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"How you doin boogah?" Strife asked as he hugged Bliss gently.
"You gonna be okay Poppa Stwife?" Bliss asked with tears in his eyes.
"Yeah, I promise. Yer Daddy's gonna take good care of me, jest like he takes good care of you." Strife said gently.
"Auntie Hestie said you gonna have my baby brother or sister." Bliss said carefully.
"Yeah. I got yer baby brothah or sistah right in here." Strife said as he pointed to his abdomen.
"You ate him?" Bliss asked with the tears starting to flow again.
"No boogah. Ah'd nevah do that. Yer Daddy put the baby in here soes it can be someplace safe until it's ready ta be born." Strife said lovingly as he pulled Bliss tight to his chest.
"My Daddy can do anything." Bliss said with a watery smile.
"You got that right." Strife said happily.
* * * * *
"What happened?" Joxer asked in confusion.
"Ya fell asleep. Can I get'cha anything?" Phobos asked gently.
"Um, no. Not right now. Let me wake up a little bit first. I feel like I've been sleeping for over a year." Joxer said as he blinked his eyes.
"Ten minutes, fifteen tops." Phobos said with a smile and took a seat on the chair by the sofa.
"Where is Charise?" Joxer asked as he looked around.
"Taking a nap. Everyone is. I guess when they saw you sleepin it sounded like a good idea." Phobos said with a smile.
"Why aren't you taking a nap with Charise?" Joxer asked curiously.
"Cause I'm not sleepy. I wanted ta be in here when you woke up soes I could give ya a message from Dad." Phobos said seriously.
"Oh? What did Arry have to say?" Joxer asked, beginning to feel more awake.
"He didn't want to wake you up. He said that since you was sleepin, he had some stuff he wanted ta get done in tha mortal realm. War stuff. I asked if he wanted me ta help him but he said this was just some boring stuff that he could take care of." Phobos said as he crossed his legs and began to shake his foot with nervous energy.
Joxer watched the foot for a moment, then said, "Well, if you don't have anything else planned, I could use your help with something."
"What can I do fer ya Poppa?" Phobos asked immediately as he placed both feet on the floor.
"You know I just made my first temple in the mortal realm..." Joxer said slowly.
"Yeah." Phobos said quickly.
"I thought I had a high priestess selected, but she ended up marrying Anteros." Joxer continued.
"Yeah." Phobos said anxiously.
"So there's no one to take care of my temple. Someone needs to feed the toads and water the plants." Joxer said seriously.
"I can do that!" Phobos said and immediately hopped up out of the chair.
"Wait a second Pho. There's more." Joxer said quickly.
Phobos slowly sat back down, this time on the arm of the chair.
"You remember how we acted when we visited Arcadia?" Joxer asked slowly.
Phobos nodded quickly.
"It'll be best if you act like that... Like a mortal." Joxer said seriously.
"Yeah. I can do that." Phobos said with a smile.
"One other thing... I know that as the god of fear, that you like to scare people. There probably won't be anyone in my temple, but if there is, I need for you to treat them kindly. I want my temple to be a place of refuge for people who need help... especially kids. Will you promise me?" Joxer asked seriously.
Phobos looked at Joxer in consideration for a moment before saying, "Hows bout this? I'll be nice ta any kids around, and I'll just leave tha adults alone?"
Joxer smiled and said, "Close enough. Are you going to be okay going to the mortal realm on your own?"
"I wouldn't want ta go ta Thebes or Athens by myself, but I'll be okay at yer temple." Phobos said seriously.
"Since I have to stay in bed, I'm not allowed to use my god powers, but you can still mind-speak with me if you have any questions or need anything." Joxer said seriously.
"Yeah. You need anythin before I go?" Phobos asked quickly.
"No. I'm fine. But if I do need anything, I'll call you. I promise." Joxer said with a gentle smile.
Phobos rushed to Joxer's side and gently hugged him as he said, "Thanks Poppa Joxer. No one never trusted me or made me feel important before."
Joxer smiled and said, "Soon you're going to be a father. If you're old enough to handle that kind of responsibility, then I think you're old enough to take a solo trip to the mortal world."
Phobos quickly stood and said, "Okay. I love you Poppa Joxer."
Joxer watched with a tender smile as Phobos vanished in a bright red cloud with silver sparkles.
* * * * *
"Gan?" Asclepius asked in confusion as he started to come awake.
"How are you feeling Ace?" Ganymede asked immediately.
Asclepius put his hand on his abdomen and said, "Sore, like I was punched in the gut... did Hercules catch me off guard?"
Ganymede motioned for one of the temple priests to come to him and said, "Tell Apollo that Asclepius is awake, then get him some ambrosia."
The priest nodded once and left to perform the appointed tasks.
"What happened?" Asclepius asked in confusion, then paled as the memory of Ganymede, unconscious and bleeding, filled his mind.
"I'm fine Ace. I promise..." Ganymede began to say when Asclepius broke in.
"The plague! Did Dad find a cure for it? Are you going to be okay?" Asclepius asked in escalating panic.
"It's not a plague, everyone is pregnant." Ganymede said quickly, hoping to assure Asclepius before he became so worried that he got out of bed.
Asclepius' foggy mind tried to process the statement and make sense of it.
"Ace, I'm pregnant with our baby." Ganymede said in a softer voice.
"Oh Gan! How?" Asclepius asked in wonder.
"You remember last night when we decided to... um..." Ganymede began shyly.
"I know how. I mean... how?" Asclepius asked with frustration.
Before Ganymede could answer, Apollo walked to Asclepius bedside and said, "When the seal on Greece was released, all the gods were flooded with power from the expanded power base. I suppose the natural reaction to overwhelming power is to produce more gods to help channel it."
Asclepius squinted at his father in thought, then a look of realization came over his face.
"Gan's pregnant?" Asclepius asked in a gasp of disbelief.
"That's what I've been trying to tell you." Ganymede said in a hesitant voice, not knowing what Asclepius' reaction would be.
"Both you and Ganymede are pregnant." Apollo said firmly.
Asclepius looked into his father's eyes, hoping to find some hint of this being a joke... he found none. Finally he whispered helplessly, "What am I going to do?"
"You're going to sit up and let me feed you some ambrosia." Apollo said as a bowl of ambrosia appeared in his hand.
Asclepius sat and stared in shock as Apollo spooned the ambrosia into his son's mouth.
"Ace?" Ganymede asked in fear, not wanting to even consider that Asclepius might not want their children.
Asclepius turned absently and glanced at Ganymede.
A bolt of ice ran up his spine when he saw the expression on Ganymede's face.
"I love you Gan, we're going to have some wonderful babies. " Asclepius said with assurance, hoping to alleviate Ganymede's fear.
Ganymede rested back in relief at the statement and said, "I love you too Ace."
"Good. That's what's most important right now." Apollo said seriously as he put the last spoon of ambrosia into Asclepius' mouth.
Apollo noticed that both Asclepius and Ganymede were looking at him with question, hoping for some guidance.
"Guys, for the next couple days you both need to stay in bed to give you time to fully develop the new organs your babies will need." Apollo said clinically.
"Ace, you need to pick one or two of your priests to watch over you. Let me know who it is and I'll see that they're brought here." Apollo said in thought.
"Cleptus and his wife Alonnia would be a good choice. Cleptus is as good a mortal healer as I've ever seen and his wife is a talented midwife." Asclepius said in thought.
"What about you Ganymede, are there any of your priests or followers you'd like to have brought to Olympus to take care of you?" Apollo asked casually.
Ganymede thought for a moment, then said, "There's a boy named Dorin from a small village East of Corinth. When his sister became my follower, Dorin followed her example and dedicated himself to me. He's too young to do... um... the usual work. But I think he would take good care of us and be good company besides. He's really a nice kid."
Apollo smiled and said, "Good thinking, both of you. Ace's priest can help ease any physical discomfort that might arise and Ganymede's acolyte can help to alleviate the boredom that comes with extended bed rest."
Asclepius looked at Ganymede with a gentle smile, feeling pride on behalf of his husband.
"My priests will be in to move you to Asclepius rooms. You are both to stay in bed and use no godly powers." Apollo said firmly.
"Don't worry. I'm sure we can survive a few days together." Ganymede said with an expression of love directed at Asclepius.
After a long moment of looking into Ganymede's eyes, Asclepius said, "Three days in bed with you... I can't think of anything better."
Apollo smiled at the statement, then walked to the priest by the door to give his instructions.
* * * * *
Phobos followed the glimpse of the location that Joxer had mentally sent to him and appeared before the temple in the mortal realm.
He was about to go in and get to work when he stopped and tilted his head a little one way, then the other as he looked at the building. It was somehow misshapen, off-center and the whole thing seemed to be tilted slightly to the left.
Phobos shook his head to dismiss his curiosity and get to work.
As he stepped through the large entry door he nearly stepped in something.
"Ewww." He said to himself, as he looked at it, then realized that it was made out of stone.
Phobos looked at the 'sculpture' for a moment longer, then giggled as he muttered to himself, "Pretty cool Poppa Joxer."
The sound of hungry toads drew his attention and he walked to the pit that was to the left of the floating alter.
"Don't worry guys, I have lots of food for yas." Phobos said into the pit as he produced a bowl full of live meal worms.
"Did you say food?" A voice asked from behind him that made Phobos jump nearly a foot in the air.
Phobos whirled around to find a boy a few years younger than himself looking dirty and hungry and more than a little frightened.
"I'm sorry if I scared you." The boy muttered in a trembling voice.
Phobos began to giggle and said, "That's okay. I've scared lots of people before, but not many people have scared me... My name's Pho, what's yours?"
The boy wilted with relief at Phobos' friendly nature and happily said, "I'm Van... Did you say something about food?"
Phobos looked down at the bowl of meal worms he was still holding and said, "Yeah, for the toads."
Van followed his gaze down to the bowl and reluctantly said, "A few more days and that might even look good."
Phobos thought for a moment before saying, "I've got to feed the toads and water the plants. But when that's done you could come to my house for dinner if you wanted."
"Really?" Van asked with wide eyed excitement, then asked in a guarded tone, "Your mom won't mind if I come over will she?"
Phobos reached into the bowl of worms and began to casually scatter them into the pit of toads as he said, "I never lived with my mom. I live with my Dad and I know he won't mind."
"I've always lived with my mom... at least she says she's my mom." Van finished bitterly.
"If you'll take that bucket and water the plants we can get done faster and have dinner." Pho said as he pointed.
Van nodded and walked to pick up the bucket as he said, "My mom lied to me all my life... about everything."
"I don't think my Dad ever lied to me. He's sometimes too busy with work to spend time with me and my brother. Or sometimes he gets to thinking about other stuff and kind of forgets us for a little bit. But he never lied." Phobos said in thought as he continued to scatter the meal worms among the appreciative toads.
After drawing some water from the pool where the alter was floating, Van began to water the plants as he said, "I never knew my dad. I think I met him once when I was just a little kid, but... I'm not sure. He might've just been some guy... He was nice to me..."
Phobos turned over the empty bowl and tapped it a few times over the pit before going to the pool and dipping some water to help water the plants.
"Did you run away from home?" Phobos asked as he walked to the next flower box and began to pour the water.
"Yeah... A couple weeks ago." Van said quietly.
"What are you gonna do?" Phobos asked with interest.
"I don't know. I didn't think it would be like this. I thought people would help me and take care of me like... like they always did before." Van said with a distant look in his eyes.
"Maybe you should think about going back to your mom. She's probably worried about yas." Phobos said quietly.
Van shook his head and said, "No. I can't live with the lies anymore. I've grown up believing things that were all wrong. I have to find out what's real before I can go back there. Otherwise she'll be able to lie to me and make me believe her again."
Phobos thought about what Van was saying and was assaulted by inspiration.
"What would you think about being a priest?" Phobos asked suddenly.
"A priest?" Van asked in confirmation.
"Yeah. This is tha temple of tha god of mischief. Tha priest that was s'posed ta take care of this temple ran off and got married. I bet if we talked to my Poppa, he could fix it soes you could live here an take care of tha place." Phobos said quickly.
Van looked around the room in wonder, as if seeing it for the first time. Finally he said in amazement, "That would be so great. It would be like an answered prayer... if I knew how to pray."
"You don't know how to pray?" Phobos asked with astonishment.
"No. That's one of the things that my mom lied to me about... We're done in here, are there any plants in the next room?" Van asked curiously.
"Dunno. I never been here before. Let's find out." Phobos said and approached the door.
The boys passed through the door and waited for their eyes to adjust to the much dimmer light.
"What's that?" Van asked suddenly and pointed to something low to the ground that moved toward them.
"I don't know, I can't see it. Close the door and I'll get a torch." Phobos said then looked around to see if there were any torches in the room.
He didn't find any, but glanced at Van and found him peeking through the crack in the door.
With a thought, Phobos produced a torch, then for good measure produced a second one for Van.
"Here." Phobos said as he handed Van a torch.
"It's over there." Van whispered and pointed across the room.
"I'll go in and see what it is. You stay by tha door and be ready to close it behind me if the thing chases me out." Phobos said seriously.
"Okay." Van said seriously.
Phobos started to walk, then turned to look Van in the eyes as he said, "Wait for me to run by *then* close the door.
"I will Pho, I promise I won't shut you in. You're the first friend I've had that my mom didn't pick for me... you're my first real friend." Van finished softly.
Phobos smiled at the statement briefly and said, "Okay friend. Watch out while I see what this is."
Van nodded and held the door open for Phobos to enter.
* * * * *
"How are you doing Nami?" Erebus asked in a whisper as Tsunami's eyes fluttered open.
"I've never felt so loved." Tsunami said as he looked up into Erebus' eyes.
"I've done some checking since you've been asleep and I think I found a place for us." Erebus said gently.
"Where?" Tsunami asked in delight.
"I still need to talk to Hephaestus about it, but... the savages to the West haven't claimed any gods as their own. They are just beginning to become civilized enough to really grasp the concept of religion. I don't think Hades could administer their underworld in addition to this one. I'm going to ask King Hephaestus if we can go there and start a new underworld. You can still be the Titan of Death and Destruction of the sea... we could work together." Erebus said happily.
"Do you really think King Hephaestus will allow it?" Tsunami asked in thought.
"He cares for the mortals. When I point out that the souls of the fallen savages aren't moving on to an afterlife, but are left to wander the mortal realm, I'm sure he will agree. Not only does this solve our problem about not having a purpose but... we really are needed." Erebus said with an expression of honesty.
Tsunami gave Erebus a gentle smile and said, "I knew you'd come up with a way for us to be happy. You're going to be such a wonderful father."
Erebus leaned in to give Tsunami a gentle, tentative kiss.
Tsunami pulled Erebus down to make the kiss one filled with all the love that he felt.
* * * * *
"It's okay Van, you can come in." Pho said from inside the room.
Van walked in to find Phobos looking at the strange... thing curiously.
"What is it?" Van asked as he hesitantly approached.
"I have no idea... but it seems friendly." Pho said as he moved around to look at it from a different angle.
"Maybe my mom was right... the gods must be really cruel to create something like this. Something born to suffer." Van said in a troubled voice.
"I don't think so." Phobos said speculatively.
Van looked at him curiously.
After a long moment of silence, Phobos said in a considering voice, "It's not alive."
"Are you sure?" Van asked as he looked at the 'whatever it is' more closely.
"Yeah. It doesn't breathe or eat or have babies. It doesn't even think." Phobos said in deep thought.
"Then how does it move?" Van asked curiously.
"It's enchanted. The gods can put a spark of their power into an object to allow it to move or give a mortal a special ability or even effect a god's powers." Phobos said in thought.
"Could you recognize one of those enchanted things if you saw one?" Van asked hesitantly.
"Yeah." Pho said, then realized that he'd just admitted to having godly sight.
"I'm not really sure I want to know, but... would you look at this?" Van asked quietly and held out his arm to reveal a metal bracelet.
Phobos looked closely at the bracelet and gasped.
"Is it something bad?" Van asked with a sinking feeling.
"It's Hephestian metal!" Phobos said in astonishment.
"Is that bad?" Van asked with dread.
Phobos finally noticed his friend's mood and quietly said, "No. It doesn't have any effect at all on mortals."
Van let loose a sigh of relief and said, "Good. I was worried because my mom put this thing on me and I can't get it off."
"I tell you what. Since you're coming over for dinner anyway, we can show your bracelet to my dad. I'm sure he'll know how to get it off." Phobos said casually.
Van smiled at Phobos and whispered, "Thanks."
Phobos smiled, then looked around the room and said, "There aren't any plants in here. We can go to my house if you still want to."
"Sure I do. How far is it? Can we get there before nightfall?" Van asked, suddenly reenergized.
Phobos looked at the floor at his feet and quietly said, "I've got to be honest with you Van"
"Your family doesn't have enough food?" Van ventured to ask.
"No. That's not it. We've got plenty of food and we'll be happy to share it with you. It's just... Since you're my friend, I don't want to lie to you." Phobos finished in a mutter.
"Just tell me Pho. Whatever it is I won't be mad at you." Van said gently.
"Okay... Van, I'm a god." Phobos said quietly, watching for Van's reaction.
Van looked at Phobos with fear and disbelief.
Phobos disappeared in a cloud of red smoke and silver sparkles.
A second later he appeared on the other side of the room.
Van looked as though he were ready to run away in terror, but somehow he was able to keep his place.
"If you still want to come to dinner with me, you're still invited." Phobos whispered.
Van looked into Phobos' eyes and said, "My mom always told me never to trust gods. That all they ever did was trick and lie to mortals to make their lives miserable..."
Phobos nodded in acceptance.
"But since I figured out that she's a liar, I guess I don't need to worry about that. I'll just listen to my stomach..." Van finished with a smile of accomplishment.
Phobos chuckled at the statement, then said, "Since you're wearing that bracelet, I won't be able to transport you. But give me a second and I'll get my brother's help to make a gateway so we can just walk."
"What do I need to do?" Van asked quietly.
"Just wait." Phobos said with a smile, then concentrated.
//Ter. Can you help me make a gate from the mortal realm?// Phobos sent seriously.
//Why do you want to create a gate?// Anteros asked with confusion.
//I made a new friend and I want to bring him home to meet Dad and Poppa. Will you help me make a gate or not?// Phobos asked insistently.
//Give me a second to get into the entry hall, then you push and I'll pull. We'll have this thing opened in no time.// Anteros sent as he walked into the next room.
"Is everything going okay?" Van asked quietly.
"Fine. Just one more second." Phobos said gently. Then turned his attention back to Anteros.
//I'm ready.// Anteros sent as soon as he was in position.
//Let's do it.// Phobos replied and extended his arms in a dramatic gesture.
Van involuntarily took a step back as a swirling mist started to form.
//That's it Pho. You're doing it just right.// Anteros said with encouragement.
//I feel it Ter, it's just like you taught us. I never thought I'd make a gate without Demi.// Phobos said with some effort in his mind voice.
//That's it Pho. It's stable. You can let go now.// Anteros said gently.
//Thanks Ter, I'll see you in a minute.// Phobos sent happily, then turned to Van and said, "This is a shortcut to my house. You still coming?"
"Um... yeah." Van said in astonishment as he followed Phobos into the vortex.
* * * * *
"Hi. You must be Pho's friend, I'm Anteros."
"Really?" Van asked with wide eyes as he looked at the young man with wings standing before him.
Anteros smiled gently at Van, and nodded.
"Yeah. That's Ter, come down the hall and meet my Poppa Joxer. That was his temple we were in." Phobos said with excitement as he led the way toward the door.
"Pho, you don't want to leave the gate open do you?" Anteros asked in a leading tone.
Phobos stopped in his tracks, then shyly said, "I forgot."
Anteros smiled and watched as his brother skillfully collapsed the gate.
* * * * *
"Poppa Joxer, this is Van. I thought that if it's okay with you, he could take care of your temple." Phobos said in a rush as he hurried into the room.
Van froze in the doorway when he saw the man standing beside the couch.
"You're him..." Van said in astonishment.
Ares turned and looked at the skinny, dirty boy and hesitantly said, "Evander?"