Castle Roland

Controlling Chaos

by MultiMapper


Chapter 31

Posted: 29 Dec 2014

Chapter Thirty-One

   After a visit to Hephaestus and a promise from him to find Codgis some help, Joxer decided to walk to the Halls of War with the boys, rather than flash.

   "Poppa Joxer?" Phobos said hesitantly.

   [Poppa?!] Joxer thought in surprise, but only responded, "Yes?"

   "Can we go back to tha mortal world? I wanna use my godhood again." Phobos asked with enthusiasm.

   Joxer thought about the question and said, "Why don't we go back to the Halls of War and ask your father if he'd like to come with us? The festival is still going on in Arcadia, we could go there if you'd like."

   Both the boys were silent as they walked. Finally as they approached the main door, Phobos quietly said, "Dad's ashamed of us. He never took us nowhere unless we couldn't be seen."

   Joxer stopped and looked seriously at both boys, then said, "Do you want to know what your dad told me about his twin boys when I was still mortal?"

   Both boys nodded enthusiastically.

   "He said that his twins were just like him and his twin sister Eris when they were kids. He said that you two were each others best friends and that he wouldn't change that for anything. I think he's doing his best to provide you two the childhood he wanted to have had." Joxer said seriously.

   "So he isn't disappointed in us?" Deimos asked in nearly a whisper.

   "No. He loves you both and dreams of you two becoming his twin generals one day." Joxer said with delight in his eyes.

   "Dad wants us to be his generals?" Phobos asked with disbelief.

   "Someday. He hasn't told you because he doesn't want you to feel like he did. All his life he was told 'YOU ARE WAR!' by his father. He wants you two to grow up being Phobos and Deimos first, and Pain and Fear will just be your titles when you are working." Joxer said as he looked in their eyes.

   Joxer found that both boys were on the verge of tears, so he thought he should calm them down before they faced their father.

   "For right now, we need to focus on learning all the different things you can do with your godhoods. And the best way I know to do that is in the mortal world." Joxer said with a big smile.

   "Thank you Poppa Joxer. Dad don't tell us stuff like that. But as long as we know, that's okay." Phobos said with a small smile.

   "Yeah. I'm glad you're our Poppa." Deimos said in a husky voice.

   "I'm glad I'm your Poppa too. Now let's go see your father." Joxer said as he put an arm around each boys' shoulder.

   //Cupid, would you mind if I came to visit with Bliss?// Cupid heard in his mind.

   //Psyche? Sure, come over, we were just playing.// He responded after the shock wore off.

   There was a subdued flash of yellow light and Psyche appeared in the room.

   "MOMMY!" Bliss cried out and ran to his mother.

   "Yes baby, mommy's home." Psyche said as she held Bliss close.

   "Daddy said you was sick and Uncle Pollo gonna make you better. You all better now mommy?" Bliss asked hopefully.

   "Yes Mommy's all better now. Why don't you come over here and tell me what's happened while I've been gone." Psyche said as she guided Bliss to sit on a large sofa.

   "Would you like us to leave you two alone for a while?" Cupid asked as he looked peacefully at his son's happiness.

   "That's okay Cupid, you and Anteros can stay. I was just released today and the first thing I wanted to do was visit Bliss. I won't be staying long." She said as she rocked Bliss in a hug.

   "Stay as long as you want. I put your stuff in the spare room... but you don't have a door." Cupid said with a blush.

   "I noticed that, you've done some redecorating... I like it." Psyche said as Bliss started tugging on her arm.

   She turned her attention to Bliss who said, "Daddy got a spankin."

   Psyche's eyes got wide and she looked at Cupid, who blushed and nodded.

   "Why did your daddy get a spanking?" Psyche asked Bliss with an indulgent tone.

   "Cause he didn read to me or play with me." Bliss said seriously.

   "Now he does?" Psyche asked, devoting all her attention to Bliss.

   "When daddy's not working, he spends all his time playing with me. He don make me stay with grandma Dite or Aunt Hestia no more." Bliss said happily.

   "You don't want to visit your Grandma Dite?" Psyche asked with concern.

   "I want to visit Grandma Dite with daddy, not instead of daddy." Bliss said with certainty.

   "Psyche, day after tomorrow I'm arranging a family dinner here. Would you please come?" Cupid asked hopefully.

   "Me?" Psyche asked hesitantly.

   "Yes. This isn't any big formal thing, just a meal for the whole family to share. You're invited if you'd like to come. If not, you can come to the next one. I'll probably be having one every week, and you'll always be invited." Cupid said sincerely.

   "Thank you Cupid. I think I will come." Psyche said with a gentle smile.

   Cupid smiled at her acceptance and took a seat on the other sofa beside Anteros.

   "That's everything here, we're done for another lunar cycle." Hades said as he closed his scroll of business projections for the month.

   //My Lord Hades, I would like to request your council if you have time.// Thanatos asked quietly.

   "It must be serious for you to use the formal address. You haven't done that for millennia. Speak my friend." Hades said with worry.

   //In all my time here, I have never sought the touch of another. It has never been a burden to be the personification of death... until now.// Thanatos said sadly.

   "The young god that visited you earlier?" Hades asked curiously.

   Thanatos nodded.

   "I'm sorry my friend, you and I are bound to the essence of Asphodel. No magic in the world can make us other than what we are. If there were a way, I would offer it to you." Hades said with regret.

   //Thank you Lord Hades. Perhaps the Widow Twanky was right, we can become lovers of mind and spirit. I just thought...// Thanatos trailed off in sorrow.

   "I'm sorry. It cannot be done. The two of us, we are not just members of the house of death, we ARE death, it is part of us and we of it. If there is any boon in my power that I can grant to ease your way, you have but to ask." Hades said, feeling powerless to help his most faithful servant.

   //Thank you my Lord, as always I am yours to command.// Thanatos said as he withdrew.

   "I know my friend. I know." Hades said sadly to the empty doorway.

   "King Hephaestus, I come to ask for your approval on a project." Ganymede said respectfully as he appeared in Hephaestus office.

   "Ganymede, come in, you too Ace, come over here and sit down. Hephie was just telling me what you two are doing and I've got just the thing for you." Aphrodite said with a bounce.

   "He did? You do? Who told?" Ganymede asked in confusion.

   "King of the Gods... Omniscient." Hephaestus said with his best imitation of Aphrodite's 'duh' look.

   Ganymede and Asclepius immediately felt more at ease. You just can't take someone too seriously who gives you the 'duh' look.

   "Dip the tip of the arrow in this potion and it'll have such a romance whammy that Zeus won't know what hit him." Aphrodite said with glee.

   "So you approve?" Ganymede asked in confusion.

   "You chose him for his looks, didn't you Ace?" Aphrodite said with a sympathetic tone.

   Asclepius tried to be offended on Ganymede's behalf, but it was funny, so he laughed.

   Ganymede shot an offended glare at Asclepius, but it couldn't hold up to the laughter and finally broke under Aphrodite's titters of amusement and Hephaestus' gentle smile.

   "Okay, dumb question. Will you two give the arrow a power boost? Then we'll take it to the others." Ganymede asked with a good natured smile.

   Aphrodite made a few grand gestures, then very dramatically held her hands over the arrow and bathed it in a blue glow of power.

   Hephaestus rolled his eyes at her production and glanced at the arrow. A flare of red power engulfed it, and was absorbed.

   "You guys need to stop by sometime when you can visit." Aphrodite said enthusiastically.

   Asclepius nodded as Ganymede said, "Sure. When everything settles down, we'll come by."

   "Good. Hestia is going to show me how to roast a boar. I need for someone to try it." Aphrodite said happily.

   Ganymede and Asclepius shot a glance at each other, then Asclepius hurriedly said, "We've got to get this arrow charged up before it gets too late."

   When Ganymede and Asclepius were gone, Aphrodite asked, "Why does everyone react that way when I say I'm learning to cook?"

   "Don't worry dear. The proof is in the tasting. I'm sure you'll be a wonderful cook and they'll all be terribly jealous of me for having a beautiful wife who can prepare food by hand that is fit for a god." Hephaestus said with a dreamy, loving twinkle in his eye.

   "Ooooh, you are gonna get sooooo lucky tonight." Aphrodite said with adoration for her husband.

   Joxer walked into the Halls of War with a twin under each arm to find Ares engrossed in a scroll.

   "Dad, Poppa Joxer wants for us to go to tha mortal realm. Will you come with us?" Phobos asked hopefully.

   Ares looked up with surprise. Then his expression slowly morphed from surprise to tenderness.

   "Sure Pho. I'd love to go with you. Just give me a minute to finish this." Ares said quickly and went back to work.

   "Why don't you guys change into something a little warmer. It's starting to get dark." Joxer said to the twins.

   Phobos nodded and the boys both hurried out of the room.

   "Poppa Joxer?" Ares asked with a tender smile.

   "They came up with that themselves. They're great kids." Joxer said with a dreamy look.

   "I was afraid you wouldn't be able to connect with them. Most people see them as their godhoods and never look any deeper." Ares said with a pained note in his voice as he wrote on a scroll.

   "Arry, before we got together I dreamed about what kind of family I'd want to have one day... those two are the kids I always wanted. It took me four years to fall in love with you, it took half an hour for me to fall in love with them." Joxer said lovingly.

   "They've chosen you as their parent Joxer. I've never seen them open up to anyone like this before. I think you'll be good for them." Ares said as he rolled the scroll and sent it away.

   "Are you done?" Joxer asked hopefully.

   "Yes. Did you get to visit Codgis?" Ares asked as he stood from his chair.

   "Yeah, I'll let the boys tell you what we came up with." Joxer said as he pulled Ares into a warm embrace.

   "You're sending them on missions for me?" Ares asked with a chuckle.

   "They were afraid you were ashamed of them. I think they need to feel that you trust them." Joxer said as he nuzzled Ares neck.

   "I just didn't want them to feel like I only wanted them for their godhoods. I wanted them to be free to be themselves and if they showed an interest, they could work for me." Ares said quietly.

   "I know love, but I think maybe you went too far the other way. Instead of feeling that they're only wanted for their godhoods, they feel like their godhoods are worthless to you... and so are they." Joxer said as he held Ares close.

   "Do we look okay?" Phobos asked, walking into the room wearing an animal hide coat.

   "I think that might be too hot for tonight Pho... what do you think Ar?" Joxer asked.

   "I think that will be fine as long as you don't fasten it closed. It looks good on you." Ares said carefully.

   Phobos gave a big smile at his father. Deimos stepped forward to display his multiple layers of a shirt, an outer shirt, a vest, and a light jacket.

   Joxer looked at Deimos consideringly and said, "I think that'll be just right Demi. You should really wear a vest more often, it looks good on you."

   "He's right son. You look good." Ares said as he looked at Deimos proudly.

   "I just thought of something. Why don't we see if Cupid and Bliss want to come with us?" Joxer asked the group.

   "Why?" Ares asked curiously.

   "Why not? Maybe they'd enjoy it." Joxer replied from Ares' side.

   "Sure, let's go and see if they'd like to go." Ares said and prepared to flash them to the Temple of Love.

   "Wait a minute Ar. It's such a beautiful night, let's walk over." Joxer said warmly.

   "Sure Jox, come on boys. Let's go see your brother Cupid." Ares said as he and Joxer led the way out the door.

   "Did they buy it?" Zeus asked hopefully.

   "Yeah, Cupid's spending time with Bliss tonight but he said he'll do it first thing in the morning." Jett said with a smirk.

   "Good, and I'm glad he's taking an interest in his son. That boy was being shifted all over Olympus. The only one who didn't spend time with Bliss was Cupid." Zeus said seriously.

   "So what do you want to do now?" Jett asked with a leer.

   "You know that bar we cleared out the other day? Let's go back there, something about doing it on the floor of a bar really works for me." Zeus said in a seductive growl.

   "You're a sick and twisted god... I like that." Jett said and flashed them to the bar.

   "So boys, what did you find out about Codgis?" Ares asked as they walked away from the Halls of War.

   "Tha king has him makin a bunch a swords, an he ain't got time to do a good job. He's scared that tha king will kill him like he did the last blacksmith." Phobos said assertively.

   "The last blacksmith publicly disrespected the king. It had nothing to do with his blacksmith abilities. Even Hephaestus agreed that the king had the right to have him put to death." Ares said as they walked.

   "Uncle Heph said he would get Codgis some help so he could make good weapons for your warriors." Deimos said seriously.

   "Good. That will make my job easier. It's hard to guide the outcome of a battle when the swords of the favored army keep breaking." Ares said plainly.

   "Poppa Joxer said you wanted us to be your generals someday." Phobos blurted out.

   "Yes, if that's something you'd be interested in doing." Ares said cautiously.

   "Could we, like, help you in some of your wars sometimes?" Phobos asked hopefully.

   Ares got a great smile of pride and said, "If you'd like to, I've got a battle starting in the morning. Mykantos and his men would benefit from a good dose of pain and fear... Joxer, you might be able to help too. I think a little mischief would make it a battle to remember." Ares said hopefully.

   "That sounds great love, what do you say guys? Do you want to war with us tomorrow?" Joxer asked the boys.

   Both boys were speechless, but nodded enthusiastically.

   Ares, Joxer and the twins walked into the Temple of Love in time to see Psyche flash out.

   "Dad?" Anteros asked with worry.

   "Don't worry Ter, social call." Ares said with a smile.

   Anteros nodded and looked to Cupid and Bliss.

   "I like what you've done with the place. Roomy." Ares said as he looked around the spacious living area.

   "Anteros didn't like the barriers I used to keep him out... now they're gone." Cupid said with a shrug.

   "That's good." Ares said quietly, looking fondly at Anteros.

   "We came to ask if you guys would like to come to the festival in Arcadia with us." Joxer said happily.

   "Um, I don't really like to take Bliss to the mortal realm..." Cupid trailed off.

   "It'll be fun. And besides, Bliss is older now, he can behave." Joxer said solidly.

   "What do you say Ter? You want to go to Arcadia with us?" Cupid asked.

   "Um... sure?" Anteros responded, obviously surprised at being asked.

   "Great... What about Strife? Do you think he'd like to go?" Joxer asked with a knowing smile directed at Cupid.

   "I could ask." Cupid said in thought, then his eyes went unfocused.

   "Go ahead and ask, Pho and Demi, do you think you can find something for Bliss to wear. He'll get cold in that toga." Joxer said.

   "Where's your room?" Phobos asked Bliss seriously.

   "Come here. This is my very own room." Bliss said happily and led the two older boys out of the main room.

   "He says he'll meet us there." Cupid said with a smile.

   "Great." Joxer said happily.

   "So what's the plan?" Anteros asked suspiciously.

   "No plan. Just a night out with the family." Ares said with a warm glance at Joxer.

   "Poppa Joxer, will you help us?" Phobos called from Bliss' room.

   "I'll be right back." Joxer said as he left to help.

   "The twins are calling him Poppa?" Cupid asked in wonder.

   "Yeah. He's a great father. They asked me about helping in a war. They're going to join me in a battle tomorrow." Ares said proudly.

   "That's great Dad. I know you've been holding off on including them in your work, but I'm glad they're finally going to get some practical experience with their godhoods." Anteros said seriously.

   "You should join us in a battle sometime Ter, you're good with a sword." Ares said firmly.

   "But I'm a love god." Anteros said in confusion.

   "Yeah, but that's not all you are. You're a son of war. I'm not trying to push you, I'm just letting you know that you're invited." Ares said, looking Anteros in the eyes.

   "What about Cupid?" Anteros asked, looking at his brother.

   "Cupid doesn't like to fight." Ares said with a shrug.

   "He's right Ter. Dad taught me how to defend myself, but I don't like the whole war, battle, bloodshed thing. It just doesn't work for me." Cupid said simply.

   "Do you think you could spare me tomorrow. I think I'd like to try fighting again, just so I don't lose my touch." Anteros said consideringly.

   "That's my boy." Ares said with a smile.

   "Daddy, I'm ready." Bliss announced as he ran into the room wearing pants and an open back shirt that didn't restrict his wings.

   "Are we going as gods or as mortals?" Cupid asked the group.

   Silence fell over the room until Phobos said, "Mortals. That way we can watch tha mortals and they won't know it."

   "You heard him. All those with wings, start your glamours." Ares said to the group.

   "Will you help Bliss with his glamour Dad? I haven't had a chance to teach him yet." Cupid asked hopefully.

   "Sure, Bliss, come to Grandpa and I'll help you hide your wings." Ares said as he took a seat on the sofa.

   Anteros and Cupid both concentrated and their wings faded out.

   Everyone watched as Ares patiently talked Bliss through the steps to hide his wings from mortal sight.

   Before long, Bliss' wings faded from view and they were ready to go.

   The group of disguised gods walked through the streets of Arcadia. Joxer was enthusiastically pointing out items at vendors stalls, occasionally stopping to purchase something.

   Ares was simply enjoying Joxer's excitement.

   Cupid and Anteros were nervously watching the people around them, feeling horribly out of place.

   The boys seemed to be vibrating with the excitement of all those around them.

   "Poppa Joxer, can we go see Senscie?" Phobos asked as he pointed at the pub they had visited earlier.

   "Sure, come on guys, we have someone for you to meet." Joxer said as he followed Phobos and Deimos to the pub.

   The group walked in and found a table almost immediately.

   "What can I get for you gentlemen this fine evening?" Senscie asked the group.

   Cupid, Ares and Anteros stared in wonder at the Nubian woman with a radiant glow of happiness and the symbols of three godhoods blessing her.

   "Soup and bread for all of us." Joxer said for the table.

   "Oh, you've come back and brought some friends. It's good to see you again. I'll have your food right out, would anyone be wanting some ale?" She asked with a smile.

   Ares and Anteros nodded.

   "Could I have some wine... and some water for the children?" Cupid asked hopefully.

   "Yes, it will just be a minute." Senscie said and hurried back to the kitchen.

   "You blessed her?" Cupid asked seriously.

   "She was nice to us. She thought we was poor an was gonna pay for part of our meal soes me an Demi could eat." Phobos said defensively.

   "I wasn't saying it was bad, just not many gods bestow their mark on a mortal." Cupid said quickly.

   "I was showing the guys how they could use their godhoods differently. It's like your godhood Cupid. You choose to bestow the blessing of love, but you could choose to bestow the curse of love if you wanted to." Joxer said, then fell silent as Senscie arrived with their drinks.

   "I brought something special for the boys, it's a sweet tea that the young around these parts seem to favor. If they don't like it, I can bring them water." Senscie said as she placed their glasses.

   "Thank you good lady." Joxer said with a smile.

   "You're welcome." Senscie said with a gentle incline of her head, then retreated to the kitchen again.

   "Curse of Love?" Cupid asked cautiously.

   "Sure, if you can give love, can't you take it away too? Make someone so they have no love in their life?" Joxer asked curiously.

   "Yeah, I guess I could." Cupid said speculatively.

   "I figured that all the godhoods worked like mine, there's a side that gives a blessing and a side that gives a curse. It's up to the god to decide which side he uses." Joxer said to the table.

   "That's really cool Joxer, I never thought about it like that." Anteros said with a smile.

   "My husband is smart." Ares said with pride.

   "He's gotta be if he's gonna be mischief." A voice said from behind Ares.

   "Strife!" Cupid said happily and jumped up to pull Strife into a hug.

   "S'Good to see you too Cupe." Strife said happily.

   Cupid let Strife loose and scooted into the booth to let Strife sit beside him.

   "Pho and Demi, out in tha mortal realm? What'd tha mortals do ta piss you off unc?" Strife asked with a smirk.

   Phobos and Deimos looked a little hurt by Strife's joke, then Strife jumped up from his seat and patted out a fire on his butt.

   "Those are my sons you're talking about. You don't want the god of mischief pissed at you." Joxer said with a big smirk.

   "Ah gotcha Jox. Ah was kiddin Pho and Demi. Ah'm glad you're out having some fun." Strife said seriously.

   The boys looked cautious but nodded in acceptance.

   Senscie came to the table carrying a kettle and a stack of bowls.

   "When you have this many people it makes sense to serve it this way." Senscie said to the group and started dipping soup into the bowls.

   //You blessed her?// Strife asked Joxer with surprise.

   //Yes, she acted compassionately to the boys.// Joxer responded with a smile at Strife.

   "And another one has joined you. You look like you'd enjoy an ale." Senscie said to Strife.

   "You got that right." Strife said with a smile to the radiant woman.

   "Be right back." Senscie said and returned to the kitchen.

   "You did more than bless her. Mortals ain't usually that happy. She's oozing peace and happiness." Strife said to Joxer.

   "Pho and Demi did that, they transformed her pain and fear into something healthy and productive, I just awakened her humor." Joxer said with a smile.

   "Daddy, I like this. Can we have this at home sometimes?" Bliss asked, indicating the sweet tea.

   "Sure, I tell you what. Tomorrow, after work, I'll help you to learn how to materialize it for yourself." Cupid said warmly.

   Bliss bounced with enthusiasm.

   "Do you boys like the tea?" Senscie asked as she approached with a bowl and a mug of ale for Strife.

   "S'Good. Thanks." Deimos said quietly.

   Anteros and Cupid looked at Deimos in surprise. Neither could remember hearing Deimos speak before.

   Senscie filled Strife's bowl and took the kettle back to the kitchen.

   "Would you mind if I showed Strife your Temple Joxer?" Cupid asked between spoons of soup.

   "That'd be great. You gotta tell me what you think of it Strife. Tell me if you have any ideas." Joxer said with excitement.

   "Ah'll do that. Where you gonna be?" Strife asked after taking a drink of ale.

   "I'm going to get my sword back from Codgis. It may seem stupid, but it's one of my mortal things and I don't want to lose it. That stuff reminds me of who I am." Joxer said as he squeezed Ares hand under the table.

   "Would you boys like to go off and look at the merchant's stalls for a while?" Ares asked casually.

   "Alone?" Pho asked with wide eyes.

   "Sure. Cupid, would it be okay if Pho and Demi took Bliss with them to look at the market stalls? I think they'd have more fun without us tagging along behind them." Ares said, turning his attention to Cupid.

   //What?// Cupid sent to his father in panic.

   //Pho and Demi think I don't trust them. This'll let them know that I do. Bliss can call you if he needs anything.// Ares sent seriously.

   "Um, yeah. Do you want to go look at the market with your Uncle Pho and Uncle Demi?" Cupid asked carefully.

   Bliss nodded with excitement.

   "Is that okay with you guys? I just figured you'd like a little time away from the old folks. You're welcomed to follow us if you'd rather." Ares said seriously.

   "That'd be good dad. We was wantin ta watch mortals anyway." Phobos said, vibrating with energy.

   "You guys have fun, watch after Bliss, and remember... don't kill anyone." Joxer said with a gentle smile.

   "We'll just watch 'em. Come on Bliss." Phobos said and hurried from the table.

   Deimos looked at the adults and gave a small smile to convey his own joy.

   All the adults watched silently as the boys ran out of the pub.

   "Are you sure they'll watch after Bliss?" Cupid asked with worry.

   "They'll be fine. They're proving that they can be trusted. Bliss will be safe." Joxer said with assurance.

   Cupid looked at the door with anxiety until Strife put an arm around his shoulder and said, "You wanna show me Joxer's temple?"

   "Um, yeah. I think you'll love it." Cupid said absently and led Strife out of the pub so they could disappear away from mortal eyes.

   "So Ter, how have you been doing? You don't stop in and visit very often." Ares asked as he scooted closer to Joxer so their thighs were rubbing under the table.

   "Okay I guess. I've been helping Cupid get used to the 'head of the House of Love' thing. There's a lot more work to it than I realized. Mom may seem a little spacey, but I gotta respect her for doing that job by herself. I never knew she had to put up with so much." Anteros said as he pushed his empty bowl away.

   "How are you Ter. Not your job?" Ares asked with concern.

   Anteros noticed the concerned look in his father's eyes and said, "Not so good. I mean, I'm glad Cupid's getting straightened out, and the whole living together thing is really great, but I'm starting to feel like my life is empty. I thought having Cupid and Bliss would fill the void... but now... I just don't know."

   "Why don't you get Cupid to do the whole 'romantic love' thing for you. He'll set you up with someone nice." Joxer asked seriously.

   "Because I don't want a set-up. I want to fall in love for real. I always thought it would happen, but... I've been waiting for centuries and it hasn't happened." Anteros said in a lost voice.

   "That's because you have to work for it." Joxer said seriously.

   Anteros looked at Joxer curiously.

   "You have to plant the seeds before you can harvest the fruit." Joxer tried again.

   "I don't think the metaphors are working for him Joxer." Ares said quietly, sympathizing with his son's turmoil.

   "You have to have friendships and relationships, sometimes a lot of them before one develops into something more. Your dad's told me that you like to keep to yourself for the most part, and that's fine. But you can't expect to develop a lasting relationship if you don't spend time with people." Joxer said with concern.

   "Okay, I guess I can see that." Anteros said quietly.

   "We're not trying to change you Anteros. You're old enough to make your own choices, I'm just telling you how it looks from the outside." Joxer said simply.

   "Yeah, I just don't know how to start. I mean meeting people like that." Anteros said darkly.

   "It's tough. If you want, we can help you. We won't set you up on dates or anything like that, but if we find a social situation where you might fit in, we'll invite you along and maybe you'll meet someone you'll enjoy spending time with." Ares said as he held Joxer's hand firmly.

   "Thanks Dad, I guess I'll try it. Staying to myself hasn't been working." Anteros said with a distant look.

   "If you all are ready, what do you say we visit the blacksmith, then enjoy the market." Joxer said, trying to lighten the mood.

   "Yeah, and thanks Joxer. I'm glad Dad married you, you're pretty cool." Anteros said with a forced smile.

   "I'm glad he's got such great kids, it's like an added bonus." Joxer said as he looked fondly at his husband.

   "Can we look at that?" Bliss asked with excitement.

   Phobos and Deimos looked at the stall Bliss was pointing to.

   The stall had several finished pots, bowls and pitchers and a man was shaping a lump of clay into a bowl on the top of a large spinning wheel.

   The three boys walked over and watched the man work, crafting the clay, shaping the bowl taller and shorter, making the exact shape and thickness he desired. The boys then noticed a woman who was painting the side of a finished vase. She was carefully painting fine details on the side and creating a delicate scene. All three boys then looked at the finished pottery before them and began to appreciate the work and skill that went into the creation of each piece.

   All three were watching the man make the side of the bowl thinner and thinner when Deimos barely heard a little 'eep' from beside him. He turned to see that Bliss was gone and almost missed the sight of his feet being dragged between two stalls.

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