"Come on, Ares. I really need you to help me out here." Aphrodite pouted prettily.
"No. N-O. I am not giving romance lessons to one of your protégés in time for the solstice." The god of war spoke through clenched teeth.
Aphrodite sighed and spoke softly as she turned away, "Guess Herc was right."
"What did you say?" Ares reached out and grabbed a flimsily covered shoulder.
"Well, I asked Herc first but he's busy with the family. When I told him I was going to ask you, he just laughed and said you'd never do it." Aphrodite smiled sadly.
Ares snorted with laughter. "Enough pathos, 'Dite. I'll take on your stray chick."
Aphrodite hugged him impulsively and beamed up at him. "You're a peach, Arry. He'll be at the Kissing Well near Delphi tonight."
Ares materialized silently by the old stone well at sunset, surprising a tall dark haired warrior polishing his sword. The stranger jumped to his feet and stumbled over his own backpack, ending up on his knees before the smirking god.
"Looks like we'll have to add walking before dancing to the list of things you need to work on."
"Oh, sorry. Are you the guy that Aphrodite promised?" The klutz jumped up and stuck out his hand.
Ares met his grasp, taking a good look at the dark stranger. Open face, brown eyes, nice build, he reminded him of a puppy he'd had once.
"My name's Joxer. Did Aphrodite explain?" The brown eyes pleaded for understanding. "I just need a little polishing for the Delphi Dance. I don't usually spend much time with, um, sophisticated, uh, women."
Women, period, sport. I'll bet you've never gotten past a kiss. Ares smiled at the hapless man. "She said you needed a brush up. That you'd been out of circulation for a while."
Joxer blushed. "Um, kind of. I've only ever been in love once before and she's in love with someone else. I just didn't see the point after that."
"Well, the dance is tomorrow. I expect that we can get you in shape by then. By the way, you can call me Arry. Aphrodite does."
By the time Joxer was asleep and Ares had popped back to his Olympic residence, they had covered approaching a woman, kissing her hand, compliments, dining etiquette and strolling between dances. Ares needed strong drink before trying to teach him to dance. Joxer was rather endearing in a klutzy kind of way. He was trying really hard to mimic Ares' every move. From his conversation, Joxer had very few friends and no one who had ever taken the time to get to truly know him.
Ares' last thought before he went to sleep was tomorrow might be fun.
Ares popped in a slight distance away. No sense in scaring the kid again. Joxer was already up and practicing his bow and compliments.
"That's a lovely shade of blue, ma'am." He kissed an imaginary hand.
"Very good, Joxer." Ares applauded briefly.
Joxer whirled and almost over balanced. Ares put out a steadying hand and it was grabbed in a bone-crushing grip.
"You came back!" Joxer grinned from ear to ear.
How many idiots have walked away from this gentle soul? Ares found himself angry with the thought of all the disappointments that others had inflicted on this endearing man. "We're not done yet, Joxer. I always finish what I start. I expect you do too."
"Sure, but I was pretty clumsy last night. And Aphrodite just promised help once, not continued." Joxer shrugged and let go his grip.
"Well, I'm promising that you'll be ready for tonight. We'll both go to this bash and knock their socks off." Ares rashly spoke and was rewarded by a blinding smile from Joxer.
The dancing went rather well, actually. Ares was surprised to find Joxer light on his feet. All his attention was focused on holding onto Ares and matching his every move.
"Talking would be nice, Joxer. Your partner is going to expect a compliment or two." Ares gestured with their clasped hands. "Something along the lines of 'what beautiful eyes you have' or 'you dance divinely'."
Joxer looked up, a worried frown on his face. "Talk and dance at the same time? I can see a catastrophic event in the making."
Ares laughed, "Concentrate on your partner, not your feet. Maybe you could get by as the strong silent type. The women seem to love it when I go all dark and brooding."
"Oh, yeah, Arry." Joxer sighed. He continued dreamily, looking slightly up at his dance partner. "You get kind of a glint in your eyes and your left eyebrow goes up just before you make a remark or laugh."
Ares was flattered that Joxer had been paying such close attention to his expressions. His movements had turned flowing and they waltzed around the glade without a stumble. They stopped by the fire and for a brief moment, Ares felt a stirring he hadn't felt in a long time before stepping away from the man in his arms.
They practiced dining etiquette again and then it was time for Joxer to get ready for the dance. Ares was firm when it came to wardrobe. The shiny yellow shirt went back into the pack as did the bright red cummerbund. Finally, Joxer was ready in black leather pants, a white shirt with flowing sleeves and a simple black vest. His boots were polished to a high shine and his weapons were removed and hidden with his pack.
He turned slowly for Ares approval and the god felt a glow of satisfaction at his protégé. Aphrodite's protégé.
"You look good, Joxer. Let's be on our way. I think I can hear the music from here."
They walked in silence down the hill through the olive groves to the Delphi town hall. Men and women in brightly colored dress flowed in and out of the brightly lit hall. They stopped in the side door to look over the crowd. Nine virgins from the temple of Apollo were doing a sinuous dance in the middle of the room that inflamed most of the men present. Ares noticed that Joxer just blushed and looked away.
For the first time, he wondered if Joxer was going to get hurt tonight. Ares decided to stay long enough to find him a nice partner who wouldn't mind his shyness.
"Arry, I don't think I can do this." Joxer turned stricken eyes on his companion. "I'm really not as experienced as I appear. What if one of them wants to go further than a dance?"
Ares cocked his head to one side and contemplated the question. "You mean, like a kiss ... or do you mean making love under an olive tree?"
Joxer went bright red then white as a sheet. "I've only ever kissed two women before. I must not have been very good because neither of them wanted to kiss me again."
Ares had a sinking sensation. "Joxer, the truth. Have you ever made love to a woman before?"
His eyes went to the floor and his shoulders hunched as if avoiding a blow. His answer was almost inaudible. "No. Not really."
Ares hid a smile at the confession. Casting his eyes up to Olympus for inspiration, he spotted a small clump of green leaves with white berries nailed above the door. Mistletoe. Why not? A quick lesson before sending him out on his own. Setting up a force field around them, he made sure that the crowd wouldn't see them or the door for a while.
"It's nothing to be ashamed of, Joxer. Lots of guys hold out for the right person. If you like, I could help you with the kissing part. I've been told that I kiss rather well." He ran through a thousand faces in his head.
Joxer blushed again but nodded hesitantly. Ares moved closer and gently kissed the trembling lips. Sweet, he thought as he looked carefully for signs of revulsion. But Joxer's eyes were closed and he swayed forward into Ares' arms. He licked his lips unconsciously and Ares found himself watching that small movement.
"I think I need another demonstration," Joxer whispered, his eyes opening slowly and gazing into Ares'.
Ares reached out and pulled the unresisting body against his, feeling all of Joxer's hard muscles covered in silk and leather. Slowly, he lowered his mouth to the tempting lips that were parting to speak but instead got a tongue insinuating its way into the spicy depths. Joxer opened further and Ares found the different tastes and textures more intoxicating than any Olympian wine.
They were both gasping for breath when Ares drew back to look at the man in his arms. He was flushed, his lips swollen, his eyes dazed and his body was showing itself seriously aroused.
"They were right. You kiss like a god." Joxer sighed.
Ares debated for a split second but decided on the truth. Joxer deserved it. "I am a god, Joxer. Ares. Aphrodite always uses nicknames for those she likes. I owed her a favor so I agreed to help you."
Joxer flushed again, but this time it was embarrassment. "So, all this was just a favor for Aphrodite. I see." He pulled away and tried to smile. "Thanks. I really appreciate your time and effort. I'd better get in there and do you proud."
Ares stopped him. "Joxer, I enjoyed helping you for Aphrodite's sake. But the kiss was for me."
Joxer darted a quick look at the god. "Really?" Ares' nod seemed to make him more nervous. "I've never kissed a man before. Is it always like that?"
"No. It's only like that when two people like each other and care about how the other's feeling." Ares hesitated, for once thinking of another before himself. He made it a question. "There's more I could show you?"
Joxer watched the dancers for a long moment before turning to Ares with a shy smile. "Their dancing looks too complicated for me anyway. Maybe you could teach me a different kind of dance?"
Ares smiled and pulled him into a hug before transporting them both to a little hideaway where he could continue Joxer's lessons. Maybe I'll learn a thing or two, myself. Thanks, 'Dite.
End chapter one