Joxer stared at the fire. He'd been staring at it for two hours now and it hadn't changed once. It stayed exactly the same height, the flames never leaped higher and it never popped or sparked out onto the hearth. "Great. I'm alone with the perfect fire and I'm moping. And talking to myself. This is pathetic. I have got to get out of here."
Leaping to his feet, he paced back and forth. He'd only been alone for a day and he was already going stir crazy. It didn't help that a heavy snow had started at daybreak and continued to accumulate. Ares had been called away after breakfast and he hadn't been able to tell Joxer how long he would be gone. He'd just kissed him senseless and winked out.
That was the main problem, Joxer decided. Only a day had gone by but he already missed Ares desperately. He missed the spicy taste of his mouth, the musk of his skin and the sensuous touch of his hands. He missed being held tightly and holding in return. Yearningly, he looked out the front window.
"Hey, it's stopped snowing. I don't care how deep it is, I'm going out." Joxer sighed in relief. If he could just get out and walk until he was exhausted, maybe he'd be able to sleep in that big, lonely bed without his lover. Taking the time to grab a heavy cloak and a pair of mittens, he walked out into a black and white landscape. At least a foot of snow was banked along the boundary shrubs and it was hard breaking a path out to the clearing in front of the cottage.
But it was also exhilarating in the cold crisp air, his breath puffing out in little white clouds of vapor. Grinning, he took giant steps out to where the wind had cleared the snow to only a few inches deep. His boots came above his knee and he was glad of it when the snow turned deep again and he came perilously close to foundering. The last thing he wanted was wet feet.
Setting off away from the cottage, he looked eagerly about at the familiar landscape rendered unrecognizable by the heavy coating of snow. The black bark of a tree trunk and the occasional red of berries peaked through the covering of white. On the south side of the evergreens, a little green came through its heavy layer of snow. Their branches sank low under the thick wet stuff and Joxer wondered if some of the limbs might never spring back and have to be pruned, come warmer weather.
He would enjoy that, he decided. I'll offer to clean up the trees and plants come springtime. I wonder if Ares likes to garden? That thought kept him busy for quite a distance, while he watched for other signs of damage. Tracks of wild animals came and went but he never saw anything bigger than a bunny that hopped lightly over the heavy crust of ice that overlaid the snow.
Joxer watched him for a moment, remembering that Ares had told him that no animal was ever hunted in the valley. At least by man or god. The natural predators took care of the balance of wildlife. Ares had smiled and said, 'It feels good to know that at least one spot on earth is free of man's depredations.' Joxer smiled tenderly, his Ares was a good man. But that thought brought with it the memory of their separation and he doggedly struck out on a new path, intent on exhausting himself.
Coming up over a rise, he stopped in delight at the scene laid out before him. The sun had broken through the clouds and everywhere he looked were dancing rainbows of color glinting off the ice and snow. The tall trees stood in stark relief glowing with glittering diamonds of light. It was magical and he watched in awe at the glimmering beauty of every tree and shrub. The light danced between ground and sky, sparking ice cold fire everywhere it touched.
The silence was absolute and he could hear his own heartbeat loud in the quiet. It was a long moment before something caught his attention and he turned his head to catch the elusive sound. Not a footstep or snow falling from a tree limb. In the frozen stillness, it sounded like running water. But the stream near the cottage was frozen solid. And it wasn't exactly running, more like gurgling.
A spring? Maybe a hot spring? Joxer speculated while heading in the direction of the intriguing noise. The snow was deeper here and he found himself short of breath before he'd gone more than ten paces. But the sound was growing louder and he finally stumbled into a hidden grotto of stone. A small pool of bubbling water fed by a six-foot tall water fall lay backed up against a limestone cliff. Ivy vined against the bare stone and when he knelt by the pool, he could feel the earth warm against his hand. The water was hot but not too hot, he decided.
"Think before you rush into this, Joxer. Remember what Hestia said about consequences." He murmured while he gazed at the thick evergreens that shielded the grove from the ice and snow. The tops of the trees bowed inward, making a roof of branches. No wind blowing icy blasts could get through the tightly woven limbs and the steam rising from the burbling pool made his cloak almost superfluous.
"I can use my shirt to dry myself. The sun is still out, kind of. The walk back will keep me warm." He smiled gleefully and began to undress. Setting his boots and pants near the ivy for protection, he laid his shirt closer to hand before setting his cloak well back from any water that might splash.
He was shivering continuously, when he slipped cautiously into the fizzy water. The bubbles burst against his skin and he laughed out loud at their tingling. It felt like invisible hands prickling his skin from his toes to his shoulders. The pool was only as deep as his chest, the bottom felt like sand against his feet. The more he disturbed the water, the greater the effervescence tickling his skin to a heightened sensitivity.
The sensations were almost too much and finding a ledge beneath the water, he sat in stillness with only his head out of the water, willing himself to relax. It felt wrong to even think of taking himself in hand and stroking until he came but the feelings of arousal assaulted him from every direction. Slowly, he thought of Ares and let his hands drift where they willed.
Ares popped back home with a sigh of relief that quickly turned to dismay. Looking quickly through the two rooms of the cottage, he found no trace of Joxer. The missing cloak was his first clue, the tracks in the deep snow, his second. For one brief moment, he wondered if Joxer had left him before his common sense kicked in. He's just gone for a walk.
Concentrating on the valley, he sank into the very fabric of the earth, becoming earth. Searching for the feel and heartbeat of his lover, he flowed through the frozen tundra until he sensed the pattern he'd imprinted in his heart over the last three weeks. Joxer, he whispered to himself. Impatiently, he winked out and followed the trail in a single breath.
Standing by the hot springs, he jealously watched the young man writhing in the water. Eyes closed, head tilted back, his hands out of sight, Joxer moaned breathlessly. Ares wished his clothes away and slid into the water noiselessly, his arrival masked by the bubbling water and the hazy state his young lover was in. Ducking under the water, he watched Joxer stroke his shaft with one hand while the other plucked at his nipples.
With one powerful kick, Ares swam between the sprawled legs, displacing the hand with his mouth. Even through the water, he heard the shout and felt the two hands that grabbed his head. Relaxing the back of his tongue, he took the hard cock all the way in. With his nose buried in the dark silky curls of Joxer's groin, he started a gentle sucking that brought renewed groans from the man above him. Three swallows was all it took to release the salty liquid down his throat.
Releasing the softening cock, he rose to the surface and the dazed gaze of his lover. Joxer promptly grabbed on to him and pulled him in for a kiss that sucked his tongue into the spicy mouth he loved to taste. He tasted of home to the dark god.
Joxer broke away to breathe. "Oh, gods, Ares. I was sitting here thinking about you and wishing you were here. Dreaming that my hands were your hands and you were loving me. I love you. When did you get back? I really, really love you. Do you have to go again? I love you so much."
Ares brushed the dripping hair from his forehead and smiled at his babbling lover. "I just came back. And missed you immediately. I will have to leave again but not for awhile. How clever of you to find the hot spring. I meant to show it to you but we never came this way."
Joxer beamed. "I just went for a walk to tire myself so I could sleep without you when I heard it."
Ares dropped his voice to a growl, "Oh, I think I can come up with something better than walking to tire you out."
Joxer slid his hands slowly up the arms around him to the back of Ares' neck, pulling him closer. "Please." He whispered, his need shining out of the velvet brown eyes.
The dark god moaned at the feel of the effervescent bubbles that trailed in the wake of the gentle touch. He'd forgotten how sensuous the hot mineral water made the bather feel. "I've never made love here before, Joxer. You'll be the first."
The dark eyes widened and Joxer smiled in delight before throwing back his head at the sensation of Ares' fingers sliding into his body. Ares mouthed down the long neck until he reached the hollow at the base of his throat. He felt the shivers that started when he rasped his tongue across the sensitive skin.
"Ares!" Joxer writhed in his arms, his shaft hardening against the dark god's stomach and his legs wrapping around his waist.
Ares shifted him higher and replaced his fingers with his cock. The water acted as a lubricant and he hissed in relief as he slid into the blood-hot channel. Resting, he listened to the heartbeat that had begun to matter more than his own. The water acted like a conduit of his energy. No, he thought distractedly, both our energies. He could feel the power flowing from him to Joxer then changing and flowing back.
He'd never felt this connected before to anyone. Joxer's hands soothed out the tension in his shoulders that he hadn't even realized he'd brought home with him from Olympus. Every flex of muscle and twitch of nerve in the familiar body beneath him echoed in his own.
"I missed you, Joxer. Every moment seemed like ten." Ares listened to the heartbeat speed up at his words.
"I feel like you're inside me, Ares." Joxer whispered in one ear.
"I am inside you, Joxer." Ares pulled back to watch those expressive brown eyes.
"More than just your cock, Arry." Joxer struggled for the words. "Like I can feel your blood rushing through your body, along with mine."
Ares held onto the slim hips and began a long glide out before thrusting back into the tight sheath, hitting that spot within Joxer that made him moan. "I feel it as well, Joxer. Every time we make love, it grows stronger."
"Sometimes, I can't tell which one I am, anymore." Joxer's eyes met his and he did something creative with his ass muscles that made Ares' eyes widen.
"As long as we're both enjoying it." Ares sped up his thrusts, needing to drive Joxer into incoherence and himself into oblivion.
Joxer held on to the broad shoulders, hard enough to leave bruises. The water was too buoyant to give him anything to push back against so he settled for a series of muscles contractions that fired Ares' blood. The cold air against the dark god's shoulders acted as a counterpoint to the white hot burn of his cock.
It wasn't enough and Ares impatiently wrapped his long arms around Joxer and whispered in his ear, "Hang on," before moving them to their bed in the warm, dark cottage. Giving Joxer a moment to get used to the sensation of the mattress beneath him, he scattered kisses over the silky skin under his left ear.
"Better," Joxer sighed and wrapped his legs tighter around Ares' waist.
"Yes, it is." Ares cupped the firm white buttocks in his hands and tilted him to just the right angle before beginning a series of thrusts that had Joxer moaning in pleasure that bordered on pain.
Neither of them lasted much beyond that before releasing their pleasure into the other's keeping. Ares rolled over, bringing Joxer up to blanket him, the young warrior's legs falling limply to either side of his. His dark head was a welcome weight on his shoulder. Not for the first time, Ares contemplated why this man made him feel so cherished.
Joxer stretched from his head to his toes, moving sensuously against Ares' skin. Raising his head, he looked at Ares with so much love in his eyes that the dark god could feel it radiating out to him.
"I love you, Ares. How did you know where I was?"
Ares hesitated a moment, he'd never told a mortal of these powers. But the quickly hidden disappointment in his lover's eyes decided him. Joxer deserved the truth.
"All the gods are a part of one of the four elements, Joxer. Earth, air, fire and water. I'm connected to the earth. I can become one with her and feel what she's feeling. When I'm one with the valley, I can track everyone in it, both plant and animal." Ares spoke slowly, unsure if he was explaining it correctly. All the gods understood the connections but few mortals knew of them. "You were muffled in the water but I could feel your heartbeat calling to me."
Joxer had laid his head back down on Ares' shoulder and the dark god really needed to see his eyes. Sliding Joxer to his side and easing out of the warm body, he brought up a hand to raise the square jaw. Everything the young warrior thought or felt was mirrored in those wine dark eyes and Ares sighed in relief when he saw only curiosity reflected there.
"Are only gods a part of the elements?"
"No." Ares kissed the crinkled nose. "Everyone is made up of the four elements, both god and mortal. But each person has one primary element and one secondary. Mine are earth first and then fire. It's why Aunt Hestia and I get along so well. Only one god is the master of all four." Ares settled himself more comfortably, his eyes watching Joxer's reaction.
"Zeus." The young man guessed and smiled at Ares' nod. "Can mortals train themselves to ... master one of the elements?"
"It takes time, Joxer. Most mortals don't have enough time to learn how to do that. One lifetime just isn't enough, usually. I have heard tell of a few from the Far East who can control an element. But they are the exception." Ares smiled tenderly at Joxer's sigh of disappointment. "It took me five centuries." He watched Joxer's eyes widen. "But if I were to guess what your element was ... I'd guess it was water. You take to it like a sea otter."
Joxer blushed and smiled hopefully. "I've always liked water. Nana taught me to swim when I was two. She said I never was afraid of anything wet. Starting with mud puddles."
"Nana? I don't think you've ever mentioned her before." Ares was intrigued.
Joxer smiled. "My parents were always busy but from the time that I was born, Nana took care of me. She was a slave from Nubia. Small and dark skinned but always kind and gentle. She taught me so much about the world. She knew stories from all over the world and she was always singing. She died when I was twelve. A fever that wouldn't break no matter what I did."
Ares watched Joxer's eyes grow bright with unshed tears. "I begged Father to send for the healer. But he said, 'she's only a slave.' Mother scolded me for interrupting their party. I went back to Nana with some wine, I stole from the banquet table. She could only sip a little. Her lips were blue and her eyes didn't focus anymore." Joxer was lost in the memories and Ares could only hold him tight and listen.
"Just before dawn, she seemed to recognize me. She smiled and touched my cheek. 'You're a good boy, Joxer. Without you, this life would have been unbearable. Someday, you will grow into your own. I see power shining all around you. Pain and suffering will yield to love and life. So much love, little one. So much love.' And then she closed her eyes and slipped away." A tear crept down his cheek into his tremulous smile. "She was right about the love."
Ares was torn between the desire to love this proud vulnerable man into unconsciousness and the need to hold him safe from all harm "You are growing into your own, Joxer. And I do ... love you." He felt breathless with the final saying of the words, he'd never thought to say to anyone.
Joxer's eyes widened and his smile lit the room with it's radiance. "I love you too, Ares. Hold me tighter. Don't ever let go."
Ares gathered him in and held on tightly, resting his forehead against Joxer's and sharing breaths with the shaking young man "Never, Joxer. I'll never let go."
The dark god knew when Joxer fell asleep, still taking an occasional shaky breath. It was time that he took an interest in Joxer's family. They were going to regret having hurt this young man. Indeed, they were.
End part four