I don't own the characters from HTLJ and XWP. Renpic does. I'm not making any money off this either.
This is a serious story. It has lots of angst, and though I think everyone will be happy in the end, the journey there will have some unpleasant parts. These will include abuse both physical and emotional. There will hopefully be enough humor and happy parts to make the rest worth it. I rate it R for some m/m sex, implied f/f sex, violence, and some bad words.
This was supposed to be a direct sequel to Thunderstorm, but though it deals with the issues raised in that story, it can be read on its own.
Parings: Ares/Joxer, Joxer/Autolycus, Autolycus/Strife, and Xena/Gabby. At least those are the one's I'm sure of. Oh, Cupid and Psyche are here too, but they don't get any action. LOL
All comments and suggestions welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Part 1: Realizations and Decisions
Joxer trudged through the downpour wondering just who on Olympus was upset and why. He had no particular destination in mind. He just walked aimlessly. He had no idea where he was. He had a terrible sense of direction. He looked around and saw big trees and wondered how he had wound up in a forest.
He felt dispirited and alone. Xena and Gabby were off gods only knew where . . . not that they'd want him along. A sad smile tugged at his mouth at that thought, but never touched his usually warm brown eyes. He was incompetent at some things. Well, he amended to himself, at a lot of things, but he was not stupid. Why people thought he was stupid was beyond him. He wondered if being a fool was the same as being stupid. He didn't think so, but what did he know?
It seemed that his thoughts were destined to get gloomier and gloomier for he suddenly found himself thinking of Autolycus. He shook his head in an attempt to dispel the thoughts, but it was useless. He suddenly spotted a building ahead and hurried his step. "If I'm gonna get depressed, may as well do it out of the rain," he muttered to himself. His expression suddenly brightened; it was a temple to Ares. He took a second to wonder why a temple to the God of War would be in the middle of nowhere, then shrugged and entered.
He thought it might be a sacrilege to shelter from a storm in the War God's temple, but didn't really care. Besides, this wasn't any ordinary storm. More than once he'd thought a thunder bolt would split him in two, and those wicked flashes right before him were really something to see. It was because of one of those flashes that he was able to even see the temple.
"Whoa! Look at that."
The way Joxer saw it was that if Ares had a problem, then he could come and tell him. Not that Ares had ever paid him any attention before, none of the gods had. Then he thought of the goddess of love and grimaced. Ok, maybe some did, but it was never for any good reason. He felt like the universe's joke. He could never do anything right. He was no kind of hero or warrior . . . . The only thing he was remotely good at was music, and he only played to cheer himself up. He'd played for Auto before . . .
He suddenly sat down on the cold floor and wondered for the millionth time what Ares saw in the color black. At the moment Joxer found it soothing but normally the color black was too depressing for him. He reached into his pack and pulled out a leather wrapped bundle and slowly unwrapped it. Inside was a finely crafted lyre. It looked delicate but Joxer knew just how strong it was. Its wooden frame should have made it bulky and heavy, but it was light and easy to carry. Joxer gently plucked at the strings amazed at the instrument's ability to stay practically tuned on its own. The tears he'd been holding back all day came to his eyes and he no longer fought them. He figured he was as safe here as he'd be anywhere, and if someone wanted to kill him, he wouldn't try too hard to stop them. There was really nothing for him anywhere.
His fingers absently stroked the lyre strings bringing forth a haunting melody. It was slow and soft almost hypnotic in its sadness and beauty. Joxer saw nothing special in his tune he wasn't really aware that he was playing. The memories came and he let them wash over him.
After the adventure with Meg and the baby that was really a king, Auto and he had continued traveling together. There had always been attraction between them but they had never acted on it. Well, there had been that kiss after the Cleopatra mess involving his brother. At the thought of his brother a shiver ran through him. The thief and he had traveled together after that for a while as well.
This time things had been different. Auto had been really nice and considerate. He'd smiled at him a lot and flirted with him. Joxer couldn't help but flirt back. The thief was gorgeous and knew it. He'd even offered to teach Joxer some of the tricks of his trade. Joxer had been dazzled by this good-looking man's flirtatious ways. The fact that he'd always been attracted to the thief didn't help. It had been Autolycus who had bought the lyre for Joxer. He'd seen it through the window of a music shop and he'd fallen in love with it. He'd mentioned it to the thief and that afternoon it had been his. He thought now that the thief had probably stolen it.
That night Autolycus had asked Joxer if he could play and he had. He'd improvised and Autolycus had seemed genuinely impressed. "That's lovely. I'd heard that you enjoyed music, but not that you could play so beautifully."
"Oh . . . . Well . . ." he'd stammered, blushing all the while, his pale skin making it easy for the thief to see the effect of his words. "I'm out of practice . . . . My father didn't think it was proper for a son of his to be a musician, so I had to sneak around to take lessons, but he eventually found out and I convinced myself that music wasn't . . ." He'd trailed off at that point as an old sorrow he'd thought was buried almost overwhelmed him.
Autolycus had reached out and taken his hand sliding over until their hips had been touching. He'd gently slid his arms around the wannabe warrior's waste and pulled him close. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to drag out old memories. You're really good, Joxer. I'm not just saying that."
He'd found himself resting his head against Auto's shoulder, believing in his words. Even now, he still believed them. It had been a week since they'd parted company and Joxer was still reeling from events of his months spent with the thief.
They'd become lovers, not that night but soon after. He'd been astonished at Autolycus' gentleness, his tender touches and warm sweet kisses. Joxer had felt all the hurt and fear he'd always lived with melt away in Auto's arms. He'd felt cherished . . . . Cared for . . . . He'd lived in a dream for weeks. They'd argued on occasion but Joxer had been able to live with that because he knew that after the anger faded away they would be in one another's arms again. He'd been foolish enough to think that Autolycus was falling in love with him and the thief had done nothing to make him think anything else.
Joxer had not known then that Autolycus really loved someone else and that though he cared for Joxer, if by some miracle his lover would come back to him, Joxer would not stand a chance. One good thing had come out of the time he'd spent with Autolycus, he'd been given back his music. He knew that he was not the best, or even very good, but he could make a living off his playing. He'd been a distraction sometimes when Auto had been doing a job. He'd play for the nobles, guards, or whatever and the thief would slip in and get what he wanted then wait for Joxer to finish his performance. He would usually be paid for his playing, though not always. But it didn't matter to him because he just liked music for its own sake and would have played for the joy of it. It also made it easier for Autolycus to do his job. He shook his head at himself and vowed once more that he would not let music equal Autolycus in his mind.
He suddenly had a revelation that if he was going to be a musician he could not worship Ares. He'd been a worshiper of the War God all his life. He prayed when things were good, bad, just because he'd lived through another day. Now he had to pray to say goodbye? He thought about that for a while his fingers still plucking the strings of his lute. The melody had shifted from one of sorrow to one not so sad, but still lonely. As he continued to play he spoke in slow measured tones . . .
"Ares, you know I've prayed to you all my life. I've tried my best to be someone you could be proud of. I know! It's sort of probably dumb and that ya probably don't care about one lousy mortal but I . . . I can't be a warrior. I figure you've always known that but it took someone to make me see that the warrior's path isn't for me. I've always loved music and I've been convinced that I can be better as a musician than I'll ever be as a fighter. I guess I just want to say goodbye. I don't know where I'll go from here, or what I'll do but I know I can't keep living like this. See, I learned a long time a go that nothing I did would please my family. I was just never good enough!" A note of bitterness crept into his voice at that last statement, but it was quickly gone.
"Somewhere in my head I thought that maybe if you noticed me then they'd be proud of me, somehow! Then I wound up meeting Xena and Gabby and hanging with them. I thought I loved Gabby and that I could make her love me. But then she and Xena got together and I knew that I would never have her. Which was alright, because I guess what I feel for her . . . . She treated me like a person sometimes and she smiled and she was so pretty but," he sighed. "This doesn't matter. I guess you've always had better things to do than to listen to a poor excuse for a warrior mortal praying to you all the time, so I'll go now and won't ever bother you again."
On Olympus, in her home temple, Aphrodite threw an expensive vase across the room in her rage. It was not supposed to go this way. "What are you doing Joxy? You're supposed to realize that you love that dark, tall, dangerous hunk of god. Arg! Cupid!!!!" she mentally bellowed.
On another part of Olympus, the relatively young, very happily married god of love came awake with a start. "Now what's mom done?" He asked himself, feeling annoyance towards his mother. "I'm coming! Shut up you'll wake up your grandson." That made her stop, for though she didn't much like Psyche, she loved her grandson.
"Well, hurry up!" She snapped but her tone was much quieter. Maybe only half of Olympus could here her this time. He groaned softly and rose. "Wawrong!"
"Mom's done something and probably wants me to fix it. I'll be home as soon as I can."
"Loveya too." With those words he blinked out of his home and to his mother's.
He found her pacing and muttering. His eyes widened at the broken glass. His mother loved beauty and that vase had been that. It must be huge if she was breaking things in her home. Cupid knew that his mother only brought the best offerings home for herself. The rest she either left in her temples on Earth or used to help poor mortals. His mother was a complicated woman, though most only saw what she wanted them to see.
"Mom?" He asked tentatively. "What is it? What's the matter?"
"I, don't, know! That is why I have called you!"
"Oooohkaaaaayeee. Wanna tell me who this involves." His mother was in a fine rage, which probably meant death to someone. Most thought her air headed, self-absorbed, cruel . . . . The list went on and on. There were only a few on Mt. Olympus who knew that though she could be self-absorbed and cruel, she was not air headed. His mum was usually kind and caring with a tender heart. She truly loved daddy Heph, which most people could not credit. The god of smiths was lame and could not give mom kids, but that was all right with her. With both of them Cupid guessed. Ares was his father, but not much of a dad. He kept everyone at a distance except for mom and Heph. He suddenly realized that his mom had been speaking. Uh oh!
"And now Joxer has renounced Ares and what in Tartarus am I supposed to do?"
"Can you slow down? What does Joxy have to do with Ares? You know father never pays him any attention. Since that mess with Dahak he hasn't been paying much attention to anything. It's amazing grandfather hasn't-"
"Enough! What do you know of the Dahak affair? It would have been a disaster if your father hadn't acted as he did. Then we'd probably all be dead, or slaves. You should go speak with your grandfather and get the whole story from him. I am on the council but I'm just not into the whole war thing. It's really grody. Ok, now pay attention! I was watching Herc and Iolaus and Ares, then Herc proposed to Iolaus, and Ares just started the huge thunderstorm that's raging out there, so I decided it was time for him to get together with his true love, you know? So, I peeked to see what Joxy was doing-"
"Mom! Joxer is my father's true love?"
"Yes! Now let me finish. Joxy was tromping through the woods. I've never met someone with such a lack of direction, but then he got to that little temple in that secluded glade where Ares likes to go when he's really bummed, and plopped himself down in the middle of the floor and told Ares that he couldn't, like, be a warrior anymore cause his true path lay in music. Eewwww! What am I going to do and who made him get that? I mean it's true, but . . . . Like, it's too soon for him to know. They're supposed to be together. I've seen it and while I'm not as good as Apollo when I see something, especially to do with my job, it's true."
"Mom, I haven't seen anything like that."
"Our jobs aren't exactly the same. You have more to do with romance and puppy love. The types of relationships that help one grow into who they will become. I deal with the real, lasting sort of thing."
"He spent time with Autolycus. I sort of helped them get together. I figured that if Strife was gone and Joxy was alone, why not?"
"Why not??? I'll tell you why! Because Joxer is meant to be with Ares. Now he's decided that he's not a warrior so Ares can't protect him anymore!!!"
"Maybe it's not time yet. Have you thought of that?"
"It has to be time."
"Why!!!" Cupid was now getting angry. His mother tended to know what she was doing unless she was angry or jealous, or when she cared about the people involved. "What makes you think it's time? The fact that Joxy's little blond interest has disappeared and gotten together with the Warrior Princess? The fact that your brother is moping? The fact that without the protection of the gods that little mortal would be dead? Come on, mom!"
"Don't take that tone with me! I was doing this way before you were thought up, kidooe. So, like, chill! If I say it's time for something, then it is!"
"Aphrodite!" The voice out of nowhere made them pause.
"Hey, big bro!" She waved a hand and suddenly Hercules and Iolaus appeared..
"Umm! That was quick!"
"Don't worry love we're safe. Dite, will you marry us?"
A speculative gleam entered her eye. "Course big bro! Can you do me a favor? When? Oooo! It's gonna be great. We can invite the family and-?
"Little sis! I was just thinking a small one with friends and maybe dad. Uh, a favor! What kind of favor?" He had a bad feeling about that and Iolaus was shaking his head in dread.
"Just a teensy little one! I need you to check up on Joxer."
"I'm worried about him. He hasn't been himself lately. He's been depressed and please!" She let tears fill her eyes and stuck her lower lip out in a pout. Hercules laughed a little helplessly. "Alright Dite. That should be simple enough. We'll go find him and talk to him and maybe get him to travel with us awhile. Will that be ok?"
"That'll be great! You're the best bro! I'll just send you guys to where he's at." She waved her hand in a circular motion and they vanished.
Ares sat back on his throne open-mouthed. He could not believe what he was hearing. He was being told goodbye by that . . . Joxer? Who did that little mortal think he was? He was nothing, nothing! If it hadn't been for Ares then he would have been dead long ago. It was only that Ares had been sort of protecting him. Not that any one knew or anything, or that it meant anything. It's just that he needed power to keep all the wars going and Joxer was a devoted follower and he needed that. It wasn't that Joxer made him smile or that if he had a bad day he'd just watch the mortal and feel better. No! It didn't hurt and he certainly didn't feel betrayed!
The flash of light in his temple, how had Joxer found his way there anyway, made him blink. What was Apollo doing there in his retreat?
"In, 'in !!!"
Joxer looked up startled. "Hello, Apollo. Why are you here in Ares' temple? Should you be here?"
"No, little one, I probably shouldn't be here, but I was entranced by your music. You drew me like a moth to a flame."
'Like a moth to a flame?' Joxer thought but said nothing.
The god continued. "I've come with an offer. Here me out before you say anything! You've just ended your association with Ares, which leaves you at loose ends. I've come to offer my personal training to you in whatever area of music you want to study. You seem to have a special gift for playing instruments, though with your lack of coordination I find that amazing."
'Oh yea,' thought Ares. Make him go to you by telling him he's a disaster area all on his own. He was, but Ares didn't think you gained followers by pointing out their flaws. Although he'd always found Joxer's lack of coordination and common sense entertaining. For once, he wondered why Joxer hadn't sworn himself to Apollo much younger. He'd heard the mortal play before on a poorly made lute and had been surprised at the sound Joxer had been able to coax from the badly made instrument. He thought he might look into that. There was something very uncommical about Joxer right then and Ares wasn't laughing. He leaned forward to watch.
"Ok. I'll go with you," replied Joxer.
"Just like that mortal? You won't even give it some thought?"
"What is there to think about? It isn't like I have much else going for me. I think I maybe would have come to you on my own much sooner if I'd had a bit of encouragement from somewhere. Maybe my so-called friends. Shall we go?"
'He should be honored that I'm offering him training. What is the matter with him,' thought Apollo! Oh well, I'll figure that out later. I'll have three students and that's what matters enough to put on my shows and maybe get my father's attention.
"Alright then! Let's go."
He reached out and took the mortal's hand disappearing without the flash of light he'd used in his entry.
Half a second later Hercules and Iolaus walked into the temple expecting to see Joxer and surprised when they found nothing.
"He's not here, Herc. Could your sister have made a mistake?"
"I don't know. I guess but we're here, so let's take advantage of the cozy little place." The demigod said holding out his arms for Iolaus who grinned and flew into them.
Ares flashed into his woodland temple. "Out!! I want you two out of here!" The roar did nothing for the demigod who glared at his brother. Iolaus however was a bit taken aback.
"Brother dear; Will you never learn manners?"
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't fry you and that pint-sized little blond of yours!"
"I'm under Zeus' protection and if you hurt Iolaus-" he sputtered to a stop because he couldn't think of what he'd do. "Dite asked us to come check up on Joxer who was supposed to be here and obviously isn't! Ares, there's a storm out there the likes of which I've never seen before and we don't have some automatic transportation methods."
"He's with Apollo." Ares voice was strangely subdued and his eyes were lowered so the look in them could not be seen.
"He's always been a devoted follower of yours! What's he doing with Apollo?"
Ares looked up, his dark eyes blazing with rage and something else. Something Hercules had never before seen in those eyes---pain. "Learning music because I never pay him any attention, or so he said in his goodbye. I don't think he set out to leave with Apollo but he's gone now." He started out yelling the words at his half--brother but finished in a barely audible whisper.
"Oh! I guess we'll go. Unless you'd let us stay here?"
"Go ahead," and the War God was gone.
Ares decided it was time to do some research and flashed to his home on Olympus. He passed around the main room picking up weapons then discarding them. He finally picked up a sword and once more flashed out of his temple.
He arrived in a long mirrored hall, but unlike most mirrors, these did not reflect his image back at him. They were blank as if covered by sheets. He reached out a hand and pressed it against one of the mirrors and it slid aside. For several seconds he stood there contemplating what he was about to do. Some said it changed you, others had gone through one and come out just as they'd gone in. It was said that long ago his father had entered one and come out the cheating husband and bad father he was. Ares shrugged his broad shoulders and took a deep breath. These mirrors gave you access to the past, present, and the most likely future, but unlike the mirrors where you could view events when you entered one of these glasses, it was said that you lived events, but could not change them. The viewer became an actual participant in whatever unfolded before them. They got to view events with the full range of emotions that the person they were watching had experienced. He tried to tell himself that he could just use a normal mirror and call up the past, but that didn't feel right. He had never been able to understand Joxer by using a regular scrying mirror so now he would try this. He set down the sword he'd brought with him, took another deep breath, and stepped through the mirror. It closed behind him, no longer blank, but showing the events Ares would experience.