Let Me Make You Happy.
Bliss, the three year old god of Happiness, son of Cupid, looked around the temple he had been assigned to stay in today and sighed again. There wasn't anything to do here. Even all the animals had went away with his babysitter. He peered around for the legs of any adult, but no one was nearby. He grinned. That was always a big mistake.
He grabbed his bow off the raised golden chair, stopping to pet the fur draped across it, then went to go find something fun to do. He found a group of mortals who weren't happy and stopped to watch them, grinning as he shot the most unhappy with one of his arrows. He clapped when the guy started singing about flowers and rainbows, and went to go find another place where he was needed. He didn't see the whole tavern erupt and beat the singing man. He landed in front of a trio of people, two women and a man, watching them argue from a group of rocks a little ways down the road. He decided that one of the women needed to lighten up so he shot her, grinning as his blonde victim turned to the other ones and hugged them.
"I love you," she slurred. "You're really nice." She looked at the man with them and shook her head. "Even though you're an annoying wanna-be hero, you're still a great guy and I like you, Joxer," she said, trying to give him another hug.
He backed away from her, frowning. "Xena, what just happened?" he asked shrilly.
"I don't know," she said, grabbing her friend and holding her close. "Why don't you go on ahead and we'll catch up once I know what's going on."
Joxer nodded and walked away.
Bliss frowned at the dark haired woman. He had heard Daddy and Grandma talking about her, she wasn't nice at all. He 'humph'ed and brought his bow back up, but he made it disappear as he felt another God pop in. "Strifey," he cheered, holding up his arms for a hug.
"Thought it was you," Strife said, giving him a tweak on the nose. He relented at the pout and gave him a hug. "There, happier now?" Bliss grinned at him. "Good. Now why are ya down here insteada with Artie?"
"Me being good," Bliss pointed out, pointing at the blonde woman. "She happier now."
Strife looked at the trail then burst out laughing, ending up rolling around on the ground. "Oh, Bliss," he said as he calmed down.
"So that's it," Joxer said as he walked up to where they were. He walked up to the young boy sitting on the rocks, frowning at him. "What have you done, Bliss?" When all he got was an 'I'm cute' look he tipped his head back. "XENA! IT WAS BLISS!"
She came running, stopping to look at the little boy and the God sitting on the ground. "Strife," she said coldly. "I should have known."
"Nope, not me," Strife said quickly, standing up and grabbing Bliss, taking him away. Not before Joxer made a grab for him though, so he came with them. He looked at the mortal that had accidentally followed, trying to figure him out. "Bliss," he said, putting him down, "go tell Grandma that she has to look in on Xena. You don't have to tell her anything else, just that she has to go look at her. Okay?" Bliss shook his head so Strife frowned at him. "Go, now, while I deal with him."
Bliss stomped his little foot. "I like him! He's mine!"
Joxer got down on his knees and looked at the little boy. "I'll be your subject, but only if you do what Strife says, okay?"
Bliss tipped his head off to the side then nodded. "'Kay. Me go see Grandma." He fluttered his wings and flew off, heading out a window.
"What do we have here," Ares said from the throne as he appeared. "Strife, were you getting Bliss in trouble?"
"No," Joxer said, hopping up to stand in front of Strife. "It was all Bliss. He got Gabby. He was going to get Xena too."
Ares glared at him, then looked around him at Strife. "Is that right?"
"Yes," Strife said quietly, not looking at his uncle. "I felt him doing my job so I went to go see what was up. He had just gotten that bard chick."
Joxer patted him on the shoulder. "She's funny like that at least." He grinned. "It could have been worse. It could have been a strong love arrow and an animal."
Strife giggled. "I'd pay to see that."
"Me too," Ares admitted. He looked at Strife, then at Joxer. "I believe you brought a mortal up here," he reminded the God of Mischief. "I'd remove him before Hera and Zeus finds out."
Strife grabbed Joxer's arm and they disappeared, heading to a quiet valley on the mortal plane. "So," he said after a few quiet minutes. "Why do you put up with them?"
Joxer shook his head and sat down, curling up, his arms going around his knees. "I don't know any more. I wanted to be a warrior and I thought she could train me, or at least teach me something." He shrugged. "I'm not sure of anything anymore. Haven't been for a few weeks."
Strife clapped him on the back. "I know that feeling. I've got to fight to keep my job against my mother, and I have my own duties too." He sat down beside the mortal. "You know, I used to watch you bumble around with them. You just seem so much like one of my people."
Joxer grimaced. "Thanks."
"Hey, that's a compliment, I've never seen anyone with such a natural gift for mischief." He punched Joxer on the shoulder, sending him rolling a little way down the hill. "Oh, hey, dude, you okay?"
"Yeah, fine," Joxer said, standing up and brushing himself off. He glanced around then walked back up to sit beside the God. "Wanna know a secret?" he asked quietly. Strife nodded, looking him over. "I never wanted to be a warrior, it's what I should be. What I've been told I was going to be."
"Nah, you should be you." Strife stood up and looked around. "I can hear Discord coming, I'm gonna go so she doesn't hit on you. I'll find you later," he said with a wink, disappearing.
Joxer stood up and started walking down the hill. He'd have to find a village to figure out where he was. Maybe he was somewhere decent and he'd have some time to think.
Joxer looked up as the chair at his table was pulled back, and he smiled up at the man standing there. "Hey, sit?" he asked, waving at the chair.
"Well, that's what I had planned on," Strife said, sitting down and stealing his drink to take a sip of. "Ughh, watered down."
"It's normal inn fare," Joxer defended. He took his cup back and finished it. "I'm sleeping outside of town in the woods, want to walk me back?"
Strife nodded. "Sure. I'm bored and you sounded like you were too. I figured you'd have some action goin' on around you." He glanced around the room. "I think I was wrong."
"Aahhh," a man yelled as he was thrown through the door.
"Or not," Strife said with a sigh. "That's Uncle Herc. We should go before His Righteousness comes in and finds me here."
"Too late," Joxer said, standing up in front of Strife. "Go," he said quietly, waving his hand behind his back. He glanced back there when he didn't hear anything and shrugged when he saw the God was gone. He gathered up his things and tossed a coin at one of the barmaids, then jogged out of the inn, going back to where he was camped.
"Joxer!" Iolaus called, waving.
Joxer slowed down to talk to him. "Hey. What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you. Xena said that you knew what was wrong with Gabby." He looked him over. "You okay? Where's your armor?"
"It's back with my stuff. I only came into town for supper and warriors aren't real welcome here." He glanced around and leaned closer. "Bliss got her with an arrow. She knew that. I told her that when I found Bliss watching from a pile of rocks down the road from where Gabby went weird."
"So, that's who did it," Hercules said from behind them. "I should have known the Gods were involved in this somehow." He frowned at Joxer. "What are you doing here?"
"Thinking," Joxer defended, stepping away from him. "Bliss is just a little boy, he was playing."
"He's got to be taken in hand," Hercules said grimly. "If he was my son...."
"Yeah, well, if he was your son, he wouldn't have a bow yet," Joxer said, then blanched and ran away, heading for his campground.
"He's got a point," Iolaus told him.
"He still needs beaten," Hercules muttered.
"Oh, really," a female voice said from behind them.
Joxer, who was watching from the edge of town, flinched when he saw who had just appeared. Aphrodite was definitely one mother that he didn't want to mess with.
"Cool of me to get her, huh," Strife said from behind Joxer, who jumped and yelled. "Hi," he said with a grin, waving. "What'd he say?"
"That if Bliss was his, he'd spank him. Or at least that's what he was going to say before, um, I, ah..." He shook his head. "Aphrodite has it well in hand."
"Cool. Then let's go back to your camp and talk." Strife held out a hand. "I don't feel like walking," he explained when he grabbed Joxer's hand and teleported them to the campsite. He looked around the bare camp, taking in the torn and mended tent that was really a thick blanket, the small pile of wood waiting to be lit, the few pieces of food lying on top of one of the packs. "Huh, much worse than I thought." He waved a hand and a new campsite appeared. A real tent, one that would keep out the rain that would be coming later that night, appeared in the old one's place. In place of the small pile of twigs was now a roaring fire made up of logs. Where the pack still was, there was now real food instead of travel rations. "There, much better."
"I can't accept that," Joxer said, looking away from the good things. "I want my things back."
Strife gave him a funny look. "Yeah, maybe when I leave." He scanned the young man and shook his head. "You have pride like a God, ya know that?" he asked lightly. Joxer glared at him. "Oooh, and a temper too?"
Joxer's face fell. "No, but I shouldn't take things from you. I don't want to be indebted to you."
Strife stepped back from him. "Huh?" he asked in confusion. He glanced around. "Joxer, it's a tent and some food. What any normal decent person would give you if you asked. I didn't do nothin' wrong."
Joxer shook his head and sat down in front of the fire. "I still can't accept it. It's not right."
Strife glared at him. "So now you insult me too? I thought you were cool, man!" He disappeared, taking all the things he had made appear with him.
Joxer slumped in on himself, not sure what he was doing, but now he was really miserable.
Strife paced back and forth in front of Cupid's throne, trying to keep his temper in check. "He acted like it was dirty or somethin'," he complained to the only God who might listen to him.
"Yeah, he's been fed a lot of crap by people like Hercules," Cupid said, examining one of his wings for bare spots. "He's almost in one of those cults now."
"Uncle Hercules would be a good cult leader, don'tcha think?" Strife asked, looking at the other God. "He's really that messed up? Joxer I mean."
"Yup. First he hooks up with Xena for whatever reason and gets the load of crap from her and that *thing* she wanders with. Then he has to hear Hercules whenever he's around."
"Don't say that name!" Aphrodite yelled, appearing in front of them. She looked at Strife, then considered what she had heard. "Yeah, he's been programmed, which is the worst thing that any mortal could ever done to another mortal. He's gone too far," she told her son. "I told you what he said!"
"Yeah, and I went and haunted him last night," Cupid said calmly. "He'll get his and Bliss will be there." He gave her a cold smile. "I've made sure of it, Mom."
"Good." She looked at Strife, then shook her head. "If you like the guy that much, go fix him," she said in exasperation.
Strife grinned and then laughed. "Yeah, I can do that." He disappeared, going to find Joxer. He started at the campsite from last night, but it was cleaned up and empty. He glared at the innocent woods and sent his thoughts out, catching a brush of his Uncle's shields. He went to where he was, looking around at the orderly camp of warriors. "Unc," he called out, walking into the main tent. He absently blew two warriors out of his way as he walked toward the throne. "Unc," he said, standing in front of him. "Where'd Joxer go?"
"Who?" Ares asked, looking down at the God of Mischief. "Oh, the one you were with yesterday? He's been taken by someone." He waved a hand. "He's the latest casualty in the war against Hercules."
Strife groaned and sent a bolt of power winging out toward a statue.
"Hey! I liked that one!" He zapped his nephew. "What do you care if he's gone anyway?"
"I like him. He's almost one of mine." Strife glared at his uncle. "Who has him?"
"Why should I help you? He's a *mortal*," Ares said in a 'hello' voice.
"Yeah, but he's a walking trouble magnet. And he's *your* warrior, shouldn't you be helping him?"
"He hasn't asked," Ares said with a shrug. "Or has he." He looked at one of his warriors. "Have we gotten a call for help from a tied up warrior?"
"Yes, m'lord, but it wasn't from one that might be described as your nephew has." He bowed to Strife.
"Ah, ass-licking, I can never get enough of that," Ares said smugly.
"Yeah, but I don't need it." Strife disappeared, going to find his Joxer. He appeared beside the mat on the floor he was lying on, looking down at him. "Why are you here?"
Joxer mumbled something.
"Oh, the gag. Yeah, right." Strife made it disappear. "Now, why are you here?"
"Because they saw me talking to Hercules," Joxer panted, breathing deeply of the clean air. "Can you," he asked, holding up his bound hands.
"Huh? Sure." Strife waved the ropes away and helped Joxer stand up. "Wanna go somewhere else now?"
"Please," Joxer said, giving him a desperate look. "A few of the warriors were giving me interested looks."
Strife looked down the thin body and leered. "Yeah, I can see why." He made them disappear, going to a clearing that he had set up with camping things. "No fits," he said before Joxer could open his mouth.
Joxer gave him a grateful smile and flopped down in front of the fire. "Hey, I'm not complaining, not at all." He patted the ground beside him. "So, you rescued me," he said once the God was beside him. "Do I owe you for that?"
Strife punched him on the arm. "You've got some real funny notions about us, kid. You really should fix them." He looked around the woods. "Joxer, everything Hercules has been spreading around is wrong. Especially about Unc. Ares isn't bad, he's War."
"But isn't war bad?" Joxer asked innocently.
Strife blew out a stream of air to keep himself calm, and shook his head. "'Dite was right, you've been programmed. Dude," he said, slapping Joxer across the back of his head, "we're not bad, we're what we are, same as humans are what they are. Sometimes we do bad things, but not all of us are bad."
"Oh." Joxer looked up at him. "But why would Hercules lie?"
Strife groaned and disappeared. "Call on me when you figure it out," he called.
Joxer pulled himself up into as small of a ball as he could and watched the fire. He really wanted to figure this out, just so the world made sense again.
Aphrodite walked into Strife's suite in Ares' temple, glaring at him. "You left that poor boy all alone?" she hissed. "He's so confused that he's going to die."
Strife sat up, giving her a dry look. "I'm watching out for him, but he's got to fix a few of those funny thoughts of his. He thought we were *bad*, Aphrodite."
"Yeah, and? He's been hanging out with that Xena chick and Hercules, what else did you expect?" She flipped her hair back. "Now he's gone and gotten himself involved in some *cult*! You need to fix this before you lose him, Strife, like in the permanent sense."
Strife tuned in on Joxer and shook his head, going to watch the people that were circling him.
"Joxer," the man who was staring at him said, "your level of lying has gotten to be too much for us to handle. They're tearing our harmonious village apart. Repent your lies or be punished." He uncoiled a whip.
"But the Gods do exist. I've seen them!" Joxer said.
"No, they don't."
"Yeah, we do," Strife said, catching the end of the whip and yanking it from his hand.
"And who are you?" the man sneered.
Strife created a ball of energy, letting it dance along his fingers, watching it carefully. "I'm Strife," he said calmly, sending it at the man.
"No!" Joxer screamed, averting his face so he didn't have to see the man burn up.
Strife stopped his torment and walked over to Joxer, freeing him. "I won't hurt him if you want," he said, "but he deserves it. No one should have that sort of power over ya." He tipped Joxer's face up and grinned at him. "Yeah, hi, it's me again. Why did ya come here?"
"Because I needed a place to think," Joxer said quietly. "All they wanted from me was some hard work. I can do that."
"I know ya can, but why here? They're in so deep right now that they're going to die because of not believing. Hera's ready to order it." He looked at the head man, giving him an expectant look. "Well?" he asked when the man didn't move. He ran out, taking his guards with him. "Good. Nice to know he learned his lesson." He turned back to Joxer, who still looked confused. "Hey, it's okay," he said, pulling Joxer away from the pole. "Thought it over yet?"
"Thought what over?" Joxer asked, looking all around him. "I've thought about a lot of stuff recently." He looked back at the God, who was giving him a grin. "But I'm still not sure what's real."
"I know. It's a hard thing, recovering from the lies Herc told you." He took Joxer's arm, leading him from the room. He looked around at the three buildings. "Where's your stuff? I'll help you get somewhere safe."
Joxer pointed at one of the buildings, walking over to gather his things. He came out a few minutes later and turned back to the door. "I came in with this stuff and I'm leaving with it! I didn't donate it to anyone!" He jogged over to where Strife was standing, giving him a grateful smile. "Thanks for coming for me."
"Yeah, well, ya needed it," Strife said, looking embarrassed. He grabbed Joxer and brought him back to the valley this had all started in, waving a hand and making a campsite appear. "There, now you should be able to think for a few days at least." He slowly faded out, going back to his room.
Joxer set up camp and sat down to think about what had just happened. Surely the Gods couldn't be all bad if they were helping him like this. He'd never done anything really good for any of them but Strife seemed to like him anyway.
Bliss got tired of feeling that one mortal be sad so he decided to do something about it. He glanced up at his mother, who was merely immortal and couldn't stop him, then left to go help the poor guy. He liked Strife, and this guy liked Strife, so the guy might like him too. He landed next to him, patting him on the leg. "Happy?" he asked, smiling up at him.
"No, I'm not really happy. Where did you come from?" Joxer asked, picking him up. He looked closely at the little boy and slowly went pale as he noticed the small, white wings. "Um, Bliss, maybe you shouldn't be down here. You should be with your dad, right?"
Bliss shook his head and picked up the mug Joxer was drinking from, taking a drink of the funny tasting water. He changed it to what his daddy drank, sure it would help Joxer's mood, and handed it back to him. "You drink, you feel better."
Cupid appeared in the clearing, frowning at his son. "Why are you bothering the mortals?" he asked his son.
"He just appeared, he wanted me to be happy," Joxer said, handing him over. He put his cup down and bowed. "I hope he didn't get into trouble. It's my fault, my confusion must have reached him, Cupid."
"Quit now," Cupid warned. "I'm not my father and I don't need people to kiss up to me. Bliss knows he's not supposed to be down here without an adult." He looked Joxer over. "You look rough, dude, what's up?" He made a chair appear and sat down in it, his son cradled in his arms.
"I'm really confused," Joxer said quietly, looking at the fire. "I'm not sure what's right anymore. I've been fed so much stuff by everyone and I'm not sure what's right or the truth anymore." He looked up. "You're not a bad guy, but some people say you are because you force couples together. Hercules called it meddling with the natural order."
Cupid grimaced. "Dude, first thing, forget everything Hercules told you. Everything he's ever said was born out of the fight between Hera and Zeus. All that hate he's spillin' is all because Hera's willing to do anything to have him die, even destroy all of Greece if she needs to. Most of us aren't like that. Same as most of you aren't bad people who go destroy villages, but Pops has a few that will for fun." He stood up and the chair disappeared. "Forget Hercules, he's an ass. And the longer the fight goes on, the worse of an ass he'll become to us." He kissed Bliss on the cheek. "He's right though, you're one unhappy little mortal. Can I help too?"
Joxer gave him a head shake. "Sorry, but no one can help me through this."
"You'd be surprised," Cupid said, looking at the mortal closely. He clearly saw Strife's mark on the man and shrugged mentally. "If you'd ask, someone would come help you think it through," he said as he disappeared.
Joxer picked up a piece of fruit, eating the sliver of apple, washing it down with the wine the young God had made appear. He yawned, suddenly feeling very sleepy, and went to lie down in his tent. He would think about what the God of Love had said later, after a nap. He fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
Bliss snuck down and grabbed the mug, turning it back into the funny tasting water. Then he quickly went back to his father before he was missed. The mortal would be happier now and so would his favorite person, Strife.
Strife got called before Ares, and he appeared reasonably quickly. He stood looking at his uncle, who didn't look happy in the least. "So?" he asked finally.
"What did you do to that mortal?" Ares asked, his voice deceptively quiet.
"I've been talkin' to him. Gave him a tent and some food. Nothin' more." He knew what would happen if the older Gods found out that he had a mortal friend, that mortal would cease to exist. Mostly because no one liked him and they thought him being lonely was for the best. "What's up with Joxer anyway? Why'd ya call on me?"
"It seems," Ares said, sitting up straight so he could stare at his nephew, "someone gave your *friend* some ambrosia. Not a lot, but some nonetheless. Someone also stole a piece from one of Hera's apples, which also appears to have went to your *friend*."
"Hey, not me," Strife said, backing up, hands held out. "I'd never do that, you know that. If I was going to hand out ambrosia, it wouldn't be to the messed-up guy." He shrugged at the dirty look. "It wouldn't. You know that!"
"Yeah, I know, but Hera's going to start an investigation."
"No, she won't," Hera said as she walked in carrying Bliss. "I've found the culprit. He wanted Strife to be happy," she said, looking her grandchild over. "Why I have no idea."
"Those two share a lot in common," Cupid said as he appeared, taking his son back. "Bliss, why did you give the mortal those things?"
"To make him happy, he make Unclie Strife happy." He grinned at his father, but it fell when he saw the hurt look. "Me sorry, but he 'serves it. And he likes me."
"I'm sure he does," Hera said coldly, still glaring at Strife.
"Hey," Ares said, standing up to get between Hera and Strife. "Not in my temple. Strife hasn't done anything wrong and someone had better go find his new immortal before something happens to *him*!"
Strife went paler and popped out, going to find Joxer. Whom Hercules had found first. He blasted his step-uncle, making him drop Joxer. "You okay?" he asked Joxer, helping him stand.
"I should have known you were behind this," Hercules said, trying to grab Strife, but he had disappeared. "STRIFE! BRING HIM BACK!" he shouted.
Joxer landed against Strife's back and used it to steady himself. "I'll never get used to that," he muttered, looking around. He saw all the angry Gods and tried to hide behind his .... What was Strife to him? He seemed like a friend, but was he? Did he want to be? Joxer's mind went off again, trying to figure out the details of his life.
Strife moved out of Joxer's way, then led him to a seat when he figured out the young immortal wasn't going to move of his own will. He looked at Hera. "I found Hercules holding him half a foot off the ground and shaking him, yelling at him about what he'd become," he said mock- calmly. "Maybe you should go straighten him out about what Gods *really* are."
She sniffed. "I think I have a much more important duty here," she said, waving at Joxer, shocking him when he didn't look up at her. "He's a mental feeble?" she asked in surprise, then started laughing as Strife threw some energy at her. "Oh, nice shot, but nothing at all can beat a senior Goddess."
"Bet me," Ares said. "Joxer's not mentally feeble, he's deep in thought because everyone's been telling him lies about us, saying that we're all like *you*." He looked the former warrior over. "He's not a bad sort, but he's Strife's responsibility now. He claimed him." He looked at his nephew. "As such, he's going to take him to his new temple. Isn't he?" he asked coldly.
Strife nodded quickly. "Yup, sure, just as soon as it's built." He walked over to Joxer and pulled him up. "We're gonna go hide in my room right now. We'll be out later." He gave Cupid a look then disappeared. He pulled Joxer down onto the bed beside him, patting him to make him come back out of his mind. "Gotta tell ya, we're in deep if Hera gets some support."
"For what?" Joxer asked. "I didn't know what happened. Not until I was jumped by a group of bandits who were running away from Hercules." He looked down at himself. "This all happened because I said hi to Iolaus."
"Nah, it happened becuasa Bliss. He wanted ya to be happy too." He nudged the young man. "C'mon, let's go do something more fun."
"Can I ask you a few things first?" Joxer said hesitantly. Strife nodded and got comfortable. "If you're not all bad, then why are some of you bad? Is that reason going to happen to me?"
"Nope, but if you keep this up, you're gonna be insane soon," Strife told him. He sighed when he didn't get even the hint of a smile. "Listen, it's the same as it with mortals. Some are just bad. Some are forced ta be bad. Some are really good but they end up doing bad things because they gotta. Get it?"
Joxer nodded after a second's thought. "Yeah, I think so. But what about me?"
"You aren't in trouble yet, so we don't know what you're gonna be like twenty years down the road." He pinched him on the arm. "C'mon, let's go find somethin' ta do." He stood up and held out a hand, but Joxer looked up at him. "What?"
"Can we walk this time? We never walk."
Strife burst out in giggles. "Sure, once we're on the mortal plane, we'll walk." He wiggled his fingers. "We gotta get there first," he reminded him.
"Okay." Joxer took the hand as he stood up and they disappeared.
Ares looked over at Cupid. "How much of this was your doing?" he asked patiently, now that they were alone.
"None of it. Strife found him and he's really messed up." Cupid walked closer, still holding onto Bliss so he couldn't escape. "That guy's been fed so many lies, he's not sure what the truth is."
"So *Strife's* helping him find it?" Ares asked, one eyebrow going up.
"Yeah, basically. He's been watching over him, been taking care of him. Even got him out of another cult a few months back. He's been the rock that Joxer's clung to, his own little piece of sanity."
"Strife?" Ares repeated.
Cupid grinned. "Yeah, kinda got me for a second too, but this all leads back to Hercules and his whole 'the Gods are bad' crap. He's the one who screwed Joxer up." He shrugged. "Maybe he'll be good for Strife, having someone look up to him like Joxer will."
"Maybe, but it's a distraction he won't need."
"Leave them alone," Aphrodite said as she appeared. She waved a hand and Ares' scrying mirror came to life, showing them where she had been. "Watch."
In the mirror, Hercules was telling another town what evil, manipulative creatures the Gods were and that they didn't need them. Then Strife walked up to him and punched him.
"Get outta their heads and go back to mournin'. You've got no business doin' this to those innocent mortals. *Especially* not since you're *immortal* too." He disappeared with a flash of light.
"See!" Hercules said as he pulled himself up. "Did you see Strife?"
Ares shut the mirror down. "So, that's what he does. That's his whole life, to get us all gone."
"Yeah, well, imagine being fed that at close range from an age where you were trying to find yourself," Aphrodite said, looking at him. "Say around your manhood celebration. What does that do to someone?"
"It messes with them," Cupid said. "We knew that Herc had tried to rot Joxer's brain with it."
"Yeah, well, he did a really good job. A few months back, I got a prayer from him asking if we existed because the mortals prayed or if the mortals existed because we were bored. He's gone *way* overboard with his life thinking."
"Yeah, but that's who he is," Cupid pointed out. "Being messed with on that level usually means that you have to look at everything you've ever known. You noticed he's not trying to be a warrior anymore?"
"Oh, yeah," she said, nodding, giving him a smile. "It's like he's dedicated his life to Strife now." She looked up at Ares. "You can help him or we can take them both in. Your decision." She and Cupid disappeared, leaving Bliss because he didn't want to go yet.
Bliss crawled up into his grandfather's lap and gave him a hug. "Me sorry you have bad heads," he said, resting his cheek against Ares' bare chest. "Me give hugs, make it better?"
"No, you didn't cause me to have a bad head," Ares said, patting him on the back, "Strife did. He changed. He's not supposed to change, I didn't give him permission."
"Like he needs it," Cupid said as he popped back in, holding out his arms. "Come on, your mother's got supper waiting." Bliss didn't move. "Um, pop, is he napping already?"
Ares looked down and nodded, carefully lifting the Godling with his powers and sending him back to his father. "There. Try and keep him out of sight for a few days, before Hera pounces on him too." He left, going to find somewhere to think.
Cupid looked down at his son and then went home with him.
Ares growled. "Strife, get out here!" he yelled down the hallway. "Quit playing with your *friend* and go work!"
"He's already left," Joxer said from behind him.
Ares spun and looked at him. "When?"
"A few minutes ago." Joxer looked down at the ground. "Thanks for putting up with me and all."
"Yeah, well, Strife's getting his own temple soon." Ares strode back to his throne room and sat back down, trying to find his nephew. "He's still up here," he said finally.
"He's getting something from Aphrodite, the thing that you asked for," Ares' high priest said calmly. "You wanted him to go stir up trouble before your army arrives in Sparta and he's found a way to do that," he said when he got glared at.
"Whatever," Ares said, waving a hand.
Strife appeared, slouching, weight canted off to one side as usual. "What?" he whined. "You wanted me to go and spread my gifts around, so I am."
Ares gave him a grim look. "Then why were you still up here?"
"Because you've got a group of Amazons in the way right now. I was going to toss a few things at them to distract them so your army wouldn't have to fight in their woods and die." He gave his Uncle a bland look. "I know my job, why're you bitchin' now?"
"Because I want this to go faster," Ares hissed, sending a flicker of power at him, but it didn't make him jump. "Oh, getting cocky are we?" he asked, standing up to come down and beat on his nephew a little bit.
"No, just tired. Some of us are tryin' ta build a temple." Strife disappeared, going back to what he had been doing.
Ares looked around but everyone had left his throne room. He grunted in annoyance as he sat down. He didn't even have anyone to pick on now. Not even that Joxer guy.
Joxer finished packing the backpack Strife had given him back when he had been mortal, a few months ago really, and looked around his room. He smiled as his God popped in and stared at him in shock. "I'll be back," he promised. "I need to go see things for a few weeks." He held out a hand, but Strife didn't take it. Joxer sighed at the petulant look he was being given. "I'll be back," he promised, stepping into the warm, thin arms to get a hug; he had shown Strife what one was and the God liked them a lot. "I'm going to go find Gabby and Xena and see if seeing them doesn't clear up a lot of stuff for me. 'Kay?"
Strife shook his head. "No." He sat down, pulling Joxer down onto his lap. "It's not safe out there right now, I should know."
"I'm not going near the armies," Joxer said gently, using his free hand to pat the side of Strife's face. "I'll be back in a few weeks."
"Ya sure ya wanna do this?" Strife asked, still pouting.
"Yeah, I got to do this." Joxer looked down at himself, then up at his benefactor and protector. "If I don't go out now, it'll have to be some other time. You can't keep me here forever you know." He grinned. "Besides, you said I spread mischief wherever I go, maybe I'll get some good currents going."
Strife nodded and pushed Joxer up. "Whatever. Come back?"
"And I'll call if I need you," Joxer added on, before he could be reminded of that fact. He gave his God one last smile and walked out of the temple, going to find his former friends.
Strife lounged on the bed, staring at the door. Or at least he was going to, but he felt Ares coming for him so he fled back to his job.
Joxer walked into Xena's camp two weeks later and gave her a smile. "Hi, guys."
Xena put down her sword. "Joxer, where have you been?" she asked. "We've been looking all over for you."
"Yeah, Hercules was yelling about you taking up with a God," Gabrielle said, not looking up from taking care of her staff.
"Well, I did run into one," Joxer agreed, sitting across from them, "but they helped me."
"I guess you needed it after Strife kidnapped you," Xena said, looking him over. "Where's your armor?"
"That's one of the things he helped me see, that I have a higher purpose in life, one that I'm good at." He grinned, looking down at the fire. "It's a good thing."
"Maybe," Xena agreed. "You know you can't trust them, they lie all the time."
Joxer looked up at her. "I know some do," he corrected. "Cupid's never lied to me."
"Oh, you found *him*," Gabrielle said with a snort of disgust. "What does he have you doing?"
"Figuring myself out for right now," he said, standing up. He picked back up his pack. "I was on my way through, going to see my God. I'll bid you a good night."
"Wait," Xena called, catching him as he walked past her. "You can share our fire if you wanted."
Joxer shook his head. "No, I've got to be going. I understand so much more now." He gave her a calm smile and walked away.
"He's very strange now," Gabrielle said, looking at her partner. "Think we should follow him?"
"No, Cupid's pretty harmless. He won't hurt Joxer, he's not like most of the others." She added a few twigs to the fire and sat back down. "He'll be fine, we'll see him once he comes to his senses in a few months."
Joxer walked off into the woods, heading for where Strife's new temple would be. He had a surprise in store for his God, and that was the only real place to do it.
Strife's ears perked up as he heard a prayer from his new temple. He glanced at Ares, but he was too busy eating to notice him, so he snuck away. He landed on his altar, looking down at the body between his legs. "Hey, Joxie," he whispered, lifting the immortal's face to look at him. "Who hit you?"
"It was a bar fight. Started while I was having supper last night." Joxer put down the knife and said the formal words to bind himself to his God. "I give my services freely to my God, Strife, may he use me to the best of my abilities." He put his bloodied hand down on the altar, binding himself to it.
Strife grinned. "That's way cool!" He leaned down and was going to give him a hug, but Joxer gave him a kiss first. He pulled back to look at him. "Ya know, that's not really necessary."
"It is to me," Joxer said, resting against the thin but strong body. "I want to." He glanced up in time to see the delighted smile. "I'm yours."
Strife whooped and grabbed Joxer, pulling him up onto the marble slab with him, rolling the young man under him to kiss him.
Ares appeared and cleared his throat. "Don't you have something else to do?" he said dryly.
"Yeah, I'm dealin' with a follower," Strife said, looking over at him. "You don't need me right now and he does." He winked and went back to kissing his second follower. After all, his first one had been too good at recruiting this one, he didn't want to let a second of it go to waste.