Trial By Jury, Accusations By Family

Xander appeared on the mortal plane, sitting down on the bench in the mall, looking around to see if there was any reason for him to really be there. He shook his head and looked over his shoulder as he felt someone coming in behind him, turning to find Strife grinning down at him. "I got my Kitten a puppy and he yelled," Xander pouted.

"Why don't we go eat then?" Strife asked, waving their clothes back to their usual work state. "C'mon, there's a lot of great mortal places to eat."

"Yeah, I guess. I haven't been treating myself recently." Xander changed his clothes to his favorite leather pants and his favorite silk tank-top and overshirt. "There, now we look more alike. Where do you want to eat?"

"Well, this is LA, we could go to Spagos. It'll be closing after tonight."

Xander nodded. "I always wanted to go eat there." He waved at the air. "Let's go."

Strife pointed down at Xander's bare feet, which got covered with English riding boots. "Cool by me," he noted, shrugging as he dragged Xander to one of his favorite places to get away from people; no one cared who he was when he was there as long as he paid the check, and no one ever came up to bother him. He smiled at the girl taking reservations, altering her book so that they were in there. "We're a little early," he said, zapping her so they'd get seated immediately. There were certain matters of protocol that you had to deal with when you were on the mortal plane pretending to belong there.

She smiled at them and picked up two menus, leading them back to one of the darker corner tables, putting the menus down and getting out of their way. "I'll tell the head waiter that you're back," she said warmly, giving Strife a smile. "I'm sure he'll be right out." She left them, going to tell someone they were there.

"Wow," Xander whispered in appreciation, "you really do this a lot?"

"Sometimes. It's great to get away from people." He opened his menu and looked it over. "Their pastas are to die for, but so is most everything."

Xander opened his menu and looked down it, his mouth watering. "I'm going to be such a glutton tonight," he decided.

"Good, ya deserve it," Strife reminded him. "You're the hardest working of all of us."

Xander blushed. "Thanks, man. You're a great friend." He smiled at Strife. "What are you getting?"

"My usual, the steak and pasta dish. Why?"

"Because I wanted to sample some of a lot of things so I figured on tasting a bite of yours, but I didn't want to order the same thing."

"Oh. Whatever." Strife looked up as their waiter walked over. "Hi, Juan. What's shakin'?"

"Nothing much, sir," he said with a smile. "Your usual?"

"Yeah, and whatever sort of sampler ya got for bright boy here," he said, snatching Xander's menu and handing them both over. "Watch the wine for us though, huh? He's not supposed ta be drinkin'."

"Of course," the waiter said, nodding at Xander. "Water also?"

"Please," Xander said, giving him a smile. The waiter nodded and left. "Okay, wow was an understatement," he said as he looked around. "I like places like this," he decided. He reached down to scratch at his thigh and Strife kicked him.

"Don't do that in here, it's not good. We get noticed then," Strife whispered. He pulled both of his credit cards out of thin air and put them on the table, frowning at them. "Unc confiscated my stuff," he whispered, looking at the new names that were on the cards.

Xander made his own appear and they too had Ares name on them. "Guess we're in deep huh?" he asked, giving his dinner companion a grin. "Want to fix this?"

"Sure." Strife pulled another card out under the table, looking it over. "Cupe won't mind."

Xander goggled at him. "Way braver than I am," he said after a second. "You sure?"

"Yeah, I'll pay him back. Or let him take it outta my hide," he said with a wink and a leer.

Xander snickered. "Yeah, you two seem to like doing that to each other."

"All the time, Xander, all the time." He looked up as a waiter walked over to their table, smiling when he saw it was his cousin who was carrying their salads. "Hey, Harm. What's shakin' on your end of the world?"

"Daddy told me to come give you two heck," she said, smiling at Strife. She pocketed Cupid's credit card. "He said you two are not supposed to be down here right now. He's getting ready to go to Grandpa."

Strife waved it off. "He's pissed because we didn't invite him. Tell him we're just havin' a little friendship time and he can get over it."

Xander held up a finger. "Maybe I should have a talk with him." He yawned and closed his eyes, stretching upwards to make it look normal as he sent a thought winging out to Ares, telling him where they were and what was going on. He looked down at the cards in front of him and smiled, holding one up. "All fixed."

"Nope," Strife said, touching it. "It's maxed out."

"How? It's limitless," Xander pointed out.

"Yeah, I know." Strife shrugged and touched his own card, frowning at it. "Okay, Unc's still mad but he's gotten sneakier."

"That would be Oz," Harmonia said as she put down the bottle of salad dressing. "I'd tell him too, before he shows up."

Xander winked at Strife and pulled a card down, putting it in front of him. "Serves the sneaky one right," he said at her frown. "He'll come and find us."

"Yeah, I will," Oz said as he walked over to the table, visible to everyone but looking very normal in some of Xander's clothes. He pushed Xander over, smiling at Harmonia. "I'll have what Strife's having. Oh, that's mine," he said, taking back the credit card.

"You froze mine," Xander pointed out. Oz smiled at him and glanced down, making Xander smile too. "Can we go pick up... couplish stuff?" he asked quietly, next to Oz's ear.

Oz nodded. "Definitely. I'll even let you buy me supper before we do that." He handed Xander over a third card. "This is the new one. We have our own bank now." He scooted Xander over a little more and got comfortable, picking a crouton out of Xander's salad to nibble on. "Harmonia," he said quietly. "I placed an order."

She snorted and walked away, no longer staring down the front of Xander's shirt.

Xander looked down the front of his shirt then over at Oz. "What was she staring at?"

"I guess she never saw what her daddy saw in you," Strife said, winking at Oz. "So, we were going to have a quiet dinner."

"Good. I could use that. Giles is helping the kids make a mess in the kitchen and I wanted to be far away." He gave Strife a steady look. "Did you mind my barging in?"

"Not really," Strife admitted, "but you guys are way overprotective of Xander."

"Yeah, but with the trial coming up," Oz reminded him, "it's good to be that way. We don't know who else is working with *him*. There's lots of people who would like to see him hurt because of your mother."

A deeper voice cleared his throat as he walked over to their table. "Strife," he said quietly, "why are you here?"

"Iol...Ian," Strife said, grinning at him. "I came to eat an excellent dinner and to enjoy some of my step-uncle's company. You?"

The other man, a man with blond, slightly curly hair and a well built body, sat down next to Strife. "I was told I was to come here to get a ride. Seems I'm not the only one to be picked up tonight."

Xander groaned. "So much for a quiet evening," he said, putting down his fork. He looked over at the man he barely remembered. "Hey, you used to run around with that self-righteous one, right?"

Ian nodded. "Yeah, that was me." He looked him over. "Weren't you an assistant the last time I saw you?"

"Over the Overlooked now," he said, holding out a hand. "Xander."

"Yeah, I remember. You used to enjoy watching your... friend beat on us."

"Only sometimes," Xander corrected, "and never on you." He pouted. "I'm a good boy. Just ask anyone."

Oz nodded. "Most of the time he is," he agreed. "Oz." He held out a hand.

Ian shook it. "Ian McKensie, presently." He looked back at Strife. "Can you give me a lift back up there? I've been called to testify and my Goddess won't do that. She's still way pissed at Ares."

"Sure. After dinner." He looked at Xander, who subtly shrugged. "Want to join us?"

Ian stood up with a smile. "No, thank you," he said quietly, "I have a dinner date with an old friend." He walked over to a table across the room from them, sitting down next to the Goddess Artemis, who waved at them.

"Way overprotective," Strife muttered. He looked at Oz. "We okay now?"

"Very." Oz leaned back as his salad was put in front of him. "Thanks," he told the waiter. "Did you get my order?" Their waiter nodded and backed away from the table, leaving them alone.

Xander stole one of Oz's croutons and gave him a grin. "Hi," he said at the frown.

"I'll make you pay for that later," Oz grumbled as he poured dressing on his salad.

"You stole one of his, it's only fair," Strife pointed out, kicking Oz under the table before giving him a grin.

"You, too, can pay," Oz reminded him, making Strife shiver. "Thought so. Maybe after the trial." He looked over at Xander, who was staring down at his salad. "I'm sorry," he whispered, leaning closer. "You okay?" he asked when he didn't get a response.

"Yeah, just thinking about the trial." Xander shrugged and brushed his thoughts off. "So, I'm getting a sampler and you're getting the steak and pasta dish that Strife's getting. Can I get some other stuff that looked pretty good to take home?"

"Sure," Oz said, patting his arm. "Eat, Xander, you'll need it when we go buy stuff for us to play with."

Xander smiled and started to eat, but his mind was still on the upcoming trial.


Oz materialized money to pay for the bill, having checked the other credit cards once he found out Xander's favorite one was dead. He smiled at the waiter. "Sorry, we're in the middle of a card switch. I thought I still had a few days."

The waiter smiled as he took the cash up to the register, coming back with the change and a few boxes of things for Xander. "Thank you for coming here on our last night. We hope you have a good life and find another special place to go spend time." He nodded at Strife and left them alone.

"Way cool," Xander noted, sending the food back to their temple's kitchen but keeping an illusion of the boxes so he wouldn't have to carry them. He followed Oz outside and looked around. "What did we do with the car we had last time?" he asked quietly.

"We sent it back where it came from," Oz noted. He looked at Strife. "Want to come help us shop?"

"Nope, that's a couple's activity," he said, winking at Xander as he turned and walked down the street, disappearing between shadows.

"C'mon," Oz said quietly, leading Xander away so they could do the same thing and not draw attention to themselves. They reappeared in front of Ares' favorite porn and toy store, walking inside together. Oz subtly made the box illusions disappear as he wrapped an arm around Xander's waist and led him back to where the toys were hanging.

They picked out a few that they thought they'd like, then got some tokens while they paid for the toys, going to watch a movie in the back room.

Xander's giggles kept floating out from back there, making everyone in the store laugh along with him.

Xander reappeared at home sitting on Ares' lap to give him a kiss. "We got a prezzie for you," he said, winking at Oz as he walked in with the bags.

"So I noticed," Ares said, removing Xander. "But I'm in a meeting."

Xander turned and saw Hera sitting behind him and grinned. "I went out for dinner with Strife and Oz joined us." He grabbed the bags and helped carry them into their room, closing the door so they could have some privacy.

Hera shook her head. "Does he realize how serious this is, Ares? How destructive a trial can be for us?"

"Hey, your own rules said that she's to be punished," Ares pointed out. "As does Zeus's. She swore on Styx water that she was never going to help Dahak again."

Hera sighed and stood. "I know. Please, keep the gaiety down to a minimum. It doesn't look good."

"He's probably trying hard to ignore what's coming up. He doesn't want to see her that punished either." Ares stood up and created a portal for her to go home. "You know what he's like, Hera. He won't admit that he's bothered by something until it happens." He watched her walk away before going into the bedroom. "Did you three have fun?"

"Yup," Oz said from the bed, where he was reading. "Xander's in the tub, but you were right. He's trying real hard to ignore the upcoming trial. Refuses to talk about it too." He put his book aside and held up the covers. "Want in with me or with Xander?"

"I think I'd better go talk to Xander. Make it appear that you're upset, okay? Zeus got pissed because you guys were having fun." Ares ran his hands through his hair as he walked to the bathroom, not bothering to knock before walking in. "You need to go talk to Zeus tomorrow. He thinks that you're not upset about the trial." He sat beside the tub and made a cup appear so he could splash his consort's body with the warm water.

"I am," Xander told him, "but I'm not wanting to go all broody about it. I can't change what she did, and I can't change why she did it. I'm only a witness, and a victim," he admitted at the frown. "Don't give me that look." He squeaked and brought a towel over as Zeus appeared. "A little warning next time?" he suggested.

Ares smirked up at his father. "See, he is upset."

Zeus frowned down at the man in the tub. "Be that as it may, he should still be acting like it."

"Why?" Oz asked from behind him. "We all react to stress differently. Xander likes to ignore it until it's something he has to deal with. He's probably always been that way." He looked at the towel in the bathtub, then at his lover. "You're doing laundry this time."

Xander nodded. "Sure. He's right, Zeus, I don't do well under stress unless it's a life or death struggle. I tend to bury the stress behind something else and keep it there for as long as possible." He blinked up at the King of the Gods. "I'm sorry if my going out to dinner earlier upset you, but I needed to get away."

Zeus nodded. "I understand. Just make it appear that you're less jovial in the future. You're upsetting Hera horribly."

Xander laughed. "She said the same thing about you."

Zeus smiled. "That's what happens when you've been married forever." He looked at Ares, then nodded and disappeared.

"There was one other stressful thing that no one wanted to tell you," Ares said calmly. "Hercules is coming up too."

Xander swore. "Why? What can he possibly tell them about what happened this time? Was he involved?"

"Shh, calm down," Oz said, walking over to sit beside the tub too. "What happened? I wasn't around then."

"When Xander was my assistant and we were back in Ancient Greece, Hercules attacked one of my temples in a fit of outrage. He caught Xander and tried to kill him, twice."

Xander went pale. "Can you go tell him this where I don't have to hear it?"

"Sure," Oz told him, giving him a kiss. He and Ares disappeared, going down to the returned office. "What happened?"

"Two of my best warriors had left orphaned children behind and their last wish was that I bring them to my temple and find them homes. So I did," Ares said with a shrug. "I like kids, they're innocent, and my priests could handle them." He looked at the bookcase of scrolls. "Anyway, my dear half-brother stormed into the temple for no reason. He had heard that I was training the children to become warriors and decided to stop me, for their own good of course." Oz nodded. "And he destroyed most of the temple at the same time." He cleared his throat. "Xander had heard him come in and had gotten the kids out into the maze in the garden, it was a brilliant idea, but Hercules was really pissed and he decided that Xander was helping me hurt the kids."

"So he attacked Xander?"

"Who didn't have a chance," Ares agreed grimly. "From behind as he was getting the youngest one put away safely. As far as I could tell, Hercules killed him twice, the second time because he thought he was some minor God the world could do without."

Oz shuddered and wrapped his arms around him. "Did you stop him?"

"No, Discord stopped him. She had a score to settle with him herself, it had nothing to do with Xander. I heard her shriek as she found Hercules and went to see what was going on. I was trying to stop a border war that was going to last for generations that I didn't want to happen, it would have messed with later plans. When I got there, the kids were mostly around Xander protecting him and Discord had Hercules lifted by the throat for trying to go through the kids." He looked at his lover. "She didn't care that Xander was there, but she wouldn't allow one of those children to be hurt. Ever."

"So, she saved Xander, but not because she was aware of him being there?"

"Yeah. And now Hercules has a grudge against Xander. See, Zeus didn't help him that time. He decided that Discord had been right to beat the crap out of him for almost killing the kids, and for killing six priests that were visiting from Artie's temple to get weapons fixed for a hunt."

"And Zeus had to call him up here? He's not involved this time."

"The trial is going to go back to the first time we ran into Dahak. He's needed because of then. Strife isn't going to like it either. Hercules spat on his grave once."

"Does he know?"

"Cupid was telling him tonight. I have no doubt that Strife's going to be coming here tonight to stay for the whole trial. It's safer for him here."

"Cupid and Bliss could come stay too," Oz pointed out. "It'd give Melvin someone to play with. And Melantha thinks he's cute."

Ares smiled. "I told him that. They may already be here." He clapped Oz on the back, smiling as he moved. "Sorry. Forget you're so small some days." He popped out, going back to the bathroom, where Xander was holding Strife.

"I'll protect you from him," he whispered, patting Strife on the back. "If the asshole comes this way, I'll make sure he leaves again. This time in pieces." He looked up at Ares. "Cupid told him. He wanted to come make sure I'd get behind him if Hercules comes near us."

"Actually," Hades said as he appeared, "I think you'll both be standing behind me." He smiled at the twin shocked looks. "You two will guard each other and I'll be watching out for the children. Athena has duties during the trial. Hercules will be staying with Hermes, at the other end of the mount." Strife smiled at him. "You two, until you are called to testify, will be helping me with the children. Including Bliss."

"Cool," Xander murmured. "Thanks, Hades."

"You're welcome, Xander. Strife?" He made it both a question and a statement.

"Don't I have to go sit and watch it or somethin'?"

"No, as an injured party, you're to testify at some point in time." He bowed to Ares. "Zeus thought you'd like to know that." He left, after patting Oz on top of the head, something he liked to do.

Ares pulled Strife out of the tub and dried him off with a thought. "Go to your room, Strife. Now."

Strife winked at Xander and disappeared.

"Don't be too hard on him, he needed a hug," Xander said as he adjusted his towel. "Besides, I still had this on."

"I know, which is why he's not in trouble." Ares brought Xander out and dried him off to, sending him to their bed. "Oz, bed," he ordered striding out to go ravish his consort.

Oz watched his back, then nodded. "Okay," he said, agreeing with the sentiment.


"Xander, sit down," Hera said as she walked into the room, sitting beside him. "I know that you don't know what's going on, but we're going to have to talk about what's expected of you during this trial." He nodded. "You know that the Halls of Time record every moment from every life, correct?" He nodded again. "Well, there will be much testimony from in there, but Gods can block their own lives from being seen for periods of time."

His mouth fell open. "We can? How?"

She smiled. "I think it's best that you not learn that trick yet. You still need Ares to watch over you." She patted him on hands. "Trust me, it's not time to learn that yet."

"But...I have something that I want to go back and..." He leaned closer and whispered. "I did something that I don't want Ares to know about yet."

"I'd tell him before he finds out," she said seriously. "Ares doesn't take betrayal lightly." He gave her a 'get real' look. "It isn't that?"

"No, it's the way I helped someone. I kept him from choosing Dahak to serve by telling him about the old Gods, and he chose Ares instead. I don't want him to know that I'm why he chose him though."

"Ah." She smiled again. "I wouldn't worry about that, he probably already knows."

"Knows what?" floated out of the air.

"Nothing," Xander said quickly, giving her a 'help' look.

"It's nothing, dear," Hera called. "I'm telling him about the trial and the Halls of Time."

"Oh," Ares said as he appeared. "I thought I heard Xander say that he had made someone chose me. Which I wouldn't like." He glared down at his consort. "My worshipers come to me of their own free will."

"I just told him that there were other options, other than Dahak." Ares shuddered. "I mentioned you and he got very happy. That's why he chose you, not because I convinced him. I did tell him about you, but otherwise it was all him."

Ares shook his head and rolled his eyes. "As long as you don't go make people come to me." He looked at Hera. "We're going to go through the Halls of Time?" She nodded serenely. "Then why do we need Jerkules up here?"

"Because he's a material witness and she blocked that time from viewing."

"Ah." Ares shrugged. "Keep him away from my temple or I'm going to throw him back to the mortal realm." He left.

Xander looked over at Hera. "I agree, keep him away from here before I pay him back for trying to kill me, three times."

"Three?" Ares shouted, coming back. "Why didn't you tell me!"

"Because I didn't want you to get in trouble with Zeus," Xander said reasonably. "I handled it, he didn't succeed that time. Iolaus stopped him. That's how I met him."

Ares growled but he stopped when he saw the panicked look on his consort's face. "I'm not mad at you," he promised, giving Xander a hug. "I very mad at Hercules."

"What did he do now?" Zeus said as he appeared. He looked at Xander. "Are you still having problems with him?"

"No, he *had* problems with him, when your son tried to kill him three times," Hera told him archly. She looked at her husband. "You will keep him in check this time or I will find someone who can."

"I'm okay," Xander protested. "I'm more worried about Strife."

"He's fine," Hera told him. "He can protect himself from Hercules, you can't, at least not as well."

"I'll be okay," Xander told her. "I'm going to hide behind Hades if anything happens. He's already told me that I'm helping him and Strife with the kids until we're called."

"That's fine," Hera agreed, giving him a comforting smile. "Ares, get off the boy before he suffocates."

Ares glared at her. "He's mine," he reminded her coldly.

"Yes, dear, he is," she said, standing up. "Xander, I'll finish this explanation later?" He nodded. "Good, calm him down please. We don't need him wrecking havoc up here, not right now." She looked at Zeus and they both disappeared.

Ares looked down at Xander. "Are you really all right?"

"I'm fine," Xander told him, patting him on the arm. "Get over it, I will."

Ares nodded and let him go, disappearing again.

Xander rolled his eyes but he relaxed on the couch. Hera reappeared and he waved her to the end. "So, they're going to be looking through the Hall of Time?" he asked, getting her back on track. "Why does that bother me?"

"Because your life will be looked at also. All the problems that you and Ares have had, all the time that she had you at *his* temple. Everything will be up for examination. Even your time as a mortal."

"Whoa," he said, sitting up. "What does my past have to do with a damn thing? I never met Discord when I was a mortal. Or Dahak."

"Well, they were looking over you at that time. It seems Dahak didn't want Buffy to be the Chosen One when he came to power again, so he was trying to remove her from the office." Xander glared but he nodded. "They were also watching over you because Dahak wanted to watch you. He knew that you were going to be important to his favorite adversary soon enough."


"That's what we'd like to know," Hera sighed, getting comfortable. "We had no idea that she was leaving the mount at the time."

"So, you're going to have to look. Okay. Will I have to be there to watch it?"

"No, but there may be some...embarrassing moments shown."

"Or even things about my home life?" he suggested lightly. She nodded, giving him a relieved smile. "Can you block it if it's not pertinent?"

"I can try," she hesitated. "I won't promise that I will succeed."

He relaxed again. "As long as you try, then I won't get mad. Of course, the first person who either rags on me or pities me because of what they saw will be sorry." He smiled sweetly. "Can it be restricted viewing? Only those that need to see it?"

"Yes, I've arranged that, citing your modesty." He grinned. "I take it you approve?" He nodded. "Good, then what I need to know is how you got free of *him*."

"I lost it," Xander said calmly. "I have certain...trained-in skills, ones that I learned at a very high personal cost. One of them is to disassociate from what's going on, which allows me to focus completely on a problem without thinking about it at all."

"Ah. And you did that?"

"Yeah, I went back to my survival reflexes. If you ask Strife, he's told me that I asked who he was."

"I'll do that. Have you talked to anyone about these concerns?"

"Nope, it only happens when I'm very threatened and that's probably not going to happen very soon. It's never permanent, but I do have to be careful about what situations I get into. Being possessed has complicated it, but that's okay too. You learn to deal with what you've got when you have things like this."

She stood up. "That's fine. Asclepias may be called in to testify about this particular condition. Maybe you should go talk to him." She disappeared.

Xander stood up and checked himself, then shrugged. "'Sclep's not big on protocol. He won't mind the cutoffs." He disappeared, going to his friend's temple. As soon as he got there, he saw a man on the altar being stitched. "Need a hand?" he asked as he jogged up to it. "Hey, Iolaus." He held down the immortal's shoulder so he would quit wiggling. "Hera told me to come talk to you about my disassociation problem. She says you may be called to testify about it."

"I usually am," he said absently, pulling the needle up to close the wound. "Tell him how you did this, Iolaus, I think he'd be amused."

"I ran into Strife and I got cut on his clothes," Iolaus said with a grimace. "He's apologized, but it was a stupid accident."

Xander patted him on the good arm. "Don't worry about it, they're always clean." He looked up. "Is now a bad time?"

"No, the extra hand is always welcome." Asclepias tied off the string and stepped back to wash his hands. "There, all done. Go play." Iolaus grinned and hopped up, going to go find something to do. Asclepias looked at his friend and smiled. "So, is this a true disassociation or just a partial one?"

"I go back to the roots, to the survival reflexes, so I don't have to think about these situations."

"Ah." Asclepias led the way into the main room of his temple, flopping down onto the piles of pillows. "Sit, let's talk about this. It doesn't sound too unhealthy but it appears to be necessary."

"It's saved my life a few times," Xander agreed, sitting down across from him.


Asclepias walked up to his father and tapped him on the shoulder, leading him away with a smile for his muses. "We've got to talk," he said quietly, removing them to his temple and the private room he had there that no God could eavesdrop on. "I talked to Xander about his peculiar problem, the one about retreating to baser instincts?" His father looked bored and waved his hand in a 'get on with it' motion. "It's caused by one of us."

Apollo looked startled. "It is?" His son nodded. "Huh, bitchin' dude. Who?"

"I don't know, but I think we'd better find out quickly. It can be triggered by that God."

"Ah, now I get the point. I'm a senior and you're afraid of endin' up dead again." Apollo nodded. "Who had influence over his life?"

"As far as we can tell, Athena helped him save his friend Buffy's life. Discord and *him* watched him a few times, and there's a few Gods that haven't been identified. It's someone I don't know but they seem awfully familiar."

Xander appeared, looking less than impressed. "Gee, and I thought we had confidentiality," he noted, walking over. Somehow, the words had made it to his ear, even though he knew no God should be able to eavesdrop on this room. "Apollo, I'm fine. No one can send me into that state without my say so. It requires me, or someone I love, to be in serious danger."

"So, what if they kidnap someone and put them into deep shit?" Apollo asked him.

"Then they're *mine* and their *toast*," Xander said with a shrug. He smiled at the healing God. "Really, 'Sclep, don't worry about it. I promise, I won't wig out and start killing people. Okay?"

Asclepias nodded. "If you say so, but I'd really rather that we know who did it. It's got the same markings as the pawn that you've been trying to figure out." That stopped his friend cold. "Yeah, so we need to figure this out. We know that they're acting against your pawns for whatever reason; you could be next."

Xander thought then nodded slowly. "By all means then, figure it out and tell me. I'd like to know who did that to me too." He flashed out, going to tell his consorts. He dragged Ares away from Aphrodite, waving Oz and Giles over from where they were talking to Hera. "Guys," he said once they were all in the corner. "You know that funky thing in my mind, the one where I go down to basic 'kill them and live' instincts?" Oz and Giles nodded and Ares looked confused. "It happened when *it* had me," he told him. "That's how I got out of the maze and fought with burns on my hands." Ares nodded, a look of understanding now on his face. "'Sclep said it was from a God, the same one that's been messing with the pawns in Colorado."

Oz leaned back some. "Whoa." He shrugged. "I'll start looking harder for the signature. Do they think it can be set off?"

"I don't," Xander told him calmly. "It usually takes some really deep crap to set me off." He looked at Giles. "Can you sense personal aura's? I know I could, but I'm not sure what you can do as God of the Paranormal."

"I can," Giles agreed. "I'll go look at this pawn as soon as they get back tomorrow." He smiled and waved as Hephaestus was dragged in by his wife. "Maybe you should go say hello and let us consider how best to help them," he said gently. Xander took the hint and jogged over to the semi-happy looking couple.

Ares looked at Giles. "Find them. I want to know who did this. If you have to, go look through the Halls of Time and ask the Fates who have touched his life." He turned and walked away, going back to talking to the mother of his children, casually slipping an arm around Xander's shoulders. "So, she finally pulled you away from the forge," he said cheerfully. "What're you working on?"

"A new shield. It's more like body armor for anyone who needs to go fight. It's lightweight and it blocks heat sensors, once I have my niece put in all the electronics."

"Cool," Xander said, giving him a grin. "I get to watch the kids over the next few days. Did you want me to give them the lessons on your job, or did you want to destress by coming to do that?"

Heph smiled, then started to laugh. "Oh, it'll probably be welcome. I'll come do it myself. How bad can the children be?"

"They're five," Ares said dryly. "And two are Strife's."

"That just makes them more fun," Aphrodite said, hitting him on the arm. "Loosen up, Ares. It's not the end of the world." She leaned closer to Xander. "We're not supposed to be talking about that subject," she whispered.

"Hey, all I'm doing is arranging for the kids' educational needs," he said with a grin. He patted Hades as he walked past, giving him a wicked grin. "Isn't it all right for me to arrange for people to come in and talk to the kids while we have them?"

Hades stopped and looked at them, then smiled at the assembled people. "Of course. Whenever they're ready to come in and talk about their areas, they're more than welcome." He nodded at his nephews and left.

"See," Xander said cheerfully. "I can do that."

Hera cleared her throat as she walked over. "What are you happy about?" she asked him, glancing around the gathering.

"I'm happy because I get to arrange for the kids' education for the next few weeks. Any of the Gods that want to can come give them a talk about what they do and why it's important."

She started, then looked at him, squinting her eyes and licking her lips. "That's a most excellent idea. I may take you up on that soon. Maybe in the next week or so?"

He nodded. "Yup, that's when I have them anyway. And I'm going to put Strife in charge of their other stuff. I'll do the reading and math stuff, and he can do the recess and art classes."

She laughed, pulling him into a hug. "I'm very glad that you're taking an interest in those children's well being, Xander. I'm sure they'll be better for the time they spend with you two."

"Hey," Ares said, breaking them up. "My consort. And yours is staring."

Hera smiled at Zeus and waved Strife over. "Has Xander talked to you about the childrens' education plans for the next little while?"

"Yup," he said with a bright, naughty grin. "I get to do all the fun stuff." He punched Xander on the arm. "You gonna come talk to them too?"

"I might, if I'm not too busy. We'll have to see about when I can come in." She smiled as Athena walked over. "Dear, how are you feeling?"

"Rotund," she said simply. She tapped Xander on the shoulder. "What are you going to be teaching the children?"

"I'm going to be continuing on the path you set up. Getting Bliss to read, getting the other kids to the point where they like to read. Letting the other Gods come in and tell them about what they do and why it's important. The basics. They'll still be keeping on your schedule, don't worry about it."

"I'm not," she said, looking at Strife. "What are you going to be doing with them?"

"The fun stuff," he smirked. "The stuff that human kids get in kindergarten these days. Recess and art, and maybe even gym class." He looked over at Xander. "Bliss has problems reading?"

"A few. It's a problem called Dyslexia. It's a matter of translational problems for him. He sees squiggly lines instead of full letters. I used to have the same problem and someone took me aside and helped me learn to translate. It's an okay thing and it's fixable."

Strife nodded, looking at Athena, who nodded. "It's the same sort of problem Deimos had when he was younger," Athena told him. "It may be hereditary."

"Huh." Strife shrugged and walked away.

Athena looked at Xander. "I've been working with Deimos. He's very resistant."

"He's probably figured out his own system," Xander told her. "Then there's the embarrassment factor added onto it. It's harder to learn as an adult, but it can be learned." He waved Deimos over, and he trotted over like a puppy. "Since I'm working with Bliss, and I have the same reading problem you do, would you like me to help you a little?"

Deimos looked shocked. "You do?"

"Yup. I actually had a pretty serious case. My letters looked a lot more like modern art than Bliss' does."

"Oh, wow," Deimos said. "And you could help me with the exercises?"

"Sure. I had to go through them too, I just did it at an earlier age." He held out a hand. "Friends?"

"Friends," Deimos agreed, looking up at his father. "And only that."

"Good," Ares purred, pulling Xander against his body. "Go party, Deimos." The God of Pain trotted off to go bother the Muse of Music. Ares gave his consort a squeeze. "You, be good. Or no ice cream and no traveling to see Jack and Daniel tomorrow."

Hera snorted. "Like you'd be able to keep him up here," she said with a fond smile. "He's thrown himself into this new role with the vigor we used to have." She waved and walked away before Zeus came to get her.

Athena looked at Xander, measuring him up. "Good, then you'll do while I'm incapacitated with the child," she said, and walked away.

Aphrodite stuck her tongue out at Athena's back. "Too stuffy for her own good," she said, turning to look at Xander. "How have you been, sweetie?" she cooed, pinching his cheek.

"'Dite," he complained, backing away from her, making Heph laugh. "What? That's embarrassing."

"What's going on over here?" a deep, happy voice said.

Xander walked around Ares', leaning into his other side. "So, Heph, have you thought about the jungle gym I was talking about? The kids would love it. It'd even give Bliss a place to run away to."

"I've thought about it," Heph agreed. "I don't know where we'd put it though. Everything up here is pretty tightly packed." He looked at the man standing next to his wife. "Hercules, how have you been?"

"Good," he said, smiling at Ares. "How are you, brother?"

"Decent enough," Ares grumbled. He looked at Aphrodite. "Is your grandchild staying with us again tonight? I know he snuck in to stay with Melvin last night."

"Maybe," she said with a shrug. "Herc, how's your new family?"

"Fine," he said, looking at Xander. "And who are you? I've never met you before?"

"Yes, you have," Xander said quietly, turning and walking away.

Ares glared at Hercules, who was looking clueless. "You have," he said conversationally, "the same day that you killed him. Twice. Oh," he said, snapping his fingers, "he said that you met him another time and tried to kill him too. Stay away from him," he growled. He turned and walked to where his other consorts were standing, talking to Asclepias. "Did you see where Xander went?"

"To go find a swingset," Oz told him. "He likes to think on them." He looked at the man talking to Aphrodite and Hephaestus. "That's him?"

"Yes, and we're all under orders to not touch him," Ares reminded his lover.

"Hey, wasn't going to go there, not with any sort of pole." He glanced around. "Go get Strife, Ares, before something happens."

Ares turned around, searching out his nephew, who was picking up a glass of wine. "Yeah, I should go stop him." He flashed out and appeared behind his nephew. "Don't," he whispered, taking the cup from him. "You can't hurt him and you know it."

"He laughed because I was dead," Strife muttered coldly. "I want him gone!"

"Hey, me too. Xander snubbed him and left. Why don't you go find him and make sure he stays out of trouble?"

Hera cleared her throat from behind them. "Much as I hate to mention it, maybe you shouldn't break such matters of protocol," she said lightly.

Ares turned, keeping an arm on Strife's body. "I'm keeping an incident from happening."

She saw how stiff and how deep in rage Strife was and nodded. "Good call. What happened to your legal consort?"

"He left before he could do what I'm thinkin' of," Strife muttered. Ares forced him to look at Hera instead of glare across the room. "What?"

"You may not, we don't need Zeus to get upset," she reminded him. "Especially not right now."

Strife shrugged and glared at the dias. "Like I give a damn what he thinks," he told her, looking directly at his grandfather. Then he looked at her. "He brought his bastard up here, the least he could do would be to keep him away from me." He got free and walked out of the hall, going to find his own place to go and calm down.

Ares shrugged. "You knew it was going to happen," he reminded her, getting out of Zeus' way.

"What's wrong with Strife?" he asked.

"Hercules spit on his grave and laughed in joy because he was dead," Ares reminded him. "He's pissed, to say the least. I'd keep your *son* away from my temple, permanently."

Zeus sighed. "When will you two get along?"

"Gee, how about when he doesn't wreck everything I have, kill my consort, or hurt my nephew and second in command by existing?" Ares said coldly. "I'm going to find Xander. Excuse me." He walked away, fading out as he walked.

"Well," Zeus sniffed. "I have doubt that Hercules ever did that."

"You punished him for destroying the temple and for killing Xander twice," Hera told him coldly. "I agree, keep him away from me also." She walked away, going to check on Athena, who was rubbing her back.

Zeus shook his head and walked over to Apollo, clapping him on the back. "It's good to see your brother, isn't it," he said happily, waving at Hercules.

Apollo went stiff. "Yes, it is," he replied coldly. "Excuse me, father, I need to go talk to my own son." He wandered off, going to talk with the people he really didn't like because they were new Gods.

Zeus shrugged it off and walked over to Aphrodite, who was still talking to Hercules. "Good to see you, son. Aphrodite, what's wrong with Xander?"

She looked thunderstruck. "Gee, maybe he didn't want to be killed again," she suggested lightly. "Hephy, I have a headache, I need nectar." He led her away, both of them nodding at their conversation partner.

Zeus looked up at his son. "Did you do what they said?" he asked quietly.

Hercules shrugged. "Not that I know of."

"Oh, that is *so* trite," Xander said, reappearing. "You kill me twice in one day and you don't remember me? You run into me in an inn and immediately try to kill me and you don't remember that either?" He snorted, looking Hercules over. "Get the hell away from me, from my consorts, and never come near my temple," he hissed. "Or you will be sorry. Oz, Giles?"

"What?" Oz said, coming over. "Calm down," he said, putting a hand around Xander's waist. "Hercules, you'd think that you'd remember the day that you destroyed a temple and six priests, and tried to kill about six kids. Unless it was a common occurrence." He turned around. "Giles, we need to take Xander home."

"Of course," Giles said, taking Xander's other side and leading him from the room.

Strife appeared, clapping. "Good. He got it out." He looked up at his Uncle, who appeared right behind him. "Hey, I'm applauding, Xander got it out." He looked at Zeus. "As I'm staying with Ares for protection from your *son*, I'd keep him away from our temple for as long as he's up here. I will help Xander, and I can guarantee that it'll be nasty, whatever we do together." He nodded at Hera. "Xander's sorry for his outburst, but we both felt it was warranted." He disappeared.

Ares sighed and shrugged when Hera looked at him. "What? I agree with him, and with Oz. Was it that usual that you put it out of your mind?" he asked Hercules, then left.

Zeus looked up at his son. "What are they talking about, son?" he sighed.

"Father, I really don't know," Hercules said, looking around. "I don't have any idea at all. I can't remember back that far anymore."

"Oh, let me fix that," Asclepias said sweetly, stepping up behind Hercules and touching the back of his head. He removed the self-placed mental block and stepped back. "There, now you should remember it as well as they do." He bowed to Zeus and Hera. "I'm going to go home now, I need to research something. Excuse me?"

Hera waved a hand. "Please. Is there something I can help you with?"

"I'm researching a God for another God, looking for a certain signature. It's very familiar but I'm not sure where I've seen it before." He nodded at his father and left.

Zeus looked at his son. "Is what they said true?" he asked calmly.

"Yes," he said, going pale, "yes, it is." He walked out, going out into the gardens.

Hera hid her smile. "Well, you should have remembered it too," she told her husband, leaving him alone.

Zeus calmed himself, then went back to his seat. He had to preside over this event after all. It had to be done, no matter how much he wanted to go comfort his misguided son.


Xander was pacing back and forth across the living room when Ares, Giles, and Oz popped in. Strife appeared and immediately left. He didn't want to get caught up in that melodrama. Ares tried to stop Xander, but he got pushed on his ass. "Hey! NO one does that to me!" he yelled, grabbing Xander and making him stop. He backed off as soon as he saw the cold look he was getting. "Hey, no big, I can handle being pushed away," he said, backing away slowly. He'd never seen Xander this ...upset just didn't sound strong enough; Ares wasn't sure what emotion it was but he was damn glad not to have it turned on him.

"Xander," Oz said, stepping in front of him. "Calm down. Now. You're scaring Ares." Xander snorted and moved around him, going back to his pacing.

"Xander," Giles said, grabbing him for a hug. "I need you to calm down."

"Unclie Xander?" Melantha asked quietly from behind the couch, her head popping up over the edge. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he said, bending down to give her a hug. "I'm sorry if we woke you up, precious." He walked her back into the nursery, putting her back in bed. "I know you're upset because I'm really pissed, but it's okay. You're good and we love you. I'd never be mad at you, not like I am at Zeus's son." He tucked her in, smoothing down the blankets. "Okay?" She nodded and gave him a smile. "Good, stay in here. I'm going to go vent this anger by making a big mess." He walked out of the temple, going to a site where someone was tearing down a building. He started hitting a wall in the top floor, slowly tearing it down for them.

Ares stood in the doorway of the nursery, smiling at his granddaughter. She might be Deimos' daughter, but she was so much like who they all made believe she belonged to. That was just such a Strife move, back when the young God had tried to stop him from getting angry enough to tear the temple down around them. "Are you all right?" he asked.

"Yup," she said, grinning at him. "Did it work?"

"Yeah, it worked." He walked in and gave her a kiss on the forehead. "Go to sleep, Melantha. He'll be back to feed you in the morning." He walked out, closing the door behind him. "Well, that was brilliant," he told his consorts.

Oz nodded. "Yeah, it was. Where's Xander?"

"Tearing down a building with his bare hands." Ares sat down beside them, turning on the game system. "Let's play something. We need to kill some time."

"Okay," Oz said, picking up a controller. "I get to pick characters first." He chose his and waited on Ares to pick his.


Xander looked up as someone joined him, but didn't stop working on the second wall he was tearing into. "What?" he growled.

"This isn't healthy," Athena noted, walking over to turn him around, making him look at her. "You can't do this. I won't let you harm yourself. If you show such instability again, I won't let you have this child."

Xander shook his head. "I'm working off the anger at Hercules, it's nothing to do with you." She snorted. "It's not. You'd rather I did this at home, with the kids watching?"

She drew back. "I hadn't thought of that, but you can't harm yourself this way." She pointed at his torn up knuckles. "You're harming yourself because you're pissed at someone else. That's not sane, Xander."

"No, it's saving that other person," he told her calmly. He wiped off the sweat on his forehead, leaving a trail of dust and blood on his skin. "I'm calmer, okay? I promise, your child will never see me like this. I *refuse* to get this angry near any of the children." She nodded. "Then we're okay?"

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," a female voice said from behind them.

Xander looked around Athena, smiling at Buffy. "Hey, I'm working off some stress." He waved a hand at the destroyed walls.

"So I can see," she said, pulling out a stake to spin between her fingers. "Do I know you?"

Xander glared at her. "Buffy, I fought beside you most of your life."

"I don't recognize you." She threw the stake at Athena, underhand to make sure it stuck itself deeply in her chest.

"Athena," Xander yelled, grabbing her. He glared at Buffy, freezing her to the spot. He mentally called for Apollo and teleported her to his temple. Apollo took care of all the senior Gods. Hera and Zeus appeared first. "Get him out of here!" he yelled. "Hera, I need you, get rid of Zeus, now!"

"Go," she said, sending him away. She walked up and frowned when she saw the stake. "Did your pawn do this?"

"She didn't recognize me," Xander growled. "Or she didn't want to. Giles!" He appeared. "I left Buffy stuck where I was."

Apollo jogged up the stairs to his altar, hissing when he saw the stake. "Damn, she's strong."

"She's Athena's Chosen One," Hera told him.

"Whoa, major retribution." He looked at the people. "Giles, go get your bitch," he reminded him, sending him away. "Hera, stabilize the baby. Xander, back off now."

Xander backed away, right into a pair of strong arms. He turned and saw who had grabbed him and kicked him in the stomach. "Never touch me!" he screamed, kicking him again.

"Hey!" Asclepias said, appearing to pull Xander off him. "Don't do that, I'll have to fix him. Oz?"

"What?" Oz said from behind him. "Felt Xander getting pissed again," he said with a shrug, taking control of his lover. He hugged him, rocking them gently. "Shh, it's okay. You can be pissed."

Asclepias looked at Hercules, then ran a hand over the injuries, healing them instantly.

"Hercules!" Zeus said, appearing to lift his son up. "What did you do to him!" he yelled at Xander.

"Nothing," he spat, literally. "He grabbed me, I defended myself before he could try to kill me again." He turned to look up at the altar. "Is she going to be all right?"

Zeus started to grab the young God, but Hercules stopped him. "I deserved it," he said quietly. "Xander, I didn't mean to hurt you, just to steady you. You looked like you were going to fall."

Oz raised one eyebrow. "Yay. Mine!" He looked up at Zeus. "It matters more that Athena's Chosen One just tried to stake her. Hercules is a big boy, he can defend himself against Xander." He led Xander back up to the area around the altar, letting his lover watch them work on Athena. Buffy had hit the mark, Apollo had her chest open to heal the hole in her heart.

Xander turned to hide his face in Oz's chest. "I can't watch," he whispered.

"We're going," Oz told Hera. "Please come tell us." He took Xander back with him, landing on the couch beside Ares. "Buffy tried to stake Athena, straight on shot."

Ares jumped up. "She did WHAT!"

"Athena's being worked on by Apollo, and Giles is getting Buffy," Oz said calmly. "Go help Giles if you want. There's too many people in Apollo's temple right now."

Ares nodded and left, his aural flash very dark and stormy.

"Oh, damn," Xander whispered. "She's gonna die."

"Yeah, I think she is," Oz agreed, rubbing down Xander's back. "Do you need a sedative?"

"I'll fight in my sleep," he sighed, putting his head back down.

Asclepias appeared and snuck up behind them, sticking Xander with a patch. Then they watched the young God fall instantly asleep. "That'll last for six hours. It's something new. Hera's stopped Zeus from going after his pawn, so far. Is Giles able to deal with her?"

"He was her Watcher, and she's Giles' pawn, not Xander's." Oz looked down at the body in his lap. "Can you help me move him to the bed?"

"Of course." Asclepias waved a hand and Xander was lying naked on the bed. "Better?" he asked with a smile.

"Yeah, thanks. I have problems moving him." He got up and looked behind the couch, waving at Melvin. "It's okay. Go back to bed."

"What's a Buffy?"

"She's a Chosen warrior of Athena's, but tonight she was very bad." Melvin nodded and left them alone. Oz turned back to the God of Healing. "Is he okay?" he asked quietly.

"He's fine. Zeus won't punish him for hitting Hercules twice." Oz opened his mouth. "No, he grabbed Xander first. Xander overreacted but it was in-line with what's happened to him before now. He's been forgiven, but Zeus still isn't seeing reality where it concerns that son."

"He's changed," Zeus said as he appeared. "Where's the boy? I want to have a talk with him."

"Over my dead body," Oz told him, staying polite. "He's been sedated and I don't think that your going to help him by bitching him out." He stood up. "I seriously doubt that anything you could do, outside of making sure Hercules never comes near him again, will help Xander in any way."

"Hercules didn't do those things," Zeus said, getting cold.

"He did," Apollo said as he appeared. "I had to take care of Xander after all *three* attacks, father. Hercules killed him twice and got very close the third time. That time, Autolycus saved him." He looked at Oz. "She's fine, and so's the baby." Oz nodded. "Zeus, maybe you should go talk to Hera about punishing this girl."

"She's being taken care of by Giles," Oz told him. "He's her former Watcher." He looked at Zeus. "Whether or not you want to consider it, your son has killed a lot of people, and hurt many more. Including Strife and Xander. We're fully within our rights to not want him anywhere near any of us. If I see him, I will help Strife and Xander do something bad to him. I will not allow my mate to be hurt in anyway, same as I wouldn't let the children be hurt."

Zeus glared at him. "Who are *you* to dictate to me about my children!" he thundered, calling up a lightening bolt.

"Hit me if you want," Oz offered, standing still, watching as Apollo left and Asclepias moved out of the way. "It won't keep your son from having killed a lot of people."

Hera walked in and looked at her husband. "Stop it, you asshole," she said quietly. "He's well within his rights to dictate what will happen in his temple, Zeus. Not even you can deny him that, or the right to protect his consorts." She looked at Oz. "Where is Xander?"

"I sedated him," Asclepias said quietly from near Oz, but far enough away from him that he wouldn't be hurt again by accident. "He was upset enough to go tear down a wall with his fists, Hera. And that was before Hercules grabbed him."

"He was trying to prevent him from falling."

"He wasn't going to fall," Asclepias told him. "Hercules grabbed him, but Xander wasn't going to fall. Xander is very good at catching himself." He looked at Hera. "How is the child?"

"It's fine," she said, giving him a smile. "It's stable. She's stable. As long as she continues to stay stable, the child should stay fine." She patted him on the face. "Go check with your father. It should be fine. If not, I can move the child ahead and take her so Athena won't be in danger." He nodded and left. She looked at Oz again. "Is he really all right?"

"Besides some badly hurt knuckles, yeah. He's emotionally swinging, which is why 'Sclep sedated him for us. He's going to have to stay down for a while."

"That's fine." She looked at Zeus. "We need someone to take Athena's place on the jury. I suggest that we take Oz."

"No," Zeus said. "I have no favor for this God."

She laughed. "Yay," she said lightly. "I don't care who you favor and who you're pissed at. You brought that problematic child into the world, him and so many other bastards. If you protected your own children with your wives like you did Hercules, then none of your grandchildren would have ever died."

Strife appeared, looking at her in shock. "You missed me?"

"Sometimes," she said seriously. "You do liven this place up. You and Xander both."

Oz nodded behind him. "He's sedated. You okay?"

"Yeah, Giles called on me to check out the Buffy person's recent past. She said she didn't recognize Xander, but he thinks she's lying."

"I can go read her mind," Hera said archly, standing up. "Show me where, Strife?"

He nodded and disappeared with her.

Oz sat down, looking up at his liege. "Zeus, I will say this once. I will protect Xander and Strife to the best of my abilities. If you decide you want to kill me, then I'll still do it as a dead person. I don't care. Not about your son, not about your likes and dislikes. Xander and Strife are my pack and I will not let *anyone* hurt them. Not even you, not even for your son the murderer." He crossed his arms. "Leave, now please."

Zeus glared down at him. "How dare you talk to me like that. You have no right to dictate to me about my son."

"No, I have every right. Your son hurt my lover and consort. Your son killed some Gods, which you usually punish. Make the laws apply to everyone or to no one."

Zeus glared and disappeared. "This is not over, Oz."

"Fine," he called. "I'll be here, protecting them from those that want to kill them."

Ares appeared, clapping. "Wow. You do have big balls." He smiled and gave Oz a kiss. "Way to go. Just be careful, I don't want to see you dead." He walked into the bedroom to watch Xander sleep.

Oz smiled at his own balls, reaching down to make sure they had come back down again.


Zeus found his wife in the Halls of Time and cleared his throat to get her attention. "Was the mortal taken care of?"

"She's being reviewed but held. We confined her to her mother's house, after we told her what had happened. I was asked to look at an event to see if it could have warped her." She pointed at a mirror. "It's strange, when you came in, that one changed." She disappeared.

Zeus walked in and looked at the mirror, wincing as he saw his favorite son tearing apart a temple and terrorizing the priests. He almost jumped when he saw his son jump on Xander, replaying what the then assistant had been doing. He almost closed his eyes as his heart broke when he saw Hercules going after the children. "Why, son?" he whispered, reaching out to touch the mirror. He let it play, watching his son's reactions. When it was done, he did a quick search for the next time those two had met and found a blank spot. "What?" he asked, concentrating on it. Usually he could break these blockages when he needed to, but not this time.

"I did that," Ares said, joining him in there. "I didn't think that Xander wanted anyone to see that." He made the block disappear, and they both watched as Hercules walked in the bar and immediately went over and tried to rip Xander, a very ill Xander, into bits. "This is why he will kill him," Ares said coldly. "And I'm going to stand there and let him do it. He deserves the right." He replaced the block as the him then appeared to break it up, followed by Apollo and Asclepias, and walked away.

Zeus went back to his temple, considering what he had seen and what he had been told.


Oz walked over to Strife as he walked in, patting him on the arm. "She safely put away?"

"Hera had us lock her in her mother's house," Strife said with a pout. "She wouldn't let me hurt her too much."

"Awww, I'm sorry," Oz said, giving him a hug. "You can hurt her next time, okay?" Strife nodded, but he continued to pout. "You missed it, Xander kicked Hercules a few times."

"Wow. Is he okay?"

"Yeah, Xander's fine. 'Sclep sedated him. He should be waking up soon though. Sedatives never work right on him."

Xander walked out and leaned against Oz's back, handing him the patch. "Here. Those things never work long enough on me. How's Athena?"

"Fine. Both of them are fine," Oz told him, looking at Strife, who grinned at the good news. "We'll be seeing her tomorrow, she's off jury duty."

"Shoot, I wanted to play with the kids." Xander grinned at Strife. "Hey. Still want to help me teach the kids?"

"Sure. I like to play with the kids."

"Good, go put Melvin back in bed," Oz told him, maneuvering Xander back to the couch. "There, better," he said once he was safely resting against Xander's chest. "Now neither of us can move."

Xander laughed. "Yeah, I don't wanna move now." He tickled his lover, making him jump up.

"Don't do that!" Oz admonished. "No tickling of the Oz."

"Sorry," Xander said with a grin. "I forgot. Want a hug in apology?"

"Sure." Oz came over for a hug and got grabbed and tickled again.

"See, Oz's do get tickled!" Xander crowed.

Ares popped in and licked his lips, watching his lovers play. "Yeah," he said finally, grabbing Oz and taking him into the bedroom. He stripped them both and tossed his lover down on the bed, smirking down at him. "I see Xander got you ready for me," he said happily, grabbing the bottle of lube to slick himself down.

Oz spread his legs and waved him on. "Come on, big guy. Let's see if you can handle me tonight." He looked at the door, where Xander was pouting. "What? You can finish me off after I wear him out."

Xander clapped and walked over, lounging on the bed, watching Ares get himself ready. "Coolness."

"Xander, go do something. I don't need an audience," Ares growled as he leaned down to start preparing Oz.

"Here, let me," Oz said, snapping his fingers and preparing himself. "Now, get on with it."

Ares sighed. "You take all the pleasure out of it," he said as he flopped onto his back.

Oz blew him a kiss as he climbed on top of him. "Yeah, and? I'm not in it for the pleasure tonight." He winked and slid down the hard cock, riding it hard. "Come on, Ares," he growled, pulling him up to kiss him. "I want more."

Ares rolled them over, trapping Oz underneath him. He started to pump hard, giving Oz what he said he wanted.

"Yeah!" Oz yelled, writhing underneath him. "More of that, babe!"

Ares blew out a breath, moving the hair off his forehead. "If you say so," he said, smirking down at his lover.

There was a thing that only certain Gods could do. Usually, it was something that Cupid did to Strife, but in this instance, Ares invoked it. There was a way to spread what each was feeling to the other lover, and make it seem like their own feelings. When this happened, time almost seemed to stop for the lovers as they bathed in the radiance of the other's passion. Ares pushed his head back and screamed as the emotions ripped through him. He never knew Oz ran this deep. He sped up, his thrusts coming quicker and harder. For an observer, it would look like they were just a big blur wiggling on the bed, but to them it was the most passionate experience in the world.

Xander leaned against Giles' side as he watched them, looking up at him. "I wanted that to be with me," he said sadly, wiping off his face. He turned away, going down to the office. He needed time to think, and it needed to be alone.

Giles clapped as the couple on the bed slowed back into normal time, walking over to sit on the side of the bed.

"Wow," Oz said, looking up at Ares. "Really wow. More speechless than usual."

Ares laughed as he pulled out, rolling onto his back. "Where's Xander?"

"Downstairs, thinking probably." He looked down at Oz, and saw his face fall. Ares looked at him in confusion.

"Shit," Oz said, hopping up to go down and talk to him. He cleaned himself thoroughly and dressed as he jogged down to the office. He stopped long enough to tap on the door. "Xander, can I come in?"

"No. This is an aloneness time," he called back, and the door became more solid. Xander had put up a wall against him.

"Damn." Oz thumped his head against it. "Xander, I didn't want to..." He shook his head. "We didn't do it to hurt you. Let me in."

"What's going on?" Cupid asked as he walked out of his room. He looked at the wall and made it disappear momentarily. "You'd better go make him feel better," he warned. "I won't be responsible for him being unhappy."

Oz nodded his thanks and walked through the wall, recreating it behind him. He squatted down in front of his lover, making him look at him. "I didn't want to take that away from you," he said quietly. "Ares didn't ask and by the time I realized it, I was too deep into it."

Xander shrugged. "It doesn't matter."

Oz wiped the wet cheeks. "Yeah, it does. You wanted that from him, and I took it from you." He stood up, giving Xander a hug. "I'm sorry, Xander. I never meant to hurt you by playing with him."

"Yeah, I know it wasn't you." Xander looked up at him. "This is all about me, huh?"

"No, it's not," Oz said, sitting on his lap. "He didn't think that you'd want something like that. It's a very... it's hard to explain but it takes all of you and turns it inside out."

"Yeah, but it's a *special* thing, Oz." He moved the other God off his lap and stood up. "Go back to him, he's got to be confused."

"Probably," Oz agreed. "Want to come tell him about this?" Xander shook his head. "You sure?" Xander nodded. "He's going to come looking for you."

"Yeah, but what we had wasn't that real, was it." He redressed himself and made sure he was presentable. "I'm going to go think on the mortal plane. You go keep him here." He disappeared, going to a club he had heard of from Angel.

Oz shook his head and made the wall disappear, stopping to admire the way the structure had woven itself together. He went upstairs to go explain this to Ares. There wasn't any way Xander could let this go on now. He landed on the bed, staring down at Ares. "We messed up, really bad."

Ares nodded. "I heard." He shrugged. "What does he want me to do."

Oz punched him. "This is an emotional thing for him and it's been a damn long day for him, Ares. He thinks that you don't like him like you do me." He stood up. "He wanted to be the one that you shared that with." He looked at Giles. "I'm going downstairs. Coming?"

"No, I think I'll go find Xander." Oz shook his head. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, he wanted to be left alone." Oz walked out, going down to what had been their room before. Then he had to go to a different room so he didn't disturb Cupid and Strife.

Giles looked at Ares, who had his eyes closed. "Whatever you do, don't offer to do the same to him right now. And don't try to push him into anything." He flashed out, going to find Oz.

Ares got up and dressed himself in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. He remembered to put on his hiking boots, then went to find his errant consort. "Hey," he said as he appeared in the seat beside him. "Karaoke?"

Xander sipped his drink, not answering him. "Shh," he said finally so Ares would quit staring at him. His consort tried to take his drink but he kicked him under the table. "Mine. Order your own." He finished his and waved the waitress over, smiling at her as he handed back his glass. "Another?"

"Sure. Do you want us to start a tab, sir?"

Xander made his wallet appear but Ares handed over his credit card. "I've got it. I'll have what he has."

"I want that mixed thing that I told you about," Xander said calmly. "And a scotch."

She nodded. "Neat or not?"

"No, with a piece of ice." He smiled at her. "And get him a beer and a scotch, it's his first one." She nodded and left, coming back about five minutes later with a tray full of drinks. She handed Xander the rock glass full of muddy looking liquid, and his scotch, and gave Ares the rest. "Here," she said, handing back his card. "We've got it written down up there." She walked away.

Xander took a drink of scotch and held it in his mouth while he drank the other one. He shuddered, but the next one went down smoother.

Ares followed Xander's lead, and had to grab the beer because of the taste. "What is that?"

"High school student's nightmare." Xander finished his drink and got up to go up to the stage. He winked at the Host, having told him not to listen when he sang. He picked his song and picked up the mic, starting on the song.

Ares sat back and listened to the love song for a hidden message, but he couldn't find it. When Xander came back, so did the Host, who hit him on the shoulder.

"Congratulations," he said happily. "How long have you two been together?"

"Too long?" Xander suggested lightly. "I really don't need a reading, Host. I promise."

"I know, but that doesn't mean that you don't deserve it." He looked at Ares. "Do you enjoy hurting him so badly?"

"Hey!" Ares said, looking around.

"They can't hear," the Host said calmly, sitting down. "Listen, what he won't tell you is that what happened earlier hurt him. He wanted to be the one that you felt that way about."

"It has nothing to do with how I felt for him."

"Ares, I heard about that from Cupid and Strife. It does. You have to feel a lot for that to happen. It's hardly ever happened before between Gods because they don't like each other like that." He looked at the Host. "Really, I can yell at him."

"I know, but you *won't*, you're not like that." The Host stood up. "He's right, it's all about feeling, and you ruined his." He walked away. "I'll send another round."

"Thanks," Xander called. He looked at Ares. "How long?"

"How long have I really liked Oz? Since you brought him up to help you."

"Not what I meant."

"Hey, for me, it doesn't have to have a lot of emotions," Ares complained. He took the mixed drink and tried it by itself, gulping down the beer as soon as it hit the table. "Man, that's sick."

"Get him another beer please?" Xander asked their waitress. She nodded and hurried away. "Ares, to me, this means a lot. To Oz it probably meant a lot. The only one that's not admitting that it means a lot is you." He gulped his drink then the scotch. "Yeah, that works for me." He put his head down on his crossed arms, watching the woman on the stage right then. "Hey, look, it's Cordy." He waved at her and her eyes opened wider. He smiled and went back to watching her. She promptly froze up and dove off the stage for the door. He shrugged it off and watched the next person get up there to humiliate themselves.

Ares tried the drink the way Xander had again, and it was still gross. "You drink this often?"

"Sometimes," Xander admitted. "But I still don't want anyone drinking around me when I'm not drinking." Xander reached over and took his glass, draining it quickly. "I'm not mad, I'm simply doing a reevaluation of what I thought we had."

"We still have," Ares said warmly, leaning against him. "I could do that with you right now."

"Maybe, but you're not going to," Xander told him. "That shows disrespect for Oz and it'd be the same as a pity fuck." Xander took Ares' beer and started to drink it. "I need time to think, Ares. Go home and sleep it off."

Ares groaned. "Xander, it wasn't about emotion. With Cupid, yeah it probably was. I don't need it. I can do that with *any* one."

"Not with me, you can't," Xander told him. "We've had this argument before."

Ares nodded, starting to show that he was very drunk. "Yeah, we have. Too many times. I do respect you."

"Yeah, but do you love me?" Xander asked quietly. "If we had tried what you did with Oz tonight, would it have worked."

"I told you, it doesn't need emotion, Xander."

"Yeah, it does," the Host said as he came over, handing Ares a note. "From your nephew."

Ares read it and burst out laughing. "Just because it works for him, doesn't mean I need it."

The Host looked at him. "If you say so, but I'm pretty sure he's right. Been there, done that too," he said with a wink to Xander. "You guys aren't driving, right?"

Xander shook his head. "I'd find it annoying right now." He smiled at him. "Besides, I'm not drunk. He is."

"Am not," Ares slurred.

"Maybe we should take him home," the Host suggested mildly. "Before I have to redecorate?"

Xander grinned and sent Ares home, with the note. "Better?"

"Hey, as long as you don't blast us all to Hell, we're good," the Host said happily. "You're over the Overlooked right now, right?" Xander nodded. "Who's over Paranormal now?"

"Giles, Buffy's former Watcher."

"Ah. Good choice."

"Thanks," Xander said with a faint smile. "I thought he was better suited for it than I was. How did you know?"

"Dear, the Powers tell me things about everyone who sings. Besides, Angel comes in here and thinks about you a lot." He shrugged lightly and walked away.

Xander grinned as he took his next drink. "Gee, someone likes me I think," he told her, giving her a tip. "I'm leaving after this."

"Sir, maybe we should call you a cab."

"Nah, I don't drive anymore," Xander told her. "I never drive. Why drive when you can teleport?" He downed the drink and disappeared from the table, going where he was pulled to. He landed in front of Zeus and belched. "Sorry, went too soon after drinking." He glanced around, he had aimed for home....

"I thought you didn't drink?" Zeus asked mildly.

"I don't, usually," Xander said, sitting down across from him. "And I still don't let others drink around me. I know how easy it would be for me to keep drinking so I keep it very rare."

"Ah. Why shouldn't I punish you for going against my wishes to keep the joviality down during this trial?"

Xander snorted. "Zeus, if I were as serious as you guys wanted, I'd be dead. Besides, it's not like I came home singing off-color songs." A window was opened to show Ares laughing with Giles. "Hey, not my fault."

"You didn't give him a single drink?" Zeus asked, giving him some consideration.

"No, he asked the waitress to have what I was having. It's not my fault he can't hold it anymore." He stood up. "Anything else? I need to go find a bed for the night."

"It's your responsibility to watch out for Ares, Xander."

"Hey, I'm a God in my own right, not his assistant anymore. You want to bitch at someone for not following him around like a dog, get her. I went to go think and Ares followed me. You want to yell about him getting happy, yell at him. I've done nothing wrong all day, and I'm really tired so I'm going to leave before I start yelling." He nodded instead of bowing and left.

Zeus sighed. "Hera?" he called. She walked into his study. "They're fighting again."

"Xander has a reason to be upset with Ares. Stay out of it this time." She turned and walked out, leaving him alone with his thoughts. And the concubine hiding under his desk.

Xander looked up at the ceiling from his bed, staring at the subtle, shifting patterns drawn on it. He wished that they'd put him to sleep, but his mind was working too hard. Round and round it went, flipping back and forth between what he thought he had with Ares and what he really had with Ares.

A thump beside the bed made him roll onto his side and look down. "Hey, Strife. You get kicked out?"

"Nope, came to find you. You're wreckin' Unc's good mood." He sat on the bed, pulling Xander into his arms. "What happened this time?"

"You know that thing that Cupid can do to you? The one that you told me about?" he asked to ease the embarrassed look. "Well, Ares achieved it. With Oz."

"Oh, man, that sucks," Strife sighed, pulling Xander into a hug. "Wanna go play?"

"No. I just got done playing. I'm trying to think, or sleep, that would be nice, but I can't. I'm stuck in a thought loop."

"Huh. Never had one of those. Now, song loops, those are different. My thing's always been 'It's a Small World'. Ya know, from Disney?"

Xander grinned. "Yeah, I get that too. There's a song by a Canadian group called 'I Am Cow' that I keep getting mixed up in but I don't get all the words right. That and the 'Toys R Us' theme song."

Strife shuddered. "Even thinkin' about that makes me nauseous. Oh, no," he whined, grabbing his head. "You started it again!" He disappeared with the sound of giggles.

"I am cow, here I stand," Xander started to mumble, then clamped a hand over his mouth. "Nope, not needing methane gas tonight. No, no teats or anything. No cows in my head."

"It's a small world after all," floated down through the air, and pretty soon, he was singing along with it.

"It's a world of laughter, it's a world of tears..."


Xander walked into the kitchen and grabbed a smoothie, taking it with him as he went to go get dressed. He ignored the Gods around him, picking out clothes that would be comfortable for playing with the kids all day. He unconsciously chose clothes that he had come to the mount with, bothering Oz greatly, but he didn't notice. He walked into the nursery as he finished his nectar smoothie, putting the glass down on a table as he went in to wake the kids. "Guys," he said as he walked in, "time to get up so we can play today." He sat on Melantha's bed, rocking her gently. She was the really fussy one to get up. "Come on, sweetheart, it's time to get up." She spit at him. "Don't you want to play with me and Strife today?" She nodded, hiding her face in his shoulder. "Then you have to get up. 'Cause that's what we have planned for today."

She pulled her face back and yawned. "Need more sleeps," she complained.

"No," he said, tickling her, "you don't get more sleeps. It's morning." She batted his hand. "Doesn't make you happy?" he asked with a grin.

She glared at him. "Me wants to sleepies more, Unclie."

"Shh. Now say that sentence right and I'll allow you to go back to sleep for ten more minutes."

"Uncle Xander, can't I please go back to sleep?" she whined.

"Sure, that's close enough." He tucked her back in and checked his watch, going to wake up Melvin and Martna.

"No fair," Melvin muttered, glaring at his sister. "She gets to nap."

"She gave me a correct sentence but she's only got five more minutes." He smiled down at the little boy. "Go wash your hands and face." Melvin trotted out, knowing he was going to get to wake up his sister.

Xander carried the baby out to the couch, putting her down so she would be okay, and waited for Melvin to go wake his sister up. He giggled as he heard Melantha shriek and counted down until she stormed out. "Hi," he said, helping her up into his lap. "It's time to stay up this time."

She glared at him. "Meanie. Not let him come wake me up again!" She kicked him with her heels.

"Hey, next time, get up on time and he won't be able to."

She continued to glare, pouting at Oz when he came out. "Can I nap on you?" she asked.

He sat down and shook his head. "Nope, sorry. Go wash your hands and face, and get dressed. You too, Melvin, get dressed." The little boy sighed but went in to do as he was told. "You gonna be okay with them?" Oz asked once they were alone.

"Yeah. Strife will be up soon and I can get them breakfast." He waved a hand at the table and bowls of cereal appeared. Milk appeared in the middle of the table and started to pour itself on the wood. "Crap," he muttered, getting up to clean it up. He made the pitcher disappear, bringing another one out of thin air.

"Did you send that somewhere or did you make it dissipate?" Oz asked, looking down at Martna, who had wiggled her way out of her shirt again. "Nudist."

"I made it dissipate," he said as he made sure it had. He left it where it was for a while since it was feeding some kids on the street. As soon as a parent came up to it, he made it dissipate slowly, making the former Priest smile. He finished preparing breakfast for his kids, making sure it was balanced. He looked down as he felt someone tug on his pants leg. "Yes, sweetness?" he asked Melvin.

"Is it ready yet?"

"Sure." He lifted the little boy up and put him in his chair, doing the same for his sister when she came out. "You both look very nice today," he told them.

Oz looked at Melvin's plaid shirt and zebra-striped pants. "Maybe," he said.

"Hey, he dresses himself to suit his own taste. If it's a little loud, I'm sure all the black leather in this house will corrupt him eventually." He turned back to his own breakfast. "Okay, let's eat so we can go wake up Uncle Strife, okay?" Both kids dug into their cereal, slopping it onto the table as they ate. "Slow down a little," he admonished. "He should stay asleep long enough for you two go get him up."

Bliss flew in and sat at the empty spot, eating his cereal quickly too. "Auntie 'Thena call my mommy and said I'm to come here today instead. She said she's resting."

"I'm sure she is," Xander agreed. "She got hurt last night, but she's okay," he said quickly to keep Melantha from crying anymore. "She's okay. I made sure of it before we went to bed last night. Shh, it's okay," he said, reaching over to brush away the few tears. "She and the baby are fine."

"Really?" she asked pitifully. He nodded. "Can we go see her?"

"Maybe later," Xander agreed. He looked up. "Oz, incoming message."

"Duuuudddeeesss," Hermes said as he appeared, grinning at Oz. "You got to come take Athena's place on the jury." He waved a hand at the kids, doing a mid-air flip for Melvin, who clapped and giggled. "He's easy to please," he said with a shrug and a grin for Xander. "You are to stay here with the kids, but Apollo said they could come visit Athena this morning, around break time." He waved, trailing sparkles, which was Melantha's favorite trick. "Later, dudes. Come at the horn." He flew out a window and disappeared.

Xander patted the table a few times. "If you guys want to get Uncle Strife up, I'd beat him there," he said quietly, grinning like it was a secret.

Melvin got down and ran for the stairs, his sister not far behind him.

Xander listened, and his grin got bigger at the scream from Strife as they bounced up and down on his chest. "He's up."

Oz shook his head. "Don't let them do that to me, okay?" He came over and gave Xander a hug and a kiss on top of the head. "Be careful today while we're gone."

Xander nodded. "I will. Helping them read isn't dangerous." He patted Oz's butt. "I'm not mad at you, I just need to think."

"Okay. I'll be here if you want to think out loud." Oz backed away and went over to get Martna, bringing her back to Xander. "Here, you take. Ares is already gone for the day. He was grumbling something about magical cures for hangovers." He stroked through Xander's hair. "Will you show me that drink sometime?"

"Sure. I only drink when I get pissed though." He looked up. "I'm not mad, Oz, I'm more... disappointed I guess. Like I was only dreaming about what we had together. I think it's great that he feels like that about you."

Oz leaned down and kissed him on the ear and whispered, "It wasn't feeling. It was animal. I didn't want to feel." He stood up. "Otherwise, I would have sandwiched myself between you and Giles." He winked and left, leaving Xander alone with the baby.

Xander conjured up a bottle, testing it on his wrist before feeding it to her. "I know you don't like cold milk, sweetling, but it's all I can do right now."


Strife held the twin's hands, grinning down at them. "Okay, on three, say boom!" he said happily. "Ready? One. Two. Three. BOOM!" The kids' shouts were a second behind but when they shouted, a fire sprung up in the empty fountain.

"Oh, pretty," Melantha said, getting free to get a closer look at it. "Pretty, Uncle Strife." She pointed at it, then sucked on her finger. "Pretty and dangerous," she said in admiration.

"You are so much like your mother," Strife said, brushing away a tear.

"Why is there a fire in the fountain?" Ares hissed from behind him.

"Because Melantha like them," Melvin told him, giving him a smile. "We went boom and it came up."

Ares raised one eyebrow at Strife. "You're inciting her to become a pyro?"

"Hey," Hephaestus said as he limped into the garden. "Someone likes fires?"

"They're pretty and dangerous," Melantha said with a brilliant smile. "I *like* fire, Unlcie Heph." She gave him a hug around the hips. "Are you done?"

"No, we're on break." He sat down on the bench and looked at the fire. "That's a very good one," he told her. "Did you help make that?" She nodded so he looked over at Strife, well above her head. "Maybe you should come down and sit with me tonight, Melantha?"

"Really? Can I play with the fire? Make it go boom like we did this one?"

"Maybe," Heph agreed, giving Strife a smile. "Maybe I'll even show you why the fire is not only dangerous and pretty, but also useful." She gave him a look of adoration. "Okay, so when we're free tonight, after your supper," he said with a tweak to her nose, "you'll get Uncle Strife to bring you down to see me. Okay?" She nodded and clapped. "Good, now let's banish the fire before it hurts the stones." He waved a hand and the fire receded until it was gone.

She climbed off her uncle's lap and ran over to the fountain, looking down for her fire. "Where'd it go?"

"To the forge. I put it around some of the platinum that I've been playing with recently." He waved at Melvin. "Would you like to come to the forge tonight too?" he asked the pouting boy.

Melvin shook his head. "I don't like fire like that."

"That's okay," Strife said, patting him on the shoulder. "You can hang with me and Cupid tonight. No arguments about bedtime though."

Melvin looked up and smiled at him, showing that he had lost a tooth earlier when his sister had beaten him up. "Okay. Are you guys gonna play with mud?"

"No, but Uncle Dion has asked for their presence tonight," Ares said. "He's got whole lots of grapes that you could help him water probably, maybe even sneaking in some mud." Melvin grinned up at him. "I'll check with him this afternoon and maybe you can go see him tonight. If not, maybe tomorrow morning."

"Okay!" Melvin said, giving him a hug. "You're nice today. No growlies at all."

"I only growl when I'm trying to do something and someone interrupts me," Ares reminded him. "Where's Xander?"

"He went to check on Athena and make sure it was okay for the kids to see her," Strife said. "We were doing recess after a lesson in the elements."

"Can you boom up rain?" Melvin asked.

"No, you sing up rain," Ares said, squatting down to get at his level. "Rain likes music so you either sing or you play up rain. Do you want to try?" Melvin nodded and started to hum, and a gentle rain started in the gardens.

"Wow," Melvin breathed, and the rain stopped. "Huh. You mean you have to stay singing?"

"Yup, that way the rain goes away eventually. Otherwise, we'd be flooded." He stood back up and ruffled the little boy's hair, giving Strife a smile. "Do you remember this lesson too?"

"Yeah," he said with a gentle smile. "I remember singing lullabies all night to water the garden." He looked at the kids, who were looking up at him. "Yeah, I had this same lesson, only I did mine with Unc. He's a pretty cool teacher too."

Xander walked out and smiled. "I'm sure he is. Who wants to go see Athena?" The kids all jumped up and down, even Bliss, who was working on his reading. He already knew how to make fire and rain so the game hadn't really appealed to him. "Come on. Go wash your hands and faces first and we'll go," he told everyone, who ran into the house. He looked up at Ares, who looked like he had just been kicked. "You can come with us," Xander said quietly, watching as Strife left them alone.

"Why are you mad at me?" Ares asked. "I didn't do anything wrong."

"I'm not mad," Xander said with a lukewarm smile. "I'm thinking, I'm not mad." He patted his consort on the chest and walked in, going to make sure the kids were doing what they were supposed to be doing and not having a water fight. He heard Bliss talking to them and stopped to listen.

"That humming stuff only works with the older Gods," he said dismissively. "The other Gods just will up storms to water the gardens."

"That's because they're less creative," Xander said as he walked into the bathroom, looking down at Bliss. "I doubt Athena would want to hum or sing, especially not right now. But I do know that Apollo sings to his plants to make them grow, which is an earth and nature talent. Here, we do sing to make it rain." He looked down at the young God, who looked down and nodded. He picked him up and carried him out, putting him on the counter so he could look at him. "You can't do that to them, Bliss," he reminded quietly. "They're not like you, they can't just conjure up what they want. And for that matter, quit it. That's very unfair to those two."

Bliss nodded. "I will, Uncle Xander. I never thought about that. Why aren't they Gods?"

"Because they're not. They're half-Gods. There's a bunch of them around, and those two are like the rest. They don't have special powers, they can't fly, and they can't do things like you can. Go easier on them. Okay?"

Bliss nodded, looking up at him. "I'll quit showing off. But what about Auntie 'Thena? She encourages me to use my talents, even when they're there."

"Then your father and she are going to have to have a talk. I'll help you tell Cupid about that tonight."

"'Bout what?" Cupid said from behind them. "Hey, what'd you do this time?"

"Actually, he's been very good, we were having a talk about him using his powers in front of the twins." He turned to look at the God of Love. "They've gotten really envious recently because Bliss gets whatever he wants without having to do anything and we make them ask for new toys. Sometimes, we even make them earn them."

"Which is keeping them from being brats," Cupid said quickly. "But you can't have Bliss not using his powers."

"I didn't say that, I asked him to quit using them to show off and to piss off the twins."

"Oh." Cupid shrugged. "Whatever."

"If he were on the mortal plane, would you let him start creating toys at will?"

"Well, no," Cupid sighed. "I get the point, they're half-Gods without powers. How is he supposed to learn control then?"

"Gee, they have separate lessons already," Ares said from behind his son. "Why can't one of them be Godly lessons for Bliss?"

Cupid looked back and forth between them and nodded. "Okay, I can deal with that. What about Athena? I heard her mentioned."

"She wants me to use my powers in front of the twins," Bliss told him, flying over to get a hug. "She wants me to show off and to learn those lessons in front of them, and Unclie Xander doesn't think that it's very fair to them."

"Which is a very good point," Cupid agreed, giving his son a hug. "We'll figure this out tonight with Athena, okay?" Bliss nodded and got down. "What's going on?"

"We get to go visit Auntie 'Thena now," Bliss told him, taking his hand. "Want to come with us?"

"Sure. Ares, got the twins, or does Xander?"

"Xander has Melantha," Ares said, pointing at where his consort was holding her. "Okay, let's go." They all disappeared.

Apollo smiled as he felt them pop in, waving them up. "She's awake." All the kids ran up the stairs.

"Bliss, why didn't you fly?" Athena asked, sitting up.

"Because the twins can't," he said, landing in her lap. He helped the other two up onto the altar so they could be up there too. "See, I can do it, but I don't have to because I'm smart."

"True," she said with a smile. "Finding a way around a problem using the least energy is always the best strategy." She smiled at the twins. "What did you two do today?"

"We made *fire*," Melantha said proudly.

"And I got to make it rain," Melvin added, just as proud.

"Really?" she asked, looking at Ares. "I remember some other Gods getting that lesson."

"Yeah, it was good for us then," Strife said as he appeared, holding Martna. "She got a little fussy. Where did Xander go, Mellie?"

"He went to go stretch out and have a drink. He said he needed something to snack on but it's not our snack time."

"That's nice," Athena said, looking up at Strife. "Hold her head up farther."

Strife adjusted his hold and she started to scream. "See, she liked it." He put Martna back the way he had her, and she calmed back down. "She's very particular." He looked at Apollo. "How are we doing anyway?"

"We're fine," Athena sighed. "Both the baby and I are fine. The hole was quickly fixed and I'm supposed to be resting for the next week." She patted Bliss on the head. "We'll have to let Xander do your lessons for a while longer."

Cupid walked up there, he didn't like Athena's elitist attitude, he saw what Xander was complaining about now. "Yeah, but I think it's good for him to be with the twins. It'll teach him how to be considerate of those that don't have powers, and how to deal with more mortal people, which is part of the job. Besides," he said with a smile, "he's got pretty good control already. For his age, he's doing great." He tweaked his son's wing as Xander appeared. "Hey. Can you handle them for however long the trial lasts, or until Athena gets out of mandatory rest?"

Xander walked up, nodding. "Sure. Bliss is a great student. He and the twins get along okay most of the time." He smiled at the twins, who beamed back at him. "Besides, Bliss keeps them out of trouble." Melvin grinned brighter.

"Which is real good," Cupid agreed, frowning at the little boy. "Someone had Bliss repaint my temple last night."

"Did not," Melvin pouted, crossing his arms across his chest and tucking his chin down. "Wasn't me."

"I know," Bliss said, patting him hard enough to almost make him fall. "Oops, he okay?"

"He's fine," Xander said, helping Melvin back up onto the altar. "Did you paint your father's temple?"

"Gran'ma said so," he said proudly, grinning at his father. "She say it was time to redecorate."

"Oh, no," Cupid groaned, going to stop his mother before he had to remove another ton of lace. "Mother!" echoed around the mount.

"Can we burn it?" Melantha asked happily.

"Nope," Xander told her, leaning down to give her a hug. "No burning of the 'Dite decorations." He smiled at Athena, who was looking prim again. "What? She likes fire. Strife said she's very much like her mother."

"Yeah, Hephy said she could come down and help him tonight," Strife added. "We're tryin' to arrange for Melvin to spend some time with Dion 'cause he likes rain and dirt."

"I see," Athena said. "Children, why don't you go find Apollo? I'm sure he'd like to tell you about what he does."

"Sure," Melvin said, sliding down off the altar with a little help from Xander, then turning to catch his sister. They ran off together.

Athena looked at Xander. "I don't think it's wise for you to habitually encourage Bliss to do things the ungodly way. It's his birthright."

"Which he knows, but his job's going to take him to the mortal realm almost as much as mine does me and his father's does him. He's got to be able to fit in. Besides, Cupid didn't want him growing up with a superior attitude."

"Yes, I know," she said calmly, "but you have to have him exercise his talents, even if it hurts the twins."

"No, we don't," Strife said nastily. "There's no reason to make the twins resentful and hurt because Bliss needs to practice calling up his bow. He can do that in their separate studies."

"Whoa," Cupid said, reappearing. "My son. And Athena, what Xander said makes sense. All of our problems have been from half-Gods who hated us because they couldn't do what we do. I don't want to see those twins growing up bitter. And yeah, I like the fact that Bliss needs to be able to deal with things the mortal way. He's gonna be spending a lot of time down there. As for Bliss' godly tutoring, we've been doing fine with that. He's had them since he sprouted wings. There's no problem with his abilities, not like Deimos had. He won't become blocked by learning mortal ways." He looked at Xander. "Do you agree that he should keep up his practice?"

"Yup," Xander agreed, giving him a smile, "but I think it ought to be one of the times that the kids are separated. The twins don't need to watch him learn how to be a God; it doesn't do them any good but it does piss them off. Then they start to pick on him."

"Okay then." He turned back to Athena. "This is how I want it, and he's my son."

"What's wrong this time?" Hera asked as she appeared. "You shouldn't be upsetting her." She looked around. "Where's the twins?"

"We sent them to go find 'Pol," Strife said, giving her a shrug. "Xander, I, and Cupid all believe that Bliss' godly lessons should be away from the twins."

"Of course they should. We don't want to encourage those two to find a way to become Godly after all. It wouldn't be good for them."

Strife glared at her. "If they had powers, they'd be great Gods," he hissed. "The kids are special and perfect the way that they are. We didn't want them ruined by the elitist attitudes and snobbery that the older Gods can give out to half-Gods." He looked at Xander, then shook his head. "I'm going to Heph's forge. Maybe he has something I can break." He disappeared.

Xander looked at Hera, then started to clap. "Way to go," he said mock-cheerfully. "Not only did you manage to insult Strife and me, but you managed to make it sound like the twins didn't belong up here at all, not even because their father's their only relative left." He disappeared, going back to his temple.

Cupid shook his head. "Not smooth, Hera. The twins would make killer Gods." He disappeared, going to find Xander. Strife you never bothered when he was this upset, Xander you went and you gave him a hug. He found his step-father pacing the living room again, and stopped him to give him a hug. "She's a bigot, she's been one ever since the first God was born without her by Zeus."

Xander sighed and relaxed. "I know, but it still sucks. She shouldn't want to hurt the twins that way. They're good kids. They'd make great Gods."

"Who would?" Zeus asked as he appeared. "Where are the children? I wanted to tell them what I did."

"Mostly in Apollo's temple," Cupid told him. He left and came back with wiggling, messy twins, and his son following along behind him. "Sorry, they were helping Apollo in his herb garden."

Zeus smiled down at them. "That's always an excellent way to get things done. You guys have smaller fingers so you can dig better holes for the plants, which means that they'll grow better."

Melvin held up his dirty hands. "I like dirt," he told him. "Do you like dirt?"

"Sometimes." Zeus led them out to the garden and sat them down to talk to them.

Cupid smirked at Xander. "He agrees, I think."

"Hopefully. I don't want those kids seeing prejudice because they're only half-Gods."

"Hey, me either," Cupid reminded him. "I never want to see them unhappy with what they are. I don't think I could fight them if they become like, well, Hercules."

"Don't say his name in this temple," Xander reminded him calmly. He flopped down in a chair. "Cupid, didn't you say that it took emotion for you to reach that sharing stage with Strife?"

"Yeah, why?" the God of Love asked as he sat down. "Did you and Ares try? Is that what all this coldness is about?"

"No, he reached it with Oz."

Cupid hissed. "Man, no wonder. You okay?"

"I'm fine. I'm not being cold, and I'm not pissed, I'm thinking. Ares kept saying that it didn't take emotions for him."

"Huh. Does for me. You might want to ask Hera, I think she had it once."

"Yes, it took emotion for me also," Hera said as she appeared, carrying Martna. "Athena's been put back to sleep. Xander, if I made it appear that I was discriminating against the twins, I'm sorry. I want them to grow up happy, no matter if they were fully mortal, but Bliss does need his lessons."

"That's why we're doing them separately. Bliss said Athena's been pushing him to use them in front of the twins," Cupid told her. "I don't like that, and I agree with Xander. They have separate lessons, this can be one of them."

Hera nodded. "I can agree with that. As long as he continues to get them. We don't want him blocked like Deimos became."

"His was stress," Cupid reminded her. "That's what the twins are getting from Athena because they're not Gods."

"Ah, now I see the problem," Hera said, smiling at her grandson. "I can fix that part. As long as we agree on this." He nodded. "Good. I felt my husband?"

"He's out with the kids," Xander said, pointing. He smiled as it started to rain and Melvin continued to hum. "See, it does work without a God helping," he told Cupid.

"Yeah, it's set that way. Every now and then, I still come up and make it rain out there." He got up and went to listen to the talk too.

Xander put his feet up. "Melantha has a definite like of fire, so Heph's invited her down tonight after you guys get done and she's eaten. We're trying to arrange for Melvin to spend some time with Dion, the whole dirt thing is good for him."

She sat down across from him, taking Cupid's place. "Do you really feel that Ares doesn't feel that way about you, Xander?" she asked softly. "I've never seen my son be so involved with anyone, and I've never seen him change because of it."

Xander shrugged. "That's part of what I'm thinking about," he admitted. "I'm not sure that Ares does feel that way about me. I thought he did, but now I'm not so sure. Can you feel that strongly about more than one person?"

"For him, it's never been a question of emotion," Hera reminded him. "It's always been a question of controlling his emotions so no one would see them."

"Yeah, but he attained that special state with Oz last night, then he told me it wasn't about emotion."

"For him, it may not be, at least not consciously. He isn't always aware of what he's feeling."

"And if I go and ask to try that with him and it doesn't work?"

"Then you'll both be devastated," she sighed, agreeing with him. "I wouldn't try it either. But it could happen."

"He's more likely to want it to happen and then it'll fail," he pointed out. "He's like that."

"I'm like what?" Ares asked as he appeared. "Xander, talk to me, not my mother."

"Shut up, Ares. The boy needs a more emotional perspective. It's not like he's getting it around here."

"Hey!" Xander protested. "He can't help being confined about what he feels. Being emotional in war is death."

Ares glared down at him. "I do have feelings, you know."

"Yeah, I know." Xander patted him on the arm. "Promise me that you won't try for it."

"I.. I can't," Ares said, sitting on the arm of Xander's chair. "I want to try for that state with you, just to prove to us both that this is real."

"Which means it won't work," Hera reminded him. "The more you try to make it that special for him, the more it will fail. If you try too hard, it may never come for you two." She stood up. "I think I'll let you finish this discussion alone." She walked out to join her husband, closing the doors behind him.

"I wouldn't mind it if we only had a friendly relationship," Xander told him, staring at a wall. "But I'd like to know that that's what we really have instead of the passionate affair we've been trying to have."

Ares growled and pulled Xander up, making him look at him. "I do feel that way about you, but this goes well beyond passion. Get over it, Xander, it'll happen some day." He gave him a slight shake and let him go. "We've got more important things to worry about. Whatever happens in our relationship does and we'll deal with it."

Xander nodded. "Okay. Then I won't try." He backed away and went into the kitchen, going to get himself a smoothie. "Um, Ares, did you eat one of these?"

"No, why?" He picked up a glass next to the nursery and held it up. "Here's one."

"That was my breakfast." Xander pulled out the tray, looking at it. "That still leaves one missing." He looked outside, going out to look down at the twins. "Guys, have you gotten into the freezer and stolen one of my drinks?" he asked, interrupting Zeus.

Melvin started to cry. "Don't be mad!" He ran over and gave Hera a hug. "I wanted to be like Bliss. Everyone likes him more."

Xander closed his eyes and calmed down. "Well, what's done is done," he sighed, picking up Melvin to hug. "Shh, it's okay. I know you wanted people to like you, sweetling. It's okay. I understand fully." He walked the little boy back inside, going to cuddle with him.

Hera looked at Melantha, who looked very scared. "Did you drink some too?" she asked calmly.

She shook her head. "I nibbled on some of the orange stuff at Athena's. She didn't yell at me," she defended when Zeus' mouth opened. "She didn't," she told Hera, who stuck up for her because she was a girl too.

"Nor shall we," Hera said, pulling her up into her arms. "It's all right, Melantha. We know that you did it to be similar to Bliss."

"Nope, I did it because it looked funny and I wanted to see if it tasted like orange Jell-O." She brushed her hair out of her face. "Am I grounded? I really wanted to go play with my fire tonight."

"No, you're not grounded," Zeus told her. "I'll make sure of it." He smiled. "Why don't you go get a hug from Xander too, we'll finish this talk in a few minutes and I'll tell you all about how we made the mortal world."

She nodded and Hera let her go, watching as she ran inside. "This could be worse," Hera reminded her husband. "It could have been deliberate."

"I really don't see a problem with it," Zeus said, shrugging when she looked shocked. "We do need more Gods and we're not creating them any other way."

She smiled. "True," she agreed. "Something earth-like in Melvin's case and something under Hephaestus for her?"

"I think it's an excellent idea. What about Ares' youngest?"

"I think we'd better see what she's like before we tell him to take that step," she suggested, getting up to get the children so they could finish their discussion.


Melvin walked up to Athena's bed and patted her on the arm. "Hera says it's okay for me to want to be like Bliss now, because I ate a smoothie and I'm still okay." She opened her mouth. "What? I wanted to be liked like he was. So now I am." He grinned at her and handed her a book. "Would the baby like a story? Martna wants one a lot. Unclie Xander gives them to her."

Athena groaned. "Not right now. I think I need to see Hera, the baby's kicking too hard."

Melvin climbed up onto the bed and patted her stomach. "It's okay, Bert. You'll be fine. Just a little while longer and you can come out and play with me."

"Bert?" she asked, shocked because the baby calmed down.

"I have to call him something," Melvin pointed out. "It's rude not to call someone by a name."

She nodded. "I see. Can you go get Hera for me, Melvin? I'd like her to take a look at the baby anyway."

"Okay," he said happily. "Then can I read to him?"

"If you'd like," she agreed, watching him go. Hera walked in a few moments later. "You let him become a God?" she whined.

"He stole a smoothie and ate it. Melantha stole some of your nectar though, so they're staying equal at least." She sat on the edge of the bed and touched the baby. "Yes, Bert's doing well today." Athena glared at her. "What, dear? Melvin is convinced that the baby is a boy so that he has someone to play with besides Bliss." She smiled. "Relax. What's done is done, Athena."

Athena sighed and leaned back, wincing as the pain in her stomach started again.

"Ah, so that's why you called me," Hera said, rubbing across the tense stomach. "It's false labor, dear. Don't worry about it."

Athena pounded her head a few times. "Hera, they'll destroy us all. They're not proper Gods."

"Dear, they're as proper as Strife is, that's their lineage."

"Which you vowed to never let get started," Athena reminded her.

Hera gently smiled down at her. "I know, but I was wrong. Those two will be very strong Gods. We'll have to teach them the proper ways, but they'll be fine, Athena. Rest now. You won't have any for a while once you go into real labor." She stood up and looked down at Melvin, who had been standing there. "Don't worry, you're going to make a wonderful God of something," she said, patting him on the head.

He nodded, but looked very confused. He shrugged it off and looked at Athena. "Would Bert like a story now?"

"Not right now," Hera said, lifting him up and grabbing his book. "She needs her rest, and so does Bert. He'll be born soon enough and you'll be able to read much more often." She smiled down at her step-daughter before leaving. "Remember what I said," Hera called back as they left.

"Oh, I will," Athena vowed. "I will not let those twins take on the Pantheon, no matter how much nectar they've stolen." She tried to get comfortable again, finding a spot for now.


Xander walked into his bedroom and stopped, looking around at the Cupid-decorated room. Complete with Cupid bending over the bed tucking in the sheets. "Gee, I didn't know you felt this way about me. What will Strife say? And Ares?" he quipped, grinning when Cupid stuck his tongue out.

"Strife and Ares were the ones that I kicked out to do this," he said as he straightened up again, looking at the bed. He frowned as one corner untucked itself again. "Bliss, don't help," he told him.

The God of Happiness appeared, grinning at his father. "But they like to be untucked," he told his father.

"Yes, but you're supposed to make the bed so it looks pretty," Xander told him. "You get to untuck it later, after you think it's pretty."

"Exactly," Cupid said, patting his shoulder. His son flew over to get a hug. "Later, dude," he said, disappearing in a cloud of rose petals, most of which ended up on the bed.

Xander sighed and went to get ready for bed. By the time he came out of the dressing room, Ares and Oz were lounging on the bed and Giles was pushing his way in to get himself ready for bed also. "Hey," he said, flopping down beside Oz.

"Too far away," Oz told him, pulling him over and rolling to pin Xander between him and Ares. "That's where you belong."

"Not quite," Ares said, removing all their clothes with a wave.

"Ares," Giles sighed from the dressing room, "I wanted to wear that tonight." He came out a few minutes later in a pair of reindeer boxers, with the nose strategically placed so the light up nose was over the head of his cock. "Xander, when did you get these?"

"High school. They were a gag gift from a friend," he said, smiling when he saw that they fit the older God. "You look okay in them."

"Yes, well, this was just to titillate you tonight." He came over and laid down behind Oz, wrapping both of them in his arms.

"Ow," Oz complained, pulling away. "That bulb's hot."

Giles waved away the boxers, showing the thong Ares had put him in. "Well, there's always this contraption that our beloved decided I should own," he said dryly.

Ares looked over and leered. "I think you look good in it," he offered.

Giles just rolled his eyes and made them disappear.

"Guys, this isn't needed," Xander complained. "I'm happy to take whatever I can get."

"Ah, but that's where the problem is," Oz told him. "We don't want you to suffer through a marriage of friendship. We want to make you hot and make you beg for us."

"I do that already," Xander pointed out. He tried to get up but Ares was much stronger than he was and held him down. "I need to get up and go find my jammies," he said patiently.

"No pajamas allowed tonight," Oz told him, leaning in for a kiss. It was his job to distract Xander while Ares did something, something that he had planned out with Cupid and 'Dite earlier. He felt the hand across his waist move, so assumed Giles was helping him.

Xander pulled back, panting. "Wow. Oz?"

"Yup, it's me," he said, leaning forward to give him another kiss, pulling his lover closer. When Xander was totally into the kiss, he opened his mouth, making it deeper.

Ares smirked and grabbed the bottle 'Dite had given him, sliding some of the oil out onto his fingers. He slid the extract down Xander's back, stroking it to make sure it soaked in.

"Ares!" Xander yelled, pulling away from him. "What was that?"

"Nothing," he said innocently.

Oz coughed. "It's something to help you sleep. You're going to be called on tomorrow."

"Oh." Xander relaxed back into Oz's arms. "It doesn't feel like something to put me to sleep."

"It will," Ares assured him. "And it'll give you good dreams. Cupid uses it on Strife when he's too uptight and can't sleep." He rubbed some more of the extract over the thin back, ignoring the marks on the skin. He wouldn't think how they had gotten there, it would ruin Xander's dreams. The extract was something Cupid had come up with to show foolish mortals who had chosen against his will that they were wrong. As long as everyone around the young man was broadcasting loving, understanding, or lust feelings, it would show Xander what his true love looked like and give him dreams about the life they were supposed to be leading. If not, well, those were mortals that no longer concerned anyone. Ares shook himself out of the maudlin mood and started to rub some more of the extract in. 'Dite had said about a handful so he was still doing okay. He snuggled up to the sticky back, wrapping his consort in his arms. "Now rest, Xander," he said soothingly, like he would to Martna when she was fussy. "Sleep, we'll be right here."

Xander nodded, blinking hard to try and stay awake. Within a minute, he was asleep.

Ares looked at Giles, who could see dreams, and watched as he went down to watch it for them.


Xander woke up and looked around. He wasn't usually the first one up but he was never the last one up. He got up and clothed himself with a thought and wandered out to the table, sitting down in his spot. "Let me guess, someone heard what I was dreaming?" he suggested lightly.

"Yes, I did," Giles told him. "Why were you dreaming about Strife?"

"Because we're very good friends." He looked at Ares. "You were saying about that stuff? About what it was supposed to make me dream about?"

"Your true love," Oz told him calmly. "Which is totally wrecking us mentally right now."

Xander shrugged. "I didn't start dreaming about Strife, I started dreaming about someone else, someone that I couldn't see. It switched to a picture of Strife and I picnicking in tall grass after that. So, I guessed someone screwed it up?"

Cupid flew in and dropped to a seat, panting. "Guys, bad news. Discord got hold of where Dahak is. She's holding the whole house hostage until she can free him."

"Huh," Xander said, looking at him. "Why did I dream about Strife last night?"

"You dreamed about *who*?" Cupid yelled. "You can't have my Strife, he's mine! No way in Tartarus; I'm not giving him up, not even for..." He snapped his fingers and looked at Ares. "We forgot, he's of yours and Strife's lineage. He'd react like Linesa did."

Ares shuddered. "Okay. That explains it then. He doesn't want Strife."

"Nope, not for more than a tickle fight." He stood up and changed his clothes. "Let's go."

"We can't. These mortals are under anti-interference laws."

Xander grimaced. "Yay. Would you rather break the laws, or go keep Dahak inside the stuff we trapped him in this time?" He disappeared, taking his sword with him.

Cupid stood up. "I'm going to go find Hera and Zeus."

"They're in the meeting hall," Oz told him. "I called to tell them, Zeus is ranting to Hephaestus about her getting out of his manacles."

"Shit," Cupid said, and disappeared.

Ares stood up and redressed all of them appropriately. "Let's go kick some ass," he said lightly, pulling out his sword to check it.

"Who's Linesa?" Oz asked.

Ares raised one eyebrow. "Long story, don't ask. But it does explain a lot. He's a lot like her." He disappeared, going to help his consort. He smiled at the man pointing a gun at him. "You don't want to do that," he told him.

"Why not?" Nick Boyle asked. "First it was the other leather guy and now you. And who is the woman?"

"That's Discord," Ares sighed. "We're here for her and to make sure she doesn't break into a barrel-shaped piece of metal that you were sent by us." He disappeared, going to where he could feel Xander doing something. He clapped as he appeared, Xander had her held underwater. "She can breathe through that," he noted.

"Yay," Xander said coldly, pulling her head up. "That's why you switch back and forth." He put her head under again as she started to adapt to breathing air.

An older man came running in and stopped when he saw them. "I thought we were immune from you?" he asked Ares, turning him to make the God look at him. "We're soldiers already."

"We're here for her," Xander said, lifting Discord's head again.

"Go check the big metal thing that we sent you," Ares told him. "You are never to let it be opened again. Dahak must *not* get out ever again."

The older man went pale and nodded. "I'll go do that. We've encased it in another layer of metal, this time over something more practical. We added a plastic shield between layers. Was that all right?"

"Have to ask Heph," Xander pointed out. "Speaking of which. Oh, Heph," he called out cheerfully. "Who's Linesa, Ares?" he asked while they waited.

"Um, your great grandmother. You're a lot like her. I'll show you her later. Watch out."

Xander kicked Discord in the knee, making her scream under the water. He pulled her head up and looked into her eyes. "Try it, bitch, I will kill you. I have no problem with having Melantha take over your spot in the lineup." He put her head back down.

"She's under me," Hephaestus said, appearing with a new set of manacles. "She got Bliss sleepwalking and he helped her. Hera's protected him from another attack." He clamped the wrist restraints around her wrists and wrapped a chain around her waist, finishing off with her kicking ankles. "Okay, she's done. Let 'er go," he said, stepping back.

Xander let go of Discord and stood there, watching as she fell backwards. He smirked down at her. "What's wrong, Dissy," he cooed, "are you all tied up in a not-fun way?"

"Xander, never make that noise again," Ares said patiently. Giles and Oz appeared behind him. "Go check on Dahak, take him with you. Heph, who gets to carry her home?"

"Not me," Xander told him with a grin. "I'll drop her into the Void."

"I'll do it," Hera said as she appeared, looking down at her daughter. "Why, Discord? Why do you want him back?"

"He loves me," she shrieked, trying to kick Hera.

"He was using you," Xander pointed out. "He wanted to use me too. That's why he had you kidnap me. Or don't you remember him trying to hit on me?"

She screamed and struggled to get free, but it wasn't any use. Her brother put his sword against her throat and she quit moving. She could feel the foreignness of the metal and knew it would kill her. She'd seen it work on Callisto many centuries earlier when Ares finally caught up to her again. She looked up at Hera. "Take me away from him," she begged.

"We will," Hera said, lifting her up. "Hephaestus, some help please?"

"Of course, Hera," he said, holding onto her arm. Together, they took Discord back for her trial.

"Gee," Xander said casually, examining his nails. "Who was Linesa again?"

"I'll show you later," Ares said, grabbing Xander and taking him away. Only, they ended up in a bright white place. "Hey, did you want Dahak retrieved?" he called.

A dark haired man with wings walked out of the brightness. "Not really. Did you hurt them?"

"I may have broken a glass when I shoved her head into the dishwater," Xander offered. "Otherwise, no. I saw two of them, that's all."

"One of them asked, Michael, but otherwise we didn't touch them. I told them that Dahak was trapped in the metal ball, but otherwise, we didn't bother them at all."

Michael shrugged. "Okay. Did the old guy know?"

Xander nodded. "He pulled Ares around to get into his face." He grinned at Ares. "You did very good controlling your anger, I'm proud of you."

"What, he's going to give you a cookie?" Michael quipped, sneering at Ares. Until he felt the sword at his neck.

"Xander, you have one of those," Ares noted, trying to get his sword back. "You don't need mine!" He took the sword, giving his lover a glare. "Get over it, he's an ass. We're leaving now," he said, grabbing Xander's arm and taking him home. He made it home but Xander didn't and Ares knew he wouldn't be able to get back to that plane.

Xander canted his weight off to one side and crossed his arms, looking at the Archangel. "What do you want now? I don't even believe that you exist, much less that you're more than a bully."

Michael laughed. "Good. You're a worthy match. Never threaten me again, boy."

Xander growled and reached for his sword. "Bet me," he said.

"Don't fight," a gentle male voice called down. "Michael, quit baiting the boy. He's doing what he's supposed to. He kept Dahak from coming back and becoming our problem."

"Yeah," Xander said, sticking his tongue out. "Can I go now? I'm missing my teaching time with the kids."

"Of course you may," the voice said. "Go with my blessings."

"Yeah, um... yeah." He disappeared, landing back in his temple. At least it looked like his temple. He checked around and got worried. It was a lot cleaner than his temple. This couldn't be his temple.

"Shut up!" Ares yelled, walking out of the bedroom. "It's our temple, okay!"

"Okay," Xander said with a shrug. "Who cleaned?"

"I did. It was *your* turn," he said with a snarl, grabbing Xander and pulling him against his body. "NEVER take my sword again," he warned. "NEVER."

"Yes, Ares," Xander said meekly. "I didn't think I was doing it that time," he said said pitifully, giving his God a pitiful look to go with it. "I'm sorry."

Ares pushed him down on the couch. "Good. Sit there and the kids will be out soon." He walked into their bedroom and shut the door, leaning against it. He hoped his plan worked.

"Ares, who's Linesa?" was whined from the living room.

"Damn," Ares muttered, standing up to walk out. "We'll talk about it later." Xander pouted at him. "Don't do that!"

Xander grinned. "If you'd tell me what I want to know, I'd leave you alone."

Ares growled and then sighed as the meeting horn sounded. "I'll be back. Be *good* today, Xander." He left, leaving some ashes behind him.

"Then I guess I'll go figure this out for myself," Xander said, smiling at his feet. "Strife? You up yet or do I get to send the kids down?" he called, projecting his voice next to the God of Mischief's ear.

"I'm up," came the whined reply. "They're already down here." He appeared next to Xander. "We were going to take a trip out to 'Dite's garden to play today. Want to come?"

"I want to find out who Linesa was," he said sullenly.

Strife stood up and shook his head. "I've seen you pout better." He grinned and gave him a hug. "I'll show ya later if Unc don't, okay?" Xander nodded and teleported behind him, giving him a hug. "Oh, you're sweet. I'm gonna tell Cupe."

"Hey, he already knows I dreamed about you last night." Xander disappeared, leaving Strife with that thought.

"You did what?" Strife called, going after him. "Did Cupe give Unc that oil stuff again?" he asked once he found Xander. His partner in crime nodded, giving him a bland look. "And you dreamed about me?"

"Which made Cupid panic, Ares get sullen, and then both of them started on about this Linesa woman."

"Oh, so *that's* why," Strife said, looking relieved. "Yeah, that's how she woulda reacted to. You woulda liked her."

"Ares said she was my great grandmother or something, and that I was a lot like her."

"Not physically," Strife said, looking his friend over. "Or emotionally. She was kinda more of the using sort." He shrugged it off. "I'll show you later if Unc doesn't. Let's drop this for now." He looked down at the kids. "What's this that I hear about certain children getting into some nectar?"

Melvin and Melantha raised their hands.

"Yeah, that's what I heard. Okay, now that you're Godlings, you get the special lessons too."

"When can I learn how to fly?" Melantha asked

"When and if you grow wings," Xander told her.

"Or when you're old enough to sky surf like 'Polo," Strife told her seriously. "Don't worry about it, you've got *tons* to learn before then." He winked at her. "Let's start with some control stuff. Xander, would you care to demonstrate?


Strife looked at him. "And why not? Didn't I teach you these lessons?"

"Yeah, but I still suck at some of them."

"Point," Strife said then turned back to the kids. "Okay, I want you guys to think about your favorite treat. I want you to think about it *real* hard and to picture it exactly how it's supposed to be."

Bliss grinned as his ice cream showed up. "That's how you do it," he told Melvin, who got milk in a bowl with caramel.

"I might like this," Melvin told him, picking up the bowl to drink it. "Eww, not sweet at all," he complained.

Melantha squinted and scrunched up her face, trying to make it appear for her too. She got a bowl, but nothing was in it, so she started to cry.

"Hey," Xander said, sitting down to give her a hug. "It's okay, I didn't get it on the first try either. It took me like six or seven tries."

She wiped off her face and looked up at him. "Really?"

"Really. Try it again, sweetheart."

She scrunched up her face again, and got another bowl, this time with a huge *mound* of ice cream, with chocolate covered nuts. She clapped and grinned, looking at her brother. "Try it again," she told him.

Melvin glared at his bowl and it turned into brussel sprouts. "Hey!" he complained.

"Sorry," Oz said as he walked out to join them. "You don't need ice cream. Share your sister's."

"We're doing the basic god exercises," Strife said, rolling his eyes as he removed the sprouts. "Try it again, Melvin."

He did, and a nice dish of ice cream appeared in front of him, and everyone clapped.

"Very good," Xander said, reaching over to pat him on the head. "This is your snack for the day, enjoy it." He put Melantha down and stood up, smiling at Oz. "What's up? Is it time?"

"No, we're viewing the Halls of Time about your life. Hera told me to come here and tell you, and to check on the kids."

"Coolness. As long as I don't get laughed at for any of it."

"Hey, I won't let that happen," Strife reminded him, hitting him on the leg. He conjured his own bowl of ice cream, black cherry with sprinkles stuck in his hard chocolate shell.

Oz shook his head and left. "Consider being called this afternoon, Xander. I think that's the plan."

"Okay," Xander called after him. He looked at Strife, then at his bowl. "You're doing treats?"

"Yup. I'm doing treats. You go get ready. Meditate or somethin' so you don't get pissed on the stand."

"Whatever," Xander sighed, going to find a bench and sit on it for a while. Strife had the kids well in hand. As soon as he sat down, he felt arms go around him to give him a hug. "Thanks, whoever, but I didn't need it." In front of him a shadowy form solidified. "Willow," he said dully. "What do you need?"

"I wanted to ask for forgiveness," she breathed. "I didn't mean to hurt you that bad."

Xander shrugged. "It's water under the bridge," he told her. "It's long past now." He stood up and felt a pull on him. "I've got to go testify. Later?" She nodded and he disappeared, going to where he was being summoned. "Yes?" he asked, staying polite considering that everyone was glaring at him. "What?"

"Why did you attack Discord at that inn?" Hera asked him.

"Because the night before she attacked me in Ares' temple because Ares was trying to get me to sleep with him when she wanted him." He sat down in the seat behind him and felt a warm glow go across him. He jumped up and looked at the seat, then at Hera. "Is it supposed to do that?"

She nodded. "Sit." He did so. "You have been called to testify about your involvement in Discord's fall. What do you swear to?"

"I swear that Discord and I have been at odds since she noticed Ares liked me. I swear that she kidnapped me and took me to Dahak's temple."

"Not that sort of swear, that comes later," Zeus told him. "She meant ..." He searched his mind. "About the truth and all that."

"Oh, okay. Yeah, I swear to tell the truth, after all, you'd know if I wasn't."

Hera smiled. "Good, back to your former points. You were kidnapped?" Xander nodded. "By Discord?"

"Yes. Off one of my consorts' lap. I was being comforted by Oz and she took me before he could react."

"Then what happened?"

"I landed in a heap at the foot of a low throne-type thing and he was there. Dahak broke her neck and tossed her aside, then he started making innuendos toward me. I got burned when I grabbed a sword to defend myself. When I had to, I ran to get away from him and got trapped in a maze. That's when my, as Asclepias calls it, peculiar mental problem broke in and saved me from having to do more than fight later."

"I see. Can you explain this?"

"To a degree," he told her. "Whenever I'm in a life-threatening situation, my higher reasoning functions leave, leaving me with the lower, more survival oriented skills. It's from my time as a mortal."

"With the Slayer?"

"No, it comes from before that. I had some excuse to use it while I helped her, but it comes from when I was younger."

"Do you know where?"

"Yes, and I doubt my mortal family situation has any bearing on this issue," he said calmly. "I will not discuss that part of my past."

Zeus nodded. "I will not force it. It is not pertinent, only the fact that it can occur is." He looked at Hera, who was prosecuting - in mortal terms. "Continue."

She nodded to him. "Xander, how did you defeat him?"

"As far as I know, I took his head off. And then I took a statue of him's head off, which Ares told me broke a shield. Then I ran because I couldn't tell that Ares wasn't pissed with me."

"Thank you. What about the other time." He shifted uncomfortably. "Let me rephrase that, was it a similar occurrence?"

"I had been splashed by the Lethe and went after him. All I remembered was that he was bad and was going to hurt someone I loved." He shifted again. "I wasn't in my right mind. All I knew was that he was bad."

"That's fine. Do you know why Dahak wanted you?"

"Nope. Well, I kinda figured it was to piss off Ares."

"No, after your first encounter with him, his memory was wiped. We got everything but your memory out of him. You became a victim of his lust."

Xander shuddered. "Eww."

She smiled. "Sorry. Does that surprise you?"

"Kinda. I really don't think in terms of people wanting me." He scrunched his face up. "He wanted me so he used Discord to get me?"

Hera nodded. "Yes, we've heard testimony that he had been corrupting her since the last time the Pantheon had battled him. He's gotten into her mind and has hurt part of it."

"Oh. Can it be cured?"

"We're looking into that," Hera told him. "How did you find your way out of the maze?"

"It pissed me off."

"Ah. What else would make you go into this state?"

Xander stood up. "My problem is not on trial here. Or if it is, I wasn't notified. What's going on?"

"Sit," Zeus said. "She has the right to ask, and the jury can decide if your powers are unstable because of your testimony. You have no say in what you answer."

"I have every right to say what I answer," he told him coldly. "I refuse to be hurt by this inquiry. You don't need me anyway." He stepped down, glaring at her.

"If you leave now, I will intentionally force the issue of your fitness to be one of us," Zeus warned.

"Which would require you to give me the right to challenge you on it," Xander reminded him. "Which would put me back into that state, which I haven't been beat in yet. Who do you think's gonna win, Zeus? Someone who has something to lose, or someone who refuses to lose what he has?"

Zeus laughed. "Good. You do have heart. Get back in the chair."

"Bite me."

"Sit," Hera said calmly. "Your situation is not at odds here and will not be questioned, not right now."

Xander walked back up there and sat back down. "I will not talk about that either. If you want to know about my past with Ares, as his assistant or as his consort, then I will answer that."

"We do," Hera agreed, tuning the mirror behind her into a scene at an inn. "What was that about?"

"I have no clue. I was having a drink because Ares told me to go away and Hercules walked in and tried to kill me. I still have the scars from that encounter, and the one before it." He crossed his feet, letting them dangle, and his hands clenched in his lap. "All I know is that apparently my living offended him and he tried to do something about it."

"Ah. Did it have anything to do with the incident at the temple?"

Xander shrugged. "Not a clue. I was an immortal, I couldn't read minds then. You'd have to ask him."

"We will be." The picture changed, showing Discord holding Hercules off the ground by the throat, she was standing on air to do it, but his toes weren't touching the ground. "Was this the earlier incident?"

"I was unconscious but I think it was." He pointed at the children behind Discord. "I believe I'm under them. They were trying to protect me from him."

"Does this have merit?" Zeus asked her.

"Yes, it does. It's my intention to show that Discord wasn't the only one duped by Dahak."

"I thought you were trying her, not helping her," Xander said in confusion.

"I am," Hera sighed, looking at him. "I know you're new to this, but stop the questions. You can ask them later." He shrugged. "Why was Hercules there that day?"

"Because he heard that Ares was taking care of a few children that had belonged to two of his warriors while he was trying to find them a home. He thought Ares was training the children as some sort of child army and wanted to stop him."

"And did he?"

"Hercules?" She nodded. "No, he almost killed the children. He killed five priests by pulling down a column and making part of the roof fall on them. He tried to kill me twice because of the children. He almost killed a few of the children, he did injure one of them severely when he threw her into the side of the building. She was *six*, Hera. And she was sweet! He had no business being there that day. Ares wouldn't train kids to be an army!"

"I know," Hera said. "When did Ares get there?"

"After Discord saved me from a third bout with him." He rolled up his shirt to show off a jagged scar. "This is where Hercules dragged me over some stones that he had just broken up with my body." He put it back down. "Ares was off trying to stop a border skirmish he didn't want to happen. He's told me that he heard Discord's shriek of outrage and came then." He shrugged. "I was unconscious. The next thing I knew, after being used to break the pavement, was waking up looking at Apollo and Asclepias."

"Do you think it's possible that Discord was affected even then?"

Xander curled up in the chair to think about it, then shook his head. "No, I don't. I remember when she started to act funny when his name was mentioned, it was a few years after that. It was right after Hercules left Greece for good."

Hera looked up at him, looking quizzical. "Strange how? Can you give examples?"

"Yeah, she started to act edgy, more than usual. She tried to avoid fights for a while, then started throwing herself into them like she was trying to commit suicide." He shuddered. "After a few months of that, she went back to being fairly normal but she still hated me."

"Ah. Could this have been in reaction to Strife's death?"

"Strife's death happened before Ares took me back to train. Joxer had already been his assistant for six years, and he started about a year after Strife died. So, no, this was almost ten years later if I'm counting right. Maybe nine." He looked around. "I could help you figure it out if Ares would remind me of a few dates."

"No, that's all right," Hera told him, drawing his attention back to her. "The rough estimate is close enough." She sat on the edge of her table, looking at him. "What if I told you that there was someone up here that thought you had been corrupted by Dahak?"

Xander jumped up. "Excuse me? After all I've done to fight him? After all the times that he's come after me, and my family, and someone thinks I'm *corrupted*? Fuck them, I'd like to see them prove it. Ask Asclepias, he knows where this strange thing in my mind comes from and it's not *Dahak*. They can get over their smelly asses and never look at me again!"

"Sit," Zeus said calmly. "It wasn't an accusation, it was a question."

Xander glared at him. "It *was* an accusation. No one asks that sort of question unless they plan to deal with the consequences." He turned back to look at Hera, who looked pale. "I don't care what they think. If you want to know where it comes from, then I'll allow you to link with Asclepias and let him show you the mark. If not, I'm going home." He walked down and past her, leaving the meeting area.

Zeus looked at his wife. "That wasn't very subtle."

"It wasn't meant to be," she said, giving him a smile. "Strife, I call upon you to show yourself here in front of me," she called out, using the traditional words of summoning.

Strife appeared with the kids. "I can't, not yet. Xander's not back yet." He looked around. "Where is he?"

"Hera pissed him off," Zeus said. "Children, would you go play outside now? Please?"

"Never talk to my children," Xander hissed as he walked back in. He took the twin's hands and nodded at Bliss. "Come on, let's go back and play in our temple." He disappeared with them, his aural flash a bright, angry black.

Bliss shuddered but he followed his uncle out of the meeting area. He didn't want to be around people who had pissed Xander off that bad. He landed on the couch, looking over at his babysitter. "Are we playing or are you pouting?" he asked.

Xander pulled him in for a hug. "I'm not pouting, but you guys have lessons and we need to get to them." He looked up as someone popped in. "Yeah, Deimos?" he asked tiredly.

Deimos gave him a hug. "Way to go," he said proudly. "Ares wouldn't have stood for that either. If there wasn't a silence and stillness spell on the box, he would have hurt someone."

Xander relaxed. "Get off. And I was about to, that's why I left." He looked at the kids, who were watching them. "Get your textbooks, now, guys." He waved a hand and they appeared on the table. "Go study, I'll be over there in a few." He looked up at Deimos. "Am I helping you today too?"

"Nah, I wanted to come give you a hug. Ares wanted to do it, but he's kinda stuck." He winked and left.

Xander gave himself a moment then got up to help the kids learn how to read better.


Strife sat down in the chair, glaring at Hera. "What did you say to make him that upset?"

"Nothing," she said.

He snorted. "Do I look like the Tooth Fairy?"

She looked him over. "I doubt it, if I knew who that was." She sat on her table again. "Strife, you will answer these questions truthfully?" He nodded. "Out loud please."

"If I have to. But I won't be subject to bullying. If you try, I'm gonna retaliate. I won't put up with it like Xander had to."

She smiled. "Good, I always enjoyed butting heads with you." She looked at Zeus, who nodded. "What would you say if I said that there was someone up here that thought you were corrupted."

He burst out laughing. "I'm corrupted?" He started to snicker again. "Gods, what would Dahak want with me? I can see Ares being corrupted, or Hercules, but I wouldn't do a thing for him. He couldn't control me and he couldn't coerce me."

"I see. Are you sure?" He nodded. "Why?"

"Because we're both Gods of Chaos. He can't beat me, he can't coerce me, and his powers are in stalemate against mine. When I went to help rescue Xander, he and I got into a spitting contest and he found out then that he couldn't get me. I'm not impervious, I'm damn well better."

"But he can absorb the memories of the people he kills."

"Yeah, but I was taught to fight. It's a part of me. Hearing about a struggle and knowing the struggle are two different things." He got comfortable. "Now then, what can I tell you about dear, old mom?"

"When was she corrupted, in your opinion?"

"Well, gee, I was dead then and she wasn't exactly thinking about me," he noted dryly. "But I'd have to say it was after Ares brought Xander back to train with Joxer. I heard from Joxer that she went unstable a few years after Xander got back there."

"I see. Why do you think you were called?"

"Because it was politically correct. She's my mother, I was supposed to care about her. Unfortunately, that isn't the truth, no matter how much everyone likes to pretend it is. Discord regretted me from the first moment and you made her have me. She's never liked me, she never will like me, and I like it that way. I'm comfortable with my existence now. So, no, as far as I know, she's always been corrupted by something."

"That would make you suspect for being corrupted also," Hera pointed out.

"Yay," he said, waving a finger in a circle in the air. "Get over it. I have." He swung his legs up over the arm of the chair and got comfortable. "Anything else?"

"Do you have any idea who else might have been corrupted by Dahak?"

"Besides the whole Pantheon?" he suggested snidely. "No. I refuse to accuse anyone." He stood up and bowed to Zeus. "I'm tired of this, I'm gonna help Xander deal with the kids. Call me if you actually find a reason for me to be here." He flashed out, landing behind a vibrating Xander. "Go work it out," he said quietly, taking his seat as Xander left. "Hey, guys. Which subject are we on today?"

"Reading," Bliss sighed, pushing his book over. "This sucks."

"Hey, watch yar language. Only adult gods get to say that." He looked at the book and shook his head. "I can't help you, Bliss, sorry."

Bliss pulled his book back over. "Can I do my translation exercises again?"

"Sure. Go get your cards. Melvin can help you."

Bliss got up and flew away, going back to his father's house to get his cards. On the way, he had to pass the meeting area. He stopped when he heard Xander's name mentioned, landing on top of one of the high arches to listen for a few minutes.

"No, Hera, I don't think Xander's unstable. I think he's very stable, but you just pissed him off beyond belief," Asclepias said calmly. "And I think that someone had better go check on him before he hurts himself wearing it out so the kids don't see it."

She snorted. "I don't care, Asclepias, we heal. So will he." She looked him over. "Who do you think has been corrupted by Dahak? You've touched all our minds."

Asclepias gave her his nastiest, meanest smile. "Well," he said coldly, "I would have to say it was any God who was showing abnormal behavior. Those who have acted irrationally and spitefully, maybe even those who's behavior has been questioned in the past."

"Which would be Xander," Zeus pointed out.

"And Hera," Asclepias said, looking at him. "I've touched Discord's mind, I know..." His face lit up. "I know which God caused the problem in Xander's mind. It's one of us." He blinked and looked up at Zeus, getting back on track. "As I was saying, the marks that Dahak leaves are varied but they all feel about the same. The same poisoned feeling, the same sickness and rotting of the brain. I've felt that up here, but never in Xander." He coughed. "I've felt it in a God who's been taking drugs, which can be another cause of it. I've felt it in Hera's mind, and I've felt it in yours, Zeus, but that could be explained away as Ambrosia poisoning. But I have felt it in someone else's mind, and it was a double feeling. It was in Hercules' mind, and there's no way to explain it away."

"Take that back!" Zeus yelled, creating a lightning bolt and throwing it at him. Fortunately, Asclepias had teleported away. "Take that accusation back."

"No, don't," Hercules said, standing up. "I've felt what he has, father, it may be true. I submit myself to Apollo to find out for sure."

Apollo was released from the witness box. "Release me from duty," he told Zeus. "I do have evidence."

Zeus nodded. "So be it. We'll find an alternate. Maybe Harmonia. She's just and honest."

"She's underage," Apollo reminded him. He bowed to Hera. "I can accuse someone, and free one that you have accused. Yes, my son was correct. There are many things that can create that feeling in a mind. Drugs, which he's felt in me. Ambrosia poisoning, which he's felt too much of. But, even when Xander had Ambrosia poisoning, he never felt like that." Asclepias sent his consideration to his father, who smiled. "Yes, son, that's who's mark that is." He looked at Zeus. "The one who created Xander's peculiar problem was Strife's other side. Bane." He smiled at his son and his mother. "But I have felt Dahak's mark on some of us. You, in your Ambrosia deliriousness, talked about him visiting you in your dreams. As did Zeus." He grabbed Hercules and touched his mind, recoiling. "This one is touched beyond even Discord. His whole existence is because of Dahak. He was born to create dissent."

"Bane exists?" Hercules asked. "I thought she was a myth."

"No, it's Strife's split personality," Ares said, breaking free. "We helped him suppress it early on, but ...." He looked at Asclepias. "Bane is poisoning Xander's pawns?"

Asclepias smiled. "Bane has a crush on Xander!" he said happily.

Ares cocked one eyebrow up. "Oh, really," he said, walking down. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, the God of Female Mischief, or also known as Grief, Dissent, and Dilemma, has her own aura. We've been saying that it was just this side of sane and of Discord's, that's who this is." Asclepias smiled at him. "We need to get Strife in to talk to him about her."

Ares shuddered. "Yeah, we'll do that later. It does explain a lot. But why Xander?"

"Because he was in the perfect spot to do something," Discord said sullenly. "That's why Dahak liked him. He was the friend of Athena's Chosen one, he was a Defender of the Mortal Plane in his own right. He was innocent, but so strong. Dahak wanted that." She looked up at Zeus. "I accuse myself and Hercules. To my knowledge, Dahak has visited Athena and you two in your dreams, trying to find a weak spot in our families." She stood up. "Then he found me and no one noticed for *centuries*," she hissed. "How could you not have noticed?"

"We never saw you," Hera told her.

She laughed. "You saw me at least once a mortal month, Hera. So did everyone else. The only ones who picked up on it where Ares and Xander, and Strife would have if he had been here. Deimos was too young, he didn't know why I was erratic in my job. He just tried to cover for me. You never questioned, you thought it was part of my job." She smiled at Zeus. "You actually congratulated me on how well I was handling my powers." She cackled. "Oh, my love was so right. You are *weak*!"

Apollo shrugged. "Who cares about his opinion. We stood against him."

"We stood because he wasn't tired of playing with us," Ares reminded him. "We almost didn't stand against him when he got serious, and the only reason we did was because Xander is a *hell* of a lot like Linesa." He looked at Zeus. "Xander's problem isn't harmful to the Pantheon and it takes all members of the jury to take up an issue of a problem with an attending God or Goddess. If you try, I will bring your own instability, including the infidelity that you punish in others but not yourself." He stepped down. "Forewoman?" Aphrodite stood up. "Do you concur?"

"I do," she said clearly. "Discord broke an oath she made on Styx water, she shall serve the punishment. Ten years as a mortal and one year as a slave to the rest of us, then she will be freed." She looked at Zeus. "You may carry out the order now so that we may take up the issue of your son."

"I accuse myself," Hercules said formally. "Though I have not broken an oath, I have never mentioned that I was tainted and it has hurt you all." He looked at his father. "Punish me as you will, it won't be any worse than what I've done to myself."

"You're going to go to Tartarus and work off your punishment," Hades said, standing up. He glared at Zeus. "That way there is no favoritism."

Zeus sighed. "So be it," he said wearily. "How have we been corrupted, Apollo?"

"Mostly, you've been touched. We can remove the tainted parts of your mind, but it could prove detrimental." He looked at Hera. "Especially where yours is. You're going to become a backstabbing bitch again, only worse. You're gonna be you with an attitude like Discord when she was pregnant."

Hera shook her head. "I'd rather not be subjected to that." She looked at her husband. "We call upon the other Gods to hold us captive until such a time as we can be freed safely."

Hephaestus stepped forward and held out manacles. "Are you sure?"

She nodded. "I will come back once it's safe." She held her hands out for him, not able to watch as they were clamped on.

Zeus stood up and looked around. "I need someone to take over for me." Athena sat up, her eyes gleaming. "It will not be you, daughter. Nor will it be Ares." He looked around again, stopping on the seat next to Ares'. "Giles, stand and take my place."

"What?" Athena asked, standing up as fast as she could. "He can't have your job, it's not his right! He's not even of the lineage."

"Which means that he'll rule fairly," Zeus pointed out. "If you took over, there would be a massacre within hours." He waved a hand at her, forcing her to sit down, and starting her labor.

Hera struggled to get free, but Apollo stopped her. "I can handle this part," he reminded her. "I'll call if I need you and Heph will set you free." He looked up at his father. "Nice call, but it won't work."

"Then I name Xander!" Zeus thundered. Everyone laughed. "You all act like children and he's proven himself able to take care of them." Athena screamed.

"Name someone who won't cause a controversy," Hera told him. "Name Cupid."

He thought, then nodded. "I name Cupid as my replacement until the time I come back."

Cupid was freed and stood up. "Me?" he squeaked, then cleared his throat. "How am I gonna do that?"

"Easily, treat them like you would Bliss," Zeus said dryly, letting Hephaestus manacle him next. "We will be in retreat, but you can come to us if you need us." He cleared his throat. "Hades?" he called out. His brother appeared. "We need to have somewhere safe to stay until we're freed of Dahak's touch. May we take up a corner of your realm?"

Hades looked stunned. "Yes, of course." He waved and a portal created. "Go wait for me." He looked around. "Who took his place?" Cupid raised his hand but he ignored it. "Who?"

Aphrodite stood up. "Cupie did, Hades, really. Zeus compared us all to Bliss."

Hades snorted. "Cupid, if you need them, just ask me and I'll send you there." He took his newest tenants through to his realm. The portal shut and all hell broke loose.

"Shut up!" Cupid screamed. "'Polo, take Athena and deal with her. Ares, go find your mates and take control of your temple again. And specifically, go find Xander. He's *got* to be pissed." He looked at the rest. "Mom, go home. The rest of you, who has actual complaints right now?" Artemis raised her hand. "Is it majorly important or kinda important?"

"Very." She stood up. "Cupid, we have to finish the trial. Discord accused herself, but no one rendered judgment on her to make her mortal."

"Oh, crap," he sighed. He looked at Discord, then took Zeus' chair, picking up one of his thunderbolts, examining it. He threw it at her, knocking her out. "'Sclep, freeze her powers." Asclepias ran over and did as he was told, locking her powers from her. "Okay, where do we send her?"

"New York?" Artemis suggested.

"Somewhere less inhabited," Aphrodite suggested. "Give her a chance to learn how to be mortal. Maybe the Midwest?"

"England," Xander said as he appeared. "They're good about refugees, they've got a socialized system so she'll be able to get help and housing. They're liberal so she can practice whatever she wants within very loose limits." Giles smiled at him. "It's there or one of the Northern European countries."

"England it is," Cupid said, sending her. "We need an emissary to the Celtic Gods. Hermes?"

"Sure. What do I tell them?"

"Tell them that we ask them to not harm Discord during her punishment. We were told that their region was the safest, but the most instructive for her to be in." Hermes nodded and flew away in a twinkle of light. "Xander, go home."

"Going," he said, catching Bliss. "Want to have him?"

"No, keep him for another hour or so. I need to talk to a few people."

"'Kay. Come on, squirt, let's go work on your reading." He looked at the back of his hand. "'Sclep, when you have time, can I have you heal my knuckles again?"

"Sure," he said with a smile. "Go home and I'll be there shortly."

Xander nodded and left with the little God of Happiness giving him a hug.

Cupid looked at where Apollo was bending over Athena's body. "Is she okay?"

"Yeah, but we can't teleport her while she's in the middle of a contraction." He smiled and took her, taking his son with him, as soon as that round of pains were over with.

Cupid relaxed back into the chair, looking around at the empty space. "Wow. No problems yet." He heard one of the kids screaming and groaned. "What?" he called.

"Nothin'," Strife said as he walked in with Martna. "She's not a happy camper right now and I don't know why."

"Stick your finger in her mouth. That worked for Bliss."

Strife did and she sucked on them. "Hey, it worked!" he said happily.

"Good, 'cause we gotta talk, Strife. There's a problem and it's coming from you."

Strife sat down on a bench, looking up at his lover. "What sorta problem, Cupie?"

"Big ones. It's Bane."

Strife groaned. "Not her!"


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