Mischief’s Ire

Status:
  • Complete
Content Rating:
  • PG-13
Fandom(s):
Xena: Warrior Princess

Relationship(s):
Ares/Joxer

Warning(s):
  • Character Bashing
  • Death - Major Character
  • Violence - Canon-Level
Genre(s):
  • Alternate Universe
  • Episode Related
  • Pre-Relationship
Word Count:
16000

Author's Note:
Set around the S3 finale episode, Sacrifice, though events are altered. This is the first part of a trilogy. The third story in the arc will take place outside of the Xena timeline. Also, because many of the characters in this are Gods and Goddesses from the Greek pantheon, I feel I should warn for their penchant for finding love amongst their own family tree.

Summary:
Strife has had enough of a certain God's interference and enlists the aide of Joxer, which causes more problems than it solves. Meanwhile, Joxer's secret assignment is approaching completion.


 

 

Joxer, the sometimes Mighty, most times bumbler, was leaning back against a large Oak tree. He could hear Xena and Gabrielle bathing in the river several yards away and assumed more than bathing was being done.

He was content to be more or less alone for once. It was probably time for one of his solo adventures, but there were still one or two things he had to do.

Just as he was drifting off into a light doze, the smell of burning ozone filled the open air. Still, Joxer did not move. The scent alone would not reach most mortals, even at this range, and he was too far invested in his current assignment to betray himself. Considering who his traveling companions were, the visitor could be almost anyone.

It wasn’t until the scent of fury permeating the God in question reached him that Joxer opened his eyes.

His oldest friend was standing less than four feet away, practically vibrating with anger. He was so upset he couldn’t speak, and his ordinarily pale complexion held a decidedly pink tinge. Joxer raised an eyebrow but said nothing, knowing from experience Strife would speak when he’d calmed down.

“That pompous bastard has messed up my plans for the last time!”

Joxer sighed. “Apollo?” He guessed, knowing that the healing god was the only person, God or Mortal, who could get Strife this riled.

Strife took a deep breath and sat down across from Joxer, his leather glinting in the sunlight. “I need you to do something for me.”

Joxer sat up and shook his head. “What about your plans for this war in Thebes? I’ve been doing what I can for weeks to get them where you need them to be.”

Strife grinned in that maniacal way he had. “As it happens, this job I need you to do is in Delphi. It won’t take long.”

Joxer sighed dramatically. “Apollo’s festival.”

“This is what I want you to do…”

*

Ares watched the war brewing with a dangerous glint in his eye. It was right on schedule. Now if he could only keep his half-brother out of it. That, however, was too much to ask for.

Just as he was about to call his sister and her trouble-making son, he received his own summons.

Flashing out of his own temple, Ares arrived in his father’s study on Olympus.

“Yes, Father?” He asked with more patience that he thought he could muster.

“Are you taking care of that population problem in Thebes?”

“Yes.” He said as he sat down, sensing there was more to this summons than Zeus’ desire to check up on one little war.

“Good. Your Aunt Demeter is worried about famine if the population isn’t reduced by at least a third.”

Ares nodded, knowing that this was indeed the case.

“There is something else.” Zeus looked up at his oldest son.

“Yes, father?”

“Your mother detected some unusual animal activity in an unpopulated area. Artemis could find nothing wrong, but, your mother has a sense about these things.”

“What kind of unusual activity?” Ares asked, wondering why he was being told about this. His godhood had nothing to do with animals.

“I thought perhaps…Strife…are he and your brother still…fighting?” Zeus stopped, not sure if fighting was the correct word.

“I don’t know,” Ares admitted. “I’ll look into it.”

“You do that,” Zeus said curtly just before Ares flashed out.

*

Joxer shook his head again, knowing what could happen if things went wrong. “If this brilliant plan of yours gets anyone killed…” He trailed off. The result did not bear thinking about.

“Whatever do ya mean?” Strife asked, trying to play off innocence, which never worked.

“I mean,” Joxer began sitting up. “That if Father finds out about this, your vacation in asphodel will seem like a power trip compared to what he’ll do to both of us.”

“How is your father?” Strife asked by way of changing the subject.

Joxer’s eyes narrowed but before he could say anything they both heard voices come closer. Strife flashed out, leaving Joxer to resume his bumbling idiot persona.

“You ready to go, Joxer?” Gabrielle asked as she finished tying up her top. “We need to make the next village by nightfall.”

Joxer just nodded and gathered his things together, glad that at least he’d found a way to get Argo to trample that awful armor. At least he didn’t make as much noise anymore.

*

Apollo, God of healing, and not above a bit of mischief himself watched through a scrying mirror this mornings work, completely undoing what must have taken Strife at least a fortnight to put together.

It was a pity to waste all that effort, but so far, this plan had the best odds of success. If he could only out-mischief the mischief God, he’d be that much closer to what he really wanted.

Apollo waved a hand, and the image in the mirror disappeared, only to be replaced by another. This one of the preparations for the festival honoring him in Delphi held every four years. It was imperative that nothing go wrong. Yet, the Sun God knew to never underestimate his son.

*

Joxer slipped out of his room unnoticed. He was glad that for once they were staying in an Inn instead of making camp. It was much easier to disappear without the Warrior Princess and her Bard noticing.

He padded down the stairs and out of the building. There was an old building that had at one time been used as stables, but as the Inn grew in size, the horses moved to a more massive barn, and the old one was abandoned, mainly used for storage. Reaching the back of the building, Joxer silently crept inside, through the opened ended exit.

“Hey.” He whispered when the light of the moon through the open doorway cast a shadow on the stable’s only other occupant.

“Get away all right?” The man inside asked, whispering as well.

Joxer nodded once before getting down to the reason they were having this clandestine meeting. “I have a job for you.”

“Big or small?” His old friend asked.

“A statue,” Joxer answered.

The other man raised an eyebrow. “This isn’t the kind of statue that will get body parts chopped off, is it? I like my hands right where they are, thank you very much.”

Joxer rolled his eyes but didn’t otherwise answer. “You know the Statue of Apollo in Delphi?”

The other man blinked. “The one that is the center of the celebration next week?”

“The one and the same.”

“You’re crazy.” The man stopped, tugged slightly on one end of his mustache, an odd glint in his dark eyes. “On the other hand, if I could pull it off . . . “

“Can you?” Joxer interrupted, already knowing the answer.

The thief looked insulted. “Of course I can. I am . . . The King of Thieves.”

*

Strife had just popped into the temple on Mount Olympus that he shared with Cupid when he was knocked down by an overexcited cherub.

“Hey, Sprite.” Strife picked the young Godling up. “Where’s your daddy?”

“Mer-gen-cy” Bliss said the word slowly. “Gampa here!” He pointed excitedly to the hall where Ares was lounging against the wall, looking more dangerous than usual.

“We need to talk.”

Strife set Bliss down and knelt so that they were at eye level. “Why don’t you go play in your room?”

“Kay.” Bliss kissed strife on his pale cheek and scampered away.

“What’s up, Unk?”

“Where were you today?” Ares asked calmly. He’d had trouble tracking his nephew, which wasn’t necessarily unusual, but after the meeting with Zeus, he was a little concerned. When Cupid’s emergency and come up, he volunteered to babysit, knowing it was probably his best chance to catch his errant lieutenant.

“Around.” Strife answered, shrugging his shoulders and turning away.

“Is everything on schedule?” Ares asked, sighing. He knew from long years’ experience that no one could make Strife talk if he weren’t ready. He definitely got that from his mother though his occasional bouts of petulance were his father through and through. Not that he’d ever say so to Strife. He loved his nephew but most times he was a walking contradiction, and very few people could truly understand him.

Limonous‘ army should arrive on time.” Strife answered, glad of the change in subject though he wasn’t naïve enough to believe it had been dropped. “Talthon‘s might be delayed. Jerkules is traveling nearby.”

Ares growled low in his throat at the thought of his half-brother mucking everything up. “Okay. I’ll send your mother to take care of that. What about Xena?”

“She should arrive in Thebes in three days time, just as you asked.”

Ares nodded. “Good.” He hesitated a second, watching his nephew fidget. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about strange animal activity in the valley below Teyos, would you?”

Strife froze. It was only for a second, but Ares had been watching and noticed. The War God sighed and moved closer to Strife. “Be careful, nephew. Whatever you’re planning has drawn Hera’s attention. Tread carefully.”

He flashed out before Strife could acknowledge the warning, leaving the Mischief God thinking about his plans.

It didn’t matter, he’d gone too far to stop now.

*

Joxer had just gotten back into his room, and under the moderately comfortable bedding when the air in the room was charged with what could only be godly energy. He sighed as he sat up in bed.

His oldest brother stood at the foot of the bed, wearing his usual garb of black leather, weapons strategically placed throughout his person. “Jett.” He sighed. “What are you doing here?”

“That’s my line.”

“Excuse me?” Joxer asked, his forehead wrinkled.

“What are you doing here, brother?” The assassin asked, but before the question could be answered, he continued. “I spoke to father. He says you haven’t been home in four years.” He paused, and when Joxer didn’t comment, he went on. “Jayce says you haven’t been to Olympus in just as long.”

“I don’t have a home,” Joxer whispered, looking down at the bedding. “I lost that when they stripped my powers and made me mortal. If I recall, you were there for that. You should remember.”

Jett took out a knife from the side of his pants and twirled it in his fingers. “You could have it back. Speak to Father...or if not him, speak to Zeus himself. I can ask Eris…”

“No.” Joxer hissed.

“This wasn’t meant as a punishment,” Jett said quietly.

“And it isn’t,” Joxer answered. “I asked for this if you remember.” He raised his eyes to look at his brother. “I don’t belong in the Underworld. You’re the one who took after father. And I don’t belong on Olympus. That’s fine for Jayce . . . for you, but for me . . . I’m just a mortal.”

Jett narrowed his eyes, something clicking in his mind at his brother’s words. “No, I don’t think so.” He said slowly. “I think that’s what you want me to believe, what you want everyone to believe.”

Joxer’s eyes widened slightly but said nothing.

“I think,” Jett began moving around the room as if looking for a target for his dagger. “That you want everyone to believe that I’m the only son of Thanatos that knows what it’s like to feel death in their veins. That you’re just the bumbler, and that Jayce is just the drama queen, but I don’t think that’s the case at all.”

Joxer swallowed and hoped that Jett couldn’t sense his nervousness. The assassin was far too close to the truth.

“You left your home, in the Underworld,” Jett emphasized the last word, “four years ago, asked Zeus for mortality after Jayce’s wedding, and disappeared. No one hears anything about you for a while, then all of a sudden you show up on Eris’ radar, following around Ares’ bastard daughter. Why?”

“Why what?” Joxer found his voice.

“Why are you living here, in the mortal world, trailing after a couple of demigods whose misguided mission it is to stop something that can’t be stopped?  This world, their world has rules they don’t understand. They have that excuse, but you . . . you’re a God, Joxer.”

“No.” Joxer interrupted him quietly but firmly. “I am not a God, not anymore. I’m a man. A mortal man and I will one day die a man, until then, you, and Father, and even Jayce need to let me live my life.” He closed his eyes, hoping this would bring an end to this painful conversation.

“And what of Strife?” Jett asked suddenly.

“What?” Joxer’s head shot up, not knowing what Jett was referring to now.

“You were friends. Even after that bitch, Calisto killed him, you still didn’t come home. Father says you didn’t even try to visit.”

“Was Hades allowing visitors?” Joxer asked quietly.

“No, but Hades may have made an exception. You could have asked father.”

Joxer shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. That was a long time ago. Besides, he’s back now.”

“For a mortal, I suppose it was a long time ago,” Jett commented. He shrugged and put his dagger away. “Strife misses you. I don’t know what you think you’re doing here, but the sooner you realize where you belong, the better off we will all be.” Jett disappeared in a flash of angry sparkles, leaving Joxer alone again.

“I am where I belong,” Joxer whispered to the empty room. “Where I’m needed until I’m not needed anymore.”

He sighed heavily and lay down again. He hated this assignment more and more. It was one thing to do his job and do it well. It was another to lie to his family, to his friends. To know that no one knew the truth.

Save Strife, and Zeus.

Had it really only been four years? It seemed like longer.

Much, much longer.

After Jett’s visit, Joxer couldn’t sleep. He kept thinking about the craziness of the past few years, and how it all started

A dream. A lousy dream had ruined his life. Too bad he couldn’t have blamed it on Morpheus and been done with it. Unfortunately, Joxer’s Godhood meant that any dreams he had were doomed to occur, whether you wanted them to or not. The only choice he had was to make sure things happened a certain way to ensure...well, to ensure that everything happened the way it was supposed to.

Sighing, Joxer climbed out of bed, again, and dressed quickly. It was apparent he wouldn’t be getting any sleep tonight. Besides, there was something he needed to do. The sooner he took care of it, the better. Perhaps he could solve more than one problem tonight.

Joxer left his room for the second time that night, this time walking swiftly to the town center where he would find the requisite temples. This particular village worshiped Artemis, probably due to the fact most of the town’s revenue came from the hunting and trapping of game from the surrounding woodlands.

Regardless of which deity a village worshiped, you could almost always find a temple devoted to Zeus, as well as either Ares or Athena, sometimes both. In case of War, the townspeople wanted someone they could turn to, and no one wanted to anger the King of the Gods.

Joxer was headed to one such temple. He could feel something in the air. A foreboding. Perhaps it was the coming battle in Thebes. Maybe something else. In any case, he thought that he was running out of time. Whatever was supposed to happen, it would happen soon.

He entered the temple with far less reverence than most. Despite his self-propagated appearance of inept warrior and bumbler, Joxer was not one to lack in either confidence or purpose, though sometimes he did lack confidence in his purpose. Nor was he afraid of Zeus, unlike many of his fellow Gods. Perhaps that was unwise. It had yet to be proved one way or another.

The temple was of medium size and completely empty, torches along the walls the only illumination. Joxer sat on the floor of the temple and extended a small bit of his power. His mother had gifted him with unique abilities which had come in handy more than once. The torches extinguished as if a fierce wind had blown through, leaving the temple in darkness.

“Young Joxer.” The words preceded the arrival of the King of the Gods.

“Zeus.” Joxer stood up.

“It has been some time since you have graced one of my temples with your presence.” The sarcasm was thinly veiled, though the elder God knew that this young one was not concerned with upsetting anyone, even one as powerful as Zeus. His next words proved as much.

Joxer quirked an eyebrow, but his expression didn’t change. “I’ve been busy.”

“So I gather.” Zeus smiled. “I understand Apollo has had a string of rather bad luck recently. First scrolls all over Greece began disappearing, then plays performed in his honor began being performed in the nude which it is my understanding was not how originally planned. Now there is this business with the swans. Hera was most displeased about that.”

Joxer’s face was impassive as he spoke. “That sounds like something you might want to take up with Strife. All of Olympus knows of his animosity towards Apollo.”

Zeus nodded. “True, and normally I would agree. However, I know Ares has kept Strife rather busy of late.” Zeus pretended not to notice the slight shift of expression at the mention of the War God.

Joxer shrugged, not confirming, nor denying his involvement in any of Apollo’s recent trouble.

“What is it you need?” Zeus finally asked.

“Access to the Halls of Time.”

Zeus nodded, expecting as much. Usually, access was not strictly regulated, but Joxer’s position on Olympus made it a matter of some delicacy. He didn’t ask what exactly Joxer needed, knowing better than to question the young God. His burden was a heavy one to bear.

“There is a meeting of the Twelve tomorrow after the sun sets. But you won’t have much time. Will you be able to get away from your...companions?”

Joxer nodded once, firmly.

Zeus disappeared in a subdued flash of sparkles, leaving Joxer alone, his torches once more lit.

*

Xena observed Gabrielle as she moved towards the door to their room. Gabrielle’s snores assured her the bard was sleeping, and she slipped out of the room, stopping outside Joxer’s door for a moment, listening. When she could hear nothing, she assumed Joxer was sleeping and continued on her way.

She walked quickly to the edge of town where the small temple dedicated to Ares sat. Inside, she knelt on the floor and said a short prayer. The response was almost instantaneous.

“Daughter.”

Xena stood. “Father.”

Ares materialized a couch for them to sit on and motioned her over. “What brings you here?”

She looked carefully at him and sighed. “I have done what you asked. We journey to Thebes though I have no intention of stopping this war. If Hercules is there, I will do my best to delay his interference, and if that doesn’t work, I will divert his attention.” She paused, and when Ares nodded, she continued. “I have been...looking after Joxer, as you...requested.” She paused thinking request was perhaps too polite a word. “But…” She continued.

“What is it?”

“He seems...distracted, not like himself.” She looked into her father’s dark eyes. “Not like the person he pretends to be. I am worried.”

Ares considered this, but couldn’t think of anything that could be troubling the former God. What was there to worry him? He no longer had the pressures of duty or family to weigh him down. Still, perhaps he should speak to Thanatos, or maybe Hecate.

When it was apparent Ares wouldn’t answer her concern, she changed the subject. “Have you found Callisto?”

“No,” Ares answered flatly. The insane Goddess had seemed to disappear.

Xena suspected as much. “Things haven’t been the same since...Illusia.” She said quietly, referring to her friendship with Gabrielle.

“You’re not trying to kill each other anymore.” Ares offered, not knowing what else to say. He had done what he could to send them there, to begin with. The rest was out of his hands.

Xena didn’t respond to the comment, knowing it was pointless.

Ares sighed. “Do you think finding Callisto will really make a difference?”

“Maybe...I don’t know.” Xena admitted. Callisto was unfinished business for both her and the bard.

“If Strife hasn’t found anything by the time this war in Thebes is over. I’ll look into it personally.”

Xena seemed slightly relieved by that but thought that perhaps Strife wasn’t the best person to be looking for the vengeance-obsessed woman, to begin with. “Do you think that’s wise? Having Strife searching for Callisto? She did...kill him.” She paused. “You never said how he came back.”

“I’m not entirely certain,” Ares admitted, referring to Strife’s resurrection and not commenting on the wisdom of having his nephew looking for the insane rogue Goddess who killed him.

*

It was midday when Strife popped into Delphi, invisible to both mortal and godly eyes. He was pleased to notice the complete absence of Apollo’s statue in the center of town.

He cackled as he watched the townspeople running around, frantic, afraid of what their God would do.

He knew Joxer wouldn’t let him down. Now all that was left was the delivery of his little present.

Strife flashed away grinning.

His good mood soured slightly when he saw how close to Thebes Hercules and Iolaus were getting. He’d have to do something about that...and quickly.

*

Apollo was pissed.

It was bad enough that his muses were complaining about the incident with the scrolls, and his son-in-law gave him an earful about that play he was in where he just appeared naked. His son was plenty irritated about that as well.

But this...this was going too far.

His statue...his favorite statue was...gone.

The worst thing about it was he couldn’t figure out how it was done. A god hadn’t done it. There wasn’t a trace of a godly power signature. No this was strictly a mortal thing.

Apollo paused. Or maybe a demi-god.

If that...thief had anything to do with this, Hermes was going to hear about it.

Whether a mortal or a demi-god stole his favorite sculpture was irrelevant. That impudent little shit was behind this.

Apollo, God of the sun and medicine, among other things, was finally going to have it out with that ungrateful, trouble causing, manipulative…

Apollo flashed out of Delphi, unseen, still cursing his son.

*

Xena, Gabrielle, and Joxer spent the morning traveling in silence. Xena was naturally quiet, but she did notice the lack of chatter from her two companions. Gabrielle would mumble every once in a while, something about new story ideas. Joxer, however, seemed to be drawn inwards, and Xena’s concern grew. She resolved to try to speak to him as soon as she could get him alone.

Around midday, they stopped for lunch near a small lake and Joxer decided to take the time to wash, more to be alone than because he needed to get clean. Xena went off to hunt down some game while Gabrielle prepared to cook whatever it was.

The time passed slowly for Joxer, counting down the time when he would have to disappear to go to Olympus. Just thinking about going back there was making him queasy.

It wasn’t that things had been bad for him, or that any of the Gods or Goddesses would mistreat him. Most of them didn’t understand why he chose this path, but most of them didn’t know what this path was.

Mostly he didn’t want to go because it would make him homesick. The Underworld really was his home. He’d grown up there. Playing hide and go seek with Cerberus, driving Hades crazy with the schemes he and Strife would cook up. It was hard enough seeing Aphrodite or Ares whenever they popped up in his travels with Xena, and he had never been extremely close with either of them.

It was becoming increasingly difficult to hide behind his clumsy persona. Aphrodite always played the airhead around mortals, but sometimes he would catch her gazing at him, something indefinable in her eyes. Ares pretty much ignored him, which was both good for his current image and par for the course.

Ares and Hades had an unusual relationship. They had to work together more than any other gods do outside of their own houses, but they didn’t have what could be called a friendly working relationship. Hades was always complaining about all the work Ares gave him. Joxer’s father wasn’t much better, and Ares would aggravate the situation by making a point of adding a few more bodies that would need sorting.

Strife’s temporary stay in Asphodel just made things worse. Joxer was gone by that time, but he still had his ear to the ground, so to speak. He heard things. Joxer was convinced that if he hadn’t intervened Hades would have released Strife on his own, simply to keep Ares from making his life more difficult than necessary.

Regardless of that probability, Joxer had to fix it himself. He felt responsible for Strife’s death. He hadn’t seen it coming, not like the thing with Bachus, or any of the other things he knew would happen long before they did. Callisto’s actions were as much of a surprise to him as anyone else.

But the fact that she lived at all was because of him. He had had numerous opportunities to kill her. As a mortal, an immortal, and even a God, but she still had a purpose, and until that was fulfilled, she had to remain alive.

Now, if he could only find her. It was almost time.

*

Strife watched from the shadows as the group of bandits attacked Hercules and Iolaus. He had directed them here and gave them a compulsion to attack, regardless of the intelligence of such a move. It wouldn’t slow the demi-god down long, but long enough for him get a few other surprises lined up.

*

Apollo flashed into the Halls of War, his less than showy entrance evidence of how pissed off he was.

“I want it back!”

Eris looked up from the map she was studying. Ares didn’t even move, still considering his own plans, and used to ignoring most of his fellow gods.

“What?” Eris asked moving away from the table.

“My statue.” Apollo hissed.

Eris waved an arm around the room. “Do you see a statue here?” She made a point of looking around herself. “Nope, no statue here, now scram! We’re busy.”

Apollo got right up in Eris’ face and slapped her. She was so unused to seeing the sun god act violently she didn’t react right away.

Ares saved her the trouble.

Before either deity could blink, Ares had thrown a fireball at the blond, scorching his impeccable clothing. “Watch your step, brother. I am not in the mood.”

Apollo scowled. “Do you know what he did?” He asked.

“No, and I don’t care.” Ares stood up and advanced on his brother. “This feud you have with your son has gone on long enough. Settle it.”

Apollo sighed. “It’s not that easy.”

Ares turned to Eris. “Leave.”

She looked once at Apollo and then flashed away. When she was gone Ares sighed to himself. He did not want to be the reasonable one. “I get it, ‘Pol.”

“Do you?” Apollo asked, somewhat petulantly.

“Yes. You forget, Cupid was taken from me and raised by Aphrodite under the jurisdiction of the House of Love.”

“You weren’t denied access to him.” Apollo reminded.

“And neither were you.” Ares countered. “You chose not to visit. Three hundred years, and not a word. Then you want to make it up to him? Strife isn’t going to be that easy. He isn’t one of your projects. He’s your son. Start acting like a father and not a wounded child.”

Ares turned away and went back to his maps and battle plans, leaving Apollo with no choice but to leave.

Ares slumped back in his chair when his brother was gone. The problem with that whole confrontation was that unlike Apollo, Ares knew his nephew. It wouldn’t be easy to stop this…rivalry. In all honesty, there were only two people who could talk Strife into staying this madness. One of them, Cupid, refused to get involved on the grounds that if it backfired, he’d get no sex, and a love god without sex was a terrible thing. Or so Cupid had said.

The only other person was currently…not approachable, under normal circumstances. However, Ares, God of War, was willing to admit this was not an ordinary situation.

Besides, he hadn’t visited Xena recently. That bard of hers was always good for a laugh.

Now if he could only get through this meeting Father had called, maybe he’d actually get some work done.

*

Xena left Gabrielle cooking the rabbit she’d caught and went looking for Joxer. She found him re-lacing his boots. His hair was still wet, and he didn’t seem surprised to see her.

“I wanted to talk to you.” She said in answer to his unasked question.

“About what?” He asked her, looking slightly confused.

Xena realized she couldn’t easily tell whether the confusion was faked or not. She sat down on a large stone and began to speak. “I know who you are, and what you’re doing here.”

“Taking a bath?” He questioned. When she didn’t so much as twitch, he looked into her eyes, weighing what she was really saying. “You think so?” He asked softly and turned to look out across the small body of water. “What exactly do you know?”

“I know you’re a god, or you were one until about five years ago, when something happened, I’m not sure what exactly, and you asked Zeus to make you mortal.” She began, speaking softly, not wanting to be overheard. “By my calculations that would have been just before you met Gabrielle and I and tried to join Callisto’s army.” She watched as Joxer’s shoulder’s stiffened at the mention of the rogue Goddess. “I can’t imagine what you thought you were doing with her unless you were looking to die, but I don’t think so. I also know that since you left Olympus, no one has taken over your godhood.” She continued to stare at his back, watching for any sign she was getting through. “I know that you’re trying to run away, from your past, and who you were, and whatever happened. You’re trying to forget it all, become someone else. That’s something I know a thing or two about.”

Joxer turned around again. “Do you now? I highly doubt that.” He leveled a stare at her and started telling her what he knew. “You left Ares service…supposedly several years ago and have since been trying to redeem yourself. I highly doubt that you’re either trying to redeem your past or that you no longer follow your father.” He raised an eyebrow, daring her to deny it.

“What makes you say that?” She asked, not really specifying what she was questioning.

Joxer shrugged, his bumbling idiot persona pointless at this juncture. “Well, you seem to know a lot about me. Something I find impossible to believe if you really have left Ares. How would you know so much if you still weren’t in contact? You’d never met me before. But what has me curious is why?”

“Why what?”

“Why are you here, doing the hero thing, here in Thebes? This war is necessary. I know that; you know that, and yet, supposedly you’re here to stop it.”

Before Xena could answer Gabrielle called out to them, telling them lunch was ready. Joxer started to walk back to where Gabrielle had set up camp.

“Joxer, wait.” Xena put a hand on his shoulder. “I want to help.”

Joxer turned around to face her. “I know you do, Xena, but you can’t.”

“Are you sure?” She asked.

He nodded, but instead of answering her question directly he lowered his voice and asked her another, his eyes intent on her face. “Do you know what it’s like to know that evil is coming? To know it’s coming and there is nothing you can do to stop it? That it’s already too late. To know that your one hope of maybe containing it is for you to create something that is just as dangerous as the evil you’re trying to combat. And to do that you’ll have to hurt someone you love as your own family?”

His dark eyes were piercing hers, and she shivered slightly at his intensity, not used to seeing this side of him. “No.”

“Pray you never do,” Joxer whispered almost too quietly for her to hear. Almost.

“Who would you like me to pray to?” Xena asked seriously as Joxer continued to walk away.

As she followed him, she heard his response.

“Everyone.”

*

By late afternoon, the trio had reached the city of Thebes. The battle was actually on the south end of the town, and they could feel the tension in the air.

“Where to?” Gabrielle asked as she watched soldiers walking by in large groups, armed, and excited.

“Go stable Argo, I’m going to talk to the generals.” Xena handed the lead to Gabrielle and started walking away.

Gabrielle turned in the opposite direction, leaving Joxer to slip through the crowd unnoticed.

*

He arrived in the Halls of Time exactly when he was supposed to. Zeus would keep the others busy as long as he could. Hopefully, Joxer could find what he was looking for.

He started with Xena and Gabrielle’s trip to Britannia and moved slowly forward.

Every moment was examined. The meeting with Krafstar, and Gabrielle’s killing of the priestess, and the appearance of The Deliverer. He watched as Hope was born, and the havoc she created at such a young age. He waited, entranced as Gabrielle saved the child, and lied to Xena.

The next images showed Hope ‘rescuing’ the imprisoned Goddess Callisto and how their plan cost Xena the life of her son. Hope’s death was surprisingly simple, and the visit to Illusia followed.

Joxer wasn’t sure how Ares had managed that though he was confident, the war god was responsible.

As time moved on the view screen, Joxer began to broaden his search base, looking for any power signature that would match the one he sought.

Finally, after nearly three hours, he found it.

A cave, pulsing with the dark energy he was looking for. Now all he had to do was get there in time.

He waved away the images just as he felt the presence of another God enter the Hall.

“Well, well…the prodigal son has returned.”

Joxer turned around. “Ares.”

*

“Ares.” Joxer nodded once to the God of War. “What are you doing here?”

Ares chuckled. He couldn’t believe the...foolhardy courage of this man. Then again, he should expect nothing less. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“I have just as much right as any on Olympus to the Halls of Time. Perhaps more.”

“You are not one of us any longer.” Ares reminded. He looked the mortal over carefully. “Or are you?”

Joxer tensed slightly, checking his shielding, and was inwardly relieved to find everything was as it should be. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Don’t you?” Ares stepped closer and circled around the younger man. “It has been a while, but you really haven’t changed much have you?”

Joxer swallowed heavily. “I’m mortal now.”

“Yes, perhaps you are,” Ares agreed. “But it was never about being a God for you, was it? That’s what I liked about you.”

Joxer laughed, but even to him it sounded forced. “You never paid much attention to me.”

“Ah...there you are wrong. Your father and I have...differences. But you...you were always different from your brothers; Forever an outcast...always alone. For you, being a God meant nothing. The power of that meant nothing. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when you asked Zeus to be mortal, to relieve you of your burden.”

Joxer turned away from Ares scrutiny. If only it were that simple or that easy. He sighed. “I have to go.”

“Probably.” Ares reached out and grabbed Joxer’s wrist. “But you’re not going anywhere.”

*

“Hercules!” Xena yelled. Causing the hero to pause and turn around.

“Xena!” He jogged over to her. Iolaus following at a slightly slower pace. “We were just going to try to talk to General Limonous. Maybe get him to stop this before it gets too ugly.”

Xena nodded. “I just came from his tent. He isn’t there, but his lieutenant says he went south about an hour ago. I was going to look for him, but I didn’t want to leave in case something else happens. Talthon‘s army is just cresting over the hill.”

“I’ll go.” Hercules offered, heading in the opposite direction from where he was initially headed.

Xena nodded once, sharply, satisfied. She knew Hercules too well. He was almost as easy to manipulate as an impressionable child.

*

Joxer sighed. “What do you want?”

Ares stared at the former God carefully before saying something he knew would sound incongruous coming from him. “I need your help.”

Joxer’s head whipped around. It wasn’t so much the words, but the tone. He had known Ares a long time. Not well. Despite what people would think. The House of War and those of the Underworld did not get along. Most of what he knew of both Ares and Discord came from Strife, and Strife had a unique view of both his mother and his uncle.

Joxer knew that like Strife, Ares and Discord were more than their jobs. Still, that knowledge didn’t keep him from being somewhat surprised. The War God was something of a mystery. Growing up in the Underworld, Joxer had seen more of Ares than any of the other Gods living on Olympus, but usually, those visits involved shouting matches between Hades and Ares. Demands, threats, and general animosity.

As a young godling, Joxer had admired Ares tenacity. He was one of the few that didn’t fear Hades. Even Zeus himself was wary around his brother. Hades had the kind of control over death, and sometimes life that even the Gods feared. Ares had never seemed to care. He would show up in a fit of rage, blasting anything and everything in his way until Hades would show up and then the fireworks would start.

Joxer’s father had once told him he enjoyed Ares visits, saying he always enjoyed the mayhem that followed. Thanatos was so severe all the time that few knew he had a wicked sense of humor. His mother always said Joxer had inherited his own from him. The young god had always thought that was all he had inherited from his father, but perhaps not. Jett’s visit had left him with a lot to think about.

Sighing at his internal thoughts, Joxer focused once more on the War God. He looked both irritated at the lack of response, and hopeful that maybe it meant Joxer would at least think about helping him with whatever it was.

“With what?” Joxer asked in resignation. He was tired, very, very tired. He hated this secrecy, and the lies, and the loneliness most of all. He wasn’t up for a round of verbal sparring.

“This situation with Apollo.”

Joxer’s shoulders drooped slightly. “I don’t know…”

He was cut off before he could finish. “Don’t tell me you don’t know what’s going on,” Ares said, and a small smile graced his lips. “That...disappearing act in Delphi has Autolycus written all over it.”

Joxer raised an eyebrow. “And? What exactly does Auto have to do with me? We’ve crossed paths once or twice...usually with Xena; maybe you should ask her. She is your daughter after all.”

Ares snorted, ignoring the reference to Xena. “Autolycus’ mother, if I’m not mistaken was a high priestess of Hecate.” Ares pointed out as if that explained everything.

Joxer sighed. “My mother has lots of high priestesses, as I’m sure do you...and every other God.”

“Are you denying that you and Autolycus are friends?” Ares asked.

Joxer blinked. “No. But what his possible involvement in Delphi has to do with me…” Joxer shrugged. Admitting to his friendship with Autolycus would neither help nor hinder his current position.

Ares sighed, frustrated. “Look, I don’t want to argue with you.”

“What do you want?” Joxer asked tiredly, finally pulling free of Ares grasp on his wrist.

“Talk to Strife. Maybe he’ll listen to you. This...can’t go on.”

Joxer narrowed his eyes. “Strife has reasons for his feelings for Apollo. Good reasons, as you well know.”

“I know.” Ares agreed. “But this isn’t helping anything. This...feud is getting out of control.”

Joxer was thoughtful for a second. “On one condition.”

Ares blinked, surprised, both by Joxer’s agreeing and baffled at anything Joxer could want from him. “What?”

Joxer looked carefully at the war god, weighing the decision he was about to make. Then, as if seeing something he could trust in those dark eyes he nodded once and turned to the now blank view screen and waved his hand. The cave he was looking at earlier appeared. “I need Xena and Gabrielle here, in two days time, no earlier, no later.”

Ares stared at the scene unfolding. There was a dark cave, and a large cocoon sitting on a platform. But what was most interesting was the woman walking around the cocoon, waving her arms and talking to it. The same woman he had been looking for himself for quite some time. He turned his sharp eyes toward Joxer. The fact that Joxer had found her, added to the control Joxer seemed to have over the viewing portal made several things click at once.

“It was all a lie, wasn’t it?”

Joxer didn’t even pretend to misunderstand, but neither did he answer. “Will you do it?”

Ares nodded once. “Yes, but you have to promise to talk to Strife...and to tell me what this is all about when it’s over.”

“Done.” Joxer agreed and disappeared as if he had never been there, leaving Ares standing in the Halls of Time, pondering over what had just happened.

*

Xena walked swiftly towards a nearby tent, hoping to get some more information about the current situation when she paused, sensing the arrival of a God. She hid in the bushes for a second, trying to determine whom it might be. Her eyes widened as she saw Discord and Strife arguing quietly. She inched closer, hoping they were too distracted to notice her.

Strife shook his head. “No, ma.”

“Strife!” Discord snapped. “This has gone on long enough.”

Strife snarled. “No, it hasn’t...he deserves…”

Eris nodded. “I know, but we have more important things to do. This war is important, and now with Callisto being spotted in Megara.”

Strife scowled at the mention of the bitch that killed him, and Eris put a hand on his leather-covered shoulder. “Let Ares handle her.” She said urgently, her concern evident in her tone.

Xena blinked as she watched the two. She was surprised by both the mention of her nemesis and of the obvious affection between the two. She of all people knew that appearances could be deceiving, especially among the gods, but she was still surprised to see her cousin and his mother were close. She was also more than a little irritated Ares hadn’t said anything about knowing where Callisto was.

Megara was only a few days away if they traveled all night. She wondered if they left right now if the rogue Goddess would still be there. They had unfinished business. Shaking her head and crept back the way she had come she went to find Gabrielle. Her father would have to do without her help in diverting Hercules and Iolaus. If the conversation were anything to go by, Eris and Strife would be too busy with this war to go to Megara themselves.

And how exactly was Ares planning on handling it?”

*

Joxer’s appearance in front of the Fates was neither a surprise nor unusual.

“Nephew.” Atropos nodded.

“Where is Grandmother?”

Clotho looked away from the thread she spun for a moment and nodded her head towards the back of the cave.

Nyx was seated at a large, plush chair, her eyes closed, but she smiled when Joxer approached. “Son of my son, it has been some time since you last visited.”

“I know, Grandmother,” Joxer said slightly apologetically.

“You wish to know if there is a way to save your friend.” She spoke before Joxer could ask.

“Yes.”

“The future has not yet been written.” She said quietly. “Although what you have seen will come to pass. As you know, changes may still affect the outcome.”

“And the life of my friend?” Joxer asked solemnly, his head turning slightly to watch Atropos as she cut a thread swiftly and efficiently.

“Her time draws near,” Lechesis answered for their mother. “Nothing can change that.”

Joxer sighed, expecting as much. “What if I can preserve the child first?”

Nyx opened her eyes for the first time and looked at the young God. “It matters not. He has grown too strong, his creations are even now beginning to emerge. In the fullness of time, they will grow strong and cover the world. The child is the only hope.” She smiled ruefully.

“There is no other way?” Joxer asked once more, ignoring the pun.

“You must do what must be done.” The answer came from Clotho as she continued to spin.

“You can not change what has already begun,” Lechesis told him solemnly.

Joxer sighed. “Very well.” And disappeared.

Nyx turned to her three daughters. “His destiny draws closer. Lechesis, how are the threads?”

Lechesis looked at the tapestry. “Their two threads have begun to weave together.”

Nyx nodded. “Good.”

*

“Okay, she’s gone.” Eris sighed as she watched her niece leave.

Strife nodded. “You think Unk really found her?” He asked quietly. Their performance was just that, but the idea of Callisto still brought a chill to his bones. He still remembered dying all too well. “Or was he just trying to get rid of Xena and that twit?”

“I don’t know.” Eris said seriously, “but this battle is too important to worry about her right now. She’ll still be there when we’re finished.”

Strife nodded. “I’ll go keep an eye on Jerkules. Maybe you should get something started.” He grinned mischievously.

His mother smiled as her infamous apple appeared in her hand. “Yes, I think so.”

She disappeared in a flash and Strife cackled as he zeroed in on the annoying hero and began his own brand of fun.

*

Joxer reappeared in Delphi, just outside Apollo’s temple and went inside. Priests and priestesses were running around inside, and several worshippers waited to make their offers. Joxer walked straight to the back and into the hallway behind the audience chamber. “Apollo.” He said, barely above a whisper. Shouting was not necessary. Something he figured Hercules would have figured out by now.

The sun god appeared in a flash of golden sparkles and quirked an eyebrow at his visitor. “This is a surprise.”

“We need to talk,” Joxer said seriously.

*

Apollo arched an eyebrow. It wasn’t often he was told to do something, especially by little underworld gods without worshippers who weren’t even gods anymore.

“‘Bout what, I wonder?” He mused aloud as he walked around the room.

“I wonder,” Joxer said wryly, watching. He was not fond of Apollo. He never had been, but this wasn’t about him, it was about his best friend. It was about Strife.

One thing was always made more natural when he was alone with another God. Though he always made sure his shields were firmly in place, ensuring no one knew the truth.  Joxer, God of Demonic Prophecy didn’t have to pretend to be the fool that Gabrielle, Hercules, and even Iolaus knew him as.

It was evident from his earlier conversation that Xena knew more about him than he had initially believed. How much she knew, and how long she had known it was still in question. Did she know, way back when he met them during that first encounter with Callisto, who he was? And if so why didn’t she say anything? Why help him propagate the lie all these years? It didn’t make much sense unless Ares had asked her to.

Which brought more questions than answers. It seemed like the logical answer was that Xena had never left her father’s service. It had in fact been an act, her redemption. But why? Not that it mattered. He had his own mission, his own personal reasons. He was the last person to question someone else’s secrets.

Either way, he now wondered why Xena had come to him finally, and how long it would be before Gabrielle knew more about him as well. Joxer hoped it was long enough.

“If this is about my ungrateful son…” Apollo began drawing Joxer’s focus once again.

“He has a name,” Joxer said quietly.

Apollo nodded. “Yes, he does.” He shrugged. “Why do you care, anyway? I thought you gave up on all of us Olympians.” Apollo said the last word with feigned distaste.

“I gave up my godhood, not my friends.”

“Oh, that’s right. You’re traveling around with Ares bastard daughter now…and trailing after her lover.” He paused as if in mid-thought. “Funny, I always thought you were more into the boys.”

Joxer’s eyes narrowed further. He knew the Sun God was trying to bait him, but he’d be damned if he let the arrogant prick succeed. “This little war you have with Strife has to stop,” Joxer said carefully.

“Little war,” Apollo repeated the words thoughtfully, a small smile appearing. “It’s funny you should mention it quite that way. I recently had a similar conversation with Ares. You two wouldn’t happen to be working together, now would you?”

Joxer’s features remained carefully neutral, a fact which infuriated the older god. His lips thinned.

“Tell my son that this will end when my…property is returned.” Apollo was about to flash out when Joxer spoke.

“If you’re referring to the likeness of you currently missing from Delphi, Strife didn’t do that.”

Apollo paused and turned around. “Who did?”

“I did,” Joxer answered simply.

“You did?” Apollo asked, slightly surprised. Though he knew that this former god had once been close with Strife, and was apparently still in contact with him, he didn’t think he could make an entire statue disappear.

Joxer shrugged. “Well, not personally. Let’s just say I know a guy…” He shrugged again, as if in apology though Apollo knew it wasn’t.

“That little thief!” Apollo swore, realizing precisely what and who Joxer was referring to. It was one thing to have suspected Autolycus was somehow involved, but having it confirmed only fueled his anger.

Joxer shook his finger at the irritating blond. “Ah…ah…you remember what happened the last time one of Hermes sons was threatened?”

Apollo paled slightly. He did indeed remember. “Have him return it.” He hissed.

“You’ll stop playing with Strife?” Joxer asked calmly. Too calmly.

“Yes.” Apollo agreed, not noticing Joxer’s tone.

“On your word as a God of Olympus, by Zeus?” Joxer asked quietly, staring intently at his friend’s father. This part was tricky.

Apollo’s eyes narrowed again. What was this little shit up to? Swearing would mean nothing in this instance because for the vow to be held accountable, both parties had to be gods, and since Joxer no longer was, the words meant nothing. He shrugged. “Yes. By Zeus, on my word as the son of Zeus and Leto, And a Greek God,” Apollo began the formal words tiredly, not seeing the point, “That if my statue is returned by sunset the eve before the festival, I will stop harassing Strife.”

Joxer nodded once, pleased and quietly left the temple before Apollo could think further and demand Strife make any promises of his own.

*

Xena and Gabrielle had been traveling for several hours on horseback and Gabrielle’s irritation was growing. Their pace wasn’t usually so hurried, and she was worried about what was responsible for their speed.

Xena was pretty tight-lipped about where they were going or why. Gabrielle only knew that Xena had overhead something that she thought was more important than stopping the war in Thebes.

“Xena.” Gabrielle finally shouted in her lover’s ear, half-tempted to use her staff as a weapon to knock some sense into the warrior princess.

But before Gabrielle could say or do anything else, Xena spoke. “I know where Callisto is.”

No more words were spoken. What else could be said?

*

Strife let go of the throat of the man he had just strangled, just for the fun of it when he felt a subdued presence behind him. He cocked his head and turned around. He couldn’t see anyone there, but that wasn’t surprising. He recognized this presence.

Jox?” He asked quietly walking further into the woods and away from the battle that was raging all around him. He was glad both his uncle and mother were currently busy. Joxer’s appearance near a battle that Xena or Hercules were trying to stop wasn’t unusual. It fit his cover nicely. His presence invisible to mortal eyes, and in a flash of Godly power was.

“What’s up?” He asked, looking towards where he felt the power emanating from.

Joxer became less ghost-like and more substantial. That weird ability was still somewhat disturbing and something only the sons of Hypnos and Thanatos could achieve.

“I don’t have much time.” He stepped closer. “I’ve had Auto remove the veil on the statue.”

“Why?” Strife asked in confusion.

“I had a little talk with Apollo. He gave me his word that if it were returned, he’d stop.” He emphasized the word, implying more than saying what he meant.

Strife frowned. “That mean I can’t deliver my present?” The Mischief god all but pouted.

Joxer grinned. “Oh no, you are not bound by the oath, so...have fun.” He started to fade away into nothing but heard Strife’s parting words, anyway.

“Be careful.”

*

The magistrate of Delphi blinked as he stared into the center of town. The Statue had been returned, thank Zeus.

He wasn’t sure how or why, and he really didn’t want to know. The Gods were complicated, and one didn’t question anything they did. Not if one wanted to live to see another of his God’s glorious sun rises.

*

Autolycus smirked as the statue re-appeared. Not that it had ever truly gone anywhere. There was nothing like a little smoke and mirrors act to confuse the locals.

Still, it would have been nice if old Jox would have allowed him to actually steal the statue. It would have been carefully planned, and brilliantly executed, even if he did say so himself.

But Joxer just wanted the illusion, so that’s all Autolycus gave him. One of these days the guy was going to fill him in on what exactly he had been doing these past few years.

Living in the mortal world, pretending to be nothing more than a buffoon, crushing on Gabrielle, of all ludicrous notions…

Autolycus sighed. Someday.

*

Joxer appeared in Megara just outside of the cave. He could feel the life force of those inside. There was a priest. Old for a mortal, but not too old. The rogue Goddess was there, her anger and anxiety almost a living thing. But above that, he could sense the other life.

Life as old as time itself, and yet still young, not ready to re-enter the world.

He still had time.

Joxer took a deep breath and concentrated, letting some, but not all of his shields fall. There could be no error. The entity needed to feel another presence, his presence, yet he didn’t want any other god alerted.

He sighed as he felt the prick of awareness from the cocoon. It was now anxious to get out, but the sacrifice still had to be made, and until it was, it was trapped.

Joxer smiled.

*

“Xena, Stop!” Gabrielle used her staff to point in a field in the valley below. They were just outside of Megara. “We have to save that girl.”

Xena’s eyes looked to where Gabrielle was pointing and sighed heavily. She was conflicted. They were so close to their destination, and she was so tired from traveling all night, but she couldn’t, in good conscious ignore that girl’s plight. Even though her redemption was little more than a facade, she still had something in her that drove her to help those weaker and less fortunate than herself.

Her time with Gabrielle had blurred some of the violence bred into her. She was still her father’s daughter, but her destruction had a purpose now.

She made a clicking noise and moved Argo’s reins and rode towards the direction of the girl and what was apparently happening.

A young blond girl was tied to a wood post, while several robed priests chanted, preparing for what appeared to be some sort of ritual.

Yelling her battle cry, Xena flipped off of her horse, her chakram in hand and flew at the priests, leaving Gabrielle to take care of the girl.

The fight was brief and ended with more dead than living.

Gabrielle was staring at the girl in disbelief.

Walking closer, Xena couldn’t decide if the shock came from the fact that the girl, Serafina, was familiar, or the fact that Serafina was yelling at Gabrielle for saving her.

*

Ares flashed into Megara, just behind Joxer. The younger man didn’t flinch. In fact, he made no motion to indicate he even knew Ares was there. Ares reached out to touch him, surprisingly hesitant but stopped just short of making contact.

“I spoke to Apollo,” Joxer said quietly.

“Strife told me you returned the statue,” Ares answered.

Joxer shrugged. “You were right. This has gone on long enough.”

Ares motioned towards the cave nearby, “And what of Callisto and Hope?” He asked.

If Joxer was at all surprised by Ares knowing precisely who was inside the cave, or why he was there, he didn’t show it. “It’s time to finish this.” Joxer turned to look at the War-god for the first time. “How far is Xena?”

Ares concentrated for a second. “Not far. It seems she was waylaid. A young woman…coming here as well.”

Joxer nodded. “The sacrifice.” He turned back to view the cave. “There isn’t much time.”

“When this is over, will you come home?” Ares asked suddenly.

“I have no home, not anymore,” Joxer repeated his earlier words. “Nothing changes that.”

“You, could.” Ares placed one hand on Joxer and turned him around, his dark eyes staring into the inky ones of the young god. He thought he had figured out what was going on, and wanted some kind of promise that when this madness and whatever had caused it was over, Joxer would forget this charade. Ares wanted…he wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted, but he knew he wanted something, and it was tied up in this young man, God or not.

“To what end?” Joxer asked sadly. “I have no purpose there…not in the Underworld, and not on Olympus.”

“Jayce and Jett miss you,” Ares said quietly, knowing this to be true, but using them as a way of avoiding the real reason.

Joxer shook his head sadly. “They have purpose. Jett has found his place in the house of War, with Eris, as it should be. Jayce loves Ace, and he has the freedom to do what he pleases. That too is as it should be. But I don’t have that. My time has not yet come. The things I’ve seen, the things that I know will come to pass, are still too far in the future.

“So what…until then, you’re just going to wander… there is so much more. So much you could do. You could…we could…” Ares found himself uncharacteristically at a loss for words.

“Ares.” Joxer sighed, suddenly weary. “This is not the time.”

“Joxer.” Ares grip tightened. “Promise me that when this…business is finished, you’ll come see me, that we’ll talk about this. I…”

His words were stopped when Joxer abruptly kissed him. “Don’t say it.” He whispered against his lips.

“I love you,” Ares said it anyway and then flashed out before Joxer could make any more protests. Joxer had made no verbal promises, but the kiss alone was evidence that he would at least think about it.

Joxer closed his eyes slowly. “I love you too.” He whispered into the air.

His past with Ares was complicated at best. Their attraction had always been there. Their feelings were deep and beyond the voicing of words. They had never been involved, never spoken of it. In truth, they hadn’t spent much time together, but before the vision that had started all this madness, Joxer believed it was only a matter of time before Ares came to him.

His own father had told him as much, and his mother assured him that though she did not psychically see any future for them, even she felt their auras, and how connected they had always been. Joxer had accepted, even welcomed a future when they would further this unspoken connection.

Then the vision had come, and everything was different. Joxer had to lie and hide and pretend to be something he was not. All to save humanity in a future so far away that it almost seemed surreal.

But perhaps, if he succeeded, he would do as Ares asked.

Perhaps.

*

Ares watched as a tied up Serafina, strapped to Argo’s back, tried to explain to Gabrielle and Xena that she chose to be a Sacrifice to her Goddess. That it was what she wanted.

As they walked closer to Megara, Gabrielle was trying to explain that Callisto was a psychopath, and she shouldn’t waste her life for such a person.

About that time, Xena realized that the Goddess Serafina was referring to was not Callisto, but something far, far worse.

Xena grabbed Argo’s reins and picked up the pace.

Ares smiled at the grim expression on his daughter’s face, snatched the girl and flashed out.

*

Callisto paced back and forth in front of the pulsing cocoon, a cowering priest in front of her as he tried to explain about the missing sacrifice.

“Find her!” She shrieked.

But before the priest could do much more than stand, there was a flash of sparkles and standing less than a foot away from the cocoon was Ares, holding the shocked Serafina. “Lose something?”

*

Joxer watched with resignation as Xena and Gabrielle approached the cave, their bodies tense, ready for a fight.

Once they were inside, he followed and sealed the entrance. No one else was getting in or out until it was over.

He remained hidden in the shadow of the cave and watched as Xena and Gabrielle tried to make their way to the large oval shaped cocoon sitting on a large platform.

Callisto engaged Xena while Gabrielle went after the girl.

They were too late to stop the beginnings of her emergence. Serafina already had her bloodied hand laying flat against the surface of the cocoon, a peaceful expression on her face as the Cocoon started to pulsate more frequently.

“What now?” Ares whispered as he appeared next to Joxer.

“Now we wait,” Joxer whispered back as pieces of the cocoon started to break off.

*

Gabrielle stared in shock as the cocoon opened and a messy, dripping figure emerged. A figure that looked remarkably like herself.

Xena and Callisto stopped in their fight long enough to watch.

The figure stepped out of the cocoon and wiped some of the thick white substance off her face. She smiled at Gabrielle malevolently. “Hello, Mother.”

*

The stillness in the cave was almost supernatural in its intensity. Gabrielle and Xena seemed frozen in shock. Callisto was looking from the newly emerged Goddess to the bard, with an odd expression of glee on her face.

Ares crept to Xena’s side as she slowly came out of her shock and just as she was about to throw her chakram he placed a firm hand on her shoulder. “No, daughter.”

She turned to him, not entirely surprised to see him there.

Gabrielle had begun to walk slowly towards the creature wearing her face. It was unclear if she intended to harm it or not, but in a matter of seconds, her intentions were irrelevant.

Joxer, ignored by everyone in the cavern, either because he was not noticed or because he was deemed inconsequential, had stayed near the back. He flexed his long-dormant power briefly, and a heavy ax appeared in his long nimble fingers. The weapon was thrown with unerring accuracy, decapitating its target in a swift but deadly motion.

*

Eris and Strife continued to monitor the war in Thebes. It was nearly over, and soldiers from both sides were gathering their dead while the Generals met in a hut to the side of the primary battle area.

Many men had died, and many would return home with debilitating injuries, yet they would return home. Hercules was pleased though confused by whether his admittedly inept interference had played a part in the ceasing of hostilities.

Iolaus pointed off to his right to where Strife and Eris had just disappeared from. “Where do you think Ares is?” He asked curiously.

Hercules’ eyes tracked to where his friend pointed. “Who knows? Probably out causing more war.”

Iolaus shook his head. “Herc, even you have to admit this war has been brewing for nearly a decade.”

Hercules nodded. “Maybe, but that doesn’t mean Ares had nothing to do with it.”

Iolaus opened his mouth to respond, then shut it. It was pointless to try to talk to his friend about any of the gods. He had his own opinions, and they weren’t likely to change any time soon.

*

Hope watched as her mother’s head rolled across the cave floor. When it stopped, it was only a meter away, the eyes staring sightlessly up at her. She turned to look at the person who had thrown the ax. Her eyes widening when she took in the man standing at the front of the cave, just inside the entrance. He was thin and pale. At first glance, he appeared to be nothing more than a weak mortal.

The reborn goddess cocked her head to the side and used her otherworldly senses to take the man in a second time. “Who are you?” She finally asked, her voice thick, and slightly puzzled.

Joxer stepped closer to her, his eyes turning black. Hope thought for a moment she saw smoke rising from them, but then it was gone, and she smiled. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t stop me. You can’t stop what my father has begun. It’s already too late.”

“I know.” Joxer acknowledged, stepping past a bewildered Xena, and awed Ares.

Hope continued as if Joxer hadn’t spoken. “My father’s creations are even now roaming this world, breeding.” She smiled evilly at him. “In time, there will be nothing of this world that can stop them.”

“Not of this world, no.” Joxer allowed, stepping even closer, raising one hand, palm up.

“You can’t kill me,” Hope said confidently.

Joxer raised the other hand, and a flash of power left both palms, seeking out the Goddess and enveloping her in some sort of bubble. “Who said anything about killing you?” Joxer asked quietly. He reached out with a power only he possessed and wrapped strands of power around Hope, until she froze, trapped in a time bubble Chronos himself couldn’t break.

*

Nyx looked at her three daughters. “It is done.”

“Yes, mother,” Atropos said as Gabrielle’s thread was cut cleanly.

“What will happen now?” Clotho asked quietly, sadness for her nephew in her voice.

“Only time will tell, my daughter. For his sake, I hope he finds his happiness because alone he cannot stop what is to come.”

*

Callisto shrieked when she realized that Hope was stuck in some kind of bubble, frozen. “No!” She shouted and began to run towards Joxer. “What have you done?”

Joxer held up his hand, and Callisto froze mid-run. “You made a deal with Hope?” He asked the rogue goddess. Her body was frozen, but unlike Hope, she wasn’t stuck in a time bubble, she was still conscious, and the movement of her eyes betrayed this fact. “In exchange for helping her, she would grant you death?” He asked quietly.

Callisto tried to move but couldn’t. Her eyes were the only part that wasn’t trapped. Xena shook her father’s arm off and walked towards her nemesis. She was still in shock over what happened to Gabrielle but realized that something much more significant than the rebirth of her lover’s daughter was going on. “I’d be happy to oblige.” She hissed.

Joxer shook his head but didn’t face Xena directly. “She wants a true death...oblivion. No afterlife, no Tartarus.” He looked at Callisto and smiled, but the expression was not in the least reassuring. “I could give you that...but I won’t.” He waved a hand, and Callisto’s body burst into flame.

Eventually, the flames disappeared leaving behind nothing but a pile of ash.

*

Xena stared in apparent shock from the ash on the ground to the lifeless body of her friend. “What just happened here?” She asked her father, who still stood nearby.

Joxer turned to her and answered for the War God. “Hope has a destiny to fulfill.”

Xena’s eyes narrowed. “What sort of destiny?”

Joxer sighed and turned back towards the time bubble. He concentrated for a moment and it, and the trapped Goddess inside disappeared. Without turning back to the Warrior Princess, he began to speak. “You were right...and you were wrong.”

Xena observed him, not entirely sure what he was trying to say. Before she could ask, everything around her seemed to shimmer, and when the room stopped spinning, she noticed she wasn’t in the cave any longer. Instead, she found herself in what looked to be a temple, but unlike one she had ever seen. There was no altar, no throne of any kind and thick tapestries were covering all the walls.

The tapestries depicting strange, terrifying creatures engaged in battles even she found disturbing. Some creatures had horns and tails, others had limbs where there shouldn’t be. The closest thing to a mortal she could see was a dangerous looking creature with golden eyes and sharp fangs. Similar to the bachai, but yet different.

“Where are we?” Xena asked quietly, examining each and every image.

“My temple,” Joxer answered.

“You’re still a God, aren’t you?” Xena asked, suddenly turning to her friend. When he didn’t answer right away, she turned towards her father, who was making his own perusal of the tapestries, though from his expression she could tell the images weren’t quite so shocking to him.

“He’s the God of Demonic Prophecy,” Ares answered for Joxer. “He sees things that are to come.” He motioned a hand towards the horrific images. “These...things have not yet been created, well some of them have, but most of them, they are the future of this world.”

“A future you can’t stop?” Xena guessed, remembering something Joxer had said.

“These are Dahok’s creations,” Joxer spoke quietly, his voice sounding odd in the room, tense and sad. “They can’t be stopped. Hope was right. It has already begun. There is no way to destroy them, not now. But...there may be a chance,...there may be hope.” He smiled a humorless smile at his inadvertent pun. “Though they were created by Dahok, he himself a Dark God, the evil he creates cannot be destroyed by any God. Only mortals can stop what he has begun.”

“But how...they look too dangerous.” Xena pointed to an extremely vicious picture.

Joxer nodded. “Hope, as the child of Dahok can be used to create something stronger and faster than most mortals. Something whose sole purpose for being is to destroy that which Dahok has created. A...slayer of the demons that will one day roam this world.”

Xena sighed. “This is what you meant, earlier, about hurting someone you loved. You knew Gabrielle would have to die.”

Joxer nodded. “If she had lived Dahok could have tried again. Used Gabrielle to create another child.”

“Why Gabrielle?”

“I’m not sure. I only know that Gabrielle was chosen by Krafstar for a reason and once chosen she was the only one who could bear Hope.” He paused. “I’m sorry...about Gabrielle and Solan. I’m sorry I couldn’t warn you, or stop it, but…”

Xena cut him off. “If you saved them, the rest of the world would suffer. Maybe not today, but someday.” Xena nodded in understanding. She took a deep breath. “I need some time, but I do understand.” She hugged Joxer and walked towards what appeared to be the door.

Joxer watched her walk away sadly before turning to look at Ares. “How long have you known?” He asked, not completely surprised that Ares seemed to know the truth.

Ares shrugged. “Not long.” He looked deep into the younger god’s eyes, seeing the familiar inky blackness that had been missing for the past few years while Joxer hid in the mortal world.

“This isn’t over,” Joxer said quietly as he stepped closer to the War God. “I must keep an eye on the demons he created, watch them.”

Ares nodded. “You can do that as a God again. You don’t need to pretend anymore.”

“Maybe not, but Olympus isn’t my home. It never was.”

Ares shrugged. “It could be.” He stepped closer and ran a hand gently along Joxer’s jaw. “It will be a long time before you’re needed in the mortal world.”

Joxer leaned into the touch, allowing himself something he had denied could ever be his. “I know.”

“I need you now,” Ares whispered as he closed the distance between them, their lips brushing almost gently.

“Okay,” Joxer whispered when they separated.

*

Strife flashed into the temple he shared with Cupid covered in mud and blood, but looking exhilarated. His good mood vanished when he saw who was waiting for him.

“Apollo.” He said quietly and moved past the Sun God. “What do you want? Don’t you have a festival to attend?”

“As a matter of fact.” Apollo sneered. “An odd thing happened. Just as they were unveiling a new statue, a flock of...birds descended on the townspeople.

“Oh?” Strife asked disinterestedly. “How is that my problem?”

Apollo tried to rein in his temper and scowled. “Artemis tells me these...birds are some sort of hybrid.” He paused. “Between my Swans and your grandmother’s peacocks. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”

Strife couldn’t hold back his laughter anymore. Too bad he had missed the show, but he had work to do. Oh well.

Apollo grabbed the younger god around the throat and lifted him up. “You little ungrateful shit!” He snarled.

“Let me go.” Strife said calmly, though the menace behind the words was apparent.

Something in his tone must have alerted Apollo to the danger because he let go of his son and stepped back.

“You told Joxer that if your...property were returned, you’d leave me alone.” Strife pointed out, trying not to show how affected he was by his father’s proximity.

“I did, but that oath can only be made between two Gods. Joxer is no longer a god, therefore…” He trailed off.

Strife grinned maliciously. “I’m afraid you’re wrong. Joxer is still a God. He always has been.”

Apollo opened his mouth to say something but couldn’t think of anything appropriate.

“I’m afraid he’s right.”

Both Gods turned to the sound of the new voice as Zeus appeared. He nodded to Strife. “Your grandmother’s very upset about these...birds. Fix it.”

Strife looked at the floor and mumbled. “Yes, Grandfather.”

Zeus turned to Apollo. “You gave your word to Joxer. It stands. This...feud between the two of you must end. Now.” Before anything else could be said the King of the God’s disappeared.

Apollo was more than a little pissed-off. He had been manipulated, that much was apparent, but how much of this was his own fault? “I only wanted…”

“I know.” Strife interrupted. “But it’s too late.” Strife shook his head. “If I was that important to you…” He couldn’t even finish his sentence. He was tired of fighting with Apollo but more than that he was tired of hating him. Still, he couldn’t quite forgive him for abandoning him.

“Is it?” Apollo asked quietly. “You can’t forgive me?”

Strife looked up, his eyes locking on Apollo’s for the first time in many years. “I don’t know. Maybe. Let me think about it.”

Apollo nodded. “Fair enough.” He looked around at the temple. It was the first time he’d ever been inside, and he could clearly see signs of both Cupid’s influence as well as Strife’s. He wanted to ask about that relationship. He wanted to know if they were happy. He wanted to know if Strife had found something in the Love God that Apollo had never come close to, even with all his lovers.

He wanted to know all that and more but realized with a heavy sadness that he hadn’t earned the right to ask.

Maybe someday he would.

Shaking his head, the Sun God disappeared in a subdued flash, leaving his son alone.

*

Joxer sat alone in a small patch of garden that Persephone created for when she was lonely in the Underworld. It was little more than a mirage really, but life still existed here. He knew he had to go see Xena, and had put it off long enough, but he was weary from his visits with both his brothers.

Jayce felt betrayed that he hadn’t been told about his clandestine mission as he insisted on calling it, and Jett felt…left out. Personally, Joxer felt that his older brother just wanted to be the one to kill Gabrielle. But that too was a subject he couldn’t discuss, yet, with them at any rate.

“My son, you are home.”

The softly spoken words stopped the myriad of thoughts in Joxer’s head but did not disturb or surprise him. “Yes, mother.” He started to get up.

“Sit my child.” Hecate sat across from Joxer amid the plant life. “You have been successful?”

Joxer shrugged. “Maybe. Only time will tell.” He looked up into his mother’s onyx eyes. “But at what cost? She was my friend. She…”

Hecate placed a hand across Joxer’s lips to stop his words. “When you first received the vision, did you know who Dahok would choose?”

“No mother,” Joxer admitted.

“And when it became clear, did you know when?”

“No.” Joxer sighed.

“Her death was already written the moment she took that life. The moment Dahok chose her to bear his seed. And once chosen, you know as well as I dear son, that only she could have the power to allow him into this world.”

Joxer nodded. “Perhaps if I had acted more quickly, the child would have never lived to kill Xena’s son…They would have been saved that torment.”

“Perhaps.” Hecate agreed. “But what of the future then? The destroyer was not alone when he came to Gabrielle in Britannia, and they weren’t the only ones. The beginning of Dahok’s progeny had already come through the portal, though even the gods could not detect it. What of your future then?”

“I don’t know mother, I just don’t know. That is a long time away.”

“It is.” She agreed. “But just as I have been here for many centuries, you shall be here for many more, and when that future comes, you will be ready.” She smiled softly at him and winked. “So tell me of young Ares.”

Joxer laughed at his mother’s blatant attempt to change the subject. “Ares is hardly young, and there’s hardly anything worth telling.”

“He helped you, did he not?” She asked.

“Yes,” Joxer admitted.

“I think he has his eye on you.” She said.

He laughed again. Though there was definitely an attraction between them, he couldn’t fathom that Ares had truly meant what he said. He didn’t really know the real Joxer, how could he love him? Besides, his life would prove to be far more complicated than that of the other Olympians. Why would someone who would one day inherit the throne of Olympus want to be burdened by such uncertainty?

Joxer shook his head at the Goddess. “Ares? You have to be joking, mother. Ares is the God of War. What use could he have for a god whose purpose is still millennia away, in a world that does not worship him the way it does now? Besides, he only helped because of Xena, and because I agreed to speak to Apollo.”

Hecate shrugged, neither confirming nor denying her son’s assessment. “And if I am right?”

Joxer couldn’t help the blush that settled on his pale cheeks. Even four years in the mortal world couldn’t change his Underworld heritage. “I wouldn’t be…opposed to the idea.” He admitted.

Hecate stood up. “I must find Sephie and speak to her about that atrocity Hades has in the dining hall, and you my beloved son, have someone to speak to.”

Joxer watched her leave and smiled to himself. He was glad to be home, despite his previous protestations.

*

Apollo appeared in the halls of War and looked around at the grim decorations. His conversations with both his son-in-law, the flashy know-it-all, and his stilted conversation with his own estranged son made him realize perhaps Strife wasn’t the only one who deserved an apology.

“What do you want?” The words were hissed out through clenched teeth just before a dagger was thrown. It missed but only because it was designed to.

Apollo turned around and sighed. They were everywhere. “Where is…your wife?” He said the last two words disdainfully.

Jett wasn’t entirely positive if the disdain came from the idea of monogamous marriage itself or the concept that Eris was married. The God of Assassins didn’t care either. “Are you going to slap her again, or insult her some more? Because I think I can find a drop or two of Hinds blood, just for you.” He smiled.

It wasn’t a friendly smile and sent a shiver of dread down the Sun God’s back.

“I just want to talk to her. No touching, and no insults, I promise.”

“No insults? I must mark this day down…under civil activities never to be repeated.” Eris’ voice arrived before the fiery red sparks that signaled her arrival.

Jett eyed the two for a second and then shrugged. Eris could handle herself. “I’ll just be going…people to kill…father’s who require maiming…you know, the usual.” He disappeared before either Eris or Apollo could say anything.

“He’s…interesting. Where did you find him?” Apollo asked slyly, feeling much more comfortable with Jett gone.

“Ah, ah…you promised.” She grinned. “As I understand it, you’ve been doing that a lot lately. Making promises.”

Apollo snarled. “That was unfair. I didn’t know Joxer still had his godhood, or I never would have…” He trailed off realizing what he was saying.

Eris rolled her eyes. “For a God of Intelligence, among other useless things, you seem to be seriously lacking. Why would a former god make an oath that held no promise of being fulfilled? Even you should have realized…”

Apollo waved her words away. “That’s not why I’m here.”

“Ah, yes, an apology I believe it was.”

“Yes.” Apollo scowled. “I’m sorry.”

“For what exactly? For getting me drunk and having your wicked way with me at one of ‘Dite’s parties? For treating me like shit and abandoning our son, ignoring him for three hundred years, or for being a general ass?”

“For being a general ass.” Apollo admitted though he couldn’t help to add, “Three centuries is nothing.”

“Perhaps to those of us who have lived many more than that, but to a godling to is ostracized because of the house he was born to, and hated by most…three hundred years is way too long.”

“You’re right.” Apollo agreed with little grace.

Eris raised another brow. “Another never to be repeated event?”

“Look, just… I want him to talk to me.”

Eris took a step closer to the God she had hated as long as her son had been alive. “Then earn it.”

She disappeared in a shower of angry sparks, leaving Apollo alone in a place he was clearly not wanted.

*

Joxer arrived in Amphipolis in a silent flash, invisible to mortal eyes, yet the woman known by some in years past as the destroyer of nations and by many in current times as the warrior princess stopped, sword at the ready.

She had learned long before either of those titles could be applied to her that her simple village was not immune to violence. She had learned that lesson long ago, but learning itself was a journey. A journey she was not entirely confident she would take back if given a chance.

“Who’s there?” She asked the empty air, feeling the presence of a god, though she could tell it wasn’t her father, not this time.

A shimmer and Joxer became visible, a sheepish look on his face. “You should know not even Hercules can sense us the way you can.”

“So you’re back to being a god then?” Xena asked, re-sheathing her sword.

Joxer sighed. “I never really stopped.” He motioned over towards an old well, long since dry, which had a stone bench near it. “Xena, it’s…complicated, but I felt…you deserved some sort of explanation.”

Xena sat next to him and nodded for him to continue. “I assume Ares was the one to tell you I was a god. Did he tell you of what? Or anything about my family…my immediate family? My parents?”

“No, not really. Just what I heard...that day. Before, when he first asked me to look after you, he only said that you were not connected to the House of War and that your ties remained in Hades domain.”

“He asked you to look after me?” Joxer asked, surprised. “When?”

“Just before we met. Father told me I was going to meet someone soon, and that he wanted me to keep them safe.” Xena admitted, remembering the odd request.

Joxer filed this information away. He would definitely have to talk to Ares about it, but later.

Xena cocked her head slightly trying to remember something long forgotten. “He said something once, about you. It didn’t make any sense. He was almost…remorseful.”

“What was it?” Joxer asked, almost afraid of the answer.

“That death was your gift.”

*

Ares appeared in the Underworld in a flash of blue sparks. Various shades waiting to be sorted clustered in one end of a large chamber while Hades sat on his massive throne. He frowned when he saw Persephone wasn’t with him. He knew it was her time in the Underworld and was hoping to find his uncle in a good mood.

“What do you want?” Hades asked with more weariness than anger.

“I have a petition.”

Hade’s brow rose. He couldn’t recall collecting anybody that would be of such importance to the God of War. Finally, he shrugged. “Let’s hear it.”

“It’s not for you,” Ares admitted, looking around the large room.

Hades smiled faintly, understanding. He nodded his head slightly to the cluster of shades. “Than? You have a visitor.”

From the middle of shades, a mist rose. It was thick and black, more like smoke than anything else. Even when it was in front of the War God, its shape could only vaguely resemble a man. Ares idly wondered if Joxer and his brothers could achieve this effect and what it would mean if they could.

The shape appeared to nod and moved away from Ares and into a darkened corridor. Before he got too far, Hades voice stopped him.

“Ares? Sephie’s topside with Hecate. Be thankful you didn’t catch them both at the same time.” The lord of the Underworld smiled ferally, causing a shiver to run down Ares’ spine.

//You’ve come about Joxer?// The words were more mental than verbal but equally understood.

“Yes.” Ares nodded uncomfortably. He wasn’t used to this. His…conquests were always easy to acquire and more often than not, hardly worth the effort, even if it had taken him any. But Joxer was not a conquest, and things had to be done correctly.

Thanatos waited patiently, a smile Ares couldn’t see forming as he easily picked up the War God’s thoughts. He sighed internally. Joxer was the last of his boys to choose a mate, and as he had been unaware of the real circumstances for the past several years, was more than slightly worried it would turn out to be that dreadful bard. Though, as a mortal, she would eventually die and free Joxer to choose a real mate. But Ares…he was a much more worthy mate.

“I wish…” Ares interrupted Thanatos’ thoughts with his hesitant words. He took a deep breath and continued. “I wish to court him.”

Thanatos seemed to nod his head. //Permission granted. However, you must be aware he makes the final decision. If he says no…// Nothing else was said.

Nothing else needed to be said. Ares nodded once, firmly. “Thank you.” He turned around abruptly and left the corridor before Thanatos could change his mind.

Death laughed. It was good to scare the big guys every once in a while.

*

Joxer sighed heavily. “I suppose he was right,” Joxer admitted, though he couldn’t fathom what about that would make the God of War remorseful. “My father is Thanatos, of the Underworld.”

Xena blinked. Jett, she could easily see as a son of Death. But somehow Jayce didn’t seem to fit, and the Joxer Xena had known these past years didn’t either. Even though she knew that he wasn’t the person he pretended to be. That kindness, the heart he had shown, that was real.

Joxer smiled ruefully though there was sadness in his eyes. “Death has its place, Xena of Amphipolis, you, of all the warriors I’ve seen, both in the mortal world, and growing up in the Underworld should know that. Just as I’m sure, you know War has its place. Your continued service to your father proves that,”

Xena nodded. “Yes, I do know that. But…”

Joxer shook his head. “No.  In life there is death, and sometimes in death, there is life.”

“Gabrielle?” Xena asked, the word painful to hear, even from her own mouth.

*

Ares was just about to leave the Underworld and return to his own temple when he felt the pull of another God, one much stronger, and older than he.

“Not so fast, young man.”

Ares stiffened his shoulders and turned around. The Goddess wore a black flowing dress, and her eyes were as black as night. “Hecate.”

She smiled, but the look in her eyes didn’t change. “My husband tells me you wish to court Joxer?” She asked him regally.

Ares was reminded of why few wanted to engage Hecate in any sort of discourse. She was utterly unreadable, often a mystery, and more often than not, to be feared.

“Yes.” He admitted. {If I can face Death himself, I can meet this} He told himself sternly.

“Good luck,” Hecate said seriously.

“Will I need it?” He asked, unsure if he wanted to know the answer

“Luck?” She shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “But perhaps you should be asking yourself if you are ready for what it means to be mated to one who sees what other’s can’t?” She took a step closer to the War God. “Have you ever tried to imagine what it must be like to have vivid dreams, waking nightmares, of things both created and not…things that will face this world at some unforetold time? To write these things down for future generations of mortal man, to be vague enough to forewarn, and yet not tip the balance on either side?”

The older woman smiled slightly as she saw the understanding dawn in Ares’ eyes. “You know in everything there is a balance. For every life there is death, for every war, there is a time of peace, and for every good, there must be evil.”

“And he sees that evil?” Ares asked, still not entirely sure of what Joxer’s godhood meant. For years, Joxer’s identity was tied more with his friendship with Strife and his family ties in the Underworld than with his own Godhood.

“Perhaps, you should ask him.” Hecate smiled sadly and disappeared, silently wishing them both well. They would need it in the time to come.

*

“She saved people?” Xena asked quietly. “Her death I mean?” That thought might give her peace, in time.

“Yes. Dahok was a dark God, true, but not from what we perceive of like our world, our…dimension. His only way in was through a blood innocent…one who could bear his child, bring forth his progeny, a force of…evil even you can’t quite comprehend.”

“But you can?” She asked quietly. “You’ve seen it.”

“Yes.” Joxer swallowed. This next part was going to be difficult to explain. “Once Gabrielle was chosen, once she lost that innocence, she was his only way in. Only through her, could the child be born, or reborn. It could have happened again.” He admitted quietly.

Xena shuddered, remembering the first birth of the baby Hope. She took a deep breath, forcing her next words out. “What if she had died sooner? In Rome, or Sparta or…”

Joxer shook his head. “No, I’m sorry.” He smiled sadly. “Ironically Gabby chose the right name for her child.”

“Hope?” Xena asked. She had always thought it contrary.

“Yes, for only she can bear the hope of mankind.”

“Offspring?” Xena nearly gasped, understanding for the first time how Joxer’s timing had to be perfect. “She’ll have a child…another God?” Xena asked, unsure how she felt about that eventuality.

Joxer shook his head and smiled softly. “No, not a God. Just a girl.”

“Just a girl?” Xena asked more than slightly confused by both Joxer’s expression and the fact that a grandchild of Dahok’s could be just anything.

“Just a girl, yes, but a chosen girl,” Joxer admitted, images of future generations of such girls flashing inside his mind.

“Chosen for what?” Xena asked, curious despite herself.

Joxer’s face took on a tinge of sadness as he recited the phrase that would one day, in its own way, become more than a description.

“One girl in all the world, a Chosen One, one born with the strength and skill to hunt the unnamable creatures that roam this world, and to stop the spread of their evil.”

 

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2 Comments:

  1. That was amazing. I’m pretty sure I see hints of what’s to come, and if I’m right it’ll be fantastic. I loved all the interplay between the gods and how you defined their relationships. It was so well done and none of it felt like having information shoved at me. Thank you so much for sharing, it was so fantastic! 😀

  2. Good story, i enjoyed reading it

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