xena, but unlike what he had been pretending, he didn’t particularly like Gabrielle or her condescending attitude.
More than any of that though were the personal feelings he had about returning to the War Temple. He had known Ares for many years, and his feelings had changed over the years. In the beginning, Ares intimated him. The big, bad, God Of War, frightening in his intensity.
Over the years, however, Joxer learned there was much more to Ares than just the God of War. There were parts of the man few knew and even less understood. Most of the Gods didn’t really comprehend Ares. Except for some immediate family, like Cupid, usually, only the gods of the House of War honestly got to see the man behind the Godhood.
It hadn’t taken long before Joxer was one of those Gods. After nearly a decade of working with his father and the twins, Joxer had been assigned to work with Ares occasionally. That was when the problem really began.
It had taken nearly a century, but by the end of that time, Joxer could no longer fool himself. He was in love with Ares. Not with the head of the House of War, or the Big, Bad, God of War, not even with the uncle his own father thought of so fondly. It was worse, much, much worse. Joxer had fallen in love with the man.
A feeling that had no hope of ever being returned, therefore something that Joxer had learned to push away as often as was possible.
It wasn’t that there wasn’t an attraction between the two. There was an attraction and had been almost from the first time Joxer went off with Ares to observe a large-scale battle. The problem was that while Joxer had been slowly falling in love with the man, he’d also been observing him.
Jett once said it had to do with his Godhood. He couldn’t really do his job if he couldn’t see behind the facade to those who really wanted redemption, or needed justice. For this reason, Joxer was very good at just watching. A skill he used more than once to study Ares.
He had seen Ares take many lovers as he himself had. With Ares, it was always transitory. Sometimes for the sex or a brief comfort, it afforded him, sometimes for the children it brought him. Never, in all that time, had Joxer ever witnessed Ares take a lover, for love.
He knew that Ares was more than capable of the emotion, but there was something always getting in the way. His duty to either the mortals, or the pantheon, or the misconceptions many still had about him always stopped him from going further, taking that step to anything more.
Joxer knew that it was inevitable that someday Ares would fall in love, but it was unlikely he would be the recipient. If Ares hadn’t fallen for him yet, it was unlikely to happen. To be honest, with himself if no one else, Joxer was unsure if he could watch while the War God, fell in love with someone else.
Regardless of his own feelings, the God of Justice and Redemption did have duties of his own. He had responsibilities to the mortals, both his own followers and those that fell under his domain, by accident or design, and duties to the House of War.
Duties he had been fulfilling as the mostly inept follower to Xena and Gabrielle as well as a sometimes-bumbling companion to Hercules and Iolaus. Now that the truth was out, he could no longer fulfill that particular duty. But there were always others.
Now that he was home, he had to force himself to forget his own desires and concentrate on his job.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Iolaus asked for the third time as he trailed after his friend.
“I want to find out what in Tartarus is going on. Cupid is getting married, with an official ceremony no less. What happened to Psyche? I liked Psyche.”
“What’s the big deal about an official ceremony? Aren’t all Olympian weddings official?” Iolaus asked ignoring the reference to Psyche.
Hercules slowed down a little since they were near to Aphrodite’s closest temple. “So long as Hera performs the ceremony, the wedding will be considered official by Olympian standards, but the ceremony itself doesn’t necessarily have to be official.”
“Okay,” Iolaus said, still not understanding what the big deal was.
“By having an official ceremony, everyone summoned must attend. No one can refuse. Not God nor Demi-God.”
“Does that mean that all of Olympus will be there?” Iolaus asked trying to wrap his mind around the size of such a wedding.
Hercules stepped into the coolness of Aphrodite’s temple, thankful for the fact that this particular temple wasn’t frequented as often as some others. “Not necessarily. Only those who are invited have to abide by those rules.”
“So why are you invited?” Iolaus asked.
Hercules scowled slightly unsure if there was an insult implied or not. “I’m not sure. Maybe because I’m Aphrodite’s favorite brother.” The demi-god turned around in the empty temple and started yelling for his sister.
When she appeared, she looked a little annoyed, until she spotted Iolaus. “Curly!”
The Goddess of Love hugged Iolaus tightly across her ample chest and kissed him on the cheek. “What’s shaking, sweetcheeks?” She asked finally turning to her brother’s scowling countenance.
Hercules handed over the scroll with a frown. “What is this all about?”
Aphrodite took the scroll but didn‘t read it. “Cupid is getting married.”
“I can see that.” Hercules snapped. “To who? And what happened to Psyche?”
Aphrodite narrowed her eyes at her brother’s tone. “Psyche and Cupid are no longer…compatible.” The Love Goddess answered vaguely. She unrolled the scroll. “It doesn’t say who the other groom is?” She asked, reading over the flowing script. “I guess not.” She shrugged and flashed the scroll away. “Strife.”
“Strife,” Iolaus repeated. “The God of Mischief?” He didn’t think there was another Strife, but you never could tell.
Aphrodite rolled her eyes. “Yes, that one. Son of Eris, Father to the Triplets of Doom?”
“Triplets of Doom?” Hercules asked, now beyond confused.
“Joxer, Jett, and Jayce. The Gods of Justice, Vengeance and Betrayal?” She waved her hand in front of Hercules’ face as though he were incredibly stupid.
“Strife is Joxer father?” Iolaus asked, catching on sooner than his bewildered friend.
“Yep, now I gotta go. Hephy has Bliss, and the Hall still needs to be decorated.” She disappeared in a flash, leaving rose petals in her wake.
“Well, that certainly explains some things,” Iolaus said with a laugh thinking of his friend, not nearly as surprised as he should have been to find out Joxer’s true lineage.
“Gabrielle,” Xena said quietly.
The bard continued to ignore her. She had been trying to speak to her friend for the better part of the afternoon and was beginning to get a little pissed-off. Yes, she had lied, or omitted the truth as Autolycus had pointed out the last time they met, but what were her choices.
If she had told her the truth, in the beginning, Gabrielle would not have truly understood what it meant. As a budding bard, and seeker of adventure, she would have looked at the whole thing as some new exciting thing for her to write about. For Xena, it was more than that. It was her life.
Though she had left her father’s service, more because of her fear for herself than because of anything Ares had done, she had made the hardest decision she had had to make. To walk away from her father, whom she loved, and publicly go against him. Even if most mortals were unaware of her lineage, it was still challenging.
Now she was faced with another tough decision.
Joxer was right. Waiting hadn’t made any difference, and now she would most likely be forced to choose between Gabrielle and her family.
She sighed. “Very well, Gabrielle. Have it your way.” She turned away from her friend, who was studiously ignoring her. “Cupid.” She called softly.
A flash of sparks and the scent of rose oil preceding his arrival. “Sis, what can I do for you?” The God of Love asked as he looked at his sister and her friend.
“Can you take Gabrielle to Potadeia?”
“Sure.” Cupid waved his hand and the bard, along with her belongings, disappeared.
“Thanks,” Xena said softly.
“You going to be okay?” Cupid asked just as softly.
“Yeah. Maybe she just needs some time to think about it. Maybe not, either way, Jox was right. It’s time she knew the truth…and faced up to whatever choice she makes.”
Cupid hugged her tightly. “You want to come with me? Spend a little time with Bliss. It’s been a while since he’s seen you.”
Xena hesitated for a second but then nodded.
Cupid smiled and placed a hand on her arm. With another wave, the clearing was empty, never showing any sign that there had been a camp only moments before.
“Here we are,” Cupid said as he stepped away from his sister, his wings flapping slightly. “I figured you’d rather come here. But if you want, I can take you over to Pop’s.”
“No, that’s okay,” Xena said, slightly distracted as she looked around the temple, eying the decorations. She could see what was obviously Cupid’s taste, but there were other decorations as well. One wall on the far side was lined with a few swords and some ornate daggers.
“Strife, huh?” Xena said with a small smile on her face.
“Yeah.” Cupid agreed, his eyes crinkling slightly at the thought of his husband-to-be.
“You really love him.” Xena grinned. “I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks.” Cupid hugged her slightly. “I have to go check on Bliss. You want to come?”
“Sure.” Xena nodded. She didn’t really want too much time by herself to think of Gabrielle and what she might have lost.
Cupid grabbed her once more, and they flashed out.
“Herc.” Iolaus tried once more. “Why are you so pissed off about this? So Strife is Joxer‘s father. Big deal.”
“He lied.” Hercules gritted out.
“So? You aren’t friends with Joxer or any of his brothers, what difference does it make? Besides, it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Do you think Xena knows?” Hercules asked suddenly. “You’re right, we aren’t friends, but Xena and Gabrielle are.”
Iolaus shrugged. “Maybe. There is nothing to do now but go to the wedding and find out who the real Joxer is.”
No sooner had the words been spoken than a flash heralded the arrival of another deity.
Hercules’ eyes widened. “Father?”
Zeus smiled benignly at his son. “Hercules.”
“What are you doing here?”
Zeus smiled again in a way that would be disturbing to anyone who honestly knew him. “Aphrodite has her hands full with the preparation for the wedding this afternoon, and Cupid is with your niece, so I volunteered to be your chariot.”
Hercules was stunned. He had expected to see his father at the wedding, but he didn’t think the King of the Gods would be the one to take them there. He was still a little stunned by all the recent revelations.
“You ready to go?” Zeus asked, looking around the camp.
Iolaus nodded since Hercules still looked a little shocked. Zeus placed a hand on an arm of each man and flashed them away. They reappeared, minus Zeus, in the Great Hall, where it was apparent wedding preparation was well underway.
There were Gods and Goddess all around, putting the finishing touches on the decorations. Jett was standing in one corner speaking quietly to Eris while Jayce stood not too far away talking to Terpsichore.
Hercules’ eyes traveled over the room. He was relieved to see neither Hera nor Ares though he doubted he could get away with avoiding them entirely.
The demi-god jumped slightly and turned around. “Joxer.”
Iolaus smiled at Joxer. “It’s good to see you.”
“You too,” Joxer answered, though his eyes remained on Hercules. “So, here you are.”
Hercules nodded. “Yeah.” He took a deep breath. “How have you been?”
“Good,” Joxer answered.
The three men stood staring at one another in uncomfortable silence, each not knowing precisely what to say. Before anything could be said, a flash of power drew their attention to the far side of the room. Strife had just flashed in, followed by Cupid and Xena, though Hercules didn‘t seem to see either Cupid or Xena. His eyes were drawn to the God of Mischief.
Hercules stared at him for a second, trying to assimilate everything he knew about the God with what he had just learned. Finally, he turned back to Joxer.
“What must it have been like for you?” Hercules said softly. He was still upset by the deception, but perhaps Iolaus was right, and he should try to get to know Joxer. It must have been hard for him growing up.
“Excuse me?” Joxer asked in confusion. Hercules seemed calmer than he expected.
“Growing up with Strife as your father. His mother didn’t even want him.”
Iolaus looked up in alarm, eying Joxer nervously. He realized a lot of what he knew about Joxer was a lie, but he still thought he knew what the man might be capable of. Still, the hunter didn’t think insulting the man’s parentage was a good idea.
Joxer’s shoulders stiffened slightly. “You don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Don’t I?” Hercules asked with a raised eyebrow. “I know the Gods.” A surprised expression came over his face. “Hey, that means we’re sort of family.”
“Not sort of, Hercules, we are family.”
“Right.” Hercules nodded. “So, I know what I’m talking about. Like I said, I know the Gods.”
“Do you?” Joxer asked softly, staring in wonder at the demi-god. He really didn’t have a clue the duties and responsibilities inherent in being a God. He shook his head. He really didn’t have time for Divinity 101. “Regardless of what you think you know, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Not when it comes to my family.”
“Did Strife raise you?” Iolaus asked quietly, not sure if he was changing the immediate subject, or making things worse.
“I lived with my mother and her sisters until the age of majority, when I was sent to the House of War,” Joxer answered, gauging their reaction from that.
“Your mother?” Iolaus asked, feeling like he was on safer ground. He hadn’t heard anything about the mother of the triplets.
“Tisiphone.” Joxer nodded, a fond smile on his face.
“Your mother is one of the Furies?” Hercules gulped, feeling a little uneasy. “I guess that explains Jett.” He said uncomfortably.
“Watch it, Herc,” Autolycus said from somewhere behind Hercules where he had been silently watching the conversation. “You’re on Olympus now. The walls have ears.”
Hercules turned around in surprise. “Autolycus. What are you doing here?”
Autolycus stroked his beard with one hand. “Why wouldn’t I be here? My father-in-law is getting married.”
“Your…” Hercules trailed off, confused, his brain trying to do the math. “You’re married? To who… Joxer? Jayce?”
Autolycus looked at his brother-in-law. “Not hardly. Jayce is very attached to ‘Pol and his Muses,” He waved his hand slightly to where Jayce was still talking to Terpsichore. “And Jox here is…spoken for.”
Autolycus smirked at the twin expressions of astonishment.
“Wait,” Hercules began, a frown marring his face. “That means that you’re married to…” He trailed off, not sure if he was correct or not.
“Jett?” Iolaus questioned softly, trying to help his friend out.
“The King of Assassins?” Hercules looked liked he tasted something awful.
“Actually, Jett, the God of Vengeance, but doing one’s divine job always leads to such interesting reputations in the mortal world.” Autolycus shrugged as if it amused him.
“But,” Iolaus started, slightly confused. “Xena told us about that thing with Cleopatra. Weren’t you guys trying to kill each other?”
Joxer smiled slightly at Autolycus’ snort.
“Oh, that? That was just foreplay.”
Hercules choked, causing the other three to look at him. He looked like he was going to be sick for a minute. After a moment, Autolycus turned towards his brother-in-law. “I have to talk to your mother about some business. You going to be okay here with…” He nodded his head towards Hercules.
“Yeah. Go ahead.” Joxer smiled at Autolycus. The King of Thieves walked away towards where the three Furies had just arrived.
Hercules eyed the dangerous women. “You said you lived with your mother until the age of majority?” He asked quietly. “Then, what you were sent to the House of War, what is that, a punishment?”
Joxer blinked, trying to come up with an appropriate response, aside from laughing hysterically. He didn’t think that would go over well.
“How old is that, exactly?” Iolaus asked, hoping to stop anything unpleasant from happening.
“For me, two-hundred and fifteen,” Joxer answered, turning to Iolaus.
Joxer shrugged. “I’m just a baby.” He turned back to Hercules. “No, it wasn’t a punishment. If you knew anything about us, you would know that.”
“What’s to know?” Hercules asked stubbornly. “Eris is insane, Ares is nothing but a power-hungry God, and your…father is nothing but a killer.”
Joxer’s eyes narrowed. “You know nothing about us,” Joxer spoke quietly, so as not to disturb the others in the room. “My grandmother is many things, none of which are insane. Ares is powerful, but only because he has to be, and my father does what needs to be done.” He took a deep breath and stepped slightly closer to the demi-god. “If you are referring to the…incident with the Golden Hind,”
“Serena.” Hercules interrupted with a hiss.
“Whatever.” Joxer shrugged, though he knew very well what her name was. “Yes, my father killed her, on Ares orders. Zeus ordered Ares to have her killed. None of which would have been necessary if you hadn’t convinced her to leave Ares’ service.”
“No.” Hercules shook his head. “My father wouldn’t do that!”
“Feel free to ask him yourself,” Joxer said calmly as more Gods and Goddesses began arriving.
The uncomfortable silence began to stretch before Iolaus spoke again, hoping to break the tension. “Jett and Autolycus? How long have they…” He trailed off.
“Been married? I think it’s been almost fifteen years now.” Joxer smiled.
“He’s the God of Vengeance,” Hercules said as if he was just now remembering something, slightly calmer now that they were on safer ground.
“Yes.” Joxer agreed.
“Aphrodite called you guys the Triplets of Doom.” Iolaus supplied for Hercules, who looked like he wasn’t sure what he was trying to say.
Joxer laughed. “Yes, we have been called that on occasion.”
“Justice, Vengeance, and Betrayal,” Hercules said, remembering what his sister said. He looked across at Joxer. “If Jett is Vengeance, Jayce is…Betrayal?”
Joxer nodded as Iolaus spoke again. “So you’re the God of Justice?”
“Justice and Redemption.”
“I don’t get it,” Hercules said, even more, confused than before.
“Is that why you’ve been traveling with Xena?” Iolaus interrupted. “Because of her redemption?”
Before Joxer could respond, a bright flash lit up the hall, alerting everyone to the arrival of the King and Queen of the Gods. Joxer turned to Hercules, staring at him silently for a moment. “If you really want to know, we can talk later, but right now, my father is getting married.” As soon as the words were spoken, the God walked away from the two men and headed towards the front of the room, where Strife and Cupid were now standing in front of their grandparents.
Ares arrived moments before his parents, his dark eyes scanning the room. He saw his daughter speaking with Aphrodite and Hephaestus and smiled. Maybe Cupid and Strife had the right idea. Xena didn’t look too upset at being here.
His eyes then moved around the room, stopping when he saw his annoying half-brother and his friend speaking to Joxer. He couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but to anyone who knew him, Joxer looked pissed. He was about to go over and see what the trouble was when his parents arrived.
Joxer left Hercules and Iolaus and started walking towards his Father as Hera began to speak.
Maybe they’d have time after the wedding to talk.
“Welcome.” Hera, Queen of the Gods, looked around at the assembled guests. Half of the Pantheon was in attendance as well as various demi-gods and mortals. Hercules stood towards the back with his friend, looking shocked. She smiled at her granddaughter who was standing near Hephaestus.
Strife shifted slightly, obviously uncomfortable in the formal attire. Hera turned to her husband. “Shall we begin?”
Zeus nodded. “Welcome, friends, family.” He intoned deeply. “Today we shall witness the binding of two young godlings, the joining of the houses of War and Love.”
There was a mutter heard through the crowd, some nervous about the joining of two such powerful houses.
Zeus smirked slightly. He loved to cause an uproar. “Now, I shall turn the proceedings over to my lovely wife.”
Hera raised her arms slightly. “Though this is a formal ceremony the grooms have asked for an abbreviated version.” She turned to the grooms in question. “Cupid, Strife, come forward.”
The two Gods came closer, their fingers entwined.
“This binding has been a long time in coming. Cupid, you have been through much these past few years. Everything that has happened has led you back here, to Strife.” She turned to her dark daughter’s only child. “Strife, you have weathered the pain of separation, and fought the darkness in your heart, refusing to succumb to grief by seeking the aid of your son.”
There was a small gasp from the back of the room. Hera’s odd violet eyes narrowed on her husband’s bastard son, daring him to interrupt. Hercules swallowed thickly but kept his mouth shut.
Hera turned back to her grandsons and smiled softly at them. She took hold of their clasped hands with her right hand and materialized a thick violet cord and watched as it began to wrap itself around their entwined hands. The rope started at their fingers and wound its way around their hands, over the wrist, and up their arms to their elbow.
“This cord is a symbol of your binding and the love and faith that has brought you here, together.” As she spoke the cord began to glow and then be absorbed through their skin. “From this moment forward, you shall be bound, in all things.”
She faced the crowd and raised her voice, “I, Hera, Queen of Olympus, and Goddess of Marriage and Childbirth, sanction this marriage, on behalf of all of Olympus. Any further offspring shall have my blessing.”
There was a startled rumble through the crowd. That particular blessing had not been bestowed on an Olympian wedding for many centuries.
She faced the newlyweds once again and turned them towards the assembled crowd. “I present to you, Cupid, The God of Erotic and Romantic Love, and Strife, God of Mischief, now forever joined.”
There was complete silence for several moments before voices started to rise as the guests began to move towards the front to offer their congratulations, no matter how sincere.
The deities with the most seniority were first to approach. Ares stood off to one side of the couple, his dark eyes moving along the crowd, never straying too far from where Joxer now stood to flank his father and speaking softly to Jett. He noticed Jett’s eyes go to Hercules as they spoke, a scowl appearing on his face.
Hercules was still standing in the same spot, looking confused.
Ares startled at Xena’s softly spoken word. He hadn’t noticed her approach.
“Xena.” He said carefully. “I’m glad you came.”
She smiled wryly with a nod towards her brother. “I didn’t have much choice, now did I?”
“I’m sorry about that.” He replied honestly. “Strife was just trying to help.”
Xena shrugged minutely. “I know. It’s okay. I wanted to be here, really.”
“I noticed Gabrielle isn’t with you.” He commented neutrally.
“Cupid sent her home.” She looked away. “I don’t think she can get past this.”
“I’m sorry, Daughter,” Ares said honestly.
“Joxer was right.” She admitted sadly.
“What did he say?” Ares asked knowing the young God had a way of seeing to the heart of things.
“That nothing would change, and that she would either accept it, or she wouldn’t.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“It hurts.” Xena admitted quietly, “but I can’t apologize for who I am, and even if I could, I shouldn’t have to.”
Before Ares could say anything else, Hercules stepped forward, looking both belligerent and hesitant.
“Xena? What are you doing here? I thought only Gods and Demi-Gods got forced into this.”
Xena looked over at the two grooms still receiving congratulations a few meters away and then met her father’s eyes briefly before turning back to Hercules. “Cupid is my brother.” She answered simply. “The summons wasn’t necessary. I would have come anyway.” She locked eyes with her father again as she said the last.
Hercules’ eyes widened slightly then turned to Ares with a frown on his face.
Ares nodded once before moving away from the two demi-gods. He didn’t want to get into with his half-brother, not at the reception at any rate. “Excuse me.”
After he had left Hercules stared after him for a moment. “Ares is your father?” Hercules asked incredulously.
“How long have you known?”
“Since Borias died, and I left Solan with Kalepius.”
“That long?” Hercules asked in stunned disbelief. “If Cupid is your brother, can you tell me what happened to Psyche?” He had liked the young girl and hoped she was dealing with Cupid’s marriage to another man well.
“Jayce turned her into a Siren.”
Hercules blinked and then blinked again. “A…Siren?”
Xena smiled slightly. She remembered the God of Betrayal’s expression as he shared that bit of mischief. “It seems Psyche had some issues with fidelity. She had so many affairs before Bliss was born Grandmother was concerned that Cupid wasn’t the father. Three of the mortals she’d slept with died by what was obviously an abuse of Godly power. During the pregnancy, she swore she’d stop sleeping around, but after the birth, she started propositioning half the male Gods on Olympus, starting with Apollo. I thought that would have been it. Jayce is very…territorial, regardless of Apollo’s wandering eye, but it wasn’t until she propositioned Poseidon that Jayce intervened.”
“Why then?” Hercules asked, still trying to wrap his mind around this version of the girl he knew.
“I think finally Jayce had had enough. If it wasn’t bad enough Psyche had abused Cupid’s vulnerability due to that mishap with his arrows, now she was running off with more senior Gods. Poseidon wasn‘t interested, but that hardly mattered.”
“Why a Siren?”
Xena shrugged slightly. “If she was going to lure men to their deaths, as she did with those mortals, what better form? Besides, I think Jayce enjoyed the irony.“
Hercules wasn’t sure what to say. He thought he had known Psyche, but maybe if all that Xena was saying was true, he hadn’t known her at all. Perhaps he wasn’t as good a judge of character as he had always thought. Hercules frowned as he suddenly realized something else and began looking around the large room. “Where’s Gabrielle?”
“Home in Potadeia,” Xena answered quietly, hoping Hercules wouldn’t press for too many details.
“Oh.” Hercules looked like he wanted to say more but thankfully he didn’t. His eyes continued to look around the room, finally coming to rest on where Iolaus was now talking to Autolycus and Jett. Joxer was no longer standing beside them.
“Did you know about Jett and Autolycus?” He asked, wondering how much he had been kept in the dark about.
“Not until after that mess with Cleopatra. When it was all over, Joxer told me.”
“So you knew about Joxer?” He said dully.
“Yes. I met him before when I was a warlord. He works for the house of War.”
Hercules nodded, but the frown was still on his face. “He said that he was sent to the House of War…like some kind of servant?” Hercules was troubled by that idea and confused by everything he’d learned that day.
Xena laughed softly. “It isn’t like that. All the Gods who work under the House of War, Strife, Eris, Deimos, Phobos, Joxer, they all have duties to perform, in addition to whatever duties their particular Godhoods assign to them. Just like all the Gods in the House of Love have duties, or the House of Intellect and Divinity. Even Hades realm has assigned responsibilities.”
“What did you think happened? That all the Gods just spent their days floating around, basking in their divine greatness, mucking up the lives of mortals?” Xena’s voice held a note of mockery though it was subtle.
“Kind of,” Hercules admitted.
A chuckle was heard from just behind Hercules, and he tensed, expecting to find Ares or Strife there, laughing at him.
Instead, Zeus stood centimeters away, an amused smile on his face. “Son, you really do have a vivid imagination.” He smiled at Xena. “Granddaughter, so good to see you again. It has been a long time.”
Xena’s stiffened slightly. She was still extremely uncomfortable. She was more than happy to be at her brother’s wedding, but she wasn’t sure about dealing with the rest of her family.
“Zeus.” She smiled tightly.
“Go congratulate your brother.” The King of the Gods suggested though she could tell it was more than a mere suggestion.
Xena was only too happy to escape both Zeus and Hercules. She walked over to where Cupid was standing with Strife and a sleepy Bliss in his arms. “Congratulations, you two.”
Strife grabbed her unexpectedly and hugged her. “Thank you.” He whispered in her ear. She pulled back and looked into his eyes. The sincerity she saw there stunned her, but only a little. She realized he wasn’t thanking her for attending the wedding.
“He’s a good friend.” She said simply, understanding his hidden meaning.
“Maybe more than a friend,” Cupid said slyly, not having any trouble deciphering their unspoken conversation.
Xena followed her brother’s gaze to where her father and Joxer were now speaking quietly. They couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but they both looked entirely focused on the discussion.
“It’s good to see you,” Ares stated quietly as he handed Joxer a glass of ambrosia-laced wine. He knew how much Joxer loved the slightly bitter taste.
“You too.” Joxer smiled as he took the glass. “So I guess the charade is up,” Joxer said as he motioned towards where Xena was standing.
“Are you sorry?” Ares asked intently.
Joxer met the older God’s eyes for the first time, getting caught in the dark gaze. “No. But I’m kind of at a loss.”
“How so?” Ares asked, moving slightly closer, his eyes still staring into Joxer’s.
“You don’t need me down in the mortal world anymore, keeping an eye on…things.”
“Perhaps not.” Ares agreed. “But I’ll always need you.”
Joxer’s heart skipped a beat at the words, but not yet willing to assume they meant anything in particular. “What exactly do you need me for now?”
Ares chuckled and smiled. “Perhaps we can discuss it…after the reception?” He asked, feeling more than a little brave. He had never been exactly sure where he stood in Joxer’s eyes. He knew where The God of War stood, but he wasn’t nearly as assured of his place as just a man.
Joxer smiled, his eyes twinkling. “I’d like that.”
“Good.” Ares returned the grin. He reached out a hand and caressed Joxer’s cheek briefly. “Until later.”
Before Joxer could blink, Ares had moved towards where his mother was speaking quietly with Persephone. Joxer lifted his hand and traced the place where Ares’ fingers had brushed. “Later.” He murmured.
Hercules looked more than a little bewildered. Zeus stared at him for a second. “You look a little shaken up.”
“I’m a little confused,” Hercules admitted ruefully.
Zeus nodded. “To be expected. There is much you never bothered to learn. You choose to believe what you want.” Zeus shrugged, knowing that there was not much you could teach young people if they weren’t ready to learn.
“Like what?” Hercules asked curiously. He’d always thought he had everything figured out.
“Walk with me,” Zeus said quietly, motioning towards a set of double doors set into one corner of the room.
Hercules was silent until both he and his father had reached a garden beyond the double doors. Zeus sat on a white marble bench and waited until his son sat down. “We all have things we must do. Sometimes what we must do isn’t pleasant, but it is necessary, most of the time. Much of what we do is for the betterment of the mortals under our care and many times that is not easily understood.”
“How?” Hercules asked, willing to listen for once, if his father was going to tell him something honest.
“Your brother for instance. He is the God of War. That does not mean he enjoys war or gets a vicarious thrill from the dying. It does not even mean that he starts all the wars though sometimes that is the case.” Zeus paused and looked down at his young son. “Mortals start many wars, your brother taps into that energy, channels it, to make sure the end result is something that can help the people.”
“How can war help people?” Hercules asked.
Zeus stared at his son for a moment in disbelief, then he sighed. “Son, without war the population would be overrun, and the excess of people would then be the responsibility of someone else.” He paused to see if Hercules was following him. When it looked like he was listening and at least trying to understand, he continued. “If there are too many people to adequately feed, there is famine and drought.”
“As horrible as that is, that at least is natural,” Hercules said, still not completely grasping what his father was saying.
“Is it?” Zeus asked with an arched eyebrow. “Is it any more natural for your Aunt Demeter to cause drought and famine than it is for your brother to create Wars?
“What?” Hercules questioned in confusion.
“You don’t honestly think that everything that happens is a coincidence, do you? When there are floods and earthquakes, disease and starvation, it is usually not by accident. We, as Gods, control these things. People pray to us not only for guidance but also for assistance. Do you think we could help our mortal followers if we had no control over things?”
“I never really thought about it,” Hercules admitted.
“Perhaps you should,” Zeus suggested. “There will come a time when you will be required to take your place in Olympus. At that time you will be responsible for the lives of mortals. You may have to do things that you don’t always like or agree with.”
Hercules nodded slowly. “I will think about everything you’ve said, Father.”
“That’s all I ask,” Zeus answered as he stood up. “I should be getting back. Stay as long as you like. Maybe you should speak to some of your relatives.”
Hercules stood up as well, thinking maybe she should speak to a few of his family members. He stared hard at his father, suddenly remembering something Joxer said. “It is true what Joxer told me? About Serena?”
Zeus looked across the yard towards the Great Hall where he knew Joxer was reacquainting himself with his family before turning back to his son. “If you’re asking if I ordered Ares to have the Golden Hind killed, then yes.”
“But why?” Hercules asked, confused and hurt.
“She was a danger to us, as all her people were,” Zeus replied simply. “Mortals are not yet ready to live their lives without us. The death of one of us not only weakens the Gods but mortals as well. I could not risk any of us on the hope that the blood of a Hind would not fall into the wrong hands.” Zeus looked into his son’s eyes and spoke quietly. “As a favor to your brother, I allowed Serena to live, so long as she remained an acolyte of Ares. The moment that changed, her life was forfeit.”
“So, it was my fault,” Hercules whispered softly.
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Zeus answered honestly before walking back towards the reception, leaving Hercules to his thoughts.
“Wow. You finally did it.” Joxer smiled widely as he approached his father. Strife startled. He had been too busy watching Cupid walk across the hall to speak to his mother and stepfather to hear his son approach.
“Yeah.” Strife smiled and gave his son a hug. “So, you’re home to stay.”
Joxer looked over to where Ares was once again speaking to Xena and quickly looked away. “Looks that way.”
“So, what were you and Unk talking about? Looked kinda intense.” Strife smirked.
Joxer shrugged. “It was nothing.”
There was an inelegant snort as Eris joined her son and Grandson. “Right. It didn’t look like nothing.”
Joxer turned towards the object of their discussion, making sure he couldn’t overhear before turning back to his grandmother. “It was nothing.” He reiterated in a hiss. “Even if it was…something, it was nothing.”
Eris raised an eyebrow. “You think that he just wants to talk?” She said incredulously. “Or you believe that Ares is after another of his infamous love affairs?” She nodded to herself as she saw the blush staining her grandson’s pale cheeks. “In case you’ve forgotten, Jox, Ares doesn’t fool around with us. You know better.”
The us in question was of course members of the House of War. Though Ares flings were legendary, especially when children were the result, he had never turned his eye towards any member of his own house. Once, long ago, a brief affair with a minor deity serving War had nearly caused a serious incident when Ares grew bored, and the other God refused to let things die. Since then, he stayed far away from anyone he had to work with.
“Then what would he want with me?” Joxer asked plaintively. “We do have to work together, and when things end…” He trailed off.
“What makes you so sure they will end?” Eris asked softly.
“Gran, you know, perhaps better than most, that Ares isn’t really the eternity sort. All of his…liaisons, shall we say, end in one of two ways, either with them parting, amicable or otherwise, or with a child. Either way, the operative word there is end.”
“Maybe he just hasn’t found the right person.” Eris offered, hoping her ordinarily intelligent grandson would be able to see what so many others had.
“Has he even been looking?” Joxer asked with a snort. “No, I think it’s better to just forget even contemplating sleeping with him. It can only end badly, for everyone.”
“At least give him a chance.” Eris pleaded.
“I’ll listen to what he has to say. I can’t promise anything else.” Joxer said reluctantly, noticing Athena standing in one corner watching the festivities with a nearly non-existent smile. “Excuse me,” He motioned towards the Goddess and walked away, not wanting his grandmother to waste any more time on that particular subject.
“I’m happy for you.” Xena smiled at her brother. “Both of you.”
Cupid hugged her tightly as Strife joined them.
“You ready to blow this Popsicle stand?” Strife asked with a cackle.
Cupid nodded, leaving Xena standing alone. After her somewhat awkward conversation with her father, she wasn’t sure what to do now. She wasn’t quite ready to leave yet. She knew once she did she’d have way too much time alone to think. However, she didn’t really want to be wandering around the Great Hall. The only person she was even remotely comfortable around was Joxer, and he appeared to be in deep conversation with Athena.
“So, Warrior Princess, what do you think of the Royal Wedding?”
Xena turned to the God standing next to her. “Jett.”
Athena smiled in the reserved manner she had, but Joxer could see the warmth in her eyes. “I’m glad you’re back, Jox. The family missed you.”
“Yeah, I missed everyone too,” Joxer admitted. “It’s going to be a bit of an adjustment though. I spent so much time following around Xena that being back is a bit of a culture shock.”
Athena squeezed his shoulder lightly. “I’m sure you’ll be fine. And don’t worry about Xena and Ares, they’ll settle everything.”
“Yeah.” Joxer sighed. He had spent several minutes trying to get Athena’s feel for the situation. She wasn’t closely tied to Xena despite her connection to Ares, and he had been hoping she could look at it objectively.
“I think I owe Hercules an explanation or two as well,” Joxer said, changing the subject slightly.
“You don’t owe him anything.” Athena said seriously, “and as for explanations, I think Father has that covered. She motioned to where Zeus had just re-entered the Great Hall.
“Perhaps,” Joxer remembered Zeus leaving with Hercules. “Still, I should probably talk to him before he returns to the mortal world.
Athena smiled fondly at the younger God as he walked away and decided to see what her Father had to say on the matter.
Eris watched her brother speaking quietly to his estranged daughter with interest. After several minutes Xena hugged her father awkwardly and walked away. Eris continued to watch the demi-goddess as she approached her half-brother and offer her congratulations. Her dark eyes strayed to where her grandson was speaking quietly to Athena. Finally satisfied, the Goddess of Discord moved silently to her twin’s side.
“Brother.” She spoke in hushed tones. “Are you finally ready?”
Ares didn’t pretend to misunderstand his sister. “It is past time, is it not?” He asked turning to face her.
“Long past time.” Eris agreed. “However you have yet to convince him.”
Ares turned to watch Joxer speak with another of his sisters. “He doesn’t believe that I want him?”
“Oh he believes you want him, it’s your love for him that he doubts.”
“Then I’ll convince him,” Ares stated with confidence, turning to face his twin once again.
“You do that.” Eris eyes glittered as her voice changed slightly. “But remember this, hurt him, and the Trojan War will look like a field trip.”
Ares blinked. His memories of that particular piece of Eris’ handwork were not pleasant. “Understood.”
Eris nodded once and left, returning to her son’s side, where he was preparing to depart on his honeymoon.
“So, are you finally going to join the family?” Jett asked with a sly smirk. “Xena, Goddess of Tactics and Strategies in Battle, has a nice ring, don’t you think?”
Xena blinked. “I don’t think I’m ready for a Godhood.”
Jett smiled knowingly. “Not yet, but someday.”
“Maybe,” Xena admitted.
“And how does the Warrior Princess feel about my baby brother hooking up with dear old dad?”
Xena raised an eyebrow at Jett’s tone. “You say that like it’s supposed to be a terrible shock to learn about Joxer’s…affection for my father.”
“Maybe not Jox’s feelings, but what about Ares?”
Xena shrugged. “When I first met Joxer, back when I served War, I knew it was only a matter of time. Ares is only hard to read if you don’t know what to look for.”
“And you do?”
“Yes,” Xena answered simply.
Jett laughed as Autolycus made his way over. “Don’t be a stranger, Cousin.” The God of Vengeance grabbed his husband’s hand and disappeared in a flash.
Xena smiled to herself before looking around what was left of the reception. The grooms had already gone as well as nearly half of the guests. Those that were left were in small groups talking quietly amongst themselves. She made her way towards Aphrodite and Hephaestus.
“I’m ready to go now.” She said quietly when she reached them. Bliss was asleep in Hephaestus’ arms.
Aphrodite frowned. “You sure? You’re welcome to stay.”
Xena shook her head. “No, I have a lot to think about…and Gabrielle and I need to talk.”
Aphrodite nodded in understanding. “Potadeia, then?”
Aphrodite waved an arm and Xena disappeared in a pink flash. “I was hoping she’d stay longer.” The Goddess pouted.
“She’s not ready yet, love,” Hephaestus whispered. “Come on, let’s get this whirlwind to bed before he wakes.
The three Gods disappeared in a muted flash, careful not to wake the young godling.
“How are you doing?” Joxer asked after watching Hercules stare blankly at the path leading away from the garden.
Hercules startled. “I’m, uh, confused.”
Joxer nodded sympathetically. “Having all your ill-conceived assumptions shattered can do that.”
“You heard?” Hercules asked hesitantly, waving an arm in the direction his father had gone in.
“No, but I know how Great-Grandfather can sometimes be. He loves all his children, and he’s especially close to Ares. Though you may not understand it, this hatred you have for us hurts him.”
“Us?” Hercules asked blankly.
“Olympians.” Joxer clarified.
“He gave me a lot to think about.”
“Good.” Joxer stepped a little closer. “I am sorry for misleading you.”
“Are you?” Hercules asked though there was no censure in his tone.
“A bit. I had a job to do, and I won’t apologize for that, but maybe I could have tried to explain things.”
“I’m not sure I would have listened,” Hercules admitted ruefully.
Iolaus came out into the Garden before anything more could be said. “Herc, there you are. Oh hi, Joxer.”
Joxer smiled. “Hi, Iolaus.”
“Can we go now?” Hercules interrupted before Iolaus started asking Joxer too many questions. He had enough on his mind after his father’s lecture and wasn’t sure he wanted to hear anything else Joxer wished to add.
“Okay,” Iolaus said in confusion looking from one man to another.
“Where do you want to go?” Joxer asked, relieved.
“Corinth,” Hercules answered after a second’s thought.
“Very well.” He smiled reassuringly at the two men before sending them on their way.
When he re-entered the Great Hall, he noticed everyone was already gone. Well, almost everyone.
Ares was leaning against one wall, apparently waiting for Joxer. The younger God sighed and moved towards the God of War, bracing himself for whatever would happen next, but vowing to himself that he would listen like he promised.