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Continued from Part One.

Ares thought a visit to his main temple in Thrace would help. Kick back on his throne and soak up some adoration from his followers for a while, maybe stir up some trouble between a warlord or three, that kind of thing. He even considered asking Eris to torment those damned lovers in Celaenae, but she'd probably laugh in his face and tell him to get stuffed; having Discord for a sister put a real strain on family relations at times.

It didn't matter, he couldn't get that silly mortal out of his thoughts.

Damn. Damn Aphrodite to—, well, he couldn't think of a place deep or dark enough to send her. Nothing was torment enough, not after what she was putting him through. Falling in love with a mortal, indeed. He'd show her.

Yeah, right. Who was he kidding? He wanted Joxer, wanted him more than he'd ever wanted anyone, mortal or immortal. When he closed his eyes, all he could see was the water beading off the mortal's skin, rolling down that smooth white back to catch in the little dimple at the base of Joxer's spine, right above his ass. He could still feel the heat of their kiss on his lips, the way Joxer's mouth opened so sweetly beneath his....

Damn. He ran a hand through his hair, absently twining a curl around his finger. This was doing him no good at all.

Maybe if he just gave in and banged the mortal for all he was worth, that would get all this love nonsense out of his system once and for all. It couldn't hurt and it might even be fun. Actually, Ares was sure it would be fun. Joxer was incredibly responsive, he'd participated in the kiss with amazing enthusiasm for a mortal once he'd gotten over the initial shock of being kissed by a god. If Ares hadn't been so overwhelmed by what he was feeling at the time, he would have just taken Joxer on the riverbank, right then and there. There was something to be said for spontaneity, after all.

That settled it. He would go find Joxer, have his fun and be on his way. The mortal was a distraction, and he couldn't afford any distractions right now. Besides, Joxer looked like he could use a good fuck, and Ares knew that was one service he could provide quite well. The mortal should feel honored to have the attention of a god, and Ares would see that they both enjoyed themselves thoroughly; he took no pleasure in an unwilling partner, something that many of his fellow gods couldn't seem to understand. Well, he'd always been different.

Ares closed his eyes, felt the slow unfurling of his power and sent out a delicate tendril of thought. He found the spark that was Joxer and was momentarily amazed by how brightly the man's soul glowed. One expected that of Hercules or Xena, not wayward fools like Joxer and Ares wondered why no-one had spotted the man's potential before. Probably because no-one had ever bothered to look. He set that thought aside to ponder another day, gathered his power around him and flashed out, using the light of Joxer's soul as a beacon to guide him.

He found Joxer sitting on a hay bale, patiently tearing a length of white cloth into rags by the flickering light of an oil lamp. The mortal had traded his brown homespun for a pair of finely woven pearl-grey trousers and boots of soft black doeskin. He wore no shirt and Ares took a moment to admire the way the lamplight limned his skin with gold.

Joxer started at his arrival, but did not look up, keeping his eyes fixed on his lap while his hands mechanically went about shredding the cloth. "Don't you ever use the door like a normal person?" he said.

Ares frowned. "I'm a god, Joxer. I don't do things like everybody else."

"I noticed."

"You don't seem very happy to see me. I'm hurt."

"Yeah, well, sorry."

There was something else going on here, something under the surface, something Joxer was trying to hide. The man was nervous, twitchy, and Ares could sense he was conflicted about something. He tried to read Joxer's thoughts, but they kept slipping past his gentle probes and scattering off into chaos. Ares was afraid to look deeper. Mortal minds were fragile and had an annoying tendency to fry to a crisp when you pushed too hard.

Emotions were easier, and Joxer projected his loud enough to be heard on Olympus. There was a great deal of anger, far more than Ares had expected to find, and fear, mixed with a healthy—or unhealthy, depending how one looked at it—dose of guilt.

And desire. Oh, yes, there was desire. Ares closed his eyes and let Joxer's longing wash over him like a caress, his whole body vibrating with pleasure.

Ares peered over Joxer's shoulder to get a better look at what the mortal was doing. He felt Joxer shiver as his vest brushed the bare skin of Joxer's back, heard the mortal's breathing speed up, could almost feel the pounding of Joxer's heart. "That's a silk shirt you're shredding," he said into Joxer's ear.

"I was trying to pull the ruffles off and it tore," Joxer said. Ares noticed the slight wavering of the mortal's voice and smiled.

"So you kept on tearing it?"

"Hey, everybody needs to let off steam once in a while."

"There are better ways of letting off steam, Joxer." He leaned in closer, his beard brushing lightly against Joxer's cheek.

"Really?" The mortal's voice was barely audible.

"Mm. Much more fun, too."


Whatever the mortal was going to say cut off with a gasp as Ares kissed the side of his neck, just beneath his ear. Ares licked and nipped his way down Joxer's long neck to the join of his shoulder and Joxer moaned, his hands convulsively twisting and knotting the silk shirt in his lap. Oh, yes. Very responsive, indeed.

"Stop," said Joxer.

Ares stopped, brought up short by the almost desperate tone in Joxer's voice. "Why?" he said.

"I can't do this," said Joxer, and rose off the bale.

Joxer was walking away. From him, from the God of War. Ares felt a flash of anger. Mortals did not walk away from the God of War unless he told them to.

He grabbed Joxer's arm. "Where do you think you're going?"

Joxer flinched and twisted in his grasp, his face screwed up in pain. "Don't!" he said, and Ares released him with a frown. He hadn't grabbed Joxer that hard.

Joxer took a step back and stared at him, his face a mask of wildly conflicting emotions. Ares took a closer look at the mortal and noticed for the first time the black and purple bruises on Joxer's upper arms.

Joxer followed his gaze and crossed his arms over his chest, his broad hands covering the marks as best he could. "You did that," he said, "at the river." It was not quite an accusation.

Ares blinked. He hadn't realized he'd harmed Joxer. It certainly hadn't been his intention. "Does it hurt?"


The mortal looked at him expectantly. Ares raised an eyebrow. "What?"

"This is the point where you're supposed to say you're sorry."

Ares stared. "For what?"

"For hurting me."

"Joxer, I'm a god."

"And being a god means never having to say you're sorry?"

"Something like that. It's not my fault you mortals are so fragile." He added as an afterthought, "I can heal it."

"No thanks."

"What, you like pain? Kinky."

"It makes a good reminder."

"Of what?"

"Of what it means to be a cosmic joke."


The mortal shook his head. "Never mind."

This was not going the way he had planned. Joxer was resisting him, which a mortal should not do. It wasn't from lack of attraction, he could see the evidence of Joxer's arousal quite plainly and Ares wondered if the man knew just how tightly those grey pants fitted to his skin.

He shook his head, trying to bring his thoughts back in focus. "What's going on here, Joxer? What are you hiding?"

Joxer flushed and looked away. "Nothing."

Ares caught hold of his chin and forced Joxer to look at him. "Say that to my face."

Joxer's eyes were wild. "What do you want from me?"

"I want to fuck you."

"So I'm just supposed to give it up?"

"That's the idea."


Ares stepped over the hay bale and marched Joxer backwards until the mortal's back fetched up against the wall. "What did you say?"

"I said, no." Joxer's voice came out in a strangled squeak, but his eyes never lost their resolve.

Ares traced the hard swell of Joxer's cock through his trousers, feeling it quiver and jump beneath his touch. "You want me, mortal."

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean I have to fuck you just because you say so."

Ares took a step back, studying Joxer's face. "You're not making sense. You want to fuck me, but you won't because I want you to?"

"Not exactly. It's hard to explain."

"Try me."

Joxer closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I won't do it because you expect me to. Like it's my duty or something."

"Joxer, you're a mortal."

"I know."

"I'm a god."

"I know."

"So, what's the problem?"

"You just don't get it, do you?"

"What's there to get? You're turning me down."

"Not exactly."

"Then would you try to make some sense? I am not following your logic here."

"Why don't you try asking Aphrodite? I'm sure she could explain it to you."

Unbelievable. The mortal should feel honored to have the attention of a god, yet he showed absolutely no appreciation for what Ares was trying to offer him. Well, it was Joxer's loss.

"Fine," said Ares, and turned to leave.


"What is it, Joxer?"

"I do want you. You know that. Just—not like this."

Ares shook his head. "Whatever," he said, turned to the left and stepped through until he was back at his temple.

He collapsed in a sprawl across his throne. Damn that obstinate little fool! Who did he think he was, anyway?

His anger did nothing to lessen his desire for the mortal. If anything, it made it worse because he could not get over the nagging suspicion that Joxer was right. That he, Ares, had missed the point somehow.

He was not going to go ask Aphrodite's advice. He just wasn't. That would be all too humiliating. Cupid was right out, too; he'd just run and tell his mama. Hera? No, she disapproved of liaisons with mortals in a big way. Hephaistos was clueless, even after being married to 'Dite for so long, and Apollo would tell him to just bend Joxer over the nearest chair and be done with it. Hestia would at least be sympathetic, but what did the oldest Olympian virgin know about sex?

So, there was nobody in his family he could talk to. That left friends, except Ares didn't really have any friends.

Damn. It wasn't like it was his fault; he was a god, nothing was ever his fault. No, there was something else going on, some other reason why Joxer refused him. What had he said? 'I want you, but not like this.' Ares pondered that for a while. Not like what? Not in a barn?

No, that wasn't it. Beneath the fear and the lust Joxer had felt guilty, as though his morals had been compromised somehow. Compromised by what? By his own desire? Could the little fool actually feel guilty for his attraction to the God of War?

Yes, if Joxer still loved Gabrielle.

That had to be it. Joxer harbored feelings for Gabrielle and believed he was being disloyal to her by wanting someone else. It galled Ares to be put on equal footing with that fiery scrap of a girl, but where Joxer was concerned the rules just did not apply.

Gabrielle and Xena belonged to each other; there was no way Joxer could ever hope to come between them. The mortal had to know that. So, what hold did the bard have over Joxer that could possibly compare with the God of War?

Ares didn't know, but he meant to find out.

He found Gabrielle alone, asleep beneath the wide, sheltering branches of an ancient oak. Ares sensed Xena nearby, probably out collecting breakfast or just relaxing by herself in the first rays of the morning sun, so he took the precaution of setting up a ban around the campsite to prevent any unwanted interruptions. Xena always seemed to know when he was near, and he did not want her barging in before he and Gabrielle finished their little chat.

Ares settled on the ground beside Gabrielle and lightly tickled her ear.

The bard brushed irritably at his hand. "Stop that, Xena," she murmured. Ares tickled her again and Gabrielle's eyelids fluttered, then opened wide as she saw who lay beside her.

She sat up in shock. "Ares!"

"Wakey, wakey."

"What are you doing here?"

"I thought we might have a little talk about a mutual acquaintance of ours."

"If you think for a minute I'm going to discuss Xena with you—"

Ares shook his head. "You've got it all wrong. Xena is the last person on my mind these days."

"Then who—? Joxer. You want to talk to me about Joxer."

"Aha, the girl is quick."

Gabrielle couldn't repress a smile. "You're really stuck on him, aren't you? That Aphrodite's Kiss must be strong stuff."

"Yes. Such a shame you and Xena won't be able to see how it works on your little friends in Celaenae. But I'm not here to gloat."

"You're not?"

He ignored the sarcasm. "No. I just want a better understanding of your charms."

Ares enjoyed the look of surprise that crossed her features. "Excuse me?"

"You hold a certain fascination for our mutual friend," he said, toying with a lock of her rose-gold hair. "I want to know why."

Gabrielle pulled beyond his reach. "Why should you care what Joxer thinks of me?"

"I'm curious."

Gabrielle studied his face. A wicked little smile slowly spread across her features. "No," she said. "You're not curious. You're jealous."


"You are. You're jealous of his crush on me."

Ares felt a flash of temper and looked away before the urge to lash out at the girl became too strong. "That's ridiculous."

"It's still the truth. I can see it in your eyes. You're here to check out the competition."

He grabbed her by the throat before he could stop to think about it. "Who are you to compare yourself to a god?"

The girl had spirit, she didn't even flinch. "I'm not the one doing the comparing," she said evenly.

Ares released her as suddenly as he had caught her, and walked to the edge of the camp. He had to get a rein on his temper before he did something drastic. Joxer would never forgive him if he harmed Gabrielle.

"That's the problem, isn't it?" said Gabrielle. "Joxer can't decide which of us he wants more and it's eating you up inside."

Ares whirled and this time Gabrielle did flinch away from the force of his anger. "You don't even want him," he snarled. "You just like the power you have over him."

"And you don't?"

That stopped him short. He hated to admit it, but she had a point. "That's not the same," he said. "I'm a god."

"So?" said Gabrielle. "We're not talking about worship here. We're talking about love."

"There's a difference?"

"Yes, there's a difference! How could you not know that? Haven't you ever been in love before?"


Gabrielle stared at him. "Never?"


"I'm sorry."

He looked away from the pity in her eyes. She was a mortal. Mortals weren't supposed to pity the gods, it was supposed to be the other way around.


"What?" he snapped.

"Maybe I could help you."

"Teach me how to love, you mean?" He laughed. "Xena might have something to say about that."

"Oh, I don't know. She likes a challenge, and teaching War to Love would be a big one, even for her."

"I'd prefer to keep this between us. For now, anyway."

Gabrielle shrugged. "Suit yourself." She sat down on the bedroll, folding her legs neatly beneath her. "Have a seat."

He stared. "What?"

"I can't talk to you if you're glowering at me from across the camp." She pointed to a nearby stump. "Sit."

Gabrielle never could resist the urge to teach. Ares shrugged and decided to indulge her. It might even be amusing.

"Ok," she said, rubbing her hands together. "So. What exactly has Joxer done to upset you?"

"He resists me. He's not respectful enough. He even argues with me."

"This is a problem?"

"It is in a mortal."

"Ok, leaving the whole god-and-mortal thing aside for a moment, what you're basically telling me is that Joxer isn't giving you what you want. Am I right?"

Ares nodded.

"And I think I'm probably right in assuming that what you want is, uh, him."

"If you mean, do I want to fuck him until his brains turn to mush and he can't remember his own name, the answer is yes."

Gabrielle blushed hotly. "Well. That's more than I needed to know, but ok. You're sharing, this is good. So. Have you, uh, approached him about this?"



Ares looked away. He didn't want to talk about that, about Joxer refusing him.

"Ares? Hey, don't clam up on me now, you're doing great. Ok. So. You asked Joxer to go to bed with you and, from the look on your face, I'm going to assume that he said no."

He did not deny it.

"Ok. Let me ask you this: How exactly did you ask Joxer to sleep with you?"

Ares frowned. "Why should that matter?"

"It just does. I mean, did you try to romance him or did you just walk in and say, 'Here are all your dreams come true, fall down and worship me'?"

Ares said nothing.

"That's what you did, didn't you? You walked in playing hail the conquering hero and he told you to get stuffed. Oh, good for you, Joxer!"

Ares glared. "I thought you were trying to help me."

"I am trying to help you." Gabrielle sighed. "Look, you're never going to get anywhere if you keep treating him like one of your warlords who has to obey your every whim."

"I'm a god," he said with exaggerated patience. What was it with these mortals? They kept missing the point.

"And Joxer's a person. You should try treating him like one."

"I do."

"No, you treat him like a piece of furniture."

"That's what being a god is about."

"Maybe so, but that's not what love is about."

Ares shook his head. "This is pointless."

"No, it—"

"Save your breath, Gabrielle. My nature is, and always will be, War. Only a fool would think otherwise."

"Then you're well paired with Joxer because he's the biggest fool I've ever met," said a voice from just beyond the camp.

Ares turned and saw Xena standing right at the edge of the ban. "How long have you been there?" he said.

"Long enough. You going to let me in?"

He waved a hand, dispersing the energy back down into the earth. Xena stepped cautiously over the spot where the ban had lain, crossed the camp and stood defiantly before him.

"You want my advice, Ares?" Xena said. "Leave Joxer alone before you hurt him."

Ares walked a slow circle around the glaring warrior. "Strange as this might seem, I don't want to hurt him."

"Then what do you want? His love?"

"Why not?"

"You don't even know what that means."

"You're right. I don't. But I know I can't let him go."

"That's just the enchantment talking. As soon as Aphrodite removes it, you'll forget all about Joxer."

Ares shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. But right now, I want him."

"Well, sounds to me like you're not going to get him."

Ares smiled. "We'll see about that," he said, gathered his power around him and was gone.

+ + +

Joxer was unable to sleep after Ares left. Sleep left him vulnerable, and what if the god decided to come back? Joxer's mind conjured vivid images of Ares alone with his sleeping body, and he squirmed uncomfortably, feeling alternately hot and cold.

He decided to leave the barn. He would just pick a direction and start walking, even though it was pitch black outside without even the moon to light his way in the darkness. It was all just too weird for him to deal with right now, too much of gods and enchantments and his own confused desires.

Maybe he'd go visit his grandmother in Crete. They always got on well and he hadn't seen her in years. She told wonderful stories and didn't laugh when he tripped over things. It would be a nice change of pace and he would have the whole sea to swim in.

He rolled up his meager possessions inside his blanket, put on the least floofy of the three white shirts Aphrodite had given him and headed off down the road. Joxer wasn't sure what direction Crete lay from his present location, but that had never stopped him before.

Dawn found him sitting on a rock staring woefully at the blisters covering his heels. The new boots were pretty, but they were certainly not made for walking. He wished he had his old boots, the ones Aphrodite had taken when she gave him the new clothes. They had been heavy and ugly but they had good, solid soles that cushioned his feet and supported his ankles while he walked.

And when Ares picked that moment to appear in a bright flash of light, Joxer did not even react. It was just too appropriate that the god should find him here, sitting exhausted on a rock in the middle of nowhere and rubbing his sore feet. That was just the way his life worked.

Ares frowned at him, his dark brows drawn together in a look that, on anyone else, might have been called concerned. "That is a truly hideous shirt," said the god.

"The other one was worse," said Joxer. "These shoes, now, they're really awful."

"They look good enough."

"Yeah, but they're a bitch to walk in. My old stuff may not have been very pretty, but at least it was comfortable."

Ares waved a hand and Joxer found himself back in his old piecemeal armor, boots included. The raw sting of the blisters vanished abruptly, and Joxer knew that if he pulled off the boots, he would find healthy skin on his heels.

"Better?" said Ares.

"Much. And, um, thanks. That was really nice of you."

"Whatever." Ares look uncomfortable, and Joxer suspected the God of War was not used to being called nice.

Joxer did not know what to say, he'd never had to make small-talk with a god before. Ares was looking more and more uncomfortable by the minute, like there was something he wanted to say but couldn't. "Ares? Um, please don't take this the wrong way, but why are you here?"

"I don't need a reason, Joxer. I'm a god."

"Ok, ok. Sorry. I just thought, well, it looks like you've got something on your mind, that's all."

The god ran his hands through his long dark hair. If Joxer hadn't known better, he would have sworn Ares was nervous.

"That's impertinent," Ares said with a growl.

"I didn't say anything."

"You thought it."

"You can read my mind?"

"When I want to."

"Wow. Can you read everyone's mind?"

"If I feel like it.

"Even Xena?"

"Even Xena. Joxer. Look. About the other day at the river. I, uh, I didn't mean to hurt you."

Joxer felt his eyebrows go up in surprise. "Ok," he said.

"Right. Well. I just wanted you to know that. That it was an accident."



"It's ok. I forgive you."

Ares stared at him. "What did you say?"

"I said I forgive you."

"Joxer, I am a god. You do not forgive me, I forgive you. That's how it works."

"Yeah, but I'm not the one apologizing."

"I am not apologizing. Gods do not apologize. To anyone. Especially not mortals!"

"It sure sounds like an apology."

"Well it's not."

"Ok, it's not an apology."

"Just so we understand each other here."

Joxer smiled. "Whatever you say, Ares. You're the god."

"That's right. I'm the god." Ares finally seemed to calm down. "So, um. You want to fuck?"

"No. But thanks for asking."

Ares shook his head. "Joxer, do you not understand what I'm offering you here?"

Joxer nodded. "Yeah," he said softly, "I do."

"So, what's the problem?"

Joxer thought for a while, trying to put his feelings into words. It wasn't something he was good at, and it was very important that he express this just right. "It's not real," he said finally.

"What isn't real?"

"What you're offering. It's not real. It's just part of Aphrodite's enchantment."

"Does that matter?"

"It does to me."


"Because it's not right. Because it's not real. Because I am so fucking tired of being given what I want today only to have it taken away tomorrow with a 'ha ha, Joxer, the joke's on you'. Do you have any idea what that's like? How it feels? How much it hurts?" There were tears in his eyes and he just didn't care.

"Joxer, I—"

"You're what? You're sorry? I thought gods didn't apologize." He turned his back to Ares so he wouldn't have to see the concern in his eyes, the caring that the god didn't know how to express. "Just go away, Ares. Please. Leave me alone. I can't take this any more."

He felt rather than saw Ares disappear. It was still some minutes before he felt confident enough to turn around. And when he was sure that he was alone, Joxer drew his knees up to his chin and wept as though his heart would break.

+ + +

Damn. Damn, damn, damn!

Ares paced back and forth in his temple, trying very hard not to admit Joxer's little speech had touched him. It shouldn't matter, but it did. Joxer had gotten under his skin somehow.

He reached out for the hilt of a sword from one of the racks of weapons that lined the walls of his temple. He pulled it free, tested its weight and found it good, the blade well-balanced and supple in his hand. His body assumed a battle stance, weight balanced forward on the balls of his feet. With slow, careful movements, he ran through a series of practice drills. Bit by bit he upped the tempo, his movements like a dance, graceful but deadly. The power rose around him, filling him and he channeled the flow down into the sword until it became a living extension of his will. When the power reached its peak, he whirled, plunging the blade deep into the back of his throne and the Temple shook around him as the air filled with the shriek of metal piercing stone and the white-hot blaze of his anger.

One being was responsible for all this pain: Aphrodite, Goddess of Love. Of Suffering and Misery, more like. Ares bared his teeth in a snarl. If to feel Love was to feel this, then he had been better off in ignorance.

Well, he could fix that. He would go to Aphrodite and demand that she remove the enchantment. Whatever the cost, he would pay it and gladly. And he would find some kind of recompense for Joxer while he was at it. The mortal deserved something for his trouble.

Ares cast the net of his thoughts wide, searching for the goddess. Her Olympian home stood empty, the long oval mirror covered with sheer pink gauze and awaiting the return of its mistress. Nor was she in her main temple in Cyprus, basking in the adoration of her followers.

He found her at last in one of her minor temples, surrounded by a throng of mortals all bound on paying homage to the Goddess of Love. Good. He would show these fools the deception of Love, let them see how even War had come under her curse. And if she would not release him from her thrall, then he would pay her back in kind, in suffering and pain.

And if that was not enough to assuage his anger, then he would pay her back in blood.

He chose his moment well, waiting until the ceremony was at its height before he made his entrance, announcing his presence with a flash of light and a rumble of thunder that would have done his father Zeus proud. The mortals shrieked and cowered before him and even Aphrodite looked daunted. Good. Let the bitch beware.

"That's quite an entrance, Ar," she said and the shaking of her voice gave lie to the serenity of her pose.

"We need to talk," he said.

"Can it wait? I'm right in the middle of something here."

"I'm afraid not."

The air rang with a familiar shrilling war-cry and suddenly Xena stood before him, sword drawn and ready. "Ares," she said, her body tensed like a panther before the strike.

Normally he would have relished a chance to go one-on-one with his former pupil. But not today. "Out of my way, Xena. Aphrodite and I have some unfinished business to attend to."

"I don't think so," Xena said, her blue eyes narrow and feral. "If you want the kids, you'll have to go through me first."

Kids? What was she talking about? "I don't have time for your nonsense," he said, his gaze never leaving Aphrodite's pink-clad form.

'Dite watched him closely, studying his face and the sparking heat of his anger. She raised one perfectly manicured hand. "Xena. Back off a minute."

The warrior shook her head. "Are you insane? If he can't win, he'll kill them both."

Aphrodite shook her head, an enigmatic smile curving her full lips. "Trust me," she said.

Xena looked doubtful but stepped aside. She kept her sword raised and her body poised, ready to attack if the need arose. Ares spared her only the briefest of looks before moving to the raised dais where Aphrodite stood.

The goddess raised her chin and met his eyes defiantly. "Ares isn't here about the wedding. Are you, Ares?"

Wedding? Ares frowned, then looked past Aphrodite to the young couple huddled together behind her. Soterios and Odelle, dressed in their finest, garlands of fresh violets adorning their bright, fair hair. The lovers whose nuptials he'd been so desperate to halt.

He'd forgotten all about them.

"Oh," he said. "Oh, you're good."

Aphrodite grinned. "I am, aren't I?"

Xena shook her head. "If you aren't here to stop the wedding, then why did you come?"

"That should be obvious," said Aphrodite. "He's here about Joxer."

"Joxer?" said Xena.

"Who's Joxer?" said Soterios.

Ares ignored the others, focusing on Aphrodite. "Does your offer still stand?" he said through gritted teeth.

"I remove the enchantment and you leave this city and its inhabitants alone?" Aphrodite shook her head. "No, I'm afraid not."

"That's what you wanted, wasn't it?" he said.

She smiled again. "Oh, yes. But first, I want to make you sweat." She waved a hand to the crowd. "Why don't you tell these good people exactly why you've come?"

"That wasn't part of the deal."

"Need a little incentive, do you? Cupid!"

The god appeared above their heads, his wide, white wings lazily fanning the heavy flower-scented air. "Yeah, Mom?"

"Go fetch Joxer for me, will you?"

"Leave him out of this!" They were not going to drag Joxer into the middle of this spectacle. He would not allow it.

Aphrodite blinked. "My, my, aren't we touchy." She waved at her son to continue. "Go on, Cupid."

Cupid blinked out with a flash. Ares shook his head. "Aphrodite, don't do this." Hades, was that his voice? He sounded almost desperate.

"Tell me why I shouldn't."

"Because I will not allow you to use him as a pawn," Ares said, his voice dangerously soft. "Joxer is under my protection; any attack on him is an attack on me. If you do this, I will visit such pain and suffering upon these people that they will curse your name for generations to come for precipitating it. And once I'm through here, I will send an invading army into your precious Cyprus and burn it down to the bedrock. Is that clear enough?"

Aphrodite's eyes went round. "You'd do all of that for Joxer?"

Ares' temper exploded around him in a shower of white-hot sparks. "Of course I would, you moron, I'm enchanted with your stupid love-goo! Your only hope is to remove the enchantment and pray I'm in a forgiving mood once it's gone."

She shook her head. "I can't."

"Why not?"

"Because you're not enchanted."

He must have misheard her. "Run that by me again?"

"You're not enchanted," she said firmly.

"But the bottle—"

"Was nothing more than scented oil."

Gabrielle pushed through the crowd to stand beside him. "Wait a minute," she said. "Are you telling me that I nearly got my head smashed in over a bottle of perfume?"

Aphrodite nodded. "Looks that way."

"Unbelievable," said the bard.

"Tell me about it," muttered Ares.

"Goddess," said Odelle, "forgive me, but I don't understand. I thought Aphrodite's Kiss was the gift of true love and the greatest blessing you could bestow."

"It is."

"Then how can the oil be powerless?" said Odelle.

"It's not the oil," said Gabrielle, her eyes wide with sudden understanding. "It's the blessing."

"Exactly," said Aphrodite. "The preparation of the oil is an act of devotion to prove you are worthy of my blessing. It doesn't hold any power in itself." She glowered at Ares. "You'd know that if you didn't sleep through meetings."

Ares listened to the words but couldn't quite make his brain wrap around them. "I'm not enchanted," he said numbly.

"That's right," Aphrodite said sweetly. "You did it all on your own."

No. No, she was lying, she had to be. "This is bullshit," he said.

"Ares. Look at my face. I am not lying to you. Any feelings you have for the mortal are your own."

Ares looked into Aphrodite's eyes, saw the truth reflected there and knew he was lost. "'Dite. In private. Now."

Aphrodite nodded and with a wave of one hand moved them to her home on Olympus that was a mirror of her temple on Earth. "Make it quick, Funbuns. I've got a wedding to oversee."

He ran his hands through his hair. "I don't know what to do," he said. "I've never—, 'Dite, what the fuck do I do?"

"Calm down, for a start," she said. "You are, like, seriously wigging here."

"Fuck you."

"Look, you want my help or not?"

Ares took a deep breath to settle his jangled nerves and nodded. "Yes. I'll stay out of Celaenae, whatever you want. Just help me."

"Ok." Aphrodite studied him intently for a moment. "You need to tell Joxer how you feel," she said at last.

He almost laughed in her face. "Oh, right. Like he's really going to believe me."

"That's your problem," she snapped. "If you didn't have the manners of a rutting bull, you wouldn't be in this fix in the first place."

He glared. "I do not have the manners of a bull, you flapping twat!"

Aphrodite just raised an eyebrow.

Ares sat down heavily on the dais. "Ok. So maybe I've been a little heavy-handed."

"A little?"

He ignored her. "He's still not going to believe me. Or you. Or any of us. He's been fucked over too many times for that."

"He'd believe Gabrielle," Aphrodite said quietly.

Gabrielle. Yes, Joxer would believe her, she had no reason to lie. "She'd never agree to help."

"Not even to teach War to Love?" Aphrodite smiled. "I think you underestimate her tenacity."

She had a point. "Fine. I'll ask her."

"Good. But do me a favor and wait till the wedding is over, ok?"

Ares nodded, suddenly feeling very tired. "Whatever," he said.

"Then I'll catch you later," Aphrodite said and winked out with a flash.

+ + +

Joxer walked until his legs began to hurt. He ignored the pain and kept going until, finally, his calf muscles cramped up and forced him to sit. It was nearing mid-afternoon, he was hot and hungry and more tired than he could remember. It didn't matter, he had a long way to go before he reached the ocean. He wasn't sure how exactly he was going to pay for his passage to Crete once he got there; he didn't have much money. A willing captain might let him work for his fare, but with his luck he'd wind up with bunch of Phoenician pirates, or worse.


Gods. He must be more tired than he thought. For a moment he thought he'd heard Gabrielle.

"Joxer? Hey, you ok?"

He looked up, saw Gabrielle standing over him, quarterstaff in hand. "Gabby? You look very real for a hallucination."

She smiled. "I'm not a hallucination, Joxer. I'm really here."

He shook his head. "Nope. You can't be. You're supposed to be in Celaenae with Xena."

"If I'm a dream, could I do this?" she said, and tweaked his nose.

"Ow!" That certainly felt real. "Ok, so how did you get here?"

"I, uh, caught a ride from someone." She sat down beside him. "You look awful. This thing with Ares must really be getting to you."

He shrugged. Normally, he'd be playing this up for as much sympathy as he could get, but he just didn't have the energy. "Yeah, you could say that."

Gabrielle scooted around so that they were face to face. "Joxer. I want you to tell me the truth. If Ares really was in love with you, how would you feel about it?"

"I don't know. I mean, why do you want to know?"

"I just do."

He shook his head. "Doesn't matter," he said. "It would never happen."

"You don't know that."

"Yes I do," he said. "Look, Gabby, I don't know what you're trying to do, but I wish you'd stop. I feel worthless enough as it is without you reminding me of what I can't have."

"Maybe you can." She laid a hand on his shoulder. "What would you say if I told you Ares wasn't under any kind of enchantment? That he really was interested in you?"

"I'd say you'd been hit in the head one too many times."

"I'm being serious, Joxer."

"So am I."

"You don't believe me?"

He sighed. "It's too farfetched."

"No, it isn't," she said, and launched into the story of Odelle and Soterios' wedding.

Joxer listened, hardly daring to believe what she said was true. But this was Gabrielle, and Gabrielle did not lie. Well, ok, sometimes she did, but not about something important. Like this.

It still seemed unreal. "Ares really threatened to burn down Cyprus? For me?"

Gabrielle nodded. "When he thought Aphrodite was going to hurt you, yes. He did."

"Wow." He'd never had someone threaten to start a war over him before. It was kind of romantic, in a twisted sort of way. "Um. So, what now?"

"That's up to you," said Gabrielle. "You have a very important decision to make. If you want, you can walk away right now with no repercussions."

"Ares would let me go?"

Gabrielle nodded. "That was part of the deal we made," she said. "I said I would talk to you on his behalf only if he agreed to leave you alone if your answer was no."

Joxer looked down at his boots. They needed to be oiled, the leather was starting to dry out and crack in spots. "And if I said yes?"

"He's waiting by the big oak just around the next bend."

"Oh." Yes, he really needed to clean these boots, maybe get some patches for the worst spots. And waterproofing. That would be a good idea, in case he had to walk in the rain. He liked to walk in the rain, and jump in puddles. Yes, he would definitely have to get these boots waterproofed.


Ares. That was Ares. "You know, maybe I should have kept the other boots after all."

Ares settled in the grass beside him. "I thought they hurt your feet."

"Oh, they did, but these have too many holes. I'll get my socks wet if it rains." It was raining now, he could feel the drops on his face, rolling down his cheeks. "Where's Gabrielle?"

"I sent her back to Celaenae."


"I can send you there. If you want."

"No, that's ok. I'd feel kind of weird, showing up late and all, without even a present for the bride."

Ares shrugged, not looking at him. "It's up to you."

"I know." Joxer wiped his cheeks with the back of one hand. Crying. He was crying again. "Ares?"


"Can we get out of here? Please?"

The god rose to his feet. "You're sure?"


"Then take my hand."

Joxer grasped Ares' hand and let the god help him to his feet. "What now?"

Ares gathered him into a tight embrace. "Close your eyes and hold on. This may feel a little strange."

Joxer shut his eyes and then the world seemed to shift and twist around him. He yelled in surprise and clung to the god's warm body, but it was over almost immediately. The air about him was now damp and cool, tasting faintly of brine as though they were near the sea and the ground beneath his feet felt hard and smooth, like stone.

It had to be a dream. That was the only explanation. Nothing like this ever happened to him, not for real.

"Joxer?" Ares' voice, soft in his ear. "Joxer, open your eyes."


"Why not?"

"Because then I'll wake up. I don't want to wake up."

He felt strong hands on his arms, neatly disentangling his grasp around the god's waist and pushing him back a step. One hand moved to rest on his shoulder, the other grasped his chin, forcing his face up.

"Joxer. Look at me."

Still that quiet tone, but there was no mistaking the weight of command or the power behind it. Against his better judgment, Joxer opened his eyes and found Ares watching him. "This has to be a dream," he said.

Ares shook his head. "No."

"A trick, then."

"No tricks."

"What happens now?"

"What do you want to happen?"

"Wow, that's a good question. I think, um. Where are we, anyway?"

"We're in the Halls of War."

Joxer looked around him, then, at the high vaulted ceiling and the endless racks of weapons, some of which he didn't even have names for. Candles in black iron sconces cast an eerie, flickering light on the walls but did little to penetrate the gloom beyond a few feet in any direction. Save for the occasional touch of dark red, everything was either black or iron grey, even the finely woven carpets that lined the stone floors.

In the center of the main hall stood Ares' throne. Joxer had been in temples devoted to Ares before, but he had never approached the seat reserved for the god, had never dared to think he would one day stand before it with the god at his side. The throne was beautiful and terrible all at once, made of carved stone and burnished steel, cold and uncompromising and well suited to its master.

Someone had embedded a sword into the back of the throne. Joxer didn't want to think about the kind of power it took to drive a blade through two feet of stone reinforced with metal, not to mention what a blade that sharp would do to living flesh.

"The sword is only as strong as the person who wields it," said Ares, pressing up against his back.

Joxer gasped. Even through his armor, he could feel the god's heat. "No wonder I can never accomplish anything," he said and was proud when his voice remained steady.

"You're stronger than you think." Ares' lips grazed the nape of Joxer's neck.

"Am I?" Joxer shut his eyes as Ares continued to kiss his way up the side of his neck before stopping to nibble on his earlobe. He didn't feel very strong right now. In fact, he was feeling decidedly weak, especially in his knees.


"That's good to know," he said and turned his head so Ares could kiss him, the god's mouth sweet and hard against his own.

Their lips parted and Ares placed his hands on Joxer's hips, turning him gently until they were face to face. "Joxer. You're not going to run away from me again, are you?"

Joxer motioned to the hall around them. "Where would I go?"

"Hm. Good point."

They stared at each other for a long moment. "So," said Joxer. "Um. You want to fuck?" Gods, had he actually said that? To Ares?

Ares blinked, then threw back his head and laughed. "Always," he growled.

Joxer grinned with relief, then yelped as Ares bent, grabbed him around the knees and hoisted him up over one shoulder. "Hey!"

"Relax, I won't drop you."

"I didn't think you would." He had a very good view of Ares' ass from this angle and decided being carried over the god's shoulder was kind of fun, even if it did make him a bit dizzy from all the blood rushing to his head. "Where are we going?"


"You have a bed?"

"Yes, I have a bed. Where did you think I slept? On the floor?"

"You sleep?"

But Ares just shook his head. "Mortals."

They were in a smaller chamber now, one with a broad casement window overlooking the sea. The window provided more light, but the room was still somber and far more ascetic than Joxer expected of a god. Ares seemed to save the ostentation for the main hall. The bed was plain but wide and covered with a spread of unadorned black silk; when Ares deposited him with a thump in the center of the mattress, Joxer felt as though he was lying in the middle of a starless sky.

The god studied him for a moment, then waved one hand and Joxer suddenly found himself naked. Ares settled on the edge of the bed but made no move to touch him, only looked, and Joxer felt the force of the god's regard like a hand upon his skin.

He shivered. "What are you staring at?"

"You. At your skin contrasted against the silk. It's lovely."

That was the last thing Joxer expected to hear. "Um, thanks."

Ares said nothing, then bent his head and kissed the hollow just below Joxer's throat. Joxer gasped and closed his eyes as the god's hot mouth moved lower to brush gently over his chest, stopping briefly to suckle each nipple before continuing its downward path. No, this wasn't what he expected, not at all. Not that he had much experience to draw upon, and that was only with women. He'd wondered about men, sure, but only in the most abstract sense; and his dreams had never included lying naked on his back while the God of War traced slow, languid circles around his navel with a very wet tongue.

Ares looked up at his face. "I can stop."

"Reading my thoughts again?"


"Then you know I don't want you to stop."

"Good," said Ares, and his mouth closed around the head of Joxer's cock.

Joxer arched his back with a shout and came almost immediately. Somewhere in the dim reaches of what used to be his brain, he knew he should feel embarrassed for lasting about as long as the half-life of a fruit fly, but he really, truly did not care. Nope, not a bit. It felt too damn good. He drifted in a warm, pleasurable haze for an indeterminate length of time, his mind a very happy blank, before finally succumbing to a sense of utter lassitude and exhaustion and passed quietly into oblivion.

+ + +

Ares stared down at the thin form sprawled motionless across his bed and frowned. "Joxer?"

He lifted one of the mortal's limp hands into the air and let it go, watching as it thumped back down on the mattress. Nothing, not a flicker of response. Joxer lay still and quiet, his pale skin sheened lightly with sweat. If not for the steady rise and fall of his chest, Ares would have thought him dead.

A growing sense of unease lodged in the pit of his stomach and refused to go away. "Joxer?" He grabbed the mortal's shoulders and shook him roughly. "Joxer! Wake up."

Joxer's eyelids fluttered briefly then opened. "Ares?"

Ares sighed with relief and stroked the short, soft hair away from Joxer's eyes. "Yes."

"What happened?"

"You passed out. How do you feel?"

"Like I have no bones." Joxer smiled and stretched until his joints popped. "You're still dressed," he said. "Why are you still dressed?"

"I—" He shook his head, unable to express what he was feeling. How could he, when he wasn't sure what it was?

He reached out and took Joxer's hands between his own. "Joxer. Maybe this isn't such a good idea."

Joxer looked confused. "What is it? Did I do something wrong?" His shoulders slumped. "I did, didn't I."

Oh, Tartarus. Just like Joxer to assume everything was his fault. "You didn't do anything wrong."

"Then what is it?"

"I thought I hurt you."

He felt Joxer's arms come up to wind about his shoulders in a surprisingly strong grip. "No. Oh, no. You didn't hurt me at all. I'm fine. Really."

"You're too fragile."

"I'm stronger than I look. You said so yourself. Remember?"

Ares shook his head. Didn't the fool understand what he was saying? "Joxer, I'm a god."

"I know."

"I could hurt you."

"I know. You'll just have to be careful."


"Ares, I want this. Don't make me beg."

Joxer lay back on the mattress, offering himself up like a sacrifice, his brown eyes wide and trusting. Ares shuddered. Oh, this mortal was perilous.

He settled his weight carefully atop Joxer's thin form, bracing himself on his arms so he wouldn't be too heavy. Joxer sighed and lifted his chin up to be kissed. Ares obliged him, teasing the soft lips apart with his tongue to probe deep inside the warm mouth. One hand drifted down Joxer's side, the too prominent ribs sharp against his palm and he wondered when Joxer had last eaten a full meal. He'd have to do something about that. Later.

Much later. Right now, he wanted to get naked. Ares removed his clothes with a flicker of power and felt Joxer moan into his mouth as their skins touched for the first time. Oh, yes. Perilous. He wanted to be inside Joxer now, and fought back the urge to just push open the man's legs and bury himself deep. No. He had to be careful. For Joxer.

He could do that. Just watch.

Ares slowly worked his way down Joxer's body. He laved one nipple and then the other with his tongue, enjoying the way they puckered and hardened against his touch. Soft nips across the quivering belly made Joxer gasp and tangle his long fingers in Ares' hair. He ignored the hardening cock to burrow his head between the trembling thighs, his tongue tracing the sensitive skin just below Joxer's balls. Lower still, his hands sliding beneath Joxer's ass to lift up his hips, exposing more of that wonderful skin to his touch. He heard Joxer moan as Ares' tongue found his center, heard the moans turn to cries as he replaced the tongue with slow, gentle fingers, pressing, teasing, opening.

It was getting hard to think, time to move on while he still had some modicum of control left. He rocked up onto his knees, then lowered himself back down between Joxer's legs, his whole body shaking with the effort of going slow, of sliding in just a little at a time. He felt Joxer's legs lock tightly around his hips; Joxer's hands grasping his shoulders, pulling him down; Joxer's mouth, kissing him hard; Joxer's body, surrounding him, swallowing him whole.

The force of his own climax took him by surprise, left him trembling and dazed, lying atop Joxer in a quivering, senseless heap. When his thoughts finally returned to some semblance of coherence, he levered himself up on elbows that seemed made of water and looked down into Joxer's flushed face.

"You ok?" Shit. Even his voice was shaking.

Joxer opened his mouth but no sound came out. Instead, he nodded then wrapped his arms around Ares' neck and pulled him down into another long kiss. "Is it always like that?" he whispered when their lips finally parted.

"I hope so," Ares said fervently.

Joxer grinned and kissed him again, his face shining with unabashed joy. Ares shifted to his side, sighing as he felt his softening cock slide out of Joxer's tight body. Joxer nestled warmly against him, his eyes drowsy and content.



"I love you."

Ares brushed a light kiss across his forehead. "Go to sleep, young foolishness."

He half expected Joxer to take umbrage with that, but the mortal was already asleep. Ares sighed again and conjured the coverlet around them; being a God was useful for times like these when he was too tired or too lazy to actually get up and crawl under the covers. That, and he didn't want to wake Joxer.

Ares wasn't quite sure what to make of all these warm, protective feelings he had towards this odd young man. But he knew when he looked at the dark circles under Joxer's eyes, not Zeus or Hera or a whole army of marauding Titans could make him budge from this bed. Unless, of course, they made too much noise and disturbed his mortal's rest.

No. Not his mortal. His lover. That was a necessary distinction, one he'd never had to make before. He didn't really understand all the implications of it, not yet, but he was sure he'd figure it out eventually. He was a god, after all.



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May 2014

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