The twilight was fleeing Olympus. As always, the air was crisp and clean. True to his nature, Anteros got up and went quickly to watch the sunrise. It was his time of peaceful contemplation before beginning the day.
In a state of serenity, thinking of nothing in particular, Anteros watched the rising sun and enjoyed the spectacular show of colors on the horizon. Finally when the show was complete, he rose and went back into his room to dress and prepare for the day.
He went to Cupid's office, where he had been helping his brother in the mornings to stay on top of the paperwork. Truth be told, he enjoyed this time with his brother. Though they only spoke of business during their mornings, Anteros found that even this small amount of closeness gave him a part of the connection to his brother that he had always wanted... it was enough.
Upon arriving, Anteros was surprised to find the office empty. Cupid was usually punctual. He wasn't in the habit of being late to attend to the paperwork, and if he were going to be, he would always leave a message.
Anteros thought to Cupid, //Cupid, time for work, did you sleep in?//
There was no response. This worried Anteros more than Cupid being late. Cupid was a very light sleeper and if he had slept in, he would immediately be awake and answer a call.
Anteros searched mentally and found Cupid in his room. With a thought, he was there and what he found shocked him speechless for a moment.
Cupid was sitting, arms hugging his knees, staring silently into the distance. There were tears running down his face, leaving salty tracks on his cheeks, and giving evidence that he had been like this for hours.
"Cupid? What's wrong?" Anteros asked in a panic.
Cupid didn't move a muscle. Anteros tried to look at Cupid's mind but found only a toneless rhythmic hum going on in his head. //Asclepius! Something's wrong with Cupid! Come quick!// Anteros called out mentally, in fear.
* * * * *
Jace awoke and thought about the previous evening. He hadn't expected to talk to anyone, he had only planned to do his work and return to his room, alone. But then he talked to Thanatos and his plans had changed.
Thanatos had been quiet and timid at the beginning of their walk, like he was distracted by something. But as the walk continued, he began to open up. Thanatos had asked him why he didn't shrink away from his hideous appearance.
Jace had laughed at that. He had explained that he was a dancer and an actor when he was mortal. He was used to people who wore costumes and affected personas that weren't their own. By having that experience, he had learned to get to know people by their actions rather than their appearance. As an example, he had spoken of Psyche, who he had met briefly. She appeared to be beautiful to the eye, but underneath she was a cold-hearted shrew.
Then he explained that attractive didn't mean internally ugly any more than unattractive meant internally beautiful. As an example he spoke of the bacchae. They were amoral, hedonistic to the extreme, and embraced every vice of mankind. Such creatures were 'icky and gross' from their appearance to the depths of their being.
Thanatos had seemed interested to hear his opinions on such things so he happily shared them. Later he told of his childhood, growing up with his brothers outside Corinth and the good and bad times that they went through.
Soon the story turned to the Widow Twanky who had taken him in and taught him to express himself with dance... and the joy of acting by being someone else for a while.
As expected, Thanatos hadn't said much, but he did tell a little of his life in Asphodel, his friends Celeste, Charon and Strife. And he told of how he enjoyed sculpture, something that only Strife knew of, since he had visited Thanatos unexpectedly one day.
So tonight, after all the duties of the day were done, he was going to Asphodel to see Thanatos' sculptures. Jace had a great appreciation of art in all it's forms, so he knew that he would enjoy viewing this form of expression with the god who was fast becoming his friend.
* * * * *
Asclepius and Ganymede awoke in each other's arms. They were both fully clothed, and in an ugly little room with only the most meager furnishings. Asclepius thought back on the night before. They had continued their tour of the brothels of Greece. As it had been in Meg's, the mortals were delighted to see them in every place that they visited. Not in the manner that he had witnessed in temples where mortals worshipped, but happy to see them in the manner of a friend who stopped by for a visit unexpectedly. Every place they went was full of laughter and easy-going companionship. All the alters held various trinkets of gratitude and worship. They had finally asked for a room here in Sparta where they could rest after so many stops and fallen asleep while talking.
Ganymede opened his eyes and looked at Asclepius with a smile. This man, this god, was a true friend. They had talked for hours and enjoyed each others company. Originally he had been wary of Asclepius declaration the night before about being friends even if the antidote didn't work. Now he felt that whatever happened, they would always be at least friends. This man was so attentive and kind, he had a genuine joy of life that spread among all those around him. All you had to do was give him your attention and he would nearly glow with happiness, which was contagious.
//Asclepius! Something's wrong with Cupid! Come quick!// He jumped when he heard the powerful call. "Something's wrong with Cupid, I have to go." Asclepius said sadly to Ganymede before placing a kiss on his forehead.
"You mind if I go with you? I need to apologize to him for something." Ganymede said while getting out of the bed.
"I don't mind at all, come on." Asclepius said, extending a hand, indicating that he would transport them.
Ganymede took his hand with a gentle smile and they were gone.
* * * * *
Joxer and Ares were on the soon to be battlefield. The warlords were rallying their men to fight as Ares explained, "I turn my back for one day and they think they need to go to war with each other. Neither town can afford to lose their army, if they do, their neighbors will swoop in and take both towns."
"What should I do to stop them?" Joxer asked with concern.
"You need to make them decide not to fight without making yourself known. If we tell them what to do directly, they will depend even more on the gods to make their every decision. We want to guide them to do things for themselves, not command them." Ares said while carefully watching the armies.
"I understand. What do I do now?" Joxer asked seriously.
"You take a side and do what you can to discourage them from fighting without revealing that there is a god present. It's for the best if they don't suspect that we're here. Then you go to the other side and do the same thing. Normally I would take one side and you the other, but I have to go to a small community near Pylos and see to another skirmish like this one. It's going to be a long day. Remember, this isn't a test, you can ask for help or call me with any question you have at any time." Ares said, then gave Joxer a long, deep kiss.
"I love you. I'll miss you." Joxer said sadly as Ares separated himself from their embrace.
"I love you too. We'll be back together soon." Ares said with a sad smile.
"Not soon enough." Joxer said sadly as Ares vanished from sight.
* * * * *
Gabrielle made her way into Cupid's temple in Thebes. The normally bright and beautiful temple was dark and forbidding. She walked up to a priest and asked, "What's going on?"
"We don't know, we fear for our Lord Cupid. Last night the temple slowly became like this. The candles won't light, all the flowers withered, the offerings of fruit rotted on the alter, and the walls changed color to an ashen gray. We don't know what to make of it... Lord Cupid won't answer our call." The priest said near tears.
"Maybe he's dead?" Gabrielle said offhandedly.
"Get out, we will not entertain such a notion here." The priest said angrily as he led her out of the temple.
[You will now.] Gabrielle thought, pleased with herself.
[It sounds like Lady Psyche's plan is working. That's probably why she didn't answer my prayers when I was with Xena. She was busy destroying Cupid.] Gabrielle thought with delight and walked away from the temple, nearly skipping with happiness.
* * * * *
In a flash of yellow light, Asclepius and Ganymede appeared in the room with Anteros and Cupid. A moment later there were two more flashes, one of midnight blue and silver sparks and one of bright red and silver sparks. Anteros turned to see Phobos and Deimos looking around curiously.
"We felt chir fear, Ter. Soes we came'ta help." Phobos said with vigor.
At a sustained glare from Anteros he amended, "Kay... we came'ta watch."
Anteros turned his attention back to Asclepius as he scanned Cupid.
"There's nothing physically wrong with him that I can see. We need to get Dad to take a look at him, he deals with maladies of the mind." Asclepius said calmly.
"Has yas told Strife boutit yet?" Phobos asked in his manic way.
"No, I just found Cupid like this a few minutes ago." Anteros answered his brother.
"We'll gota gettim." Phobos said bouncing with energy as Deimos nodded with a dark look.
"Tell him to meet us at Dad's temple, I'm taking Cupid there." Asclepius said with authority.
There were twin flashes as Phobos and Deimos disappeared, then a moment later the rest of the gods disappeared, leaving the room empty.
* * * * *
Xena approached the war camp warily. As she was about to make her way into the commander's tent Ares appeared to her. "Xena, I'm glad to see you."
Xena gave Ares a wide-eyed expression of surprise.
"You know that I was on my honeymoon. These fools decided that they needed to start a war while I wasn't looking." Ares said with a sneer.
"So this isn't one of those wars for the greater good?" She asked incredulously.
"No, this war will weaken the defense of this area and cause the population to decrease to an unsustainable level. If that happens we will have to divert significant amounts of people to immigrate to the area to keep these communities alive. And we need these communities to provide agricultural support to the surrounding towns." Ares said with a little frustration in his voice.
Xena was about to speak when Ares continued.
"Xena, if it wouldn't be too much trouble. Could you try to talk some sense to this lot while I go over and try to discourage Airolous from going to war. Try reminding them that this war is not sanctioned by their god. But don't tell them that I'm here... I don't want them thinking that they're that important. Fools are bad enough, the last thing I need are arrogant fools." He said with full frustration.
"Of course, I'd be happy to help." Xena said with a smile.
Ares had been expecting accusation and argument from Xena. Her immediate capitulation threw him off guard for a moment when he remembered Joxer's words. So his explanation on their wedding night might have been worth the time after all...
Ares gave a short nod and disappeared. A moment later Xena continued on to the commander's tent.
* * * * *
With multiple flashes Ganymede, Asclepius, Anteros, and Cupid appeared in Apollo's temple. Moments later Phobos, Deimos, Strife, Hades and Persephone appeared.
"What's wrong with him?" Hades asked in his authoritative voice.
"I don't know yet, Uncle Hades. I need Dad to look at him, but he's just finished the sunrise thing and won't be available for a few minutes.
"Cupe, what'cha doin?" Strife asked quietly.
Cupid remained silent and still.
Asclepius waved his hand and Cupid was lying on a bed. A moment later Cupid curled back into his fetal position, the tears continued to fall.
//Dad, I need your help at your temple on Olympus. Something's wrong with Cupid's mind. It's like he's... broke.// Asclepius called, recognizing the seriousness of the condition.
//Hang on a minute. Try to make him comfortable, what's wrong with him?// Apollo asked, obviously distracted by other tasks.
//He's catatonic, he's curled into himself physically and I suspect mentally, and he's silently crying.// Asclepius thought to his father with worry.
In a golden flash Apollo appeared in the Temple of the Sun. "Ace, dude, would you, like, go to the stable and tend to the horses. I've got this." Apollo asked as he made his way to Cupid.
"Sure dad." Asclepius said, then looked at Ganymede who extended his hand to go with.
Asclepius took Ganymede's hand and they flashed out in a flare of yellow light.
* * * * *
Joxer observed as the warlord was trying to plan the attack. Having been raised in a warlords home, he understood such things and it was obvious that this man was an imbecile.
"Take twenty men and circle around here, they won't expect a group to attack from behind." Durgis said, convinced of his own cunning.
Joxer thought about the things that Strife had told him about such situations and tried to influence the thoughts of one of the warlord's men.
It only took a moment and Joxer knew that he had been able to seed the idea in the man's mind. Now it was time to see what fruit the seed would bear.
"They're looking right at us. They'll expect the attack because they can see our every move." The slight man said in epiphany.
The rest of the men turned as one in surprise at the declaration of the quiet little man, then turned back to their leader with question at the valid observation.
Durgis was livid, his men should know better than to question his plans. He took a step toward the smallish man, intent on thrashing him soundly when his pants suddenly dropped around his ankles.
Joxer took the opportunity to drop a little surprise in the pants. He stood back to see his plan come to fruition.
No laughter was heard. None of the men dared to. But as the silence continued, Durgis got to his feet and pulled up his pants. There was more than one red face shaking to contain the laughter and a few tearful eyes being discreetly wiped dry.
As Durgis sternly walked back to the table to continue his planning, he noticed a smell. One by one those around him noticed the smell in an expanding circle until even those at the back of the tent had noticed.
Those next to Durgis tried to casually move away without drawing attention to themselves. Hands were discreetly brought up to noses to try and withstand the putrid smell. Durgis stormed out of the tent in humiliation.
Once Durgis was well away from the tent, the other men raced out of the tent to get fresh air and question whether Durgis was a capable leader. If he couldn't plan, dress himself properly, or hold his bowels he shouldn't be responsible for their lives.
Joxer nodded, ready to call this a success before flashing out to deal with the opposing camp.
* * * * *
Apollo finished his examination and looked around the room at the expectant faces.
"I've seen this before. But I've never seen it this bad. It usually affects teenagers. Cupid's the first god of his age I've seen with it." Apollo said with concern.
"What is it 'Pol, spit it out." Strife said with worry.
"I don't, like, have a name for it. If you need to name it, call it 'Growing Sickness'. It usually fixes itself in a couple hours or a day. But Cupid is going to need help to get through this." Apollo said professionally.
"Ah'll do whatevah Ah can, 'Pol. Just tell me what ta do." Strife spoke up immediately.
Apollo gave Strife an apologetic look and said, "Dude, There's like, nothing you can do. You can help later, I'm betting that all of you can. But for now the only one who can help Cupid is Jett."