Xena was wandering around the party, watching all that was going on but not really paying attention. She thought back on what Ares had said to her about the drought and saw her own blind ignorance for what it was. She had assumed that Ares caused these wars for his own gratification, but if the other wars had underlying purposes like this one...
Then she thought back on some of her past encounters with Ares; his frustration at his plans being thwarted. If he were just causing the wars for his pleasure, he would have been angry, but the frustration seemed to suggest that she had interrupted something of greater importance. Paling slightly, she wondered how many people she had caused to suffer by her own actions since she'd started seeking her redemption.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Jace talking with Hera and a goddess who she didn't know. Seeing Jace reminded her of Joxer, and her shock at the revelations of the day. Joxer wasn't who she thought he was. The moment she saw him walking up the aisle and realized what was about to happen, Xena became angry. She had let out an audible squeak when she forced herself to remain in her place. She couldn't accept it. [Maybe I'm asleep,] she had thought. But as the ceremony began, she knew that she was witnessing reality. As the ceremony continued, she began to think that if she could talk to Joxer, maybe she could convince him to stay away from Ares for his own sake. Then Aphrodite spoke his title, 'God of Mischief'. Joxer was the new god of Mischief. She suddenly knew that Joxer had been responsible for some of the more colorful events of the past few days.
Then she remembered the events of that very morning. Joxer had joined up with them at daybreak and he had tried to be friendly. Gabrielle had been rude and nasty, she had even gone so far as to hit him. None of that was anything new, what was unusual was that Joxer had stood up for himself and told her off.
Xena had to admit to herself that Joxer was right. She hadn't really noticed it before but Gabrielle really was mean. As Xena thought back, she realized that Gabrielle was just this side of nasty to every man they knew, unless she wanted something from them. Gabrielle tended to treat Hercules and Iolaus like dirt too, just not as openly as she treated Joxer. No one could doubt her dislike for Autolycus. A few minutes ago she had made her way through the line to offer her congratulations, she had surprised herself because she found that she was honestly happy for them, maybe even a little envious when she saw the feelings that they shared.
A voice spoke her name behind her, interrupting her thoughts.
Xena turned to see Anteros give her a questioning look.
"I'm sorry, did you say something?" Xena said to him quietly.
"I just said that Dad asked me to see that you get home, so whenever you've finished here, I'll take you." Anteros replied calmly.
"I'd like to go now, if you don't mind. I have some thinking to do." Xena said with a contemplative look in her eyes.
"Where would you like to go? Back to the battlefield? To your friend?"
"To my... to Gabrielle, if you don't mind." Xena replied somewhat distracted.
Anteros gently took Xena's hand in his own and they flashed out.
* * * * *
Ares held closely to Joxer as he knocked on Strife's door.
"Unc, Jox, what'r ya doin here? Ain'cha gettin married?" Strife asked with surprise.
"We just did, but we needed to talk with you before we do anything else." Ares said seriously.
Strife picked up on his uncle's serious tone and ushered them into his room to sit.
"Hep asked us what we wanted for a wedding gift, and we told him that we wanted you returned to life." Ares said without bravado.
Strife was speachless for a moment. Then he asked, "Did Cupe ask ya ta do this?"
Joxer shook his head and replied, "No, Cupid has been dealing with his divorce. We asked for you to be resurrected because we care about you."
Strife looked at Joxer shyly and said, "Thanks Jox, ya know, tha dead can hear it when tha livin think 'bout 'em. Yer one a'tha few mortals what cared when I died. An I always knew that Unc cared. But I don't know what I'd do if I came back."
"What would you like to do?" Joxer asked quietly.
"I dunno, I jus don wan it ta be like it was b'fore. Ah know ya tried Unc, but I had a pretty crappy life, an I don wanna go back ta that." Strife said sadly.
Ares looked a little hurt but couldn't disagree. Strife had truly had a crappy life. "We can make it better this time... " Ares drifted off with regret filling his voice.
"You had a crappy life before, but you can't do anything to change it while you're still here. If you want something better, you need to be alive to get it. As long as you're dead, you'll never be anything more than what you are right now. The dead don't grow, don't develop, don't find anything new in the future. The dead only find ways to deal with the past because they don't have a present or future." Joxer said firmly.
Ares looked at Joxer with pride then turned to Strife with a nod of agreement.
Strife considered Joxer's words. The dead deal with the past. He had done that, it had taken time but he understood the events that had lead him to this place and who he was. He understood himself better than he ever had in life. And what Joxer said about the future was true, he didn't have any hope for the future because he didn't have any future. He had made peace with his past, but should that be the end? Contentment was a good feeling but was it enough for the rest of his eternity?
"Strife, you've always been like one of my own kids and I miss you. Every time we get together as a family, I notice that you're not there... and it hurts." Ares said sadly.
"Awww, I know Unc, ah feel it each time that happens. If ah do this, what'm I gonna be? Ah mean, Jox's tha godda mischief now." Strife asked with serious contemplation.
"Hep'll decide that. Does it really matter? Besides, Hep likes you, he won't give you anything terrible." Ares said confidently.
"So, will you do it?" Joxer asked excitedly
"Yeah, ah'll do it." Strife said in defeat.
Joxer actually did an Aphrodite styled bounce (no jiggles, of course) as Ares gave a full smile.
Ares eyes defocused as he mentally called to Hephaistos to give him the good news. Then Ares jumped out of his chair and grabbed Strife into a hug.
"Hep said that Hades agreed!"
Joxer grabbed onto Strife and Ares to make it a three-way hug. Ares stopped his hugging as he received another message.
Ares pulled away from the hug and said, "Strife, we're going back to the main hall on Olympus. Hades will summon you in a minute. Hephaistos said that we can do this right now. Since everyone's gathered at the wedding reception, we're going to get them all to donate power to your resurrection."
"Get goin, Ah'll be right b'hind'ja" Strife said with a big grin.
Ares and Joxer flashed out leaving an excited Strife behind to wait.
* * * * *
Hephaistos and Hades walk to the front of the main hall. Hephaistos raised his hands and all the torches began to sputter and flare for a moment to gain everyone's attention. When the room quieted, Hephaistos said loud enough for all in the room to hear, "As a gift to Joxer and Ares on their wedding day, Hades has agreed to resurrect Strife. All those assembled who would be willing to donate their own power to this task, gather in a circle in the center of the hall."
The crowd cleared a circle in the center of the hall, and gods began milling around, some to join the circle, others to avoid it. Ares and Joxer appeared in the hall as the circle was beginning to form. Ares noticed that all his godly children were standing in a row to donate their energy to Strife. As he looked around the other members of the circle, he was happy to see that most of the members of the house of war were among them, however; Eris was not there.
Some of the other members of the circle surprised him. To Hades' right stood Persephone, Thanatos, Celeste, and Charon. Either Strife had made some friends in Asphodel or he had annoyed them to the point that they would give of their own energy to be rid of him.
Ares wasn't really surprised to see Hestia in the circle, she had always had a soft spot for her mischief maker. And Ganymede was there too. He seemed the type to try and help anyone.
Ares was glad to see that Jett and Jace were willing to help. Ares hadn't gotten to know them personally, but from what Joxer had told him, Jett appeared to be a cold hearted bastard, but Joxer had assured him that it was just for show. And Jace gave the appearance of being flighty and shallow but that was also a facade. A movement from Hades caught Ares attention.
As the gods stopped moving around the hall, Hades stepped forward and produced a stone table in the middle of the circle. Hades then waved his hand over the table and the insubstantial shade of Strife was laying on the table, as if asleep.
Hades looked around the circle briefly then focused his attention back on Strife. Hades produced a knife and cut the palm of his right hand. He held the bleeding hand over Strife and allowed the blood to drip into the shade. The blood didn't seem to pass through, but was absorbed, causing a swirling in Strife's form. In a voice like a trance, Hades said, "Just as a parent gives of their life's essence to create a child, I give of my blood to give substance again to Strife. I give my own life's essence in his re-creation, therefore I claim him as my blood and heir." Persephone stared in shock for a moment then walked beside her husband and took the knife from his hand. She cut her own palm and likewise let her blood flow into Strife while saying, "I give my own life's blood to Strife's re-creation and claim Strife to be my own blood and heir." Then Hades and Persephone stepped back into their place in the circle.
Hades again spoke, "Join me now, donate power so that Strife may live again."
Every god in the circle, even Bliss, raised their hands and began to focus their power on the cloudy shade of Strife. Colorful streams of power flowed together to form a solid white power surrounding Strife. The white light began pulsing like a heartbeat. When the pulsing became a steady rhythm Hades lowered his hands. Then, one by one, the other gods followed his lead. The light continued it's steady pulse, but began shifting colors until it became a pulse of darkness. Finally with one last pulse, the darkness was absorbed and Strife began to gasp for breath.
Hephaistos walked up to the stone table and helped Strife into a sitting position. After giving Strife a hug he looked around the circle of gods and announced, "Let all of Olympus hear me, May I introduce to the host of Olympus, Strife, God of Unnatural Creatures, Son of Hades and Persephone, and Heir to the throne of Asphodel."