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Apollo and the muses became visible to mortal eyes. The music died and everyone on the dance floor stopped and stared at the golden beauty of Apollo. Everyone except Ares, Joxer, Cupid and Strife. They'd seen it.
Ares and Joxer made their way across the dance floor to Cupid and Strife. After a considering look Ares thought to Joxer, //Follow my lead.//
Bowing deeply Ares said with genuine respect in a voice that the surrounding people could hear, "Greetings Prince Strife, I hope that you are enjoying your evening."
Strife was taken aback for a moment then he responded with a bow and replied slowly and respectfully, "I am, Prince Ares, are you and your husband having a good time?"
Joxer nearly fell over from hearing Strife speaking so properly. Ares however, didn't miss a beat in answering. "Yes, it has been nice, the musicians are playing very well tonight." Then he turned his attention to Cupid and said, "How are you this evening son?"
"I'm... uh... good dad." Cupid stammered, feeling like an uneducated fool for not being able to properly address his own father in a formal way.
Ares gave his son a tolerant smile as Joxer spoke. "Prince Strife, how are your father and mother?" he asked in a reverent voice.
"Very well Joxer, I must say that I am surprised to see you back from your honeymoon so soon." Strife said with regal serenity.
"Ares told me that the band at this festival was very good, so we decided to come and enjoy what Arcadia had to offer." Joxer said diplomatically since every person in their vicinity was carefully listening to their every word.
Ares noticed the crowd forming and decided to use their interest to set the record straight. "Prince Strife, have you heard if Hephaistos is planning to make formal announcements of your new status or the new godhoods?" Ares said, knowing that Strife would see what he was doing.
"Please, just call me Strife. I know that Prince is my proper title since I am the son of King Hades and Queen Persephone, but after formal introductions are made, I prefer not using my title. And to answer your question, no, I haven't heard of any announcement from King Hephaistos." Strife said slowly, trying to maintain his formal speech. The outward effect of his slow speech was the appearance of having a calm, regal demeanor.
"As you like Strife, and likewise please address me as Ares." Ares said, happy that Strife had taken the hint.
"Of course, Ares. When do you plan to take up your duties again?" Strife asked conversationally as Cupid gaped at the apparent ease with which Strife was engaging in formal conversation.
"Tomorrow, there are things I must attend to." Ares said formally.
"I am glad to see you and Joxer so happy. It gives me hope for my own future." Strife said with a smile at Cupid.
Cupid could only blush from the attention of everyone in the crowd turned on him. Ares noticed Cupid's shyness and decided to shift the focus.
"It seems Apollo is about to start the music again, so I'll bid you good evening." Ares said with another respectful bow.
"Good Evening to you both." Strife said and bowed with equal respect.
As Ares and Joxer walked away the music began to play. They were about to take hold of each other to begin to dance when they noticed the music. The strange beat of the music was impossible to follow.
So with silent acceptance, they moved off the dance floor.
* * * * *
Cupid stood amazed at Strife. He truly was a Prince. It was more than a title that had been given him. Strife's dignity and presence was apparent regardless of his style of dress or manner of speach. Cupid felt the epiphany wash over him. [This is what Hades wanted me to see. And dad too. Strife is so much more than I let myself see.]
Cupid wondered why he had been so blind to the real Strife. The Strife he had been seeing was the Strife that was battered and alone. He was a hurting child that needed someone to help him. His Strife was lonely and would do anything to be loved and accepted.
Tears welled up in Cupid's eyes as he realized that he had done the equivalent to Strife that Psyche had done to him. She had used his arrows to manipulate. He had used Strife's fear of being abandoned to manipulate. In their past, Cupid was always in control and Strife followed along without complaint or opinion. Though it was never said, there was the silent understanding between them. 'I am going to have fun, you can come along with me... or not'. Never had there been a thought about Strife's fun, until now. Hades had forced him to think of what Strife would enjoy. He had never given thought before to Strife's likes when deciding what to do, he always assumed that if he liked something, Strife would too.
Cupid noticed that Strife was watching him so he moved close to Strife and said, "I need a little time to think about some things. I'm going to go home."
Strife was surprised and a bit worried that he had done something to offend Cupid. But when he looked into Cupid's eyes, he recognized what he saw. Self-Realization. Strife had had that look on his face for the greater part of the past year. He knew that whatever Cupid was understanding, it wasn't something he had done so he wouldn't take it personally.
"I understand." Strife said quietly and took Cupid into his arms, "A little time to think can do wonders. I had a good time tonight, I hope you enjoyed it too."
"It was like a dream. Thank you for doing this for me." Cupid said with uncharacteristic humility.
Strife then pulled Cupid in for a kiss. It was a slow meeting of lips followed by slight pressure. Strife pulled Cupid more tightly against himself to convey his heartfelt affection.
As he began to pull back from the kiss, Strife gave into an impulse and bit on Cupid's lower lip and tugged slightly. When Cupid opened his eyes in surprise, Strife stepped back from Cupid's grasp and smiled tenderly.
Cupid gave a shy smile in return then flashed out in a flourish of pink sparkles.
Strife looked over at Thanatos with shining eyes and thought to him, //Ahm gonna go back ta tha house. Why don'tcha have some wine or sumthin, have a good time.//
Thanatos gave Strife a 'Yeah, right' sarcastic look before Strife disappeared in a smudge of darkness.
The crowd that had been surrounding Cupid and Strife began to murmur as rumors and speculations began to fly.
* * * * *
Asclepius made a mental call to Ganymede after sundown. Within moments Ganymede appeared with a slightly anxious look on his face.
"I found the antidote. If you are sure that you want to do this, I can give it to you tomorrow, there might be some pain involved, since you have been under the effects of the potion for so long." Asclepius said with concern.
"It would be worth it." Ganymede said with determination.
Wanting to change the conversation to something more cheerful, Asclepius asked, "Are we still going on the tour?"
Ganymede looked at Asclepius with a smile in his eyes and said, "Yes, I know you're going to enjoy this."
Ganymede extended his hand to Asclepius so he could transport them both, and they were gone in a flash.
* * * * *
In a scarlet and gold display, Ganymede and Asclepius appeared in Meg's. Asclepius was surprised to see the look of delight on everyone's faces when they appeared. He was used to being feared by mortals and found the difference to be pleasant but a bit unsettling.
"Lord Ganymede, welcome." Meg said with genuine fondness.
"M'Lady, I brought someone for you to meet." Ganymede said happily.
Asclepius was surprised when he saw Meg, "Xena?" He said, before thinking.
"Who?" said Ganymede as Meg said, "Yeah, I get that a lot."
"This is Asclepius, the God of Healing." Ganymede said in introduction, "Asclepius, this is Meg, the owner of this fine establishment."
Asclepius took Meg's hand and kissed the back. As he lifted up, his eyes met Meg's.
"You have the most beautiful eyes..." She said in astonishment.
Before Asclepius could answer, Meg snagged one of her employees and said, "Look at his eyes, aren't they like the sky on a summer's day?"
Asclepius blushed, not used to receiving attention. Ganymede was watching with approval as Meg made Asclepius feel special.
When the number of women fawning over Asclepius reached four, Ganymede stepped in. "I told you that you'd like them." He said to Asclepius, then turned to the women, "I'm going to give him a tour of the place, with your permission M'Lady?"
Meg blushed at her God's willingness to defer to her on such a matter and said, "Of course Lord Ganymede, anytime."
Asclepius was led to the bar where Ganymede got them drinks. They watched the room of bar patrons enjoying an evening of drinking and camaraderie. No one was sitting alone and a good time was being had by all.
Next Ganymede led Asclepius to the far end of the room to the alter and said with pride, "This is the first alter that was dedicated to me."
Asclepius carefully noted the collection of jewelry and fragrances that adorned the alter along with various other trinkets. Ganymede looked through the collection and found a simple necklace with a rough blue stone pendant. He picked up the necklace and said, "I'd like you to have this as a remembrance of this evening."
Asclepius responded by ducking down and lowering his head so Ganymede could put the necklace on him.
Ganymede carefully placed the necklace over Asclepius' head. His fingers brushed the sensitive flesh of Asclepius neck. Asclepius shuddered at the touch. When he stood back to his full height, he averted his eyes from Ganymede. But Ganymede caught a glimpse of what Asclepius was feeling... shame.
* * * * *
Thanatos decided to take Strife's advice and walked unseen to mortals, to the refreshments and poured himself a cup of punch.
Jace saw Thanatos standing alone, watching the people milling about and decided to join him.
"It's a lovely evening, are you enjoying yourself?" Jace asked Thanatos quietly.
Thanatos looked around himself to see whom Jace was addressing, when he realized that Jace was talking to him he responded, //I have just been watching over Cupid and Strife. I don't really do well at parties.//
"Why do you talk mentally? Mortals can't hear us." Jace asked curiously.
//The sound of my voice will cause a mortal to die instantly and will drive a god insane.// Thanatos responded with a touch of sadness.
Jace thought about that response then said mentally, //Well this is more private anyway. I think Ares talked Apollo into playing dance music again, would you care to join me?//
Thanatos was surprised, no one had asked him to dance for millennia. Sadly he thought, //My touch is the touch of death. No god or mortal can withstand it.//
Jace thought about that and realized that Thanatos was denied any physical contact with anyone. [How very lonely and tragic.] //Then would you like to go for a walk?//
Thanatos was overwhelmed by the kindness of this new god. No one had paid any kind of attention to him as a person for a very long time. His instincts were telling him to say no. Run. Don't believe that someone could care for death. But looking into the deep brown pools of Jace's eyes, he couldn't help but to accept the offer, wherever it might lead. //Yes, I would like that.//