Why Me, Gaia!!?!!

Strife, God of Mischief, looked up from his fries as a woman yelled his name. He gave his worshiper a smile and kicked a chair out so she could sit down. A few months earlier, they'd been really close. It was a good thing that she was liking him again. "Hey," he said as she sat down. That's when he noticed the thing on her back. Looked like a backpack, but it had a screaming something in there. "Um, anything new?" he asked when he figured out what he was seeing.

She snorted. "Yes, and it's yours, before you ask," she hissed. "I called you for *months*!"

He wiped off his fingers and leaned back. "I never heard a thing," he told her. "I thought you were pissed at me so I laid low." Her glare intensified. "Hey, I woulda heard. Maybe someone blocked it, there's a big sitch up there now ya know."

She relaxed. "I heard," she admitted. "Ares came to see me." She glanced around, then back at him. "Make us private."

"Already done." He looked down at the baby in the pack beside her feet. "So, what is it?"

"Girl. And I'm not taking care of her. Either you take her or I'm giving her up for adoption." Strife's eyes narrowed and his mouth opened but she cut him off. "I'm about to do a mandatory move for work to Asia and they're threatening to cut my job completely if I keep her. Legally, they can't do that, but if I sue them I still lose my job, spend a lot of money, and won't be hireable anywhere." She watched as he thought, and drank some of his soda. "By the way, Ares was looking for you too, that's why he showed up."

"I saw Unc last week."

"I saw him yesterday, he told me you'd probably be here today, something about the new Happy Meal prize." She noticed the little figurine and picked it up to look at it. "Flintstones?"

"I like 'em," he said as he snatched it back and slid it into a pocket. "Sure, I'll take her. You want visitation?" She shook her head. "You sure?"

"Yeah, it'll be too hard to see her and then leave." She took a deep breath and pushed the baby carrier over. "Here, everything I have for her is in the zip pocket." She stood up. "Take care of her. I'll miss you both." She left quickly, wiping a tear away.

Strife opened his mouth to call after her, but thought better of it. He picked up the carrier, moving his lunch out of the way so he could get a good look at his daughter. "What's your name?" he whispered, touching the end of her nose. She started to scream. "Yeah, you're onna the family." He thought his tray away and picked her up, carrying her to a more deserted area so he could teleport home. "Hey, Unc!" he yelled as he landed in Ares' temple. "Why haven't I heard any of you?" he demanded when Ares appeared.

"Because Athena's being a bitch and blocking any of the communications that she can." He noticed the backpack looking thing that his nephew was wearing. "She gave you the baby?"

"Yeah. Didn't hear her either," Strife grumped. He took off the carrier and sat down, waiting until his Uncle came over to look down at her too. "Did she tell you her name?"

"Lila is what she was calling her. Did she send anything with her?"

Strife took the baby out and handed her off, turning the pack around until he found the zippered compartment on the bottom. He sat down next to the pile of stuff, looking at the birth certificate. "Says she's Daisy Lila Jameson." He looked up. "That was mean. Turning my girl into a girly- girl."

Ares shrugged, looking down at his great-niece. "I don't think she's going to be very happy being in the House anyway," he said, handing her off.

"Um, Unc, can I get you to tell Mom?"

Ares snickered. "Sure. Go home, set her up a nursery, then go tell Hera." He disappeared.

Strife sent all the stuff to his temple, but took her to see Hera now. She would help him protect the child if his mother had an extreme reaction to his daughter. "Hera?" he called as he appeared in her main room. "I've gotta bit of a problem and...." His voice trailed off as she walked out of a back room. "Her mother had to give her up," he explained.

"Is she yours?" Hera asked, not coming very close. He nodded. "I see." She held out her hands and he walked over, putting her in his grandmother's arms. "What's her name?"

"Daisy Lila Jameson. Her ma called her Lila, I'd like to continue that." Hera looked at him and he grinned. "Please? Ma's gonna shit elephants."

Hera cracked a smile. "Indeed. If not something bigger." She smiled down at the child, then nodded. "You have my support. What sort of help did you need?"

"Well, for starters, whaddi do ta make her a room of her own? And what do I feed her?"

Hera chuckled. "It's a normal reaction for a first-time parent. Let's go look at your temple so we can decide where to put a nursery." She led the way, keeping the child with her.

Strife grinned at the picture the two made. There hadn't been a child on Olympus in ages, maybe she'd like to do some babysitting while he worked.

"No," she called back. "She's your responsibility. You have worshipers, have one of them do it."

He snapped his fingers and followed her back to his own temple to set things up for his daughter.


Ares lifted his wineglass to toast his sister, giving her a smile. "To the newest member of our house," he said. Eris' glass dropped a little. "Lila."

"Who's she?" Eris asked, taking a large gulp of the wine. "New girlfriend?"

"New child," he corrected.

One of her eyebrows went up. "When did you have a woman? You haven't dated in centuries."

"Your grandchild," Ares corrected again. Eris' glass hit the floor and her mouth hung open. "Her mother had to give her up for work reasons. Strife's raising her." He reached over and grabbed her before his sister could take off. "Calm down," he ordered quietly. "Strife brought her home today and he asked me to tell you while he got things straightened out. Hera likes her."

Eris got free of his hand and leaned back, crossing her arms. "How old is she?"

"Few weeks."

"I see." She glared at her brother. "How long have you known?"

"Yesterday," he sighed. "Athena's managed to block all communications going to him or he would have known months ago." Eris shrugged. "He found out today, when she showed up." He leaned closer. "The reason she had to give it up was her work. They forced her to so she could keep the job she hates and move to Asia with them." Her face turned cold. "I figure he'd want *you* to take care of it instead of me." He sat back again. "She's adorable though. Very tiny and delicate looking. Screamed when she saw my sword right before I joined you here." That got a faint smile. "I think he's got a handful."

"Probably," she agreed, unfreezing some. "Can I go see her?"

"I think he'd welcome it. Just as long as you don't throw a fit." That got a small laugh. "He's scared that you won't accept her, Eris," he said quietly. "He went to Hera before he took her to his home."

Eris accepted her new glass of wine from the waiter with a nod, and he disappeared again. "I'll go see her after dinner."

"Eris, she won't fit into the house," he told her. "I checked, she's going to be very...delicate."

"We can always toughen her up," she said, toasting him. He saluted her and then drank himself. It had gone well, no one had died and there wasn't any property damage. But he did feel sorry for the girl's boss.


Strife looked up as he felt another God pop in, smiling when he saw it was his Uncle and Mother. "Hey. We're not happy."

Eris looked around the room, noticing the pale rose color. "Aphrodite knows already?"

"Nah, she screamed less," he said, running a hand through his sweaty hair. "I swear, I started out with royal blue and some stars, and she screamed so loud Hera came back. We changed the colors *tons* of times. This was the one she fussed the least at that I could stand." He held her out. "Wanna catch a look?"

Eris took her grandchild and looked down at her, giving her a smile. "Hello, little creature. What's your name?"


"Ah." Eris looked up. "Is that her natural name?"

"Daisy Lila Jameson," Strife said with a shrug. "Her ma's kinda girly and soft."

"Well, it's better than it could be," Ares agreed, looking around. "It could be Aphrodite pink."

"She *liked* that, Unc," Strife whispered. "I couldn't stand it though. She's been fussin' ever since I changed it."

"Wonderful," Eris said, drawing out the word. "You're not gonna be happy here, are ya?" she asked the baby, who spit a bubble at her. "Did you check with the Fates yet?" she asked as she wiped off the bubble.

"I called, they said they're too busy ta check," he said, leaning back on the small couch. "They said ta try back next week."

"I'll go talk them personally tomorrow," Ares told him, smiling down at him. He looked over at the ladylike burp coming from his great-niece, a horrified expression starting to show up. "Was that her? Eris, please tell me that was you."

"That was way too nice for me," Eris assured him. She handed the baby back. "Don't worry, Ares, we'll work on her. She'll become a member of the family, or she'll go insane." She gave her grandchild, and the room, one last look, then disappeared.

"Unc?" Strife asked.

"Don't worry, it won't be that bad. Even if she's like her mother, it won't be that bad. Her mother was always a very strong woman, her priorities were messed up, that's all. We'll make sure Lila fits in." He pointed at the crib and a black teddy bear wearing Harley gear showed up. "There, just a start," he said with a smile, then he too disappeared.

Strife put his daughter down in her crib, but she started to cry when she ran into the bear. So he moved it to the other end of the crib. She still fussed, but she quickly fell asleep. "Oh, Gods, what have I gotten myself inta," he whispered as he watched her sleep.

*** 2 Years Old ***

Strife bit his lip as he watched his daughter pick flowers and sing, turning when he felt someone coming up behind him. "Hey, 'Dite. Did you teach her how to do that?"

Aphrodite looked out and grinned at the little girl. "Nope, not at all." She looked at the father, noticing how worried he looked. "Don't worry, Strife, I'm sure she'll find her place in the House of War. There's lots of jobs for girlish people."

"No there's not," he said quietly. He looked over at her. "I'm worried that it's making her really unhappy to be here," he nearly whispered. "She's afraid of Unc, even though he's always been nice ta her. Even Ma's not real accepted by her." He glanced out and blanched when he saw his precious daughter trying to plant some of her new flowers. "She's gonna either be miserable or ruined for life."

Aphrodite patted him on the shoulder. "I can soften some of it. Want me to sit her today?"

"Could ya?" he asked. "Maybe see if she can be made a little stronger?"

She nodded and kissed him on the cheek. "We'll see. Have the Fates ever said if she was immortal?"

"Immortal, but not gifted with any abilities," he said, turning his attention back to the girl, who had managed to find the lone kitten on Olympus to cuddle. "Aww," he sighed, pointing.

"That is cute," she agreed, going out to talk with the little girl, who just smiled and held her arms out to be hugged.

Ares walked up behind his nephew, watching Aphrodite and the child. "Thinking about giving her pointers?" he asked quietly.

"Nah," Strife said as he turned around. "I wanted 'Dite to look her over, see if she'd ever make it in the house or if we're killin' her spirit." He shrugged at the intense look. "She's still scared of you," he reminded his Uncle. "The only one she's got a worse reaction to is Zeus, and she *hates* him."

"Then she's got good taste," Ares reminded him, clapping him on the back. "Come help me plan, let them be together." He led the younger God away, hoping to get his mind back on his work. He would have a talk with his mother tonight about little Lila, maybe there was something they were doing wrong.


Aphrodite squealed as she saw Strife appear in the next room, picking up the adorable little girl to show her off. "Look what she picked out," she said happily.

Strife nearly cringed at the lace and bows on the little dress, but he held his hands out. "Yeah, cute," he said. Aphrodite shook her head. "You're sure?"

"She's as femme as I am," she told him. "She'll never be a warrior or the girl you want." She shrugged at the disappointed look. "I could spend more time with her, give her a stronger feminine role model to look at."

"Yeah, sure. Thanks," Strife said as he took his little girl back to Ares' temple. "It's official," he announced as he appeared. "Oh, hey, Zeus," he said, tucking his daughter tighter under his arm. "'Dite said she'll always be femme. Said Lila was more femme than she was."

Ares pointed at the lace he could see. "I noticed she redressed her too."

"'Dite said Lila picked it out," Strife told him.

Eris walked out of the hallway leading back to the spare rooms, and she did cringe at the outfit her granddaughter was wearing. "Aphrodite shouldn't be allowed near children," she said finally.

"'Dite said she's totally femme, Ma," Strife told her. "An' *Lila* picked the dress out."

"Oh, no," she sighed. She put down her mug. "Forever?"

"And ever," he agreed. He looked at Zeus again. "Was there some sorta problem? If not, I should probably get her a bath, she was playin' in the garden earlier."

Zeus smiled and wiggled his fingers at the young girl. "I think it's about time to present her to the rest of us, don't you?" he suggested.

"She's a demi," Strife pointed out. "No abilities."

"Still, it would be a novelty we haven't had in a while."

"It'd also give the other Gods a chance to watch over her," Ares pointed out. Strife looked at him and Ares nodded in a silent command.

"Okay. When?" Strife asked.

"How about now? We have the monthly meeting in a few minutes," Zeus suggested. "We could easily do it then."

"Yeah, sure," Strife said, putting his little girl down so he could straighten out her dress. "Good thing you're all dressed up, huh," he said, tickling her. She giggled and clutched his leg, grinning up at him.

"We'll be there soon," Ares told his father, waiting until he left to look at Strife. "You going to change her?"

"She'll still be cryin' when we get there," Strife sighed. Lila proved the point by picking up some of the lace to suck on, giving Ares a one-handed wave. "See?" He looked at his mother. "Aphrodite offered to give her a more femme role model so she wouldn't be so stressed."

Eris snorted. "I doubt she'd need it." She looked at her son, who was looking depressed again. "I'm sure she'll be fine, Strife."

"Let Aphrodite have her one day a week," Ares decided. "We'll still get the other six, plus her training." He crouched down, getting closer to the little girl. "I know you won't want to do it, but you'll still have to take self defense classes and training in what the rest of us do. Maybe we'll be able to stiffen you up some."


Strife was motioned to so he stood up and brought Lila forward, holding her so everyone could see her. "Zeus said I was to introduce my daughter to ya all," he said, holding her up. "This is Lila, she's a lot like her mother."

Apollo laughed. "We can see that. Who picked out her dress?"

"She did," Aphrodite told him, shooting him with a flick of power. "I was testing her to see how girly she was going to be." She looked at Hera. "She's more femme than I am. I doubt she'll ever be a fighter." Eris growled at her. "Hey, I *can* fight and Cupid *did* get most of his stubborn nature from me. That girl is going to be femme."

"And we've agreed to let you watch her one day a week," Strife told her. "Just ta give her the other viewpoint."

Aphrodite gave him a smile. "Be glad to. It's been a while since I had a girl to tool around with. Next week, we'll work on the garden."

"Teach her some of your healing herbs," Ares ordered gently. Aphrodite smiled at him. "Thank you."

"Hey, it's not everyday that we get a new kid up here. It's been *ages* since I could teach anybody."

Hera clapped her hands. "Yes, I do like that plan." She smiled at Strife. "If you find too much disassociation between your child and your House, you may come to me for help." Strife grinned and started to relax.

"Yes, I think the girl could use a well rounded education," Zeus agreed. "That's why I wanted her presented. I expect each of you to help Strife with his daughter," he said as he looked around at the assembled Gods. "I know it's been a while, but we did a magnificent job with Bliss."

"She's a demi," Artemis pointed out. "She won't need most of the lessons Bliss did." She had taught Cupid's son how to use his more basic powers. She looked at the little girl again. "I'll gladly teach her about the animals and hunting though. It has been a while since I had to pull out those lectures for anyone."

Zeus smiled. "Good. Is there any more business?" No one said anything. "Then you are dismissed."

"There'll be an official party for Lila in three days time," Ares announced.

"Yeah, her birthday party," Strife said proudly. "We put it off until Unc got back."

Everyone mumbled something as they walked off, talking about the little girl and their newest diversion.


Ares and Strife watched Lila's nighttime rituals, both smiling sadly at the little girl who would never really fit into their house. They watched as she covered up the teddy bear Ares had given her when she arrived, patting it gently as she tucked it into her old crib. Then she touched each of her flowers, she picked a new bunch every other day to decorate with Then Lila sat down with her favorite dolly and brushed her hair, straightened her clothes, and got her ready for bed too. Finally she was done and called out sweetly, "Story!"

Strife started to walk in, but Ares stopped him, going in to tell her a story himself. "It's my turn," he told her, moving slowly. Lila still wasn't too fond of him, but she didn't cringe away from him like she did Eris. He sat down on the edge of her bed and pulled over a book of fairy tales, the only thing she liked to hear. He opened it to the table of contents. "Which one would you like tonight?" he asked gently.

"Princess," she said firmly. She knew her Uncle liked her like that and since he was scary, she tried very hard to be tough for him so he would like her.

Ares opened the story to Snow White and started to read, knowing Strife wasn't watching, that he had gone off to be sad by himself.

*** Six Years Old ***

"It's a lost cause," Artemis called as she dragged Lila through the door. Ares looked up from his reading. "She refused to do more than hug and try to cuddle the horses." She handed over the child. "She actually tried to scold a deer for eating some flowers."

Ares frowned at the little girl. "I thought you wanted to know what Aunt Artemis did every day."

Lila crossed her arms and scowled at her Uncle. "She mean to animalies," she proclaimed. "Me *love* animalies. Want to hug and kiss them, and maybe dress them pretty. Not hunt and be mean." She looked up at Artemis. "Besides, me *LOVE* horsies. You teach me that?"

"Sure, I'll teach you how to ride the horses," Artemis sighed. She patted the girl on the head. "Why don't you find your father and tell him about the mean deer?" Lila nodded and relaxed, running off to share her day with her daddy. "Ares, how do you do it?"

He put his feet on the floor and his book aside, considering the question. "I guess we have experience with her stubbornness and her narrow world view," he said finally. "We've had more time to figure out how to deal with the innate femmeness that she exhibits and find ways around it."

Artemis sighed. "Whatever works, I guess." She pushed her ponytail over her shoulder. "Next week, I'll teach her how to brush the horses, she should appreciate that." She waved. "I've got to go calm down the tiger cubs in my temple. She hugged them for hours." She disappeared, heading for home, and a stiff drink.

Ares relaxed back into his chair, trying to figure out how they were going to be dealing with this child for the rest of her very long, immortal life.

*** Six And A Half Years Old ***

"I want to go to school," Lila pronounced over breakfast. Everyone dropped their forks and looked at her. "I snuck into the viewing room and I saw other kids. I'd like to go play with them." She looked at her father, who looked very shocked. "Then no one would have to teach me here." She smiled, looking very reasonable. "Besides, then I could have girlfriends."

Eris looked at Strife, who was still looking shocked. "You could do that," she offered. "You'd have to forge a few documents, but it could be done."

Ares coughed. "We can find her the best private school on the mortal plane."

"No, I found one," Lila told him sternly. It usually got her what she wanted from her Uncle Ares. "I'll show you."

"Sure. After breakfast," Strife agreed. "Then we'll think about it and tell ya tomrrowah." She nodded and was happy again. He looked at his family, who shrugged. This was his decision, and he was going to look over that school very carefully before he made his decision.


Strife came back and flopped down onto a couch, one arm coming up to cover his eyes. "It's a good school," he said when he felt someone come into the room. "Small class size. Liberal area. Not too many bullies." He uncovered his eyes and found Hera standing there. "You heard?"

"Eris came to me to rant without anyone hearing her," she told him, moving his feet so she could sit down. "Do you have any real objections to this plan?"

"Besides the fact that she's gonna be far away and anything might happen to her down there?"

Hera smiled. "Yes, besides those." She took a deep breath. "I had Apollo look up information on children who are isolated from other children. It wasn't encouraging."

"So ya think I should?"

"Yes, I think you should," Hera agreed, but gently. "It might be good for her to see other versions of femininity. She might even find a role model that would make her a little more ... tough." She patted him on the leg. "I won't force the decision, but you must do what's best for her."

"I saw Zeus while I was down there," Strife told her. "He didn't like the idea."

"That's because he likes the idea of having someone up here that doesn't distrust him," she said with a smile. "He's also enjoyed teaching her about the sky and the clouds. It's been a long time since he could teach anyone anything." She stood up. "You do have our support if you need it, Strife. Besides, you could legitimately protect all the children in that school and protect them from some very bad people."

He smiled. "Thanks, Hera."

"You're welcome, Strife. I know what stress this has caused you." She disappeared.

Strife went limp, waiting on his family to get home. When Ares finally got there, Strife rolled his head and gave him a weak smile. "My little girl has good taste."

Ares patted him on the head. "I know. I looked too. Are you going to let her go?"

"School's almost out for the year. We'll enroll her next year."

Ares nodded. He would let Strife handle this. He'd just be there when his nephew needed him.


Strife sat down across from the Principal over his daughter's chosen school. "Thanks for seein' me," he said, giving her a smile.

"I've read over her application," the older woman said, looking over Strife's outfit of jeans and a pocket t-shirt. "I must say, she's got quite an education so far."

"Yeah, well, my family's been great about chippin' in. You might say they've seen her as a way to combat boredom." He shifted some, crossing his feet at the ankles. "We've all been very hands- on with her education so far."

The Principal smiled. "Good, that's excellent. It's wonderful to see parents taking such an interest." She lifted up the application, looking it over. "I do have some questions."

"Shoot," he told her.

"Well, were you planning on moving here?"

"Not really," he said, trying to come up with a good story. "See, we're kinda commuting right now. We live in another district, but we all liked the sound of this school. Between talkin' ta people and everything, we figured we liked this one a lot better than the ones near where we do live."

"I see." She looked at the papers again. "I don't see a mother listed."

"Yeah, well, that's kinda a pickle." She gave him a hard look. "I didn't steal her or anything, her mother had ta give her up for work reasons." The Principal frowned. "See, her boss threatened ta fire her if she kept Lila. It was a bad situation. If she'd fought, she'd spent ten years arguing and poor becausea the fight, and never be able to work again."

"I see." She made a note on the chart. "She signed over custody to you?"

"Yup. I got Lila when she was a few weeks old. She had ta move ta Asia."

"Does she visit her daughter?"

"She said it'd be too hard, like havin' ta give her up all over again every few months." He wrote down Lila's mother's address and brought it to his pocket, pulling it out and handing it over. "This is her ma. I've kept track of her over the years."

"Thank you." She paperclipped it to the application. "Normally, we don't have a problem admitting any child that wants to attend our school, but usually those same children live in our school district. I'm going to have to talk to the school board to see if we can admit your daughter, Mr. ..." She looked down. "Mr. Feud. My, that's an interesting name."

"Yeah, my ancestors were all parta the war game stuff." He shrugged. "Can't pick your family."

"Too true," she said with a smile. "If I may ask, what sort of work do you do?"

"I'm in public service. Special interest sorta stuff. I'm a consultant."

She smiled again. "That's a very interesting job." She put down the application and crossed her hands over it. "As I said, we shouldn't have a problem admitting her, except for you not living in our district. It's a matter of taxes, you see. Local property taxes support the schools, and I'm not sure that our school board will accept her because it would take money away from the other students."

"I might be able to move here," Strife conceded. "My consulting could be done nearly anywhere I guess. It's just that we have a house we like."

"Well, what about the schools in your home district?"

"They're kinda small," he told her. "She's coming to public school so she has friends. Besides, there's the whole language barrier thing."

"Oh. Is it a predominantly Hispanic area?"

"Nah, Greek," he said with a grin. "She's not as fluent in other languages as we'd like yet and we don't wanna make her that uncomfortable."

"That's definitely a good reason," she agreed, giving him a nice smile. "I lunch with the head of our School Board tomorrow so I'll bring it up with him." She ran a finger down the form. "I see we have a phone number for you, I'll call you and tell you what has been decided."

Strife stood up. "Thanks." He shook her hand then walked out of the office, slowly disappearing.

She picked up the phone and dialed the number for the head of the School Board. "Mark? Yes, I just met with him. No, I'm not sure what to make of him. His speech patterns speak of a lower class upbringing, but he said they live in a predominantly Greek area and he wanted her in a more English-based school." She frowned. "No, he voluntarily gave over the mother's phone number and address." She looked down at it. "She's in Tokyo right now. No, he said that the mother's boss threatened her job if she didn't give up the child!" She took a deep breath. "Yes, I'll bring it with me tomorrow when we lunch." She hung up and studied the application, not happy with what she had learned. Something wasn't right. She looked up as her door opened, smiling at the dark-haired woman standing in the doorway. "Yes, may I help you?"

"Yup, we need to talk," Eris said, closing the door behind her. "Do you want to believe or would you like the pretty lie?" she asked. She leaned closer. "I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. Lila's a very *special* girl." She tapped the woman on the forehead, giving her the knowledge she wanted, then hiding it from her. "So you wanna admit her, right?"

"We're still going to have to think about it," she said, swallowing hard. "You exist?"

"I'm here, aren't I?" she asked. The Principal nodded, looking panicked. "Good. I don't want to hate you, but we *all* want what's best for Lila. You appear to be it."

"He really needs to have a residence in the area," the Principal said. "Property taxes fund the school."

"Deal," Eris agreed, stepping away from her and making sure that the woman couldn't tell anyone what she had learned. "We can set up a safe house sorta place for Lila's sake. Would that be acceptable?"

"As long as it looked normal to others," she agreed. She picked up a stamp and hit the application with it. "There. She'll be admitted to first grade, pending her test results, this fall."

Eris smiled. "Thank you for your cooperation." She headed for home, landing behind Strife. "Listen, you gotta set up some sort of safe house in the district."

"Deal," Strife agreed, starting to smile. "Unc's volunteered one of his priestesses ta man it."

"Good. Now all we need is the house."

Strife shrugged. "I was gonna go look tomorrah."

"We'll all go," Ares said as he walked in carrying Lila. "Someone asked for something else."

"What did you want, Princess?" Strife asked as he took his daughter to hold. "What can daddy do for you?"

"I want a pony."

"Not until you're older," Strife told her. "You just barely know how ta take care of one," he reminded her when she pouted. "When you're old enough ta take care of it, then you can have one."

"When you have your own home on the mortal plane," Ares added. Strife grinned at him. He patted Lila on the head. "So?"

"We're in," Eris told her. "And I made sure she knew, but couldn't tell."

"Good," Ares said, nodding. "I'll send the priestess wherever you find." He grabbed Lila and tossed her up in the air, catching her again. "Now we have to go start our self defense training."


"Yes," Strife told his daughter.

"No. I won't fight." She smiled sweetly up at Ares. "I don't need to. People like me."

"Yeah, but you don't know how the other kids are gonna be toward ya," Strife told her, poking her on the stomach. "So you gotta learn. All the rest of us did too."

She pouted and crossed her arms, giving them the most pitiful looks. Everyone shook their heads and smiled.

*** Nearly Seven Years Old, First Day Of School ***

Lila handed her teacher a flower from her great-grandma's garden with her sweetest smile. "I'm Lila."

"It's good to meet you, Lila. Your seat has your name on it," the teacher told her, giving her a smile. She watched as the girl walked away and found her seat, and started to talk to the girl sitting next to her. As the rest of the class wandered in, she accepted things from some of them, and others she just helped them find their seats. She thought she saw something from the corner of her eye, but when she looked the woman in leather was gone. She shrugged off the hallucination and counted heads, noticing that she was missing two of her new girls. "Where's Amy and Amanda?" she asked.

"On the playground," one boy said, sneering at Lila. "They're *pouting*."

The teacher glared at him. "We will not put up with your problems, Sam." She walked out, going to find her other two students.

Sam looked over at Lila, still sneering. "Who're you?"

"Lila." She pulled out her stuff and put it in her desk, even the little canister of pepper spray her grandma had given her. The girl next to her grabbed it though. "Hey! That's mine! My grandma gave me that."

The teacher walked back in, frowning at the weapon. "Dear, why did you bring that?" she asked Lila as she took it. "You don't need things like that here."

"My grandma said I was to carry it everywhere because there's bad guys who'd hurt me because of who my father is." She smiled sweetly. "I was going to leave it in my desk."

"Well, how about we leave it in *my* desk," the teacher said, going to put it in her locking desk drawer. "Okay, now that we're all here, let's begin. I'm Mrs. Anderson. This is first grade. This year, we're going to work on firming up your reading skills and your math skills, but we're going to try and make it fun." She smiled at the students. "Who remembers their alphabet from last year?" Everyone raised their hands, and Lila bounced. "Would you like to come write them on the board, Lila?"

Lila jumped up and ran up, grabbing some of the pink chalk to write her letters on the board. In Greek.

"Lila?" Mrs. Anderson asked. "What language is that in?"

"Greek. It's daddy's natural language. Did you want it in English, French, or Russian? Great- Uncle Ares speaks Russian all the time these days. He even forgets at home sometimes."

Mrs. Anderson smiled down at her. "Let's stick to English in here, okay? Most of the other students only speak English."

"I only read them, except for Russian," Lila said sweetly. "But I can stick with English. May I please have the eraser?"

Mrs. Anderson handed it to her, watching as she erased the Greek and started over again in English, in both lower and upper case. "Very good," she said, waving her back to her seat. "I'd like you to all write them down for me so I can get used to your handwriting and see where we need work. Please do that now." She sat down, watching as her students all wrote. Then she decided to go talk to the Principal about Lila's present. "Please continue quietly," she said as she stood up, taking the pepper spray with her. She jogged down the halls, knowing better than to leave them alone for long. She wasn't the only teacher in there handing in weapons, but all the other ones were from fourth grade up. When the Principal looked at her in shock she held it up. "Lila's grandmother was worried about people coming after her because of who her father is."

The Principal groaned but she accepted the pepper spray. "I'll talk to her father personally."

"Is that the new kid?" another teacher asked.

Mrs. Anderson nodded. "She's very sweet. Reads French, English, Greek, and Russian, which she also speaks."

"Her father's a public service consultant," the Principal told them. "Let's keep an eye on her. I'd hate to see what happens when one of the bullies attack her."

Mrs. Anderson snorted. "Do you think that girl can't fight?"

"No, I think she won't fight," the Principal told her. "She doesn't seem like she'd be willing to do that. She's very feminine."

Mrs. Anderson nodded and left to go take care of her students. This was going to be an interesting year at least.


Lila looked up from her swinging, frowning at the group of boys coming near her. "Hi."

"Get off there, that's *our* swing," one of the boys said, pushing her off the swing.

Lila got up, brushing herself off. "If you had asked nicely, I might have let you have it," she said stiffly, getting back into the swing and starting off again. "As is, you can't have it."

"You weren't schooled here, were you, little girl?" another of the boys sneered. "This is our playground."

"Na-uh, it's my class's recess time."

"Is there a problem?" a male teacher said, jogging over to them. "Oh, hello. You must be Lila. Your teacher told me about you this morning." He glared at the boys. "Get away from the smaller children, now."

"It's our turn, she's hogging the swing," one of the boys in the back told him.

"If they had asked instead of pushing me off, I would have gotten off," Lila told him.

The teacher smiled down at her. "Would you please let them swing, dear? I know they were mean but that's because they don't know any better."

"Okay." She hopped off and looked up at the teacher. "Thank you for not making me fight them. I could have, but it's messy and I don't like messy. My daddy said I was to tell him if anyone forced me to fight and he'd make sure their daddies lost their jobs, but not their mommies because mommies are important."

"Your daddy was very correct in telling you to tell him," he said, giving her a smile. "Why don't I introduce you to some of the other kids? I'm sure they'd play with you." He led her over to the girls by the fence, smiling at them. "Girls, would you please play with Lila? Some boys just tried to make her fight them."

"Sure," one of the older girls said. She pointed at the small plants in front of her. "We were just planting the yearly garden."

"Oh, flowers. I like flowers." Lila kneeled down beside the garden, touching the little plants. "Are any flowers?"

"No. Sometimes the boys pick on the flowers," the older girl told her. "We plant pretty plants but not flowers."

"Can I bring down one flower tomorrow? I have one at home that likes to protect itself."

"Sure," the teacher said, going back to watch those boys. Word had been spread about them through the years.

Lila smiled at the other girls. "I'm Lila."

"That's cool. Did your parents buy that old house on the other side of town?" another girl asked.

Lila nodded. "Yup. That's my babysitter. I go see her every afternoon until Daddy gets back."

"He bought your babysitter a house?" the girl asked.

Lila nodded. "Yes. See, we live elsewhere, but daddy has to work an awful lot. She protects me and runs me through my drills in the afternoons. You could come over if you want."

"Is she like a mommy?" the first girl asked.

Lila shook her head. "Nope, my mommy's in Tokyo. Her boss was mean so I live with my daddy, grandma, and great-uncle Ares. He's pretty cool," she added with a grin, "but he makes me take self defense every other day."

"Wow." The girls looked at each other, then nodded. "Okay, you can bring a flower, but you've got to take care of it and protect it from the older kids."

"Okay." Lila smiled sweetly and grabbed one of the fledgling plants. "Where does this one go?" One of the girls pointed so she started to dig a hole for the roots.

The male teacher and Mrs. Anderson stood together, out of the sun, and watched Lila interacting. "Do you think there's something very odd about her family?" he asked her.

"Very. I'm sure the Principal knows. She seems to know a lot about her family."

"She told me that her father was going to get any bully's father fired, but not their mothers."

Mrs. Anderson nodded. "I have no doubt. Her grandmother gave her pepper spray to protect herself because people might come after her because of who her father is." She looked around, then straight at him. "I'm starting to feel like I'm caught in a bad episode of the Godfather."

He chuckled. "Not this far out in the country. We're nowhere near the East coast families and there's nothing in this town for them."

"Maybe, but it's something to think about. I'm looking forward to meeting her father."

"It would be interesting," he agreed, going to stop one of his little girls from crying.


"Daddy, what's the mafia?" Lila asked as her father appeared.

"It's a family sorta thing where they run a business. Why?" he asked, picking her up to give her a hug.

"Because one of the girls in my class wanted to know if we were mafia. I told her you served the people."

"Yeah, kinda. See, I consult people and tell them how to make life interestin'." He grinned. "Now, Ares, he does the same sorta thing, but with militaries. And Grandma Eris, well, she's kinda in the same business I am, but she makes people miserable usually." He gave her a squeeze. "You can tell the other kids that, 'kay?" She nodded. "What else happened today?"

"Well, there was a group of boys who were rude and pushed me off a swing, but a very nice teacher made them leave me alone. And then there was the reading. I got to read for the whole class," she said happily. "Oh, and the Principal wants to talk you about Grandma's present. She doesn't think I needed it so it's in her desk."

"We'll go talk to her in a few minutes," Strife told her, giving her another squeeze. "Let's go home. Go kiss Kelly goodbye." He let her go and frowned up at the ceiling, asking his Uncle to go talk to the Principal for him. He was going to be busy spoiling his little girl. He got a laugh as an answer and let him handle it. Ares had much more tact than he did. He grabbed Lila as she ran back in and let her pick up her backpack, then took everything back home so he could help her with her homework. Zeus was waiting on them. "Hey. The first day wasn't *so* bad."

He smiled at the little girl. "I'm glad to hear it. Hera would like to see her this afternoon, she's even volunteered to help her with her homework." He held out his arms. "Would you like to come with me? I'll take you right there."

Lila smiled at him. "Me go in a few minutes. Gotta *go*," she said, and her father let her down so she could run to the bathroom.

"I'll bring her after we get her changed," Strife said with a shrug. "But yeah, she can have her all afternoon. The teacher confiscated the pepper spray that Ma gave her. The Principal wanted a conference."

"I said I'd do it," Ares said as he appeared.

"Yeah, but I was gonna listen in," he explained. "Besides, I wanna go find those boys and have a *talk* with them."

Ares laughed. "Good. Where is she?"

"Bathroom. Kelly's doing really well with her by the way. She was really happy today."

"I picked her because she liked children." Ares smiled at Zeus. "We'll bring her over. Don't worry about it." Zeus frowned and Ares held up a hand. "For whatever reason, Lila doesn't like you and she has nightmares whenever she has to spend time with you," he said, not losing his smile. "I'd like to get a full night of sleep tonight."

"Me too," Strife seconded.

"That's fine," Zeus said, disappearing before the little girl came back, who was hiding in the hallway, listening.

"C'mon," Strife called, grabbing her backpack. "We'll go see Hera, then I'll go snoop in on Ares' conversation with your teacher."


Ares straightened his vest while he waited for the Principal to finish her teacher's meeting, smiling at the secretary, who blushed and started to type in records again. He flinched when he felt Strife hit something or someone, but he knew his nephew was going to come tell him what was going on soon enough, Strife was just that way, he had trained him to be that way. He stood up as the Principal walked in, giving her a smile. "My nephew will be here in a few moments," he said smoothly. He followed her into the office. "We've heard quite a lot from Lila about her first day."

The Principal took out the pepper spray and tossed it to him. "I doubt she needs that," she said as she sat down. "Weapons are not allowed in school, and if you think she needs that sort of protection, maybe she should have a bodyguard."

"She has one," Strife said as he walked in. "That's what her babysitter is." He sat down, taking the pepper spray to look at. "This really was a present from my mother. Oh, and you won't have to worry about those bullies again," he told her, giving her his brightest and most scary grin.

Ares sat down next to Strife, but he took the pepper spray back. "I agree, she didn't need to bring this with her. She's more than capable of defending herself, though she despises fighting."

"Yes, she told a male teacher that she finds it messy," the Principal said with a smile. "Please keep the weapons at home, unless it's show and tell. That might be acceptable but she'd have to keep it in my office."

Strife shrugged. "Okay. But that means that you've got to take a more active role of protecting her." The Principal frowned at him. "What? The reason for the gift is valid. If people knew she was my daughter, she'd be a legal target ta make Ares bend to their will. That would require extreme action on our part, but we don't want anyone to try and harm her while she's outta our sight."

Ares sighed and reached over to touch Strife's hand. "He worries, for a very good reason, but he was quite correct. I can name at least six Generals who'd love to have her to make me dance to their tune and grant them favors. They'd die, horribly, but they are stupid enough to try."

"Why wasn't she put into one of those private schools where children with a high security risk are usually schooled?"

"Because she liked your school," Strife told her.

She sighed. "I can understand that. She's made quite an impression so far today." She smiled. "She is a very endearing child, has made quite a spark among the other children also. We love to see students that love to learn, and Lila does seem to have a real thirst for knowledge. I'm just not sure that this is the best school for her."

"Then you tell 'er," Strife told her. "She picked your school outta how many millions that exist in the world? She'll throw fits to end the world."

Ares tapped Strife's hand again. "We'll deal with this." He looked at the Principal. "Truthfully, your school offers her more protection than those other schools ever could. No one here, but you, know who she is. If she showed up at one of those schools, people would know she exists. This way, she's much better protected."

The Principal leaned back in her chair and considered the two men in front of her. "Then we'll let it stand, but I will set some limits. She will not be allowed to bring any more weapons to school. She will also not be stalked all day; her teacher kept seeing some woman dressed in leather."

"That's her grandma," Strife admitted with a grin. "I had ta work all day so she offered ta pop in and look in on her for us."

"That's acceptable, but she had the teacher thinking she was having hallucinations." She frowned at Ares. "Surely someone of your ...abilities could easily find a way to spy on her without disturbing anyone."

Ares nodded. "We'll do that. But we will show up if someone hurts her."

Strife nodded. "And, as an added offer, we're more than willin' ta protect the other kids in the school from the bad guys in life."

She smiled. "That would be most welcome. There's not a lot we can do to protect them, but I and the other parents would gladly accept that help. Especially if you can tell us about some of these bad people before they hit."

Strife shrugged. "I'll try. I noticed someone earlier was looking the kids over and lickin' his lips. I was gonna check him out this afternoon."

"The janitor?" she asked. Strife nodded. "Yes, we've had our suspicions, but never anything that would hold up so we can fire him. We keep a *very* strict eye on him when there's students around."

"I think I can do one better," Strife said, his grin returning. "Matter of fact, I was gonna go *talk* ta him after I get done here."

"I'll handle it, you go check this person out," Ares told him. He waited until Strife was gone to smile at the Principal. "We really are acting in her best interest."

"Lord Ares," she said quietly. "I realize that you're trying to do what's best for her, but are you *sure* that sending her to school on this realm, and especially to my school, is for the best? Yes, we can offer her as good an education as she wants to work toward, but we can't give her what some of those other schools can."

"No, you can't. You can't offer her the chance to become an elite snob. You can't offer her the chance to become depressed and lonely. And you definitely can't give her the chance to feel isolated from the world. That's why we allowed her to come here." He stood up and tucked the pepper spray into his pocket. "Trust me, we will do what's best for her, no matter what. Right now, that's you. But I will make sure she doesn't come with any more weapons." The Principal nodded. "Anything else?"

"How long do you think you'll be able to keep her safe?"

"At least until she starts dating," he said with a brilliant smile. He disappeared in a flash of light.

The Principal sat back and considered what to do. Putting up with one very unusual student was worth protecting the rest of them, wasn't it? And Lila was an extraordinary student. She'd do the school proud. Maybe it wouldn't be *so* bad after all. It couldn't get much worse.

*** Eight Years Old ***

Hera looked up as Strife appeared beside her desk, giving him a smile. "Is there a problem?"

"Yeah, I got cursed with the girliest of girls," he sighed as he flopped down into a chair.

"What has Lila done this time?" she asked, putting away her pen and files.

"She's decided ta take up cross-stitching." Hera's mouth open. "Oh, that's not the worst. She asked *Athena* to teach her how to cook." He looked at her. "I wanna scream, but I know it's not good."

"No, not if you do it in her presence." Her lips pursed while she thought about it. "Well, I could help her do those things, I doubt Athena's up to cooking anything edible." They shared a look, and a grin. "Why don't you go somewhere more deserted and scream, dear? It'll make you feel better. I'll go distract Lila so she doesn't know."

"Thanks," he said as he stood up, flashing away to a deserted mountaintop somewhere in the Alps. He opened his mouth and screamed.

Hera flashed into Ares' temple, smiling down at the little girl. "Would you like to help me make muffins, Lila? Your father told me that you were interested in cooking."

Lila put aside her stitching set and smiled up at her great-grandmother. "Sure. Where did daddy go?"

"He had to go see someone. He gave me permission to teach you *all* about muffins though." She held out a hand. "Come along."

"Okay." Lila gave her the sweetest of smiles and let herself be pulled up. "Did he go yell?"

Hera chuckled. "What gave you that idea?"

"Great-Uncle Ares was listening to someone scream and it sounded like daddy." She shrugged. "I don't know why he doesn't like sewing and cooking. Can we make him muffins?"

"Of course, dear. I suspect that your father didn't understand. He's a *man* after all, and they don't always understand girls."

Lila laughed. "That explains why he won't play dollies then either." She happily went off to make her daddy muffins.

Ares peered into the room, then cleaned up the mess Lila had made on the floor, carefully putting her cross stitching into her room, somewhere out of the way. He shook his head. His poor nephew would never make it through Lila growing up, not if she didn't bend just a little more.


Lila followed her father out of the electronics store, tugging on his shirt. "Daddy, can we go look at toys now?"


"But, daddy!" she whined.

He stopped and looked down at her. "No. I told ya when ya begged ta come that I wasn't hittin' the toy store. You came anyway."

"But, daddy!" she whined louder, starting to sniffle.

He shook his head. "You got enough toys for sixteen kids. Get over it." He started walking again.

Lila fell to her knees and started to sob. "Daddy! Please!" He turned to look at her. "Just one outfit for my dolly? She's nearly naked!"

"Oh, what a sweet child," an older woman said, shooting a glare at Strife. "You just want to dress your baby, don't you?"

"Her doll has over a thousand outfits," Strife told her as he walked back to where his daughter was sobbing in heartfelt misery. "Her dolly don't need anything more. It's got a great house, furniture just for it, and more clothes than all'a us in the house togetah." He glared down at his daughter, who looked up, giving him the most hopeful, kind, and gentle look. "Not working," he told her. "Get up and let's go."

"No." She started to pout, the tears still running down her face. "Just one outfit?"

"No," he told her, sounding very firm. "Your dolly needs nothin', but you obviously need a nap." He picked her up and held her, making her look at him. "No," he said quietly. "No more dolly clothes until she outgrows the others." She sniffled and kissed him on the cheek, laying her head on his shoulder - after she wiped her nose on his shoulder. "Thank you." He shot a look at the older woman, then walked away. "C'mon, let's go home and get you a nap." He walked down one of the hallways, disappearing as he turned a corner. He went back to Ares and his temple, putting her down on a couch. "You rest. I'm gonna go give this ta Unc. When I get back, we're gonna have a talk." He walked away, going to the planning room.

Lila frowned at his back, sticking her tongue out at it. Her dolly needed new clothes and she *would* get it, even if she had to sew them herself. That thought comforted her into her nap, making her smile.

Eris walked past her granddaughter, shaking her head at the mischievous look on the little girl's face. At least she was starting to fit in around there.


Lila walked up to the Muses, smiling at them as she sat down. "That was pretty," she told them.

One of the women smiled down at her. "Thank you, dear. Did you need a story?"

"No. I need dolly clothes. My dolly is nearly naked and daddy won't let me get her more clothes." She sighed dramatically. "He wouldn't even let me go look last time. All I need is a *few* more outfits."

One of the muses, who had dealt with children before, looked down at her. "How many outfits does she have already?"

"Just a few," Lila defended. "Not even a whole closet full." She gave them a hopeful look. "Would you help me make dolly clothes?"

The muses huddled together to discuss it, then nodded as a group. "We'll teach you to sew," one told her. "We won't make you more clothes though."

"That would be neat," Lila said, starting to bounce. "Can we do that now? I have cross stitching stuff at home, but Great-Uncle Ares hid it." The older women all laughed and gathered around her, creating the stuff she would need so they could teach her. Lila was a *very* fast study of everything else, she would pick this up in no time.


Eris walked into Lila's room, it had been too quiet for too long so she needed to check, and stopped to look around. Then she screamed, "NOOOOOOOOOO!" Ares came running and she pointed at all the cloth laying around in various states of construction, turning to sob in his arms. "Someone ruined her," she sobbed. "The baby's not ours! It can't be! She can't be Strife's!"

Ares flinched when he saw what Lila had obviously just put down, shuddering when he realized it was in pink lace. He patted his sister gently on the back. "It's okay, Eris, we can stop this one. We'll make her stop sewing."

"Why? It's fun," Lila said as she came out of her bathroom. "And my dolly was nearly naked. Now I can make her *lots*of clothes and stuff." She smiled at her grandmother. "Why does sewing bother you? Can't I do it? The muses said that normal people could and I'm a normal person."

Eris wiped her face and grabbed her granddaughter to hug, squeezing her fiercely. "I know you are, Lila, but this sort of stuff scares us. Please don't sew. It's a bad and filthy habit, we don't want that sort of thing in the temple. Promise me you won't sew!"

Strife walked in, then looked at the piles of stuff, then at his mother and Uncle, then he just shook his head and went back to his mountain to start screaming and crying again. "Why me, Gaia!!!!!!!!!!!"


Lila walked up in front of her second grade class and held up her dolly. "This is my dolly, Miss Electra, and I made her clothes this weekend."

"That's very nice," her teacher said, smiling down at her. "Did you have help?"

"No, my aunties showed me how but this is the first one I made all by myself." She grinned and looked around. "It was really hard, lace is a pain to work with, but I hand stitched it so it was easier. Oh, and my Great-Uncle Hephie gave me earrings," she said, moving her long brown hair to show off the emerald and silver earrings. The class clapped so she went back to her seat, clutching her dolly tightly. There were *boys* in her class and she wasn't going to mess up her new dolly clothes by letting them near her dolly. When everyone else had went, she raised her hand. "Can I go put her in the office?"

"Sure," her teacher said, smiling down at her. Lila had been explained to him by her last teacher. He watched as she walked out, then looked at the rest of the class. "Let's get out our math books. We'll work on the harder subtraction today." He smiled as Lila ran back in. "All set?" She nodded. "Then let's work on some math." Lila dug in her desk, looking for her math book, which magically appeared under her left hand. She pulled it out and opened it up, holding up a hand when she saw she had done it already. "Can I go on?" she asked when her teacher walked over to check on her.

He checked her work, then smiled. "Yes, but I have an exercise that you can do now instead of for homework if you'd prefer." She grinned. "Good girl. Let me go get it." He went to grab the sheet. She was such a good student.


Lila patted the dirt around her favorite flower, it hadn't been touched in over a year, the last boy who had had went to the hospital. Great-Grandma Hera had said that it would protect itself. She frowned at the shadow moving over her and turned to find a few of the sixth grade boys standing behind her. "What do you want?" she asked.

"We heard about your dolly," the lead boy sneered. "Still playing with *baby* toys?"

"No." She turned back around, but one of the boys stepped on her plants. Unfortunately, he had on heavy boots so the thorns didn't get him. But she did. She pushed him off, sending him crashing to the ground. "It's not nice to hurt other people's things." She checked the plant, but it would live. Especially if she brought some good plant stuff for it tomorrow, just like Gaia had taught her. She dusted off her hands as she stood up, looking the boys over. "You're not so tough," she told them. "You're just a bully and my daddy says bullies are stupid."

One of the boys pushed her, sending her crashing into the fence. "Oh, yeah? And who's your daddy? Mine's the Mayor."

"My daddy's in public service, he tells people how to make their life more interesting." She frowned and concentrated, then cheered as one of the boys went flying. "And that's my grandma." The other boys looked at the boy that was now across the playground. "Leave me alone!"

The lead boy grabbed her and shook her, then put her down. "You're a freak. You don't even know what reality is. I bet you spend all day in front of a television."

"What's a television?" she asked, looking a little confused. Then she shrugged. "No, I spend my time doing my homework and working on my projects. I don't *need* to be entertained like *some* people." The boy slapped her, making her scream and cry, which of course brought the teachers running. "He hit me!"

"She's a freak!" the boys yelled, pointing at her. "She don't watch tv and she's a freak."

"No, that makes her smart enough to skip a few years and get into *your* class," the second grade teacher said harshly, pushing the boys out of the way. He bent down to look at his student, frowning. Her father wasn't going to be happy. "Why don't we get you to the nurse so you can have some ice," he suggested gently. He followed behind the boys, whom the security guard was herding toward the office. He had just barely carried her into the office when her father came running through the door. "It's just a bruise," he said quickly, handing her over when he saw the rage in the other man's eyes. "She was baiting the bullies and they took offense at the fact that she didn't know what a tv was."

Strife sat down with his daughter, checking her over. "You're bruised," he said, frowning at the hallway. "Not your fault, man. Don't stress 'bout it." He looked in the teacher's eyes. "We know who ta blame," he said quietly. "I'm gonna take her home though."

"That's fine, I'll go gather her stuff. Oh, her doll's in the office."

"Thanks. I'll go get that myself." He hugged her tighter, making shushing noises. He accepted the makeshift ice pack from the nurse and held it against his daughter's cheek. Yeah, someone was going to pay for this. He kissed her on the head once she had stopped crying and set her beside him. "I'm gonna go get your stuff and your doll, you stay here." He stood up, running into the teacher, but he gave him a smile. "How's she doin'?"

"She's still ahead of the class. She only has two assignments for tonight, one's a reading and one's a report on what she presented today. We're trying to teach the kids how to write things like book reports."

Strife nodded. "Cool by me. She'll do 'em from bed probably." He walked away, heading for the office. He slammed the door behind him, making the boys jump. "Which one hit her?" he asked the Principal, who had just went very pale.

One of the boys snorted, looking him over. "Why? You her *daddy*?"

"Yeah, and you're gonna be in trouble," Strife told him. "Him?" The Principal nodded. "Then we'll deal with it after I get her home. She's bruised so I'm takin' her now." The doll was handed over, him holding the lace with two fingers. "Thanks. We'll be back tomorrah." He gave a meaningful look at the boys, then back at her. "No worries," he told her, then he left her alone, going to get his baby and go home. "Ares?" he yelled as he appeared. Eris came running, stopping and glaring when she saw the ice pack. "Some bullies got 'er after she baited them back." He kissed her on the head. "Have her, I'm gonna go get 'em."

"No, daddy!" she screamed, clutching him. "Me want you, not grandma." She started to sniffle again, doing her best to bury her face in his shoulder. "You hold me. Let grandma go get them."

"Yes, sweetling, grandma will go get them for you," Eris promised, coming over to touch the back of her head. "They in the office?"

"Last I knew." Strife looked over as Ares appeared. "Bullies," he explained. "Where's the bruise medicine?"

"In my bathroom. I'll get her some." He and Eris shared a look, then Eris smiled. "We'll make sure they're sorry, Strife, don't worry about it," he said coolly. "Go put her to bed. We'll bring her a snack." He watched his nephew walk away, then looked at his sister. "I want to know *exactly* what was said to her. She never fights back."

"Got it," Eris said, heading for the viewing room.

Ares went to get the bruise medicine that Artemis and Apollo had made for them, and to make a snack for the princess.


Down on the mortal plane that night, five boys screamed loudly, and one started to cry for his mother. Not that she heard, but they were learning their lessons.


Hera looked up as Eris walked into her study, frowning at her. "Was there something else that happened when they picked on her?" she asked, putting her pen aside.

"One of the boys went flying," Eris reported. "The Fates still say she doesn't have any powers."

"I see." Hera frowned at the wall pointing toward Ares' temple. "I'll talk with her today after school."

"She didn't go. Her back sprouted another, large, bruise and Apollo suggested we keep her home so she could rest." She crossed her arms. "At least she fought back."

"While that's true, that doesn't mean that she's fitting in any better," Hera noted. Eris' frown got deeper. "That's what had you worried?"

"That and who sent that boy flying. She thought I had done it. Strife heard her screaming first and went to check on her before I could get down there." She uncrossed her arms and glanced around the room. "How do you check a demigod for powers?"

"I can do that when I see her this afternoon." She smiled at her daughter. "Don't worry so much, Eris, she'll find her path. Even if she's not a perfect fit in your house, she's still happy there. That's what's important. Bring her to me after her nap and I'll look her over for you." Eris nodded, heading home. Hera sighed and picked up her pen, making notes on some of the prenatal charts of some of her followers. Some doctors were overly cautious when it came to pregnant women so she was looking over their shoulders.


Lila walked onto the playground, looking around for the bullies. She saw one of her friends and waved, but the other girl turned away from her. She walked over, tapping her friend on the shoulder. "Hi."

"Oh, it's you," she sneered. "Couldn't come yesterday?"

"No, my doctor didn't want me to come to school with a big, huge bruise."


One of the boys in her class ran over, stopping to look at her. "Are you really a freak?" he asked bluntly.

"No!" Lila glared at him. "Just because my daddy said there was more important things than tv doesn't make me a freak." She stomped her little foot.

"That's right, it doesn't," her teacher said as he walked over to them. "It means that *she* gets her homework done." The boy looked away. "Besides, it's not like there's anything good on these days." He patted Lila on the head. "Dear, did you remember to bring the doctor's excuse?" She nodded and pulled a paper out of her pocket, handing it over. "This is very nice," he said, examining the parchment. "Where does your doctor practice?"

"Down the street from where we really live." She grinned. "Uncle 'Pol is nice, he gave me a lollipop. I had to stay in bed because my back was so bruised. Oh, and he said I couldn't play gym until it was all gone. He said he didn't like it."

"All right." Her teacher nudged her. "Why don't you head for the classroom? It's almost time to go in." He watched her trot away. "Children, she's not deprived, she's not a freak, and she's not really any different than you. The only real difference is the fact that she's got a powerful father who saw the sense in getting her to an unknown school where she would learn and not have to worry about things like the other kids picking on her for who he is." The kids nodded. "Billy, why did you think she's a freak?"

"Because she made that one guy go flying!" he reminded the teacher. "He flew all the way across the playground."

"That wasn't her," he said with a smile down at him. "People with powers like that only happen in comic books. Please don't pick on her, guys. It's not nice and it's going to make her start crying again."

The little girl smiled up at him. "If she's not a freak, do you think she'd like to come to my birthday party?"

"I don't know, you'll have to ask her." He nodded toward the school. "Go inside. It's nearly time." They ran for the door and he went to check on the other students.


Lila ran into Ares' arms, giving him a smile. "What do you give a girl for her birthday party?" she asked.

"Well," he said, thinking about it. "I'm not sure. We can ask Eris if you want."

Lila gave him a 'get real' look. "She's not a typical girl," she whispered, she didn't want to insult her grandma, but she wasn't really a girl like her. "I don't think she'd know."

Ares laughed and gave her a squeeze. "Maybe not. I know, we'll ask Aunt Artemis. She should know. She's very girlish." Lila squealed. "Thank you for deafening me," he said dryly, wiggling one finger in his ear. "Come on, we'll go see her now. That'll give us time to find the perfect present for your friend." He walked her out of the temple and down the street, heading for Artemis' temple. Artemis was much more girly, she might know. Unfortunately, she wasn't in. "How about we try Hera," he suggested, heading that way. He stopped when he saw the Muses, getting an idea. "Hey!" he called, walking his princess over there. "We need to know what to get a friend of hers for her birthday."

The Muses all gathered around her, giggling and chatting with their favorite little girl. They looked up at Ares, then shrugged. "She doesn't like dolls," the oldest one said. "Or toys that we know about. Maybe a gift certificate to a video and music store?"

"That's an idea," Ares agreed with a smile.

"But that's not a present," Lila complained. "That's ...." She couldn't find the right word so she shook her head. "It's still not a present."

"It is if you give it to her," Ares told her. She started to pout, something he wanted to avoid like another case of the plague. "Come on, we'll go see Hephie. Maybe he knows what little girls like. He makes presents for 'Dite after all." He gathered her up and brought her to the forge, smiling at his half-brother. "Do you know what to give a little girl for a present? Lila's insisting that a gift certificate isn't a present."

Hephaestus smiled and waved at the little girl. "I have just the thing." He pulled over a highly decorated knife and showed it off. "How's that?"

"I like it," Ares agreed.

Lila looked it over. "But I thought little kids weren't supposed to have weapons, Great-Uncle Ares."

"You know, you could just call me Ares, like everyone else," he reminded her. He looked at Hephaestus, who shrugged. "How about we put it in a nice case, which locks, and you give her a gift certificate too?"

Lila thought about it, then nodded. "Okay!" She smiled at her friend, the one who made her toys. "Thank you, Unclie Hephie."

"You're welcome, princess." He kissed her on the cheek. "When is this birthday party?"

"Tomorrow afternoon. Do you think Kelly would mind picking me up there? It's only for a few hours."

"I'm sure she won't mind," Ares told her, giving her a squeeze. "I'll come get it around the time school ends," he told Hephaestus. "That way, we don't have a problem with it going to school with her." He waved, and so did Lila, then they went back to his temple. "Now what should we do?"

"Want to watch a dolly fashion show?" she suggested. He groaned, but nodded. Things like that were important to her, he could persevere through it.


Penny's mother took the well-wrapped present from Lila's hand, giving the young girl a smile. "We're so glad you could come." She smiled at the woman standing behind her. "Are you her mother?"

"No, I'm the sitter," Kelly said with a grin. "Her father hired me to watch her in the afternoons." She nodded at the present. "It locks so don't worry too much."

Lila looked up at her sitter. "But Unclie Hephy said it was a good present, so did Great-Uncle Ares. Even Grandma liked it."

Kelly patted her on the head. "It's not totally decorative, but it does lock." She nodded down at the kids. "How long?"

"I was planning on about three hours," Penny's mother told her. "Did you want to stay? Some of the other parents are."

"Nah. I've got katas to go do. If I don't practice, her father will pick someone else to guard her." She tapped Lila on the head, making her look up. "You behave. I want to give your father a good report of your behavior." Lila nodded, giving her a patient look. "Good. I'll be back in three hours. Call if you need me to come sooner." She waved and walked away, heading to go do her practice.

Penny's mother put the present on a sidetable and took Lila's hand so she could lead her into the kitchen. "Penny, Lila's here," she announced, letting the girl go play with the kids making a mess on the table. "I put your present in the hall."

"Okay, mom," Penny said, smooshing some clay back into a ball. "Here, have some," she told Lila. Once her mother was gone, she leaned closer. "What'd you get me?" she whispered.

"A pretty dagger and Great-Uncle Ares included a gift certificate to the video store," she whispered back. "The dagger has a pretty case too. Unclie Hephy made it." She grinned. "We all thought it was really pretty."

"That's so cool," another girl told them. "My mommy gets me stuff like Barbies."

"I tried to get a Barbie but my grandma threw a fit about unrealistic women and stuff." Lila shrugged, starting on her hippo. "I have my favorite dolly and I get to make clothes for her. It's still kinda fun." She grinned at the other girl. "Grandma doesn't like my sewing. She thinks it's very girly."

"But you are a girl," the other girl reminded her.

"Yeah, but she wants me to be one of those tough girls." Lila grinned. "I like my flowers too much. She'll get over it some day." She grabbed some more clay to put on legs.

*** Nine Years Old ***

Lila looked up at her father. "When can I have a purse?"

"When you have something you need ta put in it," Strife told her, taking the next bite of his dinner. She pouted at him. "You don't need one."

"The other girls have one," she protested. "And I do so have stuff to carry with me."

"No." Eris looked down at her, shaking her head. "Purses aren't necessary. They're cumbering and you forget them."

"Nah-uh, I'll be good with it." She smiled brightly at Ares. "His girlfriend has one."

Strife choked. "Unc, you're datin'?"

"Yes, Strife, I am seeing someone. No, you don't need to meet her. Lila, she has *real* things that need to be carried, which you won't until after puberty. A purse is another way for a guy to grab you and you wouldn't like that."

She sighed. "Okay." She smooshed the stuffing around on her plate. "Can I have a sleep over at Kelly's?"

The three adult Gods looked at each other, then shrugged. Strife sighed. "Sure. We'll talk with Kelly tomorrah when we pick you up and make sure it's okay with her." His daughter gave him a begging look. "And if not, we'll figure somethin' out," he finished weakly.

"Not in this temple," Ares said between bites of steak. Eris nodded, backing her up. "Unless you're going to wall off part of the temple so we don't have to hear screaming little girls running around on a sugar high." He cut off another piece. "For the record, I think this is a very bad idea if Kelly's not willing to host it."

"Yeah, me too," Strife agreed. "Lila, you can *only* have it if Kelly says so. We don't want ta upset any of the other parents if they want to check up on ya."

Lila shrugged. "Okay." She started to eat again. "Can I have cute jammies if we do have one?"

Eris raised an eyebrow. "Like *bunny* ones?" she asked, sounding horrified. "Or with cartoon characters?"

Lila grinned and nodded. "Yup, like that. I think they're cute. I found a pink pair with kitty cats."

"No," Ares told her. "No pink. Cats maybe, but not pink." She smiled at him. "No," he repeated. "And don't make any either." He stared her down until she agreed and took another bite. "If this does happen, you will listen to Kelly in all things. Got it?" She nodded, happily eating her peas. "Good girl."

Eris tapped him on the hand. "Who're you dating?"

Ares glared at her. "I'll introduce you if it becomes serious. Not before then. She doesn't need you breathing down her neck."

"But Marissa said that can be fun," Lila put in.

Strife's fork dropped and he stared at her. "What did you just say?"

"Marissa said that people blowing on your neck could be fun."

"Excuse me," Strife said, getting up and heading out. He had promised to protect the other students and if this girl was in trouble, she would get his unique brand of help.

Lila looked at her grandmother. "Where did daddy go?"

"He went to talk to someone about a work matter," Eris told her, giving her a smile. "Would you like to help me clean my leather later? I need to work on my battle clothes."

"No thank you. I'm working on a dress for class." She finished up her dinner and headed off to her room, going to work on her latest project.

Eris slumped, looking at her twin brother. "I'm still worried about her," she said quietly. "She doesn't fit in very well."

"She's still happy," Ares reminded her. "As long as that's true, she's not being hurt. We just have to ease up on her." He finished off his steak and pointed at hers. "Gonna eat that?"

She pushed her plate over, looking even more dejected. Her line was in so much trouble. "Do you think he'll want another kid? He loves being the daddy."

Ares shrugged. "Why not? You could always suggest it. Lila would probably love to be a big sister."

Eris snorted. "Yeah, she'd cover it in lace, dress it up like her doll, and want to be the mommy."

"Hey, whatever works," Ares said philosophically. He pushed back from the table. "Don't wait up." Then he left, going to see his date.

Eris sighed and took back the rest of her steak. "I need one of those." She looked over as Strife appeared. "All taken care of?"

"Yeah. Girl's fine. Not bein' abused, her daddy plays neck-raspberry games with her." He flopped down in his seat and looked at his mother. "Not a chance," he told her happily. She frowned at him. "I think one's enough. If you want more kids around, have one yourself." He got up and left, going to check on his daughter before he went to his room. He shook his head at the dress she was working on, but let it go. It made her happy, even if he was miserable.


Lila came out of her room wearing her new dress, which was a little lopsided around the waist. "How's it look?"

"I think you messed up," Ares told her.

"I know, but I talked to my Home Ec. teacher and she's going to use it to show the other kids how to fix their stuff." She grinned. "She likes me lots."

"Good," Strife said as he walked up behind them. "Well, it's not up to your usual standard, but it'll be pretty once you fix it." He patted her on the head. "Are you bringing extra clothes so you can change during class?"

"Yup." She patted the bag beside her.

"And you're wearin' underwear, right?" Strife asked. He had discovered that Lila had went to class the other day without any on and had nearly torn his throat yelling on his mountaintop.

She lifted her dress to show off her thong. "I got grammy underwear on."

"Good girl," Eris told her.

"That's a thong," Strife pointed out. Eris nodded. "She's a little young for that."

"No she's not, they're comfortable," Eris argued. "They're all I wear when I have to wear underwear."

"She's too *little*," Strife insisted. "You only wear those when you wanna get laid, she don't need that yet!"

"They're fine," Eris said, waving him off. "You're overreacting."

Ares cleared his throat. "I'm going to have to side with Strife on this, sis. Thongs are for when you have something that you want someone to see and touch." He looked at the girl, then back at his sister. "Wait until *after* she hits puberty, then she can wear them. Lila, go change please," he ordered.

She sighed and headed back to her room, going to put on real underwear. She had learned very quickly that Ares' word was law in the temple, even over her dad's.

Ares looked over at Strife. "You can go confiscate the rest of them later," he said quietly. "And quit stressing about it." He turned and walked away, heading to grab his plans for the German General he was currently working with. He disappeared, heading to work, about the same time that Lila was heading off to school. He would keep a closer eye on her, she was going to start dating soon.

*** Twelve Years Old ***

Lila danced out of her room in her favorite dress, and stopped when she saw only her grandmother was standing there. "Where's daddy?" she asked sweetly.

"Busy. He had someone he needed to *consult* with." She looked the girl over. "Going somewhere?"

"Yup. Well, if daddy will give me a ride down to the mortal plane." She grinned. "There's a group thing going on at the mall."

"Nope," Eris said, picking up a book to read. "Not a chance." She opened it to her spot and started to read.

Lila stomped her foot. "I'm old enough! Great-Uncle Ares said I could start dating once I hit puberty, and I have breasts! Isn't that the primary sign of puberty?"

Eris moved a finger in a circle in the air. "Yay."

"But he said I could!" She started to pout, but her daddy showed up, saving her grandmother from a major pout. "Daddy, can I go out on a group outing to the mall?"

"It's a date," Eris told him.

"Nope," Strife said with a grin. "You're too young, it won't happen, and if ya try and get around it by goin' ta Hera or Ares, you're grounded for the next year." He looked over her outfit. "Go change, daughter, that's much too nice to wear around here."

"But I have breasts!" Lila complained. "Great-Uncle Ares said I could start dating when I hit puberty."

"No!" Strife crossed his arms and looked down at her. "Go change or be grounded."

She stomped off, going to sulk in her room. She'd tackle Ares later, he would allow it.

"Not a chance!" Strife said through the doorway. "Grounded!" He walked away.

Lila crossed her arms and started thinking bad things about her parent. She *would* get to go out with her friends.

Ares appeared and Strife shot a fireball at him. "What?" he asked as he caught it, rolling it around on his palm.

"You told my daughter she could date when she hit puberty, she's claiming that right tonight because she's got breasts now."

Ares dissolved the fireball. "Technically, girls do start dating around her age." He ducked the more powerful, and much larger, fireball. "Do you really want me to retaliate?"

"She's not dating yet!" Strife yelled. "No mattah *WHO* says so! My little girl is *NOT* gonna go out and get laid at this age!"

"It's a group date," Lila called from her room. "No sex involved!"

Ares shrugged. "Hey, they can't do anything that way."

"One word, Unc. Orgy!"

Ares snickered. "I'm sure that's hit their minds. They're thirteen, Strife."

"No, they're thirteen-year-old walkin' hormone bombs," Strife countered. "They'll do anything to get into her panties, or thong probably, and then they'll spread nasty rumors about her. Boys're like that in case you don't remember."

Ares reached over and patted Strife on the top of the head. "She'll beat them up. She knows she's not ready yet for sex. She also knows that if they try anything, those boys will be without their dicks by the next morning. Let her go. Dating is important for teens, it makes them realize what shitbags the boys are."

Strife stomped off. He opened his daughter's door, glaring at her. "You can go, you will stay in the group, you will not have sex, and you will not do any PDA. You may not wear a thong, a dress, or anything that shows of any of your attributes. You will only be allowed ta go for the next two hours. You will be watched and I will punish any of you that break the rules." He stepped out and slammed the door, heading off to his room to sulk.

Ares sighed and called for some divine intervention. This was his mother's territory.


Lila smiled at her on-the-sly boyfriend as he walked up to her. "It took a while, but my father *finally* agreed," she said happily. She took his hand and started walking with him, going to find the rest of the group. He snuck a kiss to her cheek, then grinned down at her. "Just don't get caught," she warned him. "My dad is *fierce* about my 'natural status' as my aunts call it."

He laughed. "Yeah, I've heard about your dad." He gave her another kiss, this time on the lips. "I'm not scared of him. As long as I respect you, he can't say anything." He waved at one of his guy friends, going to join their group. Lila sighed, but he ignored it, these were his friends after all. Who wanted to hang with *girls*.


Lila snuck back into the temple, but Ares was standing there, arms cross, scowling at her. "Hi," she said timidly.

"You're grounded," he said quietly. "And you're going to get a physical in the morning. You will not see that boy again." He uncrossed his arms and looked over her rumpled clothes. "I thought we had taught you better than that," he said sadly, turning away to head for his room.

She sighed and went to her room. She knew this wasn't over. Her dad would still have *something* to say, probably at the top of his lungs. She silently prayed to Hera that he wouldn't go attack her boyfriend. He wasn't that bad, she had wanted to have sex, just not right then. It had happened though, so she would take responsibility for her actions. She flopped down on her bed and pulled out her diary, writing down about the disappointing night. She had thought that sex was supposed to be so much better than that.


Lila walked up to her favorite muse and sat down beside her. "Teri, why was sex boring?" she asked quietly. "It was like I had to lay there and take it while he made animal noises."

Teriscope, the Muse of Dance, patted her on the knee, then gave her a hug. "Come on, we'll go have tea and talk about it. Between the nine of us muses, we should be able to give you a good idea of what to do." She led the young girl back to her house.


Strife flashed into the meeting of the senior Gods, panting hard, his eyes bulging, and his fists clenched so hard there was blood dripping from them. "None of them are evah gettin' fucked *AGAIN*!" he screamed. "They taught my daughter how ta be a slut, they can suffer and never get any from anyone! Not even the lowest scum'll touch them now!" He glared at Aphrodite. "And don't you *dare* get in on it," he hissed. "My daughter will remain *innocent* or you'll all suffer." Then he left to go back to his mountaintop. There were a few cliffs up there that he could pound out his rage on.

Zeus coughed. "Did anyone understand that?"

Ares flashed in. "Has Strife been here?" he asked. Everyone nodded. "Okay. I'm going to go calm him down."

"Wait!" Aphrodite yelled, standing up. "Why did your nephew just threaten me? And who's not getting any?"

"The muses decided to take Lila's sex education into hand," he said snidely. "They're all suffering right about now. Not even Apollo will be able to cure the diseases he blessed them with, or the fungus, or even the moldy parts." He gave her a wan smile. "He's not taking this well, I'd lay low." Then he flashed out.

Aphrodite shuddered and sat down, allowing herself to be held by her husband. "I think we should all leave them alone about this," she advised.

"Indeed," Hera agreed, looking somewhat upset. "Maybe I should go check on Strife though." Aphrodite shook her head. "No?"

"No, let him get it out of his system," Cupid said. He gave her a grin. "I'll go talk to him tonight, see if he won't lighten up on the Muses." Zeus stared at him. "Hey, been there, done that. Bliss decided to become a randy little sucker there his first year after puberty. I guess it's not much different for girls. With your leave," he said, standing up, "I'm going to go check the Halls of Time to see what really happened." He disappeared at Hera's nod.

Hera sighed. "Well, it's certainly not going to be a *boring* time," she noted dryly. Aphrodite chuckled weakly. She looked at her husband. "Did you have anything we really needed to discuss?"

Zeus wisely shook his head. "Not until a determination of what Strife did is found." He flashed away, going to watch this all happen on his private mirrors.

Aphrodite sunk a little deeper into her Hephie's arms for comfort. She had thought about going to Strife to suggest teaching Lila about sex later that day.


Lila looked up from her cross stitching, stretching out on her bed as her Uncle Apollo appeared. "Did something funny show up in the tests?" she asked him.

He got down on her level, staring into her eyes. "Don't piss off your father like that again," he said quietly and calmly. "He's punishing the Muses, and those of us who enjoy their company, because they told you what was going on."

She frowned. "I begged him not to. It wasn't their fault I went to have sex, I talked to them about why it was boring. That's not fair!" She tossed down her current project. "Can you send me to where he is?"

"No. He wants to be left alone. When he gets back, try to get him to change his mind." Apollo stood up and looked down at her. "We're all very disappointed with you, Lila."

Strife appeared and shoved Apollo into a wall hard enough to dent it. "You leave her alone," he hissed. "She didn't do nothin'. Those women told her how ta be a slut, which you taught them. That wasn't sex ed, that was lessons in whoring! Now get outta here before I get you too!" Apollo disappeared quickly. Strife looked down at his daughter, still panting in anger. "He's right, I am disappointed in you. Not because he's not gettin' laid, but because I thought you had more sense'n that. You didn't need sex, not at your age. The complications are *way* too bad for someone your age. I *know* we taught you bettah than that, so yeah, I'm really disappointed in ya. As for your punishment, you're not only grounded to the temple, but also to your room. I'm gonna take away everything fun in this room and you're not gonna see any of it for six months. If you whine, complain, beg, or bitch about it, it goes up to a year. And then Ares gets ta add on top of that. Do you understand?" he said in his coldest and deadliest voice.

She nodded, swallowing hard. "Daddy, please don't punish Greg."

He held up a hand. "He's a dick. He deserves it. But we've already had a discussion with his parents, who're gettin' him for it even now. I doubt you're gonna be seein' him for quite some time, and I seriously doubt he'll wanna see you after his 'rents are done." He waved a hand and everything was packed away in boxes, which then left. "Do your homework." He walked out and shut the door behind him, resisting the urge to lock it. He took a deep breath and headed to the living room, running into Cupid as he appeared.

"Well done," Cupid congratulated. "Much better than I did when Bliss decided he wanted to be a gigolo." He grinned. "Did you want her educated in the realities of sex?"

"Yeah, please," Strife said, laying down on a couch. "Cop a squat, Ares'll be back soon. He's explainin' ta someone why I beat the fuck outta their tank." He put a hand over his eyes. "Do ya think I overreacted?"

"Not with her. With the Muses, maybe. Maybe the mold part," he finished when Strife looked at him. "She's your daughter, and she did what you had asked her not to. She knew she could come to Ma or me and we'd have given her any information she wanted and needed. As is, she got some absolute shit from the girls and now has to forget about it." He shrugged and sat down. "Ma and I both volunteered to come teach her about sex, the *whole* deal, and then let you deal with the ethics part."

Strife snorted. "Ethics and I aren't fast friends."

Cupid threw a pillow at him. "You know what I mean." Strife nodded. "If you want, we can get very in-depth with her while she's grounded."

"She's not gonna be doin' much else," Strife sighed. He thought about it, then nodded. "Please. I know 'Dite'll give her some shit about romance and orgasms, but I figure you had this talk with Bliss sometime in the last few centuries. How is he anyway?"

"He's in New York fooling around," Cupid told him. "He's still trying to work all that sexual energy out of his system. It's not working very well though, he hasn't connected the need for emotional tie-ins yet." He leaned back. "It's hard to be a parent. Trust me, I remember this stage very well." He looked toward Lila's room. "What're you gonna do if she gets pregnant?"

"Kill 'er, and then him in the most horrible way possible. It'll take weeks."

Cupid chuckled. "I said the same thing."

"It's different when it's a girl," Strife pointed out.

"Yeah, if she gets pregnant, you'll probably be seeing the kid everyday, unlike the father's family. Fortunately, Bliss knows that if he knocks someone up, he's going to take full responsibility and, if possibly, partial custody. We had a *long* talk about that subject."

"Oh, we're gonna have a talk about that too," Strife assured him. "Once I'm calm and I don't wanna beat my daughter for her stupidity." He took a few breaths, then looked at Cupid again. "We did talk about that, how stupid it was ta rush inta sex, how it's damaging, how she's not ready for the consequences. It's like she ignored *everything* I said that day."

"Sucks to be a parent," Cupid agreed.

"Yeah, it does," Strife sighed, putting the arm back over his eyes. They sat there, enjoying being with someone who understood what they were going through.


Eris dropped off Lila with a grunt for Aphrodite, frowning at her granddaughter. "Here's the stupid one." She gave her a light shove.

"She's not stupid, she's a teenager," Aphrodite corrected. "The hormones have affected her brain, rendering it less than useful." She grinned at Eris. "I think we can straighten a lot of this out. We're going to talk about the realities of what she did day-before-yesterday." Her smile got brighter. "Apollo figured out how to cure the fungus part."

Eris chuckled. "He must be getting desperate. He tried to blame her for what the Muses got."

"I didn't mean to get them in trouble," Lila told her.

"Yay. They knew Strife didn't want anyone telling you shit like that," Eris reminded her. "They brought it on themselves. The same as you did for yourself because you went to them instead of coming to Aphrodite or Cupid for *real* information. Your father might have been upset if you had come here, but he would have thought you were using your brain, which he's usually very proud of. Though, that boy wasn't punished to anyone's satisfaction."

"His father patted him on the back?" Aphrodite asked. Eris nodded. "I'll sic Cupid on him. He and Strife are getting along well, they've bonded over the troubles with children." She frowned at the young girl. "Go into the next room and wait for me. And leave Bliss alone. He's got a headache." Lila walked away and the two Goddesses settled in to chat for a few minutes, working up the perfect revenge for that boy, and for Bliss' last girlfriend, who was a cruel and cold bitch.

Aphrodite laughed. "Where did you get that crap?" she asked.

Lila frowned at her. "The Muses said that romance was like that."

Aphrodite shook her head. "A few of the Muses think that a nod in greeting is a come-on too." She gave Lila a squeeze. "Trust me, romance is *great*, it's my job and I love it, but it's not like that. That whole 'love at first sight' stuff really only happens when Cupie and I get involved. You might say it's more of a 'spiritual' thing than a physical thing, which is what you really mean. Yeah, a guy *can* be romantic, but he usually wants something in return. That's why it happens most often at the start of the relationship. See, your typical man wants something, that's his motivation for doing more than grabbing a woman and *convincing* her that she wants to have sex with him. If he's bringing you flowers, you gotta look at his motives. If he brings you more than flowers, you might want to start asking what he did wrong or what he wants. Now, this changes, sometimes, as they get older. The more experienced men can hide their motives if they have one, or they have actually learned that some women like getting flowers and gifts for no reason and that doing so gets them sex anyway. Unfortunately, you're not ready for one of those yet so you're gonna be stuck with a putz for years to come, Lila." She let the girl go. "All the guys your age want sex, and it's not for any reason other than status, bragging rights, or because they think it beats masturbating. Oh, and, honey, try to date a nerd or a geek. They might not be the best lovers, but they'll *try* so hard and you can train them."

"I heard that," Strife's voice drifted down. "She's not dating until she's eighteen."

Aphrodite rolled her eyes. "Sixteen," she predicted. She patted the girl on the back of the head. "By then, you'll be able to teach the sex ed class and give advice to the other girls."

Lila sighed. "That's so unfair. I know I screwed up, but I should be given another chance."

"Not until you learn all the truths," Cupid said as he appeared. He held out a hand. "Come on, let me tell you about young men. It's been a while since Mom thought she was one." Lila took his hand and he took her away, to a private park not that far away from Olympus. "Okay, first off, Mom was right about a few things. Yes, getting into your pants is all about bragging rights. Masturbating is right up there with eating for most teenage guys - it's easy, it's always accessible, it's comforting, and nothing is better. At that age, actual sex is all about bragging rights. And the guy will dump you after the first few times because you no longer bring him bragging rights, status, or respect from the other guys. To them, you're like the newest video game. Something to be dissected, traded, and for bragging about what level you got up to. Fortunately, around the time we nearly flunk out of college, we start to realize that women are more complicated than any video game ever created and that we'll never solve all the levels, no matter how great of a gamer we are. So we settle on someone that we have the key to solve the most number of levels that we can, and try to stay with them. But at your age, it's all about the bragging rights."

Lila frowned at him. "You act like women are *so* complicated, but we're not."

Cupid laughed. "You don't realize it yet, but yeah, you are. A woman is a mystery that a man will never understand. And women like you," he tugged on her ponytail, "are stereotyped so that guys *think* that they know what they're getting into. Which is why the putz picked on you for bragging rights."

She shook her head. "He wouldn't do that, I would have heard if he was spreading it around."

Cupid opened a portal to show her what had happened last night between her boyfriend and his friends. He let her watch as the guys picked apart his performance, and hers, and how they talked about her. Then he closed it and let her think for a few minutes. "That's a teenage boy," he said quietly. "They're all like that, except for some geeks. Geeks seem to be able to see women for more of what they are. They still brag, but they keep it in-group instead of the whole town knowing. They also tend to be more courteous. They don't dump you just because they scored, they actually try to make it kinda work. They're not serial daters so they respect the person that they're dating more." He patted her on the head. "Not that you're going to have to worry about that for at least three years."

She sighed. "Why are boys like that?"

"Because we have hormones too, Lila, and ours are telling us to be assholes." He grinned. "Yours are telling you that an asshole is better than nothing and theirs are telling them to breed because you let them. It's all in your court, you have the real power here. If you let yourself be used by assholes, then you lower yourself to their level and you open yourself to bragging rights and as a prize in some hormonal contest. If you keep yourself from allowing them to score, then you can weed some of biggest shitbags out. They'll eventually get disgusted and move onto easier prey. And you'll be left with either someone who wants you for more than a piece of ass, or kinda alone until men start growing up emotionally."

"It's really that simple?"


"And what about where I'm not one of those little feminist cheerleaders? Guys think that I'm easier?"

"No, they think you're more naive, which you proved by allowing that shitbag into your sparkly little thong." He tapped her on the chin. "This is totally your fault, you could have made better choices." He stood up and held out a hand. "Come on, let's go walk and talk about the fantasy of romance and the reality." She let him pull her up and tuck him under his arm and wing, and they walked around the park and talked.


Lila walked into her former boyfriend's hospital room, giving him a pitiful look. "I was wrong," she told him as she walked over to his bed. "You were a rotten lay." He opened his mouth and she shrugged. "I'm sorry, but now that I know what it's supposed to feel like, I can honestly say I couldn't figure out what you were doing for most of the time, and half of it I couldn't tell if you were in there or not." She patted his permanently limp dick. "Don't worry, now you can blame it on the accident with your cup, where it severed some nerves." She gave him a pitying smile. "Thank you for teaching me what a boyfriend wasn't." Then she turned and left, running into her grandmother in the hall. "I'm sorry, I had to," she told her.

Eris shrugged. "Sounded reasonable to me." She took her home and sat down with her. "How did your talk with Aphrodite go?"

"It was less graphic than the one I had with Cupid," she admitted wryly. "He let me see what the asshole told his friends later that night."

Eris gave her a hug. "All men are shitbags, no matter how grown up they're supposed to be. That's why I like women and sex toys." She got up and looked down at the young girl. "Go back to your room." Then she walked away.

Lila trudged into her room, thinking about all she had learned today. And there was still more coming, she knew she was going to be getting a full course in sex education before she got near another man.

*** Fifteen Years Old ***

Lila walked out to where her father was relaxing, tapping him on the shoulder. "Daddy, can I go on a date tomorrow night?" she asked quietly. He looked up at her, shaking his head. "You can stalk him all you want," she offered. "He's kind of a geek, but he invited me to the dance."

Strife looked over his daughter's outfit, the pink jeans and the long t-shirt, then up at her. "Dressing for success?" he asked.

"Well, I did think that you'd be more receptive of me if I wasn't in lace," she admitted, "but I'll even let you help me pick out my outfit for the dance." She kissed him on the cheek. "He's a nice guy, daddy, and I'd like to go. Dances are supposed to be an important part of socialization, that's part of how you learn that girls are snarky bitches and boys only want them because they resist part of the time."

He sighed. "I'm gonna go watch this boy. You will not say anything about this until I get back."

"I need to give him an answer, he just called. Otherwise, he's going to ask Melody and I'll *never* get a date until after I graduate."

Strife muttered something that sounded like 'good idea', but he got up and headed out of the temple to go check on this boy. The young man he saw was nice enough, not real bright, but very polite and nothing in his mind said that he wanted to date her so he could get laid. He looked behind him as he felt someone pop in, smiling at Cupid. "He wants ta take Lila on a date."

Cupid nodded. "I heard. Lila prayed that I come help you see he's not such a bad guy." He looked the boy over. "Not bad. Much higher on the evolutionary scale than most of the assholes in town."

Strife slumped on a little bit. "You think I should let her go?"

"It's been two years, Strife. I think it's time to give her another chance. She's as protected as she can be against the braggers."

Strife nodded. "All right, but I get stalking rights."

Cupid grinned. "Nah, Ma's got a match there to work on. Let her do it." He clapped Strife on the back. "Agreeable?"

"Sure." They flashed back to Ares' temple. "Yeah, you can go," Strife told her. "But we'll be settin' rules later!" he called after her as she ran for a phone. He sat down, looking at Cupid. "How's the Bliss-type guy?"

"In trouble. He went back to the snarky ho."

"Remind ya of Xena's little fucktoy?" Strife asked.

Cupid thought about it, then shook his head. "Less redeeming value. She's playing head games with Bliss. Mom won't let me get her, she thinks Bliss will make the right decision."

"Up until the point where they elope?" Eris asked as she walked in, smiling down at Cupid. "You might want to go stop them by the way." She watched as Cupid and Strife jumped up and went to stop the tragedy. She went to find a viewing mirror, this was one fight she *wanted* to see.


Lila nervously ran her hand down her skirt, smiling shyly at her date . "So, um, did you want something to eat? I kinda made dinner tonight and we have some left," she offered. In fact, she had worn out her nerves earlier by cooking most of the food in the temple and had brought about half of it down to her sitter, Kelly's, house.

"No thanks," he said with a smile. "We should probably go. The dance starts in an hour."

"Kelly, we're leaving!" she called.

Kelly stuck her head out of the living room. "Walking or riding?"

"Walking," he told her. "I can drive but it's a nice night." He took Lila's arm and led her from the house, walking beside her quietly. "So," he said finally, "your father relented and ungrounded you?"

"Depending on how I act tonight," Lila agreed. "If I do something stupid tonight, I might be grounded until *well* after graduation. From college." They shared a smile. "I've got to admit though, I've learned a lot while I was grounded."

"Like what?"

"Well, my dad made sure I got the *long* version of sex ed. Then another of dad's people taught me how to use the internet to do good research, so I've done an at-home research paper every six months for punishment. I found out a lot about the political structures of a lot of countries thanks to my Great-Uncle."

"He's still doing military consultation?" he asked.

She nodded. "Yup. He gives them options for strategies. Everyone says he's a master tactician and a weapons expert. The great thing is that he doesn't play favorites. He goes to any country that needs his help, but he gives them the reality of their chances. He told me last month that some drug czar was very disappointed because he wouldn't be able to overthrow a Central American government because he wasn't willing to stop over-controlling his people." The boy grunted, showing he was listening. "Then my grandma gave me intense history lessons. Especially in how some people needed better advice because they couldn't think well enough to talk correctly." She shrugged. "They've made sure I was never *bored* but I wasn't exactly having fun either."

He chuckled. "I wish I had your life. It must be great to have parents that are that hands-on."

She shook her head, stopping their forward progress. "Not really. Daddy can be really overbearing at times. Grandma has some really funny ideas about men. Great-Uncle Ares is really uptight most of the time. My extended family is a lot looser, but I don't really get to see them because I was grounded and that might be fun. It's great some days, but others it's a real pain."

He patted her hand. "It's like that for the rest of the people in the world too. Come on, we're almost there."

"Do you think *he'll* be there?"

He snorted. "The boy that started all those rumors will definitely be there. He's dating one of the cheerleaders and screwing two more. He'll be there with his crowd and his penis implant, but we'll be able to avoid them after an opening salvo in the old jock vs. geek war." He led her toward the school, and the brightly lit gym.


Aphrodite sighed when she caught sight of Lila, and the lust vibes she was giving off. "Well, she took our advice," she sighed. She sent a thought out to Eris, who would be watching this carefully. Eris' answer shocked her, but she let whatever was going to happen go off. She started to work on her intended couple, making the boy ask the girl to dance. Little things for this couple, but they were meant to be. She went back to her temple and settled herself in to watch over Lila too. She frowned when she noticed Strife acting as a chaperone, but he had always been overprotective of the girl.


Strife waited until the dance was over to walk over to his daughter's date, putting an arm around his shoulders and appearing fully. "So, did ya have a nice time with my girl?" he asked. The boy swallowed and nodded. "Now what're ya gonna do?"

"We walked, daddy, we can't go neck," Lila said as she walked over to them. "You've been stalking me again?"

"Consider it the act of an overprotective parent," he said with a grin. "You two gonna go watch movies at Kelly's?"

"We could," the boy offered. "Or we could go play at my house. Games I mean. I just got a great new computer game that I want to play."

Lila looked at her father, who stared her down. "I'd love to," she agreed. "I've got another hour on my curfew." She pulled her date away from her father and walked him away. "Don't be afraid of him," she whispered. "He only goes after the guys who disrespect me." She glanced at her ex- boyfriend, who was taking his pills to help make him hard. "What sort of game is it?"

"It's a maze and monster game. It's got really great graphics." He grinned at her. "Can I kiss you later?"

"Sure. I'd like that."

Strife sighed and went home to watch what was going to happen. She was going to be grounded until she married if she did something stupid tonight.


Eris went down to collect Lila after school the next day, glaring at her. "That was dumb," she told the girl.

"I was careful, I made my decision based on what facts I had, and I used protection. I *am* allowed to play with my sexuality, it is my body." She stared down her father and Ares, who were waiting on her. "Do you have any problem that I made a logical and reasonable decision?"

Strife nodded. "Yup."

"I did use protection, I did consider my options, and that was the purpose of my training under Aphrodite and Cupid."

"No it wasn't," Ares told her. "That was to make you more careful and more aware."

"Which I am," Lila argued. "I am very aware of the consequences of my actions, not only in relation to myself, but also to Derek. As was he. It was a mutual decision, one that I agreed to partake in. Besides, it felt good and I feel better now! Isn't that important?"

"Eww," Strife told her. "Fathers don't need ta know stuff like that." He looked in her mind, seeing the seething anger. "No, you're right, this time wasn't stupidity, it was a quick thing."

"It wasn't quick," she countered. "He's not bragging. And he was a damn good lover."

"That's because geeks read the good versions of porn," Ares put in dryly. "You still broke our trust."

"No, Great-Uncle Ares, I had sex. There's a difference there. I made an adult decision based on what my body was telling me, without listening exclusively to my hormones. That's not bad, it's what you were trying to teach me before."

"She's right, it was," Strife admitted quietly. He looked at Ares, then back at his daughter. "Fine. You're not grounded anymore, but you will live with some rules. One of them being that I meet all boys you go out with *before* the date. The second is that you carry protection with you. I saw that you forgot the condom."

She blushed and looked down at her feet. "I was so nervous that I forgot a lot of stuff," she admitted. "Brushing my teeth was one of them too."

He came over and gave her a hug. "It's all right. We're going to sit down tonight and have a talk." She opened her mouth. "Again?"

"He wants to go out for pizza with his friends and I was invited along."

Strife shrugged, after considering all the options. "You will be back at Kelly's at ten. Call if you get in sooner, or if something happens."

"Yes, daddy," she said, giving him a hug. "I need to change." She hurried into her room, closing the door firmly behind her.

"Are you sure?" Ares asked.

Strife looked over his shoulder at him. "Yeah, I'm sure. That was the point of the lecture series. I never expected them ta make her celibate - well, maybe ta gross her out so she wouldn't wanna touch anyone ever again," he admitted with a grin. "But I think they did a kick-ass job of teaching her how to make the good choices. Besides, he's a good enough kid. Never been one'a mine."

"Mine either," Eris agreed. "He is a pretty decent kid, and he understood the necessity of oral sex."

"Mom, eww. That's my daughter we're talkin' about. You don't want ta hear about my sex life, I don't wanna hear about hers."

"Whatever," Eris sighed, looking at Ares.

"Fine, then she may date, but you will keep an eye on her or I'll ground her again." He walked away, smiling to himself. That had gone rather well, even Lila had stood up to him, something that was almost unheard of.

*** Eighteen Years Old ***

"Daddy, can I talk to you?" she asked, sliding down onto the couch beside him once he opened his eyes. "Um, I need to ask you something. I want you to meet someone, formally, tonight."

"Is this the asshole lawyer wannabe?" Strife asked, sitting up so he could have a serious conversation.

"He's not an asshole, daddy, he loves me. He wants to let me be myself. He wants all the same stuff I do, including supporting me in my desire for children and taking care of the home." She swallowed the buildup of spit in her mouth. "I'd like for us to have dinner tonight so you can officially meet him."

"I stalked him for weeks, I know what he's like."

"Daddy, you saw him with his frat brothers, that's not the real him." She put a hand on his. "Please?" He started to open his mouth, but his eyes were showing a definite 'no' so she covered his mouth. "Daddy, he loves me. Hearts and flowers loves me. He wants kids like I do. He's willing to support me in everything I do, especially that I want to stay home and be myself. He thinks I'm pretty and good and smart. Besides, he's going to have a great job some day and he'll take good care of me."

Strife removed her hand, frowning at her. "He'll meet *all* of us tonight. Ares has to approve of anyone marrying into the House of War, or they'd better get on Eris' good side so she takes up their cause. That includes you." She nodded. "When?" he sighed.

"Eight tonight. We're eating in New York, and it's not a formal place. Jackets but no ties." She kissed his cheek and stood up. "I'm going to go iron a dress for later." She stopped when a thought hit her. "Do I have to go tell Great-Uncle Ares?"

"I'll do it," he told her.

She leaned down and gave him a hug. "I swear, Aunt Aphrodite had a hand in this one," she said quietly. "I saw him from across the room and we clicked, dad. It's a good thing."


"Aunt Aphrodite told me that she and Cupid were involved in all cases of love at first sight. That's what Keith and I have."

He gave her a little shove. "Go get ready, I'll tell the others." He waited until she was gone to shake his head. "I'll kill 'em slowly if they had anything ta do with this," he muttered, forcing himself to stand up and go find Ares and Eris. "Ma?" he called down the hallway.

"Bathing!" she yelled.

"Good." He walked into her room and into the bathroom, looking down at her. "She's serious about that Keith idiot. He proposed."

"When do we officially meet?" she asked, picking up a sponge to squeeze.

"Tonight at eight. Formal but not tie sorta formal." She nodded. "Thanks. Where's Unc?"

"Germany I think." She shrugged. "I'll look into his past when I get out."

"Thanks." He walked away, heading to the mortal plane to go find his Uncle, who happened to be in the middle of a business meeting. So he zapped his Uncle's pager with the message. Then he waited.

Ares scowled at the message, then stood up. "I'll be right back," he told them. "Look at that valley situation." He strode out into the hallway, looking around for Strife. He pulled out his cellphone and went into the bathroom to get them some privacy. "Strife, what's the meaning of that message?" he asked, supposedly into the phone, Strife was still invisible.

"The lawyer asshole proposed," Strife told him. "Tonight, eight, New York, formal but no tie."

Ares growled. "He dare touch her without our permission?"

"He's wantin' ta be a lawyer, he probably talked her ta death then did it." He shrugged. "She wants ta think he'll make her happy."

"We'll see," Ares promised. "Have you told your mother?" Strife nodded. "Good. Go find something suitable to wear and yell. It'll make it easier later on when we have to take him apart." He walked back into the meeting room and scowled. "I've got to cut this short, I have to go vet a prospective spouse for my nephew's daughter." The other men laughed, making comments about heading the family and how much Ares was stuck in the old ways. "He's a lawyer," Ares said with a shrug. "No loss if he's not going to work out." He pointed at the valley. "What did you want to do about protecting that area?"

"Ma's gotta be kickin' herself for creatin' lawyers," Strife moaned, going to do as he was told. He landed in front of Hera and silently gave her a hug. "She's gonna marry a putz," he told her.

"There, there, Strife. I promise I won't allow the union if he isn't up to standards." Strife pulled back to look at her. "Of course she'll have to get married up here, it won't be binding otherwise." That got a faint smile. "Why don't you go get ready and let me track their relationship so I can tell Ares what I think of him." She gave him one last squeeze then let him go, watching as he left.

"What was that about?" Zeus asked from across the room, not looking up from his reading.

"Lila has asked for permission to marry some mortal."

"Hmm, a party," Zeus agreed. "Give them my blessings."

"I haven't decided if he's suitable yet," she reminded him. Her husband looked up at that. "For it to be truly binding, she'll have to marry up here *and* down on the mortal plane. Otherwise, Ares can have either of them destroyed for disobeying him. I doubt he'd hurt Lila, but this mortal boy has no such insurance." She smiled at him. "Then we'll have the party." She went to get her special mirrors so she could investigate this boy fully.


Lila straightened out Keith's tie nervously, needing something to do with her hands. He plucked them off his chest and kissed the back of them. "Relax."

She snorted. "You have no idea what could happen if they don't like you."

He frowned. "Lila, you make it sound like you're in the mafia or something."

"Or something," Strife said as he appeared beside the table. "We've heard that remark before though." He sat down, looking at his daughter. "Your Great-Uncle will be down shortly, he's talkin' to his mother." Lila nodded, she understood the reasoning. "And Eris'll be down soon enough."

"Eris?" Keith asked. "She was named after the Greek Goddess of Discord?"

"No, she *is* the Greek Goddess of Discord," Lila said quietly.

"And she's responsible for the whole lawyerin' thing too," Strife added, holding out a hand. "Strife, God of Mischief. Ares'll be down shortly."

Keith went quite pale and grabbed his water glass to gulp most of it down. He looked at his fiancé, then opened his mouth a few times.

She kissed him. "It's okay. They'll accept you if you're good to me. Before you ask, I'm not one, I'm just a daughter." She smiled as Ares and Eris appeared together, standing up to give them both a hug. "Great-Uncle Ares, Grandma, this is Keith. I said yes."

"We'll see," Ares said shortly, sitting down. His sister sat on his left and they looked at Keith. "So, I'm told that you're going to be working as a defense attorney?"

"For a civil rights firm," Keith agreed quietly. He looked at the stony faces. "Am I dead?"

"Not yet. We're sitting in judgement on that point over dinner," Eris told him. "So far, we've looked over your fraternity days, your affair last year, and are wondering if you're going to do the same thing to Lila."

Lila coughed. "Affair?"

"My last girlfriend wasn't being the supportive woman that you are," he assured her quickly, grabbing her hand to hold. "She was cold and distant, it was a momentary aberration. I would never do that to you."

"That's good," Strife noted. "'Cause that'll get ya dead really fast." The waiter coughed politely and handed out menus. "We'll order in a few," he told the young man. He ignored the hasty retreat. "So, a lawyer?" he asked his daughter. "I thought we told ya ta date a geek."

"You did, and I did that for nearly two years, dad," Lila pointed out. "We grew apart. He went to college and I didn't want to."

"Which I still say is a big mistake," Eris reminded her. "You don't need to be chaining yourself to an ideal yet, you're still too young."

"Grandmother," Lila sighed. "I want to be a wife and mother. I'm sorry I'm not some amazon that'll make you proud, but I like being feminine and delicate. It's who I am." She looked at Keith. "We've been arguing about this point since I was about four."

"Three," Eris corrected. "Just before your fourth birthday." She vowed to talk to her granddaughter later, apparently Strife had never told her she was immortal. She looked at the mortal again, then sighed. He wasn't *that* bad, if you discounted his partying. "So," she started again. "How long have you been dating?"

"Nearly six months," Keith told her. "I know it's a little quick, but I couldn't stand to possibly let Lila get away. A woman like her doesn't come along every day."

"Good point," Ares said. He waved the waiter over. "We need some red wine."

"I want white," Lila told the waiter. "I hate red wine, Great-Uncle Ares." He frowned at her but ended up shrugging. "Are we ready to order?"

"Sure, why not," Strife said, smiling at his little girl. "I want the whatever it is with the pastry that smells so good in the kitchen." He handed off his menu.

"I want a steak," Eris told him. "Medium-rare."

"And for the vegetable?" the waiter asked, writing it down.

"Something green and not leafy." She handed off her menu, looking at her twin.

Ares looked over his menu. "I want the shrimp alfredo. No vegetables."

"Have a salad, it'll make ya feel better," Strife suggested. Ares glared at him. "It will. You can imagine it's those German guys later, when it exits."

Ares shook his head. "Fine, and a salad."

The waiter looked at the couple. "For you?" he asked Lila.

"She'll have the chicken parmesan and I'll have the veal," Keith said for both of them, handing over their menus.

Strife watched the look come over his daughter's face and gave her a nudge under the table. "That okay with you?" he asked quietly.

"I'd really rather have that steak salad," she told the waiter. "I'm in the mood for steak tonight." She smiled at Keith, then back at her father. "No one said he didn't have faults," she said sweetly.

Ares snorted. "True." He looked at the waiter. "We'll order dessert later." The waiter nodded and ran off. Ares looked the young man over, not particularly liking what he saw, but it wasn't as bad as it could be, he worked with people who were more controlling. "What are your plans if we do allow you to marry her? First year projections."

"Well, I graduate this year and take the bar this summer," Keith told him. "I've already been promised a job if I pass the bar, so I'll be able to support her. Personally, I'm looking forward to buying a house and setting her up to take care of it, like she wants." He smiled at his fiancé. "I know she wants to be the next Martha Stewart, and I support her in that. I believe that she can do anything she sets out to do. She's stunningly brilliant," he grinned. "And she's smart too," he joked.

She punched him on the arm. "He's not going to hurt me," she told them.

"That's not all we're worried about," Strife reminded her. "There's a lot that goes into making a happy marriage."

"You've never been married, dad," she reminded him.

"No, I haven't, and that's by choice," Strife told her. "I never wanted ta compromise and bend that much. Yeah, you can bend and all that, but you'll bend too far and eventually break if it's not with someone who respects you."

"Which he does," she pointed out.

"We'll see about that," Eris told her. She looked Keith over. "Any relatives living?"

"Three brothers and a sister. My parents passed away last year." He took his fiancé's water glass to drink from it. She raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything. "They were in a car crash, coming home from my sister's prom. They had been chaperoning." He smiled at Lila. "I'm sure you probably did the same for her."

"Yeah, we did," Strife agreed. Lila looked at him in shock. "What? You never saw? I danced with your elementary school principal. She was happy that you were graduating, she's retiring next year and didn't want to pass you on to anyone else." That got a faint smile. "Did she ever tell you about the bullies in second grade?"

"Daddy," Lila warned. "You don't need to threaten him."

Keith patted her on the knee. "Every parent shares embarrassing childhood stories with the child's intended mate, it's a rite of passage."

"Or of failure," Eris reminded him, sounding almost kind. She watched as he took another drink. "How good are your chances of passing the bar the first time?" she asked. "I hear they can be rather difficult."

"I've passed all the prep tests with a ninety percent," he said proudly. "Lila has been helping me study and has brought up interesting issues for the ethics part of the test." He smiled at her again. "She's a great helper."

Strife sent a mental call out to Cupid, wanting him to come down and check the 'ship. He felt that something was very off and he wasn't sure what. He knew the other Gods saw when Cupid appeared, he waved at them, then he saw the head shake. "If you'll excuse me," he said, standing up and heading for the bathroom and a private conversation. "Well?" he asked when he walked in.

Cupid manifested and frowned. "He's got a controlling streak. He *likes* the fact that she wants to be traditional and stay home. He's seriously underestimating her. But he's scared to death of you three," he finished with an upbeat note.

"Can he be fixed with the right amount of threats?" Ares asked as he walked in.

"Nope." Cupid looked at his father. "Not a chance. Go find this sister of his and talk to her, where Lila can hear it." He glanced at the door. "If that guy was trying for Bliss, I'd be frying him so damn fast he'd become a roast."

"Thanks, Cupid," Strife said, giving him a small pat to the bare arm. "We're gonna go deal with the asshole."

Cupid held up a hand. "Not an asshole, a controller. He's manipulative. The perfect defense attorney. He'll do anything to make a case go his way."

"Then we'll let him live if he leaves her alone," Ares agreed. He smiled at his son. "Thank you." He nodded outside. "Let's go see how long it takes him to become a fountain." He and Strife walked out, going back to find their dinners already there. He shared the news with Eris, who quietly drank her wine.

Lila looked at the two men in her life. "Have a good discussion?"

"Yup," Strife told her. "We'll make our decision tomorrah." He glanced at Keith. "You'll be there of course, Lila."

She shrugged. "Okay. I was planning on coming home tonight anyway."

"I thought we were staying tonight in the city and then going to my brother's tomorrow?" Keith asked.

"I'll meet you there tomorrow," she soothed.

Ares coughed. "*After* we make our decision, Lila."

Keith glared at him. "Why do you get to make all the decisions for her? You aren't even her father."

"Because," Strife explained, "in our world, Ares is the head of the House. It's *his* decision whether or not she can legally marry and add to the House. If she does it without his permission than he has every right to kill you and punish her." Both children went a little pale. "That's the rules we live by."

"The same as Hera will also have to agree," Eris put in. "You see, our lives are a bit more categorized. We not only have our duties, which are full time jobs, but heads of Houses like Ares also have a responsibility to look out for those under him. His responsibility is to run the House in a manner that makes it prosper and which helps the house stay stable. A disruptive relationship is one of those things that will take his focus away from his daily work."

Strife grunted. "Yeah, it's mine and Ma's job ta help him with that. Otherwise, we all spend too much time worryin' about little stuff and nothing gets done, and the world goes ta hell."

"Literally," Eris finished.

Keith thought about that, then sighed. "So I really have to suck up to you, Ares?"

Eris snorted. "Not even close. We will influence his decision, that's why we're all here."

Lila sighed. It was going to be a *long* dinner. Her grandmother obviously didn't like her intended. She could almost see her father sharpening his daggers. And Ares had that calm look that he usually got during a fight. Keith was *so* dead. Well, they'd allow her to pick her own spouse or they'd pay! A plan started to form in her mind and her father stared her down. Oops, he was over disobedient children too, wasn't he. Well, she would still get her way. She stared him down and he shook his head, starting to smile. She sighed again. It was going to be a *long* dinner.


Lila wandered into the living room, flopping down on a couch to listen in while Strife talked to Keith's sister, Eris was watching it on a mirror. "What's going on?" she asked.

"Just listen," Eris told her.

So she did, and what she heard disturbed her. She looked over at her grandmother. "You knew?"

"We called Cupid down last night and he figured it out," she admitted.

"Ah, so *that's* why Great-Uncle Ares looked like he was going to start dismembering him." Eris nodded, keeping her expression neutral. "And you'd rather that I didn't do this either?"

Eris banished the mirror and looked at her granddaughter. "I won't support you in this," she said reasonably. "He allegedly hit a former girlfriend back in high school. His sister won't go near him because he tries to boss her around, even though she's older, because she's female. Cupid just confirmed my suspicions."

"Do you not like him because he's a man or because he's controlling?"

Eris smiled at that. "You're good, kid, but not that good. Yeah, I have a problem with him because he's a man. You've known that about me forever. This goes a lot deeper. His controlling nature is a bad thing, but there's even more to think about. You're going to be with whomever you pick for a *very* long time, Lila." The girl looked confused. "With Strife being your father, you had to pick up some of his heritage. Most demigods have abilities, which you don't, but almost all of them are immortal, which you are." Lila opened her mouth. "So that means that you're going to have to pick your intended mate very carefully. You're going to be with him for a very long time."

"You mean someone would grant him immortality to be with me?" she asked.

Eris shrugged. "Hera and Zeus would have to be petitioned, but if they saw that it was true love between you two, then they probably wouldn't hesitate too much. Which is why I really dislike this idiot. Do you really think you can spend eternity with him?"

"Is that why Dad never married?" Lila asked quietly.

"No, the reason he never married was because his lover died way back when." She shifted closer to her granddaughter, touching her on the forearm. "He loved that guy so much it was blinding, Aphrodite and Cupid both petitioned on his behalf to make the mortal a God. Unfortunately, he got caught in the middle of a battle and got hit." She smiled at the wince. "No, he didn't die from it, he left Strife because the blow severely injured and disfigured him. He didn't think your father would love him like that. By the time Ares found him, he had a high fever, an infection that reached into his brain, and was permanently changed by it. He didn't even remember Strife." Her smile turned sad. "We all protected him until his death. Which was by natural causes. Your father didn't feel he could go through that again so he refused to let himself get that close to anybody." She removed her hand and sat back. "Strife's been scarred by love as much as I have, Lila, there's no doubt about that, but we both want what's best for you and this putz isn't it."

Lila nodded. "Okay. But you get to tell him."

Eris shook her head. "That's not the way this works. We'll be there with you, anyone you want, but you get to tell him yourself." She stood up. "Want a ride down?"

"No, give me a few minutes to figure out how to tell him." She watched her grandmother walk away. She hadn't know why her father was so sad, but now that she did, she respected him even more for what he had gone through with her. She figured out what to say and went to find someone to take her down to the mortal plane. Everyone was gone. "Cupid?" she called. He landed in front of her. "Where is everyone?"

"The German idiots did something really stupid and Ares pulled Strife and Discord to help him stop them." He looked her over. "Whatcha need?"

"A ride down to the mortal plane so I can break up with my former fiancé." Cupid smiled at that. "Who was daddy in love with?" she asked as she stepped closer to him.

"We don't talk about him," he told her, transporting them both to the hotel's atrium. "He refuses to hear his name." He patted her on the head. "I'll be back in a few." He disappeared, going to find a couple he wanted to work on.

Lila took a deep breath and headed for where she could see Keith looking at some roses. "They're pretty," she said in greeting. "I have pink and purple ones at home."

He looked over at her. "They said no?" he asked after seeing the look on her face.

"They gave me some very good reasons why they said no," she conceded. "I'm going to follow them in this. I'm sorry, Keith, but I can't marry you."

He pulled her closer, giving her a desperate kiss. "What could they possibly have said that would take away all that we've meant to each other?" he begged. "They won't hurt me, not if you ask them not to."

She snorted. "You don't know Ares," she reminded him. "Or my dad." She pulled away. "I'm sorry, Keith, but they had some very good points, including the fact that I'm going to be spending a very long time with my mate, and I can't see us together over five years."

He pulled her closer again. "After all we've meant to each other," he pleaded, touching her in a way he knew made her mindless. We could go do it now," he suggested. "Just run away. Tell them afterwards. Ares has no standing on this plane, he can't force you to follow his ways." He ran a hand across her left breast. "You're such a fine and delicate woman, why do you allow yourself to be polluted by that family of homicidal maniacs." He pulled back a little bit, but kept up his physical ministrations. "I realize that you've been raised by them, but they're using you. They probably want you to have children for the house or something archaic like that."

She snorted. "My Grandmother already had children and Ares forbid me to have children before I found my calling in life. They don't want to make me a breeder, they want to make me happy." She pulled away. "And sex isn't going to win this argument." She crossed her arms. "I'm sorry, Keith, but I can't and won't go through with this. Not after I heard what you did to your high school sweetheart. Not after I heard what your sister said about you when my father asked her. And definitely not after that little *party* last week." She glanced around, then back at him. "I still haven't gotten an answer on what happened that night. When are you going to tell me?"

"Nothing happened," he soothed, moving closer. He slipped something out of his pocket and onto her neck, holding her tightly until she went limp. His best buddy was a biochemist and he had come up with this little patch to help him with.... reluctant people. He had thought long and hard about what he had learned last night, and it made him want Lila even more. The things that her family could do for him were immeasurable, and it made him froth to think about this opportunity getting away from him. He pulled out his cellphone and dialed his brother. "We're eloping," he said in greeting. "Meet us in Vegas?" He smiled and hung up, bringing an unresisting Lila with him to go make travel arrangements.

When Cupid returned, he shrugged. "I guess she found a way back," he muttered, going home.


Eris sat up as Strife came in, frowning at his frown. "You feel it too?" she asked. He nodded. "Can you find her?"

"Not at all. Even Unc can't find her, but he had an idea that he's following up." He sat down beside her. "I want Hera to put a block on that asshole."

"Deal," Hera said as she appeared. "It's too late though." She held up a hand as the mother and son started to scream. "It wasn't my doing, I felt it happen a few moments ago and rushed over here. I'm sorry, Strife."

"ARES!" Eris yelled. He flashed in immediately. "He found a way to make her marry him."

Ares growled. "Then I have the right to kill him."

Hera put a hand on his arm. "You might want to talk to the girl first. She's pregnant. I felt it at the same time that I felt the marriage go through."

"*I'll* kill 'im," Strife offered. "He fucked with my daughter's free will."

"No, it's Ares' job," Eris reminded her son. "You can help." She looked at Ares. "We'll both help."

Ares nodded. "Yes, we will." He looked at the God flashing in, frowning at Zeus. "If you're here to congratulate us on Lila's marriage, it's illegal."

Zeus frowned at him. "It is?"

"We forbid it," Strife told him. "The putz is a controlling asshole."

"Ah, I see." Zeus smiled. "Are you going to kill him?"

"Unless I find a *very* good reason not to," Ares agreed.

"Then you'll have to punish the girl," Zeus pointed out.

"We lost contact with her for the last few hours," Eris told him. "We're having her tested for drugs. She went down there to break it off with him."

"And now she's knocked up," Strife added.

Zeus hummed. "I see." He looked at Ares. "You cannot punish him if she delivers this child. The rules forbid you killing him without extenuating circumstances."

"That doesn't mean I can't maim him and make him miserable," Ares pointed out gruffly.

"Good point." Zeus clapped his hands. "Either way, let's have a party to celebrate. Either this mortal's downfall or the wedding." He smiled brightly. "Tonight?"

"Tomorrow," Hera suggested. "After this is straightened out." She looked at Ares, who shrugged. Who was going to deprive Zeus of his party?

Ares went down to face his great-niece, Strife right behind him. "Lila," he said calmly. "What have you done?"

She tipped her head to look at him, then shook it. "I have no idea," she admitted. "The last thing I knew, I was saying no." She looked at her father, who wasn't looking much happier. "I swear, I said no."

"We're pretty sure he drugged you," Strife told her, coming over to give her a hug. "You need ta go see Apollo."

"I think we have enough decent doctors on this realm," Keith said as he walked into the suite. He smiled at Ares. "Now, there's nothing you can do about it."

Strife growled at him. "Bet me." He looked back down at his daughter, then upwards. "APOLLO!" he yelled. Apollo appeared on Lila's other side, and swore, bending down to look at her. "Can you leach it out?" Strife asked.

Apollo shook his head. "I can't identify all the ingredients." He looked at the mortal, then back at Lila. "Have you told her yet?"

"Told me what?" Lila asked tiredly.

"You're pregnant," Strife told her, squeezing her shoulder. Keith cheered so Strife shot him with a fireball, knocking him out.

"Daddy, don't," Lila said quietly. She looked at Apollo. "Was I drugged?" He nodded. "Has it hurt the child?" He shrugged. She thought about it, then looked at Ares. "Give us a year. A year to make sure the child's fine. I won't let him hurt me, and I won't allow him to come to you, but I want this chance." She stood up, feeling wobbly by the way she grabbed the table. "One year, then you can kill him."

Ares frowned. "No. Why should I?"

"Because I won't have this child up on Olympus," she said simply. "There's too many that'd hurt it because I'm your family, as you pointed out when we talked about me not having children for a long time." She gave him a weak smile. "He'll have to protect me, and the baby, but once it's born he's gone from my life."

"We can protect you," Strife pointed out.

"No you can't," Apollo butted in quietly. "There are some of the other demigods and minor Gods who'll want her gone because of this." He pushed her back down into the chair. "I will be looking over your OB's shoulder."

"Hey, that I would demand," she agreed. "I can give you her name in a few minutes." She looked at Ares. "Deal?"

"I don't like it," Ares told her. "He's going to abuse you."

"Not if I kill him when he tries," she offered.

Strife looked from his Uncle to his daughter and back. "You can't seriously be considering this," he scoffed.

"She's got a point," Ares sighed. "There are some of the others who would hurt her." He shrugged at the glare. "We know there have been attempts on her life from a few of the minor Gods, we've managed to insulate her so far."

"And with stopping that war," Strife sighed, "we won't have the energy ta do it now." Ares nodded. "This sucks ass and I object wholly."

"Look at it this way," Ares told him, pulling him closer. "We can torture him in a year."

Strife looked at his daughter. "You sure? We could set you up somewhere safe."

"Definitely do that," Keith said from the floor. "It'll save me having to buy her a house." He pulled something out of his pocket and tossed it on the floor. "That's the prenup by the way."

"Her being drugged nulls it," Ares reminded him.

"Only if you can prove it, and I doubt Apollo will be looked on as a credible witness since he's supposed to be a myth." He smirked. "Admit it, I've got you backed into a corner."

"Not for very long," Strife hissed. His daughter shook her head. "One year," he hissed, then he disappeared, his mountain was going to be rubble by the time he felt better.

Ares grunted. "One year," he agreed. "Apollo?"

"I'll be there," he promised. He pulled Lila up and laid a hand on her stomach, frowning as he put a shield around the baby. Then he put one around her. "I will be listening," he promised, leaving. The flash knocked Keith back onto the floor.

Ares walked over and put his foot in the middle of the mortal's chest, stepping down hard. "If you hurt her, you will answer to me," he promised. "Baby or no baby, her pleading or not. You are expendable." He removed his foot and gave Lila a look. "We'll talk soon," he promised, then went to see his mother. "She wants to be protected," he said once she appeared.

"I heard." She frowned. "Very well then. A year it is. I'll protect the child too." She sat down and motioned him to do the same. "What about the drugs?"

"'Pol can't find the full traces. Until he does, he can't take it out of her system." Ares paced around the room. "I have the feeling that he's done this before, mother. How do I protect her from that?"

"I'll do it," Athena said as she walked in. "I'll protect her by knocking her out fully if she's drugged again." She looked Ares over. "In return, I want that child dedicated to me. Lila should have been."

"She doesn't have any abilities," Hera pointed out. "That's why she's not dedicated."

"She is girly enough to be under your spinning and weaving," Ares admitted. "The child won't have any powers either." He shrugged. "No power to you."

Athena sneered. "Oh, really?"

"Really. Strife won't be compromised by these tactics. You won't get a foothold into the House of War."

Athena waved a hand. "I don't want it. I want the girl."

"No," Eris said as she appeared. "I've guarded her so she'll go totally unconscious whenever he tries again." She held out a hand and the prenup appeared. "You might want to read this, he's trying to screw her even more."

"He'll be dead and she'll be a widow," Ares said with a shrug.

"If he decides to divorce her, she'll forfeit everything," Eris told him. "If either party ends it, she ends up without anything. And if he dies, then he's written a clause that says she's responsible. It won't fully stand up, but it'll make things difficult for her."

Ares snatched the paper to read. Then he handed it off. "I'm going to go kill something," he told his mother, then he left.

Eris faced off with Athena. "Strife will kill you if you mess with his little girl. The same as I'll be standing right behind him to help. Fuck with her and die." She nodded at Hera. "Do you want to tell Zeus that it's not going to be a happy party?"

She smiled. "I will. This admission of guilt is nothing. We can fix this too." She put the agreement into her desk. "I'm going to talk to Zeus. We'll *all* watch her, Eris." She disappeared.

Eris pounced on Athena, sending her to the floor. "You touch my family, I'll kill you slowly and in as many ways as I can before I take your immortality and godhood from you," she vowed. "You'll never touch my family or get even with Strife. We *all* know who sent his mate into that battle." She got off and went back to their temple. She had some planning to do. Fortunately, she had copied the prenup.


Strife finally came home and took his turn in front of the viewing mirror. Week sixteen into the sham of a marriage and it was going slow. His daughter looked good though. Pregnancy apparently suited her. He needed to find his little girl a better husband. And he only knew of one young man that he absolutely found acceptable. "Bliss?" he called gently, not wanting to upset him.

Bliss appeared in a light flash, pushing his dark hair over his shoulder. He looked so much like Ares and Psyche put together, you almost couldn't see he was Cupid's son at all. "What's up?" he asked, flopping down beside him.

"Hey, Bliss, how's it going on the 'ship front?" he asked semi-causally.

Bliss snickered. "Not at all subtle, dude. But it's going sucky." He looked at the mirror. "I haven't seen her in a few years. Who's the shitbag?"

"Her husband. He's protecting her while she's pregnant," Strife said, starting to subvocally growl again. "He's a nasty asshole who's going to get it once the year is up." He looked at the boy. "Since you and she are both datin' idiots, I thought you two should maybe talk."

Bliss shook his head. "She's way too traditional for me. I like women who want to go out and have sex in interesting places in nearly impossible positions." He kissed Strife on the cheek. "It'll be okay. Dad made me swear to look out for her too. He's even started to look for a better lover for her."

Strife smiled at that. "Really?"

"Yup. He said he wants her to have the best." He got comfortable. "Want me to watch?"

"Nah. Thanks for the info." Bliss grinned and disappeared. Strife settled in to watch his daughter. A year wasn't too long for him to stare at her image and watch over her. He'd done this sort of vigil before.


Eris walked into the viewing room, smiling at her son's snoring. "Gotta give ya credit, son, three months straight without a nap is nearly a record for you." She covered him and sat down to take a turn. She frowned when she saw her granddaughter's face. When did she get bruised? She flashed down there, making Lila look up at her. "When?"

"Earlier this morning. He decided that the kid's not his." Lila drank some of her diet soda. "I pointed out that if it wasn't his, then it was something that he had caused to happen." She shook her head. "I found out he did drug me before our wedding day, I found the tape last night."

Eris sighed and hugged her. "Want to leave?"

"No. If I do, then that prenup goes out into the public world." She finished off her soda and put the can aside. "I want him gone, but not at that price."

Eris kissed her on the cheek. "I'm gonna get 'Pol. You sit right there and I'll be back shortly." She sent a thought out for Apollo, then went to grab her copy of the prenup, going to the one lawyer she *knew* would help her granddaughter. He owed her. "Cochran," she said as she appeared in front of his desk.

He felt a tingle go through him, every lawyer reacted to her presence the same way, she was their mother. He looked up at her, giving her a smile. "What can I do for you, my lady?"

Eris tossed over the prenup. "My granddaughter." She started to pace. "She let him not be punished because she's pregnant. He's drugged her before, did it for the wedding too. Today, he hit her."

"Where do they live?" he asked, reading over it. "This won't stand up in court, but it's something that will be used against her." He handed it back. "Is she here in California?"

"Lower Massachusetts."

He pulled over some paper and wrote on it. "These guys are the best in that area, and they will handle this." He handed her the paper. "They'll help her however they can."

She frowned at it. "He works for them," she noted dryly.

Jonnie Cochran leaned back in his chair. "Really?" He considered it. "Tell them anyway, they'll have to do something about him, and they've probably got former partners that have left who can handle this. They'll definitely call him before the Ethic's board, it's mandatory now." He smiled. "I'll gladly go to her if they need me to though."

She smiled. "Thanks. I knew I could count on you." She disappeared, going to visit this law firm, interrupting their board meeting. She slapped down a picture on the table. "Does this asshole work here?" she asked once the tingling/acknowledgment was over with.

One of the women on the right picked up the picture, then nodded. "He does. What has he done?"

"And who are you?" the man at the head of the table asked.

"I'm Eris, Goddess of Discord. I created lawyers." She smiled. "That asshole is married to my granddaughter," she told the woman. "He hit her, he's drugged her, and I want him to be miserable. You're the agent of my will." She handed over the prenup too. "He did this to her while he had her too drugged to protest, just before the wedding."

"Then it's not legal," one of the other men pointed out.

"It probably can't be proven," the woman said, looking over at him. "Otherwise, she wouldn't be here, he'd be a pile of smoking ashes."

The man at the end of the table held out a hand and the papers were handed down to him. He read them over, then looked up at Discord. "By the ethical code, we can't prosecute against one of our people, it's a conflict of interest. However, we do have someone who we will pass this on to, today. Is she pressing charges?"

"I don't know," Eris admitted. "I know that she's with him because there's people who would want to harm her now that she's vulnerable." The man looked up again. "She's pregnant. Right now, she's also got a very large, livid bruise on her left cheek."

He nodded. "Allow us to handle it. We will handle it," he promised her. "I won't allow this law firm to be sullied by spousal abusers."

"You said he's supposed to be protecting her," the woman said. "Why did you allow this?"

"Because we didn't have much of a choice," Eris told her, giving her a smile. "There's been attempts on Lila's life before." Someone gasped. "Just now figure it out?" she asked coolly. She looked at the woman again. "She decided that he would have to protect her while she was pregnant, thereby saving her from more attacks while at her most vulnerable. We knew that something was going to happen so we've been watching, just not enough."

The woman nodded, then looked at the Chairman. "I'd like to work on this, sir. If we fire him for this, then we wouldn't come under much scrutiny for dealing with this case. Even the Ethics Board wouldn't have too much to say."

Eris shrugged when she was looked at. "Cochran said to come to you, I'll leave this in your hands. As long as it gets fixed."

"I'll fix it," she promised. "I wouldn't allow this to happen to anyone, no matter who their husband is. Besides," she added with a smile, "he's a sleaze."

"And he's got a drug that doesn't register on any test," Ares said as he appeared. "Watch out. He's used it on her before." He looked at Eris. "I saw. And I sent someone to her house to watch over her. Apollo went to make the guy sterile." He put a hand on Eris' shoulder. "She was showing Apollo the tape."

"Tape?" the lawyer asked.

Ares looked at her, then nodded. "You'll do," he announced. "Yes, tape. He had drugged her before the day of their marriage and threw a little *party* for his buddies," he sneered. "He stupidly taped it."

She stood up. "Can you take me there so I can get this tape? It will be definitive proof, and probably proof of her being drugged. I will use it as a weapon against him."

"As long as it doesn't hurt her," Eris ordered. She took the woman and headed back to Lila's house. "Here, your lawyer," she announced, pushing the woman onto the couch. She looked at Ares' chosen warrior, smiling at him. "The husband is to be harmed, but not killed. Strife has requested that pleasure for himself," she ordered.

The lawyer held out a hand. "I'm Miriam. I work with Keith. He's about to be fired, and if you say so, put in jail."

Lila smiled at her. "Can you protect me?"

"Yes, we can," the warrior told her. "Not even Athena will get in here to harm you, not without killing me."

Lila nodded. "All right." She handed over the remote control. Then she got up and headed up to her bedroom, curling up with her doll. Eris pulled one of her priestesses and sent her up to comfort the girl.


Keith screamed as he was dragged from the courtroom, his anger focused on the man only he could see on the other side of the courtroom. His wife would *pay* for siccing her family on him after all he had done for her. He was pushed into a general population holding cell and the door slammed behind him. He felt the eyes on him but tried to play it cool. He could survive this.


Eris popped into an inspector's office, pulling him up to look at him. "Wanna get someone who's making mind control drugs?" she asked. The inspector nodded. "Good." She created a card with an address on it. "Go here. There's this guy, Greg, who's been supplying my granddaughter's husband with mind control drugs. We can't test for it, but we know he's given it to her. You shut him down and find a way to test for it and I'll make sure you make district manager." Then she disappeared.

The inspector sat down again, looking at the card. He picked up his phone and called his boss. "I just got an anonymous tip," he said calmly. "There's a drug researcher making mind control drugs. The tip said it can't be tested for, but he's used it on someone." He smiled as he hung up and grabbed his equipment. A full investigation would make his career. He'd get to the national office for this if it panned out. He jogged out of his office, going to grab some helpers.


Eris smiled coldly as she watched Keith's life fall apart around him, he was going to be much more than miserable before he was killed. She looked over as Strife woke up. "He's being taken down," she told him.

Strife sat up and looked at her. "How long did I sleep?"

"Almost a day." She sat down beside him and patted him on the back of the head. "She was bruised but okay. That's why we're taking him down." His face became a mask of rage. "I know, but it's being taken care of. Then you can have him." They shared a smile and he went to see his daughter, crawling in behind her to hold her like he had when she was five. "Daddy'll get him," he promised her. She snuffled and rolled over, burying her nose in his chest. "We'll take care of him and it'll all be okay. We promise, he won't get near you again." He stroked her back, letting her cry on him.


Keith stood up in front of the judge in his office; this was a hearing to see if there was anything to the case. If not, it would be dismissed. He was still representing himself, his ego told him he was a great enough lawyer to pull this off. "I'm accused of a great many horrible things, your honor, and none of it's true. It's the delusions of my wife's psychotic family."

Lila's attorney coughed. "I can provide evidence, your honor. A lot of evidence." She looked at her former colleague. "Not only of the abuse allegations, but also of the drugging charges and the rape charges."

"And where did you get this information?" the judge asked.

"His wife found a tape that shows her being drugged and ...." She waved a hand. "With your permission, she's asked not to have to watch it again and I agree with her."

The judge nodded. "I can see that this is a delicate situation." He looked at Keith, then shook his head. "You had a promising career," he noted. "I will see this evidence, then I'll judge if we're going to allow for the closed trial petition." She dug into her bag and pulled out a large manilla envelope. "Thank you," he said as he accepted it.

"If it's my tape, how did you get it?" Keith asked. "You haven't gotten a search warrant."

"Your wife gave it to me," the female attorney said simply.

"Which violates spousal privilege," Keith pointed out.

"Not if she's the victim," the judge told him. "She has the right to waive privilege." He looked at the tape. "Is this a copy?"

"Yes, your honor. We copied it at the office in a closed room. Our Chairman of the Board viewed it, which is why he," she pointed at Keith, "is out of a job. His beating his wife was enough to get him fired, but this was extreme enough for our firm to sue him for the false pretenses he had signed up under." She pointed at the envelope. "There's also a copy of the contract he signed when he joined our firm. In it, there's a clause stating that he would not commit a criminal act or he would face financial penalties from the firm. We're adding this complaint to the civil action we've already started against him." The judge nodded. "Personally, we'd be very happy to see him miserable, broken, and ready to jump off a high building. After what I saw on that tape, I'd be more than willing to push him off."

The judge coughed. "That's a bit extreme, Ms. Lewis." He flipped through his calendar. "I will decide on the open court issue Wednesday at two. The Prosecutor's office will be joining us at that time as they want to argue the point also. They filed notice with me today that they were pursuing this case to the furthest possible outcome." He smiled. "And there's now a co- defendant. As for the divorce hearing, Judge Andrews has been assigned and she'll be at that meeting also to view our hearing and get the history down for herself." He clapped his hands. "Dismissed." Both lawyers stood up and left, leaving him with the tape, which he popped into his office machine. Within a few minutes, he was disgusted and turned it back off. He had no doubts that this should not be shown in open court. He called Judge Andrews and asked her to come over so he could hand over the petitions. It was highly unusual, but he doubted anyone would come after him for going outside the usual workings of the system, not if they had seen what he had seen.


Lila screamed as the pains started, grabbing her lawyer's hand. They were in the middle of a hearing for the divorce and now she was in labor.

"Dismissed," the judge said quickly. "Bailiff, an ambulance please."

By the time Lila got to the hospital, she was mentally begging for any of her family to come be with her. Anyone except her daddy, who was already there and was spazzing out. She saw Ares out of the corner of her eye and reached out to him, taking his hand to hold. "Make daddy go home," she panted. "Before he kills the doctor."

Ares sent Strife home by force and called Apollo, bringing him and Hera at a run. It wasn't long before Lila was in a bed, being monitored, and Strife was calm enough to come back. Ares sent out a mental order that Keith was not to live through the night, it was time to end this. Lila looked at him and he gave her a soft smile. "It'll be okay," he promised.

"Did you just order him dead?" she whispered. Ares shrugged nonchalantly. "Ares, not yet. Not until after the baby's born."

"Yeah, then I get him," Strife pointed out. "You promised."

Ares shrugged and amended his orders. "Fine." He reached over to touch Lila's leg as she started off in another contraction. "How much longer?" he asked Apollo, who was walking in.

"We're going to speed this up," Apollo told him, injecting something into Lila's IV line. "Two hours, max," he told her, smiling down at her. "Then you'll have a baby girl."

"Who'll probably be more like grandma," Lila panted. But she was smiling.

Strife looked down at his granddaughter, wiping away a tear on the sly. "You're pretty," he told her. She cried at that statement. "Yup, you're a member of the house." He shifted so Ares could see her too. She stopped fussing as soon as Ares touched her little hand.

"Definitely a member of the house," Cupid said as he appeared. "Zeus has called a party and I found the *perfect* mortal for her," he said with a grin. "He knows about us. He's a crafter. He's smart, funny, polite, and Eris loves him."

"I wanna meet that man," Lila said from the bed. "Any man that grandma approves of has got to be special." Ares smiled at her. "How is she?"

"Living," Strife said, handing her over. He watched as mother and daughter bonded. "And she's not afraid of us."

Lila sighed. "You will not turn my daughter into some amazon," she scolded. "My daughter will have a normal childhood."

"Of course she will," Ares said smugly. "And she'll still be trained like you were." She sighed and he laughed. "Don't worry, just some self-defense and the like. No weapons until she's old enough to ask, in proper english."

Strife punched Ares on the arm. "Don't make her laugh, she's gotta be hurtin'." He kissed his daughter on the cheek. "Don't worry, I'll show ya my mountain. You'll need it sooner or later." Then he disappeared. He had some fun to deal with.

Lila looked at Cupid. "Do I know this boy?"

"You might say that," he agreed with a grin. "Later." He disappeared.

"You will listen to us this time," Ares told her, chucking the baby on the chin. "No dressing her in lace until she shows that she likes it."

Lila snickered. "Sure. But no leather either. Babies in leather creep me out." She handed over the baby while she yawned. "Take her for a few?"

Ares took the baby and watched as she fell asleep again. "Don't worry, Jamie, we dealt with your mother being so odd, we can deal with whatever you put us through." He rocked the baby, keeping it calm so mom could sleep.


Jamie walked up to her grandfather and hugged him as hard as she could. "Grandpa, make it stop," she begged. "Please stop mommy." She looked up, her green eyes wide and wet with unshed tears, a very convincing begging from the seven year old. "I don't want to be her dolly. I don't like lace. And I really don't want flowers all over my room."

"Suck it up," Lila told her daughter as she appeared in the temple.

"Compromise," Strife suggested. "We had ta do a lot of it with you and your funniness." He looked down at his granddaughter. "Whaddya want instead?"

"Well," Jamie said, looking at the two adults. "I like the lace curtains, but I hate flowers. I'm allergic." She nodded. "Even the flowery bedspread makes me sneeze. Can I have puppies and kittens instead since I can't have a real animal?"

"Sure," Lila sighed. She shook her head. "But no weapons."

"Yes, mommy," Jamie said, letting go of her grandfather so she could give her mother a hug. "I have self defense practice now," she sighed, but she was smiling. She loved her Great-Great Uncle Ares, he was just so *COOL*!

Lila looked at her father and shook her head. "Where's this mountain again?" He smiled and took her down there so she could scream and rage at the world about her child too. It was a great family tradition.