The tale below was woven for love
not for profit, or money, or gold
and we all know to whom the characters belong
(yea verily, this is the standard disclaimer song)
to avoid landing in the Tartarus of old.
So I pray to the gods of MCA/Universal
strike me not dead with thy might,
for I promise to give the boys right back
at the end of just one more hot night.
This story contains explicit descriptions of male/male sexual relations.
This is the third story in the 'Tribute' series, following Tribute and Hero's Path.
The series can also be found at The Joxerotica Archives
Feel free to send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
by REM, the DreamWeaver
Joxer stood at the fork in the road and debated which route to take, not that he was headed anywhere in particular. He hadn't been headed anywhere in particular in the past two months, not since Ares had given him the staff and he'd never been happier or more bruised. He still wasn't sure if the staff was a curse or a blessing but you'd have to kill him to take it away from him.
Joxer propped the staff against the inside of his left shoulder and took a drink from his water bag. He heard a cheerful whistling and turned to see a energetic blond figure bounding through the sun dappled trees towards the road. Joxer scrunched his eyebrows together trying to place the familiarity of the man. The blond kept whistling as he started walking down the road towards him. Joxer took in the patchwork vest and the medallion the man was wearing and a name popped into his mind. He waited until the smaller man drew abreast of him. "Hello Iolaus."
Iolaus stopped and turned around, looking Joxer over. "Do I know you... no wait... you look familiar... uhmm... you're one of Xena's... no, that's not it... uhmm..."
Joxer rescued him from his floundering. "Joxer."
Iolaus bounded up and down on the balls of his feet. "Joxer, that's right. You're that guy that's in love with Gabrielle."
Joxer blushed. He was never going to live that down. "It was just puppy love and it's over." Joxer's blush deepened as his last encounter with his God inadvertently came to mind. "I'm involved with someone else now."
Sunshine came out in Iolaus's smile. "Great. So where are you headed?"
"Haven't decided yet. The old fork in the road problem."
Iolaus's personality bubbled up with laughter. "Herc and I have that problem all the time."
"Where is Hercules?"
"I'm on my way to meet him. He had to stop a war, I had to save a village."
"Wow. What happened?"
"Come on, I'll tell you about it," Iolaus offered as he started up the left fork of the road. Joxer caught up with him and Iolaus launched into the story. "Well, there was this monster sized wild boar that was..." Iolaus paused staring at him. "You look different, can't put my finger... wait, you're not wearing that idiotic armor."
Joxer blushed again. Another thing he was never going to live down. "No. I'm not."
Iolaus turned pink and promptly starting shoveling verbal dirt over his last comment. "I mean you look a lot better without it, not that it was.... I mean... so anyway about the village I just came from. Really nice people but were having this problem with a..."
Joxer kept his eyes on the road. He let Iolaus ramble on and thought about the blacksmith. The man had nearly gone into convulsions when he first entered the forge. The beefy man had laughed so long and hard at the sight of his armor that Joxer had wanted to storm out in a huff. Instead he'd stood there and waited for the laughter to dissipate because the man was the best metal smith for leagues around and he needed a sword worthy enough to be a gift. He taken the armor off after he'd left the forge and kept it off. In the week it had taken to make the blade Joxer had noticed a difference in peoples attitudes towards him. It made him stop and think really hard about all the real warriors he'd met. None of them wore that much armor. He'd earned a dinar by selling it to the blacksmith for scrap.
Joxer brought his attention back to Iolaus who was bouncing along waving his arms as he came to the dramatic finish of his story. Joxer fished around in his head and came up with the highlights. A huge wild boar, one severely injured child, a pit with spikes and Iolaus nearly getting gored.
"... and then the entire village had a huge feast and the boar was the main part of the meal."
Joxer giggled. "Got his just deserts."
"And I ate like a pig," Iolaus snorted.
The comment sent them off into a laughing fit, both of them staggering down the road like drunken gladiators just in from celebrating the games. When they recovered they started swapping stories, ending up spending the afternoon trying to outdo each other with the most outrageous set of circumstance. Joxer kept the staff from putting lumps on his head by sticking to the truth when telling about his actions during an event. That still gave him a lot of leeway with other events and he watched Iolaus's jaw drop more than once.
Eventually they started chatting about more everyday things as they left their footprints on the road. Iolaus bounced along in silence for a minute then popped out with the question that had been standing out in his mind. "So what's she like?"
"Your new love."
Joxer stumbled. He used his staff to catch his balance and turned to look at Iolaus. "He's wonderful."
Iolaus grinned and bounced closer. "So who is he? Where'd you meet him?"
Joxer felt the staff twitch in his hand. He tightened his grip on the weapon. "He's a warlord and I met him in a temple."
Iolaus stared at him in concern. "A warlord?"
"He doesn't have much choice. It's kind of a family thing he was born into."
"Have a weakness for the strong bad boy types I see."
Joxer managed to keep his mouth from falling open. The humor of the situation hit him bringing a twinkle to his eyes. "Tall, dark and brooding all the way."
"In leather of course."
"With long hair."
"And broad shoulders."
"And strong hands."
"And a long thick---"
Iolaus started sniggering. "We've got it bad don't we?"
"One of us does. Been a while since you've seen Herc?"
"You started this."
Iolaus had the grace to blush. "What can I say?"
Joxer smiled. "Don't worry, I know exactly how you feel."
"Haven't seen yours in a while either huh?"
"You're lucky though, you get to spend most of your time with Hercules." Joxer started studying the road, feeling guilty for wanting more. After all he had a god for a lover and that should be enough for any mortal.
"Don't get to spend much time together?"
Joxer shook his head. "He's always involved in some war or another."
Iolaus tilted his head to the side, a silly grin accompanying a cackle in his voice as he tried to lighten Joxer's mood. "Maybe you can convince him to give up his wicked ways."
Joxer shook his head. "No, it's what he was born to do." He glanced over at Iolaus. "And I don't have a problem with that... well sometimes I do, but it's who he is and it's all just part of him and I knew what he was before I got involved with him and... I don't know how to explain it."
"You love him and it doesn't matter."
Joxer thought about it and nodded. "Yes." Joxer turned his attention back to the road. A silence fell between them as they kept company with their own thoughts while they walked down the road. Joxer was concentrating on Ares wondering when he was going to see him again and trying to figure out how to get him to stay for more than two minutes after their lovemaking.
Both their heads came up at the sound of the voice. "Herc!" Iolaus took off at a trot leaving Joxer behind.
Joxer watched him run up to greet the demigod and couldn't help but smile at the obvious feelings the two had for each other. He slowed down giving them a chance to say hello and wished for a greeting like that from Ares. Ares rarely said hello. The War God's greetings usually started as an invisible hand on his jaw prompting him to open his mouth, or an unseen pressure on his shoulder urging him over on his stomach and sometimes it was just all too weird. Like making love to a ghost.
Then he remembered the times Ares had flashed into view first. Sometimes that was even stranger. He'd see that bright flash and Ares would be standing there all dark and beautiful and hot and hard and with a look in his eyes like a starving lion contemplating a pile of fresh meat, and that look would make Joxer want to jump on a serving platter.
Or that time Ares had appeared just before sunset, sword in hand, leathers slick with mortal blood and death in his eyes. Joxer barely had time to register the macabre figure before he was on his back, the gore encrusted sword half buried in the dirt inches from his head, with Ares shoving into him pumping out his battle lust in a series of hard fast orgasms that had them both shaking and screaming from the intensity of it.
"... Joxer? Iolaus to Joxer, anybody home?"
"What's wrong with him?"
"He's in love," Iolaus explained to Hercules.
"Huh," Joxer stammered, realizing he'd been standing in the middle of the road staring at the dirt and that Iolaus was talking to him. "What did you say?"
"It's been so long I don't remember," Iolaus teased. "You've been standing there in a daze for half the afternoon."
"I have not. Uh... hi Hercules."
"Uhmm... well guess I'll be going."
"Going where?" Hercules asked.
"Down the road, like going away. You know, leaving."
"You might want to share a camp with us tonight," Hercules said while ignoring Iolaus's frantic motions behind Joxer's back. "There's a band of thieves in the area that aren't very picky about the condition they leave their victims in."
Iolaus stopped his frantic 'no' motions and wrinkled his forehead in concern. "Sounds like something we need to take care of Herc."
"It is, but not tonight."
Iolaus bounced up and down on the balls of his feet. "Then let's go find a campsite."
Hours later they were wrapped in darkness and paying homage to the cheerful fire glowing in the middle of their campsite. They were also stuffed full of roasted rabbits and baked apples thanks to Iolaus's sling, Hercules' foraging and Joxer's cooking. The after dinner conversation consisted of the retelling of Iolaus's boar story and the new telling by Hercules of the war he'd stopped.
Joxer spent his time being a rapt audience and watching the subtle interplay between them. Then he remembered that Hercules was Ares half brother and found himself fascinated with the fact. He decided that there was no contest between the two but he did envy Iolaus for the gentle loving looks he was getting from his partner.
Joxer looked back at the fire feeling like an intruder. The way those two looked at each other only served to remind him of how lonely he was. It also finally cued him in on the fact that they'd probably like to be alone. He counted the days since he'd seen Ares. It was just one day more than the number he'd come up with yesterday.
Joxer leaned over and picked up his belongings. He stood up hitching his blanket over his shoulder. "Well I'll see you two in the morning."
Iolaus looked up at him in surprise. "Where are you going?"
"I thought I'd turn in early. Haven't been sleeping well lately. You know how it is sometimes when you're traveling alone."
"Oh. Well good night."
Joxer didn't miss the gleam in Iolaus's eyes at his pronouncement. He nodded at Hercules and turned and walked part way across the small clearing into the night shadows. He selected a spot under a tree that seemed fairly rock free and spread his blanket out. Tossing his travel bag and staff on the woolen square he stretched and decided it probably wouldn't hurt to get some extra sleep. Joxer settled himself on the blanket deliberately putting his back towards the campfire. Closing his eyes he started planing his journey for tomorrow. Then his mind wandered off to the subject of War.
An hour later Joxer was still awake and had spent entirely too much time thinking about Ares. Now his pants were far too snug in the crotch area and there wasn't a thing he dare do about it. Joxer shifted and started to sit up when a low pitched voice stopped him.
"What are you... stop that... let go!"
"Not a chance."
"Iolaus we can't."
"You'll wake Joxer up."
"I'm not the one making all the noise. Besides Gabrielle told me that you practically have to scream in his ear to wake him up."
"Iolaus... don't do---."
"Aw come on Herc. We haven't seen each other in days."
"Iolaus no, we can't.... shouldn't... oh... gods..."
Joxer's curiosity got the better of him and he carefully turned over on his right side. The scene near the campfire almost made him drool. Iolaus was sprawled across Hercules' legs licking the massive cock he had his hand wrapped around. Joxer felt himself getting harder and pushed his fists against his groin.
A hand clamped across Joxer's mouth with the weight of a body pressing against his back. "And just how long have you been lusting after my half-wit brother?"
Joxer shivered at the sound of Ares' deep voice whispering near his ear. The hand slid down to his throat. "Tell me, what exactly is it you find so irresistible? The tanned beach boy look? That nauseatingly helpful personality? Or is it the fact he's hung like a centaur?"
"None of it," Joxer whispered.
Ares' hand tightened around Joxer's throat. "What are you doing here with them?"
"I just ran into them and---."
"And thought you'd stay around for a little night action."
Ares left hand brushed across the front of Joxer's straining pants. "Then what's this?"
"I was thinking about you."
"Liar. You want him."
"No I don't. I was---"
Ares' right hand tightened on the slender throat cutting him off. "You'd love to be where Iolaus is right now wouldn't you?"
Joxer's voice came out a strained raspy whisper, his hands reaching up grabbing the corded wrist. "No... please..."
Ares ripped open the front of Joxer's pants, locked his hand around Joxer's turgid cock and squeezed. "Liar."
Joxer bit back a screech and felt his pants tangle around his ankles. He managed to suck in a half spoonful of air. "Ares... please."
The War God relaxed his grip on the slender throat "Please what?"
Joxer shivered, acutely aware that Ares' hand was still wrapped around his cock. "Anything." Joxer regretted that statement in the next breath. That's how long it took for Ares to position himself and thrust full length into him. Joxer could hear his scream in his head but nothing came out of his mouth. His right hand dug into the dirt under the blanket.
Joxer lay there panting, wondering why Ares wasn't moving as he watched Hercules urge Iolaus to his hands and knees. He closed his eyes and concentrated on relaxing, trying to ease the sharp over stretched feeling in his ass. A hand tangled in his hair jerking his head back.
"Why aren't you watching your lover boy get a piece of that sweet little ass?"
Joxer opened his eyes even as he voiced his denial. "I don't want to." He swallowed as he saw Hercules use one hand to part Iolaus's cheeks and the other to slide a long glistening finger into his ass. His eyes closed when Ares started moving inside him in slow strokes. The hand in his hair jerked his head back again.
"Pay attention, this is fuel for your little fantasies. Or don't you like watching your dream lover giving it to someone else?"
"I don't want him, I---."
"Of course not. That's why I found you all hard and hot watching him and ready to hand hump yourself into the next time line."
"It wasn't like---"
"Try not to get too upset with him if he insists on giving it to Iolaus. That little blond is one sweet treat."
Joxer tensed, the implications of the words overriding the incredible sight of Hercules gently pushing his cock into Iolaus. "You've... been with Iolaus?"
"Been there, humped that, liked it so much I made it an all nighter. He's almost as tight as you are."
"You have other... lovers?" Joxer realized how stupid the question was the second it escaped his mouth.
"I'm a God. I have legions offering themselves to me. Or did you think you were something special?"
Joxer turned his face into the blanket. "No." He closed his eyes against the bronze on gold sight of the two lovers across the clearing. His ears refused to stop listening and he heard their soft sighs and sweet words while he braced himself against the pain of Ares' thrusts, his own erection shriveled to nothing against his thigh.
"What's the matter hero? Not having fun anymore?"
Joxer didn't answer, afraid that anything he said would increase Ares' anger and there were already enough sounds in the air with Iolaus's low, lust filled cries to Hercules for harder, faster, deeper. Then Ares' teeth sunk into his left shoulder sending a sharp pain down his body to meet up with one the one shoved full length up his ass. Joxer jammed part of the blanket in his mouth and bit down. He reached the ragged peak of his pain as the other three hit their stride in pleasure. What hurt most were the passionate cries from across the clearing hitting up against the cold indifference pumping into him.
Ares pulled his teeth out of Joxer's shoulder. "It's been fun hero. Too bad it didn't last."
Dry fire lanced through Joxer as Ares jerked out of him. Then the sounds stopped. And there was nothing. He landed with a thump. Joxer lay still feeling the pain in his ass and shoulder again. He stared at the campfire a few feet away from him and wondered where he was. The clearing was gone along with Iolaus and Hercules. Joxer carefully sat up and looked around for Ares. He was alone, camped near the edge of a small lake with a backdrop of trees behind him and only the gods knew where he was. Joxer looked at the lake and decided that the problem of location could wait.
Joxer pulled his boots off and untangled his pants from around his ankles. He stood up and stripped off his shirt, dropping it on the blanket as he headed for the lake. He walked into the lake and waded out until it lapped around his waist, his fingers trailing in the cold water. Joxer turned and looked back at his new campsite then up at the night sky. Somehow he'd ruined it. Ares thought he wanted Hercules and his good-bye had sounded final. He wrapped his arms around himself, his vision blurring as he stared at the stars.
Cupid felt the vibration of a heart breaking. The melancholy bitter note keening through him pulling him out of the half drowsing state he was in. He sat up on the pillow strewn platform and concentrated on the location of the echoing pain then went there.
The winged god appeared at the edge of a lake and checked to make sure he was out of the mortal range of perception. He glanced at the mortal in the lake confirming that he was the source of the despair. Cupid reached for an arrow from his quiver. It wouldn't take but a nano second to rectify the situation. He looked over at the sparse campsite surprised to see signs of only one occupant. Expanding his senses he checked the surrounding area looking for the man's lover. Cupid blinked. There wasn't another mortal around for a hundred miles. He stretched his wings and tried to make sense of the situation. A heart doesn't break by itself. If there were no other mortals around, Cupid's eyebrows went up. It had to be a god.
He looked back at the shivering figure standing in the lake. The man was handsome in his own sort of willowy way. Cupid frowned, that wasn't enough to attract a god. On the other hand the cry of that heart had been strong enough to awaken him and bring him here. Cupid put the arrow back into the quiver. There was more here than met the mortal eye.
Cupid filtered his vision through his godhood and found the answer. He sat himself down in midair and stared. He could see the life force of everything around him, a rainbow symphony of living energies that extended out through the cosmos. It was the crystal white spark surrounded by the cool pale blue eddies of the lake that stunned him. That pure incandescent spirit, that innocence of heart and soul, that could capture a god's attention. That could intoxicate a god.
Cupid ran his hand through his hair and wondered which Olympian the mortal had given himself to. This kind of love and devotion couldn't be taken by force. Cupid basked in the gentle vibrations coming off the crystal white form. He could live off that energy for a lifetime and he knew that if he appeared to the mortal now he'd have a very good chance of winning and keeping him. Surviving the experience intact would depend on who the mortal's ex-lover was and whether or not that entity would suddenly decide he or she wanted the mortal back. Some gods you just didn't mess with. Not directly anyway.
He drifted over the water and settled to one side of the mortal. Fine tuning his vision he could see the raw edges of emotional pain flickering deep within the spark. He found another type of pain and realized the mortal had been injured. The type of injuries cut his list of possibilities on Olympian ex-lovers in half.
Cupid merged his energies with the mortal's and left the ability for his body to heal twice as fast with half the pain. He discovered something with that touch. The wrist guards the mortal was wearing had a strong power trace of Hephaestus on them. He couldn't have been more shocked if he'd suddenly lost control of gravity and fallen into the lake. He needed to have a talk with his stepfather.
The young god flexed his wings letting them create a breeze around the mortal. The man was already shivering and the additional cold started him wading towards the shore. Cupid increased the intensity of the campfire then shifted himself to his stepfather's forge. It was empty. Cupid popped up to Olympus. He found his mother's message floating in the middle of her throne room. She and Hepster had decided to pop into a time pocket for a little quality time together. Cupid flicked his fingers and the scroll disappeared. Knowing his mother quality time meant humping like crazed rabbits. Who knew how long they'd be gone. He'd just have find his answers on his own.
Joxer stayed where Ares had left him for almost a week before he decided that his God had rejected him. He left early on the sixth morning. Stumbling away from the campsite, nearly falling as he kept turning and looking back praying that Ares would be standing there looking for him. His prayers went unanswered.
Joxer spent the next seven days traveling in a straight line trying to find someone he could ask where he was. What he was wasn't finding was starting to scare him. After seven days of hard travel he hadn't seen a single person, house, road or familiar landmark. He was running out of water and was beginning to think that Ares had left him to die in some strange wilderness located at the edge of the world. If he didn't find something soon he was going to head back to the lake and try another direction.
Joxer stopped and sat down on a fallen tree and pulled his left boot off. Turning it over he shook out the small twig that had found it's way inside. He sat there rubbing his foot looking around at the surround trees scanning for a possible campsite. He was tired and was thinking about stopping for the day, it seemed pointless to go on and he still hadn't seen a single sign of civilization. Joxer pulled his boot back on then checked the meager contents of his water bag and took a small sip, just enough to wet his mouth. He looked around again at the lush forest and didn't understand how it stayed so green with such an absence of visible water and it hadn't rained in the two weeks he'd been in the area. Rain would have solved some of his water problems. Xena had shown him several methods to collect rainwater in case of emergency and if he didn't find a water source soon it was going to become an emergency. You could only lick the morning dew off so many leaves before the urge for a real drink started driving you nuts.
Joxer picked up his travel bag and staff and stared walking again. He decided to walk for another hour or so then find a campsite. Joxer sighed as he started counting trees. He'd always liked walking in the past. It had given him a sense of being on an adventure, traveling from place to place and seeing new things, new people. Now it was just depressing him. Seven days of endless walking from dawn to dusk and he was still wandering around in a wilderness that he was beginning to suspect had no end. Then there was always the possibility that he was walking in circles.
Joxer considered the walking in circles theory. He could just imagine Ares on a throne somewhere busting a gut at his futile efforts to rejoin the rest of the world. Joxer tripped over a root, the jolt snapping him out of the morose mood he was in turning it to irritation. He caught his balance and turned to kick at the offending woody protrusion and heard a melodic tune drifting through the trees. He stopped and listened, trying to locate the source of the sound. Turning in a slow circle he decided that it was coming from off to his left. Joxer gripped his staff tighter and headed in that direction.
He followed the strong melodic voice and a few minutes later located its source up in a tall fruit laden tree. Joxer came to a stop under the wide branches and looked up trying to see who or what was in the tree. All he could see between the thick leaves were flashes of movement and something bright and golden. Joxer cleared his throat in preparation of greeting whatever was in the tree and got hit in the head with something. *Ow!*
There was a startled screech from above him and a series of crashing sounds. A barrage of yellow apples came cascading down followed by a basket and a lanky body with a flurry of leaves and small branches. Joxer scrambled backward trying to avoid the falling objects and tripped, landing on his butt in the dirt. He untangled his legs from the staff and looked over at the motionless body lying on the ground.
Joxer got to his feet with a feeling of dread and went over to the crumpled body. He knelt down beside the person and reached out to pull the long golden blonde hair out of the face, the heavy strands shifting through his fingers like some rare silk. The sight of the man's face made him gasp. Joxer stared at the divided face, the right side was flawless and could have belonged to a god, the most of the left side was a ruin of thick scars that extended down the graceful neck.
Joxer shook himself out of his shock and checked the man for injuries. He didn't find any signs of bleeding or protruding bones, so he concluded the man had been knocked unconscious when he fell. Joxer straightened out his inadvertent victim's limbs trying to make him as comfortable as possible. Then he retrieved the basket and picked up the apples scattered around them.
Joxer kept looking back at the stranger. The man was about his age and size with a more muscular build and wearing soft deerskin pants, a vest and low ankle boots. He still didn't show any signs of regaining consciousness and Joxer was eager for him to wake up so he could find out where he was.
Joxer finished picking up the stray apples and moved back over to the figure on the ground. He put the basket down and knelt next to the man, his brows wrinkling together in sympathy over the damaged face. The scars looked like old burns and Joxer wondered if the man had been injured as a child. He checked the stranger's pulse again and the form stirred under his touch. A pain filled moan followed the movement then Joxer found himself looking into cobalt blue eyes. The expression in the eyes struck a sympathetic cord in Joxer and he realized he'd never seen such a look of fear and loneliness. The owner of the eyes started scrambling away from him.
"Wait, I'm not going to hurt you, I'm sorry you fell."
The blond scooted up against the tree, cradling his right wrist. A practiced flip of the head and the long hair cascaded down to cover the left side of his face. "Who are you?"
Joxer smiled and stayed where he was. He had the distinct impression that if he moved the blond would either run like a terrified squirrel, or bite him. "My name's Joxer and I'm really lost and I was hoping you could tell me where I am or where the nearest village is."
"Nine days travel south."
"Oh... uhmm, which way is south?"
The blond pointed with his left hand then went back to cradling his right wrist. Joxer glanced in the indicated direction then looked back at the stranger. "Are you hurt? I'm sorry you fell."
"Don't get many people up here, you're the first in over three years."
"Well I can get lost better than anyone."
"Where'd you come from?"
"I wish I knew. I got lost seven days ago. I don't suppose there's a stream or well around here? I'm almost out of water."
"You traveling alone?"
The blond pointed again. "Stream's that way."
Joxer came to his feet. "Thank you. Do you need any help? Is your arm ok? I'm really sorry I made you fall, I just heard you singing---"
The blond pointed with his chin. "Stream's that way."
Joxer stood there for a moment then nodded. "Thanks." He turned and headed for the stream wondering what the man was so afraid of.
Joxer found the wide clear stream a short time later. He filled up his water bag after taking the equivalent of a three mug drink then decided to camp by the stream. The thought of a bath was the deciding factor. He collected firewood then spent some short tempered moments getting a fire started. Once the fire was a cheerful, dancing source of heat he stripped, grabbed his bath items and waded into the stream.
Joxer ducked down into the water, his skin putting on a suit of goose bumps from the chill. He quickly got down to basics and scrubbed himself. He ended up getting too basic and got soap root in his eyes while washing his hair then managed to slip and fall twice before he was finished. The falling helped with the rinsing so it only elicited a grumbling complaint about the condition of his posterior in relation to hard objects of late.
Joxer climbed out of the stream and used his shirt to dry off with. After dressing in his spare set of clothes he scrubbed the midnight blue shirt clean then spread it out on a bush to dry as he spot cleaned the black leather pants. He spread out his blanket, dumped out his travel bag and re-packed it discovering dinner was going to be jerky and trail bread. Joxer made a wish for some of the apples back at the tree and started gnawing on a piece of jerky.
The thought of the apples made him think of the blond and he realized that he'd forgotten to ask the name of the village that was nine days travel away. He still didn't have a clue where he was. Joxer reached out to caress the staff next to him wondering if he'd ever see Ares again. A space somewhere deep in the middle of his chest started pushing in on itself and he lost his appetite.
Joxer shoved the jerky back into its pouch in his travel bag and tried not to start thinking about that disastrous night again. He had to figured out a way to convince Ares that he had gotten the wrong impression, that he didn't want Hercules or anyone else. He couldn't want anyone else, not after being with him. Joxer wrapped his arms around his knees and rested his forehead on them.
"It's going to start raining soon."
Joxer almost jumped out of his skin at the unexpected voice. His head jerked up and he saw the blond standing at the edge of his campsite. Joxer stared at the man for a second before he found his voice. "Uhmm, it is?" Joxer looked up at the fading light in the sky. "How do you know?"
"I just know."
"Oh, well thanks for the warning. I guess it's going to be a wet night."
"If you'll help me you can stay at my place tonight."
Joxer noticed the blond was still cradling his right wrist. "What kind of help?"
"I have some fishing lines upstream that need to be checked and I think my wrist is broken. I could use some help bandaging it."
Joxer scrambled to his feet. "Broken? Let me see." The blond took a step back at Joxer's approach then caught himself and stood still. Joxer saw the aborted movement and stopped. "I just want to help, after all it's my fault you're hurt."
The blond ducked his head. "I'm not used to being around people."
"I'm not really people, I'm just Joxer and sometimes I'm a walking disaster cause I trip over things." The blond smiled, the sides of his mouth going up with sporadic jerks like he was reading first time instructions from a how to scroll. Joxer moved over to him. He gently reached out and examined the injured wrist, frowning as he tried to diagnose the problem. "I think it's just a bad sprain, but it needs to be wrapped. Probably hurts like the dickens too."
"I'm really sorry." Joxer scurried over to his carry bag and dug out his all purpose square of cloth. He dipped it in the water and waved the blond over to a rock at the side of the stream. "Sit here and wrap this around your wrist, the cold water will help." Joxer got the man settled on the rock then went and picked up his staff. "Where are the lines?"
"Walk upstream until you come to a bend, the lines are attached to the fallen tree that hangs over the stream."
"Got it. You stay here and keep putting cold water on that wrist. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Joxer found the bend in the stream and three large fish on the lines. He rigged a makeshift stringer from a small forked branch and headed back. When he arrived at his camp site he found the blond right where he'd left him. Joxer made short work of putting out the campfire and collecting his belongings. The blond led the way as they left the stream and went back to the tree to retrieve the basket of apples. Then Joxer followed the man on an upward climb through the boulder strewn woods.
Joxer was almost to the point he was going to ask his host exactly where they were going, when the man led him up a narrow poorly defined path that turned into a rocky ledge. Joxer spend the rest of his time watching his feet, looking up periodically to make sure his guide was still there. Then he glanced up and saw the blond disappear into a tangle of long thick leafy vines. Joxer stopped and stared at the foliage the man had vanished into. He shifted his grip on the small basket of apples.
The blonde's upper body reappeared. "Are you coming in?"
The blond reached out with his good arm and pulled Joxer through the thick hanging vines. "Inside here."
Joxer brought a few of the vines with him as he stumbled past an arch of heavy timbers and into a roomy cave. Two of the apples bounced out of the basket and rolled across the polished rock floor as he stopped and looked around. If the contents of the cave had been surrounded by man made walls and a roof, it could have been the interior of any single room house from a prosperous village. The roomy cave was illuminated by squat bowls of flames that seem to work like torches without wood, set into niches around the walls. There was a large fireplace and cooking hearth carved into the wall on his left, with shelves carved into the light gray stone on either side. There was a fair sized wooden table with two comfortable chairs not far from the fireplace and a large bed against the far wall. Most of the wall to his right was devoted to a large workbench cluttered with pieces of wood and tools, the obvious source of the beautifully made chests, shelves and furniture in the room. "Wow! This is neat." Joxer dropped another apple spinning around to face his host, who was putting the stringer of fish on a small side table next to the hearth.
The blond glanced around. "It's home."
Joxer lost another apple when he bent down to pick up the one he'd dropped a moment before. "You made all the furniture didn't you? It's beautiful." He lost another apple chasing the other two. "That must really be great to be able to take wood and stuff and make things out of it." Joxer stumbled over his staff, lost two more apples and managed to captured one. "I couldn't begin---" A burst of laughter interrupted him. Joxer turned around too fast and another apple jumped out of the basket to freedom and then exercised it by rolling across the floor and hiding under the table. Joxer looked over at his host, who was turning red trying to contain his laughter, then looked around at the fruit scattered on the floor. "You didn't tell me apples had legs in this part of the country."
The blond went up in an explosive grouping of snorts and gwaffs. Joxer grinned as he walked over and put the basket on the central table and propped his staff against the back of the nearest chair. He dropped his travel bag in the seat and looked up in time to catch the grimace that muted the laughter. "Sit down and let me wrap that wrist."
The blond stirred uncertainty. "I didn't mean anything by laughing, it's just that---"
"It was funny. Trust me, I'm a funny person, I know funny and that was it. Come sit down, do you have any bandages?"
"In the small chest next to my workbench."
Joxer started towards the chest and spotted an apple hiding on one of the thick fur rugs near the bed. He jumped towards it brandishing an imaginary sword. "Ah ha, I have you now you round little fiend. Surrender or become applesauce!"
Another gust of laughter sounded from behind him and Joxer cheerfully continued the game as he gathered up bandages and apples and watched his host starting to look a little less like he was thinking about bolting for the door. Joxer returned to the table and put the captured apples into the basket then turned his attention to the injured wrist. He kept up a running conversation about apples with legs and other escapist fruit, pointing out the merits and speed of each while he carefully examined then wrapped the blonde's wrist. Once done he made a sling out of some of the remaining bandages and used it to support the injured arm.
Joxer adjusted the sling getting momentarily sidetracked when the man moved his head and the curtain of concealing hair swept over his hands. He finished and stepped back to check his work. "Does that feel better?"
"Yes, thank you."
"I'm really sorry I caused you to fall and hurt yourself. If you like I can stay for a few days to help you until you wrist is better."
"You don't have to do that."
"I really feel like I should. I can get water and wood and check you lines or pick apples for you."
The blond looked down at the floor, his hair liquid motion as it cascaded down to hide his entire face. "You're welcome to stay for a while, who knows how long the storm will last."
"Then it's settled. I'll stay and help you until your wrist is better." Joxer moved over to the chair his things were on and started digging in his travel bag. "I'm going to make you some tea, it will help with the pain." A loud rumbling sound accented the end of his statement. Joxer glanced up. "Sounds like you're as hungry as I am." He pulled a small pouch out of his travel bag and looked at his host thoughtfully. "What's your name?"
Joxer grinned and moved over to the hearth in search of hot water. "Well Damon, what would you like for dinner?"
"You can cook?"
"Oh boy can I cook," Joxer assured him as he dipped a cup he found on the hearth into a pot of hot water sitting near the fire. "I was thinking maybe baked fish and apple turnovers. Don't suppose you have any wild garlic or leeks? Fresh or dried, doesn't matter."
Damon pointed to the set of shelves carved into the left side of the fireplace. "Apple turnovers?"
"If you have flour and honey and a few other things." Joxer sprinkled some of the woody contents of the pouch into the cup and used his finger to poke the material under the water. "We sure have the apples for them."
"The foodstuffs are in that cabinet or on those shelves over there." Damon pointed to the left side of the hearth.
Joxer brought the cup over and placed it on the table in from of his host. "When the bark sinks to the bottom, drink the tea."
Damon sniffed at the tea then looked up at Joxer. "Can you really make apple turnovers?"
Joxer moved over and started exploring the contents of the various containers on the shelves. "If you have the ingredients I can make all kinds of things."
"I'll help," Damon said as he stood up.
"No," Joxer insisted as he spun to face the blond and startled him into taking a step back. "Please," he continued in a softer tone. "Let me do it. Cooking is one of the few things I'm really good at and I owe you a debt for causing you to fall."
Joxer nodded. "I love to cook."
"I hate it, always burn something."
"Then sit down and relax and let me whip up something for dinner." Joxer turned back to his examination of the shelf's contents. He selected two bowls, found a crock of honey and a small bag of flour and brought them over to the table Damon was sitting at. "Spoons?" Damon started to get up. "No, don't get up just tell me where," Joxer ordered.
Damon gave him a puzzled look and pointed to the cupboard next to the shelves. "On the second shelf, in the box."
Joxer moved over to the cupboard and started exploring it's contents. He retrieved a spoon and several other needed items then spotted another dinner ingredient in a basket sitting next to the cupboard. "Squash... want to add that to the menu?" Joxer leaned over and scooped up one of the large green vegetables nearly loosing his grip on his other supplies.
"Only if you don't boil it."
Joxer walked back over to the table and put the items he was carrying down. "Boiled squash is good. What do you season it with?"
Damon shrugged setting the curtain of dark gold hair shimmering. "Water?"
Joxer chuckled. "Trust me, I won't boil it. I was thinking batter dipped and fried."
Damon watched Joxer efficiently sorting through the stuff on the table. "How did you learn to cook?"
"Spent a lot of time hiding in the kitchen when I was growing up."
"Hiding from who?"
"My brother and his practical jokes. Water?"
"In the barrel with the lid, dipper's hanging on the side. So do you travel a lot?"
Joxer commandeered a clay pitcher on the way to the water barrel. "I guess I do. Want to hear a story about two friends of mine and a strange adventure we had?"
"Ever heard of Xena, the warrior princess?"
"Well she's a friend of mine and so is Gabrielle. Xena is a warrior and Gabrielle is a bard. Anyway I was traveling with them this one time and everything was fine until we woke up one morning, and although Gabby and I didn't realize it, the day was repeating itself."
"How can a day repeat itself?"
"Hang on, I'm getting to that part." Joxer pulled his knife out of his boot, started slicing apples and told Damon the rest of the story as he prepared dinner. He told him about meeting Cleopatra while they ate, but played down his part in the story, changed Jett's name and didn't put in the fact that he was his brother. The sound of thunder announced Damon's predicted storm as Joxer was starting the story about Gabrielle becoming queen of an Amazon tribe. That tale and Damon's questions kept them occupied during the tidying up process after dinner and through two cups of mint tea.
Joxer clapped his hand over his mouth trying to cover another yawn. "Sorry, guess I'm a little tired."
A flicker of disappointment ran over Damon's half hidden face. "It's late. There are some blankets and skins in that chest over there. You can make a bed for yourself by the fire if you'd like."
"Thank you, I think I will." Joxer got up and walked over to the large chest and opened it. He pulled out two thick sheep skins and a blanket. Closing the chest he looked up to see Damon moving around the cave putting out the bowl torches by putting metal lids on them. "Thank you for letting me stay."
"It's nothing," Damon murmured as he moved over to his bed covertly watching Joxer.
Joxer went back over to the fireplace and picked a spot to the left of the table and put together a bed on the floor. He took a moment to feed the fire so it would last until morning then retrieved his staff and sat down on his makeshift bed. Joxer put the staff next to him then pulled off his boots. He lay down facing the fireplace and snuggled into the soft skins he used to pad the stone floor. He was more comfortable than he had been in weeks and it reminded him of something. "Damon, what's the name of that village you were telling me about?"
Joxer still didn't know where he was. "How far is it to... say Athens from here and which direction?" Damon told him and Joxer groaned in dismay. Ares had dumped him halfway across the country. He flopped over on his back giving serious consideration to acquiring a horse. He thought about what type of horse he could get, then started daydreaming about going riding with Ares until his eyelids fell down and sleep jumped on him like a long lost lover pulling him into the realm of Morpheus.
Joxer started walking up the black marble steps trying to hurry without tripping and falling. He could hear the deep voice shaking with rage as it promised retribution for the next thousand years. He climbed faster, passing the clouds and into the stars as the familiar voice grew louder shattering the air with it's power.
Joxer kept climbing the polished black steps through swirling mists of dark hued colors and glittering constellations until he reached the top. There centered in a vast black marble plain stood a burnished bronze temple. Then he was standing in front of a door of polished skulls that swung open at the touch of his fingers.
He walked into the temple, the walls and ceiling retreating into infinity leaving an endless crystal floor with molten bedrock flowing beneath it. In a flash of fire two bronze pillars with a magnificent nude figure chained between them appeared in front of him. Joxer could hear his own heartbeat as he approached, the nervous thudding competing with the rattle of the chains as the captive fought against them.
Joxer walked over to the dark figure, the temperature of the air increasing as he got closer. He let his eyes chart the sensuous valleys and curves created by the captive's powerful muscles rippling with the tight fury of some beautiful wild beast that had caught the scent of prey near its cage.
Joxer reached out and ran his hands over the broad back exploring the strength under the smooth skin. A boldness took him and he stepped forward biting his captive's right shoulder, then kissed the corded neck as he wrapped his left hand in the long dark curls pulling his captive's head back, tracing light kisses up the bearded jaw. The warmth around them increased as Joxer's right hand slid across an iron hard stomach then down to greedily wrap around the hard shaft. Heat shimmered in the air as Joxer's captive turned his head to meet his lips, sharp teeth nipping at him while his right hand squeezed and stroked the slick shaft it was wrapped around. A lightening charge started building in his groin, his captive increasing the voltage by pushing back against him. His clothes disappeared and the lighting found a way out when his cock slipped between the taut ass cheeks pressed against him. He couldn't breathe, couldn't see, then the floor dissolved and they were sliding into the lava.
Joxer woke up climaxing, coughing and claustrophobic. He opened his eyes to a smoky semi lit room as he pumped out the result of his dream into his pants. He lay there panting and coughing trying to remember where he was and it took his brain a full minute to tell him that something was burning that shouldn't be. He tried to move his arms and found himself wrapped up in his blanket tighter than one of Cleopatra's mummified ancestors. The discovery sent him into a thrashing fit, rolling around on the floor until he broke free of the blanket.
Joxer stumbled to his feet and lurched over to the hearth. A frying pan with flaming black lumps in it sat in the embers creating a thick smoke. He snatched at the handle pulling the pan out of the hot embers swearing as he scorched his fingers. The lumps were still burning, producing prodigious amount of smoke so Joxer grabbed the pitcher of water from the table next to the hearth and dumped it into the pan. The action created a rolling cloud of steam that almost poached his eyeballs. He dropped the pitcher and grabbed his face. "Arugh! Hades' balls that hurts!"
"Joxer are you all right? I saw the smoke---"
"Water! Need cold water!" Joxer felt a damp hand close over his upper arm and pull him in a direction. Three heartbeats later he heard a clatter and his left hand was pulled away from his face and plunged into cold water. Joxer stuck his right hand in to join his left and lifted a double handful of water to his face. He repeated the motions, bathing his redden face in the cold water ignoring the fact it was soaking his clothes and splashing on the floor.
"Are you ok?" Damon repeated. "What happened?"
Joxer leaned on the edge of the barrel and tentatively opened his eyes. He was grateful he could still see out of them and chided himself for not thinking. "I woke up and saw something burning in the pan and decided to cook my face while I put the fire out."
"Are you all right?"
"I think so, just a little well done." Joxer straightened up and pushed his wet hair out of his face. He looked down at his drenched clothes and started pulling off his shirt. "What were those things in the frying pan?"
Damon glanced over at the hearth. "Some of the apple turnovers you made last night. I was trying to warm them for breakfast."
Joxer retrieved the square of cloth he'd used for a towel last night and dried his face. "Give me a minute to clean up and I'll fix breakfast." He turned to look at Damon who was soaking wet, gloriously nude and showing off bragging rights in the groin area. "Uh... you're wet... I mean why are you all wet?"
"I was taking a bath in the waterfall."
Joxer realized he was staring and directed his attention to folding the towel he was holding. "What waterfall?"
"When it rains really hard the runoff forms a small waterfall off the rocks at a spot back down the path. It's a little cold but a great way to take a bath."
"Works for me." Joxer started for his travel bag very much aware of the stickiness in his pants. A quick bath was just what he needed and the cold water wouldn't hurt. "I'll fix breakfast when I get back."
When Joxer returned after his bath Damon was dressed, had somehow managed to clear most of the smoke from the cave and had cleaned up the spilled water and broken pitcher. Joxer slid into his black leather pants and blue shirt and hung his freshly washed clothes on a thin rope clothesline pegged across the wall in the back of the cave. Then he turned his attention to fixing a breakfast of the remaining turnovers and hot tea with Damon apologizing every few minutes for burning the others. Joxer sidetracked his host's apologies by telling him the story of how Cupid's son created havoc by running off with his father's bow and arrows. That got them through a leisurely breakfast and the clean up.
The discovery that it had started raining again brought them back to the table with fresh cups of tea and Joxer related the story of Velasca challenging Gabrielle's claim to the Amazon throne. That story led them to a discussion of what it would be like to become a god and part of Joxer's mind drifted off to daydream about Ares.
It continued to rain furiously making it obvious that outside chores could wait and bodily functions would almost require a boat. Towards mid afternoon Damon produced a deck of cards and they played kings and castles until early evening when their rumbling stomachs decided that dinner was the next hand that needed to be dealt.
Joxer picked the time Gabrielle had the enchanted scroll for the dinnertime story. Damon was a rapt audience as he worked his way through a second bowl of thick soup then asked the inevitable question. "What did she do with the scroll after that?"
Joxer finished swallowing a piece of flat bread. "They took it to one of Aphrodite's temples and left it there."
"That's amazing. I can't believe I'm talking to someone who's talked to the gods. Is Aphrodite as beautiful as everyone thinks?"
Joxer grinned remembering the goddess belching at the table, one of the facts he thought best to leave out of the story. "Yes, she's really beautiful."
"Is Ares as terrifying as the stories say he is?"
"Ares is... incredible. He's tall and strong and there's this sense of power around him, even when he was mortal. And most people don't realize it but he has a sense of humor. And he has these beautiful dark eyes that can cut your heart out or set you on fire so that all you want to do is..." Joxer realized what he was saying and clamped his mouth shut.
Damon intensified his new found habit of watching Joxer while trying not to be obvious about it. "How can you admire him? All he brings is death and destruction. My village was nearly wiped out because we happened to be between two warring kingdoms."
Joxer smothered his automatic defense of Ares, knowing if he said anything he'd say too much. "Is that how you got hurt?"
"I was six years old and playing in the barn when the soldiers set it on fire. My dad found me and pulled me out. Everyone said it could have been worse."
"You could have died."
"I suppose. It might have been less painful."
Joxer didn't know what to say so he concentrated on his soup. He started thinking about the purpose of war and wondered why everyone seemed to think Ares was evil. He remembered the time Ares' godhood was stolen and the chaos that resulted from not having a god of war. Ordinary people went into murderous rages, even Gabrielle had become belligerent enough to put a sword to his throat. Joxer decided that most people just didn't understand that Ares kept the chaos under control. Ares saved mortals from themselves by keeping ordinary folks from slaughtering each other like rabid animals.
He glanced up at Damon seeing only half a face, the damaged left side hidden by the long hair. Joxer wondered why someone couldn't come up with a way to wage war that kept innocent bystanders from getting hurt. Then he wondered if that was a sacrilegious thought. A deep boom of thunder that you could almost feel though the rock sounded nearby. Joxer jumped and wondered if that was an answer or a coincidence.
"You all right?"
Joxer put his spoon in his empty bowl. "I know I'm glad to be inside. How's your wrist feeling?"
Joxer picked up his bowl and stood up. "I'll make you some more tea for the pain."
"Are you always this nice to people?"
Joxer put his bowl on the table near the hearth and retrieved a mug. "I try to be. I like making new friends, although usually I'm the one falling out of trees on top of them."
"You consider me a friend?" Damon's voice was so soft Joxer barely heard him.
Joxer poked the herb under the water in the cup. "Of course. You offered me shelter in a storm. Not everyone would do that for a stranger." He brought the mug of tea over and sat it down in front of Damon. "Here, drink up. Do you want some more soup?"
Damon shook his head then did that automatic head movement that cascaded even more hair down to cover the left side of his face. "It was delicious but I couldn't stuff in another bite."
Joxer stared at the shades of gold shifting across Damon's shoulders. "You have the most beautiful hair."
Damon picked up the mug of tea with his left hand and stared into it. "When I was younger strangers would come up to me wanting to touch my hair, then they'd see my face and turn away saying I must be cursed by the Gods."
"I think we're all a little cursed by the gods." Joxer reached for Damon's empty bowl. "Sometimes I think they're out to drive us crazy."
"Do you think the gods ever listen to our prayers?"
"They do, but getting an answer out of them is whole different deal altogether." Joxer stacked the bowls on the side table. "But then I guess if they gave us everything we asked for we'd probably be in big trouble." He poured himself a mug of mint tea from the pot near the fire then returned to his seat at the table.
Joxer stretched his legs out and held the tea near his face inhaling the vapors as he watched the fire. His mind wandered off into the land of Ares and he started daydreaming about what could happen if Ares was there instead of Damon. How it would feel to get up and walk over and kneel between Ares' feet and slide his hands up those strong leather clad thighs to the top of the tight pants and start undoing the laces, then look up and see the raw heat in the half closed eyes and watch the tip of that long tongue flick out across that full lower lip in anticipation and he had to stop thinking like this cause it was starting to make him twitch. Joxer took a big gulp of the tea and almost cooked his teeth. He slammed the mug down and lunged for the pitcher of cold water sitting in the middle of the table.
Damon sprang to his feet at the sudden movement then got control of himself as Joxer chugged half the pitcher. "Are you all right?"
Joxer put the pitcher down and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "Tea's hot."
"You sure get burned a lot don't you?"
Joxer grimaced at the instant mental picture of Ares that formed. "Tell me about it." Damon sat back down and tested his cup of tea. Joxer decided to give his a day or two to cool off and turned his attention to Damon and their surroundings. "Did you carve the fireplace?"
Damon looked over at the object in question. "No, but when I saw it I decided to stay. It didn't look like anyone had lived here in years so I moved in, made some furniture and called it home."
"It's nice." Joxer glanced around the cave. "I'd love to live in a place like this."
Damon's face lit up. "Really?"
"Really. Kinda miss having neighbors though. How long have you lived here?"
"Longer than I care to remember. Years."
"Don't you get lonely?"
"I'm used to lonely. I've been alone all my life. Even when I was living with my family I pretty much stayed in the back of my father's shop." Damon shrugged. "With this face I didn't have any friends."
"I had a friend when I was growing up. Everybody else used me for a punching bag."
"Didn't your brother help you?"
Joxer snorted. "My brother was the lead puncher. Then out of nowhere he and my best friend started hanging around together and my dad started dragging me along on raiding parties. I left home a few months after that."
"Your dad sounds like a warlord."
"He is, not that I'm proud of it anymore. He could change if he wanted to. Xena used to be a warlord and now she fights to help people."
"You're amazing. You've traveled everywhere, you've talked to gods, your father's a warlord and you're a warrior. You have such an exciting life."
Joxer grinned. "Sometimes it gets too exciting, like when someone is trying to kill you."
"You must have lots of interesting friends traveling around the way you do."
Joxer stared into the fire thinking about the people he knew. "I've met a lot of people. I guess I do have a few friends."
"And a wife?"
Joxer's right hand wandered over to touch his left wrist guard. "Not anymore."
"He thought I wanted someone else and left."
"Did I what?"
"Fall in love with someone else?"
Joxer stared at his wrist guards thinking about the impossibility of loving anyone but Ares. "It was a misunderstanding." He took a deep breath and tried to push his thoughts of the god aside. "So how did you end up living here?"
Damon looked into the fire. "Got tired of being the ugly sheep in the family."
"But you're not ugly."
Damon glanced up a soft smile curling the corner of his mouth. "You've never seen my family. Dad's tall, blond as Apollo, and has a carpenter's arms and shoulders. Mom's still a beauty and my sisters could be Aphrodite's priestesses. My mother made matchmaking history in three provinces when she arranged their weddings."
"You're mom's a matchmaker?"
Damon nodded, the hair framing his face turning into liquid gold shimmering against the firelight. "And I'm her eternal shame."
"Because she's a seventh generation matchmaker and she couldn't find a wife for me. Not that I wanted one, a wife that is, and she was always reminding me that nobody wanted me. Finally I just walked out of the house with the excuse I was going hunting one day and didn't stop walking until a few months later when I found this place. That was almost ten years ago."
"And you've been living here by yourself ever since?"
"Wow, I'd go nuts if I didn't have someone to talk to. Do you ever go to the village?"
"No. People don't seem to like me very much. About once a year I'll load up my cart with small chests and boxes I've made and take them to Widow Elana's farm. She sells them and buys things I need and I pay her for doing it."
Joxer tilted his head to one side and studied Damon. "Thank you for inviting me to stay."
Damon ducked his head, his long hair sliding off his shoulders to further hide his face. "You looked so sad when I was watching you by the stream."
"You were watching me?"
"I wanted to know if you'd told the truth when you said you were traveling alone."
"Well I'm glad you offered me your hospitality. I wish there was more I could do to repay you."
"You could tell me another story."
Joxer settled back into his chair and thought about it for a minute then started telling Damon the story of how Xena and Gabrielle met. He had Damon in near hysterics as he described Gabrielle talking a cyclops out of eating her for dinner by promising to bring back one of Xena's limbs for him to eat. Then he told him about the time Xena, Gabby and a very pregnant Ephiny had gotten caught in the middle of a war, and about a warrior's tears and love so strong that it had literally pulled Gabby from Hades' arms back into Xena's.
When Joxer finished the tale he fell silent, watching the fire as his thoughts ran to wrap themselves around memories of Ares. The War God's last words to him echoed though his head and he picked apart the statements trying to convince himself that they hadn't been meant as a final dismissal.
Damon broke the silence. "What's it feel like to be in love?"
"It hurts, excuse me." Joxer got up and went outside. He stumbled down the path and away from the cave until he ran into a tree. Clutching at the rough bark he looked up into the night sky peeking between the heavy wet branches. "You bastard!" The words came screeching up from his guts. "I didn't do anything wrong!" Then the energy went out of him and he slid to the damp ground in a cloudburst of tears.
The next week passed quickly for Joxer as he got to know Damon and found himself wishing they could have grown up as neighbors. They discovered they had a lot in common and spent the days and evenings involved in long conversations debating the whys and hows of life and the way things were. Sometimes their conversations became so intense they'd neglect what they were doing in favor of the discussion. One rainy afternoon they had to start water for tea three times, their absorption in their conversation letting the small pot boil dry the previous two.
Joxer's nights weren't so easy and after a series of dreams about Ares he decided he'd have to cut his own heart out to stop missing him. Since that wasn't a viable option he started specializing in cold baths and tried to concentrate on filling the hollow place inside him with hard work as he did Damon's daily chores. When that wasn't enough he cut firewood and sometimes the logs had a mental image of Ares on them.
Damon proved to be an interesting distraction. The man loved his stories and kept Joxer digging around in his memory for new sagas to tell. Damon also kept him occupied with long walks, fishing, and a lot of the time just talking and lazing around on a blanket in a flower filled meadow that Damon had told him was his favorite spot.
One week had stretched into two before Joxer realized it. Damon had discarded the sling and Joxer knew he should be moving on, he just wasn't sure where to go. He'd thought of a dozen plans to try and get Ares attention but after he thought about them for a while they all seemed stupid, especially since he'd been mentally begging Ares to appear to him ever since that night the War God had dumped him at the lake. It was a dream about his first time with Ares that gave him a path to follow.
Joxer woke up and spent the morning helping with the chores and mulling over his plan. By mid afternoon he'd decided to go for broke and try it. He could refine it during the weeks it would take him to get to Thrace. Once that decision was made he finished restocking the wood in the cave and started dinner. Joxer started planning his journey while he cooked and waited for Damon to return from checking the fishing lines so he could tell him he would be leaving in the morning.
Joxer used a folded rag to lift the lid off the pot and checked on the progress of dinner. He estimated the stew would be done in another hour and replaced the lid. Tossing the pot holder on the table he finished inventorying the contents of his travel bag.
"Joxer, guess what I found for desert?" Damon's cheerful voice preceded him into the cave. He came to a stop when he saw Joxer. "What are you doing?"
Joxer glanced up then went back to organizing his things. "I was going to tell you at dinner. I'm leaving in the morning. There's something I have to---"
"... it's going to take forever to get there." Joxer stopped and looked over at Damon. "What?"
"Don't go, stay for a while."
Joxer flashed Damon a smile then turned his attention back to his travel bag. "Haven't you gotten tired of me constantly talking yet? Usually I drive people crazy after the first few days and---"
"Stay with me."
"... to gag me or strangle..." Joxer stopped what he was doing and slowly turned his head to look at Damon. "What did you say?"
"Don't go. Stay here with me."
"Oh... wow... uhmm, I---"
"Never mind, I know what you're going to say, who would want someone that looks like me." Damon spun on his heel and headed for the door.
"No, wait, you don't understand, that's not it..." Joxer found himself talking to an empty cave. He snatched up his staff and took off after Damon.
Cupid sat on his white marble throne invisible to mortal eyes, half listening to the petitions from the people in the temple. His mind wasn't on his job. He was thinking about claiming a certain mortal for his own. He glanced over at the silver circle floating near him. The visible only to him window showing two men standing in a flower dotted meadow at the edge of a forest with the setting sun as a backdrop.
Cupid sighed and rustled his wings. He'd snooped around until he'd discovered every sexual secret, pairing and fantasy the other Olympians had hidden since the beginning of reality. He'd found out more than he ever wanted to know and he still didn't have a clue who Joxer's former lover was. Whichever god it was they were smart enough to vanish into a time pocket when they were with Joxer. It would take him a lifetime to search every time line for an imprint of them, and considering the gods counted their true birthdays in millenniums, that was a long time indeed. Cupid sighed again. He really needed to talk to Hephaestus but Heph and his mom still hadn't returned to Olympus, which meant he was doing double time duty filling in for his mom. If he'd been mortal the whole situation would have given him a headache.
Cupid drummed his fingers on the arm of his throne as he watched Joxer and debated whether to add sound to the picture. Joxer and the blond he was with seemed to be having an intense conversation. A scream and the clash of swords jerked his attention back to what was going on inside his temple. He saw a young couple running for the main altar in front of his throne with what looked like both sets of their parents trying to catch them and the families guards bringing up the rear as they fought with each other. Cupid sorted through the chorus of screamed dialogue and got the gist of the problem. "Oh ya, like I've got time for this."
The young god flashed into view in front of the altar adding a thunderclap to the effect for good measure. "Hey! Old people!" Everyone in the temple froze where they were. Then half of them fell to their knees and the other half stood there with their mouths hanging open at the sight of him. Cupid looked down at the terrified couple clinging to each other and smiled. He looked back up at their parents and guards and frowned. "Leave them alone. When they get married both your provinces will prosper and in a few years you'll be up to your knees in grandchildren. And they ARE getting married. Any questions?"
The mother of the young woman looked at the mother of the young man. "I was thinking an afternoon ceremony, and we could have the wedding feast in our main courtyard."
"I know the perfect scribe to do the invitations and I insist that you let us supply the wine," the groom's mother said.
"Now just wait one damn minute---"
"You! Here. Now!" Cupid cut the bride's father off and pointed to a spot in front of him. The man looked at his wife, then his guards. They all backed away from him. The man tugged at his thick beard then shuffled over to stand meekly in front of Cupid. The young god leaned forward, his voice a whisper. "How would you like to be impotent for the rest of your life? No more centurion gets the gladiator games. No more lady of the house and the gardener romps, no more---"
The man spun around to face his daughter. "Well princess where would you like to go on your honeymoon?"
Cupid burst into laughter and disappeared in a shower of golden sparkles. He'd check on the wedding plans later. He reappeared invisibly at the meadow and looked around for Joxer. He found him backed up against a tree with a look of confusion on his face as the blond professed his love for him. Cupid reached back for an arrow. "Oh no you don't." He aligned the arrow on his bow and started to take aim. His conscious kicked him in the back of the heart and he paused, then readjusted his vision seeing the life-forces of the mortals in front of him. "Oh man, why does everything have to be so complicated? This is like so not fair." He tossed the lead tipped arrow back into the quiver.
Cupid ran a hand through his hair and focused his vision to mortal norms half listening to Joxer explain to the man, who's name was Damon, why he couldn't stay. Cupid resisted the urge to blow something up. Damon was really falling in love with Joxer. And Joxer was still mourning the loss of his former lover and it would take a dozen arrows to bury the strong feelings he still had. "What a mess." Cupid leaned on his bow and sorted through the problem, trying not to envy the Olympian that Joxer was still enamored of.
He watched Damon reach out and slide a hand up Joxer's arm and came to a decision. He'd hit Damon with a light powered indifference arrow to cool him down, then shoot Joxer with a light dose of forgetfulness to ease the pain of his memories. That would buy him some more time to find out which god had abused and abandoned that gentle spirit. Cupid reached back and selected an arrow out of the quiver between his wings. He notched the quartz tipped arrow and started to take aim.
"You do that and I'll pull your wings off."
Cupid looked to his left and frowned at his uncle wondering what he was doing there. "Do I tell you how to do your job?"
"Step away from the mortals."
Cupid shifted his aim towards Ares taking in the fact that the tall muscular form was strung tighter than his bow. "What's the problem? You in lust with one of them?"
Ares gave him a hard look. "I have plans for one of them."
Cupid mentally cursed six different species of flowers out of existence. "Which one?" Cupid already knew the answer. He wanted to see his uncle's reaction to the question.
"Go away fly boy before I develop a taste for fried chicken."
Cupid screened his vision though his godhood and studied his uncle's life- force. The dark power surrounding Ares was a violent billowing maelstrom streaked with red tendrils of lethal raw energy. Cupid lowered his bow. This changed the entire game plan and arrows wouldn't develop this once in a millennium opportunity.
"You're way too tense dude. You need to relax more. Later." Cupid flashed out and into a time pocket, hidden from his uncle. He settled back to see what would happen.
Ares watched Cupid vanish then turned his attention back to the mortals. His expression twisted into a primal snarl as he saw the blond lean forward and kiss Joxer. He flashed into view reaching out jerking the man away from Joxer. Ares raised an eyebrow at the damaged face as he tapped the blond under the chin with the point of his dagger. "Be afraid. Be very afraid."
Joxer staggered from the unexpected break in the kiss. "Ares? Ares no!"
Ares ignored him and increased the pressure on the tip of the dagger under his victim's chin. "Now run away or I send you to Hades." Damon ran.
"Why did you do that?"
Ares turned and answered him with a backhand blow to the face. Joxer went down like wet parchment. Ares snatched him off the ground by the front of his shirt. "Just what in Tartarus do you think you're doing?"
Joxer blinked and swallowed tasting blood. "Getting beat up?"
"Don't push it." Ares shoved Joxer away.
Joxer landed in a heap on the flower dotted ground. He looked up at Ares. "What did I do?"
Ares glared at him. "Are you trying to get me to tear an arm off you and beat you to death with it?"
Joxer started slowly scooting backwards. "No, not really."
Ares strode over and snatched Joxer up off the ground by the front of his shirt. "Then what is your problem?"
"I don't know?"
Ares shook him. "You sure in Tartarus had damn well better find out! The next time I look to see what you're doing and find you in a situation that's leading to someone's pants ending up down around their ankles I'm going to reach down your throat and rip your heart out!"
Joxer stared at him trying to make sense out of the fury ridden statement. Then his jaw dropped. "You're jealous?"
Ares blinked. His expression darkened. "Don't be ridiculous."
"Say that again and you're dead." Joxer shut his mouth unaware that his expressive eyes showed that he was still considering the astonishing concept. Ares growled and shook him. "Stop that."
"But I'm not doing---" The nothingness hit him. "... anything," he finished as they appeared in a richly furnished room done in bronze and black. Joxer grabbed Ares' arm for support. "Oh boy." He leaned too far to the left trying to catch his balance and the front of his shirt tore in Ares' grip. Joxer looked down at the front of his shirt then up into the God's dark smoldering eyes. Ares shredded the rest of the shirt.
Joxer flinched at the sound of tearing material. He forgot how to breathe when Ares' lips locked over his. Joxer opened his mouth to that plundering tongue as Ares stripped the rags of his shirt from him. The temperature around him seemed to jump ten degrees with the feeling of strong hot hands touching his bare skin, the fingers kneading and stroking, roughly exploring the angles and leanness of his body.
Joxer gasped for air when Ares released his lips from the kiss. The strong hands slid down to his ass yanking him closer. Then he was feeling those hands on his bare ass and realized his pants and boots had vanished. Joxer's legs went weak at the feel of Ares' fingers carelessly exploring the cleft of his ass. He reached up to clutch at Ares' shoulders when one of the strong fingers pushed into him. A whimper snuck out of him at the discomfort of a second finger pushing in to join the first.
Ares worked his fingers in deeper. "Hurt?"
Joxer nodded apologetically. "Yes."
"But why?" The question came out in a gasp, Joxer's hands tightening on the broad shoulders as the long fingers shoved further into him.
"Because it pleases me." The fingers withdrew then plunged back in. "Because you suffer so well." A third finger joined the other two on the next inward thrust. "Because you need to learn who you belong to."
Joxer's fingernails dug into the leather clad shoulders. "I know who I belong to."
The fingers withdrew and thrust back in. "Do you?"
The hand kept up it's punishment. "Who?"
Joxer looked up to meet the fury in the dark eyes. "Because I love you. I've always loved you."
It would have been obvious to the blind that wasn't the answer Ares was expecting. The bearded face froze in an expression somewhere between anger and astonishment. Ares picked Joxer up and tossed him on a bed that appeared a half second before the mortal landed on it.
Joxer struggled to untangle his limbs and sit up. A hand on his shoulder turned him and pushed him face down into the bed. Joxer stretched out across the bed, spread his legs and dug his hands into the dark wine colored coverings beneath him. He felt a hand brush across his ass then the bed shifted as Ares settled between his legs. Joxer tensed as strong hands lifted him and parted his cheeks. Then there was an odd sensation of an oily slickness in his ass a heartbeat before Ares thrust into him. Joxer's breath caught in his throat as the painful stretching instantly transmuted into hard pleasure rubbing inside him. He didn't have time to think or wonder why before Ares' weight settled on top of him, the God's hips driving him into the bed.
Within minutes Joxer was convinced that Ares was going to pound him through the bed and into next week. A few well angled strokes later and Joxer was arching back meeting the powerful thrusts trying to help him do just that. Coherent thought fled as Ares drove him up to that perfect moment in time where everything faded except that one pure tone ringing through his body, holding him there until Joxer thought his soul would shatter from the unification with his God. Then Ares turned his world inside out and dropped him into a free fall of searing pulsing pleasure.
Joxer wiped his sweaty face against the sheet trying to figure out which way was up. His brain tossed out the rational thought that since Ares was always on top then that direction must be up. Joxer giggled.
"What in Tartarus are you giggling about?"
"I was just trying to figure out which way was up and then I thought that since you're always on top then wherever you were was up."
Ares sighed. "Why is it every time we do the horizontal hustle you talk nonsense afterwards?"
"I do not."
"Whatever," Ares muttered as he stretched.
Joxer smiled enjoying the feeling of Ares' weight on top of him and that other hard asset still buried inside him. He could stay like this forever. The good thought brought the bad thought that he could lose this again. His hands clutched at the material beneath him, his body tensing.
Ares nipped him on the shoulder. "What's wrong?"
Joxer gripped the covers tighter. "Can I ask a question?"
"Does this mean you still want me?"
A growl escaped Ares' chest as he pushed deeper into the compliant body beneath him. His hands slid down Joxer's arms and closed over the inlayed wrist guards. "As long as you wear these you belong to me." The deep voice turned sharp as Atropos' shears. "And I don't like sharing."
Joxer shivered at the threat in Ares' voice. Then a neuron fired at the wrong moment and he opened his mouth without thinking. "But you have other lovers."
"Seven at the moment. It's a god thing."
"But that's not fair---"
"This is not a partnership and fair is not a working part of my vocabulary."
"Shut up Joxer. If you want to talk I'll drop your ass in the middle of a town square somewhere." Ares pumped his hips forward. "Or we could do this."
Joxer pushed back against him. "Yes... please..."
Ares rocked his hips. "Please what mortal?"
"What?" Ares pulled his cock out of Joxer's ass then plunged back in and started thrusting hard and deep. "This?"
Joxer's nerve endings lit up with near blinding pleasure. "Yesss."
Ares stopped moving. "Beg me."
If Cupid had been mortal he would have been sweating. He fanned his wings trying to cool down his internal temperature as he watched the two figures on the large bed below him. He decided he need to get out of there before his feathers melted, or he threw himself under his uncle.
Cupid materialized above the meadow and found himself in moonlight and flowers. He looked down at the night blooms that had opened to soak in starlight and share their sweet delicate scent. He spun around in delight, the cool night air tickling through his feathers as he transformed his wings to full size. He flashed into view in a shaft of moonlight, conserving his energy for flight. A shocked gasp sounded beneath him.
Cupid looked down to see Damon kneeling in the grass below. He drifted down to a perfect two point landing in front of Damon then stretched his wings before folding them neatly behind his back.
Damon looked up at the young god. "You're so beautiful. I don't understand it."
"How gods can be so beautiful and so cruel."
Cupid reached down and pulled Damon to his feet feeling the mortal trembling under his hands. "What are you talking about?"
"You let me find someone and then send the War God to take him away. Why? What have I ever done to anger you? Is my face truly an offense to the Gods?"
"Hold up dude, what are you yammering about?"
"You took him away."
"Yes." The single word rang with a lifetime of anguish.
Cupid reached out and lifted the curtain of hair back from the ruined face. Damon tried to turn away and Cupid captured his chin with his left hand. His right went back to moving the heavy hair away from the damaged area. He ran his fingers over the scarred skin, stroking it, healing and reshaping it as he spoke. "Joxer was never meant for you. His destiny, if he's strong enough, is to become the consort of a god."
"And what's my destiny? To be alone the rest of my life?"
Cupid ran his fingers down the now perfect jaw and then back into the heavy curtain of hair. "No." He curved a wing around Damon and gently pulled him closer. "You'll find a mate. But for tonight, you're mine." Cupid curved his other wing around them and pulled Damon into a kiss.
Continue on to the sequel Sacrifice