Author: sidewinder
Story Title: Moments of Transition
Characters: Ares/Joxer
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Joxer is dead, and Ares wants to change that. But the price for Joxer's return is a heavy one. First in the Moments of Transition series.
This rating is for explicit m/m sex.

Sad to say these boys don't belong to me; they belong to Renaissance Pictures. I'm just borrowing them for a little fun and angst.

This story contains explicit descriptions of male/male sexual relations.

Many thanks to Ellie, Goddess of Fan Fic Encouragement, for beta-reading this beastie & convincing me to go ahead and post it, damn the consequences.

Please send comments to

You can find more stories by sidewinder at sidewinder's page of slash fiction and at The Joxerotica Archives


"Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.
The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation.
No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain."
-- J. Michael Straczynski, "Z'ha'dum"


"Well, well, well. Ares. I'd say this was a pleasant surprise, but whenever you're involved, it's rarely very pleasant. Is this just a social visit?"

"Have you ever known me to make 'social' visits, Hades?"

"Good point. What do you want this time?"

"You know what I want, so cut the innocent act. I want him back."

"Him? Him who? You're going to have to be a little more specific, considering how busy you're always keep me. Who can tell one dead mortal apart from the next?"

"Don't play games with me, I am not in the mood. You know perfectly well who I want. Joxer."

"Joxer? Joxer...Oh, yes, I do remember a Joxer passing through here a few days ago. Well, sorry, if you wanted him back, it's a little too late. He's already been judged. But of course you can visit him in Tartarus any time you want. The accommodations might not be the best, but then again with your taste for the macabre you'll probably find them quite comfortable."

"Tartarus?! What did Joxer do to deserve Tartarus? The man was a blood-innocent, you fool!"

"But he was dedicated to you, Ares, he plainly stated as much. And those who follow you--be it into war or, well, whatever you did with him--are by default dispatched to Tartarus. You know that perfectly well. In fact, as I recall you instigated that decree yourself."

"This is bullshit. You're in on it, too, aren't you? Tell me, which one of you sniveling, jealous bastards decided that since you're too weak to take me on face-to-face, you'd go after a defenseless mortal instead?"

"A mortal who apparently means quite a lot to you. I'm almost touched. You're not usually the concerned type when it comes to mortals."

"Damn it, enough of this! Who killed him?!"

"I wasn't there, so I don't know. You figure it out. You're the one with all the enemies."

"And you're not one of them?"

"Oh, I never claimed to like you. But I didn't even know about this little mortal of yours until now. I had nothing to do with his death, only what happened to him afterwards. I try to stay out of the affairs of the living."

"Well now he's dead. So let me have him back."

"Just like that? No fuss, no muss? Sorry, it doesn't work that way. You know that. Especially when the death was the result of a god's actions, it takes a little more than a snap of the fingers for me to resurrect someone."

"All right, maybe it's against the rules, but just this--"

"--one time. Ares, do you want to see the list of favors you owe me already? You've overstepped your bounds interfering with my domain a few too many times, as far as I'm concerned. You want this warrior back from the dead, or that warrior back from the dead, and you just take them without even clearing it with me. Do you know how that screws up my bookkeeping?! And do I even have to bring up the whole Xena and Callisto business again?"

"Do I have to mention the whole Sisyphus business again?"

"One bad turn deserved another. But not this time. I'm sick of it. Frankly I'm sick of you, thinking you can always do whatever you please, screw the rules."

"Yadda yadda yadda. Let's skip the moralizing and get to the point, shall we? You want something, is that it?"

"Besides respect? Besides seeing you show a little humility for once in your miserable existence? You know, maybe you ought to take this as a lesson. You act like you can get away with whatever you want, that you don't need to play by the same rules as the rest of us. Well maybe it's starting to catch up with you. You obviously pissed off someone enough that they killed this Joxer of yours. You want him back? You're going to have to earn his release."

"I'm not going to beg, if that's what you expect. I'll tear this place apart first, and take you down with it. I'll find a way."

"Maybe you will. If not, I'll be waiting. I've got all the time in the world to wait. So does Joxer."

"You'll pay for this, Hades."

"Take it up with Zeus. I've got better things to do with my time than argue with you. Are we finished?"

"For now. But this is far from over."

"No, I suppose it isn't. It never is, when you're involved."


Ares normally cared little about the fates and sufferings of mortal beings while they were alive. What happened after they died mattered even less to him. They were no longer particularly amusing or useful to him once dead, except where their passing increased the torment felt by loved ones who were left still alive.

Therefore he never spent much time "slumming about," as he considered it, in the Underworld. Why should he? Not only was it a dreary and boring place, it was Hades' domain and his powers here were limited and strained. And now, apparently Hades had decided he was sick of Ares abusing what power he could exert here when it served his purposes.

Ares supposed it had to happen eventually. Unfortunately, the particular time Hades had finally decided to show a little backbone was rather damned inconvenient.

The war god stood outside the gateway to Tartarus, the lowest region of the Underworld. This place was so far from the heavens and the earth above it that even Ares could feel the chill and had to stop himself from giving in to the urge to shiver. Gazing up through the gloom and mists, he could see Tisiphone guarding the entrance high atop her tower, always vigilant, always looking pissed off at the entire universe. Who wouldn't be, if they were stuck with her miserable task? She cast her gaze upon Ares as he entered but did not stop him, nor did she even say a word. No one cared if the gods came and went from this place--except those who had been banished here. This was the realm reserved for the most wicked souls, the place where they met their eternal punishments. Heartless killers, bloodthirsty warriors, scoundrels and miscreants of all types...Ares observed the misery and despair all around him as if he had never seen it before, never realized what this place was truly like. The air was so thick with a foul fog that it was difficult to see, therefore he relied on his other senses to seek out Joxer and try to find him amidst this sea of suffering.

Ares had never really worried over what fate his followers met, and as they were generally the most loathsome and twisted beings in the land, he figured whatever Hades decided to do with them was fine with him.

Except in this case.

Joxer's destiny was, to Ares' mind, no one but his to determine.


The god of war clenched his teeth, regretting not for the first time how he had made the mistake of taking an interest in that particular mortal man, letting him get underneath his immortal skin.

How was he to have known the bumbling fool would change things so much? Would change him so much?

To know that Joxer was here, only because he had sworn his allegiance to Ares, made the god feel something he did not believe he had ever felt before. It was an emotion that took him several minutes to find the proper name for, so alien was it to his way of thinking.

He believed it was called...guilt.

Damn Hades.

And damn whoever'd had Joxer killed! Damn the entire fucking lot of you!

Ares clenched his fists and tried to calm the rage that was building within him once more. It had all happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly, that the loss was only beginning to truly register upon his senses. He had only been gone a few nights, preoccupied with elaborately staging what he'd been certain would become a glorious war in the Eastern regions of Thrace. He had found that taking Joxer along with him during such matters was far too much of a diversion and had therefore left him behind, just as he had done numerous times before over the course of the months of their relationship.

He'd had no reason to believe there was any particular danger. He had been proven quite wrong. Joxer hadn't even had time to even try to try to summon him back to his temple for help before it had been over--or likely, someone had shielded the temple from him and kept Ares from hearing the man's cries. The god of war could heal the mortally wounded, that much power was within his grasp. But bringing back the already dead (dead, horribly mutilated, and already banished to Tartarus...) was not so easily accomplished. Not without Hades' help.

Whiny little bastard...he should be thankful Zeus lets him have the Underworld to play with. Now he wants to throw his position around at me? I'll throw him around and see how he likes that!

Again the fury threatened to consume him, fire already sparking from his fingertips, eager to find release at an appropriate target. Well, he would lay waste to the Underworld if he had to, if that was what it would take to get his lover back...

...But for now, he had finally found Joxer, and unsurprisingly had more pressing problems to attend to.

A group of thugs had Joxer surrounded and were doing a good job of working him over from what Ares could observe. It figured--what else was here for most of these lousy souls to do but beat each other senseless, day in, day out, just as they had done to each other while alive? Most Tartarus-bound souls apparently needed no special punishment by beasts or torturous tasks; they seemed to do a good enough job creating all the misery they needed on their own.

Joxer's fighting skills had improved while under Ares' guidance, but not enough in the time they'd had that he stood a chance against a half-dozen men. Invisible to all but Joxer, he descended upon the pack and commenced teaching them all that it was not a good idea to pick on this particular dead soul. After the second man had been brutally tossed aside, the rest disappeared quickly into the shadows, leaving Ares alone with a very dazed-looking Joxer, who was crumpled onto the ground and unaware still who had rescued him.

Ares kneeled down and lifted the man's head. "Joxer. Are you all right?"

Joxer blinked and looked up at the god, only showing a moment's surprise when he realized who had come to his aid. Between struggling breaths answered, "Yeah...sure. What were they...gonna do anyway...kill me? Been there...done that."

Ares lifted Joxer off the ground and pulled him close, enveloping his slender frame in his arms. How he wished to be able to simply carry him right up and out of this place. The rage in his heart mixed with a new pain now, a new type of suffering that he had first felt upon finding Joxer dead, now made even worse to know what had become of him.


These new "g" emotions really suck.

Irritably Ares asked, "Damn this, Joxer, what trouble did you go and get yourself into this time?"

The man pulled back a little. "What trouble did I get into? Isn't that obvious? I'm dead! Finished. History. Food for the worms. And dying really bites, did you know that? No, I guess not, because you've never died before. Never will, either. Of all the ways to go, too..." Joxer shuddered slightly. "Harpies are the favorites of you gods, aren't they? Tell me, is it because they enjoy torturing their victims for so long before finally killing them?"

A mental image Ares did not particular wish to see assaulted him from Joxer's mind before he could shield himself to the man's thoughts. "Why didn't you try to summon me? I could have saved you."

"I did try. I kept trying, but you never came. I started to think..." Joxer looked away and bit his lip.

"Thought what?" Ares asked, and when Joxer wouldn't answer he lowered his shields slightly to touch the surface of the mortal's mind to see what he was afraid to say. He was taken aback by what he saw. "You thought I sent them?"

"I didn't know...when you didn't come...I thought maybe I'd done something to anger you and..."

"Never," Ares insisted, shaking his head and pulling Joxer tightly against him once more in reassurance. "You should know by now I could never hurt you." I couldn't, though it seems my enemies had no qualms about doing as much...

Joxer relaxed against him, his fears and doubts apparently abated by the god's words. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have doubted you."

"It's all right. It seems someone decided to use you to get to me, and Hades is being a prick right now and won't give you your life back. Or even send you to the Elysian Fields instead. But this was not your time to die, and this is not where you belong. I'm going to take care of it. Whatever it takes."

"I know you will. I kept hoping you'd come to see me. I was always told the dead could hear when the living thought of them, but I never heard your thoughts."

"The dead can hear living mortals' thoughts, Joxer. Never a god's." A pity in this case. Otherwise he could have heard the gloating thoughts of whichever bastard killed him. And that would make my job so much easier. "I came here as soon as I found out." As soon as I returned to the temple to find you...what remained of you...of all the horrid images, let that one fade from my mind...

Ah, but Joxer still felt so warm, so solid against him, it was hard for a moment to realize Joxer merely existed in this spirit world now. The body Ares held was only a projection of Joxer's spirit, given substance and weight in this land of the dead. But it felt the same to the god's perceptions; his touch was the same, the warmth of his breath against Ares' skin was the same.

"I'm glad you're here. I've missed you so much. Can you stay for long?" Joxer asked with reserved hopefulness.

"Long enough," Ares assured him, but finding their dismal surroundings too distracting for what he hungered for, what he always hungered for when close to Joxer. He closed his eyes for a moment, focusing on first shielding them both from the damned souls all around them, then creating a pleasant illusionary world within their sheltered space. He hadn't been certain his powers to do this would work properly in this realm, nor how long he'd be able to hold up the illusion...but for now, it would do.

Joxer looked around in bewilderment, then he recognized the place Ares had recreated for them. His expression suddenly saddened, which had not been the god's intent at all. He had thought recreating this place--their place--would serve to ease Joxer's mind, if only for a little while. "What's wrong?"

"I'm never going to be here again, am I? For real, I mean. I know this is just an illusion."

"Didn't I just promise you I would take care of this? Do you doubt me already?"

"No. I'm sorry. I...I can't explain what this has been like. "

Ares gently brushed down Joxer's tousled hair and soothed, "Forget about it for a while. You can tell me later. Right now I want you to remind me why I go through so much trouble for you."

Joxer's expression brightened, and a sudden mischievous look came to his eyes. " mean, you want me to sing for you? I can do that. I'm Joxer the--"

Ares slammed his hand over Joxer's mouth, unsure whether to be pleased or depressed that the man apparently hadn't lost his bad sense of humor in all of this. "Sing that damn song and I swear, I'll chain you to the Chair of Oblivion myself and leave you there for a century or two. Understand?"

Joxer nodded and Ares allowed himself to laugh a little, pulling Joxer down onto the large bed with him. For a short while, at least, they could try to pretend that nothing had changed...

...But everything had, Ares knew with utter certainty. They had changed for him personally long before Joxer's death. He knew he'd been on a dangerous course since becoming involved with this cursed mortal in the first place...

Ares usually made his rounds through his many shrines midday to early evening at the latest, but that one night fate--and more precisely, his relatives--had delayed his regular routine. He was in an especially foul mood as a result of events that had transpired earlier, but still he was compelled to visit each shrine to see if by some miracle there was actually an interesting offering or two worth his time. At the very least, he could gather up all the worthless junk and rotting food and get in a little target practice and stress relief blasting it all to oblivion.

Dinner with the family was something Ares liked to avoid as much as possible, but Hera had insisted on all her children attending that evening. The end result had been exactly as Ares had known it would be: a complete disaster. All of Greece was suffering under the resulting blanket of misery as Zeus unleashed thunderbolts of rage across the countryside during the worst of the bickering. I swear, we're the most dysfunctional family on all of Olympus, Ares mused with dismay. They had barely made it past the first course before it had begun. The god of war was certain that not even a night spent with his favorite temple girls or visiting one of his general's wives was going to improve his mood.

Ares' anger flared even higher as he flashed into a small shrine located in a cave and spotted a man curled up asleep not far from his altar.

Fucking vagrant.

Ares did not tolerate people using his places of worship as shelters. He was already charging up a good fireball to blast the man into so much dust when he stopped himself, realizing he actually knew this particular mortal from somewhere. Some faces--coupled with terrible fashion sense--were simply not easy to forget.

He walked over closer, trying to put a name to the face...then it came to him: Joxer. That was it. That pathetic excuse of a warrior who tagged along after Xena and Gabrielle. And he looked as if he'd had a particularly rough time of it, Ares observed, casually taking in the sight of severe bruises that were evident on the man's face and arms. The scent of death was still about him; he must have barely escaped her touch not long ago.

Ares shook his head slightly. How such a fine family as Joxer's, full of skilled and blood-thirsty warlords, could have produced such a misfit was beyond his comprehension. Joxer's brother Jett was an accomplished assassin, and he was physically identical to this one, yet Joxer could barely kill a chicken properly. It simply didn't make sense.

Nevertheless, Ares had to admit, the pathetic fool is stubborn. He'd never paid too much attention to Joxer, though Ares did appreciate him for the way he managed to annoy Xena and Gabrielle so much. And his frequent offerings and prayers to Ares had earned him a modicum of protection that had kept him from losing his foolhardy head ages ago, as he no doubt should have.

Eyes lingering on the sleeping mortal, Ares also found himself thinking, He's also prettier than most warriors...the ugly, hairy and smelly lot most of those maggots are. A better set of armor, fine leather wrapped tightly over his pale skin...yes. It was an appealing image. And that image led to others in Ares' mind, more stimulating ones, wherein the god wondered idly just how serious Joxer was about becoming a true warrior. What might he have to offer me in exchange for my...tutelage, I wonder?

It could prove amusing, at the least something to divert him from more gloomy and frustrating matters he'd been dealing with. With Strife gone, he'd found himself growing strangely...melancholy of late. Almost--dare he say it--lonely. There was something about this annoying, bumbling warrior that perhaps reminded him a little of his now-late annoying but earnest nephew. He also rather liked the idea of seeing how Xena might react, finding one whom she had tried to guide now instead serving under him.

One thing at a time, Ares reminded himself. He's got a lot to prove to me first, and he might not even be interested. In which case, that fireball might still come in handy in a little while.

Gathering up the still-sleeping mortal in his strong arms, Ares focused his thoughts on somewhere quiet and as far away from the turmoil on Olympus as possible, and they both disappeared in a brilliant flash of fire moments later...

...The first mistake, Ares sighed, drawing his thoughts back to the present. He should have stuck with his original impulse and blown the man to ashes. It would have saved him so much aggravation in the long run.

Joxer now slept close against him, his sweaty skin cooling as the chill began to permeate even through Ares' illusion. They had said little to each other once upon the bed and in each other's arms; words were neither the man nor the god's strong suit. Actions always expressed so much better how they felt, what they wanted...what they needed and gave so well to each other. Even in his exhausted sleep Joxer clung to Ares with a desperation that had been evident in the man's every touch, every pleading look into the god's eyes. Ares could have read his thoughts, but he had not wanted to hear that desperate voice in his head, begging him, "Don't leave me here. Don't abandon me. You'll get me out of this, won't you?"

Of course he would. He was the god of war. He was a son of Zeus. He was not about to let himself get pushed around by the likes of Hades. He wouldn't give whomever had killed Joxer the satisfaction of enjoying the innocent mortal's torment for much longer.

He should leave now, he knew, though he hated the idea. It was always so difficult to leave Joxer's side, so hard to slip away from his arms. But he had business to attend to, inquiries to make, and then revenge to plan. That much he would be certain to enjoy.

He kissed Joxer one last time on the forehead, returning his clothes to him, using the last of his reserved powers he could afford to exert on creating a lingering barrier of calm around the resting mortal that should last a few more hours.

"I will be back," he promised softly, "and I swear on the Styx that I will do what I have to, to make sure you will be leaving with me."


Ares returned to his temple to find he had a visitor waiting for him--one he really had no desire to deal with at the moment.

"Go away, Discord. I'm not in the mood."

"But you're never in the mood anymore, Ares," she whined, putting down the battleaxe she'd been fondling and slinking over towards him. "Where's your little pet, the Jerkster? Isn't he always following you everywhere these days?"

"His name is Joxer. And he's dead."

Her expression seemed to reveal slight surprise, but she was impossible to read beyond that. Ares couldn't tell if she really hadn't known as much already or not. "My, my. You are a dangerous boy to play with these days. First Strife, now Joxer...So what happened, did you finally get cheesed at the goofball and fry him?"

"Somebody sent Harpies after him. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"

"Harpies? Not my style, love. They're so...messy." She grimaced.

"But you certainly were jealous."

"Me?! Jealous of some stupid mortal who couldn't even walk straight? Ares, please. Now, are you going to be a drag and mope over your little stud forever..." she paused as she stepped right up to him, running her hands down his chest, "or can we finally get back to having a little fun around here again?"

He pushed her away and stormed over to his throne. "Get out of here. Now. I mean it. And if I find out you had anything to do with this..."

"Promises, promises," Discord sighed. "Fine, I'll come back later. But if there's anything I can do to help...anything..."

"Yeah. Go fuck a centaur or something. Just stay out of my hair."

She gave him the dirtiest look she could muster as she flashed out of the temple.

Ares sat there a long time, trying to calm himself, center himself, before his rage overpowered him and it controlled his actions. He needed to remain in control if he was going to find out who had orchestrated Joxer's death. He didn't believe Discord was stupid enough to have been involved; oh, she envied Ares' position, and she hated Joxer for the way he had diverted the god's more carnal interests away from being her occasional playmate, but would she do something like this, where she would so obviously be a suspect? No. It didn't feel right to him.

But he could not rule her out altogether, either.

Then who else? True, he had a list of enemies long enough to stretch from here to Tartarus. But very few of those had the power to so directly lash out against him and expect not to suffer his ire, Zeus' rules be damned or no.

Zeus...yes, he would probably need to talk to his father about this situation. But not right away. He didn't want to be perceived as being so weak he needed to go running to his father for help. He'd spend some time investigating on his own first.

And that damn war in Thrace...he closed his eyes and slammed his head back against his throne. Of all the rotten timing. He couldn't leave it completely unattended while he went on this personal vendetta. It wouldn't reflect well on him, and he had invested too much time in getting it started to let it die out now. Well, once Discord had cooled her heels for a few days maybe he could let her handle the trenchwork, freeing his own time up.

Besides, he needed something upon which to exorcise this festering anger, so perhaps the war would provide the necessary distraction. Grabbing his sword, he flashed out to the battlefield, intent on spilling blood this night--perhaps not in Joxer's name but certainly a prelude to it.


As time passed slowly, with no discernible day or night to measure its passage, Joxer kept telling himself, I can get used to this. No problem. I'm brave. I'm strong. I'm Joxer the Mighty! I know how to take care of himself.

Of course, that was the thing about this place, he was rapidly discovering. Tartarus seemed designed such that you could never get "used to" things; you could never dull your senses enough to everything going on to you or around you. Like the smell, for instance. It seemed to be constantly shifting yet always somehow foul and putrid, right on the edge of making him want to vomit. But vomiting would have required that he had some food in his stomach, and as he hadn't actually seen anything resembling food since his arrival here, that was an impossibility. Not that he ever felt hungry. Dead people didn't need to eat, after all. They didn't need to do anything, apparently, except wander about, try to stay away from other dead people who were mostly a foul and unpleasant lot around here, and try to find some way to accept that this was how they were going to spend the rest of eternity. If you were injured, the damage healed itself soon enough--or rather, it seemed your spirit just reasserted its image of itself and reshaped the body to match. That was as best as he could figure it out. It was odd, for his body felt to him as solid and real as it ever had, but he supposed it was far from the oddest thing he'd seen or experienced lately.

I can get used to this. Really, I can. And besides, Ares will be back for me. I just need to hang in there until then. He wondered how long ago it had been since Ares had visited him. A few days? Only a few hours? It could have been either, or even months as far as he could tell. All he knew was that he had awoken after a wonderfully peaceful, nightmare-free sleep to find Ares gone. The god's absence and his return to the cold harsh reality of his new existence had been enough to reduce him to tears. It was the first time he'd allowed himself to cry in a very long time. A part of him wondered then, and now, if the god had really been there with him at all or if he'd dreamed the whole thing. Hallucinated it. Maybe he was losing his mind. Maybe insanity was the only way to deal with an eternity of punishment.

And just when things were finally going right in my life, he sighed to himself. I should've known it was too good to last.

The air that filled his lungs here was always cold and damp. Everything was damp, in fact--damp, slimy, and moldy. All the rivers of the world poured out from Tartarus, though he had yet to find from precisely where. Probably down in the deepest chambers where the Titans were held. All he knew was the mist from the running waters was everywhere and the moisture soaked into everything. He wondered if he could ask Ares to bring him a warm blanket or two, the next time he visited. Probably not, but it was worth a shot. It wasn't like he was going to get much of any help on that from anyone around here.

Well, perhaps from one or two people. Unsurprisingly, Joxer had discovered more than a few relatives lurking about, and they'd welcomed him with about as much cheer as could be managed in this place. He was sitting on the rocky edge of one midnight black-river, talking to his grandfather Tyron this particular morning. Or afternoon. Or whatever time of day it was in the world above.

"Tell me, Joxer, did you have a good life?" Tyron asked, after Joxer had filled him in on what he knew of the activities and whereabouts of the living members of their family. Most of those whom Tyron had known well were dead now, too, and those still living rarely thought of him anymore. As such he knew little of what went on in the world except through what stories he heard from newer residents of the Underworld.

"I guess. Some parts of it were really great...other parts of it weren't so great."

"Well, you must've gotten in your fair share of killing and pillaging to end up here. Did the family proud, did you?"

Joxer shrugged. "Not really. Actually, I never killed anyone."

"Never? must've been a scoundrel? A thief?"

"Nope. I knew a thief, but me, I couldn't even steal a chicken without getting arrested."

"Then what did you do, by the gods, to end up here?"

"I think it was more what I did with the gods. Well, one god. I slept with Ares. Ummm...a lot." He flushed as he made the admission. The last time he had seen Grandpa Tyron, Joxer had barely been ten-years old. It was rather odd to talk about his sex life with the old man now.

"Oh. Well, yes, I do suppose that would do it."

"Grandpa, you've been here a long do you take it?"

"Do we have any choice in the matter?" Tyron shrugged wearily. "You have too much fun in life, you pay the consequences for it in the afterlife. Or you can always try your luck in the waters, ride the currents to the Acherusian Lake and beg for forgiveness. If those you have wronged decide to forgive you, then you've earned your ticket out of here."

Joxer frowned. "But so far as I know I didn't wrong anyone. Except I guess whichever god decided to get rid of me to get back at Ares."

"Well, then, it looks like you're stuck here with the rest of us for the long run, son."

Joxer shook his head. "Ares promised he'd get me out of here."

"And you believe him?" Tyron laughed. "Ares doesn't need to resurrect some dead lover to get his kicks. Don't kid yourself into thinking you're anyone special to that lying coward. He'd never stick his neck out to save anyone's hide, except of course his own."

It's not true, Joxer tried to convince himself. I know we had something special...didn't we? Or am I just fooling myself? He loved Ares more than anything. He worshipped the god of war, he adored him, but love--love was what he felt for Ares more than anything else. He wasn't exactly sure if Ares loved him back, if only because he wasn't sure love was something the god was really capable of feeling. But it didn't really matter. Ares had told him many times that he was "special", that their relationship was something different from any the god had ever had before. Didn't Ares want that to continue? Didn't he want something better for Joxer than this miserable eternity?

Still, the conversation and the doubts his grandfather placed in his head haunted him from that moment forward, along with the rest of his nagging fears. When he could not simply sleep, finding refuge in the sanctuary of his dreams, he spent his time trying to remember, to reconstruct in as much detail as he could supply, every moment he'd spent with Ares. He could lose himself in these recollections sometimes for he did have a good imagination, and the time he'd spent with the god were indeed the finest days of his life.

Funny, how they had begun right after some of the worst...

He couldn't remember the last time it had rained so hard.

The raging downfall had soaked through his clothing long ago, getting under his armor, dripping over his helmet down the back of his neck. Water splashed up and into his boots with every step. The slippery ground had caused him to lose his footing several times, sending him face-first into the cold mud and puddled rain. It was not a pleasant night for a journey, but he didn't have much of a choice. With no decent shelter in sight, he had to keep trudging ahead, hoping for a break in the rain or that he might stumble upon somewhere he could dry out for a while.

The bruises and injuries he'd suffered earlier at the hands of Titus' thugs were just beginning to heal and the physical pain from the assault was fading, but the hurt it had caused him emotionally was going to take much longer to pass. There was nothing as humiliating as being rendered completely useless--nearly being killed, to be honest--for being a naive fool. And then having to sit back and lick his wounds while Xena and Gabrielle cleaned up the mess he'd managed to cause, well, that had only added insult to the copious injuries. As soon as he'd felt strong enough he'd left them to take off on his own for a while, the way that they kept fretting over his every step and movement only making him feel worse and more pathetic the longer it went on. He needed time alone so he could try to regain a little of his dignity and self-respect.

But now, he wished he had waited to set off alone until this storm had passed. If he had stayed with the two women, he would have been in Larissa by now, where they were probably settled in for the evening comfortably warm and dry in the shelter of some kind farmer's barn. Instead, he was alone on a different road, where he believed he would not lay sight on a village until the morning. He could barely see where he was going as darkness was starting to turn the already gray skies black, and mostly he relied on the frequent flashes of lightning over the horizon to illuminate his progress.

Those lightning flashes were becoming brighter, and the thunder was following each flash with increasing speed. He knew that meant the worst of the storm was yet to come, and it wouldn't do to be out here in the middle of nowhere, covered in metal, a perfect target for lightning bolts as Xena had once explained to him. It was time to find some sort of shelter, and quickly.

He increased his pace as much as his aching legs would allow. He had nearly missed the small signpost as he'd passed it, but then he paused, backtracked, and confirmed that he was right: the sign indicated he was not far from a shrine, if he took a small branch here off the main road. One of Ares' shrines. Even if he hadn't been improving his reading skills over the past few months, he would have recognized the distinctive symbols carved into the wood--and the skull left staked to a pole next to the sign in tribute to the war god.

Joxer didn't particularly care whose shrine it was; all he knew was that it likely meant a roof over his head, somewhere he could find some shelter until this storm was over. He took to the indicated path and within a few minutes found that he was standing outside the mouth of a large cave. The skulls gaping at him eyelessly on posts outside the entryway left little doubt that this place was claimed for the worship of the god of war. Hopefully Ares wouldn't mind one of his followers finding shelter here until the storm passed.

The cave was cold inside, but at least it was dry and deserted. No priests, no supplicants, no one to question his entrance. Still, he noted that must have been tended to recently as torches burned, albeit dimly, inside along the walls. Though the dark, gloomy surroundings were not exactly what most would consider inviting, Joxer could think of nowhere better to find some shelter from the downpour, somewhere he could get some sleep. He'd been used to seeing the inside of Ares' shrines and temples since he was a young boy, therefore the blood-stained altar, the scattered bones, the dark scenes of battle and the scowling image of Ares himself did not particularly frighten him any longer.

Even so, he knew the god possessed powers that shouldn't be taken lightly and a temperament to match. A shrine was supposed to be a place of worship and praise, not a place to hide from the rain. Before doing anything, then, he knelt by the altar, said a few prayers, and realized he had nothing on him of value to offer. Nothing but some soggy food, or his makeshift armor, which even he knew wasn't worth more than a handful of dinars. It would be more of an insult to the god than a tribute to offer him any of what he carried upon him.

His scabbard? Well, it was worth some money, but he couldn't see what Ares could really do with it. Its value was more sentimental than anything else, and it was certainly not big enough for that large sword the god carried around with him.

Wonder if his other sword is anywhere near is big... Joxer mused idly, knowing he shouldn't be thinking such things in the god's shrine, but he was feeling too fatigued and at this point to worry. "If you need an offering, you can have me if you want," he actually uttered aloud, giggling a little at the ludicrous thought, and deciding he really needed to get some sleep before he let his big mouth and his overactive imagination get him in deep trouble.

He chose a corner and removed his helmet, then decided to get rid of his armor as well, as he couldn't dry out very well with all that weighing him down and it hurt, pressing against his bruised skin the way it did. Removing it all was no small feat on a good day, and this night it took particularly long and was especially painful. He had a small bag with his medicines and other odd items, including a small blanket. He pulled that out but tossed it aside in dismay when he found it was just as sopping wet as the rest of his clothes. He'd stick to the hard ground; at least it was dry. "Just a few minutes rest..." he mumbled to himself as he lay down. "I'll head out soon as the rain stops..."

But by the time that happened, he was far away in Morpheus' grasp.


Morning came and he stretched lazily, slowly drifting out of his deep slumbers. He felt wonderful. Satin embraced his bare skin, the fabric softer and more luxurious than any bedding he'd ever had the pleasure of sleeping in--much better than his scratchy blanket or a rocky, muddy ground. The soft caress of the sheets made him just want to roll over and drift right back to sleep, not getting out of this bed for the rest of the day.

Wait a minute, he realized with a start. I didn't go to sleep on a bed. I was in...a cave. A shrine.

One of Ares' shrines.

Suddenly he was wide awake. He blinked and looked around in confusion, trying to figure out where he was now, knowing only that it certainly was not the same place where he'd fallen asleep. He was in a bedroom chamber, not very large, yet it was appointed with elegant and obviously very expensive furnishings. The bed was huge and took up a significant portion of the room.

And in a large chair at the foot of the bed, the god of war sat watching him. What am I doing here? What is he doing here? He's probably going to kill me for falling asleep in his temple, I knew that was a bad idea. But why'd he bring me...wherever I do it? ...And where did my clothes go?!

Joxer clutched at the sheets, which he had suddenly realized were all that was covering his bare body. Still, Ares just sat there, watching him. The god didn't look angry, Joxer noticed with relief. Just...pensive. Amused, perhaps, given the slight upward curve of his full lips that suggested an attempt at a smile, but not a very successful one.

Joxer figured he ought to say something, but he couldn't figure out what you were supposed to say when you woke up stark naked in an immense bed with an Olympian watching you. And not just any Olympian, but the god of war. For most of his life, Ares was the god he'd prayed to devotedly for guidance. He was powerful, deadly, and as Xena described him, utterly heartless and cruel.

Well, he might be all that, but damn if he wasn't also an incredible sight to behold. It was all too easy to simply sit there and stare at him, entranced, marveling at the sight of that completely unearthly body and face. He was a god, all right. No mortal man could ever look that good.

Joxer tried to quench those thoughts and finally managed to squeak out, "Um...hi, Ares."

"Joxer," the god acknowledged. Joxer was a little surprised and pleased that the god knew his name. Of course he does, idiot, he's a god. And you're probably on his Ten Most Pathetic Warriors List. "Did you sleep well?" Ares asked.

"Uh, I did...I guess. Thanks. I mean, you were the one who brought me here, right? Wherever here is..." This place didn't look like how Joxer had imagined the god's home on Olympus would look. It was small, almost rustic. A large window behind the god's throne opened onto what looked like a thick forest, and the air was filled with the calls of wild birds and animals.

Ares nodded slightly.

"You're not mad at me for sleeping in your shrine, are you? 'Cause, um, I'm really sorry if you are. I just was so tired and wet and I couldn't find anywhere else to get out of the rain so I figured--"

"Do you always talk so much?"

"Sorry," Joxer quickly apologized, not eager to get on the god's bad side. "When I get nervous I tend to talk a lot."

"And I make you nervous?"

"Well, kind of. I mean...well, you're Ares."

"That's right. And I should make you nervous. All mortals should look to me with fear, and respect." His voice was so incredibly seductive, soft...almost hypnotic...yet at the same time it managed to convey such power and potential for violence. If not for the fear Joxer felt that he was soon to meet an early grave, just listening to that beguiling voice would have been enough to arouse him, to awaken his cock.

As it was, it merely twitched a little.

"Uh...yeah. You're right." Rubbing his chin nervously, Joxer noticed something else as he glanced at his arms and felt his face: his bruises were gone. Completely. No wonder he'd felt so good after he'd woken up. For the past few days he'd been living in constant pain of one degree or another, but now he felt none of it.

"Did you...?" he started, looking towards the god with surprise.

Ares merely shrugged and said, "It was nothing. I guess I was in a generous mood."

Ares and the word "generous" didn't seem to go together very well, and Joxer's urge to flee this rather too bizarre situation was increasing rapidly. "Huh. Well, thanks. I mean, not that I can't take a few punches. But anyway...uh, if you're not mad at me, can I go now?"

"Do you want to leave?"

"I...don't know," he answered truthfully. The tone of the question had quenched his flight impulse slightly. Something about it, almost too seductive now...He couldn't have brought me here way. But still, this situation is strange enough already...and I did make that stupid-ass remark about offering myself last night... "Do you want me to stay?" Joxer asked cautiously.

Ares shrugged as if it really made no difference to him what Joxer decided to do. "For now, you can stay. If you can keep that mouth of yours quiet; otherwise, you're going to give me a headache." Ares stood up and walked over to the bed. His dark eyes glared down into Joxer's as he promised, "And you don't want to see what I'm like when I get a headache, understood?"

Joxer nodded vigorously--even though a part of his brain was wondering how a god could get a headache and not be able to just wish it away or something. But he stopped before asking the question.

"Good." Ares sat on the bed, uncomfortably close as far as Joxer was concerned. "You want to know why you're here, I'm sure. Let's just say I'm curious about you, Joxer. Your persistence is admirable, even if your skills are laughable."

Joxer looked away with an embarrassed flush. He knew his problems well enough; nevertheless it hurt to hear them coming from the mouth of a god. Ready for the put-downs to continue, he instead jumped slightly in surprise as he felt the touch of Ares' hand upon his shoulder, then brushing up along the curve of his neck. The touch was gentle, not aggressive. It almost felt like a lover's caress. Joxer shuddered at the thought. He doesn't...he couldn't be... He lifted his eyes to meet Ares' questioningly.

"You've always wanted to know power, haven't you?" Ares asked. "The power of a warrior; the power only I can grant to those who deserve it."

The answer slipped from his lips in a breathless sigh, without thought. "Yes..."

"I wonder if you could really handle it."

The look in Ares' eyes, the suggestive way his hand moved now on a slow path down Joxer's bare back, told Joxer exactly what Ares was really asking him if he could handle. This is impossible...has to be some kind of crazy dream...a delusion brought on by exhaustion, too many hits to the head this week, he thought in disbelief.

Oh well. If this is just a dream, there's no reason I shouldn't go ahead and enjoy myself, is there?

That rationalization emboldened him a bit, allowed him to summon up some small amount of courage. Returning Ares' suggestive look with one of his own, he answered evenly, "I can handle anything. And some things I can...handle...quite well. So I've been told."

Ares raised an eyebrow and grinned slightly. "Is that so? Well, I'm going to need a demonstration before I believe you."

"If that's what you want..." Joxer trailed off, somehow finding the nerve to lift his hands from the sheets and onto the broad, leather-clad shoulders of the god sitting there before him. He wants to see what I can do? Well, there's one thing I know I'm good at. And I've had more than a few fantasies about doing this before... Taking a deep breath and trying to ignore the fact that this was a god he was about to do this to, not simply a (admittedly incredibly attractive) man, he leaned in, tilting his head slightly upwards to meet Ares' lips with his own.

Warmth spread from his mouth through his entire body as he made contact, as if he was somehow tasting even a soft echo of the god's incredible power. The full lips opened against his light pressure, inviting him to explore, to let his tongue savor the intoxicating taste and heat of the god's mouth. He lost any feelings of caution and reserve quickly, knowing his kiss was pleasing Ares as the god's hand drew Joxer tighter against his body. Ares stroked the back of Joxer's neck with his other hand, keeping the mortal's lips locked against his own.

"You use your mouth well, when it's not busy with talking," Ares complimented him when he finally allowed Joxer a breath of air. "Do that again."

As if Joxer needed any coaxing to continue. He raised his lips to the god's once again, tasting, savoring, meeting the god's darting tongue with his own until he was so breathless he felt as if he would pass out if he did not pause to try to regain his senses.

The god allowed him to explore elsewhere, Joxer's hands creeping under the open vest, caressing the softly-furred chest while his lips worked their way down Ares neck. His skin felt so wonderful, so smooth and taut over the perfectly defined muscles. It tasted just as perfect: spicy, lightly sweaty, even faintly reminiscent of leather, metal, blood. The taste of war, if there could be such a thing. It was incredible.

He smiled in satisfaction when he heard the god sigh as his fingers brushed against one small, stiff nipple and he pinched it lightly between his fingertips. He wondered if Ares was getting anywhere near as hard as he was, for he could barely stand the building ache between his legs already. Needing to find out, he slid one of his hands out from under the vest and down against Ares' crotch. He gasped, finding out not only was Ares' hard for him already, but bigger than he would have ever dreamed possible.

Ares chuckled at Joxer's obvious reaction of shock. "So, are you still certain you can handle that, Joxer?" the god taunted him.

To show he wasn't frightened, Joxer let his hand linger there, rubbing against the hard bulge, as he looked into Ares' eyes and promised, "Just watch me."

"I will." And with that, Ares laid back on the bed, pulling Joxer down with him. In the middle of another deep kiss, Joxer suddenly realized Ares' clothes were gone. They were pressed body to body, flesh to god-flesh, and he nearly came as soon as his cock caught up with his brain and realized what he was rubbing himself up against.

"Not yet..." Ares told him, breaking the kiss. "First you prove you're worth it." And the way he was pushing Joxer down towards his groin, Joxer knew just what Ares wanted from him.

"As you wish." Joxer crept his way down the beautiful body beneath him, licking, sucking, and nibbling his way down the broad chest, the tight, flat stomach, all the while feeling the rock hard, immense cock pressing against his body, closer and closer to his mouth. Ares could have forced him down on it any time he wished with those powerful hands of his, but he did nothing of the sort--until Joxer's tongue lit upon the tip, swirling around it and probing gently into the thin slit.

"Fuck...oh fuck yes..." Ares hissed, grabbing a fistful of the man's hair as Joxer continued tonguing his erection. Joxer had never seen such a magnificent cock before, as huge and intimidating and frighteningly lovely as the god to whom it belonged. He prayed he could give it the proper adoration and attention it deserved, as he wrapped his lips around the head, tongue lapping up the first drops of precum the god favored him with as if it were the purest honey. It tasted far sweeter to the mortal man's mouth.

He wanted it all. He wanted to feel the length of this incredible cock down his throat, and later buried in his ass...he just wanted to do anything that the god would want him to do. He began moving his mouth up and down the thick shaft, his hands fondling the silky balls and holding the cock in place for his careful ministrations. He knew Ares wanted more, and when he was ready he gave it to him. Relaxing his lips, his tongue, he began swallowing down the shaft, deeper...still deeper...he fought down the reflex to gag and only listened to the god's appreciative moans until he could take in no more.

"Oh, yesssssss..." Ares gasped, arching up against Joxer, practically pulling out the fistful of hair he was still grasping. Joxer winced in pain but did not move, and moments later he felt the god's body convulse in an orgasmic fury. He could have sworn it felt as if the entire room reverberated and trembled all around them. He pulled back slightly as the god came, only so that he could taste Ares' cream as it shot into his mouth. He couldn't believe this was happening. He couldn't believe this was Ares' body he was being allowed to please, Ares' seed that he had just been allowed to imbibe. Let me do it again, he pleaded silently, lapping still at the softening cock for the last traces of Ares' essence. Again and again...Once wasn't nearly enough...

Ares pulled him up and kissed him roughly. "Damn you, mortal," the god sighed after the kiss. "No wonder you can't fight worth anything. You must spend all your time fucking to be that good at it."

Joxer smirked. "I guess the Gods had to give me something I was good at. Oh, no offense."

"None taken. Not after that."

Joxer shivered as Ares ran his hand slowly down his side. His own need for release was returning now that his attentions were not solely focused on pleasing the god.

Ares' hand eventually found Joxer's stiff cock. "Not bad for a mortal," the god complimented, as he stroked his hand up and back down the full length of the erection.

"Mmmm...oh....!" Joxer was unable to speak coherently, not with the god of war fondling him, kissing him, doing things to him he would never have dreamed asked for, nor even dare fantasize about.

Ares trailed kisses down the length of his neck and he remarked, "You know, you're far too pretty, and too good in bed, to really be a warrior. Perhaps I'll simply keep you as my concubine for the time being."

Joxer didn't care what Ares kept him for; if Ares wanted to keep him locked up in this room, chained naked to this bed for all of eternity, he would be quite happy with that fate.

His thoughts spun out of control when Ares pushed him onto his back and said, "Since you proved you're worth it," and with no further warning slid down the mattress and took Joxer's cock into his mouth. Joxer shuddered and glanced down with a gasp and the sight before him was nearly enough to come: Ares--the magnificent, incredible god of war--gazing back up at him, lips wrapped firmly around his erection.

Sweet Zeus, this can't be real...

I am dreaming, aren't I?

Oh, Gods, but no dream has ever felt this good...

But real life has never felt this good either...

Ares...Ares...don't stop don't ever stop no please...




Joxer opened his eyes and sat up with a start. He was still in the same bedchamber, but no one else was around. He didn't remember drifting asleep; he just remembered...oh, wow...what he remembered. He'd thought at the time he was simply dreaming--at least, he'd tried to convince himself of that instead of considering the alternative. But now he figured he was going to have to face facts.

He'd just had sex with the god of war.

He felt the heat rising to his cheeks as the recent events came back to him in more detail, sleepiness fading fast. Forget falling asleep--I must have completely blacked out! But who wouldn't after getting blown by Ares...

Speaking of whom, Joxer wondered where the god had disappeared to. Curious to find out, he got out of bed, not surprisingly finding his balance a little off-kilter--more so than usual, even with his injuries gone. He looked about the chamber for any evidence of his clothing, feeling a little too shy to go stumbling about buck naked when he had no idea what or whom he'd find outside this room. He couldn't locate his old ragged vest or trousers, but he noticed a carefully arranged set of clothing laid out on a chest near the bed. It didn't look like it was made to fit Ares, so he guessed it had been placed there for him. The black leather was of such fine quality he almost gasped when he touched it, it was so soft and smooth. The pants and the vest fit him perfectly, almost like a second skin.

As he finished dressing, lacing up his new boots, he was thinking, I know this is really happening, I just wish I knew why. What does Ares want with me? Well, I suppose that's actually sort of obvious, but I mean, what does he really want? Why me, why now? Was that a one-time thing or am I now his until he decides he's sick of me?

Well, he knew he wasn't going to get any answers just standing there. Besides, he decided, maybe I should stop worrying about why I'm here and simply let myself enjoy it. So one of the gods had decided use him as a diversion for a while. The gods didn't need any reason for the things that they did; all mortals knew that. And it wasn't like he hadn't had fun, too. He could worry about the consequences later.

Stepping through the open doorway, a short hallway led into spacious room, obviously the main living room. A fire burned brightly in the fireplace and a grand table took up much of the space. He found Ares sprawled lazily across a large chair at one end of the table. The god looked up as Joxer entered and commented, "So you finally came to. I was starting to wonder if you were going to sleep all day."

"Sorry. Guess I was really exhausted. So where are we, anyway? Is this Olympus?" Joxer jumped in with the first questions on his mind.

Ares snorted. "Hardly. This is just a sanctuary I keep for when I'm sick of dealing with everyone for a while. A small section of forest in the mountains I claimed for myself long ago. Very few know of it, and those who do know better than to disturb me when I'm here. Even we immortals need a place to get away from it all sometimes."

"Oh. Yeah, that makes sense." Joxer looked at the ample display of food on the table, inhaled the spicy odors, and his stomach rumbled in appreciation. It must have been some time since he had eaten, possibly a day at least since he'd had a substantial meal.

"Help yourself," Ares encouraged him, while idly picking at some small bowl of food at the end of the table where he sat. Joxer needed no further encouragement, not being able to remember the last time he'd seen so much food--everything from hot, roasted meats to exotic looking fruits and vegetables. He was starting to salivate in anticipation of the feast.

"Thank you." He grabbed a large bowl and filled it to the top, trying to sample a little of everything, knowing he'd be lucky to make it through half of what his eyes craved before his stomach would feel ready to burst.

Looking about for a place to sit, Ares beckoned him to share his own chair. Joxer settled comfortably into the god's lap, turning his head to him for a kiss to try to show how much he appreciated Ares' generosity. The god's tongue was like fire in his mouth and he nearly dropped his food all over the floor in shock of the strange feeling that passed through him at the kiss.

"What was..." Joxer started in surprise, wondering why his head was spinning so badly.

"I've been indulging a little before you came out," Ares explained, nodding towards a small bowl filled with a strange luminescent substance.

Ambrosia. The food of the gods. I just tasted ambrosia! Joxer realized with a shudder. What little essence of it had been left in Ares' mouth had made him feel like this?

"Not enough to give you anything more than a momentary high, lover," Ares explained to him, and then the bowl disappeared.

Still feeling a little buzzed from the trace of ambrosia, Joxer dove into his food. The meat was delicious, richly seasoned with wine and spices. Do the gods eat such wonderful meals all the time? He could barely imagine what it would be like to have such luxuries at his every whim. He surprised himself at how much he managed to pack away before he finally had to stop.

"Do you just wave a hand or something and all of this appears?" Joxer asked, leaning back in Ares' arms. He could feel the god's cock returning to life, pressing against his rear through their clothes. It was an indescribable thrill to know that reaction was due to him, of all people. I make Ares hard--my Gods, but that's a turn on! He also wondered with growing lust how it would feel to have that huge erection deep inside him, to be possessed by Ares completely.

"My servants prepare my meals. It's a waste of my energy to use it on something as mundane as food," he dismissed, proceeding then to start nibbling upon Joxer's neck, making him squirm as the hard teeth bruised his skin, only to be soothed by soft, wet lips. Joxer wanted to know where these servants actually were, among hundreds of other questions he had for the god, but they could wait for some other time, he supposed. Yes, definitely some other time.

Ares' hands ran roughly over his body while he continued kissing his way along Joxer's neck. Joxer shuddered as his new clothes suddenly disappeared, as did the god's. Ares' erection rubbed against his bare ass and he whimpered, half fearing the no-doubt imminent penetration and half desperate for it.

Ares pinched Joxer's nipples painfully, playing with them until Joxer was in a state somewhere between utter agony and pure Elysia. The god seemed to know how to give him exactly what he wanted, some things he'd never even known he'd want before. "Please..." Joxer begged, squirming and rubbing his ass against Ares' hardness. "Please, Ares..."

"Please what?" Ares asked him, biting down so hard on his neck Joxer yelped, knowing the god had drawn blood with the bite.

"Fuck me, please..." Joxer gasped. Ares pushed Joxer to his feet, cleared the table with a wave of his hand, and bent the mortal man over the side of it. Joxer shivered as Ares took position behind him, the slick, large head of the god's cock pressing against him, forcing its way inside him. Where the lubrication had come from Joxer didn't even pause to wonder about; the feeling of being filled and stretched so completely was too good, too painfully incredibly good to think about anything else.

"Ares..." he sighed in awe, eyes squeezed shut, fingers digging into the wood of the tabletop for support. This was far beyond anything he'd ever experienced before or dared imagine. He belonged to Ares, completely, utterly, without question from this day forth.

Ares let out a low growl of approval. "So hot...damn you, you're so hot..." he whispered harshly, reaching around to grasp Joxer's erection and beginning to work it with his hand in time with every thrust.

The combined stimulation was too much. Joxer teetered on the edge of climax so long, he was certain he was about to lose his mind. He'd felt ready to come as soon as the god had touched his cock and was convinced that Ares was doing something to him to keep him from climaxing, to make him last until the god was finished with him.

"Ares, I can't..." he begged, almost in tears as the erotic torture continued, "I have to come...I'm going to...feel like I'm going to die! Ares...!"

"You come when I say you can, mortal," Ares told him harshly, tightening his grip on Joxer's cock until the moan building in his throat turned into a scream. This was torture, pure and simple, and despite his protests a part of him never wanted it to stop...

"I can make you feel never dreamed possible..." Ares promised him, while never pausing in his assault. "You proved yourself deserving of my attention you learn your first lesson in obedience to me. Your pleasure is mine to grant, to deny if I say so. Do you understand?"

"Yes...ooooh, gods, yes...yessssss..." he hissed out, clenching his teeth.

And suddenly, he felt something snap inside him, blissful release enveloping his entire body for the most mind-blowing climax he'd ever known. A groan escaped Ares lips at nearly the same time, and completion came as Joxer felt the warmth of Ares' seed spilling into him.

Then it was over...The god lifted Joxer's limp body upright and back into the spacious chair, into his lap again. Joxer simply collapsed against Ares, shuddering, gasping for breath, feeling as if he did not even have the strength left to lift one finger without the god's help. He felt empty, no longer whole, with Ares no longer inside him. The god idly caressed his spent body, saying nothing except through his now gentle touch. Joxer wondered if Ares had felt this union with anywhere near the intensity he just had. Or was this simply the way it always was for the god?

"No, not always..." Ares answered his unvoiced question. "In fact, mortals rarely can satisfy me so well...nor can they usually handle what I can give them. You are more special than you realize, Joxer."

"You...can read my mind?" Joxer struggled to find the words, his mind still feeling clouded and unable to focus.

"When I care to. You are full of questions, aren't you? Don't like taking things as you see them. You always want to question, to poke, to prod, like an annoying little child who wants to know why the sky is blue, and how the stars hang in the heavens."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize. If more of my generals had such a questioning, curious was what made Xena such an incredible leader..." He sighed wistfully. "But enough of leaders and armies for now. I wonder what other talents you possess that I haven't yet seen, hmm?"

Joxer thought for a moment. He wasn't used to anyone discussing him and using the words "talents" and "special" in any way. "Nothing, really. Well..." he was almost embarrassed to mention it, certain it wasn't what the god of war was interested in, "I used to play the lyre, a little."

"Used to?"

"My mother made me take lessons. But then my father found out and he said that warriors didn't waste their time on music."

A lyre appeared instantly in his lap. "Play for me," Ares ordered.

"B-but, I'm not that good," Joxer protested. "I only practice now and then..." Mostly when visiting Meg's place, he thought with a flush to his cheeks.

"I'll judge if you're any good or not."

Joxer knew better than to argue the point, so he picked up the instrument, trying to refamiliarize himself with the feel, trying to get his fingers working again when he was still recovering from the events of only a few minutes ago. "Um...okay. What do you want to hear?"

"Whatever you feel like playing," Ares encouraged, running his hands along Joxer's bare shoulders, the touch relaxing away his anxiousness. After working his fingers awkwardly through some chords and exercises, Joxer remembered an old melody he was always fond of. It was a song he'd practiced so much as a child that after the first few stumbled notes, his hands remembered the old patterns and he played without having to barely think about it. He'd always loved playing, even when he'd had to do so secretly so his father wouldn't hear it and become angry. This song transported him back in time to afternoons out in the fields near his home with his mother, where she'd take him on picnics when father was away and she'd ask him to play for her.

This song had been her favorite, a simple melody with no words. It needed none; the notes spoke well enough of love and tranquillity. Joxer played it, feeling those same emotions with an intensity he'd never known, and it came tumbling out of him, trying to express the way he felt now for Ares in a way he knew he could never put in words.

When he was finished, he felt self-conscious and uncertain if he'd just made a fool of himself with his amateur musical skills. "Like I said, I'm not that good..." he apologized automatically.

"You belittle yourself too much," Ares scolded. "And I believe you have perhaps sworn yourself to the wrong god. Your talents would be better appreciated and developed under Apollo than me."

Joxer turned to face the god of war, insisting, "But I want to serve you, Ares. I want to be a warrior."

"Are you so certain? There are other ways to serve me, as you should realize by now. You claim you want to be warrior, yet you've never even killed once, isn't that true?"

Joxer bit his lip to keep the instinctual denial from pouring forth. To anyone else, he would have dismissed the statement with boasts of his many bloody battles to the death. But to Ares, he knew it would be a wasted effort at best and potentially a fatal insult at worst.

"Ah, I was correct. Imagine that: A blood innocent lover for the god of war..." The lyre disappeared and Ares pulled Joxer against him, stroking his hair gently. "I sensed it about you. Don't be ashamed. It's one of the reasons you...appeal to me."

"Why?" Joxer asked, surprised.

Ares shrugged. "Why are virgins so enticing to mortal men? Innocence. The desire to take something that no one has taken before, and claim it for themselves. To perhaps experience something they lost long ago even if only vicariously.

"I haven't known what innocence has felt like in thousands of years, yet it radiates off of you. I don't know if I wish to treasure it and preserve it for always, as a reminder of what I have stolen from so many before..." He lifted Joxer's head with his hand, holding the mortal's enraptured gaze close to his own. "Or do I want to be there to share with you in the thrill of your first kill. To see blood seeping down from the hilt of your sword onto your hands. To share with you when you know what it feels like to steal the breath of life from another mortal for the first time."

"Whatever you would ask of me, I would do it," Joxer pledged.

"Yes. I know you would." Ares leaned in for a searing kiss, the hint of ambrosia still faintly on his tongue. Joxer tried to drink it in, the taste more than any mortal could resist. As far as he was concerned, he had found Elysia here in the dark God's arms and in his bed. Whether this lasted a day, a year, or eternity, it didn't matter.

...The Fates, apparently, had decreed it would last two seasons, from just before the Summer Solstice until not long before the Winter one. Joxer had in fact been spending the afternoon contemplating what kind of gift he could prepare for Ares on that approaching holiday when...well, he tried not to think about that day. The less he brought it to mind, the better.

Now he was stuck here, forever, to pay for the apparent crime of loving the wrong person. Wrong god. Whatever. He didn't think it was fair, but being with Ares as long as he had, he knew better than to try to understand the motives and logic of the gods.

Besides, Ares was going to get him out of here. He promised he would. As he tried to find comfort in the god's words, he struggled to ignore the voice in the back of his head, the one that sounded vaguely like Xena's, warning him never to believe any promises made by the god of war.

Chapter III.

Luck was not with Ares, for days passed and stretched into weeks while his efforts led only to growing frustration and more unanswered questions. Wherever he went, whichever immortal he challenged, he heard the same story, met with the same infuriating ignorance and indifference. No one knew anything. Few admitted to any knowledge of who Joxer was to begin with, let alone any awareness that he had been Ares' lover.

It could all be lies, of course, even some grand conspiracy among all the gods to mislead him. Ares strained his senses during every confrontation to seek out the slightest hint of prevarication in the other gods' words, but so far he had learned nothing, uncovered no leads of any more merit than another. 'Another dead mortal. Big, fucking, deal.' That was what everyone seemed to be saying.

Well, it was a Big Fucking Deal to him.

He even went to the Fates and learned nothing. They would not even tell him if Joxer's lifeline had been destined to be this short since his birth, or whether an immortal had made a deal to cut Joxer's thread early. Unfortunately, the Fates were about the only beings who could deny an Olympian such information. They were older than even Zeus, perhaps even more powerful, and as such could manipulate the destinies of the gods if they wished--if they were angered. And Ares didn't need another set of enemies at the moment.

Beyond all of that, the war in Thrace was taking up far too much of the energy he wanted to devote to his investigation. He wasn't even enjoying the battle, despite its escalating fervor, for his thoughts kept drifting back to Joxer, wishing the man was here with him to appreciate the battle at his side...then to celebrate its success privately in the sanctuary of their bed. Discord was giving him the cold shoulder and refusing his summonses, so he couldn't leave the battle under her command when he wanted to get some rest. Even a god could not be in three places at once, as he needed to be at this time: in Thrace, on Olympus, and with Joxer.

He had managed to visit the Underworld several more times, to let Joxer know he was not forgotten amidst of all this and that Ares was still working to release him. But the visits were melancholy experiences at best, usually leaving the god more depressed, tired and angry after he left than ever satisfied by whatever moments of intimacy they managed. He hated watching Joxer's struggling optimism take another blow every time he arrived and had to tell him this was just another visit; he would not be leaving yet. He hated having to walk away from Joxer when it was over, to return to his cold, empty temple, or the no-longer satisfying battlefield.

Ares knew that he couldn't put it off any longer. He was at an end as to what he could accomplish on his own and knew of only one individual who might have the information he needed.


Father, apparently, had been prepared for the visit and did not look at all surprised to see Ares when he arrived, ready to swallow his pride and ask for assistance.

"Hello, son. I expected I'd be hearing from you soon."

"Then you know what happened."

"I heard, yes. How could I not, the way you've been raging after everyone about it? And Hades assured me that I would be hearing from you concerning this matter before long as well."

"But let me guess: You, like everyone else, oddly knows nothing about who is responsible for Joxer's death."

Zeus shrugged slightly. "These things happen."

"'These things happen.'" He was used to hearing this indifference from everyone, but somehow it seemed the worst slap in his face coming from his own father. "And I thought I was supposed to be the cold-hearted one."

When Zeus remained silent, forcing Ares to direct the confrontation, he admitted, "I want him back."

"It's not that simple."

"So Hades told me. So everyone keeps telling me. Fine. I get the idea. Now how about telling me what not-so-simple thing I have to do to get him back."

"Hades and I have discussed the matter..."


"...and for him to agree to compromise the laws of his domain for you, a heavy price must be paid. He has named it, and I have agreed that it is just and fair."

"So tell me already."

"The price for Joxer's life is your godhood."

"If that's supposed to be a joke, I'm not laughing."

"Son, you're asking us to bend the rules to suit your wishes, your whimsy. These are rules that have stood for millennia enforcing order among our kind, where else chaos could easily ensue. It has to be made clear to the rest of our family, be they under Hades', Poseidon's, or my direct domain, that to challenge these laws is to lose the privileges they provide us. I'm sorry. That is the way it must be."

"Hades really has it in for me, doesn't he?"

"If I thought what he asked was unfair, I would not have agreed to it." Zeus sighed audibly. "Ares, do you want my advice, as your father? Forget about this one mortal. I know right now his death pains you greatly, but it will pass with time. Believe me, I have felt the same loss in the past, many times."

"Have you? Have you ever truly felt anything, father?"

Zeus ignored the snide remark and continued, "This is the first time you've known love. It won't be the last. Learn from your mistakes and move on, put this one mortal man behind you. Learn how to control these new feelings you have experienced, and how to keep them from interfering with your duties, your position...your birthright as my son. Don't make me have to search for your successor, all because of the love of one insignificant mortal."

Ares was silent for a long time, trying to accept what he'd been told. "How long do I have to decide?" he finally asked.

"It's a standing offer, no time limit. As such, I advise you not to make any decision in haste. There will be no chance to change your mind, once that decision is made. It's all or nothing, son, and no turning back."

"Fine. If that's the way it has to be."


"It feels like months since I've seen you."

"Only a week."

"Oh. Really? It's so hard to tell time around here. ...I was wondering, does anyone know I'm dead?"

"All of Olympus knows, the way I've been storming around."

"I mean anyone who isn't a god. I never hear anyone thinking about me. Well except a few odd thoughts here and there. I heard my mom praying for me a few times, but like I was still alive and she just wanted to put in a good word for me. And Xena was worrying about me. But that's about it."

"I can send a messenger to your mother, if that's what you want."

"Yeah, I guess. Though I don't know. Maybe it's better she doesn't know what happened to me. I keep thinking about these things 'cause, well, there's not a lot else to do but think, except when you're here. ...Wow, only a week?"

"I've been busy, Joxer, and these visits take a lot out of me. I'm here as much as I can manage."

"I know, I didn't mean to complain. I'm happy to see you for even a few minutes..."

"What's bothering you, then?"

"Why don't you just read my mind?"

"It's too busy in there, all the time. Makes me dizzy when you're wound up like you are today."

"It's...I don't know, Ares. I'm glad whenever you visit, but I don't want you to keep doing this because...well, if you feel like you have to or something. If you don't want to be here. I don't want to be a burden."

"You think that's the way I feel?"

"I can't read your mind, and I don't think I ever know what you feel. It's hard to know anything anymore. You know, sometimes I fall asleep for a while, and when I wake up, everything seems so unclear to me, so hazy, that I can't even remember who I am. Where I am. And it's almost more painful when I start to remember. That's what happens to a lot of people here, I've been hearing. It gets so painful to remember the way life used to you start to let yourself forget. And when the soul starts to forget who it is, and why it's here, and why anything simply fades away into nothing."

"You are really a downer today."

"Well if you were stuck here...nevermind. Forget about it. Just...can I ask you one thing?"

"Then you'll be quiet and let me fuck you for a while?"

"I swear. Cross my heart and, well..."


"Okay. I want to know the truth. I can handle it. You're not going to be able to get me out of here, are you?"

"It's...going to be more difficult than I expected. I'm doing what I can, Joxer."

"Oh. Okay. I didn't mean to sound like I didn't have faith in you or anything...because you know that I do and all and--"



"Just shut up."


It had been a mistake, going to see Joxer at all. He realized he had been putting this last visit off ever since his talk with Zeus several days ago. He had traveled to the Underworld this time ready to tell Joxer that it was impossible, that the price being asked in exchange for his soul's freedom was too high. The words had refused to be spoken. Ares' resolve to admit the truth had faltered as soon as he had seen Joxer again, and it was completely gone by the time they had touched. And in the end he'd left, feeling far worse than before for allowing Joxer to cling to false hopes of freedom.

Ares wanted things back to the way they'd been, dammit. He wanted that sense of peace again, that peculiar serenity Joxer had brought into his life. It was something he'd never thought to seek out or expect from a lover before, never realizing it was perhaps exactly what he needed...

...Or perhaps his innate defenses had protected him from this temptation until now. For once he'd tasted it, once he'd begun to give in, it had been so compelling that it had taken the warning of another god to pull him back to his senses. If only he'd taken her warnings more seriously, that day she had first confronted him about what was happening. If only he'd fully appreciated the danger he was putting himself--and Joxer--into when he'd still had the chance to stop himself...

Time goes by so very quickly in the right company.

Almost two weeks' had passed since the night he had brought Joxer back to this place with him. What had begun as nothing more than a curious whim was turning into a rather long and unexpected vacation from his duties. It was rare he found someone whose company he could tolerate past one night's passion, and rarer still he wanted anything to do with that individual outside of his bed. Either he was desperate for this time away from duties and family that any distraction would do, or something about Joxer had him fascinated and satisfied as few--if any--had ever done before. For during all this time, he had not once searched out his annoying half-brother for some of his usual fun and games. He hadn't bothered pestering Xena and her irritating bard, another usually rewarding pastime. He hadn't even checked on any of his armies, or what his generals were busy doing without his constant guidance.

They'll all take care of themselves for a few days, he'd kept telling himself. I have more pressing matters to attend to.

Pressing? Well, maybe not. But far more interesting--such as determining just how hopeless or not Joxer was as a potential warrior. It was reassuring that the mortal's problems seemed to stem more from a lack of proper training and encouragement than a real lack of talent. No man could be so skilled in other physical "endeavors" and not be able to learn something about the art of battle, Ares had speculated. And certainly, Joxer had proven himself to be quite the master of physical pleasures. Oh yes... Ares sighed with satisfaction. Joxer was almost too capable and too willing to please for his own good.

Or is that my own good? Sex was usually just the icing on the cake for the god of war after a satisfying combat. He wasn't used to indulging in it as a main course.

But I suppose even the gods can use a change of pace every now and then.

And it wasn't merely the sex. No, it was far more than that. Joxer amused him, made him laugh-- intentionally and otherwise. He was intensely curious about everything from the nature of the gods to where this or that exotic fruit came from, and if he might be able to visit there someday, and were the people the same there as they were here and did they worship the same gods. Joxer and Strife...they might have gotten along interestingly, Ares thought with a small smile. The mortal had a streak for mischievousness that could blossom with the right care and attention--which he of course was quite willing to provide.

Ares leaned back against a large tree in the secluded forest grove not far away from the mountain cabin, watching the dueling warriors before him with pride. Joxer was practicing his swordplay against a soldier summoned off a battlefield a few hundred miles away. Joxer's skill had been improving surprisingly rapidly over the past days' tutoring, as if he was finally discovering the talent for battle that was part of his family heritage. Oh, he had a long way to go before he'd be leading any armies, but at this rate he wouldn't be an embarrassment to one for much longer.

At the same time, Ares still wasn't sure how he felt about the idea of Joxer becoming a full- fledged warrior. As much as he thrilled to watch the man fight--and fight well--another part of him kept Joxer from getting too close to delivering a fatal blow. The god was rather too enchanted by his innocence. It seemed like such the perfect irony to him, that the god of war's new consort should be a blood innocent warrior. Joxer should have been a musician, or an artist, or merely a dedicated sensualist, and instead he was devoted to a god who seemed perfectly at odds with these talents.

Ares couldn't help but admire the way the fine clothes he provided for Joxer hugged his ass--and other delicious curves and bulges--with every thrust and movement of his body. He might not want to see the mortal kill, but Joxer was surely a pleasure to watch fighting. And how good it would feel after this exercise to strip the fine leather away from that slim, sweaty body, to feel Joxer's heart pounding under his hands from exertion and desire...

An unexpected tremor of energy--God energy--near him rudely interrupted his line of thought. He felt it just a moment before the irritating, familiar voice asked, "So, who's the boy-toy, bro?"

Ares gritted his teeth. This was his sanctuary--his private sanctuary. No one, not even (or rather, especially) his family was supposed to disturb him here except in matters of the utmost importance. "None of your damn business, sis."

Aphrodite ignored him and stepped gingerly towards the dueling men. She studied Joxer for a moment before recognizing him. "Hey, that's Xena's idiot friend...Jerkster, right?"


"Whatever." As Joxer spun around to parry an attack, Aphrodite looked him up and down and then winked at her brother. "Nice butt. I always thought this one was a cutie. So is the little stud the one whose been keeping you shacked up out here for so long?"

"Get to the point and then get out of here, would you, please?"

"My point is, dad sent me to find out what was up with you. No one in the fam's seen you since dinner a few weeks ago, and things are going bizarro outside of your little private playground here. It's almost as bad as that time you lost your sword to that sneak thief Sisyphus. So what's the deal, Ar? Decide to take a little vacation? Stressed out? Personal problems?" Aphrodite pressed. "You should've at least left your sweetheart Discord in charge of the whole war-thingy business while you blew things off. It's just not like you to just up and disappear like this without telling anyone..." She paused, her bright eyes widening as she studied him intently. "Oh, whoa. Whoa whoa whoa, I don't believe it..."


"I don't believe it," she repeated, shaking her golden-haired head. "You're in love, Ares, that's your problem!"

"Get real," he snorted.

"I am being real. Look hon, I know love the way you know war. And right now you've got the love bug bad." She giggled in delight, spinning around in a circle in a little celebratory dance.

Ares glowered at her, wanting to tell her she was completely insane, ready to send her on a one-way trip to oblivion if it wasn't for that rather inconvenient rule about not killing other gods. But, oddly enough and much to his surprise, he suddenly couldn't bring himself to say the words to deny it.

She can't be right...can she?

'Dite's grin widened as she realized she had Ares tongue-tied. "Oh, this is too good. My tough-guy bro, always putting me and my work down, and he's finally given in. Someone's finally proven that you do have a heart under all that attitude and black leather. Wait 'till I tell--"

Ares grabbed her by shoulders and threatened, "You are not going to tell anyone anything, do you understand? Or so help me, I'll give my armies special orders to trash every one of your temples from here to Carthage."

"Look, chill out, Ar, okay?! Fine, this'll be our little secret for now, but at this rate it's not going to take me spilling the beans before word gets around. And you have got to get back to your job instead of spending all your time doing the nasty with Joxie here. You've still got your responsibilities, remember? And more than a few others who might just be waiting for the first chance to take your place as the god of war. Don't forget that."

"Believe me, I never forget that."

"Well then, quit hiding out here playing house and start acting like you haven't forgotten. Later, hon."

And with that, 'Dite disappeared. Ares brooded over what she had told him until the clanking of metal drew his attention back to the fight. Joxer was starting to look weary, his thrusts turning wilder and sloppy. But then Joxer lunged for a blow that very well could have been fatal to the other soldier (Guess he wasn't as tired as I thought...nice job, Joxer!) but Ares made his opponent vanish just before the sword tip made impact. Joxer stumbled, his balance and momentum thrown off, and he landed with an ungraceful "Oomph!" on the rocky ground. Still, he picked himself up and looked back towards Ares questioningly.

"That's enough for now," Ares told him.

"I almost had him."

Ares nodded. "I'm proud of you. You learn quickly."

Joxer's eyes lit up as a more than slightly naughty smile formed on his lips. "With you as a teacher, how could I not?"

Ares watched Joxer walk towards him, his desire building with every step that brought them closer. Resting his hands on Ares' waist, Joxer asked, "So when do I get to practice against you?"

"When you're ready...perhaps. But there are other things I prefer doing with you." He pulled the mortal against him for a kiss that Joxer readily returned. A part of Ares was more than ready to give himself over to his lustful urges...yet he was distracted now, unable to forget about Aphrodite's visit and her warnings.

She was right--not about the "love" business, no. Never. But he was being reckless and irresponsible. These past weeks had been fun, the respite he'd needed, but it was time to get back to the business of being a god...

...soon. But not quite yet.


The sun was beginning to set, the breeze blowing in through the window growing colder. He felt Joxer shiver against him as the wind chilled his damp skin, so he reached for a blanket to cover them both.

Nightfall would be upon them soon, and when it arrived Ares would be leaving. Aphrodite's reminders about his duties and the trouble that he was no doubt in for once he got back to his temple were stuck in his head, and he couldn't ignore his responsibilities any longer.

Running a hand against Joxer's side, he said softly, "I'm leaving tonight, Joxer. It's time for me to make sure my armies are behaving themselves-- not that they ever do without me whipping them into shape constantly. I have other business to attend to as well."

"How long will you be gone?"

"I don't know. I may have a great deal to take care of, considering how long you've kept me distracted."

Joxer sighed in obvious disappointment but tried not to let it show in his words. "Well, you're a god and all, with important things to do...I know that. Um, can I ask you one thing?"

He knew the question poised on the man's lips without it needing to be spoken, without even having to read his mind. "I'm far from finished with you, Joxer. You still have a great deal to learn from me...and I think I can derive some more pleasure out of your company yet. You can stay here if you wish, until I have time for you again. You'll be provided for. Or I can take you back to where I found you. It doesn't matter. I'll find you wherever you are."

That seemed to ease Joxer's worry, though Ares could still feel the echo of uncertainty in the back of the mortal's mind. Or was it his own reticence to leave that he sensed?

Holding his lover's body tightly, an unusual impulse struck the god, one that surprised him when he realized how much the strange idea appealed to him. Maybe it was love that he was feeling, making him want to do things he had never desired before. But he wasn't ready to believe his sister's diagnosis quite yet.

I'm simply curious, that's all. Nothing wrong with trying something different.

His hand caressed the smooth skin of Joxer's stomach, then glided slowly lower, trying to coax the mortal's spent cock back to attention. Joxer sighed a little and squirmed against him, muttering, "Mmm, Ar...dunno if I can get it up again so soon."

"When you find out what I want, I think you'll change your mind," Ares challenged, nuzzling against Joxer's sensitive, lovely neck, his actions bringing the mortal back to an aroused state soon enough despite his half-hearted protests. Joxer started to push and rub his backside against Ares, expecting the god to enter him, but for once Ares had something completely different in mind.

"Not this time." With an easy movement he rolled onto his back, lifting Joxer on top of him. He trapped the mortal between his strong legs, and looking into the man's questioning eyes, he said, "Your turn."

Those eyes went wide in surprise. "Are you...really? I...I don't know..."

Ares laughed at the sudden panic. "I recall you saying some time ago you could handle anything, Joxer. Don't tell me you've never done this before."

Looking a little embarrassed, Joxer admitted, "Not...with a man...somehow I always end up on the receiving end."

"Well, tonight let's see if you can give as well as you receive." He didn't think Joxer would protest much longer, and he was correct. Worry faded from his features quickly, and as he took advantage of his "superior" position, stroking and caressing the god's body, the look on his face became one of raw hunger. Ares touched the surface of Joxer's thoughts and savored the lust he found there, the feelings of a man preparing to let himself enjoy something new yet something he'd secretly hungered for. The god could fulfill this one special wish before leaving--Joxer deserved that much after the companionship he had provided so willingly.

Joxer wasted little further time getting to it, as if afraid Ares would change his mind about this if he didn't act quickly. The god felt the firm pressure of the head of Joxer's cock gliding into him, into his flesh. There was no pain, of course, for that was something he never felt. His body was his to control, and if he willed it to accommodate Joxer, then it obeyed him. But there was an edge of discomfort at this invasion into his body of a purely mental nature: Ares was a god, and he was letting a mortal man "take" him. Dominate this encounter. Use him for his own pleasure while Ares laid there passively. It was a perversion of the natural order of things, and for a moment Ares almost made Joxer stop, uncertain as he was that he could continue with this.

But then Joxer was sheathed inside him fully with one long, careful thrust, and the mortal let out such a sound of anguished delight that Ares simply couldn't help getting swept along with it. The expression on Joxer's face, the fire in his dark eyes, was an image to savor forever, something to never forget nor dare interrupt. Ares forgot his own discomfort and thrust up against him, pushing Joxer in as deep as he could go.

Bliss... He opened his mind fully to Joxer's thoughts, his reactions, relishing them as if they were his own, even as his own body began to respond to the new sensations it was experiencing.

"Ares..." the word slipped out on the end of a sigh, as Joxer let his body lead him into this unknown territory, unaware of just how unique a gift he'd been granted. The first mortal to fuck the god of war. Ares felt the echoes of Joxer's pleasure at every thrust, as they magnified and amplified against those same feelings emanating from his own body. He had never felt anything like it before. He was in danger of losing himself in the moment, losing his sense of himself in this union with a mortal man. He felt more helpless than when he had been stripped of his godhood, but his fear could not find its voice when his senses were overwhelmed by this feeling of unending ecstasy...

" you...oh, Ares!" Joxer's voice called from somewhere far away, but the god only dimly heard the words. The force of Joxer's climax pulled Ares along with him. He felt as if he were falling from some terrible height, spiraling downward into an unknown void, someplace where for one brief instant, souls--not bodies--met.



Sealed forever.

Then slipped away.

The weight of Joxer's body as he collapsed on top of him drew Ares back to earth, the tangible world around him. He felt dazed. He did not understand what had just happened, only that it frightened him, as few things had before.

He was thankful Joxer was too exhausted and satiated now to question it, or question him, and was content to merely be held close in silence and creeping darkness until he drifted asleep.

Ares eased himself from Joxer's arms and stood, summoned his clothes, and picked up his sword from where it lay near the bed, preparing to leave.

As he held the formidable weapon, he realized his hands were trembling.

By the Styx, what's happening to me?

He looked down at the sleeping man, so blissfully unaware of the turmoil playing itself out in the god's mind. What is coming over me? What is this one damn mortal turning me into?

To be safe, I should give him up now. Leave him off somewhere far away and never look back.

To be safer still, I should kill him, strike him down now to remove the temptation he presents.

Yet even as these thoughts crossed his mind, he knew he was far beyond the point where he could do such a thing. He was in this too deep already.

He knelt down by the bed, watching Joxer sleep for several long minutes before he was ready to leave. He whispered, "You mortals are so fragile. Your fleeting. Almost meaningless in the greater scheme of things. And now you, Joxer, threaten to turn me into someone I don't even recognize anymore, someone who feels things I have always denied were possible."

"Do you know what you have done, my love?" He placed on last kiss on Joxer's forehead, breathing in his scent, his essence...the music of his dreams.

Then he turned to leave, to himself adding silently, Is there any hope for either of us now...

"No. There is no hope. This relationship should never have begun. It was destined to end in nothing but pain."

He spoke these words to no one but himself, sitting alone in the vast chamber of his temple. He would always have far more enemies than allies because of his duties and nature. That was why he could never allow anyone to get too close to him. He had always known this, but it seemed he had forgotten this rule when it came to Joxer.

Now they both had to pay the price for his mistake.

The only way he would get Joxer back was by doing the one thing he could never do: Sacrifice everything. Hand over his sword. Become a mortal.


Not in a million years. Not in two million years, or however long he was destined to walk this planet.

He was the god of war. That was who he had been born to be. That was all he had known for thousands of years. He loved his position--his power.

He would just have to make do visiting Joxer in the Underworld. And Joxer would have to make do with that as well.

It was the way things would have to be. Eventually he'd get over this fixation on Joxer anyway, and these damn feelings of guilt and loss would go away. He would find someone else to occupy his time.

Wouldn't he?

Of course he would.

And then the temple would stop feeling so empty in Joxer's absence, without the sound of his voice, or his lyre playing softly, sometimes out-of-tune but always so perfectly soothing.

He'd be able to return to his sanctuary and think of things other than those first few weeks with this mortal man, when he'd found himself wishing for nothing but for those days and nights to last an eternity.

He would stop seeing that blasted mortal's face whenever he closed his eyes. Not even really that pretty...

His hands would no longer remember the firm masculine curves, the perfect smoothness of that slender body.

His mouth would forget the taste of those delicate lips.

His bed would stop feeling so cold, and he would be able to sleep without the warmth of Joxer's body pressed against his own.

On second thought...

....No. He wouldn't.




Zeus was mistaken. He would never be able to forget. Joxer was not the only one sentenced to an eternity of misery. He would suffer in his own private Tartarus from now on without him here.

Ares slammed his fist down on the arm of his throne with all the fury and rage he'd tried to keep under control for too long. Now he no longer cared what the repercussions of giving in to it would be. The impact of his fist caused the throne's arm to shatter and crumble. The act of destruction was satisfying--the first true feeling of satisfaction he'd felt since this misery had begun.

And so he let his rage possess him completely.

Destroying the throne wasn't enough. He would lay waste to this entire temple. Too many memories now echoed through its walls. He screamed and unleashed barrage after barrage of fire and lightening, taking out every statue and bust chiseled in his image. He smashed every sword, every shield, every battle axe with his hands. Curtains burned to blackened ashes at his feet. The ground trembled beneath him as the walls cracked and began to tumble to Earth. He stood in the middle of it all, not stopping, not relenting, until nothing was left to break, burn, or shatter.

It was all finished so quickly. The grand temple built with years of labor and care, filled with the finest offerings made to him in centuries of worship, all reduced to dust in mere minutes.

This would be merely the beginning. All of Greece would feel the fury of his grief, his anger. It was only fair, after all, he decided grimly.

"There you go, Ar, the typical male solution to every problem: Blow shit up. Of course I always thought that old temple was way too goth and gloomy. Tell me, does making such a mess really make you feel any better?"

Ares spun around to glare at Aphrodite, whose presence at that moment was more than he could deal with. "You want some too? Go on, try me. I'm just warming up."

"Listen to me, big boy, and chill for a minute, before you go redecorating the entire countryside? I'm really sorry about Joxie. You know I liked the guy. I don't frankly know what he saw in you, but I sure know I was starting to find you less of an obnoxious jerk thanks to his influence. Do you think going ballistic is going to bring him back?"

"Nothing will bring him back!"

"Unless you give up your godhood for his soul." At Ares' questioning glance, 'Dite shrugged and answered, "I heard about it all from dad. He's only playing by the rules, you know. It's not his fault you pissed off Hades by throwing your weight around too much before, and apparently did the same thing to whichever god decided to off Joxer. And no, I have no idea who it was, so don't even ask. You had to know that someday being so damn arrogant was going to catch up with you."

"Me, maybe. But not Joxer. He shouldn't have to pay for my mistakes, the enemies I made while simply doing my job."

"And enjoying it a little too much?"

He glared at her, ready to snipe back, but found that his anger had left him for the moment. Taking in the scene of destruction he had caused minutes ago that now left him feeling nothing but than more empty, more lost, he was shocked to finally understand it all. Everything was much too clear to him in that moment.

"I, didn't I, sis? That's why I feel so terrible now. There's an ache inside me that won't go away. I feel like I could turn the entire earth to ashes and not feel a damn bit better about myself. It's all meaningless, without him."

"I never said love was all roses and happiness, bro. There's a lot of heartache and pain. Always. But you can keep seeing him, can't you? Give Hades some time to cool out and he'll probably be more inclined to bend the rules for you and get Joxer out of Tartarus and into Elysia where he belongs."

"How much time? A century? Two? Three? By then Joxer's soul will be so twisted and tortured, I doubt he will be able to tell the difference. I can already see it in him. Every day that passes destroys what is left of him a little more."

"Then you know what you have to do, Ar. Forget him and go back to the way you used to be. Or pay the price to have him back."

"Give up my godhood. For a miserable mortal." He shook his head in disbelief. That he should even mutter the words, let alone consider them with anything more than dismissive laughter, was unfathomable.

Then why was he thinking about doing precisely that?

"For a miserable mortal you just admitted to me that you loved. Love means sacrifice, Ar, pure and simple. Ask yourself if you can really live without him. If you really can go back to the way you were before. And here's something else to consider- -it may be the only way to get the revenge you want so bad against whoever did this to Joxie."

"What do you mean?"

"Hel-lo, you're the devious one, you mean to tell me you didn't consider this yet? A god can't kill another god. Zeus' Primo Rule of Olympian Etiquette. But a mortal can kill whoever he wants. You do the math."

She was right. Damn. He hated it when that happened.

"I don't know what to do, 'Dite." He'd tasted mortality, briefly, twice before. The experience had been far from pleasant. Sure, he would be free to get revenge on Joxer's murderer, but how on Earth could a mortal man--even one who had once been the god of war--defeat a god?

She touched his shoulder gently, sympathetically. "No, I think you do know what you have to do, Ar."

He sighed. She was right again.

Chapter IV.

Joxer had drifted asleep thinking about Ares, as he often did when he managed to find a moment of solitude and quiet to escape into his dreams. Ares' recent visit was still fresh in his mind, lifting his long as he didn't start to wonder how long would pass before he would see the god again.

Quite to his most pleasant surprise, he found out when he awoke that he didn't have to wait very long at all.

At first he believed he was simply dreaming, as he slowly became aware of the feeling of a warm body molded against his own. Ares' body. But his dreams were rarely this vivid any longer, and normally nowhere near as pleasant as this. He opened drowsy eyes and looked about, recognizing instantly the familiar setting of the bedroom of the forest cabin. He shifted around in the embrace, finding Ares' waiting mouth for a kiss that was unquestionably the nicest possible way to chase any remaining feelings of sleepiness from his body. He tangled his fingers into the soft, ebony curls, inhaling deeply the familiar, complex scent of his immortal lover. Every time they were together like this, it made him feel alive again.

"'re back soon," he murmured, fingers tracing along the thin line of beard on the god's cheek, stopping at the moist, warm lips. He definitely liked waking up like this, already in one of Ares' illusionary little worlds. It made it much easier to pretend that they were really here in the small cabin in the woods instead of the cold, miserable Underworld.

"Guess I couldn't keep myself away."

Joxer frowned a little at the expression on Ares' face. He wanted to say the god looked almost...frightened of something, but he knew that was impossible. Maybe it was sadness he saw in those dark eyes; he couldn't quite tell. Ares never was the easiest one to try to read and understand, so with some trepidation he asked, "Is something wrong?"

Ares simply held his gaze for a long time in silence, then he sighed and pulled Joxer tighter against him, stroking the back of his head and neck with truly uncharacteristic tenderness. Still he said nothing, and an icy fear suddenly gripped Joxer's heart as he thought he understood what was happening: This is it. The last time I'll see him. He came here to say good-bye, didn't he? He couldn't get me out of here.

But before he had long to consider this dread possibility, Ares finally answered him, "What's wrong? Everything. I did the one thing I knew I could never allow myself to do. I fell in love. With you."

Joxer held his breath, not believing he'd just heard Ares properly. The god had called him "lover", had certainly treated him finer than he'd ever dreamed possible, but never had Ares flat out said that he loved him.

"Now I've paid the price for that mistake. And by the gods, Aphrodite had better be right that love is all you need, because right now that's all we have." Ares lessened his grip on Joxer's body and lay on his back, gazing up at the ceiling. Almost casually he added, "Oh, and by the way, you're not dead. Try to steer clear of Harpies this time."

Joxer bolted upright when, several seconds later, those last words sunk in his already numbed brain. "I' mean, I'm not..." He glanced all around the room again in disbelief. "We're really here? No illusion this time?"

"No illusion. Welcome home, Joxer."

Home...I'm alive?!

"We're really here! I don't...I'm not dead?!" He leapt out of the bed, needing to run to the open windows, to take a deep breath of air-- fresh air, the air of the living world. Yes, he could feel the difference now--how could he have not noticed right away?

"I'm alive, you hear that, world!" He couldn't figure out how to express himself properly and ended up just giving into laughter, mixed in with a good battle cry or two in celebration.

When he calmed down slightly from his initial delight, he jumped back into bed where Ares was waiting, looking as if he found Joxer's reaction to the news infinitely amusing. It had been too long since Joxer had seen one of Ares' rare, true smiles like he saw now, and that was perhaps the greatest gift of all. Joxer's words came pouring out as they always did when he was overexcited. "I knew you'd do it. I knew you would! I just can't believe it right now, you know? It's too much. But how did you do it, anyway? The last time I saw you, you said it was going to be a lot harder than you thought."

"It was. It was harder than anything I've ever had to do before. Hades and Zeus agreed on a price. It had to be very high, considering what I was asking of them. Hades hates to give up any soul once it has become one of his subjects, and Zeus hates doing anything against the rules that were established when the Titans were first overthrown."

"So what was the price?" Joxer asked anxiously.

"My sword."

Joxer stopped bouncing up and down in excitement for a moment and gave him a puzzled stare. "Your sword? But, you told me your sword was the source of your--" he stopped, mouth still hanging agape as for once his brain intercepted and kept him from finishing the sentence. Ares' sword was the source of his godhood. He couldn't have...he would never give up his godhood...for me?!

"...Powers," Ares finished for him. "Sad to say but it's true, Joxer. Say hello to the former god of war."

"Are you...are you telling me the truth?" he asked, numb with what had to be the biggest surprise of the morning, hands down. "Tell me you didn't give up everything, just for me."

"Why? If I'm nothing but a pathetic mortal like you, do you no longer want me? Was it only my power you loved?" Ares asked sharply.

"No! No, of course not! I meant that I can't be worth that much, not to you. Not to anyone."

"Joxer, trust me, this is not the kind of talk I need to be hearing right now. What's done is done. I'm feeling humiliated and miserable enough and could use a little reassurance that I had some good reason to bring you back."

Joxer wondered if it was possible to die simply from too many emotional shocks to the system. Probably not, otherwise he was certain he would be dead again any minute. He had known that the god (former god?!--that was going to take some getting used to...) enjoyed his company, but to love him this much? To sacrifice so much just for him? How could he even begin to express what this terrible knowledge was doing to him? How could he feel so wonderful and so awful at the same time? His joy at being released from the Underworld was suddenly mixed with such sadness, knowing how much it had cost the one person who meant more than anyone else to him. He never would have asked this of Ares. Never.

He wiped a hand across his suddenly wet eyes, struggling to fight back the tears that were threatening to fall. That was probably something Ares didn't need to deal with right now, either. He lay back down in Ares' waiting arms once more, trying to chase away the tears with long kisses, filled with more love and longing than he'd ever felt safe to express before.

"My life belongs to you. Forever..." he vowed when he could finally find words again.

"That's right, it does. But mine belongs to you, as well, Joxer. I couldn't go back to who I was before you came along, to wall myself away from ever feeling the things you made me feel. If this was the price I had to pay, then I had no choice but to do it."

"Can there any chance they'll change their minds, let you be a god again?"

"We'll see. There's always a way to get things done. Nothing is impossible. If I can't have my sword, there is always Ambrosia."

"Did you find out who did this?"

"No. Not yet. I will, though. In fact I'm sure it's only a matter of time before the fucker steps up to gloat over this."

"I'll kill the bastard myself if I can. For what he's done to you."

"You're the one who went to Tartarus, not me. Not yet, at least. And I do the killing in this relationship, remember?"

"Okay. Just promise me you'll let me watch you take him down. I want to at least get in a few punches."

Ares chuckled and promised, "You'll have a front-row seat, love. I wouldn't dream of denying you that." Then he sighed and rolled over on top of the lighter man, obviously finished with talk for the moment. Joxer understood and shared the sentiment entirely.

Hands rediscovered well-loved curves and sensitive places, almost as if they were completely new to the touch. Joxer tried to reconcile what he felt and saw with the knowledge that Ares was just a man now, no longer a god. The only thing that betrayed Ares was his eyes--the vulnerability there that Joxer had never seen before. In some ways it hurt, knowing he was responsible for its being there. He would make certain to find someway, someday, to properly repay the debt he owed Ares after this.

Neither man could wait long for release. There would be plenty of time later for leisurely affections. Too much had separated them for too long. Joxer looked up in anticipation when, after a few more fevered kisses, Ares took position between his spread legs. As fantastic as being a lover to a god was, there was something to seeing Ares, usually so focused, calm, and in control, looking almost unhinged by his carnal desires. No longer did distinctions of "god" and "mortal" separate them. They were just Ares and Joxer. Two men who wanted each other...needed each other.

"I love you," Joxer said, stating the fact without any trace of apology as he used to feel was necessary, for the god of war had no use for love. At least, that was what he had believed.

"I love you, Joxer."

Joxer winced in unexpected discomfort. Ares paused, giving him a confused look until he realized what was missing. "Oh. Sorry. This is going to take some...getting used to. Um..."

"You and me both. Let me help..." Joxer lowered his legs and urged Ares up towards him, until his tongue could meet the other's cock. He laved it slowly, lovingly, thrilling to each moan that followed his deliberate strokes.

"Now..." Joxer sighed after a short while, knowing he could not hold out any longer and sensing Ares couldn't either. This time when Ares entered him with greater ease, Joxer forced himself to keep his eyes open, to watch and savor his lover's reactions, even as his own senses rebelled against any attempt to maintain control. With every movement, every plunge deeper inside him, he felt closer to Ares than ever before. He marveled at the thrill of watching Ares make love to him as if the newly-mortal man had never experienced physical intimacy before.

"Joxer..." Ares groaned, his own eyes wide with confusion, need, and wonder.

"Tell me...what are you feeling..."

"So different...I can't...I can't control myself...Joxer...!" Ares cried out and pushed hard against him, bringing Joxer over the edge to completion just from the pleasure of seeing how overwhelmed Ares had become.

A few minutes later, Joxer dared to joke lightly, "So...was it still good for you?"

"It was...strange. Nowhere near as good, yet somehow a thousand times better. I couldn't explain it to you. You wouldn't understand."

"Try me."

"Later, maybe..." Ares yawned and asked irritably, "Damn, why do I feel so tired all of a sudden?"

Joxer couldn't help but smile. "I'll try to explain that later. Right now I think we could both use a little rest."


It was a rare event indeed--Joxer finding himself wide awake while the god of war was fast asleep. No, not the god of war any longer, he had to keep reminding himself. Ares. Just Ares now. Just a man, like me.

Hours had passed and he still couldn't quite believe it. It had been difficult enough to accept the idea that Ares had taken him as a lover months ago, that he had wanted Joxer with him whenever he was not preoccupied with the business of being a god. Now, to accept the fact that Ares loved him--and loved him enough to give up everything simply to give Joxer his life back, a chance to earn a place in Elysia next time he died instead of Tartarus...? No, that was impossible.

Completely impossible.

Yet that was exactly what had happened.

Now he was the one who was, oddly enough, in the position to lead, to teach. The responsibility frightened him. At the same time, he felt stronger and more sure of himself than ever. He had faced death, and had faced the prospect of eternal suffering, and had come back with relatively few scars. Surviving mortality day to day in this world seemed like nothing in comparison--though he knew Ares would probably not see things that way for a very long time.

Joxer didn't particularly want to leave Ares' side but he was restless. He was becoming horny, too, sitting there watching his beautiful, sleeping lover. He resisted the urge to wake him; there'd be time for more of that later. His excitement over being alive again was too much and he needed to step outside, to see the sun and feel its warmth on his skin, to feel soft grass beneath his bare feet. He found some clothes and made his way silently out of the house to revel in the beauty of the woods, all the little things he was certain he would never take for granted again. He ran towards the stream that etched its way down through the mountainside, to drink in some of its sparkling clear water and try to wash away the memories of the dark rivers of Tartarus, their foul smells and currents that chilled the soul.

He lay on the grass, staring up at the clouds and thinking for a long time. He knew this wasn't going to be easy. So many obstacles lay ahead for them both. He knew perfectly well Ares had more than his share of enemies, mortal and immortal. He would be a target to anyone who recognized him as the fallen god of war. Even Xena and Gabrielle might be a danger to Ares now--after all the grief he had caused them, could Joxer convince them that Ares had changed? Xena, after all, had reinvented herself, thanks to Hercules. Though only a mortal, she had found a path to redemption that most would not have believed the warrior princess ever could aspire to. Maybe she could understand, then, the change that had taken place in Ares.

But what about Hercules? Joxer had never particularly cared for the way Ares was so intent on causing his half-brother so much misery. Was there some way he could figure out to reconcile them? Or would Ares be too resentful now that Hercules was more powerful than he?

So many questions, so much to think about...still, no matter what it sure beat being stuck in Tartarus! Eventually he picked himself up and headed back towards the cabin, looking forward to starting on this new path through life, no matter what difficulties lay ahead for them both.


Something dark and distinctly malevolent chased him through his dreams. He knew he recognized its evil presence from somewhere, but fear kept him from stopping long enough to turn back and look at his pursuer. He just kept running, racing through the fog, trying to escape it, trying to escape the mirthless laughter of the creature trying to catch him...then he tripped and fell to the ground and--

Ares jerked awake, disoriented and finding his heart pounding rapidly from the terror of the nightmare. He tried to will it to slow down to normal, baffled for a moment when it failed to respond to his command. Why...oh, he remembered. Can't do that now. Can barely do anything now. He sat up and rubbed his face with his hands, feeling shaky and ill and wondering how he could have forgotten how utterly wretched it was to be mortal. Had he blocked these memories from his mind? These feelings of helplessness, of separation? The world seemed so dull and flat to his diminished senses, no longer able to feel the vibrations of energy and life that coursed through every living creature, no longer able to tune those vibrations to suit his will. The only time he had felt anything like his former self was while making love to Joxer, and even then he had been scared by the lack of control he now had over his body and emotions.

Did I make the right choice? he wondered, knowing it was a question he'd likely be asking himself quite often from this day forward. Not that it made a difference; the deed was done. No turning back. This cabin, this place, was the only thing they'd left him, the only remembrance of his past existence. Where once he had pondered petitioning Zeus to consider granting Joxer godhood, now he wondered how he might ever hope to reclaim his own status as such.

He'd given it all up for a few precious years--a few decades, if they were extremely lucky and avoided the fatal perils that mankind faced in this world--with a mortal.

Have I gone mad?

Very probably, he answered himself, adding, and where is that damn fool, anyway? as he noticed Joxer's absence. You'd think he'd have the courtesy of not wandering off on me after everything I've done for him.

Before he could go storming off searching for the errant man, he paused, feeling a peculiar prickling along the back of his neck. He knew what that feeling meant, even if it was dulled and just a trace of the sensitivity he used to possess. Another--a god--was near. He shivered involuntarily, suddenly remembering the dream...that presence that had chased him, laughed at him...

It was here.

More than that, he knew who it was, though it was impossible.


The violent flash before his eyes blinded him and he shrunk back in surprise. When his vision returned, he did not believe what his mortal eyes revealed to him.

"Hey Unc. Well, will you look at how the mighty have fallen."

"How can you--you're dead!"

"Correction: Was dead. But you should know how that goes...dead today, alive tomorrow." Strife shrugged as if it were no big deal. His crystal- like eyes glimmered with their usual gleeful mischief as he spoke, looking down at the dethroned god with a surprising air of superiority. "I guess not even Hind's Blood can keep a bad god down."

And then Ares saw it. The shining blade caught the sunlight as it hung snugly at Strife's side. My Sword... It called to his soul and he ached to hold it once more. When his eyes could tear themselves from the weapon, they looked up in shock at his former pupil's face. " was you?"

"'Friad so, Unc. Real sorry it had to be this way, nothing personal, you understand."

"You betrayed me...I was the one who taught you everything!"

"That you did, and I do thank you for it. I mean, if you hadn't..." Strife giggled, "do you think I could have figured out how to pull this off, and convince Zeus to give me your former position if I did?"

"So Zeus was in on this. And Hades, too."

"I knew Hades had it in for you, so I came to him with an idea. Even in the Underworld, gossip makes the rounds. I heard that there was some loser who was turnin' you soft. Zeus wasn't sure you were up for the job anymore. Me, I was driving Hades a little nuts, keepin' in practice in case I ever got a chance to make a break for it. So anything that would get me out of his hair and take you down at the same time sounded groovy to him!

"Hades 'n me, all we did was put you to the test, with Zeus' blessing. And you failed it, Unc." Strife shook his head, appearing downright disgusted by the sight in front of him.

"No." Somehow Ares couldn't summon the anger he thought he should feel, finally knowing the truth. He just felt cold, and betrayed. "I failed nothing. If you and the others can't see that...then I don't envy you. I pity you."

"Have it your way. Well, it's been fun, but I've got a lot of work to do: a temple to rebuild, catching up with mum, wars to start waging...if these mortals thought things were bad with you around, wait'll they see what I've got in store for them!"

And with a peal of laughter, Strife flashed away in a another blinding burst of light.

Ares wasn't sure how long he had been sitting there afterwards, staring off into nothing, feeling practically nothing, when he heard Joxer's voice calling his name.


He blinked and glanced over towards the doorway where Joxer stood watching him, hesitant to approach. He wondered what expression must have been fixed on his face to so obviously disturb his lover.

"Are you okay?" Joxer asked with worry.

What an absurd question. Only Joxer would ask something like that at a time like this. "'Okay'? Okay?! Am I...okay? I've given up everything: immortality, godhood, immeasurable power no mortal could even comprehend. I've been betrayed by my former student and worst of all, by my own father-- not that he ever gave a damn about me to begin with. And you want to know if I'm 'okay'. Yeah, I'm fucking peachy, Joxer, how about you?"

Joxer seemed for once at a loss for words, squirming a bit before admitting, "I...uh...I was gonna ask if there was anything to eat around here, 'cause I'm actually feeling kind of hungry."

Ares was silent for a moment, still glowering. Then he began to laugh. When he saw how his unexpected laughter was only perplexing Joxer further, he couldn't stop himself. He just kept laughing until his chest hurt and tears came to his eyes, and he couldn't for the life of him remember why he was laughing so damn hard. Only that it felt good, for it had been far too long since he'd had anything to laugh about.

"Did I miss something here?" Joxer queried uneasily, looking as if he feared Ares had completely lost his sanity.

Well, at least we're both of the same mind on that subject.

"Yes, but...nothing important. I'll tell you about it later." Ares stood and began searching for something to put on. "Let's see about finding us both something to eat. I asked my servants to leave some supplies behind before they were dismissed."

"Oh, okay." Joxer grinned, apparently relieved, then stepped gingerly over towards Ares and hugged him tightly.

"What's that for?"

"Like you have to ask."

"I do. I can't read your mind anymore, remember?"

"Oh, right. It's for everything. It's good to be alive again."

"Yes," Ares agreed, breathing in the scent of the earth and forest that clung to Joxer's warm skin, not needing anything but his mortal senses to realize how precious was this closeness they shared...the love he had found after denying it for so long.

"Yes, Joxer. It is good to be alive."

:: The End ::

Continue on to the sequel Between Sunsets and Dawn.

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