Moments of Transition
Luck was not with Ares, for days passed and stretched into weeks while his efforts led only to growing frustration and more unanswered questions. Wherever he went, whichever immortal he challenged, he heard the same story, met with the same infuriating ignorance and indifference. No one knew anything. Few admitted to any knowledge of who Joxer was to begin with, let alone any awareness that he had been Ares' lover.
It could all be lies, of course, even some grand conspiracy among all the gods to mislead him. Ares strained his senses during every confrontation to seek out the slightest hint of prevarication in the other gods' words, but so far he had learned nothing, uncovered no leads of any more merit than another. 'Another dead mortal. Big, fucking, deal.' That was what everyone seemed to be saying.
Well, it was a Big Fucking Deal to him.
He even went to the Fates and learned nothing. They would not even tell him if Joxer's lifeline had been destined to be this short since his birth, or whether an immortal had made a deal to cut Joxer's thread early. Unfortunately, the Fates were about the only beings who could deny an Olympian such information. They were older than even Zeus, perhaps even more powerful, and as such could manipulate the destinies of the gods if they wished--if they were angered. And Ares didn't need another set of enemies at the moment.
Beyond all of that, the war in Thrace was taking up far too much of the energy he wanted to devote to his investigation. He wasn't even enjoying the battle, despite its escalating fervor, for his thoughts kept drifting back to Joxer, wishing the man was here with him to appreciate the battle at his side...then to celebrate its success privately in the sanctuary of their bed. Discord was giving him the cold shoulder and refusing his summonses, so he couldn't leave the battle under her command when he wanted to get some rest. Even a god could not be in three places at once, as he needed to be at this time: in Thrace, on Olympus, and with Joxer.
He had managed to visit the Underworld several more times, to let Joxer know he was not forgotten amidst of all this and that Ares was still working to release him. But the visits were melancholy experiences at best, usually leaving the god more depressed, tired and angry after he left than ever satisfied by whatever moments of intimacy they managed. He hated watching Joxer's struggling optimism take another blow every time he arrived and had to tell him this was just another visit; he would not be leaving yet. He hated having to walk away from Joxer when it was over, to return to his cold, empty temple, or the no-longer satisfying battlefield.
Ares knew that he couldn't put it off any longer. He was at an end as to what he could accomplish on his own and knew of only one individual who might have the information he needed.
Father, apparently, had been prepared for the visit and did not look at all surprised to see Ares when he arrived, ready to swallow his pride and ask for assistance.
"Hello, son. I expected I'd be hearing from you soon."
"Then you know what happened."
"I heard, yes. How could I not, the way you've been raging after everyone about it? And Hades assured me that I would be hearing from you concerning this matter before long as well."
"But let me guess: You, like everyone else, oddly knows nothing about who is responsible for Joxer's death."
Zeus shrugged slightly. "These things happen."
"'These things happen.'" He was used to hearing this indifference from everyone, but somehow it seemed the worst slap in his face coming from his own father. "And I thought I was supposed to be the cold-hearted one."
When Zeus remained silent, forcing Ares to direct the confrontation, he admitted, "I want him back."
"It's not that simple."
"So Hades told me. So everyone keeps telling me. Fine. I get the idea. Now how about telling me what not-so-simple thing I have to do to get him back."
"Hades and I have discussed the matter..."
"...and for him to agree to compromise the laws of his domain for you, a heavy price must be paid. He has named it, and I have agreed that it is just and fair."
"So tell me already."
"The price for Joxer's life is your godhood."
"If that's supposed to be a joke, I'm not laughing."
"Son, you're asking us to bend the rules to suit your wishes, your whimsy. These are rules that have stood for millennia enforcing order among our kind, where else chaos could easily ensue. It has to be made clear to the rest of our family, be they under Hades', Poseidon's, or my direct domain, that to challenge these laws is to lose the privileges they provide us. I'm sorry. That is the way it must be."
"Hades really has it in for me, doesn't he?"
"If I thought what he asked was unfair, I would not have agreed to it." Zeus sighed audibly. "Ares, do you want my advice, as your father? Forget about this one mortal. I know right now his death pains you greatly, but it will pass with time. Believe me, I have felt the same loss in the past, many times."
"Have you? Have you ever truly felt anything, father?"
Zeus ignored the snide remark and continued, "This is the first time you've known love. It won't be the last. Learn from your mistakes and move on, put this one mortal man behind you. Learn how to control these new feelings you have experienced, and how to keep them from interfering with your duties, your position...your birthright as my son. Don't make me have to search for your successor, all because of the love of one insignificant mortal."
Ares was silent for a long time, trying to accept what he'd been told. "How long do I have to decide?" he finally asked.
"It's a standing offer, no time limit. As such, I advise you not to make any decision in haste. There will be no chance to change your mind, once that decision is made. It's all or nothing, son, and no turning back."
"Fine. If that's the way it has to be."
"It feels like months since I've seen you."
"Only a week."
"Oh. Really? It's so hard to tell time around here. ...I was wondering, does anyone know I'm dead?"
"All of Olympus knows, the way I've been storming around."
"I mean anyone who isn't a god. I never hear anyone thinking about me. Well except a few odd thoughts here and there. I heard my mom praying for me a few times, but like I was still alive and she just wanted to put in a good word for me. And Xena was worrying about me. But that's about it."
"I can send a messenger to your mother, if that's what you want."
"Yeah, I guess. Though I don't know. Maybe it's better she doesn't know what happened to me. I keep thinking about these things 'cause, well, there's not a lot else to do but think, except when you're here. ...Wow, only a week?"
"I've been busy, Joxer, and these visits take a lot out of me. I'm here as much as I can manage."
"I know, I didn't mean to complain. I'm happy to see you for even a few minutes..."
"What's bothering you, then?"
"Why don't you just read my mind?"
"It's too busy in there, all the time. Makes me dizzy when you're wound up like you are today."
"It's...I don't know, Ares. I'm glad whenever you visit, but I don't want you to keep doing this because...well, if you feel like you have to or something. If you don't want to be here. I don't want to be a burden."
"You think that's the way I feel?"
"I can't read your mind, and I don't think I ever know what you feel. It's hard to know anything anymore. You know, sometimes I fall asleep for a while, and when I wake up, everything seems so unclear to me, so hazy, that I can't even remember who I am. Where I am. And it's almost more painful when I start to remember. That's what happens to a lot of people here, I've been hearing. It gets so painful to remember the way life used to be...so you start to let yourself forget. And when the soul starts to forget who it is, and why it's here, and why anything matters...it simply fades away into nothing."
"You are really a downer today."
"Well if you were stuck here...nevermind. Forget about it. Just...can I ask you one thing?"
"Then you'll be quiet and let me fuck you for a while?"
"I swear. Cross my heart and, well..."
"Okay. I want to know the truth. I can handle it. You're not going to be able to get me out of here, are you?"
"It's...going to be more difficult than I expected. I'm doing what I can, Joxer."
"Oh. Okay. I didn't mean to sound like I didn't have faith in you or anything...because you know that I do and all and--"
"Just shut up."
It had been a mistake, going to see Joxer at all. He realized he had been putting this last visit off ever since his talk with Zeus several days ago. He had traveled to the Underworld this time ready to tell Joxer that it was impossible, that the price being asked in exchange for his soul's freedom was too high. The words had refused to be spoken. Ares' resolve to admit the truth had faltered as soon as he had seen Joxer again, and it was completely gone by the time they had touched. And in the end he'd left, feeling far worse than before for allowing Joxer to cling to false hopes of freedom.
Ares wanted things back to the way they'd been, dammit. He wanted that sense of peace again, that peculiar serenity Joxer had brought into his life. It was something he'd never thought to seek out or expect from a lover before, never realizing it was perhaps exactly what he needed...
...Or perhaps his innate defenses had protected him from this temptation until now. For once he'd tasted it, once he'd begun to give in, it had been so compelling that it had taken the warning of another god to pull him back to his senses. If only he'd taken her warnings more seriously, that day she had first confronted him about what was happening. If only he'd fully appreciated the danger he was putting himself--and Joxer--into when he'd still had the chance to stop himself...
Time goes by so very quickly in the right company.
Almost two weeks' had passed since the night he had brought Joxer back to this place with him. What had begun as nothing more than a curious whim was turning into a rather long and unexpected vacation from his duties. It was rare he found someone whose company he could tolerate past one night's passion, and rarer still he wanted anything to do with that individual outside of his bed. Either he was desperate for this time away from duties and family that any distraction would do, or something about Joxer had him fascinated and satisfied as few--if any--had ever done before. For during all this time, he had not once searched out his annoying half-brother for some of his usual fun and games. He hadn't bothered pestering Xena and her irritating bard, another usually rewarding pastime. He hadn't even checked on any of his armies, or what his generals were busy doing without his constant guidance.
They'll all take care of themselves for a few days, he'd kept telling himself. I have more pressing matters to attend to.
Pressing? Well, maybe not. But far more interesting--such as determining just how hopeless or not Joxer was as a potential warrior. It was reassuring that the mortal's problems seemed to stem more from a lack of proper training and encouragement than a real lack of talent. No man could be so skilled in other physical "endeavors" and not be able to learn something about the art of battle, Ares had speculated. And certainly, Joxer had proven himself to be quite the master of physical pleasures. Oh yes... Ares sighed with satisfaction. Joxer was almost too capable and too willing to please for his own good.
Or is that my own good? Sex was usually just the icing on the cake for the god of war after a satisfying combat. He wasn't used to indulging in it as a main course.
But I suppose even the gods can use a change of pace every now and then.
And it wasn't merely the sex. No, it was far more than that. Joxer amused him, made him laugh-- intentionally and otherwise. He was intensely curious about everything from the nature of the gods to where this or that exotic fruit came from, and if he might be able to visit there someday, and were the people the same there as they were here and did they worship the same gods. Joxer and Strife...they might have gotten along interestingly, Ares thought with a small smile. The mortal had a streak for mischieviousness that could blossom with the right care and attention--which he of course was quite willing to provide.
Ares leaned back against a large tree in the secluded forest grove not far away from the mountain cabin, watching the dueling warriors before him with pride. Joxer was practicing his swordplay against a soldier summoned off a battlefield a few hundred miles away. Joxer's skill had been improving surprisingly rapidly over the past days' tutoring, as if he was finally discovering the talent for battle that was part of his family heritage. Oh, he had a long way to go before he'd be leading any armies, but at this rate he wouldn't be an embarrassment to one for much longer.
At the same time, Ares still wasn't sure how he felt about the idea of Joxer becoming a full- fledged warrior. As much as he thrilled to watch the man fight--and fight well--another part of him kept Joxer from getting too close to delivering a fatal blow. The god was rather too enchanted by his innocence. It seemed like such the perfect irony to him, that the god of war's new consort should be a blood innocent warrior. Joxer should have been a musician, or an artist, or merely a dedicated sensualist, and instead he was devoted to a god who seemed perfectly at odds with these talents.
Ares couldn't help but admire the way the fine clothes he provided for Joxer hugged his ass--and other delicious curves and bulges--with every thrust and movement of his body. He might not want to see the mortal kill, but Joxer was surely a pleasure to watch fighting. And how good it would feel after this exercise to strip the fine leather away from that slim, sweaty body, to feel Joxer's heart pounding under his hands from exertion and desire...
An unexpected tremor of energy--God energy--near him rudely interrupted his line of thought. He felt it just a moment before the irritating, familiar voice asked, "So, who's the boy-toy, bro?"
Ares gritted his teeth. This was his sanctuary--his private sanctuary. No one, not even (or rather, especially) his family was supposed to disturb him here except in matters of the utmost importance. "None of your damn business, sis."
Aphrodite ignored him and stepped gingerly towards the dueling men. She studied Joxer for a moment before recognizing him. "Hey, that's Xena's idiot friend...Jerkster, right?"
"Whatever." As Joxer spun around to parry an attack, Aphrodite looked him up and down and then winked at her brother. "Nice butt. I always thought this one was a cutie. So is the little stud the one whose been keeping you shacked up out here for so long?"
"Get to the point and then get out of here, would you, please?"
"My point is, dad sent me to find out what was up with you. No one in the fam's seen you since dinner a few weeks ago, and things are going bizarro outside of your little private playground here. It's almost as bad as that time you lost your sword to that sneak thief Sisyphus. So what's the deal, Ar? Decide to take a little vacation? Stressed out? Personal problems?" Aphrodite pressed. "You should've at least left your sweetheart Discord in charge of the whole war-thingy business while you blew things off. It's just not like you to just up and disappear like this without telling anyone..." She paused, her bright eyes widening as she studied him intently. "Oh, woah. Woah woah woah, I don't believe it..."
"I don't believe it," she repeated, shaking her golden-haired head. "You're in love, Ares, that's your problem!"
"Get real," he snorted.
"I am being real. Look hon, I know love the way you know war. And right now you've got the love bug bad." She giggled in delight, spinning around in a circle in a little celebratory dance.
Ares glowered at her, wanting to tell her she was completely insane, ready to send her on a one-way trip to oblivion if it wasn't for that rather inconvenient rule about not killing other gods. But, oddly enough and much to his surprise, he suddenly couldn't bring himself to say the words to deny it.
She can't be right...can she?
'Dite's grin widened as she realized she had Ares tongue-tied. "Oh, this is too good. My tough-guy bro, always putting me and my work down, and he's finally given in. Someone's finally proven that you do have a heart under all that attitude and black leather. Wait 'till I tell--"
Ares grabbed her by shoulders and threatened, "You are not going to tell anyone anything, do you understand? Or so help me, I'll give my armies special orders to trash every one of your temples from here to Carthage."
"Look, chill out, Ar, okay?! Fine, this'll be our little secret for now, but at this rate it's not going to take me spilling the beans before word gets around. And you have got to get back to your job instead of spending all your time doing the nasty with Joxie here. You've still got your responsibilities, remember? And more than a few others who might just be waiting for the first chance to take your place as the god of war. Don't forget that."
"Believe me, I never forget that."
"Well then, quit hiding out here playing house and start acting like you haven't forgotten. Later, hon."
And with that, 'Dite disappeared. Ares brooded over what she had told him until the clanking of metal drew his attention back to the fight. Joxer was starting to look weary, his thrusts turning wilder and sloppy. But then Joxer lunged for a blow that very well could have been fatal to the other soldier (Guess he wasn't as tired as I thought...nice job, Joxer!) but Ares made his opponent vanish just before the sword tip made impact. Joxer stumbled, his balance and momentum thrown off, and he landed with an ungraceful "Oomph!" on the rocky ground. Still, he picked himself up and looked back towards Ares questioningly.
"That's enough for now," Ares told him.
"I almost had him."
Ares nodded. "I'm proud of you. You learn quickly."
Joxer's eyes lit up as a more than slightly naughty smile formed on his lips. "With you as a teacher, how could I not?"
Ares watched Joxer walk towards him, his desire building with every step that brought them closer. Resting his hands on Ares' waist, Joxer asked, "So when do I get to practice against you?"
"When you're ready...perhaps. But there are other things I prefer doing with you." He pulled the mortal against him for a kiss that Joxer readily returned. A part of Ares was more than ready to give himself over to his lustful urges...yet he was distracted now, unable to forget about Aphrodite's visit and her warnings.
She was right--not about the "love" business, no. Never. But he was being reckless and irresponsible. These past weeks had been fun, the respite he'd needed, but it was time to get back to the business of being a god...
...soon. But not quite yet.
The sun was beginning to set, the breeze blowing in through the window growing colder. He felt Joxer shiver against him as the wind chilled his damp skin, so he reached for a blanket to cover them both.
Nightfall would be upon them soon, and when it arrived Ares would be leaving. Aphrodite's reminders about his duties and the trouble that he was no doubt in for once he got back to his temple were stuck in his head, and he couldn't ignore his responsibilities any longer.
Running a hand against Joxer's side, he said softly, "I'm leaving tonight, Joxer. It's time for me to make sure my armies are behaving themselves-- not that they ever do without me whipping them into shape constantly. I have other business to attend to as well."
"How long will you be gone?"
"I don't know. I may have a great deal to take care of, considering how long you've kept me distracted."
Joxer sighed in obvious disappointment but tried not to let it show in his words. "Well, you're a god and all, with important things to do...I know that. Um, can I ask you one thing?"
He knew the question poised on the man's lips without it needing to be spoken, without even having to read his mind. "I'm far from finished with you, Joxer. You still have a great deal to learn from me...and I think I can derive some more pleasure out of your company yet. You can stay here if you wish, until I have time for you again. You'll be provided for. Or I can take you back to where I found you. It doesn't matter. I'll find you wherever you are."
That seemed to ease Joxer's worry, though Ares could still feel the echo of uncertainty in the back of the mortal's mind. Or was it his own reticence to leave that he sensed?
Holding his lover's body tightly, an unusual impulse struck the god, one that surprised him when he realized how much the strange idea appealed to him. Maybe it was love that he was feeling, making him want to do things he had never desired before. But he wasn't ready to believe his sister's diagnosis quite yet.
I'm simply curious, that's all. Nothing wrong with trying something different.
His hand caressed the smooth skin of Joxer's stomach, then glided slowly lower, trying to coax the mortal's spent cock back to attention. Joxer sighed a little and squirmed against him, muttering, "Mmm, Ar...dunno if I can get it up again so soon."
"When you find out what I want, I think you'll change your mind," Ares challenged, nuzzling against Joxer's sensitive, lovely neck, his actions bringing the mortal back to an aroused state soon enough despite his half-hearted protests. Joxer started to push and rub his backside against Ares, expecting the god to enter him, but for once Ares had something completely different in mind.
"Not this time." With an easy movement he rolled onto his back, lifting Joxer on top of him. He trapped the mortal between his strong legs, and looking into the man's questioning eyes, he said, "Your turn."
Those eyes went wide in surprise. "Are you...really? I...I don't know..."
Ares laughed at the sudden panic. "I recall you saying some time ago you could handle anything, Joxer. Don't tell me you've never done this before."
Looking a little embarrassed, Joxer admitted, "Not...with a man...somehow I always end up on the receiving end."
"Well, tonight let's see if you can give as well as you receive." He didn't think Joxer would protest much longer, and he was correct. Worry faded from his features quickly, and as he took advantage of his "superior" position, stroking and caressing the god's body, the look on his face became one of raw hunger. Ares touched the surface of Joxer's thoughts and savored the lust he found there, the feelings of a man preparing to let himself enjoy something new yet something he'd secretly hungered for. The god could fulfill this one special wish before leaving--Joxer deserved that much after the companionship he had provided so willingly.
Joxer wasted little further time getting to it, as if afraid Ares would change his mind about this if he didn't act quickly. The god felt the firm pressure of the head of Joxer's cock gliding into him, into his flesh. There was no pain, of course, for that was something he never felt. His body was his to control, and if he willed it to accommodate Joxer, then it obeyed him. But there was an edge of discomfort at this invasion into his body of a purely mental nature: Ares was a god, and he was letting a mortal man "take" him. Dominate this encounter. Use him for his own pleasure while Ares laid there passively. It was a perversion of the natural order of things, and for a moment Ares almost made Joxer stop, uncertain as he was that he could continue with this.
But then Joxer was sheathed inside him fully with one long, careful thrust, and the mortal let out such a sound of anguished delight that Ares simply couldn't help getting swept along with it. The expression on Joxer's face, the fire in his dark eyes, was an image to savor forever, something to never forget nor dare interrupt. Ares forgot his own discomfort and thrust up against him, pushing Joxer in as deep as he could go.
Bliss... He opened his mind fully to Joxer's thoughts, his reactions, relishing them as if they were his own, even as his own body began to respond to the new sensations it was experiencing.
"Ares..." the word slipped out on the end of a sigh, as Joxer let his body lead him into this unknown territory, unaware of just how unique a gift he'd been granted. The first mortal to fuck the god of war. Ares felt the echoes of Joxer's pleasure at every thrust, as they magnified and amplified against those same feelings emanating from his own body. He had never felt anything like it before. He was in danger of losing himself in the moment, losing his sense of himself in this union with a mortal man. He felt more helpless than when he had been stripped of his godhood, but his fear could not find its voice when his senses were overwhelmed by this feeling of unending ecstasy...
"Ares...love you...oh, Ares!" Joxer's voice called from somewhere far away, but the god only dimly heard the words. The force of Joxer's climax pulled Ares along with him. He felt as if he were falling from some terrible height, spiraling downward into an unknown void, someplace where for one brief instant, souls--not bodies--met.
Then slipped away.
The weight of Joxer's body as he collapsed on top of him drew Ares back to earth, the tangible world around him. He felt dazed. He did not understand what had just happened, only that it frightened him, as few things had before.
He was thankful Joxer was too exhausted and satiated now to question it, or question him, and was content to merely be held close in silence and creeping darkness until he drifted asleep.
Ares eased himself from Joxer's arms and stood, summoned his clothes, and picked up his sword from where it lay near the bed, preparing to leave.
As he held the formidable weapon, he realized his hands were trembling.
By the Styx, what's happening to me?
He looked down at the sleeping man, so blissfully unaware of the turmoil playing itself out in the god's mind. What is coming over me? What is this one damn mortal turning me into?
To be safe, I should give him up now. Leave him off somewhere far away and never look back.
To be safer still, I should kill him, strike him down now to remove the temptation he presents.
Yet even as these thoughts crossed his mind, he knew he was far beyond the point where he could do such a thing. He was in this too deep already.
He knelt down by the bed, watching Joxer sleep for several long minutes before he was ready to leave. He whispered, "You mortals are so fragile. Your lives...so fleeting. Almost meaningless in the greater scheme of things. And now you, Joxer, threaten to turn me into someone I don't even recognize anymore, someone who feels things I have always denied were possible."
"Do you know what you have done, my love?" He placed on last kiss on Joxer's forehead, breathing in his scent, his essence...the music of his dreams.
Then he turned to leave, to himself adding silently, Is there any hope for either of us now...
"No. There is no hope. This relationship should never have begun. It was destined to end in nothing but pain."
He spoke these words to no one but himself, sitting alone in the vast chamber of his temple. He would always have far more enemies than allies because of his duties and nature. That was why he could never allow anyone to get too close to him. He had always known this, but it seemed he had forgotten this rule when it came to Joxer.
Now they both had to pay the price for his mistake.
The only way he would get Joxer back was by doing the one thing he could never do: Sacrifice everything. Hand over his sword. Become a mortal.
Not in a million years. Not in two million years, or however long he was destined to walk this planet.
He was the god of war. That was who he had been born to be. That was all he had known for thousands of years. He loved his position--his power.
He would just have to make do visiting Joxer in the Underworld. And Joxer would have to make do with that as well.
It was the way things would have to be. Eventually he'd get over this fixation on Joxer anyway, and these damn feelings of guilt and loss would go away. He would find someone else to occupy his time.
Of course he would.
And then the temple would stop feeling so empty in Joxer's absence, without the sound of his voice, or his lyre playing softly, sometimes out-of-tune but always so perfectly soothing.
He'd be able to return to his sanctuary and think of things other than those first few weeks with this mortal man, when he'd found himself wishing for nothing but for those days and nights to last an eternity.
He would stop seeing that blasted mortal's face whenever he closed his eyes. Not even really that pretty...
His hands would no longer remember the firm masculine curves, the perfect smoothness of that slender body.
His mouth would forget the taste of those delicate lips.
His bed would stop feeling so cold, and he would be able to sleep without the warmth of Joxer's body pressed against his own.
On second thought...
....No. He wouldn't.
Zeus was mistaken. He would never be able to forget. Joxer was not the only one sentenced to an eternity of misery. He would suffer in his own private Tartarus from now on without him here.
Ares slammed his fist down on the arm of his throne with all the fury and rage he'd tried to keep under control for too long. Now he no longer cared what the repercussions of giving in to it would be. The impact of his fist caused the throne's arm to shatter and crumble. The act of destruction was satisfying--the first true feeling of satisfaction he'd felt since this misery had begun.
And so he let his rage possess him completely.
Destroying the throne wasn't enough. He would lay waste to this entire temple. Too many memories now echoed through its walls. He screamed and unleashed barrage after barrage of fire and lightening, taking out every statue and bust chiseled in his image. He smashed every sword, every shield, every battle axe with his hands. Curtains burned to blackened ashes at his feet. The ground trembled beneath him as the walls cracked and began to tumble to Earth. He stood in the middle of it all, not stopping, not relenting, until nothing was left to break, burn, or shatter.
It was all finished so quickly. The grand temple built with years of labor and care, filled with the finest offerings made to him in centuries of worship, all reduced to dust in mere minutes.
This would be merely the beginning. All of Greece would feel the fury of his grief, his anger. It was only fair, after all, he decided grimly.
"There you go, Ar, the typical male solution to every problem: Blow shit up. Of course I always thought that old temple was way too goth and gloomy. Tell me, does making such a mess really make you feel any better?"
Ares spun around to glare at Aphrodite, whose presence at that moment was more than he could deal with. "You want some too? Go on, try me. I'm just warming up."
"Listen to me, big boy, and chill for a minute, before you go redecorating the entire countryside? I'm really sorry about Joxie. You know I liked the guy. I don't frankly know what he saw in you, but I sure know I was starting to find you less of an obnoxious jerk thanks to his influence. Do you think going ballistic is going to bring him back?"
"Nothing will bring him back!"
"Unless you give up your godhood for his soul." At Ares' questioning glance, 'Dite shrugged and answered, "I heard about it all from dad. He's only playing by the rules, you know. It's not his fault you pissed off Hades by throwing your weight around too much before, and apparently did the same thing to whichever god decided to off Joxer. And no, I have no idea who it was, so don't even ask. You had to know that someday being so damn arrogant was going to catch up with you."
"Me, maybe. But not Joxer. He shouldn't have to pay for my mistakes, the enemies I made while simply doing my job."
"And enjoying it a little too much?"
He glared at her, ready to snipe back, but found that his anger had left him for the moment. Taking in the scene of destruction he had caused minutes ago that now left him feeling nothing but than more empty, more lost, he was shocked to finally understand it all. Everything was much too clear to him in that moment.
"I did...love...him, didn't I, sis? That's why I feel so terrible now. There's an ache inside me that won't go away. I feel like I could turn the entire earth to ashes and not feel a damn bit better about myself. It's all meaningless, without him."
"I never said love was all roses and happiness, bro. There's a lot of heartache and pain. Always. But you can keep seeing him, can't you? Give Hades some time to cool out and he'll probably be more inclined to bend the rules for you and get Joxer out of Tartarus and into Elysia where he belongs."
"How much time? A century? Two? Three? By then Joxer's soul will be so twisted and tortured, I doubt he will be able to tell the difference. I can already see it in him. Every day that passes destroys what is left of him a little more."
"Then you know what you have to do, Ar. Forget him and go back to the way you used to be. Or pay the price to have him back."
"Give up my godhood. For a miserable mortal." He shook his head in disbelief. That he should even mutter the words, let alone consider them with anything more than dismissive laughter, was unfathomable.
Then why was he thinking about doing precisely that?
"For a miserable mortal you just admitted to me that you loved. Love means sacrifice, Ar, pure and simple. Ask yourself if you can really live without him. If you really can go back to the way you were before. And here's something else to consider- -it may be the only way to get the revenge you want so bad against whoever did this to Joxie."
"What do you mean?"
"Hel-lo, you're the devious one, you mean to tell me you didn't consider this yet? A god can't kill another god. Zeus' Primo Rule of Olympian Etiquette. But a mortal can kill whoever he wants. You do the math."
She was right. Damn. He hated it when that happened.
"I don't know what to do, 'Dite." He'd tasted mortality, briefly, twice before. The experience had been far from pleasant. Sure, he would be free to get revenge on Joxer's murderer, but how on Earth could a mortal man--even one who had once been the god of war--defeat a god?
She touched his shoulder gently, sympathetically. "No, I think you do know what you have to do, Ar."
He sighed. She was right again.