Authors Notes: I'm screwing with the timeline some. You'll see why soon enough. Spoilers for (sorry, don't know names): the first ep. with Joxer and Callisto, the Baccae ep., the Cleopatra ep., the one where Strife dies. So, yes, some major angst in parts, but not wholly angsty.
Bet Me You Will!
The Fates glared at each other; the thread they were working on was frustrating them all. It could be so many things, but it would have to be able to fit into their family. It was a young God's string of life, and nothing was certain about it yet.
"It has to be a warrior, we'll need another one to protect us," Atropos argued. "When the Twilight comes, we'll only have Ares and Discord. We'll need someone else to help them and protect us from dying."
"No, we'll need a balancing and soothing power," Lachesis argued. "The Pantheon has no middle ground, no one to balance out the extremes we have. There's no ground between Ares and Aphrodite, or even between Ares and Apollo. We need someone to fill in that ground. With whom his father is, he'd be perfect to fit in the middle."
"Why don't we just make him a drag queen," Clotho suggested snidely. "At least he'd be entertaining, which we could *always* use."
"Enough!" Zeus yelled as he appeared. His flash of power frayed the thread, unraveling the spun filaments a little. "Just weave the thing. Hera said the child can't be born without the thread being woven, and the child's ready to come into the world!"
"Fine," Lachesis told him. She walked over to the tapestry and carefully wove the thread into place. She didn't notice the split in it. "There. The son of Dionysus and Bacchus will be born. He will be what he will be." She glared at Zeus. "Are you happy now?"
"Much better now that Hera won't be coming after me to fix you three." He disappeared.
The Fates all took a deep breath. They looked at the new thread, and Clotho squeaked. The other two looked at her. "It's unraveled," she said in anger, pointing at it.
Atropos felt the small thread and shook her head. "All hail our God of ..." She stopped. She couldn't find a word to contain all this one would be.
Clotho felt the thread, blinking at what they had done. "Oh, no," she whispered.
"He'll be the God of Balance," Lachesis said softly. "It's all he could be." She sent the news to Hera, who was holding the young God in her arms. "Joxer, God of Balance."
Joxer, a seemingly normal four year old boy, looking at his sitters with his most intense stare.
"What do you think's wrong with him?" his father asked.
"He's got more than one destiny," his sitter, one of the Muses, reminded him. "He's all three, and then some."
Joxer squinted, then blinked, becoming two little boys. They looked at each other and squealed. They had someone to play with now. Not even their bestest friend Strife and Cupid could play with them the way they could. The second little Joxer reached over and tweaked his nose, making the first one cry.
"Whoa," the Muse said, staring down at him.
Dionysus looked over at his son and shook his head. "How did you do that, son?" He reached down to touch the second one, but he was real. "He's a second Joxer." He looked up. "Zeus!" he cried out in frustration. He would get the Fates for this, they would pay.
Zeus appeared and smiled at the little boy, his smile starting to fall away when he realized what was going on. "How did you do that?"
"I have a theory," the Muse put in. Both men looked at her. "It's his different sides."
"If that's true, then we could be in great trouble," Zeus told her. "Being in two places at once could be quite distracting and lead to the God being weakened." He looked at Joxer. "Please rejoin, boy," he ordered gently. The second Joxer wavered and changed to one that hugged him. "Thank you, but please pull yourself back together. Right now, Joxer."
"I'll do it," Dionysus told him. "Rejoin or no bath." Joxer was instantly back in one body; he loved his baths, they were his favorite part of the day. But it was the dangerous persona in the forefront. "I mean it," his father warned. The innocent little boy smiled at him again. "Thank you." He looked at his father. "I like this personality better," he explained. "I'd rather he stay this one until he needs the others."
Zeus nodded. "I can understand that. But you'll still have to train these other personalities. If you want, I can ask Ares to include him in Strife's lessons."
"Could you? He scares me."
"Of course, son." Zeus smiled at him and left, going to do that.
Ares appeared a few minutes later, looking down at the little boy. Then at his father. "What needs to be trained?"
"Become your dark side, son," Dionysus encouraged. "Show him how mean you can be."
Joxer's dark side came forward and he grinned cruelly at Ares. "Dark one," he said happily. "Me play?"
"Later," Ares told him, laying a hand on the boy's head. He smiled. "Turn back for me?" The little boy turned into his happy, energetic side. "Not that one. The other one, the one your father likes." The boy changed again, going back to his dominant personality. Ares stood up and looked at his half-brother. "Two of his sides need trained, but you probably won't like what the deadlier one will be."
Dionysus sighed. "I know, but he needs it. Even Zeus agreed." He looked at his son. "Do it again," he told him. "Become two of you." Two little Joxers sat side-by-side. "He can do that too," he said quietly.
Ares considered the God. "But that's very useful," he told the father. "He can be two at once, which means he can fulfil part of his destiny faster." He shrugged. "I'll include him in Strife's lessons if you want." Dionysus nodded. "Bring him tomorrow and we'll start with the basics." He disappeared.
Dionysus looked at the Muse. "I'm losing my son to his destiny."
"Maybe, but he'll always be your son."
*** Twenty years later ***
Joxer whistled as he walked down the road. He tripped over a rock, but that wasn't unusual. When he was in two bodies he couldn't pay full attention on either one, unless one was sleeping. Right now, part of him was auditioning for a part in a traveling show, and part of him was on this road, looking for someone to travel with and study. He didn't want to go home without seeing most of the world, and it would help him with his destiny. As the balancing God, he had to know about many areas and ways of life. He had to be a lover and a fighter, and be able to know about the other Gods' areas too. So, he had learned to sing, play a lute, and how to farm crops. Horses and he still didn't get along though. They still hated him, maybe Artemis wasn't over him killing her favorite deer yet. He shrugged off his musing when he saw a group of warriors ahead. "Hmm. I could play with them," he suggested. His other part reminded him that he wasn't all there and had to be very careful. While he was listening to his other side, he was captured and brought before this blonde warrioress, who was even more insane than he was. Yeah, this was going to be good.
At sunset that night, Joxer prayed to his best buddy, Strife. His buddy appeared and smiled at him. "I think I can do this," he told him, telling him all about the warrioress he had gotten in with. Xena was his perfect subject to study. She was approaching his area of emphasis with her redemption, but she wasn't fully sane either. She was perfectly between his, Ares, and Strife's areas.
Strife hugged him. "Just stay safe. Remember, you're not Jett right now." He blew a kiss. "You gonna go to Aunt 'Dite's party next month?"
"Would I want to miss it?" Joxer asked with a grin. "And don't worry, she and Jett may meet up yet." He winked and headed back to the camp. He could go to bed now, satisfied that someone else was watching out for him, just in case.
Joxer frowned at the women's backs. They were acting funny. It had been a long tour with them, and that one new one was starting to worry him. She wasn't Ares', yet she was aggressive. He hoped that the upcoming Amazons would be able to help her find her center of balance, but he had his doubts. Her picking on him was getting annoying, and dangerous. He could feel his dark side coming out every time she sniped at him or tried to hurt him. There was going to be an incident soon and nothing would be able to stop it. Not even his father or Zeus would be able to stop the massacre.
He looked around the small campsite. It was clean, neat, and the two women were asleep already. He prayed to his buddy. Maybe Strife would be able to help him hold in his anger. Strife was the only one who could control his dark side. Ares just pointed him at a target, Strife talked him out of his murderous rages. Instead of Strife, it was Ares who appeared. He nodded at the woods so they could talk without waking anyone and headed out a little way away from the camp. "I need Strife," he whispered.
"I know," Ares said in his normal voice. "They're down for the night, I had Morpheus dose them so they couldn't wake up." He smiled as he looked his student over. "What's wrong?"
"I can't take it anymore, Ares. I'm going to hurt them."
"You could leave," Ares pointed out.
Joxer shook his head. "I can't. I need to finish studying them so I can understand my spot." Ares shook his head. "Yes, I do. If I can't understand people who can find their inner balance, I won't ever find my own and I'll never be able to take my rightful spot in the Pantheon."
Ares chuckled. "You've already taken your spot, Joxer, you just don't participate in the benefits."
"I do so," Joxer said sharply. "I go to all the parties, I go to all the meetings. I take part in the Pantheon, but I don't fit in because I don't understand myself."
Ares put a hand on his shoulder. "I know that much, Joxer, but it doesn't mean that you have to do this all the time. You can take a break."
Joxer sighed. "Even if I take a break, I'm still near letting Jett out. Her attentions are making me break loose." He shook his head, trying to keep the dark side of himself back.
"Let it go," Ares said gently. "I'll send him somewhere to help me out." Joxer gave him a grateful look. "I'll even keep him from killing Gabrielle." He smiled. "Now change and we'll leave."
Joxer relaxed his control and let out his Jett side, who smiled at his favorite Uncle. "You've got stuff for me to do?"
"Oh, yeah," Ares said with a smile. "I've always got jobs for you to do. People to kill, wars to run, and even people to torture." He wrapped his nephew in his arms. "Go pack and we'll leave for the night." Jett got free by biting him and jogged back to the camp, going to do as he was told. He gathered up his sword and daggers, then went with Ares to go wear out some anger.
It was a good thing.
The fateful day came when the Fates dared to show their faces to him. Joxer glared at them and instantly his Jett side came out. "You dare come *near* me?" he asked, sounding shocked. "I've sworn that you'd all die if I ever saw you outside of protected areas of Olympus."
Clotho smiled sadly at him. "We have news for you, young Joxer."
"Bad news," Atropos added.
"Very bad news," Lachesis put in. She sat the boy down on a nearby stump. "You must listen carefully. It will hurt, but it must be done. One of all of you must die and the threads have decided it's to be your father."
"Daddy?" Jace asked, coming out.
"Yes, Joxer, Bacchus, your second father," Clotho agreed. She gave him a sad smile. "The tapestry has spoken and we just now found out."
Atropos laid a hand on his head. "It must happen, you cannot hinder it, but you can get justice for him." Joxer came out and nodded. "We did not know until this morning and even protesting to Zeus and Hera has not cured the problem. He must die so that we all will live."
"You think," Joxer told them. The three women nodded. "When?"
"Later this year. And you will be there to see it happen," Clotho told him. "You'll be asked to carry the weapon to Xena."
"Her," Joxer groaned. "Why her?"
"Because her life line is very tangled. It's interwoven with the Gods' lines and she'll bear a heavy impact on our lives."
"I could kill her," Joxer offered.
"Then the Twilight will come faster," Lachesis explained. "It will be her and her friend who will bring it onto us."
"They can both die," Jett said as he came back out. "It wouldn't be that hard." The three women shook their heads. "Why not?"
"Because she will change us in a positive way throughout it all."
"If you don't all die," Jett argued.
"But it must be," Clotho told him. "The threads have told."
Jett hung his head. "I'll get justice?" he asked finally. The women all made assenting noises. He looked at them. "When?"
Lachesis smiled at him. "If it wasn't them, it would be Hercules and we can't fight him. If it's her, we can fight the Twilight."
Jett sighed. "Do I have to watch my own father die and not do anything?"
"You can only mourn," Atropos said quietly, touching him on the shoulder. "We are sorry for what we did to you, but it was necessary as it turned out. In the end, you will be whole." They disappeared.
Jett turned back into Joxer. He sat there and cried, even after Strife and Cupid heard and came to hold him. "Daddy's going to die," he told them. "I have to watch."
"Those women need to go," Cupid told Strife, who nodded. "That's just cruel."
Joxer wiped his face off and looked up at them. "They said I could get justice, just not yet."
Strife gave him a squeeze. "We'll be here, dude. Whenever you need us. And Unc said you could come kill things again if you wanted." He looked at Cupid, who nodded. "We'll talk with Hades, you'll be able to go see him at least." They disappeared.
Joxer straightened up. He would do this because he had to. He would mourn because it was his right. And those women would pay even more.
When the time came, Joxer had to hold in his scream. No, not his father. He turned his head and walked out, unable to stand there any longer. He gave the women a flimsy excuse and they didn't question it, but Orpheus did. The talking head kept giving him looks while he was still there. "What?" Joxer asked finally.
"You were crying," Orpheus noted. "Why?"
Joxer growled at him and nearly changed but he couldn't do that, not yet. Not until he was given permission. "I care, it's a human thing," he told the formerly dead person. "Leave me alone." He left the talking head with the women and wandered off, going to grieve in peace. Out in the woods, he felt someone appear and wandered that way, surprised by who was waiting on him. "Hera, I'm not the person you want to be around," he warned.
She smiled sadly at him. "While I didn't *like* Bacchus, I did welcome him," she told him. "Not only did he keep Zeus focused on him and not Hephaestus, but he was an ... interesting God."
"Shut up!" Joxer yelled, making her flinch. "You didn't like him and you don't like me, and if you try to lie to me about it I'm going to shut your mouth for you!" He turned and stormed off. He had just made a bad mistake, having Hera mad at him wasn't going to be a good thing, but he couldn't take fake sympathy.
Zeus appeared beside Hera. "Did he just threaten you?"
"He's grieving and he knows we could have stopped it," she told her husband. "He has every right to be angry with us." She checked on the cave, which was now empty. "We can go gather him now. We'll have the funeral in five days time."
"Let Hades do it," Zeus suggested.
Joxer, or actually Jett, walked into the clearing. "If you touch my father's body, I will curse you. No one who didn't love him will ever touch him again." He glared at his rulers. "Yeah, you're right, we're *all* angry."
"Jett," Zeus said, trying to sound comforting.
"Save it," he spat. "You don't care about him, about any of us except yourself and your bastards." He turned to Hera. "I'll tell you when the funeral will be and where. Don't *bother* yourself." He walked back to the caves, deftly avoiding Xena and Gabrielle. It wasn't that hard, neither of them wanted to deal with the outer world yet, they were both stunned from the transformation back to human from baccae. He walked in and sighed. His father's body was still in the same place. Right where Xena had left him. Right where he had died. He carefully walked through the hot, wet blood and picked up the heavy body. Strife and Cupid appeared on the other side of the body, Cupid picking up the head and Strife grabbing his father's feet to help him carry him. "Home," he told them gently. "He'll be buried in his favorite garden." They both nodded and together they teleported the dead God to his final resting place.
Ares and Hephaestus were already there, building the bier that would hold his father's body. Aphrodite, Hestia, and Hecate were there to bathe and clean the body, and to cover it for him. Joxer perched himself on a rock at the foot of the bier and watched the body, hoping for some miracle that would let it rise again. When the third day had passed, Ares came to him and gently suggested that it was time. He didn't respond to him at all.
When the fifth day had passed, the other Gods started to worry and sent for Hades. He could start the funeral without Joxer's permission or help. Hades appeared and took a look at Joxer, then shook his head. "Let him grieve," he counseled. He put a spell on the body to keep it from decomposing for another week then went over to talk to his nephew. "Joxer?" he asked gently. The boy looked at him. "You don't have to do it today, but it has to be soon. You'll have to let go."
"I can't," Joxer told him.
Hades patted him on the shoulder. "I understand." Joxer snorted. "No, I do. I see this all the time, young man." He pulled Joxer to his feet. "Come, I'll help you if you want." Joxer nodded silently and let himself be led near to the head. "Whenever you're ready."
Joxer nodded and created a ball of burning pitch. "Goodbye, daddy," he said, then let it go. Someone had prepared the body well, it went up quickly. He felt strong arms go around him and looked back, giving Strife a sad smile. "I can't do this," he told him.
"You'll avenge him," Strife reminded him. "Keep that in mind." Joxer nodded and leaned against him, letting him hold him up. "I'll be with you," he promised. "I'll hold 'em while you make 'em beg." That got the first smile from Joxer in days.
Discord looked over at them. "The Fates, Hera and Zeus, or the two women?" she asked.
"Any and all of them," Joxer swore quietly. He looked at his Aunt, one of his favorite people. "They all did this and they'll all pay." As soon as the body was ashes, he created an urn covered in his other father's sacred grape vines and put the ashes into it. It was tucked into a small grave near where the water went into the grove of grapes. It was where his father had liked to sit and watch the grapes grow with his lover. Dionysus was too upset to come anywhere near the ceremony and would understand and appreciate the placement of his lover's body.
Joxer disappeared for a few weeks. No one heard from him, not any of his remaining family. Across the border, a war was started though, and it was the bloodiest in history. Those in the know knew that Joxer was working on his grief.
Joxer smiled at the women walking toward him. He wasn't ready to meet up with them but they would pursue him if he turned and walked away. He had to hastily clean the blood from his armor so they wouldn't notice, but he was his usual self by the time they got close enough to really see him. "Hey," he said, giving them his usual smile. It was an act, but he was a great actor. He felt the Jace part of him wanting out, but told him to stay down. They needed subtly so the women wouldn't suspect anything, not a loud, obnoxious person. That would come later. Jace could come out and sing to his hearts content later.
"Hey, Joxer," Xena said, giving him a smile.
"Where did you run off to?" Gabrielle asked. "You did good playing the lute."
Joxer ground his teeth together. "Thanks," he told them, looking back down the path. "Where are you two heading?"
"Lerna for a festival," Xena told him.
"Maybe I'll tag along then." Inside Joxer, Jett was screaming at him, wanting to know what was going on. He reminded his darker side that they were going to be able to get even with them, soon hopefully, so they needed to know where they were going. The prospect of a taunting hunt made him feel a little bit better, but not much, and the voice went silent. He followed along behind them, silently planning on what to do with them. They'd meet with Jett some day.
The day finally came when Xena and Jett were to cross paths, but not for the revenge he craved, for a job he had been contracted to do. Joxer ingeniously got himself going with them, and decided to play with his prey for a little bit. He even got himself in the same room, letting Jett pick on him. The only person who suspected anything was Autolycus. The King of Thieves wasn't that dumb. He had figured out that there was something strange about the two men, but he didn't quite know what. Jett planned to blow his mind later by introducing him to Jace, but he was caught first.
Not that it was a problem, Joxer simply pulled that part of himself back into his body and 'escaped' from jail. It was funny to listen to the various ideas about how he had gotten away, especially the ones that said Autolycus had helped him. Maybe he'd get someone to pass them onto the arrogant man and make him have to defend himself to Hercules. Or maybe he'd go share that part with Hercules himself, and get in some hunting at the same time. Hercules was so *smug* that it bothered him. Maybe a dose of Jace would help loosen him up. He left the women and rejoined his theater troup, putting them in Hercules and Iolaus' path.
Jace slowly wandered up to the men and cooed at them. "Such *wonderful* men!" he cried, reaching out to squeeze their muscles. "Come, you must see my show! I am simply divine." She batted her lashes at them and flounced off with her skirts twitching as she walked away. "Tonight," she called back.
Iolaus looked at his traveling companion. "Was that Joxer? He seemed...odd."
"I think that was his brother," Hercules said, looking confused. "I heard he had a show."
"No, the other one. They're triplets. Cupid told me about them." He shook his head. "Did you want to go?" he asked.
"Sure, why not. I'm always open to new experiences," Iolaus agreed happily. "How bad can it be? I've heard Joxer sing."
Hercules smiled down at him. "Okay, we'll go." He led the way to the inn and tossed out a few drunk patrons, earning them rooms for the night.
Jace did his favorite dance number, swaying and teasing his audience. He stayed close to where Iolaus was sitting, giving him little smiles throughout the act. By the time he was done, the blond was hot, ready for him, and willing to ignore Hercules for a few hours. The noise they made actually brought Hercules running, who knew Iolaus was that vocal, but it just made the torment all that much sweeter. Let Zeus' little boy wonder about his friend while they traveled.
It didn't quite work the way he wanted it to, Hercules just shrugged it off, but he could see the speculative light in the hero's eyes. Later that night, Aphrodite came to him. "Hey," he said, trying to remove his makeup.
"Thank you," she said, giving him a hug.
"For making Iolaus happy. The lunk hasn't gotten any in nearly six months and I was getting depressed from his prayers." She flopped down onto the chair next to his table. "So, how've you been? No ones seen you recently. Or if they have, they haven't told me about it."
Joxer smiled at her. "I'm planning, Auntie." He went back to wiping at the sticky eye paste. "It's all good right now."
She sighed and gave him a hug. "Hera and Zeus won't allow you to go after them, sweetie."
He hugged her back. "Yay," he whispered in her ear. "They didn't stop the Twilight." He pulled back. "Be very careful, Aphrodite, some people know it hasn't stopped. Athena and Zeus both know." He looked at his door, then back at her. "Hercules is coming."
"Laters," she said, disappearing with a flash of glitter.
Joxer got up to answer the door, switching back to Jace on the three step journey. "Hello?" she asked as she opened it, giving the hero a big smile. "What can Jace do for you?" she asked as she let him in. "Please excuse my mess monster, I have *got* to do laundry." She sat back down and removed the remaining makeup more efficiently than her other sides could. She looked at Hercules in the mirror, he was staring at her. "I am fascinating, yes, but I doubt you came to watch me take off my makeup."
"Joxer," Hercules said, leaning forward. "What are you doing?"
Jace turned and smiled at him. "I am Jace, not Joxer. He's been a naughty boy." She winked at him. "But I'll pass that on."
Hercules shook his head. "I know who you are, Jace. Remember, I get to hear about these things too."
Joxer took control again, looking at him through world-weary eyes. "What do you *think* you know, Hercules?"
"I know that you're down here to study different types of humans so you can find your balance spot. I know that you're all three of you." He smiled. "I know that you're going to kill someone soon."
Joxer nodded. "I'm planning it right now, but they deserve it."
"Do they?" he asked quietly.
"They killed first," he said coldly. "This is retaliation."
Hercules nodded. "That's fine, I won't get in your way, as long as it's not Iolaus."
Joxer laughed. "No, honey, he was just fun. Loud, but great fun." He smiled. "Don't you worry, you're *far* down my hit list and it's all because of your parents." He stood up. "Now get out. And don't tell anyone what you think you know." Hercules stood up, looming over him. "I've been alive as long as Strife," he reminded the hero, "and I'm a full God. You won't win."
"Fine," Hercules said. He left the little room, going back to his companion.
Joxer sat down and picked up the cloth his other side had been using, removing the last of the foundation from his chin. "Well, that went well," he muttered. He changed to Jett.
"But he won't stop us, not even for her."
A few months later, Joxer got the worst news of his life. Strife had been hit. He had felt the impact of the knife, the burning pain of the hind's blood in the wound, and had gone immediately to his side, hoping to help him. He called for Apollo, for anyone, but no one came. He held his friend as he died, crying openly for him. He looked up and noticed Iolaus, but he doubted that the mortal saw him. He wiped his eyes and looked around, spotting Ares coming back. "Who?" he yelled.
"Callisto," he whispered, falling to his knees to touch his nephew's face. "She did it."
"We'll get her," Iolaus promised.
"Yes, we will," Joxer vowed. "Right after I have a talk with someone." He disappeared, knowing he couldn't do anything yet. He went to the Fates' cave, blasting their shields open. "You said no one else would die," he accused. "You lied!"
"We thought none other would die," Atropos told him, backing away from him. "We had no knowledge of this act."
Joxer snarled. "You know everything, you weave it. You knew that my father would die. You knew that Strife would die." He grabbed Lachesis and shook her. "You may have taken everything away from me, but you won't last long." He threw her across the room. "Beware, because this is war." He disappeared, going to do for Ares and Discord what they had done for him. He sat beside the silent Gods, mourning with them, his anger a strong counterpoint.
Discord finally looked at him. "Why is it you?" she asked him.
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "But I'm going to find out, even if I have to rip their limbs off and feed the flesh to them." She nodded and went back to watching Strife's body.
Ares looked at him and shook his head. "Don't start a war on Olympus, Joxer, it won't get anything done. Be more subtle." He stood up. "It's time," he announced. Discord choked back a sob and accepted the loving arms around her, holding her up. "They'll pay," he reminded her.
"Yes, they will," she agreed. "With their blood."
As the body was laid to rest, Cupid showed up with his son. He bowed to everyone. "I'm sorry. I wanted to be here earlier, but I had to work out something."
Joxer smiled sadly at him. "We know. How's the baby?"
Cupid shook his head. "He's fine. How are you?" He walked over and hugged his friend. "Are you okay?"
"He'll be fine," Discord told him. She looked at the sleeping baby snuggled against his chest in the carrier like the Amazons used. "Why'd you bring him?"
"That's what I had to get settled," he told her. "Psyche is leaving." He shrugged when Joxer opened his mouth. "It happens." He looked at the burial spot. "Can we visit?"
"Hades hasn't stopped any of us," Ares told him. "If he does, then we'll work on him next."
"First, the Fates," Joxer told him. Ares and Discord looked at him in shock. "They told me that my father had to die, and that I had to be there, so that no one else would have to die. Then they claim that they didn't know anything." He crossed his arms. "Someone's lying and I intend to find out who."
Ares nodded. "Be subtle. The more anger you put into it, the more likely it is that one of the others will side with them." He clapped his son the arm. "I'm going to go to Pylia." Discord nodded and left with him.
Cupid looked at his friend. "Don't get dead," he said quietly. "I can't lose anyone else."
Joxer smiled and laid a hand on the side of Cupid's face. "You too. If they come after you, tell me." He stepped back and teleported back to his temple, formerly his father's. He sat down on his throne and called his power to him. "There will be no balance until the Gods responsible for this are dead," he announced.
Zeus appeared in front of him. "You can't do that."
"You can't stop me," Joxer reminded him with a cold smile. "If you had looked, you would have prevented all of this. My father, my friend, and you had better not go after Cupid and Bliss, or else you're going to go next," he said calmly. "You, Zeus, are as much at fault for starting the Twilight as the Fates are. And I believe you got them to lie to me." He changed to Jett and lunged, manifesting the knife Ares had pulled out of Strife's chest. He slashed across Zeus' chest, injuring him but not seriously. "Leave and never bother me again, or know what grief feels like. I will make you feel what I do right now."
Zeus fled in fear. He went to Apollo's temple, and called Athena to him. Together the three of them planned on how to stop the mad God.
It was Apollo who figured out that it was really grief and decided to see if he could stop the war. "Joxer?" he called as he walked into the temple. Joxer called out from the back room. As they met in the throne room, Apollo scanned him for signs of madness. All he could see was the anger. Stronger than even Ares', it encompassed all he was. He drew the younger God into his arms and held him. "I'm sorry they did this to you," he whispered. "But you can't harm Zeus. That's not your right."
"He killed my father, I get to hurt him," Joxer said as he pulled back.
"Then get Hercules. Or one of the other bastards."
Joxer's left eyebrow went up. "You know that you're technically in that category too?"
Apollo laughed. "Yeah, but if you hurt me, you'd have to deal with Artie and Mom."
"Which isn't that hard to do," Joxer reminded him, moving away so he could sit on his throne. "I will get Zeus for this, Apollo. One way or another. I advise you to stay out of it. I don't want to hurt you, but if you pick a side, you're the enemy."
Apollo nodded. "I understand," he agreed. "Just be careful. Remember, Hera and Zeus can force the Fates to cut your line."
Joxer shook his head. "If mine is cut or breaks, then they'll have to find someone to hold up a good portion of their crop of chosen mortals. They put me into the weft." He smiled. Apollo's mouth fell open. "And since they made me this way, they should have known it would happen." Apollo nodded and left him alone. "And they'll see what their creation brings," he said quietly.
Zeus called all the Gods together to make his announcement. "No Gods may go visit in Asphodel anymore," he told them.
"Bet me," Ares yelled, standing up and calling his sword to him. "You can't keep me from visiting Strife, or anyone else. That's Hades decision to make, not yours."
"Sit down or join them," Zeus thundered. The columns around the meeting area shook but Ares didn't back down. "You can ask him yourself then." He summoned Hades. "Tell them!"
Hades looked at the House of War, then shook his head. "Zeus has ordered that I not allow any of you down to visit."
Joxer stood up slowly, behind Hades because of where his seat was. "Then we'll have to fight over it," he said calmly and quietly. "I will not miss seeing my father." He saw Zeus blanche. "Forgot about him already?" he asked snidely. Hades turned to look at him. "If you want to try and keep me there, go right ahead, but I will be down there to see my father today." He looked at the ruling couple. "You can't stop me and unless you kill me too, there's no way for you to make this ruling stick. It's not your area."
Hades smiled at him. "I did say Zeus ordered me to, but I am the ruler of my own kingdom." He faced down Zeus, who was looking a little scared. "You can't keep them out if you allow and force Hercules to come down every few months to see someone. Nor will I allow the two dead Gods from this Pantheon to go unmourned. To do so would be cruel." He crossed his arms. "That means that the only thing he *could* do is try to trap you down there."
Ares nodded. "I'll take that into consideration." He glared at his father. "You're lucky Hades is reasonable," he told him. "You're quickly becoming a burden." He turned and walked away.
"Get back here!" Zeus yelled. "You do not talk to me like that!" He tried to send a thunderbolt at Discord as she left too, but it was stopped before it made it to her.
"I won't allow you to use my creations to hurt those who are grieving," Hephaestus told him. "I know you never felt it, but some of us have and we're allowed to mourn for those you've had killed to try and stop the Twilight."
Joxer looked at him. "It wasn't stopped, it was started," he told him. Everyone looked at him. "The taking of a God's life is the start of the Twilight, not the way to end it. So says the scrolls." He held out his hand and a scroll appeared in it. He tossed it at Hera. "You're still going to pay," he told her. Then he walked away too, going to finish making his plans. He barred entry to his temple, making sure no one would intrude on him.
Zeus looked around. "Something will have to be done about him."
Apollo stood up. "Then you'll do it without me." He looked at his twin, Artemis, who nodded and stood beside him. "Joxer was right, you could have stopped it. There wouldn't be a war among us if you hadn't let them die." He and his twin walked away. Most of the Gods followed them, deciding to stay out of it. Only Athena remained.
Zeus smiled at his daughter. "You'll stand with me on this?" She nodded. "Then find a way to stop him. Before his death irritates more Gods." He disappeared.
She smiled coldly. She'd hated Joxer since the day he was born. A minor God doing such an important job was a heresy to her and she would fix it. She went to her temple to plan her strategy. It had to be flawless.
Joxer landed in front of Autolycus, giving him a smile. "Hi," he said, getting the thief's attention. "I need some help."
"Joxer, what sort of help could I, the King of Thieves, give you?" He looked at the young man. "Or what sort of trouble are you in that your brother can't take care of for you?"
Joxer sat down next to him, touching him on the hand to immobilize him. "I am my brother," he told the thief. Then he smiled. "I'm *that* Joxer, Autolycus, not just someone named after him." The other man's mouth fell open. "I need you to find something very precious for me." He put a scroll in front of him. "You must never say the name out loud, but I need the vial to stop everyone from dying."
Autolycus swallowed hard and unrolled the scroll to read it. He looked up, his mouth open. "You need *this*?"
Joxer nodded. "To avenge some deaths and to make sure no one else dies." He stood up. "Call on me when you have it." He disappeared.
Autolycus sat there rereading the scroll, wondering if he could do this. It was a daring plan, but was it the best plan? It would certainly improve his reputation though, so he should probably do it. Besides, Joxer would owe him big time if he pulled it off.
Joxer poured the treatment of Chaos Tears onto the pool of Ambrosia. This would make them see what sort of Hell they had created. "Onto each of them, visions of the future to plague them," he chanted. The spell took hold and the ambrosia glowed bronze for a moment, then went back to normal. He slipped off before anyone could catch him.
Well, except for Discord, who had been following him now for weeks to see what he would do. She stopped him outside his temple, grabbing him by the arm. "What was that?"
"That was something to show them how bad it'll be," he said coolly. "Just wait. But you can tell Ares if you want." He walked into his temple and sealed it shut. The only ones he called to him were Bliss and Cupid. They both came quickly, hoping he was feeling better. "Don't eat any ambrosia," Joxer warned him. "And don't feed any to Bliss."
"You poisoned it?" Cupid asked, shocked. "This isn't you, Joxer."
Joxer smiled at him. "No, I didn't, but it will show the future that Zeus has planned. I don't want either of you hurt. Especially not the little guy." He smiled at Bliss, who waved at him. He looked into Cupid's eyes. "Just don't. Go hide or something."
Cupid nodded, even though he didn't understand. "Can I tell Mom?"
Joxer shook his head. "She needs to know. She's one of the strongest we have. Besides, it shouldn't get her, being Cronus' daughter by the sea makes her different." He walked over to them and gave them a hug. "Be safe and go hide," he said gently. "I'll protect you." He sent them to the mortal plane, to his and Strife's favorite hiding spot. He might not need it when this was over, it was fitting that it go to Cupid and Bliss. They were the ones who would inherit most everything of his. He sat down on his throne and waited until the daily delivery of ambrosia. Within an hour, the screams of pain and horror made him smile.
Hephaestus was one of the first free, and he knew who had caused it. He was the only God who could open a sealed temple because he had created them all. He stormed in. "What was that?" he demanded.
"The future as created by Zeus and Hera," he said calmly.
"You've gone too far this time," Zeus thundered as he entered the temple. "You will pay."
"No, you will pay," Joxer told him, lifting a hand. "That was the future you created." In his hand the vial he had used appeared, and it was a very well known vial because it made both Gods flinch. "You created a future without most of you. Are you happy now? Did anyone *actually* have to die?" He stood up. "Call a trial if you want, I'll still get my say."
Hera appeared, her face wet with tears. She took the vial and checked it, then threw it at her husband's head. "How dare you!" she shrieked. "You damned us all!" She turned to look at Joxer. "You knew?"
"He made the Fates tell me that I had to be there when my father died. They decided I had to carry the weapon to kill him. Then they killed Strife, all in Zeus's name to stop the Twilight. Well, gee, it's still happening and they both died for no reason." Joxer switched personalities, becoming Jett.
"And you will both pay. You, Hera, for knowing about the heresy and not stopping it. You check with the Fates every few days. You had to know about this. Zeus will pay for breaking his own laws. Or there will never be any balance and you will all die while I sit here and laugh." He sat back down and crossed his legs, becoming Jace.
"As for the future, it looks really grim for a lot of you. Bliss will live. A few of the Muses, maybe a few minor Gods for a few years, until their followers die off and they're forgotten. Bliss will be the only one left, besides Ares. Are you willing to let that happen?" She shook her head. "Then I would call upon your position as the Queen of the Gods and fix it, before I sit here and laugh while you all die." He turned back into Joxer.
"My family and friends will be avenged. You may have destroyed one of my fathers and killed the other, but you won't get me."
"You're a minor God," Zeus sneered. "You won't live for long."
Joxer chuckled coldly. "I'm over a theory of the basic construction of the Universe. Only Gaea, Cronus, Rhea, or Chaos itself can kill me, Zeus. I don't have worshipers, I have threads I hold still." He crossed his feet in the other direction. "Feel lucky that your reputation will live because some writings will exist. I've looked into the future and all anyone knows about you is that you slept around a lot." He shrugged. "Quite a legacy, isn't it?"
"You're not going to do this to us," Zeus shouted. He sealed the temple. "You're staying here."
Joxer shrugged. "I'm a God, Zeus, you can't take that from me without a trial. I can create anything I need." He looked to his left as Gaea appeared. "Grandmother," he said with a nod. "Did you want to yell at me too?"
She shook her head. "I felt your grief when you poured in the Chaos Tears," she said quietly. She looked at her children. "Leave him alone, Zeus. Your prejudice against him is over. There will be no campaign of hatred any longer. This war will stop!"
He sneered at her. "Who are you to tell me what to do? I'm the King of the Gods."
Hera stepped away from him, far away from him. He had gone too far this time.
"I'm the one who created you and your position," she reminded him, waving a hand. He was trapped in chains of her making, things that had not been seen on this planet since before the war with the Titans. "I brought you into this world and I will take you out of it, Zeus. Right now, it'd be very easy." She walked up to him. "You have caused your generation so much pain, Zeus. Unnecessary pain and suffering that has warped the young." She pointed at Joxer. "Do you think he would have done any of this if you hadn't made him stand there and not react while his father was killed? Or if you hadn't killed the only person keeping his grief in check?" Zeus tried to move, to struggle free, but it wasn't any use. "I named you necessary before. I now name you unnecessary." He started to fade away. "You will hurt no one, never again." He disappeared with a quiet pop. She turned to Hera. "You can fix this, or you can let it go. He did this to show you the hell your husband had created. Are you willing to die and lose the whole Pantheon over a bias and a hatred?" She shook her head. "Good. Then go fix it." Hera disappeared as soon as Gaea had unsealed the temple. She smiled at Hephaestus. "Leave us, grandson. We need to have a talk." He disappeared too and she looked up at her hurting grandson. "It was a very radical move," she said, walking up to him. "It was the wrong one, but it was effective."
He shrugged. "I wanted them to hurt as much as I do."
"I know. That's why it was the wrong one." She opened her arms and he fell into them, sobbing. "Joxer, I know that you grieve for them, but they will come back." Joxer shook his head. "If we can make sure it never happened, you wouldn't be in pain."
"Then the Twilight will still come."
Gaea pushed him back a few inches so she could look at him. "Do you trust me?" He nodded, wiping off his tears. "Then trust me to deal with this. I will make sure none of this happens." She looked over her shoulder as Ares and Discord appeared. "It was a brave and foolhardy move." Ares nodded. "You will come and help me fix this, Ares. It will take your strength. Or else you will end up alone evermore."
Ares took her hand and disappeared with her.
Discord pulled Joxer over to a small bench and cradled him like she would her own son. He had paid such a horrible price. Around her, she could feel the fabric of the universe change and shift. She only hoped it was a good one.
Joxer looked up and smiled at his favorite cousin, Strife. Reality had changed! He remembered, but it had changed. He launched himself at his cousin, hugging him tightly.
"Whoa," Strife said, pushing him back some. "Why did you do that?"
"You don't know me?" Joxer asked, his heart starting to break. But if this was the price he had to pay for his father and best friend to be alive, so be it.
"No, I know you just fine, Joxer, but why did ya hug me like you'd missed me for ages?"
Joxer led Strife over to a fallen tree and explained everything to him, told him everything that had happened up until he had felt reality change. Strife's mouth hung open father and father, until eventually he stood up and shook his head. "That's just creepy." He looked around. "Gaea?" She came up out of the ground. "Is he right? Was I dead?"
"Until we changed a few things." She smiled at Joxer. "As soon as you fall asleep, it will all seem like a nightmare to you. Every horror will retreat to the statement from a dream." She waved a hand across his face and he slumped over, falling onto the ground already asleep. "Strife, you are now the keeper of this knowledge. It is up to you to stop the Twilight." She gave him a fond smile and patted the side of his face. "You are by far one of my favorites." Then she disappeared.
Strife shuddered and went to talk to Ares, and maybe get a bard to write all this down for him. But before he went, he created a nice camp for Joxer. "Gods of Feasts shouldn't sleep on the ground." He flashed out. The Gods of Revelry and Tragedy, Joxer's brothers, had to know about this too. There was no way that a sweet guy like Joxer would ever be able to handle this on his own. Even though Joxer had said something about being a three-faced God.
Ares looked up as Strife appeared, scroll in hand. "You want me to put that somewhere safe?" he asked. Strife nodded and Ares created a casket for the scroll, something that only a God, or their offspring, could open. He waited until the scroll was put away before saying anything else. "Is Joxer all right? We had to separate him to make things radically different."
"I think he'll be really lonely now that he's alone in his head," Strife offered. "He was always such a happy, yet sad, little guy and I never understood it until today."
"For Joxer, today is just a continuation of what happened to him in that other world."
"Gaea said it would all seem like a dream to him."
Ares sighed, looking relieved. "Good. He is a nice guy and probably couldn't handle the pain and misery that Jett causes on a daily basis. Not to mention Jace's insanity." He straightened up. "We're going to have to help him. Maybe find him someone he can cling to for a bit." Strife looked thoughtful then shook his head. "You can't think of anyone?"
"Short of me and Cupie takin' him in, nope. He never let anyone close to him and I swear the only reason the guy's not a virgin is because Jace got him good at one'a his dad's parties." He grinned. "And boy was Joxer disturbed the next morning." A thought struck him. "Maybe Janus would understand."
"No," Ares said firmly. "I know that they're friends and I know that Janus knows because he's immune to history changing, but that's a bad match." He shrugged at the hurt look. "Joxer needs someone he can wrap himself around, not someone that he has to worry about killing him." Strife nodded. "There's no one else?"
"Nope, not that he's mentioned. Maybe Aphrodite or Cupie knows." He tipped his head back. "Hey, Cupe, need some advice here."
Cupid flew in a window and landed sitting on the table. "What's up?" He looked at everyone, seeing the tense looks. "Joxer?"
"Yeah. How did ya know?"
"Mom said something about him needing a mate now, today, but we couldn't find anyone. Short of giving him a temporary one, he's screwed." He shrugged. "We tried, but the guy might as well be one of those celibate priests in the East."
"Huh," Strife said. "Can we find him someone temporarily?" Cupid shrugged. "Not for long enough?"
"Probably not. Though I did see Jace frown and take off so he might be going to help Joxer anyway." He looked at his father. "What happened that makes today so special?"
"It's a secret," Strife told him with a grin. He looked over as Zeus walked in the door. "Oh, hey, it's you," he said unenthusiastically. "Whaddya want? We're holding a family meeting."
"I was looking for a scroll Gaea said you had," Zeus told him. Ares pointed at the chest. "May I take it with me?"
Ares shook his head. "No, it's been put into our care. You can read it, and you can learn from it, but you can't take it out of the temple." He opened the case and pulled out the scroll, opening it so his father could see. "I helped change time so that none of you would die, at Gaea's insistence and with her help. Learn from it before I get to do it again."
Zeus read the scroll, becoming paler and paler. "Why would I do such a thing?" he asked quietly, rolling it back up and putting it back into the case. "Hide that somewhere that not even a mortal eons from now will find, Ares."
"Was going to anyway." He looked at Strife. "You tell him."
Strife smiled at his grandfather. "It was a great plan to be the only God. It was a power thing according to Joxer, who is about the only one who remembered it. And the rest of us will hopefully forget it soon." Ares patted him on the shoulder. "Thanks, Unc."
"Hey, I need you here, not dead." He went back to his planning. "Cupid, you're sitting on the invading army." His son hopped off the table. "Oh, good, they haven't moved."
"I could make sure that they don't move ever again," Cupid offered. His dad looked at him. "Are they the losers?" Ares nodded, looking thoughtful. "Then leave it to me," he said with a totally evil smirk. He left them alone, going to do something so totally heinous that even Strife would blush.
Zeus looked at Ares. "It was a power move?"
"You wanted to be the only one. The old prophecy said that only one or two of us would survive. As it turns out, me and Aphrodite were the two. Powerless, but alive." He smiled. "You died at your bastard's hand when you tried to kill a child. Aren't you glad we fixed that anomaly."
"Was Joxer the anomaly?" Strife asked.
Ares shook his head. "Not at all. Even as a tri-God, he was meant to be. The anomaly was a liaison that Zeus had, which corrupted his powers. It made him power hungry. In this new one, it still happened, but not for as long. So now he's only a little power hungry and not the bastard he could be." Zeus grimaced at him. "Calling it like I see it. Oh, and Father, don't get in the middle of one of my wars again. Sending Hercules into a battle zone will get the fluffy idiot killed. If you had allowed him to learn how to fight, he might survive, but even being so strong has disadvantages when you don't know how to use it. So keep him safe and make him settle down soon." He watched as the map updated itself, and the opposing army was wiped out to a man. "What did he do?" Strife leaned over and whispered in his ear. "Really? With what?" Another whisper and Ares shuddered. "Remind me to never let Cupid loose on an army again. That's just...mean!" He shuddered again. "Doing that to a poor army, with only a tree! How does he think up these things?"
"Not a clue," Strife told him with a grin. "But I like it!"
"Don't you dare," Ares warned. Strife giggled and disappeared, going to check on Joxer. Ares looked at his father again. "So, did you learn anything from it?"
Zeus nodded. "I won't ever piss off Joxer. His mind is one that I don't want to match myself again. For such a minor God, he certainly had quite a lot of influence. You wouldn't think that the son of Dionysus and Bacchus would be so powerful." He smiled. "I do hope he settles down soon too. It would solve quite a few of his problems."
"We can't find him a lover," Ares told him. "He's not close to anybody and he's apparently not inclined toward taking lovers. We'll watch out for him."
"Good. Keep him out of my way and everything will be fine."
Ares smiled. "And remember, I'm watching you still, Zeus. It won't be happening here. The first death sets off the Twilight and I'll still be here." Zeus' smile fell as he went away, leaving Ares alone with his map.
"Let's look at Corinth again," he told the map, looking over that skirmish. He frowned when he noticed a whole troop was missing. "Where did they go?" The map showed them off at a tavern a few miles back. "I'll go get them in a minute," he sighed, moving some troops around. It was easier than calling the generals directly. They got the feeling that they should move 'this way' and did so.