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Ares and Hephaistos were sitting in silence, each thinking their own thoughts.
"I just don't know Heph, I can't see how we can cover another country." Ares said simply.
"I know." Hephaistos said quietly.
"If you leave the other houses out of it, the House of War can't divide it's resources that much. The entire power structure of both countries would collapse if we tried." Ares said, then took a drink of his wine.
"It's the same with all the other houses. I've already had the same conversation with Demeter. She says that the House of Nature won't be able to do double duty, even if she had the assistance of Persephone... which she doesn't." Hephaistos said absently.
"She'll never concede that point." Ares said with a shake of his head.
"Zeus left me a real mess. The Grecian power structure was in such disrepair when I inherited it that I'm overwhelmed just trying to keep things going." Hephaistos said in an exhausted voice.
"Heph... have you considered asking for help?" Ares asked carefully.
"There is no help." Hephaistos said in desperation .
"What about Uncle Hades and Uncle Poseidon?" Ares asked in a quiet voice.
"They have their own realms to oversee." Hephaistos said tiredly.
"At least ask for their advice. You won't do any good to anyone if you drive yourself to exhaustion. If you won't do it for yourself, then do it for Greece." Ares said in an imploring voice.
"Yes Ares, I suppose that would be a wise course of action." Hephaistos said with resolve.
Ares nodded but stayed silent.
"How are your family doing? I don't get to visit as often as I'd like." Hephaistos asked with a gentle smile.
"They're fine. The twins have accepted Joxer as their parent, Anteros and Cupid have finally come together as they should have been centuries ago. And now Harmonia is happy, thanks to you." Ares finished contentedly.
"That's good. I knew that she was denying her legacy to be with her husband. Now maybe she can attain her godly potential." Hephaistos said in thought.
"Is that why you did this?" Ares asked with concern.
"Yes, why?" Hephaistos asked curiously.
"Don't take this the wrong way Heph, but that was a move worthy of Zeus." Ares said carefully.
Hephaistos looked shocked, so Ares continued.
"I thought you wanted her to be happy. If you bestowed immortality on her husband to encourage her to take up her godly duties again, then you're trying to control her actions, and disguise it as caring. It's wrong Heph." Ares said darkly.
"I... I didn't do that did I?" Hephaistos asked in confusion.
"Only you can answer that, but I think it's important that you understand your true motivation. If you're starting to think like Zeus, you need to get help as soon as possible. I don't want to lose the Hephaistos that is the example to all of us of what a father should be." Ares said in a pained voice.
"Yes. Perhaps I should take some time to reflect on my motivations. Thank you Ares, for being honest." Hephaistos said quietly.
"Try and get some rest Heph. I think you need it." Ares said as he stood to leave.
"I can but try. There's so much to oversee that I'm afraid that if I let my attention lapse for an instant, the whole country will collapse." Hephaistos said in despair.
"Then call Hades and Poseidon. If they can't help directly, maybe they can suggest what will help." Ares said as he walked toward the door.
"You've convinced me. I'll call them." Hephaistos said as he stood.
"Take care of yourself Heph. We all need you healthy and strong to face this new age." Ares said, standing by the door.
"You too Ares. You aren't only War, you're also our defender and protector. Now that the barrier is down, we need you more than ever." Hephaistos said, while looking him in the eyes.
Ares gripped Hephaistos forearm in the warriors grip, then walked out of the room.
* * * * *
Ares walked through the Halls of War and made his way back to the private chambers engrossed in his thoughts. As he walked into the sitting room, he felt ice flow through his veins as he saw a foot laying unmoving from the other side of the sofa.
"Joxer?" He asked in a small voice as he moved around the sofa to see Joxer laying in the floor, face-down in a pool of blood.
"Joxer!" He screamed as he pulled Joxer out of the blood and tried to find any sign of life.
//Asclepius! Apollo! Joxer needs your help NOW!// Ares sent with such intensity that no god could possibly ignore it.
In twin flashes of light Apollo and Asclepius appeared in the room. They immediately started scanning and probing Joxer to determine his condition.
Only a few minutes passed as the healers performed their examination but it could have easily been years in Ares' opinion. Finally Ares was jolted by a break in the silence.
"I just don't know. Come on Ace, let's get him to the temple." Apollo said suddenly.
"What's wrong with him?" Ares asked in panic.
"Give us time to find out. I promise he'll be alright. Give us time to do our jobs." Apollo said, then nodded to Asclepius.
There was a sudden flash of light, then Ares stood alone in the room... looking at the puddle of blood at his feet.
* * * * *
"What's wrong dad?" Phobos said as he flashed into the room.
Ares stood silently.
Phobos saw the blood in the floor and could clearly feel the waves of fear coursing off his father.
"Is... Is it Poppa?" Phobos asked hesitantly.
Ares turned his gaze to Phobos, revealing the tears filling his eyes.
//Deimos! Cupid! Ter! Something's happened to Poppa!// Phobos sent in panic.
Cupid, Strife, Anteros, Senscie, Deimos and Tad appeared in the room.
Ares turned his gaze back to the floor and stared at the blood.
"What's wrong Pho? What happened to Poppa?" Demi asked quickly.
"I... I don't know. I found dad like this... and there's blood." Phobos said in a quavering voice.
"Pho, help dad. Do something with his fear so he can tell us what's going on." Cupid said as he held close to Strife.
Phobos nodded and concentrated his power on his father. It wasn't the same as altering the fear in a mortal, but he soon got control of the fear and was able to move it aside.
Ares looked around the room in dawning comprehension.
"Dad, what happened to Poppa Joxer?" Anteros asked quietly.
"I... I don't know. I came home and he was..." Ares trailed off and looked at the puddle of blood again.
"Where is he Dad?" Cupid asked forcefully.
"With Apollo and Asclepius." Ares said quietly.
"Come on Dad, you and me are going to Apollo's temple. Strife, will you stay here with Ter and the boys?" Cupid asked as he walked to his father's side.
"We want to go too." Phobos said immediately.
"It won't help Poppa to have us getting in Apollo's way. I'll tell you as soon as we know anything, just as soon as we find out what's wrong, I promise." Cupid said as he looked into Phobos' eyes.
"As long as you promise." Phobos said quietly.
"I swear, come on Dad, let's go." Cupid said and pulled his father into a hug.
There was a flash of light and they were gone.
* * * * *
"Pol, what's wrong with Joxer?" Cupid asked as soon as he appeared.
"Get back Cupid, I'm not sure if this is some kind of plague. Jett seems to have the same problem as Joxer." Apollo said with worry.
Cupid paled as he saw Jett laying deathly still on a bed being examined by Asclepius next to the one Joxer was on.
"Dad and I are the only ones coming, I got the rest to wait at the Halls of War." Cupid said as he guided Ares out of Apollo's way and noticed Zeus watching Jett with worry.
"Good, thanks Cupid. We should put up some kind of a shield or something to keep anyone else from coming in case it's... Tartarus... I can't leave Joxer... Jace has collapsed..." Apollo announced.
"Thanatos is bringing him... Cupid, can you whip up another bed, I can't divide my attention any further." Apollo asked as he held his glowing hands over Joxer.
Cupid concentrated and another bed appeared.
"What in the nine levels of Tartarus is going on here?" Apollo asked as he hurried across the room to assess Jace's condition.
"Don't leave Joxer." Ares said in a growl.
Apollo stopped in his tracks, and thought.
"Ares, feed Joxer power. That's all I've been able to do for him so far." Apollo said then continued to Jace.
"Come on Dad, we'll both feed him power." Cupid said and led Ares to Joxer's side.
"Cupid, another bed, quick." Apollo called.
Cupid was stunned, but he quickly made another bed.
A second after the bed formed into being, there was a green/black flash and the unconscious and bleeding body of Tsunami appeared with a worried and crying Erebus holding his hand.
"Oh Gods, not you too." Cupid said with worry filling him.
"Zeus, feed power to Jett." Asclepius said in a rush as he ran to Erebus and Tsunami.
//Cupid! Charise just prayed to me. Ganymede just passed out at Meg's, he's bleeding out of his mouth!// Phobos sent in terror.
//Can you and Demi bring him here? I'm kind of busy... And ask Strife to get Bliss and keep him safe... a lot of Gods are getting sick, all at once.// Cupid sent with dread.
//We'll get Ganymede, Strife is going to Hestia's now. Ter and Senscie want to know what's going on.// Phobos sent, more calmly than before.
//A lot of sick gods... That's all I know.// Cupid sent seriously.
There was a bright flash of light and Cupid turned expecting to find Deimos and Phobos with Ganymede, instead he was facing Hestia holding the unconscious body of Strife.
* * * * *
"Apollo! Come here, look at this!" Ares called out from beside Joxer.
"I'm kind of busy here." Apollo said from Jace's side.
"I think I know what's wrong." Ares said firmly.
Apollo looked up at that and said, "Feed him power Thanatos, I'll be right back."
Thanatos nodded and moved his hands over Jace's body.
"What about Strife?" Cupid asked with tears.
"Give me a second, your dad may have found something." Apollo said as he hurried away.
"GAN!" Asclepius said in panic as he saw Phobos and Deimos with Ganymede.
"Pol, look at this, right here... is that what I think it is?" Ares asked as he pointed at Joxer's abdomen.
Apollo focused his power and looked at the area Ares indicated.
"Ace, come here, you've got to see this." Apollo called out.
Asclepius started to walk to his father's side, then crumpled to the floor.
"ACE!" Apollo said and ran to his son.
"Apollo, what can we do for Ganymede?" Cupid asked as he and Hestia fed power into Strife.
"Pho and Demi... feed him power." Apollo said as he rushed to examine Asclepius.
Phobos and Deimos both raised their hands immediately and began projecting their power.
"What is it Dad?" Cupid asked as he reluctantly left Strife to join his father.
"Look there..." Ares said in a calm wondering voice.
Cupid concentrated and took in a gasp of astonishment.
"What is it?" Cupid asked in panic.
"Hang on." Apollo said and moved to examine Jett.
"Strife is bleeding again!" Hestia said in uncharacteristic panic.
"Cupid, check out Strife. Ares, check Tsunami." Apollo said quickly.
"Strife's the same as Joxer." Cupid said, focusing his vision tightly.
"Tsunami too." Ares said as a smile crept across his face.
"Everyone! Listen up! They're all going to be fine. I can't tell you why this is happening all of a sudden, but for some reason, they're all pregnant." Apollo said to the room, then noticed that he was visibly shaking.
"Pregnant?" Cupid squeaked.
"Really?" Phobos asked in wonder.
"Yeah, I know it's possible for a god to bear children, but it's like a really rare thing. It usually takes a major shift in a god's power base for that to happen, like the fall of the Titans... no offense Erebus." Apollo finished shyly.
"None taken." Erebus said without emotion.
"A major shift... like the breaking of the seal?" Ares asked.
"Apparently so... and if that's the case... the goddesses will probably be pregnant too. They just won't have to grow new internal organs to accommodate the babies." Apollo said in thought.
A silence fell over the room as each of the gods comforted their loved one.
"Um, could a God get pregnant from a mortal?" Deimos asked hesitantly.
"No, I don't think so... but if you'd asked me a few days ago if this was possible I would have said 'no'." Apollo said with a shrug.
"So Joxer's going to be okay?" Ares asked with tension.
"Yes Ares, his body is just making a safe place for the baby to grow. Keep feeding him power and when he wakes up, feed him some ambrosia. I expect him to be back on his feet by the end of the day." Apollo said in a considering voice.
//It can't be... I'm death...// Thanatos sent in confusion.
"Your aspect of death is different than that of Hades. Yours is the touch of death, but since Jace can tolerate your touch, there is nothing stopping him from conceiving your child." Apollo said seriously.
"Me too?" Erebus asked from Tsunami's side.
"Yes. I'm not as familiar with your godhood as I am with Thanatos' but the evidence before us would seem to support that conclusion." Apollo said professionally.
//I'm going to be a father.// Thanatos sent in shock.
Everyone looked at him and felt tenderness for the shocked god of death.
"Strife and I are going to have a baby." Cupid said with a grand smile.
"After I've checked everyone out, you'll be able to take them home. Just feed them power until they wake, and feed the Olympian gods ambrosia when they wake up. Feed the members of the house of death Asphodelain blood wine when they wake. And all of them will need to stay in bed for the next three days for their new organs to complete their development." Apollo said to the group before moving to examine Joxer.
"Thanks Pol." Ares said in a whisper.
"You had the tough part, I'm glad they're all going to be alright." Apollo said as he finished examining Joxer.
"Go on, take your husband home." Apollo said as he moved to Jett.
Ares nodded and looked to see Phobos and Deimos watching him.
"Come on boys, let's take your Poppa home." Ares said and waited for his sons to join him.
"I'm going to take Strife to his parents, I think he'd want that." Cupid said to his father.
"Just let us know how he's doing." Ares said tenderly.
"I promise." Cupid said and waited for Apollo to make his way to Strife.