Gods and Lessons.

Xander nodded at Strife as he popped in, waving as he swallowed a piece of nectar quickly.
"Your Uncle's still in bed, but if I can help, I will." Strife hopped up on the counter to look at
him. "What?" He looked down at himself to make sure he was dressed then back up. "What's

"Nothing, just wondering about you. You've done things to Ares that no one has ever even
thought was possible and you think of yourself as my uncle. Are ya demented?"

"No, I see it this way," Xander said, moving to stand in front of him. "Ares is your Uncle and my
lover. I would do anything for him and you were his favorite nephew. I've not seen a reason to
not trust you so therefore, you are not only an okay God, but one I would like to become friends
with and for you to respect me on a level that none of the others do mostly. And besides, I think
you're pretty neat and I wouldn't mind having more friends."

Strife shook his head. "Okay." He hopped down, looking over his 'uncle'. "So, ya wanna to go
do something?"

"Is it going to involve me getting into serious trouble with Oz or Ares?" Strife shook his head,
smiling. "Shoot, I wanted to pull their attention away from whatever was going on downstairs."

Strife snorted, shaking his head. "You are one unusual man, Xander, and a really unusual God.
Nah, I miss the things I used ta have on my body and I was going to go look for pictures ta put on
my chest. Wanna help?"

"Hey, I know just the place. Kept wanting to go in there while I was in LA. Supposed to be one
of the best places to get a tattoo in the world and they know all about the strange stuff in life."
He grinned. "Let me finish breakfast?"

"Okay." Strife stole a piece of the nectar. "Huh, when did they start lacing it with ambrosia?
Thought Hera outlawed pure ambrosia being given to us once a few Gods went psycho on it."

Xander shrugged. "Not a clue, all of ours recently has been like this." He finished one last piece
and put the platter into the refrigerator, a leftover from his mortal assistant days. "Okay." He
patted himself down then walked into the bedroom, grabbing Ares' wallet for when they went to
the mortal realm. He sent a quick thought to his consort, letting him know he had it and he was
with Strife as he walked out. He found the God of Mischief looking at their game set-up. "I got
that for Ares. I was modernizing him a little." He sat on the arm of the couch. "Ready?"

"After I ask you something. You gave me the complicated reason, what's the real reason? No
one likes me without wanting something."

"Why would I want something? You're family." Xander stood up, walking over to look at the
other God. "I don't know who these others were but I don't want anything from you other than
your respect and possibly your friendship. I may ask for your help in a professional manner but I
won't take advantage of your relationship to Ares, and I won't force you to do anything. I really
do just want to be friends." He held out his hand. "Okay?"

"Yeah," Strife said, still looking at him. "Who warped you though?"

Xander laughed. "I've always been like this. Must be from being a mortal for most of my life."
He nodded toward the front door. "Come on, maybe we can pull Wyvern out of a study session.
The guy is giving me a bad name by studying so much. No one would ever believe he was me."

"You're serious?"

"Yup, you're Ares favorite nephew so therefore mine." Xander tugged on his arm. "Come on, I
think you could use a hot pretzel while you consider me." He brought them to the mortal plane,
landing them in a library. "Knew it, the guy's studying again." He nodded toward the outside
before going out and hugging Wyvern, who he was quickly becoming friends with. "No one
would believe that I was studying on a day like today," he whispered in the other man's ear,
making him smile. The man that turned and looked up at him could have passed for Xander's
twin but there were a few centuries between them.

Wyvern shook his head. "This is all new to me," he said quietly, his voice about an octave lower
and much more rich sounding than Xander's. "I have to study or I'll never get it."

Strife looked from one to the other. "How do you guys tell each other apart?"

"He has longer hair," Xander said, holding up the tightly braided shoulder-blade length ponytail.
"Come on, Wyv, we've got to go have fun with Strife. You need a break and I need a break so
let's go break."

Wyvern shook his head but he closed his books and put them into the backpack Xander had
helped him buy his first day as a mortal at the college. "Fine. Where are we going?"

"Strifey here wants a tattoo."

"Don't call me that," Strife groaned, covering his face. "Please."

"Sorry," Xander said, patting his arm. "Strife needs some decoration, I've got Ares' credit card,
you've got the car, let's go."

"Why don't we just pop there?" Strife asked, looking at Xander in interest. He had heard all
about the younger God's problems with his powers. And he thought he even might have an
answer if Xander had been sucking both ambrosia and nectar.

"Um, long story that involves that automatic flushing thing." He blushed lightly. "Let's not talk
about it out here in the open, 'kay?" Strife nodded, cracking up. "Who told you?" he asked with
a groan. "I'll kill my son-in-law if he did it."

That stopped the laughter. "Does Cupid know you call him that?"

"Yup, when we're joking around he even calls me dad. Why?"

Strife's mouth hung open. He simply hugged Xander, squeezing him hard. "Okay, Unc, let's go
make me pretty."

"Um, a clarification maybe?" Wyvern asked.

"In the car," Strife told him. "I agree, let's go." He waved toward the exit. Once they were in the
car, Xander driving, Strife looked at Wyvern. "Xander has done something that no one has ever
done before. Cupid *hated* Uncle Ares' other lovers. Almost every single one of them. But if
he calls Xander dad then I can call him Unc and it's okay."

"Ah, so you're basing your reaction to Xander on Cupid's then?"

Strife nodded. "Kinda, see Ares raised us both. We have this whole love/hate thing going
between us but I trust his ideas about people in Ares' life. He's always been much more of a
people person than I have."

Xander subtly wiped at his cheeks as he stopped at a red light. "Wow. I feel really special now."
He looked in the rearview mirror. "Thank you."

"Hey, I trust him." A thought occurred to the God of Mischief. "What about Bliss?"

"Oh, he loves us. He comes over all the time to play or watch tv or even just to cuddle up. He
likes Oz best though. Calls him Unclie Pretty." Strife snorted. "Hey, my Oz is pretty," he said,
sending just the tiniest hint of pout. "And I love Bliss, he's a great little kid."

Strife nodded slowly. "Didn't anyone tell you about a younger Bliss?"

"Actually, when I was just Ares' assistant, he took me back in time to train with his best mortal
one, Joxer, and we bonded then. Bliss used to like me to tell him stories." Xander turned a
corner and parked the car. "Okay, we're here, I think." He looked around in confusion. "Hmm,
not a sign." Wyvern tugged on his shirt and pointed at it, rolling his eyes; it was a long standing
joke between them that Wyvern had gotten all the directional sense while Xander had gotten the
fashion one. "Cool, thanks. There," he said, pointing at it.

Strife slid out of the backseat, slamming the door. "Okay then, make sure you have the card."
Xander nodded, holding it up.

Two teens started to walk up to them, snorting and talking loud. "Hey," one said, looking over
Xander's outfit of light gray silk tank top and dark gray loose cotton pants. "Cute fashion, man,
but aren't you in the wrong section of town?"

Xander looked them over. "At least I don't follow blindly." He nodded for the other two to go
then started toward them. "Guys, even the butchest of us need a break from leather." He let them
see him in his fighting outfit of black leather pants and a leather vest, similar to Ares' but with a
gray silk shirt under it, then made the image go. "I'd leave now, no one wants to see me kick your
asses." He headed for Strife and Wyvern, who were watching.

"Hey," the talker said, pushing back his greasy blond hair. "Bet you couldn't."

"Boys," Xander sighed, turning to them. "Never bet on something so stupid. Your lives are
worth more." He shifted the newly-appeared knife holster on his side to draw attention to the
nine inch blade. "Anything else?"

"No man," the talker said, backing up. "No arguments here." He turned and ran, his silent friend
following him.

Xander made the knife disappear again, shaking his head as he jogged over to where the other
two men were. "Those two need a hobby."

Strife shook his head. "Why not fry them?"

"Because people notice things like that now. You get arrested, then there's paperwork and jails
and all sorts of things I'd rather not go through again." He started to walk toward the tattoo

"You were arrested?" Wyvern gasped, catching up to him. "When?" He had always thought
Xander was one of the most pure men he knew ethically, but if he had been arrested, well then
he may be wrong about that. And if he was wrong about that, what else might he be wrong

"It fixed a paradox. Ask Ares sometime, I really don't want to think about it." He looked over at
Strife. "Ares and I have had some *real* loud fights. All over my stubbornness."

Strife snickered. "I woulda liked ta have seen those."

"Hey, viewing is still allowed, just don't tell me about it," Xander requested, touching his
shoulder. "Please. It was hard enough to live through the first time." He kept walking, even
after the other God had stopped. "Thought you wanted this," he said after a few feet.

"Yeah, I do," Strife said, catching up to them. He could ponder this mystery, and ask his lover,
Cupid, a few pertinent questions, later. He walked through the door Xander held for him, taking
a deep smell of the recycled and heavily incensed air. "Smells like the place I used to go relax at
in Egypt." He smiled at the man coming out to the desk. "Hi."

"Um, aren't you guys in the wrong sort of place," the tattooed man said, looking over Xander's
outfit, then at Wyvern.

"Not really," Xander said. He checked to make sure they were alone. "I could change clothes,"
he said, waving a hand and coming up with his usual working outfit, leather pants and a gray silk
shirt. "Better?" The man licked his lips, nodding. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you."

"Nah," he said, breaking into a smile. "I worked on this chick Artie last year and she about did
the same thing." He waved at the back room. "Come on, let's discuss. Do you guys have cash?
She paid in a gemstone and it was too much of a hassle to cash out." Xander waved the credit
card. "Wow, platinum," he said, taking it to run. "Don't usually get these. Wonder how much a
limit he has on it."

"I saw him buy a condo last month," Xander said, shrugging. "I don't think it has one." He
wrapped an arm around Strife's waist. "My nephew needs decoration, and we heard you were the
best. Can you do it now?"

"Hey, anything for a platinum card." He led the way into a private room, sliding on some gloves.
"What sort of art did you want?" he asked the now bare-chested man sliding into the dentist's

"I used to have a dagger," Strife said, pointing at his left, upper chest area. "Black and silver,
pointing at my heart." Xander handed him over a copy of Ares' symbol and he nodded. "Yeah,
that. And I used to have a few others but I think it's time for a change." He leaned closer. "But I
had one under my cock hair, a flying dagger, with pretty white wings."

Xander turned his head to cough. "Gee, not subtle at all," he said, seeing the smile. "Can you?"

"I can't do all that work in one day," the tattoo artist warned.

"I can heal faster," Strife assured, "just like Aunt Artie." The tattoo artist shook his head so Strife
turned his arm, manifesting a small knife to make a shallow cut, which healed instantly. "I can
heal fast enough," he said again.

The man simply nodded and took the symbol that had been given to him to make a tracing to put
on the God's body. "Okay, what else did you want?"

Xander felt a small call of his name and groaned. "Work's calling, I'll be back in a few." He
pulled his symbol of office out of the air, tapping it against his leg. It looked a lot like a riding
crop with feathers on the end, bobbing at the end of stiff leather two-inch thongs.

"No bow?" Strife asked, looking at it, curious but disgusted by it. He knew Cupid's sick sense of
humor, he had given it to him, and he wondered exactly why the God of Love was torturing
Xander by making him carry that. He might as well be carrying a magic wand and fairy dust.

"Cupid said he wasn't that stupid so I got this instead. I told him it makes me look like some
demented dom. but he just snickered and waved me away. Said when Bliss could teach me how
to use a bow correctly he'd give me one." He shrugged and popped out.

Strife snickered, allowing them to turn into giggles once the God of Lust was gone. "Oh, God,
Cupid, that's so mean," he muttered. He waved Wyvern over. "So, you're Wyv?"

"Wyvern," he said, sitting beside the God of Mischief. "I'm one of your Uncle's minions, your
actual Uncle. I'm a distant relative of Xander's, some sort of cousin many times removed due to
time." The tattoo artist came back over so he stopped talking.

"Hey, don't mind me, I'm not going to tell anyone, and I wouldn't know who to tell that to
anyways." He laid the tracing over the pale flesh. "Don't get much sun?"

"Nah, I'm more of a shadow person," Strife said, relaxing and grabbing Wyvern's hand.
"Whenever you're ready."

"Give it a few minutes, it'll be soon enough. And I'm sure you'd rather have the other guy's hand
to squeeze when I start."

"Nah, I'll laugh through it. Pain is education."

Xander appeared in an office deep within a mountain in Colorado. "Yes, Jack?" he asked, sitting
across from he and his partner, Daniel, two mortals he was proud to know and help.

Jack cleared his throat, tugging on his collar's insignia. "We've been trying to get Athena recently
and we can't. Is there some problem? Did we piss her off?"

"No," Xander said, putting the riding crop thing down on the table. "She's having a few personal
problems and she's not been real able to answer prayers." He gave them a warm smile. "She still
favors you both, and your project, but I'll go see what's up. Okay?"

Daniel nodded, brushing some of his sandy-brown hair off his forehead. "Why aren't you carrying
a weapon?"

"Because I switched callings, I'm Lust God now." He leered at them then frowned at the
instrument on the table. "Cupid wouldn't give me a bow though."

Jack snorted. "Yeah, but he's got to realize you look like some strange Leather guy with that."
Xander nodded, grimacing. "Sorry," he said quickly, not wanting any god angry at him.

"No, it's a long standing argument. I've told him the same thing, he thought it was funny when I
told him I looked like the Dom. God of Lust and Feather Boas." He stood up, smirking. "Be
right back." He popped out, heading for Athena's temple.

Jack looked at Daniel and smiled, then started to snicker. "He's right, it is pretty funny looking."

Daniel patted his back. "What do you want to bet that the guy can do some incredible things with
those feathers?"

Jack smirked. "Wonder if he's as good as you."


Xander popped in front of Athena, sitting beside her. "I just answered a call from a pair of your
pawns." That started her off crying. "Oh, gods, I'm sorry," he said, pulling her closer to hug,
rocking them slowly. "What did I say?" He looked around in panic. "Let me fix it," he said as
she pulled herself back together. "Whatever I said, I'm really sorry."

Ares popped in behind them. "I was right, wasn't I?" he asked Athena. She nodded, biting her
lip. "Is it permanent?" She nodded again, starting to tear up. "Hey, you're still here, it'll be fine,"
he said, kissing Xander's head. "Her powers rested on the premise that she'd never give herself to
anyone," he whispered to his consort. "They're gone, for good."

Xander gave her a shocked look. "Oh, Athena, I'm so sorry," he whispered, trying to pull her into
a hug but she pushed him away. "Hey, if you want to talk, I'm here, okay?" She glared. "What?"

"Why would you want to? I'm no use to you."

Xander blew out a small breath. "Why does everyone think I only want things from them? I'm
not like that." He got up, looking down at her, hands on his hips. "I've never been like that, nor
will I ever be I hope. I thought we were friends but I guess I was wrong and I'm sorry for that.
But the offer still stands." He looked at Ares. "Did you get my yell?"

The God of War nodded. "Where are you two?"

"The three of us are in LA." He waved and popped out, heading back to Jack and Daniel, who
were laughing now. "Um, guys," he said, sitting on the table between them. "Bad news. She's
having a lot bigger of personal problems then we thought and it's going to be a *long* time before
she's up to answering things."

"So what do we do?" Daniel asked, leaning back. "Are we being switched over?"

Xander considered it then looked at them for the markers that all pawns for GodWar wore in their
auras. Which they no longer had. "You're officially not pawns anymore. I could, or some other
God could, pick you up as one."

Jack nodded, looking at his hands. "Are you?"

"Would you like that?" They both nodded. "Why? No one else seems to think I'm the littlest bit
Godly most of the time."

"Yeah, but you've always been fair and straight with us," Daniel reminded him, pushing his
glasses back up from the end of his nose. "If we get a chance to pick, we'd want to go to
someone who actually cared about us and wouldn't put unnecessary risks in front of us to see
what we'd do."

"What he said," Jack added, "but you've also shown that you actually care about people." He
shrugged. "If you don't...."

Xander held up a hand. "I'd be honored. When I figure out how to do that, you two will be the
first on my list." He grinned at them. "Okay? Deal?"

"Yup," Jack said, standing up and holding out a hand. It was shaken and he smiled. "Deal." He
patted Daniel on the shoulder. "Come on, Danny, we have a mission to go on."

"Be careful, pawns always have problems, and not always by planning." Xander waved and went
back to where Strife was, moving Cupid from the seat and sitting next to him, leaning down to
whisper in his ear. "Athena's not only preggers but she's normal." Strife jerked, earning a grunt
from the man shading in his dagger tattoo. He sat back up, nodding. "Yeah. So I could use
some information if you'd know who to ask."

"Why not ask me?" Cupid asked dryly, creating a chair for himself and Wyvern, who was looking
at the various pictures. "I'm sure I could be let in on this secret." Xander sent it to him and his
mouth fell open. "Oh, man, I had forgotten about that."

Strife shook his head, squeezing Xander's hand as the needle hit a sore spot. "This isn't good,
she's a lynchpin."

"Huh?" Xander asked, looking at him, then at the artwork. "That's going to be really pretty but
why are you using my colors?"

Strife looked down at it then shrugged. "That's what it was the last time."

"Oh, okay. Lynchpin?"

"Without her wisdom, lots of things will be lost, including language since she's over Literature."
Xander's brow wrinkled. "And medical science will go away some too."

"But others are over those."

"Yeah, but she's over *wisdom*," Cupid said, stressing it, "the stored knowledge." Xander
shuddered. "Get it?"

He nodded. "Yeah, we've got to fix it."

"They may just be gone," Strife said quietly. "She's broken the cardinal rule of her powers." He
winced as the pain in his chest grew again. "Ow."

"Sorry," the tattoo artist said, giving him a small smile. "Just doing some of the detail work on
the blade. Just a few more minutes." He bent back over, inking the dark blue onto the silver


Xander looked at his nephew's body, shivering. "Wow, that's um....wow." He reached out to
touch the last tattoo but pulled his hand back so he wouldn't accidently touch the nipple ring that
was in the middle of it. "I don't think I'd be that adventurous."

Wyvern snickered quietly. "Such markings used to be a rite of passage into manhood." He
tipped his head to look over the marks. "They look good on you, give you a radiance you didn't
have before."

"Yeah," Strife said, looking down at his chest with a smile, "I like them." He looked at his step-
uncle and frowned. "But you don't look half as pretty now. Want me ta help ya get a ring?"
Xander shook his head. "No?" he asked, giving him his best 'I'm cute, do what I want' pout that
he gave Cupid to make the God of Love let him bottom. "Come on," he said mischievously,
leaning a little closer. "Ares' will *love* it. He used to like mine." Then he winked.

Xander shuddered. "Stop," he said, holding up a hand. "We've agreed, I don't need to know
about his times with the rest of you." Strife gave him a disbelieving look. "What? I don't."

Strife shook his head. "You don't share, do ya?" Xander shook his head. "No wonder Gramps
is so pissed at you."

"And it's not going to happen, either," Xander told him, putting his hands on his hips. "I believe
there should be feelings involved and the only thing I feel for him is revulsion and pity." Strife put
a hand over his mouth. "What?" he mumbled.

"Don't say that, he'll show up." He looked around, checking for the signs of another God coming
toward them. "Good, he didn't hear." He wrapped an arm around Xander's neck, ruffling his hair.
"Come on, I'm sure we could find you something that wouldn't be that painful but would be fun."

Xander got loose, looking at the jewelry. "But it'd take time to be fun." The other Gods groaned.
"What?" he asked, sounding a little worried, chewing on his lip. "What rule did I break this

"Ares didn't give you any instruction at all on how to be one of us, did he? It's not his usual way
but I figured he would have given you some by now." Xander shook his head. "Okay, then I
will. We can heal, instantly. With our abilities we can do some amazing things and you should
know how to do them by now. You've been one of us long enough."

"No one ever told me I needed lessons," Xander said, whining slightly. "They just all complained
that I wasn't one of them because I didn't have control."

Strife nodded. "Welcome to the family." He picked up a small ring. "I'm going to go get the guy
to put this in you, be right back."

"No, wait," Xander said, trying to stop him but the God of Mischief was gone. "Oh, no, Ares is
going to be *so* pissed." He leaned back into the arms that went around him. "I hope he won't

Wyvern snickered quietly, walking around him. "I'm sure he won't." He smiled at Cupid, who
was holding his friend. "But you could always ask."

Xander started, looking up at the man holding him, then sighed. "Don't do that, guys, I don't need
to have a heart attack."

"That doesn't happen to us either," Cupid told him, putting his chin on the younger God's
shoulder. "But Strife was right, you do need some lessons. I thought Ares had been teaching you
too." Xander shook his head. "Then, since you're under me, I guess it's up to me to do it." He
kissed his step-father's cheek. "Come to my place when you get home. Let Strife show Ares his
new decorations, they need some time alone. I'll teach you what I can." He smiled at Strife as he
walked back in. "Where are you putting that?"

"Between his cock and his balls." Xander went stiff and started to shake his head. "Shh," he said,
walking up to him and touching the tip of his nose. "It won't hurt, I promise." And he gave him a
wicked smile. "Wyvern, would you like something too?"

"I'm considering the option but I was going to use the generous allowance your Uncle allows me."
He pointed at a picture of a griffon on the wall. "Maybe that one?"

Strife looked at it then at the tattoo artist. "He needs to find a history book, right?"

"If he wants his namesake, then I would." He looked at the picture. "Though, that's not a bad
one to have. I can do it about five inches tall in one sitting."

Wyvern smiled. "I'll consider it." He walked over to pull Xander from between the two gods,
leading him over to the chair, just like Strife had asked him to mentally while he was out in the
other room. "Now, just sit there, Xander, I'm sure Strife will block the pain from you." He got
out of the Gods' way, moving to sit beside Xander's thigh so he got a good look at the procedure.

"This is going in an unusual place but okay," the tattoo artist said, scratching his bald head before
putting on his gloves. "Can you do something about his clothes?" Xander whimpered, unable to
move, as Strife waved the leather pants away. "Thanks." He picked up the needle package,
unsealing it in front of them. "Okay, where's the ring?" It was handed to him and he put it on
Xander's stomach. "Just relax," he said, wiping over the area with a alcohol wipe. "It won't hurt,

Xander closed his eyes, squeezing the hands that found their way into his fists. He screamed as
the needle pierced him, breath catching as his voice fell away. "Ow," he whimpered, turning his

Oz popped in, glaring at Strife. "What are you doing to Xander?" he asked, crossing his arms.

"Giving Unc something to play with," Strife said with a grin. "Don't worry, he's fine." He waved
down the younger God's body. "It's an initiation thing."

Oz shook his head, walking over to kiss Xander. "Hey, you okay?" The brown eyes opened,
looking up at him and shaking his head. "Strife, I want him home, in one piece and healthy,
before Ares comes down here." He glared at Cupid. "You know how fragile he is."

"He'll heal, dude," Cupid reminded him. "It's the nature of the position. And he's coming to my
place to get Godly lessons." Oz nodded at the tattoo artist. "He did Artie's clit ring, chill." Oz
shook his head once and popped out, eyes closed.

Strife looked down Xander's body, seeing the small smile of the man working on him. "Going

"Ring's in, both of them." Xander sat straight up, looking at him. "Didn't feel the second?" The
young God shook his head. "Good." He stood up, taking off his gloves as he backed away.
"Cover yourself and come pay me please." He headed back out front.

Xander looked at Strife. "Why are you torturing me?"

"I'm giving you a present that will drive Unc wild," Strife told him quietly, playing with his hair.
"Trust me on this, I've known him forever. He'll like it." He waved the leather pants back on.
"See, not even painful now, right?"

Xander considered it. "Yeah, it's not painful." He looked at Cupid. "You?"

"Nope, you," he said, taking the credit card and putting it in his pocket. "Allow me, I said I'd
treat Strife to his first one." He walked out, pulling his mortal identity's wallet out and handing
over a different credit card.

Xander swung his legs off the side of the table. "It's really healed?" Strife nodded, sitting beside
him. "Why didn't it work before? When I was hurt during fights and stuff?"

"Because you had to want it to happen. And because you didn't know, you couldn't will it to

"So I'm really all healed?"

"Yup, all ready to surprise Unc with it later tonight." He hopped off and held out a hand to pull
Xander up. "Wyvern, want us to come back with you?"

"No, thank you. I need to get groceries." He looked over his facsimile, smiling. "Do have fun
tonight with Ares. I'm sure he could use some time off from his duties." He winked at Strife and
walked out. "You all can come and see me any time, of course, and I'll gladly entertain you." He
left the shop.

Cupid walked back in, giving his step-father a smirk. "Come on, we've got to go to my place and
teach you how to be one of us." He winked at Strife, who walked over to give him a hug.
"What's wrong?" he asked, his whole face showing worry. Strife never hugged for no reason.

"He's been eating ambrosia laced nectar," Strife whispered, covering it up with a nibble and
grabbing a feather to play with. "Later," he said, popping out in a swirl of colors.

Cupid shook his head, wiggling his wing. "Come on, let's go before someone else wants to steal a

"Speaking of which," Xander said, following him home. "That rod you gave me...." He stopped
as he was pounced by a rapidly growing Bliss. "Hey, you're big." He sat down, cuddling the
now five year old to his chest; it was amazing how much the God of Happiness had grown since
the missing part of his soul had been returned. "What did you do today?"

"Got stories," Bliss said solemnly. "Uncle Pretty told me some and Uncle Giles, he tells gross
ones 'bout monsters and stuff, which is cool." He looked at his father. "Supper?"

"In a little while. We've got to teach Xander how to be a God."

Bliss clutched his favorite person to him. "No hurt him, Daddy, he's good."

Cupid came over to sit beside them, taking his son to hold. "You know I'd never hurt Xander,
Bliss, where did this come from?"

"Grandma say he bad."

"Grandma 'Dite?" Xander asked. Bliss shook his head no. "Grandma Hera?" Bliss nodded,
snuggling down into his father's chest; he didn't like Hera because she didn't like him. Xander
reclined back into the comfortable chair, shrugging. "What else is new."

Cupid shook his head. "Xander, you've been slurping ambrosia, it's one of the reasons you've
been having so many troubles with your powers. Ganymede," he called softly. A mid-teen
dropped in behind them, looking very scared. "Have you been delivering the nectar to Ares and
Xander's temple?" The teen nodded. "Have you noticed anything different about it?"

"Hera sometimes gives me some to give to them," he said, tugging on his tunic to settle it further
down his thighs. "She said it was specially for them."

Cupid shook his head, tipping it back. "ARES!" he yelled. The God of War popped in, giving his
son a bland look. "Have you noticed anything funny about your nectar?"

"Not really, it's a bit tangier, why?" he asked, petting his consort's head. "Is there some problem
with it?"

"Xander," Cupid requested, giving him some room. "Manifest some nectar." The younger God
did so, but it was normal and clear orange. "Okay, let's try this again, this isn't what Strife said he
saw you eating earlier. All of us need to disappear, and you, don't let go, okay?"

Xander nodded, waiting until they were all gone to do so again, keeping the other piece in his
other hand. He compared the two, frowning at the flecks. "Why's it different?" he asked himself.

Ares popped in, grabbing it from him to look at it. "That's ambrosia." He looked at his son.
"Strife saw him eating some?" Cupid nodded. "Hell." He looked at the returned gopher of the
Gods. "Ganymede, have you been delivering some like this to us?" he asked, trying to sound
reasonable, he knew he scared the kid so bad he had wet himself a few times.

"N...no, Ares, not at all. I know better than to give...give any of you real ambrosia." He clutched
his platter to his chest. "Please don't hurt me."

"He won't," Xander said, tipping his head to look at him. "We know this isn't you." He looked
up at his consort. "Want to talk to me instead of about me?"

Ares walked around to sit beside his lover, looking at the nectar in his hand. "Ambrosia is
addictive to us. It's been known to cause problems, even in the most stable of us, most of the
time making us lose control totally over our minds and our powers."

"So that's what Cupid meant when he said it explained a few things about mine?" Cupid nodded.
"Now what?"

"Now we break you of this habit," Ares said carefully, not wanting to set him off. "Have you
been doing anything strange lately?"

"Well, I got pierced today." His lover's mouth hung open. "But that was Strife's doing," he
added quickly.

Cupid snorted but nodded. "We did do it to him." He looked down at Bliss. "Go see Grandma
'Dite, okay? We'll come have supper soon." Bliss stopped long enough to get a kiss from Xander
then flew out of the temple. He waved Ganymede away then looked down at his parents. "Guys,
we've got to get this out of his system."

"Does that mean the lessons are off?" Xander asked.

Cupid nodded. "Yeah, this not only makes our powers unstable but it makes us more powerful.
Nectar's a good substitute but not that great of one."

"Okay, whatever," Xander said, leaning forward and holding his head. "Asclepias? Can you
please come here?" he called softly. "I need something for my head."

The God of Physicians popped in holding a small vial. "I have just the thing, Xander." He
stopped when he saw what Ares was holding. "Who's been eating that?"

"It's possible that my whole temple has," Ares said darkly, twisting the offending nectar in his
hand. "Can you help us?"

"No," Apollo said, popping in and glaring at his son. "You will not treat this, he can suffer like
we did."

"You didn't," Ares said snidely.

"Father," Asclepias said, drawing himself up to his full, imposing height, "it is my duty to treat all
people, no matter who they are or what they've done. If I pick and choose who to treat, everyone
loses out." He turned away from him. "I will not take sides in this, and I'm sorry if you feel that
you should." He walked over to sit in front of Xander, brushing a hand over his forehead. "When
did you eat this last?"

"Stop it," Apollo warned, grabbing his son to remove him, "he did this to himself and he can

"Gee, I don't think so," Xander said, standing up. "This is how it gets to me. I don't even know
where this stuff comes from so I don't know how I could do it. In my classes there wasn't even a
difference made between ambrosia and nectar." By now he was yelling. "I don't know how you
could say that I did this to myself, I'd never pollute my body like *some* would and I'm damn
sure I wouldn't give myself something addicting that could kill Ares!"

Hera popped in, frowning at all of them. "Quiet. You're waking up the whole pantheon." She
walked over beside Apollo, wrapping an arm around his waist. "What's this about? This is more
your man's style than yours."

Ares stood up, facing her. "Hera, would you like to explain why Xander's been getting nectar
laced with ambrosia? And probably the rest of my temple too?" She shook her head.

"Gee, this is normal," Xander said snidely. "What did I do this time?"

"Nothing," she said, "but I wasn't aware of it." She looked at Asclepias. "It's obvious he's in
withdrawal, you need to chain him up." She started to disappear but Ares growl stopped her. "I
had nothing to do with this, Ares."

"Gee, that isn't what some witnesses have said," the God of War said with a sneer. "Maybe we
should call a tribunal? For intentionally hurting a God."

"He's not a God," Hera said.

Xander walked around Ares' side, looking at her. "Is that because I wasn't born up here or
because you're planning on hurting my family again the way you did Athena?" Everyone gasped.
"Yeah, well, it doesn't make sense any other way."

Apollo looked at Xander. "What do you think you know?" he asked coldly.

"Just that she's helpless now. That it's permanent. That your own disciplines will start to suffer
because of her discipline being left without someone over it."

"We can fix that once she's no longer pregnant," Hera said, waving it off. "This is none of your
concern, even though you seem to butt into many things that aren't about you."

Asclepias cleared his throat. "Xander's right. They're gone. Athena broke her cardinal rule." He
looked at his father. "I was just with her. She won't ever get them back, no matter what."

Xander leaned against his lover's side. "Can we fix this too?" he whispered. "Maybe give her
some of this? I'm sure she'd take it better."

Ares wrapped an arm around his lover's shoulders. "We can't. It won't work. In her case, she'd
never go back to her original job, being a virgin was part of it." He looked at his mother. "Didn't
figure that was going to happen? Oh, and by the way, I checked, Evander's son wasn't up here,
nor is he capable of it."

Hera shrieked and tossed a fireball at him, making Ares hit the floor. Xander growled, tensing his
fists and she laughed. "What are you going to do, child? Hit me? Unlike some of us, I can heal."

She started to pop out but Xander's eyes narrowed, and he lunged for both her and Apollo,
bringing them both to the floor. He punched Apollo once, ramming his jaw into the floor, then
turned his anger and rage on Hera, beating her until she quit fighting. "Never touch what's mine,"
he growled at her, pushing her jaw backwards and pulling his dagger from his belt, knees over her
arms. "Mine is mine, not yours."

Ares got to his feet and pulled his lover off his mother before he could harm her. "Stop it, I'm
fine." He looked at their healer. "We're going home. If you can find the piece of nectar and
come to us later, we'd like that." He wrapped his arm tighter around Xander's chest and looked at
his mother. "He's right, Hera, this is was stupid." Then they were gone. He pushed Xander onto
the couch, looking down at him. "You can't kill a god," he said.

"Why? They're not admitting I'm one so who would tell me I was wrong?" He looked up at his
lover. "I hate how she treats you."

Ares flashed him a small smile. "So do I but it's been going on now for millennia." He sat down
beside him on the couch, pulling him against his side. "Xander, I don't want to lose you, but
we've got to break you of this. You need to learn how to be a god and you need to get over
the ambrosia."

"How bad will it be?" Xander whispered, plucking at the decorations on Ares' vest.

"It's like kicking caffeine," Oz said as he popped in. "Hera's just called an emergency council
meeting, you're to attend." Xander clutched tighter. "I've got it and Strife's here with us. Cupid
will be over soon too." He sat down on the other side of the hurting god, pulling him over to lean
against him. "Go, Ares, diffuse this before she gets hurt."

Ares nodded, popping into the bedroom to look in on his nephew, who was sleeping off his
exertions. "Strife," he said, shaking him. "Get up. I've got to go to an emergency meeting and
you need to protect Xander."

"Why?" the God of Mischief said, yawning. "What's up now?"

"Hera's been giving him ambrosia; he attacked her because she hit me."

Strife whistled. "Theta protector?" The grim look said it all. "Okay, we'll watch him. He's
going to detox hard, you know."

"Oh, I know. About as badly as you did." He got a wicked smile. "Take him somewhere safe
for a while, you and Cupid both. Take Oz and Giles with you so they don't get hurt in the
backlash, and protect Wyvern if you can." He popped out.

"Gee, not quite impossible tasks," Strife muttered, getting up and stretching. He got dressed and
walked out just in time to see Hades pop in. "Don't touch him," he warned.

"Hades?" Xander said, looking up. "Am I in deep?"

"Yup," he said, sitting down on the coffeetable. "Why did you do it?"

"She attacked Ares over something she'd done," Xander said quietly, looking him in the eyes.
"And she's responsible for Athena too. Ares checked, it wasn't Evander's son."

Hades nodded. "All right." He looked at Strife. "Are you two disappearing?"

"All of us," he said, waving a hand. "Coming or not?"

"Not," Hades said, "I'm supposed to be telling his side of it before the Council." He popped out.

Strife waved a hand. "And away we go."


Xander looked up from his new spot on the grass. "Where's this?" he asked.

"My place," Strife said, sitting down beside him. He nodded at Oz and Giles to do the same.
"Wish we could have gotten Cupid to come too, he's good at teaching the early God lessons." He
looked at the three newbie gods and shook his head. "Why didn't someone teach you?"

"Because I'm defiant," Xander said, pulling himself up. He looked at his step-nephew. "I'm sorry
I got you into this."

"Mischief is my job, you just seem to do an okay job of doing it." He winced as he felt someone
else pop in. "Hey, Mom, what's wrong now?"

Discord sat down next to her son, frowning at him. "What are you doing here? You're dead."
Xander hissed. "And isn't he just an immortal?"

"Long story, Discord," Xander sighed, leaning against Oz, who hugged him. "Very long one
starting with one person and her drive to kill everyone who might have power like hers."

"Hera," she said, nodding. "No big there, she's been like that for years."

Giles glared at her. "She's been poisoning him with ambrosia. It's made his power unstable and
he attacked her over it earlier." Discord winced. "I see you understand."

"Oh, yeah, we just went through that. How far ahead are you guys from?"

"Year two thousand and two," Oz said quietly, rubbing over Xander's arm. "This is Ares' consort
then, Giles and I are his." Strife grinned at them. "And he's newly returned. Xander helped him

"And I'm helping him," Strife said. "He's a good guy, and he's *changed* Ares, he's playing
games that don't involve knives."

Discord shrugged. "Pity." She flashed out.

Strife turned to look at his family. "So, are you guys like Xander?"

"No one is like Xander," Giles said, touching his shoulder. "Can we do this somewhere safer?
I'm sure we'll be traced. I do know everyone's capabilities now."

"Well, we can create a bubble universe, sorta like what Wyvern was in, but there's no guarantee
that I won't screw it up and it'll take all of us so we can't get back."

Oz nodded. "Where and how?"

"Here, and concentrate on creating a mini-world. Give it air and grass and animals."

"Horses," Xander said. "I like them now that I understand them." He closed his eyes,
concentrating. "Wow," he said, smiling as the picture formed. "This is *so* much easier."

"That's the ambrosia," Strife told him, patting his leg. "Now, let's go there. We'll move the bubble
somewhere safe once we're there." They all moved themselves inside the bubble that had
appeared between them, none of them noticing Discord popping back in.

"Changing Ares? I'll be fried." She grabbed the bubble, putting it into a box and sealing it. She
popped herself to Hephaestus, handing it to him. "I need this sealed, I trapped something in it."

He pointed at the table. "Put it there, I'll get it tonight." His hammer rang out on the sword he
was working on. "Just as soon as I finish this for your brother."

"Fine, whatever, just make sure it doesn't escape. Ares will be *way* pissed if it is." She flashed
out so didn't see the smile.

"Ah, work again," Hephaestus said, picking up the sword to put it into some cold water to temper
the blade. "Nice to do after all these years." He looked at the box and thought it open, releasing
the bubble to float into another little place, inside an urn. He sealed the box with another thought,
smirking as he took out the sword he had been working on. "Yeah, two thousand years is too
long to remain idle just making pretty fancies for the wife."


Strife looked around the house they had created, shaking his head at all the color. "Now I know
who bought the crimson throw on the couch." He pushed Xander down into a chair, looking at
him. "This is going to hurt, but I can detox you quicker. And I do mean real pain, much worse
than your piercing."

Xander closed his eyes and nodded. "Whatever, just do it." He felt hands touch his so grabbed
them as the fire ripped through his body, forcing everything not natural out of his pores. He
shivered as the sudden sweat evaporated, clinging hard to his men. When the fire stopped, he
looked up at Strife. "Done?" he whispered, his mouth dry now.

Oz let go of Xander, getting up to get him some water that was cooling in a bucket of ice.
"Here," he said, handing over the glass. "Us too?" The God of Mischief shook his head.

"We weren't infected or you can't?" Giles asked.

"You're not infected with it. We found out earlier that Xander only got that sort when he was

Oz shook his head. "No, I got some sparkly nectar too."

Strife gave him a critical look. "What were you when you were mortal?" he asked suddenly.
"That's what's been absorbing the ambrosia."

"Werewolf, but it was cured."

"It was, but there's still a remnant of him in your soul." He walked closer, touching the younger
god's chest. "Here," he said, ignoring the growls.

Giles walked over to the books he had made sure to include, pulling the thinnest one down.
"Show me something to cure Athena," he whispered to it, watching as it opened and flipped pages

"Handy," Oz told Strife. "Xander figured it out." They both looked at the now sleeping god in
the chair. "He's going to okay, right?"

"Very," Strife said, hugging him. "We'll all teach him how to harness what he has. Then we'll go
back and kick Hera's ass."


Ares gave his mother a bland look as he took his seat. "You called this meeting about provoking
Xander to attack you?" Aphrodite snickered. "He's a Theta protector, and he's aligned himself
with me, wants to protect me."

Zeus cleared his throat. "What's been going on?"

Hera scowled at him. "Xander assaulted me."

Aphrodite stood up. "And what about your part in all this? Xander doesn't randomly attack
people. The guy's a sweetie."

Hera flicked some energy at her to make her sit down. "He's been into some ambrosia."
Everyone gasped.

"Which was sent to him," Ares said over the noise of his brothers and sisters. "As a matter of
fact, I'm pretty sure Oz got some too and possibly even Giles." He looked at Athena, who was
walking in. "Here, sit," he said, getting up to let her have his seat. "I know your back hurts."

She growled lightly at him. "What has my former assistant done this time and why was I called?"

Zeus cleared his throat. "How are you feeling?"

"Just peachy," she said darkly, glaring at him. "Just like every other one of us that has lost their

Zeus stood up. "What? How have you lost your powers?"

"The same way I'm pregnant," Ares told him. "Sit down, that's another matter but it's connected."
He turned back to Hera. He never even noticed the looks he got for his slip. "Xander didn't even
know that there was a difference between nectar and ambrosia, I have no doubt he didn't do this
on his own."

Apollo floated up. "So how was he getting it?" His son had made him see sense and even he had
to admit that the kid wasn't usually bad enough to attack his mother.

"When he was alone and called a piece up, it appeared as nectar laced with ambrosia. Not much
but a little." He looked over his brother. "It wasn't you?"

"No, I just refuse my son to be harmed the way he was last time. Strife almost killed him." He
sniffed. "And where is the strange one anyway?"

"I had Strife take Xander somewhere safely away from Hera."

"Ares," Zeus warned, lifting a hand.

A sudden flash of insight hit Ares and Apollo and they both looked at him. "Father, I wish to test
your for Ambrosia," Apollo said, floating closer to him. "The last time you acted like this you
had been having withdrawal." He mentally called his son, who popped in behind him, just off to
his left. "Test Zeus for ambrosia also, Asclepias. His forgetfulness has gotten to be epic."

Hera stood up, manifesting a fireball. "You *touch* him and you will be sorry."

Ares laughed. "Why? Have you been poisoning him too?" He looked down at Athena. "I
checked, Evander's son has no power to get up here and he's not reached sexual maturity yet. It
wasn't him." She paled. "Xander figured it out."

"Ambrosia does good things for him," Hades muttered. "Hera, sit down," he said sharply, "or be
removed to somewhere where you have no power." He stared her down and she laughed.

"Oh, I don't think so, brother dearest," she sneered. She let the fireball fly at him, which he
ducked. Hades was out of his element up here, his powers were very weak, and everyone knew
it. Ares caught the fireball and threw it back at her, adding his own power to it. She shrieked and
fell into her throne.

"Thank you, nephew," Hades said, patting his shoulder. He looked at Discord, the most likely
suspect, and who had been unconsciously been broadcasting that she had known about this.
"Artemis, contain Discord for questioning. Asclepias, please take them both and chain them up
until they're free of the ambrosia."

"Hey, this is so stereotypical," she shrieked, fighting against Artemis' hold. "I didn't do it."

"But you knew," Ares guessed. "Who did it?"

"Why ask her?" Athena asked. "She's going to lie."

Poseidon popped in, glaring at all of them. "What's going on here? I got the most distressed call
from my brother and sister." He looked at Hades. "Why are you taking over Olympus?"

"Because Hera's been poisoning a lot of them with ambrosia," Discord screeched as she was taken
away from the meeting area.

The God of the Seas looked at his brother, the God of the Underworld. "Is what she said true?"

"Unfortunately so," Hades said. "Ares' whole temple may have been infected with ambrosia and it
looks like Hera and Zeus have both been taking nips of it." He shrugged. "We were holding a
meeting about it."

Athena coughed. "Why does this involve me?"

Ares looked down at her. "Who among us can take the form of another one of us to the point
where you wouldn't be able to tell." She slowly went very pale. "I see you catch it now. And in
this state, he'd not even remember."

"So what do I do?" she whispered, leaning against his hand.

Apollo cleared his throat. "I had a book out looking that topic up but it's disappeared." Ares
smiled. "Strife and Xander?" he guessed.

Ares nodded. "Probably Giles, I sent those two with them just in case Strife needed help." He
looked at his Uncles. "Xander's been taken somewhere safe."

Bliss flew in, pouncing on Ares. "Daddy flew back to get them. Unclie Strife called for him."
He smiled at Poseidon. "May I come play fishies?"

Poseidon threw his head back and laughed. "Oh, Bliss, you're a welcome tension breaker." He
reached over to tweak the end of his wing. "Of course you may come play with the dolphins and
whales soon. As long as your father says it's okay. I haven't seen you in years."

Hades cleared his throat. "Some other things have been happening that I think you've missed out
on." He waved them away for a while to talk.

Ares sat down beside Athena, letting Bliss sit in his lap. "How are you, midget?"

"I'm not so little," Bliss warned. "I'm a big God now."

Athena smiled at him. "Yes, you are, aren't you?" She reached out a hand, shaking his much
smaller one. "Are you going to come to me soon to learn how to read?"


"So you can read," she said simply.

"So you can tell Oz and your father stories," Ares elaborated. He looked at Athena. "He thinks
reading is silly because he's never seen anyone besides Joxer doing it."

"Ah," she said wisely, nodding. "I can understand that."

"Is it hard?" Bliss asked, shifting so he was closer to her.

"No, not really. Almost everyone in the mortal world knows how to read so it shouldn't be so
hard for us."

Aphrodite frowned at them. "Cupid doesn't want him to have our ego problems. He even has
mortal playmates." She wiggled her fingers at her grandson. "Want to come sit with me? I'll
finish that story about the centaurs."

Ares chuckled. "Are you telling him the truth or a fairy tale?"

"Both," she defended, "complete with good stuff for his growing head." Bliss got up and flew
over to her, snuggling down against her chest. "Yeah, you know who tells you the best stories,
my little cutie pie."

"Unclie Pretty," Bliss said, nodding, setting of Ares' laughter. "He does," he defended. "And
Unclie Giles tells me stories about monsters and stuff, which is way cool."

Athena smiled. "I suppose it is, but if you can read, you can tell yourself stories."

"Okay," Bliss said after a second's thought. "Then I'll learn how to read, as long as it's not too

"I learned," Aphrodite said simply.

"Okay, then I'll be the bestest of all readers," Bliss said, nodding, jiggling his grandmother's


Strife pulled Xander out of his warm spot curled around Oz's back, literally pulling him out to
where the horses were. "You wanted horses, now let's train your powers to take care of them."
He looked over the five animals nibbling on the grass around the house. "Why did you make one
too many?"

"In case one doesn't like me," Xander explained with a yawn. "What do I have to do?"

Strife waited until he was mid-yawn to kiss him, using all Ares had ever taught him. "Awake
now?" he asked when he pulled back to see the shocked expression. "Good. Now clean up after
them and give them a refilling trough of water."

Xander pulled Strife's ear until he was looking at him again. "Don't ever do that again, Strife, I'm
not like Ares, I don't fool around." He let him go. "Got it?" Strife nodded, grinning. "Good.
Now I need to do what?"

"You need to quit broadcasting," Oz called from inside the house. "The smut is getting thick."

Strife sat down, he was laughing that hard. "Oh, Gods, I had heard about what you did before
but this is too much." He looked out into the field, watching the all male horses sniff around each
other and his laughter died. "Xander, enough, before you hurt one of them."

"But I'm not doing anything." His mouth fell open as one of the stallions mounted another,
screaming it's dominance into the early morning light. "I'm not doing anything," he said, backing

Giles walked out and tapped the back of Xander's head, knocking him out. "As you can tell," he
said, trying hard to cover up his nudity, "he has absolutely no control or idea of what you're
talking about. He's never had power in his life." He looked at his lover, then at the horses.
"Though that is an unusual sight." He turned, heading back inside. "Shall I make us some

"Nectar's in the jar," Strife called.

"Eggs," Oz called at the same time, walking out the door. "Xander," he said, standing over his
head, giving him an excellent view up his shorts. "Come on, time to get up."

Xander blinked, looking up. "Wow, like this view," he said, rubbing up the inside of Oz's leg.
"Want this more often." He sat up and grabbed onto Oz to pull himself up, giving him a long,
deep, slow kiss in appreciation. "Morning," he whispered, diving in for another small one.

Strife groaned, tossing himself backwards on the grass to pound his head on the ground and cover
his eyes. "Why me? CUPID!" he yelled. "Help?"

It took a few minutes but Cupid appeared in the clearing, frowning at the horses. "Xander," he
said, tapping him on the shoulder to break the kissing he and Oz were doing. "Xander," he tried
again when he didn't get an answer. "XANDER! You're affecting the horses," he yelled, pushing
he and Oz apart. "Stop it."

Xander looked up at his boss and step-son with a small pout. "But I like kissing Oz. And you
think we're cute together."

"You are but I'm sure the horses would like to quit having sex." He pointed at them. "Really."

Strife uncovered his face, looking up. "That started before then. He doesn't understand the
control principle." Cupid shuddered, his wings fluffing themselves. "Help?"

"Of course," Cupid said, giving his occasional lover a small smile. "Anything I can do to help."
He looked at the couple, then started to look around for them. "Where did they go?"

"Breakfast," Giles called from the doorway. "Oh, Cupid, would you like to eat with us? We're
having eggs."

Strife pushed himself up, brushing the grass off himself, and created a small pond of water for the
horses. "Come on," he told Cupid, heading back inside. "You know," he said once they were all
at the table and had all eaten breakfast, "most Gods just stick to nectar."

"It's not filling," Xander said, patting his arm as he sipped the coffee Oz had made. "Perfect, as
usual, Oz, thanks."

"Hey, we love to feed your caffeine habit, otherwise you're grumpy and we'll never get cuddles."
He looked at Cupid. "Why don't you guys eat real food? You did today and you're not dead so
I'm guessing it's cultural."

"It's more than likely a case of making themselves feel above the mortals," Giles said, patting Oz's

Strife shook his head. "Something like that, yeah." He looked at his step-uncle. "We need to go
take care of the horses and you need to let Cupid teach you control."

Xander put down his cup. "I was doing okay before."

"Giles and Oz were cushioning you," Cupid told him, "same as Ares and I were. It's time to fix
that." His step-father nodded. "Good. Strife, work with Giles and Oz and the horses, they seem
to have control. I'll start back at the basic levels with Xander somewhere where he can't screw
them up." He stood up, holding out his arms. "Come on, we'll fly. I don't want to risk the water

Xander frowned at him. "I'm not doing that anymore." He looked out the window. "Meet me
out by those trees." He popped out and the sink overflowed, the water not coming out of the
spigot, just flowing up through the drain.

Cupid looked at Strife. "He used to do that with all the toilets on Olympus," he said dryly. "And
you wondered why they all flushed automatically?" He walked out the door, splashing through
the puddles until he could open his wings and take off.

Strife groaned, holding his head. "Oh, Gods, why did I volunteer? I know better."

Oz patted his back. "Because Xander is worth it." He looked at the growing water. "At least it's
clean and it's taking all the dirt outside again."

Giles laughed, shaking his head. He took Oz's hand, concentrating on removing the water. When
they were done, Strife looked up at them. "Good job guys, but why you do you two have it down
when *he* doesn't?"

"Because he's Xander," Giles said simply, getting up to put their plates in the now dry sink.


Ares rubbed over his face, trying to scrub the numbness caused by boredom from his face. "Why
are we going over this? We know why ambrosia is bad." He looked at his Uncle Hades, who
had taken control in a very methodical manner, everything was reported on and discussed by the

Hades sighed, waving a hand at him. "Go on, Asclepias, we need to know where we've been so
we can figure out where we're going."

Aphrodite woke up with a startled snort, her *very* loud snores waking her. "Huh?" She fluffed
her hair. "Did I, like, miss anything?"

"Only about a millennia of what we already know," Ares said, getting up. He moved to stand in
front of the God of Healers. "Asclepias, in two thousand words or less, can you fix the ambrosia
addiction and how?"

The God of Healers nodded, his eyes very wide. "I can detect it and I can push for a
detoxification of the affected Gods, but one can never cure an addiction." He took a step away
from the pissed looking God of War. "I'm sorry."

"Why?" Aphrodite asked, getting up to get between them. "Why can't you stop the want or
something? I mean, we're *Gods*, we shouldn't have addictions."

Asclepias nodded, trying to keep his eyes out of her low lying top. "I can put a block but that sort
of desire isn't something you can stop, anymore than you can stop the one for food. It's the same
sort of thing. And with Xander being so much more mortal than us? I'm not sure if I can do it at
all." His eyes dipped down and then started to expand. "Um, Aphrodite, I, um..."

She looked down and tugged up the top of her outfit, covering back up her nipples. "Better?" she
asked, pushing his head back up to face her. He nodded, biting his lip. "Good," she said with a
smile and pat to the side of his face. "What can you do? In small words. Some of us weren't
born reading the dictionary."

"Thesaurus," Athena corrected.

"Like, whatever," she said, glaring at her sister. "It's not like you can...." Ares slapped her across
the back of her head. "Hey, easy on the do."

Ares turned and pointed at her seat. "Go sit before you get swollen ankles."

"Eww!" She hurried over and curled up on her chair.

The God of War turned back to the God of Healers. "But she was right. In small, easily
understandable words, what are you going to do about Xander?"

"It depends on what Strife's done to help him," he said, swallowing hard. The teenaged
excitement he had felt for the darkly dangerous, leather clad God came back now, starting
hormones rushing through his body, making his condition very obvious if you were looking at that
part of him. "If Strife's detoxed him, that's about the best we can hope for. I can put a block on
the desire," he licked his lips unconsciously, "for ambrosia and make it so he's not as susceptible
to it. It would also depend on how long," he swallowed, "he's been taking it." His words hit his
ears and he groaned, making the object of his desire smirk. "Sorry, Ares, just a momentary...."

Ares waved him off. "Xander's the God of Lust, I'm sure it's just sticking to me." The other God
popped out to save himself further embarrassment.


Xander finished plucking the blades of grass apart, thinking about his lover. "Want Ares," he
muttered. "Miss my kitten." He looked up as a shadow fell across him. "Hey Strife. Did I cause
another problem?"

"No," the God of Mischief said as he sat next to the younger God. "No problems. That's what's
worrying me. What's up?"

"I miss my kitten. He'd be giving me backrubs and telling me I was doing good, no matter how
bad I did." He saw the shock so shrugged. "Ares did the same thing when he taught me to fight.
He's different with me."

"Yeah, he is," Strife said quietly, brushing a soft finger down the other God's cheek. "If you'd
hurry up and learn this stuff, we could go back to him." Xander shook his head. "No?"

"No, I'm stuck. I'm not learning it, it's *hard*."

"No, it's a matter of controlling yourself and your impulses." He thought for a second.
"Remember when you woke up in that pile of chocolate kisses? Well, there were that many
because you wanted it really bad, and your powers react to your thoughts and feelings. If you
had wanted it less, then there wouldn't have been hardly any."

"So I wanted it too much?"

"Well, kinda," Strife said, nudging him. "There's want and *want*. You *wanted* that

"But what about the water thing?" He picked up another blade of grass to pull apart. "And my
leaking of my area's powers."

"Well, those are both really good questions but I think Cupid can answer the last one better. As
for the first part? Remember how someone said you were part of mine *and* Ares lineage?
Way back when? I used to do the same thing."

Xander looked at him. "So I'm more like you than normal?"

"Yup, very much like me. Your nature will look for trouble to get into without you using it. The
more you wear that part of you out, the less damage it's likely to get into on it's own."

"I was being good so it went to find trouble?" Xander's forehead wrinkled. "That's weird."

"No more than I am. My powers come from a different source than yours or Ares does. It's
much more chaos based. It's got a mind of it's own and it likes to have it's own way. In a way, it
needs the saddle and bridle more than the horse that threw you off did."

"So I'm being you and my powers want to do your job?" Strife nodded, looking really sad, so
Xander pulled him over to hug. "I'm not going to take your place and you won't take mine. We
each do things for Ares that the other can't duplicate. No matter how good all his mortal
assistants were, none of us could live up to the expectations that you set because we weren't you."

Strife pulled back to look at him. "Unc really got assistants? I thought he'd pick another God and
train them."

Xander shook his head, holding out his hand. "Look into my mind, he went for mortals once he
accepted that you were gone for good."

Strife took the hand, using the opportunity to learn more about what Ares had been up to since
his death and about the young man sitting next to him. He ran into a wall that popped up in front
of him and winced.

"Hey, private stuff still," Xander said, grinning. "You don't need to know that much about me."

"But I'd like to. You're going to be a big part in my life." Strife pulled back, looking at him. "Or
are you going to turn Ares into a moaning jellyfish again by leaving? 'Cause if you do, there's no
power on earth that will save you from me."

"Easy guy," Xander whispered, turning to hug him. "I'm not leaving your Uncle. I didn't want to
before but I felt I had to. He's not getting away from me again." That got a small laugh. "Do
you really want to know about me and him?" Strife nodded. "Then look. Just stay out of my

Strife delved in as deeply as he could, reliving all the memories Xander had with Ares. By the
time he was done, and had pulled away, he was soothed by what he saw. No matter what,
Xander would protect his uncle. Even if something happened and he died again. "Thanks," he
said quietly.

"Enough of this mushy stuff," Xander whispered, pinching the top of Strife's ear. "Let's go have
some fun. I want to ride that big monster."

Strife laughed. "Oh, I wish I had been able to keep up with your life, I would have liked you
even when you were little. We could have been great friends a long time ago."

Xander nodded, getting up and following behind him. "Yeah, I wish you had been there too,
Strife. I really do." He brushed himself off as he walked, heading to where he could see the other
members of their group playing with the horses.


Ares felt the wave of sadness from his lover and shook his head. "Strife, you'd better not hurt
him," he said quietly, looking down at the scrying pool, trying to find them since the meeting was
on break. He turned at the cough. "What's up, Hephaestus?"

"They're fine," the lame God of the Forge said, limping over. "They created a bubble world." He
sat on the edge of the pool. "Xander's some great guy." He handed over the urn containing the

"Yeah, he is," Ares said quietly. "I've never felt more happy." He looked at his half-brother.
"You like him too?"

"I approve of him, and what he does for you, but I'm not into him like you are if that's what you
mean." He smiled sadly. "You'll never have to worry about him straying, Ares, he's not built
like that." He got up, patting the God of War on the arm. "Be happy, we're all much happier
when you are." He limped away, fading out as he went so he could go see his wife, Aphrodite.

Ares looked down in the urn, seeing the small, shiny bubble. "Just be safe," he whispered, sitting
down in his chair to watch over it. "And come back better."

He didn't see Discord in the shadows, or hear her snort. "Ares," she whispered, "you're wimping
out on me. I've got to do something to cure you of that kid." She flashed out, dimming her aura
so her brother wouldn't see.


Xander giggled as the kitten appeared and started to lick his bare stomach. "Hi," he said, picking
it up to hug. "Aren't you pretty?"

Oz sat down beside him, reaching over to scratch the kitten's head. "Yeah, he is. When did we
get a cat?"

"Just a second ago. I wanted to pet my fuzzy kitten and he showed up in my lap." He smiled. "I
think I have it."

"I know you have it," Oz said, leaning in for a kiss. "We were all waiting on you to realize you
had control." He took the cat and stood up. "Come on, I want to watch you maul Ares." They
walked back to the house, holding hands, shoulders rubbing on the short walk. "I like this," Oz
said finally, "it's satisfying to do things the normal way now."

"Yup," Xander said, dancing into the house and pulling Oz with him. "I have it," he called. Giles
looked up from his book and Cupid and Strife stopped kissing long enough to look at them. "I
have control." He took possession of his cat, rubbing his face against it's body. "It's my kitten. I
wanted him and this one showed up."

"Just don't call him Ares," Strife warned, pulling himself together and standing up. "Can we go

"Yes, I want to go play in *our* bed," Cupid said, nipping Strife's neck.

Giles stood up also, clutching the book to his chest. "I believe I've found a spell too." He smiled
at the kitten. "Does this mean that you'll quit calling Ares your kitten?"

"Nope," Xander said, giving him a grin, "but this kitten will not be joining us in the bed." He
turned his bright smile on his family. "Let's go home."


Discord worked her powers to loosen the bubble, bringing it out of the urn that sat beside Ares'
seat in the meeting area without him realizing it. She had just lifted it all the way out of the urn
when it shook and she lost her grasp of it, allowing it to fall onto the marble floor and break.

"Discord!" Ares yelled, turning to look at the fragile thing that had held his whole life, the reason
for it at least. He fell to his knees, gathering up the pieces, trying to put it back together with his

Xander walked into the meeting area, cat tucked firmly against his chest. "Ares," he called softly,
"why are you on your knees?"

"Because you're..." He stopped, looking at him and the creature he was petting. "You're..."

"No, we were just coming home when we felt the jolt. Otherwise I would have landed on your
lap." He walked over to his seat and sat down, giving his lover a bright, pleased smile. "This is
Furry, our kitten." He held it out for him to see the gray and black tabby.

Cupid shook his head. "At least you didn't name it snowball." He smiled at Strife as he walked
past. "Like some I could name."

"That's what he wanted to be named. He didn't like being Ebony." He looked at his mother, then
slapped her hard enough to send her to the floor. "You tried to kill me, mother, and for that, I
have no mother." He walked over to where Ares was standing. "Dad?" He held out his arms,
hesitating in case he was rejected.

Ares pulled him closer, squeezing him hard. "So good to have you back," he whispered. "I
thought she had broken it with you in there."

Asclepias popped in. "Giles and Oz are all right," he told Xander, kneeling in front of him. "How
are you?"

"Fine. Strife made me sweat it all out in one really intense minute." He moved his kitten so the
Healer could get to his chest. "Are they really okay? Just a little twisty?"

"Yes," the healer told him, smiling, "and they said that if you missed this meeting then they'd
spank you." He glanced from the kitten to Ares and back with a hint of a smile. "I see you
missed someone horribly."

Xander nodded. "Especially since we landed somewhen that Ares was a horrible grump." He
smiled at his lover as he walked over. "You were. You were a horrible grump. Needed hugged
and everything." Ares shut him up by pulling him up to hold him, kissing him deeply, neither
minding that their cat was squeezed in between them and purring. "Wow, maybe I should jump
time like that more often." He turned to look at Discord. "Do you know what would have
happened if that bubble had broken while we were in it? If we hadn't made it back?" She shook
her head. "I do, and so does your son. You *really* don't want to know considering you didn't
make it more than five minutes longer than the bubble did and it was a really painful five minutes
of hell for you." He looked up at his lover, kissing then nipping his chin. "I have control now,"
he whispered, "and I missed you."

Ares let him go, giving him one of his 'I love you but you're ruining my image' looks. "Good."
He looked around. "Where are the other two..." He trailed off, giving Discord a look that
bespoke her incumbent death.

"They're at Asclepias' temple. They were the last ones out of the bubble before it broke. I felt it
starting to go so I timed us out of there and we ended up a really long time from now. You were
*so* grumpy. You said I didn't exist and everything until I sat in your lap and bit your big, pouty
lip." That got a laugh from the Gods around them. "It was. He and Bliss had bonded and they
were starting to act like each other. Anyway, the Asclepias then started them on a treatment to
help them heal from the things the breaking bubble had done to them and when they were strong
enough we came back to our rightful time to come cure you before you grumped out." He stole a
kiss and held up his cat. "See, Furry, he does exist. I told you he did."

Ares touched the cat then looked up at his lover. "You wanted a cat?"

"No, I wanted my *kitten* but he came instead. He's a good little guy, he loves us." He rubbed
his face against the soft fur, smiling at the purr. "See? And he liked to curl up on your chest and
purr while you were trying to nap too."

Strife patted Ares' shoulder. "Unc, just blindly accept this for a second. We're all fine and we're
back. Giles and Oz will be back later. They all wanted you so bad that they affected the horses."
Xander got a sad look, turning it on him. "Don't worry, they were copies of Ares' stable. The
originals are all safely locked away in their stalls." He stole the cat. "Now go bond so we don't
have to watch unless we want to."

Xander got a wicked glint in his eyes, wiggling a finger at Ares. "I want my kitten," he purred,
grabbing him and sending them to their bed. "And no peeking," he sent back. He rolled his lover
under him and stripped them both, sending the clothes flying. "Do you know how much I missed
you? How much I wanted to come and bite you for fun?" He leaned down and licked over a firm
nipple then bit into it, hard. "Bad you, not coming with us. You haven't even seen my two rings
yet." He crawled up the elder God's body until his crotch was over his face. "Lick me, babe, and
if you're good you can play with them."

Ares growled and tried to turn them over but Xander's position made it impossible if he stuck to
the rules they had set, 'no power in bed except to undress each other'. He touched the one ring he
could see, frowning. "Where's the other?" He caught a glint of silver and started to find it but his
hand was slapped gently.

"Mouth only," Xander purred, wiggling his lower body. "No hands this time." Ares growled at
him. "Ah, my kitten, what a pretty purr. Should I give you belly rubs?" He turned himself
around, leaning down to lick over the older God's stomach. "I'm waiting," he called after a
second of nothing happening.

Ares' gaze was stuck on that one spot, the site of a little silver ring. He could see the other and he
mentally winced at how much it must have hurt, but the hidden one kept drawing him back to it.
He reached up to touch it but remembered the no-hands request his lover had made. He tipped
his head up, using his tongue to jiggle it, getting a more than willing body pressed back against his
face. "I'm going to like this," he said, flipping them over and righting Xander before diving down
to play with the toys his nephew had so kindly made his lover get for him. He teased it with the
tip of his tongue, his free hand, the other holding Xander's hands from tugging on his hair, came
up to flick at the second ring. The man below him whimpered and pushed up against him,
begging. "No," he said, looking up. "Not until I say."

"Bet me," Xander panted. "Go play, kitten, or I'll show you how to play with it." He opened his
eyes to look down into the amused expression Ares had on his face. "Oz showed me how."

Ares sucked in a breath then smiled. "You can show it to me later." He released Xander's hands
then proceeded to suck him down. He kept going lower, letting first his beard, then his lips, then
his tongue tease the small ring. His reward was soon coming, his head being held down so he
could receive it. When he could pull back off again, he sat between the limp legs, smiling down
at him. "Remind me to thank my children later." Xander nodded, still trying to catch his breath
so he pulled a jar of their favorite oil to his hand, slicking himself up. He put the pot away, using
the residue on his fingers to coat the younger man before claiming him as his. "Xander," he
moaned. "Still so tight."

"Yup," he said, flipping them over so he was on top. "But you're still my kitten." He rode his
lover hard, wasting no time in soft kisses or gentle touches. He knew what they wanted, they
could be loving later. Right now, he needed to claim and be claimed, marking his lover as his as
he was marked. "Damn," he gasped, coming hard. He fell over the heaving chest, snuggling
down into it. "Hi," he whispered as Ares got off.

"Yes!" Ares screamed, coming into his lover's body. "Hot damn, Xander, that's a welcome home
present." He got a weak chuckle. "You okay?" he asked, rubbing down the boneless back,
teasing the still filled hole.

Xander pulled his head up and grinned. "I take it you liked them?" The ring through his
perineum was gently tugged on. "Okay, I'll take that as a yes." He flopped back down. "Let me
recover, studboy, and you can have more."

Ares laughed and rolled them over, thinking himself recovered. "Thought you had control," he

Xander patted the side of his face. "I do, I just like doing it the natural way. I *like* the
afterglow you give me." He pursed his lips, lunging up for a kiss. "Thanks." He pulled his lover
down to lay on his chest. "Comfy. Shh." Their cat landed on the bed. "Hey, Furry, come nap,"
he called, patting the unused pillows.

"Xander, that cat is not sleeping in here."

"You know, the you from where we landed said the same thing, but Furry made him get used to
it. He's a lot like you, very pushy and dominant." He laughed at the sour grunt. "Just pet him,
you'll like him, and he loves you already. He calmed that other you down."

"And did you have fun with that other me?"

"You were so sad," Xander whispered, playing with the dark black hair. "It was like I was trying
to comfort you while you figured out you hadn't lost a reason to stay sane." He leaned down,
kissing the soft hair. "I just had to hold you, as often as I could. We used to sit beside Oz and
Giles' bed and cuddle while watching over them in case Discord came again."

"Did she?"

"Her ghost. Somehow it escaped Tartarus, where Hades had put her in the worst place he could,
it was totally empty. No visitors, no sounds, no anything. She got out and came after them
so she could kill them. It was so wrong, but it twisted who they were. It was almost like
some alternate Oz and Giles, ones who were twisted mentally and physically. Oz actually wolfed
out again." He allowed his lover to squeeze him. "I wanted to kill her so much when I saw them
but Giles begged me to not leave him. We landed in front of you, right in front of your throne,
and when you called for Asclepias and Apollo, it was the first the other's had heard from you in
years. Or so the Hera from then had said. They had figured out what happened to her and Apollo
had eventually fixed Athena, but Apollo actually thought it would have been kinder to have let Oz
and Giles go." He sniffled, rolling and wiggling down so he was held in the strong arms. "I just
wanted to kill her but Giles wouldn't let me."

"Shh," Ares whispered, "you did what was right. Just like always. I'm sure they'll be fine."

Xander sniffled. "Yeah, they should be home soon." He looked over his shoulder as he felt the
bed dip but didn't see anyone. "Okay, who's there?"

Strife pulled off his hood. "Just me. I came to get the cat." He reached for the black and silver
tabby but he hissed at him. "Okay so I won't." He shrugged. "You okay?" he asked Xander,
brushing through the dark brown hair. "I just looked in on Oz and he was smiling because he
heard you two. He said it made him feel tons better."

Ares coughed. "What happened? Xander said something about twisting?"

"It did. They're twisted about the same as Morpheus did when he got stuck in that portal. It's the
same thing actually, but Oz got it much worse, he was trying to protect Giles." He leaned down
and kissed Ares' temple. "They're expecting you to come visit in a few minutes and the meeting is
being held up until you both get back." He stood up and pulled back up his cloak. "Later."

Xander waited until he thought he felt Strife pop out before turning to Ares. "We're friends," he
said, "and I like him. He's a good guy. He and Cupid both like me."

"I've noticed. Actually, I heard Cupid's step-dad comment." He ran a gentle finger down the side
of Xander's cheek. "Does that make you happy?" Xander nodded, grinning. "Then I'm not going
to say anything about you liking my nephew and son. It's really a good thing that you do because
I'm not letting you out on your own again."

"But can I go out with Strife and Cupid?" he asked, leaning in to nip under his lover's chin. "I
think we're becoming really close friends and that means a lot to me. You're not upset?"

"Why would I be? I'm secure in us. I'm just not letting you out of my sight again." He squeezed
the younger God as he cleaned them up with his powers. "Come on, I want to see our bed
bunnies." He glared at the cat, who made a sound suspiciously like a cough. "And you, off the

"Furry, please don't make him mad yet. He'll love you once he gets to know you." Xander
waved clothes on them, dressing Ares in some of his clothes, just for the fun of it. He slid off the
bed, straightening out his shirt. "Coming?"

"Just as soon as I change clothes," Ares said dryly, giving the clothes a scowl.

Xander leaned down to whisper in his ear. "You change clothes and you only get to watch me
and Oz and Giles later when I make sure they're really all right." He started for the door, making
sure his hips wiggled as he walked.

"Wait," Ares called, running after him. "I'll just excuse it as work-out clothes." He grabbed
Xander, kissing him hard as they popped into Asclepias' temple. "Oz?" he called, coming up for
breath. He looked at the two covered forms up on the temple's altar, jogging up the stairs to get
next to them. "Hey," he said, brushing down the face that was slowly relaxing back into it's
normal shape. "You okay?"

"Yeah, got good energy from you," he whispered, kissing the fingers that came close to his lips,
where they were up on his cheek.

"Gee, you look less like a Picasso and more like a kindergarten work I did," Xander joked,
leaning down to kiss him. "We're home," he told him, licking his ear, "and she's not coming near
you, 'cause if she does, she's mine."

Giles coughed. "Xander, do leave the creature alone." He turned his head, looking at his lovers.
"We're fine, it could have been much worse."

"Giles, your head is on backwards," Ares told him, earning a glare from the usually mild
mannered man.

"I know that."

"Shh," Oz said, patting his arm. "He's mostly back to normal, it's just his neck that was really
twisted." He looked at the dark shadow walking up to them, carrying a littler version of him.
"Hey, Cupid, Bliss."

Bliss looked at them and frowned. "Who hurt you?" He fluttered his wings until his father let
him hug them both. "I go stop them."

"No," Giles sighed, "it will be dealt with eventually." He looked into Xander's eyes. "Won't

"Yup, someone will punish her." He picked Bliss up, holding him, giving him a kiss to his
forehead. "What's up in your life?" he asked.

"'Thena say I have to read."

Ares coughed lightly. "She's convinced him it's easy."

"It is, unless you have problems reading or learning, something like Dyslexia." Xander put Bliss
down. "I'll even help if you want."


"Sure. You can start to read me a story to practice, how's that?"

Bliss thought then nodded. "Okay." He jumped up and down in front of his father. "Ride on you
for a fly?"

"Sure," Cupid said, picking him up. He smiled at Xander, mouthing 'thank you'. "We're going to
go play, he just wanted to say hi and I wanted to check on you. Should I tell Strife you're here?"

"Please," Xander said, "but I think he's here too. He was playing too." He looked toward a
corner. "Strife?"

The God of Mischief appeared, no flash to say he had just popped in. "Yeah?" He jogged up to
sit on the end of the altar. "You guys doing okay? Get you anything?"

"No, we're fine," Oz said, giving him a small smile. "Could use a book though, want to read to
Giles." One appeared on a stand over top of his chest, opened and everything. "Hey, even the
one we were reading. Thanks."

"Can I have a story?" Bliss asked from his father's back.

"Later," Giles promised. "We need to rest or we'll never get better."

"You'd better get better," Xander whispered to him, leaning down for a kiss. He backed away at
the cleared throat of the God walking toward them. "Isn't there a less painful way of doing this?"

"Only if we could get some Gods to send their powers to do so. Or get Artemis to use her bow
to change them to something we could manipulate quickly then return them." Asclepias spread
his hands out and shrugged. "I can only do so much, I'm sorry, Xander."

"Not your fault. How much power did you need?" He got a round of head shakes. "More than
just me?"

"Many more than just you. Like five or six of you." He tugged the blanket a little farther up
Giles' body, fussing with it. "They're just lucky to be alive."

Oz groaned, his face shifting about a centimeter back into place. "Ow," he moaned, catching his
breath. Xander was there with a glass of water and a damp cloth, wiping off his face and neck
and feeding him sips of it. "Thanks."

"This is what I do," Xander said, kissing him again. He looked up at the healer. "What if I
concentrated on bringing them a little farther along? Just me?"

"Then you could get them closer and they'd both be home tonight. You and Ares alone may be
able to straighten out Giles, but Oz is going to take longer." He looked at the God of War, then
at the Gods of Love and Mischief. "All of you together could get them both mostly healed," he

Apollo flashed in, handing his son a flask of liquid but not looking at the men on the altar. "When
we fixed Morpheus, it took the whole pantheon and it almost killed a few members." He looked
at Xander. "There are still a few questions we need to answer about your powers. Your recent
exposure to ambrosia might make it *super* dangerous."

Xander nodded. "I understand that but it's out of my system. It took us a good four mortal years
in the when we landed in to get them able to travel." He took Ares' hand. "Want to try?"

"He can't," Apollo said. "He's one that almost died last time. I won't allow him to do it this
time." He looked at Strife. "And you're still too weak probably."

"Not really," Strife told him. "I'm back up to full power and I've got full control too. Cupid made
sure of it." Apollo snorted. "Hey, he's good at teaching the basics, he's had some practice with
the squirt."

Apollo started to open his mouth but Xander glared at him. "Leave my family alone, Apollo.
You don't want me to start a fight." The healer nodded, backing away from them. "Thank you.
Now, what else would cure them faster so they didn't have to go through the pain?" Giles
moaned, his head turning an inch or so back toward normal. He was shown the same loving care
that Oz had been, complete with kisses and whispered encouragement.

Asclepias pulled a book over to look through it. "It's said an apple from the original tree of life,
the one that burnt, would cure anything." He handed it over. "The newer version we have is
much younger, so therefore weaker. It'd cure some of it but not all the way and doing that may
curse them to being that way forever."

Xander looked at the tree. "When did it burn?"

"Back before Callisto got me," Strife said quietly. "She burned it. Herc had been made to bring
her and it got fired while they were fighting." He slid off the altar. "You can't time travel. It's

"He did it all the time when he didn't have control," Oz whispered as his mouth shifted back into
an almost normal position. He smiled up at Xander. "Still doing Picasso proud?"

"Nah, he'd think you were too normal." He ruffled through the red hair. "Why would they mind

"Because they would," Apollo told him. "Allowances were made for your inexperience and lack
of control, but this time it'd be deliberate and Zeus would never forgive you."

Xander picked up the book that Giles had carried with him, mentally converting the mixed up text
to something he could read. "What about this?" he asked, showing the entry to Ares.

The God of War shrugged. "I'm not sure. That's not my end. I'm not the thinker in this group,
I'm the muscle."

"And the beauty," Xander added, sneaking a blind kiss, which made Oz laugh when he hit his
nose. "See? He thinks so too."

"Yup," Oz said, "definitely the beauty of this outfit."

"Hey," Aphrodite said as she popped in. "I'm *much* prettier than Ares." She snorted. "As if.
He's all big and sweaty and hairy." She shuddered.

"He's beautiful to us," Xander told her, not looking up. "You're pretty but love makes your lover

"Point," she said with a smile, nudging her son's still form. "You still in there, Cupie?"

"Mother," he groaned, "don't call me that. Otherwise I'll sic Xander on your plants to make them
want you more than Heph."

She gave him her best 'little girl' smile. "You wouldn't really hurt your mommy that way, would
you, cutie?" Then she added insult to injury by pinching his cheek.

Xander looked up at her. "'Dite, leave him alone, he's a grown man and we hate our mothers
fussing over us. It makes us feel like we're Bliss' age again instead of our real one." He closed
the book, handing it to Asclepias behind the altar, his thumb marking the page he had found. She
was frowning at him. "It does. It makes us feel insecure about what we've managed to
accomplish on our own. And Cupid's a good boy, he's successful at his job and with his son, he
deserves to be recognized for the man he's become."

She pouted at him. "But then I feel so *old*." She kissed her son's cheek and popped out,
waving at him with a small 'sorry'.

Cupid smiled at Xander. "Way to go, man, she's finally not seeing me in diapers."

"Like to see that," Strife whispered, then straightened up as Ares gave him a 'look'. "What?"

"Can you help Asclepias? I think we should go close that meeting." He leaned down to kiss both
his men. "I'll bring Furry by later to see you both."

Oz grunted. "'Kay. Bring chocolate too?"

"Sure," Xander told him, giving him an extra kiss. He tickled Giles' ear then walked over to
where Ares was waiting on him. "Be back in a few, watch them for us."

Asclepias waved, waiting until his father and Cupid were gone to show the book to Strife. "Think
it'll work?"

"Only one way to find out," Strife said, concentrating on the image he had of the old Tree of Life.
He willed two of the apples to appear, grabbing the altar as they did, just a little worse for the
wear. "Pulp okay?" he joked, right before passing out.

Xander had been keeping an ear on Strife when he felt him go down. He popped from his chair
beside his still body, checking him over. "Strife, Strife, come on, wakey time." He lifted his head
into his lap, patting his face. "Come on, Strife, you're worrying me here. You've got to wake
up." He bit his lip when there was still no answer. "Why did I ask him to do that for me?" he
asked, looking up. Directly into a very pissed Zeus' face.

Zeus held out a hand. "Xander, come. We need to go discuss this."

"No, not until I know Strife is fine."

Asclepias fed some of the pulp into Strife's mouth. "He's just a little weak. He'll be fine." To
prove it the God of Mischief opened his eyes and grinned. Until he saw his grandfather.

"Don't yell at him, I wanted to. It hurts to see them in that sort of pain." He pushed himself up
with some help. "Did you help them?" he asked the healer, who nodded with a smile.

Giles sat up, fully whole. "Yes, I do think we'll be fine, thank you for doing that incredible act for
us." He smiled at Strife. "Do come up here and talk with us though, I believe you could use the
pillow more than I."

Oz groaned. "Hey, no fair." Xander hopped up and rubbed over his normal face. "I'm okay, just
a few more things to right." He held up his left hand, which was turned about ninety degrees.
"See?" He looked at Zeus, holding up his hand. "You would have too if it was someone you

"I know, that's why I'm not going to yell at him, just explain a few things to him." He held out a
hand for Xander, who took it after getting a few more kisses.

"I'll be back soon," he whispered, leaving with the Father of the Gods.

"Uh-oh," Strife whispered, cuddling between the lovers. "This okay?"

"Are you comfy?" Oz asked. He got a nod. "Then it's good."

Xander landed in front of Zeus' desk, sitting in the waved at chair. "I'm sorry and all that I had
him help me but I didn't want to see them in pain."

"I would have done the same thing, as would most of the rest of us. I wanted to talk to you about
all the traveling you seem to be doing and why it's so harmful." He cleared his throat. "You
know time is a fluid thing, something that's form can be changed very easily, am I correct?"
Xander nodded. "Every time one of us changes times, we run the risk of surely changing things
so that no one exists. Or so that things are vastly different."

"So the Slider's principle was right?"


"TV show, lots of worlds, each separated by a single event in history?"

"Yes, there is that. There are also some that have become so unstable that they've disappeared.
We were once faced with that problem and Ares was allowed to go fix it."

"The twilight, he told me," Xander said, relaxing. "You know until today I never could control

Zeus nodded. "Yes, I'm well aware of that, and why now that my own problems have been fixed.
But I'm concerned that you're still using time as a playground."

"I never did before. Usually it was an escape thing, or I was trying to do something and I ended
up in a 'when' instead. And earlier today, when the bubble broke, I do admit I timed it to save us

Zeus nodded. "Those reasons are all good. But the apple? I know you were considering going
back to it, though if we had a seed, we could replant the original tree." He wrote a note and sent
it to someone. "I'm worried that you'll start to take time lightly and therefore screw us all
royally," he said, leaning back. "Can you tell me I shouldn't be?"

"I'm going to try not to ever do so, not without good reason, and any that I really initiated were
with Ares, and they were to fix paradoxes."

"Yes, I'm aware of those also."

"I'm not going to change my stance, I'm not going to play with time, only use it as a method of
last resort to cure a problem."

"No, before you do that, I want you to come and ask my permission, get my help." Zeus leaned
forward. "I see much more of time than you do and I can see the repercussions things have when
you change them. I saw what had almost happened to us if you hadn't come back."

"I'd ask for everyone's help before I even considered it an option," Xander assured him. "There's
only one time that I couldn't see that, and that would be a spot thing, like if Ares was hurt, going
back five seconds to catch the arrow or whatever."

"But even that may have a purpose."

Ares popped in with Giles. "Oz is in bed and he's a Theta protector, Zeus. It would be
automatic." The Father of the Gods hissed, looking up at him. Ares put his hands on Xander's
shoulders. "It would be so instinctual that none of us could stop it and it applies to the whole
family. This is why Athena wanted to leash him and why I fought with her over it."

Athena was let into the room. "Ares, I was looking for you." She nodded at her father. "Come,
let's talk."

"In a minute. I'm explaining why Xander's a Theta protector."

"He fought beside my Chosen One, and beside Giles, for years. He's finely honed into a Theta
protector, father."

Giles leaned closer to her. "I think I have a cure," he whispered, "do come see us later?"

She looked at him and nodded. "I'll listen at least." He nodded and backed away so she turned
her attention on her father. "He's fine the way he is, Zeus, and he knows the risks. He's very
careful actually. This is all Strife's blood in his lineage."

"Leave Strife alone," Xander warned.

"See?" she said, waving a hand over Xander's head.

Zeus nodded. "Yes, I do. Ares, if he does something too outrageous protecting your family, you
will fix it?"

"Of course, Xander is my consort and Giles and Oz are his." He gave Giles a lusty look. "And
mine sometimes."

Xander tipped his head back. "Not right now, ki...Ares." His cat landed in his lap. "Hi, Furry."
He petted the purring creature. "As you can see, I'm firmly indoctrinated in the rules, and I won't
break them for no reason." He stood up, holding his cat to his chest, walking over to stand in
front of Giles. "Would you like to take Furry with you while you nap?" He held out the soothing

"Just don't let him sleep on my pillow," Ares said, disgusted. Xander gave him a pouting look.
"Oh, stop. He can't sleep on the bed, Xander. It's not good for any of us."

"But he loves your pillow. He likes to roll around in the hair you shed. Actually, he liked you
lots when we were, well, then." He grinned. "Just get to know Furry, you'll *love* him."

Ares grumbled and took the cat's hand, sending Giles, Athena, and himself home.

Xander wiggled his fingers. "We done?" Zeus nodded, sighing. "Cool, I'm gonna go be with
Strife and my man. Later." And he was gone.

"Why don't they speak English anymore," Zeus muttered, holding his head. "That child will be
the death of me yet."

"Yes, he will," Hera said as she walked through the door. "Thankfully, Xander likes Athena
enough to fix *your* mistake." She planted a dagger in the middle of her husband's desk. "I
would watch where you put your dick before we find out if it can live on it's own." She smiled
sweetly and walked out.

"Shrew," Zeus muttered, popping himself into his bedroom, where his favorite concubine was

Xander popped in next to Strife, matching Oz's position and curling around him. "How you guy's
doing?" Oz held up a hand, the last thing that had to move back into place, and it was only a few
centimeters off now. "Cool. I'm so glad." He leaned across Strife to give him a kiss. "You?" he
asked his step-nephew.

"Headache," Strife said quietly, wiggling to get closer to Oz. "Go jump Ares."

"But you need me," Xander said, hugging him harder, bringing both of them against his chest.
"I'm sorry I asked you to do that for me, I should have done it on my own." Oz's hand swatted
through his hair. "I should have, I shouldn't have risked Strife's health."

"I'm not feeble," he complained, pulling himself up to look down at him. "I really am a full God
and I can make my own decisions. I can even tell you no. Gods, talk about clingy." Xander
looked hurt and popped out, making Strife feel extremely guilty. "I'll apologize later," he told Oz,
flopping back down onto the altar.

Oz shook his head, pulling away. "Xander doesn't usually give a later. He's not real big on
forgiveness these last few years." He sat up, looking at his hand. "He almost never talked to
Giles again after he walked out on the group."

Strife moaned. "I'll go talk to him then."

"No," Oz said, pushing him back down. "You're supposed to be resting, I'll go talk to him."

"If you get off that altar, you'll stay like that. *I'll* go talk to Xander," Asclepias called, heading
out of the temple. He shook his head. "I guess I need to brush up on my counseling skills too,"
he told himself, popping over to Ares' temple. "Xander?" he called. Ares himself walked out,
glaring at him. "Strife's head was killing him and the kid tried to make him feel better by
apologizing for asking him to pull the apples."

Xander walked out. "I guess I was hoping for too much too soon. I thought he liked me more
than he did. I understand that fully. Tell him I'm sorry, 'kay?" He wandered back into the
bedroom. "Tell him to come find me if he wants me, I'll leave him alone otherwise."

Asclepias shook his head. "That's not the answer."

"No, but I know what is. He's fine, just a little down. Let's go talk to my nephew." They popped
out, Ares landing beside Strife. "He's not mad at you, he only wanted to be your friend. He's
been really lonely up here," he told him quietly, patting the side of his face. Strife rolled over to
look at him. "He has been lonely and he's trying to make us all happy by ...." He stopped as
Xander popped in.

"I can make my own apologies," he said calmly, walking up to the altar. "I pushed for too much
from you too soon, I understand that and I'm sorry. When you want to come spend some time
with me and do friend-type stuff, just yell." He blew a kiss at Oz and backed up. "I don't need
people to say things for me, I'm not Madonna." He popped back home to curl up behind Giles
and his cat.

"I didn't mean to hurt his feelings," Strife said, sitting up.

"He's feeling exactly the same way," Oz pointed out. "Down to the tiniest bit of guilt. He
thought he needed to try harder because of your relationship with Ares, he didn't want to seem
like he was taking your place. And you're feeling the same thing. Maybe you two should actually
talk before he hugs Giles so hard he'll be back here with broken things."

Strife nodded, popping in beside Giles. "Xander, come talk to me." He held out a hand, popping
them to what had been his temple but obviously Cupid had taken it over to get away from his
mother. "Go away," he called, checking to see if they were alone.

"Go find a more private place, Xander and I have peace," Cupid called back. His head came
around a doorway. "And Heph said you were staying with them until your own temple was

"He's backed up," Xander said, waving. "Sorry, we'll go walk in a garden or something." He
waved toward the edge of the temple circle. "How about out there?"

"Sure," Strife said, moving them. They leaned against an outcropping of rock to cloud watch.
"Oz pointed out to me that we're fighting over the same thing. I want you to like me because you
took my place and you're doing the same thing, right?"

"You have a place I could never take over," Xander assured him.

"Hey, stop. Just let's be honest. You're a clingy guy and you cling to Ares, which isn't bad. As an
anchor's he's a huge, steady one, but you and he have something he and I never had."

"Um, don't... don't want to know about that." He turned a little green.

"Sorry," Strife said, blushing. "It's just kind of accepted. You really don't fool around with the
other Gods? Not even with the looks 'Dite and Hades were giving you?"

"Nope, I need the feelings."


"That's *way* personal, Strife, and something I've been trying hard to forget about. Just leave it
at the level of 'I need them' and drop it, 'kay?"

"Sure. But are we ever going to get this solved?"

"What solved? I was pushing too hard for friendship and you were trying hard not to hurt Ares."
Xander shrugged. "No big, I actually understand."

"Nope, we're still talking two different languages."

"What? I talk funny? This was the thing when I was growing up."

"Maybe that's the problem," Strife told him, turning his head to look at him. "I understand you
fine, but you're not doing the same."

"I'm hearing you, Strife," Xander said quietly, not looking at him. "Just tell me when I get too
pushy and I'll stop."

Strife groaned, grabbing Xander's hand and putting the thoughts directly into his head so there
couldn't be a misunderstanding. "See now?" Xander nodded, biting his lip. "I can't take the
clinging. Same as 'Dite needed to let Cupid go, I don't need it either."

"Yeah, but I just wanted to be friends. This is how I am." He got up, heading back to the
temples. "Come get me when you want to go play or something."

Strife groaned, holding his head. "Why isn't this easy?" He felt Hades pop in beside him, he
knew who he was very well from his time of being dead. They had bonded, a lot. "What?" he

"Xander's father just died," Hades said quietly. "I'm not sure what to do about him."

"He just left."

"I can't tell him, not without letting everyone know. I need you to tell him and pass back the
information to me." He patted Strife's shoulder. "I think you'll understand. Just keep up some
heavy shields when you tell him."

Strife nodded, standing up. "Any other bad news?"

"Yes, but it can wait."

Strife popped out, finding Xander sitting in the main gardens, sitting down beside him but
straddling the bench so he could whisper in his ear. "Your father just died," he said, touching the
younger God as he stiffened. "Hades wanted to know what you wanted done with him." He
pulled back, listening to what the younger man was thinking. And what he heard made him very
glad that the man was dead. "If he's punished, the other Gods could go look him up and find
out," he cautioned.

"But if I just let it go?" Xander asked coldly.

"Then nothing would be written." He pulled his step-uncle closer. "I do understand," he said
quietly. "There's a reason why Discord isn't going to be anywhere near my family."

"So the issue is whether to let everyone know or not?"

Strife nodded. "Basically."


"And what?"

Xander pulled away, looking at him. "Why didn't Hades come tell me?"

"If he had done that, someone would have snooped." Strife shrugged. "He does want an

"I..." Xander stopped and thought about all the bad things his father had ever done to him. "I
can't let him go unpunished. My time as Hades' assistant taught me that much. I'll go ask the
meddler to restrict access to him." He popped out, heading for his worst enemy, who was a
mother and should understand. "Hera?" he asked, sitting on the ground beside her chair. "I need
a major favor."

"What?" she asked. "Did you mess up with Ares?"

"No, my father's died and I don't want anyone to go snoop in his file." He looked up at her,
opening his mind as far as he could, unconsciously broadcasting to the other three inhabitants in
the garden: Artemis, who was picking herbs, Zeus, who was hiding from his wife in the last place
she'd look, and Discord, who had followed him. "All I want is for you to make sure no one

She read the thoughts and winced, rearranging her views of the God in front of her. "I can do
that," she said, passing a hand over his head and strengthening his shields. "Go relax, I'll tell Strife
what to tell him." She stood up, handing him the basket of breadcrumbs for her peacocks. "Feed
them if you stay please."

Xander listlessly threw handfuls of the crunchy, stale bread at the decorated animals, not wanting
to go back into his mind.

Hera found Strife in the gardens, pulling him down onto a bench. "Shouldn't you be resting?"

"Shouldn't you be not bothering Xander?"

"He asked me to make sure that no one went looking for the man." Strife nodded, his shoulders
getting just a little squarer. "There is no way that man should go unpunished and I will make sure
no one snoops or I will bring my full wrath on them."

Strife nodded, getting up. "I've already seen." He popped out, heading for where he could feel
Hades. "Hey," he said, popping in behind him. "He said punish him and Hera agreed to restrict
the access to him."

Hades nodded, typing something into his computer. "Done," he said. "He's going to experience
exactly what was done to the kid."

"And if abuse is truly circular?"

"Some is but it's no less harmful. There'll be a 'him' there that will treat him the same and call him
Xander." Hades shook his head. "It does explain a few things though."

"May I? I only got a few seconds look into his mind."

"What are you going to use it for?" Hades said carefully. "I won't allow that boy to be harmed,
not for anything." He gave his great-nephew a stern look. "Go get him to tell you, it might help
him some."

"He won't, he...we fought, Hades, and I'm not sure how to cure it." The God of the Underworld
had become like a father to him once he had entered his domain, and they had gotten much closer
over the centuries Strife has spent down there.

"Obviously, but you'll figure it out. You and Xander could be the best of friends, if you'd let him
be. You've had just as many trust issues as he had. He just deals differently." He waved Strife
away, sending him to Ares' temple.

Strife leaned over Ares' napping form. "You need to get up, Xander needs you."

"No he doesn't," Xander said as he walked into the room with a glass of milk. "He's fine."

"Then tell me what's wrong," Strife challenged.

"Why?" Xander looked up at him. "Are you actually interested?"

Ares looked at his consort. "Xander, he's interested if he asked. Really." He closed his eyes
again. "Just let me sleep."

"Sorry, Ares," Xander whispered, nodding Strife out into their living room. He closed the door
behind him, pulling the God of Mischief down to his part of their shared temple. "Why do you
want to know? There's nothing that can be done and he's being punished."

"True," Strife said, leaning back against the desk with the computer on it, "but it'd make you feel

"Not." Xander paced around the room. "There is nothing in my past that talking over will help
me feel better about. I'm not built like that. And for that matter, whatever you heard, forget."
He turned to look at the other God. "Just forget it, Strife, I'm not going to tell anyone anything
and it's over with. Has been for a few years. I don't have a past, just a collection of moments and
decent memories and I'm leaving it that way." He got a small nod. "I'm going to go nap, play
games or something on the computer, just don't wake Ares up, he's feeling grumpy." He popped
out, stripping and climbing into bed.

Strife broke off his mental following as soon as the younger God slid under the covers but he did
count to see how long it was before the nightmares started, ones he knew all too well.


It had been three days since Xander had fought, or whatever, with Strife and Ares was truly tired
of the funk his consort was in. So he decided to fix it. He pasted on his best smile, walking out
to the kitchen area. "Good morning," he said cheerfully, careful not to add gagging noises.

Xander glared at him over his coffee cup. "Who spiked your coffee with Midol," he asked

Oz looked at them and moved far out of their ranges, pulling Giles with him. "Going to help Bliss
with his reading," he called.

Ares waited until he was sure they were alone. "Good, now tell me what Strife did."

"He was just the messenger." Xander finished his coffee with one swallow, putting the cup down
a little hard on the counter. "I have no problems with Strife, we understand each other now." He
looked at his lover. "You?"

"None whatsoever except being woken up by your nightmares." He pulled the now-stiff younger
God into his arms, hugging him tightly. "Tell me what happened, Xander, let me make it better."

"My father died."

"And you're sad."

"No, not in the least bit," Xander said, pulling away. "And no, I don't wonder why either. I know
why I'm not sad, it's because I've kept myself from killing him all these years." He looked up at
his lover. "I'm not sad, I'm pissed. And I'm even more pissed that I had to make a choice about
his punishment so everyone wouldn't know. And I'm pissed that this topic is being drug on. Just
drop the subject." He walked away from Ares, who was frowning in confusion now. "Go spar
with Strife, you could both use the exercise." He plopped himself in front of the tv, turning it on
with a flick of his hand.

Ares popped down to the gym, looking at his nephew. "What's going on with you two?" he asked

"I brought him bad news and I found out why it was bad. I suggested he talk to you about it and
he went off." The God of Mischief shrugged. "Not my thing, his. Grab a sword. You need to
really work out today."

Ares grinned at him, a lecherous, dangerous smile. "Yes, I do. Xander cheats."

"The pure little good guy? The one sitting upstairs in a dark funk worthy of you?"

"Yes, him. He used to fight beside Athena's Chosen Protector and he knows how to turn aside an
enemy to hit them from behind, but he wouldn't learn how to do it face to face."

"I've seen him fight," Strife mentioned, grabbing his own sword. "He does okay."

"He could be better."

"He could have less head congestion due to bad thoughts too," Strife pointed out. "From what I
heard, Hades is lucky he's not been down there to punish him himself."

"Why get the Furies onto him," Ares said blithely, picking up his sword and facing off against his
favorite nephew. "Just think what they would do to him."

"Not if he has an iron-clad reason," Strife said, opening his mind to his Uncle.


Ares shuddered, pulling back into his own mind. "I'm going to go up there, do something." He
popped up to sit beside his lover, turning off the tv, which went back on instantly. "Xander, turn
it off, I want to talk to you."

"I don't," he said, flipping channels again to MTV Europe. "Any more discussion warranted?"

Strife popped in on the other side of Xander, squeezing in between him and the armrest. He
simply grabbed the younger God and hugged him tightly. "He understands. That's why he raised
me," he said after a few minutes of silence. He felt the first shake of the thin body, giving Ares a
sad look. "I do understand and if you want, I'll leave you two alone." He was clutched tightly.

"No, don't go." Xander let himself go, surrounded by love and understanding. When he finally
pulled himself away, he wiped off his face and kissed Strife's cheek. "You're a good guy," he
said, getting up and heading for the bathroom to go soak.

Ares opened his arms, letting Strife crawl into them. "Where is he?"

"In the darkest part of Tartarus, Hades is doing the whole 'you're going to live the pain you
caused' thing with him." Strife relaxed into the strong arms, knowing that they would shelter him.

Ares nodded. "I want him. He's mine."

"Hera's decreed no interfering."

"Yay," Ares said coldly. "If Xander won't do it, I will."

"I'm fine," Xander said from the doorway, "want to come soak with me, Ares?"

"No, I need to go talk to my mother." He stood up and looked at his lover, who slammed the
door. "He deserves more," he called.

"Leave it!" Xander called back, more sharp and deadly. "He's being punished."

The sound of the bathroom door slamming made Ares wince. Strife looked up at him. "Go be
with him, he needs you, not for you to go take vengeance." He wiggled his fingers and popped
out, directly into Hera's library, next to her on her couch. He listened while Ares got into his own
bathroom and climbed in with his lover to hold him. "I want him," he said quietly, holding up a
finger when she opened her mouth. "It's me or Ares, take your pick."

Hera handed him a crystal key. "You have to tell him, get his input into it."

Strife nodded. "Whatever. He finally told Ares what was going on this morning." He saw the cat
sitting in the other chair. "What's up with Furry?"

"I have no idea, he was here when I walked in this morning." She tossed a small piece of meat at
the cat, who sniffed and licked it before eating it. "He certainly is protective of the boy."

"Wouldn't you be?"

"From now on," Hera agreed. "Though it wouldn't do any good to tell him that." She shuddered.
"Not even the Furies could harm him for that."

"They'd try," Strife reminded her. He popped out, landing in the bathroom, sitting on the floor
and looking at the couple. He put the key on the side of the tub, leaving it there.

"Leave it," Xander sighed, leaning back against Ares' chest and closing his eyes, "he's getting what
he deserves."

"He's reliving the pain he gave you as you," Ares said quietly, picking up a sponge to wipe down
the firm chest. "This doesn't make me like you any less." Strife gave him a hard look. "Or love,"
he amended, getting a grin instead.

"No, but you're going to look at me differently. I wanted to be judged on what I did, not on what
my past was like."

"Your past makes you who you are," Ares reminded him. "I'm not looking at you any differently.
Did I after I found out about that other guy?" Xander nodded. "I did? How?"

"You started being gentler with me. You changed how we made love so I wouldn't be reminded
of him."

Ares thought for a second the nodded, going back to his stroking. "True, but that was so you'd
still sleep with me. All this knowledge makes me do is marvel that you turned out okay and that
you survived."

"Miracles of modern science," Xander said calmly, then yawned. "Leave him alone, he's not
worth the sweat."

"Xander, not even the Furies could fault you for hurting him."

"Bet me."

"Want to ask them?"

"Not right now, Ares," Xander said, turning onto his side, facing away from Strife, and curling up
on his lover's chest. "You can ask later but I'm still not hurting him."

Ares gave Strife a look that was a plain request so he left to find the Furies. He landed in front of
one of them, catching the whip in his hand. "No thanks, I need to ask a question, not play." He
opened up the memories he had to the lead one. "If someone had went through this, would they
merit punishment from you if they hurt the person who harmed them."

"If it's a favor, we could do that," she purred, dragging one blood red nail down his chest ,
opening up a small cut. He shivered, removing her hand. "Ordinarily not though. Why? He
seems familiar."

"He's one of us," Strife said quietly. "We're checking before he goes to take part in the

"For that he wouldn't be punished, it would be justifiable," she said, leaning closer and latching
onto his lip with her teeth. "We'll protect him."

"Good, it's Xander." She pulled back, frowning at him. "What?"

"We've had a request to go after him by another of you. They said it was unjustifiable."

"No, that's just a portion of what he got. Should we worry?"

"No, don't worry. We will not come after him, no matter who says we should."

Strife leered at her. "I'll come back later and play if you'd like."

She slapped his face. "If you'd like." She turned and walked away from him.

He popped back into the bathroom, coming face to stomach with a pissed Xander. "I was just
making sure."

"By telling her?" He pulled the God of Mischief up. "Strife, I don't want people to know, okay.
No one. No matter who, what, or why. Can you grasp that one?" Strife nodded, his whole body
caving in so Xander pulled him in for a hug. "Think about it this way, would you want people to

"No, but I did get some information. Someone else had requested that they come for you." Ares
popped in, glaring. "She said they wouldn't."

"We'll be careful just in case," Ares said, walking up behind Xander and pulling him off his
nephew. "Enough of this. Xander, you decided to go ask him something and Strife, I need to

Xander nodded, taking the key and popping out.

Ares looked at Strife. "Make sure *no* one harms him. If they try and you can't handle it, call

"Sure thing, Unc." He popped out to get his invisibility cloak, then went to Hades' office, where
Xander was waiting.

Xander was pacing across the office, waiting on Hades to come in and talk to him. When the
God of the Underworld finally did appear, he didn't look too pleased. "Free time is precious, kid,
what do you need?"

"I want to ask him something." He leaned on the desk. "I need to know why."

Hades nodded and handed him back the key. "He's in the last truly dark place. The key will
guide you and light your way." He stood back up. "You don't have to call when you're done."
Xander shot him a small smile and disappeared. Hades looked at the God in the corner. "That
won't work down here unless I will it, Strife, what's going on?"

Strife took off his hood. "Someone requested the Furies take an interest in Xander." Hades
shuddered. "Yeah, so Ares sent me to guard him."

"Okay, you can follow, just no trouble. No more uprisings." He smiled then disappeared.

Strife put back up his hood and followed the younger God's power signature, landing behind him
outside of the cell. "Did Ares send you?" Xander asked quietly.

"Yup, just in case the Furies came for you."

"Whatever, stay out here. And *don't* listen." He turned the crystal key, walking inside but
taking it with him. "Father," he said coldly. The man lying on the floor looked up at him.

"Why what?" he asked, getting up. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here because I wish to be here." Xander looked around the room, opening his mind up to the
demon administering the punishment so he could do it better. "Why are you here?"

"Do I get to leave?"

"No." Xander looked him over. "This is your eternity, get used to it." He turned, starting to
leave. "Bye."

"What is it with you people? First her and now you? And you're not even a proper God from
what she said," Xander's father called. Xander turned back around to look at him. "Yeah, I knew
what you became. Some God's concubine. A fuck-up with screwy powers, literally."

Xander leaned against the door. "Not really. I'm a full God in my own right. Who told you

"Some chick."

"Describe her," Xander said cooly. "I'll make them pass up my sixth birthday." His father
swallowed hard. "Describe her," he said slowly, making sure he understood the request.

"She was some wannabe man. Tough acting but she's just a puffball inside, you know the type,
like that blonde chick that you used to hang out with."

"That doesn't narrow it down much, physical description," he barked.

"Short. Dark. Liked to say she played pain games." He shrugged. "Whatever, they all lie, you
know that."

"Actually, father, they don't. Some do like pain more than others." He inserted the key into the
door, walking out. "Have fun with my birthday."

"But...but you promised. Son? Son!" he yelled, pounding on the door as it shut, unable to get
out. "You promised!"

"Yeah, but it's something you need to relive." He pocketed the key, nodding Strife to follow him.
"You heard?"

"More than I wanted. Narrows it down to two."

"Athena's pregnant."

"One then. Where do you think Discord got the information?"

"Not a clue," Xander said, popping them back to Ares' temple, where Discord was tossing pillows
off the couch. "What makes you think you're welcome here?" he asked cooly, sending everything
back into it's proper place with a thought.

"I'm Ares' sister."

"Yay, and?"

"You're just temporary," she sneered, "he'll toss you over some day and I'll be back. He always
does it."

"So? Then I'll go hang with Strife." He leaned a little closer to her. "Discord, even if Ares and I
break up, he'll never take you back, you're a psycho stalker. Get over him. He doesn't want you."
He dodged the nails she sent at his face, almost. He shrugged off the small amount of pain. "Had
worse than that recently, want to try again?"

"Oh, I *heard*," she purred, standing up to face off to him. "I *heard* so much that I'm sure you
don't want me to go tell anyone." She smirked at her own son. "But it explains why you hang
with him."

Strife sent a mental call to Cupid, who popped in with his bow. "Xander, want to practice with
the bow?" he asked, notching it and pointing it at Discord. "Leave, ho, you're not welcome in my
father's temple."

She laughed. "And you are? You're a freak. Where *did* your wings come from, Cupid?
There's no winged freaks in Ares' side of the family."

"No, you're the freak," Cupid changed arrows to one of his strongest love ones. "Go or fall in
love with the cat."

"Like I'm scared," she said, shrugging. "You won't hurt me, you're too *good*."

Aphrodite popped in behind Discord, grabbing her by her dark hair. "Bitch, come with me," she
said, popping out with her in tow. "I think we need to have a talk about you threatening my

Xander slumped. "I was handling it."

"I know, but I was serious about the bow practice." Cupid smiled at him. "I just did a review of
your last few cases. You're right, you look funny."

Xander laughed, shaking his head. "Let me tell the over-protective one where I'm going." His
laughter stopped as three women came through the wall. "What?" he asked, looking at them.
"Discord's helpers?"

Strife stepped in front of Xander. "This is the one I talked to you about. He's done nothing
wrong to his parents."

"He still has sins to atone for," the lead Fury said, uncoiling her whip.

Xander shook his head. "What sins? I've been pretty decent my whole life." He dodged the first
blow from the whip, catching it in his hand and pulling her closer. "I don't have any, search me if
you don't believe me. And if Discord put you onto me, then she's a lying whore." He looked at
Strife. "Sorry."

"No big, she is a whore and she does lie." He looked at the Furies. "Read him and see for
yourself. He's been generous most of the time and he didn't even hurt his father when we were
down there."

Xander patted himself down for the key. "Did I give it to you?"

"I have it," Cupid said, dangling it from his finger.

The Furies gathered around Xander and he swallowed hard. "Open your mind to us." He did so,
allowing them as deep as they wanted to go. They all backed off, shaking their heads. "How
could you kill your minions needlessly?"

"I didn't have minions until after I stopped killing them," Xander pointed out. "I wasn't a God
until a few years ago." He shrugged at their dirty looks. "What?"

"You've been touched by Gods all your life. You mean to tell us you never knew?"

"We had no idea," Giles said, walking out. "The one I knew about I begged to leave him alone.
Though he is of Ares' and Strife's lineage. Who other than Athena has touched him?"

"*Athena* touched me? I should have remembered that."

"She helped you bring back Buffy from the Master's drowning," Giles said quietly. He looked up
at the Furies again. "Do you have proof he warrants punishment?"

"No, he does not if what you say is true."

Ares coughed from the doorway. "I thought I felt you three. He handed over a scroll. "His life."
He wrapped his arm around Xander's waist. "He's pure, no reason for any of you to be here."

"*Discord* sent them," Xander said cooly. He looked up at them. "And?" The Furies shrugged
and disappeared, dropping the scroll. He looked over at Strife. "Thanks for the timely
intervention, both of them."

"I only stepped in front of them," Strife said. "The rest was all you."

"I felt you in trouble," Giles said, stealing him from Ares to hug him. "Are you safe?"

"For now. But she was with my father too." He heard the sound of glass breaking. "Cupid," he
asked, turning to him. "What's wrong?"

"She's been with your father?"

"We're going to talk to Hera," Ares said, putting Xander onto the couch and handing him a
pillow. "Stay."

"I can..." Ares held up a finger. "Fine, I'll stay if it makes you feel better."

Ares nodded, looking at Giles before he and Cupid left, taking Strife with them. Giles sat down
beside Xander, pulling him in for a hug. "This is truly not what you need right now," he
whispered, "but I would like to be able to comfort you too."

"You're very comforting," Xander said, wiggling to get closer to his side, "but I don't need
comforting or watched."

"It's best to cover all possible alternatives," Giles told him, rubbing down the younger man's side.
He nodded at Oz when he popped in, watching as he crawled in under Xander's stretched out
legs. "Why don't you need comforting?"

"Because he's not worth mourning." Xander looked up then over at Oz. "I don't think either of
you could understand."

"Let us?" Oz asked, reaching over to brush across Xander's forehead. "I want to know."

"But it's bad."

"I won't tell," Oz said, shifting so he was laying on Xander's side, wrapping his arms around him.
He felt the gates of Xander's mind open to him, wincing at the figure of a small him hooked up to
machines. "When was that?" he whispered.

"My sixth birthday. All because of that clown." Xander rubbed his face on Giles' shirt, sniffing
him. "I really didn't want a clown anyway and that one was the one that scared me. But when I
complained, he called me a prissy primadonna and beat me pretty badly with one of my presents."

"Why were your ribs taped?" Giles asked, easily pulling the images from both men's mind.

"Because little bits of my super squirt gun lodged in my torn up chest. Those were bandages."
He laughed bitterly. "And still no one saw what was going on. The doctor made a report, I
found that out a few years later, but the social workers said another kid did it."

"How could a kid do that?" Oz whispered, shuddering. "I don't think I'm that strong now."

"Well, he had given her a bribe. Found that out later too."

"When?" Giles asked, playing with the younger man's hair, twisting it around his fingers.

"When I got picked up for screaming at him on the front lawn. Yes, I do have one juvenile arrest,
for public disturbance. Found out then that the social worker was now in jail for taking bribes and
that no one was going to do anything about him." He shivered, sinking into the two bodies. "The
judge dismissed the case, calling it a 'teen thing'. When I complained, he told me he could throw
me in jail for 'sassing' him, and I told him it'd be better than being beaten to death this time." He
snorted. "The judge actually said I could use some more 'whooppin's' if I was so defiant."

Hades popped in, reaching down to brush over Xander's face. "Hey, you doing okay?"

"What's going on?"

"Your friend Willow managed to escape and I wanted to make sure you were okay." Xander
nodded, looking up at him. "But that Judge is down there too. He figured out what he had said
and committed suicide. He's paid his dues and moved on, he was usually fair. No one told him
about the other stuff."

"Yay," Xander said, closing his eyes. "I'll be fine, she won't come for me. She'll go find a way to
get back at me."

"No she won't," Giles said. "I've already sent my people after her. If they find her, she'll be
brought back."

"Who'd you send?" Xander asked, looking up.

"Spike." He smiled down at his lover. "He went to go cause trouble for Angel so I'm answering
his sire's prayer."

Oz shook his head. "It's odd to think of those two praying to you."

"I haven't from Spike, I just sent a message to Angel to have Spike go find her. He's using it to
get rid of him."

"Ah, good plan," Xander said, laying his head back down. "Anything else, Hades?"

"No," he said with a small smile. "You're still fine so everything's okay."

"Hades, you didn't need to know and I don't want you to know. Got it?"

"Wasn't that, kid, really. I've decided I'm adopting you." He winked and left at the pleased snort.

"Him and Aphrodite both," he shuddered, "that's a strange pair. Give me better thoughts?"

"Of course," Oz told him, rubbing his hands down the firm stomach. "I need them too."

"Hmm," Xander sighed in appreciation. "Oz rubbies." He rolled to have the slightly older man on
top of him while their heads rested on Giles' thighs. "I could use rubbies."


Ares walked around to stand in front of his mother. "What do you mean you won't punish her?
She broke one of your rules."

"You said you were going to protect him," Strife added, petting Furry.

Hera sighed, turning to face the younger Gods. "And I meant that, but I can't punish her for
what's part of her innate nature."

"No," Ares said, holding up a finger. "This isn't part of her being the Goddess of Discord. This is
her having a problem with Xander. She's been following him around for a while now. If she was
just trying to use her powers, I'd know." Hera nodded, starting to look thoughtful.

"The *least* you could do is find out whether or not it is," Cupid said reasonably. "Call her here
and ask her."

"Good point, Cupid," she said, nodding. "Discord, I summon thee," she called. There was no
answer after a few moments. Ares' face turned cold. "Go find her and bring her here." The three
gods popped out, making Hera shudder. "I'm very glad I'm not going up against those three," she
told herself.


Discord allowed herself to be seen, smirking down at Xander. "How nice, Ares left me a
prezzie," she purred, grabbing him. She popped out before either Giles or Oz could touch her
physically or with their powers. It paid to be an older god against the younger ones. She popped
in to her lover's chambers, smiling and holding up her prize. "I found him for you, my love." She
dropped Xander onto the ground, walking over him to rest in her lover's arms. "May I have my
reward now?"

"Of course," Dahak said smoothly, almost purring as he smirked at Xander while he twisted
Discord's neck until it snapped. "Oops." He dropped her still living, but very still, form then
walked over to where Xander was trying to pull himself to his feet. "Ah, my greatest enemy,
taken away from all of his protectors."


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