Ares stood quite still and waited for the last echoes of power to release into the Transfer Temple. The energy levels were phenomenally high and one by one the others were winking out with all they could absorb. Strife had taken off early and when Athena approached him, he listened wearily with half an ear until he really heard what she was saying.
Thanking him for Cycrops' godhood and apologizing for Poseidon's hurting Joxer. *Hurting Joxer?* Ares could feel the negative energy snapping back into him, rising to new heights while he heard her out. She kissed his cheek and winked out before he could ask her a question.
"Dearest. I'm so glad I caught you alone." Hera's voice got his attention and he turned to her with snapping black eyes. "Oh dear, I see you've heard. Before you go storming off, I need you to listen to me."
"Not now, Mother. I need to see Joxer." Ares started to leave but Hera's hand on his arm stopped him in his tracks.
"Not before you hear the entire story. You're going to have to handle this situation calmly. Come with me." And she pulled him into Zeus' study with a snap of her fingers. "Now, sit down and listen."
He hadn't heard that voice from her in some time and he slouched into the visitor's chair with ill grace. But her story soon had him sitting forward with clenched fists. Poseidon's insults, his argument with her and Joxer's sneezing fit sending him to his birth parents home.
"That's why you needed Strife!" He ran his fingers through his hair and kept a tremulous hold on his temper.
"He's the only one who'd been there. By the time we all showed up, he'd been called a disappointment and worse while that harpy he thinks is his mother was trying to marry him off to a neighbor's daughter." Hera sat down by him and took hold of the hand that he'd been pounding on the arm of the chair. "Aphrodite took care of that little notion. Quite well actually."
Ares almost said something about the grudging compliment but he didn't want to get side tracked. "Then what?"
"I finished doing a little research and popped in. For some reason they think Joxer has married into an itinerant band of roving players." Hera looked at him with a smile and he couldn't quite keep back a snort of laughter. "You'd have been proud of him, Ares. I know I was. He stayed polite the entire time until Jocasta insulted Aphrodite and then he took control of the conversation and got us out of there."
"He did? You mean, he stood up to them?" Ares stopped to think about what Hera said. "I thought he'd be paralyzed. So many of his nightmares have dealt with his childhood."
"Dearest, he's growing up. So much has changed in his life since he met you. He's a god now and the lover of a god. Soon to be the father of a god." Hera sighed and rubbed her thumb over his fingers. "But until now, he never faced the demons of his youth. Now he has. And he's found them to be not evil but simply foolish, vain, ignorant people who know no better. The last two days, he's been very quiet. Thinking, walking the puppies, finishing the Chaos Chronicles. He's coming to terms with himself. He needs your love and support but he must do it himself."
"And I need to be a little less like a mad bull in the marketplace." Ares rubbed his temple and echoed her earlier sigh.
"Well, I wouldn't have put it *quite* like that." He could hear the smile in her voice. "Reassure him of your love. And your pride in him. I don't know if he realizes just how extraordinary he is. He's come further in the months of our lessons than some of the other gods came in years. His natural potential is enormous. There may be a small set back because of this. A slight regression but he'll overcome that in time."
"Sometimes he still has trouble accepting a compliment. While he's way too quick to accept the blame for problems over which he has no control." Ares got up to pace the study. "What about Poseidon?"
"Tethys and I will take care of him. He threatened Joxer, I think, with the water element. If he tries to make good on it, well, suffice it to say, he'll regret it." Hera's smile reminded him of himself and Ares nodded reluctantly. "I know. Perhaps we can figure out something that you can do. But for right now, Joxer has to know that you trust him to handle the situation. That you don't see him as inferior."
"What?" Ares stopped dead and looked at her with open mouth.
"If you step in now, he'll think that you don't feel he's your equal because *you* have to fix the problem that he's created." She sat back and regarded him serenely.
Ares stopped and really thought about the situation. He knew how Joxer felt about being sent away from Thira while Ares fought Ate. And how fragile he felt when he caught the childhood sneezing disease. Even all the way back to when he got himself branded without thinking ahead to the pain. Ares had had to take care of him then. He'd depended on him for everything and the god of war had to admit to himself that he'd enjoyed having Joxer to himself.
"Maybe it's time, I did a little growing up as well." He met her eyes and marveled at the beaming smile she gifted him with before rising to meet him in the middle of the room.
Standing on tiptoe, she kissed his cheek. "I'm proud of both of my boys. Together, you can solve this. Just give him some time. A little love couldn't hurt either."
He kissed her back and quirked an eyebrow. "There will never be anything little about our love, Mother. Thank you. I'll let you know what happens."
"Oh, I'll be popping in tomorrow to make sure you're all right."
"I'm taking him home to the valley. I don't want any interruptions while we talk. Besides, this war took a lot out of me. The hatred was intense and I almost overloaded bringing it back. Strife suffered a little burning around the edges. You might want to check on him." Ares offered the god of mischief in their place and watched her eyes narrow.
"Very well, but come back soon." She dismissed him with a wave of her hand and he quickly found himself on the portico of his temple.
Rubbing his forehead with a weary hand, he thought ruefully that he was glad for the boost. He hoped he had enough energy to get them both home. Walking into the temple, he was greeted by Ebony with sharp excited yips. Scooping him up in one hand, he endured a tongue washing while listening to Harmonia squeal and run across the floor to him.
Throwing herself into his arms, she babbled something about being glad he was home. But all he could see was Joxer rising from the hearth, his dark eyes beginning to glow with familiar passion. Sweet Fire, but he'd missed the other half of his soul.
"Um, Daddy, I guess I'll be going now. I can see you need to take a bath and rest after your war." She eased out of his arms with a giggle and he let her go with a fond but abstracted look that sent her laughing to the doorway. "Bye, Joxer. You're definitely going to need *your* rest."
"I missed you." Joxer was moving closer but he was still too far away. "You look so tired. You even have dark circles under your eyes."
Finally he was close enough to bring into his arms, Ebony squeaking between them. "I love you, Joxer. I never realized how much I would miss you until you weren't there. Can we go home to the valley? I need to sleep for a week. With you. Just *you* to make me whole again."
Joxer was scattering kisses over his face, avoiding his mouth until with a sigh, Ares captured the soft lips and held them for ransom. A few kisses would never be enough and they broke apart long enough for Joxer to nod yes to his request. The young god scooped up Night and Ares gathered his waning strength and zapped them all home.
Once there, the room seemed intent on tilting and he found himself clutching Joxer to stay upright. The puppies were set loose to explore their new playground and Joxer carefully lent his strength for leading them into the spa. He undressed his lover slowly and helped him into the tub where Ares sank with a sigh of relief before coming back up to rest on the ledge.
Joxer joined him shortly and they washed each other with loving but not passionate strokes. That could come later, Ares hoped. The god of war told him of the battles and the almost overload of energy that he'd brought back to the Transfer Temple. Joxer drank it all in with an absorbed look on his face.
"How long will you need to sleep?" He asked while drying him off.
"A day or so. Do you have your transporting power back yet? I hate to have you stuck here with me if you don't have to be." Ares asked wistfully.
"There's no place I'd rather be. Maybe I'll just ravage you while you sleep." Joxer teased him gently and led him into the other room.
"Oh, please. That would be wonderful. I've missed you inside of me. Giving me your love. There's no love on the battlefield." Ares lay down with a groan and closed his eyes with a sigh.
"Then, I'll just have to wait until you are awake and can enjoy
it." Joxer joined him in bed half over him with his head nestled
in the hollow of his shoulder.
"Promise?" Ares could feel himself fading out.
"Promise, love." He kissed his chest gently. "I'll be right here. Sleep now."
Ares woke slowly, his senses going out into the room to check on conditions before he opened his eyes. The fire crackled, the smell of a new loaf of bread wafted across the room and Joxer was plastered against his side, snuffling into his neck. Smiling, he opened his eyes and tightened his hold on his sleeping lover.
Testing their bond, he felt a flicker of life. Probing it gently, he touched the single thread that bound their souls together. Soon. It would be back soon and then they wouldn't have to guess at what they were thinking and feeling. But for now, he was content to simply lie here and hold Joxer close. One hand slowly stroked the hair on the nape of his long neck. The other rose to trace a finger from the broad shoulder down the arm to the shapely hand that clutched the sheet at his side.
"Ares?" The sleepy question came from his shoulder.
"Are you slept out yet?" Joxer propped himself on his other elbow and looked down hopefully.
"For now. If you could just wear me out, I'd be able to sleep again later." Ares injected a hopeful note into his voice.
Joxer's eyes sparkled and he leaned over to tenderly kiss him. Their lips clung for a long moment before opening to allow their tongues to mate. Tickling, stroking, sucking and tasting. When they finally broke apart to breathe, Joxer immediately began to move down his throat with little nips and licks that made the god of war shiver.
Lapping the sweat that pooled in the hollow of the dark god's throat, Joxer sighed happily and moved lower. Their hands were entwined and he kept them on the sheets, denying Ares the touch he craved. Only with lips and tongue did he torment his lover, worrying each nipple into rigid peaks before moving down his ribs to dart into his navel.
Ares chuckled and shivered at the same time. His hips moved restlessly against the cool sheets and Joxer used his own weight to keep him in place. Their legs were hopelessly entangled and Ares had to sort out which ones were his. Their bond was growing stronger, several strands joining the first one.
Joxer's mouth trailed lower, avoiding the rising cock and nipping at the tender skin of his inner thigh. Ares bit back a groan and waited to see where his lover would go next. The rough tongue dipped under his cock and laved his balls while the dark god shivered. He was already beginning to secrete and when Joxer ran his tongue up his cock and lapped at the drops forming there, he moaned out loud.
A gust of warm breath made him jerk and he opened his eyes in time to watch his lover swallow him whole. "Joxer!"
He grinned around his mouthful and slowly sucked his way back up, letting go briefly to speak. "Don't make me get out the restraints, Ares. Just stay calm and I'll get there."
"Calm, he says." Ares muttered and flexed his hands beneath Joxer's. "But I need to touch you."
The young god smiled tenderly and released his hands. "That sounds good to me. Now let's see, where were we?" And he deep throated Ares again.
The god of war moved his fingers through the dark hair on Joxer's head, combing it with the short feathery strokes that he knew his lover liked. Joxer hummed his appreciation and Ares felt the vibration echo through his entire body. An oiled finger was tickling his opening and he sighed as it breached his muscle and slid deep.
Connections. It was all about connecting with another body ... another mind ... another soul. Ares felt their bond blossoming into full strength as one finger became two and then three. Stronger than a tidal wave, it grew between them until Joxer slid deep inside his lover and they merged into one heart.
//Home.// Ares sighed mentally, wrapping his legs around Joxer's waist and his hands on his shoulders.
//Home.// Joxer agreed and pulled out slowly before thrusting back in with increasing fervor.
Their rhythm was in sync immediately, their bodies merging right along with their minds. Back and forth, their thoughts and feelings flew until Ares felt the familiar tightening that meant the end was near. Joxer grabbed hold of his lover's leaking cock and with a few rough strokes, Ares' skin began to burn into release. The tingles grew into pulses of white hot fire that burst through him just as Joxer impaled him one last time and flooded him with his life.
Ares pulled Joxer in tight and they lay in a contented heap of limp bone and muscle for long moments. He found himself petting the sweat soaked hair on Joxer's neck while his lover nipped at the flesh on his shoulder. When he slipped free of Ares, he felt the loss of connection with a pang.
//Even when we're not physically together, our hearts are still
one.// Joxer smiled mentally while his hands stroked the bits of Ares he could reach.
//I know. But I like the sensations when we're linked on all levels. It just feels ... right.// Ares tried to explain something he'd never felt before.
Joxer caught that thought and his head came up, his brown eyes looking a question. //Never?//
"Joxer, I wasn't kidding when I told you that I'd *never* said 'I love you' to anyone before. Except Harmonia. And that's father-love." Ares ran a thumb over Joxer's lips. "As far as I know, our bond isn't something that has ever happened before either. At least not so completely. The chronicles I researched mentioned the merging on a couple of occasions but none of the gods they mentioned are still around."
"What happened to them?" Joxer crossed his arms on Ares' chest and rested his chin on his hands.
"Some of the older gods got so tired of living, they moved on. One day they were there, the next, they were gone. No one really knows where. Speculation has it that they crossed over into another reality and started new in a completely different form." Ares thought about the entries he'd read in the Archives and felt Joxer read them from his thoughts.
"Cool. Not dead since they didn't show up in either Tartarus or the Elysian Fields." He mused out loud. "That's kind of nice to contemplate when we're very, very old."
"Yes it is, love. Say in twenty thousand years or so." Ares smiled up at him. "I'm hoping it will take that long for you to get tired of me."
"Nope. You're not getting away that easily." Joxer kissed him gently. "You know, don't you?"
"Athena and Mother told me bits and pieces of it. I'm sorry you had to face Poseidon alone like that. He can be a right bastard when he's in a temper. I was looking forward to taking him on. I certainly never meant for him to take it out on you." Ares didn't try to downplay the incident. He'd already scanned the memories from Joxer's mind.
"And my trip home?" Joxer's mouth drooped ever so slightly.
"Mother told me. She was really proud of how you handled yourself. And so am I. It's hard to face old fears. She called them demons of the past."
Joxer shuddered. "At first, I couldn't move or think or feel anything. It was like I was 10 years old again and they were trying to mold me into what they wanted. And they were succeeding!" His voice raised a little and Ares held him tighter.
Gulping, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Then, she started going on about me marrying the neighbor's daughter and my mind said right out loud - 'but you can't, you belong to Ares'. Then, I looked around and really saw the place. Everything the same. Oh, maybe some new covers on the divan or at the windows but they were just the same. It's like a prison there but they're the ones caught in it. And I didn't have to be. Because sooner or later, I'd be free of the sneezes and I would come straight home. To you."
Ares rolled them over to their sides and kissed the tears from the pale cheeks. "I wanted to kill them when I thought they'd hurt you. But you need to know how proud I am of you. They can't hurt you anymore. Not ever again. Because the power is now yours. Mother said you handled them beautifully. What happened?"
So, nestled in their bed, Joxer opened his memories to him and they shared the moments both before and after the other gods had shown up. Ares found himself laughing at some of the exchanges between Hera and Jocasta and Joxer surprised himself by joining in.
"It was funny, wasn't it?" He said wonderingly, his hand absently caressing the chest beneath his fingers.
"I usually try to stay out of the cat fights but I think I would have enjoyed this one." Ares licked his way down the broad shoulder to a pert nipple. "It's probably a good thing I wasn't there. I'd have just gone in and caused more trouble. This way, if you need to go back, you can."
Joxer hummed and arched his head against the pillow when the god of war gently nipped the peaking bud of flesh. Pushing him flat against the bed, Ares slid between his legs, nestling their hardening cocks together and nipping over the pectoral muscles to the other nipple.
"Not soon, but probably after the babies are born." Joxer was massaging his hair, running his fingers through the black strands. "But I don't know about telling them about the god thing. That's still too new and ... unexpected."
"Whenever you're ready. But next time," Ares raised his head from its path down to the rising cock, "I go too. We're a team, right?"
"Most definitely, my love." Joxer sighed and ran his thumb over Ares' cheek.
When Ares deep throated him, the young god tried to raise his hips but the dark god had him anchored. Spending the next few minutes teasing him unmercifully, he finally looked up to see the thrashing head on the pillow and the hands clutching the sheet. Chuckling around the silky flesh in his mouth, he licked the small slit free of the salty tears and felt Joxer's balls tighten.
Pulling back, he spread the tanned legs further apart and materialized some oil for his fingers. Joxer panted before him, his eyes open and sultry with promise. They reflected each movement of the fingers that opened him and massaged his channel into twitching need. When Ares moved into position, his lover slid his hands up his arms to pull him in closer.
As always, the first long push into the heated depths made them both gasp. Resting for a moment, their eyes met and held. Thoughts tangled together until Ares couldn't tell whose was whose and the need to move could have come from either of them. But moving was imperative and they soon had a rhythm that lit a fire within their bond that crackled and danced with roaring flames.
Ares leaned forward and kissed him before bringing him up into a sitting position that drove him deeper yet. He swallowed Joxer's shout in his mouth and felt the young god pulse out his seed between them. The gripping muscles pulled his own climax out and into Joxer's safe keeping. Finally, their heartbeats slowed and Ares laid them back onto the bed, slipping free of Joxer's body with a slight pang of regret that was echoed in his lover's thoughts.
Pulling up the sheet, they held each other close and prepared to sleep again. //Love you, Ares.//
//Love you too, Joxer. I'm so glad Aphrodite picked me to help you out last year. I wouldn't have missed loving you for anything.//
Joxer held him tighter and the god of war felt him wipe away a tear on his shoulder surreptitiously. //Nobody ever loved me like you do. And nobody ever will.//
//Oh, I don't know, love. Your son or daughter is going to be so proud to have you for a father. Just as I'm proud to have you for a lover.//
//Really. Now go to sleep and maybe we'll dream of each other.//
//Don't need to dream anymore. I've got everything I ever wanted right here.// Joxer hid a yawn against his shoulder.
//Me too, Joxer.// Ares cradled him closer and watched him fall asleep between one breath and the next. //Me too, my love.//
End of chapter 10