Hades walked over to Hephaistos and Strife. He asked Hephaistos, "Do you mind if I have a moment alone with Strife to explain things?"
"Of course not, you can use my study if you like." Hephaistos responded with a smile.
Hades helped Strife off the table and led him out of the main hall, figuring that Strife probably wasn't up to a transport yet.
In the background they heard Hephaistos saying, "Give Strife a few minutes to get his bearings, then you can all give your congratulations."
They entered the study and sat on some comfortable chairs. Strife looked at Hades and asked, "So what's tha deal? Why did Heph say I was yer son?"
Hades took a moment to formulate his answer. "The flesh that Eris bore died a year ago. The flesh you now inhabit was made from the blood of Persephone and myself. In that way, you are our son because you are made of parts of both of us. You are also our child by choice, we both freely decided that we wanted you as our son. You have been in my house for the past year, and it has been a pleasure getting to know you. I don't know if or when you'll be able to accept us as your parents but we hope that you will. We will not force you; you are not a prisoner. You are free to go where you want and be who you want. Just please consider being our son, we both want you to be."
"Ah dunno, Ah mean its what ah wanted alla my life, my old life, but it seems kinda strange to have parents that want me." Strife said sadly.
"I know Str... son. All I'm asking is that you give it a try." Hades asked sincerely.
"Ah'll try... Dad."
Hades pulled his new son into a hug and held him for a peaceful moment until Strife started to laugh.
"What's funny?" Hades asked, puzzled.
"This means Ah get ta call Demeter Grandma, don't it?" Strife asked through chuckles.
Hades smiled at the thought and said, "I suppose it does."
"That's just gonna shit her right up the wall." Strife said, breaking into a full laugh.
"Strife!... Language... " Hades said in a stern, fatherly tone.
Strife stopped laughing and put a properly chastised look on his face.
Then Hades started to laugh and said, "Yep, right up the wall."
And they were both off on a laughing fit.
* * * * *
Hades returned to the main hall with his arm around his new son's shoulders. The procession of well-wishers came to them and Strife was surprised to find that he was enjoying the attention. In his previous life he would have been wanting to escape from it. It entertained him to see the god's reactions. Some of his relatives obviously couldn't care less that he was alive, they just made their way through the line because it was expected of them.
Then there were the others. Phobos and Deimos actually danced him around in a circle when they had their turn in line. Harmonia had been crying tears of happiness and gave him what was probably the most tender hug that he had received in either life.
Cupid made his way to the front of the line and gave Strife a big, deep kiss and a bear hug. Strife looked into Cupid's tear-filled eyes and whispered, "Cupe, ya got d'vorced taday n ah came back to life n got me some new parents. Can ya gimme a coupla days ta deal b'fore we try anythin?" Cupid just nodded and hugged him again before moving on to let someone else have a turn.
Soon Ares made his way through the line and gave his own hug of congratulations. Ares told Strife seriously, "Your old room is just as you left it, Joxer won't be needing it after all, obviously. So whenever you want to come to stay for a while, there is always a place for you."
Strife nodded seriously then his serious look gave way to his old mischevious smile and he whispered conspiratorially, "So are ya ready ta give Jox the weddin night workout, Unc? Wait... I guess it's Cuz now ain't it?"
Ares gave Strife a suspicious, 'What in Hades' name are you talking about' look.
Strife continued with a giggle, "Zeus is yer dad, Hades is my dad, Zeus and Hades are brothahs, that makes us cousins!"
Ares shook his head with exasperation. "If you insist, but to tell you the truth, I've grown accustomed to 'Unc'." He said with a guilty smile.
"Me too, Unc. So, whatcha got planned fer the Jox on yer honeymoon?" Strife asked enthusiastically.
"What are you asking? Do you want a blow by blow accounting of my plans?" Ares asked with an indignant growl.
"Naw, I may be a perv, but tha thought of you n the Jox 'doin it' jus don't do a thing fer me. I was jus wonderin if you was gonna go some place special."
"Yes, but it's a secret. We'll tell you about it when we get back." Ares said with a smile.
Joxer then joined them and said, "I just got a prayer from Xena, she has some questions for me and I think I should answer them."
"On our honeymoon?" Ares asked with disbelief.
"It won't be that long, I just have the feeling that she's beginning to understand some things that she didn't before. If I do this now, she might not be as big a pain in your ass later. It's like my wedding present to you." Joxer said with a sly smile.
"Okay, go do what you need to do, but hurry. I don't want to have to start the honeymoon without you..." Ares said with his own version of the sly smile.
"Don't you dare! I'll be back before the party's over..." Joxer said as he flashed out.
Ares looked longingly at the spot where Joxer had been then walked away, leaving Strife to the next person in line.
* * * * *
Joxer appeared with an indigo flash of power, into a moonlit clearing where Xena was sitting on a fallen log. She had a pensive look on her face.
Xena watched as Joxer walked over and sat beside her. "So what did you need to ask me?" Joxer inquired as he made himself comfortable.
"How long?" Xena asked, without emotion.
"How long is what?" Joxer responded with a mischievous glance.
Xena either didn't catch it, or chose not to. "How long have you been a god?" She asked with a hint of anger creeping into her voice.
"Just a few days, the only time I've been around you since it happened was this morning." Joxer answered seriously.
"Are you trying to say that the foul stench coming from Argo wasn't your doing?" Xena asked pointedly.
"No, that was me. My mischief godhood was wanting to play, and I didn't know that it wasn't my idea... Is Argo okay?" Joxer asked penitently.
"Argo's fine." Xena replied, somewhat calmer. "Does that mean you have it under control now?"
"It's not control exactly, but now that I know that the godhood can push me toward certain behavior, I can recognize it and decide if it's what I really want to do." Joxer answered seriously.
"How long have you and my father been together?" She asked absently.
"We've been friends for years, but we just had our first kiss this week. Tonight will be our first time... " Joxer said realizing what he was saying. Then he continued, "Xena, I got the impression that you had some bigger questions to ask.
"Yes, Ares said that the war outside Thebes was to help the people by reducing the number of men, leaving more food for everyone else. So I was wondering if all wars are like that? Helping people, I mean." Xena asked a little apprehensively.
"Some. Wars need to happen for a lot of reasons. Some to control population, some to foster innovation, some to band communities together against a common threat, and some are just to release a build up of aggression. Some of the wars serve a purpose that we don't see until years later. Ares could explain it a lot better, but that's the basis of it." Joxer answered.
"So does that mean that I'm hurting people by trying to stop the wars?" Xena asked in a timid voice.
"No." Joxer said emphatically. "You perform a necessary function by opposing war. The same way that Ares uses war to control the mortal population, you are a force that helps keep war from escalating out of control."
Xena seemed surprised by his answer, so he continued. "Ares doesn't control every aspect of a war, he doesn't know before it happens who will live and who will die. He just guides the wars that are forming to produce the best results, for the greater good."
Xena sat quietly for a moment pondering this, then asked, "Then why does it seem like Ares is fighting me, if I'm needed?"
"Because he is, you're working against his godhood. His godhood tries to resolve aggression by exhausting it through conflict. You try to overcome aggression through understanding and cooperation. Opposing philosophies, plain and simple." Joxer said with a smile.
"But don't I mess up his plans by trying to stop his wars?" She asked thoughtfully.
"Sure, but if he knows you're going to be there, he usually factors your presence into the scenario and makes sure that the things that need to be accomplished happen despite you. And sometimes, he even depends on you to stop the fighting once his goals have been reached." Joxer answered just as thoughtfully.
"So, what should I do now? I mean knowing that war has a purpose, how can I fight against it?"
"That's easy, Fight against the war, because it's the right thing to do. Continue to help people resolve conflicts peacefully. The only difference is that now you can do it without hating your father. He will guide the people who are willing to fight into a situation where it can do the most good." Joxer said, then before Xena could interrupt, he continued, "But without someone to oppose war, people don't know of any other way to resolve their conflicts. These people choose to go to war, and you give them an alternative. Just don't be discouraged when something happens like it did today at Thebes, sometimes it is just necessary and we have to accept it."
Xena sat quietly for a moment, absorbing what Joxer had said before saying, "I need to think about this. It's a lot to deal with."
"I know, I'm going to go now. I have a honeymoon to get to." Joxer said with a happy smile.
Xena smiled as he vanished.
She sat for a while, contemplating what he had said, then made her way through the forest, back to the sleeping form of Gabrielle at their campsite.
* * * * *
Psyche sat alone in her room at the temple of love. She had been angry when she arrived earlier, but now she was livid. If this divorce thing was going to happen anyway, she at least expected to get a good dose of sympathy from the other gods. But No! Ares and Joxer had to get engaged, stealing every bit of her thunder. She had been preparing all day to play the part of the injured party after the divorce was declared, and she had been left standing there, watching Ares spout romantic slop at his boy toy. That was when she had left the hall, before they put on a display that made her physically ill.
Then after arriving back at the temple of love, she heard the announcement that Ares and Joxer were married. She had always disliked Ares because he was trying to take the attention of her Cupid away from her. He deserved to suffer, and now he was married, so he would. What was marriage after all but two people chained together, a battle of wills until one was victorious and the other was left a desiccated shell? Ares and Joxer would soon be locked into their own battle and well out of her way, so she need not worry about them for a while, they wouldn't interfere with any of her plans.
Then, just a few moments ago, the announcement was made that Strife had been brought back to life. She had thought that Callisto had solved her problem when she killed the little freak. Now she was sure that Cupid would go sniffing around Strife, trying to start things up again. She couldn't allow that. Divorce or no, Cupid was hers and no one could have him until she was finished with him. Of course, when she finished with him, no one would want what was left...