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"Hey Dad. Hey Mom." Strife said as he entered the dining room.
"Good morning, son." Persephone said with a smile.
"Good morning, son. How did your date go with Cupid?" Hades asked with a small smile.
"Like ya don't know already. Than was watching every move we made all night." Strife said with his own smile as he materialized breakfast for himself.
"Thanatos isn't much for exposition. He said that you both behaved adequately." Hades said, materializing breakfast for Persephone and himself.
"Well, we went ta dinnah an a show. It was real funny, Ah laughed my a... self silly. An Cupe was a perfect gentleman." Strife said with his old mischief grin.
"I'm glad to hear that. Have you made plans for another date?" Hades asked with interest.
"Naw, we was too caught up in tha moment ta think bout tha next one. That's what I was wantin ta ask ya, do ya think it would be alright if I asked Cupe out on a date?" Strife asked, a little nervously.
"I think that would be an excellent idea. I'll give you the same advice that I gave to Cupid. Treat him with respect. Dress in a manner that he will find pleasing. Choose someplace to go that he will enjoy. And keep the touching to a minimum. I believe that on a second date, a goodnight kiss should be appropriate. Not too much, just a taste." Hades said with a smile.
"Yeah, I didn't know if this was such a good idea, but aftah last night... I think me an Cupe really need to do it like this ta show that we want each othah outside tha bedroom."
"Strife, I think you are exactly right." Persephone said with obvious delight at the perceptiveness of her son.
"Thanks Mom, Dad's been givin me some real good advice. I nevah had no examples of good relationships afore, soes I didn't have a clue on how to get it right with Cupe. With you twos help, we're gonna do this thing right soes we can be like you an Dad someday." Strife said, taking a large bite of his food.
Hades and Persephone looked at each other with eyes full of love for each other and their son.
"Son, I love you." Persephone said, having moved so she could lean against her husband.
"I know Mom, an I love you both. I nevah thought I was gonna see the day when I had a family but it was worth dieing ta get me ta here." Strife said with a loving gaze before he turned his attention back to his food.
Hades and Persephone had both stopped eating and just sat holding each other as they watched their son eat his meal. Their marriage had had many moments of happiness, but none of them compared to this.
* * * * *
When they went inside, Twanky sat Jace at a table and brought him some tea. With very little prompting, Jace began to tell his story. It started when he was summoned to Olympus and ended that morning with how he was feeling. Twanky listened to his story, considering what he was saying and what he wasn't. Finally she thought she understood where the problem lie.
"My little muffin, unless they're using magic on you, they can't make you feel anything. They didn't make you feel like this, you did. I know how much you enjoy playing with the boys and girls, do you know why this is different?" Twanky asked quietly.
Jace just shook his head no.
"Think about some of the boys and girls you've been with before. What did they have in common?" She asked solemnly.
Jace thought for a moment then replied, "Brown eyes?"
The Widow Twanky nearly laughed outloud. She got herself under control and said, "No, I hadn't thought of that, I was thinking of how you felt about them."
"They were my friends?" Jace answered as though it were a question.
"Exactly. When you were describing these women, I noticed that you never once said that you loved them or even liked them. Am I mistaken?" Twanky genuinely inquired.
"No, I only met them this week and we aren't really friends or anything." Jace answered while wiping away tears.
"But since you are used to being lovers with your friends, you expected them to behave as if they were. My little muffin, you did nothing wrong. You just had different expectations from your play than they did." She said, handing him a hanky from her pocket.
"But... but what do I do now?" Jace asked through his tears.
The Widow Twanky looked out the window and noticed the time of day. Inspiration hit her. She knew just the thing to make her old pupil feel better. "You come with me. I know just what you need." she said, taking his hand to lead him from the table.
They walked out of the widow's house and to a roughly made stage in the Towns Square. There were several beautiful women milling around and a few musicians tuning their instruments.
"I've known you for many years, and if I've learned anything about you, it's that you can express yourself best through dance. So here is your chance. Every hurt, every worry, everything you don't have words to say, just let it all out. I'll dance with you to get you started, then I'll move off. Remember that this is for you. Just let it all out." she said, then went to the musicians to tell them what to play.
She shooed the girls back from the stage where they became an audience. With a look from Twanky, the musicians began to play a slow, sullen tune.
Twanky walked up to Jace and he took her into his arms and they began to move.
Within a few minutes, Jace closed his eyes and began to let the emotions flow out of himself, through his motion. Twanky noticed him becoming lost in the mood and moved herself out of his grip.
For nearly half an hour everyone present watched enthralled as the dance continued. Not one person present had a dry eye as they watched the pain and power displayed in the dance. The musicians had become part of the dance, all of them continuing to play while enthralled at the display. As one the musicians let the last notes die away as Jace came to rest in the center of the stage.
Every person poured out their adoration through their applause. Several townspeople had noticed the performance and become an audience that nearly filled the Town Square. Jace wasn't paying attention to the applause, he was just feeling the peace that came from the release. Twanky had been right. He felt better.
Unseen to all, Terpsichore stood hidden in the curtains of the stage, crying. She was crying at the beauty and pain and pure emotion that had been expressed through Jace's dance. In the back of her mind she thought, [How incredibly special is the person that can inspire a muse?]
* * * * *
Ganymede appeared in the Temple of Healing, he looked around for a moment when Asclepius entered the room.
"Can I help you?" Asclepius asked quietly.
Ganymede had been thinking of an excuse to come to visit since Cupid had asked him. He had intended to ask for advice about dealing with followers, being that he was new to the whole worship thing. With one look into Asclepius' light blue eyes, his excuses went away.
"Cupid asked me to spend some time with you. He noticed that you weren't very assertive and thought I could help because... I am, I guess." Ganymede said unsurely.
"Why didn't Cupid just talk to me himself?" Asclepius asked, a bit insulted.
"You'd have to ask him. I think he meant for me to behave like I was here for something else and talk to you about it as a friend... But I couldn't." Ganymede said shyly.
Asclepius was a little stunned. "Why not?" he asked automatically.
"Because it would be a lie. I almost did it, but then I realized that I could hurt you by pretending..." Ganymede trailed off.
"...to be my friend. Yes, when it came out, that would hurt." Asclepius said sadly.
"Anyway, if you want to talk about anything, all you have to do is ask. I don't know how much help I could be, but I promise that I'll always be honest with you." Ganymede said, back to being unsure.
"Thanks, I've noticed that honesty can be hard to find around here. It's funny, I went to Cupid asking him to find me someone to love. Does this mean he doesn't think that I'm good enough as I am?" Asclepius asked with a little tremor in his voice.
"Probably. But look at Cupid's history. He may be the god of love, but I don't think his opinion is the end all and be all of relationships. I tell you what. When you have time, why don't we go for a walk or something and just talk about it? I bet that between us, we can find someone for you. Leave Cupid to figure out his own love life, we can take care of yours just fine without him." Ganymede said with a smile.
Asclepius thought about it for a minute. Ganymede was right about one thing. Cupid did seem to have a talent for making a mess of his own love life. Being in the house of intellect, he couldn't avoid the gossip of Olympus. He knew about Cupid's messed up marriage with Psyche and his 'secret' affair with Strife. And it would be good to have someone to talk to about these things. Ganymede seemed to be sincere and honest.
"If you're not busy now, I have time for a walk." Asclepius said tentatively.
"Sure, I don't get much business in the morning." Ganymede said cheerily.
Asclepius got a vacant look for a second then said, "Dad's going to watch the temple, so I'm ready when you are."
* * * * *
Near the end of his breakfast with his parents, Strife received a call from Hephaistos. Strife had finished his meal and excused himself before flashing out to meet with the King of the Gods.
"Hey Hep, whatcha need?" Strife inquired as he appeared.
"Have a seat Strife, I needed to talk with you about the responsibilities of your new godhood." Hephaistos said in his business tone.
Strife plopped down into a chair and looked at Hephaistos inquisitively.
"First of all, I wanted to let you know that the Bacchae are going to become your responsibility. Since Dionysis' death, no one has been seeing to their needs. Jace would seem to be the natural choice since he took Dionysis' job but he thinks they're... how did he put it? Oh... icky and gross." Hephaistos said without inflection.
Strife gave a giggle, hearing Hephaistos say 'icky and gross' just seemed wrong on so many levels. At a glance from Hephaistos, Strife immediately quieted.
"Since they are unnatural creatures, they will be your responsibility. You must see that their numbers do not become too great or small, that they are performing their function, and that they remain aloof from mortals." Hephaistos said as if reading from a manual.
"Um... Hep? I dunno what they're sposed to do, an why can't they be round tha mortals?" Strife asked, needing to know.
"Like most other unnatural creatures, they are used to thin out the mortal population. It turns out to be a most effective way of culling the mortals since it's usually the most stupid of the mortals that end up being killed. There are times when brave mortals will come up against a Bacchae, in that case, if the mortal is defeated, he should be given the honor of becoming a Bacchae. But the stupid ones... are meat for the beasts." Hephaistos finished menacingly.
Strife had never heard Hephaistos talk like this... he liked it. Who knew that Heph had a dark growley side?
"As to your other question. Unnatural creatures are in place as a population control for mortals, and sometimes to set boundaries for them. If the mortals and unnatural creatures befriend each other, they lose the ability to perform their primary function." Hephaistos said in a lecturing style.
"Kay, I get it. What bout the othahs? Whatcha want I should do bout them?" Strife asked, seriously.
"I will leave that to you. I might make the occasional suggestion about your creatures but, by enlarge, they are yours to deal with as you see fit. You must assess their needs and adjust their numbers as you feel is right. And one other thing, most unnatural creatures have animal intelligence, the Bacchae have higher reasoning. For this reason, you might want to make a set of laws for them to follow." Hephaistos said, equally as serious.
Strife just nodded his head. Then he had a thought. "Why'dja pick me fer this godhood?" he asked timidly.
Hephaistos thought for a second then said, "They are called monsters and demons. They perform a necessary function but they are hated by all for no reason other than their existence. They have no fault in their own creation but they are hated by mortals and most gods. I think they need a god to represent their best interests and I believe that you will."
"Cause I used ta be like them. I was called a monstah and a demon when Ah was little. An mosta tha mortals an the gods hated me..." he drifted off, understanding Hep's reasoning.
"So how was your date with Cupid?" Hephaistos asked with a smile.
Strife was taken aback by the apparent non sequitor then shook his head in exasperation. Everyone on Olympus probably knew about their date by now.
* * * * *
Xena and Gabrielle were on the road, traveling toward Corinth.
The previous night had been full of revelations for Xena. Absently she tuned into what Gabrielle was saying.
"...the Gods play with mortals for their own amusement. They cause plagues and famine to keep us from becoming too powerful. They know that if we were allowed to grow strong that we could defeat them. I think they're scared of what we could do..." she kept nattering on until Xena finally tuned her back out.
So not only was Gabrielle mean to her supposed friends, but she believed she was on an equal footing with the gods, and only still mortal by the gods treachery. Xena had quite a few eye-opening experiences the past few days. Most of them were things outside her control. But this, she could deal with.
Xena brought Argo to a stop and said seriously, "Gabrielle, we need to talk."