This story picks up right at the end of Damage so
it won't make much sense unless you've read that
one first. Thanks to Shari for the title
suggestion, which I couldn't help but use as soon as I heard it :-)
Warnings: Definitely NC-17. It's slash. It's angst. More than a
touch violent at times...but Strife just suffers
so well I can't help myself...
Don't own 'em, just play with 'em. Feedback always welcome.
Sometime, late into the night, Joxer finally managed to drift asleep.
And sometime, not long after that, Strife knew
that if he valued his immortal life at all, he
would be anywhere but here, holding Joxer in
his arms, trying to ease his pain.
If he stayed, it would be far too easy to fall in
love with this damn mortal.
And that was ridiculous. Insane. Suicidal--or
rather, masochistic, considering Ares would
probably do everything just short of killing him
if he were to catch wind of this. It would
undoubtedly be dangerous to Joxer as well, for
Ares' despair over having to give up his darling
could easily turn into jealous rage if the
god of war found "his" mortal was the object of
another god's affections...
But somehow, knowing all of this, Strife couldn't
force himself to leave. He didn't want to leave, to
let go of the warm, fragile body that clung to him
for comfort as he slept. The god swept one hand
lightly, distractedly, through Joxer's hair, his
thoughts travelling as they repeatedly had that night
back into the past. He found himself wondering what
might have happened if someone had been there for
him, ages ago, when Ares had pushed him away...
No. It wasn't worth going down that road. It had
been too late for him by that point, too late for
anyone to help reverse the damage already done. The
past was the past, and he was who he was because of
it. Nothing could change that now.
Or could it? He had to admit that his every action
since overhearing the scene in the temple was
decidedly out of the ordinary for him. Look at me
--worrying about and comforting someone. A
mortal! Strife, God of Mischief, comforting a
stupid, heartbroken mortal. That just isn't
standard operating procedure...
Part of him wished he hadn't been there. That
accidental intrusion had triggered this whole
damn thing, reminding him of his own past, making
him feel sorry for Joxer when before he had
been content to simply despise him. And then
he'd had to go and check in on Joxer,
impulsively giving in to his uncharacteristic
sympathy, confessing things to Joxer that he'd
never spoken of to anyone before. And the mortal
had listened to him, touched him, held onto him
with a need that he couldn't remember anyone ever
holding onto him with before...
It had all gone downhill from there. Downhill and
straight to Tartarus.
How could Joxer so readily trust him? Letting his
tears fall and his pain flow into the arms of
someone he knew had hated him? Joxer was an
innocent, by the gods...no one else would ever be
fool enough to trust him. Strife could see why that
innocence was so very, incredibly alluring to Ares.
The war god had probably never been truly innocent,
therefore it was something utterly unknown and
fascinating to him. To Strife, it was...perhaps
even more precious. Because he'd known that
innocence, once, and the terrible price he'd paid
since he'd lost it.
Hours passed, faster than Strife wished they would,
but time was the one thing the gods were forbidden
from controlling. Morning light began to creep over the
horizon, and with its arrival Strife felt Joxer
beginning to stir from his sleep. He sensed the
mortal's thoughts coming into focus, dreams fading
and the recent past returning to his mind. A flurry
of unsurprising emotions and images followed--
images of Ares, emotions that ran from love to
anger to despair. Eventually they subsided enough
for Joxer to remember where he was at the moment,
and with whom. Momentary panic and unease welled up
in the mortal's mind, yet they faded, soon replaced
Several minutes passed before Joxer seemed ready to
really meet the morning. He shifted his head and
lifted it from the god's chest, dark eyes lighting
onto Strife's. There was a flinch of nervousness as
Joxer found Strife's gaze returning his own.
"Don't worry, I ain't gonna bite."
"I...I wasn't thinking that."
"Yes you were. Hello, forget you're talking to a
god here?" Strife rolled his eyes.
"Sorry," Joxer apologized as he sat up. As he
rubbed the back of his neck and stretched out
cramped muscles, he added, "And, um, thank you."
"For...everything. Telling me what you did. And
"Yeah, well, it sure wasn't gonna be a picnic
hangin' 'round Unc last night," Strife dismissed.
He wasn't used to people thanking him for anything.
It felt...weird. But then again, everything seemed
to be taking a turn for the weird lately.
He knew he should leave. And still, he didn't want
to go. Some of it was dreading the inevitable catching
up with Ares, but it was more than that. It was
these blasted feelings he was starting to have for
the mortal. Seeing the lost look in those dark
brown eyes was making Strife feel downright
protective, of all things. Joxer looked better
than he had the night before, but not by much. The
god sat up and asked seriously, "You gonna be
"I don't know. I guess so," Joxer answered with a
sigh. "I have a lot of things to sort out. It's
"And right now you just wish you were back with
Ares, even knowing it would fuck you up for good."
Joxer looked at him and answered meekly, "Yeah."
"Do yourself a favor--try to let him go. Find your
old pals Xena and Gabby and go back to the heroics
Joxer shook his head. "They wouldn't want me
around. They know what's been going on, who I've
"And Xena ain't 'been there' herself?" Strife
reminded him. "If she's still on this redemption
kick then she's gotta give you another shot in her
merry little band."
"Maybe I don't want to go back to that," Joxer
"Hey, it's only a thought. But what else you got in
mind?" Joxer shrugged in response. "Think about it.
Do what you want...'cept don't go doin' something
Joxer responded with a snort. "I've been
doing stupid things all my life. Why stop now?"
"It's your funeral, if that's the way you wanna
be," Strife answered, trying to sound like he
didn't care. He shouldn't care, he knew, but he
did. He didn't want to see Joxer mess himself up,
and he had a bad feeling that was exactly was he
was going to set out to do--to spite Ares, to spite
himself, no matter how much he might regret his
actions later on.
Strife considered his options--which granted were
pretty limited--and had an idea. He went ahead with
it before he could stop himself by realizing how
much trouble he could be getting into in the long
A small silver pendant materialized in his hands.
It was vaguely reminiscent of a spider in shape,
similar to the earring he wore. Every leg was
pointed and sharp, almost too sharp to touch
without pricking the skin. In the center, a small
gem glowed softly, its color the same chameleon
grayish-blue of his eyes. He held it out to Joxer
and offered, "Look, uh, do me one fav and take
this. You want to talk or...whatever...just hold
this and...well, Ares probably told you how these
Joxer nodded, though he was obviously surprised. A
god usually gave such a pendant only to his or her
most "important" mortals. It was more than simply a
tool to help summons that god quickly; it was more
or less a promise by that god that he would
respond. "I know what it is, but...why?"
"'Cause for some dumb ass reason I want to...help
you. But don't spread that around, 'kay? It would
be way bad for my image." Strife sighed impatiently
when Joxer still hesitated, just staring down at
the pendant. "Look, you want it or not? This is a
one-time offer, now or never."
Joxer's eyes returned to Strife's and he studied
the god for a moment, then finally reached out and
took the pendant.
"There, that wasn't so hard was it?" Strife asked.
Joxer was carefully hanging it about his neck on
its silver chain when Strife stiffened, sensing a
familiar, dark current in the air. Along with
it, a distant but insistent voice called to him,
one he knew he couldn't ignore. "Fuck," he swore
softly. "Figures. I gotta split." If he waited at
all, Ares might not simply send out a message but
try to find him, and the last thing he needed was
for Ares to find him here.
"Ares?" Joxer guessed.
"Yeah." Strife felt the jealousy that washed over
Joxer's thoughts but insisted, "Trust me, this
ain't gonna be fun."
Strife made for Ares' Temple like lightning,
knowing better than to keep Ares waiting when he
was sure to be in a foul mood already. Flashing
into the main chamber, he tried to keep up his
usual nonchalant demeanor and greeted the war god
with a casual, "Yo, Unc, what's the word?"
Ares glowered at him from across the room, where he
sat sprawled out in his throne. Strife could feel
the negative energy saturating the air around him,
about a hundred-fold worse than normal, and it took
all his strength not to let it show how strongly he
sensed it. He knew that whatever was coming
wouldn't be pretty, but he just swallowed down his
fear and tried to act cool.
"Come here," Ares ordered.
There was no refusing the command, as much as
Strife only wanted to run and disappear, find a
little pocket of interdimensional space somewhere
to try to hide until the worst of Ares' foul mood
blew over. But he knew that wouldn't work. Ares
would find him; he always could find him. It was
best to simply play along and give the war god what
he wanted. Delaying the inevitable would only make
him angrier, and that was not something Strife
cared to see at the moment.
Strife swaggered over and slipped onto Ares' lap,
expectantly looking up at him. The dark eyes were
nearly black, glimmering onyx jewels that reflected
his anguish and rage. "You need me for something,
Unc?" Strife asked innocently.
A low growl was his only answer, as Ares grabbed
him harshly, lips fastening on his throat. The
rough kisses elicited a gasp from Strife, which
ended in a whimper when teeth bruised his flesh.
Ares groped his body, ripping his piecemeal attire
apart as if it were nothing more substantial than
parchment. The metal fastens broke open, some
ripping into Strife's flesh before being tossed
aside. Strife let Ares do as he wished--after all,
there was nothing he could do to stop him, and this
was, at least, nothing he wasn't used to, nothing
he hadn't expected in the aftermath of Ares
separating himself from Joxer. The old war raged on
inside Strife through it all, the battle between
his desperate craving for the god's touch, and
wanting to reject being used simply as an outlet
for the god's fury, his loveless needs.
Suddenly Ares grabbed him by his hair, jerking his
head back so sharply his neck would have snapped
had he been mortal. The onyx eyes bored into his,
the rage that had been in his gaze before nothing
compared to what was there now. "...Unc?" Strife
"What...did...you...do...to...him?" His voice was
barely above a whisper, but each word was pure
"Him? Him who!"
"Joxer! His scent is all over you. I can taste
him on you, you bastard," Ares swore, one arm
holding the smaller god in place so tightly, he
felt as if he was going to be squeezed in half.
Fuck! he thought with panic. Oh, stupid,
stupid, stupid! He had been so nervous when Ares
had called him, so concerned about getting away
from Joxer quickly, that he'd forgotten to take the
few seconds to purge himself of any trace of the
mortal. To a god's senses, the mere touch of a
mortal's hand on another was enough to leave a mark
as clear as day. "It...it w-wasn't nothin', Ares.
The world exploded around him, and then returned to
slam him solidly in his back as he hit the wall.
Desperately he tried to ignore the pain as he fell
to the ground, tried to get himself back on his
feet. Ares flashed across the chamber and towered
over him, snarling, "I warned you if you ever did
anything to him..."
"Ares, chill out and listen to me!"
"Listen to you?!" Ares pulled him to his feet by
his torn clothes, only to send him flying once more
across the chamber for a close encounter with
Blinding, searing pain sent his thoughts
scattering, but he willed himself to collect them.
This was merely a warm-up for how the rest of the
day--no, probably the next hundred years or so--
would go if he couldn't calm Ares down. As the war
god strode purposefully towards him, hands sparking
with lightning waiting to sear his flesh, Strife
struggled to form his plea, "Wait! Let...let me
explain! I heard you kick him out of here
yesterday. I went after him and--"
"--He is still mine!" Ares interrupted, his voice
booming through the chamber, so loud the walls
shook and threatened to crack.
"Well, duh, I know that! I didn't go there to hurt
him--you did enough of that already. I just went to
talk to him! To make sure he was all right!"
Strife's own anger flared, his resentment and
jealousy bubbling forth as he shouted at Ares, "You
know what I did, Unc? I told him the truth,
what you didn't have the balls to tell him
yesterday. I told him that you threw him out 'cause
you'd rather send him packing than have him
turn out like me. Now ain't that the way it is?"
Strife's accusation stopped the war god cold. For a
moment Strife feared the worst, that he'd pushed
Ares too far with the reminder of the past which
they both had avoided speaking of for so long. When
he should have been begging for mercy, he'd dared
to lash out. Strife expected it was going to cost him
Instead, the lightning died away from Ares' hands,
and the dark god's expression softened from rage to
that of utter defeat and misery. Strife almost felt
sorry for him, then...almost.
"Is Joxer all right?"
"Depends on how you define 'all right'," Strife
answered. When the god's eyes flared menacingly, he
quickly added, "I don't think he's gonna go jump
off a cliff or anything, but he ain't exactly
bouncing around with joy right now, ya know?"
Ares considered this answer, and regarded Strife
critically, then appeared to accept his words as
the truth. He walked away, leaving the stricken god
to try to find the energy to get to his feet. A
couple hours soaking in one of the healing baths on
Olympus, and some Ambrosia Nectar, and there
shouldn't be any permanent damage, he supposed.
Ares was good at stopping himself before that
point...unlike others he'd had the misfortune of
dealing with in his lifetime.
Shaking those unpleasant thoughts from his mind, he
wondered if he should return his clothing to its
normal state or leave it half-torn, as it now
covered him. He couldn't figure Ares' moods worth
shit sometimes, and wouldn't put it past him going
for another round still. "You done throwing me
around or what?" he asked.
Ares ignored the comment, slipping into business-
as-usual mode, as if nothing unusual had just
happened. "I want you to check on the situation in
Parnas. I've been trying to turn that border
skirmish into a full-fledged war for months. Maybe
you can use your...unique methods to stir things up
a bit, fuel the fires so to speak."
Strife was surprised Ares was giving him such a
sweet assignment. First he tries to kill me, now
he's giving me free reign over my favorite kind of
work? He figured it was probably Ares' way of
apologizing...and keeping Strife preoccupied with
matters other than Joxer. "Hey, done and done," he
agreed quickly. "Is that all?"
Ares settled back into his throne and confirmed,
"That's all. Keep me informed on your progress." As
Strife prepared to leave, Ares called out, "Oh,
just one more thing."
The cold tone returned to the war god's voice as he
warned, "Do what I say this time, and stay away
from Joxer. I don't have to tell you what will
happen if I find out you've been anywhere near him
again, do I?"
Strife shook his head. "Nuh-uh, Unc. I hear ya.
Don't you worry 'bout that," Strife tried to
reassure him, even as he was thinking miserably,
Stay away from Joxer?...Sure...after I've given
him my promise to come to him if he ever needs
me...What the fuck was I thinking?!
Of course he couldn't tell Ares what he'd done.
So he merely made haste with his exit, and hoped
that he could figure some way out of this lousy
mess he'd managed to create for himself.
The baths in the opulent Olympian temple were soothing
to both the immortal body and spirit. Strife lounged in
the warm, ambrosia-infused waters, thankful that no
other gods were about and he had the place to himself.
Nearby but silent and out-of-sight, the ever-present,
ready-to-serve acolytes waited, should a god require
any of their services. Strife didn't, preferring to be
alone while the healing waters helped him recover from
the morning assault.
Humans thought that the gods had it easy, being
immortal and impervious to common disease, old age and
injury. Injury at a mortal's hand perhaps, but to
each other, the gods could be vicious and do quite a
lot of damage when they wished. Strife had seen worse
abuse before than he had this morning, but for some
reason it had left him feeling utterly drained and in
need of some serious recovery time. He'd get to the
situation in Parsus soon enough, but if he didn't rest
a little first, he'd be in no shape to get the job
Conveniently, a scrying mirror sat near one end of the
marble bath, for that busy deity who always needed to
keep an eye on things even while supposedly relaxing in
the baths. Strife used it to do a quick survey of
Parsus, to check out the general scene before heading
there in person. It was a good diversion from the other
things that had been preoccupying his attention
recently--comfortably familiar territory and concerns.
Seeing the problem in Parsus didn't take long. The
rulers of the two neighboring kingdoms in the area were
too damned wishy-washy to let their small border
disputes and other squabbles escalate into war. Neither
of them had a good bloodthirsty advisor whispering in
his ear to agitate them properly. Ares had planted
several in their midst, Strife recalled, and he
wondered what had happened to them. Further scanning
around revealed one had died in a barroom brawl, and
the others were slacking off since Ares hadn't been
attending to their progress lately.
Strife would fix their wagons easy enough; that was a
no-brainer and might even be good for a little fun.
Still, he could see it was going to take more work than
that to flare these tepid spirits to war. With his keen
eye for causing trouble, Strife soon spotted what could
be the perfect opportunity. King Tymonaeus' daughter
Telamonne and King Polymeur's son Marcos were to marry
soon, to help unite the kingdoms. And they actually
seemed in love with each other, surprisingly enough.
What would stir up trouble in both kingdoms faster than
having one of the two young lovers kill the other? An
old trick, but Strife found it never failed. Throw in
accusations of one them having another lover, and
other such venomous gossip, and everything would just
fall into place after that. The kings would be so
overcome with grief and rage, they'd be ripe for
persuasion to take up arms.
Strife could have the whole thing said and done in two,
three days tops, but he wanted to take his time. A plan
like this always worked best if you started small,
planted the seeds of doubt and suspicion for a few
days, even a few weeks, before going ahead with the
final strike. He might even talk to Cousin Morpheus and
see about tossing a few nightmares into the mix--ones
with a dash of prophecy for good measure. "Subtlety,"
Ares always coached, and in that at least he knew Ares
had taught him well. Strife's tendency had always been
toward impulsive acts instead...which in turn had a
tendency to only get him in serious trouble.
Like this morning? he reminded himself, recalling the
impulse that had overcome him and resulted in him
giving that pendant to Joxer. He shook his head and
tried to push thoughts of it out of his mind. He won't
use it, he tried to convince himself. What would he
want with my help anyway? What would anyone want with
He wished he could put the mortal out of his head, but
Joxer kept creeping back into his thoughts, every time
they drifted away from the situation in Parsus. The
image of the mortal even came into view on the mirror,
and Strife spied him traveling along the road that led
away from Corinth, away from Ares' Temple, but to
exactly where...Strife doubted Joxer had any idea where
he was going. The god just hoped it was away from
Setting things moving in Parsus was quick and pleasant
work. Ares' errant men wouldn't be slacking off on
their tasks again anytime soon. Strife possessed a more
than ample knowledge of the art of torture, which
required such a fine, delicate touch when it came to
mortals. Push just a little too hard and the next thing
you knew, all you had was another useless dead body on
He'd found a reasonable target for the Princess'
supposed errant affections--a lieutenant in her
father's army, apparently a childhood friend of the
girl. A few whispers in the marketplace, and rumors
were spreading quickly that perhaps that "friendship"
had taken a new turn of late. He'd leave it at that for
now, figuring he'd done enough for one day. He should
probably let Ares know how things were coming along, he
figured, run his plan by Unc for his approval. Not that
he was particularly enthused about visiting Ares after
this morning, but he knew it would be best and least
suspicious of him to follow his usual routine--namely,
being annoyingly underfoot as much as possible.
A quick search revealed Ares had left his Earthly
temple and returned to Olympus. Strife wasn't
surprised; the god of war had only been spending an
excessive amount of time away from "home" because of
Joxer. Strife flashed over to Ares' temple on
Olympus, but realized as soon as he arrived that Uncle
was...preoccupied. The presence of another god in the
immediate area set his senses on fire, and he knew he
didn't want to stick around when he figured out who it
Discord's wicked laugh echoed through the high-
ceilinged corridors on the temple, followed by a squeal
of pleasure--or possibly pain. They were
interchangeable to the goddess, Strife knew quite well.
Fortunately for him, the two gods were too preoccupied
with whatever they were up to in Ares' bedchamber to
notice another was nearby. Strife left before that
situation could change; reporting to Ares could wait
until tomorrow. At least the God of war had found
someone else to work out his frustrations on. Discord
was always more than willing to oblige him the time and
Strife headed back to the temple in Corinth since he
had nothing better to do. He picked idly over Ares'
offerings for the day to see if there was anything
worth swiping while the god of war wasn't looking. It
sucked being a god to whom no one prayed, for whom no
one built altars or shrines. You had to make due taking
whatever scraps the major gods tossed your way, or what
you could steal. He kept himself busy causing trouble
where he could, but he was limited in what he could get
away with without stepping on the toes of another god.
He couldn't cause enough trouble that would instigate a
war without Ares' approval. If he messed about in too
many mortal's love lives, he risked taking shit from
'Dite or Cupid. The same with the rest of them, all the
power-players that controlled all the important
stuff when it came to the mortal world.
He sighed, picking up a small dagger, tossing it about
between his hands. Maybe he'd go pay Morpheus a visit,
since he needed to talk to him about the nightmare
business anyway. Morph was pretty okay, and didn't
usually mind him hanging about. He was a bit of a loner
himself, cruising around in that boss flying ship of
his instead of hanging out on Olympus with everyone
else. Strife wondered how he could get a gig like
that...maybe Morph would have a few pointers he'd be
willing to share if he was in a good enough mood.
He was just about to leave when he stopped, sensing the
He wasn't certain at first, as it wasn't a strong
call. But he focused on it, and with a
little effort he could clearly feel Joxer's presence at
the source of it. Here he was, having half-convinced
himself earlier that the mortal was never going to use
the gift he'd given him, never want anything to do with
him. But less than a day had passed and already Joxer
wanted him for something again.
He hesitated, seriously debating whether he should go
to Joxer or ignore him. His hesitation was driven by
one single but serious thought: If Ares were to find
Yet if he didn't respond, he could land himself in
serious trouble with the other gods. It was one of
those "rules of engagement" Zeus was so very fond of
enforcing--if you make a promise to a mortal, bound in
metal forged on Hephaestus' fire, it was your duty to
honor it. Strife supposed he could always claim he was
following Ares' instructions to stay away from
Joxer...but somehow he didn't think that would fly. He
was already on a short enough leash as far as Zeus and
the others were concerned.
In the end Strife couldn't ignore him. Curiosity was
killing him to find out what Joxer needed, not to
mention that despite his fear, he was excited to think
that Joxer actually wanted to see him, for any reason.
He quickly located Joxer at his campsite. He'd covered
a fair amount of distance during the day, but
emotionally he seemed in much the same place as he'd
been in the night before: a complete mess. He was lying
on his side, clutching the pendant tightly. So tightly,
in fact, that the sharp metal edges had pierced his
skin, causing blood to trickle out of his fist and down
his wrist and forearm. Strife
sensed he was doing it on purpose, using the physical
pain to try to distract him from the pain in his heart.
Strife didn't like seeing Joxer like this. Not that he
hadn't used physical pain as an outlet for his own
emotional troubles before, but he didn't want to see
Joxer start down that self-destructive path. Strife
flashed over to the bedroll, stretching out behind him
and scolding gently, "You know you don't have to make a
blood sacrifice or somethin' to summon me. Just holdin'
it would've done the trick."
The mortal was startled by the voice, and apologized.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to bring you here."
"Sorry" seemed to be a word Joxer used a lot. "You sure
you didn't?" Strife asked.
Joxer hesitated. "You've probably got better things to
"Not really. I bet that's starting to sting," Strife
said as he looked to the mortal's hand.
"Kind of," Joxer answered, wincing as Strife took hold
of his wrist. No more than a thought later and the
wounds were healed. "Thanks."
Strife let go of the hand, but left his arm resting
over Joxer's side. Joxer hadn't said the words but
Strife had felt the urge for physical contact. The god
had no problem holding Joxer through another night, if
that was what he wanted. Well, he did have the problem
of worrying about Ares, but he could try to put that
out of his mind for a while. He did take a moment to
set up a small "shield" around the immediate area,
however. It wasn't strong enough to hide his presence
should anyone try too hard to find either of them, but
it would be enough to protect them both from a casual
search by Ares or anyone else.
"So what happened after you left?"
"Huh?" Strike asked, wondering what Joxer was talking
"This morning. You said it wasn't going to be pretty.
"You know, that's the problem with mortals who hang
around gods too much. You get bossy. Most people would
be like, 'Oh, please, most powerful and all-around
groovy god, may I grovel at your feet? May I dare to
ask you something?'" Strife snorted. "Geez. Just a
little awe and ass-kissing now and then would be nice."
Apologizing again... "Yeah, whatever. Anyway, this
morning? Nothing I wasn't really expecting. You know
how Unc is when he doesn't get his way."
"He's the one who told me to leave. Isn't that
getting his way?"
"You know what I mean. In the grander sense of things,
he didn't have a choice."
Joxer didn't seem convinced, but he let it pass, going
back to his original question. "So what happened?"
"What do you think? He threw shit around--threw me
around, to be more precise--then got all morose about
it, now he's off boffing Mumsy Discord. She's always
good for a few rounds when he needs to work off some
"Oh," was all Joxer said for a while, obviously smart
enough to know when he didn't need to hear any further
details on the subject. Then Strife heard him sigh
lightly. "You know, I think I always knew it couldn't
last. Part of me never really believed it was happening
in the first place--Ares wanting to be with someone
"...Can I ask you something?"
"You can ask. Won't promise an answer."
"You still love him," Joxer stated more than asked.
"Why? When he's responsible for who you are, and after
he...rejected you because of that."
"He's Ares. You know what he's like." Strife
"But the way he treats you...I don't know why you'd put
up with it for so long."
"Maybe I don't deserve any better." Shit! What was
it about Joxer that got him thinking and saying these
Joxer fell silent for a while, then remarked, "You
don't seem that bad to me."
"That's 'cause you don't really know me."
"I know if you were totally bad, if you were the person
you tell me you are, you wouldn't be here trying to
"You're too damn trusting. I could be here for a lot of
different reasons than wanting to...help you."
"I guess." Joxer didn't sound particularly worried.
Probably because even if he thought Strife was out to
get him, he didn't care. "I think you're wrong
about yourself. And Ares is, too. I think there's still
someone good inside you. I mean, look at Xena, how she
turned herself around."
"You're talking about a mortal. That's different. I've
had centuries to pull shit that would make Xena look
like a goddess of peace."
"Yeah, but still...I don't think it's ever too late for
anyone to change, if they want to."
"It's a few centuries too late for me."
"How can you be so sure?"
"'Cause I'm a god, stupid. Gods can't change. Not once
we get in a groove. It's just...not the way things
"I don't see why it should be like that."
"You wouldn't. Mortals can't get it. You don't know
what it's like," Strife answered, his voice suddenly
taking on a somber tone. He thought but didn't continue
aloud, It ain't all fun and games and tricks and shit.
It's politics and taking crap from everyone who's
stronger than you, better than you, and it just goes
on and on, year after year, and you don't even think
about it anymore until some stupid mortal comes along
and makes you think about things you haven't let
yourself think about for centuries...
"Strife...? Did I say something--"
Wrong? Yes. Everything about this is wrong, Joxer,
can't you see that? What you're doing to me? Oh,
"--No. Forget it. How 'bout you just try and get some
"Will you stay again tonight?"
"If you want me to."
"Yeah. If...if you don't mind."
"Nah," Strife said, though his senses rebelled against
his exterior calm as Joxer settled in against him more
snugly than before. In the silence that followed,
Strife found he could think of little else but the
feeling of Joxer's body against him, the smell of his
hair, the sweetness of his very spirit, so fragile and
wounded right now.
So fragile...I can't let it break, Strife vowed,
those protective urges coming back once more. Can't
let that happen to you.
...Even if he was damned to know what he could do to
Several days passed, and Joxer didn't call to him
again. He supposed that was a good sign, that maybe the
mortal was pulling himself together and getting through
the worst of it. There had been no tears that second
night, but the pain Strife had felt in Joxer's heart
was still extremely raw. He worried over some of the
stray dark thoughts he'd spied passing through the
mortal's mind. Nevertheless, the situation in Parsus
was progressing and he needed to devote most
of his attentions to it. He wanted to check in on
Joxer, see how he doing, but he forced himself to stay
away. Every time he went to the mortal, even to follow
him invisibly, he was risking discovery by Ares.
He was also trying to sort out the strange effect Joxer
seemed to be having on his frame of mind. It had to
be Joxer, for he could think of no other explanation
for the odd way he'd been feeling, his lack of real
satisfaction with his efforts in Parsus. Even as he
worked to bring the two kingdoms to a war, as he
schemed and put into play events that would lead to the
death of the beautiful young princess Telamonne, he
oddly began feeling a strange sense of...unease about
it all. He was only following orders, he reasoned--Ares
wanted war here, and so that was what Ares would get.
War was necessary, even if the reasons why one
particular war or another didn't seem to make sense.
Ares had his reasons; he knew what was best. Mortals
needed war to control their populations, as an outlet
for their anger, as a way to urge along progress--the
survival of the strongest. What was this one mortal
woman's life in the end? What was a little extra misery
and heartache in a few peoples' lives?
Nothing. Nothing at all. Then why was it bothering him,
even just a little bit? Why was he getting a funny
feeling in his stomach every time he spied Telamonne
and Marcos, walking through the gardens in King
Tymonaeus' courtyard, hand in hand, convinced that they
had the rest of their lives ahead of themselves to
live, and enjoy, and love...
Love. Strife sighed. That was what this was all about,
in the end. Without question the most dangerous of
emotions, far more dangerous than hate or anger.
Strife felt the air electrify around him, the signal of
another god arriving. He stiffened in expectation that
it was Ares come to check on his progress. He was
surprised to see it was Cupid instead.
The golden-haired god looked out toward the lovers, who
were walking through the courtyard below the balcony
where the gods stood. "Do you have to do this? They're
such a good match."
"It's a done deal, flyboy. Unc wants war here; he
already approved my plan. I can't go changin' it now
without him wonderin' why. I ain't gonna tell him it's
'cause Cupie didn't want me messin' with two of his
"But you don't want to do it."
"'Course I do. It's my job, what I do--mess things up.
Fuck up other people's lives." When have I ever been
good at doing anything else?
"Funny, I had the impression you were trying to keep
Joxer from messing up his life."
Strife was struck silent, wondering with fear how the
god of love knew. Cupid reassured him, "Don't worry,
I'm not going to say a word to Ares."
"How do you know in the first place?"
"Do you think me and mom wouldn't sense something was
up? Whenever there's bad vibes in the love department,
we know it. Especially when there's a god involved."
Strife narrowed his eyes, suspicions filling his
thoughts. "You've been messin' with my head, is that
it? Makin' me have these crazy thoughts about..." he
trailed off, unable to say it.
"...about wanting to help Joxer? About...loving him?"
Strife didn't answer. "No, I haven't done anything.
And--no offence--but even though mom's upset that her
favorite mortal just had his heart broken, you're the
last person she'd ever send his way. She was pissed
enough that he got involved with Ares in the first
place." Cupid added after a pause, "Listen, we can talk
about this more later, but right now there isn't a lot
of time. If you care about Joxer at all, you have to go
"Why? What's wrong?" Strife asked with concern. Cupid's
serious expression did little to ease his mind.
"He's about to do something really stupid, and I think
you're the only one who can stop him."
The warlord's camp was in chaos.
Appearing in the middle of the fighting,
shouting and running about, Strife quickly
tried to figure out what was going on and
why Cupid had sent him here. He glanced up
and recognized the camp's banner as that of
Sinis. The man was not a particularly
skilled warrior, usually only good at
getting on Ares' nerves with his sloppiness
and arrogance. Apparently he'd managed to
get on another warlord's nerves as well, and
was suffering the consequences this day.
Strife spotted the man leading the assault
and recognized him, too: Orax. In contrast
to Sinis, Orax was a favorite of the god of
war, a useful man for running dirty little
jobs, pillaging villages, that sort of
thing. Not smart or ballsy enough to be
granted command of one of Ares' large
armies, but good enough for day-to-day grunt
work, and unquestionable in his loyalty.
Strife wondered if Ares had finally become
fed up with Sinis and ordered Orax to take
him and his band out. If so, the battle
looked as if it would be a quick one.
But what does any of this have to do with
Joxer? Strife wondered, ignoring the
screams of the dying and the bloodshed all
around him, things which barely registered
on his senses. When he found the answer to
his question, though, he felt sick with
dread. Fuck, no...
Joxer was there, fighting on the side of
Orax and his men. He was dressed in the
battle wear he'd once purchased thinking it
would please Ares, yet the god of war had
forbid him to ever wear the attire or
anything like it in his presence ever again.
Shit! Strife couldn't believe
it, yet at the same time he cursed himself
for not keeping a closer eye on Joxer the
past few days. He'd thought he'd gotten
through to him, but clearly the mortal was
doing exactly what Ares--and now he--had
feared. Joxer was going to be a warrior...
...Or at the very least, he would die
Joxer was far from the best fighter Strife
had seen, but with the training he'd been
sneaking in over the months, he was handling
himself surprisingly well. So far the blade
of his sword was unstained by blood, but
Strife needed no powers of prophecy to know
that against Sinis' comparatively lackluster
men, that would not be the case for much
longer. Joxer was currently trading blows
with a brutish, heavy-set fighter, a man who
was clearly stronger than him but lacking in
speed and flexibility. In that, Joxer found
an edge, and he quickly wore his sluggish
opponent down. With a skillful duck followed
by a solid kick, Joxer knocked the brute off
his center of balance and onto the ground.
The man made no effort to stand, too dazed
and in pain to go on.
Joxer stood over fallen man, looking down at
him with eyes that seemed already dead, void
of any emotion. Before the thug could
recover his breath, Joxer raised his sword,
preparing to strike down with a killing
Strife charged at Joxer, knocking him down
just before the blade made impact. Another
one of Sinus' men saw his companion on the
ground and charged towards Joxer as he was
struggling to get back to his feet. Strife
grabbed Joxer's sword from the bewildered
mortal's hand and plunged it into the
attacker's chest without a second thought.
As the man screamed and fell, Strife made
quick work finishing off his companion as
well. They were scum, and the sooner they
ended up in Tartarus the better. But it
would not be at Joxer's hands.
The battle continued all around them but
Strife had seen enough. He grabbed the
confused Joxer forcefully and with a thought
relocated them both some distance away from
Now that Joxer was out of immediate danger,
Strife let loose and screamed at him, "What
the FUCK were you doing out there?!"
"What did it look like I was doing?" Joxer
"Being a stupid shit-for-brains, that's what
it looked like. Have you gone completely
Joxer lashed back with an anger Strife was
shocked to see the mortal could possess. "I
was doing what I've always wanted to do--
become a warrior. You had no right to stop
"Didn't you listen to anything I told you?
This is exactly what Ares didn't want for
"Yeah? Well FUCK what Ares wants! This is
my life. It's not his to control, or
yours, or anyone else's but mine."
"Yours to throw away? 'Cause that's what
you're doing, can't you see that? If you're
doing this to spite him--"
"I don't have to explain myself to you. I'm
sick of people thinking they know what's
best for me. And why do you care, anyway?"
"No! Just leave me alone!" Joxer started
walking back toward the battle, even shoving
Strife out of his way when the god tried to
Normally, any mortal who dared treat a god
like that would not be long for this Earth.
But Strife just stood there, exasperated,
wondering how he was supposed to get through
to Joxer and stop him.
"I care because I love you, you dumb ass!"
That, at least, got Joxer to stop. He turned
back around and stared at Strife, eyes wide
with surprise. "What?!"
Fuck. Why the Fuck... If Strife could
punch himself out, blast himself into
smithereens, he would have at that moment.
He hadn't meant to say it, but the words had
come tumbling out of his mouth before he
could stop himself.
Now Joxer was waiting for an explanation.
Strife sighed and figured he couldn't get
himself in any deeper by just letting it all
fly at this point. And if it might keep
Joxer from going back to the fight... "I
said...I said I love you. Why else do you
think I'm risking my ass following you
around?" He stepped closer to Joxer, as
close as he dared, and the truth poured out
of him, "You're everything I'll never be
again, no matter how much I'd want it. I
don't want to see you end up losin' it all,
especially out of spite. It ain't worth it,
you gotta believe me on that."
Strife could feel Joxer's anger just
slipping away, to be replaced only with
complete confusion. "Believe you...I don't
know what to believe anymore. I don't even
know who I am anymore."
"Well, maybe you should take some time to
figure that out, you think? Before you make
some damn mistake you're gonna regret for
the rest of your life."
Joxer just looked down at the ground, his
shoulders sagging in defeat. Strife realized
he was still holding Joxer's sword in one
hand, and tossed it to the ground in
disgust. Awkwardly, he started to reach out
for Joxer, but the mortal stepped back and
turned away from him, looking out toward the
battle that seemed to be
slowing down. Smoke filled the air as tents
and supplies were set on fire. Bodies
littered the ground, and there were shouts
of triumph sounding among those still
"Look, you decide that there is the gig you
want, I ain't gonna stop you again. Just
take some time to think about it first,"
Strife added, hoping that this time, he was
getting through. "Think about where you'll
be a few years from now. Ten years. Or after
you're dead. If that's all worth it 'cause
you're pissed off at Ares, or think it's
gonna win your way back into his bed...then
fine. I won't tell ya how wrong you are
again. I got better things to do with my
"Strife, I--" Joxer started, as he turned
But no one was there. Nothing but the sword
lying in the dirt, his to take back or to
For Strife, time passed slowly over the
weeks that followed. Ares was pleased; the
god of mischief's plan had worked perfectly.
War had broken out in Parsus after the death
of the princess at her husband-to-be's
hands. Ares was certain it would be a long
and thoroughly satisfying war--as long as he
could keep pests like Hercules and Xena out
of the picture. Strife was simply glad his
part in the affair was finished, and he
could try to put what he'd done there out of
his thoughts. He stuck to busying himself
with lesser acts of mischief and annoyance
for the time being.
With war on his hands, Ares was slowly
returning to his normal self, though not
once since that first morning after casting
Joxer out had he made any "intimate"
overtures towards Strife again. Perhaps he
was being well taken care of by Discord. Or
perhaps he could not separate thoughts of
Strife from those of Joxer, and the
parallels were too painful to him right now.
Whatever. Strife was grateful for the lack
of attention beyond "business" matters, as
it left him some freedom and free time...
most of which he was using to keep a
watchful eye on Joxer. He hadn't made his
presence known to the mortal again, yet he
made a point to check on him at least once
a day. He was careful about it, determined
not to leave a trail that Ares could follow,
but equally determined to not let fear of
the god's wrath keep him away again.
Much to Strife's relief, Joxer seemed to
have taken his advice to heart at last.
Instead of returning to Orax or some other
warlord's camp, he'd sought out Xena and
somehow convinced the warrior princess to
accept him back into her little do-gooding
band. Strife wondered how Joxer had managed
to pull that off, as clearly the reunion
with his two old friends was strained and
not without serious lingering suspicions.
The annoying little bard, Gabrielle
considered Joxer a traitor; even if she
didn't say as much, Strife could see it in
her eyes and her thoughts. Xena was the
forgiving if understandably wary one. She,
at least, knew first hand of the seductive
nature of Ares and all that he could offer,
and how difficult resisting him could be. In
that she understood how Joxer had been lead
astray, although she didn't seem to grasp
the idea that Ares had let him go to protect
his innocence. That seemed too great an act
of mercy to Xena, who could not accept that
Ares might possess such qualities.
Nevertheless, the familiar company was
clearly doing Joxer well. To Strife's eyes,
the mortal appeared to be returning to his
old self more and more each day. Ares would
be glad, no doubt, and that was all fine and
dandy. But Strife was wondering how much
longer he could carry on like this himself.
How long could he go on following Joxer
around--watching him, wanting him, waiting
for a summons and perhaps some response,
any response, to his confession of love? A
simple rejection would do, because then at
least he could force himself to try to let
go, just as the war god had.
How much longer could he go on, hiding his
feelings and actions from Ares? How much
longer could he go on doing the things he
was supposed to, when thoughts of the mortal
lives he'd destroyed were beginning to
bother him, make him question his part in
the elaborately staged games of the Olympian
He was lounging around the temple in Corinth
one night, almost a month after this all had
begun, his thoughts occupied by these
thoughts and more. Out of nowhere, he knew
suddenly that Joxer wanted to see him; the
summons was like a warm breeze, soft and
whispering against his ears. There was no
debating accepting the summons this time,
although he controlled his excitement enough
to set up a false trail in case Ares should
come searching for him. He moved about from
one city to the next in a meandering path
until he at last arrived in a small village
south of Amphipolis, where Joxer's call to
him had originated.
He found Joxer in a small but clean room at
the town inn, standing by the window, which
looked out over the street below. A quick
survey and Strife found Xena and Gabrielle
were in the room next door, doing things he
might find interesting to spy on some other
night. He'd leave them their privacy for now,
far too interested this evening in what Joxer
wanted with him.
"You rang?" he quipped, trying to sound
lighthearted and not overly anxious.
Joxer didn't seem startled by Strife's
voice. He turned away from the window, a
small smile lighting up his face when he saw
the god. "I wasn't sure this thing still
worked," he said, touching the pendant
around his neck.
"Hey, it doesn't have an expiration date or
"A--never mind. So, you wanted something or
were you only testing it out?"
"It's...nothing important, I guess. I just
wanted to talk to you," Joxer explained,
walking away from the window to sit on the
edge of the bed.
"Well, I'm here and I'm listening," Strife
answered, following Joxer's lead and taking
a seat near him. "What's up?"
"I've been thinking...a lot...since I last
saw you. I'm sorry about the way I was
acting before. I can see what I was doing
and how stupid it was. If you hadn't gone
out of your way for me like you did..."
Joxer looked down at the ground, his eyes
obviously seeing something other than the
worn floorboards beneath his feet. "I don't
like to think about where I'd be right now."
"Wasn't no big deal," Strife said, trying to
shrug it off.
Joxer looked back up at him and insisted,
"Yes. It was a big deal."
Strife tried to change the subject slightly.
"So, you got big ol' leatherboy outta your
head finally?" At Joxer's befuddled
expression he clarified, "Ares."
"Oh! Yeah, I...I guess so. It still..."
Joxer looked away and sighed. "It still
hurts. I think it always will, a little.
Part of me is always going to love him. But
I can deal with that. I can think about
"Uh huh. That's cool."
Joxer nodded. "Yeah." The room fell silent
for a few minutes, as Strife forced himself
to wait patiently for Joxer to say what else
was on his mind. "I, um...I've also been
thinking about what you...what you told me,
that last time I saw you. How you felt about
me. Did you mean it?"
"Does it matter if I did?"
"Then...yeah, I meant it. Why?"
Strife got his answer soon enough, and in a
most unexpected fashion. Even as he knew
what was coming, could see it clearly in the
mortal's thoughts, he could barely believe
it when it happened.
Joxer leaned in and kissed him.
Strife's normally agile mouth was for once
uncertain of how to respond. Fucking was
something he was used to, but kissing...it
seemed as if ages had passed since he'd been
kissed, this way. Not only that, but Joxer's lips
pressed against his own so gently, with such
tenderness, that Strife wondered if he'd
ever been kissed like this before. He was
too stunned to respond until Joxer was about
to draw away from him. At that point he
responded the only way he knew how, by
pulling Joxer tightly against him, roughly
exploring his mouth, his desire almost too
much to control. Joxer just melted into his
arms, pliant and willing, moaning slightly
under the intense attention.
Strife sucked down on the mortal's soft,
sweet bottom lip and nearly gave in to the
urge to bite down and draw blood, to taste
the warm coppery essence of his life. But
something stopped him, reminded him of
exactly who this was in his arms: Joxer.
And Joxer was not to be harmed, not through
passion or otherwise. He was only to be
treasured. Strife wondered and feared that
he might not be capable of that, not even
for the one that he loved.
Joxer pulled back, sensing Strife's sudden
hesitation. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"I...well, I...what'd you go and do that
for?!" Strife demanded, realizing that more
than anything else he simply couldn't
believe this was happening.
"Because I wanted to. Because I thought you
wanted me to. Was I wrong?"
"I just...I don't get why you wanted to do
"I don't know if I understand myself,
actually, except that it seems...right. I've
thought about you, and everything you did
for me when you didn't have to do anything.
How it felt when you held me those nights,
when I didn't think I had anything...to live
for, anymore. It feels good, to know
someone loves me...someone I could maybe
"Joxer, you don't know what your gettin'
yourself info here...what you're gettin'
me into, you know? If Ares finds out he'll
kill me--no, actually, he'll make me wish he
could kill me. I'm not supposed to be
anywhere near you, let alone..." Let alone
holding you, kissing you, wanting to be
fucked senseless by you? "...let alone
doing any of this."
"It's not his decision to make," Joxer
countered. "I don't answer to him any
Joxer sighed, looking frustrated and angry.
"Fine. Go then. Forget I called you here.
Take this back." He pulled the pendant off
over his head and held it out to Strife. His
tone turned from anger to resignation as he
added, "I don't want to get you in trouble."
Strife looked down at the pendant. This was
his chance to turn and run, to play it safe.
Forget about Joxer, stop having to worry
about Ares...try to forget the feelings
Joxer had awakened in him that he'd been
certain he'd never feel again...
His eyes returned to Joxer's as he reached
out for the hand holding the pendant. He
closed his fingers around Joxer's hand,
feeling the metal between their palms, but
not pulling it away. Not able to. No matter
what the price would be for it later.
Joxer's lips quirked into a smile when he
realized the decision had been made. He
reached up with his free hand to touch the
god's cheek, caressing it gently. Strife
closed his eyes and leaned into the light
touch, a soft whimper catching in his
The warm fingers against his cheek
eventually slipped into his hair, urging him
closer. This time he let Joxer's kiss wash
over him, consume his every thought and
sensation. The pendant fell to the floor as
he released Joxer's hand, reaching out to
touch the mortal's body, pull him against
his own once more. How can he want me?
Strife wondered, even as he could feel the
certainty of Joxer's desire in every touch,
every caress. It felt impossible, too good
to be real, better than anything he
"You are so...beautiful," Strife whispered,
running trembling fingers down the long
curve of Joxer's neck. "When you were with
him, I never wanted to look at you. It hurt
to look at you. Fuck, part of me hurts
looking at you now...touching you, it's even
"Not your fault, dammit. You're always
apologizing for things that aren't your
"I meant, I'm sorry to think of what he did
to you. Even if he didn't mean it. Oh..."
Joxer trailed off as Strife nuzzled his
neck, tasting the delicate skin, marveling
at its exquisite softness. He kissed his way
up to one earlobe, feeling Joxer's pulse
quicken, knowing the mortal was enjoying
what he was doing.
But he couldn't help but be drawn back to
those lips once more. Once re-enlightened to
the pleasure of this one simple act, he
couldn't get enough of it, even as it
stirred up painful memories of the past--of
the days when Ares had kissed him, not quite
like this, though. Never with such
tenderness. Strife could spend the rest of
the night doing just this and never tire of
it. He hurt inside, at every loving touch he
was certain he didn't deserve, every kiss
that reminded him of how long he had been
denied such affection. He hurt, but he
couldn't stop himself, as it felt so
wonderful at the same time...
"You're crying," Joxer observed.
Crying? Strife was about to deny it, but
then he tasted the saltiness on his lips,
felt the wetness against his cheeks. He went
to wipe the tears away, but Joxer stopped
his hand, instead leaning in to kiss away
the tears. "I didn't even know gods could
"We do everything mortals can do...We just
don't like to let 'em know that all the
Joxer urged him to lie down, and they fell
together, touching, kissing, learning how
their bodies fit together. Clothing became a
hindrance after a time, and with an
impatient thought by Strife, Joxer's attire
was gone. The feel and sight of the mortal's
bare skin sent the god's senses reeling--it
was so smooth and unbelievably delightful to
his touch...so perfect. He was certain there
were goddesses who would kill for skin like
"Youch!" Joxer startled him with a cry of
"That outfit of yours...kind of painful
against bare skin, you know," Joxer
"Oh, yeah...sorry." Strife sighed; he knew
it was time, and he could feel Joxer's urge
to touch him, almost as badly as he wanted
to be touched.
"What's wrong?" Joxer asked.
"Just that you're so fucking perfect and
beautiful and I'm..."
"...you're beautiful too," Joxer tried to
Strife shook his head. "No. No one could say
that about me." Pushing aside his
reluctance, he dispensed with his clothing
with a thought, hearing Joxer's shocked gasp
as he'd been expecting...dreading. He
watched Joxer's expression as the dark eyes,
wide with surprise, took in the sight of the
god's body. Strife expected disgust or pity,
but instead, Joxer's shock soon faded into
sorrow at what he saw.
"By the gods...who did this to you?"
"Discord, most of it, back before Unc got me
away from her. Though Ares, he's added a few
marks in his time, too. Gods ain't supposed
to kill each other...but there's no rules
about leavin' permanent scars."
"But I always thought Gods' bodies were...I
dunno...something you could fix or change at
"Oh, we can trick mortals, pull the wool
over your eyes t'make you see what we want
you to see." With a flash, the scars
vanished to Joxer's eyes to show what he
meant. "But we can't change our real
appearance. Didn't want you to have to see
this...but I figured you deserved to."
"You don't have to hide from me." Joxer
touched Strife's chest, over the line of the
now-hidden scar than ran down to his
abdomen. There was not even a flinch as
Strife let the illusion fade away, and Joxer
held his hand over the ugly line of scar
tissue. It was only the most prominent of
many such marks that covered his body. "Your
mother did this to you?" Joxer whispered
"Why? How...I mean..."
"Don't know why 'cept she always hated me.
Wasn't cut out for the maternal thing, I
guess. And you really don't want to know
how." Strife shivered a little even now to
think back upon it. Most of the gods dressed
to flaunt their bodies, their perfect forms.
He covered himself nearly head to toe to
hide the scars he didn't want the others to
see, nor did he want to have to look at them
himself any more than he had to. There had
been a time when Ares had spent significant
reserves of his energy to try to undo some
of the worst marks, but he had long ago
given up trying.
Joxer didn't press for details. Instead he
simply observed, "You know, my father beat
me a lot when I was a kid. I never could do
anything right; I was never as good as my
brother. Somehow dad always managed to stop
before he left any permanent scars...on the
outside at least."
Where Strife had been burned on his arms,
over Hephaestus' fire, Joxer placed light
kisses, as if hoping the touch of his lips
could undo the damage centuries of time
hadn't been able to heal. Strife almost
believed it could, as each touch left a
trail of tingling warmth through his body.
He pulled Joxer close again, drawing in his
breath sharply at the feeling of their
bodies together, better than he'd ever
imagined it could be. His body was
practically humming with the need for
release, and soon he sensed Joxer was not
far behind him.
Desire too long denied could only be held
back for so long, and Strife found himself
pleading, "Joxer...fuck..." No, more than
that... "Love me. I need you...oh, Gods, I
Joxer covered the god with his lanky body,
wasting little time in granting his wish.
Strife lay back and let Joxer do as he
wished; he was prepared, physically,
mentally...or so he thought. He couldn't
prepare for the gentleness with which Joxer
entered him--not in a swift, brutal push as
he was used to being taken, but slowly,
carefully, with such care that the feeling
shattered Strife's last attempts at self-
"Joxer...oh, fuck!" he gasped, arching
back as Joxer found a slow, deliberate
rhythm inside him, every movement bringing
with it nearly unbearable pleasure. He was
used to his pleasure dampened by pain, and
undiluted it was almost more than he could
"Am I hurting you?"
Strife started to laugh but it came out as
more of a moan than anything else. "No...
don't stop...feels better than you could
Joxer lowered himself, finding Strife's
mouth once more for a kiss as he resumed
claiming the god as his own. Yours, always
yours, Strife knew without doubt. Joxer's
touch, his mouth was like fire, but a fire
that warmed him instead of burning him. It
was a fire that reached deep inside him and
warmed his chilled soul. When he could no
longer take any more, the fire seemed to
consume him inside and out. He screamed when
he came with such force, the air around them
ignited with blue sparks as the energy
inside him found every possible outlet of
release. Dimly he was aware of Joxer's
echoing release, of the mortal spilling into
him, crying his name. He was too dazed,
however, to do anything but lay there, so
spent and exhausted that were Ares to come
in and find him right there and then, he
wouldn't have been able to do a thing but
grin like an idiot and hope that his end
would be swift.
Joxer finally caught his attention by
observing, "I think you singed my hair..."
"Sorry. Got a little carried away there."
"S'okay," Joxer sighed, trailing one hand
lazily down the god's side. "I'm not
complaining." His contented, dreamy smile at
that moment was without a doubt the most
wonderful thing Strife had ever seen.
"No, don't say it! Not 'till I know you
really mean it." He kissed Joxer one more
time, slowly, as he pulled his beloved's
body against him. "Right now...just say it's
okay if I stay here, a little longer."
"Of course I want you to stay. Don't you
dare leave now."
"I won't. That's a promise." Even if Unc
and Zeus and all the rest of 'em try to
force me to go, he added silently. I won't
let 'em do it. He'd found himself again,
somehow, through Joxer. It might take a long
time to put together the broken pieces, but
at least they'd been returned to him. At
least now he could try.
/When I fell from grace
/I never realized
/how deep the flood was around me.
/A man whose life is toil
/was like a kettle left to boil,
/And the water left scars on me.
/I know now who I am,
/If only for a while,
/I recognize the changes.
/I feel like I did before
/the magic wore thin and the baptism
/of stains began.
/They used to say I was
/heading down was my destiny.
/But yesterday, I swear,
/that was someone else not me
/Here I stand at the crossroads edge
/afraid to reach out for eternity.
/One step, when I look down,
/I see someone else not me.
/Looking back and I see
--"Someone Else" (c) 1994 Queensryche