Joxer held his son gingerly. He was so tiny he fit in his two hands with nothing left over. His skin was soft and wrinkly but when his eyes opened, Joxer felt himself melt at the beautiful blue eyes that seemed to see him.
"Hi, little one. I'm your dad. Welcome to the world." He whispered to the baby and the child waved his hand as if he understood.
"We never chose any names, Joxer." Aphrodite said wearily from where she leaned back against the pillows, one of her fingers stroking the soft skin at the baby's leg.
"Um, I kind of picked out a couple. Phobos or Anteros." He offered hesitantly.
"Anteros. He looks like an Anteros." Aphrodite smiled up at him and he leaned over to kiss her gently.
"Anteros it is." Joxer looked down at his son and sniffed just a little.
Hera leaned over his shoulder and kissed his cheek. "You have a fine son, Joxer. Anteros will be a very nice addition to Olympus. I'm so proud of you."
"Aphrodite did all the work." Joxer shot a look at the goddess of love who just winked at him.
"Yes, she did." Hera said with a surprising smile for her daughter-in-law. "But now that her labor is complete, you and Ares are going to come in for your fair share."
"Of course, we will, Mother." Ares answered his mother from the other side of the bed. Joxer watched enviously at his expertise in cradling his daughter.
"I expect that you have a name all picked out for our daughter." Aphrodite poked his arm.
"Enyo. She looks like an Enyo to me." He said, one eyebrow quirked.
"Perfect. From the state of her lungs, I expect she'll be handy to have around on a battlefield." Aphrodite teased him and Ares stuck out his tongue at her.
"Don't pay any attention to her, Enyo. Your lungs are just very, very healthy, sweetheart." Ares told the tiny baby tenderly and rocked her gently while her little arms waved in the air. "You have to remember to take care of your brother, Anteros and always listen to your fathers."
"And your mother, Enyo. Don't forget to listen to me." Aphrodite added, poking Ares with a sharp finger.
Joxer smiled at both his lovers and thought about how very lucky he was. //I love you, Ares. I hope I can be as good a father as you are.//
//You'll be a great father, love. Look at how easily you're holding Anteros. He won't break, Joxer. Babies are extremely resilient. Thank goodness. Oh, yuck.// Enyo peed on his hand and Ares grabbed for a towel.
As if Anteros knew what his twin had done, he squirted like a small fountain onto Joxer's arm. Hera handed him a towel with a smile and he cleaned his son with tender strokes, marveling at the perfection of each small limb. He watched while Ares wrapped a cloth between Enyo's legs and over her hips, sealing the edges with a quick surge of energy. When Hera gave him a similar cloth, he repeated the motions he'd just seen.
"Good job, Joxer. Remember that move, you'll be doing it a lot." Aphrodite winked at him. "Now, I need a nap and so do these little ones. Go away and do godly things for a while, but leave the babies with me."
Joxer laid Anteros in the cradle that Hera had just materialized. Enyo joined her brother and they snuggled together before falling asleep. Ares kissed Aphrodite's cheek before hugging Joxer close and winking them out to the mountain cavern where their excess energy was stored. Joxer felt so sleepy that he didn't even argue when his lover whisked up a bed and tucked them both in.
"You gave Dite a lot of your energy while she was in labor. We both need to restore ourselves. You're linked to Anteros now so if he needs you, he'll let you know." The sleepy explanation made sense and Joxer did a little snuggling of his own before falling asleep.
A wail woke him up instantly and he sat upright, looking around for the source of the cry. It was a hungry call but through his link with his son, he felt the strong hands that picked him up and put him to Aphrodite's breast.
"Relax, love. He doesn't need you at the moment. For a while, he's going to be preoccupied with food and sleep." Warm arms tugged him down to a firm chest. "Say, oh about four or five weeks. At that point, he'll start looking around and figuring out the world and people around him."
"He's so little that I was almost afraid to pick him up." Joxer admitted, looking down into the sparkling eyes of his lover.
"Not to worry, Joxer. He's tougher than he looks, although you'll have to support his head until he strengthens his neck muscles." Ares' hands kneaded his shoulder muscles and for the first time since they'd arrived, Joxer realized that they were naked.
"Nice thought. Do we have time to," Joxer wiggled just a little and watched his lover's eyes go sultry, "play?"
"You bet we do." Ares' fingers walked down his spine to rub at the spot above his crease that always made him shiver.
Joxer kissed his way up the strong neck to the bearded chin finally reaching the soft lips that instantly parted to welcome him inside. //We're fathers, Ares. I never thought I'd ever be one of those.//
//Just for the first time if I know Aphrodite. Why by the time Harmonia gets unleashed on an unsuspecting mortal public, her mother will be eyeing us all over again.// His tongue stroked Joxer's until they had to break apart to breathe.
Brown eyes met brown eyes and matching grins flashed before they started tickling each other. Somehow they ended up head to groin and Joxer settled in for his favorite meal of Ares' protein. They made it last a long time before releasing into each other's keeping. Resting his head on Ares' stomach, Joxer thought about the amazing events of the day. And something that had surprised him from earlier returned.
"Hey, are Apollo and Iphicles really a couple?"
Ares chuckled. "Oh yeah, they sure are. When I went for Apollo, they were in bed and you should have seen Iphicles look daggers at me when I eyed my cousin's ass."
"And why were you eyeing Apollo's ass?" Joxer raised up on one elbow.
"Because it's well worth a second or third look. For that matter, so is Iphicles'."
"I guess I'll have to judge for myself." Joxer slid up to his favorite place on top of Ares.
"Only when I'm with you, lover. Apollo and I played a long time ago, Joxer. I only watched his ass to see if I could get a rise out of Iphicles. Apollo got hurt really badly a thousand years ago and I want him to be safe this time around. And if the look I got from King Iphicles is any indication, there's love on both sides." Ares looked up into his eyes with the smile that warmed him all the way through.
"I'm glad. I like both of them and if they have a tenth of the love we have then they'll be all right." Joxer kissed him tenderly, only separating when their stomachs growled in unison.
Ares moved them back to his temple and the spa for a leisurely wash. They ate everything the pharins had left for them before walking over to Aphrodite's temple. On the way over, they got stopped again and again for a first hand account of the new god and goddess just born.
When they entered the outer room, Harmonia met them with rib breaking hugs and excited whispers. "They are just so cute, Daddy. Anteros has your eyes, Joxer. They are just so very, very unbelievably tiny. Enyo sounds just like you do sometimes, Daddy. She bellows, even Grandmother says so. And I got to go see the new zephyrs a little while ago. They're like these tiny little whirlwinds no bigger than my thumb."
"We need to go and give them our congratulations."
"I did it for you, Daddy. Chloris sent Bax over to see Enyo and Anteros so for the moment we're okay. Until one of the others comes to term." Her gaze was suddenly very wise to Joxer's eyes. "I can hardly wait to see Athena's twins. But they can't possibly be more beautiful than my new brother and sister."
"You're so right, princess." Ares kissed her hair and let her lead them back to Aphrodite's bedroom.
The goddess of love still looked tired but her hair was freshly washed and styled so she was headed back to her lovable self. "About time you guys showed up. They've eaten twice and pooped once so you better get some quality cuddling in before they fall asleep again."
"That's why we're here, love." Ares kissed her tenderly and picked up a slightly fussy baby.
Joxer sat on the side of the bed and leaned in for a gentle kiss to the mother of his son. "Has Hep shown up yet?"
Dite's eyes shadowed for a moment. "Not yet. When I'm back to my usual svelte self, I'll go and get him. In about a week or so, the babies won't be quite so needy and I can spend some quality time with him. He's going to love these babies as much as he loves Harmonia and Cupid."
She handed him his son and the warm, sweet weight of the wiggling body made him lose his train of thought. Once again their eyes met and Joxer felt himself melt at the wide blue eyes. Then the baby smiled and blew a bubble at him and he chuckled at the sight.
"I can see that you're going to be a bubble bath person like your fathers. Wait until you see a whole bathtub of bubbles, Anteros. I wonder if water is one of your elements?"
Hera answered his question from the door to the room. "His elements are water and air, Joxer. Enyo's are fire and earth."
"Are you sure, Mother Hera?" Aphrodite touched a tiny arm. "I could have sworn that Anteros had some fire."
"With the strength of his fathers and mother, that should not come as a surprise. However, I think he will settle into water and air quite nicely." The Queen of the Gods smiled graciously at her daughter-in-law before patting Joxer's shoulder. "I have brought the nurse that volunteered to come and help with the babies."
"Meral?" Joxer asked with a smile. Leaving the small maid behind when he'd last visited his family had felt wrong somehow. "Does she know about Olympus?"
"Yes, dear, I told her all about it but you'll need to explain the rest. Meral, come in and meet your new charges." Hera stepped aside to reveal the dark haired woman behind her.
"Come and see my son, Meral. We named him Anteros." Joxer smiled encouragingly at the speechless woman. "I'm glad it will be you taking care of him. I know you'll love and protect him the way you did me so long ago."
She came forward shyly, nodding at the others hesitantly. Standing by Joxer, she put out a finger to stroke the soft cheek of the baby. "So beautiful, Joxer, just like you when you were born." Anteros seemed to focus on the dark head so near his father's and the smile appeared with another bubble. Meral laughed softly and held the waving hand gently in hers. "Hello, little one, I'm very glad to meet you."
"See, he already knows and likes you." Joxer said happily.
"Of course he does. Babies always recognize family." Hera said quietly from the other side of the bed. "And grandmothers, especially."
"What?" Joxer wondered if he'd misheard her.
"Meral, it's time for the truth." Hera smiled and nodded at the woman who'd sunk to her knees at his side.
"Forgive me, Joxer. I was so young and she said she'd sell me if I ever told anyone. I couldn't bear not to at least be able to see you." Meral's face was wet with tears.
Joxer's brain had gone numb, at least that's how it felt. "You're my mother? But Janus must be my father or the three of us wouldn't look so much alike."
"The mistress refused to have any more children after Master Jace was born. I'd already caught Lord Janus' eye and when I got pregnant, she made me swear that I would never tell anyone. When Jett was born, I knew I couldn't ever leave him alone. While I was nursing him, Lord Janus took me back to his bed and you were conceived. I prayed to Hera that you and Jett would be safe from the others. Nana knew and watched over you for me." She was weeping now as if her heart would break.
Joxer's mind reached for his other half. //Ares?//
//I love you, Joxer. Nothing will ever change that.//
//I love you, too.// And with that resettled, he gave Aphrodite the baby and reached out to gather his mother into a long overdue hug.
"Mother, it's all right. I understand so much now." He rested his head on her soft dark hair and rocked her gently in his arms. "I'm glad it was you even though I'm sorry you had to go through that. I always wondered why Jocasta hated me and now I know."
She hiccuped slightly and raised her head. "Your father was so different then, gentle and kind. But the mistress slowly changed him to the man you know. He and Jett were so much alike that I knew I'd never have to worry about your older brother. But you were different, more like Janus when he was younger. I worried how the world would treat you."
Joxer smiled and wiped the tears from her cheeks. "It treated me just fine, Mother. I love and am loved by the most wonderful person in the world. And our new family will welcome you in just the way it did me."
Meral nodded, glancing shyly at Aphrodite who was wiping away a few tears of her own. "Hera told me of your attachment to the mother of your child. I promise I will care for the children with all the love I have."
//Oops. What do we tell her, Ares?// Joxer sent a panicky thought to his lover.
"Meral, you will have two to take care of. Anteros has a twin sister Enyo by a different father." Aphrodite said gently while Ares rounded the bed with the little girl in his arms. Kneeling gracefully by Joxer, he held out the tiny goddess to Joxer's mother.
"I'm Ares and Joxer and I love each other." He said simply, sliding an arm around his lover and offering him some of his strength.
Meral's eyes widened while she carefully took the small girl in her arms. Dropping her gaze to the blue-eyed goddess, she darted a quick look to Anteros in his mother's arms then back again. "They are indeed a pair and how very beautiful they are. It will take some getting used to but," she looked Ares in the eye, "if you love each other then I'm content."
"He's the other half of my soul, Mother. I'm a very lucky man. And Aphrodite gave us both the best gift of all when she bore us a son and daughter." Joxer leaned into Ares' arm and watched his daughter demand attention from her grandmother.
Hera chuckled. "It's going to take some time to explain everything but for now, I'm going to show Meral her room and the nursery. I think Aphrodite needs another nap."
The goddess of love hid a yawn behind one small hand. "Forgive me, guys. Take the babies with you. They haven't seen their new cradles yet."
Joxer leaned over to pick up Anteros and give her a soft kiss. "Sleep now, love. We'll be within shouting distance."
His answer was a sleepy grin and he turned back to see Ares raise Meral to her feet. It would take some time but they already looked like a family. And finally, Joxer acknowledged to himself that he was no longer an orphan but a man with born and chosen family. He grinned at his lover, sharing the feeling of freedom.
Ten days later, the gods gathered together to christen the newest members of Olympus. Zephyrus and Chloris presented the baby zephyrs to everyone. Zed and Aper shone a brilliant green as they rode on their parents shoulders. Anteros burped loudly when Zeus hand him back to Joxer after the blessing.
But Enyo stole the show by smiling up at her Grandfather right before peeing on his new robe. Everyone agreed that she was a true child of Ares and would bear watching in the decades to come. Ares just sighed and sent a private thought to Joxer.
//Just remember that we're both her fathers.//
Joxer grinned while burping Anteros over his shoulder. //Family is a wonderful thing.//
And looking over the cooing gods and goddesses gathered around the new babies, his eye fell on his mother at Hera's side. Family in more ways than one.
End chapter seventeen