"Dite, what are you doing?"
"Sh-h-h, Joxer. I'm trying to listen in."
Joxer shook his head and moved in close behind the goddess of love, peering over her shoulder into the throne room where Iphicles was diplomatically turning down yet another marriage proposal. This one was beautiful with long golden hair and bright green eyes perched above smiling lips. Her father was a neighboring warlord who'd been trying for some time to forge an alliance with Corinth and its king.
Dite snickered and backed up into Joxer. "Ouch, lover. Is that a sword at your side or are you just happy to see me?"
He laughed gently and kissed her cheek, patting the rounded stomach
she carried before her. "Always happy to see you, love. How
are the babies?"
"Kicking up a storm. I swear they're playing throw the discus in there. Got any of those Corinthian purple grapes about?" She went from complaining to needy in the space of a breath.
Joxer was used to it by now and led her over to the sideboard where a bowl of the luscious fruit was kept at all times. "Now, are you going to tell me why you're sending all the proposals Iphicles' way?"
She made that cute 'who me' grimace that he could always see right through then grinned and bit into a grape. "Give me a foot rub and I'll tell you."
"Sure. Sit down over here and rest against these cushions." Joxer guided her to the window seat and made sure she was comfortable, the bowl of grapes propped on her pregnant tummy. Then, he began the slow massage of her right foot that soon had her purring with delight. "Why the proposals?"
"Ooo-ooh, lover, you are so good at that." She ate another
grape and sighed. "Well, you may have noticed that Apollo's been
helping out the last few weeks while you guys work on the problem in the
Void?" She waited for Joxer's nod before continuing.
"Well, it's been a couple of centuries since the poor guy's been at all interested in anybody. A mortal or two for the sake of the bloodlines but his heart just hasn't been in it. So, imagine my surprise when he volunteered to come to Corinth and stay!"
"You mean you're setting him up?" Joxer's hands paused and he cast a slightly bewildered look at the goddess.
"Well of course I'm setting him up." She rolled her eyes and wriggled her other foot in his lap. "For his own good, I need hardly add. I've been trying to find someone for Iphicles for a while and when Apollo seemed to be interested, I just decided to ... help them along." She grinned impishly and ate another grape.
"I suppose I can't say anything." Joxer grinned and thought back to her meddling in his love life. "It worked for Ares and me. And you couldn't have found two people more un-alike than us."
"You guys were a piece of cake compared to some of the pairs I've put together." Aphrodite threw a grape up in the air and caught it with her tongue on its way down. "The archives have some great stories. But I have to admit that I hadn't thought about putting these two together. Light and dark." She cocked her head to one side and her eyes went unfocused.
Joxer eavesdropped on the conversation between Dite and Harmonia. The scolding tones of the teenage goddess to her mother made the goddess of love roll her eyes, hand Joxer the bowl of grapes and wink out with a wave. The young god grinned and sent his thoughts out to find Ares. Oops, talking with his father. Not a good time to interrupt.
He felt the tingle that heralded another god and looked up in time to see Apollo flash into view, clutching an armload of scrolls. Holding back a smile at the brief look of disappointment the bright god had cast his way, Joxer stood and took some of the scrolls from him. "Here, I'll take some of those. Let me guess, more obscure mentions of the Void?"
Apollo laughed and nodded. "Each one has about a paragraph on the subject but taken together, I'm hoping that they'll point the way. Hercules and Iolaus are beginning to show the strain of sleep deprivation." A frown creased his forehead. "The only sleep they get is when Morpheus puts them out and that can't continue much longer without some serious side effects."
Now it was Joxer's turn to frown. "What kind of side effects?"
"Dementia. Anger. Loss of control. Mortals aren't supposed to go this long without healthy sleep." Apollo sighed and began unrolling the first scroll on the long table they'd brought in from Olympus.
"Then we'd better work harder than we have been." Joxer unrolled one of his scrolls with a concentrated thought of what he wanted to find, letting it unroll until it reached the desired section. "I'm a little worried that we'll still be working on this when the twins decide to be born."
"I saw Aphrodite earlier." Apollo grinned at him and Joxer blushed a little. "She looks like another month or so before she'll deliver. Asclepius is keeping a close eye on all the pregnant goddesses. Did you know that Athena and Cycrops are expecting now?"
Joxer looked up with a delighted smile. "That's great. I'll bet Poseidon had a hissy fit when he heard. Boy or girl?"
"Can you keep a secret?" Apollo waited for his nod. "Twins, just like Dite. One of each. That makes six sets of twins this time out. The Chaos Energy was a powerful influence on Olympus. I can't help but think that it's why this breach in the walls between the worlds happened now. So much energy had to go somewhere. That is not a slam, Joxer. I have nothing but admiration for what you and Ares did. But you should know that there are some rumblings on the," he rolled his eyes upward, "Hill about whether or not the Chaos field should have been breached."
"If we could have found another way, we would have." Joxer managed to stay serene but with an effort that tightened his shoulder muscles.
Apollo touched his hand from across the table, sending a warm tingle up his arm. "I know you did, Joxer. There will always be those who prefer to snipe and gripe after decisions have been made. Zeus is standing behind this one, one hundred percent. I just didn't want you blind sided by one of the carping critics."
Joxer smiled more naturally at the gentle man across from him. "I appreciate it, Apollo. I really do."
The door to the throne room slammed open with a vengeance and Iphicles stalked through almost visibly trailing steam behind him. "Gods! If I ever get my hands on the god or goddess who's setting me up, I will personally ..."
Joxer watched with a grin as the distracted king visibly reined in what he was going to say and swallowed hard. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Apollo send a blinding smile towards Iphicles and materialize a goblet of chilled wine for the frazzled monarch. "It may just be a coincidence, Iphicles. You do have a well-ordered kingdom, not to mention you're young and good looking. And none of the women they're parading in front of you have been at all bad looking."
Iphicles took the goblet of wine and finished half of it at a gulp. "I know that, Apollo but I'm not ready to marry again. It's only been a year since ..."
Apollo nodded understandably. "Forget about them for now. Help us with these scrolls instead. We're still missing a vital piece of information about the Void."
Joxer watched them without seeming to while they worked side by side on the other side of the table. Apollo soon had the king chuckling over some petition he'd received that morning. Iphicles relaxed little by little under the gentle coaxing of the bright god. Joxer could see what Aphrodite meant about Apollo's interest in the dark king. They seemed to be complete opposites in manner and look but they shared a real love for their people and a caring that went beyond the everyday.
Just then a sentence caught his eye. 'The Darkness must be balanced with the Light or else the Seeker will be lost to our world. The Void will swallow the unready.' That reminded him of something but he couldn't remember what. "Hey, guys, listen to this." And he read it aloud.
Apollo shuddered and his light seemed to dim for a moment. Joxer and Iphicles exchanged a bewildered look then the dark king hesitantly touched the arm of the god at his side. "Does that remind you of something, Apollo?"
"Zeus could tell it better but his father Cronos sent Hades and Poseidon into what may have been the Void while they were still tiny children so they couldn't challenge him. Mortals interpreted it as his 'swallowing' his sons. Hera helped Zeus escape and when he was ready challenged him for leadership of the gods." Apollo's eyes were unfocused and his voice rose barely above a whisper. "He brought his brothers back into this world but they were marked by their time in the Void. Trapped there, alone and wondering why their father had turned them away."
It was Joxer's turn to shudder while he thought of the goddess who last challenged for that leadership. But the very thought of what those two little boys had gone through brought him a new compassion for the blustering god of the ocean and the quiet god of the dead. How would it feel to be so alone? He remembered the extreme lack of sensation, the only sound that distant boom of what might be a heart beat.
"How ever did they survive? They would have been so alone." Iphicles echoed Joxer's thoughts. "And what does that have to do with this disturbance?"
"If there's a hole in the Void, then one of the gods from a different universe may have been sucked in." Apollo's gaze was grim. "And instead of going back to 'his' universe, he might end up in ours. If he's a Dahok clone, the result could be catastrophic. He's a rather destructive god."
Joxer frowned. "But how do we ensure that the god is on the right side of the hole we're trying to close?"
"I don't know. Keep looking through the scrolls for something to give us a clue." Apollo was already unrolling another scroll. "We need someone to write down all our bits and pieces."
"You rang, sweetheart?" A perky voice came from behind Joxer. He grinned at the look of resignation on Apollo's face. Looking over his shoulder he shared his amusement with the Muse who'd just popped into view.
"Calliope, it's good to see you." Apollo sighed. "Have you met King Iphicles?"
"No and it's about time somebody introduced us." She sauntered up to the table and offered her hand across the table.
Iphicles took it and raised it to his lips, brushing a kiss across the back of her hand. "It's indeed a pleasure to meet the Muse of epic poetry. We appreciate your offer of help."
The red headed beauty grinned delightedly at the king and gave his hand a little squeeze. "The pleasure is all mine, Iphicles. Especially since these are 'our' scrolls that you guys are manhandling." She shifted from flirting to businesslike in the blink of an eye. A blank scroll appeared in her hand while a quill pen and a vial of ink arrived on the table. "Now, what do you have so far?"
The next hour went by quickly with Calliope writing down each mention of the Void and which scroll it came from. Apollo popped up once more to the Archives to exchange out the papyrus scrolls for new ones. They kept on working until Joxer's back began to spasm and he straightened up with a groan. "I need a break, guys."
Iphicles matched his stretch. "I agree, Joxer. Dinner should be ready in a few moments then we can finish up these last few scrolls."
Joxer watched Calliope's eyes widen at the sight of the rippling muscles. "Good idea, Iphicles. You can show me your palace."
Fascinated, he watched Apollo's face become a noncommittal mask while Iphicles' lips hardened into a strained smile. "Certainly, Calliope. We've all been working so hard, I don't think any of you have seen much of my home. Why don't we all take that tour?"
Joxer agreed hurriedly and Apollo nodded briefly. It was an uncomfortable walk through the corridors and great halls of the palace with Iphicles reeling off stories about different statues and wall hangings and the kings who collected them. Calliope seemed totally unaffected by the strained atmosphere, clinging to Iphicles' arm and gazing up admiringly into the tight jawed profile.
Apollo sighed quietly and dropped back a bit. "She's always been a competitor, even when we were together."
Joxer matched his low tone. "I didn't know you were."
"A century ago. Orpheus is our son."
Now it was Joxer's turn to sigh. "Like Ares and Aphrodite have Harmonia."
Apollo grinned, suddenly more light-hearted. "And like the twins waiting to be born."
Joxer matched his grin. "Yeah. It's kind of a miracle all the way around."
"That's what is important, Joxer. The love we share, not just the love we make."
They exchanged rueful smiles before sitting down to dinner with Iphicles' councilors.
Ares stretched and sent out a query along his bond with Joxer. //Love? Can you break away?//
//I'd love to but I don't want to leave just yet. We're almost done with this batch of scrolls. Calliope is making a list of all the mentions of the Void.// Joxer's thoughts were a little shadowed and his need for a hug came through loud and clear.
Ares didn't even stop to think about it, he just transported to his lover. "Hi, everyone. Anything new?"
Joxer settled into his arms with a firm squeeze to his waist and a mental caress. The god of war sized up the situation, Apollo looked relieved, Calliope frowned and Iphicles just kept working. A brief mental explanation cued him to the under currents running beneath the surface of the conversation.
"I'm starting to wonder if we're approaching this the wrong way." Ares began a slow rubbing of Joxer's lower back. "The hole, if it is a hole, needs to be plugged. We've ignored the place where the attack happens in favor of the people involved. What if we find the cave, put Herc and Iolaus there and see what happens?"
"It could be dangerous to the dreamers." Iphicles frowned.
"They're at the edge of a mental breakdown now. If we can't resolve this soon, they could be trapped in the dream state and never make it back." Apollo rubbed his neck with a tired hand. "Do we have any clues as to where the cave can be found?"
"Nebula knows exactly where the cavern in her dream is." Calliope was suddenly all business. "She's near there now. It's about a hundred leagues from Piraeus. North."
"Good. Why don't you go to her and see if she'd be willing to participate?" Ares made it more statement than question.
Calliope narrowed her eyes at him then sent a wink his way right before she blinked out. The tension in the room went to zero as the men on the other side of the table relaxed. Joxer's replay of his conversation with Aphrodite brought a fond smile to his lips. Dite could always be counted on to interfere. But her interference brought me Joxer. Bless you, Dite.
A wash of warmth flowed over his link to Joxer from their absent lover, bathing both of them with love. He wished her luck with this new pair but it only reminded him that he'd been losing precious loving time with his own lover. "For now, I'm taking Joxer home. We'll see you tomorrow."
And with a snap, they were standing by the hot springs in their home valley with the setting sun an orange ball to the west. Ares pulled Joxer in for a long slow kiss, feasting on the spicy taste of the young god. Tongues dueled lazily while Joxer whisked away their clothes so they were skin to skin within moments. He ran his fingers up and down the long muscles of the firm back under his hands, ghosting over the skin with a tantalizing stroke.
Joxer arched beneath his touch, bumping their groins together and heating up the embrace. He tipped them backward into the spring and they landed with a mighty splash in the warm waters. Laughter bubbled out of his sputtering lover as they twisted in the water. Bobbing to the surface, he was splattered by Joxer's fervent headshake.
"You're as bad as Night and Ebony. They can throw water in a six foot circle when they're wet." Ares smoothed back the hair from his face and reached out to trace the path of a water drop on Joxer's cheek.
"It's been a very long day and I need you to make love to me." Joxer leaned into the touch while his hands burned his chest with their heat. Ripples of love flowed through their bond and their kiss threatened to boil the water around them.
Each touch fed the hunger for each other that still felt so new to the god of war. The only way to assuage this need to feed on his lover's body was to connect with him both physically and mentally. Preparing Joxer's body, he slipped inside with a silent groan of completion. Joxer's legs wrapped around his waist while his hands clasped Ares' shoulders. Holding still for a moment, their eyes met and held while their minds entwined.
Then Joxer flexed his inner muscles around Ares' invading cock and he began the slow slide in and out of the beloved body that would bring him enjoyment. Angling towards the spot that would bring his lover the most pleasure, Ares moved with increasing vigor. The grip of Joxer's muscles created a delightful friction that sparked along his nerves like the pulse of their heartbeats; which were beginning to speed up along with their movements.
Bringing Joxer close enough to kiss, Ares meshed them together with a nonverbal shout of completion. Their climax echoed through the waters of the spa and into the earth as their love flowed out into the valley in ever increasing circles. Their elements had grown more compatible as their passions had bloomed. Every time they made love, Ares could feel the natural growth of the valley take a flowering spurt of magnificent proportions.
"Do you feel that, Ares?" Joxer's eyes were wide and wondering as they gazed into his own.
"Together, we're more powerful than we are separately. I have a feeling that that's the key to this imbalance in the Void. I'd be the last one to say that Dite's way is the only way but right now, it may be the right way. The fact that it's a pair of lovers who are being torn asunder may have some significance." Ares transported them to the cottage and gingerly slipped from Joxer's heated depths. The young god kissed him gently and materialized a towel to dry them off.
"I think you may be right, love. It seems several lovers are involved in this tangle." Joxer sighed then rubbed a little harder on Ares' stomach. "I hope that Dite doesn't push Iphicles into something he's not ready for."
Ares felt a slight shiver up his spine. "Do you think she pushed you into something you weren't ready for?"
Joxer turned startled eyes up to his. "NO! Never! I'll be forever grateful that she sent you to help me."
They kissed tenderly and Ares tugged Joxer after him so they could fall on the bed together. "They will find their own way, lover. Apollo has never been a taker. He's actually one of the most gentle of the gods here on Olympus. Iphicles would be in good hands if he ever decided to let him in."
Joxer sighed and snuggled into his side. "It will be fun to watch. If only we can sew up this rip in the Void and bring everything back to normal."
Ares stroked the arm across his chest and thought about what his
lover had said. Sew up the rip. Plug the leak. Close
the hole. Darkness illuminated by Light. He could feel the
answer just beyond his reach. Did the elements even exist in the
space between the universes?
Was this an enemy to be fought or something else entirely?
Joxer had fallen asleep in his arms and he brushed a kiss across the broad forehead on his shoulder. Smiling, he settled himself for sleep. Maybe they should be asking Dite for help with this problem. Or was it a problem? Again he felt that twinge that told him he was close to a solution.
Maybe this isn't something destructive trying to get out but something trying to be born? Ares felt the hair on the back of his neck try to stand straight up. Hugging Joxer a little closer, he banished that thought into the night and promised himself a long talk with Asclepius the next day.
End of chapter 13