Practical Parenting 1-4
By Shamenka

Ares, the much hated God of War, lay back, lifting the baby onto his chest, skin to skin contact, enjoying the sensation of simply holding the child, his child. Just hours old, and perfect. Slowly, Ares became aware that he was drifting off to sleep; reluctantly therefor he lifted the baby off his chest, and placed him in his crib. The baby snuggled down on the real Golden Fleece,  not the fake one Hercules and Jason kept rescuing. That notion made the wicked God smile. He refrained from laughing, he didn't want to wake the  child, his beautiful child.

Staggering back to his bed, the War God collapsed into it, asleep instantly.

Peace reigned for only a few hours before an incessant wailing woke Ares. He  lifted the baby, snuggling him close, producing a bottle filled with warmed  milk, he tried to coax the baby to drink. That didn't work, so he changed the wrappings, leaving the baby clean, dry and still screaming. When that didn't work he moved the baby, and its fleece, onto the bed beside him. The baby screamed just as much, but wriggled and kicked his feet. Much like the action  of a frog doing the back stroke.

Ares called Asclepius.

Asclepius looked at the baby, the fast, kicking legs and agreed with Ares.  Colic, had to be a bad case of colic. They massaged the baby's tummy, gently.  The baby continued to scream, and kick. Asclepius produced a linen bag full of warm sand and put it down on the bed, then he rolled the baby over till he  was leaning against the warm sand.

The baby was warm, dry, fed, massaged and still screaming.

Asclepius called his father, referring the treatment of the baby to a higher authority.

Apollo arrived in Ares' temple and heard the baby screaming. He tutted, pushed his way between the other two Gods, and lifted the distressed baby  onto his lap, face down and he rubbed the child's back gently, in tiny little circles. The baby still screamed, he belched, but he still screamed. So Apollo went onto plan two. He lifted the baby onto his shoulder and patted  and sang. Both the song and the pats were gentle, calming, Ares and Asclepius were almost asleep, but the baby still screamed.

It had been a long time since his Asclepius had been a baby, perhaps he was missing something? He called Cupid, seeing as how the Love God had a lot more recent experience with babies.

Cupid arrived and had his ears assailed by the screaming of an obviously distressed baby. Sighing at the sight of three senior Gods fussing over the  frightened child, he pushed passed them all and retrieved the baby. He took him into the main room of Ares' temple and produced a rattle. Showing the toy to the baby he achieved ten seconds of silence, then the baby screamed even louder than ever.

Time for plan B! He plucked out one of his feathers and tickled the child. The baby looked at him, square in the eyes, giggled briefly, and grasped the  feather from him, sucked it and promptly threw up. All over Cupid's leather  bedecked legs. Cupid felt his love of babies flee south for the duration and called for his mother.

Aphrodite arrived, wondering why Cupid was being so rotten to a baby in Ares' temple, of all places. Just as she arrived, Ares and the others came out of  the bedroom to see what was going on.

Alarmed at the baby sick all over Cupid's lap Asclepius and Apollo re-acquired the screaming baby and dashed back in to Ares' bedroom, just in  case they had missed something. Cupid cleaned his leathers and refreshed the air, which stank of vomit. Aphrodite listened as the baby continued to scream.

"Ar, you have a baby here, and it's screaming." She pointed out.

"Aha." Ares' eyes glassed over, not even attempting to make a cutting remark  about her stating the bleeding obvious.

"Like whose is it?" She asked, she was also quite certain that she had not seen Ares pregnant, nor had she seen any Goddesses or mortal women pregnant either. Then she realised, she hadn't seen Ares for several months.

"Mine." Ares told her, dreamily.

There came an even louder wail from his bedroom, a sound that certainly dragged him from his reverie as he ran into the room and retrieved the baby.

Now the child was dressed, wrapped in a light woollen blanket and had a comforter in his mouth. A comforter that the baby managed to scream around anyway. Right before he spat it out, with such a look of disgust.

Aphrodite saw the baby up close. He was beautiful, she cooed at him, nestled in Ares' arms, screaming! She tickled him, which caused him to scream with laughter, which was an appreciable change from just screaming.

"He's a doll!" She squealed, getting her face just too close to those small  thrashing limbs.

As the Goddess of Love backed off, nursing a black eye, the baby screamed his  delight louder than ever. Aphrodite, however, was contemplating infanticide  when Hera arrived, took in the mayhem of all those Gods and Goddess fussing over the baby in Ares' arms. This needed decisive action, which she took.

Hera lifted the baby from Ares' arms, lifted him till she could whisper into his little ear. Which she did.

The baby stopped screaming, giggled up at her and thrashed his little legs  and arms wildly, a big smile breaking over his face. Pale blue/grey eyes twinkled beneath a shock of jet black hair, as the baby's face faded from  livid red to palest white. She shook her head, slowly and looked up from the  baby.

"Ares, I'm surprised at you, that you of all people wouldn't realise such a  basic truth!" She turned back to the baby and laughed at her grandson. "Who's Nana's pet then?" She asked, blowing a loud raspberry on the baby's chubby  belly.

"What truth?" Ares asked.

"How did you do that?" Aphrodite asked.

"What was wrong with him?" Apollo asked.

"Is he all right then?" Asclepius asked.

"Hey, who pulled my feathers out?" Cupid asked, checking out a sudden bald  spot on his left wing tip, then looking at the new baby who clutched a double handful of the soft, white, fun things..

Ares reclaimed his baby from his mother and he clutched the child to him. His  eyes glazed over as he held the baby, snuggling the child into his chest, where he could hear Ares' heart beat.

"Ares, if the baby is yours who is the other parent?" Hera asked.

"I..." For the life of him Ares couldn't say.

"Exactly, so you had a baby, all by yourself, with no one to help you? With  no one to 'father' the baby?" She asked.

Ares shrugged and nodded, blushing.

"Did he get here then?" A quiet voice asked from the main door way to Ares'  temple.

"Who, dear?" Hera asked the newcomer. Eyes twinkling in delight.

"The baby of course!" The newcomer answered, crossing to the group with the  baby. "Ah, Ares has him, again." And a finger, clad in black leather, stroked down the chubby belly. "Oh well." And Hades blew a big raspberry at the baby.

"Again?" Ares asked, looking at the baby he couldn't actually remember having.

"Again?" Cupid asked, looking from his father's stunned face to the now giggling and writhing baby.

"You sent Ares a baby?" Apollo asked.

"You made Ares pregnant? Now there's sex I'd like to see!" Aphrodite  exclaimed.

"He's healthy enough." Apollo pointed out, Asclepius nodded his agreement.

"Don't mess it up this time!" Hera told the baby. "Or Nana will be cross!"  She tweaked a foot, giggling herself.

Ares looked at the baby, he looked at the six senior Gods, standing around  him and the baby, in varying stages of undress, just as they had arrived, in  a panic, to help with the baby. He looked at his uncle Hades' laughing eyes.  His mother's knowing smirk.

"Strife." He whispered to the baby in his arms. "Welcome back, little  mischief!"

Then everyone else realised what was happening.

"Strife!" Four laughing Gods cried out in exasperation.

The baby just giggled, waved his stolen feathers in the air, kicked his  little legs and listened to that so familiar heartbeat. Finally he went to  sleep, and one by one the other Gods bid Ares, and his charge, a good night.  As he put the baby back into his crib he whispered a good night wish, and  crawled back into his own bed. Relishing all the mischief he had ahead of  him, Ares settled down to sleep and dream of things to come.


Baby Blues

The group of warriors sat, disconsolate, each with a foaming mug of ale  before him. They said hardly a word to each other, mostly one word grunts as  their eyes randomly met over the rims of their mugs. That small group of warriors were by no means the only such group in the town. Several hundred  warriors sat around, swelling the coffers of the local inn keepers. All of  them seriously depressed.

"All he does sit and look at that blasted baby!" One unidentified voice  announced.

"Or he coo's at it. I heard him cooing!" A second mutter announced.

"We need ta' get rid of that baby!" A third, more drunken voice offered its  solution.

"You wanna' piss him off then? Go right ahead!" The first voice moved from  irate to sarcastic.

"Yeah, well, somebody's goin' ta' havta' do somthin' ain't they? I mean, it  ain't natural, all this cooing and stuff! He's a bloody War God, not a  woman!" The third voice tried to make his case a decisive one. The groans and  mutterings of various yeses from his table and those around them showed the  feelings amongst the two armies that had thought they would be fighting each  other, not sitting drinking with each other while their God played house with  a new baby!

"But, how da'ya' get rid of a God?" The second voice asked.

"Ya' need a hero' fur that." Third voice said.

"Last hero I met I killed.. slowly!" Voice one added, laughing, as did his  companions.

Into the tableau of annoyance a shout entered and registered, that seemed the  answer to all their prayers.

"Hercules!" A whole new voice, and it sounded cheerful, a fact they could  forgive, seeing as how it brought such wonderful news with it. A hero, and in  this very town, a hero that would, and no doubt could kill a God!

"Hercules?" Voice three asked, a grubby face popped up from the sea of rats  tails and nit nests that was the depressed armies. The eyes looked as hopeful  as the voice had sounded.

The hero had entered the inn, looking around him at the depressed warriors,  seeking one face in particular.

"Iolaus!" Hercules smiled, waved, and crossed to the bar and his friends  side. "What is going on in here? I hurried here as soon as I heard about  Dornus and Hephenar going to war. What gives?"

"I don't know, non of the warriors are talking to me .. but they're all  drinking heavily, muttering darkly, and generally being down right  unpleasant!" Iolaus shrugged, eloquently, indicating his confusion.

"You wanna' know what's going on?" The face, body, bad smells and nasty  lodgers associated with the third voice got up and crossed over to the two  heroes. "Then let me tell ya' what's goin' on. Ares is what's goin' on. Him  an' his nephew... Strife." He looked at the shock in the heroes faces.

"But Strife is dead, has been since Callisto killed him." Iolaus tried to  laugh off the messy mass of warrior's paranoid ideas. "See, I was there when  Strife died. I saw it for myself!"

"Yeah, we know he died, everybody knows he died. The wars that Ares created  after that happened bored everyone to tears. But Strife's back and Ares has  been sitting with him since his return. Just imagine the wars we can have if  Strife is around, distracting him an' all!" The warrior smiled, such a happy  smile, got a fresh mug of bear and returned to his table.

"Ares is planing a bigger than ever campaign to celebrate Strife's return."  Hercules looked at Iolaus who shrugged. "So, where is Ares?" Hercules  demanded of the warrior that had been talking to him.

"Along the street in his temple. Just him and Strife." He looked back to his  friends and grinned.

"I'm going to have a word with my brother. And if the world was quieter  without Strife around, it can get by without Strife around again!" he turned  and stormed out, followed as always by the ever faithful Iolaus.

"Herc, I'd not trust them.. think about this, huh?" Iolaus pleaded.

"Ares has two huge armies sitting around, getting drunk, amalgamating into  one enormous army. I'm going to put a stop to this even if it means putting a  stop to Strife!" Hercules ran to his brother's temple and smashed the door in.

"ARES!" He screamed. "I want to talk to you, where's Strife?" He shouted,  recalling that Strife had killed his wife, his beautiful Serena. Finally he'd  get revenge. Strife had been killed by Callisto and no one had had to pay for  that crime, so there would no doubt be no come back if he killed Strife this  time!

"What?" Ares' quiet voice whispered, quite dangerous in its gentleness. "What  do you want with Strife?" Hercules could feel the compulsion to tell the  truth as Ares' power hit him. He didn't mind telling Ares the truth, not  where it involved his revenge.

"I'm going to kill the snivelling little bastard!"  Hercules looked around  that main hall. "Strife!" He screamed, and ran through the nearest door.

Iolaus was hot on his heals.

Ares was standing in his private chambers, Strife held close to his body,  mind calling on his mother, his brothers and sisters, even his father.  Warning all of them that if they allowed Hercules to take the baby Strife  from him and kill him, they could kiss any peace good bye... for ever!

Try as he might Ares couldn't get the baby Strife to return to Olympus, he  had to have the child's co-operation in moving him, Strife wanted to stay  with Ares however. Ares was forced to walk, or run, if he wanted to get away  from Hercules. He wrapped an extra blanket around his wriggling nephew and  reached for the door, but as he touched the handle to door swung in, almost  hitting the baby.

Ready for the worst, Ares relaxed slightly when he came face to face with not  Hercules but Iolaus. Iolaus he could kill with impunity.

"Get out of here mortal!" Ares snarled, gathering the baby as close to his  chest as he could.

"Look, where is Strife, you gotta get him outta' here before Herc finds him!"  Iolaus was being truthful and honest, Ares could read that from him, he  simply didn't want his best friend to die at the hands of the Gods.

"Well I'm trying to, so if you get out of our way, Strife and I will get out  of here." Ares felt the baby stir, his uncles' worries unsettling him. "Shh,  Little Mischief, we'll get outta' here."

Then Iolaus understood, the baby was Strife, and as he had said, those  warriors had tried to manipulate Herc into killing a baby. Ares was  distracted from his normal wars because he was caring for his returned  nephew, his baby nephew. The hunter also knew he had to get between Ares and  Hercules and stay there till his friend calmed down.

"We'd better move, Herc'll be here real soon!" He stood away from the door  and let the War God follow him out into the corridor. "Hey, welcome back  Strife." He peered in the bundle at the settling baby.

"So why are you helping us?" Ares asked his unexpected ally.

"I knew those warriors were up to no good. They told Herc that you and Strife  were planing some great campaign." The hunter checked the next room along the  corridor and indicated for the God to follow him. "Herc'll calm down quick  enough, then I can tell him." He stopped talking and moving for a moment,  listening for his fiends movements. He got worried when he heard nothing.  "Where is he?" He hissed.

"Right behind you! Where is Strife and why are you helping my brother?"  Hercules' voice was deceptively calm. His eyes were showing his shock at his  friends actions, helping Ares escape like this.

Iolaus got between his friend and Ares.

"Listen to me, those warriors lied to you okay?" Iolaus held his hands up in  a placatory manner.

"What, you mean Strife isn't alive once more?" Herc watched Iolaus' face  intently.

"No, well, he is but.." That was enough, the hero wanted his revenge.

"That's all that matters, where is Strife? I'll give him the same chance he  gave Serena!"

Ares gathered his bundle closer still, disturbing whatever he carried. A baby  cried its distress. Ares lifted the baby to his face and whispered to the  frightened child.

"Hush now, you're gonna be fine." Then the God looked at his brother with  such utter hate in his eyes. "Touch Strife and this world will never know  peace again. You understand me here?" He raised his voice to the heavens as  well as his brother. At Hercules' confused look, Iolaus took advantage of the  break in his friends action to make a final plea.

"Herc, pal, listen to me, please!" He begged, Hercules turned to look at  Iolaus, giving him his whole attention, for the moment. "They did lie, yes,  Strife is alive, yes Ares is spending all his time with him. No, Strife is  not plotting wars, neither is Ares. See, Strife's a baby, this baby ... after  all these years, after all your hard work, do you want to throw it all away  and kill another child?"

Hercules was frozen to the spot, looking into his friends eyes, seeing the  absolute truth there. Then he looked at Ares, his brother's sleep deprived  face, his tiered eyes. Finally he looked at the baby Ares was holding close  to his heart.

He had wanted to kill a baby? Had actually threatened to kill a baby. Just  because a warrior had lied to him. Why? Why did those warriors want to kill  Strife?

"Why would they lie then?" He asked.

"What were they doing?" Ares asked in turn. "The warriors. What exactly were  they doing?"

"Sitting in an Inn, drinking bear." Hercules mumbled.

"Well they disobeyed me, I told them to go home." Ares told him. Strife  cried, hungry, frightened, wet! "Shh my little one, Shh, uncle Hercules won't  hurt you, I will kill him for you first!" And Hercules knew that for an  absolute fact.

Ares loved the baby in his arms, he would protect him to the very last breath  in his body, come what may. Hercules wouldn't stand a chance against that  'father' love.

"Strife is a baby?" Hercules asked, somewhat redundantly, and slowly stepped  forward. "No, don't back off, I wouldn't harm a child, you know this to be  true!" He reached out, not able to touch Ares or the baby, but connecting  with Iolaus instead. "You gotta tell him, he seems to listen to you more than  me, I would never hurt another child.." he looked at his life long friend,  longing to reach out to that precious little child.

Ares looked into Iolaus' memories, letting the hunter know that he was there,  and looked at Hercules' history where Hercules and children were concerned.  His own first family.

"He's gonna have to grow up like I did." He told his half brother, risking a  half step closer. "One day at a time." Strife still cried, Ares still held  him close to his heart. "He needs me." He said calmly.

Hercules and Iolaus both knew that that was true.

The hero, now that he was thinking rather than simply reacting, looked around  him at Ares' inner temple rooms. Finally he identified Ares' own room and  headed there.

"His things in your room are they?" He asked, entering the room, looking  around and spying the pile of baby things in the corner.

Iolaus lead the way into the room, followed by Ares and the baby Strife. Once  in that room they found Hercules, wrappings, clothes, and baby bath on its  stand waiting for Ares to fill it.

"Let me help, I promise I wont lift a finger to harm him." His face clouded  over. "Those warriors however.. they're mine!"

"Oh no, they set you against my Strife, they are mine!" Ares announced,  looked at Hercules who numbly nodded. Ares lifted the now naked baby into the  now filled bath. "Who's my baby mischief then?" He asked the baby that would  eventually grow up to be Strife, God of Mischief.

"He's beautiful.." Hercules whispered, looking over Ares' shoulder. "And I  came so close to killing him.." His voice caught in his throat. "If I  had...oh Gods..." Hercules dashed away and threw up against Ares' bedroom  wall.

The now clean Strife was once more wrapped and dressed, awaiting his next  bottle of milk.

"Would you like to feed him?" Ares offered, not too sure if he could trust  himself to give up Strife into Hercules' care.

"May I?" Hercules asked,

From his position against the wall Iolaus watched his best friend approach  the War God and his baby charge. He noticed Hercules' hands tremble as he  reached for Strife.

"Hello, Little Mischief, you are so beautiful, little one. Forgive your  stupid uncle for believing those drunken fools. I promise you, little one,  that I would never lift a hand against you ... so long as you are a child.  Adult Gods are fair game however!" Hercules laughed when he received a giggle  for his troubles. He blindly reached for his nephew's bottle and settled down  on Ares' bed to feed his nephew.

In their inn, still drinking, still laughing in anticipation of their forthcoming war, a large group of warriors looked up into the calm face of their God.

"Run vermin!" Ares commanded. "Which of you fools would set my 'brother' against our nephew?" And as they ran, Ares fired a lightening bolt at each of  them... finally knowing which soul he had to tag for Hades' special attention.

Part 3:  Baby Battles

The market place was bustling with life, the shouts and cries of those with something to sell, competing with the voices of those trying to make their daily purchases. The ebb and flow of normal life was, briefly, interrupted as a group of warriors stormed through the market place, shuffling a squirming, squealing bundle back and forth between them. Always looking over their shoulders, oblivious of what was around them, too worried by what they had left behind.

That frightened, squealing bundle attracted the attention of one man in particular. The squealing bundle's own uncle. Hercules knew that baby's cry, he had been the cause of that very noise himself, when he almost killed his nephew, Strife. As a result of that incident he had vowed to protect that baby, and it seemed that he was going to have to honour that vow immediately. Not that that would be a hardship.

Hercules grabbed Iolaus' shoulder, turning the smaller man to face him.

"Do you hear that? The baby crying? That's Strife, I'd swear to it!" He saw that Iolaus simply accepted his word for it. Grateful not to have to argue his friend into believing him, he continued. "I want you to head back over the market place, go see what is happening in Ares' temple, and bring him back here. I'll follow the crying and try to get Strife back. Ok?" He waited for his friend's nod and headed off, following his nephew, wondering, and worrying, how anyone could have managed to get Strife away from the over protective Ares. It had surprised Hercules, pleasantly at that, that Ares was a totally over protective parent. Putting happy, family, thoughts out his head, the hero set off tracking his nephew, muttering dire threats against those foolish enough to have taken him.

The screaming baby heard the voice muttering, away in the distance. He recognised that voice, he'd been frightened by it once, and had had nice cuddles from its owner afterwards. He was a nice person to snuggle into, he wanted a nice snuggle, and he wanted it now! Baby Strife screamed louder, adding extra carrying 'I am frightened' subsonics that he knew that only his uncle Snugly would hear.

Hercules was following the kidnappers at a distance, getting more and more certain they had stolen his nephew. Getting more and more anxious to get Strife back. He could almost feel his nephews fear, it ripped through him with ever lungful of air the baby drew in order to scream once more.

"It's all right, Strife, Uncle Hercules is right here with you! Just waiting on Iolaus getting back with the reinforcements." Hercules projected his voice at a timbre he knew his nephew would hear. He was aware that Strife probably didn't recognise his words, but he hoped he recognised his voice and tone, and took some comfort from them.

Strife recognised the Snugly one all right. He also recognised that his screaming was really upsetting the nasty people who had stolen him from his crib. He wondered what Uncle Snugly was going to do to the bad people, he didn't have the words for the concepts floating about his baby God mind, but he sure had the pretty pictures to look at!

True to his word, Iolaus headed back to the nearest temple, it wasn't Ares temple though. It was Aphrodite's, and it was in uproar! Not least was the screaming coming from the diminutive Love Goddess, directed at her temple staff! That was what cued Iolaus in, that this was where Strife was taken from, and that Ares might not yet know his beloved little nephew was missing yet.

"... and I'm telling you, find Strife, find him NOW or I'm gonna rip your balls clean off with my bare hands! I turn my back, for five seconds, that's all, all you had to do was look after one baby, one tiny, helpless little baby, and you couldn't even manage that!" The flash of light, indicating the use of a God power lit the temple doorway. "Well, no more sex for you for the next three Olympiads.. do I make myself clear here? What you doing still standing here.. GO FIND STRIFE! Or do you want me to call Ares?" She screamed herself, not quite as piercingly as Strife was doing when he was carried past himself and Herc, but close enough.

"Dite?" Iolaus called out to the Love Goddess as he entered the temple.

"Not just now Sweetcheeks, I've got a crisis of Olympic proportions. Can it wait?" The diminutive, blonde, Goddess looked angrier than Iolaus could ever recall having seen her. In fact she looked about ready to kick some idiot kidnapper's ass!

"I kinda know where Strife is.." The hunter didn't get to finish speaking. Aphrodite had him pinned to the wall, feet several inches off the floor, and she wasn't even breaking a sweat, yet. Iolaus decided, there and then, that underestimating her power and strength was a mistake few ever survived to make a second time.

"Where is he? What have you done to him? Is Hercules involved? I know he hates Strife, always has, always will. If either of you so much as touch a hair on his cutesy little head, I swear, I'll rip yours clean off!" She glared at him, eye to eye.. even if he was up the wall, pinned there by his neck.

"Gcstaffkkss!" Iolaus was totally unable to articulate, he was almost totally unable to breathe either.

"What?" The angry Love Goddess demanded! By way of a reply Iolaus tapped her hand and pointed at his throat and face. She got the idea, she let his feet touch down, freed his throat and retook a stronger grasp on both his shoulders. The impact crater he left in her temple wall would have done Ares proud! "Well!" She demanded.

"Look, it wasn't me, or Herc, that kidnapped Strife, but Herc is following the guys that did, and Strife is screaming, fit ta' burst. The kid's terrified. We gotta call Ares and get him to help Herc get Strife back!" Iolaus took a deep breath in order to call on the volatile, at best, War God and enlist his help in rescuing the missing baby. Just as he was about to, Dite cover his mouth, dragged him into almost nose to nose proximity and snarled at him.

"Call dark and deadly and we're ALL toast! Get me here do ya' curly?" She let him go, she changed outfits, looking like Ares would have, if Ares was a blonde Goddess with ample cleavage, and that vest on.

"Don't you think you should change? I mean, black leather is a good look on you, good? Did I say good? I mean great! Honest, but you can't go out there with everything .. bouncing, you'll hurt something!" Iolaus blushed to a standstill, and stood there, waiting on Aphrodite deciding if he were to live or die, and if live, did he ever get sex again?

"Oh!" Aphrodite modified the vest to close over her chest and headed out the temple door. "Where's Herc then?" She asked, not even looking over her shoulder, she simply expected Iolaus to be there, which indeed he was. Once he recovered from her attack, and his shock.

"He's in the market place, following them, seeing where they're taking Strife. In case there's more of them. Probably wants to get them all at once, in case there's more of them that'd strike again." Iolaus was aware that he was rambling, and made a determined effort to stop talking.

"Yeah, well, that'd make sense." The Love Goddess halted, in her determined march through the market place, she cocked her head to one side and listened, straightened up and broke into a run. She too could feel the 'I'm very frightened' subsonic elements of baby Strife's screaming, and if Ares heard them, they'd all get the chance to practice those sounds.

"So, Aphrodite, why are you so determined to get Strife back? I thought you hated him?!" Iolaus winced, thinking himself dead any moment, he all but closed his eyes waiting to be fireballed, or strangled again.

"I'll have you know that I never hated Strifey! He did some of his best work for me! An' as a baby, he's as cute as a button, an' since I was feelin' all kinda' broody, an' since my Hephy can't give me babies of my own, an' since Ar said he wasn't willin' ta' hurt Hephy again, an' anyway, he's got his hands full with raisin' Strife, an' if I wanted a baby fix I could, well, borrow Strifey, ya' know?" She shrugged, and kept on walking. "Now, when Ar finally lets me take Strifey off Olympus, this has ta' happen'!"

For some twisted reason, Iolaus did know what she meant, and he agreed with her assessment of the situation, Ares would not be best pleased if she lost the baby Strife first day out with him.

"So what happened? How did those scum bags know he was with you?" What he really wanted to know was how they got close to him in the first place, but he was not that brave, or that stupid, to actually challenge a frustrated, emotionally seesawing Goddess about her security arrangements.

"One of them was in praying for success with his girl, an' when I turned up, with Strifey, he heard me call the little cutesy guy by name. He left, then came back with his bro's and they took Strifey from the temple hall. My priests were supposed ta' be lookin' after him. I was dealin' with an urgent prayer!" She glowed, Iolaus could see it shimmering around her! All that frustrated mother love had a focus, her 'cutesy Strifey' and some idiot was going to pay, and pay dear for upsetting her. He could see it in her body language.

"So, what does Hephaestus think about your mothering little Strifey? Couldn't he have spelled you with the baby duties?" Iolaus fearlessly trod out on thin ice, either he was braver than she thought he was, or he was even dumber than Ares thought he was. Aphrodite looked at him, trying to decide which it was.

"Hephy? Look after a baby? He's terrified of them! Wouldn't know which end is up!" She turned back towards the increasing volume of her nephew's crying. "Strifey? Aunty Dite's here sweety!" She spoke her words, knowing full well the baby could hear her.

For his part, Strife cried even louder.

For his part, Hercules hadn't heard Aphrodite talking to the baby, he thought the degree of danger had increased and was preparing to go into battle, with an unknown number of assailants, and rescue his baby nephew.

"Don't worry little guy, Uncle Hercules is right here!" He muttered, took a deep, calming breath, stretched out to his full height, and width, took a single step forwards and lost it completely as a voice spoke from directly behind him.

"Where's my Strifey?" He spun around and came face to face with the Aresesque clad Love Goddess, and his own companion trying to catch up with them.

"Aphrodite?" He questioned, he was sure it had to be her, no one had told him if Ares had changed sex for any reason. Though, he did think that Ares, as a Goddess, would be dark haired. That was when he knew the stress of listening to his nephew's frightened crying was getting to him.

"Shall we just get this over with?" He asked, hoping Dite would stand back and let him break some heads.

"My pleasure!" With that Aphrodite lunged into the group of kidnappers, and really let her feeling be known!

"Aphrodite!" Hercules tried to call her back from her course of action, only to be stopped by a hand touching his arm.

"She has her reasons, leave her, my money's on her anyway. She's a lot tougher than she looks.. so shall we?" Iolaus indicated the large group of bad guys, fighting the Goddess of Love, and losing, yet managing to keep the baby out of her grasp. It was only a matter of time before either she was actually hurt, or the baby was, and that was a situation that no one in their right minds wanted to face.

"Suppose we'd better join her then!" Hercules waded in to the fight, Iolaus by his side, fists and feet flying, trying to reach his nephew. "I want my nephew back, and I want him back now!" His deep voice boomed out, everyone in the town must have heard him!

While all eyes were on the Goddess, and her half brother, Iolaus snuck up close to the man with the screaming baby in his arms.

"Mine!" The blond man shouted, right before he punched the man, square on his nose, breaking it, and his hold on Strife. He turned to face his partner. "Heads up, Herc!" He shouted, got Hercules' attention and threw Strife over the heads of the men surrounding him.

The baby flew into the air, his squeals of fear becoming squeals of delight. The blond mortal knew how to play the flying game! Uncle Cuddly had to have taught him how to play the flying game! He landed in Uncle Snuggly's arms. He squealed in delight. Then a nasty, frightening man hit uncle Snugly and tried to take him back.

"Dite!" Uncle Snugly threw him into the air once more, and again he was laughing and flying! Aunty Comfy definitely knew the flying game. She caught him, held him close, squealed her own delight at holding him, so he squealed right back at her, trying to warn her that there was a bad man behind her, with a big stick!

As she was struck across the back of her head, Dite threw Strife even higher into the air, and turned to face the foolish mortal that had hit her.

"Why you..!" She punched him, he too flew, but in the opposite direction.

Strife giggled and whee-ed as he rose into the air, little legs and arms flailing about, as if to help him get higher yet. He giggled all the way down too, sure that some one would catch him, some one always did!

Iolaus saw the baby heading for the ground, picking up speed as he began his downward arc. He dove forward, up onto the shoulders of the idiot in front of him. From his added height he caught Strife first, and threw him high into the air yet again. This time, with his hands free he lifted the helmet off his victim and used it to club the man in to the ground. Just as the man fell, Iolaus caught Strife once more. He turned to run with the baby and head for Ares' temple, and came face to face with six of the ugliest, nastiest, meanest, bad guys he'd ever seen. All that remained upright of the kidnappers.

"Iolaus!" Hercules found himself in the clear and called to his companion. Seeing him, Iolaus threw Strife up into the air yet again, arcing him over the bad guys heads, and then he charged them. Keeping their attention on him!

Aphrodite saw his move and ran at the men from behind, physically picking the nearest one up and using him as a club against some of his fellows.

Strife screamed, giggled, and loved flying, especially when Uncle Snugly caught him.

"Goo ga, ha ha na pfpfpfpf!" He tried to tell Uncle Snugly just how much he loved him, especially when he played 'the game' with him, but Uncle Snuggly seemed a bit busy at the moment to really listen to him.

The fight wore on, the bad guys lay around the victors, in little heaps, the market stalls they had crashed into also lay around them in little heaps, as did the goods they had held, for the sellers to sell, and the buyers to buy! Absolute silence reign supreme.

Except for the happy sound of a baby God telling everyone how wonderful Uncle Snugly and Aunty Comfy were, and how the blond friend was great at playing the flying game! But somehow, no one was really listening to his words, just the sounds they made coming out his mouth.

"We'd better get him back, before Ar comes looking for him." Dite lead the way back across the market place, Strife firmly held in Hercules' arms, this time no one tried to impede the Godly family as they took their baby home.

As for the bad guys, the market people sold them for a handsome profit, and the tale of the Goddess of Love's daring rescue of a baby took on epic proportions.

And when Ares turned up to collect his nephew, he found Strife, sound asleep in Hercules' arms, having had a remarkably fun day out with Aunty Comfy.

"Come on, little man, time you went home!" Ares gently took Strife from Hercules and cuddled him close. "Was he any trouble?" He asked his once more pink clad sister.

"What, Strife? Trouble? He's a baby Ar, a cutesy, little baby! G'night sweat pea!" She kissed the sleeping baby on the tip of his nose and smiled up at the War God. "Later bro!" And she flashed out, back to her Hephaestus.

"You going home too?" Hercules asked his brother.

"Yeah, gotta get him sorted, bathed, fed, changed, you know the drill?" Ares looked at his brother as he spoke, not something he normally did, and saw the flash of painful memory fly across his eyes. "You wanna come help?" He offered.

"Sure, but what about you Iolaus?" They turned and found Iolaus was asleep on the couch Aphrodite had created for him.

"Cupid?" Ares called out to his eldest son. "Move Iolaus to my home palace, would you?" Iolaus dully vanished, as did the War God, his brother and their nephew. "I'm glad he was no trouble, he can be a right handful when he chooses, ya' know?.." And as the light from their moving faded, so too did Ares' voice.

Part 4: Toddler Taming

The noise emanating from the Olympian home of Ares, God of War was deafening. It was shrill, carrying, piercing, down right bloody awful in fact. Not only all that, it had been going on for hours with out rest or let up. The baby God making that racket was heading for an all Olympian record, twelve solid hours of continuous screaming.

Without any apparent halt for breath.

Outside the temple, Ares was blasting off lightening bolts, trying to reduce his stress levels. All around him were little piles of rubble. Statues and such supplied by Ares' family members. No one wanted to risk the screaming baby to the tender mercies of a sleep deprived Ares.

"That's it! That's enough!" Hera staggered out of Ares' temple. Strife still screaming behind her. "We have to move his development beyond this teething business." She dragged her less than sane son along behind her by one wrist. "We gotta find your father."

Zeus was trying to soundproof his study when Ares and Hera arrived. He was more than amenable to their request, so much so in fact that he went off and collected Asclepius and Strife.

The healer had to monitor the growth rate of the baby God as Zeus, his wife and son, pushed Strife's growth along. After they were finished, and Asclepius was satisfied that Strife was well, Ares took his charge home. Once there, Ares realised that Strife would no longer fit in the crib. He was far too tired to create a new bed for the child, so he tucked him up in his own. Right before he lay down beside Strife and fell into a deep sleep. Much to the now toddling Strife's annoyance.

The toddling Godling looked around the room for a toy to play with. There were lots of cuddle toys, but nothing that would afford him a long term game. He needed a toy, or someone to play with. He prodded the sleeping War God to no effect what so ever. He hung over the edge of the bed, but there was no one under it to play with either. All the cuddle toys were summonsed and lined up against the sleeping War God. Where they proceeded to do absolutely nothing at all.

A distant memory, or just an idea occurred, and Strife began to think of mortals. They knew how to play. Uncle Snugly was always fun. So was his little blond friend. And Aunty Comfy, she always cooed and made interesting noises for him. He could remember other mortals too, only he didn't seem to have names for them. Just tags like fun to annoy, dangerous when wet, do not feed after midnight. Although he did wonder what midnight was, briefly.

He cast his mind, such as it was, around the world. Well, as much of the world as he could picture at any one time. He found Aunty Comfy. She was making funny noises, as was the man leaning over her. Maybe they'd let him play? Whatever game it was seemed to keep them all amused.

In Aphrodite's temple a minor orgy was taking place. She was in the throws of passion for one of the pretty young boys who waited on her hand and foot, and everywhere in between. Her groans of delight mixed with his.

Until a shrill squeal of surprise erupted from her suddenly constricted throat. For there, sitting on the boys back was a toddler. On a closer look she realised it was Strife. He had gone from a cutesy baby to an adorable, if in the entirely wrong place toddler. She was just planing what she'd say to Ar when he turned up when Strife talked.

"Pay?" he asked.

"Certainly not, this is a religious act." She replied, entirely confusing the child.

"Wanna pay." He tried again. He tried to speak slowly, just in case it helped.

"You're far too young." Aunty Comfy informed the child, who now had a double handful of the young bucks hair. "Anyway, what would Uncle Ares say, hmm?"

"Bu' wanna' pay horsy." Strife's little bottom lip pouted out, then ducked under his prominent upper lip. The eyes filled with tears and he looked about to wail.

"Shh, Strifey, shh. I'm busy, come back later and we'll play horsy, ok?" She smiled, she thought it a convincing smile.

"No!" Strife jumped up and down, almost putting the young buck totally off his stroke. "Wanna pay now."

"Well you can't." She snapped. She immediately realised it might not have been a good move as soon as she had made it.

"You're not nice." Strife burst into tears, pushed out his thoughts and feelings, filtered through his hidden adult God skills and his child's desire for revenge. Even if it was a concept he couldn't spell, he still wanted it.

The young buck turned into a fine young colt. A fine, nervous, young colt at that. He decorated Aunty Comfy's carpets, in several places no less, before he could be removed. Everyone thought it was funny, except for Dite. Yet, as they laughed they began to pass wind, loudly, smellily, in all the wrong times and places. Somehow, Dite did find that funny.

Strife, however, was gone. Off to look for a playmate elsewhere.

On Olympus Ares rolled over, squashed something child shaped and sized and woke in a panic. On realising it was just one of Strife's cuddle toys he relaxed. Then he flew off the bed in an even greater panic as he realised he didn't feel the young God anywhere on Olympus.

Strife was on the loose.

Ares screamed on his parents, explaining what had happened, as far as he was aware of what had happened. They all pushed out with their powers and found strong trace of the missing child with Aphrodite. Amongst other places. They spilt up to make the search go quicker.

"I'll take Dite." Hera announced. "Ares, Hercules, and you, Zeus, can go see that thief chap. Okay?" Both Gods nodded at her, far too aware of her potential when someone put a child she favoured at risk.

However, even she couldn't resist laughing at the rather vulgar sounds emanating from Dite's orgy guests. The smells she could live with out though.

"Has Strife been here?" She looked around herself, knowing full well her mischievous grandson had been there at some point.

"He was, he turned my acolyte into a colt, made everyone else make these totally groddy noises and left." Then she realised to whom she was speaking and tried a more friendly smile. That entailed opening her mouth enough to bare her teeth on a tooth smile. She could taste the smell, could feel the enamel cracking off her pearly white teeth. "What happened to him?" She shut up, relocated to another room, with much fresher air, and sat down. Hera hadn't missed a beat, she had followed right along.

"He was teething, so we moved him along, slightly. Now he's off doing what he does best, or so it would seem."

"Hey, look at this." Dite snapped her fingers and the colt with the nervous bowel appeared, and messed. "He was a six foot plus hunk of an acolyte. Now look at him?" As she squealed she frightened the poor beast into making more mess.

"Ew!" She wrinkled her nose and pouted.

"Come on horsy." Hera touched the colt and transferred him to her rose garden, there at least his mess would be put to good use. She reported to the others no luck and returned to Olympus to settle her new horse, or rather, Strife's new horse.

Hercules was valiantly battling a hissing, biting, snapping Hydra. He had it almost pinned in place. Almost though was not quite the same as totally defeated and in its place. Iolaus had dashed back to the village, to round up some able bodied men and they would all tackle the beast together.

The hero swung the sword Iolaus had left him, almost, but not quite hitting the snapping head nearest to him.

Just as he swung he noticed a very small child sitting directly before the Hydra.

Dashing forwards he scooped up the child, thought he should recognise him and tried to get the little boy to safety.

"Wanna pay." The child said.

"Pay what?" Hercules asked, wondering what a toddler could possibly wish to pay for in the first place.

"Pay horsy!" The child squealed, bouncing up and down on Hercules' hip. Between the child and the Hydra, the hero didn't know where to turn.

"You gotta get to safety. This is a Hydra, it's very dangerous." He spoke slowly, and carefully, to the child, hoping he got through to him.

"Bu' I wanna' pay!" The child pouted, the sucked in his bottom lip, letting the rather familiar pointy top lip protrude.

"It's too dangerous here." Then Hercules recognised the child. He didn't know how it had happened, but this was his nephew, the former baby Strife.

"Strife, it's far too dangerous here. Go home to Ares, he's probably looking for you." He tried to shoo the child away, just as he heard reinforcements coming round the bend in the road. As he looked to see where they were he looked away from Strife. He turned back to see what the Hydra was actually doing. Just as the villagers rounded the bend in the road, egging each other one, there was a terrific flash of light.

"Herc, we're here!" Iolaus shouted out. But he stopped dead in his tracks as Hercules the hero was faced with the savage snapping of a tiny white, fluffy, green eyed kitten. Mewling no less, and trying to deliver a death blow to the hero's ankles.

Iolaus wasn't the only one. Every able bodied man that had followed Iolaus to Hercules' rescue saw it too. Not one of them could halt their hysterical laughter. Not even when a worried, angered God of War turned up. Hercules did worry, he knew Ares would be looking for Strife, but the child had given him the slip, as well as a kitten.

"Has Strife been here?" Ares looked at the kitten, not his half brother. The kitten mewed again and tried to bite the hero. "That kitten doesn't seem to like you much." He pointed that out, just in case Hercules hadn't noticed.

"I know, and that kitten isn't a kitten. It was a Hydra." Hercules picked up the little bundle of white fluff and handed it to his brother. "I think it got in Strife's way. He wanted to play horsy."

Ares took the kitten, it felt like a kitten, was fluffy like a kitten, showed a great deal of Strife's power signature about it, and to all intents and purposes was a kitten. It crawled into Ares' vest and snuggled down. It's whiskers tickled the War God, making him bite his tongue in case he giggled and ruined his reputation.

Just as Ares fished the kitten out of it's hiding place his mother arrived. She had been drawn to the almost uncontrolable urge Ares was transiting. The urge to giggle like a Muse on mushrooms. She had simply had  to see what was causing this unaccustomed giggle-fit in her son.

It was about that point that the villagers, and Iolaus, began to take things seriously, and worried in case the Gods decided they were too disrespectful to live.

"He was gone by the time I got to Aphrodite's festival." She laughed, clamped a hand over her mouth to hold the ungodlike mirth in. "He'd turned an acolyte into a horse." She took a deep calming breath and looked at Hercules rather than Ares. She felt sure she'd lose all composure if she looked at her son. "And he'd left all these orgying idiots belching and far.." She got no further, Iolaus had cottoned on to the scenario and had erupted in shrill laughter.

"Herc said he was here too." The hunter managed a few words to the Queen of the Gods and they both dissolved in laughter.

"The noise." Hera gasped out. "And the smell." It was enough and a few hardy souls joined in, laughing with her and Iolaus, able to imagine a room full of lovers making the most awful smells and sounds.

"He turned a Hydra into a kitten. Ares has the kitten." The hero didn't appreciate being laughed at, even by his father's wife.

"How close did he get to the Hydra?" Ares asked, worried in case his charge was hurt.

"Close enough to give me heart failure. I picked him up out of the way as soon as I saw him there." Hercules leaned over and scratched the kitten's ears.

The kitten spun round and bit him. Or at least it tried to. The sudden change from ferocious beast to bundle of fluff being a hard one to cope with.

"So he's not here now?" Hera had finally found a modicum of self control, she too reached over and tickled the kitten. Her touch it permitted.

She lifted the kitten from Ares' hands and snuggled it close. She focused her will on the beast and sent it to her garden too. It could await its new owner just as easily there as inside Ares' vest.

"So, we still have to find Strife, we'd better get on with it Ares." She nodded, briefly, to her step son and then turned to her natural son. "You check out Xena and that irritating blonde and I'll go see the other one, Joxer. Ok?"

"They might be travelling together, they often are." Ares pointed out, all the while he was locating his next target."

"We'll cope with that if it happens." And so saying Hera vanished, followed immediately by Ares.

Zeus arrived just as the treasury guards arrested Autolycus. It was a minor inconvenience, especially as Autolycus seemed to have seen his missing grandson, judging by the rambling account of what had happened It seemed to him that he had to rescue the thief first, before he could rescue Strife. Where ever the little bundle of mischief had gone.

"Excuse me, gentlemen, but you have apprehended someone I require. If you could just hand him over I'll be forever grateful." He looked at the men, saw the disdain in their eyes. "Very well then, so be it!" He had to admit that he was obviously thinking about young Strife, the men turned into a litter of pups. All big feet and ears and shiny black noses.

"Oh, Gods." Autolycus groaned. "Another God." Then he thought about it, about the general look of the God beside him. "Erm, Zeus?" He looked hopeful as he awaited his fate.

"Have you seen Strife, little fellow, about two years old. Cute as a button?" Zeus beamed at the thief.

It was all too much and Autolycus fainted.

Zeus had no recourse but to fish around in his mind for the relevant information. He was delighted to see that little Strife was just wanting to play. He had left the thief still in one piece after all. He had taken the giant ruby Autolycus had been about to acquire, but had left him in one piece. Strife had taken the trinket simply because the thief had refused to play with him.

The King of the Gods sighed, looked at the pups he had created and wondered what to do with them. As with all his dilemmas, the answer came from Hera. Move them to her garden for the meantime, and keep on searching. He did so, accidentally moving the thief there too. He assumed Hera would find something to do with him when he awoke and prepared to continue the search.

Then he had the flash of inspiration. Autolycus was a handsome enough mortal. That thought was followed by another, possibly more dangerous one. For Autolycus that was. He never paid his wife enough attention. What if the thief did?

A jealous and angered King of the Gods appeared right beside his wife as she appeared right beside Joxer. Another cute mortal man. Zeus was seeing a pattern where there was none. But that didn't stop him.

Ares did however. He had also appeared beside his mother. And Joxer and Xena and Gabrielle and a strange female that was really tearing them off a strip. Joxer was sitting in the dust playing with the very Godling they were all looking for.

"What happened here?" Ares demanded. Looking at his nephew playing catch with a large ruby, and of course Joxer.

"Well, see, it's like this. The kid here arrived and asked if he could play horsy with Xena's horsy. He even offered to pay for a shot. Xena said no. She said a lot more besides, mostly about there being too many Gods as it were with out new ones being born. She didn't have a good night with her being pregnant and all that. Anyway, she swiped at the kid and I only just got him away. So he says, if she won't play nice she can't play at all. He turned Argo into that woman over there. And boy has she got a lot to say to them two." Joxer caught the ruby, tossed it to Ares and swept the child into his arms. Standing up he handed the child to Hera. "I assume this little one belongs with you?" Just as he spoke the voice of the woman that had been Argo the horse drifted over to them.

"And another thing, have you ever heard of bathing?" She glared at the Warrior Princess "I don't give a dam if you are pregnant by some deity you never saw or whatever the excuse you gave dip shit there is. But you stink! You sit on my back and ooze stink out all day, every day. Damn it woman, wash!" Even before the irate fighter could strike out Argo hit out first. With her tongue yet again.

"As for you dip shit, could you shut the fuck up? Even for one day? I loath and detest your continual whine. Ooh I'm no good as a hero.. Ooh I'm too peaceful to fight my own battles.. Ooh, let me stab him, I've not killed anyone today. And as for those for shit stories - Xena broke free in a single, mighty bound. Yipping like a stuck pig, is the bit you always left out. That and plot, and characterisation. Tartarus, you never once actually wrote the truth, it was more by accident than design that Xena won anything. You are a crap writer and a bully. You know that? You thought Xena was too fond of me and so you'd hurt me while you were supposed to be grooming me. As for poor Joxer. Oh you're shit to him, but if anyone else looks and thinks, damn but I bet he's a fun fuck, whammo! Instant irate shit for brains blondie."

The Gods just stood there, unable to look away, taking a step closer to Joxer. They could all see him catching all the fall out from this little tirade once the horse was once more a horse. As opposed to just being a nag.

"Strife, change her back." Ares pointed to the woman raging at Xena and Gabrielle. He exchanged the ruby for his nephew with his mother and smiled at the now yawning child.

"No." Strife said adamantly.  Turning back to Ares and falling instantly asleep.

"One of you lot turn her back then!" Gabrielle demanded of the Gods.

"Can't." Zeus pointed out helpfully. "What one God does another can't undo and all that."

"We can dress her in something other than a horse blanket however." Hera made a grand sweep with one hand and dressed the newly created woman.

"Shh, he's asleep." Ares whispered, snuggling the missing Godling in close to him.

"I'm not surprised, he and I were running about all over the place. I'm about asleep on my feet too." So saying, Joxer yawned, covered his mouth and tried to smile sheepishly at the Gods before him.

"Well, thank you for playing with him. It was sweet of you." Hera took the mortal in her arms, which was a big mistake, Zeus was still unaccountably jealous.

"It's bad enough you now have a horse, a cat, several puppies and a thief in your garden, what do you need him for?" he pointed at the skinny mortal.

"I don't, but Ares does. He needs someone who can baby-sit with Strife." She looked at Joxer, then at the still annoyed exhorse and her former owners. "Or you can stay here with them?"

Looking over at them, then at the sleeping toddler in Ares' arms.

"No contest, I'm with Ares."

So saying they all vanished, leaving a bright flash, and Autolycus, behind them.

"Oh Gods, it's one of your private fuck fantasy men. Every single time he turns up your stink gets worse, I swear..."

Xena wondered if killing Argo now would count as murder. As did Gabrielle.

Autolycus just wondered if they'd introduce him to her.