Ares arrived at the monthly meeting of the gods with a scowl on his handsome face and an air of impatience that did not bode well for anyone who got in his way. He sat at one end of a very large table with several empty chairs on either side of him. The other gods and goddesses were scattered here and there all up and down the sides. Zeus and Hera had yet to show and Ares drummed his fingers on the solid oak table in a nervous tattoo of sound.
He did not want to be here. Not when his lover of one week was loose in Thrace doing some market shopping without him. When's the newness supposed to wear off? His thoughts turned to Joxer and he found himself remembering waking up just a few short hours ago.
Ares awoke with his arms around Joxer, a position with which he was becoming familiar. The young warrior faced away from him and Ares found his cock at just the right angle to slide his way back into the body he found so addicting. The last few days had been spent getting Joxer used to this particular lovemaking and the young man had proven an enthusiastic pupil.
Right now, however, Ares found the long, slow slide into the still lubricated depths a delight. Lodged firmly between the smooth white cheeks of his lover's ass, he rested his head on Joxer's shoulder and began to lick a certain spot, he'd found the night before. The sleeping warrior shivered and arched away from the smiling god. Ares held him firmly and reached around to grasp the half-erect cock.
"Ares." Joxer sighed, still half asleep.
A fierce joy gripped the dark god. Even in his sleep, Joxer knew who he was. Beginning a gentle rocking motion, he thrust slowly in and out of the waking body while his strong hand milked the steadily hardening organ of his bedmate.
"Oh, gods! Tell me I'm not dreaming." The sleepy voice smiled.
"You're not dreaming, Joxer." Ares began to thrust harder, now that he had an alert lover pushing back to meet him. Joxer's hand came back to grip his hip and the next few moments built the tension to an overwhelming crescendo of heat and light and sound. They cried out together, anointing each other with the cream of their labors.
"Oo-oh, Arry. Quit that. You're scaring the others," Aphrodite winked into the chair next to him and laid her hand over his nervous fingers.
"Quit what?" He scowled halfheartedly at his barely clad sister.
"Smiling! It's just not you, handsome. They're all sure that you are planning something really evil." Aphrodite turned away from the others and dropped her chin into her hand. With a wicked smile, she also dropped her voice to a whisper only Ares could hear. "Only I know that smile is because of something else entirely. Did I ever thank you for helping Joxer out?"
Ares went cold and still. How much does she know? What should I say?
Her eyes twinkled. "Don't worry, Arry. Your secret's safe with me. Joxer stopped into one of my temples in Thrace this morning and brought me flowers. Pretty little white snowdrops to thank me for the best present he'd ever received in his whole life. It's not often the god of war is named with such love in one of my temples."
Ares felt his heart begin to beat again. He could hear Joxer's earnest voice in his head. He must have picked the flowers right before Ares had whisked them out of the hidden valley and down to Thrace.
He leaned forward and barely moving his lips, he whispered, "I'm the one who got the best solstice gift this year. He's an amazing man."
Aphrodite's eyes widened and she cocked her head to one side. "I knew you'd be good for each other but I never dreamed that you would fall in love."
"I didn't say that, 'Dite. It's too dangerous. I'm a hard man to be around for long periods of time. What happens when we need to start a war somewhere? How will he react to me coming home with blood on my hands?" Ares felt his spirits plummet when he put his fears into words.
"He's a warrior, Arry. Although you might want to do a little work on his ducking skills." Aphrodite giggled then turned serious. "I think you're underestimating him, Arry. He's smarter and stronger than the rest of the world thinks. People consistently undervalue him, just like they do me. Only with me, it's my beauty that blinds them to my brains." And she blatantly batted her eyes at him.
He dissolved in helpless laughter much to the shock of the other gods. But while he was laughing, he was also taking her words to heart. Joxer had surprised him before, perhaps he would just go on surprising him.
Joxer wandered about the crowded marketplace, chewing an apple from the valley and pondering what he needed. While he looked about from stall to stall, he realized that he didn't really need a thing. Ares provided his food and drink, a place to live, new clothes to wear and all the love and attention he could desire. He smiled involuntarily as he flexed his buttocks and relished the small ache that he carried with pride, not to mention the mind blowing lovemaking.
Tiring of the jostling crowds and feeling hungry for the first time since that morning, he looked for an open-air tavern. One near the blacksmith shop drew his eye. It had a gaily covered awning of yellow and red with five tables and stools scattered far enough apart that it wasn't too crowded. Joxer sat down near the open door of the blacksmith shop and gave his order to the pretty serving wench who appeared instantly.
He leaned back against the wall with a sigh. He was disappointed in Thrace. It was dirty and noisy and way too full of people. He'd always thought of himself as a city man but after a week in a quiet valley with only one companion, he missed the gentle peace. He sighed again, almost as much as he missed the dark man who'd loved him to oblivion last night and every night since the winter solstice.
"She must be something, this girl of yours." The server set a mug of beer and a plate of bread and cheese in front of him. "I'll bet she's beautiful?"
Joxer blushed and fumbled with a newly minted obol to pay her. "Beautiful is the right word."
"Looking for a present?" She lingered a moment, eyeing him with a practiced eye.
Joxer nodded dejectedly. "Nothing caught my eye. Nothing was good enough."
"You have got it bad." She laughed kindly at him. "Try next door here. Phaidus is a real artist. If you're serious about her, she'd probably like a ring."
Joxer smiled abstractedly and drank from the mug. Serious isn't the word. Infatuated, obsessed, bewitched, possessed. Those come alot closer to what I'm feeling right now. I love him so much. He finished his beer and ate the bread and cheese, comparing them unfavorably with his breakfast. All the while, her words sparked little thoughts and wishes.
A symbol of his love and devotion. But he'd never seen Ares wear any jewelry except for his earring. Maybe, a gold hoop? Would he wear it? Would he understand what it meant to me? He thought long and hard before realizing that he didn't have to make a decision right then and there. He could look around, take his time. . .
Time. How much do I have with him? When will he get tired of me? What do I give him that he can't get from a thousand other men or women who are much smarter, more beautiful, funnier, passionate ... His thoughts dissolved into despair. He was so ordinary while Ares was so ... extraordinary. Sighing, he remembered that he'd had an entire week with the dark god and that was more than any mortal could hope for.
The ringing of a hammer on an anvil brought him back to the real world and he gave a little shiver to shake off the bindings of the what-if imaginings. It couldn't hurt to look at what the blacksmith had to offer. Ares hadn't laughed at him yet. Even if he only wore it once, Joxer would carry the memory of how it looked for the rest of his life.
Spirits rising, he arose from the table and threw down another obol for the server. Waving to where she was flirting with another patron, she waved back and called out, "His name is Phaidus. Tell him Seri sent you."
He smiled and headed over to the darkened shop with the glowing forge and the bright sparks. He stopped for a moment just inside the door and let his eyes adjust to the dim light. All around the walls, on iron nails, were hung the products of the forge. Several shelves showed off all manner of items, from candlesticks to chamber pots. Gold, iron, copper and bronze were all represented from plain bowls to elaborately chased goblets. Some of the items were even inset with jewels, which gleamed in the light from the forge.
"May I help you, sir?" A deep voice replaced the sound of metal on metal.
It startled Joxer and he came forward slowly, trying to make out the features of the blacksmith. "Seri sent me to you. I'm looking for something for my ..." stumbling over the unfamiliar word, "lover."
"You going to marry her?" The smith's voice questioned delicately.
An insane desire to laugh out loud at the picture of he and Ares getting married in front of the other gods, both dressed in white and wearing bridal wreaths, made him hurry into speech. "I don't think we can be wed. His father wouldn't approve." He could just see Zeus laughing his head off at the thought of his son and a mortal man asking for his blessing.
"Difference in class?" The smith smiled sympathetically.
Joxer nodded. "You have no idea."
"Well, why don't you look around. The jewelry is on the back wall on the shelves there. All women like gold." The smith pointed and went back to work.
Joxer walked back and began to look over the stock. He found himself drawn to the simple designs, the ones that glowed with grace and a life beyond their elegant shapes. The rings went from etched patterns of soft swirls and sharp angles to plain bands both narrow and wide. He tried on a couple but realized that he didn't know Ares' size. The earrings were the same. The ones that dangled stylized feathers and ribbons intrigued him and he leaned closer to inspect them.
Another customer came in and engaged the smith in conversation. Eavesdropping, Joxer overheard a request.
"So, Phaidus, have you still got that zeta brand?"
"Of course. Who's next, Zeron? The wife?" The smith laughed at him.
"It's not funny, Phaidus. It's Xerex, my best heifer, smart as a whip, and she keeps getting out of her pasture. She belongs to me and I'll be damned if I'll let her wind up in somebody else's herd." The portly farmer shook his head.
"How about I come out tomorrow afternoon? Make sure the fire is hot enough this time. A white hot flame so the branding goes quickly and cleanly." The smith wagged a finger at him and the farmer agreed with a vigorous handclasp.
Joxer went back to the jewelry but another train of thought was welling up in his mind. Belonging. He gazed dreamily at a glittering gold chain. From the moment he'd met Ares, he'd belonged to him. Arry's patience and caring had won his friendship but his kissing had won his heart. Passionate, sweet, teasing, intimate kisses that he could even now feel on every inch of his body.
Blushing at his thoughts, Joxer reveled in the memory of the last kiss at the temple of Ares in Thrace. The dark god had molded him to his body and proceeded to erotically tongue fuck his willing mouth until Joxer couldn't have stood on his own to save his life. Ares had groaned and rested his forehead against Joxer's before whispering 'Be safe for me.' Then he'd winked out of existence and left him to forlornly make his way out of the secret entrance to the alley.
Joxer realized that he'd been lost in the memory, again. Sharpening his gaze, he found he was looking at a small earring of gold. A simple design and exactly what he'd been looking for.
An 'a' within a circle. 'A' for Ares. Perfect. But he kept looking for the mate and couldn't find it.
"Find something, sir?" The smith limped over.
"There seems to be only one. I was kind of hoping for a pair."
The smith peered at the earring and shook his head. "Don't get much call for alphabet jewelry. 'Cept rings, of course, with the loved one's initials. Your name begin with 'a', sir? A little trinket to remind her of you when you're gone?"
'When you're gone.' Joxer felt a chill shiver up his spine. There it was in plain Greek. No one stayed forever, he knew that. Sooner or later Ares would get tired of him and he'd have to leave.
"No. Not me." He sighed and set the earring back down.
"Her name then. Something for yourself, to remind you of her?" The smith looked a question at him.
"I have all the memories in my heart." Joxer smiled sadly and pulled his favorite one out to chase away the ice that threatened to overwhelm him. Ares in the tub surrounded by mounds of white foam with bubbles floating around his gleaming shoulders and popping on his black hair. Ares laughing at him and holding out his hand to welcome him into his arms as if he belonged there.
Belonging. With a sudden clarity of thought, Joxer put the two ideas together. Belonging and a reminder of Ares. Smiling, he turned to the smith with his idea.
Ares popped into his temple and heard a few petitions, trying not to let his impatience get in the way of doing his job. Satisfying his priest and followers, he winked out and into the hidden room where Joxer should be waiting.
His lover was sitting by the fire, naked to the waist, with a cloth held to his chest. Ares smelled blood and charged forward to drop to his knees beside Joxer.
"You're hurt. What happened?" He was going to kill the person who hurt this gentle man.
"It's all right, Ares. Really." Joxer paled and Ares gently held him and pushed him to the rug.
"Lie back and breathe deeply." He brushed the hair from Joxer's sweaty brow and feathered a caress down the white cheek. Quickly, he materialized some cold spring water and a fresh cloth. Soaking the linen, he wrung it out and laid it on Joxer's forehead.
Slowly, the color seeped back into the wan face and Joxer opened his eyes. Ares leaned down and kissed him gently. "Can you tell me now?"
This time, he blushed and wriggled like a schoolboy. "It seemed like a good idea at the time. I tried butter but I guess that's an old wives tale. I knew it would hurt but I didn't realize it would keep hurting for so long." He clutched the cloth to his breast and dropped his eyes. "I wanted something more permanent than an earring."
Ares listened, baffled by the seemingly incoherent remarks. Gently, he covered Joxer's hand and pulled away the blood soaked covering. For a moment, he couldn't understand what he was seeing, then it became all too clear. Just over Joxer's heart was a red brand, the edges still raw with singed and weeping flesh. An 'a' within a circle.
Ares met the pained brown eyes in disbelief. Why? All he could think was that Joxer must have gone insane. He sat back on his heels and shook his head. First things first, he had to get the wound healed. Reaching over, he thrust his fist into the fire.
Joxer cried out and sat up to pull him back. Ares shook his head impatiently and waited a few moments before withdrawing his hand, unblemished and unburned. Joxer held it between his and turned it looking for damage.
"Don't you try it, Joxer." Ares said dryly, not missing the bewildered look his lover cast up at him. "It's how I call Aunt Hestia. She's good with burns."
A crackling on the hearth sent their eyes to the hearth and the figure stepping forth from the flames. Elderly Hestia, always wore red to commemorate her beloved fire. She was Ares' favorite aunt and almost always came when he called.
"What is my favorite nephew up to now?" Her cheery voice crackled like the fire from which she came. A small plump woman, she sat cross-legged on the stone hearth and leaned forward to kiss his cheek. She smelled of wood smoke and her lips were warm.
"My ..." Ares hesitated, "friend got burned. Could you fix it before it gets infected?"
Hestia smiled on Joxer and leaned closer to his chest. Tch-ch-ing, she pulled a pot of salve out of her pocket. "Ares, be a dear and go up to Olympus and bring me some water from the Well of Souls. It will only take you a moment."
He hesitated, catching the alarmed look that Joxer threw his way, then winked out and up to the Well. It took him more than a moment to find a bucket, haul up the water, locate a cup and dip it out. When he got back to the temple, Joxer was sitting and talking earnestly to the fire goddess. She was nodding wisely and saying very little.
When Ares handed her the cup of water, she took it with a smile and drank it down to the last drop. "Thank you, dear. I get so thirsty some times." She handed him the cup with a wink at his exasperated sigh. "Now, Joxer, I think you need to take a little nap." Pointing her finger at him, she pushed him back to the rug. He was asleep before he was all the way down.
"Ares. That man loves you madly." Hestia looked kindly at him as he sank down to the floor at her feet. "All love is a little insane anyway but he loves you with all his heart and soul. You're a very lucky god."
"I know that Aunt Hestia. But why the brand?" It made him sick to even think of the agony Joxer must have felt when the burning metal seared his flesh. "Does he think the pain is what I want?"
"Gods, no, child. He's simply very young and didn't consider all the consequences." Hestia patted his cheek, her warm fingers leaving behind a trail of sparks. "He's quite sure that you will leave him soon. 'Everyone does', he said. You are so magnificent that he won't be able to offer you anything but a few weeks of pleasure before you'll be bored by him and send him on his way. I'm quoting, you understand."
Ares shook his head in disbelief. "I could kill his family for this. They taught him that being gentle and caring and compassionate is wrong. Luckily, the lessons didn't take. His great heart and strong soul have brought him here to me. I don't ever want him to leave." Gently, he stroked Joxer's hand. "But he's right. They all leave eventually."
"When they die." Hestia read his mind. "There's a solution to that, nephew. It's why ambrosia exists, dearest. But there's something else, isn't there?"
Ares smiled ruefully. He never could get anything past this aunt. "I'm the god of war. The opposite of just about everything he believes in. What happens when I have to go and start more destruction. When I come home caked in blood and steeped in death. He's so gentle. I'll hurt him. Badly."
"Stuff and nonsense." Hestia snorted. "You just got through saying he was strong, caring and compassionate. Have you even tried to explain why we have to have wars? Why you have the job in the first place? He's an intelligent man. I think you need to talk to him. Share the why's and the what's of your vocation. I've watched you grow from a spark to a flame, dearest. You have one of the toughest jobs because you can handle it." She leaned forward, cupping his cheek in her warm hand. "But nothing says you have to just be the god of war, century in and century out. Let him in. Let him love you. Let yourself love him."
Ares watched the sleeping face, all the lines of pain smoothed out from his brow. Aphrodite had said the same thing. Maybe, he was denying Joxer a decision only he could make. Whether to stay or go. If he had all the facts, might he decide to stay with me?
"Oh, by the way, he got the brand because he wanted to show that he belonged to you. Body, heart and soul, was the way he put it." Hestia leaned forward and kissed his cheek again. "He may be young but his instincts are impeccable. This one's a keeper, dear heart. Don't be a coward and let him get away." And smiling, she disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Ares sighed and leaned over to gather Joxer in his arms before moving them from Thrace to his home valley. From experience, he knew the young man should be out for an hour or so. Carefully, he finished undressing him. Eating some grapes left from earlier, he sat by the hearth and pondered how he felt. Am I a coward? Afraid of loving?
He watched the sleeping man, the rise and fall of the sculpted chest, the out flung arm, the curve of the broad shoulder. After only a week, he could not imagine the bed without the young man in it. Slowly, he bent to remove his boots. Coming to the side of the bed, he shrugged off his black leather vest and tossed it to one side before beginning to unbutton his billowing silk shirt.
"Are you still mad at me?" A hesitant voice came from the bed.
Ares met the timid brown eyes with a slight smile, continuing his slow striptease. "I was only mad because I hate the idea of you being hurt. I never want to cause you pain, Joxer but it seems I keep on doing it."
Joxer smiled, his eyes sliding over the unveiling of the bronzed flesh. "Any pain has only led to greater pleasure."
Ares slid naked between the cool linen sheets, Joxer's arms coming up in welcome. They kissed gently, too many issues standing between them to allow immediate passion. Joxer touched him wonderingly as if he still couldn't quite believe he would be allowed. Ares brought his lips down to the healing flesh. The brand looked weeks old rather than only hours.
"Hestia does good work." He murmured, nuzzling lower to suckle a small brown nipple.
Joxer hissed and arched up, his hands going to the back of Ares' head. "I liked her. She's really nice."
"She liked you, too, Joxer. But she called me a coward just before she left." Ares raised his head to watch his lover's reaction.
"What! Is she nuts? You're the bravest, strongest ..." He sputtered, at a loss for the right words.
Ares smiled and stilled the lips with a gentle finger. "She's right. I kept a little of myself apart because I was afraid that if I let you into my heart, it would just hurt more when you knew all of me and rejected my dark side. But when I thought you were hurt," he shook his head, watching the confused look in the eyes so close to his, "I knew it was too late. You're already rooted so deep inside of me, I never want you to go. The decision to leave will have to be yours."
Joxer smiled a blinding smile that stretched from ear to ear. "I said you'd never be rid of me. I belong to you. That's why I got the brand. Even if you tired of me and sent me away, I would still be yours. And the scar would remind me every time I saw it that you had loved me."
"I've never said it. Not to anyone. I don't know if I can." Ares stirred restlessly.
"That's all right. So long as you don't mind me telling you, over and over that I love you." Joxer's eyes were unshadowed, clear and bright like the stars that glinted in the winter night sky.
Ares leaned in for another kiss, shaken by the trust this man gave him so freely. 'Let yourself love him,' Hestia had said. Maybe he should take that advice and see what the future brought. To hope for the best instead of expecting the worst. He smiled at the man in his arms and tried to sound put upon. "If you have to, Joxer."
With a shout of laughter, the young warrior retaliated by finding the one spot that reduced Ares to chortling groans and proceeding to teasingly tickle him. Chanting, "I love you. I love you. I love you," Joxer pushed him over onto his back and began to lovingly assault the laughing god.
Ares willingly accepted the newly confident touches. Joxer was a fast learner and soon had him panting with need. He'd developed a fascination with Ares' cock that had the dark god groaning under the oral assault of gentle nips and loving licks. The weeping slit was laved with a wet tongue before that tormenting mouth descended slowly over the iron hard shaft, his tongue continuing to dart around the flared head.
He was only able to take about half of the cock before his gag reflex set in and he had to back off a bit. Ares was very careful not to thrust although the need to bury himself in that moist cavern was almost uncontrollable. Joxer was playing with his balls, supplying the rougher play that he'd been afraid of earlier. Ares could feel them begin to draw up in eminent release. His young lover also recognized the signs and he sped up his slides down the pulsing cock, his tongue flicking over the sensitive slit.
Ares let go all control and thrust once before coming in a gush of salty fluid. Joxer drank it all and lapped at the twitching organ that had barely softened. The dark god pulled him up into his arms and kissed him. "That was just right. What would you like, Joxer?"
He wriggled closer and closed a hand around the far from satiated cock. "This. I want this inside of me. Fucking me."
Ares twitched in response to the graphic request. "I can do that."
"But is there a way so that I can watch you?" Joxer asked uncertainly.
Ares smiled and laughed, rolling them over and parting Joxer's legs with one of his. "We can do that. Hand me the pillow." Ares knelt between his legs, pulling him forward until his hips were off the bed and draped over his thighs. He placed the pillow under Joxer's buttocks and called up a vial of oil.
Joxer watched in breathless anticipation while Ares poured a golden stream of oil over both their cocks and his hands. Then the dark god began to stroke the hardening cock with one hand while his fingers broached Joxer's puckered opening. First one, then two and finally three completed the ritual stretching.
By now, Joxer was writhing on the bed, his hands clutching great handfuls of linen. Ares removed his fingers and shifted Joxer up until the tip of his cock nudged the small opening and his hands went to the narrow hips. Joxer slid his hands over Ares' and whispered, "Now. Please."
"You never have to ask twice, Joxer." Ares began the long slide to Joxer's heart. The tight heat pulled him deep and only when Joxer was completely impaled did he stop and lean forward to kiss the moaning man beneath him.
Their tongues mated and Joxer's hands gripped his shoulders, while he began to thrust in and out. Their tempo quickened, Joxer wrapping his legs around Ares' waist and using them to pull him in closer. When Ares adjusted his angle to hit his pleasure spot, Joxer began to spasm. But when Ares began to roughly stroke his cock in time to his thrusts, Joxer exploded with a howl.
Three more thrusts and Ares let go his own control, to release into the heated depths of the man in his arms. He collapsed on the heaving chest, resting his head on a sweaty shoulder. Joxer's arms held him tightly and his soft voice sounded in his ear.
"I'm never letting go and I'm never leaving you. So, you'll just have to get used to me." Joxer nipped his ear. "And even if you never say it, your body tells me every time you make love to me."
Ares smiled into the dark hair. Maybe, he would be able to say it. One day soon.
End part three