Ares cursed himself silently while he listened to Strife's report. He'd gotten careless and now Strife knew about Joxer. Of course, he'd drawn the wrong conclusion but sooner or later he'd figure it out. Ares stiffened when he caught what the god of mischief was saying.
"... reeked of bad shit. Made me gag."
"Where was this, Strife?" Ares listened and nodded. Could be an up and coming hot spot. He searched his memory. It had been at least four centuries since any trouble in that area. "You did well. Check with the Muses when the last time we had a war there. I'll check it out myself. It's been quiet lately."
Strife nodded and looked like he wanted to say something further but Ares' scowl stopped him and he vanished. Ares sat a moment longer, brooding over what to do about Joxer, before getting up to make an appearance at the temple. Part of him accepted the tributes and petitions, handing out judgments and listening to his followers but part of his mind focused on the problem of how to handle the Strife situation.
With a sigh of relief, he slowly disappeared in a shower of golden sparks and reappeared in the hidden room where Joxer waited for him. The young warrior looked up with a grin from where he sat near the fire. On the hearth sat a small green plant in an earthenware pot.
"I stayed away from the blacksmith and bought a plant instead. The gardener said it would have purple flowers in the summer. And it will come back every year and spread all by itself."
Ares knelt by the fire and kissed Joxer lingeringly before looking more closely at the small green/bronze leaves. "Looks like a form of sage. Not only pretty but we'll be able to cook with it too. Very nice, Joxer. We'll make you a gardener, yet. Let's go home."
Joxer held his arm, his dark eyes searching his face. "Something happened. You're worried."
"You know me too well. We'll talk of it later." Ares smiled reassuringly and gathered Joxer and his plant into a loose hug for the journey to their valley.
He realized with a start that he did think of it as theirs. He could no longer visualize it without the young man there. Which meant that he had to tell Joxer the truth, again. It was getting to be a habit. He watched him fuss with the pot, moving it towards than away from the fire. Pouring a little water on it, he sat back on his heels and directed a questioning look at Ares.
"Strife saw us at the temple." He decided to be brief and see what Joxer made of the situation.
"That's three. Of your relatives who know about us." Joxer frowned. "I'm sorry."
Now it was Ares' turn to frown. "You have nothing to be sorry about. They're my family. I was hoping for a little more time with just the two of us before I told everybody."
"You want them to know?" Joxer's tones were incredulous.
Ares swooped down and rolled Joxer up into a hug. "I am not ashamed of you, Joxer. For the first time in centuries, I'm feeling joyful. Of course, I want them to know. I was just being selfish in keeping you all to myself."
Joxer smiled tentatively up at him and shook his head. Ares tenderly scattered kisses across his face, teasingly avoiding his lips. "I said I love you and I mean it, Joxer. You're the first person I said it to and I'll thank you to remember that." He tried for an indignant tone but Joxer saw right through him and began to return the hug and the kisses.
Long moments passed in kissing and undressing. Ares never got tired of the task of peeling Joxer out of his clothes. Today, it was slow and teasing. Every bit of skin revealed had to be tasted and tormented. He realized with a start that Joxer had almost finished undressing him as well. Sprawled on the bearskin rug, Ares watched as his young lover pulled off his leather pants. He then proceeded to kiss his way up the long legs, sending shivers up Ares' spine.
"Joxer!" Ares moaned when he reached the inside of his thighs. The kid was getting good at this. He was very creative with his tongue, not to mention his hands. Ares closed his eyes and tracked Joxer's progress with his skin. He spent quite a bit of time nibbling up his thighs and slow licking the rising cock. Then he replaced his tongue with his hands and moved his mouth higher to lap at Ares' navel.
The unexpected caress made Ares arch and moan. The delightful tickle lasted all the way up to his chest, where the talented mouth latched onto a nipple and proceeded to torment it to a hard and aching peak. Ares slid his own hands over the broad shoulders to trail soft touches up and down his lover's back. Joxer was filling out and putting on more muscles. His coordination was improving as well. As an exercise, Ares decided, lovemaking was well worth the effort.
Joxer moved up to the long neck and rubbed his nose in the hollow of the arching throat. Soft nips to the underside of his jaw brought another helpless moan. Then the soft lips were on the waiting mouth and they shared a long breath of anticipation. Joxer's hands had never ceased their slow glides up and down the rock hard shaft and Ares' oiled fingers were busy between the firm white cheeks.
But when Joxer started to move to one side, Ares stopped him with a touch. "Stay here, Joxer. There's a position we haven't tried yet." Centering the young man over his aching cock, he pushed up gently, just hard enough to lodge within the tight ring of protective muscle.
Joxer's eyes widened but he caught on immediately and slowly pressed down to engulf Ares in his tight heat. Ares brought one of Joxer's hands to his lips and tickled a kiss into the palm.
"You take over, Joxer. As slow or fast as you want." Ares gave control of the lovemaking to his lover.
Joxer hesitated a moment then moved experimentally. The long slow glide up teased the dark god's hardened flesh into a state of excitement he hadn't experienced in years. But then Joxer does that just by breathing in my direction these days, he thought through the haze of desire that grew with every movement. The urge to thrust was becoming overwhelming, but he tried to hold on to his control and let Joxer do what he would.
"Arry!" Joxer had accidentally found his pleasure spot and
Ares couldn't resist thrusting up just enough to stimulate it again. "Do that again." Joxer's voice had dropped to a growl and Ares found
himself responding to the command.
Joxer's hands slid up to Ares' shoulders while Ares' hands moved to the slim hips that rode him so confidently. The look on Joxer's face was one Ares had never seen before. Gods, he's beautiful. Ares lost his train of thought and began to push harder, retaining just enough control to stimulate Joxer's pleasure spot with every other thrust.
Ares reached for Joxer's cock and began to loosely stroke the crimson shaft, whose head flared and wept. The extra stimulation was all that Joxer needed to freeze in position while his cock pulsed out it's pleasure and his face shivered into a mask of erotic ecstasy. The sight was enough to push Ares over the edge as well, the milking muscles of Joxer's ass wringing his own pleasure from him.
Joxer collapsed onto Ares' chest and the dark god cradled him tenderly, resting his cheek on the dark curls that smelled of the spruce soap they both liked and Joxer's own clean scent.
"That was incredible. I felt like I was flying." The drowsy tones were muffled in his chest.
"Good." Ares realized that he'd come to a couple of decisions while they were making love. This young man deserved everything that he could give him and that meant taking him to Olympus and exposing him to the rest of the family. It also meant that they'd have to have that talk about immortality and what it took to achieve it. He was a little worried about that one.
"You enjoyed it, too." Joxer raised his head and looked down at Ares, searching his face with eyes and soft fingers. Ares turned his head just enough to kiss the caressing hand, his gaze never leaving those shining brown eyes.
"I loved it almost as much as I love you." The words really did get easier to say with practice. "Why don't we get cleaned up before you are permanently glued to my body? Not that that would be such a bad thing, except for one of us having to go through life backwards."
Joxer laughed and kissed him before peeling himself to one side. Ares barely kept back a groan as he was pulled from Joxer's warm depths. They both sighed at that loss of possession. Joxer got up first and reached down to pull Ares to his feet. Still wrapped in each other's arms, they strolled into the spa to bathe.
Ares was washing Joxer's hair when he brought up the subject of Olympus. The young man was practically purring under the strong fingers that massaged his head. Joxer had already washed Ares' shaggy mane with a tenderness that was an act of lovemaking in its own right. Now, Ares took a deep breath and broached the topic.
"Joxer, it's time that we went on a visit. Aunt Hestia has been bugging me to bring you over to her home temple so she can get to know you better. Would you mind if we went today?" He held his breath and watched Joxer's face for a clue to what he felt.
"She was really nice, Arry. I wouldn't mind at all. Do you need to let her know first? What if she's gone visiting herself?" Joxer's tone never changed and he chuckled as Ares dipped his head back for the rinse.
"She's always in her temple at sunset. That's a little ways yet. Long enough for us to get dry and dressed." Ares kissed the upside-down forehead. "We can pick some of the pine-cones from the blue spruces. She likes those when they're burning. They pop and spark in different colors."
Joxer turned to face him. "Cool. Has she ever been here, Arry? Ever visited you?"
"Just once. She's one of my family, I really don't mind knowing about this place. In her own way, she protects this valley with her warmth. Even though the open fire in the next room is the only visible fire, beneath the valley, deep in the earth is another kind of fire that runs along wide channels all under Greece. She and my brother Hephaestus share the responsibility of watching over those rivers of flame."
Joxer thought about that while they climbed out of the tub and began to dry themselves. "That's why it's so warm in here and why the hot springs exist? But why don't the fires come up out of the earth like the River of Fire does?"
"Good question. Sometimes through a fault in the earth, the fires reach the surface. That's a volcano and it seems to relieve the pressure inside, like popping a blister. What we did here was create a channel so the flow comes up to almost the surface then veers away again. Hephae and I worked for almost ten years to do it just right. It's a delicate balance between earth and fire. But the benefits are obvious." Ares watched Joxer surreptitiously while they dressed.
Joxer was frowning in concentration. "How do you create a channel? Is it like when you found me in the hot springs?"
Ares took him in his arms and kissed him briefly. "You are so smart, Joxer. I don't ever want to hear you call yourself stupid again."
Joxer smiled and shook his head. "It was your explanation."
"There are gods who don't understand the connection between awareness of the elements and the manipulation of them. You are already way ahead of a quarter of my family." Ares shook him playfully and went back to dressing. "When I am one with the element, then I can use my will to change or move the earth. Hephae is a master at fire moving. He really understands all the aspects of flame. It was a pleasure to work with him."
"If his primary is fire, is his secondary earth?" Joxer finished tying the last shirt tie.
"Very good, Joxer. It's why we worked so well together. Our elements are reversed but compatible. However, it doesn't have to be an exact reversal. Aunt Hestia's primary is flame but her secondary is air. Still we have worked together comfortably in the past." Ares shrugged on his black leather vest and tied off the single closure.
"Then, you have to have an element in common to work with one of the other gods." Joxer pulled a green leather tunic on over his white shirt, his voice muffled momentarily.
"Zeus, no! We'd never get anything done. Sometimes opposites attract and wield enormous power by working together to combine all four elements. Like 'Dite and Hephae. She's air and water. When the two of them get together, they can move the earth. Luckily, they rarely achieve complete unity because of all the bickering. Which is probably a good thing for the rest of us." Ares brushed his hair briskly.
"Have you ever matched someone like that?" Joxer asked quietly.
Ares gathered him into his arms, raising the square chin with one hand and making firm contact with those questioning brown eyes. "Very briefly while making love with one of my cousins we achieved complete unity. Our daughter is the result. She lives on Olympus with her mother and I see her whenever I can. Her name's Harmonia and she's beautiful like her mother."
Joxer looked stunned and Ares wondered if he should have kept quiet. Maybe this was too much for him. Oh well, in for an obol, in for a drachma. And so thinking, he whisked them up to Olympus.
Joxer wasn't sure what he was feeling. Ares had a child ... a daughter. With one of the goddesses. Then why me? What does he see in me? What can I possibly give him that they couldn't?
"Love, Joxer. You gave me your love. Something they never really could give me." Ares read his mind then set him aside. "I forgot the pine-cones. Stay here. I'll be right back."
Joxer looked around in confusion at the deep red walls of a small temple. Ebony wood pillars quartered a raised dais of gleaming white marble, upon which burned a steady flame in a small fire pit. It was warm and comforting here unlike some temples he'd been in. There were thick pillows in varying shades of red scattered on the three steps that led up to the hearth fire.
Joxer sat down on the top step and waited for Ares to return. He tried to bring his thoughts into some kind of order. He should have realized that Ares would have married and had children, maybe even more than once. He had the impression that the gods played the field pretty regularly. Look at Zeus, he had a wife and a lot of mistresses, mortal and immortal. The gods didn't look at love the way mortals did, he knew that.
It was just another reminder of how different he and Ares were. And yet ... He said he loved me. Joxer hugged that thought to him and looked up as a whisper of sound brought Ares back to him, his hands full of pine cones and his smile worried. So, he has a daughter. That was the past. I'm his present and that's enough for now.
Holding out his hand, Joxer took some of the pine-cones from his lover. Smiling, he whispered. "I'm glad you told me. If she's your daughter than she's sure to be beautiful."
Ares' smile relaxed and he leaned forward to kiss Joxer. "I'll try not to spring anymore surprises on you for a little while."
"One a day would be nice." Joxer was only partly joking.
"Then maybe I shouldn't tell you where we are?" Ares looked a little apprehensive, like a little boy with a guilty secret.
"Hestia's home temple. It looks like her. Warm and comfortable."
"What a lovely compliment, young Joxer." Hestia's smoky accents arose from the fire along with the rest of her. Rising out of the flames, she solidified from sparks to flesh in yet another gown of rosy hue. "Welcome to Olympus."
"Olympus!" Joxer gulped and tried to look nonchalant, as if visiting the home of the gods was an everyday occurrence.
"Naughty Ares. You should have warned him." Hestia scolded gently and she sat down cross-legged on a pillow by Joxer.
"I was trying to do it gently, Aunt Hestia. It's time he met some of the family." Ares settled on the step below them and looked rather sulky at the implied rebuke.
"Well, perhaps you're right. It's always hard to get over that initial shock. But Joxer is resilient and will feel comfortable in no time at all. Perhaps we should take a short walk out to see some of the sights. I always enjoy showing someone new around." Hestia said brightly. "Let me get a fire rose to take with me."
"Uh, ma'am. We brought you some pine-cones for your fire." Joxer found his tongue, finally. Offering her the three he held, he glowed at her exclamations of joy.
"Lovely. You boys are so thoughtful. Let's put them over here for now. We can burn a couple before you leave." She clapped her hands and a woven reed basket appeared in her lap, into which she layered both sets of cones. Then laying it to one side, she reached into the fire and drew forth a red rose that burned brightly. Tucking it behind one ear, she extended her hands.
Joxer took one hand in his and Ares took the other. He could feel her warmth travel up his arm and through his whole body. It felt delicious. It also helped anchor him as they walked through the temple arch out into Olympus. It was hard not to gawk at the pristine cleanliness of the place. White temples rose from green meadows. Colorful flowers bloomed and trees blossomed with white and pink buds in this place of eternal spring.
"Don't be afraid to speak up, young Joxer. A bit insipid, don't you think? Always white or pink with an occasional hint of blue or gold. Not a good honest red or bright yellow, anywhere." Hestia sighed.
"You could always shake them up by painting your temple bright red, Aunt Hestia." Ares' amused accents were directed down at the head, which didn't even reach his shoulder. His gaze invited Joxer to enjoy the joke.
Those flashing dark eyes held so much love that Joxer felt himself relaxing even through the insecurity that bubbled inside of him. He took a deep breath and smiled back.
"Don't think I haven't thought of it, young Ares. Maybe for the summer solstice, I'll celebrate and turn everyone's fires bright red. That would shake up some of these old fogies." Hestia snorted.
This time the smile was genuine, Joxer felt himself less self-conscious at where he was and just enjoyed the amusing conversation between Ares and Hestia. They pointed out the different temples, Hestia providing a rather scurrilous commentary on their occupants. But they didn't stop until they came to the temple of the four winds.
"If you don't mind, I need to see if Zephyrus is visiting today." Ares cast a serious look at his companions.
"That old windbag. I haven't seen him in ages." Hestia nodded her agreement.
They entered a temple with four entrances, Hestia explaining quietly that each of the four winds had his own arch. Once inside, depending upon which entrance you used, you were in the temple of that particular wind. Joxer wasn't quite sure how that worked but Hestia just laughed and said to take it on faith. So he did.
It was very quiet except for a rustling that impinged on the outer edges of Joxer's hearing, like the flutter of wings from far away. But suddenly a voice boomed out, obliterating all other sound.
"Ho, Ares and Hestia. What brings you to my humble abode?"
Joxer winced while Hestia clapped her hands over her ears. "Tone it down, you muscle-bound bag of hot air."
"You always did have a tongue like an adder, Hestia. Is this better?" In much quieter tones, a tall man stepped out of the air and stood with hands on hips looking jovially down at them. Taller even than Ares, his hair was a bright red that matched the hue of his cheeks. Everything about him shouted of a genial nature and a beguiling personality. Joxer watched in fascination while Hestia beckoned him down to her and he kissed her cheek gently.
"It's good to see you, Zephyrus. This is my companion, Joxer." Ares introduced him and Joxer nodded a greeting to the bright god who seemed to wax and wane in size before his eyes. Wind plucked his toga from within and without as if the currents of air could not be wholly constrained by mere cloth.
Joxer watched in fascination while Zephyrus returned his nod and bent his head to listen to Ares' question about a village to the west. Once again, Joxer heard a faint rustling that seemed to draw nearer and flutter near him. He tried to concentrate on the conversation in front of him but a faint buzzing now created a background of noise that kept interrupting him.
Out of the corner of his eye, a darting shape surprised him. Turning his head, he saw nothing. But then the shape appeared to his left and he whipped his head around only to again find nothing. Keeping his head still, he darted his eyes from side to side, trying to catch the little intruder off guard. A high pitched giggle sounded just by his ear and he started then stayed as still as he could.
Suddenly, a dozen little shapes fluttered all around him. Tickling,
teasing, tugging at his hair and clothes, he tried hard not to laugh out
loud at the sensations. Giggles and words wove their way into his
"Big." "Man." "Fun." "Laugh." "Silly." "Soft." "Tickle." "Warm."
Joxer was going cross-eyed trying not to move but still see the invisible little teases that were tormenting him. It felt like hummingbirds were beating their wings under his hair and just inside his collar. Something was tugging at his dark curls and something else was whispering in his ear.
"Come." "Play." "Dance." "Laugh." "Sweet." "Sing." "Fizz." "Tickle."
He couldn't help it, he had to laugh out loud. Interrupting the conversation of the two gods, they turned in consternation. Zephyrus sighed in exasperation.
"Children! Stop tormenting Joxer. Little zephyrs can be rather mischievous, I'm afraid." The bright god smiled benignly. "They've taken a liking to you, young man. They're not usually this frisky."
"They're all right, Zephyrus. They just startled me. They're kind of cute." Joxer blushed at the three pairs of eyes that looked so intently at him. Hestia was laughing, Zephyrus was rolling his eyes and Ares' gaze was tender. "Um, I'll just go outside and play with the kids until you're done."
"Good idea, Joxer. I'll come with you. Let these two have their little chat." Hestia tucked her hand in his arm and tugged him out through the arch. They sat on the steps and the tiny zephyrs now clothed in bright colors zipped around them. They had distinct personalities and Hestia pointed out their differences while they flew back and forth between the two of them, keeping up a constant stream of chatter. They quickly learned the word Joxer and one after another called his name among giggles and butterfly kisses.
He hadn't felt so carefree in years and he allowed them to fly in and out of his cupped hands like the miniature whirlwinds they were. Hestia egged them on with gusts of heated air that sent them dancing up and down while they rode the thermals. They were all laughing when Ares and Zephyrus joined them and the little zephyrs darted to their father. Joxer and Hestia rose to say their good-byes.
"Come over the next time you're here, Joxer. The children haven't been so animated in quite a while. We'll be glad to see you." Zephyrus gripped his arm and took Joxer's quiet nod as an affirmative. "As for you, Hestia, keep the home fires burning."
"Of course, Zephyrus, so long as you keep blowing that warm air my way." Hestia shook her finger playfully at the big man.
Ares exchanged a warrior's grip and a long look that Joxer couldn't quite interpret. They walked away from the temple with Hestia and Joxer both casting surreptitious glances at the dark god.
"Would you two mind if I head over to the Archive of the Muses? I need to look up something before I tell both of you about it." Ares looked worried and Joxer felt a shiver run up his spine.
"Of course, dearest. Hurry back. Joxer and I will have a little evening snack." Hestia patted his arm reassuringly.
Joxer caught Ares' gaze and smiled. "I'll be waiting. I love you."
Ares pulled him into an embrace and a kiss that threatened to set them both on fire. "I love you, too. Be good."
They broke apart and Ares strode away, on up the mountain to a shining temple with music drifting from every arch. Hestia tucked her arm into Joxer's and tugged him in the direction of her temple.
"Well. He finally said it. I am pleased. He's always guarded his heart against love." Hestia patted Joxer's hand. "You're good for each other, you know. He's happier than I've ever seen him. And you're calmer and more sure of yourself than you were a month ago."
"I love him more than I ever dreamed possible. When we're together, I feel complete and whole." Joxer tried to find the words to show the goddess how he felt. "I belong with him. And to him."
Hestia held him tighter. "He feels the same way, dearest. Be good to each other. Love each other. That will see you through most anything."
Joxer smiled down at the small woman and they continued to stroll through Olympus in the gathering darkness, towards the small temple that Hestia called home. Joxer decided that Olympus wasn't so bad after all. Remembering the zephyrs, he grinned and looked forward to a return visit.
Walking through the temple arch, their eyes were drawn to a young girl sitting forlornly on the steps. "Aunt Hestia, Mom's being mean again!"
Harmonia sat discontentedly on the steps that led to Hestia's fire. Her great aunt was out and she really needed to talk to her. Her mom was being so unfair. She never let her do anything. She sighed heavily and waited patiently for her aunt to return.
A noise from the entrance, brought her upright from where she'd sprawled on the cushions. Hestia and a strange man walked in arm and arm. Interesting, she'd never seen this one before. Automatically she straightened and smiled. But her grievance overrode her curiosity.
"Aunt Hestia, Mom's being mean again!"
"Well, according to you, she's always mean." Hestia led the young man over and pushed him down onto a step cushion. With a popping motion, she summoned a tray of apples and cheese. A set of goblets appeared next and a pitcher of fruit juice followed. After serving both of them and taking a deep drink of juice, Hestia settled down between them.
"Now, young lady, what's gone wrong?" Hestia's no nonsense voice made Harmonia feel at home right away. "Oh, by the way, Harmonia this is Joxer. Joxer, Harmonia."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Joxer." She smiled and wondered why he opened his mouth but nothing came out. He looked rather like a cute fish, opening and closing his lips but staying mute. He must be really shy. But awfully cute.
"Oh my, Joxer. Ares told you about Harmonia, didn't he?" Hestia gave a little gasp that Harmonia didn't quite understand.
"You know my dad? Cool. I don't get to see him very often. But I love him so much. I wish he was here now." Harmonia sighed again.
"Well," Joxer cleared his throat and finally spoke. "You should get your wish shortly. He'll be here in a bit."
O-o-oh, nice voice. And dreamy eyes. Harmonia bit into her apple and watched Joxer eat his. His teeth were so strong and white, biting into the juicy golden apple. His hands looked like they could handle any amount of trouble. Competent fingers that turned the apple to and fro until only the core was left.
"About the current problem, Harmonia?" Hestia's dry tones reminded her great niece that staring was rude.
"Oh, yeah. There's a dance in Delphi tonight and Uncle Apollo said I could go if I wanted to. But Mom said, no way. She has to be at some stupid orgy in Thrace tonight and she said I couldn't go alone. Daddy Hep is making a sword and can't stop hammering on it long enough to go with me." Harmonia twisted a long blond lock of hair around her finger and tugged until it hurt. "It's so unfair. Just because I'm only sixteen. I even asked Cupid if he'd take me but he and Psyche are taking the baby to some festival in Arcadia. I don't suppose, you'd like to go, Aunt Hestia?"
Her great aunt snorted her disdain. "I didn't like parties much when I was young. I'm too old for all that caterwauling they call music these days. And all that flinging yourself around they call dancing."
Harmonia smiled halfheartedly and wondered why Joxer was blushing. He really was cute. She wondered how he knew her dad. Probably a warrior or something. But not hardened at all, kind of shy and diffident. She smiled more kindly at him, making him blush harder. Sweet, that's what he was. Maybe ...
Just then, Ares strode into the temple with a scowl on his face that changed to astonishment when he met her eyes.
"Harmonia? How's my little princess?" He caught her as she launched herself into the air, swinging her around as if she were still a little girl. He always made her feel so safe when he held her like this, as if nothing could ever harm her.
"Hi, Daddy. I'm fine. Just a little upset with Mom." She kissed his cheek and wiggled to be let down. Which he did, right by Joxer. She took the opportunity to sit down by the dark warrior. Her dad sat on his other side and grabbed some cheese from the tray.
"What did she do now, princess?" Ares' tones were indulgent and he listened intently while she went through the whole spiel all over again.
She couldn't help noticing that his long legs were touching Joxer all along his back and that the young warrior leaned ever so slightly back against them. Interesting. She'd known several same sex couples both male and female but she'd never considered her father in that light. Of course, she'd never known him in any kind of relationship. He and Mom had broken up shortly after she'd been born. He was always alone when he came to Olympus.
All in all, she decided that she approved of him being with someone else. Besides, it should work in her favor when it came to getting her own way tonight. Being in love always made people indulgent, she'd noticed. So she pouted sadly and made puppy dog eyes at her father.
"Oh, Harmonia, you're good. You've got your mother's pout down just right." Her father laughed at her. "All right. Joxer and I will go with you but you are going home at midnight with no complaining. And you tell your mother. Is it a deal?"
She launched herself across Joxer and into her father's arms. "You're the best, Daddy. I'll go tell Mom." And she popped home to change clothes and tell her mother where she was going. That took all of five minutes and she was back at Aunt Hestia's. But she materialized outside the entrance and just listened intently for a moment, throwing her hearing out to catch any stray conversation. You never knew what you might hear that would help later.
"Did you just forget to tell me that her mother is Aphrodite?" Joxer's tones were incredulous.
"Uh, didn't I mention that?" Ares said weakly.
"No! You didn't. I had to piece together clues from Harmonia."
"And you did an excellent job of it, too."
"Don't try and sweet talk your way out of this. Why couldn't you trust me?"
"I do trust you. I just felt a little awkward telling you that the goddess who set us up was the mother of my daughter."
Silence. Harmonia sighed silently and thought to herself how romantic. Way to go, Mom. And then Joxer spoke so quietly she almost missed it.
"You're right. She is beautiful and not just because of Aphrodite. All I could think of while watching her was that she has your eyes. All flashing and passionate."
Soft sighs and kissing sounds followed. Harmonia peeked around the corner and caught them embracing before an approving Hestia. Wow, she hoped that someday she'd find someone who'd kiss her like that. It made her stomach feel a little funny to watch her dad kissing so erotically. They were, like glued together and she pulled back for a moment to fan herself. Whew! Maybe she'd learn a few things tonight that she wasn't expecting.
Giggling, she popped in to twirl excitedly in front of her audience. Joxer's eyes widened and her father scowled.
"No you don't, young lady. You can go back and put on something a lot less revealing. That looks like one of your Mom's dresses that's almost there." Ares voice was adamant. "In fact, we'll just all pop in and take a look through your closet."
Sighing heavily, she let Ares pull both her and Joxer into his arms and with a hasty goodbye to Aunt Hestia they whisked to Aphrodite's home away from home. She was just getting ready to go when they all appeared.
"Arry! And Joxer! How nice of you to drop in. Harmonia, you are not wearing that out of here." Her mom rolled her eyes and dragged her into her room. "I'll bet your dad went nova when he saw you." She giggled and began shifting through the dresses hung in the wardrobe.
"Mom, why didn't you tell me that Dad and Joxer are an item?" Harmonia bounced on the bed and let Aphrodite decide what she should wear. She'd never really thought they'd let her wear the pink. But it had been worth a try.
Aphrodite slowed her shifting and met her daughter's glance with an appraising look of her own. "You know how solitary your father is. He's got one of the hardest jobs on Olympus and he's had to be cold and hard and tough to do it. I caught him in a weak moment but I've never regretted it since you were the result, sweetie. It's been centuries since he let his guard down. At first, it was just a silly challenge to have him help out Joxer, who you may have noticed is pretty shy."
Harmonia rolled her eyes and nodded. Aphrodite continued to search and talk.
"But you know it worked out just right. Like they were made for each other or something. Joxer has a gentle power that gives him great strength of mind and heart. He's going to need it." Aphrodite frowned and shook her head. Pulling out a soft green gown with thin straps and off the shoulder sleeves, she smiled. "This one will do quite nicely. Wear your green slippers and my pearl necklace. You'll be the belle of the ball."
"Thanks, Mom. You're the best." Harmonia hugged her and began the hunt for her slippers.
"Just remember that when I'm too, too mean to you." Aphrodite
gave her a maternal smack on the behind and went off to find the pearl
Harmonia dressed hurriedly. She didn't want to miss any of the dance. Brushing her hair until it shone, she tied it back with a green ribbon. Aphrodite was back with the single pearl nestled in the silver shell on the short silver chain, which she fastened around her neck. Together they went back out so Harmonia could model her new dress.
Ares nodded with a smile and Aphrodite kissed all three of them before wafting away to her orgy. Ares gathered both of them in to his warm embrace and whisked them in the opposite direction to Delphi. They walked from a short distance away so they didn't scare anyone and Ares told the story of how he and Joxer met so few months before.
Harmonia thought it was too romantic as she walked between the two of them, holding onto their hands and nervously wondering if she danced well enough to be out in public. But Ares whisked her into the first dance, twirling her around the floor just as her dance instructor had taught her. She relaxed and enjoyed the looks that the young men gave her.
Uncle Apollo was next. He was so good looking that all the women in the room hated her, she thought smugly. Joxer was next and she felt a real sense of power as he held her carefully and tried not to watch his feet.
"You look better in that dress than in the first one." He complimented her quietly. "Sweeter and easier to talk to. Don't break too many hearts tonight."
Harmonia glowed at the thought that she could break anybody's heart. The next young man was one of the temple guards and he paid her fulsome compliments that made her want to giggle instead of shyly egging him on. After that, she lost count of the young men that danced with her, brought her punch, complimented her and tried to get her to walk outside with them.
They usually changed their minds once they got a look at her father's scowl. But Joxer was the one who quietly got a hammerlock on an inebriated swain who got a little too personal and marched him out of the dance hall. Ares was smirking with glee and not a little pride, she decided while flowing into the next dance with hardly a break in the pattern.
Two hours later, she was more than ready to take a break and put her feet up. Midnight was fast approaching and she danced one last dance with Joxer and then her father.
"Daddy, I think you should dance the last dance with Joxer. You never got to last time." Harmonia whispered in her father's ear and wondered why he flushed.
Laughing, he whirled her in a dizzying spin. "Good idea, princess. Let's go."
Gathering up Joxer at the door, they left the overheated hall and Harmonia felt her father pull up an invisibility field from the frozen earth beneath their feet.
"Joxer, may I have this dance?" Ares' deep voice melted Harmonia and from the looks of it, Joxer too.
Taking the tall warrior in his arms, Ares waltzed Joxer around the olive grove. Their bodies moved in perfect rhythm over the ground in flowing circles. Harmonia thought she'd never seen anything more beautiful. And romantic, she sighed to herself. Oh well, at least I know what I'm looking for now.
They slowed, the heat rising between them until Harmonia could feel it radiating off of them. "I'm tired, Daddy. Let's go home."
They both extended an arm to gather her into their embrace and popped back to Olympus where she kissed them both goodnight and watched them wink out, still wrapped in each other's arms. For once, she had something exciting to write up in her journal. Wistfully, she wondered if she would ever fall in love like that. And why had Mom said Joxer would need all his strength?
Harmonia fell asleep in mid-thought.
End part six