Ares looked curiously at his son, not sure about what he should say.
"Are you okay Van?" Phobos asked, concerned by the shocked look on his new friend's face.
Van broke out of his racing thoughts and glanced at Phobos.
"Yeah, it's... this is the guy I was just telling you about, the one that might be..." Van trailed off, then looked at Ares again.
Phobos thought about the statement for a moment, then his eyes went wide as he realized what Van was thinking.
Ares felt Joxer take his hand and give it a squeeze.
Joxer looked up at Ares and mouthed, 'Love you'.
A warm smile came over Ares' face as he silently responded, 'Love you too'.
"Ask him." Phobos said firmly.
Van looked at Phobos with fear and indecision.
"He'll either say 'yes' or 'no'. Nothin bad's gonna happen either way." Phobos said seriously.
Van nodded, then took a deep breath and looked at Ares again.
The man before him had such an expression of peace and love on his face that Van couldn't help but wish that the answer might be 'yes'.
"Are you my father?" Van asked in a whisper.
Ares peaceful expression transformed into a full radiant smile as he said, "Yes Evander, I am."
Evander stood there, stunned at the statement. He didn't have a clue as to what he should say or do next.
Phobos saw the overwhelmed expression on Evander's face and quickly said, "Come on Van. I bet you'd feel a lot better if you had a bath and got into some clean clothes. We can talk to dad some more when we get back."
Ares opened his mouth to begin to protest, but stopped at the feeling of his hand being squeezed again.
"Let Pho take care of him Love. From the look of him, he's been going through quite a bit and may need some time to deal with things." Joxer said quietly.
Phobos took hold of Evander's arm and slowly guided him to turn around.
Ares silently watched as his sons left the room.
* * * * *
Erebus appeared in the Great Hall of Olympus and was surprised to find Hephaestus and Aphrodite engaged in a passionate kiss.
"My apologies King Hephaestus, I can come later if it is more convenient." Erebus quickly stammered.
Hephaestus pulled out of the kiss and peacefully said, "It's no bother Erebus. Please have a seat and tell me what's on your mind."
"King Hephaestus, as you may have heard, Tsunami and I are going to have a child." Erebus said quietly.
"Oh, that's so wonderful! So are we!" Aphrodite said, literally glowing with her happiness.
Erebus smiled warmly and said, "Congratulations to you both."
"Thank you Erebus. And may I offer my congratulations to you as well." Hephaestus said as he pulled Aphrodite into a one armed hug at his side.
"Thank you King Hephaestus. But since we're becoming parents, we've become concerned that we don't have a purpose in this world of gods." Erebus said gravely.
"I see." Hephaestus said seriously.
"I thought, I mean, if you have no other plan, Tsunami and I could move to the West and establish an underworld for the savages." Erebus said seriously.
Hephaestus thought for a moment, then said, "That sounds like a very good idea. As you're getting it established, you could use the other members of the House of Death to help you with things like gathering the wandering souls and enforcing the boundaries of your new realm."
Erebus smiled as he nodded at the practical suggestion.
Hephaestus thought for a moment, then said, "This seems the answer that I've been searching for in regard to the Western underworld. I don't see any reason to delay. I, Hephaestus, King of Olympus hereby decree that the titan Erebus shall henceforth be known as Pluto, God of the Roman underworld and afterlife."
"Pluto? Wealth?" Erebus asked cautiously.
"Yes. I look at you and see that you carry a bounty of all the best and most important things that any being could desire. Let the Romans explain it however they want, it is my decree that you are to be known as Pluto... at least when you're acting in your capacity as Roman god of death." Hades finished with a smile.
"Thank you King Hephaestus. This is far more than I expected. I am very grateful." Erebus said sincerely.
"I'm assuming that Tsunami will be moving to the Western world with you. So when your child is born and Tsunami is recovered, come to me and we'll find them titles in the Western world as well." Hephaestus said warmly.
"Thank you King Hephaestus. I know that will make Tsunami very happy." Erebus said respectfully.
"There is one thing that you need to do immediately, before anything else." Hephaestus said firmly.
"Yes?" Erebus asked cautiously.
"Right this minute you need to decide what your priorities are. Once you've decided that, make your other decisions accordingly." Hephaestus said as he looked Erebus in the eyes.
"Nami and the baby are my first priority." Erebus said immediately.
"Good. Then go and be with your husband. You've decided that he and your child are more important than anything else so you should treat them as such. When things have settled and you can devote your attention to other things, then you can begin to concern yourself with the matters to the West." Hephaestus said seriously.
"Thank you King Hephaestus, I will do as you say." Erebus said reverently.
"Go on." Hephaestus said with a smile.
Erebus flashed out of the room in a black blur of power.
"Hephy, you really are getting the hang of this king thing." Aphrodite said as she happily snuggled her husband.
"I hope so. I think Erebus' idea has a good chance of working. Now I just need to find someone to oversee the sea and mortal realms." Hephaestus said in thought.
"What's your first priority Hephy?" Aphrodite asked in a leading tone.
"You are, you know that." Hephaestus said with a smile.
"Show me?" Aphrodite asked with a giggle.
Hephaestus smiled and moved in to give his wife a loving kiss.
* * * * *
"Get undressed and inta tha water." Phobos said as he started to take off his clothes.
"What?" Evander asked in confusion.
"Let's take a bath. It'll make you feel better." Phobos said as he climbed into the bathing pool and slowly eased himself into the warm water.
"Oh, yeah. Okay." Evander said distantly.
Phobos watched silently as Evander shed his clothes and climbed into the water.
After a moment of soaking in the water, Evander seemed to come back to himself and looked around.
"Listen Van. No matter how stuff works out, I'll make sure yer gonna be okay." Phobos said with assurance.
"Do you think he wants to be my father?" Evander asked quietly.
Phobos smiled and said, "I know he does."
"How do you know?" Evander asked hesitantly.
"Cause if he didn't he woulda said 'no' when you asked him." Phobos said frankly.
Evander thought about the statement, then reluctantly nodded.
"If you'll dunk under to get your hair wet, I'll wash your hair." Phobos said gently.
Evander looked at him curiously for a moment, then dunked himself under the water.
Phobos scooped his fingers in the dish of soap by the side of the bathing pool, then said, "Turn around. It's easier from the back."
Evander turned, then felt Phobos' fingers begin to work the soap into his hair.
"Why are you being so nice to me?" Evander asked cautiously.
Phobos continued to work the soap into Evander's hair as he said, "Well, at first it was because you were in my Poppa Joxer's temple. He asked me to be nice to any kids I found there."
The job of working in the soap became more of a gentle massage as Phobos quietly continued, "I guess at first I felt sorry for ya cause you were all skinny and hungry and dirty and stuff. So I was gonna bring you home with me soes you could get somethin ta eat."
Evander felt his heart sink at the statement but remained still as the fingers slowly massaging his scalp soothed him.
"Then when I started talking to ya, you were all nice and stuff soes I started thinkin of ya like a friend." Phobos said in deep thought, then said, "Cover your eyes so I don't get soap in 'em."
Evander absently brought up a hand to protect his eyes from the soap as Phobos continued to wash his hair.
"Now I guess yer my brother. I love all my brothers so that includes you too." Phobos said happily.
"Brothers?" Evander asked in wonder.
"Yeah. If my Dad is yer dad, then we're brothers." Phobos said carefully.
"I always wanted a brother." Evander said with the beginning of excitement.
"I hope ya wanted a lot of 'em cause that's what'cha got." Phobos said with a smile.
"How many?" Evander asked cautiously.
"Um, Cupid, Anteros, Demi, Me... you got four brothers and two sisters." Phobos said seriously.
"Two sisters?" Evander said in wonder.
"Yeah, Enyo and Harmonia... Oh, and since Poppa Joxer is pregnant, yer gonna have one or two more in a couple months... maybe even three." Phobos finished speculatively.
"Wow." Evander said in wonder.
"Dunk under the water to rinse out the soap. I'm done." Phobos said seriously.
Evander took a deep breath, then went under the water to rinse the soap out of his hair.
When he came up, Phobos said, "If you'll turn back around I can wash your back while you wash your front."
Evander was surprised by the offer, but quickly turned, then grabbed a cloth and some soap to begin washing himself.
"Thanks for being so nice to me. I was really scared." Evander said quietly.
"I thought you might be. If you weren't wearing that bracelet I would have known for sure. I'm tha god of fear." Phobos said casually as he washed Evander's back in small circles.
"You are? But doesn't that mean that you should be trying to scare me?" Evander asked cautiously.
"Nah. I mean, I guess I could, but I don't usually scare tha people I like... well, I sometimes like to jump out of a dark corner or something like that. But that's just for fun. It's not like my job or anything." Phobos admitted shyly.
"It sounds like fun." Evander said with a smile.
"I'll let you help me get the jump on Cupid sometime when he comes to visit. He's easy." Phobos said happily, then said, "I'm done, rinse off."
Evander dunked down in the water to rinse, then turned as he stood again.
"If you'll sit on the ledge thing, I'll wash your hair now." Evander said shyly.
Phobos smiled and sat down so Evander could reach his hair more easily.
"This is really nice. I don't even remember when my mom used to bathe me." Evander said as he started to work the soap into Phobos' hair.
"Well, me and Demi bathe together all the time. But now that he has a boyfriend, he probably won't want to as much." Phobos said frankly.
"A... boyfriend?" Evander asked cautiously.
"Yeah. His name is Tad. He seems really nice." Phobos said casually.
"So you don't think it's wrong for two guys to... you know..." Evander trailed off uncomfortably.
"Love each other?" Phobos asked curiously.
"Yeah." Evander whispered.
"Nah. Love is love." Phobos said as he relaxed into the massaging sensation of Evander's fingers.
"Wow. My mom always said that it should just be a man and a woman. That's it." Evander said seriously.
"I don't see why me and my girlfriend Charise being together would be right and Demi being with Tad would be wrong. It just don't make sense." Phobos said consideringly.
"Mom said that since two men can't make babies, that's what makes it wrong." Evander said carefully.
"Where in Tartarus did she come up with that? Who you love don't have anythin ta do with being able ta make babies. Does she think that women who's barren or guys that can't father kids shouldn't be able to get married?" Phobos asked in confusion.
"I don't know why my mom thinks the stuff that she does. But since I lived with her all my life, that's the only stuff I've ever known. I may need your help to see things the right way." Evander said carefully, then thought to say, "Cover your eyes."
"I tell ya what. When you say somethin like 'two men can't love each other', I'll do like I just did and tell you why I think you're wrong. You can decide what you think is right and wrong fer yourself." Phobos said carefully.
"You can rinse off now." Evander said as he thought about the words.
When Phobos came up out of the water, Evander quietly said, "Thanks for being honest and thanks for wanting me to decide things for myself. I don't think anyone has ever done either of those things for me before."
"I think that's why all us brothers are so different. We all love each other even though we all don't believe the same things." Phobos said thoughtfully.
"Turn around and let me get your back." Evander said gently.
Phobos nodded and quickly turned.
"Do you get along with all your brothers and sisters okay?" Evander asked casually as he lathered Phobos' back.
"Yeah. OUR brothers and sisters are all pretty cool. I mean, Enyo's a little scary when she does tha 'Goddess of Destruction' thing but she's usually okay when she's 'round here. And Cupid's alright if you can get him to pull the stick out." Phobos said in thought.
Evander started laughing at the irreverent statement.
"You okay back there?" Phobos asked with a smile.
"Yeah. Great." Evander said with a chuckle.
"I'm glad yer feelin better. You was lookin like you was wantin ta run off when we was in with Dad." Phobos said carefully.
"Yeah. I was. Thanks Pho. As long as you're with me I think I'm going to be okay." Evander said quietly.
"I'll stick with ya bro." Phobos said seriously.
There was a moment of silence, then Evander quietly said, "Okay, Just as long as that's not the same stick that Cupid pulled out."
The sound of the brothers laughter carried out into the hall.
* * * * *
Apollo faded into being and saw that Ares was sitting behind Joxer on the couch, gently hugging him from behind.
"Am I interrupting?" Apollo asked with concern.
"No Pol, it's fine." Ares said peacefully.
"I just wondered if I could bring Pan over to stay with you guys for a while. I've got to make the rounds and check on everyone and I don't want him to have to be alone." Apollo said with concern.
"Sure. Pan is always welcomed." Ares said with a gentle smile.
Apollo looked around, then asked, "Would you mind if I put him on the couch? He needs to be laying down."
Anteros stood and moved to one of the chairs without comment.
"Thanks Ter." Apollo said quietly.
"Don't worry about it Uncle Pol." Anteros said with concern at Apollo's uncharacteristic quiet mood.
After a long silent moment, Pan slowly resolved into being on the couch.
Apollo knelt by Pan's side and quietly said, "I have some work to do. Just stay here and you'll be fine."
Pan looked around the room with panic at the unfamiliar surroundings, then into Apollo's eyes.
"You're safe here. I promise. You can call me if you need anything at all." Apollo said in a whisper.
Pan reluctantly nodded.
"Thanks guys. I won't be gone any longer than I have to be." Apollo said as he stood again.
"Take your time Pol. I haven't visited with Pan for decades, it'll be good for us to have some time to talk." Ares said with a gentle smile at Pan.
Apollo gave an appreciative smile at Ares, then slowly faded away.
Pan got an expression of panic on his face when he realized that Apollo was gone.
"Pan, this is my husband Joxer." Ares said quietly, trying not to startle Pan unnecessarily.
After a moment of looking around the room, Pan glanced at Joxer and whispered, "Hi." in a barely audible voice.
"Do you need anything to make you more comfortable? Some pillows?" Joxer asked with concern at Pan's frightened expression.
"I... I'd really be more comfortable on the floor." Pan said quietly.
"I'll help you Pan. Where do you want to lay down?" Anteros asked as he walked slowly to Pan's side.
"By the fire, where it's warm." Pan said in a whisper.
Anteros thought about it for a moment, then produced an overstuffed featherbed in the floor by the fire with several small blankets.
Pan saw the inviting place made for him and wriggled to get off the couch.
"You're not supposed to get up. Let me take care of you." Anteros said gently and lifted Pan off the couch.
Pan looked at Anteros with a moment of indecision and fear, but then snuggled against Anteros' chest.
Anteros carried Pan to his place before the fire and gently laid him down in the center.
"Thank you." Pan whispered with contentment.
"Just let me know if you need anything at all." Anteros said as he smoothed Pan's wild hair with his fingertips.
"Nice..." Pan said as he snuggled into the warm blankets.
Anteros continued to soothe Pan until he had fallen into a peaceful sleep.
* * * * *
"Sorry guys. I needed to take care of some other things. How are you settling in?" Apollo asked as he looked at Asclepius and Ganymede with concern.
"We're both kind of thirsty. Could you get us some juice or water?" Asclepius asked hopefully.
"Of course. And I think it's time to get your priests so they can be given instruction in how to care for you properly." Apollo said as he produced two glasses of fruit juice.
"Cleptus is in your temple in Thebes. He's in the scroll room." Asclepius said in concentration.
Apollo's eyes became distant, then he said, "I see him. I'll be right back."
"Thanks Dad." Asclepius said as he snuggled against Ganymede's side.
Apollo stopped and looked at his son with love for a moment, then said, "I love you son. Don't worry. Everything is going to be fine."
Asclepius nodded his agreement as he watched his father vanish in a golden shower of sparkles.
* * * * *
"You are the priest known as Cleptus?" Apollo asked as soon as he appeared in the scroll library.
"Yes, how may I..." Cleptus said as he looked up from the scroll he was reading, then realized who had asked.
"My Lord Apollo! How may I serve you?" Cleptus asked as he bowed reverently.
"I asked my son Asclepius to choose among all his followers for the one who would be able to serve him best. He chose you." Apollo said seriously.
"I am honored my Lord." Cleptus said with his head still bowed.
"Fine, fine. Is your wife nearby?" Apollo asked, feeling that Cleptus was taking the 'humble' thing a bit too far.
"Yes Lord. She is in the main hall instructing the children how to worship." Cleptus said quickly.
"Go and tell her that you'll be coming to Olympus with me. I have another stop to make, but when I return, be ready to leave." Apollo said firmly, now certain that he didn't like Cleptus' servile attitude.
"Yes Lord. Right away Lord." Cleptus said and stumbled out of the room as quickly as he could.
Apollo shook his head, then flashed out of the room.
* * * * *
Apollo appeared in a small wooded area, a twenty minute walk distant from the nearest town.
"Mind if I join you?" Apollo asked the young boy who was sitting on a fallen tree.
"I don't mind." The boy said quietly.
"Are you Dorin?" Apollo asked, already knowing the answer, but going through the motions for the mortal's benefit.
"Yeah." Dorin said quietly.
"What's wrong?" Apollo asked before he could think better of it.
"I just... I pledged myself to my god and prayed and prayed for guidance and never got an answer." Dorin said as tears welled up in his eyes.
"What answer are you looking for?" Apollo asked gently.
"All I want to know is how I can serve Ganymede. My sister talks about how wonderful he is and how much better her and all her friends lives are now that he's taking care of them and... I want to serve him too." Dorin said imploringly.
"What kind of thing do you want to do for Ganymede?" Apollo asked gently.
"Anything. I mean, I know about what most of the people do who serve him and, well, I've never done that, but I would if he wanted me to. I'd do anything just to serve the god who made my sister happy again." Dorin said as he looked into the stranger's eyes.
Apollo smiled and said, "Then I think you should wipe your eyes. Then we can go tell your sister that your prayers have been answered."
Dorin looked at the stranger with question.
"I am Apollo. I asked Ganymede which of his followers he wanted to personally attend him and he chose you." Apollo said gently.
"Really? I'm going to get to meet Ganymede, like, for real?" Dorin asked with excitement.
"More than meet him. You will be his personal attendant." Apollo said with a warm smile at the boy's excitement.
"Thank you. Oh wow! Thank you." Dorin said happily.
Apollo chuckled at the boy's excitement, then said, "Are you ready to talk with your sister?"
Dorin nodded happily.
"Take my hand and we'll go the fast way." Apollo said gently.
Dorin quickly took the offered hand and was nearly vibrating with anticipation.
* * * * *
"Sharis, come here!" Dorin called across the room.
"Dorin! I've told you about screaming in here." Sharis said harshly as she ran to her brother.
"Sharis, this is Apollo... you know, like, THE Apollo." Dorin said in an urging tone.
"You'll have to excuse my brother..." Sharis said indulgently, then really looked at the man who was standing before her.
"...Oh MY God!" She exclaimed.
"No. Unfortunately, that would be Ganymede. But if you're ever in the market..." Apollo trailed off with a smile.
"Lord Apollo, how can I be of service to you today?" Sharis asked respectfully and gracefully curtsied.
"Oh, if I had more time... no, I can't. I'm here on business." Apollo finished with a pained expression of loss.
"Lord Apollo said that I can be Ganymede's attendant... I think that's like his helper." Dorin said proudly.
Sharis looked at Apollo with disbelief and question.
"Dorin swore himself to Ganymede's service. Ganymede was concerned that Dorin was too young for the 'usual' work, so when I asked Ganymede who he would like to attend him he chose Dorin." Apollo explained.
"Thank you Lord Apollo. I know that if you say it, then it must be the truth. I won't be worried." Sharis said reverently.
"I'll see that Dorin is taken care of. We must go now, I have to collect a priest in Thebes, then we're off to Olympus." Apollo said as he watched for Dorin's reaction.
"Olympus? Really? I... I'm getting to go to the home of the gods?" Dorin asked in breathless wonder.
"That's right Dorin. Come along." Apollo said and extended his hand.
Dorin bounced to Apollo's side and took the hand as he said, "Bye Sharis, I love you."
"I love you too Dorin." Sharis said with a proud smile as she watched her little brother vanish in a shower of golden sparkles.
* * * * *
"Cleptus, are you ready?" Apollo asked as he and Dorin appeared in his temple in Thebes.
"We have provided music for your enjoyment and a small feast if you would care to dine." Cleptus said quickly as three priests began to play lyres.
Apollo rolled his eyes, then whispered to Dorin, "Pay close attention to this man. This is what NOT to do when you meet a god."
Dorin nodded his understanding, then watched Cleptus carefully.
"Are you ready to go Cleptus?" Apollo asked impatiently.
"My Lord Apollo, the acolytes have prepared a series of poems inspired by..." Cleptus began to say.
"Cleptus. I don't want your music, your food or your poetry. I want you. To come. With me. Now." Apollo said firmly.
"But Lord Apollo. We have prepared..." Cleptus began to say.
"Why doesn't he just shut up and do like you said?" Dorin asked quietly.
"I don't know. Let's go." Apollo said with a smile at the boy.
Dorin took Apollo's hand and smiled.
"My Lord Apollo! If you will just wait one minute..." Cleptus called out.
"You had your chance." Apollo said, then vanished in a shower of golden sparkles.
* * * * *
Phobos and Evander walked into the room and both immediately noticed Pan asleep by the fireplace.
"What's Uncle Pan doing here?" Phobos asked curiously.
"Apollo didn't want him to have to be alone." Ares said as he looked cautiously at Evander.
"Dad, Van's got a bracelet that you need to look at." Phobos said as he walked to his father's side.
"Come here and let me see." Ares said quietly, not wanting to frighten his son.
Evander hesitantly walked to Ares and held out his arm.
With little more than a glance, Ares confirmed what he had already suspected.
"It's Hephestian metal." Ares said darkly.
"*I* knew that. How do we get it off him?" Phobos asked somewhat impatiently.
Ares smiled at Phobos' irreverent tone, then looked Evander in the eyes and said, "The only people who can take this off are the person who put it there and Hephaestus, the one who made it."
"Well, I know that mom won't take it off. I asked her lots of times and she always said no." Evander said darkly.
"I don't think Heph will mind doing it. We can go ask him now if you want." Ares said seriously.
Evander looked at Phobos with question and concern.
"Arry, why don't you let Pho walk over with him? I think he'd be more comfortable that way." Joxer asked quietly.
Ares saw Evander's look of relief at the suggestion and said, "If that's what you want to do, that's fine. I'll let Heph know you're coming. But before you go I need to tell Evander something."
Evander looked into Ares eyes with fear.
"I need for you to know that I always loved you, I always wanted you and that if there were any way I could have arranged it, I would have been a part of your life." Ares said sincerely.
"Then it's because of mom. Isn't it? She made you stay away. She kept me from having a father." Evander said bitterly as tears welled up in his eyes.
"No Evander. It was my choice to stay away. Your mother and I started off well, but we soon developed some very serious problems with our relationship. None of that was your fault and it's not fair that you had to deal with the result. The way things worked out, I just couldn't be a part of your life. Your mother and I were both too emotional to have even that much contact. I visited once and I could see how much trouble it caused for you. I wanted you to grow up to be happy and that was the only way I could make it happen." Ares finished quietly.
Evander thought about the words for a moment, then looked up when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"You can think about this stuff while we're walking over to Daddy Heph's" Phobos said quietly.
Evander nodded his agreement and turned to leave.
"Evander." Ares said in a quiet tone.
Evander hesitantly turned to look at his father.
"I *do* love you." Ares said seriously.
Evander nodded that he heard, then turned to walk with Phobos out of the room.