Joxer leaned on the railing of the swiftly moving ship and looked longingly at the deep blue water so close yet so far away. His lessons in elemental control had progressed so far and yet ... there was still so much to learn. But Ares had warned him that they couldn't use any of their powers to practice on the off chance that Ate had left out earth or water trip wires that might signal her that intruders were near.
//I know, love.// Ares moved his hand so their little fingers touched on the rough wooden railing. //I wish there was a way I could help you burn off a little of this energy. But I can't even pull up a privacy shield without using the elements. Not to mention . . .// He swallowed convulsively, //I think the ginger cure is only good for so long before it stops being effective.//
Joxer took a good look at his lover. A light sheen of sweat glinted off his forehead and the slightly green tinge was back. He was gripping the rail a little tighter than he really needed to. Joxer narrowed his eyes and thought quickly. It was time that he started taking better care of his lover.
//I'll be right back. Don't look at the waves.// Joxer brushed his hand gently in reassurance and went to find the captain.
Iolaus was chatting with the first mate while Hercules leaned against the table of charts with the captain, watching him trace their course across the sea.
"How is he feeling?" Iolaus seemed to know just by looking at him that Ares was seasick again.
"The ginger is wearing off. Captain, is there a place where he can lay down, where it's quiet?" Joxer was determined to protect Ares from all hurts, including this feeling of unease.
The captain was small and dark with a wicked scar that ran from his eyebrow to his jaw but Joxer had noticed that his dark brown eyes were gentle. He nodded. "Aye, my cabin is just below us here. He can rest there. Ask the cook for some ginger tea." He smiled at their curious looks. "We carry it for those times when our mother, the sea, sees fit to shake us up a bit. Even experienced sailors get sea sick once in a while."
Joxer grinned and headed back to Ares, stopping along the way to speak to the cook about the tea. Gabrielle and Xena were leaning on the rail bracketing him and Joxer hurried to get within earshot.
"It takes a concerted effort to destroy a god. Usually, it takes at least six family members to work together. But, theoretically, Zeus could do it on his own. He has control of all four elements." Ares' dark eyes rested on the bard's piquant face. "But, he hasn't ever exercised that ability. So, we don't know if Ate could."
"If I were her, I'd be thinking about that, right now." Xena's voice was dark velvet.
Father and daughter traded looks that measured and probed. Ares nodded first. "I would be, too. It's like waiting for the other shoe to drop. I hate having to wait for her to make the first move."
"We're doing what we can by investigating the island." Joxer joined the conversation. "Until she does something, we can't react. Once she does, you'll know what to do." He put his complete faith in his lover into the look and watched Ares' eyes soften. "But until something happens, you need to lay down and rest. The captain offered his cabin and the cook is making some ginger tea for you."
That little boy pout was back, the one Joxer only saw occasionally but that melted him into a puddle of longing. So, before Ares could protest, Joxer gripped his arm and tugged. "Now, Arry. Don't make me carry you."
Ares came quietly, only their link betraying the laughter that he hid behind downcast eyes and slightly slumping shoulders. //Did you see the looks on their faces?// It was all Joxer could do to control his own facial expression while they stopped for the pot of hot tea and a couple of mugs before continuing to the small cabin in the forecastle.
Once the door was closed and locked, they leaned against each other and quietly laughed themselves into hiccups. Joxer steered the still chuckling Ares towards the single bed that clung to the side of the cabin wall. The dark god sat down on the edge of the bunk and hastily gulped his tea, grimacing at the strong taste but finishing it to the last drop.
Joxer brushed the hair from his forehead, checking his temperature unobtrusively. "Better?"
"A little." Ares sighed and lay down on top of the sheets, stretching out with a little groan. Joxer tugged off his boots and pulled up the thin blue blanket from the foot of the bed. "I'd feel better if you held me." Kissing the hand nearest him, he smiled enticingly.
"Will you be good?" Joxer was already taking off his own boots.
A warm hand traveled up his arm to massage the back of his neck and a sultry voice promised. "I'll be better than good."
Joxer slid beneath the blanket and held Ares tightly. "I love you, Ares. I wish you could feel the water inside you. I just balance the water outside my body with the water within so I don't feel any difference at all. I wish you could feel that. So you could feel better."
"Feeling better every minute you hold me." The deep voice rumbled beneath his ear while a raspy tongue licked his neck with short little swipes that traveled along his nerve endings straight to his groin.
"We shouldn't." Joxer gasped and burrowed his hands beneath Ares' soft shirt to the hard muscles underneath. "You've got to be sore from this morning. I don't want to hurt you."
Ares stopped his tasting and raised up on one elbow to cast a fond gaze down at Joxer. "You didn't hurt me. You were inspired this morning and I loved every minute of it." He started unlacing Joxer's shirt to expose more of the tanned skin to his touch. "I'm going to get in a supply of those little cakes Mother brought. They obviously have amazing powers where you're concerned." He bent down and gently tugged at the nipple over Joxer's heart with his strong white teeth, before gentling it with a warm, moist kiss.
Joxer arched up, his head moving restlessly on the thin pillow. "Take me, this time. Fill me with your heat."
Ares' arm trembled and he lay down, pulling Joxer tightly into his side. "I'd love to. But you're going to have to take over, I feel a little weak." His voice sounded surprised and through their connection, Joxer felt the chagrin at his weakness.
This time it was Joxer's turn to roll on top. Slowly, they undressed each other and touched all those places guaranteed to excite them to complete hardness. Ares was panting by the time Joxer finished wetting his cock. His soft moans were driving the dark warrior crazy and centering himself above his lover, Joxer slowly lowered himself, taking Ares in completely.
Resting atop the bronzed body, Joxer's eyes met Ares' in a long look of contentment, his hands gently combing through the dark curls on Ares' chest. Slowly, he rocked up and down, intent on making their lovemaking last as long as possible. They loved silently, exchanging emotions through their link and merging into each other with body, heart and mind. Joxer froze in mid-thrust, pulsing out his heat onto Ares' taut stomach and into his gripping hand.
The dark god groaned and poured his seed deep within the heated depths. Joxer slowly collapsed onto the sweaty chest and listened to the swiftly beating heart beneath his ear. They lay in a tangled tapestry of arms and legs, no longer caring who belonged to what. The world slowed and began to intrude once again.
They heard the laughing insults of the crew above them, the haunting cry of a sea tern and the swish of the waves against the sides of the ship. A lantern creaked above them as it swayed to and fro near the head of the bed. Ares' sigh was almost soundless but it brought Joxer's head up to see what was the matter.
"Nothing wrong, love." He spoke so softly, Joxer had to bend closer to hear him. "In fact, everything is so right, I'm waiting for something to go wrong."
"Pessimist." Joxer said lovingly and kissed the pouting lips so temptingly close. "Although, the closer we get to Thira, the greater the chance you're right."
"Is it my imagination or is it darker in here than it was just an hour ago?" Ares looked at the porthole with a puzzled look.
Joxer raised up to look out and saw a band of black clouds obscuring the horizon. He gulped once and rolled off Ares, beginning to dress hurriedly. "It looks like a storm. A big storm."
Ares groaned and rolled out of the bunk as well. "Just my luck. I finally get my stomach under control and we get smacked with a real belly twister. I tell you, Tethys has never forgiven me for my youth."
Joxer grinned and finished pulling on his boots. Pausing to kiss Ares, he headed for the door. "I'll go see what's up. Maybe, it's not as bad as it looks."
"Hope springs eternal." Ares kissed him back then let him go and began to lace up his shirt.
Joxer raced up the steep steps to the deck where a well orchestrated battening down was in progress. Squinting up at the sails, he saw part of the crew lowering the large sheets of cloth out of harms way. Looking hard, he saw Bax with the lookout in the crow's nest. Making a tunnel of his hands, he called up to him.
"Bax, come down, please."
The tiny whirlwind immediately hopped over the high sides of the nest and plummeted down to the deck, landing above Joxer's shoulder with a loud exclamation.
"Storm, storm, storm. Big, big, big. Wind, wind, wind."
"Oh dear, Ares is going to be sick big time." Joxer sighed.
"Sick, sick, sick? Ares, Ares, Ares. Tea, tea, tea." Bax said decisively.
"You're right. It seemed to help earlier. I'll see if the cook will make up a big pot. Even if it's not hot, at least it would be liquid." Joxer saw Gabrielle sitting on a pile of rope, clutching her staff in a white knuckled grip. Crossing to the cook first, he got in his request before going over to crouch before her.
"Gabrielle, are you all right?"
"No." She spoke calmly but forcefully. Opening her eyes, she focused on him. "I'll be fine if I just don't think about how bad it's going to get."
"Cook is making ginger tea. It helped Ares earlier so I hope it will work for you as well."
"We heard him groaning. Did he get sick again?" Her eyes were curious.
Joxer thought fast. "He had a severe ... spasm but he's better now. Until he saw the storm coming, anyway. Maybe you should take your turn in the captain's quarters. Lying down seems to help."
"Oh sure, that way, I can roll with the pitching and turning." Her heart wasn't really into the sarcasm.
"Actually, if you have Xena tuck you in, you'll be anchored to the bunk. It really would help if you're one with the ship." Joxer smiled apologetically.
"Really?" She clutched her wrist and turned green for a moment as the ship rode a particularly high swell.
Xena appeared at their side as if called and Joxer quickly explained his suggestion. She nodded once and pulled Gabrielle to her feet. Ares held the door for them and said something that made the blond bard laugh and Xena roll her eyes.
Ares walked unsteadily across the deck, keeping his balance with difficulty. But his color looked better and Joxer noted the absence of a frown with a sigh of relief. Bax darted to him and hummed reassuringly to the tall god who settled him on his shoulder. Joining Joxer, Ares smiled and reached for his arm.
"Remember what you said earlier about balancing the water in your body with the water outside?" Ares shook his head. "At some point while we were making love, I think you balanced it for me. My stomach is calm for the first time in years."
"All the times, you've shared your energy with me, it's about time I paid you back." Joxer grinned.
The dark eyes glowed but Ares shook his head. "We're not keeping score, Joxer. If I've learned anything in the last thousand years, I've learned that everything comes back to you. The good, the bad, every deed and thought returns in one form or another."
"What goes around, comes around." Joxer nodded. "I've heard that before."
//So long as none of the bad I've done comes back to haunt you, I'm satisfied.// Ares took the conversation mental. //You bring me such joy, I could never in another thousand years pay that back.//
//No pay-backs, remember. Just sharing from now on.// Joxer gripped his arm. //Good or bad, we share it all. Promise?//
//Promise.// Ares feathered a mental caress to Joxer's soul which the young warrior returned ten fold.
Letting go of each other, they headed up the steep ladder to where the captain was bellowing orders to his crew. Hercules was lending his strength to the wheel, trying to keep them on course. Iolaus clung to the table holding down one side of the chart while the second mate held down the other side. The captain didn't look worried but then Joxer had the feeling that he didn't ever show any anxiety.
"Could this be something brewed up just for us?" The captain asked Ares when they joined them.
"Possible. It could also be Ate preparing something to attack elsewhere. Whipping up the energy she needs for an assault on Olympus." Ares spoke quietly, shrugging at the captain's questioning look. "She's a rogue, Captain, nothing she does should surprise me. She's overdue for an attack and if she senses we're coming then, yes, this could be brewed up just for us."
"Can you do something?"
"Not and keep our presence unknown. Until she attacks us, I prefer to think that this," Ares waved his hand at the racing storm clouds and gusting winds, "is just her way of preparing for something else."
The captain nodded and gestured to the second mate to roll up the chart. "Then, we ride it out as best we can and try to stay on course until it blows over."
"Anything we can do 'physically' to help, we will." Ares offered.
"The crew is taking care of the ship. I suggest that you all get below and ride out the storm out of harms way." The captain suggested politely but Joxer heard the unvoiced comment 'and out of our way' as well.
Hiding a grin, they took Iolaus with them and joined the cook in the shelter under the high deck. Accepting some ginger tea and hard sea biscuits, they sat cross-legged out of the way of the sailors who came and went. Ares nibbled on a biscuit before dunking it in his tea and letting it soften up first. Iolaus watched him out of the corner of his eye and Joxer sighed soundlessly. //More questions coming up.//
Just then an explosion went off inside his mind. Dropping his cup, he grasped his head and tried to push out the lights and sound that boomed, drowning out everything else. Rocking back and forth, he rolled with the screams that filled his ears and the lightning bolts that stabbed his eyes even though they were closed tight. Emotions battered at his mind ... pain ... anguish ... hatred. He couldn't breathe and his ears popped with the abrupt change of pressure.
Feeling other hands on his, he heard Iolaus' frantic voice calling his name over and over. Gradually, the pain subsided and the sounds were cut off in mid-scream. The silence was tense with the anticipation of something else.
"Joxer, what's wrong? The three of you just went berserk. Ares passed out and Bax disappeared altogether." Iolaus's voice sounded far away as if he had cotton in his ears. But the name Ares came through.
Opening his eyes, he crawled painfully to his lover, sprawled on the wooden deck. Touching him brought no mental sense, it was as if he wasn't there at all. Even in sleep there had always been a mental touch. Joxer gathered him into his arms, cradling the shaggy head against his heart and probed deeper. //Ares. Come back to me. Ares!//
The effort took all his energy and he rocked the limp body to him while he tried to make sense of the sudden attack. "Iolaus. Did something happen outside of us? Storm, lightning, sounds, anything?"
The blond warrior crouched on Ares' other side. "Nothing. Ares threw back his head and let out a shout before he crumpled in a heap. Then you started to shake and grab your head. Bax suddenly grew a foot taller and disappeared with a squeal. Actually, the storm is dissipating. The sea is almost calm again."
Ares stirred in his arms and Joxer abandoned the conversation for his lover. A very faint voice echoed in his mind, //Joxer?//
"I'm here, love. What ever it was is over. The storm must have been building up to the ... attack. Do you know what happened?" Joxer kept his voice low while he absorbed the feelings of sadness radiating from Ares.
His voice was a whisper, hoarse and raspy. "She killed one of us. The bitch actually did it. She has all four elements and she just blasted a god back to the elements."
Joxer went cold and gripped Ares tighter. "Who? Who did she kill?"
Ares tried to sit up and accepted Joxer and Iolaus' help. The cook handed over a cup of something hot and the dark god took it with a nod of thanks. His hand shook ever so slightly when he raised the cup to his lips and drank it down in three gulps.
Clearing his throat, he sat up straighter. "She caught Bacchus in a weak moment and took him out. Along with most if not all of his Bacchae."
Joxer swallowed hard as the picture in his mind suddenly fell into place. "She painted his temple with their blood before she blasted him."
Ares nodded then looked at him sharply. "Were you touching me when it happened?"
"No. There were suddenly lights and sounds in my head like firecrackers inside my mind. Pain, fear, hatred, it all hit me in a tidal wave of emotion." Joxer shuddered. "Iolaus said Bax disappeared."
Ares was looking at him so strangely when he said absentmindedly, "Bacchus was an air elemental so all the gods of air will be more affected than the rest of us." A wide smile spread across his face and he was suddenly laughing.
Joxer and Iolaus shared a look of consternation. Why was the dark god laughing at this totally inappropriate moment when their worst nightmare looked to be coming true? Their look just seemed to make him laugh harder. Getting a hold of himself, he reached over and took Joxer's hand.
"Sorry, love. I've not gone insane." He took a deep breath and exhaled with another chuckle. "Mother has a lot to answer for."
"What?" Joxer wondered what in Tartarus Hera had to do with the situation.
"Only gods can feel the death of another god." Ares spoke calmly.
"And?" Joxer still didn't get it.
"Remember the little cakes that Mother fed you two days ago?" Ares' eyes glowed with a warmth that always melted Joxer. "I'd bet money that those little candied leaves were ambrosia. She never could let Hestia get ahead of her."
Joxer opened and closed his mouth. A god. Ambrosia made you a god. He was a god, like Ares. //What if I'm a bad god?//
//Never, Joxer. You'll be one of the better gods created since the gods were born. It also explains where all the energy came from after you ate it.// Ares glowed with pride and acceptance. //Don't be mad, love. She meant it for the best.//
Joxer gulped and traded a long suffering look with his laughing lover. "Just once, I'd like somebody to ask me if I want to do something before they throw me in the deep end."
"In the upcoming battle, you'll be better protected if you're a full god and not just an immortal." Ares smiled and rubbed his hand gently. "I won't lie and say I hadn't already thought of it. Zeus has had it under advisement for the last two weeks. But it usually takes a conclave of the gods to make a new one."
"What do you want to bet, the women just got together and decided to take matters into their own hands." Joxer returned the caress with his thumb. "You know, the women of our family are by far the most determined gods I've ever met."
"They are that, love. They usually get what they want. Welcome to the family, Joxer." Ares kissed his hand softly, his eyes saying all the things he couldn't say out loud.
Family. What a wonderful word that was. A real family, one that wanted him. Joxer grinned and held that thought close to his heart, right next to his love for Ares.
End chapter 20