Author: Athea (
Series: War God I, part seven
Journey to War

Joxer woke to trailing kisses and soft caresses that brought a smile to his face. He caught one of the wandering hands and brought it to his lips, gently dragging a tongue across each finger and enjoying the taste that was so uniquely Ares. He still hadn't opened his eyes when a familiar nudge made him wriggle with delight. He loved it when Ares took him first thing in the morning. Of course, he loved anytime that his lover chose to possess him but love before breakfast always seemed more fun.

Relaxing, he sighed at Ares deep sheathing of his hardened cock. Rocking back, he invited him to thrust further while turning his head for a good morning kiss. Ares always tasted more spicy after a night out. And what a night it had been. Dancing at Delphi, watching Ares' daughter enjoy herself and keeping up with the pair of them. He'd rather liked Ares in his role as stern father with a marshmallow heart.

Ares was nibbling his neck now while his talented hands stroked his nipples to sensitized peaks that sent little lightning surges straight to his cock. Joxer was panting now and pushing back more forcefully while Ares began a series of quickening thrusts that sparked inside his body like flint to tinder.

Now the dark god's hand was stroking his cock and the nibbles had turned to bites that turned him to burning kindling. Breathlessly, he flexed and clamped his muscles to increase the pressure on the cock that sparked his pleasure into a raging fire, falling over the edge and going up in a sheet of flame that poured from him in pulses of hot cream. Bathed in a like stream of cream deep inside, Joxer clamped down to hold Ares deep within him, not wanting to lose a single drop.

Now, was almost the best time of all, when he held Ares deep within him and those strong arms held him tightly. Sometimes he couldn't tell where one of them began and the other ended. It was as if they were one body, possessor and possessed. Ares' breath was sweet on his neck and his hands rubbed his stomach lazily. Sighing, Joxer fell back into a doze of hazy contentment.

"Joxer." Ares' voice sounded deeper than usual. "I need to get up but I don't want to leave you."

"Then don't." Joxer stilled the restless hands with his own. "I mean, let's both get up and I'll go with you."

Silence and Joxer felt a tremor shiver the body so close to his own. He realized that this time it was different, his mind putting together all the odd silences and looks of the last two days. Starting with Strife seeing them and ending with Ares' odd trip to the Archive of the Muses.

"You can tell me, you know. Unless it's a god thing that I shouldn't get involved in." Joxer tried for a serious but light tone that would invite Ares' confidence.

"It's both a 'god thing' and a mortal problem." Ares slipped out of Joxer's body and they both sighed at the loss of connection.

Joxer turned and propped his head on one hand while his other hand moved lovingly over the sweat slicked chest and ebony curls. "Is it a war?"

"Maybe." Ares stretched and purred with pleasure. "Strife noticed a village that reeked of discord. That's usually the beginning. But I need to go and check it out myself. It means time on the road and some rather uncomfortable travel conditions."

"I want to go with you. Unless you don't want me." Joxer gave a small sigh. Hey, it worked for Harmonia.

Ares smirked at him. "A little more pathos, next time, lover. And you know I always want you. But once we leave, I'll have to focus on the earth and ...we can't make love."

Joxer grimaced. "Bummer. But if you have to focus, you'll need me to watch your back. I know I'm not the best warrior in the world but I can at least yell."

"You're getting better, Joxer. The snowball fights have improved your hand - eye coordination. But you're right, I will need someone to keep an eye on me. Sometimes, I get so involved in what's going on below the surface, I miss the cavalry troop that's attacking on the surface." Ares shrugged sheepishly.

"Who usually goes with you?" Joxer probed.

"Strife. He's already attuned to discord and disharmony."

"Should you take him instead?" Joxer waited for the answer with baited breath.

"Probably. But I'm curious how you will perceive the area. I don't want to take him. I want to take you, even though it may be dangerous."

"Good. Because I want to go. Even if there's danger." Joxer leaned in and they shared a breath and then a kiss that reaffirmed their connection.


It took them most of the morning to gather supplies for the journey. Eating their noonday meal on the bearskin rug, they went over the lists of equipment, food and clothing that they would be packing in on their backs. Joxer actually found that his recent experiences on the road enabled him to make suggestions that Ares hadn't thought of. The god of war approved several of his ideas on food.

Joxer wasn't sure why Ares insisted on water bottles but he accepted the need. They carried their own swords but the dark god gave Joxer a new dagger for his boot that looked deadly. Their heavy winter cloaks would serve as blankets, one above them and one serving as a ground cover. Dried fruits, cheese and jerked lamb comprised their rations. Extra socks to keep their feet warm and a change of clothes in case they got wet, completed their supplies.

"Are you ready?" Ares looked mysterious in his black cloak with the furred hood framing his saturnine face.

Joxer just nodded and hefted his pack up. Ares hugged him close and moved them two hundred miles distant. He explained that they were still two days or so from the village because he needed to do some comparisons and see how far the discord had spread. Joxer nodded and settled his pack over his far shoulder so he and Ares could walk side by side. Snow covered the ground but only to a depth of a few inches that made walking easy.

Ares walked in a trance, slowly turning his head from side to side. Joxer tried to watch what he was concentrating on. He made a note of trees, shrubs, barren patches of earth and unexplained bare spots where no grass grew. It all looked normal to him but he didn't know if Ares noticed something different. They walked for three hours before the dark god shook his head and stretched, smiling at Joxer and drawing him into a brief, hard kiss.

"Have I ever told you how good you taste?" He asked gently.

Joxer shook his head, shyly. It was still hard to accept a compliment from his lover.

"Well, you do. You just replaced a very sour taste with your own unique blend of sweetness." Ares sighed. "It looks like the sickness is spreading faster than I expected. Did you see the barren patches?"

"Yes. And some of the trees have no limbs fifteen feet or more from the ground."

"Exactly." Ares frowned. "Some of the shrubs have a faint edge of darkness surrounding them that I would expect to find much closer to the center of the contagion. It'll be dark in an hour or so. Let's camp here before we get any closer. We can get an earlier start to make up for stopping so soon."

"Sounds good." Joxer began looking for a campsite. The sound of running water came from their right and they veered that way. A small stream ran through a grove of olive trees. Ares knelt and tasted the water.

Joxer started gathering wood for a fire while watching Ares nod and stand, leaving his pack on the ground. The dark god smiled at him and joined him in stacking wood. Joxer noticed how many branches had fallen and wondered if that was an indication of discord or just a heavy wet snowfall. He began to clear a spot for their bed while Ares started a fire.

They settled cross-legged, side by side in the lee of an old olive tree. Joxer shared out the dried fruit and cheese, munching contentedly on a sweet fig.

"Things always seem to taste better when you're outside."

"We walked quite a distance today. That may have something to do with it." Ares smiled at him and stole some of the cheese between his fingers.

The feel of Ares' tongue on his hand and the warm breath gusting across his sensitive skin made Joxer tingle with a familiar longing. Their eyes met and Ares shook his head with a sigh.

"I didn't think it would be this hard, Joxer. I've never felt this need to constantly touch someone like I do with you." Ares' tones were rueful. "I never had this problem with Strife."

"Do you regret it?" Joxer swallowed with sudden dread.

Ares' reaction was swift, grabbing a hold of Joxer and crushing him in a firm embrace. "Never! You bring me life and joy. That's worth any amount of momentary discomfort."

Joxer sighed happily and hung on tight to the strong body, resting his head against the convenient shoulder. "I like hearing that. It's only fair when you give me so much joy in return. You know, my family would finally be proud of me if they knew I was with you. It's funny but they couldn't begin to understand that I came to you in love instead of hate."

"We'll have to find a way to let them know of your change in life style." Ares said dryly and let him go.

"You know, they're not that far from here." Joxer got his water bottle out and took a swig.

"Really?" Ares reached to put another log on the fire.

Joxer wondered at his indifference and began to put two and two together. Why had Strife been in this area anyway? Ares had reacted very strongly to his tale of Nana and her death. Disappearing the next day for a couple of hours and then reappearing with no explanation. Others had told him that Ares always took care of his own, was this an example of that? And did he really want to know if Strife had been tormenting the family? Did he care?

"Were you ever going to tell me?" Joxer asked the fire.

Ares sighed and almost hesitantly touched his cheek. "I couldn't bear that they had hurt you."

"Did he physically hurt them?" Joxer leaned into the touch with a reassuring smile.

"More their pride and reputation than anything else. And I would have told you eventually." Ares returned the smile with relief and proceeded to fill him in on Strife's campaign.

Joxer listened with a wince to to his brother's problems, then chuckled at the vision of his mother in the mud with the pig before the Queen, but the thought of his father offering tribute to Aphrodite and asking for peace from his old time enemy reduced him to hearty laughter. He knew there were probably things that Ares was leaving out but he trusted that no permanent damage had been done to the family.

They settled down in each other's arms with Joxer's cloak pulled over them to keep out the chill. Joxer was almost asleep when he thought of something he should have asked earlier.



"What did Strife think when he saw us in the temple?"

Ares chuckled. "He thought that I was fucking you in order to discredit your family. He knows differently now. Your family has nothing to do with how I feel about you. Poor Strife, I doubt he's ever been in love."

Joxer felt a warmth that had nothing to do with the fire or cloak and everything to do with the love that Ares wrapped so securely around him. Nestling closer, he kissed him gently and closed his eyes.

Poor Strife, indeed.


Ares felt the ground shake beneath him. The air was hazy with smoke and flame burst from the earth. His family lay on the ground around him, their clothes smoldering and their moans rending the air. One by one, they disappeared, leaving him alone while the fire crept closer and the air grew foul. A soft ash fell on his face and he realized for the first time that he, too, was on the ground but he hadn't the strength to get up.

Then a figure appeared through the smoke, stumbling over the ground and reaching out to him. But the earth trembled again and the ground split wide open and the man fell, his hand still reaching out to Ares.


"Ares. I'm right here. It's all right." Strong arms held him tight and the voice soothed him.

Ares sat up and looked around. Dawn was tinting the sky with streaks of pink and somewhere a lone bird called hesitantly into the still air. Joxer sat beside him, watching him anxiously while patting his back reassuringly.

"Zeus! It was so real. Fire and smoke and death. Everywhere. The ground opened and swallowed you up." Ares could feel the sweat drying on his face. Gratefully, he returned Joxer's hug and shook loose from the last remnants of the nightmare.

"You've never dreamed once since we've been together. In fact, I don't think I've had any dreams since I've known you." Joxer sounded puzzled. "I've always heard that dreams come from the gods. Then, who sends dreams to the gods?"

"We're sleeping on earth, Joxer. And that means Gaea. She is probably the most powerful goddess of us all. Although don't tell my mother I said that." Ares tried to smile.

"And you're connected to earth. Is she trying to tell you something is going to happen?" Joxer's voice shook just a little.

"No." Ares held him fiercely. "Prophecy doesn't always come true. Even when Gaea was the oracle of Delphi, she merely foretold what could be. Not what had to be. You weren't the only one in my nightmare. The whole family was there. All the gods and goddesses. Dying and disappearing. The images aren't always as they appear. It may be that I'm more afraid of losing you than I thought and my sleeping mind conjured up a really horrible way for you to leave me."

Joxer smiled at that and kissed him softly, licking his lips and nibbling on the sensitive lower lip. A long moment passed in a deepening kiss that reassured rather than inflamed.

"Not going to happen, Arry. You're stuck with me. Not even screaming in my ear and waking me from a sound sleep will work." He pulled back just far enough to scatter small kisses all over Ares' face.

"Well, all right." Ares tried to sound offhanded but could tell by the gleam in Joxer's eye that it hadn't worked. "I guess you'll just have to put up with me."

"Right-t-t!" Joxer grinned and shook his head. "Let's eat something and get on our way. The sooner we're through with this journey and on our way home, the better I'll like it."

Ares could only agree and they ate some dried fruit and finished the water in their bottles. They filled up again from the stream. It should be all right since the water is flowing to the area and not away from it. Ares reasoned silently. In a few moments, they'd thrown snow on the fire embers and were on their way.

The dark god sent his awareness into the earth again but kept it shallower than the day before. Part of his mind laughed at him and his need to be more aware but his protective instincts were on full alert and he gave into the need to be ready in case of danger. The darkness had crept quickly into the countryside. There would be no spring for this part of the world unless Gaea diverted a significant amount of energy for the region.

They came upon the farmstead in the middle of the morning. It was eerily quiet. No animal noises from the barn, no sound of humans going about their business.

"There's no smoke from the chimney." Joxer whispered while he looked around uneasily. "And it smells."

"I can't sense any life here at all. Except for the flies." Ares shook his head, going a little deeper into the earth beneath the farmhouse. "There's no sense of anyone at all. And there should be unless this place was abandoned weeks ago."

"The straw looks fresh. And there are tracks in the mud here with no snow in them." Joxer was scouting around, near the house and pointed out the boot prints.

Ares smiled through his unease. "Joxer, that's an excellent point. The last snow was no more than three days ago. What did you say about smell? I can't smell anything but earth."

"It smells odd. Like windfalls rotting under an apple tree." Joxer flushed with pleasure and started to open the door. "You said you wanted my perceptions. It's why you brought me along. Remember?"

"It's not the only reason." Ares felt his voice go husky, enjoying the side ways look of love that Joxer threw his way. Perhaps it was because he was so focused on the warrior that he caught the first look of horror as Joxer turned his head to look in the house.

He was by his side instantly, gazing at what remained of the family. Joxer gave a choked cry and turned away, stumbling out the door and falling to his knees to vomit up his breakfast. Ares stood, stunned at the extent of the carnage. It was hard to tell how many people had died here. Bits and pieces of flesh littered the floor while intestines trailed from the furniture.

He counted at least five bodies before he decided it didn't matter. Ares felt Joxer at his back and knew that the young man's eyes were averted.

"Sorry. It took me by surprise." His voice shook ever so slightly.

"Nothing to be sorry about. I haven't seen any thing this bad in centuries. Would you mind checking the barn? I need to know if the animals were slaughtered, too." Ares turned and tenderly raised Joxer's chin, making sure he kept his body blocking the scene. He kissed him gently, putting all his love and trust into the brief caress. "I'm going to need to go in and touch them to see if I can reconstruct what happened. It's not very pleasant to watch."

"I'll go check out the barn and the nearby fields. How long do you need?" Joxer returned the kiss.

Ares could see the questions in his eyes. "I promise I'll explain what I'm doing and why. I don't know how much time I'll need. It's always different when I submerge myself in a victim."

"Are you going to feel what they felt?" The alarm showed in Joxer's voice and expression.

"Something like that." Ares tried to soften the explanation, knowing Joxer could probably see right through him. "More like watching a series of pictures of the events that led up to what we see now. I'll be all right. I promise. Just don't touch me when you come back. Not until I come out."

"All right." Joxer accepted the need and left reluctantly.

Ares could only hope the young warrior didn't find anything as horrific in the nearby area. Turning back to the corpses, he emptied his mind of everything and knelt down to the first victim. Along with his thoughts and emotions, he also sent away any expectations so the first impressions didn't resound quite so strongly.


No memory of death. No pain. No suffering. No fear.


He withdrew and touched another. And then another. Methodically, he went through the entire room. There were no traces of any emotion or action as if a giant hand had reached in and gathered them up and taken them away. And that was just not possible.

Ares was sitting on the front step when Joxer returned. His brain had ticked over all the reasons how this might have happened but he kept coming back to one thing. No mortal could have done this. Only a god could have sucked that room and all it's inhabitants so dry of life and emotion.

Joxer joined him on the step. "No animals anywhere. They must have been driven off."

"I found nothing." Ares sighed. "Literally, nothing. I didn't think that was possible. In at least two instances, the people were alive when the disemboweling started. They are as empty of emotion as if they'd died in their sleep."

"Something took their emotions when they killed them?" Joxer struggled to understand.

"Someone, Joxer. I don't know who but there's a god out there somewhere who's perfected the ability to totally drain a victim of his life force and leave behind ... nothing." Ares was suddenly tired. A common reaction to his trance work. But they had to keep going. He was determined that they would find the heart of this contagion and then get out of there.

They got to their feet and gathered their packs. Joxer looked back one last time and started at the flames that appeared in the windows.

"They deserved better." Ares cast another look back at the fire he'd started. "May they rest in peace."

Ares stayed in trance mode until they reached the village. Or rather what used to be the village. The entire town was dead. Not just the people who lay everywhere, sprawled in grotesque positions, but the animals as well. And nowhere, the faintest hint of who or how.

"Someone knew we were coming." Ares thought out loud. "I didn't bother to tell Strife to keep it quiet. My visit to the Archive could have triggered it as well."

Joxer was swallowing compulsively and keeping his eyes on Ares' face. "But that means it's someone on Olympus. Someone you know."

Ares sighed. "It doesn't happen very often. But at least once in my lifetime, one of the gods went rogue and began to decimate mortals. Human emotions are the strongest source of energy we have. And the darker ones are the most powerful of all. Fear, anger, greed. They all feed the dark side of our natures."

"What happened to the rogue god?" Joxer appeared to have forgotten the carnage surrounding them.

"We destroyed him." Ares kept it simple. "It takes a delegation of gods to blast another god back to the elements. Not something we want the average mortal to know."

"Oh." He thought hard for a moment. "How do we find out who it is?"

Ares smiled and hugged the young warrior close. Amidst the growing problems, one thing remained constant. When Joxer gave his loyalty, he gave it completely. "Well, first we get Zeus down here to see it for himself."

"Zeus. Here. Now?" Joxer suddenly looked terrified.

"Now. I promise he won't bite. I told him about you weeks ago."

"Me. You told him about me?" Joxer's eyes couldn't get any wider.

"You. I had to when I fell in love with you. I had to get his permission to bring you to Olympus. And other things." Ares glossed over the rest of what he'd needed Zeus' permission for. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on his father. Sending up an urgent call for help.

And in a shower of golden sparks, Zeus came.


Joxer tried to stand up as straight as he could. Looking unconcerned was beyond him at this point but he tried for serious contemplation of the problem. Of course, the problem was Ares' father. The king of the gods. Someone he never expected to see in his lifetime. Standing right here in front of him, smiling and greeting his son.

Oh, gods!

"And this must be Joxer. I'm glad to finally get to meet you. Ares has been very secretive." Zeus was talking to him and offering his hand in the traditional warrior's grip.

Joxer returned the grip and managed a nod. Albeit a very shaky one. "It's a pleasure, sir."

What in Tartartus do you call the king of the gods? Joxer wondered about the etiquette and hoped he hadn't offended him.

But Zeus had turned away to look at the remains of the village and Joxer relaxed. He followed behind the two gods as they investigated the corpses. Watching in fascination at Zeus' own trance state as he touched the bodies, Joxer wondered what impressions he was getting. All too soon, they were standing back in the town square, the scene of the worst horror. Small children littered the ground in various stages of broken torment.

Joxer tried to keep back the tears but several escaped at the sight of the tiny helpless victims. He sniffed and rubbed away the tears with the back of his hand.

"There is no shame in feeling for another's pain, young Joxer." Zeus' hand patted his shoulder. "It's because one of us has forgotten how to feel that this has happened."

"It took great power to do this, Father." Ares rose from the side of one a little boy and shook his hands as if trying to shake away whatever he'd felt while touching him. "I can't think of anyone with the strength to do this."

"Unexpected increase of power can come at anytime, to any god." Zeus looked thoughtful, as if running through his own list of candidates.

Joxer gulped and ventured a question. "What do we do with all these bodies? We can't burn the whole town."

Zeus looked a question and Ares told him of burning the farmstead. He nodded. "You're right, Joxer. The fire could have been accidental. I'd like to keep this just between the three of us for now. Since we can't be sure who on Olympus is not the rogue, we need to make him think that this is an ordinary war effort."

"It will have to be Gaea then." Ares sighed. "I really hate to disturb her at this time of year."

Now it was Zeus' turn to respond to Joxer's questioning gaze. "She hibernates at this time of year. Which points even more strongly to one of us."

"He knew that she wouldn't notice this outrage until she awoke when all clues would be long gone." Ares continued the thought.

"Clues? There were clues?" Joxer asked, looking from one to the other. He couldn't help but notice the strong family resemblance between the two of them when they turned to him and quirked an identical left eyebrow.

"All traces down to a rather interesting depth have been eradicated from earth." Zeus mused.

"One of the god's elements must be earth. Someone used to manipulating it." Ares smiled at Joxer and quietly touched his hand.

Joxer smiled back. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed Ares' touch. The last time had been that morning and that had only been after the horror in the farmstead. A rumble broke his train of thought and the earth shook beneath his feet. Oh, gods. Ares' dream.

Then Ares was holding him tightly and whispering over and over in his ear. "It's all right. It's just Gaea. She's a little pissy this time of her cycle. Really, it's all right. We're safe."

Joxer eased his death grip on the dark god, darting a quick glance at Zeus. But he was standing with his eyes closed and both arms raised parallel to the ground. Ares continued his soothing rubbing of his back and so Joxer was the only one who actually saw the ground shift and split apart to make way for the small woman rising from the depths.

Short and muscular, her brown hair trailed in curly waves to the ground. Her face was interesting rather than beautiful and as Joxer's eyes traveled down her body, he realized that she was nude. What he'd thought was a diaphanous gown of mottled green and brown was her skin color. Tugging on Ares' arm, he nodded in Gaea's direction.

"Let Father handle her." Ares turned but kept hold of Joxer, whispering in his ear. "He's had a lot of practice."

"What in the Flaming Nine Hells was so important that you had to wake me up now?" Gaea's eyes flashed angrily at Zeus.

"It surrounds you, love." Zeus pointed at the ground around them.

Her whole aspect changed when she focused on the ground at her feet and the bodies that littered it. Anguish filled her face and she knelt to plunge her hands into the frozen earth. Long moments passed while Joxer watched the familiar look of trance take her over. Silently, she sent ripples out in all directions that trembled the earth.

When she stood, her face was calm. "Who did this?"

Zeus shook his head and explained their reasoning so far. She nodded decisively.

"There's a fault not far from here. If I trigger it, this whole valley will disappear. Which is just as well. It's going to take years to bring this place back. Better to bury it and start over." Gaea frowned and appeared to be calculating the size of the trigger.

"Father, I don't want Joxer here when it goes. Can he stay at your place until we're done?" Ares surprised Joxer with his request and he hushed the warrior's instinctive no.

"Of course." Zeus nodded. "Take him to my study. No one hardly ever goes there but me."

And in a blink they were in a warm dark room filled with scrolls and heavy furniture. Joxer looked in awe at the large desk, piled high with scrolls of all kinds.

"I need you to be safe, Joxer. And earth doesn't seem to be one of your elements. We won't be long, I promise." Ares kissed him and winked out, leaving Joxer standing in shock in the middle of the king of the god's private study.

Looking around, he found a chair and gingerly sat down, glumly prepared to wait for someone to come get him. He could understand some of what Ares was thinking. In his dream, Joxer had been swallowed by an earthquake and here they were about to cause one on purpose. But this protective instinct could go too far. Damn't, he wasn't a child.

Except, of course, to the gods who'd been around for centuries. So, he sighed silently to himself, add time to the list of things that gods and mortals don't see quite the same way. A noise from the doorway caused him to start and go rigid. Zeus had said he was the only one who came here. What if it was the rogue?

But the woman who entered looked so normal that he sighed in relief.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought I felt my son come in." She looked at him inquiringly and he realized with a sinking sensation that this seemed to be his day to meet Ares' family.

Rising hastily from his chair, he bowed as deeply as he could without falling over. "I'm Joxer, ma'am. Ares was here . . . but he ... uh, needed a little help with something and ... um,"

"He came to ask his father for some help. How sweet. It's so nice to know that he can still come to us. Have you had tea this afternoon?"

"Uh, no, ma'am." Joxer stammered, cursing himself for not knowing the proper form of address for the Queen of the Gods.

"Oh, good. I hate having tea alone. We'll just have it here, then and wait for our wandering lads to come home." She smiled sweetly and clapped her hands twice. The first clap brought a table and the second filled it with food and drink.

Joxer brought up another chair for her and seated her at the table. Thankfully, he had an entire childhood's experience of tea parties to fall back on. His mother had been most particular in training all the boys in the proper etiquette. So, he smiled and accepted a heavily honeyed cup of sage tea and a plate full of small pastries. The baklava was the only thing he recognized. Hopefully, Hera hadn't decided to poison him before Ares got back.

"I hear you met Harmonia a few days ago. What did you think of Ares' daughter?" Hera asked pleasantly, sipping her own cup of tea.

"I thought she was charming. Intelligent like her father. Beautiful like her mother."

"Yes, Aphrodite is considered by many to be a beauty." Hera nodded and Joxer suddenly remembered that the goddess of love was not one of Hera's favorite people. At least, that's what the rumors said.

"Of course, I'm prejudiced." Joxer smiled shyly. "But she has her father's beautiful dark eyes. And he must get those eyes from you."

Hera laughed gently. "I like to think so. I'm so glad that Ares is finally settling down. He's been lonely over the last few centuries. A little fling here and there. A child born now and then. But he seemed determined to go his own way. Take his time finding a mate."

Joxer blushed. Hera smiled approvingly and continued. "What was the little problem that Ares needed help with? Would you like more tea?"

"Thank you, ma'am." Joxer thought quickly. Tell her or no? What would Ares want him to do? "I didn't quite understand. It seemed to be a god thing."

She pursed her lips while she poured his tea. "Excuse me. A god thing?"

Joxer squirmed in his chair, feeling about ten years old again. "Ares tries to explain things to me but sometimes they don't quite make sense to me. So, we just agreed that mortals don't necessarily need to understand everything that the gods do. Because they ..."

She laughed and handed him his cup. "Do god things. I see. Whatever works best for the two of you. You make him happy. And that is all I ever wanted for any of my children. More baklava?"

Joxer decided that she was determined to feed him until he burst. Hopefully, the others would return before she succeeded. She continued her gentle stream of speech but now they were stories of Ares' childhood and Joxer found himself savoring every tale. He'd been a normal little boy, getting into trouble, playing with others and learning his lessons.

A shower of gold sparks behind the desk heralded the return of the other gods. Joxer watched as a weary Ares and tired Zeus appeared.

"Goodness. You two look like you've been playing in the dirt." Hera rose and headed for Zeus with a determined look in her eye.

"I'll explain it later, dearest. Right now I need a bath and a very large meal." Zeus kissed her cheek and they winked out together, waving to Joxer as they left.

Then he was in Ares arms and they'd left the study for their own cottage.

"That's it. I need to sleep for a week. But Father is right. I'm filthy." Ares leaned on Joxer while they made their way into the spa. It seemed to take the last of his energy to wish their clothes away and he slid bonelessly into the hot water with Joxer right beside him, holding him up until he could get him settled on the ledge.

Joxer proceeded to wash the dark god from head to toe, the fine layer of dirt quickly turning to mud in the water. Briskly, he lathered the muddy hair and rinsed the soft dark curls under the ever-flowing water pipe. Ares groaned in pleasure and opened his eyes to gaze affectionately at Joxer.

"You take good care of me. Thank you." He said gently.

"No better than you take of me. Although, leaving me alone with your mother without sticking around to play buffer might be construed as abandonment." Joxer kissed away any sting from his words.

"I forgot what time it was. She always comes to be with Father then. Sorry." Ares looked extremely sheepish. "But she seemed all right when we got there. Actually, she's a pretty good queen of the gods except for one small quirk."

"Does it have anything to do with food?" Joxer was only half joking as he massaged Ares' legs free of sweat.

"No. It's Father. She's rational as can be until one of father's mistresses is mentioned, then she pretty much goes berserk. We try to keep them from her but Zeus has been pretty busy in that aspect and any rationality goes right out the window when she hears rumors or sees one of his bastards." Ares shrugged and relaxed his head against the side of the tub.

Joxer nodded in semi-comprehension. "Well, aside from trying to stuff me until I burst, she seemed very nice. I had a little problem with mentioning Aphrodite in conjunction with Harmonia."

Ares winced. "Not my mother's favorite person. But she's learned to be civil since two of her son's have been involved with her and she loves the grandchildren."

Joxer turned the pliant body around so he could reach all of Ares and rubbed a little harder at the back under his hands, asking the question he'd been keeping since Hera had mentioned Ares' love affairs. "How many grandchildren have you given Hera?"

Ares sighed. "Thirty at last count. Give or take a couple I'm not sure of. But that's been over the course of the last fifteen hundred years."

Joxer's hands stilled and he tried to get his breathing back under control. 1500 years. 30 children. How many lovers would that be?

The feel of Ares' hands shaking him gently brought him back to the here and now. "Joxer, it's expected of us. Mortals are wonderful people who live such brief lives of so much promise. We're drawn to them like moths to the flames. But our children with them are at the best demigods, like Hercules, not gods themselves. So, to perpetuate the gods, we have to take lovers among ourselves."

Joxer stilled his speech with a finger. "It's not that so much as it is the numbers. I've been compiling a list in my head of the things that mortals and gods don't see quite the same. Time is pretty high on the list right now."

Ares sucked the finger into his mouth and tongue washed it, sending an arrow of desire straight to Joxer's groin. He groaned and floated closer to the slick, wet god.

"We need to talk about that sometime soon. But right now, I need you more than I need sleep. Take away the bad taste this day has left, Joxer. Remind me of life," he kissed him, "and love," moving down the long throat that appeared when Joxer's head tilted back, "and joy."

They made love slowly and carefully in the warm sudsy water. Each caress, a reminder of their bond and commitment to each other. Joxer had to help the satiated Ares from the tub and rub him down before tucking him into the wide bed and snuggling down in the arms that wouldn't let him go.

Time. It seemed they had enough time to love. For now, Joxer thought as he followed Ares into sleep.

End part seven

(Okay, so it's turning into a murder mystery. Suspects, clues, the whole nine yards. Who knows who the bad guy is? At the moment, I don't but I expect it will come to me. <g> If anyone is wondering where I'm getting my family information, there's a lovely book in our local library by David Kravitz called Who's who in Greek and Roman Mythology. A fascinating little tome that's given this saga a couple of spins already and seems destined to give it a few more. Although, the little zephyrs are mine. I needed something cute and funny. My Thanks to all the wonderful readers who have taken the time to write me in support of this odd little series that's taken over my writing life. There's more coming! You can take that as a threat and a promise. <g>)